Game Review: Hero System (Fifth Edition, Revised)

HeroSystem by Brandon Blackmoor


It’s no secret that I am, and always have been, a huge fan of Hero System (what used to be called Champions, back when it was a role-playing game rather than a collection of rules). The core game mechanics are elegant, the power construction system is flexible and functional, the skill system is playable, and the overall system is admirably scalable. You can run nearly any genre or power level using Hero System, and—for the most part—the game system is self-balancing. It permits the players to focus on the game, rather than on wasting time tweaking the rules. The rules work without getting in the way.

Perversely, the greatest weakness of Hero System is that it attracts exactly the kind of players which want to tweak the rules: the kind of players who revel in game mechanic geekery rather than in role-playing. Historically, this was the source of the majority of complaints about Hero System from people who were not themselves players. Those who did not use Hero System in their games would encounter a rule-tweaking, mechanic-fiddling, mini-maxing, minutiae-obsessed Champions player, and draw the obvious, albeit incorrect, conclusion: that this was the kind of game play that Hero System was best suited for.

This historical context is important to keep in mind when one reads Hero System: Fifth Edition, Revised, because it explains a great deal about the book—primarily its size. The original Champions games were slender, saddle-stitched tomes. When Champions 4 was published in 1989, the rules of the game were organized and clarified, and the default setting for the game was fleshed out and made so that a potential player could buy the book, become familiar with it, and begin play almost immediately. No other books were required, and this was one of the great attractions of Champions: although it could be used to run any kind of game in any genre, it came with a default setting that made the book a self-contained and playable role-playing game. At 286 pages, it was also much larger than any previous edition of the game, which gave rise to its nickname of the “Big Blue Book”. The size of Champions 4 was due in no small part to the mini-maxing rule-players who had plagued the game since its early days. Champions 4 clarified nearly all of the areas of the game system which had previously been abused by the mini-maxers, but this clarification came at the cost of additional pages. For the most part this was a good compromise, and Champions 4 was widely regarded as the best multi-genre game system ever published at that time.

Unfortunately, the 1990s were not kind to Hero Games. A serious of unfortunate business decisions, combined with the advent of collectible card games, resulted in hard times for the game publisher. Fortunately, in late 2001 Hero Games was resurrected by DOJ, Inc., a company formed by Steven S. Long and Darren Watts, among others. Long was responsible for the re-write of Hero System when Hero Games was still owned by Cybergames, and this 2002 edition of Hero System was the first book published by DOJ, Inc. dba Hero Games. The fledgling company was strapped for cash, so there were no frills: Hero System, Fifth Edition was a bare-bones, ashcan cover, hardback reference book with few illustrations. Yes, it was an ugly, ugly book, but Hero fans were happy (and lucky) that it was published at all.

It was also the largest version of Hero published to date: weighing in at nearly 400 pages (374, to be exact), Hero System, Fifth Edition made the “Big Blue Book”; look scrawny by comparison. However, this increase in the book’s girth is even more drastic when one realized that Champions 4 included 130 pages of setting material which was absent in Hero System, Fifth Edition. No longer could one simply buy the book and play it. Furthermore, the once-elegant game mechanics had become burdened with endless lists of complications and special cases, in a vain attempt to forestall abuses by the mini-maxers and rule-players. Even so, fans of the game adopted the new version of the game with a passion, and they supported the resurrected Hero Games with their time and their money. Hero Games rewarded them by publishing book after book of the best role-playing supplements ever created. From the content, to the interior artwork, to the covers of the books themselves, Hero Games created a product line which any gamer would be proud to own.

And so it was that the announcement of Hero System, Fifth Edition, Revised (or “H5R”) was met with great anticipation by all Hero fans. At last, the flagship product of Hero Games would be updated with the same care and quality that had become the hallmark of Hero Games’ products. Or so we thought.

