KNIGHT RIDER

Slammin’ Sammy’s Stunt Show Spectacular

Knight Rider: Season 1, Episode 5: Slammin’ Sammy’s Stunt Show Spectacular

I imagine the biggest challenge for the writers of Knight Rider was to come up with weekly crimes that could be solved by driving around in a car for forty minutes. I like to think that in their office, there was a whiteboard with the word CAR written on it. Underlined. Maybe with an exclamation point after it. And they would stare at the word CAR!, sometimes for hours, trying to draw fresh inspiration.

Here in Episode 5, they seem to already be scraping the bottom of the CAR! barrel. The plot revolves around a stunt car show, which takes place in a parking lot and features a couple of AMC Gremlins driving on two wheels and jumping small ramps. The stunt show has been partially bought by a shady businessman who plans to close the show and develop the parking lot into something more profitable, which, judging by the stunt show, would be just about anything. Naturally, no one is more concerned about the fate of a small-town stunt show than the multi-billion dollar Knight Foundation. After Bonnie fits KITT with improved boosters and the ability to oxygenate his interior — two things I can’t imagine him ever needing — Michael decides to join the stunt show to make sure the shady businessman doesn’t do anything shady.

Those aren’t models: they really went and crashed a Gremlin.

The businessman does something shady that results in Slammin’ Sammy getting injured while doing his show-stopping car jump through a ring of fire four feet off the ground. Michael auditions his driving skills for Sammy’s daughter, who is naturally hot (at least 80′s hot), and he becomes Sammy’s replacement. The shady businessman worries that Michael’s awesome two-wheeled driving could save the show and decides he needs to meet with an accident as well. His goon tries to sabotage KITT’s undercarriage, but KITT deflates his tires, threatening to crush the goon, who runs away.

This leads to the weird moment of the week. After the goon has fled, KITT makes a remark out loud to himself. I know people talk to themselves (I certainly do) but it seems strange for a computer to do so. Can’t KITT internalize? Is there a logical reason for him to make a snarky remark when he’s the only one around to hear it? At least we get a whimsical, lighthearted version of the Knight Rider theme to listen to as we ponder the nature of KITT and his growing electronic schizophrenia.

Michael does a new stunt for the show, jumping over a moving truck and car, which is so impressive Sammy’s daughter immediately starts making out with him. Meanwhile, the shady businessman decides Michael Knight needs to be straight-up murdered. (Reminder: this is all over the use of a parking lot.) The goon drugs Michael right before his big stunt, and Michael passes out while driving. KITT makes the jump, using his improved boosters, and resuscitates Michael using his new oxygen vent. Wow, I was wrong, those two new features came in handy almost instantly. Michael chases down one goon and interrogates him.

The script originally called for Michael to get out of KITT to interrogate the goon, but then someone looked at the whiteboard and underlined CAR again.

Michael chases down another goon, then parks KITT over a bomb the goons were planning to use to blow up the stunt show, which explodes safely under KITT’s car-butt. Sabotage, murder, terrorism… seriously, there are probably other parking lots you could buy, shady businessman.

Michael confronts the businessman, who sneeringly details all of his crimes, because why not? It’s not like this big-haired stunt driver has a wristwatch communicator and his sentient car is listening in and recording everything, right? Wrong, shady businessman. Wrong.

MICHAEL’S INCOMPETENCE: LOW
He gets drugged by a goon, but KITT witnessed this same goon trying to sabotage him and didn’t bother to tell Michael to beware of him, so really, this is kind of KITT’s fault.

MICHAEL’S ROMANCE: MEDIUM
A full-on make-out sesh with Sammy’s daughter should count as HIGH, but Sammy was not just watching but leering as they went at it, so it’s kinda gross.

Seriously, I don’t think a dad should be outraged when his daughter kisses a dude, but he shouldn’t be totally into it, either.

