Arrival: The Bradscribe Review

What Is The Purpose Of This Movie?

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“The premise is that aliens are landing in places that make no sense, and nothing is happening. The world is freaking out… I love that” – Denis Villeneuve.

“I was in love with the exaggeration of reality or exploration of the world from a different point of view, which is science fiction” explains Denis Villeneuve.

When the French-Canadian director admits that “it’s tough to find good science fiction material,” at least he has tried – and succeeded – to rectify this matter in the intriguing form of Arrival, the sort of thought-provoking SF that rarely gets the big-screen treatment.

Based on Ted Chiang’s novella: “Story of Your Life” – a “highly scientific, not inherently cinematic” work – twelve massive, shell-shaped spacecraft appear in the most unlikeliest locations around the world. And the race is on to find out What They Want.

On a university campus, comparative linguistics professor Dr. Louise Banks, (played by Amy Adams)realises that constant low-flying jets and a collision in the car park signify that this is turning out to be no ordinary day.  

After learning about the Breaking News of the Century – strangely enough on an HD TV, not via smartphone – the Prof is soon whisked away by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) to Montana where the USA’s very own extraterrestrial representative has chosen to hang around. 

There is no explanation as to why a section of the craft opens up every eighteen hours, or how this arrangement was initially achieved but, nevertheless, a palpable sense of wonder ensues. 

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“…At the end of the day, it’s a story about a woman and her child, and the choices she makes. That’s really interesting to play in a sci-fi movie about communication and global war” – Amy Adams.

Why are they here, indeed.

For the central role, Adams puts in an engaging performance, one of intimacy and empathy, managing to elevate this material from the depths of absurdity to which it could so easily have sunk.

And despite its disturbing nature, the gradual unravelling of international tensions actually makes for compelling viewing.

Perhaps the most enthralling scene is the intrepid hazmat squad’s literally breath-taking ascent into the spacecraft, and their conversion to a vertical gravity. One discrepancy and all the guests would hurtle back/down to terra firma!

The visitors referred to here as  “heptapods” appear and dissolve in mist behind a transparent screen. They reminded me of the tentacled martians as depicted in The War Of The Worlds; the whale-like sounds they emit are particularly haunting. 

“Abbott and Costello” – how charming! Why do we see just two of them? …And we didn’t get to find out why they each have seven legs, either.

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I didn’t think it would look as big and expansive as it is. We’re in a black box. With a white screen and a hazmat suit… It emotionally wrecked me” – Jeremy Renner.

What a relief that Arrival spares us the eerie and stereotypical dramatic scenes of the alien armada ominously approaching Earth. Quite unlike more standard alien invasion flicks –gadzooks! They’re here already! An unsettling touch if ever there was one. And it is nothallelujah! – an invasion anyway!

Such a welcome cavalcade of subtle ideas: scientific, cultural and – oh yes! – linguistic. Part of the fascination for this movie centred on wondering how Villeneuve et al would bring it to a satisfactory denouement. Had expected a twist, but on a non-linear level? Heavy, baby.

Ultimately, its stark themes convince us that this film is not about the aliens, but about us: the complicated bipeds. In attempts at First Contact, these proceedings instead invoke that inherent inability to effectively communicate among our own species. Not only does communication (and co-operation) break down, in this hi-tech age, it gets switched off! 

As one news reporter rightly remarked at one point, whatever benevolent need our visitors require, why do they come in twelve ships, when only one would have sufficed?

It is startling to realise that in that cramped and bustling army camp in Montana, Dr. Banks is the only major female presence. Really?!

It is almost miraculous how she and physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) crack the intricacies of the alien non-linear orthography in unbelievably short time and in such stressful geopolitical circumstances.

Thankfully, this film is more engaging than Interstellar, and undoubtedly light years more worthwhile than Independence Day: Resurgence. 

Perhaps Arrival’s greatest asset is that, in a world increasingly tearing itself apart through social unrest and breakdowns in diplomacy, it could not have been released at a more apt time…

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BRADSCRIBE VERDICT: 

4-out-of-5

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Lingua Extraterrestria: What Would First Contact Entail?

