Why ‘Prometheus’ gets it all wrong, and why it matters

There were a lot of things wrong with Prometheus (daft dialogue, ridiculous character behaviour, odd-pacing, odd-editing and incongruous music), but I’m only going to focus on the greatest error the film made: its ridiculous distain for scientific fact. I’m going to explain just how badly the writers got it wrong and why it matters. I almost laughed before I realised how tragic the tale is.

If you’re telling a fantasy story you can pretty much get away with anything. With science fiction, depending on how “hard” or “soft” you want it: you can get away with a lot less or a bit less respectively. Prometheus fails as science fiction because there is nothing more scientific about its premise than the Never Ending Story’s. But even if you want to say that Prometheus is a bit of fantasy fun set in space, it still fails because it contradicts some of the most important and established knowledge we have, just as any fantasy story that depicted the earth as being the fourth planet from the sun would instantly lose all credibility and connection with the audience. Similarly, even a fantasy about humans must depict them as creatures with two arms, two legs, and not, for example, 100 tentacles.  We know that the earth is not the fourth planet from the sun, so whatever planet “earth” we are told is the fourth from its sun, it’s not ours, and it’s not our earth, and it’s not us, just like we might connect with a 100-limbed fantasy species and even empathise with them, but if you call them “human” you’re just being silly. But imagine that a large politically-powerful group of people had a vested interest in perpetuating a myth that our earth is in fact the fourth planet from the sun. All the evidence notwithstanding, Mars is the third planet and Earth is the fourth. What seems like a scientific faux pas and bit of fantasy fun takes on a darker and worrying shade. Well that is the problem with Prometheus.

The basic plot of Prometheus is: an alien race dropped their DNA in the oceans of earth long ago and so created humans. This is about as scientific as saying that you can take a drop of blood from a dog, inject it into a giraffe, and expect the giraffe to give birth to dogs or giraffe-dog hybrids. The very definition of “species” in fact is a community that can only breed successfully with itself.

During the film, it’s discovered that these aliens called “Engineers” have a 100% DNA match with humans. This is either rubbish or meaningless, take your pick. If the writers were trying to say that the Engineers are genetically similar to humans, the match is trivial: every living thing that lives or has ever lived on this planet shares the same DNA. A lot of DNA is arguably junk anyway, but “there is more than 95% to 98% similarity between related genes in humans and apes in general. (Just as in the mouse, quite a few genes probably are not common to humans and apes, and these may influence uniquely human or ape traits.) Similarities between mouse and human genes range from about 70% to 90%, with an average of 85% similarity but a lot of variation from gene to gene…” [source] So if they have the same DNA code as us, so what? That only proves that they evolved on earth. But if the insinuation is that they are a 100% DNA match with humans, despite being aliens, that is nonsense because…they aren’t human! That would be like a forensic detective placing you at a murder scene 5000 miles away and 5000 years in the past, because your DNA was a 100% match to a criminal in the past, which is impossible, or matching you because you both happen to be human beings…

But, even if aliens could drop something in earth’s primordial oceans that could somehow mingle with DNA…even that doesn’t make sense because evolution simply doesn’t work that way. A few Star Trek episodes tried to do something similar with evolution and failed for the same reasons. In those stories, the premise was that evolution could be sped up and the results observed in hours or days instead of millions of years. This is such a spectacular misunderstanding of evolution that it makes me depressed just thinking about it. But before I explain that, let’s start at the beginning:

All living things on this planet are the product of common descent. We all share the same DNA and metabolise energy in the same way because those fundamental parts of life happened once, billions of years ago, and not again. All life is descended from very simple self-replicating molecules. On this planet, DNA eventually got this job and the code used is the same today as it was 3 billion years ago. (If life exists on another planet, it too almost certainly started with very simple self-replicating molecules, but it’s overwhelmingly improbable that it would evolve the same DNA code as Earth’s, if it even used DNA at all.) Today, there are thousands of computer programming languages because each was designed by a human computer programmer for a specific need. But in nature, there is only one programming language and it had to be modified and utilised only by trial-by-fire selection in the wild over a very long time. (Incidentally, the ubiquity of this one (and only one) natural language is another argument against intelligent design.)

The “Engineers” could not have any DNA similarity with us unless they came from earth, which they clearly did not do. But we didn’t see the Engineers dropping DNA into the earth 3.5 billion years ago (unless the opening scene of the film was supposed to be earth at that time…in which case I suggest History of the Earth 101 for the writers to give them an idea of what this planet was like so early in its life. Let’s just say Hell would’ve been more hospitable.)  But suppose the engineers got DNA started in the first place (which isn’t implied in the film) all those aeons ago. Is that any better? Nope. Which brings us to:

Humans look the way we do because on this planet we are a member of the primate family. We share a common ancestor with all apes alive today, and our nearest relatives are chimpanzees. The modern human being as we know it today is only about 150,000 years old. But, we didn’t have to evolve this way. On earth, countless unpurposed events directed life in different directions. To name just two: the great oxygen catastrophe and the Cretaceous–Paleogene event (which wiped out the dinosaurs) – two events which forever shifted the course of evolution on Earth, and which were unplanned and devastating in their own right. The oxygen catastrophe didn’t have to happen, but it did. A meteor didn’t have to hit the earth and wipe out the dinosaurs, but it did. On this planet in the past, creatures that we would call primates today found it advantageous to walk upright thus freeing their hands for manipulating the world. On this world, that gave them an advantage over their competitors in the wild. Those creatures which would become us developed higher intelligence as tool-using thinkers. But as Chuck from sfdesbris.com says: “it’s not enough to be smarter, smarter has to give you a distinct advantage.” It’s not a foregone conclusion that evolution will lead to intelligent life, although given time and the right conditions one might expect it to. One might also expect that intelligent life on other worlds would be analogous to humans as tool-using thinkers, using their appendages to manipulate the world and freeing up their bodies to evolve larger brains. But that is not to say at all that such life would also evolve from creatures that would look anything like primates – they could just as easily look like walking octopuses. Again, on earth – we look the way we do, not because some alien dropped some DNA in a pool 3 billion years ago (and most certainly no sooner), but because we evolved from similar looking creatures who evolved from similar looking creatures, all of whom can call themselves descendants of apes, who in turn can call themselves descendants of whatever small mammals remained (or evolved) after the mass destruction of the dinosaurs left niches in nature for new creatures to fill.

To say that aliens created humans is absolutely stupid because we already know how life developed on this planet and everything we know and have ever learned in biology, genetics and geology confirms it – just like we know the Earth is the third planet from the sun. And this makes the entire premise of the film pointless, (much like the Answers in Genesis website). It’s like a great mystery novel akin to the space equivalent of Angels and Demons, but the final startling revelation being: the earth is flat and the sun orbits it.

No matter how wild your story premise is, there must be a part of the audience that thinks “this could happen, this is how things might’ve have been, even if they weren’t.” For example, imagine a story where aliens brainwash Hitler to invade Poland. Silly, yes, but at least it can’t be disproved. (Of course, something isn’t proven true just because it can’t be disproved.) But with Prometheus, it simply can’t be true, because we didn’t pop into existence with unique DNA 150,000 years ago – we evolved from other species very slowly and share our DNA with all other life on earth. The story is not reflective or metaphorical, it’s dumb.

The only way to have Prometheus’s story make any sense as regards its DNA claim is to say that aliens created DNA itself and put it on earth 3 billion years ago, but even that doesn’t explain why the aliens are almost identical to humans: you cannot predict which path evolution will take because evolution, by very definition, is simply the change of gene frequencies in generations responding to the pressure of natural selection. Natural selection can be caused by sexuality and/or environment, but it’s location specific. The millions of varieties of life you see on earth today are only possible because it takes evolution that long to produce any noticeable change at all, especially speciation (although evolution on every meaningful level is an observed documented fact.) To illustrate this by contrast: if a species were already perfectly suited to its environment and its surroundings never changed, that species would never change (and evolve), not in ten million years.

But why does it matter? It matters because Prometheus is a major international release that completely abuses a wondrous field of science. It’s rubbish at best and slander at worst. It matters because there are people in positions of power who deny evolution because it contradicts their ignorant beliefs about the universe, and they want to push those beliefs on you and your children, by law, in the classroom. It matters because evolution is as established and beautiful a scientific fact as anything the human race has ever discovered, and it’s a travesty that it’s so badly misunderstood in the 21st century, so much so that most people who see Prometheus won’t even notice anything wrong with its “science”.

And the moral of Prometheus the film? Our protagonist Elizabeth Shaw regains her faith in god (of course, the personal choice of god of the writer, which is the Christian version). At one point she is teased about her faith with the claim “I guess creating life is easy…anyone can do it…you just need some DNA.” But that’s the kind of nonsense strawman of evolution that no evolutionist ever claimed! Life didn’t happen on earth because of some DNA in an ocean…DNA is only a coding language. It is genes that allow characteristics to pass from generation to generation, and NATURAL (or sexual) SELECTION is the only method by why nature can pass on some genes and withhold others. So no, you need more than just a bit of DNA…and that fact is totally ignored (deliberately?) by the writer(s) of Prometheus. Is there any other scientific field that could be so grossly disfigured and butchered by a film writer in this day and age and still get approved? I don’t think so. What do you think?

The irony here is sadly amusing: if the moral of the story was to have the protagonist reclaim her faith in god and challenge the notion that life on earth evolved naturally…it speaks volumes that such a notion was only possible in a fantasy land where the real world can be ignored and the movie script can make the impossible possible, just like the bible has the sun stand still in the sky. Most people don’t take those stories seriously, with good reason. But some do unfortunately, and they even try to re-write scientific fact to suit their beliefs. Some even use their big chance writing a Hollywood screenplay to push their creationist agenda on a worldwide audience. The sad thing? Many people don’t know any better.

***

Further reading:

The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins. Not arguments, no debate. Read this if you doubt the facts.

Evolution at Wikipedia (if I were ever to endorse compulsory education this would be the second thing on my list.)

Other good critical reviews:

http://www.skepticalraptor.com/skepticalraptorblog.php/ridley-scotts-prometheus-anti-science/

Who watches the Watchers?

I recently wrote about 21 year old Liam Stacey, a man who was arrested for making racist comments on Twitter. Well, he’s now been imprisoned for 56 days. To be fair to our current justice system, when politician Diane Abbott make racist remarks on Twitter, she too was arrested and thrown in prison for 56 days. Oh no wait, that didn’t happen in this universe – my mistake. She apologised without an arrest, trial or sentence.

