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5 Deadly Director’s Cuts You Should Avoid At All Costs

Friday, April 17th, 2015 - by Roy M. Griffis

Among the many blessings of civilization is the BluRay. BluRays (and DVDs and home video before them) meant that if you loved film, you, too, could finally own a copy of some classic like Casablanca and sigh over its greatness time and again. But like many other gifts of Western capitalist culture, there is a downside.

One of them is the “Director’s Cut.”

Film history would be a lot more boring without the stories of enfant terribles (and later, adult pain-in-the-asses) like Orson Welles battling against the men with the souls of accountants over their art. Most of the time, it turned out the accountants had a wicked right hook and the artist would end up on the canvas while their vision was butchered.

Some director’s cuts are good. Dances with Wolves added additional backstory without seeming like Costner was giving himself a public handjob. Peter Jackson hit the height of his craft as a director with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and he gave his fans more of what they wanted, more time in a Middle Earth that was both familiar and fantastic.

Then there are those… other efforts. Recompilations of beloved, fondly remembered work that are suddenly as welcome as a visit from your creepy uncle who just finished a 25-year stretch in San Quentin for his bad habits.

Ego? Ambition? Pharmaceuticals?

Whatever it is, there are some “Director’s Cuts” that took otherwise fine, fun films and turned them into something as thrilling as watching a carousel slide show of your eight year-old nephew’s geology field trip. Here is just a palate-wrinkling sample of some of the worst of the once-good.

(Note: we’re going to completely overlook that charming genre “UnRated and Now with More Torture Porn!”)

 

1. Last of the Mohicans

What a great, thrilling film this was. I saw it three times in the theatre when it was first released and owned the soundtrack on CD. Then came the day Michael Mann looked at either his bank account or the film and decided, “let’s take another run at that.”

Mann, a notoriously demanding director, for whatever reason hadn’t quite gotten the verisimilitude he was hoping for when he made a great movie out of a justly-mocked book from the 1800s. To give the Mann-iac his due, the additional character scenes and background were acceptable, but to really put us into the world of the time, he apparently randomly airbrushed india ink over huge sections of the film.

By God, he wanted you there, and if we were watching a scene set in the forest on a cloudy night, then it was going to be dark. Not just artfully shadowed, but blackcat inside a coal mine dark. I’m talking “Mommy, we wandered off the trail four days ago and I think the bears are coming down from the mountains to eat us, but they’ll only be able to find us by scent because I haven’t seen a shimmer of light in hours” dark.

For whatever reason, Mann took a compelling adventure/love story and turned it into a lengthy exercise in eye-strain.

 

2. The 40-Year-Old Virgin

Most comedy seems to work when it has heart, and this film had that, with Steve Carell channeling a kind of Jim Carrey vibe while managing to remain recognizably human (hint: guess which one will have a longer career).

But that heart and the sweet story of a guy finally finding love was hidden underneath MORE potty jokes and MORE ad-libbing that went on way too long (were they stoned only when they filmed those scenes or did the party continue back in the editing bay?) and MORE whacky boobies.

Take a movie that borders on eew (while it was funny, about 20 minutes in I was finding the gratuitous profanity kind of battering) and what do you add?  MORE eeeewwww.

 

3. Blade Runner 

This film (and Watchmen, below) are ones that many cognoscenti (and even myself, depending on the day) would argue against including on this list.

The original Blade Runner as I first experienced it in a strip mall in Alexandria, Virginia, is still my favorite (confession…I loved the bored voice-over… it was right out of 50’s noir). But as of last count, there have been 176 “authorized” versions of the film pressed onto plastic disks for purchase and I’m pretty sure there’s a Lego-version in the works.

Was it just a cash grab? A tax-write off?

No matter, because after one has waded through the work-print, the first Director’s Cut, the re-release version, and the final Authorized Gold-Stamp of Approval, what do you get?

(Spoiler warning! Editor’s note: a page break speed bump put in for anyone who still hasn’t seen Blade Runner)

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Wonder Woman Loses Director: Was She Hired for the Wrong Reasons?

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

Not long after it was announced that Warner Bros. and DC Comics would be producing a Wonder Woman feature film starring Gal Gadot in the title role, the studio made clear their intention to hire a female director for the project. In November, they secured Michelle MacLaren, whose credits including episodes of Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, and Better Call Saul.

Now, MacLaren has departed the project over “creative differences.” AMC Movie News editor-and-chief John Campea expresses his concern in the above clip.

Adding to his observations: was MacLaren hired first and foremost because of her gender? Could these “creative differences” have been avoided had the creative vision taken precedence from day one?

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Will Digital Star Wars Soar Through the Stars or Crash into the Swamp?

