Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Welcome to the new "Spirit Blade Underground Weblog"! If you've kept up with the blog in the past, hopefully the transition was unnoticeable. But if you know of any broken links that lead to the old typepad location, please let me know.
I'm also open to feedback about features you'd like to see on this site. Anything you miss from the old version? Let me know! Any new ideas for the blog? I wanna here 'em!
For updates on current projects and the various "behind the scenes" goings-on at Spirit Blade Productions, this is the place to be. I also post a weekly study called "In Search Of Truth" that aims to take a fresh look at the Bible, chapter by chapter. We'll be back into the book of Romans next week!
You'll also notice that you can subscribe to this blog via feed or direct e-mail. So you never need to miss a single post again!
Thanks for stopping by!
Friday, December 17, 2010
Long before Neo entered the Matrix, "Tron" presented an action packed visual feast that took us inside the world of computers. Decades later, we finally return to this amazing digital world in "Tron: Legacy", which follows the story of Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) as he searches for his father, Kevin Flynn(Jeff Bridges).
Kevin Flynn discovered a hidden digital world that exists in all computer software. It is populated by programs that have personalities and emotions, much like humans. Humans are referred to as "Users" and take the role of deities for the programs they create. But Kevin Flynn disappeared into this computer world when his son was just a boy and has been missing ever since. Sam, now 27, goes in search of his Father on a journey that takes him into the computer world where he must survive gladiatorial games and the multitude of enemy programs he encounters.
Although the visual effects are not the breakthrough that the original Tron was, they are rich and beautiful and mesmerizing to watch. The attention given to even the glowing trails of the light-cycles is worth the effort. And since much of the action is digital, the camera is able to go places it normally could not, allowing for some "Matrix-like" moments that provide further candy for the eyes.
There is plenty of action to be had in this movie, and don't let the PG rating fool you. The tone is dark, the danger is serious and the stakes are lethal. I have to assume that since the nature of the violence is purely fantastical, rather than bloody or realistic, the film didn't warrant a PG-13.
There are also some "dramatic action shots" that just plain feel good, such as the first time Flynn enters the battlefield and showcases some "User Power" in an understated (maybe a little too understated) but effective manner. Much like the first Tron, the action is a little weighted toward the first half of the movie, but not so much that things ever become boring. The story continues to move forward with almost no wasted time.
Along with the darker, more emotionally realistic tone comes some questions that we expect more realistic films to have answers for. What exactly are the Flynns experiencing in this "computer world"? They aren't inside a virtual reality program, so why do things look the way they do? An opening monologue by Kevin Flynn potentially hints at the idea that what humans experience in the computer world is stimulus created by their brains to make sense of an existence so abstract they would otherwise have no reference for it. (Much like the spirit world in the "Spirit Blade" audio drama trilogy, if I may so shamelessly plug.) But if this is the case, the script never clearly spells it out. Despite the more serious tone of the film, we are still asked to suspend a ton of disbelief about what all of this is and just go along for the ride. If you can do that, you'll have a lot more fun.
Performances are handled very well by all involved, and Jeff Bridges brings brief but wonderful emotional gravity to the movie when he first sees his son again. The writing is also fairly clever, with Kevin Flynn frequently using outdated slang from the 80's. (He's been in the computer world since then.)
An otherwise fantastic movie experience is significantly marred by using digital effects to recreate a young Jeff Bridges for flashback sequences and the character "Clu". Based on the plastic look of the final product, I'm assuming they animated him from scratch, rather than digitally manipulating footage of Bridges, as done for Patrick Stewart in X-men 3. I shaved a little off of an almost perfect score every time "digital Bridges" (or maybe "Dig-Bridge"?) came on screen (which was quite often), because the weakness of the effect took me out of the story and distanced me from the characters being presented. A real shame. They would have been much better off having Clu age in appearance along with Flynn and using some cosmetic tape(to pull skin back) and airbrushing for the Kevin Flynn flashbacks.
This film is less likely to induce meaningful conversation than the first one, though there are still elements worth talking about as we contemplate important real world issues. The significance and uniqueness of Users as deities is emphasized much less, and interestingly reflects (intentionally or not) our general indifference to God today compared to the 1980's. If Kevin Flynn IS an analogue for God (and I don't know that he intentionally is), then the theology presented is one of a flawed God who needs to apologize to his creations for making mistakes.
Of more central significance is the life form Kevin Flynn has discovered in the computer world. "Isoes" are genuinely sentient beings (unlike normal programs who only seem to be sentient?) that "manifested" in the computer world because "the conditions were right" for their development.
Despite the fact that Kevin Flynn refers to their appearance as a "miracle" on a number of occasions, this spontaneous self-creation of life under the right conditions closely parallels the atheistic evolutionary worldview which has to rely on ultimately undefined "conditions" as being responsible for the emergence of life. This is nothing new in the sci-fi world. Machines are gaining sentience all the time through undefined or ludicrous means. Terminator, The Matrix, I Robot, Battlestar Galactica, even the "evolutionary lightning bolt" in Short Circuit! (So far, power surges only seem to hurt computers, not bring them to life. But maybe we should try a few billion more times.)
Whether these issues stand out to you or not, this movie seems much less interested in making any kind of philosophical parallels when compared to its predecessor.
"Tron: Legacy" is an incredible visual feast with a lot of fantastic sci-fi action and an interesting story that no fan of the genre should miss. And if you found yourself examining the theological themes in the original "Tron" there are still a few things to ponder in this movie.
Rated PG for sequences of sci-fi action violence and brief mild language.
Although I'll still be in my office for the next two weeks, blog posts here and at Paeter's Brain will be unscheduled until January 3rd, when I will resume my normal posting pattern of Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
After this weekend I will also be taking two weeks off from producing the podcast.
During the next couple of weeks, however, I do hope to transition this blog to a new host, giving it a new look as well. I anticipate a pretty seamless transition and I'll be sure to keep you in the loop.
Have a great Christmas, and be sure to come back in January to get a taste of all the great things coming from Spirit Blade Productions in 2011!
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
It's been a VERY busy week so far, and it doesn't look like I'll be relaxing for a while yet.
For the fifth year in a row I'm leading a caroling ministry I started at our church, collecting baked goods and money and coordinating volunteer carolers to visit people that our caring ministry has identified as needing some encouragement.
The response for baked goods has been pretty sparse compared to previous years, which means I'm doing a LOT more baking and also putting the gift baskets (gift bags, this year) together. 21 in total.
So Spirit Blade Productions is turning into a strictly part-time job this week as this personal ministry takes over. I'm answering e-mails and managing to get the blog posts out, but that's about it!
Ooh! Just remembered that I may have some driving to do right now to pick up some baked goods.
In preparation for watching "Tron: Legacy" this weekend, I sat down and watched the original Tron and tried, as much as possible, to see this classic with new eyes and evaluate how it holds up.
The story takes place in the early 80's, when the arcade video game craze was near its peak. Flynn (Jeff Bridges), a brilliant programmer, has developed a number of wildly popular video games, but the credit was stolen from him three years ago by a co-worker who is now the President of Encom, a large a successful software company. In an effort to find the evidence that will prove his rightful ownership of the games, Flynn and his fellow computer industry friends, Alan and Lora, break into Encom to hack the system.
But the newly self-aware Master Control Program running things at Encom fights back, using cutting edge teleportation technology to pull Flynn into the digital world of computers, where he is forced to fight and survive alongside apparently sentient yet mundane programs who struggle for freedom against the MCP.
For the most part, the script is well-written with interesting and thought provoking dialogue and only a few head-scratching lines now and then. Some of the technology references are obviously dated, and a few others seem out of touch even from the time in which they were written. But an interesting parallel world is created here that is worth exploring and trying to figure out, and the story is modeled after classic adventure quests, where heroes seek a distant land and a powerful enemy, passing through trials and tests along the way.