Let’s remind ourselves what Abbott said: “White people love playing ‘divide & rule’“. Nice. A disgustingly generalised brush to tar all white people with an innate love of slavery and conquest.  These comments are horrifically offensive to me, not least because I despise slavery and racism, but here is a black woman (who seems to assume she has a right to comment as a supposed victim of racism simply because she is black) insulting all white people (simply because, as white people, they are supposed perpetrators of slavery and imperialism, simply because they are white.)

Why is one white man imprisoned for making racist remarks on Twitter about a black person, but a black person isn’t so much as arrested for making racist remarks about all white people on Twitter? And Diane Abbott has a history of making racist remarks! Why has she gotten away with it in the past? Why did she get away with it on Twitter? Would her comments have been met with jail-time if she was white making comments about blacks?

About Abbott’s comments, Met police said: “We reviewed the circumstances of the comments and having considered all of those circumstances and the information available to us, we do not believe a criminal offence has been committed.”  I agree. No criminal offence was committed – because voicing an opinion, no matter how stupid, no matter how wrong, no matter how evil, no matter how publically, is not a crime! (The only exception to this is slander, because you are not free to lie about someone else.) Why were Abbott’s comments not a criminal offence, but Liam Stacey’s were?

And of course at face value, and you can call me cynical, Diane Abbott is a black female politician, and Liam Stacey is a white male civilian – the demographic with probably the fewest “rights” in this country.

Of course there will be the “me-tooers” and politically-correct crowd, eager to high-five themselves that a free citizen who made racist remarks has gone to prison, blissfully ignoring the real issues going on around them: our freedoms and liberties are being eroded month after month, year after year, sometimes behind closed doors (like with the European Union) and sometimes right before our eyes amidst cheers of multiculturalism and zero-tolerance.

But the laughable irony here is one which is blatantly staring people in the face: they want zero-tolerance…but only for the things they don’t like. They want inappropriate speech to be banned, as long as they get to decide what is inappropriate. In short, everyone wants to play King and rule the kingdom. Am I saying that everything should be allowed? No. But the very idea of a free society, the thing we should all be most proud our species has voluntarily established, is the recognition that we can’t just get our own way by magic just by stamping our feet like spoilt brats. So we all agree to recognise the freedoms of each other to believe, say, speak and do whatever we want – with one common stipulation: don’t harm me and I won’t harm you. Sadly, in this pathetic celebrity-obsessed postmodern philosophically-bankrupt guilt-ridden eco-crazy mentally-stunted irresponsible socialist cesspool called the modern Western world, everybody thinks everyone else’s stuff is up for grabs to the one who shouts loudest; so everyone points the finger, everyone compares wallet sizes, everyone claims that “the other guy” is offending him, and the slightest disagreement means someone goes running to teacher. And teacher, oooh… teacher is only too happy to lay down the law. After all, he’s only dealing with children…

But then in the playground, who watches the Watchers?

After thoughts: a friend made the statement “Freedom of speech does not cover incitement and obscenity”. Obviously I disagree with this. In fact, by definition freedom of speech should most certainly cover such things. Here is the Wikipedia article on freedom of speech in the UK based on current law. I must point out that am not challenging the criminalising of racist comments based on the current law, but that is precisely my point: the law regarding freedom of speech is phrased in such a way as to ban that which is deemed socially unacceptable. In this sense, the law is simply circular: “you are free to speak, unless it’s illegal”, which really means “you are free to say anything legally acceptable”, which just re-defines free speech to be that which is not illegal. In other words, if you say something which is now deemed illegal, it couldn’t have been “free” in the first place. So what then is free speech? Whatever the government decides it is.

There is a place for a restriction on speech by law but only when it is objectively shown to infringe the rights of another. Objective law isn’t based on the latest mood of society, referendum, moral outrage, an over-powered and bored police force, or a politician looking for votes.

Links: “What you can and can’t say on Twitter” – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-17530450

Racism more important than Fascism

In another demonstration of how your freedom of speech extends only as far as the State allows it, a 21 year old man has been arrested for alleged racist remarks on Twitter. Story. It’s incredible the depths we’ve sunk to when this is just reported as being perfectly acceptable, with Swansea University and Treorchy RFC distancing themselves from the man, as if this were just an everyday regular police investigation of a crime. Everyone is quick to play the “me too” card, as if not expressly declaring “I’m not a racist!” might make you a suspect.

Racism is not a crime. A crime requires the violation of an individual’s Rights by another. Having a racist opinion doesn’t make you a criminal. Vocalising a racist opinion doesn’t make you a criminal. Initiating violence against someone does make you a criminal, whether you do it because your victim is black, white, yellow, fat, thin, tall or short.

Yes, racism is anti-human and as well as that is just plain stupid. But you could say that about any irrational ideas that people hold. Some fundamentalist Christians and Muslims hold extremely offensive and evil beliefs related to race, gender and sexual orientation. Astrology might not be as viciously anti-human but is still irrational. Those who claim to be psychics and talk to the dead are frauds, duping the gullible or emotionally-vulnerable to make money. I find that offensive. I also find socialism and communism offensive: two variations on the same theme that the individual must defer to the State and sacrifice his interests to the “greater good”. For that matter, I find modern “art” and postmodernism offensive. I also don’t like R&B music and would rather listen to nails down a blackboard than hip-hop.

But, I can accept that other people don’t agree with me and I’m fine with that, because no one is putting a gun to my head and telling me to hold a particular opinion, or not hold the one that I do. The idea of individual freedom is that you can like whatever you want, choose whatever you want, do whatever you want, as long as you don’t infringe on the freedom of others to do the same. In fact, it’s inevitable that human beings won’t always agree – which is precisely why individual rights enshrine this principle of freedom! Some will believe this, some will believe that, some will be right, some will be wrong, some will be moral and some will be evil – but that’s the point! You can’t pick and choose what opinions to allow in society because then nothing would ever change; whatever the status quo or popular opinion of the time was, that would be the unchangeable “truth”, and heresy against the Accepted and Allowed would be a crime. Ironically, that’s exactly the case in other parts of the world like Iran, a totalitarian religious dictatorship where freedom of speech is a concept as foreign as sexual preference. But isn’t that what makes us better than them?

You can’t pick and choose politically acceptable speech because no one has the right to make that decision. Sure, you can give it to the government and leave the State as moral arbiter of acceptable speech (and behaviour), if you’re a fascist. But the idea of freedom of speech is that…you might not always agree with it! It’s not freedom to speak…unless you don’t like or agree with it. It’s not freedom to speak…unless it’s wrong. It’s not freedom to speak…unless it’s socially frowned upon. It’s not freedom to speak…unless it’s evil. In fact, the principle of free speech exists precisely to protect the unpopular and marginal viewpoints from being banned by the majority. Saying “ah, but racism really is evil and we as a society have decided to outlaw the expressing of such opinions by force”, is defeating the very principle upon which anyone is allowed to voice any opinion anyway! Tomorrow, it could be your opinion that clashes with that of the majority of society, and should you be silenced? So then, the only way to never have a clash of opinions and find yourself on the “wrong” side of the State is to conform to whatever the collective opinion is at the time. In the words of Bill Hicks: “you are FREE…to do as we tell you.” But since the collective opinions of a society at varying points in recent history have been xenophobic, homophobic, sexist and more – you’d be taking your chances even by being a sheep.

Look, this isn’t about racism. The issue is not whether racism is acceptable or not, or what “we” do about it – as if the State were a true reflection of the will of the people – as if such a collective entity existed in the first place. The matter at hand is: do we want a society with freedom of speech, or not? There are no half-measures. You can’t have it both ways. If speech should not be politically endorsed or condemned, and if force shouldn’t be used by the government against civilians for holding an unpopular opinion (whatever it is), then it is unconscionable to arrest someone for a racist remark. And yet here we are in the United Kingdom, where saying something offensive is a crime. But not just anything offensive: only particular speech is a crime (you can insult someone for being fat, but not of a different colour), which means the government makes a decision about what is acceptable speech (and conduct) and what isn’t. You might say “well I’m ok with that”, which is honest at least – but you’re a fascist.

Speech is a natural form of human expression. Human expression is a result of individual choices and motives. Choices are a product of thinking or believing. Thinking and believing are mental activities inextricable to human nature. Banning speech is like banning thought. That is why the State restricting speech is anti-human.

There is a great hypocrisy going on here though: an ounce of rationality will tell you that banning unpopular opinions (even morally reprehensible ones) doesn’t eliminate anything. All it does is leave the belief to fester, unspoken. People who are truly racist won’t be “cured” by being treated like criminals, they will just feel aggrieved and even more hostile. But the fascists who support banning “hate speech” don’t care about curing irrational ideas, they just care about not offending people – and that’s the critical issue. There are countless ways to offend someone and the people in charge of deciding what is acceptable or not are the same ones whose sole purpose in life is to curry favour by winning votes and appealing to the masses. Hardly a great combination.

The way to defeat an opinion is intellectually. Truly false beliefs of years past didn’t disappear because the government banned them, but because they were shown to be simply wrong. Racism should not be treated like a taboo, as something hush, hush “we don’t talk about”. It needs to be discussed openly and objectively to lay it to rest once and for all. Let the racist have his opinion…and then destroy it. If he continues to hold it, he’s declared himself to be foolish and irrational in front of the world, along with his opinions. If he changes his mind, the world has one fewer cretin and the case for the truth is made all the stronger.

I’ll give you another illustration based on a true story: someone I know is homophobic (actually due to their religion a lot of people I know are). Some of the opinions this person has stated have been anything from “it’s unnatural” to “it’s disgusting” to “I think they get bored with the opposite sex and go after the same sex” to “it’s a perversion” to “it’s a conscious choice.” Now, I know if people like this were put in a room with others and voiced these opinions they’d probably be shouted down. They might fall silent or feel oppressed. Imagine if they were imprisoned for their opinions! But they’d still hold them. But this could be an otherwise kind well-intentioned person labouring under a false belief (God knows there are plenty of them in the world). Similarly, in the past as well as today, there are those who genuinely believe that race is a factor with human intelligence, ability and morality. The Hitler Youth were shown “scientific proof” that blacks were inferior; what were they to believe? If you want to get rid of irrational and immoral ideas, do you merely silence them with a gun, or do you prove in front of the world exactly how and why they are wrong?

