Friday, July 31, 2009

Greg Benford: Tides of Light-- Galactic Center Book 4

Greg Benford's Tides of Light picks up the story about two years after the conclusion of Book 3 in the series, Great Sky River. In that work we learn of the slow decimation of the human population on the planet Snowglade and the escape of Killeen and those members of the Bishop clan who decide to search for a planet free of mech domination. Aided by the Mantis, possibly a rogue mech or at least one with its own agenda, the humans lift off in the Argo, not in search of the Golden Fleece, but in hopes of finding a planet they can settle without fear of extermination by the mechs.

Now, they are approaching a planet that they hope will be the new Eden. So optimistic are they that they've already named the planet New Bishop, prematurely as they soon learn. The planet is not unoccupied. Already on the planet are mechs, other humans, and the Cybers, an alien race that has been locked in a deadly struggle with the mechs for thousands of years. Whereas the humans have usually fled the mechs for other parts of the galaxy, hoping to elude them and build a civilization in peace, the Cybers have done the opposite. Feeling that the mechs pose an inescapable threat to all organic life, they have deliberately engaged in battle with the mechs whenever the opportunity arises, and in some cases, have gone searching for opportunities.

Briefly, the mechs on the planet, who have been programmed by their central intelligence to engage in competition with one another to simulate the effects of evolution found in organic life, have lost contact with the central intelligence. Over the years, the competition has gotten severe enough that it degenerated into open warfare among competing mech groups. The warfare weakened them sufficiently that humans on the planet were able to take advantage and began their own campaign against the mechs. Just as the humans were about to destroy the mechs, the Cybers arrived on the scene, took advantage of the situation, and quickly destroyed the remaining mechs.

It is at this point that Killeen and the others arrive. Initially mistaken for mechs by the Cybers, the humans barely escaped to the planet surface where they made contact with the humans already there. They discover that the humans are led by a religious fanatic who believes God had directed him to attack and destroy the mechs and now directs him to destroy the Cybers. Killeen is doubtful about this but must go along or he and the rest of the Bishop clan will be destroyed. Warfare among the humans would only weaken them, so the Bishop clan joins in.

To make life even more interesting, the Cybers, led by by their ruling council, the Illuminates, are puzzled by the arrival of Killeen and the Bishop clan. Once having taken the Argo, the Cybers discover information about the humans that results in an open division among the Illuminates, which ultimately breaks out into a civil war. One group feels that the humans
must be destroyed, while a second group believes that the humans, in some way unknown as yet, are necessary for the destruction of the mechs and therefore, the safety of organic life in the galaxy.

Overall, this novel is as good or perhaps even better than the three that precede it. It has action, interesting characters (human and alien), and, what's always necessary for good SF, some scientific extrapolation. In this novel, the major scientific idea is the control of cosmic strings by the Cybers. (For a very brief and readable explanation of string theory, click on the link below to a PBS site.

The Cybers have learned to control the strings and are using it for planetary mining. The string is used to slice into a planet. Once it reaches the core, it becomes a conduit for draining the core of needed minerals. There is much talk today that SF is too often being overtaken by real events. Well, I don't think Benford has anything to worry about here. Assuming the strings even exist, it will be some time in the future before we learn to control them, if that's even possible.

Benford has included a four page appendix to the novel--"Chronology of Human Species (Dreaming Vertebrates) at Galactic Center." There's sufficient material here for another 20 or 30 novels, but so far Benford has resisted the temptation and the series seems to have ended at 6 novels. We still don't know what happened to Earth. For those who are wondering about the fate of Nigel Walmsley, as I am, we still don't know. However, in Books 3 and 4, Benford did include some oblique references to him, so perhaps we are not to forget about him completely.

Now, on to Book 5, Furious Gulf.