Thursday, April 9th, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano

The force is back with us. On April 10, Walt Disney Studios, Lucasfilm Ltd. and 20th Century debut “digital” downloads” of the Star Wars saga.

They will be looking not only to cash in, but to heighten the frenzy for a new slew of films starting this summer.

Are movie-goers again ready to travel to a galaxy far far away?

Certainly, Star Wars still has a hold on our popular culture. After all, Americans petitioned the White House to build a Death Star.

But the real magic of Star Wars was the imaginative mythology and original character-driven story lines. Reloading the franchise might be a cash cow, but it’s no more inspiring than Fast and Furious 7. If audiences are content with Xerox cinema, maybe it’s a sign we have lost our mojo–more new movies may not mean imagination and innovation are the core of American culture anymore.

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Will the New Daredevil on Netflix Erase the Bad Ben Affleck Memories?

Friday, April 3rd, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

Variety has reviewed the new Daredevil television series, which will premiere exclusively on Netflix on April 10. When it comes to the nocturnal adventures of the vigilante-by-night, attorney-by-day Matt Murdock, the verdict is good.

Compared to Marvel’s experience with “Agents of SHIELD” for ABC, operating in Netflix’s pay-to-view world is clearly liberating, in much the way animated direct-to-DVD titles enable the comics companies to cater to knowledgeable fans without needing to worry too much about luring the uninitiated into the tent. And the binge prospect should be helpful in getting people hooked on the overarching adventure, complete with Russian mobsters and feuding crime factions building toward the inevitable Daredevil-Kingpin showdown.

The big winner here is Ben Affleck, whose 2003 turn as the character left a sour taste in audience mouths. The new series may displace our memory of that atrocity, wiping the slate for Affleck’s next big superhero role in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

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WATCH: Passover, Rube Goldberg Style

Friday, April 3rd, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

Need a way to explain Passover to a kinesthetic learner or future engineer? Check out this video from Israel and you’ll be saying, “L’shana haba b’Technion!”

Chag Peseach Sameach!

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Stay On Target: Star Wars Battlefront Lining Up for Attack Run

Monday, March 30th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

From the things-that-make-you-feel-old trivia file, it has been nearly a decade since the final Star Wars prequel, Revenge of the Sith, debuted in theaters. It’s been a full ten years since the last iteration of the Battlefield-inspired shooter Star Wars Battlefront hit PCs and consoles.

In the years since, rumors of a third Battlefront game utilizing modern technology have been persistent. It wasn’t long after Disney acquired Lucasfilm and its subsidiaries, including video game publisher LucasArts, that official news of a modern follow-up was announced.

Now, we know when we’ll get our first real glimpse at the new game. EA Star Wars reveals:

We’re thrilled to share that Star Wars Battlefront will be taking part in Star Wars™ Celebration next month in Anaheim, CA from April 16-19. We could not think of a better or more appropriate place to debut the game officially for the first time than the premier event that celebrates the Star Wars universe and the legions of fans who have fallen in love with it. For more information on Star Wars Celebration and ways to attend, please visit http://starwarscelebration.com.

It’s a good time to be a Star Wars fan.

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VIDEO: On This International Day of Happiness, Just Shut Up & Dance

Friday, March 20th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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The Ghostbusters Revival Just Got Weird

Thursday, March 12th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

You’ve probably heard by now that director Paul Feig will helm a rebooted Ghostbusters film starring an all-female cast. From his previous work on the highly successful Bridesmaids, he’s bringing over Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy. They will be joined by SNL performers Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones.

The official announcement came after many years of perennial rumors, mostly driven by original Ghostbusters star Dan Aykroyd. The actor desperately sought a revival of the franchise in the form of a third sequel to the original film. The elder cast would perhaps hand the reins over to a group of younger paranormal investigators. With last year’s untimely death of actor Harold Ramis, who also co-wrote the original, the prospect of a Ghostbusters 3 seemed to fade.

Sony Pictures’ choice to reboot the franchise entirely, to dispense with established continuity and begin fresh with an all-female cast, seemed odd enough. Now we get even weirder news.

Not long after Sony announced a deal with Marvel Studios enabling Spider-Man to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe (and endure yet another reboot), it was also announced that Captain America: The Winter Solider directors Joe and Anthony Russo had signed a deal with Sony to helm projects there. Given the Russo brothers’ history with Marvel Studios and the recent MCU deal, the conventional wisdom among observers was that the Russos were taking over the Spider-Man franchise.

As it turns out, the Russos’ first project with Sony won’t be Spider-Man or a related property. Entertainment Weekly reports:

[Sony], along with Ivan Reitman and Dan Aykroyd, is establishing Ghostcorps, a company that will develop movies, TV, and merchandising around the Ghostbusters…

After the female-led Paul Feig movie, the first task for the company will be a film directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, who recently signed a deal with Sony. The Russos will produce along with Reitman, Reid Carolin, Peter Kiernan, and Channing Tatum, who is being eyed to star.

