Conan the Barbarian

If you’re anything like me, you might have seen the old Schwarzenegger Conan movies and enjoyed them immensely. But in all honesty, did you know that Conan existed before those films? I had no idea until this past week that there was more to Conan than what Schwarzenegger portrayed and that had been developed into comics since then! No idea at all that Conan stretched back to the 1930s!

So, as you might guess, I was afraid of this new Conan film. I was afraid that it would be a parody or an attempt to continue in the tradition of the Schwarzenegger films, but I made up my mind to see it when I discovered Jason Momoa was playing the title role. I’m something of a late comer; I didn’t know Momoa existed before his portrayal of Ronon Dex on Stargate: Atlantis. I loved that character! I loved Momoa’s performance so much that I only started watching Game of Thrones (which I now love) to see him as Khal Drogo. (Thanks to Jewel Staite for mentioning that on Twitter at just the right time!)

Earlier this week I read a preview article on some site that made me more comfortable about the film, and especially when I saw the preview clip that was attached to the article. That convinced me that this was no attempt to recreate what Schwarzenegger did, and that this was no re-imagining or reboot of the franchise. In fact, the article pointed out that this, if anything, is a re-adaptation of the original stories. “Original stories?” I thought, and did some digging. Yes. Conan goes back to 1932 to Robert E. Howard’s original stories. Perhaps even older still when you factor in that the first Conan story was a retelling of one of Howard’s Kull the Conqueror stories. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, there is more to Conan than most of us ever knew!

So I was prepared to accept this alternate Conan, even though friends of mine were complaining that he speaks too much. (When did that become a bad thing?!?!) After watching this film today, what do I think? In all honesty, I like this vision of Conan better than Schwarzenegger’s! I love the intelligent, calculating brutality of Momoa’s Conan better than the brute strength of Schwarzenegger’s. In my opinion it fits the character better, and even makes better sense of the endings of Schwarzenegger’s where the voice over proclaims that this is but one of the stories of how Conan got to be king, then implying that there were others. This “new” Conan was proclaimed as being kingly by another character in the film, and I think it was completely accurate and that it felt better.

Of course, that brings me to the only two things I think were flaws in this film. First and foremost, this Conan was far too likable. He had no bad habits per se, and was likable from the first moments of the film. At no point did I feel that he had any character flaws or issues that needed to be resolved in order to triumph in the end. As much as we might want perfect characters in our stories, it’s these flaws that bond the audience to them. Did I dislike Conan? No. I just think he was too perfect, too heroic through out the film. Give him some self-doubt, or perhaps make him too reckless resulting in the death of a friend, or make him a drunkard… Give him something significant to overcome to make me want to root for him rather than making him perfect because he’s the hero we always knew him to be! Throughout the film, I kept seeing Conan as a middle ground between Momoa’s Ronon and Drogo; he had the apparent moral code of Ronon yet was able to get down and dirty like Drogo when it came to combat and sex. While there were definitely some things that were clearly Conan, I kept seeing these other characters, and it wasn’t because of Momoa’s acting. It was the script, which I think was tailored to capture fans of those other performances. I didn’t dislike the script and story, mind you, I just think that Conan was written too much like Momoa’s other characters.

Unfortunately, that ties into my second point: there isn’t a single enemy in this film that really compares to or challenges Conan. Yes, the chief antagonist does pose some trivial challenge to him, but in truth I felt like it was just a matter of time before and a question of how Conan killed him. Throughout the story, it was obvious that Conan was superior to every opponent in the film. There was no obstacle Conan couldn’t surmount, and so, again, another character development and audience bonding opportunity was passed up. It’s like watching the favored team steamroll an up and coming challenger: you know who’s going to win and there’s not much in the way of thrills as a result.

