Friday, May 29, 2009

Sci-Fi Movies That Influenced Me, The 90's


Continuing with my award winning discussion of Science fiction films that influenced me, I delve now into the 90's—the age of CG. And please note that while these movies did 'influence' me, they are by not all what I would call 'good'. But then, bad movies can be influential, too (and fun). So without further ado.. here we go!

1990's
Predator 2
This was one of those instances where the sequel actually wasn't a stinker.  I don't think it was as cool as the original, but it wasn't bad. I liked the dark-near-future setting, too—and the inclusion of Bill Paxton. Yeah. He had a tiny, goofy part, but Hudson- err, Bill cracks me up. I also loved the inclusion of the Alien head in the trophy room on the Predator's ship—linking the two mythos (though in retrospect, the AVP movies have been pretty crappy, so maybe this wasn't such a good thing).

RoboCop2
This sequel was kind of a stinker. A hyper-violent stinker, but a stinker. Still, the special effects were okay, and the final fight with RoboCop-2 was kind of cool. I also loved the corrupt corporation guys. Man, the 'old man' was evil.

Total Recall
Get your ass to Mars! Heck yeah. This is a solid sci-fi movie with (for its time) some ground-breaking special effects. The story premise was awesome, too—making you wonder whether or not the whole thing was just in the head of the 'hero'. Though the movie got a lot of flak for its bodycount, it never really stood out to me as being any worse than its contemporaries. As far as a Star Wars conversion goes—it would be awesome to have a PC brainwashed and have to figure things out. Though, it would be a bit difficult to work into a 'standard' campaign.

The Rocketeer
As I've said before, I love the 'pulp' era of adventure, between WWI and WWII. I always liked to think that the Rocketeer existed in the same universe as the Mummy movies and Indiana Jones. I liked the hero in this, LOVED the villain (Timothy Dalton) and Jennifer Connoly looked great. What's not to like!? Loved the whole scene where the Gangsters teamed up with the FBI to fight the nazis. Awesome! So what if it doesn't really translate into Star Wars.

Star Trek VI
Admittedly, after Star Trek V, just about anything would be an improvement. But this was a good, solid movie. It had good old Klingon enemies, political intrigue, hot alien chicks and space-ship battles. Plus? Captain Sulu was pretty damn cool. The ending seemed a bit too stilted for me (what with all the posing as everyone applauded) but really? It was a great send-off for the original cast. Would make a fun Star Wars adventure, too—maybe the Republic is finally making peace with some old enemy—an imperial faction? Some antagonistic alien species? And someone on both sides tries to sabotage it. Could be fun.

Terminator 2: Judgement Day
In a decade of sequels, T2 is probably the best of the lot. In fact, it is one of the few sequels that I liked as much as the original. The special effects were great, and I felt that they really did justice to the characters and story presented in the first movie. Of course, a lot of that has to do with the fact that the same director was involved. Of course it helped that the director in question was James Cameron, who is great at what he does. Or.. was before he went nuts with his underwater fixation. 

Split Second
This was not a good movie, but I had a great time watching it—mainly because I associate it with gaming, and specifically with Doyce. Of all my friends, Doyce was the most 'adventurous' when it came to movie-watching. It was through him that I was introduced to a hell of a lot of really bad movies—and quite a few more that I wound up loving (Army of Darkness, Much Ado About Nothing, etc.). This movie (essentially an Alien/Predator critter loose in the sewers of a dark-future, flooded London) stands out to be mainly because of the line of the sidekick character. It happens right after he and the hero encounter the monster and discover it is impervious to most weapons—they head back to police HQ and raid the armory, with the sidekick muttering to himself over and over. "Must get bigger guns, must get bigger guns". Yes, I know its a rip-off of the Jaws "Must get bigger boat" line, but it still made me laugh.

Demolition Man
I don't particularly like Stallone, and I don't particularly like this movie—I found it way too corny and hard to believe that the entire world could change so completely in like.. what 50? 60 years? But that aside, Sandra Bullock looked good. Oh, and the running gag with getting fined for swearing was pretty funny.

Jurassic Park
As much as I loved dinosaurs as a kid, I am glad this movie wasn't out when I was young—or it would have seriously messed me up. The dinos in this movie were scary as hell and the CG used to realize them was truly incredible. It was the first time in a movie where I nodded to myself and said: "Yeah, they finally reached 'that' point." As an adventure in Star Wars this would work well with the whole 'theme park run amok' idea—i.e., mix it in with the 'Westworld' scenario. One part of the park has rampaging robots, another has rampaging giant beasts (Rancors, Krayt Dragons, etc.)

Stargate
A good, solid Sci-Fi movie, though one that probably had a lot less impact than the TV series(s) it spawned. I loved the whole 'Egyptian Gods as Aliens' theme, though I was a bit disappointed with the final battle of the film. It was like...the bad guys only had one or two attack ships? That's it? Plus, the whole tactic of "oh no, we're under air attack! quick! bunch together in the middle of an open area". Not a great idea. But then, the good guys WERE being lead by Airforce guys...

Judge Dredd
Another movie that just wasn't good. The only parts I enjoyed of it were the special effects/setting (I loved the look of MegaCity One) and Diane Lane. She looked really good in this. But then, she usually looks pretty good. And no, not ALL my film-watching criteria is based around how good the female lead looks.. just.. most of it.

Species
...speaking of female leads...Natasha Henstridge. I usually don't go in for blondes, but I might make an exception in her case. The whole...prehensile nipple thing is a bit of a turnoff-though. As is her tendency to kill after mating. I wanted to like this movie a lot more than I actually did. At the time, I was really getting into the Dark Conspiracy setting (not the game system, just the setting of a dark future plagued with supernatural horrors). This seemed to be a movie that fit the genre perfectly. Unfortunately, it just fell a little flat to me. It would make a workable Star Wars adventure, but as with many 'alien' movies, it loses some of its punch because aliens just aren't that shocking in a universe where you deal with them on a daily basis.

Escape from L.A.
The first 'Escape From...' movie was no masterpiece. This one? Well, its...crap. From story to execution to special effects, it just isn't good. About the only reason I enjoyed watching this was to see Kurt Russel as Snake Plissken. Again, the concept is interesting enough—fitting with my like of an apocalyptic world. The ending had a nice twist, too (though after the first movie, you had to be expecting that). 

Independence Day
Yeah yeah. It's a little hokey (or maybe a lot hokey). And okay, maybe it's just a re-working of war of the worlds, only with a computer virus instead of a biological one. But I enjoyed the hell out of this movie when it came out. I went into the theatre with low expectations, hoping for an entertaining action/disaster/war movie and that is exactly what I got. It delivered and then some—and it didn't skimp! So many 'end of the world' movies simply gloss over the destruction—maybe show you a few old newspaper covers or a brief montage—but not ID4! You get  city-wide devastation and titanic air-battles. Good stuff.

The Fifth Element
This movie totally caught me by surprise. I saw the ads for it on TV, but it looked too weird for my tastes so I never saw it in the theater. When I saw it on cable, though, I was very pleasantly surprised. It WAS weird, but (surprisingly) good! And funny! As annoying as he was, I loved Chris Tucker's 'Ruby Rod' character and Bruce Willis had a lot of memorable lines, including my favorite "Anyone else wanna negotiate?" I never have been (and am still not) a big fan of Milla Jovovitch, though, and to me, her 'accent/language' came off as a bit annoying. But still, liked this movie a lot and I found it especially amusing that the hero and the villain never actually meet.

The Lost World: Jurassic Park
Another sequel in the decade of sequels. And this one was a huge disappointment. Yeah. Loved the special effects (again) but the story was nowhere near as good as the first movie. Plus there was the whole greenpeace overtone that just wound up pissing me off. So the greenpeace guy sabotages the rifle of the big game hunter. The guy who is (after the shit hits the fan) trying to protect everyone else's life. And because of that sabotage, several people are eaten alive. So wait.. who am I supposed to be rooting for? the Greenpeace guy? Frak that. Ass. I was hoping he'd get eaten. I was SO glad the big game hunter survived, and I was so hoping he would at least knock the crap out of greenpeace man, if not just shoot him. Alas. No such luck. The whole T-Rex rampaging through the city was a little interesting, though its method of arrival was...retarded to the extreme. How the HELL did a T-Rex get loose on a ship and manage to kill the entire crew. It couldn't fit into the tiny corridors of the ship. So sure, maybe it managed somehow to eat a few guys on deck, but the rest would likely run in side. But no, it managed to kill everyone and THEN somehow managed to lock itself back in the hold. Whuuuu?

Men in Black
This was a fun little comedy with entertaining visual effects. Loved the whole 'training montage' with the agent hopefuls and Will Smith's character explaining why he shot the silhouette of the little girl holding the 'Advanced Physics' book. Fun stuff.

Starship Troopers
While it probably pissed off a lot of fans of the book, I enjoyed the spectacle this movie presented. The battles with the Arachnids were fun and scary to watch—and surprisingly 'realistic'. I mean, as far as CG goes, they did a pretty good job. I also remember being a bit shocked by the level of violence. Never saw so much dismemberment in a movie before or since. As far as acting and story goes, however, this movie was pretty much crap. The bugs would make an interesting alien menace in the Star Wars galaxy, though they are perhaps a bit too 'dark' (i.e. violent) an enemy for such a PG style setting. Oh, and p.s. It was fun to see Doogie Hauser all dressed up as a Gestapo Mentalist Officer.