KITT’S POWERS:
Two-wheeled driving, turbo boost (enhanced) (x2), tire auto deflate/inflate, suspiciously fortuitous oxygen vent

CASTING NOTES:
Last week’s episode featured a biker who was played by Michael Champion, who also played Richter’s right-hand goon Helm in Total Recall. Also, the woman who played the waitress Sherry last week, Anne Lockhart, did voice work for Total Recall. This week, one of the goons was played by Marc Alaimo, who played Martian Security Officer Everett in Total Recall! Plus, Total Recall also had a talking car: Johnny Cab! Stay tuned in case there are more crazy connections between Knight Rider and Total Recall! Except I just went and checked and there are no other connections, except for random industry stuntmen. So, forget I even brought it up.

I Read A Book

Roadside Picnic

See, I’m not only about movies and video games. I read books too, you guys! Books like Roadside Picnic, the 1971 science-fiction novel written by Russian authors Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. Granted, I only read this book because I played a video game (S.T.A.L.K.E.R.) based on a movie (Stalker) based on this book. But still.

There’s a long history in fiction of aliens visiting earth and either a) trying to destroy us or b) trying to help us. But what if they didn’t even seem to notice us?

That’s one of the ideas explored in Roadside Picnic, in which a brief — a few hours? a day? — extraterrestrial visitation occurs. The aliens leave behind otherworldly contamination and mysterious, often dangerous artifacts. Human scavengers, known as stalkers, enter these contaminated areas, called Zones, to collect and sell on the black market whatever alien trinkets they can salvage.

The title of the novel comes from the idea that the aliens were either completely oblivious to our presence or at least indifferent, much as we humans are to lesser animal life when stopping in a meadow for a picnic. We drive in, our tires bringing along mud or flora from other places we’ve been. We spread out our blankets, crushing blades of grass and disrupting the soil. We leave behind items the insects and birds may find useful (crumbs and bits of food), and others that may harm them (wrappers, trash, oil drippings from our cars, cigarette butts, etc). Then we leave, indifferent to the effect, good or ill, we’ve had on the tiny ecosystem we’ve just visited and barely noticed.

Just as an ant is unable to comprehend a candy wrapper, the humans in Roadside Picnic are largely unable to understand the artifacts the aliens scattered into the Zones. Some appear to be batteries, others may be containers, many serve no easily definable purpose. And, just as an ant might blunder into a puddle of oil, stalkers blunder into deadly otherworldly hazards: gravity vortexes that crush, slime that destroys bone, small electrical storms, bursts of flame, and an anomaly called a grinder that violently twists people into hamburger.

Most of the story revolves around a single stalker, named Red, who makes several successful trips into the zone yet still pays a price, losing companions and even altering his DNA. His ultimate goal is to reach a fabled artifact that can supposedly grant wishes. Other than two chapters, one in which a scientist is interviewed about the visitation, and one in which two scientists discuss possible explanations for the visit, the book focuses on Red over a period of ten years.

It’s a short, great book full of interesting ideas, and I really love the concept of aliens arriving on earth and either not caring about earthlings or not noticing us at all. Generally, whether hostile of friendly, alien visitations completely revolve around humans, either to destroy them, capture them, learn about them, help them, or inspire them. Here, there’s nothing like that. In Roadside Picnic, they don’t find us threatening, interesting, or worth knowing. They don’t find us at all.

Also note: there is the full text of this book online somewhere, but don’t look for it and don’t read it. Try to find this translation (it’s on Kindle now, and I found it in trade paperback at the library). It’s a million times better than the translation floating around on the internet.

KNIGHT RIDER

Good Day At White Rock

Knight Rider: Season 1, Episode 4: Good Day at White Rock

This episode begins with Michael Knight and KITT surprising some drug dealers by crashing into their warehouse and knocking over a table covered in drugs. Which raises a question: what sort of legal authority does Michael really have? I mean, he works for a private foundation. Wouldn’t he need a warrant to enter the drug shed? Is he authorized to make actual arrests? Wouldn’t he have to appear in court to testify, thus being forced to admit he’s operating under an assumed named with false identification, and that he spends most of his time bickering with his car?