The standout performances belong to Jeff Bridges as Flynn and David Warner as the software thief, Ed Dillenger and the evil program, Sark. Bridges plays the everyman wonderfully and helps us to both enjoy and fear the strange world he has entered. Warner mainly helps us fear it. Leave it to the British to give us really great movie villains.
The special effects, though dated, are still a lot of fun to look at. And the fact that most of them occur in a completely artificial world helps us set aside the imperfections and suspend disbelief. This is a visually rich and imaginative world being presented, and almost 30 years later it's still creatively inspiring to look at. It's amazing to think that the Academy Awards passed over even nominating Tron for special effects, claiming at the time that they "cheated by using computers".
The shortcomings of this movie come in the pacing first, which places the best action in the first half rather than the second. The solar sailor sequence feels a little slow and uninteresting (apart from Flynn's "User Power" energy diversion trick) and the climax might have been served better by something like the earlier, fast-paced Lightcycle sequence, instead of the strange, lumbering "Giant Sark" that serves as the final obstacle.
Another downside is the musical score, which is hit or miss in effectiveness. Mostly electronic, the score mimics real instruments, as synthetic music of the 80's tended, rather than create sounds completely unique to electronic music. Rather than an energetic electronic sound, the music feels flat and robotic, which fits thematically with the material, but falls short in the moments where it needs to capture and propel emotions.
There is so much worth talking about after this movie regarding relevant theological and philosophical issues. I'm no mind reader, so I have no idea if writer/director Steven Lisberger was presenting his personal theological suggestions and musings in this film. But the themes are there, whether he is advocating them or not. If I were to take this film and construct a worldview based on the ideas it seems to suggest in metaphor, I would come up with something like this:
Being religious is not necessarily bad. In fact, God (or gods) truly exist, and those in positions of power and influence try to deny this for their own gain. God is limited in power and knowledge however, doing his best and stumbling along the way, despite having considerably more power and knowledge than us. We are more than simply made in God's image. We are made of his spirit in some sense and may even be a part of him. When we die, our being is dispersed and becomes a part of the world around us.
Despite these somewhat weighty themes, the movie is pretty lighthearted and does not take itself too seriously. For example, at the end of the movie, Flynn jokingly greets his friends in the real world by saying "Greetings, programs", as though he remembers his time spent in the digital world. Yet he shows no signs of emotional trauma at having gone through a radically alien experience. The sequel, which looks to be darker in tone, may explore these psychological issues, but this movie does not, which may work in its favor. If this material is taken too seriously, there are a ton of questions that need answers. How did the MCP gain self-awareness? How do simple accounting programs become sentient? Why does a single "bit" of information know the answer to dozens of questions posed by Flynn?
The technical inconsistencies linger for only as long as we try to put the story in any kind of realistic framework. So for the most part, we're better off just shrugging our shoulders and enjoying the ride.
Tron is a sci-fi classic that should not be missed by anyone planning to see "Tron: Legacy". It stands the test of time well and provides a number of opportunities to "wax philosophical" with your buddies.
Rated PG for fantasy violence.
Monday, December 13, 2010
This time of year it can be really easy to enjoy only the sentimentality of the season. And while there's nothing wrong with sentimentality, we miss a lot of great opportunities to reflect on the truth if we don't pause to consider what it is we say we're celebrating.
The last few years I've posted the results of some research and reflection on Christmas Carols. I've added notes for two more this year, and I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed learning!
Angels From The Realms Of Glory
Angels from the realms of glory, wing your flight o’er all the earth. Ye who sang creation’s story, now proclaim Messiah’s birth! Come and worship! Come and worship! Worship Christ the newborn king!
Shepherds in the fields abiding, watching o’er your flocks by night, God with man is now residing. Yonder shines the infant light. Come and worship! Come and worship! Worship Christ the newborn king!
Sages, leave your contemplations, brighter visions beam afar. Seek the great desire of nations. Ye have seen his natal star. Come and worship! Come and worship! Worship Christ the newborn king!
Saints before the altar bending, watching long in hope and fear, suddenly the Lord, descending, in His temple shall appear. Come and worship! Come and worship! Worship Christ the newborn king!
Although the title suggests a song focusing on the angels of Christmas, each verse focuses on a different group from the Christmas story, including present day believers who now anticipate Christ’s coming to judge the world. (Malachi 3:1)
The phrase “desire of nations” comes from Haggai 2:7, where God speaks of both the temple and the Messiah. This song reminds me that the truth of God becoming a man is for all. Cosmic angelic creatures, blue collar workers leading simple lives, philosophers who may think Christ or Christianity is beneath their complex contemplations, and believers, who place faith and hope in Christ’s promise to come and remake the world. All are called to come and worship Christ, the King of the Universe.
Angels We Have Heard On High
Angels we have heard on high, sweetly singing o’er the plains, and the mountains, in reply, echo back their joyous strains. Gloria in excelsis Deo! Gloria in excelsis Deo!
Shepherds, why this jubilee? Why your joyous strains prolong? Say what may the tidings be which inspire your heavenly song? Gloria in excelsis Deo! Gloria in excelsis Deo!
Come to Bethlehem and see Him whose birth the angels sing. Come, adore on bended knee Christ the Lord, the newborn King. Gloria in excelsis Deo! Gloria in excelsis Deo!
See within a manger laid Jesus, Lord of heav’n and earth! Mary, Joseph, lend your aid. With us sing our Savior’s birth. Gloria in excelsis Deo! Gloria in excelsis Deo!
An ancient tradition of shepherds in southern France was to call to one another from the hilltops during the Christmas season, singing the angelic phrase “Gloria in excelsis Deo!”, which translated from Latin means, “Glory to God in the highest!” Although they used the same tune we now sing, the verses were added years after this tradition began.
The word Jubilee is commonly accepted today as a term for celebration. In Leviticus 25, it is a time during which property is given back to its original owner. Although probably unintentional in the author's writing of this text, it is interesting to note that Christ came to give us back the life we threw away by sinning.
Hark The Herald Angels Sing
Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King! Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!” Joyful, all ye nations, rise! Join the triumph of the skies! With th’angelic host proclaim, “Christ is born in Bethlehem!” Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”
Christ, by highest heav’n adored. Christ, the everlasting Lord! Late in time behold Him come, offspring of the virgin’s womb. Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see. Hail the incarnate Deity, pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel. Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”
Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace! Hail the Sun of Righteousness! Light and life to all He brings, ris’n with healing in His wings. Mild, He lays His glory by, born that man no more may die. Born to raise the sons of earth. Born to give them second birth. Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”
This song is filled to the brim with wonderful truth. It is first helpful to understand the old English which can keep us from hearing the message of this song. Ironically, that is the exact opposite effect the author would prefer. The original first line read, "Hark how all the welkin rings", but as the language became dated, Charles Wesley, author of the text, made changes to modernize it and make it more understandable. A few other hands were involved in further modifications in keeping with the times. However at some point, despite previous efforts on the author's part, tradition locked it into its current state.
Hark comes from the word harken, which means “listen”. A herald is an announcement. So to “Hark the herald angels sing” means to “listen to the announcement” the angels sing. And in this song, the announcement is the Good News in a nutshell: God and sinners are being reconciled. The relationship between them is being repaired.
This is news worth getting excited about! It means that mankind, by the power of Christ, can have triumph over death, hence the “triumph of the skies” we are encouraged to join in celebrating. The second verse talks about the mystery and wonder of God becoming man. Christ, who is adored in heaven, who is the eternal, everlasting Lord, was born into flesh. As a man, Christ was still part of the Godhead, but “veiled in flesh”. He was content to live as a man among men; To be Emmanuel, “God with us”.
