Commentary

August 9, 2013

Fly Over: ‘The Fall of Reach’, and ‘Planes’

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‘The Fall of Reach’

Prologue to groundbreaking video game

I’m sure I may be a little behind the curve by recently starting the book series “Halo,” considering the first novel was released in October 2001, but in my search for a new series to read, a friend recommended it to me. He didn’t steer me wrong.
The first book in the series “The Fall of Reach,” is written by Eric Nylund and is a prologue to the first “Halo” video game.
It’s 2025 when we are introduced to a six-year-old boy named John, who will later be known as Spartan 117. John is taken by force from his home planet as part of an experiment conducted by the United Nations Space Command in order to create the perfect soldier.
Through the first half of the book, the reader is taken on a ten-year adventure through what is basically Spartan boot camp. It’s a super-sized version of what modern day military basic training is like, and John and his fellow Spartans learn all the basic warfighting skills there. This is also where John forms friendships he will never forget.
Eventually, John and his teammates undergo a series of genetic modifications, turning them into almost unstoppable soldiers, and they become a vital tool in the fight to save Earth against a ruthless alien force.
Spartan 117 continually proves himself to be the luckiest out of his 70 teammates. By the end of all the genetic modifications and special training, John is considered the best of the best and put in charge of the rest of the Spartans.
As a fan of the video games, one of the most interesting aspects of the novel is learning about the creator of the Spartan race, Dr. Katherine Halsey.
It wasn’t until the fourth game was released that gamers learned who Halsey was, but I think it’s safe to say that without her scientific experiments there would be no Spartans, and possibly even no planet Earth.
It was truly fascinating getting to know her and the rest of the characters from the game in this whole new light.
Toward the end of the novel, we are left almost exactly where the first game kicks off, just exiting slipspace and staring out the window at a strange new planet.
I was surprised at how true to life the military aspect of this story is. In fact, it may be difficult for a civilian to truly understand all this book has to offer considering the amount of military acronyms and jargon used.
If you enjoyed the “Halo” video games even a little bit, you will certainly enjoy this story. It was very interesting to learn the back story of a video game I’ve loved so much since I was 13.
Even if you’re not looking for an entire series to read, “The Fall of Reach” can stand on its own as a fascinating prologue to the first “Halo” video game.
I’ve already begun the next book in line, “The Flood.” What I am looking forward to the most is completing all 19 books in this series, then playing the four (soon to be five) video games over again with an entirely new understanding of the “Halo” universe.

 

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‘Planes’

‘Cars’ in the sky

I made the mistake of thinking “Planes” was a Pixar Animation Studios-produced film. Even though the movie is a spin-off of “Cars” and “Cars 2,” I found out later it’s actually produced by DisneyToon Studios. John Lasseter, chief creative officer for Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios and the director of both “Cars” movies, lends a hand as the film’s executive producer.
“Planes” tells the story of a lowly crop duster named Dusty (voiced by Dane Cook) who dreams of shedding his dull job and becoming a racer in the Wings Around the World rally. This may be construed as a spoiler, but the movie follows the usual underdog formula. Dusty gets his shot at racing, makes a few friends along the way, ultimately overcomes his fears and learns the value of being true to himself.
As formulaic as it may be, “Planes” is still an entertaining slice of Disney animation. The characters are very likeable, from nice guy Dusty and his sidekick Chug (voiced by Brad Garrett) to the wisecracking Roper (voiced by Sinbad). And the underdog plot still works. I couldn’t help but cheer for Dusty as he raced toward the finish line against antagonist Ripslinger (voiced by Roger Craig Smith). On the other side of that same coin, it felt like a few plot points were glossed over, such as the betrayal of Dusty by one of his friends and Skipper’s tragic past.
“Planes” borrows several formula elements from “Cars.” Chug’s role in the story mirrored Mater from “Cars.” Dusty is mentored by a wise, old retiree (a World War II fighter named Skipper, voiced by Stacy Keach), and the movie is set in Propwash Junction, the pokey small-town equivalent to Radiator Springs. Watch for a cameo appearance from a supporting “Cars” character (hint: it’s not who you think). Also, listen for John Ratzenberger’s voice in a cameo, which seems to be a running gag in all the Pixar movies.
Speaking of voice actors, the cast features an impressive lineup of familiar names. My wife picked up on the voice of Monty Python alum John Cleese as British racer Bulldog. Comedian Gabriel Iglesias lends his voice to a pair of henchmen. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Priyanka Chopra, former Miss India and Miss World and currently one of India’s top actresses, also voiced one of the racers. And in a nod to the 80’s movie that immortalized the F-14 Tomcat, Val Kilmer and Anthony Edwards voice a pair of high-speed Navy F/A-18 Super Hornets.
Overall, “Planes” was an enjoyable ride for an hour and a half but audience reaction was somewhat tepid. The children in the audience hardly reacted to anything happening in the movie and the jokes geared for the grown-ups generated mild chuckles. I would have loved to give this movie a three-star rating, but based on audience reaction and the fact the movie stuck to formula without daring to try something different earns “Planes” a decent two-and-a-half star rating. Let’s hope the sequel promised in the end credits will soar higher than the movie’s vertically challenged hero.
This film is rated PG due to mild action and rude humor.




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