Friday, 31 October 2014

Voyage to the Stars Blogathon

November marks the release of the long-hyped science fiction movie Interstellar, and what better way to celebrate than with an exciting space-themed adventure in outer space with lots of action and high stakes? It will be the greatest opportunity you will ever have to bring together your favorite science fiction characters (and perhaps some not-so-favorite ones, too) for an epic journey beyond the limits of our Solar System and into the stars.

Incidentally, this exciting adventure was inspired by Wendell Ottley's Back to School Blogathon. The basic gameplay dynamic (picking out characters from different movies to fill a set of pre-selected roles) is more or less the same, but this time I'm experimenting with a more competitive atmosphere and adding in some new steps so that in addition to picking your characters you actually get to do something with them.


Interstellar explores a vision of the future in which humanity makes its first grand leap towards the stars. Our galaxy alone contains 100 billion stars across 100 thousand light years, including our very own sun. Many of those stars also have worlds of their own. Perhaps somewhere there is even a planet capable of supporting life. In any case, we have taken our research as far as observations from Earth will permit. It is now time to begin the greatest adventure awaiting humanity with a plunge toward the universe.

Venturing into the blackness of space is an idea that has fascinated the human imagination for hundreds of years. We've only made the first steps, putting a man on the moon and launching probes to other worlds. The greatest adventure for all mankind lies beyond the orbit of our sun. We can scarcely imagine what we may find out there. It may seem like nothing more than science fiction, but with the right people and a solid plan of action you might just be able to accomplish it.

You have been hired by NASA/the Russian space program/Canadian Space Agency/European Space Agency/Multi-million dollar corporation to organize the first manned mission into interstellar space. You are therefore entrusted to assemble the finest men and women you can find for the job. You will want a team of well-trained astronauts with courage to go where no one has gone before. You're going to need a plan of action, a ship, and a crew willing to take on the challenge.

Unfortunately, we have no idea what you can expect to find in any of our neighboring solar systems beyond vague observations and spectral analysis. The one thing we do know is that other countries and other parties are also planning the same thing. They are recruiting astronauts as we speak. You have got to work fast to get your expedition in order and get your crew off before someone beats you to it.

Assembling Your Team

The first thing you need to do is find a team of brave men and women capable of carrying out your expedition. Keep in mind that the ship you will be using is a tight space and you need to conserve supplies: fuel, water, food, oxygen, and other essential items for the trip. This means that you can only assign one person to each of the essential roles.

The catch is that other parties (i.e. anyone else who is participating in this blogathon) are also trying to put together their own missions. You've got to put together the best crew that you can, and if you know who you want you will want to recruit them before somebody else does. In assembling your team, make sure you address the following positions:
  • Engineer
  • Medic
  • Mission Commander
  • Mission Controller*
  • Navigator
  • Pilot
  • Science Officer
* Because they are not actually on the spaceship, you can have more than one mission controller. They also do not necessarily have to be an astronaut in their own right, but due to the nature of their job they should have sufficient technical or mechanical knowledge to comprehend how your spaceship works.

Of course, include a few words on each choice. There is no specific length your description has to meet. Just try your best to explain why you picked that character for that role and what you think they can contribute to the mission. Your chosen astronauts are not required to fit precisely the same roles they did in their respective film, especially since it might be harder to label them in some cases.You could put Commander J.J. Adams from Forbidden Planet as the medic, Peters from Event Horizon as the engineer, and Talby from Dark Star as the mission commander provided you have a valid reason for each.

Since you can only have one of each, you will have to make your choices count. For instance, when selecting your science officer, you will either have to determine what skills (i.e. biology, geology, chemistry, astronomy, etc.) are most valuable to your mission or find someone with multiple disciplines.

Plan of Action

Once you have a group of brave men and women for your mission, you are going to need a plan of action. The closest Solar System to ours, Alpha Centuri, is 4.37 light years from our Solar System, meaning that any others will be even further. If you want to go for the speed of light, you will have figure out:

A) How you're going to reach such speeds.
B) How are you going to deal with the time dilation that comes with travelling at the speed of light? This concept is not always easy to comprehend (even I only partially understand it), so for those of you that haven't taken astronomy here is Neil Degrasse Tyson to explain how it all works:

Travelling at the speed of light is not the only way to get into interstellar space. You may wish to explore other venues as well, but keep in mind that most solutions will have a few problems you need to work out.

You have to figure out how to get your crew to another solar system taking this logic into account. While I encourage to try and make your solution seem plausible, don't let this hinder your creativity. This is a chance to let your imagination run wild with possibilities. Your plan can be your own, it does not have to come from a specific movie.

Whatever plan you have for getting out of our Solar System, there is one other problem you will have to consider. You see, the further you get form Earth, the greater the radio delay. Because radio waves are a form of light, it would take about eight minutes to transmit a signal from Earth to the Sun, and it gets longer the further you out you get. We're looking at years, possibly centuries, in between radio transmissions. You want mission control to stay in contact, so you'll have to figure out how to deal with that problem as well.

Update: I have reason to suspect that some potential contributors are uncomfortable with the next stage. If you wish, you are permitted to stop here.

Status Report- Optional

The last step is to write up a report on the mission. You've put together this great crew of yours and this time around you get to work with them. I want to hear how the mission goes, so that's where this final step comes into play. Try and include as much detail as you can, though how you want to write the report is up to you. You could do it as a summary highlighting the key events or you could describe in-depth the day-to-day lives of the crew.

Here are some questions to consider when writing your report. You don't have to answer all of them, but they should help get you thinking about what to say:
  • How did the crew get along? What sort of relationships developed among them?
  • Where did the crew travel? 
  • What did they find when they reached their destination? 
  • Was there anything notable about the system to which they travelled? 
  • Did it have any planets worth visiting? If so, why?
  • Was there any sign of life on any planets in the system?
  • Did the crew make it back safely?


