Jump to content

  • Log in with Facebook Log in with Twitter Log In with Google      Sign In   
  • Create Account

Welcome to BZPower!

Hi there, while we hope you enjoy browsing through the site, there's a lot more you can do if you register. Some perks of joining include:
  • Create your own topics, participate in existing discussions, and vote in polls
  • Show off your creations, stories, art, music, and movies
  • Enter contests to win free LEGO sets and other prizes
  • Participate in raffles to win LEGO prizes
  • Organize with other members to attend or send your MOCs to LEGO fan events all over the world
  • Much, much more!
Enjoy your visit!

TMD's Creatively Named Blog



Photo

Motivated Acceleration

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! May 19 2018 · 31 views

Essays, Not Rants 321: Motivated Acceleration

I am endlessly fascinated by mediums. No, not people who claim to talk to ghosts; rather the forms that stories can take. Why does this story work better as a novel? Why this a video game? Why that a play?

It’s usually adaptations where you can see the cracks that are the chasms between mediums. Consider the recent comic adaptation of The Last Jedi, which is essentially a beat-for-beat retelling, it doesn’t quite capture all the visual splendor of the movie. BB-8 trying a variety of attempts to fix Poe’s X-Wing is far less interesting on the page. There are other additions that use the strength of comics, though. But point is, there are some things that would only really work on in one medium.

And Infinity War has a fantastic moment that could only have worked on film. Consider this a mild spoiler warning for someone who hasn’t seen any trailers and really doesn’t know what’s going on in that movie.

In the third act, a group of heroes prepare to defend Wakanda from the Black Order and their army. A gap is opened in the shield to funnel in the advancing bad guys, and the heroes prepare to attack. Black Panther gives an order to his soldiers, they ready their weapons, he yells “Wakanda Forever!” and leads the charge. He, Okoye, Captain America, Black Widow, Bucky, War Machine, and the others rush forward together. This is a terrifically epic moment in and of itself, but it’s what comes next that I wanna talk about. As the good guys run towards the advancing Outriders, two people pull ahead of the pack: Captain America and Black Panther. It makes perfect sense within the lore: they’re both extra fast because of the super-soldier serum and heart-shaped herb, respectively; and they’re also two of the bravest characters in the MCU. Seeing these two lead the charge is a delightful visual gag.

And it’s one that only works in film (we’re gonna ignore tv for now because budget constraints).

It wouldn’t work quite as well in prose, given that a strong part of what makes the beat work is the visual of it. Being able to see the scale of it all as well as seeing Cap and T'Challa pull ahead on film. The thrill of it would play out differently, and probably a little less viscerally. This you gotta see for it to work as it does.

So let’s go back to comics, y’know, where these characters came from. As dope a splash page as the beat would look, it doesn’t convey a key part of the gag: acceleration. Everyone starts out together, but it’s only those two who are absolutely racing towards the bad guys. They didn’t get a head start, they’re just that much faster. Ah, but the joy of comics is that they can be sequential panels. The first panel has them all together, second has Cap and T'Challa a little ahead, and in the third they’re attacking Outriders while the others lag behind. Classic three beat structure. But that’s three panels; panels take up space, and space implies importance. What was a quick moment in the film is now made more important than it was. Still cool, but no longer the quick gag.

Video games are visual and those visuals move, so maybe here we have a strong contender. Let’s not imagine this as a cutscene (because what are cutscenes other than short films?) but rather a playable segment. By virtue of games’ interactivity you’re immediately given a leg up on being a visceral thing. You’re part of the charge. But, if you’re playing as Steve Rogers or T'Challa will you notice that you’re ahead? If you’re a foot soldier or Bucky Barnes will you be too preoccupied with your assault to notice? The interactivity of games also means there’s an element of subjectivity. Playing Halo’s The Silent Cartographer on a difficult level is a solo affair, with most of the AI marines being picked off by the Covenant early on, but if you’re playing it on easy you’re part of a small army. Or it could be not getting a certain plot point in a Mass Effect game for not going on a certain sidequest. In essence, there’s no way to guarantee something lands, that the player experiences a certain thing a certain way (without taking control away from the player).

Which I guess is where film shines. Not only does it have visual storytelling, but the fact that the camera is motivated lets us see exactly what the storyteller wants us to see. Consider the shot in question again: we see everyone running forward, then the camera follows Captain America and Black Panther as the pull ahead and lead the way into the fray. The shot lasts barely a couple of seconds (if that), but it’s a fantastic little moment. We take it in and process it instantly. It’s a terrific beat, and one that would only spent the way it does in film.

You could have a similar gag in another medium, but it wouldn’t work quite the same way. A comic’s narration could draw attention to it in one panel, a game could use characters’ stats to similar effect. There are elements to media that really make them unique, and taking advantage of those elements will yield something really special.