Physical Attributes

Hero System, Fifth Edition, Revised is, in most respects, the worst book the new Hero Games has ever published. Not only have the flaws of the original Fifth Edition not been rectified, they’ve been made even worse. It retains the hideously ugly ashcan cover of the Fifth Edition, which pronounces to the world, “It took every resource we had to push this book out the door, and we could not afford even the simplest artwork, nor even attractive text.” This was acceptable when the reinvigorated Hero Games was a new company, desperate to get its first book on the game store shelves. Now it’s simply an embarrassment.

What’s worse is that the paper quality and printing quality are perhaps the worse I have seen in a role-playing game in the last fifteen tears. The paper is coarse, grey, lightweight, and simply repulsive to touch or look at. Each of its 592 pages (!) is an exercise in unpleasantness. The first thing anyone who opens my copy of Hero System, Fifth Edition, Revised says is, “Jesus, how old is that book? And what’s it printed on, newsprint?” It is not, in fact, newsprint: the standard basis weight for newsprint is 30#, while the paper used for Hero System, Fifth Edition, Revised is 45#. In comparison, the paper used for Hero System, Fifth Edition was 55#. You can definitely feel and see the difference. One minor saving grace of the repugnant paper used in Hero System, Fifth Edition, Revised is that it has a slightly higher rag count than the paper used in Hero System, Fifth Edition. This is a good thing, because otherwise it wouldn’t hold up to even casual use.

Aside from the poor quality of the paper, the printing itself is visibly substandard. The “black” ink actually ranges from 30% to no more than 75% black (see photo). Between the light grey paper and the medium to dark grey ink, do not try reading Hero System, Fifth Edition, Revised in anything other than very bright direct light.

The one physical attribute of the book which is not a disappointment is the binding. The book lays flat when opened, and the pages are firmly attached to the spine, and remain so even after months of regular use. This is a marked improvement over the binding of previous editions of the game, particularly Champions 4, which was notorious for having pages detach from the spine.

h5rpage160_tnContent and Organization

At 592 pages, Hero System, Fifth Edition, Revised dwarfs every previous edition. With so much more content, one would expect that new sections had been added, or that many entirely new Powers had been created, but this is not the case. A few Powers and Talents have been modified from their Fifth Edition versions, but for the most part the additional 200+ pages are filled with special cases, exceptions, and other mechanical minutiae spelled out in excruciating detail. Will this prevent the game system from being abused by mini-maxers and rule-players? Of course not. What it does is make the game more difficult than ever for new players to learn. It reminds one of the Task Force Games product Star Fleet Battles, which used a game system with more exceptions than it had rules.

At first glance, the organization of the book appears to compensate somewhat for its ridiculous length. Each section has a printed tab at the margin to assist one finding one’s place (see photo). This is a nice touch, and it’s helpful. The index is also quite complete, which is a feature sadly overlooked in many role-playing games. It would have been nice if, when an entry has several page numbers listed, its primary page were distinguished from those pages which merely mention the entry, but this is a small complaint. Overall, the index is exhaustive and accurate.

This is a good thing, because the organization of the book itself leaves something to be desired. There is a section for Advantages, for example, in which each Advantage is listed alphabetically. Unfortunately, a great many Advantages are not listed in this section at all, or are listed under a name other than that of the actual Advantage. The Powers section suffers from the same lack of organization. If it weren’t for the excellent index, Hero System, Fifth Edition, Revised would not be usable at all.

Character Creation

Aside from the physical and organizational flaws in this particular presentation of Hero System, Hero System, Fifth Edition, Revised retains at its core what has made Hero System (and Champions before it) one of the most enduring role-playing games of all time.
Character creation is point based: each character has a number of “character points” which may be used to purchase “Characteristics” (e.g., Strength, Dexterity, Charisma), “Skills” (e.g., Disguise, Gambling), “Perks” (e.g., Contacts, Favors), “Talents” (e.g., Ambidexterity, Danger Sense), and “Powers” (e.g. Energy Blast, Flight). The number of points which may be used to build a character may be increased by adding “Disadvantages” to the character (e.g., Overconfidence, Watched By The Authorities). The number of points, the number and type of permitted Disadvantages, and the type and power level of Powers are all determined by the Game Moderator, based on the genre and setting of the specific game to be played. Guidelines for all of these values are provided, and are relatively straightforward. It actually sounds more complicated than it is, and the author has done a good job of explaining character generation with clarity and precision.

