The best science fiction is the kind that uses the settings to make comments about our society today, making us think. When Paul Verhoeven gave us RoboCop in 1987, it was a commentary on the rapidly rising role of technology in the world along with the increasing spread of urban crime. The idea that a mortally wounded cop (Peter Weller) was involuntarily turned into a cyborg and sent out to clean up the city was riveting. The performance, blood, and violence made the film an interesting statement and the beginning of a franchise that got watered down in lesser hands.
MGM saw the moribund property as a chance to make some fresh cash with a reboot because everything else has been dusted off and for the most part done pretty well. But did Brazilian director José Padilha have something to say or was he brought in for stylish mayhem? Apparently he did, working with screenwriter Joshua Zetumer, building on the original script by Edward Neumaier and Michael Miner. Omnicorp, a subsidiary of OmniConsumer Products (OCP), is a next generation supplier of military weapons in the form of humanoid ED-209 and EM-208 mechanized warriors at a time global tensions mean a steady supply of soldiers is required.
OCP CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) wants to sell a domestic version of his machines but is thwarted by Senator Hubert Dreyfus (Zach Grenier) and his just passed Act outlawing such domestic police. Undaunted, Sellars finds a loophole in the law and orders man put inside one of the machines, something general counsel Liz Kline (Jennifer Ehle) and marketing chief Tom Pope (Jay Baruchel) endorse. He instructs Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) to take his prosthetics research to the next level and the scientist screens candidates until he settles on Detroit police detective Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman). Welcome, RoboCop 2.0.
Partnered with Lewis (Michael K. Williams), he takes on the underworld in the form of Antoine Vallon (Patrick Garrow) while risking his humanity as his wife Clara (Abbie Cornish) and son David (John Paul Ruttan) grow increasingly distant. Meantime, one battle is overt, while the covert story is machine versus corporation over Free Will. OCP has intentionally “dumbed down” Murphy, hoping he would merely follow orders after being trained by Rick Mattox (Jackie Early Haley) but Murphy is his own man and not the “Tin Man” Mattox insists on calling him.
Things blow up just fine and the human conflicts sometimes take a backseat to the PG-13 violence (a crass commercial move that robbed the film) but this is better than we feared when the collective consciousness said, “We don’t’ need a RoboCop reboot.” Yes, its’ commentary is not as sharp as Verhoeven’s original nor is the action any better despite enhanced special effects or the presence of Samuel L. Jackson. And maybe we don’t but what we got is a cut above and well worth a look. Padilha’s American debut is done with affectionate nods to the original film while still having its own voice.
The film, now out on home video as a Blu-ray, DVD, Digital copy combo pack form MGM Home Entertainment, has an excellent video transfer with sharp colors. The audio is a notch below this but the overall 5.1 lossless DTS-HD MA sound mix is fine.
The Blu-pray comes with a standard assortment of unremarkable special features including Deleted Scenes (3:59), 10 Omnicorp Product Announcements (3:27); RoboCop: Engineered for the 21st Century (The Illusion of Free Will: A New Vision, 7:46; To Serve and Protect: RoboCop’s New Weapons, 6:05, The RoboCop Suit: Form and Function, 14:54); and, two theatrical trailers.
Cleopatra in Space: Target Practice By Mike Maihack 169 pages, Scholastic Graphix, $12.99
The allure of Cleopatra VII has endured over the millennia and continues to be a source of fascination for people young and old. As a result, she is an easy subject to inject into novels, plays, and unfortunately, this graphic novel. What could have been a fun, interesting, character-driven fish out of water story became a by-the-numbers young adult graphic novel that bears no resemblance to the source.
Mike Maihack is a talent and clever storyteller and the art and color make the book a fun, if irritating, read. He has an open style that is expressive and a restrained color palette so you’re not overwhelmed. He’s been producing this as a webcomic since 2010 and the first cycle of stories is being collected by Scholastic’s Graphix imprint in April. A second volume is already promised for 2015 so they’re expecting great things.
Fifteen year old Cleopatra (or Cleo to her friends) is snatched from Egypt by a piece of technology that sends her far into the future where she has to attend an intergalactic school in order to fulfill her destiny of saving the universe. Her teacher Khensu, a talking cat, tries to mentor her, tempering her youthful exuberance and adolescent ways with exasperating results.
The future world is made up of species and races from around the galaxy, all of whom are looking to Cleo to save them from the Xerx War that threatens life as they know it. Additionally, they have no way of sending her home so she can fulfill her first destiny, to be the last great pharaoh of Egypt’s classic period.
History shows Cleopatra was fourteen when she was named co-regent with her father, Ptolemy XII, until his death when she was eighteen. So right here, the book makes little sense. Secondly, she arrives in the far future and at no point does she appear confused by the languages, the knowledge there is life beyond Earth, the technology, etc. Sher arrives, is assigned classes, and settles into dorm life where she is a slacker student but a deadly shot.
This is not the Cleopatra of history, the wily, tough leader who charmed two Roman leaders and oversaw her people after prolonged battle. None of what we know of her personality is here, instead we’re given a modern day plucky teenager and we’ve seen that. We’ve seen the “savior” storyline, we’ve seen ti all before so plopping Cleopatra into this does nothing but trade on her name.
There is little explanation about why the organization that recruited her is acronymed .P.Y.R.A.M.I.D. or why there are Egyptian touches, such as her sphinx sky cycle, so far into the future on another world. Similarly, the Xerx is reminiscent of Xerxes, the Persian, conqueror of Greece as immortalized in 300 while their leader is Xarius Octavian (the surname being that of Caesar’s son who wound up with Egypt after Cleo killed herself). The supporting cast is visually interesting but woefully under-utilized. What could have and should have been something different is a cookie-cutter approach to a young adult graphic novel, so it’s all the more disappointing that her 8-12 year old readers will know nothing of what the true Queen of the Nile was like.
The other day Mike Gold shot me a quick e-mail about the WWE Network making its way to Apple TV. I should take this time to note that Mike likes me more than Michael Davis because I give him my articles on Tuesday evening, and they don’t post until Saturday… allowing him optimal time to source images at his leisure. Suffice to say, nya nya nya boo boo. Maybe that’s mean of me, it is Black History Month, after all. According to Jay Pharoah, I should opt to hug MOTU, not take pot shots at his obviously racial laziness. Damn, I’m punchy tonight. But I digress.