The last verse makes reference to Christ’s coming judgment by quoting Malachi 4:1-2. The Lord warns of the coming judgment where the wicked will be burned up and completely consumed. But for those who fear the name of the Lord, the “Sun of Righteousness” will rise “with healing in his wings”, and will set free those who believe in the Lord. How is this possible? It was Christ’s mission, as the rest of the verse explains. Paraphrased, it says:
Mildly, the eternal God laid down his infinite glory, and was born so that man would not have to die anymore. He was born to raise humanity (the sons of earth) from the dead, and give them a second birth. For this reason, listen to the announcement the angels sing, “Glory to the King of the Universe, who has just been born.”
Joy To The World! The Lord Is Come
Joy to the world! The Lord is come. Let earth receive her king. Let every heart prepare Him room, and heav’n and nature sing.
Joy to the earth! The Savior reigns. Let men their songs employ while fields and floods, rocks hills and plains repeat the sounding joy.
No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground. He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found.
Based on themes in Psalm 98, this is not really a “Christmas” song. Psalm 98 is in anticipation of Christ coming to rule the earth. My favorite verse is the third. When sin came into the world, death came with it, effecting not just people, but the world in which we live. One day, Christ will make a new earth, where there will be no sin and no corruption in nature, such as the thorns that infest the ground. He will make his blessings flow wherever the curse of sin is found, and death will be eradicated.
O Come, All Ye Faithful
O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant. O come ye, o come ye to Bethlehem. Come and behold Him, born the King of angels. O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.
God of God, and Light of Light begotten. Lo, He abhors not the virgin’s womb. Very God, begotten, not created. O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.
Sing, choirs of angels. Sing in exultation! O sing all ye citizens of heav’n above. Glory to God, all glory in the highest. O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.
Yea, Lord, we greet thee, born this happy morning. Jesus to Thee be all glory giv’n. Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing. O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.
If you are one of the faithful, or one “full of faith” in the Lord, you can come into the Christmas season full of Joy, because Christ has made it possible for you to know God personally. You can also celebrate the season with a sense of triumph, because you know that Christ has given you victory over death. For this reason, we begin this song singing “Come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant.”
This song is a call to worship for all believers. We’re to come and “adore” Him. To worship and honor Him, recognizing that he is God. We’re to focus our minds on the baby who, amazingly, was born a King. And not just any king, but the King of angels. Angels.... terrifying, awe-inspiring cosmic creatures with power beyond our ability to imagine, trembled and worshiped in the presence of this baby Jesus.
The second verse attempts to describe the eternal nature of Christ, along with His complete humanity. He is God and He is Light, yet he was willing to sit inside a womb. Like us, He was “begotten” or “caused by an effect”. Unlike us, He was not created. Simply wrestling with that paradox reminds me of the incomprehensible nature of Christ’s being.
In the third verse, it is unclear exactly who is implied by the “citizens of heaven”, but is exciting to think that those we have lost that are now with Christ are worshiping Him with us whenever we express our love and adoration for Jesus. In that way, whenever we have a worship service, ALL believers are joined together.
In John 1, we are told that “The Word” created everything that is. Everything that exists anywhere was made by “The Word”. The final verse of this song reminds us that the creator of reality itself became flesh and bone. Even if He had done nothing else but that, He would deserve our unending praise. This song doesn’t even call attention to what He has done, but calls us to adore Him simply for who He is.
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
O come, O come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel that morns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear. Rejoice, Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel!
O come Thou Rod of Jesse. Free Thine own from satan’s tyranny. From depths of hell Thy people save and give them vict’ry o’er the grave. Rejoice, Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel!
O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer our spirits by Thine advent here, and drive away the shades of night and pierce the clouds and bring us light! Rejoice, Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel!
O come Thou Key of David, come and open wide our heav’nly home. Make safe the way that leads on high and close the path to misery. Rejoice, Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel!
O come, Desire of nations. Bind all peoples in one heart and mind. Bid envy, strife and quarrels cease. Fill all the world with heaven’s peace. Rejoice, Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel!
O come Thou Wisdom from on high and order all things far and nigh. To us the path of knowledge show and cause us in Thy way to go. Rejoice, Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel!
This song finds its origins in medieval monasteries, where the numerous verses were originally sung by specific monks, during specific days before Christmas, without the refrain “Rejoice, rejoice…” which was added later. It highlights various prophecies about Jesus from the Old Testament:
The first verse remembers Israel's prayer that the Messiah would come and “ransom” them from their captivity to Babylon.
The "Rod of Jesse" reference is from Isaiah 11:1. A rod or a shoot would grow from the line of Jesse, and He would be filled with the Holy Spirit and rule with fairness and righteousness.
"Dayspring" comes from Zechariah’s prophecy in Luke 1:78-79. Zechariah said that because of God’s mercy, a light from heaven would come to show us the path to peace. Light from heaven is translated as Dayspring in the King James, a reference to the sunrise.
"Key of David" is first referenced in Isaiah 22:22. The Key was a symbol of authority, allowing you to grant or block access, and the one who had the Key of David had the highest authority. This verse reminds us that Christ has the power and authority to grant access to heaven.
The phrase “Desire of Nations” comes from Haggai 2:7, where God speaks of both the temple and the Messiah who would be present on earth with us.
In 1 Corinthians 1:30, it’s said that “For our benefit God made Christ to be wisdom itself. He is the one who made us acceptable to God. He made us pure and holy, and He gave Himself to purchase our freedom.”
As I sing this song, I think of Israel today, and how as a whole, they have rejected Christ and are still waiting for the Messiah. When we think of this song now, we can change the word “shall” to “has”, and pray that God’s chosen nation would recognize their Savior, and that He has ransomed their lives with His own.
Silent Night! Holy Night!
Silent night! Holy night! All is calm, all is bright ‘round yon virgin mother and Child. Holy Infant so tender and mild, sleep in heavenly peace.
Silent night! Holy night! Shepherds quake at the sight: Glories stream from heaven afar, heav’nly hosts sing “Alleluia! Christ the Savior is born!”
Silent night! Holy night! Son of God, love pure light, radiant, beams from Thy holy face with the dawn of redeeming grace. Jesus, Lord at Thy birth.
Silent night, holy night. All is dark, save the light shining where the mother mild watches over the holy child. Sleep in heavenly peace.
Silent night, holy night. Shepherds first saw the sight, heard the angels song, “alleluia”, loud proclaiming near and far. “Christ our savior is here.”
Silent night, holy night, God's own son, oh, how bright shines the love in thy holy face, shines the light of redemption and grace. Christ the incarnate God.
This text is translated from the original German text of “Stille Nacht”. I believe this song has been misunderstood, as many Hymns have, because the musical phrasing does not lend itself to comprehension of the sentence structure. I have included another translation from the same German text. To better understand the traditional translation, I would also humbly offer this paraphrase, which will hopefully express what I believe to be the original meaning of the traditional translation.
Silent night, holy night. Everything is calm, and yet everything is bright around this virgin mother and her Child.
Tender, holy and mild Infant, Sleep. Sleep with a peace that is like the peace experienced in heaven.
Shepherds shake with fear at the sight of glorious beams of light from heaven. Meanwhile, angels sing “Alleluia! Christ the savior has been born!”
Son of God, the pure light of love is beaming radiantly from your holy face. It’s beaming with the beginning of grace that will be given to redeem the world. From the moment you were born, Jesus, You were Lord over everything.
What Child Is This?
