The purpose of this blog is to have a little fun. It is NOT to start arguments. I don't profess to be an expert on Sci-fi, nor do I aspire to become an expert. You are welcome to comment on any and all content you find here. If my opinion differs from yours, as far as I am concerned, it's all okay. I will never say that you are wrong because you disagree with me, and I expect the same from those that comment here. Also, my audience on the blog will include some young people. Please govern your language when posting comments.

Posts will hopefully be regular based on the movies I see, the television shows I watch, and the books I read as well as what ever strikes me as noteworthy.

Spoilers will appear here and are welcome.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Avengers: Age Of Ultron - The Age Of Marvel Continues To Create Greatness

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

It has been said over many years that lightning never strikes twice in the same place. We know that, scientifically speaking, this is not true.  However in the movie industry, more often than not, it is true. In this age of movie making that is replete with sequels, prequels, and remakes, it seems that for the most part, when there is a great movie, it is usually followed by another film that is less than what is expected. But as we all know, there are exceptions to almost every rule, and Marvel would seem to have figured out how to make movies that are consistently as good as, if not better than the ones that come before their previous efforts.

Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron is once again proof that lightning, at least as far as movies are concerned, can not only strike twice, but multiple times.  What is it with this studio?  They seem to have hit on a formula, or some device that has brought hit after hit to the big screen. I’m not complaining, mind you, but it is impressive.

Age of Ultron opens with a massive battle scene that finds the Avengers advancing on a large castle-like structure that houses a Hydra outpost.  Inside is Baron von Strucker who has been working on enhancing human abilities using Loki’s scepter. The result of his experimentation are a brother and sister duo Pietro (Quicksilver) with the power of super speed, and Wanda (Scarlet Witch) who can manipulate minds and throw energy bursts.  After the running battle, Tony Stark captures Loki’s scepter and all return to Stark’s tower that has become the base of operations for the Avengers.

While analyzing the sceptre, Stark and Banner discover an artificial intelligence and use it to complete Stark’s global defence program that he calls Ultron.  What they don’t know is that the artificial intelligence that they discover is also sentient and Ultron’s mission is global defence through the elimination of all humankind.

As the Avengers relax during a victory party, Ultron eliminates Stark’s own artificial intelligence, Jarvis and becomes more powerful and crashes the party.  Ultron then escapes with the sceptre and returns to von Strucker’s former base.  While there, he enhances himself and builds an army of robot drones.  Ultron also recruits the enhanced twins who are seeking revenge against Stark for the killing of their parents via the use of weapons that were developed by Stark Industries.

The twins head to Wakanda to obtain vibranium (the substance that is used in Captain America’s shield) and meet with an arms dealer.  When the Avengers arrive and try to stop them, Wanda subdues them with visions of doom, except for the Hulk, who goes on a blind rampage.  Stark is forced to use a new enhanced armor to subdue the Hulk, but not before there is a significant amount of destruction. This results in a backlash of negative public opinion against the superheroes and that, combined with the disturbing visions planted by Wanda, send the team into hiding at Clint Barton’s (Hawkeye) home.

During the downtime in the country, Thor departs to consult with Dr. Selvig about the visions he is having and Banner realizes an attraction for Natasha, and she is also attracted to him.  They make plans to leave together once Ultron is defeated.  Nick Fury arrives on the scene with encouragement to keep the team working together to make a plan to defeat Ultron.

Meanwhile, in South Korea, with the help of Wanda, Ultron forces Banner’s friend, Dr. Cho to create the perfect body for him using her synthetic tissue technology, vibranium and the gem from the sceptre.  While Ultron uploaded himself into the new body, Wanda reads his mind and discovers his plan for the destruction of humanity and the twins turn against him.  Before ultron can complete his task, Captain America, Natasha and Hawkeye track Ultron down and take the synthetic body, but Ultron manages to escape with Natasha.

Stark reveals that Jarvis is not actually gone as was thought, but was hiding the entire time inside the internet, and he secretly uploads Jarvis into the synthetic body and Thor returns to activate the body with lightning.  Thor then explains that the gem that has been placed on the forehead of the body is actually the Mind Stone, one of the six Infinity Stones, and one of the most powerful objects in the universe.  Thor further explains that the Mind Stone was part of his vision and thus the body is called Vision.

The twins and Vision accompany the Avengers to Skovia where Ultron has used the remaining vibranium to create a machine to lift a giant piece of the city high into the atmosphere and then plunge in back onto the surface of the Earth causing global extinction.  While the landmass rises into the air, Banner rescues Natasha and she helps him turn into the Hulk and get ready to fight.  In the meantime, Nick fury arrives with a Helicarrier to evacuate the people off of the landmass.  Pietro takes fire that is intended for Barton, who is holding a child, and is killed in doing so.  This sends Wanda into a rage of grief and she releases an energy burst that destroys many of Ultron’s drones and causes damage to Ultron himself, but is also allows one of his his other drones to activate the machine Ultron is using to destroy humanity. The landmass begins to fall to Earth, but Stark and Thor arrive and manage to overload the machine, shattering the landmass before it can hit.  Vision saves Wanda and confronts what is left of Ultron.

In the closing scenes of the movie, the Hulk takes a Quinjet and leaves on his own, leaving Natasha behind instead of them getting away together as they had planned.  The Avengers establish a new base in Upstate New York under the direction of Fury, Hill, Cho and Selvig.  Stark drives away talking like he is retiring, and Hawkeye returns to his family. Captain America and Natasha begin the training of a new team of Avengers consisting of War Machine, Wanda, Vision, and Falcon.

