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Posts tagged “Screenwriting

Thoughts on Star Trek: Enterprise

I recently read an article about the failings of Star Trek: Enterprise and it made me want to spell out my own problems with the series. Star Trek: Voyager remains my most hated series and it’s the only one I stopped watching episodes of. Even then, when they announced their last season, I watched the last season — including that shameful series finale where they basically rubbed their greatest success being Star Trek the Next Generation in the face of Enterprise’s fans. I watched both J.J. Abrams films to my shame. There is a real problem I and other Star Trek fans have to cope with that we will watch ANYTHING labelled Star Trek. That really has to stop.

Anyway — Star Trek: Enterprise.

So, first and foremost, I HATED that theme song. It was just terrible. And the theme song for the Mirror-Mirror episodes was SO good, why couldn’t they have just used that theme? Opening with subtle threat and menace before building into music befitting a young, inexperienced species taking its first steps into a universe fraught with peril? It would have been great.

The Vulcans… I know some people consider the treatment of the Vulcans to have been one of Enterprise’s flaws but I consider it one of their greatest successes. I LOVED the way they treated the Vulcans on Enterprise. Logical doesn’t equal nice. The Vulcans were a logical race in a hostile galaxy with as far as I can tell only the humans, a very minor species/government at the time, as allies. They would have had to have been more militant to survive. The words “Vulcan Combat Cruiser” alone I found thrilling and fresh, as well as the scene where the Vulcan captain says the specs on their tractor beam technology are classified. That the Vulcans treated Earth as a third world country fit the setting and was a jarring, fresh take on Star Trek that dramatically differed from the super-powerful super-benevolent Federation we’d gotten used to.

Having a Vulcan First Officer/Science Officer aboard was a far cry from the “welcome shout out to an older, beloved series.” Spock as a half-Vulcan wrestling with human emotion was awesome. T’Pol was just boring. She’s the only character I’ve ever known who could have an illicit shipboard tryst with another officer and have THAT be boring…

The Andorians were awesome. I loved the Andorians every moment they were on the screen and their ships looked fantastic! The Vulcan ships looked great too. I would have loved to have seen a regular Andorian character on the show. Jeffrey Combs character would have made a MUCH better alien first officer than T’Pol. And the possibilites for scenes between him and Malcolm would have been terrific.

About the ships in Enterprise, the appearance of the Vulcan vessels has given rise to what I call “the Vulcan engine problem.” Namely, why didn’t the humans abandon the nacelle design and go with the round warp engine design the Vulcans used? On the surface of it, the Vulcans are more advanced than Humanity. They’ve been in space longer. They’re logical guys. They’ve got better technology than us. Bottom line, if we’re just trying to get out into space and the Vulcans have better drives than we do, why not just copy the Vulcan design? The problem with that is you don’t know WHY their drives are different. Oh, you might assume that it makes the ships faster or more efficient, but the Vulcans can be, if you’ll pardon the word, a bit inscrutable. They might use round warp engines because its more efficient or better in some way that’s really important to them but that is less important to the rest of us. For example, if the warp field created by the round drive is more stable than that created by two overlapping nacelles, but it makes the ship slower and/or less manoeuvrable, that might be something the Vulcans might go for but other species not. And then there’s the whole history of technology just on this planet to consider. There might be legal ramifications of all things. Vulcan patent law or insurance provisions might mandate the round design. Round warp drives might make more efficient use of some element that’s rare on the worlds the Vulcans have colonized but is plentiful in human space. Who can say? The point is that I’ve learned that you can’t just blindly imitate the work of someone more advanced or proficient than yourself. You may be copying things that don’t aid your efforts and even, in fact, work against them.

I didn’t care much for Archer as a captain. I suppose that it took me this long to even mention him demonstrates how little regard I had for the character. He was boring. Picard was sanctimonious and annoying but I’ll take that over boring. Picard, at least, was a product of his time. He, with his every word, conveyed the philosophy and beliefs of the Next Gen Federation and while I didn’t always agree with him or his decisions, Patrick Stewart did an excellent job of conveying Picard’s position.

I adored Porthos.

