What is a Bad Movie?

Campy films aren’t necessarily bad and cult classics really can’t be deemed good. There have been more than a couple of posts on Facebook (maybe as many as ten) asking me to pick films that I liked but I thought were bad films. I picked two movies (Joe Vs. the Volcano and Buckaroo Banzai) because I love them and I really can’t defend them. They don’t hold together and/or loose their audience halfway through. They didn’t make enough money in the box office and they haven’t gotten beyond a core cult following as time progresses. As an additional condition of love/bad I should add that I’ve seen both of these movies more than 10 times each and I never tire of watching them. I never tire of watching them while people who watch movies with me regularly object if I propose watching them again. The Wife’s film is ID4. I’ll scream if I have to watch that one again. But then she has about ten films that she cycles through, as well as two or three series that she has on repeat in the room while she’s constructing some art project or other, just as background noise, and I run screaming from all of them. That is the hallmark of a bad movie (or bad TV) that you love. You end up watching it by yourself.

Plot. Theme. Characterizations & cinematography. All of those bases have to be covered if you are going to make a good movie. Carpenter is the king of camp, and I consider Prince of Darkness one of his best films of all time. Big Trouble is another one. I wouldn’t put a Carpenter film in a list of bad films. His films (even his bad ones) are campy enough to be watchable. I’ve sat down and watched any one of a dozen Carpenter films with family more times than I’ve sat down to watch the two I’ve listed, and I still get takers to watch them (especially The Thing) I could go on for several more paragraphs but I’ve been a lifelong movie buff and I’m married to a woman who has been involved in more productions than a good number of professionals in the business. I know whereof I speak, even if I don’t have degrees to back my critical opinions up with.

CineFix – 2001: A Space Odyssey – What’s the Difference? – Jun 17, 2015 (h/t to openculture.com)

Visual and written media are different, this is an understood fact.  The adaptation of a written work to film is an important subject of discussion, not just a pedestrian piece of entertainment. Why a film adaptation of a written work is perceived to be better or worse than its inspiration is a subject of high importance to the funders of film ventures.  The buy-in of the author of the written work and their involvement in the making of the film does indeed seem to be key to a successful adaptation.

Let me offer a few examples.

The Harry Potter films all had the direct involvement of the author from the beginning of the film franchise.  I find the study of J. K. Rowling’s evolving talent fascinating.  I read the books myself, and read them out loud twice to my children. We then all went to see the movies. Now, while my daughter lamented at some of the parts left out of the story in question, I could see Rowling’s growing understanding of the film medium evolve from movie to movie, just as I watched her understanding of the written work evolve over the course of the several books she has authored. The films, just like the books, get tighter and more interesting as her understanding of the two different mediums grows. I would offer them as some of the best examples of book to film adaptation.

It can also be a good idea for the author to know his or her own limitations. I’ve read the Hunger Games series and watched all four movies. I find the movies far more interesting than the books were, and more believable.  The characters are far more sympathetic on screen and the actors that were chosen have all performed admirably.  I don’t know the level of the author’s involvement with those films, but I haven’t encountered her promoting them like Rowling did. Yet the films do seem to capture the essence of what was compelling about the Hunger Games novels. A worthy effort.

Fight Club is another instance where the film retains the essence of the book, and yet is actually better as a movie than the book was as a book. Very few adaptations not only don’t insult the original work, but mange to improve on it. It’s also one of the few internal stories that works on the screen, largely because the internal is external (as it is in the book) without the viewer knowing this. If you don’t understand the reference, then you haven’t seen the film. Stop reading and go watch it now.

On the other end of the scale we have every attempt to adapt Dune to the movie screen. I’m not convinced that any of the parties involved (much like the 007 movies and Ready Player One) ever read the books. Frank Herbert was still alive at the time of the filming, but never seemed to have taken an interest in the first movie produced. If Alejandro Jodorowsky is to be believed, then Frank Herbert was very much involved in the project when he was developing it. The final product of the effort taken over by Hollywood bore almost no resemblance to the book that I’ve read, and I’ve read it (and Dune Messiah and Children of Dune and God Emperor of Dune) more times that I’ve read the Lord of the Rings. The mini-series from SciFi comes close to capturing the essence of the novels, but still manages to fumble capturing the theme. The subtleties of the realpolitik have never been captured by any movie that I’ve seen. Most books that I’ve read also fail at giving it life (Hunger Games being the latest to attempt it that I’ve read) unless they are biographies of real historical figures. Even some of those fail at being interesting and real at the same time.

