Patagonia

You know what I’ve always hated about this sort of thing? The lack of sensation. You’re flying through the empty void of space…and, yes, mister smarty-pants, I know that space isn’t ‘technically’ empty. There’s radiation, fine particles of space dust and ice, black matter or dark matter or whatever the hell they’re calling it these days, so I get it, but it’s practically empty. Anyway, you’ve jumped or been pushed or shot out of a tube (as in this particular case) and are nothing more than a projectile. An incredibly accurate one, as there’s no wind or gravity to alter your trajectory, so you’d best hope that whoever programmed the aiming and firing solution knew what the hell they were doing.

But, so, anyway…there’s no friction, no wind whipping past, no sound except the constant huff of your own breath and the occasional bit of communication in your helmet. “200 meters. Almost there.” Motia’s steady voice kept me from puking or shitting my suit or both. The Patagonia was coming up fast, and the whole thing was surreal and deceptive. She had no external lights on her hull, which was some dark steelskin anyway. That meant that just the slightest outlines and edges were going to be visible until we got closer. The faint glint of starlight tracing the edges of the massive derelict was all we had to gauge not only the girth of the thing, but how fast we were approaching it.

“100 meters. 75.” Damn, we were moving.

I hate this stuff, but Ray fuckin’ loves it. Of course he was the first one to the hull. The ship grew until it filled most of my vision, but it was still so dark that I had that terrifying sensation of trying to find a doorway in a pitch-black haunted house, your hand just out there in the void, flailing around until it touches something, then you nearly scream, before your synapses relay the information that what you came in contact with was, in fact, drywall, and not, as your primitive brain stem initially guessed, a monster with rows of serrated teeth. That’s what was going through my mind right before I got confirmation of Ray’s touchdown.

“Oh, yeah, you big black bitch! I’ma walk all over you and not even take my shoes off!”

“Ray, you’re almost there. Don’t forget—“

“I’ma seriously fuck up your carpet and drag my ass across you like a dog with ringworm!”

“RAY! Inertial recoil, NOW!”

“Oh, shit, watch! Cannonball time, suckaz!”

“Don’t ball up, god damn it!”

Then I felt, more than heard, the soft thud of Ray’s suit deploying his IDAR system, which stood for Inertial Dampening Anti-Recoil. We’d copied it from some old alien weapons, and it was a pretty crafty bit of reverse-engineering. It was currently saving Ray’s life, but if the fool didn’t plane out, there was a good chance he’d still skip off the hull and careen into the far reaches of space. But Ray lived for the rush, so there was no telling how it was going to go. We hadn’t lost him yet, but we all sort of knew that it was a matter of time, even though I felt that his end would somehow involve a flaming broadsword, a Harley Davidson motorcycle, and about a thousand pounds of TNT. Skipping off a derelict spacecraft just wasn’t his style.

Shit, I hadn’t even been paying attention. Motia was chirping in my ear.

“Any time now, dude. You ain’t Ray. You need to stick this.”

POP POP POP POP POP went my suit as the IDAR rig did its thing, followed by the PUFF-UFF-UF-FFF and all of a sudden the big ship in front of me didn’t seem to be growing as quickly, and then there was a soft clanking noise…and that was it.

“Okay, you’re there. Bolt on, please.”

The whole trip is surreal, because, again, you have no sensation of speed. All of a sudden you’re just there. Without the IDAR system, I’m not sure how we would have done it, except maybe with bulky thrusters…but those would require fuel, along with a fine-tuned and well-timed deployment. Way above my abilities. No matter what, though, I was eager to use the “bolt poker” (really sort of like an old pneumatic nail gun, only this beauty fired rivet bolts into the skin of the craft, one, two, then I was able to attach my lanyard, double-secured, to insure that I wouldn’t float off. I mean, I was still anchored to an abandoned space ship. We were still careening through space. Without my suit, I’d suffocate, freeze, and be burned by cosmic radiation. We were still a million miles from Earth (our Earth!) But in that moment, I felt as secure as I was ever likely to. So weird, the things one gets accustomed to whilst jaunting through multiple universes and star systems.

“All accounted for?” Motia was doing a headcount.

“Brubaker here.”

“Phillips, present.”

“Here!” I offered. “But I think you forgot to assign homework.”

“You know I’m ready, guys. Let’s do this!” I looked over at Ray and he had wrapped his lanyard around the gloves of his suit, tightly. He proceeded to extend his body out in a straight, perpendicular line, away from the hull. “Look! I’m Atlas! Or one of those old gods, you know? Like, if you looked from like, over there…and you were upside-down, it looks like I’m lifting this fuckin’ ship! Like Superman with a semi truck! WOOOO!!!”

“That’s great, Ray. So, what next?” Motia had a video screen on the inner part of her suit’s left arm. It gave her readouts on all the team members’ status; oxygen, energy, etc. She checked it and pursed her lips.

“Whelp, once Bru-meister cracks this bad boy, we slip in and make our way to the bridge. My guess is they don’t know we’re coming.”

“Wait…’they?’ Who is ‘they?” I sputtered.

“Well, I don’t know ‘em personally, but hell, figure about fifteen crew?”

“Ray! Are you fucking serious?” Motia stared at him, gape-mouthed and incredulous.

“Yeah, but, you know…surprise, motherfuckers! We’re here!” Ray laughed.

“This was supposed to be a derelict vessel! Abandoned! Ours for the taking! That’s how you described it! ‘Ours for the goddam taking!”

“Yeah, and we’re gonna take it! If it was empty, I’d have said ‘ours for the finding’ or some shit. Taking. That’s what we’re doing. I thought it was pretty clear.”

“Fuck.”

“Shit.”

“Fucking shit.” The rest of the crew expressed their exasperation. But we all knew that there was nothing else to do except cut open a hole, hope it wasn’t right in the middle of their rec room or whatever, glide in, and make our way through the cabins until we either killed, subdued, or captured all the occupants, then seize the ship and its contents. I really hoped there wasn’t any more killing. I had grown sick and tired of it. I guess that meant that my soul was still there, somewhere. Some guys just get numb to killing. It’s like they almost do it absent-mindedly, like a toddler picking his nose and wiping it on the couch. I just got sick of it, like I got sick of baloney when I was young and poor.

“Whelp, here we are. Brubaker, if you would be so kind as to create an entrance into this not-quite-abandoned space vehicle, we’d be much obliged.” Motia looked at her readout again. Her face told me she was doing calculations in her head. She must’ve come to a satisfactory conclusion to whatever problem she was working on, internally, because I noticed her nod, slightly, like she was telling herself. ‘Okay. We’re good.’

Brubaker began his cut. Again, it was disorienting to see the laser torch, but not hear it. Not hear the hull being sliced open. The good news was that nobody else would hear it either, hopefully…but the atmosphere inside the Patagonia, if life support was still operational, would conduct a lot more noise. Nothing we could do except wait.

I looked over at Ray. He was now ‘laying’ on the external hull with one arm drawn up under his head like a pillow, his legs casually crossed at the ankles. I heard his sigh in my headset.

“Guys…whatcha all thinking about?” he asked dreamily as he stared at the stars

“Murder.” Motia, through grinding teeth.

I noticed a dark shape float away from my vantage point, and realized it was the rectangular chunk of hull cut away by Bru’s torch.

“We’re in” he said, quietly, like he was already worried that the crew would hear us.

“Okay, let’s go.” Motia was first through the breach. I was so very relieved it hadn’t been Ray.

Ray & The Warthog

This is why I never take things for granted.

This time last week, I’d thought my life was pretty rough. My main point of misery centered on the contents of my tobacco pouch. The supply had dwindled, and what remained was dry, crumbling, and tasteless. My papers weren’t much better, being pages ripped from an old Bible I’d found in Silver City. Guess that’s karma. When you’re reduced to smoking Bible pages, maybe it’s time to rethink your life choices.

