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My STAR TREK BEYOND review (spoilers!)

I wasn’t planning on seeing Star Trek Beyond until Tuesday (discount day) due to my strained finances, but a fan was kind enough to make a PayPal donation as a gift to let me see the movie earlier (thanks, Linn), so I went yesterday. (Plus I needed groceries anyway, so an earlier trip was welcome.)

I generally agree with the consistently positive reactions the film has gotten. It is the best of the Bad Robot series to date (or the Kelvin Timeline, as it’s now been officially dubbed). I liked the first two films for the way they handled the characters, for J.J. Abrams’s good directorial work handling emotion and relationships, and for the superb casting — but they both had pretty major logic problems and plot holes, like Kirk’s ludicrously rapid promotion in the first film, the gratuitous Wrath of Khan callbacks in the second film, and the careless astrophysics and near-instantaneous interstellar travel in both films (justified by an implied time cut in the first film, but harder to reconcile in the second). I also wasn’t crazy about the totally unnecessary disaster porn in Into Darkness‘s climax, and I didn’t like how gray and gloomy Earth’s cities looked in the films. So I liked the films, but with reservations. In the case of Beyond, most of the problems of the previous two movies are absent, and there’s plenty of good stuff still there as well. With a different director (Justin Lin) and writers (Simon Pegg & Doug Jung), it has a different flavor and tone, and it’s one that works well, for the most part.

The first two films were meant as prequels, showing the early years of the TOS cast as they grew into the people we knew, or reasonable approximations. Beyond is the culmination of that process. The characters are now three years into the five-year mission, and they’re pretty much the mature versions of themselves at last. Chris Pine’s Kirk is more seasoned, more thoughtful. On the cusp of his 30th birthday, he’s no longer the delinquent renegade he was just five years earlier, but a seasoned commander, a Starfleet company man, serious and disciplined but with a bit of the old bad boy still peeking out occasionally — essentially just like his predecessor. Zachary Quinto’s Spock and Karl Urban’s McCoy finally get the extensive interaction they’ve lacked before, and it’s a classic Spock-McCoy interplay, albeit a bit more foulmouthed than would ever have been allowed 50 years ago. McCoy is put in a bit too much of an action-hero role at times (when did he ever show any piloting skill?), but it’s in service to keeping him and Spock together, and that’s long overdue. Spock’s romance with Zoe Saldana’s Uhura is downplayed, though not entirely absent, which allows Uhura to stand on her own as a protagonist; she handles herself well, carrying the brunt of the direct interaction with Idris Elba’s villain Krall, standing up to him, and gaining vital intelligence about his true identity and origins. Pegg’s Scotty also gets a good share of the spotlight, unsurprisingly, as he interacts with the guest alien Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), a striking and tough alien of unidentified species, and supports her through her character arc as she aligns herself with our heroes. Not surprising that these movies would prioritize cast members as prominent as Saldana and Pegg. Unfortunately, John Cho and the late Anton Yelchin are still basically wasted as Sulu and Chekov, never really given a chance to emerge from the background, which is particularly tragic given that this was Yelchin’s final turn in the role. Chekov is pretty much just there to follow orders and be comic relief, and he has even less of an arc than in the previous two movies. Sulu is given a bit more character depth as we learn that he has a husband and daughter on Starbase Yorktown, and we see his worry about them when we learn that Krall intends to attack Yorktown, but it’s a character arc that’s conveyed almost entirely without dialogue, relying purely on Cho’s silent reaction shots — and of course Cho is more than good enough to put volumes into those wordless looks, but still, guys, he’s probably the best actor in the whole damn cast (other than Yelchin — damn it, I’m getting teary-eyed), so give him something to do! (I wonder if there were more scripted lines that got cut because the studio was nervous about focusing too overtly on Sulu’s gay marriage.)

I liked the way the film compensated for the male-heavy core cast by featuring mostly women in the supporting cast. We still had Elba’s Krall as the main villain and Joe Taslim as his sidekick Manas (who was such a minor character that I didn’t even notice him as a presence until Jaylah established in dialogue that he was her nemesis), but we also had Boutella’s standout work as Jaylah; Shohreh Aghdashloo as the Yorktown commander (Commodore Paris!); Lydia Wilson as Kalara, an alien refugee playing a significant role in the first two acts; and Melissa Roxburgh in a small but important role as Ensign Syl, an alien crewmember with a special skill that Kirk cleverly takes advantage of.

Beyond also avoids a lot of the crazy science of the previous Abrams films. Warp travel actually seems to take time (and the new warp effect is utterly gorgeous, the first one that actually looks like it’s representing the warping of space, at least in a stylized way), there’s no transwarp beaming or super-healing Augment blood, and it’s essentially the first Star Trek screen work that’s ever handled alien languages and translations in a realistic way, with aliens either speaking their own languages, speaking accented English, or speaking in their own voices while a computer translation runs parallel, in Kalara’s case. This is what we were always supposed to assume was going on when we saw aliens seemingly speaking English, but now we actually see it shown literally, and it’s refreshing, if a bit distracting. I wouldn’t have minded, honestly, if they’d emulated The Undiscovered Country‘s Klingon courtroom scene and started out that way long enough to establish it, then transitioned to having Wilson just speak English. The science of Yorktown’s outwardly spherical artificial gravity, and the weirdness that results in the center of the field, is a bit fanciful, but no more so than artificial gravity in general, and it’s the basis of a really clever action sequence at the climax. Yorktown itself is a gorgeous setting; unlike the Earth cities in the Abrams-directed films, it’s bright and inviting enough that it actually looks like the Federation should look. (Although I wish it hadn’t been filmed in Dubai, a country that I gather is prone to rather atrocious human-rights violations toward emigrant workers. That hardly seems fitting.)

As for the action overall, I found it kind of meh. It was big and frenetic and everything, but sometimes hard to follow. It was definitely clever in a lot of ways, but the execution wasn’t always there. They did find an imaginatively novel way to destroy the Enterprise, but it gets a little tiresome that deflector shields almost never seem to work in the movies. I’m also not convinced by the claim that the E was unequipped for this kind of attack, given the dozens of point-defense phaser banks it was shown to have in the first couple of films. Most of all, the destruction of the Enterprise had no emotion to it, no pathos. I didn’t feel the loss like I did in The Search for Spock or Generations, because we weren’t shown the characters feeling the loss. The Enterprise wasn’t treated as a beautiful lady that we loved and hated to lose, but just as a vehicle that was abandoned once it was no longer useful. So it was a well-made sequence and all, but rather unengaging. The emotion just wasn’t there. Say what you like about Abrams as a director, but he always focuses on the emotion of an event, no matter how big and frenetic it is. That was missing here.

Now we get into the really spoilery stuff, since I’m going to talk about Krall’s backstory. I guessed pretty early on, as soon as we saw Krall changing appearance when he drained the crewmembers, that it would turn out he was a member of the Franklin crew who’d been changed into an alien. I feel the movie totally failed to explain just how that happened, or where the transformative technology came from. I guess it was something left behind by the previous inhabitants of Altamid, the warrior race that had built the superweapon (and I’m getting a little tired of Trek movies built around superweapons), but the exposition that would’ve tied this together seemed to be absent. As for Krall really being Balthazar Edison, an ex-MACO who couldn’t adjust to peacetime, I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, it’s kind of a classic TOS-style plot, with Kirk against another Starfleet captain who’s gone rogue — there’s a lot of Ron Tracey in Edison. I’ve even seen one person express the opinion that it covered similar themes to my novel Rise of the Federation: A Choice of Futures, though I was actually reminded more of the debates in Into Darkness about Marcus’s warmongering view of Starfleet versus the more peaceful approach Spock advocated. And the tie-ins to Enterprise-era history were interesting. The bit about the MACOs being dissolved and folded into Starfleet meshed comfortably with my own books, although the uniform design is quite different from what I came up with. (I’m not worried about inconsistencies with ROTF, though; Simon Pegg has recently said that the Kelvin Timeline was altered in a way that allows its history to diverge before Nero’s arrival in 2233 rather than after, which is basically a way of saying that storytellers in the respective universes can operate independently of one another from now on.)

But I’m disappointed, because the advance word suggested that the story was going to be about how alien cultures perceived the Federation’s expansionism as cultural imperialism — a post-colonial take on Trek’s ideas, as filtered through the perspective of the Taiwanese-born Justin Lin. As a student of world history and frontiers in particular, I would’ve been very interested in a story along those lines, and looking forward to seeing that new perspective. But it turns out that was essentially all just a fakeout, or else a plan that was changed by the time the film was finalized. This was really just another story about a rogue Starfleet officer turning on Starfleet, like we’ve seen many times before — and it again echoes STID in that the villain’s true identity as a figure from human history was obscured for much of the film. I liked the theme of working for peace versus embracing war, but it was rather more conventional than what I was led to expect.

I also don’t think it sold the message of peace very well, because it fell back on the usual action-movie pattern of just killing the bad guys without remorse or qualm. The bit about using hard-rock music to defeat the swarm ships was kind of cute in a hokey way, but it involved killing thousands of alien pilots, and that wasn’t acknowledged in any way. (How many of those pilots were innocent captives transformed into Krall’s servants?) And I was hoping that the climax would involve Edison redeeming himself — to have a Spider-Man 2-style ending where Kirk would persuade him to regain his humanity and he’d sacrifice himself to stop the destruction he’d started… or better yet, work with Kirk to stop it and then survive to be rehabilitated. It’s only paying lip service to the idea of peace if your hero makes no real effort to find an alternative to killing the bad guy. This is one respect in which I have to give the higher score to the Abrams-directed movies. Kirk at least made a token effort to invite Nero to surrender (though that could’ve been handled much better), and they actually did take Khan alive (though that was mainly with an eye toward sequel possibilities).

