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Guardians of the Galaxy Continues to Close Marvel's Gauntlet Around Avengers 3→ ►

SPOILER ALERT: I’m going to talk about plot points in Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers, and Thor: The Dark World.

Ben Kuchera wrote on Polygon about the complex planning going on at Marvel to tie all of the franchises Disney now owns together in to one larger universe. He starts with the premise that the Marvel stories have centered on MacGuffins that are shared between movies. This isn’t the correct use of the word though because a MacGuffin is something unimportant to the plot, it’s just a goal that could be anything. In Marvel movies, the central plots revolve around the use of these objects, which hardly makes them interchangeable baubles. He’s speaking, of course, about the Infinity Stones — The Tesseract (Captain America: The First Avenger,The Avengers), The Aether (Thor: The Dark World), and The Sphere/Purple Rock (Guardians of the Galaxy).

Ben argues that the success that Marvel has seen has been due, in no small way, to these stones. The movies with the ‘stones’ have centered on them being used to imperil Earth/The Universe, and then brought back in to containment. All the while they hint at the larger significance of these elements for future movies, and future franchises.

I argue that Marvel’s success has had more to do with creating likable characters in movies that blend action and comedy. Every Marvel movie winks at the audience, because the actors, and the characters, know they’re in a fun playground. It’s the people, not the stones, that have driven Marvel’s success. (Also Disney’s marketing department, let’s not forget Disney’s marketing department.)

These powerful elements, now explicitly referred to as the Infinity Stones, are narrative glue that adhere the movies together and allow for characters to crisscross between vastly different creative spaces. Giving all of The Avengers a reason to show up and avenge can’t be completely discounted, but no one would show up to watch the movies if they didn’t like the characters.

Indeed, Thor continues to be the weakest (in terms of earnings) of the franchises Marvel releases, and it has received two installments. It is improving, but placing essential story elements in to a Thor movie, like The Aether, is risky. When The Aether, or it’s stone equivalent, pops up in another movie, will all of the audience have seen Thor: The Dark World? Will they rehash the events of TTDW with exposition? Either way, that’s risky. You risk newcomers tuning out of your movie if they don’t understand the intricacies of these stones, and where they came from, but if you spell things out, over and over, you’re sort of punishing the ardent fans that have graphed all this out with flowcharts at 3 AM.

This division between the most loyal fans, and the casual observers is precisely why comic books are still so niche. People find the amount of narrative, and ‘crossover events’ they are obligated to know to enjoy comics to be such a huge burden that Marvel and DC periodically have to create new ways in to these dense universes — much to the consternation of the ardent fans. As Marvel’s movies become more structurally similar to comic books — one giant crossover event — do they not also risk imperiling the superhero movie genre with the same handicaps that keep people away from being long term, regular comic book readers?

I am not arguing for every movie to be some standalone production with one-off characters. Just that it is perhaps unwise to highlight the mechanical underpinnings that connect these film franchises, at the cost of the storytelling, and characters, within each film of these franchises.

Guardians of the Galaxy is a good, decently enjoyable film in a long franchise of films. There’s fun, offbeat, wonderful things that happen. I ate all that up. There’s great visual effects work, and intricate set pieces crafted by teams of artists. That’s all good stuff. The reason I say ‘fine’ is because of some clunky plot elements — some of which are there purely to tell stories in future movies, and future movies in other franchises.

The Thanos Tease

Thanos is an issue because he’s not the bad guy — yet. He will be, some day, the biggest, baddest antagonist The Avengers will face, and the fate of everything will hang in it’s balance. That is why he gets teased. At the end of The Avengers his servant, The Other, says things went not-well, and Thanos grins. This is utterly meaningless to moviegoers unless they know who Thanos is. The next time we see Thanos is in Guardians of the Galaxy. He gets to talk to Ronan the Accuser (the actual antagonist of the picture) but he doesn’t do anything. When Ronan rebels against Thanos, Thanos does nothing. Of course he won’t, because it’s not his movie. He’s there because he’ll be a larger part of future movies, years from now. This is a very long set up, so hopefully people pay attention, and see all the movies that Thanos will be teased in, so that it will pay off when he finally does something much later.

Now, it can be argued that it is a good thing that they are teasing Thanos early, rather than just having him step out from behind a curtain in Avengers 3 and say, “Ah-ha! I was behind it all!” But it is risky to give the character screen time to do nothing when there’s so much to do with the characters of the film you are watching.

Indeed, Gamora and Nebula are supposed to have a complicated relationship with Thanos. They are his adopted daughters — their parents slaughtered by Thanos. We see none of their backstory, and none of their interaction with their adopted father. Nebula has a scene with Thanos, but she’s fiddling with her mechanical arm. Gamora and Nebula both talk about how they would like to betray Thanos, but there isn’t much weight to these statements because we see nothing to motivate it, we just get exposition. I felt nothing when Gamora is telling Peter about why she betrayed Thanos, but in the same scene, I felt something for Peter and the death of his mother. That’s because of the storytelling in the movie, not because of Infinity Stones being set up for future movies.

At the beginning of Guardians of the Galaxy we see the death of a mother, and the profound effect that has on Peter Quill. Nothing like that for Gamora, or Nebula. The absence of Peter’s father also has a profound effect on him. Indeed, his father is mentioned as setting in motion the events that led to the abduction of Peter and Peter’s complicated stepfather-like relationship with Yondu that developed in the absence of anything else. We see none of those parallels with Gamora or Nebula.

If you’re going to introduce these characters, give them something to do that helps us understand the main characters. As it stands, Thanos is not really a part of the movie, he’s a boogeyman.

It’s a Dark, Dark World

The first inkling I had that the multi-movie-franchise arcs were going to be a problem was during the sequel to Thor. The director of the first movie, Kenneth Brannaugh, did not return because he found it difficult to work with Marvel. Marvel, for their part, exercises a degree of central control that many other directors find it hard to work with. Marvel is very focused on the big arcs, and all the other franchises in motion, while the director of a particular film is focused on their own film, and potentially their own sequel to their own film. Just replacing the director is not really a big deal, just by itself (I wasn’t a huge fan of the Thor), but it does indicate where the priority is on the storytelling — the macro level.

The Dark World starts with what I’d call an “exposition bomb”. There is instant fighting, and it goes on for quite a bit. It features characters we’ve never seen before, and the significance of what we’re seeing is only relayed to us through the words of a dispassionate Odin. It terminates and our heads are spinning with this compressed information that will surely have an impact later.

Much of the movie is spent recapping the events of two other movies. Why Loki is in a cell, why the people of Earth don’t like him, why he can’t be trusted. There is no time spent on why Malekith is the way Malekith is. He’s just there and he’s bad. We spend a great deal recapping Natalie Portman’s super-boring character, and pulling the professor back from his insanity. We spend a lot of time setting up the “rules” of the Aether. Finally, Thor’s a dope and puts everyone at risk and makes a huge mess, and all of reality is screwed (starting with the U.K.). Malekith dies without us feeling anything about the Dark Elves at all — they’re just ponderous dicks.