But oh, how things change. I’m getting some much-needed perspective. Cowered in a dry creek bed watching that damned A-10 circle back around, my cigarette-rolling prospects are the furthest thing from my mind.

If only Motia were here.

“I’ll send help. I promise,” she’d yelled over her shoulder. “Besides, it’s Earth. What’s the worst that could happen?”

Oh, it’s Earth, all right. One of ‘em. But it’s not just the where, as I’ve discovered in our travels. No, it’s the when. And seeing as how there’s an A-10 Warthog trying to raze the mining town about half a mile away (and, by virtue of proximity, me) I’m guessing I’m not the only person here that’s outside their original timeline.

It’s the damnedest thing, though. Seeing that flying anachronism, I think of the old Native American legend of the Thunderbird. Suddenly, shit makes sense. The Winnebago thought of the thunderbird as an omen of military victory. If you had a vision of one of the loud, lightning-hurling raptors, you were destined to become a great warrior. As I listen to the “BRRRR-R-R-R-R” of that thirty-mil and the throaty roar of the turbines as the thing flies low enough to send up a rooster-tail of dust and debris, I can imagine that the only way your run-of-the-mill War Chief in the 1800’s aboriginal population could even conceive of something like this would be through some sort of induced state.

And yet, here it is. No way this is a coincidence.

Footsteps, coming fast, crunching the dirt and rocks. I spin, the Navy revolver in my hand…and immediately aim it to the ground.

“Fuckin’ what is up, man!?”

Ray. It’s goddam Ray, here. Now. This is who Motia sent to help. And as he throws himself to the ground next to me, he reaches over my prone body to smother me in a huge hug.

“Good to see you, man! Sounds like there’s a lot going on. This looks interesting, no doubt. Dude, check this shit out…”

He pulls back, away from me, into a sitting position. I notice his garb for the first time. Ray’s pale blonde hair, the color if the inside of a banana peel, is back in a ponytail. His face and arms tanned so deeply that it’s hard to make out the detail in his tattoo sleeves. He wears what I can only call a pirate shirt…not the puffy, frilly, Captain Hook kind, but the roughspun beige linen sort with an open neck and billowy sleeves (which he’s rolled and pushed up over his elbows.)

“I shit you not, I’m first mate on a fuckin’ sloop of war! Check it!”

He turns his right arm over to show me a large swath of puckered, pink skin which runs from just over his wrist to about an inch below the crook of his arm.

“Cannonball burn. Know this: cannonballs are fuckin’ hot, son. This one nearly took my fuckin’ arm, and wiped this one dude out right at the knee, no joke. Dude stood there for like a microsecond, and then ‘fump!’ Over he goes. Unreal, dude. Oh, and—“

“RAY!” I shouted, louder than I intended.

“Right. Gotcha. Thunderbolt. Please explain.”

Thunderbolt. Or more accurately, Thunderbolt II. Damn, I’d forgotten. That was the official designation of the A-10. At least, in our timeline. In our universe. Ray seemed to read my thoughts, as he sometimes did.

“This is some real Dark Tower shit, my friend. Fuckin’ score.”

“That’s one way to put it. But the fact remains, that flying hunk of death is sort of in our way.”

Ray stares, and his hand absently tugs and strokes the tuft of corn silk on his chin.

Here’s the thing about Ray: he is fucking brilliant. Some people forget that. They lose sight of the fact that the guy could build an entire computer server and IT network from scratch, or that he’d spent two years in a Shaolin monastery or that his so-called “Superposition Drive Theory” was being seriously discussed (in an alternate timeline, anyway) as a viable means of interstellar, faster-than-light travel…an expression that he abhorred, because “You’re not traveling anywhere. You’re already there, you just aren’t aware of it!”

The other thing about Ray is that he’s totally nuts.

Well, that’s not completely accurate, either. He’s just…an unstable molecule. He’s chaos incarnate. When you scrap with him, the scary part isn’t his muscles or his training or anything, but the completely unpredictable, wild nature of his aggression. He and I scrapped once doing a thing on some damn world chasing down some quarry of Motia’s or whatever. It was a frustrating trip, and the trail had gone cold. We spent the night, all of us, drinking a whole crap-ton of this godawful booze punch we’d come across, and things got ugly. Everyone was cussing and punching, just pissed at everything out of general frustration and exhaustion. It bloomed into a full-on brawl, every creature for itself. Ray had thrown a good left cross at my head, one that I narrowly avoided. I countered by kicking him in the sternum. He grabbed my ankle and then did the unexpected. He could’ve twisted my leg, could’ve thrown me, could have done a lot of things, but what he did was to slam his forehead into the meat of my thigh. Hard. Yes, the fucker head-butted my leg. And that sounds crazy, and maybe even ineffective, but shit…imagine someone throwing a bowling ball, hard, and having it impact about three inches above your knee. My entire limb went numb. In all honesty, I couldn’t even stand on it when I came-to the next morning. The black, bone-deep bruise lasted weeks. It was horrible. Of course, when Ray saw it, he just laughed. Laughed and laughed. He cried tears of mirth and squeaked out “Oh, dude! Oh, shit! That’s why my neck hurts so bad! I tried to snap your leg with my skull, dude!”

Then a few days later, he’d saved my ass when we were ambushed by some Skinnies. That’s just Ray.

So he looks across the stretch of sand and rock and dust, through the waves of heat distortion rippling and blurring the horizon. And he concludes “That is definitely a jet airplane.”

Yes, it sure as fuck is.

“So, here’s the thing about jet airplanes. They need fuel. Lots of it, I’d imagine. So, this fucker is either hooked up with an alternate power source, which seems unlikely, the way it sounds and smells. Can you smell it? That oily, diesel-and alcohol smell? It’s on the wind. I think it’s him. It’s Mr. Buzzy. Or he’s got a refinery or some stash of fuel nearby. Not sure the range on these guys, but it’s gotta be finite.”

I stare at Ray for a second, then back to the grey-green terror swooping low again, strafing whatever it’s trying to kill in the town.

“Ammo, too…” I murmur. “Can’t have inexhaustible rounds, right? And it’s surely shooting projectiles. Those aren’t beam weapons.”

“Correct. So, ol’ boy there has a stash somewhere, hoss. I say we got find it and maybe end up getting us a flying machine. Dude, can you imagine? Ima take it back to my crew, back in the Caribbean.” Ray begins to cackle. “They will literally shit themselves, no doubt. CAW! CAW! DEATH CROW! CLEAR THE FUCKIN’ DECK!”

One thing at a time. It’s going to be dusk soon. And this strange quarry is going to fly off in one direction or another, I’m guessing. And we’ll track it somehow. And we’ll take it out somehow. And then I’ll double back to the mining camp and continue my quest. Maybe finally link up with Motia again. Jesus. Motia, the Indians, and now Ray. If we can just keep this crew together, we might just have a shot. We might just get things sorted.

And then, just maybe…maybe I can go home.

 

 

 

 

Shallow Grave

I was choking in my sleep, suddenly, and it scared me upright out of my slumber. It was terrifying, the feeling of dust or sand caking the back of my mouth. I coughed and retched, bile following phlegm up and out before I even knew what was happening.

And what the fuck actually was happening? My mind fumbled the last fleeting images in its cache. I remember shovels of dirt being thrown on me, a tarp of some sort being pulled back…later? Faces around me…Motia’s voice “Deader’n a doornail. Go ahead. Give him a kick.” Sharp pain, which felt all too recent…I felt the ribs on my left side: bruised and tender, the sensation wrapping around my back towards my spine. What the hell was going on?

“You need to shake off the dust! HA! Really is dust all over! And no shower for days, I think!” The instantly recognizable voice of Pappu, the Walker Between. That was what they called him here.

Here. Yes. I remembered. We were back in our Prime, but still a few long, hard galaxies away from actual home. Still, it felt nice being somewhere familiar, somewhere where the laws of physics acted like they had when I was a kid. My mind threw a bunch of images at me at once, and the way they stuck didn’t make me very happy at all.

