Your next American Idol

Two seasons ago, my then-co-worker Chris Oakes talked me into watching “American Idol” near the end of the season, which was the classic Ruben-vs.-Clay battle. I actually enjoyed it, much to my surprise, but when I started watching the 2004 season I didn’t become a regular viewer. I actually got turned off at about the point last year when the judges started lecturing the viewers for voting off the wrong people — why ask for our opinion and then tell us we were wrong? To make matters worse, some of the blame for our “wrong” voting was heaped on the back of one of the youngest competitors — a young boy still in high school. In disgust, I stopped watching.

By this year, some of my resentment had worn off and I watched an episode or two. But it never really piqued my interest.

Lately, of course, my viewing options are a lot more limited. I ended up watching tonight to see the final three contestants (which was about where I had joined the Clay-vs.-Ruben battle two years earlier).

The two ladies were fine, but Bo Bice hit a home run. Each contestant got to sing three songs — one selected by record mogul Clive Davis, one self-selected and one selected by one of the three regular judges. Bice’s self-chosen song was sung a cappella — the first time anyone’s tried that in the serious portion of the competition before. I forget the title of the song, but it was great. And Bice also did a terrific job with Elton John’s “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me.” His “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” was inoffensive — a fatal flaw when performing a Rolling Stones song — but even so, he really did a terrific job tonight.

Lake Neuron Lite — all the blither, none of the meaning

I saw an ad for Edy’s Grand Light ice cream last night which claimed it tastes just as good as full-fat ice cream.

No disrespect to Edy’s — they make a fine product — but I’m always a little flabbergasted when a TV ad claims that the low-fat or low-cal version tastes just like the original. If that were really true, why would you need to keep making the original version? You could simply reformulate your flagship brand rather than making a “light” version of it.

It would be more accurate to say that the light version tastes “almost like” the original. But that doesn’t make as compelling a commercial.

Another take on Trek

My brother Michael pointed me to this fine fine essay by James Lileks about the end of “Star Trek: Enterprise.” Lileks, in his screamingly funny book “Fresh Lies” (sadly, out of print), has a piece poking fun at the reverence some fans have for The Original Series over its successors. He runs counter to fan consensus here, as well, expressing his admiration for “Enterprise” and saying that the romance between Trip and T’Pol is the only such believable romantic relationship in any of the Star Trek series.

I don’t agree with every single point, but Lileks is always worth reading.

Where no one has gone before (SPOILER)

I haven’t really watched much of “Star Trek Enterprise” since its first season, but I have checked out a few scattered episodes during this farewell season, and I watched the two last episodes tonight.

The “Enterprise” cast members have complained publicly about the very last episode. What they believe should have been their swan song was overshadowed by cameos from Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis in their “Star Trek: The Next Generation” roles. In fact, (SPOILER ALERT) the events of the Enterprise NX-10′s last mission aren’t really being witnessed by us first-hand, so to speak; instead, we’re seeing a holodeck program about those events which Riker consults, at Troi’s suggestion, to help him work through an ethical dilemma of his own. (That dilemma is from a specific episode of “ST:TNG,” and no doubt Paramount will someday be able to package the “Enterprise” and “TNG” episodes together as a special event DVD. They might even edit them together, “Godfather Saga” style.)

So “Star Trek” is off the air, at least for a while. Most people, except for a few die-hard fans who tried to save “Enterprise,” seem to agree that this is a good thing. In a few years, a new version of “Star Trek” can come back and be fresh and engaging.

I am not a basher of Rick Berman, Gene Roddenberry’s hand-picked successor who oversaw “TNG” after the first few years and who created “Deep Space Nine,” “Voyager” and “Enterprise.” Many, including Roddenberry’s widow, have been critical of Berman and a few have even accused him of killing the franchise. The fact remains that he kept “Star Trek” on the air for a number of years. “Voyager” and “Enterprise” both had their ups and downs, and I certainly don’t consider them as good as “TNG.” But it’s a little silly to paint Berman as some sort of villain. On the contrary, he’s had a remarkable run.

I do, however, feel that the franchise would benefit from a fresh approach, and I’m hoping that Paramount will give someone else a shot at “Star Trek” the next time around. J. Michael Straczynski, the creator of “Babylon 5,” says he pitched a proposal for a new “Star Trek” series to Paramount a year or two ago — I think that could have been fascinating. But Straczynski now says his plate is full and he wouldn’t be available even if Paramount were interested.

