Saturday, July 28, 2018

FINAL - Rogue One (5) vs. Star Wars: A New Hope (2)


It is hard enough to come up with 12 categories, much less 16, so I have concluded my tournaments by totaling all 12 categories to determine the winner. I feel this is fair and it means I avoid leaning toward a favorite in the finals. In this case, I would not have predicted the winner at the beginning of the tournament.

PLOT: Rogue One = A Star Wars = A
STRATEGY AND TACTICS: Rogue One = A Star Wars = B
WEAPONRY: Rogue One = B Star Wars = B
SPECIAL EFFECTS: Rogue One = A Star Wars = A+
ACTING: Rogue One = B Star Wars = B-
ENTERTAINMENT: Rogue One = A Star Wars = A+
COMBAT: Rogue One = A Star Wars = B
ENEMY: Rogue One = B Star Wars = C
SETS AND SOUNDS: Rogue One = A Star Wars = A
DIALOGUE: Rogue One = C Star Wars = B
CHARACTERS: Rogue One = B Star Wars = A+
CLICHES: Rogue One = C Star Wars = A

Star Wars = 104 Rogue One = 100

So we come to the end of another tournament. Thank you for following. Hopefully you're not too upset about the results. You may disagree with result, but I think Star Wars is a worthy winner. I would not have pegged it as the best sci-fi war movie at the beginning of the tournament, but you can see that it was strong in all the categories except enemy. Amazingly, it is the oldest film in the tournament and I usually feel newer is better when it comes to sci-fi movies. Rogue One is an example of this. It is better than all but two of the Star Wars series. Unfortunately, it ran up against one of those movies.

Here are the other tournaments:
21st Century War Movies
War Comedies
WWII Combat
Vietnam War
WWI Combat

Thursday, July 26, 2018

STAR WARS (2) vs. AVATAR (6)


SETS AND SOUNDS:  “Star Wars” is set mostly on the Millennium Falcon and the Death Star.  Both seem generic now, but at the time both fleshed out the spacecraft and space station templates.  Tatooine is straight out of a John Ford Western.  The one standout set is the bar in Mos Eisley.  In that case, it is more the denizens than the outlay.  The sound effects were groundbreaking.  The movie invented “pew-pew” for shots and the sound of the light sabers became iconic.  But it is the score by John Williams that stands alone.  It is one of the greatest scores ever.  AFI ranked it the best score of all time.  Williams’ use of leitmotif’s is nothing short of brilliant.  GRADE  =  A

“Avatar” is dazzling because of the visuals.  Pandora is an eye-popping set.  In fact, the sets overcome the unoriginal plot.  In some ways, the movie is “Dances With Wolves” on an exotic planet.  Floating mountains!  It won the Academy Award for Art Direction and the Saturn Award for Production Design.  The sound effects are good, too.  Most notable are the creature noises.  The score is by James Horner.  An ethnomusicologist was consulted to create the Na’vi music.  Horner divided the score into macho mercenary music and new age native music.  The soundtrack is unremarkable.  GRADE  =  C

DIALOGUE:  For a sci-fi movie, some effort was put into the dialogue in “Star Wars”.  Much of it is snappy, especially between Laia and Han.  C3PO gets to play stuffy British twit.  Obi Wan has the iconic line:  “May the Force be with you.”  It was voted #8 on AFIs list of greatest quotes.  The movie has a total of 141 quotes on IMDB.  GRADE = B

“Avatar” is not going to be remembered for its dialogue.  If you based the movie just on the script, you might not go see it.  There is not a single standout line.  In fact, much of the dialogue is trite, especially when Jake is narrating.  Equally cringe-inducing is the macho bull shit coming out of Col. Quaritch’s mouth.  I feel he might be overcompensating for something.  Most of the attempts at humor fall flat.  I do have to extend some props for inventing the Na’vi language.  Too bad it was subtitled.  The movie has 109 entries in IMDB.  GRADE  =  C   

CHARACTERS:  It could be argued that “Star Wars” has the best set of main characters of any sci-fi movie.  Each has left a mark on popular culture.  Han Solo is #14 on AFI’s heroes list and Obi Wan comes in at #37.  Luke Skywalker belongs on that list. Laia became a feminist icon.  C3PO and R2D2 are a great comedy team.  And then we have Darth Vader.  He is #3 on AFI’s list of villains.  There are no Jar Jar Binks in this film.  GRADE  =  A+

If you’ve seen “Dances With Wolves”, you’re familiar with most of the characters in “Avatar”.  “Avatar” adds the stereotypical corporate amoralist and his evil security chief.  Michelle Rodriguez plays the now required feisty female Chacon.  None of these characters are memorable.  GRADE  =  C

CLICHES:  For such a key movie in the sci-fi canon, “Star Wars” is refreshingly free of clichés.  The Empire is superior to the rebellion, but not vastly superior like the aliens in most of the movies in this tournament.  The movie does have a key figure (Luke Skywalker) who is crucial to the success of the rebellion.  The Death Star has a weak spot, otherwise it is invulnerable.  3 out of 10  GRADE  =  A

Considering how unoriginal the plot of “Avatar” is, it is not infested with sci-fi war movie clichés.  The RDA’s security forces have vastly superior weaponry and the invaders are more “civilized’ than the natives.  The Na’vi could not have won without Jake.  All the attacks are frontal, including by the hammerhead titanotheres and viperwolfs.  The Na’vi win even though their weapons are primitive.  They use bows and arrows.  4 out of 10  GRADE  =  B

ANALYSIS:  Both movies were groundbreaking, but for different reasons.  “Star Wars” reinvented the space epic and started the greatest sci-fi franchise in history.  “Avatar” revived 3-D movies.  It is visually stunning and has some strengths as a war movie, but it is more style than substance.  In every way. it is inferior to “Star Wars”.  It has become trendy to overlook the brilliance of the first Star Wars movie.  To remind yourself of its greatness, just look at the other entries after “The Empire Strikes Back”.  (Empire may be the best of the eight, but it is not a war movie.)   32 years after its release, it is still able to defeat the all-time box office champ.

