Friday, May 24, 2002

Before I go to bed, I feel compelled to post some thoughts about Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles. I just finished watching the first two DVDs, and I consider them money well spent - or, anyway, I would if I hadn't been given them as gifts.

It would be unfair to say that Roughnecks was what Starship Troopers the film should have been. ST had its own internally consistent aesthetic as far as the universe dynamic went, and I think it served the script's purposes admirably. And Heinlein's actual vision of how Mobile Infantry fought would be very difficult to film - how do you make a film about infantry in a universe where one man in an armored suit is good to cover forty square miles of terrain? I mean, how would you ever get anything on screen?

That said, I think Roughnecks strikes an admirable balance between the dictates of the camera and the feel of the universe that science fiction geeks everywhere have always wanted to see brought to the screen. Granted there's no power armor (what Roughnecks substitutes as "power suits" pales in comparison to what we know real Mobile Infantry suits can do), but there are the following in keeping with the book:

1). A focus on the small unit. The operational unit of the Mobile Infantry has been changed from platoon to squad, but the basic idea of "very small numbers of men are required to get the job done" is still there.
2). Mobile Infantry troopers ... well, they rock the house. They may not have Marauder suits (and as we all know, the Roughnecks version of the "Marauder suit" is nothing at all like the real Marauder) but this is real heavy infantry, with armor that actually protects them, and an enormous amount of firepower at their disposal. Those automatic rifles that Casper Van Dien and Dina Meyer wielded in the movie - you know, the ones that apparently fired paper clips? They're back, but this time they tear warrior bugs to pieces. As it should be.
3). If the humans have the firepower, it's the bugs that have the tactics. Human technology is insufficient to truly protect against a bug ambush. Again, as it should be - the bugs are supposed to be better coordinated than the humans, who have to rely on the individual superiority of their troopers to win through.
4). The Mobile Infantry is actually mobile. Roughnecks makes up for the MI's lack of power armor by providing them with all sorts of nifty locomotive gadgets for getting into, around, and out of battle. MI troopers are dropped by the individual man from orbit. They have rough and tumble low-gee vehicles. They have jet skis. They have personal jet gliders.
5). The feel of the weapons is pretty close to what we know Heinlein's MI used. No atomic rockets yet, but we do toss nuclear bombs around like they're nothing. The preoccupation with fire is there, translated into a variety of nifty plasma gadgets. And the Morita smart rifles that are standard issue for Roughnecks MI even manage to skirt Heinlein's statements to the effect that the MI don't use rifles anymore by giving them guided ammunition.

So, from a technological standpoint I give Roughnecks major props for translating everything about Starship Troopers' tech establishment onto the screen except for the power armor. Which is darn well good enough for me to be just undeniably cool.

The bugs? Well, I admit that I was not immediately scared of the bugs like I was in the movie. I mean, this was a TV cartoon, which means having people get ripped in half while begging their mates to help them is a big no-no. But after a few episodes I bought into what the characters were telling me: that these were big, scary bugs (never mind that I'd never actually seen them kill anyone). And we're seeing the bugs adapt their strains to the various interstellar battlegrounds just like the humans adapt their equipment, which means lots of new and icky bugs to fit the occasion. Perfect!

Plot? Oh, I was skeptical at first. But the plot has turned out to be quite good - and, amazingly, stay focused on the basic point of Starship Troopers: namely, what it's like to be an infantryman, in any time period. This is a series that is meant to be taken seriously, not with tongue in cheek like the movie. And that, too, is in keeping with the basic point of Starship Troopers.

And lastly, you ask, what about the characterization? Although this is an action-oriented series, I find myself liking the characters quite a bit. Lt. Razak (with his new, simplified spelling) is such the consummate leader that you can't help but like him, and the guy who does his voice is really good - he's at once terrifying and fatherly and so utterly in charge that you just have this sense that no matter how bad things get he'll pull you out of it. He is precisely Heinlein's image of the Old Man. Sgt. Brutto is a somewhat less-than character so far - not at all a model sergeant and a bit of a jerk, but he's getting more rounded as the series moves on so I have hope.

