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A (Civil) War of Flaws

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! May 07 2016 · 171 views

Essays, Not Rants! 216: A (Civil) War of Flaws.

Civil War came out. This post it about that. Yes, that’s all the intro I’m giving.

Marvel’s done a fantastic job of giving their characters major flaws. Look at the original (cinematic) Avengers: Iron Man’s selfish, Captain America’s noble to a fault, Thor’s proud, The Hulk’s, er, angry, Black Widow doesn’t trust anyone, and Hawkeye’s just the archer (okay, so he’s more the cynic). It’s these clearly defined character defects that make them clash so well, something made overt in the first Avengers when Loki’s scepter has them arguing in the lab. Flaws make characters interesting. The Avengers wouldn’t be half as fun if everyone got along like sunshine and rainbows, instead they spend half their time arguing and trying to get over themselves.

It’s because it builds on that central tenet that Captain America: Civil War succeeds so well. The question posed to the Avengers in the film is simple: should they report to a higher authority? It’s a question of authority and also who’s responsible for the Avengers’ actions. The creative team behind Civil War deserve major credit for making the question, herein rendered as the Sokovia Accords, feel nuanced, with no side feeling altogether right or wrong.

But that’s all plot stuff, and, as the last eight years of Marvel Cinematic Movies have proven, the best of part of these movies are the characters.

And so the divide of the Avengers falls firmly along character based lines. Tony Stark, who’s selfishness has given way to guilt and paranoia, sees the Accords as a safeguard. Furthermore, they’re a way for him to further absolve himself of guilt; he can be part of a tool to make things right, going where the majority feel he and the Avengers are most needed. Conversely, Steve Rogers’ nobility and idealism has him see the Avengers as guardians. They’re there to fight threats no one else can and they need the freedom to use their own judgement. Where Tony wants approval, Steve believes that they’ll do the right thing no matter what. It all fits into their established characters, characters which, for good measure, get set up again quickly in the film’s opening.

Thus, Civil War’s divide is one built on flaws. Many characters’ allegiances comes out of fears and flaws. War Machine and Falcon are loyal to Iron Man and Cap and so will follow them. Black Widow and Vision see the Accords as an insurance against an unknown danger; Scarlet Witch fears control. Black Panther is nursing a grudge. Even Cap’s idealism is tempered with asking “what if they send us somewhere we don’t want to go?” The battle lines develop naturally rather than arbitrarily. The combatants have a horse in their fight and it becomes personal.

To see this done wrong, you don’t have to look much further than Batman v Superman. There the central question is one guy going “I don’t like the way you’re above it all and cause massive collateral damage” and the other saying “I don’t like the way you’re above it all and brand people.” That Batman and Superman’s eventual fight isn’t born out of an escalation of tensions and faults makes it pointless at best and arbitrary at worst. They start out not liking each other and spend the movie prepping for a fight until they’re manipulated into coming to blows.

Civil War has Steve and Tony start out amicable before the Accords cause an ideological split. It’s the reappearance of the Winter Soldier driving a wedge deeper between them, plus a couple other turns that happen so that by the time they really come to blows it is an inevitable extension of their (flawed) characters. Civil War led it’s hero-fighting-hero with character, Batman v Superman relied on a contrived plot; so while the audience feels apathetic watching Batman fight Superman, the fight between Captain America and Iron Man is brutally tragic.

And so we’ve come full circle. Tragedy is born out of flaws. Creon’s pride is his downfall in Antigone. Othello’s jealousy costs him everything. And in Civil War, it divides Captain America and Iron Man.

Man, aren’t character flaws great?


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Order, and Narrative Thereof

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Apr 30 2016 · 174 views

Essays, Not Rants! 215: Order, and Narrative Thereof

I’m one of those people who will respect you less if you pick an album to play, and then play it on shuffle. See, there’s a deliberate rhyme and reason for the order of songs on an album.

U2’s War needs “Surrender” to be its penultimate song. After an album about war, violence, and fighting for hope, we have a song about giving up which leads into “40,” an adaption of the Bible’s Psalm 40. It’s crucial that the album ends there, in that space of a different sort of surrender. Furthermore, its refrain “I will sing a new song” works in tandem with the first track, “Sunday Bloody Sunday”’s “How long must we sing this song?” Listening to War in any other order robs you of the experience. Look at how “New Year’s Day,” a song about being apart from a lover, works as a sort of reprieve in between “Seconds” (about nuclear threat) and “Like A Song…” (in some ways, about military proliferation). With “New Year’s Day” where it is it takes on another level of longing; musically it’s far more understated then the fast paced songs around it and the song itself becomes a desire for an escape from the world. Sure, you can listen to the songs alone, but putting the album on shuffle’s just stupid. There’s an intentionality to how it’s set up.