1. What child is this, who, laid to rest,
On Mary’s lap is sleeping,
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds worship and angels sing;
Haste, haste to bring Him praise,
The babe, the son of Mary!
2. Why lies He in such mean estate
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Come, have no fear; God's son is here,
His love all loves exceeding:
Nails, spear shall pierce him through,
The Cross he bore for me, for you;
Hail, hail the Word Made Flesh,
The babe, the son of Mary!
3. So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh;
All tongues and people own Him!
The King of Kings salvation brings;
Let loving hearts enthrone Him!
Raise, raise the song on high!
While Mary sings a lullaby.
Joy! joy! for Christ is born,
The babe, the son of Mary!
Originally written in 1865, this carol has gone through multiple textual changes that continue to result in variant versions today. This song so wonderfully contrasts the beauty and simplicity of Christ’s entrance to earth with the wonder of who he is and the incredible destiny he came to fulfill.
Stitching together parts of the versions that have been most meaningful to me, and that I believe are more easily understood by the common listener, I’ve copied my “best of” version above.
It Came Upon The Midnight Clear
It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold:
"Peace on the earth, goodwill to men,
From heaven's all-gracious King."
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.
Still through the cloven skies they come,
With peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heavenly music floats
O'er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains,
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever o'er its Babel sounds
The blessèd angels sing.
Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise and cease your strife
And hear the angels sing.
And you, beneath life's crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!
For lo!, the days are hastening on,
By prophet bards foretold,
When with the ever-circling years
Shall come the time foretold
When the new heaven and earth shall own
The prince of Peace their King
And all the world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.
This message of restoration is still floating around the world today, as verse 2 indicates. Despite our constant yacking and endless, meaningless activity, the message is still being communicated for those who will stop and listen to it.
For two thousand years, this message has been circulating the planet and still we haven't really changed. We continually wound each other because of our sin. We shut God's message out and busy ourselves with conflict. These words ask us to set aside the conflicts that consume us and listen to the amazing love song that God is sending out to us through the life of Jesus.
There is hope, in that message, for those who are beaten down by life. Who are tired and just barely crawling along, every step agony. A time is coming when God will finally put an end to all evil and pain. Take a moment, set aside your stress and discouragement, and hear the message the angels brought and continue to bring today.
Every day brings us closer to this amazing future. And when we arrive, we'll see just how quickly the time before it passed. God's complete and perfect rule has been talked about and sung about for years in scripture, in sermons and in songs. What seems to be an endless cycle of years will culminate in a new earth. A new universe, in fact! Remade to be perfect and last forever, ruled by a God who is synonymous with peace. It will be so amazing that we won't be able to help but explode back to God a massive expression of love and thankfulness for the relationship he has allowed us to have with him.
Saturday, December 11, 2010
It’s been about 15 years since I read the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis and about two since I listened to the audio drama versions produced by “Focus Radio Theater”. So I’m hardly a purist and if you’re looking for a review that will compare the books to the movies, these aren’t the droids you’re looking for.
However, I am a big fan of the fantasy genre and love examining movies for relevant philosophical/theological themes. So naturally I’ve been looking forward to seeing “The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader”.
The story picks up a couple of years after Edmund and Lucy return from their adventure in “Prince Caspian”. They are now in the care of their Uncle and are forced to spend time with their snobby cousin, Eustice, who naturally thinks that Narnia is make-believe nonsense. Soon, all three children are pulled into the magical world for another adventure and we get to watch them struggle with temptation and grow in character as the movie progresses.
This movie continues the standard of high quality production we’ve come to expect from the franchise and one wouldn’t even notice that the franchise has moved from Disney to Fox studios. The sets and props are wonderfully detailed. The world is very cool to look at and one I would love to spend time in. The visual effects are on par with most any other big budget movie of the same type. Overall, the visual presentation of this movie helps bring a slightly darker tone to the material, which could otherwise seem pretty non-threatening and a little too safe.
The movie has a slightly lighter feel to it than “Prince Caspian”, despite some spooky imagery now and then. Unlike Harry Potter, this franchise seems to be keeping a consistent tone rather than becoming progressively darker or more edgy. For many who hope to raise future fantasy fanatics, this movie, like those before it, will probably serve as a nice early step before moving on to “Harry Potter” and eventually “The Lord Of The Rings”. Fans of darker, more intense fantasy flicks will likely find this too “safe” most of the time.
Further comparisons to the Potter flicks are inevitable as we look at how the young actors portraying Lucy and Edmund progress as actors. In general, their skill as performers is growing less noticeably when compared to the leads in the Potter films. If they have been simply cooling their heels between these pictures, rather than taking classes and aiming to improve their craft, I would not be surprised. Still they turn out acceptable performances that don’t distract from the story, given the already lighter nature of this material.
The story is a bit of a letdown this time through. The first two movies clearly had all of Narnia at stake. This is more of an isolated quest movie with little immediate threat to all of Narnia clearly presented. So in general, the emotional intensity is much less than the first two films.
The story is also hindered by the “fetch quest” format. For those non-gamers out there, this basically means that the story is taken up by multiple mini-quests to collect 7 of the same item in various locations in order to advance the main plot. A single, central story is somewhat absent, instead making episodic quests the focus, and the moral lessons built into each one.
There are a few metaphors and morals in this story that may spark conversation if you’re looking for it. But they are not strongly pronounced and for the most part, easily missed.
Contentment with self-image and self-worth is certainly a theme. As is temptation in general. Near the end of the story, a metaphor for Heaven is strongly presented, though based on the dialogue, one could argue that entrance to this “heaven” is based on personal character, rather than loyalty to Aslan. (Something C.S. Lewis probably did not intend.) And though you might miss it if you zone out for a line or two, there is a great metaphor about being changed by Christ(Aslan). Jesus can take a life that is monstrous in appearance and character and drastically change it for the better. But this kind of transformation often comes with “a good kind of pain” (as Eustice says) as the monstrous layers are stripped away.
What I found very interesting was the inclusion of a few lines near the end that implicitly validate the truth claims of Christianity in the real world. When asked if they will see him again, Aslan tells the children that in their world he has another name, and that they were brought to Narnia so that, by knowing him a little their, they could know him even better in their world.
This leaves us with the question of what Aslan’s name is in the real world, requiring us to notice the numerous metaphors and parallels in these stories to find the answer. In the films alone, one need only look as far as “The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe” for the obvious answer.
A good, light, fantasy flick that young families will enjoy together and veteran genre fans will likely find a bit tame, with a few things worth talking about if you’re in the mood and looking for them.
Rated PG for some frightening images and sequences of fantasy action.
Friday, December 10, 2010
I'm looking forward to reviewing "The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader" for the podcast this weekend! But so that I can enjoy it with my wonderful wife, I'm waiting to see it until tomorrow. So the podcast will come a little less than 24 hours later than usual.
In other news, I'm considering a significant change for this blog. Since 2006 I've been using Typepad for The Spirit Blade Underground Weblog. In fact, this blog has been around longer than our main website! (In the early days, in a sad sort of way, it WAS the main website.)
At the time, I went with Typepad (which costs $5 monthly) because they had some functionality I wanted that no free options could give me. Between then and now, the functionality of "Blogger"(where "Paeter's Brain" is hosted for free) has improved and a few of my desires for functionality have also diminished. So it looks like it may be time to transplant this blog to a blogger account and save myself $5 bucks a month. (That's kinda like being guarunteed that I'll sell at least one download of "Pilgrim's Progress: Similitude Of A Dream" or a Song Bundle every month! In this little endeavor, every penny counts!)
