Sunday, October 02, 2011

VCon 36 - Day 2

Today I probably spent more time in Uncle Victor's movie room than going to panel discussions, but that's okay. You can't complain about a day at VCon when you come home with free toys and food.

The day's con-going started for me around noon; I arrived at the hotel and found the Ghostbusters of Alberta had parked their Ecto-1EH right across from the front entrance, so, as promised I grabbed a couple of snapshots. Typical cellphone cam, most of them aren't great, but this one is good enough to show the love the group's put into this old wagon.

Anyhow, the first session of the day for me was "Computer Science in Science Fiction - Ahead of or Behind Our Time?" I'd missed about half of it, but it was still pretty interesting, with speaker Tamara Munzner weighing some of the advances of the last couple of decades against areas that have lagged somewhat. Examples included the rapid increases seen in processing power over the years while video display capabilities haven't evolved anywhere near as quickly.

After that it was over to the "Author GOH Interview" to listen to VCon elder statesman Michael Walsh do a Q&A with Larry Niven. Pretty entertaining for the most part, with the old author sharing funny musings about his "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex" essay (if you enjoyed the conversation in Kevin Smith's Mallrats about the perils of Lois Lane's relationship with Superman, here's - directly or indirectly - the source material), or dropping lines like "Remember, I'm allowed to make up my facts." when talking about how rigorous to be with science in hard science fiction. It was also interesting to hear him talk about his membership in Sigma, a think tank of SF writers supplying advice to the US government and some NGO's. What I could have done without was the extended foray into his Libertarian views, but I blame Walsh for leading him down the path to spout that nonsense.

When that was over I headed over to the "Food in Science Fiction" panel (which, incidentally, Niven participated in) which talked about the role of food in SF and culture (human and alien), the impact of different biologies on the types of food consumed, various foods that have appeared in SF, etc. While they did touch on the issue of foods being unique to their home planets because alien species, having different biologies, wouldn't be able to digest or derive all their required nutrition from them (never mind if those food weren't downright poisonous to them), what they didn't discuss were the rare, but highly amusing instances of universal foods that pop up from time to time: Gin & Tonics (courtesy of Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) and Swedish Meatballs (Babylon 5). Good food for thought, anyway.

I took a bit of a break after that, wandering through the Art Room and Dealers' Room again, and stopping to chat with a rep from the group putting in a bid to host Worldcon 2015 in Spokane, Washington. Apparently their competition at this point is Orlando, with a group there wanting to host the event in a section of the Disneyworld complex. Tough choice. Spokane's certainly a lot closer and it's nowhere near as hot, but if the con was in The Mouse's lair I wouldn't have to worry about how to convince my wife to okay the trip - she'd be booking the tickets so fast my head would spin, just so she could indulge in her love of Disney while I was getting my geek on. I have to confess I wouldn't mind going to Disneyworld for the con either, as it's been nearly 30 years since I was there last. Ah well, I don't follow the travelling Worldcon roadshow closely enough to keep an eye out for location voting opportunities or rules anyway. When I hear which way the vote goes, I'll make my decision whether to attend or not.

Then it was up to Uncle Victor's movie room to catch the screening of the 2010 live action version of Space Battleship Yamato (warning: heavy spoilage to ensue). My favourite TV show when I was a little kid was Starblazers (the North American name for the original animated SBY series), so I was itching to see this flick since the rumours and trailers started surfacing a couple of years ago. For the most part it was a lot of fun. The battleship itself has been brought to life in glorious photo-real CG, the battle scenes are fast-paced, and the robot (well, hand-held AI for most of the movie, but he gets a full body at the end with a head that's a nice nod to the old series), Analyzer in this version, though known as IQ-9 in Starblazers, gets a badass upgrade. And I didn't mind that the writers merged Iscandar and Gamilas/Gamilon into one planet, with their respective leaders made into seemingly individual faces representing the hive minds of their species, like non-corporeal versions of the Borg queen. Sure, some of the dialogue is corny from time to time, there are plot points that don't make sense (like Yamato not bothering to use its fighter squadron for defense while waiting for Kodai/Wildstar to rescue Yuki from her damaged Black Tiger), Captain Okita seems to have no facial expression whatsoever (seriously, the puppets in Disney's "It's a Small World" ride have more animation), the actor who plays Kodai looks like a younger version of the original Iron Chef's Chairman Kaga, and the embodiment of the Gamilas consciousness (at least in its subterranean lair) looked a lot like the MCP tower in Tron minus the face, but for the most part it was worth watching.

