Thursday, April 11, 2013

Science Fiction Wishlist (A Grabbag) — Part Three: Spaceship

     At this point, I have a lightsaber on my hip and the ability to get around (on the ground, in the air, in space) with my VF-1J Veritech Fighter.  Now I need – as much as any fanciful, hypothetical Science Fiction wishlist can have any element of need – a spaceship with which to get around.  Sure, you can do Sci-Fi without a spaceship.  But there is something about the ability to safely travel between the stars that opens up the possibilities of a Sci-Fi universe, and if I am going to be even half-way serious about putting together the wish list, I am not going to leave spaceships off of it.
     Lets start with the rejects, the ships that no sane person would ever take as their first choice.

   Luke was right in that the thing was a piece of junk.  Seriously, it has exposed bits that should cause the whole thing to explode (or at least suffer meaningful structural damage) upon atmospheric entry.  It has the weird cockpit mounting – I'll leave it to the individual viewer to decide what happens to those guns that are mounted above it for one scene in the Alderaan system – that ensures that it is going to take a long while to learn how to do any precision repulsorlift maneuvering (you know, like landing on a small pad or inside a relatively small landing bay on Tatooine).  It also clearly has substandard wiring and faulty systems.  Sure, some of this could be chalked up to disputed owner/operator Han Solo; it is entirely possible he was spending to much time on his hair and practicing his lopsided grin to keep the ship in good working order.  Indeed, isn't almost all of the appeal of the Millennium Falcon rooted in the desire to be (or be like) Han Solo?  And if we were just talking A New Hope Solo, I'd agree.  But Solo doesn't get better as the universe expands and his ship really is the Sci-Fi equivalent of a 1977 Ford conversion van (complete with pilot's chairs).
      This is another instance of a ship being less than optimal.  The bulk of the appeal – to my understanding – of the Firefly class ships was that they could be made to keep flying with basic maintenance.  They were never going to be the best of anything, but there was some level of reliability.  So, if the Millenium Falcon is a conversion van, Serenity is like a Beetle Cabriolet.  It looks cool, and it probably could be maintained (to a degree) with the same level of know-how it takes to fix lawnmowers, but it isn't big, fast, or all that safe.  The appeal of the Serenity largely derives from it being captained by Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion, before his head started looked like it belonged on Frankenstein's monster) and his "crew" largely being good looking people.  Beyond that, it is just a strange looking craft with an internal layout I've never been able to figure out and too little cargo space to make it a good freight hauler.  There is also the problem that it is meant to operate in a single solar system.  Since I want a possibility of Earth still being a home base, the Serenity doesn't do me a lot of good.
     I don't think there is much need to kill this idea.  It really is just the IJN Yamato scraped off the ocean floor, fixed up, and launched into space.  Okay, there is more to the story than that, but it was – at heart – an effort to recapture some of the national pride Japan lost after getting their asses kicked in WWII (and there are versions of it that severely amp up the Sci-Fi look of it).  I'm not saying that Star Blazers (the TV version I knew as a child) is without merit; I enjoyed it.  But I am not taking an Imperial Japanese ship as my primary.  Or secondary.  Yeah, I don't want it.  Not anymore than I would want a space version of the Bismarck.
     The computer will kill you.  Oh, and it doesn't have a lot of the cool bells-and-whistles one would want given the infinite possibilities the genre allows.  But the computer will kill you.  It also is meant for in-system use, but I am not cooling on the killer computer.  Yeah, HAL has a soothing voice (far better than Majel Barrett-Roddenberry's).  But HAL wants to kill you.  And me.