Hoshi, Trip and Malcolm were wasted. Malcolm especially. The whole MACO’s thing was ridiculous. If I had been Malcolm, I would have resigned. “It’s Security’s job to see to the safety of this ship and its personnel. If the captain believes that an entirely outside force is necessary to do that job, then I have failed not only the service but each and every single one of my fellow security officers and thus tender my resignation, sir.” I’m sorry to harp on this but displacing Security like that was shameful, humiliating and obscene. Bringing a single MACO aboard as an advisor, or a senior one as an advisor and an enlisted one as a drill sergeant could have been used to good effect in building tension but Enterprise squandered THAT opportunity too. “I don’t know what this is but settle it!” “It’s settled, sir.” Right. Back to boredom.

I would have enjoyed the show more if they hadn’t kept violating the canon of Classic Trek. Meeting the Klingons day one, episode one, was a terrible indicator of mistakes to come. We shouldn’t have seen Klingons until season three. They should have just been this ominous presence people talked about on Enterprise’s travels, almost like the Boogey Man and then, when they DID show up — it should have been the Classic Trek Klingons not the new ones. And when they did introduce the Klingons, it should have been with the music from Classic Trek. That would have been UNBELIEVABLY awesome.

Cloaking devices. Cloaking devices. Cloaking devices. They should NEVER have introduced cloaks to Star Trek: Enterprise. “The selective bending of light rays is theoretically possible,” says Spock. How the FRAK can it be theory if a Starfleet vessel has encountered several ships equipped with cloaking devices and even knows the TERM!? They should have followed the canon of Classic Trek strictly — I mean, having a person on staff as a Continuity Cop and everything — and not violated it even once. And before you say, “but the Temporal Cold War changed things,” the “temporal cold war” was just a bad idea all the way around as was introducing time travel, Borg, Ferengi, etc. to an era that didn’t need them and could have introduced other technologies that were crucial and unique to the era but were flawed and later abandoned.

Transporters should never have been seen in the series. Classic Trek NEEDED a cheap way to get the crew down to the planet because they couldn’t afford to show shuttle landings every episode. That’s why transporters were introduced into the original series. Enterprise had the special effects to show shuttle landings, ship dockings and they did such things and did them repeatedly throughout the series. Eliminating transporters would have been one easy way to emphasize that this wasn’t any of the Trek series we’d seen before and it would have eliminated the whole “how do we keep them trapped where there’s danger instead of beaming out” problem EVERY Trek series has had to deal with. Dumb.

The missiles were the sort of thing they should have gone with but in more places. A technology that’s less advanced than what we’re used to seeing but that it’s completely understandable at a glance why we haven’t seen it in later era series.

I too thought they should have focused more on plots about how the Federation came to be, leading up to the First Romulan War, foreshadowing events that were spoken of in Classic Trek’s past, like Garth of Izar’s famous battles and things like that. I read that they had planned to go back to that sort of thing with the proposed next season that they had pitched doing on Netflix but it didn’t happen.

Doing the First Romulan War over two seasons, and I mean two full seasons, not that Next Gen crap of a war starting in the season finale and being resolved in the season premiere next episode, would have been terrific. Well, it would have been if they’d followed canon and had NO communication between the combatants. “No Earthman, Romulan or ally has ever seen the other,” is what Spock says and I would have stuck to that meticulously. If I violated it, I would have explained it with a “no one can know our most vicious blood enemy is genetically the same as the Vulcans” and had the crew sworn to secrecy or some such. Whatever it took so that all of Spock’s comments in “Balance of Terror” would have been logical and consistent.

Finally, I would have given almost anything for a “Man-Tzenkethi War…” (Larry Niven’s Kzinti were introduced to the Star Trek universe via an animated episode based on his short story, “The Slaver Weapon” which I believe Niven himself wrote. The issue of whether or not the Kzinti are or are not part of Star Trek has been questionable ever since. The only part of the Star Trek franchise that still ever uses the word ‘Kzinti’ is Star Fleet Battles and even then, when the time came to create Starfleet Command, a video game based heavily on SFB, they changed the name Kzinti to Mizak. Many people have used the Next Gen race name “Tzenkethi” as a replacement to refer to an entirely Star Trek hostile feline alien race.)

