Various and Sundry

I’m now writing a lot more than I ever have, but not much of it is posted here. I’m sorry this blog is being neglected, but, since nobody pays me to write it, I’ve been forced to shift my focus to wordsmithing in ways that produce income.

That said, there’s a bunch of stuff I’ve written that I haven’t linked to anywhere, so I thought I could kill two birds with one stone by shamelessly plugging some of my stuff and reviving this moribund blog at the same time.

Here’s a piece I did on the National Endowment for the Arts that echoes an earlier blog post I wrote about my experience as a musical theatre panelist for the NEA.

Here’s one where I review the Netflix movie “The Most Hated Woman in America”, which I doubt anyone else but me has actually seen. I think Madalyn Murray O’Hair was a fascinating figure, despite the fact that I disagree with her profoundly.

It looks like Disney isn’t going to put Carrie Fisher into Episode IX at all, so this article about repurposed footage is probably irrelevant now. But here it is anyway.

I turned a Facebook status update game into a column! Behold the Jim Bennett Guide to Broadway Musicals.

This is NOT a review, but it is a nice little piece about my experience in The Will Rogers Follies.

Incidentally, every time I do a show for Pioneer Theatre Company, I feel a need to take a picture of myself in costume next to the portrait of my great-grandfather that hangs in the lobby of the theatre, like so:


The eyepatch is cool but problematic, as I have to sit in the audience and watch the whole show without any depth perception.

The show is getting some great reviews, and I’m even mentioned in a couple of them.

Here’s the Deseret News review, which includes the following line:

Wiley Post, Rogers’ fellow aviator (played by Deseret News columnist Jim Bennett) delighted the audience as an agitator who would occasionally stand up and holler at Rogers.

Nice to get a mention, although I’m hardly an “agitator.” Pretty much all I say is “Let’s go flying, Will!” Glad to know that’s all it takes to “delight the audience.”

I’m mentioned in this review, too –

Wiley Post (Jim Bennet (sic)) has some of the funniest lines–but I grew to dislike him–the character, not the actor. If I tell you why, it’s a spoiler if you don’t read the Wikipedia link I added. Bennet (sic) has great timing and it was fun that he did his entire performance from a seat in the audience.

It’s nice to be disliked for the right reasons, so I won’t dislike the reviewer for spelling Bennett with only one T. And, really, I should be nice to her, because the reality is that I don’t have any funny lines at all. Unless, again, you think “Let’s go flying, Will!” is funny.

Moving on…

In this piece, I slam the new Alec Baldwin Match Game.

And in this piece, I praise Mystery Science Theatre 3000, because it’s awesome.

That’s all I’ve got. Come see me at Pioneer Theatre! Show runs until May 20. If you get a seat on the third row, you can even sit next to me.

Birthday Thoughts

This may seem odd, but I’m over here at my blog hiding from Facebook, where, so far, 180 very sweet, wonderful people have decided to wish me a happy birthday.  (Yes, today is my birthday. I am a year older, not much wiser, and still devastatingly good-looking.)

Every time someone is thoughtful enough to take time out of their day to wish me well, I think that act of kindness deserves a personalized response, and it takes time to respond to 180 different people, and if I get started mid-day, more well-wishes from others pop up as I’m writing back, so I end up feeling like I’m falling behind, and what ought to be a fun exchange with friends ends up feeling a bit like a chore, which is an ungrateful way to respond to good folks who care enough about me to say so. So I’ve decided to steer clear of Facebook all day until everyone’s news feed moves on to the next birthday, and then I can begin the response process on the second day of my 48th year on Planet Earth.

So for all of you wishing me well, thank you so much. You have made me loved and appreciated, and that’s no small thing in this lonely world of ours.

So if I’m not going to hang out on Facebook, the least I can do is to keep this blog from drifting off into oblivion. I thought I’d weigh in on a few issues that have been rumbling around in my brain, each of which could easily merit a blog post of their own.

1. ON DONALD TRUMP

donald-trump-hair-photos-mystery-transplant-combover_2014-09-14_21-59-27-573x430
I’ve written the definitive piece on Trump’s candidacy in my most recent column for the Deseret News, but I fail to mention the issue that is of primary concern to most of those following this bizarre reality show circus, which is that of The Donald’s hair.

Consider the “Hell Toupee” meme:

6834e99713f262a9ab2c72125c46085eIt’s funny, sure, but The Donald doesn’t wear a toupee. That’s all his own hair, which is why there’s so dang much of it. A toupee wouldn’t consume such a large degree of Trumpian scalpular geography. It would just sit there like a dead raccoon, much the way William Shatner’s has done for lo these many decades.

trump-twilight-zone

Much better is the “We Shall Overcomb” meme:

we-shall-overcombe-shirt-square-heather-grey2I’m convinced Trump manipulates huge swaths of bleached hair to cover scalpular* portions which God hath left desolate. A toup would just fly off in a strong wind, not flutter askew like a pencil troll gone to seed.

trump-hairThe evidence clearly suggests overcombing, not hairpiecing.

Which brings me to my second item of the day:

2. “EVIDENCE” IS NOT A SYNONYM FOR “PROOF”

Rummaging through one of the many pointless, bait-click online lists I stumble across far too frequently, I bumped into a statement by actor John Malkovich where he was quoted as saying the following:

johnmalkovich“I believe in people, I believe in humans, I believe in a car, but I don’t believe something I can’t have [sic] absolutely no evidence of for millennia. And it’s funny — people think analysis or psychiatry is mad, and THEY go to CHURCH…”

John Malkovich, Non-Combovering Atheist

While I respect the fact that Mr. Malkovich has made far less ridiculous scalpular choices than The Donald, I find it very tedious that so many atheists keep claiming there is “absolutely no evidence” of God’s existence, which is false, when what they mean is that there is “absolutely no proof” of God’s existence, which is, in fact, true.

Mormons deal with this a lot.

For quite some time, the Mormon blogosphere, known by the faithful as the “Bloggernacle,” has been engaged in a long-running discussion/argument/flame war as to the historicity of The Book of Mormon – the book of scripture, not the rancid musical. For those of you who are unaware, The Book of Mormon purports to be a translation of ancient religious records of people that migrated to the American continent and established a civilization that all but collapsed circa 400 AD. It is now fashionable in certain circles to refer to The Book of Mormon as “inspired fiction,” and, while it represents a tour de force of religious insight by purported-translator-but-assumed-author Joseph Smith, there is “no evidence” that there were actual people called Nephites and Lamanites who lived and died and did stuff.

Over at a blog called “Enigmatic Mirror,” Mormon scholar William Hamblin has been exchanging posts with a non-Mormon academic named Philip Jenkins, who likens belief in The Book of Mormon as a historical, non-fictional document to belief in Bigfoot – who we all know is Cain, punished to wander the earth swathed in matted, unbleached Donald Trump combover strands for thousands of years until he finally guest stars as Andre the Giant on The Six Million Dollar Man.

I digress.

