Dystopia Review: Me and the Big Guy   January 25th, 2017

I’ve been thinking of 1984, which I need to watch and review soon. In the meantime, I remembered this short film I saw years ago and was happy to find it on YouTube.

“Me and the Big Guy” is a wonderfully clever satire on George Orwell’s dystopian world, where a clueless worker drone takes the title of Big Brother a little too literally. Brilliant work!

Journey Into podcast presents a story which falls nicely into my Dystoporama series.  The episode features a show from the radio drama X-Minus One, To The Future by Ray Bradbury.

The tale features a pair of scientists, husband and wife, who hope to flee a dystopian war-ravaged world into the past of 1955. They are important to the government they have fled, as their work on new and terrible weapons is sorely needed, so they are pursued. Will they be able to escape the clutches of the seeker hunting them?

It’s a neat tale and has some fun touches, like how both the fugitives and the loyal government man pursuing them, cannot help but covet and indulge on the bounties of the past such as chocolates, liquor and cuban cigars. They must be out of victory gin in the year 2155.

This story was also published under the title “The Fox in the Forest.”

Revisiting Zootopia   January 21st, 2017

“It’s called a hustle, sweetheart.”

I distracted myself from the impending presidential inauguration this week by re-watching Zootopia. I like to imagine the fantasy of having had Wilde/Hopps as a potential political ticket for this past election cycle, instead of the media-circus freak show we ended up with.

For the few people who may somehow have not heard of it, Zootopia is a fun mystery/adventure/buddy/cop movie set in an animated world of anthropomorphic animals. The plot involves a small female bunny, Judy Hopps in her quest to be the first rabbit police officer and the roadblocks she faces being taken seriously. Along the way she crosses paths with a con-artist fox Nick Wilde and the two become unexpected partners as they investigate cases of disappearing mammals in the titular metropolis of Zootopia.

Themes of bias, both conscious and unconscious, are threaded through the plot of the story. These are used as metaphors for racism and sexism, and while they are obvious they are also superbly nuanced. The nuance comes in big part due to how the narrative of the movie evolved. Read the rest of this entry »

“The Daleks are your servants…”

The Daleks with their simple pepper pot construction and modulated voices are probably the most-iconic monsters of the Doctor Who British television series. They could be argued to be one of the best villains, even given that it took them thirty some years to learn how to navigate a simple set of stairs. Even so, they have always been my favorites. It doesn’t matter that one of their mechanical appendages is a toilet plunger, the rotating dome with its single eye stock and the laser weapon always fill me with equal parts excitement and dread,

The Daleks are a wonderful metaphor for the ultimate fascists in their unceasing efforts to exterminate what they consider all inferior races. “Genesis of the Daleks,” a Tom Baker story from 1975 built upon this. It featured the science team and Davros’ secret police, decked out in black SS style uniforms, toiling away in a secret bunker to win an unending war. The World War Two allusions were obvious but they were backed up with a tight story, giving an interesting bit of retroactive-continuity to the cyborg menace. Read the rest of this entry »

Movie Review: Hidden Figures   January 14th, 2017

I took a break from looking at dystopian futures to watch “Hidden Figures” a story from the promising and tumultuous time in history. The film chronicles three African-American women, working as “human computers” at their jobs providing NASA with rocket trajectory calculations in the beginning of the 1960s, the early days of the space race. As with all films based on true stories, it’s hard to know what is actual history and what is narrative license.

Certainly the work and achievements of Katherine G. Johnson (mathematician), Mary Jackson (engineer) and Dorothy Vaughan (supervisor and programmer of IBM electronic computers) are well known. It’s never sure how many of the details filling in between the facts are genuine or for story. I would like to the book the film was inspired on at some point to find out more of the picture.

Even understanding that history and narrative are usually different animals, and taking that into account. The film is interesting, engaging and entertaining. Besides the human interest and Civil Rights achievements, I also enjoyed seeing a world where space-flight mathematics are carried out on paper and blackboards, as the digital age and the first IBM computers were emerging on the scene. At one point Dorothy Vaughan happens upon a FORTRAN book and that made me smile, remembering my time using the language back in engineering school.

At times the film feels jovial in the face of the daily reminders of dealing with segregation, and in places the tone feels slightly off, but then again that conscious decision keeps the film from being dark and brooding. The mood is upbeat and the story instead focuses on the themes of achievements and progress. Confrontations happen, then the plot moves on. There are both allies and adversaries shown, and while things might be oversimplified for use of plot efficiency, the characters are all portrayed with some nuance and they feel human rather than as caricatures.

The film also shows a few instances where people end up rethinking the status quo, not from moral arguments, but from personal interactions or tangential experiences. Director Al Harrison, played by Kevin Costner, doesn’t desegregate the bathrooms because it’s the just thing to do, he does it because it’s stupid and inefficient, and getting the launch and landing calculations completed are more important. I don’t know if those events actually played out as told, but it rings true to human nature.

Overall the pacing is snappy and the plot is tight, with the narrative moving between the characters’ personal and work lives as well as following NASA’s projects’ missions. The film makes good use of archival news footage for rocket launches added along the way, culminating in John Glenn’s historic Mercury 7 flight, with a familiar credits montage depicting what happens in the women’s careers to show the rest of the story.