Science Fiction and Costumes – Star Wars

Recently I got to see the Star Wars and the Power of Costumes exhibit at the EMP Museum. It started out as kind of a “ooo Star Wars!” followed by “oh, look at all those Queen Amidala dresses…” and finally led to that deeper thought and understanding: that costumes really matter a lot for a science fiction (or fantasy, or a lot of other genre) movie. Costumes that look different from what we are used to create the sense of a whole new world.

One of my favorite examples is still the Dune mini-series, for which someone decided that clearly, what all the different groups in the galaxy did was just wear really big hats to show who they were:

We don't know what you mean...

We don’t know what you mean…

I could gush about this, or I could mainly share some pictures and a couple of thoughts. Let’s let the pictures speak for themselves!

This is only some of the many costumes of Queen Amidala!

This is only some of the many costumes of Queen Amidala!

One of the things that the exhibit pointed out was just how much more costumes and the pomp and circumstance mattered in the prequels. This was the more civilized age, the bygone era that Obi Wan lamented being gone. This was an era of the Senate, of different cultures all having a voice. Before the Emperor took over, and all the soldiers looked the same…

More photos and thoughts below!

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Harry Potter 101: Wizards Don’t Learn Math

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Abra Cadabra, Lord Voldemort.

What is Harry Potter?

Harry Potter’s a wizard.

No, I mean, like, the series.

Oh! Harry Potter is a book series, written by J.K. Rowling, about a secret world of wizards.

Harry Potter is an ordinary eleven-year-old who lives with his aunt, uncle, and cousin, the Dursleys, until he finds out he is a wizard, and goes to a wizard school called Hogwarts.

Why’s he live with his aunt and uncle?

His parents are dead. Lord Voldemort, the most powerful, evil wizard ever known, killed them, when Harry was just one year old.

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Which is not to say he doesn’t have fun with it.

Wow.

Yeah, that’s kinda Harry’s reaction to all that, too.

Why did he kill Harry’s parents?

He killed a lot of people, to be fair. Harry’s parents were just the last before he disappeared. And he killed them because he wanted to kill Harry.

Why’d he want to kill a baby?

Magic.

C’mon…

No, really. And I can’t say much more, without spoiling a few plot twists. But the basic answer is: magic.

Okay, smart guy, how does a baby beat the biggest, baddest wizard around?

That’s complicated, but the simple answer is: the spell Voldemort used rebounded from Harry and hit Voldemort instead. Harry walks… well, crawls away with just a scar in the shape of a lightning bolt.

That’s pretty metal.

Hellz yeh.

Does it give him any special powers? Aside from wizardry, I mean?

He can talk to snakes, which is weird, and never very useful. It does some other cool stuff that becomes important in later books.

How long is this series, anyway?

Seven books. They start out standard sized, about 300 pages, until the fourth book. From there, they grow until the last, which I think is an 800 page whopper. The first two are basically kid’s books – I’d have no problem letting a 7 or 8 year old read em. The third and fourth are more young adult. By the fifth and sixth, though, the books get pretty dark, so if your kid wants to read them, check them out yourself, first.

That’s a lot of reading. Can’t I just watch the movies?

You can, and some of the movies are actually good. As the kid actors grow up, they get even better. But Harry Potter is all about the weird, fun little details, and most of those get dropped from the movies.

What kind of details?

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House Elves like Dobby, simultaneously the best and worst doll you could give a child.

Like goblins and house elves and centaurs, and how wands work, and the Ministry of Magic working with Muggles and… a lot of nerd stuff that’s probably boring you. But trust me, it’s awesome

Wands? Really, like goofy sideshows, “Hocus Pocus!”? And what’s an effing muggle?

A muggle, sir or madam, is a non-wizard. There’s also Squibs (wizards who can’t use magic), muggle-borns (wizards born to muggles), and pure-bloods (wizards born from wizards).

Ugh…

And a wand’s important. It’s like the wizard’s lightsaber, except it uses Phoenix feathers and Dragon heartstrings instead of jewelry. It’s pretty metal, too. Unless you’re saying Dragonforce isn’t metal…

I would never say that.

Good.

And I think there was something about the government in there…

Yeah, the Ministry of Magic. The series takes place in England, and the Ministry governs the wizards and tries to keep them out of sight of the muggles.