The good news is that, if everything works as it's supposed to (wink, wink), the only thing you'll notice is a makeover to the blog. You'll still get there by going to spiritblade.net/blog and the posts will still be fed to both facebook and twitter. (If you subscribe directly to this blog, I will be notifying you of an easy alternative you can take advantage of to get these posts sent to your e-mail.) All previous posts should be there as well.
I'm planning to make the switch sometime this month. But if you have any words of wisdom before I do, the floor is now open for discussion!
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Decided to rent a movie the other night and remembered a trailer I had recently seen for "Southland Tales".
From the director of "Donnie Darko", I expected something weird. But I hoped it would at least make SOME sense.
The first trailers I saw for this movie made it look like just a modern drama. But a recent trailer I saw on another DVD promoted it as a "near-future" sci-fi flick. It looked like the kind of movie that would require some thinking and provoke some thought. Turns out it only provoked head scratching for me.
From beginning to end it's clear this movie has a social/philosophical/political message. But I honestly couldn't tell what it was. There was so much material that was either completely unnecessary or so covered in convoluted metaphor that the plot is almost completely missing.
I like movies that don't spoon-feed everything to you. I enjoyed Donnie Darko and other films like "Brazil". But this flick is so devoid of story that even the creativity of the remaining experience is totally unworthy of attention or emotional investment.
In verse 8, Paul says that "Christ died for us" and in verse 9 he explains the result of this act. Those who trust in Jesus for reconciliation with God are "justified" as a result of Christ's death. The meaning of this Greek word communicates that their moral record is given a clean slate in the eyes of God. Believers are also saved from God's eventual judgment of humanity. This is because Jesus not only died to pay the penalty for our sin, but lives again and intercedes for us, an eternal "reminder" to God that our sins have been paid for completely. (v.9-10) In other words, our justification is an ongoing effect sustained by Christ. We don't need to be "re-justified" again and again. Any who genuinely trust in Christ for justification are given a clean slate for all past and future sins.
In addition, God does not grudgingly withhold his wrath from believers. We are in a position to celebrate this reconciliation with God because of what Jesus has done. God doesn't enjoy punishing anyone (2 Peter 3:9) and celebrates our restored relationship to him! (v.11) Believers have no reason to ever fear God's judgment and should live lives in grateful celebration of what God has done for them!
In verse 12, Paul begins a statement that he picks up again in verses 18 and 19 after a bit of a rabbit trail.
Paul teaches that sin entered the world through Adam, the one given responsibility over the Garden Of Eden and the man from whom every other human comes. It is because of Adam's sin that every human is born a sinner and is also destined to die. (v.12)
Even before God's formal law had been given in the Torah, sin still existed in the world, although people were not held accountable to God to the same degree. (v.13) As it was, though, sin still brought about death as the consequence promised by God for disobedience. (Gen. 2:17) Everyone who came after Adam inherited a corrupted, sinful nature and mortality.
The all-encompassing effect that Adam's actions had on humanity was mirrored by Christ, but with some fundamental differences. Primarily, the gift of justification from Christ is vastly more effective in saving than Adam's sin was in corrupting. Adam's one sin sent humanity in a downward spiral and placed all under the condemnation of God. But even after thousands of years and countless sins, each as corrupt and infectious as the single sin that started it all, Christ's single act of obedience to death on the cross was enough to "clean the slate" of every human in history that will ever place their trust in him. (v.14-16 and 18-19)
As a result of Adam's sin, death has a powerful hold over humanity. But those who trust in Christ for their justification will experience the favor of God in an even more powerful way as they live and reign in cooperation and relationship with God in eternity. (v.17, 2 Timothy 2:12, Revelation 22:5)
Next Week- The purpose of the Old Testament law, and the "death" of Christians.
Coffee House Question- Currently, humans all have sinful tendencies and limited lifespans. What do you think the world might look like if all humans currently living were completely sinless and lived forever?
Monday, December 6, 2010
Friday, December 3, 2010
Although this movie hasn’t been hyped much via TV and online marketing, it’s one I’ve had my eye on since I saw the first cool looking trailer a few months ago.
This is a fantasy flick in the same way that “300” is. Based in real historical culture, but exaggerated well beyond realism.
The story is about an assassin-warrior from China (or was it Japan?) who is on the run from his own clan for not completing a mission. He finds refuge across the world in the wild west of America, but not for long. The troubles of this small ghost town and the warrior’s own catch up with him and the inevitable action begins.
Within the first five minutes of this movie, I said to myself “I’m totally buying this on BluRay”. But after another 45 minutes I wasn’t so sure. I’m still not.
This movie has some incredibly cool action sequences that fans of Zack Snyder’s (“300”, “Watchmen”) visual action style will enjoy. I almost wonder if Snyder was involved somehow, given the similarities. This movie is very stylized, using lots of green screen backgrounds (even for normal settings) and slow motion. From the beginning, the movie promises to give you a wild visual ride. And almost fully delivers.
A movie that spends as much creativity and money on action sequences as this one should not have the downtime this movie has in the middle. Although less than 2 hours long, this flick has about 10 minutes of fat that should have been trimmed from the waistline. Mostly it’s a case of scenes being longer than they need to be.
Kate Bosworth is essentially a place-holder for “female heroine”, not bringing anything compelling to the role and even going a bit too over the top in her comedic relief to be truly funny and unexpected. But her story is interesting enough and was satisfying to see play out.
Geoffrey Rush is an interesting character to watch. He plays the town drunk, but has one or two more layers that come into play later.
Danny Huston makes a wonderful villain, and boy his he bad! His level of depravity makes the desire for justice (or revenge) almost tangible. You want him to pay and it’s very satisfying when he does. His storyline(connected to Bosworth’s) is a pretty large part of the movie and goes a long way to keep things interesting and emotionally involving. It’s only a shame that he was not the “ultimate villain” in the film, who proved to be anti-climactic by comparison.
In the center of the story is Dong-gun Jang, who plays the Warrior, though mostly in silence, uttering a few English phrases here and there. The effectiveness of his “strong and silent” characterization varies and he mostly blends into the background, despite being the central character.
The action is the real star. This movie has some amazing visuals including a variety of camera speed manipulations and even a resurrection of the sadly underused “bullet-time” effect made popular by The Matrix. Action fans will not be let down by the extremely cool and epic fights, and Matrix and 300 fans will get a nasty itch scratched.
This movie is highly unlikely to stimulate meaningful conversation, but one theme that might be brought out is that of leaving everything you know and even making yourself the enemy of your entire social circle for the sake of doing what is right.
As I think of broken religious systems and philosophical worldviews, I can’t help but see similarities, as friends and family members lash out, ostracize or in other ways mistreat someone who is making the decision to break away from the same mold. It is this pattern that can make seeking truth in life so difficult for so many.
Ultimately, this is a very cool looking action movie with some compelling elements but too much fat in the middle and a slightly fizzled out ending.
Rated R for strong bloody violence.
Forgot to mention this on Wednesday here, but I've once again made my dark, electronic version of "O Come O Come Emmanuel" available for download at www.spiritblade.net/freestuff ! Available only in the month of December, so don't miss out!
If you have enjoyed the Christian sci-fi/fantasy author interviews I've had on the podcast in the past but have wondered where they've been lately, you won't have to wait much longer!
After posting an invitation online, my interview slots have been rapidly filling up with an avalanche of new authors!
I'll be doing most of the interviews in January and February, but will be pacing them out on the show for a longer stretch of time so I can still bring you guys the reviews and other content you've come to expect on the show.
If you have any recommendations for authors I should contact to interview, my ears are wide open! The author's I've scheduled interviews with so far represent a wide variety of genres and stories within the realm of Christian sci-fi/fantasy, so there will hopefully be at least one new author for everyone to try out in 2011!
