SciFi Weekend: The Next Star Trek Movie; Extra Hour For Lost; Harry Potter and Atheism; & Another Kristen Bell Bikini Movie

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With the first Star Trek movie by J.J. Abrams turning into such a hit, there has been a lot of speculation about his next Star Trek movie. In an interview with Colllider, Abrams says he is  open to anything:

Q:  I just interviewed Bob and Alex… they were talking about not having the typical movie villain but maybe having nature or…

Abrams: Oh! I see what you’re saying.  Well, I’m open to anything.  We’ve had some really interesting discussions so far but, you know – you have to be open to everything to find the right thing so the answer is sure, I’m open to that.  I think in a story it’s important to personify, somehow, what you’re up against so it’s a tricky one to figure out how to, like, fight evil wind! (evil look for emphasis).

Star Trek screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman have also mentioned the possibilities open to them in recent interviews:

At issue: do they create a fresh plot with never-before-seen characters and scenarios or — because young Kirk and Spock are now part of an alternate timeline where the past has been altered — do they introduce 2.0 versions of such popular villains as the Klingons or Khan? Orci recognizes each approach has its own merits.

Rebooting familiar elements appeals instantly to fans and attracts the attention of “the media-sphere,” as he calls it.

Meaning that if you cast, say, Javier Bardem as the new Khan opposite Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto, you’ve automatically excited fans and attracted the attention of the moviegoing public.

“But on the other hand,” he adds, “who doesn’t love an original story?”

That they’re even having this discussion is, they know, is no small feat. But the J. J. Abramsdirected Trek has rejuvenated a franchise once believed dead, grossing more than $245 million so far in North America. (Compared to the $49 million 2002’s Star Trek: Nemesis earned.)

“We’d hear that people thought Star Trek was too cold, that women didn’t like it,” Orci says. “But if you look at that period in the 1980s — from Wrath of Khan to the Voyage Home — those movies were very warm; they were about a family.”

Using the Klingons makes sense as they were frequent enemies in past television episodes and movies. There has been a lot of speculation about retelling the stories with Kahn but there is less point in this. Kahn was the villian in one television episode of Star Trek and returned for one of the movies. I would rather see a new story than to retell the original television episode, and the movie with Kahn takes place far later in Kirk’s career.

IO9 discusses the possibility that the next Star Trek movie could include Yeoman Janice Rand:

…co-writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman tell io9 the next film could feature one of Trek‘s most iconic women.

Yeoman Janice Rand, with her imposing blonde beehive, only appeared in a handful of Trek episodes before disappearing (reportedly because star William Shatner wanted Kirk to have more the opportunity to mack on different women every week.) But since she has a fairly major role in “Charlie X” and “The Enemy Within,” she’s always stood out as one of the most significant female characters on the show, up there with Uhura and Nurse Chapel.

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Lost ended the fourth season with a lot of subplots to tie up. There are rumors that some of the characters who died will be returning. This could be in flashbacks or could be a consequence of the atomic bomb which might have changed history. The Hollywood Reporter says that they will be adding another episode on to the final season.

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The Harry Potter books and movies have already come under frequent attacks from the religious right. Daniel Radcliffe, who plays Harry Potter, has given them another reason in an upcoming interview to appear in Esquire. The Telegraph reports:

In an interview with Esquire magazine, Radcliffe risked the US box office prospects of the new Harry Potter film by declaring himself to be an atheist.

In a pronouncement that will dismay America’s religious Right, which has long voiced suspicions about Potter’s “anti-Christian” message, the 19-year-old actor said he did not believe in God.

He also expressed his admiration for Professor Richard Dawkins, the prominent atheist and bete noir of Evangelical Christians.

Radcliffe has been reticent on the subject of religion in the past, but in an interview to promote the latest instalment in the film franchise, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, released on July 15, he said: “I’m an atheist, but I’m very relaxed about it. I don’t preach my atheism, but I have a huge amount of respect for people like Richard Dawkins who do. Anything he does on television, I will watch.”

He joked: “There we go, Dan, that’s half of America that’s not going to see the next Harry Potter film on the back of that comment.”

JK Rowling’s stories of the schoolboy wizard are taken very seriously by some Evangelical Christians in the United States. One of the largest Christian groups in the country, Focus on the Family, denounced the books as “witchcraft”.

Conversely, the Church of England published a guide advising youth leaders to use Harry Potter to spread the Christian message, as the characters face “struggles and dilemmas that are familiar to us all”.

