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Randym Thoughts: Oh No — It’s Santa Movie Season

Santa Claus has starred in a lot of movies. I can only assume he uses the money from his acting gigs to upgrade his workshop, what with technology always advancing. Hard to build iPods with chisels, ya know?

But, sadly, not all of his movies are good.

Here are some examples of the not-so-great ones. Some I made up. Some are real movies. Some I made up, and then found out they were real movies. How sad.

See if you can guess which are real, and which are bogus (answers are at the end). And just so the existence of hyperlinks does not give away which are the real ones, the false movies are linked to random Christmas-related material as well. If you are reading this at work, be aware that the YouTube videos will auto-start.


1. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)

Let’s just get this one right out of the way. A highly underrated classic that is often (unfairly) cited as the worst Christmas movie ever. But like all of the best science fiction, it was prophetic, with the Martian society reflecting our own future society. Children are treated as adults in small bodies, and medicated with sleep spray when they get too precocious. The concerns of the anti-hero, Voldar, predicted modern issues around the impacts that mass production of frivolous goods have had on our society. If the deep philosophical themes of this film had been taken to heart, it may well have helped us to avoid our current financial crises as caused by credit consumerism.

Indeed, I believe that history will mark this as one of the most important films of the 20th century.

Okay, sure, they have a robot made of a cardboard box and duct tubing. But come on, who’s to say someday we won’t build disposable robots exactly like that, huh? Again, just further proof that this move was revolutionary in its visionizing.

4. Santa Claws (1996)

A boy finds his mommy in coitus with a man in a Santa Clause hat, and so of course shoots them both dead. Years later, he’s become the creepy, ponytail wearing neighbor and obsessive fan of a “sexy” B-movie scream queen, Raven Quinn. Raven finds herself naked quite a bit, along with many other women who are costarring in her latest project, “A Scream Queen Christmas.” Oh, and she’s struggling to find holiday cheer as her marriage falls apart. But mostly, she’s naked. The neighbor will do anything to make Raven happy, and that includes going nutters, dressing up as Santa, and killing anyone he feels has disrespected her. His weapon? A garden claw. Because nothing says Santa like a garden claw. True fact — they love to garden in the North Pole. This fine movie is a holiday stalker romance to rival Twilight, but for adults. You know, the kind of adults who stay up late to watch skinemax movies, but don’t expect that high level of quality.

9. Santa Claus: The Clone War (2008)

This film reveals the adventures of Santa in the period of time between “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and “The Year Without a Santa Claus.” Santa sees his workload double and quadruple as divorce becomes more and more common, leading to an exponential increase in Christmases for every child and their parents. Unable to maintain the massive increase in workload, Santa clones himself an apprentice. But his apprentice falls under the corrupting influence of the Winter Warlock, who, unbeknownst to Santa, is a Dark Lord. In the end, Santa must battle his own clone to save Christmas. Be sure to also check out the action figures, ornaments, happy meals, Lego sets, and other merchandise available soon everywhere near you.


Ten Things You Should Know About Twilight

You know you’re going to see it, don’t even pretend. Seventy million dollars worth of people went to see it, and if you think you can resist the tide of crazy around this movie, you have something else coming. However, it’s dangerous to go unarmed. Before you settle into the trembling darkness of a theatre overrun by 14-year-olds in their Hot Topic baby tees, you must know what they know, so you can avoid laughing in the wrong place and being immediately decapitated. (They’ll do it, too; they know how, the movie showed them.)

Here are ten things you should know about Twilight before you venture out to see it. Beyond this, there be dragons. Fare well, brave soul.

1. No, that is not a siren going off every ten minutes. That’s just the audience squealing. Unless your audience goes through simultaneous puberty during the kissing scene and their jeans catch fire, in which case it might actually be the fire alarm. Listen for exit instructions.

2. Bella’s supposed to be interesting. Yes, that interesting. Yes, she is so interesting that all the guys in school want to date her, plus the kid on the rez, and probably his dad, and she has not one, but two vampires all up in her grill for being so interesting. Yes, I know she’s not actually interesting; what do you want from me, a Master’s thesis?


Blog For A Beer: Adaptations

Earlier this week I went to see the musical Wicked on Broadway for the first time. I’ve been vaguely aware of the show since it premiered in 2003 and knew it was based on the Gregory Maguire book of the same name. I’ve read about Wicked, but never read the book itself. Still, I was familiar with the plot enough going in that I was put off a bit by the many, many liberties the musical takes. In fact, the stage plot has very little to do with the plot of the book at all, mainly taking the characters and turning them into archetypes while morphing the story into a typical geek girl and popular girl grow to understand each other and discover their personal power tale. Also, they fight over a guy.

