Monthly Archives: March 2016

The Utility of a Symbol

The Utility of a Symbol

We had a very interesting discussion over breakfast at my house this morning.  My daughter, who was home from college, and I, somehow got on the topic of The Weeping Angels, arguably the most terrifying Dr. Who villains, and I mentioned the episode where the Statue of Liberty became one.        My husband, who is not a Dr. Who fan, didn’t get the reference at first, but in explaining the plot to him, he questioned the frequency of other movies and shows that have involved Lady Liberty, aside from her original intent and meaning.

The Statue of Liberty, or Lady Liberty, is an icon known throughout the world as a representation of freedom, refuge, and the American dream.   However, this statue has been used many times as a plot device or actual character, in a manner different from her original purpose, and always produces a great deal of dramatic intrigue.  I don’t believe that any of the storylines I am planning to discuss contain within them any disrespect for our beloved statue, but rather they utilize her more for the huge symbolic meaning she conveys.

First of course, Dr. Who, where in season seven the episode entitled “The Angels Take Manhattan”, shows the Statue come to life to murder The Doctor’s closest friends.  The Statue of Liberty in this case was only one of many angel statues overtaken by an alien race, but it was somehow fitting that after Amy and Rory had survived numerous encounters with these beings, the largest angel statue of all would be the one to finish them.  Here, I think the symbol of the Statue of Liberty was less about the Statue herself, and more about the overwhelming odds it took to destroy our heroes.

Those of us who were around to see the sequel to the first Ghostbusters (1989) movie will remember the fact that the ghostbusters needed to generate goodwill in a New York City that was overwhelmed with evil and social strife.  What symbol did they pick to raise the spirits of the troubled New Yorkers?  Lady Liberty, of course, who once infused with “ectoplasm,” was able to walk across the bay and down the streets to the cheers of thousands of exultant fans.  They chose a symbol that is near and dear to the hearts of many people, no matter their differences, a rallying point about what unites us as a nation.  Of course, her presence turned the tide and allowed the ghostbusters to save the day.

Several not-so-happy movies have shown the Statue of Liberty as a fallen icon after the end of our civilization.  She has been broken, more than once, but the hand that holds the torch is still aloft, in movies ranging from Planet of the Apes (1968), Spaceballs (1987), and The Day After Tomorrow (2004), where New York is overrun by a new Ice Age.  While we hope to never live to see an apocalyptic destruction such as these, it is comforting to think that some remnant of our civilization may remain, even after we are long gone.

This enduring symbol of our national heritage is recognized the world over, and this is why I believe so many movies have included her famous visage.  She is a part of our legacy, a visual embodiment of the spirit of the American people, and the melting pot that includes all its citizens.  Whatever her fate may be in a movie plot, it affects us all and becomes all the more demoralizing, frightening, or uplifting, to us for her inclusion.



It’s a Great Time to Be a Fan!

It’s a Great Time to be a Fan!

Fans of science fiction and fantasy, rejoice!  It’s a great time to fall in love all over again with these exciting genres, especially with all the new movies coming out.   Our favorite classic comic book creators are competing to bring our favorite characters to life.

It started with Marvel.  They have successfully developed a franchise that includes a number of heroes, in solo films, and in combining these costumed icons into group franchises, such as The Avengers saga. Their latest addition to the series, Captain America: Civil War is due out May 6th.

Perhaps following in Marvel’s footsteps, D.C. Comics is about to unleash its own franchise of superhero movies.  Following the success of the reinvention of Superman in Man of Steel in 2013, D.C. is releasing Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice on Easter weekend this year.  Henry Cavill will reprise his role as the son of Krypton, while a new addition to the franchise, Ben Affleck, will play the Dark Knight.  Also appearing in this new movie, to the great anticipation of female fans, will be Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman.

This movie comes as a setup for another series of interrelated storylines, including solo movies with Wonder Woman and group franchise The Justice League, both set for next year.  Will they be as successful in their bid for movie series as Marvel?  Only time will tell, but it’s certainly an exciting time to be a comic fan!

For sci-fi lovers, this summer has us covered in sequels and franchises (not necessarily based on comic books but still gratifyingly watchable).  The latest X-Men movie, Apocalypse, is coming in May, the sequel to Independence Day, Resurgence, is coming in June and both the third installment of the Reboot of the Star Trek universe, Star Trek: Beyond, and the remake of Ghostbusters are due in July.

