Three By Three: Sci-Fi Gadgets

Sci-Fi GadgetsThe Category

We here at Pop Modern, as you may have noticed, are big fans of science fiction. Whether it’s a big budget summer blockbuster or two guys in their backyard with rubber masks and half-faded glowsticks, something about the genre is infectious. Science fiction dares us to dream, to think beyond the confines of our reality, and to see our world in a whole new light. That, and there are so many flashy gizmos. So, in honor of this beloved genre and all of its assorted baubles and whats-its, this week we’ve decided to bring you our favorite sci-fi gadgets.

The Choices

Allen

The Tricorder from Star Trek: Some of my favorite fictional gadgets are the ones based in concrete reality. The Star Trek series is known for a fairly serious tone and deep fiction, and the tricorder is an essential part of any starship team’s equipment. It’s essentially an all-in-one device, capable of foreign atmosphere analysis, cross-species communication, and even basic teleportation. Like The Force, tricorders are cooler when they aren’t explained in the universe, and are just this magical, cell phone-esque piece of technology that comes in handy at all the right times. 

The Neuralizer from Men in Black: We’ve all wanted to forget certain parts of our lives, or erase our actions from the minds of others. With the neuralizer from Men in Black, nothing is permanent. Tired of holding a grudge against someone? Tell them how you feel, and then wipe their memories! There’s something inherently nefarious about messing with the minds of others, but isn’t the breaking of the laws of physics part of what makes sci-fi so much fun?

The Holographic Touch Screen from Minority Report: Yet another gadget that we’re mere years away from, the computers in Minority Report function only to make Tom Cruise look cool while he researches criminals, but it’s actually a fascinating piece of tech. Slip on some gloves, enter a password, and you’re interfacing with a high-tech computer. The practical implications are mind-blowing, but I mostly want a touch-based hologram computer so that I can finally live out my dream of lazily browsing the Internet with just my fingertips.

James

Darth Maul’s Double-Bladed Lightsaber from Star Wars: On every sci-fi gadget list, there needs to be an obligatory lightsaber. The thinking man’s weapon, the lightsaber requires years of training, and a keen reliance upon the Force. While this is fine, like most good things it’s even better if you double it. The double-bladed lightsaber is probably extremely impractical, and leads to self-mutilation more than it leads to enemy injury. With that being said, the double-bladed lightsaber is every kid’s dream come true, a combination of staff and sword. If not for me, this choice would still be important so that my 8-year-old self did not preemptively kill me.

The Heart of Gold from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: The ship from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was as improbable as the books themselves. The power source for the ship ran on infinite improbability, and as such, anything could happen while using it. Knowing exactly how improbable any event is allows it to happen, usually without too many permanent side effects. The ship really holds its own when it comes to technology and style, a combination of raw power with the smug, opulent feel to let you know that the ship will never need to use any of its power. Note: Hangs in the sky in much the same way as a brick doesn’t.

The Web-Shooters from Spider-Man: This is another invention that my 8-year-old self would require. Though it would probably wrench my arm out of its socket, I would need to try to swing around the Cleveland skyline, fighting crimes with the aide of my web-shooters. Versatile and fun, the webs can be used in place of typical adhesives saving hundreds of dollars on crazy glue. Then again the cost of web-shooters would probably offset the savings, but you need to spend some money to keep happy.

Magellan

The Portal Gun from PortalThe perfect blend of rad and utilitarian, Chell’s Portal Gun from the acclaimed puzzle-shooter is a must-have addition to any arsenal of science-fiction gadgets. After all, not only are there endless uses for such a weapon in battle, espionage, and other strategic applications, it’s also a drastic improvement to one’s quality of life. The sky’s the limit when it comes to portals, and any quotidian task would be rendered either significantly easier or just plain obsolete with a Portal Gun.

The Mr. Fusion from Back to the Future: I figured it would raise a few too many eyebrows if I put a time-travelling DeLorean into the “gadget” category, so I settled for another tribute to the classic science fiction series that would ultimately be far more useful in everyday life: The Mr. Fusion. Think about it, a thermos-sized reactor that can turn trash into green energy. That’s monumental, that little gadget would change our lives as we know it. Sure, it’s no time machine, maybe it’s about time we focus on wacky gadget that would solve our problems, rather than lump physics-bending paradoxes on top of them.

