Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Mmm... broccoli

This is probably too precious for its own good, but the "intelligentsia" are the intellectual elite1 of a society. What about the most hardworking members of society?

The diligentsia.

Screenwriting is a long, tedious business, truly rewarding (for me, so far) only at two times. One is when I'm actually writing in screenplay format. However, the only way I know to write a good screenplay is to spend a long time in outline format, intricately detailing the story elements; the screenplay is the bowl of ice cream after the outline of broccoli and boiled chicken. Like all sugary rewards, it doesn't last nearly long enough compared to the drudgery that came before it... so I take solace in the knowledge that broccoli is good for you.

The other rewarding time is what I non-cleverly call a "Hannibal moment," which is when a plan comes together and you feel great because you've just created something you know will knock people on their ass when they read it (or, Odin willing, see it on-screen). Unlike episodes of The A-Team, These are both rare and irregularly spaced; more like an orgasm than ice cream.

There is a third moment which I expect to be very rewarding, and that is when someone gives me a lot of money for something I've written, but I haven't yet been... diligent enough to experience that. Some people say that writing's not about the money, but I'm on Samuel Johnson's side as far as that goes.

1 Yes, formally it should be "élite." Kiss my ass. When a word's been used in English long enough, it becomes an English word, and English words don't have accents. Also, this is the Internet.

Monday, November 28, 2005


So right near the beginning of Lawrence of Arabia, when Lawrence is on his way to the general's office to get sent off into the desert, he passes through the officer's club and stops to get harassed by a captain (?) playing pool. The guy asks Lawrence why he's going to the desert, and Lawrence, in reply, slams the cue ball into the carefully racked game balls, scattering them across the table. The obvious metaphor here is that he's going to stir some shit up, disrupting the careful order the British have arranged. I've seen LoA maybe a half dozen times, but not until yesterday's viewing did I pick up on what that particular action meant. I always thought he was just being an asshole. Of course, I'm stupid.

I think a lot of the time, the average moviegoer doesn't know why they liked a movie. They may be able to point at some lines of dialogue, or some cool scenes, but a lot of the things that can make a movie good are very subtle. Like, simple choices in a character's dialogue as that character evolves over the course of a movie. A protagonist who starts out selfish and greedy will use words like I and me and talk about what he wants and what he needs. Later, as he turns into someone who cares about the well-being of the group, or becomes interesting in risking himself to save others, he might start using words more like we and us and talking about what the group needs or wants. He'll still have the same Southern twang/British stiffness/casual profanity that he's always had, but what he's really saying will change.1

After you see the movie, you come out with the feeling (if you even think about it) that he was a well-drawn character, but you don't really know why. There's the big, memorable actions -- the scene where he rescues the damsel in distress, or the one where he reduces the villain to a quivering fury with a few blistering bons mots in the drawing room, or the one where Jar-Jar reveals that he's Luke's sister -- but those are only part of the equation. The subtle things are the rest. (Of course, the mathematical metaphor should be roundly kicked in the 'nads, since any attempt to reduce art to math is ultimately doomed, even if it may provide some insight along the way.)

And of what are these subtle elements born? To begin with, the anal-retentive efforts of the writer. The writer chooses the dialogue and the action, and even with the most literal interpretation by the actors and director involved, a great story will still come through.

Moving beyond the written word, actors, for example, can subsequently add their own subtleties; take a character who starts out nervous and unsure of himself, but becomes willful and strong throughout the course of the movie. The actor may decide, say, to blink frequently and rapidly during the early scenes, maybe cause his facial muscles to twitch every so often. But later on in the story, he blinks less, doesn't avert his gaze, and his face is smooth and impassive. Done right, you won't even consciously notice the difference, but it will register unconsciously and you'll think, "Wow, Bob really has come a long way since the beginning of the movie!"

1 This connects to the idea that a character is really comprised of two things: his core character and his outward characterization. I ruefully admit that the expression of this idea I'm most familiar with -- for it certainly didn't originate with him -- is Robert McKee's.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


Due to the impending holiday, no new posts until Monday. Except this one.

