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Thursday, December 10, 2020

The Polar Express Conductor

This past week we re-watched The Polar Express, as that's one of the movies/specials in our rotation, and I developed a theory about the conductor. As everyone who has seen the movie knows, Tom Hanks has a number of roles, including the Conductor and the Narrator. When he's playing the Hobo or Santa, Hanks changes his voice, but the Conductor and Narrator sound just like him. So does the Father, really, but that can also play into my theory.

While we were watching, I told Michelle & Kira to listen for how and when people mention the Conductor when he wasn't around. It turns out that this was pretty easy, as it's only twice. Both times the Know-It-All refers to the Conductor as "he" when talking to the Hero Boy. Those are the only two in the conversation when it happens, and no one else is listening in. The reason that we see and hear the Conductor as we do, is because we're privy to the Hero Boy's experiences and not someone else.

Now for my theory. It's my belief that the conductor appears to each child as themselves as an adult. That's why they tend to trust him and what he says. That would also explain why some kids, like the Know-It-All, are happy to receive praise from "him", when they normally wouldn't care. Of course, this raises more questions, like is this one of Scrooge's ghosts or something else? Regardless, I think that this adds a level to this movie that I'm not sure the producers intended when they made it.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Re-Evaluating Frank Burns

Let's give you a situation. The two most popular kids in school, the guys that have all the girls wanting to date them and all the guys want to hang out with them, have someone they don't like. This guy has different ideals from them, keeps to himself, hangs out with his few friends, and if he's paid attention to in a positive light at all gets extremely giddy. Now the popular guys go out of their way to torment this loner, making fun of his attachment to his mother and his fascination with a topic that they think is stupid. They play pranks on him, both physical and psychological, for their own amusement. Yes, the loner does some things to deserve the treatment, but not to the extent that he receives it, and if the two popular guys would just be a little bit friendly to him, he probably would come around (somewhat) to their way to looking at things.

The popular guys are Hawkeye and Trapper. The Loner is Frank Burns.


I grew up with MASH in syndication, both out of New York and Philadelphia (one of the benefits of growing up at the Jersey Shore), so I've seen a lot of the show. Since the advent of MASHcast, hosted by Rob Kelly, I have been watching it in order for the first time. This has led me to re-evaluate one of the staple characters, Frank Burns as played by Larry Linville.

Frank is not a nice person, being openly racist and judgmental of others as well as a serial adulterer, but there's more to him. When MASH was in full comedy mode, Frank fit in perfectly as the inept villain, always scheming to get Henry Blake thrown out and take over the 4077. As the show progressed into more drama, so did the characters. Well, everyone but Frank. Frank stayed cartoonish and that, along with what we find out about him, led me to a conclusion. Frank Burns is the product of bullying, has some kind of mental illness, and is quite possibly on the Autism Spectrum.

We've seen Frank lash out and pretty much anyone and everyone, but when someone other than Margret acts towards him with kindness, he becomes a playful puppy dog. It's revealed that his mother had to send out 30 party invitations just to get 4 kids to show up to his birthday. Frank grew up without any friends and that had an effect on him. He latches on to ANY affection he gets, the main source on the show being Margret, and without that he's completely lost. When Margret dumps him, he's completely lost in a situation where he has no friends at all, and he loses his mind.

Frank may have gotten through medical school, but his mentality, as shown on the show, has always been one of a child. Like I said, in the beginning this was fine but as the show around him got more and more realistic all I could see was a little boy, excited to play army, that was constantly being picked on by the popular kids and beaten down by the authority figures. It takes away from my enjoyment of the show, to be honest. That's why, if I'm not watching to keep up with a podcast, I usually skip the Frank episodes. I much prefer Winchester as a foil, since he can be just as abrasive as Frank, but has the capacity to defend himself.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Our Star Blazers!


Today marks the 41st anniversary of Star Blazers beginning to air in the United States. I cannot overstate the effect that this show has had on my life. This is one of those shows that I discovered very early on, probably before I even started school, and I remember it distinctly. It was on very early on Saturday mornings, before any of the "regular" cartoons, and it was so different! I'm not just talking about the animation style, but like Flash Gordon from Filmation, it was a CONTINUED story. That blew my young mind.

