Month: May 2015

What are 10 things that you should definitely do before turning 30?

Answer by Jon Ferreira:

Your teens and 20s are a time for exploring and experimenting, and trying on new hats. You must allow yourself to fail, and don't feel pressured to jump into marriage and family. Here are some things to do before 30.

1. Fall in Love Often: You may date around, fall in love a few times, and hopefully learn from all the mistakes you made. Either way, you'll get good practice for when you're finally ready to settle down.

2. Move Somewhere New: Move to at least one major city, or at least, out of your hometown. People who have never lived anywhere but home are less worldly and familiar with different cultures and viewpoints.

3. Work Several Jobs: Work as many different jobs as you're comfortable with, and try them all on for size. Like matters of love, you'll learn more from failure. It will teach you what job you can love, which job you will like, which job you can stand, and which job you will hate and should probably never do again.

4. Travel abroad: See the world, and learn about different cultures. You'll be a more open and tolerant person, and a more informed citizen. It's also likely you won't have a family yet, and may have money and time to explore.

5. Study abroad: While in college, look for a chance to study in a foreign country. The experience is life altering and will stay with you for life.

6. Graduate College or Vocational Program: The older you get, the harder it is to go back to school and finish those last few credits. It's best if you can earn all (or most) of your degrees before 30. That will give you a head start on your career earlier.

7. Party Hardy: By your 30s and 40s, most people have had it with loud concerts, crowded bars, obnoxious club experiences, casual hookups,  heavy drinking and drug use. Take advantage of your youth, and get all that out of your system. If you have kids one day, it's almost guaranteed your priorities will change.

8. Choose Your Life Philosophy: You may have been raised Catholic, taught not to curse, or maybe forced to eat all your Brussel sprouts. As you reach adulthood, it's time for you to evaluate what works for you, and what you believe. Question God's existence, and decide for yourself. Try Yoga and Meditation. Explore your ethics and what you believe about abortion, the death penalty, the environment, and other social issues. You don't have to choose a political party or label your beliefs, just gather your thoughts into your own guiding philosophy. Accept that it may change, and live your life the most decent and best way you can.

9. Enjoy Friends & Family : As you grow older, and start to have a family of your own, you inevitably see less and less of your close friends and family. Before all of that, go out with your friends often, and take trips with them! Visit your grandparents while they're still with you. Help your parents around the house, and enjoy them while they are still healthy and relatively young. You will never get this time back.

10. Volunteer: There's no better moment to lend your time and effort to people in need than when you are in your teens and 20s. You are still fit and healthy, and can do rigorous work and not get tired as easily. You also probably have more free and open unstructured time on your hands. Several organizations require travel, and that can be fun at that age.

What are 10 things that you should definitely do before turning 30?

When making a movie from a book, why do they leave some/most of the book out of the movie?

Answer by Jon Ferreira:

Overview
Writing a screenplay or a play from source material like a book or even real life requires a significant amount of editing and cutting material. As opposed to a novel, screenwriters just don’t have the page length to explore characters’ extensive backgrounds, elaborate settings — nor do they have the luxury to include a cast of thousands (or hundreds – or less) all of whom have a penchant for endless verbosity. There just isn’t the time in a two-hour film. Here are some of changes screenwriters make and why:

Characters
Books typically have way too many characters since the novel is typically trying to capture the reality of life. Real life has 7 billion people on the planet, and the average person meets 12-50,000 people in the course of their life. Although you really only need 3 characters to write a traditional story most fiction books average at least 20-80 characters. Some books by Tolkien, Martin, Dickens, and Tolstoy, sometimes include casts of hundreds. Because a book has narrative that can take its time, and spend time on each of these characters, there’s no reason not to write that many. In Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude the story spans six generations, and in each generation, the men of the Buendía line are named José Arcadio or Aureliano and the women are named Úrsula, Amaranta, or Remedios. There are dozens of characters, and it is confusing enough to follow the relationships on paper where there are names and it’s written in front of you. Try putting that complex family tree on screen where characters aren’t wearing name tags, and it becomes confusing quickly. People watch movies and tv to escape and to watch something they can follow. Nobody wants to be confused and lost for a whole movie.

Cutting Characters
Consider the show Game of Thrones. In the books, George RR Martin writes an extremely dense story, with a complex plot of interconnecting characters –kings, queens, knights, servants, clergy, dragons, etc. Each character belongs to a different House, like House Stark, and you are told what knights are loyal to House Stark, what commoners are, etc. You learn the whole history of that one house, and all the ancestors. Each have their own names and histories. There are dozens of houses! Martin introduces characters he may never bring back, JUST to fill out his world realistically and create a fantasy atmosphere. Tolkien did it too with the Lord of the Rings series. Of course, the average book is about 1000 pages. The average screenplay is about 100. And much of those pages describe action, not dialogue. Martin’s books simply have too many characters. The show, as it is, can sometimes be hard to follow. And they cut out hundreds and hundreds of characters.

It simply would be too confusing to include every character in a book. They would have to walk on and walk off if they weren’t the main characters, because there’d be no time for them to speak. We wouldn’t get to know them. Additionally, it costs a lot to cast a film of hundreds.

Compounding Characters
Sometimes we need the information or action that a particular character has or does. Perhaps we need the same from another similar character. Instead of including both, a screenwriter will conflate the characters into one character and take one of their names. This is a way to keep some of the plot but cut many of the characters.

Inventing Characters
Sometimes it is necessary to invent characters, in order to play off the main characters. For instance, maybe in the book, the character thinks to himself about what he’s going to do. That wouldn’t work in a movie, since most films try and stay away from overusing voice over. It simply lacks action, and can be boring. Instead, maybe they invent a confidante role, who is the best friend whom the protagonist tells all his inner feelings to. Maybe the story needs another villain or a funny character to lighten the mood. Characters are certain archetypes — the mother, the fool, the lover, the soldier, etc. Screenwriters sometimes need to add a certain type to get the movie working.

Streamlining Action
Often the plot of a book unfolds over several hundred pages, allowing for dozens, even hundreds of scenes, each with their own plot point. If we consider the length of a script, it’s necessary to cut MOST of those scenes. There’s no way a movie could try to show hundreds of different things that happen. Each scene would have to be about 20 seconds long. The writer must choose the scenes which advance the story the most, and are vital to making the story arc make sense. The scenes should fall into the general structure of a play/screenplay…inciting action, rising action, climax, falling action, denouement. Scenes that slow the story down are cut, however good they may be in the book. The pacing and movement of the plot are everything in a movie. That means action over verbose talking and deep exploration. Think of it like a movie is the cliff notes of a book. It just covers the surface of the major plot points and no more. Good movies use powerful imagery, color, costumes, sound, lighting, and cinematography to tell a story as much — if not more — than the words. In film, a picture is worth a thousand pages.

Voice
A book series like The Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) has at least a hundred different characters leading chapters, where the narrative is from their point of view. We hear them speak, and hear their thoughts as well. In a movie, typically a screenwriter will choose a clear protagonist, and we will see the world of the film from his point of view. If there’s voice over, it will be his. We will see action and character only through his eyes. This isn’t always the case. In Game of Thrones the show, the story will show that character’s scenes, and they are sort of the protagonist of those scenes, but I couldn’t tell you who was supposed to be the protagonist of the entire show.

Budget Concerns
By its very nature, a book has the ability to describe ANYTHING. Things that don’t even exist in the natural world. Things that have not been invented yet. Explosions that are epic and battles between gods that shake Heaven and Earth. Up until recently, movies haven’t been able to show all of those kinds of things, and action as realistically as real life. There were only models, and fake sets, and budgets were only so big. A movie like Lord of the Rings — as close to its description in the book — could not have been made even 20-30 years ago. Now, with CGI, seemingly anything is possible. But that’s not always true. Some things that are called for can’t be done with CGI, and other things are just too expensive. If a movie can’t afford all the stuff from the books, they pick and choose, and do what they can.

