Gaming The Presidential Election Into Space

Are you sick and tired of the 2012 presidential election yet? Wouldn’t you like to pull either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney aside and beat the living crap out of them without the Secret Service paying you a surprise visit? If so, download “Vote!!!“, a free video game for the iPad and iPhone, to start whacking away at your favorite presidential candidate.

If you’re not a registered voter, a button on the main menu will take you to Register to Vote to sign up. Do your civic duty, study the issues and vote for your candidates!

If politics isn’t your cup of tea, there’s always “Angry Bird Space: The Red Planet” to play with later this fall. As @IdioticInuit tweeted over the weekend after the death of Neil Armstrong was announced: “Smartphones today have more computing power than NASA in the 1960’s. They went to the Moon. We launch birds at pigs. “

A Lacking Curiosity About NASA’s Mars Rover

NASA Curiosity Rover

On Monday night I was busy writing a new blog post. At least, I was trying to. With the 2012 London Olympics blaring from the TV in the living room and NASA TV blaring from my roommate’s iPad in the dining room, I was getting a conflicting headache in my office. If that wasn’t bad enough, Twitter was going bonkers. Seven minutes of terror became seven minutes of distractions as NASA landed their newest rover, Curiosity, on the planet Mars with picture-perfect precision.

Since I’m taking a summer break to restructure my writing business, I’m busy staying on top of current tasks like blog posts and implementing some big changes. I’m so busy that I don’t have time to watch NASA drop a one-ton vehicle on the Martian surface or the pair of Redbox DVDs —“Lockout” and “Piranha DD”—that I picked up for the weekend. I couldn’t avoid it entirely. I live in a crowded studio apartment, where the living room, dining room and office with a pair of twin beds in between are crammed into an L-shaped room.

Like the Olympics, I wasn’t going to avoid NASA TV. Although I didn’t watch it, I caught the grist of the audio feed and monitored the Twitter tweets that raced across my timeline. The tweets before, during and after the landing were what really distracted me (listed below in no particular order).

  • Some people found it ironic that they were watching NASA TV on an iPad that has more computing power than the flight computer for the Apollo 11 moon launch. (Monday was also Neil Amstrong’s 82nd birthday.)
  • The best way to watch history in the making is to have NASA TV and the Twitter timeline opened in separate side-by-side windows on your computer.
  • Editorial cartoonist Jeffery Koterba tweeted a Curiosity cartoon that he drew. Yes, you have to go out a long ways to find someone with an unbiased opinion about the 2012 presidential election. Mars is definitely a red planet.
  • Adrianne Curry’s Star Wars themed birthday pictures of her in a black bikini.
  • Since the initial black-and-white pictures of the wheel looked like ultrasound pregnancy pictures, I tweeted: “Bad, Rover, bad. You know you need to use protection.”
  • Here’s the proud father of all these ultrasound pregnancy pictures (via @Oatmeal).
  • Quote: “NASA scientists at their monitors, I think Jerry Lewis will break in and tell us to keep calling in w/donations” (via @EverettMaroon)
  • Quote: “If there is intelligent life on Mars, can you book me a room, thanks, because I am outta here?” (via @HogsAteMySister)

After the brouhaha was over, I took some Nyquil, went to bed, and woke up the next morning to finish the blog post before starting my non-writing tech job (i.e., the job that really pays the bills). As the search for extinct extraterrestrial life continues on the solar system’s most barren planet, I had an excellent idea for a science fiction short story involving the new Mars rover.

Review – A Wrong Turn For Prometheus

Prometheus Movie Poster
P R O M E T H E U S

When I went to see “Prometheus” at the AMC Mercado 20, I was shocked—shocked!—to see that the California Lottery Commission was airing a revised Lady Luck video. And then there was the movie itself. I had kept my expectations low and avoided reading any reviews. (Unlike “The Avenger” movie that got hyped to death for months, this movie barely made a peep on my radar.)  Being a prequel to “Alien” that explores the origin of the space jockey in the crashed spaceship on the moon LV-426, I wanted to be surprised by how everything was put together.

I was surprised but not in a good way.

The first hour of the movie was quite beautiful as the origin of humanity begins with an eight-foot-tall giant—”engineers” as they would later be called—who sacrifices himself by drinking a black liquid that tears apart his DNA to form new life on an uninhabited planet. Many eons later, a team of archeologists find the oldest cave painting with humans worshiping a giant alien pointing to a star cluster that links all the ancient civilizations to Earth. (If you’re into UFO conspiracy theories, some people believe that the Nephilims were giant aliens.) A few years after that discovery, the spaceship Prometheus lands on the moon LV-233 and the crew begins their mission with conflicting agendas.

