20,000 Million Miles to Earth – Watch it for free!

20,000 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957) is one of the early black-and-white science fiction films from Ray Harryhausen, the special effects expert who used stop-motion techniques to bring numerous monsters to life throughout his long career. Thanks to Google Video, you can watch this classic example of his work for free. It’s all about an Ymir (a creature from Venus) that hitches a ride to Earth on a space probe. You can see a bigger image of the video (with an option for full-screen viewing on your computer) here. If you like this one, you can find 125 titles available for viewing at the Science Fiction Theatre website, including 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, CHILDREN OF THE DAMEND, DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, MEN IN BLACK, and many more.

Watch This Movie: "Parents"

by Dan Persons

Who knew Bob Balaban — the nerdy translator from CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND; the asshole critic from LADY IN THE WATER; Russell Dalrymple from SEINFELD; and the dispeptic Jewish guy from A MIGHTY WIND and countless other movies — had it in him? A weird and nasty a meditation on natural (and unnatural) human hungers — not to mention the creeping fears that stalk most children — PARENTS slipped through the cracks on initial release, but is worth look-see by anyone with an abiding interest in the Cinefantastique.
Here, after the fold and courtesy of Hulu (which means there are commercials), is the full-length film. Read More

State of Fear or State of Denial?

Monday, December 13th 2004

6:44 PM

“State of Fear” Reviewed in L.A. Times

  • Posted by: Steve Biodrowski

LA Times publishes ridiculous review of Michael Crichton’s “State of Fear”

The Los Angeles Times ran a truly ridiculous review of Michaale Chricthon’s new science-fiction novel STATE OF FEAR the other day. Written by the paper’s book editor, Steve Wasserman, the article is less a review than a thinly disguised op-ed piece. I haven’t read the novel yet, so I cannot say whether it is as bad as the review makes it sound, but I am ready to believe the worst, after reading the article (no link available, sorry) that Crichton wrote for the paper’s Sunday magazine section the previous week.

Basically, after a career of writing novels that exploit fear of science run rampant (JURASSIC PARK and PREY, just to name two), Crichton has now shifted gears and written a book that says people who are afraid of dire scientific warnings are being duped by — get this — a liberal conspiracy. And what is this hoax being perpetrated on the gullible public? Global warming.

I don’t want to get into a debate about the science behind global warming, but I do know that there is a general consensus in the scientific community that it is a real problem. Of course a consensus is not an absolute guarantee that scientists are right, and if Cricthon wants to view their findings skeptically, that’s part of how things are supposed to work: all claims should be subjected to rigorous scrutiny before they are accepted.

But that’s not the position that Cricthon outlined in his article. Instead, he suggests that, after a lifetime of hearing chicken littles claim the sky is falling, he’s just going to stop listening. In other words, he is not advocating rigorous skepticism and scrutiny; he’s is simply suggesting that we ignore claims that upset our feelings of comfort.

Obviously, you can’t spin a whole novel out of apathy. No, you need a villain. So for his plot, Cricthon has opted not to portray well-meaning people with a legitimate concern who happen to be misguided, misinformed, or just simply wrong. No, his story is about (per Wasserman’s review) “cynical environmentalists and their celebrity suporters who plot acts of eco-terrorism to maintain multi-million-dollar fundraising bureaucracies.” When no real disaster is around to inspire donations, the leader of this book’s bureaucracy”conspires to artificially induce a series of deadly climate events.”

That just sounds plain nutty to me, but Wasserman eats it up. He dismisses most of the writing craftsmanship that went into the book (“the plot is contrived, the characters one-dimensional, the predicaments predictable”), but he concludes favorably that hidden within the book is a “compelling op-ed piece desperate to get out.”

My problem is not so much that Cricthon has written a right-wing polemic and Wasserman likes it. No, it bugs me that Wasserman seems so willing to overlook major flaws n the writing because he likes the book’s politics.

Worse, Wasserman slips into the common conservative trap of pretending to be part of an aggrieved minority who are shut out of the discourse because their views are not politically correct. He cites a short list of left-wing political novels to support this contention, ignoring that much of the science fiction genre (a field Crichton knows well) is profoundly conservative – concerned with warning people about the dangers of progress and change. (“There are some things man was not meant to experiment with,” is the common mantra – a theme echoed in Cricthon’s own JURASSIC PARK.)

