Emperor’s Black Heart – Director of New Star Wars Sequel Announced

Oh, sithspit.

J.J. Abrams To Direct New Star Wars Movie.

Star Trek director J.J. Abrams will be helming the next Star Wars movie. “It’s done deal with J.J.,” a source with knowledge of the situation told Deadline today. Argo director Ben Affleck was also up for the gig, the source says. Despite saying publicly that he didn’t want to direct a new Star Wars, Abrams was courted heavily by producer Kathleen Kennedy to take the job. Expected in 2015, Episode VII will be the first new Star Wars movie since 2005?s Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith. Michael Arndt is writing the script for the first installment of the relaunch of George Lucas’ franchise by Disney. The company bought Lucasfilm in October for $4 billion, with the Star Wars franchise the jewel in the crown. At the time, CEO Bob Iger said three more Star Wars films were in the pipeline. Abrams’ other space-based franchise sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness, comes out May 17. This weekend, the PGA will honor the Lost creator and Revolution producer with its 2013 Norman Lear Award For Television. Abrams is repped by CAA and Oasis Media Group.

I never wrote my feelings up about the Star Trek reboot, but basically summed up, I gave it a 5/10–and all five points came from the soundtrack and the visual techniques. The story was an absolute train wreck, a senseless mishmash of one testosterone-fueled fantasy after another, completely lacking any of the logic or intelligence that was the original series of Star Trek had. The original series, from the 1960s, had serious science fiction writers writing the scripts, exploring topics of racism, sexism, collectivism vs. individualism, the rising might of technology, and what it meant to be human. Abrams’ movie was about kicking ass and scoring ass. I mean, the instant promotion from cadet to captain (oh, sure, that makes sense), the bar fight idiocy, even the very part about not going back and resetting the timeline, because they’ve always done that–there were a great many things about the plot that were just dumb.

It wasn’t all dumb–the characters were kinda enjoyable, in their own way, and there were some funny lines. But by and large, it was pretty bad.

I’m not going to all of a sudden write off Star Wars now that J.J. Abrams is directing it. He has done good stuff. Lots of people liked Lost. I’m a big fan of his show Fringe (except the last season). But, to paraphrase one rebel…

I have a bad feeling about this.

If You’re Gonna Do Product Placement, Make It Believable

There’s nothing I hate more than arrogance and people trying to make me feel stupid. Well, actually, I could probably list a dozen more things I hate (procrastination, Republicans, Democrats, crony capitalism, socialism, the lack of giant robots, the high price of…everything…etc.) but those seem a bit more personal to me than other things. Aside from the giant robots. That one is all me.

Increasingly common in TV and film productions these days are product placement, when you see objects that very clearly are a company’s mark in a show. Eureka started doing this in–I think–season three when they had a bunch of extras working at the top-secret research facility wear Degree Mens’ logos on their jumpsuits. That was explained away by the new manager, who argued that they had to have product placement in order to help pay the bills (since their federal funding was cut.) That’s great; although it may seem questionable to have corporate branding and corporate advertising inside a top-secret Area 51 type place, that part was explained away by Eureka‘s tone as a comedy that didn’t take itself too seriously all the time. Secondly, the in-universe explanation tied it into the show, hung a lamp on it (to use some movemaking slang), and really made it feel like it fit and belonged there. It made the show’s universe feel more real.

Then let’s get to my favorite, Fringe. One bit of product placement that turned up a lot last year were Sprint’s new smartphones and their video chat technology (ha, take that, Apple FaceTime! Yeah! Or something like that.) That also wasn’t a problem, because it was quite subtle–just a smartphone with the Sprint logo, and then sometimes they used the video chat. The worst part about it was that the video quality was a bazillion times better than what you will ever get in a billion years (because it was all pre-filmed and then added into the scene in post-production.) Nothing wrong there. Very believable and made the world seem more accurate and deep.

I particularly like this literary technique; I’ve seen it described as “K-mart realism,” where authors will use everyday, mundane objects, products, branding, etc., to make the world they are creating more round and rich and deep and just something that you can believe actually exist. Now, if you work in film or TV, there a multitude of other concerns–namely, corporations can get upset if you use a product in a way that looks badly on the product–but sometimes it works out.