Overall, got to give this a 5/5 rating.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Sorcerer: a film commentary

Warning: I reveal significant events and the ending for the following work.

is the classic example of what happens when Hollywood decides to remake a highly successful film: the result is a film usually considerably less than the original, which makes me wonder why it was remade. So far, I have found only one remake that is superior to the original version--Gaslight. I have heard that two versions of The Maltese Falcon came out before the one starring Bogart, and that all comments I have heard suggest the Bogart version is superior to the first two. I have them in my queue and will shortly view them. There probably are others that I haven't seen or heard of, and I would be interested in hearing about them.

This remake takes a highly successful and one of the most tension-filled and suspenseful films I have ever seen, Wages of Fear, and improves it into a slightly above average action film. About two weeks ago, I posted some commentary on this film and ended by remarking that I was curious about the remake. Unfortunately Sorcerer was no better than one could expect of a remake.

The cast, of whom I'm familiar only with Roy Scheider, who, along with the rest, gives us more than adequate performances.

The plot of Sorcerer remains essentially the same. Those fighting an oil field fire need explosives to bring the fire under control. The only explosives are several hundred miles away and must be transported by trucks over back country roads that most four-wheel drive vehicles would have some problems with. The explosives have aged and therefore are apt to go off if jarred or shaken. Four drivers, attracted by the large wages, in two trucks leave on what is essentially a suicide mission.

There are several problems with this remake. One of them involves the background of the characters who end up in this small poverty-stricken village somewhere in South America. In the beginning of the original, Wages of Fear, we meet a number of the inhabitants of this village and gradually four, who are obviously foreigners, begin to stand out among the rest. We don't know how they got there or even much about them or their past history; that is left up to our imaginations.

The first "improvement" consists of giving the viewer specific incidents in the pasts of each of the four characters that forced them to go flee in order to prevent being killed or imprisoned for a variety of crimes. This, however leaves gap between the time they flee and their appearance in this small out-of-the-way village. How did they get here? In one case, a character's appearance is extremely puzzling. He was apparently a Palestinian who was captured by Israeli forces in Jerusalem after setting off a bomb. Since he was captured, it seems highly unlikely that he would end up in a small village in South America. This struck me as unrealistic or improbable, and that carried through, unfortunately, for the rest of the film.

The second problem and most serious problem was the nature of the crises the drivers faced.
In Wages of Fear, the problems the drivers encountered were those one might reasonably expect to face on a poorly maintained road: construction areas making it difficult to maneuver, a washboard road, and a large boulder blocking the road on a mountainous stretch, among others. None of these would be considered an especially hazardous situation except for the highly unstable explosives.

Unfortunately, this wasn't enough, so the director, William Friedkin decided improvements were needed here. Driving over ten or more miles of a washboard road with unstable explosives wasn't considered sufficiently hazardous, so that was dropped. It was replaced by crossing over a flood-swollen stream on a cable bridge. That both trucks got over the stream on this bridge that shouldn't have supported a motorcycle simply was beyond belief. I read science fiction and some fantasy, so I can willingly suspend my disbelief, but this was going too far.

The second crisis "improvement" consisted of an encounter with the cliche of cliches--the bandits. The truck was stopped by bandits who were going to kill Scheider and his partner, but in true Hollywood fashion, all four were killed by the drivers who had only one pistol while all four were armed, some with what appeared to be semi-automatic weapons.

The third improvement was the elimination of the original film's focus on the drivers. In Wages of Fear, the director spent considerable showing the viewers how this dangerous trip affected each of the four drivers--each driver attempting to deal with his fear in a different way. In Sorcerer, this almost completely disappeared as the director focused on the events rather than on the characters. I think this also was a major factor in the reduction of the film to a rather mundane action film. Viewers get their cues about what to feel and how to respond from many sources in the film--from the music for one, from the events for another, and very importantly from the characters' responses to the events. Ultimately, eliminating the characters' responses from the film significantly reduces the emotional impact on the viewers.