I, Robot remains the epitome of failed adaptations. Rather than simply destroying one character, as Peter Jackson did with Faramir in the Lord of the Rings adaptations, the entirety of Asimov’s work on the robot series was completely thrown out the door. None of the characters share more than a name with their counterparts in the books (a series of short works and novels) the tone of the film is luddite in nature, with all technology representing a fearful threat. This is a framing for the film that Asimov would have rejected out of hand. The plot hinges on a point that contradicts all of Asimov’s writing on the subject (the ability for a robot to kill a human) only to be countered at the last minute with a physics defying descent to an inexplicably located central computer system that isn’t even in Asimov’s works. The continued existence of the film serves as firm proof that there is no afterlife, because I can’t imagine Isaac Asimov not returning from the dead to correct this blasphemy enacted in his name.

The people who complain about minor character details being missed, or sections of the work, like Tom Bombadil (again, in Lord of the Rings) that don’t lend themselves to plot progression, simply don’t understand the constraints of the visual storytelling medium. However, it is clearly important that the filmmaker not only be a fan of the written work, but has to understand how to pull the plot, theme, and narrative out of one medium and place it in another in such a way as to be recognized by the literary fan, so that the people who paid to read the written work will also pay to see the movie. If the producer, director, writer and actors all don’t agree on this and make their best efforts to pull this feat off, you end up with just another blockbuster that you hope makes it’s exorbitant production costs back in the first few weeks of it’s public release. Because you won’t have fans buying it and talking about it years later.

Understanding the limitations of the medium that the story is told in can be key to being more forgiving. For example: A keycard is familiar and its purpose is understood by the viewing audience. Using a keycard to bypass security serves to advance the plot more easily than how you might describe the problem and its solution in a book. You don’t have to spend time explaining how to transfer fingerprints or the knowledge needed to understand bypassing security through the software, if you just have the protagonist steal a keycard. This simplification of the storyline removes at least 10 minutes of film time and who knows how many dollars from the budget. Most of the changes that are made to a literary work being adapted to the screen are done for just these kinds of reasons.

Putting Tom Bombadil into the Fellowship of the Ring movie introduces relationships and characters into the story that really don’t advance the plot and don’t increase the viewers engagement in the story itself. In the book, the brief aside of Tom Bombadil between Buckland and Bree serves to draw the reader into the story, into the world of Middle Earth. Bilbo never encountered any of the problems that Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin did because he stayed on the Great Eastern Road when he traveled from the Shire to the Lonely Mountain in the Hobbit. Tom Bombadil, for the reader, serves to illustrate the problems of leaving the road unsheparded. This makes the Hobbit’s willingness to follow Aragorn more believable when they meet him at Bree. They’ve just survived death at the hands of ghosts and magic because Tom Bombadil was there to save them. The screenwriters rightly decided that shortening the narrative there was without any real cost to the overall storyline. The only people who object to going straight from Buckland (mentioned as the ferry in the movie) to Bree with a single scene cut are the people who are anchored in the literary narrative, incapable of appreciating the different demands a viewing audience brings to the theater with them.

I loved Fellowship of the Ring when it came out as a movie. It remains a testament to what Peter Jackson thought he could sell to a bunch of rabid fans ready to tear the heart out of his three-movie project before the first movie was even cold in the film canisters.

The Two Towers is a completely different matter. The Two Towers is a bad movie in pretty much the same way every second movie is, plus a few other insults thrown in. I’ve already mentioned Peter Jackson’s treatment of Faramir as one of my objections. Dragging the Hobbits to Osgiliath served the purpose of having a crisis moment for Faramir where he and the audience see the danger of the ring for themselves. In my estimation it is unnecessary.

As a film editor I would have sliced off all hints that they ever left Ithilien, had the Witch King show up, have Faramir renounce the ring (he does anyway) and send Frodo and Sam on their way. No need to draw out the crisis moment. No need to have Sam utter that heartfelt speech about not being here that always makes me laugh and agree with him. No. You shoudn’t be in Osgiliath. Now you have to come up with a device to get the Hobbits back onto the borders of Mordor. Oh, look! A tunnel! Just what we needed.

The less said about Treebeard and the ents as they appear in the movie, the better. I don’t think that Jackson had all those sequences worked out in advance. They have a hurried quality to them, which (bararum) Treebeard himself would not have appreciated. The second movie was always going to be the connector between the grand achievement of Fellowship of the Ring, and the closing moments of Return of the King. The book The Two Towers is a long slog, too. That the series of movies were completed at all is a tribute to Peter Jackson and his crew.

…and then he went on to destroy the Hobbit. Peter Jackson’s the Hobbit is J.R.R. Tolkien in name only, just like I, Robot having the name Asimov’s in front of it makes it his movie in name only. I haven’t watched the third Hobbit movie, but I will eventually. The elf/dwarf river dance in the second movie combined with the liquid gold surfing was more than I could take. You strip out Jackson’s love of overly-long action sequences and you might have a set of movies worth watching (see Jackson’s King Kong) his weaving of the various themes that predate Tolkien’s writing Lord of the Rings, themes that aren’t in the Hobbit, was clever if not at all like the book itself.  The first movie announced Jackson’s intentions to not follow the book so I wasn’t too upset when he didn’t follow it in the second movie.

