Underworld: Some Notes.

Last night in a fit of insomnia, I finally watched the movie “Underworld”. Afterwards, I was surprised to find that RiffTrax have not applied their talents to this film. In case they ever do, I have endeavoured to prepare some helpful notes.

Setting

Underworld takes place in Disney’s scenic but rainy EuropeTown USA. Daytime has been abolished, which is fortunate for the vampires.

The setting is modern day, although the vampires have a contract with the Hogwarts Express to deliver their private train cars by steam engine.

Vampire Facts

Vampires are readily identifiable by their leather clothing and the many guns they carry at all times.

Vampire Strengths:

  • Jumping
  • Shooting guns
  • Dramatically opening doors
  • Hot Topic

Vampire Weaknesses:

  • The sun
  • Sun bullets
  • Being shot with guns, even ones with normal bullets
  • Passing out due to minor shoulder wounds
  • Drowning
  • Grenades
  • Werewolf bites
  • Swords
  • Bureaucracy

Powers notably not possessed by vampires include, but are not limited to: turning into bats. Turning into wolves. Turning into a cloud of sexy green mist. Mesmerizing gaze. Blinding speed. Ability to fly. Sparkling.

Vampires are immortal. Vampire elders celebrate their deathlessness by having their dessicated corpses entombed for centuries. Periodically they awaken to shake their canes at younger vampires.

Vampire Hobbies:

Werewolf Lichen Facts

Werewolves in Underworld are called “lichens”. Wikipedia defines a lichen as:

 a composite organism that arises from algae or cyanobacteria (or both) living among filaments of a fungus in a symbiotic relationship.

This actually explains a lot about the werewolves in the movie.

Lichens are readily identifiable by their leather clothing and the many guns they carry at all times.

Lichen strengths:

  • Running
  • Shooting guns
  • Turning into wolves, when they can be bothered
  • Nu-Metal

In their wolf form, they possess such distinctly lupine powers as:

  • Being giant hairless rat-pig things
  • Clinging to walls

Lichen Weaknesses:

  • Silver
  • Being shot with guns
  • Running directly into gunfire
  • Tedious flashbacks

Story Notes

The story centers around a human who carries a rare gene which can unite vampire and lichen. The plot aggressively avoids developing this character in any way. I think he was male?

Towards the end, there is a running battle between at least three factions of immortals. It can be a bit confusing, so I have prepared this guide:

  • There is the faction of vampires loyal to Kraven. They can be distinguished by their black leather clothing and their tendency to shoot guns.
  • There is a faction of vampires loyal to Viktor. They are notable for their preference for black leather clothing, and propensity at shooting guns.
  • There are also the lichens. They are the ones shooting guns while wearing black leather clothing.

There is also a hole in the ground which features in at least 17 scenes. I’m not sure what it’s significance is, but it must be important to show up so often. Perhaps there is some kind of symbolism in the fact that by the end of the film, every last character has hurled themselves into this pit.

In the film’s finale, we learn that when you combine vampire and lichen into a hybrid, the result is an Uruk-Hai. This uber-immortal has the combined powers of:

  • Having his ass kicked by a vampire.
  • Being saved at the last minute by another vampire.

I hope these notes help advance the field of Vampire/Lichen studies.

The Force Awakens is the Dad Rock of Star Wars

Spoilers, yadda yadda.

The Force Awakens is a dad-rock concert. It’s that reunion rock show you won’t stop yappping at your kids about, about how this band was REAL music, and you made sure to find your vintage dad-rock band t-shirt, and then on the way back from the concert you sang loudly and off-key and thought about how you were going to dust off your guitar when you got home. And then you got home and took the dog out and went to bed.

I am wondering if J. J. Abrams has ever had an original idea in his life. He’s the kid who jams an extra engine onto another kid’s Lego model and goes running to mom to show her the spaceship he “made”. I keep thinking “but there was that one movie that I really liked” and then I remember it was Super-8 and the whole thing was an homage to E.T.

“Like ____, only ____”. It’s the formula for a Silicon Valley startup, or for any individual element in a J. J. Abrams movie.

I blame Quentin Tarantino, really. As far as I can tell he’s the one who made it cool to construct films entirely out of fanservice.

