Secrets and Star Wars

I went back to look at where I’d left off with all the “secrets” posts and found something I’d forgotten. It’s fortuitous timing as well, since I wanted to talk about the Star Wars trailer that was shown very specifically at half time of the Monday night football game.

Is that really the target audience? Who gets the most help from that – the franchise or the NFL and their saggy ratings? This is not the first time they’ve done the “event” trailer thing – did it help last time?

October 20, 2015

The human body has an amazing capacity to care for itself. My sleep patterns are not always the best and I end up somewhere on the sleep deprived scale more often than I would like. When that happens, my body does (eventually) right itself.

Last night during halftime of the Monday Night Football game a trailer was supposed to premier for the new(est) Star Wars movie. I had no real interest in the football game and wasn’t even planning to have the TV on last night, but I DO actually have an interest in Star Wars (even if it’s only nostalgic at this point). I did all the work I could before going out and settling on the couch. Hit the little buttons to make sure all my screen time was counted. Paid some attention when the commercials aired, just to be sure I didn’t miss anything… then my body decided enough was enough with this whole ‘not sleeping’ thing and turned me off – like a light switch. I woke up just as the announcers declared that halftime was over and the third quarter was ready to roll. I missed the whole damn thing. It’s not that I couldn’t go see the trailer on the internet the very next morning. I could (and did) more than once. It was more the idea that I attempted to actually make the advertising thing “work” and just conked out. On the up side – it still counts because even though I wasn’t actually awake to see any of the other commercials before or after, the little buttons were pushed and the lights were on recording that I was “there” for the big halftime ad. One to the good for the ratings?

All You Can Make Up

This article was previously published in Watch The Skies (I’ve been meaning to get it out here for a while now).

Rogue One is the latest installment of the Star Wars saga. It was the number one movie for a number of weeks. It will be remembered as a landmark film – particularly for visual effects. The effects are simply amazing. If you haven’t seen Rogue One yet, please consider yourself warned that I may spoil part of the film for you. I don’t think it’s particularly “spoilery” but some people might disagree.

Grand Moff Tarkin is in the movie.

How is that possible? I hear you ask, the actor that played his part in the original film died in 1994. It’s true. Peter Cushing, an actor with more than 130 film credits and star of many of the Hammer horror films did indeed pass away at the age of 81 back in 1994. Now, through the magic of visual effects he’s back on screen and acting again.

I’d like to tell you that was as much science fiction as the rest of the film franchise, but it’s not. We have landed firmly in a time when a person may be inserted into a picture, or a film and they don’t actually have to be there (or even alive) for that to happen. We can take footage of any person – however famous and change what their faces and voices do on screen.

Let that sink in for a moment.

If this were only about science fiction movies I don’t think it would be nearly the big deal that it is. Unfortunately the state of voice and image manipulation has reached a point where people can create an entire speech from a mere sampling of video that can be found on YouTube or from a digital creation of somebody that’s been dead for more than twenty years. There is no need for the person’s approval. There is no easy way to be certain what has been doctored and what has not been doctored. So far the people doing these things have been in the entertainment industry and have had the blessing of the actors or their estates. What if they didn’t?

I don’t want to seem alarmist about this technology. I actually like that Tarkin’s in the movie. It makes sense for the story. They had permission from the estate to do that (and presumably the estate got paid).

What if this tech was applied to a fake news story during an election cycle? What if it was applied to a public safety alert that wasn’t real? Think how people reacted to the broadcast of War of the Worlds. We have recently seen just how much money and how much influence supposed news sites can have on the average internet user. There are dozens upon dozens of stories that have no basis in fact that continue to swirl around the net. Now couple with that somebody being able to take the face swap technology and create fake news using old news conference footage and you have a recipe for a genuine disaster. Users – who might have a lower ethical standard than the folks at ILM, or who might have a specific agenda they want to push – can create anything they want and make it believable to the point of being impossible to refute without professional assistance. Want to say that Tom Cruise has admitted to being the second gunman in the Kennedy assassination? That can totally happen and the film footage and voice are becoming more and more believable. It will look like him and sound like him.

I really enjoyed Rogue One. The special effects were amazing. This will be a film that is noted in history for what it has done. My hope is that notability stays in the entertainment industry and is not the harbinger of something far more dangerous.