STAR WARS  =  36
AVATAR  =  29  

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

ALIENS (1) vs. ROGUE ONE (5)


SETS AND SOUNDS:  “Aliens” takes place mostly in the complex at Hadley’s Hope.  It is a haunted house.  Many suspense/action have their climactic scene in a factory setting.  “Aliens” adds the medical lab/control room.  This is different because of the alterations made by the aliens.  This definitely creeps things up, but the set is otherwise pretty standard.  It’s what you put in the set that makes the movie special.  The film won the Academy Award for Best Sound Editing and the sound effects are outstanding.  It also was nominated for Best Original Score for James Horner.  Interestingly, Horner had a bad experience with the film because Cameron gave him little time of help with the score.  This might explain why the movie has long stretches with no music.  One can only imagine what the pucker factor would have been like with a amped up score.  GRADE  =  B

“Rogue One”, like all the Star Wars movies, gives you a planetary tour.  The planets have radically different environments.  Jedha is like the Middle East, Eadu is rainy and rocky, and Scarif is a tropical paradise.  Nice variety.  In a nice touch, Jedha looks like Masada.  The score, by Michael Giacchino, is a typical Star Wars score.  He obviously channeled John Williams, which is not necessarily a bad thing.  Just not very original.  He treated the movie as a WWII action flick with an emotional core.  The use of music is almost the opposite of “Aliens” in that it backs every scene.  It does not manipulate or dominate, however.  The sound effects are outstanding and the movie was nominated for an Academy Award for Sound Mixing.  GRADE =  A

DIALOGUE:  “Aliens” has 114 entries in IMDB quotes.  Most of them are Hudson either being macho or whining.  The soldier banter is realistic, but breaks no new ground and the screenwriter does not throw in anything futuristic.  For instance, Apone uses the phrase “assholes and elbows” (work hard) which would be nostalgic.  Weirdly, one of the Marines tells another “when we get back without you, I’ll call your folks”.  Everyone who’s ever seen a war movie knows the line ends with them threatening to sleep with their buddy’s wife!  Overall, the dialogue is not why the movie is great.  It does finish with one of the greatest lines in movie history:  “Get away from her, you BITCH!”   GRADE  =  C

“Rogue One” is not a very talkative movie.  Even the inspirational speeches are terse.  There is no iconic line like in “Aliens”.  There is a comic relief figure (K-2SO) who gets some good lines, better than Hudson. It has 88 entries on IMDB.   GRADE = C

CHARACTERS:   “Aliens” has one of the great sci-fi characters – Ellen Ripley.  She morphs into an action hero which is one reason why the movie is different in a great way from the original.  AFI put Ellen Ripley at #8 on its list of heroes.  This is a movie that gives women some meaty roles.  Vasquez is the toughest of the Marines and served as the template for later alpha females like Dizzy in “Starship Troopers” and Chacon in “Avatar”.  Newt stands in for the audience and is a key to the film.  Hicks is a standard hero, as is Burke as the slimy suit.  Bishop also appears to be a stereotype as the evil android and the twist is one of the best plot developments.  Everyone keys in on Hudson (most of the squad is underdeveloped) as he serves as comic relief in an otherwise humorless horror movie.  GRADE  =  B

“Rogue One” has a strong female character in Jyn Erso.  She’s your modern heroine.  She leads, she inspires, and she can fight.  Cassian is seemingly a stereotyped hero, but early on murders an informant without blinking.  An early sign that this Star Wars will not be aimed at 14 year-olds.  Plus the romance between the two is not pushed.  The motley crew has some appealing characters – especially K-2 and Chirrut.  K-2 is refreshingly different from C3PO.  Chirrut, the blind warrior, gets the Force into a movie that avoids advancing the Jedi warrior mythology.  The character was very popular with audiences.  The villain (Krennic) is adequately dastardly, but he pales in comparison to Darth Vader (and the alien queen).  GRADE  =  B

CLICHES:  The aliens are superior and should win.  There is a key person (Ripley) who the humans can not win without.  Tactics by the Marines are simply frontal (the aliens are less predictable). The aliens have a “brain” in the alien queen.  The Marines are a heterogeneous small unit that includes an ass-kicking female.  5 out of 10  GRADE  =  C

In “Rogue One”,  the Empire is superior in power to the rebels and should win.  There is a key person (Jyn) that the Rebellion must have to be successful.  K-2 serves as the movie’s side-kick and provides comic relief.  The Death Star has a weak spot.  The movie is all about getting the plans that reveal that weak spot.  Jyn leads a motley crew to get the plans.  5 out of 10  GRADE  =  C

ANALYSIS:  I love both these movies and it was not surprising that this match was close.  They both are excellent representatives of the subgenre.  “Aliens’ is a small unit skirmish movie.  “Rogue One” climaxes with a huge battle that involves infantry, air, and “naval”.  I could make a case for either one and I am sure some will be upset that “Aliens” did not make the final (I am upset, too).  I do feel “Rogue One” is more of a war movie.

