< Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse

Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse

Monday, August 08, 2005

Night of the Living Dead.

I had never seen Night of the Living Dead, but I had the opportunity to watch it while at work last weekend. Thank you archive.org and the public domain in general. Lots of good freebies out there to be had.

Earth is bombarded with radiation from a probe that had been to Venus causing the recently deceased to hover in that undead state. They scour the earth in search of human flesh (which the comsume without even salt or pepper. Barbarians!). Ben, our hero, and a few other people find themselves holed up in a country home with the undead all around. They formulate a plan for escape...

I was happy to see a hero that had sufficient brain cells at his disposal to come up with a good plan. Ben was in charge and capable. Zombie slayer extraordinaire. His help wasn't quite as good, but you work with the tools you have apparently.

Gender roles were a little old-fashioned. Being a woman is not very safe in Night of the Living Dead except under the protection of capable men. Capable Ben I should say. I much prefer the stronger female roles as in 28 Days Later and even Quilla June from A Boy and His Dog.

It had a typical struggle for power between male characters (sadly, I wasn't taking notes so I forget the other guys' names) and eventually fisticuffs when Ben had to force his way back into their shelter after a botched attempt to fuel a truck.

An enjoyable low budget movie which I have yet to see the end of because the streaming file from archive.org was cut at the end. Damn! But I'd recommend what I've seen so far to anyone.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

You may all want to see this, an inteview with Brian K. Vaughan of Y: The Last Man fame.

Someone mentioned this in class... the cost of doing the Simpsons, for example is constant... here's how comics compare to film according to BKV.

BKV: I made some really terrible student films. They were sort of experimental, and "Let's shoot a whole film backwards," and they got a little more narrative. But it was frustrating, because it's so expensive, and the sound of the film running through that 16mm camera still gives me gas to this day, because I just picture dollar bills in a toilet-paper dispenser just rolling away. That was the appealing thing about comics: There literally is no budget in comics. You're only limited by your imagination. My student films were like failed science experiments where I had a result I was hoping to get, and it never quite matched. Comics has always been a joy. So I like collaboration, I like visual arts, but film... I quickly passed it aside in favor of comics.

We survived the end... and society is intact.

First, I'd like to thank everyone for a very enjoyable class. What a great way to end my degree. I'm certain it isn't the end of my study though, especially if interesting courses like this pop up. Good luck to everyone in their future studies too.

I was glad to wrap up with a tribute (of sorts) to the apocalyptic genre we've been familiarizing ourselves with. Of course we know that Night of the Comet had all the familiar themes and though done largely in jest was still not bad.

I guess it's good to know that there is no end to apocalyptica.

Monday, July 25, 2005

A few days later...

I've now seen 28 Days Later twice.

Sure it's got a lot of the same elements as other zombie flicks, and sure it has some of the same elements as other apocalyptic flicks, but overall a slick production and an enjoyable movie.

The fact that the zombies in this movie weren't really zombies at all serves as a better explanation. Disease we can all understand. Supernatural forces animating corpses not so much. The suspension of disbelief is much easier in this case.

The Resident Evil series of video games also makes use of infected people as zombies. Only in the RE games the idea is to equip yourself with the biggest and baddest weapons and splatter your way on through rather than collecting rainwater and living off canned goods.

At the first of the movie, Jim kinda got on my nerves a bit. This is typical for me in the apocalyptic stories we've seen so far. I just think that I (and any reasonable person) could have done a lot better in terms of survival instinct. His hesitation nearly got him killed and his sneaking off to watch home movies did too... hestitation and impulsive behaviour don't keep you alive.

I think perhaps I'm being too hard on him (and other characters we've encountered). I mean, he did just wake up into all this mess and he's been through a lot.

