Star Trek gets spoofed in John Scalzi's Redshirts

07-Jul-12 6:03 PM by
Filed under Humor, Star Trek; Comments Off on Star Trek gets spoofed in John Scalzi's Redshirts

RedshirtsGalaxyQuest was a funny movie for a general audience and hilarious for lovers of Star Trek. Conversely, I can't imagine anyone but Trekkies who will appreciate John Scalzi's latest book, Redshirts — but boy, will they love it!

Set on a fictional starship, the book parrots almost every element of the Star Trek universe — or, more precisely, the television show. When lowly ensigns start to realize that they're always the ones to die on away missions, and "main characters" never do, they start to look into exactly why. What they discover is as surprising as it is riveting.

I've read a few of Scalzi's other books (Old Man's War, Fuzzy Nation) and knew him to have a sense of humor, but it's never been as obvious as it is here. When an opening chapter can have the following happen to our then-protagonist: "But then he tripped and fell and a worm ate his face and he died anyway" — you know you're in for a good time. (You can read the first five chapters online.)

Yet after the story is done, three codas told from three different perspectives, making for a total of 70+ pages of "bonus" material, do more than pad out an otherwise relatively short tale. These chapters adopt a completely different tone, hitting a variety of emotional cues and balancing the story out.

Redshirts is a quick and fun read that you'll be sorry to see end — heck, it's even good enough to have its own theme song by Jonathan Coulton. I highly recommend it to all geeks.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

View all my book reviews on Goodreads

Thomas the Transforming Tank Engine

08-Mar-12 7:12 PM by
Filed under Humor; Comments Off on Thomas the Transforming Tank Engine

I'm not trying to be hip when I say "I liked Transformers before Transformers were cool." Because the fact is that Transformers aren't cool — not since Michael Bay got his filthy paws all over them and turned Optimus Prime into a vengeful sociopath. Maybe it's not fair to have high standards for a children's cartoon based off a line of toys, but as an adult, I've revisited many of my childhood's fondest memories, and few have stood up as well as the original Transformers animated series. Even today, when political pundits write stirring calls for action and cite the Transformers ethos, they are referring to the source material, not Bay's adaptation.

But I understand that franchises must either adapt to the times or make way for new properties to ensconce themselves in a child's heart. Perhaps a combination of those two approaches is the way for Transformers to remain both relevant and beloved. Why not meld it with a proven entity? Thomas the Tank Engine has been around since 1946, but as my nephew demonstrates, he continues to be popular with kids.

An enterprising artist named James Farr sees this as a natural mashup and has created an entire series based on the idea. "Thomas the Transforming Tank Engine defends the Island of Sodor against a host of villainous engines bent on destroying the world" in… TRAINSFORMERS.

There are at present four videos, with new ones announced via Facebook and Twitter. My favorite is the second video, as it seems the most perfect amalgam with the least backstory needed — though the stories do seem to get darker and more violent as the series progresses.

How long before Michael Bay ruins this indie effort with a big-budget blockbuster?

See also the 2009 mashup, Transforminators.

(Hat tip to Alon Waisman)

The Hobbit trailer, real and literal

11-Jan-12 6:36 PM by
Filed under Humor, Trailers; Comments Off on The Hobbit trailer, real and literal

I'm a fan of The Lord of the Rings — the movies, not the books — and not obsessively so. I saw each of the three movies the weekend they were released, followed by the director's cuts back-to-back in a marathon session seven years ago. But the tale didn't begin with Fellowship of the Ring, and neither did the marathon: we started with Rankin's animated movie, The Hobbit, which I'd seen many times as a child. It's a fun movie and the best in an overall poor series of animated adaptations of JRR Tolkien's books.

It seems the only way we'll have the complete tale in a single medium, animated or live action, is to target the anomalous entry in the above marathon for replacement. Peter Jackson is happy to oblige beginning December 14, 2012, with the first of the two movies, the first being The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

This is not technically a prequel, as it was written before Fellowship, but it is indeed set many decades before that 2001 film. Some things remain constant, however: just as the previous trilogy is greatly enhanced by RiffTrax, so too has The Hobbit already begun attracting its satirists:

Like the literal trailer and its lyrics? You can get the song on iTunes for only 99 cents! Good grief.

I eagerly await this return to Middle-Earth and all the good humor it portends.

(Hat tip to Mary House and Know Your Meme)

Surely You Can't Be Dead, Leslie Nielsen

28-Nov-10 10:14 PM by
Filed under Fade to Black; 3 comments.

Leslie Nielsen, star of Police Squad, Naked Gun, and Airplane!, died Sunday at the age of 84.

Mr. Nielsen was much loved and fondly remembered for the many laughs the above films brought to generations of American theatergoers, but his legacy is older and more eclectic than many fans may realize. His acting career began with a television appearance 1948, from which he built a diverse portfolio as a talented, serious actor. But it was his turn as Dr. Rumack in the 1980 comedy Airplane! that introduced him to the comedic genre upon which he would establish three decades of celebrity status. The film, itself a parody of Zero Hour!, cast stars who would essentially be playing parodies of the dramatic characters for which they were previously known.

Mr. Nielsen's small but important role in that movie produced what the American Film Institute deemed the 79th top quotation in American cinematic history:

(Other Airplane! stars who passed away this year include Peter Graves [Capt. Clarence Oveur] and Barbara Billingsley [the jive-speaking passenger]. As Lisa Hoover put it: I hate you, 2010.)

Two years later, Mr. Nielsen cemented his transition to the genre and his status as a comedic powerhouse when he landed the leading role in Police Squad!. In this short-lived television series, he maintained his ability to deliver one-liners with a timing and tone that packed as much punch as any buildup:

Though the show lasted only six episodes, it spun off three feature-length films, something accomplished by not even the likes of Get Smart! or Firefly. Mr. Nielsen went on to play the lead in further spoofs such as Mel Brooks' Dracula: Dead and Loving It, Spy Hard, and Wrongfully Accused, and appearing in other comedies including Scary Movie 4 and Superhero Movie.

