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.

Jewel Staite and her References to Firefly and Stargate: Atlantis

A recent visitor to this site got here courtesy of a search for “what firefly reference does jewel staite get to drop atlantis.” I’m not sure what exactly they were looking to find, but Jewel Staite gets to make just about whatever Firefly and Stargate: Atlantis references she wants… She was on both shows, and I think fans of both franchises really wish that both were still on the air…

That’s all, just wanted to respond to that…

A Distant Rumble…

Storms are interesting. First they start as a distant rumble, nothing more than faint noises on the wind, too distant to be concerned about. Slowly and mostly unseen, they start gathering strength, and the world changes, subtly at first, but with ever growing magnitude. Eventually, you’re caught in a raging storm beyond control of any but God himself!

Sometimes, Hollywood and the television industries operate in the same way. Whispered dreams turn into quiet conversations. Those, in turn, turn into wishful thinking among increasingly large groups of people. The quiet demand becomes a conscious thought in the heads of studio executives, and aides and personal assistants are put into a frenzy. Negotiations take place, money gets allocated, and then finally, the perfect storm of film-making begins.

Today, I heard a distant but welcome rumble. It seems that the Science Channel has taken a strong interest in Firefly. The Science Channel, if you’re unaware, isn’t exactly known for running science fiction television and movies like Siffie, the channel formerly known and loved as The Sci-Fi Channel. No, the Science Channel is owned and run by Discovery, the same as The Discovery Channel, which means its focus is primarily on science fact instead of science fiction. So this matching of Firefly and the Science Channel is unusual to say the least. But it’s a distant rumble nonetheless.

What this means is that there are powers at work, high in the ranks of television executives, that are fond enough of Firefly to negotiate for the rights to air it in its entirety, pay Dr. Michio Kaku a lot of money to do his segments, and of course advertise and promote the airings. This is a lot of money and a lot of effort to put into a television show that was last actively produced (not counting the film Serenity) nearly a decade ago! This rumbling isn’t in your imagination, it’s real thunder.

But it is still at a distance…

As the follow up article at Entertainment Weekly states, there are a lot of hurdles to actually reviving the series and putting in back into production. It would still take quite a large sum of money to buy the rights, bring back Joss Whedon and cast members such as Nathan Fillion, Morena Baccarin, Jewel Staite and others that are now working on other projects, and actually get to making episodes, but this is a rumble. Maybe nothing will come of it. Maybe fans like myself are just dreaming. Maybe this storm will disperse before it ever gathers critical mass.

But maybe this is the beginning.

Years ago, Fox canceled yet another television series I dearly loved, Futurama. Well, despite Fox’s efforts, the show never really went away. It was dormant for a few years, but now there are new episodes being produced with the original cast. And of course, we are all too painfully aware that a lot of classic television series from prior decades have been revived and respawned as new franchises. So I would say, yes, there is hope that Firefly may return. The storm may yet gather critical mass. If the sale of the rights may be out of the question, it’s possible that a brewing storm of support and interest could spur Fox into bringing it back.

At this point anything is possible.

The question on my mind, is would the actors willingly leave their current projects to return to Firefly? Nathan Fillion seems like he might, though I’d absolutely hate to see Castle end. Would Morena Baccarin leave V? Would Gina Torres leave Huge? How about Summer Glau with The Cape? And what about the actors for characters that were killed off in Serenity, like Ron Glass’ Shepherd Book and Alan Tudyk’s Wash? If this storm is to gather the hurricane strength winds it’ll need, these questions will need to be resolved.

Still, we’ve been in the desert a good while now, and I think we could use a little rain. This distant rumble is good news to me…


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.

Caprica, SGU Canceled. Anyone surprised?

As you’re probably beginning to guess, I’m a sci-fi (spelled properly!) addict. At least when I have the resources available to me. Books, television, movies, they’re all good fixes for me. I’ve been known to love some really bad sci-fi, and hate some supposedly really good sci-fi, but what disappoints me is the failure of successful franchises because of stupid decisions in the pre-production stages. Although I thought I posted on another blog of mine about these two particular shows, I can’t find the post, so I will start over here: Caprica and Stargate Universe died on account of they were stupid. (There’s a non-sci-fi movie reference there, can you spot it?)

Caprica is was the prequel spin-off series for the relatively recently ended Battlestar Galactica television series that set all sorts of standards for science fiction on television. Siffie promised us a television series that took place 50 years before the events of BSG, dealing with the Adama and Greystone families, and how their successes and failures lead to the First Great Cylon War. This is all fine and dandy, but they also promised us something that made absolutely no sense whatsoever when taking the just ended BSG series into account: the creation of the Cylons.