The movie was good, and I liked it, but it wasn’t epic like it should have been. Much as I despise Schwarzenegger these days, his version of Conan felt epic. Momoa’s was far more realistic, brutal, bloody, and intelligent, but it lacked that epic feel despite the fact that the overarching story takes place over decades if not centuries. I would love to see that corrected in a sequel but I seriously doubt there will be one. Part of the reason is that despite the presence of Momoa, Rose McGowan, Ron Perlman, and narration by Morgan Freeman, there weren’t very many stars or even recognizable faces in this film. It seems to me that the studio committed to the film only as far as honoring a contract rather than being really invested in the success of this film. I may be wrong, there may be a dozen sequels planned for all I know, but felt that the studio really wasn’t interested in this film.

So, what do I have to say about this film…? I’m not sure. If you’re a Conan fan, give it a shot; I think you’ll be surprised at how much you like it even if you don’t like the fact that he talks more in this film. If you want to watch an entertaining film, you have one here, and I can think of far worse ways to spend $10-12 than on this film. If you are critical of films, expecting to have certain emotional triggers set off, then I’d recommend you pass on this. I found it enjoyable, but it wasn’t exciting. I liked this interpretation of Conan, but I didn’t establish an emotional bond with him like I normally would with a film’s hero. There’s nothing technically wrong with the film, it’s just not what it should have been.

Review: I Am Number Four

I saw I Am Number Four on Thursday, when I was in a really bad mood, so take some of the things I say here with a grain of salt. That said, it was a decent movie, with good special effects, and well acted. The thing I liked best about it was that I personally didn’t know of any of the actors in the film. That’s not to say they’re unknowns, I just didn’t know them. I love the big name stars as much as anyone, but they can’t and shouldn’t be in everything, and I was pleased that they weren’t here. That said, the lack of big names is probably the reason this movie isn’t doing as well as it probably should. I’ve only seen a handful of commercials for it since its release a week ago, and the only reasons I watched it were because I remembered something vaguely interesting from the trailer I saw months ago, and it was starting shortly after I got to the theater.

Given what Wikipedia has to say about the film and the book it was based on, I’m no longer surprised by the faults I had with the film. The basic story is that 18 aliens from the world of Lorien came to Earth as their world was attacked by another alien race called the Mogadorians. Half of the Loriens were special children, gifted with special powers called “legacies”, each sent with a guardian to protect them. The goal was that they would be sent to Earth to be raised and taught how to fight back so that they could one day rescue their world, but apparently by the time the film starts things have gone worse than they imagined. The Mogadorians, or Mogs as they’re frequently called in the film, apparently have either completely wiped out their world, or are well on their way to doing such, and have followed the 18 to Earth to finish the job. In fact, before the film even starts, two of the children, and at least three of the guardians have been killed by the Mogs. The film opens with the death of Number 3 and his guardian.

Immediately afterwards we meet Number 4, known to humanity as John Smith. My first, irritated, impression of him was that he was a typical privileged  white kid, living the dream life in a tropical area, just like every one of us would do if we could afford to do so. His good life is interrupted by the a glowing and burning light that erupts from his leg, after Number 3 is killed, while he’s at a party on a beach at night. Needless to say, he and his guardian had to immediately uproot themselves and leave for less green pastures and anonymity in Paradise, Ohio. Thankfully, his guardian is a grumpy, pragmatic and practical man by the name of Henri, which slowly began to make me appreciate the characters and the actors cast to play them.

I’m not going to go any further with the plot, because it’s too simplistic and cliche to require further explanation, and that is my chief problem with the film. Everything in it’s been done before, and been done better. Everything from the revelations of who the characters are to the fight scenes has been done before and little in the film is unique or inspiring. The fight scenes would be right at home in the X-Men or Fantastic Four movies. There are “I Want To Believe” posters in a conspiracy theory organizations’ house/hideout straight out of the X-Files. The secrets to finding the other Loriens is in the hands of a missing man that will probably turn out to have betrayed them in the books or a later film. There’s even predictable and cliche high school angst and pranks. None of this is original and there was no interesting spin put on them to keep me interested while they paraded around in front of me. Don’t get me wrong, these things weren’t bad, they just weren’t special. There was a point I felt I could get up and walk out of the movie and still know exactly how everything would end.