How can that work? Wouldn’t somebody just take a picture of some kid levitating and post it to Instagram?

Probably, and I want to see that sequel, but not in the series. The series begins (in-universe) in 1991, and ends in 1998, the year the first book was published. So, give it like a decade, and muggles will probably be all up in the wizard’s business (if you’re reading, Ms. Rowling…)

All right, all right. Now I’m rereading this… I mean, reviewing our conversation, and you said Harry goes to wizard school? So this is what, Magic Times at Wizard High?

Harry goes to school with about a thousand other wizard kids from age eleven on, at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. A big part of the books are about classes and sports and friends, wrapped around the plot.

Isn’t a school full of adolescent wizards, uh, dangerous?

For Harry, it’s practically a deathtrap. For everyone else, it’s just mostly dangerous. But Harry would be dead a lot if not for his best friends Ron and Hermione.

How in the world do you pronounce that name?

Ron. RAH-AHN…

No! The other one!

Oh, yeah. Hmmm… HER-MY-OH-KNEE. I think. Or HER-MY-KNEE, for short.

There is no way that name is worth struggling over. 

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Don’t sass Hermione. Ron is Harry’s best friend, and he’s got some great snarky and bright moments, but Hermione holds them together. She’s the brains and badass wand-slinger of the series. There’s an article over here, all about her (NSFW and spoilers).

I still don’t know. I mean, I haven’t read them, and they’re really old now. Is there any point to going through them at this late date?

I think so. I still read through them occasionally, and I usually find something new to enjoy. But I’ll put it this way: If the idea of rebellious wizard-Jedi, led by Gandalf, in a war against Magic Hitler doesn’t sound appealing, I don’t know what to tell you. Except that Hermione’s in it, and she is totally awesome.

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At some point, they really should have renamed the series after her.

The Truman Journey

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Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) is the star of the Truman Show. When Truman is a baby, Christof (Ed Harris) somehow buys him. He is placed in a fictional town, Seahaven, and surrounded with actors. Christof broadcasts every minute of Truman’s life. And Truman has no idea his friends and family are paid actors. So that’s terrifying.

Truman only begins to discover the truth when a lamp, labeled with the name of a star, falls from the artificial sky one day. After that he notices things, like everyone knows his name, he has never left Seahaven, and his wife will act like she’s in an infomercial and try to shill products. When the entire town turns against him, refusing to let him leave, Truman escapes the only way he can: by sailing across Seahaven’s body of water to the edge of the world. There he bumps into the horizon, finds an EXIT door, and escapes into the real world. It’s like Under the Dome, if Stephen King wasn’t a horror writer.

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Life celebrated a baby sold by its parent to television executives.

A couple things about this movie jump out at me.The audience has to be most of the planet, because the show’s overhead must be huge; Christof enclosed the entire town in an arcology dome, and has a weather control device (something most supervillains have to put on lay-a-way). The governments of the world must not exist, or are so corrupt that “money over everything” is official policy. And the cast, crew, and audience must absolutely believe that Truman has a good life, because it only takes one defector to ruin the show.

At the end of the movie, Christof tries to drown Truman, preferring a magnificent death to Truman’s escape. When Truman survives, Christof claims Truman brings people hope and inspiration. He even asks Truman to stay. Something Truman does provides the world with enough satisfaction to justify all this.

My first thought was nuclear apocalypse, because the world must be some twisted ruin for people to think Truman’s life is acceptable. It would also explain the dome; perhaps Christof has fenced off a healthy area of the planet and is selling dreams of what life used to be to a devastated population.

The audience doesn’t really fit the Mad Max marauder type, though. There are old people, fat security guards, and a nice bar. The world looks okay. But these people still watch Truman, each day, as he toils through life, despite the fact that they apparently have normal lives themselves. Reality television is a form of escapism too; most rely on a gimmick (The Biggest Loser) or the antics of people filmed in just the right way to make them seem terrible (literally any contest-style reality show). All Truman does is live a normal life.

Philip K. Dick wrote Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? which became Blade Runner, which became the reason Ridley Scott still has a career. In the story, humans live on a ruined earth. Most of the animals are dead, so people try to raise personal livestock, or if they can’t afford it, “electric” simulacra. The protagonist, Deckard, has an electric sheep, and fears people will find out (it’s a social no-no). He takes a job to hunt down androids capable of nearly perfectly simulating human beings. They lack empathy, however, and a complicated test can reveal them.

It’s left out of the movie, but the book also shows that people are capable of “dialing” their emotions. Deckard avoids a fight with his wife by choosing a more pleasant mood. He also regularly logs into a simulation of a tormented figure rolling a stone eternally up a hill. Living with near-human androids has degraded human perception of reality, so they have to engage in something “real” to maintain their empathy and humanity. But, they are still living a lie, in denial of what humanity actually means.

The Truman Show serves the same purpose. Truman is the suffering saint; his lack of reality, and the life he suffers, makes the pale lives of the audience seem bright and real in comparison. No matter what their day was like, the audience can dial into Truman and adjust their emotions according to his life.

Truman’s world might be very close to ours, but it’s suffered something that makes engaging in life through Truman more acceptable than really living – he’s both sheep and shepherd, cared for by the audience and leading them through what life ought to be. And at the same time, he’s contemptible, because they can watch him poop and he doesn’t know.

I see two arguments about what happens after the ending. Truman abandons Seahaven, sails to freedom after nearly drowning in Christof’s artificial storm, and finds his world is truly false when he bumps into the “sky.” He leaves with his usual greeting: “In case I don’t see ya, good afternoon, good evening, and good night.”

Truman doesn’t curse or even seem to hate Christof. And the audience loves it. The ending is a montage of cheers and people flipping out. He’s provided their comfort for thirty years, and now Truman’s victory is the audience’s victory. As the chosen one, he led them through the hero’s journey to a heroic “ending.”

Truman is an artificially selected chosen one, however, not picked by fate. Christof had to know Truman would grow into a perfectly average (Jim Carrey-ish) adult, with no mental or physical problems, because anything else would have ruined his show. Truman’s revelations about his life, and by extension the audience’s lives, don’t have the same impact as a “real” chosen one. The audience watches him discover them, and they cheer like they’re watching football game.

The chosen one is an excuse for why “ONE MAN” can make a difference. Truman might not even be able to integrate into society, since he’s never actually lived in it, just in the television version. His life has as much to do with reality as Leave it to Beaver has to do with the actual 1950s.

We all wish (as the audience that watches Truman does) that we could be that one special person, chosen by destiny (or Ed Harris — close enough) to… do something. Other than be born, live as our birth and means dictate, then die. We need the chosen one myth, it keeps us from losing our minds in the vast, uncaring cosmos.

Truman shows that a chosen one is the avatar for the pointlessness of the audience’s lives, not a bringer of light and reason. Once he is gone, taking the inspiration and hope the audience relies on, we really only have two options: abandon the myth and try to find or make meaning in life, or, as the security guards say, “See what else is on.”

Fantastic Four — Collaborative Review

Hannah: Melissa and I have now both seen the Fantastic Four reboot, and, well… We’re underimpressed.

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Melissa: I don’t think we’re the only ones either, and that’s a shame. To be honest, I was hoping the movie would prove me wrong – I had my doubts from the beginning. And I tried to be objective, I really did. But I’m a fan of the original movies and I couldn’t help comparing the two. That said, I enjoyed the film more than I thought I would, but I still left the cinema feeling disappointed with the remake as a whole.

Hannah: I also enjoyed it but left disappointed. There were things I really liked, but I couldn’t help feeling like it was a “pre-MCU” movie. It had the same feeling as the Sam Raimi Spiderman movies, for instance. I loved those movies at the time, but in retrospect, they give off a strong feeling of “not quite there yet.” Not as focused or polished or confident, and without the idea of a larger universe, they don’t feel as expansive.

But let’s talk about the good parts.

Melissa: The idea of an alternate universe had huge potential. It was certainly an interesting divergence from the original story, and an accident in space.

Hannah: Yes, I was really into that idea, and how it might streamline things or allow for variations on their powers. I enjoyed the five characters and how distinct their powers were. The transformation sequence was positively harrowing!

Melissa: I agree with you about the transformation, it was brutal. So let’s take a closer look at the main players:

Human Torch – I thought Michael B. Jordan did a pretty good job in the role. He struck me as a bit of a loner, someone who wanted to carve out a path for himself instead of living in his father’s shadow. He had a subtle humour, and a confidence which suited the role. But Chris Evans is a tough act to follow; a hot-head with impulse control issues – the perfect combination for Johnny Storm.

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The Thing – Jamie Bell was great, and I enjoyed the development of his relationship with Reed Richards. I particularly liked the glimpse into their childhood; the bonds they formed early in life. But when he became the Thing, I was oddly detached from the character. It was bizarre that Reed left the group to fend for themselves for a year. I get he was scared, desperate to turn things around, but to leave without a word. What does that say about his commitment to his friend? It just didn’t sit well. I waited the entire movie to hear ‘it’s clobbering time’ and was ultimately disappointed. The line had no personality, and I was left feeling disappointed. To be fair though, it’s always hard when CGI kicks in, and there’s bound to be layers of separation between the audience and the actor playing the role.

Dr. Doom – I liked Toby Kebbell’s portrayal of Victor; the dark tortured personality – a result of being a genius with limited social skills. But then he disappeared for half of the movie and his motivations fell short. Julian McMahon (in the 2005 movie) did the manipulative, ego-centric billionaire really well, and so his transition into a monster made sense.

Hannah: Invisible Woman – Sue is a better female character who gets better treatment than ANY FEMALE MCU CHARACTER. She’s smart and independent, but not cocky or with a chip on her shoulder. She has her own vital set of powers, and isn’t defined by anyone else in the movie. And I really appreciate that even though some romantic elements were present, they’re kept in the background and never a major motivating force. Reed and Sue are an established couple in the comics and have been all along, but that wouldn’t have fit yet. There’s room for it later.

Fantastic Four Sue Storm

Melissa: I agree. Sue was my favourite character. I loved her – Kate Mara brought everything I thought she would to the role; intelligence, morality, and a strength which bound everyone together.

Hannah: Mr. Fantastic – I was so pleasantly surprised by this character! I was expecting “awkward nerd turns out to be the best at everything and gets the girl.” But he was actually shown perfectly comfortable conversing with everyone in the movie. He was pleasant without being annoying. Welcoming and encouraging, with no prejudices, and a kind of “leader from the background.” Smart, with a real comic-book-hero outlook on teamwork. But he still does monumentally stupid things sometimes, and makes interpersonal mistakes like the rest of us.

Melissa: Yes, I think that’s true for most of the movie, which is why I was so disappointed by the change in direction. Instead of stepping up, being the leader they needed him to be, he bailed. I might have accepted a few days, weeks at the most, but he only came back after he was captured. Then, when he did return, he did little to build those bridges.

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Hannah: Yeah. It just didn’t make much sense, and that’s the main “negative” of the movie. The motivation wasn’t there for any of them.  Doom started out so interesting, but like you said, that just disappeared. I loved Reed and Ben’s friendship, especially when Reed sends Ben that selfie, because it shows how close they were and that Reed wasn’t just dumping him (which would be the plot of any other college movie). But then Reed runs away for a year.

That directly ties in to my other biggest problem, and that’s the pacing. Right when it was getting good, they cut it off entirely and jumped ahead a year. All the investment in the characters, gone, because we don’t actually see this part of their development. We never get the emotional payoff afterward, either. The gap created a major conflict between the characters, a fascinating choice, but that’s just waved away at the end. This should be a movie about constructing families, and all the bones are there to make it work, but we don’t get to finish it. Instead there’s a fight scene and an uninspiring speech from Reed and then a textbook “We’re a team, we need a name!” finish, all devoid of connection.

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And the “science.” Don’t make me laugh. It was too ridiculous to be sci-fi, but not quite tongue-in-cheek enough to brush off as comic-book craziness.

Melissa: That sums it up perfectly, Hannah, especially your points about connection and lack of emotional payoff.

Hannah: Thank you, thank you.

There was a lot of potential here, and it was an enjoyable watch, but it would’ve benefited from another half an hour of runtime and a few more goes with the editor. Cut the weird timeskip, and tie the second half closer to the first. Then it could’ve been raised from a “fun” movie to a really good fun movie.

What do you think – did Fantastic Four pull it off? And here’s the question on everyone’s mind… Does it deserve a sequel? Let us know in the comments.