Magical Movies Tour: Treasure Planet

In the great “Ninjas or Pirates” debates of the early internet I always landed squarely on the pirate side. (Daredevil and Batman aside) This was largely because of Disney stuff. Disney fricking loves pirates and I grew up loving them too. I think the company has adapted Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic pirate novel Treasure Island 3 times, if you count Muppet Treasure Island (and you should because it is a delight).

For all it’s steam punk and sci-fi trappings, Treasure Planet is a very straightforward adaptation of the story which is actually a smart decision. And it’s also proof that if you’re going to go back to the well, the best way to do it is in spectacular fashion, or straight back to basics.

Treasure Planet somehow manages to do both, and it’s a really special movie for that. The animation is spectacular and smooth, the characters are memorable. Although I could really do without giving Jim Hawkins that early 2000s “You’re not my dad!” energy. He’s supposed to just be a sweet kid who wants to go on adventures, what’s wrong with that. (I love Treasure Island and have many opinions about it.) This sticks to the Tarzan, “Soundtrack not musical number” style, although this time the songs are by John Rzenick of The Goo Goo Dolls, which is, a choice. It feels like a dated choice even for 2002, when the flick hit, The Goos are kind of a 96-98-ish phenomenon.

Unlike Atlantis, which definitely shares some DNA with this movie, I 100% can see why this didn’t hit. It is super niche. But if you’re the kind of person who is very into Emma Thompson voicing a sexy cat lady pirate (and I think by this time y’all should know that I am) then you will probably be on board for the rest of what’s going on here. Long John Silver as a cyborg, the parrot replaced by a shape shifting alien, a whacky robot instead of a marooned former sailor, I loved every bit of it.

Next week, we discover our true selves with Brother Bear.

Magical Movies Tour: Atlantis: The Lost Empire

I think that if Titan AE didn’t exist, Atlantis: The Lost Empire would have a bit more of a cult following, but the type of people who’d love it, already gave their hearts to Titan AE, and didn’t have room for this.

Other people that would love this movie, The Firefly people. (I’m not a Firefly person, but most of my friends are. GUYS! WATCH ATLANTIS! YOU’RE GOING TO LIKE IT!)

The thing that stands out the most to me on this is the unique look. It doesn’t really look much like anything else. The characters are boxy and angular and the world of Atlantis itself is alien and beautiful and captivating. It’s also exceptionally fast. We’re on the road to Atlantis, dishing out exposition along the way, about 10 minutes in. It’s actually quite impressive how expediently it gets you into it’s world and on it’s wavelength.

I’m not a big “celebrity voices don’t belong in animation” person, but I will say that Michael J. Fox’s performance as Milo is both very good and super distracting. Maybe it’s because I’m a big fan of his, (I was a weird kid who was super into Spin City.) but I find his voice and style of delivery so distinct that hearing it come out of an animated character, even one that in his youth and when he was healthy, he could have easily played in live action, just feels eerie. (Odd that I don’t feel this way about Robin Williams and Eddie Murphy, but I don’t. I do a little bit about Kevin Kline as Phoebus in Hunchback.)

This sounds like the movie itself didn’t make an impression on me, but it really did. I think it’s a pretty fun movie that got buried somehow. I’m not sure how, I suppose it is that there’s nothing else quite like it, and it was also a time before everyone realized those 70’s and 80’s nerds who loved Superman and Star Wars had preteen and teen kids who they’d passed that nerdiness onto.

Next time we’re on that Hawaiin roller coaster ride with Lilo & Stitch. 

The Series Series: The Space Trilogy By C.S. Lewis

This is a series I’ve put off for a while. In college I hung out with a lot of Philosophy and Theology majors and they all loved Lewis. He liked him well enough but was way too immersed in The Romantics and Shakespeare and avoiding Lewis’s contemporaries to seek him out. I don’t hate the Moderns, exactly, I just hated my British modernism professor and it left a bad taste. But I read the books, Hooray!