We get an after credit scene with Asgardians dropping another exposition bomb about how they need to leave The Aether with The Collector, because Odin (Loki as Odin) doesn’t want two Infinity Stones together in Asgard (If he’s Loki, why wouldn’t he want that?)

This was supposed to set up events for Guardians, but The Collector turned out to just be an exposition device in Guardians and The Aether played no part, whatsoever, in the film. That’s a lot of plot in Thor: The Dark World that is about future editions of other Marvel movies which could have been spent on making the movie we watched in to a better one.

For Serial

In the beginning, Marvel licensed it’s characters to try and generate income. Throughout its history, the company has been plagued by financial problems, and mismanagement. This first round of licensing was a mixed bag. It gave people the X-Men franchise they liked, and the first few Spider-Man movies, but it also had huge failures, like Daredevil, and two, different Hulk movies. Their properties were strewn to the four corners of Hollywood. Disney saw value in tying them all together.

The movies Marvel is telling are very much like large comic book crossovers. That has benefits of tying together the plots of disparate creative spaces, but it can also be its undoing. Even comic book fans get sick of “events”. As long as Marvel makes enjoyable movies, with fun, zany characters, they might not have to worry about the burden they are manufacturing for themselves. If they loose sight of this comedy and action pairing, they could have one bad movie that drags down the rest of these franchises. That is, of course, the reason for their heavy, central control. It has also influenced all of the other studios.

Sony Pictures holds all of Spider-Man, and Spider-Man’s villains. They want to have the financial success that Disney has enjoyed. That is why they announced movies entirely made out of Spider-Man villains — The Sinister Six, and Venom movies. They even set up as many villains as they could in Amazing Spider-Man 2. They have since announced Amazing Spider-Man 3 will be delayed until 2018. Number two made a lot of money, enough that Sony Picture’s parent, Sony, turned a profit for the quarter. However, it was the smallest amount of money generated by any of the Spider-Man movies to date. It is very likely that the franchise will see another reboot. Sony had, after all, delayed Spider-Man 4 with Raimi still attached to the project until they could announce Amazing Spider-Man. The technicalities of their licensing arrangement with Marvel insure that the property is being developed, or it reverts back to Disney’s control — something that many people, including Ben Kuchera, call to happen.

Fox is seeing success with its X-Men license. This is why you will not see a single mutant in any of the Disney films, Fox owns them all, not just the X-Men, and they’re looking to make more movies with mutants to capitalize on the kind of multi franchise success Disney has seen. They have also been keeping a Fantastic Four movie under development for quite a while, it’s slated to be a reboot. The odds are high they will tie their X-Men franchises in with their Fantastic Four franchises.

DC, Warner Bros., has never had any central control structure like Marvel’s, but they own all of the DC properties, not just some. The upcoming Superman vs. Batman movie will be the first time they put these characters together. It will have very large ramifications for them. They have been unable to organize any kind of a movie around any of their other characters — save for the bomb, Green Lantern. They have repeatedly courted creators about a Justice League movie — including Joss Whedon before he gave up and made Marvel’s The Avengers.

Good Comic Book Movie is not the same as Great Movie

The reception for these comic book movies has been off the charts. They are crowd pleasers — when they work. When they don’t work, they are $200 Million holes in the ground. When I say that I have nits to pick about Guardians it is not because I hate it, or that I dislike it. It’s because I want the individual films to have strength, and confidence in being themselves, comfortable in their own right, as a priority over satisfying the larger demands of setting up future movies. I am not some joyless monster.

[Dancing Groot]

2014-08-04 09:17:54

Category: text


Joe Watches Firefly

A few weeks ago, I joked that Firefly was not for me. I don’t even recall the context — something about horses in space. There’s no real malice, the show just didn’t click with me when it first aired. (I did troll Casey Liss once… or fifteen times…)

I was a fan of Buffy, and I was a huge fan of Star Trek, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica (original version, the remake wasn’t out yet), Babylon 5, Farscape, and even Stargate SG-1. The guy that made Buffy making a space show?! Great, sign me up!

Unfortunately, I don’t like the American Old West genre, and it was very clear in the first few episodes that it was going to be more horses than space ships. This is not something unique to Firefly, a lot of science-fiction shows have one-off episodes with Western flair. I happen to not like those either.

I ignored the rest of it’s short run. However, I reconsidered my position when I saw how much the fans of the show loved it. Maybe I should have stuck with it? After all, most of the other sci-fi stuff I’ve seen usually had a weak first season (sometimes two, or three seasons). How do you even recommend the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation to people that never saw it? Do you even tell them to start at the beginning?

Unfortunately, I wasn’t about to buy a DVD set for something I might not like. I thought I’d let the movie Serenity make up my mind back in 2005. Surely, that movie would be great, right? No inept execs from Fox mucking things up, a big budget, a very specific window of time to tell the story — surely all that must be a great experience. I even liked their use of Kasabian in the trailer for Serenity.

The movie didn’t do it for me — for different reasons than the episodes I had watched. This left me unconvinced to spring for the DVD set of the show.

Flash forward to my jokes about Firefly in the present day, and I was confronted with a lot of people that not only love the show, but don’t want to hear any criticism of it — particularly from someone that won’t put the effort in to watch it. It’s on Netflix these days, so I watched it all. (Turns out they also don’t want to hear your criticism of it when you watch it either.)

This ginormous blog post is not for people that can’t stand to hear any criticism of Firefly. I do say positive things, and this isn’t just a giant troll (I would never put this much time in to a troll), but this still may not be what you’d like to hear from me.

The show was written by some of the best writers in modern film and television, and by one of the most acclaimed showrunners and moviemakers alive. It has a lot of merits because of that, and it deserves the love it gets from people that can see past the things that I can not. All I can do is explain what does, and does not, appeal to me as a viewer.

Firefly (TV Show)

Theme Song

☆☆☆☆☆

I do not like country music, or westerns — therefore I do not like these credits. I can see how someone might feel very strongly about the message of the lyrics in the opening, but it does nothing for me. I honestly put it up there with “Faith of the Heart” from the opening credits for Star Trek: Enterprise.

I know, I have no soul, or whatever.

Serenity (Original Pilot)

★★☆☆☆

This is messy because it’s trying to establish a lot of properties of the universe. It is basically the length of a feature film though so it should be able to establish those principles and tell a good story. The casting is very good, but many things feel contrived. The idea of language changing is nice, but doing so much with language in the first episode is very distracting when you’re trying to pay attention to who these characters are. The wild west qualities are also overwhelming and stick out as very strange when they’re paired with the high-tech stuff. Foot soldiers with WWII-style helmets fighting with guns while green-flamed space fighters whizz overhead is more problematic than it is interesting. Why would that make any sense? This was also a weakness in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine when they attempted to show ground battles being waged during the Dominion War, but some were better than others. Attempting to graft very old war elements visually on to far-future elements is clunky. We do not know who these people are, or what is going on, so it’s a lot of camera motion for naught. Later episodes do a much better job at capturing why we should feel something about this war.

The world-building of the Alliance and Reaver elements feels so completely out of place with the rest of the tone of the episode. The Alliance’s space-skyscrapers, staffed by train-conductors, are just odd. They seem to make no logical sense. The reavers, aren’t effective bad guys because they’re boogeymen that don’t turn out to be all that scary in the episode. The chase is interesting, but the Reavers are a faceless (heh) enemy here.

