More Star Wars Changes? “NOOOO!”

Star Wars fans already griping about the upcoming Star Wars blu-rays have another reason to despise George Lucas. News has been released that in the climatic confrontation in Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (ROTJ), Darth Vader now yells out “Nooo” twice during the scene where he turns against the Emperor.  Observant fans will note that in this Youtube clip the audio is probably lifted from Vader’s dialogue in Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (the infamous “Noo” that the dark lord shouts when he learns he supposedly killed his wife).

Further tweaks done to the trilogies are basic minor clean ups. For instance a puppeteer’s arm is removed very briefly seen at the end of a furry wampa’s arm from Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, another example is that the lightsaber graphics have touch ups. Another more major change is that the Yoda puppet in Episode I: The Phantom Menace has been replaced by a CG model. There are also numerous audio changes throughout the films, one includes a different sounding krayt dragon call made by Ben Kenobi to ward off the Sandpeople in Episode IV: A New Hope. And it doesn’t stop there, all we know for now is to expect more “surprises” according to spokespeople from Lucasfilm. However, so far these changes aren’t as drastic as previous changes were, plus fans will be entreated to new deleted footage for the blu-rays.

But at this point, one has to wonder when will Lucas be satisfied with his finished product? Apparently never. As new technologies arrive the temptation to go back and fix the two trilogies could result in new reasons to triple or quadruple dip and buy new editions. Frankly, it’s doubtful that next month’s releases will be the final word. With the upcoming 3D re-releases of the Star Wars films, it’s likely that once 3D TV and blu-rays become more common that 3D versions of the films will be up for sale. And what better way to sweeten the pie than to offer more “surprises?” Which in the end makes one wonder if all this is just for financial gain.

The only recourse for purists is to either not buy anymore releases and just be content with their old VHS, DVDs and bootlegs or suck it up and buy the new editions. If the former is done in enough numbers then perhaps Lucas will heed the right kind of “Noooo” and the cycle of buying multiple copies of the films will stop. Honestly, if Lucas wants to make changes, how about re-doing the whole Ewok thing? Or phasing out Hayden Christensen with a better actor? Hey Lucas replaced a spectral older version of Anakin in ROTJ with Christensen.

Lewis T. Grove

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Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex

About an hour east of Orlando in Merritt Island, the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex cannot be called a theme park or a museum but it has elements of both. Like any healthy attraction, it’s constantly evolving and offering something new for visitors. And coming soon, the Complex will be the home for the just-retired Space Shuttle Atlantis.

Even though the shuttle isn’t ready for viewing yet that shouldn’t stop anyone whether they’re a space buff or not from visiting the Complex. There are plenty of displays, exhibits and fantastic presentations. It’s hard to see everything the Complex offers in a single day visit. This was not so in its past and it’s a testament to how the place has grown as a viable attraction.

The basic admission includes the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Tour, IMAX presentations (many of which are in 3D), the nearby U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame and the Complex’s grounds.

A popular attraction is the Shuttle Launch Experience, which simulates a shuttle launch for visitors. It’s a lot like the Mission: Space ride at Epcot only without the nausea, but it’s still a rough ride and according to many astronauts an authentic recreation of a shuttle liftoff. Next to the facility that houses the Shuttle Launch Experience is a well-detailed mock up of a shuttle called the Explorer. Visitors ascend a winding staircase to get into the craft’s hangar and further up for the cockpit.  And next to the Explorer are mock ups of the space shuttle’s external fuel tank and boosters, those and the shuttle make for memorable photo ops.

Other places to get photos include the Rocket Garden, an outdoor showcase of the rockets and capsules used during the ’60s. These include the Titan and Atlas rockets (plus a huge Saturn IB) and the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo capsules. In fact, visitors are allowed to climb into the claustrophobic. Nearby is the Early Space Exploration facility that features the actual capsules, artifacts and mission control consoles from the ’60s.

But the highlight of any visit is the KSC Tour. Although in-depth guided tours are available for additional fees, anyone can get a thorough visit with the KSC Tour. Buses at a terminal located off to the right of the Complex’s entrance plaza leave for the tour every fifteen minutes. A short ride will take visitors to the shuttles’ launch pads at the LC-39 Observation Gantry and even glimpse off in the distance the air force’s rocket launch pads. The next and final stop of the tour is a grand finale indeed. The Apollo/Saturn V Center boasts an overhead, mammoth 363-foot-long Saturn V rocket which rivals any giant dinosaur fossil display in a museum. There are also space suits, tools, a moon buggy and even a piece of moon rock that can be touched. Visitors can stay as long as they like in the Center before taking a bus back.