Tonight’s episode of “Enterprise” ended with a little overture incorporating various “Star Trek” theme songs, and a creative editing of the traditional “Star Trek” / “TNG” opening narration. After seeing Riker make his decision, we hear Patrick Stewart start the narration (“These are the voyages …”) and see the Enterprise-D; then the narration switches to James T. Kirk and we see the classic Enterprise; then Scott Bakula’s character, Jonathan Archer, gets to do the “where no one has gone before” part before we see his Enterprise head off into the stars.

All in all, a nice ending.

Hitchhiker’s followup

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the GalaxyGeorganna, a fan of the “Hitchhiker’s Guide” books who doubts she would enjoy the movie, expressed some puzzlement at my previous comment about Zaphod Beeblebrox’s two heads. She noted no two-headed actors in the cast list, after all.

I’ve only seen snippets of the old BBC TV series of “Hitchhiker’s,” but if I recall correctly they used a crude physical special effect to put a second head on Zaphod’s shoulders. The new movie handles things a bit differently. Zaphod appears normal most of the time, but when his second head is referred to, he leans his (primary) head back and a second “head” — little more than a face — appears about where his throat should be. The effect is annoying, and doesn’t ring true to what’s being referred to in the dialogue, even for such a bizarre and whimsical concept. However, Zaphod’s second head is removed and held for ransom at one point in the movie, and so we don’t have to worry with it after that.

Phisch, meanwhile, has the opposite problem. She asks if the movie would be at all accessible to someone with no knowledge of the books.

To be honest, I have no way of answering that question. I’ve read and re-read the books so many times since 1981 that there’s no telling how much I took for granted while watching the movie. I know the story so well that it’s hard for me to even imagine watching it from the point of view of a novice.

On the other hand, I think you could get much of the humor even if some of the plot twists left you scratching your head on first viewing. And the special effects will be much more effective on the big screen.

So I guess I’m not being helpful at all.

More on Hitchhiker’s

The one reservation I had about the “Hitchhiker’s Guide” movie is the special effect for Zaphod Beeblebrox’s second head. It didn’t really work for me. I didn’t mention that in my earlier review because it almost seems like a quibble — and maybe it is. But I just ended up mentioning it on a message board posting and figured I’d better mention it here too.

And thanks for all the fish

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the GalaxyI told my Kenya teammates this weekend it was a measure of my commitment to the trip that, for their sakes, I was missing the opening weekend of a movie I had waited 24 years to see.

I was too tired to take in a movie after returning from training on Sunday, but as soon as I left the office today I got in the car and headed straight for Tullahoma, to take in the 4:10 showing of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.”

I was not disappointed. The filmmakers have deftly captured the whimsy and the basic plot of Douglas Adams’ book while making it work on its own level as a movie. My brother in California, another fan of the book, and I talked about this a week or two ago. He pointed out that purists have little grounds to complain about plot changes — after all, Adams’ book differed from his original BBC radio script, and Adams’ TV script differed from both of them. Adams had worked for years on the movie script; after his death, another writer brought it to completion.

The biggest difference between the book and the movie, as a million other reviewers have already pointed out, is that the romantic tension between Arthur Dent and Tricia “Trillian” McMillan — only hinted at in the book — has been turned into a full-blown romance; the movie ultimately pivots on Arthur and Trillian’s relationship. I can live with that and think it made the movie more entertaining and accessible to a mainstream audience without running too far afield from Adams’ tone.

Of course, if this turns into a movie series, it means that somewhere down the line the plot will diverge even further from the books. In the fourth book, “So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish,” Arthur finally finds his soulmate — and it isn’t Trillian.

Anyway, the “Hitchhiker’s” movie is perfectly cast. Mos Def and Sam Rockwell, in particular, may not fit what I had imagined of Ford Prefect and Zaphod Beeblebrox. But in some ways they’re better than what I had imagined. Martin Freeman as Arthur and Zooey Deschanel as Trillian are terrific, and so is Bill Nighy as Slartibartfast.

The voice-over talent deserves special praise: Alan Rickman is Marvin the android (By Grabthar’s hammer he is!), Helen Mirren is fine as the voice of Deep Thought, Thomas Lennon (“The State” / “Viva Variety” / “Reno 911″) is perfect as Eddie, the sickeningly cheery computer voice, and Stephen Fry, last but not least, is the ideal voice of the Guide itself.

John Malkovich has a terrific cameo as a character developed by Adams especially for the movie. I kept waiting for him to reappear; they must be saving that for “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.”

I just hope I don’t have to wait another 24 years.