Deep Rising
Another movie that flew beneath my radar until I caught it on lat night cable. It was a surprisingly well done (if over the top) little monster movie with a rather original plot. An entire ocean-liner attacked by sea-monsters and then boarded by would-be hijackers—who find out that the monsters are still onboard. It was a great twist at the end to reveal that the 'monsters' are in fact just tentacles of one HUGE monster (sorry if this is a spoiler). Treat Williams is the hero of the movie. A bit of a strange choice, I thought, but I get the feeling this wasn't exactly a blockbuster in terms of money involved. Stephen Summers was the director. I loved his Mummy movies and I can see his touch in this—unfortunately, I can also see his tendency to go a bit overboard. And what was with those gatling machineguns the bad guys had? They kind of looked cool, but...why?

Godzilla
I was really looking forward to a big budget, CG remake of the classic giant monster movie. The ad campaign for this was great—with those signs about 'his foot is this big' and stuff to give you an idea of the real scale of the monster. The fact that the ID4 guys were in charge actually made me think this might be good. Unfortunately, it was not good. Whereas in ID4, we are shown a true spectacle of battles, here it seems that there are just two guys in charge of the entire military involved in hunting Godzilla down—a Sergeant and a junior officer? And the SERGEANT is the one always giving the orders. What? Plus, the military just seems stupid. You have to look no further than the scene with the Apache being chased by Godzilla and the pilot screaming "I can't shake him!" I was thinking to myself. "Go up. You know.. fly.. up? That direction that is 'away' from the big lizard? The direction he can't really follow any further?". So, meh. This kind of silliness just ruined the movie for me. Still, though, giant monster on the loose in Coruscant? Still sounds like fun.

Lost in Space
I was never a fan of the original series. It always seemed too hokey and 'kiddie' for me. And Doctor Smith? GAH! Could he be more annoying? I think that Family Guy really had this right when they parodied the series: "Everyone, split up! Will, why don't you go off alone with this mincing pedophile." Still, the robot became something of a cultural Icon, as did his 'Danger Will Robinson' line. This remake was just not good. And for such a light-hearted 'family' style series, the movie was just plain dark and disturbing (the line where Future Will recalls hearing the screams of his mother and sisters as they're torn apart by alien bugs.. wtf? Yeah, that won't give kids nightmares). So I think the writers of the movie were trying to have their cake and eat it, too—include kids to make it fun and adventurous! Then  have scary adult stuff happening, too. It just didn't work. Oh, and the CG was horrible—especially the annoying space-monkey creature they picked up. Ugh.

Soldier
I actually saw this movie in the theater. I wasn't particularly enthusiastic about it—just wanted to go out to a movie with friends, so we did. And this didn't disappoint. Turned out to be a very minimalist movie, dialogue wise—and that was interesting. I love Kurt Russel as an actor, and he was great in this. Yeah, maybe the bad guys were a bit too dumb, but it was enjoyable enough. It doesn't seem to be directly translatable into Star Wars, but it could make a cool adventure for a team of explorers who wind up (crash?) on a junk planet and find it inhabited—only to have to defend it from a sudden arrival of Imperial troops. Not quite the same story, but interesting anyway.

Deep Blue Sea
This is more of a monster movie than a sci-fi movie, but I guess when the Sharks are genetically altered, it crosses the line. Special effects were suitably gory and the scene with Samuel L. Jackson's survival pep talk was memorable (heh— he is almost finished with his inspirational 'we are going to get out of here' speech when he is suddenly devoured). But it wasn't entirely unexpected for me. The whole time he was standing near the giant pool of water, I was thinking to myself. "Uh.. dude.. you might want to.. take a few steps...". It did have more interesting twists though—the sexy scientist woman dies. Not typical for the lead heroine to buy it. The black cook lives! That was surprising, considering the fact that black guys in monster movies almost ALWAYS get killed. I especially liked the cook's comment at the end of the movie—as the hero lies exhausted on the dock with one leg dangling in the water: "How many sharks were there?" "Three." The cook looks at his leg in the water and presses. "You sure about that?" The hero looks back, then lifts his leg out of the water. Heh. Good stuff.

Galaxy Quest
A truly awesome movie, parodying Star Trek. I was a little skeptical when I first heard of this movie, but it really surpassed anything I had hoped for. And man does it have memorable lines—I find myself quoting this movie all the time! "I see you managed to get your shirt off..." "Quick, lets leave before one of those things kills Guy!" and of course "Just straight on through the Chompers..." Yeah, this is a true modern comedy classic.

The Iron Giant
A surprisingly good little movie about a giant robot and the boy who befriends him. Again, the first ads for this movie left me feeling like it was going to be too 'cutesy', but it was actually really well done. I loved the play on 50's anti-commie propaganda as well as the comic-book angle they played up with 'superman'. Good stuff.

The Matrix
When viewed alone, I actually liked this movie. When viewed in the context of the other two movies...ugh. I can barely stand it. I loved the idea of the virtual world juxtaposed with the real—and being able to have what amount to 'super powers' in the virtual. The special effects were fun and original—because we'd never seen people running on the walls and ceiling before. But man, did that get old in the sequels. I also began to question the premise of the 'saga' the deeper we delved into it, to the point where now I have a problem with it. So the machines were unable to come up with ANY other source of energy other than people, because they used to be powered by solar energy. What.. they never heard of nuclear energy? or wind...or geothermal, or hydroelectric... or anything that wasn't likely to rise up against them and destroy them later? Give me a break. I also found the machines to be horribly inefficient. Their 'squids' attack humans by mangling them with their claws? They don't have guns? Explosives? They have lasers they can use to cut through metal.. but none with which to shoot? It just didn't make sense. All that having been said, I think the idea of a matrix-like adventure for Star Wars would be interesting—a team of agents is 'plugged in' to an infected computer system and must battle within that virtual environment. Could be fun.

Virus
This is a nice twist on the typical 'alien on a ship' plot—since the ship is an actual sea-going vessel instead of a spaceship and the alien is essentially a computer virus (hence the name). I was surprised by the relatively big name stars they got for this: Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Sutherland. Overall, it was a solid enough movie, with a memorable and original villain—see, the virus constructs a body for itself and its minions out of bits of technology and human flesh (ugh). It would make a pretty good Star Wars adventure, though its pretty dark.

Wing Commander
This is another movie I wanted to like more than I did. I never really played the video game this was based on, so the only preconceptions I had about it were: Big ships and fighter battles in space. That sounds cool. But the execution left something to be desired—especially the acting. The capital ships were pretty interesting in their designs, but most of the fighters just looked plain goofy—so right there, some of the coolness factor was taken away. I liked the anachronism of 'loading torpedo tubes' and all that on the big ships, but.. when fired, they actually flare exhaust into the ship? Ummm.. okay. Overall, it was forgettable and 'meh'. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Sci-Fi Movies That Influenced Me, The 80's


Continuing where my previous post left off, lets delve into the 80's—the era where I was actually old enough to watch most of this stuff when it came out instead of seeing it second hand, years later. In compiling this list, I realized just what an impressive body of work was put out during this time. Man, its good to be a Sci-fi buff these days. As before, my intention is to just write a bit of a blurb about each movie, how it impacted me and how it might be used in a Star Wars setting (where applicable).

1980's
Battle Beyond the Stars
This one is a rather laughable attempt to duplicate the success of Star Wars. I remember distinctly where I saw this one—at my Uncle Fred's house in Tempe Arizona. It was the movie of the week—and even then, I thought it was pretty bad. The overall concept was interesting—but of course it was, since they ripped it off from another successful movie (in this case, the Magnificent Seven, which had in turn taken the idea from Seven Samurai). Some of the ship designs were interesting, too—and the special effects were... okay (good enough, anyway that they were later recycled in several other low-budget sci-fi flicks). I guess the first thing that made the movie so ridiculous to me was casting John Boy Walton as the heroic lead. Ugh. George Peppard was the Han Solo figure, though I think he really can't act, and his cowboy accent was annoying. Sybil Danning played a space valkyrie (hubba) and strangely enough...Robert Vaugh played...pretty much the same guy he did in the Magnificent Seven.  It had a lot going for it, maybe, but none of it came together. Still, it would make a good Star Wars adventure (the Seven Jedi? The Magnificent Seven Rebels?). Oh and P.S. Was it just me? or did the hero's ship look like it had boobs?

Flash Gordon
Extremely campy though it may be, Flash Gordon entertained the heck out of me and it still does. Oh, its horrible, from its corny dialogue to its bizarre costumes (lizard men with eyes inside their mouths!?). But for me, it was so bad it was good. Plus, I love the overall 'pulp' idea of the movie: one man comes to a 'lost' planet, and with the aid of his friends turns the entire course of their world around. It would make a great Star Wars adventure—with Ming as the despotic ruler of remote star system. Oh, and I just have to say—Princess Aura was hot. Bad, yes. But hot.

