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November 24, 2008

"It's not a crime to be an a**hole, but it's very counter-productive."

Here we are, another Thanksgiving almost upon us (damn, I'm starting to sound like a Peanuts holiday special!). Now that I have a BD player, I'm almost tempted to brave the Black Friday sales to score a couple of titles I might have bought, had the regular price not been so high. I've said it before, but BD movies on the whole are too expensive. I know the companies want to recoup their R&D costs, but if they want the market to grow much beyond the enthusiast realm, they need to be selling new hit movies for less; $25 is not a good price for most people. BD has the most potential to compete with the growing download market as it has a leg-up in quality. DVD doesn't and it's in the studios' best interests (assuming they want to keep selling discs) to ramp this thing up quickly. I know that the prices on these movies will come down, which is why I'm mainly using rental to enjoy the new format. And yes, the new BDs look very good. Like I said last time, the difference on my admittedly limited setup (1080i scaled to XGA) isn't dramatic, but it does look better. And I will be able to reap the benefits of the 1080p picture when I get a better display down the road. Blah blah blah...let's get on to this week's new stuff:

24: Redemption

Beverly Hills, 90210: Season 6

Bottle Rocket (1996) Criterion issues the Wes Anderson film.

Chungking Express (1994, Criterion version).

A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All (2008) I may have to give this one a rent...

Fred Claus (2007) Also on BD.

Hancock (2008) Also on BD.

Lady with the Dog (1960)

Meet Dave (2008) Also on BD.

The Mod Squad: Season 2, Vol. 1

Sounder (1972)

Space Chimps (2008) And yes, even this one is available on BD!

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965) Criterion reissues this cold war classic as a 2 disc set. The existing DVD is featureless, so this should be very good. I will certainly buy this when it makes it to BD as this is a favorite of mine.

Superman Doomsday Gotta love an animated Superman where the Man of Steel is voiced by Jayne (Adam Baldwin) from Firefly! Also on BD.

November 19, 2008

TOS Rewind #23: "This Side of Paradise"

Our latest installment: This Side of Paradise (03-02-1967)

There was no drink this time ("who wants to counteract paradise, Jim-boy!"), but if I had my act together, I'd have come up with a Mint Julep.

Andy and I did a podcast for this one last year: check it out here.

Eric begins this time:

This will be a short review. Not because “This Side of Paradise� isn’t a good original Trek episode. Actually, it’s in my top twenty (maybe ten) favorite episodes, but Doc and Andy already did a podcast that covers it very nicely.

All in all, it’s a good story. The science is best left unexamined, but the intent is to look at what happens when people are offered (or in this case, thrust into) paradise. Does it work? Can they be content?

But before we get to that, a few thoughts about the character development in this episode. Spock gets the spotlight and the girl, both of which are good to see. We get a rare glimpse at his human half and the “self-made purgatory� he lives in thanks to Leonard Nimoy’s wonderfully sympathetic performance. Spock’s loneliness and quiet dignity are quite touching, and his gentleness with Leila Kalomi (especially when he has to reject her) gives a clue to why the character was, and perhaps still is, so popular with women. I also heard an interview with Nimoy where he said that he got a great many letters from teenagers in relation to this episode, most likely because Spock’s isolation and feelings of being alone and misunderstood quite understandably resonated with teenage kids.

So now to the premise of the story: humans are not meant for, or well-suited to, paradise. The only reason the colonists and the Enterprise crew are happy and content in the idyllic existence provided by the spores is because those same spores drug them into euphoria. (A none-too-subtle dig against the 60s counter-culture.) And when the influence of the spores is broken, everyone is dismayed and ashamed at their lack of productivity and progress. Kirk sums it up by saying:

"Maybe we weren't meant for paradise. Maybe we were meant to fight our way through – struggle, claw our way up, scratch for every inch of the way. Maybe we can't stroll to the music of the lute. We must march to the sound of drums."

My response to this is: why? Of course I’m a hedonist, but this episode doesn’t explain why peace and happiness and the healthy pursuit of pleasure can’t go hand in hand with progress. We as a race, Americans in particular, struggle and fight and claw because we can’t see out of the desperate, insanely competitive box our ancestors put us in.

So, despite the fact that “This Side of Paradise� is a good story and one of my top twenty episodes, I don’t agree with its conclusion. If humans must “scratch for every inch of the way,� it’s because we choose for it to be that way, not because there’s some unwritten law that decrees it must be that way.


I don't really have much of anything new to what I said on the podcast, but I'll summarize.