The Books

Out Of The Silent Planet

Perelandra

That Hideous Strength

Author

Clive Staples Lewis was a British professor of literature and hobbyist of Christian theology. He wrote a lot about both of these things in his way, most famously in The Chronicles Of Narnia but also in the lovely apologetic book Mere Christianity. He passed away in 1963.

Series Structure

Three books, the first two relating the adventures of Elwin Ransom, a Celtic Lore professor who finds himself transported to Mars (Malacandra) and Venus (Perelandra) and seeing the struggles of a benevelolent but absent God and several angles against a dark force. That Hideous Strength refocuses on what Earth has to do to survive that darkness coming for us, refocusing off of Ransom (though he’s around) to a young married couple of professors, Jane and Mark.

Themes

Oh boy, I love me some religious allegory sci-fi. The series explores the idea of a Christian Cosmology that connects with the Pagan roots of Britain in more than just the aesthetic ways that we’re aware of, the Gods of the ancients are actually the angels of God Almighty. It also deals with the nature of sin, the choice of intellect over spirit that magnifies sin, and gender.

I, probably not shockingly, do not care for Lewis’s takes on gender, but his casual misogyny and gender essentialism is something I’ve gotten used to in his work. It’s an undercurrent in Narnia, teased in Screwtape, largely avoided in Mere Christianity and writ large here. Like, the resolution of how Earth is saved comes because Jane and Mark stop fighting their natures as man and woman, Jane especially, who’s gotten some silly ideas in her head about “equality” and “bodily autonomy” and “being more than a wife.”

Silly woman.

Favorite Book

My god I loved Perelandra, it’s a beautiful work, retelling the Eden myth on a planetary level, providing a terrible vision of Hell, a thoughtful examination of damnation and God’s indifference to human suffering. It’s a fable and a lovingly told one.

Least Favorite Book

That Hideous Strength is a beautiful piece of philosophical writing and kind of a crappy novel. I like the idea that the ideals of Camelot and British connection to the land itself is what should be used to fight Fascism, but this is a book that’s more didactic than the two novels that come before it. I loved Perelandra and wasn’t at all into That Hideous Strength, because I’ve always preferred Lewis in whimsical fable mode to preaching philosophical mode. (I’m more The Horse And His Boy and Voyage Of The Dawn Treader than The Last Battle)

Favorite Character

Ransom’s pretty great, as these kind of self inserts go, especially because he’s not a self insert, exactly. He’s not supposed to be Lewis, I assume Mark is, Ransom is Tolkien! It’s a much more flattering picture of a friend than Tolkien’s of Lewis. (Treebeard in The Lord Of The Rings is allegedly based on Lewis. Treebeard is great, but I think I’d be offended if I learned my friends based a character like that on me.)

Reread Possibilities

Probably just Perelandra, I can’t see myself revisiting the others.

So, my COVID-19 relates anxiety is shaking up my reading schedule. I’m trying to avoid stress in my consumption, and this was a pretty heavy set of books. Which means I’m going to skip my planned next read Caught In The Revolution by Helen Rapparport, something tells me reading about Moscow, 1917 would not make me feel particularly good at the moment. So, I’m going to read Resistance Reborn by Rebecca Roanhouse next, and then we’ll go from there. Next series is The Shadow And Bone trilogy by Leigh Bardugo.

Nerd Homework: Cowboy Bebop

See You Around Space Cowboy…

In my everlasting quest to watch more anime, (which has always been more theoretical than actual, if we’re honest) Cowboy Bebop has come up a few times. I just haven’t felt like it. I knew the basics of the show, and was pretty sure I’d even seen a few episodes. “It’s basically anime Firefly right?” (Y’all know how I feel about Firefly and how vastly overrated it is right?)

But I decided to settle in this long weekend and watch the show, and you guys, I get it now. This is a really fun, very good show. Spike is a great protagonist. Jet, Faye and Ed are excellent supporting characters with flushed out inner lives of their own.  Firefly literally stole all of this. The music on this show, the things the show does with the concept of music and just, HOLY SHIT.