Where does curtailing free speech end? If the government gets to decide what is offensive “enough” to be banned, how long before any potential opinion or speech of yours crosses the line? Will you be able to insult anyone, for anything? What is an acceptable topic for humour? What about “racist” friendly banter? What if you voice an opinion about say, the Euro or inflation or taxation, and it’s deemed harmful to the common good? Some British citizens have already been told what flags they can or cannot display (on their own property!) in case it offends others. These issues aren’t new; they are as old as dirt: a government with the power to dictate lifestyles to its people will inevitably use that power to do just that. And it happens because the people let it, because they believe it’s well-intentioned.

Fascism is different in approach today than it was in the dictatorships of the 20th century. Fascism doesn’t come to you and say “don’t you think your speech and behaviour should be sacrificed to the collective good of society, with politicians deciding what is acceptable for you to say, or what food and drink you’re allowed to consume?” No, modern fascism, nicey-nice Left-wing fascism today says “don’t you hate racism? Isn’t it just bad? Don’t you think we as a society should take steps to get rid of it? Don’t you think the rightfully elected ruling body of a society should outlaw such behaviour?” It also says “isn’t alcohol bad for you? Don’t you hate the number of alcohol-related violent crimes? Aren’t saturated fats bad for you? Wouldn’t it be easier and safer if certain foods were just banned to save you having to decide for yourself? Don’t you think it’s only fair to tax the naughty food and drink more than the stuff we decide is ok?”

Forget the content of the words, look at it like this: a private citizen, using his own computer, to post his comments on another privately-owned website (however visible) to make bad words appear on the screens of other people – is officially a criminal, an enemy of the State. Now consider on principle: if the State can pass judgement on what’s acceptable or not on any private property but simply because it’s visible (popular with free admission doesn’t make it “public”), then where does the future of Facebook, Twitter, blogs and the entire internet lie? You don’t need to try hard to imagine, there is already a place today where freedom to say whatever we want with whomever we want is forbidden by law: Communist China.

Fantastic Voyage – Review [film]

About reviewing

Since this blog is about my opinions I recently realised that one area I haven’t really commented on much is entertainment media. This is because it’s really hard to say anything original; not least of all because someone working full time on this sort of thing already says it. It’s also because all I can do is give my opinion, which may or may do justice to the matter since I don’t claim to be an expert on, well anything. But at least I’m not afraid to voice my opinion, even if it’s unpopular.

See here goes with hopefully the first of many of my opinions on something that isn’t our fascist governments.

Overview of the film

Fantastic Voyage is a 1966 science fiction film and if you want any more general summations you can check out the Wikipedia page for it.

I remember seeing this film when I was very young, though I can’t remember exactly my age. At the time, I had no idea it was as old as it was. When I first saw it FV was already 20 years old, but in the 80s I really don’t think the special effects could be criticised too much. I was totally captivated and my imagination was inspired.

The film opens with CIA agent Grant, played by Stephen Boyd, disembarking a plane with an old guy. The old guy is Benes (pronounced Benesh) and Grant is delivering him back to the United States after getting the defector out from Soviet Russia – and who can blame anyone for wanting to leave there; it’s like Everton FC, only with Everton the torture only lasts 90 minutes and the occupants can at least remember being useful. Grant leaves Benes in the “safe” hands of fellow agents after a wordless man-hug initiated by the former. In the book based on this film a lot of backstory is given: Grant went to great personal risk (as per his job as a secret agent) to get Benes out from behind the Iron Curtain, and the two men exchange some words on the final flight into America, on board a plane so rickety and shed-like it will later be used as the blueprint for shuttles in Star Trek. Except this plane actually lands safely.

We soon see the CIA motorcade being ambushed by “the other side” who will be unnamed in the entire film, although there’s no doubt who the two Powers at work really are. The ambush is rather brief on screen and doesn’t really carry the sense of excitement or danger presented in the novel. In the novel one of the enemy agents happily sacrifices himself just to collide with one of the limousines, but in the film we see Benes bump his head and get escorted to another car which promptly speeds off.

As this point I should mention that the film is not based on the novel. The producers wanted to give the film some scientific credibility and approached the famous Isaac Asimov to write a novel based on the script. Asimov pointed out just how ridiculous the script was as regards scientific credibility and also some very reasonable plot holes, which we’ll get onto later. Asimov got permission to write his own take on the story which deviates from the film in some noticeable ways, especially towards the end. The book is only 186 pages long and I’d strongly recommend giving it a read. The chapters flow naturally and quickly into each other with each scene essential and fascinating, even minimalist to the exclusive of anything that doesn’t advance the plot.

Back to the movie and next up are the opening credits being typed over images of Benes in hospital being treated by doctors. The credits don’t have music, something I’ll comment on soon, but rather a series of sound effects to represent Benes’s vital signs and medical equipment at work, but they are presented in such a way as to almost be musical accompaniment, at the same time unnerving and tense.

Next, we are back in a limousine seeing Grant being escorted somewhere. He knows as much about it as we do. His escorts refuse to give him any details and finally the car stops in a back-alley and Grant is told to wait inside as the other men get out. Next moment the car sinks underground and comes to a stop as a guy in military police uniform pulls up in a buggy. Grant hops in and is driven around a bit. This scene establishes a huge underground government complex with hundreds of employees, and everywhere the initials CMDF are plastered. A General Carter finally meets Grant and explains that this organisation is the Combined Miniature Deterrent Forces, a super-secret organisation with a technology that can reduce any object, living or not, to any size. Grant naturally has a hard time believing this, but his doubt only lasts a few seconds as he can tell that Carter is dead serious.

“Consolidated Mobilisation of Deliquent Females” – Grant

Miniaturisation has featured in science fiction almost since the genre began. It’s a really interesting idea and also terrifying at the same time. If you actually think about what it would be like to be shrunk to such a size that the entire world you know changes, the rules go out the window – the entire universe that you evolved to deal with isn’t the same, and the challenges and enemies you face are of an order and nature that quite frankly are beyond what can be imagined, then you can see why sci-fi has gotten such good purchase out the idea. The problem is, like most science fiction, how do you present it in a realistic and plausible way, if you bother to do so? If it’s a film like Inner Space which isn’t really meant to be taken seriously then it doesn’t matter. But if you’re going to call your work science fiction, as opposed to fantasy, and want to have some suspense, it has to have some scientific credibility. For example in Star Trek they have “warp drive” because faster-than-light travel is impossible. That isn’t to say that you always have to explain everything. In Star Wars, technology is never explained, with the artefacts and spaceships just happening, like how your imaginary games as a child might work: million ton starships just float and weave across the planet without any apparent thrusters or engines, like gravity doesn’t apply to them. Tiny fighters cross hundreds of light-years by themselves. It doesn’t matter in Star Wars because, let’s face it, it’s just a fantasy drama which happens to be set in space. They don’t bother to explain anything because they don’t care and similarly we as the audience are told that it doesn’t matter. It’s just for fun. Star Trek always took itself far more seriously which turned out to be a curse just as much as a blessing.

In Fantastic Voyage (the film) the science behind miniaturisation isn’t explained, and I think it’s better off for it. In the book adaptation, Doctor Michaels explains that “hyperspace” can be manipulated (probably with frikkin “lasers”) and despite it seeming not to make sense, the maths works. In the book we are given about as much explanation as we need or could understand, just like our protagonist. In the film, because the story is a race against time, no scientific explanation is given and I don’t think it affects the movie. We are told it works and we see it happen, and that’s enough. Of course, if I was being totally critical, I don’t think it’s possible. At all. The idea of hyperspace, of another dimension being manipulated through the laws of physics to alter an object so that all its dimensions change, as if it were superimposed over this reality – is interesting. It’s like taking a photograph or hologram of something, shrinking it, then bringing it to life in its new form in this world. It’s still “itself” but in a different “phase” of reality if you will, co-existing with this one. At least that’s how I read the explanation in the book but I admit that was several Pinio Grigios ago.

Grant is taken to a briefing where we meet the rest of the cast. Obviously I’ve got to mention the magnificent Raquel Welch here. Her presence in this movie is so well known, despite being a caricature of fictional female helplessness, that a Google search for images of Fantastic Voyage yields, as the third choice, a picture of her sitting naked (alas cross-legged) in beauty makeup. Even the DVD copy I own has a thumbnail of her on the side, a large picture of her on the cover and even larger one on the back! I’m not complaining per se; she was a rather fine looking woman, and still is if you like that sort of thing, but the movie is not about her. It’s not even a tiny bit about her! The book does much more justice to the character of Cora Peterson, but even before Grant (and we) are introduced to her in the film, we have Doctor Reid complaining to the neurosurgeon Doctor Duval that “a woman has no place on a mission of this importance!” Ah, God bless the 60s.

A science fiction adventure drama coming soon to a cinema near you!

Captain Bill Owens is introduced as pilot of an experimental submarine (do you see where this is going?), and Doctor Michaels (played by the English Donald Pleasence – do you see where this is going?) starts the briefing. What we’ve already been told is that Benes has a clot in his brain and the only way to reach it is via the arterial system. Carter told Grant earlier that the plan is to shrink a submarine and surgical team to microscopic level and inject them into Benes’s body. Doctor Michaels now explains they’ll be injected into the carotid artery where they’ll make their way to the brain, dissolve the clot with a frikkin laser, and return via the venous system where they’ll be removed from the jugular vein. Simple as that, eh? They only have to: avoid turbulence, for example going through heart, avoid white cells, not get attacked by antibodies, and be out within 60 minutes or they’ll grow to normal size inside Benes.

Miss Cora Peterson, Doctor Duval’s assistance, is going along anyway because he said so. And because this movie has to live up to titillating trailer artwork.

Grant doesn’t really get the choice to back out or the chance to stop and think. The crew are ushered to the sterilisation section where we see them in skin-tight white swim suits, which are slightly more flattering on Raquel Welch than some of the male occupants.

The next scene shows up the vessel we’ll be making this adventure in: the Proteus, a small bubble-topped submarine sitting on what is either the floor section of the miniaturiser, or a prototype for the Blockbusters’s screen. Inside the sub, Captain Owens explains that the sub is powered by a microscopic radioactive particle, or rather it will be once it’s miniaturised. This particle will also allow them to be tracked from the outside.