Not being content with this, Friedkin decided to improve the ending also. What is wrong with a truck slowly creeping in to its destination with a driver desperately trying to stay awake, accompanied by the body of the other driver? Instead, we find the driver stopping and leaving the body on the side of the road. The engine dies, and the driver tries to start it once or twice. In the beginning of the film we learn that the Scheider character is not only an experienced truck driver but also a mechanic. Perhaps I missed something here, yet we don't see him even lift the hood to discover the problem. Having him run out of gas two miles from his destination is really weak. In any case, he takes one of the cases of explosives and staggers the last two miles to the oil field--waving and shaking the volatile explosives as he goes. Regardless of the problem, why didn't he just leave the truck and the explosives and walk to the oil field and let them know where it was?

The ending of Wages of Fear wasn't sufficiently ironic, so that had to be modified also. Instead of getting careless in his joy at surviving and about to have more money in his pocket than he's seen in a long time, the Scheider character returns to the small village and celebrates with the villagers and a few mine officials, shortly before he leaves. As the camera pulls back from the cantina where the celebration is being held, the viewer sees two well dressed men approach the place. They are hit men who have been looking for the Scheider character and just happen to show up at this time.

How ironic!

Overall rating: adequate. The positive rating comes primarily from the cast, who never really got a chance to show what they could do.

Monday, July 20, 2009

China Mieville's _The City & The City_

China Mieville is probably best known for his science fiction novels; I've read his Perdido Street Station and have a copy of his The Scar awaiting in my TBR bookcase. I was surprised therefore to hear his latest work described as a mystery, a police procedural, to be exact.

I found a copy at the library, and The City & The City is exactly as advertised, a police procedural. The body of a young woman who was murdered was discovered one morning and Inspector Tyador Borlu of the Extreme Crime Squad was assigned the case. It is a typical police procedural with all the necessary accouterments--crime scene experts, interrogations of witnesses and suspects, and, of course, the unearthing of the victim's past life. The mystery is sufficiently convoluted with various groups and individuals and motives thrown up at one time or another to confuse the reader. The solution, once revealed, is satisfying.

But, the real charm of this novel is its setting. It is one of the most bizarre settings I have ever encountered and I've been reading science fiction for over a half century now. The closest I've come to this setting was in a novel by C. J. Cherryh, Wave Without a Shore.

Bear with me as I try to explain where the story takes place. It is set in a mythical country in Europe, actually a city-state might be closer, or perhaps two city-states. The body is discovered in Beszel, both a city and the country itself. However, there are two cities and two countries occupying the same territory. No, this isn't a story about different dimensions or time lines, but about two countries, Beszel and Ul Qoma, with differing languages, cultures, costumes, and traditions that occupy the same spot on this planet, and moreover, they dislike each other. Beszel has encouraged good relations with the US while Ul Qoma has developed close links with Canada.

What makes this work is the intense indoctrination that every child born in the two countries receives. They do not see each other even though they may be walking on the same street because they have trained themselves not to see each other. It's called unseeing. Some areas of the city belong to Beszel while others to Ul Qoma. However, many parts of the city, called crosshatchings, are used by the citizens of both countries, but even there they do not "see" each other. An example of a crosshatching might be an intersection that must be used by the inhabitants of both cities.

Buildings of each city may be next to each other, but the citizens of each city do not "see" the buildings of the other. The architectural styles are easily recognizable, as are the clothing fashions, so citizens may not inadvertently enter the wrong building or acknowledge a citizen of the other city.

Somewhere in the city is Copula Hall. Those citizens who find it necessary to visit the other city, as Inspector Borlu does, when he discovers that the body found in Beszel is actually that of a resident of Ul Qoma, must go to Copula Hall. After sufficient bureaucratic paperwork is filled out and an intense indoctrination in Ul Qoma culture and laws is administered, the citizen enters Ul Qoma and can now "see" its buildings and inhabitants, while those of Beszel are now invisible. Inspector Borlu, for example, discovers that his counterpart in the Ul Qoma police actually lives only a block or so away from him, but now he can see him and his apartment, while his own is now invisible.

The citizens know of the other city but they have conditioned themselves to not see it. To acknowledge the existence of the other by entering one of its buildings or interacting with a citizen is called a "breach." It is punished by a group known only as Breach, which seems to have some technology not available to anyone in the two cities. This group's only concern is the maintenance of the division between the two cities. For example, if a citizen of Beszel crosses illegally into Ul Qoma and kills an inhabitant, Breach will intervene because a breach has been committed, and not because of the murder. Frequently the person who commits a breach disappears and is never seen again.