I remembered Pappu grabbing my head in both hands, forcing me to stare right into his eyes as he held his own face inches from my own. “No! You look at ol’ Pap! No thinking yet! Here it comes and be strongly!” A flash of light accompanied by pain. A shallow grave. Drifting in and out of consciousness. The gasp of children witnessing something shocking or awe-inspiring. A name. A face. Bool. We had come here for Bool.

“Well, good morning, sleepy-head.” I turned to see Motia striding my way and nearly bobbled the canteen she tossed at me.

“Did you…did you zap me?” I asked as I unscrewed the cap. It’s amazing the things you never really appreciate until they’re scarce. I’d never realized that water had a smell until my travels with Motia. Sure. The sea has a scent, and so does stagnant, murky swampland, but just regular, clean, clear water smells so damned good when you’ve been without it. I guzzled, almost choking again, but pushed past it to quench the arid landscape of my dirty throat.

“Easy there, turbo,” she muttered as she lit a cigarette.

“What the hell? Tobacco?” I shot at her between gulps.

“Can’t get a vape in this word for nothin’. Besides, I think mine’s dead.”

“Fair enough. So, did you zap me, or what? I’m a bit foggy, what with apparently being shoved in a shallow grave by you and this scrawny brown fucker.” I nodded Pappu’s way. He smiled and waved back.

“Of course I did. It was your idea, dipshit.”

I paused. The canteen was almost empty anyway. I stared at her, waiting for clarification.

“You had to be dead. Bool has to believe you’re dead. So we made you dead. Mostly. Let the neighborhood kids come look at your corpse. They thought it was pretty rad, seeing a dead guy up close and all.”

“I make several good trade for to see you! Better than movies to kids!” Pappu nodded proudly.

A notion struck me just then.

“Did you let them kick me?” I glared at Motia, who glanced around at anything but my gaze. “Pappu?”

His smile melted like Paula Deen’s breakfast. Guilt replaced it.

“Not for free, no!”

“Got a good price, did ya?”

He nodded.

“Well, hey, that’s something at least, huh?”

Pappu laughed and clapped his bony hands together like he’d just seen Robin Williams in a sold-out 1980’s concert (and who knows, maybe he just had). Motia walked closer and offered me a drag of her smoke. I couldn’t recall the last time I’d had a cigarette, but knew it was a generous offer; no telling what she’d done or paid for a cigarette out here in the middle of whatever galactic cluster we were in. I took a modest drag. I sighed. Motia tried to assuage my self-pity.

“Every one of those little rugrats will tell everyone they know that they saw you dead, covered in a tarp, eyes rolled back in your skull. When asked, they’ll talk of how they kicked you…hard…”

“Oh, for a certainty.”

“…and how you didn’t move. Didn’t flinch. You’re a corpse, pal. And you can be gods damned sure our pal has heard the news.”

“You’re sure Bool’s here?”

“Yep. Our Navajo tracked him here, otherwise we’d have bypassed this system.”

“Shit.”

“Yep.”

“Well, let’s go get ‘im.”

Motia smiled wickedly, inhaled one last puff of tobacco, regarding the smoldering butt with a wistfulness she rarely displayed. I recognized it for what it was: homesickness. No way of knowing how many years had passed back home, or even if we still had a home to go to. Tobacco, clean water, safety…all in short supply these last few months.

She tossed the remnants to the dirt and ground it out with her boot heel. Motia removed her revolver from the flythsteeg holster, flipped the cylinder open, saw that it was fully loaded (she’d known it was, of course, but checked it periodically anyhow) snapped it back closed, and re-holstered her piece.

“After you!” She grinned.

Pappu was at my side, arriving there in his creepily silent way. He handed me my canvas pack, which I shouldered. It felt lighter than it had in a long time. Most of our provisions were gone. The pack hung rather slack, but I could feel the weight of our prize, the treasure we’d picked up on our last adventure, pulling the battered tan fabric down. It was a reassuring mass, telling me that maybe, just maybe, this whole damned thing was almost over.

I looked around, getting my bearings. I remembered which way this planet rotated in relation to its blue giant (it boggled my mind how huge that thing was, knowing how far away we really were from it, and yet how much of the sky it still took up) and headed what we’d call “east” back home. I stopped after a few steps, turned and called out to our Indian companion.

“Papuulu! You coming or what?”

He had crouched down near what had recently been my shallow grave, but stood when I hollered.

“I found the neatest bug!” He squealed.

“Outstanding. We’re heading this way, buddy.”

The tall, ancient figure shuffled hurriedly after us, nearly losing one of his garish plastic flip-flops in the process.

Motia snorted.

I tried unsuccessfully not to smile.

Motia’s most recent appearance in this blog was last June. You can read it here.

 

Waiting With Motia.

“What’s with the yellow glasses?” I was curious. Motia didn’t wear specs as a general rule, but she was sporting these sporty little numbers with sleek, black frames and yellow-tinted lenses.

“Glare, stupid.” She spat. Her head didn’t turn my way in the slightest. She kept staring out the glassless window, and I knew her eyes were sweeping the horizon and everything between it and us. Looking for nothing in particular except maybe movement. A shadow flitting between cacti or from gorse to sage. It was still that pre-dawn dusk, and I couldn’t imagine what sort of glare she was talkin’ about, since the world was shades of purple, slowly in places becoming more periwinkle and rose.

“Where’s that goddam Indian?” she muttered, taking a bite from her protein bar. All we’d had to live on since Outworld, it seemed. Oat-and-nut bars with some sort of grain, like maybe quinoa, baked into crumbly rectangles. Them and stale water. How the hell does water go stale? Maybe that’s not the way to describe it, but that’s the word that pops into my head when I think about those aluminum cylinders with the thick rims and screw-off caps that never seemed to want to screw back on correctly.

And then her gun was in her hand. It always happened so fast. One minute she’d be talking and laughing, snorting out her nose with mirth, and then BAM! Her face went blank, like someone had hit a reset button and you noticed her pistol was up and ready, the action pulled back so everyone knew it was ‘go time.’ And if you didn’t know that, you were sure to have it explained to you with a sudden explosion of gunshots and smoke and the sound of tables crashing onto their sides for cover and sometimes the sounds of yells or screams that were always someone else’s. Motia didn’t yell. She just went to work. Thanks the gods, too, because she’d already saved my bacon more times than I could count.

This time she stood there, looking at nothing. Listening. And then I heard it, too. The baritone rumble and crackle of a V-twin engine and motorcycle tires on a dirt and gravel road. This was good news or bad, because whoever was riding our way didn’t give a good godsdamn who knew they were coming.

The engine stopped. We waited. The sun was on its way up now, and the big front window to the old, long-abandoned deli now opened upon a stunning landscape of gold, brown, and red with a high, clear, hard blue canopy. I listened for footsteps in the dirt and heard nothing. But Motia did. She gave me the time-tested “Shh” motion with a finger to her pursed lips and slid noiselessly to the side entrance. Her tactical position was such that the door’d hide her if it swung open. I stood there like an idiot before her angry eye told me to make myself scarce. But I was too late to move. There was nowhere to go. Then I heard it…a voice that sounded as warm as good whisky and yet thin as smoke whispered “Moe-TEE-yaaa…”

I surprised myself just then. My pistol had found its way to the sweaty palm of my right hand and was in the process of coming up, up slowly, it seemed, too slow, agonizingly slow…in reality it couldn’t have been more than half a second, but I knew it wasn’t fast enough. Not in this reality or any other. Didn’t matter anyway, as Motia’s arm knocked my hand skyward, my aim towards the grimy, grease-covered ceiling tiles and away from the tall, thin, brown-skinned man that stood just on the other side of the open storefront window.