The problem with most teen oriented books and movies is that they reproduce the popular thing of the moment, and rarely do anything completely original. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, while mostly an exception to that rule, gives in to it here and there becoming a teen romance novel briefly instead of a fantasy novel. I Am Number Four clearly focused on being that thing, and as such failed to fully work out the setup of the story. For instance, John clearly knows at the start of the film that he’s not human and that he’s from another world, but he seems to only have a limited knowledge of his people and of his own uniqueness. Henri had to explain to him why he had light shooting out of his hands and how to control it at one point in the movie. If he was from an alien world and he and his fellows were destined to save the planet, shouldn’t he have known how and why they were selected to do so? Otherwise why shouldn’t it have been some other individuals? Similarly, the “legacies” should have had a history on their home-world that would have been carried through legend if not documented fact, so he should have been quite aware of his potential, even if he was only just discovering it. Finally on this point, how could he be properly trained and prepared to save anyone without knowing anything about these legacy powers?

What made John and the other eight so special that the Mags had to hunt them down and eliminate them after conquering their world and wiping out the population? Well, we don’t find out in this movie, and probably will never see an answer in a sequel to this movie because I doubt that there will be a sequel. The book series may or may not have continued, and so the answer may be there, but the marketing support for the film isn’t sufficient enough to keep the movie in the awareness of movie goers, and therefore likely will not net enough revenue to warrant a sequel.

The movie has problems because, I suspect, the underlying story has problems but in truth I’ve seen far worse films than I Am Number Four. Would I pay money to see it again? No, not likely, but I wouldn’t change the channel if I came across it on TV. Review score would be 7 out of 10.


There are some films that are so amazing that people continue to talk about them and be enamored by them years after they were no longer the focus of attention. As you can guess as a result of that statement and the title, I’m referring in this instance to the movie Serenity, the follow-up and conclusion to the even longer passed television series Firefly.
Perhaps I should start at the beginning.

When Firefly debuted, I refused to watch it because I was seriously pissed at Fox for canceling Dark Angel, especially the way they canceled it. So I didn’t watch it. Friday night would roll around and I’d watch something else, play a game, read a book, or go out with my wife. Then something odd happened.

On a particular Friday night, just before the end of the year, I decided to watch Firefly to know my enemy. And I liked it. Well, I liked it enough to decide to watch another episode, which would’ve been early in the new year. My luck being what it is, Fox canceled the series and never showed another episode.

Part of me was satisfied. Part of me was pissed.

Time went by and I thought little of Firefly during that time. Then one day, I heard that Joss Whedon had obtained permission to release the entire series on DVD ; at the time, this was quite rare and I thought it was pretty cool. But what got me on the Whedon bandwagon was that I figured he was going to use money earned through the sale of the Firefly series to help finance the movie Serenity. That, excuse the expression, took some balls! And a lot of dedication to fans, cast, and story. I still may not be a Joss Whedon fan per se, but I have a ton of respect for the man from that alone.

Without going into a description of the Firefly TV series or the plot of Serenity, let’s talk about why I love this film. (We’re skipping plot and storyline because the series and movie are both a number of years old now, and if you’re reading this, you’re probably already quite familiar with them.) First of all, there’s the cast. You should already be familiar with how I feel about Nathan Fillion, but suffice it to say I love the guy. Add a bit of sexual tension between him and Captain Reynolds’ love interest Inara, played by the drop dead gorgeous Morena Baccarin, and there’s enough to make the movie worth watching already. Zoe, played by Gina Torres, whose loyalties to her ship, captain, crew, and especially her husband makes her the perfect first officer in the very best traditions. (I really want to make a Star Wars comparison here but people would get the wrong idea. )

Alan Tudyk as Wash, the ship’s pilot, and occasional comic relief was awesome. I still think he got some of the best lines in the film. Joss if you’re reading this, I want you to know I borrowed one of those lines for a short story for a class recently! Tudyk was and is an awesome actor, and I was excited to see him in another Whedon show that was prematurely cut short by Fox: Dollhouse. I’m beginning to understand that I hate Fox about as much as I hate Siffie.