I hope I haven't confused you too much, and that you will get a copy of The City & The City. It's one that I will read again, partly for the enjoyment and partly for a better understanding of the work. I got so enmeshed with the workings of the two cities that at times I forgot I was reading a mystery.

Overall Rating: 4/5 Stars

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Rubaiyat: Quatrain XII

First Edition: Quatrain XII

"How Sweet is mortal Sovranty!"--think some;
Others--"How blest the Paradise to come!"
Ah, take the Cash in hand and waive the Rest;
Oh, the brave Music of a distant Drum!

Second Edition: Quatrain XIII

Some for the Glories of This World; and some
Sigh for the Prophet's Paradise to come;
Ah, take the Cash, and let the promise go,
Nor heed the music of a distant drum!

Fifth Edition: Quatrain XIII

Some for the Glories of This World; and some
Sigh for the Prophet's Paradise to come;
Ah, take the Cash, and let the Credit go,
Nor heed the rumble of a distant Drum!

The changes are mostly aesthetic and involve no major differences in the theme of this Quatrain, which is, briefly stated, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Take what pleasures one can today and don't put them off for dreams of future wealth or glory or paradise.

The reference to the "distant drum" has brought about a variety of interpretations, based mostly on a misunderstanding of what that distant drum signifies. It does not, at least in the explanations that I've seen, mean anything like following one's own dreams or even that different path that Frost refers to. From what I've read, the distant drum signifies that the palace gates are open and that all workers are now expected to come to work. What the narrator therefore tells us is that we should be content with what we have and not strive for future glory or wealth, either in this world or the next. Buddha, Confucius, and Lao Tze all urged us to forgo worrying about the future and the future life and concern ourselves with today.

This quatrain follows the previous one in which Old Khayyam urges us to be content with the simple pleasures of life--bread and wine for the body, poetry for the mind, and human companionship to share these pleasures. That would be Paradise today.

The changes seem to be consistent in the direction of moving away from poetic diction to a more prosaic wording. In the first version, FitzGerald seemingly quotes what many people strive for--"mortal Sovranty" and "the Paradise to come." In the later editions, he drops the presumed quotes for a simple statement of what he thinks others desire.

The "mortal Sovranty" of the first version now has become simply "Glories of This World" in the later editions. Perhaps FitzGerald felt it was better to trade in the poetic diction for more commonplace terms that would be more easily understood.

The second change in the first two lines may be a bit more complex. In the first edition, FitzGerald pairs "mortal Sovranty" with "the Paradise to come." In following editions, this is no longer just "the Paradise to come," but "the Prophet's Paradise to come." Did he add "the Prophet" to make it clear that he was referring to Mohamed's vision or did he simply need two more syllables for the sound of the line?

The third line expresses Khayyam's suggestion that we take the bird in hand and not worry about that other one in the bush. We should "take the cash in hand" and "waive the rest" "or let the promise go" or "let the credit go." Enjoy what we have here and now and forget future promises. This isn't easy for many people to do or understand. I think it was Proust who suggested that "There is a sort of a compulsion in us to value what we lack at the expense of what we have."

The last line of the first edition--Oh, the brave Music of a distant drum--is ambiguous. It is not clear just how the reader is to think about that brave music. Is it included in "the Rest" which should be waived? Is it a temptation--the siren call of that distant drum. Is it something that might lead us or even should lead us to forget about the cash in hand? In the latter editions, FitzGerald make it obvious that we aren't supposed to heed the call of that drum. It is to be ignored just as the Glories of the World or the glories of the Paradise to come.

I mentioned in earlier posts that there are those who insist that this is a religious poem in which wine and other items are really religious in nature. The poem shouldn't be taken literally but must be interpreted in order to tease out the true religious substratum. I expressed my doubts about this in the past, and I think this Quatrain poses some real problems for such an interpretation. This Quatrain seems to be so rooted in living in the present that I don't see how one can see this as advocating a commitment today to some sort of a future life in Paradise.

