29 August 2008

Bitterness 2: or The Contemplation of Contempt

Words are powerful things, aren't they? The Reader's Digest tells me 'It Pays To Increase Your Word Power' and that's indeed true. For it's only while I've been analysing the word 'bitterness' that I have been led today to include a similar word 'contempt', which has taken me down a whole new line of contemplation. Wikipedia has the following interesting take on this:

Professor Robert C. Solomon places contempt on the same line continuum as resentment and anger. According to him the differences between the three emotions are that:

  • Resentment is directed toward a higher status individual
  • Anger is directed toward an equal status individual
  • Contempt is directed toward a lower status individual

Having spent a while identifying and dealing with Bitterness and Resentment in my own life, I now need to consider and deal with Contempt - and I suppose Anger as well, for completeness.
You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God's judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God's judgment? - Romans 2:1-3, NIV

27 August 2008

Bitter or Sweet?

One of the things that I've identified in my life recently is a tendancy towards bitterness. Regretfully I have yet to completely deal with the problem, however at least my diagnosis of the issue goes half-way to some sort of solution! Identifying who or what I'm bitter or resentful at is easy - it's how I tackle it that I need to work on.

I've been doing a study on Psalm 40 in my quiet time today and, lo and behold, the word 'bitterness' leapt out at me, prompting me to blog on this. God's timing is perfect. One of the ways I've been using this week to combat this ill-feeling is to remember to keep praising God in whatever circumstances I find myself. And you may known I've had some quite challenging ones lately!

"He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God." Psalm 40:3, NIV

I'm trying so very hard this week - the first week back after hols is always tough!

...and the point of all that was...

Many thanks to those of you who gave feedback to my brief A-Z of science fiction. Some wondered why I did it. Here's some of the reasons why:
  1. I wanted to commit myself to a regular series of blog posts, even if I was away with the family camping (thank heavens for posting options). After some negative comments lately from those supposedly close to me I needed to prove to myself I could set my own deadlines and complete the task. I've always enjoyed writing - even wanted to do it professionally once - so there's still that part of me that hankers for that lifestyle.
  2. I needed to try and find some use for the SF trivia that fills my brain and dominates much of my non-christian history. During my time as an SF fan I've met many who embrace the genre because it's the closest they have found to real friendship and love. So many fans are dismissed as being 'geeks' but I've met many different types - including those who experiment with drugs, sex and even the occult. Although a fan of the genre since my pre-teens, I only started attending fan conventions in the late Eighties and thankfully by then I had - and still have - Christ in my life to steer me right. Although science fiction is still my preferred style of entertainment it is while I was an SF fan that Christ called me, and despite the views of some of my Christian peers I don't feel challenged by Christ to give this up - yet. One Salvation Army officer once said it was possibly my mission field!
  3. I needed to identify that SF is such a broad topic, embracing much of what is now regarded as popular culture. There is a difficulty in defining what science fiction is - just try and Google it and you'll see. Damon Knight once said that "science fiction is what we point to when we say it". Norman Spinrad said that "science fiction is anything published as science fiction". Society seems to think it's all stories about robots or rocket ships. It's not - it's about exploring possibilities, using an fantastic premise to tell a tale that will tell us something about our own lives today. Yes, it's about keeping an open mind, or perhaps having your mind opened...
  4. It's sometimes that looking at these examples that you see yourself, or 'sides' to yourself. The optimistic side of Colin is like Michael Knight, the hero who knows that 'one man can make a difference'. Often I'm like Sam Beckett, feeling like he's been dropped by God into a situation and having to work out what to do. Most of the time I'm Phil from Groundhog Day, reliving the same day over and over again until I can get it right!
  5. Another reason for my slight change in the blog was that I needed to spend some time to explore things with God - to keep an open mind and search with Him for where He needs me to be right now. Over the last fortnight I've done quite a bit of 'wrestling with God' and have got a bit more to do. I expect I'll reveal more on this later. I'm now well aware of what I need to improve so I can beat the 90% rule and start to live for the 10%!

