To my nephews: Drew and, when he is old enough to be subverted by it, Luke.
Moses was a spotty boy with reedy legs and a reedy voice, who dwelt in the ancient land of Egypt. But he never really felt at home there. “I don’t see the point of all these angular buildings” he said to himself, “and there’s never enough milk and honey to go around. Perhaps I should leave and see the world?” So he climbed to the top of the tallest pyramid to plead his case to Pharaoh.
He huffed and he puffed, but he did not fall down. Pharaoh sat atop a pyramidal throne of gold under the blazing sun, an uncomfortable yet traditional arrangement. Three score slaves and six fanned him steadily with palm leaves, to steady the ship of state and keep it from the shoals of capriciousness. No-one wanted a repeat of the infamous ‘bricks without straw’ edict, handed down on the hottest day of the year. Moses paused to catch his breath and gather his thoughts, borrowing a palm leaf to cool himself. The movement caught Pharaoh’s eye. “What are you doing here, boy?” thundered the tetchy ruler from his lofty perch. In accordance with protocol, Moses fell to his knees and gave voice to his dilemma through the medium of song, giving a spirited performance despite his weak voice.
"…and if my mates could come too, that would be grand” added Moses as an afterthought. Pharaoh was not unmoved, he sipped from a vial of chilled date juice while the slaves beat faster, considering his response. While impressed by the lad’s rhyming of ‘double’ with ‘trouble’ he could not ignore the disrespectful form of address and somewhat ominous, bullying tone – that was no way to talk to the son of Ra! He took a bite of a McPharaoh burger and hardened his heart.
“No, I will not let you go!” proclaimed Pharaoh with finality, spitting a spray of pharonic crumbs.
Moses was outraged, he turned his back and stamped and stomped his way to the base of the pyramid. “There’ll be trouble all right” he wheezed. First he borrowed his mate Aaron's best poking stick. Then he took an enormous bottle of dye from the scribes' hall and the biggest bucket he could find and went down to the river Nile, life of the land. He poured the dye into the river, turning its waters red. With the stick he parted the reeds and parted the waters, searching up and down the bank for his warriors of justice, until the bucket was full to the brim.
So, after 20 years Independence Day is getting a sequel. As you can probably tell from the image above I'm not a big fan of the original. I can't claim the high ground here, there are films in the same ballpark of dumb that I like, but I found ID4's blend of the improbable turns, jingoism and utter disregard for physics particularly irritating. If a good film is all about immersion and suspension of disbelief my inner Thomas started climbing the walls in a bid to grab my attention. When watching a movie for the first time I prefer to turn off my critical faculties, to experience rather than appraise it, but this isn’t something I can control.
Alarm bells started clanging when, with gigantic saucers poised over population centres, we’re told that the aliens have hijacked our communications satellites and embedded a secret countdown. You have to wonder why they bothered to do this, when exactly the same effect could have been obtained by equipping each ship with an egg-timer.
(Think about this for a moment, why a countdown? Hacking our satellites and leaving a communications channel open I can just about buy, it could be useful for synchronising an attack. Although given the aliens’ resources – they turn up in a mothership a quarter the size of the Moon – it seems a bit unnecessary. Why take the risk of tipping us off?)
The actual assault, when it comes, is surprisingly puny. We’ve had far more devastating weapons since 1945, capable of producing fireballs that no dog can outrun, and which aren’t defeated by corners. (Very few films would be improved by cooking a dog, ID4 is one of them.)
This approach gives us plenty of time to goggle and gloat over the destruction at hand. (Oh no, the White House has been destroyed! Who will ratify the amendment to the bill proposed by the under-secretary to the sub-committee?) It’s nothing compared to the devastation that a 15 mile wide flying saucers would cause at a sedate 300 miles-per-hour, any structure would be flattened by the shockwave. Either the driver isn’t on the same page or the aliens are playing with us, as a cat does with a mouse.
The reality of an alien invasion would be simply this – anyone who could get here could wipe us out for little additional effort. The Chelyabinsk meteor was about 65 feet across and the energy released was comparable to a large nuclear warhead, fortunately dispersed over a wide area and at a high altitude. Anything coming in from interstellar space would be travelling much faster and with a considerably more energy. In the case of the ID4 mothership just tossing out their garbage as they scudded past would be more than enough to do us in.