ALIENS  =  30
ROGUE ONE  =  31

Monday, July 23, 2018


Here are the results of my analysis of sci-fi war movie cliches.  I used the following movies: 

Aliens (Al)
Battle:  Los Angeles (BLA)
The Last Starfighter (LS)
War of the Worlds (WW)
Edge of Tomorrow (ET)
Ender's Game (EG)
Rogue One (RO)
Attack of the Clones (AC)
Star Wars (SW)
John Carter (JC)
Return of the Jedi (RJ)
Pacific Rim  (PR)
War for the Planet of the Apes (WPA)
Independence Day (ID)
Avatar (Av)
Starship Troopers (ST)

1. The aliens (or bad guys) are the superior power.  (Al, BLA, LS, WW, ET, RO, SW, JC, RJ, PR, ID, Av, ST) = 81%
2. The victors win mainly by luck or an uncontrollable factor.  (BLA, WW, ET, ID)  =  25
3. The victors have one key individual who they could not have won without.  (Al, LS, ET, EG,  RO, SW, JC, WPA, Av)  =  56
4. All of the attacks are frontal.  (ET, EG, AC, JC, PR, WPA, ID, Av, ST)  =  56
5. There is a humorous side-kick.  (LS, RO, JC, RJ, WPA)  =  31
6. The victors weapons are more primitive. (WPA, WW, JC, ID, RJ, Av) = 38
7. The aliens have a "brain".  (Al, BLA, ET, ID, ST)  =  25
8. The alien warriors are mindless.  (BLA, EG, ET, ID, ST, AC)  =  38
9. The aliens have a weak spot that leads to their defeat.  (BLA, LS, ET, RO, SW, PR, ID)  =  44
10. The victors are a small heterogeneous unit.  (Al, BLA, ET, EG, RO, AC, PR)  =  44

As you can see, all of the cliches have some merit.  Three occurred in more than half of the movies (1, 3, and 4).  By far the most common trope is the enemy is superior to the good guys and should win.  We love for underdogs to triumph.  But, of course, they don't.

Aliens   (1, 3, 7, 10)  =  40%
Battle:  Los Angeles  ( 1, 2, 7, 8, 9, 10)  =  60
The Last Starfighter   (1, 3, 5, 9)  =  40
War of the Worlds  (1, 2, 6)   =  30
Edge of Tomorrow  (1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 9, 10) =  80
Ender's Game  (3, 4, 8, 10)  =  40
Rogue One  (1, 3, 5, 9, 10)  =  50
Attack of the Clones  (4, 8, 10)  =  30 
Star Wars  (1, 3, 9)  =  30 
John Carter  (1, 3, 4, 5, 6)  =  50
Return of the Jedi  (1, 5, 6)  =  30 
Pacific Rim  (1, 4, 9, 10)  =  40 
War for the Planet of the Apes  (3, 4, 5, 6)  =  40
Independence Day  (1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9)  =  70
Avatar   (1, 3, 4, 6)  =  40
Starship Troopers  (1, 4, 7, 8)  =  40

Surprisingly, the most cliche-ridden movie is the excellent "Edge of Tomorrow".  Equally surprising, the Star Wars movies have the least tropes.  Even more shockingly, the ridiculous "War of the Worlds" has only three of the cliches.

Friday, July 20, 2018


Aliens (1) vs. Rogue One (5)

Star Wars (2) vs. Avatar (6)

We are down to the final four and none of them are dark horses. It should be interesting. Each would be a worthy winner. They all are clearly war movies. They all are very good sci-fi movies. The final categories will be cliches, sets, dialogue, and creativity. I need to rewatch the four, so give me a few days.

With regard to cliches, after watching 16 sci-fi war movies, I have narrowed typical cliches to the following ten:

1. The aliens (or bad guys) are the superior power.
2. The victors win mainly by luck or an uncontrollable factor.
3. The victors have one key individual who they could not have won without.
4. All of the attacks are frontal.
5. There is a humorous side-kick.
6. The victors weapons are more primitive.
7. The aliens have a "brain".
8. The alien warriors are mindless.
9. The aliens have a weak spot that leads to their defeat.
10. The victors are a small heterogeneous unit.

P.S. Please consider joining our War Movie Lovers Group on Face Book.  

Tuesday, July 17, 2018



ACTINGIt’s hard to evaluate a movie where half of the cast is apes.  The apes were created through motion capture and CGI technology.  Some question whether this involves acting, but the trend is to accept the performances as acting.  This has been mainly because of the work of Adam Serkis.  He plays Ceasar in the series and was nominated for numerous awards including the Saturn Awards.  Sadly, the stodgier Academy has yet to acknowledge this type of acting.  The apes are incredibly life-like and that is due to the technology.  However, some credit must be given to the actors.  Aside from the ape actors, the only other significant acting is done by Woody Harrelson as The Colonel.  He’s a stock character, but Harrelson is fine.  GRADE  =  B

“Avatar” is similar to “Planet” in that half of the actors are motion capture / CGI created.  In this case, the actors did not have to move around like apes, so “Planet” must have been more challenging.  “Avatar” swept the acting awards at the Saturn Awards:  Sam Worthington for Best Actor, Zoe Saldana for Best Actress, Stephen Lang for Best Supporting Actor, and Sigourney Weaver for Best Supporting Actress.  Lang stands out in a role similar to Harrelson’s.  His Colonel is more menacing and hiss-worthy than “Planet’s”.  The actors get more of a chance to emote and there is not a false note in the film.  GRADE  =  A

ENTERTAINMENT -  As a war movie, “Planet” comes up short.  There is only one big battle scene and it is not humans versus apes.  The apes are amazing to watch and the characters are appealing, but the movie is predictable and has some shaky plot developments.  It works better as a revenge flick with a prison escape thrown in.  The ending is ludicrous.  The main villain is cartoonish.  GRADE  =  C

