A new docuseries just dropped on Netflix this past week, and I watched all six, 45-minute (or so) episodes on Saturday. Age of Samurai: Battle for Japan discusses the quest for power in 1500s Japan. It’s presented through recreations narrated by historians. As you should expect, those from the 16th century seeking to rule a nation were often cruel and selfish. Some were arguably insane. All of them, however, were master tacticians, and some of their techniques have earned the respect of modern militaries.
I read a thread on Reddit in which several people stated that they didn’t like how the show was presented. For example, when the show cuts away to the historians, “who where paid to speak like stupid 9th graders,” the video goes to black and white for dramatic effect. Another stated he “had to turn it off with all this pandering.” I find all of this criticism to be at best inaccurate and at worst dishonest. Yes, the historians made sure to present the material as dramatically as possible, but they didn’t sound like they were in high school. The black and white shots provided a clear contrast between reenactment and dialogue. It’s a nice effect. Finally, I don’t see how there was any “pandering.” Japanese honor is often romanticized, and this show doesn’t do that at all. It clearly shows how cruel, deceitful, and selfish these leaders were.
According to Rotten Tomatoes, the audience approval sits at 57%. Technically, I’m in the majority, but that’s considered a bad score. But none of the commenters disputed the truth of what was presented, and that’s what matters to me. Unless you’re a true student of history (I’m not), there are a lot of interesting, significant events in history of which you’ll never scratch the surface. This series helps in that regard.
I mentioned this past weekend that I’ve found my next streaming obsession, Resident Alien. However, that show is currently being aired, which means I can’t binge watch it. That leaves me with a hole in my viewing schedule. Well, I suspect many of you have repeatedly seen that same clip in a Hulu commercial where Abe Lincoln says he’s having the worst theater experience in his life, and Jesus thinks he’s an idiot for saying so. Some quick internet sleuthing informed me that the clip is from Future Man, so I decided I’d watch it.
I finished season one over the weekend and am about halfway through season two, which was easy to do because each episode is about 25 minutes (as opposed to 50 minutes). It was okay, but I’m still intrigued by the clip. It’s not getting better, but I’m confident it will because I learned Seth Rogan will eventually show up. (Believe it or not, I like Seth Rogan a lot.) Like Resident Alien, it’s a dramedy with a bit of science fiction. If you’re into video games (I’m not), that’s mildly relevant to the show and may make it a bit more interesting for you. If you’re into the Hunger Games, the lead is someone from that cast, Josh Hutcherson, but the supporting cast is pretty good. In fact, I love Keith David, and he plays an important role in season one. He’s worth the price of admission by himself.
I’ve found my next streaming obsession. I think. The SyFy channel has a new show called Resident Alien. It stars Alan Tudyk as an alien, Harry, living in a small town in Colorado. If, like me, you’re into science fiction and so-called dramedies, this could be for you as well.
But as I’ve said before, you shouldn’t care about someone else’s opinion about a show unless you understand why they hold that opinion. I’m a Star Trek fan (duh!), and one of my favorite aspects of the show is how they examine humans from an outsider’s perspective. Humans are stupid; even the smart ones. Our emotions make us do silly things. Spock and Data are both characters that make interesting observations about how this occurs, but they also show how such a thing can be a strength. Our emotional connection to others is the essence of what makes us “social creatures,” which leads to tribal cooperation and eventually to civilization. Harry, does this very well. If this is up your alley, then this may appeal to your interests.
I wish I had a psychology degree.
One thing that’s different: Harry is definitely a bad guy. Like Vic Mackie from The Shield, he’s an anti-hero, but being largely comedic and clearly involved in a moral growth process, my guess is that the resident alien will come around to the good side. We’ll have to see, because this is a new show, and as of this moment, only four episodes have aired.
Here’s another one of those “watch this before it leaves Netflix” movies. But is it any good? It’s 1:27:00 long, so it’s easy to find time to watch it.
Presented by Pad Thai Pictures. Good start. I like pad Thai.
Netflix calls it Time Trap, but the opening credits call it Timetrap.
Enough nonsense. Let’s get to it. It doesn’t take too long to figure out what’s going on. Once you get past the fundamental premise, there’s some decent science playing out. While I can’t stand some of the occasional histrionics and stupidity of the characters — seriously, why are most writers unable to write a story independent of such elements — I still found myself unable to turn away. I wanted to learn more as things went on, and then wanted to see how it ended. Which it kind of didn’t. Not because it was necessarily setting up a sequel, but just because they didn’t give you an explanation. It’s left for you to fill in the blanks. If you don’t like that, you won’t like the ending.