Kaylee, Kaylee, Kaylee. I’m not usually into gingers, but I’d make an exception for you. That is, if the lovely Jewel Staite weren’t married. Kaylee came to represent the heart of the series and movie, and was the motherly figure the show needed. But it was Shepherd Book that represented the soul.

While the show never preached any particular moral code, Ron Glass’ Book gave credence to some moral compass and opportunity foe redemption that each character in their own way needed. At the same time, there was a lot of unspoken backstory to Book that we never properly explored. My suspicion is that Book was a high ranking officer in Independents’ military and was granted special immunity by the Alliance at the end of the war. In fact, as I think about it, he may have been responsible for the end of the war, perhaps negotiating the surrender of the brown coats.

While I could cover all the rest of the characters in similar loving ways, I will mention by name just two more. The first is River Tam played by Summer Glau. Although she seems to be typecast to play weird roles, Summer seems to be a young actress with a lot of potential. (I say she’s being typecast because of her roles on the Sarah Connor Chronicles and Dollhouse.) Between her acting, grace, and physical agility, she’s proven to me she can do anything. When I write a female character into my stories that I want to be a total badass, I need only think of River Tam’s stand against the Reavers.

The final character I want to highlight is known only as the Operative. For years I sought a villain that was self aware and cognizant of his role, and that was never fulfilled prior to Firefly. I say and mean Firefly and not Serenity because the Operative was a rebirth and reimagining of the bounty hunter Jubal Early in the TV series. Again, we have a character that is supremely capable physically and mentally, that has fully embraced their role in the larger story, and that makes him unique and special in my book.

After all of this, you should see that the character development in the film and TV series really was quite special. The characters each play a specific role, but blend together to be an amazing ensemble. But I’m still not done.

You can’t talk about a science fiction movie without talking about the special effects. Although the special effects were nearly all done with blue screens and computer generated imagery as expected with the modern sci-fi films, they were well above average. In fact, I’d compare 2005’s Serenity with 2009’s Avatar favorably any day, and remember, James Cameron spent hundreds of millions of dollars developing the technology to film Avatar the way he felt it should be done. That kind of coup is on par with what George Lucas did back in the 70s with Star Wars: do amazing work years ahead of everyone else trying to do the same, and in particular do it on a budget and better than those later attempts. In my opinion, the only things that Avatar did in a superior fashion to any thing in Serenity were the floating mountains and the huge color palette.

I loved the variety of spacecraft in Serenity and their various states of repair or disrepair. Some of the funniest lines in the film, in fact, center on the title ship’s state of decay. “Stuff don’t fall off my ship”, Mal states at one point, and at another complains to Kaylee “You promised me that buffer panel would last two weeks!” To which she responds, “That was six months ago.”  Not to mention, slightly earlier, Wash’s response to Mal’s inquiry about landing without the buffer panel: “Oh god, oh god, we’re all going to die?” (Which, by the way, is the line I quoted in my short story.) Lots of awesomeness abounds. Hell, there’s something remarkable in Serenity that isn’t even significant to the storyline: when the crew goes to collect their pay for ripping off the bank at the start of the film, the ship is essentially grabbed out of mid-air by a docking arm, and brought to a birth. I’ve never seen anything even remotely close to as unique as that in either books or film.

In all honesty, I believe that Whedon’s Serenity should be considered among the best of modern science fiction films, and should be considered retroactively for an Oscar or two.

Mr. Lucas, Stop Tearing Down That Empire!

