Dr. Michio Kaku & Prophets of Science Fiction: New York Comic Con 2011 Podcast

Connecting the Line Between Point A and... What's Beyond Z?: Dr. Michiou Kaku embraces the future in PROPHETS OF SCIENCE FICTION.
Connecting the Line Between Point A and... What's Beyond Z?: Dr. Michio Kaku embraces the future in PROPHETS OF SCIENCE FICTION.

When Ridley Scott executive produces a cable series focusing on how the visionaries of science fiction helped pave the way for our actual future, you might expect episodes speculating on a world where chest-bursters and replicants run riot. Instead, PROPHETS OF SCIENCE FICTION — debuting on the Science Channel on November 9 — looks into what such fertile minds as Mary Shelly, H.G. Wells, and Isaac Asimov got right and wrong in their predictions (although we’re crossing our fingers that a scheduled episode on Philip K. Dick will take a welcome turn towards the dark).
Participating in the series is Dr. Michio Kaku, who, in the series’ debut episode, will be exploring how the dreams (or nightmares) of Ms. Shelly’s Dr. Frankenstein are coming true in today’s laboratories. I managed to wrangle a few minutes with the good doctor, and the conversation both put the lie to the prevalent contention that no one saw the Internet coming, and gives pause for thought to people who were hoping that recent discoveries at the CERN reactor could pave the way to faster-than-light travel.


The Rock to Mysterious Island?

RACE TO WITCH MOUNTAINAccording to The Hollywood Reporter, Dwayne Johnson (formerly known as The Rock) will likely be filling in for Brendan Fraser in the JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH 3D sequel.
Loosely based on Journey author Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island,  the film JOURNEY 2: THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, will feature Johnson as the boyfriend of Sean Anderson’s (Josh Hutcherson, reprising in role) mother, who winds up going with the young man to search for his missing grandfather.
The switch was needed, as due to other committments, Brendan Fraser will not be available to play Sean’s father, Trevor Anderson, as he did in the 2008 film. 
Brad Peyton (CATS & DOGS: THE REVENGE OF KITTY GALORE) has been set to direct  the film for New Line Cinema.
Dwaye Johnson has not yet signed, though the article expects an announcement soon.

MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (1961) Stop-Motion Crab

 The 1874 Jules Verne novel was a sequel to 20,000 Leagues Beneath the Sea, featuring a more benign version of Captain Nemo.
The Mysterious Island has been adapted for films a number times previously, including a Technicolor part-talking film in 1929, a 15-chapter Columbia serial in 1951, and the well-known 1961 Ray Harryhausen stop-motion effort.

Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008) – Film Review

If you plan to see this movie at all, see it at a 3D engagement, because the spectacular computer-generated imagery – as often as not flying out of the screen and into your face – is the only reason for the price of admission. Otherwise, JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH is awesome in its sheer ineptitude. Obviously designed as a showcase for stereoscopic effects – fish leaping into the lens, a bird fluttering in front of your nose – the film not only harkens back to the worst excesses of the brief 3D crazes in the 1950s and 1980s (when gratuitous effects were layered onto second-rate stories), it also plays out like a feature-length version of the short motion-simulation rides seen in specialty Showscan theatres or the 37-minute 3D thrill-ride ALIEN ADVENTURE (1999), which consisted entirely of the camera traversing the tracks of various computer-generated roller-coasters. JOURNEY recreates this aesthetic in a faux-dramatic setting; the thin narrative tissue Continue reading “Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008) – Film Review”

Journey to the Center of the Earth – and the films it inspired

Hollywood’s continued preoccupation with Jules Verne’s 1864 novel Journey to the Center of the Earthis a bit of a puzzle. Yes, the book provides a certain potential for visual razzle-dazzle, and any excuse to travel to a lost world inhabited by dinosaurs is a good one, yet outside of the basic premise, the novel has little to offer in the way of plot or characterization. The story is almost as much a travelogue as an adventure, and a modern reader may frequently find himself wondering whether the many strange sights encountered on the journey are really enough to justify plowing through until the end. It is not a bad book exactly, but it lacks the charm and humor that make Conan Doyle’s The Lost World not only readable but fun all these decades later.