But the Complex isn’t just a place that looks at NASA’s past glories, there are many exhibits and attractions devoted to today’s space exploration. At the Astronaut Encounter Theater, visitors can meet and question guest astronauts. The Theater is also playing through December Star Trek Live, an engaging stage show featuring science facts and a time-travel themed storyline. Elsewhere, visitors can see up-close images from the Hubble Space Telescope or be part of Exploration Space: Explorers Wanted. An interactive, multimedia presentation on the possible future of space travel. There are even play areas in the Complex for children, a nature exhibit, an Astronaut Memorial, an art gallery and of course, souvenir shops.

To see everything at the Complex in one day is very difficult and not practical. So consider returning for a second visit. In fact, visitors who get their tickets validated when leaving can return for a second visit within a week. The admission prices are very favorable when compared to Orlando’s theme parks and the experience is much more educational and inspiring especially for future generations.

Article and Images by José Soto

Top 10 Marvel Movie Villains

With Marvel’s superheroes blazing their way across movie screens, one factor for the films’ success is the supervillain(s) the heroes face. As any good storyteller will tell you, the vital ingredient for a gripping yarn is a formidable foe to put the story’s protagonist to the test.

marvel movie villain

Being that the Marvel superheroes have such memorable enemies and that they translate well to the screen it’s one reason why the Marvel films have been successful. Naturally, with future Marvel films coming up, this list will change, but that’s part of the fun in making up these lists. So for now, these are the top ten villains to appear in Marvel movies…and the five worst.

Ivan Vanko10. Ivan Vanko in Iron Man 2 (Mickey Rourke): Combining elements of Whiplash and the Crimson Dynamo for the big screen, Vanko is a cold, deadly and enraged Iron Man foe who was much more engaging than the original film’s Obadiah Stane or this one’s Justin Hammer.

9. Emil Blonsky/The Abomination in The Incredible Hulk (Tim Roth): Come on, the guy had the balls to go up against the Hulk man to man! That’s one tough SOB, and yes when he becomes The Abomination and fights the Hulk it looks like something out of  a video game. But it was a lot more fun than that turgid Ang Lee film.

8. Bullseye in Daredevil (Colin Farrell): One of the bright spots in that film, Bullseye had a maniacal sense of energy, ego and deadliness that upstaged Daredevil and gave him a personal motivation for trying to defeat the title hero.

7. The Red Skull/Johann Schmidt in red skull hugo weavingCaptain America: The First Avenger (Hugo Weaving): A bit one-dimensional but well-played by Weaving  as an uber Nazi whose ambitions elevate his evil to another level altogether.

green goblin spidey 16. The Green Goblin/Norman Osborn in Spider-Man (Willem Dafoe): The outfit stunk otherwise the Goblin would’ve ranked higher. Dafoe, however, gives Osborn his all as a crazed CEO with fantastic gadgets and (aside from the outfit) largely works as a villain.

5. Col. William Stryker in X2 (Brian Cox): Despite not having any powers, Stryker is one terrifying person whose bigotry and fear of mutants is a driving force that threatens the lives of the film’s mutants whether they’re hero or villain.

4. The New Goblin/Harry Osbron in new goblinSpider-Man 2 and Spider-Man 3 (James Franco): A true tragic villain, Harry doesn’t become bad until the end of Spider-Man 2 where the agony of his father’s death and his own inadequacies unhinge him. His hatred for Peter Parker/Spider-Man, the means he goes about seeking vengeance and his final tragic redemption are the best things in the third Spider-Man film.

doctor octopus3. Doctor Octopus/Otto Octavius in Spider-Man 2 (Alfred Molina): The best of the science-driven-mad villains. Molina gives us a very dimensional Doc Ock who isn’t driven by world conquest or revenge but to achieve a scientific goal. Never mind that trying to create his version of fusion threatens the world. Calculating and arrogant even before his accident, Octavius paid the price for his arrogance and was a formidably tough foe for Spider-Man.

