How to Reboot a Franchise

There have been many attempts over the years by Hollywood to reinvent a franchise. By and large, they have failed miserably. The problem is studios try to fill every frame with as many of the currently popular cliches as possible while casting pretty boys and hot girls. There’s little wonder why fanboys and fangirls are pretty bitter about the whole thing. The atrocity that dared to be called Dragonball: Evolution is a recent example of how to do everything wrong and guarantee that you’ll piss off every fan of the original work. Such acts used to culminate in torch and pitchfork bearing mobs righting such disgusting wrongs.

And yet, I have the joy of saying somebody got it right. I just left the theater from watching Star Trek. I’ve been reading all week the various twitter posts from geeks and celebrities (and celebrity geeks like Wil Wheaton) about how completely and totally awesome this reboot of the flailing franchise is. I’ve pondered over the tales of how this one act of media beauty can finally give the fans a shred of hope that Hollywood won’t mercilessly rape everything we geeks hold sacred and dear. And I worried. I’ve heard this tripe before and it always ended in bitterness and disappointment.

Tonight was different. Tonight was fun. It was…GOOD. Somebody in the movie industry finally grew a brain cell and learned how to select an appropriate cast. Pine as Kirk was perfect. While it wasn’t quite the same attitude of ST:TOS Kirk, you have to understand he’s just getting his feet under him. I think the difference was completely appropriate for the time frame of the movie. He still has to put a few notches on his bedpost on the Enterprise before he can be the swaggering self-confident James Tiberius Kirk we watched when we were younger (No, I’m not that old. I saw re-runs as a kid).

Quinto as Spock was wonderful. Although I have to admit that it’s a little weird to see Sylar with pointed ears. You won’t understand if you don’t watch Heroes. His face is very reminiscient of a younger Leonard Nimoy and he can pull off the mostly emotionless Vulcan with style. I don’t know that there could have been a better choice for someone to fill those very large shoes. Besides, Quinto’s experience on Heroes as Sylar has given the experience of playing a range of emotional states and the ability to be very convincingly cold. That’s two for two.

Urban as McCoy was a joy. See what I did there? Though a little stockier than his namesake from TOS, his bearing and his screen presence is like seeing DeForest Kelley reincarnated in the role that geeks will forever hold in a special place. My only regret from this casting is that Kelley did not live long enough to see this wonderous sight and masterful portrayal of a role that defined and will forever be remembered for.

Uhura and Sulu were well done. The former is more bold than her TOS counterpart but fit well if you include her character in the movies. It’s understandable considering the studios were already pushing boundries simply by having her in the cast back in the late 60’s. The latter did a respectable job. He was slightly humorous in the right places and effective at action when it was called for. Let’s face it, Sulu was a man that filled gaps but almost never took center stage. In this he succeeded admirably.

Weakest in the line-up was Chekov. They tried really hard to overplay the accent. He was nearly unintelligible because it was so thick. While it lended a gag or two, he is quickly tuned out. You have to go a little out of your way to notice he did a bang-up job running the transporter systems when others could not do it. If only they had made it more like Koenig’s portrayal where you have the accent but it isn’t the all powerful force driving the character as it seemed to do here.

Finally there is Scotty. Pegg stole every scene he was in. The accent was spot-on. The emotion was just right. Everything about his performance made everything else better. I’m not kidding when I say he literally owned every scene he was in. It didn’t matter if he was in the background with the rest of the starring cast and he only had one line. It was his scene and he did it all with style.

I could continue to gush about how ridiculously amazing the cast is but I have to have a word or two about the plot. While the story isn’t masterful, it is functional. They accomplish a total reboot of the Star Trek universe without invalidating everything we hold dear. Don’t get your hopes up about an epic story like LOTR. After all, this is Trek and few stories they tell are that epic. It was a fun ride, though. The token bad guy is just that…token. He’s pretty uninspiring and not worthy of cleaning Khan’s shoes. But I don’t hold that against Abrams. Every epic has to start somewhere and I’d rather he get the shaky footing out of the way now. Especially since this movie was pulled off with such an amazing cast that you can easily overlook the less than stellar plot and easily forgettable bad guy.

