Wednesday, June 24, 2015

My Big Problem With “Jurassic Park”

This past weekend, my daughter and I saw Jurassic World, and we both really enjoyed it. I wish I felt the same way about the original Jurassic Park when I saw it in 1993, but I didn’t. I had a big problem with that film. Here’s why.

I had no beef with Jurassic World - it's a very fun film!
I recognize that Stephen Spielberg’s Jurassic Park is a beloved movie that won a lot of awards, and many people have fond memories of seeing it. For those much younger than I, it was a life-changing event, sort of like Star Wars was to me as a kid. But I saw the film as an adult fan of Michael Crichton, having read everything he had written up to that point. Decades later, Crichton’s Jurassic Park remains one of my all-time favorite novels. With the story Crichton wrote, Spielberg had the opportunity to create a truly great film. But instead, for reasons I will never understand, he chose to eliminate one of the single most important elements of any story – the antagonist. 

Perhaps my expectations were too high?
Every great story needs one, and it’s been that way for thousands of years. Star Wars needed Darth Vader, just like Harry Potter needed Lord Voldemort and Gladiator needed Emperor Commodus. But who plays the antagonist in Spielberg’s Jurassic Park? 

It’s certainly not InGen’s archrival, Biosyn, who hired Newman from Seinfeld to steal some embryos. Newman gets eaten halfway through the story, and the Biosyn folks aren’t even on the island. Also, the dinosaurs were going to eventually get loose, despite whatever Biosyn did. Just ask Dr. Ian Malcolm about chaos theory.

These guys aren't the antagonists of Jurassic Park (or in the new film either).
It’s not the T-Rex either, as awesome as she was in the film. Or the velociraptors who don’t appear until the third act. Technically, they were all forms of “antagonists” since they stood in the way of the protagonists. But animals rarely make great antagonists. Their motives are never nefarious enough or human enough. Because, after all, they’re animals. 

Of course, there are exceptions like in Jaws and Alien. But in those films, the monster is always present, almost from the beginning to the end. The dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, however, were just minding their own business until the power went out. And once they get free, who can blame them for what they did?  

So if the dinosaurs aren’t the true antagonist, which “main” character was to blame for the story’s big problem? (Again, Newman from Seinfeld isn’t it.) Who was standing in the heroes’ way to resolution? In the movie, NO ONE. But that wasn’t the case in the book.

One of my favorite books of all time!
Crichton’s novel had a very well-crafted and despicable antagonist who was to blame for the story’s problem. His name was John Hammond. Yes, the man Spielberg portrayed as a Santa Clause-like grandpa. He was never a threat to anyone, just a dotting, old, rich man who regretted putting his grandchildren in harm’s way. 

The real John Hammond – the one Crichton created as an essential piece of his story – is a cold and ruthless businessman tinkering with nature like Dr. Frankenstein. When he thinks about his grandchildren, it’s always “those damned kids!” The book’s Hammond is so blinded by greed he can’t see that it’s dangerous to play God, which is exactly what he does by bringing dinosaurs back after so many millions of years. In fact, that’s the entire point of the story. 

Here’s a snippet of dialogue from the book’s Hammond that sums up his motives:
“This is our triumph, this park. We have done what we set out to do. And, you remember, our original intent was to use the newly emerging technology of genetic engineering to make money. A lot of money. … If you were going to start a bioengineering company, Henry, what would you do? Would you make products to help mankind, to fight illness and disease? Dear me, no. That’s a terrible idea. A very poor use of new technology.”
In the end, Hammond comes face to face with his own creation: a pack of chicken-sized dinosaurs called compys who promptly devour their creator. Hammond’s demise is symbolic and drives home the book’s theme. If Spielberg’s Hammond had played this same role, the film would have been so much richer and better than what ultimately made it onto the screen.

Indominus Rex is a true antagonist!
All this said, I loved seeing the dinosaurs brought to life in Jurassic Park, and it’s clear that the strides Spielberg made in terms of special effects paved the way for more than twenty years of cinema. But when I compare it to the book, the movie falls short.

Fortunately, Jurassic World does not make this same mistake. There is both a human antagonist and a monster antagonist done right. At times, some of the scenes with the monster (a genetically engineered killing machine called Indominus Rex) even reminded me of Alien. They were that well done. It may have taken twenty-two years, but in Jurassic World we finally get a real antagonist. And we come close to getting the story Jurassic Park could have been.

* Images courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes

Monday, June 15, 2015

Dead May Not Be “Dead” on “Game of Thrones”

The entire Game of Thrones watching world is talking about last night’s season finale. So here are my thoughts. Obviously, huge *SPOILERS* to follow if you missed last night’s show.