Lots of people have combined western and sci-fi tropes, but throwing noir in really makes the whole thing something special. I really, really like noir flavored stuff. So yeah, I really enjoyed the show and will likely watch it again. I often laughed, I cried a few times, and I’m starting to really get into the rhythms of the medium here. I doubt I’ll ever go full Otaku, but I’m never going to say, “anime isn’t really my thing,” anymore.

Which was always the point right? To demystify this particular branch of media so that I wouldn’t be so hesitant to jump in. I’m still determined to watch more anime, and I’m excited about it. (Frankly, I’d have dove right into something when I finished Bebop but I had my Aquaman tickets, so, I had to go.)

36 Books In 2018 #31: God Emperor Of Dune by Frank Herbert

It’s been a long time since I’ve had the all consuming desire to chuck a book I was reading across a room. Maybe since A Clash Of Kings and I thought that Arya had been killed in the aftermath of the Red Wedding.

But God Emperor Of Dune did it. Wow is this book brilliant, weird and goddamned frustrating. 

We’re now several thousand years removed from the ending of Children Of Dune which bummed me out, since I really like Ghani, and this mean she was very dead, and Leto has now been largely consumed by the body of a sandworm. Also he keeps getting Duncan clones, holds the galaxy in thrall as  if he were a god (he is not) and decides to marry a pretty girl, who of course, his current Duncan clone is in  love with.

Look, I admire the way that Herbert plays with the stories of maidens and dragons here, and the rambly philosophical weirdness of Leto’s lonely existence is great, but this one was a tough go, especially after Children, which I totally adored. And I’m gonna finish this series. (Or at least the Frank Herbert books, I’ve heard that Brian Herbert’s further investigation into his father’s work are skippable. Thoughts?)

But wow, I had trouble with this particular entry in the series. Part of it was how alien and different from the rest of the books it felt, the millenia induced time jump was disorienting and the fact that Dune is no longer Dune but the ecologically balanced Arakis envisioned in the first book makes everything weird.

Also, the feminist in me is a little bit frustrated that there’s an “all the ladies wanna bone Duncan Idaho” strain in these books. It’s eye rollingly annoying, even if he’s the Lancelot to Leto’s Arthur here, which is a sort of interesting part for the sword master to play.

The other theme that Herbert plays with here, is the danger of nostalgia which feels really important right now, but that doesn’t emerge until the end which is unfortunate. But still, there’s some good stuff here, and I’ll pick up Heretics soon-ish.

Up next is Infinite Jest which I am about 100 pages into and both deeply admire and kind of hate. So, we’ll see how that goes.

Nerd Homework: Battlestar Galactica

All this has happened before, and will happen again, so say we all.

This was the third time I attempted to watch the show that everyone I know who has watched has said was incredible except for the end that we don’t talk about. (NO not that one, the other one.) Previous attempts had ended halfway through the first episode of the miniseries because I was bored, or confused or uninterested.

I don’t think I was ready for this show before. I hadn’t passed through the proper gateways of nerd-dom. I’d done Lost and Doctor Who, the Whedon-verse, but not Star Trek or Dune, both of which I think are seriously important building blocks for BSG. 

Anyway, this attempt was sparked partially by this “Nerd Homework” project and partially by, what else? This Is Rad! (seriously, I should send Kyle and Matt flowers or something.) They’re doing a series of episodes on BSG and I like to understand what they’re talking about.

Anyway, the show, which blew me away, from the minute I let myself get past that halfway mark, which, still, I gotta say, does not blow me away. (I can’t tell you, how little, even now having seen how it all plays out, I care about watching Gaius Baltar and Caprica Six hook up, or Starbuck run laps.) (Well that second one is a lie, I’d watch Starbuck do anything, but we’ll get to that.)

The first two and a half seasons are tightly plotted beautifully executed drama, the second season and a half are bonkers religious allegory masking as science fiction, which I am also deeply into in a totally different way. (As I have learned, from this and Dune and Ender…I’m going to have to give C.S. Lewis’s space trilogy another try, I guess…)

I’m obsessed with this cast and have a new ride or die ship (Adama/Roslin is 100% goals. They’re love is adult and slow and beautiful and PERFECT! Fight me!) And a new fictional love of my life.