Growing up, I don't remember this being a real favorite, though Spock beating the crap out of Kirk had its allure. It was a lot of people in jumpsuits, romance with fluffy flute music, and some fake spore-throwing plants. So, not a lot of space action.

The obvious read, which Eric got into, is the mankind vs. paradise theme, which has been done before in Trek. Humans were offered paradise and walked out on their own, with a swift kick in the ass by Kirk (typical!). Just like "Return of the Archons," the people are in an involuntary paradise where very little seems to get done. Both episodes end with comments about getting on with what they're supposed to be doing (running a farm colony/building a society). In comparison however, the folks on Omicron Ceti III sure seem to have a better time (maybe they occasionally got rape/pillage fun time on the farm). The Communism vs. Individualism (American) idea is more solid here. Hell, they all wear the same jumpsuits and work on a coop farm. They could also be a group of Amish (oops, there's religion again!).

Another obvious variation on this is the idea of the spores as drugs. Pot would be the one that comes to mind. I seem to remember one of the crew talking up the plants in a stoner-like voice, "take a close look at these plants, sir!" (Dude, check out these plants!) And of course when Kirk snaps Spock out of his high, he realizes how wrong it is while still recognizing how good it made him feel while he was under its influence.

Speaking of Spock, this is obviously a real character piece for Spock. The spores unlock his emotional human side so he can have a fling with Leila, a woman from his past. The scenes with the two of them romping around in the California grass are nice and whatever you may think of the concept, Nimoy makes the most of this role here. If it wasn't for the hippy-dippy effect of the spores, I'd have a hard time buying that Leila is any kind of scientist. She does, however, get lots of soft focus on her closeups and that same flute-string music we've heard before. Very old-school.

McCoy gets to revert to his folksy booze-swilling self, which is a lot of fun.

Kirk somehow avoids the effects until the end. Apparently his potential loss of the ship broke the spell. One has to ask: wouldn't there be other people on board, faced with the prospect of never seeing their families again, who also would have had this reaction? Oh well, Kirk has the will and he saves the ship again. The scene in the transporter room where he has to piss off Spock is inspired.

"Does she know what she's getting, Spock? A carcass full of memory banks who should be squatting on a mushroom instead of passing himself off as a man. You belong in a circus, Spock, not a starship – right next to the dog-faced boy." Squatting on a mushroom? Wow, that's harsh!

In the end I have to agree with Eric. This doesn't seem so bad, even if it sounds horribly boring. No matter what Kirk might say, there are worse lots in life than to lay about under the trees with the occasional shift at the co-op farm.

Damn, time to get back to work!

Next time: "The Devil in the Dark"

November 17, 2008

"Man, I don't drop character 'till I done the DVD commentary."

Wow, some actual hits this week. It appears that those who can afford to buy stuff this holiday season will be getting some deals ($129 BD players/$700 50" plasmas). Me? I'm really going to try and cut back this year; a number of people I know have said the same thing. Not a good year for the retail biz (or many others actually). So, let's get to it:

Bones: Season 3

Daniel Boone: Season 6

Doctor Who: The Complete Fourth Series

Encounters at the End of the World (2007) Also on BD (I'm going to be lazy and use this abbreviation for Blu-Ray Disc from now on).

Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (2007)

Priceless (2006) Also on BD.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 (2008) Also on BD.

Star Trek: The Original Series - Season 3 Remastered

Tropic Thunder (2008) Also on BD.

WALL-E Also on BD.

November 11, 2008

"Well, it's time for Mr. Dee-dee Doo-doo to say good night."

I have an update on my recent venture into Blu-Ray below. But first, here's what we have coming out this week on DVD/Blu-Ray.

The Boys in the Band (1970)

Father Knows Best: Season 2

Firefly: The Complete Series Now on Blu-Ray. I'm trying to find out if this version has any new features or just the series in HD. Serenity is coming on 12/30.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army Also on Blu-Ray.

JFK: Ultimate Collectors Edition Another reissue of the Stone film, both formats this time. DVD Savant reviews the Blu-Ray version, which is worth a read for his take on the film in a post-Bush/Cheney era. It can be found here. "Does JFK seem more credible now because the Garrison/Stone theories have been supported by new evidence --- or because we've become more convinced that our government is capable of lies and conspiracies?"

Mind of Mencia: Uncensored: Season 4

Night Gallery: Season 2

Scrubs: Season 7

Star Wars: The Clone Wars Also on Blu-Ray.

Walt Disney Treasures Another series of Disney material, new to DVD. This round includes three releases (in the usual tins): The Chronological Donald, Vol. 4 - 1951-1961, The Mickey Mouse Club Presents Annette - 1957-1958, and Dr. Syn–Alias the Scarecrow.

