Tag Archives: movies

Hugo Award Finalists, 2013 – First Impressions

2312As always, the finalists for the Hugo Awards and John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer are an interesting lot with a few surprises and a number of disappointments. The 1343 valid nominating ballots represent a record number, more than 20% above last year’s previous record. The winners will be announced Sunday, September 1, 2013, during the Hugo Awards Ceremony at LoneStarCon 3 in San Antonio, Texas.

As usual, I am looking forward to my yearly journey through the contemporary science fiction world, even if the Hugo Award itself is becoming more of a popularity contest among fan personalities than ever before. Here are my initial thoughts about the nominees.

Best Novel (1113 ballots)

2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit)
Blackout by Mira Grant (Orbit)
Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen)
Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas by John Scalzi (Tor)
Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed (DAW)

2312 appeared on almost every best-of list and should be the odds-on favorite to win. Saladin Ahmed’s first novel, Throne of the Crescent Moon, also received widespread accolades. John Scalzi’s Redshirts received some praise, but my guess, not having read it yet, is that readers liked its lighthearted premise of what it’s like to be a Star Trek crewmember more than its actual literary merits. Scalzi is also a popular fan personality, which helps his visibility. Lois McMaster Bujold is another fan favorite, having been nominated many, many times. My opinion is that her books are solid mid-list action-adventure tales, but mostly just comfort food for fans who relate well to her protagonist who overcomes major physical disabilities to become a badass soldier and politician. Blackout, by Seanan McGuire writing as Mira Grant, was on zero best-of lists and no other award short lists (at least, that I saw). But McGuire is a hugely popular blogger and podcaster whose celebrity within the fan community gives her a disproportionate advantage. The more of McGuire’s work I read, the less impressed I am. This is all the more disappointing because well-reviewed books such as Intrusion by Ken MacLeod, Jack Glass by Adam Roberts, The Killing Moon by N. K. Jemisin, The Drowning Girl by Caitlín R. Kiernan, and Glamour in Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal, among others, were ignored.

Asimovs_Oct-Nov_2012Best Novella (587 ballots)

After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall by Nancy Kress (Tachyon Publications)
The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson (Tachyon Publications)
On a Red Station, Drifting by Aliette de Bodard (Immersion Press)
San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats by Mira Grant (Orbit)
“The Stars Do Not Lie” by Jay Lake (Asimov’s, Oct-Nov 2012)

After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall; On a Red Station, Drifting; and “The Stars Do Not Lie” were all well reviewed and all are on the Nebula ballot. Neither The Emperor’s Soul nor San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats appeared on any best-of or award lists that I saw. Here again, Sanderson’s and Grant’s fan popularity rather than the merits of their stories likely put them on the final ballot. The title of Grant’s story indicates it may be little more than fan fiction related to Joss Whedon’s hugely popular SF franchise, Firefly.

Best Novelette (616 ballots)

“The Boy Who Cast No Shadow” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Postscripts: Unfit For Eden, PS Publications)
“Fade To White” by Catherynne M. Valente (Clarkesworld, August 2012)
“The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi” by Pat Cadigan (Edge of Infinity, Solaris)
“In Sea-Salt Tears” by Seanan McGuire (Self-published)
“Rat-Catcher” by Seanan McGuire (A Fantasy Medley 2, Subterranean)

The love-fest for Seanan McGuire continues, incredulously including a self-published story. I’m not familiar with the other novelettes, so I am hoping that they will be decent. Certainly, Valente and Cadigan have produced top-notch work in the past.

Best Short Story (662 ballots)

“Immersion” by Aliette de Bodard (Clarkesworld, June 2012)
“Mantis Wives” by Kij Johnson (Clarkesworld, August 2012)
“Mono no Aware” by Ken Liu (The Future is Japanese, VIZ Media LLC)

All these stories undoubtedly deserve to be on the ballot. The sad news is that there are only three nominees because no other works received the minimum 5% of the votes required by the World Science Fiction Society constitution. I suspect this is due to a large number of good short stories that spread votes wide and thin.

Best Related Work (584 ballots)

The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature Edited by Edward James & Farah Mendlesohn (Cambridge UP)
Chicks Dig Comics: A Celebration of Comic Books by the Women Who Love Them Edited by Lynne M. Thomas & Sigrid Ellis (Mad Norwegian Press)
Chicks Unravel Time: Women Journey Through Every Season of Doctor Who Edited by Deborah Stanish & L.M. Myles (Mad Norwegian Press)
I Have an Idea for a Book… The Bibliography of Martin H. Greenberg Compiled by Martin H. Greenberg, edited by John Helfers (The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box)
Writing Excuses Season Seven by Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler and Jordan Sanderson

This is a hard category to say much about. The variety of potential works is vast, so almost anything can appear. Farah Mendlesohn has produced a number of well received scholarly works in the past few years, so I expect The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literatures deserves its place on the final ballot. Previous volumes of Writing Excuses were pretty informative, so I’m not surprised to see it nominated again. I have no idea what Chicks Dig Comics or Chicks Unravel Time are, but from the titles they must be part of a female-centric critical series. Martin H. Greenberg’s book sounds like little more than a list, so I’m not sure what value it has, other than to honor one of the great anthologists of all time. I’m a little surprised there are no art books on the final ballot.

