Star Trek Online Tips & Tricks

Thanks to Erica, I’ve been playing Star Trek Online since closed beta. The game has evolved and improved since that initial release, but overall I’ve been able to get a solid understanding of what it takes to have fun and play well in the universe that Cryptic Studios has created these last two months. The game officially launches in just a few days and I thought I would take a moment to share with you some quick and dirty tips and tricks that will help any new player function effectively in STO. I wish something like this had been available when I started playing World of Warcraft back in 2004. As I learn more I’ll be updating this post with new tips and things to watch for. I hope it’s helpful.

Playing on a Mac: Although Star Trek Online doesn’t officially have a Mac version, you can certainly play it on one. You’ll need a copy of Boot Camp running either Windows XP SP2 / Windows Vista / or Windows 7 (32 bit). I don’t recommend playing STO using Parallels on a Macintosh, running in emulation mode is too slow. I don’t know how fast your Mac needs to be in order to run the game well in Boot Camp, but obviously the faster the better. I’m running on a 2.8 GHz Intel Core i7 iMac with 8 GB of RAM and the game purrs like a space kitten. TUAW has a great illustrated guide on how to install Win 7 on Boot Camp, check it out.

Before You Buy: Some special in-game equipment and abilities can only be obtained by ordering the game through a certain retailer. If you order the Deluxe Collector Edition for instance, you’ll get access to Next Generation & movie era uniforms and more. Cryptic offers a complete list of retailers and what you get when you order from each of them. Do your research before you purchase.

Take Your Time: Customize the appearance of your character at creation. Changing physical attributes, the look of your uniform, etc after your character has been created costs “money” in Star Trek Online in the form of energy credits. The same goes for crew members you recruit.

Use Your Map: Pressing the “M” key in aboard ship, in spacedock or on a planet displays various types of maps. Before shouting out “where is so-and-so” take a look at your map first, it will often display what you’re looking for. FYI, at Starfleet headquarters, Sulu is in the Admiral’s office.

Linking Items: You can easily link in-game items you pick up in chat by control-clicking on them.

Item Rarity: Energy credits can be earned by selling items in your inventory. The more uncommon an item, the more it’s worth. Items in Star Trek Online follow a similar path as those in Warcraft. White: Standard issue, Green: Uncommon, Blue: Rare, Purple: Epic. I don’t know if there are colors beyond purple or even what they’re called yet.

Loot System: Loot “drops” when certain ships are destroyed, usually the last ship in a squadron. If loot is available to pick up, you’ll see a glowing, floating orange pylon in space or an orange sphere in ground missions. Unlike Warcraft, loot in Star Trek Online is only available to a specific player, so don’t be afraid to pick it up by pressing “F” when you see it.

You’re In Charge: Don’t forget about equipping your crew as you progress. Those under your command will not pick up loot and equip themselves, so it’s important that you do so for them. A low-level shield may not be useful to you, but could be just what your science officer needs to keep from being sent to sickbay every away mission. Be sure to examine everything before selling it.

Instances: As of this writing there are no “realms” in Star Trek Online. The game is played on a single, massive server for everyone. There are however, instances within this server. So you can be talking to someone in zone chat who’s at the same location you are and not see them floating in space next to you. You can change instances by clicking on the small downward pointing arrow in the upper right of your HUD.

Powers: As soon as you get your own ship and are floating above Sol Spacedock, press “P” and open the available list of powers. Drag and drop the shield power management controls into your HUD so you always have access to them during battle. Throwing power to a particular shield has saved me more times than I can count in Star Trek Online.

Emotes: Click the little Starfleet badge icon in the corner of your chat window to list all of the emotes your character can perform. I especially love the “Tug”, “Dance: Robot” and “Prosper” emotes.

What about you? Do you have tips and tricks for Star Trek Online that other players can benefit from? If so, please leave them in the comments of this post and I’ll add the best ones to the list. Thanks and feel free to add me to your list of in-game friends, I’m Kodos@Gedeon.


Favorite Film Funnies

I’ve been seeing quite a few of these “Best Movie Lines” videos on YouTube and so I thought I would take a shot at making my own. It took some work to grab all of the clips, but the result was worth it. Editing this short ode to silver screen silliness was really fun. Next up, my favorite dramatic lines. Enjoy!

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All I ask is a tall ship…

Thanks to the generosity of a friend, I’ve been lucky enough to beta test the new MMO, Star Trek Online from Cryptic Studios. The game is set to launch in early February and at least for this Star Trek fan, it’s a winner. Playing around in Gene Roddenberry’s universe has given me a new appreciation for the art direction of designers such as Matt Jeffries and Michael Okuda. Designing anything is challenging, but designing interiors, user interfaces and uniforms of things that have yet to be must be especially difficult.

Most beloved of all the designs of Star Trek is perhaps the bridge of the Starship Enterprise itself. The bridge is the command center of the ship and is often the focus of action on both the big and small screens. Jeffries’ original utilitarian layout eventually gave way to more modern looking interiors, but the basic design (center command chair, flanking support positions) has withstood the test of time. The bridge is such an integral part of Star Trek that due to popular demand, the developers of Star Trek Online recently announced they were implementing them for individual ships within the game. Virtual captains told Cryptic they wanted their “big chair” and the game designers responded in kind.

