Monday, July 23, 2012

Star Trek: The Next Generation - BluRay...the New Frontier

It had been a few weeks since I first saw the local theatre's advertisement announcing the July 23, Star Trek: The Next Generation (ST:TNG from here on out) special event. When I saw the poster I first lost control of my lower jaw and then turned to my wife to share my combined shock and overly expressed joy. She accepted my weirdness and we went on with viewing some forgettable film. Then came today, Monday, July 23.

Logging in to the local theatre's website out of general curiosity I was reminded of the event I swore I would not miss. Lucky for me that I thought to look for otherwise I would have drastically let myself down. So I purchased the tickets online, knowing that I wasn't going to live with missing this, and then I prepared myself for the coming blessed event. This involved digging out my ST:TNG wearables, like my communicator badge, sans batteries for courtesy sake, and readying my mind for maximum information absorption so that I could come back and write this (ta-dah!).

The theatre itself was fairly full but not sold out. A few fans stood just outside holding a sign to attract members of their party, both of them wearing Classic Trek shirts. As I walked in I was marvellously assaulted by the booming of the Alexander Courage/Jerry Goldsmith theme and I beheld a massive screen full of Trek trivia. The questions were very well thought out (surely in some way their creation involved Michael and Denise Okuda). I was incredibly excited to see that there was even a multiple choice question which asked about the character Q but snuck in a reference to Trelane (a Q-like alien from Classic Trek, The Squire of Gothos) as one of the options. I found myself answering them with ease and excitement as the minutes counted down to start time. 

The fist thing we saw was a commercial of sorts for the July 24 release of ST:TNG on BluRay. This was the reason behind the event and something I grew more and more excited about as the evening went on (I don't own a BluRay player and am therefore not currently as interested as I would be if I did). Following this was a roughly ten minute look at CBS Digital's restoration of the series. The first episode, beginning with an introduction by the Okudas, was Where No One Has Gone Before, and then it was on to a ten to fifteen minute documentary about the origin of ST:TNG (titled Stardate Revisited: The Origin of ST:TNG). The night ended with the last episode (also introduced by the Okudas), Datalore, and then a preview of what we had to look forward to in the Season 2 BluRay set, including a cast reunion special feature that makes me want to run out and buy a BluRay player!

Regarding the restoration, the folks at CBS Digital skillfully took the well assembled filmed composites from back in the late 80s and brought them to a wondrous 1080p clarity. Everything that the original crew filmed was faithfully used and made to look more pristine than ever before. The special effects which weren't originally filmed but instead applied in post-production were reworked by teams who again remained true to the originals and enhanced them in such a way that would make George Lucas blush (more on this later). The two episodes screened were meant to show off some of these new and fabulous effects and CG updates. The effects of the Traveler's advanced Warp were stunning and yet completely familiar. The crystalline entity from Datalore was gorgeous and fully faithful to the original 3D model. As far as sound, they updated the audio from Lt/Rt to 7.1 surround sound. Basically, they took what was already impressive for its time and made it look and sound like, as Marina Sirtis put it, it was shot yesterday. Cheers to them and to whoever picks up the BluRay set. Those lucky nerds are in for a treat!

Now, to touch a little bit on my feelings towards the restoration and update as it compares to what George Lucas did to his Star Wars films. CBS Digital could have taught Lucas a thing or two when it came to fidelity and the true meaning of restoration. They didn't take away, replace, or add anything. They cleaned up the film, enhanced the details which were practically nonexistent thanks to Standard Definition, and they managed not to insert anything too distracting to detract from the enjoyment of the episodes. Now, we've seen what Mr. Lucas has done, and granted those are his movies, but what he claimed to do from the beginning versus what he actually did were two different things. Apparently the Star Trek people care more about the content and the fans than those who hold the leash for Star Wars. That's all I'm saying. 

It was a night to remember and I intend to remember it for the rest of my life, or at least until they find a new medium to which they can convert this loveable series and then create another wonderful event like this to promote it. This was also a night that reminded me of how much I love Star Trek, how much the cast and their creation means to me and has meant to me since I was a little boy, and how great the fans can be when they're all assembled to beam their love at the titanic wonder that is Star Trek. Being there amidst all the laughter and applause as I shared in a fan-love moment with my peers was almost overwhelming. Thanks to CBS and everyone else involved for the wonderful evening. Make sure to buy the BluRay, fellow nerds! You really, really won't regret it.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Oaths By A Dark Fire - Short Story

Sitting by a radiant, twirling jumble of orange tongues of flame, in an otherwise aphotic cathedral of a room, two men stared off into nothing. The silence between them, broken occasionally by a popping of wood from a somber, marble fireplace, was as thick as a pall laid across the coffins of a past that very much defined them. These men, one further in years and experience than the other, held themselves in a settled pose in their high backed chairs of dark oak and muted, aged upholstery. The younger stared with eyes cold, yet severe, into the depths of the raging fire, and clasped his hands tightly, causing his tensed knuckles to pale to a near ivory.

"I can't tell you how many times I've played this scene in my mind. Through the long flights, the aimless wanderings across parts of the world I had only read about till late, and the countless days stowed away in various ships which never seemed to reach their ports of call. I felt that of all people you would maybe understand my purpose, my asking this of you," with this the youth raised his gaze from the intense dancing light which softly highlighted his rough, handsome visage, "or perhaps, at least, give me your advice."

The older man continued his stare into the fireplace, his right leg crossed casually over his left knee. He cleared his throat as if to reinvigorate his long silent voice. "I can't pretend to know what has driven you to this decision. I'm an old man, sir, and I've learned other ways of coping with loss. Though, that doesn't mean that some dark place inside me isn't overjoyed at the prospect. I've been with you and seen you through the very worst of times a man might experience. A boy might experience."

At this the men cautiously locked eyes and fell back together, in their minds, to an earlier, darker day. The bereavement they shared at the merciless pangs of unfortunate tragedy brutally marked an end to a young boy's family, his life, planting the grim seeds of a darkly purposed future, and it set to beginning a new chapter for a man who had been searching for something in his once roaming youth and found it in the position of surrogate father, protector, and friend. The bond between them was intensely powerful, so much so that each of them understood the importance of the request and the only, inevitable answer for which the requester was searching.

The aged man sat up tall in his chair, both feet planted on the floor now, hands gripping the armrests, "There are many dangers along this path, and if what you've told me is true, and trust me when I say that I find no reason to doubt you, then you hardly need my advice, sir. It sounds as though you need the support of a friend, of family. I will aid you, to the best of my humble abilities, in this pursuit."

The stern, yet expectant face of the man who had received the response he had hoped for seemed to lighten for the first time since either of them could remember. "You may not think it, but your support means everything to me. I won't let you down in this. I won't let anyone down in this. It's our duty, and my responsibility as a son, to see this through." The youth leaned forward in his seat, hands clasped tighter, his brow lowered, "I'm ready for this, Alfred. I've never been more ready."

Dark Knight Rises - A Review

**Perhaps a few SPOILERS**

There was no midnight show for me this time around. No panting and huffing about how great the experience will be whilst frantically counting down the minutes till the late night drive to the theatre to catch the "first glimpse" of a long-awaited fan dream made celluloid. Instead, my wife and I took the more intelligent approach to seeing the new Batman film by waiting until Saturday afternoon. We were able to avoid lines, obnoxious hyper-fans, and poor seating. There's no better way to experience a film like this, I believe, but that's hardly why I'm writing and you're reading this.

Dark Knight Rises is the end of a journey. It means an end for Christopher Nolan, the cast and crew under his lead, the fans of Batman both new and old, and for me. Since I first saw Batman Begins in theatres up till this afternoon I've been giddy about the progression of the artful adaptation of the legendary, four-color, fear-wielding caped crusader. I've bought magazines so that I could see the production images. I've revisited favourite comic book storylines to play the pointless guessing game of the overly hopeful fanboy. I was completely destroyed and reassembled by the majesty of Dark Knight. Then came this afternoon when I beheld the proper, fantastically crafted ending to one of the best film trilogies of all time.

Christopher Nolan has time and again proven himself to be highly adept at finding the soul of a story and its characters and skillfully crafting a form for such an ethereal and elusive thing to inhabit. I believe he did this exceptionally well throughout his Batman trilogy. He masterfully gave us a clear beginning, middle, and end with a stellar story progression which continues to boggle the mind. He, as my wife pointed out, understood the archetypes at the heart of this modern myth and employed them to exceptional effect. It is necessary to respect him for his contribution to the genre of comic book film and to also respect him for knowing when and how to end his involvement.