sagaBest Graphic Story (427 ballots)

Grandville Bête Noire written and illustrated by Bryan Talbot (Dark Horse Comics, Jonathan Cape)
Locke & Key Volume 5: Clockworks written by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez (IDW)
Saga, Volume One written by Brian K. Vaughn, illustrated by Fiona Staples (Image Comics)
Schlock Mercenary: Random Access Memorabilia by Howard Tayler, colors by Travis Walton (Hypernode Media)
Saucer Country, Volume 1: Run written by Paul Cornell, illustrated by Ryan Kelly, Jimmy Broxton and Goran Sudžuka (Vertigo)

I’m actually pleasantly surprised by how good the selections are for this category, with the exception of Schlock Mercenary, a lightweight gag comic. It is a travesty that it is on the list and Batman: The Court of Owls is not. The voters have no trouble putting superhero stories in the Dramatic Presentation category, but for some reason resist them in their natural home, the Graphic Story category.

looperBest Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) (787 ballots)

The Avengers Screenplay & Directed by Joss Whedon (Marvel Studios, Disney, Paramount)
The Cabin in the Woods Screenplay by Drew Goddard & Joss Whedon; Directed by Drew Goddard (Mutant Enemy, Lionsgate)
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro, Directed by Peter Jackson (WingNut Films, New Line Cinema, MGM, Warner Bros)
The Hunger Games Screenplay by Gary Ross & Suzanne Collins, Directed by Gary Ross (Lionsgate, Color Force)
Looper Screenplay and Directed by Rian Johnson (FilmDistrict, EndGame Entertainment)

There are no surprises here, other than not seeing Game of Thrones, Season 2.

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) (597 ballots)

Doctor Who:“The Angels Take Manhattan” Written by Steven Moffat, Directed by Nick Hurran (BBC Wales)
Doctor Who:“Asylum of the Daleks” Written by Steven Moffat; Directed by Nick Hurran (BBC Wales)
Doctor Who:“The Snowmen” Written by Steven Moffat, Directed by Saul Metzstein (BBC Wales)
Fringe:“Letters of Transit” Written by J.J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Akiva Goldsman, J.H.Wyman, Jeff Pinkner. Directed by Joe Chappelle (Fox)
Game of Thrones:“Blackwater” Written by George R.R. Martin, Directed by Neil Marshall. Created by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss (HBO)

As I predicted, there are the usual three episodes of Doctor Who and two other sacrificial lambs. My only question is why a single episode of Game of Thrones is nominated. As established last year, Game of Thrones should be considered as one ten-part presentation. Nominating a single episode is like nominating a single chapter from a book. In any case, it doesn’t matter, since it’s a foregone conclusion that Doctor Who will win.

Best Editor – Short Form (526 ballots)

John Joseph Adams
Neil Clarke
Stanley Schmidt
Jonathan Strahan
Sheila Williams

The usual suspects are nominated once again. My hope is that the retiring Stanley Schmidt will finally receive his due.

Best Editor – Long Form (408 ballots)

Lou Anders
Sheila Gilbert
Liz Gorinsky
Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Toni Weisskopf

This is a category that very few people are really interested in. I certainly am not.

Julie-DillonBest Professional Artist (519 ballots)

Vincent Chong
Julie Dillon
Dan Dos Santos
Chris McGrath
John Picacio

A mixture of some old favorites along with some new faces. There are so many good professional artists that it is hard to pick a slate of nominees without offending some really deserving candidates. And picking a clear winner is nearly impossible.

Best Semiprozine (404 ballots)

Apex Magazine edited by Lynne M. Thomas, Jason Sizemore and Michael Damian Thomas
Beneath Ceaseless Skies edited by Scott H. Andrews
Clarkesworld edited by Neil Clarke, Jason Heller, Sean Wallace and Kate Baker
Lightspeed edited by John Joseph Adams and Stefan Rudnicki
Strange Horizons edited by Niall Harrison, Jed Hartman, Brit Mandelo, An Owomoyela, Julia Rios, Abigail Nussbaum, Sonya Taaffe, Dave Nagdeman and Rebecca Cross

It baffles me why this category should exist at all. Either you’re a professional magazine or you’re not. This wishy-washy half-measure should be abolished. For example, Clarkesworld published three Hugo nominees this year compared to one for Asimov’s and zero for Analog and F&SF. If that’s not a professional magazine, I don’t know what is.

Best Fanzine (370 ballots)

Banana Wings edited by Claire Brialey and Mark Plummer
The Drink Tank edited by Chris Garcia and James Bacon
Elitist Book Reviews edited by Steven Diamond
Journey Planet edited by James Bacon, Chris Garcia, Emma J. King, Helen J. Montgomery and Pete Young
SF Signal edited by John DeNardo, JP Frantz, and Patrick Hester

The Hugo voters inexplicably changed the eligibility rules this year to exclude virtually all online fanzines. Why supposedly forward-looking science fiction fans chose to regress to only printed periodicals is a mystery.