Go and see face swap and hear about voice additions/corrections:

https://petapixel.com/2016/03/21/face-swap-technology-getting-creepy/

https://www.engadget.com/2016/11/06/adobe-experiment-adds-words-to-recordings/

Article from Yahoo!

https://www.yahoo.com/movies/rogue-one-the-digital-grand-moff-tarkin-is-terrifying-for-all-the-wrong-reasons-203157451.html

Watch some background on making the effects happen:

http://io9.gizmodo.com/watch-how-ilm-brought-back-tarkin-and-leia-for-rogue-on-1790812003

The Top! (ish?)

I got this infographic thing in my e-mail box the other day:

1percent

I’m not really sure what to make of it. I mean, sure it’s cool and all but how is the “top 1%” figured out? I saw an estimate that Goodreads has somewhere in the area of 50 million users. IF that’s true being part of the top 1% is interesting, but it puts me in a group with about 500,000 other people. Not nearly as special as it might sound.

It’s also interesting to see the review of mine that got the most attention was related to Star Wars ~ and was 6 years ago. This is one of those good / bad things depending on how you want to look at it. Hopefully I’ll see another one of these in the future. Could be a neat way to look back at some of what I’ve done. Goodreads doesn’t catch everything though. I do put my reviews up at MilSciFi from time to time as well (when the book fits). I’ve posted my review philosophy there, but I don’t know how many folks have ever managed to get over there to see it so I thought I’d re-post it here. Pop over and check out MilSciFi too!

Review Philosophy

It’s important to start by stating the fact that I am a fan first. Yes, I help to publish a monthly fanzine. It’s also true that I’m an author and artist when I can squeeze that in along with my day job. It’s important to state these things because I make every effort to be honest and fair with my reviews. If I like something, I’ll tell you. If I don’t like something, I’ll try to figure out what it is exactly that bothers me, but I’m going to say I don’t like it. I don’t intend criticism to be personal about any author. I know how hard it is to make it work when you’re writing a novel.
I intend to stick with the five star rating system. I’ve always considered stars to be very limited, but I can’t really come up with a better system on my own. I’ll make them work. I am a terrible grader, in that I don’t consider average to be a horrible thing. I don’t just give five star ratings away. I consider five stars to be something rarely achievable. I also believe a book has to have gone really wrong to end up in the one star category. I can only recall two I’ve read that have landed at a single star. Getting it really right is tough, but it’s just as challenging to get it really wrong.
An example is probably best here. I would give The Hobbit five stars. The writing style struck a chord with me. The story is one that stands up to a reread despite the fact that I read it the first time when I was nine or ten. I’ve gone back and read the book more than once. The depth of world building shows through the writing without becoming a bludgeon. I feel that is a standard for the full five star rating. It moved me. It changed something in my outlook and really made me think. I haven’t put any others up to that level yet. I say “yet” not because I haven’t read other excellent and moving books, but because I’m not going to rate backwards in time. I will only rate/review a book should I read it *again*. While I consider The Good Earth another five star book, I’m not going to put something like that out for consideration until I read it again.
Having said all that about stars, I will also be upfront about any book (or books) where my own work shows up. Pretty easy to say that a book of my own, or an anthology containing a story of mine would get a five star rating from me. You should know that up front if I expect you to care about my reviews. I’ve seen others that give everything they read a four or five star rating. I don’t give those reviews much weight. I don’t expect you would either.
That’s my non legal disclaimer. I’m a fan. I try to be fair about what I read. I can’t wait to see the next cool story headed my way.

Star Wars TFA

There’s an awful lot out there talking about Star Wars. I’m adding to it and you can’t stop me! There will be HUGE spoilers, so if you don’t want to be spoiled, I’ll give you a warning before I start on that bit.

I am one of the many that watched the original films in the theater. I was 7 when the first film came out and I was totally into the space ships and laser sword fights. I’m still into them.

There’s nothing I can say about the “fixes” made to the original series or about the other three films that hasn’t been said many other places, many other times so I’m skipping past that.

My first reaction as I walked out of the theater was “That was magnificent”. It’s true. I was in there for more than two hours and I was superbly entertained. Maybe it was that I had relatively low expectations and they were surpassed across the board. Maybe it was nostalgia and this movie hit at just the right time for me to really enjoy it. Maybe I missed a bunch of things that when I think about them later will make me less happy with the movie.

It’s probably something of all those things combined. In the end I was happy with my experience seeing this on the big screen. Happy enough that I’m likely to go back and see it again before it leaves theaters. Yes (secretly of course) I am hoping this film knocks Titanic off the top of the all time movie money list – that’s a fluke. I’m certain a number of people were duped by the fact that it was a James Cameron film…

Anyway – Happy. Happy with Star Wars in a way that I haven’t been for a very long time. Author John Scalzi has a very well phrased (non-spoilery) review posted over at Whatever where he says a lot of what I’m thinking.

