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Tag Archive: Isaac Asimov


Review by C.J. Bunce

Credit for the success of Blade Runner 2049 as a worthy sequel to 1982’s Blade Runner is a shared prize for director Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Sicario), the writers, including screenwriter Michael Green (Logan, Alien: Covenant), source material creator Philip K. Dick, and original Blade Runner screenwriter Hampton Fancher (The Mighty Quinn), plus at least two dozen other unnamed creators whose early science fiction works were mined for the story.  Predictable, derivative, slow-paced, and overly long, Blade Runner 2049 still lands as a solid sequel and will no doubt please fans loyal to the 1982 film.  The beauty of the sequel is the earnest, ambitious effort of Villeneuve under the eye of executive producer and original Blade Runner director Ridley Scott to give the story a reserved touch.  The sequel has the now classic dystopian look of the Mad Max or Terminator: Salvation variety, stretching the original Syd Mead futurism and punk noir vibe into a different but logical new direction–think Blade Runner with the lights turned on.

From the first scene Villeneuve & Co. dig in to not just sci-fi tropes but cyborg heavy themes that sci-fi fans know very well from similar explorations in countless books, television series, and films since the early 1980s, when the idea of adapting something like Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? into a big budget film was something less familiar to film audiences.  The filmmakers touch on many classics–Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, Pinocchio, Shakespearean tragedy–to countless episodes of the Star Trek franchise (lead character and Replicant K/Joe played by Ryan Gosling revisits several direct themes the android Data explored in Star Trek: The Next Generation.  More than ten minutes is spent revisiting the latest technology called an “emanator” that Star Trek Voyager fans will be familiar with as the Emergency Medical Hologram’s “holo-emitter,” a device allowing holograms to move around the world.  What in the early 1980s may have wowed audiences is here not so eye-popping because of the legacy Trek tech called the holodeck.  But none of these flashbacks to sci-fi’s past really take anything away from the elements re-used in Blade Runner 2049 because they are all stitched together into a clean story.  To some it will be a Where’s Waldo? of sci-fi storytelling and to others the simple nostalgia of exploring Isaac Asimov’s themes of the Robot and the Self will be worth a revisit.

Many questions are asked in the lengthy 2 hour-and 43 minute-long film, and some, but not all, will be answered, disappointing a few loyal fans of the original.  Deaths of characters and actors since the original limit the return of certain characters from the original, but where they happen it’s done right.  One scene, however, is a complete misfire–a character walked onto the screen to the gasp of this reviewer’s theater audience, only to find it wasn’t really who was expected based on the build up of the scene.  But the biggest misfire is Villeneuve’s use of sound and score.  Thankfully for the reputation of Vangelis, which scored the original film, Villeneuve turned to Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer this time, creating a dreadful use of sound in a film.  Where the use of Vangelis’s synthesized cautious, futuristic melodies took a backseat to story and dialogue in the original, here Wallfisch and Zimmer lean on dissonant John Cage-esque chords and blare noises like someone sitting on a piano or a kid plugging his guitar into an amp for the first time, over and over, at full volume–the aural equivalent of J.J. Abrams lens flares.  The poor sound really takes away from a visual work that could have benefitted by a closer reflection of the use of sound in the original.  I.e. take at least one earplug along, especially in an IMAX or other digital theater.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Yesterday the international press reported that Facebook shut down an artificial intelligence experiment when two robots named Alice and Bob started to communicate with each other in a non-human dialect of their own.  Intended to test the robots’ ability to negotiate with each other, the programmers did not include coding that required their discussions to be intelligible to humans.  A new novel takes the story further as its two lead characters Ray and Ada, also robots, work together to carry out missions to kill businessmen in Los Angeles for a secret client.  Adam Christopher’s new sci-fi novel Killing is My Business is a 1960s noir story, only it’s a different kind of noir.  Not steampunk noir–maybe call it robot noir, it features Ray the robot, not a futuristic android or cyborg, he’s the last of the robots after their use came and went years before the story begins.  Ray was formerly programmed as a private investigator–he has the skill and resourcefulness of Chinatown’s Jake Gittes–only he’s been reprogrammed as a hitman.  He does his business in the city like any P.I. would back in the ’60s, and despite his obvious robotic appearance he still blends in.  It’s still Los Angeles, albeit a parallel Los Angeles, with gorgeous cars, a pulp novel’s worth of detective work, and, of course, plenty of murder to go around.

We read the story through Ray’s eyes and his analytical voice carries some of the innocence of Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation, but mixed with the decisive actions of Robocop, only subtract the ethical subroutines.  He’s smart but a bit of a Pinocchio, somewhat naïve, and his handler Ada only gives him the information he needs to know to do the current job.  His limitation is a 24-hour recording memory, which is wiped when he returns to his alcove each night, but his morning briefings include relevant bits from his past jobs so he’s not completely a blank slate each day.  The stakes are raised if he doesn’t get home, and no, he doesn’t turn into a pumpkin, but he can fail like any machine.