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Fantasy, science fiction and steampunk author Brandon Black is the editor of New Orleans By Gaslight, a first of its kind anthology of steampunk and gaslamp fantasy poetry and fiction set in Victorian-era New Orleans. Brandon is also the web content manager for the Week in Geek, New Orleans’ favourite fantasy and science fiction themed radio talk show, every Thursday at 6 pm CST on FOX Sports 1280 AM. Click here to check out Brandon’s ever-expanding list of published works.
All content copyright © Brandon Black


On Logic and Internal Consistency in Speculative Fiction

Science fiction and fantasy are genres in which, in great part, the quality of the story depends upon the internal consistency of the piece. This is primarily due to the fact that nearly anything can happen. This is true more of fantasy and science fantasy than true science fiction but even in science fiction, the author is granted the ability to introduce and explore One Big Lie.

The “One Big Lie” concept holds that in a short story, a science fiction author can establish one great divergence in his or her universe from what we know of physics and the operations of the cosmos. A story can establish the existence of psionics, or faster-than-light travel or some such. And often, an sf author chooses to have several big lies rather than one.

The point is that these lies, these departures from the norm, have to be spelled out and explored in depth by the author even if not all those explorations and details are presented in the work in question. To do otherwise is to produce poor speculative fiction.

Fiction set in the ‘real world’ doesn’t have this problem. We have an unspoken understanding of what can and can’t be done in real life. We know how books and cars function so we don’t have to wonder why the hero didn’t pass the test by sleeping with the textbook under his pillow and absorbing its knowledge or wonder why the heroine didn’t get to the hospital in time by using her Honda’s teleportation drive. Books and cars just don’t work that way.

Even in genres that stretch that somewhat like action films we still have a pretty common understanding of the way the universe works. When the hero fires a million shots from a revolver and doesn’t reload, we notice that. When the hero jumps from off the top of a high-rise office building and survives, we notice that and we all groan. That’s clearly just bad writing. But in general, fundamental things like the way the universe works and how certain technologies or spells function don’t have to be explored outside of speculative fiction, lightening the author’s burden.

And it is the author’s burden we’re talking about here. Lazy writing is bad writing, period. If you introduce a technology we don’t have in the real world and fail to account for obvious social and economic implications of it, that’s just plain bad writing. Even Dungeons and Dragons manages to bring up monetization of healing magick, for example.

This doesn’t even touch upon bad science. I mean really, the transporter splitting Kirk into good and evil versions of himself, both with the same mass as the original? Was he split into his goodons and evilons? And then merging the two back into a single person of the same mass as the original? An interesting philosophical study to be sure but bad science fiction.

The obvious point has to be raised that you and I may have different views of what constitutes poor science fiction or poor fantasy. You may enjoy a “lighter” piece and be willing to just go along for the ride and not require much in the way of explanation. I get that. It’s pretty much why there is science fantasy such as Star Wars and the Fifth Element. I’d even go so far as to argue that Fifth Element isn’t even science fantasy, it’s French surrealist fantasy.

I would however argue that Fifth Element, for example, is appallingly bad science fiction. A person is reconstituted by an organic 3D printer from a surviving piece, her arm I believe. No part of her brain was recovered and so, how could any of her memories, knowledge, personality, etc. survive reconstitution intact? This isn’t explored by the film.

The flying car sequence demonstrates exactly why you’d never see human-operated flying vehicles in such density in a city. When the police open fire on the flying taxi — they miss. Those bullets are going somewhere. Office buildings, schools, churches, pedestrian walkways, coffee shops, outdoor restaurants — all those hundreds of rounds are going to wind up somewhere. When the hero tries to evade the police by diving his flying taxi through the extremely dense corridors of flying car traffic, there was the potential there for him to have caused the deaths of hundreds of innocent people. And so, without an explanation, we are left wondering why any society would permit such.

At the end of the film, when the unspecified Great Evil draws near, the heroes have to activate the Device with the Five Elements. This device is used once every thousand years and if it isn’t, some untold catastrophe will occur costing possibly billions of lives. The film creates tension first by the lack of instructions or a big red button and so the heroes have to figure out how to use the weapon and then by the need of the hero to create fire. He only has a single match and its already been used. He manages to re-ignite it and the day is saved. If he hadn’t had that, everyone would have been doomed. Who would build a weapon like that?

Don’t even get me started on including an artificially created person as a part of a weapon system and then giving her the capacity to feel bad about war.

The most recent J. J. Abrams Star Trek film is an even worse violator. The film introduces transporters that can function across star systems removing the need for starships altogether but this is never dealt with. It introduces “super-blood” which can resurrect people from the dead but this medical miracle is not dealt with in any way other than a one-time use to save the hero.