All of this got me thinking about which starship bridge I liked the best. The answer has to be that of the Enterprise-D from Star Trek: The Next Generation. To many Trek fans this bridge seemed more like a hotel lobby than a high-tech command center, but I always admired its sleek curves, high-tech surfaces and muted colors. The original TV design was modified slightly for Star Trek Generations (seen here) to accommodate new science/tactical stations, giving the set a more cinematic feel.

Designed by Andrew Probert, the bridge of the Enterprise-D was the ultimate set for the weekly TV series. The layout was big enough to allow the actors room to move around comfortably as well as give characters space for private conversations, tucked away from prying ears. The raised back level provided an elevated platform that made Worf look even more imposing while offering Geordi and Data stations where they could work out solutions to the problem of the week. The set also introduced flanking seats to those of the Captain’s something that Star Trek Voyager would also adopt.

In contrast to The Next Generation’s warm earth tones, the bridge of the U.S.S. Voyager presented TV viewers with the cool grays and electric blues so often associated with science fiction. Created by production designer Richard D. James and illustrator Rick Sternbach, the interior design of the bridge of Voyager introduced subtle under lighting techniques that contributed to the “deep space feel” of the show. This design also reduced the traditional two-man con and navigator positions to a single console, putting emphasis on Captain Janeway.

I love the look of these two sets because they put the focus on the characters and their actions rather than the technology all around them. Some production designers tend to get out of hand with their creations and let the look of the set overpower its inhabitants. Voyager’s and Next Gen’s bridges are awesome examples of futuristic interior design precisely because they don’t go overboard. Compare these simple designs to the complex bridges of the Enterprise-E or the franchise reboot and you’ll see Star Trek art direction run amuck. Overlapping lines, textures and lens flares get in the way of the action and detract from the audience’s ability to focus on the characters.

Designing anything, even a fictional universe is an art form. More so when a large part of that universe’s appeal centers around details. Through the years, those entrusted with designing the bridges of Starfleet have evolved and molded it again and again. These talented artists have put their stamp on Gene Roddenberry’s original vision of the future and given Trek fans a place they could easily call home. Star Trek Online will soon give players a chance to roam the bridges of some of the most beloved starships in Star Trek history, all from the comfort of their computers. So until we can all afford to build a bridge in our basement, a virtual one has to be the next best thing.


Biff’s Question Song

To be fair to actor Tom Wilson, who played the infamous bully Biff from the Back to the Future films, I’d probably ask him all of these questions too. That’s why I’m so glad I discovered this gem of a clip where Tom puts all of the answers to song. The result is something that should somehow be worked into the next season of Big Bang Theory. Enjoy!

Hat tip to IO9 for this post


Ebert on the ‘Festering Fringe’

I’ve always admired Roger Ebert as a movie critic. When he and his partner Gene Siskel started reviewing films I always found my views aligning with the Ebert half of the aisle. As he and I have grown older, that alignment has only strengthened. Lately, Roger has also earned my respect as a political voice of reason. In a piece out this week, Ebert takes the fringe elements of today’s political society to task for their increasingly bizarre and worrisome tirades against the President, even in the face of logic and reason.

A great example of what Ebert’s talking about is today’s announcement that the United States and the city of Chicago lost the bid to host the 2016 Olympics. In the past week President Obama flew to Europe to throw his hat in for his country and try and convince the IOC that Chicago was the right place at the right time. As soon as the bid failed, conservatives all across the board cheered the loss and berated Obama for his failed attempt to bring the massive event home. This despite the fact that hosting the games would have undoubtedly been an economic boon for Chicago as well as the country as a whole. Tens of thousands of jobs would have been created, billions of dollars in revenue generated and goodwill for the U.S. spread around the globe.

Sadly, right-wing fringe hypcrites such as Michelle Malkin, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh would rather see shame come to our country and our President than have Obama be on the side of success. These gas bags have the gaul to root against their country in the midst of massive economic hardship simply because they want to spite Barack Obama. Self-indulgent children, one and all.

These are the very same fringe elements that have been whipping up fear and loathing against the young administration in the hopes of bringing it to utter ruin. They think nothing of ignoring facts and pushing their own agendas even in the face of massive contradictions, some of which they themselves have railed against in the past. They call Obama Hitler, they claim he’s not an American, they want you to believe he’s trying to brainwash your children or that he’s the most ineffectual President of the modern age. In his latest journal entry Roger Ebert speaks out:

“These beliefs are held by various segments of our population. They are absurd. Any intelligent person can see they are absurd. It is not my purpose here to debate them, because such debates are futile. With the zealous True Believers there is no debating. They feed upon loops within loops of paranoid surmises, inventions which are passed along as fact. Sometimes those citing them don’t even seem to care if you believe them. Sometimes they may not believe them themselves. The purpose is to fan irrational hatred against our president.”

He goes on to say:

“They are told to oppose, even hate, those who might be trying to help them. Leaving all ideology aside, who in his right mind doesn’t want an affordable health insurance plan for his family and his loved ones? Who doesn’t believe religion, any religion, does not belong in the schools? Who really thinks the census, which is a vital tool of democracy, represents some kind of occult threat? If census figures had been frozen 50 years ago, most of these people would be disenfranchised today. Who can seriously compare American president to Hitler? Who believes a man who attends church more regularly than any president since Carter is an atheist?

What is the benefit of this hate? What good can come of it? Where might it lead us?”