Sometimes I don’t feel all that bright. A lot of times, I miss a lot of details that could be important. And finally, I confess that I only watched a few episodes of Caprica. But what I can’t understand is how the 2,000+ years of Cylon history from BSG could be squeezed into the 50 years between Caprica and BSG. The only possible loophole they have is the Cylon prophecy in BSG that “this has all happened before, it shall all happen again” and huge amount of genetic and archaeological stupidity in both human and Cylon races. Perhaps this huge oversight was going to be cleared up at some point in a later season that we’ll never get to see. But the thing that strikes me most about this glaring oversight? The fact that the same writers, directors, and producers were involved in both series! What, did all of them suddenly forget what the hell they had been preaching for the last two seasons of BSG? Maybe humanity really is that stupid…

What I can’t stand, however, is when a television series is conceptualized without taking into account the successes and failures of other, similar series. While Stargate Universe was beginning to grow on me, like a tumor, it had some significant fundamental flaws that again could have been corrected in pre-production. But before I get to that, I need you to understand why I’m going to do my best to rip this show a new asshole. Excuse my French.

Way back in 1994, before I stopped liking Kurt Russell, came along an interesting movie with the premise that we’d get to know fairly well. The movie was Stargate, and the premise was that an ancient portal to other worlds was found buried in Egypt and taken to a secure U.S. military facility for study. That tickles all the right funny bones with me: you have archaeology and history (thank you Dr. Jones!), the military, and you have science fiction. The portal of course lead to another world where humans had been enslaved by aliens that utilized the names of ancient Egyptian gods. Hell, the film even had French Stewart! The film had a great plot, pretty good acting, and damned good special effects, and I was eagerly awaiting a sequel.

Which never really came… But I got over that.

Then in 1997, Stargate SG-1 came along, and it pissed me off for two reasons, one of which I forgave more readily than the other. The forgivable crime was that it was exclusive to the Showtime television network, which I couldn’t get. It wasn’t their fault, it was possibly mine for not having the correct channel package, and certainly my cable provider’s for not allowing me to have all the channels like I desired. The second crime, which I eventually got over, was the fact that everyone got recast. I was hoping, at the time, that they’d just pick up with the same cast and make a television series based around it, but I was sorely disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, I was and still am a big Richard Dean Anderson fan, and have been since MacGyver debuted back in the 80’s, but he didn’t seem at all right for Jack O’Neill. So, I vowed to boycott the show, by not even trying to get Showtime, despite the good ratings a number of my friends gave it.

Skip ahead a few years, factor in the rise and fall of the unrelated television show Farscape, the move from Showtime to Siffie, and the introduction of the spin-off Stargate Atlantis. I’m going to go through some of these items very, very briefly, but trust me, they’re related. We’re almost back to SGU, I promise! In 1999, my buddy told me about this new series from the Jim Henson company called Farscape that might be right up my alley. I listened, I watched, I wasn’t impressed. At first. But the series did nothing but get better the longer it went on, and the main character was played by Ben Browder, and it also starred Claudia Black, both of which I loved and both of which eventually went on to play roles in Stargate SG-1. In fact, they’re the reason I started watching SG-1 even though I had started watching Stargate Atlantis regularly. Once I got hooked on SG-1 with Colonel Mitchell’s (Browder) team, I found that the various team members had lots of likable quirks and they obviously worked well together. So, I started watching the old episodes whenever I got the chance, and I decided that my hatred of the series for all those years was completely unfounded. I felt ashamed, and I’m still trying to catch episodes I missed to this day. Sooner or later, I’ll have to buy the complete series boxed set…

Stargate Atlantis tickled my history, archaeology, and mythology funny bones, and  drew me in with quirky characters and awesome stories. To this day, I’m not sure who my single favorite character on the show was, but I can tell you who my least favorite was: Richard Woolsey played by Robert Picardo. (Small Rant) I know that Picardo had made numerous appearances on the show and on SG-1 prior to the cancellation of either show, but I knew Atlantis was being canceled the moment they announced that Colonel Carter (Amanda Tapping’s character) was being replaced as expedition commander by Woolsey. I don’t know what it is about Picardo, but I couldn’t stand him in Star Trek: Voyager (see below), only tolerated him for the comedy relief he provided in Star Trek: First Contact, and I actively avoid him whenever possible. (End Rant) Only the addition to the cast of Jewel Staite from Firefly and Serenity kept me watching Atlantis to the end.

So, you see, I have a lot of love for the Stargate empire, and I was eager to find out what Stargate Universe was all about when the new series was announced. When the details finally started coming out, I started scrambling for a way to get in contact with the writers and producers to get them to change their minds about the direction they were headed in. The reason was simple. Although there were lots of rabid Star Trek fans that loved Voyager, I basically hated the show because it was going so far against all the other series that it wasn’t Star Trek any more. My Star Trek loving friends didn’t even watch the show. I watched out of morbid fascination and in the unlikely hope that they’d make the show better. The concept of Voyager was flawed from the start: Rick Berman and other series creators wanted to “get back” to the simplicity of the original series, which they conceptualized as one ship against the galaxy.