2. Loki in Thor (Tom Hiddleston): One loki in thorof the biggest surprises wth Thor is how subtle and crafty Loki came off. It would’ve been easy with a title as God of Mischief to have him be a Norse god version of The Joker and be cackling and chaotic. Instead, thanks largely to Hiddleston’s quiest expressions, Loki is seen sympathetically as the seemingly less-favored son who holds a secret grudge against his brother Thor. The film successfully shows why Loki detests his situation and why he turns on his family; it’s more layered than him finding out his true origin. Rather his envy and anger are due to his own insecurities, Thor’s arrogance and is his validation for taking over Asgard through crafty means.

old magneto1. Magneto/ Erik Lehnsherr in X-Men, X2, and X-Men: The Last Stand ( Ian MacKellen): As one of the deadliest and most powerful villains, Magneto is someone you can’t help empathize with considering his background; he’s a World War II concentration camp survivor. He developed a hatred for non-mutants who persecuted his own kind,  thus making him feel justified in his actions against society. Magneto was usually one step ahead of Professor X and willing to go the extra distance to achieve his goals whether it involved harming a young girl or firing a gun point blank at a cop with his magnetic powers. Despite his age, Magneto was someone to take seriously as a foe and was also the mirror image, in terms of idealogy, of Professor X’s dream of peaceful co-existance with humans. Sadly, many of humanity’s actions throughout the original trilogy only added fuel to his cause and made viewers wonder as to who was truly evil or misguided.

new magnetoSpecial shout outs in no particular order go to Mystique (Rebecca Romijin Stamos) in the X-Men films, Venom/Eddie Brock (Topher Grace) in Spider-Man 3, The Kingpin/Wilson Fisk (Michael Clarke Duncan) in Daredevil, Jared Nomak (Luke Goss) in Blade II, and Magneto/ Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) in X-Men: First Class.  Fassbender’s portrayal of Magneto was good enough to make the top ten list but for most of the movie he is actually an anti-hero who only becomes truly villainous by the film’s end.

And now for the five worst. Before getting to the these turds let it be noted that all it takes to sink a film (sometimes singlehandedly) is a poor villain. When coming up with a screenplay attention must be paid to the villain’s motivation, execution and threat level. It’s a hard thing to pull off; when it works you have a great movie when it doesn’t you have a franchise killer. So here they are, the Marvel movie villain Hall of Shame inductees:

5. Howard Saint in The Punisher (John Travolta): You know as a villain you’re in trouble when the colorful assassins you send after the Punisher like the Russian are more interesting than you.

4. Toad in X-Men (Ray Park): Talk about hamming it up! That scene at the Statue of Liberty when Toad tries to mock Storm with his silly dancing earned him a good lightning strike that ensured that he didn’t return in the sequels.

3. Blackheart/Legion in Ghost Rider (Wes Bentley): Boring, boring, boring! Generic demonic foe that looks more like a goth reject than the son of Mephisto. His father was a more intriguing foe yet this film chose to focus instead on this bratty emo.

doctor doom 2005

2. Dr. Doom/Victor Von Doom in Fantastic Four (Julian McMahon): This is miscasting at its worst. McMahon was terrific as the narcissistic plastic surgeon in Nip/Tuck but lacked the gravitas to be Marvel’s most infamous and regal villain. Everyone expected an Eastern European despot but got your standard egotistical CEO and coming so soon after Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin performance it just drew unfavorable comparisons. In trying to tie his origin with the Fantastic Four and making him a mutated being, this film robs the character of his rich backstory and menace. In this film he’s just a poor Goblin/Magneto/Electro knock-off. He was more like his comic book counterpart, power-hungry and more Machiavellian in the sequel but that film’s awfulness wiped out any improvement made to Doom’s character.

1. Galactus in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer: Destroyer of worlds, nearly omnipotent, a force of nature personified by a giant being with that wonderfully whacky Kirby outfit, that is how fans conceive of Galactus. Do we get this on film? No! We get a cloud. A stormy cloud. Seriously how lazy is this? What’s equally laughable is the filmmakers’ attempt to explain why they went with a cloud, apparently they wanted to leave it up to whoever did a Silver Surfer film to have a free reign designing Galactus. All this did was help to scuttle that film and any followups to the Fantastic Four. The execution reeks of not being imaginative and/or having a limited f/x budget. It was the ultimate payoff that never happened and signified the film’s problems. There was too much going on in the movie to adequately explore the most famous Fantastic Four story, it would have been better to end it with a cliffhanger even if it never happened. It would have left less of a bad taste.