“Avatar” is more of a Western than a war movie.  It has a simplistic plot and is riddled with clichés.  The characters are mostly stock.  It bludgeons you with its morality.  All this said, it is a very entertaining movie.  It is not the biggest money maker in history for nothing.  This was mainly due to the astounding visual effects.  The plot may be shallow, but it is crowd pleasing.  It has a decent romance, suspense, and a kick-ass battle scene to finish.  GRADE = B
COMBAT -  “Planet” starts strong with an assault on an ape outpost, but after that there is not a lot of action until the climactic battle.  Both combat scenes are generic and mostly rely on noise.  There are no special weapons.  The combat lacks quantity as well as quality.  GRADE  =  C

“Avatar” does not have a lot of combat until the end, but then it gets real.  The attack to destroy the Hometree has plenty of fireworks.  The RDA’s preemptive assault on the Tree of Souls cuts loose a load of violience.  While aerial combat ensues in the sky, there is a land battle going on between soldiers in amp suits and regular soldier expendables versus the natives plus the animal kingdom.  The kitchen sink is thrown in.  It culminates in a duel straight out of a gladiator movie. The whole scenario reminds of the ending battle in “Return of the Jedi”, but it is done with more competency and no Ewoks.  GRADE  =  B

ENEMY -  The enemy in “Planet” is the humans led by the Colonel.  They are your typical rogue unit of mercenaries.  The Colonel is similar to Col. Kurtz in “Apocalypse Now” or any other unhinged military leader who goes off the reservation.  Compared to most of the alien enemies in this tournament, this enemy is pretty lame.  GRADE  =  D

The enemies in “Avatar” are humans, too.  The RDA is a private army for the company that is raping Pandora for its resources.  There are two villains in this movie.  The company representative is all about the bottom line and the Na’vi are effecting it.  You’ve seen this amoral executive before.  The head of the RDA is Col. Quaritch and he makes Custer look like a Indian-lover.  He eats nuts and bolts for breakfast.  The RDA remind a little of the enemy in “Planets” but they have much more firepower and those cool amp suits.  GRADE  =  C

ANALYSIS:  “War for the Planet of the Apes” is not a bad movie, but it does not fit well in the tournament. It was lucky to face “Independence Day” in the opening round.  The categories in this round did not play to its strengths.  It is entertaining to watch the incredibly depicted apes in a standard sci-fi plot, but the war movie aspects are weak.  “Avatar” is clearly a war movie.  There are opposing sides fighting for dominance on a planet.  Although basically a revisionist Western set in the future on another planet, it does have a battle with strategy and tactics.  it is certainly a better sci-fi movie than a war movie, but it is clearly better than “Planet” in this competition.

AVATAR  =  32
PLANET  =  28

Sunday, July 15, 2018



ACTING -  “Star Wars” is not usually touted for its acting and this is appropriate because the visuals stole the show. However, Alec Guinness was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for the Academy Awards, Golden Globes, and the Saturn Awards.  The rest of the cast was fairly unknown and would prove to be good actors in the future, but not so much here.  As the main character, Mark Hammill is the weak link, but as one of the great cinematic heroes, he is forgiven.  GRADE =  B-

“Pacific Rim” is even less about the actors than “Star Wars”.  Although there are some opportunities for emoting, that’s just killing time between the fights between giant human-piloted robots and giant monsters.  Because the mechas are piloted by two people, there is some acting involved, but it’s still all about the fight.  The movie garnered no acting award nominations.  Charlie Hannum is your typical rugged action hero.    He is given a redemption and revenge arc, but we’re still only waiting for the fights.    The screenplay wisely adds dueling buddy scientists for comic relief and Charlie Day and Burn Gorman are kicks.  GRADE =  C

ENTERTAINMENT -  The original “Star Wars” has a 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  It was a humongous box office success and was one of the first summer blockbusters.  The film was rereleased to acclaim.  It is generally considered to be the second best of the series (after “Empire Strikes Back”).  It may seem trope-ridden today, but you have to remember how much ground it broke in 1977.  It still holds up well today.  It has one of the greatest villains, unbelievable special effects, fantastic characters, a strong female, and one of the great sci-fi battles.  What’s not to like?  GRADE  =  A+

“Pacific Rim” is a fun movie.  It gives the audience exactly exactly what it wants and it is efficient in doing so.  It takes the Godzilla type movies into the 21st Century.  Unlike the Toho films, humans are not just standing around waiting to be stomped and futilely firing useless weapons against the monsters, they can fight toe to toe.  The robots and monsters come in a variety and the battles are stunning.  The plot is a bit generic, but the acting is not embarrassing and dueling scientists subplot adds some decent humor.  The movie will not be remembered years from now and certainly won’t get a rerelease, but it is a good popcorn flick.  GRADE  =  B

COMBAT -  At the time it was made, the battle scene involving the Death Star was the gold standard for sci-fi war movies.  Over the years, there have been other movies that have topped it, but most that have not.   It is one of the rare movies in this tournament where the opposing sides in the climactic battle are relatively equal.  Combining “Battle of Britain” dogfight with the bombing runs of “The Dam Busters”, throw in realistic tactics and a confrontation involving the hero and the villain and you get gold.  Unfortunately, the battle with the Death Star is the only real combat.  The movie goes with quality over quantity.  GRADE  =  B

“Pacific Rim” is all about the combat.  There are three big battles and each has a flair to it.  There’s little subtlety, but the action and visuals are awesome.  The robots and the creatures vary so the duels are not repetitive.  Hell, at one point a kaiju uses a boat as a bat!  The venues for the battles also vary.  The combat has a quantity and quality to it.  GRADE  =  B