Prof Dawkins, author of best-selling book The God Delusion, is no fan of Harry Potter, once remarking that tales of witchcraft are “anti-scientific”.

Harry Potter does show a world in which magic is used in ways which defy the laws of science, but this is presented as fantasy and certainly should not be taken as a claim for the validity of magic.

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I’m not certain about the story in an upcoming movie from Universal but the movie reportedly has a lot of scenes with Kristen Bell and Kristin Davis in bikinis and lingerie. Here is the synopsis:

Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman, Jon Favreau, Malin Akerman, Kristin Davis, Kristen Bell and Faizon Love star in Universal Pictures’ upcoming comedy Couples Retreat. Based on an original idea of Vaughn’s, the comedy follows four Midwestern couples who embark on a journey to a tropical island resort.  While one of the couples is there to work on their marriage, the other three set out to jet ski, spa and enjoy some fun in the sun.  They soon discover that participation in the resort’s couples therapy is not optional.  Suddenly, their group-rate vacation comes at a price.  What follows is a hilarious look at real world problems faced by all couples.

Conservatives Shocked But Harry Potter Fans Not Surprised By Revelation That Dumbledore Was Gay

As expected, the wing nuts are upset that a fictional character in a fictional world had a fictional crush on another fictional male. Bill O’Riley is upset that J. K. Rowling is promoting the gay agenda for revealing that Dumbledore was gay.

Many fans had already figured this out. The Los Angeles Times contacted “Andrew Slack, head of the Harry Potter Alliance, an organization that uses online organizing to mobilize more than 100,000 Harry Potter fans around social justice issues.” Slack gave seven clues that Dumbledore was gay:

1. His pet. “Fawkes, the many-colored phoenix, is ‘flaming.'”

2. His name. “While the anagram to ‘Tom Marvolo Riddle’ is ‘I am Lord Voldemort,’ as my good friend pointed out, ‘Albus Dumbledore’ becomes ‘Male bods rule, bud!'”

3. His fashion sense. “Whether it’s his ‘purple cloak and high-heeled boots,’ a ‘flamboyantly cut suit of plum velvet,’ a flowered bonnet at Christmas or his fascination with knitting patterns, Dumbledore defies the fashion standards of normative masculinity and, of course, this gives him a flair like no other. It’s no wonder that even the uppity portrait of former headmaster Phineas Nigellus announced, ‘You cannot deny he’s got style.'”

4. His sensitivity. “Leaders like Cornelius Fudge, Rufus Scrimgeour and Dolores Umbridge (yes, even a woman) who are limited by the standards of normative masculinity could not fully embrace where Voldemort was weakest: in his capacity to love. Dumbledore understood that it’s tougher to be vulnerable, to express one’s feelings, and that one’s undying love for friends and for life itself is a more powerful weapon than fear. Even his most selfish moments in pursuing the Deathly Hallows were motivated either by his feelings for Grindelwald or his wish to apologize to his late sister.”

5. His openness. “After she outed Dumbledore, Rowling said that she viewed the whole series as a prolonged treatise on tolerance. Dumbledore is the personification of this. Like the LGBT community that has time and again used its own oppression to fight for the equality of others, Dumbledore was a champion for the rights of werewolves, giants, house elves, muggle-borns, centaurs, merpeople — even alternative marriage. When it came time to decide whether the marriage between Lupin the werewolf and Tonks the full-blooded witch could be considered natural, Professor Minerva McGonagall said, ‘Dumbledore would have been happier than anybody to think that there was a little more love in the world.'”

6. His historical parallel. “If Dumbledore were like any one in history, it would have to be Leonardo DaVinci. They both were considered eccentric geniuses (‘He’s a genius! Best wizard in the world! But he is a bit mad, yes’); both added a great deal to our body of knowledge (after all, Dumbledore did discover the 12 uses of dragon’s blood!); both were solitary, both were considered warm, loving and incredibly calm; both dwelt in mysterious mystical realms; both spent a lot of time with their journals (Leonardo wrote his backwards while Dumbledore was constantly diving into his pensieve); both even had long hair! And, of course, a popular thought among many scholars is that the maestro Leonardo was gay.”