They say that Hollywood is the only place where you can die of encouragement. With rare exception, nobody will ever tell you to your face that your work sucks, unless it's their job to tell you that your work sucks. And even then, maybe not. Don't ever believe anyone who says your work is good. The only time you should believe the words "I liked your screenplay," are if they're immediately followed by, "...and I want to [buy/represent] it." Otherwise, assume the person's being nice, and ignore their opinion.

I've written several short screenplays which have been subsequently turned into short films by some actorly friends of mine. (If writers are a ravening horde of infinite monkeys, what are actors? Peacocks, I suppose.) The peacocks have the time, energy, and flexible schedules to turn a work of words into a movie. This monkey slips in fits of writing between tasks at work and time at home, playing with my kid, playing Sudoku with the wife, etc.

And so it came to pass that the fourth short to be filmed, but the third to be completed (long story), was screened night before last at the Anabelle Hotel in Burbank, at which one of the peacocks tends bar as his day job. Er, night job. Friends and family gathered to witness the latest minisculum opus, and aside from some sound problems, it went okay. Afterward, many congratulations on a job well done were tossed about -- oh, I liked it, oh, it was good, great, ha ha, blah blah blah fishcakes.

Bullshit. I hated watching its utter inconsequentiality -- not true of the first two films. There were a few good lines that got some laughs, but... gah. It wasn't the dialogue or characterization that were bad (although you can only have so much in a ten-minute short), but the story... Gah. No story. Barely anything happens. Nobody cares. I didn't care. I wrote it. I knew at the time I wasn't doing a good job, I just sort of blasted it out in a few hours so that we'd have something to shoot. And now I feel stupid.

Yet nobody told me that it was thin or weak. Actually, one person did: My wife. Back before it was shot. Did I do anything to fix it? No. This qualifies, in the small domain of this film and the things it influences, as catastrophic failure. Yecch.

We're meeting next week to plan the next short, and this time I'm going to write it right. The problem with the last one was not that I didn't outline (I did), but that I didn't make sure it was good before I wrote it. Compelling. Interesting. I didn't spent enough time revising it. I just got it done, did a dialogue pass, and that was it.

If I had a time machine, the first thing I'd do is go back in time and kill Hitler. Then I'd go smack myself for writing this piece of crap.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


Off-topic: Does anyone see advantage one way or another in the number of links in a blog's sidebar? I link here only to half a dozen blogs, plus Wordplay; most other scribospherical blogs I see (save the infinite monkey's) have a dozen or two links at least just to blogs, and then yet other links pointing elsewhere.

The reason I keep my links limited is because I don't see much purpose in promoting blogs that I don't check daily. To those of you who have got a score's links in your blogs, I ask: Do you read all those regularly? Or do you just choose to link to blogs that you read a few times and liked?

Monday, November 21, 2005

Which came first, the chicken or the film adaptation?

When a movie is made from a book, is it better to read the book first, or see the movie first?

Watching a movie (especially with a large crowd) is an intense, mob-mentality experience. When suspense or tension arise, shortly to be paid off one way or another, you're gripped the entire time. Surprises and reveals are better experienced with the excitement of a crowd, in the visual format of a movie, than they are in the pages of a book -- since you always watch a movie all at once, but rarely read a book all at once, watching a movie is a singular, more concentrated experience. Watching a movie, you're not going to suddenly find that it's time to go to bed, or to work, and be interrupted.

A movie, done right, leaves you wanting to know more about that world, to experience it in more depth. Afterward, when you read the book, you get to have that, by seeing what was left out of the (necessarily abbreviated) filmic version, what was changed, or even what was added. Certain kinds of books, like histories or biographies, rarely have a traditional dramatic structure, and so it is better for your first experience of the material to be in a powerful dramatic form, rather than as a (relatively) dry narrative of a person's life. Also, reading the book after seeing the movie allows you to spend more time contemplating the material in its entirety, since you're already somewhat familiar with it from having seen the movie version.

However... When a book is made into a movie, that's (widely considered) to be the cultural apotheosis of our age, the pinnacle of where entertainment media can go. "Oh my god! They're making a movie out of [insert novel/TV show/webcomic/joke on gum wrapper]!" (I look forward to the film adaptation of Verizon's "Can you hear me now?" commercials. Hopefully he gets hit by a truck.)