It had some real threat level to it as well. As much as the American version is cleaned up (no bee people being turned into Royal Jelly, for example) it still had a lot of death and destruction. The whole story of Wildstar's family being killed with their whole city was something you just didn't see in kid's programming. This resulted in my liking continued stories from an early age, and is probably why I'm such a continuity nut today.

The show also started me down the long and winding road of Anime fandom, to the point where my daughter is now obsessed with a multitude of cartoons from Japan. Much like comic books, anime is a medium and not a genre. There's all kinds of stuff there, from the Space Opera that started it all (for me) to general slice-of-life shows that are solidly based in reality. Without Star Blazers, and Battle of the Planets, I doubt I would have ever found something that has given me so much joy, and has made me so many friends.

So Happy Anniversary to the crew of the Argo!



Thursday, July 2, 2020

Music Makes A Difference

Those that know me are aware that I am a Trekkie, having been exposed to Star Trek at an early age. My favorite movie is, in fact, Star Trek The Motion Picture, with its wonderful Jerry Goldsmith score. And that brings me to the point of this post, music in Star Trek movies.

It's no secret that my least favorite of the original cast movies (1 thru 6), is Star Trek 4: The Voyage Home. As I am currently nearing the end of a project where I read the movie novelization and then watch the film, I have seen Star Treks 4 & 5 very recently, and I can tell you that music is a big part, and I mean a BIG part, of why I put 4 so far down the list, even below the often lambasted Star Trek 5: The Final Frontier.

You see, the music in a movie either sets or enhances the mood. That, more than anything else, tells you what you are supposed to be feeling while watching the action. What happens in ST4, however, is the music undercuts any feeling of tension and makes it a goofy comedy. Beyond the opening theme sounding like a Hallmark Channel Christmas Movie, there are several points where the viewer could be on the edge of their seat, worrying if something bad was going to happen. The music, however, might as well be Yakety Sax for all the drama it conveys.

The worst example that I can think of is when Chekov is being chased after escaping custody on the aircraft carrier, There are several twists and turns and he ends up severely injured after a huge fall. This should be full of drama, with the audience not knowing whether or not he'll get away and then being shocked when he's hurt. Instead, it feels like he should be running next to Benny Hill.

That's not to say I dislike Leonard Rosenman's work. The man did a great job on Fantastic Voyage, Beneath The Planet of the Apes, and even Ralph Bakshi's Lord of the Rings. This time, though, I'm afraid that it was a dud.

On the other side of the coin, however, is Star Trek 5. Plagued by budget and special effects problems, I still much prefer to watch this movie than ST4, and there is one major reason for that: Jerry Goldsmith. That's right, the amazing composer from Star Trek The Motion Picture, who redefined what Star Trek music was supposed to sound like, came back for this movie. His use of music does everything it's supposed to, amplifying the mood so that some of the rough edges are glossed over.

If James Horner had agreed to return, and finish the trilogy, or Leonard Nimoy had gotten Goldsmith one movie earlier, I probably wouldn't have as big of a problem with ST4. As it stands, though, it's my least favorite of the first 6, by a wide margin.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

What If ... Wesley Crusher

Listening to Next Generation's First Generation, I hear about Wesley Crusher quite a bit, and that got me to thinking. In the show, Wesley is made an "Acting Ensign" until he can go to Starfleet Academy and earn the rank himself. This gives him duties and responsibilities on the Enterprise, while he's supposed to be learning.

What if, though, instead of being made an Acting Ensign (which is a made-up officer) he just enlisted? I'm sure that Picard would have enough pull with the Admiralty to make sure than an enlisted Wesley would be assigned to the Enterprise, if the issue is that he wants to stay on the ship rather than follow his mother. So he'd have to go to boot camp, but then he'd be an actual member of Starfleet rather than a cosplayer.

If he wanted to be an officer later on, he could always go to Officer Candidate School (aka OCS), but at the very least he would get the experience of working on the ship. First hand experience at the lowest level might have changed how his character arc went. He might have left Starfleet earlier, having figured out that it was not for him. Or, on the other hand, he might have worked through whatever issues that he had and become a model crewman/officer.