There are some wrinkles to Hero System character creation which can cost one either more or less points for the same amount of effectiveness, particularly in the realm of Characteristics, and the game does not provide explicit advice in this area. However, the modifiers and the costs for Characteristics are not complicated, and one can quickly perceive where a few points may be saved. Unlike the more egregious uses of “mini-maxing”, this simple exercise in cost-effectiveness is both straightforward and obvious, and it quickly becomes a matter of habit for experienced Hero System players.

Power Creation

With very few exceptions, it is possible to approximate any conceivable super power, magic spell, or high-tech gadget using the Hero System power mechanics. However, this unlimited flexibility comes at a cost: the most complicated part of Hero System, by far, is its power creation system. It is unlikely that a novice to the game would find it comprehensible without a great deal of trial and error. Fortunately, there are copious examples for the Powers themselves, as well as a number of example characters in the back of the book. For even more examples and ideas, one can take a look at other Hero System sourcebooks such as the excellent UNTIL Superpowers Database and the Fantasy Hero Grimoires. Another aid which makes Hero System character creation much easier is the Hero Designer 2.0 program, which is a reasonably-priced Java application (which means it will run on Windows, Linux and Mac). Hero Designer is frequently updated, and technical support provided on the Hero Games Discussion Forum is always prompt, if not always helpful. There have been several attempts to create a user-friendly character creation application for Hero System: Hero Designer is without question the best of the lot.

Conflict Resolution

Combat and skill contests in Hero System are resolved using similar systems. Combat is resolved by the attacker rolling three six-sided dice (3d6) and adding them. Generally speaking, if the attacker rolls 11 or less, the attack hits the target. The target number is adjusted up by the “Defensive Combat Value” of the target, and down for the “Offensive Combat Value” of the attacker. Combat maneuvers and circumstances may further affect the target number, but the core game mechanic is consistent for all types of combat, including mental attacks.

Skill contests are also resolved using 3d6. However, the target number of the skill is increased for each separate skill by putting more character points into that skill (either during character creation or during play, when the character is rewarded with “experience points”). As with combat, circumstances may further affect the target number.

Genre Adaptations

Hero System, Fifth Edition, Revised has no default setting, but it does contain a small section which devotes a half-dozen pages of hints for each of seven major genres (e.g., superheroes, martial arts, pulp), as well as a few paragraphs for less popular genres such as post-apocalyptic games and westerns. These sections do an adequate job of conveying the general idea of how one would adapt Hero System, Fifth Edition, Revised to run an actual game, but do not provide enough detail to do so. Anyone who wants to run an actual game using Hero System, Fifth Edition, Revised would either have to spend significant amounts of time creating a setting, or they would need to purchase an additional sourcebook such as Hero Games’ Valdorian Age fantasy sourcebook or Gold Rush Games’ award-winning San Angelo: City Of Heroes.


There is no question that Hero System, Fifth Edition, Revised is an essential part of every gamer’s library. The book suffers from serious flaws in organization, editing, and presentation, but the core system is the best extant game system for role-playing, bar none. I hope, along with many other long-time fans of the game, that Hero Games will someday correct this edition’s flaws, and that Hero System, Sixth Edition will proudly take its place as the flagship of the Hero System game line. Until then, this book has a place on every gamer’s bookshelf.



Con Review: SheVaCon 13

Shevacon13by Brandon Blackmoor


SheVaCon 13
February 25-27, 2005
Roanoke, Virginia

SheVaCon was great, as always. Here are some high spots:

Registration was a breeze. There was no line at all at 5:00 when we arrived. We got our badges and then checked into the hotel. The Holiday Inn Roanoke Tanglewood is a terrific hotel. The room was large and included frills like a refrigerator, microwave, and Wi-Fi.