Since they weren’t really J.R.R. Tolkien and they were definitively Peter Jackson, warts and all, I saw no need to rush out and watch the last movie in the movie theater. Now that I am longing to see movies in a theater again it may be time to dust off some of the movies I’ve put off watching and try them out. See if I think differently about them now.

So what is a bad movie? It is up to the moviegoer at large to determine this, just as it is up to the reader to determine whether any given book represents good writing or not. Let me put it this way.

ranthonyings.com

On my laserdisc copy of Star Wars Han Solo is the only one who fires a weapon in the Cantina scene. That is the way it was supposed to be before George Lucas screwed up all the original movies re-editing them. It is because of the re-edits that I have said for awhile now that neither Disney nor the Abramanator could screw up Star Wars. George Lucas already did that.

…But then the Abramanator said “hold my beer” and proved me wrong. That is also why I won’t buy Star Wars on any of the new formats that are available. Not unless I get an original version of the movie to view. A New Hope is a bad movie. Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back were great movies. It’s just too bad you can’t buy them anymore.

Or you could just ignore the critics and go see the movie.

Stonekettle Station

Some of my thoughts on this subject were inspired by comments on this Facebook thread. The featured image is a screencap from the infamous watermelon scene in Buckaroo Banzai.

Starfleet? Space Force?

Back in 2018, I was laughing at the stupidity of the Orange Hate-Monkey (OHM) and his Stormtrumpers.

RAnt(hony)-ings

I’m not laughing anymore. This was on the Stonekettle Station Facebook wall today.

I’ve done a cursory look online (check out the image credit on that wikipedia page) and the symbolism does seem to be official if not actually adopted by the branch of military service that Congress funded last month. I’ll try to forgive congress the insult to American intelligence that their funding of one of the idiocracies pet ideas legitimizes.

Yes. That is potentially a theft of intellectual property in the form of a proposed device for the OHM’s Space Farce. …er Force. While you are laughing remember that, to the rest of the world, you are what they are laughing at. You the reader, not you the president. Not you Stonekettle Station. You, dear reader. All of you who count yourselves as Americans. You are a joke if this bullshit is not brought to an end.

Facebook – Stonekettle Station

Well okay. That was funny.


As far as who owns the rights to the IP in question, that isn’t clear.

I thought of “Mirror, Mirror” after seeing the Trump administration’s new Space Force logo, which the president tweeted out Friday with a characteristically awkward nod to our “Great Military Leaders” of the “Sixth Branch of our Magnificent Military!” (caps and punctuation his). Within minutes, the logo was lampooned widely for appearing to rip off the logo for Starfleet Command from “Star Trek.” Indeed, with the two logos placed side by side, the resemblance is so remarkable that I had to wonder whether Melania Trump was part of the design committee.

Apparently, the new logo is just another iteration on the former Air Force Space Command logo, which also featured an upward pointing delta, but the final product with its concentric rings and swooping orbits looks so much like Starfleet’s, I fear it could easily confuse any Vulcans and Klingons who see it.

This somewhat comical appropriation of “Star Trek” imagery carries a certain irony. The universe of “Star Trek” has always provided a hopeful, near-utopian vision for humanity, where we have finally learned to set aside things like racial prejudice and gender inequality, and we all work together toward a common purpose and quest. Money is a thing of the past because no one wants for any material need, and we have united much of the galaxy in a peaceful assembly of sovereign worlds.

Contrast that for a moment with the current administration’s values and practices: racial resentments and fear stoked for cynical political purposes, the wealthy made even more obscenely so through grift and political influence, coarse and bullying behavior masquerading as diplomacy, to name but a few. Even the notion of a “Space Force” seems patently absurd coming from an administration where science is mocked and disregarded.

At times it truly feels like the past three years have had us beamed into a parallel universe, where instead of a president we have a mendacious thug, and where notions like the U.S. Senate being a deliberate, serious body that serves as a vital check on presidential power now seem quaint and naive.

George Takei

If, however, the government took orders from the OHM, and the OHM’s intent was to mimic the Starfleet insignia (being an idiot of very little brain, but then I repeat myself) then the logo for Space Force as it is presented by the OHM probably constitutes theft of intellectual property. Proving the theft, proving the OHM’s intentions, then becomes the next hurdle to clear.