For the next 90 minutes, the plot holes starts piling up fast and furious. Two major plot holes ruined the movie for me. If you haven’t seen the movie, stop reading now.

Why does the moon bears the designation LV-233 in “Prometheus” instead of LV-426 in the “Alien” movies? No clue. Although the weather patterns are violent on LV-233, it’s not yet the hellhole that becomes LV-426. The two moons are obviously supposed to be the same location but the designation doesn’t match up.

When the captain jettisons the life support module and sacrifices the Prometheus to prevent the alien spaceship from leaving the moon, the alien spaceship crashes to a rolling halt into its final position, and the space jockey is strapped down in the flight chair, all we needed was the chest buster alien to pop out and leave the space jockey dead to match the scene in “Alien.” That didn’t happen. The space jockey comes crashing into the life support module to be attacked and infected by a huge facehugger. The movie ends with a crude-looking xenomorph emerging from the dead space jockey. This is not the sleek killing machine we all come to love and admire.

Seems like director Ridley C. Scott took all the plot lines from a wrong turn at Albuquerque TV trope and mixed them together with the best parts of “Aliens” to create “Prometheus,” which is less than the sum of its parts. The unanswered questions will probably be answered in the next sequel or two. This wasn’t the completed movie that I expected it to be.

Why Is Pandorum Popular On My Website?

Several weeks ago I finished moving my personal blog over to WordPress and signed up for a Google Analytics account to figureout my audience. (There seem to be about 20 of you, all living in your mother’s basement and still looking for a job after being unemployed for two years.) Surprisingly, Figuring Out Pandorum got 60 hits during that time. I’m not really sure why. The movie came out several years ago and the DVD been out for a while. Maybe the Syfy Channel was including it in recent movie marathons. The ending to that movie is somewhat ambiguous. My blog post gave one tantalizing hint without explaining the significance that most people probably didn’t notice .

With this blog post, I’m going to explain the ending to Pandorum as I understood it when I first saw it in the movie theater. (The Wikipedia article goes into greater detail.)  Stop reading if you haven’t seen the movie.

Earth is dying. Humanity sends 60,000 people in stasis pods to colonize a distant world. A small crew operates the ship at all times during the 123 year voyage, taking turns coming in and out of stasis. A message arrives that Earth is dead. One of the crew goes mad, declares himself God, and exile the still awake crew members into the unsafe areas of the ship. (There may be more to this but I haven’t seen the movie since it came out.) The crew member that went mad eventually puts himself back into stasis and is one of two crew members reawaken at the beginning of the movie without their memory.

Where did the small, gray-skinned cannibals on the ship come from? Various hints are dropped along the way but the most important hint can easily be overlooked near the end of the movie. The mission clock says 923 years. The ship does reach the new planet after 123 years but crash lands offshore in deep water where surface light doesn’t penetrate. For the next 800 years, the crew exiled to the unsafe areas of the ship evolved—or more acurately, devolved—from the intense cold and radiation into these creatures that haunt the ship, looking to eat survivors who have awaken from their stasis pods. They are not aliens from outside the spaceship who hitchhiked a ride as the beginning of the movie suggests.

During the final confrontation on the bridge, the shield over the windows are withdrawn to reveal a black void with strange creatures on the outside. The ship is submerged in deep water and not lost in some uncharted void of deep space. When a window is cracked and water starts rushing in, the ship automatically jettisons the stasis pods away from the ship to pop up to the surface. These 1,213 normal human survivors forms the new colony for humanity.

There you have it. The writers of Pandorum did a great job of twisting the generic abandon spaceship horror story by adding cannibals mutated from the crew members and putting the spaceship under water. Since I write speculative short stories, I was actively dissecting the movie while seeing it for the first time. (Which sometimes makes it difficult for me to relax and enjoy a movie.) You really need to pay close attention to get all the details in a movie like this. That may be hard to do when someone is being eaten alive in their stasis pod by a half-dozen cannibals.

Since this is a current blog post for the next 30 days, please leave a comment. I’m curious to know why you came looking for Pandorum on my website.