When an entire segment of the population roots against their President to fail (be it Bush or Obama), something is seriously wrong. I came to believe that George W. Bush was bad for the country, but never once did I wish him to fail in his mission to stamp out terror and keep the United States safe from violence. I longed for checks and balances to curb Bush’s disregard for the rule of law but I never abdicated insurrection against his authority. I believed him and his efforts were misguided but I never compared him to Adolf Hitler or cheered when the results of his actions had a negative impact on my country.

All of these things are happening now with Obama and his administration and we’re only 8 months into a 4 year term. What will the festering fringe be like a year, two years from now? How can “the center hold” in such an atmosphere? Occasionally there are voices of reason from the right as there were today with Joe Scarborough’s piece applauding the President for attempting to capture the Olympics, but they are a dying breed.

It seems like all the reasonable people in this country are hogtied in the back of an ’87 Buick, kidnapped by the lunatic currently at the wheel. The right thinks the driver is the President, but as most sane people can see the car is driven not by Obama but by the fringe elements of our society. As precious seconds pass, the car speeds up and careens towards certain disaster. It has all the makings of a blockbuster movie, but it’s one that neither I, nor Roger Ebert can recommend in the least. Thumbs waaaay down from the both of us.


So What? Big Deal!

The fine folks over at IO9 take a moment to let us know today is the 25th anniversary of the release of The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. Released on August 15th, 1984 Buckaroo Banzai is one of those movies that you either love to death or hate with the passion of a 1,000 burning suns. I and many of my college friends fall firmly into the former category. Buckaroo was one of the dozen or so movies we would pop into the VCR in our dorm’s lounge on a regular basis. Other movies in this category included Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins, Vampire Hunter D and The Princess Bride.

When it was released, Buckaroo Banzai was met with mixed success and boastfully promised that Buckaroo would return in a sequel titled Buckaroo Banzai Against The World Crime League. Unfortunately the movie’s campy premise, confusing cast of characters and low budget special effects doomed the sequel from ever appearing. Never-the-less the film sticks in many fan’s hearts as a sci-fi favorite. For my part, Buckaroo has been the inspiration behind several icon sets and desktop pictures.

There has been much talk of reviving Buckaroo in recent years. Everything from a new TV series on the SyFy network to a re-imaging similar to what Battlestar Galactica received have all been thrown against the wall to see what sticks. Needless to say, so far, nothing has. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though, because as any true fan will tell you, it just would wouldn’t be Buckaroo without the original cast. Hearing “Remember, no matter where you go, there you are.” coming from anyone but Peter Weller just wouldn’t cut it. So mo matter what may come, at least we can fire up the DVD player and put ourselves in New Jersey’s shoes to wonder “Why is there a watermelon there?” Why indeed.

Happy Birthday Buckaroo!


One Fan’s Perspective on Star Trek

SPOILER WARNING: This post contains major spoilers for J.J. Abrams’ new film Star Trek. I mean really, really big spoilers. If you don’t want to know about things that might ruin your enjoyment of this movie, then you really should stop reading now and go somewhere else.

So much has been said and written about the new Star Trek film from J.J. Abrams that it seems to make little sense to write my own thoughts up. But seeing as Star Trek has been such a big part of my life ever since I was a little boy, and given that I’ve often written about Trek in the past, I figured what the heck.

Overwhelming consensus seems to be that the film is “Great!”, “Fantastic!” and “Fabulous!” Of all the guys from work that I went to see the movie with, I think I was the only one who came out of the theater not jazzed. I think Corey might have had some reservations too, but overall he was very excited about it. Did I like it? Yes I did. Did I love it? No I didn’t, at least not yet.

The Good

There are tons of things in the new film that I liked and others I even loved. In no particular order they include:

The cast: Every actor in the film did a wonderful job of translating their character for a new generation. I especially enjoyed Quinto and Pine as Spock and Kirk, but also thought Simon Pegg as Scotty was wonderful and was surprised by the turns put in by the actors behind Checkov, Sulu and Uhura.

The twists: I had seen so much of the movie in the commercials and trailers leading up to its debut that I thought I knew what was going to happen. I was surprised and delighted therefore when Kirk wasn’t the one under Uhura’s bed, but was under her Orion roommate’s instead. Same goes for the scene with Kirk sitting in the Captain’s chair with his black shirt where Spock tells him to “Get out of the chair.” It was wonderful and went against what I thought was going to happen going in.

Spock rejecting the Vulcan Science Academy: Loved this scene to death. Quinto played it to a perfect Spock “T” when he asked the elders about his “disadvantage” and basically told them to go to hell. If you had put Nimoy in that scene instead, it wouldn’t have played any differently. Brilliant stuff.

The action: It was quite a roller coaster romp from start to finish and had great pacing. The time seemed to fly by while we were in the theatre which is always a good sign.

Uhura & Spock: I thought the scenes with Uhura and Spock becoming close would bother me, but they didn’t at all. They were played very well by both actors and Abrams’ direction here was wonderful. I can’t wait to see where this goes in the sequel.

The Meh

• The music: Totally didn’t live up to Star Trek standards. The main theme (which Louie pointed out was used in almost every track of the film) seemed like it *wanted* to be Star Trek, but was just slightly off. I kept expecting to hear the familiar Next Gen theme at points in the movie, but didn’t.

• Engineering: Being the die-hard Trekkie I am, I didn’t really appreciate the way Engineering looked more like a chemical plant from 24 than the heart of the flagship of the Federation.