Now the four-stage miniaturisation job begins. Some of these effects look dated, even today, and some of them are passable. I have mixed feelings about a modern remake of this film, but one of the massive pros in making a new version would be what special effects today could do with this concept. The thought of it really excites me, even if Ronald Emmerich directs it. My problem with “phase one” of the miniaturising is that we don’t get to see a lot of the shrinking. The normal-size ship begins to shrink, then the next time we see it it’s the size of a matchbox. It would’ve been nice to see more external shots. By comparison, in “phase four”, after the shrunken Proteus (about an inch in length) is put into a huge hypodermic which is then also shrunk, the exterior shot of the hypodermic is much finer and smoother and we have a good few seconds of seeing miniaturisation in action.

Finally the already tiny Proteus inside the container is reduced so that the huge hypodermic is now the size of a regular one, and the crew is informed that they “are at full reduction.” One of the interesting things in this film is that communication is only possible via wireless, and honestly I think it’s a superb touch. It really gives the sense of being out of touch with the real world and disconnected, with only Morse code tones for external help. In the book it’s explained that this is the only sort of communication that can cross the “miniaturisation gap”, and given that we’ve previously seen video calling in this film, I think it would’ve been worth mentioning here too.

The Proteus prepares for miniaturisation

Via some delicate contraption the hypodermic is taken to the operating room and injected into Benes’s neck. At over 36 minutes into the film we finally hear incidental music for the first time. Leonard Rosenman, who also scored Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, deliberately wrote no music for the film until this point, and it’s an unusual but highly effective choice. In my opinion the music for this film is perfect. It’s dramatic and often abrasive and from a modern perspective perhaps dated. If the film is (ever) greenlit to be recreated in the near future, I can’t imagine it having a score anything like this. But that doesn’t mean it’s corny, cheesy or old-fashioned. The score is one of suspense and threat all the way through. Even the main theme theme itself, heard for the first time as the crew enters the human body (all the time being one of wonder and awe), has an ominous undertone to it. Nothing about this film, which the music reflects so well, says “this is just an exciting trip! Let’s relax and enjoy it!” There isn’t a single relaxing moment in this adventure, to the credit of the film once it finally gets going after an admittedly slow start. The music mirrors this wonderfully in my opinion.

The Proteus crew encounters a seemingly endless sea of red with shapeless balloons streaming by. The effects are certainly a great attempt at presenting the human blood stream from within, albeit lacking in anything resembling reality. Asimov explains it best in the book where he says that if you were the size of a microbe, the walls of the artery would be miles off to your eyes, and the red blood cells (erythrocytes) would be huge compared to you. Also, it’s only oxygenated (or deoxygenated) erythrocytes that given blood its colour. The rest of the blood is made up of plasma, platelets and other types of cells. I’m not a doctor, despite what I told my first girlfriend, but if you were microscopic size I’d have thought the blood would actually be quite transparent given its straw colour. It’s not a problem for me as far as the story goes, but it’s one of those things I’d love to see remastered with modern day effects, not to improve the movie itself, but as a fan of science I like to see the universe presented to me in realistic ways. That is after all one of the reasons I loved this movie so much in my life and why I can keep coming back to watch it every few years – because the concept is great, and seeing the human body (which has always fascinated me) shown in this way should be awe-inspiring for anyone. To a modern audience this aspect of the film would certainly be lost, because our standards for what we accept of realism are so high that special effects have to be impeccable to fool our eyes, and even then the best CGI doesn’t always get it right.

A great effect

There is one effect I must mention; it’s so short but fantastic. As the Proteus is being injected into the carotid artery we see the ship hurtling towards the end of the syringe. It looks a vast distance off with only a red glow growing menacingly towards them. It’s cool. But as they pass into the bloodstream the Proteus emerges from the end of the syringe itself, and you can clearly see the shape of the needle and how it’s so wide compared to the Proteus. It’s a little shot but it really establishes how tiny they are.

There’s some dialogue where Doctor Duval waxes lyrically about the wonder of the human body and it’s clear he is a man of god. Michaels on the other hand, being a damn dirty atheist, merely points out that end-to-end the circulatory system is a hundred-thousand miles long. Grant just looks on like the dumb college football jock he’s initially made out to be in the novelisation.

Before long though there’s trouble a-brewing. Despite the woman not driving, the Proteus starts to veer towards the arterial wall and Owens reports that it’s unresponsive. It seems that damage to Benes caused the carotid artery and jugular vein in the neck together into something called a fistula. (I typed “fistula” into Google and…let’s just say that whilst what I got back was related to the human body, I don’t think it’s the cardiovascular anomaly the film writers had in mind…) The micro fistula caused a whirlpool in the bloodstream and the Proteus, having been sent out of control, smashes through the wall of the artery into the vein and can’t go back.

The mission is now in failure: they can’t go back into the artery and they can’t reach the clot from the venous system, and continuing on in the direction of the flow would take them to the superior vena cava which, as we all know, ends in the penis. But before then it goes through the heart, and that would smash the tiny Proteus in a million pieces.

This is where the first major plot hole appears: it’s never explained why, since they were planning to extract them from the jugular at the end of the mission anyway, they can’t just extract them now…and re-inject them into the carotid artery at a point beyond the fistula! It’s a shame this isn’t addressed in the film, or the book, because it’s so obvious a solution the story is weaker for failing to acknowledge it. If there were a particular reason why they had to be injected into a very particular place, fine. But that’s never stated. Absolutely no thought is given to taking them out and just putting them back in. It seems like a no-brainer to me. They should have said that the stress endured by the craft during, say, injection, is so great that it can’t be repeated due to micro-fractures in the hull, or something.

Anyway, since the scientific and medical geniusesss….genia…genies….people aren’t as smart as me we’re left with the only logical solution: stop Benes’s heart long enough for the Proteus to get through the right atrium, pass through the right ventricle and exit the semi-lunar valve. In true Hollywood style, the heart can only be stopped for exactly 60 seconds, but it will take 57 seconds for the Proteus’s dash, leaving only…three… seconds to revive Benes. These scenes are well done. The music is gripping as the technical staff in CMDF witness the ship moving closer, ever closer, to the heart itself. Perhaps what works for me in this movie, and of course this is just my opinion, is that the human body, our body, our ally – is actually the nemesis. We get to see just how inhospitable the human body is for something that doesn’t belong in it (well, not without a lot of lube anyway). The Proteus has become the bacteria that doesn’t belong and is afforded no special dispensation by a mindless environment that’s spent millions of years adapting itself to kill such things.

In Soviet CMDF, heart stops you!

They enter the valve and the heart just dies in the arms tonight. Painfully slowly, the Proteus glides through the huge chambers as the seconds tick away all too quickly. They approach the frozen semi-lunar valve and the Proteus speeds towards the huge gaping hole, (reminiscent of some of the images I got back from my Google “fistula” search.)

In the longest three seconds of movie history, Benes’s heart is revived in time and the Proteus, now in the pulmonary artery, continues on its way to the lungs. The arterial channel becomes narrower as they enter a capillary, one of the millions which pass within diffusion distance of the alveoli. Sure enough, before their very eyes, the deoxygenated erythrocytes (all cells in this film are called corpuscles) change from blue to red. This is a bit of a Hollywood touch keeping in line with the popular (though incorrect) notion that deoxygenated blood is blue and oxygenated is red. Of course, the former is simply a dark red and the latter scarlet.

Dr. Duval calls cell oxygenation one of the miracles of the universe, to which the unimpressed atheist Michaels retorts that’s it hardly a miracle and just “a simply exchange of gases…the end result of 400 million years of evolution.” I can get the film-makers wanting to stress the point that Michaels is an atheist and doesn’t buy Duval’s superstitious ramblings, but did they have to make him such a bore? I mean, atheist or not, you’re inside the human body seeing cellular oxygenation in action! Duval incredulously replies “you can’t believe that all that is accidental? That there isn’t a creative intelligence at work?” I was a Christian growing up and evolution was synonymous with “spawn of the devil” to me. It was so counter-intuitive I couldn’t believe how anyone, save through an act of sheer will, could bring themselves to believe that the incredible complexity in life was accidental, and how it all just works despite a billion intricacies. I admit, it is almost unfathomable to the ignorant. Now, the human body is an incredible machine, but it’s far from perfect. If I were omnipotent and omniscient, the human body would not be the apex of my creative ability, at least not on the inside anyway… For all the misconceptions and apparent inplausibilities, evolution of man is a fact as undeniable as heliocentrism or gravity. You can say that God got the ball rolling if you want, but it’s really impossible to argue for divine guidance given the fact of common descent and so many obvious design flaws in the human body.

Unfortunately Dr. Michaels doesn’t get to give us his response, as a warning alarm on the sub goes off. Captain Owens informs the crew that air pressure in the tanks is dropping, which Grant confirms. In the novelisation it was the breathable air the crew is losing but in the movie their breathable air isn’t the problem but presumably the air pressure to maintain ballast. Grant suggests that since they are so close to the lungs they use a snorkel to absorb air and replenish their supply. It’s dangerous but they have no choice. Because of the risk of missing the mark and exploding the tanks, Owens suggests everyone leaves the sub but him, leading to a slightly extended shot of Miss Peterson unzipping her onesie.

Before this however, as they prepare to depart, Grant notices the laser detached from its stand, partially unfastened, and obviously jarred by the action of the whirlpool. Cora swears she tied it down securely but Michaels and Grant exchange dubious looks.

Deep breath…

Back to the air refuel job, and Asimov noticed the problem with this story element immediately: the air molecules in the alveoli are normal size – there is no way the miniaturised crew could breathe them. In the same way the ballast wouldn’t work either, if they could even get the huge molecules into the tanks in the first place. Asimov got around this by having a tiny miniaturiser on board the sub to shrink the air as it entered the snorkel, but in the film this whole aspect is ignored.

Unable to get a stable footing from the capillary side of the alveoli wall, Grant enters the air chamber itself with a safety line tied to the sub by Duval. But just as the Proteus’s tanks achieve capacity the safety line suddenly snaps and Grant is sent hurtling off out of sight. During the breathing lull he finally comes to rest on the floor of the alveolus and quickly scrambles his way back out. The alveolus is obviously a set, but it’s done quite well. No one knows what one looks like from the inside anyway but they imagine it well.

