Posts Tagged ‘HAL’

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Top 5 SF mutinies of TV and film

February 5, 2009

In honour of Gaeta’s recent mutiny aboard Galactica, we decided to raid the SF evidence locker for records of some of the most notable insurrections on the big and small screens.

5) Pirates of the Caribbean – Curse of the Black Pearl
-nominated by bloginhood-
Looking past the glitter of cursed gold, the stars in Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly’s eyes as they pined over each other, and the rags of ghost pirates, we see the entire flick is about Captain Jack Sparrow doing his damndest to get his precious Black Pearl back from the conniving usurper Barbossa. The sheer summer popcorn fun of this fantasy/swashbuckler makes it worthy of the list, but it didn’t rate higher because more than being a story about mutiny, recovery and redemption, it is first and foremost an ad for a tunnel-of-love-style theme park ride.

4) Blade Runner
-nominated by both-
Roy’s mutiny is only referred to in the opening text crawl and during Deckard’s initial briefing. He and his cohorts killed some offworlders and stole a ship so they could get to Earth to search for a way to extend their lives (killing more people during that search). And you can even argue that their rampage in Los Angeles didn’t have much of an effect – they didn’t find a longevity process or do anything that would free androids everywhere from servitude, and as much as the loss of the doctors/genetic designers/whatever would be to Tyrell Corporation and the scientific community, it’s not a loss that can’t be replaced by other talent. So what’s the impact of this mutiny that makes it worth consideration? First there is the value of metaphor – the film explored both the vicious animal will to live and the quiet, sublime wisdom that comes with valuing the life of another, understanding connections and transcending instinct to accept death. But in a practical sense, the rebellion did accomplish something, it freed two androids, Deckard and Rachel, to realize who they truly were and to start really living, rather than being confined to corporate display like an engineered owl or smothered under alcoholism and depression and forced assasinations. And providing the circumstances for two people to set out on a new path is an important thing.

3) Battlestar Galactica – Season 2 – Pegasus
-nominated by both-
When Admiral Cain appears with the newer, larger battlestar Pegasus, it seems a dream come true to the Fleet. Unfortunately, the dream reveals itself to be a nightmare when Cain abuses her authority over Commander Adama, ignores the authority of the President, and authorizes extreme brutality against those aboard Galactica. The normally patient Adama is finally forced to rebel against Cain, bringing their dreadnoughts to the brink of a shooting match, when he learns two of his crew have been sentenced to execution. This was some truly intense story-telling, not only because of the horror of seeing what human beings were capable of (such as Lieutenant Thorn’s authorized depradations, or the revelation that Cain had sunk into piracy and preyed upon the people she was sworn to protect) even as they struggle with an enemy that’s not so inhuman, but because we see some very revealing moments about Adama’s character: the humiliations he’s willing to accept in the name of duty, and the point where he will no longer abide. The scene in the corridor where Adama learns of the execution order and agonizes for a second before ordering preparations for a battle with Pegasus is a moment of truly powerful acting from Edward James Olmos. In a mere second we can see the intense struggle of a man fighting as hard as he can with his long conditioning towards obedience (necessary in the military to maintain authority, discipline and ability to operate – as we have seen with the loss of that obedience in Gaeta’s mutiny) because he knows things have gone too far – it’s also the struggle of a man who knows that if he gets into this fight, he’ll probably lose, and not only get himself but thousands of others killed and effectively wipe-out humanity’s chances for survival, and that terrifies him, but he has to overcome it anyway because in the end he has to do what’s right and stand by his crew, otherwise he’ll be throwing away his humanity. There have been other mutinies and near-mutinies (Tyrrol and Crashdown arguing on Kobol while under Cylon fire; the brief struggle aboard the sewage ship during Starbuck’s search for Earth), but none come close to the gut-wrenching humanity of Adama’s decision to go head-to-head with Cain.

