September 13, 2010

An open letter of Resignation to the American People

by bmiller445

Resignation letter

It is with a heavy heart, a clear conscious, sand in my shoe, and of sound mind and body that I tender my resignation. While I admit no wrong doing I feel that it is in the interest of the American people and with the hope to allow Best Buy to heal that I step down.

In regards to Monster 1000 cable, I have come to terms with it. There is nothing wrong with charging a premium for a well made product constructed by tiny bloody hands, with minerals mined by exploited workers. As to the credit apps I had people fill out though I will have to answer to Jesus Christ himself. Each night before bed I pray for his mercy and as I lay there falling asleep I hope that our Lord is a consumer of high end electronics slightly outside the grasps of his earnings.

To Alex I leave the pair of sunglasses I think I left in the drawer back in home theater.

To Sean I leave my family mansion located in the hills of west Virginia, with the stipulation that he spend one night in it. It is possibly haunted or my uncle is squatting in it, either way good luck.

To Philip I leave my love and these words “I would look you in the eyes, and it would be ok.”

I will leave my badge and gun on your desk in two weeks.

With love,
Billy Miller Esquire

May 27, 2010

The Black Keys Unlock Their Inner Groove

by George

Just look at the cover…how can this record not be awesome?

On their latest album, Brothers, The Black Keys show that while they helped define the DIY, lo-fi, garage-rock sound that had a renaissance in recent years, they aren’t bound to it.  Quite the contrary.  True, their first few albums portrayed the Keys as modern-day blues/indie revival shamans, liberating people from the notion that big record labels and bigger budgets don’t = better music.  But the duo, singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach & drummer Pat Carney, have taken the success of their last album, Attack and Release, with its somewhat adventurous attitude and slick Danger Mouse produced tracks, as a signal to really open the flood gates and show off some new studio tricks.

It’s obvious from the material that there’s been a lot going on in the Akron duo’s personal lives.  Auerbach stretches deep inside and pulls out a truly emotional and honest vocal delivery while Carney sticks to what he’s best at, laying down a solid, simple, one-track-mind groove for guitar, organ and string melodies to soar over and dance around.  Recorded at the legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studio (slide guitar great Duane Allman recorded there..boom) this album goes down smooth and feels as though it has an old soul, one that’s been weathered and worn but still has enough gritty charm left to entertain.

The band has delved into the realm of early 60s R&B and 70s Soul (check out the falsetto vocals on the opening track) and almost every track has a guitar hook or vocal melody that sticks in your brainparts like NASA-engineered velcro.  One new sonic departure (or arrival) for the Keys is the addition of a (at times prominent) silky bass line that slides through many of these tunes.  I’m all for it, especially with this material.  These simple yet effective bass lines, along with keys and some string orchestration, convey more depth than their usual fuzzed-out guitar and drum assault.  The band has taken one soggy, swampy footstep away from Delta-blues homage and moved more towards defining their own sound.  All the same pieces are there, but they’ve been re-calibrated to hit harder and resonate louder.  Some  highlights from the record:

  • Everlasting Night: At first you think, “This isn’t a Black Keys record”…then your foot starts tapping
  • Next Girl: could have been on Magic Potion…watch the video
  • Ten Cent Pistol: Revenge is a dish best served cold
  • I’m Not the One: More soul than a James Brown slow jam

No doubt, fans of the Black Keys will quickly adopt this album into the family (and if you haven’t heard Rubber Factory or Magic Potion before…do it now!) but innocent bystanders will have no trouble singing along with the hooks.  Still cool enough for the indie hipsters but accessible to blues-rock freaks and lovers of all things vintage, the Black Keys keep getting better.

May 16, 2010

Grateful for The Dead (Weather) – A review of the new Dead Weather album

by George

When their debut, Horehound, came out last year, I figured that the Dead Weather would just be another notch on the bedpost of musical projects for drummer/singer Jack White (see also The White Stripes & Raconteurs).  I was pleasantly surprised when I was greeted with a sleazy, leather-jacket wearing slab of 70’s style rock (they even put some Zep-style blues raunch on a Dylan tune).  It was simple, fuzzier than a moldy peach and most definitely rock but it still took me a few months to fully appreciate.  I soon came to realize that what lay before me was a go-to rock record.