“For FUCK’S SAKE, Pappu. You’re the only human in ten worlds that can do that!” Motia had already holstered her sidearm and was wiping perspiration from her brow. Pappu laughed his crazy old man laugh. I say ‘old man’ but let’s be honest, nobody knows how many centuries Pappu (or Papuulu or Papunu or P-Smoke or any number of names people have given him) has stalked the universes, most recently astride his vintage Indian motorbike which was, I suspect, chosen to be deliberately ironic. From what I’d observed, Pappu was always maintaining at least a dozen inside jokes (which often ended up being part of some elaborate long con he was running) but it was hard to tell. The fact that his best pal and confidante was an old Navajo called Sicheii (I say ‘called’ rather than ‘named’ because no one except maybe Pap knew his real name) added to his love of deliberate puns. Seriously, two “Indians” running around on Indians. I guess that shit’s hilarious if you’re an ancient mystic or something.

“But I let you hear me! Look, I’m even wearing sandals!” He lifted a bony leg that could’ve passed for a mangrove branch to display what looked like a brand new multi-colored rubber flip-flop, one that could’ve easily been purchased (or stolen) from any Dollar General.

“Jesus, Pappu. Trim your toenails. That shit’s nasty,” Motia chided as she helped him step over the sill into our makeshift redoubt.

“Jesus doesn’t care of man’s old toenails. You should see his! Like black scales! No, he care uh-uh no. But enough foot language. You come with me now.”

And just as soon as he had both feet on the dirty grey-green floor, he stepped nimbly back out the window and into the desert. Motia sighed.

“Whelp, I guess that’s why we drug our asses out here, huh?” And she smiled. I hadn’t seen that in a while. It was really, really nice. White and bright and confident, like she knew everything was going to be okay.

“You’re the boss,” I replied, checking that my pistol was secured in its holster. Then I followed the others, over the sill that still bore a few crumbled pebbles of old greenish-blue safety glass, into the dust and growing daylight of the Big Empty.

Saying Goodbye With a Crappy Movie

You can’t go home again. It’s a tired expression, but damn it if Netflix doesn’t bring it into relevance with alarming regularity. Case in point:

Something sad but hopeful happened a few weeks back. The world lost the great Leonard Nimoy. He was many things, a poet, director, artist, singer (well, okay) but his most enduring legacy will be the character he developed and perfected, the incredible Mr. Spock. (Spock lives, forever and ever.)

Although perhaps he COULD make up his Vulcan mind...

Although perhaps he COULD make up his Vulcan mind…

So there I was, sad that he was gone, but overjoyed for the human race that the man existed at all, and boy had he lived a great life. Nimoy exemplified The American Dream: the son of Jewish immigrants rises to Hollywood immortality. But I was still selfishly sad. I needed closure. To say my goodbye, it would have been easy to just pull up Wrath of Khan, for obvious reasons. Instead, I decided to go back and feel, as Carol Marcus would say “Young, as when the world was new.” I ran to Netflix and watched a flick I hadn’t seen in its entirety for well over twenty years. The original 1979 Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I remembered it being one of my least favorite episodes of the series, and I also remembered having a bit of buyer’s remorse after seeing the film in the cinema with my mom and brother. We’d had the option of seeing Disney’s The Black Hole and opted for Trek instead. Keep in mind that we kids had already been blown away by Star Wars two summers previous, so it was going to take an awful lot to impress us. I think my brother might have dozed off during STTMP. Maybe it was me. I’m sure someone was snoring. Fast-forward to many years later and Star Trek the Motion Picture’s appearance on one of the cable movie channels. I watched it with a more discerning eye, a little more seasoned. I remember thinking that it wasn’t terrible, but still not great. Plus, I really appreciated the late Persis Khambatta. Mmmm-hmmmm!

"Stand back, Jim. I'm not sure how big this thing gets."

“Stand back, Jim. I’m not sure how big this thing gets.”

So that brings us to now. I hadn’t seen the film all the way through since that cable experience in my early-20’s. I sat through the entire thing on my couch, and…wow, is it bad. I mean, really bad. I’ve heard (but not yet researched) that the original plan was to make a revamped Star Trek television series, but after Star Wars made such mad dough, suddenly every studio wanted a big space epic. As a result, what should’ve been maybe a one-hour TV pilot became over two-hours of…well…mainly the bridge of the Enterprise.

You could literally re-enact 97% of the movie with this one playset.

You could literally re-enact 97% of the movie with this one playset.

Seriously, there’s a long (TOO long) exterior shot as Scotty and Kirk fly out to the newly-overhauled and refitted NCC-1701 and it’s nice, for about forty-five seconds.  Then it’s “Oooo, there’s the old gal! She looks so silvery! And look! They’ve added 1957 Bel Air wings to ‘er!” Afterwards, it’s mainly the bridge and a few corridor shots. And for some reason (perhaps to distance it from the primer-colored uniforms of the original series) they opted for a de-saturated color palette. Everything is grey or shades of flesh-colored fabric. It’s really quite bad. The only saving grace is the incredibly sharp grey-and-white dress uniform that Admiral Kirk wears in his early scenes.

All the poon.  James T. Kirk got ALL the poon.  In the galaxy.  All of it.  There ain't none left.

All the poon. James T. Kirk got ALL the poon. In the galaxy. All of it. There ain’t none left.

Those uni’s were sharp enough to get re-cast in the J.J. Abrams reboots. Classy duds. Especially compared to Kirk’s weird, too-snug, short-sleeved white tunic that looks like it belongs on Mr. Clean or a tropical cabana boy. Bizarre.

"My God, Jim!  He just used the same photo twice in the same blog!"

“My God, Jim! He just used the same photo twice in the same blog!”

But the stuff that really looks cheap are the matte paintings. Gods be good, but I’d swear most of them looked like they’d been borrowed from Forbidden Planet. Don’t get me wrong: Forbidden Planet is one of the all-time great science-fiction films and one of my personal favorites…but Jesus, man. We’d just seen Tatooine and the Death Star. You can’t come at us with eight-color acrylic industrial landscapes and expect us to take you seriously.

Seriously, is this like a Colorforms playset?

Seriously, is this like a Colorforms playset?

But for all the lackluster elements to the damned flick, it did boast a huge check mark in the plus column: that wonderful score, repurposed years later for Star Trek: The Next Generation. A word about that Jerry Goldsmith composition. It really is at its best when they use the largo version, slowed a bit, a more rolling pace. It’s actually a movement entitled “The Enterprise.” It sounds nautical. Grand. Somewhat melancholy. Lovely. (It gets really familiar around 1:37)

Even though TRUE Star Trek fans know that THIS is what we think of when we think of Star Trek movies…James Horner’s brilliant and enduring Wrath of Khan stuff.

Then again, Michael Giacchino’s “Enterprising Young Men” has been also been a smashing success…

(Not to self:  do an entire blog about sci-fi musical scores.)

I guess in closing I’d say that it’s sort of a miracle, to me, that the studio even decided to go ahead with a sequel. It really was a make-or break proposition. When you think about it, STTMP was one of the earliest examples of a Hollywood reboot. New ship, new uniforms, new Klingons, new score. Consider that the production budget was (according to Box Office Mojo) around $35 million dollars. Joss Whedon’s Serenity had a budget of $39 million, and Star Trek Into Darkness cost $185 million…but adjusted for inflation, that first Trek would’ve had a budget of over $112 million dollars. Sort of right in the middle of the big sci-fi epic production costs. So when it earned just shy of twelve million dollars (less than half the cost to produce) on opening weekend, well…I imagine that some folks at Paramount likely shit their collective pants. The good news is that the film went on to earn $85 million, so the studio ended up doubling their money and then some. Thus was a franchise born. And now, here we are 36 years later, in the midst of another cinematic reboot. New cast, new ship, new Klingons.

A new Spock.

You really can’t go home again…but that’s fine. Because its so much fun to wonder what’s out there…thattaway…

ZOMBIES!! MARTIANS!! SAME THING!!

Boy, I love zombies.  So much so that I can’t wait for the new season of The Walking Dead, starting this Sunday.  I’m really excited to see if they can continue the momentum that the show built at the end of last season, especially since A) they’re moving into what I call the “good part” of the story from the amazing comic series. Sure, there have been some discrepancies in the television version, but the basic plot lines are fairly intact, and B) the first half of last season was fairly lackluster.  Enough with the fucking farm already.