We didn’t do much Friday night but roam around and go to a few panels. I attended a sparsely-attended workshop on miniature painting by Bob Snare. I learned quite a bit, to my surprise. Turns out I have been doing washes and dry-brushing wrong all this time. Well, maybe not wrong, but his figures definitely look better than most of mine. I’m going to try his technique on the next few I paint.

Lots going on Saturday. In the morning to early afternoon, I ran a Champions game, “The Testament of Dr. Destroyer.” Five people played: only one had ever played Hero System before. To say the game was lively would be an understatement. I am sure the other people in the room would have liked us to be quieter. Fortunately, I don’t think any of them were actually gaming. SheVaCon isn’t really a gaming convention, alas. Maybe they’d attract more gamers if the game listing on the website was kept up to date. The SheVaCon website is under new management this year, so hopefully, it will be better for 2006. Another thing they could do better is post the game schedule on-site in a legible format. What was posted near the game room was like a tenth-generation Xerox copy of a Gantt chart. It also did not help that the RPGA games were in the convention area, and anything else was hidden away on the fifth floor, without any indication of its being there. All in all, the con could do much better in the gaming arena.

After the game, I visited the Con Suite, which was terrific, as always. I do wish people would let the hot dogs finish cooking before grabbing them, though.

SheVaCon seems to attract a literary crowd, at least in terms of guests. Most of the panels that I attended were concerned with the art and science of science fiction writing and publishing. Interesting stuff. I did not get into the Masquerade itself, because it was standing-room-only by the time I got there. Still, they all had to walk by me in the hallway to leave, so I got a good long gawk at the costumes. The ones which stand out in my memory were Cruella De Vil from 101 Dalmations, the evil fairy Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty, and the character Rayne from the Bloodrayne computer game. These were all good, but the one that really impressed me was Rayne. She pegged the costume exactly, and she matched it physically, right down to the hair.

There was an unusual event on Saturday: the world premiere of a movie called Apocalypse. Wow, was it bad: real Mystery Science Theater material. But the people who put on the show, which included the director and a few of the actors, were all good sports, and treated us to a terrific catered dinner.

The high point of Saturday, of course, was the Nth Degree party. SheVaCon’s schedule for Saturday night didn’t amount to much more than various people reading their own stories out loud, which has never thrilled me. I’d much rather talk to them one-on-one at the party. Various folks associated with Meisha Merlin Publishing were in attendance, and were a pleasure to chat with, as always. The Writer GoH, L.E. Modesitt, was there as well. And I had the opportunity to pick up a book for a friend: A Million Shades of Gray, by John C. Hertel. How many parties have you gone to where you can get a book signed by the author right in front of you?

Sunday is the day to browse the Dealer’s Room and spend any leftover cash that somehow hid in the bottom of your pockets all weekend. I came really close to buying some Reaper miniatures, but didn’t, since I’ve been spending way too much on stupid, ugly, plastic HeroClix to use as figures in our Champions games, and I need to take a break from spending money on gaming crap for a while. My wife picked up a book on writing, The Complete Guide To Writing Fantasy.

After that was saying good-bye and feeling bummed because the convention was over: that post-convention malaise.


Movie Review: Kurt Russell Retrospective

Kurt Russellby Brandon & Susan Blackmoor


Kurt Russell is one of the most talented, most versatile actors of our era. He convincingly portrays everything from good-hearted buffoons to hardened lawmen with equal aplomb. Russell’s early career had him cast as the all-American nice boy in such Disney fare as The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969) and The Strongest Man In The World (1975), but he is one of the few child actors who succeeded in making the transition to adult roles. The last twenty years have showcased Russell in a number of films where his range as an actor has placed him in a league above that of action stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Steven Seagal. Interspersed with comedies like Captain Ron (1992) and Overboard (1987), and psychological dramas like Breakdown (1997) and the recently released Dark Blue (2003), Russell has starred in an array of action films that have endeared him to science fiction fans. Lucky for us, most of them are available on DVD.

“I heard you were dead.”