It’s time to talk Kara Thrace y’all. It’s time to talk about frakking perfection in execution of a character. There is no longer Poe Dameron. Or Maergary Tyrell. Or Dick Grayson. Or Blair Waldorf. Or Luca Kovach. There is only Starbuck in all of her hotshot, hard drinking, authority disrespecting, foot stomping, resurrected savior glory. Katee Sackoff gives one of the most stunningly immersive and consistent performances I’ve ever seen in my twenty something years of TV watching.

And of course, as a shiptastic garbage person, I found my stupid brain trying to pair her off. And there just isn’t anyone good enough for her. She’s amazing. And certainly neither dumb good dude Lee Adama nor useless (AND ACTUALLY A CYLON!) Sam Anders are anywhere near her level of awesome.

I will be cosplaying her.

It will be glorious.

I see why people don’t like this ending, it’s a little too on the nose and clean for a show that was always a bit more opaque and grey.

I’ll return to BSG someday, and analyze it more, focus on other aspects. But I’m glad to have watched it now. Also, it’s reignited my love of “All Along The Watchtower” a family fave since childhood.

I don’t know what the next step of the project is going to be. I have The Dune Chronicles to finish, and I realized it’s been a year since I fell in deep with The Dark Tower, so I think another seminal book series might be the way to go. (Earthsea or Pern maybe, I’ve been so heavily into stuff created by dudes, something lady driven will be nice for a change.) I also might go back to Star Trek and go for Deep Space Nine, as I know that was also a Ronald D. Moore joint, and as I understand it explores some of the same themes as BSG. We shall see.  

The Dark Sentencer

There is a new Coheed & Cambria song.

It is 10 minutes long and we’re re-entering The Amory Wars story line. (The Future? The Past? DOES IT MATTER?) (It kind of does…I’m pretty sure we’re post the fall of Supreme Tri-Mage Whilhelm Ryan…but I could be wrong.)

This is all very important and exciting if you are me, or any of my siblings, or our high school friends.

I don’t think I need to fully outline my very long, emotional history with this band again, but to catch up people that are new:

I was a fourteen year old dorkus who loved Billy Joel and Boy Bands and showtunes, and then I heard Coheed and became a fourteen year old dorkus who also loved Emo. My love of the rest of the genre has faded but Coheed stuck, due to them, well, being SO FREAKING NERDY, an incredible band to see live, and constantly evolving their sound, while still sticking to what attracted me to them in the first place. (Hard driving guitar, ultra violent lyrics and space ships)

Travis Claudio Chondra NYCC

Also, ya know, the multiple times I’ve met them!

There, you’re caught up, on to the new song.

WARNING: What follows will probably require you to be passing familiar with the mythos of The Amory Wars and Coheed & Cambria to make any sense at all. I have neither the time nor inclination to explain that whole mess to you. Google it. There will be some parenthetical for context though.

So we know that “our story begins with the romance of two unheavenly beings.” I assumed this meant Coheed and Cambria Kilgannon, the Beast and Knowledge, IRO-bots created to destroy Heaven’s Fence, and free the planets of the Keywork from the tyrannical control of Supreme Tri-Mage Whilhelm Ryan. (A sentence I will never get tired of typing, btw)

But then we go on to learn that our narrator here is, “their son, Vaxus.” NOW, this intrigues me, because that means, we may not be talking about Coheed and Cambria up top, since their son is named Claudio, (also Matthew, but Matthew is long dead.) (His parents killed him thinking that they were preventing the release a virus called The Monstar which would destroy The Keywork.) (This was a lie and they were very upset about it later. Also, they both died.) I mean, it could still be Claudio talking, to someone named Vaxus? Or this is a new title? Or, we’re far enough beyond Claudio’s destruction of Heaven’s Fence as he accepted his destiny as The Crowing that this is a completely new character who’s dealing with the wreckage? OR, as we’ve learned that “The Dark Sentencer” is a prison, it might be Claudio’s time in prison. (Between The Second Stage Of The Turbine Blade  and In Keeping Secrets Of Silent Earth)

I don’t know, but I’m curious. Amory has always been very influenced by Star Wars so seeing the rise of a new savior in a post Force Awakens and Last Jedi world would not be totally ludicrous. (Plus Claudio’s talked about a sequel a few times, but decided he’d rather write nice little pop songs about his wife and baby for a while, because I guess he can do whatever he wants.) (“Atlas” and “You’ve Got Spirit, Kid” are pretty great.)

