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READY. PLAYER. ONE. …Spielberg’s film of the novel, In Review


UPDATED: 08/12/2018.  (I was a little hard on this one — to say the least.  Don’t get me wrong, there are still things from the book that I truly miss, here and there.  But having recently viewed the film a handful of times at home, I have revised my thinking from a negative position, to a very positive one.  And although I have decided to let my original review stand (both for the sake of honesty as well as posterity,) I think in all fairness, I should disclose that much of what once bothered me about Spielberg’s film of the book is no longer an issue for me.  I do still have problems with both the handheld camera work when Sorrento is searching the IOI War Room for Art3mis, as well as the really bad old age makeup applied to actor Simon Pegg at film’s end.  But everything else I am now dealing with just fine, and retract all other complaints.  I’ve also read that author Ernest Cline is working on a sequel: Ready Player Two.  Perhaps that will become a Netflix limited series, allowing for a longer run-time.  The only real problem with Ready Player One is that the film needs a longer run-time to better establish and appreciate the OASIS.   In any event, I am changing my attitude and recommending the film.  Hopefully no one was put off too much by my ridiculously scathing review.  Be well. ~ Jim)    

Let’s start and end with the book.  Ernest Cline’s ‘Ready Player One’ centers on a teenager named Wade Watts, who spends much of his time in 2045 Oklahoma City (Columbus, Ohio in the film,) within an online virtual world.  He goes to virtual school there, he hangs out in his best friend’s virtual basement there, he watches movies there, listens to music there, plays virtual video games there …  You get the idea.  In contrast, twenty-six years from now the real world has become humanity’s compromise in the face of economic upheaval, environmental catastrophe, and overcrowding.  Things have gotten so bad that mobile home trailers aren’t lined up in out-of-the-way trailer parks, anymore.  No, to save space, they’re stacked sky high all over town.  And just like everybody else across the globe, Wade Watts is jacked into the next generation of the internet much of the time, to delude himself from it all; with a highly advanced version of an Oculus headset wrapping his vision with on-line computer generated imagery, of astonishing detail.

This new technological frontier is called, ‘The Oasis.’ 

Visualize from a great distance, a series of interconnecting solar systems, partitioned in space utilizing the framework of a Rubik’s Cube.  Within these online planetary systems, are tens of thousands of worlds, with more being perpetually added.  You get up in the morning, place a headset over your eyes, and you step inside a virtual world where the rules are not the same as the real world.  And inside the Oasis, you can be anybody you want to be, because no one knows who you really are or what you really look like.  And vice versa.  Everywhere you look, you are presented with the unimaginable and the truly unpredictable.  Willy Wonka described it best: “pure imagination.”

ready-player-oneBut there’s a monetary catch.  It works like this: you pay for everything within the Oasis, except a base avatar (your personal computer generated image within the Oasis,) and the base set of abilities you need to function.  If you wish to wear a better avatar, say you want to be a licensed property like Kurt Russell’s ‘Jack Burton’ in Big Trouble in Little China, or perhaps RoboCop, then you have to pay for it.  If you want to travel the Oasis, and visit the multitude of worlds, such as everything from planets emulating popular video games, or even a world carefully constructed to emulate the television sitcom, Family Ties, then naturally, you have to pay to get there.  If you want weapons or magical abilities, you pay.  If you want a full immersion rig, i.e., a real world physical harness and revolving rig you climb into, that better interacts with the online world — then you pay big.  Naturally, there are ways around paying out of pocket.  By winning battles in virtual video games, you win massive amounts of bitcoin.  Currency which will remain in reserve in your account to be utilized at your leisure.  But regardless of this fail-safe, most people who travel, play, party, study, work, and generally communicate within the Oasis, still fall into two groups: the haves and and have-nots.

This next gen internet was created by a computer geek/Steve Jobs competitor, named James Halliday.  When the Oasis first went online, in 2025, Halliday was already a very wealthy man, having created various successful video games and software platforms.  But ‘Jim’ Halliday had saved his greatest creation for last.  He wanted to connect people in perhaps a way that he had never been able to connect to anyone, himself.  And the Oasis was intended to be his gift to the world.  In profile, Halliday was an unremarkable, socially innocent figure.  Possibly autistic.  In point of fact, whether or not his obsessive reverence for 1980’s pop-culture was a symptom of a form of autism, is never made clear.  But either way, no one really cared.  The Oasis had taken over the daily lives of almost everyone on the planet so fast, that generally everyone came to idolize its creator.  So when Halliday suddenly died in 2044, and left behind an easter egg treasure hunt for three keys hidden within the Oasis that lead the winner to Halliday’s personal fortune, as well as control of the Oasis itself, you can imagine the broad spectrum of responses.

Much of the world’s destitute population immediately began studying Halliday’s favorite aspects of 1980’s pop-culture, searching for clues to the locations of the three hidden keys, which lead to the easter egg.  And of course those who showed the most enthusiasm, were the new generation of teenagers.  Thus, Cline’s story begins (2045: one year later,) with teenagers nicknamed ‘Gunters’ (egg hunters) having searched the Oasis, high and low, without pause, but also without having made any headway.  In tandem, the world’s largest internet provider, a multi-trillion dollar corporation called I.O.I. (Innovative Online Industries,) has spent a fortune hiring young people nicknamed ‘Sixers’ (they each wear an employee # that starts with 6, and ‘check your six, they may be behind you,’) to stack the deck in its own favor.  Did I mention that after successfully claiming the three hidden keys, the winner will face the avatar of James Halliday himself?  And said winner could either be an unknown underdog, or an emissary of evil corporate America.  In the words of Sarah Connor in Terminator 2: Judgement Day: “It was just a question of which one of them would reach him first. “


During a truly perilous journey, Wade Watts (avatar name: Parzival) works alongside his best friend in the virtual world, and fellow treasure hunter, Aech (pronounced ‘H,’) along with a female avatar Wade develops an enormous crush on, named Art3mis.  They are joined by Daito & Shoto; two Asian kids who also make it onto the scoreboard.  And all five are hounded by ‘Sixers’ whose strings are being pulled by I.O.I.’s Head of Operations Executive,  Nolan Sorrento.  Who in the book turns out to be a bonafide sociopath.

Please be aware, from here on, spoilers abound in respect to the recently released film adaptation of Ernest Cline’s book ‘Ready Player One.’  


Now let me make something clear.  In general, I enjoyed the movie and thought about half the scenes within the Oasis were fun.  It was charming.  But having said that, you don’t need to be a clairvoyant to perceive the truly fantastic film that could have been made out of Ernest Cline’s book.  Taken on its own merit (as it should be,) the book is a truly transcendental love letter to 1980’s pop-culture, as well as an entire generation who grew up in said era.  It is a kind of storytelling that reaches an unexpected place in the heart of the most unexpected of random people.  And whether you were a teenager in the 80’s or not, it’s a book I highly recommend anyone read.  Stories which are this well devised don’t come around often.  But when they do, they capture your imagination in such a way that you are at once both transported into the story,  and also compelled to draw almost conspiracy level parallels to the real world, currently around you.  That’s really where the fun is.  And while that can sometimes happen with a movie, it didn’t happen here.  No, here a divergent version of the story has been created, which seems to have re-purposed much of the material, and dropped 1990’s anime and video game cameos like little poodle bombs, all over the place.

It is ironic that the last book similar in imagination and thrills to ‘Ready Player One,’ was Michael Crichton’s techno-thriller, ‘Jurassic Park.’  So logic follows that the director of that film adaptation, Steven Spielberg, would be the first set of hands the galleys for ‘Ready Player One’ would wind up in.  Seems like a match made in heaven, right?  Well yes, and … not quite.  I would say he both succeeded and failed, here.  And I suspected that would be the case even before I had finished reading the novel.  Let me explain.  And let’s start not with the essence of the sentiment that the book is trying to convey, and whether or not the chosen director’s heart is really ‘in it,’ so to speak.  Let’s instead focus on the current artistic identity of the filmmaker himself.

When you remove the possibility of a highly expensive Netflix limited series of 9 one-hour episodes (which would have been the ideal avenue to adapt this material,) what you are left with is a list of requirements for the director of a theatrical feature film, that only a name brand like ‘Steven Spielberg’ could fill.  Keep in mind, said ‘requirements’ include concerns among investors, insurance companies, studio heads, studio board members, studios stock holders, the multitude of companies that own the intellectual property rights which will be referenced during the film, and a partridge in a pair tree…  You getting my drift?  But while they see Spielberg as their savior in this situation, Spielberg isn’t really the same director he used to be.  Spielberg has moved on.  He’s even publicly stated that he’s past his popcorn days.  And it’s very likely that Studios in Hollywood are tone deaf to this fact.  So perhaps ‘yesterdays’ Spielberg would have been perfectly cast as a director for this project, but maybe ‘today’s’ Spielberg, not so much.  Spielberg admitted in recent interviews that this is one of the three hardest films he’s ever made in his career.  The other two being JAWS, and Saving Private Ryan.  To be fair, he also intimated that his work with the Computer Effects teams is really to blame, but again, his lack of … I don’t mean to say affection, I don’t mean to say enthusiasm … no, his lack of compassion for the source material, betrays the simple fact that Ready Player One is not exactly a film ‘today’s’ Steven Spielberg, holds dear.  And that is definitively one of the big problems this film adaptation has.

In truth, it’s very unlikely that Spielberg has any loyalty whatsoever to the 1980’s pop-culture references that give Ernest Cline’s story its added spark.  Spielberg was a teenager in the 1960’s.  And in the 1980’s, he was in his 30’s.  Added, he was working quite a bit, throughout the 80’s, and therefore his personal tastes are likely highly divergent to that of a 1980’s teenager.  Why does this matter, you ask?  Because changes were made from book to screen, that are things that make ‘ya say, ‘hmmmm,’ that’s why.  Arbitrary changes.  And while some of them make sense (like having Art3mis be the one who goes inside I.O.I.,) others are just puzzling to no end.  Unless, of course, you simply accept the fact that the filmmaker didn’t truly understand the source material to begin with.

So let’s investigate the differences, break them down into their various necessities, and ascribe meaning to them.  I kid because I care.  Now let’s talk some trash.


1. The Music: the new version of the Willy Wonka theme ‘pure imagination,’ so ever-present in more than one of the trailers, was noticeably absent from the finished film.  Why??  You can listen here:  Or better yet, why not just license the original song from the 1970 film, and use that?  And why was John Williams’ Superman The Movie theme used prominently in a key scene in a trailer, and then not used in the same scene in the finished film?  Also, a handful of songs, such as ‘Tom Sawyer,’ by Rush, which were also utilized in various trailers, were A.W.O.L, as well.  Those who have read the book remember well that ‘Rush’ was James Halliday’s favorite band, and figures into the plot with some importance.  So why was the song only used for marketing the film??  Fine; okay, we’ll let that slide.

2. While I generally enjoyed Ready Player One (I chuckled now and then, and was pleasantly surprised now and then) I still knew early on while watching the film that ‘Cinematic Game Changer’ Steven Spielberg was the wrong director for this project.  ‘Today’s’ Steven Spielberg just didn’t feel it.  And the emotion at the core of the story, is the core of the story.  It’s like a map that leads you everywhere you need to go.  Thus, it seems the heart of the movie has either been left on the editing room floor, or discarded very early on in the ‘Development Process.’  A friend pointed out that there must be footage missing, as Wade’s body suit somehow ends up in the possession of his Aunt’s boyfriend.  The boyfriend is seen wearing it, just before their trailer explodes in the stacks.  And the more we chatted about it, the more we agreed that there must be other pieces which had to be missing from the finished film, as well.  In fact, one could generally estimate the missing footage to clock in at around thirty minutes.  At least, if not more.  Not good.  Not good vibes, here, people.