Any thoughts?

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Wages of Fear: a film

I had heard about The Wages of Fear some time ago, so I decided to take a look at it myself. I can't believe that film lasted 2 1/2 hours. Normally I take a break some time around 90 minutes or so, but this time I sat through the entire film. When I watch it again (it's on my "must see again" list), I will time it.

Briefly, it is one of the most tension-filled films I have ever seen. Perhaps someone more experienced in film analysis can say why.

The plot is almost absurdly simple. The film is set in an unnamed South American country, perhaps Venezuela. An oil well is on fire. Nitroglycerin is needed to put it out. The nearest supply of nitro is 300 miles away. The road between is so bad that transporting the nitro by truck without special safety equipment would be a suicide mission. There's no time to bring in the special safety equipment, so the oil country hires four men, who are out of work and out of money to drive two trucks the 300 miles. That's the plot.

The film opens with some initial background. We see the men and discover quickly that they want out of the small town where there is no work, but without money they can't leave. We learn a little about the men themselves, just enough to make them individuals, but little if anything about their past history. They are there, they are broke, and they are desperate enough to take on a suicide mission to escape, one way or another.

Their journey, of course, is extremely difficult, but the obstacles don't appear around every curve and are simply those that might be encountered on any road just barely hacked out of the wilderness. Under any other circumstances, they would be a nuisance or an irritation, but for trucks loaded with nitro, they become lethal.

The acting is uniformly excellent. One of the major roles is played by Yves Montand, the only name I recognize. Some of the other characters are familiar, but I can't place them in any particular film. The film, first shown in 1953, is based on a novel of the same name, I gather, by Georges Arnaud, and the film has made me curious enough to see if I can find it.

I have also just learned that there is a remake of The Wages of Fear. Why they changed the title to Sorcerer is beyond me. The remake is directed by William Friedkin (The Exorcist) and stars Roy Scheider, one of my favorite actors. I have Sorcerer in my queue and should see it in a few days. I wonder what "improvements" were made by Friedkin, and I wonder if he changed the ending. I may even learn why the name was changed to Sorcerer.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Combination Plate 6

Warning: I will discuss significant plot elements, including the endings of some of the works.

Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey.

Jane Austen is one of my favorite authors. I must admit, though, that it was not love at first sight. I had tried to read Pride and Prejudice (P&P) several times but never got beyond the first couple of chapters. Since P&P is considered to be her most popular work, I figured that there would never be a meeting of our minds.

A decade or so later, I went to grad school, the English Graduate Department to be exact. In one of the first courses I took, I had to read Austen's Sense and Sensibility. I settled down for a grueling task and, instead, found it fascinating. I immediately dusted off P&P and discovered for myself why so many people enjoyed reading it. I then read her other four completed novels and have been a convert to this day. I've even read as much of her juvenilia as I could find. While I enjoy all of her novels, I must admit that Northanger Abbey (NA) is my least favorite of the six novels. If you are interested, my favorites are Mansfield Park, Persuasion, and Sense and Sensibility.

The problem, or rather my problem, with NA is that it appears to be two separate novels. The first novel covers the first part of the book which sets forth her experiences at Bath, while the second novel begins with her trip from Bath to Northanger Abbey, the home of the Tilneys.

The Bath portion of the novel is a comedy of manners and, in a way, a growing up work, for we see Catherine as she encounters for the first time the great outside world and its manners, its foibles, and its hypocrisies. This part is reminiscent of the other five novels as she learns to distinguish between real and false friendships.

The second part really focuses on a satire, something of the sort one finds in Cervantes' Don Quixote or Flaubert's Madame Bovary. Don Quixote's mad behavior is supposedly induced by his constant and obsessive reading of the medieval romances which tell of knights in armor who sally about the countryside fighting dragons and black knights and wizards and rescuing damsels in distress. Madame Bovary's sad end comes about from reading romances which offer impossible flights of love and passion which she can't find in the small town where she lives, nor in Paris either, as she finds out.