Having written his novels in the 19th century, Jules Verne is often called the “grandfather of science fiction” (or other similar terms), but some of his defenders prefer to call his work “scientific fiction” because of the author’s exhaustive research and dedication for writing books that stayed within the bounds of scientific probability. In his own time, Verne’s novels were called “Extraordinary Voyages” (a term coined by the author’s publisher), and he specialized in writing just what those two words seems to convey: descriptions of unusual and exotic journeys to distant lands, filled with descriptions of landscapes and wildlife, but not necessarily with much drama.

Part of the problem is no doubt due to poor English translation from the original French, and over the course of the past decade or so, there has been a movement to rehabilitate Verne’s reputation with English-speaking readers through new, more accurate and complete translations. Verne clearly represents the first full flowering of the “hard science” strain of science fiction, and he had an uncanny knack for imagining events that have since come to pass. Unfortuantely, his work, including Journey, can be slow going for today’s readers, who may be inclined to regard the inevitable changes made by Hollywood, when adapting his work, as improvements.
Journey to the Center of the Earth is indicative of many of Verne’s strengths and weakness. The author imagines a journey that truly is “extraordinary,” and he lays it out in vivid detail for the reader, replete with numerous memorable episodes featuring close calls, near escapes, brushes with death, not to mention encounters with various primeval and extinct animals that have managed to survive in subterranean caverns beneath the Earth’s surface. However, there is precious little story and almost no drama. The entire book simply follows Professor Lidenbrock as he and his nephew Alex and their local guide descend into the crater of an extinct volcano and follow various tunnels until they reach their destination. Character interaction is limited to the most basic sort. Alex, who narrates, is our eyes and ears, a sort of ordinary person who quite reasonably wants to turn back at the sight of each new threatening danger, while his uncle the scientist is eager to continue no matter what the peril, and the stalwart guide simply follows the orders of his “master” without question. Adding to the simplicity, Alex doesn’t speak the guide’s language, so the opportunities for dialogue exchanges and character interaction are mostly limited to him and his uncle. It is symptomatic of the lack of plot that many of the encounters with prehistoric monsters turn out to be dreams or hallucinations brought on by fatigue, and it doesn’t really matter much one way or the other; whether “real” or “imagined,” the incidents imply occur and then the story continues more or less as if nothing had happened.
The 1959 film adaptation, starring James MasonNot surprisingly, when 20th Century Fox filmed the tale in 1959 with James Mason and Pat Boone, they added some antagonists and a love interest (in the novel, Alex often thinks back on the fiancé he left behind; in the movie, she actually goes on the trip). This helps give some small sense of excitement to the story (it’s a race to see who will reach the destination first), but to a large extent the film recreates the strengths and weaknesses of the source material. Its biggest advantage is the combination of color photography, underground location shooting, and special effects, which make the adventure quite a treat for the eye (and the ear, too, thanks to the stereo sound). It also helps to have Mason and Thayer David on board as Lidenbrock and his rival Count Saknussem, but the presence of Boone (yes, he sings) is rather distracting—not that he’s bad in the role of Alec, but it is hard to forget that this is, after all, the one-time pop singer who turned into a shill for the milk industry and a conservative anti-porn crusader.
Still, whatever the weaknesses of the 1959 version (which is considered a classic by many, despite its measured pace), it stands far and away above the 1989 remake, a film so bad that it went unreleased upon its completion in 1988. This version of JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH was all about some kids on vacation in Hawaii who stumble into a volcanic cave that leads them toward the Earth’s core, but the behind the scenes story turned out to be far more interesting. When the film’s production company (the now-defunct Canon pictures) saw the results turned in by first-time director Rusty Lemorande, they called in another director, Albert Pyun, to save the project. In exchange for this service, Pyun talked the company into bankrolling his own underground adventure, Alien From L.A., starring swimsuit model Kathy Ireland. During the reshooting of Journey, Pyun added a cameo from Ireland, turning the film into a sequel to Alien From L.A. Both films wound up going almost entirely unseen, although Alien did find its way onto Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Click to purchase the movie novelizationSince then there have been a few made-for-television adaptations, in 1993, 1996, and one in 1999 starring Treat Williams, but none of those  garnered much attention; there is also an obscure 1976 Philppino version. The latest adaptation, filmed in 3D, and with Brendan Fraser in the lead, alters the story so much that the screenplay was adapted into a merchandising tie-in novelization. This is an unfortunate tradition that extends at least back to the 1950 film adaptation of KING SOLOMON’S MINES, and includes BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA (1992), both of which yielded novelizations that differed significantly from the source material. In the case of JOURNEY, however, one can hardly blame Hollywood for trying to goose the tale up a little bit.
Verne was a prolific writer, with dozens of titles to his credit. Those with the most interest for today’s science fiction fans are the ones that have served as source material for various movie adaptations that keep the titles in the public awareness. Besides Journey, there are 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1870) and Mysterious Island (1874). Of lesser interest are From the Earth to the Moon and its 1870 sequel Around the Moon (which were adapted into a competent but mostly forgotten 1958 film under the title From the Earth to the Moon) and Robur the Conqueror (1886) and its 1904 follow-up Master of the World (which were jointly adapted, under the later title, into a fairly well written but not very well produced Vincent Price movie in 1961).