Now that you understand the gameplay, I'm going to have to go over a few specific rules and regulations. This will help keep some order and hopefully give each participant a fair chance:
  • Use characters who are astronauts in some sense of the word (men and women who live and work in space).
  • I don't want to see any crews made up exclusively of white men. There must be racial and/or gender diversity. Variety in sexual orientation is also great, but since it may be hard to find explicitly gay astronauts* I won't make it a requirement. If you do make an all-white, all-male crew, the funding for your expedition will immediately be pulled. Your crew members will then be disbanded and free for other people to recruit.
  • Human characters only. Since we have not yet made contact with any extra-terrestrial civilizations we can't recruit aliens into our space programs. 
  • Please only use characters from our Solar System. Characters from other systems or other galaxies (i.e. the cast of Star Wars) are off-limits.
  • Once a blogger has selected an astronaut for their crew, that same character cannot be chosen for another.
  • Using different versions of the same character is acceptable provided their is sufficient distinction between them. For instance, if one blogger recruits Dr. Sartorius from the 1972 version of Solaris, his counterpart Dr. Gordon in the 2002 film would remain a valid choice for another. However, one blogger could not recruit both for the same crew.
  • You cannot choose two astronauts from the same film. Even if the characters make up a duo you will have to pick one or the other. This is primarily to encourage diversity and to keep people from monopolizing one one film, as they might if they tried to claim say... both Frank Poole and David Bowman from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
  • Keep in mind that you don't have to like a specific movie to pick a character in it, nor do your choices have to be from films that I like. If you hated Prometheus but find Elizabeth Shaw to be a good choice for the medic than go for it. You can even draw from Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris if you want and I'll try not to bother you with comments about how slow that movie was (emphasis on the try).
  • Don't worry about exactly what time your movie is supposed to be set in (i.e. near future vs. present day) or social circumstances surrounding the production of certain movies (i.e. gender roles in the 1950's). You could in theory put General Samuel T. Merritt from Conquest of Space with Ryan Stone from Gravity if you can make a good case for each.
  • Include a banner in your post. There are several on this page you can choose from or you can make your own (see below for details). Also include a link back to this post, so that if any of your readers are interested in participating they'll know where to go.

* Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, was revealed to be gay after her death in 2012. While there may have been other gay astronauts, she is the only one whose sexuality has become public knowledge.


You will need to include a banner in your post to mark it as part of the blogathon. I've got a really nice one at the top of the page which features lots of great stuff, along with several others you can choose from. Each banner includes a unique combination of characters and scenery, so you'll have plenty of choices.

(I apologize for my extensive use of the spacesuits from Conquest of Space; the opaque visors and androgynous shape really lent themselves to me putting different characters' faces in them).

Making Your Own Banners

While I would like you to include a banner of some sort for your post, it is not required to be any of the ones above. Those of you who have access to Photoshop or another image editing software are permitted to design banners of your own should you choose to do so. If you decide to make your own, I encourage you to go all out and make it unique. 

It only has to conform to the above design patterns insofar as it should include the title of the blogathon and imagery that fits the overarching theme of space exploration (i.e. astronauts, spaceships, planets, stars, etc.). As long as you meet those two requirements, you can design a banner of your own however you want. That said, if you do want to use one of the cool LEGO Space backgrounds I've been working with, you can find some of them here.

If you do select this option, I'll even post your banner on this page so that other people can use it (unless you request otherwise). Here are some other posters designed by contributors:

Thanks to Mariah M. of A Space Blogyssey

Recruited Astronauts

This is a competitive blogathon and one where you'll have to be on your toes. However, I understand that it may be hard to keep track, so I'm including a database here of astronauts that are off-limits. I will not give names as to the specific bloggers who claimed them (you'll have to wait until I post the final links for that), but if you see a character's name on here it means you cannot recruit them. Remember that your pool of options may grow increasingly limited as more people join in, so I would advise you to check back here frequently to see make sure none of your candidates have been added to the list.

Here are the astronauts who have already been taken, sorted alphabetically by name:
  • Eleanor Arroway (Contact, 1997)
  • Bishop (Aliens, 1986)
  • David Bowman (2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968)
  • Cassie (Sunshine, 2007)
  • Tom Creo (The Fountain, 2006)
  • Rosa Dasque (Europa Report, 2013)
  • Commander Doyle (Interstellar, 2014)
  • Dr. Gordon (Solaris, 2002)
  • Akima Kunimoto (Titan A.E., 2000)
  • David Levinson (Independence Day, 1996)
  • Jim Lovell (Apollo 13, 1995)
  • Daniel Luxembourg (Europa Report, 2013)
  • Dr. Josh Keyes (The Core, 2009)
  • James Tiberious Kirk (Star Trek: The Motion Picture, 1979)
  • Matt Kowalski (Gravity, 2013)
  • Imoto (Conquest of Space, 1955)
  • Janek (Prometheus, 2012)
  • Nadia (Pandorum, 2009)
  • Penny Robinson (Lost In Space, 1965)
  • Peters (Event Horizon, 1997)
  • Ryan Stone (Gravity, 2013)
  • Elizabeth Shaw (Prometheus, 2013)
  • Montgomery "Scotty" Scott (Star Trek, 2009)
  • Trey (Sunshine, 2007)
  • Victoria (Oblivion, 2013)
  • William Xu (Europa Report, 2013)

If you have any further questions you can post them in the comments, and otherwise I look forward to seeing what people come up with. This was going to be a month-long event, but if you're anything like me I suspect you'll have a growing pile of homework assignments that might get in the way. In order to avoid rushing you, I have to decided to let this go through December as well.

On January 1, I will post a list of all the people who participated and provide an overview of how it all went down. Good luck to everyone, because it is now time to boldly go where no one has gone before on an epic voyage to the stars...

Cosmic Horror Cast-A-Thon Links

So about three weeks ago, I decided to try running the Cosmic Horror Cast-A-Thon for Halloween in which I rallied together a group of bloggers in a desperate struggle to save the world. Unfortunately I didn't get enough people and we failed to stop the Old Ones from awakening which means the world is doomed. Madness and terror shall reign on this day. An era of fear is dawning, and now all shall tremble before the might of the Great Old Ones. Ia Azathoth!

Only three brave souls had the courage to even try and assemble a team to tackle the old ones, but their efforts have sadly proved to be in vain.

Roman J. Martell tried to take on Nyarlathotep, and assembled quite a team in doing so. He got two respected law enforcement officers with invaluable skills and a fine selection of scientists.

Wendell Ottley stood up to that infamous Black Ram of the Woods with a Thousand Young herself, Shub-Niggurath. He assembled a team of several brave men and women ready to die for humanity. He had leaders willing to take the risks, a man with first-hand experience of eldritch horrors, and two courageous individuals willing to keep fighting to their last breaths.

That just leaves me. I chose to seek out the legendary Old One that is Cthulhu. My team had the best group of people I could assemble to prepare for his inevitable rising. I had a guy to help us deal with the cultists, researchers, a coordinator to keep us updated at all times, and even a cave diver I had hoped could get us through the ancient city of R'lyeh.

