March 10th, 2012


Regretfully I Cannot Attend


Penguicon is a great and novel con. It's SF/F and Linux. (grin) Excuse me, it's an "Open Source Software and Science Fiction Convention". This year it's 27-29 April 2012 in Dearborn MI. And therein lies the rub. WMU's Spring Semester grades are due on Tuesday 1 May 2012 at noon -- and I will have 240 papers to grade.

So I had to decline when The Ferrett, the Literary Track leader, invited me to join in the fun and do some panels. You may recall that The Ferrett and I shared a joint reading at ConFusion this year. Bummer. I've been to a Penguicon. In fact, I was around at ConFusion when the first Penguicon was being planned. Then it was too close to ConFusion in the calendar. Now, most years, it conflicts with Grading Week. The one year I got to go, I think it came right after grades were due.

But today I was really disappointed. And pleased at the same time. The Science Track people invited me to be a Nifty Guest at Penguicon. A Nifty Guest isn't a Guest of Honor, but gets a lot more benefits over just a panelist. They've seen the Dr. Phil road show doing my science talks and panels at ConFusion and wondered if I could do the same for them.

This was a nice invitation and now I'm very sorry that I can't cross the state and play with the nice crazies at Penguicon. Even if I wanted to try to risk everything and do it, the weekend before is the Spring Michigan Section of the American Association of Physics Teachers -- and that's a whopping eight miles away at GVSU this year. So I'd be really crazy to miss that.

Well, you can't have everything. Let's see when they schedule Penguicon for 2013...


Remember that this weekend is short an hour, as the social engineering of time under the revised DST2007 rules takes effect.

Dr. Phil

To Be Forewarned Is To Be Four-Armed

Long Wait

I've really been wondering if Disney could do this film justice. Then seeing a picture of Willem Dafoe on stilts before being swapped out for a CGI Tars Tarkas really made me want to see this.

John Carter 3D [PG-13]
Holland 7 Theatre #5, 3:20pm, 2×$9.25

The history of trying to get John Carter of Mars on film is long, convoluted, and in a recent Wired magazine article, been doomed to failure until now. Plus I haven't read any of the books directly. So to say that this film seems derivative of other modern SF/F films is complicated by the chicken versus egg question. But... watching this gave me strong echoes of Cowboys & Aliens, Avatar, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones and The Chronicles of Riddick -- and those are the ones I can name right off the bat without breaking a sweat. I suppose with the high gravity alien (from Earth), we can throw in Superman or Andromeda for good measure.

We chose to see this in Holland in 3D, rather than IMAX 3D had more to do with really liking the Holland 7 and planning on a nice uncrowded grocery store run after a nice uncrowded movie. As opposed to cost, for example. And since we were early and had just had lunch, it didn't seem practical to buy popcorn only to have it gone before the film even started.

But what about the movie, you cry? It's pretty good. We enjoyed it. Looks fantastic. Impressive visuals. I particularly liked the tattoo artistry and attention to cultural building of the aliens. You'll soon be up to speed on some of the vocabulary, whether or not it would sound ridiculous if one wasn't trying to be serious.

At 132 minutes, they take some time with the opening set up. And once John Carter gets to Mars, they do spend a little time wondering what a human would do in Mars gravity. Technically accurate? Not really the point here. (grin)

The larger flying vehicles look gorgeous -- the smaller ones seem to suffer from selective use of indestructibilium as they careen against things and alternately crumple or bounce off with zero damage.

Meanwhile, John Carter is doing his own bouncing around, both literally and from one armed camp to another. We expect him to end up in Dejah Thoris' arms, our Princess of Mars, but it isn't going to be easy. Our princess is a scientist, warrior, a fierce patriot and expected to be a loyal pawn for her people in a battle between the forces of red and blue. There's plenty of pseudoscience technobabble going around, but they believe it, so it seems to work. Let's just say that life on Barsoom -- Mars -- is complicated.

Edgar Rice Burrough's John Carter of Mars stories are the grandfather of many of our SF epics. That we have a modern computer generated plus epic cast/sets in 3D as the first real version on the big screen, at least puts it on the same shelf as our other SF/F epics. Not perfect by any means, there are a few cringeworthy scenes and bits of dialogue, and John Cater's "dog" is over the top.

Disney has the rights to three Barsoom books, so I think we can expect to see the canonical film trilogy. We'll bring the popcorn next time.


TRAILERS: Include Men in Black 3, The Avengers and Prometheus -- Ridley Scott is doing another Alien movie, in 3D!

Dr. Phil

PS -- MAD Magazine has apparently pulled off a Jimmy Carter of Mars parody.