The only easter egg in the credits shows Thanos vowing to hunt for all of the infinity stones himself.

There was a lot I liked about this film. In the past, I have bashed on the Tony Stark character as portrayed by Robert Downey Jr.  In the Iron Man films, I thought that he was way too flippant and constantly cracking wise.  As I recall, I said that the Iron Man films seemed like a two hour Downey Jr. stand-up comedy act.  It wasn't as much that in the last Avengers film, but then, he didn't get as much screen time. In Age of Ultron though, I was happier with the character.  While he still had his arrogance and some of his flippant tendencies intact, he seemed more flawed and more human, and more serious about the situation. I even found myself liking Star for the first time since he began appearing in the more recent Marvel films.

I also loved, as always, Scarlett Johansson's portrayal of Natasha.  But this time, she comes across also as a character who is very human.  I enjoyed the scenes that she and Banner had together.  Banner wants to simply get away because he is appalled by what he becomes when he transforms into the Hulk, an apparently out of control, unstoppable force of destruction.  He just wants to go someplace where he can enjoy peace and quiet and not become his alter ego.  Natasha is similarly tired of the constant adventuring and wants to get away making the two kindred spirits.  In this film, we get some of Natasha's backstory; we learn that she was sterilized to prevent her from thinking about her emotional side that might prevent her from being the stone cold killer she was trained to be.  In the scene where she explains this to Banner and they talk about their getaway, Natasha begins to tear-up and seems on the verge of losing it, but she doesn't quite let go.  In my mind, this was one of the best and most human scenes in the movie, showing that there is a human side to the characters, and that there is indeed more depth to them.

A sequence that I also loved was the victory party at the tower after the capture of Loki's scepter.  Especially when everyone tried to lift Thor's hammer from the table.  No one was able to do it, but one character was able to make it move a bit, and Thor looked on with a bit of worry on his face.  As part of one of the running gags during the film, Vision DID lift the hammer and hand it to Thor later in the movie, and the look on Hemsworth's face made everyone in the theater chuckle.  I'll also say that the other running gag involved Captain America's concern with Iron Man's tendency to use some more colorful metaphors.

I thought that this was a well balanced film.  There was plenty of action and plenty of story in equal parts and the time went by so fast, it certainly didn't seem like it was almost two and a half hours long.

I do only have one, very small and nitpicky complaint; the action scenes and the scene changes go by so fast that there isn't really time to digest everything one sees on the screen. I am pretty sure that no one can see everything in a Marvel film in just one viewing, so whether it is a shortcoming of the editing process, or a ploy to get patrons to go and see the film more than once, it is just a small thing, because even if I cannot make it to the theater to see this a second time, I will be getting this on BluRay so I can see it again.

I will conclude by saying that I truly enjoyed this film.  I found it entertaining on many levels, and if you are reading this and have not been to the theater to see Age of Ultron, or are waiting for it to come out on one of the digital services, please be advised that these films are made for the big screen and you will be doing yourself a disservice if you do not see it in a theater.

Well, there it is...


Monday, April 27, 2015

David Gerrold's The Voyage Of The Star Wolf - Great Story As Recommended By The Author Himself

The Voyage Of The Star Wolf By David Gerrold

A couple of weeks ago, while I was looking at my Facebook feed, I saw David Gerrold was talking about writing and reading sci-fi.  Now usually, when Mr. Gerrold posts something, there are usually hundreds of responses and I never asked him a question I had been meaning to ask for some time because I thought it would get lost in the shuffle, or that it would be off the topic for which he was addressing.

This time though, it seemed like a good opportunity to ask "if one wanted to read some David Gerrold space opera, what would be a good book to start with?"  I got an almost immediate response from Mr. Gerrold himself telling me that a good one to start with is his The Voyage of the Star Wolf. So I grabbed it for my Kindle and began to read.  Within the first pages, I was engaged in the story and really hated to stop reading whenever real life interfered.

Star Wolf is the story of the first officer of the liberty ship LS-1187, Jon Korie. Korie is a good man who gets along well with his captain and crew.  When this particular voyage is over, acting as an escort of a convoy, the current captain is standing down and everyone on board the LS-1187 expects that he will be taking over as captain.  As the LS-1187 arrives on station for their escort duty, the convoy is attacked by a giant warship called the Dragon Lord.  The convoy is decimated and the LS-1187 is left adrift in space, barely operational and quite unable to defend itself.  In the attack, the current captain is incapacitated and it is up to Korie to take command and get his ship and crew safely home. Using his wits and crew, the LS-1187 Does indeed manage to get home, but they do not arrive to a hero's welcome as expected.  As a matter of fact, Korie is thoroughly dressed down by an admiral and told that he is not a particularly a good first officer and would not be offered a command.  After offering his resignation several times, he is sent back to the ship to begin making repairs and to wait for a new commander.

In this universe, the ships have to earn their names, and the LS-1187 has done nothing in it's three years of existence to have any other designation other than its registry number, and from the description of the way that work proceeds for repairs, it would appear that this isn't going to change. Everyone on board, as well as those that are in command of the fleet, believe that the LS-1187 is a jinxed ship.  A member of the crew is assigned to rid the ship of its evil spirit by performing some kind of weird voodoo-like ceremony, and of course, that is the moment that the new commander, Captain Hardesty chooses to come on board and take command. Along with Hardesty, comes several officers that are very good at their jobs.

