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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Newly Completed: Hekatrix Bloodbrides

Hey there Chaos fiends! I hope you're all doing well. Have you been keeping up with all of those Chaos rumors? Hahaha! I don't quite know what to believe, and honestly that's just fine. I like seeing all the rampant speculation- it's a bit of fun. I do wish that everyone would just take a deep breath though- look I get it, since Chaos (and Plague Marines in particular) is my favorite 40K army, I want the book to be just right. But I see lots of people getting upset and they shouldn't be, as none of it is confirmed AND we are aren't getting a full picture at any rate. I also would like to see the trolls take a hike- if you hate 40K, why are you commenting at all? If you loathe 40K and GW and all- why bother even taking the time? Find something else to do and leave those who do enjoy it to their own devices. I used to watch WWF, but I don't anymore... I don't go onto their sites and trash people who still watch or root for a particular wrestler... Trolls make no sense to me...

Well, that's enough of the rant. Now on to business. I just finished my 10 woman Hekartix Bloodbride squad. I have just recently completed my Kabalite Trubeorn, so I decided to turn my attentions to the elite Wyches now. One of the toughest things about making these lovely ladies is just how to make them...  With the Trueborn it was a bit easier- they all had heavy weapons, and they don't have helms. I also gave their Dracon a banner that was painted white instead of red, to denote their difference. I didn't want them to be too different from Kabalite Warriors, just in case  I decided to field bigger squads with more heavy weapons than I currently have now.

The Wyches posed a more complicated challenge. They need to look like Wyches, but since they are the "Bloodbrides", they need to look suitably different- I wasn't planning on blending them into a bigger squad potentially. So, I would need to really make them look unique, yet still be Wyches. Thus, I gave them all kinds of vicious weapons- they've got the Razorflails, but I also gave them the Hellglaives from the Hellions- no, its not "tournament legal"- I just wanted them to look dangerous. I gave some skull trophies dangling off their armor and weapons. Finally, I gave them all helms from the Jetbikers- their dangerous beauty would be hidden behind masks. I thought there was something cool about taking these beautiful killers and making them faceless...

In painting, I painted their armor plates the same as the Wyches- Khonre Red. Their skin I painted with Rakarth Flesh base, a violet wash, and then successive highlights of Pallid Wych Flesh (again, a great color). Their loincloths of flayed flesh I did with Bugman's Glow, red washes, and then Caidian Fleshtone highlights. The weapons I did with Warplock Bronze, Leadbelcher, and some Runelord Brass, Brass Scorpion, and Gehnna's Gold. I must say I've been impressed with these metal paints- the gold and brasses in particular- they have great coverage and they are all sharp looking. I love how they made the Hellglaves look, in particular.

Now, as for the helms. I thought about doing them silver, or perhaps red. I tried it on one, and I wasn't thrilled. It looked too bland. So, I decided to go and do something a bit different. I painted a base of Ceramite White. On those helms that had eye-slits, I did a wash of Carroburg Crimson to make it red. Then, I painted the whole helm Ulthuan Grey. Over the white, it appears as a really, really light grey. I then hit it with gloss varnish. The result is that it looks like an opaque helm- my brother compared the look to Mysterio... Haha. The idea is that they are ghostly white, mostly obscuring the Bloodbride's face within.

Overall, I am pleased with how they came out. The helms really set them apart from the rank and file Wyches, making them look fearsome in their anonymous masks. The dynamic poses of those weapons give the Bloodbrides a sense of fast and dangerous movement. I think they'll make a great looking retinue for my Succubus or perhaps Lelith herself.

Well, I hope you enjoyed this look at my latest Dark Eldar creations. Until next time, my friends...

Court of the Archon (Work In Progress)

Hey there Chaos Corner fans! I hope you have all been doing well- hopefully you've caught a good movie, read a good book, or done some modeling. I have been a busy bee myself- I have begun reading Battle of The Fang (which IS as good as people say it is, and I'm only part in), and I have been doing some painting. I have paused my "big terrain project" for the moment in order to work on Dark Eldar- I needed the break. I have a few Dark Eldar projects going at the moment, but I wanted to show off the beginning of my Court of the Archon...

The Court of the Archon (thus far)
 I was never sure if I would ever field the Court of the Archon- I think the Lhemean's power is amazing (the Archon has a 2+ Agonizer- yes please!), but I was unsold on some of the others. I have been in the habit of sending the Archon out with either Warriors or Incubi. I just don't know if they'd be effective...

My sneaky Archon and Sslyth Bodyguard
 However, when they released the 2nd Wave of the Dark Eldar and Finecast, I was quite taken by the Medusae, the Lhamaean, and the Sslyth (those Ur-Ghuls, however, are NOT good looking OR worth that price). The looks of those models got me interested in doing a Court. Even if I don't field them often, I just wanted to make these models.

A simple but effective model

 My first was the Medusae. This model was painted with some of the new paints also- I used washes and glazes on the cloak and the brain, respectively. I made the cloak look rougher and dirty, reflecting the troubled prisoner/taken over creature that the Medusae is. It's a simple but effective model. You only need one or two, which is just fine.

