Monday, August 25, 2014

Physicists Aren't the Only Ones Who Trash Philosophy

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So, I was reading some philosophy tonight. I finished David Hume's An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, which - at the end of a book with no abstract reasoning of quantity or number or really any experimental reasoning - has the following as the final lines:
If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.
In other words, by the strictest interpretation of Hume's own conclusion, his own book should be committed to the flame. (One could argue that there is some generally experimental reasoning going on in the book, of course, but still ... it's an amusing contradiction.)

After finishing this book, I moved on to the philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell's Our Knowledge of the External World as a Field for Scientific Model in Philosophy. It, in turn, starts with the following line:
Philosophy, from the earliest times, has made greater claims, and achieved fewer results, than any other branch of learning.
Russell's point, of course, is that he feels he can set the record straight and get philosophy back on course ... but still, the quote is just charming on its own.

There's been a flurry of criticism lately for some physicists - specifically Stephen Hawking, Lawrence Krauss, and Neil deGrasse Tyson - who have made some outspoken (and unwise) comments against philosophy. While I generally disagree with their dismissal of the value of philosophy, I do find it amusing that similar criticisms come from prominent figures within philosophy as well ... and that I stumbled on two similar comments within a couple of minutes of each other.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

My Pitch for an Aquaman Movie

So this may become a thing. I really enjoyed the mental exercise of pulling together my pitch for Ghostbusters III, and the buzz on the internet recently about the possibility of an Aquaman movie (see here, here, and here) has gotten my creative juices flowing. They have two different writers developing scripts, though, and it's very easy to see how an Aquaman movie could go wrong.

I have a fair amount of experience with Aquaman. For a while in my mid-twenties, I played on Zero Hour MUX, an online, text-based roleplaying game that was built around the DC Comics setting. Getting one of the major DC characters required an application. Green Arrow was taken ... so I applied for Aquaman, and got it. So, from one standpoint at least, I'm a bit of an Aquaman expert.

One major problem that DC has always had with their films is one that Marvel has gotten well beyond: DC seems to still think that "superhero" is a genre. It's not. Superheroes are heroes with powers, but there are a lot of different types of heroes, they have different types of adventures, and these result in different types of films.

This is obvious from the Marvel films. The first two Iron Man films, though a bit repetitive in tone, are basically industrial suspense films with a high dose of action. Iron Man 3 is a mix of mystery and techno-thriller. Captain America is a WWII period film. Captain America 2 is a political thriller. Thor is a trans-dimensional redemption story. Thor 2 is a fantasy quest. The upcoming Ant-Man film is a heist with superpowers.

The key thing is this: all of these movies (except perhaps Iron Man 2) would have been interesting stories in their own right, even if not tied to the franchise.