The Starfleet insignia as we know it today didn’t exist until the motionless picture (my second favorite Star Trek film) back in 1979. This was long after Gene riffed on the theme of the gold pins that NASA gave to astronauts on going to space to create the various ships insignias seen in the original Star Trek series (1967-69) None of those pins have an upward delta device with a star, also pointing upward, in the center of them. That insignia was just for the Enterprise crew, and the star inside the stylized delta represented command crew. A real fan will know what the two other symbols inside the delta were, and what they represented. The Air Force Space Command insignia does have a delta pointing upward, and that has been acknowledged to be a Star Trek reference. There is your bit of trivia for today.

Tricorder?

Facebook – Stonekettle Station

Stonekettle Station has a tricorder. Well, almost a tricorder. If the device captured all measurable energy in the recording field and not just the visible light, they’d have a tricorder. The future is now.

In the science-fictional Star Trek universe, a tricorder is a multifunction hand-held device used for sensor (environment) scanning, data analysis, and recording data.

On May 10, 2011, the X Prize Foundation partnered with Qualcomm Incorporated to announce the Tricorder X Prize, a $10 million incentive to develop a mobile device that can diagnose patients as well as or better than a panel of board-certified physicians.[12] On Jan 12, 2012, the contest was officially opened at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.[13][14] Early entrants to the competition include two Silicon Valley startups,[15] Scanadu and Senstore, which began work on the medical tricorder in early 2011.

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Facebook – Stonekettle Station

A Tribute To René Auberjonois

TriAngulum Audio StudiosBack Trek- A Tribute To René Auberjonois – Dec 9, 2019

…He might have first run across René Auberjonois in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. I will always think of him in his role from the series Benson, the only spin-off from one of my favorite TV shows, SOAP, and the only other character aside from the title character from SOAP that was really memorable. I had forgotten that he played Father Mulcahy in the movie version of M*A*S*H. I’ll miss him and the others from Trekdom who have left us over the last few weeks. It has been a rough year.

Admiral Titan EntertainmentBenson – Season 4 Ep. 8 – Mar 8, 2018

How did I not know that Ethan Phillips was also in Benson?

The Rise of Skywalker?

The release date for the ninth and last of the originally slated sequels to the 1977 blockbuster, Star Wars, has been announced. When George Lucas was rewarded for his work on the original film, put together with a shoestring budget (judged by today’s movie budgets) he was floored by the fanbase that he had unwittingly created. People who willingly shelled out money for tickets to see the same film, over and over again for over a year, a feat that hadn’t been witnessed in movie history since Gone With the Wind had been released, a full human generation previously. When George Lucas saw how much money he could make in creating sequels to his original work, he abridged his stand-alone creation and let it be known that he had a lot more story to tell, if people were interested.

Star Wars: Teaser Trailer
Star Wars Original Trailer 1977

…and they were interested. The Empire Strikes Back was the second-best selling film after Star Wars when it released. Mr. Lucas went outside of the group that made the first film possible in order to realize the second film, but the movie made big bucks and set us on the course that we’ve been on, Star Wars and movie-sequel-wise, ever since.

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back – Trailer

Return of the Jedi, the third film in the franchise, didn’t do as well as the previous two films, even though Mr. Lucas brought the film back home to have it made under his direct supervision. It was at this time that the nine film series narrative emerged. After the third film was in the can and George Lucas was looking for his next project. This was when Star Wars became Episode Four, and the plotting of the three prequels began.

Of course, we had to have the digital updates of the original trilogy first. And then we got the forgettable Star Wars episodes one, two and three. The kids liked them, so they sold well enough. There was a cartoon series about the Clone Wars and there were other spin-offs too numerous to mention. For someone who was let down watching the first Star Wars because the novelization was better than the film, it is hard to imagine waiting on the edge of your seat for anything Star Wars after those prequels dropped.

There were no theaters in Leoti, Kansas or Stinnett, Texas, the places where I was trapped during the year 1977, when Star Wars first hit movie theaters. The family had zero funds and bigger problems than my desire to see the epic adventure of our time, to deal with. So I didn’t get to see the movie when it released. I had to borrow a paperback copy of the novelization from the library in one of those two places. It was probably Stinnett. I didn’t get to see the original film until Empire Strikes Back was in release, and then I managed to catch the two films back to back in a new-fangled, dual screen twin cinema, constructed on the edge of my place of exile in 1980, Garden City, Kansas. One of the last things I did in that town before being shipped back to Texas.

My Star Wars diorama

It should be no surprise to long-time readers of the blog that I was much more impressed with the second Star Wars than I was with the first. An impression only strengthened after watching the third film, and then in witnessing the digital cheapening of the first trilogy in preparation for the release of the prequels.

I knew that what would come out after that would be questionable, and my impressions of all six of the later films is filtered through that doubt, the unwillingness to be suckered once again into paying money for an experience that couldn’t possibly be as good as what my own imagination could create in just reading the screen plays. Enjoying fantasy requires the suspension of disbelief, and I don’t have the willpower to suspend disbelief for something so clearly created just to manipulate my feelings with familiar characters. One. More. Time.

