Monday, December 29, 2008

What is The Muppetrix?

Current Reading: The Sculptress, by Minette Walters

Inspirational Quote: "It's a myth! A myth!"... "Yeth?" -- Kermit, The Muppet Movie.

I sat down and watched the new Muppets Christmas Special ("Letters to Santa") with my daughter a few weeks ago. It was unremarkable. On the one hand, that's a shame. On the other hand, at least Kermit, Piggy, Fozzy, Gonzo and the rest made an appearance for the first time since Muppet Wizard of Oz. If you've seen MWO, then you have my sympathies. With the death of Jim Henson, the Muppets seemed to lose a lot of their heart and zing. Their purchase by the Walt Disney company seemed to suck the last of the vitality out of the franchise, and I despaired that I would ever see them again in circumstances that did not cause me shame. Letters to Santa restored a bit of my faith. It wasn't good, but it wasn't terrible, either.

A while back, I sat down after watching the Matrix and worked out what would have happened if Kermit and company had been in charge. I never completed it, but I'm sure the result would have been a better movie, and may have gone something like this...

The Muppetrix
An Unauthorized Muppet Parody
Part 1

[black screen. Close up of a slot machine tumbling.]
Miss Piggy: {makes munching noises}
Lew Zealand: You stopped by the vending machine again, didn't you.
Piggy: Hands off, Zealand. {More munching}.
Sam the Eagle: {coughs}
Piggy: Are you sure this line is secure?
[The slot machine stops spinning. The dials show two bags of chips and a chocolate bar]
Sam: Of course it is.

[Exterior Spy Hotel. Scooter in police uniform. Sam enters, followed by Statler and Waldorf]
Scooter: I just sent a squad up. They're bringing her down.
Piggy {in distance}: Hai-yah!
[Muppet falls past from somewhere overhead]
Sam {examines muppet}: He's unconscious. He's going to miss the whole movie.
Statler: Then he's luckier than the audience!
Statler and Waldorf: Ho ho ho!

[Interior hotel room, blurred. Muppets lie in heaps, groaning. Piggy on cell phone].
Piggy: They found me.
Gonzo: You have to focus, Piggy.
[room zooms into focus]
Piggy: How's that?
Gonzo: Better. There are three agents.
Piggy: Agents? Come to see moi? I knew that audition for "StarWarts: The Froggy Menace" would pay off!
Gonzo: Not that kind of agent! Run!

[Exterior street corner with snack machine. Piggy appears, running. Agents are close behind her. Piggy dives into vending machine trough and manages to wriggle through just as agents arrive.]
Sam: She got out.
Statler: I wish we could! Ho ho ho!
Sam: It doesn't matter. We know our informant is real, and we know their next target.
Waldorf: The frog.

[Interior, dark room. Kermit asleep on computer keyboard. Letters appear on computer screen]
Computer: Wake up, Kermit.
Kermit: {snores}
Computer: Kermit!
Kermit: {rolls over}
Computer: {full screen bright lettering} WAKE UP!
Kermit: {jerking awake in surprise}
Computer: The Muppetrix has you, Kermit.
[Creepy fanfare music. Kermit looks around, trying to locate its source.]
Kermit: Who's the wise guy?
Computer: Follow the white rat, Kermit.
Kermit: The white rat?
[Knocking on door. Kermit opens door. Rizzo on other side, all white.]
Rizzo: Hey, Kermit, you got a towel? I was baking some treats for my party and got flour all over me.
Kermit: Yeah, sure Rizzo. Um, can I come with you?
Rizzo: To the party? The more the merrier. You okay?
Kermit: A little tired. My computer woke me up.
Rizzo: You're weird, Kermit.
[Door closes behind them]

[Interior, Rizzo's apartment. Party in progress. Lots of rats. Kermit holding a piece of cheese. Piggy standing nearby trying to look attractive]
Piggy: Kermy!
Kermit: How did you know my name?
Piggy: We know lots of things about you, Kermy. I'm Piggy.
Kermit: Piggy? The one who ate her way through the "Sticky Fingers" chocolate factory?
Piggy: Alright, so I had a craving. Look, Frog, we know you're trying to find Gonzo.
Kermit: I am?
Piggy: But that's not what you want.
Kermit: It isn't?
Piggy: No. You want the answer to your question. You know the question, don't you Kermy?
Kermit: Why does Keanu Reeves have an acting career?
Piggy: No! What is the Muppetrix, dummy!
[Creepy fanfare music. Party stops while everyone looks around for the source.]
Piggy: The answer's out there, Kermy, and it'll find you if you let it. [She walks away, pushing rats aside]. Pardon moi... Mysterious exit coming through!
Rizzo: Who was your friend?
Kermit: I think she was the voice in my computer.
Rizzo: You need to get out more.

Part 2:
[Interior, office. Outside, Sweetums is washing windows. Kermit enters, breathless.]
Kermit: I'm sorry I'm late, mister Chef, sir.
Swedish Chef: Y'dhurder de vorky-orky.
Kermit: My computer woke me up.
Chef: Yur computerer? Yur wurder, froggy-oggy.

[Interior, Kermit's cubicle. Kermit sits at terminal. Rolf enters in delivery uniform.]
Rolf: Kermit the Frog? Delivery for you.
[Kermit takes package. Rolf leaves. Kermit takes cell-phone shaped like Gonzo's nose out of the package. It rings.]
Kermit: Hello?
Gonzo: You're in danger, Kermit. Look over the wall.
[Kermit looks over the wall to see Sam, Statler and Waldorf enter.]
Kermit: Who are those guys?
Gonzo: Agents.
Kermit: I thought I was already under contract.
Gonzo: Not that kind of agent. They're looking for you.
Kermit: What do I do?
Gonzo: Hop to the office at the end of the hall.
[Interior, office. A circus cannon sits in the middle of the room, pointed out the window. Kermit enters.]
Gonzo: Get in!
Kermit: Are you crazy?
Gonzo: You'll love it! Besides. There are only two ways out of this building. In the cannon, and in their custody. Oh, wait... There's also the the back stairs. And I hear there's a great service elevator around the corner. The choice is yours.
Kermit: Sheesh!
[Exterior street. Kermit is taken out of the building by the agents. Piggy sits on a motorcycle, watching them in its mirror. After a moment she starts mugging glamorously.]

[Interior office. Kermit sits. Statler and Waldorf stand behind him. Sam enters and sits across from Kermit.]
Sam [pulls out thick folder]: Kermit. We have been watching you for some time now. It seems that you have been living two lives. In one, you're Kermit the Frog, staple fixture of children's programming. In another, you're [grows excited] Weiman Carbuncle, Used-car salesman from Philadelphia, known for driving unsafely and re-using his dental floss! Wait... Sorry, wrong file. Nevermind. Your country needs you, and we're willing to throw out this file in exchange for your help in capturing Gonzo.
Kermit: That sounds like a good deal, but I have a better one. You let me go, and I'll talk to Mr. Carbuncle about his flossing.
Sam [Rising and producing a large fly]: No! Instead we're going to plant this bug on you!
[Kermit's tongue lashes out before the sentence is finished, catches the fly and he swallows it. The agents look at him in surprise.]
Kermit: Frogs eat bugs. What did you expect?

[Interior, Kermit's apartment. Kermit sleeping. The phone rings several times before Kermit answers it.]
Kermit: Hello?
Gonzo: Kermit. Do you still want to meet?
Kermit: Who is this?
Gonzo: If the agents knew what I know, they would never have let you go. A taxi is waiting outside to bring you to me. I'll give you all the answers you need.

[Exterior, apartment building. Kermit enters taxi. Inside are Floyd, Janice and Piggy.]
Piggy: Hello Kermy.
Floyd: {Starts meter} Get in, Frog. The meter's running.
[Kermit enters, cab starts moving. Janice pulls out a flashlight and shines it in Kermit's face.]
Kermit: Hey! Stop that!
[Car stops. Kermit opens door.]
Kermit: I can't see! Who are you people!?
Piggy: Don't get out, Kermy. You've been down that road and you know where it leads.
Kermit: Yes! Back to my apartment.
Piggy: But Gonzo wants to meet vous! Pleeeze?
Kermit: Oh, alright.
[Kermit closes door. Car resumes. Piggy pulls out tire pump.]
Kermit: What's that for?
Piggy: We think the agents might have given you a bug.
Kermit: They did. I ate it.
Piggy: Eeew!
Floyd: Uncool!
Janice: Gross, fer shur!
Kermit: Frogs eat bugs. What did you expect?

