Oddly Shaped Dice III: Quirks

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Has it been a couple years already since we did the Quirks one-shot for d20 Modern?

The premise was a family of adventurers...the sons of Ulysses Quirk (think Doc Savage / Dr. Quest) and his wife Elizabeth (Race Bannon by way of Emma Peel), they spent their formative years traveling the world, challenging the unknown, etc. Now the boys are all grown up and gone their separate ways (as CIA agent, daredevil, super-scientist, explorer, etc.), but they have to reunite to rescue Dad after an experiment in applied quantum physics sticks him in another dimension.

One of the problems with one-shots is that if the PCs are strangers (i.e., this is a one-shot to them, too), you don't have the benefit of playing well-established relationships...but if they are a regular team, it's hard to model that, too. This was a nice compromise...the boys have a lot of history, but none of it recent. They all had a common goal --- rescue Dad --- but they would all logically have different approaches. Lots of fun was had mixing the action movie hoo-hah, the sci-fi premise, and the petty sibling rivalry like we get at my mom's house every Thanksgiving.

Were I to revisit this premise, I think I would make all the Quirk boys action hero / geniuses, just in different fields...a combat surgeon, maybe an adventuring engineer a la Dirk Pitt, a computer security expert, etc.

CT's Ten Movies in a Weekend, part three

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The schedule has been posted for those wanting to follow along next weekend. You can see it by clicking here:

Carlin Trammel Rewatchable Walrus Film Festival

I also wanted to take a moment to list some movies that didn't make the cut.

Three Amigos
Galaxy Quest
Hoosiers
The Princess Bride

It was also a tough call between the first and second Back to the Future movies. And Die Hard 3 could easily make a list like this for me, too.

Finally, I opted not to include any comic book movies on this list because I figured that a comic book-themed weekend might make for a good follow up someday. The first Superman movie, Superman II (Donner Cut), the first two Spider-Man movies, X2, Hellboy, Blade II, Batman Begins, The Rocketeer, and The Phantom all could be part of a Ten Comic Book Movies in a Weekend.

CT's Ten Movies in a Weekend, part two

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This is what I have in mind for the line up:

FRIDAY
Office Space followed by Braveheart. Braveheart is three hours long so it makes sense to pair it up with one of the movies that runs 90 minutes or less. And as I mentioned in the comment on the previous post, Office Space provides that transition from work into the film-filled weekend. Plus, both movies are about freedom.

SATURDAY
I want to kick off the day with The Muppet Movie. Saturday morning seems like a good spot for Muppets. I want to follow that up with Buckaroo Banzai. With its roots in pulp action serials, the late morning/early afternoon spot seems perfect for Buckaroo Banzai. Those two are set in stone, but I'm a little less sure about the next two. I've got Back to the Future II next. The flux capacitor owes its design to Buckaroo, so I like these two next to each other. Next I've currently got Red Dawn. Then I'm ending the evening with Die Hard. The best action movie ever made belongs on Saturday night.

SUNDAY
By this point in the weekend, it's all about eye on the prize. So, start off with the shortest movie in the list, Army of Darkness, so we can quickly feel like we've accomplished something that day. Follow that up with Aliens and save my favorite of all, Star Trek II for last.

I think I'll mull it over some more, but for the most part, that's where I'm at. Still, I'm open to suggestions. I'll try to finalize the list this weekend. And I'll also be posting the list of movies that are 11-15...the movies that just didn't quite make it into my weekend.

CT's Ten Movies in a Weekend, part one

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First, let me say that I love my wife and daughter. However, I am greatly looking forward to a weekend without them. The plan for the weekend of August 3-5 is simple in premise, yet elegant in concept. I'm calling it...

CT'S TEN MOVIES IN A WEEKEND!
a.k.a. The Carlin Trammel Rewatchable Walrus Film Festival


It will start on Friday night (8/3) and go through Sunday afternoon (8/5). Very likely two movies Friday night, either five or six on Saturday, and then the remaining ones on Sunday afternoon. I'll be setting the schedule over the next week and I'll post it here once it's done.