Catherine's novelistic obsession is the Gothic novel, which leads her to romanticize (I'm tempted, but I won't say Gothicize) the Tilney's home--Northanger Abbey--for many of the Gothic novels take place in ancient and decrepit ruins, some of which are abbeys. She soon begins to suspect General Tilney,
her host, of having mistreated his wife and perhaps even having been responsible for her death. This portion of the novel leads back to her earlier works, many of which are satiric.

What is curious is NA's history is that it apparently was the first or one of the first of her novels that was sold to a publisher. That was in 1803. However, the first of her novels to be published was Sense and Sensibility, which appeared in 1811. What happened to NA? Nobody is quite sure, but there is an Author's Note
to NA (the only one I'm aware of to any of her novels) which tells us that the publisher, after having purchased the novel, did absolutely nothing with it. In 1816, Austen bought back the novel from the publisher, and it was finally published in 1818, posthumously, with Persuasion.

Perhaps one might see this as a transitional novel, one that bridges the gap between her juvenilia and her later more sophisticated works. In any case, it still is an enjoyable read, and I have read it a number of times, sometimes as a selection for a book group and sometimes when I'm in the mood to reread Austen, which happens frequently. And, it will happen again, I'm sure.


John Harvey's Flesh & Blood.
Mystery--retired police officer type

I had read a number of John Harvey's works before--specifically his "Charlie Resnick" police procedurals and had enjoyed them. Resnick is an interesting character, if a bit morose, but that is the trend today and Harvey possibly contributed to its popularity. Flesh & Blood is the first novel I have read that features his new character, Frank Elder, who is a retired police officer.

Flesh and Blood (F&B) is a typical Harvey novel--characterization, especially of the major characters, is good, and the plot is tight and moves quickly through the usual maze that constitutes Harvey's works.

What is surprising, or what I found surprising, are the sexual encounters in the novel and a blatant attempt to increase the tension level during the last few chapters. To be blunt, if a film director attempts to bring this novel to the screen and depicts the sex scenes exactly as described in the novel, the film would probably earn an NC-17 rating. Moreover, the sex in the novel does not move the plot forward in any substantial way. Secondly, at the end, or near the end, Frank Elder's daughter is kidnapped by the killer. The only plot purpose this served, as far as I can tell, was to beef up what perhaps a publisher or agent might have considered a novel that lacked sufficient intensity.

All I can say is that I was surprised and then irritated when the "kidnapping" took place. It just didn't fit the flow of the novel and seemed to be something that was added later. It wasn't necessary.

F&B was a selection for a mystery book group, and all agreed that the sex and the kidnapping just didn't fit and actually lowered the book's rating--one of the few times this group has been unanimous about anything over the years.

While I could easily enjoy rereading one of Harvey's "Charlie Resnick" books, I will not voluntarily pick this one up again. Perhaps I might try another featuring Frank Elder to see if this was an aberration or the "new John Harvey."


Batman: The Dark Knight, the film

Having grown up with the Batman and Robin comic books, I am interested in what happens to the Dynamic Duo when they appear on the big screen. I've been sadly disappointed by most of the attempts so far. The first of the more serious treatments, Batman with Michael Keaton, succeeded in restoring the dark ambiance of the early comic books, although Keaton's portrayal of Batman was poor. Pursing his lips seemed to be his interpretation of serious intent when he was Batman, but he did a creditable job as Bruce Wayne, a rich playboy. However, I found the second one, Batman Returns, impossible to sit through and stopped around 1/4 of the way into the film. All I will say about Batman and Robin with George Clooney is that I gave up after about ten or fifteen minutes.

In contrast to the above, I thoroughly enjoyed the two films with Christian Bale in the lead role, Batman Begins and Batman: The Dark Knight. Both captured the atmosphere of the early comic books. Christian Bale is far more convincing as Batman than Keaton was, and Michael Caine was perfect as Alfred. I'm not going to get into any comparison between Jack Nicholson's and Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker, save to say the Nicholson had a bit more of the comic book element in his portrayal while Heath Ledger was a more "human" Joker. I enjoyed both performances.