She has a great ability AND is a finely detailed model
The second is the Lhaemean. I think this model has great details, and with conversion could well be a female Archon, if so desired. I washed the Scab Red cloak several times, really getting the was in the recesses of the garment- giving it a fine, silk look. The blade I did with washes of green over the leadbealcher paint. The armor was done with Khorne Red (which is very close to Red Gore), keeping her line with the rest of the Dark Eldar armor. Finally, her skin was done with a base of Rackarth Flesh, followed by a wash, and then Pallid Wych Flesh (a new favorite color). I am pleased with how this one turned out!

As you can see, I did an arm swap with a regular Dark Eldar Warrior
Last up is the Sslyth. I really love this model, and the very concept. The Archon hires them as bodyguards since he can't trust his own kind- nice fluff there. I love how they are dressed on Kabalite armor, but are totally alien. I did two of these bad boys- one of them has arm swaps with other Dark Eldar kits (another great thing about the DE). Paint-wise, I did their armor with the usual Khorne Red. Their scales I did a base of Caliban Green, followed by a wash, and then successive highlights of old snot green. The underbelly I hit with Caliban Green, then Nurgling Green after that. The eyes I did white with Yellow Glaze and a small Chaos Black slit for the pupil. The weapons were done with Leadbelcher and some of the other new metallic paints.

So, here's a shot of the Work In Progress "Court of the Archon", complete with my Archon. I was thinking of getting a new Archon to tie him in better with his court (hey, I can run two Archons, can't I?). I will also get a second Lhmean and Medusean soon. And then I have to figure out what to do about the Ur-Ghuls.... Hmmm- I smell another "How To Save Money The Chaos Way" coming soon, don't you? Hahaha!

Until next time!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Tale of Two Battles

Hey there Chaos fans! I'm back with a new post. I recently had a vacation. Now, this vacay was a stay at home excursion, which gave me a ton of time to paint! Just wait till you see my Bloodbrides and new Raider (painted with the new GW Paints, which still impress me, by the way- the coverage is really good, and I love the ability to base 1..2..3). I'll be posting pics of them as I finish them (a bit to go yet).

Daemons- bending the very fabric of reality (or creating an Instagram filter)
 I also had the opportunity to play two games over my break! It's a shame, as I feel that I don't game as much as I want to. It's tough- work, work, work... sometimes its hard to get together with some friends and play a good game or two. I'd go to a store to play, but sometimes I'd be playing against a 10 year old, and then others I'm playing against a meta-gamer with leafblowers or just the latest super-killer internet flavor of the month list. Meh. However, this past week I got to play two games, which was thrill for me. The first game was hard fought, but left me frustrated a bit with the Dark Eldar. The second game had me playing Chaos Daemons, an army I haven't fielded in quite some time. So, let's take a look:

Love that Talos model
 Blood Angels versus Dark Eldar

I had been looking forward to this fight. My friend Joe has been slowly building up his Blood Angels army. Now, he has a TON of stuff, the problem is he hasn't had time to put the stuff together, let alone paint. Joe decided to start getting serious about this, and put his assembly line into higher gear. Joe put together a bunch, including his Storm Raven gunship. Nice model, very large (and a great contrast to the DE Razorwing, I might add). He also put together the Finecast Astorath the Grim, which is wonderful model. I hope that Joe will begin to paint soon, especially since the GW Paints have some great reds that will go on quick AND give him a great looking army...

My new Trueborn Squad
We decided to play in the neighborhood of 1550 points. I decided to mix and match some old things with some new things. I decided to use a Succubus as the head of the army (since I just finished her) and a squad of Wyches in a Raider to keep her company. I also used a new squad of Trueborn (which I had also just finished painting) in a Venom. I had two squads of Kabalite Warriors, a Talos (I LOVE that model), a Ravager, and a Razorwing. Finally, I had two Haemonculi, one would go with a Warrior squad, and the other would go with a squad of Wracks (again, LOVE those models). I felt that I had a good mix of anti-armor (Ravager, Razorwing, Trueborn), as well as anti-infantry (Wyches, Wracks, Razorwing).

The Razorwing and Stormraven in a brief dogfight
 The mission was Capture and Control, with Pitched Battle deployment. I divided with my Raiders ready to sweep around at a moments notice, and I deployed my Trueborn on the landing pad, giving them a clear shot of half the battlefield, with the Razorwing in support. I sent my troops to encircle the objective. The Talos and Ravager were with the Wyches' Raider. I really felt that I had a good set up. Indeed, my opponent told me as much. But from there, my game went right down the toilet...