That’s why I was chomping at the bit to pick up their latest album, Sea of Cowards.   It’s certainly more musically varied than their debut but the core elements are still there: thick distorted guitars and bass (with plenty of unrestrained feedback); the quirky organ & synthesizer melodies that make you wanna shake your ass; the simple but effective backbeat drumming raining with cymbal crashes.  Lyrically and musically, each of these songs follow a most weird spiral inward, repetitiously meandering with (seemingly) no purpose until they flip the switch and the bands breaks out into a heavy, head-nodding groove.  For me, the standout performance that claws its way to the top of this sloppy (in a good way) rock mess is the venom-spit vocal delivery from singer Alison Mosshart.  Her vocal delivery on this album seems like the cue to let the band know when to turn it up and let loose for a few bars.  Coupled with the occasional vocal duet from behind the drum kit, these chant-like mantras shake the listener with intensity.  Here are the tunes I’m diggin’ after the first few listens:

  • The opener, ‘Blue Blood Blues’, steps in with a drunken swagger and a slippery guitar/bass line that serves as the perfect linkage for listeners from the last record.  Some trippy, looped vocals at the track’s end give way to the funky bass line intro of ‘Hustle and Cuss’
  • ‘Jawbreaker’ is another tune that comes in with a dirty, hip-swinging rock and roll feel before switching gears into a rapid-fire, stop & start descending drum fill/synth arpeggio that reminds me of the post-breakdown (~ 4:57 mark) drum pummeling of ‘Dazed and Confused’.
  • The truly bizarre ‘Old Mary’ simply because of it’s foreboding, slurred organ drawl and killer final lyric (Carry this burden, now and till the moment of your last breath)

Just like the debut, I think that I will need a few months to digest this album as well.  If the last record brought to mind 70’s rock, it seems like the band has taken another half-step toward the 80s; the prominence of buzzy synth/organ lines is the most noticeable musical difference from their last offering.  At first glance, it may seem like those crazy kids have simply found more ways to keep the retro-without-coming-off-as-trying-to-hard vibe going but I think that this record serves as a solid platform for The Dead Weather to continue building their own schizophrenic sound.


May 12, 2010

The Trifecta of Evil

by bmiller445

What keeps you awake at night? Are you worried about your children, dirty bombs, terrorist threat levels, fecal borne disease? You’re not alone, there are lots of people out there as irrational, ill-informed, and just as cowardly as your are. Some of us have real fears though. Fears made from things that have bubbled up from the depths of hell, some of us fear that that is the worst of man and beyond. Some of us aren’t vaginas. What is a man like me afraid of you ask…? (go ahead ask it, I need to hear you say it.) I fear the Trifecta of Evil.

The Trifecta of Evil is like if all evil in the known universe had a race where speed was evil these would be the winners of that race hands down. (Perhaps your thinking that that was a poorly made metaphor. Jokes on you asshole it was a poorly made simile.) Nazis place first hands down, they’re the evil leaders of evil. They have the ability to shape the minds and hearts of evil, they rolled a 20 in charisma. A distant second is Zombies, they’re evil and hell bent on death and destruction, but deep down they’re primal, a force of nature and can’t answer for their crimes. Then there are Aliens. These fellow denizens  of the universe aren’t inherently evil, but have the ability, just as we humans do, to create Nazis, but Nazis that have mastered intergalactic space travel, so that’s the shits.

At night I lay awake  wondering if I am prepared when any or, God forbid, all of these things happen. I imagine a world of chaos and pray that the good stand together hand in, brain protecting helmets on, ready to do what it takes to beat these things back. As I laid in bed just the other night with my eyes wide open and my body paralyzed in fear as the flames began to lick at my imagination (an imagination that probably makes brains only that much more tasty and tempting to zombies.) I had a terrible realization. I hadn’t even considered robots. I now where pajama pants to bed so I don’t directly crap onto the sheets.


