Posts Tagged ‘Transformers’

I think that Destiny and Revelation have common denominators.  Not only do both posses a massive feeling of “otherness” or “beyondness” to them, but I think the two are both often inconvenient; neither, as Optimus Prime said, “calls upon us at a moment of our choosing.”  Rather, they present themselves in the midst of moments wherein nothing can be done about them “right then” and, as such, things must wait and risk the moment fading away.  Recently, I had a moment like this and only now record it, willing it to stay within the foreground of my memory.

When considering a instance of destiny in modern American culture, few are more poignant in my mind than the tale of John Connor in the Terminator films.  The story of a young boy possessing the knowledge of not only what he will become, but what must happen to the world in order for him to become it; always racing against time to prevent it and stave off disaster.  It is within this story that a recent revelation arose. In the first Terminator film, the T-101 cyborg is sent back in time to the year 1984 by Skynet, a self- aware artificial intelligence system bent on the destruction of humanity.  The programmed mission a simple one: kill Sarah Connor, the mother of John Connor.  John was to grow up and save humanity by leading the human resistance in defeating Skynet in the future.  The Terminator pursues this mission relentlessly, with a detached ruthlessness beyond human capacity.  The T-101 nearly succeeds, but for the valiant efforts of John’s father, Kyle Reese, a solider from the future sent back to protect Sarah.

In 1991, Terminator 2 released and changed the Terminator mythos, forever.  The year is 1995.  Sarah Connor has been committed to a facility for the mentally unstable and 10 year old John Conner is living with foster parents.  Once again, Skynet has sent a Terminator back in time to kill the Connor family, and the resistance has sent a new protector as well: a Terminator; encountered, reprogrammed, and re-purposed by John Conner to protect him and his mother. 

J.R.R. Tolkien is often credited with the idea that any Myth is ultimately reflecting the truth of Christianity.  While the Terminator franchise is certainly myth, I find that it actually supports Tolkien’s idea and reflects the story of a central character in the New Testament: The Apostle Paul.  When Saul/Paul is first mentioned in Acts 7, at the stoning of Stephen, he is approving of those taking part in the actions against Stephen.  Just a chapter or so later, he is actively pursuing violence against the newborn Christian church, seen as a threat to Jewish religious thought.  As recorded in Acts 9, Saul is en-route to Damascus, the Capital City of Syria, to quell the fledgling church there when he has an encounter with Jesus Christ and the path of his life is altered and Saul, now named Paul, is repurposed to work on behalf of the growing church he dedicated his entire life to decimating before his conversion.  Ultimately, the fate of the Terminator and the Apostle are the same – a life with new purpose and death while in the service of the one who gave them new purpose.

And as an an interesting aside, John Conner possesses the same initials as Jesus Christ and in both cases, powerful forces attempted to kill them as children, before either could fulfil their destinies – fictional or actual.

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I really like books; I like owning them, having shelves full of them, and reading them.  I’m currently in the midst of four separate books between various small groups and my own personal reading.  I started reading Frank Peretti at 11 years old and started collecting the Star Wars expanded Universe at 12; 17 years later my Star Wars  novels count is well over 80 and takes up three shelves of one of my bookcases.  I was obsessed with Christian apocalyptic fiction for most of Jr. High and High School thanks to the Left Behind books (but I won’t say anything more about that – except that I never finished the whole series).  When looking at my bookshelves, I never expected for it to hold a book by Donald Miller, the author of Blue Like Jazz (which is going to be released as a theatrical film soon)JRR Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Susan Cooper, G.P. Taylor, Chuck Colson, and two series on Philosophy and Popular Culture (Star Wars, Star Trek, Transformers, Terminator, Green Lantern, Batman, X-MEN, Battlestar Galactica, 24, LOST) sure, you’d find those, but Donald Miller?  Wasn’t he the guy that the “cool kids” read, those on the 21st Century cutting edge of Christianity?  Yeah, that was way too “Christian Hipster” for me when I actually thought about it, and I honestly would have rather read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books if given the choice (which I own but  haven’t finished).