The Death Company simply wouldn't die...
My rolls were simply atrocious, completely and utterly horrid. I could not punch through the armor to save my life. And the few times I did PENETRATE, I rolled a 1 or 2... Ugh. With rolls like that, my Dark Lances were simply not enough to break through his armor. This allowed him to fire everything at me. In fact, he didn't really move his men at all- he likes to be a long distance shooting game, and I played into his hands. The only men he sent forward were his Death Company with jump packs- I kept shooting them, but he kept getting good Feel No Pain rolls (ironic, since he hates that my Plague Marines have that...). I eventually got them, but it took too damn long.

Bad idea, it turns out...
 Ultimately, he simply outgunned me, destroying my Ravager and Razorwing. His troops continued to fire missiles at my Raiders and Talos (eventually killing the Talos too- which DID absorb a ton of fire). I was unable to put a serious dent in him. He then began to slowly advance his Baal and Dreadnaught, and I knew my troops had about a turn left before getting toasted. I tried a last ditch thing by driving my Haemonculus and Wracks at Astorath the Grim- and he mopped the floor with them. At that point I conceded. I don't normally give up like that, but there was simply no way to win it, or even put up stiff resistance at that point.

This game made me think- where did I go wrong? It has happened several times- sometimes the Dark Lances work, sometimes they don't. I think I depended too much on them. I also got into a shooting match with him, when I should have been a bit more aggressive. Should I have tried a different combo? It was too bad, as feel I had been doing so well with the DE, that even in defeat I'm at least difficult, but this round was an utter disaster, as he simply stream-rolled me.

Chaos Daemons versus Grey Knights 

The next day, my brother said that he'd been thinking about playing a match- despite my loss to Joe I was ready to fight again. Last time, my brother and I did Chaos Marines versus Grey Knights, which was a ton of fun, so we decided to keep up the theme- this time I'd play as my Chaos Daemons (perhaps this was another part of the war as continued from the last game- a nice mini-narrative there).

Politics makes strange bedfellows in the Warp...
 I haven't played as the Daemons for like two years now. I didn't even use them at my big "Bachelor Party Apocalypse" game, in which I just used Chaos Marines. I thought it would be fun to give them a go. Interestingly, I have read that many people don't like the Codex, and they feel that it is unfluffy to have a "Daemon Army", and it caused specific daemons to be cut out of the main Chaos Marines Codex. While I agree that at least the core Daemons SHOULD be in the Chaos Marines book, I like the idea that there are Daemonic hosts. If a planet is falling to Chaos, I could see all sorts of horrors emerging from the Warp, laying waste to the planet as civilization becomes unglued and the planet enters its death-throes. Well, that's my two cents, anyways.

The Bloodthirster of Khorne
As for my list, I decided to go with a Khorne and Slaanesh motif. I have a ton of Nurgle related stuff, and I need to do more Tzeentch daemons (I need to pick up a set of the new plastic horrors), but I wanted to have the two opposing gods joining forces here. For Khorne, I had 2 sets of Bloodletters, 5 Bloodcrushers, and a Bloodthirster. For Slaanesh, I had 2 sets of Daemonettes, 5 Seekers, and of course a Keeper of Secrets. My plan was to send in the Slaaneshi daemons first. I knew they'll get shot at, but with their run rolls and fleet, they can get in his way and get into combat with him. Though they'd be unable to finish him, they would tie him down until Khorne's daemons arrived, and they'd be able to mop up. But, would the gods show me favor and allow the Daemonettes to come first, or would they curse me?

The Daemonettes showed up right where I wanted them to.

It turns out that the gods of Chaos must like this blog- I got the rolls I wanted; the Slaanesh host was allowed to materialize first and the Daemonettes appeared where I wanted them. As they advanced under bolter fire, my Khorne Daemons quickly appeared in turn 2 (except the Bloodthirster, which took till turn 3 to pop up). My plan worked, as the Slaaneshis got targeted. The Keeper of Secrets tangled with the Dreadknight and lost (though he did wound the thing twice). My Seekers got in to a group of Terminators, and managed to whittle them down a bit before dying.

The Seekers do their job effectively
 Ultimately, it all hinged on my Bloodletters and Juggernaunts, and it worked! The 1 squad of Bloodletters pounced on the Dread Knight. Between their furious charge (+1S and +1I) and their power weapon swords, they got some lucky rolls, killing him. My other Bloodletter squad charged the first Terminator batch, finishing what the Seekers started. The Crushers got into the other squad of Terminators and put a serious hurt on them.  Finally, my Bloodthirster had crushed the Dreadnought, and was getting ready to go after the Land Raider. However, my brother had so little left that he decided to call it.

More blood for the Blood God!!
 Now, this was a game where just about everything went right for me, as opposed to the DE/BA match, in which so much seemed to go wrong. Its not about winning (well, sometimes it is, but...), I just like to be competitive, which I felt I hadn't been. Then, with the Daemons, every roll of the dice went my way, and that led to a big win. I need to see that the dice rolls are what they are, and I shouldn't let that impact my enjoyment, though I still want to make an opponent really fight for the win. I realized that I shouldn't be so hard on myself or the DE, for the dice gods are fickle indeed... And besides, there will always be another battle to fight...