Escape From New York (1981) is one of the best examples of the late twentieth century’s visionary dystopian films (a genre which includes such SF masterpieces as Blade Runner, Road Warrior, and The Terminator). In 1997, the island of Manhattan has been turned into a maximum security prison. When Air Force One is hijacked and crashed on the island in an act of protest, the United States Police Force recruits former war hero Snake Plissken to infiltrate the island and rescue the President.

Russell is spot-on as the intense and cynical Plissken. He is quick with a quip, deadly cool under pressure, and at least as violent as the world that he lives in. Many films have featured an ex-military antihero since Russell’s grizzled gunslinger, but none have matched the sheer cool of Snake Plissken.

“Why don’t we just wait here a while… see what happens.”

Unlike the darkly humorous Escape From New York, John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) is a completely serious film: the story of an Antarctic scientific outpost which encounters a shape-changing extraterrestrial. While The Thing is a classic horror film—on par with classics like Alien and The Fly—and the groundbreaking special effects have aged remarkably well, the main themes of the film are isolation and paranoia.

The tension in The Thing doesn’t come from clumsy jolts or the menace of a stalking madman. What makes The Thing so frightening is the unknown: who is human? Who can we trust? Is the man next to me a man, or a monster? If I were the monster… would I know?

The Thing features Russell as helicopter pilot MacReady, a man who likes chess, whisky, and solitude. MacReady is a loner among loners, even more reclusive than the other men who have come to the end of the world to find peace. Russell is at his best as the reticent MacReady: he is the everyman, the person we would like to think we would be if placed in an impossible situation. He does not have Snake Plissken’s grace under fire or wise-cracking cynicism, but he does the best he can to keep things from falling apart as it becomes clear that the extraterrestrial poses a threat not only to the men at the research station, but to all of humanity. He is a likeable, believable character, and the fact that Russell makes it look so easy is a testament to his skill as an actor.

“There are many mysteries, many unanswerable questions, even in a life as short as yours.”

Equally likeable but far less believable is the fabulous Jack Burton, the adventurous truck driver who runs afoul of the Chinese underworld in Big Trouble In Little China (1986). Jack Burton is fearless and unashamedly brash no matter what he’s facing. An ancient Chinese sorcerer? Bring him on! Vicious slack-jawed trolls? No problem! High-jumping, lightning-throwing martial artists? Make it three!

When the fiancée of a friend is kidnapped by Chinese gangsters, Jack Burton vows to help rescue her (and rescue his truck, the Pork Chop Express). Little does he suspect that it’s all part of an ancient sorcerer’s plan to regain a material body. But does that slow him down? Hell, no. Give him a machine pistol, a magic potion, and a six-demon bag, and he’s ready to rock and roll. Besides, he never drives faster than he can see.

Big Trouble In Little China is as slapstick as The Thing is serious, which is probably the only thing that keeps it from being painfully bad. Just when the story is in danger of going over the top, the director John Carpenter raises the top! And Russell is with it every step of the way. Truly a great film, and an excellent example of Russell’s comedic skills.

“I’m going to kill them all, sir.”

Soldier (1998) is one of Russell’s least-appreciated roles, and possibly the last action role that Russell intends to play. A soldier trained from birth to be the perfect killing machine, Todd 3465 is eventually replaced by a more advanced model, and discarded. He is dumped upon a garbage planet and left for dead, but he revives and manages to befriend (just barely) a settlement of refugees who crashed on the world several years earlier. How does a man who has known only war fit into a community once his role as a warrior is taken away?

As the stoic Todd 3465, Russell has relatively little dialog, making it difficult to develop the character. Almost everything we know about Todd is conveyed through his actions, his facial expressions, and sometimes just his eyes. Despite this limitation, Russell manages to create a complex character with whom we not only sympathize, but also empathize. Russell’s portrayal of Todd 3465 is subtly nuanced, and far surpasses similar efforts by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Terminator films or Jean-Claude Van Damme in his Universal Soldier films. Few actors can so convincingly evoke the humanity of a man who is as machine-like as the military could make him, and precious few actors of such skill deign to make action films. More’s the pity.