Part 3:
[Interior, dusty room. There are two chairs, with a table between them. On the table is a box of donuts. Kermit enters, followed by Piggy.]
Piggy: One word of advice, Kermy. Don't mention chickens. He's weirder than you can imagine.
[Piggy leaves. Gonzo enters.]
Gonzo: Kermit! At last! You may have been looking for me for months, but I've been looking for you all my life!
Kermit: I'm in the book.
Gonzo: Do you have any idea how many "the Frogs" there are in this city? Sit. You're here because you know something.
Kermit: I do? What?
Gonzo: How should I know?
Kermit: But you said you'd give me the answers!
Gonzo: Sure! {Holds out piece of paper} Here are the words for your next spelling test.
Kermit: But I want to know about the Muppetrix.
[Creepy fanfare. They look around for its source.]
Gonzo: Oh, the Muppetrix! Well, the Muppetrix surrounds us and penetrates us and binds the galaxy together. You can feel it flowing through you.
Kermit: That's not the Muppetrix, that's the Force!
Gonzo: Really? Cool! Then the Muppetrix must be something that can't be explained, but can only be experienced. {Opens the donut box} Have a donut. If you take the jelly one, then you'll stay here and never know the truth. If you take the one with chocolate sprinkles, then you'll come with us and discover what the Muppetrix really is.
Kermit: What about the cruller?
Gonzo: That's mine.
[Kermit takes the chocolate sprinkles. Gonzo leads him into the next room where a dentist's chair is set up. Piggy, Janice and Floyd are standing around it in surgical garb. Gonzo indicates the chair. Kermit gets in and Piggy takes a breath from the gas mask before strapping him in.]
Kermit: Did you have to do this?
Piggy: Moi? Of course not. They took me to the salon and I had a mudpack [She takes another breath from the gas mask and passes out].
[Gonzo dons surgical gear and picks up an oversized dentist's drill.]
Gonzo: Open wide!
Kermit [struggling]: What? No! Aaaahh!
[Camera moves in on Kermit's mouth as the drill comes closer. Camera enters his mouth and goes down his throat before fading to black].

[Interior bathtub full of suds. Kermit sticks his head up out of the bathtub. He has a metal cap on his head into which an extension cord is plugged.]
Kermit: What? What's going on?
[He looks over the edge of the bathtub to see an endless array of other tubs, each with a muppet wearing a metal cap and extension cord inside it. A human hand appears above Kermit, pulls the plug from his head and hits a button on the tub to open the drain. Water swirls and Kermit begins spinning in place.]

[Exterior river, night. Kermit flies out of a drain pipe and plops into the water. After a moment, a hovercraft shaped like Gonzo's head appears and an extendo-hand comes out to grab Kermit and pull him in.]

[Interior hovercraft. Gonzo appears in front of blurred camera. Behind him plays the intro to MTV's The Real World.]
Gonzo: Welcome to the real world.[Fade out.]

[Fade in. Interior hovercraft. Kermit in vise. Beaker at handle, Gonzo nearby.]Gonzo: Okay, Beaker, give him another squeeze.
Beaker: Meep meep![Beaker turns handle, vise closes, water is squeezed out of Kermit. Fade out.]

[Fade in. Interior hovercraft cabin. Kermit lies on bunk. Gonzo enters wearing mickey mouse ears. Kermit sits up.]
Kermit: Where am I?
Gonzo: A more important question is "What's with the ears?" But have it your way. You're aboard my hovercraft the Nebucaschnozzer. Come on, I'll show you around.
[Interior hovercraft deck. Floyd and Janice are tuning their guitars. Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker are fiddling with one of several dentist chairs spread around the deck. Robin is playing with Pokemon cards in a corner. Lew is running around waving his fish. Piggy is face-first in a bag of peanuts. All but Honeydew and Beaker are wearing metal helmets.]
Gonzo: This is the main deck where we broadcast our pirate signal and hack into the Muppetrix. You've met some of my crew. [Goes to each in turn.] This is Floyd. Janice. Bunsen Honeydew and his assistant Beaker. Lew Zealand and his boomerang fish. And the little one behind you is Robin. You already know Piggy.
Piggy [preening.]: Hello, Kermy.
Kermit: Hi ho, everybody.
Gonzo: It's time you found out the truth, Kermit. It's time you found out what the Muppetrix really is. {Points him to one of the seats.} Doctor, load us up.
[Kermit sits in one of the dentist chairs. Piggy picks up an extension cord from nearby and plugs it into the helmet on Kermit's head.]
Piggy: Now, this might feel a leeetle bit weird.
Gonzo: Yeah! It's the best part!

[White space. Kermit appears without headgear. Gonzo appears upside down.]
Gonzo: Woohoo! I love that! {He drifts one way, then another} This is the loading program. We use it to supply us with anything: cars, weapons, clothing and chia pets. We can even get the Chicken Sports Network in here.
Kermit: You mean this isn't real? What happened to that thing on my head?
Gonzo: I have no idea! Isn't it great? {Chairs and a television set appear. Gonzo produces a remote.} Whee! Most of what we know about the real world has been pieced together from old files and Gypsy fortune tellers. [Television shows shot of person showering] Once upon a time, people washed themselves with cloths. We don't know what happened then, but suddenly there weren't any cloths any more. It takes about twenty square yards of foam rubber to produce the average Muppet. Between Sesame Street, the movies, The Muppet Show and Muppets Tonight, people had found all the sponges they would ever need. [Television shows shot of the bathtub array, with helmetted Muppets lying in their tubs]. There are fields, Kermit, endless fields, where Muppets are soaked until we're soft and soapy.
Kermit: That's unbelievable!
Gonzo: I didn't believe it myself, but then I went there and saw it... {Television shows person in shower washing with soapy Gonzo,who's whooping and enjoying himself}. What is the Muppetrix? It's an interactive video-game plugged right into our heads, an illusion to keep us from realizing what's really going on. The Muppetrix is an industry designed to turn a Muppet into one of these {holds up sponge}.
Kermit: No. No! Let me out! Aaaa!
[Interior, main deck. Kermit struggling in dentist's chair.]
Kermit: Get this thing off of me! Get it off!
[Piggy pulls plug from his head. He hops out of the chair, takes two steps, and faints.]

Friday, December 26, 2008

Book Report: Nation, by Terry Pratchett

This is not a Discworld book, which surprised me. I've read so many of them that I think part of me had become convinced that Discworld was all he wrote. It takes place instead on an alternate Earth, a little changed both in history and geography. Another change is the tone of the book. A kind of silly, joyous meditation on human nature fills much of his Discworld work. This book contains a more somber, thoughtful story, one which borders on melancholy. It still has Pratchett's humour in it, moments of absurdity or situation comedy or turns of phrase which made me laugh.

It is about the weight of the past and the lure of the future, about what makes children adults, about Gods, Religion, hope and despair... about reconciling dreams with reality. A primitive boy, whose home island is destroyed by a tidal wave on the day he is to become a man, encounters a shipwrecked girl from a 19th century England. They come together to ensure their own survival, and soon find themselves making a home for dozens of other refugees. As their population grows, they face sharks, pirates, cannibals and the English Empire, coming through by virtue of their intelligence and willingness to sacrifice for each other.

Ulysses Rating: 5 - I'll read this again and again.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Book Report: The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch

If you'd like to mess up a man who's just over forty and wondering what to do with his life, then I strongly recommend a one-two punch of the book The Last Lecture and the movie The Bucket List. If that combination doesn't cause existential agitation, nothing will. But I digress (can you digress before you've even started?).

The Last Lecture is a companion book to Pausch's Last Lecture, given at Carnegie Mellon University shortly before his death from cancer. The lecture is all about achieving your childhood dreams, but it's also a love letter to his family and a legacy for his children. The book goes into Pausch's thoughts and feelings before, during, and after his address, touching on events in his life and expounding on the details surrounding many of the things he only mentions in the lecture.

The anecdotes and observations are simply presented, easily read, and very affecting. Knowing that Pausch wrote in the shadow of his own death, and that he has since died (10 months after giving the lecture), gives the words a poignancy that is truly heart-breaking. In every line you can hear a man almost desperate, not so much to leave something behind, but to send something into the future, a future when his children might be old enough to come across his words and understand a little about the man who helped create them but could not live to see them come into their own.

A tremendous book.

Ulysses Rating: 4 - I loved this. It would be a 5, but I don't think I could bring myself to read it again.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Big Questions and Little Trinkets

Current Reading: The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch

Inspirational Quote: "The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning." -- Mitch Albom

A number of things have been on my mind lately, all of a theme.
  • "The Last Lecture," as mentioned above and available on YouTube here. It's been said that the only good thing that comes of jumping off a cliff is the way the mind becomes wonderfully concentrated. All the big questions resolve themselves into one: "How am I going to get out of this alive?" It remains just as difficult to answer as the Big Questions (Who am I? Why am I here?) but has the advantage of being eminently practical. The future ceases to be this big, nebulous whirl of possibilities and becomes a single, accelerating certainty. And of course, the final moments are full of event, which can substitute for revelation if one is in a hurry. Randy Pausch died. He wasn't happy about it, but in the months beforehand he threw away all the fears and hesitations that rule most lives and just got on with living while he could.
  • A short presentation on Living in the Moment, offered by work to combat stress. There's a lot of stress at work these days, as I'm sure there is in every workplace as we watch the economy swirl and flush. Dr. Pausch discovered how to live in the moment when the nearness of his death forced him to realize that time, a series of moments, was all he had. I'd like to be able to do that, but I have no desire to die in order to achieve that kind of enlightenment. The presentation suggested meditation, which I've tried with moderate success. After a time, my thoughts give way either to dial tone, or a selection of old Carpenter's songs suitable for playing in elevators or dentist's offices.
  • The fact that I'm just over forty and thus developmentally predisposed toward pondering the Big Questions. I've read that the mid-life crisis may have a hormonal basis, that there are biological changes in men just as there are in women but we deal with them by buying Porsches and getting divorces instead of overheating and spontaneously weeping. I'm not into sports cars at all and I'm in love with my wife. Consequently I find myself with no idea what to do. It's a little frustrating.
  • I won a "Family Entertainment Basket" in a raffle yesterday. A friend brought in some tickets his daughter was selling to raise money for the local swim team. I bought a ticket as a kindness. I'm now the somewhat perplexed owner of Kung Fu Panda on DVD, a game of Trouble (of which we already have one), a horde of gift cards, a couple of Christmas tree ornaments, a candle in a can and a humorous salt and pepper set (a pair of ceramic Santa feet sticking up out of a ceramic chimney). Honestly: how exactly is a candle in a can fun for the family? I suppose we could go around the house setting fire to things, but I can see where that would get old and expensive very fast. I'm keeping the DVD (fun movie), donating the game to the local toy drive, and applying the gift cards where needed. I have no idea what to do with the other items, though. I think they're symptomatic of a general societal malaise, the tendency to accumulate stuff as a safe and easy substitute for the search for meaning. I don't like a lot of stuff. It makes it hard to find the things I'm looking for. The original Ulysses may have been Ithacan, but this one is more of a Spartan in temperament. The items are completely impractical, and their ability to inspire humor lasted about fifteen seconds. I could give them away, but I can't imagine who would want them or why.

Maybe I'll sign them "Bill Shatner," and put them on E-Bay. Now THAT would be funny... and probably profitable.

Book Report: Agent to the Stars, by John Scalzi

According to the introduction, this was Scalzi's first novel. He describes it as a kind of proof of concept, an answer to the question, "Can I write a novel?"
That's an interesting approach and rationale, and an even more interesting result. Sure it's got its flaws. I thought the plot meandered a bit, like a man exploring new country, and his tone was a little too flippant at times. However, Scalzi's first attempt at a novel is still worth paying to read.

Ulysses Rating: 3 - I enjoyed this.

Monday, December 8, 2008

In Memoriam: Uncle Forry

Forest J. Ackerman is dead.

I never knew the man, although of course I knew of him. He is a man who was never ashamed of his fandom, who made it his life as well as his living, who revelled in both the trappings and the people of sci-fi. As a result, he was loved.

The rest of us should be so lucky.

Book Report: The Digging Leviathan, by James P. Blaylock

This is one of Blaylock's first novels. It's the story of a boy, his crazy father, his best friend who happens to be a half-mermaid inventor, and an evil doctor who may be a fish. It also has the poet William Ashbless in it, which is always nice to see. He pops into stories by Blaylock and Tim Powers quite regularly, sometimes even as a main character. Blaylock writes beautifully, with evocative descriptions and a flair for quirky characterization. However, in this book, he doesn't write very coherently. I had the devil of a time figuring out what was going on, and why. Giles Peach, the half-merman, has the ability to distort reality, and the crazy father is given to delusions, so it's difficult to separate the imaginary from the real sometimes.

Even at the end of the book, questions about the nature of Ashbless (is he an old man with the same name as an 18th century poet, or is he the 18th century poet?), Giles Peach, mermen, Han Koi and the pirates living on the subterranean ocean under California, Hilario Frosticos, and just what is really happening, go largely unanswered. I don't mind a bit of mystery still hanging about at the end of a book, but I hate reaching the end without understanding anything.

The book also ends with the start of a journey to Pellucidar, the world inside the hollow earth, and I was left wondering "what happened next?" Of course, the book isn't about Pellucidar, it's about being a boy and being a man in that strange netherworld between E.R. Burroughs novels and Einstein's deterministic universe. Still, I felt like I was left hanging.

Ulysses Rating: 2 - I had a tough go.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Is Ithaka Age-Appropriate Reading?

Current Reading: The Digging Leviathan, by James P. Blaylock

Inspirational Quote: "I’m thirty years old, but I read at a thirty-four-year-old level." -- Dana Carvey

For those of you who have been wondering:
blog readability test

This just goes to prove that, despite intervening years and education, I am still the person I was in high school. Only more sort of... wrinkled.