I will be inviting some local nerds to attend the CT fest and I'll be inviting long-distance nerds to join me in watching the same movies at the same times I announce. In between movies and bites of fried chicken or pepperoni pizza, I'll be posting some thoughts on the movies.

So, what are the movies I'll be watching? It's ten of my most favorite movies that have the rewatchable walrus. That's to say, these movies may not be the best ever, but I love watching them over and over. Here's the list (in no order):

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Braveheart
Aliens
Die Hard
Back to the Future, Part II
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai
The Muppet Movie
Office Space
Red Dawn
Army of Darkness

I'll be looking forward to your thoughts on the list and any ideas you may have about scheduling.

Marvelous Co-Existence

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I read the news that Samuel L. Jackson and Hillary Swank will be playing bit parts in next year's Iron Man movie. Jackson will presumably be playing Nick Fury and I would guess Swank a strong contender for The Black Widow. There have been rumors circulating that the Iron Man movie would lead into spin-offs and crossovers with a larger Marvel movieverse. It would be unprecedented to see something like this happen within the live action comic book movies.

As much as every fanboy would love to see a Michael Clarke Duncan as Kingpin cameo in one of the Spider-Man movies, it's hard to imagine the Daredevil and Spider-Man movie worlds co-existing. Despite X2's nod to the Fantastic Four, the X-Men movies and the FF movies don't really seem to fit in the same world. In fact, every series that Marvel has generated in the last few years seem to each take place in their own world. No shared universe (save Elektra and Daredevil).

That's understandable for three reasons. Each property has largely been overseen by one creator. David Goyer for Blade, Raimi for Spidey, Tim Story for FF, and Singer for the first two X-Men movies. Everyone has their own creative take on their assigned property and those takes are bound to be different. Even greater than that, many of these properties have been acquired by different studios. A Spidey/X-Men crossover would be awesome, but 20th Century Fox and Sony aren't going to join forces on that very easily. Finally, in most cases, the story dictates a certain uniqueness for the title character(s). Spider-Man is one of a kind, not one of many. Within the Spider-Man movie world, a team of mutants that operate just outside New York would certainly cross paths with Spidey at some point. Or if not, Spidey does not go through any grief for maybe being a mutant. That never even comes up. So, rather than address the issue, better to ignore it.

It's this last point that transfers over to other comic book movies. The DC characters haven't shared much better. I can hardly imagine any other comic book character showing up within the Christopher Reeve Superman films. The first movie references that there are several alien races in the universe known to the Kryptonians. Imagine if they were Oans or Thanagarians. Hard to picture that in the world of the Superman movies. Although Batman Forever contains a nod to the existence of Metropolis, it's hard to imagine the Keaton/Kilmer/Clooney Batman co-existing in a universe with Superman. Even harder to think of the Nolan-directed Batman in the same sci-fi universe as Superman or Green Lantern or fantasy world as Wonder Woman.

Now, Iron Man and some subsequent Marvel movies seem to be exploring this idea co-existence. I hope it's successful and doesn't turn into what happened with the Incredible Hulk made-for-TV movies when they tried to introduce Thor and Daredevil. Entertaining movies, but jarring to think that these characters now co-exist. Smallville has had some success with this idea by introducing a set of Justice League characters. But in order to allow these characters to share the universe, not a single character has remained true to his comic book counterpart.

It will be interesting to see how these factors will play out in a potential shared Marvel Movieverse.

That Guy: James Hong

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James Hong. You know who he is. Maybe you don't know him as "James Hong," but you probably know him as "that old Asian guy." The guy has been in just about everything. Just this weekend, I saw him in two separate shows. Apparently he is the default choice in Hollywood for any Asian character over the age of 55. George Takei, Kim Chan, and Robert Ito are second, third, and fourth choices I suppose.

As I peruse his list of credits on IMDb, I see there are a wealth of my favorite movies and TV shows. So, if my Nerd Lunch cohorts will indulge me, I'd like to salute James Hong by listing a few of the things that he's been a part of that I like so much.