3. There are multiple differences in the plot of the book, to that of the film.  I won’t waste the reader’s time with an academic dissertation, but a few of them are key to understanding the true meaning behind the book.  Therefore it baffles that they specifically would be omitted.  A good example would be that in the book, acquiring the first key is something that Wade does himself, alone.  There is no race for the key.  There is no King Kong.  Wade simply figured something out first.  Before anyone else.  And THAT is what’s amazing and euphoric about it.  Then it turns out that another ‘Gunter’ named Art3mis has also figured it out.  And neither of them needed anyone’s help to do so.  They simply kept looking for clues in the framework of Halliday’s imagination.  Each find a cave hidden within the Oasis, and after navigating a series of booby-traps, play and win a game of ‘Joust’ against a character from the famous board game, Dungeons & Dragons.  And please know, we are talking about the classic cabinet Arcade Game ‘Joust.’  It’s the type of video game you would have seen in an actual Arcade in the early 1980’s.  And not a big action sequence, as is presented in the film adaptation.  And because of that, it’s a more isolated, clever scene.  And genuinely more thrilling.  “But that is not what ‘they’ would have you believe.” ~ Jerry Seinfeld

But that is not

4. Among other key differences, which feel like more arbitrary changes, is the Flicksync, or WarGames roleplaying test Halliday set up requiring gamers speak all of actor Matthew Broderick’s dialogue in the film WarGames, just so they can ‘clear a gate,’ and move on to the next round.  Something that would have been hilarious, if telegraphed in the film version.  But alas, that element of the story is noticeably absent.  Also, the Blade Runner Voight-Kampff test, which has been replaced in the film, with an uneven sequence taking place ‘inside’ the movie, The Shining.  And don’t misunderstand me, the live action interiors of the Overlook Hotel are a startling moment in the film.  But in its entirety, The Shining sequence in the film, winds up representing everything really bad about modern cinema: U.E.C.G.I. (Unnecessary Excuse for Computer Generated Imaging)  There’s no logic behind it, and it’s not as fun as it should be.  Especially since it concludes with yet another bad take on Disney’s ‘The Haunted Mansion.’  The taste of it was so bad … it was just … I was ill.  Bring me Teddy Grahams, STAT!

5. Is there magic in the movie?  Occasionally.  But it’s low level.  People will be picking apart superficial cameos in the background for years, I’m sure.  But the real magic of the book, along with the emotion associated with it, is kept on a very tight leash, and behind a very high fence.  In other words, this isn’t your grandfather’s Spielberg.  There’s too much context missing.  In Spielberg’s film, we never really get a concrete understanding of why the Oasis is so important.  In the book, Wade sums it up by saying, “The moment I began searching for the egg, the future no longer seemed so bleak.”  But in the film, it’s a bit too nebulous as to why it matters.  And very sorely missed is the presence of the Great Og, alias Ogden Morrow.  The friend who helped Halliday create the Oasis.  He pops up in the book a lot.  Including as an invisible presence in Aech’s basement, at one point.  And while in the book his character is of more importance, and has a certain depth and purpose, in the film adaptation Simon Pegg comes off as a nothing more than a peripheral character.  You don’t get the sense of the friendship between he and Halliday.  You don’t have any understanding of their falling out.  And although Pegg is seen in a couple of flashbacks early on, when Morrow eventually shows up at the end of the movie, it’s just Simon Pegg in the worst old age make-up you have ever seen in a movie.  And his purpose there is to patronize the intelligence of the audience.  And by the way, before I forget … whattheHELL is ‘The Resistance!?’  I mean what exactly was the meaning of THAT ridiculous ass-banana fuckery, anyway??

6. Personally, in Spielberg’s film, I really missed the throwaway things that made the story so special.  Seeing Wade/Parzival go to school in the Oasis, or seeing him sit down in Aech’s basement, and pick up and start reading an old copy of Starlog Magazine.  I missed at least one reference to The Last Starfighter.  I also missed the space travel — which you knew would be awesome, and yet is completely absent from the film.  I missed that wonderful endless multilevel mall of Arcades, where Wade/Parzival finds the quarter.  I miss the way the kids Wade/Parzival and Samantha/Art3mis don’t meet until the end of the story, and the punch of emotion you get when they do.  I missed how the five kids in the story subverted the system, and how they all had contact with one another in private, encrypted chat rooms.  I missed the darker parts of the story.  The fact that Sorrento disguised the bombing of Wade’s trailer as a meth lab accident.  I also miss seeing Daito being thrown from his real world balcony, by ‘Sixers’ after Sorrento has discovered his true identity.  (although I would have altered this so that Daito survived.)   And last but certainly not least, I miss Anorak’s Almanac.  For further explanation of that one, you’ll have to read Ernest Cline’s book.

7. Are there things in the book which should have been left out?  Absolutely.  As I stated before, in the book Wade is the one who infiltrates the big bad corporation, I.O.I.  And it’s such a harrowing experience that when Wade makes his escape (and remember, he’s well aware that Daito has been murdered by I.O.I,) he stops by a vending machine and purchases a gun.  That would be the first thing to go.  In fact the only change made from the book to the film which I was truly thrilled with, was the Wade/Parzival conversation with Halliday, after the game is won.  And that amazing moment when Halliday admits that he’s dead, but claims his avatar … is not really an avatar.   Implying, of course, that Halliday died and chose to live in the afterlife as a ghost in his own machine.  How?  I dunno.  But I bought it.

Ninety-nine percent of these cumulative alterations are almost certainly the work of either Development Executives, or Steven Spielberg himself.  And they add up to a gradual shift in the focus of the material.  Away from what made the book special, and deep into a place which simply smells of focus group marketing.


The final, and most heinous source of trouble, is, as always, the simple act of placing a cross-promotional ‘product’ like ‘Ready Player One’ in the hands of Corporate America.  That’s asking for trouble.  Corporate America has clearly taken over the creative side of the movie business.  To date, and with as much success as failure, Studio Executives in casual dress, have quietly been micromanaging the plotting of most big budget movies we’ve all been watching, for about the last twenty years or so.  It is therefore likely that novelist Ernest Cline (who contributed his own early draft of the screenplay,) screenwriter Zak (Last Action Hero) Penn (who was brought in for a new draft,) and even director Steven Spielberg himself, are all along for the ride, here.

True, when addressed point-by-point, you can dismiss a lot of my condemnation of the film.  But when you add it all up … it’s a different story.  Enough circumstantial evidence always does that.  I’m making valid points when I tell you that all realism available in the original source material, has vanished from it’s film adaptation.  I’m being honest when I say that all sentiment was changed, or that all understanding of our generation and the book’s connection to our generation was essentially severed; removed, altogether.  But maybe it will help if I make a sideways comparison.  This year (2018) is the 50th Anniversary of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Therefore I show reverence by quoting from its author, Arthur C. Clarke.  “I am often asked about ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ — what does it all mean?  And my response is always this: read the book, see the movie, and repeat the prescription as often as necessary.”  In that spirit, I personally advise that reading ‘Ready Player One,’ then watching the movie, and then reading the book again, will indeed leave you with a joyful, sometimes extraordinary reading experience — but alas, a merely ‘typical’ movie going experience.  Mostly because it’s impossible to watch the movie Ready Player One, and ignore the parallel that in reality Corporate America succeeded in taking over the Oasis.



Book Review: “ORIGIN” by Dan Brown.

(Please be Advised – if you plan to read and have not read the book ‘Origin,’ it is heavily suggested that you not read the following book review)

It was the first Dan Brown book I ever read.

I passed this one on the shelf at least three times and really had no interest in reading it, or of knowing anything much about it.  Brown’s reputation was tarnished during the ‘Da Vinci Code’ book debacle, which resulted in lawsuits by authors he reportedly plagiarizedWhich genuinely appeared to be simply an editorial mistake involving quoting the source, but there’s a whole story behind that.  (Brown was also denounced by the Vatican.)  Since then, many critics have not been kind.  Some even laugh within the context of their reviews.  And those critics have spent volumes of their energy attempting to persuade every human soul on this planet not to read a Dan Brown book.  And all of this has led to a never-ending, cascading snowball-headed-for-hell controversy that symbiotically attaches itself to every book Brown writes, happily ever after.   ‘Ya gotta feel for the guy.

But to be honest, I did not want to read anything written by a writer who simply had a bad reputation for … bad writing.  Garbage in, garbage out.

I was looking to avoid that pitfall commonly associated with mainstream, mass-produced works of fiction found in stacks and piles in what few brick and mortar stores remain, just around the corner.  Along with the electronic or traditional hard or soft cover copies sold on-line.  And in ‘Big Publishing,’ Dan Brown is big business.  A big chunk of that market belongs exclusively to Dan Brown’s chosen Publisher, whenever he releases a new book.  (In this case, Double Day.)  And when he does release something new, his name brand does the same business as any Stephen King novel.  King’s own formula isn’t as pretentious as Brown’s, but it is still a dependable genre-centric parking spot that has made King a name brand.  Meanwhile, Brown’s own formula seems to be an amalgamation of Michael Crichton, curious Wikipedia-like factoids on art and history and science (including a fair amount of speculation,) and a sort of revelatory spirit that whisks the reader away into an escapist journey that promises forbidden or secret knowledge somewhere at the end of the rainbow.  And we all know, we love that.  It may be pure fantasy, but it’s still basic storytelling 101.  ‘Gimme me pot of gold,’ demanded the Leprechaun.

But for many years, I knew none of this.  My personal reading choices lie elsewhere.  Yep, I dutifully did as I was psychologically conditioned by the word-on-the-street, and avoided reading a Dan Brown book.  Seen the movies.  But never read the books.  In fact, I was one of the few who really enjoyed the film, ‘Da Vinci Code,’ directed by Ron Howard.  With the obvious understanding that the core plot was essentially bullshit.  Very entertaining bullshit, but pure B.S., in any case.  The film of ‘Angels & Demons’ looked promising, but underwhelmed and wasn’t really very engaging, and in the end, degenerated into a mess of plot contrivance and bad Computer Generated Imagery.  And I got through around 20 minutes of that embarrassing shaking camera, NASA-like-stress-test that calls itself a movie, ‘Inferno,’ before walking out, nauseated.  To this day, I still have no idea what it was about or how it ended, and I could care less.So back to ‘Origin,’ after my third pass (saw it at a Wal-Mart,) I got curious and later Googled ‘Origin Dan Brown Review.’  First thing that got my attention: book critic ‘Ron Charles’ with the Washington Post referred to ‘Origin’ as “moronic.”  Several hits down, I found another review wherein book critic Beejay Silcox, with The Australian, simply quoted the Washington Post’s “moronic” accusation in its entirety, with: “Another thriller so moronic you can feel your IQ points flaking away like dandruff,” declares The Washington Post.” 