As for the closing sequence, I think it’s a bit corny to destroy the ship just to set up an Enterprise-A at the end of the same film, although the time-lapse ending was a clever alternative to ST IV’s approach of just pulling a finished ship out of a hat. But I’m disappointed that the E-A looks basically the same as the original. I was hoping that they’d hold off on introducing the new ship and then would come up with a completely new design for its successor in the next, like the TNG films did with the Enterprise-E. Honestly, I’m not a fan of this Enterprise design. Its saucer is fine, if rather derivative of the TMP ship, but the proportions of the engineering hull and nacelles don’t work for me at all. I would’ve welcomed a completely new design from a different art team.

All in all, this is a very solid Trek movie that handles the characters and ideas pretty well, but that has a certain emotional and thematic superficiality compared to some of its predecessors. Its plot holds together pretty well except where it overlooks some things that could’ve stood to be explained. It has some fantastic action and some overly cluttered action, and some fun-but-hokey moments like the music bit and the motorcycle bit. It handles most of the ensemble well, including Jaylah, but still lets Sulu and Chekov down. I wouldn’t say the problems are quite as frustrating as the problems in the previous two Kelvin films, but there are a few things those films did better, especially when it came to emotional engagement with the characters and situations. So it’s an improvement — certainly the best Trek film of the past decade and one of the best overall — but there’s room for future films to improve on it even more.

Finally, my Shore Leave report

Sorry it’s taken me so long to talk about Shore Leave. It’s been a really exhausting week. Since money is very tight for me at the moment, I decided to leave early on Thursday and drive all the way to the DC area so I could spend the night with my cousins Barb and Mark. The drive took 12 hours, including rest and meal breaks, and I didn’t quite make it before dark. It’s a measure of how exhausted I must’ve been that I actually got a decent amount of sleep that night. I almost never manage to get any sleep on my first night in an unfamiliar bed.

(I almost had a copilot this time, though. My Aunt Shirley and Uncle Harry just moved from Detroit to a DC-area retirement home, and their daughter Cynthia is still in Detroit trying to square away the rest of their belongings and arrange the sale of the house. The idea was mooted that I could drive up to Detroit and that together we could drive to Shore Leave and bring some of her parents’ stuff to them, whereupon she could visit me at the convention too. Unfortunately, she had a friend’s wedding to attend that weekend.)

Anyway, I was delayed a bit at the start of my drive when I heard an ominous knock-knock-knock sound from my right front tire once I got above 60 MPH. I pulled over at the first opportunity to check the tire, and it looked fine, so I figured maybe something had gotten stuck on it for a bit and had fallen off before I stopped. But then the sound started up again. So I found the nearest auto shop and asked if they could take a look. I managed to talk them down from “We can pencil you in an hour and a half from now” to just coming out to the parking lot to see if there was even a problem. It turned out that the mud flap sort of thingie in front of the tire had come loose from its anchor and was being blown into the tire by the wind at highway speeds. The clerk and I (mostly him) managed to patch it using a roll of “gorilla tape” I keep in the glove compartment, and although I’m pretty sure I tore the tape on the curb at the next rest stop, the sound didn’t recur for the rest of my trip. Maybe the tape covered a hole or altered the weight distribution just enough to change the flap’s aerodynamics. Anyway, it was a relief that the problem turned out to be inconsequential. And the auto shop guy didn’t even charge me, so I’m very grateful for his help.

So after 12 hours on the road and a decent night’s sleep in my cousins’ guest room, my first stop on Friday was the retirement home where Aunt Shirley and Uncle Harry just moved, about a 20-minute drive from my cousins’ place. It’s a nice facility, strikingly similar in architecture and layout to the home my father lived in all too briefly, and they seem to be content there. They treated me to lunch, and I had a pretty good chicken salad sandwich. Then I set off from there to the convention. This time I had the sense to leave most of my luggage in the trunk until after I checked into my room, and fortunately my room was close to where I parked, so I didn’t have to lug it very far. Eventually I wandered out to the dealers’ area and ran into fellow Trek author and Only Superhuman editor Greg Cox, who’s usually the first person I run into at Shore Leave, and usually in the dealers’ area. (I walked right by him at first, then recognized his distinctive voice behind me while he was conversing with someone else.) We stood and talked for a while, but I was still pretty exhausted and hungry, so eventually we adjourned to the hotel cafe, where I got a sandwich and juice that I was charged exorbitantly for. We encountered a few other people while there and talked shop and the like.

I didn’t have any panels Friday, but I sat in on Greg and Marco Palmieri’s upcoming Tor Books panel (along with new Tor editor Jennifer Gunnels, who has a theater background, so they let her do most of the talking), then went on to the Meet the Pros autographing event. This time I brought copies of my old books to sell at my table, but the only ones I sold were three copies of DTI: Forgotten History. Still, I met a lot of fans and signed a lot of books.

Since I resolved not to spend hotel prices on food anymore, I just had coffee, a cereal bar, and an apple for breakfast, then walked over to the shopping mall nearby to get a sandwich from the Wegman’s grocery store’s deli. Luckily, I happened to have a refrigerator in my hotel room this year (they usually remove them for some reason, but this year was an exception), so I was able to save half the sandwich to eat on Sunday. I was really trying to economize as much as possible this trip.

Saturday was my big panel day. “Kick-ass Women Heroes” was a fun discussion, although there was one point I wished we’d covered more. We talked at one point about how both male and female comics characters tend to be stylized with male gaze in mind — female characters are sexualized, scantily clad, and objectified, while male characters are overmuscled, body-armored tough guys catering to male power fantasies. I asked the female panelists what a male character drawn for female gaze would look like, and the answers boiled down basically to “Chris Hemsworth” and romance-novel cover models. But the question I didn’t get to follow up on is that, if female gaze still favors big, muscular men, what differentiates them from the male gaze-oriented power-fantasy he-men of the comics? Is it the degree of exaggeration? Their wardrobe (functional vs. revealing)? Their attitude and body language? (I welcome replies in the comments from female readers.)

The “Superhero TV Scorecard” panel let us discuss a range of different points of view, because I started off gushing about how awesome Supergirl is and then another panelist insisted he found it unwatchable. Although the panelists and audience members were pretty civil about such differences of taste. The “World-Building” panel had fewer members on it than I expected — Peter David must’ve cancelled, and indeed I don’t think we encountered each other at all this year. Anyway, it was a nice discussion of the process of developing settings for fiction, gaming, and such, and I think moderator Stephen Kozeniewski did a very deft job directing the conversation and handling the audience’s questions. Then came the crowded “Star Trek at 50” panel, where we talked about our love for the franchise and our Trek memories, and fortunately managed to keep the conversation from getting sidetracked by the negativity about new stuff that often gets injected into Trek conversations by some fans. Although that can be a good opportunity to be informative. When someone questioned the idea of having to pay a monthly fee to watch the upcoming new Trek TV series on CBS All Access (which we’ve since learned will be called Star Trek: Discovery), the panelists were able to explain that the fee was for the entire streaming service and its dozens of old and current shows, and that you could just join for a month and binge-watch the whole series after it’s all out, or that you could wait for it to come out on home video a few months later. And I reminded folks that Star Trek has been used as the anchor of new broadcasting outlets before — Phase II was going to launch a Paramount-run “fourth network” before that fell through and the project evolved into Star Trek: The Motion Picture, ST:TNG was the first prime-time drama in first-run syndication and the beginning of a decade-long explosion of first-run syndicated dramas, and Voyager was the anchor show for the UPN network. Star Trek has always been about seeking out and embracing the new, after all.

Unfortunately, there was no opportunity to reschedule the “Upcoming Star Trek Books” panel, so it was still opposite the panel about the Smithsonian’s Enterprise restoration. We still got a decent-sized audience, though. All of my panels on Saturday were well-attended this year, without any cases of the panelists outnumbering the audience. I honestly don’t remember much about the panel, and I didn’t have anything new to announce that I haven’t already revealed, since the contracts haven’t gone through yet. I do remember it was interesting to have Scott Pearson on the panel, since he’s been copyediting a lot of our books lately (including the anniversary trilogy that Greg Cox, David Mack, and Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore collaborated on) and it was interesting to get that perspective. Scott recently handled the copyedits on The Face of the Unknown for me, and I think he did a terrific job.

Saturday night featured the usual group outing to Andy Nelson’s BBQ for dinner, and I had my usual pulled turkey sandwich with cornbread and cole slaw on the side. I have the same thing every year because I only have it once a year; if I could dine there more often, I might try something different. Unfortunately, I’d had a bit too big a snack that afternoon, so I was pretty darn stuffed by the end of dinner. We usually eat outside, but it was too humid, so we reserved the large dining room for the group. It was my only big meal of the con, since I skipped the Sunday author breakfast; it’s just gotten too expensive, and this year I was trying to cut my expenses as much as possible. (As it turns out, the freshly made sandwich, two sides, and iced tea I got at Andy Nelson’s cost exactly the same amount as the boxed sandwich and small bottle of orange juice that I got at the hotel cafe the previous evening.)

Sunday was pretty relaxed; my only panel was a small one about e-books and how electronic publishing is changing the business. This time it seemed the panelists may have outnumbered the audience, but since we were all sitting around the same table, it was hard to tell which group was bigger. Sunday was a good day for talking business with other writers, and I did get some promising hints of future possibilities, although one prospect I was hoping to pursue did not pan out. I also spent my requisite hour in the “author chimney” at the bookstore table, signing books for passersby. They let me put out some of my own books to sell, and I finally moved a single copy of Only Superhuman, as well as selling a number of my books in their stock. I learned too late that I could’ve let them sell my books on consignment over the whole weekend and split the money with me.