But what intrigues me the most is the repeated use of the phrase “Welcome Home.” “Welcome Home,” is of course, one of the band’s most recognizable songs, since it was in Rock Band. (Also, they tend to either close a set or start an encore with it at live shows) Claudio Sanchez tends to repeat imagery and themes from album to album, The Keywork itself and it’s accompanying musical theme (Which I think is supposed to represent the passage of time, if I’m recalling correctly) the Kilgannon family, themes of tragic or lost love, appeals to a God who may or may not be listening, rebellion against horrifying authority, lines crossed that should never be, child murder, mad scientists, space ships, a sentient evil bicycle who wishes the death of a main character, and brings it about through a meta narrative about a writer. (Everything sounds weird out of context!) (That one, actually, is always weird.) (How’s that work? You’re a bicycle!) So I feel  like that’s probably significant.

Either way, while I talked to Mary about it last night I just got more and more excited. “It feels like the old days, when we had no idea what the fuck he was talking about!” I said. She also noted the music feels heavy again, which is true, and exciting.

Also, I’ve had “A Pharoah Story” from Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat stuck in my head for a week, completely inexplicably, and now it’s been pushed out. Which is a relief.

Children Of The Fence, we’re back!

36 Books In 2018 #22: Children Of Dune By Frank Herbert

Man, the Atreides are one rough family.

I mean, I’m really glad to be reading The Dune Chronicles, but jeez this family is dysfunctional, I feel like The Lannisters have less going on than them.

Regardless, this chapter focuses on Leto II and Ghanima, the twin children of Paul Atreides as they reach ten years old and realize that pretty much everyone in the world wants them dead. Alia, who’s succumbed to the genetic memories of the evil Baron Harkonens (YESSS, Dune world weirdness), their grandmother Jessica, who has returned to the fold of the Bene Gesserit and who know they’re a threat to the plans of the order.  Their cousins of House Corrino who want to regain control of the Impirium.

So, anyway, they fake Leto’s death, (sure) and Ghanima has to convince everyone that their cousin Faradn’ is absolutely the last person she’ll ever marry ever. Also, they’re ten. But they have the full genetic memories of both the Atreides and The Fremen.

Oh, right and there’s a mysterious preacher running around who might be Paul (it is) preaching that the followers of Mua’dib have lost their way. (They have)

Leto ascends to a new level of consciousness, marries his sister and blackmails Faradn’ into being the father of her children (he is no longer human and is thus sterile, or something?) Oh, also Duncan Idaho gets killed again.

I like this one much more than Messiah, and I definitely invested in the characters this time around. (Stockholm Syndrome? Finally just all in? Dunno, but I care now) and I can’t wait to find out what happens next. It’ll be a bit before I can pick up God Emperor Of Dune because I’ve got some stuff I want to read before hitting a bookstore again.

Overall though, I’m so glad I’ve jumped into this world, really, it’s been so much bonkers great fun.

Up next is part 5 of The Epics Project, Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes…my destiny calls and I go…

30 Books In 2018 #12: Dune Messiah By Frank Herbert

I read a lot in February you guys! Go me!

Anyway, Dune Messiah.

I was so excited to get my hands on this one, and dig into it. And uh. Well.

I didn’t like it as much as Dune. It’s definitely weirder in spots, but unlike it’s predecessor, which hints at a larger really cool world while telling a fairly straightforward story, Dune Messiah, feels like much more straightforward court plotting. About characters who, as I stated when I wrote up Dune, I don’t care that much about.