When We DO make Alien Contact, What Will We Have To Say? And How…? 

And By What Means Can We Begin To Comprehend What THEY Want?

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“What the hell are we supposed to use, man, harsh language?” – Private Frost. 

“Thousands have taken to the streets amid growing unrest at the perceived “alien invasion,” reads the Breaking News banner.

“Governments across the globe have declared a state of emergency urging residents to remain in their homes until meaningful contact can be made.”

What do they mean by “meaningful contact”?

The exciting, yet cautious, notion of first contact with (intelligent) extraterrestrial life has often popped up in movies, books and essays, but they all – frustratingly – fall short of supposing how such a landmark event could be achieved.

The most prominent SF extravaganza to tackle this premise (refraining from military antagonism) and emphasize attempts at establishing connections with alien visitors happened to be Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977), in which initial connection transpired through exchanges of musical motes. 

Groovy – fortunately, variable tones possess the same harmonics elsewhere in our galaxy!

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“I really misunderstood that linguistics was closer to being a translator… When you’re approaching language, you look at structure, anthropological, sociological… how it exists inside of that. It’s got very complicated” – Amy Adams.  

Just opened in cinemas this week is Arrival, a most-welcome package that dares to offer something more cerebral rather than just aiming to be visually spectacular. 

After twelve ovular smooth and shell-like spacecraft appear in skies at various locations around the world, answers – rather that action – is called for. The military (led by Forest Whitakerenlist the services of leading academic linguist Dr. Louise Banks (played by Amy Adams) to try and work out why they are here, and what do they want. 

Curiously, every eighteen hours, a section of the craft suspended above the plains of Montana opens up, allowing Banks and physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) to try and facilitate a basic exchange of communication.

The new Arrivals are revealed as seven-pronged starfish-like creatures dubbed “heptapods.” Intriguingly, these visitors do participate in contact, but only by emitting a highly sophisticated form of non-linear orthography – rings of swirling black “ink.”

How can Dr. Banks hope to suss out something like this?:

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“Some supporters of linguistic relativity think that the cognitive benefits of language helped spur its evolution. This is relevant to the movie, as the fate of humanity depends on us understanding their language” – newscientist.com

Among the earliest systems of writing, wedge-shaped cuneiform tablets were produced by the Sumerians in the Ancient Near East five thousand years ago. 

Having had the privilege of studying this bewildering civilization at university, one could not help but observe that they seemed so incongruous to World History – the notion of extraterrestrial origins should not sound so fantastical.

Incidentally, their religious texts quite categorically describe “the Ancient Gods who descended from the Heavens…”

Since the Phoenicians developed the first alphabet, scripts for Indo-European languages – of which English is just one member of that family – generally run horizontally from left to right, but with the observation that Arabic runs from right to left, should the heptapod circular “language” be read clockwise or anti-clockwise? 

Moreover, at what point on each billowing ring should Dr. Banks begin to decipher these messages? So many syntactic and semantic aspects to consider in such a fascinating and – considering what is at stake – frightening voyage of discovery!

As Dr. Banks wonders:

“They use non-linear orthography. Do they think like that too?” 

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“Are you dreaming in their language?” – Ian Donnelly.

Having already notched up five-star reviews and an encouraging string of superlatives from a wide range of film magazines and websites, Arrival looks set to be the phenomenal, thought-provoking classic that gives SF a good name.

Ultimately, this movie sets out to be more about human understanding, memory, love and fortitude than just delivering yet another tiresome alien invasion CGIfest far beyond the sensationalist reach of such dumb, inconsequential fare as Independence Day: Resurgence (which we were so kindly subjected to earlier in the year).

To find out how “distinctly original” and “truly exceptional” Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival really is, Brad will be checking it out this weekend. Therefore, a Review is sure to follow!

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Keep watching the skies… 

The War Of The Words: Why Does No One Talk Much In SF Films Any More?

Direlogue!

The Quality and Quantity Of Good Movie Dialogue Is Declining! We Need To Talk About It… 

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“…Do I talk first or you talk first? I talk first…?” – Poe Dameron.  

