Rick and Morty

What with Futurama cancelled and unlikely to be uncancelled anytime soon and the Venture Brothers taking its sweet time, I recently turned to Rick and Morty for a dose of adult science fiction humor. I was turned off from this show after seeing the pilot two years ago. I heard a bunch of recent endorsements for the show praising it as one of the smartest shows on television. After bingeing the series over the course of a week, I do not regret my decision to watch this show.

The best that I can describe Rick and Morty is as a mix between Futurama, The Venture Brothers, The Simpsons, and Adventure Time. And it’s rated R. The gist is that an aged mad scientist named Rick Sanchez enlists his moronic grandson Morty to be his sidekick in his strange adventures. The two go tramping around through the galaxy and through alternate timelines and universes.

There is a lot of black comedy at work. I cannot stress that enough. Much of it is morbid and there’s quite a lot of nihilism at work. A few laughs are guaranteed each episode but a feeling of self-esteem is not.

Rick is an amazingly fascinating protagonist. He somewhat reminds me of Doctor Venture. Thing is, Doc tries to put on the appearance of being a good father to his children. Rick is far too much of a sociopath to put on appearances most of the time. He manipulates his family for his own selfish reasons. He is also an alcoholic and a drug abuser.

Regardless, the man is a technical genius. He assembled a functional spaceship out of junk that he found in the garage. He built a portal gun that can traverse space and alternate dimensions. This is a character who could seriously advance human civilization if he cared to.

It is heavily implied that his drug abuse is meant to dull emotional scarring and suicidal tendencies that were brought on from years of trauma involving mad science. His sociopathy could be a defense mechanism to push people away for fear that they’ll be hurt by proximity. Rick is shown to have a soft side on rare moments. He cares about his grandchildren and will go to surprising lengths to protect them.

The show has some surprisingly serious moments that get really depressing. Rick tries to commit suicide at the end of one episode after getting dumped by a lover but fails because he is too drunk. There are also at least three instances of attempted rape over the two seasons that are not played for laughs.

One aspect of the show that I find interesting that most shows would have found dull is the rest of the family. Morty lives with his parents, Jerry and Beth, and his older sister, Summer. The pilot episode suggested that the family would be ignorant of Rick and Morty’s sci-fi adventures while they dealt with their more mundane issues. This concept was quickly done away with when the family quickly became aware of Rick’s works as a mad scientists. The Smith family knows that aliens exist and that there are a bunch of time travel and radioactive gadgets in the garage.

Summer is a typical teenager who texts a lot and is much more socially adjusted than Morty. Jerry and Beth have a dysfunctional marriage and often get into arguments. Beth loves Rick and is glad to have her father back in her life but Jerry has contempt for Rick, who he sees as a bad influence on their son. Beth is a successful veterinarian who operates on horses and Jerry is often insecure with his own intelligence (or lack thereof).

Strangely enough, the one part of Rick and Morty that I really don’t care about is Morty himself. I just don’t find his personality interesting or enjoyable. He is mildly stupid and is hinted at as having some sort of learning disability, though no one is sure what. He never really grows or changes or learns anything significant throughout the two seasons. He gets shocked and traumatized by the bizarre and disturbing things that he has seen but this has no effect on how he goes about his adventuring business. It should be noted that I really don’t hate Morty. He does show some initiative on occasion, which I like.

This post was written shortly after the season two finale. And what a finale it was! There are hints of a larger story arc at work involving alternate universes and a large Galactic Federation. The status quo has been seriously changed and I do not know if it will change back to normal or change to something else entirely. Regardless, it will be hilarious.

I eagerly anticipate season 3!

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Movie Review: Expelled from Paradise

It’s rare to find a really good science fiction film based around a high-concept premise. Expelled from Paradise almost delivers on the really good part but succeeds in the high-concept department. This is a Japanese animated film that came out in 2014. My feelings on the film are rather mixed.

The gist is that it is the far future. The Earth has been devastated by some ecological catastrophe that happened long ago. The few people on the surface scrape out a meager living. The majority of the human population resides in a large habitat called Deva that orbits the planet. But not only that, the residents of Deva have had their consciousnesses digitized and reside in a digital realm Matrix-style. The Deva citizens are happy and content with their entirely digital lives.

The conflict comes when some outside force from Earth hacks into the digital realm with limited success. The hacking incidents are sudden but rather harmless and are conducted by an entity called Frontier Settler who is trying to contact the Deva citizens for unknown reasons. A security agent named Angela Balzac is assigned to go to Earth to determine the source of this hacking. Seeing as how she is basically a bunch of digital information, the authorities clone an artificial body that she can download into so she can interact with the corporeal world. Angela rockets to Earth with a fresh body and a giant mecha to help her.

Most of her equipment is rendered moot when she meets her partner, an Earthling named Dingo. Dingo comes across as an easy-going person with a surprising pragmatic streak to him. He disables most of Angela’s equipment when he takes out a radio antenna on the back of her mecha. This eliminates her link to Deva but prevents her from being hacked.

Angela and Dingo travel across the Mad Max-like Earth as a sort of odd-couple. The two have some chemistry between them. Angela is initially haughty and convinced that she is a more evolved human than the Earthlings. Dingo is casual and laid back and is quite subversive in how he goes about his job. The two go about like detectives to look for Frontier Settler.

There are some interesting sci-fi concepts at work. Angela is not used to a cloned body and has never been sick or hungry before. She has never been tired, either. She has rations to sustain her but the equipment meant to monitor her condition was rendered useless when Dingo cut her link to Deva. She turns ill when she exerts herself because she is unused to feeling her condition with her organic senses.

Dingo and Angela debate the merits of both digital life in Deva and physical life on Earth. Neither one is perfect and they both have their flaws and uncertainties. It would have been easy to say that the new digital existence is inherently flawed but Expelled from Paradise is not so luddite as that. I was a little bummed when it is revealed that Deva’s authorities are rather totalitarian in their rule.

The animation is hit and miss. The entire film is rendered in 3D polygons but in a way that makes it look hand-drawn. Anime has rarely been good at 3D but Expelled from Paradise makes it work. (Just barely) A lot of 3D anime has a super low framerate, which makes it look like crap, but EfP partially avoids that by having the characters move as if they were hand drawn. There are still shots where only the characters mouths move. The film only looks 3D when entire bodies move. The animation may not do it for everyone but I found it tolerable. The only thing that really looks really out of place is Angela’s long hair. The strands move like plastic.

The film climaxes with a big robot fight in which Angela fights off a bunch of other Deva agents while they pilot giant mecha. This is the best animated part of the film and you can tell that the animators really put their all into it. I guess staggered animation is more acceptable when it shows machines moving. The mecha are designed to fold up into easily transportable balls and shells. The armored shells break away to form armor in robot mode and one can see the exposed working underneath. I want to say that I have seen a similar aesthetic before but I cannot recall from where, exactly.

Overall, Expelled from Paradise made me feeling like I wanted more. I want to know more of how Deva works. What kinds of jobs are available to people who are digitized consciousnesses? What is the full extent of the relationship between Deva and Earth? Does memory storage act like a sort of currency?

I would not call Expelled from Paradise a must-see-movie. If you’re a fan of Gen Urobuchi’s and Seiji Mizushima’s work, then I do suggest that you see it. Those two turn out fairly consistent work. I also suggest this for people who like strange sci-fi ideas.

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The Muppets

I’ve been a fan of the Muppets for a long time. Since preschool, probably. I’ve only seen a few episodes of the original Muppet Show. I grew up on their early films. I think I saw Muppet Treasure Island in the theater with my family. Point is, these are characters that I am very familiar with and I was excited to see this new take on them.

