Archive for January, 2009

Robots, Time Machines, and Ayn Rand

January 27, 2009

Here’s a photo of my Wall-E mod of RoboRally. The movie and the boardgame were a perfect fit for each other, and I spent a weekend rebasing the figures and printing the player mats. UberKudos to Ian for locating the Wall-E figures, and BGG regular named Russell for making the player mats.

The XIX Time Travel Movie Night was held on Dec. 31, 2008.

2009: Lost Memories is a Korean action film with a title that could not be more appropriate for the coming year. It takes place in an alternate history timeline, one in which the nation state of Korea (North or South) never existed, the entire Korean peninsula subjugated by Japan since 1910. The hero of the film joins up with some Korean nationalist guerrillas, and uses an ancient time portal to travel back a hundred years and create the timeline that you and I know as ours.

This three-hour film is twice as long as it needs to be, with excessive amounts of character setup and backstory, along with unwarranted amounts of pathos for the hero and his comrades. The film pushed the boundaries of my cultural awareness of both Korea and Japan, and many of the film’s subtler details were probably lost on me. Lastly, I’m not so sure it was a good idea to go back in time and *create* North Korea. My thesis remains that the Korean people may have fared better under Japanese dominance than to suffer the agony and dichotomy that has gripped half the peninsula since 1945. I’d give 2009: Lost Memories 3 stars out of five.

Idaho Transfer is one of the older time travel films I’ve watched, and one of the more painful ones, too. It’s an early 1970s dystopian vision of the future. Scientists researching matter teleportation stumble upon the secret to time travel, only to find that the future is an empty wasteland. Before government agents shut the program down, the project’s leaders send a handful of the nation’s smartest teenagers into the future with the mission of repopulating the earth. (Older people who attempt the ‘transfer’ suffer fatal kidney damage.) There are two plot twists near the end of the film that I won’t give away here, but rest assured the film gets darker and moodier as it concludes.

No animals were harmed in the making of this film, but a whole lot of weed was! Many of the characters spend a good deal of the time in a state of undress, part of the hippie culture’s War on Pants (though in their defense, there is a good reason for this). The ambient electronic musical score is mostly in the style of Boards of Canada, assuming they had a blue period. But I still prickle at the way they decide to send academic prodigies into the future. Instead of botanists and geologists, the world of the future needed hunters, carpenters, and medics. Less eggheads, more Eagle Scouts! How are these kids supposed to survive alone without basic wilderness skills? The complete lack of common sense in the repopulation plan smacks of either total incompetence or total haste. This gets 2 stars out of five; I’ll give it credit for trying to challenge me. (Oh, and did I mention that the only recognizable name in the whole mess is the director, Peter Fonda?)

After ten months, I finally finished Atlas Shrugged, the heaviest, densest, most conservative and irascibly brilliant novel I’ve ever completed the chore of reading.

I started it last March, and I couldn’t have picked a more timely point in recent history to read this. As I write this, America and the world is mired in the fourteenth month of the harshest recession in seventy years. The events of the novel carried a eerie parallel to the daily news reports. As the fictional gears stopped turning, so did our own. As more than one economic pundit has pointed out, Atlas Shrugged is not just apropos for our time, we are currently living it.

Rand’s greatest fault as a novelist is that she’s not very good at showing instead of telling. I do not mean that in the sense of scenery descriptions; Rand is the master of the simile and metaphor. However, she tends to describe things in a subjective rather than objective manner, painting the picture in such a way as barring all but one interpretation… hers. There’s also a lot of expository filler, where Rand forgets she’s writing a novel instead of a textbook. The perfect example is Part 3, Chapter 7 which is almost entirely a sole monologue. I think this novel would have more widespread appeal, and have its message reach more people, if it were stripped down about 30%, focusing more letting the story tell its own lessons.

Also, Rand is unabashed at foreshadowing, completely lacking subtlety. Chapters in advance, she makes big deals of things that ultimately pan out to be rather minor. Again, she’s forcing you to interpret the story the only way she intended it to. I would have loathed to be on the debate team with Ayn Rand, as her aggressive style of persuasion reminds me of certain politicians, the ones who are always right not by reason but by denial of rebuttal.

Amusing Internet Video: Look Around You (Iron)… part of a series.

Nifty Wikipedia Thing: Life on Mars, the hard way

Movies I’ve Seen:

Patton (1970) ~ presented with all his faults

Big Trouble in Little China (1986) ~ Hey, Ken… your safety’s on!

The Wedding Crashers (2005) ~ cruder than it should be

What I’m Reading:

"The Cartoon Guide to (Non)communication" by Larry Gonick

"The Revolutionary War" by Bart McDowell