I’m punchy, in part, because Mike’s friendly e-mail reminded me that in my own laziness, I’d allowed a whole new technological break-through to settle into near-mainstream amongst my peers without me even considering it. For a good long time ‘cutting the cord’ on traditional cable was more a signifier of pro-active TV consumption than I cared to debate mentally. With new technology emerging, I simply didn’t ‘buy’ that I could enjoy all that I do via my traditional cable/DVR combo. I should note though that I grew up in a home without cable. When I made my way to college, faced with the sudden luxury of dozens of channels churning out reruns and crappy original programming I’d never been previously accustomed to led me down a dark and slovenly path. Frankly, it’s been the drug I couldn’t quit ever since. Well, that and carbohydrates.
I’d like to think it was my generation that started a small march towards technological freedom. I recall fondly upon signing my first lease for an apartment declaring no need to own a home phone. My parents gawked at the notion. “How will we get a hold of you?!” they’d scream. “Oh, I don’t know, you could call my cell phone, which is literally on my person at all times I’m not otherwise sleeping?” I’d retort like a hipster ordering a Miller Lite. And thus, did me and my kin take our first awkward steps from out of the cave. Soon, we were graduating from MySpace to Facebook, and getting real jobs. City-dwelling friends of mine ditched cars in lieu of state-of-the-art (smells a bit, but it’s cheaper than gas!) public transportation. And now, those who share in muh-muh-my generation are shunning Xfinity, Uverse and Ycable for a whole new shebang.
The future is now, and we better start dealing with it.
I turn back to the argument I started a few weeks prior. I postulated that if someone could figure a way to Netflix up a comic book database, it might very well be the way to take the leap into the next generation. Screw the motion comics, augmented reality links, and ultimate experiences. Deliver me a litany of comic book content on-demand, for a monthly fee so low I can’t possibly deny myself access. If my dream for ComicFlix were to come true… how long would it take to see the death of the local comic shop?
That is to say, the death of what few comic shops still are in business and making enough money to stay in business beyond the calendar year with sincerity.
Let’s ask the tough questions then. Did we all mourn the loss of Blockbusters around the country? When you go to the Comic Con and snag that graphic novel you really wanted for 50% off cover price, do you hide it under your jacket, and leave yourself a reminder to never bring it up at the comic shop for fear the counter jockey will shame you to tears as he eats his last bowl of cup-a-noodles? Doubtful on both counts. Do we come to grips with the moral dilemma of watching our medium take the necessary steps to grow… or do we cling to the past in hopes that somehow everything will just get better though sheer will power? I mean, all those successful movies will get the masses over to invest in pull boxes at some point, right? Right?
Sean Parker and the late Steve Jobs used technology to upend the music industry… services like Spotify, Pandora, and the like are set to revolutionize it. Google, Roku, Hulu, and Netflix are on their way to evolving television. All content delivery is evolving at a rapid pace. The antiquated world of comics is not an uncrackable nut. There’s money to be made, content to be shared, and new fans to convert. If we build it, they will come. It won’t be pretty. But what matters now more than ever is that we find a way to adapt. Pulp and paper can be as good as bytes and pixels. It’s time to put the books down, and flip the tablets on.
That being said, I have a review to do, and I need to crack open my copy of Avengers World. I know, I know… But I have an excuse. My wife has the iPad. Cheers to the future kiddos. Hop on the band wagon before it starts to pick up speed. Lest you have a man a decade or two older making you feel like a luddite. Natch.
One of the rights comics creators have been fighting for lo these many decades has been obtaining ownership of their work, or at least getting some control and a decent percentage. We think this is fair and necessary… as do even a few modern publishers.
Much of this revolves around how our copyright and trademark laws work. Neither are elegantly written – go figure – and our copyright laws are and have just about always been woefully outdated. Given the ludicrous growth in technology, this is likely to be true for a long, long time. The good news for creators is that these laws are understandable (by and large) and all talent, no matter what media helps pay their rent, should read these laws very carefully. If the laws sound like they were written in Klingon, there are plenty of resources out there to help you.
One artist who was particularly knowledgeable about trademark and copyright law was an odd guy named Adolf Hitler. He sort of looked like Moe Howard, but he spoke more aggressively. Oh, and unlike Moe, Adolf wasn’t Jewish… we think. But to be fair, he did do at least three things that were quite remarkable. The first was design the Volkswagen. Now, I wouldn’t drive a Beetle even if I won it in a contest and it came with an alluring model, but its enduring popularity is above reproach.
Second, he built the Autobahn. Hey, people had to have a road upon which to drive their bugs, right? The Autobahn was such a great idea that, after the war, President Dwight Eisenhower ripped the Little Vegetarian off and created our Interstate highway system. Ike (he was called “Ike,” after the Rube Goldberg comics character) did run the European theater of operations during the Big One so he knew the strategic benefits of such a network of roads.
Third, and most significant to my oft-derailed train-of-thought, Hitler trademarked his likeness. Then he mandated his visage must appear on German postage, posters and other official papers, including some currency. Adolf earned tens of millions of dollars off of this little maneuver. Combined with his Mein Kampf royalties, the Little Dictator make quite a substantial fortune off of owning his trademarks and copyrights.
Rest assured, Hitler’s family does not make any money off of this today. These rights are in the hands of the state of Bavaria and any income goes to charity. And the German government discontinued the Hitler stamps almost 70 years ago.
Almost Human,J. H. Wyman’s new science fiction crime drama which is being produced by J.J. Abrams, premiered in two parts on Sunday and Monday on FOX. The series centers around the Los Angeles Police Department, where a detective who dislikes robots is partnered with an android capable of human emotion – a very I, Robot-esque premise with the potential to result in an interesting dynamic.
I can’t speak about the premiere, not having seen it as yet. But I did sit down and discuss the show with Karl Urban, Michael Ealy, Minka Kelly, Lili Taylor, and Naren Shankar while in San Diego this summer. Read on to see what they had to say about the pilot and the upcoming season!
Karl Urban (John Kennex)
What drew you to this project, and what are your thoughts on the concept and the character?