And this means that the novel (or whatever source material) is already a popular, well-known thing, and so you might already have read it, meaning you don't ever get the choice of whether to read the book or see the movie first. You could always choose to never read anything unless you've already seen the movie version, but I don't think most people would consider that a viable option. (Then there's the red-headed stepchild of the entertainment industry: Film novelizations. What's even worse is when a novelization is made of a film that was adapted from some other source.)

It occurs to me that maybe the ideal read/watch order depends on what kind of source material the book is. Biographies, histories, and stories in The Atlantic Monthly probably should be read after seeing the movie. If I'd read The Orchid Thief before seeing Adaptation., the experience probably would have been unavoidably tainted by my knowledge of the novel. The same goes for Seabiscuit; despite its flaws, the movie was more engaging when I had no idea what was going to happen, than it would have been had I read the book beforehand. (I did read it after; haven't gotten around to The Orchid Thief yet.)

What about fiction? Would I have wanted my first introduction to the world of Harry Potter to have been the 2001 film? Probably not; it was fine, as movies go, but I think lacked a lot of the magic that came from diving headlong into the literary version.

On the downside of book-first, there have been few surprises for me in any of the four Potter film adaptations, since I already know what's going to happen, and that's hardly entertaining. I certainly wouldn't have wanted to wait five years to read Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, trying the whole time to avoid finding out who dies in the end. That goes double for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, where a much more important character dies (or "dies," depending on which loony theories you believe). To be fair, it has been five years since I read Goblet of Fire, and so the movie did hold some surprises, where I had forgotten a plot twist or two. (Emma Watson needs to get those damn eyebrow muscles under control. I felt like she was in danger of causing structural damage to every ceiling she passed under.)

There's probably no good solution. At best, we can avoid reading a novel within a year of the movie coming out; that way, our memory of it will be faded at best, and the movie version will hold some surprises. If a movie is announced, and we haven't read the book, then maybe it's better to wait to read it until after seeing the movie. (Assuming we're interested.)

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Template modified. Hijinks ensue

I modified the template a little bit; I'll probably modify it more and more over the coming weeks. Just a little at a time, but I thought the cream background was a little depressing, so I've just made it black on white for now.

I'd also like to report that if you search for "velociraptors" on Google, this blog is the 8th primary link out of 103,000. Shiny!

Everyone's a critic. I'd prefer it if everyone were The Critic

We've all read movie reviews where the critic says something or other about the screenplay. On the surface, this seems kind of unfair, seeing as how they haven't read the screenplay and they had no idea what it said. It's an absolute truism that a great screenplay can easily be made into a terrible movie -- perfect structure, dialogue, and characterization can be undone by poor casting choices, poor editing choices, or any number of other things.

On the other hand, it's impossible1 to make a great movie out of a terrible screenplay. If the dialogue, story, and characterization are bad to begin with, there's nothing you can do in the production process to make them good. Aside from, you know, changing them.

So who should get the credit or (when due) the demerits for a film's screenplay? Imagine a review for Oscar Bait II: Jerked Tears. The critic says that the director was "saddled with a clunky script." The director, who made last year's Oscar-winning Oscar Bait (and several other decent-to-good movies), is obviously talented; therefore the fault must lie in the script.

Well, no. A movie is built from a screenplay, but there are ninety thousand choices in it that are not in the screenplay. And the sum of these can sink a film, no matter how good the screenplay was. Miscasting, misdirecting, whatever. So it seems unfair for a critic to criticize the screenplay of a film based on viewing the film it was made into.

But what if a movie is great? Great movies always2 have, at root, a great screenplay. So if the movie was good, it would be accurate for the critic to say that it was made from, e.g., "an excellent, witty script."

Except by this logic, a screenwriter can never be excoriated in a review because there's no way to know whether the bad movie is the fault of the screenwriter; but a screenwriter can get praise for having written the great script that this great movie was made from. I should be so lucky as to be on the receiving end of this "problem," but it still strikes me as irrational that this should be the state of things.

What if by criticizing the screenplay in so many words, a critic really just means to criticize the structure, dialogue, or characterization? Since that's what screenplays contain, it seems fairer if that's what the critics mean. Except there's still a difference between criticizing the actual screenplay that existed at the beginning of production, and criticizing the structure, dialogue, and characterization (SDC) that were present in the movie.