Godzilla
Zorro
The Outer Limits
The Fugitive
The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Mission: Impossible
The Rockford Files
The Bionic Woman
Wonder Woman
Charlie's Angels
Fantasy Island
Dukes of Hazzard
Blade Runner
T.J. Hooker
The A-Team
Big Trouble in Little China
Magnum, PI
MacGuyver
The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.
Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman
X-Files
Dexter's Laboratory
Alias
The West Wing

Go to his IMDb page for a complete list.

Oddly Shaped Dice II: Ninjas v. Nazis

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Ninjas versus Nazis. It writes itself, people.

The basic pitch for this one-shot is “American Ninja” meets “The Dirty Dozen.” In 1942, the OSS starts recruiting resident aliens of Japanese descent with expertise in the little-known discipline of ninjitsu. Some are loyal Americans eager to prove their worth . . . some have a grudge against the Imperial family dating back centuries...some would simply rather go on secret missions in occupied France and Germany rather than sit in an internment camp. The OSS puts the recruits through intensive Ranger training, and produces a commando squad of unsurpassed deadliness. For variety, maybe some of the characters are not “ninja” per se, but masters of a related art like archery or swordsmanship.

While I enjoy the more ridiculous pulpy WWII stuff a la Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos, my thought is to keep the ninja themselves the only fantastic element. No robots or jetpacks or Nazi superscience, just the Zen simplicity of a WWII ninja commando unit.

Fan Fiction

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I fully admit that I am a nerd. In fact, I've been saying that since before it was cool to be nerdy or geeky. However, some of my interests take me off the beaten path of "nerdom" to subjects like pro-wrestling and soap operas. Others keep me from treading where other nerds dare. And one of those places I just won't go is fan fiction.

CT and I have had conversations about this topic before, but I have thought about it recently due to some discussions of the DC Comics fan film, Grayson, that I ran across at Wrestlecrap (of all places). I'm not one of the resident comic book nerds on this site, so I had never heard of Grayson despite it making quite the splash a few years back. Normally I'd point out some of the hallmarks of fan fiction that are present in Grayson (bad dialogue, mish-mash narrative, etc.), but I can't since it's a trailer for a movie THAT DOES NOT EXIST.

Can anybody explain the appeal of Grayson or fan fiction in general to me? Are there some examples I should check out that would make me a believer?

Oddly Shaped Dice

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I started played old-school pen-and-paper RPGs when I was around twelve years old. I did the old Marvel Superhero game, then first edition AD&D, then Top Secret S.I. and AD&D 2nd Edition . . . over time, I transitioned from playing every week (circa 1989) to playing every year or so. But a lot of my nerdly musings still take the form of . . . this would make a great one-shot (i.e., a game session which is not intended to lead to subsequent follow-up adventures). And in that spirit . . .

Pulp Era Tournament Fighter

I'm a big fan of martial arts movies, particularly "Enter the Dragon", and of pre-war pulp adventure, so this is a natural. The idea would be to take the familiar trapping of the tournament fighter genre and pulp it up --- lost cities, Tibetan masters, Fu Manchu, etc. Sort of like Jean-Claude Van Damme's "The Quest" but with better execution. Ideally, this would be a multiple part adventure, as the heroes travel from San Francisco to Shanghai, across Central China to the Lost City of Shangri-La. It might make sense to start with an all-American cast of characters (a boxer, an ex-Legionnaire savatuer, a Chinese-American Shaolin master, maybe an Olympic wrestling champ) and have them move into increasingly unknown territory.

Emphasis on the "Lunch"

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Back when the Nerd Lunch Trio met in person, our primary choice for lunch was Quiznos. Since situations changed and our in person meetings were abandoned, I have stopped going to Quiznos as often. I can count on one hand the number of times I've been to Quiznos in the last two years. That's no slight to Quiznos at all...just the circumstances.

However, not too long ago, I did visit Quiznos again and I had one of their newer signature sandwiches. The Prime Rib & Peppercorn it was called. It was so good, I think it actually knocked the Black Angus out of my top spot for most favoritest Quiznos sandwich.

Now I'm living on a stricter budget, so frequent trips out for lunch are a thing of the past. And when they do happen, it's a trip to BK for Whopper, Jrs. What about the rest of you out there? Where do you like to take your lunch? What's your favorite thing to order? And don't spare any of the mouth-watering details.

