dragoness_e: NASA F-15A #837 (NASA Starscream)
We finally finished semi-binge watch of The Clone Wars, and then re-watched Revenge of the Sith as the finale and bookend to the series.

Well then.

In general, Clone Wars (CW) was much better than Revenge of the Sith (RotS). The contrast between the quality of acting in the one vs the other was shocking and dramatic--the CW voice actors were quite good; with the exception of Palpatine's film actor (Ian McDiarmid), the RotS acting was terrible!

Matt Lanter, Anakin Skywalker's CW voice actor, did a much better job of sounding resentful, rebellious and dangerously angry than Hayden Christiansen did. Christiansen's performance made Anakin sound like a whiny, emo, entitled brat instead of a powerful young Jedi sliding inexorably towards the Dark Side. He simply did not sell Anakin as Sith Apprentice Darth Vader. Most of the time he sounded like he was stoned and phoning his performance in.

I blame inexperienced actors in the hands of a lousy director. Natalie Portman is supposed to be a decent actress, but her performance as Padmé was lackluster, to say the least. She also came across as phoning it in. Ewan MacGregor's performance as Obi-Wan Kenobi was better, but he still had a lot of scenes that should have been redone to actually show emotion. James Arnold Taylor, the CW VA, delivered a much better and more consistent performance as Obi-Wan. Samuel L. Jackson's performance was hampered by terrible dialogue (don't let Lucas write dialogue. Just don't!), but he delivered his lines well enough. Even so, Jackson's performance in RotS wasn't anywhere near the quality of his performance as Jules in Pulp Fiction or Nick Fury in the MCU movies. I wonder how much better RotS would have been if Tarantino were directing it?

The one stand-out was Ian McDiarmid's performance as Chancellor Palpatine. I thought his performance was better than Ian Abercrombie's in Clone Wars. I suspect he was an experienced enough actor that he could deliver a good performance even without a good director. He did a very good job of portraying Darth Sidious being, well, insidious and manipulative: showing Chancellor Palpatine acting like Anakin's apparent good friend and mentor, all the while slyly planting seeds of discontent and mistrust.

I can't say much about Chris Lee as Dooku in this movie, as his part was so short and a lot of his screen time was taken up by his stunt double. Corey Burton, Dooku's CW VA, did a damn good Chris Lee impression as Count Dooku, and was delightfully menancing. Of course he was--this is the guy who played TFA Megatron! (He's also Cad Bane, another convincingly scary character. Looking at his credits at IMDB, it's somehow appropriate that Burton plays Dracula in a lot of cartoons--a part that Chris Lee was famous for in his younger days).

Another thought I had is that the RotS actors are film actors, and had to do a lot of green-screen work in this movie, where they wouldn't have seen the special effects that are going on around them in the movie. The worst performances seemed to be in scenes where the actor would have just been sitting in a chair in front of a green-screen, imagining they were reading those lines in a ship that was on fire, crashing and exploding. A good director could still have coaxed a good performance out of them. Conversely, in Clone Wars, the actors were mostly experienced voice actors, used to bringing characters to life when they can't see anything but a microphone and maybe some of the other actors reading their parts. Note that Ian McDiarmid was lucky enough that almost all of his lines were delivered in a more traditional film acting situation: to other actors on the same stage with him. That probably helped. Also, Clone Wars was NOT directed by George Lucas, unlike RotS. That probably helped Clone Wars.

The fight choreography also seemed a bit lacking compared to either Clone Wars or any MCU movie. Only the final fight scene between Obi-Wan and Anakin, and Palpatine's massacre of the Jedi sent to arrest him conveyed the sheer viciousness of Sith vs. Jedi lightsaber battles that I saw all through Clone Wars. The rest of lightsaber battles looked like a couple guys sparring (badly), to the point where Dooku suddenly losing both hands was almost Pythonesque in its absurdity. There was no energy to those battles. I would chalk it up to the limitations of film vs. CGI, except that (a) the lightsabers are CGI, and (b) any fight in the MCU movies involving Captain America was done ten times better. Or, for examples with sword, any sword fight in an Errol Flynn movie, or the incredible fight choreography in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Tellingly, I cannot find credits for a choreographer for RotS.

However, I found this interesting tidbit on IMDB:


George Lucas allowed his friend Steven Spielberg to help design some sequences during pre-production. This was partly because Spielberg wanted the experience of using the 'pre-visualisation' techniques pioneered by ILM as he was going to use them for War of the Worlds (2005). It was also because Lucas felt that his roles as Writer, Director, Executive Producer and Financier were taking up too much of his time and he needed another director to bounce ideas off. Spielberg's main contribution was in the climactic lightsaber duel between Obi-wan and Anakin.