Last night, Jon Snow played the role of Julius Caesar, apparently stabbed to death by the brothers of the Night’s Watch. Kit Harrington, who plays Jon Snow, has already said that the character is gone, and showrunner Dan Weiss has said the same, noting that “dead is dead” on Game of Thrones. Except when it’s not.

Now, Jon’s “death” happens similarly in A Dance With Dragons, so I’ve had lots of time to think this through. Here’s my theory on why we haven’t seen the last of Jon Snow.

Let me begin by stating one huge assumption – that the show’s writers will not fundamentally deviate for the core of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. If they do, all bets are off. But so far, despite the fact the show has deviated in numerous ways from the books, it has never strayed from the core plot. Every major event that is core to the books, including the deaths of Robert Baratheon and Ned Stark, Dany’s dragons emerging from the stone eggs, the Red Wedding, the Purple Wedding, the fate of the Wildlings and the White Walkers beyond The Wall, has all happened on the show. I cannot imagine the show changing the fundamental story, even if they stick Sansa in Winterfell for a time or have Jaime travel to Dorne.

I have to believe HBO won't deviate from the story's core.
This assumption held true after last night’s episode too. Again, with the exception of Sansa, nearly every character is where they need to be at the end of A Dance With Dragons. Daenerys is surrounded by Dothraki while Drogon takes a nap. Cersei is back in the Red Keep. Sam and Gilly are heading to Old Town. Theon has escaped from Winterfell. Tyrion is in Meereen (he’s nearly there by the end of the book), and Jaime is back to a place where his story could resume as normal if the writers so choose. So could Brienne’s, for that matter, even though she’s taken a detour on the show.

Most importantly, however, Jon is where he ends up at the end of A Dance With Dragons – and so is Melisandre. She’s back at Castle Black, just where she needs to be.

Could she be Jon's salvation?
In A Dance With Dragons, Melisandre never leaves Castle Black, and in fact she takes a rather strong interest in Jon Snow – so much so that we’re left to wonder if she suspects he might be the savior foretold by her Lord of Light, Azor Ahai reborn, instead of Stanis Baratheon. At one point she even thinks: “I pray for a glimpse of Azor Ahai, and R’hllor shows me only Snow.” 

So what does this mean? Well, first and foremost, let’s remember that A Song of Ice and Fire is epic fantasy. Everything appears to be leading up to a ginormous battle between the White Walkers and the saviors of mankind, and like every epic, the story’s going to need a hero or two. Now, Daenerys is obviously one of those heroes, and her three dragons will undoubtedly play a big role in the epic conflict to come. But everything we’ve seen about Jon Snow suggests he is one of those heroes too. This is likely one reason George R.R. Martin has coyly stated in reference to Jon Snow, “Oh, you think he’s dead, do you?” 

I simply have to believe Martin has more planned for Jon. Otherwise, the only point of his death is to leave The Wall without a leader, virtually guaranteeing the White Walkers will overtake it soon. And even if this is part of Martin’s plan, all he needs is for Jon to be “dead” for a while – until the savior needs to return. So assuming that Martin still has big plans for Jon Snow in A Song of Ice and Fire, and that the show’s writers won’t deviate from Martin’s core plot, I suspect Jon will be back before the series wraps up in Season 7.

As for how Jon will survive, we can only speculate. But there’s plenty of magic in the world of Game of Thrones to allow this to happen. First, we know that the priests of R’hllor can raise the dead. Thoros of Myr did this to Beric Dondorion on the show and in the books (resurrecting him numerous times). Thoros also resurrects Caitlyn Stark at the end of A Storm Of Swords, turning her into Lady Stoneheart. So, with Melisandre back in Castle Black, resurrection remains a possibility. And, even if she doesn’t make Jon rise from the dead (an outcome that might be inconsistent with Kit Harrington’s comments that he’s not going to be in Season 6), maybe she can preserve his body until the time it’s needed again (say, in Season 7 – Harrington, noticeably, did not mention Season 7 in his interview with EW).