Jenkins refuses to either read The Book of Mormon or even acknowledge that there is any reason to do so, because there is – you guessed it – “no evidence” that it’s historical. When Hamblin suggests that Jenkins has “tacitly” admitted that at least some evidence exists, Jenkins gets quite huffy.

“At no point have I ever suggested that there is any evidence whatever in support for the historicity or historical value of the Book of Mormon,” Jenkins huffs, huffily. “I have never suggested or stated that tacitly, or openly, and it is wrong to suggest that I have.”

But there is a great deal of evidence of the Book of Mormon’s historicity, much of which I’ve talked about on this blog. What Jenkins is complaining about, like Malkovich, is the lack of proof, not evidence. (Hamblin himself makes the same point in his response.)

This is the primary argument, incidentally, on an issue of far graver importance than the nature of God or scripture – namely, the identity of William Shakespeare. There is considerable evidence, but no proof, that William Shakespeare was not the similarly named William Shakspere/Shaxper/Shagspur of Stratford-on-Avon who currently gets all the credit for those plays, sonnets, and poems, but rather that William Shakespeare was the pseudonym of Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, much the same way Stallion Cornell is the pseudonym of Jim Bennett, the 47-year-old wannabe Duke of Earl.  Yet if you go to Wikipedia, source of all wisdom, Oxfordians base their case on “the dearth of evidence for any conspiracy as evidence of its success.” So not only is there “no evidence” that Oxford was Shakespeare, but the lack of evidence is our evidence? What the crap is that?

If evidence were always proof, then why would we have a criminal justice system? Jury trials involve two opposing advocates using identical evidence to argue for diametrically opposite conclusions. Even the most devoutly religious concede there is no conclusive proof that God exists, but they’ll offer up a great deal of evidence for why they believe he does.  But if the intellectually lazy can equate a lack of proof with a lack of evidence, then they can end all arguments before they begin.

This bugs me.

3. GEEKY PEEVE
You know what else bugs me? Peter Capaldi in Doctor Who.

As I announced in one of my columns, I’m binge-watching Doctor Who, which has conveniently incorporated the changing actors in the lead role into the plot structure of the show. The show’s title character is the Doctor, a time-travelling, nigh-unto-immortal alien whose surname is not Who. When the Doctor is close to death, he “regenerates,” i.e. turns into an entirely different person played by an entirely different actor. While he retains his memories from previous incarnations, his personality changes with each new body, too.

This first happened at the end of the first season of the new series, and I thought I would never accept David Tennant as the Doctor after Christopher Eccleston, who was the first to play him in the 21st Century. So imagine my surprise when David Tennant turned out to be a far superior Doctor to Eccleston. Yet after three Tennant seasons, Tennant regenerated into Matt Smith, and I thought there was no way I could make the Tennant-to-Smith transition. But Matt Smith was so brilliant in the role that he won me over almost instantly. So when Matt Smith’s tenure came to an end and the Doctor became Peter Capaldi, I thought, “well, I did this twice before, and it turned out OK. How bad can it be?”

Well, pretty bad, as it turns out.

Eccleston, Tennant, and Smith played the Doctor as a sort of dashing, eccentric rogue, but Capaldi is a 57-year-old arthritic curmudgeon. He’s a full three decades older than Matt Smith, and his Doctor is so far removed from Smith’s interpretation that it’s very difficult to suspend disbelief and pretend they’re the same person. I’m three episodes in to Season 8, and I was hoping I’d accept Capaldi by now. I don’t. But at least there’s no combover.

And so we’ve come full circle. Again, thank you for you kind wishes, and maybe I’ll post here a few more times before my next birthday.

_______________
* I have used the word “scalpular” several times in this blog post, when, to my knowledge, “scalpular” isn’t really a word.  Autocorrect keeps trying to change it to “sculptural.” If you can’t tell by the context, I use “scalpular” as an adjective with a definition meaning “of or pertaining to the scalp.” Should this word be incorporated into common English parlance, I will therefore expect Webster’s Dictionary to send me royalty checks. In any case, I have copyrighted “scalpular” and reserved all ancillary rights thereto. Should you decide to say it in conversation, you will owe me $.25 per usage.

Writing

“Writing isn’t hard – just get out a piece of paper an open a vein.”

I don’t remember who said that, but it’s a popular cliche among those who consider themselves to be literarily minded. The meaning of it, if you didn’t grasp at the outset, is that writing is a painful, personal experience that requires tremendous sacrifice from the writer.

I used to think that was bunk. I don’t anymore.

When this blog debuted in 2007,  I made it a goal to write something significant on a daily basis, and for well over a year, I was successful. I went through droughts now and again, but I always came back and had long stretches of lengthy posts, which, of course, were undeniably brilliant. I mean, come on. I’m Stallion Cornell.

You may have noted a dearth of postings of late.

I have excuses. Some of them are even actual reasons. But the heart of all of it is the unpleasant reality that writing, just as a process, has become far more psychologically difficult for me than it has ever been. This probably means I’ve become lazier and/or crazier, or both, but it frightens me that this may become the new normal.

So here’s what I’m going to do to prevent that.

Over the weeks and months, I’ve had dozens of ideas for blog posts, but I haven’t taken the time to flesh them out. So today, I’m just going to write down some of them, and, if you’re so inclined, please leave a comment and tell me which of these theses you’d like to see explored in a full-length essay.

Here they are:

1. The only way Hillary Clinton can avoid being elected president is if she becomes a Klansman and starts using the N-word in casual conversation. (And even that might not do it.)

2. If it took nearly half a decade to excommunicate John Dehlin, a man who makes his living by tearing down the truth claims of his former church online, then the idea that the Mormons are purging themselves of doubters and heretics is ludicrous on its face.

3. When I personally struggle with doubts, they’re never doubts about whether or not there is a God, as I find atheism largely ridiculous. My doubts always focus more on the character of God – i.e., what if God is actually kind of a jerk?

4. Most people who invoke scientific authority in political discussions do so because what they believe is diametrically opposed to actual science. 

5. The LDS Church’s missionary program needs to be re-thought from the ground up. I think that means no more knocking on doors, no more white shirts and name-badges, more specialization and online engagement, and a far greater emphasis on community service. Mostly, it means a great deal of localized experimentation, much of which will fail before it stumbles on an approach that will succeed.

6. Despite centuries of attempts, no one has yet produced an adequate explanation for the existence of The Book of Mormon other than the one offered by Joseph Smith. 

7. I have not encountered a new or interesting religious or political argument online for years, if not decades. 

8. The CW’s “The Flash” is the best live-action superhero story ever told, and “Agents of SHIELD” no longer sucks.

9. I know everything that’s going to happen in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” and I’m still wildly excited to see it.

10. I have no favorite potential Republican presidential for the same reason I have no favorite Libertarian or Green Party candidate, as the none of the nominees from any of these parties has the slightest chance of ever becoming president.

Oh, and America has about ten years left. Fifteen, tops. But that might not be a bad thing.

There. Vein officially opened. Let me know what you think. 

Deseret News X-Men column: The Stallionic Director’s Cut

In my recent X-Men continuity problems post, I promised more info the next day, and that additional info didn’t come. That’s because I adapted that post into my latest Deseret News column, which addresses the subject.

