Time Chasers

I recently came across a fascinating interview with David Giancola, director of the movie Time Chasers. A cult classic after it was aired on Mystery Science Theater 3000, Time Chasers is connected in my mind to Hobgoblins which was also an early movie from an independent director which became far more famous and made vastly more money than anyone expected once it was featured on MST3K. They’re also two of my favorite MST3K episodes.

About a year ago I started doing some research into Hobgoblins. Like all low-budget films, it made extensive use of a few locations. Then when re-watching Time Chasers, I realized how much bigger a film Time Chasers was. It had far more locations, more props, flying planes, a crashed car. The thing which really made me notice, though, was the fight scene on the wing of a flying airplane. It’s not brilliant, but all things considered it actually looks decent.

That’s hard. And not cheap.

That’s when I looked up the budgets for the movies. Hobgoblins had a budget of $15,000 while Time Chasers had a budget ten times that—exactly; it’s budget was $150,000. Though I discovered reading the interview that that’s not entirely accurate. Time Chasers originally had a $40,000 budget but then secured additional funding as it was going over budget (it took three years between the beginning of the project and the end of post-production). Still, a budget ten times as large shows.

In the interview David Giancola mentions that they get compared to movies where the catering budget was larger than the entire budget for Time Chasers. I think it’s worth noting that the reason it gets compared to big budget movies is that while it’s not nearly as good as a big budget movie, it’s comparable. Hobgoblins is not. And I think it’s impressive that David Giancola managed to accomplish that at the age of twenty (to twenty three) on such a small budget.

I’ve said before (though I forget whether I said it on this blog) that the biggest fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000 are probably people who would love to be part of making a movie. There’s a magic to movies. We enjoy MST3K so much because we know that we’d happily make a cheesy movie if that’s all we had the budget for. We’re really laughing at ourselves.

Though we also enjoy thinking about what we’d do better. For example, I wouldn’t name the main villain Generic Corporation. (It took me something like ten viewings to realize that’s what Gen Corp. stood for.)

But ultimately I think this is why Time Chasers works so well for Mystery Science Theater 3000. It feels like it’s within reach, but it’s pretty good for something that’s within reach. So, hat’s off to David Giancola. He made a much better movie than most people would have on such a small budget.

And watching it with Mike, Crow, and Tom Servo has given me many hours of enjoyment.

Breathless

If you’re not familiar with Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, he’s probably best known for songs about murder (Where the Wild Roses Go, Stagger Lee, Henry Lee) or apocalyptic situations (Red Right Hand). The murder is often related to sex, by the way. Which makes it especially interesting that Nick Cave also wrote this song:

It sounds like a love song and is, but it’s a love song to God.

Nick Cave isn’t much of a believer—according to his wikipedia page he said in an interview:

I’m not religious, and I’m not a Christian, but I do reserve the right to believe in the possibility of a god. It’s kind of defending the indefensible, though; I’m critical of what religions are becoming, the more destructive they’re becoming. But I think as an artist, particularly, it’s a necessary part of what I do, that there is some divine element going on within my songs.

Oh, those nasty religions which insist that people should be good instead of just giving into every impulse that they have, and that they have a nature and can’t be anything that they want. They’re so mean with the way that they get in the way of everyone’s fun. But Nick Cave has a career in entertainment to think of and most entertainers are degenerates of one kind or another and degenerates crave little as much as they do affirmation. But when it comes to a songwriter, look to his songs, not to his interviews.

And in his songs we find a love song to God.

80s Movie Ending

For many people, and especially those who grew up in the 1980s, there was a type of movie that’s very recognizable. The example which most stands out in my mind is The Goonies, but there were a ton in a similar style. Which is why I found this short film so funny:

As a fun side-note, the movie Roller Boogie seems to be the first 80s movie made, which is very curious because it was made in 1979 and includes the clothes and hair typical of the (late) 1970s, making it quite a curiosity. (The basic plot of the plucky kids who have to save the thing from the businessmen who want to foreclose on it in order to build something else probably pre-dated Roller Boogie, I just haven’t seen an example of it earlier.)

The Magic of Lighting in Photography

This video, which is apparently a trailer for a music video rather than a documentary about the power of lighting in photography, is absolutely fascinating:

If you take pictures, or even just look at pictures, it is worth watching this video in full because it shows you just how powerful the effect of lighting is.

Part of where lighting gains its power, by the way, is that our brain does an enormous amount of processing on the images it gets from the eyes. Not only does it remove the blood vessels and the blind spot in front of our optic nerve from what we perceive based on its knowledge of what it is that it’s looking at (the origin of many optical illusions), it also does color correction.