Considering the film, it is a near-three hour ride starting with an extensive chunk of build-up which crescendos in a fantastically worthwhile pay-off. Playing with the tatters left in the wake of Dark Knight, this film is set in a Gotham a few years after the creation of the lie that was the passing of the "White Knight," Harvey Dent, and the beginning of the vilification of "The Batman." It's a Gotham doomed from the start of this tale because it is, at its core, a lie. That doom approaches quickly in the form of one who seeks to fulfil the aims of a long-dead idealist, enemy, and, to Bruce Wayne, a mentor. The avatar of the seemingly deceased dreams of the late Ra's Al Ghul wears the shape of the mighty Bane who cleverly sets up the pieces for a deadly endgame. It is a game Bruce Wayne, who has, since the end of Dark Knight, lived the life of a recluse with his faithful, father-like Alfred, thinks he is able to play. We see that as in many hero's tales there is still much that Bruce/Batman must do to truly be prepared for confronting the villains and saving his city.

Throughout the film we're introduced to many new characters, especially during the lengthy beginning. Each of them plays a fantastic part in the overall story, and each of them enriches this all-important final act. The ominous mercenary and terrorist Bane is a bizarre villain through which Nolan, executing the magic trick that is his cinematic style, sets up the greater end story. He's a leader with and for a purpose but he is ultimately a tool. Then there's John Blake, a "hot head" rookie cop who strongly believes in his badge but later learns, with the aid of the seasoned advice of Jim Gordon, that there's something greater to serving a purpose beyond the shackles of the rules. One of the greater surprises in this film comes from Blake, and I'm proud to say that I called it in two different ways which come together to be something far more interesting. Miranda Tate, a new face in the high-class arena of Gotham City, is also a new character and one which, believe it or not, has a thing or two up her sleeve. Another new character worth noting is Selina Kyle, a skilled and determined cat burglar who plays to her advantage through the world of men while remaining an independent, mostly self-serving woman.

Though we are forced to wade through over an hour of new information, introductions, updates, and piece-setting (all of it essential to the complete movie), the last act makes me proud to be a Batman fan. Overall Dark Knight Rises is a detailed study of the hero and the power of symbols. At the end we are shown a heroic figure who has grown over the course of the trilogy and reinforced his growth through the events of this final portion of his story. He has been tested, he is stronger than before, and he has completed a quest through which he discovered what was necessary to best the challenge of the newest obstacle in his life. After all is done we are given a view of a future for his city, for Gotham, that is built on a symbol similar to that of Dent, but this time it is a symbol with substance and great truth. In the end we're overwhelmed by a phoenix of hope which has broken the bonds of its ash heap. In the end we're given a forward-looking Gotham which was saved by the hero it deserved. 

I give Dark Knight Rises five out of five. Thank you for reading.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

History and Myth

You can follow the trail of bones throughout history and study the messages of ruins, but to know the true soul of a people you need their myths. To discount the validity of myth is to embrace ignorance and, as a historian, to admit satisfaction with partial knowledge. If we are to be true students of the past and if we are to record the old happenings and their relationships we need to also address the tales told and the beliefs held. Those are no less valuable than names and dates, causes and effects.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Those Who Ride - A Short Story

This was based on a writing prompt from io9. I've included the image used as inspiration for the prompt. 

Those Who Ride
Jonathan J. Sample

Selenia's toes wriggled and sharply folded back towards her feet, scratching the insoles of her slippers along the way. Every evening the cacophony screaming from the metallic friction of the incoming homebound-tram triggered this reaction. Her slippers were far from grateful and would, if they could, emote in a fashion similar to her face which displayed tremendous discomfort at the noise. 

Her eyes opened from their tight squint and gazed up at the softly glowing sign above the nearest rail car's side door. “Laurel Manor via Sharpton Hall” it read. She mentally cursed the indirectness of the subterranean lines and departed the dim of the empty platform. Her hand went out for the nearest vertical bar inside the car's open doorway, wrapped, every few inches or so in frustratingly tacky tape. Hauling herself in, her eyes drooping with the fatigue that meets each worker at day's end, she quickly shuffled herself over to the nearby beverage machine and punched up a concoction which would surely set her to right until she could crash into her pillowy nest at home. 

A long and slender can crashed down into the hulking machine's scratched, silvery escape hatch. Selenia reached down for it, adjusting her shoulder bag as she did so, realizing then that the can was not actually the one she initially requested. Damn, she thought, and let the arm which bore the incorrect beverage droop down to her side. Finally she looked up into the rest of the tram car to see who would be accompanying her on today's end of the day commute. The frustration from the beverage incident carried over to pick up the slack for the reaction to what her eyes now saw. 