...it shows.

I want Obi-Wan's varactyl as a mount in WoW.
dragoness_e: Living Dead Girl (Living Dead Girl)
Finished reading The Sea Wolf by Jack London, one of his slightly lesser-known novels. (Lesser known than Call of the Wild, probably better known than White Fang). My first impression was that it was a debate on ethics framed as an adventure novel, in the same way that The Picture of Dorian Grey is a debate on ethics framed as a horror novella. In this case, the villain, Wolf Larsen, spends quite a bit of the story debating ethics and morality with the protagonist--like Lord Henry in Dorian Grey, his ethics are a deliberate refutation of the prevailing conventional morality and ethics. While Lord Henry was more a "Do What Thou Wilt is the Only Law" sort of guy who likes to hang out in the smoking lounge and corrupt young minds, Wolf Larsen is a hardcore social Darwinist, nihilist, and sociopath. "Might makes right, and everything dies, so nothing matters except myself". He's also completely terrifying to be stuck on a small schooner in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with. A schooner that he's the Captain-Owner of, and thus has pretty much absolute power of life and death over all aboard. He's also a vindictive bastard. (Wikipedia tells me that London intended this story to be an attack on Nietzsche's "superman" ideal; I can believe that, as Wolf Larsen is a classic Nietzschean "superman").

The rest of the story is a variant on the classic coming-of-age plot: middle-aged nerd (or as they called it in those days, "scrawny bookworm") turns into a manly man and finds the girl. Unlike the way C.S. Lewis treated Eustace in Narnia, Jack London did not take away from Humphrey van Weyden his love of books and literary criticism--he just had the guy put on muscle, toughen up physically and mentally, learn to rub shoulders with the less privileged, and learn a bunch of new skills like cooking, sailing, shiphandling, ship's carpentry, seal-hunting, navigation, etc. Oh, and fall in love. The damsel in distress, his lady-love, the poetess, turns out to be a tough woman in spite of appearing to be a delicate flower. She survives the same harsh conditions that our hero does, and helps him to the limits of her strength. In fact, she continually proves to be tougher than our hero expects.

I think the difference (between C.S. Lewis's depiction of Eustace on the Dawn Treader and Jack London's depiction of 'Hump') is that Jack London actually did everything he writes about his characters doing, and knew all those types of people. He actually knew what it was like to be a Yukon prospector or a sealing schooner crewmen. He was a journalist, and I've noticed that journalists turned fiction writers are some of the most observant writers of characters--in a period when class and race stereotypes were prevalent, late 19th C/early 20th-C journalist-writers such as Jack London, Earl Derr Biggers and Wilkie Collins wrote lower-class, non-white people as real people instead of walking stereotypes. (Compare non-journalist writer Sax Rohmer's truly awful "Oriental" stereotype characters, or non-journalist writer Agatha Christie's walking stereotypes of the servant classes).

Watched another episode of "The Clone Wars" for the first time in a while--while nominally it was an Ahsoka episode, the blue dudes (Patronians?) were the brains and most of the heroes of this episode. I wonder if they will be recurring characters?
dragoness_e: Living Dead Girl (Living Dead Girl)
It's about time I got back to posting on this thing. John Scalzi started his "Whatever" blog to keep in practice writing a daily column, and it would benefit me to practice writing a daily dairy or opinion piece. So here I am.

I won't talk about work. That leaves hobbies and Real Life and opinions. Hobbies are all over the place, but mostly involve gaming and RPing, these days. Also modding, which is writing software for games. At one time, I used to write little software utilities for tabletop RPs, but that was a long time ago--like, when DOS and Turbo Pascal were things. I had a nice little elaborately detailed treasure generator for AD&D, based on the tables from Powers & Perils. I also wrote a weather generator based on the tables in the back of the AD&D Wilderness Survival Guide, and I still have my huge Traveller sector generator program based on the Megatraveller system generation tables. Anyone see a pattern here? I'm actually porting that Traveller program to Java, as Java practice, and combining it with a very ancient X-Windows C program to draw pretty maps of sub-sectors. It should scale up to sectors if done properly. Much of the aforementioned crap was done decades ago, but the source code is upon my website somewhere. Along with archives of ancient Megatraveller ship designs.