We’re used to thinking of an object as having a color based on what light it reflects but this is only partially true. A red ball does, in fact, absorb green and blue (etc) and only reflect red, but the light which reaches our eyes is dependent on what light hits the ball. In white light, the standard description of color more-or-less applies. But in, for example, blue light, no light comes back from the ball and it looks black. In red light, the same amount of red light comes back from a red ball as comes back from a white ball, so the white ball looks red. Or, depending on how our brain decides to interpret it, the red ball looks white. That’s the basis of those secret messages which were printed in blue against a red squiggly background. In white light the squiggles dominate our ability to see images, but in red light (usually achieved by using red cellophane as a filter) the red squiggles look no different than the white paper and so disappear, while the blue text which was the same brightness (in white light) as the red squiggles now show up as black.

There’s all sorts of interesting tricks which can be pulled off with light, too, because the red, green, and blue photo-receptors in our eyes are not equally sensitive. Green seems the brightest to us, so you can make the colors of, for example, tropical fish pop more by illuminating them with lights that have a lot of red and blue but not much green; thus the amount of red and blue which reflects off the fish compared to the overall brightness is higher and they look more colorful (this is why they always look better in the pet store unless you invest in the special lights for your home aquarium—on the plus side those lights are better for aquarium pants, too).

There are similar considerations when lighting people with little pigment in their skin. Light which has too much red in it can easily make their skin look very reddish.

There’s another curious effect which is that the overall quantity of light will change things because every photo-receptor (whether in a camera or an eye) has a maximum amount of stimulation. If you can use so much light that you can exceed the maximum amount of stimulation, you can “wash” the colors out as everything tends towards white since the relative balance of colors changes. You can use tricks like this to lighten or darken someone’s skin in a photo shoot, for example.

Cameras don’t like by commission, but they lie by omission all the time.

The Great Ptolemaic Smackdown

If you haven’t read The Great Ptolemaic Smackdown by TOF, you really, really should. It’s the history of the overthrow of the ptolemaic theory of the solar system to the present heliocentric theory of the solar system. Gallileo is involved, but is not the primary subject. It’s really quite fascinating and more than worth the time to read it. Two tidbits, to wet your appetite:

TOF once wrote an article entitled “The Great Ptolemaic Smackdown and Down ‘n Dirty Mud-Wrassle” which described the century-long progress from the first seriously-worked out heliocentric mathematical model to the final overthrow of geocentrism.  A century, more-or-less, is generally what it takes for quantum mechanics, general relativity, and sundry other theories to progress from “wild hypothesis overthrowing the wisdom of the ages” to “standard model,” so there was nothing unusual in the resistance to heliocentrism from the scientific establishment of the day.  As Max Planck once put it, a new scientific theory gradually gets accepted by scientists because “all the old scientists have died.”  

and slightly later:

Before you laugh at your ancestors, TOF invites you to prove that the earth is, contrary to your senses, in wild and careening double motion: spinning like a top and whipping around the sun without (somehow) leaving the Moon and Air behind, and without everyone stumbling around like dunkards.  You are not allowed to appeal to authority or to the success of NASA, or suchlike things.  You’ve got eyeballs and armillaries, and that’s pretty much it.  Go. TOF will wait here.

Astonishingly, Late Moderns, who hold heliocentrism as a sort of holy doctrine, are generally unaware of the empirical evidences that would justify it; while Early Moderns, who thought geocentrism dough-face obvious, were well aware of the evidences that falsified heliocentrism. These evidences, plucked variously from Aristotle, Oresme, and Riccoli follow; but be it noted that both Oresme and Riccoli also supplied rebuttals for most of them and Aristotle cautioned against taking his cosmology as more certain than he himself did…

It really is an excellent history of the time, and you really, really should read the whole thing. It explores why the scientific establishment of the time was set against heliocentrism—for example, they didn’t much care whether the earth was at the center or the sun was at the center, but the idea that the earth was moving contradicted all available evidence both on the earth and of astronomical observations. Go read it. You’ll be glad that you did.

Bad Self Defense & Captain Krav Maga

Ramsey Dewey (and friends) can be quite funny when they put their mind to it. This video compares and tries to replicate two self defense videos which teach one how to defend against multiple opponents with guns:

I will say, though, that while the humor is entirely correct, and moreover that fighting multiple opponents with guns is probably not going to end well, there was an interesting point that wasn’t highlighted here. In Ramsey’s reproduction, the gunmen kept a safe distance from Ramsey. There was a curious self-defense video I saw which made the interesting point that while trained people will indeed keep a safe distance when they have guns, trained people rarely rob people with guns. They can make money honestly.