Hang on, an intentional order that echoes and mirrors what came before creating and complicating a general emotion? This sounds like a narrative. And you bet it is. No, it’s not a beginning-middle-end story, but there is still and arc (still on War, each side of the record ends on a quiet song, “Drowning Man” and “40,” giving it something of a two act structure). All this to say, a narrative can be built out of order. If you’ve ever agonized over a mixtape or a playlist, you know that the tracklist matters as much as the individual songs.

So now let’s talk about Star Wars.

The saga is a bit of an oddity, with episodes 4, 5, and 6 coming out before 1, 2, and 3 (only to be followed by 7). This, of course, has led to a variety of different ways to introduce someone to the movies. Do you screen them within the chronology of the films (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)? Or in the order they were released (4, 5, 6, 1, 2, 3)? Do you ignore the prequels entirely (4, 5, 6) or try out the Machete Order (4, 5, 2, 3, 6)? No matter what you do, these are still the same movies. But the order you watch them in shifts the narrative.

Say you watch them episodically. You get a very straightforward story about Jedi and trade disputes, forbidden romances and arbitrary falls to the Dark Side, a time skip and a plucky Rebellion against an evil Empire. The narrative shift really starts to show when you compare it to the order the movies were released. Episodically, there are fun beats like seeing an adult Boba Fett and meeting Yoda again in Empire. Luke’s arc is a mirror of Vader’s, and Jedi sees him in the position to make a similar choice due to the foreshadowing provided by Sith. Watched in the order they were released, however, shifts Anakin’s arc to be a mirror of Luke’s, where he fails where his son succeeded. The mirror, episodically, makes Luke’s success more heroic and, release-wise, makes Anakin’s fall more tragic.

Machete Order, where The Phantom Menace is dropped and Clones and Sith are watched in between Empire and Jedi, somewhat gets the cake and eats it too. By putting the prequels after Empire, we get a two-movie long flashback sequence that expounds on the twist that Vader is Luke’s father, explaining not only Anakin’s rise and fall, but also more on Obi Wan, Yoda, and the Emperor. It shifts the overall narrative, giving a great deal more focus on the stakes of Luke’s choice between the Light and the Dark. It also gives Luke’s line “I am a Jedi, like my father before me” much more impact, given that it emphasizes Anakin as a Jedi rather than Anakin as evil. Still the same Star Wars movies, just different emphases.

The order something’s presented in can do a lot for it. It gives U2’s War an additional layer of subtext and shades the overall arc of Star Wars. Think about that the next time you hit shuffle on that new album you got.


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Kid Stuff

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Apr 23 2016 · 196 views

Essays, Not Rants! 214: Kid Stuff

You ever go back and check out a story you liked as a kid? Sometimes this means realizing how insufferable some cartoons were, but other times you end up rereading Prisoner of Azkaban and realize that holy ###### that’s a special book.

Which brings up an important thing about children’s stories. Namely, what is a story for kids? Is Star Wars a children’s story? It was one of my favorite stories as a kid and that seems like a decent barometer for what counts as a kid’s movie. My favorite kid’s show now is Phineas and Ferb, but in many ways that show’s more about playing with the idea of story than telling stories themselves. So let’s find a better example.

Batman.

More specifically, Justice League. I did watch The Animated Series too, but I remember Justice League better. Regardless, both shows are very much Saturday morning cartoons, superheroes fighting bad guys, cool stuff happening. Straightforward enough, you get the idea.

Some friends of mine and I recently revisited Justice League, owing to some severe disappointment with a certain recent movie with Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. Now, I remember this show being awesome, but a lot of things you think are awesome as a kid doesn’t always hold up when you’re an adult (see: [example]).

But Justice League holds up.

Yes, the superhero action is certainly still a big (and cool) draw, but, thematically, it’s still interesting to watch as an adult. Take the Justice League Unlimited episode “Epilogue,” which serves as a, fittingly, epilogue to the Batman Beyond series. Anyway, the episode centers around Terry McGuinnes (new Batman) finding out the truth about his relation to Bruce Wayne (original Batman), namely that by some form of Future Science, Terry is genetically Bruce’s son. What follows is a fascinating question of identity: Is Terry a good Batman because of his genes? Or is there something more? It’s a big nature-versus-nurture question that’s wrapped up in an identity crisis for Terry.

What’s so cool about this is that the episode (and by extension, the show) doesn’t talk down to its audience. It’s easy for a kid’s story to treat its audience as if they’re idiots, but Justice League is willing to treat its audience with respect. Which also means willing to go dark; not only does Terry find out he’s the subject of some genetic manipulation, but there was also a plan to kill his parents. By people who weren’t the bad guys, for the record. Not sugarcoating gives a younger audience the feeling of being involved in something grownup, especially since the show doesn’t make light of it either.