In the CMDF control room, Carter and Reid note the delay near the lungs and the passage of time. Grant was in too much of a rush to inform them via wireless but he does so now, then we get a shot of the Proteus cruising through a long, wide and shallow space of vivid colours – the pleural cavity. They’re now between the lungs and the wall of the chest.

Duval examines the laser and determines that it’s irreparable due to a broken trigger wire, but Grant suggests that they can cannibalise the wireless for the replacement wire (somewhat ironic). Of course, this will put them out of contact with the control tower, though they’ll still be traceable due to the radioactive fuel. As Duval observes, it’s either the wireless or Benes’s life. It’s not pleasant, but the choice seems clear.

“Is this your hair?”

As Duval and Cora get to work on the laser, Grant intimates to Dr. Michaels that there must be a saboteur onboard: the laser mysteriously unfastening itself and Grant’s safety line snapping all by itself. The logical choice is Duval but Dr. Michaels, despite their personal disagreements, believes that although Duval is “under a cloud” he is also dedicated to his profession. The conversation ends with Michaels essentially talking Grant down, and Owens shouts down from the bubble that the sub is approaching something. Michaels explains it’s reticular fibres lining a lymphatic duct. Grant, as it happens, has never heard of any other system apart from the circulatory system (which he takes to be the blood), although the lymphatic system is a part of the circulatory system.

They enter the lymphatic node, one of many situated in specific areas of the human body most noticeably under the jaw, armpits and the groin area. In what is apparently a redress of the heart set only with giant strings of snot, the Proteus makes its way through the node. (Funnily enough, as a kid I misheard “node” as “nose” and though the reticular fibres in this scene were actually huge snot strings.)  The Proteus starts to receive several bumps now due to turbulence from outside. Grant opines that “it’s like someone’s declared war” to which Michaels responds “that’s exactly what it is”; the lymphatic system is a vital part of the immune response and outside the Proteus antibodies are swarming over bacteria or any invader to the system. The effects here aren’t great, but it was the 60s. Having said that, despite being inaccurate they illustrate how antibodies essentially work: locking onto receptor patterns (antigens) of foreign objects and inhibiting vital functions or, if there are enough antibodies, essentially crushing them. This is a nice bit of foreshadowing and explanation which occurs naturally in the story. It will pay off soon.

Owens observes that the reticular fibres, as well as slowing them down, might clog the intake vents of the sub and render it immobile. Either way, the trip is taking too long and Duval says they’ll never make it to the clot as this rate. Grant asks if there’s an alternative route but Michaels immediately dismisses the suggestion. Duval insists that there is though: they can head to the inner ear and from there make their way to the injury site. Sounds simple enough, but Michaels explains that whilst in the ear any noise from the outside world would have a disastrous effect on them, possible destructive and fatal. They can’t inform the control tower of their intentions but the outside operatives should notice immediately the change of direction and act accordingly.

As it happens, in the control tower news of the change of course comes through and far from being surprised it seems the crew have already figured out the Proteus couldn’t make it in time and that the inner ear was their only chance. Reid heads to the intercom and announces to the operating theatre that absolute silence must be maintained whilst the Proteus is in the ear.

The eerie and otherwordly inner ear.

Another establishing shot as the Proteus floats through the inner ear, and again it’s a well-designed and realistic set. Some obvious re-uses aside, the producers do a good job making each area unlike any other. The lighting here is reduced and the area dark with lovely colours. Unfortunately, no sooner is the Proteus halfway through than it starts to drop slowly to the surface below. Sure enough, as Owens informs the crew, those reticular fibres have indeed clogged the vents and propulsion is impossible. Grant does the only thing he can do: put on a suit and try to unclog the vents.

In the operating theatre outside, the medical staff stand quietly and the CMDF control tower can only watch as the blip representing the Proteus on their tracking screens remains motionless.

It finally dawns on the rest of the Proteus crew that it would be faster if they all got off their asses and helped Grant, so they do – all except Duval who wants to remain behind to fix the laser, a statement that elicits a brief but very suspicious scowl from Dr. Michaels.

The tension here is good. We cut back and forth behind the inner ear, quiet and peaceful as the crew very slowly manage to unclog the vents, and the operating theatre. It’s getting anxious outside though, and the chief attending’s forehead is covered in sweat. Seeing this, one of the nurses (one with a vagina of course) gently picks up a towel from the nearby table, dragging a pair of scissors with it, which promptly drop to the floor in a loud clatter…

In the ear the world is turned upside down. The Proteus lurches up and down, side to side, and the crew are sent flying off in different directions. Cora is sent hurtling down towards Hensen’s Cells where she gets entwined in fibres. The vibrations finally abate and Michaels warns Grant that Cora is damaging the fibres and will be considered a threat by antibodies. They start out after her but the pressure is too great for Michaels who has to turn back. Being a frogman Grant carries on and reaches the panicking Cora who is well aware of the danger she’s in. Grant frees her and they start back to the Proteus just as antibodies show up.

“HEATHCLIFF!”

In a sequence which gives me scientific misgivings, the antibodies follow the trail and chase the two humans back to the sub, but the hatch takes time to open during which the antibodies attack Cora and begin to bind to her. (Who can blame them?)  Grant gets her inside the hatch but she is being choked and can’t breathe. The half-empty hatch is opened anyway as the other men pull her out, lay her down on the floor and start frantically grasping at her skin-tight suit to rip off the antibodies. The “crystallised” antibodies are ripped off and Cora is ok. This is another exciting scene and it’s well done, but I’m not sure how accurate it is: antibodies are nothing more than protein chains and I don’t think they could bind to the shape of the human body, at least not in the way they attach themselves to bacteria. And although they can “tag” a body for immune response once it’s been identified as hostile, I don’t think it works with them literally following the “scent” like hunter-killers shown here. It’s probably not realistic but it is good drama. (Interestingly, the actors ripping the antibodies off Racquel Welch were so concerned with being chivalrous and respecting her body that they avoided her breasts. In the end they had to be ordered to ignore their manners for the shot!)

With 8 minutes remaining the sub eventually leaves the inner ear and is on final approach to the brain. Reid informs the operating personnel that all is clear and they brief a huge collective sigh of relief, with the clumsy nurse remarking “I almost died when the scissors dropped”, to which Reid puts his cigar to his mouth and gives a small fond smile. It’s only a little thing and it’s very underplayed but it adds character. If this was a modern Hollywood movie he’d make some cheesy punch line with the camera obviously framed to tell us “this is funny”, since modern movies find it hard to go even five minutes without destroying their own mood and tension with dreadful comic relief. Fantastic Voyage is not a comedy and it’s not played like a comedy – there are no “light relief” scenes to give the audience a chance to relax between action. There are lulls between the action but the tension is never released throughout the hour and this adds to the oppressive tone of the movie. It’s quite literally one crisis after another and despite some plot holes and scientific inaccuracies, the effects and disasters contribute logically to the story.

In what is undoubtedly a re-use of the pleural cavity and lymphatic duct passage, the outside of the Proteus now shows a long channel lined with black narrow threads, unmistakably nerves, leading to the brain. In the distance is a mass of nerves lining an opening or nexus of sorts, no doubt the entrance to the brain itself. I think this is supposed to be the subarachnoid cavity. The reason I like this is because despite the obvious effort to dress this effect up as the passage to the brain, it’s just in the background outside the window. It’s understated, because the effects (despite being a massive selling point for the film at the time) are only there to further the story, not the other way around. Do you hear that, George?

The only glitch here is that as the conversation continues before the window the entrance to the brain looms ever closer, until one close-up of Grant produces a continuity error of the sub being almost at the end of the channel, and right back at the start of it. Blame the editor.

The conversation going on here is whether Duval should test the laser before they reach the clot, since repairs are finished. Michaels insists that Duval test the laser before they waste their precious last few minutes getting to the clot, unloading, only to discover that it doesn’t work. The counter-argument from Duval is that he’s done all he can to fix it; if it doesn’t work there’s nothing he can do anyway, but if it does work there’s no way to know how long it will last, so every last joule of energy should be saved, which means testing it is wasteful. Both men make good arguments, and if I was on the crew I’d be highly tempted to side with Michaels since about now I’d be really panicking as the seconds tick by in this very dangerous confined space. But since there is still time left to perform the operation, even if the laser fails, Duval’s case is the stronger. Michaels and him end the argument quite heatedly with Michaels stating that as usual Duval just wants his own way.

Grey matter

Grant eyes them both curiously as we cut to the control tower where Reid remarks “just imagine, they’re in the human mind”, and the anatomical display in the background with the Proteus marked as entering the brain transitions to another establishing shot: the sub gliding through a dark region lined with what look like cobwebs, across which spots of light flash and jump. I really like this set too, because it’s probably the best that could’ve been done at the time. Another thing I like about this, and it’s true of almost all the sets actually, is that the blocking and camera work suggests vastness; you can’t really see a wall or edge to the environment which, at the Proteus’s scale, is how it would be. In the distance Duval points out the clot, the area of damage, a large black area which looks quite spooky. As Duval and Cora prepare to leave, Michaels says they can’t possibly operate and get out before time’s up, and instructs Owens to head to the removal point. Only six minutes remain, but it will take two to get to the removal point. Michaels warns that if they overstay they will deminiaturise in moments, growing large enough to endanger the brain after which white cells will destroy them. Owens continues the order to leave but Grant cuts his power and the Proteus slowly drops to the surface as the music ominously grows. Grant whispers “Dr. Duval, get the laser”, who doesn’t need telling twice. Michaels argues with Grant even as Duval and Cora leave the sub. Michaels flames at Grant, apparently having suddenly changed his mind about Duval, declaring him “an assassin, whose only motive is to kill Benes, and now you’ve made that possible.” Grant refutes this though, saying that he’s faced assassins before and Duval doesn’t fit the bill. He announces to Owens that he’s going to try and help the two surgeons and leaves the sub, leaving Michaels to quietly fume.

At the clot the laser works, and Duval starts to delicately slice away damaged tissue to relieve the pressure on the nerve. The operation goes well but time is ever running out. Back on board the Proteus doctor Michaels calls Owens’ attention to the escape hatch: fluid is leaking in. Owens comes to take a look but gets a spanner in the head for his troubles. Michaels was the saboteur all along! (He’s the English guy, how did you not see it coming?) He scrambles up to the bubble after restoring the power and starts the sub’s engine, speeding right for the nerve!

