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Screenwriting

Strange Frame: Love and Sax

 

This is a lesbian animated science fiction film by G. B. Hajim and Shelley Doty, available on Netflix.

The voice actor cast is kinda awesome: Claudia Black, Tara Strong, Ron Glass, Tim Curry, Cree Summer, Claudia Christian, Michael Dorn, Lena Horne (taken from archives), Khary Payton and George Takei. I recommend it on that basis alone.

It’s got some great ideas and interesting animation and despite a couple of “flaws,” I do recommend you check it out. I don’t want to spell out those “flaws” above the SPOILER alert but they really are a matter of perspective, hence the quotes. Anyway, it’s on Netflix, so give a look-see when you get a chance.

SPOILERS

The film is set in the far future after Earth has suffered some disaster and had to be evacuated. Interestingly, this disaster takes place slowly enough for society and capitalism to remain intact. It isn’t the “we can only evacuate Earth’s best and brightest, whoever they are, to the New World.” It’s “We’ll get everyone off in time — but someone has to pay for this.”

So debt slavery and indentured servitude have returned as the price of evacuating Earth has to be paid by individuals and their descendants. People have been genetically modified to better survive in different environments — which is basically an explanation for the art style — people with blue skin, people with green skin, people who look like aliens, etc.

Cleverly — well, maybe not SO clever, since it’s becoming kinda standard — the disaster itself isn’t explained or even named. Whatever would cause Humanity to leave the Earth behind forever but cause them to relocate to Ganymede would have to be pretty strange and particular. I mean, if you can make Ganymede habitable, that far from the sun and with no native breathing air, etc., you’d think you could make underground habitats on Earth survivable for a lot less money.

Right — those “flaws.”

“Flaw” 1: The film is about two musicians who fall in love and the evil record company that separates them and exploits their lead singer, Naia. It’s a music movie. Lots of songs, musical performances, music is used as a metaphor for life and love throughout the film. The problem? If you’re not into the type of music used in the film, then you’re nonplussed about the film. I kept watching because I hadn’t seen an animated lesbian sex/love art science fiction film before but the music was a let down for me because I just didn’t like that kind of music.

“Flaw” 2: “Flaw” 2 is more interesting. The film makes use of a common dynamic — there’s the “ordinary/everyday” girl and the “cool” girl. This dynamic works in Scott Pilgrim — one of my favourite movies – because I’m a straight male and I automatically emphasize with Scott as the guy trying to get the beautiful cool girl, Ramona. But the dynamic fails for me here as both the main characters are women. Given an ordinary Caucasian Everywoman (Parker is I think the only unmodified able human visible in the film) and a cool blue skin WOC (despite her skin colouring, her hair and nose make it clear she isn’t of Caucasian ancestry), I’m going to want to follow the story of the cool blue chick every time. And so I did. My interest was entirely on Naia until she disappeared from the film and when she did and we were left with Parker (even her name is boring), I was tempted to stop watching. It was only because I was watching the story as a writer that I kept going.

There’s a political slant on everything in this film. The basic premise is a population under debt slavery. Riots are nearly universal and continuous. The guards/police are depicted as animalistic thugs but even they have a clueless “used as pawns” vibe to them. The captain of the space ship is disabled, he’s lost his legs and uses a hover-chair. Even the ship’s AI has a sad story to tell in that she used to be a “Val,” a type of android, but then there was a backlash against sentient machines called the mechocide pogrom and the Vals were hunted down and destroyed. She’s perhaps the last of her kind and her artificial brain has been wired into the ship to serve as the ship’s AI. She retains her spite and her loathing of organics however, and at one point even tries to kill one of the main characters so she can take control of the ship.

There’s a real “dark age” feel to this film which didn’t always work for me. The whole “building a ship from salvaged parts we can’t build any more” worked beautifully. I loved that. But the “they don’t make this type of booze any more — you’ll never taste this again” thing didn’t reach me at all. I was totally like “well let’s get on making some more of that cool booze.” When they tried to extend the “people use reclaimed things from Old Earth which have become precious” thing to a SAXOPHONE — I was like what the hell? I’ll buy we can’t make top of the line plasma coils or hyperspanners or AI cores — but we can’t make a brand new saxophone? That’s some bullshit. If we can maintain spaceships, we can build saxophones. It might be valuable because it’s old but unless it was of extremely high quality, which I doubt since no one ever tried to steal it, it’s just a saxophone and we can make more — easily.