I had hoped more people would participate, but thanks goes out to all two of those who did. You made a brave and daring effort to keep our world going on just a little longer.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

So What is the Deal With Soviet Montage Cinema Anyway?

That was certainly a question I was asking about a week ago. At first glance after sitting through the less than pleasant experience of Vsevelod Pudovkin's Mother I was left wondering what was so special about this obscure but crucial part of film history. It didn't seem to be a whole lot different from what people like Griffith were doing at the time, but it turned out I had to look a little deeper. While it was technically the work of several different people working simultaneously on different projects, they all built on what came before in more ways than one.

The whole history of film can be looked at as different people building up on each other's accomplishments over periods of time. It starts with the old-fashioned magic lanterns. One day Edward Muybridge figured out how to record a live action by using multiple cameras at once, followed by Étienne-Jules Marey coming along and figuring out how to combine all the cameras into one machine and Thomas Edison figuring out how to record images onto celluloid. The Lumière brothers come along and begin exhibiting their recordings of everyday activities which in turn inspired Georges Méliès to come along and begin experimenting with early editing techniques. Porter came along and experimented with slightly more advanced techniques and other filmmakers followed suit. Then D.W. Griffith, himself a director of shorts, went on to make his ambitious feature Birth of a Nation.

It can also be seen in other forms too, another big one being the different movements that affected many films on a technical level. German Expressionism, for instance, was a movement that didn't last very long and had barely a handful of films that few people wanted to see but still became a strong influence on other filmmakers. In fact, old fashioned Hollywood film noir owes something to the German Expressionist movement, something probably helped by the fact that a lot of Expressionist directors later went on to use their skills in Hollywood.

Soviet Montage is a bit of both, technical in what was discovered during its time but also a movement in that it contained several different people. Many of these were young filmmakers who were inspired by Hollywood films and fascinated by the then-revolutionary idea of continuity editing which was (and still is) employed in the majority of American films. Putting it simply Griffith was the man who pioneered the idea of using edits to create continuity , and to an extent that is used in Soviet productions, but these pioneers took it one step further.

Though Russian films did exist at the time, they had to make due in large part with imports. I won't get into the complicated politics surrounding it but the local films produced at the time were largely filmed plays. The camera would be placed at one point with an entire scene happening in a single shot, much like the films of Méliès. Due to the political turmoil affecting society film stock was hard to come by, and a lot of early filmmakers had to resort to recording on used film and editing imported movies. However these early projects did allow the groundwork to be set for major Russian productions.

One of the most famous Russian filmmakers of the time was Lev Kuleshov, a filmmaker who conducted a series of experiments in which he attempted to see what effects he could achieve through different types of editing. The one that is best remembered resulted in the "Kuleshov effect" and worked quite simply. The film consisted of a still image of a man's face, which would then be cut together with different images such as a bowl of soup, a dead child, and an attractive woman. I'm not entirely sure if this is the original print or a later filmmaker experimenting with the same technique, but either way it should give you an idea:

The result of this experiment was to see what emotions were generated by the audience. They found that the man seemed to express hunger when looking at the soup and sadness when looking at the coffin. The best part? It was the same face every time. The actor gave off a blank expression but when juxtaposed with other images viewers began to project their images onto the film. This experiment revealed two things about editing. First, it could be used not just as a way to establish continuity but also to create emotion where there was none previously. Second, it could create the illusion of space that doesn't exist; in this case audiences assumed that the man was in the same location as the various things he was supposedly looking at.

Kuleshov's experiment was a major stepping stone, but it was another man by the name of Sergei Eisenstein who would take it to the next level. It's not hard to see Eisenstein's influence on later artists. In fact you don't even have to look at his films, just seeing photographs of him shows you just how much he may have inspired other people and not even just filmmakers. There's actually several photographs where he bears a remarkable resemblance to the character of Henry Spencer in David Lynch's Eraserhead.

Even Kate Bush might owe a bit to Soviet Montage

What Eisenstein did is a whole other story, though. Kuleshov worked out how editing can be used to generate an emotional response from the viewer, but Eisenstein realized it went a little bit deeper. He developed a theory that he could piece together two contrasting images with very different meanings to create a third, brand new meaning that did not previously exist. By doing this, he could create emotions through editing alone.

At the time, this process was known as "montage", which can be a bit jarring to viewers familiar with its more modern usage. However, is that not what contemporary montages ultimately aim to achieve? The "gearing up" montages you see in action movies or the training sequences in martial arts films essentially do the same thing, if on a smaller scale. In those cases, they use editing to excite the viewer. In that sense, many modern Hollywood productions owe a great deal to these old Soviet Montage films.

So ultimately, the big question is why it was the Russians who worked this out? Why not Hollywood (where they that had already been using continuity editing for some time) or Germany (which ironically, despite being more or less bankrupt after World War I, had one of the most successful film industries in the world)? The answer has to do with the messages often found in these old movies.

One of the key factors, perhaps the most important influence on Soviet Montage Cinema, was the circumstances that motivated its filmmakers. Russia was in a state of political turmoil, having just come out of a revolution. Vladimir Lenin had noble intentions but his means were somewhat questionable, and the result was a violent bloodbath that ended with the slaughter of not just the Tsar but also his entire family (and before you bring it up, the urban legend about his youngest daughter Anastasia escaping the massacre has been officially debunked). This led to a period of chaos as the Russian people struggled to rebuild, unfortunately making way for Joseph Stalin to come into power and make things even worse.

Propaganda was a key factor in driving the success of the revolution. The famous story of Grigori Rasputin being shot, stabbed, poisoned, and drowned only to later be found to have died of hypothermia while trying to claw his way out of the ice never happened. In actuality, Rasputin was only shot once and died instantly. The numerous failed assassination attempts were made up to make him seem less human and thus generate support for the revolution, and it worked so well that it was accepted as fact for decades before the original autopsy report was discovered.

The problem of course was that Russia was a very isolated community. Lenin wanted to appeal to the masses, but many people proved harder to reach than others. Film turned out to be an effective technique for promoting the ideology of the revolution. Even after it was over, the creation of propaganda films served not necessarily to support the revolution, but to justify it to the population. Though anti-Tzar films were not the only things produced in Russia at the time, they were at the forefront of their film industry.