You know who’s NOT in the house? Fucking Carl, that’s who.

But I digress.

Zombies have taken over the public subconscious so much that it’s almost a running joke.  When you’re at the hardware store with a buddy to pick up a new Estwing roofing hammer, you will invariably pass some sort of garden implement or power tool that will cause one of you to remark “Heh…this would be pretty handy in the zombie apocalypse, eh?”  It’s like we all know it’s coming, so we just try and stay as prepared as possible, except that, you know, IT’S NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN.  And if it did happen, Cracked actually outlined how quickly it would fail in this article.   Of course, they double-down and tell you exactly how it could happen here.

Why all the zombie stuff? And to be clear, I’m including the non-traditional style 28 Days Later-style outbreaks in this discussion.  Why now?  Why zombies and not killing machines, like the Terminator?  (Heads-up: all this will change once Spielberg’s adaptation of the incredible “Robopocalypse” novel hits theaters in 2014.  Then, lookout, zombies: there’s a new boogeyman in town.)

One word: Martians.

Pictured: the face of national paranoia as experienced during the House Un-American Activities Committee campaign.

“Wait,” you say to me, holding your hand out in the classic ‘stop’ position. “Martians ain’t zombies.  Unless it’s some B-movie hybrid from the mind of Ed Wood, Jr. or on SyFy.”  True, but you see, the modern zombie infestation is exactly the same as the martian threat of yesteryear.  Why?  Because they are both the analog, the manifestation if you will, of our modern-day fears.
Back in the post-WWII days in the early 50’s, there was something weighing heavily on the minds of every American citizen: hot atomic death at the hands of the damned Communists. This spawned a bunch of “atomic monster” movies, like “THEM!” which were actually really fucking good. (Also, the only country ever nuked…twice…churned out a shload of these films, beginning with the classic “Gojira.”  Not that we should feel guilty about all that unpleasantness.)

Japan has managed to even the score, however, with a metric shit-ton of unsettling weird shit.

Hiding, sneaking behind the obvious “Oh, god!!  Nuclear bombs!” threat was the more sinister, lurking threat of invasion.  Not the obvious “Red Dawn” style invasion, but the subversive “get your kids to like Socialism” sort of invasion.  McCarthyism had everyone checking on their neighbors, and paranoia was rampant.  Movies like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and “Invaders From Mars” played on that subconscious fear:  My God, what if the new guy at work is one of THEM!?!  They look like us and act like us, but something is just…off.  It was a trend that eventually evolved and sometimes even questioned the logic of this nationwide witch-hunt for Commies.  Films like “It Came From Outer Space” made us look in the mirror a little bit.  See, in that film the “alien menace” was just an alien whose ship had crashed and the alien dude was just trying to fix it up so he could go home.  Eventually this sort of theme carried over into more modern films like “E.T.” and “Super 8” where they actually go so far as to make the Big Military/Government Machine look like the bad guys.

Not cool, internet. NOT. COOL.

Which brings us to now.  “28 Days Later” premiered in 2002, almost a year after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001.  If you haven’t seen the movie, a guy wakes out of a coma to find the world he knew to be a desolate place filled with formerly-normal humans filled with hate and rage, intent on killing. Every time you get rid of one of ’em, there seems to be a thousand of them right behind, willing to do whatever it takes to end the lives of peaceful humans.

Huh.

Lighthearted fare like “Zombieland” would come later, along with the big-budget remake of “Dawn of the Dead” and the comic/graphic novels like “The Walking Dead” plus a billion other shoddy zombie flicks.  Ladies and gentlemen, I present the theory (I’m surely not the first) that the recent zombie-hype has been driven largely by the national panic and paranoia that has existed in some form since 9/11.  Sure, once a couple of films made money, Hollywood decided to churn out as much similar product as possible.  That’s normal.  But beyond that, there is a whole sub-culture of zombie jokes, zombie costumes, zombie video games, zombie ammunition (it should really be billed as ANTI-zombie ammunition, but whatever) and so on.  Think about the last week that went by that you didn’t see/hear/read some sort of zombie reference.  Impossible since 9/11. This wave of shambling undead has even infected hyped-up news stories like the infamous “Bath Salts Zombies” this past summer. How often did zombies get mentioned before that fateful day in Septmber eleven years ago?  Um..maybe when you played Resident Evil?

Admit it, you shit your pants the first time this happened.

Let’s go back to that video game idea.  The Resident Evil franchise was huge, beginning with the original Playstation One game and seemingly a dozen sequels. But that was pretty much it.  Now you have Left 4 Dead, Dead Island, Dead Rising, and the “zombie mode” add-ons and DLC for every single first-person shooter on the market today.  Wow.  We got kinda carried away, didn’t we, folks?  Several video game reviewers have mentioned that zombies are perfect video game fodder.  Before zombies took over, the only “safe” bad guy in games and movies was Nazi Germany. But even then, either someone had to be the Nazis in multiplayer (which still feels weird to me) or you had to gloss over the fact that these soldiers might not be rank-and-file Aryans, but maybe conscripts from Poland who just want to live to see their families again.  (I tend to over-think the character-development of video game figures.)  Zombies?  Hell, they’re already dead!  Blow their fuckin’ heads off!

Full disclosure: I just couldn’t go an entire blog without some sort of Star Trek reference.

As we move further and further away from the events of 9/11, I’m sure the zombie trend will lose its luster.  Even now, kids don’t have any idea how or why 9/11 happened.  They just know that it’s fun to watch zombies’ arms fall off.  They don’t understand the feeling of vulnerability, like every time you get on that public transportation there might be death waiting for you at the end of your ride.  The all-encompassing fear of the unknown, that your life could end at any moment, at the hands of an enemy you never saw until it was too late.  They don’t get why we sometimes feel like zombies ourselves, so much cattle shuffling through the line at the TSA gate. It’s lost on them.  Perhaps it’s the same way most of you feel when you watch “Independence Day.”  You’ve never lived under the long, cold shadow of impending doom at the hands of the USSR and their millions of megatons of thermonuclear holocaust aimed right at the heart of the good ol’ U-S-of-A.  You just want to see the good guys beat the crap out of the bad guys and maybe see some really cool explosions.  Fair enough.  I’m happy for you.  You get to enjoy those themes without a context.  A new generation of kids has lived safely and securely in the days since September 11th and has no reason to flinch at the specter of a jet airplane on approach that seems to be a little too close to the ground.  They don’t turn a wary eye to the somewhat ethnic guy reading a newspaper at the airport with one earbud in, listening to…something. They live in a world without fear, except those damn zombies on the eighth wave on COD.  Those suckers are brutal!!

Seriously, guys? Did you just re-skin an old Terminator game? Because that’s totally what it looks like.

And you know what?  Good for them.  Because one day their world will be shaken, and some new multi-media meme or theme will crop up and they’ll get to explain to their kids why it’s so poignant and scary. The robot uprising.  It’s coming, man.  It’s coming.

(Seriously, though. Read this book.)

Incredibly Distracting…

Hey, gang!  It seems I’m blogging in fits and starts of late.  Sort of catch-as-catch-can, if you will. (That’s for you long-time readers!)  Sorry about the inconsistency.  Trying to get back into the rhythm of blogging, even though I am currently distracted by Rush playing tonight in Indianapolis.  In fact, I just heard “Mystic Rhythms” in my head as I typed that.  Damn it.