Enterprise in Iowa: Sorry, but the Enterprise was never built on the ground. It just wasn’t and the entire ship was never intended to land either. If Roddenberry was around today he would have told J.J. this small fact to his face. A totally unnecessary and pointless scene that would have at least been semi-credible if it had taken place in San Francisco instead of Iowa.

The Bad

Abrams’ wanting to have it both ways: The studio promised us that this wasn’t “Your father’s Star Trek” and made a big deal about how everything was different. In reality, the only things that were different were the things Abrams wanted changed. There were so many TOS classic references that when they were thrown in, they seemed oddly out of place. More than a few of them seemed gratuitous. If you’re going to promote the film as all new Trek, have the space balls to see it through to the end.

The Kobayashi Maru: As a huge fan, this was the scene I was looking forward to the most. I had run this classic tale of how Kirk beat the no-win scenario in my head dozens of times. I had always imagined it that Kirk reprogrammed the simulation just enough to make it seem like the rescue was plausible through heroic actions or sheer guile. What we got instead was a smug, overly-cocky Kirk eating an apple while everyone around him is astounded to find that the simulation has been reprogrammed. The most throughly unsatisfying bit in the entire movie.

The destruction of Vulcan & death of Spock’s Mom: Listen, I get that this probably only matters to geeks like myself, but it does. The destruction of Vulcan negates HUGE portions of Star Trek history and cannon. Sure, this is an “alternate reality”, and it was probably necessary for several of the plot points, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. You know how you felt when Lucas made Greedo shoot first? The loss of Vulcan is like that for me.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter what I think of Star Trek. Everyone seems to love it and have hailed it as a wonderful re-boot of the series. To be honest, I’d rather have new Star Trek movies than not, so I can live with the parts I didn’t like, at least for now. I think by the time the inevitable sequel comes I’ll have come to terms with the disappointing parts of Star Trek and learned to see only the good stuff. After all, there is a great deal in the new film to like especially since I don’t enjoy being called a dickhead.

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For the Buckaroo In You

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai is one of those films. You know the ones I mean, you either love them to death or you hate them with the passion of a 1,000 burning suns. Being the child of the 80’s I am, I fall squarely into the former category when it comes to Peter Weller’s hero, Buckaroo.

I first watched this quirky film back at R.I.T. with my good friends David, Anna, Bob & Jiffy, all of whom still share my affinity for Team Banzai and their globetrotting, save-the-day antics. I got on a Buckaroo kick a few weeks back and whipped up a Team Banzai Patch icon that was released over at The Iconfactory as a QuickPix as well as the desktop I’m making available today. If you’re a fan of Buckaroo, then head over to my Goodies page and download Team Banzai for your iPhone, Mac or PC desktop and be the envy of all your buddies. Remember, no matter where you go, there you are!


Star Trek Boldy Goes Blu Ray

In their seemingly never-ending mission to get fans to buy more stuff, Paramount will soon be releasing a new blu ray box set aimed right at Trekkers. Although the ‘Star Trek Motion Picture Trilogy’ does not contain Star Trek: The Motion Picture, as the name would seem to suggest, it does contain re-mastered versions of The Wrath of Kahn, The Search for Spock and The Voyage Home in glorious HD.

According to Amazon.com the box set will be released May 12th, will retail around $50 and come complete with loads of extras. A quick glance at the product specs reveal commentary by William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Nicholas Meyer, Ronald Moore (of BSG fame) and many others as well as stacks of shorts, trailers and other goodies. It’s difficult to say if these new high-def versions are worth enough to replace any older copies you may have on DVD, but I suspect that given the amount of bang for the buck Paramount’s packing, updating your collection just might be the logical thing to do.

Hat tip to @Talosman for this post.


Lucas’ Loose Threads

SPOILER WARNING: This post contains basic spoilers for all six Star Wars films. If you are the only person left in the universe who has not seen these movies, then you might not want to read on. Just sayin’.

If there was a bright spot regarding the Star Wars prequels, it was the opportunity for fans to get answers to many of the questions Lucas introduced in episodes IV, V and VI. Fans were hungry for any information relating to the Jedi Order, the evil Sith, where Anakin came from, the story of his children and more. With very few exceptions, Lucas dutifully managed to tie up many of the various plot lines in neat little bundles and send even the most rabid fans home satisfied.

Although I freely admit I’m far more of a Trekkie than a Star Wars geek, there are still questions that none of the six movies answered to my satisfaction. Since I’m not familiar with every bit of the Star Wars universe, I thought I would throw some of these questions out to the masses and see if anyone had plausible explanations for how they fit into the grand scheme of all things Star Wars.

“Do you remember your real mother?”

In Return of the Jedi, right before Luke goes off to turn himself over to the Vader and the Emperor, he has a farewell talk with Leia where he explains why he has to leave. Luke begins the scene with a simple question to Leia “Do you remember your mother? Your real mother?” Leia responds that “She died when I was very young. She was beautiful, but sad.” When I saw this scene in the theatre (before the prequels) I assumed Leia was speaking of her real mother, not her adopted one, which is the point of Luke asking about her “real mother”. But since we know from Revenge of the Sith that Padmé died in child birth, Leia couldn’t have been talking about Padmé.

The dialog is confusing on several levels and because of that, I don’t think we have an accurate understanding of whom Leia is describing. Luke is obviously trying to get some info, any info on his mother, and so he asks his sister about their collective mom. But since the story from Episode III doesn’t jibe with what Leia describes, this entire scene seems to be apocryphal. If Leia was simply describing Queen Breha Organa, then there was little dramatic motivation for Luke’s question in the first place.