Escape from New York
Though not technically a post-apocalyptic movie, it shares many of the qualities I like about them—hero (or in this case, anti-hero) wandering the wastes of a once great civilization. I'm not a huge John Carpenter fan, but I liked this movie a lot, however corny it is. Duke of New York, baby! A Number One! As far as Star Wars goes I could easily see the Empire turning an entire, defunct planet into a prison. Imagine having to break in there—or be forced to.

Heavy Metal
I saw this movie in the tiny movie theater in Eagle Butte South Dakota (before it burned down). It was rated R (for a reason) but these were the days when that stuff wasn't monitored so closely—especially not by dinky theaters in little backwater towns. So in I went and...holy crap, did I get my money's worth in this! Nudity! Sex! Violence! Nudity! Violence! Okay, so it was all cartoon and wasn't really a very good movie, but it still made quite an impression. One of the characters in the movie (Ard, the gay immortal guy) was actually the inspiration for one of my favorite recurring Star Wars villains—Lord Qar, the narcissistic, nihilistic Sith Lord. 

The Road Warrior
We had just gotten cable television—and with it HBO. I was perusing the guide book that we got every month and noticed this gem along with the 'GV' notation next to it. Graphic Violence. This was the first movie I ever saw that had 'GV'. By today's standards, its all pretty tame, but at the time it was kind of shocking to me. It also pretty much cemented my love of post-apocalyptic movies. Would make a fun Star Wars adventure, to get stranded on a remote world and be involved in a beat-up landspeeder battle with desert raiders.

Outland
High-Noon in outer space. Yep. That pretty much sums it up. It wasn't particularly action-packed, but it was well done—capturing that gritty 'lived in' look of movies like Alien. In fact, in my mind, I consider the two to be in the same 'universe'—though I'd imagine Outland may be set a few decades or so before Alien. The movie also brought to the forefront my love of the term 'Marshall' when applied to science fiction. That and 'Ranger' just sound cool to me. The plot is a bit low-key for a Star Wars adventure, however.

Blade Runner
It was stylish, it starred Harrison Ford, it had killer robots and a futuristic atmosphere like nothing anyone had ever seen before. It had all these things, and yet I am rather indifferent towards this movie. It just wasn't what I was expecting. There really wasn't a whole lot of action in it. To me, it came off as all 'flavor' and very little substance. Yes. I know it was a take on film noir movies, but...well, I guess it just fell flat with me. I give it an A for style and a C for everything else.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
There was a time in my life (when I was 12-13) that this was my absolute favorite movie—even moreso than Star Wars! (gasp!) But then I grew out of that. Don't get me wrong. I still like the movie a lot, but viewed through more mature eyes, it doesn't hold the 'us kids against the adults' allure that it used to. I also recall thinking it was cool that the kids were playing D&D in the movie—and I wanted a winged D&D hat like that one Mike's friend wore! But I have since come to the realization that D&D isn't cool. Alas, it never will be. And I'm okay with that!

Megaforce
Hokey to the extreme and starring Barry Bostwick (wtf?) in his awesome 80's headband, this movie nevertheless stands out in my mind from the period. I knew it was bad at the time, but I enjoyed watching it for the horrific spectacle. Flying motorcycles and dune-buggies with lasers. You just don't see that kind of thing anymore...hmmm, though it does bear a striking similarity to 'Team America: World Police". Funny, that.

Tron
Coming out at what was the height of the video arcade craze, Tron tapped into the imaginations of millions of boys my age. At school we would play 'deadly disk's with the frisbees. After school, we would run to the arcade to play the game. As with many things, hindsight reveals that things just aren't nearly as cool as they were when you were a kid—but I STILL love the look of the movie, especially the light-cycles and the tanks. As far as translating into Star Wars goes? Well, probably not so much.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Awesome. From start to finish. To me this movie made Star Trek cool. I had always been mildly interested in the TV show (the older I got, the more I appreciated the imagination of it), but this movie seemed to combine the 'intelligent' aspects of the show with awesome action and waves of nostalgic emotion. I dare any true Trek fan to say they did NOT cry when Spock died. I've always considered taking a New Republic era Star Wars setting into something like Star Trek—with the Republic fleet growing and exploring as they rebuild the galaxy. In fact, one of the game supplements (Darkstryder Campaign) has this kind of feel to it. As long as you don't throw too much Trek into your Star Wars, I think you can maintain the heroic fantasy mood with a space exploration based campaign.

The Thing
Though technically a remake of 'The Thing from Another World', this movie is really only similar in that it is set in the Arctic and there is an alien. John Carpenter twists the tale from there, turning it into a psychological horror story as the alien infects and assumes the form of base personnel—leading to waves of paranoia and distrust. The creature itself hideously mutates everything it touches—from dogs to human beings. This is a good, scary movie with a rather ambiguous ending, but I still like the original better (even if it is comparing apples to oranges). This is another easy convert to Star Wars, though its tone may be just a bit too dark 'as written'. 

Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone
Another guilty pleasure of mine. It was originally released in 3D and has all the gimmick shots of something that was (i.e. characters always seem to be pointing things at the camera). But...you know? This was actually a lot better than a lot of the other schlock coming out at the time. I loved the main character of 'Wolff'...who was a tough guy, yes, but realistic in his fallibility and practicality. And oh, almost forgot...Molly Ringwald? Yep. She plays the spunky sidekick in this. The plot could be made into a great adventure for a bounty-hunter type person. 

Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared Syn
Though it shared a lot of the same elements of Spacehunter (including the cheesy 3D effects), this was a much, much worse film. About the only things it had going for it were: 1) The hero had a cool vehicle. 2) The hero was a 'Ranger'—and I love that term. And 3) A very young Kelly Preston. Rowr. Other than that? Wow. Doofy. As a general plot, however, there is something to salvage. Miners come under attack by local 'nomads' stirred up by a mysterious messiah figure. The powers that be send in the heroes to stop the revolt. It's workable. Oh, and interesting side-note? Jared Syn (the bad guy) is never destroyed in the movie. He escapes. I guess: "Metalstorm: The Escape of Jard Syn" just didn't sound cool enough.

2010
In my book, this is a much better movie than 2001. Great special effects, an interesting story and some unique plot points (the nature of 'humanity', as found in HAL-9000 for instance). But like the first movie, I was left confused as to just what happened in the end. I guess I need to read the novels, but...wtf was the space baby? Oh, and wouldn't a new Sun in the solar system seriously screw with the Earth's environment? Oh, and seriously.. wtf is it with the space fetus!?

Yor, the Hunter from the Future
Oh. My. God. Yes it is as bad as the title makes it sound. Worse even. The theme song is terrific. And its amazing that even in a movie about cavemen, 'actor' 'Reb Brown' manages to get into a laser-fight in the middle of an industrial complex. And yes, of course people fell over railings. This falls under the 'so bad it is good' category.

The Adventures of Buckagroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension
This was another 'milestone' movie in my psyche. I first watched in on a youth uroup trip when I was a teenager. We were staying at a friend of the church's house in Minnesota for a long weekend... like four or five of us, including my older sister and my friend Bill. This was one of the videos we rented while we were there. Bill and I decided to stay up late and watch it...and holy crap, it was bizarre. It was made even moreso by the fact that at one point in the movie, Bill commented to me "Man, this is weird". Not two seconds later, in the movie, one of the characters turns to his buddy and says. "Man, this is weird". And so it was that the cosmic bond between Buckaroo and myself was forged. This is a cult classic and deservedly so. It has more quotable lines than most anything I've seen since (with the possible exception of Arm of Darkness): "Wherever you go, there you are." "It's not my god-damn planet, monkey-boy!" "John Big Boo-Tay TAY!" "Why is that watermelon there?" The 'mythos' of the team continued from the movie, however, even appearing (semi officially) in the Battletech Game). I still love the film...and I am unashamed to say that I own a Banzai Institute T-Shirt. But then, I'm a self-admitted geek.

Dune
This was the first video that we ever rented from 'Kay's Video World' in Eagle Butte South Dakota. In fact, this was the first video we ever rented (there were no other video stores for about 90 miles). It came with its own glossary of terms to help bring the uninitiated (like me) up to speed. While I liked the overall 'feel' of the setting (noble houses vying for power in a corrupt galactic empire), the execution left something to be desired. The effects were bad, even for the time. The acting wasn't great. And the director, for some reason, decided to further complicate the story with something that wasn't even in the books—all the 'weirding module' nonsense. I recall that they spent the largest part of the budget for this movie on sets. And it showed. They were spectacular, but without any substance in the plot, the whole thing just fell apart. About the only good things I took from this film were the cool design of the Still Suits and the name Patrick Stewart. I remember clearly looking up the name of the guy who played Gurney Halleck—and it was Stewart. And I thought to myself at the time "that guy was good, wonder if I'll see him again". Heh. For me, the whole 'Tapani Sector' supplement to Star Wars captures the feel of Dune, but without a desert planet—i.e. the warring nobility and political intrigue.

Ghostbusters
This only loosely qualifies as Sci-fi, but it was an awesome movie anyway. It is also notable in that it was for the RPG of this game that the D6 system was first realized. And what a wonderful realization that was. I won't go into any greater detail here because I could gush about Ghostbusters all day. 