I read each review in its entirety and remained generally unclear as to just why they each felt the book was moronic.  Especially in light of the traditional level of intellect and quality of writing featured in most mainstream novels, today.  The two critics made various other criticisms.  But much of it sounded sneakily generic, when placed among other reviews available on-line, so that’s really not what got my attention.  No, what stunned me was the word, “moronic.”  Let me say it another way.  They practically called the author a moron.  Stop reading and think about that for a moment …

Once I had read it (and I’ll get to that in time,) it was almost as if they didn’t actually read the book.  Or if they did, they didn’t read the same book I did.  Or they came to the book with a predetermined opinion of the book, and it’s author.  Or they only gave half of their attention to it, while they were reading it.  Perhaps multitasking with Steve Harvey on Family Feud.  I imagined each of these two book critics cribbing notes for their reviews from various critiques of their peers.  And possibly utilizing some sort of galleys synopsis of the actual novel, which got passed around by the Publisher weeks before the novel was offered, for early criticism.  Why would they do this, you ask?  I have no fucking idea.  And to be fair, I also have no proof because it’s unlikely that it actually happened.  And in their defense, it’s only their professional and personal opinion of an author’s work.  State secrets were not sold to the Russians, here, ladies and gentlemen.  They are entitled to their opinion.

But still … I got curious.  And I kept thinking about their use of the word, “moronic.”  And I grew suspicious.  Where was the apparent prejudice of these two literary critics coming from?  Was this a hit job, aimed squarely at author Dan Brown?  I knew if I emailed these turkeys they would likely never respond, and if they did, they would lie about their motives for labeling the book and/or author as essentially stupid.  So instead, I simply Googled more critical opinions of Brown’s book.  And I’ll get back to that, eventually … but first, you should know that the “moronic” comment is ultimately why I purchased and read the book.  After all, if two somewhat prominent literary critics refer to a single work by an author as “moronic,” it damn well better be, or their street cred as is in serious jeopardy.

So … I sat down to read ‘Origin’ exactly three evenings ago.  And I was genuinely hooked after around 30 pages or so.

[I reiterate, don’t read the following plot description if you plan to read the book, and haven’t yet.]

In a nutshell: Robert Langdon is attending an extremely elaborate press conference at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao in Spain.  His former student, a genius named Edmond Kirsch, wants to reveal to the world a scientific discovery he has made which somehow involves the big questions of where we came from as a species, as well as where we’re going.  An announcement, which he has already informed certain Religious Leaders, will shake the foundations of their faith, and possibly begin the gradual process of dismantling their religions.  A bold claim.  Both for the character of ‘Edmond,’ as well as for author Dan Brown himself.  Who now has to deliver, and again accept the inevitable consequence associated with this kind of thinking and writing: controversy.  Fortunately for Brown, it’s all very compelling.  And ironically — and in spite of his critics — it’s thanks mainly to the quality of Dan Brown’s skills as a storyteller, that it works.

But before Robert Langdon’s former student, Edmond, can make his announcement (an elaborate power point presentation,) he is murdered by an assassin; right in front of the museum audience in attendance and the three million people live streaming the ‘event’ on the internet.   As expected, confusion ensues, and as a direct result Robert Langdon is quickly a suspect and on the run again; with museum director and future Queen of Spain, Ambra Vidal, at his side.  The two of them have taken Edmond’s phone, and race around Spain attempting to retrieve a 47 character line of poetry Edmond intended to use as the password to launch the power point presentation from his cell phone.  And there’s a good chance that if they don’t discover that password, they will be murdered by Religious zealots who want Edmond’s discovery to remain a secret. 

They are assisted by Edmond’s advanced Artificial Intelligence creation, ‘Winston.’  A very helpful computer with the voice of Hugh Grant and a burgeoning sense of humor.  The lives of Langdon and Ambra Vidal are in constant danger, throughout, and in reference to the puppet master behind it all, red herrings are everywhere.  And Dan Brown does a commendable job of diverting the reader’s attention into alternate areas of interest, plot-wise.  But eventually, the storyteller has to deliver.  And deliver he does.  With Winston’s help, Langdon and Ms. Vidal make it to Winston’s central location to enter that coveted 47 character password, direct at terminal.  The entire world is watching as Edmond’s posthumous power point presentation is launched — and it’s a master class for the uninitiated.  In essence, the guy duplicated the process of the birth of life at the microscopic level, on this planet.  He performed an experiment utilizing the concoction of ingredients known as the primordial ooze, and with additional research and help from the most advanced computer on the planet, proved, unequivocally, that life simply came to be as a spontaneous chemical reaction.  That’s right, the double helix itself, those three little letters, DNA, self-generated.  And without any need whatsoever for God.  A highly controversial scientific discovery.  And one so exciting, it makes your heart race, regardless of what you believe.


             ~Jethro Tull

But Edmond wasn’t finished.  In addition to discovering where we had come from, he had also discovered where we are going.  He had then tasked the world’s most advanced computer with creating a model for life expectancy on this planet.  He gave the computer all the required information, and then simply said, ‘extrapolate.’   And a disturbing thing happened.  As humankind took over from the dinosaurs and blossomed into the largest dominate life form on the planet, another form of life began to emerge, and it got larger … and larger, until by the year 2000, it was MASSIVE.  And by extrapolated prediction … it overtook the human race in the year 2050.

Artificial Intelligence.


There’s so much more to the story.  Langdon makes an additional point that includes the possibility of God’s involvement in respect to the chemicals needed to create life, the entire world responds as expected to Edmund Kirsch’s discovery: not with indifference, but with an unending series of varied opinions about what it all means.  It’s revealed Edmond had pancreatic cancer and had 9 days to live.  There is a Catholic Bishop and a dying King, and their secret, platonic love for one another.  There is the Prince and his on-the-rocks relationship with his future princess, Amber Vidal, who both get caught up in it all.  And of course, the assassin.  Who turns out to simply be a wounded warrior who got invited to the wrooooong church.  And all of it seems tailor-made for another Robert Langdon movie, with Tom Hanks.  One that will hopefully see Wonder Woman’s Gal Gadot playing the part of Ambra Vidal.

If anything, ‘Origin’ simply goes on too long, when truthfully, it should have ended when ‘Winston’ confirmed to Professor Langdon over the phone that IT was the puppet master all along, then Langdon would have hung up and called the University people who took over Edmund’s supercomputer after his death, told them to pull the plug IMMEDIATELY (which is only implied within Brown’s story,) and thereafter, the horrified Professor would have smashed Edmond’s cell phone to smithereens with a big rock.

As P.T. Barnum said, “Always leave them wanting more.”

Instead, Brown  ties up numerous loose ends ‘after’ this happens, instead of ‘before’ it happens.  But was it “moronic?”  Shit, no.  It was NOT moronic.  In fact, it was an intelligent, well written book.  And personally, I only had a few quibbles with it.

Brown does over explain things occasionally.  For example, the descriptions of many of Spain’s more notable locations, while being key to the story and somewhat illustrative, nevertheless come off badly.  Sometimes annoyingly enough to remind one of a grandmother who stops in the middle of a busy intersection to tell the complete history of the old building on the corner.  And there are lots of unnecessarily italicized thoughts running through ‘Origin.’  Maybe that’s the editor’s choice.  Some new trend among Editors, perhaps.  I dunno.  But many of these clearly should have been simply added to the end of the previous paragraph, without being placed in italics.  And I would be remiss in not pointing out that many critics have mentioned that ‘Origin’ reuses various tropes from Brown’s earlier works.  Which I have not read.  So please take that into consideration, when gauging my own critique.

Speaking of critiques, let’s get back to that.   I was critiquing the critics, remember?

So a quick glance of additional reviews of the book on the internet, revealed plenty of generally favorable criticism, even if often on the colder side rather than the warmer.  But amidst them, was always the occasional pesky negative critique.  Here are some general examples of both.

Janet Maslin of the New York Times criticized author Brown’s over-reliance on modifiers, but still offered that “Brown and serious ideas: they do fit together, never more than they have in ‘Origin,’” and added that “All that symbology [author Brown] and Langdon bring to the game is never without its gee-whiz excitement.  Brown has told The Times (The New York Times) that he loved the Hardy Boys books, and it shows.”  

Dissenters included Jake Kerridge with the UK-based Telegraph, who wrote, “Brown is a lousy storyteller and a very good communicator, never passing up an opportunity to share a fascinating historical or artistic factoid with the reader at the expense of building up tension, taking pains to frame complex ethical and scientific debates in a way that the layman will understand.”

Sam Leith with ‘The Guardian’ simply stated, “Dan Brown: novelist of ideas.”

And lastly, Brian Truitt with USA Today said, “Loyal fans of his globetrotting symbologist Robert Langdon will no doubt be thrilled with the fifth book in the series. But despite exploring some seriously big concepts about creation and destiny in its Spanish-set central mystery, Origin spawns a dizzying parade of scientific jargon, nonstop travelogues and familiar tropes that all lead to a fumbled ending.”


But most of these issues are familiar.  Michael Crichton’s writing had similar, if comparable, issues.  Issues which critics ignored, and often failed to take note of, altogether.  But all of that is circumspect to the fact that two critics, called this book “moronic.”  So what gives with the Dan Brown hate?  Could LeCarre write it better?  Probably.  Could Crichton?  Doubt it.  So, let me get this right … judging by the accepted double-standard-NPR-snobbery of some critics, it’s likely that they would have considered this book less “moronic” if there had been more clever puns??  Or maybe if Dan Brown was a more universally praised or adored author like, say, Lee (Jack Reacher) Child; a favorite among the critics …   Strike that, let’s start again, and say it this way: perhaps critics will no longer refer to Dan Brown’s work with such negative phrasing, when he simply begins writing down to them.

Someone once said, “A faster read, makes a happy critic indeed.”

By the way, that was me; I said that.

Because it is statistically accurate to say that literary critics are more kind to authors whose books are easier, and faster to read.  Ron Charles of the Washington Post, and Beejay Silcox of The Australian.  Remember those names.  They essentially smeared a book that, while not a masterpiece, is no different than any number of other mainstream books on the shelf right now.  I’m sure they read at least a handful of those, as well.  And these two guys referred only to Dan Brown’s book as, “moronic.”  Other critics gave the book negative reviews.  But none of them crossed the line these guys did.

Maybe we make a rule right here that you don’t refer to a book as “moronic” unless Judith Krantz wrote it, how ’bout that, huh.

“Origin” was a thrilling read.  Can’t wait to see the movie.


I won’t spoil much because to be honest if I do there won’t be much to keep you awake while watching it.  The film is not exactly story-centric entertainment.  And there are no new ideas to be found here.

Of the six of us who saw it, only one film seemed to compare at all.  Children of Men was mentioned at least twice that I remember.  But please don’t let that confuse you.  Children of Men is actually a much better film than Blade Runner 2049.  But then again, Children of Men isn’t so Criterion-Collection-spare and deliberately sparse in its story-telling, either. Whereas this supposed sequel to 1982’s original Blade Runner, is simply overkill in that vein.   It’s like a Blade Runner sequel written by Sarah McLachlan, directed by a latter day Robert Zemeckis, and edited very lazily by Ridley Scott as the throws of dementia overcome him.  And not a note of it touches the true heart of science fiction.  Art film, maybe.  But not SF.  And for so many reasons, but I guess mostly because none of it really feels like ‘acceptable’ fact.  You know what I mean ?  You simply cannot accept any of it at face value, and you question it continually as you’re watching it.  Which is the worst kind of breaking the fourth wall.  The kind you never want.  An entire audience of critics.