Best Fancast (346 ballots)

The Coode Street Podcast, Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe
Galactic Suburbia Podcast, Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Presenters) and Andrew Finch (Producer)
SF Signal Podcast, Patrick Hester, John DeNardo, and JP Frantz
SF Squeecast, Elizabeth Bear, Paul Cornell, Seanan McGuire, Lynne M. Thomas, Catherynne M. Valente (Presenters) and David McHone-Chase (Technical Producer)
StarShipSofa, Tony C. Smith

Although the Hugo voters have excluded online fanzines, they have embraced podcasts. However, the same titles appear year after year, and frankly, I have not been impressed with any of them. Episodes of news and opinion shows are almost always too long and often lack organization. StarShipSofa’s selection of audio stories is underwhelming. I’m still looking for a SF podcast with value-added information that’s worth my time. I suspect others feel the same way, since this category had the second-lowest number of nominating ballots.

Best Fan Writer (485 ballots)

James Bacon
Christopher J Garcia
Mark Oshiro
Tansy Rayner Roberts
Steven H Silver

Mostly the same names we see every year in the mutual-admiration society known as fandom.

Best Fan Artist (293 ballots)

Galen Dara
Brad W. Foster
Spring Schoenhuth
Maurine Starkey
Steve Stiles

Here’s another list of mostly familiar names. At least professional artist Randall Munroe did not make the final ballot this year.

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (476 ballots)

Award for the best new professional science fiction or fantasy writer of 2011 or 2012, sponsored by Dell Magazines (not a Hugo Award).

Zen Cho *
Max Gladstone
Mur Lafferty *
Stina Leicht *
Chuck Wendig *

* Finalists in their 2nd year of eligibility.

Mur Lafferty and Stina Leicht were both nominated last year, so I expect one of them will win this year. I am completely unfamiliar with the other three nominees.

For Your Consideration: Hugo Award Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

The deadline for nominating works for the Hugo Awards is March 10, 2013. Members (as of January 31, 2013) of Chicon 7, LoneStarCon 3, or Loncon 3 are eligible to nominate.

The dividing line between Dramatic Presentation, Short Form and Dramatic Presentation, Long Form is 90 minutes running time, but may be adjusted slightly one way or another if a majority of nominators place a borderline work in the other category. A multi-part production can be nominated in the Long Form category.

There is an overwhelming chance that Game of Thrones, Season 2 will be nominated, just as Season 1 was last year (my advice is to not waste your nomination votes for individual episodes of Game of Thrones in the Short Form category, as they will be disqualified). Beyond that, it seems to me that the field is pretty much wide open. I think The Avengers, Looper, The Hunger Games, The Cabin in the Woods, and The Hobbit are the most likely to be nominated. But there are a number of other worthy works.

For your consideration:

  • The Amazing Spider-Man, Sony Pictures
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild, Fox Searchlight Picturesbrave
  • Brave, Pixar Animation Studios
  • The Cabin in the Woods, Lionsgate
  • Chronicle, Twentieth Century Fox
  • Cloud Atlas, Warner Bros. Pictures
  • The Dark Knight Rises, Warner Bros. Picturesfrankenweenie-poster
  • Frankenweenie, Walt Disney Studios
  • Game of Thrones, Season 2, HBO
  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, New Line Cinema
  • Hotel Transylvania, Sony Pictures Animation
  • The Hunger Games, Lionsgateiron_sky
  • Iron Sky, Entertainment One
  • John Carter, Walt Disney Pictures
  • Life of Pi, Twentieth Century Foxlooper
  • Looper, TriStar Pictures
  • Marvel’s The Avengers, Marvel Studios
  • Men in Black 3, Columbia Pictures
  • ParaNorman, LAIKA/Focus Features
  • The Pirates! Band of Misfits, Aardman Animations and Sony Pictures Animation
  • Prometheus, Twentieth Century Fox
  • The Rabbi’s Cat, GKIDS
  • Rise of the Guardians, DreamWorks Animationrobotandfrank
  • Robot & Frank, Samuel Goldwyn Films
  • Ruby Sparks, Fox Searchlight Pictures
  • Safety Not Guaranteed, FilmDistrict
  • The Secret World of Arrietty, Studio Ghibli
  • Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Focus Features
  • Skyfall, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)
  • Snow White and the Huntsman, Universal Pictures
  • Ted, Universal Pictures
  • The Woman in Black, CBS Films
  • Wreck-It Ralph, Walt Disney Animation Studios

For Your Consideration: Hugo Award Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

The deadline for nominating works for the Hugo Awards is March 10, 2013. Members (as of January 31, 2013) of Chicon 7, LoneStarCon 3, or Loncon 3 are eligible to nominate.

It’s pretty much a given that at least three episodes of Doctor Who will be nominated, and that one of those will win. While Doctor Who is certainly an outstanding series, there are a multitude of other science fiction and fantasy TV shows, as well as a few theatrical shorts and Internet productions that are worthy of consideration.