For me, the biggest disappointment wasn’t that the plot points followed the “like ____, only ____” formula. It’s that the visual design did. I’ve always loved Star Wars for its vehicle design. It’s the one sci-fi universe where designers can ignore all questions of practicality or logic, and just go with a design that’s visually striking. Nothing about a TIE fighter makes sense, but that’s OK, because it looks and sounds unique, and strikingly so.

In The Empire Strikes Back, there is no good reason for the Imperials to arrive in ponderous, vulnerable walkers that suggest (but don’t outright mimic!) elephants. But that doesn’t matter, because they look amazing.

This was the one area where even the prequels didn’t disappoint. Whatever their other failings, the prequels are just loaded with striking, iconic designs.

In The Force Awakens, by contrast, all we get are cheap derivatives. The Star Destroyers are just the old ones, only snub-nosed and less interesting. Kilo Ren’s shuttle does an adequate job referencing a bat, but it’s still a derivative design from Vader’s shuttle. And the X-Wings… don’t get me started on the X-Wings. There comes a point where it becomes obvious that you’re changing little things just to mark territory. Everyone knows Star Wars ships don’t make sense, but cutting a turbine in half is just rubbing people’s noses in that fact.

Where the designs don’t reference the past, they are largely uninspired. Compare Episode 1’s broad-winged, snail-footed C-9979 landing ship, with what we get in TFA: a standard Earth marine landing ship, only with rockets and a lid.

The one bit of vehicle design that stood out? Rey’s Jakku speeder. It references (but doesn’t mirror) a farm tractor from the 1940s, and it works. Moreover, it’s original.

Speaking of Jakku, can we talk about why half the movie takes place on a Tatooine stand-in?

And then, of course, the death-star-only-bigger. The film was apparently so worried that we might miss the fact that it’s a death-star-only-bigger, that it pauses for a fucking powerpoint presentation just to make the visual comparison. We get it, J. J.: Yours is bigger.

On to characters.

BB-8: eh, fun if you like that sort of thing. The overall movie has a very dark tone, which makes a goofy beeping droid feel a bit out of place, no matter how clever its design.

Finn: A creature made entirely from sweat. John Boyega completely fails to sell a stormtrooper who has been indoctrinated from childhood and begins to have doubts. He acts more like a conscript who was given six weeks of training and a blaster, and then told to shoot civilians. In his defense, this was at least as much the fault of the script.

Solo: it’s Harrison Ford. He can’t not be charismatic.

Leiah: Phoning it in. Fisher does not seem thrilled to be in this film.

Kylo Ren: Not bad.

And then there’s Rey. Who I leave for last because she is the one shining ray (heh) of light at the center of this film. She transcends the boggy mire of nudge-nudge wink-wink fan references and stands out as something legitimately new and compelling in the Star Wars universe.

Unlike Boyega, Daisy Ridley is never anything but believable. Watching her effectively teach herself to use the Force in extremis is arresting.

For her, and her alone, I’m looking forward to the next film.

The awkward robots at NPR

Do not feel compelled to read the following quote in full. Or if you do, place a protective soft pillow on your keyboard first.

Descartes (1596-1650) offered, but did not endorse, the idea that the body is a ship and the self resides in the body the way a pilot resides in the ship. Hume (1711-1776) advanced the idea that there is no self, that what we call the self is in fact just a bundle of perceptions, feelings and ideas. Contemporary cognitive science combines these two ideas in a most awkward synthesis: We are the brain, which in turn is modeled not as a self, but as a vast army of little selves, or agencies, whose collective operations give rise to what looks, from the outside, like a single person or animal; but, so the “Awkward Synthesis” would have it, some of the events happening inside of us really are ours, they really are experienced, and this is because they happen in a special way or in a special place — in what Dennett has called the Cartesian Theater.

Inside Out begins with a question, posed by the movie’s narrator, Joy, who is an emotion living inside of Riley: Did you ever look at a baby or a person and ask yourself what’s going on in there? A good question, but the movie’s playful answer unfolds more like a textbook presentation of the Awkward Synthesis than by providing any insight into what it is like to be Riley or any other person.