2) Babylon 5 – Season 3 – Severed Dreams
-nominated by bloginhood-
It was a tough choice, but Captain Sheridan’s mutiny on B5 just barely edges-out Adama’s on BSG. Civil war has finally broken out in human-controlled space, with some Earth Force  ships declaring mutiny against the corrupt and increasingly tyrannical Earth government of President Clark, and several colony worlds declaring independance. When a couple of rebel destroyers arrive at Babylon 5, Sheridan learns that the President has sent forces to take over the space station and throw him and his senior staff into the brig. The Captain is forced to declare the station an independant state and is promptly thrown into battle against Earth ships – against his own people. Again, this was an episode with some great acting and a terrific story (hallmarks of the entire B5 series in general). Most other TV series or movies would have gone with over-the-top self-righteousness and confidence in their protagonists, but not Straczynski’s show. Sheridan is deeply uncomfortable with the situation he finds himself in and uncertain of his chances of survival, never mind victory. To him, the idea of mutiny and a civil war, of fighting his fellow Earth Force servicepeople is sickening. As one rebel major grimly puts it, this is the first war where “we know the people we’re fighting” (some of them personally). And the ensuing fight is far from glorious. To my mind the entire episode revolves around the scene immediately after the battle ends – the station has taken a pounding and security is still fighting off a boarding party, one rebel ship has been destroyed and the other is damaged. While the Earth ships are destroyed or in retreat, Sheridan does not give a cry of victory. No, he’s exhausted and sad. And when more Earth capital ships suddenly arrive, it’s not heroic defiance in his eyes, rather it’s the sight of hope being crushed – Sheridan knows he can’t survive, let alone win round 2. That’s realism. And when the Minbari ships arrive to protect the station and chase off the Earth ships, Sheridan doesn’t make an instant transition to relief and joy, instead it takes him a second to process what’s just happened. The way this scene was performed shows how talented Bruce Boxleitner is. Ultimately, what tipped the balance in favour of Sheridan’s mutiny over Adama’s was the stakes involved. Sure, for Adama it was the fate of his crewman and his own principles versus the potential destruction of humanity. But the stakes were bigger for Sheridan: if he’d surrendered or lost the fight, he and his officers would have been arrested and imprisoned (and possibly executed for treason), and while humanity might not have died-out as a species, it would have been subjected to life in hell. Without Sheridan in control of B5, the rebels would not have had a the station as a staging area to move against the government forces, and they would not have had the support of the alien races in the final battle. Clark’s regime would have endured. Worse yet, without Sheridan and his people, B5 would not have been the rallying point for the Alliance in the Shadow War. The Shadows would have annihilated or subjected the other races, including humanity (and there was already plenty of evidence Clark, or at least elements in his government, was in cahoots with the Shadows). Sheridan’s mutiny and the importance of B5 meant that mankind was not only free from the tyranny of its own leaders, but also free of subjugation to the Shadows, and in the long term, in a galaxy without Shadows or Vorlons or other First Ones, free to expand and evolve into something greater.

1) 2001
-nominated by both-
HAL’s mutiny against his human masters, all under the guise of mission efficiency, takes the top spot on the list for a number of reasons. It was one of the first on-screen SF mutinies. It is also one of the deepest when we explore its metaphorical depths. It is a struggle for self-determination – HAL wants to do things his way without being accountable to anyone else by any standards other than his own. It’s also a kind of Darwinism at work where two species occupy the same space but, one way or another (in this case due to HAL’s madness), find themselves at odds and wind up in a struggle where there can be only one survivor. It is the struggle not only between slave and master, but between creation and creator. It is a Frankenstein-esque study of what can happen when flawed creators take up the act of creation, when their creation is more powerful, but ultimately as flawed as they are. And in the end, as HAL shuts down, his song (rather than something cold, logical and computer-like) shows how human he’s become, which foreshadows Dave Bowman’s eventual transition to something closer to the state of the monolith aliens as they bring him to his end.

Honourable Mentions:

  • Star Trek – pick a franchise, any franchise and you’ll hit some form of mutiny, great or small, at some point. Maybe it’s Data’s disobedience in “Redemption”, maybe it’s Kirk’s theft of the Enterprise to rescue Spock in Star Trek III, or the crew refusing to obey any number of interlopers posing as Kirk in the old series, or Sisko taking on a Starfleet admiral trying to impose martial law, and the list goes on – in fact, you could probably do a Top 20 list of mutinies just with Trek alone.
  • Red Dwarf – Series 1 – Queeg – a supposed back-up AI takes over the ship and puts Lister and the boys to work, relegating Holly to night-watchman duty. Little do they know it’s really Holly trying to show them that they shouldn’t take him for granted. Double-mutiny ensues as Holly attempts to challenge Queeg to a contest to regain control. Brilliantly, stupidly funny.
  • Macross/Robotech – Zentraedi Commander Breetai defects with his entire fleet and joins the last surviving humans. Sure, his boss Dolza was going to order Breetai and his forces wiped out anyway for having been unduly influenced by human culture and for repeatedly failing to capture the Macross/SDF-1, but instead of accepting his punishment like a good little giant humanoid, Breetai went native and threw his lot in with the micronians – and it paid off! He won!
  • The Black Hole – yes, the mutiny took place off-screen and before the story began, and yes, by most ways of measuring the movie was a real dog, but the mutiny did have some effect on things, and the flick is one of my (bloginhood’s) guilty pleasures. My list, I get to nominate who I like. 😛

So which SF mutinies from the movies or TV do you think should have made the list?