But my biggest problem with Wasserman’s review of Cricthon’s book is that it seems to give the impression that he doesn’t take the novel’s tale seriously as a work of fiction; rather, he seems to see it as representative of reality. For example, Wasserman writes:

“[Crichton] is appalled by the mumbo-jumbo that opens liberal Hollywood’s wallet to do-gooder causes on the basis of science that is hostage to political correctness. He writes sneerlingly and contemptuously of those romantic idealists who would swallow wholesale the snake oil of liberal delusions and dubious science sold by modern hucksters.”

Why either Crichton or Wasserman would think that “liberal delusions and dubious science” go hand in hand or that science is “hostage to political correctness” is beyond me. We live in a world in which established science (as Crichton well knows) is routinely attacked by conservative fundamentalists; a world in which the President of the United States ignores that findings of government studies simply because he doesn’t like the political implications; a world in which tobacco companies still pretend that cigarettes do not cause cancer and MacDonalds pretends that their greasy hamburgers are really healthful, nourish food.

There may be some liberal go-gooders out there who open their wallets without really understanding the science behind the cause they are supporting. However, it is ridiculous to pretend that there is some kind of colossal conspiracy at work — whose efforts cause the very thing they claim to be fighting. What Wasserman seems to overlook is that, in order to make his story work, Crichton has to invent such absurdities. That’s not the way to make a very “compelling” op-ed piece. If Wasserman wants to praise Cricthon as a teller of compelling tales, fine. But let’s not pretend this nonsense is a fascinating reflection of real life.

Kingdom Kong

Kingdom Kong

  • Posted by: Steve Biodrowski

The MSNBC website has posted an article from this week’s Newsweek called “Kingdom Kong,” which gives a brief behind-the-scenes glimpse at the making of Peter Jackson’s KING KONG. It’s moderately interesting if not particularly informative. Typical of this kind of entertainment “jouranlism,” the point is not so much to report anything interesting to the reader; rather, it’s to let the reader know that the publicaton got inside access to a to a big-time movie set (“an exclusive visit,” crows the headline).

There are a few amusing tidbits. Director Peter Jackson jokes about the foolishness of trying to top LORD OF THE RINGS and talks about the “possibility of failure” in regards to KONG, to which his wife and co-writer replies: “It’s more than posssiblity. It’s inevitablity!” However, Philippa Boyens, who worked on the scripts for both RINGS and KONG, counters by saying. “For the record, KONG is going to kick LORD OF THE RINGS ass!”

Later, reporter Jeff Giles accurately notes that the 1932 version of KING KONG is more than the sum of its parts — a subtle way of saying there is some room for improvement in the remake. Strangely, his first example is the animation for the giant ape — which is actually one of the original film’s highlights. No, the old Kong’s stop-motion isn’t perfect, but it does achieve the kind of stylization that perfectly justifies itself in the context of an expressionsitic-looking black-and-white monster movie. (To back up Giles’ claim that the new Kong will be more frightening and dynamic than the old one, the article is illustrated with a conceptual art rendering of the gorilla fighting a T-Rex. However, the most striking thing about the image is how closely it resembles the pre-production art for the original King Kong.)

Giles also hopes that the new version will “redress the dated, if not racits, protrayal of the islanders who watch Kong get dragged off in chains.” I’m not sure why he selects that particular detail to characterize the portrayal of the islanders — who are not portrayed in a particularly egregious manner, at least by the standards of 1930s movie-making. (Curiously, Giles overlooks the rather ridiculous comic relief characterization of the Chinese cook aboard the ship that visits Kong’s island — a stereotype which is off-putitng to modern viewers.)

Perhaps the most exciting thing in the article is that last paragraph, wherein Giles describes an “animatic” (basically, a rough computer-animated version) of the film’s last nine minutes as “breathtaking” and “stunning.” It’s the one glimpse the article gives us that really might whet a viewer’s apetite to see this new version of one of the screen’s great movie monsters.