The problem was that at no point was the Enterprise under the command of Kirk ever completely cut off  from Starfleet and isolated in unfriendly space. They often went to the rescue of other Starfleet vessels, came in contact with them, and visited starbases. The Enterprise wasn’t forced through season after season of running combat while trying to get home. Kirk dealt with aliens far beyond his ability to conceive not only by fighting them, but reasoning with them. This was never possible or allowed in Voyager or in two seasons of Enterprise. Kirk found solutions, Janeway just dealt with the problems, which given their situation might have been acceptable, but it wasn’t the Star Trek way. The original Star Trek series was about exploration, but after the passing of Gene Roddenberry, Star Trek in Berman’s hands seemed to be about nothing but combat and special effects. Frankly, I’m glad Roddenberry didn’t live to see his dream, his creation get perverted in Berman’s hands. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Deep Space Nine which was Berman’s child as well, and I had high hopes for Enterprise though I knew it was going to be put down as well when they made Scott Bakula’s Captain Archer such a weak captain, but Voyager was a complete disaster in my book.

What bothered me the most about Voyager (and Enterprise)? This is difficult for me to express properly, but I hated that the racial mix among the cast felt forced. It was like someone said “We have to have 10% black actors, at least 5% Asian, and let’s see what other minorities we can throw in the mix.” I’m black, and I always love to see black actors in movies and television, but it felt forced on Voyager and Enterprise. I wouldnt’ have cared if there wasn’t a single regular cast member that was black if they cast the best actors  for the roles instead. While I’m not griping about the acting on Voyager or Enterprise, I am stating that the racial balance felt forced.

Now that you know my reasoning, here’s why Stargate Universe failed: the producers didn’t learn a damned thing from the failures of Star Trek Voyager and Enterprise. They took an existing property that had a very successful formula, scratched out a lot of what made it successful, and threw it together without considering what their audience wanted, expected, or liked. They keys to the success of both SG-1 and Atlantis is that there was regular contact between the teams, they organized and mobilized like military forces do and should, they made extensive efforts at diplomacy in the tradition of Roddenberry’s Star Trek, and had good story lines that occasionally necessitated combat, but blowing something up wasn’t usually the first thing the teams resorted to. At no point were the main characters ever permanently cut off from the supporting characters at Stargate Command. And, most importantly, all the central characters were likable.

Stargate Universe followed in Star Trek Voyager‘s footsteps by immediately cutting off all practical contact with their central base of operations. I think during the filming of the pilot, one of the writers caught whiff of Voyager‘s rotting corpse and contrived the Ancient communication stones to try to counteract this failure, but I don’t think it was terribly successful. Top it off, the commanding officer Colonel Young, played by Louis Ferreira, was an asshole that didn’t have any clear goals or motivations other than he didn’t like to lose what he had. I’m not criticizing the acting, Ferreira played the role quite well, but the character wasn’t remotely likable. Truthfully, the only characters I liked, besides the recurring characters from the other series, on the show were Sargent Greer (Jamil Walker Smith), Eli Wallace (David Blue), Dr. Rush (Robert Carlyle), Camile Wray (Ming-Na), and Colonel Telford (Lou Diamond Phillips). I couldn’t care if the rest lived or died. And that was a problem.

One of the keys to success with all of these sci-fi shows I’ve mentioned in this post is that the successful shows featured characters with clear motivations, goals, and had supporting characters that were hellbent on helping them achieve them. They were likable characters played to perfection by their actors. I’m not criticizing a single actor in this post for their acting ability, but I assure you that the the show’s success or failure hinged on the charisma of their characters in addition to the groundwork on which the show was based. Stargate Universe was dead before it ever aired. It had no choice but to fall back on what failed in Voyager and Enterprise: pointless combat and special effects. When that wasn’t enough, it tried to rely on the personalities of the characters and plot elements that were on hand. When those weren’t enough, they tried to correct the problem by adding new characters and twists courtesy of the Lucian Alliance’s “Hail Mary” (opening a stargate connection to Destiny). Everything that I’ve seen in season 2 was damage control, but it was already too late.

The sad thing is, with the last episode I saw (the last one of 2010), they seemed to be getting the right idea: that we viewers want more from our science fiction than just meaningless fighting. Some of the actual plot was good, and there was even some good old fashion Star Trekian exploration. There are a few episodes left that may or may not air, or maybe I missed them already… I’m curious to see them because I wonder if I’d have liked the direction that it was beginning to go in. But it doesn’t matter, because even if I would have, it’s never going to reach the destination for which it might have been headed.

That wraps up this exhaustive rant, but I just have one more thing to say: “F” you Siffie.