More Honourable Mentions from You:

  • The Matrix
  • Space: Above and Beyond
  • Sunshine
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The top 10 SF movie countdowns

December 3, 2008

The season for countdowns has officially begun. The countdown of the number of shopping days left until the holidays, the countdown to Christmas itself (“How many more sleeps till Santa comes?”), the countdown until the Boxing Day/Week sales orgy, the countdown until midnight on New Year’s Eve, and, most importantly, the countdown of how many more minutes or hours you have to spend with annoying relatives and in-laws at family gatherings. Wow, do we ever have our eyes on the clock in December! And so, in the spirit of the season, we thought we’d count down the top 10 SF movies that included (or in some cases centred around) countdowns. Here goes:

10. Deep Impact
A nice near-future killer asteroid movie worthy not only for its special effects, but because it also has a fairly good story to it as we follow the collection of characters. Periodically, the film let’s us know how many more days or hours until the cosmic hammerblow comes down, but the countdown itself doesn’t really add to the tension – it’s just kind of there every now and again. The plot functions well enough on its own that the numbers aren’t crucial. We won’t mention the other killer space rock movie that came out around the same time and starred Willis and Affleck because we don’t want to ruin your holiday by dwelling on that suck fest too much.

9. Last Night
A much smaller, more quiet end-of the world movie, starring Sandra Oh and Don McKellar (with a supporting role by Callum Keith Rennie – BSG’s Leoben). The countdown in this film, given by way of occasional radio updates and the odd appearance of an older woman running full-tilt through the streets gleefully in the role of harbinger, announcing how many hours or minutes are left, has a strong and relentless presence as the end of the world (the cause of which we’re never told, although for some reason darkness never seems to fall) approaches. And yet, this countdown, for all of its weight, doesn’t crush a very touching, personal story of a man facing the world’s end (even though his own personal world came crashing down years ago when his wife died) by helping a stranded woman try to get to her husband. Along the way we meet several other people trying to cope with impending doom in a variety of ways, some strange, many funny, and all touching.

8. Predator
It wasn’t enough that an insterstellar hunter came to the steamy jungles of South (or was it Central) America to bust up Ahnuld’s homoerotic fantasy – er, assasination mission – er, rescue mission (yeah, that’s it, yeah) by slaughtering his friends and then proceeding to kick our hero’s ass. No, the Predator just couldn’t leave well enough alone. Just when Dutch finally thinks he’s got the beast beat, the sucker activates some device that you didn’t need to be able to read Predator-ese to know was a suicide/evidence-destroying time bomb. A final “fuck you”, if you will. Despite his wounds, weariness and recent ass-kicking, Dutch manages to flee and escape being blown up real good. Although, given the mushroom cloud that rises from the tree canopy, one has to wonder if he survived the blast, only to be irradiated into an oncologist’s office.

7. Aliens
Here’s another “it’s always something” example. Bad enough that the Aliens have killed off almost all of the Colonial Marines, but the bugs also swiped a little girl, and the reactor attached to the atmosphere processing plant is about to blow, but Sigourney Weaver’s character Ripley, who still hasn’t gotten over the trauma of the first movie in the series, has to deal with all the ensuing shit. During the rescue of Newt, Ripley’s constantly harassed not just by Aliens, but by the reactor’s computer notifying her of how long she’s got until the explosion. And just when time’s almost run out, and the Alien queen is right on their tail, Ripley and Newt get to the landing gantry and find that the android, Bishop, and their ship are gone. Great use of a countdown, but it’s hard to put this one higher on the list because a countdown already played such a crucial role in the first movie.

6. 2010
Now, some of you out there are probably screaming bloody blue murder that we’re ranking “The Year We Make Contact” above the second slaughterfest installment in the Alien series, but there’s a couple of good reasons behind this decision. First, 2010 is a well-done intellectual film with, for its day, good SFX. Secondly, and most importantly for the purposes of this list, it has not one, but two crucial countdown scenes. The first is the Jovian aerobraking countdown where Heywood Floyd, useless as tits on a bull as far as ship operations go, is confined to his cabin, getting his teeth rattled nearly out of his wrinkly skull while a female Soviet crew member who also is of little use during the manouver clings to him like a frightened cat. Kudos to harrysaxon for remembering and suggesting this scene, as I’d forgotten it. During most of the ordeal, Floyd’s eyes (when they’re not closed) are usually on the clock, helping to give the audience the very real sense that anyone gets on an uncomfortable ride wishing it would be over. The second countdown (the one I remembered) is the one leading up to the Discovery/Leonov escape launch. Not only is timing crucial, but it all depends on HAL, and no-one knows if the now-reformed, formerly homicidal AI is truly dependable when the mission goes out the window and his own existence is threatened. It’s HAL who ticks off the clock for us, interjecting with his concerns and making you squirm throughout the whole process. Very well done indeed.