Hardesty wastes no time in explaining his command philosophy and tells Korie that he is not a good first officer, but he will be before it is all said and done.  The new captain order that the ship be cleaned up and all systems repaired, whether they need it or not.  Thanks to his hard-nosed style, Hardesty manages to get the LS-1187 into top shape to reenter the fight with the Morethans.

The Morethans are a race of humans that have been enhanced in every way (in other words they are "more-than" human, thus the name).  They are faster, stronger, more intelligent, and far more ruthless than humans, and have come to think of them as something to be eliminated as a nuisance. The Morethans have not only been enhanced, but they continually enhance themselves in any way they can, including taking any technology that the humans come up with to try to gain an advantage.

Meanwhile, Hardesty manages to get the LS-1187 back into the war with a mission.  They must rescue the James Burke, a liberty ship that has been outfitted with some enhancements that the Morethans would love to get their hands on.  So it is a race for control of the Burke.  On one side it is the LS-1187 and on the other, it is the very dangerous Dragon Lord.

I enjoyed this story because of its many facets.  When I first started reading, I thought it would be about the struggle that Korie faced getting his ship home, playing hide and seek with the Dragon Lord, but then there was the first surprise with Korie getting dressed down by his commanders, and I felt that Korie, while resourceful and intelligent, was really kind of a pathetic commander and agreed that he probably didn't have the "right stuff" to command a starship in a war against such a ruthless enemy.  He needed some intense training, and got it from Hardesty. [There are several stories within the overall story, but it is so well written that it flows and I had no trouble keeping everything straight. Each chapter of the book is titled and stays on the topic specifically; the chapters are also quite short with no wandering off the subject in each which makes it easy to put down and come back to later with no loss of continuity.  In short, it is one of the best organized books I have ever read.

The main character of the story, Korie is not perfect by any means, he is very human with many flaws that he must deal with in his journey to become a commander in his own right. He has a tendency to second guess himself often and also seems to have a knee-jerk reaction to situations that could get him in trouble.  Korie has some good people skills, but he needs to work on his command skills.  As his former captain tells him before he succumbs to his injuries in the opening chapters of the book, he tries not to lie to his crew, but he soon learns that sometimes being command also means not being honest with the crew all of the time, and he really struggles with this. I found that I could relate to Korie in a personal way because I myself am not perfect, but then, who is?

When I read a book, I want the author to paint pictures with words without being wordy about it. That is another reason that Star Wolf appeals to me. While I read this, I could visualize the descriptions of the ships and the people with no effort and without finding my mind wandering and waiting to get back to the action.  Word-pictures is a skill that Gerrold displays in abundance in this story and allowed me to be entertained without having to filter out a lot of the static that I find in many other stories that I have read.

In short, I would give this story my highest recommendations to read The Voyage of the Star Wolf and I am also very eager to read the other stories in this series to see how Commander Korie grows as a commander and as a person.

Well, there it is...


Sunday, April 19, 2015

I Am Legend - A Comparative Study Of The Book And Three Films Based On Richard Matheson's Work

Not long ago, I posted on Facebook that Chrissy and I had watched the film, I Am Legend starring Will Smith.  I asked Chrissy what she thought of the movie and she said she liked it.  As happens from time to time, I get responses from my fellow Sci-Fi fans.  One friend that I have a great deal of respect for, Rick (host of two of my favorite podcasts, Starbase 66 and Ray Guns and Go Go Boots) chimed in and said that I should have her read the original novel I Am Legend by Richard Matheson and then see what she thinks. Well, I took this as a challenge to me and decided that it was about time I read the novel.  I have heard from many people that the Will Smith film was nowhere near as good as the book and had missed the point entirely.

As I was reading online about the film and the novel, I discovered that there were two other films that were also based on Matheson's novel.  So on to Amazon I went and ordered the novel and the other two movies; The Last Man On Earth and The Omega Man.

Since then, I have read the novel and watched all three movies and would like to share my thoughts on my experience.

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson (1954)

Robert Neville seems to be the only living person in Los Angeles.  Owing to dust storms and mosquitoes that carry a disease (the result of a war that included the use of biological weapons), everyone else has either died or have been turned into “vampires” that attack anything living, or even each other.  The vampires only come out at night, are repelled by mirrors, wreaths of garlic, and crosses, and Neville takes it upon himself to rid the world of them, or at least his part of the world so he can live in peace.

By day, Neville goes about the business of gathering things he needs to continue living and the grim task of killing and disposing of the bodies of the infected by driving wooden stakes into the hearts of those that would kill him.  By night, he barely holds on to his sanity by listening to loud music, drinking, and trying to ignore the taunts of the monsters that would kill him and make him like them.

By teaching himself science, he learns to separate the myth from the facts that cause the insanity of the vampires and he attempts to discover a cure, but nothing seems to work.

As Neville goes about his business, he finds a woman wandering around in the daylight and becomes very excited that he has found someone else who was immune to the bacteria as he is.  He sees, after three years of surviving alone, an opportunity for some companionship. Unfortunately, this is not to be because Ruth turns out to be a spy for a group of vampires that were not dead when they were infected.  They are not insane like the resurrected stalkers that taunt Neville in the night, and they have come up with a medicine that will allow them to start a new society.