Having solved the case of Find A Table Covered In Drugs, Michael takes a rock-climbing vacation. He stops in a small town, flirts with a shopkeeper named Sherry, and takes her little brother Davey for a ride in KITT. Again, it’s the 80′s, a time when a pre-teen boy could jump into a car with a charming stranger and not immediately become the subject of a month’s worth of programming for Nancy Grace. Michael makes an illegal u-turn and is pulled over by the Sheriff, who tells him to get out of town, because he seems to be a trouble-maker. As Michael sheepishly leaves, a gang of bikers arrives and start busting up the town. The Sheriff lets them, because he is a poor Sheriff indeed.

I detect a pattern.

Michael starts rock climbing and promptly fucks that up, almost falling to his death, and KITT, about to get peed on by a dog, plays an animal sound to scare the dog away. (I can’t quite tell what the animal sound is; I think it’s supposed to be a dog but it sounds more like a lion being violently drowned.) Michael finally reaches the top of the cliff he’s climbing and finds Davey up there, somehow. After driving Davey back to town, Michael invites the biker gang leader, Scorpion, to open KITT’s door, but KITT’s door only opens when someone with Michael’s fingerprints (for example, Michael) touches the handle. Scorpion, humiliated, gets into a knife fight with Michael’s shorter, scrawnier stunt double. The Sheriff shows up and arrests Michael for stirring up things with the bikers, and impounds KITT.

KITT breaks out of car jail and Michael uses a loose thread from his jail blanket to brutally strangle the Sheriff to death. Ha ha, no! He uses the thread to snag the conveniently placed prison keys and drag them into his cell. Michael then drives to the biker camp and disguises himself as a biker, so that he may walk among them and learn their secrets.

To date, Michael’s disguises have not worked for even one second, and here he is trying to blend in with a gang of about ten bikers, a close knit group of men who spend all of their time together. Will anyone notice the recent addition of an eight foot tall biker that they’ve never seen before?

What can I say? The man loves dressing up.

Astoundingly (disappointingly?) the disguise works, and Michael discovers the bikers are planning a war with a second biker gang. One biker mentions Sherry and says “I still want to party her,” which I guess is how you said “rape” on 80′s TV. Davey, the child who constantly needs a ride and yet can apparently teleport himself anywhere he wishes, appears in the middle of the biker camp and gets captured. Michael and Sherry drive to the camp the next morning and rescue Davey, and KITT leads the bikers on a merry chase. He knocks several bikers over, and jumps over a lake.

We’re meant to believe this was a smooth landing.

Easily the most baffling and enjoyable moment of the show is when one of the bikers, who is wearing a priest’s collar, is so damn excited to be chasing KITT that he yells out “HYPERSPAAAAACE!”

Was yelling “HYPERSPACE!” in excitement ever a real thing? If so, we need to bring it back. If not, we need to simply bring it. I am going to make an effort to yell HYPERSPACE when excited about things from now on, and I would ask that you do as well. Let’s change the world, together.

KITT leads the bikers back to town, and the Sheriff finally steps into his role as a law enforcement authority by calling in reinforcements from neighboring towns and arresting the bikers for numerous violations of state and local codes. Ha ha, no! The Sheriff just ties a big rope across the road, clothes-lining all of the bikers off their bikes and causing them serious, perhaps even fatal injuries. Michael makes out with Sherry and takes her on vacation, leaving Davey alone to (presumably) die a few days later when the surviving bikers violently retaliate.

MICHAEL’S INCOMPETENCE: MEDIUM
Gets run out of town by a podunk Sheriff, falls while rock climbing, gets arrested.

MICHAEL’S ROMANCE: HIGH
Totally makes out with Sherry! And goes on vacation with her, so he probably scored.

KITT’S POWERS:
Broadcasts animal sounds, possible use of turbo boost, fingerprint-activated door locks

Movies

Skyfall: Spoiler Edition!

Okay, I hate the Skyfall post I did last night because I hate talking vaguely about movies. I hate it. I hate saying shit like so-and-so gave a “great performance.” It says nothing, informs no one. I might as well be saying boring shit like “beautiful cinematography” and “sweeping score.” What am I, a film critic?