Deadline first reported on the company and the film. “We want to expand the Ghostbusters universe in ways that will include different films, TV shows, merchandise, all things that are part of modern filmed entertainment,” Reitman told Deadline. “This is a branded entertainment, a scary supernatural premise mixed with comedy.”

Absent further details, the whole thing sounds a bit odd. Are there going to be multiple Ghostbuster teams running around? Is the Tatum/Russo project going to follow the continuity of the original films? It seems strange that the same studio would be pursuing two different projects within the same franchise utilizing completely different creative teams.

Are you interested in either of these projects? Or should Ghostbusters rest in peace?

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Inside the Millennial Mind: How Wikipedia Users View the World

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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Image illustration via Shutterstock /

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Spock’s Trek Through the Stars in 10 Clips

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

We’ve had some time to process the news of Leonard Nimoy’s death. The character which Nimoy helped create inspired generations to seek balance between discipline and feeling. Let’s take a look back through Spock’s trek through the stars in these 10 clips from the franchise.

What It Means To Be Vulcan

In one of the most definitive moments from the original series, Spock finds himself torn between his dual natures when a debilitating attack upon Captain Kirk leaves Spock in command of the Enterprise during a critical diplomatic mission.

The wrinkle is that Spock’s father lies sick among the delegation, succumbing to a malady that only a transfusion from Spock can resolve. But yielding to the procedure would compromise Spock’s capacity to command while the ship is under threat, and so logic dictates that he mind his Starfleet duty and allow his father to die.

Spock’s human mother pleads for him to reconsider in this heated confrontation.

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Lord Reptile’s Top 5 Apocalypse Movies

Sunday, February 22nd, 2015 - by Jeremy Swindle

You’re reading the concluding post for Preparedness Week, a weeklong series of blogs about disaster and emergency preparation inspired by the launch of Freedom Academy’s newest e-book, Surviving the End: A Practical Guide for Everyday Americans in the Age of Terrorby James Jay Carafano, Ph.D. You can download the e-book exclusively at the PJ Store here.

5. Mortal Kombat

If the apocalypse means having my skull smashed open on the rocks by Goro while Napalm Death plays then count me in. After all, Reptile is just Shang Tsung’s humble bodyguard for swatting down mortal weaklings in this film. The Reptile can take a few body slams with no problem.

Anyway, if you’re unfamiliar with the Mortal Kombat video games’ plot it shouldn’t matter. The movie involves a brutal tournament between the mortals of Earthrealm and Shang Tsung’s flunkies of Outworld. If Earth’s warriors lose the 10th tournament, the emperor Shao Khan becomes the ruler of Earthrealm.

I’m not going to spoil the ending but it should be fairly obvious that a certain Shaolin monk by the name of Louis Kang lays the smack down on the evil sorcerer and reappears for the sequel, Annihilation. This is the only proper MK film. Don’t bother with any others.

Mortal Kombat is a fine apocalyptic movie for parties or any situation.

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What Were the Most Significant Science Fiction Stories of the 1940s?

Saturday, February 14th, 2015 - by Pierre Comtois

Editor’s Note: Check out the previous installments in Pierre’s series exploring the development of science fiction by decade: The 10 Most Influential Science Fiction Stories of the 1910sThe 10 Most Influential Science Fiction Stories of the 1920s, and The Most Important, Visionary Science Fiction Stories of the 1930s

After the passage of 65 years and the beginning of a new century, the decade of the 1940s seems all the more remarkable for the number of brilliant writers who were working at the time, the sheer variety of venues they had to choose from, and the fact that every other story seemed to reveal new vistas of imagination.

And though the 1930s had its share of first time writers breaking into the professional ranks, the 1940s introduced even more as Leigh Brackett, James Blish, C. W. Kornbluth, Frederick Pohl, Frederic Brown, Damon Knight, Ray Bradbury, Hal Clement, George O. Smith, Jack Vance, Arthur C. Clark, Poul Anderson, H. Beam Piper, and Judith Merril, all made their first sales.

In addition, writers who had debuted in the previous decade now began to establish themselves as major authors in the field making important contributions that would become cornerstones not only of their own work but of science fiction in general. Writers like Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and A. E. Van Vogt would lead the way, publishing one classic after another.

Both newcomers and established authors would prove their durability as they continued to contribute stories into the 1960s when their work would appear side by side with a new wave of young writers more interested in psycho-social subjects than traditional hard science.