26 August 2008

Z is for Zathura

'Zathura: A Space Adventure' was directed by Jon Favreau and released in 2005. Based on an illustrated book by Chris Van Allsburg, many felt the film to be a sequel to Jumanji, although Favreau insisted it wasn't. The extreme similarities in plot and design (both were board games coming to life, however Zathura was set in a Fifites-style SF genre and not a jungle adventure) led to the film being known as "Jumanji in space without Robin Williams". Not a great film in the scheme of things, but how many other SF shows do you know beginning with Z? :)

25 August 2008

Y is for Yaaagh!

As we have discovered, science fiction has produced some meaningful work - but I'm a great believer in what I call 'the 90% rule'. That's the belief that nine times out of ten something is either just OK or in fact fails to make the grade - it's only one of of every ten that actually becomes a classic. Just look at any list of TV programmes - the hit parade - books. In fact, out of my 26 entries I've written for this bit of my blog you'll probably only thought that 2.6 were good, if my 90% rule applies. So, here's a list of some SF films and shows that were less that outstanding. 'Plan Nine From Outer Space' has already got a mention, but I don't apologise for ranting on again about this next film:

The Avengers (1998) - Radio Times film reviewer Alan Jones said of this turkey: "Ralph Fiennes and Uma Thurman couldn't be more miscast as John Steed and Emma Peel, here trying to stop villainous Sir August De Wynter (Sean Connery playing himself again) holding the world's weather to ransom and freezing London to an Arctic standstill. Ruthlessly edited before release and packed with arch one-liners, bad puns and vulgar double entendres, this is misguided and misbegotten to a simply staggering degree, while Jeremiah Chechik's mannered direction screeches the action to an unexciting halt at every flat turn. Terrible special effects and zero chemistry between Fiennes and Thurman make this notorious disaster a total waste of everyone's time and energy."

Santa Claus Conquers The Martians (1964) - a staggering tale about Martians who set out to Earth to kidnap Santa so he can make Martian children happy. However, Santa and two cute Earth kids turn the tables on the Martians. Yes, really...

Catwoman (2004) - generally reviled film version of the DC Comics character. Memorable because star Halle Berry personally accepted her Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Actress for this film!

Batman and Robin (1997) - highly criticised because of its ridiculous plot and awful performances (despite stars like George Clooney and Arnold Schwarzenegger). This film single-handedly brought Warner's billion-dollar Batman franchise to a halt for nearly a decade, until 2005 and the release of Batman Begins. Clooney even said that he would personally refund anyone who saw the film.

Mac and Me (1988) - a film about a boy in a wheelchair who befriends an alien. Clearly inspired by 'E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial', the film is little more than a vehicle to promote Coca-Cola and McDonald's. Ronald McDonald even gets a credit in the cast list of this turkey!

24 August 2008

X is for X-Files

'The X-Files' first aired in the States in 1993, an Emmy Award-winning TV series created by Chris Carter. The slogans for the show, (e.g., "The Truth Is Out There", "Trust No One") soon became catchphrases. However, it was the show's emphasis on the mistrust of governments and conspiracy theories which caught the public imagination at the time. FBI agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) played believer and skeptic, with other characters brought in to supplement. The show takes its name from the filing cabinet where they were kept - originally filed under U for unsolved, they grew too big for the drawer and were moved to the less populated X cabinet... A new film based on the series, entitled 'The X-Files: I Want To Believe' has just been released.

23 August 2008

W is for Westworld

A memorable 1973 thriller film by Michael Crichton, 'Westworld' starred Yul Brynner, Richard Benjamin, and James Brolin. Effectively splicing together SF and western genres, it told the story of a hi-tech amusement park called Delos. For $1,000 a day guests can recreate their fantasies in one of three zones - WesternWorld, MedievalWorld or RomanWorld. The worlds are populated by a series of androids, and there's said to be no moral consequences while they are there. However, things start to go horribly wrong....

22 August 2008

V is for Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea

Originally a SF film released in 1961 by 20th Century Fox, 'Voyage' was produced and directed by Irwin Allen, who was later nicknamed "The Master of Disaster" for his work in the disaster film genre. The film was reasonably well received, as it starred Walter Pidgeon and featured Barbara Eden, Peter Lorre and Frankie Avalon. The subsequent TV series was fairly cheap to produce, as detailed sets, props and scale models of the Seaview submarine already existed. Irwin also produced a number of other notable shows, Lost in Space, The Time Tunnel and Land of the Giants.

