May 2009 Archives

"....Gentlemen."

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If you haven't seen it yet, you really should -- as part of the new Sniper-cum-Spy update for Team Fortress 2, Valve released the Meet the Spy video.  While I'm definitely a big fan of the other "Meet the..." videos (especially the Heavy, Demoman, and Sniper), I think this one takes the cake.



The whole way that Valve has released this update has been great -- they teased out the Spy stuff as described on Rock, Paper, Shotgun a couple days ago.  Am I the only one that thinks a TF2 movie or animated series would be hilarious?

Other than the bizillion other people asking for one on the 'net, that is.

Star Trekkin'

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So the new Star Trek movie came out Friday -- it's getting praised pretty highly almost everywhere I've seen, from regular critics to RPGnet and various other geek circles.  I saw it Friday, and after taking the weekend to digest the movie, I'm going to have to go ever so slightly against the grain.

First off, let me start by saying that this is a good movie, well worth seeing, and even if you're not a Star Trek fan, you'll like it as a straight up action movie.  The acting is really good (more about this later), the dialogue is well-written, and the special effects are also excellent.  The problem, for me, is that while the movie works as an action movie, it just doesn't seem very "Star Trekky" to me.

The problem comes in when I look at the other Trek movies I really like -- Wrath of Khan and The Undiscovered Country.  They aren't action movies.  There's some exciting action sequences, but the best parts of the movie don't really have much to do with that.  Most of the movie is quieter and more contemplative; the action is used to punctuate the movie's acts, but the whole movie is not just one action sequence after another.

In contrast, the new movie gives you almost no time to breathe between action sequences, starting right out of the gate.  Even events of literally earthshattering importance don't seem to get more than 2-3 minutes thought before plunging into yet another effects-driven spectacular.  That's not inherently bad in a movie, but it left me feeling a little empty, and wanting a movie that was a little more substantial at heart like the above two.  On the other hand, I think this was probably a better choice than the one made when they filmed Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which was a movie with pretty much no action sequences what so ever.

But enough about my caveats; this is a good movie, and there's little doubt about that, it seems.  The actors in this movie have probably the toughest job in Hollywood here; nearly every single one of the principal cast is playing an iconic role made famous by another actor who is largely famous for that exact role.  And yet, they manage, by and large, to pull it off and do it well, while giving their own spin on things and not simply being a retread of the previous actor.

Chris Pine, as Kirk, has probably the toughest job, and wisely seems to have decided he cannot be William Shatner and doesn't even try.  His Kirk is still brash, still sleeps with green chicks, and punches aliens in the face, but there's none of the trademark Shatner delivery, which is probably for the best -- as I heard somewhere before, "everyone who does a William Shatner impression is really just doing an impression of Kevin Pollak doing a William Shatner impression."  His relationship with Spock develops well over the course of the movie, though as I said above, there's not a lot of overt character development put in there.

Zachary Quinto, as Spock, does a good job, made even more difficult by the fact that Leonard Nimoy is also in the movie, playing an older version of the character.  He shows the clash of cultures in his character, and did a good job of emulating the heart of Nimoy's Spock without just mimicing him.  This version of Spock seems a little more human and runs with his suppressed emotions a little closer to the surface, possibly a reflection of the fact that he's supposed to be younger in this movie.  The biggest problem with Spock is that he just doesn't have time to react to the momentous events in the film for the most part.

The third part of the original series' triumvirate, McCoy, is portrayed by Karl Urban, and of the new actors, Urban is the one who tries the hardest to emulate the previous actor, DeForest Kelley.  To his credit, he does it excellently and as Squaremans says, he steals every scene he's in.  It's surprising to see someone who I know mostly from his roles in Lord of the Rings in a role which is largely comedic, but he is really good and I think if Kelley was alive he would be happy to see him reprising the role.

Eric Bana, as the movie's villian, doesn't really get a lot of development; he does a good job with what he has, but his character, Nero, doesn't really compare to Montalban's Khan or Plummer's General Chang because you don't really get to know him.  He and his ship seem more like a force of nature than an antagonist, which I think also hurts the movie.  He gets a tiny bit of development in an explosive bit of exposition, but if you blink you'll miss it, and there's no real interaction where he's not simply being the villian.  It's too bad; Bana is a good actor (you only need to see him in Black Hawk Down or Munich to see that), but the script doesn't give him much to do other than sit in his throne and look menacing.