Which is a really roundabout to say that guys, Infinity War is a lotta fun and an epic movie.


Photo

Professional

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Life And Such May 16 2018 · 32 views

It's 1:30am and I have my day job in the morning, but I'm writing right now (and just finished another round of bourbon with bitters) and feel like rambling.

This weekend we wrapped production on THE INVINCIBLE OSIRIS JACKSON, a webseries about a gay, black nerd looking for love in all the wrong places.

A webseries that I was hired to direct.

As in direct a production for money.

I got paid to direct.

I emphasize these words because this is something I've wanted for years, heck, it's basically been the goal.

It's a terrific script and I got some really good performances out of it that were engrossing enough that I'd forget to yell cut on set. Which is always a good sign, because I've read the script countless times and we've done rehearsal after rehearsal. We're going into editing next week, and I got to hire a friend of mine (she was Script Sup and AD on THE CONDUITS, so, woo, getting the band back together!) and once that's all done I think the showrunner plans to release it on YouTube.

It's pretty dang dope to get to be involved in a project like this, and I really think I've done a good job with the material. Now it's a matter of bringing it home.

But yo, I got paid to direct a webseries. I've got money in my bank account from filmmaking. From directing.

It's a career I've pursued in one form or another for over a decade, since making old cartoons here on BZP way back when. And now I've made money doing this. It's surreal. And, with luck, it'll happen again soon.

And if being paid to do something makes you a professional, then I'm now a professional director.

Oh yes.


Photo

Between a Wookie and a Hard Place

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! May 12 2018 · 30 views

Essays, Not Rants! 320: Between a Wookie and a Hard Place

A recent trailer for Solo, that new Star Wars movie about, uh, Han Solo, ends with a bit of a cliffhanger. A (space) train hurtles along its tracks around a mountain as a battle rages atop it. It comes close to the cliff side and hanging out the train is none other then Chewbacca, and he is heading straight for an outcropping. The Wookie appears destined to certain doom as the trailer ends.

The question of whether Chewie survives became an ironic question in the wake of the trailer’s release. A particularly tongue-in-cheek theory was that the Chewbacca we meet in A New Hope is actually the son/clone of the Chewbacca in Solo. The meaning behind the joke was clear: why is this trailer trying to fake us out with these stakes when we know Chewbacca survives to the Original Trilogy?

So here I am, finding myself talking about stakes again, but it’s late and I’ve spent the whole day on set so I’m allowed to ramble.

Whether or not Chewbacca survives is a bit of a boring question, as there are only two answers and we already know which one is right. Hinging all the tension on something that simple isn’t terribly narratively interesting. But if we know that Chewbacca survives, we can then ask a more productive question: how does Chewie survive? Does Han tug him in? Does Lando grab him? Does a Stormtrooper’s heart grow three sizes? Does he pull himself in?

In some ways, it’s the relief of a spoiler. In a time when so many storytellers like to keep their audience on bated breath by making them ask if these characters will survive, it’s kinda nice to know that "hey, these guys make it out alright."

Prequels are movies that inherently have seemingly low tension. We know Obi-Wan and Anakin are gonna survive Episodes I-III because, duh. But the interesting question is how does Anakin become a Jedi and then betray them all. That such a loaded question is given such a weak answer may be one of the prequels greatest failings. Think of all the potential "how"s that were answered with, well, Anankin walking into Palpatine’s office at the wrong moment. Not a terribly satisfying answer.

For a better example, maybe look at Monsters University. We know, because of Monsters, Inc. that Sully and Mike are best buds. We know that Mike is not gonna end up as a scarer, but we also know that he’s okay with that. The start of University sees a very excited, hopeful Mike whose heart is set on becoming a scarer. How does he end up where he ends up? It’s a pretty meaty question, seeing as it involves a protagonist’s goal shifting so wildly. University answered it by letting us know that what Mike wants isn’t what he needs. Though where he ends up might be a foregone conclusion, the process of getting there is interesting. Again, if knowing how it ends spoils it, why would a movie be worth rewatching? Why hear a story again?

I realize I’ve spent an inane amount of words talking about a simple beat in the Solo trailer that exists just for that tension you want in a trailer. Chewie probably just pulls himself back in. Heck, the shot may be from another sequence and it’s just cut that way to look dangerous. Solo will probably still work even though we know Han, Chewbacca, and Lando are gonna make it out alright. I wanna know how they make it out — and what happens along the way.


Photo

Top Nine Movies of 2017

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! May 05 2018 · 62 views

Essays, Not Rants! 319: Top Nine Movies of 2017

So it’s almost halfway through the year and I’m finally putting together my year end list. For 2017. Yeah. Kinda forgot about it. And by forgot about I mean procrastinated.