While I wasn't particularly keen on this one film, Pudovkin's Mother is a great example of this ideology being reflected. This film takes on an approach reminiscent of the World War II combat films Hollywood would later produce, with themes of sacrifice. The Tzar's army is treated as inhuman and anonymous, with a group of characters bonding together. In this case it is the titular Mother gradually coming to join the common people in the struggle. In the end the Tzar's troops emerge victorious, but the film ends with the apparent intention of inspiring the viewer to take up arms and ensure that these people did not die in vain.

More effectively is Eisenstein's surprisingly good Battleship Potemkin, which creates an allegory for the struggles of the common people by scaling it down to a single battleship crew. This film was inspired by a real event (though I can't verify with certainly how close it is to what really happened), but represents the plight of the Russian people in the form of the mistreatment of the crew at the hands of their officers. One crew member then rallies the crew together and start a mutiny after which point they begin to inspire the people around them, beginning with the civilians in a nearby port and ultimately other ships in the Russian navy.

Curiously enough, Battleship Potemkin has no one true protagonist. It has several different characters who are given a degree of notability, but for the most part it is the collective proletariat masses that are cast as one protagonist. This is fitting to the ideas Lenin hoped to promote, as he aimed to unite the common people and to end the oppression of the bourgeois. Naturally, Eisenstein applies his techniques effectively with the intent to create this sense of anger and ultimately triumph as the brave men of the Potemkin set the way for a brighter future.

Much like Birth of a Nation, it isn't always easy to agree with what the ideologies that are promoted by these films. Personally, I can't begin to make a judgement call on whether the Russian Revolution was ultimately justified, seeing as my knowledge of the period is extremely limited. Still, the significance of these films cannot ultimately be denied. The period of montage brought out a number of filmmakers besides the ones I've referred to in this article, all of whom contributed something. Ultimately they took Griffith's continuity editing in directions he never would have imagined. Even after the movement ended in the 1930's, echoes of Soviet Montage can still be found in modern filmmaking, including mainstream Hollywood films.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Action Heroines Should Not Wear Heels

As great as the first Dirty Harry film was, the general lack of female characters but more specifically female cops can seem jarring to a modern viewer. It took two crappy sequels before a female cop was finally introduced in The Enforcer. This could have been done well, with the relationship between Kate Moore and Harry Callahan being a very emotional one as he has to grow to respect her. Of course they botched it all up and instead gave her a lame death scene that added nothing to the story (seriously, they could have cut it out entirely without changing anything) and just served as one of many things hastily thrown into the already extremely rushed and disappointing climax for the sake of drama.

Of course, even if you can overlook the film's problems, perhaps the character of Inspector Kate Moore isn't that bad after all, or perhaps she could have been. The film apparently wanted them to become equals by the end, but that whole aspect is arguably made redundant when Harry won't even let her put on some practical clothes. One thing I've learned about cops is that you should never, ever  put one in a dress and high heels while on duty under any circumstances, and of course they do exactly that in The Enforcer. Was this a thing the San Francisco police did in 1976? Why does Harry get to wear pants and shoes for his chase scenes but his co-star has to stumble around because the producers never thought about getting her a more practical wardrobe? This was the 70's, it's not like there were laws against women wearing pants.

The sad thing is that this isn't the only occurrence. Sometimes it can be more forgivable, as in North by Northwest (where aside from being a time period situation, Eve probably didn't expect to be climbing over Mt. Rushmore and the impracticality of her shoes does play into the action) but even today it's something of an unfortunate trend for women. Even in more modern films, while action heroines might omit the dress they still get put into high-heeled boots the director apparently thought looked better.

If you ask me, nobody should ever have to wear high-heeled shoes at all. I haven't a clue who thought they would be a good idea but they are extremely impractical footwear for all occasions. Despite this being common knowledge today many filmmakers still seem to insist on putting girls into high heels regardless of how practical they might be, especially action heroines. Apparently it is only because they think it makes them look better, even though the heroine would look perfectly fine without them.

To provide a straight forward example, it seems every rendition of Catwoman gives her heels for no apparent reason. This is a character who regularly has to sneak around dark city streets and climb along rooftops and yet not a single cinematic treatment has given her practical footwear. Even Nolan's take on the character still puts her in high heels (though admittedly the idea of them being designed to work as spikes does sound kinda cool).

Really, it seems the only reason filmmakers continue to pursue this trend even today is because they somehow have it in their head that it makes action heroines seem more attractive. They've already stripped the dresses that were common in older action movies so why keep the heels? Now I won't claim that female characters shouldn't be physically attractive, but are the heels really necessary to make that happen?

As a case in point, Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider films is an action heroine who usually dresses in ways appropriate to the situation. She's still an attractive figure (as you can expect with Angelina Jolie being cast) but they don't try to oversexualize her. You could argue that she does expose herself, though mainly in environments and in ways that are practical to her situations, but she certainly doesn't wear high heels. The first film even makes a joke out of it at the very end when Lara's butler drops a whole bunch of dishes in shock on seeing her in a dress.

Lara is unfortunately one of a few exceptions to the rule, along with a few other characters such as Ellen Ripley in Aliens and Sarah Connor in the Terminator films. Unfortunately a lot of action movies seem to be more concerned with ensuring their heroines are attractive than in actually giving them something fitting to their situation. You don't see Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone being given impractical gear when they star in their manly action films (although in some cases they are every bit as exposed, if not even moreso), so why put women in the high heels instead of letting them have the cool boots used by the guys?

That is not what I meant when I asked for a strong female firefighter!

This is sadly something that seems to have persisted in modern media. Even Marvel, despite otherwise being very good about incorporating strong female characters, is guilty of using high heels inappropriately. So many times when watching action films I find myself remarking "and that is why women should not wear high heels". Now being a guy I don't have a lot of experience, but based on what I've seen I would not recommend high heels for a person of either gender in any circumstance, especially if you're an action hero.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Rambo II: This Time It's Not Rambo 1

So I've never been particularly inclined to look at any Sylvester Stallone movies, and with good reason. After all the guy's got a reputation for making terrible action movies and not being really hard to understand. While I can sympathize with the reasons why he has that distinct voice (his lower jaw is partially paralyzed) I just don't think he's really that good an actor, as I found out today in my action cinema class when we had to watch Rambo: First Blood Part II.

I had low expectations even before going in, but the whole movie was pretty bad even by the standards I was setting. Half the time it was impossible to understand the dialogue, and not just Stallone's. The rest of the cast was okay but really we were obviously supposed to be following his character of Rambo despite him having no real depth or personality. He was just a guy with a lot of weapons and not much motivation.