When we meet Ray he thinks he’s embarked on another typical case, only a strange trend may be emerging:  Why are his targets turning up dead before he gets a chance to pull the trigger himself?  Killing is My Business is a mash-up of pulp noir and science fiction, but it’s also as much a robot’s horror tale.

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Into the Dalek screencap

Review by C.J. Bunce

With the historic reboot of Doctor Who in 2006 and all of Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat’s world building since then with Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, Matt Smith and their five companion voyagers– what if the creators have been holding back?  What if we haven’t seen nothin’ yet, if all these great science fiction episodes were all leading up to the real payoff with the 12th Doctor?  I got that feeling last night with only the second Doctor Who episode of the season.  This new Doctor is here to stay, and the writers are driving full steam ahead, plunging Clara (Jenna Coleman) and the Doctor straight into the darkness without giving us a chance to breathe.

We’ve heard it before: Resistance is futile.  But this time the phrase is not about Star Trek and the futility isn’t about we humans, as the new Doctor stumbles into his latest encounter with one of his most hated borg nemeses: The Daleks.  With “Into the Dalek” Steven Moffat has created what I am sure we’ll look back on as an episode up there with the David Tennant episodes “Waters of Mars” and “Silence in the Library” or Matt Smith’s “Cold War.”Doctor 12 and DalekIn only his second outing as the Doctor, Peter Capaldi is already comfortable in the role he was destined to play since his days sending fan letters to the BBC as a young boy.  With last week’s season opener “Deep Breath,” we were introduced to Capaldi’s Doctor in a typical Doctor Who post-regeneration episode–part with the Doctor learning to “love the skin he’s in” while also getting a taste of how his companion is going to adapt, wrapped in a Tanagra/El-Adrel IV story.

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By C.J. Bunce

When pondering what I want to see in the movie theater that hasn’t arrived yet I think a lot about several Philip K. Dick short stories, or TV series that I’d love to see continued on the big screen, like a big screen Magnum, P.I., or Simon & Simon or Chuck—although if it is as underwhelming as the last X-Files movie then maybe not.  I’d love to see some early twentieth century biopics of Bix Beiderbecke or Karl King (who, among other things, composed the circus themes for Ringling Brothers and played in Sousa’s band).  And it would be fun to take a bunch of Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass songs from South Of The Border and The Lonely Bull and make them the soundtrack to a modern spaghetti Western, sort of like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers with She’s The One A good Green Arrow or Bionic Man movie, or a good sequel to Return of the Jedi would all be fun.  And some things have been done already, but not quite right.  Space Ghost had his own cartton then interview show, but how about an adaptation of the serious origin series by Joe Kelly?  A big budget movie based on Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air could be awesome (the TV version suffered a bit despite a good cast).  The Russian story of Lieutenant Kije was filmed more than half a century ago with music by Prokofiev, but it needs a good updating.  We’ve seen four Tom Clancy novels about Jack Ryan, but the creepiest of the series, Debt of Honor, has yet to be made.

A lot of films have been made, and in coming up with this list one of my ideas–a film featuring Super Grover and the cast of Sesame Street–seemed long overdue.  I figured Sesame Street got bypassed for the Muppets, as shown in a funny scene from The Muppet Movie where Fozzie the Bear offers Big Bird a ride to the west coast to break into movies, and Big Bird says no thanks, he’s trying to break into public television back in New York.  Well, apparently they made that movie back in 1985 and I missed it, Sesame Street Presents: Follow That BirdYou can’t know everything.

For me this list was tough until I moved away from books as source material.  I think the movies I see in my head are better than how some of my ideas would likely turn out produced by the studios.  But let’s get on with it–with a nod to Art Schmidt for his idea with DC Comics and Jason McClain for mentioning Connie Willis.

    

From the comic books:  DC Comics’ Dark Knight Returns and Hard-Traveling Heroes

At lunch in high school my friends and I fantasy-cast Batman: The Dark Knight Returns over and over.  Ultimately we arrived at (the now late) Paul Newman as the ideal retired Batman, in the graphic novel another wealthy race car driver type.  In real life Newman was very much the Bruce Wayne interpreted in Frank Miller’s four-issue series-turned required-reading—as suave guy, well-liked, a wealthy philanthropist.  In a different universe Clint Eastwood would be great fun as a superhero coming out of retirement to have that last hoorah with the Batman cowl.  Probably too late now.  Of all the Batman stories, The Dark Knight Returns is #1–it is so well-established as more than a cult favorite, even beyond Watchmen, you just have to ask DC Comics and the Hollywood machine:  Why can’t someone just put it on the big screen?