For a moment, Neville feels that there is hope that he might be able to be a part of this new society, but thanks to his daily activity, he has not only dispatched the “dead” vampires, he has also killed many of the “living” vampires, including Ruth’s husband.  So the new society sees Neville as the monster. He has become the superstition, the legend that needs to be removed before the new society can continue.

I really enjoyed this book.  Almost as soon as I started reading it, I thought “this sounds like an episode of the Twilight Zone,” and why wouldn’t I, since Richard Matheson wrote sixteen episodes for that series, two of those were teleplays based on his short stories.  But that isn’t the only reason I enjoyed it, I loved the style of Matheson’s writing here.  I could see the pictures that he was describing in my mind as I read the story.  The descriptions of the things he put on paper were quite vivid, but not overly wordy.  Many times, descriptions of scenes in books tend to be too long and overly detailed, but in I Am Legend, there is more left to the imagination of the reader, and the action moves ahead at a comfortable pace.

While Matheson uses the term “vampires” to refer to his characters, as one reads we learn that he is not talking about vampires in the Dracula sense of the word.  Matheson’s vampires are more zombies than anything because they are not motivated by taking the blood of others as much as trying to get at him to kill him to perhaps assimilate him into their ranks.  Some of the vampires in this story are resurrected dead being reanimated by the bacteria that keep them moving while dead.  The vampires that eventually take over are the ones that are still alive, and have developed a medicine that keeps the bacteria from killing them while they appear to evolve into a new kind of human.  The living vampires are able to think, procreate, have meaningful relationships, and tolerate sunlight for short periods of time.

Very little time is devoted to the reasons for what has happened.  I found myself wondering about the war that brought this situation about.  Who was fighting with whom? Why did the war start?  Who developed the biological agent that was so virulent that it could be transmitted by wind and infect so many people.  As I read the story, these details were not important to the story.  Perhaps other authors would have found it necessary to fill in those blanks, but this was not about a war as much as it was a character study of a survivor.

In the end, it seems that the message of the story is what is important.  While we have a great deal of sympathy for the protagonist because of how he lost his family and his way of life, and he is so desperate for companionship, and is bent on survival that I found myself rooting for him at every page turn, but then there is the plot twist.  While the bacteria swept humanity away, room was being made for another type of humanity.  Neville went from being our hero to being seen as the monster, a legendary figure that went about killing people in their sleep.  When one mentions the word vampire, people do not think about the bats that prey on unsuspecting animals and people in Central and South America, rather we call up images of Count Dracula, a sinister, blood craving monster who attacks young women in their sleep to enslave them.  But, with Neville finally in the minority roaming through Los Angeles killing with purpose and impunity, becomes the monster, the Legend.

Since the publication of the novel, there have been three feature films that are based on Matheson’s story.  One of the three is very close to what Matheson’s intentions were, and two which are very loosely based on I Am Legend.

The Last Man On Earth (1964)

This film, an Italian production starring Vincent Price as Dr. Robert Morgan, opens with several scenes of a devastated city devoid of any signs of life.  Morgan goes about life moving through the city section by section killing as many vampires as he can and locking himself away in his home at night.  He uses mirrors and wreaths of garlic to help protect himself from a friend who appears to lead a number of vampires that try to break into his house and kill him all night.

Not long into the film, there is an extensive history depicting how he lost his family and friend to the plague. He stops by on his way to work to pick up his friend, Cortman to go into the lab where he and other scientists are looking for a cure to the plague. Cortman has become paranoid and refuses to leave his house and when Morgan arrives at the lab, he and the director are the only two there.  After leaving instructions that his wife not call a doctor to treat their infected daughter, Morgan arrives him to find a truck leaving the neighborhood and he learns that she has been taken away to be burned in a huge pit.  When his wife eventually succumbs to the plague, he takes her out and buries her in a shallow grave only to have her return as one of the vampires.

Morgan, desperate for companionship sees a dog and tries to befriend it.  While chasing the animal, he finds that there are many vampires that have been staked to the ground with metal spears.  He begins to wonder if he is actually alone. When the dog returns to his house, he is able to take it in and treats it’s wounds only to find that it is also infected.  He takes the dog out to be buried.  As he places the final spades of soil on the poor animal, he spots a woman wandering aimlessly.  When he calls to her, she bolts and he gives chase, finally catching her and convincing her that he means her no harm.

Morgan soon learns that she is infected and decides to treat her with a blood transfusion, which seems to work, but she has actually been sent to spy on him and deliver information to others of her group of living vampires that are using a drug that keeps the plague in check and allows them to remain human.  Learning that Morgan isn’t the monster they thought he was, she warns him that her fellow people of the “new society” are coming after him and will kill him.  She advises Morgan to escape while he can, but he refuses telling her that they can use his, and her blood to cure others.

But the others are not interested because the legend of Morgan has caused them so much fright, they chase him into a church where he is killed.

Of the films that were made, this is the one that comes closest to the Matheson novel.  I also learned that Matheson himself had written the screenplay, but with some of the changes that were made to the script, he insisted that he not be credited as the film’s writer except under the pen name Logan Swanson.  I think that this might be due, at least in part to the somewhat long section of the plot that is devoted to the flashbacks to the loss of his family. The back story was not as extensive in the book.  It seems that the filmmaker was making an attempt to create sympathy beyond what was intended, giving Morgan (Neville) a motivation beyond that of simple survival and trying to find a cure for the vampires.