José Soto

Inheritors

In the Planet Of The Apes film series, humanity’s simian relatives have inherited the Earth in the far future. It’s a fascinating premise, that humankind currently the dominant life form will one day be supplanted. This goes back as early as with H.G. Wells’ classic The Time Machine, where that book’s narrator time travels to the distant future to find that humans no longer exist.

However with The Time Machine and the Apes films, the future rulers of the Earth are related to us. In the case of Wells’ story, humanity evolved into two distinct species the predatory Morlocks and the cattle-minded Eloi. But is this what will happen? Who is to say that our evolutionary branch will continue to dominate the world? For all we know, the eventual rulers will be based upon other animal species currently sharing the world with us. Or they could be something else. Let’s look at some candidates in a post-human world.

Rodents

There’s a good case to be made that some kind of rodent will dominate the world. They are a hardy species able to survive in just about in every environment. Rats are notoriously difficult to eradicate since they are very intelligent and durable. It’s easy to imagine a world where rodents become the dominant species. In Dougal Dixon’s book After Man: A Zoology Of The Future, a future Earth is presented where  rodent dog-like species called the falanx and bear-like bardelots are the top predators. Rodents have also filled other ecological niches in this future world. So it’s easy to imagine how a sentient rodent species could arise from this environment further along into the future.

Insects

This is harder to imagine but not impossible. What impedes insects from becoming dominant life forms is the environment. Earth’s gravity and atmosphere prevent insects from ever growing very large. Over 400 million years ago in the Devonian Era insects grew into monsters because of Earth’s higher oxygen content and temperatures. If such conditions were to be repeated and if there aren’t any competitors then it’s conceivable that insects could rule the land again and from there possibly lead to sentient insects. The potential for insect intelligence already exists with social insects like bees, wasps and ants. The latter are excellent candidates with their complex social hierarchies. Compared to bees and wasps, ants are very common and one species, the driver ant in EastAfrica, is a true terror capable of killing small animals. Phase IV was a movie released in 1974 that was about a newly evolved species of ants that developed a hive intelligence and began supplanting humanity. It may be far-fetched given humanity’s resilience and other competitors but given the right conditions then the opportunity is there for the insects.

Artificial Intelligence

Pretty cut and dried, the Singularity arrives in a few decades or so, Skynet comes online, etc. Humanity is enslaved or exterminated by sentient computers and robots. There is no Neo or John Connor to the rescue. Who knows what the computers do after we’re gone? Maybe they find Earth too confining or completely strip its resources and leave for the stars. Afterwards the microbes that survive will eventually yield to complex life millions of years later. It’s anyone’s guess as to what the new top life forms will be.

Marine Mammals

Dolphins and whales come to mind but despite arguments about the level of their intelligence one important factor impeding their capability for social and technological advancement is their inability to manipulate their environment. They lack appendages that allow them to handle objects. Perhaps if some cetacean evolves to return to land they can develop ambidextrous hands. But that could happen instead to the pinnipeds, namely seals. As with the insects, much depends on environmental factors. A flooded Earth will do.

Reptiles

There could be a second age of reptiles that leads to new kinds of dinosaurs. It’s happened before so it can happen again. Only this time the reptiles or neo dinosaurs evolve into a sentient species. There are several sci-fi stories that present advanced dinosaurs with technology. Harry Harrison’s alternate history book trilogy West of Eden is a good example. In Stephen Baxter’s Evolution, readers are introduced to sapient dinosaurs. Star Trek: Voyager had an episode in the third season called “Distant Origin” that featured a reptilian alien race that turned out to be dinosaurs that left Earth millions of years ago. Of course no such beings have been found in the fossil records…yet. Then again dinosaurs ruled the Earth for millions of years and they included bipedal forms with complex claws but never developed sentience as far as we know.