Johnny Rico's back, and a pleasant mix of Van Dien's war hero and Heinlein's unimportant everyman who happens to be MI. The true role of observer and liason between Mobile Infantry and Joe Audience has been taken by the reporter, Higgins, who does an admirable job of filling those shoes. Ace is notably absent but replaced by the colorful Corporal Gossard, who's a more interesting character anyway. Carmen Ibanez is back, and (while not as pretty as Denise Richards) far more believable than her big-screen counterpart as the genius superstar who was born to be a starpilot and represent all that the infantryman is deprived of: mother, home, comfort, safety. And, much to my delight, Dina Meyer's Dizzy Flores is back in all of her her sexy, no-nonsense, pining-over-the-hero, tough-as-nails glory. I'm not sure what Dizzy adds to the point of the story, but she's a great foil to Rico and Jenkins (who have a much-needed best-friend thing going on) and is just in general fun to watch. I understand that the character was crafted to appeal to the lonely adolescent sci-fi geeks who are the primary audience of all things Starship Troopers - but knowing that doesn't stop her from appealing to me!

So, that's my quick little dissection of Roughnecks. If you happen to know Dizzy Flores, or someone remotely like her, send her my way.

Monday, May 20, 2002

Well, it's been a while. But I suppose I can spare a bit before lunch to update, now that I have some things to talk about that are worthy of updating.

To begin with in chronological order, then, the Jennifer Knapp/Jars of Clay concert. I am not a Jars fan, and I am a [nominal] Jennifer Knapp fan. Naturally I went primarily to see the guitar girl whose music graces my speakers. I can't say that I was impressed, but then again I don't like her new album all that much. She did perform "Undo Me" ... kind of ... in one of those medleys of old stuff that artists seem to be using nowadays as a way to satisfy their fans' desire to hear the old stuff. Both she and Jars were fun to watch; these are clearly instrumentalists who have mastered the fine art of playing in a visually engaging way and having a blast doing it. Both performances were hampered by the rock concert sensibility (which I dislike intensely) of having the background just as loud as the vocals, if not louder. Especially in a situation like this, where every last decibel you hear comes from the speakers and not the instrument directly, this seems like an entirely avoidable disaster in my opinion. Granted, I'm a vocalist who gets a lot more significance out of the poetry of the lyrics and the artistry of their delivery than I do from the accompaniment (and that's really the rub; groups like this don't view the instrumentals as accompaniment so much as co-equal with the solo) ... but it seems that the heart of the music, particularly in Christian music, is in the lyrics rather than the arrangement.

I do give both performances kudos for having the sense to make the event more than a fun concert. And Jars' encore was particularly tasteful. But all in all, I think the Avalon\\Zoe Girl\\Joy Williams concert at the beginning of the year was better.

Then there was Star Wars II with my Greek class, which was ultimately cool. Even if you don't know that Twilight and I used to quiz each other on the model numbers of various components on Star Wars starships, you can tell I'm a Star Wars geek by the fact that I refer to all of the movies (and always have) by number instead of subtitle. What follows will not be the end of the post, but will be (I expect) a long digression into the relative merits of Star Wars II. If you are not interested in getting an ex-hardcore fan's take on the movie, skip down.

To begin with, you should know that an appreciable part of my enjoyment was due to the fact that I was seeing it with friends. Star Wars is a social milestone in the history of my life; if not for Star Wars I would literally have no crew. We bonded first over Star Wars, and I think everybody who knows him will get a warm feeling of nostalgia if I just recall Kharmak asking "what's a wookiee?" So the fact that I saw the midnight show with my Greek class ... well, it was a symbolic statement of the fact that I am acquiring real friends up here. And any event associated with that must necessarily be remembered fondly.