 

Anyway, today’s blog will be a quick one, and basically only exists to introduce you to something.  Like the spectre of Dave Bowman said in 2010, “Something wonderful.”  See, there’s this guy.  We’ll just call him “Vex.”  He’s an old-school geek like me, even though that word (geek) has been somewhat over-used of late.  The fact remains:  Vex and are are about a year apart age-wise and have similar tastes.  For example, he and I enjoy repeated viewings of “Buckaroo Banzai” and “Real Genius” for starters.  Recently, Vex read a book that I’d checked out last year called “Ready Player One.”  Here’s the site for said book:

http://www.readyplayerone.com/

 

Anyway, everyone told me the novel seemed to be  written with me in mind.  It’s chock-full of old-school computer game, comic, RPG (that’s Role Playing Games, not Rocket Propelled Grenade) and sci-fi references.  I found it  entertaining but, well…not the absolute greatest thing ever.  It was okay, and miles ahead of crap like the “Big Bang Theory.”  Vex, however, found it to be the epiphany he’d been waiting for, and went on to create his own game based loosely on the parameters set forth in “Ready…”  And he’s done a bang-up job.  Hell, the only thing missing is an OASIS rig, and I’ll bet Sexy Vexy is working on that as I write this.  I’m having a lot of fun with this little trivia endeavor.  So much so that I’m thinking of re-reading the book. And so much so that I’m about to do the worst thing (for me) possible:  give you the website and leaderboard so that you, too, can get in on the fun.  Why is this bad for me?  BECAUSE I WANT TO WIN, GODDAMMIT!!  The more people who play, the less my odds of winning.

Now, when you check out the scores, you’ll be intimidated.  Don’t be.  I was totally stuck on the first question until my lovely wife gave me a different perspective.  Now we’re only a little bit behind, and you can catch up FAST in this game.  yes, you may team up.  Yes, you can share with other players…but that is terribly risky.  Will others burn you to get ahead?  Absolutely.  That’s part of the fun.

Ain’t gonna stay this way for long.

 

So without further ado…strap on your haptic rig and follow this link.  And good luck. Any spare resources your mind had available are now considered forfeit.

 

http://poptopiamadness.com/

Your Homework Assignment

I’m happy to say that this here blog is now read by dozens…literally dozens of actual, literal human beings.  One of my responsibilities, nay…one of my dearest pleasures is turning people on to stuff they might not have fancied, like pomades and fashion or chicks from eighties movies And I figured now was as good a time as any to let you in on a few of the greatest movies of all time. Of all time. (Get used to italics, because I’m in a slanty-typin’ mood, bitches.)

I also need to clarify something right away.  When I say “greatest movies of all time” I do NOT mean “best movies of all time.”  Not even close, in some cases.  But they are movies that when I find myself flipping channels and stumble across them, I’m hooked.  Done, for the duration.  Don’t care if there’s only twenty minutes (including commercials) left in the damned showing.  I’m not going anywhere. And to be even more accurate in my description, some of these flicks are what many reviewers would term “absolute crap.”  But they’re so very dear to me.  So here’s your assignment, class:  watch each and every one of these before the end of the month.  Already seen ’em all?  Watch ’em AGAIN, damn you! In no particular order, then…

Big Trouble in Little China

This is the first of two John Carpenter-Kurt Russell collaborations on my list.  And easily the most-quotable.  Carpenter and leading man Kurt Russell did some amazing things in the 80’s, like “Escape From New York.”  In fairness, they also did “Escape From LA” so nobody’s perfect. But this movie is so goddam epic, it inspired at least one major video game character.  True.  Ever play Mortal Kombat?  You know Raiden (or later “Rayden”)?  The guy in the coolie hat that wields lightning? The designers of that game admitted that they designed the character after one of the Three Storms in Big Trouble in Little China.  Did you know that WWE superstar CM Punk wore Jack Burton’s famous Chinese-motif tank top into the ring for the Halloween 2011 RAW SuperShow?  The point is, the influences for this gem, which only grossed $11 million at the box office (it cost $25 million to make) reverberate to this day.  There is no cooler idiot than Russell’s Jack Burton, and no better blend of over-the-top Asian martial arts and truck-driving, mulleted hilarity.  Own it if you can.

SEGA!!

Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man

People complain about product placement in modern films, but Jesus, this whole damned MOVIE was essentially a commercial for motorcycles and cigarettes.  I mean, it’s in the stinkin’ TITLE!! Except that Don Johnson’s character doesn’t even smoke, even though he has a cigarette dangling from his mouth through most of the movie.  This one was more of a box-office disappointment than “…Little China” making only $7 million in 1991.  That’s not a typo.  Not seventeen million.  Seven million.  Ouch.  But, like the previous movie on this list, it found a cult following thanks to DVD and Spike TV.  Set in the then-future of 1996, the world is a mess.  The ozone layer is depleted, gas is $4 a gallon, and there’s a new drug on the streets being peddled by Tom Sizemore. Damn, if they’d only pushed it back another ten years, the movie would be scarily accurate.  Anyway, it’s got great one-liners, Mickey Rourke, and Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive.”  ‘Nuff said.

Oh, Mickey. What happened, dude?

Point Break

If there’s a movie on this list that you’ve likely seen, it’s this one.  So go watch it again already.  I’ll just leave you with this: UTAH!  GET ME TWO!!

RIP, Angelo Pappas (Oops! Spoiler alert!)

Buckaroo Banzai

Technically, the full title is “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eight Dimension.”  See, they figured this would be a smash and they’d have a whole franchise of Peter Weller not being Robocop and instead running all over Earth, time, and the heavens like a super-powered Doctor Who only with a jet car instead of some lame police call box. They were wrong.  Pity, that. Why is Weller’s Buckaroo one of my personal heroes? Um, he’s a brilliant physicist, neurosurgeon, and rock band frontman.  SUCK IT, BRUCE WAYNE!!  Clancy Brown, Jeff Goldblum, John Lithgow, Christopher Lloyd, a cameo by Yakov Smirnoff and another by Billy Fucking Vera and the amazing legs of Ellen Barkin (her red dress is proof that God loves us)…there’s nothing not to like about this movie.  It’s a lot to assimilate all at once, and yes, it’s hard sometimes to tell if it’s a straight-up parody or an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink tour de force.  Doesn’t matter.  When you’ve got lines like “Evil, pure and simple, from the Right Dimension!” you just roll with it.

Reason number 13,445 to be envious of Al Pacino

The Thing

One of the best science-fiction scary movies ever.  EVER.  Between 1979’s “Alien” and 1982’s “The Thing” science fiction did what it does best.  Not commenting on the cold, vast emptiness of space and what wonders might be found there, but on real-life issues, like the then very real Cold War paranoia that affected everyone in the United States. This John Carpenter masterpiece works on every level, from Ennio Morricone’s (NOT, for once, Carpenter himself’s)  theme music…a steady thrumming that builds tension from start to finish…to the old-school special effects by Rob Bottin which not only hold up well today, they’re actually more frightening than the CGI crap you see nowadays.  If you can, watch this film in the middle of a blizzard at night.  Fuck, that’s good.

IT'S CLOBBERIN' TIME!! (See what I did there?)

The Trek Wars

Well, here we go, gang. Recently there’s been a bit of a feud between the Star Wars and Star Trek camps. There’s always been a bit of good-natured rivalry here, but with William Shatner and Carrie Fisher going after each other in YouTube videos and such, well…it’s getting kind of ugly. It took the amazing George Takei’s call to solidarity against the Twilight franchise to cool things down. Yep, good ol’ George is like the Gandhi of Sci-Fi. (Only with a better diet, natch.)

The two sides will never see eye-to-eye. It’s natural: Marvel and DC people or Sean Connery and Roger Moore fans have passionate opinions on their favorites, and I won’t even get into how much better Crystal Skull was than Temple of Doom. (Oh, yes. I went there.) But these sort of passions run all the hotter when you’re talking about the two greatest franchises in Sci-Fi history.

Why did this movie suck? Two guesses...