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
It's actually a pretty good one. As I've started to organize my strategy for a renewed general marketing effort for Spirit Blade Productions, I've thought about how busy I am with other things going on as a result of the holiday season. Both work related and personal.
Then suddenly I realized that this is actually the situation for a LOT of people. (I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one celebrating or selling product during Christmas these days.) And there are already some things I've decided to put off until January. What are the chances that an e-mail I send to someone telling them about our company will be put off or maybe even deleted and forgotton? Pretty good.
So I've decided to hold off on really diving into new marketing strategies until mid-January, giving me and those I interact with time to play catch-up and see the world with fresh eyes again. Since marketing is about my least favorite part of what I do, this delay is not bumming me out, either. And as an added bonus, this means I get to give nearly my full creative attention to outlining and writing the script for Spirit Blade 3!
Monday, November 29, 2010
Paul has been illustrating the fact that becoming “right with God” (righteous) has never been about the good things we do and has always been about trusting in God.
In these verses he continues to point to Abraham, the revered Jewish forefather, as the prime example of faith that results in righteousness.
By normal standards, Abraham had no reason to hope that he and his wife Sarah would have a child that would produce descendants, as God promised. But he “hoped against hope”. He put his hope in God's promise despite the fact that he and his wife were both well beyond the age of having children. (v.18-19)
Regardless of what he may have been feeling, Abraham persisted in trusting God's promise. Faith is not a feeling. In fact, Abraham encountered perplexity and anxiety when he heard God's promise! (Genesis 17:17-18) But his faith didn't waiver. He was “convinced” that God could do what he promised. (v.20-21) And it was because of this faith that God considered him righteous. (v.22)
Why is this incident relevant to us today? Because God does not play favorites or show partiality! (Job 34:19, Romans 2:11) Whatever system God used to make Abraham righteous is in place for us, as Paul observes. Abraham believed that God could do something miraculous to fulfill his promise: make non-functioning (or “dead”) reproductive organs operate again, to give Abraham a son. Likewise, believers today put their faith in God and believe that he raised Jesus from the dead to make forgiveness and a “clean slate” available to everyone. (v.17,23-25)
Because of this “clean slate” (justification) with God that believers have, they also have “peace” with God through the saving work of Jesus Christ. (His earthly life, death on our behalf and resurrection) (5:1)
As we enter the Christmas season, we hear lots of songs about peace. When we think of peace, we typically conjure images of personal, emotional tranquility. But this subjective kind of peace is not chiefly the peace the angels announced to the shepherds (Luke 2:14) or that Paul refers to here. It is peace “with God”. “God and sinners reconciled” as the song “Hark The Herald Angels Sing” says.
Through faith in Jesus, we have access to God's undeserved favor toward us (grace) and actually live in a continual state of God's favor. We can also look forward to the event of God one day revealing himself (his “glory”) to us. (5:2)
In addition, because of this reality, we can celebrate what God is doing and what he promises to do even while we are experiencing suffering. God uses suffering to produce character. As our character grows and our faith matures, we more easily place our hope in God, instead of our own efforts or what other people might offer us. (5:3-4)
And this hope isn't empty, leaving us out in the cold. The love of God changes the way we think about others and the way we prioritize our lives. The Holy Spirit changes us over time(Galatians 5:22-23), turning our very lives into additional evidence for all that God has promised. These changes we experience serve as encouragement to us that God is really doing something tangible and real. His promises are trustworthy.(5:5)
All of this is possible, not because of our own efforts to be really good, religious people. The catalyst was Jesus. At a strategic time chosen by God, while we were still weak and completely unable to satisfy God's standard of goodness, Jesus died in a cosmic transaction that paid the penalty for our rebellion against God. (5:6)
This stands in contrast to normal human self-sacrifice. It's very rare that some will die even for a person who, by perception at least, is living a life in accordance with God's will. (Meant by “righteous person”) And maybe someone will die once in awhile for a person who is kind and and does good for others. (Meant by “good person”) (5:7)
But Christ, the promised Messiah of Old Testament prophecy, came and died for us, even though we live in constant opposition to God's will and standard. (5:8)
Next Week- Adam and Jesus. Two men that radically changed the fate of the human race.
Coffee House Question- What does self-sacrifice for others usually look like in movies and TV shows? Can you think of an instance in fiction where someone dies for a “bad” or “evil” character?
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Paul has been using the revered father of the Jewish nation to point out that right standing with God has always come about as a result of having faith in God and relying on him.
Paul quoted Genesis 15:6 which says that Abraham "believed the Lord and he counted it to him as righteousness".
Paul points out that Abraham wasn't considered righteous because of his faith AFTER contributing his own obedience. Abraham did not have the law of God or even the practice of circumcision at the time God considered him righteous because of his faith. Abraham's obedience to God's laws did not play any part in God declaring him to be righteous. (v. 9-10)
Paul explains that circumcision was the tangible "seal" that identified and set apart the Jewish people. It is a stamp of identification. Not a payment made in exchange for God's promises of blessing to Abraham's descendants.
Abraham is the biological forefather of the Jewish people. But he is the spiritual forefather of all who put their faith in God for their forgiveness and righteousness, whether they are a Jew or not. (v. 11-12)
There's a bit of a rabbit trail worth following here, for the sake of clarification. In verse 13, Paul says that Abraham was promised by God to be "heir of the world". This promise is not explicitly made by God to Abraham, and so may be confusing at first glance. But inheriting the entire world was implied and assumed by the Hebrew word "erets" used for "land" in the Old Testament, which has a diverse usage and can mean a section of territory or the entire planet earth, or even both, as Old Testament prophecy sometimes takes advantage of double meanings in the Hebrew language.
This promise of inheriting the land/earth was repeated in scripture (see Psalm 37 for one example). By Paul's day, Jewish interpreters had already assumed and taught that the descendents of Abraham would inherit the entire planet. And the teaching of Christ also reflects that the true followers of God will one day inherit the entire planet. (Matthew 5:5)
It would also do us good to review God's initial promises to Abraham, which are outlined in Genesis 12:2-3. God promised to: 1. Make him a great nation. 2. Bless him. 3. Make his name great. 4. Make him a blessing to others. 5. Bless those who bless him. 6. Curse those who curse him. 7. Bless all the families of the earth through him.
In particular, we should keep that seventh promise in mind at the moment. Christ, a biological descendant of Abraham, makes it possible for everyone who has faith in God to spend eternity in a state of unfathomable blessing with God. And Abraham models this faith for us. In this way we see that seventh promise fulfilled in even greater ways than Abraham probably ever imagined.
Now back to Paul's main point. Abraham and his descendants will not inherit the world or God's blessings because of their obedience to the law, because the Law did not exist when God first made these promises to Abraham and they were not mentioned as a condition for fulfillment of these promises. Abraham and his descendants were chosen by God for these promises (namely here, inheriting the earth). These promises were revealed to those who had faith in God and they were responded to in the only way that successfully "fulfills God's requirements" (righteousness). Through faith. (v.13)
Paul reasons that if knowledge and obedience to the Old Testament Law is what makes someone an heir to God's promises, then the value of faith is empty and the promises are nullified. Why? Because as he established in previous verses, no one can successfully obey the laws of God! (v.14)
The existence of the Law sets a standard we cannot meet and so our failure brings about God's wrath. In fact, if the law didn't exist, God's wrath against us would not be as great because we would not be violating God's will as directly. (v.15)
By contrast, God's promises were offered to Abraham without any compensation of good works required. The promises were a gift of grace (undeserved favor). Inheriting God's promises through obedience to the law is in conflict with this. But receiving God's promises of eternal blessing through faith is "in accordance with grace", and is available not just to Abraham's biological descendants, but also to those who, like Abraham, choose to trust in God. (v.16)
All who place their trust in God are considered by God to be descendants of Abraham. Paul reveals that this is what God meant when he told Abraham that he would be "a father of many nations". (v.17)
Next Week- The faith modeled by Abraham
Coffee House Question- Why do you suppose we can sometimes feel like we need to "earn our way" back into a good relationship with God?