2049‘ is a radical deviation from the original in almost every way.  While the original was heavily textured and layered, visually and thematically, all details of this new film have been smoothed out as to obliviate one’s wandering imagination.  The movie only wants you to focus on ‘this‘ over here.  Only problem is, there turns out not to be any ‘this‘ over there at all.   The plot is merely an inescapable circular driveway.  Truthfully, the two films don’t even compare.  It’s as if the director Dennis Villeneuve set about to dismantle Blade Runner and create a new film that in his supreme arrogance, he believed would overshadow the original.  (There is a telling moment where one key set piece from the original film is intentionally disrespected, but I won’t give it away.)  But contrary to the original film, very little thought or imagination went into the opening shot.  This leaves a bad first impression.  And while you found yourself endlessly fascinated by the various identities of the characters in the original Blade Runner film, the characters in ‘2049‘ never spark the imagination enough to even care who the hell they are.  And by the end of the film, none of them mattered, anyway; and there was literally no point to the story, and no meaning behind any of it.  Apart, of course, from Deckard’s own personal plot twist, and a subplot involving a lingering question about the true nature of artificial intelligence.  I mean when you’ve devised a ‘plot device‘ that may have more of a soul than a main character, you either A) start a spirited discussion, or B) confuse the hell out of everyone.  And then what’s left ?  I don’t know about you, but yet another old, sweaty Ford, is one old, sweaty Ford too many for me.  Take a bath, mutherfucker.    

Further, while the original film feels like it was bolted down into the annals of science fiction, this new film feels like it was temporarily attached with Velcro.  Made by-the-numbers, and hollow.  Even the score is for the most part nothing more than a succession of stingers, with very little actual music.  In fact, it’s mostly trailer music.  I’m being honest, that’s exactly what it sounds like!  That old Inception button coming home to roost, yet again.  And again.  And again.  Oh, God, please make it stop.

In all fairness, many are enjoying that ‘departure from the original‘ feel this film has, along with its general ‘mood piece‘ mentality.  Many have, and will enjoy it.  I, myself, did not.  Don’t get me wrong, the film didn’t make me angry.  It didn’t do that.  No, it just sort of sat there; drifting in placebo like a lava lamp, for almost three hours.  I intuited that they fired original writer Hampton Fancher, then proceeded to remove every single imaginative idea held within the material he had conceived for them.  Oh, yeah, that’s right.  I neglected to mention that Hampton Fancher, the core writer on the original Blade Runner, was the original writer on this project as well.  Until, that is, he was dismissed in favor of Michael (Green Lantern) Green.  Why, you ask.  Because Green’s last credit was Logan.  Problem is, Michael Green didn’t actually write Logan.  Director James Mangold did.  Mangold just didn’t get credit for it.  But take heart, Michael Green wrote elsewhere.  Alien: Covenant, for example.  Whoops.

And thus, I’m left with the general disposition that I don’t want to read about Blade Runner 2049, I don’t want to talk about Blade Runner 2049, I don’t want to hear about Blade Runner 2049, I don’t want to study Blade Runner 2049, and I don’t think I ever want to see it again.

The missed opportunities of cinema have preoccupied my tired mind too often in life.    I’m letting this one go.

p.s. I also saw Close Encounters in a theater again, a few weeks back.  For the first time in many years.  Loved it.  Best film I’ve seen all year, bar none.


I kind of feel the same way about these new Marvel Star Wars films, as I do about J.J. Abrams’ new Star Trek films.  Whatever keeps the idea alive can’t be so bad, can it?  And Rogue One wasn’t so bad.  But on closer analysis, it was bittersweet in a way that could only be properly digested and identified by a 70’s era child of the Original Trilogy.

r4It’s like this: while those films were made from a place of strong storytelling that recalled many well told cinematic stories of the past, this new film was designed to be a fresh take on the Star Wars universe, supercharged by modern cinematic techniques.  But because they ignored the original intent of the Original films, they wound up with a diesel engine, as opposed to a linear aerospike.   And it’s for this reason, that I think I had very little of an emotional response to this story.  Or its characters.  And that’s sad, given how good the acting is among the principal cast.  If anything the director did right it was work with the actors to build memorable characters.  Even if all they did was stand there most of the time.  I mean, at the very least, the director did a very fine job of directing these actors to give their lines the proper inflection.  Something Lucas never even gave a passing thought about doing with the Prequels.  But maybe this film, and its audience, would be better served by a plot that involved the Rebels rounding up a group of criminals, one by one, and somehow getting them all to cooperate with this mission.  Would’a, could’a, should’a.

r2To me, this film really felt like a long, twisted, confusing journey to find some sort of a weaving plot that justifies the happenings within it.  And the audience isn’t supposed to even be this aware of something like that while watching a movie on an initial viewing.  If your story is constructed correctly, the audience is completely preoccupied with the movie’s storyline, in the vault of their own imaginations.  But here, we don’t have a thrilling plot that unfolds, much less a mystery.  Heave ho, the art of distraction; all which is required is the overlong, episodic tale of how to get from point A to point B.  Fuck points C through Z, we don’t need those; we can feed ‘em 3D, hyperbolic videogame gobbledygook for the cerebral cortex, throughout the second half of the film, and they won’t know the difference.  This makes Rogue One a hollow meal that makes you wish for a better restaurant, or better yet, home cooking.  Unlike some movies where it seems like bits and pieces of junk-ideas and leftovers have been heaped into a single script and sloughed onto the audience’s plate, this movie seems more like a by-the-instructions, hard won recipe for nothing more than a lunch of the week special of very expensive and well-made pasta — covertly removed from the refrigerator, and microwaved to proper room temperature before serving to an unsuspecting patron, at the most expensive restaurant in town.

So it’s truly confusing how to feel about this movie.  While I cannot say I didn’t enjoy the movie Star Wars: Rogue One, I can definitely say that too many things about it seem all but completely distanced in my imagination from the universe of the Original Trilogy.  Much like the Prequels.  And that breaks my heart, in light of how much they got right with Rogue One.  Don’t misunderstand me, the film is a vast improvement over the Prequels.  As was Abrams’ own film, The Force Awakens.  However, while I have issues with Abrams’ film, I did feel it was connected to the essence of Star Wars.  It felt connected.  But with Rogue One ... there’s something missing.  Maybe it’s a simple spark of creativity.  Maybe it’s that the intended connection — the face of Princess Leia — is a dodgy effect at best; and the audience required better, in order to complete that illusion and generate the intended emotional response.  (Perhaps it would have been better if clearly CGI Leia didn’t fully face the camera.)  Or maybe it’s too gritty. Perhaps the filmmakers didn’t realize that a little grit goes a long way with this type of film.  Or maybe the film’s simply not intended by the filmmakers to truly belong within that universe the Original Trilogy of films inhabit, in the first place.  And that’s an issue with me.  They make a shit-ton of money off of these things.  And they likely always will.  No matter what kind of films they make.  And they know that.  Which begs the question, do they even care about the longevity of these stories?  Or are they only playing pretend on behalf of the public.  Yes, in addition to wanting to separate you from your money, we also care about Star Wars.  But do they?

Since the filmmakers, and I’m sure numerous Executives, could not figure out how the magic of Star Wars worked, they merely reinvented it.  Makes sense, doesn’t it.  They simply went back to the drawing board.  Question is, is that a sufficient enough copout for not trying to genuinely achieve the grand illusion that audiences require?

I knew something was off with the opening titles.  Which were designed to place the film on another track.  An adjacent track to Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi.  The film opened with simply a prologue.  A dark and gritty scene that portrays the abduction of the female protagonist’s father when she was a child.  A scene that any experienced screenwriter will tell you, is unnecessary.  In fact without it, her story would have unfolded much better in bits and pieces of information as the film went on.  And there would have been more of a mystery surrounding her, as well as her Father.  The entire sequence is not only unnecessary, but it plays much too long.  As does pretty much the entire first half of the movie.  In circumspect, the entire set-up of the film is handled the way today’s movies (many of them not theatrically released) are routinely tasked by today’s filmmakers and their crews.  Lots of ‘you really need to take this seriously’ bullshit cinematography, complete with the customary shaky cam, and unending exposition.  It’s a general tone we’ve all come to accept, and a modus operandi now seen repeated in film after film, since Casino Royale introduced it in 2007.  And to some extent the filmmakers miraculously manage to make this work.  But once you get beyond that, there are issues with this film that could never have been resolved, due to the way the story is constructed.  And it all points to a singular idea, intended for a single sequence in a larger story, being padded out to fill the entire runtime of this one movie.  Almost as if they looked at the original script’s structure and decided, ‘well we could make FIVE movies out of this,’ and earmarked the other five parts of the story, for five more movies.  And personally, I dread the recognition of familiar material in subsequent films.  I’ve seen this before, and it genuinely gives me a headache.  I was the one who thought it was too easy and obvious that Lucas reused the Death Star in Return of the Jedi.  Now we have a total of 4 films, count ‘em, FOUR, featuring the freakin’ Death Star.  (I’m including the planet killer in The Force Awakens; which was essentially the same plot device.)  And while this one film does have a good excuse for that, given the conceit of the story, it manages to make the Death Star far less interesting, this time around.  How the hell do you make a planet killing moon-sized space station, blasé and disinteresting?

And here’s a few more little touches of insanity that fell upon my head while ingesting this film:

  1. When Diego Luna’s character (the Clandestine Rebel Agent) killed a trusted informer in one of the very first scenes … I knew the movie was in trouble. Because that could only mean certain doom for any protagonist character in any kind of Star Wars film.  This was something that nagged at me for the entire first half of the movie.  And to be fair, it is possible that his character, being who he is, was ordered to kill that individual by his Rebel Commander.  But A) that was not conveyed, and B) that makes the Rebellion no better than the Empire.

  1. Did they expect that the film would only be seen by audiences in 3D, is that the reasoning behind the slightly dodgy Liea and Grand Moff Tarkin effects. I mean, I appreciate the effort, I really do, but come on, man.  They can do better than that on TV Commercials.  You expect me to believe …

  1. It was nice to have the cameos from the original film. Certainly in light of this film’s place in the timeline.  But am I the only one who noticed a few issues with that?  Where the hell are the characters from the wonderful, animated Disney show Star Wars: Rebels?  When the impromptu Rebel Council – or whatever they called that inept roundtable debate – made a decision to surrender to the evil empire, and the female protagonist decides to go it alone, and suddenly Diego Luna’s character approaches her with volunteers … would this not have been a perrrrrfect opportunity to introduce the Star Wars: Rebels characters into the live action arena?  In my opinion, that would have elevated the film to a B+, as opposed to a C-.  And by the way, why is Walrus Man’s head so much larger in this film that it was in the original Star Wars?  Did he get bit by a giant Fucking mosquito shortly before the events of this film, or something?

  1. The score was ho-hum. Michael Giacchino is clearly no John Williams.  To be fair, Giacchino was not the original composer, of record.  Pun intended.  The original composer was replaced, and Giacchino had to do a rush job on this one.  But he ain’t no J.W.  ‘Nuff said.


  1. Why did the Game of Thrones mentality of ‘everybody dies,’ have to influence this film? I mean even the Robot dies.  That’s overkill.  Another pun intended.  And placed within context – it sends a not so nice message to children that a bunch of ragtag, dirty, homeless, rogue rebels went through hell and died acquiring the plans to the most destructive weapon in the galaxy, so that pretty little rich kid Princess Leia Organa didn’t get her white robes messy.

