Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Some thoughts on the Watchmen movie

Saw the Watchmen movie last Saturday (Mar 7) in Vienna. Enjoyed it very much, even though I had to watch the German dub (the English version will probably not get here before June; they're not getting Slumdog Millionaire until April). Sadly, my German is not good enough to catch the subtleties of the dialog, so it was probably a good thing that the writing team lifted so much of it directly from the comics. However, that did mean that I spent quite a bit of the movie actually looking at the images, which is a significant part of the movie going experience, after all.

So, I can't really review the movie when I haven't actually experienced it fully, but I can (and, of course, am going to) say a couple of things about the quality of the differences between the movie and comic (hereafter "Movie" and "Comic"). I'll try to avoid spoiling anything. But, if you're the kind of person who doesn't want to know anything about a movie before going into it, you should stop reading right now. Also, if you haven't read the Comic, ur Graphic Novel Comic (dammit) this may not make a lot of sense.

You have been warned.

So Zach Snyder has not quite repeated what he did with Frank Miller's 300. That's a good thing. It wasn't that 300 was a bad movie, but I would argue that the movie was more-or-less a remake of Frank Miller's comic book, which was all but a kind of full fledged storyboard/pre-vis for the movie that was running through Miller's head, and which eventually come out via Zach Snyder (though not quite in the same way that Robert Rodriguez's Sin City relates to the comics, but I'm not going there in this post).

As a fan of the Comic, I loved seeing many of the iconic "shots" show up in the Movie (though not the symmetric centerfold from issue #5, AKA "Fearful Symmetry"). However, I'm not alone in wondering if viewers new to the story get the same frisson from those scenes that even blew Dave Gibbons away for the attention to detail on matching the Comic. Roger Ebert mentioned in his blog that he was a bit lost in the first viewing, though he still enjoyed it even as someone who hadn't read the Comic. Any other non-Comic reader feel that way?

The thing that absolutely blew me away was the opening credit sequence. In what could only have been a couple of minutes, Snyder condensed an enormous amount of background material; essentially giving the audience a series of thumbnail sketches of this alternate reality in a handful of moving tableaux. In particular, I really liked the Dr. Manhattan/JFK bit, partly because I had issues with the insertion of Tom Hanks into historical footage of LBJ in Forrest Gump. And as a not-so-subtle wink to the comic origins of the Movie, these sequences were composited like multi-planar cartoons, where different characters were on different planes, and they moved at different speeds as the camera pans, creating the illusion of depth. Of course the "cut-out" quality of the movement defeats any suspension of disbelief from the opening sequence, which is very meta; sort of like Snyder is telling us: look at this animated comic of the movie I made from a comic book.

One thing that did surprise me was the bloody-mindedness of the Movie, which in retrospect, made perfect sense. For the Rorschach bits, clearly there needed to be Blood (apropos Stoppard's "The Player" in Rosencrantz and Gildenstern Are Dead). What caught me off guard was the sheer viciousness of Nite Owl and Silk Spectre, particularly in their first fight scene. Again, Snyder is working well within the Comic's canon; and it's obvious in hindsight that this is exactly what Alan Moore had intended with these characters. I, like many who read mostly Comics Code-compliant titles while growing up, was certainly conditioned to an almost antiseptic version of personal violence in comics, as typified (and only slightly parodied) in the "Biff!", "Pow!" and "Bam!" of the Batman TV series. Even recent, comic-based film outings suffer a form of reality distortion (at least for the "hero"). How many fingers did Batman break in succession on one person? How many necks did Iron Man snap with his (enhanced) hands)? How many limbs did/will Wolverine sever with his adamantine claws? Those are supposed to be things the bad guys did, which of course, brings us right back to the name of the Comic and Movie.

Right. That's probably enough for now. Though did anyone else hear a little Blade Runner-esque Vangelis in the scene where Dan Dreiberg is walking home in the rain? Hmmm.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

100 Most Important Books to Read Before You Die: Part 1

2009-02-21 22:28 CET - Update: Fixed missing word and added tags.

To give proper credit, friend Jason originally asked (on a private mailing list) for recommendations on the "100 Most Important Books to Read Before You Die". Some of his criteria are (and I quote/paraphrase):

  • Important

  • As in changing "the way a people think or act, or exemplifies human action or emotion to a defining degree.

  • Diverse

  • Fiction or non-fiction are ok, and from any discipline, genre and culture.

  • Insightful

  • "Having read the books on the list, one should feel insight into what it means to be human, what humanity has accomplished over its history and why, and what we think about the universe around us and why."

  • Clearness over originality

  • E.g. a later, more accessible work on a subject that is better than an earlier, more "scholarly" work.

  • Factual for its time

  • "Non-fictional" works that are founded on now discredited information should not be disqualified, as long as those works give us insight to their times.

Jason started us off with the Old Testament, which is certainly Important, somewhat Diverse, Insightful, not so Original, and Factual, for its time.

Here, then, are my first 10 suggestions, with more or less reverent (or relevant) commentary. I continue with Jason's religious theme:

  1. The New Testament

  2. If you're going to read the Bible, read both parts. You should balance out the Thou-shall-not's with some Blessed-are-the-meek's. I'm a fan of the King James Version, probably because I worked out of it during my Puritan years at RenFaire.