I was hoping to get to talk to a few of the actor guests, but I was only partially successful. I did talk to Zoie Palmer a bit about Lost Girl and Dark Matter, and that was nice. And I talked a bit to Anthony Montgomery about what I’d done with his character in my Enterprise novels, but I think my timing was bad and he had other things on his mind. I also briefly exchanged hellos with John Noble as we passed in the hallway, but that was about it. I never caught a glimpse of Karen Gillan, whom I would’ve liked to meet.

After the con, I drove back to Barb and Mark’s, and we picked up Shirley and Harry and went to have dinner at the home of Charles, a family friend who’s an excellent cook. When I was helping to get stuff out of the car, I fumbled a bag of squash, bent down to pick up one I’d dropped, and keeled over onto the pavement. I had to sit there for a while to gather myself. I realized that the only things I’d eaten that day had been another bare-bones breakfast of coffee, fruit, and a cereal bar, a half-sandwich and more snacks for lunch, and a single tiny cheese snack when I set out for my drive. My blood sugar must’ve been critically low. So once I made my wobbly way inside, the folks got me some water and nachos to rehydrate while we waited for dinner. It’s a good thing I had such an appetite, since dinner was substantial. It was mostly stuff I’d never had before, with an Indian theme, including curried chicken, jasmine rice, spinach with tofu (substituting for an Indian spinach-and-cheese dish, I think) and lentils (which I couldn’t visually distinguish from corn, though their taste and texture were very different), as well as some of the squash we brought. I was hesitant about the curried chicken, since I’d gathered Indian food was very spicy, but this was quite mild. And when I tentatively sampled it, I not only liked it but found it inexplicably familiar. It took me a while to realize what it reminded me of: amazingly enough, Cincinnati chili. It was probably due to the cinnamon and cumin. Anyway, it’s good to know that Indian food is something I might enjoy after all.

The highlight for me on Monday was my trip to the Air and Space Museum to see the restored Enterprise. Here she is:

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By the way, that isn’t my hand in the photo.

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And here’s a video I took, from my Facebook author page:

I was disappointed that I couldn’t get anyone to go with me (so there are no photos of me with the ship this time). Anyway, it was an amazing experience. It just looks so right now, and seeing it with the lights on was amazing. The restorers did a fantastic job. Seeing this object on TV for the first time as a child sparked my curiosity and started me on the path that has shaped my whole life, so getting to stand before it and see it restored to its original glory was like completing a pilgrimage. It was amazing. Maybe it was better to be there by myself, just me and my feelings about the ship.

I also enjoyed wandering around the rest of the museum — at least until I got hungry and had to go out into the Mall to have the peanut butter sandwich I’d brought — and geeking out over all the science and exploration stuff. I may do another, more photo-intensive post about it later. I also dropped by the American Museum of Natural History after lunch, but I was still too worn out to enjoy it fully (and I didn’t take pictures there). I found it odd that they included exhibits on African and Korean art and culture in a natural history museum, which is generally more about animals and plants and, well, nature. Wouldn’t something like the National Gallery have been a better place for the cultural exhibits?

Anyway, we dined with Shirley and Harry again Monday night, and I ordered a vegetarian “gyro” (which turned out to be a black-bean patty between slices of flatbread, with tzatziki sauce) and potato wedges, which turned out to be redundant since the sandwich came with chips. So I saved the chips in a takeout box to have on my trip home.

Said trip commenced Tuesday morning — not too early, since I was planning to take it in two days this time, and since I wanted to avoid rush hour on the Beltway. I briefly considered trying to make it in one day, but I wisely recognized that I was just too tired for that and shouldn’t push myself. Plus, the first day was kind of frustrating, since my phone GPS was acting up. It kept forgetting what route I’d selected and trying to redirect me toward its default route — and later, once I’d managed to convince it that I was going to the Pennsylvania Turnpike, for some reason it kept wanting me to detour through Pittsburgh instead of going straight through Wheeling to Columbus. At one point, just after I’d left the Turnpike on Tuesday afternoon, it dinged an alarm tone and told me to take the next exit. I blindly followed its instructions, thinking maybe it was an emergency detour around an accident, but I soon realized it was turning me around, trying to make me go back to the Turnpike and follow it to Pittsburgh!! Why, why, why??? By the time I realized that, it was too late, and I had no choice but to go backward a few miles and then use the next exit to loop back around to the westbound interstate. And I resolved not to blindly trust anything the GPS told me from then on.

So I ended up spending the night at a motel in Eastern PA, one I’d stayed in before on a previous trip (selected for because it was in the book of motel coupons I’d picked up at a rest stop), and then set out again Wednesday morning for a mercifully uneventful trip back home. I had a cup of rest-stop coffee late in the drive, so I was atypically alert when I got home and actually had the energy to unpack most of my bags pretty much right away. Although it’s taken me another few days to get rested enough to write and edit this post.

Anyway, it turns out that my economizing worked fairly well, but not as well as I’d hoped. I made enough money at the convention and saved enough on food and boarding that I’m only in the red by less than 70 dollars. Indeed, if I’d been able to make it all the way home on Tuesday rather than staying in a motel, I would’ve come out a few dollars ahead. Still, it was a mistake to try to save money by relying on snacks instead of decent meals. Both interstate driving and convention-going take a lot out of a person. Here it is a week later and I’m still not fully recovered. Still, it was worth it. It was a hell of a trip.

My Shore Leave 38 schedule

The final schedule for Shore Leave 38 has gone online:

http://www.shore-leave.com/programming/schedule.htm

Here are the appearances and panels I have scheduled, assuming I survive what looks like a rainy drive tomorrow:

FRIDAY 7/15

Meet the Pros — 10 PM to Midnight, Hunt/Valley Corridor

The usual mass signing event. For a change this year, I intend to have copies of Only Superhuman and assorted Trek paperbacks for sale. I’m now equipped to take credit cards as well — I find I seem to be selling more books now that I have that option, so I though it would be worth mentioning.

SATURDAY 7/16

Kick-ass Women Heroes — Noon, Salon A

Pretty self-explanatory. Also with Rigel Ailur, Joshua Palmatier, T.J. Perkins, Greg Cox, Mary Fan, and Jo Graham.

Superhero TV Scorecard — 1 PM, Salon A

The writer guests geek out about, well, superhero TV. Also with Russ Colchamiro, Michael Jan Friedman, Dave Galanter, Susanna Reilly, and Daniel Patrick Corcoran.

World-Building — 2 PM, Chase Ballroom

Discussing one of my favorite subjects with Stephen Kozeniewski, Richard C. White, Michael Jan Friedman, Mary-
Louise Davie, Kelly Meding, Jim Johnson, and Peter David.

Star Trek at 50 — 3 PM, Salon A

Not to be confused with the “Star Trek: The Big 5-0” panel at 10 AM in the same room. That’s the fan-track anniversary panel, while this is the author track one (so you’d think we could’ve come up with a more distinctive name). I’ll be there with Robert Greenberger, Dave Galanter, Howard Weinstein, Paula M. Block, and Larry Nemecek, and I imagine some other folks will show up as well.

Upcoming Star Trek Books — 5 PM, Salon A

Discussing next year’s schedule with Greg Cox, Dayton Ward, David Mack, and Scott Pearson. Sadly, this is on at the same time as the “Air and Space Museum’s Enterprise Project” panel that I was dying to see.

SUNDAY 7/17

Original e-Books/e-Novellas — Noon, Concierge Lounge

Discussing original-to-electronic work with Jim Johnson, Terry J. Erdmann, Paula M. Block, Richard C. White, Steve Wilson, and Jo Graham.

So basically I’ll be in Salon A a lot on Saturday, with a lighter schedule on the other two days.

On Sulu, diversity, and change (minor STAR TREK BEYOND spoilers)

Well, just days after I made a post assessing my own work for its gender/sexual inclusiveness, we get a noteworthy piece of news from the makers of the upcoming Star Trek Beyond: The movie will establish in passing that Sulu has a husband and a daughter. The daughter is most likely Demora, a character established in Star Trek Generations, but the news everyone’s reacting to is that Sulu is married to a man. This is not being treated as a big deal in the movie, but it’s made quite the ripple in popular culture. The makers of Star Trek have been making noises about LGBT inclusion for decades, but they’ve never followed through until now. We got a few indirect attempts, the boldest being DS9’s “Rejoined” and its then-controversial same-sex kiss between Jadzia Dax and her former husband who was now in a female host — and the weakest being TNG’s “The Outcast,” whose attempt at anti-discrimination allegory was undermined by its heteronormative casting and its tedious preachiness at the expense of entertainment value. But the producers claimed they couldn’t figure out an appropriate way to include or reveal a gay, lesbian, or bisexual main character without it being overly preachy or self-conscious or whatever.