  1. Too much contrivance. I loved the small Rebel ship crashing into a Star Destroyer, causing it to collide with another Star Destroyer, and have both fall and crash into a shield generating spaceship, thereby destroying all ships involved, and deactivating the shield.  Really made me laugh.  There’s just one problem.  Well, two if you want to get anal about it.  There’s not enough gravity that far up in orbit to cause those ships to fall downward.  Duh.  2. It’s too much of a stretch to believe that the Rebels didn’t know that shield ship was going to be there, and work out a method of dealing with it, beforehand.  Maybe this would have worked in a more playful film, but positioned as a plot contrivance within a story told with the gritty tone this one is told with, it just stands out like a sore thumb.

  1. There is really no main character, functioning within this plot. They’re ALL supporting characters, and only one of them even has an arc.  Am I honestly the only one who noticed this?  I was very excited to see this film.  The premise seemed to be withholding much in the way of imaginative storytelling.  And some of the critics who saw early screenings touted that the film did in fact hold surprises.  But this was merely the Wizard behind the curtain.  This new kind of movie seems to be the norm these days.  Please don’t look to close, just enjoy the pretty pictures.  It wasn’t dumb, by any definition.  But it was an expert example of how to skip over the hard parts of telling a story.

  1. They still haven’t fixed the issue of how easy it is to kill a storm trooper, even though they are supposedly wearing armor.

In summary, I did enjoy the film, Star Wars: Rogue One.  Just not as a Star Wars film.  I had trouble accepting that.  And in the end, there were a few little things I did like.  And Diego Luna’s character arc was one of them.  At the beginning of the film, he kills indiscriminately.  Possibly because he’s been ordered to.  After all, he is a clandestine operative.  But when faced with a moral dilemma, he chooses not to kill; which rings true with the morality that Star Wars was originally designed to impart to children.  And while that doesn’t correct the problem of his character’s initial introduction, it does give his character a proper arc; whilst none of the other characters even have an arc.  The female protagonist walks through the film and dies a martyr, whose name is only spoken of in hushed whisper, off camera for the remainder of the serial.  The Blind Guy (really the best character) who really believes he’s one with the force, walks through gunfire, flips a switch then dies walking back — guess an actual Jedi would’ve seen that coming.  The stoic rifle toting broad shouldered long haired guy … charges the enemy, gets shot, has a grenade roll his way, then just stares at it go off and dies, needlessly.  The Clandestine operative is content with having accomplished his mission and dies.  The former Empire pilot who just wants to make things right, has a grenade thrown at him, then just stares at it and gets blown to bits, too.  And the Robot is given a blaster (apparently his life’s ambition is to hold one) moments before he gets to use it, then gets himself shot.  Gets shot a lot, actually.  Matter of fact, I think the last one went right through the center of his head.  Guess those toys won’t be flying off the shelves.   Oh well, everybody else dies, why not the stepin fetchit, right.

**Actually, I liked the Robot.  Didn’t like that he was given artificial intelligence that practically acquaints to human intelligence, and then treated like a ‘sophisticated spanner,’ as writer Harlan Ellison once termed R2-D2.  That dehumanizes the character.  Another negative aspect of the storyline.


The site was revised as of 06/23/2016 to reflect that my book, “Western Legend” is not currently available.  All clickbait on the right of the page referencing sites wherein the book was available — as well as the cover — have been removed.

More information will be available regarding this book if and when it sees publication in the foreseeable future.

Thank you to everyone who supported my book.

Currently, I am working on other projects.  Another book, two screenplays, and seeking financing to the “AstroWorld” project.

~ Jim

REVIEW: Star Wars: The Force Awakens


**Please NOTE: I began writing a movie review, and wound up writing a paper. A thesis, if you will, that critiques the film Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but moreover subsists as a tome of frustration against, and will hopefully be thumbtacked to the very ass of, Corporate Hollywood.

IN PROLOGUE  A Writer in Requiem

In May of 1983, I was 12 years old.

Sitting in a darkened theater called “Angelina Twin Cinema,” in Lufkin, Texas, I watched as the last (and most anticipated) of the original Star Wars Trilogy, unfolded. And surprisingly, I sank lower, and lower, and lower in my seat. Having read interviews with various behind-the-scenes participants, in various movie magazines such as Starlog and Fantastic Films, I knew in advance that something hadn’t gone quite as planned in relation to the film’s screenplay. On my way in, I really didn’t think it would matter. On my way out, I was frustrated. I just kept shaking my head, ‘Why the hell did they do that??’

While watching the movie, my ability to delude myself, suspend my disbelief, and in general distract myself from the film’s faults, was not only nonexistent, it had gradually turned into full blown anxiety. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Five drafts! All circulated among V.I.P.’s termed, “Above-The-Line Talent,” prior to principal photography. And with each new draft, reportedly came even more watered down characters and plot developments, and more and more contrived and inconsequential visual exposition. Rumor was, it was a ploy intended to sell more toys.

I was caught off guard. I could actually see the difference in the quality of the material, moving across the screen. And I could certainly hear it in the dialogue. Although the larger structure was really strong, scenes within that larger story structure were … simplified. And a little wooden. Even cartoony. But more often, pointless. This was awkward and embarrassing. Especially in comparison with the former film, Empire Strikes Back. Within two days, I knew I could have written it better. I didn’t just think I could have written Return of the Jedi better – I knew I could have written it better. This was the very moment, I realized I was going to be a writer. Whether I wanted to be, or not.

Mind you, I was only 12 years old.

.....and not a single Yub Nub was given that day.

…..and not a single Yub Nub was given that day.

PART FIRST  The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing or Wherein I explain the how’s and why’s of every nightmare in the 21’st Century being systematically generated and monopolized by Opportunists

I thought Return of the Jedi was the worst Star Wars would ever have to offer.  DISSOLVE TO: Thirty-two years and Seven months have passed since then. And Luke Skywalker has vanished. In more than one sense.

After a disappointing trilogy of Prequel films, helmed by original Star Wars co-writer and director, George Lucas, Disney and Lucasfilm sought out talent to “reboot” their newly acquired franchise. Several names were thrown to the media. After months of gossip, former movie Producer, and newly inaugurated Lucasfilm President, Kathleen Kennedy announced that J.J. Abrams had gotten the job.

Abrams entered the Industry as a college film school grad who had attracted the attention of the one and only Steven Spielberg. Working in multiple roles and positions in the area of film production, “Jeffrey” Abrams had managed to write and sell screenplays such as: Taking Care of Business (1990,) Regarding Henry (1991,) and Forever Young (1992.) Eventually, he was offered work polishing scripts for film production, and did so for good payment, but little or no credit. That is, with exception to the 1998 stupidfest, Armageddon. And just why Abrams would agree to a job rewriting said script is a head-scratcher. Specifically in light of the fact that Steven Spielberg was a mentor to Abrams, and Armageddon was competing against the Steve Spielberg produced Deep Impact.

Segueing into the TV business, by writing, and creating shows such as Felicty and Alias, Abrams quickly became a well-known, successful commodity in the business of Television. By the time the TV show Lost became a phenomenon in 2004, Abrams had plopped into the Television Development Executive comfy chair, offering comments, notes, and a certain creative advice, on numerous shows. A job role which he would never be credited with, as Development Executives rarely get credited. That’s the job position they don’t want you asking too many questions about. Because Television Development Executives always have more authority than they really need, and exploit it, obsessive-compulsively.

Eventually, Abrams began directing. First in Television, but later with films like Mission: Impossible III, Super8 (a film that reportedly pitted him against both Dreamworks’ and Paramount’s Development Executives, with heartbreaking results, ha-ha) and two Star Trek films. And all the while, he maintained his role as a “Television Development Executive.” The role that actually introduced him to the corporate climate of Hollywood, and in effect, has always been his trump card in the industry.

So, why did Lucasfilm want Abrams? Because Stephen Spielberg called up Kathy Kennedy and suggested Abrams. And why would Stephen Spielberg call up Kathy Kennedy, wishing to suggest Abrams? Because Spielberg had discovered that Disney (which owns Lucasfilm) wanted to reboot Star Wars into another kind of franchise. And just what kind of franchise? An ATM Machine, that’s what kind of franchise. Specifically, an overly episodic, simplified, addicting storyline. An unending series of films, preferably designed with less emphasis on the Joseph Campbell influence, and preferably straight-jacketed by a “Bible.” A “Bible” on a show, is television industry parlance for, “We wanna know what the hell’s gonna happen, going forward; don’t hold anything back; tell us everything, so that we — those who are really in charge — can determine the direction of these stories. You know, just like the Marvel films that we release. That’s it! Simplify the fuck out of it, in advance; that works for us!” They wanted something that they, the corporate-minded people who don’t really want to watch these movies, can understand. Something that is nothing like the Original Trilogy. Something that Development Executives can understand. Something like a Television Pilot…

Enter, J.J. Abrams.

PART SECOND  “The Film,” if you insist upon calling it that, or Jar Jar Abrams Strikes Again

There will always be quibbles. So let’s get those out of the way, first. I have two minor quibbles about the opening of this new film, The Farce Awakens, and I’ll let it be that. Laugh if you wish, I’m sure you will.

A) “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away …” was always vibrant blue in the Original films. Now, for some inexplicable reason, it’s freakin’ green. And kind of an ugly green.

B) That opening starfield doesn’t look right. Many of the stars seem to be in the same place as they are in the other films, but … Now, I know you’re laughing, but I’m tellin’ ‘ya, it doesn’t look right. All the stars are the exact same brightness, giving it absolutely no depth at all. It looks cheaper. In the Original films, the starfields have depth. Mainly because the effects artists gave them depth, by creating multiple layers of variant brightness. In the case of this new film, it appears that a computer program mapped out the generic starfield from the Original films, and re-generated it. And no one ever sought to even tweak that. They just let the computer do it. You wouldn’t think this would matter, but it does.SW a long time ago

Let’s get back to those quibbles a little later. Presently, let me just give you the overlong, exasperated, overblown, blow-by-bow, description of incidentals that take place within this movie, minus the commercial breaks. *dusts hands* Stay tuned, I’m about to get mean.

The camera tilts down to the planet Jakku (pronounced Jack-oooo,) and after Abrams’ poor attempt at a signature opening shot (a cartoony shadowy triangle of a big star destroyer rising up in frame to cover the day-side of the planet,) we are on planet night-side. And quickly introduced to an apparently nameless character, played by world-renowned actor, Max Von Sydow. But please don’t get to comfortable with him, or curious about him, because he will be dead shortly. After having a brief exchange with Poe Dameron (played well by actor Oscar Isaac of Inside Llewyn Davis,) this makeshift camp in the desert is raided by Stormtroopers. Wait. Are they still called Stormtroopers? Screw it, I’m callin’ ‘em Stormtroopers. Poe has uttered exposition, confirming that he is part of ‘The Resistance’ (this is apparently a new word standing in for Rebellion; when in fact the Rebellion apparently never ended, and both words mean the same damn thing,) and Sydow has given him a small thumb drive (no shit, that’s exactly what it is) filled with some secret data that will assist the Rebels. I mean the Resisters. Whatever.

So the camp is attacked — and although brief, it is good action filmmaking; some nice work here – and we are introduced to BB8, which is Poe’s droid. Poe’s X-Wing fighter is damaged during the melee, so he cannot escape the Raid with the thumb drive. So he puts it in the robot, and tells BB8 to take off, that he will catch up with the cute little spanner later. Then, Poe sees an Imperial ship approach and land. Meanwhile, one of the Stormtroopers sees a comrade killed, and runs to his aid, only getting there as a bloody hand reaches up to mark his helmet. Then, the same sympathetic Stormtrooper watches as his other comrades gun down unarmed people. And even though he’s wearing a helmet, Stormtrooper is clearly conflicted. THIS guy, is the absolute best, and most wonderful thing about this fucking movie.