So, here is how I would handle the Aquaman set-up and major thematic elements:
Intro: The film begins with a man (Tom Curry) in a lighthouse, looking out into the ocean during a storm. He sees something and, racing down to the beach, finds a woman lying on the rocks. She is a beautiful blond woman, but is injured. A head injury. The man carries her into the lighthouse and tends to her wounds. As he tends to her wounds, the camera focuses in on a coral necklace around her neck. In the center is a piece of coral that is shaped in the symbol of an "A" ... which transitions into the "A" in the Aquaman logo to cue credits. 
After credits, two kids are revealed: a 10 year old blonde named Arthur and a slightly younger brunette boy named Orm. It is dawn and they are playing in the water. Arthur is waving a large trident-looking stick around, pretending he's fighting off some generic bad guys. Orm is waving around a smaller stick, pretending to be a wizard. 
Orm dares Arthur to jump off a high rock into the water. Arthur does it and vanishes into the waves. He's under water for a while. Orm gets terrified and jumps in after him. He hits the water, but panics as he swims around looking for Arthur. Orm sinks, rolled by a wave. Right as he's about to crash into a rock, Arthur darts out of the water and pulls him up out of the way. The boys run back toward the lighthouse, past their mother (a brunette, and not the woman from the intro sequence), who is watching television and making breakfast. 
Tom Curry, a decade older than pre-credits, is busy getting dressed. The kids are running around, creating havoc. The wife enters the bedroom in shock. "You've got to see ... Come here." He comes into the living room, looks at the television, and collapses onto a chair as he stares, dumbfounded, at the television. The kids run in and stop, sensing that something serious has happened. Pan to the television: images of the Twin Towers attack. Pan back to Orm, whose expression is one of fear and confusion, and Arthur, whose expression is more grim determination. 
The origin story focuses on the following or incorporates following elements: 
  • Arthur grows to believe that the society of the surface world is corrupt and destructive. Maybe he has this view from outside as an anti-government environmental terrorist or inside the system as a Navy SEAL or some other background or combination.
  • In mid-twenties, Arthur learns that his mother was an Atlantean queen (and gets her necklace from her father). He goes to Atlantis hoping for a utopia, fed up with the surface world.
  • Orm wants to go with Arthur, but can't (unable to breathe water). Establish the jealousy aspect, though Orm is not an enemy in this film.
  • Arthur discovers corruption within the Atlantis government. He leads a "man of the people" style rebellion against the Atlantean aristocracy - so the bulk of the film has a very Braveheart or Spartacus (or, you know, Conan the Barbarian) feel to it, complete with a dramatic rousing speech to unite the people of Atlantis together. In order to protect his new people, he must become the king, taking charge of the very system that he previously railed against. 
  • Arthur's powers in the film include: breathing underwater, superstrength, damage resistance, enhanced hearing/limited sonar, telepathically communicate with aquatic life, a vague "water sense," gains Atlantean trident before end of film.
  • Establish that he weakens longer away from water. Not fatally (like Kryptonite) but enough that if he got shot after being out of water for a while, he could easily die. While in water, he is virtually invincible (but so are other Atlanteans) to anything but Atlantean magical weaponry.
  • Atlantean magic plays heavily in the corrupted part of the government. At some point, Arthur needs surface help he can trust and enlists Orm, who is thus exposed to Atlantean magic. In fact, Arthur encourages him to learn enough that he can first magical bolts that can harm Atlanteans.
  • Possibly introduce Aqualad (but don't call him that). Other potential allies from Aquaman's team "The Others" can be introduced.
The one problem with this concept is that it has a lot of parallels with Thor, but they're almost inverse connections. The Arthur/Orm relationship is one where Arthur is elevated above Orm, even though Orm views himself as the "rightful" son, while the Thor/Loki relationship is one where Loki has always known that Thor was heir to the throne. Thor is banished from his kingdom; Arthur comes to his kingdom for the first time and must claim his throne. So, while there are some similarities, there are also some pretty significant differences.

Again, I want to remind Hollywood that I am more than willing to consult or perform a script doctoring role on this project. Just drop me a message.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

My Pitch for Ghostbusters III

Okay, I am really sick and tired of reboots. I've reached my limit, and the idea that there might be a reboot of the classic Ghostbusters is enough to push me over the edge.

For a while, there have been rumors of another sequel that introduced a new team. This, however, is different. It's a reboot. And, in fact, the rumors are of a reboot with an all-female team, which seems a bit gratuitous. Yes, I want a strong female presence in the show, but an all-female team? That's just going too far in the other direction, I think, for no good story-based reason that I can think of.

This article in Vanity Fair does make a fair point in favor of the move, though: an all-female team completely distances itself from the original group.

That having been said, though, here's a pitch for a new sequel that would distance itself from the original:

Pre-Credit Sequence: 
First, I would pretty much take the pre-credit sequence from the pitch offered via Twitter by Max Landis (screenwriter of Chronicle). This ties into the original film through Slimer and Ivo Shandor. As a reminder, Ivo Shandor is the architect who built Dana Barrett's building in the first film.
Post-credits, we would cut to the present day, at a funeral. I've actually got several ideas of how this funeral could go, depending on who is willing to return from the original film, but we'll go with this: it's Egon's funeral. There are very few attendees. (Landis also mentioned Egon passing away in his Twitter-pitch, but not a funeral.)
One of the attendees is a young twenty-something girl, Cassandra Tully. Cassandra wears glasses and is socially awkward, in part because she is the daughter of Janine and Louis Tully. (I'm hoping that either Rick Moranis or Annie Potts, or both, would be willing to return for a small role.)  Cassandra is a young lawyer and/or paralegal working with her parents, who are now lawyers, and are also executors of Egon's estate.
Arriving late at the funeral is Oscar Barrett. (Dana's baby from Ghostbusters 2. He would be in his late 20s.) He is there because he was contacted about an inheritance. If any of the original Ghostbusters (or Weaver) are there, they are also included in the will. 
Oscar's inheritance consists of a set of research books. They are sitting on Egon's desk in a box labeled "Print is dead." At this point, some exposition can be dropped explaining that the Ghostbusters broke up after stopping Vigo the Carpathian, in part because there just weren't enough ghosts to keep the business in operation.
Oscar has no idea why he would be left these books, but Cassandra explains that upon looking through them she found that one of the books is a notebook with Barrett's name in a geneology. On the page, the audience can see that Oscar's great-grandfather is named Ivo Shandor.
While gathering together the books, Oscar finds a black box with yellow stripes on it and a cord that has a button on the end. A ghost containment trap. He pushes the button ... thus releasing a ghost that Egon (for whatever reason) was keeping in his study. 
Cassandra and Oscar are now stuck in the position of having unleashed a ghost. Depending on who from the original cast is available to offer some tips, they might be able to trap it rather easily, or might need to figure out on their own how to use the equipment, possibly involving some research and recruiting help to get the equipment to work.
Overall Plot
In trying to figure out how the technology works, Cassandra and Oscar recruit an engineer to try to help. The science behind the equipment is a bit beyond the engineer, so they enlist the help of the engineer's theoretical physicist roommate. (At least one of these two should be female. Note that since we already have Cassandra as the research geek, neither of these characters should fit an "egghead" cliche. I once heard Eliza Dushku mentioned in reference to this project. She's too old to play Cassandra, and doesn't really fit the concept, but would be excellent in one of these roles.)
The books that Oscar inherit contain information about how Shandor completed a ritual that turned him - and his descendants - into particularly good demonic vessels. This was done with the purpose of resurrecting Gozer, but Vigo the Carpathian tried to make use of it as well. The Ghostbusters were able to stop them both times. 
Before dying, Shandor wrote a prophecy about Gozer's return. Gozer would come to this realm, but be pushed back. At that point, all "lesser spirits" would be contained within a structure that Shandor built. (Not all spirits, obviously - thus Ghostbusters 2 - but enough to explain why Ghostbusting ceased being a profitable business model after 1984.) After an appropriate amount of spiritual energy was contained within this structure, Gozer would return again. Egon's notebooks contain calculations indicating that this critical threshold should be reached soon.
The group, therefore, is not focused on building a ghostbusting business, but rather on getting just enough ghostbusting equipment and skill to prevent Gozer from returning and taking possession of Oscar. It's not their job (yet), though the film ends with them having averted Gozer's return, but destroyed Shandor's "structure" and made it so that the "lesser spirits" are freed. Thus, there is now a need for Ghostbusters ... and, after all, who ya gonna call?
Again, the key here is that this team is completely different from the original one, and thus won't be directly compared to them. My pitch doesn't even require New York City as a setting, which was pretty key in both of the original films. The group likely wouldn't even end up in their jumpsuits until about the end of the movie. There could obviously be more connections to the original film, if desired. The Ecto-1 could be cooling it in someone's garage, or they could have a new ride. The Ghostbusters business *could* even still be in operation, with the headquarters at the firehouse, and the bulk of the plot could remain intact.

Each person fulfills a distinctive necessary role, but those roles are different from in the original film:
  • Cassandra - Research expert and has probably already knew about Ghostbusters from parents
  • Oscar - Clueless, demon vessel
  • Engineer - Understands the technology
  • Theoretical Physicist - Figuring out the science, particularly the trans-dimensional aspects. At some point utters the line, "Back off man. I'm a scientist."
Thus the issues from the Vanity Fair article are dealt with, a completely revitalized franchise is established, but without the need for a reboot. (Seriously, Hollywood, feel free to use this. All I ask for is an invitation to the premiere! Although I'm willing to be a consultant!)