MAJOR SPOILERS LIVE BELOW THIS POINT

ShootFirst

I’m not going to get too deep into why bringing Jar Jar back as the Dark Side’s Yoda equivalent was a terrible idea…

Seriously, that’s just for those folks that don’t really want to be spoiled but can’t help but look.

There’s one thing that I’m mulling over that just doesn’t feel completely right. I know it’s going to be endlessly debated by fans for a long time to come, but it doesn’t seem right that Han Solo ends the way he does. The thing that bothers me most is that it’s a classic film maneuver – the obscure character death. There’s no Darth funeral pyre, there’s no Jedi robe stomping, just a fall into foggy darkness. I suspect the actor wanted out, so the writers gave it to him but it was ignominious. It’s not at all what you expect despite being the one part of the story that was clearly telegraphed to the audience. It’s kind of like General Patton surviving all the crazy war stuff he did in his life and then dying in a freaking fender bender car accident. It just doesn’t feel right. It’s that one bit that is just stuck in my head and I can’t put the right words to it. I’m looking forward to discussing this with other folks that have seen the movie already – am I the only one?

I’m clearly not the only one who loves the original movies (and all the nostalgia that goes with them). I have hope for this franchise again. That’s the biggest thing the new movie could have given us and it certainly did give me that.

Previews

The entire internet (at least anyone not out shopping on black Friday) seems to have lost its collective mind over something again. This time it’s a preview for the new Star Wars movie.

For most of my life I’ve loved previews. I always wanted to be in the theater early, seated with my popcorn and ready to see the future flicker to life before me. Previews would get you talking, help you make plans for your entertainment budget and help you believe in the magic of Hollywood. Maybe I’m the one that’s changed, but previews are not the same to me anymore.

I have reviewed and critiqued previews before. I’ve got more than one web page bookmarked that exist purely to show these previews on demand. There are archives of previews that can be reviewed and dissected at any time before or after the film itself has come out. They’re shown in high definition at your fingertips any time you’d like to see them. I stare at the screen today and feel that the magic is gone. It’s certainly not at the theater any more.

I went to the theater with my daughter to see Big Hero 6 just a couple of weeks ago. I’m so happy she’s interested in stories with heart and imagination. I’m glad she’s excited to see some of the same types of films I love. We sat there in the theater waiting for things to get rolling with popcorn and excitement. Then, right at the time the film was scheduled to start we were bombarded with 27 minutes of advertisements and previews before the movie we actually came to see started. That was one of the last few steps toward my dislike of previews. Almost a half an hour? That’s more than enough to test the patience of an adult, never mind a child. I heard one of the other children in attendance ‘whisper’ to his mother, “What are we watching?” Once we passed this barrage we moved on to a film that, while good, certainly had a couple of its best moments totally given away by the previews. The funny is lost when you’ve already seen it in the advertisements before the film.

So, the theater is no longer the haven of previews it once was but I should be selective and pick the ones I want to see here on my computer. That brings me back to the Star Wars preview out there today.

I watched it. IF the creative team wanted eyeballs on advertisement, they won. I had to see it. I was compelled by my childhood and driven by my devotion to the preview.

We got a few seconds of film, tied together with the music we know and love. Those few seconds spawned no fewer than a dozen shot by shot breakdowns that popped up on my news feeds. Screen captures, questions of symbology involved, cursing, begging and threats of nut kicking for failure. It’s not even dinner time yet – wait until the shoppers get home. True, there were no plot critical elements or ‘best moments’ from this film that were given away here. There was nothing beyond a handful of images here FOR A MOVIE THAT IS AT LEAST A YEAR AWAY. We’re not into December 2014 yet this ad is for a film due to release in December 2015 (IF everything stays on schedule and doesn’t end up getting pushed back like Jupiter Ascending – you know the one that was supposed to be out this past July?). A year away and we’re getting shot by shot take-downs form a few seconds of film?

I am not excited by this. I’m really not sure I’ll remain that interested. Star Wars is firmly planted in my childhood and was one of the formative influences of my life. This ad was more depressing than exciting to me. I can’t ignore it, but it’s difficult to care. I won’t see this film on opening day and have my doubts that I’ll even see it in the theater. The real choice maker on that one will be my daughter. IF she wants to see it in the theater, we’ll go. If we go to the theater, we might arrive in time for the ads to start and hope they run shorter than a half an hour. We might get seats and go for popcorn while the previews run.

Today was the day. I don’t like previews anymore.