April 24, 2010

Format Over Function

by George

If you went over to your friend’s house and asked him/her to put on some music, what would happen next?  Would they dock their MP3 player into a home sound system or click open some files on their computer?   Would they drop a needle onto a large, spinning black piece of plastic, or open a little clear case and load their stereo with a few silver discs?

Today, there are three major formats (probably in order of descending popularity) used for consumption of audio: MP3s, CDs and LPs.  While most people don’t give much thought or have much preference about which they use, others are very particular & calculated about their choice.  Which is the superior format is a topic of great debate amongst music listeners.  This arguement typically boils down to a few key issues: cost, availability, ease of use and sound quality.

It’s pretty apparent why downloading digital media is the most popular way of getting your hands on some tunes. It’s hard to beat digital music in terms of cost, portability and availability.  An internet search for an album/artist will quickly yield links to websites/torrents to download music (illegally) at no cost.  Many times, you can get an artists whole discography within minutes and not spend a penny.  And if you’re one of the honest ones who is willing to pay a whole .99/1.29 cents for a song on iTunes, it’s even easier.  You click a few buttons, wait a few seconds and you can be rocking the newest Miley Cyrus song in no time (just threw up in my mouth).  My experience has been that illegal downloads are a bit of a crapshoot when it comes to quality.  Most are ok but there’s a good bit out there that sounds like it’s been recorded with a Playskool boombox and put on the web.  Pay programs (iTunes, Napster, etc.) not only have standardized audio file quality, but you know that when you click to buy “Heartbreaker” by Led Zeppelin you won’t get “Heartbreaker” by Pat Benatar…great googly moogly, what a travesty that would be!!!

CDs and LPs are a pain in the ass, in comparison.  Not only do you have to get up and go to a record store, but you run the risk that they may be out of or not even carry the album you’re looking for.  This may be a common occurrence if you listen to any music too far off of the beaten path, especially since record stores are becoming harder to find and stores like Best Buy are cutting way back on their selection.  You also don’t have the choice of buying just one song…you have to (gasp!!) commit to buying a whole piece of music.  Physical media is also typically more expensive (especially LPs) than digital media and since a book of CDs or a box of LPs is way bigger than an iPod, they’re nowhere near as easy to take with you.

This, for me, is the saving grace of the digital format…portability.  It lets me take my entire music collection with me wherever I go.  At any moment, I can switch from Queen to Queens of the Stone Age;  Black Sabbath to the Black Crowes; the Dead Weather to Death.  You can almost instantly change your music to match your mood, time or location.

Ahh, but there is a flipside to this that makes it worth the extra effort for these soon to be dinosaur formats;  you don’t get any tangible product for your money with an MP3.  Nothing.  Unless you sit at home and yourself draw some cool picture or write the song titles on the front of a burned CD of MP3s, there’s nothing to hold.  This bums me out immensely.

What is cooler than awesome album artwork??  It seemingly makes the music BETTER!  It’s part of the allure, message and image.  With CDs and LPs you get artwork, liner notes and other imagery that the artist wanted associated with their album…and on an LP it’s HUGE.  Plus, the bands that do issue their albums on vinyl seem to be putting extra effort into the package: unique and collectible colored vinyls, expanded artwork/picture discs…many even come with a code of a download of the album.  Best of both worlds.

While it’s not true of every piece of music ever recorded, some are composed as cohesive thoughts…like one long sentence.  This has become more evident to me when listening an album I’ve heard to before on CD or MP3 as an LP.  It makes me think that the format has maybe not influenced, but been a complement to this ‘concept album’ idea: Side A starts off with a bang that eventually settles on Side B (and perhaps rises and falls again on the subsequent Sides C & D).  It’s definitely more epic and engaging…you’re listening, getting into it and then the music stops, like intermission during a theatrical performance or concert.   The listener can take a break, grab a drink, use the bathroom, then flip over to Side B for the remainder of the performance.  While this seems jarring, I believe that more artists are aware of this aspect of the listening experience and it’s impacting their track sequencing.

The ever-rising popularity of digital music implies that most people don’t care as much about album art, liner notes, etc. as they do convenience.  I totally understand, but it’s consumer laziness at its best (or worst) and ultimately depressing & difficult: not only is the concept of a complete package lost on most people but the more popular MP3s become, the less incentive for record companies/labels/bands to want to put their material out on CD or LP and they become even harder to find.

