Over the weekend I watched two movies, which I probably should have seen for various reasons years ago but had not. They were Breaking the Waves (1996), directed by Lars von Trier, and Star Trek (2009), directed by J. J. Abrams. As films, they could not have been more diametrically opposed, but both have stood the test of time well enough to have led their respective directors to bigger opportunities.
While both films engaged my attention, at their ends I had to wonder just what it was that so captured the minds of their respective fan-bases. As a reboot, Star Trek was heavy on action, but thin on everything else. Breaking the Waves had interesting visuals, but its treatment of a woman finding martyrdom through her sexuality left me wondering just what critics loved so much about it after its 2+ hour runtime.
I could go and watch all the iterations of Star Trek and write out just where Abrams got blinded in the lens flare, or I could go get a book on Lars and try to better understand where he is coming from – but honestly, I’m probably just going to watch all the Danger 5s, and I really have a lot of other things I’m reading. Instead I decided I’d ask people here what they thought. If you’ve seen either film and have opinions, let me know what I am or am not missing.
Ultimately, what I’m really glad about is that Spring is finally here. So, feel free to comment on Spring too. On the other hand, my dog just thinks Cthulhu is real.
Way back in the day, we had an Apple II+. I think it was an Apple II+; it might have been an Apple IIe. Maybe someone can remind me. This would have been circa 1989 or 1990. The II+ was replaced by the IIe in 1982 and a few new features. To be honest, I’m pretty sure we had a IIe, and Tom had a II+. More on this later.
Ours had a monochrome green screen and two bulky separate 5.25″ floppy drives. Tom’s had a color screen; color back then was around 4 or 16 colors. We didn’t have a lot of games for this thing, or really any software for that matter. Mind you, this computer was already pretty outdated when we got our hands on it. I think my parents acquired it after the local school system (or community college where my dad worked) got rid of them. So it was already unwanted junk by an organization which traditionally is resource starved.
So games. We would have been 10–13 around that time and we naturally wanted games. We had this box of disks that we had copied off of someone my dad knew, but it was a mish-mash of stuff. There was a copy of Zork III, which we played a ton of and never got really anywhere. That’s all I really remember from that batch. Anyway, games. We wanted games. I remember being with my mom at the mall in Software Etc. looking at discount games. There wasn’t a lot of choice; the Apple II was pretty much dead at this point. We got a copy of Questron (or Questron 2) and Wasteland. I think they were in the couple dollar price range.
We played a lot of Wasteland. I remember sitting on the edge of Tom’s bed, each of us ‘controlling’ one character in the game during combat, being afraid of messing up and losing a party member, and generally not know what was going. A few moments stand out:
Being scared shitless of the Scorpitron. This giant menacing robot parked out in the middle of an intersection in Las Vegas which could decimate you.
Falling in the river and not being able to get out for quite some time. Characters would fall unconscious, but their swimming skill would get boosted a lot.
Getting stuck on a stage in some bar in some town and having to use acrobatics to entertain the crowd so they’d let you off.
Going in through a skylight in Ugly’s Hideout instead of a full on frontal assault.
I played the game off and on after that time, through high school and even doing a long run through it freshman year in college. I even made a website for the game, way back in 1997–8.
Naturally, when Wasteland 2 had a Kickstarter, I backed it. I started playing it sometime last December. I haven’t made it all that far but I’ve really enjoyed it. It manages to capture a lot of the vibe and mechanics of the original while still being updated.
One particular example of staying true to Wasteland is the rocket use mechanic. If I recall correctly, ‘AT Weapon’ (Wasteland anti-tank weapon skill) and ‘Heavy Weapons’ (Wasteland 2 equivalent) aren’t the greatest skills. The reason being is that rockets were somewhat scarce, and the non-rocket weapons the skill controlled weren’t always that great and/or burned through a lot of ammo. So at least when I played, no one was particularly good at them. So rocket use was often unskilled. That was ok, because they did a shit ton of damage and at least in Wasteland 2, are area effect weapons. Still, accuracy left a bit to be desired. So you stockpiled and used them in ‘Oh shit’ moments as an act of desperation. Those ‘Oh shit’ moments helped heighten the excitement of the game for me as a kid, and play some part in how much the game stuck in my mind.