The Thermal Detonator from Star WarsFor my last choice, I thought I’d cool off on the practicality spiel and go for something a bit more deadly. Unfortunately, James already went and grabbed the lightsaber, so I had to poke around the Star Wars universe for something just as deadly, though much less dignified. I’m talking about the thermal detonator, the hand grenade to end all hand grenades, the explosive that can make Boba Fett quiver in his boots and Jabba the Hutt quiver in his…well, he’ll be quivering.

The Conclusion

Questioning why we chose what we did? Quibbles, queries, or any other issues with our selections? Quell your frustration by heading down to the comments and making yourself heard. Quaking, we’re practically quaking in anticipation.

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Monday Match-Ups: Serenity vs. The Millennium Falcon

Serenity vs. Millenium FalconThe Setup

Oftentimes, the inspiration for our Monday Match-Ups comes from popular debates in pop culture. Things like Kirk vs. Picard, or Superman vs. Batman, or Kramer vs. Kramer (the jury’s still out on that one). Other times, it’s just the first thing that comes to mind. This week we’re fully embracing the more off-the-cuff side of our creativity by turning to the first thing that usually comes to our minds: pizza. We here at Pop Modern love pizza, but we can’t help but imagine a world where it could be even better. A world where our pizza slices itself, where the toppings are ever-flowing, where the steaming pies are beamed down from mind-bending spaceships. That’s why, this week, we dare to ask the question…Which ship would better deliver pizza, Serenity, or The Millennium Falcon?

The Contenders

Serenity: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serenity_(Firefly_vessel)
The Millennium Falcon: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Millennium_Falcon

The Verdicts

Allen: “Yes, let’s see here. One cheese and one pepperoni for…I.C. Weiner? Aw, crud!” -Phillip J. Fry, December 31, 1999
Fast food delivery is a relatively thankless job. The delivery man is essentially just a conduit for bringing that loveliest of foods to the front door of the hungry customer. And as the above quote clearly shows, it’s often on the delivery person to differentiate fake names from real ones. Now, if anyone knows about fake names, it’s Serenity‘s captain, Mal Reynolds. In a world where American Western and sci-fi tropes are merged in a way only Joss Whedon could, pizza is a commodity. I imagine Serenity receiving the call after a long day of work:

“Two cheese, one Hawaiian. Planet Menai, eighth sector. Ask for…Markos.” The pizza is delivered in the nick of time after Wash evades a crew of space pirates hungry for pineapple. Mal kicks the patron’s door open, slides the pizza next to the carpet, and the credits are wired to his account.

In a land far, far away, people get hungry. Same scenario, but the pizza is being delivered to Felucia, and there’s Midichlorians instead of cheese or something. Han narrowly navigates a dangerous asteroid field, and he finds a clearing on the south side of Felucia’s jungle surface. He bows to the lovely Twi’lek as he hands her the dinner, and… Chewy got the order wrong. She said Hawaiian, not “Raorrlrlrlrlrllrlrlrlrl”, you silly goof! She’ll still pay for…whatever toppings she got, but it’s not the same. The Serenity crew is just more organized, and Chewy’s so mad that he’s itching to rip the arms off some droids and drown his sorrows in pizza.

James: In the battle of delivery, let’s first look at each ship. Though Serenity is fast as a ship goes, it is nowhere near the hyperdrive capability of the Millennium Falcon. The delivery would be much faster then, leaving the pizzas nice and hot. However, there is the matter of storage. Serenity easily has an edge on this one. Not only is there an open area for storage, but there is also a smuggling compartment. This adds to the pizza that can be delivered in one run. Both ships require similar maintenance, but I am going to give Serenity an edge for the brilliant mechanic Kaylee, whose full time job is to make sure that Serenity is at her finest condition. Unlike the undermanned Falcon, Serenity is functioning as fully as it can almost all the time. Therefore Serenity wins the ship battle.

