The A-Team: Sky Dragons in Translation

A-Team_logo

This afternoon, Y and I caught the beginning of The A-Team first season episode “Holiday in the Hills”–one of many episodes that reveal the horrors of the home front, in this case the backwoods of South Carolina.

While we were watching the episode, Y shared this very interesting bit of information with me: in Taiwan, The A-Team is called 天龍特攻隊 or Sky Dragon Special Attack Team.

I asked what is the significance of “sky dragon?” She reports that it is because “sky dragon” just sounds cool. Television shows and films often get Tradiational Chinese-translated titles in Taiwan that might not have much connection to the original English title, because the promoters/importers want an impressive title that will attract viewers.

In point of fact, “sky dragon” is the name of another of my favorite 80’s television shows: MacGyver, or 百戰天龍 (“One-hundred Battles Sky Dragon”). Also, Miami Vice was given the title 邁阿密天龍(Mi-a-mi Sky Dragon”).

I should add that these titles might vary in other Mandarin-speaking countries, including Hong Kong and mainland China.

 

Science Fiction, LMC3214: Final Paper Topics Were On a Broad Spectrum of SF Media

I just finished grading my students’ final paper projects. Their task was to use several definitions of SF from a list that I had prepared for them (or others that they found on their own and properly cited) to evaluate whether a work that we had not discussed in class was SF or not. Through this analysis, they would come up with their own definition/litmus test for SF.

I was very happy to read papers on a variety of SFnal works, including:

  • Joseph Kosinski’s film, TRON: Legacy (which I had reviewed for the SFRA Review before)
  • AMC’s production of The Walking Dead
  • H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness
  • Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game
  • Tommaso Landolfi’s Cancerqueen (Cancroregina)
  • Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower
  • Halo: Combat Evolved (and its supplementary material in print)
  • David Brin’s Startide Rising
  • Marc Forster’s film, World War Z
  • Ridley Scott’s film, Blade Runner
  • Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World
  • Richard Schenkman’s film, The Man from Earth
  • X-COM: UFO Defense

This list reveals that my students were interested in SF across a spectrum of media. There were papers on six literary works, four films, one television series, and two video games (this is further blurred by the video game/print crossover material).

For those students who talked with me about their papers, I am particularly happy with the way their papers turned out. Having had those conversations, I can see a snapshot along their paper’s developmental process, which gives me better insight into the work that they likely did to push their arguments further than what we had discussed in class. Reflecting on this, I will add conference time to my future SF classes that meet over a full semester, but I will do more to have these smaller conversations with students–perhaps before class or during our daily break time–to get a better sense of their research and developing argument.

A Search for Episodic TV That Deals With the Fantastic, Found

This morning, Y was asking me about watching a TV show late at night a long time ago about a couple who discover that their radio can tune into the conversations of their apartment building neighbors. I had never seen it, but we brainstormed Google searches for television series that deal with the fantastic.

I thought of The Outer Limits, The Twlight Zone, and Amazing Stories. However, I was far off the mark thinking of show creators Leslie Stevens, Rod Serling, and Steven Spielberg. There were also shows like Night Gallery and Tales from the Crypt (an old favorite of mine when I was younger that I occasionally watched when the local cable company offered HBO free during promotions).

Thinking about it now, all of these examples rely to a certain extent on horror as the glue that binds the series together. There are episodes that lack this generic quality, but the theme of horror seems to pervade each episode in one way or another–as a major narrative force or as a flash-grab at the audience’s attention.

Eventually, Y found out that “The Enormous Radio” was an episode from George Romero’s Tales from the Darkside.

V The Original Miniseries on Syfy

I have not watched V: The Original Miniseries since I was about six years old when it originally aired. I remember the excitement of the story and my wanting to fight alongside Mike Donovan against The Visitors.

This morning, I am watching it on Syfy Network for the first time in over 27 years. It is far more interesting and layered than I had thought it was. This is not to say that it does not suffer from cliches and other problems.