Until next time!!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Book Review: Prospero Burns

 Hey there Chaos fanatics! Old Man Chaos is back with a book review. I have just finished Prospero Burns by Dan Abnett. Now, for me, while Dan Abnett is a great writer, I find that his work is often hit or miss. When he hits, he hits BIG. His Eisenhorn Trilogy may be one of the best 40K story arcs ever- the writing, pacing, detail, characterization, etc are all fantastic. It was the type of book that I didn't want to see end, since I felt so invested in Eisenhorn, Bequin, Aemos, and the rest. Equally good are Abnett's Horus Heresy books- Horus Rising is a great introduction to the series, and Legion has some of the greatest story twists of any Black Library book. However, Abnett does miss quite a bit too- for example, his Titanicus is quite underwhelming, with too many charcaters floating around and not enough Titan action. Also, though I loved the title character, his Ravenor series isn't nearly as good as Eisenhorn, which disappointed me. As for Prospero Burns, some fans have said that it doesn't focus nearly enough on the Battle of Prospero, and that it feels like you're just following some historian around for too long.

While I agree that the Battle of Prospero itself is a bit too short, the rest of the story is, in fact, very, very good. Indeed, I feel that it is one of Abnett's strongest to date. You see, there's multiple themes and stories running through this book. Yes, it culminates in the Battle of Prospero, but if you have already read A Thousand Sons, you already know the general contours of the battle itself, as well as the perspective of Magnus and the Thousand Sons themselves. This book is bigger than that battle, but in a fantastic way, Abnett uses the smallest, most insignificant character as a window into not just the fight between the Wolves and the Thousand Sons, but the bigger conflicts that are happening between mankind and the immaterium, as well as man's battles within himself.

I don't want to give too much away, so I'll try to keep spoilers to a minimum. The story is about Kasper Hawser, a historian and archeologist from Terra. Hawser has had some academic success in making historical discoveries about ancient Terran history, and has even gotten Imperial recognition for his work. However, Hawser grows tired of the beauracracy of Terra (great foreshadowing of the future of Terra's administratum) and decides to leave it all behind and go to Fenris, the home-world of the Space Wolves (Or Vilka Fenrika, as they prefer to be called). The Wolves take him in and make him Skjald, a storyteller for their legion. Hawser gets swept up in the Great Crusade, sees battles, meets Leman Russ and other major figures, and gets involved to the conflict between the Russ' and Magnus' legions.

Now, of course, it isn't quite that simple. Now here's where I will stop on the plot, since I don't want to give too much away. There are some twists here that I don't want to ruin; the surprises here are very interesting and make one interpret the events of the Heresy in a new light (though it doesn't quite match the twists of Legion- boy, those are doozies). I don't want to dwell on those, so I will instead look at some of the major themes and concerns of this book.

The first, and perhaps most vital question that the book seems to ask is "What is the purpose of Knowledge"? For Hawser (and perhaps, the Thousand Sons), knowledge is essential- the phrase "Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it" sums up his view. Hawser initially wanted to find the causes of Old Night, that time of anarchy when humanity nearly fell into ruin. Of course, Hawser suspects something sinister about the Warp, even if he is not sure what it really is out there. Of course, his own quest is mirrored by the Thousand Sons, who seek knowledge (ostensibly) for the benefit of mankind- learning about the esoteric and the Warp in order to master it.

The Space Wolves see knowledge a bit differently. To them, there are some things best forgotten. Too much knowledge is dangerous, even maddening. Traditions must be kept alive, stories of heroism and bravery must be told to inspire. But, knowledge just for the sake of it, can ruin people- excessive knowledge breeds corruption, ego, vanity. I would say that the Wolves value practical knowledge, but shun everything else. This philosophy is set up for some great contrasts between the two legions. And with that, one must question- did the Emperor go to far himself in the pursuit of knowledge and power? Should the Wolves feel the same sense of anger and disgust toward him?

Speaking of, the second issue of this book regards the purpose of the Space Wolves. Abnett goes out of his way to point out that the Emperor created each legion for a specific purpose. Some are made to fortify, others are made to be the Praetorian,  etc. The Wolves are made to be the ultimate deterrent. A weapon of war so terrible, that it could even take on a Space Marine Legion. It seems that the Emperor knew that this might be a possibility, hence the Wolves. Interestingly, the Wolves are not thrilled with their role. To them, this is a thankless task, which causes them to be looked on as savages by all others. They aren't- they are simply designed to be ruthless warriors, able to destroy anything without pity or doubt.

The third issue is that this calls into question just how "wise" the Emperor really is, especially when you combine this with the other Heresy books. After all, if he knows about the dangers of Chaos, why doesn't he warn his Primarchs more forcefully? If the story is true, why did he use the powers of the warp to create the Primarchs (The First Heretic)? How does he not know about the Twin Primarchs (Legion)? How is it that the Emperor condemns religion ("The Last Church") while still allowing the Wolves to practice their "paganism"? There are way more questions than answers, and I doubt we will get any more than that, which is OK- it allows us fans to speculate.

