Sunday, July 31, 2022

Ju-gotta-be-kidding-me World: Dominion

I finally had a chance to see the year's blockbuster. I give it four stars for fun, one for plausibility.  

Thirty years after the original film,  dinosaurs have been scattered all over the world thanks to poachers and ... well, something else must have happened.  The only thing the dinos have in common is that they're inaccurate to varying degrees and that apparently all of them have some genetic memory of Chris Pratt's raptor-calming hand gesture. There are of course new dinosaurs, and some of them are fun.  The titanic Dreadnoughtus gets an appearance, as does the astonishing scissor-handed Therizinosaurus (scaled up to T. rex size, of course) and the scary Giganotosaurus, which Alan Grant tells us (wrongly) was the biggest predator of all time.  (It IS the biggest dinosaur audio-animatronic ever built, and the filmmmakers deserve kudos for that.) 

Oh, how did Alan Grant get into this? Well, his old girlfriend Dr. Sattler is the first  person on Earth to have figured out that giant prehistoric locusts are being bred by an evil genetics firm in Italy whose pesticide is the only one that stops them. Thank, you, Dr. Obvious.  Owen Grady and Claire Dearing show up trying to rescue a cloned girl from genetic experiments or something (it doesn't make any more sense in context.) Transportation and entire facilities just seem to be wherever the heroes need them, and any dinosaur can apparently pop up anywhere in the world.  Ian Malcom and Henry Wu are along to say supposedly important things and issue dire warnings. There are new characters, like pilot Kayla Watts, but they don't make much of an impression.

This is basically a kaiju  film, and the mindless fun (a LOT of it) comes from the action sequences. Some of these are wonderful: they don't have to make sense. The series has gone on too long to make us think any major character will die, but the film almost kills them in endlessly entertaining ways.  (Did you know a Quetzalcoatlus could effortlessly down a twin-engine plane without harm to itself? You still don't, but it's entertaining to watch.) There's no real reason for Owen to be hunting and lassoing dinosaurs on horseback, but it's FUN.  So is being chased through city streets by big snarling carnivores and throwing a torch into a predator's mouth, where it inexplicably blazes up much brighter. My favorite pre-dinosaur synapsid, Dimetrodon, shows up (only, um, what is a sail-backed animal doing in a cave?). At the closing credits, everyone more or less gets what they deserve, including a satisfying"it was really you along" thing with Grant and Sattler.

So go for the dinosaurs. Enjoy their antics and fights, and chases, and be nice to them: after all, they didn't write the plot holes.

Farewell, Uhura

Nichelle Nichols of the original Star Trek has died. 

Nichols broke many barriers on the show and in real life, including fighting for more equal pay (her castmates stood by her, and it happened), the famous first interracial kiss (it was a forced act thanks to alien captors, but it mattered just as much), and, above all, simply being the first Black woman shown in a position of authority (MILITARY authority no less!) on an American TV series.  Oprah Winfrey recalled being stunned at seeing her.  In a famous encounter, she told the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. she was thinking of leaving the show because Uhura wasn't getting to do much.  King strongly encouraged her, indeed practically ordered her, to continue: she was the only character on on television in whom Black children could see themselves.

The network certainly could have allowed Uhura a stronger role on the show, but this was 1960s American television, and ST creator Gene Rodenberry pushed her as far as he could get away with.  I was surprised they got away with one line in the original series episode "The Naked Time," where a virus made everyone live their fantasies: when Sulu, believing himself an 18th century swashbuckler, grabbed her and said "Ah, fair maiden!" she pulled away saying, "Sorry, neither."  (Interesting fact: Nichols was a singer with no TV experience before being cast at Lt Nyota Uhura, and she was able to sing a few times in the series. ) 

Nichols paved the way for countless women who DID get stronger roles. She also had some good bits on Star Trek: The Animated Series. She came back for the movies, where she and the audience had great fun with her performances (who can forget, "Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it"?)  She made other film and television appearances, including a very funny role as Cubs Gooding Jr.'s mom on the Alaska-set comedy Snow Dogs.  She came to many fan conventions, and I'll always regret not getting a photo and autograph the one time I could have.  She helped NASA recruit its first woman astronauts and used her fame to advance civil rights.   

I hope they name a distant, beautiful world after her some day. Where my heart is. Beyond Antares.


Wednesday, July 20, 2022

July 20, 1969

Ah, Columbia, Columbia! 

The first to take us to another world.

The embodied hopes of a nation

The sweat of thousands of men and women

Do you somehow know you are more than steel?

I think you do.

May you, like your pilots and your makers,

Rest forever in honor.

I was lucky and honored to see Columbia launch and to see her again 50 years later. 


Saturday, July 16, 2022

Webb looks at the universe

 No human has ever seen the star nursery called NGC 3324, seven light years away, so brilliantly and in such detail. We may never get a better view. The Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) and Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) on the new James Webb telescope has given us new eyes (infrared ones, at that) with which to see and understand the universe. The telescope was 20 times over budget: I would have canceled it. This time I'm glad such budgeting common sense failed. 

Below that image is Stephen's quintet, a fistful of younger galaxies bursting from their nurseries to take their place in the universe.  Webb will tell us more than any other mission about OUR place.  

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

A very cool one-of-a-kind Dunk trophy

Thanks to Dave Hayes, I have a one of a kind Dunkleosteus trophy mount.  Shown here with some of the more famous Dunk models for scale, this 3D printed sculpt is the largest Dunk head I own, and does a great job of balancing believable detail with size, coloring with dentition, and awesomeness with more awesomeness.