Bravo to everyone involved in breathing a fresh breath of life back into one of the most titanic and game-changing sci-fi creations of all time. May this reboot live long and prosper. (And burn slowly, Rick Berman, for the horror you visited upon a beloved mythos)

Everything I need to know…

Have you ever seen those posters that start out with “Everything I need to know I learned in <insert school grade/movie/book>…” that list all these wonderful little truths about life that everyone knows but nobody really pays attention to? I have my own version of this poster. Everything I need to know I learned from anime. The difference between American cartoons and anime (or Japanese animated television shows) is a large gap of maturity and true life lessons gleaned from character development. I find more meaning in one episode of, say, Gundam Seed than in the entire run of Scooby Doo.

There is a huge difference in mentality when our respective countries approach animated works. Americans by and large consider the animation medium as something childish and only fit for the most shallow of pursuits. The Japanese approach animated work as a serious art that can convey even the most complex stories with better efficiency and cost than a live-action and special effects ridden behemoth that one would expect from Hollywood. They do not demean the medium because of silly preconceptions. Some great dramas can be conveyed through animation. I speak of stories and characters with real depth and real growth over the course of the story arc. Characters are often flawed and dealing with inner turmoil that can cause what would normally be a minor situation to turn into a major catastrophe. These same characters make human mistakes and suffer consequences for said mistakes.

The writers have a goal to tell a story. This is true regardless of what country a writer hails from. Stories that are written without regard to what kind of budget the studio has to offer are far better than those crammed into cookie cutter sized generic flavored snack batches that Hollywood is so famous for spewing forth onto the masses. Using animation as a medium, suddenly the cost of that planet exploding or those slow motion effects have no monetary difference from that scene of two guys sitting at a table and talking. This gives the writer the ability to truly delve deeply into the tale he or she wishes to weave for the audience so that they might share some of what the writer has put into the work. But I stray from the subject…

Some of the things I have learned from anime:

  • Choices have consequences both good and bad. I must take responsibility for my choices and actions. [Gundam Seed]
  • It may be far easier to do nothing, but it is far more rewarding to stand up and take action. [DBZ, Gundam, most action anime]
  • Stereotypes are misleading. Everyone is different so give everyone a chance. [Witch Hunter Robin, Inuyasha]
  • Never give up on a dream. [Gundam Wing, Outlaw Star]
  • Money is not the most important thing in life. [King of Bandit Jing]
  • Love conquers all. [Chobits, Appleseed]
  • People can change. [Elfen Lied, Rurouni Kenshin]
  • Sometimes life just doesn’t make sense. Just take those times and deal with them the best that you can. [FLCL]
  • True friends will be there for you. [DBZ, Rurouni Kenshin, Outlaw Star, Dual!]
  • Every day is an opportunity to learn to understand myself better. [Noir, .Hack]
  • Everyone needs help sometimes. True friends will be there for you. [Yu Yu Hakusho, all Gundam]

I could continue this but the point is made. Unlike most American animated shows, anime offers something deeper and more meaningful…something that can provoke thought and understanding. So don’t just shrug off Japanese animated shows as “kiddie stuff”. Give them a chance and you may be surprised at how well written the stories and characters actually are. Just avoid things like Colorful and Bo-bo-bo. After all…every genre has a few bad seeds.

Comcast in the Kiddie Pool

Comcast gets a lot of press and most of it is bad. I still, despite my glowing praises for the Digital Media Outreach, agree with most of what’s said. The service is flaky. The content is mediocre. The price is outrageous. The hardware just plain sucks. But there are even more frustrating problems. Finally, though, I can take one of them off my list.

It seems they have decided to stick a toe into the kiddie pool of the intarweebs. You can at last get an email notification that your bill is ready. I am amazed that one of the largest communication providers in these United States has had the audacity to buck the trend of convenience by not doing what even little mom and pop shops have been doing since 1996. Any third grader with a keyboard can hammer out a quick and dirty script to send a little SMTP message to a specified email address on a specific day of the month.

I won’t get into it too deeply this time since I ranted about this in an earlier post. The long and short of it is this: Comcast has finally started coming out from under its rock and is beginning to offer some of the basic convenience services to its customers that other web enabled companies have offered for no less than 10 years. So if you have Comcast cable or internet service, you can now log into the website and sign up for email notifications for billing.

