Weekend Reads (Apr 29): “E.T.,” AI, Netflix and DVDs, Awesome Kids Music, “Star Trek”
Recommended reading material for the weekend of April 29, 2023.
Every week, I compile a list of interesting and thought-provoking articles to offer you some enjoyable weekend reading material.
For the 20th anniversary of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Steven Spielberg (in)famously re-edited the movie to replace the officers’ guns with walkie talkies to make the scene less frightening. He now regrets that decision.
“E.T. was a film that I was sensitive to the fact that the federal agents were approaching kids with firearms exposed and I thought I would change the guns into walkie talkies… Years went by and I changed my own views,” Spielberg continued. “I should have never messed with the archives of my own work, and I don’t recommend anyone do that. All our movies are a kind of a signpost of where we were when we made them, what the world was like and what the world was receiving when we got those stories out there. So I really regret having that out there.”
Spielberg’s statements come at a time when numerous books — including titles by Roald Dahl and Agatha Christie — are being reedited and censored to remove material that’s problematic for modern sensibilities.
Speaking of Dahl, several schools in Texas canceled field trips to see a performance of James and the Giant Peach due to unfounded concerns over crossdressing.
Udden said those concerns are “completely ridiculous” and appear to stem from a series of recent Instagram posts implying that one of the characters would be dressed in drag and that school students’ parents were not allowed to accompany them to the performances. Udden said parents are welcome to attend if they obtain tickets through school groups but cannot purchase tickets for those children’s shows individually, for security reasons, and also said, “We do not do drag in our theater for youth.”
Fewer than eight actors portray a total of 20 characters in James and the Giant Peach, according to Udden, who said some play both male and female roles. Cross-gender casting is a common, longstanding practice at both Main Street Theater and in theater in general, she said.
“Except for a few characters in the show, they’re all insects for heaven’s sake. They’re not even people,” Udden said. “Every theater in the world has men playing women and women playing men. It’s just part of the tradition. This is certainly blown out of context.”
We continue to live in the dumbest timeline. Also, nobody tell those folks about Shakespeare. We wouldn’t want to cause any more conniptions than necessary, right?
It looks like the Writers Guild of America is heading for a strike on May 1. Alissa Wilkinson explains why this is happening and what it could mean for the entertainment industry — and surprise, AI is one the issues at play.
A lot of the TV episodes and movies produced by Hollywood are, by nature, highly formulaic. (Think of a police procedural, or a Hallmark movie.) A scenario could arise in which an AI tool is used to generate an idea for a plot, or even a full script, and then a writer is hired to revise it, or punch it up. This would cut costs for the studio, in a few ways. They wouldn’t need to pay a writer for their ideas anymore; they’d work at a lower rate, since technically they’d be “adapting” an idea. And you can easily imagine a scenario in which someone gets their intern to do a pass, or just does it themselves.
There are other issues, too — problems the AMPTP likely also has an interest in staving off. For instance, if a software program was involved in drafting a script, then can the creators of the program’s algorithm claim part of the credit and, therefore, part of the residuals? And since AIs currently are incapable of distinguishing between copyrighted and freely available material, the potential for rights infringement is huge.
Here are ten of the worst book-to-screen adaptations of all time, starting with Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy.
Why did I give up eight hours of my one precious life to sit, fuming, in the dark, willing these movies to hurry up and end? Why did this average-length children’s fantasy novel need to be three films? Why did each film have to be two-and-a-half hours long? Why did I subject myself to bout after bout of plodding, bloated anti-entertainment every Christmas week for three straight years? Why did I not just save my money and reread the book? Great questions, all.
Joe Russo, who co-directed several MCU films with his brother Anthony (e.g., Avengers: Infinity War, Captain America: The Winter Soldier), has some ideas for the AI-empowered entertainment of the future.
So potentially, what you could do with it is obviously use it to engineer storytelling and change storytelling. So you have a constantly evolving story, either in a game or in a movie, or a TV show. You could walk into your house and save the AI on your streaming platform. “Hey, I want a movie starring my photoreal avatar and Marilyn Monroe's photoreal avatar. I want it to be a rom-com because I've had a rough day,” and it renders a very competent story with dialogue that mimics your voice. It mimics your voice, and suddenly now you have a rom-com starring you that’s 90 minutes long. So you can curate your story specifically to you.