Next let’s take a look at the market. While the Star Wars universe is filled with races with various forms of sustenance, Serenity’s market is fairly uniform, consisting solely of human beings. However, the terraforming on the surface of the planet might obviate the need for outside delivery, and limits the number of habitable planets. The Star Wars universe is nowhere near as consistent, so even though the inhabitants are less consistent, the humans that are there are more diffuse and more likely to need outside food. Let’s be realistic. On Hoth, the Rebels would be ordering the greasiest pizza they could find. Nobody wants to cook when it’s cold out. I’m going to have to give the market share to Star Wars on this one.

Finally, let’s take a look at the crew. On the one hand, the Millennium Falcon is crewed with smugglers who double as mechanics who know their ship. Solo has managed to make the Kessel Run in fewer than 12 parsecs, impressively low mileage, while Chewie would be great for enforcing payment.  Still, the Serenity has a much more impressive crew. While Shepherd Book and River would be useless on most jaunts, the military experience of the crew combined with their experience as smugglers would serve them well, between Jayne’s enforcement of payment and Mal’s smuggler know-how. As mentioned previously, the crew of the Falcon is tied up with piloting the ship, so their attention cannot go towards fixing the ship mid-flight, a flaw that Serenity does not share. With a medic to heal pizza burns, and a companion to… do something unspecified in the show, the crew comparison favors Serenity, making it the overall winner.

Magellan: My crew-mates here on the USS Pop Modern have made some compelling arguments thus far, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to embody the rebel spirit of both the smugglers on the Falcon and the Brown Shirts on Serenity by offering the dissenting opinion. Sure, Malcolm Reynolds and his crew are more diversified and marketable, but in the end you’d be hiring a bunch of pretty boys and some extra dead weight for a job that can be done by one guy and his pet dog. And hey, I’m not saying that the Serenity crew is a bunch of pansies, and by no means am I trying to disparage Chewbacca with that dog comment. But, when it comes right down to it, this is a numbers game. Since when has pizza delivery been about a pretty, well-oiled machine? What happened to the glory days of ordering two meat lovers’ in the dead of night and having it brought to you by a high-as-balls, walking piece of facial hair? Han and Chewy are just more in line with what you’d expect from that employment sector. And that’s not to mention that if you ordered from the Serenity you’d probably have to hand out tips like Halloween candy. Han Solo is Wash and Mal rolled into one, and he’s running an essentially equivalent smuggling operation with about a fourth of the crew. That means less pit-stops, less detours, less overhead, and all of those savings go right back into the consumer’s pocket. Just slap a hairnet on the Wookiee and you’ve got a winning proposition.

The Results

Serenity wins 2-1

We all knew it was going to be a split vote. C’mon, when was the last time you were part of a unanimous, pizza-related decision, beyond the obvious “Hey let’s just order a pizza.”? Really, that’s the beauty of pizza; it’s one of the layman’s true remaining art forms, a culinary canvas upon which he paints his hopes, his dreams, and his pepperoni. If this debate has made you salivate, go ahead and drool all over our poll, as well as our comments section. Just, try not to ruin your keyboard. You’ll need that later for pizza ordering and what-not.

Three By Three: Third Movies in a Trilogy

Third Movies in a TrilogyThe Category

Three By Three is a column where we, the three writers here at Pop Modern, take you through our favorite (or least favorite) things within a specific category of pop culture. This could range from our three favorite Mario games, to our three favorite stand-up comedians, to our three favorite Shakespeare plays (Measure for MeasureTitus Andronicus, and Henry VI Part iii, easy). This week, we’re looking at the often-overlooked and under-appreciated third parts of big movie trilogies. Take a look at our favorite cinematic red-headed step-children.

The Choices

Allen

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome: It took George Miller three films to realize that the world of Mad Max can expand beyond small Australian valleys and towns. Beyond Thunderdome is everything I like about Mad Max: weirdly and specifically Australian, the fun kind of apocalypse where everyone wears leather and scrap for armor, and a heaping helping of Tina Turner.