The Ice Pirates
As with many movies on this list, this one is a bad one. And yet, I enjoy it. Strangely enough, it reminded me of an RPG adventure the first time I watched it. What with all the quirky characters and anachronistic jokes. I don't really know why, but it did. As far as the humor goes, it is mostly bad—but I did like the robots in this movie. I also liked Mary Crosby. Rowr. I don't care if she shot J.R. or not! I wold have forgiven her! Strangely enough, the plot probably could be worked into a Star Wars adventure—with the characters rescued by an Imperial noble to go after her long lost father—while being pursued by Imperial rivals. Just goes to show you that even some of the worse 'cheese' can hold some nugget of a good idea.

The Last Starfighter
Love this movie! Special effects are WAY dated now, but the Gunstar remains one of the coolest starships ever created. 

Night of the Comet
A passing comet somehow turns most of the world's population to dust. Of those left, most are stricken with a disease that makes them flesh eating zombies. Yeah, that's a pretty bleak setting, and yet this is a kind of boppy 80's movie, complete with a musical mall shopping montage. All in all, I realized it was a bad movie, but it was better than some others in the genre, so it stood out.

Runaway
Magnum P.I. vs. Gene Simmons and his army of mechanical cockroaches. Well, that's basically it. Overall, I enjoyed the movie—though I have to question the design of a 'tracking bullet' that moves slow enough for a man to outrun. What I did like was the 'near-future' aspect of the setting, with robots and technology worked in to 'average' life—so much so that the cops have a special branch designed just to deal with robots. Makes you wonder if they have something like that in the Star Wars galaxy? Droid Cops?

The Terminator
Wow. Just wow. This movie scared me and thrilled me and grossed me out. The concept was original and mind bending (what with all the time paradoxes and end of the world stuff). The special effects haven't held up too well, but the movie itself remains a classic in my mind. Kyle Reece (and his actor, Michael Beihn) became instant heroic icons for me. I would love to work a terminatoresque plot into a Star Wars setting—a malevolent AI tries to brew up war between organic races, even as it infiltrates their societies with cyborgs. Yeah, it wouldn't have the whole 'end of the world and time travel' aspect to it, but it would be fun.

Enemy Mine
I must have watched this movie every time it came on HBO. Looking back on it, it was pretty low-key and emotional as sci-fi movies go—about the relationship between a man and an alien—and later, between the man and the alien's child. Having grown used to kind of stupid sci-fi movies (Metalstorm, Ice Pirates, etc.) this one was a nice surprise. It would make an interesting scenario for a Star Wars pilot, too—though in a campaign you probably wouldn't want to maroon your players for years...

Lifeforce
Halley's Comet is actually a home to space vampires. Huh. Who'd have thunk it. For the most part, I didn't much care for this movie. It wasn't particularly well directed or acted. What I DID love was the ending of the movie—where all of London is caught up in an apocalyptic swirl of zombie destruction. It had a feeling of chaos and desperation on a grand scale—with characters in seemingly 'secure' bases suddenly realizing that half the people there are infected. It was one of the first films to spark what has become an obsession of mine: the vision of the Zombie apocalypse on a large scale.

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome
Loved the Road Warrior and the sequel didn't let me down. I liked the way things changed between movies as well—with technology and civilization deteriorating even further into primitivism. 

Starchaser: The Legendof Orin
A very, very thinly veiled copy of Star Wars—complete with lightsabers (an 'invisible sword') a Han-Solo-esque smuggler, a Vader-ish cyborg bad guy, etc. etc. Not a great movie and not particularly great animation. What I did find redeeming was the central idea of an evil droid master using humans to toil in mines so it can build up its own droid army of conquest. In fact, I used this idea in a couple of adventures.

Aliens
My absolute favorite movie—even moreso (on a single movie basis) than Star Wars! I know! Blasphemy! But this one has just the right mixture of scares and laughs and emotion and thrills and action and drama. It stands head and shoulders above the rest of the Aliens franchise and all the other low-budget movies trying to copy it. Why do I think so? Because it is a horror movie that lets you get to KNOW and LIKE different characters before killing them all off. It allows you to care about them rather than just view them as monster chow. Plus most of the characters are actually SMART in their actions, thus making their demise more scary as they 'did what I would have done' in most instances, and they're still in trouble.  Corporal Hicks stands as a symbol of the hero I most like—quiet, competent and unassuming, but a complete badass when he has to be. Hudson was one of the best comic relief characters EVER, especially playing off against the gung-ho Vasquez (going against type here, the toughest marine is the smallest). Burke the corporate slime is a GREAT villain. He didn't start as a moustache-twirling bad guy. In fact, I kind of liked him. But when the stuff hit the fan, he showed his true colors. I could keep gushing, but I won't. Suffice it to say that it was a great movie and I incorporated all kinds of elements from it in the 'Otherspace' adventure series.

Star Trek IV
This was the movie that began the 'even numbered Star Trek movies are good' phenomenon. And yeah. It was good. A Star Trek comedy. Who would have thought! Okay, so maybe the whole 'alien probe threatens to destroy Earth' thing had been used before (in Star Trek 1) and maybe the time travel thing had been used a lot before (how many episodes did they do that?), but.. come on! 'Where do they keep the nuclear wessels!?' and 'Oh. A keyboard. How quaint.' and of course the 'colorful metaphors'. It was great fun for fans of the original cast.

The Hidden
I doubt if too many people remember this movie—about a shapeshifting, murderous alien crashing on earth and being  hunted by an alien cop in disguise as a human. It was pretty low-key, actually, but it spawned quite a few copycat movies and a TV show, I think. I liked it because it combined sci-fi and a 'buddy cop' movie. Would be a fun idea for a Star Wars plot, too—going to a 'primitive' world and teaming up with the locals to hunt down a deadly escaped prisoner.

Predator
One of the better Arnold movies of the 80's. A fun and scary original idea. I wish I had gone into the movie with less knowledge though, because I love how they started off playing it just like any other 'commando' movie of the day, then suddenly it turned into horror as the big tough commandos were taken down one at a time. This is another great candidate for conversion to Star Wars—though some of the 'oomph' would be taken out by the fact that 'aliens' are the norm in the Star Wars galaxy. 

RoboCop
A classic dark-near-future story. Yeah, it was hyper-violent and bloody, but it also had dark humor thrown in with that (the TV commercials and shows were great—loved the 6000 SUX. I'd buy that for a dollar!). Not a whole lot of Star Wars conversion potential, but fun nonetheless.

The Running Man
Overall, this wasn't that great of a movie. It was all just so campy and not particularly well acted. But it was fun enough to watch, and it would make an awesome Star Wars adventure—Rebels forced to play in a death-sport on a tyrannically ruled imperial world! 

Alien Nation
Another alien-buddy-cop movie. I enjoyed it well enough for that concept, but the rest was kind of meh. Never did get into the TV series at all.

The Blob
This remake of the original scared the crap out of me. The violence and gore were amped up considerably. I mean you had people getting their heads pulled into sink drains. You had others getting grabbed and folded in half and many, many more being horribly and painfully dissolved. Gah. I find it difficult to watch this movie even today. 

They Live
Again, I'm not a huge John Carpenter fan, but I liked this movie. The idea of the world being run subliminally by aliens was an interesting one—as was the idea that you could see through it by wearing special sunglasses. I loved the central implication that all the yuppies and rich snobs were actually aliens. This movie also had Rowdy Roddie Piper. Hell yeah. Loved his line, too: "I came here to chew bubble-gum and kick ass. And I'm fresh out of bubble-gum." I loved the fight scene between him and the other dude, too—one of the longest and most brutal alley fight scenes ever (and lovingly duplicated in the South Park 'Cripple Fight' episode. Good stuff.

DeepStar Six/Leviathan
I lump these movies together because they came out in the same year and were essentially the same thing: Underwater base discover horrible monster who proceeds to kill everyone. Yes, both were 'Alien' rip offs. Of the two, I think Deep Star Six was the 'better', but neither were all that great. Still, when you compare them to a lot of copycat movies...well, they're a bit better, and certainly better than the crap they make for sci-fi channel these days.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Sci-Fi Movies That Influenced Me


The Star Wars movies were arguably one of the greatest influences on my life. They formed the basic mythos of my imagination—opening up all kinds of new worlds to a kid who loved to draw and (eventually) to game. It was through these games that I met the best friends of my life. And it is through the games and our shared love of such things that my best friends remain that.

All this having been said, Star Wars was not the only movie to capture my imagination. In fact, as I began to construct my own version of the Star Wars galaxy, a lot of different movies helped to shape what might be in it and the kinds of themes that might be explored. The following is a list of those movies and maybe a short blurb about each and how it affected me. I'm not sure in starting this post how long it might be, so... bear with if I have to break it up.

1930's
King Kong
First saw this as a kid, and even though I was scared, I loved it. I've seen it numerous times since (and even own a copy). To me, its a classic adventure story—about a lot more than just King Kong himself. Skull Island, with its various dinosaurs and monsters, really struck a chord with me and still does. The re-release of this movie was just as great as the original, though quite a bit sadder. Some day, I'd love to do a 'lost planet' type adventure along the lines of Kong.