However, the size limitations of that column didn’t allow me to cover the issue completely. So I will repost the column, originally published here, and offer some additional thoughts at the end.

(Also, please note that the column doesn’t contain any significant spoilers, but my addendum does. I will ruin the ending for you if you’re not careful.)

______

The X-Men movies break their own rules.

By Jim Bennett, For the Deseret News
Published: Thursday, May 29 2014 5:12 p.m. MDT

 

Having seen all the X-Men movies, as well as the two Wolverine spinoff flicks, I was encouraged by the reviews that said that “X-Men: Days of Future Past” would finally clean up the mess left by the dreadful “X-Men 3: The Last Stand.”

This film series has been plagued by plot holes, and many wish that the third movie had simply never happened. “Days of Future Past,” with its time-traveling plot, essentially grants that wish by altering the past to create a new future that lifts the franchise out of the corner into which it had painted itself.

Now don’t get me wrong. I quite enjoyed “Days of Future Past,” and I consider it to be the best X-Men movie to date. The scenes with Quicksilver, the mutant with a need for speed, may well be the most entertaining moments of superhero cinema ever filmed. Taken as a standalone piece of entertainment, the movie is superb.

But when considered part of a larger whole, “Days Of Future Past” only served to exacerbate the X-movie continuity problems it was ostensibly designed to fix.

Let’s start with the problem of Professor Charles Xavier, as portrayed by Patrick Stewart. This character died about halfway through the third movie. His body was blasted into a million pieces, and it was kind of a big deal. Yet at the beginning of this latest outing, Patrick Stewart’s Xavier is back, front and center, battling the bad guys without missing a beat. Nothing in the “Days of Future Past” time-shifting narrative allows for this possibility, and the professor’s passing never even gets a passing mention.

I can’t imagine I’m the only one who was bothered by this.

When I’ve raised this issue, some are eager to point out that Professor X did, in fact, return from the dead in a post-credits scene at the end of “The Last Stand.” Well, yes. But he did so by transferring his consciousness into someone else’s brain-dead body — someone who presumably didn’t look exactly like Patrick Stewart. In addition, Professor X is still in a wheelchair at the outset of “Days of Future Past.” So even if this body donor was somehow Xavier’s identical twin, it makes no sense that he would have an identical spinal cord injury, too.

I wrote up a lengthy diatribe about this subject on my blog, and I included several other continuity issues that nagged at me. How did Magneto get his powers back after losing them in X3? At the end of “The Wolverine,” Trask Industries is just starting construction of the mutant-hunting Sentinels who are the “Days of Future Past” bad guys, but in DOFP, the Sentinel program begins back in the Watergate era. What’s with the 40-year discrepancy?

And as long as we’re ranting, why is Xavier both ambulatory and bald at the start of X3 when he’s paralyzed with a full head of hair at the end of “X-Men: First Class?” I mean, come on! How dumb do they think we are?

After posting a link to this on Facebook, my sister commented, “Holy crud, you’re nerdy.” She’s right; I am. In fact, I’m so nerdy that I’ve actually had some personal experience in this area. I’m writing a young adult novel, and recently my editor pointed out some places in my manuscript where the plot was inconsistent. At first, I didn’t think it was that big a deal. This is my fictional world, after all. Don’t I get to make the rules?

“Yes,” she told me, “you make the rules. And readers will be completely unforgiving if you don’t respect them enough to follow them.”

Those are wise words for nerds and X-Men alike.

______

That’s the column. Now here’s an addendum with a few other errors that didn’t make the final cut.

What’s the deal with Wolverine’s adamantium claws?

Remember, they were sliced off at the end of “The Wolverine,” and in the dreaded post-credits scene of that movie that brings Patrick Stewart back from the dead, reignites Magneto’s powers, and delays the Sentinel program by four decades, Logan still has the bone claws. But by the time “Days of Future Past” rolls around, the adamantium is back. How did that happen?

I mentioned that to a friend, who shrugged it off and said, “he probably just got an upgrade between movies.”

Neat! An upgrade!

Except the process by which he got them in the first place was so traumatic that it dominated two other movies – “X2-X-Men United” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”  – and was even referenced in “Days of Future Past” as the most stressful moment in Logan’s life. What are the chances he would voluntarily submit to going through that again just for some kind of “upgrade?”

It’s thoughts about being injected with adamantium that threaten to knock Wolverine out of the past and back into the future – which brings up another glitch, but one that isn’t specific to this movie per se. The whole concept of time travel always opens itself to bizarre continuity concerns in every story that uses the idea, and it’s hard to really hold some of these against anybody.

Still, it seemed strange that Kitty Pride had to keep doing whatever it was she was doing to Logan’s temples in a real-time parallel to the events happening in the past. It was as if Kitty’s virtual massage was happening simultaneously with Wolverine’s Watergate-era antics, when one took place fifty-plus years in the past. The illusion of concurrence is convenient for the narrative, but it really doesn’t make any practical sense. It’s even more improbable when you consider that Logan’s time in the past spanned several days, if not weeks. Are we really supposed to believe Kitty was in deep concentration, day and night, without food or drink or bathroom breaks, for the same span of time Logan was cavorting through history?

Perhaps the most egregious problem, however, is the one that many reviewers are calling a triumph. At the end of “Days of Future Past,” history has changed, and it’s as if “X3: The Last Stand” never happened. DOFP   brings both Jean Grey and Cyclops back from the dead and wipes the slate clean. It’s a bit like the end of the first “Back to the Future” movie, when all the bad stuff in Marty McFly’s life is replaced by a much hipper family and a cool new car.

There’s a significant difference, though. In “Back to the Future,” each of the changes in the new future is directly related to Marty’s adventures in the past. So Biff is now a groveling loser because he was humiliated at the “Enchantment Under the Sea” dance, and Dad is now a successful sci-fi author because he followed Marty’s advice, so he has more money and confidence to create the future to which Marty returns.

None of the changes in the “DOFP” follow any similar logic. Sure, the Sentinel program collapses, but the events of the first three X-films had nothing at all to do with the Sentinel program. So why wouldn’t they still have happened? Jean Grey’s transformation into Phoenix was the catalyst for all the badness. How did she avoid it in the new timeline when it was made clear that it was inevitable? This is just sloppy storytelling all the way around.

Yes, this is nerdy. Yes, it’s “just a movie.” But these holes demonstrate that the producers think it’s “just a movie,” too. Which means that the people who made these films ultimately stopped caring about them somewhere down the line.

And if they don’t care, then why should we?

UPDATE: An email from a column reader explains all!

“The reason your [sic] confused about the reason why Professor x is back you do not watch the end credits of films at the end of xmen last stand the end credits shows professor x alive also the end of the wolverine he was alive.”

Well, that certainly clears it up, in case your [sic] still wondering.

Honestly, why would you take the time to email a columnist when you clearly didn’t read the column?