Sometimes, however, it’s just dumb.

In the current season, the Fringe protagonists have been using a Nissan Leaf to get around. Now, I don’t know any current or former FBI agents, but I would be very, very surprised to learn that an FBI agent had a Nissan Leaf as a personal car, let alone using it while on duty to investigate crimes.

(For those who don’t know what a Nissan Leaf is, it is basically a tiny egg-shaped contraption that is powered by an electric motor. It is not a hybrid–it is a completely, 100%, electric vehicle. Top Gear reviewed it and a competitor from Renault, and found it…well, wanting sounds kind of wanting, but it’s also pretty accurate. Basically, they drove it maybe fifty miles, and then had to wait approximately a day before it would charge up to be usable again. Not exactly something an FBI would want to use on the job. Or any human being, for that matter.)

Think about it. What if you had to engage in a car chase? Sure, you might get up to 80…for all of about twenty seconds, before the car’s battery died. And what is up with the journeys between Boston and the Hudson Valley (in New York)? Viewers sort of tolerated the magical two hour journeys between the Big Apple and the Big Dig because it was part of the tradition of dramatic time–that is, time moves as fast or as slow as the narrative demands–but come on, there is no way a Nissan Leaf is going to make it to Boston to Connecticut to some area just south of Albany New York (where the show’s fictional “Reiden Lake” is located) and back again on the casual charging they seem to do. You might be able to travel between universes, create bubbles in time, develop advanced cloning and precognition, and maybe even make chicken parmesean ice cream, but an electric car going that sort of distance? Give. Me. A. Break.

I otherwise have no problems with either Fringe or the Leaf; I will continue to watch and enjoy the show (though this “Alt-SuperTimeline” thing is getting a bit exhausting) and if I end up staying in the DC metro area and not go on any long-distance excursions, I might end up buying a Leaf to avoid emission taxation (which I am sure is coming down the pipeline) and high gas prices, but together, in that way? Oh come on. It just doesn’t mix.

I understand there may be other considerations–maybe they really really need the money–but please, if you’re going place a product, make it at least somewhat believable. We’re not that dumb.

Except the people watching Jersey Shore.

Fringe is BACK!!!

Peter Bishop...being Peter Bishop.Naturally, like all writers, I read and watch a bunch of other fiction. (Lately, that’s mostly turned into “Reread all of The Dresden Files and play Geneforge,” the latter of which I will rant about later, but, you know.) My favorite fiction show on TV right now is, without a doubt, Fox’s Fringe. It’s got all the bases covered: plausible science, awesome science fiction, alternate universe, great characters, humor, and wonderfully fantastic soundtracks. Lately, though, I’ve noticed that the Fringe airing nowadays is not the same Fringe that started airing four seasons ago. (Oddly enough, this is quite similar to the show’s current concept, where there are different universes that are mostly, but not quite the same.) The original Fringe was something like an updated X-Files for the 21st century, though with JJ Abrams at the helm, it definitely had a real mythology behind it, much more concrete, but still, it was them going out and chasing down monsters and investigating weird anomalies that turned out to be “scientific crimes” of one sort or another. But then it slowly morphed into this large battle between two parallel universes, which have now come to some uneasy sort of truce, but there’s still reality degradation going on that they both have to stop. I’m not saying it’s bad, mind you, I’m just saying it’s different. I can’t really put my finger on it, but the character interactions have changed, the aims have changed, the entire tone of the show has changed. Most of it’s for the better, but some of it is just…different.

Which is why the following tidbit, which I found through a random search on reviews of Friday’s episode, is pants-crappingly awesome:

TVLINE | Can you say anything about how David Robert Jones returns?
Uh… no. I can say from a personal standpoint that the fact that we’re getting back to David Robert Jones and going back basically into Season 1 to rehash all of that stuff, is super-cool. And [Jared Harris] is a great actor to have on the show. But I don’t want to give away the way [he returns], because if you’ve been watching from the very beginning, it’s a very satisfying reveal.