The horses — why? There’s a lot going on and no one is particularly likable here. There are solid ideas but not much character. A lot of pilots are like this though. After all, it’s about selling the idea of the show to executives, and demonstrating there are enough ideas to mine for future episodes. There surely are. At least there weren’t space jellyfish, wormhole aliens, or a Temporal Cold War. It was also a good thing no one cast Eliza Dushku to show off her acting range.

The Train Job

★★☆☆☆

This episode is more coherent, which is ironic since Wikipedia says Tim Minear and Joss Whedon wrote it as a replacement pilot at the request of Fox. There are problems with the pacing, and with the cheese-ball quality of the bad guys. “Look at me, I’m scary Russian-accented guy. I carve up my nephew-in-law. So evil!” Which is even more ludicrous when we see that the henchman has a whole crew of guys. Why couldn’t they just steal it themselves? This is the first in a long line of cartoonish bad guys. There are funny moments, and some tension, but it drags a lot when we’re getting to know the town sheriff. We need to get to know him because we have to agree with Mal to leave the medical supplies, but we never see this sheriff, or this town, again so it’s kind of a waste. We do clearly set up that Mal is a shoots-first Han Solo, and not Captain Picard.

Bushwhacked

★★★★☆

Standard spooky ship stuff. It’s well directed, and it’s nice because it’s actually in space. What a crazy notion, right? A show about space that takes place in space? Crazy! I liked it well enough but the introduction of the Alliance ship brought the whole episode to a screeching halt and it was totally unnecessary and slowed down everything. The episode would have been better had they discarded that element and made it just about the crew and the survivor.

Shindig

★★★☆☆

This episode is supposed to be about Inara and Mal, but it’s really about Kaylee and her magnificent dress. She is a wonderful country-mouse, and the expression on her face when she enters that ballroom will win over any one. There is absolutely nothing bad that anyone can ever say about Kaylee, she is great. The party is suitably ludicrous, as is our foe this week, Atherton. He is a cartoon Disney villain.

No one’s been like [Atherton]
A king pin like [Atherton]
No one’s got a swell cleft in his chin like [Atherton]
As a specimen, yes I’m intimidating!
My what a guy, that [Atherton]

Safe

★☆☆☆☆

This episode sets us down on another planet that looks suspiciously like Southern California, and a spare western town. The scene with Kaylee and Inara in the General Store is nice and a perfect set up for Simon to be a total jerk to Kaylee. He looks down on everyone like some kind of snob. He shouldn’t look down on things people love! (cough) Back to the review…

The exposition about Simon and River’s abduction is something that seems peculiar. The people in the normal town tolerate a town that kidnaps people? Uh… OK? The whole thing about burning her as a witch is suitably cliche, but it does establish that she can read minds.

Our Mrs. Reynolds

★★★★☆

Christina Hendricks is absolutely fantastic here. She knocks it out of the park in every way. Her character turning on them is predictable, but the way it unfolds is engrossing. (You can mostly win me over on execution alone.) The scene where she’s putting the moves on Wash is hilarious because the cat’s already out of the bag about her intentions. The scene with her and Inara on the catwalk is a riot as well. The real cherry on top of it is when Inara goes to check on Mal and kisses him, dropping out cold. Love this one.

Jaynestown

★☆☆☆☆

This one is a big, muddy mess. It starts off with smalltalk that contradicts what happened in the previous episode. Many scenes in the episode are written to be comedic, but they wind up being goofy. There are some fun exchanges, like when Simon asks for a menu, but overall it’s contrived and heavy-handed. This is pretty unsurprising because it’s written by Ben Edlund, most famous for The Tick. Ordinarily, I love what he does, but this episode did not click for me. I fault the silly bad guys.

Out of Gas

★★★★★

This is HANDS DOWN the best episode of Firefly and better than the movie. It is a tremendously good episode for any science fiction television show and I’d put it up there with the best episodes of any other series. I would wager that it’s possible for someone to watch this episode in total isolation from the rest of the series and love the show. It is very different from the episodes before or after it, in terms of tone, writing, directing, editing. I am puzzled about why it’s such an anomaly in the series.

Tim Minear wrote it, and while he’s written and produced much of Firefly this is the first time they’ve split up an episode in time like this. Other episodes have singular flashbacks that don’t weave in like this. The episode is also directed by David Solomon, the only time he directs an episode of the series, which may explain some of its uniqueness.

Ariel

★★★★☆

More like Ariel Eleven, am I right? It’s a heist in the style of Ocean’s Eleven, instead of a train heist, like the appropriately named The Train Job. There was nice little twist (not that Jayne gave them up to the police, but that they didn’t assume he was guilty of doing it). The Hands of Blue guys finally do something and it’s creepy, and neat (but it doesn’t really make a lot of sense to kill people like that. What if River was nearby?) Even though this episode goes back to kind of format that the episodes before Out of Gas used, it is much stronger than those prior episodes. The character work here is great and really speaks to the talents of the writers and the actors. Especially the scene at the end of the episode.

War Stories

★★★☆☆

Ugh. The Russian guy from The Train Job is torturing someone, again. The crew did not seem to appropriately plan for being in orbit around the station that houses someone that’s sworn to torture them to death. If I block him out, the episode is good because it shows the crew working through some personal issues. The torture scenes could have been tedious, but it was helped out with heavy doses of Mal and Wash arguing. The rescue is daring, but it really made me question how the Russian guy is so feared. His guys were pushovers. We do see the unsettling first glimpse of River’s combat abilities. Although, I had already seen Serenity so it was not as big of a surprise for me as it was for Kaylee.

Trash

★★★★☆

Saffron returns and it’s very funny. I still don’t see how any of the crew would agree to work with her again, but they do because otherwise we wouldn’t have another cool Saffron episode where she betrays Mal. To be clear, it is evident from the first time we see her that she will betray him again, no one would debate that. The twist with Inara was nice though. I could watch Inara and Saffron say catty things to each other for 44 minutes.

The Message

★★★☆☆

Another Tim Minear episode. The Sentinel is in it! Unfortunately, The War is also in it. Again, we are treated to a ground assault that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. What the episode really does right is sell us on the idea of this man that’s too damaged by war to find a way in the world. A man that schemes and blames others when things go badly. While Tracey was Mal and Zoe’s charge, they ultimately are the two people that fatally wound him. First Zoe shoots him, then Mal. According to Wikipedia this was the last episode filmed, and everyone knew the show was canceled by this point, which adds another layer to the funeral.

Heart of Gold

★★☆☆☆

We’re back to planet Southern California, only this time, they covered a house in tin foil — I mean REYNOLDS Wrap. Get it? Because Mal Rey— nevermind. The interior of the house is also wallpapered with newspapers. You know, old-timey space-newspapers. None of the production design in this episode makes any sense to me. The people making the show even felt compelled to include a line about the foil being for solar use, which should be a huge red-flag that maybe covering the house in foil is more distracting than not covering it in foil.