V’s anti-scientism (lucrative research grants–ha) and fascism are the most interesting aspects of the story that I do not remember from my much earlier viewing of the series. As I learned from the Wikipedia entry for the show, the original form of V was not science fiction, but instead, a warning against the easy transition to fascism in modern society. Apparently, science fiction was seen as a way to capitalize on the popularity of Star Wars while engaging a public viewership that television executives considered not capable of engaging the subtleties of fascism in a more realistic (no aliens) narrative.

The first part just finished, and now I am watching part two. Donovan has just escaped from the mothership, and the resistance has re-captured him walking alone. Back to the show . . .

Live blogging before V: The Final Battle comes on, which I will miss since I have to teach this afternoon.

The Resistance makes their coordinated move. Talk of other cells earlier in the show.

Donovan back aboard the mothership. The Visitors want our water. How does V relate to Battle: Los Angeles? Humans put in stasis. Influence on The Matrix? Creating an army to fight The Visitor’s enemy. Human beings will serve as fodder for The Visitors, too. Fascism within the The Visitors’ society–their leader is a charismatic leader. Diana’s authorized medical experimentation.

“My grandfather fought with Zapata.”

“How about it, man? Are ya game?” “Hey, I’m proud to have you as a friend.” Yes, Visitors and humans can be friends.

Sancho fires back.

Attack on the mountain base camp of the Resistance.

Commercial break.

“C’mon Sancho, nail that sucker.”

“I will, but I need a little luck.” Donovan pulls out his LA Dodgers ball cap.

There is no room for diplomacy–reinforcements arrive with weapons at the basecamp–stored inside a garbage truck.

Slowmotion shot–shit gets real in the battle for the basecamp. Julie goes into action. “Do something please.” She stands alone with a handgun firing on Diana’s ship. Instead of being a doctor, she becomes a soldier.

Donovan pulls in behind Diana’s ship–damages the ship and Diana’s human face.

Robert Maxwell’s wife pays for Robert’s deal with the Visitors. He almost kills himself, thinking he has lost his wife and chlidren, but he puts his wife’s pistol down when he discovers his children have survived the camp raid that was his fault.

“We may have to sacrifice those thousands to save millions–millions!” –Julie

Donovan isn’t so sure about Julie’s metric of sacrifice.

Robin is going to be a teenage mom with a Vistor’s baby.

Donovan’s mother is a ‘survivor.’ She is a collaborator. “You can’t survive at the expense of other people.” –Donovan. He is obviously from an affluent family.

Maxwell goes back to the Bernstein’s, asking to use their house as a safe house. Leonardo’s last letter to his family–he and his experience in the Holocaust forms the moral center for the narrative. Mr. Bernstein has learned his lesson from his father, who died at the hands of The Visitors.

The Resistance begins sending a mathematical signal to outer space in the hopes of contacting the Visitor’s enemy. Large transmitters seem like an obvious target . . .

Up next: V: The Final Battle. I hope that I can see it soon.

Watching Star Wars Tech on History Channel International

I am watching Star Wars Tech on History Channel International right now. It is a fun television program that questions the possibility and veracity of imaginative technologies in the six Star Wars films. It is informative and interesting, but it is disappointing to hear the scientists depicted as universal grammarians. Programs like this one place the emphasis of science fiction on the prophetic possibilities of technology and science in the narrative rather than the broader implications of the story and its relationship to the here-and-now. This isn’t to say that there shouldn’t be programs like this one–I quite enjoy watching it. However, I would like to see more programs that study the cultural significance of science fiction.

Back with Time Warner (and Busted HD)

Y and I decided to drop Time Warner a few years ago to help save on our monthly bills and to reduce how much media we consumed while studying for our PhD exams. Now, we both have some breathing room and we can use TV, news, and movies in our respective research.