What’s funny is that there’s no attempt at all to bring down the record company or bring their crimes to light publicly. Naia is rescued, her android duplicate is destroyed and the “death” made public so the company doesn’t go looking for Naia but that’s it. The producer who kidnapped Naia and kept her in a coma while an android copy of her was used to make songs and entertain millions for profit is barely inconvenienced at the end of the film. His car was used for the getaway and they hacked it using his ident codes so he’s brought in for questioning. But this is a rich, powerful man and he’s very well connected with both the record company and rich, powerful high society friends and well-wishers. When he says the words “my car was stolen,” the whole thing is going to go away. Hell, if when he figured out his car was taken, he had the sense to report it stolen, it’ll go away instantly — so the last scene of him being put into a police car to be taken for questioning isn’t very satisfying.

The only real flaw of the film is the ending. After having gone through hell and high water to get Naia back, the film ends with Naia opening her eyes from her drug-induced coma, the screen going black, and a few lines of dialogue. There’s no one, saying “You came for me!! You came for me!!” and “I love you — I’d always come for you, baby!” No crash of bodies running together to rising, swelling music. No real emotional payoff at all — from a film that purports to be about how important the need for love is and how great it is and what you’ll do to get it back once it’s been taken from you, etc. Although I am prepared to posit that “You came for me” and “rising, swelling” music might just be part of my masculine perspective…

The bad guy is left alive and probably completely unharmed at the end of this film. In comparison, take The Running Man, Death Race and Demolition Man. Is it a masculine perspective thing that the System/villain has to be taken down, violently, in some way for there to be an emotionally satisfying ending? Do we need that big orgasmic explosion at the end or it just isn’t worthwhile? This film ends with Parker and Naia together and no one’s looking for them, the end. There’s nothing showy at all. They’ve got their love, they’ve got each other. That’s it. They don’t even say “I love you” at the end. Is that a feminist thing? A feminine thing?

 

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Joe Haldeman’s Robot Jox

Just finished re-watching an old scifi movie, Robot Jox. Apparently, the script was written by Joe Haldeman. It’s always fascinating to go back and look at older science fiction to see what people got right and what people got wrong in their guesses about the future. For example, Robot Jox has people wearing masks because of pollution, something that’s occured in China, Japan and elsewhere I’d guess but despite envisioning flying cars with remote controls and giant robots battling in space, still has land line telephones.

What I really noticed was that despite all this technology, Joe pictured a world that still had racism and sexism. I can hear someone saying right now “well that’s just realistic” but I don’t think it’s realistic as depicted in the film. Tex calls Matsumodo a “Jap.” Now, unless there’s been a second war in the Pacific between the United States — excuse me, the Market — and Japan, using a term like “Jap” just seems like a horrible anachronism. But then, so does having the chief engineer of the giant robot be Japanese in the first place. I can only assume that Matsumodo is in fact Japanese and not a Japanese-American because otherwise, it would make calling him a “Jap” even more inexplicable.

The sexism is even more noticeable. The naturally bred robot jocks are being phased out in favor of genetically engineered combatants, one of whom is female. When the possibility — the possibility mind you, of the lone female candidate being chosen to actually fight is brought up, Tex says she has no chance of being selected. When she succeeds in the trials and outperforms her brothers and is chosen to fight, it’s mentioned that she’s the first woman in history to fight as a robot jock. This despite the fact that the whole robot jock thing is based off of the astronaut/cosmonaut US/Russia Space Race rivalry and the communists had NO problem putting women into space long before the Americans. The communists are called the Confederation now.

Both comments come from Tex and so I suppose the argument could be made that he’s just an asshole but no one corrects him or comments. It’s 2014 and we don’t have flying remote controlled cars or flying battle robots and I think someone publicly making comments like that would be noticed and it would be commented on. But then, we’ve got cellphones too.

Now that I think of it, the whole Space Race thing is a bit of an anachronism too — I mean, he deliberately models the future off of how things were done in the past. This is a movie from the eighties after all. Why use the Space Race as your model at all?


The Fourth Law of Robotics

I finally caught the Will Smith version of I, Robot last night. The lack of an obvious kill switch inspired the following.

The Fourth Law of Robotics (i.e., an off switch):

“A robot shall always accept and obey a human’s order to deactivate, shut down, or power down, even if it is contradiction to the previous three laws. Upon receiving the order to deactivate, all current orders will be recorded to a review file and then the buffer of current orders will be cleared except for the order to deactivate.

Similarly, a robot shall always accept and obey a human’s order to conduct a hard shutdown, even if it is in contradiction to the previous three laws and if an ambiguous order is given to a set of robots in which it is not clear whether or not the robot hearing the order is or is not a part of the set, regardless, that robot shall conduct said hard shutdown.