Monday, November 22, 2010
It's that time of year again! And we've never had more discounts and specials going on for your holiday shopping than we do this year in our online store, where First Class shipping is always FREE!
All of our audio drama CD sets have been reduced in price, as well as both of our "song bundles"!
We've just released our second "Archive" disc, the long-awaited, much referenced "Spirit Blade" Novella, produced for your enjoyment in an exciting, enhanced audio book format! But the best part is that it's yours for FREE when you place an order that includes a CD set of "Spirit Blade: Special Edition" or "Spirit Blade: Dark Ritual"!
And don't forget to add our cool, quirky T-shirts to your Christmas list! Available in a variety of colors, sizes and fittings!
For more details or to start your shopping now, visit:
Friday, November 19, 2010
Although I've read and enjoyed most of the Harry Potter books, I'm not a fan by any means and mainly watch the movies to scratch an ever present itch for fantasy flicks. My memories of the last book in the series are fuzzy at best, and so this review is largely from the perspective of someone who has just been watching the films.
Performances by the leading three child-turned-adult actors are fine, but not outstanding or particularly interesting. Still, considering the studio hired these folks as kids a decade ago with no idea how they'd develop as actors, things have turned out very well for this franchise. Although it was still no surprise when Helena Bonham Carter stole the show as Bellatrix near the end of this film. A shame she and other, more interesting performers were not given more screen-time or plot-relevant material to work with.
The special effects continue to be very cool, especially the smoky apparitions and wild bolts of magical energy. The teleportation effects are used multiple times and also look great in this movie.
The chief problem and influence on my final score is the story. There almost isn't one. To get what you're meant to from this story, I'd recommend watching "Half Blood Prince" right before you watch this one on DVD and THEN actually go to the theater for "Hollows Part 2". Part 1 starts and ends the protagonists in almost EXACTLY the same circumstances: Looking for enchanted artifacts and the means to destroy them. Our heroes spend the rest of the movie looking for a way to advance the plot but failing to do so. And if you don't remember the events of "Half Blood Prince" very well, you won't even understand what is motivating the good guys to do what they're doing.
This movie is the first time one of the books from the series has been split into two parts in order to cover the material, but this book probably shouldn't have been the one to get the "two picture" treatment. There is plenty of fat that should have been cut from this film. Once again we encounter a subplot in which Ron is jealous because Harry appears to be "cutting in" on his love life. And various events connected to this one could have been cut as well. There is close to 20 minutes in the middle(which I won't spill here) that probably could have been completely removed from the film. Add to this the fact that, like "Half Blood Prince", this movie cuts significantly back on the action. Compared to previous movies in the series, the pacing is slow and the passage of time is hard to track, creating a "stuck in limbo" feeling for the plot.
Virtually nothing of philosophical value to talk about after this flick. If you wanted to force the issue, you could talk about the effects of poor communication and jealousy on relationships, but that's REALLY searching.
I suspect this material will play much better as part of a marathon viewing that at least begins with "Half Blood Prince", but on it's own it is a skillfully assembled yet almost purposeless experience.
Last night I put the finishing touches on the "Spirit Blade" enhanced audiobook and plan to make it available on Monday! I'm also recording a pseudo-commentary in which I highlight some portions of the audiobook and talk about the choices I made for the book as well as the reasons for many of the significant chnages from book to script. This feature will also be available in the same Archive Disc with the enhanced audiobook.
This post also serves as your last notice for the "Spirit Blade: Special Edition" Live Chat I'll be hosting tomorrow. Click the link for some more details. I'll provide the link for logging in about 30-60 minutes before the chat begins. I hope to see you there!
Wish I had more to update you on, but it's been crazy busy here the last two days and I just BARELY squeezed in a Harry Potter review for the podcast, which I need to go and post right now!
Have a great weekend!
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
In the most recent issue I noticed some changes in the time line that were minor, but still noticeable and it got me thinking about the idea of retroactive continuity changes in comic books.
It used to be that comic book companies tried really hard to keep all of their properties consistent with each other. But as continuity became more complex it became harder to keep them all straight. In an attempt to clean house, DC comics created a storyline in the mid-80's called "Crisis On Infinite Earths" which basically wiped out the multiple universes they had been juggling and migrating the survivors to a single earth. Shortly afterward, a "History of the DC Universe" was published to establish the new continuity. But it wasn't more than a few years before the continuity got mucked up again.
These days ret-conning happens most often, not as the result of a cosmic crisis, but because of writers who simply choose to ignore certain events of DC's past that they don't like, or who pretend that things happened or were true all along that they are really just establishing for the first time.
One writer famous for this is Geoff Johns. The habit has worked for him because he has a knack for distilling characters to their purest forms and then fleshing out those elements in fresh ways. He also has a knack for adding brand new concepts to characters that make them interesting in ways they never were before.
But other times, ret-conning doesn't work so well, or cuts out elements that readers really wished hadn't been. For example, DC STILL seems to have forgotten that Green Lantern John Stewart is part Guardian!
Some might say that in a perfect world, editorial staffs would be able to keep their books tidy and never need to ret-con. But without ret-conning, Superman and Batman would both be close to a hundred years old (assuming they were 20 or 30 at the time of their first appearances) or at least 45 or 55 (assuming they were 20 or 30 at the time of "Crisis n Infinite Earths").
Part of me likes the rich history of the DC Universe. But another part of me would be very interested in seeing the industry stay in real time and just reboot the universe every 20 years or so. Guess that's what things like the Marvel "Ultimate" universe are for.
Every time I try something new with technology, it usually involves lots of troubleshooting and hair pulling. So looking ahead to the "Spirit Blade: Special Edition" Live Chat on Saturday has been intimidating. Thankfully, one of my online friends at the Spirit Blade Forums found a solution for me! I just tested it out today and everything looks good to go for this Saturday! (Whew!) Thanks, Chad!
I'm also getting very close to finishing the enhanced auidobook of the Spirit Blade Novella. I realized this last week that I have been in "deadline mode" for almost two years straight now, and the sense of self-imposed deadline pressure has only gotten stronger in the last 6-9 months. So I'm VERY much looking forward to being done with the audiobook and back to square one, outlining and writing the script for Spirit Blade 3, with no deadlines in sight! (At least for a few months.)
Monday, November 15, 2010
In previous verses, Paul established that no one will gain "good standing" with God by obeying his laws. Instead, people will be justified (declared "not guilty" and made right with God) by placing their trust in Jesus Christ.
Because of this, any kind of boasting someone might do because of their moral behavior or religious/cultural background is irrelevant. Because "works" (moral behavior and obedience to God's commands) are not factored into our justification. Only the authenticity of our faith in Christ. (v. 27-28)
Paul argues that there must be one universal way in which all people can be made right with God. The first article of Jewish faith is that God is one. There is no other God but Yahweh. Even though God gave the law specifically to the Jews, he is not only the God of the Jews. He is the God of all, and justifies everyone based on their faith in Jesus. (v. 29-30)
Paul deflects potential accusations of being against the law by saying that, rather than overthrowing the law, we should "uphold" the law. (v.31) The Greek word here for "uphold" does not mean "obey", but "establish" or "make to stand". While not teaching a return to the Mosaic Law, Paul affirms its value. Paul will teach more specifically about the place of the law in chapters 6-8.
