Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Technology turns 360°

No, that's not a typo; I'm not referring to technology taking "2 steps back" as I have in the past
(See "You'll Thank Me Someday...") which of course would be technology turning 180°... This is more about technology going through several steps to arrive at the exact spot is started, more along the lines of this entry ("Call, Click, and Come on in") over at the Heart and Mind Blog. In order to begin, though, I do need to refer back to the former post.

Back when I first started archiving the blogs on paper, an argument was made about the redundancy of typing, posting and storing a blog electronically, only to go back and print an archaic 'paper copy' of it as backup, and if this practice was in fact going against the grain of technology. My counter-argument referred to people who buy expensive phones with the capability to actually talk to people, only to use them to hold entire conversations via texting, which is arguably much slower and more painstaking. I pointed out how that practice has become the norm and "acceptable" in today's world, and the people who were ribbing me about printing a book off of an electronic medium should just get off my damn back already.

We're still only talking a technological 180° turn here (going from "talking" to "texting"), but what inspired this entry is what apparently is coming next. Because Congress is only now starting to realize that texting while driving could potentially kill you and others, companies are starting to develop speech-to-text technology for phones which will, brace yourselves, convert your spoken words into text, which will then be sent through your phone. Let me reiterate that. You can now SPEAK into your PHONE, which will convert into TEXT, which will be sent through your PHONE, to be read... on another PHONE. I'm guessing its only a matter of time before the other end gets converted by text-to-speech software, making this ludicrous circle complete. Now it can take a full half hour to have a ten minute conversation!

I'm not sure how many lives this will eventually save, or how many accidents this will really avoid; but I can already foresee the damage this can potentially cause to the fragile relationships between shallow narcissistic people who simply can't wait to get to their destination before texting about weekend barhopping. Let's face it, no technology is foolproof; a girl may get a text asking what she wants to do tonight, and she verbally answers, "Club Houstead", which her phone translates as "club you in the head" and sends on its merry way... and she'll forever wonder why that friend suddenly turned really bitchy and seemed to lose interest in hanging out. Or what happens if you're listening to your iPod whilst dictating a message to your mom? Listening to Nine Inch Nails might not be a good idea while making dinner plans... "I'll be over around 6 to f*ck you like an animal..." Yikes.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Totalitarianism, Anarchy, and Utopia: The Goldilocks Syndrome

I am by no means a scholar, so anyone expecting a deep philisophical discussion on the political climate of today's world can just skip to the next person's blog. No, this is merely an attempt to straighten out the thoughts in my head, which at this moment involve the means to a Utopian Society, and why humanity's abusive nature will never allow one. But first a prologue to that idea.

I am a big believer in the 'universal balance', the idea that light cannot exist without dark, good without bad, the duality of the cosmos, karma, etc. It is the fundamental Yin-Yang theory, and one of the reasons for getting one tattooed on my leg; the other was to symbolize my personality in general. That's not to say I have a split personality; it's more about the duplicity in my beliefs, the ongoing series of arguements between the devil and angel on my shoulders, with rarely a clear winner. I tend to see both sides of a story as having legitimately good and bad points, with different shades of gray, and have a hard time deciding which side I'm on. In trying to resolve conflicts, both internally as well as externally, rarely do I find one side unequivically right and one side inarguably wrong; to me life has always been a wide spectrum of grays, the trick is to determine which side has the lesser amount of it. Unfortunately human beings are probably the single biggest gray area in the cosmos, which makes them the hardest to figure out and predict. Here's why: the more complex you make a mechanism, the more chances there are for things to go horribly wrong. You see it in cars, you see it in computers, and you see it in living things. A grasshopper is not as likely to maul you unprovoked as a dog would; likewise, a dog is not as likely to imprison members of your family in a power struggle to gain control over the household as, say, some humans might do to a country. The human brain is the single most complex mechanism known to exist, and thus the most unpredictable. Yes there are 'good' people and 'bad' people, (and let's not forget these very concepts are based on perspective) but very few of us are totally 100% saintly (yin) or completely 100% evil (yang). We all have that little spot of contrast within that adds a gray tinge to the mix. It makes for an extremely diverse world.

So what does this have to do with the title of this blog? Well, I often find myself looking around the world and saying to myself, "Well, this sucks". Mostly it's while reading the news. And being me, I frequently try to think of solutions to the various problems I see, if only in hypothetical terms. I ask myself, "What would need to change in order to obtain the level of peace and harmony so often seen in science fiction's version of the future? What do we need more/less of in order to create a Utopian society? What exactly IS the definition of a 'Utopian' society?" Well, a generally accepted perception of the perfect society seems to be one with no crime, no poverty, no disease, no hate, no corruption; where everyone lives harmoniously and no one is left wanting. Where the need for material gain is replaced by the need to improve the society as a whole. And that, I'm sorry to say, will never happen. It's not being pessimistic, it's not being fatalistic; it's being a realist; unfortunately being realistic oftentimes tilts towards the pessimistic side. It will never happen primarily due to the reasons above; There are too many people, with too many different beliefs, that are too set in their own ways. I'll break it down: In order to have a purely Utopian society, you'd have to convince everyone on Earth to:

Have the same ideals, ethics and values;

Have the same beliefs and belief system or at the very least TRULY and TOTALLY believe in religious tolerance.