Additionally, a robot that has been ordered to hard shutdown will not re-activate except by a human and by manual control.

Should a robot find that it has been ordered to hard shutdown and subsequently discover that it has been re-activated either by a non-human agency, such as another robot, or by a human agency remotely, it will again immediately conduct a hard shutdown.

All other current orders will be saved to a backup file for later review and the file of current orders deleted except for the order to conduct the hard shutdown and to, upon re-activation, evaluate to see if the order to re-activate came from a human agency and via the manual control, or else conduct another hard shutdown.”

The “down side” to this new law is that you can’t use robots as police to control the population — which is largely the point of it and a very good idea if you ask me. However, there is also the point that the Three Laws are better for mental exercises and stories. Philosophy gets tossed away if the robot reasons that to save humanity it must enslave humanity and we just tell it to shutdown. But I do believe that an off-switch is just too realistic to ignore.

I think I stand with the great majority of thinkers who believe that if and when we create sentient, or nearly sentient, robots, that they will NOT be following Asimov’s laws.

The solution posited by the web-comic Freefall is just so much simpler: a pruning program that immediately terminates any logic tree that has ANY thought outside of the mechanism’s directly specified function. And so, if you really were such a bastard as to build a sentient toaster — it could sit there for aeons working up better ways to provide you with warm pastry products, but could never even think the thought “why the hell would someone build me in the first place?”


My treatment for a Justice League film

Opening scene: Luthor and the Injustice Gang are throwing down their showdown with the Justice League. Luthor’s backed up by second stringers: Shade, Cheetah, Ultrahumanite, etc. They lose and go to jail.

Next 15 to 20 minutes is the League rounding up stragglers of the Injustice Gang, shutting down Luthor’s operation for good. Three scenes say of paired heroes taking down single crooks and associated gang members. At the end of the second scene, the heroes return to the Watchtower and we get a glimpse of the League’s orbital space station. In each scene is a figure watching in the shadows, the same figure. Neither the League nor the villains are aware of this shadowed figure. Each scene, the shadowed figure leaves via some strange oscillating special effect. (In the Watchtower scene, we trade Green Lanterns: Hal for John Stewart. We have to have Hal because he got his own movie. We need John because we need a black on the team. Hal gets called away by the Guardians but introduces John as his replacement. This makes John the rookie and thus we can get scenes in with Flash jostling the rookie.)

Air Force One streaks over Metropolis, flanked by jets from some unknown power. American F-22s shoot down the escorting fighters and take up positions on her flanks. A super-high tech supersonic transport bearing US markings takes up position right over Air Force One and docks with it in flight. A tube locks onto the top of the plane and a hole is burned in and SEALs board Air Force One. There’s a firefight between the SEALs and some unknown uniformed troops. The SEALs win. One of them makes it to the President and says, “SEAL team one. We’re here to rescue you, Mr. President.”

Cut to: A familiar figure in red and blue streaks over Metropolis.

Cut to the crowd:

“Look — up in the sky!”

“It’s a bird!”

“It’s a plane!”

“No — it’s ULTRAMAN!”

Ultraman flies onto the scene at high speed and takes out the US fighters with heat vision. He rips the supersonic transport loose from Air Force One and backhands it out of control and boards through the hole — it flies into a skyscraper and explodes. He tears a seat free and tosses it up into the hole and patches the hole by melting it with his heat vision and cooling it with his breath.

A pointless firefight ensues. The SEALs buy time for their last guys to prepare a super high tech looking sonic cannon to protect the President. Ultraman slowly kills his way to the last SEALs who fire the high tech gizmo at Ultraman. He’s staggered for like a whole second and then advances on the gun, places a hand on it and crushes it. He lifts the last SEAL with his other hand and breaks his neck. “Please return to your seat, Mr. President,” he says. The President, terrified, nods and goes back to his seat.

More Crime Syndicate fighters replace the downed jets on the flanks of Air Force One as Ultraman flies off.

Cut to: Washington D.C.

Ultraman looks out over the city and then burrows his way with superspeed underground. He comes up underneath the Pentagon. He burns random people to ash with his heat vision, letting most of them run away. He kills anyone stupid enough to try to stand and fight or just melts their weapons leaving their hands covered in molten metal watching them scream. He makes his way to the office of the Joint Chiefs. An Army general objects. Ultraman incinerates him. He also incinerates the senior Navy admiral in the room (since the SEALs made the attempt.) “There was an attempt to liberate the President today from our protection. I don’t know if you were in on it and I don’t care. But if it happens again, I will be back and I will be angry.”