As opening night for Star Trek into Darkness (also my birthday) approaches, I wanted to make sure I reserve the opportunity to say, “I told you so,” even though there’s little chance that opportunity will actually present itself. My cousin, John (aka, @kesseljunkie) and I are big fans of the much-maligned Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (“TFF”). As a movie, it has its share of problems, but as most of you will agree with that statement, I won’t bother to justify it. Where I will take you to task, however, is with the character of Sybok.
Just a Little Misunderstood
As one of the six or so humans on the planet that actually read the novelization of TFF (John being one of the others), I have a deeper appreciation for the character of Sybok. Sybok was not just some lunatic. His reasons for accepting emotion spring from his mother’s views, which were seen as heretical by most of Vulcan. As geeks that are stereotypically considered outcasts for our interests, this is a character that we should have all embraced. Unfortunately, Sybok’s backstory was never fully developed by the film. This is understandable, as a book always has more room to do so than a movie, but it was a missed opportunity to say the least. While we didn’t necessarily have to agree with Sybok, we should have had a ton more sympathy for him, but unless you read the book (or are a completely delusional Star Trek apologist unable to criticize the franchise at all), you probably weren’t left with the same impression as I.
A Perfect Antagonist
The destruction of Vulcan gave us the opportunity to revisit and reimagine Sybok. This is a Vulcan who embraces his emotion, and his people were all but wiped out because of Star Fleet’s failure to protect the planet. Sure, that’s an unfair criticism in light of the advanced technology of the attacking ship, but people who do bad things, especially when motivated by anger, generally don’t have the firmest grip on logic. In fact, that’s the whole point of Sybok’s character. He has all the advantages of being a superhuman Vulcan without the logic to restrain his selfish impulses. There’s a lot of potential for a good story if a cataclysmic event pushed him over the edge.
Could I Be Right?
The trailers and actors’ interviews have hinted at reasons Sybok could be the villain. Cumberbatch jumps from a great height and exhibits exceptional strength by throwing around a large piece of metal during a fight. (Vulcans are stronger than humans.) Cumberbatch has referred to his character as a terrorist, but one that thinks he’s doing the right thing by Star Fleet. (This is right in line with the way Sybok thinks and acts.) Sure, Sybok wasn’t a Star Fleet agent in the other timeline, but with the destruction of Vulcan, and with few friends among the survivors, perhaps Sybok was recruited for a task for which he was quite suited: Getting revenge on the Romulans. We know the Klingons interacted with Nero from the last movie, and we know they play a role here. Perhaps they’re siding with Sybok, who’s changed his mind about what he has to do.
John pointed out to me that the scene from the trailer where Kirk and Spock are performing the “live long and prosper” salute through a pane of glass (mimicking their last actions in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan) in fact could be Spock and “JohnHarrison.” It’s clearly Spock, but the other sleeve is charcoal in color, which is the color shirt Cumberbatch is wearing while standing behind the pane of glass. The voice over then says, “Is there anything you wouldn’t do for your family?” Was that line spoken to Kirk, whose family hasn’t played a significant role in the reboot, or Spock, who is Sybok’s family?
Does all of this mean that John Harrison must actually be Sybok? Of course not. He could easily (probably?) be an augment, or perhaps even the Khan (which would be a tremendous shame). Gary Mitchell seems unlikely at this point, but still a possibility. All I’m saying is that Sybok would be a reasonable choice based on everything we’ve seen, and in this author’s humble opinion, would be the best choice. It would throw off everyone, and it would open the door to a proper telling of the character’s backstory.
All that being said, I doubt it’s Sybok, but if it is, the IMAX Airbus theater in Chantilly, VA is going to have at least two geeks standing up during the big reveal, shouting, “Nailed it! We told you so!” (8:55pm showing on May 17 if you’re interested.)
But probably not, and that makes me a little sad.
Side Note: Why Not Khan?
For those not wanting to read the IO9 article to which I linked, let me explain quickly why Cumberbatch shouldn’t play Khan (besides the obvious concern of “been there, done that … twice already”). Back in the old days when Star Trek was less about bells and whistles and more about story and the big three, almost every episode was a kick in the gonads of racism. What could possibly be more ironic and insulting to the “superior race” crowd than a “master race” led by a “darkie.” An Hispanic actor playing an Indian superman? Perfect. The Nazi’s were turning in their graves. Casting a white guy to play that role misses a lot of the point Roddenberry was trying to make. By itself, it won’t ruin the film or the Khan character, but it would make the character a little less meaningful.