What drew me was primarily the script. I read the script and I was drawn to the character of John Kennex – a character who’s been in a coma for two years; who wakes up to find that he has a completely robotic leg, that he is responsible for a massive loss of life within his team, and is pushed into the front line of trying to protect and serve humanity. I found that infinitely interesting. A character who is searching for himself, and finds answers in the most unlikely source, which is his synthetic partner. He’s a character who has an aversion to technology and he’s partnered up with a robot, and ironically, the robot is almost more human than humans.
Character and story aside, it was the opportunity to work with Joel Wyman, who I’m a huge fan of. I loved Fringe. It was a really smart show. It wasn’t a stereotypical dumbed-down show. So I knew going into this that the stories were going to be smart; that we’re not going to talk down to an audience. And then obviously, it was my continuing relationship with J.J. Abrams, who really drew me into the project. I wasn’t looking to do television; but once I started looking at all of the elements involved, I thought, “How can I turn this down? This could be really, really cool.”
How has the experience been different, between movies and TV?
So far, the process is fundamentally the same; and if you’ve seen the pilot, you only have to look at that to be blown away by the production elements involved. It looks and feels like a movie, and I feel that it’s going to be really fun to explore the narrative of a character over a season, instead of just two hours, where things are condensed. So I’m excited; I’m looking forward to it.
What do you hope that John learns from Dorian over the course of the show?
It’s my hope that Dorian kind of puts John in touch with himself, with his humanity. In the best world, they learn from each other; because in a way, they’re both searching for what it is to be human. John does not remember vast tracts of his life. He is a character who has a lot of pain; of bitterness; of anger; of torment; of guilt; of frustration – all these emotions, this baggage that he has; and I think consequently, he’s quite closed off. And I think that Michael Ealy’s character, Dorian, is a wonderful mechanism for opening him up a bit, softening him up a bit over time. At the point where we discover John in this pilot – John’s not John yet. He’s just coming off a really heavy deal. I’m really thrilled and excited to see where we go from here.
Doing a movie, you know the whole story going into it. What do you think about doing a TV show, where you might not know where things are going?
I think it’s exciting. It’s just like life – we don’t know what’s just around the corner. And I certainly am aware of the through line for my character for the first season, and that’s enough for me. I just want to concentrate on making the best show we can, and delivering really interesting, compelling characters who are accessible and identifiable; and dealing with stories that we can all related to and empathize with, showcased against the canvas of this slightly futuristic world. And to me, that’s interesting – the technology that is in Almost Human, it’s coming. It’s down the pike. We’re putting stuff into the show that has been fully researched, and this technology is just around the corner. I don’t think of the show as a science fiction show. It’s a slightly futuristic show. It’d be like, “we’re a cop show in the early nineties that has characters walking around with cell phones.” You know? “That’s never gonna happen!” And here we are.
What appealed to you about the show, and what are your feelings about your character?
First and foremost, obviously the pedigree of the producers is there. These guys know how to drive a ship. My first meeting with Joel was three hours long; and I went from feeling like, “Eh, I’m not sure about this,” to “Dude, that’s crazy. That’s crazy. Okay!” So the fact that he’s driving the ship makes me confident that the story is going to go in the right direction and it has the potential to last.
The way the material was written was very interesting to me, because despite all the cool stuff, and the technology, and the idea that this guy is a synthetic; there’s so many little things that I find interesting and relatable to what it is we’re going through now. There’s discrimination; there’s political correctness: “Don’t call me a fucking robot!” You can’t say that to Dorian. It’s offensive. And the idea that a robot, a machine could be offended? I’m like, “Okay, you gotta wrap your head around this for a second.” This is something where we’re not there yet right now; but because the show is set in the near future, it’s right around the corner.
Someone asked me, “Have you ever been interested in the future like this?” I was like, “No. Never been interested in the future.” Not that I didn’t care about my future – it’s just that I never really thought about the future, like where we’re going to be. But this show has made me think, “Well, my kids will be living in a world that could be similar to this.” My son could potentially be partnered with a Dorian, if he becomes a cop – you don’t know. So it’s one of those things where it provokes so much thought and intrigue that instantly, it’s like, “This is the project you sign on to.”
As an actor, how do you balance trying to show the emotions but also be a “machine”?
It is by far the most difficult role to try and play human / machine, machine / human. Which one is he in this scene, and which one is he in that scene? And Joel and Brad Anderson, our director on the pilot, have been very helpful in helping me find those fine lines. I based Dorian on three particular characters in movie history: Jason Bourne, Robert Patrick’s Terminator, and Starman, from the Jeff Bridges movie. Doing that has helped me gauge how far I can go in this particular moment, or how small I can be in this; and it’s been incredible. I look forward to where he’s going to be in other episodes, and the levels that I can play with this guy.
In the pilot, it looks like there’s a skosh of humor between John and Dorian. Is that going to continue?
I think the humor plays nicely in the show, without being forced. You read the script, and you might go, “heh,” and that’s your reaction; and I think that’s enough. It never feels sitcom-y or like it’s a setup. It’s more…usually the humor is inadvertent or it’s just the irony of the moment. Especially from John’s perspective, it’s like, “Wow. Really?” Like, “You’re offended that I called you a robot?” Detective Paul, played by Michael Irby, he constantly refers to me as “Bot.” And that is, to Dorian, the equivalent of certain terms that we don’t say anymore in this day and age. So it’s like, “Sigh.” He has to kind of check himself before responding to that. But the humor itself, I think we have a nice blend of that right now. I think it’s honest; it’s truthful. And there is truth in jest. I think that is what we’re playing with right now.
What do you think that Dorian will learn from John over the course of the series, and John learn from Dorian?
I think John will grow. I’m hoping that Dorian’s hunger for humanity will cause John to understand that he’s blessed, and that what he has is special. And what I hope Dorian understands is that everything human is not good, and sometimes being able to do what he’s able to do…because it’s so “natural,” being programmed in him, to be able to figure out the pixels in this particular canvas, he doesn’t appreciate that. I’m hoping he learns to appreciate some of that, and I think, based on what I’ve read so far, that’s going to come; especially in the relationship between him and Rudy, played by Mackenzie. Their relationship is going to grow. We’re going to understand those two a little bit more.
In the pilot, your character said “I want to be a cop.” For an android to want something that we’d think of as distinctly human is interesting territory. Can you talk about exploring the humanity through the eyes of this non-human, and how he might be in pursuit of a more recognized state of humanity? Is that something you try to bring into the character?