  3. The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus Really Say? The Search for the AUTHENTIC Words of Jesus by Robert W. Funk & the Jesus Seminar

  4. This a great follow-up to the New Testament. Plus, it really opens up the reality of modern biblical scholarship to the lay person.

  5. The Qur'an (Koran)

  6. This [is] on my personal list to read, though I'm still looking for a reasonable English translation.

  7. The Golden Bough by Sir James George Frazer

  8. How can anyone not want to read about the priests of Diana and what they got up to at Aricia? Strike that. If you have any interest at all in the roots of European belief systems, especially those which have been masked or erased by the rise of Christianity, then this is the book to read. If you just want some nice stories to read to the kiddies, might I suggest:

  9. Bulfinch's Mythology by Thomas Bulfinch

  10. The Antics of the Olympians, rated "G" for "gag me with a spoon". I believe that Bulfinch is singularly responsible for the strategically placed hair of the female centaurs in Fantasia.

  11. The Iliad by Homer (sort of)

  12. As much as some might decry the recent Troy and the less recent (and way more Dr-Who-with-a-budget) Clash of the Titans, you can see where the writers of even the cheesiest movies with Greek mythological themes have not strayed all that far from the source. Just don't call it "The Curious Case of the Son of Peleus".

  13. The Epic of Gilgamesh

  14. Wacky stuff. Honest. But incredibly influential on "Western" literature from the Old Testament on. E.g. there are clear echoes of Gilgamesh & Enkidu's first meeting in the Robin Hood/Little John and Arthur/Lancelot first encounters. More Gilgamesh goodness can be found here.

  15. Tipitaka & Mahayana sutras

  16. If there were "core" texts for Buddhism, then these are it. Apparently, the path to Enlightenment goes through the Wood of Schisms, so just one text doesn't cut it.

  17. The Mahabharata of Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa, translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli

  18. This is the original Hinduism for Dummies. For those with enormous bladders, try the video version directed by Peter Brook.

  19. Tao Te Ching/Daodejing (The Tao and its Characteristics) by Laozi, translated by James Legge

  20. No matter how you transliterate it, Taoism is still the least well understood of the Chinese contribution to world culture. (It's clearly not as flashy as fireworks, nor as yummy as Peking Duck.) The actual Tao Te Ching is not very long (5000 Chinese characters, as the brush writes), but you have to deal with the various commentaries. It's the hazard of reading a language that is half composed of allusions.

Bonus Item:
  • Blogging the Bible by David Plotz at Slate.com

  • It's like a reading the inner monolog of the person tasked to write The Old Testament for Dummies. Last I heard, he's working on turning these essays into a book. He's also considering doing the same thing with the New Testament.

    Saturday, January 31, 2009

    Maxtor is Dead to Me

    The following is an IM exchange between me and Maxtor/Seagate support:

    Hello. How may I help you?

    Paul T.S. no name: Hi. I just bought a OneTouch4 Plus and failed to format it under OSX 10.5. The support page for the drive says I can email Tech Support to get a link for the software that allows HFS+ formatting under Leopard, but the link to Tech Support expects me to register in your database. I DO NOT wish to register. I DO NOT want to be on a mailing list. I want software that makes your product work with my computer as advertised.

    Jared J.: its not going to put you on a mailing list it does that so it can send you the correct software

    Jared J.: there are people out there that want software that shouldn't work with there drive and some of stuff has encryption which can't be used in certain courtries so we have the registration process to avoid international trade issues

    Paul T.S. no name: There is absolutely no technical reason for your process to require my email. Product ID, serial number and country of origin is all you need.

    Thank you for using Seagate products. You may now close this window.

    Your session has ended. You may now close this window.

    30 Minutes Earlier

    I bought a Maxtor OneTouch 4 Plus drive and started to reformat it before looking at all the documentation. While it would format to Fat32 and NTFS (under MacFUSE) just fine, the volume erase command fails when I tried HFS+. When I finally check the docs, I find out that to format under Leopard, I have to run this piece of software that came on the drive only. Ok, so I'm an idiot for not checking the software on the drive. But Maxtor is brain-dead for not including the software on the CD that comes in the box.

    So I go to Maxtor's site to download said software. It bounces me to Seagate (fine) and I navigate down to the download area for this drive and eventually get this message:

    If you have erased the software and need to obtain replacement software for your hard drive, contact Seagate Technical Support by email. [emphasis mine]

    If you click on the Seagate Tech Support link, you don't see a list of email addresses. You get a SalesForce generated login page, in which you have to root around before finding out that if you were not registered, you need to click on the "Register and Create a Support Case" link. Of course, you'd first encounter a secure certificate mismatch dialog, because Seagate apparently registered "sso.seagate.com" for the certificate, but is serving these pages from "apps1.seagate.com". I then tried to find an email address from the Contact Us page. Guess where it redirected me: back to the apps1.seagate.com login page. So I clicked on the IM link from the Contact Us page and the above is the result.[1]

    So Maxtor is now Dead to Me.


    I managed to work around this problem by booting up my Powerbook that's running 10.4 and formatting it there. Once that worked, I can reformat it in HFS+ all I want under Leopard. I still don't have the "official" Maxtor software, but I don't need it since I'm not using their drive encryption apps.

    [1] Now, it's unclear if they disconnected my chat deliberately or not. It appears that their chat system is a bit eager to boot people. However, it also doesn't use audio feedback when a new message comes in, so waiting for an available agent requires 100% of your attention.