The bad guy is rich enough to buy fancy, illegal sidearms but not rich enough to pay for a surrogate to have a baby. The bad guy is also a horrible, horrible cartoon character. It’s really disappointing, after all the work they did in the last few episodes that they went back to the goofy villain. A guy that has a bunch of people indiscriminately fire weapons in to a house where his “heir” is in. How’s that for strategy! We are also treated to more of the “blaster” sound effects for some of the guns.

I do love this exchange though:

Kaylee: Wash, tell me I’m pretty.
Wash: Were I unwed, I’d take you in a manly fashion.
Kayless: Because I’m pretty?
Wash: Because you’re pretty.

There is still real heart and emotion in his episode with the relationship with Inara, and Mal. Neither of them tells the other how they feel and Mal sleeps with Inara’s friend. Inara announces that she’s leaving and it’s really gut wrenching stuff. It’s too bad about all the goofy shit with Crazy Baby Theif!

Objects in Space

★★★★☆

Another unique episode, and it starts off from the perspective of River. For the first time the audience can see an inkling of what she’s thinking. It’s clear from the very first episode that she is able to see, and react, to things that she should not be able to.

Wash: Psychic. That sounds like something out of science fiction.
Zoe: We live on a space ship, dear.

The bounty hunter is a very, very strange lion. He certainly had some peculiar quirks, but he wasn’t nearly as goofy as Crazy Baby Thief. It was a very odd note to end the series on, of course, because they weren’t planning on ending the series there. They showed the photo on his ship at the start of the episode, so you knew it would come in to play in the third act. When Simon went searching they lingered on the space suit locker so it was obvious she was in a space suit. It is a pity that the episode was cancelled at this point. While the episode is good, and includes a kooky villain, it doesn’t tie up anything.

The Whole TV Run

★★★☆☆

After watching the series run, I can only conclude that the show could have continued to improve with a second season, and adequate marketing from Fox. However, even in the episodes that I like, there’s a streak of ridiculous stuff. Let’s be clear that when I say “goofy” I don’t mean “funny ha-ha” I mean that it’s embellishment that distracts you from the story and kicks you out of the episode for a second. Like when I wrote about Star Trek: Voyager and I said that Janeway’s foes tended to have ridiculous flaws, like the Kazon having fleets of starships but no water. That’s kind of what a lot of the situations felt like, they’d sort of throw the logic of “we have a spaceship” out the window.

Serenity (The Motion Picture)

★★☆☆☆

The opening sequence has the kind of budget that finally makes The Verse feel like a grand space. The escape sequence is interesting, since we never saw that escape in the show. Unfortunately, we have a cartoon villain with a pseudo-samurai complex. Joss loves killing and threatening henchmen to show how villainous and singleminded the antagonist is.

The camera work in Serenity’s interior is indulgent, to say the least. A long shot like this really shouldn’t call attention to itself in this way.

When I saw this movie, I thought the Old West elements were too ham fisted, but after watching the TV series, and watching the movie again, the movie shows a level of finesse and reserve in comparison to the TV show. Fortunately, there are no foil-covered houses.

The introduction of the Reavers really does them justice. They could never have done anything close to this on the TV show’s budget. The only time we saw reaver activity was the pilot episode, and Bushwhacked. This leaves a lot of room for the movie, particularly since no reaver was seen on camera before the movie, only their ships, or the aftermath of an attack.

The chase in the mule has a few technical problems where the camera crosses the line of action, and where the Reaver ship criss crosses as well. They are suitably established as a menace in the film, with a firmer footing than The Operative.

The scene where River beats up the entire bar when she gets the coded signal in the advertisement baffled me when I first saw it and it still baffles me. If They’ve been running around in space for eight months, why did the Alliance wait to use this? Why is she in a bar without Simon and with Mal there? Why is there a safe word now, one he could have used on at least two other occasions?

Mr. Universe is goofy. I had always assumed he was in the show before the movie, but that’s not the case. Needless to say the hacker work he does has all the hallmarks of every other Hollywood hacker scene. Translating the animation in to layers and turning it in to Matrix code is the visual cliche to go along with the dialog.

There is a touching scene between Simon and River and it’s a welcome break, and a reminder that there’s good writing, acting, and directing in here. I really want to highlight this as being very, very good.

The exposition delivered by Shepard Book is clumsy. It is a shame. Again, The Operative stuff is ponderous. Having seen the series, I can only wonder why the two men with blue gloves aren’t in the movie at all. Why go to all this trouble to introduce this guy when there was already a set of Alliance agents? I guess they would have been worse at hand-to-hand combat, what with those latex gloves and all.

Whedon Bad Guy Formula:

  1. Show they are nuts by having them kill someone on their side, preferably after a long speech.
  2. Introduce a novel way to kill them, with some telltale signs.
  3. Use some of those telltale signs as a cue to the audience to build up to peril for the heroes, like the pattern of a Boss in a video game.

Summer Glau does an absolutely brilliant job in this movie. Every twitch of her face, every glance, and incline of her head.

One weird thing with the Miranda briefing is that they talk about “Reaver Territory” but in the show there was no such thing. They were a “myth” on the show. However, in the movie, they do go out of their way to make them a concrete force in The Verse.

I’m sort of baffled about why they killed Shepard Book. The Operative also somehow crossfades in over all the feeds that Mal is looking at when he’s getting footage of each of his murdered contacts. The Operative continues to be a loopy weirdo, and they have a contrived conversation, again. This does drive Mal to a really dark place though, a place he never went to in the TV show. Not even when he was being tortured by Crazy Russian Guy.

The clustering of Reaver ships doesn’t make any real sense, only dramatic sense. This is space, guys, come on.

The bleached-out processing and the jump cuts add a sense of unease to all the Miranda scenes. The exposition delivered by the hologram is your standard “The Experiment Went Wrong” stuff though. Labs experimenting on people sure do love to leave these kinds of recordings lying around in Hollywood movies.

Strange observation: Not a single one of the Alliance ships is the same as the ones from the TV series. We’ve also never seen an accumulation of Allaince vessels like this before. The dogfighting makes very little practical sense. I criticized the show for not having enough outer space stuff, but because they’ve never had anything close to this, it feels out of place. It’s also 4 minutes of absolute chaos. If this all came down to a horse shootout it would have been more apt (though I would not have found that very exciting). The sprinkling of “I’m a leaf on the wind. Watch how I soar.” Is great through it.

Unfortunately, they kill Wash. This is surely the craziest, dumbest death I’ve seen in a science fiction movie. There was no bold sacrifice, nor was there a heroic stance, he just gets smote by the writer’s pen. Before anyone can process his death, we are propelled in to the final gunfight. Sure, “war is hell” and all that, but this is a strange time to get gritty and real about death. I don’t think it has the effect on the audience that Whedon may have been hoping for.

When Mal enters the room to send the transmission all I could think of was the scene from 1997’s Galaxy Quest which parodied the nonsensical, deadly innards of starships. There are counter-spinning thingies, chains looped, and dangling — It’s all just too much. Having him fight the bad guy would have been enough without the goofball deathtrap.