The Rest

Other candidates include birds. They had their chance when the dinosaurs died out but mammals beat them to the punch. As with cetaceans their lack of manipulating limbs could’ve hindered them.  Perhaps an evolutionary throwback that reintroduces hand-like claws might do the trick. Pigs are reputedly very intelligent as are elephants. But with elephants they are on the verge of extinction, seeing them taking over is difficult. Pigs are versatile creatures  but lack manipulating organs unless their flexible snouts evolve into trunks giving them a chance. The list goes on, many animal species can be candidates for evolving into a sentient, sapient race. Frankly, there are many variables that can’t be completely accounted for so we’ll just stick with our imagination for now.

Lewis T. Grove

Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes Brings New Life To The Apes Series

More than a prequel, more than a remake or even a reboot, Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes is stunning, moving and cautionary tale of man and his hubris which ultimately causes his downfall.

Strictly speaking the film is a remake of the fourth film of the original Apes series Conquest of the Planet of the Apes and it completely changes the reason why the main character of the chimpanzee called Caesar is intelligent. In the original, for non-fans, the reason for Caesar’s intelligence and ability to speak is because his parents were super intelligent apes who time traveled to the modern era. It makes perfect sense in that film’s logic only it never explains why the other enslaved apes are nearly human in appearance and intelligent.

In this film, the reason for Caesar’s rise is due to genetic engineering and therein lies the movie’s mantra about mankind’s folly and the unexpected consequences of actions both good and bad.

Dr. Will Rodman (played with compassion by James Franco) is a scientist looking for a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease. He develops a retrovirus and administers it to a laboratory chimp with exciting results since she quickly shows signs of human-level intelligence. Unfortunately she is killed but not before giving birth to a baby chimp. Unwilling to have the baby infant put to sleep, Rodman sneaks  him home. Soon he discovers that the chimp (that is then named Caesar) has inherited and surpassed his mother’s uncanny intelligence.

Years pass and Rodman is trying to perfect the retrovirus as he raises Caesar and administers the cure to his ailing father (John Lithgow) who also forms his own bond with the ape. Sadly this bond brings out Caesar’s primal and protective nature which causes him to be removed from Rodman’s home and imprisoned in an ape facility. The cruel treatment he and other apes receive from the handlers there hardens Caesar against mankind and foments a simian revolution.

Before long a new version of the retrovirus is developed in Rodman’s company that can be administered as an inhalant. However, while this new strain boosts simian intelligence it turns out to be lethal to humans. At the same time, Caesar builds alliances with the other imprisoned apes (one of which is a sympathetic friendly orangutan called Maurice, who is naturally smart)and is able to escape from the facility. Caesar steals samples of the new virus and uses them to liberate his own kind. The results are one of the most thrilling and rousing uprisings seen on film.

One can’t help but root for the apes while at the same time be taken aback by their brutality and sheer power. Of course, it’s a story that speaks out against the way animals are treated not just by the medical/scientific community but how we as a species view our fellow creatures in zoos, as pets and in the wild.

Kudos should go all around to everyone who made this film possible from the actors (Franco, Lithgow, Frieda Pinto, Tom Felton, etc.) to writers Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver to director Rupert Wyatt (these three have reinvigorated the Apes saga in one fell swoop) to Weta Digital. Yes, you can tell in many scenes that CGI is being used, which makes one wonder if real-life apes could’ve been used in many scenes, but honestly it doesn’t take away from the story. That is a sign of a truly great film. Take the original Planet of the Apes, King Kong or Jaws. We know that the filmmakers in those days used dated f/x to bring their creations to life but the audience doesn’t care since they’re so caught up in the storytelling.

Special accolades go to Andy Serkis for his performance capture of Caesar. As with Gollum from The Lord of the Rings films he really brings his creations to life. He and the filmmakers make Caesar the main protagonist as he is transformed from a gifted child prodigy to a tortured prisoner to finally a heroic liberator and leader who despite his hardships holds onto a sense of decency. Serkis deserves at least a special Oscar for his work in this movie.

Viewers don’t have to be fans of the previous films to enjoy this cinematic triumph, which skillfully throws in many references to the series including a Charlton Heston cameo and his famous line from the original film “Get your stinkin’ paws off me you damn, dirty ape!” The line is followed by one of the most powerful one-word replies heard on screen. There are many ways the story can be continued and this film is peppered with many suggestions of potential sequel ideas.

Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes is a must-see for any film lover, it’s not only the best film of the summer but also one of the year’s best.

José Soto