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Week of July 2, 2001

John Yardley, 1925-2001. One of the designers of the first American manned spacecraft has died. John Yardley, a McDonnell-Douglas engineer, headed up the team which drew up the specs of the Mercury space capsule, the vehicle which launched Alan B. Shepard, John Glenn and the other Mercury astronauts into suborbital and orbital flights. Yardley served on the advisory group investigating the fatal 1967 launch pad fire that killed the crew of Apollo 1, and had design input into the two-man Gemini space capsule as well as the space shuttle. He was 76. Source: Associated Press

The return of Atari. Ever since Hasbro Interactive - who had bought the rights to the Atari name and all of its game properties from a hard drive manufacturer for a mere $5 million just a few years ago - went under early this year and was sold to Infogrames, classic video game fans have wondered what would become of the miraculously revived Atari catalog. Fear not, joystick jockeys - Infogrames is already unleashing a new Atari title that will keep gamers happy on many a platform. Atari Anniversary Edition, due in early July (hey, that's now!), will contain emulated versions of the arcade classics Asteroids, Asteroids Deluxe, Battlezone, Centipede, Crystal Castles, Gravitar, Millipede, Missile Command, Pong, Super Breakout, Tempest and Warlords. PC, Playstation and Dreamcast versions are planned thus far.

Another popular Lucasfilm flick coming to DVD. So you say Star Wars Episode I isn't enough for you? You need more George Lucas cinema on shiny round discs? Then you shall have it this november when a special edition of Willow is released on DVD. Surely second only to Howard The Duck as the most-requested George Lucas film ever on DVD, Willow will feature commentaries, documentaries, and other features. Source: Sci-Fi Wire

Terminator DVD finally sees U.S. release. October will also see the long-awaited release of The Terminator on DVD, a title which has already been released overseas. The double-sided DVD version being released this fall by MGM will include commentary from James Cameron and a new documentary. Source: Sci-Fi Wire

Big Finish commissions new Who from fan writers. When Big Finish Productions kicked off their new line of licensed Doctor Who Audio Adventures in 1999, they anticipated that fan writers the world over would be sending in spec scripts for future audio dramas - but little did they suspect they would be deluged. Big Finish had to close its doors to unsolicited submissions soon afterward, but they're still digging through the mountain of stories sent in by hopeful fan writers. From that burst of material sent in, Big Finish has announced that two of those previously unpublished writers will see their stories turned into future Audio Adventures. Australian Philip Pascoe's ...ish will star Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant, and is tentatively set for an August 2002 release, while Joseph Lidster's The Priory will be set in and around a modern-day nightclub and will star Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred, for release in September 2002. Big Finish is also asking fans to understand that this doesn't mean they're opening the doors to more fan submissions - in fact, they're still going through the huge amount of material they received in the initial months of the Audio Adventures. Source: Big Finish Productions

When Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski took his new series to Warner Bros., they were a little scared to touch another science fiction series. Why? Because of the V saga, that's why. Upon its original 1984 broadcast, V was the most expensive American miniseries to date, and that money wasn't spent on overpaid stars, but special effects which were crafted to motion picture standards rather than those of television. Truth be told, V nearly bankrupted the Warner Bros. TV division, and scared more than one studio away from SF until the late 80s (when a certain long-shot syndicated series made SF TV hip and profitable again). V spawned another miniseries and a miserable flop of a weekly series, but - on the upside - introduced SF fans to Michael Ironside and the music of Dennis McCarthy, who was hastily brought aboard to completely rescore V: The Final Battle. The V DVD (say that five times fast) contains the entire original miniseries as envisioned by Kenneth Johnson, who later created the Alien Nation series for Fox.

V: The Miniseries

Throwing viewers to the lions. It takes me a while sometimes to get around to seeing "Big Movies." I didn't get to see Titanic until it had been on tape for six months. I finally got around to watching Gladiator just recently.

I have been awestruck by both these movies. Not because they're great movies. In fact, I would even go so far as to say these are small movies with big bucks. I enjoyed them, but they aren't the sort of movies that are going to etch themselves into my memory.

Strangely, though, the subject of throwing fat money at thin stories is only a peripheral issue. What concerns me is the recent trend to intensely brutal and graphic violence.

Saving Private Ryan ushered in the new trend to show violence and death as it really is. I tend to be in favor of the idea. I think that if we show people the real effect of violent activity, then perhaps we can find some long-term solution to minimizing violent behavior.

But I worry that instead of highlighting the misery and pain of a violent death we are instead further glorifying violence. It's a precarious tightrope that directors, writers, and producers have to walk across. Where does creating a compelling story stop and rollicking in blood begin?

Honor and Loyalty are time-honored themes that never go out of style. Everytime you winced while watching Saving Private Ryan, you knew that Steven Spielberg was using the violence to advance the plot and tell us a complicated story of commitment, patriotism, and love. This told a small story of heroism and taught us more about World War II than dozens of movies about covert bridge demolitions combined.

Gladiator is a completely different movie. Here was a film with stock characters in a recycled plot with lovingly and beautifully choreographed and photographed mayhem. The point was lost with every thrust of a sword. The dialog made me wince nearly as often as the many decapitations. The plot and themes were being used to advance the violence. I fully understand that you can't really tell a gladiator story without spilling some blood on the sand. Director Ridley Scott allowed form and style to trump thought and substance, which is one of his hallmarks. Despite Russell Crowe's persistent scowl, this movie reveled in its brutality, pandering to our basest, most animalistic instincts.

All we're doing now is ratcheting up the intensity level so that hack filmmakers can have an excuse to increase their already excessive levels of violence.

I am not against movies that are created primarily for entertainment. I think my weakness for Godzilla movies is quite evident of that. I don't think it's necessary for every movie to make a statement. But movies such as Gladiator create their own statements due to their impact on society. Gladiator was supposed to be a Big Epic Movie. What we got was vacuous, frilly entertainment.

Due to a weird confluence of space and time, I rented Gladiator the same weekend I bought a Robotech boxed set. Running roughly the same themes, Robotech provided me with a more satisfying and adult viewing experience.

Robert Parson correspondent mentioned in Playstation Magazine. A little late-breaking news here (but is it also live and local?) - I've just gotten word that the August issue of U.S. Playstation Magazine includes a mention of If you're checking the site out for the first time after seeing us in the pages of Playstation Magazine, welcome - and we hope you'll stick around!

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