So, let’s get into some Skyfall spoilers, below. Note: Skyfall spoilers will contain a great many spoilers for Skyfall.

[Read more...]

Movies

Skyfall

Kris and I saw Skyfall last night, in IMAX!

First, a word about IMAX! Hey, IMAX! That is quite a big screen you have there. And the sound is incredible. Well done. Not so well done: charging us $35 for two tickets and still making us watch advertisements, including an advertisement for IMAX! which we are obviously already sold on because we’ve already bought $35 tickets and are sitting there waiting for the IMAX! advertisement to end so we can watch the movie we bought $35 tickets for. In IMAX!

That said, IMAX! is completely glorious and I want to see all of the rest of the movies ever made in/at it forever. IMAX!

Anyway. Skyfall! It was really good, I think. I won’t do spoilers, I’ll just say Daniel Craig continues to be a great James Bond, Judi Dench was once again great as M, and some additional characters were added to MI6, all well-cast and enjoyable. Plus, Adele’s theme and the opening credits were a return to real Bond form. Though Adele tried to rhyme “Skyfall” with “crumble.” Doesn’t quite work. Still, a million times better than Jack White’s song for the last movie.

And hurray! Finally, FUCKING FINALLY, a great Bond villain for the new Bond franchise. Javier Bardem’s character is great: unsettling, menacing, vicious, and yet at times sympathetic and funny. They created a great villain, and Bardem gave a great performance.

It’s about time. Nothing against Mads Mikkelsen in Casino Royale as Le Chiffre (French for “The Chiffre”). I think Mikkelsen is great and he did fine with the role, it just wasn’t much of a role. You can’t just give a dude a gooey eye and plop him at a card table and make him a classic Bond villain. As for Quantum of Solace, some actor whose name I don’t know played a villain whose name I don’t know and his big plan was to make Bolivian citizens mutter curse words when they got their monthly water bill. Lame.

I think they did a good job of making Skyfall a personal story for Bond and a broad story of global terrorism at the same time. It’s a bit long, it suffers from a case of Computers Can Do Everything Because of Hacking, and there’s a couple other problems with it, but I can’t discuss them without spoiling stuff. I really dug it, though.

Sim-plicity

Sim-plicity: I am a tow truck driver?

My new Sim-plicity column is up on PC Gamer: in it, I play a game called Tow Truck Simulator, and busy myself with the important work of towing illegally parked cars!  Though honestly it takes me most of the column just to successfully tow a single car. I also wonder if I’m playing the part of a tow truck driver, or a sentient tow truck, hence the question mark.

You can read it right here.

Speaking of which, my last column for PC Gamer, I am a human being, was a bit of a hit, getting some nice attention on the site and on Twitter. I was also surprised and thrilled to hear it being discussed on the Idle Thumbs podcast. I’ve listened to Idle Thumbs for ages, so I’m pretty stoked to have been a topic of conversation on their show (Episode 82). The discussion of my column and the sim I played (Real Lives 2010) begins at about 1 hour and 12 minutes in. One detail they got wrong: I’ve never written for Rock, Paper, Shotgun (though I hope to someday).

In more News About Me, I wrote a little piece on Thursday about the movies I always watch when they’re on TV. It was later posted to Metafilter, which resulted in a bunch of other people listing their Always Watch movies. Good to know I’m not the only immobilized when a particular movie pops up on TV.

Movies | Television

Movies I’ll Always Watch If They’re On

I was flipping around the TV channels tonight, and saw they were showing Predator on AMC. Well, that’s my evening, right there. I’ll always watch Predator. Always. If it’s half-over, if it’s just starting, if it’s the final few minutes… if it’s on, I’m watching it. If it’s on again tomorrow night, I’ll probably try to catch the parts I missed tonight, and depending on my laziness, I might just watch the parts I didn’t miss tonight, again. I think everyone probably has a few movies that, if they come across them on TV, they’ll always watch, no matter what.