I think one of the main issues that people have with the character, beyond the "wunderkind" aspect, is that he was just handed a position and rank over nothing more than Picard's guilt at the death of Jack Crusher. If he had been shown as having to earn it, over the course of multiple seasons, then many people might have not had the adverse reaction to him. I know that it would have improved my opinion, but then I'm the guy that wants to see an ensemble cast that goes all through the hierarchy, a la Hill Street Blues. Watching the high end operations of the bridge being contrast with Wesley and Chief O'Brein dealing with maintenance issues would have made for more enjoyable viewing, at least where I'm concerned.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

The MCU Killed Star Wars

Controversial opinion time: The Marvel Cinematic Universe killed Star Wars, at least the sequel movies.

I think that the major issue with the Sequel Trilogy (Episodes 7, 8, and 9) is the fact that they aren't cohesive. The Force Awakens set some stuff up, The Last Jedi took that set-up and twisted some things around, and then The Rise Of Skywalker threw out a good amount of what was done in TLJ. Love them, hate them, or have a more nuanced opinion on them, you have to admit that there's some major inconsistency there and it makes the movies poorer for it.

The reason for this, in my opinion as a complete outsider, is that Disney saw what was going well over at Marvel Studios and decided to be hands off with the production. The problem is that Kathleen Kennedy, while a great executive, was also being a bit too hands off as well, letting the directors run each film as they saw fit. Over at Marvel you have Kevin Feige who takes a more active hand in the movies. Directors can do pretty much what they want, but are given constraints to work within. Since there's a connected universe, MCU movies have to hit certain beats and set up things for down the road. If JJ Abrams and Rian Johnson we're told that they had to get the story from Point A to Point B, and that the character arcs had been, in a broad sense, worked out ahead of time then I think people would have a much better opinion of the Sequel Trilogy.

Another thing that, at least for me, really brought down the new movies was over saturation, which I also blame the MCU for. You see, the Marvel movies, while all set in the same universe, are all over the place as far as genre goes. Iron Man is an action/adventure with a good dose of comedy, The First Avenger is a period piece, Ant Man is a heist movie, etc. Star Wars is space fantasy, maybe with a few things bolted on, but that's basically it. Multiple MCU movies coming out in a year works, because all of them have a different flavor. A new Star Wars movie coming out every year, and sometimes after only 6 months, is the same thing over and over. That really can wear people out.

Maybe I'm in "get off my lawn mode", but I remember when a new Star Wars movie was special, an event to be looked forward to. Even the Prequels, which I still like less than the Disney movies, only came out once every 3 years. That was long enough to digest what had come before and make up theories about what was coming out. Of course, I still haven't seen Captain Marvel, Endgame, or Far From Home, so it's not just Star Wars that I have the issue with. While I understand the business need for Disney to get back it's investment (which, as a stockholder, I'm thankful for), there's something to be said for holding off and letting the audience breath a bit. I think the declining box office has as much to do with the audience saying, "What, ANOTHER Star Wars movie?" as the "no one steering the ship" story issues.

Your mileage may vary, but that's how I see it. A bit of a firmer hand at Lucasfilm and more downtime between films can only help Star Wars. And that's not to say that you can't have new content. The Mandalorian, Resistance, and the last season of Clone Wars has shown that people will still watch new Star Wars, let's just give the movies a chance to be special again.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Book Recommendation - I Am C-3PO

Last night I finished reading I Am C-3PO by, you guessed it, Anthony Daniels. If, like me, you are a member of Generation Star Wars, then I would highly recommend this book. It's a series of stories that goes, mostly, in chronological order about Mr. Daniels experiences in being a part of the Star Wars Saga. One of the more eye-opening things is just how hard it was to be in the original Threepio suit, as it was made of fiberglass and not just heavy, but painful, to wear.

There's a good deal of behind the scenes in how movies were and are made. Going from fully realized sets to 90% green screen and back seems like a very interesting journey, with good and bad points to each. That's the kind of stuff that I'm really interested in, but then I'm the guy that has watched all of the extra materials on all of the Lord of the Rings DVD's (much to my wife's consternation).