Soon after, a dark and shady guy in cheap black cloth and a graphite grilled helmet comes out to question Max Von Sydow. They seem to know each other. Sydow speaks to Mr. dark and shady, says something about you can hide behind a mask, and call yourself Kylo Ren, but yada yada yada… That sort of thing. So Kylo Ren lightsabers Max Von Sydow. A wonderful thespian, and unique talent, taken from the Star Wars universe so quickly it makes you want to buy a puppy, name it J.J. Abrams, and slap the living shit out of it. Then, some Stormtroopers bring Poe before the Kylo Ren person, and place him on his knees. Kylo Ren leans over, just stares at Poe. Poe comments that he’s not sure if he’s supposed to talk first. Then Kylo says something about wanting the little thumb drive, and Poe comments that he can’t understand a word he’s saying; must be the mask. They take Poe away. Stormtrooper with blood on helmet is still conflicted …

Shift to day, and across the Planet. A character we eventually come to know as ‘Rey,’ a teenage scavenger, appears, and following a series of expository bits of business revealing her shit life and knowledge of the veritable junkyard of ‘Empire’ space ships littering the planet, she rescues the nauseously cute BB8 from a junk scavenger, who would have simply dismantled the robot for spare parts. This comes to us via conversation between Rey the teenager, and BB8 the droid. You see, she speaks his language. They can communicate. Something Luke needed an X-Wing Fighter’s computer to assist him with in Empire Strikes Back. Wait, it gets better. As the movie goes on, she talks to Chewie, as well. She’d make a great protocol droid, given she speaks the language of everybody she meets. In any case, she shows dignity and integrity, by refusing to sell BB8 for food. Awwwww …

Meanwhile, after arriving on-board the Star Destroyer, Conflicted Stormtrooper needs a moment to himself. After removing his helmet to get some air, he finds a minor character named “Captain Phasma” over his shoulder. A sleek, tall, chrome Stormtrooper that looks very similar to a Cylon on the old Battlestar Galactica. By Phasma’s voice, we know the dude’s a she. This cool chick was wasted. She pops up infrequently, and only for an instant. And Later on in the movie, they just stick her in a garbage compactor, and that’s the last we see of her. And we never saw much of her to begin with, mind you. I hear she’s in the sequel. Lame excuse.

Anyway, after Poe has been interrogated by Kylo Ren, or Darth Punk-ass Bitch, as I like to call him, Conflicted Stormtrooper is placed in charge of the despot Rebel fighter, and pulls them both aside to offer to help Poe escape, if Poe will fly. Because conflicted Stormtrooper’s not a pilot. Some funny exposition, and the two of them go through a humorous sequence of stealing a Tie Fighter and crash landing it back on Jakku. But before they do, Conflicted Stormtrooper gives his name as FN and a number. Poe refuses to call him that, decides to call him “FINN.” Finn responds really enthusiastically to this. They probably should have rethought that moment, given what a white man giving a black man a name, implies.

They two are separated by the crash. Is Poe no more? Finn meets Rey, after witnessing her defend herself. Gets attacked by Rey because BB8 recognizes Poe’s jacket on Finn. Somewhere in there, Finn lies, says he’s part of the Resistance. And essentially he is, now. Whether he likes it or not. So technically, he’s not really lying. And, the Empire – I mean The First Order – Jesus, was it really necessary that they rename the fucking Empire? Okay. I’ll just have to get used to that, I guess. I’m not getting used to ‘The Resistance,’ though. That is ‘The Ridiculous.’ So anyway, The F.O. knows that BB8 is carrying the thumb drive. So they’re gonna be looking for it, right? And the last thing they would do is shoot at it, right? Wrong. Sort of a plot hole, there, people! Once they find BB8, Tie Fighters show up and start strafing the area. Clearly attempting to murder the poor little robot fart. Like I said, PLOT HOLE, PEOPLE! Or … ‘ya know, discrepancy, or whatever-the-hell you wanna call it. I don’t care.  Run, you little 1981 Nerf soccer ball.BB-8So Rey and Finn have to escape. But like Gerbils, they’re obviously going nowhere without transportation off this rock. So she leads them to a ship that’s about 200 yards away. Finn sees one closer, and shouts something along the lines of, “What about that one!?” She looks across the desert sand, and deems it to be a piece of junk. Suddenly, the very ship they’re running for 200 yards away gets blasted into oblivion, and Rey and Finn deviate to ‘piece of junk.’ Which turns out to be The Millennium Falcon, with tattered tarp covering its fuselage. IT’S A TARP! Admiral Ackbar even makes a later appearance in the movie. So this is a nice little in-joke.

Contrivance, contrivance, they escape, get caught by a freighter, which turns out to be Han Solo and Chewie, wherein we get the famous trailer moment, “Chewie … we’re home,” but a slightly better version of it. Once everyone knows who everyone is, Han tells Chewie that they will have to let the kids off at a nearby way station. Rey and Finn offer that BB8 is carrying a map to Luke Skywalker. Han is surprised. They take a look at it. The map is not complete, but it’s a good chance for some exposition. Han tells them that Luke tried to train a new generation of Jedi, and failed, miserably. He sunk into depression and vanished. Leia has been trying to find him ever since. Han says at one time he didn’t believe any of it: a force that encompassed everything, the Jedi, their powers. All of it. But now, he tells them he knows it’s true. All of it. This scene attempts to get across that these kids have heard about ‘The Force,’ and these people (Han, Luke, etc.) but assumed they were mythical. And now they’re finding out they are real. Unfortunately, it’s handled, fleetingly, and amateurishly. And after illustrating that little bit of the scene from the trailer, ‘It’s all true, all of it,’ the scene essentially goes nowhere. They really didn’t know what they had there.  I honestly thought, given that this is a key scene, that the filmmakers would have worked on it a bit longer. But oh, no, it seems like they did a couple of passes, and never came back to it, and consequently, the real meaning of it, and the opportunity to dig deeper and have it really mean something, and possibly narrow down the through-line of the entire movie, gets lost. Or is slighted. Don’t get me wrong. You comprehend what they’re telling you — the idea they’re trying to get across — but it’s not nearly as mythical or emotional or legendary as it should be. Most important scene in the movie, and they mucked it up. And they could’a done it with less dialogue. That’s the sad part. And there’s something bothering me about Han Solo. He seems familiar. But like a grandmother.  Please note: I did not say grandfather.

Next, there’s a mindlessly unnecessary sequence that follows wherein two criminal gangs dock with and board Han and Chewie’s freighter, wanting the return of their money, as cargo was undelivered. Han argues he’s got to get rid of the cargo he currently has, before he can pay them back. Seems Han is borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, again. Han’s hauling some monsters, which I cannot remember the name of, but wasn’t really impressed by much. They certainly were creepy, gooey looking things; I’ll give ‘em that. Weird looking 1990’s Sci-Fi shit, is really what it was. However, they were derivative, and not very inventive. Didn’t capture my imagination for an instant. Matter of fact, looked like a rejected creature from one of Abrams’ Star Trek films. Or any bad sci-fi movie, for that matter.

Anyway, our heroes escape in the Falcon and travel to another planet to meet a small alien woman who owns a Bar in a Castle. A small alien woman who wants to know where her boyfriend Chewbacca is. Anyway. There’s some talk at a table. Finn warns them about a new type of Deathstar. Finn wants to get the hell out of there, and head for the Galaxy’s outer rim, for safety. Rey is shocked. Finn decides to leave with some aliens who will take him there. The Bar owner, Maz Kenyata? Kanata? Sounds like a compact car. I guess it is hard for Development Executives to come up with good names in the Star Wars Universe. She asks Han who the girl is, WE CUT AWAY before he answers. But we suspect that we will eventually learn in another film, that this is Luke Skywalker’s daughter. Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps they haven’t nailed that down yet. I don’t know whether to chastise them for generating a Bible for this new enterprise, or chastise them for not having figured out the backstory to their own fucking movie. I’m conflicted.

Case in point. Rey hears something, and is drawn into the basement of Castle/Bar. Down a long stone hallway, she finds a keepsake box with a lightsaber inside. Touching it, she has a flashback to the corridor aboard Cloud City, from Empire Strikes Back, sees Kylo Ren and others like him, and finally, sees herself as a little girl, abandoned on Jakku. Apparently, by her parents. At this point, I realize that the planet Jakku is not really very interesting, and has come up far too much, and been dwelled on far too much, in this movie. It looks exact’a’fuckin’ like Tantooine. So why didn’t they just – never mind. So the little Maz Piñata Bar owner lady appears, again, tells Rey that the lightsaber belonged to Luke, how it got here is another story, but that it calls to Rey. Rey runs away, says she never wants to touch the thing again. Like a virgin. The point that should be taken, though, is that none of this makes sense, because it doesn’t make sense to Abrams, either. Keep that in mind.

By the way, there are a few brief interludes I’m leaving out between a red-headed guy in authority aboard the Star Destroyer, and Mr. shady, Kylo Ren. They are wasted time. I have also left out a character seen in giant hologram. A shitty hologram. Named Snoke. It looks like a giant naked “Dobby” from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Only without ears. Snoke wants Kylo Ren to kill his father, Han Solo. Stupid for them to give that away so early, but whatever, dude. Your story; ruin it if ‘ya gotta. Snoke is the kind of character you hope somehow vanishes in-between movies. He’s gonna turn out to be the Jar Jar of these new films, I can see that already.

So, two aliens inside the Bar/Castle have sent secret messages: one to the Rebel Alliance (once again, the ‘Resistance.’ Notice how my mind is ‘Resisting’ using that word,) the other to The Fuck Off. I mean the F.O. Both report that they’ve found the droid each side is looking for. Which is not a bad bit of business, but not handled very effectively. If I could take a moment to simply reiterate my appreciation for the fact that F.O. also stands for – never mind that; never mind that. Okay … so Rey has run off into the woods around the Castle/Bar place, and looks up to see Tie Fighters, etc., flying overhead. Uh, oh. Shit’s about to get real. Right? Not so fast, this is a sequence that could have been done much better. It’s too much ‘by the numbers.’ As if the director just walked through it. Like it was a Television Pilot — thaaaat’s right; I forgot, I’m sorry.

Rey is confronted by Finn. I mean Kylo Ren. Sorry. Finn and Ren rhyme too much. That’s not good. Anyway. Rey is still in the woods when Kylo tries to get the location of the droid out of her, and discovers that she’s seen the map. It’s in her head. Which for some reason reminds me of Star Trek. So he places her in an unconscious state, and abducts her. Finn sees this after fighting a Stormtrooper with Luke’s lightsaber. The Stormtrooper, by the by, has been magically equipped – total fucking coincidence, I’m sure – with a wonderful taser wand, that deflects a lightsaber. Let that sink in. So a moment later, Finn sees Kylo Ren taking Rey — ya know all three of their names should have been changed to something else. Rey, Ren, and Finn. What dumbass thought that was a good idea??Candycane Candycane

Okay … so anyway, Finn is sweet on Rey. And is devastated to see her being carried, unconscious into a later-day shuttle craft, by Kylo Ren. He tells Han they took her, and Han just confirms he knows; walking straight for a transport ship, landing not far away. He stands solemn, waiting. Like a guy’s who’s really done something stupid, waiting for his wife to get off the plane at the airport. And you’re expecting a really amped up Leia. Because previous dialogue from Maz the Bar owner has led you to believe that Han and Leia haven’t seen each other in a while. So she’s gonna have a word with him. Right? Wrong. Instead, you get a wooden Carrie Fisher; whose performance as Leia was clearly restricted. And that sucks. Big time. You also get C-3PO. He says hello to Han Solo and makes a small, trivial comment about his new “red” arm. Which seems forced, and truly makes you wonder if this Abrams guy is aware of how discombobulated and awkward that is. Because there’s nothing more to it than that. And why would 3PO need to mention that it’s “red?” Anyway, Han tells Leia that he saw their son. “He was here,” he says this without an ounce of grit, and suddenly I realize what it is that’s been bothering me about Han Solo. He’s been lobotomized.