Wouldn’t it be cool to watch SF movies where you can just listen and enjoy good lines instead of being bombarded by noisy, meaningless CGI buffoonery?

As a writer who has dabbled in the art of good chatter – even trying (struggling!) to compile suitable quotes for my Star Trek review last week – it cannot have escaped your attention that there is decidedly less dialogue to get excited over these days.

Any writer of quality fiction/scripts/plays will tell you: there is nothing like good dialogue to drive any scene.

However, it should be pointed out that in  Mad Max: Fury Road – undoubtedly the Best Film of 2015 – the titular Road Warrior himself managed to grunt only 52 lines of dialogue; back in March, this year, Superman in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice seemed to phone in his scenes with a measly 43 lines.

Where can we listen to cool and catchy prattle beyond the stars these days? 

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“George, you can type this shit, but you sure as hell can’t say it” – Harrison Ford.  

On our Third Stone From the Sun, today, about 7000 languages are spoken (Goodness knows how many other thousands of languages have died out in the last few centuries!).

Imagine that!

7000 ways to say: “Hello!” and 7000 ways to ask: “Got any cake?”

And yet…!

An intriguing paradox is lodged at the core of human communication: if language evolved to allow us to exchange information, how come most people cannot understand what most other people are saying?

No matter how globalized the 21st century would appear, there are numerous far-out, obscure – dare one say it: alien – places in this world where a dash of basic local lingo is essential in order to just get by.  

In the realms of science fiction, a dazzling coterie of pseudo-technical jargon has gradually arisen to aid in the hopefully-convincing creation of alien worlds and “futuristic” technologies.

This leads us to the now-legendary quote (above). George Lucas had immersed himself into this far far away sci-fi set-up to such an extent, that an outsider like Harrison Ford was easily stumped by having to spout it.

There is a very telling reason why less dialogue in modern movies is becoming the norm. 

The Chinese sector has taken over the American market as the largest box office territory in the world. Not only does less dialogue mean less subtitles/dubbing for them, but – alarm bells among screenwriters everywhere – Chinese cinema-goers are attracted primarily to the spectacle. 

Apparently, the (Western) world is not enough. 

We have reached the stage (regrettably) where the movie industry is geared towards doing good business, rather than making fine art.

For movies to make a profit (as substantial as poss, of course) they need to do well in Asian cinemas, not just in American. This should go towards explaining why major blockbusters are released in places like Thailand and Singapore (my former stomping grounds) well before the “official” dates in the US and UK…

Dialogue seems to have lost its power to influence – how and where can memorable lines fit into a world where people spend more time sending texts of abbreviated jargon, and emojis and Instagram encourage more image-based communication?

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“Can you speak? Are you programmed to speak?” – Harry Booth.  

How aliens communicate is a source of constant fascination in SF films. Star Trek is synonymous with species which are nearly all carbon-based bipeds. As a result, they invariably speak as humans – for the sake of not bamboozling TV audiences with distracting subtitles! – in perfectly-rendered English (preferably with American accents).

For the movies, the Klingons had their own language – specially created (Trekkies can even get their own Klingon phrasebook for pity’s sake!)

Of increasing concern is the prevalent problem of character under-development. How many times have we complained about that? Dialogue provides an important key to our understanding of a particular protagonist or, for that matter, antagonist. 

With the notable reduction of spoken lines in blockbusters, we are almost forbidden to learn their intentions or directions. Presumably, our attention must(!) be focussed on the digitally-enhanced action and explosions; if we want to learn what they’re thinking, we’ve gotta go and buy the novel/comic book that this spectacle is based on.

Let the cynicism flow through you… 

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“No, no, no, no. You gotta listen to the way people talk. You don’t say “affirmative,” or some shit like that. You say ‘no problemo.’ And if someone comes on to you with an attitude you say ‘eat me.’ And if you want to shine them on it’s ‘hasta la vista, baby’” – John Connor. 

Luke who’s talking…

In Star Wars: the Force Awakens, some fans were disappointed that the pivotal character remained mute in such a climactic, yet brief, screen time. Having been in that incredibly annoying situation myself where the right, poignant words for a crucial character just won’t come together, this is grudgingly possible to understand. 