However, I thought the movie was good anyway. Yes, I thought it was on par with IV, V, and VI. Before I respond to specific criticisms of the movie, allow me to postulate the following:

Film critics view Star Wars II in one of two ways. Either they come to it like any other movie, with their favorite critical theory (whatever that may be) and grade it, or they come to it with the assumption that it must be good and then try to explain away its faults on the grounds that "the fans will like it anyway," tacitly implying that the critic himself thinks it's kind of weak but hey, it's a sacred cow.

What I would like to suggest to you is that Star Wars II ought not to be viewed as primarily cinema, but primarily science fiction. World-building science fiction, in particular (hereafter "science fiction"). Science fiction demands that the audience make critical connections forwards, backwards, or laterally in time. It's a critical part of what makes science ficiton art. If you can't do that, you're no more prepared to critique the movie than someone who knows nothing of instrumental music is prepared to critique an operetta. The corollary to that is that nothing in science fiction is silent. Everything the author tells you or the director lets you see has significance to the plot or the theme. This is just a maxim of the genre; you may accept it or not. I think that most critics don't. So they see the fact that Obi-Wan Kenobi's Aethersprite looks like a Star Destroyer crossed with an A-wing is not and shrug their shoulders. Cute visual storytelling. But it's not; it's a multilayered statement of any number of things. It [should] immediately call to mind Obi-Wan's critical role in the Rebellion, the fact that the Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire come out of the same entity, the fact that Obi-Wan helps create the Empire. And that in turn creates dramatic tension in the beholder just the same as a clever piece of dialogue or great scoring does.

With that in mind, a fan's response to several specific critiques. I hope you will not find any spoilers in what follows, and will understand that "you" refers to film critics directly and not you, the reader of this blog:

1). The movie is preoccupid with politics and has too much exposition. In the first place, Star Wars I-III are political history. They're docudrama. If that's not what you were looking for, sorry, but that's what they are. This is why we're cycling through characters like there's no tomorrow: Qui-Gon, Jar-Jar, Darth Maul, Jango Fett, Nute Gunray ...they played their part on the historical stage and then they disappeared into the background. History is not always the story of characters, and in the case of the history of the Clone Wars and the fall of the Republic, it won't do to focus on individuals the way it did for a study of the Galactic Civil War and the fall of the Empire. In point of fact, the unifying theme of I-III has nothing to do with Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker, or Padme Amidala. It has to do with Palpatine. All of this is nothing more than a footnote to explain how Palpatine singlehandedly destroyed the Republic and created the Empire. As for the idea that there's too much exposition ... I disagree. It seems to me that the phrase "too much" implictly invokes a ratio. 70% talking, 30% showing, or something like that. But in fact all of the exposition given here connects to at least one other fact the movie assumes its audience will be intelligent enough to pick up on. And that means that the ratio of told:shown drops dramatically.

2). The romance is awkward and unbelievable. Well, maybe maybe not. We're talking about someone who's been in politics since she was 14 (she's now 24) and someone who's been in Jedi training since he was 9 (he's now 19). Both, in all likelihood, skipped the part of life where you learn how to deal with the opposite gender. Both are insanely skilled overachievers and know it. Both lack parent figures (Obi-Wan, as you know from IV-VI and just watching him, hardly cuts it as a father figure whatever Anakin says). I happen to know that late-teenage overachievers who know they're in the 99th percentile of humanity and are starving for intimate relationships say and do impossible things in romantic situations. I go to an entire school full of such individuals and have done such things myself. I know girls who get wooden and artificial when they're straining to stay rational in the face of tidal-wave emotions. In short, I argue that Lucas isn't out of touch with the realities of young romance so much as too in touch with it - this is a romance I find entirely believable, but not a kind that is particularly photogenic. And that I think is what people are actually complaining about.