Sound quality, though, may be the greatest debated aspect of the format discussion among audiophiles and one where I feel digital media (and CDs to some degree) takes the biggest hit and it’s because of compression.  Part of digitizing a piece of music is compressing it down to a particular file size.  This compression means that you can use less information to convey the same sounds and the result is that many nuances are oftentimes lost.  An analogy is writing with 250 words instead of 1000; yeah, you can understand the main idea that the author is trying to get across, but the detail  and nuance is lost.  These details are what differentiate one writer, musician, person from any other and are what music fans take great pleasure in.

Even CDs are compressed to a certain degree…but at the same time, they greatly reduce the signal noise that you hear on an LP and this increase in overall dynamics yields a greater perceived clarity by the listener.  But for devotees of the LP format, this noise is a small price to pay for the character that is found in a vinyl record.  While the hiss and pops associated with LPs are generally thought of as detractors from the music, some feel that they allow the listener to ‘feel’ the music, something that is rare with the other formats.  Even during sections of silence (intentionally by the artist or otherwise) you know that you are listening to an LP; you hear and feel it.  The speakers are still moving air toward your body.  This character and ambience is present during the entire record, even as the music plays.

I think (and hope) that in the end, all that matters to most music listeners is the actual content…the music.  Plus, someday we’ll all get albums downloaded to the hard drives implanted in our brains.  I guess I’ll have to buy ‘Abbey Road’ AGAIN.


March 26, 2010

Check This

by bmiller445

I recently started working at a large electronic store on the weekend, we’ll call it Buy Best. If you have never worked in retail before I assure you that in four hours I stood there I saw America in all its splendor and unfortunately at its worst. I’m not talking about bratty kids, screaming parents, or people spending irresponsibly. If anything these are people I can relate to. I’m talking about the three assholes who thought it was ok to write me a check. If you haven’t written a check in a store in the last five years you are dismissed, I think one of the others wrote something about music or a video game or something, go read that. If you have though, sit down we need to talk.

Who the hell do you think you are? Maybe you didn’t notice me staring at you like you were a murderer because you were too busy scribbling illegibly on a crinkled, spearmint smelling, coffee stained piece of worthless parchment. You will never know how close you came to death as your wrote that check out, if you had taken any more time to write a memo to yourself I would have taken the pen out of your hand and stabbed you to death with it. And then do your remember that feeling on the back of your head? That was the customer behind you glaring at you so hard he was about to set your hair on fire. He was angry because of the painstaking investigation I had to preform in order to confirm that some bank somewhere would accept this worthless piece of paper you just handed me.

Do you know who writes checks? Jerks and people who know damn well they don’t have the money. Here’s what you need to do. Go to the bank and pull out your check book. Write the check the to “The 21st century” on the amount line write “one debit card” and in the memo section put “because I don’t want to be a jerk anymore”. Hand this to the teller, after they are done interrogating you, like the criminal your are, about all the information on your check they are going to give you a little plastic card. This is your ticket to join the rest of us in Club 21st Century. Come on in, but be sure to pay the cover charge at the door, and no they don’t take checks…actually they don’t take debit either so bring some cash.


March 16, 2010

Fuzzy Wuzzy – The Fuzz Pt.1

by George

Why do we (lovers of rock and roll like myself) have such an attraction to the gnarly, distorted sounds of overdriven instruments (guitars, bass, synthesizers, whatever) heard on thousands of classic albums? What’s the appeal? Is it a conscious choice to embrace these unpure signals or the subconscious at play?

I think it goes along with the whole ethos of rock and roll: making loud sounds LOUDER because you can and want to. Expression in its simplest form: volume. The pleasure and, dare I say, relaxation that comes from a slow and steady stream of airwaves that bathe your senses as you sit in front of a blaring stereo. Or the celebration of firing off your favorite track from your iPod, listening as it travels like an ever-climbing rocket launched toward the sky. What’s wrong with pretty, soft and sweet?? Nothing…that’s what cheesy ballads are for.