I think the director of the 1989 version with Keaton, Tim Burton, started out well but somehow lost it with the next one. Christopher Nolan, on the other hand, started well and the second, The Dark Knight, was just as good as his first one.

It will be interesting to see what he does with the third one, if there is a third one.

Recommended: Batman Begins and Batman: The Dark Knight, both with Christian Bale. The 1989 version with Michael Keaton, Batman, is a decent attempt, especially at creating the atmosphere of the comic book.


Pitch Black--a Sci-Fi film that appeared in 2000, with Vin Diesel as Richard B. Riddick.

Pitch Black (PB) is standard sci-fi fare. Sci-fi, my definition actually, is different from SF. SF consists of stories that focus on a scientific or technological development that does not yet exist, and perhaps may never exist. The story would not make sense without this element. Sci-fi stories, on the other hand, are those that are really thinly disguised adventure tales with some trappings that disguise its real nature.

Pitch Black is really the typical adventure tale of travelers who are stranded when their plane crashes in a wilderness or jungle inhabited by fierce hungry critters. In the film, the space ship crashes on a strange planet whose hungry inhabitants only emerge in the dark.

The crash landing, I thought, was well done and convincing. The special effects were acceptable, and the acting was decent. The plot called for the typical cliche of one of the survivors being a bad guy--Riddick--who is the prisoner of a bounty hunter. Riddick is a murderer who has been surgically altered so that he can see in the dark, and surprise--guess who turns out to be the one most responsible for the ultimate survival and escape of the others.

The characters make some stupid decisions, unfortunately, that are obviously driven by the plot requirements for tension, excitement, and gore.

What makes it an interesting movie is the performance of Vin Diesel (whom I don't remember seeing in another film) as Riddick, the lead character. Riddick is cynical and manipulative and unemotional, a sociopathic type who kills and thinks little of it afterwards. He does what must be done. However, at the end, he does do something that in reality has no effect on the outcome but is done for solely for revenge, something I didn't expect of him from what I had seen up to that point. Beats there a heart buried down deep somewhere?

A sequel, The Chronicles of Riddick, is out there, as is an animated film, The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury. Dark Fury, the animated film that lasts around 30 minutes, takes place immediately after the events of PB. The other film, The Chronicles of Riddick, is set some five years after PB.

Overall, Vin Diesel's performance makes in an interesting film, and I'm curious enough to see what the next two are like.

George Gently: a mystery TV series set in the UK
Type: police procedural

In an earlier post, I had talked about the problems that arise when the main character in a series is replaced by another actor. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. One of the cases was the replacement of Roy Marsden as PD James' Commander Dal
gliesh by another actor whom I thought was a poor replacement for Marsden. I also commented that I thought the replacement was a good actor but one who was miscast as Dalgliesh.

Several nights ago I watched a DVD of a mystery series I hadn't seen before--George Gently. I was impressed by the whole production and especially by the actor who played the lead role of Inspector George Gently. He seemed familiar, but it wasn't until I did a search on his name that I discovered that I had seen him before. He was Martin Shaw, the actor who had replaced Roy Marsden as Commander Dalgliesh.

Shaw plays a different role in this police procedural. He has decided to leave London and move to a quieter, less demanding area to continue on as a police officer, much like Peter Robinson's Inspector Alan Burke, who also left London for quieter pastures. Of course, they soon learn that this is not going to happen the way they had expected or at least hoped.

Shaw plays Gentley as a low-key police officer, rather quiet and less commanding than Dalgliesh. He is perfect for this role. In fact, he reminds me of another series which I thoroughly enjoyed, Foyles' War, in which the lead character is played by Michael Kitchen. Kitchen and Shaw resemble each other to some extent--both appearing to be in their fifties, greying, a bit thick around the waist, and reserved.

I was sad when the Foyle series ended; perhaps I'll feel the same way at the last episode of George Gently.