The 1940s was an era that, despite a World War and resulting paper shortages, science fiction magazines proliferated with such venerable titles as Amazing Science Fiction, Thrilling Wonder Tales, and Startling Stories still on hand and a plethora of new ones such as Stirring Science Fiction Stories, Other Worlds, and Captain Future cropping up like mushrooms after a spring rain.

It was a decade during which John W. Campbell reigned as editor of Astounding Science Fiction, developing a stable of reliable young writers with whom he’d begin to transform the field from its perception as somewhat of a juvenile backwater to something with serious literary pretentions.

Furthermore, the insular world of SF fandom continued to evolve and expand with more amateur SF magazines such as Damon Knight’s Snide and Ray Bradbury’s Futuria Fantasia popping up, clubs forming, more and bigger conventions being held, and launches of the first small press book publishers such as Gnome Press.

Finally, first-rate Hollywood film adaptations of some of the classics of SF such as Campbell’s own “Who Goes There” (as The Thing From Another World) and Harry Bates’ “Who Goes There?” (as The Day the Earth Stood Still) were right around the corner.

The 1940s was a decade of transition in another sense as SF novels from the world of academia finally petered out and books based on popular short stories and novelettes written by rising pulp authors began to appear in a new mass market pocket book or paperback format.

Among the last outliers of academic writers was Olaf Stapledon’s Sirius, published in 1944. In this groundbreaking novel about a dog with human intelligence, Stapledon skirts the controversial and in places seems to refute the religious arguments raised by his contemporary C.S. Lewis as Sirius seeks God and in conversations with a local priest is disappointed in his search for meaning. He finds a measure of it in his love for Plaxy, the human daughter of the scientist who gave him his intelligence. Together, the two share a forbidden love that was doomed to fail.

The year before, in 1943, Lewis published the second volume in a series that began with Out of the Silent Planet. In Perelandra, Ransom, the protagonist of the first book, journeys to Venus and discovers an Edenic world complete with its own Eve named Tinidril who is seeking her Adam. They’ve been given free run of all the floating islands of the planet but have been forbidden from stepping upon fixed land. But an original sin-less paradise is threatened with the arrival of materialist scientist Weston and together, he and Ransom enter a series of philosophical debates intended to sway Tinidril either to obey or not to obey a divine commandment not to step onto fixed land.

Lewis would complete his trilogy with the publication of That Hideous Strength in 1945.

A third entry in the academic novel sweepstakes was 1984 by George Orwell. Published in 1949, it tells the story of one man’s struggle for personal freedom in a totalitarian society. Ostensibly a rebuke of communism, the novel’s message speaks louder than ever in today’s world of creeping political correctness.

Meanwhile, Stapledon and Lewis’ pulp counterparts were busily writing stories that would themselves eventually be turned into novels. All of the most seminal, appearing in Astounding Science Fiction including Slan, published in 1940. In it, A. E. Van Vogt‘s story features young Jommy Cross as the last hope of his race of super humans. Jommy must find a way to save the Slans even as humans hunt them down to near extinction.

Astounding struck again in 1941 with not one but two important SF stories including “Microscopic God” by Theodore Sturgeon. In it, a scientist creates an artificial world of microscopic beings who live at an accelerated rate. Because of that, they quickly evolve and advance beyond human science so that their creator, who’s set himself up as their god, can eventually profit by their inventions.

Likewise, Robert A.  Heinlein‘s “Methuselah’s Children” spotlights the Howard family who have achieved extraordinary long lifespans through selective breeding. But others don’t believe it and when they insist that the Howards reveal their secret to long life, patriarch Lazarus Long suggests that the family leave the Earth to seek a world of their own.

Again from the pages of Astounding came two more important stories from up-and-coming authors. Mentored by Campbell, Isaac Asimov had become a mainstay of the magazine by the time “Foundation” appeared in 1942. A story that would eventually grow to a three volume series of novels (with more additions in later decades), it posits the creation of a group intended to preserve knowledge against the fall of the galactic empire. Afterwards, the Foundation would be there to assist the rise of a new civilization and hopefully to reduce the length of an intervening dark age.

Asimov contemporary Lester Del Rey struck home the same year with “Nerves,” one of the earliest tales, if not the earliest, dealing with an accident at a nuclear power plant.

Perhaps riffing off of Stapledon’s Sirius, Clifford Simak‘s City (1944) was the first of several stories eventually collected in a book of the same name dealing with a future Earth abandoned by humans and left to intelligent dogs. It is the dogs left behind that tell the stories of man’s abandonment of cities for a rural lifestyle and his eventual flight into space.

SF veteran Jack Williamson successfully made the leap from space opera to the new wave of more serious science fiction when his story “With Folded Hands” appeared in Astounding for 1947. The story tells the tale of robots called Humanoids invented to serve mankind but who eventually exceed their programming to make sure no human comes to harm by becoming their pitiless masters.

