January 7, 2009

Looking toward 2009, part II.

Astronomers can look forward to an exciting year, with the official launch of the International Year of Astronomy in January, aimed not only at celebrating the 400th anniversary of Galileo Galilei first demonstrating his improved telescope, but to stimulate interest in science generally and astronomy in particular. The main event will be April's 100 Hours of Astronomy, intended to encourage as many people as possible to peer through a telescope for the first time.

And there'll be plenty to crack a gander at: an annular solar eclipse in January, the longest total solar eclipse of the 21st Century in July, and three (in May, July, and December) triple conjunctions of Jupiter and Neptune. NASA will celebrate the 40th anniversary of humanity arriving on the Moon, by smacking the LCROSS probe into the pockmarked satellite — an event that will also be visible on Earth via telescope. NASA's Kepler Mission to discover Earth-like planets will hopefully be a lot less violent.

Back on Earth, physicists will eagerly anticipate the second attempt to start up the world's largest high-energy particle accelerator, the
Large Hadron Collider. The ensuing smacking around of protons in the world's largest machine, in order to discover hitherto hypothetical quantities of inner space fragments, may turn out to be the biggest (no pun intended) event in a century's particle research.

Save perhaps Tom Tykwer's (Run, Lola, Run) and Jean-Pierre Jeunet's (Amelie) new films, cinema's prospects in 2009 appear rather dull. Tykwer’s The International has Clive Owen and Naomi Watts taking on a particularly evil bank
, while Jeunet's Micmacs à tire-larigot pokes fun at the arms trade. Faces familiar to Jeunet's fans, like Dominique Pinon, Albert Dupontel, André Dussollier, Yolande Moreau, and Dominique Bettenfeld will appear — though Jamel Debbouze has pulled out.

There's also The Maiden Heist, a comedy in which Christopher Walken, Morgan Freeman, and William H. Macy portray museum security guards with a somewhat unhealthy attachment to certain exhibits, and the likely most hyped film of 2009,
Star Trek. Among the myriad of things audiences will undoubtedly be left to ponder (apart from the usual time travel drivel) is whether the fact that the female Starfleet officers' miniskirts being longer now then they were in the 60s represents a step forward or back.

Children's books turned into film this year include Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, directed by Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich) with a screenplay by McSweeney's founder David Egger, blending live action, animation, and CGI, with actors in large foam suits, as well as Roald Dalh's Fantastic Mr Fox, a stop-motion animation with characters voiced by George Clooney, Cate Blanchett, Anjelica Houston, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, and Meryl Streep among others, with Jarvis Cocker (Pulp) contributing "three, four" songs.

Old favourites being rehashed this year also include Sherlock Holmes, directed by Guy Ritchie (Snatch), with Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes and Jude Law as Dr Watson attempting to — oh, tedium — stop a conspiracy from destroying Britain, and The Prisoner, the iconic late 60s allegorical, psychological spy drama, which perplexingly (though such was its calling card) is being remade as a six part television

In gaming there's bound to be lots more of the usual jabbing, smacking, whacking, and gallivanting with gun in hand to be expected, though a few sophisticated titles are slated for release too. In January, twenty years after the city-building simulation game SimCity initiated a change in the average gamer profile, Electronic Arts plans to publish
SimAnimals, a fauna-simulation game allowing players to run their own forest complete with critters for NDS, iPhone, iPod Touch, and Wii.

In April, Microïds aim to release
Still Life 2, the long-awaited conclusion to the Post Mortem (2003) and Still Life (2005) adventure games. Far from physically challenging, these art-crime thrillers provided plenty of mental exercise in suspenseful settings, with one puzzle infamously tapping gamers' culinary skills to correctly interpret a gingerbread cookie recipe. Hopefully, the new installment will dispense with the predecessors quirks, while providing equally challenging and original puzzles within an exquisite tapestry of intrigue.

Atari's set it sights on the nostalgic, middle-aged gamer, with Ghostbusters: the Video Game set for a June release coinciding with the 25th anniversary of the first film’s premiere. It's the sixth computer game adaptation of the parapsychologists-cum-apparition-exterminators' adventures, this time around for NDS, PC, PS2, PS3, Wii, and X360. Identical to the pitch for Ghostbusters III, the story's written by original authours Dan Akroyd and Harold Ramis, with Bill Murray, Ernie Hudson and Annie Potts adding their voices; Rick Moranis couldn't be coaxed out of retirement and Sigourney Weaver simply wasn't game.

Gaming Boomers may appreciate MTV Games efforts to roll out The Beatles (working title) music video game for PS2, PS3, Wii, and X360 in time for Christmas. Paul, Ringo, Yoko, and Olivia Harrison are involved in producing a game that would allow players to "interpret" 45 songs, ranging from the albums Please, Please Me to Abbey Road, in the guise of their favourite Beatle.

On the cutting edge, Heavy Rain from Quantic Dream will likely be the sharpest contender of 2009. The French outfit, which previously created the action-adventures Omikron: the Nomad Soul (1999, with contributions from David Bowie) and Fahrenheit (2005, titled Indigo Prophecy in North America), has presented
impressive previews, but will initially only design the game for PS3. A sequel to Fahrenheit might also be released this year, for PC, PS3, and X360.

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