This is how you write bad science fiction.

Yes, these films were both popular which, by definition, means someone, somewhere, actually enjoyed them. But that doesn’t change the fact that they’re appallingly bad science fiction. “I’m trying to reach a mainstream audience” shouldn’t be a cypher for “I’m a lazy writer who doesn’t mind producing crap.”

The best, the greatest works of science fiction have been those stories which explored not only the internal consistency of the wonders introduced by the author, they also took the time to work out the socio-economic implications of the introduced technologies. When MIT students crunched the numbers and revealed that Larry Niven’s Ringworld was unstable without attitude jets, Niven worked that revelation in the plot of his sequel, the Ringworld Engineers. Star Trek: The Next Generation dealt with the issue of holo-addiction: if you have the ability to create life-like worlds of your own choosing that follow your precise commands, why would you ever want to leave?

Truly great works of science fiction deal with the implications of the technologies introduced in ways that logically follow suit from the circumstances of their introduction yet those implications aren’t something the reader or viewer is readily aware of until the author makes the point. Those revelations are golden and part of why we enjoy the best the genre has to offer. “The Cold Equations” is a great example.

That said, it does have to be acknowledged that some ideas need to be nebulous and mysterious in order to function properly. Magick given in infinite repeatable detail is just science by another name. Midichlorians were just a bad idea. The Force (by virtue of its very name) needs to be nebulous and mysterious. It needs to be only partially understood. Trying to give it a scientific explanation only leads to our wondering why people don’t routinely try to manipulate it with technology, which is what technology is for and what people do. If midichlorians are microscopic lifeforms that connect people to the Force, why not breed them in petri dishes by the millions and inject them in people to make Force users? And if you think that’s silly, remember the Classic Trek episode “Plato’s Stepchildren” where Dr. McCoy pretty much does exactly that. The locals dominate Kirk and company with their telekinetic powers, Spock and McCoy work out there’s some substance on the planet that gives them their powers and McCoy injects Kirk with a bigger dose than any of the bad guys have and the day is saved. To make a fair criticism, though, this incredibly useful ability is never seen again. It would be easy, however, to simply establish that the substance in question is both exceedingly rare and exceedingly difficult to replicate. Many of these problems can be dealt with if the author isn’t lazy and just telling his readers “to shut up and go along for the ride.”

My point is that I acknowledge that there’s a need for some things to be kept mysterious, that not every question needs to be answered. But glaring plot holes need to be fixed or we can’t count those stories as being good ones. Plot holes are a flaw.

This need to provide explanation is in large part to avoid deux ex machinas. A story is not satisfying when someone or something just shows up out of the blue as an attempt by the author to resolve the conflict. Hence much of fantasy having some sort of agreed upon limits as to what divine entities can or cannot do. Otherwise, we risk having the tension of the story drained away by Zeus just saving the hero in the end.

Furthermore, anything that takes us out of the experiential realm of a work of fiction is bad. If instead of enjoying the piece, you spend your time scratching your head asking “why did they do that,” or “why didn’t they just use this thing they introduced earlier in the story,” or “what in the world government would allow THAT to be legal,” then the story isn’t working for you. I freely acknowledge that a story might work for you that doesn’t work for me but I also think we can agree that the best stories have as few of these jarring moments as possible.

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Fantasy, science fiction and steampunk author Brandon Black is the editor of New Orleans By Gaslight, a first of its kind anthology of steampunk and gaslamp fantasy poetry and fiction set in Victorian-era New Orleans. Brandon is also the web content manager for the Week in Geek, New Orleans’ favourite fantasy and science fiction themed radio talk show, every Saturday at 1 pm CST on WGSO 990 AM. Click here to check out Brandon’s ever-expanding list of published works.

Gundam Build Try Fighters Episode 20 Unbreakable Heart



“Jun! Will I see you again? Jun…”

“Don’t worry. You’ll meet again for sure. Because your fist has engraved itself in his heart.”

Aww, so sweet. The Japanese. If only we could emulate them. If only we Americans could learn the secret of punching our affection into people, then maybe we’d have fewer enemies and more friends.

o.0 What?