Retrek

All right, at the outset, know that there will be spoilers. Not little spoilers, mind you, but big, freakin’ Luke-I-am-your-father-Rosebud-was-a-sled-it-was-Earth-all-along-damn-you-all-to-hell spoilers. In fact, I’m going to post a spoiler picture, so watch out for that, too. The point is that if you haven’t seen “Star Trek Into Darkness” and you want to see it without knowing what happens, you’ve probably read too much already. Look away! Be gone with you! Abandon all hope, or whatever. Seriously, why are you still reading this?

All right. So. “Star Trek Into Darkness.”

On Facebook, I posted the following mini-review: “Star Trek. Kids loved it. It made me mad.”

I received several replies, including one very common-sense question: “Did you go actually believing you would like it?”

That’s a hard question to answer. Yes, I’m something of a Trek purist, but I thoroughly enjoyed the 2009 reboot, although My Esteemed Colleague, the purest of purists, did not. (More on him later.) I even wrote a column for the Deseret News scolding purists for their unwillingness to embrace the new Trek incarnation, thereby preemptively defending a movie I hadn’t seen. I had also wrote multiple posts outlining the reasons that Cumberbatch was going to be Gary Mitchell, not Kahn. Allow me to quote me:

Again, Khan makes no sense. Not an inside Starfleet guy; no reason for vengeance on Kirk in this continuity, and repeated, emphatic denials from everyone involved with the movie that Cumberbatch isn’t Khan.
– Stallion Cornell, “It’s Gary Mitchell,” December 6, 2012

Those emphatic denials left no wriggle room or gray areas. “It’s not Khan,” insisted Simon “Scotty” Pegg. “That’s a myth. Everyone’s saying it is, but it’s not.”

Oh, wait. Yes, it is. We lied.

See? Spoiler pic there.

I don’t like being lied to, but all’s fair in love and movie promotion, I guess. And the fact that they chose Khan as the baddie isn’t, on its face, a crime against nature. To borrow from Nicholas Meyer, who directed Khan’s last big screen outing, it’s not whether or not you use him; it’s whether you use him well.

Khan is utterly wasted in this movie.

That’s true whatever else you may think about the film. Khan isn’t really the bad guy; Admiral Marcus is – although we’ve seen his type before, too. He’s a Federation version of Christopher Plummer’s Klingon warmonger in “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.” Khan’s beef with Marcus is justified, and he ends up joining forces with Kirk, which, given the plot, makes all the sense in the world.

Then something stupid happens. It’s not the first time something stupid happens in this movie, and it’s certainly not the last.

When NuSpock phones up Leonard Nimoy for no particular reason, that sent up a red flag that the movie was about to go off the rails. He skypes old Spock in the middle of the confrontation with Marcus to ask about… Khan. Khan, who is currently on their side; Khan, who is ancillary to the dilemma they now face; Khan, who wants to bump off Admiral Marcus even more than they do. How about “Did you know an Admiral Marcus? Was he a power-mad loon?” No, the script has to feature Khan, because, well, he’s Khan, and we’ve wasted him up until now.

And what does Nimoy say? “Oh, Khan! He’s bad! Very, very bad! The baddest guy we ever faced.” (Which is not true, by the way, but I’ll let it slide. I can only get overheated over one thing at a time.)

So then the movie proceeds to fulfill its own lame prophecy, and Khan, who gets possession of the most powerful starship ever built, proceeds to blow the Enterprise out of the water because… well, he’s Khan! KHAAAAN! EEEEEEEEvil Khan! Remember what Grandpa Spock just said? Khan’s just so enormously bad, with a deep streak of incurable badness! He doesn’t want to escape in his trans-warp supership and go wreak havoc somewhere, no! He just wants to beat up on Kirk, because, well, that’s what Khans do.

And therein is the problem. This Khan should have absolutely no beef with Kirk. Which is why this movie falls woefully short of the film it’s so desperately trying to emulate. “The Wrath of Khan” was a masterpiece largely because it drew on fifteen years of history, on relationships between characters and fans that spanned two decades, and a long-simmering grudge ripe for an epic revenge.

This movie has none of those things. So what does it do? It tries to borrow “Wrath of Khan’s” gravitas and pass it off as its own.

Which brings us to… the scene. You know the one I’m talking about.

Up until Kirk’s “death,” I was having a rather pleasant night at the movies. There’s no denying that this was a well-constructed piece of entertainment, and I confess that I very much enjoy the cast, who have made these roles their own. Chris Pine is a bonafide movie star, and he carries the film effortlessly. Scotty had more to do, which was a welcome addition. I was disappointed that Bones was sidelined for much of the action, as he was the best thing about the first movie. But now, I even like Zachary Quinto, who bothered me in the first film, primarily because he was a tenor and Nimoy is a baritone, and I didn’t buy that he could be a younger version of the old Spock. But there was less older Spock to compare him to, which allowed me to accept him on his own terms. I thought he acquitted himself well, even as he was repeatedly forced to erode the integrity of the character of Spock. (More on that later, too.)

But once they got to Kirk taking the Spock side of the glass door in an overdramatic death scene, I got bugged. Then I got angry. And the movie lost me completely, never to get me back again.

Here’s the problem. Thematically, “The Wrath of Khan” is, above all else, a thoughtful meditation on aging and death. Kirk has made it to middle age without ever face his own mortality, and he’s prided himself on his ability to cheat the Grim Reaper at every turn. When Spock dies, Kirk is forced to confront death in the most unsettling and disturbing way possible, watching his longtime friend expire right in front of him. The scene works on its own merits, but it has tremendous power born from the characters’ relationships with both the audience and each other.

By way of contrast, “ST Into Darkness” is thematically barren. It’s not a meditation on anything; it’s a loud, brash popcorn flick. Don’t get me wrong; there’s nothing wrong with loud, brash popcorn flicks. “Iron Man 3” was awesome. (More on that in another post.) In addition, the characters don’t have Shatner and Nimoy’s decades of association to draw upon, and the audience isn’t nearly as invested in them as they were in the old guys. So when they decide to drop a lead weight of bathos into what has, up until then, been a fluffy piece of cinema cotton candy, it’s clumsy and labored.

And then the stupidest thing possible happens: Spock, who has just bawled his eyes out and demonstrated no ability to contain his emotions, yells “KHAAAAAAAAAN!”

It made me laugh. Even worse, it was designed to make me laugh. How could it not be? Shatner’s “KHAAAAAAAAAAAAN” shout is now an iconic element of almost every Kirk parody ever performed. This was a callback to something that’s become a joke. Who undercuts the dramatic tension of its most “poignant” moment with a punchline? Someone who sorely misjudged the nature of these characters, that’s who.

It reminded me of the terrible moment (amid a sea of terrible moments) in Shatner’s execrable “Star Trek V” where they come face to face with God Himself, who then asks to borrow the Enterprise, to which Kirk then asks, “What need does God have of a starship?” And the audience laughs, because they recognize the fundamental absurdity of everything they’ve watched until now. Seeing Spock’s Khan shoutout was the last straw. After that, the movie had abandoned all pretense to integrity. There was no longer anything worth caring about.

