After my anti-Project Management post last month, I am surprised to announce that no trouble arose (okay, not that surprised--it's not like anyone reads this stuff) from my post. The Project Managers have been surprisingly quiet since that last debacle, so there are no new or interesting things to report, unfortunately.
Life has been uneventful. About the most exciting thing to happen has been the nasty virus I came down with last week. I actually used two sick days last week (a very uncommon occurrence for me), which gave me time to finish a book for the first time in weeks and weeks.
I picked up another book to read this week, Catch 22. It has been highly recommended so many times that I figured I had to read it. It's next (as soon as I finish The Years of Rice and Salt).
I have added a few more bad sketches, but little, if anything, else has changed. I stil plan to update the Douglas Adams section with Movie information, and already have images and text to put there...I just haven't gotten to it yet. My stack of Opus strips continues to grow, but I still have not found time to scan them (I also have the Ordinary Basil storyline from Non Sequitur to scan, but I'm not sure if I'll post those).
The War of the Worlds
I felt compelled to read this novel after seeing the trailer for the upcoming War of the Worlds film--mainly because I'm a cantankerous old geezer who loves nothing more than reminiscing about the god ol' days and how movie makers can't help but destroy the stories of the master story tellers--so I would have a firm understanding of what the story was before seeing the film. But I will talk about that later. For now, I'll discuss the novel.
The story is told with a first person narrative, in all but one section involving the narrator's brother, by an unnamed English philosopher who happens to live near ground zero of the first Martian space capsule landing. The first chapter begins by laying forth the scientific facts that were understood about Mars at the end of the nineteenth century and the reasoning for an invasion from our red neighbor, Mars.
"It must be, if the nebular hypothesis has any truth, older than our world; and long before this earth ceased to be molten, life upon its surface must have begun its course. The fact is that it is scarcely one seventh of the volume of the earth must have accelerated its cooling to the temperature at which life could begin. It has air and water and all that is necessary for the support of animated existence."
"Its physical condition is still largely a mystery, but we know now that even in its equatorial region the midday temperature barely approaches that of our coldest winter. Its air is much more attenuated than ours, its oceans have shrunk until they cover but a third of its surface, and as its slow seasons change huge snowcaps gather and melt about either pole and periodically inundate its temperate zones."
Most of these facts are so incorrect, with today's knowledge, that they are almost comical to consider.
The book was written over a hundred years ago, so the quaint scientific theories are to be expected and are, in fact, interesting to read. As is the colorful language of an Englishman of that period. There were many turns of phrase I would never utter, but the beauty of the prose is beyond reproof.
"I sat up, strangely perplexed. For a moment, perhaps, I could not clearly understand how I came there. My terror had fallen upon me like a garment. My hat had gone, and my collar had burst away from its fastener. A few minutes before, there had only been three real things before me--the immensity of the night and space and nature, my own feebleness and anguish, and the near approach of death. Now it was as if something turned over, and the point of view altered abruptly. There was no sensible transition from one state of mind to the other. I was immediately the self of every day again--a decent, ordinary citizen. The silent common, the impulse of my flight, the starting flames, were as if they had been in a dream. I asked myself had these latter things indeed happened? I could not credit it."
"I must confess the sight of all this armament, all this preparation, greatly excited me. My imagination became belligerent, and defeated the invaders in a dozen striking ways; something of my schoolboy dreams of battle and heroism came back. It hardly seemed a fair fight to me at that time. They seemed very helpless in that pit of theirs."
If you are among those, as I was so recently, who haven't taken the time to read War of the Worlds, here's a little summary of the story for you: It's the end of the nineteenth century. Mars is cooling and the advanced the super-intelligent beings who live on Mars are in need of a new home. They set their sights on Earth and launch several space capsules, which land in England. As expected, man is underwhelmed by this occurrence and sits by dumbly as the aliens spring forth and begin building the tools of humanity's demise. Before you know it, the martians are killing humans left and right and the occupants of the many Martian capsules are joining together to rout the countryside toward London. No military effort humanity undertakes is efficacious against the superior technology of the aliens and mankind is headed for extinction. Then help arrives from a most unexpected ally and mankind is saved. If you want more detail than that, you'll have to read the book.
One theme that repeatedly jumped out at me as I read of mankind's crushing demise at the hands of the ruthless aliens: mankind is too like these Martians in their dealings with "lesser" creatures/other cultures.
"The bare idea of this is no doubt horribly repulsive to us, but at the same time I think that we should remember how repulsive our carnivorous habits would seem to an intelligent rabbit."
"For that moment I touched an emotion beyond the common range of men, yet one that the poor brutes we dominate know only too well. I felt as a rabbit might feel returning to his burrow and suddenly confronted by the work of a dozen busy navvies digging the foundations of a house. I felt the first inkling of a thing that presently grew quite clear in my mind, that oppressed me for many days, a sense of dethronement, a persuasion that I was no longer a master, but an animal among the animals, under the Martian heel. With us it would be as with them, to lurk and watch, to run and hide; the fear and empire of man had passed away."
The science of the book may be dated (though Wells' ability to predict the weapons of the future was uncanny), but the underlying ideas of this little gem are eternal.