Which always seemed disingenuous to me, because a lot of other contemporaneous storytellers had already found the right way to do it, which was just to do it and not make an issue of it — to simply acknowledge the fact that LGBTQ people are already part of everyday life and that their relationships are no different than anyone else’s. Just write characters having relationships the same way you always do, but occasionally make their partners their own sex. This is how I and other Star Trek novelists have been approaching it for nearly two decades, ever since two of the lead female cadets in Susan Wright’s 1998 novel The Best and the Brightest (nominally a Next Generation book, but focusing on an original group of Academy cadets) were subtly established as being in a relationship, and ever since Andy Mangels & Mike Martin’s Section 31: Rogue in 2001 showed the Star Trek: First Contact character Lt. Hawk (who had been rumored as being gay but wasn’t shown to be onscreen) in a relationship with a Trill man named Ranul Keru (now a regular in the Star Trek: Titan series). I’ve done the same thing myself in a number of my books — indeed, in the past couple of Rise of the Federation novels, I’ve mentioned in passing that Travis Mayweather experimented with sexual partners of both sexes in his teens, and I’ve confirmed that Dr. Phlox is bisexual (as John Billingsley always believed him to be). So I technically beat the filmmakers to the punch with “outing” a canonical series-lead character, but only in the books, so it wasn’t definitive and hardly anybody noticed.

Anyway, the point is that including LGBTQ characters is something you can easily do just by treating sexual diversity as a routine part of life, which is what it actually is. That’s worked fine for me, and for my Trek Lit colleagues who’ve done the same. And we’ve seen similar casual inclusion in plenty of other media franchises by this point (e.g. Doctor Who, the DC “Arrowverse,” and Person of Interest), so it’s been frustrating that Star Trek, which made its name by being on the cutting edge of diversity and inclusive casting, persistently fell so far behind the curve on this count. So I’m very pleased to see that that’s no longer the case.

Some have questioned whether it was appropriate to make Sulu gay rather than some other character. George Takei himself has notably objected to this, saying it twists Gene Roddenberry’s original intentions for the character. But a lot of other notable gay voices associated with Star Trek have lauded the change, including Zachary Quinto, David Gerrold, and Andy Mangels. I think Adam-Troy Castro’s take on Takei’s reaction is cogent — that it’s more about an actor’s attachment to his long-established mental model of the character he plays than anything else. (We’ve seen other actors, like Dirk Benedict and Adam West, react poorly to reimaginings of their iconic characters.) After all, Gene Roddenberry was not reluctant to change his intentions. He was the guy who altered the Klingons’ appearance for Star Trek: The Motion Picture and asked fans to assume they’d always looked that way. Creators change their minds after the fact all the time.

And I agree with Simon Pegg’s explanation that it was a better choice to establish this as one attribute of a known character, one we already had an investment in and an image of, than to introduce some new person who would just be there to be “the gay character” and would probably never be seen again after the one movie. It’s not really inclusion if you continue to keep the core cast uniform and just “include” token characters on the fringes. That’s why the Supergirl TV series making Jimmy Olsen black was a better choice than introducing some new minor character to be “the black guy.” The Superman comics tried that with Ron Troupe, and, well, if you’re asking “Ron who?”, then that makes my point for me.

Also, it can be argued that the Sulu of the Kelvin Timeline (I’m so pleased to have an official name for the new movies’ universe now) doesn’t need to have the same orientation as the Sulu of the Prime universe. The Star Trek Chronology conjecturally puts Sulu’s birth in 2237, four years after the timelines split. So even if he’s genetically the same individual (which he doesn’t necessarily have to be, since he could’ve been conceived at a different time, like how Chekov is four years older in this reality), the hormonal and epigenetic factors shaping his pre-natal development could’ve been different, giving him a different orientation — like several of the Leda clones on Orphan Black (Alison is hetero, Cosima is lesbian, Sarah is at least situationally bisexual, Tony is transgender, etc.).

Honestly, we don’t even know for sure that Prime Sulu was heterosexual. By happenstance (or more likely because of racial prejudices that still linger today), Sulu was the one member of the main cast who was never given a romantic subplot. Leila Kalomi in “This Side of Paradise” was going to be Sulu’s love interest (hence her “exotic” name), but was then rewritten to be Spock’s and cast as a blonde woman. He was shown to be affected by the allure of “Mudd’s Women” and “The Lorelei Signal” along with all the other men in the crew, and in the extended cut and novelization of ST:TMP, he’s flustered and aroused by Ilia’s Deltan sex appeal — but it’s worth noting that those were all superhumanly arousing women, so it doesn’t prove that ordinary women would get a rise out of him. A lot of people strongly prefer one sex but are capable of occasional interest in the other.

I don’t count Sulu’s “fair maiden” reaction to Uhura in “The Naked Time,” because he was role-playing as D’Artagnan. Nor do I count “Mirror, Mirror” Sulu’s harassment of Uhura, both because that was another alternate version and because sexual harassment is more about power than attraction. (For all we know, Mirror Sulu harassed Chekov the same way when the camera wasn’t looking.) So that just leaves the somewhat creepy moment in “The Magicks of Megas-tu” where Sulu used the alternate dimension’s “magical” physics to conjure up an illusory woman that he tried to kiss. On the bridge. In front of everybody. Honestly, that’s just wrong on so many levels that I’m happy to ignore it. (I disregard the whole episode anyway. It’s steeped in the Hoylean continuous-creation cosmology that had already been discredited in favor of the Big Bang even at the time, and is now as archaic as a story about canals on Mars or dinosaur-filled jungles on Venus.)

Honestly, when George Takei first came out publicly years ago and I heard people say “So should Sulu be gay now?” I thought he shouldn’t be, because the actor and the character are two different people, and gay actors shouldn’t be typecast as only playing gay characters. But of course, Sulu is now played by a different, heterosexual actor, so that ameliorates it somewhat. And I can see the logic that, since Sulu is the only character who never explicitly had a heterosexual relationship onscreen, he’s the most likely candidate, even aside from who played him. Indeed, David Gerrold commented recently that he always read Sulu as gay.

Things get trickier when you bring the tie-ins into it, because a number of books and comics have shown Sulu in heterosexual relationships, including with Mandala Flynn in Vonda McIntyre’s The Entropy Effect (the book that coined his first name Hikaru), Demora’s mother Susan Ling in Peter David’s The Captain’s Daughter, M’Ress and Kathy Li in Peter David’s DC comics, and a Tokugawa-era concubine in the time-travel novel Home is the Hunter by Dana Kramer-Rolls. True, the books and comics have never had a single, uniform continuity, and the only one of those stories that’s really compatible with the modern novel continuity is The Captain’s Daughter (which I referenced in Ex Machina and Watching the Clock, and which established the characterization of Enterprise-B captain John Harriman that David R. George III has expanded on in several later works). That one’s kind of tricky to get around, given its importance. Still, I expect Sulu’s newly established characterization in Beyond will be reflected in how future novelists write him. As has happened in the past, any inconsistencies will either be glossed over or explained away. After all, anything else would feel like moving backward.

How well do I Bechdel?

Over the past couple of years there’s been a lot of discussion about representation and diversity in genre media in various contexts, such as the debate over the past two years’ Hugo nominations, the importance of Mad Max: Fury Road, the excitement about the Wonder Woman movie and the frustration about the delay in getting female-led Marvel movies, and so on. It got me curious to see how well my writing measures up by one standard of representation, the Bechdel test. This is a metric popularized by cartoonist Alison Bechdel as a way of assessing how well women are represented in media — or, rather, of revealing how poorly they are represented in American movies overall.

A work of fiction passes the Bechdel test if it meets three criteria:

  1. It includes at least two named female characters…
  2. who have a conversation with each other…
  3. about something other than a man.

Now, whether an individual work passes the test isn’t necessarily an indicator of whether it’s feminist or portrays women in a positive light. The classic illustration is that Gravity fails the test while Showgirls passes. And certainly not every story has to pass it to be worthwhile; for instance, one of my favorite movies, 12 Angry Men, is an obvious fail just from the title. (There have been versions with women in the cast, but they’d still technically fail because all the characters are unnamed.) Its use, rather, is in the aggregate, to help assess how well or poorly women are represented in an overall genre or body of work. Which is why I plan to apply it to my whole body of published work, though it’s taken me a while to slog through the whole list.

Some of my shorter works would fail Bechdel due to not having enough characters overall, so it’s worth bringing in the related “Mako Mori test.” This test, named for the female lead in Pacific Rim, was conceived to fill the gaps in the Bechdel test for films like Gravity or Pacific Rim in which there’s only one significant female character, but that character is still presented in a strong and positive way, as an independent protagonist in her own right. The parameters for a work of fiction to pass the Mako Mori test are:

  1. It includes at least one female character…
  2. who has her own narrative arc…
  3. that isn’t about supporting a male character’s arc.

I don’t think this excludes the female character from supporting any male character at all — just that she have her own personal goal driving her, rather than being motivated solely by helping a man achieve his goals. Mako does support Raleigh as his partner, and vice-versa, but she has her own independent motivation and quest that would have still been present even without Raleigh being there.

So I think I’ll start with my original fiction, in publication order.

“Aggravated Vehicular Genocide”: Passes Bechdel. There are two human female characters, Captain Cecilia LoCarno and the bit player Zena Bhatiani. The AI Arachne identifies as female, and the Chirrn captain/prosecutor Rillial is “currently female.” Bhatiani and Arachne briefly converse about the possibility of communication with the aliens. Cecilia, Rillial, and Arachne converse about the disaster; Cecilia and Bhatiani discuss language; Cecilia and Rillial debate in the trial.

“Among the Wild Cybers of Cybele”: Fails Bechdel because there are only three speaking characters, two of them male. Passes the Mako test since Safira Kimenye is the central character and her actions in defense of the titular cybers drive the story.

“The Hub of the Matter”: Fails Bechdel, as Nashira Wing is the only female character. Mokak Vekredi is hermaphroditic but identifies as male, and Nashira’s conversations with him are about David LaMacchia. I think it passes the Mako test; as with Mako herself, Nashira’s storyline intertwines with David’s and supports his to an extent, but she does have her own independent agenda informing her actions, which is somewhat at odds with David’s.