7. The fact that so few of us realized he was gay. “No matter how many ‘clues’ I can put down that Dumbledore was gay, no matter how many millions of people have read these books again and again, Rowling surprised even the most die-hard fans with the announcement that Dumbledore was gay. And in the end, the fact that we never would have guessed is what makes Dumbledore being gay so real. So many times I have encountered friends who are gay that I never would have predicted. It has shown me that one’s sexual orientation is not some obvious ‘lifestyle choice,’ it’s a precious facet of our multi-faceted personalities. And in the end whatever the differences between our personalities are, it is time that our world heeds Dumbledore’s advice: ‘Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.’ Today as I write this, I believe that it’s time for our aims to be loyal to what the greatest wizard in the world would have wanted them to be: love.”

Rowling Outs Dumbledore

As if the religious right didn’t hate the Harry Potter books enough, J, K. Rowling has given them yet another reason to condemn the series. In response to a question about whether the Hogwarts Headmaster ever found true love, Rowling revealed that he is gay:

“Dumbledore is gay,” the author responded to gasps and applause.

She then explained that Dumbledore was smitten with rival Gellert Grindelwald, whom he defeated long ago in a battle between good and bad wizards. “Falling in love can blind us to an extent,” Rowling said of Dumbledore’s feelings, adding that Dumbledore was “horribly, terribly let down.”

Dumbledore’s love, she observed, was his “great tragedy.”

“Oh, my god,” Rowling concluded with a laugh, “the fan fiction.”

Potter readers on fan sites and elsewhere on the Internet have speculated on the sexuality of Dumbledore, noting that he has no close relationship with women and a mysterious, troubled past. And explicit scenes with Dumbledore already have appeared in fan fiction.

Rowling told the audience that while working on the planned sixth Potter film, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” she spotted a reference in the script to a girl who once was of interest to Dumbledore. A note was duly passed to director David Yates, revealing the truth about her character.

Rowling, finishing a brief “Open Book Tour” of the United States, her first tour here since 2000, also said that she regarded her Potter books as a “prolonged argument for tolerance” and urged her fans to “question authority.”

SciFi Friday: Harry Potter Ends (Spoilers Included)

The final Harry Potter book was released a couple of weeks ago, but before commenting I’ve given people who care time to either read the book or learn how to avoid spoilers. This post does contain major spoilers. You have been warned.

The Harry Potter series began as a fantasy which was irresistible to every teenager who ever felt alienated. Harry started as an outcast but quickly found out that he was special. Not only was Harry a wizard, but he was one of the most famous wizards of all.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone concentrated on the magic surrounding Hogwarts and established Harry, Hermione, and Ron as the major characters throughout the series. As the book, and the school year, progressed we were given our first exposure to the threat from Voldemort. Subsequent books dealt with a new school year and were increasingly dominated by the dangers of Voldemort returning. Normally I avoid reading series as the books tend to become repetitive, featuring the same characters in similar situations. Harry Potter was different as, while there was somewhat of a formula, it was clear that there was a definite story line being developed which would end in the seventh book.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows concludes the series as predicted with Harry defeating Voldemort. Being a children’s series, I never believed the speculation that Harry would die, which would also be contrary to a prophesy made earlier in the series that one (not both) must die. Deathly Hollows follows a trend established where the novels became progressively darker, and often longer. In the earlier novels the length was often of benefit even when portions were not necessary. For Harry Potter fans part of the fun is just spending the year at Hogwarts and the longer the book, the longer they coud do so.

The limited time spent at Hogwarts, other than for the final battle, was one reason why the length of this book was a problem. Very little of consequence happens in the first four hundred pages. Instead of enjoying them at Hogwarts, I felt, just as Ron Weasley did, that we were wandering aimlessly.

The book becomes much more exciting as it approached the end, but still far too much is revealed either from seeing Snape’s thoughts after his death or in discussion with Dumbledore following his death. This is more acceptable in a book about wizards where such extraordinary ways of transmitting information are possible, but the story would have been stronger if Harry’s own investigations had revealed the truth about Snape and Dumbledore, as well as his own fate. There had been clues from the beginning that Snape was actually on Dumbledore’s side, such as when Snape saved Harry from falling from his Quidditch broom in the first book. I also suspected this when Snape punished Ginny and others in a way which was hardly real punishment.

The epilogue which takes place nineteen year later might be the most controversial part of the book. Many think it did not fit in well with the darker tone of the book. While it differed from the tone of Deathly Hollows, it was a fair epilogue for the series as a whole. Other than for Deathly Hollows, going off to Hogwarts was an important event taking place relatively early in each book. We were denied this in Deathly Hollows, but seeing the children Harry and others go off to school brought closure to the series.

While other parts of the book were too long, I actually wish the epilogue did provide more information. We see that the world has returned to normal without Voldemort, that Hogwarts has continued, and who some of the characters married. We do not learn the immediate aftermath of the battle, such as whether Harry needed to return for his seventh year or graduated with his class due to his real world experiences.