Another thing I’ve neglected to mention is that Poe Dameron from the opening scenes, finally returns to pilot another X-Wing craft in defense of the aliens and resistance fighters, around the Castle/Bar. No doubt sent by Leia. So Poe’s back. That’s cool.

So now we get a protracted sequence on another planet, somewhere, wherein various characters converge and have more dialogue and exposition, which isn’t really well thought out, but also isn’t as simple and straight to the point as the original Star Wars, either. A shame really. Intercut with this, is Rey aboard the new Death Star. Which is a Death Star with a big laser gun at the equator, but with land and water all over the rest of the planet. Looks like they built this new Star Destroyer base from within the planet. Interesting idea. Wish they had dwelt on that a bit more. Even if only with a bit more dialogue about it. I’ve read they termed this technological craptastic extravaganza, “Starkiller Base.” But I don’t remember hearing that uttered in the movie.

So Rey is restrained within Kylo Ren’s interrogation room (the same one he interrogated Poe in,) and she convinces Kylo to finally take off his helmet. And as suspected, it’s Adam Driver. But we all knew that, because Disney and Lucasfilm can’t keep a secret for shit. They even paraded him out at Comic-Con – alongside the other villains featured in the film. Driver, while earning my respect in spades as both a thespian, and former United States Marine, is nonetheless playing a character that is not genuinely a threat to anyone. It’s easy to understand why they cast him, though. He looks like he could be the bastard child of Han and Leia. Looks a bit, in his own way, like each of them. And I can see what they’re going for here. The concept of the character is that he’s sort of a young 21 year-old guy from one of the X-Men movies, who drifted way past Magneto’s prejudice, and straight into complete madness … because he meant to do that. Kind of creepy, actually. But by his own exhibited behavior, the character is still just a child. And that just doesn’t work within this film. Because he’s the only real heavy, and he ain’t that damn heavy. Maybe if he was more acrobatic, and moved around like lightning. Something, anything scary. I’ve always believed that what makes a fantasy villain work is whether or not you could bean him in the head with a big rock, and he would still kill you. I mean that takes courage on your part. But what if it has no effect on the villain. Then you know you are dealing with something closer to evil. As opposed to a soul you can relate to, and have a dialectic argument with. But, from what I know of Kylo Run, I mean Ren, I could bean his ass in the head from 20 feet away and run like hell, and he would not recover quickly enough to chase me. He’s too weak. I fear no retribution from him.

Anyway, Kylo Ren soon finds that Rey is strong with the force, and he’s not getting that map out of her. So he leaves her under the guard of a Stormtrooper. So she tries the Ben Kenobi, “You don’t need to see his identification. These are not the droids you’re looking for.” And at first, she’s ineffective. It doesn’t work. However, after a second try, it does work. And a Stormtrooper that sounds suspiciously a lot like actor Daniel Craig, frees her, leaves the door open, and walks out, dropping his weapon on the floor. It’s mildly humorous.

So a few of Abrams small potatoes actors make cameos in the Rebels final briefing meeting. And there, of course, is Admiral Ackbar. And across the room, BB8 discovers R2-D2 underneath a drop cloth. C-3PO informs BB8 that when Master Luke went away, R2 went into low power mode, and has been in that state ever since. Maybe that will make more sense in the plot of the next movie. But it would have been nice if it had made sense in THIS movie. But let’s not forget, THIS IS TELEVISION. That’s the way they’ve designed this movie. They’re trying to get you addicted to nonsensical bullshit, with the promise that there will be a payoff. Just like the TV show, Lost. Remember Lost? Yea, that was Abrams.

To wrap things up, Han, Finn and Chewie travel to the big new Deathstar base to complete their part of the sabotage mission. There’s some bit of business about the Empire’s shield’s being at a certain modulation, and therefore the falcon will need to come out of light speed past the shield. Sounds like an idea leftover from Abrams’ Star Trek, but it’s kind’a cool when they do it. And that is when you realize this movie will play better on TV. Once they crash the falcon through some trees, and into some snow, they infiltrate the base, and Finn – who has offered to help them sabotage a vital part of the base – reveals that he lied. He doesn’t know anything about where that that part of the base is, or how to sabotage it. But he wanted to rescue Rey, and he knew they wouldn’t let him come along if he didn’t lie about being a sanitation worker for the F.O. No shit.

So they take Captain Phasma hostage, throw the poor maligned and unused character into a garbage compactor, and find Rey just in time. Now they have to set explosive charges. Whist Han and Chewie are doing this, Han sees Kylo Ren searching for them. Han decides to confront his son, “Ben,” who’s walking across a catwalk platform over a deep chasm leading down into the heart of the base. It does not go well. Kylo “Ben” Ren is definitely conflicted, but his inner conflict exists simply because he’s been ordered to kill his father, Han Solo, by Snoke, the giant earless Dobby clone. And though Kylo Ren/Ben he wants to kill his father, he doesn’t have the gumption. He’s simply not man enough. And Han doesn’t realize that. This reminds me of something Han and Leia had discussed earlier in the hidden Rebel base. Leia says something along the lines of, “If you find our son, bring him home.” But Kylo is no longer Ben. For whatever reason, his psychological transformation from the person he used to be, to the person he now wants to be, is complete. Or it’s about to be. Ben offers his lightsaber to Han, and once Han takes it, Kylo ignites it, right into Han’s chest. Han’s expression is complete surprise. He strokes his son’s cheek, and Kylo further slices the lightsaber blade out of Han’s side, and this sends Han falling into the chasm. Kind of like the Emperor falling into the same type of chasm in Return of the Jedi. Maybe Kylo was always just a bad kid. Maybe he was bullied. Maybe, maybe, maybe; whatever. If they knew, we would know. Abrams and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan never figured that out, so they just never addressed it. Because they don’t have to do that in Television. In light of Harrison Ford terming Return of the Jedi, “… nothing but a big toy commercial,” I’m sure he’s secretly pleased as punch with having shot the most expensive Television Pilot ever made.

So Chewie sees this, HOWLS, and shoots at Kylo. Kylo evades his gunfire, looks up and spots Rey and Finn at an exit on their way out. Rey and Finn run out and into the woods. More woods. Scenes in the woods on two different planets. Interesting. Someone has a one-track mind. Once they get out there, Kylo magically appears from out of nowhere, and uses the Force to slap Rey into a tree. Finn goes to her aid, Kylo gets his attention with, “That lightsaber! It belongs to me.” Clearly Kylo wants Luke’s lightsaber. It is possible, that Luke gave it to him as a boy, and an adult wisely took it away from him. Clearly, Luke tried to train this kid, who, according to dialogue between Han and Leia earlier, was already a bad kid. But they only have a few words about this. So it just puts an image in your head that this kid might have been suffering from a sociopathic personality disorder, before Luke tried to train him in the Jedi arts. So why would Luke blame himself that the kid grew up to be an evil freak, and run away? To be fair, perhaps Luke didn’t run away for that reason. Perhaps Luke ran away because he knew that Kylo Ren could feed off of his power, and become more powerful. And perhaps that’s bullshit.

So Finn fights Kylo, and gets injured badly. We think he’s dead, in fact. Because Kylo Ren sliced him in the back, and we don’t know how deep. So Rey wakes up, sees Fin, and is emotionally overwhelmed. At the end of the previous fight, Luke’s lightsaber went flying off and landed in the snow, several yards away. Kylo uses the Force to grab for it — but it goes right past him and lands in Rey’s hand. And she fights him like she’s been trained. Like a Boss. Plot hole? Perhaps? Or perhaps her memory was wiped by Luke. Or something else. I’ve read theories, but honestly, I don’t think Abrams and Kasdan considered it important enough to determine that. And Rey was a little young in her flashback to when she was abandoned on Jakku. So when they hell did she learn to feel the force and use it, and train with it, and all that stuff??? Another questions we’re not supposed to ask. So she defeats Kylo Ren (sounds like a brand of Ramen Noodle,) leaving him injured, but alive on the other side of a canyon-like chasm that develops between them, following the explosion from the charges left by Han and Chewie. Chewie arrives in the Falcon, helps get Finn aboard, and they leave the planet, with Poe and his Squad in pursuit. The base explodes. Big Bang Boom. And we’re back at the Rebel Base. There is some celebration by the Rebels out on a tarmac. R2-D2 wakes up. He has the rest of the map, and the Rebels put it together with what was on the thumb drive, discovering Luke’s location.

Rey and Leia say goodbye. Rey takes Han’s seat aboard the Falcon. Chewie seems pleased with this. And they take off to cheering. On a distant alien planet, the Falcon surfs across the ocean as they approach an island of grass and rocks. Then, Rey walks from the Falcon, about a half a mile up a series of rock stairs to see a cloaked figure on a cliff, looking out over the ocean. He turns, she takes a step forward. He removes the hood of the cloak (looking a bit too dramatic, and trying to look cool) and she pulls out the lightsaber. Incidentally, I promise you the pose he makes will be turned into an endless series of gifs and memes on the internet. They will appear without hesitation or pause, as soon as that image and/or video is available. Facebook, here it comes. Trust me on this. By the way, Mark Hamill’s clearly wearing hair extensions. But the look on his face, the pain in his eyes … it works because of that. Even though he looks ridiculous.

Next, Rey offers him the lightsaber, and he just stares back at her. He’s a little stunned. Give him a minute, he’s old. Or that’s the impression we’re clearly supposed to get. Self-enforced ageism in Hollywood is getting a tad tired, at this point. “Sure,” they say. “He can be Luke Skywalker. But he has to be Luke Skywalker old and tired and everything that goes with.” Ridiculous. Luke would be more alive than that. Depressed, or not. And to be fair, we have all seen the more recent photos of Mark Hamill on the internet, evidencing his new haircut and waistline. And he’s already in the UK. Rumor is they’ve already started shooting the next movie, even though their official start date for principal photograph is in January. Regardless, it appears Luke will be much more alive, active, and overall present, in the next movie, than he was in this one. Which wouldn’t be hard to accomplish. Lastly, we get another shot of the two them still standing there from above, and we’re out.

