The Perfect Hans

Alan Rickman died today, after a battle with cancer.  Only 69 — which is all too young in these days of countless medical advances and miracle drugs — he was an exceptionally talented and enormously accomplished actor who lit up stage and screen in a variety of roles, from serious to comedic, that attested to the amazingly wide range of his abilities.

For me, though, he will always be Hans Gruber, the brilliant, urbane villain in Die Hard who was one of the greatest movie villains ever.

hans-gruber-die-hardI know, I know:  it’s not fair to reduce an actor of Rickman’s achievements to one role — but I can’t help it.  Rickman was so perfect for the role, and his creation of Hans was so perfect for the film, that he almost single-handedly vaulted Die Hard from an impressive action movie into a classic of the genre.  Sure, Bruce Willis was great, but it was Hans that distinguished Die Hard from the run of the mill action thriller, because Hans was different from every other action movie villain.  Unlike the normal bad guys, he wasn’t slugging it out with the hero in an impossibly violent ending scene, nor was he some mindless psychopath.  No, Hans had depth, he had smarts, and he had a great plan and team — and it would have worked if only John McClane hadn’t stumbled onto the scene at the Nakatomi Plaza.

I may be alone in this, but I actually identified more with Hans than with McClane.  Hans wore a sophisticated, well-tailored suit, his dry wit was hilarious, his decision to pose as a terrorist to distract the cops and FBI cowboys from his plan to steal millions in bearer bonds was a stroke of genius, and he was ruthless and single-minded in his pursuit of his pay day.  When Hans objected to being described as a common thief — saying, indignantly, that “I am an exceptional thief” — I wholeheartedly agreed with him.  And, according to the news articles, many of the touches that made Hans unique and so intensely memorable were suggested by Rickman in the first place.

Rickman was great as Severus Snape, too, and I also thought he was hysterical as Alexander Dane, the would-be Shakespearean actor who bridled at playing an alien with a hackneyed catch phrase in a sci-fi TV show in Galaxy Quest, but those are only a few of the roles that made up a fine career.  It’s terrible when gifted actors like Rickman can die so young, but at least he left behind a record of his talents that his fans can enjoy again and again.  He will be missed.

Redshirts

If you’re a sci fi buff looking for a book recommendation for the new year, I suggest John Scalzi’s Redshirts, which was published in 2012 but which I’ve just discovered.  It’s fast-paced, well written, laugh-out-loud funny — and I’m not somebody who use “LOL” very often — and it addresses an important issue.

redshirtIt’s an issue that any fan of Star Trek, the original series, recognized long ago :  namely, the appalling mortality rate among the member of the away team that were sent down to the surface of the planet with Kirk, Spock, and Dr. McCoy.  Those poor anonymous red-shirted bastards — because typically, they wore red shirts identifying them as members of the Security department — were lucky to be given a name or have even one line before they were blown up, devoured by beasts, ravaged by rapidly accelerated old age, cut down by phaser fire, reduced to a cube and then crushed into dust, or otherwise knocked off in painful, embarrassing, and inexplicable fashion before the first commercial break.

Even worse, as the episode went on, you learned that the red-shirted deaths were the result of some colossal misunderstanding or bad decision by Captain Kirk, and the misunderstanding would be resolved, and at the end of the episode Kirk would make some funny comment as the Enterprise left orbit.  And, even as you chuckled at Kirk’s witticism, it became all-too-clear that nobody gave a a second thought to the red-shirted guy who met his maker on Planet Albatron 4.  You couldn’t help but wonder if you thought about it:  how do these red-shirt guys even get insurance?  How much is the United Federation of Planets paying in widows’ and orphans’ benefits, anyway?

This issue has been explored before — Galaxy Quest does a pretty good job with it, through the ruminations of Sam Rockwell’s character Guy Fleegman — but Redshirts takes it to a different level by imagining how the rest of the crew in a similar circumstance in a different TV universe might react to the constant rain of death that was befalling randomly selected “away team” members.  It’s hysterical, and the clever ways in which the desperate crew members try to deal with the issue tell you a lot about Scalzi’s creativity.  He’s a good writer, too.

It’s always fun to find a new author and work your way through his catalog.  I’ve been enjoying Scalzi’s truly excellent Old Man’s War series, too, but Redshirts was a special comedic treat.

From Ex to X

In a few weeks filming will begin on six new episodes of The X-Files.  The mini-series of new adventures of Mulder and Scully will be broadcast on Fox starting next January.

We shouldn’t be surprised by this, really.  Any good TV series that goes off the air is capable of being reintroduced years — in the case of The X-Files, more than a decade — after the network run ended, so long as the actors who played the main characters haven’t kicked the bucket.  TV shows spawn movies, and movies spawn TV shows.   They are working on a Galaxy Quest TV show based on the classic 1999 movie, and planning another version of Celebrity Deathmatch.  Old ideas, characters, and settings get recycled, and the writers and producers hope they can connect with new viewers while not offending the diehard fans who want the new to stay true to the old.

The X-Files is a classic example of the challenges presented by this exercise in threading the needle.  The original show ran from 1993 to 2002 and was fresh, interesting, and delightfully creepy; it was one of the first adult shows we let Richard watch, and I always hoped he wouldn’t be permanently scarred or haunted by his exposure to people with black oil in their eyes or serially inbred families.  The early years of the team of by-the-book Dana Scully and true believer Fox Mulder and their encounters with the paranormal and sprawling governmental conspiracies were brilliant, distinctive and memorable.

But the show seemed to lose steam, and then there were X-Files movies, too.  Where did the plot line leave off?  I can’t remember — are Mulder and Scully married now?  Is The Lone Gunman still around?  What about Skinner?  I’m betting that I’m not alone in not remembering everything that happened in a series that ended 13 years ago and a movie that also sees like it came out long ago.  I need a refresher course.

I want to believe — just remind me what it is I’m supposed to believe, will you?