From the archives: Television

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One giant leap for private citizenry

Tuesday, 22 June 2004 — 10:36am | Science, Television

First of all, hats off to the many minds behind SpaceShipOne for being the ones to finally do something that is, in many ways, decades overdue – and outdoing NASA in the process. To that end I refer to the launch system, which for a change, did not require dumping a Saturn V in the ocean. NASA has been talking about a rocket-free, reusable launch system for decades – I am personally in possession of a colouring book that predicted a target date of 1997 – but funding cuts and massive organizational problems have left the NASA-driven development of manned spaceflight completely stagnant for the past twenty years. We should be nothing short of ashamed that we are four years into the once-heralded and ever so futuristic-sounding “twenty-first century”, and we don’t even have moon colonies. It’s about time we saw the results of some actual initiative, and my, are they ever results. has some excellent coverage, including a thorough feature debating the implications of this monumental event.

What does this mean for humanity? Well, aside from the fact that one of the biggest obstacles to the proliferation of manned spaceflight is a government trapped by the reluctance of taxpayers to act as financiers, it means that we may be hurtling towards a different future than the one envisioned by the likes of Gene Roddenberry. It always struck me as odd that space traffic was under such tight governmental control after the formation of the United Federation of Planets. Now, before anybody brings up the counterexample of how Zefram Cochrane’s landmark warp flight in 2061 was a private initiative, or how socio-political factors like a war against an external common enemy (in this case, the Romulan Empire) tends to bring everybody under a single flag, my point here is that under the Federation, private spaceflight all but disappeared. One would think that the private citizens of Earth would have more than just the occasional cargo freighter to call their own.

So maybe even the Paul Allens of the world can’t quite afford a Galaxy-class NCC-1701-D, but Cochrane demonstrated that warp-capable spacecraft were more than achievable – and similar to the method of SpaceShipOne’s launch, it actually beat the government to doing it first. Either the commercial crafts and routes are sparse to non-existent, or we just never see them. Of course, given the little we know about Trekonomics – what, with Federation credits as some sort of abstract currency replacement – I suspect the former is closer to the truth, as far as truth goes in works of fiction. This is not to say that big government is not a solution once the human race reaches a point where a UFP equivalent is possible, but it is certainly not how we’ll get there.

Enterprise, by the way, is a surprisingly good show. I’m a little behind, having not followed it very regularly since the first season (it is now entering its fourth), but it is the only television drama of any interest this day and age. The fact that television generally sucks is a matter worthy of separate examination, and has to do with yucky political stuff like what to do with the CBC. Look forward to it.

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Everything that has a beginning

Monday, 10 November 2003 — 6:49pm | Animation, Debate, Film, Star Wars, Television

If you have noticed the conspicuous absence of any entries in the past week – and if you are one of the handful of people who lurk here without telling me – three things: a) I know you’re out there by way of third-party information, b) the “Annotate” link is there for a reason, and 3) you are probably wondering what I thought of The Matrix Revolutions.

Regarding the film, I have drawn the conclusion that I cannot formulate an adequate assessment until a second viewing. My initial impression is one that lacks fulfilment. This is a movie that needed to provide both plot resolution and thematic resolution, and save for the best exchange of dialogue in the entire trilogy during the final fight, the second was distractingly incomplete. Plot-wise, there was the appropriate balance of denouement and ambiguity. Theme-wise, some ideas were swatted away rather than provided with appropriately soft landings.

The film was enjoyable nonetheless, though the intelligence and visual audacity exhibited by The Matrix Reloaded was not improved upon. The biggest problem with Revolutions is that next to the first two films, it feels all too conventional.

The laziness-business dialectic axis prevents me from elaborating any further at this time, so do not take this as a full review.

Another release that deserves some comment is the debut of Cartoon Network’s Clone Wars series of shorts by Genndy Tartakovsky, perhaps the flag-bearer of this generation of expressionistic animation, a generation without a Friz Freleng or Chuck Jones at the helm. The first episode is on the Cartoon Network website, but is inaccessible for anyone outside the United States. File-sharing is a Canadian’s best friend – except hockey, that is.

Chapter 1 is, more than anything, a tease of what’s to come. So far, it looks good. The best part about it is that it does not yet show any signs of falling victim to the stock conventions that make the Expanded Universe so unbearable. It’s slick, it’s stylish, and even though it isn’t at all like the style of the films, it possesses a dynamism that somehow feels right. Chapter 2 is due out tonight, so we will see how this develops.

As for what occupied me all weekend: I was debating in the University of Alberta’s home tournament, the Hugill Cup, Friday through Sunday. That’s right – Sunday. For a variety of reasons, among which was the ineligibility of a rubber duck named Bismarck, I made it into one of the two semi-final rooms and won an exquisite set of coasters. Unfortunately, I botched my secret mission from uncharted space to break into public speaking finals right in the very first round. Next time, Gadget, next time.

Check out the results. And if you see one of Misters Crossman or Tse, buy him a well-deserved drink, and ask him to show you that snappy champions’ pocketwatch.

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Smoke me a kipper

Tuesday, 16 September 2003 — 9:58pm | Television

Considering that we’ve had about a total of fourteen episodes in the past decade due to the work on the movie, you’d think that Red Dwarf would be well under its smegging way by now. But according to Danny “The Cat” John-Jules in his interview with Sci-Fi Online, we have a ways to wait yet. Shooting does not commence until next year.

Although it does not appear that Rob Grant is involved in the production, from the early promotional material it seems that Doug Naylor took more than a few cues from Grant’s novel Backwards, particularly with the inclusion of the simulants in a post-extinction-of-the-human-race scenario. Of course, I have no idea how this will fit into the Series VIII continuity of a re-created Dwarf where Captain Hollister and a thousand others were brought back to life. But we’ll see.

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And for some reason, I would have blue hair

Friday, 18 July 2003 — 10:58am | Television

There is a veritable plethora of cartoons I watched as a child whose titles I don’t remember. This is mostly due to the fact that in addition to your standard repertoire of Inspector Gadget, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Tiny Toon Adventures and Darkwing Duck – not to mention Golden Age relics like Rocky and Bullwinkle – a good number of them were Japanese productions overdubbed in Cantonese.

Naturally, through the power of the Internet, I managed to dig some up. Some of them were relatively easy to find, most notably Doraemon, which, as it turns out, is pretty much the biggest hit in the history of Japanimation. However, the majority of them are more obscure than a zyzzyva, which is why I was pleasantly surprised today when I actually found one of the shows I followed most closely.

As I discovered, its title is Pro Golfer Saru, and there also exists a video game of it for the Famicom (the Japanese equivalent of the NES) which is still busy preserving its legacy.

Now this was one heck of a show. The entire plot revolved around a golfer kid who marginally resembled a monkey, and whose quest was to become the best golfer in the world, by way of entering the most ridiculous tournaments – waylaid, of course, by some evil shadowy bad guy I can’t remember whose raison d’être was to set him back. Naturally, he was also aided by the assistance of his trusty caddy crew, about which I remember nothing except how among them there was one kid with swirly glasses.

The courses made the show, as they featured the most exotic and imaginative locations. This was a matter of avoiding not sand traps, but bottomless chasms shrouded with fog. At least one episode found our hero making his way across a narrow land bridge over the billowing plumes of fire of an erupting volcanic plain. Every chapter of this story culminated in a grand climax where he wound up for his Super Shot, and the best way to describe it is this: think of the fiery shot in Shaolin Soccer that rips the pitch to shreds. Now imagine that with a golf ball, and you’ve got it.

Japanese cartoons are weird, man.

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