It was just this past Thanksgiving Eve that my girlfriend and I finished watching the complete Police Squad! on DVD. As it aired before she was born, she'd never heard of the show but immediately cottoned to it, riveted to catch every rapid-fire joke and subtle gag. It didn't take us long to decide that we had to give this set as a Christmas gift to introduce even more people to this brief, overlooked, yet valuable contribution Mr. Nielsen made to comedic history. We never expected that he would so soon be a part of history himself, making it especially poignant to discover there will be no more adventures of Frank Drebin.

As the optimistic Wil Wheaton: Leslie Nielsen's in a better place. "A better place? What is it?" A construct to help cope with grief, but that's not important right now.

Summer Shorts: Star Wars: Pink Five

13-Aug-10 11:00 AM by
Filed under Star Wars; Comments Off on Summer Shorts: Star Wars: Pink Five

Spoofing Star Wars never seems to go out of style. From RiffTrax to Robot Chicken to Family Guy, many artists have used this theme for more than just an independent one-off, making it a continuing commercial venture.

But few have the history or duration of Pink Five, which debuted as far back as 2002 with sequels appearing in 2004 and 2006. This independent fan series presents an alternative perspective on the events of the original Star Wars trilogy (episodes IV–VI). Paralleling the well-known tale of a rebellious young moisture farmer, the audience instead follows a dim-witted but obstinate Valley girl. It may sound annoying as all heck, but stick with it, as the writing is actually quite clever — her landing on Dagobah will have you laughing out loud. The character even proved popular enough to have a cameo in the official Star Wars expanded universe. The shorts' special effects are also inspired, their many subtle touches effectively inserting our heroine into George Lucas' universe.

The official versions of all four shorts don't load as quickly as your typical YouTube video so are included after the break.

(more…)

Lost over Lost

22-Jun-10 1:02 PM by
Filed under Humor, Television; 3 comments.

Tomorrow makes a month since the series finale of Lost, and I still don't understand what the fervor was over. Having cancelled my television service a decade ago, I've relied on DVDs to keep me abreast of shows I'd otherwise miss, such as Heroes, Firefly, Big Bang Theory, and Enterprise. Given the financial and temporal commitments to these shows, Lost never made the cut, nor did it ever come recommended to me by anyone with tastes similar to mine. All I knew was that it was a show that demanded a viewer's utmost attention, sometimes even repeat viewings, lest a single but significant detail be overlooked. Lost didn't seem to attract fans so much as followers.

Fortunately, legions of YouTube artists have stepped forward to fill me in on what I've missed. First came a summary of the show, focusing on the finale, using Post-It notes:

Seriously? That's what the show was about? I thought it featured an evil corporation, secret laboratories, conspiracy theories, and sharks. It is in fact a fantasy/sci-fi show? That's… absurd.

So absurd, in fact, that it deserves to be retold with LOLcats:

If, after all this, I nonetheless became obsessed with the show and wanted a detailed chart of where everything on the island happened, my geographic wishes have been fulfilled.

Fortunately, none of this has changed my lack of desire to get Lost. Now, what else in TV land am I missing?

(Hat tip to ROFLrazzi)

From Zero Hour to Airplane!

01-Jun-10 12:31 PM by
Filed under Films; 1 comment.

Kentucky Fried Movie is a relatively little-known film released in 1977 that consists of a series of humorous vignettes, sketches, and spoofs that bookend a "feature presentation": an extended parody of Bruce Lee action films, "A Fistful of Yen". The film was a financial success and encouraged its creators — Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker — to create a sequel. This time, the featured skit would be a spoof of disaster films and would be set in an airport. As they developed the script, they realized it had enough potential to be a feature-length film, so they dropped the shorter sketches and built out the rest into one long parody.

Thus was born Airplane!

At least, that's the story I was told — but a recent post at Cinematical has me questioning its veracity. It seems that Airplane! was an unabashed remake of a 1957 drama Zero Hour! with almost the exact same premise. Rather than rework the concept for their purposes, Abrahams and the Zuckers copied it almost scene-for-scene:

It's remarkable the amount of dialogue that was copied verbatim. Although Airplane! often takes those scenes to ridiculous lengths, other lines are parroted perfectly — yet what was dramatic in Zero Hour! somehow becomes humorous in this new context.

Although the quantity of parody suggests this aping intentional, such is not always the case. Fail-Safe and Dr. Strangelove are two films based on different books that were released by the same studio in the same year — yet the former is the most terrifying Cold War film I have ever seen, while the latter was ranked as the American Film Institute's third funniest movie of all time. (Airplane! comes in at #10.) But to watch these films, you'd think that there had to have been some correlation between the two, as there was with Airplane! and its source material.

Regardless, will anyone ever watch Zero Hour! the same way again?

(Hat tip to Bill Loguidice)

Family Guy: Something Something Something Darkside

22-Dec-09 9:18 AM by
Filed under Star Wars, Television; Comments Off on Family Guy: Something Something Something Darkside

Here's yet another TV preview, this time for Family Guy, which two years ago performed its own rendition of Star Wars: A New Hope with its animated spoof episode, "Blue Harvest". Faster than LucasArts can pump out sequels, you can already catch the Family Guy's Empire Strikes Back, "Something Something Something Darkside", released today on DVD. Here's the trailer:

The timing of this DVD release means it's already available as a stocking stuffer (and in Blu-Ray, too!).

A sequel parodying Return of the Jedi titled "We Have A Bad Feeling About This" is planned.