Or might Ghost save the day?
Second, Jon, like his brother Bran, has the power to transfer his consciousness into his direwolf (just like Bran does with Summer, and later Hodor). This is revealed for Jon in the second book, A Clash Of Kings, and he “wargs” into Ghost in A Dance With Dragons as well. Further, it’s revealed in the prologue to A Dance With Dragons that when one of these skinchangers is dying, they can survive by “warging” or transferring their consciousness into the animal they control. In fact, the prologue makes explicit reference to Snow from the point-of-view of a Wildling skinchanger named Varamyr Sixskins:
“He had known what Snow was the moment he saw the great white direwolf stalking silent at his side. One skinchanger can always sense another.”
A few pages later, Varamyr is slain but his conscious flees into a wolf, allowing him to survive. Why would Martin make that explicit connection between a skinchanger and Jon Snow if it wasn’t supposed to play some role in the grander scheme of A Song of Ice and Fire? That’s one reason it’s completely feasible that Jon Snow’s consciousness might live on in the mind of his dire wolf, Ghost. In fact, as he’s getting stabbed in the book, Jon whispers the word “Ghost.” 

And here’s some more evidence. When Melisandre sees a vision of Jon Snow in the flames, this is what she sees:
“His long face floated before her, limned in tongues of red and orange, appearing and disappearing again, a shadow half-seen behind a fluttering curtain. Now he was a man, now a wolf, now a man again . . .”
A man, then wolf, then a man again. Sounds like a prophecy to me. And, as any reader of fantasy fiction knows, prophesies usually come true. Therefore, I think it is possible Jon may reside in Ghost for a while before returning to human form to help save the day. This certainly would not be inconsistent with the genre of epic fantasy. But again, this assumes the show’s writers plan to stay true to Martin’s master plan. Yet I still believe that’s the case.

This stare has to mean something.
In fact, even the show has foreshadowed an epic battle that will involve Jon Snow before it’s done. Just think back to that scene in “Hardhome” where the lead White Walker has that stare down with Jon. That was a classic “you and I will fight mano y mano someday” kind of stare. Why promise that if Jon’s going to truly bite the dust two episodes later? And why reveal that Jon’s sword just happens to be one that can kill a White Walker in a single strike? No one else I can think of is going to swing that sword when the epic battle reaches its climax. 

No one but Jon Snow.

* Images courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes and

Thursday, June 11, 2015

It’s the End of the Road on “Game of Thrones”

This Sunday’s episode may be the last time I watch HBO’s Game of Thrones and have any idea what might happen. The show is about to exhaust the core material in George R.R. Martin’s series through his fifth book, A Dance With Dragons. After that, we’re in uncharted waters. And for many of the storylines, we’re already there.

Jon's tale is unfolding just like the books . . .
The only two stories that look like they’ll wrap up the way they do in the books is that of Jon Snow and Cersei Lannister. Of course, given the way the show has deviated from the novels, I’m not even sure that will happen. But if I were a betting man, that’s where I’d put my money. In fact, since the show ignored her last week, Cersei’s story may even spill over into Season 6. Although I can still see the writers finishing her tale if they give her enough screen time on Sunday. Yet after that, we’re off the rails.

Who know what will happen to Sansa?

Sansa’s Tale

As I’ve written before, she never even goes to Winterfell in the books. While it’s clear the show’s writers have given her the role of poor Jayne Poole in the novels, I had surmised that Brienne and Pod might take on Mance Rayder’s role in the books and end this plotline in a similar fashion to A Dance With Dragons. But since last week’s episode ignored Winterfell, I don’t think they have enough screen time to simulate what happens in the books. So either Sansa’s story will continue into next season, or we are in for a surprise on Sunday.

I like the twist in Arya's tale!

Arya’s Tale

Arya’s tale was basically unfolding like it does in the books – that is, until Mace Tyrell shows up, who is on Arya’s hit list. To me, this was a big – and welcome – twist. I don’t have any idea what might happen, but I’m itching to find out.

Stannis is damned.

Stannis’ Tale

Last episode’s murder of young princess Shireen has half the internet in an uproar. Needless to say, Stannis doesn’t sacrifice his daughter in the books. In fact, she’s not even with him on his campaign to Winterfell, and neither is Melisandre. Stannis was never a good man, but now, on the show, I feel he’s damned. A Dance With Dragons leaves Stannis fate up in the air – we’re told what happens to him, but from an unreliable source. Maybe the show will reveal what really befalls Stannis, and I suspect it won’t be good.

The Dorne storyline was not what I expected.

Jaime’s Tale

In the show, the entire Dorne storyline has been nothing like the books. I had predicted that Jaime would play the role of Ser Ayres Oakheart and fall for one of the Sand Snakes, but it looks like I was dead wrong. So far, really nothing has happened in Dorne, but the scenes set in Seville looked amazing!

I think I know what happens to her, but what about Tyrion?