Show, Don’t Tell: Adding Action
On the flip side of the budget concerns, is the frequency of Hollywood to ADD action, to make a film more exciting. The recent Sherlock Holmes movies don’t resemble the books at all, because they have made Holmes into a big action star, and have filled the movie with fights and explosions. This happens in nearly every adaptation, in order to make the stories more interesting. Books have pages of monologues and inner thoughts, and those are boring on screen. The general rule is show, don’t tell. Don’t have characters talking endlessly, when you can visually show it. Action is much more physical and visceral than in books. The audience would rather see action, and sometimes that means making it up.

Character Complexity
Not only are dozens/hundreds of characters cut out of a film, the characters that are left, are not nearly as interesting as they may be in the books. In a book, there’s a whole lot of text about the inner life of a character — what he’s thinking, feeling, planning, etc. This kind of thing ends up being boring on screen. That means characters aren’t as complex and deep as they are in a book. We don’t know them psychologically as well as we do in the novels. However, since we can see them, we know them physically much more. Ever wonder why Hollywood is so obsessed with skin-deep beauty, and books tend to be more cerebral? It’s the very nature of how they are made.

Locations
In books, the action of the story can take place in dozens, if not hundreds of different locations — both indoor and outdoor. On top of a mountain and deep under the ocean. CGI technology has helped with green screens able to project almost any location, but sometimes it just is no substitute for the real place. Movies may not have it in their budgets to go on location or CGI it in. The other consideration is that sometimes the book will have to be cut so that two scenes that weren’t next to each other in the book, are in the film, and may need to be in closer proximity — the dining room and the bedroom in the country estate, as opposed to the dining room in the estate and a table at the restaurant. Locations are streamlined, for continuity sake.

Rearranging Order
Sometimes a book simply isn’t written in a way that makes narrative sense in a movie. Perhaps it’s told out of sequence. Perhaps the climax happens to early in the book. Maybe characters are introduced too late. Movie scripts generally have a formula which they stick to — Act I, Act II, Act III — and each has important elements that are supposed to happen during them. Books don’t follow such logic. They tend to be more stream of consciousness, meander more, are verbose, take pages to describe something or someone, and completely mess with traditional narrative and plot development. Books are from many genres, and writers are sometimes experimental and avant garde. Despite being the newer art form, in many ways, film is much more traditional and formulaic. To some extent, screenwriters have to be merciless, and cut and arrange as they feel it serves the film.

Tweaking Time
Often for the sake of telling a story that may have begun as a 1000 page book, in less than two hours, a screenplay will have to collapse time, and tighten scenes into a logical and more reasonable narrative. This is one of the major complaints about movie adaptations. They often compact time, so that something that happened over the course of 10 years, happens in just nine months. The time it takes to get certain places may be shrunk as well. Famously, in Star Trek, even using their space age warp technology, the starships should take years to go the distances they go in just days in one episode. Of course we don’t want to watch a ship’s entire voyage. In ASOIAF, we’ll see a voyage take weeks or months. On the show, in one scene they’re in Point A, and in the next scene, they’ve already arrived at Point B. Time is compacted. For the sake of keeping things interesting, movies and television always compact or lengthen time, depending what the script needs.

Capturing the Spirit
Ideally, a film will keep as much of the story, and cut as little as possible. Realistically, a movie is a very different medium, with different demands and characteristics. A screenwriter must necessarily cut, rearrange, conflate characters, cut characters, change locations, change the date and setting, or whatever else needs to be done, in order to serve the film. NOT the story. The FILM. A movie is a new work of art interpreted by filmmakers, and based on another medium’s work of art. They can never be identical reflections of each other. However, they can be complimentary works of art, that resonate off each other. They both have value and strengths the other doesn’t. A film is a visual art form, and will always value aesthetic over language. Images are its language. The most important thing a screenplay can do is capture the spirit and tone of a book, and if not every plot point, the major ones needed to resemble the original story. It’s about honoring the writer and trying to maintain the integrity of the book, while making it uniquely a film.

When making a movie from a book, why do they leave some/most of the book out of the movie?

Do you believe the quality of movies is decreasing because producers choose profit over art?

The Birth of Hollywood: Reel Profits

You’re working under the false assumption that studios were once in the business of making art and now they’re in the business of making profit. That’s not the case at all. Hollywood was founded by very shrewd businessmen who had the vision to recognize the opportunity to build an emerging industry from the ground up. They took a big risk, setting up shop in the California desert and constructing a community built around a business with no guarantee of success. Men like Samuel Goldwyn, Louis B. Mayer, Carl Laemmle, Jesse L. Lasky, Harry Cohn, Jack Warner, and Adolph Zukor built Hollywood, and nearly right from the start, the studios codified a system to most cheaply and efficiently produce movies and put out the most product in the shortest amount of time. They were factories and this model was inspired by Henry Ford’s innovative assembly line method of building automobiles. These businessmen were most concerned with profit, and they built studios like machines, with a film passing down a virtual conveyer belt, from department to department, each adding and shaping the film io conform to studio standards. Artistic considerations were a nice added bonus, but always an afterthought, when assessing a film’s cost and marketability. The films had to make a profit, and the easiest way to do so was to rigidly adopt a recipe with proven success and the ability to be reproduced ad infinitum.

The Studio Assembly Line

All films started with writers, and the studios had a stable of its own writers –some of them famous fiction writers, who no doubt added quality and esteem to a script. In those days, Hollywood ransacked all of literature for story ideas, and were far less reverential with adherence to the source material than we are today. Great works of literature were rewritten and edited to fit into the studio formula, and to make the films more exciting for an audience. Writers also wrote original screenplays, which tended to be more artistically viable. Even still, the writers were rolling off pages in what might be considered a film nursery. These writers churned out scripts to be produced, from the small low cost B-movie to the grand epic costume drama. The studio business model was then, and still is, to pour considerable money into large and lavish productions (what we would call a blockbuster today), practically sparing no expense, and providing directors with a wide array of resources and some artistic latitude. This function of this model is to produce a large budget film, which would be heavily marketed and be a huge commercial success, filling the coffers, and not only funding the next large picture, but providing the revenue to fund all of the small B-pictures, which no one film is expected to bring in huge profit, but since there are many small films, with small budgets and few stars, they can stagger their releases, and always have revenue coming in, and altogether, the films made a profit. The big guy funds the little guy, and both bring in money in different ways. Again, the films vary in quality, and many of the B-films are poor;y produced, made on the cheap, and shot very rapidly.

It’s important to point out that the studios weren’t any less greedy back then, but arguably better at choosing their talent. Although many of the writers were hacks who dashed off tired old scripts one after the other, However, there were also quality writers who produced great scripts that seemed to find their way into the hands of quality directors.

Like today, successful directors were allowed more creative freedom, such as John Ford and Howard Hawkes. However, for the most part, both men managed to direct artistically pleasing pictures, while staying within the confines of the system. Ford was more difficult to contain, but his films were quite popular and he wielded more power. Frank Capra was the quintessential studio director, and his films were often simple and straightforward, formulaic, and sentimental, while championing the everyman and scoring high with audiences. Nearly all of these films were produced with deadlines and budgets capped and enforced. Many of these directors were under contract, and shot an agreed upon number of guaranteed films per year. They were studio men, and they knew the system, and most worked within its perameters. These men captured lightening in a bottle. The 1930s and ’40s paired some marvelous scripts with talented directors. In addition to the men above, there was George Cukor, Billy Wilder, Alfred Hitchcock, David Lean, Preston Sturges, and William Wyler, to name a few. This Golden Age of cinema was spoiled by riches, and some of the greatest artists in the profession belonged to this age. Many of the films these directors helmed managed to work from solid scripts, and were directed artistically and responsibly, while also conforming with the studio expectations and model of success. The bottom line was always profit, but the studios recognized that a work could be artistic and high quality AND be marketable and lucrative. If this happily aligned, than the studio was satisfied. Ultimately though, profit was their motive. Most of these directors were not editing their own work, and the studio was still crafting the films to their rigid standards. Somehow the acting and directing were good enough to withstand the handiwork of others. High quality movies made it through, and it may seem they were more plentiful, but the poor quality and shabbily constructed films were numerous and aren’t in our sight. Profit was king, and if art emerged too, than that was just icing on the cake.