There are untold countless tales of great screenplays being purchased, mangled in the development process, and then made into mediocre films, despite the screenwriter's best efforts to preserve the screenplay's quality. (The argument can be made that the screenwriter agreed to suffer this indignity by participating in Hollywood, but it is not fair, in any sense, for a critic to specifically blame the screenwriter for a movie's shortcomings, when there was nothing the writer could have done.) Fewer, but no less important, are the great screenplays that remained intact until preproduction began, and then suffered the filmic equivalent of a career-ending knee injury while in production.

So the "rational" thing is for critics to render their opinions of the SDC that are actually present in the film, in so many words. Don't even mention the screenplay, because you haven't read it, and referencing it is meaningless. Making everything worse is the fact that the credited screenwriter may not actually have been materially responsible for the production script, so even if you had read it, you may well be crediting the wrong person by mentioning them. (Again, the argument can then be made that screenwriters willingly subject themselves to being mis-credited merely by participating in Hollywood, but it is not just by any stretch of the imagination.) Even if the writer is always correctly credited, the fact remains that the critic still hasn't read the screenplay.

But rationality hardly applies to Hollywood, fame, and anything that touches them. Film critics are ostensibly providing a service: Telling their readers whether a movie is worth spending the time and money to see. Some publications and their critics aspire to more highbrow analyses of a film's worth, rather than simply analyzing whether or not it passes the magic point at which it flips from being not worth seeing to being worth seeing. To a degree, movie reviews are themselves content.

The upshot? I don't know, I'm not drawing any conclusions here, just going through the arguments. Should something be done about this? Probably. What? No clue.

1 Yes, even for a computer. (+1 point if you got the joke.)
2 Not always.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

I hope it's good

It kind of dismays me whenever I overhear discussion of a film's commercial prospects. I mean, it's not like there's anything wrong with such a discussion, aside from the fact that smart people who study the subject for years still can't accurately predict a film's box-office performance, which makes the guesses of random Joes about as meaningful as pissing into the wind... actually, that's exactly why it bugs me. You don't know how well that movie's going to do. I don't either.

Oddly enough, between us, we do know how well the movie's going to do. Probably better than any individual expert. Go read The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki. The salient point is that averaging the guesses of a group of uninformed individuals, when it comes to things like predicting box-office performance, is likely to be far more accurate than the guesses of professionals. The book explains how it all works, and I'm not going into it, because that's not really the subject at hand.

What makes a movie good?

Imagine you are given a ten-thousand piece jigsaw puzzle, only it's blank, and you're told that you have to paint a masterpiece on the puzzle, and you have to do it one piece at a time, while they're disconnected. If you change one piece, that causes the next forty pieces over -- and maybe some pieces on the other side of the puzzle -- to need to be changed.

A screenplay is ten thousand choices; a movie is a hundred thousand. In a good screenplay or movie, every choice is made in the context of every other choice. They integrate as a whole, rather than merely being a collection of good but otherwise unrelated choices. They have, for lack of a less fraught word, synergy.

The choice to have one character have behavior X should be integrated with the choice of another character having contrasting behavior Y; deliberate symmetries and parallels should be present on the levels of beat, scene, sequence, act, and overall story. Costume choices should complement character attributes; set design should complement the characters when we want the audience to feel comfortable, and it should contrast with them when we want the audience to feel uncomfortable or wary.

I marveled when I discovered that the mere choice of camera lens could affect the feeling of a scene. Choose a wide lens, and move the camera in; choose a long lens, and move the camera far away. You may be framing the same angular distance, but the scene will look different, and feel different. Is a cold-blooded assassin professionally taking out his target? Try a long lens and minimal camera movement, to get a calm feel. Got a drunken husband busting in on his cheatin' wife, and beating up her lover? Wide lens, close shots, move the camera around. You want the audience to get in and feel what the husband feels, feel passionate about beating up this cheating scumbag.

Or shoot it from the wife's point of view; she's a wicked manipulatrix who wants her husband to catch her in the act and kill the guy she's sleeping with. So use a long lens at medium, so that the fight is in the background of the shot, and she's in the foreground, pretending to cower but secretly thrilled that her plan came to fruition.