The 1940s would mark a peak period for science fiction allowing it to coast through the 1950s into the 1960s when the genre would find its momentum finally begin to slow. By the time the new century rolled around, the field would become a pale shadow of its once vibrant past adding increased luster to what in hindsight can now be confirmed as SF’s golden age.

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King of Jordan: Trekkie

Friday, February 13th, 2015 - by Stephen Green

PRINCE

Back when he was a mere prince, his advisors managed to get King Abdullah II a cameo on Star Trek: Voyager, and now he’s kicking ISIS butt.

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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The Most Important, Visionary Science Fiction Stories of the 1930s

Saturday, January 31st, 2015 - by Pierre Comtois

The 1930s was a decade in which older, established, non-science fiction specific novelists ran neck in neck with rising young pulpsters who, for the first time, began to challenge their elders in originality and seriousness.

In past decades, writers like Jules Verne, Arthur Conan Doyle, and H.G. Wells dominated the public consciousness with their novels of science and the fantastic. They proved to others that the nascent genre of science fiction could be used to good effect both to warn against social ills and the pitfalls of a rising scientific culture.

At the same time, a completely different set of readers, mostly young and whose view of the future and science was less gloomy and more optimistic than their elders, began to coalesce around the science fiction genre.

Isolated by an ocean or by the vast landscapes of the United States, some of those young people hunkered down at typewriters working long, lonely hours writing, their imaginations fueled by the early pulp magazines of the 1920s which brought science fiction for the first time to a mass audience.

Murray Leinster, Doc Smith, Edmond Hamilton, Ray Cummings, Stanton A. Coblentz, Harl Vincent, and Jack Williamson all made their first appearances in such magazines as Amazing Stories, Argosy, Weird Tales, and Air Wonder Stories.

Clearly, like interstellar gasses concentrating into stars, the genre of science fiction was coming together with increasing rapidity with the 1930s being the decade when it all finally seemed to come together. In no other decade did so many classic tales of SF appear and so many authors make their initial debuts in print: “The Red Plague” by P. Schuyler Miller and “Marooned on Andromeda” by Clark Ashton Smith in 1930; “The First Martian” by Eando Binder in 1932; “A Matter of Size” by Harry Bates in 1934; “The Faithful” by Lester Del Rey in 1938; “Marooned off Vesta” by Isaac Asimov, “Ether Breather” by Theodore Sturgeon, and “Lifeline” by Robert Heinlein all in 1939.

In addition, readers of science fiction began to organize themselves. Letters pages in the magazines brought them together and made them realize that living in their small towns or feeling isolated in big cities, they were not alone. The first fanzines were launched right at the very start of the decade which became known as First Fandom (the first of many fan “eras”), amateur magazines publishing their own fan fiction proliferated, and fan clubs such as the Los Angeles Science Fiction League Chapter and the Futurians would become breeding grounds for some of the biggest SF authors of the 1940s.

The first SF convention between New York and New Jersey fans was held in 1936.

But most of this activity was happening “underground” so to speak. The larger world of letters still mostly ignored science fiction, only taking notice when an established author used the genre as a platform to address larger philosophical concerns. The 1930s would be the last major effort by these kinds of writers. For decades afterward, SF would retreat further underground or be considered primarily as juvenile literature until being rediscovered by the mass media following the huge success of the Star Wars films in the 1970s.

But as things stood in 1930, the field was still considered ripe for exploration by serious writers such as Olaf Stapledon, a professor of philosophy whose first book, A Modern Theory of Ethics, lacked a popular audience. Hoping to reach a wider public Stapledon decided to use science fiction as his vehicle and ended up writing Last and First Men (1930).

In it, the author tells the history of mankind extending two billion years into the future. Nothing like its terrible sweep of time and history was ever attempted before and it caused a sensation in literary circles and especially SF fans whose vistas had been broadened. Stapledon followed up that first success with a number of other groundbreaking novels including Odd John in 1936 about a super-human’s attempt to live in a world of ordinary men and Star Maker, published in 1937, that goes far beyond even the scope of Last and First Men to tell the history of the whole universe while exploring themes of life, death, eternity, and God.

By comparison, peers such as Aldous Huxley covered very limited subjects though no less important and prophetic in Brave New World, his controversial novel published in 1932. In it, the author describes a future society of 2540, one governed by a politically correct world state that strictly limits personal freedoms while keeping the masses content with recreational drug use and sex.

In response to the secular humanist values explored in the work of such contemporaries as Stapledon and H.G. Wells, C.S. Lewis wrote Out of the Silent Planet. Published in 1938, it became the first in a celebrated trilogy that posited alien worlds where original sin never took place (Mars) or was still in an Edenic state (Venus).