“The Weight of Silence”: Fails Bechdel by having only two speaking characters, one male, one female. The female lead Monali Chen is the narrator and lead character, but her arc is halfway about rescuing herself and her copilot boyfriend and halfway about rescuing their relationship. But I think it’s more a case of him supporting her arc than the other way around. Call it a half score Mako-wise.

“No Dominion”: Passes Bechdel. Lead character Tamara Craig interviews a female witness about her female roommate’s attempted murder and about her research, though Craig’s male colleague participates.

“Home is Where the Hub Is”: Passes, though not by much. Nashira and female alien Commander Relniv discuss the discovery of a new Hubpoint, though David and Rynyan then intrude on the conversation. Nashira briefly converses with another alien later identified as female, but it’s about David, and the alien isn’t named.

Only Superhuman: Solid pass. Multiple named female characters have conversations on a variety of subjects. For example: Emerald Blair and Bast taunt each other during combat; Emry and Koyama Hikari discuss their work and Emry’s bionic upgrades; Emry and Psyche Thorne have numerous conversations about politics, philosophy, sexual ethics, and more personal matters (some involving men, others not); etc.

“Make Hub, Not War”: Limited pass. Andrea LaMacchia and Aytriaew briefly discuss the quality of the latter’s relief supplies; Nashira and Aytriaew briefly discuss another relief mission (and revisit the topic later with David and Rynyan participating). Solid pass for Mako, as Aytriaew has her own strong agenda driving the story.

The Caress of a Butterfly’s Wing”: Barely passes first two Bechdel parameters, fails the third. Mostly a two-hander with a female viewpoint character, Mariposa, and her male love interest, like “Weight of Silence.” A conversation with an incidental female character named Kipepeo is only summarized and is largely about a man. Mako Mori-wise, same issues as “Weight.” Mariposa’s arc involves rescuing and relating to a man, but that’s largely in service to her own character growth. Comes closer to passing than failing, but I’m not quite sure.

“Murder on the Cislunar Railroad”: Passes Bechdel. Has two named human female characters, Jaya Ramanathan and Lam Hang Bian, and a female-identifying AI, Athena. Bian and Athena have at least two confrontations in which the male lead also participates (though he joins belatedly in the first one).

So out of 10 published original works to date, only 6 pass Bechdel at all, most of them poorly. Of the remaining four, two definitely pass Mako and two ambiguously pass it. This is unexpected, since I’ve always thought I tended to write strongly female-centric fiction. Indeed, 7 of these 10 stories are told primarily or exclusively from the POV of their female leads, and two others (the first two) have dominant female leads whose actions drive the narrative but who are perceived mainly through the male leads’ POV. “Cislunar” is probably my most strongly male-centric story in terms of POV and character gender ratio, yet the story is largely shaped by its female characters’ agendas. Still, my female leads tend to be paired off with male characters rather than other women, and are outnumbered by men more often than I’d realized. (To be fair, though, I don’t have many male-male pairings to speak of either, aside from David and Rynyan in the Hub stories.)

In the aggregate, I’d say I come out ahead, but not by nearly as much as I expected. This is what things like the Bechdel and Mako tests are good for — to identify blind spots and unconscious habits that have been overlooked.

There’s also a strong but unintentional tendency toward heteronormativity in these works, with Only Superhuman being the only one that features a same-sex relationship between lead characters (although there is passing discussion of a casual lesbian dalliance between supporting characters in “No Dominion” and a brief allusion to Mariposa’s bisexuality in “Butterfly’s Wing”, and added material in the Hub Space collection establishes David LaMacchia as bisexual). I’m already working to improve LGBTQ representation in future stories.

Moving on to tie-ins, let’s start with Marvel.

X-Men: Watchers on the Walls: Passes Bechdel. Multiple female X-Men including Jean Grey, Rogue, Shadowcat, and Storm, plus other female characters like Val Cooper, the alien leader Poratine, and the new female students at the Xavier Institute. Lots of conversations on various topics.

Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder: I’d have to call it a fail. There are several named female characters who have conversations with each other, but all are about men, usually Spider-Man. There is one bit early on where one female student of Peter Parker’s makes a comment and another reacts to it with a wisecrack, but they’re both technically addressing Peter. So it’s only a 2/3 Bechdel pass. I don’t think it quite passes Mako; Mary Jane Watson-Parker has an independent narrative arc (drawn from the comics) involving her pursuit of a stage career, but it isn’t a major element of the story.

These results make sense, I’d say, since X-Men is an ensemble series with about an equal mix of male and female characters, while Spider-Man is a male-led solo series where basically every other character is there to relate to Peter/Spidey in some way. Again, it’s not necessary for every work to pass Bechdel; it’s more an aggregate assessment. And two works is too small a sample to get a meaningful aggregate result. Let’s call this a wash.

And finally Star Trek, again in publication order:

SCE: Aftermath: Passes Bechdel. Multiple named female characters, including Sonya Gomez, Domenica Corsi, Carol Abramowitz, and “Pattie” (P8 Blue), converse about the mission and strategies, though men participate as well. Gomez and female alien scientist Varethli have a heart-t0-heart.

DS9: “…Loved I Not Honor More”: Fails 2/3 of Bechdel and fails Mako. Only two named female characters (Grilka and Jadzia Dax), who do not interact and who are there to support Quark’s narrative arc.

TOS: Ex Machina: Passes, though not massively. Uhura, Reiko Onami, and Spring Rain discuss the latter’s past, goals, and physiological needs, as well as discussing Uhura and Reiko’s memories of Ilia. Also, High Priestess Rishala discusses politics and strategy with several named councillors of both sexes.

VGR: “Brief Candle”: Borderline pass. Captain Janeway grants a request from B’Elanna Torres. Marika Willkarah briefly debates with Torres whether a mission is too dangerous. (There’s also a scene where Marika and Torres both try to convince the Doctor to agree to a request from the latter, but they don’t talk to each other in that scene.)

Titan: Orion’s Hounds: Passes. Various interchanges, including: Melora Pazlar and Orilly Malar discussing the latter’s reasons for being aboard; Deanna Troi counseling Orilly (more than once); Deanna and the alien Oderi discussing the latter’s racial history; etc.

TOS: “As Others See Us”: Passes. Two female Sigma Niobeans, Admiral Deyin and Captain Nohin, have a lengthy discussion about an impending contact with native islanders. Deyin later has an exchange with the island matriarch.

TOS: Mere Anarchy: The Darkness Drops Again: Passes. Two female Payav, Raya elMora and Asal Janto, discuss their past friendship and current political opposition (though some men are discussed in connection with the political situation). They have a second confrontation later. Raya has another scene with her grandmother Elee and a young female protegee, Theena.

TNG: The Buried Age: Passes. Various interchanges, including: Stefcia Janos, Coray, and Xian Yanmei discuss how to enter an ancient ruin (with men participating); Kathryn Janeway, Stefcia, and Dr. Miliani Langford discuss how to penetrate a stasis field (ditto); Janeway and Ariel discuss rescuing more of Ariel’s people; Coray tries to recruit Ariel to her cause; etc.

TNG: “Friends With the Sparrows”: Fails 2/3 of Bechdel; there are at least three named women (Troi, Sofia Borges, Ambassador Denin), but they never converse. Not sure about Mako; Borges and Denin both have their own agendas, but narratively their arcs are in service to Data’s arc. I guess it depends on whether you define “supporting a man” in terms of a character’s intentions or in terms of her story function.

VGR: Myriad Universes: Places of Exile: Passes Bechdel. Vostigye Subspeaker Vitye Megon debates with Janeway and (separately) science minister Dobrye Gavanri about surrendering Voyager‘s crew to an enemy; Janeway converses with Vorta clone Kilana about a potential alliance; Annika Hansen convinces Janeway to let her take a risk; etc.

TNG: Greater Than the Sum: Passes Bechdel from the first page onward. T’Ryssa Chen wheedles Dawn Blair into putting her on an away team; Seven of Nine, Crusher, and Admiral Nechayev discuss Chen’s experience (with men participating); Miranda Kadohata clashes with Chen over her attitude; Crusher, Kadohata, Chen, and Jasminder Choudhury play poker (with Picard, La Forge, and Worf); etc.

TTN: Mirror Universe: “Empathy”: Fails part 3 of Bechdel. Christine Vale and Aili Lavena have conversations, but they’re primarily about men. Fails Mako, as they’re primarily there to support male characters’ arcs.

TTN: Over a Torrent Sea: Passes. Lavena, Vale, and Pazlar discuss the planet Droplet and its life forms (with males participating); Pazlar discusses their findings with various male and female crewmembers; Lavena and Pazlar privately discuss the squales (and then start discussing a man, Dr. Ra-Havreii); etc.

DTI: Watching the Clock: Passes. Teresa Garcia and Clare Raymond discuss being displaced in time; Garcia and Dr. T’Viss discuss temporal physics; Garcia, Pazlar, Ellec Krotine, and Lirahn discuss the Axis of Time; Agent Shelan speaks with a time-displaced Dina Elfiki and later with Jena Noi; etc.

TNG: Typhon Pact: The Struggle Within: Passes. T’Ryssa Chen and Jasminder Choudhury interact repeatedly on Kinshaya mission; Crusher tries to reason with female rebels Velet and Dirin; etc.

DTI: Forgotten History: Passes, mainly just in the opening scenes. Garcia and Heather Peterson discuss Elysia (with one male, Ranjea, participating); Captain Alisov and Peterson discuss the subspace confluence; not much else.

ENT: Rise of the Federation: A Choice of Futures: Passes. Various work-related exchanges among T’Pol, Hoshi Sato, and Elizabeth Cutler. T’Pol and Sato are later held captive together and converse about their situation.