The film itself does stand up as what I would consider a good ‘B’ movie, entertaining to watch and engaging in the plot. For the most part, Vincent Price turns in a good performance.  I especially liked that it was shot in Black and White which added much to the mood of the piece.  I would recommend this as a fun popcorn movie to watch later in the evening. For me, the most disturbing scene was when Morgan’s wife appeared at their home following her resurrection.

The Omega Man - 1971

Robert Neville is once again under siege in this second film starring Charlton Heston.  Only this time, Neville is a U.S. Army Colonel that is also a medical doctor.  Thanks to a war between China and Russia, a plague is released that infects people on a global basis.  Neville gains an immunity thanks to a serum that was developed in his lab. Apparently, he was the only one that achieved an immunity and he goes about the business of killing members of a cult of albinos that call themselves the Family.  The members of the Family have a low tolerance to light and have lost the pigment in their skin. Neville has few worries while he lives in an apartment building that he has fortified.  He has all of the luxuries that he could want, except for companionship.

One day, while in a department store looking for clothing, he sees a woman.  He tries to pursue her, but she disappears and Neville dismisses the incident as a hallucination.  Later, he is captured by the Family and put on trial.  The leader of the Family, Matthias, sentences him to death for heresy.  It appears that the Family is opposed to technology and anything else that the old world has to offer.  Just before he is burned at the stake in a stadium, the woman he saw, Lisa and a former medical student named Dutch Intervenes and helps him escape.

Lisa and Dutch are part of a small group of people who are being spared from becoming mutants, but will eventually succumb.  Neville learns that Lisa's brother is infected and he helps to try cure him.

One evening, due to being distracted by events in curing Lisa's brother, and because of Lisa herself, the generator that supplies Neville's apartment with electricity runs out of fuel and the lights go out.  The Family takes advantage of this situation and sends a member with a spear up to kill Neville. While Neville tries to restart the Generator, the cult member draws bead on Lisa, but Neville arrives back in his apartment in time to shoot and kill the intruder.

Soon, Lisa's brother, Richie as cured and recovering proving that Neville was successful at recreating the serum that made him immune to the plague.  Richie takes it on himself to approach Mattias to explain that there is a cure for everyone, but Matthias refuses to believe that Neville would be willing to help the cult and kills Richie.  When Neville finds Ritchie, he goes on a rampage against the Family.

Meanwhile, Lisa changes into a mutant and betrays Neville giving the Family access to his apartment.  When Neville arrives home, he watches from the street as Matthias orders Neville's apartment burned.  Neville raises a weapon to shoot Matthias, but it jams, and Neville is hit in the chest with a spear thrown by another member of the Family.  Neville falls, mortally wounded into a fountain, but before he dies, he hands a flask full of the serum to Dutch, who gathers the rest of his group and flees to the mountains.

When I watched this last week, it was the first time I had seen it.  It is most definitely a product of its time in the 1970's and as a science fiction/horror movie, is virtually unwatchable by today's standards.  This film, while it has a few similarities to the novel by Matheson, there aren't enough to come even close to the spirit of the book.  Of the three films, this one is the farthest from what was intended by the author, who had nothing to do with it.

Heston's performance is overdone, as it usually is, and instead of winding up as the legendary monster who is to be eliminated by the new society, he comes off as a more Christ-like figure, as he is also wont to do in many other films he stars in (such as Planet of the Apes and Soylent Green).

This film misses the mark by so much that I can only wonder if the filmmakers even bothered to read Matheson's I Am Legend; I certainly do have my doubts.

I Am Legend - 2007

Will Smith stars in this film that is set in New York as opposed to Los Angeles.  He is Robert Neville, a virologist in the Army. The virus in this film was intended to be a cure for cancer that accidentally began killing people or turning them into Darkseekers.  The Darkseekers hide inside buildings by day to avoid exposure to ultraviolet light, which kills them. The foe in this film is very aggressive and have greatly enhanced abilities such as strength and speed.

Neville lives in a virtual fortress that looks like a normal apartment by day, but when he prepares for the night, all exposure to the outside world is locked off.  The Darkseekers do not know his location.  In his basement, he has set up an elaborate lab where he tests possible cures on rats and Darkseekers.

In a brief flashback scene, Manhattan is being evacuated. Neville sends his wife and daughter away on a helicopter, which crashes.  Neville elected to stay behind to work on a cure for the plague.

As Neville moves around the city during the day, he is accompanied by his companion, a German shepherd named Sam.  He also makes daily broadcasts seeking any other survivors on a shortwave radio.

While working in his lab, Neville discovers a promising treatment that is derived from his own blood, so he sets about capturing a Darkseeker to test it.  He secures a female specimen, but unfortunately, his treatment doesn't work.  The next day, Neville is accidentally snared in a trap set by the Darkseekers.  He manages to free himself from the trap, but it is after dark and he and Sam are attacked by Darkseeker dogs and people.  Both escape, but Sam is bitten and becomes infected.  Neville is forced to kill Sam.

The next night, Neville is incensed by the loss of his only companion and in a fit of suicidal rage, ventures out and attacks a large group of Darkseekers.  Neville is nearly killed, but is rescued by a pair of immune survivors who heard his calls on his shortwave set.  They take him back to his apartment where he is treated.  The survivors tell him about a camp in Vermont where other survivors are located. Unknown to Neville and the woman, Darkseekers have followed them back to Neville's home and now know his location.