This is definitely a more grown-up Muppets than we have seen before. That is not to say that it is completely adult. It’s not like that Behind the Music: Electric Mayhem sketch on Robot Chicken. The Muppets are still a family-focused franchise. But the normally G-rated shtick has been changed to PG. Kermit invokes God on two occasions, the word ‘hell’ is dropped, Zoot is hinted to be an alcoholic, and there are some surprising relationship issues.

The gist is that Miss Piggy has a talk show called Up Late With Miss Piggy and the Muppets work on it. Kermit is the put-upon manager who has to deal with the stress of coordinating a bunch of whack-jobs. Scooter is his gofer. Fozzie is the unfunny warm-up comedian. Sam makes certain that the show adheres to broadcasting standards. Electric Mayhem in the band. Gonzo and a bunch of others perform sketches. Statler and Waldorf heckle from the audience, naturally. Strangely enough, I don’t think I saw Rowlf the Dog or the Swedish Chef.

The focus of the first episode is the relationship between Kermit and Piggy. Or more accurately, their lack of a relationship. They’re broken up. The couple’s relationship has always been a bit rocky (that’s part of the charm) but The Muppets takes it up to a whole new level. Kermit has had one too many spontaneous camera hogging (pun intended) from his beau and decided to end their relationship.

The two still have to work together. Piggy is a demanding lunatic. Kermit seeks romantic solace in a new muppet called Denise, who is also a pig. Only she has a slightly southern accent. I think there is supposed to be some commentary here on how longing for one’s ex leads a person to seek out a lover just like them. Denise’s character hasn’t really been explored yet and I’m hoping that we’ll get to know her better.

Kermit comes off as more forceful and condescending than how he is traditionally portrayed. He is downright nasty to Gonzo, Rizzo, and Pepe when they pitch an unfunny sketch. Kermit is clearly breaking under the pressure and the results are a little… off. I don’t want to say that this is totally out of character for him. Seeing him buckle after years of trying to be a nice guy is believable but seeing such a children’s icon act this way is a mite strange.

Fozzie features in a subplot in which he tries to date a human girl and meets her parents, who are disparaging of him for being a bear. I have to admit that I did not find much humor in this subplot. There were jokes, sure, but they felt a little stale. Fozzie is best when he works off of the other Muppets, unlike Gonzo, who is great on his own. Sadly, Gonzo does not get much screen time this episode. I’m sure he’ll get more screen time later.

Elizabeth Banks guest stars as, well, a guest star on Piggy’s show. She even gets into a fight with Scooter. Tom Bergeron from Dancing With the Stars has a cameo. Imagine Dragons (Yeah, I’d never heard of them either) serve as the guest band and play alongside the Electric Mayhem.

The Muppets has gotten a lot of mixed responses from critics. This is mostly due to the slightly more adult content. I think it’s fine. It’s definitely not a stain on the Muppet’s history. Not all of the jokes need to land, but there is enough to keep me invested. I’ll be tuning in next week.

Waldorf: Relationship issues? They need to express their feelings more!
Statler: Yeah, they should take a lesson from us!
Both: Do-ho-ho-ho!

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Book Review: Second Foundation

After reading the first and second books, it was inevitable that I read the third and last book in the Foundation Trilogy. This one took me a lot longer to read than the others. For whatever reason, it is much more of a slog than the previous two books were. I think that has something to do with the plots.

Like the second book, Second Foundation is divided into two halves. The first half continues from where the last book left off. The Mule is in control of a sizeable chunk of the galaxy and still has his mind-manipulation powers that he uses to bend people to his will. He is obsessed with finding the Second Foundation because he still believes it to be a threat to his new empire. If the Second Foundation were a failsafe meant to ensure that Hari Seldon’s plan succeeds, then they could have some measure to counter the Mule and his new empire.

To find the elusive Second Foundation, the Mule sends two men to look for it. The first is a military officer named Pritcher, who was in the previous book and has his mind altered by the Mule. The second is a younger officer named Channis, who is not under the Mule’s power. Together, the get in a spaceship and fly off to look for the Second Foundation.

There are brief moments where the narrative gives the reader glimpses of the Second Foundation but these are small snippets. They reveal that, yes, the Second Foundation does indeed exist, and that they are aware of the Mule’s search for them. The foundation’s leader, the First Speaker, mentions working drastically to keep themselves hidden.

This sounds like a much better idea than the other books had. Instead of being chained to a predetermined plan, these people are improvising and the outcome is unknown. …And then the end continues to disappoint. Channis follows clues that lead him to believe that he knows where the Second Foundation is. Pritcher concurs and the two fly off to lay siege to the planet where they suspect it to be.

What follows is some of the worst narrative put to words thus far and that is saying something. Pritcher suspects Channis of being a spy from the Second Foundation and goes into a long-winded tirade about how the younger officer’s discovery of the Second Foundation was a little too convenient. Channis counters with a counter-tirade about how he is, in fact, not a spy and that Pritcher is getting too old for this. The two trade counter-arguments until Pritcher collapses and the Mule steps in.

What follows is more back-and-forth dialogue between Channis and the Mule over how each of them says that they know what the other thinks and thinks that they know how the other knows and how they’ve planned for such contingencies in the event that they knew what they thought and… Yeah, look, I kind of zoned out during this part. But what I’ve written is accurate enough, trust, me.

Eventually, the First Speaker of the Second Foundation steps in and has yet more dialogue with the Mule. It is revealed that Channis was under some mind-manipulation from the Second Foundation into thinking that he knew what he really does not. Specifically, that the Second Foundation is not where the officer though it was. The people of the Second Foundation have similar mind-control powers to those of the Mule, but theirs’ are learned with great practice and are not as potent. The First Speak tricks the Mule into letting his mental defenses down by lying to him and saying that a fleet of warships has destroyed his empire. The Mule despairs for a brief second and this allows the Speaker to alter his mind the tiniest fraction and to change him without him noticing it. The Mule is drained of all motives of conquest and goes back to ruling his empire until he dies shortly thereafter.

I like the idea of this setup but the payoff is anti-climactic. It relies too much on events that happened off-stage and unforeseen developments that the reader has no way of knowing could happen. It is like a poorly written mystery novel where the identity of the culprit is is solved by a bunch of people standing around and talking and revealing evidence that was hidden from the reader. Sometimes, the worst stories are not the stupid ones, but the lame ones that think that they are really smart.

And that is only the first half of the book. The second half is where it really feels like trudging through waist-deep mud.

The second half takes place some two generations after the events of the first half. The Mule is dead. He died from natural causes shortly into his reign due to complications with genetic defects. Two dictators have succeeded him since and tried to maintain the Mule’s empire. The First Foundation has broken away and goes to war against the Mule’s empire. Meanwhile, the knowledge of the Second Foundation being comprised of people with psychic powers is revealed and makes a group of people on Terminus rather uneasy.

The idea of a group of people with psychic powers manipulating history from the shadows is an interesting one. We are shown a (new?) First Speaker who takes on an apprentice and has him explain psychohistory for the reader’s benefit. They mention that there is some flexibility to the plan to account for unforeseen occurrences. I like the idea of the Second Foundation being flexible and having contingencies. Unfortunately, any contingencies are strictly in place to stick as close to the old plan as possible. They are insistent on having Terminus and the First Foundation be the core of the new empire.

I was hoping that the plot would focus on someone or some people trying to figure out a way to create a new empire from the wreckage instead of trying to stick of a script. After all, the Mule left a functional empire after his death. His main flaw was not leaving a means of choosing a successor. Why not use that as the basis for a new galactic civilization? The book could have been about learning to adapt with unforeseen change. But no, I guess that Asimov is too square for that.