I say "for the most part" because of two major flaws. The first - and worst - was an immensely disturbing moment in Kodai's rousing speech before the attack on Iscandar/Gamilas where he refers to the original sea-going Yamato as a symbol of "hope" when it was launched in 1942. Hope? Really? I know, I know; this is a Japanese-made film made, primarily, for a Japanese audience. But don't tell me that the writers, producers and directors of this movie aren't aware that in the nearly 40 years since the animated series was created, the franchise has developed a major international audience (hell, they're probably well aware of it as a source for bonus revenue with overseas distribution or sales) that might catch this stinky little piece of dialogue and see it for what it is. And that's a shocking lack of awareness of and/or repentance for Japan's actions during World War II. Let's be very clear: Yamato was a dreadnought manufactured by a vicious regime hell-bent on taking over Asia to strip other nations of their resources and enslave and massacre the people of those nations. Yamato was one of the instruments they used to try to enforce that theft, enslavement, torture and despicable experimentation, and murder. Hope? Why not ask Chinese or Koreans or Filipinos or Allied servicemen or anyone else who got in Japan's gunsights during the war whether that's an appropriate word to use? Old warships are cool to look at, but let's not sugarcoat the very real horror that this thing represented. If the writers had put in something about redeeming the ship's past, that would have showed maturity and a full understanding of history. But they didn't. No, they quaff deeply of their koolaid of glory and airbrush the shit out of the past.

Second, and less offensive, was the unforgivably tedious arming of the ultimate weapon and sad farewell to the hero. When the Gamilas warship moves into orbit it takes forever to arm its final, huge, ultimate planet bomb - so long that it never gets around to firing. Remember how Star Trek: Nemesis dragged-out the Scimitar's reconfiguration and the arming of its mega deathbeam? That's got nothing on the pokiness of the Gamilas. Seriously, if the Yamato hadn't been there to make a pest of itself, the people of Earth would still have had enough time for a complete evacuation, terraforming another world, recolonization, and turkey dinner before that damn missile was ready to fire. As part of this act in the flick, the audience is forced to endure the endless, melodramatic goodbye between Kodai and Yuki. Really, the fight should have been over by the time she was hauled off the bridge. If it hadn't taken the Gamilas so long to prep their big missile, the movie really would have been over while those two were still clinging and gasping over one-another (really, the actress who played Yuki did not seem capable of actually crying in any of her crying scenes in the film, and appears to have settled on hyperventilation as an acceptable alternative) or the crew were still having another sad, last-minute bye-bye wave to Kodai. That farewell took so long - how long did it take?! - that farewell took so long that by the time it was over, the Earth could have naturally recovered on its own with rats having evolved into the next dominant form of life with their own technological civilization capable of taking on the fight with the Gamilas - like The Secret of NIMH, except with spaceships and not as creepy. That being said, despite its shortcomings, SBY is mostly worth watching. Mostly.

I then stepped out for a while for supper, coming back to take in the last few minutes of the "Justify the Science Flaw" panel, which was coming up with some pretty funny scientifically plausible explanations for everything from how ravenous zombies would be able to wait without food until the next batch of unwary living people blundered by, or how Spiderman would be able to climb walls using real spider attributes despite his human size.

Then it was back up to the movie room for a screening of Ghostbusters, with commentary and trivia by members of the Alberta and BC chapters of the Ghostbusters fan group. Prior to the film actually getting under way, movie room host Uncle Victor, in addition to handing out lots of chocolate to all in attendance, also gave out some prizes. One prize, in honour of Mr Staypuft, was a marshmallow gun and a bag of large marshmallows (perfect for campfires, but sadly incompatible with the gun, which only takes mini marshmallows). It was initially given to a woman in the audience, but she wasn't interested and ended up giving it to me, which was great because my wife and I will make use of the marshmallows for baking and the launcher will be a nice addition to whatever we get our nephew for Christmas. Anyhow, once the swag was dispensed, the fanboys treated the audience to a bunch of clips from classic Ghostbusters-like features (including one of my favourites: a very old Disney Hallowe'en short about Mickey, Donald and Goofy and their "Ajax Ghost Exterminator" company misadventures in a haunted house), TV shows from the 80's trying to capitalize on Ghostbusters' success, and, of course, Ray Parker Junior's music video. Eventually, the movie itself got underway. The commentary from the fan group members skirted between being the right amount of cool factoids and trivia overkill. Everyone laughed when they talked about researching acceptable dosages of Thorazine and how Venkman's administration of 300 cc's of the stuff to Dana/Zul was probably enough to kill an elephant, never mind the unsettling question of what he was doing bringing a syringe with that much of the drug with him on what he had initially assumed would be a date. But there were also moments, especially near the end, when the panel got gabbing about too much unimportant minutia and it was kind of annoying when this drowned-out some of the movie's really good dialogue. Ah well. It was a good evening and if I want to watch the movie without interruptions, I can pop it in the DVD player sometime (which I'll probably do this month anyway).

And that was it for today.

Must hit the sack now, as I want to take in a couple of sessions tomorrow morning and morning will be coming waaaaaaaay too early.

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