The rest of the cast is also well-assembled -- Simon Pegg, as Scotty, is probably the big standout, who plays the ship's engineer as much more frenetic than James Doohan, but I think that shortchanges John Cho and Anton Yelchin, who do good jobs as Sulu and Chekov respectively.  Cho does a good job carrying through the character's athleticism and the few wry bits of humor he gets to throw out, and Yelchin does a good job as a young wunderkind who seems excited just to be on a starship.  The only one that sort of came off bland to me was Zoe Saldana as Uhura; despite the fact that I think she gets the most screen time after the top three crewmembers, I just didn't feel like she got the chance to make the character her own.  Whether this was a problem with her acting, or the writing, I just can't tell.

Usually, I have a much longer, spoilerific review beyond the cut, and I'll have that here, but honestly, the story here is not the big draw of this Star Trek movie.  If you want to see what I think of the story though, feel free to peek behind the cut.
Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote about Hulu.com, and a couple weeks ago I mentioned it as a big reason why I was going to cancel my satellite service.  Well, it looks like I'm not the only one who is looking at doing that; this article from Businessweek points out that last week's Disney-Hulu deal may bode poorly for Apple's iTunes store, in terms of TV shows, as well as YouTube and traditional cable companies.

I suspect the outlook for YouTube is not as dire as the article might try to paint it.  While Hulu is definitely looking like it is going to be the one-stop-shop for watching TV and movies online, the bulk of YouTube's content is user-generated and I suspect that seems a little too dangerous for traditional media companies to really deal with, so Hulu and YouTube are two different niches in that case.

My big hope is that Hulu's growing dominance means the end of those super-shitty proprietary video players, like the one ABC uses -- I'm not sure what the point of those are except to encourage people to use the better quality and less annoying torrents of the shows (which are conveniently free of commercials).  If the intent was to put it in a format that couldn't easily be ripped and saved, they did exactly what the increasingly annoying DRM on most PC games is starting to do -- punishing legitimate customers for not buying (or, in this case, just consuming) a less-annoying illegal version.  Nice move, guys!  Hopefully the deal with Hulu means Disney is getting the idea that this has been counterproductive.

On the other hand, iTunes' business model is looking a little worse for wear now.  I can't see paying even a moderate charge for new episodes of TV when you can get them for free from Hulu; the only thing you get with iTunes over Hulu is the ability to play them on a 2 inch LCD display, which really doesn't seem like that big of an advantage to me.  iTunes might still be able to find a niche selling complete seasons of shows that aren't available, or by lowering their price to something truly negligible, but it doesn't seem like that would be too profitable for Apple.

As far as cable companies, the BW article talks about them offering the Hulu service in addition to your cable, and all I can think of is, why?  I assume it would be like what Hulu offers through the PS3 -- but I really don't understand who that's supposed to be for.  People who don't have a video game console or a computer?  How many people does that actually cover these days?  How is it different from the on-demand services that most cable companies offer now?  I don't think anyone is going to sign up for cable TV service if they can get everything they want with just the data service -- eventually, I suspect that's all there will be, because channels and schedules are just going to go by the wayside.  As DVRs and stuff like Hulu continues to penetrate the market, "appointment viewing" is going to completely disappear, and all that the TV schedule will mean is the day that episode drops (not much different from how podcasts work these days).

In the longer run, I think that means the end of "TV" (of course, I think people have been saying this for ages).  With no channels or restrictions on schedules, what is the point?  Everything will just go over the same data pipe, and you'll go to Hulu or Revision3 or whereever else the content is hosted and watch or download whatever you want to watch right then.  I hope that means the end to region-restricted video too (one of the biggest complaints on RPGnet about Hulu is that it's not available to people outside the States, at least for the most part).  I guess we'll just have to see where things go over the next year (or more likely, next decade or two).

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This page is an archive of entries from May 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

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