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NEWS | James Cameron on the Piss Poor State of Ocean Exploration Thumbnail

io9 has the story about Cameron’s complaint and his endeavor to spearhead a return to “Challenger Deep, the deepest known point in all the world’s oceans.”

I just want to highlight a pleasantly surprising remark from Cameron:

“I think we’ve got to do better,” he told Nature News. “If it means getting private individuals together with institutions and bypassing the whole government paradigm, that’s fine. Maybe that’s what we need to do.”

Please, by all means, do.

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MOVIE REVIEW | Alien Thumbnail

Could I overpraise the sci-fi horror sensation Alien if I wanted to?  I look through my thesaurus and see words like magnificent, brilliant, exalted, superior, remarkable, exceptional and outstanding and conclude that the English language’s strongest adjectives do no more than justice to the film.  Necessity being the mother of invention, and there being no cinematic achievement whose fitting accolades would be too much for Alien, one must suppose the word that hangs too weighty an ornament on that particular tree has yet to be invented.

It has been over thirty years since it came to the silver screen.  Had the studio done to it what was done to so many Orson Welles films and boxed it away in a vault, it could pull it out today and, without touching a single frame, release it to theaters and nary a soul would suspect a thing.  Understand, I do not mean merely to say that it would play well to modern audiences.  Though indisputably true, there are many older films that can do just that.  I have sat in on a showing of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window as it positively thrilled an audience half a century after its initial release.  No, I mean that few would even pause to consider that the film seemed out of its era.

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MOVIE REVIEW | Tron: Legacy Thumbnail

It’s not often a science fiction storyteller creates a new world for his story.  Most tales in the genre, like Neuromancer or 2001, are set in our world a few years or decades in the future.  Some, like Terminator II, don’t even bother moving the clock ahead.  Movies like Star Wars and Avatar are relatively uncommon (while others like The Matrix are difficult to categorize).  Tron: Legacy is one of those infrequent works set almost entirely in a fictional world.

Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), founder of a tech company and world-recognized innovator, disappeared in 1989, apparently on the verge of some life-altering discovery.  Two decades later, Kevin’s  assistant tells his son Sam (Garrett Hedlund) he has received a page – as in pager, not book – from his late father.  When Sam investigates, he is sucked into a digital world, presumably the one his father disappeared to, and finds himself in a fight for his life.

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MOVIE REVIEW | Avatar Thumbnail

Storyworld Creation, Justice, and Environmentalism on Pandora and Earth

It may seem that watching Avatar is akin to taking a libertarian pill. True, the libertarian nutrients are rich and of universal appeal. Unfortunately, the pill is also laced with the same bad old drug: anti-technology, anti-business, and pro-primitivism.

(Estimated spoiler risk: Moderate)

Avatar is a beautiful piece of modern visual artistry and it deals reasonably well for a film with several classic science fiction themes (see the postscript for recommended novels). It portrays legitimate defense against military aggression, making a much-needed popular statement of anti-militarism.

The story of a soldier looking for “a single thing worth fighting for” is poignant. How often throughout history has the impulse to defend been manipulated and twisted for unsavory political aims?

Roderick Long said in his review that, “The movie’s most important message may be this: soldiers are responsible, as individuals, for the actions they carry out, and when they’re ordered to do something immoral they have an obligation to disobey.”

Despite the film’s thematic positives, it also encourages some dangerous misconceptions. It identifies as a “corporation” an entity that carries out actions that only states on Earth are known to perform. It also mixes a clear and principled justice issue with a primitivist, anti-technology motif in a bait-and-switch rhetorical move.

We will tease apart these and a few other confusions, clearing a path through the film’s Rousseauian intellectual thicket wide enough to enable us to enjoy the show without compromising our minds. In examining these confusions, it is instructive to reflect on the role of storyworld creators, both those who create science fiction and those who create “message,” news, spin, and sometimes even “science.”

In enjoying science fiction, we happily hand over to storyworld creators the power to temporarily redefine reality. We must take extra care to take back that ability at the theater exit or upon closing the novel. Other kinds of storytellers await us in the non-fictional world, and their motives do not include providing entertainment.

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