ENEMY -  “Star Wars” has a variety of creatures, but they are mostly for local color.  The enemy is similar to the protagonists.    The Empire is malevolent, but not scary.  The main villain is the iconic Darth Vader and he is #3 on AFI’s greatest villains list.  As far as the rest of the Empire, the Stormtroopers are some of the lamest foes in any sci-fi war movie.  They famously could not hit the blindside of a barn.  GRADE  =  C

“Pacific Rim” is dominated by the kaiju.  They come in a variety of shapes and sizes.  Each has a different “personality”.   They are toxic and can adapt to their environment.  They are extremely aggressive, but not brainless.  They certainly hold their own against the Jaegers.  These “strange beasts” make the movie a monsterfest.  The movie reminds of a beast show at Imperial Rome’s Colosseum.  GRADE  =  A

ANALYSIS:  These are two totally different movies.  One is an all-time great, and the other is a forgettable, if entertaining creature feature.  Aside from the enemy category, “Star Wars” is superior.  It also is more of a war movie.  “Pacific Rim” is more of a gladiator film.

STAR WARS  =  33

Saturday, July 14, 2018



Edge of Tomorrow" is a Tom Cruise movie, but he is ably helped by the cast. Cruise is good in one of his best performances. The film is something of a buddy pick with Emily Blunt more than holding her own. Her Vrataski is not just a bad-ass soldier, she is the most bad-ass soldier - male or female. Blunt is awesome in the role. She trained three months for it and the result was one of the best female action heroes of the 21st Century. She was nominated for the Saturn Award for Best Actress and won the Critics' Choice Award. Bill Paxton plays a typical cinematic sergeant, but he is perfect as Farrell. The rest of the squad is generic, but well-played. GRADE = A

"Rogue One" is not an all-star epic. Most of the cast is not well-known. The main star is Felicity Jones as Jyn. She is your typical feisty sci-fi heroine. Jones is good, but not great. Diego Luna plays the roguish Casian. They have some chemistry. They were both nominated for Saturn Awards for acting. Mads Mikkelsen and Forest Whitaker bring some gravitas. The rest of the cast is fine, but it is really the characters that you remember, not the acting. GRADE = B

EOT is a looper movie. This means the characters are reliving events over and over. So you get to see Tom Cruise get killed many times and in creative ways. The movie takes the small unit, mission behind the lines into sci-fi territory. It is entertaining to see how the screenwriter handles this. The clichés (ex. Cage is in need of redemption) would have been tiresome in a regular war movie. Although the film has some cracking action and suspense, this is leavened with some humor. The aliens are scary and worthy adversaries. The movie builds well to the conclusion, but then tacks on a happy ending that keeps it from being a great movie. It's still damn good, though. GRADE = B

After a long string of disappointing Star Wars movies, "Rogue One" was a very pleasant surprise. It jettisoned the elements aimed at tweens and went back to what made the first two movies great. As a prequel to the original, it taps in to the mythology and brings that story full-circle. There is a romance that is not fun-sucking. The villainy of the Empire is firmly established and the appearance of Darth Vader is a kick. The good guys are a heterogeneous crew that are easy to root for. The movie finishes with a great battle that mixes infantry combat with aerial combat and meanwhile a heroic trio is infiltrating enemy headquarters. But what sets it apart is the realistic ending that does not insult the audience. GRADE = A

COMBAT - The opening invasion scene is among the best in war movie history. It is very intense with the shocking appearance of the aliens and the shocking death of the main character early in the movie. The scene is repeated in smaller chunks as Cage tries different moves to survive. The movie finishes with the squad assault on the alien brain. GRADE = B

"Rogue One" has three combat set pieces. The first is an urban ambush that reintroduces us to just how ineffective Stormtroopers are. The second is the "Dambusters"-like assault on the research facility. Neither of these is special, but the attack on Scarif is a masterpiece. It combines WWII infantry combat of the commando variety with Korean War jet combat with Napoleonic War fighting ships combat. It's probably the best battle in sci-fi war movie history. GRADE = A

ENEMY - The mimics come in two forms. The vast majority are Drones which are shape-shifters who can hide underground. They can fire explosive projectiles and are very fast in their movements. They remind a bit of the bugs in "Starship Troopers" and they are equally hard to kill. Rarely an Alpha is encountered. They are bigger and badder than the Drones. If an Alpha is killed, time restarts and the enemy learns from its mistakes or adjusts to human strategy and tactics. There is some real creativity here. GRADE = B

In most sci-fi war movies the enemy is aliens whose "soldiers" are either vastly superior to Earthlings or their vehicles are. The Star Wars universe is more of an insurgency. So, while the enemy is not some scary creatures, the bad guys do have personalities. For instance, Darth Vader is #3 on AFI's Greatest Villains list. The main villain in this episode is Krennic and he is above average, but he ain't no Xenomorph queen. If you like your enemies with the ability to threaten you verbally, this movie stands out in the tournament. GRADE = B
ANALYSIS - This was a close match, but I think the better war movie won. "Edge of Tomorrow" is more of a sci-fi movie than a war movie and so is "Rogue One", but Rogue has more of a traditional battle in it and it takes up a large amount of the running time. It is one of the greatest prequels ever made.