The sort of people who rob others on the street with guns don’t have training, and moreover use the gun primarily to assert their dominance and only secondarily as a weapon. And indeed, security footage does show that criminals often do wave guns right in people’s faces rather than keeping a safe distance. This doesn’t change the right thing to do when threatened with a gun (since the smallest mistake can result in being killed) but it is an interesting point of human psychology.

The Last Psychiatrist on The Dove Beauty Sketches

If you haven’t read the blog (which, alas, hasn’t been updated in years) of The Last Psychiatrist, you’ve been missing out. I’m going to highlight one of my favorite posts of his: The Dove Beauty Sketches Scam. Just go read it.

But if you want to know something about it first, it starts by showing this clip from a movie about a con artist who was approached by a psychologist and is teaching her about con artistry at her request:

Then The Last Psychiatrist asks this question:

Quick test for a con: what questions does it not occur to you to ask?  While you were memorizing the language and the pacing of the scam, you didn’t ask yourself, why didn’t Mantegna take that guy’s money at the end?  Why did he let him off the hook?  “He was just doing it as an example.” Oh, like when a guy says he’ll put in just the tip, “I want to see if it fits”?   It’s not like the psychiatrist doesn’t know he’s a thief– that’s why they were there in the first place.   So he purposely didn’t steal the money to make the psychiatrist feel at ease, feel closer to him.  To earn her confidence by first giving her his.  She’s the mark.  The aborted short con is part of an unseen long con.

The Last Psychiatrist has a very blunt and provocative style, but he uses it to deliver a lot of insight.

Half-Swording

I first discovered Skallagrim through this video in which he demonstrated that half-swording is real:

One of the things I really liked about it is that it’s in the genre one might call proving that history is real. There’s a type of skeptic who likes to assume that everything outside of his experience is fake. Why such skeptics do this is a whole long topic for another day. But for the moment it suffices that it’s always fun to see the debunkers debunked.

As a small side-node, this is why I could never be very into myth-busters when they weren’t confirming a myth. They often did a half-assed or quarter-assed job. It just isn’t fun to watch people generalize from their own incompetence. There’s an awful lot of that, though, especially when it comes to online atheism.

Which is why it’s so fun to see a competent person demonstrate what skill can do.

The Totally Phantom Menace

Not recent, but so much fun:

For those interested in good fight choreographies, here’s Jet Li fighting an entire room of police officers who were just in martial arts training:

You’ll note that there is the use of space and blocking to generally force his opponents to attack him one-on-one. Moreover he moves so fast that the time between attacks is much shorter; in some cases the two opponents attacking in series is basically them attacking at the same time just not in perfect unison.

It’s still a choreography, of course, and not realistic. But it’s a choreography done with a lot of skill and in general an eye for detail. Even when you pause it and look carefully about the only major criticism you could level is that the opponents almost invariably go for big swinging strikes and never use jabs. That said, at least their big swinging strikes are fast. Oh, and Jet Li turns not because it’s pretty but because there are people behind him.

Final Fantasy Victory Theme With Lyrics

Warning: mild adult lyrics.

Once one is done laughing, I will note it’s strange how some moderns are all but allergic to the concept of self defense. Or possibly the concept of an in-game story which gives the characters motivations different from the player’s motivations.

In Final Fantasy it wasn’t the party which attacked the woodland creatures but the woodland creatures who attacked the party. The main characters are celebrating at the end of it because the attempt to murder them failed. That’s a thing worth celebrating.

I’ve really never understood this blind spot moderns have. Granted, they’re not great at telling the difference between justified killing in self defense in real life and murder, but I think in video games they simply can’t get past the fact that the player was looking for combat. This suggests that the problem might be a lack of imagination—that they’re incapable of playing pretend for the sake of a game.

A British Lieutenant Playing A Star Wars RPG

If you haven’t seen this video where Owen Stephens tells the story of the time he was running a Star Wars RPG playtest and an (probably World War II) British Lieutenant showed up to the table, it’s well worth the six minutes:

I really love that they blast through the material because the Lieutenant, being an officer, does what an officer does: he leads them. He lays out plans which make sense and in which the boys at the table can see their parts and so they do what people do in the presence of a competent leader: they follow. And together, they did what people cooperating do: a lot more than they can do on their own.

I think my favorite part is when he explains to the boys at the table what a commando raid is.

There’s a lot that could be said about how young men need older men and it is one of the great follies of our civilization that we separate the two groups so completely, but I think it’s sufficiently obvious in this video that it actually does go without saying.