It was also insanely jarring how inconsistent the action was. In the insanely contrived scene where Rambo's female partner gets killed, she is shot multiple times and dies soon after, and yet the same people cannot shoot a man standing at exactly the same range and every bit as visible. This is a cliché that has often been mercilessly parodied, commonly known as the "Stormtrooper effect" (so named for its infamous use in the Star Wars franchise, which ironically could have gotten around the problem if they'd just stated that the force was protecting the heroes). This was apparently quite popular in the 80's but that doesn't make it any less frustrating, especially when the bad guys are supposedly trained soldiers.

None of the characters ever seemed to have much in the way of depth at all, certainly not enough for me to care about any of them. The bad guys had no real motivation, Rambo is just a maniac with a gun, and did that one POW even get a name? If he did I don't remember it being brought up. Also I swear that guy got shot at least twice during the climax despite being okay at the end.

Come to think of it that's another thing, none of these POW's we're supposed to be concerned for have any personality at all. There's no real reason we should be concerned for their safety because we don't know any of them. They're just a bunch of shirtless guys and so when one or two get shot there isn't much emotion to be felt.

The only character I really had any interest in was Co (Julia Nickson). She was actually an interesting character and a strong female character in one of these films. She got to wield a machine gun for a while, a few action scenes, and even got to save Rambo's life. This film had an actual action girl in it, so how do the filmmakers mess it up? By killing her off way too early and forcing us to spend the rest of the film with a bunch of uninteresting shirtless men of course. I think I get what they were trying to go for, making the bad guys seem more ruthless and giving Rambo more motivation (as if the torture scene earlier and him being left for dead by his own people wasn't enough) but it was a lame and horrendously contrived scene that came straight out of nowhere and made the conversation immediately before completely pointless.

Now I'll confess, I still haven't seen the first Rambo film, but this one is a waste of time. Even the action scenes couldn't keep me going. I understand Sylvester Stallone has a physical deformity that inhibits his speech, but even if I could understand what he was saying I don't think he'd be a very good actor.

When it comes to action movie stars, I'll take Schwarzenegger any day. His action movies are fun and sometimes actually have a point to them. Stallone on the other hand is a guy I don't feel particularly inclined to see any more of. I've been told that Rocky is alright but beyond that I'm certainly not (willingly) checking out any more of the Rambo films or any of his later work. Rambo: First Blood Part II is a dull, pointless, and boring action movie that I would strongly recommend avoiding at all costs.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Thursday Movie Picks Meme: Vampire Movies

This week, the theme for Wanderer's Thursday Movie Picks Meme is Vampire movies. This is an interesting challenge, since I'll confess I've never been a huge fan of them myself. I've often considered them to be a bit overrated as a horror monster (and the whole Twilight craze certainly didn't help), but they can be done well when put into the right hands. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was still a pretty awesome show with some great vampires in it (though it probably helped that there were other monsters as well). I'll also confess I still have yet to actually see any of the Dracula films.

Let's begin:

Nosferatu (1922)

About what I was saying earlier about not having seen any of the Dracula films, let me rephrase. I haven't actually seen any of the authorized films. The first adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel was one that was made without permission as part of the short-lived German expressionist period. In fact it was almost lost forever because Stoker's wife was so angry about the unauthorized production that she sued the filmmakers and demanded all copies be destroyed. The only reason it survives today is because one copy managed to stay hidden and wasn't found again until long after. By modern standards it can come off as a bit cheesy (Count Orlok looks kinda silly nowadays and not very intimidating), but as far as I'm aware this was basically the first vampire film.

Vampires (1998)

Have you ever wondered what The Lost Boys might look like if you made it for adults and mixed in elements of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and old westerns? No? Well, too bad because that's what John Carpenter gave us in the late 90's... and it's a lot of fun. The vampires here are treated a bit different from your standard ones in that they do have act somewhat like zombies (being bit even once by one in this continuity causes you to transform into one yourself) and a lot of the traditional elements such as crosses and garlic don't work. The only solid way to kill one is to expose it to sunlight (staking them in the heard does work, but it's not as reliable a method).

Underworld (2005)

We've got two on this list where the vampire is the antagonist. Let's bring up one where the vampire is the hero. Underworld isn't the greatest of vampire films but it is an enjoyable little action flick with some exciting stunts and chase scenes. Kate Beckinsale makes a pretty good heroine and it's always good to see a tough girl who can kick butt. It's hardly a masterpiece but if you can keep an open mind it is a little bit of fun.

Cosmic Horror Cast-A-Thon

Last week I started the Cosmic Horror Cast-A-Thon in which I invited fellow bloggers to come and put together a team of investigators to save the world. Unfortunately nobody's responded yet and we've only got nine days left before the Old Ones awaken leaving madness and terror in their wake. In a desperate bid to help prevent that, I'd better get my team together.

So first I'm supposed to pick and Old One to pit my team against. I'm going to take the most obvious one and save the other, perhaps more interesting ones for other contributors to tackle.

Old One: Cthulhu


Investigative Team

Jack Crow (Vampires, 1998)- Team Leader/muscle

If there is a tough guy who has any idea how to deal with the paranormal, it's Jack Crow. He's got a pile of guns and gadgets specifically designed for taking out vampires. While this might not be effective against the Old Ones, he is resourceful enough to find weaknesses his team could take advantage of weaknesses, not to mention he should be able to hold his own against an army of cultists. Seeing as they have a habit of quietly murdering anyone who finds out too much about Cthulhu, someone who can keep your back is a valuable asset to the team. In addition to all that, he's also got leadership skills and knows how to keep people organized under pressure.

R.J. Macready (The Thing, 1982)- Co-Leader/Pilot

Another tough guy with leadership skills, which could very well come in handy if anything were to happen to Jack Crow. To add to that he's also a qualified helicopter pilot, which means he has the additional benefit of being able to get his team where they need to go efficiently. Let's not forget that he has experience in dealing with otherworldly horrors himself, and seeing as the last thing he faced was one that turned his colleagues against each other through sheer paranoia, Cthulhu should seem like a cakewalk at least in theory. 