By all means. I’d like to describe him as a reflection of the humanity that we all take for granted, daily. There are people in this world who don’t understand the preciousness of what it is to have a child, and they walk away or run from that responsibility. And that lack of humanity is something that Dorian cannot fathom; because he wants it so bad. I like to consider him as very observant. Not so much intuitive, but observant of human behavior, and so if he sees you make a sad face, he wants to know, “Okay, what does that sadness feel like?” Because he really wants to feel it.
And ultimately, where he’s going to go remains to be seen. But I feel like his desire to embrace humanity sets him apart from other machines that we’ve seen in the past, and I think it gives a hopeful tone to the show. Oftentimes in futuristic or sci-fi shows, you see that man and machine don’t co-exist. I think what we’re trying to say is that these two, hopefully, can co-exist and create a model for the masses of society to understand that man and machine can work together. You know, Dorian would love it if there were more Dorians out there! But he is coming out of being decommissioned, and that’s a hard thing for him to swallow.
That’s interesting, too. The newer models of the robot partners are less appealing and more robotic. I hope they look at Dorian and say, “We need to get back to this model.”
That’d be cool, wouldn’t it? It’s interesting, because those guys, the MX43s, they look like superheroes. They’re all like, 6’4”…and Dorian looks at them and he goes, “Ooh, intimidating.” He’s such a smart-ass! Because he knows, at the end of the day, “They are machines, and they can’t do what I can do. And they can’t think like I can think, and they will never be able to feel like I can feel.” He has a certain amount of pride in that, and at the same time, I think what John has to learn is, Dorian can be more helpful than hurtful. Because he’s not an MX43. And that’s a slow grind for him. So we’ll see how it goes.
Minka Kelly(Valerie Stahl)
What drew you to the show?
When they present a show to you that’s produced and created by Joel Wyman and J.J. Abrams, you know it’s going to be something pretty cool; and not only does it look cool, it’s a beautiful subject matter. The way that they explore the direction we’re going technology-wise – it’s growing so fast and I think the fear is that we’re going to lose touch with each other and the ability to connect, on a human emotional level; and I’m afraid of losing that.
I feel like we’re already sort of in a place where kids aren’t being taught how to write in cursive anymore, and they’re not learning how to write a letter and put a stamp on it and mail it, because they just text, or email, and this show really explores the risk of that. I love that my character really fights and believes in not losing touch with humanity, and not losing that human emotional contact and connection, and so that’s what drew me to the story and to the character; because I feel like that’s a really real subject and issue that we’re facing.
Will we get to learn more about your character as the season goes on; and what can you tell us about her background?
You’re going to learn a lot about my character throughout the season. There’s so much about her; there’s a lot more to her than meets the eye. It’s going to be a really fun character to play, and definitely the most challenging I’ve ever played, with what they’re telling me they’re going to do. There are a lot of different sides to her, that you’ll see, which is as much as I can say. She’s not an android; but there are some really fun aspects to her that will be revealed; and you’ll know why she’s there, why she does what she does and why she fights for what she fights for, and as far as Detective Kennex goes, she just looks up to him in such a big way, because he really also believes in those same things – humanity, and his morals and beliefs, she has in common with him. So a lot of that will be revealed.
It seems like they’re setting up an interesting relationship dynamic between your character and Karl’s. Can you go into a little bit more detail about that? Are we going to see some romance, or…
I think when you’re working with these guys, nothing is off the table; you can’t say never to anything. Right now, as it is, there’s no romance that we know of. I’ve asked Joel that same thing. Right now it really is an admiration. She just looks up to him. He’s a hero of hers, and so she’s just very excited to meet him, and work alongside him; and maybe one day be as great as he is at what she does.
Are you enjoying the sci-fi aspect of it? That whole “creating whole new worlds” thing?
Sure; it’s so funny because working on the show, being there on the day, shooting these scenes, it doesn’t feel like a sci-fi show, because we are also telling a beautiful story, and we’re all connecting on a human level; so then when I see the show, I’m reminded it’s a sci-fi show, and the world that they’ve created is so cool and exciting. I think that you can’t really put this show in a box. It’s not just sci-fi; it’s not just procedural. There’s also a lot of humanity that we’re exploring. I’m attracted to that aspect of it.
It sounds like there are a lot of serious themes; is it fun on the set? Are there going to be fun parts to the show as well? What is the overall tone?
I think there’s a little bit of everything. Even in the pilot, you see Michael Ealy and Karl Urban, they’re great together, and I think there’s a lot of humor involved. I mean, even the scene with him in the car; that was my favorite part, I love that. And I think if you don’t have that, you’re in trouble, because it can’t just always be so serious. I don’t think that’s why you tune in. You want to laugh, and you want to feel all kinds of things. And I think this show really does cover all of that. There’s something for everyone there.
How much ahead of time do you like to know about where your character is going?
I used to think I didn’t want to know ahead of time, but in this case, I’m really glad that I know, because it’s even gotten me more fired up. When Joel told me where we were going and what we were doing, it just got me really excited to go to work; and I just feel so lucky that I’m a part of a team that has such great imagination. So I’m excited to see how far they go with what they’ve said they’re doing. We’ll see!
Lili Taylor (Maldonado)
What drew you to the show?
I think Joel and J.J., their imaginations are pretty great, and that’s exciting to me. And one other thing was, my character was originally a man, and they were open to making it a woman; and I thought that said a lot about, again, their imagination and flexibility.
Was the material appealing to you?
Yes; I’ve always wanted to play a cop! But so what, you know – I can do that in an acting class or something. I don’t have to bother everyone else with my little dream. But what interests me is, I loved Children of Men; and I thought that template was just perfect. And I know that’s what they’re talking about here; and find that this show wrestles with some interesting questions. We know this is a really wild time to be living in, just crossroad-wise, and this show might get into some of that stuff that we’re wrestling with.
If it was originally a man, how did you end up with the part?
I have to verify this…I think my manager suggested it, and they were open to it. And that just is fantastic.
The role that was being written – did they change much when they made it a female part, or did they keep the character much the same?