Once the roof caved in, I found myself questioning all the moments I had previously enjoyed. Yes, it’s exciting and fun, but think about how absurd the opening of the movie is. They don’t want to lift the Enterprise out of the water because the locals will see it, right? Well, wouldn’t they have seen it when it went under the water in the first place? Kind of a big ship, isn’t it? And why did it have to go under water? We can beam things to any spot on the surface from orbit, can’t we? They may have made up some hooey about the volcano offering interference or something, but they undermined that when they beamed Spock out of harm’s way. And, really, why did Spock have to be down there at all? Why not just drop the cold fusion bomb and let it blow up on its own?

Hey, if you really do need a guy there for some reason, why not use Harrison Khan’s ridiculously powerful portable “trans-warp” device which can zip you from downtown London to downtown Kronos in the blink of an eye? And when they discover that device, why not trans-warp beam a handful of Starfleet SEALS to Khan’s location, slit his throat, and then beam them back?

Why is Khan on Kronos, anyway? Sure, it’s convenient for Marcus, who wants to start a war, but isn’t Marcus Khan’s sworn enemy? Why would he accommodate him with a hideout that plays directly into his agenda, other than, you know, lazy writing?

And then there’s Kirk’s resurrection via Khan blood. McCoy even removes one of Khan’s crew to put Kirk in a cryotube. Doesn’t that guy from the tube have genetically enhanced superblood, too? Yes. Don’t they know that? Yes. Do they ignore it for no logical reason and go after Khan in an overwrought chase sequence instead? Why, yes, they do, in fact!

To be fair, these plot holes are much smaller than the first film’s were. But I don’t mind plot holes as long as the thing can still hang together as a cohesive whole. This movie couldn’t accomplish that. It tries to be all things to all people, and it hurled me out of the moment with its clumsy callback to a film it admires but doesn’t understand. It’s sad, really – we only get new Star Trek every few years, and it seems such a waste to use one of those outings to retread what has gone before.

My Esteemed Colleague refuses to see it, and he insists that it will ruin Trek for generations. He may be right; my kids loved the thing, and they think I’m just a geek with no life for feeling differently. But I don’t think this is the Trek death blow. As I said, the cast works, and, given a decent story, they can get this franchise back on track. The movie ends precisely where the series begins, with the onset of their five year exploration mission. Maybe next time they’ll get it right.

Because they didn’t get it right this time.

Singing for Shatner

The departure of the Shatner’s Toupee blog has really bummed me out.

tombstonePerhaps I should hold out hope – it’s still there, after all, despite being surreptitiously yanked off the web for a brief period. The webmaster made a grand announcement on New Year’s Day that he was going to get up and running again, and now four months have passed, and… nothing.

I’ve considered devoting this blog to continuing that noble legacy. I can think of no higher calling than investigating and chronicling the endless nuances of William Shatner’s artificial hair. Then I realized that I’d like to stay both married and sane, which would be very difficult to do if I were to fully indulge my unnatural obsession with Captain Kirk’s wigs.

But I can dabble, can’t IOn a parallel track, I’ve set a goal of recording a new song every week. I’m not necessarily going to post all of them here for free, as I still have a burgeoning professional music career on iTunes that has yielded several dollars in dividends – and by “several,” I mean $5.63. My original album “Stalker Tunes” has been for sale online for a couple of years now, and nobody’s bought it in its entirety. (Just think! You could be the first!)


Below is the graphic that made this one of the coldest selling items of last year’s yuletide rush.

Its follow-up single, “Edge of a Crow,” has been sold and/or streamed precisely 0 times, so you could say I’ve hit a sophomore slump.

Still, hope spring eternal, and I’ve got about five recordings in the can, and a couple of them are actually pretty good. I think I’ve stepped up the production values considerably from my earlier efforts. I intend to release a second album sometime this year to give everyone another opportunity not to buy anything, so I don’t want to cannibalize my non-sales by releasing the songs on this blog for free.

But I don’t think I can sell my latest opus, as it contains previously copyrighted material – specifically, it includes a whole lot of unauthorized William Shatner participation. I think most of it is protected by Fair Use provisions and would be considered legally acceptable parody, but why take a chance? This blog can’t afford to be embroiled in legal trouble, because I’ve only earned $5.63.

So rather than risk Shatnerian wrath, I’ve chosen instead to throw caution to the wind and offer it to you as a token of my esteem, a tribute to the glory days of the toupological blog that was, and a pathetic cry for psychiatric help.

I give you – Follicly Active, a duet between Stallion Cornell and an unwilling William Shatner.

Enjoy.

 

Ender’s Game Sequels

So I’m a “little late with the blogpost today, Blogboy,” according to some anonymous commenter on yesterday’s post. One would think that savoring the lyrics to “Cannibal Eyes” would take a true arts connoisseur a week or two, but since no true arts connoisseurs read this blog, I’m not surprised that many of you lack the appreciation for lyrical perfection. Especially where I internally rhyme “bug me” with “ugly,” or where I refer to eyes that salivate.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been savoring some great stuff, too – I’m rereading the Ender’s Game series, which remain Orson Scott Card’s best books by far. (Ten years ago, I’d have said that distinction belongs to the Tales of Alvin Maker series, but back then he’d only written the first three books, and now the storyline has run out of steam. I’m not all that anxious for the next installment. )

If you haven’t read Ender’s Game, read it. Right now. Seriously. Throw your laptop to the floor and go read it. It’s certainly the best science fiction novel I’ve ever read, and maybe one of the very best books of any genre. I will say nothing of the book’s plot as I don’t want to even hint at any spoilers, only to say it’s a perfectly realized story, beautifully told. And it’s butt-kicking exciting. It’ll make a great movie, too, if they can find child actors who can carry the load.

What I didn’t remember is that the three sequels – Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, and Children of the Mind – are great, too. It’s hard to say if they’re as good as Ender’s Game, because, as Card himself has noted on many, many occasions, they’re not exactly true sequels. The tone of the later books is radically different; they’re not “action packed,” and Ender, who is a preteen in the first book, is middle-aged in all the other ones. They take place 3,000 years after Ender’s Game, and they deal with thorny philosophical issues rather than interstellar war.

I like them, though. A lot.

A mutual friend of mine and Card’s had loaned me a copy of Xenocide several months before the book was actually published, so this is the first time I’m reading my own hardbound version which Card signed himself, in which he added the date – July of ’91 – and the question “Did you wash your hands?” That will make sense if you read the story, but it didn’t make sense to my daughter Cleta, who asked me why Orson Scott Card was demanding that his books only be handled by people with good hygiene.

What’s interesting this time around is rediscovering just how Mormon these books are, even though they take place in a Catholic colony. Card, as you may or may not know, is a practicing Mormon himself, and he served an LDS mission to Brazil. So almost all of his characters in this story speak Portuguese and have Portuguese names, which tends to be somewhat confusing for pathetic monoglots like myself.

What isn’t confusing, at least to me, is the LDS concept of intelligence, which is eternal and preexistent. Card incorporates the doctrine into the idea of “auias” and “philotes,” which exist Outside and are called Inside to inhabit physical bodies through mortality. He also slips up once and has Ender as a converted Catholic quoting Jesus as saying “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men,” which is a passage from the Doctrine and Covenants, not the New Testament. When he asks his wife where that passage comes from, she responds by saying “I don’t know. I’m not a scriptorian.”

For those of you who don’t realize this, “scriptorian” is a word entirely of Mormon invention. Other Christians might say “theologian” or “Bible scholar.” Mormons needed a word that was inclusive of all their standard works along with the Bible, so “scriptorian” came into being.
Just like a brand new auia pulled from the Outside.

Or this blog post, conjured up out of the ether, albeit too late for the anonymous guy who calls me Blogboy.

Or the most beautiful song ever written to be sung at weddings, funerals, and Bar Mitzvahs.
“They taste like cherry pies to Cannibal Eyes…”

Languatron Reviews My Review

Languatron has posted an online response to my recent review of his book. I invite you to read it here, slightly edited for taste and anonymity with additional commentary from yours truly. Languatron’s words are in bold text, which is only fitting. My lowly response is in italics.

Did I mention that my book is still growing? This is going to be the next chapter to be added shortly. Cut and pasted from my manuscript.

_________________________________________________

Chapter Sixteen

[Stallion Cornell] Reviews My Book

Arrogance begat naivete, and naivete begat [Stallion Cornell] .

Ah. That’s me. The grandson of Arrogance.

NBC-Universal/Sci-Fi Channel wasted no time in dispatching their prime dolt in reviewing my book, and what truly amazes me about this former Utah Senator who moonlights as a short order cook, in a gay homeless shelter in between drawing a paycheck from Universal Studios while sitting on his [tuckus], is how truly naïve and predictable he is.

Where to begin? I am not now, and never have been, a senator or a cook. I doubt that homeless shelters discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. I eagerly await my first paycheck from Universal Studios, which has yet to arrive. But at the moment, I am, in fact, sitting on my tuckus.

Reviewing my book would be too kind an assertion as to exactly what [Stallion Cornell] babbled about in his on-line blog.

I’m flattered by the fact that he loosely structures his response around my original review. Where I wrote “to call it a ‘book’ is to be generous, both in terms of quality and quantity,” Languatron responds with the fact that my calling it a review “would be too kind an assertion.” Languatron often attempts to adopt his opponent’s sentence structure as a template for his own missives, but he’s not very skilled at logical responses. Instead, he goes straight for the insults. I deliberately attempted to avoid insulting Languatron ad hominem, yet Languatron seems unable to respond in kind.

Instead of bringing attention to the facts in my book which could quite frankly end careers at NBC-Universal/Sci-Fi Channel, [Stallion Cornell] engaged in naïve attacks on the structure of my book.

The only naiveté here stems from the idea that anyone at Universal could possibly care what Languatron has written. It can hardly be said that I “attacked” his structure, naively or otherwise. My complaint was with the contention that his pamphlet-length diatribe could be labeled a “book.” It’s far too short.

He states that the first three pages are blank, not realizing that two pages in the copy he downloaded (and in a manuscript) is equal to one page in a paperback book. The naivete and obliviousness in remedial paperback book construction being the first strike against [Stallion Cornell].

Strike one, indeed. It seems that every reviewer, to establish credibility, must take a course in Remedial Paperback Book Construction, lest ye fall into obliviousness. Make a note, critics everywhere. (In contrast, sentence fragments, apparently, are now considered good form.)

The third blank page is the other side of where the book begins. This is a grown man reviewing my book? Really?

No. I’m a mutant. I have three stubby arms and I have to stand on my elbows to ride the bus. And someone tell Langy and Sean Hannity that sarcasm and incredulity do not an argument make.

He never addresses the subject of the book,

Except when I do. I talk about the “shadow mechanism” and the conspiracy and the whole ball of wax.

Again, to cite Monty Python again, this is Black Knight-style arguing. “Your arm’s off! – No it isn’t!” How do you argue with someone who pretends that when his limbs are hacked off, it’s only a flesh wound?

instead he attacks my margins (margins?) claiming that the width of my margins is some sinister attempt on my part to draw out the length of my book. OK, where is the ambulance and the straight jacket for this guy?

I made no inference of sinister implications. I simply stated the book was too short to be termed a book. And I would never attack a margin that couldn’t defend itself.

My ambulance and straitjacket are in Cleveland.

Like his employer (NBC-Universal),

Lest we forget!

[Stallion Cornell] dodges, evades, avoids, denies, sweeps under the rug, and arrogantly tries to back his way out of, the truth of my book.

I also cavort, amble, fly under the radar, mince, and callously saunter my way out of the truth that his comma use makes me chuckle.

Yet he chose to somehow comment on my book and try to pass it off as a review. What [Stallion Cornell] calls his personal blog, is a steaming pile of horse [poop].

Hence the smell.

[Stallion Cornell] takes it upon himself to make it his business that I wrote a book about Universal Studios in the first place, despite his eight year long claims that he has nothing to do with Universal Studios politically, emotionally, or in terms of employment.

I like their candles, though.

He decides to review my book, and then he actually doesn’t review it. What he didn’t review he dismisses, just like anything else in life that gets in the way of [Stallion Cornell]’s ego, he dismisses.

I dismiss this.

Reading in between the lines of his blog fart that really wasn’t a review,

Lest we forget!

[Stallion Cornell] is as intimidated and as frightened about what I said about NBC-Universal as he always was.

Undeniably true, which is to say, not at all.

He saw to it that those who read his blog will never get from him what I actually said about NBC-Universal/Sci-Fi Channel.

Except where I quote him at length.

I thank him for indirectly corralling his hoodlum squad into having to purchase the book to find out exactly what I said. As this will only help the sales that I am already happy about.

What about the sales he is unhappy about?

[Stallion Cornell] is like an elderly driver on the road, on the brink of death as he approaches a green light at an intersection.

And with bowel trouble besides!

He didn’t have the energy to review my book, he didn’t have the energy to confront the issues in the book, he just made a half [arse] mention of it on his blog, drowning out what should have been a review, with his adolescent meanderings into how many pages are in my book, the length of my margins, etc.

Notice that Languatron has spent at least three times as much space talking about his margins as I did in my initial review. And it’s the width of the margins that count. The length was just fine.

After eight years o fighting me on the Internet, [Stallion Cornell] is mentally old, tired, washed up, and ever irrelevant to those who don’t have the patience for his ego.

He’s also aged, weary, decrepit, over the hill, and mean to puppies. But he loves Fresca!

[Stallion Cornell] increasingly exists to be his own audience, a 39 year old adolescent in some ways, a 65 year old cantankerous old man in others.

On Tuesdays, he’s a frisky co-ed named Sheila.

What is remarkable about [Stallion Cornell]is his mental inability to review my book in any adult manner.

As opposed to my physical inability? And haven’t we already established that? Am I a grown man? Really?

Drowned out and mesmerized by his own prejudices, bias, and outrageous perceptions of the world,

How is one simultaneously “drowned out” and “mesmerized?” Does it involve acupuncture?

And he forgot about my bigotry, predispositions, foregone conclusions, and blatant assessments of Planet Earth.

[Stallion Cornell]
took what could have been an opportunity in reviewing my book as an objective analysis of what clearly exists within NBC-Universal/Sci-Fi Channel, and turned it into nothing more than the meanderings of a 39 year old teenager on his own personal blog.

Plus bowel jokes.

Languatron’s Book: A Review

It seems that my Internet arch-enemy, the Lex Luthor to my Superman, the Newman to my Seinfeld, the indefatigable, indomitable and incomprehensible Languatron, has written a book: “Universal Studios vs. Battlestar Galactica: How Universal Studios Mismanaged This Property To Utter Oblivion.”

Actually, to call it a “book” is to be generous, both in terms of quality and quantity. It’s less than 30,000 words in total, and while the author boasts of its formidable 100-page length, he achieves triple-digit page numbering by squeezing his margins by an extra inch and leaving the first three pages blank. As for the content, it’s essentially a “Greatest Hits” collection of everything he’s posted on the Internet for the past eight years, which is succinctly summarized by the book’s unwieldy title. The other 29,987 words of the pamphlet are spent repeating the thesis ad nauseum and disparaging anyone and everyone who doesn’t agree with it.

Now there may be a few lost souls reading this who wonder who this Languatron fellow is. The answer is that he’s Andrew Fullen, a short order cook from Chicago who has also written a few other self-published works in his own name. I actually blew the $2.50 necessary to buy one of those, too – “Netherworld,” a collection of short stories, which reads like pedestrian Encyclopedia Brown fan fiction translated verbatim from its original Flemish.

Languatron first appeared on the scene circa 1999 on a few Battlestar Galactica bulletin boards, most notably the official SciFi board devoted to the original series rather than the dismal remake which debuted in 2003. He even had an article posted at BattlestarGalactica.com under his own name, which, sadly, is no longer online.

Yet somewhere around Thanksgiving 2000, Langy began to publicly pray for divine justice to be heaped out on his enemies, calling down fire and brimstone to destroy Sci-Fi channel’s upper management. It was also about this time where he began identifying those who disagreed with him, even innocuously, as lackeys of Universal Studios. It then became impossible to have a discussion with him. He dismissed even those who were sympathetic to his general thesis as corporate shills secretly hired to destroy him.

All of these traits are on display in this book, which bemoans Universal Studios’ role in destroying Battlestar Galactica for inscrutable reasons. According to Languatron, this movie studio has devoted all of its considerable resources not to film and television production, but rather to “hating” the original Galactica TV series, which has been out of production since 1979. Lest you think I exaggerate, I offer this brief excerpt, with my own emphasis added:

Universal Studios is extremely proficient at hating the 1978 Battlestar Galactica series. The very infrastructure of their entire corporation has been built upon this sad fact. They also have infinite satellite components revolving around their corporation to assist them in hating this series. This includes gullible journalists, industry insiders, studio peers, above the line producing personnel, and actors.

Not to mention caterers, gaffers, botanists, bee wranglers, Farsi instructors, lithographers, trumpeters, carnival barkers, liposuctionists, and vending machines.

This strikes me as a ridiculous assertion, as I always assumed “hating” is an activity that does not require corporate governance. Languatron provides no concrete explanation as to how this works, but he does offer a theory. Apparently, George Lucas’ failed lawsuit against Galactica in its initial run forced Universal to create a “shadow mechanism” that would derail any attempt to revive Galactica faithfully.

What is the exact form of this shadow mechanism? How does it work? Well, I must start off by stating that it does indeed exist, is in operation in full force as it always has… It is a mechanism that slowly creeps over the day to day operations of Universal Studios and makes it’s presence known when historically, attempts to revive the 1978 Battlestar Galactica series have reached a certain point. There is a comfort zone where this mechanism will allow revival attempts to chug along. When revival attempts get beyond the comfort zone, that’s when the mechanism moves in and shuts everything down.

The reader searches in vain for an intricate mechanical description of this ruthlessly efficient shadow mechanism, which one assumes is some sort of elaborate Rube Goldberg contraption with lots of gears and pulleys. Sadly, one is left to wonder how Languatron has the confidence to make such brash assertions with absolutely no supporting evidence. “How does it work?” he asks himself, and then answers by saying “it exists,” and that’s answer enough.

All is not lost, however. We do get an elaborate description of a second, more sinister “sister” shadow mechanism:

This brings us to another shadow mechanism that Universal Studios oversees. Sort of the “sister mechanism” to the one that operates within the studio itself. This one exercises mass censorship and control over the Internet of any information which casts Universal Studios and their handling of the 1978 Battlestar Galactica series in a bad light. It’s a shadow mechanism that exercises absolute authority over certain Internet bulletin boards (www.Cylon.org, www.Scifi.com/Galactica, www.Stallioncornell.com/board) and absolute authority over journalists who post on-line articles.

Languatron has an interesting choice of enemies. Of the three boards Languatron cites as exercising Stalinistic control over the entire World Wide Web, two of them are decidedly pro-1978 Galactica and vigorously opposed to the recent remake, which both boards, along with Languatron, refer to as GINO, or Galactica In Name Only. Yet Languatron cannot seem to fathom the possibility that one can loathe GINO and still think Languatron is a jerk.

To read this diatribe is to enter a parallel world where the rules of logic are identical to those in the “Burn the Witch” skit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. In that film, a group of villagers bring a woman dressed as witch before Sir Bedevere, who then proceeds to lead them through a series of deranged logical syllogisms to determine whether or not the woman is guilty of witchcraft. The logic he employs is as follows:

1. Witches burn. Wood burns. Therefore, witches are made of wood.
2. Wood floats in water. Ducks float in water. Therefore, wood weighs the same as a duck.
3. If the woman weighs the same as a duck, she’s made of wood, and therefore, she’s a witch.

Witness, then, Languatron’s similar reasoning.

1. Universal Studios hates Battlestar Galactica. I, Languatron, love Battlestar Galactica. Therefore, Universal Studios is my enemy.
2. Dozens of people on the Internet are my enemies. Universal Studios is my enemy. Therefore, all of my Internet enemies work for Universal Studios.
3. Everyone I meet on the Internet hates me. Therefore, Universal Studios must be in complete control of the Internet.

And thus we see that Languatron spends all of his time on the Internet burning witches made of wood.

Nothing in this book steps off from the treadmill Lang has been running on for the past decade or so on sundry Internet billboards. The same wild-eyed theories with no evidence are recycled along with a liberal dose of personal invective. (I admit to taking sick pleasure in Languatron’s promise, in his final chapter, to “kick [my] ass to the Moon” if he ever meets me. One struggles to recall Woodward and Bernstein making similar threats to their journalistic subjects.) For the newcomer to the whole Lang experience, there may be some goofy fun in encountering a truly warped perspective for the first time. For me, a battle-hardened Lang veteran, I found the experience tedious. The only relief to be found was in his brazen contempt for the English language, as evidenced by these unvarnished excerpts, along with my editorial comments in brackets:

“Way to go Universal, you dolt!!”

[I think he meant “way to go, Universal Studios, you dolts!!” but his original sentence is open to so many more interpretations. Can a dolt truly go universal?]

“You can get the Toys-R-Us wind up version of Richard Hatch by the way, by sending in three box tops from specially marked boxes of Fruity & Cocoa Pebbles breakfast cereal.”

[One could probably, by the way, go to Toys-R-Us and just buy Richard Hatch in person.]

“The Bermuda Triangle of Death houses the existence of Ronald D. Moore’s GINO series in the most sinister way.”

[It presumably rents the existence of other television shows in semi-serious ways.]

“No form of art is being expressed by Edward James Olmos’s bad acting, and no profound subliminal statement is being uttered. ”

[I choose to believe that uttering subliminal statements is a form of art.]

“Ronald D. Moore is a man, an unremarkable man. Like all other television producers who go through it, Ronald D. Moore has made a television series that flopped.”

[Go through what? Maybe “it” was unremarkable, too.]

“Ronald D. Moore fit’s the bill quite nicely, doesn’t he?”

[“Fit’s?” Meaning what? “Fit is?” Something that belongs to Fit?]

“How is that for an effective cult, huh?”

[Huh?]

You get the idea.

Anyway, the book is available for download here. Languatron is reportedly using the proceeds of his book sales to frequent strip clubs. What he doesn’t know is that we Universal executives have already planted our agents in all of the clubs he frequents.

How’s that for a con’spiracy, huh?

For he IS the Frumious Bandersnatch!

The end of Harry Potter left me looking for something else to read, and, to ease my withdrawal pangs, I needed a new series I could love just as much as the Hogwarts chronicles. None of the new stuff on the shelves at Barnes and Noble was turning my crank, and I desperately needed a book to take on vacation. So, on a whim, I picked out the 40th Anniversary edition of Frank Herbert’s “Dune.”

I’d always thought that I’d read the novel “Dune” prior to this year, but I don’t know when or where, and I certainly couldn’t have told you anything about it. The only scene I could recall prior to rereading it this summer was when the Duke dumped a glass of water on the ground and made everyone else follow suit. A few of the moments in the book had a familiar ring to them, but, for all intents and purposes, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I was reading this masterpiece for what seemed like the very first time.

Which is not to say the book is easy to read. Like Harry Potter, “Dune” creates a fully realized fictional universe, which, in detail and scope, is far more expansive than Rowling’s wizarding world. The fundamental difference is that Rowling goes out of her way to make her world accessible to the average Muggle, while Herbert does exactly the opposite. His book is loaded with jargon that requires constant reference to the glossary in the back. I kept asking things like “What’s a ‘gom jabbar’? What does he mean he’s a ‘mentat?’ And what the Sam Hill is a ‘Kwisatz Haderach?’” Reading the first few pages was extremely tedious, and it made me wonder if I had actually read the book before or if I had just given up when I realized I neither knew nor cared about Kwisatz Haberdashers.

Jargon, in my mind, is an elitist storytelling device. It’s designed to be exclusive, and it usually indicates a condescension on the part of the author –  i.e. if you were only as smart as the guy writing the story, you’d know what was going on. At worst, it’s just plain silly, as in the case with “Battlestar Galactica,” when people use words like “centons” and “yahrens” to describe seconds and years. We’re suspending disbelief long enough to pretend these offworlders are speaking English, so why clutter the language with incomprehensible nonsense? Centons and yahrens are typical of what James Blish used to call “shmerps.” He pointed out that some writers will describe a fluffy, hopping animal with long floppy ears, soft white fur, and a cotton ball tail as a “shmerp” instead of a rabbit, just to make it sound more alien. To me, a rabbit by any other name is a pretty stupid idea.

There are a fair number of shmerps in “Dune,” but they’re fully developed, well-thought-out shmerps. Herbert has created a world much in the same way Tolkien has – it’s clear the world came first, and the story is almost an afterthought. I don’t think Herbert was being silly or elitist in his use of jargon. I think the “Dune” universe existed so clearly in his mind that by the time he started crafting this story, he had almost forgotten how little the rest of the world knew about sietches and such. I’ve never seen a more intricate tale of science and religion, woven together seamlessly like this. Once you get acclimated to the bizarre language and enter Herbert’s “Dune,” the book becomes a very rewarding experience.

Upon completion of the novel, I had a strong desire to see the movie that everyone seems to loathe. I steered clear of it back in ’84 during the summer of “Gremlins” and “Ghostbusters,” and the impression my friends gave me was that I wasn’t missing much. After reading the novel, I understood very clearly why the movie was reviled, even without having seen it. I came away from the book with the impression that this story was entirely unadaptable to the big screen. So much depends on what’s going on in everyone’s head, particularly Paul’s, that I can’t imagine how you could put it on the screen at all.

Which is why David Lynch’s “Dune” movie is so singularly remarkable.

I say that without irony. I loved it. It’s an amazing achievement, and I will likely watch it several more times. But that’s not to say it’s a good movie. It isn’t. But it’s not really a movie, per se. It’s like an illustrated storybook, with moving pictures accompanying the written text.

Characters stand still as chunks of the novel are voiced over to explain their thoughts. The entire movie is nothing but exposition, and I can’t imagine anyone who hasn’t read the book being anything but baffled unless they stopped the show every few frames to consult the glossary in the back of the book. Still, it’s faithful to the novel to a fault, which shows that Lynch had tremendous respect for his source material. As one who has just completed the book, it’s fun to see Lynch’s cinematic illustrations.

From a design standpoint, the film is almost note perfect, from the sumptuous emperor’s chambers to the House of Atreides to the rugged stillsuits of the Fremen. (“The House A-who-ides? Stillsuits? Fremen?” Read the book.) True, they made the Baron Harkonnen a bit too foul for my taste, what with the pustules and the spittle and the heart plugs and all. And what’s with the bug drinking and the cat milking? Geesh. And, yes, the effects are spotty in places, and the mounting of the worm is ridiculous, particularly with the Toto guitar power chord we get at the top. But the miniature work is strikingly effective, even today. I’m glad this movie was made pre-CGI. It’s extraordinarily inventive, and, visually, it holds up pretty well.

The cast is outstanding, and it was delightful to see a pre-Picard Patrick Stewart in a heroic role. The only thing I’d ever seen Brad Dourif in before “Dune” was “Lord of the Rings,” and I’m curious now to see if he performs every role with his right hand at his face and his left hand holding his right elbow, like some demonic Jack Benny. The sore-thumb exception to the great cast rule is Sting, who stinks. He’s a high-school actor in a professional film, and it’s painful to watch him bug out his eyes occasionally to feign menace. I’ve occasionally wondered why his film career never really went anywhere. Now I know. Still, given the high jargon quotient this film carries, it’s amazing how much gravitas this cast is able to milk from lines like “The spice IS the worm! The worm IS the spice!” And the chick who plays Lady Jessica is hot, even when she’s bald. The creepy kid who ends the movie weirded me out, though.

In the final analysis, the real reason to love the film Dune is that Michael Bolton bangs a drum in it. I saw him and did a double take. Take a look and tell me that’s not him.