A multi-part production such as Game of Thrones, Season 2 will undoubtedly be nominated in the Long Form category as Season 1 was last year. So my advice is to not waste your nomination votes in the Short Form category for individual episodes, as they will be disqualified.

For the Dramatic Presentation, Short Form category, I have compiled a list of productions that are eligible to be nominated this year. It is a long list, and undoubtedly not comprehensive. I’ve listed the titles of individual episodes because the Hugo rules require individual episodes to be nominated. The dividing line between Short Form and Long Form is 90 minutes running time, but may be adjusted slightly one way or another if a majority of nominators place a borderline work in the other category.

For your consideration:jakethedog

  • “Jake the Dog”, Adventure Time
  • “Prehistoric Peril!”, The Adventures of the League of S.T.E.A.M.
  • “Tommy Madsen”, Alcatraz
  • “God’s Eye”, Alphas
  • “I Am Anne Frank”, Parts 1 and 2, American Horror Story: AsylumArcher Space Race
  • “Space Race”, Parts 1 and 2, Archer
  • “Betrayal”, Arrow
  • “Secret Invasion”, The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest HeroesAWAKE
  • “Say Hello to My Little Friend”, Awake
  • “Blood & Chrome”, Battlestar Galactica
  • “Bridesmaid Up!”, Beauty and the Beast
  • “Trust”, Before Orel
  • “The War Child”, Being Human
  • “The Ultimate Enemy”, Parts 1 and 2, Ben 10: Ultimate Alien
  • “Time Slime”, Bravest Warriors
  • “The Final Frontier”, Castle
  • “Digital Estate Planning”, Community
  • “End Times”, Continuumdarkknightreturnspart1
  • Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1, DC Entertainment
  • Justice League: Doom, DC Entertainment
  • Superman vs. The Elite, DC Entertainment
  • “The Angels Take Manhattan”, Doctor Who
  • “When Lightning Strikes”, Dragons: Riders of Berk
  • “Just Another Day”, Eureka
  • “A More Perfect Union”, Falling Skies
  • “Yug Ylimaf”, Family GuyFringe
  • “Letters of Transit”, Fringe
  • “The Bots and the Bees”, Futurama
  • Maggie Simpson in “The Longest Daycare”, Gracie Films
  • “Homecoming”, Green Lantern: The Animated Series
  • “Season of the Hexenbiest”, Grimm
  • “Thanks for the Memories”, HavenIron-Man
  • “Control-Alt-Delete”, Iron Man: Armored Adventures
  • “Cinderella Liberty”, Last Resort
  • “Endgame”, The Legend of Korra
  • “Midnight Lamp”, Lost Girlmerlin
  • “The Diamond of the Day”, Parts 1 and 2, Merlin
  • Episode #4.3, Misfits
  • Head over Heels, National Film and Television School (NFTS)
  • Mockingbird Lane, NBC
  • “Queen of Hearts”, Once Upon a Time
  • “The Contingency”, Person of Interestreddwarf
  • “Trojan”, Red Dwarf
  • “Nobody’s Fault But Mine”, Revolution
  • “DC Comics Special”, Robot Chicken
  • “Bill Plympton Couch Gag”, The Simpsons
  • “Wrath of the Gods”, Spartacus: War of the Damned
  • “Revenge”, Star Wars: The Clone Wars
  • “Citizen Fang”, Supernatural
  • “Fury”, Teen Wolf
  • “Birth of the Blades”, Thundercats
  • “Pilot”, Touch
  • “Darkest Hour”, Transformers Prime
  • “Scars”, Parts 1 and 2, TRON: Uprising
  • “Save Yourself”, True Blood
  • “Freaky”, Ultimate Spider-Man
  • “The Departed”, The Vampire Diaries
  • “A Very Venture Halloween”, The Venture Bros.
  • “Parting Shots”, The Walking DeadPaperman
  • Paperman, Walt Disney Animation Studios
  • “The Ones You Love”, Warehouse 13
  • “Depths”, Young Justice

ParaNorman, Hotel Transylvania, Frankenweeknie

Guest review by Tommy “Slug” Togath, age 14

There’s been a wave of animated monster movies in the past few weeks. Two stop-motion and one CGI movie have been released. Does this signify a trend, or is it just a coincidence? I don’t know, but all three movies are entertaining and explore different aspects of monster stories.

ParaNorman (2012)
Written by Chris Butler; directed by Chris Butler and Sam Fell

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

This movie is from the makers of the wonderful movie Coraline (adapted from a book by Neil Gaiman). ParaNorman is an original story about a boy named Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee) who can see and talk to ghosts. No one takes him seriously, and as a result his classmates tease him to the point of bullying. When a group of ghosts start terrorizing the town, it’s up to Norman to save the day.

ParaNorman is an entertaining movie, but probably not a movie that will stand the test of time. The stop-motion animation is better than in Coraline, with scenes containing multiple characters moving at the same time. The story, however, is kind of forgettable. The best part of the movie was when Norman had to contend with the body of his teacher who dies. It was one of the funniest and grossest scenes in a movie I’ve seen. I also liked when Norman talked to his dead grandmother.