Sort of the same, but obviously because I am who I am, it’s changing a bit. But what I like is that whoever she’s become, she still has a real strong feminine side. Because sometimes women in those positions of power, they just, like: they have balls. It’s like, “Are you a woman?” Where’s the femininity? So she’s able to be a boss and still know that she can do it without suppressing that. Like what Helen Mirren was doing in Prime Suspect; and I love that template also. And I’ve talked to them about that, and they’re open to that kind of thing as well.
Talking about the dynamic between your character and John – they seem to have kind of a close relationship, but yet it’s not necessarily a good relationship at all times…
To me, they almost seem more like sister and brother in a way, than like, mom, or boss/employee. And I think they have a bond because they experienced a tragedy together, and that’s an interesting place to start from. But she is still his boss…so it’s like, older sister.
What can you tell us about your storyline?
I know that they’re going to be talking to us about it. Joel was saying that he was sort of more secretive on Fringe, and that he’s doing it different now. Because it just does work better, when you have open lines of communication; everybody sort of wins.
How much ahead of time do you like to know where your characters are going?
I like to know, because it’s a house of cards. I’ve gotten used to not knowing, and I’ll accept that; but if I had known certain things that a character did in episode 11, in episode 3, or earlier, I might have created some different choices. Like if all of a sudden you find out your character is a psychopath, in episode 13, but you didn’t have any glimmers of that happening, that’s hard.
You mentioned that the show is going to be touching on some interesting questions. Can you elaborate?
Well, climate change, some of the neuroscience stuff, the Google Glass – I mean, that’s sort of on a lower level, but that can open doors to the ethical dilemmas. Even bringing an extinct species back, like recreating the dodo. On so many levels, I feel like we’re just in a can of worms. Like you do one thing, like bring back an extinct species, and all of a sudden another species gets threatened. Just all sorts of wild questions are being raised.
What backstory do you know?
I don’t know any. I know there was a bad raid two years ago, and we lost a lot of officers.
It sounds like the show is exploring humanity and what it means to be human. If you could set it up so that your character got to make one comment on what it means to be human, what do you think that would be?
To be human? I think it’s to fall down and get back up; and then fall down and get back up. And on and on and on.
Naren Shankar (former executive producer and co-showrunner)
Note: On September 9, 2013, it was announced that Shankar, who joined the series after the production of the pilot, would depart the series due to creative differences. However, I think he said some really interesting things about the show, many of which will presumably still hold true, so I’m including his interview. Also, won’t it be interesting to see in what ways they take a different direction after the change in personnel?
How did you get involved in the project, and why did it appeal to you?
I was on CSI for many years. I ran the show with Carol Mendelsohn for about eight years. I came off it, and I was looking for a way to get back to my roots; because my first shows were all science fiction. That was a huge chunk of my career and the stuff that I love. I was on Star Trek, and The Outer Limits, and Farscape; and after eight years of dealing with dismembered corpses and real-time drama, it wears you down a little bit. And I saw the pilot, and it really was a great combination, and perfect for me. Because it was futurism, and it was a police procedural. It had great relationships in it. Very much in keeping with NYPD Blue; I mean, these were all shows that I loved. And then I met with Joel and we hit it off really, really well. So it was a great match and I’m delighted to be here.
It sounds like you’ll be able to blend a bit of your current procedural background with your sci-fi background…
Yeah, and also, I used to be an engineer. So, there really isn’t a show on television right now that really deals with futurism. And I think it’s kind of amazing; it’s actually hard to pull off. Because what we really want to do, in the absolute best version of this show, is give people a little glimpse of what’s coming down the road.
We really are trying hard to maintain relatability to the present. Because you want to see a little bit of the seeds of present day technology, extrapolated thirty, thirty-five years in the future. Because it’s very easy to create a world that is unrecognizable to people, and that world, we can’t really attach to. And then you just go, “Ehh, it’s just stuff.” I think it also narrows the appeal of the program pretty substantially. Whereas, if people can actually relate to it, understand that this is the world that might be coming, it gives them a totally different way to attach to the program. And if they can see that it’s not about futuristic crime-solving, it’s about people in the future dealing with the future, they can relate to that. That’s, I think, a really important distinction; and I think that’s what we’re trying to achieve.
So as the show goes on, are you going to continue keeping an eye on cutting-edge science and incorporating that? Can you give us an example of something that’s on the cusp right now, that you might have brought into the show?
Absolutely we are. And for an example, people right now are worried about location tracking, and privacy. Episode two deals with these issues, but extrapolated into the future. Taking that notion and doing some pretty nasty things with it. We’re going to try to do that as much as possible; and yeah, you have to keep up with it, because things change so incredibly fast. It’s actually super-difficult to come up with.
Can you talk about the episode structures? Is it going to be similar to a police procedural, or more with long-term serial arcs throughout the season?
We’ve talked a lot about that. With Fringe, it was super mythologized, and tightly, tightly serialized. CSI was literally at the opposite end of that spectrum. We’re trying to work for a combination of those things. But I think the best example that we can give you – and we’ve had many discussions about it – NYPD Blue had really interesting and compelling cases and criminals, but the mythology of the show was really the mythology of the characters’ lives. That’s what the serialization came from. It was really the continuing character arcs. Was Sipowicz going to fall off the wagon; or he’s having prostate cancer; and how is his partner dealing with his girlfriend who’s in the precinct. .. It was maybe a little soapier than what we’re going for; but I think we are trying hard to focus the mythology on the continuing aspects of the characters in the show. There are going to be some very lightly serialized arcs; but the idea is to give people a great case every week, with people who are continuing to develop in terms of their relationships, and their relationship to the world.
I understand you want to be cutting edge, but being a sci-fi show, and given your background on Star Trek and all, what about opportunities to sort of comment on where we are now?
You’re hitting the core of it – we want to comment on things as they are now, or where we feel things might go. With Star Trek, we were so remote in terms of where we were relative to the present day. Star Trek was positing a future where people had evolved past their baser instincts and were actually not quite as barbaric or as violent, and everybody had plenty, because you had a replicator. And that is not the future that we’re talking about.
We’re talking about a future where technology has done a lot of good and a lot of ill. If you’re talking about the broader message of the show, in a way it’s like, you’ve got a synthetic who’s kind of human, and a human who has synthetic parts. And n the long arc of the show, we’re talking about, where is humanity going? Are those two things coming together? Because a lot of people believe that they are; I’m actually one of them. But that means things can go really good, or things can go really bad. But maybe that’s the only chance for survival of the species, is some combination of technology and biology. And I think in a larger sense, that is what the show is dealing with.
