Dreaming on the Screen

I don’t tend to watch tele­vi­sion or movies as often as I read, and I really didn’t pay much atten­tion to SF&F movies or tele­vi­sion for a long time. I think I expected all of them to be some­thing like Star Trek, and I’ve never been a Trekkie at all. I’ve never seen most of the episodes of any ver­sion of Star Trek (TOS, TNG, DS9, Voy­ager, etc.) — I caught a few episodes of TOS and it just didn’t ever grab me. I haven’t seen all the movies, and cer­tainly haven’t read the books. Every once in a while that makes me feel like a real freak if I go to a sci-​​fi con­ven­tion!

It Started With Babylon5

Any­way, my for­mer SO got me to watch Babylon5 with him — just try it. Once. Really. Of course, he showed me the first part of a two-​​part episode, which was cheat­ing — and then insisted that I watch all the pre­vi­ous episodes (two sea­sons worth, as I recall) before see­ing part two! (Yes, he does have every sin­gle episode from the entire series on tape.) Of course I was com­pletely hooked by then, and con­tin­ued watch­ing through the rest of the series’ five-​​year run.

The biggest dif­fer­ence between Babylon5 and any­thing else I’ve seen is the qual­ity of the writ­ing, and the fact that there is a cohe­sive story that con­nects the entire series. The arc may be moved along a lot in one episode, and barely at all in another, but it is always there. I like that much more than the solely episodic nature of Star Trek. B5 also has very good spe­cial effects for a TV show. I’m not espe­cially into effects, but I know that I find most of the ones in B5 fairly believ­able, unlike so many other shows and movies.

The char­ac­ters also make B5 pretty spe­cial. They aren’t painted in black and white – even the main char­ac­ters have their faults. And you can’t be sure that a main char­ac­ter will always be around, as they’ve been killed off in the past. You don’t have one char­ac­ter who’s always the hero, but rather a group of peo­ple who are all work­ing together. There is at least one love story going on between two main char­ac­ters, but that isn’t the main thing in their lives or in the show. They’ve shown women being strong, assertive fight­ers who are still fem­i­nine, and men who are sen­si­tive but cer­tainly not wimpy. These are all Good Things in my book.

And Then Came Xena

Katie some­how got me to watch Xena: War­rior Princess. She even got me to learn how to pro­gram the VCR so I could tape and pre-​​screen the episodes before she saw them (they aren’t all appro­pri­ate for chil­dren by any means). Heck, she even got me to go try horse­back rid­ing because she wanted to be like Xena, and to have a cool Xena cos­tume sewn for her a few Hal­loweens back. Well, how much harm can it do — I’d cer­tainly rather have her emu­lat­ing Xena than Barbie!

I can’t claim that my fond­ness for Xena is solely due to Katie, though. The show is entirely unbe­liev­able, but hap­pily, campily so. It doesn’t claim to be true to tra­di­tional Greek mythol­ogy. It hops around from sto­ries involv­ing Aphrodite to retelling the Bib­li­cal story of David and Goliath. The com­bat scenes are sil­lier than any­thing I’ve seen since the 60’s Bat­man TV show. And all that’s just fine – if you’ve sus­pended your dis­be­lief enough to think that a war­rior is going to run around in a leather miniskirt and armored bustier, what can’t you believe?

Xena is funny and smart and moody and no-​​nonsense. She’s strong and irrev­er­ent. She has, and acknowl­edges, her dark side, although she strives to be a good per­son. Nei­ther she nor Gabrielle is ditzy – they’re occa­sion­ally silly, and Gabrielle is naïve at times, but they aren’t stu­pid. They’re both strong while stay­ing very fem­i­nine. And, revers­ing the more tra­di­tional order of things, they’re usu­ally res­cu­ing the men­folk rather than being res­cued. I have to like that role rever­sal! I have to say I don’t like the sto­ry­lines in the last sea­son or so with the whole mes­sianic thing as much as I liked the ear­lier, campier episodes — but they’re still enter­tain­ing and engag­ing. I do like the fact that Gabrielle has grown and changed into a very dif­fer­ent per­son than she was in the ear­lier seasons.

Buffy Snuck In

I didn’t even plan to watch one episode of Buffy: The Vam­pire Slayer — in fact, I don’t think I knew it was a show, though I’d heard of the movie when it came out sev­eral years back. We didn’t even have cable at the time, and rab­bit ears don’t really work that well in our area. But I was ordered to bed rest due to a back injury, tired of read­ing and stitch­ing, and bored silly, so I picked up the remote one night and started flip­ping chan­nels. There were a group of teenagers toss­ing off wise­cracks while fight­ing peo­ple with weird ridged fore­heads, yel­low eyes and fangs. The too-​​skinny blonde was obvi­ously some sort of super­heroine — no, not believ­able, but hey, it’s tele­vi­sion. The dia­logue pulled me in. I watched the rest of the show and found myself watch­ing it again the next week.

While I still haven’t seen all the episodes (though a friend has them all on tape, and says he’ll loan them to me), I’ve seen a fair num­ber of them and read most of the orig­i­nal nov­els that have been released. We did rent and watch the orig­i­nal movie, which was cute and campy but didn’t really have the same level of writ­ing as the TV show. I watch Angel as well since the plot-​​lines tend to cross back and forth from time to time, but being beat about the head and shoul­ders with the whole redemp­tion thing gets a bit tir­ing there.