Unfortunately this evening the tram staff saw fit to remove all but one of the side benches, excusing their inconsiderate action with a hastily scribbled sign which read, “Apologies. Use top rail for support if seating is unavailable. Thank you, from the Cor-Eidolon City Tram Support Staff.”

She let escape a sigh-grunt amalgam and studied the only bench in the nearly empty car. Upon it sat two familiar yet incredibly exasperating characters. To one side was a hirsute gal Selenia and other passengers had come to call the Fastidious Frump. The Frump sat on a side of the bench which struggled to hold her bulk. Her hair was matted down all over her body except for a defiant strand or two of head hair. She stared forward with a wide-eyed gaze and a tight, forced smile. A clumsily arranged tie hung about her neck and upon her lap sat a briefcase which was fooling no one. The briefcase belonged to a certain practitioner of the medicinal arts, a Mr. Harvey McWetter MD according to its label. Surely this McWetter fellow, the more than obvious previous owner, was someone of high societal standing and great importance. Clearly different from the Frump who could be seen, by day, aimlessly wandering the streets at the heart of the Cor, gazing up at the monoliths of purpose, and basking in the energy of the most important place in the whole of their world. She now hummed, tight-smiling and clutching the briefcase with her long-nailed hands.

To the Frump's right, across a small space which Selenia painfully realized was the only available seat left in the car, hunched a curious-looking fellow who was wearing a stupefied expression. His dress was clean and casual. A silken, deep-red scarf hung from around his neck, resting on the lapel of a flawless deep-blue overcoat. His head was a pulsing, ashy ember. This was a typical feature of his kind, one of the most important peoples of the city. His title, which he only offered to those who could manage to coax a word or two from him, was Mr. Ash. His mouth hung agape, revealing dozens of diamond, baby-sized teeth. He, too, was staring forward but with eyes which, when visible in the calm of his mental ember, seemed to scream panic. 

Selenia made her way cautiously over to the two oddities, her skirt swaying in the gust which coursed through the car as the doors hissed shut. The tram began to jerk towards movement and she stared now at the two folks possessing the majority of the sole bench. She gestured with a bobbing head and inquiring brown eyes towards what she hoped would be her resting place for the journey home. Her mouth was obscured by the can which she held up to her face, playing at the its tab with her teeth as she tired of waiting for the vacant expressions to glance her way and provide the courtesy of a seat offering.

Mr. Ash shuffled his gloved fingers between and around each other while continuing his stressed gaze forward. His mouth closed and then opened again. He didn't pay her any mind nor offer her any invitation. As usual he was wordless. 

“Go ahead. There's room,” blurted the Frump who shifted her glassy, golden eyes up to look into Selenia's soft, brown orbs. “Plenty of room here, dear, dear. Take it.”

Selenia bowed a thank you towards both, continuing her teeth-play of the can tab, and swung her backside round to squeeze between the two seated figures. Each of them adjusted, Mr. Ash soundlessly as the Frump let slip a surprised grunt. “Sorry,” apologized Selenia.

“Nothing bothering, dear. All's well,” responded Frump. “Quite.” 

Orange lights shifted past the car's windows, slowly at first but then streaking as the tram picked up its speed. The whole of the car in which the trio sat shook its usual shake, rocking back and forth as it was whisked along with the rest of the long-linked, snaking transport. The bright, sterile glow of the faint-blue car lights caused everything within to take on an intense focus while the darkness of the tunnel without became even more overwhelming. A speaker above the three attempted for a few seconds to entertain them with a particle of instrumentals. They looked up in unison as a crackle came on the line and faded away into nothing. It hadn't done that in a while, thought Selenia. This caused her to notice the severe disrepair in which the tram car existed. It was patched up and bandaged like a persistent prize-fighter who just wouldn't go down in spite of reason and a dozen or more broken, vital bits. 

The Frump's clanky, nailed hands shifted their grip on the briefcase of Dr. McWetter as she attempted to turn her bulk slightly to face Selenia who only felt her tight space become more so as a result. The Frump had no neck so torso motion was the only way for her inefficient make up to allow her head to get a decent look around. She strained to make eye contact with the mostly squished Selenia, “How was your day in the city, dear, dear?”

“More of the same. Deliveries, deliveries, and, when the time calls for it, more deliveries. It's a living.” 