Anyway! Here we go! Top Nine; leaving a space just in case there was something amazing I missed. And it was really hard to sort these!

9. Logan
This one edges out Thor Ragnarok just by virtue of how singular it is (though Ragnarok is also quite singular in a different way). Logan takes the idea of a dark and gritty superhero film but, rather than using this just to show how adult and grownup it is, it funnels it into a heavy atmosphere that evokes a Morricone western by way of The Last of Us. The result is a beautiful contradiction, the pulpy fun of a superhero story set in a harsh, unforgiving mood. That Logan has something to say and it’s not just “look how gritty and violent I can be with my R-rating” is the icing on its brutal cake.

8. Coco
Where do I begin. It’s no exaggeration when I say that Pixar is home to some of the best storytellers in the world, and Coco proves that point over and over again. It’s a fantasy, but one that draws on Mexican traditions rather than western ones. Not content with just being a fairy tale with a Latinx cast, Coco revels in its beauty and celebrates love and family.

7. Lady Bird
It’s so seldom that we see a movie about being a teenager that presents it as, well, just how it is. Lady Bird makes no attempt to overly romanticize or deglamorize turning eighteen and the result is a movie that feels beautifully, brutally honest. There’s no judgement of poor decisions, no moralizing, it’s just life.

6. The Big Sick
Like Lady Bird right above, The Big Sick tells a very specific, personal story (that of the co-writers’) and in doing so tells a story that feels very personal. Maybe I’m biased, given that I’ve spent my time in and around hospitals and am currently in an interracial relationship, but isn’t the point of art the way it affects you the viewer? Plus, the movie has heart to spare and I will never not be happy to see mixed race relationships on screen.

5. Get Out
Speaking of interracial relationships! It’s a horror movie where white people are the monster. If that’s not inventive enough to warrant Get Out a place on this list, than know that the movie operates with such craft and imagination that it never feels like a one trick pony getting by on that conceit. At times both funny and terrifyingly tragic, Get Out is a great movie that looks at race relations with a horror movie’s lens. And dang, it works.

4. Atomic Blonde
There is always a joy in finding a movie that knows exactly what sort of movie it is and then plays it to the hilt. Atomic Blonde is a stylish, sexy spy movie whose Cold War Berlin punk influences permeate every aspect of its design. Throw in some terrific action scenes and more style than half the movies released last year combined and you have the recipe for a great action movie.

3. Baby Driver
One of my favorite parts about driving is listening to music. Baby Driver makes that element of soundtrack vital to its slick, slick style. Technically excellent (that editing! that sound design! that driving!), it also tells a really fun story with some really fun characters. Edgar Wright is one of my favorite directors, and Baby Driver does not disappoint.

2. The Last Jedi
Where The Force Awakens was a celebration of what made the original movies so great, The Last Jedi forges a path into what Star Wars can be. I’ve written a bunch about it on this blog, and suffice to say, it finds ways to reinvent and play with the Star Wars mythos without losing the heart of the saga. Plus, the Throne Room fight is one of the best action sequences in a Star Wars film.

1. Your Name
It’s an anime where two teenagers, a boy living in the city and a girl in the countryside, wake up in each other’s bodies. And it will make you cry as it runs circles around whatever genre (rom-com, teenager comedy, etc) you try and pin it in.. It’s so hard for me to sum up why I love this movie so I’m just gonna make quick statements. It’s really funny. It does a lot with its fantastical elements. It’s uniquely Japanese. The music. The animation. The feels. Your Name is a movie that can somehow only exists within the innate magical realism of an anime. It’s really a wonderful, wonderful film.


Photo

High Stakes

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Apr 28 2018 · 99 views

Essays, Not Rants! 318: High Stakes

For a reason that can be tracked back to one specific thing that won’t be discussed due to spoilers, I’m thinking a lot about stakes. There’s this idea in a lotta stories that really good stakes are “will they die?” It was Game of Thrones’ modus operandi in the early seasons, and it was the explicit reason why Chewbacca was killed in the first book of the New Jedi Order book series. The logic makes sense enough, if there’s the chance that anyone can die in any moment of peril, all of them will be high stakes. The highest of stakes.

But on the flip side, constantly having high stakes like that also tends to lead to a fatigue of it all. When you’re always worried someone’s gonna die, you sometimes stop getting attached to characters. Why should I care about this new character we’ve introduced if we don’t know how long he’s gonna last? Though is that better than never worrying about your characters because there’s no way they’re gonna kill someone this important off, right? When Jack Sparrow gets eaten by the Kraken in Dead Man’s Chest, you don’t really care do you? After all, there’s a third movie coming out and you know he’ll be back. Han in Carbonite is an issue, sure, but he’s coming back for Return of The Jedi.