I mean, there’s still oddness and cool sci-fi world hinting, but it’s much more focused in on the politics of Paul Astreide’s reign as emperor, and specifically how he’s going to produce an heir. He’s vowed to never have sex with his wife Irulan, who at the behest of the Bene-Gesserit, has been secretly feeding his concubine Chuni a contraceptive. Also, The Bene-Gesserit sort of what Paul to impregnate his sister Alia? For reasons?

Oh also, Alia is falling in love with the reanimated zombie corpse of Paul’s sword master Duncan Idaho.

Like you do.

So, about that last part, there is a society which creates zombie slaves, like, on the reg, just for fun, in this universe and it’s thrown away in a single line? WHAT THE HELL, FRANK HERBERT? That is way more interesting than Paul sighing about how he doesn’t get to run around the desert with the Fremen anymore, or vaguely talking about his visions being a pain in the ass, or whatever.

Paul, no one made you eat so much spice you saw into the total consciousness of time, and no one made you marry poor Irulan and declare yourself emperor. You did that all by yourself, buddy, so quit moping about it. That said, I do appreciate the way Herbert plays with chosen one narratives, by making the chosen one sort of a dick.

Anyway, I think if I liked or cared about the characters here more, I’d have enjoyed the book more. Normally everything that happened is right up my alley, but it just came up short because I’m not invested in the people.

I’m still going to keep going on this series, because it’s fun easy reading and it feels somehow essential to my ongoing nerd education to get this one under my belt. And I want to find out if Alia ever does manage to get it on with that zombie….so sometime in March I’ll pick up Children Of Dune.

Up next is Call Me By Your Name because I want to read it before I see the movie, and I want to see the movie before the Oscars. YAY!

 

30 Books In 2018 #5 & The Epics Project #2: Dune by Frank Herbert

It always strikes me when I sit down to take on a great work of science fiction, how little science fiction I’ve actually absorbed in my life. Which means, most of what I’ve actually taken in, be it through reading or watching or listening is the good stuff. Bradbury, Vonnegut, Star Trek, 2001, the Ender & Shadow series.

Every warning I’ve heard about Dune had me on my guard as I dove into the book. It suffers from “inventor syndrome,” (it’s been so imitated and strip mined that it’s revolutions seem cliche now.) it’s impenetrably weird, (it is!) and most of all, it’s long.

The length didn’t bother me. For all the jargon and Herbert’s refusal to provide easy world building, the prose itself is easy, and the story moves along at an irresistible clip. Hell, I read the thing in a week right? The weirdness delighted rather than alienated me. I’ve got other plans at the moment, but like The Dark Tower last year, I think the Dune series is going to dominate my thoughts and TBR pile, because I want to know every inch of this universe. And as a recovering lit student, seeing the building blocks of things that I love in older fiction is one of the true joys of reading older work. Seeing the seeds of Luke Skywalker and Buffy Summers in Paul Astreides gave the book deeper power over me.

It’s not perfect. One of the reasons I have difficulty with sci-fi as a genre is that the men who write it (it’s nearly always men) have a sort of antiseptic detachment to their characters and settings that doesn’t suit the way I invest in fiction, unless I’m reading academically. (And even then, I got way too emotional about the books I was reading. Multiple professors told me I needed to detach more.) So, that leaves me reading in a more academic way, which keeps me from falling fully into a story.

But I more than appreciated the richness of the world in Dune, and I want more of it. I want to know everything about the society and the religions and the noble houses and the politics and all of it. Like I said, it’s similar to how I felt reading The Dark Tower last year.

Here’s the difference though, with The Dark Tower, I wanted to know what happened to Roland and Jake, and Susannah and Eddie (especially Eddie). I don’t really care much about what happens to Paul Astreides, the man who is now Muad’dib, or his family, but I’m curious, in an academic way, about his world.

Anyway, rather than dive right into Dune Messiah, I’m going to reset my brain by reading the latest Dan Brown (NO JUDGING! My Dad said this one was is actually kind of fun again!) (Also he read Twilight for me like 10 years ago, so I owe him one…) and maybe something fluffy and girly after that.

March’s epic will be David Copperfield. 2 down, 10 to go. (Also 5 down and 25 to go!)