I'm pulling these out of my ass, I'm sure half of what I just said about lenses and angles is bullshit, but the point remains: Good movies are good because their thousands of choices are fully-integrated.

Friday, November 11, 2005

The End Is Near!

So when you read a book, you know that the end of the story is coming soon, because there's only so many pages left. You can feel the diminishing thickness of the remaining pages in your right hand as you progress. This can be offset by having some extra pages at the end: The Wheel of Time books all have a lengthy glossary at the end, which is usually 30-40 pages, so it's a little less obvious that you're about to hit the end of the main narrative.

With a movie, things are different. You can't see how much film is left on the platter; the only clues to how close to the end you are, are whether the story has reached its final climax. (Assuming it follows standard story structure.) If you happen to know how long it is, you can look at your watch; but assuming you don't do that, it's hard to know when a movie will end.

The "traditional" story structure has a final climax followed by a cool-down period, giving the audience a chance to catch their breath before leaving the theater and extracting themselves from the shared moviegoing experience. People have an intuitive feel for when a movie should be ending; a lot of the complaints against The Return of the King had to do with its several "false" endings, although I think that was due more to Peter Jackson's choice to fade to black each time.

What about screenplays? They're paper documents, like a novel, so someone reading a screenplay has the same experience of knowing how far they are from the end. And unlike a novel, you can't pad a screenplay. Physically, you can; you could add a dozen blank pages to the end, just to throw off the reader. However most of the time someone reads a screenplay, the first thing they check is how many pages it is, and so the extra paper would be obviated. (And it would probably confuse and anger readers.)

It's odd how large the disconnect is between screenplays and movies, considering one is the foundation for the other. Screenplays don't have more than rudimentary indications of the visual or sound design; the only thing they describe in detail is what happens, and even then, only to a point: A scene that has two characters talking isn't going to lay out the exact physical mannerisms of each actor, but they're in the movie.

This means a screenplay is the basis for a movie, but there are thousands of decisions that go into the movie that are not in the screenplay. In a mathematical sense, it means there are more possible movies than screenplays, since a given screenplay can be made into multiple movies, but a given movie can only really have one screenplay culled from it (if you did the process in reverse). I'm sure this has been done, though I've never come across it myself, but it would be fascinating to see the same screenplay made into multiple films by different crews.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005


No, I'm not participating in NaNoWriMo -- National Novel Writing Month. It's an interesting idea, and possibly a way to spur some people to write more -- deadlines are the enemy of procrastination, obviously -- but I think this may be a case of a path to Hell paved with good intentions.

The basic idea is that you write a 50,000-word novel in exactly one month, starting November 1st and ending November 30th. Thousands of people are participating, although I'd only expect about ten percent of the participants to actually finish 50,000 words.

So what's the problem? The NaNoWriMo page itself even says that they don't expect people to create great works of art out of this -- rather,
Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that's a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.
I think they're underestimating by saying that people will be writing a lot of crap. I think that virtually everything written for NaNoWriMo will be crap. A higher percentage than comes from "regular" writing, even. Novels are a lot more tolerant of this writing style than screenplays are, because you can take as long as you want to work around whatever plot problems arise (although your readers may not tolerate reading that much drivel), but even novels will still suffer from random, errant, aimless writing.

Do we want to encourage that kind of writing discipline in people? 50,000 words in 30 days isn't a lot, if you already have your story planned out, but NaNoWriMo is all about writing off-the-cuff. Writing a 50,000 word novel in addition to designing the underlying story is not something people can plausibly do in 30 days, unless they do it full-time, like a job. And I assume that most people participating in NaNoWriMo are not professional writers, but are instead writing in their free time.

Does NaNoWriMo bring anything positive to the table? Since the whole intent is for people to have fun creating, without worrying about the quality of what they're creating, and with no expectations that the results will be of any use (that is, sellable -- nobody buys 50,000-word novel manuscripts, which is around 125 pages), then... yeah. From the average participant's point of view, it's a way to establish a motivation to get the writing done in a certain timeframe. Deadlines are an excellent motivator.

But even with all the caveats about the project's intent, I worry that people will still come away thinking that this kind of writing is a good way to do things. Do you?