I tend to disagree. Knowing that someone survives, or someone having plot armor, doesn’t necessarily mean you stop caring for lack of stakes. There’s a bunch of fun in finding out how someone survives. Like in Return of The Jedi we know that Luke and Han aren’t gonna be eaten by the Sarlaac. But it’s still exciting because we wanna see them get out of the pickle. The question of suspense, y’know, the element that keeps us invested, isn’t "will they die?" but instead "how will they survive?"

When done well, the question of 'how?' can be a really interesting one. When Buffy dies in season finale of the fifth season of, well, Buffy (oh, spoiler alert) there’s no question that she’ll be back in season six. After all, she’s the titular character. The question is how will she come back — and what will the ramifications of that be?

I think these days, with stories like Lost and Game of Thrones big in the public consciousness, we can conflate the willingness of a story to kill of its characters with its quality. There’s a general animus towards fake-out deaths (like Jack in Dead Man’s Chest or, more recently, Wolverine in the comics), because why give us all that drama over a death that won’t stick? Why fear for a character’s life when we know they won’t die?

So again, I come back ton the question of how. The creation of an unwindable situation creates a narrative need for an ingenious way out. If the catharsis is to come, and in a good story the catharsis must be earned, then the way out’s gotta be a good one. Circling back to Jedi, the plan to escape Jabba’s clutches is so outlandish and unpredictable that it’s so much fun to see them escape. It doesn’t undo the drama of Han’s carbonite freezing detour; it’s another fun twist to the plot, another complication for the heroes to figure out. There’s a fun to it that’s a really good addition.

Like I said, I’m thinking about stakes and the cliffhanging suspense that goes with it. I don’t think knowing that things have to turn out alright, be it due to announced sequels or even the conventions of the medium makes things less dramatic or less fun. I really enjoy the romantic fun of finding out how protagonists escape from a situation. The trick is, I figure, to make the resolution interesting and not making it feel like a cop out. It’s the how that makes it interesting, so making the how count is what matters.


Photo

Letting Lara Down

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Apr 21 2018 · 90 views

Essays, Not Rants! 317: Letting Lara Down

I was pretty excited for the Tomb Raider movie that came out a couple weeks ago. I’m a huge fan of the game it was based on, the Tomb Raider reboot that came out in 2013. The game was an origin story for Lara Croft, one that gameplay-wise took cues from the Uncharted series it had partially inspired but then been eclipsed by. One thing I really liked about the game was how it made Lara less of a sex object. Gone were the catsuits, short shorts, and crop tops; in were the khakis and tank top (it mayn’t sound like much on paper, but the difference is marked). In addition, the game turned Lara into a survivor; shipwrecked on a mysterious island, she hunts for food, searches for her friends, fights bad guys, and uncovers a mystery. If the movie could capture that then we were in for a ride.

And, well, it kinda does, but more than anything the adaptation really plays down its women. Which is as frustrating as it is odd.

Heads up, we’re getting into the nitty-gritty of plot here, so spoilers abound as we dig around.

Let’s talk Lara, since she is, after all, our protagonist. In the film, she’s a down-on-her-luck heiress who can’t receive her fortune because she refuses to sign the papers confirming her father is dead. She’s a courier struggling to make ends meet who only ends up going on her adventure when circumstances force her to her inheritance and the discovery of her dad’s research into the mythical island of Yamatai. There’s nothing quite bad here (except that pacing-wise this takes up a solid third of the movie); it’s honestly fairly typical as far as hero stories go and all that. But it really does the Lara of the 2013 video game a disservice.

Lara, in the game, is an archeological grad student; so right of the bat Lara is presented as being both intelligent and educated. She’s clued in on the myth of Yamatai by her college friend Sam Nishimura, who herself is a descendant of the Yamatai people. Lara’s subsequent research convinces the Nishimura family to fund an expedition looking for Yamatai and to find the fate of its mysterious Sun-Queen, Himiko. In the game’s version of events Lara is given a lot more agency in the story. The expedition to Yamatai is of her own design, not something she takes on from her father. So not only is Lara an archeologist by trade, but she’s one competent enough to make an expedition happen. You could argue that the movie makes her more relatable, but Indiana Jones is a university professor and no one says he’s unrelatable.

Within the different backstories is a key difference: Sam. In the movie, Yamatai is something Lara investigates because of her father. The game positions it as something she’s into and found out about because of a (female) friend. Look, there’s nothing wrong with a young woman going on a quest to find her father (heck, it’s a trope I’m fond of), but the game’s plot both shows us a Lara with more agency and offers a version of events where Lara’s quest doesn’t revolve around a male character, rather displaying the friendship between two women.