Contemporaneous with the British writers, American Philip Wylie anticipated the concept of the super-hero with Gladiator, a novel published in 1930. In it, the author tells the tale of Hugo Danner who’s endowed with super-strength and invulnerability. Through a number of adventures, Danner seeks a purpose in life until, asking God for help, he’s struck down by lightning and killed!

Meanwhile, the rising stars on the American pulp scene concerned themselves mostly with less weighty subjects than the novelists, although John W. Campbell made the attempt with a dramatic shift in his writing style beginning with the 1934 short story “Twilight.” Writing under the pseudonym Don A. Stuart, the author assumes a somber yet elegiac style to tell the story of an Earth where mankind is dying out with machines preparing to take over and continue his legacy.

The same year that Campbell embarked on his new literary trajectory, Stanley G. Weinbaum was revolutionizing SF with “A Martian Odyssey.” It told the story of a man lost on Mars who befriends one of the natives, a birdlike creature named Tweel whom the author creates as a fully rounded personality with a completely alien perspective. It was the beginning of the end of the stereotypical Bug Eyed Monster of the kind popularized by Edmond Hamilton.

Still riding high in the 1930s was E.E. Doc Smith who proved to fans that he still had what it took with the Galactic Patrol, published in 1937. In it, the author introduces the concept of the Lensmen, law enforcers armed with a device that gives them special powers to combat criminals who threatened the spaceways. Perhaps representative of an aspect of SF that was waning even as the story was being serialized in Astounding, it was influential on later iterations of space opera and in present day comic books.

Based on the outrageous theories of Charles Fort, Eric Frank Russell crafted the novel Sinister Barrier which first appeared in Unknown Worlds magazine in 1939. In it, Russell popularizes the concept that the Earth is the “property” of a race of beings that remain forever hidden behind a invisible, uncrossable barrier.

Taken together, the science fiction of the 1930s presented a vastly diverse field for a growing number of enthusiastic readers to explore. A field that would only grow more fantastic in the next decade, the so-called “golden age of science fiction,” when the serious novelists mostly disappeared and writers who began as fans took over, regularized the genre and matured it into a fascinating exploration of future possibilities.

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See the previous installments in this series:

The 10 Most Influential Science Fiction Stories of the 1910s

The 10 Most Influential Science Fiction Stories of the 1920s

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Who Are Your Dream Directors To Shoot Star Wars Spin-Offs?

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015 - by Stephen Green

There’s so much to explore in the Star Wars universe, that something like this could easily become a standout entry in the Saga.

What would you want to see?

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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Indiana Jones in Reverse

Monday, January 12th, 2015 - by Kathy Shaidle

indianajones1-02

Remember after 9/11, when all kinds of bloggers posted that clip from Raiders of the Lost Ark?

You know: The one in which, bored with an Arab swordsman’s show-offy moves, Jones pulls out his pistol and shoots him dead?

Seeing all those posts really cheered me up back then.

“Wow,” I thought. “America is gonna go kick some ass!”

And then those same bloggers and pundits — many of whom I respect mightily — kept repeating the words of some Iraqi guy during the invasion, who was gleefully shouting, “Democracy! Whiskey! Sexy!”

Those bloggers and pundits were certain that this meant millions of Muslims had been dying (literally) for the good guys to rescue them.

They wanted the same things we wanted. George Bush said so in his Second Inaugural.

I wanted to believe. But I wasn’t so sure.

Any more than I was as certain as these bloggers that the future lay in the latest cool gadgets, and how cameras and computers were getting cheaper all the time, and Bush just got reelected and hey, Who’s going to the Rose Bowl this year?

Maybe because I’m Canadian.

Maybe because I’m a girl.

Maybe because I was raised Catholic.

Maybe because I’m naturally contrarian.

For whatever reason, all this boyish bluster, I thought, didn’t bode well.

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Thank God for Marvel’s Agent Carter Feminism

Saturday, January 10th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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Don’t let the stereotypical G.I. lunks distract you with their butt-smacking, “don’t you need to file something” portrayal of 1940s masculinity. Marvel’s Agent Carter is far from your oh-so-played-out second wave feminist portrayal of manhood – and womanhood, for that matter. Which is why it’s the best show going on television for feminism today.

For every lunk there’s a hero, Carter’s colleague Agent Sousa being one of them. One brilliant expository exchange sets the tone, demonstrating exactly how appealing real men find Carter’s fearless independence:

Carter: “I’m grateful. I’m also more than capable of handling whatever these adolescents throw at me.”

Sousa: “Yes, ma’am. Doesn’t mean I have to like it.”

Carter: “Well that’s another thing we have in common.”