     Yeah...I hate Doctor Who.  With a passion.  Probably because I was made to watch the show in the early 1980s and I know how much it sucks.  Even without the £500/episode budget for set design and effects, the show is bound to suck.  And not just because it can just reset things whenever it wants with a new Doctor, because they can all travel through time and muck things up.  No, wait.  That is why the show sucks so much.  It demands no continuity.  It is the on-going version of a perpetual Marvel What-If universe, where the "what-ifs" in question can always be changed.  I hate Doctor Who more than I hate the JJ Abrams version of Star Trek (which I do not consider to be Star Trek, and I hate like Fred Phelps thinks God hates homosexuals).  Having written all that, I'm sure the ability to travel through time gives the TARDIS some virtue.  But apparently you can just fly around the Sun and travel in time.  Or through some weird Borg energy pulse.  Or you can microwave a container of JiffyPop near a Supernova.  Besides, there is the moral imperative to not time travel (as it almost guarantees invalidating the choices and actions exercised by other individuals).  Besides, no matter how big the TARDIS is on the inside, it would be a nightmare to dock the Veritech to it.  Now, were it stocked with infinite fresh cookies...well, I'd still hate Doctor Who, but I'd take the TARDIS and then just sell the cookies.  I'd eat many more than I should, but I'd go into the cookie selling business and give up the notion of exploring the galaxy.
     The ship is 19 kilometers long.  That is just too damn big.  I don't care how many of those little MSE droids you have running around, something 19 km long is going to require a fair amount of human labor just to keep it looking decent. Seriously.  I'm not saying I want a ship where I can be alone (actually, we'll address that later), but I certainly don't want a crew of thousands I have to oversee.  Well, actually the Captain would have to oversee them, but given that I am not considering any ISF Captains to command my ship (take that, Lorth Needa!).  Besides, Star Wars technology – despite the very loud ignorance of the Lucasites – is inferior to everything in the Star Trek universe.  Hell, the only threat the Super Star Destroyer would pose to a Federation Runabout would be the tractor beam.  Which means that it would lose a fight to the school bus of UFP ships.  I like the fighter compliment, but  not if they have to be TIE fighters (even if they are Interceptors).
     She is a living ship.  Not really sure why that would be appealing, except for the ideal that she could heal damage.  That isn't how it works, though, because she gets sick.  She gets infections.  She is afraid of fire.  And...she can get pregnant.  She has no weapons and her best defensive maneuver effectively wipes out her navigational orientation.  Add to the fact that she was a prison ship (so no luxuries), and she is just a terrible choice.  Not that I don't want the DRDs or translator microbes.  I want those.  I just don't want Moya.
     On the outisde, there is a lot to like about the Bird of Prey.  But then TNG and DS9 (and, if we are going to be honest, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country) ruined it by repeatedly showing that Klingons don't believe in any kind of amenities.  They don't believe in good lighting.  And it is sure to be stocked with Klingon food and drink, which isn't appealing.  Does the Klingon smell come out?  Yes, it has a cloaking device, but it does not operate when firing weapons.  Besides, I like the idea of the Bird of Prey as an enemy ship, and Klingons are the enemy.  At all times.  And every single one of them.  Don't every forget it.
     I'm not sure if it is that the ship is cursed or that Laurence Fishburne is going to show up at some time that keeps this ship from consideration.  Or that it didn't really work.  And I hated the movie.  But it looked okay.  I just cannot imagine anyone choosing it as their one spaceship.
Maybe the INSS Lenin