And without Sam, we’re also without a lot of what makes Himiko interesting. In the movie, she’s a long-dead queen with a disease that, when infected, makes people disintegrate, and so was sequestered away on Yamatai. The Himiko of the game, however, was a supernatural queen who ruled Yamatai with an iron fist, transferring her soul into younger bodies to gain a sort of immortality. When a rogue successor took her own life rather than be a host, Himiko was trapped in her body and her kingdom declined. Along comes Sam centuries later, and Mathias (who’s the main antagonist in both versions) wants to offer her up as a new host. So it’s up to Lara to save the day. Once again, the game, by being a little more over the top, has a narrative with a lot more women doing stuff. Himiko isn’t Plague Victim Zero, she’s an immortal queen who was thwarted by a brave young woman. The present day sees Lara saving her best friend and putting to rest a vengeful, weather-controlling spirit. In the movie it’s Lara’s father who, once infected, blows up himself and Himiko’s remains. Lara still stops Mathias in the movie, but she’s given one less thing to do.

Look, the movie’s flaws are plenty and they mostly fall into the realm of plotting and structure. But the 2013 reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise offered a new vision of Lara Croft and her mythos, one that featured a new rendition of Lara that was surrounded by other women of note. The film offers a perfectly fine Lara, but she’s a far cry from the one in the game. Like I said, it’s frustrating to see a movie take a narrative that’s so female driven and, well, take away its women’s agency. The source material was so rich; had so much going for it. And yet. Here we are. A decent enough strong female protagonist who could have been so much more.


Photo

Star Wars as an Anti-Capitalist Discourse

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Apr 14 2018 · 102 views

Essays, Not Rants! 316: Star Wars As An Anti-Capitalist Discourse

Oh you thought I was kidding? Here we go.

Star Wars takes a lot of cues from Westerns. Characters like Han Solo and places like Mos Eisley’s cantina make it pretty obvious. But it’s also apparent in where it takes place: the fringes of society. Be they remote planets desert or frozen, these stories take place away from economic and cultural hubs. Which, given that we follow the good guys, makes sense: implicit in the Star Wars movies is the idea that places of wealth and opulence are the breeding grounds of evil. In other words, the real villain in Star Wars is capitalism (and the Sith too but bear with me here).

Let’s look at where we spend time among the wealthy in the Original Trilogy. Outside of Imperial Battle Stations, the only place we visit that is remotely 'first world' is Cloud City, a gorgeous city whose wealth is built on Tibanna Gas mining. It’s beautiful in the way sci-fi modernity is. But its gleaming hallways belie a darker secret. It is when the Rebels come to Cloud City (the richest civilian place we’ve seen) that they are sold out. Han is tortured and frozen in carbonite, Luke is lured into a trap and told that the bastion of evil is his father. But Lando’s a good guy, you say. Well, he was. He’s Han’s friend, turned ‘respectable’ by the capitalistic influences of Cloud City. It’s when he’s compromised as such that he betrays his former friends, but he finds redemption when he leaves Cloud City and joins the Rebellion on the outskirts of the galaxy.

The Prequel Trilogy brings us closer to civilized space, with the planet of Naboo, an idyllic, peaceful planet. The villains in The Phantom Menace are the Trade Federation, an economically driven group who, in the wake of a tax dispute, blockade the planet and invade it. It is a financially-driven, militaristic, occupational force that the heroes strive against. When the Republic and the Confederacy go to war, the Trade Federation is joined in leadership of the latter by other corporate entities; such as the Banking Clan and Corporate Alliance. The war is marked by economic entities turning against the government; the villains in the story are capitalists fighting against economic control.

In addition, there’s Coruscant, the glittering capital of the Republic. Like Cloud City hopped up on steroids, it is a hub of wealth beyond compare. Here is the Senate, a governing body locked into inaction; a Jedi Temple stuck in orthodoxy unable to adapt to the changing times. Not much good comes from the rich capital.

It’s in The Last Jedi where the anti-capitalist bent of the films comes to a head. In an effort to undermine the villainous First Order, Rose and Finn go on a desperate mission to Canto Bight, a rich city most known for its casino. Finn quickly learns that the city’s wealth is built on the back of the military industrial complex. The rich folks wheeling and dealing are profiteering off a war the Resistance is fighting for survival. Though maybe not outright evil, they are decidedly not good people. The codebreaker who Rose and Finn ally themselves with ends up selling them out, simply because the First Order offered him more money. It’s money, and the unfettered pursuit of it, that tends to create villainy in Star Wars.

Throughout the films, lesser antagonists are driven by a want of money: Greedo wants the bounty on Han’s head, Watto refuses to sell anything for cheap, Unkar Plutt is miserly with his rations. Luke and Obi-Wan use Han’s love of money to get to the Death Star and rescue Princess Leia; but it’s when Han stops caring about the money that he really becomes a hero. Star Wars makes it pretty clear: the capitalists tend to be villainous, those who don’t emphasize making money are heroic.