Friday, July 13, 2018

QUARTERFINALS: Aliens vs. War of the Worlds

We are now moving on to the quarterfinals. All of the higher sees have moved on except for Last Starfighter (8) defeated by War of the Worlds and Return of the Jedi (7) defeated by Pacific Rim. No real upsets so far. The quarterfinal matchups are:

Aliens (1) vs. War of the Worlds (9)

Edge of Tomorrow (4) vs. Rogue One (5)

Star Wars (2) vs. Pacific Rim (10)

War for the Planet of the Apes (3) vs. Avatar (6)


ACTING - "Aliens" has Sigourney Weaver who cemented her claim to the throne of greatest sci-fi war heroine with her performance as Ripley. She was nominated for Best Actress, a rare feat for a sci-fi movie. The movie is well-cast, but is not all-starish. Several actors were nominated for Saturn Awards. Weaver, Bill Paxton (Hudson) for Supporting Actor, Jenette Goldstein (Vasquez) for Best Supporting Actress, and Carrie Henn (Newt) for Best Performance by a Younger Actress. Goldstein's Vasquez started a trend of bad-ass alpha females that would continue with Michelle Rodriguez's Chacon in "Avatar" and Dina Meyers' Dizzy in "Starship Troopers". Kudos to the casting director for tabbing Paul Reiser for the slimy company man. GRADE = A

"War of the Worlds" is a Tom Cruise movie and he sucks all the air out of the film. He is fine in a role that does not exactly force him to stretch. He plays the immature divorced dad who has to mature quickly to protect his kids. Dakota Fanning was nominated for a Saturn Award for Best Performance by a Younger Actor. Tim Robbins is the only other actor that makes an impression. He chews the scenery a bit as the addled survivor who shifts from savior to villain in a heartbeat. Nobody remembers the movie for the acting, it is a special effects movie. GRADE = C
ENTERTAINMENT - "Aliens" could be the best movie of its type in history. It is a perfect blend of horror, sci-fi, and action. It has incredible monsters and indelible human characters (and a great android). The movie was nominated for seven Academy Awards and was a big box office success. Many consider it the greatest sequel of all time. It has the highest Rotten Tomatoes rating of all the movies in the tournament. GRADE = A+
As mass entertainment, WOW pushes all the right buttons. It was a big hit with audiences and got positive reviews (74% on Rotten Tomatoes). However, as a war movie, it has so many ludicrous moments that it does not stand scrutiny. For a war movie, there is very little fighting. We only get brief glimpses of the aliens and not a whole lot on the craft. The main plot line of the trio making their way back to their mother is fraught with implausible aspects. It all comes down to the final scene, which a mass audience found entertainingly happy and discerning war movie lovers should find cloying and totally unrealistic. GRADE = C

COMBAT - The combat scenes in "Aliens" are gut-punching. There is a adrenalin-fueled ambush that introduces the Marines to the aliens. Then we are treated to an Alamo scene. The finale is a duel between Ripley and the alien queen. Each is different, but all are edge of the seat. GRADE = A
There is very little combat in WOW. Since Cruise does not play a soldier, we don't see much fighting. (Compare the lack of combat here to that of "Edge of Tomorrow" where he plays a soldier.) In the one battle scene, the aliens are not even scene. The movie just goes with implying the Martians are kicking ass wherever they go. Unfortunately, we don't get to see the titanic battle between microbes and Martians. GRADE = D
ENEMY - One would be hard-pressed to find a more iconic monster than the aliens from the Alien series. "Aliens" adds the alien queen who is one nasty piece of work. Their face hugger stage rapes the host and then it is born by bursting out of the stomach. The Xenomophs are very powerful and have projectable teeth-filled jaws to get up close and personal. Not to mention the acidic blood. The creature was voted the 14th Best Villain by AFI. The designers of the creature were awarded the Oscar for Best Visual Effects. GRADE = A+

The Martians in the original WOW (1953) were voted #27 on AFIs Best Villains list. That version left things up to our imaginations, Spielberg decided we needed to see them up close. They come off as more creepy than malignant. The Martians themselves have no power, it's all in their space craft. Spielberg does demonize them by having them consume humans. Overall, they are pretty lame compared to some of the other aliens in the tournament. GRADE = C
ANALYSIS: This blowout is no surprise. "Aliens" is superior to WOW in virtually every way, not just these four categories. it aims at a more mature audience and is more respectful of war movie elements. WOW was lucky to make the tournament considering it really does not have any appreciable combat.

​​​​​​​WAR OF THE WORLDS = 27

Thursday, July 12, 2018



PLOT - "Aliens" is a sequel to "Alien", so you would expect the usual retread. But where "Alien" is a horror movie, "Aliens" is an action thriller. Ripley accompanies a squad of Marines back to the planet where the Nostromo encountered the alien. Noone knows what has happened to the mining colony there. Ripley's suspicions are confirmed in the worst way. The plot is nearly perfect. The characters are well developed. It retains some of the horror elements of the original, but this one is mainly a battle for survival against a horrific enemy. The action sequences are outstanding and the periods of calm are ominous. GRADE = A+

"Battle: Los Angeles" is basically a WWII combat movie where the aliens replace the Japanese. The plot uses two common war movie tropes. The first half is a lost patrol scenario as a unit of Marines (featuring a hardened veteran in need of redemption and his young charges in need of bloodying) who are tasked with rescuing civilians behind enemy lines and before a saturation bombing. That mission accomplished, the survivors move into a commando mission scenario which clicheishly involves destroying the enemy "brain". Nothing you haven't seen before, but done with verve and a to hell with the critics vibe. There is plenty of action and even some character development. It's all competently done which helps explain how the movie made over $200 million. GRADE = C+

STRATEGY AND TACTICS - As a war movie, "Aliens" is a small unit combat movie. The strategy is to locate the missing colonists. Possibly because of evil corporate interests, the Marines have no real plan for a worst case scenario. Therefore, they are taken completely by surprise. The tactic used was typically Marine (apparently, the Marines do not change in the future). They make a frontal entry into the danger zone with no reconnoiter. It takes a civilian, Ripley, to change the tactic in order to get some of the squad out of an ambush. The rest of the film is basically a last stand scenario. GRADE = B