     So what ships are worth considering?  Probably a lot more than i could ever think of.  The INSS Lenin seems like a fine choice, but I would be more in favor of the MacArthur (had it not been destroyed).  Oh, and I have no idea if the model I found on the internet is an accurate representation of it.  Hard to choose a ship if you don't know what it really looks like.  It certainly has some degree of ass-kicking ability, but the hard science fiction of The Mote in God's Eye is going to leave it severely underpowered against the more fantastical craft available.  Besides, the Lenin needs a huge crew as well.
     Maybe it is because the ship reminds me of an old, yellow pencil topper I had in second grade.  Maybe it is because Futurama produced the single saddest episode of television, ever ("Jurassic Bark").  Okay, probably not that.  But the Planet Express Ship is like the Firefly class ship from the Whedonverse, except that it doesn't have to make sense.  It is largely idiot-proof (Fry), and does not require much in the way of a crew.  Sure, there is no place to dock the Veritech with it, but if Pazuzu can hold onto the landing bay and survive in deep space...I don't know where I'm going with that.  I really just want to point out that the gargoyle survived hard vaccuum. 
NSEA Protector
     Talk about an idiot-proof ship – even Fred Kwan could make it work.  Well, that is one of the advantages of having fans of the TV show build the ship.  I'm not really sure why this isn't my ultimate choice.  It has effective weaponry, travels, fast, has transporter-like technology, and apparently can send people across the universe by use of some kind of goo and a wormhole.  It also has the most ridiculous lay-out (because of the fidelity to the fake TV show).  If it comes with Gwen DeMarco, it may become my back-up choice.
     Actually, we don't know that much about the Sulaco from the movie Aliens.  Like most ships of that universe, it doesn't seem to need much of a crew to operate its transit from system to system.  It also may not carry much in the way of supplies since it freezes the crew instead of keeping them awake for a couple of weeks.  Maybe that is just a plot device, a way of keeping consistency between the films.  I don't want a ship that forces people to doze through the journey.  If I wanted that, I would have taken the ship from WALL-E.  But the Sulaco does have armament, has dropships (and a nice comfy bay where I can put my Veritech fighter), and came from Earth.  It hits a lot of the right buttons.
     More of a troop transport than anything else, the Corvette Transport from Starship Troopers is one of the cooler looking ships out there.  Half ocean going freighter, half warship, it looks like someone took the time to make it look just plausible enough to be real.  And in a Verhoeven film, plausibility is not something that is easily to come by.  Why is it so high on my list?  I mean, it has a large crew, doesn't have kick-ass weaponry or defenses, and it doesn't have a great pedigree.  But Denise Richards (or more appropriately, a character she played) almost died on one.  Any ship that makes an effort to kill Denise Richards needs to be considered.
     In almost every way, the SDF-1 is what I want.  With the Prometheus attached, there is not only not a shortage of space to dock the VF-1J, but plenty of extra Veritech fighters (be they 1A, 1D, or 1S).  The Daedalus can be made into a punching-fist so the Destroids within can shoot the hell out whatever ship we decided to punch.  It has...okay, had, the ability to travel via inter-dimensional hyperspace fold.  Cannot say enough about how cool fold technology is, but the SDF-1 has to give it up in order to put a city in the middle of the ship.  It is also, as far as I know, the only transformer in contention here.  Not that I wouldn't prefer the regular looking configuration to be able to fire the Main Cannon, but one cannot always get what one wants.  Given the immense power of the Main Cannon – it could essentially shoot a hole through the Death Star – it would be sheer folly to not take the SDF-1.
     It also has one of the better stories associated with it.  Alien command ship crashed on Earth (which forces a global war to come to an end), gets rebuilt and (maybe) improved, inadvertently fires the first shot in a war that destroys more than 80% of the planet and has to keep thousands of civilians safe inside after accidentally transporting an island with it to Pluto.  It is the only reason humanity survives the conflict.  We'll just all agree to ignore its ignominious end.
     Yes, I went with the class because if I came out and said the USS Voyager, well I wouldn't expect anyone to take me seriously.  Voyager may not be as generally disliked as Enterprise (and for good reasons), but it certainly is not super-loved, even in Star Trek circles.  That is really neither here nor there when it comes to the ship, though.  It has pretty much everything that makes UFP ships kick ass: phasers, photon torpedoes (even quantum torpedoes), transporters, warp drive, replicators, and – most importantly – holodecks.  As a matter of fact, the lack of holodeck and cramped quarters is why the USS Defiant didn't make the list.  The Defiant looks awesome and has unbelievable killing power.  It even had a cloaking device for a while.  But it is just a warship, and I want more.  So why something that is essentially the Voyager instead of any of the Enterprises?  First, I really do like the look.  There is something fake looking about TOS's Enterprise, and while that is understandable, it isn't something I want.  Sure, the Planet Express Ship is about as fake looking as possible, but it is from a cartoon.  The Enterprise-D looks a little better and has all of the amenities, but it has that ridiculous saucer-separation thing going on.  I really am not in favor of that.  No, the Voyager can land on planets.  Boom!  It's huge to me.  The Intrepid Class ship has enough room for the Veritech fighter (good-bye, one set of less than cool shuttlecraft), which is a plus.  Now, I do want to get rid of those stupid bio-neural gel packs (since they can get infected and replacements cannot be replicated).  It also has the EMH.
     Now I never understood how it was that the Sick Bay could be fitted with holo-emitters but nobody ever thought to put them anywhere else.  This is my cheat around having to have a large crew.  If we accept that the mobile emitter cannot be replicated because it is too technologically advanced (despite the fact that DS9 establishes that replicators can duplicate a device without any understanding of the device being necessary), why not just place holo-emitters on the bridge and engineering?  It cuts down on the need to have real people in positions to do the important things.  There cannot be a huge difference in power usage for running the emitters versus food replicators, sonic showers, and life support for real crew members.  I would want the option the have a lot of holo-crew members is what I am saying.  And not just because then I could guarantee that I'd never end up with a Wesley Crusher-type person anywhere important.  Because it would just be programs in all the important posts.  Maybe.  But definitely no whiny teens. 
    So, yeah.  I want a craft that can land, doesn't destroy space by going to warp, has good weaponry, the ability to manufacture just about anything necessary, and multiple holodecks.  And, for my money, there isn't much that does all of that better than the Intrepid Class.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Science Fiction Wishlist (A Grabbag) — Part Two: Personal Craft