Movie Review: Scooby Doo

Scooby-Doo_posterby Brandon & Susan Blackmoor


Scooby Doo, How Could You? 
(or, Scooby Doo as Modern Myth)

Scooby Doo is the King Arthur of our generation: a tale retold countless times, interpreted and re-interpreted according to the whims and prejudices of the storyteller. We have explored the branches of Scooby Doo’s evidently inbred family tree (his brother Howdy Doo, and his cousins Scooby Dum, Scooby Dee, Whoopsy Doo, and Dooby Doo, just to name a few), we have seen the Scooby gang miniaturized into small-bodied large-headed versions of themselves, and we have seen the Mystery Machine gang play host to such luminaries as Don Knotts, Phyllis Diller, the Addams Family, and Davy Jones.

The myth of Scooby Doo has inspired scenes in movies like Wayne’s World and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. The characters have become role-models to generations of young people who find themselves arrayed against possibly-supernatural mysteries. Curious and open-minded teenagers have discovered the joys of alternate lifestyles through the regularly-abducted example of Bondage-Prone Daphne, and the patron saint of Cannabis sativa, Shaggy, has gently shepherded his flock through the terrible ravages of sloth, cowardice, and the munchies.

The most recent addition to the Scooby Doo myth cycle is a worthy effort. For the first time, human actors are cast in the roles of the beloved Mystery Machine gang as they meddle in yet another mystery. By and large, they do a surprisingly good job of portraying their animated counterparts. The best of these is Matthew Lillard’s poignant evocation of Shaggy. We are shown a deeper, more meaningful Shaggy. Yes, he eats anything that isn’t nailed down, and yes, he’s every bit the coward we have come to know and love, but there is more to him. He is the soul of the group, the conscience and moral center. Lillard also pegs the voice and mannerisms of the animated Shaggy with preternatural accuracy.

Linda Cardellini deserves mention, as well: she breathes life into Velma, and for a brief moment we know the true Velma, the Velma under the thick glasses and the thicker turtleneck sweater. Sadly, Sarah Michelle Gellar doesn’t quite make us believe the role of Daphne. Is she too cute? Insufficiently glamorous? It’s difficult to say. She tries, and perhaps she does the best with the part that she can, but it just rings false. Not as false, however, as the grievously mis-cast Freddie Prinze, Jr. as Fred. Does Prinze look like Fred? Not really. Does he give off Fred’s latent homosexual vibe? No (at least not to me). Does he have Fred’s trademark topheavy build? Nope. So what explains his inexplicable casting as the foppish hunk? Could it be because he was romantically involved with Sarah Michelle Gellar, who can single-handedly attract millions of dollars of financing to a movie project? But perhaps it’s better that we not speculate. Besides, they’re married now, so we should be kind—the romance won’t last much longer. The important thing is that the cast, on the whole, does a fine job, and better than one might expect.

But what of the story? Does it live up to the greatest of the Scooby Doo stories: The Spooky Space Kook, Which Witch is Which, or Foul Play in Funland? Almost! The story concerns a rich amusement park owner who calls in the gang to investigate peculiar behavior of the park’s patrons. It’s a simple story, and it’s fairly transparent, but it works. The creeps are creepy, the sets are marvelous, and the amusement park owner is played by the pleasantly goofy Rowan Atkinson—and as we all know from the underrated farce Rat Race, Rowan Atkinson can be entertaining even while falling asleep.

This isn’t to say that the movie couldn’t be improved. There were several scenes left upon the cutting room floor that would have made the film more entertaining to its adult audience, such as the kiss between Daphne and Velma, or Shag and Scoob trading hits on a Scooby-sized bong. Some of these will hopefully find their way to the Scooby Doo “Special Edition” DVD (which should see heavy promotion in the months before Scooby Doo 2 is released in theatres in 2004). There’s also the small matter of the Scooby Doo character itself. It’s no Jar-Jar Binks, but it’s no Velociraptor, either. If you want to see a funny talking dog, see Men in Black 2. Let’s hope that the animation is better in the Scooby sequel (and that there aren’t any more Star Wars movies).