ENT: ROTF: Tower of Babel: Passes. More T’Pol/Sato/Cutler; T’Pol debates with Boomer leader Freya Stark; Sedra Hemnask and T’Rama discuss their careers (with Archer participating); etc.

DTI: The Collectors: Passes. Jena Noi converses with colleague Jeihaz about timeline changes, and interacts extensively with another female character (spoilers!).

ENT: ROTF: Uncertain Logic: Passes, though not massively. Val Williams converses with security subordinates including Julia Guzman and Katrina Ndiaye. Devna and the Deltan woman Pelia discuss their cultures’ approaches to sexuality, but only briefly in connection with men. Maybe a few other brief bits.

ENT: ROTF: Live by the Code: Passes, though not massively. More Williams/Ndiaye in action. Two female Vol’Rala bridge officers, Breg and zh’Vethris, discuss recent events on Breg’s home colony. A few group discussions among personnel of both sexes. (I’d expected I could count the scene where T’Pol, Sato, and Cutler confront Orion merchant princess Gyrai, and the scene where T’Pol confides a secret to Sato, but in both, the conversations are about male characters.)

I can also confirm limited Bechdel passes for my next two Trek works, DTI: Time Lock (in which the featured female guest character has some discussion with two established female cast members pertaining to the crisis) and TOS: The Face of the Unknown (barely, through brief exchanges between Uhura and a guest character and between two guest characters). Time Lock strongly passes the Mako test, but I think TFotU is borderline on that one.

So out of 21 published Trek works so far and 2 more to come (wow), every one passes at least part 1 of Bechdel. Only 3 fail Bechdel as a whole, at least 2 of which also fail Mako. That’s about 87% success, a very good record. Arguably better, since all three fails are novelettes. There are a number of borderline passes, though.

It’s worth noting that on the whole, the passes generally involve book-original characters or series, the exceptions being in TNG (Crusher and Nechayev), VGR (Janeway, Torres, Seven), and ENT (T’Pol, Sato, Cutler). For the most part, the Trek shows are fairly male-dominated, and the strong Bechdel showing of Pocket’s tie-in line is largely due to the efforts of its authors to improve the gender balance. My TNG works benefit from drawing on female characters introduced by previous authors (e.g. Keith DeCandido’s Kadohata and David Mack’s Choudhury and Elfiki).

I and other authors have also tried to counter the default heteronormativity of the Trek franchise to date by incorporating LGBTQ characters. I’ve included same-sex relationships as “onscreen” events or plot points in at least four works (“Empathy” and ROTF books 2-4) and included significant or incidental LGBTQ characters in at least nine more, including characters inherited from other authors (such as SCE’s Bart Faulwell and TTN’s Ranul Keru — and Jadzia Dax, probably the only canonically bisexual series regular in Trek). So I think I’m doing moderately well on that score, though as with my original work, it’s something I’ve been trying to do more of in recent years.

I’m honestly a little surprised that I’ve done a better job passing the Bechdel test in my tie-in fiction (where I expected to be somewhat hampered by the male-dominated casts of the source material) than in my original fiction (where I generally gravitate toward female leads and perspectives). But I think maybe that’s an artifact of the relative lack of long-form works in my original bibliography. Short stories only have room for a few characters and relationships, and I tend to pair off a male lead and a female lead, or have two of one and one of the other. So I do well on the Mako Mori test, but I think I’d do better on Bechdel if I had more original novels. Even so, there’s room for improvement in some respects. Of course the goal isn’t to try to mechanically fill some quota in every story, but this kind of assessment is good for keeping overall patterns in mind and identifying areas that could use more emphasis or more variety. At the very least, I’ve satisfied my curiosity.

Kaiju family values: GORGO and GAPPA (spoilers)

In search of more giant-monster movies, I’ve found a pair of indirectly connected films in public domain: The 1961 British film Gorgo and the Japanese Daikyoju Gappa (Gappa, the Colossal Beast) from 1967. The latter film, from Nikkatsu studios rather than the usual kaiju suspects Toho and Daiei, is considered to be a knockoff of Gorgo, so I decided to watch them back-to-back to compare them. Now, the Internet Archive copy of Gorgo is of terrible quality, so it’s probably better to watch the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version available for free on Shout Factory TV, although honestly the image quality isn’t that much better there and it isn’t one of their funnier episodes. I decided to sit through the Archive version first, though, just to get a feel for the unadulterated story.

Directed by Eugène Lourié (director of the earlier stop-motion dinosaur movie The Giant Behemoth and production designer on The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms), Gorgo focuses on salvage-ship captain Joe Ryan (Bill Travers faking an American accent) and his first officer Sam Slade (2001‘s William Sylvester using his real American accent), who happen to be at the Irish island of Nara when an undersea volcano unleashes a 65-foot giant monster, a Godzilla knockoff with red eyes, fan-shaped earflaps, and comically oversized hands and feet. Joe and Sam prove instantly unlikeable when they shake down the local harbormaster (himself an archaeologist hoarding sunken treasure rather than studying it) to get permission to capture the beast. Ryan makes the ill-considered choice to use himself in a diving bell as bait, but just barely manages not to get killed before the crew catches the beast in a net. Joe and Sam prove further unlikeable when they double-cross the Irish scientists sent to study the beast and instead sell it to Dorkin’s Circus in London’s Battersea Park. Sean, an annoying orphan boy from the island, stows away and tries to free the creature, which he considers a legendary sea serpent called Ogra, but he fails.

There’s a big media circus around the beast’s capture, and the film utilizes a full-scale replica of the creature’s head, paw, and tail (with a tarp concealing the “body” so they didn’t have to build it) for shots of it being driven through the streets of London on a flatbed. A crewman is killed getting “Gorgo,” as it’s been dubbed, into its pen at the circus, but Joe pushes forward regardless, even as Sam begins to have doubts. Soon, the Irish scientists report, without explaining how they know, that Gorgo is an infant creature, which means mommy may still be out there. Sure enough, a bigger creature smashes Nara (and the crooked harbormaster) and follows the baby’s scent trail toward London. Sam suggests the obvious solution — let the baby go — but for no comprehensible reason, both Joe and the military dismiss the idea out of hand, overconfident that they can defeat the beast. Even when it survives all the stock footage the British Navy can throw at it and destroys an entire, err, destroyer, nobody questions this assumption.

Sam does try to free the baby, but Joe stops him. Which means Joe, supposedly the film’s hero, is responsible for the mother creature “Ogra”‘s rampage through London, which naturally destroys the obligatory landmarks (the Tower Bridge, Big Ben’s Clock Tower, the part of Picadilly Circus that isn’t live-action footage) and kills thousands under badly superimposed falling debris before Ogra finally reaches her baby and they both go back to the sea. There’s a feeble attempt to make Joe heroic when he braves the crowds and the monster attack to save Sean when the boy randomly gets swept up in the evacuation, but come on — saving one boy that’s only in danger because of Joe’s choices hardly makes up for all the horrible devastation and mass death that Joe’s greed and negligence are entirely responsible for. And yet Joe and Sam get no comeuppance and barely any closure, with some random bluescreened reporter making the final speech about man’s hubris.

All in all, I can’t say I thought much of this film. It’s very derivative, basically a cross between Godzilla and King Kong with a touch of Mothra. It’s rather dull for much of the first act, the characters are thoroughly unlikeable and morally despicable, and the monster suit is a bit goofy-looking with those big hands and feet (I think they used the same suit for both beasts, just against differently scaled miniatures). The effects aren’t too bad overall, given the era and the budget available, but there’s too much stock footage of the military stuff (which the director apparently didn’t want at all) and the London rampage goes on a bit too long and repetitively. I gather this is a love-it-or-hate-it kind of film, but I come down more on the “hate” side, mainly due to the dreadfully unpleasant characters. (And as Mike and the bots pointed out in the MST3K edition, there are no women in the entire film except for a few extras in crowd scenes. And Ogra herself, of course.)

The Internet Archive’s version of Gappa, the Colossal Beast (under the title Monster from a Prehistoric Planet) is all but unwatchable, but there’s a tolerable version (low-resolution widescreen English dub) on YouTube (under the title Gappa: The Triphibian Monsters). There is a broad structural similarity to Gorgo, but the details differ. This time, the ship we open with is on a South Seas expedition to gather animals for a theme park being built by a greedy magazine publisher, Funazu (Keisuke Inoue). A volcanic eruption draws them to an island populated by a stereotyped tribe in brownface makeup, whose members welcome the expedition but warn of dire consequences if they disturb the entity they call Gappa. The leads — reporter Kurosaki (Tamio Kawachi), scientist Tonoka (Yuji Okada), and their mutual romantic interest Koyanagi (Yoko Yamamoto) — find a giant egg that hatches into a human-sized infant creature that they take back with them to Japan. The publisher Funazu insists on smuggling it in and keeping it secret so he can get the exclusive in his magazine (which at least the English dub calls Playmate Magazine, but which doesn’t seem to be sexually themed or pinup-oriented in any way). Soon, the parent monsters, which are basically bipedal bird-lizard creatures with hands, emerge and trash the islanders, then fly off in search of baby. An American sub rescues the islanders, including the boy who had previously bonded with the heroes and who now warns the sub crew about the Gappas heading to Japan.