1950's
The Thing from Another World
Easily one of my favorite movies. Yeah, its got a lot of that hokey 50's sci-fi feel to it, but the dialogue is remarkably snappy—combining scares and comedy into something that is head and shoulders above most of its contemporary 'flying saucer' movies. One of my favorite scenes from this movie is when the soldiers are preparing to make their last stand against the Thing. The reporter among them asks worriedly. "Seriously though, what if it CAN read minds." One of the soldiers replies grimly. "Then its gonna be REAL angry when it gets to mine." Classic. I've used this plot before in an adventure—though with a bit of a twist. It happened in an isolated archaeological base, where scientists started getting killed. I hardly remember the details anymore, so it may be time to recycle this idea.

When Worlds Collide
I first caught this movie as part of a late night 'End of the World' marathon. Considering the title, I was expecting all kinds of cheesy laughs—but I found something a lot more poignant, frightening and even a bit 'realistic'. Long story short, the earth is about to be destroyed. Small group of people see it coming and struggle to build a rocket to take them to another world before it happens. I'm not sure at the adaptability of this into a Star Wars setting, unless you do something where the characters become trapped on a 'primitive' world doomed to destruction...hmmm. Not bad.

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms
I really have no deeper reason for liking this movie other than it having one of Ray Harryhausen's awesome animated killer lizard. The scene where it eats the cop is awesome. Giant monster rampaging through the Coruscant cityscape? Perhaps an escaped Sith experiment—thawed out from one of the Emperor's old vaults? Hell yeah.

The War of the Worlds
This won all kinds of awards for special effects, but they don't really hold up that well. It is also full of cheesy 50's goodness—with the 'manly scientist hero' seeming to be an expert on...well, just about everything, including the ladies. Yeah, its campy. But it also has a nice post-apocalyptic feel. This (and the re-imagining of the movie) gave me the inspiration to have the Nagai in my own campaign be suitably brutal in their world conquering—and to use big walkers.

Them
Giant ants invade the sewers of a major city. The army goes into the tunnels to fight them with bazookas, tommy-guns and flamethrowers. All kinds of awesome. Conversion wise this could easily be turned into an 'infestation' of alien bugs on a major colony world or something like that.

Gojira (aka Godzilla)
Okay, so its not as well done creature-wise as the Beast from 20,000 fathoms. But it was THE first BIG monster movie and it created its own genre. The message of 'Nukes Are Bad' is a bit heavy handed, but.. umm, I can forgive the Japanese for that. They have reason not to like them.

Forbidden Planet
A true classic in every sense of the word. It has elements of cheesy 50's, but with a solid and very thought provoking plot. It has a memorable monster, special effects that STILL hold up (considering what they were) and it provided an icon for the entire genre in the form of Robby the Robot. Plus? Leslie Nielsen. It is so impossible to take him as a serious actor anymore, so when he's playing the 'tough captain', I can't help but giggle a little. This would make an awesome Star Wars adventure—and you wouldn't have to change much at all—just put rebels or republic guys in place of the starship crew and there you go.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers
This movie scared the heck out of me. It is still chilling to think about—everyone you know suddenly turning against you. A truly amazing invasion and paranoia story. It would make a rather insidious threat against the Star Wars galaxy too.

The Black Scorpion
Scientists and engineers go to mexico to help rebuild after earthquakes (or something like that). The quakes have unearthed a cave full of gigantic bugs. One of them, a huge, black scorpion escapes and terrorizes the country. Another giant monster movie made awesome by Harryhausen's animation. And another easy translation into a Star Wars adventure.

The Giant Claw
This movie has the most ridiculous giant radioactive vulture monster you will ever see. I have yet to see the entire movie, but even from my first glimpses of the movie as a kid, it has stuck in my memory as gloriously goofy. As far as translating it into Star Wars goes.. ummm, probably best not to.

The Incredible Shrinking Man
Though it may not translate well into a Star Wars adventure, this movie really got my attention when I first saw it on TV as a kid. It both fascinated and terrified me. Yes, it would be cool to be small enough to play with all my toys at their own scale (or so I thought) but.. yeah I wouldn't trust my cats not to 'play with me' to death. Nor would I like it when I got small enough to be menaced by spiders. Creepy.

The Blob
This is another movie that really scared me. The nature of the creature (able to go anywhere) and the horrible method of its killing (engulf and dissolve) along with the fact that most weapons are useless against it? Terrifying. I bet it must have been even more terrifying to be sitting in the theatre watching the scene where it eats everyone in the theatre. The re-make of the film scared the crap out of me too. Plus the violence and dissolving was disgustingly graphic. A great sci-fi monster and yet another great monster that could be used in Star Wars.

The Fly
The whole scene with the human-headed fly screaming for the spider not to eat him. GAH. Scarred me as a child (why did my parents let me watch these things!). The story of the human scientist with the fly head was scary and poignant. And though the remake of the film in the 80's was disgusting, I think it captured the terror of the situation even better (and more 'realistically' if that's even applicable). The idea of slowly turning into something is horror at its worst (best). Wonder if the Imperials ever did any experimentation with teleportation...or even hybridization.

It! The Terror from Beyond Space
There are a lot of people that point to this one as the inspiration for Alien. And I can really see that. But my goodness is this one hokey. It is just the kind of 50's movie I love for being so bad.

Journey to the Center of theEarth
I love Victorian Era/Turn of the Century settings. And I love action-exploration movies. This one is both. Though its special effects may be dated (that's putting it mildly), it still has a lot more charm than any of those atrociously bad Doug McClure movies.


1960's
Mysterious Island
Harryhausen Strikes again! Giant Crabs... Giant Killer Birds...Giant Bees! And then you throw in a bunch of civil war era guys and gals...and pirates... and captain Nemo—complete with ray guns! How freaking awesome is that. I especially loved the fact that most of the aforementioned critters were subsequently cooked and eaten after being slain. Mmmmmm. Giant Crab Meat. And really? Not a bad idea for a Star Wars adventure. A group of rebels manages to break out of an Imperial prison camp—taking a couple imperials along for the ride. They wind up crashing on a planet that turns out to be the private genetic testing-ground of a mad scientist guy. Hell yeah.

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea
Yes. Its just a little goofy. Especially when you look at the theme song by Frankie Avalon (who also starred in the movie). But the submarine was cool and Barbara Eden was hot. I never did understand why the heck they would have an open shark-tank inside a submarine though, especially when you consider how steep an angle the Seaview was seen surfacing at. Wouldn't all the water from the tanks just go sloshing around in the chamber? Along with the angry sharks?

The Day of the Triffids
A wonderfully inventive little apocalyptic movie about an asteroid storm that blinds most of the earth and deposits upon it nasty, poisonous, mobile, man-eating plants (triffids). Some of the scenery in the movie was quite chilling—and I can see where it inspired Danny Boyle in 28 Days Later. The whole waking up to find out there's been an apocalypse is a great cinematic trick. Not a whole lot of conversion potential in this one, though, unless maybe the characters were sent to help rescue a planet stricken by this event...

The Last Man on Earth
One of the earliest adaptations of 'I Am Legend'. This stars Vincent Price (awesome) as the last survivor of a disease that turned all humans (and dogs) into vampires! It is also probably one of the most faithful adaptations, in that Price actually finds out that he's become the 'Monster' in the movie—feared by the Vampires as he preys upon them during the day, when they are asleep and most vulnerable. Though the remake of this with Will Smith had some stunning visuals and interesting ideas of what the world would look like after this, I was kind of 'meh' about the plot in that. It was still better than The Omega Man though.

Fantastic Voyage
This was a movie that my father introduced me to during a TV movie festival in New Jersey when I was a kid. Man did it make an impression! White Corpuscles eat the bad guy! Holy crap! That scared me! The submarine was awesome, as were the special effects of the journey through the body. I still LOVE this movie—and even moreso after I was old enough to appreciate Raquel Welch. Rowr. Only thing better than that is Raquel Welch in a tight wet-suit. Oh! this had that, too! Overall? This may be a bit too 'campy' of an idea to pull off in a Star Wars setting—at least for me.

2001
Stunning visuals but overall boring. I loved the realistic representation of what space flight might look like, but other than that? Meh.

Barbarella
Okay, so this movie was one of those incredibly weird and decadent 60's movies. Of course it was messed up. It was French. However, Jane Fonda was mighty pleasing to the eye. 

The Green Slime
From this incredibly goofy looking monsters to the horribly stilted acting to the insanely goofy theme song, this movie was AWESOME...ly bad! It is a guilty pleasure of mine, though, and as far as translating into a Star Wars setting, it would be very easy to do. 

Planet of the Apes
A true classic—though as a kid I found it depressing. It was part of that whole movement towards 'downer' endings that was popular in the late 60's and early 70's. Still, it was wonderfully imaginative with a visual style that greatly appealed to me (and no, I'm not just talking about the mute girl Nova and her skimpy outfits). From the design of the space ship Icarus to the architecture and clothing of the apes...it was just cool. And translatable? you bet—party crashes on remote planet...of the Apes! Done. Oh, and p.s. NEVER name a ship after Icarus. It never ends well. 

The Valley of Gwangi
Cowboys and Dinosaurs. Take a moment to let that sink in. Yeah. Feels good, doesn't it? Looked good, too. A great adventure movie about a lost valley and the cowboy circus rodeo that tries to exploit its prehistoric inhabitants. The special effects were top-notch for the day and hold up reasonably well. Plus? I was a huge dinosaur fan as a kid. Still am. In a Star Wars setting, you could translate this into a kind of monster-hunt scenario.