Well that’s interesting…hey, he made a Sim City joke, even I remember that, haha, oh this is–WAIT A MINUTE. [Scrolls back up.]

TVLINE | Can you say anything about how David Robert Jones returns?
Uh… no. I can say from a personal standpoint that the fact that we’re getting back to David Robert Jones and going back basically into Season 1 to rehash all of that stuff, is super-cool. And [Jared Harris] is a great actor to have on the show. But I don’t want to give away the way [he returns], because if you’ve been watching from the very beginning, it’s a very satisfying reveal.

HELL @#$#%^$^&%$#$ YES BABY!

Fringe just got awesome. Er. Awesomer. Pretty sure that’s a word. And if it ain’t, as a writer, I shall make it one.

Small quibble though, about Friday’s episode: why is there a flatscreen TV in a house that’s been unoccupied for, oh…twenty years? With tarps covering everything? And cobwebs? Biggo mistake there, man. Everybody is commentating on it. Including yours truly.



Conspiracy Theories and the Soundtrack to Go with Them

Bin Laden’s Death Offers Fodder of Conspiracy Theorists | Osama bin Laden & Barack Obama & 9-11 | LiveScience.

This is really all I’m going to say about Osama bin Laden’s death. I’ve been skeptical that he was still alive for years, thinking he was killed in a cave, and now I’m a bit skeptical that he was really killed, since there is no way to independently verify his death. We only have the US government to rely on.

But let me not become a conspiracy theorist, for that is not what I’m interested in; I’m more interested in the story ideas that could blossom from it. I, personally, will not write about Osama bin Laden or the War on Terror; I don’t think I could do such a subject justice. But there is ample room to maneuver when it comes to who the conspiracy theorists are:

Conspiracy theorists tend to be “people who feel like they don’t have power in the world, they feel like they have been victimized, they often come up with these explanations how somebody must be behind it,” Donovan said.

Mindset is important, according to Turner, who has followed the birther trend. Conspiracy theories regarding an event often arise when “an official explanation of it seems incongruous to some people who have a worldview that doesn’t accommodate that legitimate explanation,” she said. “Or that the information that one is getting is confused, chaotic and contradictory.”

Absolutely wonderful characters, who feel they are victimized. I like writing about underdogs and victims, since it matches much of my childhood experience being beaten up and harassed by bullies all the time. They’re the best sort of protagonists, even if they’re in the wrong, because everyone can sympathize with and connect to them (well, aside from maybe Donald Trump.) What sort of crazy things will people believe when they feel marginalized? That aliens control the world and are out to make them suffer? That their entire life is in fact a very sophisticated simulation? (I’ve thought about the latter many times myself.) That the reason their socks keep disappearing is because of an extra-dimensional evil gnome named Charlie who needs them to build his castle to repel invaders from the land of cheese? Okay, enough with the drugs there.

I’ve always been interested in how people come to believe what they do despite all the evidence to the contrary. Religion is one big thing for me, but so are some conspiracy theories, more general spiritual and supernatural stuff, radical environmentalism, and of course the belief that government is the solution to all our ills. There is a significant amount to investigate and research, which has already been done by far more talented authors than I, but still, there is always more to write about.

As for direct story ideas, I’m already thinking about a young man who is madly in love with a girl but she doesn’t seem to be all that interested in him, and then she leaves. Not knowing what is going on, he starts blaming aliens for her departure, and then goes out to “rescue” her from her kidnappers, thinking he is being the great hero, when in fact he is being the great idiot. No idea how to end it, but an interesting idea.

Oh look at Dunham being pretty...
Everyone: Buy It.