By taking place primarily on the outskirts of society, with its interactions with society dominated by free enterprise tending to lead to misfortune, Star Wars takes a stance against unfettered capitalism. To be heroic in Star Wars is to do things for more than economic gain. To pursue money above all else, to be motivated by capitalism, well, that might not make you the Empire, but you’re certainly not a good guy.

Writer’s Note:

Well. That was fun to do again. It’s a lotta fun to dig into something I love as much as Star Wars and connect dots to create a meaning that may or may not be intended (though The Last Jedi railing against the military industrial complex is certainly deliberate). Is Star Wars itself anti-capitalist? Maybe a little. Will I do more of these oddly in-depth analysis? Maybe.


Photo

The End of (Star) War(s)

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Apr 07 2018 · 115 views

Essays, Not Rants! 315: End of (Star) War(s)

After the original Star Wars trilogy wrapped up, Lucasfilm started letting other people play in the sandbox they’d created. And so the Expanded Universe came about: more stories set in the Star Wars universe continuing the adventures of Luke, Han, and Leia. Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy really kicked the EU into high gear, and an impressive series of novels, comics, and games were born, each crossing over and referencing each other. It’s a lotta fun, and I’ve read/played a lot of them.

In the EU, the Battle of Endor was only the beginning of the end. Various Moffs, Admirals, and Warlords rose up to fill the Emperor’s void. The Rebellion, now the New Republic, set about mopping up threats until a formal treaty was finally signed 15 years after Endor, properly ending the Galactic Civil War. But of course there were still adventures to be had. The Yuuhzahn Vong invaded six years later, the Dark Nest Crisis was a thing, and then there was another Civil War which is kinda where I checked out. Point is, the galaxy was almost always at war.

When Disney bought Lucasfilm and decided they would make new movies, they nuked all of the EU, primarily so they could start with a blank slate from which to start the then-upcoming Episode VII. On the one hand, I was really bummed because there went the Thrown trilogy, Wedge Antillies’ legendary reputation, and some really cool Clone Wars-era stories; but then that also got rid of some of the later books when things started getting really moody and stuff, so, y’know, not the worst call. Point is, The Force Awakens started a new idea of where Star Wars went post-Return of The Jedi.

And it’s different. There’s a villainous First Order but the New Republic isn’t fighting it. Rather, Leia’s started a Resistance to fight back. Which is odd. Why is there a Resistance when there’s a government that should be fighting that war? In essence: Where’s the New Republic’s fleet?

Turns out, the New Republic demilitarized after the Battle of Jakku. In the new canon, Jakku, one year after Endor, marked the final fight between the Rebel Alliance and the Empire. The Alliance’s decisive victory led to Galactic Concordance and the war ended right there. That was it. No Grand Admiral Thrawn, no Black Fleet Crisis, no Rogue Squadron. And with the war over, they demilitarized. The First Order wasn’t perceived as a legitimate threat, so they didn’t take up arms again and then it was too late.

Let’s ignore the fact that this plot point should have been at least referenced in The Force Awakens and instead talk about demilitarization. Historically, when wars were over, countries would demilitarize, military budgets would go down and armies would shrink considerably. After World War II, however, the US did shrink its army, but its military/defense budget never returned to pre-war levels (and still hasn’t). Put simply, the US has constantly been at war since the 1940s, be it a Cold one or something against Terror. The idea of demilitarizing after a war, decommissioning ships, reducing war R&D, shuttering bases, is a foreign concept in American pop culture.

And yet, that’s what happens in the new Star Wars canon. With the Empire defeated, the New Republic put away its guns and played peace instead. Which sounds kinda weird, but that’s 'cuz we (the US and people who consume US pop-culture [which, in recent years has come to encompass American politics as well as media]) are just not used to that idea. The implication’s pretty clear: When the war’s over, the good guys disarm.

Of course, as the First Order rises the New Republic is hesitant to re-arm and so it falls on Leia’s Resistance to serve as a paramilitary force to stop them. Things go sideways for the New Republic pretty quickly, mostly 'cuz they underestimated the First Order. But that’s not the New Republic’s fault for being pacifist, it’s because the First Order’s martial and ruthless.

Star Wars is, of course, about wars (in the stars!). But for all its martial posturing, its, courtesy of the new canon, also a world where that war ends and is followed by demilitarization (and peace!). It’s such an odd notion, one that borders on fantasy, but then again, Star Wars is supposed to be a fantasy, isn’t it?

N.B.: This has been Josh thinking far too much about Star Wars. Tune in next time to hear Josh analyze the Star Wars saga as an anti-capitalist text. And the time after that to see my analysis of the Star Wars movies being anti-war. Finally, I’d like to apologize to John Horgan for borrowing his book’s title for this blog post.