Ellen Ripley (Alien, 1979)- Expert

Let me sum it up as simply as possible: she doesn't give up. She fought the same horrifying monsters three times in a row and even suicide couldn't stop her from coming back to face them again. That's how determined she is when faced with these nameless otherworldly beings. Now when confronted with something terrifying enough to make the Xenomorphs seem friendly, why wouldn't she be want to do something about it? Heck, if anyone's going to live long enough to make a brave last stand against Cthulhu it's going to be her, and... well... let's just say she's got better odds than most.

Juno (The Descent, 2005)- Explorer

So before we can face Cthulhu, the team will have to navigate the lost city of R'lyeh. That would seem straight forward enough if not for the fact the place is filled to the brim with non-euclidean geometry. It just so happens that Juno is an experienced cave diver, a profession that requires one to be able to navigate tunnels of shapes and sizes that are not always predictable. Naturally, if anyone can figure out how to handle the unpredictable nature of structures that defy physics with out-of-the-box-thinking, it's her.

Stevie Wayne (The Fog, 1980)- Coordinator

Well, we already have leadership for the front, but what about in the back. After all, with a mess like this that could take our investigators around the world, somebody's got to co-ordinate everything. That's where Stevie Wayne comes in. Based out of her lighthouse she can keep track of the team's progress and also listen out for any updates that could give the investigators clues about how to find Cthulhu and stop him from destroying the world.

Theo (The Haunting, 1963)- Psychic

If she is indeed a psychic, as is suggested but not confirmed in The Haunting, she would be a valuable asset to the team. She could observe things nobody else could because of her abilities, such as the thoughts and dreams of others around her and perhaps even take the time to observe how people seem to be affected psychologically by the rising of Cthulhu even before he actually awakens. 

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Ms. 45 and the Urban Vigilantes

This is a film that I might never have heard of if not for a chance mention in one of my textbooks and one I might have forgotten about if not for my innate curiosity and an unprecedented intrigue that came with learning about a major trend in 1970's action films, specifically the "urban vigilante" idea, also known as an "urban western". Typically the way these films work is they combine the classical western hero with the street and back alley settings prevalent in film noir and gangster pictures of the 1940's and 1950's.

Usually the way they work is that you have an anti-hero protagonist who is torn between two worlds. Much as the classical western hero is caught between the "civilized" world and the "savage" wilderness, the urban western hero (or in this case, heroine) is in between both the law and the crooks. They're typically civilians, as is the case for this film along with other films such as the Death Wish series featuring Charles Bronson. Other times they are rogue cops, a role made famous by Dirty Harry, or even crooks themselves as seen with Snake Plissken in Escape From New York.

In any case, they are a character who sees themselves as above the law. They find the police are too much of a hindrance for justice, and decide to take matters into their own hands. Dirty Harry continues to pursue Scorpio long after he is taken off the case and Snake Plissken screws over the ungrateful President by destroying the tape he was supposed to retrieve for him (and that was in the first movie, don't get me started on what he does in Escape From L.A.). There are even echoes of this phenomenon in more contemporary works such as Christopher Nolan's Batman films.

The movie we watched in class was Dirty Harry, and a lot of the focus was on that along with Death Wish. Escape From New York was one I only later concluded fit into the "urban vigilante" trend based on what I'd learned. One thing it didn't take me long to notice was that the vigilante character was usually a man, so naturally when the chapter on the urban vigilante films in my textbook referred to one with a female lead I became curious. That was my introduction to Ms. 45, also known as Angel of Vengeance. I eventually decided to pursue this movie and found a copy last week. I had some time during the weekend to watch it and it turned out also to be quite fitting for Halloween.

Thana (Zoë Lund) is a seamstress who happens to be mute. She happens to be living in 1980's Manhattan, a world where it is not easy being a woman, and even harder being a woman who can't talk. While walking home from work one day, she is helplessly abducted by a street punk (Abel Ferrara, the movie's director) who sexually assaults her. The experience of it happening once already leaves the poor heroine severely traumatized, but after getting home she encounters another punk trying to rob her apartment who also tries to rape her. This time Thana snaps and murders her attacker.

From then on, things are no longer the same. Thana starts to grow paranoid of every man she sees and the trauma of her experiences begin to bleed into her job as she starts to slip up more frequently. Most notably, she takes the gun off the punk she murders and begins carrying it around with her. Numerous men try to sexually harass her and subsequently meet their ends at the barrel of a 45 caliber pistol.

It's really a shame that Zoë Lund's career was cut short so early (she only went on to do five other features before dying of a drug overdose in 1999) because if this role was anything to go by she had extraordinary talent. She never so much as utters a single line at any point in the film, meaning she has to rely more or less purely on facial expression and body language to convey the emotions that come with her character's downward spiral. The fact that the emotion is purely visual makes her character stand out all the more from the rest of the cast (all of whom do talk). It gives her a lot more depth than it would to have her speak, but at the same time adds an enigmatic quality as we never learn her full backstory or why she has this disability.

I also liked the fact that unlike many other films both then and now Thana isn't glamorized or oversexualized, at least not as much. For most of the movie she looks like a very average young woman except when she is trying to make herself attractive to men in order to get close enough to kill them. By making her look like an everyday person, it makes the story of a civilian trying to take the law into her own hands all the more meaningful.

The rest of the cast is also pretty good. The interactions between Thana and the other characters are definitely believable, something not easy to pull off when you have to pretend your lead actress can't actually talk. There are two other major characters she interacts with: her landlady Mrs. Nasone and her boss Albert (Albert Sinkys), both of whom come into conflict with her over the changes in personality that come with her choice to become a vigilante while she simultaneously tries to keep them from finding out what she does during the night. She also has an emotional relationship with the other seamstresses, who are more or less the closest thing she has to friends and the only ones who really give her any kind of comfort.

Naturally for a film like this there's plenty of action to be found. Zoë Lund gets several scenes to herself where she gets to be tough and show off her newfound skills with a pistol. Even when she isn't pulling out her gun the film still manages to create tension. Knowing the protagonist just about every scene where she interacts with a man builds up a sense of tension because you know how paranoid she is and how she is very easily provoked into murder. Then of course there's the incredibly tense climax which I won't spoil for you.