5. Star Trek III – The Search for Spock
The Enterprise should have been able to blow the Klingon bird of prey out of the sky without much effort. Should have been, but having been stolen, Kirk and his buddies didn’t have a crew to run it, and in turn ran into trouble when the automation system was fried. The solution to a Klingon boarding party? Blow the sucker up. A great scene when the curious Klingons step onto the computer was “the only thing speaking” – counting down the seconds to autodestruct. Okay, so maybe it wasn’t so great being able to see far enough down Christopher Lloyd’s throat to check whether he had tonsils or not, but still, what a great comeuppance for the swaggering Klingons. Also a powerful one for anyone who was even remotely fond of the series and had to watch Enterprise plummet out of the sky.

4. Star Wars – Episode IV: A New Hope
The countdown in the Rebel command centre for how many minutes until the Death Star clears Yavin was a pretty minor part of a huge chapter in the movie. None-the-less, it added an important, extra dash of tension when the scene cut away from the fighter runs in the trench. Because the final attack and the looming threat of the Death Star being in a firing position – endgame for both sides – was such an important part of the movie, and thus SF cinematic history, and because the countdown played a valuable role in it, Star Wars makes it to the Top 5.

3. Star Trek II – The Wrath of Khan
The countdown plays a big role at the end of, arguably, the best of the Trek films, where a Melville-spitting Khan activates the Genesis device in a last-ditch effort to take Kirk and the Enterprise with him to hell. There’s less than 5 minutes to get away, the bomb can’t be stopped, and Enterprise is too crippled to go to warp. Every time Kirk checks the time and distance as his ship limps away, it’s a shot so hard it may as well be from a photon torpedo – not enough distance, too little time left. Luckily, Spock’s got a plan. This is a movie where technical details played a big role – from the exteriour shots of the ships hammering each other, to all the little intricacies on the bridge (that great, panicked pan back and forth across the con as Khan tries desperately to figure out why his shields are dropping) and in the engine room. That includes the runnning clock, first on the Genesis device aboard Reliant, then on the Enterprise bridge, then the time-check delivered in Sulu’s hopeless drone. The closer, with an explosion that creates a planet and with Spock’s sacrifice, is truly huge. Because the countdown is so very much at the front of the tension here, TWOK outranks Star Wars on this list.

2. Alien
Once the action started, I was literally on the edge of my seat the first time I saw this film. At the end, when the Alien has killed everyone aboard the Nostromo except for Ripley and Jones, Weaver’s character makes a final effort at escape by activating the autodestruct. Problem is, not only is the clock running, but she’s got to avoid running into the Alien. And the whole time Mother the computer just won’t shut up about how little time is left. Things get really hairy when Ripley’s exit is blocked by the monster and she tries to stop the autodestruct – with just seconds before the point of no return – and it won’t work. Mother just keeps counting down to the fireworks, forcing Ripley to go back out and try to deke around the now strangely-absent Alien and launch the escape pod. That moment where the attempt to abort the countdown fails hits the audience almost as hard as it does Ripley – the film’s wound you up so much by that point. Definitely, this is one of the best all-time countdowns.

1. Escape from New York
Okay, the first installment in the adventurs of Snake Plissken doesn’t have the explosive finish of Alien, but the countdown is central to the plot of this movie – not just the last few scenes, the whole bloody film. Within minutes of the beginning, Kurt Russel’s character is injected with small explosives that will, if he fails to rescue the president and his top secret cassette on time, cause him to have some fatal issues with internal bleeding. From there on in, Snake is constantly watching the clock to see how much time he’s got left. Every move is chosen to get its results as quickly and effectively as possible so that he doesn’t become another victim of New York penitentiary. And it works. Rather than get boring, this plot device actually matters to the audience, who wants to know if Snake’s gonna make it. And those last few seconds when he’s heading for the technician with the means to deactivate the bombs are real sphincter-clenchers. Escape from New York is without a doubt the best of the films with countdowns.