“The son of Skywalker must not become a Jedi”

Although Lucas does a satisfying job of explaining the birth of Luke and Leia, and how they were hid from the Empire, we are still left with a pivotal unanswered question. Namely how and when did Darth Vader discover he had a son? The answer to this question isn’t just one of curiosity, it also holds one of the key developments in the entire story arc. Since Emperor Palpatine lies to Vader and explains that Anakin’s own anger killed Padmé, the eventual discovery of Luke must come as a revelation on multiple levels. This revelation would logically be the tipping point where Vader decides to plot to overthrow the Emperor.

The most logical explanation is that after the Battle of Yavin, Imperial spies learn that the young rebel who destroyed the Death Star was named Luke Skywalker. Vader instantly realizes he has a son and that the Emperor has lied to him. If this is the case, then this dramatic development is one of the greatest missed opportunities in the entire series. I would love to see how Vader’s rage played out against the Emperor, but alas this was not to be.

From the audience’s point of view, the first time Darth is informed about the “Son of Skywalker” is in The Empire Strikes Back when the Emperor himself tells Vader that “The son of Skywalker must not become a Jedi”. Thanks to Vader’s non-reaction in this scene, between Episodes III and V, Darth must somehow learn of Luke, the Emperor’s deception about Padmé’s death, and a long lost son. Through all of this, ironically Vader doesn’t even blink. I don’t buy it for one second.

The Virgin Birth

In The Phantom Menace we learn the origin of Anakin Skywalker. Shmi tells Obi Wan and Qui-Jon that amazingly, Anakin had no father. This in itself wouldn’t be too difficult to accept, except for the strange scene in Revenge of the Sith where Palpatine tells Anakin the tragedy of Darth Plagueis. The future Emperor relays the story of a Sith master so powerful he was able to control life itself. The subtext of this scene is that Plagueis was Palpatine’s master and that it was Palpatine himself who slew Plagueis after he had taught his young apprentice everything he knew.

Given the implied nature of the scene, we are left with many questions. Chief among them – is Palpatine Anakin’s “father”? Did Plagueis himself will Anakin into existence by using Shmi Skywalker to bring him to term? Did Palpatine kill Plagueis when he learned he was grooming a replacement apprentice? All of these questions (and more) are never answered in the films. Some Star Wars comics have put forth theories about these plot points, but since they cannot be considered “cannon” they remain only fan speculation.

Although it’s no secret that I consider the prequels to be inferior follow-ups to the original Star Wars trilogy, it is none-the-less a testament to Lucas’ storytelling that I find myself asking these questions, even today. The archetypes he used in weaving the Star Wars universe are powerful and speak to the allure of great drama. Given Lucas’ propensity to keep churning out all things Star Wars, we may very well get many of our answers. I think I speak for fans everywhere when I say, go for it George, just leave Jar Jar in a galaxy far, far away… from us.


My Scrooge

Ask any person what’s their favorite adaptation of A Christmas Carol, and you never know what they’ll say. There have been so many versions of the classic tale over the years, it’s daunting to pick a single version. I suspect that for most people, their favorite is the one they were introduced to as a child.

Without a doubt, my favorite version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is the 1970 musical adaptation, Scrooge starring Albert Finney, Kenneth More and Alec Guinness. Produced by the same team that gave the world Oliver!, Scrooge is perhaps the liveliest version of the story I’ve ever known, and for my money the most satisfying. It features a memorable array of songs, strong acting and a large, energetic cast that gives the film the feeling of a broadway production.

Although the film never won any Oscars, Albert Finney did win a Golden Globe in 1971 for Best Actor in a musical or comedy. Finney is the heart and soul of Scrooge and manages to make us both despise and love the character simultaneously. From our glimpses into his past as an abandoned boy, to the heartbreaking loss of his finance Isabel Fezziwig, Finney’s Scrooge is a real person, with a host of dreams squandered in the pursuit of wealth.

When Scrooge’s transformation finally arrives at the end of the second act, it’s made all the more believable thanks to Finney’s incredible depth as an actor. As Ebenezer awakens at the foot of his bed to learn he has been given a second chance, Finney performs the moving “I’ll Begin Again” and makes us actually believe he has changed for the better.

Too many adaptations spend hardly any time after Scrooge turns from the dark side. I enjoyed the George C. Scott version of A Christmas Carol, but the end is very short and just doesn’t give you that “It’s a Wonderful Life” feeling that the end of Scrooge does. All this, combined with some of the most beloved holiday songs from composer Leslie Bricusse, add up to one of my all-time Christmas favorites. Since the soundtrack has never been released on anything other than vinyl, I’ve spent the last few Christmases making my own by digitizing and editing the audio from the DVD release. If you’re interested in getting a copy of it, drop me a line and let me know. I’ll be happy to share my efforts with you.

What version of A Christmas Carol is your favorite? Patrick Stewart’s performance? Bill Murray in Scrooged? Don’t forget Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol! Don’t be a humbug, drop a note in the comments and share your memories with the rest of us. Merry Christmas everyone!


Ranking the Sublime

Around the office we often get into conversations about our favorite movies, what we’ve seen recently and what’s worth watching or avoiding on DVD. On more than one occasion the topic of Pixar films have come up, which ones are our favorites and why. After encountering a post I found from Airbag on the Metacritic ratings for Pixar films, it seemed only natural that I jot down my own ratings for these lovable movies. Feel free to post your own ratings in the comments if you’d like to play along.