Friday, November 04, 2005


I'm very happy because I just solved a major story problem in the space pirate screenplay. Now I need to work out some other, much less severe issues, but that was the big stumbling block that was keeping me from making progress. Hooray!

There was an actual writerly purpose behind that last entry about supernatural powers. For the life of me, I can't remember what it was, although I think it went something like this: When you create technology or magic in a story world, you have to be careful that it's internally consistent. Working out all the rules of the magic system in advance -- even if you don't reveal any but a fraction of them in the story -- is very important.

If a story world persists through enough story material, you inevitably start to have problems with the super powers your characters have. It can be "Superman syndrome," after the fact that as the decades wore on, Superman inevitably gained more and more powers until he was so godlike that it was impossible to come up with anything that could harm him. Eventually DC was forced to reboot the character, starting him over with a lesser set of powers. Nonetheless, the power creep began anew.

A way around this problem is plot-related changes to the system. ** ARR, THAR BE SPOILERS AHEAD MATEY ** In book 9 of the Wheel of Time, Rand and his cohort finally cleanse saidin, removing the taint that the Dark One placed on it three thousand years earlier. For the first nine books, saidin's taint caused almost everyone to be frightened of the men who could channel it. But now that it's cleansed, and no longer drives its users mad, that brings about a fundamental (and rather organic) shift in how the characters react to it. (And I bet the Dark One is pissed.)

This all goes the same for futuristic technology, obviously.

Tangentially, just let me say that it bugs me when a technology is introduced for non-story reasons. In DOOM, they have things called "nano-walls" which are basically doors that can shift from amorphous and permeable (allowing you to walk through it easily) to solid and hard as metal, at the push of a button. The instant this technology is introduced, we just know that someone (or some thing) is going to get caught in the door while it's shifting. This in fact happens later on, as a mutant chases our heroes through the door, who then hit the button as the mutant is passing through it, and the thing gets stuck in the door.

This technology exists for the sole reason that it looks cool and lets a monster get stuck inside a door (this doesn't kill it, incidentally). There's no real practical reason given for it. I hate that.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

I am a gigantic nerd

Who would win in a fight between Yoda, Rand al'Thor, and Marc Remillard?

One bonus point if you know who Rand al'Thor is. Two more bonus points if you've read all eleven books in the Wheel of Time, including Knife of Dreams (I haven't finished it yet; no spoilers, please). Five bonus points if you know who Marc Remillard is. Five more bonus points if you've read all four books in the Saga of Pliocene Exile and the entire Galactic Milieu trilogy, including Intervention (or its component books, Surveillance and Metaconcert). Negative three billion points if you don't know who Yoda is.

I'm not going to explain who any of those characters are, so if you don't know, tough luck. There are many ** SPOILERS ** herein, so if you haven't read the books in question, you may want to skip this post.

Ignoring dramatic necessity, my first impulse is that Marc would win. Metapsychics can engage and use their powers on the order of milliseconds, and the total individual capacity of the most powerful metapsychics allows them to direct energies sufficient to destroy an entire planet (granted, it took a metaconcert of, I recall, about 20? extremely powerful metapsychics to do this). Metaconcert allows magnification of metapsychic power, far beyond individual capacity; nonetheless, Marc, by himself, is still extremely powerful.

Rand's power seems far less, in terms of raw physical force. Channelers can begin using the One Power almost instantly, just as metapsychics. Even without augmentation of angreal or sa'angreal, Rand can still unleash a lot of power at once, but on the scale of global magnitude, it's tiny. Killing ten thousand Trollocs in the course of a few minutes, via the constant application of vast amounts of saidin, is impressive, but it's nothing compared to blowing up a planet. With sa'angreal like Callandor or the Choedan Kal, Rand would be able to cause continental shifts; mountains uprising, the land broken and torn, vast cataclysms. But anecdotally, that's about as much power as any channeler can wield; and the Breaking of the World merely (merely! ha!) rearranged the surface of the world. It didn't destroy the entire planet.

Yoda, by comparison to either man, is puny. The largest thing we ever see him move with the Force is Luke's X-Wing; the second-largest are the huge conduit in Dooku's lair, and the hoverpods in the Senate chamber. All those things took him a great deal of effort to move. By comparison, Marc or Rand could easily channel ten times as much energy with virtually no effort, and a thousand or ten thousand times as much if they put their (ahem) minds to it.