Sheesh guys, I know corporations move like slugs, but this is downright embarrasing.

Dr. Horrible Really Isn’t

If you’ve been under a rock, then you might not have heard of Joss Whedon‘s latest gem, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Comprised of three fairly short episodes and designed for web distribution, this mini-series is full of whimsy and general silliness. Long time geeks will recognize the stars that Whedon has breathing life into this latest creation. Names like Neil Patrick Harris (Doogie Howser and How I Met Your Mother) and Nathan Fillion (Firefly) comprise the hero(?) and his nemisis. Center to their current conflict is Felicia Day (Buffy the Vampire Slayer).

In usual Joss Whedon style, the hilarity ensues from the very first scene and it just gets better and better as the story unfolds. Without giving any spoilers, the premise is that Dr. Horrible (Harris) wants to join the Evil League of Evil and must prove himself which is easier said than done because he is always foiled by Captain Hammer (Fillion). Unfortunately, the time of free viewing on the website has passed, but it is available through iTunes for $1.99 and episode or $3.99 for the entire series. He plans a DVD release later. More details about that will be unleashed upon us at ComicCon. I can say this, if you like Whedon’s previous works and you like the silliness of Monty Python and Mel Brooks, then you’ll probably love Dr. Horrible. One thing I can tell you for sure, Dr. Horrible is wonderful.

Movies With Flair

I just got back from watching Wall-E. Most of the movie had no dialogue. When there was, it was mostly made up of the same two or three words. After all, we are talking about robots here. Now I won’t get into movie spoilers because everyone should take the time to go see this flick. However, I do have to ask a few questions of Hollywood in general.

First off, why do you feel the need to continue pumping out brainless crap every year. It’s not even original brainless crap…you recycle regurgitate the same old crap you foisted on us a year or two ago with different actors and a number tacked onto the title. Has all of the talent died? Is there nobody left with the capability to tell a story you haven’t already raped into oblivion?

This is why Wall-E is such a wonderful experience. There is almost no craptacular script to be voiced. It is a story told the old fashioned way, through expression. You don’t have to have a guitar shredding soundtrack with gratuitous explosions and headlining names to make a great story. You need only a great story to tell a great story. Wall-E has that. In spades. Period.

So much can be conveyed to the audience with just a change of the eyes or a twitch of the hand. It can be further enhanced by a truly well composed score…that’s score…not bad hair band knock off riffs. Wall-E is a tale that was beautifully conceived and masterfully told. I may even go see it again in the theaters and regular readers will understand how much that means considering my displeasure with parting with my meager money supply.

So how about it Hollywood? Why do you think that your audience is composed of imbeciles that are incapable of understanding a well told story? What is it that makes you so afraid to deviate from brainless remakes of movies that were mediocre at best to begin with? What the hell is your problem? I, for one, would like to know. But you won’t answer, will you? You’ll just continue on your same old path and wonder why people are stealing so much from you through pirating. Let me give you a little hint: People don’t want to spend their hard earned cash buying the crap you spew forth in the guise of blockbusters. Make it worth our money and we’ll actually get it legally.

Actually, I’m not going to get too deep into that argument right now. I can’t speak for the population in general but I can say that for myself and a goodly number of people I know, we will pay gladly when it is actually good. When it isn’t we’ll find other ways to get our hands on it for those random occasions when we want to see the brainless uninspired disgorged fecal matter you call movies.

A Comcast Summary

For those of you that have been following my Comcast saga, you can jump down to the last paragraph. Newcomers, you are being treated with a brief summary of the previous trials. More in-depth information can be found in the posts tagged Comcast…just hit up the search feature.

The whole thing started about nine or ten months ago with some poor picture problems. I have a 50″ Samsung plasma television and subscribe to Comcast’s HD service complete with DVR. I figured it would be a fairly simple thing to call them up, run through their troubleshooting script, and get a tech to stop by and fix whatever was messed up. I figured wrong.

Over the course all these months I have been calling Comcast almost weekly with the same problem. Standard definition channels are so fuzzy that they look like I’m watching them on my old Zenith television hooked up to rabbit-ears and HD channels giving me the Max Headroom treatment if they come in at all. I have had no less than a dozen techs at my house over this time all trying to figure out what was going on. They ran a new cable to the house and replaced all the cable ends and splitters where the feed comes in. Nothing helped. I replaced the receiver which was constantly locking up on me (thus losing all my saved programs) and that did nothing except maybe make my problems even worse.