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Fantasy, science fiction and steampunk author Brandon Black is the editor of New Orleans By Gaslight, a first of its kind anthology of steampunk and gaslamp fantasy poetry and fiction set in Victorian-era New Orleans. Brandon is also the web content manager for the Week in Geek, New Orleans’ favourite fantasy and science fiction themed radio talk show, every Saturday at 1 pm CST on WGSO 990 AM. Click here to check out Brandon’s ever-expanding list of published works.

Anti-Doctor Protocols


A number of previous operations have been interfered with or stopped entirely by the renegade Time Lord known as the Doctor. To better defend against this Gallifreyan’s predations, the following protocols will be enacted.

Upon receiving an alert that the Time Lord known as “the Doctor” is in the vicinity, be ready to execute the Time Lord ON SIGHT. Do not contact higher authority. Do not request instructions. Terminate the Gallifreyan immediately and recover his corpse for analysis. Likewise any human companions of the Doctor should be killed on sight.
Should the Time Lord or his companions offer to surrender, tell them you accept their surrender and will take them prisoner. After they throw down their weapons and tools, execute them immediately and recover their corpses for analysis.
Once the order goes out to operate via the Anti-Doctor Protocols — THEY CANNOT BE RESCINDED NOR COUNTERMANDED. The Anti-Doctor alert can be extended by legitimate authority otherwise it will automatically end in 48 hours from the first alert. Do not believe any transmission ordering the Protocols to be rescinded or countermanded. Do not believe any officer attempting to verbally instruct you to stand down.

Upon receiving an alert that the Time Lord known as “the Doctor” is in the vicinity, secure all equipment, passengers and crew of all starships and space stations for vacuum operations. Fifteen minutes after the alert is sounded, all air will be pumped out of all starships and space stations undergoing the alert and vacuum operations will be conducted until the alert ends. The Doctor’s sonic screwdriver cannot function without outside air.

All maintenance operations are suspended during an anti-Doctor alert until such time as direct authorization can be received from the bridge or main security. Should you see anyone conducting maintenance and you have no record of security authorization for the procedure, stop them and attempt to secure authorization. If they refuse or resist, terminate them immediately. Sabotage is one of the Time Lord’s chief weapons.

Any and all medications that might be used to treat a human or Gallifreyan will be in red containers. Upon receiving the alert, a button will be pushed causing the cabinet to recede into a hidden compartment and be replaced with a dummy cabinet filled with medications in blue containers. These medications will all be poisoned with toxins instantly fatal to humans and Gallifreyans alike. The Time Lord’s well known predilection for humans will be his undoing.

This protocol is to be conducted immediately and at all times for the processing of human prisoners. DO NOT WAIT FOR AN ALERT TO BE SOUNDED TO CARRY OUT THIS PROTOCOL.
Should a human prisoner be taken, and recall that under an alert, the Doctor and his companions are to be terminated on sight, all prisoners are to be fitted with an explosive charge with a highly sensitive passive sensor. The charge will detonate upon proximity to a double heart beat. Prisoners are to be given the impression that the charge is to prevent escape and that it will detonate either upon receipt of a special coded signal or if the prisoner strays too far from the detention level.


Ben 10: Omniverse Episode 51 And Then There Were None


So… About the worst way to reboot a series I’ve ever seen. They use the alternate dimensions/alternate timeline ploy and then have the villain use a bomb that wipes out all the timelines except one — the one timeline where the hero didn’t get the Omnitrix and thus didn’t have any adventures. So the Ben Tennyson of the last 50 episodes and two previous series is dead/doesn’t exist any more and this new Ben Tennyson is just getting started on his adventures.

Why am I going to watch? If you’re willing to just push a button and in one episode, without any build-up or drama, utterly wipe out ALL THE EXISTING CONTINUITY what is my reason to watch the show? Other alternate dimension/alternate timeline reboots have left the original universe intact and just started following the new timeline — with the notable exception of the DC continual “Crises” and I think it’s safe to say that they’re pretty generally poorly received. [Addendum: I take it back. DC used to say that the alternate dimensions no longer existed and then they kept bringing them back via the concept of Hypertime. But now DC does just have 52 different universes so again, you can at least imagine your favorites still existing out there, somewhere. They aren’t just annihilated to make way for new versions you might not care for.]