Honestly, no matter how many alternate approaches or drafts are churned out, saying nothing at all can be the best, (safest) and most effective outcome.

Harrison Ford’s enervated Sam Spadesque narration for the original version of Blade Runner is partly what drew me into that “flawed classic.” After those “explanatory notes” were totally eradicated from the “Final Cut” the film is now regarded as a masterpiece.

My plans of breaking into screenwriting seem to be dwindling to the same extent as the very requirement for fine lines itself!

Judging from the upsurge in quality TV drama serials, good dialogue is allowed to flourish on the small screen, where the action and spectacle of the big screen is diminished, and more hours to fill provides opportunities for developing characters.

There, good scripts still matter.

The power of the spoken word, when crafted well, determines whether the captivated viewer comes back for the next episode(s).

So, rather than look for Brad on the big screen, you’ll be more likely to find my niftiest nuggets on Netflix.  

“To make anything work, you gotta find the right words.”

Now ya talkin’!

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“Come on guys, can we talk this over? …Good talk” – Iron Man. 

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The Sensational Inspirational Blog

Posted: 15 March 2014

Concentrate the mind on the task at hand
Concentrate the mind on the task at hand

“Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, the mind can achieve, regardless of  how many times you may have failed in the past” – Napoleon Hill.

By far, the best machine we possess is our own mind. Fortunately, Bradscribe was blessed with awesome English skills. Ever since one can remember, writing – whether it be fiction or non-fiction – has always played a prominent role in my life.

However, in the last 48 hours, a fearsome fever: skin burning up; nerve endings exceptionally sensitive; splitting headache; dizzy spells; you-name-it-this-bunny’s-had-it, has struck me down. Big. Time.

In short, my body feels like it’s been hit by a car.

Obviously, this has put a serious dent in my writing/blogging schedule. It’s amazing to think that prior to this unsavoury onset, my mind was positively brimming with good ideas; but when this crept up on me unbeknownst, all that promising stuff evaporated. Too often in my tender youth, illnesses would beset my system; thus, too often my active imagination wondered how these despicable intrusions could be willed out of my system…

Consider, dear friends, the marvel and sheer complexity of the human brain; it puts into perspective how poor this annoying so-called cutting-edge technology we are compelled to buy with money we don’t have, really is…

Don't give up! Savour the good things in life
Don’t give up! Savour the good things in life

“Don’t give up. Don’t lose hope. Don’t sell out” – Christopher Reeve.

How on Earth does the essence of an idea ever mterialise in the first place?

Apparently what drives the creative processes remains inexplicable, but what we do know: when ideas are generated (especially by this undervalued noddle), rather than emanating from either the left or right sides of the brain, actually both hemispheres work in unison to create that special spark. But what produces the motivation? That need to carry on when all hope is lost?

Yes folks, Kismet has blown sand in Bradscribe’s face more times than he cares to remember.

Once upon a time, a veritable stream of rejections swirled my way. Then it was reduced to a mere trickle. Now, not only have they dried up, but due to those copious never-ending technical difficulties, my Inbox has become inaccessible.

How – in the face of such sheer adversity – does this lil bunny manage to keep going?

"By living life for itself, don't you see?Deriving pleasure from the gift of pure being"
“By living life for itself, don’t you see?Deriving pleasure from the gift of pure being”

“If a man can control his mind he can find the way to Enlightenment, and all wisdom and virtue will naturally come to him” – Buddha.

No matter what technical, physical or financial problems lay siege to my battered mind – living in a country where Buddhism takes precedence – the gift of Meditation proved to be such a benefit. It came in particularly handy during my Southeast Asian office job, where the unfriendly inhouse atmosphere and stress combined with the noise and chaos of city life.

Even now, when my carefully constructed plans have not gone as well as hoped, the time and opportunity to sit back and meditate does come in pretty handy. Considering all that has been lost over the last few years – money, work, data disks, contacts, friends, trust, motivation – somehow this humble blogging bunny, (still a small name in a big Blogosphere) has come through so much (a little ruffled), yet persevered and retained his hop, skip and jump.