All’s Well That Ends Welles: The Rebuke of a Rebel’s Career
If profit was supreme, and artistry tolerated, Orson Welles was filmmaking’s grand martyr, sacrificed at the altar of profit and punished for not playing by the studio’s rules. Learning to play by the rules was a hard lesson for a genius and innovative visionary like Orson Welles to accept, and he spent his life feuding with studio heads, It didn’t start out that way. Welles had been a wunderkind prodigy of the stage and radio back east, and Hollywood aggressively courted him and signed him to direct his first feature with RKO. Because of Hollywood’s efforts to woo him from the theaters of New York, he received an almost unprecedented amount of creative control from RKO Studios in his first contract. He was free to choose the cast as well as to write, direct, produce, edit, and act in the film he created. Citizen Kane was Orson’s first Hollywood film, and in the years since, has come to be generally considered the best film ever made. It still tops the AFI 100 Best Films list. Not bad for a first time filmmaker. Despite only being his first picture, this would end up being the last one Orson had complete artistic control over. Although it was nominated for 9 Academy Awards, it only won one Oscar, for Best Writing (Original Screenplay) for Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz. The film was seen as being based on the life and career of William Randolph Hearst, the famous newspaper tycoon, and he did his best to prevent its release, which hindered its immediate commercial success. Almost instantly, the film was universally praised for its brilliance, sophistication and innovation and it has since justified its production costs many times over. Unfortunately, the film was not an immediate commercial success, and the studio was burned by its failure. Welles’ budget has been $500,000—a significant amount for an unproven filmmaker, and an amount that Welles managed to exceed by nearly $200,000. From then on, Welles was damaged goods, and not to be trusted. They would never give him complete artistic control again.

Welles’ second feature film, The Magnificent Ambersons, was unacceptable to studio execs, and was taken away from Welles, only to be savagely cut, reordered, and edited to their liking. Welles hardly recognized the film they released. Over the course of the next four decades, Welles alternated between clashing and reconciling with studio heads, and continued to direct commercial projects of uneven quality and economic flops. He also was eager to accept lucrative acting roles, in order to raise money to ultimately finance his own films. He had many in development. Few came to fruition though. Welles’ genius was rebuked by a system that refused to cede artistry to proven commercial success, and films they could market. The world was undoubtedly robbed of more masterpieces like Kane. Welles was a mercurial artist, filled with pride and arrogance, and undoubtedly difficult to control. However, he was appallingly treated by a studio system that cared more about profit, and producing films that all had the same look and aestheyic, and were hastily made for as little as possible, and pieced together and vetted, before being released to the public. An artist like Welles couldn’t bear to have a slew of other peoples’ fingerprints all over his work, and he fought the system from within, and met with resistance the rest of his life.

Fall of the Golden Age & Rise of the Auteur Director: Gritty Realism of the 1970s

Welles was one of the first auteur directors, with sometimes unlimited creative control. He would usher in a new generation of directors, who became the sole crafter of the work, and visionary lead artist. Some of these men included Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, Robert Altman, Francis Ford Coppola, and Terrenc Malick. The ’70s were a vibrant era for cinema, and perhaps the most permissive. In the wake of the Civil Rights movement, Vietnam and Watergate, and the collapse of the Golden Age of film and big studio pictures, the ’70s told intimate, gritty, violent, sexy, and socially minded films filled with method actors like DeNiro, Pacino, Hoffman, and Caan. The movies were sometimes self-indulgent, but also engaging and artistically vigorous. The studios seemed to take the decade off, as the hippy baby boomers ran the studios, and created movies with characters that looked like them, and topical issues of the day. The films of the ’70s are the most risky, interesting, provocative, artistic, and ostensibly, the least marketable films Hollywood has ever produced. They were not glamorous, but somehow succeeded at the box office.

The Birth of the Modern Blockbuster

As the ’70s drew to an end, one film would single-handedly return Hollywood to its senses, and bring back profit margins and the pursuit of hitting box office gold. When Stephen Spielberg released Jaws, no one knew what they had on their hands. The film met with rave reviews and became a cultural sensation, scaring an entire generation from getting in the water. The film was such a huge box office success, it cemented Spielberg as an A-list director, spawned a franchise of sequels, and most importantly, ushered in a new era of filmmaking…the summer blockbuster. Just two years later, the George Lucas brainchild, Star Wars, would add a new spin on the science fiction genre and breaking all box office records, taking in obscene amounts of money and convincing the studios that this blockbuster model was a solid and profitable one. Lucas and Spielberg would go on to strike gold at the box office — Lucas with his Star Wars franchise and Spielberg with an almost improbable run of beloved hit movies. From the late ’70s on, the blockbuster has been a perennial hit and fixture on the Hollywood horizon. Studios still pour massive amounts of money into making these films, and they almost always managed to make all the money back and a handsome profit. With the recent release and considerable success of Avengers 2: Age of Ultron, it is obvious to see Hollywood is sticking to its reliable model.

Bottom Line is Top Priority: Hollywood’s Picks Profit Over Progress

Apart from the late ’60s and throughout the ’70s when the industry was abandoning the old classic film style and embracing gritty realism and method acting, and thus focusing less on profit, Hollywood film studios have always led with profit first, and attending to the bottom line. If they hired well (and they did), blessedly had more access to better talent (especially directors), and guided their crew to work fast and efficiently and according to a formula that worked, they would often be rewarded with a film that was both profitable and high quality art. That still happens today, but perhaps less frequently. None the less, studios have always been consumed by profit, they just went through periods where the artists managed to mask it in artistry better. Orson Welles is proof that studios chose to violate artistry for the sake of profit, and always viewed the film as their property, with the right to change whatever they wanted, so long as it make the film more marketable and successful. Welles fought desperately for the sake of art and the right to shape his own work, but was ultimately a casualty in the battle to elevate art over profit.

Do you believe the quality of movies is decreasing because producers aim for what will bring the most revenue instead of what will make a…

Was Hamlet intelligent?

Answer by Jon Ferreira:

Hamlet was a student at Wittenberg, and is home on leave for the funeral of his father and subsequent marriage of his mother and uncle. We get the impression that Hamlet is presumably, a very strong student, a promising mind. and a very capable scholar with a bright future ahead of him.

Antic Disposition
We can deduce that Hamlet is intelligent based on his level of subterfuge and ability to manipulate those around him. As soon as he meets with the ghost and learns of his uncle’s crime, Hamlet sets about on a path to discover the truth, and if need be, act swiftly and with justice. His clever plan for eliciting the truth is to ‘put on an antic disposition’ by which he will act ‘strange or odd’ and play at being mad. In the guise of madness, he may have more latitude to test theories and push people, since they will be less likely to act against him, and instead give him a wide berth. A valid question audiences must ask themselves is if Hamlet is simply just acting mad, or whether he really is. If he’s only acting, he is very convincing. It’s likely a mixture of both.

Mad Encounters
In his mad state, Hamlet gets to work pestering, assaulting, and provoking various people around him in an effort to get at the truth. Hamlet sets various traps for Polonius–verbally outwitting the meddlesome and obsequious lapdog. Hamlet purposely ensnares Ophelia in mind games meant to confuse and disorient her –not likely out of outright cruelty, but for the sake of his uncle and Polonius, who are eavesdropping nearby. Hamlet wants the court to know how mad he really is, and especially his uncle. He is particularly cruel and rough with Ophelia. When his school friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern arrive at the request of the king, they are greeted with derision and mockery by Hamlet. Ultimately, their complicity and plotting with Claudius to spy on Hamlet end up killing them, as Hamlet turns the tables on their betrayal. Hamlet assaults his mother in her bed chambers and continues his charade of an antic disposition, but he is also clearly in pain as he confronts her incestuous marriage, and condemns her betrayal of his father and lecherous union with his uncle. Hamlet is purposefully rough with her, leading Polonius to betray himself behind an arras, and inviting his own death at the hands of Hamlet (who thinks it’s Claudius hiding). Throughout the play, Hamlet uses deception to trick the people around him into working for him and giving him clues to unravel his mystery. This clever maneuvering is part of what make Hamlet intelligent.