Adaptations are generally a touchy subject. Many original creators bristle when asked about adaptations and derivations of their work while others just shrug and note that they were paid well to have their story and characters mangled. Audiences reactions vary depending on the medium, the nature of the adaptation, and the depth of their love for or ignorance of the original.

Take the original ending to Little Shop of Horrors our Video Vicar pointed out earlier this week. It’s the same as the successful stage play’s ending, just acted out instead of just described. But test audiences, who had probably never seen the play, hated the fact that Audrey II killed the protagonist and his love interest. The director, Frank Oz, had a theory as to why: “In a stage play, you kill the leads and they come out for a bow — in a movie, they don’t come out for a bow, they’re dead. And the audience loved those people, and they hated us for it.”

Changes in medium obviously have a huge effect on adaptations. But is it preferable for the second or third medium painstakingly recreate even the tiniest details of the original, as the director and producers of Watchmen seem to be doing?

Let’s talk about our most loved and most hated adaptations. Why do they work for you? Why do they fail? Is there a common denominator?


“Special” Isn’t Very

Superhero movies have enjoyed a lot of popularity recently, but today’s audience doesn’t seem to want to let heroes be heroes. Superman Returns may have held up a virtuous and light-hearted hero, but even in that “boy scout” franchise modern sensibilities crept in with their dark, dreary undertones. Darker heroes like Hellboy, the upcoming Punisher, and the inevitable attempts at deconstruction like Hancock seem to be what people are clamoring for today.

With that in mind, the premise of Special doesn’t sound too bad. Les Franken, a man full of ennui and lacking social skills, begins taking an experimental drug and believes that it has granted him superpowers. The world around him knows that the “powers” are all in his mind, but Les goes out trying to be a hero in spite of any and all opposition. It could be cool, something like a modern Don Quixote, believing in his dream no matter how impossible.

Except, Don Quixote is a good and exciting story, with well-rounded and well-defined characters, a touching mix of humor and tragedy, and an ending that resolves the story. Special is not.


Pre-Columbian Cultures in Film

In a recent interview with MTV News, director Rob Cohen revealed that the next installment in The Mummy franchise might take place in Mexico. The Aztecs, apparently, liked to practice a bit of mummification in their free time.

Cohen’s knowledge of the Mexicas (commonly and erroneously referred to as Aztecs) seems to be taken from the campy Aztec Mummy series. If you want to check out what Mexican exploitation cinema looked back in the 50’s give the Aztec Mummy a try. But I’d steer away from it if you are in search of historical information.

The truth is the Mexica did not engage in funerary rituals involving mummification: high-ranking Mexicas were cremated.

But reality has never stopped eager filmmakers and the big screen has been filled with inaccurate and bizarre depictions of Pre-Columbian cultures.

The most common mistake is lumping characteristics from different cultures into a confused whole. In Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull the adventurer with the signature hat explains that he learned Quechua when he was kidnapped by Mexican revolutionaries. Although many indigenous languages are spoken in Mexico, Quechua is not one of them. Quechua is a language from the Andes which was widely spoken throughout the Inca empire. Indy might as well have said that he learned Russian while hanging out with Henry VIII.

The fourth installment of the Indiana Jones series also showcases the Mexica calendar-stone, a temple that looks like the Mayan pyramid of Chichen Itza, and several other architectural features from Maya and Mexica architecture including serpent-heads and painted murals. All of these in the middle of the Amazons.

It’s not the only movie which seems to suffer from a sudden case of geographical displacement. Aztec Rex has Mexicas running around the jungle near a Mayan temple. The Mexica presided over their empire from the powerful city of Tenochtitlan which was built upon a lake in the middle of the Valley of Mexico. If anything, Tenochtitlan at the time of the arrival of the Spaniards resembled Venice with its network of canals and bridges.

The result of such representations is a random sampling of culture with an implicit idea that all pre-Columbian cultures are interchangeable. After all, one loin-clothed savage is pretty much the same as another loin-clothed savage


Michael Crichton 1942 – 2008

We at Fantasy Magazine we saddened by yesterday’s news that genre author Michael Crichton died after a long battle with cancer. He was a man of many talents — not only an author, but a director, producer, and medical doctor. Many of his books were about scientists trying to make a better world but accidentally destroying it.