The overall moral of the story is that everyone is different, and that bullying is bad whether it’s directed towards the living or the dead. It was a bit heavy-handed, but a valuable lesson anyway.

Hotel Transylvania (2012)
Story by Todd Durham and Dan Hageman & Kevin Hageman; screenplay by Peter Baynham and Robert Smigel; directed by Genndy Tartakovsky

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really liked the setup for this movie. Count Dracula (Adam Sandler) builds a hotel in a remote and well protected forest so that his monster friends have a safe place to take their vacations without interference from evil humans. Dracula has a daughter, Mavis (Selena Gomez), who is about to have her 118th birthday party with all the monsters in attendance. A teenage boy named Jonathan (Andy Samberg) stumbles upon the hotel and Dracula has to disguise the boy to prevent his guests from panicking. Of course, Mavis and Jonathan fall in love, complicating Dracula’s efforts.

Hotel Transylvania is a funny, slapstick CGI movie. I wouldn’t mind seeing it again. Much of the credit goes to director Genndy Tartakovsky who created two of my favorite TV cartoons, Dexter’s Laboratory and Samurai Jack. Apparently, the movie was in development for many years with various writers and directors, but it was Tartakovsky who basically rescued it with his action-packed style.

The whole movie was funny, and I enjoyed seeing a lot of different monsters, although most of them didn’t get much screen time. The best part of the movie was at the end when Dracula finally realizes that humans aren’t as evil as he thinks. The message is that it’s ok to be different, and that we all need to accept others who may not look or act the same.

I could easily imagine that Hotel Transylvania could be a continuing TV series. There are a lot of potential stories that could be told with different monsters being highlighted. My understanding is that there is already a movie sequel in production.

Frankenweenie (2012)
Screenplay by John August, based on an original idea by Tim Burton and a screenplay by Leonard Ripps; directed by Tim Burton

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this black-and-white, stop-motion parody of the Frankenstein story. I was actually quite captivated by the movie. A boy named Victor (Charlie Tahan) doesn’t have many friends, except his faithful dog Sparky. After Sparky gets run over by a car, Victor decides to bring him back to life using electricity that he learned about in science class. When Victor’s classmates discover what he has done, they try to steal his idea for the upcoming science fair, creating chaos.

I haven’t seen very many Tim Burton movies. One of the movies he made a long time ago was The Nightmare Before Christmas, using the same kind of stop-motion animation. Some of my friends really liked this movie, but I didn’t like all the singing. Alice in Wonderland was only so-so. Frankenweenie is definitely better than those two movies, and I am now motivated to see some of Burton’s other movies.

I could really relate to Victor. I am kind of a science nerd, so I could appreciate him not having many friends. I also have a dog that I love, and I would be heartbroken if he died in an accident like Sparky. The best part of the movie was Victor’s science teacher (Martin Landau). He was kind of creepy and funny at the same time. I really liked when he said that science itself is neither good nor evil, but could be used for good or evil. Science is just a process of learning the facts about the world and the universe around us. I was disappointed that the science teacher did not have a bigger part in the movie. I also thought Sparky was a cool character. He was smart and cute, and acted like a real dog most of the time.

I didn’t come away from Frankenweenie thinking that there was a strong message, other than don’t experiment on your dead dog without permission. But overall, I liked Frankenweenie the most of these three monster movies. The production values were excellent, the story was funny, and I think that it’s a movie that I will understand more when I am older. There were a lot of references to old movies that I didn’t get.

Hugo Awards 2012: Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form)

The Best Dramatic Presentation category was added in 1958. It was split into Long Form (over 90 minutes) and Short Form (under 90 minutes) beginning in 2003. Although some traditionalists decry the addition of media-based works (and to be sure, some questionable movies and TV shows have been nominated and even won), this is usually one of the top vote-getting categories, showing it is popular with the Hugo voters.

Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) Nominations (603 ballots cast [compared to 510 ballots cast in 2011])
(The titles in bold are the ones I nominated.)

171 Game of Thrones (Season 1), created by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss; written by David Benioff, D. B. Weiss, Bryan Cogman, Jane Espenson, and George R. R. Martin; directed by Brian Kirk, Daniel Minahan, Tim van Patten, and Alan Taylor (28.35%)
148 Hugo, screenplay by John Logan; directed by Martin Scorsese (24.54%)
113 Captain America: The First Avenger, screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephan McFeely, directed by Joe Johnston (18.74%)
112 Source Code, screenplay by Ben Ripley; directed by Duncan Jones (18.57%)
105 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, screenplay by Steve Kloves; directed by David Yates (17.41%)
———————————————————-
94 X-Men: First Class (15.59%)
78 Attack the Block (12.94%)
78 Super 8 (12.94%)
78 Thor (12.94%)
78 Misfits Series 1 (12.77%)
77 Kick-Ass (12.10%)
73 Rise of the Planet of the Apes (12.10%)
48 The Adjustment Bureau (7.96%)
36 Contagion (5.97%)
27 Cowboys and Aliens (4.48%)
24 Paul (3.98%)

Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) Final Ballot Results (1613 ballots [compared to 1755 ballots cast in 2011])

My Ranking Title Round 1 Round 2 Round 3 Round 4
2 Game of Thrones (Season 1) (WINNER) 710 711 756 808
6 Hugo 293 295 326 392
4 Captain America: The First Avenger 198 199 247 297
1 Source Code 192 192 208
3 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 175 176
5 No Award 45

No Award Tests:
• 1181 ballots ranked Game of Thrones (Season 1) higher than No Award; 115 ballots ranked No Award higher than Game of Thrones (Season 1) – PASS
• ((1613-45)/1922)*100 = 82% – PASS

The remaining places were then calculated to be:
2nd Place – Hugo
3rd Place – Captain America: The First Avenger
4th Place – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
5th Place – Source Code

Analysis

Fourteen items passed the 5% cutoff in what I thought was a lackluster year for movies. Unsurprisingly, the juggernaut Game of Thrones completely dominated the voting. I suspect this trend will continue for as long as the series is in production. Attack the Block and Misfits were not widely distributed in the U.S., or else they probably would have done better. My biggest surprise was that Rise of the Planet of the Apes wasn’t higher in the nominations, although I’m not surprised it didn’t make the top five. Contagion should also have ranked higher than it did—did people not think it was science fiction?

Mini-Reviews

Captain America: The First Avenger, screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephan McFeely, directed by Joe Johnston (Marvel)

In a year loaded with super hero movies, Captain America stood out as one of the best, both in terms of the emotional arc of the title character and in the use of set design and special effects to convey a sense of reality lacking in many super-hero movies. It’s hard to convert the intrinsically unbelievability of comic books into something that looks good on screen. Although I liked X-Men: First Class more, I can’t argue that Captain America didn’t deserve recognition. See my full review here.

Game of Thrones (Season 1), created by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss; written by David Benioff, D. B. Weiss, Bryan Cogman, Jane Espenson, and George R. R. Martin; directed by Brian Kirk, Daniel Minahan, Tim van Patten, and Alan Taylor (HBO)

This faithful and lavish production of George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy was the clear favorite in a relatively weak field. It’s hard to compete with a 10-hour production that can include character and plot details that 2-hour movies cannot. My only knock against Game of Thrones is the same one I have about the books: it’s an unresolved chapter in a longer narrative. Nevertheless, as long as HBO can keep the quality at this level, Game of Thrones will be a favorite to win for several years to come.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, screenplay by Steve Kloves; directed by David Yates (Warner Bros.)

Despite being the second half of the adaptation of the final Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 was pretty well self-contained, and was certainly a monumental conclusion to the film series. Unlike some of the entries that felt more like Cliff’s Notes versions of the books, this installment managed to retain most of the content from the book. The three primary actors, especially Daniel Radcliff, have grown into accomplished thespians who can carry off a story of this magnitude.

Hugo, screenplay by John Logan; directed by Martin Scorsese (Paramount)

Hugo was my favorite film of 2011. Period. But it is neither science fiction nor fantasy, despite having a brief plot point about a mechanical automaton. Hugo also boasted the best use of 3-D since Avatar. Nevertheless, it never should have been on the final ballot. See my full review here.

Source Code, screenplay by Ben Ripley; directed by Duncan Jones (Vendome Pictures)

Although not quite as good as his Hugo-winning film Moon, Jones was able to use his higher budget to craft an entertaining story with big ideas. This tale of time travel and identity manipulation was very much in the tradition of Philip K. Dick. It’s hard to produce a time travel story without paradoxes, and this was no exception. The ending was satisfying on an emotional level, but didn’t hold up to careful scrutiny. Jones has become a top director, and I look forward to whatever he makes next, science fiction or otherwise.

Prometheus

Prometheus (2012)
Written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof; directed by Ridley Scott

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I was originally going to give 3 stars to Prometheus for a film with outstanding cinematography and art direction (as with most films by Ridley Scott), but without sympathetic characters who had virtually no chemistry.

After much reflection, though, the horrible science and multiple loose ends forced me to downgrade my rating.

Spoilers ahead

Rather than rehash the many Internet discussions about the unanswered questions and plot holes, I recommend watching this snarky video from Red Letter Media:

I can forgive the unanswered questions about the motives and biology of the aliens in Prometheus. After all, they’re aliens! What I can’t forgive is the awful, awful protocols shown by the human scientists, technicians, and spaceship crew throughout the movie.

To begin with, a legitimate scientific expedition would have started by releasing weather and observation satellites to orbit the planetoid for weeks, perhaps months before Prometheus ever landed. This would determine the most likely places to hunt for aliens, rather than just luckily finding alien structures. Then, the small, remote-controlled probes would be sent into the alien installations to map them thoroughly and take air and soil samples. When pictures of the dead aliens came back, the scientist would spend many hours determining likely scenarios and procedures to avoid a similar fate before setting a foot inside.