So Bad, It's Good

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I watched the first disc of the first season of the 1988 Superboy TV series this weekend. It's bad. Very bad. Especially the guy they got to play Lex Luthor in the first season.* Despite the fact that it really was bad, I did enjoy watching it on some level. And I got to thinking about things that are so bad that they actually cycle around and become good.

I have four reasons why I think this happens. At least for me.

Doing the "MST3K"
Mystery Science Theater 3000 took the existing concept of getting together to watch bad movies and make fun of them with a running commentary. This is something that fellow Nerd Lunch contributor Jeeg and I have done with several things. When Superfriends debuted on Cartoon Network, we had a blast sitting there poking holes in all the stories and crude animation. And we watched all three Star Wars prequels together with the idea that we would just sit and make jokes about the movies. And that was good times except with Attack of the Clones which was so nonsensical that we weren't able to make any jokes. All we could do is look at each other and say, "HUH?!" Even Catwoman was an enjoyable experience when I went with a group to watch it. (Sadly, Jeeg could not make it that night.) The movie was so absurd that we just had fun laughing at it. Certainly the key to this type of experience is to share it with someone who shares your sense of humor. I've sat through many a bad movie that might have been worth watching had a buddy suffered with me.

A Rewrite Away from Being Good
This reason may only apply to creative types. Sometimes, I don't mind watching a bad movie if I can see the potential in it. To me Superman III is one solid rewrite away from being an okay movie. Star Trek: Nemesis is a rewrite a away from an okay movie. X-Men III was probably two drafts away from being good. And I do get some enjoyment out of mentally fixing these movies. I have often used these movies as writing exercises by typing up revised outlines for the movies. Despite the added enjoyment, it's frustrating in a different way because they weren't too far away from getting it done right in the first place.

The One Redeemable Quality
Sometimes there's a bad movie that is worth watching because of one redeemable quality. One scene may save a movie. One actor may make a movie worth enduring. I just watched Equilibrium. Not a good movie really. But Christian Bale and Sean Bean make it watchable. Star Trek V is one of the worst Star Trek movies, but the chemistry between Shatner, Nimoy and Co. has made it worth enduring for me. Dick Tracy is not enjoyable at all, except it looks great. Awesome art direction in that movie. Xanadu is hard to sit through, but there's some fun music in it. Sound of Music is a real yawner until the end when the Von Trapp family gets mauled by bears. Oh wait...I'm doing that rewrite thing, aren't I?

The Guilty Pleasure
Some movies are bad. And you know it. Yet you love the movie anyway. And there's no real reason for it. Something about it clicks for you. And you won't defend it. If someone started trashing it, you'd just acknowledge that they're right. But you don't care. You announce your love for the movie anyway. For me, Desperado is such a movie. I know it's not a good movie. The plot, what little there is, is contrived and derivative. Things happen for no apparent reason. Guys have guitar cases that turn into machine guns and rocket launchers. Why? I don't know. It just happens. But that movie is so fun.

Where did the Superboy TV series fall in that list? Probably in the "a rewrite away" category. But, my three-year-old daughter enjoyed watching it just because it was Superboy. So, I suppose on some level, there was one redeemable quality about the show, too.

So, I open the floor. What are some movies or other things that are so bad that they actually become good? Does your list fit any of the reasons above or can you think of other reasons?

*So bad was Scott Wells, the actor who played Lex Luthor, that I had to IMDb him hoping that he did not work again after his departure from Superboy. I was happy to see that after one more bit part his acting career was over.

Main Character Deaths

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Captain America recently died in an issue of Captain America published by Marvel Comics. Shot by a sniper and betrayed by a friend, Cap went down fairly easily after over 60 years of surviving foes such as the Red Skull, Doctor Doom and even Galactus. Setting aside completely the debate about whether he'll be back in six months or whether he should have been killed in the first place, I want to look at some main character deaths and examine whether or not the character truly went out in a manner worthy of who that character is.

Everyone dies. And almost everyone dies in a non-heroic fashion. Be it old age, disease, car accident, or any other number of common ways, we probably aren't going to go out while saving the planet or a school bus full of kids. That's what our fictional heroes are supposed to be doing. And if they die, that's what they should die doing. Maybe that's not "real," but well, it's not real. We also see these characters escape death over and over again, that when death finally catches up with them, we want it to be something more than anything they've encountered before. And we want them to win while dying, going out in a blaze of glory.

Superman was killed, temporarily, while battling Doomsday in the comics. While not a particularly great story, the writers adequately set up the creature as unstoppable. This wasn't something Superman had faced before and he was giving his all by the end of the story. As far as comic deaths go, the Flash (Barry Allen) was one of the better ones. Told in Crisis #8, Flash did what he did best and ran to stop a weapon that would destroy the world. And he did it with practically no witnesses. No glory. Just the right thing to do. His ultimate fate was told in Secret Origins Annual #2 where we see that he ran so fast that he went back in time and actually became the lightning that struck himself granting him the powers of super speed.

Joss Whedon killed off several of his characters in Buffy, Angel, and Firefly. Quite possibly the best was Cordelia's death during Angel season 5. Having already been written out by saying she was in a coma, she awakes for one episode to help Angel solve his biggest problem at the time. The end is left somewhat vague, but we find out that she wasn't awake after all. She had passed away.

At the top of my personal list, I'd have to place Spock's death in Star Trek II. The story was masterfully crafted and set up from the opening scene of the movie. The villain is as good as dead, but so is the entire crew...an entire crew made up of old friends and cadets. They are not going to escape certain death unless something drastic is done. So, Spock heads into the engine room that's filled with lethal radiation and restarts the engine. In the process, he dies and is able to get one final exchange out with his friend. Of course, the death is undone in the next movie, but this was still a gutsy move at the time and was well played.

Despite a great death scene for Spock in Star Trek II, the biggest offender in poor main character deaths is the Star Trek universe. The death of Lt. Yar in the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation set the precedent by seeing her get killed by an intelligent pool of tar. Her last act was trying to cross the tar creature to get to a crashed shuttlecraft containing Troi and an extra. In the end, her death was no more heroic than a "red shirt's" death. Perhaps that was the point.

Jadzia Dax was offed in the sixth season finale of Deep Space Nine. Her death was foreshadowed as early as the first episode. There was a sense that Jadzia was to be a temporary character. Problem was, after six years we grew to love that character. We saw her hanging out with Klingons. She got through several scrapes using her fighting prowess or by outthinking her opponents. Then, Gul Dukat magically appears, shoots her with special energy powers and he's gone. And so is she. Some very disappointing writing there.

Data's death in Star Trek: Nemesis was poorly set up and tried to evoke the Spock death scene. Despite being a huge NextGen fan and Data fan, the scene only made me angry. Not because Data was killed, but because of how poorly it was done. Of course, poorly done doesn't even begin to describe the awful, awful death of Captain Kirk in Star Trek Generations. Even the writers admit to it being bad on their excellent commentary track on the DVD.

Another major offender in poor main character deaths is 24. The worst was the way they killed off Tony in season 5, but even beginning with Teri Bauer in the first season, with one notable exception the deaths have been random, pointless, and gain the heroes nothing. Only George Mason's death in season 2 stands out as a hero's death. Sadly, he had been nothing like a hero up until that point.

Some deaths I'm torn on. Supporting characters can often be killed to advance the plot for the main characters. We saw this handled greatly with the death of Alex Whitman in Roswell. He didn't go out in a blaze of glory, but his death advanced the plot and spurred the main characters to action. And the episode where he died was masterfully written by Ronald D. Moore and was so well-thought out and perfectly executed.

Same goes for the death of Joyce Summers in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Her death took Buffy to a new direction and was handled respectfully and artistically. One of Joss Whedon's most powerful episodes.