All that changed one night a few weeks ago.  It was a cold Tuesday night and I’d just finished leading a C.S. Lewis reading group called “The Inklings” (what else would you call it?) when I ran into my friend Andy.  We hadn’t seen one another since the Leadership retreat for National Community Church a few weeks prior, so we got to talking.  Before we knew it we got talking about dreams, destiny, and how it takes intense conflict and perseverance to make a good story (all in “epic superhero/comic book movie” context as well as some of my own life story).  All of the sudden a light goes on inside Andy’s mind and he asks me “Have you ever read Donald Miller?”  I said “no”, and I wasn’t so eager to begin.    Andy began to explain that he understood my hesitation, as he didn’t like Donald Miller either, at first.  It wasn’t until he read A Million Miles in a Thousand Years that his perspective began to change (and he has now lead multiple smallgroups though this book).  In fact, my friend believed so much that I should read this book that he bought me a copy and had it sent to my house.  When that happens, you’ve got to give the book a shot because someone you respect sees it as a powerful vessel for wisdom, transformation, and change.  So I began reading.

This being my first experience with this author I didn’t know what to expect.  I had recently seen a trailer for the theatrical release of Blue Like Jazz and it looked very “indie and weird” (redundancy?).  I don’t really like “indie and weird”, except when it crosses over into “epic, super-ish, and full of awesome” like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World does (and SO WELL), because I live in the land of epic and I don’t’ like to stray outside those borders.  As I read I began to realize that one of the threads going through this book was the story of how Blue Like Jazz was going to become a movie: a ground floor account of the author’s life though that process and how it all went down (from characters, to conflict, inciting incidents, plot turns and the like).  I began to wonder “Has George Lucas done this?” and I found myself wishing the answer was yes.

Miller uses this book to look at his life as a story, and to ask the overall question of “what makes a good story and am I living one, a story worth living and inviting others to be a part of?”  As I read I realized that these were questions that I was (and am) consistently wrestling with in light of some of my experiences.  It brought to mind the ending of the two part episode of Facing Life Head On that I was featured in last year, when the host of the show, Brad Mates, says that I and my fellow interviewees had made our lives “stories worth telling”.  Does that mean that at the end of every day you have to be able to say that the day that just ended was worth it?  No, it does not, but worthwhile things have sure happened.  Often in our own stories it’s others that see the worth that we can’t as we’re in the midst of it, as I wrote about Kirk and Spock yesterday.

The book talks about how in Star Wars, the viewer can pause the movie at any point and ask the question “what does a certain character want and what do they have to overcome to get it?” and you know the answer.  Luke wants to become a Jedi and join the Rebellion; Leia wants to defeat the Empire; Han Solo want money so he can pay off Jabba the Hutt.  Ben Kenobi wants to teach Luke the ways of the Force.  Reader finds themselves asking, “what do I want and what do I have to overcome to get it?”  (Along that line of thinking I started to read Quitter by Jon Acuff and will blog about it when I finish the book).  I started asking myself, “is mine a story that is one others should be invited to participate in?” once the book raised this question.

In addressing this question, thoughts drift to The FENX (how can it not?)  I think of how that part of the my story touches and relates to so many other parts and is the fulfilment of some aspects (like wishing I were a superhero).  It’s also something that so many have been invited to be part of.  From Carl Sears and his wife Sheila at NBC to Brad Mates at Facing Life Head On; from radio show hosts Aleksander Danilov, Rick Amato, Anthony DiMiggaio, and Armstrong Williams to writers like Kate Tumerello and Roll Call newspaper.  Even two wonderful ladies who work at NASA and have become good friends of mine (one I actually went to high school with).  Not to mention friends in DC that find themselves part of the crazy incidents that happen on a regular basis and become wondrous tales.  It isn’t just my story anymore; they’ve all been invited to be part of it, and in accepting it’s become part of their story too.  One of the pastors at National Community Church once said that “everyone had that friend on college that was the crazy one that stuff happened to all the time; you either wanted to be around them or run from them because of that.”  I am fortunate to have friends that haven’t run away yet.

There’s still much ground to cover any always improvements to be made, and some of them monumental ones, but yes, I think my life to be a story worth living on the whole of it.  Remember that a good story requires intense conflict and perseverance – the road of The Greater Miracle is unpaved and sparsely trod – the Apostle Paul speaks to this in Romans 5:3-5 for a reason, venturing into the realm of suffering where Yoda dared not go.

What sort of story is your life, is it one that people want to be a part of?  Are you inviting people to be part of it?

Often, the hardest thing about blogging is beginning; finding a way to allow that kernel of an idea (or in this case a recent experience) to flow onto the screen coherently though the keys.  Sometimes, the difficulty comes because you’re still processing your experience as you are trying to write about it; this is where I am.  This past weekend, I travelled to Baltimore with some friends to attend Farpoint, a DC/Baltimore area Sci-Fi convention (often referred to as a “con”) named after “Encounter at Farpoint”, the pilot episode of Star Trek:  The Next Generation that aired in 1987.  I’d never been to an event like this (an admission that I am sure surprises some).  Growing up, my Star Wars/sci-fi fandom was really contained between certain members of my family and a few close friends, very much of the Fanboys variety.  Yes, we collectively spent a small fortune (to us) on the Star Wars Customizeable Card Game in our teenage years and read all sorts of novels and comic books, debating this or that, and saw the Star Wars Special Edition in theatres in 1997 and the prequels after that, but yesterday was the “first step into a much larger world”, to quote a wizard who’s “just a crazy old man.”

Upon registration and meeting up with a new friend named Rob, whose idea this was from the start, we met Michael Hogan (a.k.a. Colonel Tigh from the Battlestar Galactica (BSG) and Slade Wilson/Deathstroke from the final season of Smallville).  It’s a slightly jarring but welcome experience to realize these folks are just normal people playing a role, but fans often idolize them nevertheless.  (For Rob, who is a ardent BSG fan, this was the highlight and it happened right out of the gate.)  Mr. Hogan was rather gracious as we all discussed BSG and I asked a question or two about Smallville.  Before I knew it, we were listening to a panel about creating a “webisode series” and what that takes (think Felicia Day and “The Guild” – as it happens I kept thinking of the latest season of this web show when trying to imagine what yesterday’s experience might be like).  The down side sometimes being that at these panels some individuals in the audience won’t stop talking and you can’t learn anything useful (what a grand initial experience).  During the BSG panel I began to realize how these local events tend to work, with the local folks who put the event on moderating panels, and while some of them seemed to be with it, I certainly felt like my friends and I could have done a better job.

The fulcrum of the entire experience came unhinged during the panel discussion on The Big Bang Theory: the realization that there really are those that truly live for these events and honestly have little else in their lives…and that compared to them I am, thankfully, a rank amateur (that, and everyone in the room danced around the issue that there are those that watch The Big Bang Theory just to laugh at folks like us because they cannot believe such people exist in this world – or they want to see what the kids they picked on in high school grow up to become).  That was a somewhat comforting moment of crisis, in stark contrast to being told I “out-geek” myself on a regular basis.     Not to say I can’t hold my own in such a place (or a later panel on the Thundercats).  A question inevitably bubbles up as this moment passes and further reflection transpires:  how deep into such a culture are you willing to go, and do you even want to, is the pay-off worth it?  Conversely, are you presently within the happy medium and would rather stay there?

Diving into the costuming facet of that sub-culture though, some of the ladies that show up should know better than to degrade themselves via the scantaly/tightly clad persona they choose to inhabit for the day (or weekend); I understand it is an individuals cognisant choice too do this but this is liberation? I digress…

The jury is still out on continued experiences to knowingly further embrace this culture , but one thing can truthfully be said : I learned something about myself, and never felt more normal in recent memory then when I arrived home that night, but wondered what might happen next year if I were to returned ensconced in the FENX.

(This blog post brought to you by the 20th Anniversary edition of the Transformers:  The Movie soundtrack and the new Ghost Rider movie)

Riding Towards Eternity,

Aaron

“Autobots wage their battle to destroy the evil forces of the Decepticons” – Transformers Theme

Those words, familiar to many a Transformer fan for nearly three decades, have never rung as true as they do in the case of the new Transformers movie, Transformer: Dark of the Moon. Of the three films, this is by far the darkest and most intense and the war between the Autobots and the tyranny of the Decepticons comes home in a big way. The last installment in the franchise was a disappointment and there was no doubt it had fallen from the great heights of the first film (even if I liked it more than most folks did). This movie redeems the franchise on many levels.

The film opens with vivid and fantastic scenes from the final days of the war on the Transformers’s home planet of Cybertron, detailing a failed mission that, if successful, would have allowed the Autobots to prevail against the Decepticons. The mission focuses on a secret ship that crash lands on Earth’s moon and NASA detects it. This sets off the “Space Race” between the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1960’s in an attempt to discover what happened. History goes forth, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin arrive on the moon on Apollo 11, but really to embark on a secret mission, wherein they discover the crashed Autobot vessel and special pods. Fast forward to present day and Sam Whitwicky is a recent college graduate living in DC with his girlfriend Carly (long gone is Megan Fox and her character) who previously worked at the British Embassy and now manages a car collection for a character played by Patrick Dempsey who functions as a foil for Sam on multiple levels. Sam is struggling to find both a job and himself, not understanding why after helping to discover the Transformers and save the world (twice) he can’t make something of himself; as Sam says “I just want to matter”

The Autobots are now working with the United States Spec. Ops. to quell conflicts around the world. During a secret mission to Chernobyl in Russia, the Autobots come across two nasty Decepticon baddies known as Shockwave (to whom Megatron entrusts Cybertron in the original cartoon from the 80’s) and Laserbeak, both on missions in Russia related to the moon crash. Meanwhile, Decepticon leader Megatron is in exile in Africa with his minions Starscream and Soundwave (now in vehicle form instead of the satellite from Transformers 2 and also the keeper of Laserbeak, much like Ravage – the panther – was his minion in Transformers 2). Once the Autobots learn of the existence of the crashed ship on the moon, from the real-life Buzz Aldrin, (Optimus berates the Obama Administration for their silence) and the survival of it’s captain – Sentinel Prime, the leader of the Autobots before Optimus – they travel to the moon to retrieve and revive him. With Sentinel revived, the movie really kicks into high gear and the remainder is a intense experience filled with heroes, villains, dark moments, and massive destruction that does not let up.

I really enjoyed the film and the places it take the audience (and the special effects were fantastic throughout). Bay really did work hard to redeem the franchise from the last outing, and there were a number of moments in which I honestly didn’t know if key characters would live or die (and not all of them make it through this film). Having grown up with the Transformers mythos and now gone through three movies, I love these heroes and to a degree the villains; in these characters there are no shades, it is good vs. evil – period. In a culture filled with anti-heroes and vampires-as-heroes I prefer this any day of the week. In a film like this the robots are the real stars and they shine through the massive action sequences. Megatron, Shockwave, Starscream, and Soundwave are true to their classic iterations and are as evil as ever, wanting nothing but power and subjugation through tyranny and fear. The Autobots seeks to preserve freedom and protect humanity from the Decepticons. In the same vein, the US Military (and America in general) is shown in a great light (which has some critics writhing) by way of Spec Ops and SEALS working with the Autobots to defeat the Decepticons and their human toadies.

One aspect that stuck out to me was the development of Sam’s character. His desire to matter, to stake his place in the world around him is something that come through loud and clear in this film and resonates; we all want to be worthy, we all want to be more than we are. It a classic theme seen in many stories and movies, seen in Star Wars, The Last Starfighter, Harry Potter, Green Lantern, Spiderman, and even Batman Begins to a degree. Everyone of us grapples with this in life at one time or another, and some more than others (certainly so if you try and live within and around the world of epic superheroes). It echo’s Bruce Wayne’s words, from Batman Begins: “It’s what I do that defines me”. The danger exists when “what can I do (for others)?” transforms into “what can I become (for my own sake)?” In this film, Sam makes the choice to put himself in harms way (for the sake of another) instead of unintentionally being a part of what happens, and danger ensues.

If you’re wavering as to seeing Transformers 3, don’t listen to the critics, go see it and make your own assessment.

On a personal note, when the production team was filming in DC last year, I took the FENX on a hunt for the Autobots one day and found them not too far from Chinatown. There before me was Optimus Prime in all his Autobot awesomeness and I am having to answer questions from others who wonder who/what I am and if I am part of the film. As it turns out one of the production managers in charge of the vehicles did admit that if the FENX had been in Transformers 3, Michael Bay would have wanted to blow it up.

Aaron