So Koyanagi’s upset about the menfolk being so coldly focused on their work, feeling they should release the baby creature. Soon thereafter, the adult Gappas begin rampaging through Japanese cities and going through the usual kaiju-attack beats, just in duplicate. There’s even a bit where, during a rocket attack by a fleet of jets, the Gappas take time out of defending themselves to destroy one of those traditional Japanese castles that always get trashed in these movies, even though there’s no particular reason for them to do so. Oddly, there’s a bit afterward where Funazu releases the magazine telling the story of the baby Gappa, and yet somehow nobody makes the connection with the larger monsters that just attacked. Wouldn’t he have wanted to kill the story, since it would basically be admitting culpability for all the death and destruction? But apparently nobody recognizes the link, except for our lead trio, who are aware that the baby can emit homing waves like a bird’s, thereby attracting the parents. Koyanagi again proposes releasing the baby, and this time, to their credit, the protagonists actually go along with the idea — but the greedy Funazu forbids it, because now he’s suddenly worried about admitting his culpability. Tonoka and Kurasaki are both willing to accept responsibility, though, and they overrule Funazu and airlift the baby to an airport, then amplify its cries to draw the parents. The mommy and daddy Gappas’ first meeting with their baby is actually a bit touching, as they embrace it and then teach it to fly so they can go home. In a ’60s-style happy ending, Koyanagi announces she’s quitting her job to find a husband, and Tonoka tells Kurasaki to go after her and presumably become said husband.

Well, if this was inspired by Gorgo, it’s a much better take on the premise. The protagonists are a lot less reprehensible, and they actually take action to correct their mistake. The characters overall are better-drawn, and the plot is better-structured, though I could’ve done without the stereotyped island tribe and the brownface makeup. The monster action is a bit by-the-numbers, but the nuclear-family angle, with the parents smashing up Japan together in pursuit of their baby, is a novel twist. The Gappa are a fairly interesting design, versatile in being able to function on land, sea, and air (hence “Triphibian” in the US title, although that’s an invalid construction — I think “triplibian,” tripli- plus -bian, would be more correct). This was the only kaiju film by Nikkatsu, a studio that went out of business shortly thereafter, but it’s not a bad one.

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Thoughts on GAMERA THE BRAVE and series overview (spoilers)

Wrapping up my Gamera reviews now, we come to the final film to date, Gamera: The Brave (Chiisaki Yūsha-tachi Gamera, literally Young Braves of Gamera). This film came out in 2006, seven years after the end of Shusuke Kaneko’s trilogy. It’s interesting how the Gamera films after the original series never seem to overlap with Godzilla. The 1980 revival came about midway between the end of the Showa Godzilla series in 1975 and the start of the Heisei series in 1984. The Heisei Gamera trilogy began in 1995, a year after Heisei Godzilla ended, then continued in ’96 and skipped forward to ’99, a year after the TriStar Godzilla and nine months before the start of the Millennium Godzilla series. And Gamera: The Brave came out two years after the Millennium series ended (although it’s still considered a Heisei-era film, since we’re still in the reign of the Heisei Emperor, and the “Millennium” title is specific to the Godzilla franchise).

And yet, although the Gamera revivals tend to skirt around the Godzilla revivals, they also follow their lead. The Kaneko trilogy followed the Heisei Godzilla’s precedent in being much darker, slicker, and highly revisionist, rejecting the silliness of the Showa-era predecessors and ignoring their continuity (although Godzilla reboots to date have always counted the 1954 original, while the Gamera trilogy started from scratch). And The Brave, written by Yukari Tatsui and directed by Super Sentai/Power Rangers/Kamen Rider veteran Ryuta Tazaki, somewhat follows the lead of the last three Millennium Godzilla films in disregarding the ’90s continuity and revisiting elements of the original Showa series — although in this case, the links are quite tenuous, and it’s more a spiritual sequel than anything else.

Which should not be held against it. You know how I said in my Gamera vs. Barugon remarks that being a better film and being a darker, more adult film didn’t automatically go hand in hand? Well, this is the film that proves that. Gamera: The Brave is very much a child-focused film, but it’s as different from the cheap, cheesy, formulaic Showa series as it is from the dark, sophisticated horror-drama of the Kaneko trilogy.

The film begins in 1973, with a Gamera very different in appearance than the one we know (based on a different species of turtle, with a much flatter beak, knobblier limbs, and a yellow-brown color scheme with a red pattern on the plastron) engaged in battle with three smaller Gyaos that are attacking a seaside village. (Why is it always Gyaos?) Given that this is only two years after the last film in the original continuity, it initially gives the impression that this might be the same Gamera from those films — but it’s later implied that Gamera was not known prior to 1973, making this yet another unconnected continuity. Anyway, the emphasis is much more on the villagers fleeing the destruction of their village than on the monsters’ battle. A young boy, Aizawa, watches as Gamera unleashes a final attack reminiscent of his Mana Blast from Attack of Legion, but in this case it vaporizes Gamera along with the Gyaos; he sacrificed himself to save the humans. We fade to the same spot in 2006, where the grown Aizawa is with his son Toru (Ryo Tomioka), going to visit the fairly fresh grave of Toru’s mother. Toru is sullen, unwilling to be comforted by the belief that his mother endures as a spirit rather than being simply ashes. But he has friends that he gets along with better than he does with his father, including the brothers Ishimaru and Katsuya and Toru’s next-door neighbor Mai (played by an actress listed only as Kaho), a girl who seems to be a few years older but who lets him borrow her manga. Mai’s parents run a shop that sells the distinctive scarlet pearls found at the site of Gamera’s self-destruction.

Soon, Toru follows a glint of red light from that same site to find an egg ensconced in a glowing red crystal. The egg hatches into a baby turtle that he calls Toto (his mother’s nickname for him) and secretly takes home with him, since his father runs a restaurant and doesn’t allow pets for reasons of sanitation. Toru is surprised when the turtle grows with remarkable speed — and he and Mai are quite surprised when Toto begins levitating. Toru tries to get rid of Toto before he’s discovered, but Toto follows him home and Toru saves him from getting run over. Soon he’s too big to keep, and Toru and his friends take him elsewhere and keep an eye on him, but then he disappears — just before the village is attacked by a giant frilled lizard. Toto emerges as an eight-meter giant and manages to fight off the lizard, but is badly wounded. The military shows up and takes him away, wanting their own Gamera as a weapon against kaiju. (There’s a background thread about how the government’s “giant monster council” has recently been disbanded, implicitly from a lack of further kaiju attacks until now.) Aizawa now knows about Toru keeping “Toto” as a pet, but tells his son to forget him, because he’s a Gamera now, and his lot is to fight. But Toru doesn’t want to believe that, because that means he’s destined to die.

The government names the monster Zedus (Jidasu) for unspecified reasons. I wondered if it might be something to do with the so-called Jesus lizard that can run on water — in which case we’d have Gamera vs. Jesus, of all things — but they don’t have the same kind of frills that Zedus had. Apparently Zedus’s design comes from a mix of influences, including Barugon and Jiger from earlier Gamera films, the monitor-lizard monster Varan from Toho’s hard-to-find 1958 Daikaiju Baran, and the TriStar “Godzilla”, aka Zilla. It’s a reasonably effective design, but a lot less weird and more naturalistic than most Gamera foes.

Anyway, Mai needs to go to the hospital in Nagoya for heart surgery, and Toru’s worried about maybe losing her as well, so he gives her Toto’s red crystal as a good luck charm. Meanwhile, the government tries to force Toto’s growth by feeding him the “Gamera energy” they’ve extracted from the scarlet pearls. Mai survives her surgery, but she’s somehow senses that Toto will need his crystal, so the boys head off to Nagoya to get it from her — just in time for Zedus to attack Nagoya, since Toto’s also being held there and Zedus is hunting him. Toto awakes, now full-sized, and fights back, but is rather overpowered.

Still, once again, the kaiju battle is more of a background element, with the focus remaining heavily on the characters reacting to it, particularly on the kids trying to fulfill Mai’s urgent need to get the red crystal to Toto. The film finds a rather extraordinary way to involve multiple children in this effort; I don’t want to spoil it, because it’s such a “wow” moment. But it’s a totally fresh angle on the old idea of Gamera being the friend to all the children in the world, because now the friendship goes the other way — he’s not protecting them, they’re protecting him. Ultimately, of course, it falls to Toru himself to give Toto the power-up he needs — although he’s not sure he wants to. His father has tracked him down, and Toru tries to convince Aizawa of his need to help Toto… but he’s torn, because he doesn’t want to see his pet die. Is there a way for Toto to be Gamera, to save us from the evil monsters, and yet still survive? Maybe having a boy who has faith in him will make the key difference this time.

I have to say, this is totally not what I expected from a Gamera movie, or indeed from any kaiju movie. It’s a really fresh take, a thoughtful, sophisticated children’s film operating on a very personal, human-scale level, beautifully directed with a lot of focus on the details of everyday small-town life and the beauty of the environment. Even in the midst of the giant battles, the focus stays on the human level and the drama among the characters. It’s like a live-action equivalent of a Miyazaki film. And its take on the idea of kaiju is unique. I commented before on how vulnerable the Showa-era Gamera was, how frequently he was shown wounded and screaming in agony and spewing green blood all over the place. It seemed almost sadistic at times. But this film uses that vulnerability in a very interesting way. Toru doesn’t find the idea of kaiju battles exciting. He isn’t thrilled that Gamera is here to save us. He’s a boy who’s had to cope with death and loss far too early in his life (something I can identify with), and he hates it that a good kaiju’s role in life is to fight and die in defense of humanity. He wants Toto to be his friend in a way that doesn’t require Toto to suffer. And Toto, being essentially a child Gamera forced to mature size too soon, is indeed quite vulnerable, the one that needs to be saved by the love of Japan’s youth, rather than the one doing the saving. It’s an angle that could easily have been done in a cheesy, corny way, but this film handles it extremely well. It uses the kaiju narrative as an allegory for exploring love and loss and a child’s experience with mortality, and it’s kind of extraordinary. (I’m reminded of my favorite season of the Digimon anime, Digimon Tamers, which similarly deconstructed the conceit of children bonding with fighting monsters by having lead children who saw their Digimon as friends and didn’t want to risk them in combat, and that dealt potently with the grief and depression of one child whose Digimon did actually die.)

