Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Returning to the Final Frontier

This morning, I was able to experience something I haven't felt for over fifteen years. While driving to work, I was able to hear, live on the radio, the launch of the space shuttle Discovery.

As is well-known by now, this is the first launch of a US space shuttle since the destruction of the Columbia about 2 and a half years ago. The wait between launches compares to the extended delay following the destruction of Challenger in 1986 which, coincidentally, also ended with a Discovery launch. While the launch of the space shuttle in the early '80s was always a major event, accessible via substantial news coverage, shuttle launches quickly became more "routine" and less of an "event" not long after the recovery from the Challenger disaster.

It may be that shuttle launches fall back into this "routine" pattern again within a few months, provided, of course, that this mission is a success and there are no further catastrophes in the near future. However, given the current administration's push toward a return to the moon, with the intension of eventually traveling to Mars, it may be the era of "routine" orbital flights is tapering off, and future launches from NASA will, again, become major events.

Time will tell.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Other Voices

The Transformers message board I most often visit practically exploded after the interview with one of the producers of the upcoming Transformers movie in which, asked about whether the voice actors from the 20-year-old Transformers cartoon would reprise their roles, had this to say:
"No, I don't believe that is going to happen, I don't know why you would want the original voice over actors."
Many Transformers fans took this remark as an insult, and have begun a bitter debate on the message board (no doubt echoed elsewhere on the web) about how, if Peter Cullen and Frank Welker (Optimus Prime and Megatron, respectively) aren't doing their character voices, these fans won't go see the movie. Moreover, they insist that, as fans who have (in some cases) supported the Transformers franchise over the entirety of its 20+ year history, they are entitled to have the actors they remember from their childhood play these parts again in the upcoming movie. These are, they insist, the definitive voices, and to use anyone else would fail to capture the characters they've grown to love.

To borrow a response from William Shatner's famous SNL sketch: "Get a life!"

To paraphrase a response from another Transformers fan, nearly a year ago (when the first news of a proposed Transformers movie came out): "It's not being made for you."

Seriously. It's not. While long-time fans of the Transformers are, at least in part, responsible for keeping the franchise alive for so many years, the producers of this movie would be idiots to listen to half of what the fan base wants. If they did so, they'd possibly create a movie that Transformers fans would love, but they'd alienate the vast majority of people out there who may remember Transformers from when they were kids, but haven't followed up on the franchise much since then.

And to be fair, the producers of the new movie have been extremely open to listening to fan comments. Transformers fans will not be forgotten when this movie is made. But movie producers generally have a better idea of what will make a good movie than Transformers fans do, and they're generally smart enough to know when to go with what will work, and drop the ideas that simply aren't practical.

That's not to say that I expect the producers to make all the "right" decisions. However, I am reminded of when Tim Burton directed his first Batman movie so many years ago. A lot of fans were furious that Adam West (Batman from the 60's TV series) wasn't even being considered for the role. (West himself declined to do a cameo, he was so upset.) The casting of Michael Keaton, previously known best for such comedies as Beetlejuice and Mr. Mom, did little to assuage fan fears. As it turned out, Keaton was perfectly capable of taking the role into the darker realms that had already started to become (to some fans, admittedly not the same ones rooting for West, I expect) the expected norm for all Batman franchises to follow.

Let's give the producers a chance to explore their vision of what the Transformers should become. If they hold open auditions, who's to say whether Cullen and Welker might even prove able to do exactly what they're looking for? But there's no reason we should expect this. For all the support we've given the Transformers franchise over the past 20 years, we have no right to dictate to movie professionals how they should make movies.

Friday, July 22, 2005

If you cut Optimus Prime off in traffic, would he honk at you?

During a sermon preached in the church in which I grew up, the pastor mused about the nature of time. Among other things, he noted that "the shortest interval is between the time the light changes green and when the car behind you honks at you."

I often feel that I am an oddity in Southern California, in that I don't use my horn very much. Certainly, I'm glad it's there. It is an important safety feature of a car. If someone in front of me appears to not be paying attention to the task of driving, I think it's perfectly appropriate to use the horn to "wake them up," for example.

But most of the time, it seems to me that people use their horn to express anger or impatience, and I don't think this is so appropriate. For example, when driving down a heavily trafficked lane, a car clearly wanted to turn left from the opposing lane into the restaurant immediately to my right. Traffic was backed up enough that, if I had driven to the back of the car in front of me, I would have effectively blocked the turning car from being able to get into the restaurant. So I slowed down and stopped so that the car could complete it's turn. While the car was still in front of me, the car behind me honked. How rude! Does this person expect me to plow straight through the turning vehicle? I find the same thing happens often at turns where pedestrians are trying to cross. Any car who is patient enough not to cut the pedestrian off is rewarded with angry horns from other drivers.

And it's usually not a simple "honk," either, but a long, loud, sitting-on-the-horn kind of sound that, so far as I can tell, serves no practical purpose whatsoever except to serve as a vent for the driver's anger and frustration. This is not the purpose for which the car horn was invented.