Is anyone waiting to see this film? Waiting like I waited to see Empire Strikes Back? Wanting to know what will happen next? Will Luke and Leia get together? They blew up the Death Star but the Emperor is still out there. Surely he has more versatile weapons at his disposal? We know all that stuff now, and none of the original characters have survived to be part of this last film.

Everyone has known the name of the ninth film for awhile now. The Rise of Skywalker. Does anyone care about these new characters? Just curious. I don’t. I’d like to care about Rey, but episode seven was just an orgasm of special effects loosely hung around the bare bones of the exact same story that George Lucas used in the original Star Wars. I watched episode eight specifically because Mark Hamill was going to be in it. It too was largely forgettable and I have mercifully forgotten it over the course of the last few years.

The best Star Wars film I’ve ever seen isn’t even one of the nine films. The best Star Wars film was Rogue One, with Solo coming in for a close second. Rogue One spins out a tale about how the plans that are mentioned in the original film’s crawler came to be in the hands of the rebel alliance. (h/t to screenrant) no, the film does not follow the previously established narratives for how the plans were stolen. None of them were in movies, so their relevance to the canon as established in film is really irrelevant, unless you are a die-hard fan.

Solo of course is all about Han Solo, my favorite character from the first and second films. I followed Harrison Ford from then to now, watching every film that I could afford to go see that has had him in it. Harrison Ford has been worth the effort to follow. His career has encompassed many movies that cannot be described accurately with words. You simply have to experience them to appreciate them. Movies like Blade Runner. The man is a master on screen, like few movie stars can be. The actor for the Solo movie did a passing good job of capturing Han Solo, the character, not Han Solo as portrayed by Harrison Ford. A subtle but important difference lost on people who aren’t movie buffs. He did well enough on screen following the master that I have to give him credit for trying, even if he fails to be Harrison Ford in presence on screen. No one but Harrison Ford could be Harrison Ford, in much the same way that no one but Morgan Freeman can be Morgan Freeman.

Harrison Ford has been worth the effort, even having to suffer through episode seven just to see the ignominious end of the character of Han Solo. As Harrison Ford said, when asked about the film “I got paid”. His were the only scenes in episode seven that were worth the price of admission. Episode nine has the abramanator once again in the director’s chair. Nothing the abramanator has done has ever been worth the price of admission when viewed in hindsight. I doubt that episode nine will be, either.

It is scheduled to be released on December 20th.

wait til it comes to cable

Mark Hamill

Editor’s note. Available streaming from Amazon. As of August 2020, I still haven’t seen it.

Babylon 5: Believers. The Trolley Problem.

This discussion started in the Babylon 5 fan group. There is a rule in the group that disallows all politics and religion that isn’t part of the show from being discussed in the group. If a post strays too far into the real world, the moderators will delete it. I know why moderators do this, but I don’t honestly care. It is unrealistic to expect human beings to be able to separate their beliefs from the entertainment that they enjoy. Especially a show like Babylon 5 or Star Trek, shows that are always tweaking politics and religion in the course of their storytelling. Discuss any episode of the show without straying into weighty matters of philosophy or politics. Go ahead and try.

The long and the short of why I started the article this way is, I have no idea how long the writing I’ve done on the subject will exist within the Facebook group. It just takes one religious zealot, one antitheist, and the thread goes poof. Can you blame me that I want to export the writing so as preserve it?

This image is from the Babylon 5 episode Believers. Here is a link to a synopsis of the episode in case you haven’t seen it or if you don’t want to spend an hour watching the show right now. Also, you should stop reading now if you don’t want any spoilers before you watch the episode, because this article will be full of them.

Still with me? Okay then, here we go. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The OP included this statement with the image, “I still remember how outraged I was when I saw it the first time.” A sentiment that I wholeheartedly endorse. When the episode aired back in 1994 I was furious when the credits rolled. As a young parent myself, I couldn’t imagine how any parent could be so blind as to do what they did in the final scenes. The story revolves around a sick child,

Shon, a young alien boy, has developed a “congested blockage in his upper air passages.” When Dr. Franklin explains to Shon’s parents that Shon’s condition can be cured by a fairly routine surgical procedure, the parents seem bewildered. “You will cut him open?” they ask, and explain that the “Chosen of God” cannot be “punctured” — for their souls will escape.

The main conflict of the episode, above, is introduced in the teaser opening. The show starts this way for a reason, and develops the way it does specifically in service to the moral quandary of the problem. “Oh, but his soul!” say his parents. The soul is unmeasurable, unidentifiable. The soul, for the purposes of this episode, is non-existent. The McGuffin, in scriptwriting terms.