UPDATE: I’ve updated my list to include Up, Cars 2 and Brave. No, I’ve still not seen Toy Story 3 yet. I know, I know.

1. The Incredibles – I own every Pixar movie on DVD (except WALL•E since it’s not out yet) and The Incredibles is the one that gets popped in the most. The story moves along at a great pace, all of the characters are treated equally, the action sequences are worthy of blockbuster live action flicks and the art direction is to die for. Love it.

2. Up – Full of heart and original storytelling, Up is a tour-de-force for Pixar. The first 15 minutes will have you blubbering like an idiot, but you need that emotional attachment in order for the rest of the story to have meaning. Up also has one of the best end-credit sequences of any Pixar flick.

3. WALL•E – The only reason why this isn’t number one on my list is probably because I can’t watch it whenever I want. Once the DVD comes out, it may supplant The Incredibles at my favorite. Amazing what the folks at Pixar did with little if any dialog, a desolate, future Earth and a potted plant. Not as funny as some of the other Pixar flicks, but every bit a classic.

4. Toy Story – The one, the only, the original. Although the computer animation is starting to show its age, the story, characters and humor can hardly be beat. Woody & Buzz make the best comedy duo since Abbot and Costello and are surrounded by an incredibly funny cast of sidekicks to boot.

5. A Bug’s Life – For lots of people this one is usually farther down on the list, but I really liked Bug’s Life. The story is original, the misfit saves the day and PT Flea’s troop of traveling bugs manages to completely steal the show. I wish Pixar would have made a sequel for this instead of the upcoming Cars 2.

6. Finding Nemo – Overall I like Finding Nemo a great deal, but over time I found it really is geared more for children. Unlike The Incredibles, much of the comedy is childish and the incessant worrying of Nemo’s dad, played by manic Albert Brooks, gets on my nerves after the first hour.

7. Cars – I enjoyed Cars more than I thought I would, especially the lovable tow truck Mater. The movie suffers from the creator’s obvious indulgence with a love of automobiles and runs a bit too long for my tastes. That being said, it does have the most infectious song of all of Pixar’s flicks – Cheryl Crow’s Real Gone, which I love.

8. Toy Story 2 – There are lots of parts about Toy Story 2 I love like Buzz and Woody’s journey through a huge real-life toy store. Then there are parts that kill the movie for me like the depressingly sad montage of Jessie being discarded by her owner. This single scene makes me second guess myself whenever I go to put the DVD in, which is a bad thing.

9. Brave – Brave starts out fresh and bold and full of promise but soon devolves into what is basically an elaborate chase sequence. It does have strong characters and tons of humor going for it, but the lead character isn’t treated with the respect she deserves and the story suffers because of it. Here’s my review.

10. Monsters, Inc. – I love the concept behind Monsters, Inc. as well as the characters and the voice work by Billy Crystal and John Goodman. And although Boo is terribly adorable, I’ve never cared for the way Sulley seems to throw away his life-long relationship with his best friend Mike just because this little girl follows him around and calls him “Kitty!”. There’s a real mean streak at the heart of Monsters, Inc. that I think many people overlook because of the humor and the adorable little girl and it bothers me.

11. Cars 2 – Lots of people thought the sequel to Cars was evidence that Pixar was slipping. Overall I disagree with that assessment, but there’s no denying that Cars 2 isn’t as strong as the first. There’s very little grease on these gears, but that doesn’t stop the movie from being a good popcorn flick.

12. Ratatouille – Critics loved it. I didn’t. Sadly, it’s the only Pixar film I regret buying. I didn’t go to see it in the theater which could be part of the problem. Despite this, I was sure I was going to love it on DVD at home but again, I didn’t. I’m not sure if it’s the whole “rats & cooking” thing, the focus on location rather than story or what, but Ratatouille left me cold. That being said, it’s still 100x better than many animated flicks out there.

As a bonus, I’m also including my 5 favorite Pixar short films here as well. I’ve been in love with these little movies since I first saw Knick Knack at RIT. Amazingly, Pixar keeps cranking out winners with their short films, although some are more successful than others.

1. For the Birds
2. Knick Knack
3. Presto
4. Jack-Jack Attack
5. Luxo Jr.

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No Christmas for Right-Wing Carol

Box office results reveal that the anticipated right-wing comedy, An American Carol, has tanked in its first weekend of release. The conservative comedy should have faired well, especially considering it was produced and directed by one half of the hilarious Airplane! team, David Zucker. The film opened on an impressive 1,639 screens and was publicized on conservative blogs and in the media. But when compared to comedian Bill Maher’s documentary Religulous which also opened this weekend, the results are startling:

Film Box Office Gross # Screens Average
American Carol $3,810,000 1,639 $2,325
Religulous $3,500,000 502 $6,972

Although Religulous opened on just 1/3 the screens as Carol, it made almost as much, with triple Carol’s per screen average take. It reminds me of the supremely unfunny Half Hour Comedy Hour produced by FOX as a right-wing answer to The Daily Show. That attempt at conservative humor lost 82% of its audience after it’s tortuous premiere and was soon cancelled. If conservatives think they can do comedy, they have yet to prove it to the rest of us.


Writing On The WALL•E

So like millions of Americans, I went to see PIXAR & Disney’s latest animated film, WALL•E this weekend. For those of you living under a rock, the film tells the tale of a brave little robot who is left to clean up the Earth after mankind dumps so much trash that he can’t live here anymore. Adventure, romance and of course humor ensue for the tiny bot with a Johnny 5 complex.