Anyway, the Apple II and the few games we had made a big impression on me. Wasteland (and Zork III) defined games for me in many ways, and I’m happy that Wasteland II captured a little bit of that.
In the 7th and last cast of the first season of The James Spader Podcast, Mike Gray, Chris Onderick, and Erik Pepple turn to fan favorite Tuff Turf (1985), directed by Fritz Kiersch. In addition to discussions padlocks, great music, actors James Spader, Kim Richards, Robert Downey Jr., and musician Jim Carroll, the show features a special interview with the director, Kiersch himself.
Some years ago, the very end of 2010/beginning of 2011 to be exact, we filmed1
a sequel to H.P. Thomcraft. H.P. Thomcraft II was the incredibly original working title. Mike and I decided to ‘go big’ with HPT II (as I will refer to it from now on) and shoot it on 16mm film, with a Super 16 ARRI and a Zeiss lens2.
Not only were we going to shoot it on film, instead of just getting it converted to video and color corrected, we were going to get it scanned and get the raw frames delivered in DPX format3.
A couple weeks later, I got a drive in the mail with 270 gigabytes of files which contained our 20 minutes of raw footage. I posted some quick frame grabs to Protozoic 4 years ago, with the following text:
Here are a couple screen grabs from H.P. Thomcraft II. More soon.
Boy was that a lie.
The plan was for me to color correct the footage after Mike edited it using a process involving conforming the raw footage to the final edit using EDLs. If that sounds like a mouthful, it is. I eventually tested out the process and it seemed like it would work, though the color correction software, Color, had some stability issues. This was sometime around May 2011. I then waited for Mike to edit the footage.
Mike was pretty busy with things. I don’t recall with what, but it was some significant time before he got to editing together the short. So long that I forgot the process I had worked out. So long that the new version of OS X no longer supported Color, so I had to hold off updating OS X, which is the first time I had ever really done that.
I have an email from July 2012 from Mike stating that he was going to finish editing the footage soon. He finished a few weeks later. Around that time, I quit my job and moved to Ohio. I put off color correcting the footage because of that, and because I really wasn’t looking forward to trying to figure out the process again. Particularly since Mike had done a reasonably intricate cut with a lot of edits, which would make color correcting that more annoying. So I put it off for the rest of 2012. And 2013. I even managed to put it off all of 2014.
All through this time, I’ve held off updating OS X. I’m still on 10.7.5. I think OS X is on 10.10.2 now. That’s a lot of updates and it’s caused me no end of problems with a lot of my software. Moral of the story: Procrastination can have some unintended consequences. Don’t do it.
So I was talking to Mike this weekend that I should really get on it. I told him my worries about the complicated workflow we had planned and he said, “Color correct the raw footage. I’ll just re-edit it.” Well in that case… I had the raw footage all corrected a few hours later. We are in the process of transferring the 47 gigs of files over the internets as I write this. Mike thinks he’ll be able to edit it again in a couple of days, so H.P. Thomcraft II will actually get done shortly. I will take most of the blame for it’s incredible delay.
Maybe I can finally update my fucking computer now.
And when I say ‘filmed’ it, we did indeed film it. It was shot on Kodak Vision 2 50D and Vision3 200T on a Super 16mm camera. While digital is amazing, these are really some beautiful films and represent the pinnacle of the technology. Yes, I know Vision3 50D was released. I’m happy that I got to shoot something on these film emulsions before they all go away. ↩
Zeiss lenses are universally acclaimed, but the Zeiss Super 16 conversion zoom lens we shot this film on was less than spectacular. Granted, a 16mm frame is pretty tiny and 1080p can really highlight some defects. Despite that, the Zeiss really broke down at the wider focal lengths. Of course, I tend to gravitate to wider focal lengths, so there a few shots which are mighty fuzzy. Also, one scene has a nasty flare right in the middle of the frame. I tried to correct it in post, but it was a pretty clumsy fix. I think it was a 10-100mm T2.2 lens, but I don’t fully recall now. ↩
The DPX file format is pretty cool. It’s pretty old too—over 20 years old. Someone pretty smart came up with the idea of fitting the huge dynamic range available in film into just 10 bits using a logarithmic scheme instead of linear to store values. ↩