On the flip side, I didn't find Selena's matter of factness that desirable either. In that short time since the disaster for one to hack up their pals with ease and without a display of emotion doesn't seem realistic. What is the point of living if you're left in Selena's state? Again, I haven't had this happen to me, so I can't really say for sure how things would turn out. Maybe if we're lucky some day :)

I find that in this film, as in The Last Woman, the best choice for getting on(surviving that is) lies in a blend of the two. The street-smart tough Selena and a bit of the emotional wreck of Jim. Just like on the episode of Star Trek where there's a transporter accident and Kirk gets split into two people, one with the aggressive tendencies and the other the more meek. The only way the captain could remain as captain was in a harmonization of the Yin and Yang. And that is precisely what happens in this film. Pity for the Last Woman.

The ending I would keep the same as in the original release, though it's interesting in this day of DVD's that we get to see other possibilities.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Robot Visions

I wanted to tell y'all about one of my favourite short stories. It's called Robot Visions by Isaac Asimov.

It's a future story, say 200 years from now? Humanity has created robots each equipped with a positronic brain. In short, artificial intelligence. Robots perform work that is simply too dangerous for humans to do, though their use is tightly regulated on Earth lest they put us all out of work.

Other than robotics, the science of time travel has advanced. The temporalists attempt to send a robot into the future to determine the fate of humanity. The little robot returns advising that everything is peaceful, there is no war, the environment is in good condition, there are enough resources for everyone. The robot was well treated, did not believe that the future society was lying to him in any way, but there has been a calamity that made the population of Earth drop from ten billion to one billion.

The temporalists are then left with a choice... do they attempt to find out what happened and risk a stable, peaceful future, or just leave well enough alone knowing that there will be a mass die-off.

I can't say more than that... I can lend this to anyone that wants and it is one of my favourites, as are all of Asimov's robot stories. They are often about the machines themselves but it is really a commentary on class struggles in history and in modern society...

Y: The Last Man

Being the last man on Earth ought to be fun... what gives?

Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow
of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy

Y: The Last Man is the creation of Eisner and Harvey award nominated author Brian K. Vaughan. Through his career Vaughan has worked on every major DC and Marvel character. Prior to his foray into the comic book field, Vaughan worked in an insane asylum, which may shine through in his work but, says Vaughan " I just make crap up more than anything else."

Pia Guerra is the penciller for Y: The Last Man. She has worked on many independent and smaller-run comics prior to Y: The Last Man. Most comic books or "graphic novels" as they've come to be known divvy up the art duties between two artists. One, the penciller gives the basic overall shape of the images, exactly as you see at the end of the second graphic novel. The inker (or if you've seen Chasing Amy, you might call them the tracer)goes over the pencils in ink (go figure) providing a more bold outline and shading effects. After the inking process, the art is then gone-over with an eraser to remove all traces of pencils. Our tracer is José Marzan, Jr.

Y: The Last Man is published by DC comics under their Vertigo brand, the flagship of which was a series by Neil Gaiman called the Sandman. There was (and is) a growing number of comic books published for the adult audience only. Vertigo was an effort to bring them all under the same umbrella with such titles as Swamp Thing, Hellblazer and the ever popular series Preacher by Garth Ennis (which is where Yorick's 'Fuck Communism' zippo comes from).

A very breif bit of history... The Culper Ring was the spy network of George Washington during the revolutionary war.

This series of graphic novels, which is still ongoing, deals with the life of the last man on Earth, who does quite a bit better for himself than the last woman on Earth. Like many graphic novels, there is a certain style employed which can make you laugh your ass off or feel sick or both at the same time.

I have an abundance of questions for discussion, no need to get through them all.

Q. How does the portrayal of women differ in Y: The Last Manfrom other stories we've read?

Q. Do we employ double standards with respect to Hero's love life before the tragedy?

Q. Does Yorick have a responsibility to the rest of the world? If so, does this justify the revocation of his rights?

Q. Are the Republicans right about the need for 'something new' to replace the old constitution?

Q. Is it really romantic of Yorick to still wish for Beth or is he just being foolish?

Q. Is 355's devotion to duty realistic?

Q. Is Victoria (of the Amazons) performing a man's role in some way? Usually weirdos like her are men (Manson, Koresh etc.)