Reviews from critics and the movie-going public have been overwhelmingly favorable, and it’s easy to see why. Behind the futuristic facade of WALL•E lies basically a love story between WALL•E himself and the angelic EVE. The story also cleverly taps into an topical issue that is sure to raise the ire of some of the more conservative audience members – environmentalism.

Back in August of 2007, I wrote a post about PIXAR’s advanced PR for the film, via the Buy n Large viral website. Buy n Large is the company responsible for the vast consumerism that ultimately makes the Earth uninhabitable to the human race in the film. The message in WALL•E is clear – if things keep going the way they’re going, we won’t have a planet left to live on. This moral imperative is one of the major plot points of the film, and I’m betting it won’t be very long until we see right-wingers railing against Disney and PIXAR for “green propaganda”.

I’m willing to bet that by no later than this Wednesday, Michelle Malkin, Bill O’Reilly, Neil Boortz or some other misguided blowhard will do their best to alter WALL•E’s portrayal as lovable protagonist to that of a mechanized propaganda bot intent on brainwashing your kids. Rest assured it will happen, and when it does, I’ll update this post with which offender was first to pull the trigger.

In the end, nothing these people can say will diminish the movie’s endearing success. WALL•E is nothing short of an animated masterpiece that has its heart and message in exactly the right place. There is plenty of emotion and humor to keep audience goers smiling and parents safely content. And if kids get interested in recycling or gardening, let’s just say it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

UPDATE: Here’s a tweet that illustrates what I’m talking about. It’s starting.

UPDATE II: DING! DING! We have a winner, or rather a big, fat ignorant loser… in the form of everybody’s favorite shill from CNN, Glenn Beck. Think Progress has more too boot. To quote Weird Al, “Man, I hate it when I’m right.”


I Miss MST3K

Although Mystery Science Theatre 3000 is best known for the lampooning of various B-rated sci-fi movies and horror flicks, I always enjoyed their roasts of public service short films best. These self-righteous reels from the 40’s and 50’s, always did take themselves too seriously and made perfect fodder for Crow, Tom Servo and Joel’s witty zingers. The clip below is classic MST3K as the trio firings on all cylinders. I’ve tried to get into Michael J. Nelson’s new take on MST3K, called RiffTrax, but it just isn’t the same. Thank goodness for YouTube so we can sit back, relax and enjoy “A Date with Your Family”. Just don’t enjoy it too much, after all, the dinner table is no place for emotion!

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Ridley Scott Breeds New “Strain”

I’m pleased to report one of my favorite science fiction films of all time is the latest flick to get the Hollywood make-over treatment. Airing over two nights, beginning tonight at 9pm est on the A&E network, The Andromeda Strain, tells the tale of a particularly nasty alien microbe that threatens to wipe out all life on earth. Director Ridley Scott’s new version of the classic 1971 picture promises to be full of action, suspense and smart science and features a solid cast including Benjamin Bratt, Viola Davis & Andre Braugher.

Based on the best-selling novel by Michael Crichton, the original version of Andromeda gave audiences of the 70’s a realistic look at what just might happen if an alien microorganism fell to earth. The movie’s deliberate pacing, cold electronic soundtrack by Gil Mellé and use of multiple simultaneous shots (spoofed in Austin Powers and made famous today by FOX’s 24) builds suspense and impending dread even when viewed today. If the original Andromeda Strain had a weak point, it was surely the rushed ending which bottled things up neatly, without deliberate action from Wild Fire’s team of sequestered scientists. Somehow I doubt Scott will let his version go out with a whimper, and if he plays his cards right, this new version just might be a classic for the ages. High hopes to be sure, but coming from the director of Black Hawk Down, Blade Runner and Alien, I would expect nothing less. Should be a fun couple of nights, check it out.

UPDATE: After having watched both parts of the new version, I can see my hopes were sorely misplaced. Ridley Scott should stick to directing real films instead of producing made for TV movies cause this version couldn’t hold a candle to the original. The plot gets wrapped up in the meaningless exploits of an addict reporter whose actions ultimately don’t amount to squat. The effects were second rate and all of the great scientific detective work at Wild Fire felt rushed. Save yourself four hours of your life and don’t bother to tune in to the repeats OR purchase the DVD. Go buy the original 1971 version instead. At least Andromeda is actually creepy in that version.

List Our Pet Peeves, We Will!

I’m pleased to report that episode 008 of Sci-Fi Cast is now online and is truly one for the ages. Dave Caolo and I participate in the geek version of Fesivus and “air our grievances” with the Star Wars prequel films. We cover a wide range of important nerd-esqe topics such as GCI sets, the less than deadly Nuisance Battle Droids, poor casting decisions and how a high school biology lesson managed to suck the life out of the Star Wars universe. This one’s our longest episode yet, clocking in at 47 minutes, so if you’re looking for the Cliff Notes version of this episode, simply skip forward to the 39′ minute mark to avoid all that tedious mucking about in hyperspace. If you love Star Wars however, tune in for the whole cast, I think Dave and I do a fairly good job of putting into words what was so frustrating about ep I-III. Don’t forget to post your own prequel pet peeves (or favorite bits) in the comments over at theSciFiCast.com! Next week we return you to our regularly scheduled program of BSG. See you then!