There are some issues with the book though- the pacing is sometimes spotty, and his characterization isn't as good as his usual (though he does a great job with Leman Russ, while Kasper Hawser is a cipher- on purpose). The action scenes are clipped, and I do wish we got to see the Battle of Prospero a little bit more. I do love how the last act is told as if the Skjald is telling the story after the fact though.

Ultimately, Prospero Burns is one of Abnett's strongest (though not his best). If you enjoy the Wolves or the Heresy in general, I think you will enjoy this book. I intend on reading The Battle of the Fang next, as it seems to be the final part of the war between the Space Wolves and the Thousand Sons, even if it takes place a thousand years after the Heresy. I've heard great things about this one, so after Prospero Burns, I'm excited to get it started! As for this one, I give it 3 1/2 Marks of Chaos out of 4.

Until next time....

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Brief Review: The New GW Paints

Hey there Chaos fans! I'm back with a brief look at the new Games Workshop Citadel paints. Of course, I've been excited by the news of the release. I am particularly excited by the new lines (like texture) and the return of the inks (only 4, but still...). So, naturally, I went out and bought the new How To Paint Citadel Miniatures guide/DVD and a whole batch of new paints. Does this new line reflect an improvement over the old GW paint range? Or is this just a GW cash-grab? Let's find out, shall we?

I am very, very impressed with GW this time. This new range of +140 paints is just staggering. Now, I can be critical of GW (I've had articles here showing folks how to SAVE money, I've criticized GW for allowing Chaos to fall by the wayside, etc.), but I must state for the record that these new paints are amazing. Whether you're a veteran painter or someone just starting, these paints are great. Even if you're like my friend who uses Vallejo or Reaper (I have too from time to time), there are things in the GW range that you will find useful. I'm going to give my impressions of each of the types of paints...

1 Coat of Khorne Red
Base: When GW released the "Foundation Paints" a few years back, they were somewhat mixed. Some were great, while others (like Macharite Red) still took a few coats to get right (without being streaky). This time, GW has gotten the Base Paints right. The paint goes on nice and even, and the color is well-defined with just one coat. In these two examples, I have painted Khorne Red on the Blood Slaughterer and Caliban Green on the Nurgle Sorcerer. I am very impressed by the Khorne Red, it's a great color and just one coat looks smooth and deep already. Great stuff here!

Shade: The Shades are similar to the washes that GW released a couple of years ago. They work about the same, though there are more to choose from. However, I feel that their coverage is much better than the old washes. In the example, I used Nuln Oil over a Scab Red cloak. The results are striking! Look at how deep it makes the garment look.

Layer Paints: Now, I certainly haven't had the time to try all of these out- there's a ton to choose from. However, I must say that the couple that I have used thus far go on really well. They are bright, clean, and go on nice even over black. I have already tried Wazdakka Red (which IS brighter than Red Gore, FYI)- it goes on nice and smooth. I am dying to try Wych skin- it looks like a great layer paint for my Dark Eldar Bloodbrides skin.

Texture Paints: I must confess- I hate modeling bases. I find it tedious to PVA glue sand, let it dry, then put a thin layer of glue to seal it, and then... blah blah blah. All of my Plague Marines have bases, but as I went onto others, I either bought pre-done bases (like my Khorne Daemons skull bases) or simply stopped basing outright (like my Dark Eldar). Now, here comes the new Texture Paints. I am very, very happy here. The Texture Paint allows you to make a dirt base in just one sweep of the brush. The dirt in the paint sticks right on, no glue or mess required. If you want only a little, just put on some. If you want a lot of dirt, just paint more on the base. It is so simple. An operation that used to be tedious and take time now just takes an  hour (I waited to really let things dry). In the examples below, I used Armageddon Ash Texture, followed by a wash of Seraphim Sepia, followed by a use of Tyrant Skull Dry paint. The results are great, and only took a brief amount of time. This may be one of the cleverest things GW has ever made, and I will now be basing ALL of my Dark Eldar like this straight away. If that doesn't show you how impressed I am, nothing will.

Dry Compound: Now, dry brushing is a fairly simple technique. However, these new "dry compounds" make that process even easier. The material is fairly thick, rub it off the brush and you get a very nice and even drybrushing effect- no huge streaks. For most experienced painters this is no problem; however, the variety of colors that they have for this are different from their regular colors, so that the right set up of base, layer, and dry brushing can have a powerful combination. I used dry on the bases (after the Texture Paint and shade was applied)- it went on nicely 1 2 3.

Glaze: Kind of like the inks of yore, though not quite as thick and not quite as many. However, these glazes do indeed serve their purpose well- they go on and color the model with a stronger hue than had been. I missed the old inks, and it is nice to see GW bring back the big ones. Here, I used the Green glaze on the Medusa's tentacles, while yellow on her exposed brain and eye.