     At this point, wish-fulfillment 'me' has a lightsaber slung to his belt in some unnamed Sci-Fi universe.  Or stashed in a coat pocket.  Have to figure that one could easily hide either a lightsaber or one of the garage door opener looking phasers in just regular clothing.  The lightsaber doesn't look like it is anything more than a poorly designed flashlight.  Now I need a way of getting around.
     What should I use?
     There are more choices, I'm sure, than I could ever reasonably think of in short order.  Would I want something as simple as Luke's landspeeder from Star Wars?  Have the wind whipping through what is left of my hair?  Would I want the BattleMech I used as my command vehicle for six years (and three different campaigns), the Catapult?  Well, if I could be guaranteed it would be the CPLT-27 version I put together with scavenged Clan tech – two LRM 20s, four Medium Pulse Lasers, double heatsinks, and more armor – for Captain Jonathan Alexander Frost.  But it is a 65 ton Mech, or about the weight of an M1A1 Abrams, and I see there being some serious problems getting it around most places.  Add in the fact that those long range missiles have a maximum range of about half a mile and it just seems so far from optimal.  Cool looking, but not optimal.
     How about VR-052 Battler Cyclone power cycle? You get all of the coolness of riding a motorcycle with extra safety equipment and all of the utility of a suit of power armor with forearm mounted mini-missiles and an EP-37 Beam Rifle at hand.  It runs on protoculture (or a distilute of the essence of the Flower of Life, since the series was pretty clear that they can run out of fuel after a few months of constant use), so gas prices aren't an issue.  It even folds into a small(ish) box when not in use.  The downside?  Well, there is the matter of how I feel about motorcycles.  The more pressing one would be that when being used as power armor it requires the user to carry most of the weight of the vehicle.  And how do you explain to the cool Sci-Fi heroes why you have wheels sticking out behind your head?
     Besides, I have a feeling that the personal craft should be one that can fly.  And not just fly in an atmosphere or space, but both.  And it should look cool.  Maybe like the old Cylon Raiders.
I had the toy for the Raider that actually shot the missiles.  Actually had a couple of the Vipers – word to the wise, the stickers on them held up much worse to the bathtub than did those on the X-Wing – but the Raider was always one of the favorites.  Maybe because it had that creepy mix of flying saucer design to go with its Luftwaffe gray color scheme.  I think it had more to do with the fact that not only did it fire two missiles (as opposed to the Viper's one), but it was pretty accurate out to about ten feet.  Great for shooting my brother.  
Pretty sure the missiles on ours were yellow, but this is what the toy looked like.
     Still, love of the toy should not be the deciding factor.  
     I guess my runner up would be the SA-23J Starfury "Thunderbolt", the improved version of the human fighter pods from Babylon 5.   Never mind how ridiculous the notion of fighters for space combat.  If we paid attention to practicalities, I wouldn't have a lightsaber swinging from the hip.  It fulfills the desire to have the presumed daring-do of WWI era dogfighting in a Sci-Fi universe, just as the lightsaber brings swordplay out of the Medieval and Renaissance tales.  And the Thunderbolt version of the Starfury looks like a cross between an Anime style fighter and the X-Wing.
It is even a little reminiscent of the craft from The Last Starfighter.  But where I want to give the B5 team credit is in giving at least a small acknowledgement to the physics of space combat.  The Starfuries spin about on thrusters, and moving in whatever direction is necessary instead of just away from engines.  Besides, given all of the B5 bashing I am going to be doing next week (maybe in two weeks, we'll see), I should give the series some degree of credit.

     No, if I can only have one personal vehicle, I am going with the VF-1J Veritech Fighter from Robotech/Macross.  Not only is it clearly a rip-off of the F-14 Tomcat (which was largely obsolete when Maverick made flying it look cool in Top Gun), but it turns into a giant robot fighter.  Well, first it turns into something that looks like this:
This is known as either the Gerwalk or Guardian mode (depending on what level of purity one chooses as the source material).  It allows for flying around like a jet (sort of) with all of the fun of wielding a gun and punching things like a robot.
      It looks like the figure above when in battloid mode (NOT GOING TO CALL IT BATTROID).  Perfect for fighting giant aliens or just menacing anyone else.  It is the versatility of the craft – along with how cool it looks, and my enduring love of Robotech – that makes it a clear winner.  It can carry loads of long range missiles (which means that they can go about 1,000 miles) with Reflex warheads (all the blast of nuclear weapons, none of that worrisome lingering radiation).  It can fight in space and the atmosphere.  And it will run for close to 15 years before the power gives out.  
     Plus, it doesn't need a droid plugged into it for the pilots to kick ass.
If only there were a chance of them being real.  Or at least getting proper big screen treatment.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Science Fiction Wishlist (A Grabbag) — Part One: Weapon

     I have taken a very long break from the blog.  Longer than I wanted to, sure, but not so long as I could just convince myself to never put anything up on it again.  So rather than subject anyone – I do have an idea of how miniscule even the potential audience is here – to the fiction with which I still not happy, I decided to write a few notes on my favorite little bits of science fiction (TV & Film).

Part One: Weapon

     This really should be a no-brainer.  The best Sci-Fi weapon that comes to my mind is the phaser from Star Trek.  Not the mini-vacuum cleaner looking models from TNG onward (though I would want the versatility of those models), but the classic one seen above.  There is something comforting in its almost pistol-like qualities (though it also looks a little bit like a hot glue gun).  More than that, it is the weapon Kirk used while he was kicking ass across the galaxy – at least when he wasn't using his hammy fists or constructing a bamboo cannon to shoot rocks at a rubber-skinned lizard.
     It is also the weapon that can vaporize the cover your enemy wants to hide behind.  Not that the Federation forces used it to its full advantage most of the time.  Need to kill somebody?  The phaser willcut through nearly everything to get them killed.  It can vaporize a building or a boulder.  Hell, you can use it super-heat a pile of rocks (in lieu of a campfire) without risking the rocks exploding on you.  You can also set it to stun if you feel like it.  I guess it is possible there would be a situation where killing the enemy wouldn't be necessary.
The various mini-vac looking phasers (and one that looks like a garage door opener).

     But as much as I like the phaser – and my strong preference for Star Trek over Star Wars – the weapon I would take over any other would be the lightsaber.  I mean, come on, its a fucking laser sword.  Who doesn't want a laser sword?  And one that, with the proper training (and a little luck) can be used to deflect all those little red bolts of light people might be wanting to shoot at you.  Never mind the whole Jedi/Sith mythos – the lightsaber kicks ass because it demands the user to get up close and personal.  It means the wielder means business.  Plus it can apparently cut through anything (given enough time). 

     Is it as versatile as a phaser?  Hell no!  As a matter of fact, I'm pretty sure the hand phaser could vaporize Vader as easily as it would anyone else.  But the hand phaser is kind of like a smart phone in that it is the technological tool that can be issued to everyone.  The lightsaber is a badge of honor, or at least the mark of a dedicated warrior.  Compare it to the ridiculous Klingon Bat'leth, the go-to melee weapon of the Star Trek universe.  Are you done laughing?  How about now? 
     The lightsaber is one of those things that I think so many people would love to be real that if one were to see one if use right before their eyes the reaction wouldn't be that can't be real because lightsabers are from the movies but rather Holy shit, that guy has a lightsaber!.  No one is going to have that reaction to a phaser.  We'd sooner expect William Shatner to win an Oscar than to see somebody shooting beams of phased whatever at anything in the real world.  But there is a real hope that somebody would make the lightsaber.  Almost as much as we would all love to have the Predator's personal cloaking device.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

I don't have the words...

So, there is a movement afoot to get Piers Morgan exiled from the United States of America because he had the temerity to express views contrary to the deeply felt (and not always, but occasionally, well-informed) views who think that the gun is a part of American culture.
     What the fuck are these people thinking?
     Sure, Morgan is a smug prick most of the time (at least on television, and I'm going to count that as he clearly has a choice on how to present himself and most of the viewing populace is never going to deal with him face to face).  And he has no problem shouting down those with whom he disagrees without using facts to support his argument while making the argument (for the record, telling someone to 'shut up' or calling him or her a liar is not a formulated argument).  Most of all, it is ridiculous to have a discussion panel about gun violence in the USA and have those arguing in favor of eliminating (or severely restricting) gun ownership all be from other countries (The United Kingdom of Great Britain and India, with one raised in Iran).  I know that it is a simple argument, but perhaps people who live inside their own culture should have a say in their own culture.
     Just a thought.
     But I would rather let Morgan blather on in an attempt to drive CNN from any semblance of relevance than muster up some kind of 21st Century internet-driven Love It or Leave It fervor to drive a non-existent enemy from America.  There are plenty of people who are anti-gun and citizens, and if hardcore gun ownership supporters don't view them as real citizens, then that is where the problem lies.
     Me?  I was raised with guns in the house.  We used to shoot .22s in the backyard (right next to a rather busy street) and the village encourage people to bring their own guns to the annual Turkey Shoot.  I got to shoot an AR-15 and a fully automatic Thompson submachine gun when I was 10; it was awesome.  Never shot at anyone.  Can't say I was never tempted, but cooler heads prevailed and it took all of about a day to realize that I never wanted to shoot anything other than a target.  I would say there is much to be said for the support network that keeps adolescents from doing extremely stupid things, and a reason why I would put my concern on person left all alone with guns.  Especially troubled people who have no one to turn to.
      Is Morgan the answer?  Only if he is talking down the people who want to kill someone on an irrational impulse.  But getting rid of him isn't the answer, either.  If the Illinois Nazis could march through Skokie, we can all survive Piers Morgan.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Hmmm....I'm not sure if I'm comfortable with this much Star Wars

     For some reason...and I'm not blaming (or crediting) this for the enduring neglect the blog is suffering...I have been reading more than a proportionately responsible amount of Star Wars fiction this year. 
     There were the graphic novels (Dark Empire I & II) I read in late March and early April.  Those reminded me of how Star Wars had a tendency to want to keep revisiting the same story with the same characters because killing any of them off – God forbid Boba Fett stays dead in the Sarlac pit – would apparently anger the fans more than middling stories.  But I also have read the Star Wars meets zombies Star Wars: Red Harvest, Star Wars: The Wrath of Darth Maul, and Star Wars: Iron Fist as part of this year's Reading Project.  Still have Star Wars: Solo Command to go to finally finish off the Wraith Squadron books.  I'm not sure if I'll ever read Stackpole's X-Wing books; it would be damning not to, since I did read his novelization of the recent Conan the Barbarian (2011) movie.
     Anyway, as I find myself struggling with my own satisfaction of the fantasy and horror short stories I'm trying to write (and why can't I ever consider something finished?), I must note that it is odd that I am plinking away at the huge Star Wars catalog of books.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Safe House (2012)

     It is conceivable that, somewhere, a world exists where Ryan Reynolds may be considered to have a "medium build" (which is how his character Matt Weston is repeatedly described).  In that world, I'd be too short to be a member of the Lollipop Guild.  Okay, that is an extreme exaggeration, but it does serve to highlight one of the problems I had with Safe House (2012) – there was an obvious gap between the character envisioned on the page and the actor hired to play the roll of Weston.
     Reynolds has the ability to play smaller than his size, and his muscle is the lean type, meaning that the right camera angles (and keeping him clothed) can give the appearance of a regular guy.  This tends to work better in the comedies he does where showing off his buff body would throw a serious wrench in the works of his being a goofy, boy-ish Everyman.  In an action film, it is nearly inconceivable.  Maybe it is his ability to play younger – Weston is likely six to eight years younger than Reynolds, not coming to the CIA in his early thirties – the made him the best available fit for the role.  It certainly seems to have had a younger Jeremy Renner in mind.
     The other issues I had follow.  Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) is a bad ass because of attitude more than ability.  I don't want to discount the attitude factor, but I really prefer when Washington is given characters with more definition.  Vera Farmiga (Linklater) just takes up space, half mumbles her lines, and does not seem to be interested enough in her role to even make eye contact with her fellow actors.  It would seem her days of being able to be the pretty face are well over, but not giving consistently strong performances is not a way to ensure more work as she drifts into the age range that Hollywood avoids.  I also get baffled every time I see Sam Shepard (Whitford) show up in a very conventional role. This is the guy who wrote The Tooth of Crime (1972) and La Tourista (1967).  I get that he is much older now, but having him stand in as part of establishment – to represent establishment through his own skill at bringing weight to a role – has never felt like a good fit to me.  That trend continues here.
     Other than those minor things, I found Safe House to be a decent, workman-like film.  Like Echelon Conspiracy (2009), I suspect that production was helped by incentives to make a movie in a non-traditional location.  Strangely, the lighting (and color correction) did more to make South Africa seem different than any effort to establish the setting.  Still, the action is steady without giving way to gore or over-the-top excesses.  The characters inhabit something resembling the real world (save Weston being of medium build), where the real enemy is entrenched corruption.  I'm not sure why it was so successful, but it is better than average.