Battle: Los Angeles Is A War Movie

When Battle: Los Angeles came out last week, it was several days after the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan. Which was extremely ironic considering that the first place the mysterious meteorites fell from the sky was off the coast of Japan. I went into the movie theater knowing only one thing about this movie: Michelle Rodriguez. Beyond that, not much. The main complaint I heard over the radio was that this was yet another alien invasion movie and how many version of Independence Day do we need? I ended up enjoying this movie precisely because it wasn’t an alien invasion movie but a war movie with a strong main character facing a moral dilemma that he has no choice but to resolve before the end credits roll.

Marine Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) has a reputation of getting his men killed in a recent tour in Afghanistan and wants to leave the service. Sergeants are the backbone of the military, knowing the people below them better than the officers above them do, often serving at the same rank until retiring. Not surprisingly, his commanding officer tries to talk him out of leaving. Then the alien invasion begins. Nantz is assigned as a replacement sergeant to a platoon where the men have reasons to hate him—”my brother came home in a box”—and a newly minted second lieutenant fresh out of officer school. If you have seen enough war movies, this is a recipe for a disaster.

They are flown into the war zone and make their way on foot to a police substation where a civilian distress call was sent after the area was evacuated. Moving through the fog of war (smoke, shadows and a stray dog), the men starts to doubt Nantz’s ability to lead them after the second lieutenant freaks out in the middle of a running battle with the aliens. They find the civilians inside the substation, dissect a live alien to figure out how to kill them (a war crime under the Geneva Conventions), and use a bus to get everyone out of the way. When it became obvious that the aliens can track down radio signals, he uses his radio to lure an alien to a gas station and toss a grenade to blast the alien sky high. Attitudes start changing towards  him as he leads the survivors through various fights and struggle to overcome obstacles. He ends up leading them against an alien command-and-control center that changes the direction of the battle.

Michelle Rodriguez plays a surprisingly minor and quite feminine role in this movie.

Air Force Technical Sergeant Elena Santos was on a intelligence reconnaissance mission when her airplane is shot down, and she hooks up with a different group of Marines heading towards the police station. She comes across as being very low key soldier unfamiliar with being in an actual war zone and working with a different branch of the military. The kick-ass tough girl from Avatar and other movies doesn’t really come out to play, although she does pound away on an alien that tried to sneak up behind her. She, like the staff sergeant before her, had to prove her worth before being taken seriously by the other guys. When two men take up position to fire upon the aliens, she grabs a machine gun and wiggles her way between them, saying that they needed an extra gun in this fight. Eventually, through her own small heroic actions, she gains their trust to be treated like one of the guys.

I think the real reason why she is in this movie is probably to be the butt of a sex joke. After she blows out the brains of an alien that landed on the hood of the truck, she complains about the nasty stuff getting splattered into her mouth. The Marine next to her starts cracking up and tells her, “Isn’t that what you do on your first date?” I can’t see either Sigourney Weaver or Angelina Jolie playing a similar scene with her spunk (yes, British pun intended).

Why does the aliens invade Earth? Apparently, they need salt water to survive.

Not the most original premise for a science fiction plot, but the internal logic about the aliens and their technology being based on salt water is fairly consistent. The aliens look and behave like the Predator alien shoved into a metallic crab shell, hunting along the rooftops and going to ground only when they have to. Their ships can be reconfigured to join other machines to form a larger vessel. They blend in well with the chaotic Los Angeles (filmed mostly in Louisiana against generic locations) that is burning down to the ground as a part of a larger worldwide alien invasion. And, more importantly, there is no Mac laptop with an upside down Apple logo uploading data to the mothership. What brings down the alien command-and-control ship are laser-guided cruise missiles.

Overall, a very intense war movie with a nice solid science fiction background and a fine supporting case.

The International Space Station Flyby At The Movies

Pirates of The Caribbean 2 Movie PosterSaw “Pirates of The Caribbean: Dead’s Man Chest” on Friday night. The movie had an interesting twist on the Davy Jones’ Locker myth. But the real highlight was standing in line outside the theater at 9:15PM to see the International Space Station (ISS) swing by overhead. A very bright dot that moved very fast as it made a right at Jupiter and then a left at the Moon. The people in line weren’t even aware that the ISS in orbit or the Space Shuttle Discovery gone up on Fourth of July.

I told them that the police helicopter patrolling nearby was a UFO when we had several “close encounters” when the searchlight swept the parking lot. The police should have gone after the idiots who insisted on driving their fancy sports car through the long line of people in search of a non-existent parking near the theater.