In BLA, our strategy is to hold the line and the aliens are attempting to conquer and exploit our resources. Standard stuff. Since the movie is a small unit movie, we get small scale tactics. The squad movement seems realistic. There is some covering fire as they move. They establish perimeters. Targeting the enemy's command and control is a common military tactic. The aliens appear to use swarming tactics aided by control of the air. Their small unit movement is similar to the Marines. No one does anything particularly howling. GRADE = B

WEAPONRY - All of the main weapons are modeled after current firearms that are cosmetically enhanced. The M41A Pulse Rifle is built around a Thompson machine gun. It has a capacity of 99 rounds of armor piercing. It includes a pump action grenade launcher. Vasquez and Drake are armed with M56 Smart Guns which are heavy machine guns based on the German MG42 of WWII fame. Famously, Ripley combines a pulse rifle with a M240 flame thrower to rescue Newt. The weapons combine firepower, explosions, and fire = the trifecta. As far as the aliens, they don’t need all that firepower. They have acid blood and killer teeth. It's a fair fight. GRADE = A

The movie is set in contemporary time and had a low budget so the Marines are armed with current weapons. Most of them carry the standard M4A1 carbine. You also see a lot of M16A4s and even a SAW or two. A Copperhead 155mm laser-guided artillery round is used to take out the alien headquarters. This is the only artillery the movie references. There is a brief appearance of a tank, but no helicopter gunships and no bombers. The alien infantry have six-barreled machine guns welded to their right arms. It includes a grenade launcher. They use a walking rocket volleyer which is intimidating, but wildly inaccurate. Their big advantage is their drone fighters (Wedge Ships) which quickly get air superiority. They can reach Mach 7 and are highly maneuverable. They are armed with direct energy cannons. Overall, the fight is more even than in most sci-fi war movies where the humans are normally very overmatched. GRADE = C

SPECIAL EFFECTS - "Aliens" justifiably won the Oscar for Visual Effects. Surprisingly, the movie does not rely on CGI. The aliens are gymnasts, dancers, and stuntmen in suits. Mannequins were also used. The mother alien was life-sized and stood 14 feet tall. It required two puppeteers inside and sixteen others to manipulate it. Unlike many horror movies, the audience gets clear views of the monsters and they are extremely scary. GRADE = A+

The visual effects in BLA were predominantly CGI, but it is not a cheesy movie. The aliens are not given a lot of screen time, but appear to be standard alien bipeds. They are tall and skinny, but not particularly scary. The drones show some creativity. They appear to be designed to look different than the Star Wars type fighters. Considering the low budget, the special effects are surprisingly good. GRADE = C
BLA is not a terrible movie, but it is not in a league with "Aliens". "Aliens" is one of the greatest sci-fi movies. They share some similarities in that they are both small unit movies. However, where in "Aliens" the unit is just trying to survive, the soldiers in BLA are more proactive. BLA is more of a traditional war movie and is entertaining in that respect, but "Aliens" takes the genre to the future with an alien that is much more visceral. BLA is a fun watch, but it is not memorable.


Wednesday, July 11, 2018



PLOT: The original Star Wars movie is one of the most imaginative and influential movie of all time. It introduced the concept of the Force and Jedi warriors. The main characters are not iconic and known throughout the world. The plot was so good it was reused in other films in the series. The first time is always the best, however. That plot involves a quest against all odds, an epic hero and crew versus one of the great villains, and a climactic battle to save all that is good. It's a traditional sci-fi tale updated for a modern audience. It's easy to forget how it was and is a masterpiece. GRADE = A

"John Carter" is based on the Edgar Rice Burroughs book "A Princess of Mars". Given the source, the plot is very pulpy. Carter is a Civil War veteran who ends up on Mars. The planet is being torn by a civil war between a race led by a typical sci-fi villain with a super weapon versus the good people. Carter at first is captured by a primitive people who he becomes leader of once he is able to use his Superman-like strength and ability to leap tall buildings. His love interest is the princess of the good city, who of course is going to be forced to marry the villain. To complicate matters, there are some mysterious beings that are manipulating the planet for nefarious purposes. In some ways the movie is more fantasy than sci-fi. Carter is a combination of Buck Rogers, Superman, and Tarzan. He is a 1930s style hero. In fact, although the screenwriters attempted to cater to a modern audience, the plot is still very Edgar Rice Burroughs. He's not Shakespeare. GRADE = C

The strategy of the Rebel Alliance is to overthrow the Empire, but that strategy has to be put on hold and adjusted when the potential of the Death Star is revealed. At that point, the plan becomes to destroy the space station. The tactics involve an air assault using fighter and fighter-bombers. The fighters are used to lure away the enemy fighters to distract from the attempt to disable the Death Star. There is some reference to wing men, which is rare in a sci-fi movie. It's pretty simplistic, but logical. GRADE = B

Teenage boys don't need no stinking strategy and tactics. In standard sci-fi fashion, the bad guys in "John Carter" want to conquer the planet and the good guys are playing defense until they can suddenly penetrate the enemy stronghold. The supervillain could easily accomplish his plan by using his superweapon but of course he can't use it because it would end the movie too quickly. As far as tactics, the big battle is your classic sci-fi melee. Carter leads a frontal attack to initiate this chaos. Kudos to the movie for having some boarding action involving the galley-like space ships. GRADE = D