Gwen DeMarco: What is this thing? I mean, it serves no useful purpose for there to be a bunch of chompy, crushy things in the middle of a hallway. No, I mean we shouldn’t have to do this, it makes no logical sense, why is it here? Jason Nesmith: ‘Cause it’s on the television show. Gwen DeMarco: Well forget it! I’m not doing it! This episode was badly written!

We cut back to the loosing battle at the bottleneck and things are going badly, but it’s not ridiculous. Too bad they ruin it with “The door could be closed from the outside.” — How would that help? Wouldn’t they just be able to open the door? Requiring the med kit, made more sense.

Good news everyone, The Operative changes his mind because of the recording from Miranda, which seems totally out of character for him, because he’s a sociopath. He’s been threatening and killing all manner of people without batting an eyelash up until this point. He lets them all go and they make a holographic memorial to the people that needlessly died. They somehow got Serenity off the planet and repaired — Because, of course, the Alliance was all “My Bad, Bros. Let’s help!” Does the Alliance lack actuaries? It’s confounding to take away Wash and Book, but still go for the sappy ending where the ship is all fixed up (except for that one panel). I should not be angry at a happy ending. That doesn’t really seem right to me.

2014-07-31 16:29:19

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Et Tu, Ed?

In a post on Pando Daily, Mark Ames pulled up evidence and testimony concerning a gentleman’s agreement to keep wages down in visual effects and animation industry. What is absolutely crazy to me is that it concerns my former employer resisting Ed Catmull. This completely blew my mind when I read it. Mark Ames makes some pretty ridiculous characterizations in his writing, but the court documents speak for themselves.

Pando Daily has a lot of problems. A whole lot of problems. I generally ignore their reporting because they can do some really sloppy hatchet jobs. However, I can’t ignore Ed Catmull’s own words.

Up until I read this, I held Ed Catmull in the highest regard. He brilliantly contributed to the science of computer graphics, and animation, and worked for a ground-breaking computer animation company. In Ed Catmull’s recently released book, Creativity Inc., he goes out of his way to talk about how important it is to analyze failures and to not be too comfortable with success. These anticompetitive business practices do not come up. What a shame.

Their first article in this series by Mark Ames contains other truly unexpected testimony.

2014-07-10 14:47:18

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Bionic

Yesterday, the Bionic podcast, with Matt Alexander and Myke Hurley, ended. It was one of my favorite podcasts. I started listening to it when it was over on Myke’s 70 Decibels podcast network. I followed through the 5by5 transition, and onward. Every week, Matt and Myke would discuss some tech announcements — usually things unrelated to Apple — and go over how they might impact the market. Matt was very pro-disruption, and Myke was very cautiously optimistic. What made it unique, at that time, was the banter between them. Little in-jokes, and innuendos filled in the gaps around what they were talking about. Myke was vigilant to keep the show from going off the rails, always pulling Matt back from excess, until one day…

Episode 51, United Queendom, was when the show pivoted. Myke let the train jump the tracks, and it just kept going. Instead of a technology show with flourishes of personality, it was all personality. Pop culture, and mock technology coverage threaded through with in-jokes becoming stronger, and more thought-out. It was two British guys, on the phone, just using their imagination to build a baffling little world.

I loved the change of pace for the show. I was not sure how long it would last — if they’d just decide it wasn’t working and veer back towards sanity, but after a couple months, I was reasonably certain that wasn’t happening. Around this time, I had started the silly iTunes reviews. I wrote something based on their weeks of insanity — their world building — and I put out the review on the iTunes store. Their Volcano lair, fire wall, all the details were lifted from their episodes. Apparently, Matt noticed it and decided to do a reading with Myke in Episode 64, Confidential at Best, at 30 minutes in. I was a little worried I wasn’t as funny as I thought I was, but they apparently liked it. They even asked for a full movie screenplay for Confidential at Best, which I scribbled out, and have since hidden away from humanity because it is so bad. So. Bad.

From time to time, Matt or Myke would mention that a podcast episode was going off script from what I had written — as if I was writing any of their brilliant insanity — and I must say it was flattering. I didn’t write the stuff for the attention from them, but I did write it to hopefully entertain them, as some kind of modest reciprocation for their own entertainment they were providing me.

I was not alone in wanting to return a little something back to them, some fan art for them to stick to their refrigerators. It is probably a sign of mental illness that so many people would just make things out of sheer love of the show. But it’s a marvelous mental illness. I count many of them as internet-friends on Twitter. It helped take my mind off of things to scribble-out some ridiculous, creative nonsense.

From Matt Alexander’s farewell post:

Personally, whilst going through periods of intense self-doubt and worry regarding Need and the future, Bionic represented a moment — albeit brief — of respite, ridiculousness, and disconnection from reality. I know it was emblematic of something similar for Myke, too.

Fortunately, I was able to listen to the entire live broadcast of the last episode yesterday. I was shocked when Myke plugged Defocused as a place for Bionic fans to go, and even more shocked when he said it was one of his favorite podcasts he listens to right now. Myke was correct to disclaim his recommendation by acknowledging that Dan and I had only 3 episodes (4 now), and that we could go “bat poop crazy”.

I’m glad I could listen while everything was closed up, and packed away. I am so sorry to see it go. It’s like a TV series ending. There are some you wish could go on forever, and some you wish had ended long ago. It is for the best they are in the former camp, instead of the latter, but that doesn’t mean I will miss their weekly lunacy any less.

My Super-Favorite Episodes (in no sane order):

2014-07-09 12:13:19

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Incomparable 200

If you don’t follow The Incomparable podcast, then please don’t start with episode 200. If you do follow The Incomparable podcast, then block out 3 hours and 45 minutes of your life for the epic podcast.

I really love the podcast, in general. It’s fans talking about things that they are, and sometimes are not, fans of. There’s a wide variety of topics, and they’ve even started some specialized spin-offs.

Spoiler Horn:

I wrote in to them with a question that was read on air once. They said my name was not real. I also wrote a somewhat insane, and unhelpful, iTunes review of their podcast from the point of view of an alternate universe version of the panel reviewing this universe. I did not win that iTunes review contest, but it was worth it. I also wrote a silly version of “The Fog” for them when Jason Snell put out a challenge for silly fan fic. I do also make a brief appearance in the 200th episode, because they had a contest for fans to pick their favorite episodes of the podcast. David Loehr, a panelist, and a very sharp guy that writes their audio dramas, also gives me a little shout out at the end of episode 200 too.

That should give you some idea of how much I like the podcast. It should also tell you how I should be committed for psychiatric evaluation.

It’s just nerdy, nerdy, nerd stuff all the way down.

2014-06-30 22:42:43

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Anti Pro Apple

Peter Cohen, writing for iMore, via Stephen Hackett:

It had become clear years ago that despite early promises to pro photographers, Apple just wasn’t that invested in keeping Aperture competitive.

So I started grinding my teeth when I read Apple’s reassurance to Dalrymple that development on other pro apps like their video and audio editing tools continues unchanged. My first thought is that it’s true for as long as it’s expedient for Apple to do so. At one time Apple made similar promises to professional photographers.

Like I said in my previous post, Apple’s software is, regrettably, not reliable. I cheekily included a link to Shake in that post.

Shake was a digital compositing program that was the dominant player for years. Apple acquired the company that made it in 2002, and they started selling an OS X version of the software. It went from an industry leading application to a discontinued product in only a few, short years.