Photo

A Celebration

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Mar 31 2018 · 71 views

Essays, Not Rants! 314: A Celebration

I’m a nerd. That kinda really goes without saying. Spend five minutes on my blog and you’ll see me talking about Firefly, giant robots, The Lord of The Rings, comic books, Jacques the Fatalist, and looking at video games through a surprisingly feminist lens. I really enjoy this stuff.

And over the years nerd culture has gotten more mainstream. Superhero shirts are in these days and Star Wars is cool again. It’s pretty neat to these things that used be kinda niche getting brought into the limelight, with the praise and big budgets that follow.

So nerdy stuff is in, and the cherry on the sundae is Steven Spielberg making a movie based on a very nerdy book: Ready Player One.

(Yep, this is it, the post on Ready Player One)

Preface: I first read the book a couple years ago and I really enjoyed it. There’s a chapter about getting a perfect score in Ms. Pac-Man which, as someone who makes a beeline for the Ms. Pac-Man cabinet in an arcade, was a lotta fun to see in a book; it spoke my language. Now, sure, author Ernest Cline has a tendency to cross the line from enthusing to over-explaining. And his handing of his female characters does leave a lot to be desired given that it’s 2018. And, yes, it borders on a self-insert fic with its nerdy fantasy fulfillment.

But with all its flaws, there are some great things in it. This is a book that sees value in the digital. Much of the book takes place in the OASIS, a virtual world everyone can log in to and play games and live life. Experiences in the OASIS were treated as being real and worthwhile, which as anyone who’s gone deep into a video game can go, is how it feels (I don’t remember mashing buttons when I look back on games, rather I beat that Thunderjaw in Horizon Zero Dawn, I assembled a crew to stop the Collectors in Mass Effect 2). It’s unusual to see a book take what’s essentially a video game so 'seriously,' in that the virtual stakes matter. Adding to that, here was a story that treated online friendships as being as important as real life ones. Unlike other depictions of nerdom (and really, a lotta stories) which tend to demean them, this one valorized these relationships. And as someone who’s made some of his closest friends online, it’s something I really liked about it.

So the movie adaptation gets announced and people start paying a lot more attention to the book and its flaws came under scrutiny. As well they should, because there’s no excuse for poorly written women and bad prose can always be better. But then there’s the criticism where Ready Player One is compared to The Big Bang Theory. And that’s, well, wrong.

The Big Bang Theory came about before nerd culture was hip and the central joke of the show was that those nerds were dorky. I watched — and liked — the show at first for its references but over time grew tired of it and, after a while, insulted. This was a show that was laughing at me and folks like me, not with me. Yes, they make deep cuts and go the distance to get some things in, but ultimately it’s not a show that makes nerds good joke fodder, but not someone you’d like to be. Halo nights were seen as a dumb alternative to going out, not a really fun thing to do. Ready Player One does the opposite: It makes being the biggest nerd a hero-worthy quality. We don’t enjoy reading about Wade because his situation makes him the butt of a joke, we wanna be him.

Enter the movie. The adaptation improves on the book’s flaws; pacing is better, less expo-speak, the love interest Art3mis is both better and a little worse. And dear god it’s nerdy. A bunch of Master Chiefs from Halo rush into a battle where overhead flies in flipping Serenity and then a FRICKING GUNDAM jumps out of her hold to fight a certain giant Kaiju. But what’s so wonderful about Ready Player One — and Spielberg’s direction — is how much the movies loves its subject matter. The Spartans’ guns have the exact right sound effect when they fire (and when the needler gun shows up, same!); and the pose and movements of the Gundam feel lifted from the anime. The movie doesn’t just throw the images around, it wants to get them right. And it’s so freaking satisfying. It’s much more than just lip-service.

The nerds in Ready Player One — and that’s all the main characters except the villain (which is a statement in itself) — are cool. They’re the ones who can do stuff and, more importantly, they have fun. Art3mis teases Parzival with a chestbuster puppet, which, dorky as it is, feels real. It’s not funny because lol, Alien reference; it’s funny because it’s a gag for the characters too. The movie celebrates being a nerd.

The movie’s not all nerdy jokes, though. Yes, it’s got more nerdy references than you can shake a stick at (Hadouken! Adventure!), but it’s got a lot of heart and it’s really cute. The movie dispenses with a lot of the technicality from the book and zeroes in on a really fun, dare I say it: '80s-esque adventure story. Sure, it’s got its problems, but at the end of the day I was so enchanted by it that I stopped caring. Without the references, it’d be fun enough, but with them all, and how they’re treated, it really feels like a celebration.