The greatest indicator that Hamlet is in fact, supremely intelligent — if not a genius — is the complexity and depth of his thoughts. During the encounters above, Hamlet displayed a clever wit and ability to make puns, use figurative language, and construct riddles to further confuse the other person. His madness disorients them, and his arguments alarm them. In his conversation with Claudius and R& G he used calm and rational language, while tricking them into his linguistic traps and forcing them to betray more than they intended. Conversely, in his arguments with Gertrude and Ophelia, Hamlet abandons reason for pure unbridled emotion. He pleads, he yells, he chides, he scorns, he bargains, he condemns, and he becomes cruel and physical. Earlier when Hamlet commented on his mother’s hasty marriage, he said: ‘Frailty, thy name is woman!’ It’s clear to see from this sentiment, combined with the cruel use of rough and physical violence and his willingness to use caustic verbal abuse, that Hamlet has deep-seated anger and aggression towards women, and a very low opinion of them.

Hamlet’s Speeches
As clever as his dialogue can be, it is in his speeches (monologues and soliloquies) where Hamlet allows us to glimpse his active mind, the profundity of his thoughts, and the haunting poetry of his soul.

The first examples of his probing mind comes in the ‘To be, or not to be…’ speech, when towards the end Hamlet wonders:

“For who would bear the Whips and Scorns of time,
The Oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s Contumely,
The pangs of despised Love, the Law’s delay,
The insolence of Office, and the Spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his Quietus make
With a bare Bodkin?
‘ Who would these Fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered Country, from whose bourn
No Traveller returns, Puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have,
Than fly to others that we know not of.
Thus Conscience does make Cowards of us all,”

In his clever linguistic style, Hamlet asks rhetorical questions, that he will then answer. He is engaging in a Socratic dialogue and using a dialectic to have a conversation with himself, and present both sides of an argument. This compare and contrast (this vs that) device is one employed throughout Hamlet and all of Shakespeare. He asks who would choose to suffer in a life of misery when he can put an end to things by taking his own life. He then answers why not, speaking of a fear of not knowing what’s after death. He make an analogy to a traveller traveling abroad to an unexplored and undiscovered country, which no one has ever returned. The very though cripples the will to kill oneself, and convinces that person to endure whatever ills they know about, rather than travel somewhere that could be worse. Artfully, Hamlet ends with the famous line: ‘Thus Conscience does make Cowards of us all.’ This means that our gut feeling and inner voice will ask questions regarding the safety and wisdom of jumping into something, which inevitably only serves to frighten us into resistance. This is the most famous speech in any play, and may be the most recognizable piece of text in the English language. It is lyrical and captures the sensitive heart of the young prince, while also speaking in expressive metaphor and simile. He contemplates profound questions of human existance and life after death. His sentiment is something we’ve all undoubtedly thought about at one time. His humanity is self-evident.

Other brief examples of shrewd insight include the line, ‘There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Hamlet shows maturity and his characteristic rational mind to reason that events, people, objects, etc. have no inherent value — they are neither good nor bad — and it’s all how you look at it. Context therefore plays a vital role in assigning worth and value judgments. The glass is both half full and half empty, depending on how we look at it.

Hamlet’s Quiet Acceptance
In a moment of transcendence, Hamlet reasons, “There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” suggesting that man’s life on Earth and his relation to the universe and understanding of Heaven are concepts too large and unfathomable for a mere mortal to comprehend. Hamlet seems to take comfort in surrendering to God and nature to determine whatever path he must take and whatever fate befalls him. At this late point in the play, Hamlet has accepted what he must do, and has adopted a sort of mystical Zen attitude above his uncertain future.

Another example of Hamlet’s progressive and enlightened calming and accepting demeanor can be seen in the following speech:

“We defy augury. There’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all. Since no man of aught he leaves knows, what is ’t to leave betimes? Let be.”

Hamlet makes a profound and mature observation that God determines all things, even the death of a small sparrow. He continues, saying that everything will work out as it is destined. If something is supposed to happen now, it will. If it’s supposed to happen later, it won’t happen now. What’s important is to be prepared. Since nobody knows anything about what he leaves behind, then what does it mean to leave early? Let it be. The speech is an elegant commitment to the Elizabethan idea of fate and everyone’s proximity to fortune. Hamlet upholds the idea that it is silly and unproductive to worry about fate, since it going to play out as it must. Perhaps the most profound sentiment in this short speech comes at the end, when Hamlet cleverly points out that nobody knows what happens after they die, so if they die early, how can they miss what they don’t know is going to happen. It’s clever rhetorical ideas like this that demonstrate Hamlet’s dry wit, clever debating skills, fierce intellect, and ability to turn a phrase and use language on many different levels.

Goodnight Sweet Prince
One of the reasons the character of Hamlet has been so enduring and resilient through the ages is the dialectical and contradictory nature of his personality. Hamlet is at once both noble and brave and depraved and cowardly. Perhaps we can all see ourselves in Hamlet’s debilitating funk and Sisyphean procrastinating time loop, where he is struck dumb in his tracks, paralyzed with fear and unable to move forward or step back. Although he wants to believe in the ghost is his dad, he has a rational mind, and he simply doesn’t know if he can trust his senses. He is skeptical, and for good reason. The ghost is asking him to commit the heinous crime of regicide by avenging his father’s death. If he is wrong, he will have made a grievous error, and will pay with his life. Hamlet is about as indecisive as they come. This is a very good indicator of a large brain capacity. Hamlet is a cool and calculating rational mind, but since arriving from Wittenberg, he has been subjected to a wealth of emotions: grief, anger, betrayal, indecision, doubt, incredulity, rage, and many more. He is now ruled by mercurial forces, and he is unbalanced. His rational mind is battling his unbalanced emotions. On top of that, it is pretty clear he is suffering from at least a mild mental illness.

Hamlet is one of the most compelling characters because he is us. Many scholars consider the influence of Hamlet’s character on mankind as being a major contributor in shaping the modern human psyche, with his sophisticated inner life, thorough introspection, ego, humility, emotional regulation, and other factors that make us uniquely human. Hamlet asked questions we’ve likely asked at one point in our lives. He is faced with a terrible choice, and we must watch it rip him apart inside. He is a good young man, and shouldn’t have been put into this situation, but the Elizabethans loved their revenge tragedies, and Hamlet had a duty to avenge his father’s death. That’s an unbearable thing to ask a young sensitive intellectual student, who otherwise wouldn’t hurt a fly.

Like Sherlock Holmes, Hamlet is one of the most probing, inquisitive, sensitive, profound, cerebral, meticulous, enigmatic, and clever minds in all of Western literature. His enduring legacy is that he struggles so hard to be a good man and do the right thing, but we must helplessly watch as he completely unravels and plays at an even deadlier game. Hamlet makes numerous mistakes throughout the play, and at points, his hysterically emotional and erratic behavior leads directly to tragedy and bloodshed –he singlehandedly kills an entire family — Polonius, Ophelia (Hamlet was a major contributing factor, along with her father’s death), and her brother Laertes. Hamlet’s cruel and abusive treatment of Ophelia and Gertrude is hard to watch, and hard to reconcile with the sweet and sensitive young scholar we know is hurting profoundly inside. And yet, Hamlet is our everyman (albeit royal, smarter, and wealthier than most of us!). We are allowed to empathize with his grief and anger at his uncle, who brought his world down upon him. He’s a kid who misses his dad, and is estranged from a mother who dishonored the memory of his father by committing a revolting act of impropriety, and crawling into the bed of her brother in law. It might as well be incest, as far as Hamlet is concerned. Part of the strength of the play is that we see all of Hamlet’s objectionable behavior described above, but have to accept them as the inevitable flaws of a deeply troubled young man. We know too much of the rational thinker and sensitive man to disown our protagonist now. By the end of the play, we are vindicated, when  we see a Hamlet who has passed through the fire and come out the other side, brave, resolute, and possessing a steady calmness and quiet acceptance. He knows what he must do, and puts his faith in God and Providence to deliver him to his fate–a destiny he has no control over anyway. With steely resolve, we witness the cerebral schoolboy transform into an elegant instrument of revenge, and though mortally injured, he manages to fatally wound Laertes and run his uncle through with his sword. He must also witness his mother die in the fray, In an instant, two entire families are extinguished, and Fortinbras is left picking up the pieces. As Hamlet lay dying he utters his final words: ‘The rest is silence.’ Appropriate last words for a character who has the most lines of any character in the canon with 1495. He practically speaks for the entire span of the show. He’s finally achieved his purpose, answered his questions, and accepts the inevitable silence of his own death. After Hamlet passes, Horatio sends him off with: ‘Now cracks a noble heart.—Good night, sweet prince, And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!—’ Hamlet’s flight towards Heaven gently parallels the fall of the sparrow — both agents of Providence.Hamlet is the sparrow, of course, and where he once fell, now he is lifted to his salvation.