As for the finale of the film, with its famous hack to disable the force fields of the alien ships, I concede that that it makes a grand public service announcement about the importance of proper computer security. One that’s too often ignored, our race’s most common passwords being “123456” and the ever reliable “password”. In the ID4 universe a quick read of this xkcd cartoon would have been enough to doom humanity. We don’t win because we’re smart, or brave, or plucky; we win because our adversaries are irredeemably dumb. In the entire 145 minute runtime they aren’t permitted to show the slightest hint of intelligence or personality.
Unsurprisingly, my expectations for the sequel aren’t terribly high. What do I expect? Spectacular CGI, wooden acting, derring-do, iPhone product placement and obliterated monuments. (With Hollywood working its way down the UNESCO world heritage list and ISIS working its way up it I wouldn’t like to speculate where the two will meet.)
How does an alien go about casting a horoscope?
On a typical day this would be a trivial task for the experienced astrologer. She would ask the client for their place and date of hatching, feed the answer into her Crystal Procrastination Unit and interpret the resulting star-chart using her exceptionally well-honed sense of intuition, guided by the recorded wisdom of the sages and the ages. A Quorzok that emerged from the hatching pool while the pale light of the Stalker glitters behind the head of the Great Ruminant is surely destined to become a famous bantha-hunter – although perhaps metaphorically, especially if they happen to work in administration.
But today our astrologer has a problem. Perhaps, she reflects, if she had the foresight to consult her own horoscope this morning she would have been forewarned. For some decades ago now the Quorzoks discovered the secret of interstellar flight; the expectant client now before her hatched – not under star and sighing wind – but under blinking lights and whirring of fan blades. He is the first Quorzok to be birthed in the depths of space, far from their home world, or indeed any other. She scribbles a few words to hide her surprise.
Returning to her CPU, she enters the co-ordinates of his hatching and is dismayed. From that distant vantage many of the familiar constellations are unrecognisable. Even the mighty Great Ruminant slouches unsteadily, unwell or intoxicated. Worse still, all the home planets descend as one through the Ruminant’s bowels, indistinguishable from each other in their orbits around a dim, unremarkable star.
Troubled and adrift, the astrologer considers the problem anxiously. She turns to a familiar guide and comfort - an anthology titled The Wisdom of the Seven and a Half Sages - yet the words seem strangely empty. Perhaps, she muses, the client experienced a spiritual hatching upon his return to the Quorzok homeworld. Her enquiry meets with a discouraging response: his homecoming was a mere six seasons ago. How could he have lived the balance of his years with no destiny? Is he somehow beyond destiny? Yet she judges - by the quiver of his lower mandible and the piping of his voice - that this client would not welcome that news. An uncomfortable pressure builds in her gas bladder, brought on by stress and uncertainty.
With a deep inhalation the astrologer begins to speak, drawing upon intuition rather more than usual. The client departs eight pizeks poorer but reassured: it seems that now is an opportune time to reorganise the office filing system.
The astrologer, pressure released, relaxes and congratulates herself on a difficult job well done. Her gaze sweeps the artfully precise chamber and she rises to reward herself with lunch. On the desk lie unheeded the words of the half-sage, obscured by her discarded notes: “A seed of doubt, once planted...”
A Typical Assignment
The word 'hero' is bandied about a lot these days, particularly in a sporting context. A crucial tackle on the football field is more likely to be hailed as heroic than a heart bypass operation, possibly because the latter isn't typically performed in an arena of 50,000 screaming fans.
So I'm reluctant to use the term. However, every once in a while I come across an individual so bold and selfless that I'm forced to concede it's the only word that fits. One such unsung hero is Wikipedia's Scale Guy.
Untroubled by the largest carnivorous dinosaur and - with apologies to Sam Neill - star of Jurassic Park 3.
It's not simply a case of a dangerous job done well. It takes a special kind of person to confront such peril with cheery fortitude.
Unbowed before a platoon of goose-stepping tyrannosaurs.
Untrampled and ungored by triceratops both prorsus (?) and horridus.
Uneviscerated by a pack of raptors.
While mostly known for his work with dinosaurs, Scale Guy has occasionally branched out into other categories of peril.
So if you have something dangerous and no-one else is willing to stand next to it, maybe you can call - Scale Guy.
Images by wikimedia users Dropzink, Matt Martyniak, Pilcha, Ornitholestes and Kurzon.