At the nerve, with the operation finished, the three look back and see the Proteus speeding towards them. This is another great model shot which captures distance and scale without limiting the environment in any way. Grant takes the laser from Duval and asks for full power as he fires at the Proteus and rips a hole along her hull. Out of the control the sub crashes into a nearby mass of (presumably) synapses and dendrites. It’d be hilarious is if this caused brain damage to Benes requiring another operation…

In the distance, white cells are spotted and Grant enters the hole in Proteus to rescue Michaels and Owens. In the ship the conscious Owens tells Grant what happened but the crash has jammed Michaels’s hands in the steering gear. Overhead through the glass dome a white cell slowly looms down on the Proteus, as Donald Pleasance really nails the panic and horror of a trapped man who knows he’s about to be slowly eaten. The white cell smashes through the glass and envelopes him. (The white cell covering Michaels’s head here were achieved essentially by soap-suds, and Donald Pleasance’s screams here are quite genuine!)

Pleasence nails this terrifying moment

Grant and Owens exit the Proteus and join Duval and Cora as the Proteus is ingested. A couple of final shots from the laser kills one white cell, but the laser is fried…so Duval just throws it aside. Remember that for later…

Grant asks “you said there was a quick way out?” Actually, no one said there was a quick way out. Grant earlier asked “is there a quick way out?” but doesn’t get a reply as Cora points out the white cells. It’s a tiny glitch but I always noticed it. Duval does confirm that there is though: “we can follow the optic nerve to the corner of the eye.” And so they do, the music builds to a crescendo and we cut to the control room as the timer turns to zero. Time up. Game over, apparently. Carter says to Reid that they’ll have to remove them even though it means killing Benes. Reid proceeds to the operating theatre and orders the physicians to remove the Proteus immediately, and an emergency trepanation is about to be started until Carter suddenly commands them to stop. He reasons to Reid, in a wonderfully whispered and chilling manner, that if he was running out of time in there he’d abandon ship and get out the fastest possible way. Reid pieces it together for himself: the eye! He races to the operating theatre…

“Light impulses, on the way to the brain…we’re nearing the eye…”

Meanwhile the three men and Raquel Welch are still swimming towards the eye. This is another scene well done; the music captures the other-worldliness wonderfully and the eerie score and sound effects reflect the organic environment they so desperately need to escape. They reach the eye and in another nicely understated scene we see them scrambling through an opening onto the roof of the eyeball; the effect is only about two seconds long but very realistic. It’s another example of how bigger and longer is not necessarily better.

In the operating theatre, Reid uses a super magnifying glass and sees four people in a drop of water. (And slowly, and surely, he draws his plans against them.) He calls for a glass slide and scoops them up. Despite the fact they’ve been growing all this time they are still not visible to the naked eye and this unspoken point proves (to me anyway) just how tiny they really have been. Reid carefully places the glass slide on the floor of the miniaturising chamber seen early and the music hangs on a note of suspense one last time…and then totally changes; for the first time in the entire film it now turns to one of hope and relief, and our protagonists become visible again. As Reid and the command staff watch on, four tiny people take form and revert to normal size. A silent nod from Reid to Carter is enough to convey the emotion of the moment between two military professionals. (Again, if this were remade today, Carter and Reid would be 30-something Calvin Klein models high-fiving each other and making inappropriate corny jokes to break up all the boring science stuff.)

I think you’ve got something in your eye…

An overhead shot of the four survivors ends the film as they’re joined by operations personnel and doctors all wanting to congratulate them on their fantastic voyage and safe return.

Unfortunately, everyone forgot about the injected saline from the original syringe, the discarded laser and oh yes, the frakking submarine which all remained inside Benes and would revert to normal size too, resulting, in Doctor Kelso’s words, of “a nasty case of…death”. Some claim that because the Proteus was digested, it was destroyed, and therefore wouldn’t revert to normal size. This is…err, wrong, to be polite. The ship was ingested, but the molecules and atoms that constituted it were miniaturised – they didn’t cease to exist. Given the whole premise of the film was the crew having 60 minutes, no longer, before they regrew, this is pretty glaring oversight. In his novel, Asimov got around this by having the crew tempt the white cell (which ingested the Proteus) into following them out through the eye too. Also, the physicians used as little saline as possible for the initial injection.

As regards the characters, none of them are particularly fleshed out but this is an adventure movie not a character-driven plot. With so little time and so much to get through, the film can’t afford divergences to let us see the mind and soul of Grant or Cora. The film also never explains why Michaels is the bad guy either. Again, in Asimov’s short version the characters are brought to life a lot better (albeit the dialogue is clunky) with Cora initially viewing Grant as just a dumb muscle man but coming to see that he has a brain indeed, is a good leader, and is obviously grateful for him saving her life a few times. Grant’s attraction to her is written with all the subtlety of a hammer in truth, and the men find it incredulous that a girl can be incredibly clever and also beautiful… “Instead of working as protégé for the best neurosurgeon on the planet, shouldn’t you be doing something worthwhile with your life and making the most of your important features, the physical ones of course – by, say, being a super-model or porn star?!” If this were a character arc like Battlestar Galactica, or a human story with a message which happens to have action, like Star Trek II, I’d criticise it. But it’s not.

De-miniaturisation

Review: I try to be as objective as possible, but the truth is this was an all-time classic for me and a favourite ever since I can remember. For that reason, it’s hard to not inject a bit of fondness into a review, whereas someone else might watch this and think “you can see the strings on the antibodies! That’s crap!” and promptly go back to watching Big Brother.

As far as the story goes, apart from the obvious plot holes it’s a really tight script, with the only question marks over the pacing at the start – and some of the scene transitions feel dated. Some of the special effects are clearly lacking by today’s standards but many of the sets also stand up quite well. The attention to detail is definitely there, for the most part. The film also doesn’t ram medical jargon down our throats but says what needs to be said as if professionals were saying it. It also does a pretty good job getting all the necessary information to the viewer without bad exposition. The sexism of the time is pretty evident, with the lady needing to be rescued a few times and it being the woman to drop the scissors on the floor, and Reid even saying that because this mission is so important we don’t need a woman on board, someone who’ll probably just menstruate all over the sub anyway.

The plot holes and dated attitude to women drop the score a little, but I’ll judge every work of art against what it’s claiming to be. This was a huge blockbuster which took years to make, had some big names stars, and took itself seriously as a science fiction adventure thriller. It was incredibly ambitious, and most of the elements come together superbly. The problem for the writers was that the concept of miniaturisation is so hard to translate into true sci-fi because the rules of physics themselves stand in the way – there are literally too many problems to overcome so you either: a. forget the idea, b. scientifically rationalise every single thing even if only on a very hypothetical level, or c. do what you can do to make a good movie and ignore the rest. I think the FV producers chose c and succeeded.

I’m tempted to be more generous with one of my favourites, but it has some tough competition in the sci-fi/fantasy genre. I’m going to give it 8/10. A true classic. I only hope that any modern remakes do the original justice.

Final score

Cheating and hypocrisy in football

Did he dive? Didn’t he dive? Did he exaggerate a tackle? Was it inside the box or not? Did he use his hands deliberately to control the ball? Do two wrongs make a right?

Football is rife with cheating. But the worst part is that almost everyone involved in the game is either deluded or a hypocrite.

To take just one recent example: the weekend before last Liverpool played Arsenal at Anfield. Luis Saurez, not exactly everyone’s favourite player at the moment, skipped through several Arsenal challenges in the penalty box and dramatically tripped over Czechny the Arsenal goalkeeper. The referee awarded a penalty. Replays showed barely any contact, yet Suarez went down theatrically as if shot in the back. Subsequent replays however showed that there was contact, and thereby by the letter of the law it was indeed a penalty. (Indeed, there doesn’t have to be contact for a penalty to be correctly given, but that’s off-topic). Incidentally, a friend of mine made the point that Suarez was looking for the dive and was on his way to ground anyway, before contact was made. The contact made it a penalty, but it was already a dive. It’s hard to disagree with this argument.

The Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger recently criticised Suarez, saying “It was no penalty. Nobody touched him”, despite contact having occurred. He added “then when they roll down the sock, take the shin pad out like he has been kicked like mad. It is a bit overboard. We don’t need that.” What Wenger means here is that exaggerating a tackle (or lack thereof) to con the referee into punishing an opponent more than they otherwise would (or deserve) is a form of cheating and is therefore wrong. I totally agree. However, this would be far less hypocritical coming from a manager whose teams historically haven’t had the constitution and integrity of wet paper bags. In the same game, every slight Liverpool touch was met with dramatic collapses from Arsenal players, lying on the ground in agony, taking ages to recover from the horrendous aggressive assault on their person…for about 10 seconds after which a miraculously recovery was made. (The only actual harm caused in that game was by an accidental collision between Henderson and Arteta, the latter needing to be stretchered off…because that’s what real physical harm causes.) Surely a dive is a dive, no matter where it happens on the pitch?

Now, I’m not criticising Arsenal here particularly, and I’m not defending Luis Suarez, what I’m saying is that pretending to fake reality to gain an advantage is cheating. Trying to circumvent the rules of the game to gain an advantage is cheating. To take another example which also happens to involve Arsenal (but only because they’re the most recent ones I’ve seen do it): last night’s game against Newcastle saw Arteta take several corners when the ball was quite clearly and deliberately not inside the quadrant. This is an invalid corner and an attempt (albeit a pathetic one) to gain some distance on the set piece. This is cheating! And if you say “there’s a bit of a difference between trying to sneak a foot on a corner and diving in the box to win a penalty” then I’m sorry but you’ve missed the point. Please, tell me which forms of cheating are acceptable or not? Or do we shrug and say “that’s life” or “everyone does it” when it happens in our favour? Who am I kidding – that’s exactly what happens in football! It’s funny how every football manager is a bastion of truth and integrity when his team have been hurt due to cheating, but it’s “I didn’t see it” when it goes in their favour. Worse, they’ll just side with the player despite the cheating, as if it’s just a matter of subjective opinion anyway.

Trying to sneak extra distance on a free kick? Trying to sneak closer than 10 yards to the taker before the whistle has gone? Pulling an attacker down to prefer the red card over a certain goal? Taking the corner outside the quadrant? Pretending to be injured or have been touched in a manner that didn’t happen (inside or outside the box)? Deliberate hand-ball? Kicking the ball away to waste time? Taking advantage of the clock and certain rules (i.e. the goal kick) to waste time? Why is any one of these more acceptable than another?