Was Hamlet intelligent?

What benefits could come from major movie studios merging together in the distant future?

Answer by Jon Ferreira:

During Hollywood’s Golden Age there were eight Hollywood studios commonly regarded as the “majors”. They were Fox Film Corporation (later 20th Century-Fox), Loew’s Incorporated (owner of America’s largest theater circuit and parent company to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer), Paramount Pictures, RKO Radio Pictures, Warner Bros, Universal Pictures, Columbia Pictures, and United Artists.

In 1948, the studio system was challenged under the anti-trust laws and the case went all the way to the Supreme Court, who ruled that studios were in violation of federal anti-trust laws, and were ordered to divest in the distribution and exhibition of films across the country. The landmark case ended such monopolies, thereby hastening the end of the powerful studio system. By 1954, with television competing for audience and the last of the theater chains severed from studio control, the historic era of the studio system was over. If there was ever a time the studios needed to merge, it was then. If there was ever a worse time to merge is was also then, as studios were skittish after losing the anti-trust suit.

After a couple of fat decades reaping huge profits in home entertainment, the majors now face dwindling revenue, due to a shrinking DVD/Blu-Ray market and the ubiquity of pirated material on the Internet. Furthermore, film is in decline, as society has greater access to diverse platforms and technologies.

Currently, we have six major film studios left, referred to as the ‘Big Six.’ They include Paramount, Warner Brothers, 20th Century Fox, Columbia, Universal, and Disney Studios. Over the last few decades, the studios have harnessed much of their former power and prestige, not through controlling distribution, but through mergers and acquisitions by large multinational mixed-asset media conglomerates, with diverse interests such as cable companies, television stations, publishing, film production, home media platforms, electronics, video games, internet/network services, and various other areas. For example, Paramount Studios is owned by Viacom, Warner Brothers is a subsidiary of Time Warner, 20th Century Fox is a subsidiary of 21st Century Fox and former subsidiary of News Corporation,  Columbia is a subsidiary of Sony, Universal is owned by Comcast’s subsidiary NBC Universal, Walt Disney Pictures remains under the large umbrella of the Walt Disney Company.

The studios show no interest in merging, but it’s more likely their parent companies will. Recently, Comcast spent $336 million over the past year-plus on its failed attempt to acquire Time Warner Cable. That would have collapsed Warner Brothers and Universal into the same company, but I seriously doubt they would merge into one company (Universal-Time Warner?), but rather stay separate entities in the same way Lucasfilm, Marvel Studios, Pixar, and Walt Disney Animation Studios are all subsidiaries of Walt Disney Pictures, itself a holding of the Walt Disney Company.

Having said all that, movie studios, much like the music industry, is losing its grip on the market, and hemorrhaging profit in the digital age. There may come a time when film studios have no other choice but merge. The advantages from such a merger are numerous:

  • A shared library of movie titles, means they could offer better packaged home entertainment under just one label
  • The rights to certain characters and franchises would be more fluid, and characters from one franchise could more easily show up in another related franchise (for example, the recent difficult negotiation over the character of Quicksilver between The Avengers franchise from Marvel Animation [owned by Disney] and the popular X-Men franchise at Fox Studios. Marvel Studios president of production Kevin Feige has admitted: “There are only a handful of characters that occupy that middle ground. Iron Man is not going to show up over there [at Fox] and Magneto is not going to show up over here [at Marvel]. But there are a few gray points even after many years of negotiations … and that only happens with a character like Quicksilver, who has been a part of the X-Men, the son of Magneto in those comics, but also a primary Avenger.” A merger between studios holding opposing rights to the same characters would benefit fans, who long to see their favorite super hero show up in a different context. It’s getting better, but there’s still far to go
  • The sharing of studio equipment, personnel, space, talent, and resources would benefit everyone, forming a veritable super team, with the best in their fields and the best of each studio collaborating together. A Warner Brothers merger with Disney would give WB access to Pixar, and films could see old work in new ways
  • All films would benefit from shared advertising budgets and resources, allowing blockbusters to still get top billing and saturated promotion, but also having money and access to twice as many partners, in order to promote smaller, and more independent features and documentaries
  • Under a larger umbrella, studios could offer more boutique production companies (like HBO, Castle Rock, New Line, etc.) that could have individual mandates and missions, specializing in documentaries, art house cinema, historical films, etc.
  • Each studio would now have access to the other parent company’s stock portfolio and holdings, allowing them to diversify, and possibly get back into movie theater distribution, establish relationships with cable companies to produce new work, access to new facilities and equipment owned by the other company, and ability to release content in new ways and on platforms owned and manufactured be new parent company
  • Have access to greater music libraries for significantly less cost. (for example, a merger with Sony or Columbia would be beneficial to other studios without a music division)
  • Cut costs by eliminating redundancies, lower costs of production with more resources, have a more diverse portfolio of products and investment, control every aspect of pre-production, production, post-production, advertising and promotion, cinema distribution, television tie-ins, international export and distribution, and home entertainment packaging and multi-platform applications

What benefits could come from major movie studios merging together in the distant future?

Why do we feel differently about behaviors in real life than when we see them reproduced in fiction?

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                      “The play’s the thing. Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.”

                                                         ~ William Shakespeare, “Hamlet”, Act 2 scene 2

I can offer no studies or scholarly articles on parables or fiction that parallels real events producing catharsis (as Aristotle would say) intermingled with guilt and horror in viewers who committed similar deeds.

It’s interesting that by the point in the play where Hamlet has the players stage the play, he has only the word of a ghost who is rather suspect claiming to be his father and asking his son to commit regicide and exact revenge on his uncle. Hamlet doesn’t even have circumstantial evidence of a murder, but he does have the very hastily tasteless marriage of his uncle to his mother. But we have no backstory on Claudius, and can’t reasonably assume that a provocative play depicting the events of his cruel deed will compel him to explode in rage, guilt, and horror. Yet, somehow Hamlet suspects he will. He infers in the quote above that he will catch the conscience of Claudius, but we don’t quite know if it is rage at being lulled into a false sense of safety watching a play, only to be confronted by an accusation he was unprepared to address. Or was he embarrassed in front of his court? If we decide Hamlet is prescient about the King;s reaction, than it is indeed guilt he will f

Hamlet

When we commit an act or deed — whether in kindness or in malice — we are understandably focused on the task at hand, and have a limited vision of what the precise implications of what our actions might be. That is why murder suspects — at least in the U.S. — are tried on different counts for premeditated and involuntary manslaughter, among other charges. While in the midst of our actions, we aren’t necessarily outside of ourselves, looking at the events as they unfold. We have tunnel vision, and both see what we want to see, and only see what we can reasonably see. For it stands to reason, if we could see more, we’d likely not want to, and may in fact be thwarted from our purpose. We are the protagonist of our own stories, and like an actor in a play, have super-objective we must accomplish, and must pursue them at any cost, using various tactics to achieve our goal. Actors can only see what the character sees, and not what the other characters or the audience witnesses.