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Twitter + Star Wars = Good Times

One of the things I love most about Twitter is the way interaction between friends and followers can take on a life of its own. Today I casually threw out a question on Twitter that turned into a genuine laugh riot. Taking a cue from one of my all-time favorite shows, Who’s Line Is It Anyway?, the question I posed was this:

Name a quote from a Star Wars movie that could apply to your significant other.

Without missing a beat, I received back dozens of responses, some of the best of which I’ve reposted here for your amusement. Thanks to everyone who took time out to play today, it was a blast!

panache: “Either I’m going to kill her or I’m beginning to like her!”

MauriceReeves: “I don’t know who you are or where you’ve come from, but from now on you’ll do as I say, okay?”

gedeon: “She may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts kid.”

Moltz: “IT’S A TRAP!!!”

firecracker: “Why you stuck up, half-witted, scruffy-looking, nerf herder!”

dmoren: “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious.”

krystynheide: “I cannot teach him. The boy has no patience.”

and my personal favorites:

ag_michael: “You are required to maneuver straight down this trench and skim the surface to this point. The target area is only two meters wide.”

luomat: “No no no, this one goes THERE, THAT one goes there!”

bettnet: “Size matters not. Look at me, judge me by size, do you?”

splorp: “Get in there, you big furry oaf! I don’t care what you smell!”

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So I’m Told

While I was busy watching the Red Sox vs. Yankees tonight, the world kept turning and evidently things happened. Here’s some stuff I missed while I was watching the slugfest in New York:

The Democratic Debate – Evidently ABC gave new meaning to the term “pointless”. Moderators spent most of their time talking about “Bittergate”, sniper fire, Reverend Wright and get this, flag pins. Some of the comments on the ABC website, courtesy of The Huffington Post are just brutal. Good to know the MSM is still doing their usual bang-up job.

The Indy IV Backlash Has Begun – Apparently the folks at CHUD think they know for a fact that the new Indy movie will suck. Why? Because its final running time is clocking in at 140 minutes. I mean who’d want to sit in a theater and watch Harrison Ford play one of the most beloved screen heroes of all time for THAT long? And before you get that puss on your face, this isn’t a podcast, it’s a feature film. I figured the movie would suffer from overly high expectations, but to pan it just because it’s 13 minutes longer than The Last Crusade is plain stupid.

Full of Hot Air – The next time George W. Bush announces an “important” speech from the rose garden about one of the most pressing challenges facing this nation, maybe he’ll actually want to take action instead of offering more bloviating. The press made a huge deal about how the Bush Administration was about to do an about face regarding climate change today, and all we got was vague notions of future shifts in potential policy. It’s unsurprising that Bush is doing whatever he can to try and rescue his legacy before he leaves office, but I expected more than the typical Bush bait and switch.

Knowing Is Half the Battle – First there was Snake Eyes, and now there is Scarlett. I’ll hand it to the people behind the PR for the new G.I. Joe movie, they sure know how to put lipstick on a pig tease! This movie just keeps getting better and better. I have a feeling that when picts of the Baroness hit the web, I’ll probably blow a gasket. Yo Joe!


For the Love of the Game

When was the last time you played a game of pinball? If you’re anything like me, it’s been years since you plunked quarters into one of those classic arcade contraptions. The plight of the pinball machine is one, that in today’s modern world, has grown more and more familiar. What once captured the money and imagination of players across the country, has become relegated to collector’s garages and played by a small group of enthusiasts who look back on pinball with fond memories through neon colored glasses. The story of pinball’s origins and how one company tried to re-invent it, is being told via a new documentary written, produced and directed by my friend and designer Greg Maletic.

Tilt: The Battle to Save Pinball tells the story of the Williams company and their dedicated team of designers who were tasked with nothing less than single-handedly saving the entire pinball industry. The DVD can be ordered via the Tilt homepage, and is a wonderfully produced documentary spanning the entire history of the game. Tilt takes the viewer on a light-hearted and fascinating journey from pinball’s humble beginnings as merely a game of luck, to the industry changing era of classic video games, and the creation of Pinball 2000.

The DVD’s production values are top notch and are marked by retro style graphics (all created in Adobe Illustrator and animated in After Effects), an easy to follow narrative and some of the best music I’ve ever heard written for a documentary by composer Skip Heller. Much more than just “talking heads”, Greg’s film gives special insights into the world of the penny arcade that eventually morphed into the electronic palaces of the 60’s 70’s & 80’s that so many of us spent our childhood in. Watching Tilt, it’s easy to see how much a labor of love this film has been for him. Case in point comes in a scene discussing Baby Pac Man, an unsuccessful fusion of pinball and video games. The director’s audio commentary reveals he was unable to find a functioning Baby Pac Man unit to film, so he decided to animate the entire cabinet in After Effects. An impressive feat to be sure, and one that I would never have realized had I not listened to the commentary. Tilt is full of these kinds of subtle treats which bring both eye candy and visual interest to a subject that some might consider boring.

Over 2 and a half years in the making, Tilt: The Battle to Save Pinball, not only serves up an interesting slice of history, but also provides insight into problems that designers face every single day. How do you make something old and familiar, new and fresh? How do talented individuals leverage their skills to create a unique new experience even in the face of tremendous industry pressure? All of these questions, and many more are tackled in Tilt. It’s a fun journey for pinball fans and lay people alike that I highly recommend. Check out the trailer available on the Tilt homepage or via YouTube.