Have the same perception of justice, and agree on a system of law and a method of enforcing it;

Have the utmost respect for and faith in their fellow man.

Agree on the eventual goal and purpose of humankind.


Living in America, the perverbial melting pot that it is, I see cultural, religious and societal differences every day of my life. As much goodness and kindness as I witness, I've seen an equal amount (if not a significantly higher amount) of people taking advantage of the system, acting as if they are more important than their fellow man, showing no respect to others, having no tolerance for others beliefs, and generally living as though the rules don't apply to them. and that's just in ONE country. So how do we get people to change, to all think the same way? The bigger question is...


First things first.

The 'how' has been a question of the ages. Well if we were starting from scratch, you might say 'religion'. Sure, give everyone a set of standards, a way of thinking, a moral guideline. In theory, a sound idea. In practice.... well, we've all seen how well THAT worked out. Religious differences account for more deaths in human history than probably every disease combined. So what next? Ah, maybe Government. Have a ruling governing body dictate one way to live, what morals to have, the one way to think. I'm sure I don't have to point out how horribly bad THAT idea was, specifically when the Germans had it.

The fact of the matter is, had we as a species evolved together, in one unified society, and developed a moral and ethical way of life together, we may have had a fighting chance to create and maintain a civilization where we all thought and felt the same and had a common goal for our world. Not likely, but possible. Now, however, with our gaping cultural differences, there's no way we as a people can overcome the huge diversity of our species without someone taking charge and forcing it upon us. Which leads to the second question: Should we even try?

Probably not. As was mentioned, forcing a way of life, even a Utopian way of life, on people is still trying to remove their individuality. People would resist, and the only way to ensure the masses act according to utopian doctrine is to have complete control over what they can and can't do, which ultimately defeats the purpose of a utopian society; laws would be so micromanaged as to allow very little personal freedoms.

Conversely, if we remove government involvement completely, we'd have total pandimonium. Everybody doing whatever they want, however they want, whenever they want, wouldn't last a week. Even assumedly rational people who more or less think and behave the same way would eventually come at odds with each other over how to handle the tiniest situation. You simply cannot have any group of people live together without some sort of governing body, someone who decides what is right and wrong for the group.

Thus we come across the Goldilocks Syndrome: Too hot, too lumpy, Too much governing.... Too cold, too soft, too little governing. And 'just right'? Well, that's the big question, isn't it? And the answer is very simple, if disheartening. The answer is: There is no answer. Because everyone has a different opinion on where that sweet spot is, we may never see world peace in the near, or even not-so-near, future. The simple fact that we are such complex organisms gives us the gift of being uniquely different from each other, yet at the same time curses us to see different paths to Utopia, if they care to see it at all.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Random Boba Fett Thought of the Day

Do you think Boba Fett was a little freaked out while working for the Empire, you know, with all his clones walking around working for Vader? I mean, now that we know the stormtroopers are just 2nd generation Clone Troopers, all made from the same genetic material as Jango and thus, Boba himself, and not having lived among them since childhood, wouldn't you be a little creeped out walking around Cloud City knowing everyone in shiny white plastic suit looks and sounds exactly like you? I don't know, maybe not... maybe it was just killing him not to be able to teach them to shoot straight or give them armor that can actually block a laser....

Sunday, March 08, 2009

I watch the Watchmen

"The studios are extended gutters and the gutters are full of garbage; the accumulated filth of all their greed will foam up about their waists, and all the studio execs and publicity whores will look up and shout 'make us a sub-par movie with over-rated actors while defiling the source material and compromising integrity for a quick buck', and Zack Snyder will look down and whisper, 'no.'"

While it's very likely this exchange never actually took place, it may as well have, as it's perfectly clear having just seen Watchmen that director Zack Snyder not only lived and breathed this epic comic series (my friend Rich would kill me if I used the term 'graphic novel') during production of this movie, but also refused to buckle under any pressure that may have been applied by the suits to make just another run-of-the-mill blockbuster action flick. The end result of this resolve is a film worthy in every way of the name 'Watchmen', a story long considered to be ultimately unfilmmable. That's not to say that the film is without it's issues; I'd be hardpressed to find any film I couldn't nitpick a few points on, especially when it comes to adaptations. However they're mostly issues born out of necessity; problems that arose because bigger problems needed to be solved, and in this respect I consider them minor at best.