The biggest mistake the movie makes, though, is something I haven’t seen discussed anywhere. People have written about the folly of the crew taking off their space suit helmets without checking for microbes or other contaminants. It’s not just the air quality that could cause illness or injury. What hasn’t been mentioned is the danger of the humans contaminating the alien environment. Good scientists are concerned to the point of paranoia about destroying a pristine environment and invalidating their results. This is why Mars rovers are sterilized before they leave Earth. Once an alien planet is contaminated, there’s no way to know what’s alien and what’s not. The crew of Prometheus would have to undergo rigorous decontamination procedures both when exiting the ship and on their return.

Another question that I haven’t seen discussed elsewhere is why would an expedition as well-financed and equipped as Prometheus not have more than one robot? Weyland would want to have as much redundancy as possible to maximize success. Moreover, the humans would need to be cross trained, just as astronauts are now, so that in case of injury or illness there would be someone to fill in the gaps. This goes for the scientists, flight crew, security, and every other function.

Wouldn’t Prometheus be crewed with the absolute best people in every role? People who knew what the mission was and who had trained together for months before leaving Earth. There is no excuse for second-best in a first-contact mission that’s exploring a dangerous alien world.

It’s one thing to have a haunted-house movie filled with naïve teenagers, but it’s quite another to see supposed top scientists do dumb things. With a little more thought, Prometheus could have addressed the plot holes I and others have noted, and as a result been a tighter film with more tension and surprises.

WonderCon 2012, Part 2

Arno Axolotl gets skewered in support of HBO's Game of Thrones.

TV

There were a number of panels relating to TV programs. Prime-time series Person of Interest, Alcatraz, Once Upon a Time, and Community all had well attended presentations. Since WonderCon came before the Fall schedule was announced, there were few new shows in evidence. I didn’t see it, but I think there were some teasers from the new Arrow program that is replacing Smallville.

There were several panels devoted to TV animation. I was unable to get into the Adventure Time panel, the only presentation I missed due to the room being full. I did see the DC Nation panel that previewed clips from Green Lantern: The Animated Series and the second season of Young Justice, as well as some of the short-shorts that they are playing on Saturday mornings. Unfortunately, there was no real mention of the new Batman series or any other possible offerings that may be in development.

Alcatraz panel with stars Jorge Garcia, Sarah Jones, Parminder Nagra, Jonny Coyne, and Robert Forster, plus some of the writers and producers.

x
Movies

One of the more fun panels during the convention was a retrospective of the movies from 1982. With such science fiction and fantasy classics as Star Trek II, Blade Runner, E.T., Tron, Poltergeist, Conan, and The Thing, not to mention cult classics like Megaforce, the panelists had a good time reminiscing and joking about their favorites.

Damon Lindelof and Ridley Scott discuss Prometheus

There were a number of previews for this summer’s blockbusters. Ridley Scott and Damon Lindelof were there in person to introduce the latest trailer for Prometheus. I still don’t really know what the movie will be like, but I expect an intelligent, thrilling adventure.

One of the highlights was the trailer for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Produced by Tim Burton and directed by Timur Bekmambetov, this looks to be a wild and exciting movie. Who knew Lincoln was such a bad-ass vampire killer!

Other previews included Battleship, which doesn’t look quite as lame as the first trailer made it look, but think it’s basically Transformers in sheep’s clothing—lots of explosions, but nonsensical. The preview for Snow White and the Huntsman looked interesting—certainly Snow White herself should be a strong female lead.

The weirdest preview was for a film called Sound of My Voice. They showed the first ten minutes of the film that introduced us to a cult based on a charismatic female time traveler (or perhaps a charismatic con artist). After the clip, two supposed members of the cult came on stage in a piece of performance art that I don’t think was well received. Finally, writer/director Zal Batmanglij and writer/lead actor Brit Marling came out to expound on the film a little. It is an ultra low-budget independent film that has been shown on the festival circuit to reasonable success. The film will be widely released in late April. I’m not sure I was wholly convinced to seek it out.

Rounding out the movie previews was a screening of the next DC animated film, Superman vs. The Elite, which comes out in June. I will have a full review later; the snapshot is that this is quite good. DC Animation consistently comes up with good to excellent features, something their live-action counterparts do not. They also teased Batman: The Dark Knight Returns with some short clips. It looked awesome. (Rumors are that the story will be split into two parts, which if true is a good sign that it will not be compromised from the graphic novel by Frank Miller.)

John Carter

John Carter (2012) (IMAX 3D)
Screenplay by Andrew Stanton & Mark Andrews and Michael Chabon, based on the Mars series by Edgar Rice Burroughs; directed by Andrew Stanton

Guest review by Tommy “Slug” Togath, age 13

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After having recently read A Princess of Mars, I was expecting a pretty good action movie, but I was blown away by how awesome John Carter is! They changed a lot from the book, but kept the basic characters and situations. There were some new characters called Therns, which I understand come from the second book in the series, but I haven’t read yet. The movie is more logical than the book, and the story doesn’t jump around as much as the book. Taylor Kitsch as John Carter did a good job looking and acting like I imagined from the book.