PS- The book, How To Paint Citadel Miniatures, is a very good book for the beginner. I bought it to learn more about the new paints and their uses. I also like to get new ideas, techniques, and inspiration from books like this. The book did well on all accounts, and the DVD that comes with it goes along with the book, actually showing you the techniques described in the book, and the slice of British humor certainly helped. Its a nice product, though a bit pricey AND if you are a really experienced painter, you may find that this book isn't worth it. However, if you just appreciate looking at nicely painted models and enjoy reading about others techniques, then this book is right up your alley. Of INTERESTING note, they show NO 40K Chaos Marines in this book. None. They mention Nurgle and Khorne (They show a daemon, but that's it), but they don't show ANY Chaos Marines, Vehicles, etc. If you suspect that they'll be bringing out the new line of Chaos soon, I think their lack of inclusion here IS evidence of that... At any rate, I'll give the book 3 out of 4 Marks of Chaos (subtract 1/2 if you are too experienced for this book, considering the price tag).

Until next time, my faithful disciples of Chaos...

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Movie Review: Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

Hey there Chaos fans. I'm back with my semi-regular review of the Star Trek movies. This time, we're going to look at the infamous Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, directed by William Shatner. So, is this the legendarily bad movie that nearly killed the franchise, or is it a fun, albeit cheesy movie that gets knocked way too much? Let's dive on in and find out...

Personal Background: I saw this movie when it came out in 1989. I was like, 10 or 11 years old when I saw it over the summer. I remember liking the movie then. I can't say if I loved it, but I do recall it fondly from my youth. As I got older, I came to appreciate ST II (as a kid it was scary!) and the like, and came to see the flaws of STV very strongly. Nevertheless, I have always maintained  a spot in my heart for this one, warts and all.

Basic Plot: Well, the crew of the USS Enterprise are on shore leave on Earth, waiting for the new Enterprise to be repaired (yes- the 'new' ship has lots of bugs to be worked out- leading to some funny and some not so funny moments). Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are out mountain climbing and camping (as odd as that sounds). Kirk is then ordered to cancel shore leave and head to the planet of Nimbus III- a planet co-operated by Humans, Klingons, and Romulans, There has been a revolt on the planet, and the 3 races' ambassadors have been taken hostage. Kirk and crew must go and rescue them quickly, as a Klingon ship has also been sent to the scene, and the Federation fears it might spiral violently out of control.

The architect of the "revolt" is a vulcan renegade called Sybock. This man may be one of the most complicated antagonists in Trek. Sybock has rejected logic, and instead has embraced emotion. Sybock's embrace of emotion has also given him broader psychic powers than regular Vulcans; Sybock is able to read people's minds, seek out their pains, secrets, and vulnerabilities, and thereby manipulate them. All of this has led him on a journey to find God. Not "find" him metaphorically, but literally. Sybock believes that, based on the religions found in all sentient life, that God really is on this plane, in the center of the galaxy. But the center of the galaxy (like the edge of it) has a great barrier, which can destroy almost any ship. To that end, Sybock plans to start a riot on the "Planet of Galactic Peace" and force a starship to come to him.

Kirk and crew arrive, and they are overpowered by Sybock and his army of people that his powers have "brainwashed". At one point, Spock gets the drop on Sybock, and Kirk orders Spock to shoot him. Spock refuses, and we learn that Sybock is Spock's half-brother. With Sybock on-board, he begins to brainwash the rest of the crew, and he makes his plans to head to the center of the galaxy and breach the barrier.

Kirk, Spock, and McCoy try to stop Sybock, but he foils their attempt. Finally, Sybock lays all his cards on the table, explaining that his quest to find God will change everything; galactic peace will be obtained, and all life will learn the true glory of God. At this point, Sybock attempts to brainwash the three, by exposing their dark sides. We learn that McCoy euthanized his dying father, and that even at birth, Sarek felt disdain at Spock's  half- humanity. When it's time for Kirk, he resists the attempt, telling Sybock that his pain can never be taken away. Before Sybock can go further, they have arrived at the barrier.

The ship gets through, and they find a planet at the center. Kirk decides to then aid Sybock, by going down with him to investigate. Sybock heartily agrees, as he simply wants to show everyone the truth. The three and Sybock go to the planet, which is oddly rocky and barren, with no signs of life. As they walk, the sky grows dark violently, and suddenly, and a being of light appears, claiming to be God. However, when questioned, the being attacks Kirk and Spock. Sybock quickly realizes that this entity is a liar, it is simply an evil creature seeking to escape it's planetary prison. Sybock then decides to sacrifice himself so that his brother and the others can escape.

Of course, the crew escapes certain death, as usual, and the entity is destroyed. The crew is left to reflect on this adventure, with Spock mourning the death of his brother, and Kirk explaining that God exists in every heart. The movie ends with the crew going back to Earth to complete their shore leave.