But is Scooby Doo watchable and fun? I think so. So add it to your Netflix queue, stoke up the hookah, and kick back with some Scooby Snacks.


Movie Review: Spider Baby

SpiderBabyby Brandon & Susan Blackmoor


A movie you probably won’t find anywhere but Netflix is Jack Hill’s Spider Baby (1964). It’s a genuinely creepy romp through the final days of the Merrye family, complete with cannibalism and homicidal jailbait (how sweet it is). The plot is fairly straightforward: family chauffeur Bruno (Lon Chaney, Jr. in one of his last and best roles) has taken on the guardianship of a trio of deranged “children.” He tries to protect his wards from their own psychotic tendencies, and from the grasping relatives who try to make a profit from the children’s tragic dementia, but ultimately it proves too much for him. It’s a wickedly delightful film, full of surprises.

The movie has developed its own cult following in recent years and has a fantastic online fansite.


Movie Review: Rollerball

Rollerballby Brandon & Susan Blackmoor


Remakes nearly always fall into one of two categories: bad remakes of classic movies, and bad remakes of crappy movies. John McTiernan’s Rollerball (2002, PG-13) is both: it’s a bad remake of a classic crappy movie.

In the original Rollerball (1975, R), James Caan is a star player of the eponymous roller-derby/demolition-derby sport. It’s not Brazil, but the dystopian vision of the film is a convincing one that still stands up reasonably well today. James Caan, a talented character actor who combines the meanness of James Coburn with James Garner’s easygoing charm, was perfectly cast as Jonathan E., and the endlessly imitated John Houseman does a stunning job as the vile corporate mouthpiece. It’s a bit talky by today’s standards, but the original Rollerball is still a fine evening’s entertainment.

In contrast, McTiernan’s Rollerball is far less talky, but what dialogue there is makes little sense. Creative subtitling would probably improve it, although that might rob it of some of its unintentional humor. The scenes of the Rollerball game itself are, incredibly, even more frenetic than those in the original, which means that the action is impossible to follow rather than merely difficult. Jonathan Cross, played with mayonnaisian blandness by the inexplicably popular Chris Klein, makes no impression at all. Even L.L. Cool J. (Deep Blue Sea), Rebecca Romijn-Stamos (X-Men), and Jean Reno (The Professional) can’t combine their powers to overcome the monumentally stupid script and choppy editing.

Don’t pay to see Rollerball in the theatre: wait for it to come to video, and then rent something else.


Movie Review: Queen of the Damned

Queen of the Damnedby Brandon & Susan Blackmoor


Michael Rymer’s Queen of the Damned (2002, R) is a movie that needs to be seen in a theatre to be fully appreciated. A loose film adaptation of a novel by Anne Rice, Queen of the Damned will doubtlessly be reviled by Anne Rice fans for daring to veer from the holy text of the matriarch (the same sort of people who decried the treatment of Farmer Maggot in Lord of the Rings). Film aficionados will be more concerned with the huge, gaping plot holes. But let’s be frank: it’s a vampire movie, of course there are plot holes (Blade, anyone?). We don’t go to a vampire movie for intricate plots or a complex emotional landscape, we go to a vampire movie for cool costumes, sexy protagonists, and some spooky cinematography. Queen of the Damned delivers these in spades.

The late R&B singer Aaliyah plays the title role of Akasha, who is awakened by a disturbingly Crow-like Lestat (played by Stuart Townsend) and proceeds to run amok. Arrayed against her are a number of fashion-plate vampires who happen to like the status quo. For the next couple of hours, they pose and stare with a pleasantly goth-pop soundtrack. Aaliyah is simply delicious as Akasha, and Stuart Townsend does as good a job as the infamous Lestat as any mortal man is likely to. Classic cinema? No: it’s a vampire movie, with all of the silliness and melodrama that entails. But Queen of the Damned is a fun “date movie” (if your date isn’t a film student or an obsessed Anne Rice fan), and the costumes and cinematography are good enough to warrant repeat viewings.

Pay to see Queen of the Damned in the theatre. When it comes to video, see it again with Blade and really treat yourself.