That’s one thing that it can do, but it can also, on a communal level, populate the world of the game, have intelligence behind character choice, you know, the computer-run characters in the game that can make decisions learn your play style, make it a little harder for you, make it a little easier for you, curate the story. Say you want Fortnite to be more of a horror game, right? Then you could ask the AI to ramp up the horror elements of it. So again, you could curate your experience. I think that’s where it's going. How quickly we get there, I don’t know, but that’s where it’s going.
I have to say, I’m not looking forward to this world of extremely solipsistic entertainment that caters to our every whims, needs, and desires. That feels like something straight out of a dystopia.
Via AV Club.
Forget about movies. AI is already being used to create political ads.
The video features AI-created images appearing to show Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris celebrating at an Election Day party, followed by a series of imagined reports about international and domestic crises that the ad suggests would follow a Biden victory in 2024.
Nope, there’s nothing dystopic about this. Nothing at all.
It’s official: Netflix is ending DVD rentals later this year. While that move may seem long overdue, given the current media landscape, it’s still a definite loss.
The end of Netflix’s DVD rental service doesn’t just cut off people who’ve not made the switch to streaming, it also cuts all of us off from tens of thousands of films. Netflix reportedly had around 100,000 titles for rent on DVD, adding new titles monthly (11 new titles were added in April 2023 alone). That’s far more than the 6,200 or so titles currently available on the US version of Netflix, according to one estimate.
I won’t lie; I haven’t rented a DVD from Netflix in probably close to a decade. But I do sometimes miss those red envelopes, which granted me to access to a wealth of films that I wouldn’t have been able to see otherwise.
Over 1,200 nerds gathered together earlier this week to set a Guinness World Record for the world’s largest game of Dungeons & Dragons.
The record for the most people playing Dungeons and Dragons was set at the We Geek Together store in Provo Towne Centre mall, Utah. It was awarded to the event’s organiser Andrew Ashby, as well as co-owners Everett and Fawn Ashby. Ashby told the Herald Extra that only 500 people were required to smash the record, in Guinness’ view. But word soon spread through the local RPG-playing community, and on the day of the attempt, more than double that number showed up to play. We Geek Together is a DnD store with dedicated space for games, but with so many new recruits, geeks took over a large chunk of the mall.
Many modern cars come with touchscreens to control things like heating, air conditioning, and the radio. Touchscreens may work on the starship Enterprise but they’re more of a liability in cars, and there’s a growing backlash against them.
In the last two years further evidence has suggested that touchscreens represent a step backward for auto design. Drexel researchers found that infotainment systems posed a statistically significant crash risk even in the early 2010s, before carmakers added many of today’s bells and whistles. A widely publicized Swedish study found that completing tasks with screens takes longer than with physical buttons.
Meanwhile, a revolt has been brewing. A recent J.D. Power consumer survey on vehicle dependability concluded that “infotainment remains a significant issue for new vehicles.” It wasn’t hard to understand why. In a 2022 New York Times opinion piece titled “Touch Screens in Cars Solve a Problem We Didn’t Have,” Jay Caspian Kang wrote, “I can think of no better way of describing the frustration of the modern consumer than buying a car with a feature that makes you less safe, doesn’t improve your driving experience in any meaningful way, saves the manufacturer money and gets sold to you as some necessary advance in connectivity.”
Finally, Robert Komaniecki is a music theory professor, and in this Twitter thread, he tries to comprehend the awesomeness of music from kids’ shows like Bluey and Thomas the Tank Engine.
I teach college music theory, but I’m also a new dad. I decided to combine my professional and personal identities and make a thread of music for babies where the adult musicians went way, way harder than they had to.
Solid bangers, every single one of them. (My kids went crazy for Chromeo’s song about washing your hands back in the day.)
From the Blog
I recently finished Star Trek: Picard third and final season, which I thoroughly enjoyed. My favorite part of the show was the interplay between Jean-Luc Picard and William Riker, which was only possible because of the actors’ real-life friendship.
This sense of fun and camaraderie helps explain why, all quibbles aside, Picard ultimately felt so right — and so much more than just a slavish exercise in nostalgia. To be honest, I think I would’ve been perfectly satisfied had season three just been Picard and Riker doing their own thing. But the fact that the season brought back all of the core TNG cast, and did so in a way that largely felt unforced and natural, was just a delight for someone like me who’s been a fan from the very beginning.
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