That's enough about Star Wars II for now. I can give you a more complete analysis of the movie if you want, but you'll have to ask me.

Finally, as to going home ... ahhhh, going home. How delightful! We saw Star Wars II with the crew and Twilight's dad and had a rousing discussion about it afterwards while agreeing we did actually enjoy the movie quite a bit. Then we went to my place and had the second ever Classical Phoenix Earth session. The DM called it "really really cool," which sentiment others have echoed. Twilight even said I was "born to do this," and even Cloud (who was not there, of course) said that just the character sheet looked incredibly cool. This was all incredibly gratifying, of course, and we had some innovations too which went off as "mind-numbingly cool," in The DM's words. One was the introduction of the literary cutscene: short short stories about what's going on elsewhere, to allow me to vividly describe the world and even tease the players with plot development. And the other was the straight-faced opening, narrated from the perspective of a real character in the world. All of this is new and experimental but went off great.

And the session was just really cool, too ... nothing went as planned, but that's the essence of Phoenix Earth and I apparently improvised without a hitch. And now the players have brought great misfortune on their heads and it's not my fault! And even more importantly, the party was tougher and more wily than I could have anticipated. This campaign is going to be great fun.

The IG session was great fun too. Our new party, with Kathelia included, finally got somewhere in Antarctica (yes, Antarctica) and had a good old-fashioned dose of horror. The session was a little rushed but that's ok, and ironically enough both sessions ended in cliffhangers. Oh, it's going to be fun when I get back!

And to top it all off I have the first four campaigns of Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles and my own DVD of Moulin Rouge! Ahhhh ... sure there's no time to watch 'em, but at least they're there! Just get to the end of the week ...

Thursday, May 09, 2002

Yet again in Social Dance I avoided dancing with Miss Lodge. This is a courtesy on my part, as I strongly suspect that I am to her as Brown Sweatshirt Guy is to Blue Rose - and if the BSG voluntarily avoided Rose when politely possible, I expect she would thank him. Not that I think I'm an awful dancer or an obnoxious partner, but I see no reason to inflict myself upon her if she'd rather I not.

Fortuitously enough, this put me in the company of Miss Tokyo, with whom I have only previously danced waltz and (I think) a little bit of swing. Today we were doing cha-cha and mambo\\salsa, so dancing with Tokyo was a very different experience from our previous times. She's as good a partner in the Latin dances as she is in the others, so dancing with her was quite the pleasure. I also got to come back from social dance hiatus (i.e., I sat out last class due to sickness and missed the class before that) with the English Goth as my first partner. I've danced with her so often by now that we have adjusted to each others' idiosyncrasies quite well, and we have a fun time chatting during class too. Oh, and early in the class I got to dance with the Apple Senior, who has a very interesting handhold (unusually high) with her right hand but is really quite the smooth follow. If something doesn't work with other girls it usually will with her, and that makes me feel good.

As you may or may not know, a little while ago I was, like poor Simba, feeling rather down on social dance. It just didn't seem fun. Much to my surprise, the Latin dances we are learning now (previously the bane of my existence) have quite revived the pasttime for me. I am sad that I will be missing a large portion of Big Dance in two weeks - but it's for a good cause (namely, going home).

I will also be going on the Campus Crusade for Christ spring retreat this weekend. I am excited about this. To be sure, it's a bit risky to miss three weekends in May in a row. But I feel like my Sweet One has been quite clear that he wants me to go. I am not sure precisely why, but that is good enough for me. CCC is slowly bringing me around to the fellowship establishment. In some ways it still feels silly and unnatural to me, but I believe enough good is coming of it that I can forgive those faults. To be sure, the teaching there is not (in my opinion) of the caliber that one receives at InterVarsity (speaking of the Stanford chapters, now). But I do not lack for good teaching - and the fellowship at CCC is, for me, superior to that at IV. Perhaps it is because I know people coming in, via Testimony. And it is good to again be at a place where Antilles leads worship, as I feel he has a particular gift for that and annointed worship leaders are rare. I feel comfortable saying that because of course it is no praise of him (I feel sure that he would not want me lauding him too highly in a public space such as this).