The above is the plot, which sounds interesting and entertaining, and it is. The problem is, the movie also tries to inject a ton of humor into the proceedings. Sometimes the jokes are funny, but often they fall totally flat, and embarrass the actors involved. There are also goofy things here, like Spock's rocket boots, which, if they existed like that in the 23rd century, people would be flying around the world like Superman, not needing transporters or shuttle craft or anything. Further, Shatner can't seem to figure out how to strike a balance between humor and seriousness, and he sometimes forgets that this isn't the 1960s- all the actors are older, and some of the things they do is just ridiculous. There are so many bad jokes and goofs that they detract from the overall movie. In fact, they pile up and nearly overwhelm the movie.

STV does try to rise above that.

STV, with all of its faults, tries to explore big questions. First and foremost, does God exist in this futuristic galaxy? There have been some rather vague references in the series about religion as it is practiced by humanity in the 23rd century. It seems that Earth of the 23rd century is all about secular humanism (Roddenberry's intent), though there have been references to things like Christmas, marriage, etc. In this movie, Shatner tries to tackle that head on, stating that all sentient life has "myths" about the origins of creation and God. Intelligently, Shatner offers no clear answer. The thing at the center of the galaxy was not God, but that doesn't mean he does not exist... As Kirk says "Perhaps he's right here- the human heart". He offers the statement without any easy answers.

But there is more to it than just "we go looking for God" (which, interestingly, is an inverse of ST TMP, in which WE are god to V'Ger). This movie also plays with the themes of good and evil that exists in all of us. This movie questions the role of this eternal struggle in each and every person. Each of the main players has this internal conflict within them- not all have evil feelings, but they do have dark sides. Anger. Pain. Jealousy. Contempt. Ego. Each of the main characters demonstrate this theme. Kirk orders Spock to kill Sybock- and Spock can't just kill his brother, no matter the cost. McCoy confronts the decisions of his past and how they have "poisoned" him ever since. Even Kirk, who is supposed to be the strong man, has moral difficulty in resisting Sybock (indeed, he allows them to go through the barrier and escorts Sybock down).

Then there is Sybock himself, as the formalization of this question. Is Sybock good or evil? Some people say he's another "poor man's Khan", but this simply isn't true. He is not a "villain" in that sense at all. He is an extremist, but he's not a murderer. He has broken laws, but in his mind he is striving to prove a higher law- that God exists. He emotionally/mentally manipulates people, but he thinks he is doing it for the greater good. There is a duality in Sybock- he is not a cookie-cutter villain, and his goals are not based on revenge, or greed, or the like. He does bad things to achieve what he thinks will be the highest good. At the climax, this dichotomy becomes literal, when 'god' takes Sybock's image/form. There, his faults are laid bare- "my arrogance, my vanity", Sybock says. This 'god' symbolizes Sybock's self-righteousness gone out of control. When Sybock says enough and attacks this false 'god', you see he is fighting himself- good versus evil within himself.

STV has many, many, faults. The truth is though, that this movie has great themes and ideas, and they do come across well enough. I think the problem is that these 'big ideas' are surrounded by stupid jokes and bad director choices, which blunt these otherwise strong and compelling themes.

Characters/Acting: Well, here is a mixed bag. The regular crew members do what they can, but frankly, they have to do silly or embarrassing things. Kirk mountain climbing, Spock with rocket boots, Uhura dancing in the desert to distract the rebels, Scotty walking into an engineering pipe and being knocked out, etc. are occasionally painful to watch, especially since we like these actors so much.

What were they thinking?!

I do want to point out two performances that are noteworthy. First up is De Kelley as McCoy. This guy has always been the secret weapon of Trek, obscured by the flash of Kirk and the other-worldliness of Spock. The fact is, McCoy is the stand in for us- a regular guy in this crazy 23rd century world. In this movie, though, McCoy becomes our surrogate when confronting Sybock. The renegade Vulcan makes McCoy face his pain: the doctor committed Euthanasia on his terminally ill father. How many of us have lost a loved one to disease? How many of us wanted to see the suffering of a family member ended? De Kelley handles it brilliantly- his pain is our pain, and it's amazing to see him pull it off. The way he responds to the question of why he did it: "To preserve... his dignity" is delivered so well, so convincingly, that it gives me chills still. Of course, Kelley also knows when to hit the sarcastic humor button, such as "You don't ask the almighty for his ID" (a priceless line).

The other performance of note is that of Lawrence Luckinbill as Sybock. It was rumored that Sean Connery was asked to play the role. And while Connery is great, he would have been the wrong fit here. As it is, Luckinbill has a tough role here. He is the antagonist, but he can't be villainous. He is an extremist, but he can't turn people off. He breaks laws and uses people, but he must remain sympathetic. This is a hard balance to maintain, but Luckinbill pulls it off. His Sybock combines just the right amounts of charisma, menace, righteousness, compassion, ambition, and hopefulness. Luckinbill is helped by his strong voice and height. He plays the role with earnest, and yet he has a twinkle in his eye. His disappointment in the evil entity (and his own failings) is memorable, even though the director does not give him a stronger and more proper coda. Again, any attempt to say he's "Khan-lite" is not doing the role or the actor justice, as it is a very different role.