And make no mistake: that’s exactly what we’re dealing with here. TRON, Doctor Who, Battlestar Galactica, Firefly, Farscape…none of them come close to not only the sheer amount of source material, but the number of hard-core fanboys and girls that literally worship at the altars of Roddenberry and Lucas. It’s almost scary. Think about how uncomfortable everyone would be if this same amount of reverence and fanaticism were present in SAW fans and Juggalos. Holy shit, I just started shaking just thinking about it. We’re lucky, people. We’re really lucky that the “Gathering of the Juggalos” is just a once-a-year camp-out concert in rural Illinois. Can you imagine “Jug-Con Sacramento?” George R.R. Martin, Felicia Day, and Wil Wheaton all showing up to chug Faygo and parade around in Jnco Jeans? Ffffffuuuu…

"Hey, everybody! Welcome to the panel on Magnets!"

So, yeah. Star Wars and Star Trek. The big boys. Title fight. And this rumble needs some handicapping to establish a clear winner. I’m going to go ahead and say that no matter which camp you belong to, I don’t think there’s a doubt in anyone’s mind that Star Wars is the clear-cut monetary champion. Hands-down. It’s not even close. Ever see a kid running around the house with his Captain Janeway action figure? No. No, you haven’t. Not that Trek is without merchandising potential…hell, there’ve been at least a couple of high-quality pornographic parodies. Prolly because there’s more sex in Trek. More on that later. Right now, we’re going to call Round One, otherwise known as The Money Round, to Star Wars. Ding!

Whoa, whoa, WHOA!!! Mark Ecko doesn't know the DIFFERENCE?!?!

Round two is all about cultural impact, and it’s also a doozy. In fact, the judges (which is me. I am the judges. All of ’em.) are calling this one a lot closer. It’s a helluva fight just based on catch-phrases alone. Use the force! Beam me up! I’ve got a bad feeling about this! Set phasers to “stun!” A galaxy far, far away…where no man has gone before! Live long and prosper! Punch it, Chewie! That’s no moon… Dammit, Jim, I’m a Doctor, not a magician!  It’s a TRAP! But again, Star Wars gets the edge. It’s a slight one, but it’s there. Know anyone with a Star Wars-themed tattoo? Sure you do. Even non-geeks get the Imperial or Rebellion logos…some get Yoda, lightsabers, Chewie, the Death Star, perhaps a Stormtrooper helmet. Hard-core types will get that made-up Jedi language or a Darth Maul backpiece. Now, do you know anyone with a Star Fleet tattoo? No? Scotty? Maybe a portrait of Kirk & Spock from the original series? Still no? Hmm. Okay, how about this test: using only your mouth, make a lightsaber noise. Now do a TIE fighter. Good. Try Chewie’s guttural growl followed by R2’s beeps and whistles. Outstanding. Now imitate a phaser set to “kill.” Go ahead. Any time now. We’re waiting. Okay, how about a photon torpedo? Easy! Do it, please. Now. Go. Not so easy, is it? No, it isn’t. Not because the bridge of the Enterprise doesn’t have a familiar thrum, or that the transporter beam isn’t immediately recognizable…it’s just that those things haven’t ever saturated the public consciousness. They haven’t been embraced wholeheartedly and re-sampled to the point of insertion into literally every other media. Sure, Spock’s “Fascinating” and “pure energy” made it into that one dance song…but beyond that, well…yeah. Ding.

This...this wasn't really a thing, was it?

So far, it looks like this fight is all Star Wars! But wait…what about the important stuff, like characters, story, and plot? Ah, NOW we’ve got a fight on our hands. Quick, who’s your favorite Jedi? It’s not Luke. Sure as hell ain’t Qui-Gonn. Mace Windu? Maybe. Okay, non-Jedi characters. Han. Boba Fett. Lando. Chewie. Vader. And, uh…Jimmy Smits? Some CG Gungan? Okay, look at the Star Trek crews(s)…Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Chekhov, Sulu, Uhura…Picard, Riker, Geordie, Data, Wesley, Worf, Troi…Captain Sisko…Nurse Chapel…Q…Jesus, what about the Voyager crew? The one with the holographic doctor? Dang. The point is, the Star Trek universe is just filled by more and better characters. Sure, Lucas only really made six (three) films and used those to build all the print and cartoon spin-offs. Meanwhile, there have been several Trek television series and a slew of movies. But the cool thing about Trek is how distinctly different and realistic the characters all are. In Star Wars, once you get past Han, Luke, Leia, Chewie…it thins wayyyy the fuck out. The droids are cool, Yoda is cute…but as kids, nobody wanted to be Grand Moff Tarkin or Admiral Ackbar. The majority of the secondary roles were bland and unexciting. It’s almost like Lucas would rather just insert some computer-generated place holders instead of actors! Oh. Oh, yeah…round three to Star Trek. Ding!

No, Cthulhu...THIS is the "Thing That Should Not Be."

Spoiler alert: this round is going to Star Trek.  Because it’s all about sex. Yep. Star Wars does have one ace up its sleeve.  Ever heard of the “Slave Leia” costume?  You GOD DAMN RIGHT YOU HAVE! It’s almost to the point of being over-exposed (pun intended.)  You can see this outfit at every. Convention. Ever.  And I mean you can see girls dressed as Slave Leia at the Progressive Insurance convention.  (Bad news?  It’s that Flo chick. But still…) Wil Wheaton went on record at Comic Con San Diego last year as saying  “Damn!  Slave Leia is sexy!” Okay, I made that quote up.  I just wanted to impress the Redditors and Big Bang Theory fans (LOVE you guys!)

...no. Please. No.

But beyond that one outfit from one small chunk of one movie, what does Star Wars offer us?  That time when Padme got her shirt ripped and we could see her taut, smooth midriff?  Not bad.  And then there was the time, that, uh…well, remember when…um…that one chick…oh.  Oh, yeah.  That’s about it.  Meanwhile, in the ‘Trek ‘verse they had AN ENTIRE RACE OF ALIEN WOMEN BRED AS SEX SLAVES.  You GOD DAMN RIGHT THEY DID!  Oh, and in the sexually-enlightened 60’s when the show first aired, it not only featured somewhat sexist mini-skirt and go-go boot uniforms for the female crew members, there was also the first-ever inter-racial kiss shown on primetime.  Star Trek cared less than the ol’ honey badger!  They just wanted to tell good stories!  And hot chicks? How about that smoking communications officer, Uhura?  Or the saucy Yeoman Rand, who was totally crushing on Kirk?  Or nurse Chapel?  Later on you had sexy redhead Dr. Beverly Crusher, sexy security officer Tasha Yar, and sort-of sexy medium or whatever Deanna Troi?  How about when Kirstie Alley was still sexy as Lt. Saavik in “Wrath of Khan?”  Seven of muhfuh NINE! Yes, sex was going on EVERYWHERE!  Picard and Crusher!  Data and Yar!  Riker and Troi!  Troi and Worf! Troi and the  Univeristy of North Dakota Fighting Sioux!  Kirk and every female from here to the Neutral Zone!  And yet, there’s this simple fact regarding sex in the Star Wars universe: the only couple we KNOW hooked up was Anakin and Padme.  Sure, we like to think that Han and Leia got busy…but we don’t know.  Lando should have been the pimp of the galaxy, but we never see him do more than kiss the hand of a Princess.  Yawn.  Ding!

It's the laurels. Bitches love laurels.

Finally, let’s looks at the philosophy of both these franchises.  Despite all the similarities, e.g. faster-than-light travel, beam weapons, alien species hanging with humans, AI companions, and exotic planets/landscapes, there is a bit of a gulf between the two philosophically.  Trek has always prided itself (sometimes TOO much) on how much of the show was based on “plausible science.” At least they try to give some sort of basis for the technology.  For example, the Warp Drive apparently runs on some sort of anti-matter channeled by dilithium crystals and whatnot.  Okay. In Star Wars, the hyperdrive make ships jump to light speed.  No further explanation needed. (We assume it has something to do with midichlorians.) In Star Trek, transporters break down the individual at a sub-atomic level and then re-assemble the parts at another location.  In Star Wars, well…they just fly everywhere.  It’s like Trek is New York with excellent mass transit systems, and Star Wars is L.A. where everyone takes their own car. And I think that’s the bottom line.  Each of these multi-media sci-fi empires is excellent.  They’re just different. Star Trek is science, Star Wars is magic.  One is Battlefield 3 and one is Modern Warfare 3.  College football or the NFL.  Coors Light and Miller Light.  Spring training or the World Series. Different, but good.  Both look with wonder and hope at the vastness of space and see possibilities instead of fear.  Both promote logic and sense over reckless violence and hate.  And they both have that cool hyperspace/warp thing that makes the stars look like you’re driving down the highway at night in a snowstorm (you KNOW you imagine that shit!  Don’t lie to me!)  So this round is a draw. Ding.