For Y, we were hopeful that we could get some Taiwanese tv channels into the house so that she could keep up with the conversation there regarding Chinese, Taiwanese, and American relations. Unfortunately, it seemed like Dish Network was the only option for that, and as I’ve written about before, we cannot get Dish Network at the house we currently live at due to tree cover.

We thought about it, and we decided that we would go back to Time Warner’s basic cable service with HD so that we could get some of the educational channels we lacked and news service channels we could not get by the aerial.

It was advantageous that school at Kent State was cancelled today, because our installation was also scheduled for today. An ernest installer named Dennis helped get the cable TV service setup after installing a new coax line and removing the band filter that they placed on the line when we only purchased their cable Internet service. We received a new Samsung cable receiver box for the service, and we have been back on cable TV service since around lunchtime.

Unfortunately, there is a problem. We receive standard definition (SD) stations without any trouble, but many high definition (HD) broadcasts of those SD stations are listed as “currently unavailable” and “try again later.” We pay for both versions of the channels, but we cannot access the better quality HD versions all of the time. We have tried going back to these channels or choosing to try again, with success about 1/10 of the time.

I have looked online [google search results here], and it seems like the problem lies in signal strength–particularly in the wires around the house and the intervention of splitters. It also doesn’t look like a problem that a vast majority of users encounter. Instead, it seems like a smaller percentage of customers who complain about this problem, and fewer still that actually get Time Warner to do anything about it.

Why can’t a company that reports profits and pays a dividend to shareholders about five days ago [read on the WSJ here], save a little bit of that money and invest it back into the company so that no one has these kinds of issues. It could mean that better equipment is required. It could mean that technicians are better trained to check for these problems during installation. It could mean doing away with service fee costs when the problem is one created or never resolved during installation. It could come in some other form, but however it manifests, the table should be turned back in favor of the customer rather than the shareholder. If all customers pay for a service, they should receive the full benefits covered by that service before dividends are paid in the other direction.

We have had issues with Time Warner’s service before [read here about our trouble with our Internet service], but those issues were resolved after repeatedly calling and IMing their customer service and spending more time than I believe we should chat or talk with them. I am going to go out and see if there are any egregious problems with the outside wiring when the weather is a little more merciful, but I am afraid that we will have to complain repeatedly until the Time Warner leviathan slowly moves.

Pioneers of Television: Science Fiction, on PBS

Tonight, I saw the one hour episode of Pioneers of Television on Science Fiction. It was an interesting look at some of the early, popular science fiction television shows in the US: Lost in Space, Star Trek, and The Twilight Zone.

I liked how they portrayed the influences behind the way these shows. It wasn’t just the visions of Irwin Allen, Gene Roddenberry, and Rod Sterling that made these shows what they were. It was also the influence of TV executives, network and time slot competition, advertisers, and censors. Allen is presented as a shrewd creator and producer who according to Bill Mumy was great at making a pilot that would sell but then would allow his shows to go into an automatic pilot mode to keep costs down. Roddenberry is depicted as a visionary who bucked the executives and the system to get what Nichelle Nichols called his veiled morality plays on the air. Sterling is another visionary who saw science fiction as an un-mined resource for television. It also allowed him to get his material aired without intervention by the studios, at least initally, because the stories took place some place else than the here-and-now.

It has new interview material with Bill Mumy, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and Nichelle Nichols. There are also some older interviews that I had not seen before with Sterling at some point after The Twilight Zone but I would guess before Night Shadows. Of these, I thought Nichols’ recounting her story about getting so fed up with her character’s increasing marginalization that she wrote a letter of resignation. Before delivering it, she said that someone came to her stage door to say that a fan, a Trekkie, was waiting outside to see her. She then looked up and saw a man–Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He told her that he was a Trekkie and Uhura’s biggest supporter. He went on to tell her that it was significant that she stay on the show, because her being there let so many people see what was possible for people of color. My telling doesn’t do her words justice–you should watch the episode yourself.

More information about the series and this episode can be found online here:

Science Fiction | Pioneering Programs | Pioneers of Television | PBS.