These days, my hobby programming is primarily Minecraft modding, and putting together the occasional Minecraft modpack. Most of what I'm modding are other people's mods that I took over when they abandoned the Minecraft modding scene. I never did get back to my own mods, as Simple Ores and akkamaddi's stuff takes up all my leisure modding. Of course, I've rewritten them so much they might as well be my mods.

State of the RP: I sometimes play Dead End at The Wake. Fellow Transformers fans may remember that I used to write Stunticon fanfiction; I still like the crazy boys. I've also tried my hand at playing Hellbender again at Cyberformed, but I'm just not feeling him. He played best off Becky's Hook and Ladyboss's Shockwave, and it's not the same without them. Fortunately, Cyberformed has almost no AC, so I can just coast until I get sorted out.

Writing: I haven't been. Perhaps I should set my computer up to boot to Linux first, instead of Windows, as Linux-side is where I keep my manuscripts. Windows is where the games dwell. When I get back to writing, Starscream is still waiting for me to continue "Spearmaker". Certain original characters are waiting in the wings, as well--Shani the Nubian would like me to recount her adventures across the ancient Hellenic world. She'd also like me to figure out a true Nubian name for her, instead of random Swahili, and change the name of that idiot Greek merchant she travels with. Characters can be so picky! I've also got villains who want me to put them in stories, but they do need me to find heroes to stand against them. (Seth Kane insists he makes a fine villain protagonist and his enemy is worse; I'm like, nooo... let's find a real hero somewhere, then you can reluctantly help the hero by way of double-crossing your enemy. Also, let's pick a less-obvious nom de guerre. Seriously.)

Gaming: ooh, boy. I watch Direwolf20 videos, which get me fired up to play Minecraft, then go play Stardew Valley, which has eaten my evenings. Awesome game. It's also a relaxing contrast to the usual action/adventure MMORPGs I play. The little bit of combat is pretty simple, especially if you luck out like I did and get the Galaxy Sword right after repairing the bus. (Best weapon in the game, and I got a prismatic shard out of a geode from the quarry, right after it opened).

There's a new expansion out for the Everquest2 Time-locked Expansions server, Stormhold, where Steve & I play: The Shadow Odyssey. Early word is they actually got itemization, progression and balance right this time, so maybe more people will be happy. I just know that it opens up a bunch more furniture recipes that my carpenter needs to grind faction for--I like decorating, okay? I still need to get 2 of my big 4 crafters to cap and do their tradeskill epics. Not to mention work on leveling Sammie, my highest-level adventurer. And I have so many houses to decorate! Oh, and then there's the live server I still have characters on, and there's a new expansion, with more tradeskill stuff....

Becky & Tai are playing WoW, which has me somewhat interested. I at least installed the free Starter version and am playing around now and then with Bedywyr, a human warrior. It's deja vu all over again, because the last time I played 'free trial', I had a human character... and humans always start in Northshire/Goldshire. Same hand-holding quests. I would have been bored to tears (and briefly was), except that I finally figured out how to open my crafting menus and play around with crafting. Yay! I don't know that WoW-boy will get much play, because of so much to do in all my other games, but you never know.

I just finished re-reading Diasporah by W. R. Yates. As far as Google can tell me, it was the only book he ever wrote. My guess is it was his first novel, it tanked, and he either stopped writing, or wrote his 2nd novel under a different pseudonym. Sadly, it was not good. It was not as bad as a few published things I've seen, but it wasn't good. The author was way too fond of showing off all his world-building and research, and pacing suffered badly from it. Also, possibly because I had read it before, the "big reveal" at the end was quite obvious from all the clues dropped. Foreshadowing is normally good, so things don't come out of left field and make no sense, but when they make the climax of the story entirely predictable, that's not good. Finally, the author's pro-Israeli politics were downright anvillicious and character-distorting--all the Jewish characters are interesting, three-dimensional characters, Israel's massive paranoia and arm's race is entirely justified, and all their enemies are stereotypical anti-Semites or stock totalitarian thugs. Except for, of course, for the stereotypical Japanese who were allies. Boring. The author would have been better off taking some of the word-count devoted to the engineering of the Svengild and spending it on showing us in more detail why the U.N. was a ruthless dictatorship and why the French space cities were viciously anti-Semitic and actively trying to destroy the Israeli orbital city while the U.N. looked the other way. (The reasons were told in a few sparse lines somewhere mid-book--and since the virtual undeclared war by the French space cities drove the whole damn plot, a little more detail about the whys and wherefores might have been helpful.) All in all, it was a useful review of 'mistakes not to make in writing one's first novel'.

July 2017

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