How far in advance have you mapped out ideas for the future of the series?
We’ve mapped out quite a bit. We’ve laid out character arcs for the first thirteen episodes for all of our guys. We kind of dug into the backstories of all of our characters very well. We’ve got some very interesting stuff coming up; and it’s dealing with, like, you know everybody in the world who’s a regular in the show has a very particular relationship with technology. And you’re going to see that as the show goes on. And we have tons of ideas for cases. It’s a great combination. I think you’re really going to like how the John and Dorian relationship evolves; and there’s going to be some interesting codependence as the show continues. We’ve been busy.
Have you mapped out any general ideas for where you’ll go past the first thirteen?
Definitely. But we don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves, and we do want to keep ourselves open to possibilities. If people get hyper-dogmatic about where their shows are, it kind of hurts them. Because then you start writing towards results as opposed to keeping yourself open to unexpected things that you never anticipated. I think when you have a cast of the quality that we have on this program, that’s going to happen. Because in the pilot, just watching, for example, Mackenzie Crook – Rudy, the lab technician – when he plugs Dorian in, he’s nervous. He seems like he doesn’t know what’s going to happen. Well, when I saw that, I was like, “You know, what if?” What is the reason underlying that nervousness? And that led to some very interesting discussions. I think that kind of thing is essential. You can lay out big arcs, but you have to stay open to the possibilities. Because magical things can happen.
Looking at the Dorian character, have you come up with any parameters as to how human-like he can be or become? Are there certain aspects you would never cross?
It’s an incredibly tricky performance. Michael did an amazing job in the pilot; but when you think about it, he’s a guy, playing a robot, playing sort of a human. I kind of liken it to Robert Downey’s performance in Tropic Thunder – an American playing an Australian playing a black man. It’s like, “Whaaat?” But you see the layers of the performance; and when you talk to Michael, he’s always thinking that. So it’s really fascinating.
And when we’re talking about Dorian the character, and writing him, we’re going through the same process on the writing side. You go, “He’s got to be precise, because he’s a cop, and he’s gotta talk like a cop; but he shouldn’t talk too much like a cop, because he’s going to be kind of, like, not human…but not completely; but he’s got to be a little bit of a robot.” So the answer is: we’re finding it. And it’s really, really tricky. But I think at this point, we’ve decided he must have been programmed by a hipster; because he says things like “hey, man,” and I think it episode two we threw in a, “That’s cool.” So we’ll see what happens.
How much of that is led by Michael’s performance?
That was exactly led by Michael’s performance. I don’t know if Joel wrote “hey, man” into the script; or Michael said that and Joel put it into the script; but that is really where that was coming from. I think it was actually J.J. [Abrams]’ note, that was like, “That’s cool.” And we were like, “Yeah, that’s a great line!”
At the end of the pilot, you get the sense that they’ve resolved a lot of their issues. I would imagine that dynamic won’t be static, though?
Here’s the thing; I think that when people come up with shows that are like, “Two people that hate each other but must work together!” it becomes the most false kind of drama; because in reality, that gets resolved almost instantaneously. Because the audience, when they like the characters, they like to see them together, and then all the conflict feels very forced. The issues with John and Dorian is not so much that they are completely resolved; because John has feelings about technology; he just comes to the decision that, “Hey, I can work with this.” And he’s not a guy who doesn’t use computers. John isn’t a Luddite. He understands the world, and what tools are.
But what’s going to happen as the show goes on is, these guys are going to help each other. Dorian needs John because he wants to be a cop. Keeping John on a healthy path to healing himself, sort of dealing with the ambush and all the guys that he lost, and sort of re-integrating with the world is good for Dorian as well. And what we are going to see, as we get into more of Dorian’s backstory – and I’m not going to tell you exactly where that’s going, obviously, because Bad Robot would kill me! But what you’re going to see is, their “conflict” is going to be in terms of that codependency. So we’re not going to have ridiculous arguments: “I hate you!” “You’re not a human!” That’s kind of bogus and it goes away fast.
You were saying you’ve got these great cases lined up. Are some of those to do with the idea of technology as it is in their world? Will we see it on the police side and then in some of the cases?
Absolutely. I think you’re probably going to see more of it on the crime side. It’s like whenever bad guys have a new tool, they’re incredibly innovative in how they use it. It’s like the porn industry. Porn always leads technology. You have to remember, dystopian futures are easier to imagine, because people have an innate fear of technology. What we’re trying to do is dystopian in some respects, but also – I’ll use the word “utopian” only as its opposite. We’re trying to be optimistic about where technology can go as well. We don’t want to create a world where everything is bleak and terrible and awful because of technology. Joel doesn’t feel that’s realistic; I don’t either. It has absolutely got dangers inherent to it; but in many ways it also represents the only thing that people can do to fix things and make things better; and it’s both of those things. So the show has to express that, and we’re trying to.
Well there you go, folks! It all sounds fascinating to me! So check out Almost Human if you haven’t already.
November will be a very busy month for Lionsgate as they launch the highly anticipated adaptation of the controversial Orson Scott Card’s novel Ender’s Game. A few weeks later they top that with the release of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, the second chapter in the adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ stunning trilogy. On th eoff-chance tomorrow’s moviegoers are uncertain what the film is all about, the studio sent out the timeline you see here.
Additionally, they announced an interesting new app for the film. Here’s the formal release:
Salt Lake City, Utah, October 29, 2013 – Sandboxr, a 3D print and software development company from Utah, announced today its 3D print creation app for Summit Entertainment’s ENDER’S GAME. Sandboxr’s 3D print creation app has been in development for the past two years, and through the ENDER’S GAME-licensed version, fans will be able to create and bring home exclusive replica battleships from the film generated by cutting-edge three-dimensional printing technology. Fans will be able to check out the ENDER’S GAME 3D printing experience at Sandboxr.com before Thursday’s release of the movie in theatres and IMAX October 31 at 8pm. Summit Entertainment is a LIONSGATE® (NYSE: LGF) company.
