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Not a Trekkie July 25, 2013

Ask me if I’m a Trekkie and I’ll deny it.  Yes, I own copies of the Star Trek The Next Generation: Technical Manual, the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Technical Manual and The Klingon Dictionary, but these are only rational items for a wannabe sci-fi writer.  They sit neatly alongside a copy of “The Space Colonist’s Handbook” and a couple dozen volumes on actual space adventures.  My Mr. Spock bobble-head and the two seasons of the Original Series that sit on my shelf are, however, a bit more difficult to explain.

I can clarify my possession of the first by explaining that a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away… (oops, wrong movie), Mr. Spock was my first crush.  I’m not sure whether it was the pointy ears or the cool logic that attracted me (or the fact that science officers wore blue uniforms and blue is my favorite color), but I quickly fell in love.  He would be my fictional character of choice until Han Solo appeared on the scene.

As to why I own two seasons of the Original Series, all I can say is that I was just on the verge of purchasing the third when someone decided to “re-master” everything and update the special effects.  Yes, the phaser beams were hokey and the transporter looked a lot like sugar stirred into a glass of water, bit I really didn’t care.  Classic Trek should not be altered.  Unless…

I’ll admit that I was nervous when Paramount announced its intention to bring Classic Trek back to the big screen.  So much of the series is dated: from the sexist mini-skirts to the quirky sounds made by the Enterprise.  Our culture has advanced since the sixties and I had every right to fear that a newer, modern version of Trek would lose many of the unique features which made it so ground-breaking at the time.  This didn’t, however, keep me away from the theatre.

With great delight, I exited the cinema, my head in the clouds.  The new movie was, in my opinion, perfect.  The actors hadn’t sought to “make the characters their own,” but had mimicked the performance of the original cast.  From Spock’s enigmatic look to McCoy’s hand gestures, everything had been just as it was in the Original Series.  (Despite, of course, that little bit about the altered time-line.)  The mini-skirts had been given an acceptably modern flair and the Enterprise still beeped and hummed.  It had me longing for more.

Needless to say, my fiancé and I were some of the first in line when “Into Darkness” was released.  I was totally revved up and ready for another installment of what some said was the prequel to a revival of the series.  There was some serious discussion about whether it was appropriate to rewrite “The Wrath of Khan,” but as my sister pointed out, the occurrence of the crew’s encounter so early in their mission combined with the absence of the Genesis Project does leave things open to some creative twists in the future.  How can I argue with logic like that?

Perhaps the oddest part of my adventure, however, wasn’t the movie, but my fiance’s reaction to it. Upon exiting the theatre he immediately announced that 1) He did not feel threatened by Mr. Spock and 2) He was interested in seeing more Trek. We spent the remainder of the afternoon watching old episodes of The Next Generation (I tried to show him some other series, but to no avail) and I found myself slowly reliving all of the wonder that I felt when I first discovered Trek.

The humor, the adventure, the scientific wonder are all still there.  And, while I wouldn’t class myself with those who attend the big conventions (I am, after all, only thinking about purchasing a Starfleet uniform), I still feel a deep affinity for the show and for the creativity which it inspires.  Perhaps I am just a bit of a Trekkie after all!


An Introduction to Podcasting or Why Our Enjoyment of Movie Adaptations Shouldn’t be Hindered by Our Love of the Book July 18, 2013

I didn’t feel like writing this morning, so after finishing an assignment that needed to be submitted, I retired to the couch with my copy of “Podcast Solutions: The Complete Guide to Audio and Video Podcasting” by Michael W. Geoghegan and Dan Klass.  This book is a part of my ongoing crusade to guarantee that when I start my own podcast, I’ll be producing something of acceptable quality.  After all, if you’re going to do something, you might as well take the time to do it well.

Meanwhile, I’m biding my time with a lovely show entitled “Aboard the Knightbus” which, if you listen to the promo, claims to be “a fun and light-hearted look at the Harry Potter books chapter-by-chapter”.  In reality, it’s a bit more like four women having an early mid-life crisis.  I’ve been slowly improving my performance as “your friendly, neighborhood Slytherin” by practicing my enunciation and, on occasion, purchasing new and better equipment.

The first piece of this equipment, my AT2020 USB microphone by audio-technica, arrived last week and I spent a good bit of time fiddling with it as I prepared for today’s recording.  I’m quite pleased with the product, though the sensitivity of the mic has led to some issues, namely, that it is capable of picking up the sound emanating from my headphones.  Since this will cause an echo in my voice track, it became necessary for me to pop out for a new set of “cans”.

It was during this impromptu shopping trip that I got sidetracked by one of our local bookstores.  (I swear, it just jumped out at me from behind the mall!)  I had recently seen a preview for the movie adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game”, a book that a friend of mine has been repeatedly recommending for years.  I felt that it would be best to read the book before seeing the movie and decided to purchase a copy to read while I’m at an upcoming writer’s conference.

After explaining all of this to the sales clerk, she led me to a stack of books which I had walked right past in my endeavor to locate a clerk to help me locate the book as quickly as possible.  “It will ruin the movie,” she observed as she handed me a copy.  I smiled, thanked her, and headed for the checkout.

