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Babylon 5.1
by Rick Norwood

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Ratings
Ratings are based on a four star system.
One star means that the commercials are more entertaining than the program.
Two stars watch if you have nothing better to do.
Three stars is good solid entertainment.
Four stars means you never dreamed television could be this good.

Here is what to watch in the last half of 2003, after you finish reading the new Harry Potter.

Terminator 3  The Rise of the Machines No science fiction or fantasy film has ever won the Academy Award for best picture. For a long time, that was perfectly reasonable, since no genre film was worthy of the Oscar. The Wizard of Oz came closest, but in that year the competition was very strong. Other possible contenders, such as Things to Come and Destination Moon, were flawed, and won in special effects categories if at all. The first science fiction film to actually be nominated for best picture was 2001 A Space Odyssey. The always conservative Academy voted for Oliver.

Then came Star Wars, and instead of one or two good genre films per decade, we started getting one or two per year. But Star Wars didn't win, Raiders of the Lost Ark didn't win, even E.T. didn't win. We still regularly see lesser films win out over genre films. The members of the Academy are not, generally speaking, science fiction fans.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen In the 21st century, something strange began to happen. Throughout the 20th century, the very best films -- Citizen Kane, Lawrence of Arabia, To Kill A Mockingbird -- were not genre films. Now they are. In fact, it goes back a little further than that. In 1999, American Beauty, which asks us to believe that a stoner will refrain from offering the cheerleader he lusts after a joint, won out over The Phantom Menace, Tarzan, The Matrix, The Sixth Sense, and Galaxy Quest. In 2000, Gladiator, which asks us to believe that there is a pagan heaven where pagans are reunited with their dead loved ones, won out over X-Men, Fantasia 2000, Unbreakable, The Legend of Drunken Master, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. In 2001, A Beautiful Mind, which asks us to believe that a Nobel Prize-winning mathematician is as handsome as Russell Crowe, won out over Shrek, A.I., Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. In 2002, Chicago, a musical with no memorable tunes, won out over Spider-man, Attack of the Clones, Minority Report, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.

So far all the best films of 2003 have been genre films, and while we may get passed over again, I think Finding Nemo and The Return of the King both have a chance to be named best picture.

Here is what we have to look forward to in the second half of 2003. There is nothing on television currently worth watching, but this summer we should get the second season of Jeremiah, in the fall the third season of Enterprise, and late in the year the return of Battlestar Galactica.

Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over On the big screen, the only non-genre film I'm excited about is Kill Bill. Master and Commander and Seabiscuit are both great books, but great books don't always make great movies. In genre films, 2003 is a year without Star Trek, without Star Wars, and without Harry Potter, but there is still a lot to look forward to. Your best guide to what will be really good is to look at the writers.

July:

Terminator 3 The Rise of the Machines by John Braucato, Michael Ferris, and Tedi Sarafian
It is based upon a series of films by James Cameron which were, in turn, based on an idea stolen from Harlan Ellison. Braucato and Ferris wrote The Game and Sarafian wrote Tank Girl, so, even without James Cameron, Terminator 3 may be better than Jurassic Park 3 or Hannibal Lector 3.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by James Robinson from the graphic novels by Alan Moore
Don't expect too much. Robinson wrote Cyber Bandits. Alan Moore had no input into the film.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl by Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, and Jay Walpert
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl It may be better than it sounds. Elliott worked on the excellent The Mask of Zorro, Elliott and Rossio wrote The Puppet Masters, which at least tried to be true to the Robert A. Heinlein book but suffered from a low budget, and Rossio worked on Aladdin.

Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over by Robert Rodriguez
Same writer as the other Spy Kids movies, so probably more of the same, only in 3D.

Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life by Dean Georgaris, Lloyd Levin, and Kirk M. Petruccelli
When a film is written by the producers, that's a bad sign -- a very bad sign.

Sindbad Legend of the Seven Seas by John Logan
Logan wrote Star Trek: Nemesis, The Time Machine, and won an Oscar for Gladiator. On the basis of those three films, I rank him as a run-of-the-mill writer. Still, the fact that Sindbad only has one writer, and that he isn't the director, is a good sign.

Lara Croft  Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life Then expect a long dry spell -- nobody wants their movie to come out when the kids are headed back to school.

November:

The Matrix Revolutions by Larry and Andy Wachowski
Same writers as the other Matrix films -- we'll finally find out if they are going anywhere with this. A reader of this column wrote in to suggest that the conclusion will reveal that Morpheus and Neo are foolish to take things on faith. The message of the films could be that people who take things on faith deserve what they get. I like it. And it isn't entirely out of line with the ending of The Matrix Reloaded. We shall see.

Timeline by Frank A. Cappello and George Nolfi, from the book by Michael Crichton
Cappello has only written minor films and Nolfi is an unknown. Richard Donner, the director, has a great talent which he buries under a bushel more often than not. Don't expect much, but you can always hope.

Sindbad  Legend of the Seven Seas December:

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King by Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Stephen Sinclair, and Frances Walsh, from the book by J.R.R. Tolkien
The same writing team as The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers practically guarantees this will be the best film of the year, and it might just win the first best picture Oscar for a genre film.

Peter Pan by Michael Goldenberg and P. J. Hogan from the play by J. M. Barrie
Goldenberg wrote Contact but the fact that director Hogan, whose previous credits are mostly in television, did a post-production rewrite is a very bad sign. You will probably do better watching the Mary Martin version, or the Disney version, or even Hook.

Copyright © 2003 Rick Norwood

Rick Norwood is a mathematician and writer whose small press publishing house, Manuscript Press, has published books by Hal Clement, R.A. Lafferty, and Hal Foster. He is also the editor of Comics Revue Monthly, which publishes such classic comic strips as Flash Gordon, Sky Masters, Modesty Blaise, Tarzan, Odd Bodkins, Casey Ruggles, The Phantom, Gasoline Alley, Krazy Kat, Alley Oop, Little Orphan Annie, Barnaby, Buz Sawyer, and Steve Canyon.


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