Now when I write, I always need to have good music. And what better music for conspiracy theories than the Fringe Season 2 Soundtrack by Chris Tilton. (Or the Season 1 Soundtrack, for that matter.) Fringe is an amazingly good science fiction TV show, which I think is excellent because everything is about its characters, and the drama is dependent entirely on its characters. If you had different people, it would be a fundamentally different show. Yet the characters are fully-fleshed out, living beings, the drama is around them and based on them, the science if not completely accurate is at least plausible (or more importantly, enjoyable), and the best part: the music fully immerses you in it. Tilton is quite subtle, I feel, but that is what makes his music so good for the atmosphere and tone that Fringe elicits (what’s out there? I don’t understand. It’s the Boogeyman–No, it’s “Mr. Papaya, the most noble of the fruits.”)

It’s a fantastic score to underline any sort of crazy conspiracy theory or secretive operation. Subtle, dark undertones for the mystery and the unknown out there, followed by a soft piano piece for when you have a moment of genuine genuflection–and then highly punctuated, fast, strong, brutal attacks for when something is going to blow up, and let’s face it, in any conspiracy theory, something blows up eventually.

The soundtrack is only $9.99 on iTunes, and I highly suggest you buy it. If you got the Season 1 Soundtrack, then you’re in for a treat: this one includes not only the ending theme (which was sorely missed on the former) but also the special theme for the 1985 episodes, and that’s a crazy, quirky theme that just bubbles out of the speakers. I’m thinking of making it my ringtone for whenever a mad scientist calls.

Buy it, then watch the season 3 finale this Saturday (and if you haven’t watched it yet, you can get the show on either iTunes or on Amazon Unbox for relatively good prices. And you need to; this is literally the only show I watch anymore. Which probably says something negative about me rather than positive about the show, but whatever.)

Fringe: The Seen, and the Unseen

If you any taste in good television, you no doubt are a fan of Fringe. Ignore for a moment that its a product of J.J. Abrams, a man who wrote the most dizzyingly confusing plot for a previous show, and made a 21st century reboot of a savored franchise that made me want to claw my eyes out. Instead, relish in the humanity of the characters, the fact that it’s driven by them rather than some outside happenings, and is based entirely on good, substantial writing. Also, relish in the fact that you can watch it on Hulu for free, which is what I do because I don’t have a TV. (Thus, I always get it a day later than the broadcast, but that’s something I can live with.)

In a nutshell, Fringe is the story of a super-secret division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, aka “da Feds,” who are investigating the crossover between their universe and a parallel one. This includes many grisly crimes of a “scientific nature,” ranging from Frankensteins, teleportation, genetic warfare, and just about anything that involves messing with people’s minds (including a program that, once it infects your computer, makes anyone looking at the monitor have a seizure and then melts their brain.) It’s like X-Files, in a sense, only it’s more understandable, and in my opinion, better written, with the plot being firmly driven by the characters. I could expound at length on how good the writing of Fringe is, but today, my main goal is to analyze the latest episode, “The Firefly,” and how it relates to an old dead Frenchman by the name of Frederic Bastiat.

The most awesome Frenchman who ever lived.

“Who?” you’re probably saying. “Look, I’m pretty sure I know what Fringe is, but who the heck is this guy?”

Frederic Bastiat was a French economist who lived from 1801-1850, during the end of the Napoleanic Wars, the Bourbon Restoration, the July Monarchy, and the Second Republic. (If only the States went through so much political upheaval.) He was later elected to the assembly during the Second Republic, but it is not his political career that makes him famous; rather, it is his economic writings. Although The Law (La Loi) is perhaps his most famous, the one more relevant here is his essay What Is Seen and What is Not Seen.

The basic crux of Bastiat’s argument is that while we can see what is right in front of us, there are myriad more factors that come into play, but we cannot see them immediately. We only see them much farther down the road, after the action itself, and they are generally negative. No one can really predict them, although Bastiat does allow that one can possibly foresee them:

In the economic sphere an act, a habit, an institution, a law produces not only one effect, but a series of effects. Of these effects, the first alone is immediate; it appears simultaneously with its cause; it is seen. The other effects emerge only subsequently; they are not seen; we are fortunate if we foresee them.

There is only one difference between a bad economist and a good one: the bad economist confines himself to the visible effect; the good economist takes into account both the effect that can be seen and those effects that must be foreseen.