Of course, Joss Whedon used character deaths to heighten suspense in Serenity. Book's death gave the characters motivation to take the offensive and Wash's death told audiences all bets are off, anyone can die because anyone just did. Wash's death followed what was probably his greatest moment of piloting prowess. He did was he was born to do, did it well, and unfortunately, that was it for him. This death could arguably go up in the list of great and heroic deaths. Although, killing Wash at this point makes his dramatic escape from death just a little while earlier in the episode "War Stories" almost seem pointless. Why, as a viewer, do I want to go through all of that if he's just going to wind up dead anyway? Much like how Ripley risks it all and more to save Newt in Aliens only to find that she's died before Alien 3 even begins.

Maybe it’s too much to ask for a main character to have a noble, worthy death. But if they’re not going to, then why kill them at all?

Assembling the Team / Getting the Band Back Together

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I used to play sax in an R&B band. I quit in 2000, and the band folded a couple of years later. Our old frontman just got offered a nice chunk of change to do a show on Labor Day, and he took the money, and now he's scrambling to get the band back together. More on this as the story develops.

And this reminds me of one of my very favorite movie sequences . . . Assembling the Team. Best example: "The Magnificent Seven". One guy decides he's going to need some help on this one, so we get a series of vignettes introducing us to the members of this rag-tag group one at a time.

The general rule is that everyone has to be doing something cool when you show up to recruit them --- James Coburn just happened to be killing a guy with a throwing knife, for example. Steve Cropper is playing a Holiday Inn gig when Jake and Elwood come for him. An exception to the rule: in "The Dirty Dozen", everyone is just sitting in their cells, not doing anything particularly cool, but hey, it was prison.

There was a strange version of this cliche in an episode of "Kung Fu: The Legend Continues", where Caine disappeared and his son decided to round up a bunch of former guest stars to find him. And they all sucked. You looked at the assembled group and said, that's it, we're screwed.

Walrus Kong

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I had the opportunity to see the Peter Jackson-direct King Kong extended edition last night. Now, I know that in choosing to watch the extended edition, I almost can't make this complaint, but I will anyway. That movie was too long.

Uh...there are probably spoilers in here, but not too many and I'll be fairly vague.

Story:

I had a hard time figuring out who the main character of this movie was. for about 90 minutes, I would have argued strongly that the movie was primarily about Jack Black's character, Carl Denham. Although, Naomi Watts was a strong contender for much of that portion of the movie, too. Once King Kong showed up, it was hard to determine who starred. Jack Black stayed a strong presence throughout the movie, but suddenly Adrian Brody was a major character and so was Kong. This made it hard to figure out who to root for as the movie moved along.

In fact, almost everyone was likable on some level, so when characters did butt heads, the conflict seemed forced. For example, when Brody's character and Kyle Chandler's character get into an argument, but both sides were valid. In fact, Chandler, the character we're probably not supposed to root for, had the more sensible argument.

Some of the logic went out the window to move the story along. How many lives must be lost to save the life of one? This question was not even asked, let alone answered. Was it an act of chivalry? Was it a time when dozens of men were willing to lose their lives to save the life of one lady, and there was no need to ask the question?

Ultimately, where the movie tries the hardest, and thus fails the most, is with the connection between Naomi Watt's character of Ann and Kong. Especially by the end when she's putting herself in harm's way to try to save Kong. Sure, a giant ape is something special, he saved her life and she had some connection with him. I get that. But he's a giant ape who is killing people and destroying the city. So yes, the army is going to fly in and try and take the giant ape down before more people are killed.

And that takes me to the end. Despite the fact this movie was already clocking in at well over 3 hours by the end, I would have been interested in finding out what happened to these characters after the Kong incident. What did they take away from all of this? We never really find out. The movie just kind of ends.

Presentation:

Sounds like a lot of complaining so far, but there were plenty of things to like. Kong looked amazing, as did so many of the other creatures and settings. There were some composite shots that looked fake, but 90% of the time, it looked stellar. Great action and monster fighting from the time they get on the island to the time they got off.

The acting was strong from almost everyone. Perhaps too strong because as I mentioned before, I liked almost everyone. Watts was the weakest, but she had to deal with "Prequel trilogy" acting I'm sure. How many days did she just stand in front of a green screen and emote? That's got to be hard to do.

Good score and good art direction. I dig art deco stuff.

Story Score--
Presentation Score--

No rewatchable walrus, though I'd be interested in a sequel.
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