Kingdom of Heaven
As the premise of this film became more clear, I actually began to look forward to seeing it. Unfortunately, the casting of Orlando Bloom as the leader of an entire city of battle hardened warriors was a bit of a stretch for me. As were his sudden engineering and leadership abilities. He was transformed from a simple blacksmith to a brilliant leader of men with no explanation. The role of his father was played by Liam Neeson, and he would have, truth be told, filled the role Orlando Bloom played much more effectively. One other complaint/inconsistency: how is it that the illegitimate son of an English nobleman who has always lived in a French villag with his French mother has an English accent and no trace of a French accent? Genetics, I guess.
Here is a high level summary of the film:
Liam Neeson's character is an English Lord who has lands in Jerusalem awarded by victory over the Islamic hordes. He is a womanizer and has a bastard son, played by Bloom, that he decides to look up for some reason and name as his heir. Bloom's character is a recent widower and wants nothing to do with his father and only later, after getting in some inescapable trouble, decided to catch up with his dad and see what this crusading stuff is all about. They head toward Jerusalem, but the cops catch up to the and mortally wound Neeson's character. He dies and Bloom's character is now the high yukkity-yuk, defending the tiny Christian stronghold from the Islam hordes. In the end, the Islamic hordes overwhelm Bloom's cunning defenses and the Christians are sent packing--until the next crusade begins. There is, of course, more to the story than this, but that's the gist of it.
I wish I was more of a historian, so I could really explain what was wrong or right with the movie, but my grasp of history is weak, at best.
I had high hopes for this film, expecting something along the lines of Indiana Jones or even a National Treasure, but the movie fell short of both.
A brief summary: Matthew McConaughey is the charismatic and ever-smooth leader of a pair of treasure hunters. While following tips to the archeological find of the century, the pair stumble upon an ecological disaster of global significance and are aided by the lovely World Health Organization doctor, played woodenly by Penelope Cruz, to thwart the plan and restore goodness to the world in the nick of time.
Steve Zahn is the best thing about this movie. He takes goofball to the next level. Penelope Cruz, while gorgeous and sexy, is the weakest link. Matthew McConaughey plays the same character in every movie, but is much more convincing than poor Penelope. William H. Macy plays the crusty old retired admiral who hosts the two young hot-shots' recovery expeditions and get far too little screen time.
Star Wars Episode III
I, amazingly, waited over a week after the opening of this film to go see it. The final film in the Star Wars saga, and I waited nine days...I'm going to have to turn in my "George Lucas' #1 fan" button.
When I finally went to see it, I had unrealistically high expectations. These were fueled by both my friends who had seen the film and had given it their highest praises, claiming it to be "better than any of the other Star Wars films" and probably also by advertising claiming claiming the same thing (which my friends may have just been parroting). So I was expecting to be blown away. And really wasn't.
I did enjoy the film. It was good. Probably better than Episode I or II. But I didn't think it was better than Episodes IV-VI. Sure, the effects were better in Episode III and the dialog was no less cheesy than any of the original films, but the missing piece...the essential ingredient... was suspense. There was none. Everyone in the theater knew what was going to transpire in the film. There was no suspense, no "thinking' requirement. Entertainment, it was. Greatness, it wasn't. I'm not going to bother with the summary. I seriously doubt there's a sentient being anywhere on the planet who has managed to remain blissfully unaware of this movie's basic plot.
Flight Of the Phoenix
I just saw this DVD (for lack of anything better to watch). I was startled to the lovely Eowyn (Miranda Otto); I hadn't known she was cast or even expected a female character. I have only seen brief excerpts from the original film on Saturday/Sunday afternoon when channel surfing, so I hadn't really come into the film with many expectations, but I did discover (through a bit of Internet research) that there were no female characters (other than a mirage/memory of a veiled woman dancing in the dunes) in the original. I can only imagine how many other details have changed--I also noticed (on IMDB) that the names of all the characters, other than the pilot, were changed.
Here's the story at a glance: A corporation pulls the plug on an oil drilling operation somewhere in the Gobi desert in Mongolia. A cargo plane is sent to pick the crew and all their stuff up and take them home. Along the way, the plane flies into a sandstorm, crashes, and is rendered inoperable. The radio is damaged in flight, so SOS is unable to be transmitted. After a few days of water rationed desperation, one of the passengers announces that he designs planes and he can build a plane from the wreckage and the remaining engine. The survivors get to work and pull an A-Team, building a single-prop plane from the wreckage. Before it's done, Chinese smugglers/outlaws come into play and later return in force. But have no fear, the good guys fly off into the sunset in their new plane.
The film was a bit on the cheesy side, but wasn't completely unwatchable. Giovanni Ribisi played the "designer" really well. Until I saw his name in the closing credits, I had no idea it was even him. Dennis Quaid was pretty much the same guy that he is in every movie. And Miranda Otto is a cutie, but didn't really add much to the film. She was just eye candy.
Do you think I'm off my rocker? A fount of common sense in a world gone mad? Either way, let me know.
So far, nobody has had anything to say.