But Jedi have one ability that neither channelers nor metapsychics have: Jedi can see a short distance into the future. Some metapsychics have a similar ability, which allows them to sense the impulses and intentions of another sentient, thus predicting what they will do. However, this only gives them the jump on other sentients, and Jedi could use the Force to cloak their thoughts, thus rendering the metapsychic ability useless. At the same time, what the Jedi sees is the future, not from reading a person's mind, but from reading the Force. The metapsychic can do nothing about that.

How fast could each man kill the others at range? A Jedi could, in theory, use the Force to sever your spinal column where it meets the cerebellum. This would kill you almost instantly. (We never see Jedi do this, because they're too goody-two-shoes to kill people that way; we never see Sith do it, because they like to torture people via lengthy choking or electrocution.) Channelers like can weave flows of Air to slice you in half, almost instantly as well. Metapsychics can essentially vaporize you with a thought, also on the order of a fraction of a second.

What about melee combat? Yoda is a lightsaber duelist of the highest order; Rand is a blademaster. Marc, as I recall, doesn't have any particularly special physical abilities, so he's basically dead instantly.

So it's Rand vs. Yoda. If both men are without supernatural abilities, Yoda still wins, because his lightsaber will just slice through Rand's sword, and then Rand has no defense, and he's dead. So let's say Rand's sword can block a lightsaber. Now who wins? Well, without the Force, Yoda can't leap around, can't predict Rand's next move by looking a few seconds into the future... Rand would win, because he's a blademaster even without using the One Power.

Okay, that's enough nerdiness for today. Class dismissed.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Stock Bond

James Bond is not a character. He's a placeholder, a collection of martini preferences and witty one-liners. He doesn't undergo change or growth in the movies; he decides early on that he must tackle this task, and although he meets obstacles and difficulties, they are always from without, never from within. He has no self-doubt.

Don't get me wrong; I like Bond films, and I like the character. If Bond hadn't been invented, we'd have another superspy character filling that niche. But I wonder whether it's necessary for Bond to never undergo any character transformation?

Bond-as-franchise demands that he never change too radically. For each film, he must always be ready for another adventure. He cannot grow tired of getting shot at all the time, he cannot decide that Britain's politicians are corrupt and resign his position in protest, he certainly cannot grow old and be forced to retire, and of course he can never die from old age or an assassin's bullet.

I've watched most of the Bond films; in particular I've seen all the films starring Dalton or Brosnan, most of the ones starring Moore, and a few of Connery's. Out of all those, the only one that seemed to contain anything like character development was The World Is Not Enough (aka TWINE). Although it came out six years ago, I'll display the obligatory


before I continue. In TWINE, Bond at first thinks he must protect Elektra King, daughter of a wealthy British aristocrat who has been cleverly assassinated (while inside MI6, no less). During the first half of the film, Bond and Elektra appear to fall in love. Alas, Elektra was behind her father's death, and turns out to be one of the film's main villains. Elektra easily pushes aside her feelings for Bond, so that she may pursue her evil plans.

Bond, on the other hand, feels truly betrayed by Elektra. After a series of typically harrowing adventures, Bond and Elektra finally meet once again, on a small island near Constantinople. Bond escapes the usual overly-elaborate death trap, and confronts Elektra, who taunts Bond that he will not be able to shoot her because he loves her. When she pulls a gun, he shoots her anyway (I guess self-preservation trumps affection), but the look on Pierce Brosnan's face in that scene is apocalyptic -- Bond has just been forced by circumstance to kill a woman he loves.

He gets over it in short order, since he still has to thwart doomsday brought on by the arch-villain Renard (whose name is French for "fox," oh ho ho). But I found that one scene, where Bond shoots Elektra, to be particularly powerful, and I think it shows that there is a great deal of room for exploring Bond as a real filmic character.

I've never read any of the Bond novels, neither Fleming's nor the rest. It's possible that Bond actually demonstrates some character development therein, and maybe once I finish Knife of Dreams, I'll see if I can find some of the early Fleming Bonds.