Her words echoed in my ears all the way home.  Would reading the book really destroy my movie-going experience?  The truth is, more than once, I’ve gone to see a movie adaptation of a book I enjoyed only to walk away disappointed.  “The Lord of the Rings” and “Harry Potter” series’ were prime examples.  While both did an excellent job at visually portraying what I’d envisioned as I’d read the books, neither seemed to do justice to the story lines.  Neither Frodo nor Faramir had lived up to my expectations of these heroes and the sad absence of most of Severus Snape’s best lines left me with a sense of emptiness.

This sense of betrayal lasted until just a few weeks ago when I had the opportunity to listen to Mugglenet Academia’s “Harry Potter: Book to Screen” interview with screenwriter Janet Scott Batchler.  Truth be told, I’d never really considered the many difficulties that screenwriters face as they attempt to adapt the written word to an almost entirely visual medium without angering long-time fans of the book.  Sadly, time and budget restrictions often result in writers expunging characters or sub-plots that have become dear to readers in favor of the primary story arcs which will attract those unfamiliar with the story.  Lengthy explanatory passages which worked well in print must be translated into dialogue.  And elaborate descriptions of scenery or costumes must often be reduced to whatever can be created with the technology or textiles currently on hand.  The result?  Even the best movie is likely to fall short of our expectations if what we’re seeking is a perfect representation of the book.

So what do we do?  Perhaps the best answer is to understand and appreciate both medium for what they are.  Books play primarily on our imagination.  They allow us to visualize the most unusual or extraordinary circumstances and personalize what we see.  And there is no limit to the number of pages they can take to convey this information.

Movies, on the other hand, convey the vision of the writers, directors, producers, and actors as they seek to convey their own personal perceptions to their audience.  Movies must maintain the pace if they are to keep the viewer’s attention.  They must convey color and excitement, drama, and romance, and all within a limited number of “pages”, if you will.

When we approach these mediums in this fashion, it may be possible for us to appreciate both – enjoying the intimate, personal experience of reading the book and relishing the social aspect of sharing in another’s interpretation of those same descriptive words.  Perhaps, when we do, we’ll walk away with yet another unique experience: that of enjoying both the movie and the book upon which it is based!


The Great Gatsby June 13, 2013

My sister’s eyes nearly bugged out when I announced my desire to see Baz Luhrmann’s new film, “Gatsby”.  Based upon F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby” (a book which I had never read), it seemed an odd selection, and my sister immediately seized the opportunity to expand my literary horizons.  Digging out her copy of the book, she informed me that if I could read it in the three days which preceded our movie-viewing appointment, my ticket would be free. I of, course, could not turn down such a generous offer and what I discovered in the process was simply put, “enchanting”.

Fitzgerald used words like a painter uses a brush and it was not long before I was able to see all of the glorious extravagance of Gatsby’s home, the brilliant lights and colors of the raucous parties, and the sunlight glinting from the windshield of his bright yellow car as if it were all laid out before me, tangible and real.  His world sucked me in, not because I would choose it for my own, but because the description kept begging me to immerse myself ever deeper in a narrative that left me questioning the moral rectitude of nearly everybody!  It was flamboyant and excessive and it absorbed me.

Due to circumstances beyond my control, I had only made it half-way through the book by the time of our appointment.  Upon the conclusion of a brief interview, however, my sister determined that I had, indeed, been reading the book and, more importantly, paying attention.  She decided to purchase my ticket anyway and I was treated to a movie almost as enrapturing as the words printed upon the page.

Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation left little to the imagination.  Though the first part of the film seemed a bit “trippy” (a sensation created by Luhrmann’s distinctive filming techniques), I couldn’t help feeling that this only helped to draw viewers into the production.  If the day was hot and the characters drowsy, we were hot and drowsy as well.  If the characters were lost in the chaos of the party, so were we.  And if the characters got drunk, we got drunk with them.

These sights and sounds only confirmed us as Nick’s companions.  The rest of the tragic story unfolded… a story that, like the best of adaptations, was so close to the book that any departure seemed to blare like a siren.  While I understood the literary reasons for most of the alterations (like cutting Gatsby’s station wagon from the picture or changing Tom Buchanan from a footballer to a polo player), others left me wondering.

Why, for example, did Wolfsheim’s molar buttons become a tie-tack?  Was there simply not enough money in the budget to make three or four matching buttons?  Was it fear that the audience would be more aghast at the excess of human teeth (presumably wrenched from their victims’ mouths by Wolfsheim’s henchmen)?  Was there some particular need to turn Gatsby’s vibrant pink suit to a dusty, near-white?

These questions haunted me in light of the excruciating detail which allows us to see the only briefly mentioned Negros with their white chauffer or the gigantic eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleberg which watch over the film with an almost god-like omniscience. Perhaps someday I’ll have my answer, but not today.

Despite these notable oddities, however, the film was an excellent one.  With dialogue copied directly from the book, it felt every bit the “Gatsby” I’d come to know.  It was loud, gaudy, extravagant, and moving… a film worth seeing, whether you’ve read the book or not.  Like its literary counterpart, it served as a stark reminder that, those things for which we sell our souls are, in the end, merely illusions – things of yesteryear forever beyond our grasp.  Yet for some reason “we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”


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