21 August 2008

U is for UFO

UFO was another series created by Gerry Anderson and Sylvia Anderson's Century 21 Productions. However, the show was the first totally live-action TV series for the team, and was aimed at an adult audience. Some really heavy subjects covered here, and the show wasn't scheduled well by ITV so only one series ever got made. The sets and props for a proposed second 'UFO' series eventually became 'Space: 1999', which wasn't quite the same sort of show. Oh well...

20 August 2008

T is for The Tomorrow People

Thames TV's children's series 'The Tomorrow People' is a show which I fondly remember from my childhood. Devised by Roger Price and running between 1973 and 1979, it told the story of 'the next stage of human evolution', where a child in their teenage years would experience a process called "breaking out", when they develop special abilities (telepathy, telekinesis, and teleportation). A wonderfully imaginative series, one to certainly catch the attention for any young person coming to terms with changes in moods and feelings during puberty.

19 August 2008

S is for Star Trek

As if anyone didn't know by now, 'Star Trek' is an SF entertainment series and media franchise. The original series of the show was created by Gene Roddenberry in 1966, and only ran for three seasons. The sophisticated stories used an SF storyline to reflect modern-day issues, using a style that has been compared to classical mythology. Reaction from a loyal fan following led subsequently to regular repeats, to a series of movies based on the show, and eventually to further TV series and novels, still produced to this day. The original TV series alone is generally recognised to be one of the biggest cult phenomena of modern times.

18 August 2008

R is for Red Dwarf

Although starting out very humbly, the BBC sitcom 'Red Dwarf' has now achieved somewhat of a global cult following. Creators Rob Grant and Doug Naylor have been writing partners, working on Three Of A Kind, Carrott's Lib and Spitting Image. Grant Naylor (as the duo became known) are probably best known for Red Dwarf, which is essentially a traditional British sitcom with a science fiction backdrop, as the comedy is essentially character-driven. Ratings have consistently grown since its launch in 1988, and the show has been on the brink of producing its own feature film for many years. It's not quite there yet, however we wait in hope.

17 August 2008

Q is for Quantum Leap

'Quantum Leap' was an American television series that ran for 96 episodes from 1989 to 1993, and featured quantum physicist Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula) leaping into a variety of different people in various points in history within his own lifetime. His only link with his own time was Al (Dean Stockwell), who appeared to Sam in the form of a hologram that nobody else could see or hear. An interesting show in terms of social commentary and nostalgia, the show leaves many questions about why Sam leaps open-ended, focussing instead on the message that a single person can change the world - one life at a time.

16 August 2008

P is for Plan 9 From Outer Space

Oh boy, where do I start? 'Plan 9 from Outer Space' is a SF/horror film written, produced and directed by Edward D. Wood, Jr. in 1958, and released in 1959. It is officially the leading contender for the title of "worst movie ever made" and has earned Ed Wood a posthumous Golden Turkey Award as the worst director of all time. The film boasts an appalling script, unconvincing special effects, and multiple production errors visible even in the final version of the film.

The story of the making of 'Plan 9' was recently made into a film of its own by Tim Burton, entitled 'Ed Wood'. Burton's film was critically hailed, which was more that Wood's films ever were.

15 August 2008

O is for Outer Limits

Similar in style to the earlier 'Twilight Zone', 'The Outer Limits' was an anthology show from the early Sixties, featuring science fiction stories, usually with a plot twist at the end. Many of the props from this series - and indeed some of the actors - eventually found their way into the original 'Star Trek' series, as Trek creator Gene Roddenberry was often present in their studios. "You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to... The Outer Limits."

14 August 2008

N is for Night At The Museum

A 2006 American adventure comedy film based on 'The Night at the Museum', a 1993 children's book by Milan Trenc, it's the tale of a divorced father trying to win back the affections of his son. He applies for a job as a night watchman at New York City's American Museum of Natural History and subsequently discovers that the exhibits come to life at night. The film featured a variety of stars (Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, Ricky Gervais, Steve Coogan, and Owen Wilson) and in addition to a pretty good fantasy film, is obviously an extended advert for the museum. A sequel is planned for 2009.

