EDIT: Thanks to all the many people who both posted and emailed "Happy Birthday" greetings!
We all went to see the Revenge of the Sith; having seen all five others, and having heard that this was the least painful of the prequels, I figured we might as well finish it out.
The reports were true; of the prequelae, this was the least objectionable. The major problems with it come from the fact that George Lucas is a HACK. No, not quite. From the fact that he's a hack in denial. I think George sincerely believes most of what he says about Star Wars, which means that he doesn't acknowledge the terrible truth to himself: He cannot write dialogue to save his life and he has no clue how to do a romance. Spielberg would have had me crying over Anakin and Padme, even if I felt cheaply used and humiliated a few moments later. Cameron would have found a way to script it so that you would cry over them and NOT feel cheaply used. The original movies had the dialogue partly or completely rewritten by others.
Unfortunately, without that dialogue working, the movie is badly wounded. This movie should have been a dramatic demonstration of the tragedy of a fall of a decent man, instead of the screwing over of a whinging teenager who's been totally wanged by everyone around him except his trainer, who's ALSO being screwed by both his supposed superiors and by the Main Baddie. We don't get TRAGEDY, however. Instead, we get "Comedy of Errors". There are at least three separate points in this film alone where just a few different WORDS or a few seconds of different actions would have completely changed the events unfolding. Where we COULD have had some more diabolical cleverness from Palpatine (and he IS diabolically clever, make no mistake about it), we instead get the script as written by Dark Helmet; "And that is why Evil will always win, because Good is DUMB!". There are ways of explaining why certain things happen, but we are never given them; at best we have to fanwank the explanation and make ourselves believe it in order to salvage the rest.
Lucas DOES have strengths, however, and this movie more than the prior two plays to those strengths. Lucas is a MASTER of visualizing what action will work onscreen, and he has lots of action to work with here. The battles, both in space and flashing lightsabers up close, are excellent. George Lucas' talents show clearly in these sections, and I only wish he'd had someone else to write the othe sections as he did in, say, Empire Strikes Back. There are a few disappointments, but they really aren't so much for the action itself, but for the results thereof. I was severely disappointed in the Emperor-Yoda confrontation, and to some extent in the Anakin-Obi-Wan duel. The latter we knew the eventual outcome of, but it failed to convince me of either side.
In the end, Lucas was not just hung by his lack of believable dialogue skills, but in his unwillingness to tell the story he implied 20+ years ago. If he HAD to do the prequels, he should have rewatched his originals and stuck by them. Okay, the latest film makes it clear that Yoda isn't the Bad Guy as seemed to be almost likely in the last one, but the end result is in some ways worse; the Jedi were IDIOTS many times over. This is bad because it ruins many of our images of what they were, what they could have been, and it also diminishes the otherwise staggeringly skillful work of Palpatine. Palpatine is one of the greatest villains ever created, but with this final denouement it's clear he is like DaVinci competing with a roomful of five year old fingerpainters. He has no adversaries worthy of his skill, and in the end will fall only because he has NEVER had such adversaries and his overconfidence finally, momentarily, blinds him.
My Loyal Lieutenant visited us again for a couple of enjoyable days, once more providing help and amusement as well as proper tribute to Myself. In this case, the tribute took the form of a copy of Slayers d20. This is something that interested me but as I'm the only Slayers fan in the house it wasn't something I'd get for myself. I was naturally very pleased with this gift, but I can't promote her as I think the only title above Loyal Lieutenant is Grand Vizier and that usually ends badly.
I have since read through this fascinating RPG supplement. How well does it do its job?
Well, first the bad news. As I suspected, it wussed out. The Slayers is played on a grander scale than mere mortals are used to . To be fair they TRY -- Slayers d20 does do a number of things in a larger way than standard 3E -- but they just don't quite seem to GET it, which is rather surprising given that reading the text makes it clear that the writers love the series and did a large amount of work to try to get the details down (including multiple examinations of that font of Slayers knowledge, inverse.org). Still, the following simple fact is enough to show the problem: Dragon Slave, AOE is 100 foot diameter circle. The DAMAGE isn't bad (2d6 per level), but 100 FEET? Maybe 100 feet per level, radius, and putting Lina at around, oh, level 20+, yeah, then you'd be talking. Dragon Slave wipes out really LARGE portions of cities, or entire villages. KILOMETER would be an appropriate crater diameter, not something an asthmatic like me could run across in a couple of seconds.
That, however, is the only bad news. The rest of the book is about as flawless an adaptation of a show as I've ever seen. The writers, as I said, clearly love the show and have gone to great lengths to do it justice. It does not ignore the bizarre comedic interludes, nor minimize the far more serious events and tones of the larger portion of the series. It treats the characters, peculiar as they are, with respect and affection. There is no attempt to preserve all of the standard mechanics of D&D3e, but instead a recognition that some things in Slayers are not, and never were, appropriate for that particular straitjacket. Magic, in particular, is given a different treatment, somewhat reminiscent of both Shadowrun and Talislanta in a way, permitting people to throw spells until they get exhausted without the memorization which has always been the bane of D&D-based adaptations. The spells are all detailed and carefully worked out, and if there are a few that don't quite fit exactly what was seen on screen, well, let's note that even the show isn't always entirely consistent.
Slayers d20 also offers an EXCELLENT section for both GM's and players on the hardest part of adaptation of a series of this sort: maintaining the essence of the show. Comedies like Slayers are extremely hard to play out as the show does; comedy, as has been said before, is serious business. It's a matter of subtle phrasing (and not-so-subtle) and of careful timing. Of all subgenres, I have found that only Horror is harder to run. The advice on how to play and run such a campaign -- and how NOT to, if you want to use Slayers material in a more standard vein -- is excellent and pretty much spot-on.
Anyone who roleplays and likes Slayers should get this one. Anyone who would like to try running a game with quirky action, cliche-ridden yet stereotype-shattering heroes, and over-the-top action would be well advised to check Slayers D20 out as well.
Kathy, Chris, and I went to see this latest superhero adaptation. After The Incredibles, my recollections of the FF had been refreshed and so I was looking forward to seeing how this version worked out.
The long and short of it is that it worked pretty well. If it gets a sequel, I suspect it will work out better. The FF, more than many other superhero books, has had a lot to do with the relationships of the characters, and those had to be established and at least partially worked through in this movie, which really took away from the time available for rock'em, sock'em action.
"Doctor Doom" was, as most have noted, the weak spot. I have some suspicion that the change to his origin was partially motivated by the fact that a certain other movie series was going to end up with one of the characters scarred and being sealed in a suit of armor with a cape and menacing mask. However, as others have pointed out, there were probably better ways to deal with this. The character CAN still be salvaged, I believe, but he's the definite weak point in this movie. The Four themselves are just about letter-perfect. Yes, Mr. Fantastic and The Invisible Woman aren't as dynamic onscreen, but they WEREN'T in the comic, either. Reed Richards was often more a story vehicle -- a trigger for the next adventure -- than he was a character, and it was a long time before Sue Storm-Richards got to come into her own. Johnny Storm was always annoying, brash, overconfident , and mouthy(he and Spidey came to blows or near it many times in the early years) and the actor played that dead-on. The Thing... WAS perfect. I was afraid they would mess him up, but he was, in voice, in action, in dialogue, exactly as he should've been.
And the CLIMAX was exactly right; their adversary was not, and could not, be defeated by one of them, but by ALL of them working as a team. That is the essence of the FF, the thing that makes them dangerous, and that was what the climactic battle showed.
Well, that's all I can manage tonight. More later, including the Witches of Karres, Harry Potter, and James Doohan in a fight to the finish!