I’m afraid I may be spending way more time than usual in front of the big screen this summer.  Who’s with me?



Do Overs: If I Had a Time Machine

The idea of a time machine is hardly new to science fiction stories.  Time machines have existed on paper since the advent of the genre, thanks to seeds planted by such illustrious names as H. G. Wells. Anyone who has any interest in science fiction has at one time read a story, or seen a TV show or movie, where time travel is part of the plot.  I could make a long list of time-travel adventures, but tonight I want to share something different.  I want to focus on the reason we enjoy these stories.

The chance to relive a moment, to correct a mistake, to be once again with someone we miss, perhaps someone we failed to appreciate or save-these are the hoped-for outcome of traversing time.  To see history in the making, or prevent a tragedy, to save lives, or stop a madman; who wouldn’t take that chance if it was offered to us?

I’m sure I would consider it, despite the risks.  And for anyone who’s ever known a story of time travel, there are risks.  There’s the chance that something could be changed that absolutely shouldn’t, that would have a negative impact on everything that comes after.  How would you live with the knowledge you made the wrong choice, that you actually made the world a worse place?  Perhaps it’s a good thing time travel only exists in stories.

Still, who among us doesn’t long for a chance at a do-over of some kind?  Who wouldn’t like a chance to go back, make a different choice, take a different path?  Who has absolutely no regrets?

I don’t intend this to sound morbid or depressed.  I’m not talking earth-shattering changes here, just simply something we all we had done different.  But that’s how we learn isn’t it, from mistakes, and regrets, and lost chances.  The key is to learn and grow, and consider each opportunity as it comes to us.

Until a time machine becomes available for us to use, take time to consider your choices, and live each moment to the fullest.  Thanks for reading.


Artificial Intelligence: Growth or Risk?

Artificial Intelligence: Growth or Risk?

The internet.  Smart phones.  Handheld tablets that function as computers.  We take these things for granted, yet these amazing gadgets were beyond our grandparents’ wildest dreams when they were our ages.  These amazing devices were imagined by dreamers; perhaps even by writers of science fiction, and now advanced technology has made them a reality.    Scientists, writers, and philosophers have speculated for centuries about the limits and extremes of technology, and debated just as long on the moral implications of each new advance.  How much more can technology do?  Are there limits?  Should there be?  Will one day we be able to replace a human with a machine, and why would we choose to do so?

Writers, directors, and producers have pondered these questions about the potential limits of artificial intelligence, from such varied sources as the classic film 2001, A Space Odyssey, to the television show Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Always at the heart of the query is what happens if our creations grow more powerful, stronger, and more human than we are?

In 2004, moviegoers were treated to a retelling of Isaac Asimov’s collection of short stories entitled I, Robot, from the 1950s.  This series, and movie, focused on controls designed to keep intelligent mechanical beings under control by humanity, while ensuring they could not turn against their masters.  Of course, there was one robot that was designed to break the laws given to robots for the protection of humanity; else there wouldn’t be much to the story.  The irony came when the robot who did not have to obey the laws governing other robots, actually chose to help the humans under his protection-not because he had to, but because he wanted to be more human himself.  That we should be so lucky with our real-life forays into artificial intelligence, that along with self-awareness our creations develop empathy, a conscience!

More recently, in Avengers: Age of Ultron, (2015), a group of heroes learns firsthand what happens when a computer achieves ultimate power and artificial intelligence.  Does the goal of protecting humanity include protecting it from itself?  How far would an ultra-logical machine go to keep people safe?   Could it self-justify genocide to prevent future warfare?  This of course, is an example in the extreme, one designed for the big screen, and hardly the first of its kind. (Think the entire Terminator franchise.)

The fact remains, though, that as long as we have technology, there is a chance that someone, or something, will seek to abuse/misuse it.  Since I don’t really fancy a return to primitive living, I hope that for every advance we make, there will be someone out there taking precautions and setting up safeguards so that our technology never eclipses us.  After all, while we can replace a phone or a laptop if it should be destroyed, human beings are not replaceable.

Here’s hoping that we continue to enjoy our technology, but we don’t forget it’s not a substitute for the people in our lives.