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When both Claudius and King David watch and listen to a story hauntingly similar to their own, they cannot look away. They are now spectators of their own murderous past. And as we in the audience do, they are confronted by the heinous nature of their deeds, precisely because they must see the story from every side, as if it were Kurosawa’s Rashōmon, where multiple eye witness accounts describe the same incident from many different perspectives. They are forced to spread empathy and understanding around. A well made play or other narrative work allows us to see the action from multiple viewpoints, and empathize with several different characters at once. If Claudius was forced to witness the murder he committed of his brother, he would have been forced to see an actor portray a happy and healthy King Hamlet, carefree and unaware of the horror that was about to befall him. Claudius likely saw little of this during the act, and for good reason. It’s hard to murder an innocent person, especially when vulnerable. We see proof of this later in the play, when Hamlet resists killing Claudius while he prays. He reasons that it’s because he doesn’t want Claudius sent to Heaven–struck down in the midst of prayer–but it’s more than that, and we know it. Hamlet is not a murderer. The thought of viciously taking a life so mercilessly revolts the otherwise pacifistic and cerebral Prince.

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Claudius, like David, must see their victim from the victim’s perspective, and reconcile the justice in taking a life so cruelly and unfairly. They witness the injustice of their acts. Not like when they were committing them, and could only seethe with the rage and sense of righteous cause at what they felt compelled and justified in doing. Now, they could see the other side of the coin. Furthermore, they had to view the bloody act. It’s almost worse to see violence and bloodshed on stage because it has that suggestion of verisimilitude, yet it’s always stylized to some degree. It looks like a gruesome and macabre dance played out on stage, and that sheen of artistry makes it all the more sick and reviling. While it was being done in real life, it was hurried and lasted only a few blurry seconds. In fiction, it is drawn out and magnified, for all to experience the full impact of the deed. For a murderer, it must feel like an eternity to sit and watch undoubtedly the worse thing they’ve ever done in their life play out in front of them. Time stands still, and it’s like being sentenced to some kind of Promethean loop of sin, forced to relive the horror over and over for time eternal.

Once the murder has been committed, the viewer must witness the aftermath of his deed. He must view the lifeless body and contemplate the injustice of taking a life. But he must also see the grief and dismay that the death — any death — has on a family, a community, a kingdom. He took a husband, a father, his own brother, a king, and above all, another human life. And he saw it all played out in front of him.

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Fiction and art are not real life. They take real life, and project it through the lens of imagination and the artists point of view. What we end up with is always a mimetic, stylized, contextualized, topical, and slightly exaggerated point of view on a topic or incident, with all the requisite moralizing, intellectualizing, and rationalizing. Even a documentary is not real life. It is a perspective and always has a point of view. A murderer or guilty person being forced to witness their actions is perhaps the surest way to induce guilt and dismay at what they have done. On one episode of Star Trek: Voyager, they show an alternative method of punishment that involves implanting a chip in a prisoner’s brain which then goes off at the precise time they killed their victim, and forces them to witness themselves committing the murder every single day for the rest of their lives. Can you imagine?

Perhaps seeing yourself and your actions portrayed in an art medium offers more context, humanizes the victims, and shows the aftermath of the deed much more than the actual committing it, and only then can a perpetrator feel the true impact of their crime.

Why do we feel differently about behaviors in real life than when we see them reproduced in fiction?

Louis C.K. and the Jewish Comedy Tradition

louis-ck
I came across this fascinating article sparsely titled Non-Jews Telling Jokes, after reading about Louis C,K,’s next project — a feature film, which he’ll write, act, and direct, as he does so effectively on his show. I couldn’t help but think of Woody Allen, who also famously acts, writes, and directs his own projects. Furthermore, both men’s work has New York embedded in its very DNA, even though Louis is originally from Boston. Interestingly, C.K.retains much of the vulgar rough-and-tumble spirit of Beantown, but has nonetheless fully assimilated himself into the style and sensibilities of his adopted home of New York. So much so, it’s easy to forget he isn’t from there.

But what does a New York comic look like? Like Louis C.K. That nebbish and self-deprecating observational style humor that traces its roots back centuries, but more recently grew out of the lower East Side immigrant Jewish population, and characterized by sardonically irreverent wit, and influenced by colorful storytelling, Yiddish Theatre, Vaudeville, Borscht Belt comedy acts, old school roasts, and a rich — yet challenging — history of migration, persecution, guilt, skepticism, heritage, tradition, perseverance, and survival. But at the very core of all that hardship and heartbreak, is the one thing the Jewish people never surrendered: their laughter.

The only problem is, Louis C.K. isn’t actually Jewish. But he must be! His whole sensibility screams Jewish humor. As it turns out, he’s an honorary “schlemiel” — the Yiddish word for a stupid, awkward, or unlucky person. Louis so effortlessly slipped into the skin of a New Yorker, he even managed to pass and fool nearly all of us — including many Jews, who just took him to be a part of the tribe. Yet C.K. has always been honest about his upbringing, and never intentionally mimicked the style of his Jewish peers. As it turns out, the reason America has always had a love affair with Jewish humor is because it was clever, unthreatening, self-deprecating, and most of all — deeply human — with all its failure and awkward clumsiness. Louis C.K. is doesn’t have to be Jewish to be a ‘schlemiel’ — just a goofy and unlucky everyman that we can all see ourselves in. If imitation is the highest form of flattery, Jewish comedians are being paid tribute in spades. (but as one might expect from a schlemiel, getting none of the cash or the credit! Oy vey!)

Which is better and why: Star Wars or Star Trek?

Answer by Jon Ferreira:

The Pros and Cons of Star Wars
Although I was exposed to Star Wars first, as I grew older and more discriminating, Star Trek offered me more substance and what I needed as a more mature adult. I agree with what many have said about Star Wars being very black and white, pitting good against evil, and filled with common archetypes. Lucas drew heavily on Japanese film and culture, and the mythology of Joseph Campbell. His movies are epic, and rightfully called space operas. They have a very overblown, deeply felt, dramatic tone to them, and are very operatic in style.

When all is said and done, I can’t help feeling that Star Wars really is a franchise aimed at young people, and the young at heart. The action is exciting, relatively easy to follow, and filled with all kinds of colorful costumes, freaky alien makeup, thrilling sound effects, and exquisitely detailed models and/or CGI. There are few deep philosophical questions, and Lucas doesn’t ask much of us. It’s thrilling, in the way that Stephen Spielberg movies are thrilling, and it’s not surprising that the two are friends and borrow liberally from each other. Just as Spielberg provides all the excitement of hunting a giant shark or being chased by a Velociraptor, Lucas provides us with captivating excitement, while spending less time filling in the deeper inner life of the characters. The emotional investment of the characters is bifurcated, with deep allegiances to good (the rebels/Republic) and bad (The Galactic Empire). Luke dresses in white at the beginning, and Darth Vader is in black. Every design choice in the films reinforce this dialectic, and make it abundantly clear who is who, so you never have to question who the bad guy is. The emotions soar in isolated scenes, but the feelings are relatively simple and unrefined. There is little philosophical musing or deep cerebral action happening throughout the franchise. There’s little nuance here. That’s not Star Wars. It’s exactly what it says it is, and you know exactly what you’re getting. I still love it, but more in a nostalgic way, summoning my boyhood infatuation with the films. When I want something more filling, I turn elsewhere.

The Virtue of Star Trek
Star Trek, on the other hand, started right out of the gate as something new and provocative. It didn’t take long to notice that this Sci-Fi series was going to be something drastically different than anything that had come before. This was no Lost in Space or Forbidden Planet.  In truth, Gene Roddenberry drafted a proposal for the science fiction series that he publicly marketed as a Western in outer space. He called it a so-called “Wagon Train to the Stars” — taking the name directly from the popular Western TV series. In that show, settlers explored the frontier in peace, but encountered hostility along the way. Their strong moral code allowed them to solve disagreements and meet new people and civilizations. Sound familiar? He privately told friends that he also was modeling it on Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, intending each episode to act on two levels: as a suspenseful adventure story and as a morality tale.

Within the first few episodes, the show set itself apart from its peers, and offered a thoughtful reflection of 20th Century problems and unenlightened prejudices, while comfortably distancing itself in the future. Up until that point, much Science Fiction had been cheesy, shlocky, campy, and silly in its portrayal of the future. The genre had become waded in technology and ridiculous depictions of space gadgetry. Of course, Star Trek had its own technobabble and gadgets, but they were never ostentatious or showy. They were functional and utilitarian, and built on technology we already had. Or at least could envision. The show told deeply inquisitive stories, and offered a Universe like our own, except better. And all of this was already apparent by the fifth episode!

Although Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS) isn’t my favorite series, it set the bar high. The first significant thing it had going for it was its multicultural cast, including three Jewish actors (Shatner, Nimoy, Koenig) playing bridge officers. Even though the show never acknowledged the ethnicity of its actors, the casting was a symbolic nod to what kind of show this would be. Secondly, there was an actor playing an accented Scotsman, an actor playing an accented Russian, a Japanese man, and a black female communications officer who spoke Swahili. This was one of the first instances of a black female in a lead role. This kind of diversity was almost unheard of in network television at the time, and all throughout the series, Roddenberry gave substantial roles to minorities.

This universe was set three hundred years in the future, after the third world war and the eugenics war. Humanity was peaceful, and had rid itself of greed, capitalism, the need for currency, and war. Starfleet Academy is where the future’s recruits to Starfleet’s officer corps will be trained. It was created in the year 2161, when the United Federation of Planets was founded. By the time Kirk is captaining the Enterprise, Starfleet and the Federation are roughly a hundred years old. Exploration is out of its infancy stage, but still wild and not totally regulated. Needless to say, Kirk and his crew have a LOT of latitude.

The Soul of Star Trek
Perhaps the soul of the show can be found directly in the guiding principle of the Federation and Starfleet Academy. It’s a moral code, by which the explorers live by. The Prime Directive, also known as Starfleet General Order 1 or the Non-Interference Directive, was the embodiment of one of Starfleet’s most important ethical principles: noninterference with other cultures and civilizations. At its core was the philosophical concept that covered personnel should refrain from interfering in the natural, unassisted, development of societies, even if such interference was well-intentioned. The Prime Directive was viewed as so fundamental to Starfleet that officers swore to uphold the Prime Directive, even at the cost of their own life or the lives of their crew. A premise such as this was profoundly unique to Star Trek, and revolutionary for the era. Roddenberry clearly had Native American genocide, African slavery and Civil Rights, and other Colonial interference and subjugations in mind when he crafted such a directive. Over the fifty years prior to the show, Colonial governments were being overthrown, and countries were gaining their independence and autonomy from various imperial states. The devastation left in the wake of colonial imperialism can still be deeply felt in nations across Africa, Asia, South America, and elsewhere. Roddenberry deeply believed in a future free of unnecessary meddling or interference.

Star Trek: The Original Series
There were just three short seasons before being cancelled, by my land, what a magnificent run. Granted, the production values were god awful, and the acting was almost as bad. By today’s standards, the show is often laughable, with flimsy sets and unimaginative multi-colored food morsels (they didn’t even have room in the budget for prop food). However, those three seasons produced some of the most iconic scripts, with some of the most profound and philosophical ideas ever put forth on television. Although sometimes the dialogue was laughable and contrived, the stories in those early years were really innovative, and simply good science fiction. The Enemy Within is a nice riff on Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, and asks us to examine the evil within us all. It explores where our assertive and aggressive sides come from, and acknowledges that we must invariably draw on our reptilian self-preservationist savage from time to time. It’s not pretty to look at that side of ourselves. Dagger of the Mind raises questions about crime and punishment and the ethics of certain methods of rehabilitation. It might be even more relevant today, with our bursting, eroding prisons. The Conscience of the King is a great premise, with a former tyrant and mass butcher hiding within a Shakespeare troupe as an actor. He might as well have been Eichman or Mengele. Return of the Archons is the inspiration for the recent Purge movies. One night a year, people go crazy and kill, for the sake of peace and calm in society the rest of the time. Yet, like today, the exploited and exploiters aligned with the have and have-nots, and it becomes clear who’s being purged. In Space Seed, we are introduced to the inimitable Khan, one of the greatest characters in the Trek universe. and introduced to a superhuman man and product of the Eugenics Wars, a shameful and destructive period in Earth’s late 20th Century. The genetically engineered Khan is a reminder of Hitler’s own obsession with breeding a master Aryan race. The episode City on the Edge of Forever, was artfully scribed by the famous Science Fiction writer, Harlan Ellison. This episode is so unlike the others, and has a special grace and elegance to it. We see Kirk genuinely fall for a woman, and ultimately have to let her die in order to not pollute the temporal timeline. This was really the first Trek to introduce the idea that our interference could change the course of time. This would later be known as the Temporal Prime Directive. This Gateway of Forever construct was used later in TNG, when Picard had to step through, and ended up on a Romulan ship. Although cancelled after just three short years, Star Trek set the tone for the rest of the series, and set the bar high for future generations. It was the face that launched a franchise, and is quite honestly, the series by which all others are measured.

I’m currently on my fourth viewing of all six series (including The Animated Series), and every time I go back to TOS, I’m a little skeptical, knowing it’s a bit cheesy, and hard to watch at times. However, there are at least TWO things that TOS got right. The first thing is the scripts. Those stories were strong enough to carry the show, no matter what happened. They were bona fide works of science fiction, and as good as anything in the genre. Secondly, the relationship between Kirk, Spock, and Bones was so solid and so affectionate, you could tell those three men really liked each other. They had such a short hand, a familiarity, and lighthearted chemistry. You would have thought they’d been acting together for over 20 years. That trifecta relationship was really what the show rested on. Had Jeffery Hunter stayed with the show, I don’t think it would have been nearly as successful. Despite his absurd (but lovable) over-the-top and blustery acting, Shatner brought a charming energy, which permeated through the whole cast.

Star Trek: The Next Generation
Although the film franchise was launched in 1979 — roughly a decade after the first series went off the air — it took nearly 20 years for another Star Trek show to hit the airways. That show was the much beloved Star Trek: The Next Generation. Think of it. What big shoes to fill. In that 20 years, a revolution had formed — a groundswell of fiercely loyal fans devoted to what…three short seasons of a cheaply produced science fiction show from the late ’60s! By then, Star Trek Conventions were popping up all over the world, and the fan base was deep and committed. I myself attend Conventions every summer! We all know Star Trek was much more than a cheap science fiction show. It was a movement. It was the thinking man’s science fiction, and a font for how we approach the universe, ourselves, and each other. It was social commentary. It was brawn and brains. Action and exploration. TNG was great, and did a remarkable job filling those shoes. It was different and new enough to be fresh and above reproach, yet still recognizable as in the Trekkie universe, upholding all of the same ideals and asking us even more nuanced questions. The first couple seasons were rough (embarrassingly bad quality writing that was at best prosaic and contrived, and at worst, creepily sexist and racist), but it showed marked improvement after that. The major improvements upon the original were a significantly higher budget and convincing production values, and more importantly, an arguably better cast — acting wise. That’s not to say the iconic cast from TOS was horrible — because they weren’t — but they were generally a bit cheesy and overblown, allowing us to love them for the charm of their personalities over their innate acting ability. TNG had a legitimate stable of trained actors, led by the inimitable Shakespearean stage actor, Patrick Stewart. He set the tone for the whole show. His serious demeanor and commanding presence leant the show gravitas, and we instantly knew we were in capable hands. Probably the next best actor was Brent Spiner, in a remarkable turn as Data, the android who so desperately longs to be human. His earnest and inquisitive, while often unintentionally funny, demeanor stand as not only the levity of the show, but ironically its heart. The tin man provides the heart and soul of the ship and crew, nay, its very mission. The rest of the cast varies in talent (and in annoyance factor — I’m looking at you Deanna and Lwaxana Troi…Beverly and Wesley Crusher!) But for the most part, the cast was competent and effective. Sadly, my final assessment is that although it has some of the best episodes Star Trek has ever produced (Chain of Command, Ship in a Bottle, Darmok, The Measure of a Man, Relics, to name a few) and perhaps the two best characters — Picard and Data — the show’s writing was uneven and inconsistent, making it sometimes fall short of the mark. The show is excellent, but it would take one more incarnation to really master the formula.

Deep Space Nine Captures Lightening in a Bottle
As the various series matured,  Star Trek tackled more philosophical ideas, and challenged its viewers to think more deeply. In my humble opinion, Deep Space Nine (DS9) stands as the pinnacle in Star Trek accomplishment. I know many people disparage it because it takes place on a space station, and not a starship, thus defying the mission of the show. That’s bullshit. The show has by far, the most accomplished cast of actors, each playing really unique characters. including one Bajoran, a shapeshifter, a Ferengi, and later a Klingon. Add in two terrific Cardassians, and Lissipian barfly named Morn (an anagram spoof on Cheers‘ Norm) and you have the most talented cast of all. Sure, TNG had Picard and Data, but it also had Troi, Crusher and Yar. DS9 cast is terrific across the board. There simply is no offensively bad actor on the show.

In terms of scripts, I would venture to say that few science fiction scripts in the history of episodic television have rivaled DS9 at its best. The scripts are so well articulated, and so intricately plotted, that character arcs are well developed and extended perfectly over the course of the seven year run. Dialogue is elegant and intelligent, and the plots are interesting and engaging. DS9 at its best perfectly mastered the balance and elegance of a solid Star Trek episodes. The episode would be both cerebral and moral, ask questions the audience had to answer, and still provide plenty of action to keep you engaged.  TOS and TNG might have some stellar episodes throughout, but DS9 wins for most consistent quality. And most evenly and impressively acted by every cast member.

I only need name a few transformative DS9 episodes to make my point. Far Beyond the Stars envisions the events of Deep Space Nine as the creation of Benny Russell, a struggling science-fiction writer living in 1950s New York City who dreams of an escape from the racism and social tumult that surrounds him. He also looks exactly like Ben Sisko, giving the rest of the cast a chance to ditch their makeup and prosthetics to appear as his friends, co-workers and tormentors. This episode may be low on production costs, but it extraordinarily high on concept. In The Visitor it’s hard to escape a viewing without sobbing uncontrollably. This episode gets to the soul of what Star Trek is ultimately supposed to be about: the human condition. After the unexpected death of his father, Jake spends a lifetime figuring out how the boy that he was can be reunited with the dad that he so desperately needed. At its core, Star Trek is not about technobabble or sci-fi, and this episode perfectly captures that. It is a story about love, loss and self-sacrifice that is so powerful that it transcends the genre and devastates by its sheer beauty. In Duet a Cardassian man arrives on the station suffering from an illness that he could only have contracted at a Bajoran labor camp during the Occupation. While in custody, he boastfully claims to be the head of the labor camp, responsible for countless Bajoran deaths. Major Kira (a deeply bitter and resentful Bajoran) leads an investigation to determine whether he is actually a notorious war criminal. The show explores mercy, redemption, forgiveness, guilt, and the insidious effect of hatred and vengeance. It is one of the most powerful hours you’ll ever spend in front of a television.

Star Trek or Star Wars?
As much as I enjoy the Star Wars films, they are blockbuster candy. They’re exciting and thrilling, and are undeniably fun. At the same time, they are also really sweet and fill me up for a time, but they’re not high in nutrition. Whereas, Star Trek rejuvenates me each time I return to the well. I am inspired by its lofty ideals and Roddenberry’s hope for a better tomorrow. The movies and shows are intellectually engaging, morally inquisitive, and challenge me each time I watch. Star Trek pushes us to reexamine our world, and to go boldly go where no one has gone before. If Star Wars is my youthful idealism, Star Trek is my cautious optimism, tempered by time and experience. That sustains me.

Which is better and why: Star Wars or Star Trek?

Which are the best movies based on true stories?

Answer by Jon Ferreira:

1. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

2. Chaplin (1992)

3. Ghandi (1982)

4. Capote (2005)

5. The Elephant Man (1980)

6. The King’s Speech (2010)

7. The Social Network (2010)

8. The Last Emperor (1987)

9. Walk the Line (2005)

10. GoodFellas (1990) 

11. Malcolm X (1992)

12. My Left Foot (1989)

13. Amadeus (1984)

14. Raging Bull (1980)

15. Schindler’s List (1993)

Which are the best movies based on true stories?

Aren’t Americans ashamed they don’t have a language of their own and have to borrow from the English?

Answer by Jon Ferreira:

Um…I think it’s important to remember that we didn’t ‘borrow’ our language from the English. The English brought their language with them from their home country. We were English!!! It’s not borrowing when it’s your own language. We were a British colony, and therefore, spoke English. Presumably British English at first. Our unique dialect developed over time, and obviously varied from region to region.

Would you ask the same thing of all your former and current British colonies? How about Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, British West Indies, and numerous other British colonies and protectorates? Should America be any more ashamed than these vibrant countries? The consequences of being the largest imperial empire since the Roman Empire is that you spread your seed far and afield. The fact that Americans speak English says more about England’s cultural and territorial promiscuity than it does about our perceived shame or fault.

Despite the largess of the British Empire, America has surpassed it in influence, and has had an unmistakably cataclysmic impact on the world, We have exported our technology, art and media, business, democracy, pollution, and general way of life — for good or for bad. As a result, we have arguably been more responsible for sharing and disseminating — if not strong-arming — the spread of English throughout the world. For all intents and purposes, English has become the ipso facto lingua franca of the world. At the risk of sounding nationalistic, much of the credit for the spread of English can be attributed to the globalization — or Americanization — of the planet.

Having said all that, I love England, and am a degreed scholar in Shakespeare, and a history of the English language. George Bernard Shaw once sardonically quipped, ‘The United States and Great Britain are two countries separated by a common language.’ Perhaps the British know how to use it more effectively than us Yanks, but we have robustly made it our own, and they should be regarded as fond relatives, rather than bitter and resentful enemies. The beauty of language is that it is fluid and adaptable, and always finds clever ways to suit the culture who uses it. Perhaps the Aussies have bastardized and desecrated the English language of their mother country as well, but it’s hard to argue with the fact that they have shaped it to fit their unique and rugged personality. The language is subsequently bold, robust, and above all, colorful. Perfectly suited for their country. Shakespeare himself was absolutely irreverent with English, and audaciously invented words, reconfigured vocabulary, spun new phrases, and treated the language as if it was his own, to use and abuse at will. We should all be so impudent! Like any language, English is not precious, and if it’s worth speaking, it’s worth changing and adapting.

Language is the currency of thought, and is not the possession of one sole country. It is a living, breathing thing, and it’s best to grit your teeth, and hold on for dear life. No, Americans should not be ashamed of using a language that originated somewhere else. English itself originated somewhere else. English is a West Germanic language that was brought to Britain by Germanic invaders or settlers from what is now called north west Germany and the Netherlands.  A large portion of the modern English vocabulary came from the Anglo-Norman languages, as a result of the Anglo-Saxon and Norman conquests later in its history. Intermingled with this is the heavy influence of the language of Rome, following the various Roman conquests of Britain. Increased literacy and travel facilitated the adoption of many foreign words, especially borrowings from Latin and Greek since the Renaissance, and during the transition into what we call ‘Modern English.’  In the modern era, English has frequently made use of loanwords originating from other languages. English, perhaps more than any other language, is adaptive, and has grown out of ‘borrowing’ from other cultures. At its heart, our language is a postmodernist pastiche of the world. No shame here.

Aren’t Americans ashamed they don’t have a language of their own and have to borrow from the English?