There are other episodes of the show where the soul is treated as a physical or at least detectable energy presence. The episode Soul Hunter, eight episodes before this one in the first series, springs immediately to mind as an example of this. So the problem isn’t that there are no souls in the show, or that the writer, David Gerrold, didn’t flesh out the story well enough. It is simply necessary in this episode that the presence of the soul cannot be detected because if it could be verified as being present after the surgery, then there is no moral quandary. There is no story to tell.

When I ran across the thread discussing the episode it already had over 100 comments. However, in reading through the comments I found a near absence of understanding of the purposeful moral dilemma presented by the story. Comments like this one,

Sorry, but I call BS on that one. “Unmeasurable, unidentifiable; AKA, non-existent.” Is nothing more than an argument to silence. For the vast majority of human history things like cells, atoms, and gravity were “Unmeasurable, unidentifiable;” so they were “AKA, non-existent”, right? Just because it is not (yet) measurable does not mean it does not exist. 

As I have mentioned a number of times about this episode, the reasons for this particular belief were not addressed. That’s either a failure of Franklin or David Gerrold.

His willingness to blame the writer and actor simply reveals his beliefs on this particular subject. His rejection of the argument is far more revealing of his moral rigidity and lack of understanding of the mechanics of storytelling than it is a truthful observation about the episode and the moral quandary that it contains.

Like the trolley problem, there is no right answer to this problem. In the trolley problem you are asked to choose between taking one life or five under varying circumstances. When the problem is framed one way, you predominantly get an answer that underscores utilitarian ethics; i.e. most people will choose to sacrifice one life to save five. However, when the problem is framed another way, usually requiring the person making the decision to take an active physical role in the decision by pushing a person onto the tracks to stop the trolley, as one example, most people will chose to allow the five people to die.

The problem here, narrowly defined, is medical intervention vs. natural selection. The doctor is required to help his patients. He makes a reference to this fact when he alludes to taking a medical oath to do no harm. The good doctor saw his moral obligation as at least attempting to save the child’s life. The child will end up dead no matter what the doctor does. Of course, neither he nor the audience knows this until the reveal at the end.

The parents knew their child was dying. They expected to find him dead when they were summoned back to the medical lab. When he was instead alive and well, they knew that the doctor had violated their beliefs and saved the child against their wishes. So they acted on their beliefs and did what they thought should have been allowed to happen in the first place.

If the soul is measurable, produce a measurement. If it is definable, define it in a way that can be demonstrated empirically. In this specific episode of Babylon 5 there was no measurement, no definition. In the world that we exist in, believers have been trying to prove the existence of the soul for hundreds of years. They have yet to demonstrate a single method for determining the properties of a soul, and yet few humans will step forward and say they have no soul. Why is this? The soul cannot be shown to be real by any measurement that we humans can attempt, and yet we all still believe that we all have a soul. That it is important we not deny the existence of our own souls.

The doctor is certain that the parents will see reason. He is certain about what his moral path is. The parents are certain that their child should be dead. They are certain of their moral path. The conflict is unresolvable, on purpose. You are supposed to question “what is the moral course?”

Delinn asks the only important question “Whose beliefs are the correct ones?” when she refuses to help the parents stop the operation. Whose beliefs are correct, and how do you demonstrate the correctness of your beliefs? What would have happened if the parents had accepted that their child was healthy but unchanged? If they had taken him home to their planet, would the rest of their people have recognized him as a demon on sight? Or would they have blithely accepted that medicine had saved the boy without loosing his soul? They wouldn’t know that he had been cut unless they could sense the change in his body like a soul hunter would in that other episode.

The boy’s parents did know, because they said goodbye to him minutes before he would have died only to return and find him alive and well. But if they could have accepted him, would anyone else have noticed? This was the lesson I learned from the episode and I’ve carried it with me ever since. You cannot save a child from their parents without removing the child from the parents. The separation has to be physical, and the child has to accept that this is the right thing to do. Without that action, without the agreement of the person you are trying to help, you will simply deliver the lamb to the slaughterer at another time and place, and you might as well have not bothered to make the attempt in the first place.

Act or not act, the outcome is the same in this story. The only question is, what was the moral thing to do? I still side with Dr. Franklin. You, however, are free to disagree.

The avalanche has already started; It is too late for the pebbles to vote.

Ambassador Kosh

The Amazon/Ubik Conundrum

I was aghast to discover that I had missed a Philip K. Dick novel the other day. I had shared an image on Facebook that discussed the dangers of pissing off a redhead (or ginger. This image.) something I do every day with the Wife, especially when I point out that her temper proves she is a ginger. That woman can punch hard when she thinks she’s being insulted. However, I’ve seen the carpet a few times in our thirty years of marriage. She’s a ginger. The sun lightens the hair on her head, as it does for most strawberry blondes. But the long-running argument between Red and I wasn’t the subject I wanted to discuss here. Missing from the image was one of my favorite examples of redheads that you really don’t want to piss off, and that is the potentially causality destroying character from the movie Prince of Darkness.