Again, I’m not defending anyone or singling anyone out for criticism here, because almost everyone involved in football is a hypocrite, prepared to look the other way or sneak any advantage when the ref isn’t looking, protecting their cheats one week whilst criticising the enemy’s the week after. Whatever we’d like to think about cheating or what should be done about it, it happens. Perhaps there are varying degrees, but it’s still cheating. If you really want to stamp it out, start with the only actions you can actually control: those of yourself and your own club. Otherwise, shut up and stop being a hypocrite.

Suarez v Evra / Racism in football / Free Speech

I’m going to give my opinion on the recent Suarez/Evra racial abuse incident, racism in general and where freedom of speech and the law should come into it.

What happened between Suarez and Evra?

I’m going to assume the reader is fairly familiar with the situation, but to summarise: Luis Suarez, a Liverpool player, allegedly racially insulted Manchester United’s Patrice Evra. I say ‘allegedly’, because I think we will never know for sure what was said between the two, but having read the evidence presented to the panel and their judgement, I will say that it is hard to defend Suarez. My opinion from the start in this has simply been that a man is innocent until proven guilty. The question for me wasn’t really if Suarez is a racist or not, but whether it could be reasonably proven, since otherwise it’s one man’s word against another, something we don’t usually accept as damning evidence. I think Liverpool FC reacted so strongly to the affair because they felt a miscarriage of justice had occurred. I also felt there was a witch-hunt going on; the perfect chance for the politically-inclined to curry some favour by jumping on the anti-racist bandwagon. Whilst I still believe this, I think it’s hard to defend Suarez.

What I will say is that, ironically, if Suarez completely denied using any racial words at all, he might’ve been acquitted. He admitted using the words but denied there was racist intent. I’m not saying this excuses Suarez, but it does make the incident seem less clear-cut which probably made his supporters feel justified in defending him at first.

The handshake

On Saturday 11th February, Liverpool faced Man Utd at their ground in a League game. By an astonishing coincidence, Sky decided to switch their pre-kickoff advert run to much earlier, before the players even lined up in the tunnel (usually the players walk onto the pinch and Sky cut to commercial for several minutes, then return for the kick-off proper), which meant that the line-up and handshake could be televised live. There are some who suggest that Evra half-heartedly offered his hand or even slightly pulled it away as Suarez approached. This may be true or it might be clutching at straws. Personally, I don’t buy it: his hand is out. In contrast, Suarez made no attempt at all to shake hands with Evra and instead blanked him, continuing down the line. Evra reacted angrily, grabbing Suarez’s arm. Suarez pulled his arm free and continued on.

Now there are two ways to take this: if Suarez is innocent and was convicted on the word of another man and the reasonable certainty of a judiciary panel, his reputation has been tarnished forever. As long as he lives, wherever he plays, he will have the term “racist” hanging over him. If this was me, and I was innocent, I’d have blanked Evra too. Contrastingly, if Suarez was guilty and I was Evra, I would not shake his hand at all! I cannot understand why Evra offered his hand. If he is the victim, the innocent one, then the racist filth of another person isn’t something you should forgive and forget. Suarez should’ve been the one to offer his hand (if guilty) and Evra would’ve been fully justified in ignoring it, given that, remember: Suarez denied the charge of using racist insults, so if he’s guilty it makes him a liar on top of a racist. At the time of the handshake I was actually biased toward Suarez given how the situation played out. What I mean is, if I was one of the parties concerned, it would’ve made more sense for Suarez to not be guilty and snub Evra, than for the innocent Evra to offer his hand and then get so riled up when it was refused.

What I disliked about Evra’s reaction (and I will assume he is in the right), is that if he wanted to be the “bigger man” and offer his hand, why did he then completely lose his temper? Wouldn’t a “bigger man” have given a wry smile or shrug, and simply think “to hell with him!” with all the cameras watching? That would’ve made a bigger impression, in my opinion. His reaction, coupled with his red-mist charge into Suarez which ended up only taking out teammate Ferdinand, and his excessive post-match victory dance appeared to me, not as a man celebrating a football result nor a man celebrating a judicial verdict, but a man whose pride had been wounded and wanted to get even. Again, I could be wrong (and given the evidence I probably am), but that’s how it could look. Having said that, after months of repressed emotion and winning an important game against a fierce rival where a racist abuser tried to embarrass me in public, I might be tempted into a bit of self-righteous gloating myself, understandably.

My personal opinion is that the evidence against Suarez was satisfactory for the verdict. I personally don’t believe Evra should have offered his hand, but it was his choice and he did it. But I also think that, even for an innocent man, his reaction at the end of the game, waving his arms in circles and skipping along the touchline to his fans, inciting their anti-Liverpool venom all the more, and trying to provoke or belittle Suarez, was irresponsible. He is supposed to be a Manchester United captain. Manchester United has been the biggest team in the world for decades, and is arguably only eclipsed in its success and attractive football by Barcelona and Real Madrid – and is this the guy Man Utd fans want as their leader, their talisman, their representative on the pitch? I’m not equating his antics with Suarez’s racism and if he wasn’t the captain I’d be inclined to ignore it, but surely it was out of order and grossly unprofessional?

Speaking of which, if Suarez led his colleagues and superiors to believe he would shake Evra’s hand (which it seems he did) and then refused to – he put them in an unfair and uncomfortable situation and deserves to be punished. It was sly and dishonourable behaviour and he let himself and everyone connected to Liverpool down. He has subsequently apologised for this.

But what I have to point out is the hypocrisy of Sky: despite the presenter, pundits and commentators insisting that “we” talk about football, they did a damn fine job of talking about everything but the football. As I previously said, Sky switched their pre-match commercials to make sure they covered the handshake. They extended the post-match section of their coverage, no doubt anticipating having much to discuss. The post-match interviews glossed over the actual football so we could get to the really juicy stuff.

Reaction

Of course, everyone had an opinion on the incident. Some Liverpool fans fiercely supported Suarez to the death, simply because he is a Liverpool player. Some Manchester United fans had similar support for Evra. Extreme opinions were voiced on both sides, with many clambering to assert what Suarez should or shouldn’t have done and how he should be punished further. (Personally I think that the pre-match handshake in all football games is a farce; another example of bureaucracies having too much time on their hands to invent silly little rituals instead of being an administrative body and nothing else.)

I will always give my honest opinion and be as objective as possible: for a start, I totally reject the suggestion that footballers are responsible for the behaviour of fans, with one exception: encouraging a frenzy by running to the crowd. A hero scoring a goal and running to fans causes them to naturally rush to meet him, which is dangerous. Players are rightly booked for this. This has absolutely nothing to do with referees being “spoil sports” or politically correct or some health and safety nonsense. We have seen the injury and death that can be caused at football matches from stampedes, and they can be caused by anything from gross police negligence to something as innocent as goal scoring. That aside, if you’re a Liverpool fan who sees Evra’s post-match reaction and it enrages you so much that you find the nearest Man Utd fan and hurl a brick at him, the responsibility for that action is as follows: Evra: 0%, You: 100%. Similarly, if you’re a Man Utd fan who is incensed by Suarez’s refusal to shake Evra’s hand, you cannot use this as an excuse for beating up some Liverpool fans. Crimes are not morally transferable, and only in rare and mitigating circumstances are the motives for crimes balanced against the action. Sir Alex Ferguson said that Suarez was a disgrace and “could have caused a riot today.” Well I’m sorry, Alex, you might be right about the “disgrace” part but since when was one man morally accountable for the decisions of another? No, this piece of nonsense needs to go from football and society: you cannot use other people as excuses for your idiotic violence. We don’t accept “he made me hit him!” in the school-ground or from our children, so why is it ok for grown adults in the society to try the same?

Sir Alex Ferguson said that Suarez shouldn’t be allowed to play for Liverpool again, presumably meaning that LFC should eject him. Now, whilst I agree that a club should be picky about the character of player who wears their shirt, the simple fact is: most clubs don’t give a damn who or what a footballer is, only that he makes them successful, so it’s a little odd to start getting morally uppity now, even in the face of racism. It also exposes you to counter-assertions of hypocrisy. Let’s remember that two Manchester United captains in the last 20 years have: performed flying kicks into the necks of opposing spectators and deliberately set out to cause harm to opposing players. Roy Keane’s assault on Alfe-Inge Haaland was as premeditated and vicious an attack as you could see on a football pitch. Off the pitch, this would be treated as grievous bodily harm, carrying a fine and probable jail term. In a civilised society, we allow offensive speech and ban violence, because the former doesn’t violate anyone’s Rights and the latter does. In football, it seems to work the other way around: initiating violence against someone carries a 5 match ban; a racist slur incurs 8. Imagine if the law in everyday life worked this way! Some might say that violence is violence and happens in life but racism is a social evil that should be eliminated. Well this is my opinion: both are evil but violence is socially worse. Why? Evil opinions can (and should) be legally permitted because they can be defeated by reason and non-violent means. Violence can never be legally permitted because it destroys reason, can only be stopped by more physical force, and invariably leads to more violence. I’ll go into this in more detail later, but if you disagree, think about this: would you rather someone approach you on the street and insult you, or break your legs?

On the subject of players representing a club, in football “we” seem to allow: violence, cheating, name-calling, unsporting behaviour and sociopaths, but a racist slur should be grounds for immediate dismissal? And I am not claiming that they are one and the same or morally equal, but let’s be clear what we’re talking about here: there are a great number of disgraceful things that football clubs happily turn a blind eye to. And if you think that a racist insult is necessarily worse than trying to hurt another human being, you should be prepared to fully justify that position, if you can.

The Government and Free Speech

The PFA Executive Gordon Taylor said “the situation is running away with us and this isn’t healthy for football, particularly with the government looking into the governance of football”, which probably explains why so many people in positions of power are worried about the situation. What no one is asking is why the government is poking its nose into the administration of a sport!  Don’t our politicians have anything better to do? I would think economic crisis and national security should be enough to be getting on with, but if they’re that bored I encourage them to please consider getting a proper job. If I were Taylor I’d politely tell the government to mind its own damn business, but that  might affect all the State parties and gatherings that FA executives and footballers get invited to huh?

The racism in football issue is another excuse for the government to extend its power over free speech. There are some well-intentioned individuals whose natural reaction to racism is to call for more laws and government action. You are not helping anyone. Before anyone objects, can we all just agree at the outset that racism is evil and should be socially unacceptable? Now that that’s over with, let’s get back to the very basics:

Why is racism a bad thing?