While it would be preferable if the information had been included in the book, J.K. Rowling has filled in some details in interviews and web chats following the publication of the final book. She says that Harry and Ron did become Aurors who fight the dark arts, with Harry the department head. Hermione, not surprisingly, is high up in the  Department of Magical Law Enforcement. This might also not be the end for Rowling’s involvement in Harry Potter as she is considering writing a Harry Potter encyclopedia among other projects. He  other projects include novels for both children and adults.  It will be interesting to see if J.K. Rowlings can recreate the same type of magic for readers in new novels, regardless of whether the deal with magic of fantasy literature.

An Evil Force Which Outlasts The Harry Potter Series

(SPOILER ALERT–GIVES AWAY INFORMATION ON FINAL NOVEL)

Voldemort may have been vanquished, but there is one evil force which Harry Potter couldn’t destroy. The religious right survives to threaten J. K. Rowling. In an interview with AP, Rowling compares criticism from Christians in Great Britain and the United States:

“I had one letter from a vicar in England — this is the difference — saying would I please not put Christmas trees at Hogwarts as it was clearly a pagan society. Meanwhile, I’m having death threats when I’m on tour in America.”

Maybe Rowling could follow up the Harry Potter series with another in which Harry and friends take on the religious right.

Maureen Dowd on The Vice President Without Borders

Maureen Dowd must have had lots of fun starting out her column on Dick Cheney:

It’s hard to imagine how Dick Cheney could get more dastardly, unless J. K. Rowling has him knock off Harry Potter next month.

Harry’s cloak of invisibility would be no match for Vice’s culture of invisibility.

I’ve always thought Cheney was way out there — the most Voldemort-like official I’ve run across. But even in my harshest musings about the vice president, I never imagined that he would declare himself not only above the law, not only above the president, but actually his own dark planet — a separate entity from the White House.

I guess a man who can wait 14 hours before he lets it dribble out that he shot his friend in the face has no limit on what he thinks he can keep secret. Still, it’s quite a leap to go from hiding in a secure, undisclosed location in the capital to hiding in a secure, undisclosed location in the Constitution.

Dr. No used to just blow off the public and Congress as he cooked up his shady schemes. Now, in a breathtaking act of arrant arrogance, he’s blowing off his own administration.

From there, she reviews the recent report of Cheney declaring he’s not part of the Executive Branch. She both dismisses that theory as well as Cheney’s Cheney for cooking it up:

Cheney and Cheney’s Cheney, David Addington, his equally belligerent, ideological and shadowy lawyer and chief of staff, have no shame. After claiming executive privilege to withhold the energy task force names and protect Scooter Libby, they now act outraged that Vice should be seen as part of the executive branch.

Cheney, they argue, is the president of the Senate, so he’s also part of the legislative branch. Vice is casting himself as a constitutional chimera, an extralegal creature with the body of a snake and the head of a sea monster. It’s a new level of gall, to avoid accountability by saying you’re part of a legislative branch that you’ve spent six years trying to weaken.

But gall is the specialty of Addington, who has done his best to give his boss the powers of a king. He was the main author of the White House memo justifying torture of terrorism suspects, and he helped stonewall the 9/11 commission. He led the fights supporting holding terrorism suspects without access to courts and against giving Congress and environmentalists access to information about the energy industry big shots who secretly advised Cheney on energy policy.

SciFi Friday: Freema Agyeman Helps Us Get Over the Loss of Billie Piper, Attempted Surprises, and Top Movies

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We’ve now had three episodes of Doctor Who without Billie Piper, but neither us fans or The Doctor are ready to forget her. The Christmas episode as well as both episodes of the third season have had references to her character, Rose. The Christmas episode, The Runaway Bride, has The Doctor meet Donna, who was a real match him. I don’t think either viewers or The Doctor could take a full season of Donna, but Freema Agyeman as medical student Martha Jones is starting out as a strong companion who is helping many fans forget about the loss of Rose. They meet the first episode of season three in Smith and Jones in which the the hospital where Martha works is transported to the moon to allow aliens to hunt down a fugitive hiding in the hospital. The Doctor is impressed by the strength Martha shows despite the shock of winding up on the moon.

