Things I Wish I’d Written #18: Blade Runner

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Mar 202012


Harrison Ford as Deckard

Blade Runner is a movie loosely based on Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?   Unfortunately, Dick died just before Blade Runner released in theaters in 1982. It’s a shame, because this was the movie that brought his work into the public eye, and led to other blockbuster films such as Minority Report, Total Recall, Paycheck, and The Adjustment Bureau. Of all of them, though, “Blade Runner” and “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” remain my favorites because of how they ask a profound question: What does it mean to be human?

Harrison Ford stars as Deckard, a retired “blade runner,” a slang term for someone who chases down rogue androids and “retires” them.  Retirement, for an android, mean permanent, forceful deactivation. If we did that to a human, we would call it killing them, but are these androids people? They have feelings, thoughts, hopes and dreams- is that enough to call them human? This question is a favorite one of mine, and nothing else I’ve ever read or seen asks it as well as this movie. That’s why I wish I’d written it.

Mar 192012

Jean-Luc Picard as Kamin, learning to play the flute

Even a casual fan of the show “Star Trek: The Next Generation” probably remembers the episode “The Inner Light.” There were no battles, empires did not rise or fall, and I don’t believe so much as a shot was fired, yet it represented the best of what Star Trek was all about. The episode was so poignant, so moving, that it won a Hugo award for writer Morgan Gendel, and it is my absolute favorite episode of the Star Trek franchise.

Captain Jean-Luc Picard is standing on the bridge of the Enterprise when he gets zapped by a probe and falls unconscious. He wakes up in the body of a married man named Kamin on the planet Kataan. As you can imagine, Picard tries to find his way back to the Enterprise, but he can’t figure out what happened, so he lives as Kamin as best he can. Years later, Kamin has learned to play the flute, something Picard would probably never have done. He and his wife have two children, and Kamin, who was previously very uncomfortable around children, is a doting father. Unfortunately, their sun is slowly exploding, and their planet is doomed by a drought that will eventually kill their civilization. Years after that, Kamin is an old man, his wife and best friend Batai (remember that name) have died, and the decades long drought nears catastrophic length. His first grandchild has been born, but their world will end before he has grandchildren of his own. It is then that we find out what was really going on. It’s worth seeing for yourself (Picard/Kamin is the old man):

This episode changed Picard. At various times throughout the rest of the series, he would take his flute out and play, and he loved children. Rarely within a series does a character change like this, and very rarely do we get to feel the emotions this episode brought out. There is a feeling of doom and loss in this episode, but there is also a sense of hope that maybe, just maybe, after we’re gone our lives will mean something to someone. “The Inner Light” is science fiction at it’s very best, and it’s why I wish I had written this episode.

Podcast: The One From the Football Games

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Mar 182012

If you’ve ever seen a football game on TV- and most of us have- you’ve probably seen someone holding up a sign that says “John 3:16.” Why do people do that? What’s so special about this part of the bible. Today we find out why, and what it means for our lives.


Things I Wish I’d Written #20: Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009)

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Mar 182012

A promontional picture from Battlestar Galactica. Does it remind you of a famous painting?

Television has never had a more theological show than Battlestar Galactica.

It started out as a show about humanity struggling to survive after being almost wiped out by the robots they created. They are twelve tribes wandering in the desert looking for their home, just like the twelve tribes of Israel. From the beginning, though, the show was much deeper than that. Some of the robots looked like people, they could think like people, they even had feelings, hopes, dreams. They were, in all ways except their bodies, people. But does that make them people? That was one of the main themes of the show.

But there was still more.

There is a running theme on the show about God’s plan. The best line early on comes in the Miniseries: “Maybe the Cylons are God’s retribution for our many sins. What if God decided he made a mistake and he decided to give souls to another creature, like the Cylons?” Then, a little while later, the Cylon most responsible for humanity’s near destruction, quotes 1st John 4:16 when she says “God is love.” Huh? You just blew up billions of people in the name of God, and God is love? It seems crazy, until you realize how many times people have killed other people in the name of  a loving God. Then you start to think about how human these Cylon’s really are, and about how the Cylon view of God is actually closer to those of most Americans, and before you know it you’ve spent hours thinking about a show that is supposedly not about God. That’s what this show did so well- it made you think about God, and God’s plan, and how often we head off in the wrong direction trying to find it.

Theology is part of the fabric of Battlestar Galactica, and all those great questions (and more) are a big part of why it was such a great show. Battlestar Galactica certainly had a lot of other things going for it, but the theology is the reason I wish I’d written it.

Things I Wish I’d Written #21: Watchmen

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Mar 162012


The cover of the Watchmen graphic novel

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

That Latin phrase was coined by the Roman poet Juvenal in his satirical poem Satire VI (lines 347–8). There are several ways to translate it, the most common of which is “Who will guard the guards themselves?” My favorite translation is “Who watches the watchmen?”  It is this question that is at the heart, and occasionally on the pages, of the comic book series Watchmen by Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons and John Higgins. Watchmen was also made into a film in 2009, one that was mostly faithful to the comics and, perhaps because of this, bombed.