I would strongly recommend Ms. 45 as a dark action film. It is an effective spin on the whole idea of the "urban vigilante", with a strong and indeed very memorable action heroine and plenty of tension. It's also a good movie to see in October, since while not an outright horror story it can be disturbing and even features a sub-plot surrounding a Halloween party. It was worth the thirty dollars I spent on it, and now I'm glad I kept up with the readings for that one course since otherwise I'd never have found out about this film. I don't know how easy it will be to find, but if you get the chance it is worth checking out

Saturday, 18 October 2014

October 2014 Blindspot Challenge: Re-Animator

I was supposed to do Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds for this month, but unfortunately I had some problems with the DVD. I got partway into the movie and suddenly it froze and began skipping. I couldn't move on without missing some crucial parts to the film and it seemed extremely unlikely that I would be able to find another copy before the end of the month (and even if I was, I can't be sure I'd have another opportunity to see it). Fortunately, I had a few other horror films in my drawer that could go in its place for October's, and one in particular struck me due to its source material.

I therefore have a confession to make. Despite being a huge H.P. Lovecraft fan and my endorsements of the HPLHS adaptations of his stories, I had never seen the cult classic Re-Animator before now. For that matter I have not actually seen any of Stuart Gordon's other Lovecraft adaptations such as Dagon, From Beyond, or the TV treatment of The Dreams in the Witch-House he did for Masters of Horror. I haven't even gotten around to reading the original Lovecraft serial on which this particular film was based, making this the first time with any of his work I've seen the movie before reading the story.

Herbert West–Reanimator as Lovecraft wrote it was supposedly a parody of Frankenstein. Mary Shelley's classic tale (which surprisingly enough, I have read not seen any film adaptations of, unless you count Young Frankenstein) was about a man who tries to scientifically engineer a process to revive the dead. The creature that results from these experiments is a grotesque entity that causes him to immediately regret his hard work. Lovecraft's story takes that concept up several notches by having a scientist reanimate multiple corpses. 

Though Lovecraft himself was not particularly fond of the story (he mainly wrote it for the money and had a lot of frustrating restrictions imposed on him), it does have something of a following with his fans. Maybe it's just because it's a little bit different from his usual horror, but whatever the case may be this is often one that fans will bring up. Naturally it appealed to Stuart Gordon, who given the path of his directorial career is clearly fond of Lovecraft's writing.

Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs), is a brilliant but eccentric medical student based out of an institution in Switzerland, but he gets fired after he is caught performing unorthodox experiments on one of the staff. He moves to America and enrolls at Miskatonic University where he continues to develop his peculiar experiments after moving in with classmate Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott). There he continues to experiment with a fluid he has developed capable of reanimating dead tissue. Things become difficult when Dean Halsey (Robert Sampson) voices opposition to West's experiments. Also thrown into the mix are Halsey's daughter Megan, who is engaged to Dan and gets mixed up in all of West's experiments, and a jerk by the name of Carl Hill (David Gale) who has made a career out of stealing credit for other people's accomplishments.

The whole thing has sort of a b-movie atmosphere, which has a strange kind of charm to it and actually does somewhat fit in with the original story (which was allegedly a parody of Frankenstein). The plot does get over the top and crazy at times, but when the film needs to it can be disturbing. You can naturally expect a lot of gore from a movie about reanimating corpses, and oddly enough the excessive amount of blood does make the appearances of the resurrected human cadavers a bit more disturbing.

Re-Animator is certainly an interesting experience for any major horror fan. It is a bit campy and over the top but it will keep you on the edge of your seat as you are taken through a bizarre sequence of events. It might seem a bit slow at first but once the bodies start rising it'll be a blast, and there is even a bit of emotion to be found in all of this. The main characters are rather likable but Herbert West himself is an especially interesting figure in the way he is driven by the passion of his discovery. I'm sorry I wasn't able to do The Birds as I originally planned, but this one worked alright as a substitute. Give it a watch, you won't regret it.

Friday, 17 October 2014

How Spectacle Conveys Narrative

There has always been a delicate relationship between narrative and spectacle on film. Many Hollywood movies struggle to balance a compelling story with special effects to create a spectacle. Some of the earliest films, such as those of Méliès, were made as almost pure spectacle. Later films would prefer to focus on telling a story. Sometimes, as is shown with the famous “biplane scene” in Alfred Hitchcock’s North By Northwest, the spectacle is used as a driving force for the narrative.

While this scene is clearly meant to be a visual spectacle, it is created in such a way as to stand out in the mind of the viewer because it is an extremely pivotal moment in the story. The scene marks the beginning of several drastic changes, including the general tone of the narrative and in the character of Roger himself. This is set up through the scene’s deviation from the film’s previously established patterns.

This famous scene happens roughly at the mid-point in the film. The build up is simple enough: Roger is led to an isolated crossroads in the middle of open mid-western farmland. He has been told at this location he will be able to meet the man he has been confused with, George Kaplan, whom the audience already knows does not exist.

Instead of finding the agent, he is attacked by an unseen pilot in a biplane. A chase ensues in which Roger desperately tries to evade his attackers. The plane attempts to shoot him, run him down, and pour crop-dust all over him. Finally, Thornhill sees a passing gas truck, stands in front, and falls under it as soon as it stops. The plane crashes into the back of the truck and explodes, creating a spectacle of destruction.

This scene is a very famous cinematic moment that no doubt served as an influence on later action films such as Clint Eastwood’s The Gauntlet. Even the helicopter chase scene in From Russia With Love clearly took a few cues from this iconic sequence. Why is it such a great scene? Why did Alfred Hitchcock make the choices he did when putting this sequence of events together? That's what we will be discussing in this article.

As far as narrative goes, there is only one obvious function filled by this scene—giving Roger a reason to suspect he cannot trust Eve, the woman who sent him to this location. This end could have been accomplished by a much shorter scene. For instance, instead of a plane, Roger could have encountered a man he thinks is Kaplan who ties to kill him. A simple chase scene would have sufficed The scene as it was presented could have ended with Roger simply evading the plane instead of causing it to explode.

Simpler alternatives would have served the same narrative function and advanced the story but not have had the same impact on Roger’s character. Up until this point, Roger has been doing little more than attempting to run away from the villains, hoping to eventually find the man he is being confused for. After this scene, Roger starts to gain control over his situation, pursuing the antagonists himself and setting in motion the events that ultimately allow him to become Kaplan.

As a result, Roger becomes much more daring in the second half of the film. While in the first half, he simply runs away from the villains, the biplane scene marks the point where he realizes he must take more drastic measures to survive such as standing on a road in front of a moving truck and falling under it. The fact that the plane explodes shows how much of a risk he was taking. He could have easily been injured or even killed by the blast.