I can’t explain it, but as a guitarist and music listener I am completely obsessed with distorted, overdriven, fuzz tones…this obsession leads me on what seems like a never-ending journey in search of the thickest and wooliest tones I can find (on record and in the form of various musical instruments/effects/random items used like instruments ala THIS). I find the greatest appeal and charm in the fuzzes; overdrives are great for a crisp boost and adding smoothness to a sound, distortions for articulation and sheer power; but fuzzes sit in between the two like a bearded, fat man in the middle seat on the 3:15 bus.

Without getting into all the minutia involved with these effects (silicon vs. germanium transistors, transistor bias, input voltage chokes, etc.) there are so many variations on this fuzz sound that you can have a different one for breakfast every day of the week…mmmm. From a soft clip to a hairy, lo-fi growl; a mid-scooped rasp or a throaty, mid-high bark; a smooth grind or a sputtery, dying battery bit-crushed sound.

Listen closely to the loose, slightly uncontrollable quake of the most famous fuzzboxes of all time, the Electro Harmonix Big Muff; that beautiful sound created when a note or chord is so saturated with electrical input that it has reached critical mass; one that has begun to crumble and is on the verge of collapsing in upon itself. It’s almost as though these devices are shaking the subtle harmonics out of each note, dissolving the composure of these tame and normal sounds and releasing their inner soul. Electric bloom!

Let’s take a trip through the history/highlights of the fuzz sound:

Early/Mid ’60s: Musicians stumble upon this magic box that makes their instruments sound like they’re capable of leveling a small building. Naturally, the human ear (and more importantly brain) likes this and wants more.  No longer do musicians have to tear the cones in their speaker cabinets to get this glorious sound. British bands like The Kinks, The Animals and The Rolling Stones come to America with their fuzz boxes; little girls scream; young men revel in the sound of syrupy, distorted guitars…

Late 60s/70s: The Beatles take fuzz tones psychedelic, Hendrix single-handedly destroys and rebuilds what we knew as guitar playing (using only wood, steel strings and a FuzzFace pedal) and Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour slyly sneaks some fuzz into his soulful lead guitar voice.  ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons was stringing together up to 6 Expandora fuzzes to create his ‘Lapdog of Distortion’, heard on records like Tres Hombres, which he used to bring some Texas heat to the blues. Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin…Rangemasters, Tone Benders, on and on we go…

Late 70s/80s: Besides a couple Sabbath-clone bands, I’ll be skipping this decade. You can thank hair metal for that one (bastards!).

Late 80s/90s: Ahhh, rebirth of the fuzz: J. Mascis from Dinosaur Jr., Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo & Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins break out those ancient fuzz machines and in doing so, help define the alt-rock thing going on at the time. Enter the almighty fuzz lords Kyuss…masters of the massive-volume amp riffage that would later give birth to bands like Queens of the Stone Age and stripped down garage-rock bands to follow in the…

2000s -now: Fuzz revival is in full-swing with lo-fi garage rock and between the albums Elephant & Magic Potion you can hear almost every classic fuzz tone known to mankind. Then there are bands like SunnO))) that are capable of re-awakening dormant volcanoes with their sub-sonic, fuzzed-out rumble.

In a future installment, I’ll do the trifecta for gearheads:  a trident review of some fuzz pedals that have me giddy as a school girl:  the Swollen Pickle MkII, Fuzz Factory and the Bluebeard Fuzz.  And if this wasn’t totally boring for you, check out the awesome documentary Fuzz: The Sound That Revolutionized the World.


February 25, 2010

‘Ground Control to Major Tom…’

by George

Have you ever listened to silence…complete and utter silence.  You might think that you have, but you haven’t.

This is nearly impossible on earth because we do not live within a vacuum.  Even the slightest vibration disturbs and propagates through airwaves enough to defeat silence.  But this is not a science lesson.

And while there is no sound in all the vast reaches of outer space, there is a lot of sound about space; it even has its own sub-genre if you wanna get picky about it (see Space Rock). And despite being a completely silent place itself, we are so intrigued by this unknown world that we have created sonic representations of how we imagine the galaxies to sound.