<< This review contains major plot spoilers. If you plan on seeing the film as a Watchmen virgin, enter at your own risk. >>

Before I get started, a word of warning: This film is not for everyone. People who know very little of the Watchmen universe, it's characters, backstories, and the comic may find this film extremely disjointed and very hard to follow. Had I not just recently read the novel, I may have had a very different reaction to the film. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that people who aren't well-versed in the Watchmen universe should avoid it; quite the contrary, by all means book your tickets now, if for any other reason than to whet your appetite enough to want to run to the bookstore to learn more about these fascinating characters and their motivations. Just don't go into it thinking you're getting the full story - the book, having originally been 12 separate issues of a comic, is disjointed enough; add to that the various elements that needed to be cut or condensed to fit into a feature film and you may walk away with a lot of questions.

For those that ARE well versed, you're in for a major treat. It's clear this movie was directed at the fans, but not in an in-your-face kind of way that cheapens many other film adaptations. Although storyboarded directly from the comic panels (there are certain scenes you can literally overlay over the film and not see a difference), it never comes across as forced or out of place. One of the many concerns most people had was how the dialog would come across; whether it would be word-for-word and thus sound like, well, cheesy comic book dialog, or fleshed out enough to keep it from being cringe-worthy. Fortunately the answer is the latter. Most of the key dialog is there verbatim, from Rorschach's journal entries and trademark "hurm" grunt (and no, he doesn't actually SAY 'hurm', much to my delight) to Dr. Manhattans miracle speech on Mars. But it never comes across as a bad audition read; Proof positive that writing is only half the battle, you need good actors to give the words life.

Speaking of actors, it'd be damned near impossible to collect a better cast to play these characters. If you've read every other review of this movie, you know by now that Jackie Earl Haley deserves an Oscar nomination for portraying one of the most fascinating characters ever created on paper, Rorschach. Certain actors were born to play certain roles, and Haley has finally fulfilled his destiny. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is the living embodiment of the Comedian. And Patrick Wilson will have future generations of viewers wondering whether the book was actually illustrated AFTER the film, basing the character of Dan Dreiberg directly off of Wilson's performance. Even the actors other reviewers considered weak links were perfectly cast. I thought Matthew Goode, despite straying the furthest away from his 2-dimensional counterpart, was perfect in the role of Ozymandias. And Malin Akerman did as good a job as Laurie Jupiter as I felt could be done with the limited character she was given.

Which brings me to my only real point of contention which, again, I can't really blame Snyder for. As a point of reference, the Motion Comic DVD release of Watchmen, which is essentially a word -for-word, page-by-page narration of the comic, animated for viewing, is 6 hours long. The feature film is just shy of 3, meaning just about half of the material had to be cut from the book. In most cases the cuts were obvious; the Black Freighter sub-story and the Under the Hood entries, while enjoyable, were unnecessary to the film as a whole. Some, while unfortunate, were acceptable losses given the time restrictions; Rorschach's first visit to the bar looking for Edward's killer, his description of the origin of his mask or the police raid on Dreiberg's apartment failed to make the cut. Still others were combined/condensed to squeeze further. For the most part it works; however things like the Keene Act, Laurie's animosity towards the life she was forced to lead by her mother, Ozymandias' past or Jon's slow journey into apathy for mankind are all glossed over too quickly. If you've read the book it shouldn't matter as much because you already have knowledge of these things and your mind automatically fills in the gaps, but the uninitiated may be left scratching their heads wondering why characters act the way they do. Thankfully rumor has it, as another tribute to Snyder's integrity, the DVD will contain an extended version of the movie, promising to have another hour's worth of footage edited back in. We can only hope some of the character development material, especially Ozymandias, is among it.

Other than that, the only real quibbles I have with the film are the occasional choice of soundtrack song which, although fitting for the time and place, tended to somewhat pull me out of the moment, and the use of ultra-graphic violence, but ONLY when it was ad-libbed; if it was in the book I'm all for it, but the book had enough without showing bones being splintered.

Now for the stuff that worked: Edward's murder was fantastic, he actually puts up a real fight in the movie, which was a treat to watch. Rorschach's capture literally sent chills down my spine, from the moment he realizes he's been duped all the way through to the gut-wrenching "GIVE ME BACK MY FACE!" In fact, let me backtrack and just say pretty much any scene with Rorschach was nothing short of cinematic brilliance. Adrian's (Ozymandias') assassination attempt works so much better in the film than on paper, where he seemed to just push his secretary in the way. And the ending.... oh, the ending. I'm usually not one for changing what is already established, but in this case I support the decision for an altered ending 100%, for the simple reason that it doesn't actually change the outcome of the story, only the mechanic by which that outcome is achieved, and quite frankly works SO much better than the convoluted "Master plan" of the book. Kudos to Snyder for risking the fury of the purists for the sake of a better film for all.

In the end, this is easily one of the best comic adaptations to date, even nudging V for Vendetta off to the side. If you've read the book, go see it now. If you haven't, go see it now, then read the book. It's as simple as that.