WEAPONS - The basic fire-arms used by the Rebel Alliance are blaster pistols. They fire plasma energy, but not accurately. Most Stormtroopers are armed with blaster rifles. Jedi warriors use light sabers which can deflect the plasma projectiles as well as serve as an edged weapon. For aerial combat, the rebels have X-Wing fighters that are equipped with four laser cannons and proton torpedo launchers. Their companions are the Y-Wings which are fighter-bombers armed with proton torpedoes. These are equivalent to P-51s and P-47s. The Death Star is defended by TIE (twin ion engines) fighters which are strictly fighters armed with two laser cannons. They rely on speed and quantity. They are equivalent to Me-109s. Aside from the light sabers, these weapons are standard sci-fi type air combat vehicles. The Death Star is your standard doomsday weapon, armed with its super-laser. This movie set the template for space combat and brought us the unique light saber so future sci-fi movies could think about incorporating duels. GRADE = A

I've already mentioned the super weapon in JC which allows one man to be invincible. There are a hodge-podge of other weapons. Weirdly, the primitive Tharks are the only ones with rifles. Everyone else is basically using swords. The space galleys have some type of cannons. Burroughs had a great imagination, but not when it came to weapons. GRADE = D

SPECIAL EFFECTS - The movie won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects. That was an easy call as the special effects were revolutionary. To see it in a theater was to walk into the future of sci-fi movies. Even today, the effects hold up, although they have been surpassed. Relatively speaking they were the best ever. GRADE = A+

Most of the effects budget in JC was spent on the creatures, specifically the Tharks. They are amazing and remind of the Na'vi from "Avatar". The rest of the effects are standard. The galleys are well-rendered and cool in their archaic nature. GRADE = B

A match between a huge blockbuster and a box office bomb. A match between a revolutionary movie that had tremendous influence on future sci-fi war movies and a movie based on a 1912 novel. Plus throw in that "Star Wars" is more of a war movie. This was never a fair fight.


Tuesday, July 10, 2018



PLOT"War for the Planet of the Apes" is the third movie in the reboot, occurring seventeen years after the first. The apes led by Caesar are living in a forest when a rogue military unit led by "the Colonel" finds them. The Colonel is obsessed with wiping out the apes. A new virus is affecting humans. The movie evolves into a prison escape movie as Caesar and most of his tribe get captured. The screenwriter tries to be inventive, but most of the elements are cribbed from other movies. It combines revenge and prison escape The virus subplot is gimmicky and the Colonel is cartoonish. GRADE = C

In "Independence Day", giant alien spacecraft arrive and hover over key cities. They prove to be unfriendly when they start destroying our great landmarks. Lucky for Earthlings, we have an alien fighter and a hot shot pilot who can fly anything. An eccentric genius and the pilot will fly into the alien mother ship to break down their defenses in coordination with an assault led by the President himself. Does that sound unintellectual? Well, it is. The movie is full of stereotypes and clichés. It is all very predictable in its entertainment for the masses. GRADE = D

STRATEGY AND TACTICS The strategy of the apes is to avoid contact with the humans and the Colonel's plan is search and destroy. Same strategies as in the Indian Wars (which makes the movie similar to "Avatar"). In the opening attack, the humans sneak up on an ape outpost and make a frontal assault. Neither side is big on security. And the screenwriter is unfamiliar with flanking. In the final battle, the human army attacking the Colonel's fortress uses simple frontal tactics with a bit of air support. They could have blasted the fortress from afar, but where's the fun in that. GRADE = C

The alien plan in ID is to cow the world by destroying its major cities. The tactic is not exactly sneaky, you just hover and then use the energy beam. If attacked, their fighters use swarm tactics in defense and also can be used for strafing enemy bases. The Earthling strategy is your standard panic and run. Until the scientists come up with the computer virus gambit. The tactic involves a frontal assault with no diversion and an infiltration using a Trojan Horse. The alien strategy and tactics make perfect sense and yet they lose to morons. But then again, the aliens aren't suspicious about a fifty-year old Attacker (fighter space craft). GRADE = D

WEAPONRYThere's nothing special in this area in "Planet". The movie is set in the future, but it is not futuristic. The apes use arrows predominately and the humans have a variety of current machine guns, although one has an anachronistic crossbow. GRADE = C

In ID, the Americans use F/A - 18 Hornets and nothing else! Their missiles have no effect on the alien spacecraft. One use of a nuclear missile fails against the alien force field. The aliens have giant City Destroyers that do what their names imply with some type of energy beam. They can not be hurt by any Earth weapons, but are susceptible to computer viruses. But what are the chances a virus can be introduced from within the ship? The fighters are called Attackers and are your standard Star Wars style craft. They are extremely agile which make them very hard to defeat in a dog-fight. With their projectile shields, they are vulnerable to only cliff walls. They fire energy projectiles. Nothing you haven't seen before. GRADE = D

The CGI for the apes is incredible. The movie used a combination of CGI and motion capture. There is not much special effects aside from the apes. The final battle is mostly explosions. It was nominated for the Oscar for Best Special Effects. GRADE = A-

ID had a record number of special effects shots. It incorporated both CGI and miniatures. The White House was a model. The results are famous. Unfortunately, the dog-fights are generic and not an improvement on the first "Star Wars". The creatures are silly looking. It won the Oscar for Best Special Effects. GRADE = B

Neither movie fits comfortably in the tournament. Although "Planet" has the word war in the title, it is not really a war movie. If anything, it is a prison escape movie. What little combat it has is simplistic. No effort was put into the weaponry, other than the odd inclusion of a crossbow for a main character. The strategy and tactics are unimportant to the story line. It is an entertaining movie with its hero ape and dastardly humans, but the plot is unimaginative. The real reason to watch it is for the astounding CGI. "Independence Day" is one of the most intelligence-insulting movies ever made. More than in most sci-fi movies featuring an alien invasion, the aliens are totally dominant. But once again, as in all movies with this plot, humans manage to overcome in a totally unrealistic way. There is no excuse for the cheesiness of the plot other than it resulted in huge box office.