So many opinions float around in a vacuum, taken for granted or as self-evident truths. But it is not self-evident that racism is evil. It is not self-evident that rape is evil. Why? Because “racism is bad” is not a moral primary. “Rape is bad” is not a moral primary. Rather, racism and rape are violations of the most basic pro-human virtue: rationality. For example: “physical force” is not itself bad, as a primary. If it were, it would be wrong to lock criminals up or punish them no matter what they did. Physical force is acceptable, as long as it’s not initiated. Therefore, we are justified in locking a criminal up (or killing him), but not an innocent man. Therefore, rape isn’t evil simply because it’s physical force, but because it is necessarily the initiation of force against an innocent; it’s a violation. It is evil because it is anti-human.

Racism is evil, not because it violates Rights (it doesn’t) but because it’s anti-human. Racism is probably the most profound and stupid example of irrationality in existence, which says: “just because someone has different skin colour or was born elsewhere, they can be judged as individuals”. It is the judgement of a man’s character based on his geography or bloodline. It is irrational; it is anti-human; it is evil. But what racism is not, in itself, is a violation of anyone’s Rights. Fascists will disagree, but the government’s job is to protect Rights, not to police acceptable speech. This is why racism cannot be a crime.

The principle of freedom of speech is not to preserve or encourage popular or admirable opinions (although that is a natural consequence) but to prevent unpopular opinions from being suppressed, however ridiculous or inhuman they may be. The idea of free speech allowing everything, except the stuff we really really don’t like, is a contradiction in terms! Either everything is legally permissible to say, or none of it is. And before I get accused of creating a false dilemma: I’m not; there is no objective standard by which to determine what speech should and shouldn’t be acceptable, since any opinion in the world is potentially offensive to someone somewhere. All that truly exists is what some politician decides based on the votes he’s trying to win, or the “popular opinion” of the time, a fallacy which says that something is true simply because enough people think it is. Remember that in the past what we would consider racist was the general opinion, even from the intellectuals at the time. Even as recently as a few decades ago, the popular opinion of homosexuals and sexual equality was what we’d now call archaic.

The beauty of the “freedom of speech” principle is that it protects us all from whatever mob, whatever dictator, whatever bureaucrat, whatever despot, whatever faction, decides our opinion is a threat to them and wants to stamp it out. (It also prevents the government giving special favours to those opinions it wants to encourage.) The more ridiculous (or evil) an opinion, the more important it is to not censor it. Why? First, because trying to ban an opinion is impossible anyway. Opinions are individual matters which arise from a person’s choices and premises (conscious and unconscious). Second, because trying to blacklist an opinion (or anything) creates a black market; you drive it underground where it meets the worst of humanity. Third, you discourage honest debate. For example, if someone is truly racist and honestly believes that nationality or race plays a part in the judgement of another individual (these people are far more common than you realise), it is all the better to let them speak and offer their arguments so that they can be defeated. If someone says “it’s obviously true that black people are mentally inferior to whites”, do not silence him! Do not give him the “respect” that many a brave voice in history was met with: censorship. Do not plant the seed in another’s mind that “maybe he has a point?!” Rather, let him speak and explain himself, and then show why he is totally and utterly wrong. Blast the argument in public for all to see for all time. But do not simply ban it, or treat him like a criminal for holding an opinion (even an evil one).

(As an aside, I should mention that the only exceptions to free speech in any form are libel and slander, which are rightly illegal.)

We can already see around the world our governments taking measures to control speech and the mediums of speech, the best example of which being the internet. It is not that our governments are necessarily fascist and wicked (though some politicians are), but because they simply assume that moral evils are the remit of the government to police. And when the average citizen agrees and even calls for it, how can we expect anything else?

The government has no job banning and criminalising any speech. It is a slippery slope we are already going down, where the government penalising particularly motivated-actions over others necessarily leads to the home of motives: thoughts. And if the government bans one, it will sooner or later try to control the other.

Hate crime and hypocrisy

Today in England, a “hate crime” is treated more seriously than a “normal crime”. Presumably, if you violate someone else’s Rights you are super-duper guilty if you did it for racist reasons. Interestingly enough, what this means is that if you’re the same colour as your attacker he is less accountable for his violence than if you or he were a different colour. In other words, people of a different race are more or less guilty than others, all other things being the same. What’s that word for pre-judgment based on race again?

But the elephant in the room that no one is talking about, and which is uncomfortable to discuss for obvious reasons is: why is a cruel and irrational insult against a person acceptable for some reasons and not others? Some footballers have been treated to disgraceful abuse at football grounds, not because of their colour or character or behaviour, but their sexuality. Why is this any different to racism? Aren’t both attacks on an individual based on un-chosen and arbitrary traits? Aren’t both anti-human? Continuing this theme, why is it less frequently condemned when insults are for being: fat, thin, short, tall, attractive, ugly, butch, effeminate etc – most of the time attributes also outside anyone’s control? Of course most decent people would reply “well they aren’t acceptable either” – but the truth is we do view them differently and no matter how hurtful an insult is we are generally told “brush it off, ignore it”, unless it’s racist.

I haven’t established the difference clearly in my head, but if you seriously discriminate against another, or abuse them, what does the particular subject of abuse matter? I welcome an honest answer.

I have many foreign friends, and it’s not uncommon to hear “you Swedish bastard!”; “you Czech retard!”; “you Welsh sheep-shagger”; “you stoned Dutch idiot!”, between us. If any of these insults, albeit in jest, included a reference to colour they would probably be considered racist. But what is the difference? If a genuine light-hearted joke can include reference to someone’s race – then what difference does it make what the race is? I am not saying there isn’t a difference, but if there is I’m having a hard time seeing it. Again, I welcome an honest answer.

Of course historically race has been far more divisive with human beings than gender and other physical attributes – no doubt why it is such a sensitive and inflammatory topic. I can certainly appreciate the emotive nature of colour-related racism. But we’d all agree that racism isn’t primarily a “colour issue”, it’s an issue between any two peoples of different nationality, culture, location or language. So again: if racism isn’t necessarily a colour issue why do “we” assume it is by allowing other kinds of race-related banter, except where colour is concerned?

You see, there is a danger of going too far to the other extreme. In fact, the debate is not: ‘racism is ok’ or ‘racism should be banned’, the debate is: ‘free speech of any kind should not be banned’ versus ‘some speech should be criminalised and some shouldn’t’. The danger is in fact seeing the world in terms of skin colours which is just what racism is. Like any movement to counter discrimination, it can become paranoid and see villains in every decision, enemies around every corner.

Racists see the world as a conglomeration of accents, nationalities, histories and colours – which of course it is, but that is all they see. They think of you, not as you the individual but you the white, the black, the Asian, the American etc; incidents outside your choice are relevant to their judgment of you. The politically-correct multiculturalists are so desperate to not appear like the racists, they pretend that there are absolutely no differences at all between people and insist on a “colour blind” world. Worse, they favour positive-discrimination which is just another form of racism.

But people are different! Not being a bigot isn’t ignoring someone else’s differences, it’s accepting that we human beings are a varied bunch – and not giving a damn about it: another person’s race, or colour, like their accent or birthplace, sexuality or gender, shouldn’t be something we tiptoe around but simply irrelevant in our judgement of them. Gay, straight, fat, thin, black, white, yellow, tall, short, intelligent or dumb – if you’re a monster you should be damned and if you’re virtuous you should be praised. Everything else, everything you didn’t choose, is irrelevant.

Racism in football. Neil Warnock being an idiot, again. Sepp Blatter.

A long time ago, I ranted about the mediocre big-mouthed out-spoken irrational buffoon that is the football “manager” Neil Warnock. Football is a marginal topic for me these days and I hardly think it’s worth the effort to write about it, especially when there are far more important things to discuss in the world right now. But this was so horrendous, almost laughably so, that I had to comment.

As most people are aware, the FIFA President Sepp Blatter, head of another overly-influential football governing body; corrupt  and parasitic and power-hungry – himself another buffoon but of the bumbling and ignorant type, has outraged everyone with his recent comments on the treatment of black people in football. He originally said “There is no racism, but maybe there is a word or gesture which is not the correct one…The one affected by this should say this is a game and shake hands.

Yeah, ok Sepp. We should shake hands with our own destroyers. We should look evil in the face, then offer it our hand. We should acknowledge that racism is the most sick and disgusting expression of irrationality in human history – then put it behind us? So much for “zero tolerance.”

Obviously, many in and out of football have come out and had their say. Most people are genuinely moved to speak out against these ludicrous and stupid comments, (and others see it a great chance to jump on the “racism is bad! Look at how good I am!” bandwagon to score brownie points with voters.)

One of these is the aforementioned Neil Warnock, who, if there was an award for ironic foot-in-mouth comment of the year, would get the trophy hands down for 2011: “I think the only way we could get him out of the situation that he is in if every black player in the country, in every country, refused to play in the next international game.”

Right…so the only people who should be moved to action by racism should be…black people? Is that because they are the only ones affected by bigotry? Or do they feel more strongly about it, say, because of the colour of their skin? Why should a white person be any less inclined to boycott matches than a black person? Are we saying to blacks: “hey, did you hear what he called you? That’s terrible that! You should refuse to play.” Racism is, should be, offensive to every self-respecting rational human being, because any racist slur on any person is a slur against all people. In the words of Ayn Rand: “Racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism. It is the notion of ascribing moral, social or political significance to a man’s genetic lineage—the notion that a man’s intellectual and characterological traits are produced and transmitted by his internal body chemistry. Which means, in practice, that a man is to be judged, not by his own character and actions, but by the characters and actions of a collective of ancestors.”

So if you say that all white British people are naturally superior, and I’m British (which I am, and white), this is in fact a racial slur against me, because it asserts that my qualities, my virtues, what is best about me, is not the result of my effort, my work, my honesty, myself – but simply the luck of a genetic pool into which I was born, things I had no control over, the chance of my skin, my accent, my language. No thank you, you can take your racial compliments and throw them on the pyre with your racial epithets.

If I was a professional footballer, and a boycott was planned to force Blatter out of power, I’d be on the strike line as fast as anyone. And if I was playing against a footballer who was proven to be a racist, I wouldn’t shake their hand – no matter if they were white, black, yellow, brown, red or blue – and I’d like to think most footballers would do the same, not just the black ones.