Apple press release from March 1, 2004 where Steve Jobs talks about how he’s proud of Shake:

“We’re thrilled that for seven years in a row, movies created with Shake have won the Oscar for best visual effects,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “Shake is helping Hollywood film editors communicate their vision and deliver their art at an Academy Award winning level. We couldn’t be happier.”

The fact that Steve thought film editors were doing the visual effects is not a great sign. It also explains why users going to the Shake product page now get redirected to Final Cut Pro.

How can a professional $InsertName rely on any statement from Apple about their commitment to any product for professional $InsertName’s? They are capricious gods.

2014-06-27 14:56:24

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Aperture is No More, it has Ceased to be

Apple formally announced that it is discontinuing development of Aperture this morning. Jim Dalrymple had the scoop. It should be immediately obvious to anyone that’s ever used Aperture already discontinued development long ago.

Some quippy tweets:

@5tu: The only surprise here is that they bothered to tell anyone.

RT @theloop: Apple stops development of Aperture - http://t.co/iGFGh0qP5c

@bensyverson: @5tu @theloop “Apple announced today that they recently stopped development of Aperture, in late 2009.”

Aperture was dead already. It has ceased to be.

The last version released with anything other than bug fixes was 3.4.2 in November of 2012. That version tweaked Photo Streams. The last truly major release was 3.3 in June of 2012, which overhauled where photos were stored so iPhoto and Aperture had a unified location, and added an “Auto Enhance” button. That really doesn’t sound all that major, I know. Almost all the updates to Aperture have been stability improvements, and patching in ways for Aperture to work with more current, Apple products.

The big-big release was 3.0, which came out in February of 2010, and broke nearly everything. It was a complete mess, and was remedied by 3.1 released later that same year. 2010.

Promises Promises

The problem with investing in any Apple software is that they routinely neglect things, kill products, or scrap the whole codebase and just release something named after a previous product. Say what you will about Adobe, and Microsoft building empires on top of incrementally updated software, but there’s a reason businesses can rely on them. Will the product exist in 3 years? Will the product be able to import and export files from previous versions? Will there be feature regressions?

Notice that the people snarking about the death of Aperture and tout Adobe’s Lightroom 5, and for good reason. Lightroom was a response to Aperture. Apple basically shamed Adobe in to making a product. However, Lightroom quickly outpaced Aperture. I’m sure there are some photographers out there that are running things in Aperture 3, but I can’t imagine there are very many of them. While I loath Creative Cloud, you can still buy Lightroom 5 as standalone software, so its a superior choice.

Will the Photos app (horrible, generic name that will cause all kinds of problems when people search for help or instructions) really offer a complete set of tools to not only replace Aperture, but make up for all the years of neglect? I highly doubt it. That doubt comes from their track record in this area. It’s not clear if it will cost anything at all, or just be part of Yosemite next year. I’ve said this about the WWDC announcement before, but it is very suspicious that the Photos app is this far behind the OS release, unless it was something they decided they needed to do very recently. Perhaps some middle manager said, “Hey guys, maybe iPhoto and Aperture aren’t going to cut it any more?” We’ll never know.

It’s Good to be Unreliable Apple, Real Good

Every time that Apple seriously changes an application, users complain. Then people that don’t use the software say that it is a good thing they did it. That FCP X was fine, even though Apple went back and added things back in, so obviously it was not fine. Same for iWork. You guys know we’re not in Peaksville, Ohio, right? You did a real good thing Apple, wishing Aperture in to the cornfield like that! Real good! And Final Cut Pro X was fine when it was released! It sure was! Everything about iCloud is real good too! Even when it duplicated a bunch of my contacts and files. It’ll be real good when my photos are stored there. Real good!

I am Lazy

I paid for Aperture 2 back when Lightroom and Aperture were both very comparable choices. I bought Aperture 3 as an upgrade that was delivered to me by mail as a disc. I went through the whole conversion to a Mac App Store purchase, instead of a copy authorized by a serial number. I wanted to get a real update. Even if they released Aperture 4 as a whole separate app to pay for, I would have paid, because I just don’t like to move my stuff! The only way I would consider skipping a future version of Aperture would have been if they did what they did to Final Cut, or iMovie, and released some BS-ified version, Aperture X. Even then, I might have just stuck with it because I am that lazy.

I suppose I should thank Apple for forcing me off of autopilot? Thanks?

2014-06-27 12:19:23

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Defocused Podcast

Dan Sturm and I released episode two of our podcast, so I should probably mention that I’ve been participating in making a podcast. I’ve posted on here many times about how much I like podcasts. On Twitter, I had found a little group where we were all making our little podcast jokes, and “is this the show?” stuff. We had some test Skype sessions where we tried to make things work with timing, and with tone. Planning, and not planning, and planning just a little …

Last week, Dan and I decided we just ought to release something that we deemed was decent. We didn’t even name the podcast until after we recorded it. What we released was definitely just a Skype call between two nerds. That’s not the kind of thing that appeals to everyone.

If a very casual podcast appeals to you, and you don’t mind two white guys talking about movies that one, or both, of them haven’t watched, then give it a shot. I think our second episode, Tweets in the Nodegraph is better than the first one, and it’s also self contained, so you don’t miss anything if you go right to it. In fact, if you plot this on a curve, we’ll probably do even better by episode 10, so try to hold out until then.

The feedback has been more positive, and more generous, than I had expected. My good friend, Jason Ziglar even wrote an iTunes review for it.

2014-06-25 12:22:00

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Temporal Quantum Neurolytic Holography

There was a huge explosion of discussion in my twitter timeline about a very controversial topic. It shows no sign of slowing down. I am, of course, referring to Brianna Wu and Sid O’Neill claiming that Star Trek: Voyager was the best Star Trek series.

I am, of course, only jokingly disparaging their selection. It doesn’t make a lick of difference. Assuming it was something that actually mattered, here’s my critique of Voyager:

Consistently Inconsistent

The one thing you could always rely on was that whatever rules of the universe were asserted, they would always be ignored, sometimes within the same episodes. Things like technical details of how the ‘science’ worked were not upheld for any solid duration of time. Every Star Trek series is guilty of some of this hand-waviness, but none more so than Voyager because they made the characters guilty of the same flip-flopping flaws.

In an episode called Nightingale Janeway lectures Ensign Harry Kim about The Prime Directive, and how they shouldn’t really get involved with the matters of these alien races. Her argument would be far more convincing if she had not spent the last 6 years doing that. Janeway and Kim even argue back and forth about the number of times she’s contradicted this before she agrees that he should go on this mission. It’s a peculiar choice. (Also, it’s not a very good episode, and they reused a lot of ships, which is lame.)

One of the big things at the start of the show was supposed to be the challenge of the Maquis and Starfleet crew getting along, but that just sort of fizzled out to the point where they only occasionally mentioned it when they phoned home to Starfleet.