13 August 2008

M is for Mork And Mindy

'Mork And Mindy' was an American SF-based sitcom produced during 1978 - 1982. Unusually it was a spin-off from an non-SF show - the 50's nostalgia sitcom 'Happy Days'. So successful was the episode, which featured Robin Williams as an alien called Mork from planet Ork (sic), that a spin-off series followed within the year. Pam Dawber was cast as Mindy McConnell and the show reset in the present day. Although clearly just a vehicle for Williams' manic comedy, the show was an international success, and even allowed for some social commentary between the laughter.

12 August 2008

L is for Logan's Run

'Logan's Run' was a 1976 film based on the novel of the same name by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson. The society it depicted seemed idyllic, however there was a catch - the domed city was only kept in equilibrium by killing everyone who reaches the age of thirty. Those who didn't agree to this tried to run - hence the film's title. Often overlooked when compared to other SF titles, references to the film can still be found in popular culture.

11 August 2008

K is for Knight Rider

'One Man Can Make A Difference...' This was an American television series that ran from 1982 to 1986. Conceived and produced by Glen A. Larson, the show soon inspired a series of copycat high-tech crimefighter shows. "I wanted to do The Lone Ranger with a car", Larson said. "Kind of a sci-fi thing, with the soul of a western." The show starred David Hasselhoff as Michael Knight, a kind of modern-day "knight" who drove an advanced smart car with artificial intelligence (voiced by William Daniels). The show receives regular repeat airings.

10 August 2008

J is for Journey To The Centre Of The Earth

The novel 'A Journey to the Centre of the Earth' ('Voyage au centre de la Terre') is a classic 1864 science fiction novel by Jules Verne. Like many SF tales over the year, this one suffers from a common problem - the fact that perceived science at the time the story was written eventually proves part of the premise to be untrue. However, what some critics fail to grasp that the storyline is only a vehicle for the writer to express their own beliefs. Ultimately it's a good adventure tale, proven by the fact that the book has been adapted into feature film a number of times, the latest of which is a vehicle for Brendon Fraser (released this year).

9 August 2008

I is for The Incredibles

A 2004 computer-animated film produced by Pixar, 'The Incredibles' centred on the story of a family of superheroes. In a world where "supers" are commonplace, what would happen if a man rescued from a suicide bid and several victims of a subsequent train wreck decide to sue the superhero community? After all, that's what people do today... Anyway, back to the story. As part of the government's settlement, all superheroes are placed into a government-sponsored protection program similar to witness protection, and forbidden to use their powers. How would you feel if you had the means to help someone but couldn't?

8 August 2008

H is for Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy

Originally devised as a BBC Radio 4 comedy show in 1978, 'The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy' was later adapted to other formats (record, stage show, TV, novels, a film, even as a towel), and has become an international multi-media phenomenon (sic - so say Hitch-hiker Fans!). The series was created by Douglas Adams, who frequently rewrote the show substantially for each new adaptation, therefore the versions are often mutually contradictory. Essentially, the plot centres on Arthur Dent, the traditional 'common man', who is saved from the destruction of Earth by Ford Prefect, an alien researcher for the Guide. book, Accompanied by Galactic president Zaphod Beeblebrox, Marvin the Paranoid Android and Trillian (Tricia McMillan, a woman Arthur once met at a party in Islington), they set out to find the Question to the Ultimate Answer - the Answer To Life, The Universe And Everything.

7 August 2008

G is for Groundhog Day

'Groundhog Day' was a 1993 comedy film directed by Harold Ramis, and written by Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis. Bill Murray plays Phil, an egocentric TV weatherman who is covering the annual Groundhog Day event in Punxsutawney. For reasons that are not revealed, Phil finds himself repeating the same day, 2nd February, over and over again. After exploring all the possibilities that living a life without consequences to your actions may produce, Phil begins to re-examine his life and priorities. In 2006, the film was added to the United States National Film Registry as "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." As a vehicle for Bill Murray, it's a funny film; however, as a morality tale it's a unique tale of self-improvement, becoming a favourite of many Buddhist, Christian and Jewish leaders for its themes of selflessness and rebirth. Some have called it the "most spiritual film of our time."

