Thanks to my manager deciding that the last Friday afternoon before our mandatory two-week “Holiday Closure” period would be better spent at the movies than in the office, a group of us decided to take in a matinee screening of James Cameron’s latest film epic, Avatar.

It’s been more than a decade since Cameron directed his last major motion picture, that being a little-known, mostly-forgotten little ship on the water pic from 1997 called Titanic. With that movie, Cameron defied studio and public expectations, gambling that an assload of people would turn out to watch a story where the ending was pretty much known to everyone with at least a partially-functioning brainstem. Turn out we did, to the final tune of something like 1.2 billion dollars in box office receipts, 11 Academy Awards, and one of the worst songs to accompany a soundtrack, at least until “Faith of the Heart” became the theme song to Star Trek: Enterprise a few years later.

Since then, Cameron’s been busying himself with documentaries (Ghosts of the Abyss, Expedition: Bismark, etc.), and other projects, including the development of film and software technology for the primary purpose of delivering to audiences his latest flick, which hit theaters yesterday.

Damn, but this is something.

Now, when I say this, I don’t mean to say that this is The Greatest Movie Ever. I’m not even sure it’s Cameron’s best film, but it’s definitely the most ambitious. I’m hard-pressed to find a way to categorize this thing. It’s science fiction, action-adventure, romance, and message pic all wrapped up into one, and it’s done so using the typical James Cameron strengths and weaknesses.

First, the strengths: The film is absolutely gorgeous, a true visual wonder to behold, and if you’re planning to see it, I strongly urge you to do so in the theater, where you can immerse yourself in the world created for this story. As one has come to expect from a Cameron film, there’s remarkable attention to detail, both in the environment the characters inhabit as well as explanations for how and why things do what they do. Cameron’s always been a stickler for giving the audience what it needs to follow along, without beating viewers over the head with explanations and instead trusting them to fill in the blanks after first laying down enough clues and hints in logical fashion. He does so again here. As for the CGI, I have to confess, there were times that I realized I’d forgotten I was watching a computer-generated character, particularly in a few key scenes featuring such creations interacting with human counterparts. For the most part, the effect is that seamless. I can only recall one scene offhand where the quality of the effects pulled me out of the story because it looked too hokey. Otherwise, a very definite A for Effort is awarded here.

As for the actor contributions, they run the gamut. Sigourney Weaver provides a customary solid performance, and the very talented Stephen Lang, Giovanni Ribisi, CCH Pounder, Michelle Rodriguez, and Joel Moore do what they can with what they’re given. Other, cardboard-cutout characters are precisely that; glorified extras who inhabit scenes, mostly to shoot or be shot at and so on. However, the film rests on the shoulders of Sam Worthington (one of the few bright spots in the otherwise dreary Terminator Salvation) and – to a slightly lesser extent, Zoe Saldana (Uhura in the new Star Trek film), and both actors carry that burden very well.

Weaknesses: As with pretty much every other Cameron movie, the story is rather straightforward and even predictable in some places. It’s essentially The Last of the Mohicans, Dances With Wolves, and/or The Last Samurai, to name the prime examples for comparison. As other reviewers have pointed out, in this case, a simpler take isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it gives you a chance to really throw yourself into the world of Pandora and its inhabitants, both indigenous and otherwise. Another Cameron hallmark is the not-infrequent line of cringe-worthy dialogue. Even without Leonardo DiCaprio to deliver some of the worst offenders, there’s still plenty to go around, mostly with respect to anything that comes out of the mouth of anyone in a military uniform. Of particular note is veteran actor Stephen Lang, who chews the scenery — real and computer-generated — with unrestrained relish. He gets some of the worst lines in the film, but he throws himself into his role of a hard-charging commander of corporate mercenaries with total abandon.

James Horner composed the film’s score, and if you’ve heard the soundtracks to Aliens, The Abyss, and/or Titanic, then you’ve already heard a good bit of the music featured in this film. Okay, maybe it’s not that bad, but I can spot a Horner score with one ear tied behind my back.

Bottom line: Definitely a ground-breaking piece of film-making, and worth seeing on the big screen. I liked it enough that I’m going again, this time with the wife, who wants the 3-D experience.