Another big problem is the lack of scarcity. At the start of the show, they were supposed to have a limited number of resources, a limited number of shuttles and torpedoes. They even need to limit replicator use by employing Neelix as a cook and collecting food from planets. Which… doesn’t make a lot of sense really? And they just kind of seem to use the replicators anyway? And not only do they lose more shuttles than they had when they started, but they also build two specialized vessels, the Delta Flyer (kaboom), and the Delta Flyer II.

The Next Generation would lose shuttles all the time, but they weren’t all by themselves. There were even two Defiant ships on Deep Space Nine, which was part of a very dramatic arc. With DS9, you got the sense that resources meant something when they were in the thick of the Dominion War. Voyager just kind of shrugs this off. Both Delta Flyer’s look slick, even though they are ostensibly cobbled together. I suppose the writers felt it was too restricting to actually make them a rag-tag group of loners? That’s a shame, because another science fiction show pulled off the “all alone scarcity” stuff pretty well (Stargate Universe wasn’t that bad, people.)

The fact that they never really seemed to commit to any of these things made it seem a little silly whenever peril popped up.

The Little Ship That Could

Since any challenge could be overcome, or reset, by the end of the episode, then any obstacle they came across was a pushover. The Borg were a real threat on TNG and in the movie, Star Trek: First Contact.

Voyager fixed all that! By the end of the series, The Borg were completely defanged. Anything scary, completely washed away in a shockwave of exploding Borg Cubes. Even an episode that saw crew members assimilated had no lasting impact, unlike it did for Captain Picard after The Best of Both Worlds.

Even the “bad guys” that Voyager brought to the table were pretty ridiculous. The first ones we meet, the Kazon Nistrim, are an alien race that can’t replicate food, or water, but have ships with warp drives. They use these ships to settle dessert worlds that have no food or water… So…

One thing the Kazon had going for them was Seska. She was a crew member of Voyager, a former Maquis, that looked Bajoran, but was really a Cardassian agent. Got all that? Well she was actually somewhat effective, because she was cunning, and kind of crazy. Unfortunately, they killed her off, a decision that the writers obviously regretted because they brought her back as a hologram, and as a fake temporal thing.

There were also the Vidiians, and they stole skin, and organs, from other races to replace their decaying, infected tissues. That sounds creepy! Unfortunately, they suck, and weren’t seen very often.

The Hirogen, introduced much later, are a race that used to have an expansive empire, but now are resigned to just hunt other races like The Predator. That could be a threat, on paper. Again, the writers did something to undermine that when they decided to have the Hirogen capture Voyager and turn it in to two big holodecks so they could brainwash the crew in to posing as prey for them. This was super dumb and made the Hirogen look like the biggest idiots out of all of them.

The saddest one was Species 8472. They were introduced in the Voyager episode Scorpion. They were supposed to be an extremely challenging foe for the crew to deal with. So much so that Janeway allied herself with The Borg. This brought on the character Seven of Nine, and was a big change in the show. A lot of stuff really happened here. Then they botched it all with an episode about Species 8472 building a big holodeck in space designed to look like Starfleet Headquarters in San Francisco because then they’d… something… something… doesn’t matter.

At no point in the series did anything ever get the better of Voyager’s crew, or showed that they were in any real, lethal peril. It is fitting that so many plots centered on holographic deceit, because the danger was never real.

One two-part season cliffhanger that showed a lot of promise was Equinox. Finding another Federation ship that had been wandering along on a slightly different route from Voyager presented a lot of really interesting things that could be explored. Arguably, the Equinox, and her crew, went through a process that was more like what I had expected from Voyager, and her crew. Instead of the light-n-fluffy stuff. They resolved the episode in a good way and Voyager brought on some of the crew. Only, just like every other time crew was brought on board, they were integrated in to ship life in a way that made them completely disappear (unlike Icheb and Seven). We saw what deep and lasting effects the Delta Quadrant had had on Equinox’s crew, and it’s all thrown away.

Arguably, the biggest challenge they ever faced was from Annorax. He had devised a method to obliterate things from the timeline. To try and reshape the place the Krenim held in the galaxy. Something that had a debilitating effect on Voyager and its crew. At least they gave this a two-episode arc before they hit reset on it and washed away all the damage.

Indeed, any time travel elements on Voyager were just plain bizarre, but they’re usually bizarre on Star Trek. Future’s End starts with a time-ship from the 29th century popping up and firing on Voyager, and they fire back, and suddenly everyone’s back in time, for reasons. Then, at the end of the two episode arc, they destroy the time ship and an alternate time ship appears and sends them back to the Delta Quadrant, and back to their own time.

They’re all by themselves, how will they deal with this?! (Wave of a wand) They’re all safe! See you next week!

Not So Bad

There are still episodes that are good, even though they’re mostly self contained. They offer the chance to explore some interesting ideas.

  • Prototype — Oh cool, robots! Let’s help them!
  • Deadlock — Making difficult choices. Even though they don’t mean anything outside this episode.
  • Revulsion — He seems like such a nice hologram, on a ship of dead people.
  • Hope and Fear — Voyager encounters a pretty neat trap. A trap that actually does manage to have a plot element that carries through to other episodes.
  • Friendship One — Maybe the Prime Directive is a good idea.

Sometimes Funny

Since Voyager could never, ever, ever pull off being serious for more than a handful of episodes, that meant they could be as funny as they wanted to. (Intentionally, or not.)

Indeed, two of my Favorite Voyager episodes are Prometheus (starring Andy Dick, of all people), and Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy. They are patently ridiculous episodes where some very weak logic is used to get the Doctor involved in some shenanigans. In fact, The Doctor gets involved in a lot of shenanigans. They can be quite entertaining. The Q episodes mostly ellicit groans, and eye rolling, but they have funny moments too. Even the silly one where holographic aliens from another dimension break the holodeck — forcing an entire episode about Captain Proton — has moments where it’s so dumb it’s funny.

That’s not much of a silver lining, but hey, this is the section where I decided to be positive, so take what you can get.

Ending on a Low Note

By far, the worst of the entire series is Endgame, the series finale. It features the defanged Borg, loopy time logic, timeline changing, and Deus-Ex-Machina future technology that is never seen again.

We start out with a future where Voyager eventually got home — but not all of the crew made it. An aged Admiral Janeway really regrets this. She goes off and steals stuff from the Klingons, and travels back in time (and through space) to Voyager’s location in the Delta Quadrant. She selected this exact moment in time to save some of her crew because of reasons. Screw all those people that died before this point, I guess? She just wanted to keep the ones that died after this point from dying? Great?

Instead of using the time and space traveling device to send Voyager home — like how she got there — she comes up with this convoluted plan to give them future technology so that Voyager can go up against The Borg, and use a ‘Transwarp Hub’ to travel to Earth. You see, The Borg, long-time enemies of The Federation, apparently have a shortcut to go right to Earth’s doorstep that they’ve elected to not use. Reasons undisclosed.

Future Janeway goes over to talk to the Borg Queen, and infect her/them with a (BS) thing. But since the future she comes from doesn’t exist, because Voyager is going home, then how did… ARGGGGHHHHHH! Why do you do this, Brannon Braga?! WHY?

Certainly, the finale to Star Trek: Enterprise was equally terrible. With it all taking place as a holodeck simulation Riker is enjoying to brush up on his Captain Archer history. That was not a good way to end that either, so they both tie for worst finale.