Plus, Aech’s homemade Iron Giant is referred to as a MOC, which is a term you usually only hear in the LEGO fandom. But now it’s there in a movie. And that’s really freaking cool.


Photo

Lost The Heart

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Mar 24 2018 · 75 views

Essays, Not Rants! 313: Lost The Heart

Sometimes it’s hard to explain why something good is so good; why does this one movie work. Other times, you have an example of the same thing executed less well and you’re all “ah, that’s why that one was so good.”

So let’s talk Pacific Rim Uprising, and by extension, the original too. Ostensibly, both Pacific Rim and its sequel are about giant robots fighting giant monsters. What made the first one great, though, was that it was about so much more, about connection, about unity, about hope and idealism. Somehow, in the midst of it all, Uprising doesn’t quite capture the magic of the first.

For one thing, Pacific Rim effortlessly tied together theme with world building. Consider drifting. The mental strain of piloting a Jaeger (one of those giant mecha) is so taxing that you need two people connected by a neural link, a drift, in order for it to work. It makes sense enough in the universe (them’s just the rules) but it also lets the movie explore its theme of connection. You can’t pilot these mechs and save the world by yourself; you gotta be willing to connect with someone else. You can’t fight the monsters alone. In Uprising, drifting is given lip service but never really explored. The movie doesn’t get into drifting or is ramifications the way it could, which is a bit of a bummer given how rich an opportunity it is.

Similarly, the Pan Pacific Defense Corps takes on a more militaristic personality in the sequel. Right off the bat, the PPDC is introduced as doing security and policing, a far cry from the ragtag resistance in the original. As the plot gets going, we see more formality in the ranks, a lotta officers-on-deck and the like. These elements may have been in the background of the original, but, given director Guillermo del Toro’s own pacifistic world view, were never really the focus. Uprising leans further into the paramilitary side of the PPDC, making them more warfighters and less of a resistance. It’s nowhere near as militaristic as, say, Transformers or even Iron Man, but, in light of the original, it’s lost some of its youthful idealism. Even the protagonist’s big speech at the end sounds ripped from a war movie, one that’s of course answered by a chorus of sir-yes-sirs; a far cry from the call to believe in something bigger that was Pentecost’s We Are Cancelling The Apocalypse speech in the first.

I know that’s an unfair comparison; We Are Cancelling The Apocalypse is the best call to arms speech that’s not in Henry V or given at the foot of the Black Gate. But that speech is really the thesis statement of Pacific Rim (check out my old breakdown over here). Pacific Rim unabashedly takes its Jaegers and Kaiju deathly seriously, and has so much fun with it. Uprising, however, keeps one foot on the shore, not quite willing to jump in. Pentecost’s big speech is mentioned, almost in a tongue-in-cheek way, by a few characters. Most telling, though, is that when the Kaiju reappear they are quickly given codenames, as in the first. Where the original acted as if calling a monster Knifehead or Otachi was perfectly normal, Uprising has a character summarily dismiss the codenames once they’re given. It’s a small thing, but it belies the film’s attitude of being slightly too cool for all this giant monster stuff. And so we lose some of that wholehearted commitment that made the original so special.

Maybe I’m being a little too hard on Uprising. And maybe that’s because I hold the original in such high regard. Maybe it’s also because the movie kept dangling narratives I really like but never explored it. Newcomer Amara is inducted into the Ranger program and trained to be a pilot, but we don’t really go into the whole cadet story, which is a shame, cuz I love those stories (Kingsman, Ender’s Game). Nestled in there too is this multinational team doing stuff (which is my mostest favoritist thing, end of story), but we don’t spend that much time with Amara’s team. And you can’t show me a team consisting of an American girl, Russian girl, Indian dude, Latina, and Chinese guy and then take it away from me.

Were this not the sequel to Pacific Rim I think I’d be a lot more forgiving. It does a buncha things well and does deliver on that sweet sweet giant robot action. The Jaeger’s names are unapologetically awesome (frickin’ Saber Athena) and there is still that multinational bent of the first. But Uprising doesn’t quite have Pacific Rim’s heart, and that’s a darn shame.






Profile

Posted Image


josh


grew up on a ship


lives in new york


frequently found writing in a coffee shop, behind a camera, or mixing alcohol and video games

May 2018

S M T W T F S
  12345
6789101112
13141516171819
2021222324 25 26
2728293031  

The Designated Tekulo Crying Corner

Just for you and your crummy feelings.

Disclaimer

Josh works for LEGO at the LEGO Store at Rockefeller Center. Despite this, any and every opinion expressed herewith is entirely his own and decidedly not that of The LEGO Group.

In addendum, any and all opinions expressed by The LEGO Group are entirely theirs and decidedly not that of Josh

Obviously.

Recent Comments

Search My Blog