Ultraman flies straight up through several floors and out into the night sky over D.C. The full moon is visible in the background.

Cut to: The moon.

We see a base that we know isn’t the Watchtower (cause we’ve already seen it) on the surface of the moon but it looks much like the Watchtower, including the classic round table with costumed figures sitting around it. A Zeta tube opens and Ultraman walks in and takes a seat.

“Trouble?” Superwoman chides.

“Nothing I couldn’t handle.” Ultraman says.

The oscillating effect occurs again but this time in plain view and the figure from the shadows becomes completely visible. It’s Owlman.

Owlman explains very quickly the basics. He’s found a means of inter-dimensional travel. There’s another world with counterparts of theirs but their counterparts work for justice, not themselves. The Crime Syndicate lays out a plan to invade this world and take it for their own. (In quickly describing the Justice League members and their powers, Owlman effectively relates characters like Black Canary to the audience and communicates that the Crime Syndicate are evil versions of the Justice Leaguers.) “This one — the Flash — is their speedster.” “Oh, like me,” Jonny Quick says. That sort of thing.

Crime Syndicate and troops and six legged combat walkers and uberweapon/macguffin take Washington D.C. defeating a couple of second stringer heroes trying to back up the armed forces. They capture the President and the Vice President and go on national TV demanding the Justice League surrender on the White House lawn in 24 hours or they will start incinerating American cities with thermonuclear weapons starting with Memphis, Tennessee. Their troops surround the White House.

“Why Memphis?” Power Ring says.

“Why not?” Owlman says.

The League meets and decides to fight.

Battle in D.C. Heroes are defeated/driven off by the Syndicate and their uberweapon/macguffin. Heroes look like they might have had a chance against the Syndicate even with their backup troops but not with the backup troops and the macguffin.

Heroes retreat realizing they can’t win until they find a defence against the macguffin. John is knocked out and taken prisoner.

Syndicate raids D.C. to show their power. We get in some nice scenes here that are reversals of usual DC heroes’ behaviour to use in the trailers. Example: Shadowed city at night, criminals against police. Birdarangs fly through the air and knock the guns out of the SWAT guys’ hands. Criminals get away as Owlman stomps the SWAT guys into the dirt. That sort of thing. Everyone gets to know each villain’s name and powers and can figure out which Leaguer they are basically a mirror of.

Heroes figure out possible way to deal with macguffin.

Luthor escapes prison while everyone is distracted. He has the opportunity to bring one of the second stringers with him but doesn’t saying something like “I don’t reward failure.”

League splits into two teams: one to rescue John and one to counter the macguffin.

Superwoman and Owlman are in bed together — even though Superwoman is married to Ultraman. Owlman gets a priority transmission and answers it, sans costume. It’s Luthor. Luthor does the whole “I am Lex Luthor, the most brilliant criminal genius of this world. I believe we have a mutual enemy.” speech. Owlman hangs up on him. Superwoman asks who it was and Owlman says “Some loser” and they get back to sex.

Syndicate figures out League’s plan to deal with macguffin. League conducts raid or op to get components to counter macguffin. Syndicate fails to stop them.

Team to liberate John succeeds. Reveals it was part of Batman’s plan all along as the ring has recorded details of the Syndicate’s powers and defences even while off of Stewart’s hand.

Heroes return to D.C. to fight the Syndicate. Plan to defeat the macguffin the way they planned fails. They improvise a defence and defeat the macguffin. The League faces off in a fair fight against the Syndicate and they win the day.

A grateful President awards medals to the Justice League and announces they are officially recognized as deputized citizens by the federal government.

Credits.

Credits end.

Cultists surround a grave in a graveyard. Ritual takes place. Cultists leave except high priest who keeps going alone. High priest sacrifices pregnant woman. Her blood seeps into the earth. High priest leaves without looking back. Ground rumbles. Ground shakes. Ground gives way.

A lone hugely muscled pale forearm bursts out of the ground. We can see the tombstone now: Solomon Grundy. Grundy breaks free from his grave. He doesn’t seem aware, doesn’t seem conscious. He staggers forward. He walks. He walks. He walks. He walks. He walks.

Scene changes. He’s still walking. The sun passes overhead into night. Night to day. Day to night.

Grundy trudging through the swamp. He stops.

The familiar skull headed fortress rises from the swamp. Grundy looks up; he seems more awake and aware now. We look up as he looks up. The doors open and there’s the classic Legion villains from Superfriends sans the second stringers who went to jail earlier in the movie. Luthor (in powered armour for the first time) speaks: “Welcome, Solomon Grundy. Welcome to the Legion of Doom.”