Nobody knows what tomorrow will bring, but make the most of what we have today, that’s for sure. Perhaps this is the main reason why most of my creative processes are reserved for reconstructing history. This discipline offers reassuring escapism as well as the comfort of nostalgia.

In an otherwise disappointing television adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles (1980), a speech of such insightful and inspirational depth concerning the Secret of Life was given by a Martian – a figment of the past; his words have resonated with me since that first viewing many moons ago. They have invigorated my own writing sometimes, and perhaps lie at the core of why Bradscribe just refuses to give up.  

It is hoped this quote will have a profound effect on you, dear reader. Goodnight. 

“Secret! There is no secret. Anyone with eyes can see the way to live.

“By watching life, observing nature, cooperating with it. Making common cause with the process of existence…

“…Life is it’s own answer, accept it and enjoy it day by day. Live as well as possible, expect no more. Destroy nothing, humble nothing, look for fault in nothing, leave unsullied and untouched all that is beautiful. Hold that which lives in all reverence, for life is given by the sovereign of our universe, given to be savoured, to be luxuriated in, to be… respected.

“But that’s no secret, you’re intelligent! You know as well as I what has to be done.”

 

OMG: Lol and Behold

Posted: 28 February 2014

How writing and its technology has changed in the last few years...
How writing and its technology has changed in the last few years…

“Language changes very fast” – John Maynard Smith.

As a wordsmith trained in more traditional ways of writing, Bradscribe cannot help but notice the strange, swift and staggering shuffle that has beset the English languge in the last twenty years.

When at university (and loving every windswept, rain-soaked minute of it), up to seventeen years ago(!), mobile phones were just catching on; it swiftly became apparent that texting was becoming the new norm for faster and shorter communication.

With a monumental growth in urbanization, and a corresponding rise in the percentage of the world population who inhabit an urban environment, work-patterns and lifestyles in general have altered tremendously. Cultural values have played a part in the transformation of language(s); but ultimately, the phenomenal proliferation of hand-held technology has had a dramatic impact, bringing a new wave cascade of abbreviated, truncated, slang-driven jargon – completely ripping up the rules of language and how it is utilised. The “written word” seems to be an out-dated concept in itself, with this tendency to text, and even use symbols (emoticons being particularly rife) on rapidly evolving small, touch-type devices.

New words constantly enter the English language (directly derived from texting and other communicative media no less), while disused ones drop into oblivion; moreover, existing words have been swiped by the new-gen to carry entirely different denotations.  

These days, less people write longhand, while more people text
These days, less people write longhand, while more people text

“Use what language you will, you can never say anything but what you are” – Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Whether it be on the train in England, or in the shopping malls of Thailand, most people seem to have their heads bowed towards their smartphones, endlessly texting, besides loading apps or playing useless games. Bradscribe just glances at this thoroughly modern crowd with a slight amused grin.  If the trains weren’t so ridiculously packed, you could most likely find me ROTFL.

One would say this scene is extraordinary, but it is so mind-bogglingly prevalent that it must surely now count as ordinary activity.

Interestingly, if a peep at some of their texts was possible, the chances of actually understanding any of the slang and abbreviations on show would be minimal. This should not come as a surprise. Such is the bewilderment of a constantly fluctuating language, transmogrifying through multifarious phases since its inception as Old English (derived from Old German) in tangible written form during the 5th century CE. Shaped by social upheavals of the Medieval Period, it twisted and turned into what is labelled Middle English, and then into Early Modern English, before settling on the Modern English used in the present.

With the upgrades in English Comprehension described (and dreaded!) above, it would appear that we are already immersed in the next tantalising stage of this incredible linguistic journey.  

The most widely used language in the world is constantly changing.
The most widely used language in the world is constantly changing.

“Viewed freely, the English language is the accretion and growth of every dialect, race, and range of time, and is both the free and compacted composition of all” – Walt Whitman.  