These movies are generally not even what I necessarily consider my favorite movies. I tend not to own these movies on DVD (I don’t own Predator). A few of my favorite movies that I own –Blade Runner, Brazil, Seven, Das Boot, L.A. Confidential, No Country for Old Men — I rarely watch, maybe once every couple years. And I don’t watch them on if they’re on TV.

While I was watching Predator, I started trying to picture a movie channel line-up filled with my Always Watch movies that would keep me on the couch a full 24 hours because I can never pass up watching any of them. Here’s what I came up with.

What’s on your Always Watch line-up?

KNIGHT RIDER | Television

Deadly Maneuvers

I’m watching the 80′s TV show Knight Rider on Netflix, and it only now occurs to me that Knight Rider is probably considered science fiction. I mean, there’s an intelligent talking car, right? That’s science fiction. But it feels more like a shoddy detective show about a pretty incompetent detective. Anyway, on to the episode!

Season 1, Episode 3: Deadly Maneuvers

En route to a mission, Michael Knight stops to help an Army lieutenant, Robin Ladd, who is having car trouble. He drives her to her Army base where she finds out her Army father has been killed after driving off a cliff. Robin points out that her dad was good at driving, and that she couldn’t remember a single instance of him driving off a cliff and dying before. Seems fishy. The investigation begins.

After finding a spent shell casing near the crash site, Michael bribes a food truck owner to borrow his apron and paper hat, so he can infiltrate the Army base disguised as a giant handsome food-selling person. Predictably, his shitty disguise fools no one and he’s immediately arrested by military police.

Luckily, his interrogation takes place in an office that contains a single folder that might as well be labeled “THAT ARMY LADY’S FATHER AND HOW HE DIED IN A CRASH”. He gives the MP’s free candy bars, knowing they will weirdly walk into a corner and face the wall to eat. They do, and Michael slyly takes the folder, which mentions that Robin’s dad had blue paint on his hands when he died.

Michael and Robin go to dinner, they joke and chat about a few things, and eventually get around to discussing the details of her father’s recent horrible tragic murder. They quickly decide that spending part of an afternoon investigating was plenty, and that they should just give up. However, some evil Army guys try to kill Michael that night, so he reopens the case.

We then meet KITT’s mechanic, Bonnie, who, as a ten-year old Knight Rider viewer, I decided was the most beautiful woman in existence. I had a major crush on Bonnie. I pretty much spent all my free time fantasizing that Bonnie and I would get married, she’d fix my talking car, and I WOULD KISS HER MOUTH WITH MY MOUTH.

Can I run my fingers through your hair? It will take a while.

Michael breaks into the ammunition bunker at the Army base. Well, he walks into the ammunition bunker. Hey, here are some facts about the ammunition bunker.

  • It is completely unguarded
  • It is completely unlocked
  • It contains several hundred crates of artillery shells.

Here are some facts about the artillery shells.

  • The armor piercing artillery shells are painted with a blue stripe
  • The tactical nuclear artillery shells are painted with a yellow stripe
  • There is otherwise no way to tell the difference between the two types of WAIT DID I JUST SAY TACTICAL NUCLEAR ARTILLERY SHELLS
  • Yes, I did.
  • Did I mention they were kept in an unlocked unguarded room in a bunch of crates? Okay.

Still with me? Michael discovers that blue paint was used to cover up yellow paint on some nuke shells, and that a bunch of evil Army guys were smuggling the painted nukes out to sell them, and that Robin’s dad was killed when he discovered the plan. Robin, meanwhile, is snooping around, and gets locked in a tank on the ordinance testing range by her evil Army boss. Michael then drives KITT out onto the artillery range to save Robin, while stock footage of artillery guns shoot at them.

The Army general running the evil scheme orders three heat-seeking missiles fired at KITT, because heat seeking missiles can hone in on warm car engines, I guess? Michael uses KITT’s “rocket booster”, which I assume is different than his turbo boost, because it doesn’t launch KITT in the air, it just makes him poop out flames onto some grass, distracting two of the heat seekers.