I’ve said over and over here at borg.com that the best Green Lantern story ever is his team up with Green Arrow and Black Canary in Neal Adams’ and Dennis O’Neil’s classic Green Lantern Issues #76-87 and 89, the so-called “Hard Traveling Heroes.”  Imagine Black Canary pulling up on her motorcycle.  Imagine Green Arrow defending the kid robbing the slumlord.  Imagine Green Arrow catching Speedy.  Imagine Hal, Ollie and Dinah driving across America in their pick-up truck.  And harpies.  And encountering a religious cult.  And more harpies.

I’ll echo Art Schmidt: DC Comics needs to catch up with Marvel Comics movies, with Iron Man (the first one), Captain America: The First Avenger, and with Fantastic Four’s brilliant realization of Human Torch and The Thing, maybe my favorite heroes to screen so far.  OK, they nailed it with Christopher Reeve’s Superman and Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson in Batman.  Hopefully with The Avengers, Marvel Comics sets a new bar that DC Comics will have to work toward with a multi-hero story, maybe even with the Justice League or Superfriends.  Art’s recommended Cry for Justice, which we have discussed here before, is a great choice for this.

From the sci-fi novel: Remake, by Connie Willis

If you haven’t read Hugo and Nebula award-winning author Connie Willis’s books then you are in for a great ride through one of several fun and varied works.  For me, the concepts and Hollywood prophesies in her novel Remake are too cool to pass up and I have no doubt represent a foreshadowing of the future of film only slightly touched on in the Ralph Fiennes film Strange DaysRemake is science fiction at its best, and was nominated for a Hugo Award in 1996.

In our near future, Hollywood no longer needs to make new productions.  A film technician rearranges classic films via computer manipulation, so that the viewer can select who he wants to watch the next time he watches Raiders of the Lost Ark.  How about John Wayne?  How about Humphrey Bogart?  Why not edit out all the cigarettes so we no longer encourage smoking for future viewers?  What other movies would be fun to manipulate?  This is the world of our future where Viacom and Paramount are now Viamount, where actors are reduced to stand-ins.  OK, so it probably won’t really be our future as totally envisioned by Willis.

The technician falls for a strange woman who wants to dance in a musical and he is continually sidetracked as he pursues her through the novel.  The love story is well done—but it’s the world of our future that would be fun to see, finally, on the big screen.  And you would not need to film an entire movie, simply clips, like the old soda pop ads that blended dead celebrities with living ones, and that allowed Nat King Cole to star in a modern music video with his grown daughter, the singer Natalie Cole.  Hollywood has the technology today—so why not see how far CGI can go?

I’d frankly love to see any Willis book adapted to film, and in addition those mentioned by others in this series, Bellwether and To Say Nothing of the Dog would be great picks.

From the sci-fi novel: Fantastic Voyage 2: Destination Brain, by Isaac Asimov

When the original Fantastic Voyage was in theaters in 1966, Isaac Asimov created the novelization.  He was not happy with it because he was adapting someone else’s work (it was based on a Jerome Bixby story).  The original film reflected Hollywood basically at its infancy with special effects related to the future of medicine.  In its day it was a good effort.  With the 1987 novel Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain, which was not a sequel but an entirely new story, Asimov created the world inside a microscope that only he could envision.  The book is like Dennis Quaid in Innerspace, but with a serious mission and tone.  A group of scientists, such as you would find in the typical multi-disciplined problem solving team from a Michael Crichton novel, shrink themselves down to microscopic size to enter into the brain and try to diagnose the condition of a colleague, Dr. Pyotor Shapirov, the creator of the very technology that finally allows man to transport to such a miniscule size.

In 2001 Imax theaters featured a documentary on its giant-sized screens called The Human Body.  Audiences were able to see (and sometimes be grossed out by) the inner workings of the body.  Filmmakers would hardly need much by way of CGI to show a voyage through the cells.  Maybe this would be fun to attempt for some creative producer, and a project showing yet another frontier of science to science fiction fans.

From the art gallery: the cinematic paintings of Edward Hopper

How about a story for stage or screen where each scene begins or ends as an Edward Hopper painting?  And the focal character is the girl from his Automat, maybe also the same girl from his Chop Suey painting?  New York Movie, First Row Orchestra, Summertime, Cape Cod Evening—they all tell some secret story.  Or at least they all could, in the right filmmaker’s hands.

Hopper’s cinematic compositions and use of light and shadow has caused filmmakers to mimic his style before.  House by the Railroad supposedly influenced the house in the Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and the home in the Terrence Malick film Days of Heaven.  Director Wim Wenders’ film The End of Violence incorporates a tableau vivant of Nighthawks. Surrealist horror film director Dario Argento recreated the diner and the patrons in Nighthawks as part of a set for his 1976 film Deep Red.  Hopper has inspired both Blade Runner and Road to Perdition.