Source: The Awkward Synthesis That Is ‘Inside Out’ : 13.7: Cosmos And Culture : NPR

I haven’t seen Inside Out, and this review doesn’t really bias one way or another. On the other hand, it does instill a strong desire to avoid Berkeley.

Pixar should make a movie about a sad intellectual who has spent so much time reading about people’s brains that his heart has gone on permanent sabbatical, and the hilarious cartoon dog who brings them back together.

No, I am not all gushy about the new Star Wars trailer. Judging by past experience, it’s probably going to be 2 hours of JJ Abrams nudging us in the ribs and giggling about his ever so clever references to the original trilogy.

Dammit, JJ Abrams

So Star Trek: Into Darkness just came to Netflix. It’s not often a movie goads me into ranting impotently on the interwebs. But, oh, this movie.

Look, I’m not a defender-of-the-canon. I’m honestly not that upset that they cut Bombadil from The Fellowship of the Ring. The changes to Veidt’s big plan in Watchmen, well… honestly the movie version made more sense.

So… an underwater Enterprise? Eh, whatever. It’s dumb but it looks cool and who am I to tell you what the rules to your made-up universe are.

What pisses me off is when a movie insults my intelligence.

Case in point: McCoy, lagging behind the movie-going audience by about 10 minutes or so, finally figures out he can use bio-engineered super-blood to bring Kirk back from the dead. He has 72 cryo-tubes full of super-people, each presumably full of super-blood. He sends for one of the tubes. To harvest blood? No. So he can put Kirk in it while he waits to get Khan’s blood.

Here’s the thing about that scene… they could have let that plot hole slide by like so many others by just not bringing up the other 72 members of Khan’s crew. Instead, they come up with the incredibly dubious and wholly unnecessary-to-the-plot notion that the 300-year-old pod is somehow better than anything the Enterprise has for keeping Kirk in stasis. It’s almost as if they deliberately put that bit in to make sure we noticed the much bigger yawning plot cavity about the readily available super-blood. Plot holes are one thing, but it’s rare to have one rubbed in my face like this.

And oh, Khan. Brilliant. Calculating. Protective of his crew, his family. Has grand, long-term plans for world domination. Willing to plan far in advance, and wait patiently for his plots to hatch.

Then he finds himself temporarily inconvenienced, in command of a badly damaged but still enormously powerful and advanced secret Federation dreadnaught. He may well have deduced that his crew are still alive.

Does he retreat, and bide his time? Does he trade secret Federation tech to the Klingons in return for favors? Nope, he decides to drive the ship into San Francisco. Because why wouldn’t he.

Then, having survived but failed (presumably) to demolish Starfleet headquarters in his suicide mission, does he then do the logical thing and trigger a warp core explosion to vaporize San Francisco? Nope, he runs away.

And then there are the incredibly ham-handed references to the older movies. Abrams likes to scatter little homages to the original series and movies here and there. Which worked well in the first movie. But Into Darkness it’s like he couldn’t stop himself, and the sad part is that they are incredibly bad homages.

The whole Kirk/Spock reversal in the warp core is just cringingly awful, like a good joke that someone stretches out waaaay too long. But if Abrams was dead set on going through with it, the least he could have done is have Spock, when asked for comfort by Kirk, say “you are – and always shall be – my friend“. But no, Spock just gets tongue-tied, as if the writers forgot to turn in their homework on time.

A fitting place to end this rant is the end of the movie. Kirk asks Spock where they should go next. Spock defers to Kirk. OK Kirk, let’s end this stinker on a high note. You’re kicking off your five-year mission, you can go anyplace you want… a little Captain Kirk charm, a little nod to tradition, how about: “second star to the right, and straight on ’til morning“.

Or, you know, you could just go with “take us out, Sulu”. And… roll credits. A fitting end to a movie that can’t figure out where it’s going.

EDIT: I forgot to mention… while a little getting-into-bed-with-alien-catgirls is practically obligatory in a Captain Kirk movie, this film has its brilliant scientist lady strip down to her underwear for Kirk to gawk at for LITERALLY NO REASON WHATSOEVER. Star Trek: Now in 3D Male Gaze-O-Vision, be sure to return your creep glasses in the bin when you exit the theater!