This is a real shame when you think about TNG‘s or DS9‘s finales. I’d rank TNG as the highest of the finales. It had time elements in it, but it’s done in such a way where there’s no paradox, or sloppy side effects. Considering Brannon Braga was involved in both of those finales, it’s really strange to see him make something worse.

You Could Have Been a Contender!

My big problem with Voyager was that I had high expectations they’d be able to do something great. At the time it premiered, I really didn’t like DS9. That show was pretty boring back then. However, as time went on DS9 improved, while Voyager got worse. It was because of Voyager that I didn’t have any high expectations for Enterprise. That’s why I’m harder on Voyager — they could have done more and did seven years of mostly bad, or mediocre, stuff.

2014-06-24 11:24:28

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Captive Cloud

I have written a few times about how much I loathe all the things surrounding Adobe’s products these days. Their actually products are very useful for doing work — otherwise no one would put up with the horrible subscription schemes, wonky web services, and the World’s Worst Software Update System. I’ll highlight this last thing again for the release of CC 2014.

Firstly, what Adobe does not seem to get, is that if they want to pretend they’re offering a connected experience, then they need to actually offer that. Do not send me an email reminder to open your software updater. Your software updater is already reminding me, up there in my menu bar, to do just that. All the updater does is launch another menubar application — Adobe’s Creative Cloud app. So we’re up to one email and two menu bar apps. Why? It’s still a bunch of balkanized software under the hood, that’s why.

Because Creative Cloud’s menu bar app is a menu app, it goes on doing the install in the background. Until such time as it decides to steal focus while you’re typing to tell you the update finished. Sloppy.

Also, if Creative Cloud detects you already have a font installed on your system, like Courier Prime, or Source Sans Pro, their new font installer will just freak out and give you a warning it can’t install them from TypeKit. Go to the ‘Fonts’ tab, click on Manage Fonts (not mentioned in the error message) and then your web browser will launch, do five redirects, and arrive at a TypeKit page where you can uncheck fonts you don’t want to sync. Problem is, you’re unchecking them at the service level, meaning if I log in to my Creative Cloud account on a different computer, it’ll get the same font setting applied, whether or not Courier Prime is present.

Ideally, Creative Cloud would prompt me that the fonts already exist and ask if I want to skip syncing them on my system. I’d click ‘Skip’, and then never worry about it again on this computer, until such time as that font is uninstalled, and it prompts me to ask if I’d like to sync it now.

Creative Cloud also does not install software updates automatically. Even after updating the Creative Cloud app. So go in and manually click the buttons for each app that it says needs an update (Spoiler alert: it’s every app.)

If you click for more information about anything in the Creative Cloud app, it launches your web browser and loads a page after following some redirects (always with the redirects). If this is where I’m supposed to update things, then this should also be where you display information about what I’m updating. You could counter that Adobe has so much information to display, that they need the screen space afforded by the browser. I would argue that means they should have more concise notes about their software instead of puffery.

There is a new ‘feature’ of sorts that the Creative Cloud app will tell you about. When updating my copy of Premiere CC, I get this lovely prompt telling me Adobe is opting all their customers in to sharing data about how we use their apps.

The release gives you the option to share information with Adobe about how you use the Creative Cloud desktop apps. This option is turned on by default and the information will be associated with your Creative Cloud account. This will allow us to provide you with a more personalized experience, as well as help us improve product quality and features. You can change your preference anytime on your Adobe Account Management page.

Call me paranoid, but I don’t like to share automated, user-specific information with companies whenever I have the option not to. Digging through their FAQ, it does seem pretty innocuous, but they also provide no method for me to see what they have specifically collected — buttons and menu item logging wouldn’t keylog my social security number or anything, but everything about their apps is so sloppy that they could inadvertently be collecting things and not realize it until the next time their servers are breached. Tinfoil hat, I know, but really why have any confidence in them?

You have the option to share the following types of information about how you use the Creative Cloud desktop apps:

  • System information, such as operating system, processor, and amount of memory installed
  • Adobe product information, such as version number
  • Adobe feature usage information, such as menu options or buttons selected

This information will be associated with your Adobe ID and may be used to personalize the application experience, provide feature usage data to the product teams to help improve the product, and to communicate with you.

Your content, and information about the content within your files, is not shared with Adobe.

If you would like to opt-out, go here. This only covers privacy settings for their desktop apps, and not services like TypeKit or Behance.

Broad Unappeal

Another thing that Adobe announced this week is a renewed push for mobile editing counterparts to their desktop apps. I say ‘renewed’ because none of the other apps they’ve attached the ‘Photoshop’ moniker to on iOS have really taken off. Note that Adobe makes no mention of their iOS Photoshop applications when they talk about the new Lightroom iOS app. If at first you don’t succeed, just barely try a little more?

The new app is Creative Cloud centric. Adobe wants to build a case for you to use their products for all of your things. Unfortunately, the reason they want to do this is to push hard on subscription revenue.

Last year, Adobe found out that photographers were unwilling to sign up for the full CC service when all they wanted was Photoshop, and Lightroom — And that those people didn’t see much value in yearly app upgrades for both apps either. They tried a program where you could pay $9.99 a month for Lightroom and Photoshop if you were a Lightroom 5 user, to try to sweeten the deal.

Last week, they just rolled that out to everyone, a $9.99 a month and you get access to both of those apps on any platform you want to run them on.

$9.99 a month is $119.88 a year because an annual commitment is required. That means you can only back out once a year. This is only a value if you were a customer that updated Photoshop and Lightroom every year. It’s certainly a dubious value if you weren’t the kind of person that updated regularly. Adobe iteratively tweaks these apps, they’re not landslide changes every year.

It’s not just your phone that Adobe wants in on, it wants to be your source for Market Solutions too. This isn’t satire! It’s a real page!

This just seems scattered. Is the focus on consumer photography, or tracking ‘campaigns’? iPhone photos, or DSLR? Everything sloppily crammed together?

No More Month to Month

Adobe has also done away with the month-to-month plans for everything except for ‘Complete’. If you select month-to-month on ‘Complete, you will pay $74.99 (a $25 markup per month over the ‘year’ rate). The rest of the plans now require you pay for the year, up-front, or pay monthly for a thing you can’t get out of for a year. Effectively identical because there is no discount for yearly vs. monthly on those plans.

Previously, Adobe had a plan where you could use a single app for $19.99 with a yearly commitment, or $29.99 a month without any commitment. If you’re only going to use Adobe Premiere once a year to update one thing, then it was fine. I had that active when they changed their plans, and I’m apparently grandfathered in, unless I stop my subscription. I should stop procrastinating on the edits I want to make because it’s not viable to maintain the subscription just so I can avoid the $74.99 a month option for the full suite. Nor do I want to spend, potentially, $239.88 a year to keep the month-to-month rate going.

These plans are crap. I don’t want to pay Adobe, year after year, for things that really don’t change very much. Sure, cumulatively, Lightroom has done a lot of stuff since its inception, but how big are the incremental updates? Premiere isn’t reinventing NLEs every year, nor should it. Why pay for the rest of my life for this?

2014-06-21 14:44:43

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