A new Open Secrets review.

Now this is how you start someone’s Friday.

julioangelortiz has posted a new review of my latest novel, Star Trek: Vanguard – Open Secrets

You can read it by clicking right here!

I don’t typically get hung up on reviews, good or bad. That said, one thing I *do* like to see when I read reviews of my Trek work, particularly the stories I write which are set in the era of the original series, is people picking up on my unapologetic, no-holds-barred love of that part of Star Trek. It really does make my day when somebody sees that and points it out as coming through in my work. Call me corny, but there you go.

Cover for Open Secrets

So, thanks, Julio, for starting off my Friday on the right note.

A Mere Anarchy review.

Robert Lyons over at TrekMovie.com has offered up his review of the trade paperback collection of the Star Trek: Mere Anarchy mini-series: Read it here!

Cover for Mere Anarchy

Given my unabashed pride for this mini-series, I’m very happy to see it getting some notice now that the original e-Book novellas have been reprinted in this new edition. It remains one of the most satisfying projects with which I’ve been associated, as much for the collaborative efforts of everyone involved as the finished product itself.

So, uh…you know…go out and buy it, eh?

Reviews, cover art, and Trekcast…oh my!

The first review of Open Secrets is up, courtesy of Robert Lyons over at TrekMovie.com: Read all about it!

Cover for Open Secrets

By all accounts, Father Rob seems to have dug it.

In related news, Doug Drexler continues to make with the Fanboy Goodness over on his site, his latest entry focusing on several samples of cover art he’s created for various Star Trek projects for Pocket Books (such as all of the covers for the Star Trek: Vanguard series. See above.). Lots of nicely-sized, text free cover art for the gawking. Check it out, whydontcha?

Meanwhile, the 25th episode of Trekcast is now live and available for listening and download. In addition to the usual news, nerdity, and other shenanigans for which the podcast has become known, the guys also called me last Friday to provide an infodump about the recent Starfest convention I attended in Denver. That 10 minute back-n-forth is included as part of the episode, as well.

A Mere Anarchy review.

Dreamwatch’s Total Sci-Fi has offered up a nice little review of the trade paperback edition of Star Trek: Mere Anarchy mini-series.

Cover for Mere Anarchy

Reviewer Peter Quentin gives the book 8/10. My favorite quote is from his summation:

“Some Trek novels set within the timeframe of the various TV series have felt like intrusions into the continuity; this collection adds to it in many positive ways.”

Can’t argue with that.

Thanks to kradical for the heads-up!

Houston, we’ve got a review.

This one caught me by surprise, as it’s a new review of a book that came out almost two years ago. However, the reviewer makes a point to mention that this is a small-press title and is therefore easy to miss since it didn’t hit all the big brick-n-mortar stores. That didn’t stop him, though, and he offers up a very favorable review:

PopSyndicate.com: Review – Houston: We’ve Got Bubbas

Unlike other reviews of this book that I’ve read, this reviewer actually gets it and understands that the thing is a frivolous exercise in having some silly fun, rather than putting on snobby airs in order to cover up the the fact that the whole point of the book went whooshing over their head.

Thanks very much to Ethan Nahté and the crew at PopSyndicate.com!

A Wet Work review.

The good people over at Unreality SF have posted a review of our 4400 novel Wet Work.

Read all about it!

While I have a couple of very minor quibbles with one or two points they raised, they’re certainly not anything I can’t live with. Overall, it’s thoughtful and balanced, and by any measure a quite favorable review. And hey, we definitely appreciate the exposure (Hey! Somebody actually read the thing!).

Cover for The 4400: Wet Work

Nice way to start the day. 🙂

The Sky’s the Limit: Reviewed (again)!

Keith DeCandido (kradical) posted a link in his LJ to a new review of the TNG anthology The Sky’s the Limit. Rather than copy from him, I’ll just point you to his entry on the subject.

Nice review overall, and the reviewer makes oblique mention of the story Kevin and I wrote, “Acts of Compassion,” as one of the entries that stands out. Considering the company we’re keeping in the book, that’s high praise indeed.