Nancy Kirkpatrick, Summit’s President of Worldwide Marketing, said, “This is the first 3D experience of this type to coincide with a major cinematic movie release, and Summit is excited to work with Sandboxr to offer this amazing experience and great new technology to our ENDER’S GAME fans.”
At Sandboxr.com, fans of ENDER’S GAME will be able to enjoy an interactive product experience that extends their engagement with the film and that they can access from their computer. Fans can choose from a selection of CG images from the movie studio file archives and bring home their own ENDER’S GAME 3D printed spacecraft and accessories.
“With an experience as sophisticated as Sandboxr’s, the challenge is to make it easy to use by the average guy or girl. 3D experiences are typically exclusive to tech savvy makers and designers. However, we’ve worked hard to make a 3D printing experience that is accessible in a meaningful way to everyone. Bringing 3D design and print technology into the hands of the ENDER’S GAME fans is a thrilling opportunity for us at Sandboxr,” says Berkley Frei, Sandboxr CEO.
To experience the app for yourself log onto sandboxr.com and follow the links to ENDER’S GAME.
Please believe me, as I conclude last week’swell-reasoned and temperate dissertation on why comics fans should care – maybe – about the future of the US Postal Service, when I say I’m trying hard to wrap up this little opus before the USPS goes out of business.
But I’m not working as fast nor concentrating as well as I’d like because I’ve just been distracted by another “gotcha” courtesy of my BMK – Bad Mail Karma. It illustrates one of the more interesting by-products of the USPS’s ongoing effort to modernize, simplify and streamline its products and serviceseven as Congress calls for a postal austerity program:
When a customer confused by the ever-changing policies (that would be moi) makes a minor mistake, the USPS’s systems will helpfully turn it into an exhausting, nerve-wracking Major Hassle by preventing it from being corrected.
In my recent move back to Southern California, I managed to outsmart myself by sending ahead of me a USPS Priority Mail box of important items that I’d need before the moving van arrived with my everyday stuff. It has yet to arrive, some eight weeks later. It seems I used Priority Mail packaging that was not a flat rate box, but to which I incorrectly affixed flat rate postage generated online. OK, my bad.
That does not explain, however, why it took the P.O. four weeks to determine that that was the problem; why its online tracking system kept giving me information that contradicted the tracking data in the main USPS computer; nor why the package has now crossed the country four times, having been shipped back and forth between my old address and the new, each time being flagged in the system as undeliverable” or sent to “no such address.”
The helpful people I’ve dealt with at my local P.O. – six of them now, because the same people don’t seem to work there for more than five days in a row – can’t seem to figure it out, either. One “Letter Carrier Supervisor” told me, “I’ve been working here 30 years and I’ve never seen anything like this.” Of course, that may be because she apparently takes 147 coffee breaks a day.
This might also explain why she can’t get her direct reports to do what the three other supervisors have told me they will: When the package ricochets back here to Pasadena, they’ll call me so I can come pay the extra postage and pick it up. When last heard from, the package was at some “claims resolution” facility in Atlanta, but was supposed to be on its way back here. That was two weeks ago.
Now, imagine that this box had been, say, a shipment of comics from a private eBay seller for which you were waiting breathlessly. (Yes, small, private sellers often make honest mistakes. I hasten to add, though, that as someone who sells on eBay, I’ve been lucky – so far – not to make this kind of mistake with a customer’s package. And you can be sure I’m doubly careful now.)
This is a microcosmic example of the kind of thing comics fans will probably be saying good-bye to soon, mournfully or otherwise, having been left to the tender mercies of those even bigger screw-ups, UPS and DHL. The macrocosmic version is what I described last week: A stamp-related custom comic project that was extraordinarily successful for DC Comics (the aggregate print run for the nine CTC books I discussed added up to over 10 million) turned out to be a dismal failure for the USPS. This, only because the agency couldn’t secure the content approval from its licensors – the owners of several of the stamp subjects’ IT – in time to get the books out, to serve as collectors’ albums for the CTC series, at the same time as the stamps themselves.
And it’s too bad, really, this suicidal ineptitude, since comics fans once had a friend in the postal service. It was tangentially responsible for the creation of letters columns which, in the earliest days of comics fanzines and well before web sites and comment forums, became the principal means by which comics fans exchanged opinions about talent and continuity developments and, from the addresses printed, gained the means to interact and organize. These “LOC” pages came about because postal regulations required comics to have at least a page of text to qualify for their mailing rate. When the previous practice of hiring writers to create original prose fillers became prohibitively expensive, the “lettercols” were born.
Soon, those who self-identified as serious fans and collectors became the only readers who were so hell-bent on getting their monthly “fix” that they’d be willing to subscribe. But they were dissuaded from doing so because they didn’t want their mint-condition comics given a permanent vertical crease by being folded lengthwise to fit into a narrow wrapper, which was the only cost-effective way to send comics through the mail. So you can thank USPS, then, for killing this in favor of what took another decade to develop, with the growth of specialty retail shops: the pull-and-hold service.
Today, the Postal Service searches for new services it can providehttp://www.informationweek.com/government/security/postal-service-pilots-next-gen-authentic/240145559, to replace the ones it has screwed up so badly that they’ve become obsolete. One of its ideas is to get itself into the “identity management business.” The fact that the average citizen can’t figure out what, in fact, “identity management” is should in no way deter the USPS from this worthy goal. It might keep them occupied so that other companies will have to deliver all the packages, and our paychecks will all be issued by Direct Deposit and have no trouble finding their way into our bank accounts.
Of course, thereafter we’ll be unable to access our funds, because our identity will have “managed” to change – to that of someone we’ve never heard of in a zip code that hasn’t been invented yet. (Remind me not to tell you about how my previous address in Pennsylvania, a rural route which was given a normal house-number in “The Monroe County Readdressing Project” … with the result that my online change-of-address form couldn’t be processed properly because the old address wasn’t in the USPS database.)
Meanwhile, I’ve decided to stop oiling my old spinner-rack and instead donate it to a nursing home. I’m going to shop for comics via ComiXology exclusively, and work on figuring out how to get my new tech for promoting pacifism and conservation of labor, to make plastic staples. Once everyone on eBay is shipping via UPS, and we have the technology to totally recreate “floppies” in our own homes, the world’s Geeks – comic book division – won’t have anything to fear from the P.O. anymore, whatsoever.