First thing you see next, is “Directed by J.J. Abrams.” This comes full circle to my original quibbles about the credits. Said credits look oddly like a lazy approximation of the original credits. A pale imitation is really what they are. And there’s something about that simple detail that really bothered me, and still does. I mean, seriously. You heard of “Harmy,” yet? The individual (or possibly a group of individuals) who generated the De-Specialized Editions of the Original Films; thereby removing all changes made by George to the 1997 Special Editions? You know who I mean. Based upon samples I’ve seen, that person(s) did a much better job simulating those original credits, in a clear attempt to get those Original films as close to the versions that were theatrically released (in ’77, ’80, & ‘83,) as possible. Much better job. And although I’m not saying it had to be perfect — I’m not nitpicking, trust me – the fact is: if you’ve seen the Original films enough times, you will notice the glaring difference, pretty quickly. Once the film is released on home video, compare those opening and closing credits of Force Awakens (a title I do not like, and will address shortly) with that of the Original three films. You will instantly notice a clear difference. Again, I’m not stating this to be nitpicky. I’m pointing out how fucking lazy a job they did on the new film’s credits.SW Closing Credits

You don’t see that with the Prequels. I gotta give ‘em credit for that, if nothing else. That element of the Prequels, Lucasfilm handled fairly well. They generated credits that were at the very least an attempt to be faithful to the pre-established look of those credits. But these new credits just look cheap and superficial. And while I’m sure many people will laugh at me being bothered by something like that, the truth is — it’s a clue. A big one. If approximating that look was done in such a slipshod manner, how much respect do you think they really have for Star Wars, in general? It says a lot about their actual intentions, as opposed to the public’s perception of their intentions.

All right. So, I think I’ve made my point.

PART THIRD  A fair analysis by a fair-haired 6-year old; loaded cap pistol in hand

Star Wars: The Force Awakens has a plot that is “almost” literally the same as the original Star Wars. Secret Plans are the McGuffin. A farm boy (or girl, this time) on a desert planet. Han and Chewie aboard the Millennium Falcon spirits her away from her home, with Stormtroopers hot on their trail. There’s another bar with aliens. There’s a Death Star. Need I go on?

“This isn’t your father’s Star Wars.” That was the comment I saw on the internet that incensed me. That really bothers me. Because A) it’s not even close to being in the same league as the 1977 film, and B) it’s ripping off the original film, along with elements of Empire and Jedi — and doing a very poor job of it. This is a film with a budget reportedly north of $200Million. And maybe … just maybe, that’s part of the problem. A “Star Wars” film, needs to be a film with a more manageable budget, a spirited and inspired filmmaker, and a support group behind it that does not consist solely of Corporate Hollywood, in order to escape the dreaded by-the-numbers “Star Wars Rip-off” sensibility. Which is exactly what this feels like. One of those movies that simply rips-off Star Wars. Some associated with this new film have termed it, “an homage.” Proving they have no idea what the true nature of homage is, any more than they understand the Forces at work that made the original film work so damn well.

Luckily, everything in this movie goes by so fast, you don’t have much time to complain. And you do generally enjoy it. The film is a Class-A production, all the way. Disney made sure of that. But an hour later, it feels hollow, trumped up, like an interesting diversion from the actual Star Wars Universe, and worst of all, regardless of the money they spent on it, it feels cheap. This doesn’t feel like Star Wars on the big screen. AGAIN: It feels like Star Wars on Television. Or something worse. And it’s too easy. Really great movies are A LOT harder to make than this. And most people never stop and wonder why. It’s because it’s a lot harder to really get it RIGHT.

In truth, I have absolutely nothing against Star Wars being on Television.  Actually, Star Wars: Rebels is frankly the best thing that has been done with the franchise, since Star Wars (1977) and Empire Strikes Back (1980.)  But a production “intended” for Television is an entirely different animal, than a production intended to theatrical release; which is this case, has been promulgated as the heir apparent to the original film that started it all, and isn’t even trying to get honor the sources of inspiration for the original film.

In Thesis, just because you are terrified of repeating the mistake that was the Prequels, doesn’t mean that you go to the opposite extreme, essentially using every sleazy, derivative tactic ever employed in the annals of Television, to rip-off your most cherished predecessor. No. You do the work, and you do it right.

In closing, I really hope the kids enjoyed it. But based upon recent statistics of the average age of ticket buyers for the film, either the kids are simply not interested in this film, or they didn’t feel they were invited. Which is sad. Because Star Wars should be for the kids. It should always be for the kids. And if they don’t feel welcome. Something has gone terribly wrong. In fact, that 6-year-old kid still inside of me did not feel welcome at all. Maybe it will play better on Television. Where it belongs.

Good move not killing Finn, by the way.

Good article at Hollywood Reporter website on why the Star Wars franchise has to pay off for Disney:

MOVIE REVIEW: JAWS 40th Anniversary Screening



A good story.  That’s what I came away from a screening of JAWS with, this afternoon.  Although I’ve seen it a thousand times, I don’t recall ever seeing it on the big screen.  JAWS has become a piece of pop-culture that people take for granted.  And more people should get the chance to see this film in a theater.  I was four years old when the movie was originally released, and while I kind of remember my father taking me to see Jaws 2, I can’t remember seeing the original until it aired on television.  J2J3J4As for the remaining sequels … 3D was an embarrassment, and 4 (also known as Jaws: The Revenge) was simply sad.  By the way, don’t let that ‘4’ on the ticket above scare you, this was in fact the 40th Anniversary screening, hosted by film critic Ben Mankiewicz (son of screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz) that I watched.

And though I cannot write anything new about a film that has been written about 1,000,000 times over, there were a few things that caught my attention or occurred to me during the movie, that I ‘personally’ wish to make comment on.

1. Best movie I’ve seen all year.  Strike that: best movie I’ve seen in a  lot of years.

The last few films I have seen in a movie theater, I have reviewed on this site.  And based upon how I responded to a screening of a 40 year old film that I have seen many, many times — I think most, if not all of the films I have reviewed here, have been given slightly better letter grades than they deserved.  I would even go so far as to call JAWS one of the absolute best stories ever committed to film.  And I probably would not have had the guts to say that before seeing it projected.  Audience ‘event’ or not, this was an amazing experience.  When comparing this 40 year-old icon to other films, the current state of movie making and box office commerce, becomes painfully real-world, soul-sucking-crunching depressing.  It has both forced me to invent a new letter grade, simply to give the film it’s true place on the scale.  And additionally to humble my former opinions of previous releases.

Recent releases have a lot of lead time on JAWS.  They have decades of advancements in cinematic techniques and technology.  They have further insight into human sophistication.  They have … so much.  And yet, in comparison with JAWS — they resemble nothing less than made-for-cable, fast-food, forgettable nonsense.  And the critics in 1975 didn’t even think much of JAWS.  Not in comparison with what they then called ‘the classics.’  That means the art form of cinema is deteriorating in quality at an exponential rate.  Faster and faster, as time goes on.  Which is something we should all be taking note of.

2. I’m now officially ambivalent about the entertainment industry’s increasing reliance on computer generated imaging, compositing, grading, and general enhancement of all images captured by cameras.

One of the many reasons I thoroughly enjoyed JAWS in a theater (a movie I own on blu-ray,) was the lack of artificial enhancement of the visual image.  It was nice to see something real for a change.  Without all that digital crap to complicate what I’m looking at.  ‘Nuff said.

3. Sequential storytelling (as in comic books) is a significant asset to JAWS’ storytelling.  And that is something I had honestly never taken note of before.  And Spielberg additionally mastered the art of overlapping (or dual) dialogue in this film.  And that is something I had only partially taken note of before.

When Orson Welles made Citizen Kane, he and his cinematographer Gregg Toland reportedly went down to a local newstand and picked up a stack of comic books to use as reference.  They were looking for angles and ‘shots’ that neither of them had seen overused in movies, up to that time.  What Steven Spielberg did here was take an adjacent avenue to that rational.  He studied Alfred Hitchcock’s economical, visual storytelling style, and coupled it with his (Spielberg’s) own penchant for match cuts, match dissolves, etc.  A technique Spielberg used quite extensively in his more recent film, The Adventures of Tin Tin.  Once Orson Welles’ own technique gets filtered with Hitchcock and through Spielberg, it ironically comes out looking more like the sequential art form that comic books and graphic novels are well known for.  And regardless of the 2 hour runtime, the story just zips along.  Pumping out necessarily and relevant story details, in what amount to small hints.  And seldom has that been done better.

Spielberg’s penchant for what I will term here as, ‘dual-dialogue,’ is also in full evidence.  In fact he completely mastered it in this one film.  Several scenes in the film, almost from the beginning when Chief Brody takes a phone call from his office while his wife talks to his son and dresses his wound, absolutely define one of the perfect ways to achieve the suspension of disbelief in a motion picture.  Creating further reality by evidencing the true nature of people, amongst one another.  i.e. overlapping dialogue.  Something Howard Hawks was also known for playing around with.  Two discussions happening in the FRAME, at the same time.  As stated, it’s used in this film several times.  And few other films have used the technique as effectively, as Spielberg utilizes it here.

4. JAWS was known for many years as more of a fantasy/science-fiction premise.  However, that was generally based on the size of the shark.  And over the years, a handful of great white sharks have been caught, and or identified, that exceed the 25 foot, 3 ton mass of the masticating fish featured in the film.

This, in my mind, now places the film firmly in the mold of ‘thriller.’  Without much of a hint of fantasy.  And that gives the movie much better ground to stand on, in the mind’s eye.  Making it easier to suspend one’s disbelief, and simply enjoy the story.  Many experts will tell you that sharks do not actually seek to attack people, repeatedly; and/or in the relative quick duration of only a few days time.  Clearly, these experts do not live in Australia.

5.  Robert Shaw was one of the greatest actors who ever lived.

Shaw had a certain reputation.  Hard drinking, etc.  But watching his performance in this film on the big screen, in comparison with so many others, truly displays his talent.  Certainly there is method acting at work here.  QuintAnd while it caused problems between Shaw and actor Richard Dreyfus, it’s obvious to see now, that this was a very precisely designed performance, accomplished by a true professional.  Anyone who knows his work can tell you that he completely vanishes into the character of Quint.  Method acting is controversial, to be sure.  Reference Christian Bale’s performance in the film, ‘The Mechanic.’  But here, Shaw does it right.  And by doing so, the character he portrays stands among us as a real person.

6. To be perfectly fair to modern cinema and advancements in technology, the limitations of the Panavision (Scope) style in the early 70’s, are revealed when projected.

At first, I thought it was cinematographer Bill Butler’s hazy photography.  But after about half an hour, I began to realize that the camera simply could not maintain focus on more than one focal point within the frame, simultaneously.  As a result, in several shots where multiple characters or elements are intended to be featured, there is only a single focal point, in actual focus.  This is one of only three imperfections I spotted within the entire film.  The other two being the oddly-cut scene when Matt (Richard Dreyfus) Hooper inspects the scant remains of the initial victim, within what appears to be a bed pan.  As anyone who has seen the film knows, at a certain point in this scene, Hooper holds up a dismembered hand and says, ‘… you see this is what happens …’  This line and cut are not attached to either the shot before or after it.  Then there’s my personal quibble over Chief Brody’s line, ‘blow up’ at the penultimate moment in the film.  You don’t really need that.  All you need are the visuals of the tank in the shark’s mouth, and Brody shooting at it.  ‘Blow up,’ was overkill.

7. The score by John Williams, is the main character.

It makes me chuckle a bit when I realize that Williams had to know when he was working on the score, that the score itself was not only propelling the film, or identifying, or underscoring, but in fact, telling the story.  The score for JAWS is quite literally one of the perfect storytelling devices in any movie I’ve ever seen.  Nuance by nuance, pitch by pitch, the impact cannot be considered negligible.  Take it away, and the story hides behind a lot of pomp and circumstance.  People give Spielberg all the credit, but seeing this movie in a theater makes you realize that neither author Peter Benchley, nor filmmaker Steven Spielberg are actually telling the story we’re watching.  John Williams is.   The JW