Most of the second half focuses on a teenage girl called Arcadia (Arkady) Darrell, who is the granddaughter of Bayta from the second book. The purpose of Arcadia in this book is quite odd at first, as she seems to have no bearing on the plot. Most of the book is focused on her adventures in the galaxy. She stows away on a spaceship so she can get to Kalgan, the capital of the Mule’s empire, simply so she can have an adventure. She futzes around and nearly gets abducted into being the local lord’s wife and then she escapes to Trantor, the heart of the former Galactic Empire. She gets the notion that she knows where the Second Foundation is and relays its location to her father on Terminus.

Arcadia’s father has a long and grueling talk with his associates and each one gives an overly complicated deduction for their own theories on where the Second Foundation is. Is it on the edge of the galaxy? Is it on Kalgan? His associate deduce from Arcadia’s message that the Second Foundation has been located on Terminus all along and has been manipulating them with psychic powers for centuries. The men of the First Foundation create a device that interferes with mind control and gives headaches to psychics. They use this device to weed out the fifty some odd psychics on Terminus and then kill them. This makes them think that they have completely destroyed the Second Foundation and are able to continue with creating a new and improved galactic empire.

And then it turns out that this is all a ruse and the Second Foundation manipulated events this way so that the people of Terminus will think that they have won. That way, the Second Foundation will not be suspected and will continue to manipulate events from the shadows. And wait, there’s more! It is revealed that Arcadia was psychically manipulated since birth into leading the First Foundation astray. Yes, the closest thing that this book has to a main character was simply an unwitting tool all along. Oh, and the Second Foundation has always been located on Trantor. For real, this time! It turns out that they were using their psychic powers to ensure the fall of the Empire from its very core so that the First Foundation would have room to start the second empire.

So, to reiterate: The Second Foundation intentionally destabilizes an empire so that it will collapse and endanger the livelihoods of trillions of people across the galaxy. They willingly choose not to use their powers to manipulate events to keep the empire stable and functioning. They subvert free will in people and risk the lives of children all for the sake of a plan that they think to be predestined. They martyr fifty of their own people all for the sake of remaining anonymous.

And these are the people that we are supposed to admire and rout for! Unless this was supposed to secretly be some kind of horror story, I do not see the appeal. I mean, I had my gripes about the first two books, but neither of them left as bad a taste in my mouth as this one.

The idea of looking for the Second Foundation is an interesting one. I thought that the final reveal could have been a lot cleverer, though. I thought that a much smarter reveal would be to have the Second Foundation decentralized and spread out across many different worlds with cells and chapters focusing on their own regions. It would certainly play with the reader’s expectations. (Funnily enough, this was actually theorized by one of the characters. But no, it’s on Trantor.)

Why did Hari Seldon even mention the existence of the Second Foundation to the First Foundation at all? It is stated multiple times that the Second Foundation can manipulate events best from the shadows without being seen. Instead, the reveal of its existence ends up creating so much chaos and it endangers the plan that the old coot set into motion and bet the entirety of galactic civilization on. And this is supposed to be the all-knowing smart guy?

And you know what the weird thing is? I feel guilty for hating these books. Before Foundation, there was nothing like this in fiction. Asimov was one of the first authors to propel science-fiction passed simple adventure and action stories. These books paved the way for later stories that would become improve on the idea. So what is it about the Foundation Trilogy that fails?

Is it because of the lack of world-building? No, I don’t think so. I never got the sense for what this galaxy feels like but that is not a crippling flaw. Is it because of the preference for politics and diplomacy over adventure and action? I actually think that is one of these books’ more charming points. Is it because it is overly talky? No, dialogue can be fun… if it is written well.

The reason that these books do not hold up is because the main characters are simple pawns whose actions have no influence on the plot whatsoever.

I will not be reading any more Foundation books. I just do not have the motivation for it. I do not want to read more about wooden characters pontificating on obtuse matters when nothing they do will have any impact on the plot.

Overall, a huge disappointment.

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Book Review: Foundation and Empire

After pondering on the first book for a while, I decided to pick up Foundation and Empire. Well, the collection that I have has the original trilogy in a single thick book, so it is not like it was difficult to find. I hoped that the flaws in the first book would be corrected and they partially are. There is less emphasis on the grand scope of the timeline and there is more emphasis on the characters. Unfortunately, there are a lot more mistakes that continue in this book that make it so much more frustrating.

The book is divided into two halves and are essentially two smaller books packaged into a larger book. Anyway, having two larger stories is much better than the smaller novellas that comprised the first book. This allows us to focus more on the characters and plotlines. The plots seem interesting at first but end up having some of the lamest endings.

The first half of the book is titled, The General. The reader is introduced to Riose, a young general of the Galactic Empire. Riose is an adventuring sort and wishes to travel to the Foundation for the purposes of conquering it for the empire. The Galactic Empire is in slow decline at this point and reclaiming some of its lost territory is seen as a good thing. Naturally, conquering the Foundation will hinder Hari Seldon’s plan to maintain human civilization.

An independent trader named Lathan Devers and an imperial official named Ducem Barr team up with each other to try and put a stop to Riose’s plan. Devers is from the Foundation and does not want his homeland to be conquered and Barr’s homeland was conquered by the Empire and wants some revenge against it. They escape from Riose in their superfast spaceship and fly through space to the imperial capital to try and petition the emperor to stop the invasion.

This is a much better setup than the previous book where it was simply a bunch of characters following Hari Seldon’s plan to maintain the Foundation. The story is paced much better and has a greater sense of urgency to it. Unfortunately, the story completely fumbles in the ending.

The General ends with the situation simply resolving itself. Riose’s invasion attempt is initially successful but he is recalled to the capital where the emperor has him executed. This is done without any input from Devers or Barr. The emperor apparently thought that Riose was too much of an upstart general and was a threat to his rule. Such a thing was predicted by Seldon… yet again.

So, the Foundation is all fine and is not invaded and everything is all hunky dory. Nothing that Devers or Barr did has any effect upon the outcome of the crisis. It makes me wonder what the point of following these characters or this story? To show how Hari Seldon was always right? This is a very poor story. Nothing that happens here has any effect upon future events.

The continued ‘science’ of psychohistory continues to frustrate me. The reader is given no details for exactly how psychohistory works. The characters assure that it is a way to predict the outcome of societies and populations. It is mentioned that psychohistory cannot predict the actions of individuals. This makes little sense, seeing as how populations are made up of individuals. In addition, the masses of galactic society have little power in this world. The outcome of the first half deals with the emperor executing the titular general, which is based on individual psychology.

The second half of the book is called The Mule. The plot for this one is much better than the first one but still turns out to be pretty lame. It concerns effects of the titular character upon the galaxy. The Mule is a warlord who goes on to conquer large portions of the galaxy after the empire’s collapse. His new domain creeps upon the borders of the Foundation, which is now the largest power in the galaxy.

The ostensible main characters are a woman named Bayta and her husband Toran. They are joined by a psychologist and scientist named Mis. They are also joined by a fool named Magnifico who claims to be a former court jester for the Mule and is on the run from his former master. Like Devers and Barr, these characters have little impact on the story with the exception of a reveal at the end that is actually sort of clever.

Things are made interesting when the Foundation’s leaders anticipate a recorded message from Seldon explaining how to solve the crisis. This has happened something like two or three times before. Seldon anticipated an entirely different issue, however, and offers no advice on how to face the Mule.

The idea of Seldon’s prophetic path being tampered with is a great idea. It almost makes the first half somewhat more understandable because The General was all about how Seldon planned for every contingency. That makes the reveal that he failed all the more shocking. It ups the stakes and makes the plot tenser.

Bayta and Toran and company set out to try and save the Foundation and galactic civilization by going on a quest to look for the Second Foundation. The Second Foundation has been known to exist since early in the first book. It is supposedly located at the edge of the galaxy opposite the first foundation. The purpose of the first foundation was to maintain a level of technology and civilization in the galaxy. It is known that Hari Seldon has a small army of ‘psychologists’ with him but none of them were on Terminus. It is assumed that all of the psychologists went to the Second Foundation. It is theorized that this was done to act as some sort of failsafe in the event of an unforeseen catastrophe.

The Mule himself is a sort of genetic mutant with psychic powers. Specifically, he can alter the emotional state of those he meets. He uses this power in conjunction with typical persuasion to gather an army and conquer the universe. Seldon never anticipated psychic powers in his equation, this explaining how someone like the Mule escaped his predictions.

Now, this setup seems much more interesting. A wrench has been thrown into Hari Seldon’s prophecy. The protagonists need to do something in order to ensure that civilization will continue throughout the galaxy and not crumble over the weight of a mutant warlord.

Thing is, the way it pans out is incredibly frustrating. The main characters do little except for gawk in awe and fear at the Mule’s actions and how he conquerors world after world. The characters really have no impact on the story with the exception of Bayta, who makes one decisive action at the end that actually matters. This involves shooting a man who knew the location of the Second Foundation so the Mule cannot use his powers to get the information out of him. This also means that the protagonists cannot find the Second Foundation, either. But that’s fine, because Bayta is convinced at the end that the Second Foundation will prevail over the Mule’s new empire regardless.

So, in other words, there was no reason for the characters to look for the Second Foundation in the first place. The Second Foundation is predicted to triumph regardless. The entire quest is pointless. These books also seem pretty pointless.

Please, someone tell me that I am missing something here. Does anyone else notice this? How have these books become so popular? I cannot be the only one to notice these flaws. Were standards for science fiction different back then? What is going on? Is the third book supposed to make up for all of this?

This entire premise is flawed from a narrative standpoint. If Hari Seldon could predict any outcome and prepare for any contingency all in the past then what is the point of this story? It seems like the characters exist simply to gawk and gape at how foresighted the old man was as they dance to his tune. This would be a much more interesting narrative if the character’s actions had any lasting impact or if they could change anything but they don’t. None whatsoever!

The book ends with the Mule aware of the Second Foundation and trying to look for it so he can prevent it from being a threat to his new empire. I wonder if the Second Foundation has a bunch of psychologists that can have some influence on the galaxy, why not have the psychologists alter events in the crumbling empire to maintain civilization. Maybe this will be addressed in the next book?

I have to be honest and say that I little expectations for the last book, Second Foundation, at this point. Not that I won’t read it. At this point, I think I have to. …If only for completion’s sake.

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Book Review: Foundation

The foundation on this one has not settled well.

The Foundation Trilogy is one of the seminal classics of science-fiction literature. Its influence is felt across many of the books, films, and television shows that followed. So, on a boring afternoon, I decided to crack open the cover and get down to reading this book. It has been in my queue long enough.

Imagine my disappointment when I kept falling asleep while reading this. The plot is dull, the characters are unimaginative, and the setting is forgettable. Perhaps the ideas put forth by this book were new and exciting when it was published back in the forties but this is not a book that has aged well.

The basic plot involves a galaxy-spanning empire governed by an imperial monarchy that has existed for some ten thousand years. An old coot named Hari Seldon predicts that the empire will completely collapse within five hundred years and that another thirty thousand years of barbarism will follow in place of the civilization that exists. He supposedly knows this because he invents a pseudoscience called psychohistory. Just like it sounds, it is a combination of psychology and history, only with a lot of mathematics involved. From what the book says, psychohistory takes past events and models them as mathematic formulas for the purposes of predicting the future.

I have to believe that this must have been a way cooler idea in the forties when psychology was still in its infancy as a field of study. I can imagine modern psychologists rolling their eyes at this premise. The very concept of psychohistory sounds a lot more like sociology than psychology. I am not certain if Asimov even knew that the word sociology existed. Asimov does not show much knowledge of psychology, either. None of this psychohistory mumbo jumbo is ever explained in detail.

The plot kicks off when Seldon is arrested with the charge of sowing dissent in the empire by predicting it doom. One would think that if he were a real psychologist, then Seldon would have known how to present his predictions in a way that would appeal to others. Instead, the best he can do is to engineer events to the extent that he and his followers are exiled to a remote planet at the ass-edge galaxy called Terminus.

Seldon dies of advanced age not long after his exile but he leaves behind instructions for his followers, those of the Foundation, to uphold civilization given the few resources that they have. The book concerns some two hundred odd years of history in which the members of the Foundation deal with events that Seldon predicted.

And that is the real crux of this book. The story is separated into five different parts that are stretched across a two hundred year timeline. And the main characters are all human with lifespans that appear on par with modern humans. Each story introduces more characters and most of them are not heard of again after that story is through. Some of the characters cross over from one story to another but none appear in more than two. I can see this working better when the book was initially published as a series of novellas in the forties. The narrative is coherent but it is hardly engaging.

Each story deals with some problem that the Foundation faces when dealing with the changing political landscape around them. The story involves them creating a religion to manipulate the populace. Another once focuses on economic control. Nuclear deterrence is brought up in one story.

The book never really hangs around one character long enough for the reader to truly get a feel for them. The plot is too concerned with the overall picture that it fails to flesh out smaller details. I never quite got an idea of what culture in the galaxy is like. How exactly does a monarchy last for thousands of years in a more technologically advanced setting?

These ideas must have been new and exciting to read about half a century ago. That was when fantasy and science fiction were more focused on adventure stories. Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, and John Carter were swashbuckling heroes on personal adventures throughout space. Foundation was one of the first science-fiction books to focus on larger events like the wellbeing of a huge nation as opposed to whether or not a space cadent would hook up with a princess from Mars.

One can see a seed of an idea in Foundation that would go on to inspire later stories. Dune, Star Trek, and Star Wars all take inspiration from Foundation. And those all had similar stories, but were pulled off much better. Foundation has not aged well at all.

There are also technological ideas that are seriously dated. Nuclear fission is still treated as a rare and exciting source of power much like it was back in the forties and fifties. People also still read newspapers, suggesting that computers are not widespread. Oh, and the ostensible reason for the Foundation’s existence is to compile an encyclopedia to preserve the galaxy’s knowledge. This suggests that there is no information network to allow people to easily share knowledge and create wikis and whatnot. I know that it would have been difficult for Asimov to predict how technology would advance but that does not prevent the book from dating itself.

I do not want to say Foundation is terrible, but it feels much more like a museum piece than an actual enjoyable story. I have not read the sequels at this point. Maybe their stories are better told. But I will get to those later.

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Movie Review: Ant-Man

Because that is how you get ants… man!

It was either that or, “Bite-sized Superhero!” but I had to go with the Archer quote.

Like many others, I chuckled at the idea of Marvel making an Ant-Man film way back when. How does one make such a hokey superhero into a live action film. My interest was piqued when Edgar Wright was assigned to the project. And then Wright left the project at the beginning of filming due to creative difficulties. And then my interest fell again.

This has been one of the least anticipated films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (If not the least anticipated.) I kept my expectations mellow and went into the theater expecting a decent superhero flick. And that is exactly what I got.

The main character in this flick is not Hank Pym, who is the traditional Ant-Man, but Scott Lang, who is the current bearer of the Ant-Mantle. I am not certain why this is done. My guess is because Marvel wants to familiarize newcomers to the franchise with the current bearer of the Ant-Mantle. Hank does appear in the film, however, played by Michael Douglas.

Part of the plot involves Hank passing on the mantle to Scott in a way that we have not previously seen in a Marvel film before. The idea of having a mentor to help the new hero is a fresh take on the kind-of-becoming-stale superhero genre. Seeing yet another hero come across superpowers and learning what to do with them can only be done so many times before it gets old.

That is not to say that this film does not have similar moments. There is a scene where Scott puts on the suit and discovers that he can shrink and is overwhelmed by the notion. There is also a training scene where he leans to control the powers.

Scott is a very likeable protagonist. He is a master thief who has recently been released from prison after performing some Robin Hood-like theft on some big business. He has a family that he is estranged from and a daughter who he really wants to provide for. We see him break into a huge safe using some smart ingenuity and scientific know-how.

The antagonist is a stereotypical evil businessman named Darren Cross who gets ahold of the shrinking technology. One would think that having a shrink gun would have amazing civil uses like shrinking cargo to make it easier to ship, but no, this guy plans to use it for blatant evil. He develops a suit called the Yellowjacket that is shown to be used for nothing but assassination and murder. Cross comes off as a weaker version of Jeff Bridges’s Iron Monger character for the first Iron Man film.

The overall plot of the film is more like a heist movie. Hank hires Scott to be the new Ant-Man and break into Cross’s building where the Yellowjacket and shrinking technology is and wreck it.

The film strikes a delicate balance between being serious and comedic. There is quite a bit of mileage out of how much of a ridiculous (but surprisingly utilitary) a power shrinking is. The climax features Ant-Man and Yellowjacket duking it out and using their powers while small only to zoom out and show that their titanic-looking struggle only takes place on a model train set.

Ant-Man has three criminal sidekicks whose antics and quips also serve as comic relief. They seem a little gratuitous given the nature of the film. I would have much preferred more focus on Hope, Hank’s daughter who is teased at the very end to become the new Wasp. She has a significant role in the film, but I really would have like to see her kick a little more ass.

Ant-Man and Wasp are one of the few husband and wife superhero duos in comic books. That sort of dynamic is rare and I was hoping to see it on screen. The very end of the film teases that Hope will become the new Wasp but seeing as how this flick performed below expectations at the box office, I doubt that we will get to see that. The end of the film also guarantees the audience that Ant-Man will return, though in what capacity, who can say?

The science-y part of my brain was wondering how the whole shrinking thing works. Ant-Man’s volume clearly changes when he shrinks but they say that his density stays the same. This is supposedly what gives him his strength while small. One would think that mass would have more of an impact on all of this but that is not mentioned. Ant-Man can supposedly stand on top of a person without them knowing but hit with the strength of a bullet at the same time.

The ants are a surprising factor in the film. One of the Ant-Man suit’s powers is the ability to control ants through radio waves or some such. This power gets some creative uses throughout the film. There are four breeds of ants uses, each with their special abilities and they all get used in the big heist in the second half.

That said, Ant-Man is an enjoyable two hours. I don’t know if I ever need to watch the film again but after the grandiose stakes of the last Avengers film, Ant-Man is a refreshingly simple affair.

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Movie Review: Transformers Age of Extinction

So I felt in the mood for a bad action flick and noticed that the latest Transformers movie is on Amazon instant video. So, naturally, I fired it up and sat through a grueling two hour and forty five minute film. Here’s my thoughts.

The plot is strangely complicated for a Transformers movie. It starts off with a scene set in the Mesozoic period in which we see a bunch of dinosaurs being wiped out by the transformers. Yup, it was the transformers that killed the dinosaurs. The dinosaur scene moves on to a blond woman who is barely in the film going to the arctic where there is a robot dinosaur buried in the ice. Not sure what the point of this all is, seeing as how this has no impact on the plot whatsoever.

The main human characters are then introduced. Mark Wahlberg plays a guy named Yaeger who is a single parent and is overprotective of his daughter and wants to be an inventor but is not a very good inventor. He is earnest and eager but he is not particularly smart. He randomly comes across a truck that turns out to be a camouflaged Optimus Prime and then through no brain-power of his own, his life becomes meaningful and intense. Moral of the story: Give up rent to buy shit in the hopes of it changing your life. Oy…

Yaeger also tries to keep his daughter away from her boyfriend. The rivalry between the dad and the boyfriend fill up most of the human dynamic in this film. There is an older male trying to assert his authority and protect what is his despite his incompetence. And there is a younger male trying to get laid despite obtrusive cock-blocking… and his incompetence. Michael Bay has his protagonist bases covered to appeal to the insecure male demographic.

At least there’s no Shia LeBouf in this one.

Kelsey Grammer is the primary human antagonist in this flick. He plays a CIA boss who has it in for the transformers and wants them off of the Earth. There is also a transformer bounty hunter named Lockdown who works for the transformer’s creators and wants to find Optimus and take him away for unexplained reasons. Lockdown and Grammer decide to team up regardless of the latter’s established alien hate. The agreement is that if Grammer’s CIA goons deliver Optimus to Lockdown, then Lockdown will give them a seed, a sort of bomb that transmutes matter into a metal called transformium that is what the transformers are made out of.

So, Yaeger and his daughter and her boyfriend are on the run throughout the film with the Autobots.

That does not sound too bad, but things get a little convoluted when another faction comes into play. Stanley Tucci plays a quirky businessman who gets the remains of the hunted transformers and reverse-engineers their bio-technology so he can make drone transformers for the US Military. If he had an army of transformers, then that would be fine, but the film tries to place emphasis on them. One of them is Galvatron. (Naturally made from the remains of Megatron.) An odd amount of time is placed on the design of another drone named Stinger, although she (I think it’s a she) has no personality. Galvatron also has Megatron’s memories and controls the other knockoff drones in the climax and they become the new Decepticons.

So, you have Kelsey Grammar trying to kill the Autobots, Lockdown trying to capture Optimus, Stanely Tucci trying to manufacture drone transformers, Galvatron gaining sentience and taking over the other drones, and Wahlberg trying to ensure that his daughter’s maidenhead remains intact. Oh, and the Dinobots come in for the climax and wreak shit.

If you cut out Lockdown or Galvatron from the story then the whole plot would be a lot more streamlined. It is not as if I had difficulty following all of it. It is a watchable film. But the whole experience just feels gratuitous and unnecessary.

Oh, and this fucker is two hours and forty five minutes long! The whole film is one gratuity heaped on another gratuity. Some Marvel films clock in at an hour and a half but at least those are constantly entertaining. This this damn thing is just grueling! Too much time is spent on the dull human characters. Well, Stanley Tucci is fun to watch. And the action scenes just drag on and on.

I do grant the film that there is more emphasis on the Autobots this time. Not that any of the characters have three dimensional personalities, mind you. Optimus and Bumblebee return, as you’d expect. The former is still voiced by Peter Cullen and the later still speak in snippets from other films. Why can they not fix his damn voice box already?

One of the Autobots is voiced by John Goodman. I forget their names (if they were ever said on screen). He plays the resident heavy hitter and is colored army green and transforms into some military vehicle of ambiguous function. He constantly smokes a stogie for some reason. Maybe he’s like Bender and thinks that cigars make him look cool.

Speaking of Bender, there is a gunslinger Autobot voice by John DiMaggio. I initially thought that he was voiced by Steve Blum due to the cockney accent that he sports. He wields submachine guns and wears a long green trenchcoat. He has a callous attitude towards human lives. Well, it is not as if John DiMaggio does not have experience playing a homicidal robot.

There is also a blue samurai Autobot voice by Ken Watanabe. (Wow, how did they get him?) He does stereotypical samurai things and spouts haikus and wields large swords. He transforms into a helicopter.

One thing that irked me early in the film was when we see the Autobots assemble and they bicker and bitch at each other. The samurai bot is pissed at Bumblebee and nearly cuts his head off and the gunslinger one wishes that the two would kill each other so he can take command. This is Decepticon behavior, people! That’s not how the heroes are supposed to act. Who the hell writes this crap?

And it’s not just the grunt Autobots, either. Optimus seems disturbingly homicidal at times. I understand that the CIA is after him but Optimus would not let the action of a single spy agency speak for the feelings of an entire species. Why not seek refuge in another country? Hell, the climax of the film takes place in China! Why not go there?

At least the transformers are much more easily distinguishable than they were in previous films. They look a lot less like amorphous heaps of jagged metals. The samurai can be told apart from the gunslinger and the heavy hitter. The overall art direction is a lot smarter than it was before. There is less shaky camera work this time and there are shots where the transformers are emphasized for maximum effect.

There are some odd color choices, though. One of the autobots is a bright vibrant green color that clashes with the otherwise gritty movie. The samurai is likewise colored in bright blue that seems cartoonish and out of place. Bumblebee is still yellow, naturally. Never thought that I’d be giving fashion advice for movie robots, but there you go.

One of the major selling points that his film advertised was the Dinobots and they are seriously underused. They only show up for the climax in Hong Kong. They look like they belong to the previous films and look like a hastily assembled heap of jagged metal bits while in robot mode. They are discernable from each other while in beast mode, though. There is a horned T .rex that I think is supposed to be Grimlock. None of the dinobots are named on screen. There is also a spinosaurus, a triceratops with stegosaurus spikes, and a pterosaur with two heads and two tails… because I guess a normal pterosaur was too boring.

Lockdown and his bounty hunter transformers are some of the dullest looking robot designs that I have seen. They just look like black humanoids and they transform into black cars. There is one scene where Lockdown morphs his face into a howitzer. It is one of the few moments where the camera is still enough for the viewer to admire the amount of detail that went into the shifting mechanical parts.

The Decepticons that showed up are worth mentioning, but barely. I can only imagine that whatever computer artist was working on them said, “Fuck it,” because they transform by dissolving into a bunch of small metal cubes that then reassemble. Part of the fun of the transformers is seeing how all of their pieces fit together with each other as they transform.

There is also a part where Stanley Tucci’s scientists are messing around with the transformium and they get a Rainbow Dash plush toy to transform into a machine gun. Yes, a My Little Pony transforms into a firearm. There is something about that scene that just grosses me out. I get that Hasbro owns both franchises and cross promotion is a thing but is a machine gun something that the corporate big wigs want to associate with My Little Pony? It’s like if Disney made an Iron Man movie where Tony Stark turns a Winnie the Pooh toy into an AK-47. Maybe it would be cute if the stuffed toy were secretly a transformer or if it turned into a boom box or something like that. But no, it’s a realistic looking machine gun. Okay, I’ve ranted enough about that part…

There is a surprising lack of military fetishism on screen this time. In fact, the US government appears completely incompetent for letting the CIA get out of hand. I guess Bay sees soldiers as heroes and spies as evil. At least the authorities in China and Hong Kong seem competent for the limited time that they are on screen.

There is a lot less racism than in the previous films. (Thank goodness.) The white characters are a lot less white-trashy. None of the transformers sound like blackface caricatures. The only thing that may be offensive is that the samurai transformer who speaks with a Japanese accent has a brassy yellow face instead of the silvery color of the other transformers but I can chalk that up to being an overlooked detail.

The film ends with Optimus rocket boosting into space with his sword and shield and proclaiming his intent to find the transformers’ creators. With that, plus Galvatron and the new Decepticons running about, there is plenty of material for Transformers 5.

Sigh…

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Book Review: Redshirts

I just finished John Sclazi’s Redshirts, a 2012 sci-fi novel that parodies sci-fi television shows. Or more specifically, it parodies Star Trek, but more on that later. It is a short read, but a fun one.

The plot concerns a group of ensigns in a space fleet that belongs to the Universal Union. The ensigns are assigned to the Intrepid, the flagship of the fleet. Things seem pretty Star Trekish at first. In fact, things seem suspiciously Star Trekish. The characters are on a starship that explores the galaxy. They gets into dangerous situations. The captain and other crewmen on the bridge seem like a tight-knit unit. Oh, and the lower ranking officers get brutally murdered on away missions on a routine basis.

That last factoid is what drives the plot. At least one person dies on every away mission with no exceptions. Not only that, but the deaths appear overly absurd. Death by shuttle accident, death by alien virus, death by sand worm, the list goes on. Yet despite being on away teams themselves, the senior officers always come out alive.

No one is quite certain why this is or how it works and the senior officers are completely oblivious to this pattern. Other oddities on the ship include a box used for medical purposes that always finds the cure to any given disease just in the nick of time. It is almost as if there is some omnipotent narrative that is at work making the crews’ lives more dramatic. …Which turns out to be exactly what is happening.

The ensigns try like hell to find out why and how this is and they launch an insane plot to keep themselves alive and prevent further catastrophes. This involves learning conventional genre tropes and twisting them to their own ends. They use other characters’ plot armor to protect themselves. They use dramatic timing to predict events. The list goes on.

What I find odd is that the book is riffing on Star Trek specifically and no other sci-fi show. The Intrepid’s bridge officers are caricatures lifted from the original Star Trek show. The book does not really deconstruct the show so much as the process that goes into writing the show. This becomes more evident in the latter parts of the book.

There are three chapters at the end called codas that are told in an alternate style of prose. They serve to sort of hammer home the themes of the main narrative and I find them a little redundant. The first one is largely concerned with how to be a smart writer on a sci-fi show. The other two wrap-up plot threads that I find unnecessary.

One place where I think the plot fails is that it feels like the book is riffing on the original Star Trek series as opposed to riffing on science fiction writing in general. Later Star Trek series were much smarter about how they treated extras and guest stars. Granted, at this point I’ve only seen Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and select episodes of the original series. Maybe Voyager and Enterprise were more callous, I’m not sure.

The prose is simple and straightforward. There are few descriptions of characters’ looks and how the aesthetics of the Intrepid. One of the senior officers is named Q’eeng, which sounds alien but there is no mention on whether the guy is an extra-terrestrial or not. I wish there had been more details about the environments and the ship. Like, if the narrative had compared the design of a ship or a planet to the conventions of a set at the studio.

The dialogue is casual and natural sounding and the characters are not averse to R-rated dialogue. Crude slang and f-bombs are thrown around at whim. This is usually to punctuate a funny situation. The book is a comedy after all. The characters are all believable given the situation that they’re in.

If there is one complaint, it is that the book’s theme is a little too narrow in focus. The characters realize that they are expendables on a science fiction show. And not just any science fiction show, but one that is a blatant imitation of Star Trek. Specifically, the original Star Trek series. This is even mentioned in the book itself.

In the afterward, Sclazi mentions that he was a writer for Stargate: Universe and that he tried to avoid the typical sci-fi pratfalls on that show. I’ve seen most of Stargate: Universe and it’s a fine show. One thing that I think Sclazi is missing is that science fiction on television has moved far beyond what Star Trek was in the sixties. The clichés that he riffs on are well known of sci-fi fandom and it is common sense to avoid them today, or at least to make them less gratuitous.

Overall, the book is an entertaining read if you like Star Trek or are a sci-fi fan in general.

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Jurassic World Review

In short, a damn fun film.

It has been entirely too long since a new Jurassic Park film has graced the silver screen. The first one was phenomenally groundbreaking in the technical sense. It used CGI like no film had done before and has become a cultural icon. The second film was a hack piece of work and I have trouble believing that it came from the same director. The environmental and anti-corporate messages were terrible and hypocritical. The third one was stupid, but it was honestly stupid. There were no preachy messages and it just wanted to show CGI dinosaurs chase people. The third film was so bad that it killed off the franchise for over a decade.

There is now way that Jurassic World can live up to the first film. Part of the reason that the first film was so successful was that it showed us something that we had never seen before. Modern action films are so saturated with sparkly effects and CGI that it has become commonplace. There is no way that Jurassic World can wow audiences in the same way.

That said, this film does manage to be plenty entertaining. I do not want to spoil the film for anyone who wants to see it but I have to write about the whole thing. The first half of this review will be spoiler free and I’ll just talk about my thoughts on the film. I’ll mark where the spoilers will be.