Q. Do the women of Marrisville still have a debt to society?

Q. Are they suitable custodians of the prison system?

Q. Have art and imagination failed to save the world?

Q. WHAT did you think of 711's suicide intervention?

Q. Do the Sons of Arizona accurately reflect the consequences of First World self-interestedness?


Q. Were you surprised at what you found in a comic book? Shocked?

Comic books (at least in the USA) were once governed by the Comics Code Authority an industry self-regulation guideline enacted in 1953 after a lot of media attention on the relation between comic books and juvenile delinquency according to Dr. Fredric Wertham, M.D. in his Seduction of the Innocent. The industry feared that government regulations would be enacted curtailing their right to free speech and so silenced themselves. Of course novels, magazines and movies weren't subject to any such guidelines... Now, as you can tell from having read Y: The Last Man, the CCA is defunct, and comics have been able to flourish as an ordinary form of literature.

Stop and think about it: You have pictures. Pictures are great, adults like pictures, pictures hang in art galleries. And you have words, and words are wonderful things. You can get the Nobel Prize for Literature just by using words. Somehow, as soon as you put them together, you are perceived to be doing something that’s either for children or for subliterates, and there’s no reason for that. Words and pictures are magnificent, wonderful things, and they can work together, they can work in ironic counterpoint, and you can use them in pretty much any way you like. -Neil Gaiman after winning the World Fantasy Award for short fiction for his version of A Midsummer Night's Dream and the subsequent change in the rules to prevent a comic book from ever qualifying for this award.

The Last Woman on Earth

I had a busy week and hadn't been able to post about this...

The Last Woman on Earth has it a lot worse that poor Yorick. With those two contenders for the position of Last Man on Earth I'd think death would be best. What would you do if you found the last possible significant other to be loathesome? How could one stave off depression?

For a thrown-together movie, I was quite impressed... no big or obvious goofs. A little odd to use the fortress at the last moment... and odd that they'd fight about boats. Why not just use any boat? But for a weekend shoot, this is movie was a hell of a lot better than I'd expected.

The last men on Earth might have been useful had they been in one of those teleportation machines from The Fly and been fused together. Maybe their positive personality traits would have combined favourably.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Oryx and Crake

Lots to think about with this novel...

How far away is Margaret Atwood's vision of the future? Much of what she described in Oryx and Crake is already in its infancy. There are already eight-legged goats that produce spider silk! Alright, I made up the eight-legged part, but the spoats are real. More info can be found in this BBC article.

Pleeblands are already losing territory to the 'compounds'. Gated communities exist in many countries around the world, serving in part to increase property value, but many simply see it as a way of separating Us from Them, the economic class divide. There is a certain paranoia present among the ultra rich that they need protection from the ultra poor. Whether or not this is true, there is a certain feeling there that seems to increase as the divide between rich and poor increases.

Who are the ultra wealthy? Talk to the creators of Viagra. Companies like Monsanto who manufacture hormones to increase milk production in cattle... even though there is already enough milk produced without it (see the film The Corporation). Pharmaceutical companies seem to be in the business of creating disease as much as they are in the business of curing them ADD, ADHD etc. Or should I say maintaining them. Cures are over and done with once the ailment is gone. Disease management lasts forever in the absence of a cure. Ever notice that there is enough dilaudid prescribed to allow for a thriving black market?

Shoot... I have to go, I'll add more later!

Something that I enjoyed about this novel was that it seemed almost ordinary at first. There are already plenty of hybrids walking around on secret farms, and life as described in the beginning of the novel was not too far off what it is today. It was only when Snowman was first off to school, and his visits with Crake, that the horror of it all set in with me.

All for $$$...

Friday, July 08, 2005

When It Changed...