It’s just frustrating. I mean, I’m not that big a Ben Tennyson fan and now I’ll never be since I’m going to stop watching but this idea is of itself disturbing and unsettling. Because we’ve got to get new people to watch/read/whatever, we’re just going to keep destroying the whole continuity you existing fans were following and reboot so we can start over again and new fans can come onboard without knowing fifty years of backstories. Okay. So you’re selling me out so you can get new fans. But then, five years from now, you’ll be selling them out to reboot the continuity again.

I just don’t know what to say or think about this notion. I love Continuity Porn, as it’s come to be known. I love writers reaching back to characters and ideas introduced and left alone for decades and breathing new life into them. I guess that’s one plus side to rebooting. You can toss out the silly ideas — like Flash actually getting his powers IN CANON because a guardian angel threw the lightning bolt that hit the chemical rack he was standing next to — and revitalize the best of the old stuff, like the Crime Syndicate.

I guess — other than the stupid “Crises” that I’m okay with how DC handles it. I just ignore the Crises anyway these days. But the Ben Tennyson reboot was just way over the top. I mean, yeah, I wasn’t watching on a regular basis anyway and just tended to dip every now and then into the episodes online but coldly annihilating every single character I’d come to know and be interested in (even if I wasn’t that attached) over three series. Poof. Gone. Dead. Too bad.

I guess you could make the argument that if I wasn’t that attached then it’s a good thing — it gives them the chance to impress me, to revitalize the best of the old continuity and build new continuity without any interference from the worst of what the older series established. I’m just not holding my breath that that’s what’s going to happen. J.J. Abrams has kinda killed any faith I have in reboots being a good thing.

I just hope the next time DC does a reboot it gets rid of the Care Bears/Power Rangers/Seven different colors of Lanterns silliness. Sinestro forming his own corps of guys with yellow rings — that was an awesome idea. Going past that — terrible idea.

Why Marvel’s next female superhero film should be about anyone OTHER than Black Widow

I know there’s this tremendous cumulative desire out there for a new Marvel female-led superhero film but I really think Black Widow is exactly the WRONG character for it. Her whole appeal — as a character — I don’t mean as Scarlett Johansson in a leather catsuit — is as an ex-KGB spy. The problem with that is that the Cold War is long over. Without the Cold War, being an ex-KGB spy is really irrelevant. She could just as easily be an ex-Italian secret agent or an ex-Swedish one. Who cares? We picture CIA and KGB agents fighting this awesome secret war in the shadows DURING THE COLD WAR, which ended decades ago! The actress herself was born in 1984. The Berlin Wall fell in 1989. Blindly making the assumption that Black Widow and Scarlett Johansson are the same age — I don’t think Black Widow went on too many super-cool hot and sexy secret missions when she was FIVE YEARS OLD!

No. Ms. Marvel is a MUCH better option for a female lead. She has powers for a start and is a full-fledged superheroine not just a martial artist in a catsuit and she has connections to alien races and would neatly bridge the Avengers with Marvel’s new film franchise, the Guardians of the Galaxy. We can get a much better film from that character than we ever could from Black Widow. All we can get from her is a sob story about how she did things she’s not proud about — but without the drama and urgency of the Cold War as a backdrop for it. What did she do? Terrible acts of killing and treachery against drug pushers and other criminals? Coup plotters who were silenced before they could do anything interesting? Intrigues in the Middle East? Again — the Russians pulled out of Afghanistan in ’89. There are possibilities — she could have been fighting AIM or HYDRA — but they seem weak compared to the powerful dramatic backdrop we’ve already lost. There’s a reason Black Widow’s never held down her own long-running solo comic book — it’s because she doesn’t have the depth of character and the interest to support it.

She-Hulk would be a much better character to give a movie. Storm and the Scarlet Witch both have tremendous potential although that potential is currently constrained by Fox having the X-Men film rights. Spider-Woman, Moondragon, Gamora, Valkyrie, Sif — anyone of these would make a much better solo heroine than Black Widow. Valkyrie offers the possibility of a Doctor Strange tie in that might lead to a Defenders movie and a third superhero movie franchise for Marvel. There has to be SOME reason Marvel’s digging out Doctor Strange again after all this time — not that I’m complaining. Anyway — my point is simply that all Black Widow’s got going for her now is martial arts and a leather catsuit costume and Gamora can do that better AND she’s got a bitchin’ backstory! We don’t have to settle for the Widow just because she’s been a sidekick in previous movies. We can find a better, more interesting character.

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.


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?