Turner Classic Movies uses animated recreations of Hopper paintings as introductions to classic films and in That ’70s Show the producers recreated the diner from Nighthawks.  But how about a full-scale movie showing us something about these characters we don’t know?  That’s something I’d love to see on the big screen.

From the ancient history books: the world briefly changed by Akhenaten

I could find a non-fiction work for the adaptation, but it’s the story itself I really want to see here.  The pharaoh Akhenaten was the leader of Egypt for about 17 years from circa 1353 B.C. to 1335 B.C.  He was married to Nefertiti and had six or seven daughters and at least one son–Tutankhamen.  In his reign he revamped the religion of his country like never before, moving from a polytheistic pantheon of gods to the worship of a single god, the Aten, or sun-disk.  Following his reign the empire was returned to its prior state and for Akhenaten’s blasphemy his name was chiseled out of a significant part of the written record.  Art during his reign became more expressive and naturalistic.  Images of the pharaoh show a realistic image that hid no flaws, a long face, not the typical glorification and heroic imagery of Egyptian leaders before and after.  Akhenaten is so interesting from a number of levels that it would be a great challenge to reflect his reign in film.  Certainly a rebel and not a traditionalist.  A stunning wife.  How do you show all the Egyptian relationships—including accepted inbreeding as a norm–without coming off as judgmental?  As pharaoh he was “one with the god Aten.”  How do you portray daily life in an interesting way where the ruler is God and what could you show about his family on film?  A great pandemic swept across the Middle East during this period, taking out the Hittite ruler Suppiluliuma, and how did they manage through that?  But even more interesting, with all the stories of the history of conflict in Egypt, what did life look like during the years of Egypt’s own version of Camelot?  This all would be incredible to depict.

From fantasy opera:  Richard Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung

I have only seen one version of The Ring that comes close to clarifying this odd and complex story composed of four epic operas for a general audience: P. Craig Russell’s two volume graphic novel of The Ring of the Nibelung.  A few years ago I discussed The Ring with Russell and he said it was a great effort to produce it and it became a sort of magnum opus for him.  But even an adaptation of Russell’s adaptation would need streamlined for mainstream audiences—yet, it would be a great starting point.  Predating that other famous fantasy ring series (the one by J.R.R. Tolkien) by decades, Wagner’s opera is epic in scope and length, taking four nights or 15 hours to perform the full opera.  We already have a superb soundtrack from Wagner, but can someone make a feature-length, meaningful adaptation in the English language that conveys the energy and power of the original without all the nonlinear bits and pieces?  The reward would be a giant vision of gods, heroes, mythical creatures and magic.

Other operas due for a good movie?  The Magic Flute, The Barber of Seville, The Marriage of Figaro.

More than any of the above I would love to see our own Elizabeth C. Bunce’s retelling of Rumplestiltskin, A Curse Dark As Gold (maybe a classic PBS/BBC series or Hayao Miyazaki anime film would be fun) or her fantasy noir Thief Errant series on-screen.  A Curse Dark As Gold has already been performed superbly in a full-length audio CD version by a Broadway actress so I’ve had a little taste of what it would be like to witness it fully played out.  And speaking of ECB, tomorrow she’ll give us her take on stories that should be adapted for the big screen.

By Elizabeth C. Bunce

This week the Science Channel, part of the Discovery family of networks, premiered a new series, helmed by producer Ridley Scott (Aliens, Blade Runner), celebrating the scientific foresight of masters of classic science fiction literature.  Prophets of Science Fiction will explore both the literary accomplishments of authors such as Mary Shelley, H.G. Wells, Isaac Asimov, and Philip K. Dick, as well as their influence on ongoing scientific advancement.  Here is the trailer for the show:

The series begins with a profile of Mary Shelley (Frankenstein), credited with creating the science fiction genre as a whole.  With commentary from Shelley scholars and historians, the series premiere offers parallel storylines of Shelley’s life and literary career, the plot and themes of her seminal novel, and the scientific underpinnings that inspired her immortal work.  Interviews with scientists on the cutting edge of electrical medicine, genetics, and artificial intelligence round out the episode, with Shelley’s tale of science-without-responsibility providing the cautionary undercurrent.

A centerpiece of Science Channel’s rare original programming, Prophets of Science Fiction is getting due attention on their website.  Check out interviews with contributors including Ridley Scott, historical notes on the authors, and an episode guide, showing eight episodes that will air at least through February.

Future episodes will profile Jules Verne, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, and borg.com favorite George Lucas.  Although the series begins with genre progenitor Mary Shelley, Episode 2 will feature Philip K. Dick, so it appears the series creators don’t plan a chronological exploration of their subject.  Watch on Science Channel Wednesdays at 10 pm (Yes, borg.com is aware this is the same time as Psych.  That’s why you have a DVR.).

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