As Neville administers another treatment to the Darkseeker he has been using as a test subject, his home is attacked and defenses breached by the Darkseekers.  Neville and the survivors retreat into the basement lab where they seal themselves in with the test subject where Neville learns that his treatment is successful.  He takes a vial of blood from the subject, gives it to the survivors and sends them out the coal chute.  When a Darkseeker breaks into the part of the lab where Neville is, he detonates a grenade killing himself and his attackers.

The survivors drive to Vermont and in the final scene of the movie, they enter the survivor camp with the blood sample.

I will mention that there is also an alternative ending in which Neville also survives to reach the Vermont camp.

Once again, the entire point of the Matheson story is completely missed with this version, and I think that it was a bit presumptuous of the filmmakers to use the title of the book as the title for the film.  It is misleading and would tend to make one think that this would be a more accurate accounting of the original story.  I think that this one item angered a lot of people who went to the theater or rented the movie expecting to finally see Matheson's story played out on the screen.

But I am not saying that it was a bad movie, quite the contrary.  I loved this film when I first saw it in the theater and still do (please keep in mind that I went into the theater with no expectations and hadn't read Matheson's I Am Legend until just a couple of weeks ago).

Will Smith turns in one of the best performances of his career as far as I am concerned and showed his depth as a great, but underrated actor.  He is very convincing and shows many facets of all of what a great actor is capable of.  There are a few brief moments of humor, some moments of a man who is going over the edge for the lack of human companionship, a very poignant moment of deep loss when Sam becomes infected, and some "edge of your seat" moments of horror when the Darkseekers attack.  The visual effects are well done and I especially loved the scene at the beginning of the film when Neville and Sam are hunting a deer, the streets are overgrown with weeds and an escaped lion gets the deer he is stalking.

When I decided to do this comparative study, I thought I would also ask anyone interested to comment on Facebook. I received responses from three people who had some interesting things to say.

My son, Benjamin said:

“The only movie I can say anything about is the I Am Legend one. Haven't seen any of the rest of them. Not really true to the book.

“As far as Matheson's point? What I took away from it is no matter how certain we are that we are right, we may be the monster. In every war, someone has to be the bad guy, right? It's always the other guy. A person could never realize, in any situation, that their cause is not righteous until it's too late.

“Even knowing it's 'based on,' I still love the movie. It's too bad it's always "the book was better," or "it wasn't like the book." Kind of unfair comparing the two mediums. When I want to think and use my brain, I read a book. When I want a story to move me emotionally with images, and music, I look for a movie. Not to say that these are mutually exclusive in any way. But that's just how I operate.”

Dayton Ward, a great author in his own right said:

“I absolutely love the novel. It's one of my all time favorite books.

“I think the first movie is the most faithful adaptation so far as the basic premise, etc. Smith's version is actually pretty decent in the early going, before the whole thing starts to come off the rails.

“And Heston's version is just...well, it was the 70s.”

Joseph Fuller, Facebook friend and fellow sci-fi fan submitted this:

1. "Faithful to the idea, yes.

2. "Matheson’s main/ ultimate point, in my opinion at least, nature can’t be controlled by man no matter how hard they try.

3. "First off, when I saw the trailer and the first thing that popped in my head was they have remade “I AM LEGEND”. Either it is a “good” film is truly up to the person viewing it. Did I think it was a good movie, no and here is my reasoning? It depended heavy on its visuals. They seemed to me to want to shock the viewer with the sheer scale of the emptiness.

"This now my opinion of the three movies are as follows:

"THE LAST MAN ON EARTH : it’s screenplay was written by the author under another name.
The overall premise I think was closer the book.( I Haven’t read the book.) there are parts I wondered if anyone was actually thinking of what they were filming."

Thanks to those of you that responded.

My conclusions are as follows:

None of the three films are faithful to Matheson’s idea, however The Last Man On Earth does come the closest to being an accurate screen depiction of the book.  Where that one deviates is in the realization by Morgan (Neville) that he has become the legend that he has fought against for so long.  He fails to see that while he believes he is right in what he is doing, killing the “vampires,” he has become the monster that he feared for so long.  Morgan’s final words as he falls at the end of the film are “you are all freaks.”  As to the other two films, they are very very loosely based on the book, as is the case in many films that are based on written stories.  I am okay with that for the most part, but the title I Am Legend is the representation of what the Neville character realizes as he faces his death, and it should be the central point of a film that is made to accurately represent the story.

The Omega Man would seem to be more of a film that is showcasing Heston than anything else.  Maybe an attempt to cash in on his success in Planet of the Apes.  It is more of a campy version that sets up Neville as a savior figure than anything else.  He makes the ultimate sacrifice, giving his life to save humanity as we know it while opposing the cult that rejects everything that is considered normal.  Once again, the main character never realizes what he has become in the eyes of those that oppose him.

The 2007 film starring Will Smith would appear to be a mashup of the previous two films.  While I think it is a good movie, I also think that, since the filmmakers missed the point, they should have perhaps given the film a different title, or just called it a remake of the first film.

Well, there it is…


Sunday, March 29, 2015

More Babylon 5 Essential Reading - Legions Of Fire Trilogy by Peter David - It Fills The Hole In Your Mind

At the end of the fifth season of Babylon 5, there were many questions that had been answered through the course of the series, but there were many questions left unanswered too.

When the series began, Londo was but a foppish buffoon that was put in a position of Ambassador on Babylon 5, a position that was, at first, not considered important by his own government.  When the Centauri sent Londo an aide, it turned out to be another seemingly buffoon named Vir Cotto. Londo debauched and drank through life on the station, not taking his job, or himself very seriously.  Then one day, a mysterious stranger named Morden approached Londo and asked what would normally be an innocent question.

