Sunday, March 16, 2008

Le Fabuleux destin d'Ellen Ripley

More commonly known as Alien: Resurrection, which I finally watched yesterday. It's also known as the final nail in the coffin for the Alien franchise, forever dooming it to an existance as sub-standard slasher tripe in the form of the AvP movies. It was also the experience that made writer Joss Whedon run away crying to television, where the writers at least have a say over what ends up on screen. Having read the shooting script, and compared it to what ended up on screen, I can't say that I blame him.

Jean-Pierre Jeunet is very much an auteur. He only makes Jean-Pierre Jeunet films, much like Tim Burton only makes Tim Burton films. The problem is that Jeunet, like Burton, has a very warped sensibility that's completely wrong for an Alien movie, and he gives the proceedings a generally absurd feel, especially when it comes to the scientists and military. And thus the general described as "ramrod straight and about as gruff as you would expect" in a scene like this

He is mostly dressed, still shaking off sleep. He stands at the command console,

bringing up visual. Everything on the screens is smoke and noise.

comes out like this in the movie:

That's not an imposing general about to deal with a crisis concerning a lethal Alien species, it's the school janitor suffering through another prank by some pesky kids. Quite possibly one involving bananas and buckets of urine. It's an endless litany of scenes that are played completely wrong. Turning Gediman, the one sympathetic scientist into a freak that likes to make faces at the Aliens in their pens. Making Vriess a comic relief character mugging for the camera. Casting Winona Ryder. Having the hybrid look ridiculous and make out with Ripley.

Which is not to say that Whedon's script is perfect in every way, especially since Alien is still my favourite and this is more a rollicking action-adventure starring a gang of cool outsiders, Whedon's favourite pony doing its favourite trick again. The cloning stuff is the same hokey nonsense, for starters. (Although to be fair, it's not like there were a lot of ways to bring back Ripley, and given that "Alien 3 was all just a dream" was considered for a while, it could have been so much worse.) But it's pretty solid, features recognizable human beings, has a suitably epic showdown on earth, and the hybrid does not make out with Ripley.

That last point, I feel, is pretty important.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


I've been been watching CBS' post-apocalyptic sloppy blowjob to Middle America instead of studying for exams, since my man-crush Rogers has an unhealthy level of appreciation for it. After some eight episodes I can say for all the neat post-apocalyptic bits, evil Blackwater Ravenwood private military contractor (ooh, and a guestspot for my favourite Daily Show correspondent Aasif Mandvi) and clever meta-structure bits television writers get all hot and bothered about, there's so, so much wrong with it. Whenever it should be nasty and gritty, it opts for schmaltz instead, and don't get me started on the horrible, horrible small-town mom (complete with soulful piano plonking whenever she has a heart-to-heart).

But the most eregious misstep is not having enough hot science girl. There's a girl, see. She's hot, and she knows science! Clearly she should be a centerpiece of the show, but instead she goes missing for several episodes at time. And Skeet Ulrich, for whom she has the hots, spends more time obsessing over a some blonde with awful hair he has a Small Town History with when he should be snogging her at every opportunity. Where's your judgment, Skeet? What quality are you looking for in your mate after the apocalypse? Bad hair extensions, or the ability to fix air ventilation by cannibalizing vintage cars?

I'll still keep watching though, and fade it into the background whenever the soundtrack lets me know the soap opera bits will become overbearing. I just like the end of the world and hot science girls too much to drop it, despite its frequent awfulness.

Friday, March 7, 2008

What we need more of is science.

What we need less of is people who do not understand how science works.

"The internet is changing the scientific method

If all other fields can go 2.0, incorporating collaboration and social networking, it's about time that science does too.

In the bellwether journal Science this week, a computer scientist argues that many modern problems are resistant to traditional scientific inquiry.

"There is an enormous success story for Science 1.0," Ben Shneiderman, a University of Maryland computer science professor said. "But the Internet is changing both the methods we use and the things we need to study. The challenge for the next 400 years is to understand how trust and empathy work."

In an editorial titled, "Science 2.0," Shneiderman argues that studying the interactions between people will be more important than studying the interactions between particles in bringing scientific solutions to big problems like disaster response, health care and energy sustainability.

Listen, here's how the scientific method works: you gather data, formulate a hypothesis, make predictions from said hypothesis and conduct experiments to verify your predictions. Correct hypothesis if needed, and iterate until solid. That's it! If you fuck with that you're no longer doing science and should be tarred, feathered, whipped and judged eligible to only recieve medical treatment from alternative medicine proponents.

Of course, what Shneiderman seems talking about is changing fields of of study, increasing collaboration and all that jazz, but changing some of the methods scientists use is different from changing the scientific method. This is a distinction the people at wired are either too ignorant to grasp, or too concerned with a sexy headline to let it bother them. Either way, they should get a good clout on the head and be sent to bed without supper.