It seems audiences didn’t respond well to this new angle, out of disappointment that it wasn’t as dark as Kaneko’s trilogy. I think that’s quite unfair. Though I’m not sure whether to regret that there was never a sequel to this. On the one hand, I would’ve loved to see this creative team follow up on this version of Gamera, to follow Toto to maturity. On the other hand, I’m not sure they could’ve topped this.

Gamera: The Brave is the last Gamera film to date, but the current owners of the series, Kadokawa Pictures, have been working on another reboot for a while now, apparently just called Gamera. It was supposed to be a 50th-anniversary project for 2015, but it’s been delayed well beyond that. But there was a trailer released at New York Comic-Con in 2015, and it can be seen here. It looks like it’s trying to go back to a darker, more violent tone like the Heisei trilogy, and indeed it seems to pick up roughly where the trilogy left off, with Gamera fighting a horde of Gyaos (why is it always Gyaos??), although with differences in the kaiju designs and the date (10 years in the past, so presumably 2005 or so, not 1999). Also it’s using pure CGI rather than suits. Perhaps it’s because I watched it so soon after GTB, but I find its action footage too self-consciously dark, violent, and flashy. Apparently, though, its director Katsuhito Ishii has said that GTB is one of his favorites and a major influence on the film, though you’d never know it from the trailer.

Anyway, the four Heisei Gamera films to date have been among the best kaiju films I’ve ever seen, in stark contrast to the general mediocrity and cheapness of their predecessors. This latest reboot, if it ever actually gets completed, will have a very high standard to live up to.

So that brings me to the end (for now?) of my Gamera reviews, a shorter series than my Godzilla/Toho reviews, but a more comprehensive one. Thanks to ShoutFactory TV’s streaming site, it’s proven far easier to see every Gamera film than it is to see every Godzilla or Mothra film, let alone some of Toho’s more obscure tokusatsu films. It’s also much easier to assess which ones are the best. Of the Showa series, Gamera vs. Barugon is the only one I’d even tepidly recommend, unless you’re in the mood for something really cheesy — and if so, you might prefer the Mystery Science Theater 3000 editions (which include every film in the Showa series except Viras and Jiger). And of the Heisei films, every darn one of them is absolutely a must-see for any fan of the kaiju genre. That includes the trilogy consisting of Gamera: The Guardian of the Universe, Gamera 2: Attack of Legion, and Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris, and the standalone Gamera: The Brave.

Gamera continuity is less complicated than Godzilla’s as well, because each distinct set of films is in essentially a separate reality, although there is a bit of overlap here and there. As I did with Godzilla, I’ll list the various continuities:

1) Shōwa universe: Includes all Gamera films from 1965-71, namely Gamera, Gamera vs. Barugon, …Gyaos, …Viras, …Guiron,Jiger, and …Zigra.

This reality’s Gamera is a member of a species of giant tusked turtles native to Atlantis, feeding on fire and other energy sources and capable of breathing fire and flying via rocket propulsion. Though he was revived from glacial hibernation by a nuclear explosion, there’s no indication that he was mutated by it. Originally, Gamera is simply instinctively driven to feed on energy sources and incidentally causes massive destruction to human life and property in so doing, aside from one passing rescue of a child that Gamera’s own actions endangered. Later, though, Gamera inexplicably becomes “a friend to all children,” motivated primarily by their protection. This change corresponds with the adults of the world suddenly becoming incompetent and completely dependent on children to tell them how to solve their giant-monster problems. (I’m tempted to count the latter five films as a distinct reality from the first two, except that at least two of the latter five films include flashbacks to the events of the first two. Although this means that Gamera causes identical damage to two different dams and attacks Tokyo twice in exactly the same way, due to the reuse of stock footage in Viras.) Gamera is one of several prehistoric monsters that are coincidentally revived within a few years of each other, including Barugon, Gyaos, and Jiger, and the Earth is subject to several alien invasion attempts in the same period, involving the kaiju Viras, Guiron, and Zigra. (The existence of Space Gyaos on the counter-Earth planet Tera suggests that Earth’s Gyaos may have been of alien origin as well, but it could also be a case of parallel evolution.)

2) Space Women universe: Includes Gamera: Super Monster (1980).

In this reality, the Earth is nominally defended by a trio of alien superheroines called the Space Women. Gamera may be either an actual kaiju who is depicted in manga or simply a manga character somehow brought to life by either Space Women technology or a little boy’s wishes or both. Or maybe the whole thing is the boy’s daydreams — it’s hard to tell. All other known kaiju in this reality (if it is a reality) are identical to the monsters fought by Gamera in the Showa series, but are weapons of the invading starship Zanon and are kept on an alien planet (identical to Tera) until they are sicced on Earth.

3) Heisei universe: Includes Gamera: The Guardian of the Universe (1995), Gamera 2: Attack of Legion (1996), and Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris (1999).

In this universe, the ancient Atlanteans were master genetic engineers who apparently had at least two rival factions, one which engineered the deadly Gyaos organisms and the other of which created Gamera (after multiple failed attempts) as a defender of the Earth against the Gyaos, which had the potential to breed out of control and destroy the world. The Gyaos faction also engineered the self-mutating Gyaos variant later named “Iris” as a counterweapon against Gamera. But the Gyaos destroyed Atlantean civilization before the other kaiju could be unleashed, and Gamera did not awaken until 1995, when pollution had depleted the Earth’s supply of mystical mana energy sufficiently to allow the Gyaos to thrive again. Gamera battled the Gyaos and mostly destroyed them, but his depletion of mana in fighting off the alien Legion organisms allowed more Gyaos to thrive and Gamera himself to turn more aggressive. The ultimate fate of this world is unknown.

4) Toto universe: Includes Gamera: The Brave (2006).

Gamera’s origins and nature here are unknown, but a Gamera emerged no later than 1973 and sacrificed itself (herself?) to protect a human population from multiple small Gyaos, leaving an egg that hatched into a new Gamera 33 years later. The government organized a Giant Monster Council to deal with kaiju threats, but apparently there was a dearth of such threats prior to 2006, when the giant lizard Zedus emerged. Zedus’s activity may have catalyzed the birth of the new Gamera, aka Toto, in order to meet the threat.

5) Reboot universe: Includes unscheduled upcoming Gamera film, maybe.

Possibly a loose continuation of the Heisei trilogy universe. Insufficient data to say more. But its kaiju inhabitants include Gamera, hordes of Gyaos, and at least one other, unidentified monster.

I listed these continuities chronologically rather than clustering them by similarity as I did with the Godzilla universes, since there’s no overt overlap between any of them. (The reuse of stock footage in Super Monster doesn’t count, because it’s meant to represent new events, and the monsters have different origins.) But one could perhaps cluster the Toto universe with the Showa universe, as they both feature child-friendly Gameras that were active in the early ’70s, and the Reboot universe looks like it could be clustered with the Heisei universe. But that’s tenuous at best, which is why I didn’t bother.

It’s interesting that, other than Gamera, the only monster that appears in every continuity is Gyaos. This is in contrast to the Toho films, which have revived and redesigned multiple older monsters such as Mothra, King Ghidorah, Rodan, Mechagodzilla, and Baragon. All of Gamera’s Showa foes reappeared in Super Monster, but only as stock footage, so that doesn’t really count. The other continuities all have Gyaos in them — usually smaller than Gamera and existing in flocks — yet otherwise introduce new monsters. The Kaneko trilogy adds Legion and Iris (which is a Gyaos variant anyway), GTB has Zedus, and the reboot has that unidentified monster. Outside of Super Monster, the only revivals of Barugon, Viras, Guiron, Jiger, or Zigra have been in manga stories or video games. Gyaos seems pretty ubiquitous in video games too. I wonder why it was Gyaos, instead of one of the others, that became Gamera’s default arch-nemesis. I think most of the later revivals are following the lead of the Kaneko trilogy, but why did that trilogy deem Gyaos the only enemy worthy of revival? Perhaps it’s because Gyaos can take on Gamera in the air and is visually distinctive enough from Gamera to make an interesting contrast. Perhaps Barugon was too easily confused with Toho’s Baragon, and perhaps the later monsters were just considered too silly or weird. Although Gyaos’s original design was rather weird itself, and the movie wasn’t that much better than the ones that followed. I could see most of the other monsters working in more sophisticated, redesigned forms like the later Gyaos. Barugon is essentially a horned lizard, Viras a squid, Jiger a ceratopsian dinosaur, and Zigra a shark. The most problematical one is Guiron, who’s basically a walking chef’s knife that shoots shurikens out of its temples. (And whose name, I just now found out, is derived from “guillotine.”) But maybe it could be redesigned into a more organic-looking form. Still, maybe it’s better that no other redesigns were attempted, since Legion, Iris, and Zedus were all quite effective kaiju.

But it might’ve been interesting to see a fourth Kaneko film that elaborated on the identification of Gamera and Gyaos with two of the Four Symbols of Chinese astrology, adding other kaiju to represent the Azure Dragon of the East (maybe a reinvented Barugon?) and the White Tiger of the West (White Jiger…? Nahh).

So that’s it for my week of Gamera reviews. Are there more kaiju films I can track down and comment on in the future? Time will tell.

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