You Are Receiving This Broadcast As A Dream | Prince of Darkness (1987)

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned

The Mourning Bride, by William Congreve

…and she was pretty pissed at the end of that film. With good reason. So anyway, another friend and fan of the ginger set said that the clip reminded him of the novel Ubik by Philip K. Dick. Having never read the book I felt I had to remedy my lack of knowledge and went directly to Amazon.com to see if the book was available on Audible. Then I could read the book and find out what it was that he thought was similar between the book and the movie.

Ever since I started getting vertigo I’ve had a problem with the repetitive back and forth motion of the eyes while reading making me tired and dizzy and potentially bringing on vertigo, So I get books on audio now. I listen to so many books that it pays off to have an Audible account. Aside from having a regular supply of books to have read to me, if I feel like I want to access the text of the book I can get whispersync from Amazon to synchronize between the audiobook and the Kindle book, and that makes the experience a win-win for me no matter how I want to learn something new.

This was one of those instances where I was tempted to get both the Kindle book and the audiobook, especially since the page on Amazon offered me the Kindle book for $3.62 as shown in the header image for this article. Less than four bucks more and I could have the book to read for myself if I felt like reading it! So I bought the book and downloaded both versions to my phone. Then I noticed something odd. The Kindle book was not in English, it was in Romansh. I don’t even know what region of the world Romansh is spoken in, much less speak it myself.

Well, that’s weird. The Ubik page on Amazon’s website is written in English and it doesn’t say anything about the other versions of the book that are listed as being in other languages. Feel free to click the link under the image and see for yourself. There is no way to find the English Kindle book short of looking specifically for the book as a Kindle book and that book is not $3.62 it’s $9.99 (free with kindleunlimited! Another fucking subscription service. Just what I need.) more than twice the price of the Kindle book I was first offered. I know what this is, even though I’ve not seen it too many times before. This is false advertising, and I’ve been taken in by it.

So I started the refund on the Kindle book in a language I can’t read and opened a chat dialog with someone at Amazon so that I could resolve the problem of being sold something that I didn’t want. What I wanted was the book in English, the language the book was originally written in, and I wanted it at the advertised price on the Ubik page on Amazon. I mean, it takes less work to port over the exact type script of the original work than it does to pay someone to translate the book into another language, edit, copyedit, format, etc. the new manuscript into another language. Why was the Kindle book twice the price?

Well, I know why the Kindle book was twice the price, as does every person who deals with the frustration of getting any book in this day and age. Amazon and Apple and just about every other digital book publisher rigs the prices of books through contractual obligations at artificially high prices where they can get away with them, and then offers bargain prices where they cannot gouge the unsuspecting customer. And after an hour or so of arguing with the representative in the Amazon chat service, they conceded I had a legitimate complaint but that they were not contractually able to offer the digital books at the same prices that they offer them at in other countries and for other languages. However, I could get a credit for the difference in price between the two books, and that was the best that they could do for me. So I took the only route available to me and accepted the credit offer. Not that it really made me happy.


Today on Facebook I was offered a memory I may have missed from June 11th, 2018. Hey, it’s been a year and four days since the Amazon/Ubik conundrum. I’ve listened to/read the book now. More than once. I know why the dream sequence reminded my friend of that book. The one unresolved conundrum here is that the webpage for Ubik on Amazon still takes you to the Romansh Kindle version even when you type “Ubik” in a fresh instance on the Amazon store. Even though I returned that book and bought the English version for a final price of $3.62 when the store credit was applied. Even though I helpfully reiterated the potential legal liability that Amazon was opening itself up to by putting a price and no stated language waiver on the combined Ubik page that you land on when you type in Ubik on their home screen.

One whole year later, still not fixed. I saved the chat session logs. I saved the page images. It’s a simple thing to reassemble the entire conundrum, so I figured I’d do that. I mean, I’ve given them a year to fix their programming and they still haven’t done it. I wonder how many Kindle books there are out there that are offered at a lower price in a language other than English, versions that are offered on landing pages when you go looking for a book by its title? Books that are not the books that the shopper is looking for, even though they are tempted to buy the books for the lower price stated, later to have to go through the exact same process I have had to go through? There’s a class action lawsuit in there somewhere for the savvy lawyer to take advantage of. Just send my children the finders fee twenty years from now when the lawsuit settles, would you?


“To clarify, most of the ‘not on service’ shows are available for purchase on Amazon, but are not included with a Prime Video membership,” the analysts wrote. “So, consumers are confusing the streaming service for the Amazon video store.”