Carter is a fully empowered female. Sousa knows it, respects it, and likes it. And Carter likes him for it. This kind of His Girl Friday exchange gets equity feminism the screen time our culture so desperately needs. Unlike her Avengers’ counterpart the Black Widow, Agent Carter isn’t squished into slicked up body suits and forced to perform gymnastic feats in order to intrigue her male audience. And unlike gender feminists, Carter draws authority from her sex and uses it to save the day.

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The 5 Anime Series Streaming on Netflix to Avoid at All Costs

Monday, December 8th, 2014 - by Isaac A. Hunt

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Netflix has been very good about making all kinds of anime content available to stream instantly, much to the delight of anime nerds everywhere. However, in order to get the most popular shows, Netflix often gets saddled with having to take… less desirable programs.  Watching anime on Netflix is like navigating a minefield: one wrong step and you are launched into a world of revolting terror. This list is a guide to help the less experienced anime viewer avoid the pitfalls that come with exploring new territory.

5. Sword Art Online

Sword Art Online is an infuriatingly dumb show. At first, the program suffers with just unfortunate incompetence, but then stumbles into a pit of unceasing perversion and stupidity. SAO follows the story of Kirito, a video game player who gets trapped in a virtual-reality MMO. Death in the game means death in real life, so Kirito and his friends have to walk a dangerous path in order to beat the game and escape.

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What’s With That New Lightsaber in The Force Awakens Trailer?

Monday, December 1st, 2014 - by Walter Hudson

We’ve all seen it a few dozen times by now, the first teaser trailer for J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens. For the most part, it looks quite good. Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm and hiring of Abrams signaled a clear advancement of the franchise from the malaise of the prequels to something better resembling the original trilogy. Indeed, this trailer’s aesthetic looks a lot more like classic Star Wars than anything we saw in Episodes I through III.

There’s only one major hiccup, and it’s quite concerning. While the TIE fighters look like TIE fighters, the X-Wings look like X-Wings, and the Millennium Falcon looks better than ever, what’s up with that new lightsaber?

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With Abrams’ direction setting the tone for the plethora of Star Wars films due in the next six years, his creative choices prove definitive and therefore important. We can look to his previous efforts in the Star Trek franchise for clues into how he will approach it.

One thing that seemed very clear from Abrams’ approach to Star Trek was that he wasn’t shy about drastically altering the aesthetic of the universe. Everything from the way phasers work to the look of warp drive to the Apple store-themed bridge of the Enterprise was a sharp deviation from the franchise’s established look and feel.

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Lwaxana Troi: Star Trek’s Most Polarizing Woman?

Thursday, November 20th, 2014 - by Ash Freeman

Lwaxana

Editor’s Note: See Ash Freeman’s wonderful article “Why Star Trek: The Next Generation Is Great in Spite of Being Mostly Terribleand the previous installments in this series: Part 1: Tasha YarPart 2: Deanna TroiPart 3: Beverly Crusher, and Part 4: Dr. Pulaski, Guinan, and Ensign Ro

Lwaxana Troi

Lwaxana’s place in Trek fandom is as polarizing as they come; her pushy, enthusiastic nature was incredibly off-putting to some, while others were endeared by it. Her flirtations with Picard, and other suitors of the week were hit or miss, but the real depth in Lwaxana’s character came when they started to peel back the layers behind her bombastic exterior.

Lwaxana’s life comes across as tragic once more of her back-story is revealed in the episode “Dark Page.” In it, we are shown the worst moment a parent could have in their lives: the loss of a child. Lwaxana suppressed all memory of her lost daughter Kestra, refusing to speak of or think of her ever again. This, combined with the loss of her husband Ian was too much for her to bear. Eventually the strain of this began to make her erratic, forcing Lwaxanna into a coma. She recovers by the end of the episode (because of course she does), but when viewed with this information in mind, many of her exploits before and after this episode become tinted in a more heartbreaking context.

Lwaxana fussing over daughter Deanna dragging her heels to get married is her compensating for the loss of her husband and her own way of wanting what’s best for her daughter, as is her stubbornness to lose potential suitor Timicin to his culture’s suicide ritual in the episode “Half a Life”. Lwaxana’s aggressive interactions with Picard are also potentially a result of this. “Cost of Living” has her doting over Worf’s son Alexander like a grandmother, as she likely wishes she had the opportunity to do with Kestra. Lwaxana became more three-dimensional, but only insofar as one was willing to empathize with her after considering this subtext.

These themes of marriage and parenthood would continue on in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, but the question of how effective they were and how well her character was integrated with that cast and setting is for another day.

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The Top 10 Cinematic Portrayals of DC Comics Villains

Friday, November 14th, 2014 - by Walter Hudson

Warner Bros. recently announced an aggressive slate of films based upon DC Comics properties which will share a single cinematic universe, an answer to the successful franchise which Marvel Studios has built since 2008’s Iron Man. The DC slate opens with 2016’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and will continue the same year with Suicide Squad, which director David Ayer recently described as “The Dirty Dozen with supervillains.”

