But there’s plenty of room for a condensed run-through of all the latest technology, from motion capture to the ever-ubiquitous CGI. Which is reason enough to like the Science Channel’s Science of the Movies series, premiering Tuesday, May 26. Hosted by AchieveNerdvana.com blogger and Geekscape columnist Nar Williams, it’s six episodes on the behind-the-scenes geekosity that’s responsible for everything from Terminator 3 to The Fast and the Furious to Dexter to, yes, Star Wars.
Of course, take away all the blockbuster jargon and Hollywood sheen, and what you’re really watching is a tour through the ranks of ironic T-shirted, scraggly-facial-haired dudes that create the world’s biggest movies. Williams hobnobs with the best and baddest, from John Dykstra (yup, the guy who blew up the Death Star) to the Strause brothers, whose visual effects shop, Hydraulx, dominates the CGI market (300, anyone?).
Who says science education is falling by the wayside? The Online Colleges Blog has compiled a list of the “15 Strangest College Courses in America.” And while the general list is pretty standard (yes, Virginia, there really is an underwater basket weaving class) a decent chunk of them are sci-fi related. The geek-friendly choices include Georgetown University’s “Philosophy and Star Trek,” the University of California at Irvine’s “Science of Superheroes” (plenty of new material for that syllabus these days), “Myth and Science Fiction: Star Wars, The Matrix, and Lord of the Rings” at Centre College, UC Berkeley’s “The Strategy of StarCraft,” and our personal favorite, “Zombies in Popular Media” at Chicago’s Columbia College.
While it’s easy to laugh these off as “rocks for jocks”-level fluff, discounting sci-fi as an academic-worthy subject is a pretty big oversimplification. The best science fiction becomes so popular, and has such a lasting effect on culture, because it taps into underlying truths about humans, culture, and society.
Even now, current sci-fi mirrors just about every controversy we’ve got going, from the recent “Is Resident Evil 5 racist?” controversy to the religious fanaticism in BG. In fact, many sci-fi writers can get away with plotlines and characters that would never fly in a film or series set in the “real world” (reincarnation-obsessed Muslim fundamentalists as key characters? We think not. Attractive females in wading pools out to destroy humanity? No prob.) Plus there’s the fact that the best sci-fi spawns some pretty interesting work by big names in (real) science.
Everyone loves a good hologram, right? Ever since we saw a tiny Darth Vader delivering orders to an Imperial officer in Star Wars: A New Hope, the idea of having a 3D chat with a friend has lived on in our minds— Well, my mind, at least. On last night’s episode of Knight Rider, Zoe made a rendering of an entire street, with a moving car, and had it float in the air in front of Michael Knight and co. Now we know she was showing off her computer prowess to justify why she got to be Billy’s boss, but I had to wonder whether such a thing is possible.
You know we’re obsessed with weight loss when the problem pops up in our science fiction. I only just caught up with Series 4 Doctor Who, but the first episode featured Adipose, the drug that makes your fat “just walk away.” In fact, they’re being literal: The device Adipose is selling uses human fat to form an alien baby for the Adipose, an extraterrestrial species. Every night around 1 a.m., the fat pulls itself out of the person and walks out the door to the Adipose building. It’s quite adorable really. The Doctor gets all huffy about it, since it’s against space law to do such things against people’s will, and the villain is ultimately thwarted.
But afterward I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe The Doctor was sitting a little stiffly on his high horse. Read More
After too long a wait, the second season of Chad Vader: Day Shift Manager has arrived. Chad Vader chronicles the life of Darth Vader‘s somewhat less successful brother, Chad, and his job at a local supermarket. (You can get caught up with season one starting here.) Each episode is only a few minutes long, but lays on the funny, even for the most casual of Star Wars fans. The new season kicks off with Chad’s supermarket (called Empire Market, naturally enough) being bought out by a large corporation, and Chad’s desire to successfully demonstrate the most powerful laser checkout system in the galaxy.
While DISCOVER was in Las Vegas last week covering the Consumer Electronics Show, I noticed two science-fiction themed slot machines. The Star Wars machine has been out for about 18 months, the Star Trek machine was only unveiled about six months ago.
Even though my perfectly reasonable request to DISCOVER’s powers-that-be for a small research fund to investigate these machines was mysteriously refused (it’s all office politics here), I still felt obligated to try them out on your behalf, loyal readers, so I pulled up a chair and stuck in my hard-earned.
Care of io9, check out this hilarious silent movie remix of the Star Wars IV-VI. It also interesting to see how just dropping a few frames per second converts the unstoppable menace of the AT-AT advance on the rebels at Hoth into the twitchy dinosaurs of King Kong. Ah, stop motion animation. In a world of CGI, I miss you and your greatest practitioner, Ray Harryhausen.
Space Opera is one of my favorite sub-genres of science fiction, and in recent years has gained a new lease of life (I recommend reading The New Space Opera anthology for good snapshot of the current state of affairs). Like all definitions, saying what exactly is and isn’t space opera can be a highly subjective exercise, but for me, works of space opera all try for a certain grand sweep: the canvas is broad, often involving a good chunk of at least one galaxy. The themes are big–space opera is where entire space-faring civilizations can collide–and awesome technologies are frequently brought into play.
It slides into view, slowly filling the frame: a giant spaceship, bristling with nacelles, antennas and other devices of unknown purpose. A deep rumbling pushes your sound system’s bass response to the limit. After a length of time, as determined by a complex interplay between how much awe or menace the director is trying to convey and the size of the special effects budget, a collection of glowing engines finally passes into view.
A recent episode of the “This American Life” podcast (episode #329: “Nice Work If You Can Get It”) opens with an amusing rundown of what astronauts actually spend their time doing now that there are almost no manned spaceflights. The answer was mostly: go to lots of meetings in Houston.
The more interesting revelation was that the astronauts get their vicarious space thrills by watching Farscape and Battlestar Galactica. Aside from being “hugely jealous” of the capacity for interstellar space flight, one of the astronauts pointed out that classic BSG Viper/Star Wars X-Wing Fighter design is pretty dumb:
“All of those shows assume that there is some sort of magical gravity thing so that when you’re in your vehicle, you know, everybody’s all walkin’ on the floor. Well, not in our space program.
“They’ve got fighter jet flying. They have pointy noses and wings and they make them look like fighters. None of that is any advantage when there’s no atmosphere.
“You could be a box and have the same maneuverability. The Borg had it right. They’re a big cube and they’re perfectly maneuverable, as opposed to the little star fighter with the pointed nose and the wings and the engine in the back.”