Morden asked several of the ambassadors on the station the same question and got a variety of answers.  “What do you want?” seems such a small question, but when Morden asked Londo that question, and after trying to dismiss Morden out of hand, Londo actually gave an answer that started him down a path lined with the deaths of millions of beings.  Londo, in essence stated that he wanted to see his people restored to their former prominence in the galaxy.  Mr. Morden apparently had the resources to help Londo achieve that goal, but the cost was high.

Little did Londo know, but he had made a deal with the Devil, as sure as the legendary Faust did.

At any rate, at the end of the series, Londo had become Emperor of the devastated Centauri Republic faced with the task of rebuilding in the aftermath of what the Shadows had left behind.  Londo makes the supreme sacrifice to save what is left of his Republic by allowing agents of the Shadows, the Drakh, to place a Keeper on his shoulder that would monitor his every move and every thought.  When we last see Londo, he seems appears as a lonely and despondent ruler who is at the mercy of those that will rebuild the Centauri republic in their own image.

So what happened to Londo after that last scene in the television series?  What happened to Vir and how does he rise to become Emperor of the Centauri Republic?  And what of that vision that we saw during the series with Londo and G’Kar choking the life out of each other?  Those answers are explored in this three book series penned by Peter David.

The Long Night Of Centauri Prime: Book I Of The Legions Of Fire Series By Peter David (1998)

At the end of the series, Londo has become Emperor of Centauri Prime, but he also comes under the influence of the Drakh, agents of the Shadows who are determined to continue the agenda of their former masters.  The Drakh have planted nuclear explosives all over Centauri Prime and threaten to destroy the planet unless Londo submits to taking on a creature known as a Keeper.  This Keeper will watch every move that Londo makes as well as monitor every thought he has.  After Londo makes a speech to the Centauri people in the form of a giant hologram, telling his people that they will once again become the great society that they once were, he decides to take a walk around the city.

As Londo walks, he contemplates suicide, when he is suddenly struck in the head by a rock.  It is soon discovered that the person who threw the projectile was Senna, the daughter of Lord Refa, who has taken up residence with a family of refugees.  Londo offers her a place in his palace. When she refuses to accept his offer, Londo returns to his palace and learns that if he drinks enough, he can dull the senses of his Keeper and have time to himself.  He decides to take an opportunity to carry out his suicide plan.  Before he is able to complete his plan, his Captain of the Guard, Durla, escorts Senna into the room.  Circumstances have caused Senna to change her mind and take Londo up on his offer. This causes Londo to also have a change of heart; he believes that if he can save just one person on Centauri Prime, perhaps he will be able to make the difference that his people need.

The Drakh who is manipulating Londo, Shiv’kala, orders Londo to promote Durla to Minister of Internal Security.  At first Londo refuses, but Shiv’kala threatens to eliminate Senna if he doesn’t comply.  Durla is promoted and begins to advance his own agenda, transforming Centauri Prime into a police state that uses ruthless methods to keep order.

Meanwhile, on Babylon 5, the Drakh continue their plot to smash the Alliance with an attempt on the life of President Sheridan.  Thanks to Vir, this plot fails.  Vir then travels to Centauri Prime to investigate what is going on and is approached by Techno-Mages.

Vir knows that there is something going on that threatens to destroy his home world, The Techno-Mages have their own plan to set things right that involves Vir.  But thanks to Durla, Vir is being watched by Mariel, Londo’s former wife and it seems hopeless that things will be set right.

Armies Of Light And Dark: Book II Of The Legions Of Fire Series by Peter David (2000)

Picking up in from where the last book leaves off, Vir and the Techno-Mages head to a planet where there has been an excavation taking place for some time.  It not commonly known that many Centauri workers have been sent there and have been disappearing.

Vir and the Mages find a gate there that builds the cloud vessels that were responsible for the destruction of the Narn Homeworld. It is also learned that this planet killer is intended to be used against Earth.  Vir manages to destroy the planet and after returning through the gate, it falls to ruin and stops the plans the Drakh have of a swift victory for them.

Vir has become quite enamoured with Mariel, who is spying for Durla.  When Vir learns that he is being badly used by Mariel, he becomes angry and asks a mage to cast a spell on her to make her hopelessly in love with him.  But this is all part of a greater plan to turn Durla’s spy against him as Vir sends Mariel to Durla.

Meanwhile, in the aftermath of the attempted assassination attempt, Sheridan sends Garibaldi to Centauri Prime to find out what is happening there.  G’kar will accompany him as well as Lou Welch, who is charged with watching Garibaldi’s back.  After arriving, Garibaldi tells Londo that they are there to investigate a plant that is suspected of making munitions that can be used to start a war with the Alliance, Lou feigns and illness and stays behind as Garibaldi is  off to inspect the suspected munitions plant.

Lou, under the cover of a cloak that hides him from sight, follows a member of the Prime Candidates, an organization of youth that has been put together by Durla to support his activities and infiltrate high levels of government and spy for him. Lou follows Throk into their headquarters and is seen by Shiv’Kala, who is able to see through the cloak, and uncovers Lou.  Throk kills Lou.  Garibaldi is incensed at this and vows to get to the bottom of the situation, but Vir tells him that it is an internal affair of the Centauri Republic and that it will be handled internally.