I think Wil­low is my favorite char­ac­ter on the show. I’m really unhappy that Oz is gone — why couldn’t he have stayed? They could have had Wil­low involved with both him and Tara in a nice, healthy, polyamorous vee. Surely that couldn’t upset any­one any more than her being part of a les­bian cou­ple, right?

Oth­ers

Have you got­ten the idea that I enjoy watch­ing women who kick butt? Yeah, I thought so. Any­way, I watched the Witch­blade pilot and liked it. It was pretty obvi­ously based on a comic strip, but maybe if it’s picked up as a series they’ll man­age to out­grow some of that. I also taped the Dark Angel pilot, but I haven’t got­ten around to watch­ing it yet.

Movies

Sam insisted that I watch The Crow with him. I resisted might­ily, as it was a hor­ror movie as far as I was con­cerned. I did enjoy it when I finally saw it — although it isn’t some­thing I plan to watch over and over again (that whole thing with the eyes — UGH!).

I guess I was one of the last geeks to see The Matrix. It was some­what dis­turb­ing, but com­pelling. We were play­ing in a Mage cam­paign when I saw The Matrix, and it was neat to notice so many appar­ent ref­er­ences to that game in the movie. I haven’t really felt a need to watch it again, even though we do have the movie at home (two copies, although that wasn’t planned) — I don’t really like movies that make me go “Eeeewwww!” as this one did in some places. I have to admit that my appar­ently per­ma­nent aver­sion to Keanu Reeves prob­a­bly had some­thing to do with my opin­ion of the movie (I don’t think I’ve liked him in any­thing he’s done so far).

Well, see­ing a movie the day it opened was a first for me — but we did it for X-​​Men: The Movie. I’ve never been big on comic books, and was prob­a­bly the only per­son in the entire the­ater who’d never read any of the sto­ries before see­ing the movie. It was fun, although I didn’t find it a life-​​changing expe­ri­ence or any­thing like that, and I don’t feel a need to go see it again.

Galaxy Quest is likely to join the fam­ily video library shortly. It was really cute and funny, and while it’s obvi­ously a par­ody of the orig­i­nal Star Trek series it was always obvi­ously done by peo­ple who appre­ci­ated Star Trek and it’s descendants.

A friend and I went to see Star­ship Troop­ers the week­end it opened. Both of us really expected to be dis­ap­pointed, fear­ing how Hol­ly­wood might butcher the real mes­sage of Heinlein’s book. The way they had han­dled their web site was utterly asi­nine, and fur­ther increased our dis­trust of Sony. We were both pleas­antly sur­prised to find the movie a very well done military/​coming-​​of-​​age flick (I still think it should have been billed as “based on the book by Robert Hein­lein” rather than “Robert Heinlein’s …”). They threw in a gra­tu­itous love story and a few other obvi­ous Hol­ly­wood touches, and it was extremely gory. The spe­cial effects were very well done – I had night­mares after­ward. I was utterly hor­ri­fied to see young chil­dren in the the­ater! There were sev­eral kids there in the 4 – 8 year-​​old range, and this movie was clearly rated R. The rat­ing was well-​​deserved due to the vio­lence in it, and the vio­lence con­tent was obvi­ous from the adver­tis­ing and posters and trail­ers and so on. Those par­ents need to be taken out and flogged for tak­ing chil­dren into that the­ater! The vio­lence was very real­is­tic, and the movie was an excel­lent por­trayal of the fact that war is not glo­ri­ous or cool or excit­ing in any pos­i­tive way – that it’s some­times a neces­sity, but it’s an ugly one. It showed that heroes have no mag­i­cal immu­nity to being hurt or killed, whether male or female. And it car­ried through with some (although not enough, in my opin­ion) of Heinlein’s mes­sage about cit­i­zen­ship and patri­o­tism – a very good thing is this era of fools want­ing to vote in bread and cir­cuses every time we turn around.

Con­tact is the only movie I’ve ever described as beau­ti­ful. I haven’t read Sagan’s book, but I will cer­tainly be doing so soon.

Men in Black was funny, but not long enough. Will Smith always reminds me of my brother, Matt, and the resem­blance was espe­cially strong in this movie! It’s one of the few movies I’ve ever seen twice in the the­ater – once with a friend, then with Katie after I was sure it would be okay for her to see it (there’s vio­lence, but it’s overtly car­toon­ish and didn’t upset her at all). There’s a Sat­ur­day morn­ing MIB car­toon now, and it’s sur­pris­ingly decent (for a Sat­ur­day morn­ing cartoon).

One of the very few movies I’ve ever bought on video for myself is The Princess Bride. I was sur­prised to find that Katie absolutely loved it – she watched it four times in one week­end, and for a while she was con­stantly going around doing her Inigo Mon­toya imi­ta­tion and gig­gling (which is rather con­fus­ing to those who haven’t seen the movie).

I heard only neg­a­tive remarks about Dogma before I saw it, but fig­ured (cor­rectly) that I’d like it based on the sources. And while I found bits unnec­es­sar­ily gross, I did find it very clever.

Sam and I saw Prac­ti­cal Magic expect­ing to hate it, fear­ing just what kind of nasty things it would have to say about witches. We were more than pleas­antly sur­prised — it’s a won­der­ful movie and very pagan-​​positive. We have a copy at home now.

Last updated Decem­ber 19, 2000

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