Yet this difference is tremendous; for it almost always happens that when the immediate consequence is favorable, the later consequences are disastrous, and vice versa. Whence it follows that the bad economist pursues a small present good that will be followed by a great evil to come, while the good economist pursues a great good to come, at the risk of a small present evil.

Walter Bishop being ridiculous. Or in other words, himself.
I see the truth!

These are the first three paragraphs of Bastiat’s essay, getting straight to the point, instead of trying to make a lead in and then burying said point in mounds and mounds of meaningless words, as many modern columnists and writers do. (I profess to having no immunity to this disease.)

To give an example of what Bastiat is speaking of, let’s look to minimum wage laws. Many–not just economists–call for higher minimum wages, in order to better the poor. “Look at these people now!” they say. “They are so much wealthier than before! They can afford health care, food, and shelter! And they spend more, so they will better our economy!” Perhaps. This is easily the seen. But what these well-meaning but ultimately mistaken individuals fail to notice–or in some cases, just ignore–is the unseen: that, with higher labor costs, companies will hire fewer people, and thus, there will be more unemployed. So indeed, one has actually hurt the cause of the poor by putting more of them on the unemployment line. (And that certainly doesn’t better our economy.)

It’s not an easy thing for people to swallow. People like to be in control, they like to know that they understand what’s happening, and that when they set out to do something, their desired result will be the real result. It’s perfectly understandable, and its not something to really be ashamed of. (Although, in my case, cursing that my car will not go around a turn at full speed in GRID probably is something to be ashamed of.) The only bad part is that people refuse to learn from their mistakes, and thus we end up with the incalculably huge, puzzling, and nigh-intractable problems our society faces today.

Fortunately, our heroes on Fringe have the humility to learn. Well, sort of.

Note, I’m not going to worry about spoiling it, since the episode has already aired and you can easily watch it on Hulu, as I linked to it above. I’m also going to assume you know a little bit about the story behind Fringe; if you don’t, read up on Wikipedia and watch the latest five episodes (or rent a season on iTunes) in order to catch up. So here is basically what happened: when Walter returned with his son Peter, they fell in a frozen lake, but the Observer, Mr. September–who I’m assured is not F.A. “Baldy” Harper, despite my initial impressions–saved them from drowning. Unfortunately, as the Observer tells Bishop in the present, he could not have foreseen the consequences of saving a human life. Transcript excerpt taken from Fringepedia, the Fringe wiki:

OBSERVER: There are things that I know. But there are things that I do not. Various possible futures are happening simultaneously. I can tell you all of them, but I cannot tell you which one of them will come to pass. Because every action causes ripples, consequences both obvious and… unforeseen. For instance… after I pulled you and Peter from the icy lake, later that summer, Peter caught a firefly. I could not have known he would do that or that because he did a young girl three miles away would not. And so later that night, she would continue looking, trying to find another one. I could not have known that when she did not come home, her father would go out looking for her, driving in the rain, so that when the traffic light turned red, his truck skidded through the intersection at harvard yard, killing a pedestrian.

Wow. You could not have received a better form of Bastiat’s axiom for the modern audience if Bastiat himself came back to life, went to Hollywood, and wrote a screenplay about it. The seen…and the unseen, even to such a being as the Observer, whom we know is both not human and is far more powerful than one, as well as possessing some unique thought patterns; certainly, one LA Times blogger finds the Observer’s plans to be “inscrutable.” But then, realizing that LA is bankrupt appears to be “inscrutable” to the local mayor, so maybe it’s just something in the water.

Now one can’t really say that this makes Fringe a libertarian TV show. In fact, Fringe is fairly apolitical, other than the general “hey, authoritarianism and secrecy is like, bad, guys” that all shows have. And that’s okay. But I found the similarities between what the Observer was saying last Friday and what Bastiat was talking about a century and a half ago to be quite striking. (Was Frederic Bastiat visited by an Observer? I suppose we cannot rule it out.) But if you do feel a need for a concrete, libertarian connection, then you need look no further than the title of the episode. I’ll give you three guesses which libertarian show it reminds you of.