Any unknown, whether it be a person, place, etc., makes the best theme for a piece of music because there are no boundaries; it’s not something that everyone knows, has seen, experienced or can define.  It leaves itself open to for the utmost personal interpretation and does not limit creativity with harsh reality or preconceived ideas.  Space, to some degree, represents and defines the limits of our human understanding: we describe something/someone out-there as spacey; we space out when not paying attention.  Anything beyond the boundaries of normalcy must be from outer space.

While all music can be an escape from everyday life, there are certain compositions that offer an even farther refuge from this world…one Beyond the Infinite.

So what does rock and roll sound like in space.   It varies slightly depending on which artist you ask, but generally speaking HUGE.  It appears there are few subtleties amongst the stars.  Large, sustaining notes that stretch far into the stars; unlimited reverberations and echoes of sound from a distant planet; an intoxicating, lush swirl of sound; droning loud & distorted tones; a sputtering sequence of synthetic and alien bleeps and blurts.

Each of the instruments used to create this cosmic symphony serves a purpose: the percussion propels the listener’s vessel into deep space like a steady rocket; you feel the pulse of the bass and sub-low frequencies as you climb farther into darkness and then, you see the vivid and colorful guitar and vocal tones and textures of melody and harmony, like the bright astral bodies that litter the galaxies and pass by you on your interstellar voyage.

Pink Floyd, while speeding through the cosmos in Interstellar Overdrive, decided to Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun and took a few albums to come back to self-reflective reality here on Earth.  ‘Surely’, said Hawkwind, ‘Space is Deep‘ as they rode along in their Silver Machine until they heard Earth Calling.  Blue Oyster Cult is another well-versed student of Astronomy.  Even Black Sabbath have travelled Into the Void and beyond to Planet Caravan.

It’s liberating to listen to these sounds and mental place oneself outside the world as we know it; to carry only your imagination with you and be transported from reality.  I doubt that any record made about the confining atmosphere and gravity of Earth would be nearly as exciting.

Put on something ‘spacey’ (preferably on vinyl so that you can hear the hiss and pops), turn off the lights (lava lamps can stay on) and climb aboard.


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February 21, 2010

The Doctor Will See You Now

by daverj

Last night I finished watching a 2005 BBC show “Doctor Who: Series 1“.  That title that struck me funny in two ways: the first being called “Series 1” because this 2005 incarnation was, in fact the 27th season of a show that dates back to 1963.  The second thing that amuses me about the title “Doctor Who” is, here in America, the reaction you might get when mentioning this science fiction series…”Who??”

So this got me thinking about the popularity and respectability of science fiction in the U.S. of A.

This is where it all began.

Science fiction has certainly gained a broader audience in the past couple decades.  What was once reserved for Saturday morning b-movies, childhood comic books, and incomprehensibly complex paperback novels evolved into mass market.  While many thank the 1966 TV show Star Trek as the beginning of mass acceptance of sci-fi in this country, I think it could be argued that the true turning point for science-fiction-as-popular-entertainment was in 1977 when George Lucas took us to that galaxy far, far away…. The reason was simple: this happened at the movies.  With Star Wars, Lucas didn’t dwell on the silly campiness of Gene Roddenberry’s TV show, and removed the too-serious or confusing statements of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  He just had a fantasy action-adventure with fun yet identifiable characters.  Crowds lined up at the box office, and Hollywood took notice, honoring the movie with a Best Picture Oscar nomination.

That same year, Steven Spielberg continued the popularization of science fiction with Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  Everyone, young and old, nerd and non, wanted to go with Richard Dreyfuss on his amazing journey into the musical space ship to meet alien life forms.  And it didn’t stop in ’77 – through the 1980s, the Lucas/Spielberg combo continued to draw in huge audiences with the Star Wars sequels and ET, the later also being nominated for the Best Picture.  That same decade a young James Cameron carried on the box-office boffo with the low-budget The Terminator, followed by the big-budget Aliens, both elevating audiences’ expectations of stories about other beings and/or worlds.

At the start of the 90s, Cameron continued to blow all box-office expectations with his sequel Terminator 2: Judgment Day, once again gaining a huge American audience with a story of time-traveling robots. The following year was Spielberg’s return to form with Jurassic Park – not really hard-core “robot-and-laser” science fiction, but still geeky, popular and very successful.  Sci-fi seemed like an unstoppable force in American cinema.