I don’t think stories have to be dark to be good (see that severely disappointing movie I mentioned earlier); but I don’t think that kids’ stories should shy away from it. ‘cuz there’s a message inherent to stories like these that no matter how lousy things get, good ends up winning. The climax of “Epilogue” is that it was Batman’s compassion that made him such a good hero, and that’s what Bruce sees in Terry. After some really intense revelations, Terry recommits to the greater good. It’s a hefty story, but one that rings true nonetheless.

There’s a wonderful CS Lewis quote about how a children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children really isn’t any good at all. Looking back on the stuff I liked as a kid and the stuff I like now, yeah, that’s true. I liked being frightened, I liked stories making references to some of the harder books I’d read in school, I liked it when stories treated me as a competent audience. Stories like these; think Justice League and Harry Potter, are the sort of ones that stick with ya. And that you can enjoy as a grownup, which, hey, what’s being an adult if not being able to watch superhero cartoons at 1am on a Sunday night with a glass of wine and bowl of ice cream?


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Where TMD Explains Why You Should Fund His Movie

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Apr 16 2016 · 181 views

Essays, Not Rants! 213: Where TMD Explains Why You Should Fund His Movie

There are five days left for my movie’s Kickstarter. So that means it’s time for me to go on a spiel about why you should fund The Conduits. ‘cuz I’m really proud of this story and want you to be able to see it when it’s done without all that festival hoopla (and just for $9!).

So what is this whole production? The Conduits is fundamentally a student film, given that it’s being worked on primarily by students and being produced through NYU. Thing is, I’m not a film major, I’m in NYU Gallatin studying what I’ve termed Narrative (Re)Construction. I wanna tell stories — good stories — and I felt that learning about the why and how of storytelling was as important as the craft (hence posts Cervantes and subtext). But this also meant that I was in no way guaranteed the chance to make a thesis film. Through incessant emailing, this year I became the first non-Film Major to compete for the chance to make an advanced-level film and get the allotment of film equipment. In all honesty, I was pretty excited just to have gotten to this point. And then it came time to follow through and actually make a movie.

I knew going in what sort of story I wanted to tell: It was movies like Star Wars that made me wanna tell stories and make movies in the first place. If I was going to make a film that was the culmination of college, it was going to have to be an action-adventure. Something with stunts and lasers. Something unlike a typical student film. Best part is: we pulled it off. One day on set we had a foam brick rigged up with fishing wire so we could get that shot that closes the teaser. Another day we had an actor rigged up with wires to be yanked backwards on to mats. We got to takeover a park in Brooklyn and film a showdown. It’s the sort of production I could only dream about when I started making movies twelve-odd years ago.

There’s more that I’m proud of. I talk a lot on this blog about diversity, almost to the point of self-parody. But if diversity is as easy as I say it is, I better well follow through with it. When Kerry, my Casting Director, and I started casting, we made an effort to put aside the notion of white-as-default. And here we are, with a science-fiction student film starring people-of-color. A cast which, for the record, knocked it out of the park. As a writer, I’m usually terrified that what I put down on paper won’t translate onto the screen, but on set I got to watch the script I’d fretted over come to life. They brought the meaning to the story and I couldn’t help but grin like an idiot.

Which, of course, brings me to my crew. Man, my crew. Film is, in so many ways, a collaborative medium. Anyone who says otherwise is conceited git. Alex Hass, my Director of Photography, is the one responsible for the entire look of The Conduits and for making sure that our action scenes played out on camera. It’s incredibly valuable to work with someone who excels where you’re weak. Not only that, but the crew as a whole showed a great deal of humility and a willingness to learn. Kerry came by to visit one day and became our sound mixer; everyone went above and beyond their prescribed roles and helped wherever help was needed.

We’ve wrapped on filming and are now in post-production. Which, in this case, means visual effects for lasers and glowing gems in addition to the usual like color correction and music. Production itself cam in under budget (woo!) but we’re still looking at a hefty price tag. As I’m writing this, we’re $600 away from our goal, and that much closer to finishing this movie. I’m really excited about this movie and so I’m asking you to come and be a part of it.

Oh, and here’s the teaser again (like I said, super proud, super excited):



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Something Something Diversity Something Star Wars

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Apr 09 2016 · 279 views

Essays, Not Rants! 212: Something Something Diversity Something Star Wars

There’s a new Star Wars trailer out, this time for Rogue One! Now, when they announced it to be about a ragtag band of Rebels stealing the Death Star plans; that got me excited. I’m all about ragtag teams pulling off heists. But then they announced the cast. We’ve got Felicity Jones starring and, in addition to Forest Whitaker, people with last names like Luna, Yen, Wen, and Ahmed. If there’s one thing I like as much as ragtag teams, it’s multinational ragtag teams (see: Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Big Hero 6, X-Com: Enemy Unknown). So I was excited for the trailer.