He was sometimes accused of being anti-science, most recently due to the ideas he wrote into his 2004 novel State of Fear, which challenged claims of the dangers of global warming. Though some accused him of fostering distrust of scientists with his popular fiction, my exposure to his ideas made me think that science can do awesome things. Sure, if you recreate dinosaurs from amberized DNA they might eat you. But if you can keep that from happening: dinosaur! That’s completely awesome.

His top five books are: Jurassic Park (my favorite), The Lost World, The Andromeda Strain, A Case of Need, and State of Fear. Of the movie adaptations, my favorites are Jurassic Park and The Andromeda Strain (1971). What are your favorite Michael Crichton books and movies?


Randym Thoughts: Why We Need Scientist Heroes Again

Our nation, nay, our world, needs a new kind of hero.

Although the aliens are still keeping a low profile amongst us, and the robot armies have yet to attack, we still face a large number of problems.

Global warming. Bioweapons. Stem Cells. Cloning. Pollution and waste. Agricultural sustainability and genetics. National defense. Affordable HDTVs. Financial collapse. Talking apes.

And of course everyone’s talking about green energy — which I hope means we’re all going to get Green Lantern rings, because that would be way cool. But even if it doesn’t, it still sounds pretty sciencey to me.

In short, folks, we need scientist heroes in our media to inspire the Einsteins (or at least the Neil deGrasse Tysons) of tomorrow, and to make science literacy cool for everyone.

In the 1950s, during that golden age of angst over atomic energy and communism (as opposed to global warming and terrorism), we saw a number of classic science fiction movies with scientist heroes. And no, I don’t mean as a sidekick or minor team member. I mean the man with the plan, the lady who gets paidy.

War of the Worlds, The Day the Earth Stood Still, When Worlds Collide, This Island Earth, It Came from Outer Space — Golly gee whiz, they just don’t make them like that any more.

In fact, they even Unmake them. War of the Worlds with Tom Cruise replaced a scientist hero with an average Joe Sixpack.

But its time to put the sexy back in science. And no, I don’t mean scantily clad lab assistants.


Top 10 Steampunk Media

Yesterday we gave you steampunk lit, and today we move on to other media. There are a lot of great steampunk movies to choose from (though Repo! is, sadly, not among them), but also some great websites, music and games.

8. Treasure Planet
Full three-masted sailing ships in outer space rather sum up the aesthetic of this retelling of Treasure Island. The same pirate-filled action-adventure about a young English boy, but this time with cyborgs and solar-powered surfboards.

5. Castle Falkenstein
Half-novel and half-tabletop RPG, Castle Falkenstein is set in an alternate universe that combines our sense of Victorian England with traditional steampunky tech, faeries and futuristic ray guns. The RPG is designed for an actual Victorian aesthetic; as dice are something that vagabonds and other unsavories play with, Castle Falkenstein is based around playing cards.

4. Clockwork Cabaret
Steampunk music is featured on this weekly online radio show. What counts as steampunk music, or “music o’ gears”? An intriguing mix of jazz, blues, goth, folk, swing, dark cabaret, classical, and other genres that come together to create a unique sound.


Repo! The Genetic Opera

Every theatre person has, in the bloom of youth, cried out, “That’s a great idea for a show!” then made camp in an organic-only coffeehouse for two years, scribbling on a Moleskine and occasionally, for extra artist-cred, napkins. They max out their credit cards to buy secondhand props, hire their most talented friends, and launch the show to rave reviews by the campus paper for the full two weeks of the run. Usually, that’s where it ends, because usually these sorts of projects aren’t very good. This is where Terrance Zdunich and Darren Smith should have stopped. Instead, we get Repo.

Repo! The Genetic Opera is a high-concept rock opera that tries earnestly to be this generation’s Rocky Horror Picture Show. The movie imagines a near-future urban landscape in which a family monopoly rules over the ruthless organs-for-hire industry — if you can’t pay up, they send out Repo Men to recall all your viable organs. The concept is intriguing, and promises an anarchic dystopia that seems the ideal setting for a modern rock opera.

…you’d think.


No Objectivity: 10 Fantasy Movies That Ruined It for the Rest of Us

There’s an elite class of fantasy movie that presents beautiful and unknown worlds, captivating characters, and compelling stories that touch on what it means to be human.

Unfortunately, you’ll never get people to watch them, because they saw one of the ten fantasy movies that ruined it for the rest of us. If they’ve seen three or more of the movies on this list they’ve probably sworn off fantasy for life, and deep in your heart you know you can’t blame them.

The movies include:
1. Willow (1988)
2. The Lord of the Rings
5. Excalibur (1981)
6. The Craft
8. Labyrinth (1986)

See the full list