Vir begins to gather and inform followers that will effect real change on Centauri Prime while Durla becomes Prime Minister and begins a purge of those that would oppose him. Londo makes a decree that off-worlders are no longer welcome on Centauri Prime.  This is generally taken as an attempt of Londo to show his power, but he writes in his journal that it is actually to keep others from suffering the same fate as Lou Welch.

Out Of The Darkness: Book III Of The Legions Of Fire Series By Peter David (2000)

In this third and final book of the series, Durla has assembled a huge fleet of warships and sends them out to destroy some of the smaller alliance worlds.  While Sheridan tells the Alliance that they should use the White Star fleet to stop the Centauri, they are unwilling to do so. At about the same time, G’kar is disguised as a Centauri and saves Durla from an assassination attempt, but is caught and is to be killed until Londo intervenes and makes him a guest, but will not allow him to leave Centauri Prime.

In the television episode, Objects at Rest, Londo had delivered a gift to be given to Sheridan and Delenn’s child on his sixteenth birthday.  The gift was an urn, but the Drakh put a Keeper in the base of the urn.  On the night of his sixteenth birthday, the Keeper in the urn frees itself and attaches itself to David Sheridan, who immediately steals a ship and heads for Centauri Prime where he is delivered into the hands of Durla.  When Londo learns of this, he confronts Durla and they struggle, but Londo’s keeper stops the struggle.  When Sheridan and Delenn arrive, they are arrested and are to be put to death.

Garibaldi informs Vir about all of this,  Vir heads to Centauri Prime to help with David’s rescue, but he also learns about the Drakh influence that has been there for a number of years.

Durla readies his fleet to begin attacking the major worlds of the Alliance and publicly announces the attack, but his plans are thwarted by Vir and his Legions of Fire when they detonate a bomb underneath the Tower of Power, the headquarters of the Drakh.  With the Drakh exposed, the people begin to realize what has  been happening.  Durla refuses to believe the evidence of the Drakh influence and attempts to launch the fleets, but is again stopped, but this time by Mariel.

Shiv’kala tells Londo to tell the Centauri people that the Drakh are friends that have been with them to help them rebuild and insists that Londo continue with Durla’s plans. When londo refuses, Shiv’kala detonates a third of the bombs that were planted on Centauri Prime, Londo finally agrees to what he is being ordered to do.  In the meantime, With the help of the Techno-Mages, Vir is able to locate all of the bombs and have them neutralized.

Londo calls G’kar to the throne room and asks G’kar to kill him to stop the Drakh influence. G’kar refuses at first , but is finally convinced that it is the right thing to do, but while he had Londo by the throat, the Keeper awakens and Londo begins to also choke G’kar.  Both die in the struggle.  When Vir arrives to help Londo, he finds what has happened and is immediately approached by Shiv’kala who attempts to kill him, but Vir manages to escape to centauri Prime.

Meanwhile, leaving Shiv’kala alone on Centauri Prime, the other Drakh abandon the planet, Vir makes a claim for the throne and returns to Centauri Prime, and with the help of Garibaldi, kills Shiv’kala.

According to what I have learned about this book series, it was written by Peter David from outlines that were given to him by J. Michael Straczynski.  That would make these books, without a question Babylon 5 canon.  And in my opinion, JMS could not have chosen a better writer for the job.

Peter David shows that he did do his homework as far as the characters are concerned.  As one reads the series, it is not hard to hear the voices of the characters, especially in Londo’s little quips.  The other characters that are familiar to B5 fans are also equally accurately recreated.  But one of my favorite parts of these stories was to see the growth that took place on the series carried on through these stories.

One of the most developed characters on the series was that of Vir Cotto.  When Vir first arrived on Babylon 5, he was such a buffoon.  He stuttered and more or less tripped over himself with almost every step.  This character grew to be very popular with me, as well as the fans.  As time went on, while still seeming to provide comic relief on the television series, he began to show backbone, standing up to Londo on occasion and asserting himself when needed.  But in this series of books, we see that Vir has become a force to be reckoned with and not anywhere the buffoon that he was first presented to be.

A major scene from the trilogy that stands out in my mind is when Garibaldi intended to go to Centauri Prime and handle things his way.  Vir backed him down and stood his ground with an attitude that even took Garibaldi by surprise.  In that one scene, Vir became a viable candidate to be a leader, and the emperor of the Centauri Prime.

As an avid fan of Peter David’s work, especially in the Star Trek, I really enjoyed these three stories and the way that they were written.  It is obvious that the author has a great deal of respect for the B5 universe and it clearly comes through in this instance.  As was the last B5 book I reviewed (To Dream In The City Of Sorrows), I consider this must reading for B5 fans who what to know what happens to Londo and the Centauri Republic after the close of the television series.

If there is anything that I didn't care for in these books was the term "Tower of Power" for the place where the Drakh were holed up.  Every time I saw this term I thought about that R&B group that appeared in the late 1960's that also went by that name.

As I read this, it got me thinking that perhaps the entire series was actually intended to actually be the rise and fall of Londo Mollari.  So much of the series centers on Londo, his triumphs and his failures, his mistakes, and the few things he did get right.  I have also heard this before from others, thought I might have heard it from JMS, and was told the same by my partner on the Babylon Project Podcast, Raul Ybarra.

One thing that is worth noting here is that the first two books in the Legions of Fire series are pretty easy to find, but the third book seems to be rare.  All three are out of print, so you might consider checking out your local library, inter-library loan, or if you have a friend who has the books or knows where to get them.

Well, there it is...