Increasing my presence on Facebook in the last 18 months, the major aspect one has had to get used to is working out what the mass of assorted acronyms included therein actually stand for. Easily, the most common expression to be found amidst the Comments must be the acronym:”lol,” short for Laugh Out Loud.

Originally appearing regularly on Usenet, this expression has since become ubiquitous on just about every other form of computer-mediated communication, and made its debut in the Oxford English Dictionary in March 2011. It is only in recent months that Bradscribe has succumbed to utilising it in his own brief texts.

Will my writing style have to change in order to accommodate these changes in my language? One hopes that drastic alterations will not be needed. While some people strive to move with the times,  it is comforting to know that others will appreciate my adherence to more traditional creative values.   

Part of the wonder of English lies in its ability to have adjusted and adapted across many centuries, while stagnant languages have completely died out.

It just remains to be seen what other tectonic shifts are in store for the English language, and how and when we will seize the chance to use them.

 

Brad In The Blogosphere

Brad In The Blogosphere: A successful foray into the exciting medium of blogging.  

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An empty desk would just suggest an empty mind

“You fail only if you stop writing” Ray Bradbury.

‘Twas inevitable. With the sheer number of papers piling up in my office, the need to experiment with the tantalising array of online media now available has become imperative!

And so, sustained by kebabs and coffee, this writer has plunged in; this is the first post of my WordPress Blog. The title: ‘Bradscribe’ may admittedly sound more obscure than enticing, but this writer did not want to spend (waste?) too much time trying to concoct a clever or cool overall name for these posts! “Scribe” is a title primarily associated with ancient writers, when to produce the written word was regarded by the unitiated as a work of magic – a skill practiced only by an elite few (and ancient things are what drives this writer).

Technology permitting, these forays into the Blogosphere should be posted on a regular basis. Rather than leave my notes – on science (both fact & fiction), but mostly on archaeology & ancient history – to gather dust or get chewed by the cat, they will go through the process of being converted into blogs.

A warm and friendly paperweight, who just happens to love me too
A warm and friendly paperweight, who just happens to love me too

“Tell me & I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me & I learn… By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail” Benjamin Franklin.

Preparation for these posts will involve frantic scribbling & typing mostly through the night; ever since University, the dark hours became my favoured – and most productive – time for writing.

So what does this writer have to offer? For one thing, not content with churning out the “same old stuff,” my works of non-fiction have – and will – explore the lesser-known episodes in Asian history, and my historical fiction now incorporates names and incidents accrued through my extensive research.

Bearing in mind the fact that tens of thousands of new blogs are posted on a daily basis, vying to be distinctive, and striving to have something important or relevant to say, this series will proceed (and hopefully progress) by providing updates on my own unique writing projects (both fiction & non-fiction) and feature intriguing perspectives on other issues relevant to writing and publishing.

A soft, sandy beach is all this writer needs to work contentedly
A soft, sandy beach is all this writer needs to work happily

“For me, life is writing. I can do it anywhere. It doesn’t matter where I am. I listen. I write. I live” Maynard James Keenan.

On a different note, you might like to know that…

In a unique position – a writer based on the Gulf of Thailand – various interesting possibilities arise.

These observations will appear in a separate series: “huahinhiker,” lovingly illustrated with photos of the town which has served as my base for five years now.

In the coming weeks…

Here is a list of some forthcoming Bradscribe topics:

  • OMG: LOL & Behold – Trying to cope with some of the stranger changes in the language during the Internet Age.
  • The Midnight Special – Always been a “night owl” rather than an “early bird”; explaining how some of ny best work has been produced at a cooler, quieter (and darker) time.
  • The Weekend Fretaway – How this freelance worker operates outside the usual 9-5 routine, with Saturdays & Sundays having no difference from week days.
  • Inspirational Time – How an early morning – or early evening – stroll does wonders for the creative process.

In the coming days…

… the next blog: “Science Friction,” will concentrate on the ways in which modern CGI has almost eradicated the thrills and wonder which traditional sci-fi so masterfully engineered… and enriched my infant imagination. 

So, finally, may I ask: “Who are you?” It would be great to find out who will be reading these posts; and it will be interesting to see your Comments!

See you earlier,

Brad.