SLOW THE FUCK DOWN! This is a rear-wheel hyperdrive!!

So, judges?  Wow.  Tougher than I thought.  The score sheet is tied.  But we need a winner, ’cause that’s what ‘Merica LOVES!  And I have to pick Star Wars as “The Greatest Science Fiction Canon and Works in All of Recorded History.”  I do so because of the sheer amount of people that have bought into it.  I do so because my kids and I can sit and watch “Empire Strikes Back” and enjoy it together.  I do so because as cool as phasers are, I have ALWAYS wanted a real, working lightsaber.  And so have you.  Now, my dissenting opinion is this:  Star Trek is the better written, acted, and thought-out series.  In this fight, better is not necessarily greater.  A large pizza at D’Agostino’s in Chicago is great!  A grilled chicken flatbread wrap is better for you.  So.  Trek is better for your mind.  Star Wars just tastes a little better, even though it will slowly kill you. (Actually, that’s just George Lucas killing your childhood with CGFX.)  In a perfect world, you’d combine the two, but that would be overkill.  It would ruin everything.  It would be like that stupid Transformers/Star Wars toy line.  Some things are better on their own.  Although…

You know, somehow this just makes sense.

I’d like to take this time to remind you that there’s a very cool comment section below!  Just in case! And thanks for reading.  Live long and prosper, and may the Force be with you.

Old-Timey Movie-time Time! (Part Two)

Okay, then.  Let’s do this.  Here, finally, are some of my favorite films.  I’ve decided I like talking about movies, so this won’t be the last time I go on and on…but it’s a start.  In particular, these are “older” films.  Vintage, if you will.  And ones that I will sit and watch every single time they’re on TCM or whatever.  They’re not necessarily my favorite films of all time, mind you…but at least one would be in the top-five.

War of the Worlds

Not the fairly decent 2005 Spielberg film.  That one is okay, and in some ways closer to the original H.G. Wells novel.  But as a general epic sci-fi classic, it’s hard to beat this one from 1953.

What? Can't be Martians. Martians use flying saucers. Must be Commies!

Why It’s Great: Honestly, there was a lot of crap in 50’s science fiction.  Don’t get me wrong, I love ALL of  it. After “The Day the Earth Stood Still” and this one, well…the quality drops off the map.  Now that I think about it, 50’s sci-fi was like slasher films are today.  Not a month goes by without a Saw rip-off or remake of an 80’s franchise like “Halloween” or “Friday the 13th.”  But kids keep paying to see ’em, so they keep making ’em. This film was unique in that it had a decent budget, glorious Technicolor, and a wonderful sense of “how the hell do we beat these things?” fear that doesn’t really let up until the end.  Today we know that Will Smith will find a way to save us, but during the early days of the Cold War nobody knew any such thing.  The Godless Commies were everywhere, and could be knocking at your door RIGHT NOW!!  DON’T ANSWER THE DOOR!  GAAAAHHH!!! COMMIES!!  Today everything is a parable about terrorism and how we handle it.  Back then, everything was Commies.

Fun Fact: The hero in this film is a character named Dr. Clayton Forrester.  Does that name sound familiar?  If you’re an MST3K fan, it should.  On that amazing program from the bygone era of 90’s cable TV, the main antagonist (and mad scientist) was named Dr. Clayton Forrester in homage to this film.  Fucking perfect.

Stalag 17

Like “Hogan’s Heroes?”  Pretty funny television show, considering it was based in, you know…a German POW camp.  That show was very loosely based on this 1953 film, which was in turn based on a Broadway stage play which was based on actual experiences by the playwright. Also? 1953 was apparently a great year to go to the movies.

He looks smug because he totally escapes.

Why It’s Great: I would give one of my testicles to play  William Holden’s role  in this film.  The whole cast is epic, but he shines as Sefton, a role he won the Academy Award for that year. Not bad, considering he wanted to turn down the role because he thought the character was too cynical and selfish.  Those attributes, however, is why he’s one of my favorite leads ever. Along with Rick from “Casablanca” (spoiler alert: Casablanca is on this list) he epitomized the “anti-hero.”  Han Solo, Wolverine, etc. are direct descendants of J.J. Sefton.  And for storytelling, it isn’t ever better than the penultimate scene where Sefton steps from the shadows after listening to the German mole discuss plans with the Nazis, lights a cigar, and says “Ach, so!”  SCENE ENDS.  FADE OUT.

Fun Fact: Holden was perfectly cast as Sefton, beating out Charlton Heston and Kirk Douglas for the role that he didn’t even want to begin with.  How perfect?  He almost seemed to be in character when he accepted his Oscar.  His speech was a simple “Thank you.”  Then he exited, stage left.

Singin’ in the Rain

You’re saying “Whoa, whoa, WHOA!! A MUSICAL?!?  How the..WHAAAAAAT?!?” Calm down.  There have been dozens of great musicals, and I’m man enough to admit that I love seeing Ewan McGregor woo ladies in the crappy “A Life Less Ordinary” and the delightful “Moulin Rouge.”  Dude…that’s Mark Fucking Renton you’re talking about!  Obi Wan Fucking Kenobi!  If he’s man enough, then shut up and hear the news: this film is one of my all-time faves.  In 1952, this was like the damned pinnacle of cinematic brilliance on so many levels.  Cinematography, story, acting, singing, dancing, betrayal…perfect.

Why, she's pretty enough to be Princess Leia's mom! Oh, wait...

Why It’s Great: Dude…Donald O’Connor is the second-best dancer in this film.  Gene Muthafukin Kelly not only dances, sings, and acts the lead, he choreographed every scene and, oh, by the way, DIRECTED the fucking film!  Fuck!  But Debbie Reynolds…oh, sweet Mother of Mercy.  If you can watch this movie and not fall head-over-heels in love with Kathy Selden, then you are a gay male or totally dead on the inside. Also, try and watch this thing and not have at least four of the songs stuck in your head for the REST OF YOUR GODDAMN LIFE.

Fun Fact(s): A movie this great has too many to mention. Here are the highlights…

Debbie Reynolds had no dancing experience.  She was a gymnast (even hotter!) and her stumbles during rehearsals caused Gene Kelly to insult her.  She went and cried under a piano, where none other than Fred Muthafuckin Astaire found her, comforted her (aww, yeah!) and TAUGHT HER TO DANCE.  In your FACE, Gene Kelly!

But Gene was still a man, baby.  During the title number, Gene danced around in “rain” made of milk and Debbie Reynolds’ tears.  It caused his suit to shrink over the 2-3 days it took to film the scene.  Which would be bad enough if he weren’t also deathly ill and running a 103-degree fever. Nowadays Lindsay Lohan calls in sick for a hangnail during the shoot for “Herbie: Fully Loaded.”

Speaking of illness, funnyman Donald O’Connor (my favorite) had to be hospitalized after shooting the “Make ‘Em Laugh” number.  It was a very physically demanding scene, with Donald flopping over couches and throwing himself to the floor repeatedly Johnny Knoxville-style.  Apparently it was a little too much for a skinny dude who smoked FOUR PACKS OF CIGARETTES A DAY.  Eisenhower smoked that much, but he was A) Planning the invasion of goddamn Europe and B) Not dancing with a mop.

Holy crap.  I still have two more movies to go!  You know what that means?  Yep.  Part Three.  Sigh.  See you in a couple of days, then?