I loved all the Martian characters, especially Woola, John Carter’s brave and loyal pet. He ran very fast and was able to help John Carter get out of a couple of jams. The six-limbed Tharks looked just like I imagined them. The other Martian animals looked and moved like I thought they should.

One of the best changes to the story was to make John Carter’s girlfriend Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) into a more important character. In the book she doesn’t really do much but get mad at John Carter all the time for not knowing her customs, even though she loves him. In the movie they made her a scientist and she also was almost as good as John Carter in fighting with a sword. There were a couple of funny scenes where she was able to protect him from enemies.

Another good change was to explain how John Carter traveled from the Earth to Mars. In the book he just mysteriously goes to sleep in a cave and wakes up on Mars. The movie’s explanation made sense and even helped add to the reason for the actions of the Therns.

I loved how the movie showed John Carter leaping long distances because of his Earth muscles. It was funny when he first arrived on Mars and had to learn how to move without hurting himself. There were lots of battles and fights, especially at the end of the movie, that were a lot of fun to watch because he was able to jump around his enemies.

In the book, a female Thark named Sarkoja (Polly Walker) is mean to John Carter and everyone else. In the movie she didn’t have a very big role, and her final fate was very different than in the book. The part where John Carter was captured in the city of Zodanga, then rescued by his friend Kantos Kan (James Purefoy), was shortened a lot from the book, so if you didn’t read the book you might have been a little confused.

Another change was how John Carter learned to speak the Martian language. In the book he spent weeks with the Thark children learning the language. In the movie Sola (Samantha Morton) gave him a potion that somehow let him understand and speak the language. I guess for a 2-hour movie they had to speed things up, but this was one area where the book was more believable than the movie.

I saw John Carter in IMAX 3D. The sound and music were excellent, but I don’t think the 3D was worth the extra ticket price.

John Carter is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen, and I can’t wait to see it again!

John Carter

John Carter (2012) (IMAX 3D)
Screenplay by Andrew Stanton & Mark Andrews and Michael Chabon, based on A Princess of Mars and The Gods of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs; directed by Andrew Stanton

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

John Carter combines elements from the first two books of Burroughs’ Mars series with a bunch of new material. It keeps the basic story of how Confederate officer John Carter (Taylor Kitsch), mining for gold in the Arizona territory after the Civil War, finds himself magically transported to Mars, known as Barsoom to its natives. One of the major improvements the film makes to the story is an explanation of exactly how Carter travels between Earth and Mars, which was never adequately explained in the books. In fact, this becomes a major plot point driving much of the action in the film.

Carter’s Earth muscles and anatomy enables him to leap great distances and do other feats of strength. These abilities help him escape the many fights and tight scrapes he gets into. The beings of Barsoom are roughly divided into two races: the six-limbed warrior Tharks led by Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe) and the red-skinned “humans” of Helium and Zodanga who are at war with each other.

Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), princess of Helium, has been betrothed to Sab Than (Dominic West) of Zodanga to end the war. However, Sab Than is being manipulated by Matai Shang (Mark Strong), and his shape-shifting, immortal race of Therns. These political machinations are consistent with what Burroughs wrote, although in a much different form. It provides consistent and plausible motivations for the characters. You do have to pay attention, though, or you’ll get lost in the details, but it is a good thing to have something besides mindless battles in a movie like this.

A huge improvement is that Dejah Thoris is a much more nuanced and important character, not just the damsel in distress she is in the books. Here she is not only a beautiful princess, but a renowned scientist and quite handy with a sword. Collins does an excellent job giving strength and dignity to her role.

The special effects are well done, as you would expect from a director who comes from an animation background. There were a couple of traveling matte shots that were slightly off, but for the most part all of the exotic Martians looked and moved realistically. We got to see not only Tharks, but white apes, banths, thoats, and Woola, John Carter’s faithful calot.

Some liberties were taken with Burroughs’ descriptions. For example, John Carter is described as having short hair, and in the movie he has long hair. Kitsch is well muscled, but no real person could ever be as musclebound as Frank Frazetta or other favorite Burroughs’ artists have portrayed him. The red Martians (as well as the Tharks) are oviparous (reproducing by laying eggs), yet Dejah has a belly button. These are really minor quibbles, though. The vast majority of changes, such as Carter’s motivation for not wanting to fight Apaches (or Tharks or Zodangans), are logical improvements.

If there is anything to gripe about, it is the first 20 minutes on Earth which are a little slow getting things set up for Carter’s journey to Mars. Those who have not read the books may also be a bit confused about the importance of the relationship of Sola (Samantha Morton) to Tars Tarkas, which is hastily revealed early in the film rather than dramatically at the end of A Princess of Mars. I also think that the 3D did not add much to the film.

The marketing campaign did not do justice to the film. This is an intelligent, action-packed adventure. Whether you are a Burroughs fan or just want to see an entertaining movie, go see it!

Frankenweenie – Official Trailer

Here’s first official trailer for Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie, coming in October (when else?).