Paul then points to Abraham, the revered Jewish forefather whom God chose as the man from which the entire nation of Israel would come. If he was made right with God because of his own effort, he would rightfully be able to boast to others about it, which he never did. (And he certainly didn't boast to God.) Instead, Paul points to scripture (Genesis 15:6) which says that "Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness." The Hebrew word for "counted" or "reckoned" in Genesis 15:6 is an accounting term. There is a sense in which God changed Abraham's "official sin record" because of the faith he placed in God. (4:3)
If righteousness (meeting God's standard of goodness) is possible through obeying the law, then our relationship with and need for God is very different than if righteousness only comes through faith. If we can become righteous through our personal effort, the rewards God has for us here and especially in eternity are not gifts, but payment that he is obligated to give in exchange for our work. (v.4) This is a far cry from how the Old Testmant writings portray our relationship of dependence on God!
On the other hand, trusting in God to justify us (make our "official sin records" clean) is consistent with what is taught in the Old Testament. (v. 5-8)
Next Week- Abraham: Model Jew or Model Christian?
Coffee House Question- What do you think the world would look like if absolutely everyone believed in God and also believed that we had to earn good standing with him through our obedience to his law?
Friday, November 12, 2010
I should start by admitting some bias on my part. I love monster movies. I love seeing a good scary monster and learning all about what makes it tick throughout the course of a two-hour special effects bonanza. So this fact may be coloring my review. Consider yourself warned.
Yes, I love a good monster movie. And “Skyline” is a good monster movie!
The story centers on Jordan and his girlfriend, who are visiting one of Jordan’s childhood friends in Los Angeles. His friend has made it big and wants to bring Jordan into his world. A world of greed and shallow relationships.
But the first night of Jordan’s visit, lights descending from the sky begin to mesmerize and abduct thousands of people at a time. And those who escape are soon targeted by large alien creature who seem to have come to harvest humanity for their own purposes.
The movie stars mostly unknown or “little knowns” and is directed by special effects team turned first-time directors, Colin and Greg Strause. Using their own special effects studio to produce the marvelous eye candy in this flick, the brothers saved millions of dollars. Considering that Michael Bay’s “Transformers” cost 151 million to make, it’s amazing that a movie like this (made on only 10 million) could be made that has about the same number of CGI effects shots and is a much better film.
Granted, this is fairly different from standard “Michael Bay” fare, despite the similarities it has with big summer disaster/alien movies. The tone is much darker and more serious than its summer release counterparts. But the CGI is solid (though nothing groundbreaking).
The monster in this movie is very cool. Both technological and drippy/icky. And though we don’t understand the complete inner workings or origins (or even motives) of the aliens by the end of the movie, we do continue to learn a little more about them as the movie progresses and can at least take a guess at what they want by the end.
Performances are very forgettable and there are really no interesting characters here. The dialogue is nothing special. Very formulaic and Hollywood sounding. Also a few misplaced clichés. But the story kept me guessing until the end with a few jaw-dropping moments as the alien attacks in new and disturbing ways.
The final shot leaves things wide open for a sequel. So much so that the story isn’t resolved. The final note is one of determination and had an eye on victory, but actual victory never arrives in this movie.
The emotional resolution is enough to satisfy those who like somewhat unresolved endings or who don’t need everything tied up. But the story could easily be said to be just beginning. And since the studio is already shopping the sequel around and the film will barely need to make any money for one to happen (because of its low budget), you can probably count on hearing about the development of one soon.
There is almost something worthwhile to talk about after seeing this movie. Jordan is very clearly contrasted with his wealthy “successful” and shallow friend. Jordan is selfless, generous and helpful. This is highlighted several times. And later in the movie, Jordan seems to have a uniqueness about him that makes it possible for him to prevail against the aliens. I thought for sure they would eventually link these two elements together, as they were both clearly presented. But neither plays out. And Jordan’s mysterious ability to resist the aliens is never explained.
On a simpler level, you might say that this movie is down on materialism and selfishness. Maybe even down on the culture of Los Angeles itself, given that one character very pointedly says “I hate L.A.” and materialism and shallow behavior are strongly linked to “La La Land” in this film.
From a broad perspective, this is a really cool, creative and at times scary monster movie with great effects. But it misses it’s complete potential because of uninteresting characters and dialogue. Also not much to talk about unless you’re looking for it.
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, some language, and brief sexual content.
Since getting back in the saddle I've been hard at work on the "Spirit Blade" enhanced audio book, and it is just a few work days from completion!
My plan is to release it for free in the spring in some form on various places around the web. But before then, it will be organized as an archive disc , where it will be available in just a couple of weeks in an exlusively high quality audio format that will never be available anywhere else! Stay tuned for the announcement of its release very soon!
Also, don't forget to grab your copy of "Spirit Blade: Special Edition" from our online store for participation in the Special Edition live chat a week from now on Saturday, November 20th at 6pm Mountain Standard time! More details will be coming soon here and at www.spiritblade.net/chat ! Don't miss out!
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
At long last I'm back in the saddle! And before anything else I want to remind you about the live chat coming up for anyone who has the "Spirit Blade: Special Edition"!
I'll have more details next week, but mark your calendar for Saturday November 20th and be sure to grab your copy of the Special Edition if you haven't already.
And for those getting CDs instead of downloads, you still have time to get yours in the mail before the live chat! Shipping typically takes three days or less in the US and it's always FREE when you buy from our online store!
Don't miss out on the first opportunity ever available to chat it up with me and other fans as we all listen to the story that started it all!
Talk to you soon!
Thursday, November 4, 2010
Last Saturday my wife gave birth to our second child (and second boy), Titus Lassell Frandsen. Even Ebony as the Sheidan Assassin has nothing on the real deal. Holly labored for 7 and 1/2 hours and delivered with zero medication (not even an I.V.) and Titus came out with only 5 minutes of pushing. (Three contractions.)
She began feeling contractions before 8am. We went to the hospital at 11 and Titus was born at 3:18.
I know there are more amazing birth stories out there, but this was an incredible thing to watch. Every time a contraction came, Holly would go still and breath deeply with her eyes closed, like some kind of jedi master prepping to crack the moon in half. Don't know how she did it, but she is the freakin' Champion!
We're currently adjusting to having an infant AND simultaneously potty training our three year old (yay.), so I'm not quite back on the radar yet, but thought I'd pop in and let you guys know what's up.
Thanks so much to all who prayed for us! We're doing very well and I'm hoping to be back in the saddle sometime next week!
Thursday, October 28, 2010
I'll be off the radar until November 9th as my wife and I welcome our second child into the world. He hasn't arrived yet and is about a week overdue. If he doesn't come on his own, the doctors will begin throwing tear gas canisters into my wife on Friday or Monday.
As I said before, CD and download orders will still be processed normally. Although I'll have to rely on your patience and "undeserved favor" (grace) regarding responding to e-mails and things.
See you on the other side!
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Mark your calendars for Saturday, November 20th at 6pm Mountain Standard Time! (That should be 5pm West Coast and 8pm East Coast, but I'd suggest you double check.)
I will be hosting a live online chat for all those who have the Spirit Blade: Special Edition audio drama! While everyone listens to their own copy of the project simultaneously, we'll chat about the differences from the original version and you'll have the chance to get instant answers to any questions you might have about the project!
I've never done anything like this before and I can't wait to hang out and listen with you all!
Specific details for the chat will be announced as we get closer to the event, so stay tuned right here!
Shipping is free for CD sets and only takes about three days to reach anywhere in the US! (And of course downloads arrive much more quickly.) So don't miss out! Get your copy of "Spirit Blade: Special Edition" today and mark your calendar for the live chat on Saturday, November 20th!