Alien 3: Alien 3 gets a bad rep as being the beginning of the end for the acclaimed sci-fi franchise. Sure it’s weirdly long and plodding in certain spaces, and sure it’s got one of the worst endings in the series, but people who call Alien 3 a “bad movie” aren’t looking past its face value. This is David Fincher’s first film, for Pete’s sake! Yes, The Social Network’s David Fincher. He actually came onto the film fairly late in production, but his knack for cinematic storytelling and dramatic pacing shines through this cobbled together production nightmare. I could go so far as to argue that the set design for Alien 3 is the best of the entire quadrilogy. Plus, it’s got Tywin Lannister as Ripley’s weird love interest for half the film.

Toy Story 3: It’s hard to separate the Toy Story franchise with my emotional attachment to it. I still have vivid memories of watching the first film on VHS at a friend’s house and refusing to believe that it was all done with computers. Toy Story 3 takes what was good about the series (the animation, the voice acting, the lovely honesty and maturity that shines through in most Pixar films) and brings it into a staunchly modern setting. The toys that viewers have come to know and love are being abandoned by their owner, and they still manage to work as a team to escape their imprisonment in a surprisingly sinister day care. It deals with themes like friendship, loss, depression and abandonment in the trademark mature-but-fun way that very few movie studios can make work.

James

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: Personally this is my favorite of the Indiana Jones series, a preference instilled throughout childhood. The traditional insane magic of Indiana Jones is heightened by the search for the Holy Grail. Plus, the addition of Sean Connery makes the film. The tone of Raiders with the subtle humour of Temple of Doom adds up to the best in the series.

Goldfinger: Another Connery film, this classic really epitomizes the first Bond. The movie contains the current image of the pop culture spy, from the spy car- complete with oil spills, bulletproof windows and machine guns-to the classic line, “No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die,”  Goldfinger serves as the inspiration for many spy movies to come, making this one of the best Bonds in the series.

Return of The King: The epic conclusion to the Lord of the Rings Series, Return of the King brings everything to its conclusion. The epic battles, the heartbreaking ending, and the somewhat homo-erotic scene where the hobbits all surprise Frodo by jumping into his bed coalesce into Peter Jackson’s finest directorial showing. Except for King Kong. But that wasn’t the third of a series.

Magellan

The Dark Knight Rises: Sure, this film falls short of The Dark Knight’s pitch-perfect representation of Batman’s world and Ledger’s equally astounding Joker, but that movie is a tough act to follow, regardless. And yes, there are some annoying plot conveniences and incomprehensible villains, but I am proud to admit that I was fully satisfied both times I saw this one in theaters. Besides, Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman is the hottest thing to happen to comic book movies since…well, okay, since Cobie Smulders in The Avengers, but you know what I mean.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: The final chapter in Sergio Leone’s ground-breaking Dollars trilogy, this film became synonymous with the Western, and in tandem with the other films of the trilogy introduced the spaghetti western to an international audience. With his Dollars trilogy, Leone changed what it meant to be a Western film, infusing the genre with violence and moral ambiguity that have gone on to influence scores of filmmakers. The film, as well as the whole trilogy, is complemented by Ennio Morricone’s indelible score and Eastwood’s stone-cold badassery as “The Man With No Name.”

Return of the Jedi: No talk of trilogies is complete without paying respect to possibly the greatest of them all: The Original Star Wars Trilogy. These films inspired generations of young people’s imaginations, and…oh who am I kidding? It’s Star Wars, for Christ’s sake! I don’t need to justify its cultural significance. And don’t you dare start harping about Ewoks or whatever other little reasons you have for why Jedi isn’t as good as Empire. C’mon, you get another Death Star battle, that awesome Luke-Vader stand-off at the end, the sail barge sequence with bikini-clad Leia, it’s all there. Stop whining and enjoy the ride.

The Conclusion

Don’t see your favorites among our choices? Disagree vehemently with one of our favorites? Desperate to see Spider-Man 3 finally get the respect it deserves? Don’t fret, head on down to the comments section and sound off, let us know your three favorite third movies in a trilogy.