“It would have to be,” replied the Frump who readjusted to face forward, much to Selenia's relief. “We're fortunate to hold such wonderful work spots in so lovely a city, no?”

Selenia chuckled nervously and fingered the top of her now open beverage cannister. “Sure thing, Frump. Lucky workers, us.” 

“I had a marvelous day flitting about my extremely busy schedule,” continued the Frump. “So many tasks to complete and so many places to visit, you know. It's lovely to have such purpose, really.”

“Mm-hm!” Selenia responded with a friendly, feminine crescendo. She wondered what it was the Frump was referring to and if she should break it to the Frump that she was aware of how little Frump actually did while in the city. In fact she wondered where the Frump was heading now. Home? A new place to wander until the next day? What a mystery is the Frump, she thought while transitioning her focus to a light, slow hum she decided to begin.

“What's the point of any of it?” Mr. Ash groaned inquiringly, much to the incredible surprise of Selenia and the Frump. 

“Whatever do you mean?” huffed the Frump as she kept the briefcase from slipping off her lap. “The city runs and living continues. You better than anybody knows that, Mr. Ash, sir! Where's your pride, huh?” 

Selenia let her eyes slip to their right corners. Her gaze fell upon the now drooping head of Mr. Ash who shook it from side to side, quickly blinking his eyes. “Are you all right, Mr. Ash?” 

“I got a glimpse of something today and lost all hope because of it. We, all of us, are now in the doomed business of holding back degradation. We're all units busying ourselves with futilities. Haven't you noticed?” 

At this Mr. Ash shifted his head to view Selenia's curious face. She locked eyes with the fellow as his glow died down and the intensity of his worried look pierced her. In spite of his radiating warmth she felt a ghastly chill. What was it he'd seen from his lofty vantage point? What had he noticed that she and others neglected, she wondered. 

“It's all for naught, you see,” Mr. Ash moaned. “If you doubt me look up tonight as you make your way home. That's not majesty. It's pure rot and utter failure. ”
“Now that's quite enough, Mr. Ash!” bellowed the Frump. “You are a foul and faithless being, you! Obviously you can't see the good and meaningful work our society does. We're maintaining and doing a powerful job at it. We're blessed to be here doing what we do. Blessed!”

At the screech which ended the Frump's reply to Mr. Ash Selenia felt her toes repeating their initial response to the halting tram. She looked from side to side nervously at the two beings which flanked her and felt the huffy rise and fall of the Frump's breathing. Mr. Ash stared downward and made soft sobbing sounds. She couldn't help but feel an overwhelming fear and an insane panic rise up from deep within. Her hand suddenly shot up and yanked the signal line which ran along the top of the car's windows. An audible ding rung off the metal interior of the car and startled the Frump. 

“What? What's the matter?” the Frump implored of the panicking Selenia. “Don't let this fool get at you. He just doesn't appreciate or understand anything. Everything is fine! You're fine!”

Selenia popped out of between her emotional neighbors and made a break for the car door as the tram eased off its speed to cruise into the nearest stop. Mr. Ash didn't pay her any mind as he continued his mourning, facing floorward. The Frump just huffed and anxiously looked from the fleeing girl to the pathetic Mr. Ash scowling at the latter. Selenia hastily squeezed out of the slowly opening door, dropping her half-full can which poured its remaining contents all over the litter-cluttered tram floor.

“Well, fine, stupid girl,” growled the Frump as she folded her arms and let Dr. McWetter's briefcase fall to the soiled car floor. “Listen to this nitwit! I don't care! No pride or sense in anyone these days! Forget you! The whole stupid lot of you!”

Mr. Ash folded over and continued to sob. His surrender was now completely apparent in that it was more than confessed, it was displayed.

Selenia quickly made the surface in a brief moment of flight. Her breath struggled to right itself as she leaned against the railing. She couldn't help but look up. There it was, she realized. The grand flaw. Mr. Ash was right. There was nothing marvelous or beautiful about it. It was a tragic, nightmarish end creeping across the dome of reality. She fell to her knees sobbing uncontrollably.

Somewhere far beyond the realm of Cor-Eidolon on a plane of existence apart from the seeminlgy ill-fated city, in fact, a place external to the realm itself, a sickly figure felt sudden, powerful despair course through its form as signals of pain radiated through its limbs. Hopelessness was all that it now knew as it lay slightly inclined upon a hospital bed. Death soon, it thought. No matter. It then shuddered for what was to be the last time.