There is, as well, the presence of the Soprano. I consider this important enough to mention because I begin to suspect that my path has been crossed with hers so that she may fill in the role of the Caryatid. I had not realized it until now, but I miss not having contact with any pillar-women (that is, women who are pillars to me, as I can think of a number of sisters I know whom I am sure are pillars to other men). As the psalmist says,

Then our sons in their youth
will be like well-nurtured plants,
and our daughters will be like pillars
carved to adorn a palace. (Psalm 144:12).

It has recently come to my attention that my sphere is positively saturated with beautiful women (whatever Trent says about Moorpark, Stanford suits me just fine!) But a daughter like a pillar carved to adorn a palace is a rare and beautiful thing - something that I think all believing men should have.

Monday, May 06, 2002

At 2241 Pacific yesterday I turned twenty-one years of age. I did nothing particularly 21-ish, although when the waiter at Max's asked if he could get me a cocktail to start with I did stop and think about it for just over half a second.

The day was not precisely replete with festivities, but it was an agreeable day all the same. I began the day at midnight, when Shanah had the brilliant idea of giving me a birthday dance in Otero lounge. Neani was there, along with a fellow Berkeley-ite from For Christ's Sake, which is Testimony's counterpart group at Cal. For this reason my birthday dance consisted of swing (courtesy of Archimedes), which is of course not my favorite dance but the one that included the largest number of people. I am afraid that my ability to follow swing is lacking, although I hope to have largely remedied that problem by this time next year. I feel certain that Neani's follow was not as good as most of my Stanford partners' have been, despite the fact that her knowledge of swing is in some ways far greater. I attribute this to the influence of the Dance Master on the Stanford campus and am grateful for it.

So I began my birthday surrounded by beautiful girls, all of whom were pleasantly attractive in their own special way. I woke up in plenty of time to go to church at The River and was again pleasantly surprised to find myself in especially attractive female company, although I am sure that their attractiveness was not in celebration of my birthday. The "happy birthday Eric!" that made me jump halfway out of my skin probably was, though, and although it was a small thing it made me smile. Also fun was the fact that church was on the San Jose State campus for the first time, and the service was rather good. The River is of course lacking in certain key areas of what I think a good church should be, but it is a decent place all the same ... and certainly the place that I belong right now. And after all, all churches are lacking in certain key areas of what a good church should be.

Upon returning to campus I commenced the dismembering of my music midterm, which was not a task I enjoyed but not a task that I despised or made me feel shriveled and worthless, either. And that's an improvement. After that my Sweatshirt Girl took me out to dinner at Max's and then to Lane by way of Blockbuster to watch The Music Man. This made me smile, and it seemed to me that the sky on our way to Ginger (her car) was a pleasant mix of the ebon blackness of the Los Angeles night sky and the stars of the Stanford night sky. The symbolism in that struck me as God's way of saying "happy birthday."

The astute among you will have noticed by this point that pretty girls featured large in my birthday. Andrea and Lindsey (although I now prefer Nikki) did not make an appearance, which was probably all for the good as I enjoyed being me yesterday. In two weeks' time I will engage in guy-heavier festivities, namely Star Wars II, Phoenix Earth, and Infernal Gaslamp. All in all, a reasonable balance. Except for the lack of family. I am afraid that I will be spending precious little time in the cove this time around ... but I suppose that couldn't be helped.

The show went well. In point of fact, I thought it was fantastic. I have decided that our pre-show routine needs work, though. I actually resorted to doing some of the stuff that the Director had us do before shows ... and darned if it didn't work in calming my nerves and getting me ready to go up there and pour myself out to the audience. That's pretty much all I'm going to say about that, but you should know that the show went very well indeed.