1970's
Beneath the Planet of the Apes
This movie scarred me emotionally. Not only do both heroes die horribly in the end, but one of them actually uses his last, dying breath to destroy the entire planet! NOT what I was expecting the first time I saw this as a kid. 

Escape from the Planet of the Apes
ANOTHER depressing movie (and one that...doesn't make a whole lot of sense). How the heck did the apes salvage and rebuild the ship.. and.. how did they go back in time and...gah. Anyway, it was sad but memorable.

Fantastic Planet
I saw this animated movie late one evening on an old show called "USA Night Flight". It was truly bizarre. But then, it was French. It was all about primitive humans living on a planet inhabited by gigantic, blue humanoids—and about how one human learns their advanced ways and sets about unifying the rest of his kind (who were treated as vermin by the aliens). The animation style was odd, but intriguing and the scenes of little humans getting stomped on by alien kids for 'fun' was creepy—as was the death of those same kids, pulled down by spiked ropes hurled by the humans. How freaky would it be if bugs suddenly turned against us like that? Needless to say, I didn't mess with any ants after seeing this show.

Westworld
I've only ever seen this movie in bits and pieces (never once all the way in one sitting). I was more impressed by the concept than by the execution of it. The idea of an immersive theme park REALLY captured my imagination. Who wouldn't like to live a fantasy for a little while? And.. well, okay, when I hit puberty, the thought of fembots was also intriguing. But if you're a Futurama fan, you know that such things are ultimately a bad idea! Turns out to be a bad idea in this movie too, when the bots go berserk and start killing everyone. I wonder how much inspiration the 'gunman' in this movie had on Terminator. As far as a Star Wars conversion of this movie goes? Hell yes! A planetary theme park run amok!

Logan's Run
Could this movie have been more 70's? I mean, my god, everyone looked like pre-disco and Farrah Fawcett even made an appearance. Still, the whole idea of this society of under-thirty year olds was interesting (and at the time, 30 sounded really old to me). The discovery and exploration of the post-apocalyptic world outside the city was great, too—and actually, it was the short-lived TV show based on this that first brought the movie to my attention. It doesn't translate well into a Star Wars adventure, but it is interesting nontheless. Plus the name Logan is cool. I named my cat that.

Damnation Alley
So I'm beginning to notice a trend in my tastes—apocalyptic movies appeal to me. Not sure why exactly, but the exploration of a shattered and 'lost' world just captures my imagination. As far as that goes, Damnation Alley was kind of a poor example. The acting and plot was... well, bad. But for me, the true star of the film was the "Landmaster" a gigantic armored, articulated bus. Man, if I survive an apocalypse, I want one of those. Or maybe two. The giant Scorpions were cool, too—as were the man-eating cockroaches. Oh, and as an interesting side-note, this film was made at the same time as Star Wars—and IT was expected to be the blockbuster for that year. Heh. Right.

Empire of the Ants
A bad, bad movie. From acting to plot to special effects. But nevertheless ads for it on TV scared me as a little kid—seeing Ants the size of horses crawling around on top of houses? Yeah. Scary. Well, to a 7 year old it was.

King Kong
Ah yes. Poor Kong. To be re-made in the 1970's. Alas. The special effects weren't quite up to snuff and the acting wasn't either. Still, its enjoyable enough to watch. But my god, Jessica Lang could NOT act in this movie! She didn't need to, though. Just throw some skimpy outfits on her and there you go. The 'interactions' between her and Kong ranged from laughably stupid to uncomfortably explicit. Gah.

Wizards
Another milestone in my movie-going career—and in two ways. First of all, I first saw Wizards on a VHS tape in the early 80's. It was one of the first videos I ever saw. And secondly, it was like no other movie (cartoon or otherwise) that I'd ever seen. The art was psychedelic and incredibly violent. The story merged science-fiction and fantasy. There were mutants and Nazis and elves and faeries. It was just too cool for words (at least at the time). Plus it had two of my favorite cinematic moments. One was the whole "Fritz, get up for gods sake!" schtick. But the other was truly legendary. When brother wizards finally face off at the climax of the movie, I was all set for a titanic magical battle. And then, suddenly, the 'good guy' pulls a gun from up his sleeve and just shoots the bad guy dead while uttering the immortal words: "I'm glad you changed your last name you son of a bitch." Classic.

Deathsport
Never saw the whole movie before, but I still remember seeing part of it as a late night movie on network TV. Another post apocalyptic movie, this one had awesome killer dirt-bikes and whistling lightsaber-like swords! Coming after Star Wars, this made it cool to my young brain.

Alien
I was much too young to see this movie when it first came out. But that didn't stop my fascination with it. I can still distinctly remember talking to another kid close to my age (8 or 9) who's parents let him see it (stupid parents). Though he told me a somewhat broken version, I knew I wanted to see it. I was in my teens, however, before I finally got up the nerve to do so. And it was worth the wait. It was a truly frightening film—and a unique one, from the 'grungy' look of the ship to the realistic way the characters spoke and 'talked over' each other. That it was believable made it all the more horrific. And even now, the special effects and the alien itself stand as 'believable' as any CG work done today (and better than most, in fact). I've already talked a lot about how the Star Wars adventures Otherspace and Otherspace II mimic the feel of Aliens and its sequels, so I won't go into it again except to say that's one of the reasons I like it so much.

The Black Hole
This is another of those movies that, looking back on it, really wasn't as good as I thought it was at the time. But again, we're talking something that came out after Star Wars—in those three long years before Empire. I was looking for anything even remotely star-warsy. And this fit the bill, from laser-fights to plucky droids, it was a great movie for a nine-year old (or so). It is also very easily converted into a Star Wars adventure with very little modification: Exploration team stumbles upon 'ghost ship' run by a mad scientist and his droid henchmen. Oh, and p.s. What the hell was with the last few scenes of the movie, with all this symbology of the villain roasting in hell, encased in the body of his android. A bit freaky for what was essentially a kids flick.

Moonraker
This movie pretty much represents all that was bad about the Bond franchise during this era—though I admit that at the time, the laser-battle in space seemed pretty cool to me. Oh, and Bond films? Yeah, just about ALL of them could be used as adventure source material for Rebel or Republic intelligence agents. Agent 001138 anyone?

So yeah, this is a huge post, so I AM going to break it up. I'll return later with the Sci Fi movies of the 80's and up!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Mistakes of the Past


As I have touched on briefly in previous posts, one of the continuing plot points in the Expanded Universe is the rather short-lived nature of the New Republic. I suppose that it all began in Timothy Zahn's Heir to the Empire novels—when Fey'lya, the Bothan politician, was portrayed as a power-hungry manipulator who somehow managed to get into a position of power within the New Republic. His behind the scenes machinations threw a big wrench into the battle to stop Grand Admiral Thrawn. Near the end of this saga, he was discredited publicly by his own words, broadcast without his knowledge to the entire fleet. His true selfishness came to the forefront. All of this was actually pretty great from a story standpoint. He was a 'good guy' but also a villain—which makes him one of the most frustrating types of villains. It also makes it all the more rewarding when he is finally taken down. 

But I have a feeling that it was Fey'lya's success as a villain that started a trend that I truly detested in the following Star Wars Novels. I mean, here it was only three years into the New Republic and we see the kind of self-serving corruption that brought the Republic down in the first place. This kind of political blunder seemed to me to ensure that Fey'lya would be effectively politically neutered. I mean, when you look at how small things can take down politicians in real life—an act of cowardice and corruption like this is a career ender. And yet it didn't take much time at all (a couple decades according to the novels) before Fey'lya became the Chancellor of the New Republic itself and presided over its utter downfall—brought about by his own ineptitude and prejudices as well as treason and corruption within his government. 

As I've stated previously, this all felt so tediously repetitious and downright uncreative to me—especially after seeing the fall of the Old Republic as shown in the prequel trilogy. It seemed especially stupid due to the otherwise heroic nature of the Star Wars galaxy. Here you have a New Republic that was paid for by the blood of true idealists and replaced a system that was shown to be irrevocably evil. And we are expected to believe that it doesn't even take ONE generation before the whole system is so corrupt and screwed up that it can no longer function. It seemed like a slap in the face to all the heroes of the Rebellion—an attack on their character almost that they would so easily forget the lessons of the past and allow them so easily to repeat themselves. 

Corruption in a representative government is inevitable (unfortunately), but you would think that after such a hard-won victory, the people in charge of putting the Republic back together would be especially sensitive to the same bad things happening all over again. There are ways to check and balance such corruption, and it seems to me that those steps WOULD be taken by the people involved. And yet, as shown in the novels, it felt like everyone ignored the lessons of history and just picked up with the Republic right where they left off—resulting in its collapse.

Call me an optimist, but I'd like to think that the Rebellion and Fall of the Empire was a wake up call to the entire Galaxy. In my mind—and for the purposes of the story the Star Wars movie saga seems to tell—the New Republic should have presided over a new Golden Age. The ideals of the Old Republic would have been refreshed by the 'blood' of all the patriots and idealists who died trying to recover them. They would MEAN something again on a personal level, as would the freedom that the Empire had taken away for some 20 years. And yet, that isn't what we see—and it disappointed me.

I realize that turmoil makes for a more exciting setting, but to me, it is a dis-service to the Saga and its characters to basically say that all their trials and travails were for naught. The vision of a safe, healthy New Republic was ultimately a pipe-dream that will never come to be. For me, that is just a downer that smacks of the 'gritty realisim' that  Star Wars is NOT known for, but which some writers keep trying to inject into it.

All of this is why, in my own Star Wars campaign, I have diverted completely from 'canon' after the Jedi Academy novels. Yes, I have included a new threat that does battle with the New Republic, and yes, the New Republic is hard-pressed to stand against it, but it isn't due to the failings of the Republic government or organization, but rather it is because the Aliens (Nagai) are THAT dangerous of a threat. I realize that adventure in a galaxy bereft of a crumbling and failed New Republic is going to require more creativity on my part. But I'm willing to go that extra mile instead of treading the same ground as the prequels again—as all the novels seem so keen on doing.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Review: Otherspace II: Invasion


>>> MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS <<<

This is the only published Star Wars module that is a direct sequel of a previous module, picking up some time (months to years) after the original Otherspace adventure. Contact is lost with a remote Alliance 'Safeworld' and the character's are sent to investigate. Though it is originally surmised that the Empire is at fault for this loss of contact, the character's quickly discover that is not the case. Utilizing knowledge gained from their previous encounter with the character's, the evil arachnoid Charon have managed to cross the barrier from their own dimension into the Star Wars galaxy—and have subsequently crash-landed right on top of an Alliance base. The characters must investigate the overrun facility and make contact with any survivors. Braving zombie-like constructs and other alien horrors, the true mission turns from one of rescue to a full blown battle to keep the Charon from spreading off-world. 

Like its predecessor, Otherspace II combines elements of horror with the typical action-adventure style of Star Wars modules. Once again, I was reminded of the movie Aliens (and very pleasantly so, since it's one of my favorite flicks). For my campaign, it came at a pretty good point, after a slew of regular 'missions'. The sudden jump back to horror was refreshing (at least for me). As with most Star Wars products, I enjoyed this module quite a bit—though I found a few more criticisms in it than I had in previous products. 

Lets start with the positive points. First up is pacing. This is all important in a horror setting. A slow build helps to get everyone in the mood and on edge, building anxiety prior to the bantha pudu really hitting the fan. Otherspace II begins with a classic horror encounter—the 'insane survivor'. When approaching the safeworld, the characters come under attack from an insane pilot, desperate to escape from whatever lurking horror awaits on the planet. He is, of course, incoherent and has not usable information, but he serves his purpose—pointing out that this likely is NOT the Empire. The horror builds as the party begins to investigate the base and its surroundings, finding everything 'too quiet'. Encounters within the base increase in horror as the players realize that captured (and killed) personnel (including women and children) are being used to create zombie-like 'constructs' to serve the Charon in battle. Eventually, the characters will find a band of Rebel survivors, but any relief from this is likely to be tempered with the news that the Charon are seeking to find a way off the planet, to spread their campaign against life itself throughout the galaxy. So from this slow build, you eventually reach the crescendo of a full out battle between the Charon hordes and the pitiful handful of rebels, led by the party. Fun and creepy stuff.

The NPCs are another strong point of the adventure—with two of them recurring from the original Otherspace module. The first, Moff Ravik, has been transformed into a hideous Charon-Human hybrid. His already megalomaniacal personality has been twisted by his ordeal, so much so that he wrested control away from the Charon's former leader and now seeks to conquer the galaxy with his new army. The second NPC is Bane Nothos—a former Imperial starship Captain. But now he is...not what he seems. In the original text of the module, his personality has been taken over by the psyche of the Charon's former leader (the one deposed by Ravik). In this guise, he seeks to ingratiate himself with the Character's and use them to eliminate his rival. Both of these guys are twisted and horrific in their own way, adding something new even as their very existence provides continuity with the original adventure of the series.

And lets talk a little about Continuity. A lot of campaigns are very linear in nature, you defeat one enemy and move on to the next. And while this 'enemy of the week' style is enjoyable, I find that it is nice to mix things up every once in a while—to hearken back to former enemies or the consequences of some former mission. It helps build depth in a campaign, to know that not everything begins and ends right in front of the character's eyes—that some enemies continue to evolve and scheme behind the scenes, waiting for just the right time to strike. A good corollary to this would be in the Star Trek II (yes, I know, another Trek reference on a Star Wars blog. Blasphemy. Get over it.). Would the story have been as interesting if Khan was replaced by some other completely new villain? You could have twisted it so he was just some madman who stumbled upon the Genesis device and wanted to capture it for himself. But it wouldn't have had nearly the depth of emotion. As I've said in previous posts, giving players a recurring 'nemesis' to sink their teeth into is a lot more impactful than always introducing new bad guys.

And finally (for the good points of the adventue), the Charon themselves appeal to me as a wonderful villain species. They are implacably evil, creepy and powerful. Their bio-technology is just unsettling, and I really played that up—with the groups of mutated and patchwork 'construct' zombies providing a lot more horror than your typical adventure cannon-fodder. Imagine how demoralizing that would be for an enemy, to see their own, dead relatives coming after them—wives, husbands, children. Shudder. To me, the Charon are almost like a hybrid between the 'Xenomorphs' of the Alien series and the Borg of Star Trek (stop with the Trek references already!). That is a frightening concept—as if they did manage to cross over into the Star Wars galaxy with enough numbers, they could very well spread like a plague—every defeated enemy or 'captured' prisoner could be turned against their former comrades and allies.

Unfortunately, that is where one of the adventure's negative points come in—it fails to capitalize on the scope of the threat the Charon pose. As written, the adventure states that this one, crashed Charon ship is the ONLY Charon ship, and that its occupants are the only Charon. Even if there were thousands of Charon on the ship (which there weren't), that really wouldn't pose any kind of a galactic-level threat. Sure, they're enough to mess up a remote Rebel outpost, but...if they tried that against the Empire, they'd be snuffed out. This is one of those instances where it helps to think things through as a GM and try to plug glaring plot-holes like this. In my campaign, the Charon ship was just a scout vessel. They were the first to achieve dimensional crossover and were looking to find hyperspace capable ships so they could make the return trip with data to help bring the rest of the Charon Armada over. That, I thought, was a much more threatening plot. Not thousands of Charon, but billions of them, complete with gigantic warships.

Another negative to this adventure was its handling of the final battle between the Charon and the Rebel survivors. The whole thing was intended to be played out using the rules for a boardgame that West End had put out (the Battle for Hoth or something). That just seemed totally out of place to me—a blatant gimmick to cross-sell their other product. It wasn't the first time they'd done so, of course. Nearly every other module had included playing pieces for West End's space-combat simulation game (Star Warriors). But that was always introduced in addition to guidelines for playing out the battle using RPG rules. In this instance, the battle was only sketchily outlined for the RPG, while dozens of pieces were provided for the boardgame. I had no interest in the boardgame, so I had to wing the battle on my own. It went alright, but I wouldn't have minded a few tips and pointers from the adventure itself. In the 2nd Edition, Revised and Expanded rulebook, they had an entire chapter on how to run battles within an RP setting—it was very well done, and I wish I'd had it before running this adventure. I could have done a much better job of it, I think.

When you weigh the good against the bad in Otherspace II, the good wins. It required a lot more GM reworking than other adventures (hence it not making my top 10 list), but that didn't stop me enjoying it. Indeed, Otherspace II sparked a larger idea in me. It occurred to me then that it seemed to be begging a third and 'final' chapter to the saga. But that is a subject for another post...



Monday, May 18, 2009

Thoughts on Trek

When I started this Blog, I kind of promised myself I'd restrict it only to Star Wars. Thus, a post on the new Star Trek movie might seem out of place (even 'blasphemous' to some rabid Star Wars fans). But trust me on this—I have a reason. 

First of all, let me start by saying that I am a Star Trek fan, but by no means a 'Trekkie' (my area of geekish expertise is Star Wars). I enjoyed the old and new TV shows (with the exception of Voyager and Enterprise). I liked the good Star Trek movies (II, IV and VI). And I like the new movie. Judging from the amount of uproar I've seen on the net, a lot of Trek fans don't. 

How this ties in to Star Wars is essentially this: Would I feel 'betrayed' if someone rebooted the Star Wars franchise—because 'betrayed' seems to be how a lot of Trek fans feel about this new movie. The criticisms I've heard (and I don't subscribe to all of them) seem to center around that. Many say that by 'updating' and changing the characters you're abandoning everything that made the original series what it was. To a certain extent, that's true. As the movie taglines said: This isn't your father's Star Trek. It certainly didn't feel like a Trek movie, but then, that isn't necessarily a bad thing. I personally was able to 'get past' all of the baggage associated with Trek and look at the new movie as just that—something new. Oh, sure, there were plot-holes and things I would have done differently. But I enjoyed myself. And more to the point, I want to see where they're going to go with all of this from here.

Its a lot like the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica. I know there are still some fanboys out there lamenting the fact that Starbuck wasn't a dude. I got over it—pretty fast, really. It wasn't the BSG I remembered, so I was able to just accept it as something new and enjoy it on that level.

But could I do the same with Star Wars?

I would like to think that I can, but looking back at some of my earliest posts, it seems that I spewed a lot of bile on the prequel trilogy—and even subsequent games and novels that 'messed with' MY Star Wars. How much MORE would a remaking of my 'beloved' original trilogy impact me. I know I would likely be hyper-critical and sensitive to how it was handled. But I also think that if I was 'assured' that this was an alternate version of what happened rather than a 'rewrite', that I could accept it, and (if it was well done) enjoy it. 

I think that's probably what ticked me off about the prequels. They weren't telling a 'new story', they were mucking around in the background of something I loved and occasionally trampling over some of the things I loved MOST about it. That just isn't the case in Star Trek. Yeah, a lot of people call the alternate timeline a cliched thing or even a cop-out, but it works for me. It helps me disconnect emotionally from the old and see something as entirely new. It doesn't change or belittle anything that came before. And for people emotionally invested in something, that's nice. 

So, as long as they don't give Star Wars Reboot to McG or Uwe Boll to direct, I think I'd be cool with it.

Probably.

Maybe.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Armor


I have long had mixed feelings about armor in the Star Wars setting—mainly because we really never see the main characters of the movies ever use it (except as a disguise). A lot of people (upon seeing the movies) question whether or not armor is even worth it—I mean, just look at all the stormtroopers who get taken out, despite their armor. 

But when you look at it from a game point of view, armor does have its benefits. I have had several players complain that armor is too 'wimpy' in Star Wars D6, but an extra 1D to your strength could very well be the difference between a glancing blow or a severe injury. In this way, it is very much reminiscent of 'real world' armor. It doesn't make you invincible, it just gives you less of a chance of being injured (that's why they're called bullet-resistant vests, not bullet-'proof'). 

What you have to remember about D6 armor is that it makes sense in the abstract nature of the combat system. When you take damage, you don't roll a hit location (at least, I never used that). You simply compare the Strength Roll of the character (plus armor) to the Damage roll of the weapon. If the character takes a lot of damage, you can assume that the shot hit a more lightly armored or more 'vital' area. If the character is only stunned, you can assume the armor did its job and sloughed off the damage. 

So yes, armor is functional in the game, and its even pretty well balanced (I never allowed any body-armor over 2D in my campaign, to avoid the 'walking tank' syndrome). But it still just feels 'wrong' in a lot of situations. It doesn't always feel very 'Starwarsy'. Thankfully, my players have always been pretty good about roleplaying armor 'properly'. Their characters don't wear it all the time, only when its appropriate. If they're going undercover or doing low-key investigations? Well, body-armor is kind of conspicuous. Likewise, it is usually frowned upon in most social functions. Where I don't have a problem with characters suiting up is when they know they are going into a combat situation. Then? It only makes sense to armor-up. 

It is somewhat gratifying to see this theory backed up in the recent Clone Wars CGI series. I know some players feel that armor is 'beneath' Jedi to wear—but in the thick of a full-blown war, I think it would be stupid not to. Hence, we have Kenobi and Anakin both suiting up. It looks cool and it feels 'right' considering the setting. 

The place where I have (so far) drawn the line is power armor. While I like this in a peripheral use (i.e. you have Zero-Gee stormtroopers and the like), I couldn't imagine running a campaign where all the characters were walking tanks (probably why I never played Rifts...)

In any case, bottom line for me is: Armor is cool, when used appropriately—and when it is viewed in the framework of game mechanics. No, it isn't entirely realistic, but it is 'realistic enough' for cinematic roleplay.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

My D6 System: Character Injury

Continuing in my overview of my current revised and expanded D6 Star Wars system, I will now delve into the subject of character injury. It may seem like a very small mechanic of a game, but in a larger sense, it reflects the 'philosophy' behind a system. The way D6 initially handled injury was one of the things that first drew me to the system. Here we finally had a mechanic in a game system that gave even 'high level' characters a reason to be wary of even a lowly blaster-pistol. Where as in most D&D games, high-level characters scoffed at being shot by dozens of arrows, a Star Wars character always had to be careful of the possibility that one lucky hit, however unlikely, could take them down. To me, this added a bit of cinematic realism to the system—wherein characters weren't 'tanks' that soaked up damage until they finally went down. It gave players a real reason to try and avoid injury—but without being too 'lethal' when they didn't.

At least, that's how it was in the first edition of the game. For some reason, there was a shift in philosophy from first to second edition. A shift that, if I had taken it, would have made character injury much more 'lethal'. As I recall, the stated reason for this change was to put greater emphasis on 'not getting hit'. The rule book used the example of the characters in the movies rarely getting shot as justification. I never liked this reasoning, mainly because it went against my character death policy. To me, character wounds were a way to 'gently remind' the players to be more careful in their character actions without just killing them off and passing the lesson on to their new character. To their credit, my players seem to have learned this lesson. They are still brash, yes, but most of them still know when to cut and run and when something is too big for them to handle directly.

So, through my campaign, I kept the first edition injury system. I looked briefly at the system of 'body points' (or whatever) presented in the generic D6 system and DC heroes, but I never liked that either. It reminded me too much of D&D and hit points. Still, I wasn't entirely satisfied with what I had...so I tinkered. What I came up with was this:

DETERMINE AMOUNT OF DAMAGE
When struck by a weapon or otherwise injured, a character rolls their Strength attribute versus the damage-dice of whatever hit them. They then consult the following chart:

Damage roll ≤ Strength Roll x.5  =  Character Unaffected
Damage roll ≤ Strength Roll = Character Temporarily Stunned
Damage roll > Strength Roll = Character takes 1 Wound
Damage roll > Strength Roll x2 = Character takes 2 Wounds
Damage roll > Strength Roll x3 = Character takes 3 Wounds
etc.

DETERMINE EFFECTS OF DAMAGE
Unaffected
This means just that: There was no effect. Whatever hit you just glanced off or otherwise did no appreciable damage.

Temporarily Stunned
Your character receives a 1D penalty to all actions for the remainder of the round. The stun goes away at the end of the round. The character has to make a Very Easy Stamina roll (see below) to avoid being knocked out. NOTE: Temporary stuns ARE cumulative. Please see the Stun System (also below) for more information.

Wounded
Wounds are cumulative. Every character can take a number of wounds equal to their Strength Attribute (ignoring any pips) before becoming Mortally Wounded. Thus, a character with a 2D Strength attribute has the capacity to take 2 wounds. A character with a 3D+2 Strength has the capacity to take 3 wounds, etc.. The stronger a character is, the more wounds it takes to seriously injure him. For instance, a character with a 2D Strength...

1 Wound = Lightly Wounded (-1D penalty to all rolls; Easy Stamina roll to avoid knockout)
2 Wounds = Severely Wounded (-3D penalty to all rolls; Difficult Stamina roll to avoid knockout)
3 Wounds = Mortally Wounded (-4D penalty to all rolls; Very Difficult Stamina roll to avoid knockout)

A character with a 3D Strength...

1 Wound = Lightly Wounded (-1D penalty to all rolls; Easy Stamina roll to avoid knockout (See below)
2 Wounds = Heavily Wounded (-2D penalty to all rolls; Moderate Stamina roll to avoid knockout
3 Wounds = Severely Wounded (-3D penalty to all rolls; Difficult Stamina roll to avoid knockout
4 Wounds = Mortally Wounded (-4D penalty to all rolls; Very Difficult Stamina roll to avoid knockout

A character with a 4D Strength...

1 Wound = Lightly Wounded (-1D penalty to all rolls; Easy Stamina roll to avoid knockout
2 Wounds = Lightly Wounded (-1D penalty to all rolls; Easy Stamina roll to avoid knockout
3 Wounds = Heavily Wounded (-2D penalty to all rolls; Moderate Stamina roll to avoid knockout
4 Wounds = Severely Wounded (-3D penalty to all rolls; Difficult Stamina roll to avoid knockout
5 Wounds = Mortally Wounded (-4D penalty to all rolls; Very Difficult Stamina roll to avoid knockout

KNOCKOUT
As seen above, every injury comes with the chance of being 'knocked out'. This doesn't always represent straight loss of consciousness, but rather 'incapacitation' of some sort—shock or disorientation. Just something that takes you out of the fight for a while. The greater the injury, the greater the chance of being knocked out. In fact, since the dice penalty for injury is applied to the stamina roll, the chance of knockout increases almost exponentially. Only the toughest people will be capable of remaining conscious with a mortal injury.

As far as the duration of a knockout goes, I have not hard fast rules on that—generally playing it by ear or according to what would be most dramatically appropriate. As a rule of thumb, though, the more serious the cause of the knockout (a Serious Wound as opposed to a Light), the longer the period of incapacity.

STUNS
In the original system, the mechanics of the blaster stun settings were ridiculously unbalanced. It was actually much easier to stun someone into unconsciousness than it was to just blast them—begging the question of why would you ever NOT use the stun setting. I don't know if this was intentional by the designers or not, but in any case, I think its kind of dumb. In my own system, the Stuns are handled parallel to wounds. This means as you keep track of a character's wound level, you must also keep track of their stun level. The only difference is that Stun damage wears off at the rate of 1 Stun per round.