I’ve already confessed to being a major science fiction nut, so I don’t think I need to reiterate that fact. I profess and honestly commit to loving the Star Wars saga & universe as much as I love that of Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Stargate, and Firefly/Serenity. These shows and films have kept me going when my life seemed unbearable, and they’ve given me much to shoot for in my own life and writing.

So, I’m feeling more than a little angry right now that I’ve discovered that the next book in Star Wars: Republic Commando series has not only been canceled, but the author, Karen Traviss, has been burned, and official Star Wars canon is being rewritten in favor of the Star Wars: Clone Wars PC, kid oriented stories.

Where to start? Where to start?

When Boba Fett was introduced in the Empire Strikes Back, everyone became awed by the Mandalorians, and their history was quickly written into the lore of the Star Wars universe. They were a war like people that had been long at odds with the Jedi, going all the way back to the to the great wars between the Sith and Jedi. So, needless to say, they were a major power. According to the the previously established storyline, at some point the Sith betrayed the Mandalorians and pretty much broke them as a power player in the galaxy. They didn’t, however, become pacifists as the current Star Wars: Clone Wars cartoon has declared. Instead, they became mercenaries and assassins; the Mandalorians became some of the most feared and respected warriors in the galaxy. So much so that Palpatine, as Darth Sidious, used one of the best of them, Jango Fett, as the template for the army that he would use to first divide then control the galaxy.

That is how those of us that really know Star Wars have known it; not just from the films, but also from comic books, novels, histories and backstories given on toys, and even the Star Wars web site among other sources. Personally, I’ve read more than 30 Star Wars novels since Timothy Zahn practically single-handedly resurrected the world with Star Wars: Heir to the Empire twenty years ago. Even now, I’m eagerly awaiting the next book in the Fate of the Jedi series, and it was my search to find the next book in that series that reminded me that I hadn’t seen or heard of the next book in the Republic Commando series that I was also reading. The last book, under the new series name Imperial Commando, was 501st chronicling some of the missions of Vader’s elite troops, and furthering the escape plans of some of the major characters from the prior books. I had purchased that book about a year ago, but I’ve been too busy with school to do a lot of reading over the last year, so I thought the next books in the series had just slipped past me. Until my search last night, that is…

When I discovered that the next Fate of the Jedi book, Conviction, wouldn’t be out for some months, I did a search for “Karen Traviss” and “Republic Commando” which lead me to this Wookieepedia article which states that the next book had been canceled. Reading through that article, I found a link at the bottom to Karen Traviss’ blog, and her post on the canceled book. While it is just one side of the story, it’s my gut feeling that it’s probably accurate. Even if I only had one reason, the revision to A New Hope making Greedo shoot first is evidence enough that George Lucas and LucasFilm aren’t shy about making a revisionist history of the Star Wars universe. I can tolerate the less roguish Han Solo. I love Ewoks. (Yes, I said it.) And despite the vast numbers of people that hate him, I’m cool with Jar Jar. But I really don’t know what in the hell they’re thinking by completely nullifying decades worth story telling within the universe, and undermining the work of the numerous authors that have told these stories on behalf of George Lucas and his companies.

Beyond Ms. Traviss and Mr. Zahn, star authors R. A. Salvatore, Troy Denning, James Luceno, and Aaron Allston have all written pivotal and significant portions of the Star Wars universe for Lucas. I know that Star Wars is Mr. Lucas’ child and puts a significant amount of money in his pocket every year, but why undermine the work of these fantastic authors, and alienate the millions of diehard fans like myself that spend fortunes on these books with a new canon history that completely contradicts everything we’ve been told for all these years…

This pisses me off almost as much as the Sci Fi channel becoming Siffie. Almost. I’m not going to go around shouting “‘F’ you Lucas!”, though I really wouldn’t blame all of these Star Authors if they chose to break their contracts with the publishers and Lucas over this kind of revisionist bullshit.