Over the weekend, I jumped into the Blu-Ray market (thanks to my Mom: generous birthday present!) by acquiring the Panasonic DMP-BD30K. It is last year's model, but is a very solid machine with great A/V quality. It was also a great deal. This is what's known as a profile 1.1 player. The newest models are 2.0. The main thing I don't get on this player that the newer (2.0) ones have is a network connection for interactive features and firmware updates over the Internet. Neither of these are a huge deal for me since I have yet to see any 2.0 'net features that appeal to me and I am capable of burning CDRs for firmware updates. I also figure that by the time I get another player, they'll all have the more advanced features at a lower price anyway.

Alas, firmware updates seem to be a fact of life for Blu-Ray owners. Often, older players (and some new ones) need updates to even play some of the newer discs. Blu-Ray players are really dedicated PCs that have much more complex hardware/software than DVD players. The newer BD movies that are loaded up with bonuses tend to "break" the player code that runs the machine. The recent James Bond discs required firmware updates from several manufacturers to even play, let alone run all the bonuses. Any disc-based home video format that wants to succeed in the mass market is going to need to get beyond this kind of thing. While I, a tech geek can cope with mucking about downloading updates, your average consumer isn't going to tolerate it so easily. They'd best get their act together if HD video on disc is going to survive long-term in the face of competition from cable on-demand and downloads.

It was just over ten years ago that I bought my first DVD player (yes, nostalgia about A/V formats!), a Panasonic A110. The A110 was a second generation player, so it seems somehow appropriate that the BD player I just got is a second gen one itself. In addition, the first title I picked up in the new format was L.A. Confidential (1997). This was one of the first movies I bought on the then-year-old DVD format. The new Blu-Ray version looks fantastic (the movie is still great itself) and is a nice upgrade to the old disc, which was no slouch back in '98.

Blu-Ray is cool and for the moment the highest quality form of video one can get in the home. Having said this, I had some hesitation about buying into yet another video format. After all, I've been through Betmax, VHS, LaserDisc, and DVD. With the exception of VHS, each was an improvement over what I had before. I had the thought of buying some kind of HD network media box, such as the AppleTV or the Popcorn Hour box. I do watch a fair amount of 'net-acquired video; these devices are really nice for this material. However, the quality of what you can download, legally or not, isn't up to the level of Blu-Ray. Plus, I already have DVD players that can play this stuff. Maybe one day I'll get a device that does both (a PS3 is an option here, but I didn't want to spend that much).

Ah, the media format. I still like owning a physical copy of the films I truly care about, even if I've moved toward downloaded copies of more throw-away entertainment, such as TV show. I realize that this may be the last physical media format I own. One of the first pre-recorded movies I ever bought was a Beta copy of Star Trek III in 1985 (hey, I'm 40 now so I'm gonna do a "get off my lawn" blog moment!).


Yes, I still own it.

The tape cost around $30. This is nearly $60 in 2008 dollars for a tape in pan/scan with analog sub-480 resolution. In 1985, this was the best way to watch this at home. It also had hi-fi-stereo sound. Yes, it was way cool to own a movie like this uncut, not taped off TV, but if you played it back on a hi-fi VCR, it sounded great. The difference between conventional mono VHS/Beta soundtracks and the hi-fi (VHS had a similar upgraded sound track) track was not subtle. I really loved watching that tape, even on a 19" analog TV. Today, it's junk. So, my fondness (or sickness) for owning movies (or music, but that's another blog) on a physical media format goes way back.

I'm looking forward to watching more films on the new format, even though the fact that I can't play the discs on any other machines is annoying. Also annoying is the fact that I can't even play it back on any of my Macs, let alone rip it and transfer it to another device. I'm sure this will change, but for the moment, BD is an elite exclusive format. Stay tuned...

November 3, 2008

"We don't 'ka-frickin-boom' here."

It's over 70 degress here today; gorgeous weather. Maybe the last for a long time.

So, what better time to check out this week's new releases! A lot of the items on the linked list are box sets of previously released movies, in time for the sure-to-be-bountiful holiday buying season! If you're really curious, go check them out...

Chill (2007)

Futurama: Bender's Game (2008) Also on Blu-Ray.

Get Smart (2008) Also on Blu-Ray.

King Fu Panda (2008) Also on Blu-Ray.

Spin City: Season 1

Transsiberian (2008) Also on Blu-Ray.

Good luck voting tomorrow!

...you *are* going to vote, right?!...