6 August 2008

F is for Fireball XL5

Fireball XL5 was a SF-themed children's television show produced in 1962 by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, using Supermarionation. Thirty-nine black and white half-hour episodes were made on 35mm film - it is doubtless the fact that this was the last Anderson series made in black & white that the show is rarely repeated. Its successor, Stingray, is still repeated regularly. Oh well - we may see Steve Zodiac, Venus and Robert the Robot again one day...

5 August 2008

E is for Early Edition

'Early Edition' was a US TV series that aired between 1996 and 2000. Set in the city of Chicago, Illinois, it followed one man who attempts to prevent terrible events each day, which he learns about by receiving the next day's Chicago Sun-Times newspaper - he gets the paper the day before it is officially published. An interesting spin on a time travel premise. What would you do?

4 August 2008

D is for Doctor Who

In 1963, the BBC began production of the longest-running science-fiction television series ever, 'Doctor Who'. The adventures of the mysterious alien time-traveller known as "the Doctor" is now so part of international culture that the image of his blue box is now iconic; more people would know this image as 'The TARDIS' than ever would identify it as a means of communication for bobbies in the 1950s. The introduction of the concept of 'regeneration', which has so far enabled ten different actors to play the lead role, each in their own way, has been one reason for the show's success. The programme originally ran from 1963 to 1989, for twenty-six seasons. The show was successfully relaunched in 2005 by BBC Wales, and is still going strong.

3 August 2008

C is for Captain Scarlet

'Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons' was created by Century 21 Productions (Gerry Anderson, John Read, Reg Hill and Sylvia Anderson) between 1967 and 1968, and followed on from the international success of Thunderbirds in 1964-66. Although essentially shot in Supermarionation (a puppet series), this show gives us more than we bargained for. Think about it - we have a classic tale of good versus evil, the 'white hats' versus the 'black hats'. The good guys were known as Spectrum - made up from people of all nationalities and colours. Their leader was Colonel White. The person in charge of the enemy forces was Captain Black, a Spectrum agent that had 'fallen from grace' and now led the fight against Spectrum. The main character in the show was a man who had essentially conquered death and could not be killed, and his colour was Scarlet (the colour of blood). And to cap it all, Spectrum had their base in the heavens, protected by their own air force, known as 'Angels'.

2 August 2008

B is for Batman

Batman (or The Batman) was first created by artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger in Detective Comics #27 (May 1939). One of DC Comics most famous heroes, it is testimony to the success of the character in transferring to the mainstream that few need to be told that Batman is secretly Bruce Wayne, wealthy playboy and philanthropist. However, although many will remember the spoof TV series (1966-68), few will be aware of the original premise. The murder of his parents as a child, and his subsequent transformation into a masked vigilante clearly shows that Bruce himself has 'issues'. Remember, unlike other heroes in this fictitious world, the Dark Knight does not possess any superpowers; he makes use of his intellect and detective skills to overcome - as well as a collection of neat gadgets. The 1986 comic book mini-series 'Batman: The Dark Knight Returns' by Frank Miller eventually led to Tim Burton's 1989 'Batman' film, and Christopher Nolan's films 'Batman Begins' and 'The Dark Knight' have continued with this.

1 August 2008

A is for The Avengers

Clearly an essential part of what made the Sixties something special, 'The Avengers' was a distinctive series made by the British TV company ABC, created by its Head of Drama Sydney Newman (who also helped create 'Doctor Who'). An early example of 'spy-fi', combining secret agent storylines with science fiction elements, it featured a number of regular characters, working with the suave John Steed. Arguably the most popular of his assistants was the lovely Mrs Peel, who was especially written to give the show man appeal (M-appeal, Emma Peel, geddit?). The show saw a later spin-off with a pretty good sequel called 'The New Avengers', and a dreadful film adaption in 1998 (which I unfortunately paid good money to see - more on this under 'Y is for Yaaagh!'). Well. it's usually bad news when people try to remake a classic.