Plot:

I am not spoiling anything when I say that the plot of the film involves dinosaurs getting loose and wreaking havoc across the island and terrifying the people. What else would happen in a Jurassic Park film? Any more details will have to wait until further is this write up.

Setting;

The sets themselves look impressive and functional. The basic design of the park that we saw in the first film did not feel like it would work. The idea of relying on animals with large territory to stomp around it be close to an electric fence for visitors to routinely see them is unrealistic. The visitor center from the first film does not look large enough to accommodate large crowds. Also, how feasible would it have been to build a huge tourist park on an island in the middle of nowhere?

Jurassic World shows us how all of that could work. We see large ferries bring passengers from the Costa Rican Mainland and bring them to the island. We see hotel rooms for the guests. We see a monorail system transport people across the island. The best set in the film is a main street area flanked by shops. Dinosaur skeletons are mounted in the open for people to see. The new visitor center has holograms displaying the different dinosaur species and other interactive activities for children. This is where the Mr. DNA cartoon character from the first film makes a brief appearance.

The design of the buildings is much more modern. The safari-theme from the first film is done away with in favor of a sleeker more Sea World-like aesthetic. This is hammered home when we see an amphitheater built on the side of a lagoon where visitors see a mosasaur chomp on a shark and splash the audience like Shamo.

The way that the dinosaurs are presented to the public is also more believable. We see a dinosaur petting zoo where children can feed the dinosaurs, hug baby sauropods, and ride a baby triceratops if they are under a certain height. We see a group of people packed onto a large safari car driving alongside a herd of gallimimus. The T. rex is contained in an enclosed area where visitors can watch the beast feed on goats behind thick glass. The oddest contraption is a gyrosphere, a large hamster ball-like vehicle that protects passengers as they role alongside large herbivores.

Characters:

The characters are a mixed bag. Chris Pratt works well as Owen Grady, an animal trainer whose current project involves training a pack of four raptors. He dresses like a scuzzy outdoorsman with a knife sheathed on the back of his belt to suggest that he’s tough. Owen is sufficiently snarky with plenty of badass moments like you’d expect. He quips out one-liners and rides a motorbike like no other.

Bryce Dallas Howard is Claire Dearing, a businesswoman who is involved with gaining sponsorships from other companies. Her acting is serviceable and nothing really stands out. She is introduced with a close up of her shoes that slowly pans up her body before settling on her face. She dresses formally in whites and pale colors that give her a sterilized appearance. She gradually loses layers of clothes as the film progresses and the dinosaurs chase her. The script does not give her much to play with aside from looking wide-eyed at dinosaurs and running from them. I will say that she is amazingly capable of running while wearing some tall heels. The film even snarks about that at one point.

There’s a sort of romance between Claire and Owen that feels a little tacked on. I do not want to say that it detracts from the film but it does not feel like it adds anything. I guess the writers wanted the opportunity to add some innuendo to their dialogue.

The two boys are where a lot of people will find fault with the film. The plot involves their parents sending them to Jurassic World so the boys will not be around for divorce proceedings. Claire is their aunt and uses her pull at the park to give them a comfy hotel room and rides passes and whatnot. Makes me wish that my parents got divorced so they would be easy on me, but no, they’ve always been happily married, mumble grumble…

I enjoyed watching the younger brother Gary, who looks to be in elementary school. He has this wide-eyed wonder for the dinosaurs and rattles off his knowledge of them at every opportunity. I know that a lot of people will probably find him annoying, but I found him kind of charming. Mainly because if I were ten years old and in a real Jurassic World, I would act exactly the same. Hell, I’d probably act like that at my current age.

The older brother Zach is a little grating. He is much more worried about not being with his girlfriend than about seeing dinosaurs. Watching him angst as he notices girls his age gets annoying but it thankfully does not last long. Part of the plot involves Zach leading his brother into a restricted area despite the fact that they know that there is an evacuation going on. I wanted to punch the kid for his idiocy. This naturally involves running from dinosaurs. He shows some competence when he is able to fix a twenty-year old jeep to get them to safety and he and his brother use a huge shock prod to fend off a velociraptor, so there’s that.

I would be remiss if I did not include the dinosaurs as characters. Most of the shots that we see of them are CGI, like what you’d expect from a modern film. I could not tell how good or bad the CGI was, probably because I saw it in 3D, but it works.

The main antagonist is a new dinosaur called the Indominus rex, and yes, Owen snarks at the name. The story is that the Indominus is a hybrid of different animals so create a scarier dinosaur to attract more visitors. The beast is a large theropod comparable to a tyrannosaurus. The scales are a pale gray that give the animal a deathly look to it. The hands are much larger and have four digits each. A pair of carnotaurus-like horns stick out above the eyes.

The design of the Indominus is fine but I sort of hoped that they could do something a little more inventive if they were combining other animals into one. Give it a spinosaurus sail or an anklyosaurus club or ceratosaurus horns or something like that. Perhaps the artists were worried that the animal would not be believable if it looked too outlandish.

The other main dinosaurs are the four raptors, Blue, Charlie, Delta, and Echo. The shape of the raptors looks that same as in the first movie, but each one is a different color to help differentiate them. They act much like you expect Jurassic Park raptors to act. They are super-fast and super persistent when it comes to killing and eating humans.

The film does not build up the suspense around the raptors like it does in the first film. We are shown the raptors early in the film and it is established that they are dangerous animals when they almost kill one of the workers.

Some fans complained about the raptors being tame, but the film clearly shows that they are still dangerous animals. Owen tries to work with their instincts by being the pack’s alpha. He has them trained to pay attention to him, but barely. We get the see the raptors do their thing and use their claws and all that.

The secondary human characters are nothing to write home about but they work.

Vincent D’Onofrio plays Vic Hoskins, the head of security with InGen. (But not with the park.) I guess InGen has branched out into private security, now. He is the human antagonist for the film and it feels like he should have more presence on screen than he actually does. His story involves wanting to weaponized the dinosaurs in place of drones and modern military animals like dogs. Yes, InGen is now Weyland Yutani. I wonder if the Jurassic Park films and Alien films are set in the save universe.

Irrfan Khan plays Simon Masrani, the park’s affable owner. It seems like he was written to be this film’s John Hammond. He is the sort of manager who cares more about customer satisfaction than profit. They try and give him some eccentricities by having him training for a helicopter pilot’s license. There’s a moment when I think he was supposed to be presented in a badass light when he pilots a helicopter in a dire situation. It does not quite come off but I do not think it detracts.

B.D. Wong reprises his role in the first movie as Dr. Henry Wu. He does not get much screen time despite being the mastermind behind creating the Indominus rex. His role is largely to exposit some science-y stuff involving the cloning process and how the I. rex got its abilities. There is also a subplot involving a secret deal between Wu and Hoskins that sets up material for a sequel. If a sequel does happen then I expect to see him again.

There are a pair of tech nerd types in the park’s mission control room. They monitor the park’s progress on computer terminals. They get a few good moments and I like the fact that this new park actually looks sufficiently staffed than the previous park.

Themes:

The product placement is very evident but feels natural. The phrase, “Verizon presents Indominus Rex,” is said in the movie, albeit in a snarky way. We see Chris Pratt drink Coca-Cola. Google is mentioned in passing. Some of the shops on main street are real franchises. The marketing is obvious but fits into the setting.

There is some satire on how the park’s visitors want to see the dinosaurs bigger and cooler and this is what leads to the creation of the Indominus rex. A lot of people see this as commentary on how the movie-going public wants to see more spectacle on screen.

The film is not nearly as preachy as the first two movies were and I love it for that. The luddite attitude from the first film has been done away with. There’s no moaning about the evils of technology or the morality of cloning dinosaurs. No “Though shall not meddle in God’s domain” bullshit or “The natural world is being raped” baloney.