Even worse, the firm suggests that “it may be Amazon’s strategy to use Prime Video as a barker channel to upsell consumers to rent or buy the titles they want to see.”

InIn other words, the interface could very well be intentionally set up to prey upon your impulses at exactly the moment when you are most vulnerable. Let’s face it—how else are you going to save this pitiful Saturday night?

Fast Company – Amazon Prime Video is confusing its customers with bait-and-switch tactics, survey shows

Character Investment

Facebook Memories has served up the hack job I did on Star Trek: Beyond when that trailer came out. I’ve run across it more than once now, enough times that I feel I should at least mention how wrong I was about the film somewhere on the blog. The trailer I saw on Facebook, shared on Facebook, was not the first trailer, but trailer number two. This trailer.

Star Trek Beyond | Trailer #2 | Paramount Pictures International

When I shared the trailer I simply paraphrased from Abramantions Multiply: It is still an Abramanation. The possibility of suckage is high.

The damn trailer has the Bad Robot logo on it. I consider that to be fair warning of impending suckage after the disaster that was LOST seasons 4 through 6. I suffered through all of LOST, the Abramanator will not trick me into liking his work again. I tried. I really did. I tried to make sense of those last seasons of LOST. I tried watching the 2009 Star Trek reboot. Then I declared Trek dead. The Nutrek reboots are bad in many ways, as I and others have gone into great detail to describe in the past. Details that long-time readers of this blog will know about. They are bad in ways that a lot of popular movies are bad these days (Star Wars 7. Mad Max 4) but also bad because of the disconnect with the universe that Gene set out to create.

However, I did finally break down and watch Star Trek: Beyond, just as I watched Star Trek: Into Darkness edited for television and wished I could have my two hours back. After watching Star Trek: Beyond I had to admit that not all Nutrek sucks ass to an equal degree. In fact, Star Trek: Beyond really does try to go beyond, to leave all the previous attempts to tell grand movie stories using Star Trek as a vehicle, and just try to do a Star Trek story as a movie.

Simon Pegg penned a decent little story when he wrote the script. The actors playing the parts delivered their usual best work; and since they weren’t working from the Abramantors crap scripts, the resulting blockbuster spectacle is pretty watchable from just about any perspective that you might come to it. It’s not even bad Trek, per se. There are some points that I might object to from a purist standpoint, but those points can be overruled by watching any number of classic episodes that diverged from Gene Roddenberry’s strict guidelines for how the Trek universe manifested itself. At least one of the episodes that breaks his rules is one he wrote himself. So there are flaws that a purist might take exception to, but anyone trying to watch it with disbelief suspended and a willingness to let the story progress unprotested (how to approach watching any film) will probably walk out of a showing counting it as time well spent.

So, apologies to the cast and crew of Star Trek Beyond. For the first time since First Contact they produced a show that was truly worth watching. They produced a payoff for all the fans who have hung on through decades of bad filmmaking. The characters we’ve loved since the sixties finally felt like they might actually be the same characters that we fell in love with, even though they were portrayed by different actors.

Paramount should try to make sure that Abrams’ company logo does not appear on any more Star Trek properties if they want to win fans back to the show. Abrams has burned too many bridges among the fan community to be welcome even producing films that have any kind of fan following. This should have been clear after the failure of Star Trek: Into Darkness. When he screwed up Star Wars after screwing up Star Trek, it has to be painfully obvious that he screws up everything he touches.

I mentioned it more than once on Facebook.

But when all is said and done, it’s just another summer dark ride. Lots of great stuff to look at, lots of things exploding, lots of spectacular FX, and when it’s over, you get out of the chair and go pee. There’s not a lot here to argue about. There’s no moral dilemma.

What attracted me to classic Trek is that the show was about something. Every episode had a chunk of idea in it, big enough to chew on for a while.

Too much of what passes for entertainment today is about justifying cruelty to someone else. Not enough is about sitting down and finding a way to avoid the violence.

And I wonder if that’s a reflection of what we’ve become … or one of the reasons we’ve become what we’ve become.

David Gerrold

Firefly Online

Allan Steele‘s in-game tribute planet. No relation.

I had some real hope once that this game would eventually see the light of day. Sadly it’s been four years now since its announcement, and there hasn’t been any news of the games continued existence as a work in progress since 2016. Rumor has it that the licensing has run out on the project and the game will likely never be released because FOX is possibly looking to restart the Firefly universe with a new version of the series in 2020. I guess that is a faint hope to hold onto.

h/t to thezombiechimp.com for the info and the links. There are a lot more images of ingame content at that link.

Firefly Online First Look Trailer From Comic Con 2013 – Gamerhubtv

This was the article that I ran across in 2013, archived on the Wayback Machine.

Firefly Online Facebook image from 2015