This scene is just the first of many creative and unusual methods Roger uses to get out of dangerous situations; he no longer simply runs away. The biplane scene marks the point in which Roger decides he is no longer going to tolerate the antagonists pursuing him and instead of simply trying to evade them instead decides to stand up for himself. As the film progresses, Roger goes on to do even more dangerous stunts, culminating in the climactic scene of him and Eve climbing down Mt. Rushmore’s face.

If the biplane scene had ended with him simply evading his attackers instead of outwitting them, Roger’s personality would not have changed from the first half of the film. His later actions would confuse the viewer. If Hitchcock had ended the biplane scene with Roger simply hitching a ride with a passing motorist and getting away from the airplane, he would simply be running away again, instead of taking a stand as is set up by this sequence. This change in character is vital to concluding the narrative. Without this particular scene the shift from an urban mystery to an espionage thriller would have been completely unexplained.

There is a very good reason Hitchcock would have wanted his scene to be a spectacle. Most of the film is extremely chaotic. Even before Thornhill is abducted, people are running around, pushing and shoving each other. One of the few calm moments of the film happens when Roger sneaks onto a train and meets Eve. Because this scene is so calm, it puts the viewer into a false sense of security. It seems as though Roger is safe from any danger. Him being attacked in such an unusual manner compared to earlier in the film is Hitchcock’s way of reminding the viewer that he is in fact still in trouble.

In addition, this scene also marks a very drastic change in tone to the overall narrative. The biplane scene marks a specific change in the tone of the story. The first half sees Roger trying to run from the antagonists, while the middle transitions the viewer into the events set off by this scene. The scene with the biplane marks the beginning of the second half, in which the narrative changes from being a chase film to more closely resembling an espionage thriller. This scene begins the transition and in turn leads directly into the final episode where Roger actually becomes a spy.

Another aspect that is worth noting is the jarring change of environment. The exotic locations used in older Hollywood films have often been used as a source of spectacle, but in this case Hitchcock opts for exactly the opposite. Instead of utilizing an impressive landscape, he chooses mid-western monotonous, flat, open fields . The spectacle is instead in the chase between Roger and the plane itself. The reason Hitchcock does not opt to include a more attractive environment is because he wants the viewers to focus purely on the central action.

Up until this point, the action has been set in populated urban environments. Roger has been pursued on foot through city streets, but here he is alone in the middle of open farmland. There are fewer places to hide, and almost no other people beyond the occasional passing motorist. The choice to use a biplane adds a layer of tension. The confrontation is obviously an unfair fight, thus alerting the viewer that Roger could be killed and creating a great sense of relief when he escapes.

Like the rest of the film, Hitchcock avoids crosscutting between Roger and the pilot chasing him, allowing the sudden arrival of the plane to startle the viewer. However, this remains the only scene in the movie where the antagonists are kept anonymous as they are never clearly visible inside the plane. This scene also marks the only point in the movie where Roger is directly responsible for anyone dying (you could argue that Mr. Townsend might not have had a knife in his back had Roger not tried to talk to him, but even that wasn't entirely his fault). By not allowing him or the audience to see the pilots, it eliminates the emotional repercussions that would otherwise come from him killing one, possibly two people.

North by Northwest has many memorable scenes, but Hitchcock has specifically crafted this particular moment so that it burns itself into the mind of the viewer. This scene is a pivotal moment in the film that marks a drastic shift in narrative tone and the main character’s role in the overall story. By creating this particular scene as a visual spectacle, Hitchcock forces the viewer to recognize these changes as they happen.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Why Can't Science Fiction Get Space Right?

I've previously discussed how science fiction often tends to botch up the whole science part with regards to terminology. There's a lot of things to know if you want to write good science fiction. Among other things, you should know what a galaxy is and you will need to be able to recognize the difference between a black hole and a wormhole. Trust me, you do not want to get those two very different things mixed up.

Still, there's a lot of things science fiction gets wrong and I think it's time to address some of these further facts. Let's begin with one of the most obvious problems, and that is the lack of microgravity. We've all seen so many films that feature this it would be far easier to list the films that actually do take the time to depict weightlessness. Unlike many errors, however, there actually is a practical reason for this particular one to be invoked. After all, science fiction movies are generally shot on Earth. It takes time and money to be able to produce convincing weightless effects. When you have a great director and a ginormous budget (as was the case for 2001: A Space Odyssey) you can produce some amazing effects, but otherwise the strings will be visible.

However, very rarely does this issue ever actually get addressed, and when it is, it's usually in little more than a character offhandedly mentioning "artificial gravity". No explanation is given for how this future technology is supposed to work. At present, there's really only two known ways artificial gravity could be generated, and neither one is usually shown to be at play. The first and less feasible option would be to have the ship moving at constant acceleration, which can temporarily create its own gravity (something like in the launch sequence from Conquest of Space). The second and far more plausible method would be to construct a centrifuge, like in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Contrary to popular believe, there is in fact gravity in outer space. In fact, gravity is more or less the primary force that prevents all matter from being torn apart by the expansion of the universe itself. Ryan Stone was not so much floating as she was falling around the Earth's curvature. Gravity is also what keeps the moon in orbit around the Earth, the Earth in the orbit of the sun, and the sun in our galaxy. Putting it quite simply anything that contains matter exerts a gravitational force of some kind, the strength of which corresponds to the object's mass.

Now for an extremely frustrating one that very few movies ever seem to be able to get right. Space is a vacuum. We've all seen plenty of science fiction stories that involve great big space battles with lasers. Star Wars is especially guilty of this and it is really annoying. SOUND CANNOT TRAVEL THROUGH SPACE! There is no way that is possible. It's frustrating how few movies actually pay attention to this detail: Destination Moon, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Gravity being among the few exceptions.

While we're on the subject of Star Wars, I think it's worth bringing up how asteroid fields actually work compared to what we see in the movies. In The Empire Strikes Back, Han Solo tries to evade a number of pursuing Imperial ships by flying into an asteroid belt, leading C-3PO to claim "the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately 3,720 to 1". Actually it's not. Real asteroid fields are ridiculously easy to navigate. Generally there is a huge distance between the asteroids, so the only way you could crash into one is if you are an idiot or if your intention was to crash into one.

So here are yet more scientific concepts that science fiction can't seem to get right. For a genre called science fiction there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of... you know... science. No where is that clearer than in science fiction films about outer space, where the most basic facts are tossed out the window. Why is it that there seems to only be three major films that actually show space as silent that are each released decades apart (Destination Moon, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Gravity)?