Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The company he keeps....

So.

I'm watching the second season of Highlander, an episode creatively titled "Warmonger", and the reporter who is trying to get the story of an evil immortal who has played the power behind the throne, tosses off this explanation of why she is taking the opportunity to interview this very dangerous man: "Stalin is dead. Mao is dead. And Saddam Hussein hasn't been giving interviews lately."

That's from memory so I'm sure it's not exact, but close enough.

I just thought it was interesting that in 1994-ish Saddam Hussein rated an offhand popular cultural reference that paired him, as the then living member, of a very elite company.

George Bush decides to do something about it ten years later and suddenly Saddam is just another guy, no worse than anyone else.

Highlander, Duncan MacLeod

I am really enjoying watching the Highlander TV series on hulu.com.

Not that there isn't an occasional annoying episode but... don't care.

The best, of course, is when MacLeod does the flashbacks that involve barbarian outfits. *sigh*

Thursday, December 25, 2008

What was Roger Ebert smoking?

I love The Mummy. I love Jet Li. I was sorry to miss The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor when it was in the theater. So I bought it on DVD.

On the front it says, "The BEST in the SERIES!" - Roger Ebert.

Cool beans, says I.

But now I have to ask, what was the man smoking?

It was horrible!

Firstly, and I apologize to Maria Bello, but Evie was badly cast, badly written, and pathetically directed. Gone, gone, gone was the combination of vulnerability and stubbornness that made Evie so wonderful. The only thing Evie did well in this movie was the fight scenes.

The Evie who gloriously proclaimed "I am a librarian!" was replaced by a woman who wrote sexy stories about their mummy adventures and wanted to write another one to read to adoring fans. It was so wrong. Evie was into serious inquiry. She'd be writing esoteric, fabulously intricate, scholarly works while not fitting into society much better than her husband Rick. She might have written the romance, but she'd be shy and embarrassed about it. (One wonders, did Rachel Weisz read the script and bail?)

Now, this wrongness about Evie was likely made worse by the fact that some bright-bulb decided that the "human interest" element and arc was to be Rick's estrangement from his son, Alexander. Oh, please! Rick's character is simply not, at all, the sort of aloof male that can't unbend around children. Let Alexander attempt to make his own name as any young man with a famous father might do, no matter how close their relationship, but please let us not take out this old saw and substitute it for plot!

Now, the action plot wasn't bad. It had it's moments but all in all it was a fun action plot.

What made the movie hard to watch was how any glimmer of human interaction was destroyed by the dialog. I can think of only a handful of moments that were "real"... the looks between the witch and general... Alexander wanting to go back after Chinese members of his archaeology crew that had been killed... Alexander's first eye contact with Lin (but nothing after that)... the smile of understanding after the witch asked her daughter to sacrifice her immortality... the thoughts that crossed the witch's face when she saw a way to recover the special dagger...

And I am deliberately excluding the horrible father-son touchy-feelie moment. (Although Brenden Fraser shirtless is hard to beat.)

Too much of the dialog was artificial bob-talk. "As you know Bob, or as you can't possibly know, but in any case we must inform the audience... I have the dagger which is the only possible way to kill the Emperor." The dialog over personal matters seemed just as contrived.

While double checking character names and spellings I came across this review that suggests it would have been better to have had Evie die than to replace her with a different actor. I concur. It would also have given father and son a personal story more compelling than trying to pass Rick O'Connell off as an uninvolved father. It *also* would have resonated tremendously with the witch's thousands of years of mourning her dead lover and her daughter's reluctance to let herself love Alexander because she'd have to watch him die and couldn't bear it.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Web-publishing and Gate Keepers

As the result of a discussion about web-publishing and the fact that few people have time to read what they aren't sure they'll enjoy, I've been thinking about what sort of web-publishing would actually work.

Anyone can put a novel or story on a web-page. We might think that this will result in that novel finding an audience, but I don't think there is any reason to think anyone will find it at all. The web actually multiplies the problem of sorting through and finding that novel that is sure to satisfy.

In the end I think that we will be able to do without a great deal of what traditional publishing relies on, even paper and ink, but I don't think we'll be able to do without the Gate Keepers.

I tend to be a dreamer without follow through, and to be honest this isn't an idea without a pretty steep up-front price tag, but these are some of the elements I'm thinking might really work if given a chance:

-First, assume for kicks and giggles that I know a good story when I read it. There has to be an editor or editorial staff to make sure anything offered on the site reaches a professional (or nearly so) quality standard.

-Second, offer complete novels and stories for free. Make it possible to download them into Kindles, PDA's, computers, etc,. Sell sidebar advertisement and signed, POD, high quality paper copies. Only consider pay-to-read subscriptions or pre-releases for popular authors later on.

-Third, get excellent "cover" art and illustrations. Pictures sell books. Consider a "fan art" function and index where amateur illustrations can be posted. Art costs money, so quality might be something to look to improve as time goes on, but essentially, art is necessary for browsing... both art and blurbs. This is the best way to let readers know if they might be interested in the novel or story.

-Fourth, have an intuitive and informative search function that keys to reader (and editor) ratings and key-words and feed-back functions. An "other people who liked this story also liked..." function is necessary.

-Fifth, host live author chats, contests and door prizes.

Expensive to set up!

But could it pay for itself and make money for editor and authors?

I think it could with enough traffic to generate ad revenue.

It also relies on people who find a novel they really like wanting it bound nicely so they can keep it, so that they are motivated to pay for a POD copy of something they read in electronic form. I'm assuming that I'm not the only one who does this. I'm assuming that many people will do this and continue to do this.

While I believe very much in the value of giving things away for free, I also believe that writers and artists deserve to be paid for their labor. Copyright is important. There may come a time when a person can walk into Kinkos and print any book from a copy on their thumb drive... people will do that without paying for the right to do so unless it is easy to direct payment to the author. And it ought to be. Walk-in book binding may be standard in the future and a simple method of coding copyright information and publisher's fees into the file means that book-binders can add that fee and pass it on to the rightful parties. Until then, the nice copy with the glossy cover and even the author's signature can be purchased from the pubisher's web-site.

I'm very much anti-piracy, but lets be clear... a downloaded novel (or song) that is never read (or listened to) is not stolen. In a sense it doesn't even exist. Too much worry that someone will get something for free results in legitimate customers who are annoyed.