I don't claim perfection in my driving, nor in my ability to remain patient when other people are walking/driving/etc too slowly for my convenience. I'd rather be spending my time at whatever destination I'm driving to, rather than doing the task of driving itself. All I really can do is try to be polite myself (and it is an effort sometimes!), and hope that other drivers will pass the favor on to others. I know that people appreciate it when I make the effort to be polite, often because I see a grateful wave "thank you" in response. I have no idea if they remember when a situation might call for them to respond in kind to another driver or pedestrian, but I like to think that, maybe, the culture of anger that seems to permeate Southern California drivers can be turned around.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

RIP: James Doohan

I just learned that James Doohan, who played "Scotty" on the original Star Trek has passed away. He will be missed.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

More Fast Food Fun

Some better pictures of the upcoming Burger King Transformers items showed up today. I've picked up such items when McDonalds did similar "Happy Meal" promotions in the past several years, but these toys look... decidedly sub-par, even for "Kids Meal" items.

And it's not like Burger King can't do good toys. They recently did a Star Wars promotion that's insanely popular, only a month after its completion, as demonstrated by sites like this. (Incidentally, this promotion seems to have created some controversy, as well. Apparently, an advocacy group wanted BK to pull the toys because they amounted to promotion of a PG-13 movie to younger kids.)

Ah, well. I may try to do some custom packages again, like the ones I've done for some of the McDonalds items. But the toys really aren't something I can recommend on their own.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Just Lucky

The following is an excerpt from a parody of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy that I am currently working on:
The Webster Illustrated Contemporary Dictionary defines “luck” as “that which happens by chance; fortune or lot.” It says that to “try one’s luck” is to “try to do something without certainty of success.” The Hitchhiker’s Guide also mentions luck. It notes that many Christians define luck as “the notion that the world is random and left to chance at best, and an evil force at worst. Either way being antithetical to the notion of God’s all-controlling providence and blessing.” This requires them to come up with new terms for otherwise everyday phrases. “Good luck” becomes “God bless,” a “Pot-luck” dinner becomes a “pot bless” dinner, and so on. The Hitchhiker’s Guide further notes that other Christians see this an unnecessary infringement upon contemporary language, suggesting that “everybody knows we don’t really mean that the world is left to chance” and further arguing that the first group of Christians shouldn’t be such nosy busybodies. This, naturally, gets the first group of Christians upset at the second set, leading to many heated arguments and fights over how best to use language in a way that consistently describes God’s loving kindness, the end result of which is that nearly all Christians involved more fervently desire that God would simply take them away to heaven all the sooner, so they might leave this crazy, messed-up, chaotic world behind.

Friday, July 15, 2005

That was it?

Last week, I announced that Hasbro was looking to unveil some big mystery at the Comic-Con in San Diego. The forum was apparently delayed from yesterday (as was reported at the time) to today. This is what we hear:
- 4 Alternator redecos scheduled, 5 new molds scheduled/planned
- No World's Smallest Transformers Coming
- No plans for a G.I. Joe/Transformers toyline crossover
- No plans for War Within figures
- Hasbro is looking at the possibility of putting older, harder to find Alternators (Tracks, Meister, Shockblast) online at the Hasbro Toy Shop
- Hasbro is planning an Alternators Mirage
- Soundwave is going to be a helicopter in the movie
- Universe is finished, save for store exclusive releases
- Seacons, "Green" Landfill, Jetfire Decepticon repaints may become Hasbro Toy Shop exclusives
- Mini-Con Battle Packs will be repaints for the first wave, and all new molds from that point on
- Hasbro will begin introducing larger Alternators at a higher price point
Now, some of this is halfway decent news (I really would love to get those Seacons!), but there's nothing really "special" here. A lot of folks were up in arms over "leaked" info that a "Primus" toy would be released, with CGI pictures included. To bring the uninitiated up-to-date, Primus is the name of the entity that created that Transformers, and is said to be the essence of the Transformers home planet of Cybertron itself. This would, presumably be a big toy (that I would likely wait until put on clearance to buy, admittedly, as I won't buy TFs that cost $50, as a rule), and Hasbro would want to push it. But nothing in this news release comes close to that level of hype.

Heck, the fully-tarped truck that's meant to represent the movie Optimus Prime at Comic-Con comes closer, and it was out well before the "appointed time." Ah, well....

Friday, July 1, 2005

Transformers Universe: Skyfall

From time to time, I intend to post a custom Transformers Universe entry here. These will be done in the style of the 1986 Marvel comics version, as opposed to the more recent "More than Meets the Eye" miniseries done by Dreamwave. The first entry is for Skyfall, the 2005 Official Transformers Collectors' Club member exclusive. (EDIT: The thumbnail remains, but I've removed the larger image, as the Club eventually did their own, official, bio page in the Club magazine.)

Future entries are also likely to center around Collectors' Club exclusives or otherwise obscure characters that nonetheless have official characterizations. Although some of the text in the entry is due to my efforts to make the entry fit the Universe format, I'd like it to be more "official-like" than "fan fiction" if at all possible.

One final note. You'll see that the plane mode is depicted using an actual picture of the toy, rather than a drawing. This is because 1) I can't, myself, draw; and 2) apparently no one else has yet made a drawing of this mode of this character, either.

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