In the comics, the Suicide Squad boasts DC’s B-list villains, characters like Deadshot and Captain Boomerang. However, if rumors now circulating prove true, the cinematic interpretation of Suicide Squad may boast A-list villains like Lex Luthor and the Joker. Reports claim that bombshell actress Margot Robbie has been cast as Harley Quinn, and that Oscar-winner Jared Leto is in talks to play Joker.

In any case, the roster of DC Comics villains portrayed in live-action film is about to explode. Before that happens, let’s consider where the existing rogues gallery ranks. Here are the top 10 cinematic portrayals of DC Comics villains.

#10. Cillian Murphy’s Scarecrow

When it was announced that Christopher Nolan would be rebooting the Batman franchise years after Joel Schumacher piloted it into the ground, no one could have predicted how definitive the result would become. Among the bold moves made in re-imagining the property was featuring lesser known villains, including the Scarecrow.

Actor Cillian Murphy took what could have easily been a camp character and grounded him in a believable reality. Dr. Jonathan Crane served a vital narrative purpose befitting his nature as a criminal psychologist obsessed with fear. Fear stood as the dominant theme in Batman Begins, as Bruce Wayne turned his fear against the criminals holding an unholy grip upon Gotham City.

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5 Reasons Why People Adore Anime

Friday, November 14th, 2014 - by Isaac A. Hunt

In my previous article, “6 Reasons Why People Avoid Anime,” I explored various elements that drove people away from the medium of anime. Today, I would like to take the time to examine the opposite. Why do people love anime? What hooks people in and doesn’t let them go? Anime garners so much adulation and passion from its viewers, often to the point of madness. In this article, I will identify and dissect the five aspects of anime that I feel attract and sustain its fanbase.

Not only will I examine the artistic and creative merits of anime, I will delve into what makes it a powerful industry. Part of what makes anime great is that many of its inherit traits satisfy both the entertainment desires of the audience, and the business interests of the producers and media companies.

5. The Animation Catches Your Attention

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This one is fairly simple, and is the most noticeable. Japanese animators have used “limited animation” for years, and many of the practices have given anime its iconic look. Limited animation uses less motion and fewer individual frames, in order to save time and money. However, the lack of more fluid motion in limited animation allows for intriguing and engaging stylistic choices. Silhouettes, abstract animation, and atmospheric still shots can all be considered “limited animation,” but they each serve a purpose in setting tone and atmosphere.  

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Why We Worship Celebrities

Sunday, November 9th, 2014 - by Spencer Klavan

Olympus

The lights went out on Mount Olympus a long time ago, but they’re burning bright on the red carpet. There’s a connection there – it’s not a coincidence that a world without Greek gods is a world that wants to know what Brad Pitt eats for breakfast.  We can’t worship the ancient pantheon anymore – it would be ridiculous, and, God be praised, we know better. But like it or not, there’s a space in the human heart shaped like the pagan deities. That’s the space we’ve filled with T-Swift and J-Biebz, with Miley Cyrus and Will Smith. Absurd but true: with the old temples empty, we’ve built new altars to matinée idols.

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What Does That New Star Wars Title Mean?

Friday, November 7th, 2014 - by Walter Hudson

force-awakens-star-wars-1

The official word dropped from Walt Disney Pictures on Thursday that the title of the new Star Wars film will be The Force Awakens. It doesn’t take much chum to get Star Wars nerds chomping with speculation. So what do these three little words mean?

This marks the first time that the Force has been referenced in a film title. How significant is that? What is the Force awakening from? Has it been somehow subdued in the wake of Return of the Jedi? If so, by what, or whom?

As a fan of the original trilogy who tolerates the prequel films as canon, I have always found the prospect of Episode VII dubious. Do I want another Star Wars film, let alone the five to follow in as many years? Of course. Who doesn’t? However, as a fan, it’s difficult to see where the narrative of this saga goes after the events of Return of the Jedi.

The first six films relate the tale of Anakin Skywalker and his fulfillment of an ancient Jedi prophecy regarding the balance of the Force. Ostensibly, when Anakin emerges from the vestige of Darth Vader and destroys his Sith master at Jedi’s end, that prophecy stands fulfilled and balance has been restored.

Where do you go from there? That’s the question which haunts Disney’s effort. If, in the interest of expanding this mythology for new films, it is revealed that Anakin’s sacrifice was somehow inadequate, that will seriously undermine the gravity of his narrative and cheapen his redemption. That could be too high a price to pay for more Star Wars.

We’re probably six months out from the first trailer. Until then, these three little words will have to suffice as fodder for speculation.

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