Cybersurfing: Reviews of "Crystal Skull" & "Center of the Earth"

Shia LeBeof and Harrison FordINDIANA GROANS: Rich Heldenfels of Beacon Journal laments the latest RAIDERS movie, INDIANA JONES AND THE KINDGOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL:

Crystal Skull, the fourth big-screen movie in the Jones series, puts up a fight here and there. But history is too much for it. Crystal Skull ends up a disappointment and, even more sadly, an unnecessary addition to the Jones canon.

[…] The stunts can occasionally dazzle. One extended car chase, complete with shootouts and a sword fight, is a dandy. But it’s also something we’ve seen before, in this film and others.

[…] the tricks are only sporadically entertaining. The big plot twists are not very surprising. (The audience will be ahead of Indy on at least one of them.) Part of one chase makes no sense.

I did feel a grin slipping across my face when we first see the shadow of Indy in his iconic hat. And the grin was back at times near the end, when the movie felt as comfy and familiar as a 20-year-old T-shirt I am reluctant to give up.

But that T-shirt is tattered at the neck. And Crystal Skull is full of holes.

JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH: At EVLiving.com, Richard Dennis tells us that the new 3D version of Jules Vernes classic adventure novel – starring Brendan Fraser (THE MUMMY) – may not be great cinema, but it is great fun for families looking to take their kids to the movies:

I was very surprised to find that we all had an absolute ball watching this film. Truth be told, the whole audience seemed to be having a good time. Is it a good film? Probably not. Is it derivative of Temple of Doom (mine car chase), Jurassic Park (dinos), and a dozen other action/fantasy films. You bet…derivative as all hell. Did we enjoy it? You betcha.

The Real 3D employed in the film looked fantastic and gave the whole shebang a great texture, some fun/scary jump out moments, and a fresh colorful look that made for an above average time-passer. I didn’t even mind the obligatory “stuff flying at you” scenes.


Captain Nemo Double Bill

On Sunday, the American Cinematheque concludes its 7th Annual Festival of Fantasy, Horror & Science-Fiction Films with a double bill of titles inspired by Jules Vern: 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (1954) and MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (1961), starting at 7:30pm in the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. It’s been an age since I’ve seen the latter film (which is one of the best to feature stop-motion monster by Ray Harryhausen), but 20,000 LEAGUES has shown up on the big screen here in Hollywood several times in recent years, usually when Walt Disney Pictures is ginning up a little promotional buzz for yet another release on a new home video format (first VHS, then laserdisc, most recently DVD). The nice thing about this is that Disney owns one of the best movie palaces on Hollywood Blvd, El Capitan, which dates back to the Golden Era of film-going; it’s hard to think of a more magical place to enjoy a classic film. I don’t think the Egyptian Theatre can quite match the experience, but that shouldn’t’t stop Los Angeles-area genre fans from taking advantage of this rare opportunity. Continue reading “Captain Nemo Double Bill”