Watchmen is the story of a dysfunctional group of former superheroes, one of whom is murdered. It takes place in an alternate timeline America, with superheroes you’ve never heard of, and it deconstructs the superhero mythology in brilliant fashion. It’s a great question: Who does watch the watchmen? How far can, and should, they stretch the boundaries of right and wrong in order to do what’s good? That is the central question of Watchmen, and the answer isn’t black or white. It is left for you to ponder, which is probably another reason it didn’t sit well with mainstream audiences. Critics loved the comics, and the ensuing a graphic novel: Time magazine listed it as one of the best 100 english language novels ever, and it remains in print twenty five years later. Most people, though, probably wouldn’t like the comic any more than they liked the movie. Most people want characters they love, doing things they like, ending in ways that satisfy them. Watchmen does none of those things, but it does make you think, and that’s why I love it, and that’s why I wish I’d written it.

Things I Wish I’d Written #22: Groundhog Day

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Mar 152012

Phil the meteorologist and Punxsutawney Phil the groundhog

Groundhog Day is a classic, and I have no idea how Harold Ramis and Danny Rubin came up with it. I guess if I really wanted to know, I could buy Rubin’s book How to Write Groundhog Day.  But really, I don’t want to know. I’m afraid knowing would ruin it, because it’s magic.

Phil is meteorologist assigned to cover Groundhog Day. He relives that day over, and over, and over, trying to figure out why and what to do about it. It’s great because that’s what we all do, every day. We do the same things over, and over, and over, and even though the days change, it doesn’t feel like it. We are also trying to figure out the “why” of life, and what to do about it. We’re all Phil, and I hope we all end up like him, and that’s why I wish I’d written this movie.

Mar 142012

Please do me a favor: stop what you are doing, and go read The Last Question, a short story by Isaac Asimov. It will take you about ten minutes, and it’s right here, and also right here.

The Last Question was written in 1956, so you have to remember that when Asimov writes about computers. It deals with the inevitable prospect of all the lights in the universe going out. Some day, all the stars will run out of energy. Can that be reversed? That is The Last Question.

Stick with this story until the end. Even if you don’t like science fiction, and get confused by some of the tech talk, read the whole thing. Please don’t give up. The end is absolutely stunning. Please, go read it. Once you do, you will see why I wish I’d written it.

Things I Wish I’d Written #24: Notting Hill

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Mar 132012

Notting Hill just might be the only romantic comedy I actually like

As a general rule, I cannot stand romantic comedies. In fact, I usually leave the room when they come on. That is how much I despise them. But I love this movie. I loved it when I first saw it, and it was on just a few weeks ago and I loved it then. That’s because there are two things about Notting Hill that, when combined, make it different from every other romantic comedy:

  1. It is told from the man’s perspective.
  2. It is a rich, famous woman and a lower class man.

Normally, romantic comedies are the opposite. They are told from the perspective of the woman, and a rich man who comes and sweeps her off of her feet and makes her into a priness, blah blah blah. Notting Hill flips these two conventions around, and in the end William doesn’t become a prince, blah blah blah. He becomes a regular dude who found the love of his life, and she just happens to be famous. It is a fresh take on a tired genre, a great film that I watch almost every time it is on, and that’s why I wish I’d written this movie.

Mar 122012


Vincent and Jules, doing their thing

There is a structure to movies, a way they are normally put together. The best parallel I can draw is to joke structure.  If I told that joke about a rabbi, a priest and a Lutheran pastor, and the punchline came second, no one would get it.  Punchlines come at the end, and  if you mess with that, you ruin the whole thing. Movie structure is more complicated than that (which is why we get paid the big bucks), but the principle is the same: certain things have to happen at certain times or the whole thing gets thrown off. That’s what makes movies work, and anyone who messes with that structure does so at their own peril.

Pulp Fiction, though, is a rare exception. Quentin Tarantino wrote a nonlinear story, meaning that the order in which events are revealed to the audience are not the order in which they take place in the story. As if that wasn’t complicated enough, he did it with three different storylines. That is hard enough by itself, but making it nonlinear too? I have no idea how he did that, I really don’t. But I know it worked brilliantly, and that’s why I wish I’d written Pulp Fiction.

Things I Wish I’d Written #26: Quantum Leap

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Mar 112012

It's a hokey picture, but it was a great show.

The 1990’s TV show Quantum Leap was amazing because every week we walked a mile in someone else’s shoes. Scott Bakula starred as Dr. Sam Beckett, a physicist who became lost in time during a time travel experiment gone wrong. Sam  takes the places of other people, temporarily inhabiting their bodies until he “puts right what once went wrong”. When he does that, he jumps into a new body, and the cycle repeats.

The shoes Sam walked in were diverse and varied, and we walked with him, seeing life through the eyes of others. It was magical. There have been shows that allowed us to walk in the shoes of a cast, but never one that brought us into  a different life each week. Quantum Leap challenged us, stretched us, and made those of us who watched it better people. It was a gift and a blessing to see the world through the eyes of others, and that’s why I wish I had written this show.