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It appears that one way in which the show was modernized to appeal to television viewers for its revival was to give The Doctor beautiful women for companions. Freema Agyeman has received great reviews as she replaced Billie Piper. While they don’t repeat the sexual inuendo of last season’s opener, Smith and Jones does give The Doctor an excuse to kiss Martha–in order for them to exchange genetic material. The second episode, The Shakespeare Code, even has them in bed together. (Nothing happens–remember, the BBC does clasify this as a children’s show.) Later this season we will see Daleks in Manhattan, and the season is rumored to end with the return of The Master. A couple of trailers for the season are available from the BBC. Bit torrent is needed to download the actual episodes after they air. Note that this week’s episode might be postponed if a soccer game runs over.

Lost increasingly seems to feature characters doing dumb things. I’ve recently commented on Jack ignoring the chance to get information from Cindy and the other tailies. As Locke, who has been blowing up everything in site recently, wasn’t on this episode, it came down to Jack to make the stupid mistake. Did anyone really not see it coming that Juliet is still working with the Others? From the moment we saw that she had the key to the handcuffs, it was pretty obvious that this was all a set up. Despite the obvious “twist” at the end, it was an excellent episode as we saw Juliet’s backstory pick up from from where Not in Portland ended.

The other obvious twist this week was on 24. It took until part way into the episode for me to guess that Wayne Palmer was bluffing about the attack, but the fake rescue of Fayed was obvious from the start. Then again, I was surprised (and a bit relieved) that they wrapped up the suitcase nuke storyline. After they actually had a nuclear bomb go off in the suburbs of Los Angeles in the first episode, all the chases over the bombs were anti-climatic. Even the conflict over the removal of Wayne as President all seemed like something we’ve seen before (as we have with his brother.)

I bet nobody was surprised to find that Audrey was still alive ever since they claimed she was killed looking for Jack in China. Even if this wasn’t planned from the start, once The Nine was yanked we knew she was available again. It is a bit surprising that Jack hasn’t gotten together with his daughter Kim, but after her scenes in recent years this might be for the better.

One thing which will remain a surprise is the ending of the final Harry Potter novel. In The Devil Wears Prada, Ann Hathaway was given the job of getting Meryl Streep’s kids a copy of a Harry Potter book before it was released. In reality, security will be far too tight to pull this off, not to mention the various curses which would be placed upon anyone who violates the security arrangements:

Libraries nationwide have been dealt strict rules regarding author J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.”

Among them: Libraries must limit the number of employees who handle the books before the release and provide names and contact information for each branch manager, according to the contract from Scholastic Inc.

And absolutely no reading ahead…

Failure to keep the novel under wraps until July 21 could mean serious retribution by Scholastic, who “intends to monitor the ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ … very closely.”

“Any such violation will cause irreparable harm to Scholastic and the author, J.K. Rowling, and that monetary damages will be inadequate to compensate for violations,” the publisher said.

SFX Magazine’s poll of top science friction movies released earlier this year came as a surprise as Serenity came in first. While I liked Firefly, the show upon Serenity was based, I’m not even sure I’d put Serenity in the top ten. The top movies in the survey are:

1. Serenity (2005)
2. Star Wars (1977)
3. Blade Runner (1982)
4. Planet of the Apes (1968)
5. The Matrix (1999)
6. Alien (1979)
7. Forbidden Planet (1956)
8. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
9. The Terminator (1984)
10. Back to the Future (1985)

Classic Science Fiction Novels

There sure are a lot of science fiction geeks in the blogosphere. It looks like I have a little reading to do. This list of classic Science Fiction books is being posted around the blogosphere, with bloggers placing ones they’ve read in bold. I’ve read the majority, and fortunately, should I decide to finish the list, at least seven others are in the piles of books around home that I want to read but never got around to.

The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov
Dune, Frank Herbert
Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein
A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin
Neuromancer, William Gibson
Childhood’s End, Arthur C. Clarke
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick

The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley
Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe
A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.
The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov
Children of the Atom, Wilmar Shiras
Cities in Flight, James Blish
The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett
Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison
Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison
The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester
Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany
Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey
Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card
The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson
The Forever War, Joe Haldeman
Gateway, Frederik Pohl
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
I Am Legend, Richard Matheson
Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice
The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin
Little, Big, John Crowley
Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny
The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick
Mission of Gravity, Hal Clement
More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon
The Rediscovery of Man, Cordwainer Smith
On the Beach, Nevil Shute
Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke
Ringworld, Larry Niven
Rogue Moon, Algis Budrys
The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien
Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut
Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson
Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner
The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester
Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein
Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock
The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks
Timescape, Gregory Benford
To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer