Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

Game of Thrones, Season 1, Ep 3

Friday, 11 August, 2017

Intro: I’m watching Game of Thrones for the first time. I don’t know anything about it more recent than this episode.

The locations are intercut throughout the episode, but let’s recap from north to south.

The Wall: Jon Snow settles into his role as a member of the Night’s Watch, while Tyrion Lannister lurks around enjoying himself, knowing that he can head back to the comforts of more southern climes at any point. The Night’s Watch seems to be made mostly of ne’er-do-wells who are rounded up and brought north by a guy called Benjen who seems to be the captain. The result is that they are poor fighters, and Jon Snow shows his superior combat training against them in an exercise. This earns him their enmity, and a group of ruffians overwhelm him and threaten to mess up his pretty face, when Tyrion appears and pulls his “my sister is the Queen” card to get Snow out of it.

Snow takes a hand-cranked lift to the top of The Wall and peers out into the snowy north beyond. Tyrion takes a very meaningful piss off the Wall into the land of the Wildlings. We hear that Benjen and his rag-tag mob patrols north of the Wall. It’s not clear why they bother – the Wall is so huge that surely it can keep a bunch of people (they say explicitly that the Wildlings are “just people like us”) out without bothering about patrolling the enemy territory. But there’s also the threat of White Walkers and monsters and stuff, although Tyrion says dismissively that he doesn’t even believe such things exist. Famous last words, perhaps?

We get the first explicit explanation of how the seasons work here. Summer and winter each last a variable number of years. The current summer has lasted a very long nine years, and the winter that is coming is expected to be long and harsh.


Game of Thrones, Season 1, Ep 1 + 2

Monday, 7 August, 2017

So, I started watching Game of Thrones. From the beginning. For the first time.

Yes, I’m six years behind the trend. I blame lack of time. It certainly seems like the sort of show that I’d enjoy, but I just haven’t had the time to sit down and watch it at any point in the last six years.

Naturally, I’ve seen and heard snippets of information about the show, but possibly less than you might think. To recap you on what I do know about Game of Thrones, here’s a post I made just over a year ago, which tells you everything that I knew about it. I’ve picked up a few more things in the year since I wrote that post, which I’ll summarise here before we dive into the first episode recap.

Okay, besides the stuff I already knew, I’ve found out that there’s a queen named Cersei and that she has an incestuous relationship with her brother (whose name I think I heard, but I forget). And there are a bunch of different families, which are called “houses”, like the old fashioned “House of Tudor” or “House of Windsor” or British royalty. Cersei is a Lannister, and there’s also House Stark, and House Baratheon, and a few others whose names I forget.

Okay, I think that’s it. That’s all I knew about Game of Thrones until I started watching Season 1, Episode 1 last night. I watched it with my wife (who’s also never seen it), and after watching Episode 1, we decided to continue with Episode 2 straight away. So today’s recap covers Episodes 1 and 2. I’ll try to keep them separate, but I may misplace events from one episode into the other. I’m not looking up character names I didn’t catch yet, but I am looking up ones I definitely heard, to make sure I get the spellings right. Without further ado:

Season 1, Episode 1

It opens with some guys emerging from a tunnel into a snowy landscape. This is immediately confusing, because one of the things I do know about Game of Thrones is that it’s set in a world where the seasons are unusual and notable for lasting a long time. And that “winter is coming”, representing a metaphorical descent into chaos and war, so presumably the story actually starts in an idyllic and relatively peaceful summer.


Game of Thrones recap by a non-watcher

Wednesday, 20 July, 2016

So, I’ve never seen any of the TV series Game of Thrones, nor read any of the books on which it is based. It’s not because I don’t want to – I actually think it’s the sort of thing that would appeal to me, given what I know about it. I just haven’t had the opportunity or the time to get into it. But being a modern day cultural phenomenon, I can’t help hearing tiny snippets about it every now and then. And an idea occurred to a friend of mine who is a big fan of the show.

He said, “Hey, you know that thing where someone wrote up what they thought the story of Star Wars was, based entirely on cultural osmosis, having never seen the movies themselves?”

I said, “Yeah.”

He said, “You should do that for Game of Thrones!”

So here I am. And what follows is what I think happens in Game of Thrones, based on never having read the books or seen the TV show, but only from what I’ve picked up incidentally. A lot of this is really “I think this happens”, but I’m not going to keep typing that at the front of every sentence. I’m just going to assert it all as though it’s true (but on the understanding that I really don’t know what I’m talking about, so keep that in mind). Also, some of it might actually be true, so it’s possible there may be some significant spoilers in here, even if I don’t know they’re spoilers! You have been warned.

Herein lies everything I “know” about Game of Thrones!


Book roundup

Saturday, 28 December, 2013

I’ve just finished reading The Music Instinct by Philip Ball. This is one of those books that immediately makes me think that it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. I learnt more about music by reading this one book than I probably knew just before I began.

I’ve never known much about music theory. I learnt to read music at school, but never became competent at playing any instrument, or gained any of the theoretical underpinnings of how music works. I have basically just been an uneducated listener. I never really understood why scales work the way they do; why there are tones and semitones. I didn’t understand chords or chord progressions or the principles of accompaniment, or of tension and resolution in musical composition. After reading The Music Instinct, for the first time in my life I feel as though a veil has been lifted from my eyes and I can, for the first time ever, see some of the underlying structure and theory behind music.

It’s more than just music theory too. There are chapters on how music elicits emotions, the psychology and cultural biases of how we interpret what we hear, and what, if anything, music might mean in some sense. It cites many psychological studies which reveal astounding and surprising things about how we perceive music. Every chapter and paragraph was full of fascinating information. I am going to keep a copy of this book handy in the future, and will no doubt refer to it again and again. I highly recommend it.

And speaking of book recommendations, I want to share some other books which I have enjoyed reading recently – and ask any of you reading this to recommend some to me. I will pre-empt some of this by saying that for this purpose I am really only interested in non-fiction. I’m interested in most subjects: history, geography, science, sport, music, travel…

My list:

  • Venice: Pure City, Peter Ackroyd. A wonderful picture of Venice and its history, which made my trip there last year immeasurably richer and more enjoyable.
  • The History of England, Volume 1: Foundation, Peter Ackroyd. I bought this after enjoying the above book by the same author, and found it a fascinating telling of the history of England up to the rise of the Tudor dynasty. I recently got the second volume and it’s next on my to-read list.
  • Leviathan, or The Whale, Philip Hoare. Everything you ever wanted to know about whales and more, told in a compelling style. We all love these creatures, and this book explores that fascination.
  • On the Map, Simon Garfield. A series of vignettes about various maps through history, interspersed with information about how maps are made, what they tell us, and what makes them so fascinating.
  • Ingenious Pursuits, Lisa Jardine. The story of the scientific revolution – basically a history of science around the 17th century, covering names like Newton, Halley, Hooke, Boyle, Cassini, Huygens, Leeuwenhoek.
  • Atlantic, Simon Winchester. Tales of the first ocean that western civilisation encountered, how it was explored, crossed, yet remained untamed, including its roles in commerce, migration, and war.

Local assumptions

Monday, 22 October, 2012

Reading the October National Geographic. The opening sentence on an article about leaves:

we have all held leaves, driven miles to see their fall colours, eaten them, raked them, sought their shade.

Well…. No. I’ve never gone anywhere to see leaves in fall colours. And I’ve never raked leaves. Where I live, almost all the trees are evergreen. It’s not as if I’m lazy or something. As far as I’m aware, I don’t even know anybody who owns a rake.

Later in the same article, it makes a point about leaves in cold places, saying they have teeth, “like birches and cherries”. Presumably this is meant to provide a familiar reference point to readers. However, I have no idea what a birch or a cherry leaf looks like. We don’t have those sorts of trees here. I had to Google to find photos of the leaves to know what that sentence about the leaves having “teeth” meant.

Not that I’m complaining. I just find it fascinating when an author’s assumptions about the audience they’re writing for are not necessarily valid.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

Wednesday, 11 April, 2012

Star Trek V, 1Well, here we are. I actually had to go out to a shop and buy a copy of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier on DVD, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to write this review. Before making this noble sacrifice, I think I’ve only seen this particular instalment in the movie series twice, once at the original cinematic release, and once on TV. It has the reputation of being the worst of all the Star Trek films, and for good reason.

It opens in Yosemite Valley, where the Enterprise bridge crew are spending shore leave on a camping trip. Kirk is shown free climbing El Capitan, a feat that by all rights should be physically beyond anyone of William Shatner’s physical condition at the time. He is saved from falling to his death by Spock, in a Chekhov’s-gun-setup use of gravity boots. Kirk says he was never worried, since he’s always known that he will die alone.

On the distant planet Nimbus III, we see a wretched hive town. The Romulan ambassador Caithlin arrives at a seedy bar (complete with a catgirl alien), and explains in excruciating expositionary detail to the human and Klingon ambassadors there that Nimbus III is the “The Planet of Galactic Peace”. The peace is short-lived, as a strange mystical Vulcan and his fanatical followers attack the place and take the ambassadors hostage.

The Enterprise crew are called back to deal with the hostage situation, but the ship is in a mess, despite Scotty working full time on it. Basically anything on the ship that could be broken is broken, for no explicable reason. It’s mind-boggling to think a military vessel not actually in combat would ever be allowed to get into such a state – it really makes no sense at all.

Star Trek V, 2We’re then treated to a shot of a Klingon vessel blowing up an Earth space probe, apparently just for the heck of it. The probe looks remarkably like Voyager, bringing up echoes of V-ger from the first film. The Klingon commander (who is a glam rock star, judging by his hairdo) is ordered to Nimbus as well, and starts salivating at the prospect of destroying Kirk and the Enterprise.

The Enterprise arrives at Nimbus and Kirk decides the best way to approach the city is on space-horses. Nichelle Nichols has to undergo her most embarrassing acting scene ever, as she does a fan dance to distract some nomads so the guys can steal horses and ride into the city. But the ambassador hostages have become followers of the Vulcan, who Spock recognises as the renegade Sybok, and they capture the heroes. Mixed up in a fight scene Spock gives a Vulcan nerve pinch to a horse; apparently their physiology is enough like humanoids that it works on them too.

They take a shuttlecraft back to Enterprise (evading the Klingons mentioned earlier on the way) – the shuttlecraft pickup scene has very strong echoes of the landing scene in Alien. When the shuttle lands on the Enterprise, Spock has a chance to kill Sybok and end the entire crisis, but he refuses to kill his own brother. Wait… Spock has a brother?! Half-brother, it turns out, since Sarek apparently had a Vulcan wife before Amanda – something never before (or after) hinted at in any Star Trek canon. Also wait… why didn’t Spock just set the weapon on stun and shoot Sybok? I guess that particular gun only had a kill setting.

Sybok takes control of the Enterprise and tosses Kirk and Spock in the brig. The toilet in the brig has an obvious sign on it: “Do not use while in space dock”. Presumably somebody on the writing team thought that was funny. Scotty busts them out, after warning them to stand back by tapping on the other side of the brig wall in Morse code. The gravity boots reappear as a way to quickly move up and down the access tubes of the ship.

Star Trek V, 3Sybok is taking the ship to the centre of the galaxy, to find the Vulcan legendary world of Sha Ka Ree, where he hopes to find God. They get there and meet a being who looks and sounds like God, and asks to be taken away on their ship to spread his word throughout the galaxy. Kirk asks the only memorable line of the film: “Excuse me, what does God need with a starship?“God” goes into a rage, Sybok sees through it and sacrifices himself to give the others time to escape. The Klingon ship reappears, but the Klingon ambassador who Kirk and Spock saved arranges for it to fire a torpedo at “God”, killing it. The Enterprise and Klingon vessel part company on peaceful terms, and the heroes head back to Yosemite to finish their camping trip.

Whew, I’m glad to have that one over and done with. About the only highlight of the film is Jerry Goldsmith’s music. It opens the film in fine style, with echoes of the original TV series theme, before segueing into the Motion Picture/Next Generation theme, which sounds much more refined and enveloping than in the first film. Throughout the movie, while cringing at what was happening on screen, I was enjoying the music. There are a lot of bad scenes in this film, and the overall story is simply dull and uninspiring. The best moments are the camping sequences that book-end the film, and the scene on the Enterprise where it’s shown to have an old-fashioned sailing-ship-style wheelhouse room, complete with brass and wood ship’s wheel. Now that’s what a starship bridge should look like! If you haven’t seen this film for a long time, like I had, you’re not missing much.

Tropes: Climb, Slip, Hang, Climb, Catch A Falling Star, Not The Fall That Kills You, Chekhov’s Gun, Tricked-Out Shoes, Wretched Hive, Mr Exposition, Cat Girl, Expospeak, ’80s Hair, Horse Of A Different Colour, Show Some Leg, Long Lost Relative, Canon Discontinuity, Everyone Knows Morse, Armour Piercing Question, No Such Thing As Space Jesus, Heroic Sacrifice, Book Ends.
Body count: “God”, Sybok.

TV aspect ratio

Tuesday, 27 March, 2012

I see that the TV stations here have all given up the ghost on 4:3 aspect ratio. They used to frame things like news and sports broadcasts so that there was no vital information outside the 4:3 framing, so it wouldn’t be cropped off on old TV sets. But now I’ve noticed all of that info has expanded, presumably to fill the full width of the 16:9 aspect ratio, meaning bits of it are now cropped on my TV. Also they’re now framing humans so they’re frequently chopped in half on my screen.

I guess it’s time to bite the bullet and buy a new TV soon.

Venice snapshots

Monday, 20 February, 2012

I’m reading Venice: Pure City by Peter Ackroyd and enjoying it a lot. I visited Venice briefly back in 2001, and my wife and I are heading there again for a longer stay later this year. I wanted to get some of the city’s history under my belt before seeing it again, and I’m really glad I found this book. Here are some snippets I couldn’t help reproducing (from different chapters):

The concept of the maze or labyrinth is an ancient one. It is a component of earth magic that, according to some authorities, is designed to baffle evil spirits. The Chinese believed that demons could only ever travel in straight lines. It has also been said that the dead were deposited at the centre of mazes. That is why they retain their power over the human imagination. The labyrinth of classical myth is that place where the young and the innocent may be trapped or killed. But the true secret of the Venetian maze is that you can never observe or understand it in its totality. You have to be within its borders to realise its power. You cannot see it properly from the outside. You have to be closed within its alleyways and canals to recognise its identity.

The scheme of house numbers is difficult to understand; in each sestiere they begin at number one and then snake through every street until they finish. They reach into the thousands without the benefit of any reference to street or square. The names affixed to the streets seem in any case to be different to the names printed in the maps of the city. In fact the reality of Venice bears no relation to any of the published guides and maps. The shortest distance between two points is never a straight line. So the network of Venice induces mystery. It can arouse infantile feelings of play and game, wonder and terror. It is easy to believe that you are being followed. Your footstep echo down the stone labyrinth. The sudden vista of an alley or a courtyard takes you by surprise; you may glimpse a shadow or a silhouette, or see someone standing in a doorway. Walking in Venice often seems as unreal as a dream or, rather, the reality is of a different order. There are times when the life of the past seems very close – almost as if it might be around the next corner. The closeness of the past is embodied in the closeness of the walls and ways all around you. Here you can sense the organic growth of the city, stone by stone. You can sense the historical process of the city unfolding before you. There is a phrase, in T. S. Eliot’s Gerontion, to the effect that history has many cunning passageways. These are the passages of Venice.

Anyone who has tried navigating the calle of Venice will understand what Ackroyd is saying there. I found this such a compelling passage that I just had to savour it, keep it, and share it.

And then today I ran across this:

There is no scene in Venice that has not already been painted. There is no church, or house, or canal, that has not become the subject of an artist’s brush or pencil. Even the fruit in the market looks as if it has been stolen from a still life. Everything has been “seen” before. The traveller seems to be walking through oils and watercolours, wandering across paper and canvas.

How wonderful is that? Every chapter is filled with marvellous writing and imagery like this. It’s really getting me in the mood for our trip.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

Thursday, 16 February, 2012

Star Trek IV, 1Like the movie before it, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is a direct continuation of the previous instalment in the series. It opens with a recap of the previous two films, followed by an upbeat musical theme over the main titles. This music has distinctive glockenspiel notes in it, twinkling in the manner of stars in space – a nice effect.

The opening scenes show a mysterious black cylinder moving through space past the USS Saratoga, which reports it’s headed straight for Earth, in an eerie mirror of V-ger in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Then we cut to Starfleet headquarters on Earth, where the Klingon ambassador is calling for Kirk to be extradited and tried for destroying a Klingon vessel and crew (in the previous film). During this accusal we are treated yet again to the Genesis computer graphics created for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and repeated in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, since in 1986 they still looked impressive. Sarek argues in Kirk’s defence.

On Vulcan, Kirk and his crew are banging the captured Klingon bird-of-prey from the last movie into shape for the trip back to Earth to face the consequences of stealing the Enterprise in the previous movie. They lampshade the rather silly predicament that Starfleet hasn’t bothered to send a better ship to pick them up and take them back to Earth for court martial. Spock is still rebuilding his intellect after his brush with death and we see him studying with some computers asking him tricky questions, when one asks, “How do you feel?” Spock is stumped, and his mother appears and reveals she programmed the computers to ask him this, to remind him of his human heritage. Spock takes his leave without answering her and elects to return to Earth to face trial with his colleagues.

Back at Earth, the mysterious probe arrives and starts vapourising the oceans. Things rapidly deteriorate, to the point where the President of the Federation issues a distress call, stating that the probe has “almost totally ionised the atmosphere“! (While this is possible, everything on Earth would be dead already.) When our heroes arrive, they cleverly figure out that the probe is transmitting sound into the Earth’s oceans. Modifying the sound to what it would sound like underwater, Spock recognises it as whale song. They quickly realise that the probe must have come to investigate why the sounds of whales ceased coming from Earth a couple of hundred years ago – when they died out. To respond and stop the probe, they need whales. Thus is hatched a hare-brained scheme to travel back in time to before they became extinct and pick some up!

Star Trek IV, 2We are treated to some trippy mind-screw hallucinatory images as the Klingon ship slingshots around the sun and is flung back to… 1986! Uhura reports that she is “receiving whalesong!” One wonders how the whales are transmitting it into space – presumably through the same means they use to communicate with the mysterious probe’s civilisation. They land in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, with the ship cloaked – thus explaining why they had to retain the Klingon ship, since Federation vessels don’t have cloaking technology. Interestingly, in the previous movie, the cloaking device on this same ship produced a rippling effect against the background stars in space that allowed Sulu to see the ship anyway, but now it produces complete and utterly flawless invisibility. Presumably Scotty did some of his magical engineering tweaks on it to improve it.

In town, this being San Francisco, nobody comments on their weird 23rd century clothing, especially Spock’s nightrobe-like Vulcan garb. Kirk is shocked to learn the natives are “still using money”. He sells the antique pair of glasses McCoy gave him at the beginning of Star Trek II. When Spock protests that they were a gift from McCoy, Kirk says, “That’s the beauty of it, they will be again,” implying the glasses enter a stable time loop. The group splits up, Kirk and Spock to look for whales, Scotty and McCoy to find some materials to build a whale tank inside the ship, Sulu to arrange transport for the materials, and Uhura and Chekov to locate a nuclear reactor so they can scavenge some high energy photons to recharge the ship’s warp engines. Scotty also generates a time loop when he teaches a materials scientist how to make transparent aluminium in exchange for some plexiglass. When McCoy protests that he could be messing with history, Scotty rather flippantly dismisses him with, “How do we know he didn’t invent it?” This is dealt with better in the novelisation, in which Scotty recognises the man as the guy who actually did invent transparent aluminium, thus reducing the flippant disregard for creating a time paradox.

Kirk and Spock find some whales at a fictional Cetacean Institute in Sausolito, as well as their carer Gillian. Kirk woos Gillian and eventually tells her they are from the future and need the whales. She rejects him, but comes back to find him when her boss releases the whales into the open sea, where they will be hunted and killed by whalers. Meanwhile, Uhura and Chekov locate a reactor, on board the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise(!), and beam in, getting into trouble when Chekov, a Russian, is caught inside an American naval vessel, at the height of the Cold War. He tries to escape but is injured and rushed to hospital, where the others stage a rescue mission. Then they fly out with Gillian on board to locate the whales’ tracking devices. They find them just before they are about to be harpooned by some evil Scandinavians, beam them aboard into the tank, and fly home to the future.

Star Trek IV, 3There they release the whales into San Francisco Bay to repopulate the species, the probe is happy and departs, and the Earth is saved! At the court martial, all charges are dropped due to extenuating circumstances, except the charge against Kirk of disobeying orders, for which he is demoted from Admiral to Captain, and therefore given command of a ship. The Klingon ambassador is outraged and Sarek is smug. Spock tells Sarek to tell his mother, “I feel fine.” The crew head to their new ship… which is revealed to be a brand new Enterprise. Awwww.

This is a very different Trek movie, which played more heavily with humour and light-hearted action than drama. And it worked, it really did. Some of the comedy moments with Kirk and Spock in the 20th century are truly hilarious, pushing but never quite falling into slapstick and ridiculousness. It’s an incredibly fun story, which is ultimately uplifting and hopeful – just what we needed in the dark and pessimistic times of the mid 1980s. Star Trek as it was truly meant to be. Wrath of Khan is a more edgy, dramatic, tense, and probably better movie, but this one is way more fun, and easily my second favourite of the entire series.

Tropes: Big Dumb Object, Ass in Ambassador, Lampshade Hanging, Artistic Licence – Physics, Crazy Enough to Work, Space Whale, Space Whale Aesop, Changed My Jumper, Stable Time Loop, Time Travel Romance, Mistaken for Spies, Time Travellers Are Spies, Adam and Eve Plot, Green Aesop, Unishment, Fish Out of Temporal Water, Everybody Lives.
Body count: None!

The Intern Menace

Thursday, 19 January, 2012

Spent a fun lunchtime today with our group of a dozen or so summer interns at work, helping Andrew S. show them how to swede a movie. We’re running a short film competition for the interns, with fabulous prizes for the best film. The idea is to get them to use cool Canon equipment and have some fun.

So today we gave them a lesson in how to make a short film. And to do so, we recreated Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. From the collective memory of the interns (without help from Andrew and me, and without any reference to a script or other material). And we shot the whole thing in one lunchtime.

We did a total of 16 scenes. Jar Jar died in the third scene. Palpatine became President of the Galaxy by winning a “Ben Hur” race, when Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan’s ship crashed into R2-D2 just before the finish line. But the people weren’t happy and attacked Palpatine in a mass fight scene. And in the final scene, Jar Jar came back to life, but Qui-Gon and Mace Windu killed him again.

We filmed it on the lawn in front of our building. Several onlookers were eating lunch nearby – I hope we kept them entertained!