…but then, nothing.


Science Fiction didn’t disappear from American cinema as the 21st century approached, but the popularity certainly leveled — and the quality dropped.  For every Matrix or Fifth Element, there were plenty of duds, or at least less popular attempts.  James Cameron seemed to abandon sci-fi with True Lies and Titanic, Lucas’ continuation of the Star Wars “prequel trilogy” left many underwhelmed,  and Spielberg’s science-fiction attempts ranged from bad (The Lost World: Jurassic Park, later War of the Worlds and Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull) to mixed (A.I., Minority Report).

It only got worse for sci-fi in 2000 and beyond.  As the calendar approached 2001, the particular year that was supposed to be “the future” if we were to believe Arthur C. Clark, science fiction was on the way out of the theaters.  Did the attack on 9/11 sober up mainstream America and push “silly” science fiction stories back to the domain of the nerd?  Unlikely – a better explanation is that tastes changed, and movie fans in this country traded in the spaceships and lasers of sci-fi for the dragons and magic wands of fantasy movies like The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, or the rise of popular superhero movies like Spiderman, Batman and X-men.

Back to TV

That’s not to say quality sci-fi wasn’t around in the ’00s, it just moved back to TV.  One shining example came in 2004: Battlestar Galactica, a updated version of a 1978 TV show that was spawned from the popularity of the original 1977 Star Wars. (See where I went with that?)  Yet, even though “BSG” was a quality science-fiction TV show and had many fans, being on TV limited it from reaching the mass mainstream.  It was looking like this was the decade where science-fiction stories were forced to return to the smaller roots of comic-books, pulp novels, TV, and the new video-game medium.

But in the midst of sci-fi’s rise and fall of popularity in American theaters — the Star Treks, Star Wars, Terminators, et al… England had a delightful gem of sci-fi television.

Mostly unknown in America, yet popular culture across the pond, Doctor Who (the title character is actually identified simply as “The Doctor” – the “Who” part is a running gag of the mysterious last name) was successful enough to spawn over 750 episodes of the show!  And judging from the 13 I have just watched, it has everything popular science fiction should have: engaging characters that George Lucas would love, alternate pasts, presents, and futures that would intrigue Steven Spielberg, and the show’s best element — time-traveling aliens called the Daleks that could EXTERMINATE James Cameron’s version.

Take THAT, Governator!

Please don’t get the point of this blog wrong — I have no illusions of Doctor Who becoming the next blockbuster in the United States. If this quirky show is not mainstream in America after almost 50 years, it probably will never be.  It’s silly, campy, and very British.  My Yankee ears had, on occasional, a hard time with the accents and references.  And the special effects (very important in popular sci-fi), even for 2005, look terribly cheap and fake compared to that same year’s Battlestar Galactica.  But I think that’s the point… it IS silly.  And charming.  And the characters are the purest, human, most accessible science fiction personalities I’ve seen since…well, that galaxy far, far away.

Let's bring this back around!

So now it’s 2010, and James Cameron has brought sci-fi back to big screen with a love story between Pocohontas a blue alien and John J. Dunbar a soldier fighting the military for control of spice valuable mineral.  Good for him for bringing science fiction back to the masses, and once again Americans are heading to the theater in droves to watch science fiction.  Hollywood also seems to be welcoming sci-fi’s return — Avatar, along with the superior District 9, have both been considered “Best Picture” nominees for this year’ Oscars.

So after a decade-long slump, the future for theatrical Hollywood sci-fi is looking good again for 2010 and beyond.  And maybe James Cameron’s story, like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg before him, might bring a slightly wider audience to other, non-theatrical science fiction.  Hopefully some of that new audience might pop on the telly and check out the silly, heartfelt, and very British gem Doctor Who.  Flatulent aliens, time-traveling spaceships, zombies, ghosts, and evil over-sized salt-shakers yelling “EX-TERM-IN-ATE” await them!

“Doctor Who Series 1” is available on DVD and streaming via Netflix.


February 20, 2010

Watermelon exploding – Single shot

by John
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