“Dune” (Sci-Fi miniseries)

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Last week, I made clear my opinion of David Lynch’s Dune. That remains the only version of Dune ever released in theaters. However, in 2000, the Sci-Fi Channel released a TV miniseries adaptation of Dune. Fortunately, it’s not bad. The screenplay actually resembles Frank Herbert’s novel and manages to balance political intrigue with action. The show’s problems are mostly technical, particularly the acting and special effects.

Continue reading ““Dune” (Sci-Fi miniseries)”

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“Dune” (1984 film)

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I admit I’m not a fan David Lynch’s adaptation of Dune. I have many problems with the film, but the biggest is that it completely misses the point of the novel. Dune is not a hero’s journey. It’s not simply a grimdark Star Wars. Rather, it’s a story about the dangers of charismatic leadership and the interplay between political and religious power. In the movie, we don’t get to her Paul’s internal struggle, much less any hint that his jihad might have negative repercussions for the future. Indeed, in the final scene from the film, rain pours down as if to bless Paul’s victory.    Continue reading ““Dune” (1984 film)”

“Dune” by Frank Herbert

tumblr_neeagzmJuY1tpdqt1o8_500Over 50 years after its initial publication, Dune remains one of the most exotic sci-fi epics ever written. Set some 20,000 years in the future, it portrays a future that resembles the Middle Ages more than Star Trek. The galaxy is ruled by an emperor, along with several powerful feudal houses, the Space Guild corporate monopoly over space travel, and the Bene Gesserit religious order, all locked in an uneasy balance of power. Dune itself chronicles the struggle for the planet Arrakis, source of the crucial “spice” drug, as well as the rise of a new politico-religious leader, Paul Atreides. Of course, for many, the stars of the book are the giant sandworms, huge creatures hundreds of meters long the are both revered and feared by the local Fremen people. Continue reading ““Dune” by Frank Herbert”

“The Shape of Water” by Daniel Krauss

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Most science fiction and fantasy movies nowadays get a tie-in novelization. Often, these adaptations reincorporate scenes that were deleted from the final cut of the film (as Jason Fry’s The Last Jedi recently did). They can also let readers peer into a character’s private thoughts, something notoriously difficult to do on screen (see David Lynch’s Dune adaptation). The Shape of Water novel by Daniel Kraus is something rarer and altogether more interesting. According to io9, Kraus pitched the story to Guillermo del Toro several years ago. Although Del Toro’s film The Shape of Water came out first, they agreed that each would tell their own version of the story through their respective mediums. In other words, Kraus’ book is not simply an adaptation of the film, but a unique and original telling of that story. Continue reading ““The Shape of Water” by Daniel Krauss”

“The Shape of Water”

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Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water is the first science fiction film ever to win an Oscar for Best Picture. This alone makes it worthy of a place in the annals of sci-fi. It’s also a great example of what makes del Toro such a fascinating filmmaker and storyteller. Like many geniuses, del Toro has an ability to look at the ordinary and see something extraordinary. His films often take familiar story tropes and make them feel fresh again. In The Shape of Water, Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a janitor at a government lab in Baltimore, falls in love with a humanoid fish-creature (Doug Jones). In one sense, this is simply a twist on the classic “odd-couple romance” story, like Beauty & the Beast or The Frog Prince. However, del Toro does several things to make the story feel completely unlike anything that’s come before. Continue reading ““The Shape of Water””

“The Last Jedi” by Jason Fry

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Jason Fry’s novelization of The Last Jedi is a retelling of Rian Johnson’s film, with a greater emphasis on the characters and less humor. Like most novelizations, the book sticks pretty close to the story we saw on screen back in December. However, Fry gets to spend time inside the characters’ heads, shedding light on how the characters viewed certain events.

This technique provides quite a bit of insight into Luke Skywalker. In The Last Jedi, Luke is a bitter old man, a far cry from the optimistic youth we saw in the Original Trilogy. I enjoyed this take on the character, but also felt the film should have done more to explain Luke’s arc between the films. Fry’s novelization offers a few tantalizing hints. One early sequence in the book hints that Luke yearns for a more normal life. He comes to regret not only his infamous encounter with Ben Solo, but also other life decisions. Seeing Luke doubt not just that one moment but a whole lifetime helps explain his radical transformation since Return of the Jedi. Continue reading ““The Last Jedi” by Jason Fry”

Star Trek Discovery

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As some of you know, I’m a huge Star Trek fan. It was probably my first big fandom. So you might be wondering why I haven’t been reviewing Star Trek Discovery. Well, the truth is I’ve found the show to be an disappointing mess. It flouts the liberal humanism and optimistic spirit of Star Trek in favor of modern TV grimdark conventions. The show is filled with plot twists that seem more designed to shock audiences than to open interesting new story possibilities. Frankly, I don’t really have much to say that hasn’t already been said about this show. This LA Times Review of Books explains many of the problems.

Like many Trek fans, I’ve waited years for Star Trek to return to TV. It’s too bad the end product wasn’t worth the wait.

First Impressions of The Last Jedi through other Sci-Fi

the-last-jedi-theatrical-blogOne of my biggest critiques of Star Wars: The Force Awakens was that it relied too much on nostalgia. At times, it seemed like a soft reboot of A New Hope. Naturally, this led me to worry that Disney was too reluctant, too concerned with profits to take risks with the franchise. When promotional images for The Last Jedi included vehicles that looked suspiciously like AT-AT walkers, I worried that Director Rian Johnson’s new Star Wars film would again play it safe by retreading the plot of The Empire Strikes Back.

I was wrong. I am glad. Continue reading “First Impressions of The Last Jedi through other Sci-Fi”

“Artemis” by Andy Weir

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Andy Weir’s debut novel, The Martian, was one of the best science fiction novels of the past decade, so I was naturally intrigued when I heard about his new book, Artemis. On the one hand, Weir’s success means that he’ll likely have a much larger audience for Artemis than he initially did for The Martian, which he had to self-publish on Amazon. On the other hand, it’s nearly impossible to avoid comparing Artemis to The Martian, and unfortunately that comparison does Weir’s new book no favors. Continue reading ““Artemis” by Andy Weir”

“Blade Runner 2049”

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Ridley Scott’s 1982 classic Blade Runner helped me understand humanity. The film is rightly lauded for its detailed world-building and hypnotic score, but it is also a philosophical treatise about human identity (seriously, Ridley Scott’s oeuvre has spawned a whole academic subfield). Humans unfortunately have a tendency to tribalism, defining some members of the species as sufficiently worthy of respect while excluding “Others” on the basis of race, gender, or religion. Blade Runner argues that the ability to feel empathy towards other forms of life is key to humanity. Indeed, in the world of 2019, bounty hunters use the Voight-Kampff machine to detect replicants (or androids) by measuring their empathy. Continue reading ““Blade Runner 2049””