So I blogged it. Lo and behold my little blog which got less than twenty hits a day at the time got a response. In less than four hours after posting my first Comcast rant, I got a comment from Melissa with Comcast’s Social Media Outreach group. Thus ensued a series of emails (which are blogged here) and phone calls with the “local leadership” in an effort to fix my ongoing poor service. More techs were sent and more problems just weren’t fixed. But Customer Service was a pleasure to deal with. Every last one of them was helpful and sympathetic. Their techs consistantly sucked. Insert more blog postings, emails, and phone calls.

Eventually I got a response via Twitter from Melissa’s boss, Frank (@comcastcares). He was very excited about my opinion on how his group was helping me get something done but was just as frustrated at their tech’s inability to fix it. More time passed with steadily worsening service. It literally became unwatchable cable. Finally, Melissa ran across my more recent postings (the one’s with Star Wars-esque names) and decided it was time to up the ante. That got me the head of the local support center and a visit from one of his top engineers. Yep, engineer…not tech. He fixed the problem in less than two hours. Turns out when the cable ends were replaced, the one that went to my DVR had some of the ground braiding touching the center conducter wire. Way to go tech guys.

Well, that was about three weeks ago and I am happy to say that I have been credited for service that was nigh unusable and since the engineer’s visit, my service has been really good. I still get occasional pixelation, but I can live with it. Besides, who on Comcast doesn’t have quality drop on HD every now and then? It took every ounce of patience I had to keep them around long enough to get a fix. This was in large part because of my reluctance to give up Food Network and Good Eats. Alton Brown is the only reason I have cable to begin with and my addiction to his show is the only reason Comcast is still getting money from me. So I have to thank AB for giving me a reason to see it through to a finally happy conclusion. I cannot express how much I appreciate everything that Frank and Melissa did for me. That group deserves positive press regardless of whatever the rest of the Company From Hell is doing. So Frank and Melissa, thanks again and keep up the great work. With luck you won’t hear from me any more unless you want to talk about random topics.

Welcome to the 21st Century, Comcast

In the long struggle with my cable service there has always been one thing that has bugged me. Comcast is arguably one of the largest communication companies in the United States. So why are they about the only company in the United States that still doesn’t have an e-bill option? They give me internet and (sometimes) cable television and can even supply me with telephone service. But I can only get my bill via snail mail. Is it really so hard to send me an email?

I would imagine with all the money Comcast makes from the gouging prices standard in the cable industry they could afford a programmer or two to write a couple of scripts to generate a little email to all subscribers that opt-in saying that their bill is ready. I mean, damn, I can view my bill at the site and I can pay it there as well. All I want is a freakin’ email telling me it’s ready to be taken care of. I’m not asking for a full blown html bill with personal information that can be stolen…just a message that says “Your Comcast bill for <date> is ready. Please visit Comcast.com to pay your bill.” I’ve got an eleven year old daughter that could probably write a script to do this.

That being said, I talked to a lady at Comcast today that said they were supposed to roll that very feature out yesterday but had a problem so it will most likely be a couple of weeks to a month before they try it again. So again I ask, what’s so hard about this? I’m making the assumption that billing information is kept in a database. So all you need is a script to run a query for a bill date and opt-in status that then generates the emails for those people and sends them out. You are planning on making a form on the site to opt in to such a thing, right? After all, I know I’m not alone in the people that have never used their Comcast.Net address.

I’m sure they want a fancy html laden beast of a message but I don’t think that people in general give a damn about how pretty it is or how much it looks like the site (which in my opinion is craptastic). Please hire some people to address this guys. I want email notifications of my bills so you can stop killing trees on my behalf. Besides, I use my inbox as a bill reminder system. Only unpaid bill emails stay there. Everything else is filed away. Anything that hits my physical mailbox is usually forgotten unless it comes from Netflix.

** If you’ve been following my service saga, I promise that I’m working on a new update post. I just need to give the latest developments a little time to simmer before I serve them up.