Tyrion’s Tale (And Dany’s Too)

Daenerys’ escape from the arena is basically faithful to the books. A Dance With Dragons contains a few chapters that describe what happens to Dany after she flies off with Drogon, and I suspect we’ll see a bit of that next Sunday. But beyond that, who knows? In the books, a lot happens in Meereen after Daenerys leaves, yet it all involves Ser Barristan, who has already been offed. The book’s storyline also involves Daenerys’ husband, Hizadhar, but he’s dead too. Novel-Tyrion never even makes it inside Meereen. So I have no idea what will happen to him on Sunday.

But everyone better get used to it. For now on, we’ll no longer have the books to guide us. We’re on our own in Game of Thrones.

* Images courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

A Summertime Sale for "Enoch's Device"

To kickoff the summer, and in honor of Saint Columcille's Day (he's Brother Ciarán's patron saint, after all), the Kindle version of Enoch’s Device will be on sale at Amazon for the next 7 days! (And on Amazon UK too!)  Here’s a link to the book’s Amazon page, followed by an image of the cover and a brief summary.

Nearly a thousand years after the birth of Christ, when all Europe fears that the world will soon end, a young Irish monk, Brother Ciarán, discovers an ominous warning hidden in the illuminations of a religious tome. The cryptic prophecy speaks of Enoch’s device, an angelic weapon with the power to prevent the coming apocalypse. But a heretic-hunting bishop has arrived at the monastery, willing to kill to ensure the weapon is never found. 
Pursued by the bishop’s men and supernatural forces, Ciarán and his freethinking mentor journey to the heart of France in search of the device. There, they rescue the Lady Alais, a young widow accused of witchcraft because she holds a key to the prophecy. Together, the trio must race across Europe to locate the device, which has left clues of its passage through history. But time is running out, and if they don’t find it soon, all that they love could perish at the End of Days.  
Enoch’s Device is a fast-paced medieval adventure steeped in history, mythology, and mysteries from a dark and magical past.
Author Cate Peace of Indie Books R Us called Enoch's Device “a refreshing twist on the religious thriller, and one that will have you turning pages from cover to cover as fast as you can.” You can read her full review here.

In other reviews, Stephen Reynolds of SPR called Enoch's Device “a wonderfully imagined, vividly described, alternately lyrical and violent romp of a novel that should give lovers of historical fantasy just the kind of fix they're looking for.”

And Marty Shaw of Blog Critics wrote: “If you enjoy tales of magic and adventure that are perfectly blended with reality and history, ‘Enoch’s Device’ by Joseph Finley will be an exciting read for you.”

I gave an interview to Ms. Peace, where I revealed a bit more about the upcoming sequel – you can read it here.  

Also, you can read more about Enochthe Fae, and the Paladins of Charlemagne in my interview that appeared in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer here

If you've already read the book and would recommend it, please tell a friend!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

My Quick Take on “Hardhome”

There is little time to write this week, but I have a minute to offer my quick take on last week’s episode of Game of Thrones titled “Hardhome.” In short, it was the best episode of the year and further proof that despite the show’s divergence from the books, HBO’s writers are doing their job well.

Without "Hardhome," we might have forgotten about his kind.
Let me start by pointing out that the dramatic battle with the White Walkers is not in the books. Rather, in A Dance With Dragons, a group of wildlings have gone to Hardhome and Jon sends men to help them, worried about their fate at the hands of the Walkers. But he never goes there himself. That said, the book includes page after page that reminds us of the growing threat of the Walkers now that winter is coming. 

The show, by contrast, doesn’t have the luxury of lots of pages of Jon Snow worrying about the Walkers, so instead the writers inserted one spectacular battle to remind us all of the danger that lies beyond The Wall. Without this scene, I doubt viewers would have even thought about the White Walkers this season. And, with no harm to the story, the show has Tormund, the Wildlings, and that giant heading back to Castle Black, just where they need to be to wrap things up like they do in the books.

This has to be what GRRM has in store for Tyrion.
Meanwhile, Sansa’s story became even more interesting now that Theon has confessed he never killed Bran and Rickon (in the books, this is revealed to Jon, since Sam encounters Bran before he goes beyond the Wall). Also, Tyrion is filling in quite nicely as Daenerys’ consigliere. While Tyrion never even gets inside Meereen in A Dance With Dragons, I have to believe this is what George R.R. Martin has planned for his character in The Winds Of Winter. Only Ser Jorah’s fate remains up in the air – though I bet we’ll learn next episode what happens to him. In fact, I expect next episode to focus heavily on the Meereen storyline. After all, it’s titled “The Dance With Dragons.”

* Images courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes