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5 problems for Resident Evil 5 (the movie).

This is a mission movie. Alice wakes up in an Umbrella facility the prisoner of past heroine and video-game avatar Jill Valentine. As Jill tortures her noisily in between asking somewhat inane questions like “Who do you work for?” there are secret forces at work. That being Ada Wong, another game character here introduced into the series for what might be the first time. Ada is working for — excuse me, with — Albert Whiskers, who releases the super-powered invincible zombie fighter Alice and also sends a crack team to retrieve her. The two parties fight their way through, meeting familiar faces along the way.

Problem #1. Retribution could have easily not have happened in this series. At no point does it offer a sense of self-worth or place in the storyline. I may not be the fairest judge of things, as I missed the last two in the mega-franchise, but I’m led to believe that perhaps the storyline itself may not be so valued. I wonder if somebody at the beginning, or around Apocalypse, decided to create a bare bones, rough rough outline — a plan for future installments to create a decent through-line. If they did, surely Retribution wouldn’t be on it, because it doesn’t advance the story. Or, it doesn’t do what fifteen minutes from another movie couldn’t.

It starts and Milla Jovovich is being shot off a boat that’s getting hit by Umbrella I assume, and she falls in the water. She wakes up in a facility, and needs to be rescued. The conflict is setup in the film — she could have easily not have woken up in the facility, and continued on her merry — with only a minor connection to the previous movie.

Problem #2. This is a lot like the original Resident Evil, which saw trained commandoes roving through creepy corridors and exploring biomedical facilities. It’s kind of like Aliens — and this would make Retribution the Resurrection. Only, instead of the more heterogeneous squad fighting aliens in inventive ways and everything’s an extremely bloody cartoon, Retribution is zombies and severely displaced game villains. Zombies with guns is gonna be your chief antagonist, among the axe dude more familiar in an African setting, and a giant Licker that once again reminds us of the original.

Zombies with guns? Come on. They’re the worst. They have the worst qualities of people and monsters, combined into a moorish alchemy blah that’s just very boring to watch. I didn’t even like the zombies with guns in Resident Evil 5, and that’s one of the great co-op games of recent memory. I want more monsters. Zombies feel cheap. They’re also rather unimaginative, especially in the context of a series with no shortage of interesting creatures to blast with acid rounds. Oh wait, you don’t do those either, Mr. WS.

Problem #3. They try something interesting here. I’m sure that the clone thing was born out of “How the fuck do we get M-Rod back in here?” but it might be the most recent example of my favorite phenomenon in movie series that have gone on too long — they have to come up with weird shit to keep it fresh. Back when we had so many horror franchises, even the weird shit went on too long, when everyone from Jason to Pinhead went to space with the Leprechauns. Here, we get clones that the artificial intelligence controlling Umbrella (the Red Queen from the first movie) uses in preposterously over-the-top experiments that test… something, I’m sure.

We have clones running around in artificial environments, not quite knowing what’s going on. How could you explain it to them, especially when one is a four year old girl? It’s an interesting premise, but it shouldn’t be here, and should be actually fleshed out. When the clone daughter of Alice asks if she is indeed her mother — upon facing a room of blank Alice clones — Alice says, “I am now.” What? I am now? Jesus, WS, you came really close to actual sci-fi drama. All she needed to say is — nothing. Just looked sad because in that moment, she was powerless.

But wait…

Problem #4. Alice is the most powerful thing in the universe. She’s always got an answer, and unfortunately in that moment it was a dumbass one-liner. I am now. Yeah, that helps. Also, when Leon Kennedy (yes) tells her to not go Ripley-style back for the clone girl because she isn’t as important Alice, Alice says, “That’s where you’re wrong.” Actually, no. He’s absolutely right. But you could’ve said, “I’m the most powerful thing in the universe,” and strode off. Why justify something that’s so wrong? Yeah it’s sad that this girl has to die, but you’re the one who’s supposed to save the last twelve humans on Earth. I think they need your help, because everyone else in this movie is shit, unless the plot requires them to be something else for the moment.

And about the clone thing one more time, it’s interesting for sure, but it means literally nothing. The AI that runs the place is like malfunctioning or something. These tests play out for no reason, or at least, to the whim of a computer. Take the zombies out, and you’d have like a poor man’s Eagle Eye. Make it a bit better? Poor man’s I, Robot, perhaps. I haven’t seen Colossus: The Forbin Project yet. I know you can’t reference Eagle Eye without that and expect to be taken seriously.

Problem #5. The Underworld moment. As if the connections between the two franchises weren’t many and varied as is, now we have to have Ada Wong doing the one thing we thought was cool from the entire Underworld series, that time Kate Beckinsale shot through the floor and went to, you know, like a different floor. Seriously, to close this out, let’s list all the weird fucking connections between Resident Evil and Underworld

– They’re the two biggest and only sci-fi horror franchises of the day
– “Strong” female characters (but they’re both tabula rasas)
– The leads are married to the directors (Anderson, Wiseman)
– Genre-challenged genre mashups (The Matrix meets… Hammer horror)
– Title etymology (Evolution, Extinction, Afterlife, Awakening, Apocalypse — can you tell me which are which?)
– Wentworth Miller (Speedman’s co-worker in the first Underworld)
– They’re both poor substitutes for Blade

How does one go about ending a ninety-hour narrative with hundreds of permutations along the way, and maintain workable canon for a triple-A franchise whose potential has just expanded into film? Not without a thousand cries of fans across the Internet, who lament the cliché and out-of-the-blue resolution, the stumble at the end of a triathlon that was building and building with increasing ferocity.

The ending was not as climactic or satisfying as it could have been, but Mass Effect 3 itself was the perfect ending to one of the industry’s finest trilogies, and one of science-fiction’s earliest moments in great, interactive art. While story-wise the ending was out of place, and theme-wise the ending was pretty nauseating, Mass Effect 3 is about the journey, and in this phase of the epic series, we say good-bye to old faces we’ve come to care about before facing down an enemy with the weight of two video-games and a fully fleshed out mythology.

 

Bioware’s Mass Effect trilogy has had the good fortune of being a one-generation series, like Gears of War, and unlike Halo. One can go back and play Mass Effect on the PC or Xbox 360 and not feel behind at all. The graphics are maximized by opulent art design, the dialogue is sharp, and the story ranks high with gaming’s greatest. The RPG elements may take turns feeling shallow and overdone in places, the combat pales in comparison to contemporary third-person shooters, and the graphical artifacts and texture pop-in are so frequent as to settle into perceived normalcy, but the overall experience is one of a kind, and memorable on so many levels. For anyone interested in Mass Effect 3, there’s no question: start from the beginning.

The transition into Act II becomes a necessary step, and as most fans have it, the most necessary. Gameplay-wise, Mass Effect 2 is a moon-landing’s leap over the original’s endearing but clumsy system, augmenting the fun-to-use power and teammate abilities with better geography and cover mechanics. They nailed shooting in 2, where the composition of gunfights in a game like Gears of War is heightened by endless options, which affect not only combat but also art direction. The Gears of War games, while fun (the first is a co-op classic), have become a cliché in this Killzone/Resistance world. There’s a limited sense of creativity in what’s being shown, and what the players can actually look at. Mass Effect and its sequel vary enemy types and give us plenty of exciting ways to dispose of them, whether through ice bullets or Force-powers, and they all look cool.

It must be known though that Mass Effect at times, can be pretty ‘uncool;’ pretty lame in fact, mostly in spots of dialogue that are too histrionic or on-the-nose. The thing is, there’s so much dialogue in these games that little problems every four hours or so are rendered absolutely nil. Like Skyrim, which often features floating elephants and guys who return to talking about arrows in the knee after killing dragons with you, it’s easy, nay second nature, to overlook these shortcomings.

The biggest issue with Mass Effect 2 though was the story, which wasn’t as strong as the original’s. There was mystery and build-up and dramatic beats in Mass Effect’s storyline, where Mass Effect 2 is more ‘video-game.’ Your task is to go around and collect the roughest, toughest killers and soldiers in the galaxy to assist you in a suicide mission. And you know it’s a suicide mission because that term is used not just constantly, but consistently. That’s one way to build suspense, I guess. The problem here was that while these characters were great — Thane and Legion to me were standouts — and offered short stories in the form of side missions, the story was not predictable, let’s say, but not unpredictable like the original or Mass Effect 3.

Aside from the occasional mission thrown at you by the Illusive Man, like Horizon or the Collector base before the Omega Relay, you knew what had to be done, and did it. And aside from one or two surprise squadmates, you knew who you were picking up along the way. While Samara and Zaeed can die on their side missions, it becomes evident that they’ll all last to either die off or succeed when endgame strikes. In the original, you can actually turn Garrus down (out of racism), kill Wrex, and of course, leave Ashley or Kaiden to die. The squad was more dynamic, but that’s taken to new heights in the third installment.

In Mass Effect 3, a character is actually taken out of your squad and then returned. Some old squadmates from Mass Effect 2 return to the squad, and some only return to fight alongside you. There are two new characters, though we’re already associated with one through the second game. The only two squadmates that persist throughout the trilogy are Garrus and Tali, which leads to an interesting moment in the end, though not interesting to me, because I was romancing Garrus before the new secretary pushed herself on me.

While Mass Effect 2 was a big advancement, Mass Effect 3 feels like further refinement, which is perfectly acceptable, because Mass Effect 2 was extremely fun. The refinement however was thorough, spreading through many layers of the game and creating a better experience. Of course, this was nothing new to the franchise.

Even though Shepard carries over from game-to-game, the player must still build him/her up with skill trees and Paragon/Renegade points. There are also new systems to learn with each new game, because in the Age of the Internet, a company like Bioware can and will respond to fan criticism. Mass Effect has terrible inventory management? Mass Effect 2 has none. Mass Effect 2 has no items? Mass Effect 3 strikes a happy balance. There were even subtle changes to gradually streamline the experience, for example by Mass Effect 3 the player doesn’t have to engage an NPC in a conversation wheel if that NPC has nothing new to say.

In the original, a character would have a comment on the mission or something new to talk about after every major story mission. This could be accessed by an option that went something like “Let’s Talk,” which while sort of awkward, always yielded interesting results, and made Garrus, Wrex, Ashley, Kaiden, Tali, and Liara early favorites because it was you initiating these talks. But sometimes they wouldn’t have anything to say so the conversation would go like this:

Shepard: [A]
Garrus: Need me for something?
Shepard: … [Let’s Talk] Do you have time to talk?
Garrus: Sure.
Shepard: … [Sees No Options, Selects ‘Back’, ‘Good-bye’]: I should go.
Garrus: I’ll be here.

In Mass Effect 2, Garrus or whoever would just say “I’m in the middle of something, can we talk later?” Garrus alone would say “I’m in the middle of some calibrations,” which became not only an in-joke for Mass Effect 3, much like the elevators in Mass Effect 2, but a brief Internet meme. It grew because so many people heard it, as they’d always prompt their favorite turian for some chit-chat, and he wouldn’t have refreshed between missions. So in Mass Effect 3 characters on the Normandy enter into conversation wheels less frequently, because when selected, they talk, and Shepard responds without player interaction, without going into medium-shot mode.

The quality of voice acting during these interactions hasn’t changed, as old Mass Effect talents return, and some new names lend their voices and sometimes likenesses. The list includes voice-actress superstar Jennifer Hale, and big TV and movie names like Martin Sheen, Seth Green, Yvonne Strahovski, Tricia Helfer, Michael Hogan, Claudia Black, Freddie Prinze, Jr., and genre veterans like Keith David, Lance Henrikson, and Carrie Ann Moss. Sadly, Adam Baldwin didn’t show up, but his character was mentioned once, in an email…

They get equal time to shine in the instances where characters will talk one-on-one with player input, but in this game, lengthy conversations are typically based on plot, keeping the action moving forward, and maintaining Mass Effect 3’s brisk momentum.

For a story of this length, it’s hard to believe that Mass Effect 3 could be so fast-paced and frantic. The sense of movement is bolstered by the dreadful weight of what’s going on in the galaxy, and at the scale the weight operates on. The Reaper invasion was in the books from the start, but now we get to see the things in action, which is a one-two. Early on we get their attack on Earth, and shortly after we fight on the turian homeworld Palaven, which is what Earth could, and does, become by the end. The towering Reapers looming in the distance under the neighboring planet are dazzling and powerful sights, as tiny ships buzz around them in a laser show while Shepard wards off husks on the planet’s rocky, war-battered surface.

The franchise itself may not be the most original in terms of art style or premise, but by Mass Effect 3 it’s come to its own by being fully realized. The team has gone all the way with what they want to show and how they show it. Every planet is stunning, from the crumbling Earth to the lush salarian homeworld, from the temples of Tuchanka to the grand, barren vistas of Mars itself.

It’s something special when every ingredient in a rare formula comes together this well, where we have customizable guns that shoot all colors of lasers, walkways suspended over cavernous laboratories filled with explosions and hellfire, and the characters we’ve come to learn about and care for in the middle of all of it, throwing down powers when we say, while the invincible Commander Shepard does damage of his or her own, deejaying abilities and upgrades collected over missions that are more like scenes in a real story than objectives on a quest-list.

There’s an incredible balance of focused storytelling and player choice, a constant throughout the trilogy. While the Paragon/Renegade point system might work to counteract or outright contradict player choice, reducing conversations to means to the same goal rather than unique resolutions, the options’ mere existence was a monumental thing in the original, and a much-appreciated hallmark by Mass Effect 3. Conflict resolution is also a significant theme in the series, making conversation wheels logically connected and gameplay-wise highly immersive and satisfying.

The premise of the series is as follows: Like in 2001, there is a device, this time on Mars, that jumps our civilization ahead thousands of years, as we begin to conquer the stars with FTL travel and advanced military technology. As all of humanity is uniting as they reach across the sky, we quickly discover that there are aliens out there, including the ‘sexy’ asari, the bird-like turian, the warmonger krogan, fast-talking salarian, nomadic quarian, and ‘evil’ geth. The twist is that all of them, except for the geth I suppose, met up with each other through the same FTL technology — that of the ancient Prothean race. That’s interesting, but it means that we’re the new kids on the block. We’re the ones who have something to prove, and we don’t start well — the first thing humanity does is go to war with the turians.

Mass Effect jumps ahead of this when we pick up the controller, but all this information is gathered in the in-game codex, as well as canonical multimedia fiction, if you’re so inclined. The universe also slowly trickles in throughout the first game. Describing the Mass Effect games in a word is silly, but if I had to, I’d use “balance.” Truly the first one had a lot to juggle, like the first Transformers (2007) movie. In Michael Bay’s most powerful film, the prolific screenwriting team Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman had to keep so many things in mind: the fan base, the theoretical fan base, an international audience, kids, adults, an original storyline, canon, call-backs, and balancing the audience proxy character with what we really came to see, the titular truckbots. An enormous undertaking that maybe didn’t yield the best product (considering the source material, I’ll give it to them), but a creative undertaking nonetheless. In the case of Mass Effect, barring for a moment gameplay and genre, so much had to be invented and revolutionized and perfected — and the product was a damn good one, a game that stood out in a year of game-of-the-years, sharing lists with the likes of Halo 3, Bioshock, and Call of Duty 4, some of the most influential games ever.

As we see from Mass Effect 2, story isn’t the only thing that sets the series apart, but it is significant. It’s a rare thing to see game creators care this much about the story, which by Mass Effect 3, is undoubtedly what comes first — a further anomaly. People want to know what’s going to happen to… Joker, for Christ’s sake, never mind what the Reapers are all about and what’s going down on Earth. After two great games, players have become invested in something like they’ve never known. Games may have had good stories in the past, but here we’ve been following something, and shaping it ourselves.

The pressure was on for Mass Effect 3.

The game takes place a little while after the events of Mass Effect 2, when the Collector hive, and the Reaper technology it housed, was destroyed in a suicide mission. The suicide mission’s aftermath left Shepard grounded on Earth, with her/his ship taken away. The first human spectre, eh? Well the thing about Shepard is nobody, except for Admiral Anderson, listens to him/her. It’s sort of like when people say “there can’t possibly be aliens out there… in the endless universe,” which seems ignorant because there’s nothing that special about the Earth’s composition and distance from its system’s star. In this universe, aliens are aware of aliens, but the principle remains. Nobody believes that Shepard went to Ilos and saw things about sentient warships, because… there can’t possibly be sentient warships out there.

Anything’s possible, you ‘norant Councilmembers.

Comeuppance could have been enjoyed had it not been for the whole ‘Reaper invasion of Earth’ that undoubtedly left a few billion humans dead. Now it’s on Shepard again to unite races, mend fences, and show the galaxy that their dickishness has gone too far. An army of genocide machines from beyond space is one hell of a wake-up call to such things, but the krogan continue to cause trouble with turians and salarians, the geth and quarian just started fighting, and the asari? I suppose ‘dicks’ would be incorrect here, but you get the picture. All of these conflicts were built up over the course of the trilogy, and while it’s a little absurd, its delivery makes it easily digestible.

Shepard’s new suicide mission, to leave a devastated Earth and gather armies, bring the fight back home, is helped along by a squad filled out by friendly faces and new, but welcomed ones.

I thought one of the more interesting characters new to Mass Effect was the shuttle pilot, Cortez. Not because he was gay — my Shepard’s gay, I guess — but because of all the things you could do with that guy (though he was, I assume, a romance option for males). It was high time we got to talk ad nauseum with non-squadmates, though that never ended well for those characters in the past. RIP Pressly. Adams made it out okay; it was a surprise to see him back. I always wondered what happened to the guy who marveled at Tali and shut up forever.

It doesn’t add a new dimension to the game but enhances a preexisting one, the seeming suicide mission statement of Mass Effect 3. They realized that more conversations led to more opportunities for memorable moments of drama, and Cortez had his share. That’s the beautiful thing about a narrative that can take its time with a running time of hours and hours — we can explore. In a movie, you’d never talk to Cortez, not when there’s a birdman doing calibrations and a killer robot housing thousands of AI — right over there!

Opportunities for genuine, sometimes shocking, character moments open up, as does the path we stalk down further and further on our journey — that of discovering just what the hell Mass Effect has been about the whole time.

Does the Mass Effect trilogy embody, also like 2001, a glaring self-contradiction? It speaks to galactic (international) unity, a unity of races no matter what skin-color or creed, but it’s a human who’s speaking. Shepard is at the epicenter — and if it weren’t for humanity, the Reapers would have had their day and eaten it too.

But what’s being said then, that humanity only got to this point because of Prothean technology? There’s a great sense of history here, one that stretches back years and years — the themes of development over time and evolution are prevalent but never really addressed — and we get the idea that something about cycles and society was meant to be said.

Here’s a list of the themes in Mass Effect, before the ending of Mass Effect 3:

– Civilization
– Peace and Unity
– Heroism
– Racism
– Cycles
– People

Shepard is a true hero because he/she betrays everyone in Mass Effect 2 to do the right thing — he/she joins Cerberus. While this doesn’t go down well with Alliance brass, the Collectors are dead as fried chicken, and Shepard keeps soldiering on, despite the Council’s dedicated efforts against him/her. This is perhaps a manifestation of the power of enlightenment — Shepard isn’t great and inspirational because he/she is the player’s avatar and goes ‘ooh-rah let’s kick some Covenant ass (the Master Chief… never said that)’ but because he/she makes choices, and almost all the choices in the game relate to solving people’s problems and bringing them together.

So let’s look at Commander Shepard as an enlightened and commanding shepherd of people in an archetypical, mythological way. He/she isn’t a deep character — by fault of design — but he/she holds great significance on a higher thematic level. Stopping the Reapers will be his/her greatest measure, whether or not he/she can end interplanetary kerfuffle after generations and generations of hate. Could we one day start over, not because we were all wiped out by machine-gods, but because one person was enlightened enough to unite us?

But shouldn’t the best ending then become an alliance with the Reapers, a sort of ‘let’s just get along with everyone, while we’re at it?’ Why do the Reapers either get destroyed or mind-controlled? Because they make more sense from a figurative rather than literal standpoint; their existence is in service of this uniting of races, but they cannot take part, despite being a race themselves. They also represent, let’s say, traditional values — they’re driven by that age old belief that wiping out advanced civilizations when they’ve reached Level 10 on the Advanced Meter is good for the heart, which makes them the opposite of Shepard, and the opposite of true galactic peace.

Obviously, I mean have you seen those lasers?

So that’s all fine and acceptable, but then two huge wrenches are thrown — hucked, even. The first one wasn’t really thrown, because Mass Effect would be much different without it.

In fact, Mass Effect takes its namesake from this very piece of its universe — the whole Prothean thing. We discover a Mass Relay, which allows us to teleport ships — and gunships — to any corner of the galaxy, so long as it’s outside Dark Space and batarian territory. And whatever the Perseus Veil is. Also don’t touch the Omega 4 Relay; you’re not ready.

So we get this advanced technology and use it, use it to boost ourselves ahead and oh damn we’re already fighting the first aliens we see. They call the turian war, smartly, the First Contact War. A brilliant term. We weren’t, evidently, ready to have the First Contact Bake Sale.

We have to grow, we need Shepard to show us the way. But first he/she’s gotta scan keepers…?

I just don’t get it at this point. Everything I’ve just said seems to break down in that same sort of 2001 way. In A Space Odyssey, more explicitly in the book than in the movie, humanity rocks because we went to space! Look how far our civilization has come this is not just NASA propaganda by the near-future year 2001! But we didn’t do that much, did we? Sure, we went to Japetus, which took a whole hell of a lot of time and pages, but only because alien gods (Reapers) told us to.

The Reapers are like the alien gods or the Overlords’ overlords in Childhood’s End — what is their purpose? To play with civilizations. Until, I suppose, those civilizations don’t want to be played with anymore. But that’s… nonsense. This part of the universe doesn’t mesh nicely with that stuff about unity and heroism, because it’s all predestined… but it’s not.

What’s the point of breaking the Reapers’ cycle? What does that mean? I suppose it’s a break from those aforementioned traditional values, which keep civilizations in the caves and at each other’s throats, but that operates on a purely abstract level. No NPC has ever said those words, but they have noted that humanity was jump-started by Prothean technology, and the two are related.

And then there’s the issue of Mass Effect 3’s ending, much as I loathe to admit it. The main reason why the ending disappoints is because it takes all that stuff about uniting civilizations and shoves it. The whole time, guys, it wasn’t about aliens getting along, even though that mirrors player choice and has been the whole reason for everything so far, it was about organics versus synthetics.

I’m a bit shady on the details, but I remember that the ending felt out of nowhere on so many levels, ‘thematically’ being one of them. I suppose you could make the argument that ‘synthetics’ is just a metaphor for ignorance, but what the hell the geth, right? Legion sacrificing himself and that geth prime marching down the hill saying “we cool,” was an amazing moment, but those guys are still synths, right?

The inconsistency is the problem, not so much any sense of anti-climax, because resolutions were constant throughout the game — we say good-bye to all these characters and plotlines, and do it with panache.

That being said, there are problems outside the ending and the tangle of science-fiction ideas and themes, namely dialogue and storytelling spots. Of course, those two are that which I praise Mass Effect most on, because I like video-games, but I love science-fiction and stories. Otherwise Mass Effect would be pretty fun, but I’d just play Vanquish.

A lot of dramatic moments are deflated by on-the-nose dialogue, in instances where silence would have been more appropriate. I just referenced Legion’s sacrifice (which you may or may not have experienced), where the geth prime tumbles down the hill to inform the quarian admiral that peace will be had by all. A bittersweet moment, but damn is that geth prime’s dialogue straightforward. As you’d expect from a robot, but he pretty much repeats the situation in word-form, which is unnecessary, a dangerous thing to be in such a context.

There are a few moments like that, as well as instances of dreadful cliché, like Shepard’s verbal battle with Kai Leng amidst a fight — they’re dueling, as in Shepard takes cover and Kai Leng dances around the Illusive Man’s office, and Shepard goes “You’re good… at running!” and Kai Leng shouts, “Shut up!” as if that was actually getting to this hardened killer/displaced character from Deus Ex. It felt like an 80s action movie moment, where Kai Leng would in a second be like “I’m gonna KILL YOU NAAOOOWWW!” and charge forward.

But in terms of negativity, that’s all I have. Mass Effect 3 transcends its medium and has shown me just what storytelling — not just interactive storytelling — can do.

While Mass Effect 3 rounds out a trilogy, it’s a sign of things to come in this young but quickly growing industry. Beyond graphics or technology, in a little over a decade enemies in video-games have gone from thoughtlessly killed in Doom or Quake to mercilessly killed in Call of Duty to thought about in Halo 2 and 3 to finally sympathized with and cared about in Mass Effect 2 and 3. It’s story and characters that video-games are getting the hang of now, with titles like Uncharted and Bioshock always making headlines. They do new things, taking advantage of their long-form narratives, the player element, and the fact that stories aren’t what get games greenlit, so run free.

Mass Effect was the first.

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island is a wonderful analogy to the state of the Hollywood picture. It’s the name that sells, same as always, but sometimes it seems that these guys aren’t aware of what they’re doing. They’re stabbing in the dark — Journey to the Center of the Earth has the same marquee value as The Mysterious Island (although who knows, with potential success of John Carter perhaps we’ll see a remake of At the Earth’s Core, and then interest in subterranean movies will be 2013), but because of the Journey 3D movie from a few years ago, that’s ‘renewed interest.’ it’s like a bizarre implicit (to the audiences) system of powering brands, so that in 2012 — the future — a movie called Journey 2: The Mysterious Island has marquee value. Maybe in time we’ll get an Unforgiven II: A Fistful of Dollars, when the western returns into this new Hollywood realm. Metallica can do the music.

Titles to me are an interesting thing, and in this day, the age of the franchise, they’re everything in movies. They’re the face of Hollywood trending, which to the consumer, really takes the ‘art’ out of the ‘art/business’ cocktail that is the film industry — the veil is lifted, we understand that big companies control movies, and right now, they’re taking notes from each other. You can’t call the third Twilight movie Eclipse. It has to be Twilight Saga: Eclipse, because the potential is there for $2 million worth of Twilight fans out there who don’t know the names of the books, and don’t watch trailers. God forbid it’s called Twilight 3.

Bad example; Twilight 3 is an adaptation of a book called Eclipse, so you’d just use that title (or, attempt to). But I think the numbering system, which in this day is underused, has significance. Now, this next segment is going to be really …wtf, in the sense that nerds go on about useless things but this is like that but to the max — bear with me.

Sequel titles are never decided by their artistic value. Were that the case, Rambo III would be called Rambo: First Blood Part III and Rambo Rambo First Blood Part IV, or Rambo IV. There’s no artistic value in the titles of Rambo movies, but this series in particular offers a good analogy; the marketing team or studio or whomever is willing to compromise the logical integrity of a string of sequel titles because they discover that Rambo’s the piece that has financial potential, not First Blood, the title of the original book and movie. To the lay, Rambo III has nothing to do with First Blood, and is is a sequel to Rambo, which came out exactly twenty years later? When you change the title like that, it gets pretty messy. There’s exactly one reason why they do it, and that’s kind of a bummer.

Something that’s re-become interesting to me is Bioshock Infinite, and looking at interviews online of Ken Levine. One of the things often brought up is something I believe I talked about many suns ago on this very website… the idea that Bioshock Infinite is called Bioshock Infinite, seemingly sharing in space occupied by a franchise going in an entirely different direction. There’s an issue here, and the issue is exacerbated by an initial sequel, Bioshock 2, which wasn’t done by Levine’s team, Irrational Games. Had Bioshock 2 been called Bioshock: Sea of Dreams or something, I don’t know I’m just spitballing, perhaps the problem would be less, but as it stands, the fans expect Infinite to take place in a ‘Bioshock universe’ if it’s going to take the name.

Levine’s philosophy here is that of the artist, not the businessman, as we might think. In his fledgling industry, which strives for establishment in popular entertainment each and every day, he’s all about pushing creative boundaries to ‘legitimize’ the medium; he’s right up there with Team Ico and the guys who do Heavy Rain, I suppose. This time around he wants to see what a sequel can do, because when we think of sequel, particularly with video-games, we get five new guns and a new creature or pallette swap. Same old stuff though, for the most part.

Why is it that a video-game sequel cannot be spiritually linked, as it often can be in movies or literature? It’s tricky, because the connection between Bioshock Infinite and Bioshock is closer than that of System Shock 2 and Bioshock, but not quite as with Bioshock 2 and Bioshock. The last example has both games taking place in the underwater city Rapture, and Infinite takes place in the city in the sky Columbia. System Shock 2 is in space, and is different, but similar. (I realize how ridiculous all of this is). The obvious point to bring up here is that they’re just trading on the Bioshock name, because that sells. Well, sure, but what was Irrational trading on the first time around? Don’t say ‘shock.’

I’m pretty sure there was an article on IGN talking about how inappropriate a title Bioshock was, and how a better title was Rapture. No hate toward IGN, but this mentality is definitely what Levine and co. are attempting to challenge. Referring to your game by an in-world element is incredibly limiting — on the flip, a thematic title can carry though. Also, it’s a dangerous practice on principle anyhow, because I’m pretty sure all the Halos are gone by Halo 4, and I don’t believe there were any Metroids in Metroid Prime 2: Echos. That’s the only one I didn’t [start to] play [and never finish because fuck puzzles, even easy ones].

When we think of Bioshock, we should think of a world effected by ideology — interactive impressionistic environments laden with satire. We should think superpowers, studies of civilizations and politics. It’ll be shocking to your system, cerebrally, and visually. The interactive element is dynamic because you’re shooting, using super laser powers (and in Infinite, swing around on rails), and the story/character bits may raise questions. Instead, fans only want to think of Rapture. Stop scamming us, Ken Levine. We’re on to you.

So this was… ostensibly about one topic. Titles… or Bioshock Infinite. It’s been a slow few weeks, which is why there haven’t been any posts. I know you’re all clammering.

Editing is the unsung hero of film. It’s also the unsung hero of selling film, and I figured to honor that fact by listing off what I feel are the most effective, manipulative, or just downright cool scifi trailers to come along. Sometimes it’s the music, the dialogue over certain images, the action editing, or maybe that it’s just a good movie, as in District 9‘s case–I love these trailers, and I love trailers in general. That’s half the reason why I go to see movies nowadays. Except, they had a trailer for something really weird in front of The Thing (not a movie I went to see for the trailers, just so we’re clear, that movie kicks ass), some teenage comedy…

Anywhom…

5. District 9 – Badass

D9 was considered to be a sleeper hit, and word-of-mouth plays a big part of that, which is a good thing. Movies should be rewarded on their standalone merits, rather than merely the merits of their marketing. Of course, this had pretty good marketing, too. I never saw any of the physical stuff, the signs and shit, but I also live nowhere, so never mind. I did however see the trailer, and I’m not one who goes on Apple.com and just sits there watching trailers (if I did, I’d be lost to the Internet in the lamest cyber-addiction yet), so when I did for this one I was skeptical at best. You better be good…

Boy-O, man. This trailer is good mostly because they had an excellent source to draw from. I bet that all the D9 trailers are good. What a great flick…

4. Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Cinematic Trailer

This one gives us a taste of the game’s requisite cyberpunk philosophical tendencies, and segues quick into a tour of the world complete with robot spiders and arms that turn into guns–draws us in, and we haven’t even seen a lick of gameplay. We won’t, and that’s fine because they had my money when they announced this damn game. That’s irrelevant. This trailer, and the Gears of War trailer and the one for Bioshock are analogous to the greater video-game industry’s push toward the big and the cinematic. The movie-like Uncharted 3 just came out and BLEW EVERYBODY’S FUCKING MINDS. I’ll never play it; Uncharted 2 wasn’t my speed, but I think this is a good and bad thing. Who knows if I’ll cook up an excuse here to talk about video-games further–time will tell.

For now, let’s say this. This trailer is really good stuff. Cheesy voice acting and somewhat histrionic lines, “the body will heal, but the mind is not so resilient,” works in tandem, and works quite well for some odd reason. I love the guy who’s like “They cannot stop us. They cannot stop the future.” Since when was “can’t” not good enough? Doesn’t matter–sounds cool.

3. Star Trek – Fan Trailer

Something about this one that I really dig. It echoes the romantic vision of space adventures (but with that modern spice) of the 2009 movie, and has the great sweeping camera moves and energy that make Star Trek stand out from every single one of its predecessors. In particular, I really like that shot of John Cho ready to fight, the way it flows with shots of other characters and you get that big music overlaying the whole thing (Freedom Fighters, by Two Steps from Hell) and dialogue from the gang and Romulan Villain Nero.

2. Avatar: The Aliens Trailer

They played this exact trailer (there are other TV spots like it) during some football game, which my dad was watching on a big, projected screen. I just about wet myself when I saw this trailer, because I, like everyone else, wasn’t 100% sold on the first few trailers for Avatar. This showed a movie that’s exactly what I want to see: Aliens. Not only Aliens, but like, Mega-Aliens. The marines are all OOH-RAH and they’re shooting their future guns and riding their robot suits and it all looks so pretty and violent and all about the space military…

God bless and also screw you to the editor who compiled this. God bless because it’s a great 30-second piece of entertainment, but screw you because you sold me the wrong movie. I would’ve seen Avatar anyway, but this got my hopes up to levels totally unecessary. Somehow, in the context of the movie, the lines, “We got movement out there,” and all that aren’t as exciting.

1. Blade Runner: The Final Cut – The Fountain?

The song, Tree of Life, I believe, is really awesome, very intense, and there’s no better movie to compliment it (aside from, you know, The Fountain) than Blade Runner. If only The Final Cut wasn’t a poop version of The Director’s Cut, this trailer would be perfect, but as it stands, we got all the Blade Runner trappings, snippets of classic dialogue like: More human than human is our motto, and I want more life sprinkly this ominous and foreboding little ad. They somehow made one of the boringest movies on record seem exciting, and for that, I give you five stars.

This was super easy to compile, I’ll do this again.

In the aftermath of watching Scott Pilgrim for the first time, I found myself in a strange situation. After watching movies like Hard-Boiled and Serenity, things I was very fond of, I immediately wanted to share them with everyone, and was fairly sure they’d like them. Scott Pilgrim was another, so I contacted various people and found that they had already seen it and ranged from being lukewarm on it to disliking it outright. During this summer, I’ve discovered that certain Internet circles I see myself as associating with don’t think much of the movie either. So here was a movie I loved, and nobody to share that appreciation with, which is why I wrote Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: An Appreciation rather than talk about it in real life with some person.

I’m not going to make this about some self-pity cry for help, but I will say that the movie’s poor reception on local and general levels (made no money, but hey – I didn’t see it in theatres either) has affected my perception of the film in this post-mortem period. The personal faults I have with the movie feel more glaring, like some of Michael Cera’s line delivery and a lot of the jokes, and I have had to accept that obviously this movie isn’t very well liked, but I do like it for reasons that are very personal and unique to me as an appreciator of motion pictures.

Even after all this time, I watch Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and I marvel every time and in the same magnititude. I marvel at the technical superiority employed by director Edgar Wright and Director of Photography Bill Pope, the mastery of craft that I find easy to both watch repeatedly and study (as an aspiring movie guy), the beauty of Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who’s one of those people I just really enjoy watching in movies, and the crappiness of some of the jokes. It’s a movie that means a lot to me, the one movie that I could literally never stop talking about, but won’t devote the site to like I will with its flagship movie, Blade Runner. The film has so taken me, a power I thought I would have attributed to a darker, more thematically serious movie like Apocalypse Now or Oldboy, which are both amazing, but don’t match up with Edgar Wright’s PG-13 actioner for me on a personal level.

The movie has actually had the power to push me to read more books, because I couldn’t quite find what I found with Scott Pilgrim in the other movies I’d seen this summer; movies that people really like sort of fell upon glazed eyes: Mulholland Dr., Pi, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (the best of the bunch), The Wild Bunch, The Thin Red Line, Green Zone, and Brazil. None of them matched the bizarre and difficult-to-pin-down effect Scott Pilgrim had on me.

But for how long? Assumedly when I’m 35 I won’t give a shit about a romantic comedy about 20 year olds, so maybe I feel like I have to enjoy this fleeting movie as much as I can while I still do. Or maybe, and this was something that struck me while making my way through the James Cameron biography, The Futurist, maybe Scott Pilgrim was the Avatar that never was.

Of course, the two movies have absolutely nothing to do with each other, but I expected to fall in love with James Cameron’s biggest movie to date (for now), which by his own admittance, was the wrong way to go, “I think if everybody was embracing [Avatar] before the fact, the film could never live up to that expectation … Have them go with some sense of wanting to find the answer,” (James Cameron) and didn’t. Perhaps I’ve been waiting for that hole in my heart to be filled since it was punched into creation back in December 2009, and it finally was with Scott Pilgrim.

But that doesn’t make any fucking sense because last year I saw not only top twenty movies like Ghost in the Shell 2, Jin-Roh, and Jacob’s Ladder, but a movie I’d go on to consider one of my absolute favorites, JSA. Why didn’t those fill the hole or whatever? They’re complex, intense, dramatic movies, and three of them are exemplary in my “film as suduko” philosophy, where Scott Pilgrim does not. However, JSA is a drama ending on a note of tragedy, Ghost in the Shell 2 is beautiful but contemplative and not very fun, and Jacob’s Ladder is an intense journey striking with enthusiasm upon themes I find very frightening (but intriguing). With Scott Pilgrim, I finally found a movie that very simply, makes me feel good. It’s a conventional romance with action elements – light, funny, and highly entertaining. Exactly what I need sometimes.

I understand that where it lost audiences was in it’s conception, however. It’s a Kung Fu movie that doesn’t make Kung Fu a priority, instead opting for a musical approach, where action scenes are ignored after they’re over, like they didn’t even happen. It’s a movie taking cues from retro-games, trying to appeal to a very specific generation that prefers other things and is very picky. It’s a romantic comedy, but isn’t just for girls and isn’t just for guys. So who goes to see it?

Other issues I’ve come upon with respect to Scott Pilgrim are of course, Michael Cera. I agree that he’s not really much of an actor, and some of his weaknesses are evident here, but I think he was the perfect casting choice for the character: an awkward dude who’s skinny and would look funny Kung Fu fighting Chris Evans. One of the more jolting criticisms I’ve read was from a publication I enjoy quite a bit, ScifiNow. Basically they said that Ramona wasn’t a girl worth fighting for, so they couldn’t relate to motivations of our hero.

That’s absurd. I don’t want to talk any more or ever about Mary Elizabeth Winstead unless I have to again, but needless to say, I was pretty shocked to read that. Easily my favorite piece of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is Winstead’s performance as Ramona Flowers. Not only is she attractive and easy to watch, but she’s a truly wonderful actor who’s breakout role simply hasn’t come along yet. She’s a perfect fit for Ramona Flowers, the brooding, cynical, just-trying-to-get-by chick – and yet you wouldn’t think it based on her filmography up until that point. Edgar Wright saw something in the cheery young actress, and goddamn he was so right.

This is not something I wanted to write and certainly not something I wanted to post on Dreck Fiction; it’s the third in a series of posts about one movie, and a movie that only barely makes sense being covered here on this science-fiction/movies blog. My excuse is pretty lame, that essentially I’ve found the most wonderful and endearing cinematic experience in years in a movie that… kinda sucks? I shake my head at it but I think about it constantly.

People like to think that they have good taste, and pride themselves on it. I was always one of those people. The only reason I think Scott Pilgrim is lowbrow is because of its general reception by fans and non-fans of movies, video-games, and modern media culture. But it’s very important to me, and I feel like I need to mention it as much as possible here because I’ve found hardly anybody else to talk about it with.

I wish I could have written something more conclusive on my feelings about this movie, but it’s difficult – such feelings are more puzzling to me than with any deep science-fiction movie or book, so take this Final Assessment with a grain of salt, like the titles of the fourth and ninth Friday the 13th movies. I’ll get back to you when I’m a better writer…

I really like this shot

If this is the first Dreck Fiction post you’ve read, trust me – this is unprecedented; I’ll never ever write another thing this long

Seeking out the films of Chan Wook Park after being exposed to Oldboy turned out to be a lucrative affair; JSA became an important movie to me while Lady Vengeance and Thirst were dazzling if difficult to penetrate. One thing was a constant across the five films of his widely available in the United States, something compelling and somewhat startling to me: there’s a confidence in his camera, in the composition, in the movement. Whether he employs the Steadicam or decides to shake around, the lens through which we experience brutality, terror, tragedy, and a startling breadth of human emotion and suffering is organic and the action depicted is unfaltering.

All too often in a movie will an actor stand up from sitting down in a medium shot and the camera will be too slow to follow, or try to rest after a slow pan and not quite settle for the duration of the shot. It makes me wonder why the director felt satisfied with the shot if there was a slight imperfection, a minor blemish. I may be paying too much attention to unimportant details but it feels like something of a compromise. Certainly there aren’t high brow camera techniques I’m getting at here, they’re ‘the details,’ and if a director is willing to map out a film to the details like these, they’ll go the distance, and this is evident in movies by Park, who was a master of the frame, as was Hitchcock and Leone. It gives the viewer the sense that goddamn these people knew what they were doing when they made those films.

It somehow didn’t occur to me that Edgar Wright too was in this league until Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, and on further inspection in a reviewing of Shaun of the Dead I’ve found confirmation of this stirring suspicion. Shaun of the Dead was beautifully orchestrated on every level; the thematic mundane demonstrated in the opening titles establish an early sense of repetition, which carries throughout and touches on the film’s thesis – which is seemingly never necessary in the first place – that we need to stop being zombies and change sometimes to be happy.

Shaun battling zombies is a visual manifestation of this thesis, its cinematic equivalent if the idea is first captured on paper or in the writer/director’s head. Shaun is a comedy film, so one might imagine that it didn’t need a message or an intricate, relatively speaking, thematic framework to be funny. But this is Edgar Wright. And this is a comedy film, and its clear that the man takes his craft seriously, regardless of genre. The humor is integral to the movie, and that’s why ultimately, Shaun of the Dead requires the message and the discussions of habit – and the zombies – it’s a vessel for the humor. It is funny when the patterns are recognized, when Shaun takes the identical trip to the convenience store and doesn’t notice anything, when we discover that the silhouetted couple making out outside the pub turn out to be one zombie feeding on another – these instances of clever comedy have depth rarely seen in other comedies, and are all in service to what Shaun of the Dead means as a movie, as the best horror/comedy in ages.

But there I go again with the superlatives. I’m not an ace at this review nonsense – I could blame it on my age but that might not bode well in the future – so I tend to praise a film by calling it the best of something (see the Reviews section of this site for dastadly confirmation). So by all means I surprised myself by the modesty in my voice when talking about Scott Pilgrim with various people. To Podcast Co-Host I said simply that it was something I was enamored of, and to another I think I just explained how embarrasingly in love with Mary Elizabeth Winstead I was/am. I hesitated to call it a truly great film, and I guess I’ll continue to do so, because it just doesn’t sound right. I will say this: it’s a movie I love and it’s the obvious work of an obvious master.

The director’s confident camera is found in Scott Pilgrim, and so are the details and all that other stuff. It’s apparent in every shot that there was a great amount of planning and artistry set to work – it’s a smooth flow of film, if there ever was such a thing.

Wary of retreading an earlier review of the very same movie, I won’t talk about the technical aspects of the movie that I thought to cover before, but focus instead on the director’s craft. As mentioned earlier, Edgar Wright is a technical wizard, and not just because he keeps the camera still when an actor stands up or whatever, but because the movie’s visuals are both entertaining and significant on a higher level.

Every scene has a unique ‘gimmick,’ and that may sound bad but in the context of the film it keeps us engaged on a subconscious level. A few examples of the gimmick from scene to scene to note their differences: the Seinfeld laugh track after Scott’s second date with Ramona, which cuts off abruptly when Wallace hits a switch on the stove; Envy’s “Oh yeah’s” in between Scott and Ramon’s conversation at the Clash at Demonhead concert; the time cards during Scott’s dinner with Ramona; the censor bars over Aubrey Plaza’s dialogue; the labels for each of his friends (i.e. Stephen Stills, “The Talent”), and many more that are harder to approximate in words.

Because of the video-game influences and the ‘gimmicks,’ the latter of which were evident in Shaun of the Dead, as well as the absence of anyone over the age of 30 save the two ‘authority figures’ that later burst through a wall, it’s easy to call this a film for the ADD generation, or whatever name you give to such a thing. This makes for a high-energy experience, a film with a bizarre cadence and rapid pace. Not only does all of this translate to ‘uniquely entertaining comedy with some cool action and a distinct voice,’ but is consistent with the narrative.

Of course, one can dismiss these eye-popping visuals as eye-popping visuals and be on their merry; one complaint that I’ve heard about Scott Pilgrim is that it felt overdone, and this is not without justification. Obviously not everybody is going to appreciate a movie seemingly fixated on the ‘ADD generation’ because not everybody is from that generation (as it turns out, only one is… [laughs to himself]). Some older critics have said that the movie touches on feelings of nostalgia, while others say that it’s self-indulgent or whatever they say. Basically if you thought the only thing more nauseating and offensive than Crank was Crank 2 and that Avatar looked like a video-game cutscene (I don’t know what video-games you guys are playing, Christ) you won’t like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.

Speaking of Avatar, let’s look at the effects for a moment. Everything from the hearts emanating from kissing to the vegan superpowers; these had to be created in a computer in order to emulate the comic-book. When an audience sees a trailer for the next alleged special effects movie, though what they’re really seeing is the visual effects, they divide. One half says “Uh, give it a rest Michael Bay,” and the other half is twelve years old. This too isn’t without reason, as we as audiences have had a torturous cinematic history of bad special effects movies, exacerbated to new heights by the endless cycles of Marvel and DC $175 million dollar extravaganzas, which are rarely good.

The 90s and ‘2K era’ provided many Stan Winston films that made people scratch their heads and wonder, as the late screen magician did, ‘will there ever be a balance between special effects and story?’ Winston grew up with the science-fiction of the 50’s, you know, those types where if I said, “Attack of the Mars Snakes,” as a bad joke I might have named a real film, and he was upset that these movies were just effects vehicles that didn’t even show the damn Mars Snakes that much. That’s why he eventually turned to directing, but that’s another story for the Dreck Fiction to get into.

Jurassic Park may look good, holding up 18 years later while Carnosaur languishes in the embarrasing memories of a few, and even Walking with Dinosaurs seems CG-obvious nowadays, but where’s the human drama? Same with other major sci-fi movies that aren’t just straightup popcorn farces like Independence Day or Total Recall tend to be. Or John Carpenter’s The Thing, apparently, which is the movie I always use to begin one of the special effects arguments: it may look fascinating, but it’s ‘shallow.’ How wrong you are, critic #73, how wrong.

When will film use its special effects to enhance the story, when will story necessitate the special effects – when will a sci-fi or fantasy fulfill that audio/visual promise of the cinematic medium? It’s only rare this happens, and even rarelier from Hollywood. T2 I believe comes close, but some of the CGI feels superfluous. Only a little bit, but that’s just the Cameronman for you. Scott Pilgrim does this, but it isn’t necessarily an outstanding example – the outstanding example has yet to come and be popular/successful. Blade Runner may be popular now, but that’s what… thirty years later?

The visual effects in Scott Pilgrim are used to convey the two other major pieces of the movie: video-games and music. Romance is the main piece, and all three round out what’s important in Scott’s life. Here is where we get back to that point alluded to earlier with the purpose of the effects in the narrative…

Having never read or heard of Brian Lee O’Malley’s original comic series, Scott Pilgrim (the second volume’s title was Scott Pilgrim vs. The World), I’m not sure exactly what was being said. I can make a guess however at the movie, and I have the strong feeling that it’s a movie, similar to Shaun of the Dead, about getting over yourself and moving on with your life to be happy. As much as the film was a celebration of retro-games, it was something of a criticism; I see their prevelance and significance to the fabric of the visuals as a metaphor for maturation on two levels. Not only are video-games typically ‘for kids,’ but we’re talking about retro-games like Zelda and um Tetris, which the medium left behind for our more modern Grand Theft Auto‘s and Call of Brothers in Honor Arms Battlefield Duty: Vietnam: Modern Warfare‘s.

Edgar Wright tends to see the movie as something of a daydream of Scott’s, where he imagines he’s the hero of his very own film. The feeling that we are in the guy’s mind is evident in the every scene, every piece of the frame; it’s so goddamn subtle. Sounds in the background like the thudding of suspenseful music will morph into some guy tapping a distant microphone – it’s a subconscious effect, and it works. If this movie sort of happens inside his mind, it makes sense that a big ol’ “VS” slaps the screen before a battle, anticipating the massive “KO” or in one instance a “BASS BATTLE,” as in “BOSS BATTLE” from a side-scrolling beat-em-up or fighting game. It is then internally logical that he doesn’t dump quarters in when the arcade screen from ‘Ninja Ninja Revolution’ prompts him to CONTINUE? 9, 8, 7… because he’s ended up with the right girl, not just the one of his dreams but the one he’s confident enough to say he’s in love with. He’s moved on from his world of Final Fantasy II and through the door, the thingy over there.

The video-game stuff and the visual effects stuff, which serve each other, are in tandem here to elevate the main theme of romance. As much as this is an action comedy, it’s a story of romance threatened by the past and bad habits.

If Scott ended up with Knives Chau the story wouldn’t have worked in the end because we’ve followed Scott and Ramona’s development, their making peace with the past (sometimes by headbutting it so hard it bursts) and trascending dabbling in being bitches by being with each other. Staying together after they go through the door is sort of the solution to the equation of their relationship. The only character arc Knives goes through is becoming a ‘badass,’ something that I do take issue with.

So the central theme is romance, and I’m not a coinesseur in romantic films so I can’t tell if it’s a ‘good romance,’ or a hackneyed one. My perception of this romance as ‘good’ is also probably sabotaged by that aforementioned crush, which is hilarious.

Anyways, Knives is one of the only characters, perhaps the only one, that I didn’t like. She certainly changes throughout the course of the film, starting out timid and dorky (she says “I’ll be quieter” really softly even though she hadn’t been saying anything, which was kind of funny), and then being driven crazy by Scott’s relationship with Ramona, the fatass white girl. By the end of the movie we’re supposed to believe that she is indeed too cool for Scott, and that’s why she can leave and Scott can finally have a peaceful breakup.

This is derived because as I think Edgar Wright had said she’s become something of a badass by the end of the movie, note the Gideon fight where she fought both Ramona and then Gideon with swords and a rather long scarf that was quite the trouble during production. I can see what they were going for here, that this evolution of the character from timid dorky schoolgirl into rocker badass ninja was what makes her ‘too cool’ for Scott, but there’s a major problem. Crazy as it sounds – I didn’t even notice that she was a rocker badass ninja.

When she flies out of the ceiling to fight Ramona I didn’t think anything of it. I mean didn’t we just see Ramona totally kick ass like five seconds ago? Or what about Scott Pilgrim, a normal kid, when he suddenly knew kung-fu and got the first hit off in the Matthew Patel fight? The movie employs an absurd logic, but it’s consistent, so Knives being a crazy fighter didn’t seem out of the ordinary when I guess it should have.

Another issue I had with Knives was her all the time during the second act of the film, after she’s seen Scott with Ramona for the first time, and notes that this blue-haired girl must be like twenty-FIVE. That whole montage of her changing her hair to blue and plotting to get Scott back all while accompanied by her straight-man friend was played for the laughs, but that wasn’t really my type of humor. Though to think of it, the things that I tend to laugh at the most in this movie aren’t even jokes so I’m probably wrong.

I just thought that her going crazy and acting out was too much comedically for this actress to handle, or maybe it was just uncomfortable to watch because it’s a weird stalker sequence. Who knows.

But anyways, I like the jokes in the movie, like the “She dusts,” bit, or “Is that the Uma Thurman movie?” (because seriously who the hell is ever gonna reference My Super Ex-Girlfriend? Though on second thought it was a new movie when the comic was coming out… who knows who wrote the line?) but it’s actually little moments in the dialogue that get me the most, certain deliveries like Brandon Routh saying “Thanks tool,” and Chris Evans saying, “It’s called a grind bro,” or “You really think you can goad me into doing a trick like that?” or saying “Prepare-” before ripping the background on the movie set and trying again with his ‘menacing’ delivery. That’s the kind of humor that’ll stick to a movie, but there is comedy in the film that won’t last.

Like Family Guy, some of this stuff is just too cutting edge. Only instead of being so modern you’re referencing the goddamn commercials of the day like that show does, Scott Pilgrim has a lot of comedy that is meant to appeal to that ADD Generation, the kind of implaceable humor that’s hard to describe, but I know isn’t my type and isn’t many’s, and won’t be cool for very long. Stuff like “Why is he dressed like a pirate?” “Are you a pirate?” “Pirates are in this year…” Hm.

But then Thomas Jane crashes into the wall with the bad guy from Crank 2 and he says, “Milk and eggs, bitch,” and everything’s back to normal. I swear – Edgar Wright in his technical commentary of the movie (a movie he’s made, mind you) had the same reaction to Thomas Jane that I and hopefully many others did: *laugh your ass off* “Holy shit it’s Thomas Jane!”

As great a film that I accuse Scott Pilgrim of being, it’s not something that I can just show off to people like I could with Strange Days or City of God – undeniably cool and interesting films, movies that even if you dislike, you are compelled to recognize as good. It’s a movie for teenagers, and it’s a comedy with very specific humor, some of which I don’t even appreciate. It’s also a Michael Cera movie in this post-Youth in Revolt, Year One, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Superbad world. I was clever enough to avoid all of those movies and so I never got burned out on the guy – I still think he’s funny. I’ve only seen the first season of Arrested Development and some of Clark and Michael, and both of those are hilarious, so I’m still a fan of his.

It does make me wonder though where Edgar Wright is headed next. This was his biggest financial disappointment thus far, which is not good, as it was his only American movie, and his only PG-13 rated movie. I believe he’s co-scripting the Tintin movie and he plans on doing Antman and a third “Blood and Ice Cream,” flick, rounding out a trilogy following Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz with the old Simon Pegg/Nick Frost team. My only concern there is with the Antman movie – Scott Pilgrim seemed to fit his style almost uncannily; the material and the director were a perfect match, just like the casting of Robert Downey Jr. to Barris in A Scanner Darkly. Some things, man, they just work. Will Antman allow for such visual trickery and thoughtfulness? I know it’s a humor-based superhero, but beyond that I know nothing of it.

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see, but with this guy at the helm and his three movies as evidence, I’m sure it’ll be wowyeah, wow

Not only has the original movie’s tagline become quite the cliche, such that it’s near impossible to riff on it because all the variants have been said, nearly everything else about it has been equally recycled into other, later pieces of popular media. Even to the day we see the influence of Alien and Aliens, in video-games from DOOM (originally supposed to be an Aliens game) to Dead Space (2008), and in movies like Sunshine and Pandorum and countless others. It’s a historical milestone in the genre of science-fiction, single-handedly lifting sci-fi/horror from dreck fiction to a level not seen since the classic Frankenstein films. Alien is a classic, Aliens is a classic. Alien 3 is one of the most underrated science-fiction films, or possibly films, of all time. Alien Resurrection is a story that can’t be approximated briefly in a cute sentence here.

The four Alien movies make up what is undoubtedly the greatest sci-fi movie series, and it’s about what scares us the most.

That was the origin in fact, that very question; Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett got together and asked. They came up with one word, an r-word that you’ll probably guess at with ease. What if that happened to you? What if the thing on the other end was a goddamn alien creature with a big old alien penis? What if you were in space, and no one could hear you scream? What if you discovered that there was in the end, no hope, but in your own will to survive?

Thus Alien was born, but first, perhaps we should take a moment to recall Alien 0.5 – John Carpenter’s very first film, Dark Star. This movie starred Dan O’Bannon as a hippie astronaut among hippie astronaut, and his assignment was to chase an alien through the various corridors of the ship. That sounds familiar, only the alien in question is a beachball with rubber monster feet attached to it. I don’t think HR Giger had his hands on that one.

What’s interesting about Dark Star is not necessarily that it’s a great movie, but that it silently impacted science-fiction and nobody but nerds knows about it. Nerds and Danny Boyle I guess, who paid homage to the 70’s flick by naming one of his astronauts in Sunshine after a character in Dark Star, Pinbacker.

O’Bannon’s next project would be a bit more popular; Alien went on to be quite the commercial success, which really set Ridley Scott up for a sophomore slump in Blade Runner. It’s a shame that the Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? adaptation grossed so little, because it put the director off of science-fiction for thirty years. Blade Runner and Alien truly stand out in Scott’s filmography because of it, and because so much attention and craftsmanship was put into the film’s look. Matchstick Men looks nice, but it doesn’t have the classic lighting composition and atmosphere that heighten the tension or create a sense of apocalyptic decay.

The production design in Alien indeed is legendary, as you’ll see it repeated several times over in sequels and in pieces of media that bear a resemblance. The movie, intitially entitled Star Beast, was just as cool to rip off as Star Wars and the later Blade Runner – it was fashionable. All of a sudden science-fiction had a sense of range to it, and this is all thanks to the visuals. Star Trek and Star Wars told us that we could see the great heighs of man as imagined by creative masters like Roddenbery and Lucas, while Alien and Blade Runner told us we could shove all of that. The two movies have the classic ‘used future,’ look, and it makes sense in either context.

Alien finds its seven crewmembers on the Nostromo, a Conrad reference that seems fitting after The Duelists, which was Scott’s debut. As we discover from an initial conversation over grubby food, they are blue-collar workers. They aren’t talking about saving the world from space vampires – they’re talking about shares and getting paid. These are the characters who are established at the front of the film, and we get to know them by the time they reach LV-426, which I don’t think is named in the first movie, but will be revisited later.

The movie moves incredibly slowly, but it has to. There is narrative progression, and this happens on many levels. Because it’s a movie about what scares us the most, it’s also a movie about reaching out and touching that fear, as one would expect on the frontier of space. Thus we see our heroes experimenting with the alien facehugger, noting that it has acid blood and tightens around Kane’s neck when threatened, and then rallying together to try to find a cat-sized alien which is now loose in the ship after the film’s most iconic scene – the chestburster.

We assume that it’s cat-sized because that’s how it left Kane’s dead body, skittering off the table and into the depths of the Nostromo. When we find that it’s not, that it’s a rather large creature, we can’t be sure of anything. And that’s when the movie begins to really take off.

First, we’re frightened of the creature. It becomes a ubiquitous threat, always hiding somewhere on the ship, ready to pounce with its terrible tongue-jaws-dick. Then, we’re frightened of the Company. We discover that they’re so goddamn cold they consider the crew to be expendable, something that would repeat in every other movie about aliens, from Predator to Alien Lockdown. Then we’re afraid of each other – Ash turns out to be a robot, which is very phildickian. This provides for one of the most intense scenes in the movie, as Ash is bleeding and vomiting this horrible white ‘blood.’

Finally, we become frightened of the ship itself, our surroundings. It’s always been creepy, as the description of Alien as a haunted house movie in space is fair, but towards the end of the movie, it becomes hostile. Fog is blowing everywhere, emergency lights are flashing, alarms are ringing and Mother, the ship’s computer, is counting down until an explosion. Caught in the middle is Ripley, who’s had to experience the fears of all of the above, and is now struggling against the last.

We can only overcome these fears by being reborn, which is why the ship is the final thing to be feared, other than the fact that it makes for some great hallway-running sequences, which is also iconic. Ripley is reborn when she takes the shuttle out from the Nostromo, essentially breaking away from Mother. That’s not the end of the movie however, although we do get a sequence akin to Metroid‘s perfect clear ending.

If that was the end of the movie, the victory over her many fears would not have a measure, and the movie would be about nothing. The alien returns, and Ripley is able to defeat it by being calm and a badass. She harpoons it and sends it flying out the airlock, and she’s the only survivor, save one lucky cat. She is able to have this victory because of her will to survive, which is the only thing that can save you from your worst fears.

This is the point of the movie because we have to explore our worst fears to get to that point. That’s how we have one of the most excellent horror films ever crafted, filled with glorious set pieces and surprisingly intense moments that hold up thirty years later.

There is however one point of contention I have. It has to do with Ripley, who is played by Sigourney Weaver, the one recurring character (well, besides the titular alien) across all four movies. Considering that Ripley has at this point become at archetype, such that even to the day she has characters modelled after her – Mary Elizabeth Winstead in The Thing prequel is taking on that role, which I look forward to – as she is the most famous heroine in science-fiction film, it’s disappointing to realize that her origin in Alien is born out of horror than feminism.

Indeed she is the Final Girl, and this is because she is a female, and because we assumed Tom Skerrit, who gets top billing, was going to be the last one out to shut Nostromo‘s lights. Once he dies, we can’t be sure who it’s going to be, thus creating more horror for the viewer because the Alien could jump out and kill anyone. She is the hero to take away audience comfort, not because ‘wouldn’t it be cool if it was a girl kicking ass?’ I’m sure there was some of that, but it’s certainly expanded upon more in the James Cameron (naturally) sequel, Aliens from seven years later.

For a more in depth look at Alien and the Alien series, be sure to check out Roz Kaveney’s From Alien to The Matrix: Reading Science-fiction Film

 

 

 

The prospect of a big bad Mass Effect movie is enough to get fanboys in a tiff, as there is some actual mythology there to be potentially ‘ruined,’ just like how after the abysmal sequel to Resident Evil (2002), they couldn’t make any more video-games. What a ruined brand, damn shame. Super Mario, also. As a fan of space opera when mixed with military SF elements, the Mass Effect universe was a natural fit for me, and I’d gladly watch a non-playable version. We haven’t really had video-game movies lately, and I must be the only one complaining about that, but some of the best games have yet to be attempted – Halo, Metal Gear Solid, Bioshock, (what ever happened to Joust, man?) etc.

If Mass Effect was adapted into a movie, I would be into it, so long as they don’t get another music video first timer dude to do most of the creative aspects. But as far as I’m concerned, the more stuff like Mass Effect the better – let’s expand this franchise to what Halo used to be. My one concern over the potential Mass Effect movie (I don’t want to keep using it in terms like it’s being made, not matter what IMDb.com might have you think) is the hero of the tale. Commander Shepard is a wonderful character in the way that the Transformers (2007) script is: he is able to satisfy many different demands without necessarily being deep, or… good, in a traditional sense. The renegade option makes him more a badass than a creepo (you can tell the writers had a good time with some of the dialogue), and his depth, of which there can be none as an RPG avatar, is offset by the supporting cast. Garrus is totally awesome.

But the problem here is that he, the male Shepard, is the default. My only complete playthroughs of either games. Have been with female Shepards, but she is not the default sex. The default Shepard, the one you see on the box, is modeled after a real person. FemShep, as it were, is not. There are many fans out there who choose the female Shepard over the male, and some of these reasons are silly (lesbian alien sex). Sometimes people just want to follow around a cute little buttocks. Some people find Jennifer Hale to be a better voice actress. I agree, she is pretty solid.

I prefer the female Shepard partly on principle. No lesbians – my Shepard got with Kaiden, which was a strange experience for me to hit on a guy. But at the end of it all I reasoned that there simply aren’t enough badass female characters in audio/visual science fiction, and markedly less in this neato space opera environment. To support this claim, I’d like to deconstruct some of the names people bring up when we say, strong female character.

Let’s start this off with an easy one. I love the Major just as much as I love her respective series, though to varying degrees based on which medium. Stand Alone Complex Major was highly entertaining to watch kick cyborg ass, and the movie character (in both films) was thought-provoking in premise, and intruiging in Innocence. But there are several reasons why she doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. 1) Masamune Shirow. 2) That episode in 2nd GIG where she was touring China with that little kid… creepy hotel scene with ambiguity in the English dub. 3) it’s debatable whether or not the nudity in the original film came about prominently because of the existentialist themes, or for fan service bullshit. The fact that it is debatable is deflating, and is rooted in number 1.

Now for a fan favorite, one I’ll never understand. Princess Leia from the ‘holy trilogy,’ is considered to be a classic strong female character in SF. I guess it’s kind of easy to figure out; the reason why good or positive or equal-to-or-greater-than-men female characters are rare as good weather in New England (zing) is because it’s written notoriously by nerds. Male nerds. Remember what Philip K. Dick said about his kind, the SF writers – they know little about science and their fiction is generally dreadful. Indeed, these people are people after all, not gods. I don’t know if you knew that. So I guess you can’t blame them entirely for the Princess Leia being totally lame, first a kidnapped princess to be rescued, then an object of cliche romance, and finally, and my favorite, a ‘sexy’ slave girl in the iconic metal bikini. At least she had compelling characterization to back it all up, of course.

The Matrix gets a lot of hate. But one element people never criticize is the only element I ever will: Trinity. A good, if shallow and hopelessly sidekicky character, she does the Kung Fu and motorcycle jumping, and this is a good thing. But just like a lot of The Matrix, she’s not original. She’s essentially a carbon copy of Molly from Neuromancer, in terms of appearance and role, despite lacking Freddy Kreuger cyber enhancements and Batou eyeglasseyes.

Mace from Strange Days. No complaints. Now we just need people to watch Strange Days.

I’d catch a grenade or jump in front of a train for a woman like Summer Glau, like that terrible song goes, though in reality she’s had to endure plenty of networks lobbing grenades at her time and time again – and I just stood by, helpless. Firefly is one of the great tragedies of TV and science-fiction, and while Terminator: SCC was alright, it still got cancelled. If you put Summer Glau in your show, two things will happen: I’ll perk up, it’ll get cancelled. So let’s look at one of her better known characters: River Tam from Firefly/Serenity. I saw Serenity first, and thought she was just a crazy kick-ass crazy girl, but Firefly showed me that no, she didn’t do the kung-fu all the time. Basically what we have here is this blank slate personality akin to the Major, but instead of being quietly philosophical or barking orders, her perogative is to alternate mumbling and screaming. And going back, the kung-fu kind of pisses me off. I don’t know why. Firefly didn’t exactly have the best female characters though, probably the worst being Inara, who was so blatantly eyecandy it was embarrasing. What the hell does high-class prostitution have to do with anything in this universe?

James Cameron knows how to combine women and robots without compromising either. Sarah Connor was badass enough to warrant her own TV show, and the adapted Ellen Ripley earned Sigourney Weaver a nomination at the Oscars. Even the Lindsay Briggs in The Abyss was more complicated than required by the premise of an exploratory underwater adventure. But Netyri is hell weak, man. Out of context, “you will never be one of the people,” is one of the worst lines ever. “You are like a baby!” on the other hand makes me chortle; the former is cringe-inducing.

Think of the great man characters filmed sci-fi has given us. First one that pops to my mind is Snake Plissken. Bit of a cliche, but totally owned by Kurt Russel. How about Han Solo? Everyone loves Han Solo. I got nothing bad to say there. He was essentially the cookiecutter Western genre badass, maybe a Man with No Name (or a Man with a Ridiculous Name) in space. But he gave back to SF, showing us that not every space opera needs black and white heroes, but even anti-heroes can be redeemed and sympathetic. He also gave us Malcolm Reynolds, the successor to the form.

Some people do however know how to write cool female characters. A more recent example is Eden Sinclair from Doomsday. Awesome movie, awesome actress, awesome name. Maj. Eden Sinclair is essentially just a better version of Snake (that says a lot, both Escape movies are stellar), but with a robot eyeball. I doubt I would have liked the movie as much if it had starred, I don’t know the guy from Dog Soldiers. Conversely, Dog Soldiers would have been more entertaining to me had it starred Rhona Mitra. Well isn’t that interesting? Probably not, I think I just appreciate Rhona Mitra as a screen presence.

Basically I’m just tired of science-fiction film and TV and video-games being a man’s only club. For the most part, women play supporting roles, and when they don’t, they are men without penises. I guess it’s a difficult thing to write a compelling or at least positive woman character for the average SF writer. I know I sure as fuck couldn’t do it – I don’t hang around women, I just choose to see them shoot up alien worlds on the televsion.

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