Special Effects: According to Shatner, he was denied the money to do the special effects that he wanted, that he had envisioned more, but just couldn't get it on the screen. Some fans have even hoped to see a special edition with the effects improved/restored. Be that as it may, the truth is the effects on this movie as it is are very rough. At times, the special effects scenes are almost too well lit- that Klingon ship looks way too bright. As does the shuttle craft. Same goes for some of those matte paintings- I love matte work, but they look jarring in the way this film's lighting is composed.

Rather sub-par effects

On the other hand, though, there is some nice camerawork here in other areas. Kirk scaling the mountain in Yosemite is well shot. Further, the scenes on Nimbus III look really cool- its obviously a desert planet, and it looks quite barren. The city of Paradise itself is rough and tumble looking, not as good as say Mos Eisley, but it is evocative of some of the older Trek sets (but with more money, obviously). Its a grimy part of the galaxy, and certainly not as squeaky clean as Roddenberry had come to espouse. That makes it interesting, if not great. As for the planet beyond the barrier, it is just as bland and dry as Nimbus (on purpose or not, I can't be sure). It has a strange purple filter, but that's about it. Speaking of, the center barrier of the galaxy is not particularly interesting or threatening. As for the final showdown, the 'god' effect is actually pretty good, if not spectacular or intriguing. It simply gets the job done of conveying this entity.

Simple but effective

Ultimately, STV has rather poor special effects, and may be the weakest of the series on that front. However, STIV was mostly on contemporary Earth and had fewer effects overall, so make of that what you will. STV's effects are at best serviceable, which is too bad, as it could have been better with just a few changes during production.

Musical Score: Jerry Goldsmith has scored Trek before, and is solid here too. His music conveys a sense of excitement, even when the movie itself fails to do so adequately. Particularly the music when the shuttle craft is trying to get to the Enterprise and evade the Klingon ship gives the scene an extra jolt. The cue for the planet at the center of the galaxy is also a great mix of hope and foreboding, adding to those scenes, particularly when 'god' arrives. However, the score needs not be loud or action packed-  soft music also makes things interesting when Sybock explores McCoy's pain- the scene speaks for itself, with the music not getting in the way. Overall, a solid score, if not the best in the series at any rate.

Lasting Legacy: Oh boy! This is a good one! Hehe! STV failed to do big business at the box office (it made money, but was not as strong as ST IV), and was regarded by many as a failure. With Next Gen on the TV at this point, it seemed that the Original Crew are a bunch of has-beens. Unfortunately, the movie seemed to prove that, with these old people doing ridiculous things that should make them break their pelvis or something.That sounds harsh, but its true... Uhura dancing, Scotty slamming his head so embarrassingly, Kirk mountain climbing, etc.

As for the story itself, it contributed nearly nothing to the series that would endure. Indeed, Roddenberry himself came out against it- in fact, he denied that Sybock existed, thus throwing the whole thing OUT OF CANNON. Holy cow! That never happened before so blatantly in Trek, even when the series tweaked things episode to episode.

As an aside, IF Sybock is cannon, it makes Spock's drive to not feel emotion and suppress his human side all the more important, as he doesn't want to be like Sybock. Also, it makes Sarek's rejection of Spock's enlistment in Starfleet "logical", as Sarek doesn't want BOTH of his children to be outcasts from the Vulcan way. Interestingly, Spock comes to the same conclusion as Sybock in TMP (!) "Is this all that I am- nothing more... V'Ger is barren, cold- no meaning, no hope. Logic is not enough". Again- great ideas, but they are garbled in the presentation of STV. They are just not handled the way it should have been.

However, despite that aside, the movie's legacy is that of failure. Shatner himself said it best: he had his chance at the brass ring, and he blew it. Sure, he had not gotten the money to do the special effects as he wanted, and there was a writers strike issue, but the final product is the final product. This is considered the weakest entry in the Classic Trek series for all of those reasons.

Wait... I thought... I... was...God....

This movie ultimately is a missed opportunity. It had all the elements of being a solid entry into the Trek series- the themes of the duality of good and evil, the quest to find God, and living with one's 'pain' are great ideas, as is the notion of a renegade Vulcan. The problem is twofold- one, Shatner just didn't have the direction skill to put it together, and two- they kept going for humor like they did in ST IV, but the humor mostly falls flat. Can you imagine? An older crew, facing the end/retirement, literally going out to find God? That could have been amazing. Instead, we have rocket boots, beans, geriatric Uhura dancing, and an Enterprise that should have failed ALL safety tests (just for humor). I like this one better than ST IV believe it or not though- because it DOES try. It DOES play with bigger ideas, without giving clear or simple answers. If only the stupidity had been culled, this could have been a great one. Instead, I view it as a noble failure- big ideas that didn't get a proper set up. Unlike ST IV, which seemed to be designed to put butts in seats, at the expense of larger themes, continuity, or maturity. ST V had bigger ambitions, but it just didn't work. As a result, I give it 2 1/2 Marks of Chaos out of 4.