Trivia: KITT is the first sentient car to light a fart on national television, paving the way for countless others

The third heat seeker blows up the food truck from the beginning of the show, which is putting out extra heat because of a broken thermostat. Look, I don’t know, I can’t explain, I’m just reporting this to you. Michael rescues Robin, and chases the general who is trying to escape in a giant slow-moving tank. KITT poops fire onto it, melting the treads, and the general is caught. The episode ends with KITT sporting a “GO ARMY!” bumper sticker, because the producers of Knight Rider want to let the Army know that they really do like the Army, despite depicting them in this episode as a network of lying murdering nuke-smuggling terrorists.

MICHAEL’S INCOMPETENCE: LOW
Disguises himself as food vendor, fools no one, is immediately arrested, but at least manages to steal a file.

MICHAEL’S ROMANCE: LOW
Walks arm-in-arm with Lieutenant Robin Ladd, but doesn’t get a kiss.

KITT’S POWERS:
Video game console (Michael plays a racing game while KITT drives), rocket booster (poops fire)

First Person Observer

Heroic Mage Not Sure What Quest She Just Bravely Completed

Zeryphesh, Mana Wastes – Emerging from the shadowy underground lair known as Tarroch’s Rift in the Ossean Wastes, an Embermage named Sharpe reported that she had just bravely completed an extremely dangerous quest, though she also reluctantly admitted she was not entirely sure which extremely dangerous quest it was, or what the details of the quest were, exactly.

“I did it,” she said, speaking to reporters and onlookers in Zeryphesh. “I completed a quest, a quest where I was supposed to… do a thing… underground, in a place, with a… a thing. And kill a really big monster thing. Along with a ton of littler monsters. I did that.”

When pressed for details about the quest, Sharpe reluctantly admitted she was unsure of the specifics.

“I met a guy in a desert. He asked me to do something, and I agreed immediately, but I’m not sure I was really listening to what he was saying. You know, it’s what I do, someone needs something and I say yes, and I go do it,” she said.

“After I met the guy I saw some stairs in the desert, leading down, so I went down, and there were a million monsters,” she continued, “and I killed them all, and then there was like this altar-lookin’ thing, that looked like a gem might fit into it. And I looked in my pockets and I had a gem thing that I don’t remember getting, but I think maybe the guy in the desert gave it to me. So, I put the gem in the thing, and a giant skeleton monster appeared, and I killed it. And I was done. And I went back to the guy later and he said something and gave me, I dunno, some magic pants, which I gave to my magic bird.”

“My magic bird sold the pants,” she added, when asked about the pants.

While unsure of the exact details of this quest, Sharpe was at least certain that it wasn’t her main quest, which so far has taken her from being a low-level Embermage in the The Estherian Steppes to a powerful sorcerer in the Mana Wastes, though she also she admitted she isn’t entirely sure of the finer details of her primary adventure, either.

“Yeah, you know, this is a little embarrassing, but I’m not even really sure what my main quest is, either,” Sharpe said. “There’s some kinda Alchemist or something, and I’m trying to get him, I think. Some nice giant bird monster was telling me in town, that… look, I don’t know, and I don’t really have time to pretend to explain it,” she concluded, before comparing three sets of magic shoulder plates, then giving the lesser two sets to her magic bird, who sold them.

In related regional news, a Dessicated Warrior is confident that seventy-six years of hiding in an urn in the desert is going to pay off any day now.

“I think I hear someone coming,” he said, clutching his saber tightly. “If they smash this urn, I’m gonna pop right out. It’s gonna be great.”

Sim-plicity

Sim-plicity on PC Gamer!

I don’t think I’ve mentioned this here yet, but my Sim-plicity column (where I play down-to-earth simulation games) has been picked up by PC Gamer and is running Sundays on their website! Here are the articles that have been posted:

(The Sim-plicity columns I wrote for Screen Cuisine are right here, as well.)

I also recently wrote a game diary for PC Gamer about Skyrim’s Hearthfire add-on, which lets you build your own house in the game. I had some… difficulties with it. You can read the diary here.

Thanks to everyone at PC Gamer for publishing my stuff, and thanks to their readers (my readers, now!), who have been really great with their comments.