There is concern over how the dinosaurs are raised, however. Owen criticizes the handling of the Indominus Rex and how raising the animal in captivity with minimal contact with people and other dinosaurs has hurt its psyche. The I. rex’s rampage is largely explained by saying that the animal is exploring the world outside of its cage for the first time and does not know how to respond to it. Minor spoiler alert: It responds violently.

The paleontology is about as accurate as the paleontology in the first film was. That is to say, it would be fine in 1993, but in 2015, a lot of it is outdated. We now know that raptors had feathers and their wrists were not flexible. They were probably not pack hunters, either. Modern theories suggest that they may have congregated together like birds and crocodiles do, but there is no hierarchy or coordination between them.

There are some other inaccuracies. The mosasaur in the film is about twice as long as it would have been in real life. The pteranodons don’t have fur and can unrealistically lift a human into the air. That last one reminds me of the Monty Python quote, “A five ounce bird cannot carry a one pound coconut.” A 70lb pterosaur cannot carry a 170lb human.

Paleo-nerds like me are generally bummed about some of the inaccuracies. The first Jurassic Park film created a sort of dinosaur renaissance and changed how extinct animals were seen in the public eye. People were used to seeing dinosaurs portrayed as big lumbering Godzilla-style creatures played by people in suits and stop-motion puppets.

There is a sort of explanation for the inaccuracies, however. A scene with Mr. Masrani and Dr. Wu explains that all of the dinosaurs have some changes to their genome to make them more marketable. This is rather similar to a conversation that Dr. Wu had with Hammond in the book, where the geneticist suggests that they make the animals slower and sluggish to live up to the public’s expectations. The dinosaurs in Jurassic World are not genetically accurate dinosaurs to begin with. This is an explanation that I can get behind and I can forgive the film for not having feathered theropods because of it.

Here be Spoilers:

A lot of awesome things happen in this film and I have the instinctive urge to get them into words. So, here goes:

The events that lead up to the disaster are kind of convoluted. It starts when the Indominus rex gets out of its enclosure. The main characters think that the beast gets out because the enclosure’s sensors cannot detect it and there are claw marks on the wall suggesting that it climbed out. Now, every dinosaur in the park has a tracking device implanted into them but instead of checking the tracker to pinpoint its location, they moronically decide to go into the enclosure. This gives the Indominus the chance to escape and wreak havoc throughout the park. So, yeah, moronic animal handling leads to human deaths.

The Indominus has some spiffy abilities aside from being huge. The genes from a frog help to regulate its body temperature and turn invisible to infrared sensors. Cuttlefish genes allow it to change the color and texture of its skin so it can camouflage. The camouflage effect is neat when we see it, but we only see it once. I feel like the Indominus could have been a lot scarier if its abilities were used properly.

The idea of a stealth dinosaur seems like mad science and this is brought up in the film. It is strongly hinted that Dr. Wu deliberately made the Indominus mean and camouflage capable as a way to test the viability of creating dinosaurs for military use. This sets up bait for a sequel.

There is also a scene where the Indominus is hunted from a helicopter with an automatic gun and the dinosaur runs for cover aviary where the pterosaurs are kept. This causes a bunch of pteranodons and dimorphodons to fly out and attack people. I was torn on this because on one hand, it was established earlier that the Indominus killed a bunch of apatasauruses. Why the newly released pterosaurs would go straight for the live humans and not the hundreds of tons of fresh carrion is a mystery to me. It was like watching a row of domino tiles spaced far apart improbably fall down on one another in the most contrived way possible. On the other hand, I dressed up as a dimorphodon for Halloween one year so seeing them on screen was another bonus.

There is a fan service moment where we see the visitor center from the first movie. The building has long since been abandoned and is now overrun with plant growth. We see the remains of the skeletons that the T. rex and the raptors wreaked. The older brother fashions a torch out of a long bone and the remains of the ‘When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth’ banner. We also get a glimpse of the night vision goggles. The homage to the first film made the fanboy inside me grin.

Everyone who has seen the trailers has seen the part where Chris Pratt leads a group of raptors with a motorcycle. Yes, the scene is as badass as it appeared in the trailer. Watching the iconic velociraptors run alongside rugged motor vehicles at night with a few green-tinted night vision shots is immensely entertaining. Claire and the boys watch the feed from the cameras fixed to the raptors’ collars and Zach even remarks that it’s badass.

There is a goofy moment when the raptors confront the Indominus and the later somehow becomes their new alpha leader and convinces the four smaller dinosaurs to turn on the humans. It kind of looks like the raptors are conversing with each other with honks and grows. I imagine that I’ll be seeing a few memes on YouTube with added subtitles speculating what the dinosaurs were saying.

The final scene near the end is like the cherry on top of the sundae. Owen manages to reestablish his dominance as the raptor pack’s alpha and convinces the remaining raptors including Blue to turn on the Indominus. The I. rex makes short work of the smaller dinosaurs. The big beasty then tries to get the remaining humans until Claire gets an idea to up the ante.

She runs to the T. rex enclosure and uses a flare to draw Rexie towards the fight kind of like how flares were used to draw the animal’s attention in the first film. My day was made when I saw beast make its grand appearance by smashing through the skeleton of a spinosaurus. I choose to believe that this is revenge for showing the spinosaurus beat the rex in the third movie.

The two massive apex predators size each other up before trying to get their jaws around each other’s throats. The fight is nothing less than impressive. It happens at night so the scene is darker than the daytime mayhem and that masks some of the CGI textures. Watching the T. rex fight the Indominus was everything that I wanted to see in a Jurassic Park movie.

And then it just gets better. The Indominus appears to be winning. The T. rex loses stamina. It looks like Rexie is going to bite the dust…

And then a hissing shriek signals the return of Blue. We get a slow motion shot of the blue raptor running with claws bared towards the fight like a mother fucking hero. The raptor leaps into the Indominus’s flank and start clawing at it. The Tyrannosaurus takes the opportunity to attack the distracted Indominus. The Indominus / Tyrannosaurus / Velociraptor fight is one of the best things that I have ever seen on screen. Seeing three prehistoric beasts battle it out with teeth and claws is plain engrossing. I was fully invested in every second of it.

Even with the Tyrannosaurus / Blue team up, the Indominus is still a tough bitch to crack. The rex throws it against a fence by the lagoon. The fence breaks and the Indominus gets up looking ready for another round. It was then that I was afraid that the fight was going to get too gratuitous. Then the mosasaur lurches from the lagoon and chomps down on the Indominus and drags the fucker down into the depths with it.

And that is when I lost it. I was slapping my hand down on my thigh and laughing in glee. It was the perfect exclamation point at the end of the climax.

The camera lingers on the surviving theropods after the explosive climax. The camera lingers on Blue and the T. rex as they share of sort of bro moment. The audience in the theater applauded at that point. I think that I have been to only two other movies where the audience applauded at something on the screen. That is a testament to the quality of that scene. The carnivores then go their separate ways and run / stomp off into the night.

The film ends shortly after that with the remaining humans at a shelter on or close to the island. The brothers’ parents arrive and we are assured that everything will be all right.

The last shot shows the tyrannosaurus walk up onto a helipad on one of the buildings on the island and she overlooks the verdant green land in a wide shot and then roars to declare that she still kicks ass. (Third film be damned.)

I do have a few qualms. I would have like more build up for the T. rex throughout the film. The older brother is a little grating. The events that involve the Indominus escaping could have been less contrived. The predators are unrealistically persistent in killing humans. You’d think that the raptors would be full after the first dozen humans, but no.

Regardless of that, here’s hoping for another sequel.

I guess I’ll have to settle with Pixar’s “The Good Dinosaur” to tide me over in the meantime.

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