I really enjoy the exploration of gender differences in the stories we've read this week. When It Changed presents what I think is an accurate description. Women are every bit as capable of anything that a man is capable of, except that statistically speaking (see previous post) men are much more likely to sink into depravity.

I think that the fear womankind had of their rediscovery by mankind has all the makings of the arrival of Cortes except that Janet knew what was coming and the Aztecs did not. Their fear was justified and nothing the men did gave any indication that they should not. Their behaviour was not that of explorers or diplomats but conquerors.

Y The Last Man is a great spin on this idea... so far so good. More as this develops :)

A Boy and His Dog

I happen to like fish better...

We can all agree that life is pretty terrible in both the upper and lower worlds. The upper world is just too violent and the lower too stifling. I would appreciate the tips about cooking bacon though. And who doesn't like canned peaches?

I am pretty sure that the way of life that came to be in the lower world is not very likely. Given enough time, I'm sure people would have cracked under the stifling rule of the 'squares'. I don't mean to say that a long-term oppressive society isn't possible, but the level of compliance doens't seem feasible with only one robot around for law enforcement.

I can't say the same about the upper world. As sad as it is, I can see society degrading to that point in a post-apocalyptic world. Men, and I mean men, are capable of some pretty terrible things. Not to say that women aren't, but statistically speaking men are more likely to perpetrate violent crimes than women. If enough of the wrong kinds of people get access to weapons before the right kinds did (leaving the question of what 'right kind' means) then I could see things going into a 'might makes right' scenario. There have been numerous genocides in the last century.

A Boy and His Dog brings into questions the nature/nurture argument. The stats say there is something to the nature of man in regards to violent crime. But if one grows up in this sort of environment how can one help but follow suit? We spare a shred of compassion for Vic because of this. Perhaps if things had been different he wouldn't have turned into this awful creature. If nurture is the root of Vic's problems then in some small way he isn't as responsible.

Can we spare any such compassion for Blood? Maybe. Survival instinct might trigger some pretty horrible actions and Blood needed Vic to survive. Personally, I'd prefer death to life in either of those communities.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

On the Beach

On the Beach, as you all saw, is a pretty bleak window on our potential future. Not to say that the future view wasn't more than a bit bleak in The Omega Man and Earth Abides what with the apocalypse and all, but at least for those the story didn't end with the end of the book/film. There were a few people left to pick up the pieces or rebuild and life, though dramatically different, could go on.

I'm not sure if the class roles present in our pre-apocalyptic society (now that's pessimistic) would remain intact in a near-apocalytic world. I work on a different view... extremely good news (winning the lottery) or extremely bad news (winning the apocalypse) = no work for Joe. If the question of what the ultimate meaning of life, the universe and everything becomes so much more urgent than we normally consider it to be, I could no longer go through the motions of a meaningless job. I think if this were to occur people would through off the zombie persona and begin to live with a new vigour... just in time to be swept clean away.

On the other hand, there is great calm in routine, and this may be where the remaining people found their Zen.

It's good to see Hollywood deliver a bleak vision of the future that doesn't somehow turn into a happy or at least uplifting. Bad news sells better than good news except in Hollywood...

To the nuclear-weapons-toting leaders of the world: When your only defence is suicide and murder, is it even worth it to defend yourself? What makes one different from the enemy aggressor if one must employ these tactics? Where are the supposed values that most leaders claim to hold dear? Why weren't any Americans tried for war crimes after TWO nuclear attacks on Japan? Justice is nothing but the advantage of the stronger (Plato, Republic).

The point of science fiction, and fiction in general, is to challenge the reader in some way, by making us think of things in ways that we are not accustomed to. It serves as a means to point out our flaws and to identify that which is good in us. To show us a possibility that we should either avoid or work towards.

On the Beach serves to warn those in power of the consequences of their decisions and serves to rally those who aren't in power against the use of nuclear weapons. Hopefully it'll work...