After the well-done but under-appreciated take DC Comics did on the classic heroes from Tower Comics, I was pleased, but rather surprised that a new company had secured the rights to them so quickly. Even more pleased that it was IDW, who’s been tearing up the landscape with both exemplary and licensed titles.
The new title does the one thing I suspected they’d have to do – they started over. It takes place in a new history, where NoMan and Lightning are in action, but no other members. There’s experimentation going on in the background of issue 1 for the technology for the Undersea Agent, and dozens of candidates have tried and failed to wear the Thunderbelt. Kate “Kitten” Kane is in charge of T.H.U.N.D.E.R., and while Guy Gilbert’s name is mentioned, it’s not explicitly said that he’s using the Lightning metabolism accelerator suit. And yes, T.H.U.N.D.E.R-fen, Weed is back, although apparently in a desktop capacity.
While I mourn the loss of all those classic stories, Phil Hester has a strong grasp of the characters and sets things up well for new readers, without resorting to excessive narrative to fill in the history. Andrea DiVito’s art is clean, with sparse backgrounds, and perhaps a bit too heavy a line in the inking.
The advantage of not being tied to years of past continuity is it makes it easier for new readers to jump on board, and the first issue hits the ground running, in the middle of an adventure. You get the impression that there’s a history to the organization, but not one you need to know all about to enjoy. The majority of the issue deals with the scouting and recruitment of Len Brown, now a nearly-was goon for the NHL, now semi-drifter who picks up odd jobs, including the occasional leg-breaking deal for loan sharks. His capacity for tolerating pain is off the charts, which makes him a perfect candidate for Professor Jennings’ Thunderbelt – in this incarnation, the belt causes intense pain to wearer during its use, hence the long line of guinea pigs with massive nerve damage. He’s hastily sent in to combat the Iron Maiden, who has taken over a secret T.H.U.N.D.E.R base in the middle east. The Iron Maiden appears to be working for the Subterraneans, and the next issue looks like it will parallel Rusty and Dynamo’s first battle.
Comic book movie super-producer Michael Uslan (and comic book writer) once again makes the credit box, with the mysterious byline “T.H.U.N.D.E.R Agents Project initiated By”, the exact credit he received in the DC run. In a past interview, he made it clear that he’s as big a fan of the Agents as…well, me, and as part of the undisclosed deal he’s made concerning the characters, he has the movie rights. So far he’s gotten two very good teams to bring the heroes to a new audience – I’m hoping this one all the success I wished the last one, and more.
Duck Tales Remastered is out, and it is glorious perfection.
The original gameplay of the original Capcom NES classic (largely considered the finest platformer on the system) is reproduced perfectly. Nothing has been “improved”, nor need it be.Yes, there are difficulty settings now, but if you want to reproduce the original in its infuriating awesomeness, it is there for you.
Note that I only said the gameplay had not been improved. The rest has been catapulted into the 21st century by spectacular game developers WayForward, makers of the Mighty Switch Force series, and also just reinvigorated Shantae. The graphics are still 2-D, but they are as sharp as the animation from the series, and thanks to the advances in technology, includes voiced narration and dialogue…by the original cast, wherever possible. Almost everyone is back; June Foray as Magica deSpell, Chuck McCann as Duckworth and half the Beagle Clan, and Frank Welker as the other half of the Beagle Boys, Hal Smith, original voice of Flintheart Glomgold, passed some years back – voice and character actor Brian George has stepped in expertly, and Eric Bauza steps in for the late Hamilton Camp as Fenton Crackshell, AKA Gizmoduck.
And as for the hero of the game…I will not lie to you, once again hearing Alan Young as Scrooge McDuck brought tears to my eyes. There have been others to voice the world’s richest duck, but none so often, and as long as the illustrious Mr. Young. It’s a voice he’s used often, most famously in The Time Machine as various members of the Filby family.
I look forward to hours of maddeningly reliving the frustration of my…well, not quite my youth, more like my early married days. I beat this thing one, I can do it again.
Where’s there? Oh, come on…The San Diego Comic-Con! Where else? And, as I type this on Monday evening, are you perhaps just getting home. Are you frazzled? Exhausted? And are you happy? Was the adventure all you’d hoped it might be? Do you have, encased in plastic and two slabs of thick cardboard and tucked into your carry-on, that one special issue, the one you’ve sought for years. the one whose absence has left as yawning crater in the middle of your collection – finally, triumphantly yours? Have you met the person of your dreams, wearing, perhaps, an X-Men costume? Or had your picture taken with the celebrity who occupies a god niche in your psyche? (Okay, it cost you what you pay for a week’s groceries, but some treasures are beyond price.)
Hooray. That’s all well and good. But now the important question: Did you see me there?
If you did, I must have had some Dr. Strangey astral projection mojo working, because I haven’t been anywhere near Southern California this year. (Denver is as close as I got.) So – either I astrally projected (while napping?) or you saw some other septuagenarian chrome dome. I didn’t do any disembodied jaunting last week but…I did do something similar.
The late Arthur C. Clarke once said that any sufficiently advanced technology would appear to be magic to primitive people. (Let’s assume that “primitive” is relative.) Well, abra my cadabra, because while sitting upstairs in the dining room I spoke to a group of people in Lima, Peru – gave a talk and then answered questions. Mr. O the bilocated – at once in New York and Peru! Be in awe, you primitives!
The magic was, of course, technology, and not cutting edge technology, either. (Though, come to think of it, maybe this story would be better if it were.) What we were using, the attendees of the Lima Book Fair and I, was Skype, which is surely old news to many of you. Too me – not so old. I’d used it once before, to record something for use on YouTube, but I had the advantage of a tech savvy offspring at my elbow on that occasion. This time, Marifran and I were pretty much on our own, though we did have help from Eduardo, an affable cyberwizard from – where else? – Peru. I won’t say that all proceeded glitchlessly. (Does Dr. Strange ever suffer interference from, say, a snotty kid riding a Hogwarts broomstick?) But the glitches were minor and the event, I’ve been assured, was a success.
And just recently, a book I wrote about a dozen years ago became available as an e-book. So I guess I’m being dragged into the twenty first century, That, or I’ve taken up residence where eldritch forces are manifest. Either way, as the great prophet Bobby told us, the times they are a’changin’, and, there being nothing to do about it, let’s enjoy the ride.