And it delivered. But, with the second new Star Wars movie in as many years, it also shows a commitment to a new direction being taken by the franchise. In The Force Awakens we had a female protagonist along with a far more diverse cast than Star Wars is known for. Rogue One once again has a female protagonist and what’s shaping up to be an even more diverse group of people.

This is important.

Which is something I say a lot about diversity, but this won’t be beating a dead horse until diversity stops being a special thing that only happens sometimes.

But what’s so wonderful about (the trailer for) Rogue One is how darned effortless they make that diversity. Because yes, diversity is easy, it just requires you to stop and think about it for a while. Somewhere along the line during Rogue One’s production the decision to bring back a Rebel leader had to have been made. Now, there are a bunch you could have; Jan Dodonna, General Rieekan, Admiral Ackbar, heck, you could even bring back Jimmy Smits as Bail Organa. But instead they went with Mon Mothma, also known as the One Other Named, Speaking, Female Rebel Who Isn’t Leia. It’s a small, almost arbitrary decision, but because of it the trailer just about passes the Bechdel Test, something that the Original Trilogy never did. Is passing the Bechdel Test that big a deal or even necessary? No. But the friggin’ teaser for the new Star Wars movie does what a surprisingly large number of major films fail to do. It’s a small thing (albeit awesome) that really showcases what the new status quo is.

On that note, let’s go back to that cast. Because dude, that cast. Again, the folks at Lucasfilm have made a conscious to ask the simple question of “why not?” when casting. Why not cast Donnie Freaking Yen as the space-samurai? Why not let Forest Whitaker be the guy in epic bounty-hunter looking armor? Why not have the seemingly lead male character be played by Diego Luna? It’s small, yes, but holy Cyprinidae is it awesome.

Let’s just look at East Asian characters first, since that’s important to me as that’s what I usually pass as. In the Original Trilogy, literally the only Asian character was a Y-Wing pilot during the Battle of Endor who got two lines and a couple seconds of screentime. The Force Awakens added X-Wing pilot and Admiral to that list. But on Thursday I got to see Donnie Yen, an actor I know from Hong Kong kung-fu ‘flicks, not only in a Star Wars movie but beating up Stormtroopers. It’s hard for me to put into words how freaking cool that is for me. When Big Hero 6 came out I got to see a superhero movie with a protagonist who looks like me. And now there’s a Star Wars movie coming out with a character I could cosplay and not have to add the prefix ‘Asian.’

I’m so psyched for this movie for so many reasons. A bunch of my friends think Rogue One’s looking to be even better than Force Awakens (my jury’s still out). When it comes down to it, though, how often do you get to see the stories you grew up with not just continue but to become as progressive as this?


Hey, wanna support diversity and science fiction in student films? Check out the teaser for my new movie here, support me on Kickstarter here, and like it on Facebook here. And tell your friends!


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Josh Kinda Just Wants To Talk More About Star Wars

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Apr 02 2016 · 163 views

Essays, Not Rants! 211: Josh Kinda Just Wants To Talk More About Star Wars

The Force Awakens’ planet-obliterating Starkiller Base is powered by absorbing its system’s sun and firing it as a weapon. This mechanic allows fighter pilot Poe Dameron to utter the phrase “but as long as there’s light, we got a chance” without it feeling remotely hollow or contrived. It reflects, as well, the standoff going off in another part of the planet and, even bigger, the general concept of the Star Wars saga as a whole. See, Star Wars is about the Light Side and the Dark Side, good and evil, all that. It’s a cosmic conflict, one that’s rendered all the more powerful when given a distinct visual flair — it’s no coincidence that when the climactic battle is at its bleakest the sun has disappeared and it’s in victory that it comes back. The understanding of the climax, then, is that the heroes lost all hope (note which scene we’re in when the light fades for good) but were still able to win in the end. Talk about story-theme-image synergy.

That a line like that can be worked so effortlessly into a story is a mark of director Abram’s mastery. By rights, it should be too corny to work, and in all honesty, yes, it is pretty darn corny. But we don’t care (or at least I don’t) because it fits perfectly in with what’s going on. Poe isn’t lecturing about some deeper issue; he’s appraising the battle’s situation.

Now, it works for Star Wars since the franchise, at its best, wears its heart proudly on its sleeve. But it doesn’t make being able to work its central theme so effortlessly any less impressive. It’s not something a lot of movies can do, but is one that Star Wars can because, well, science fiction.

So here we are again, talking about how the silliness of scifi (a weapon powered by absorbing a sun?) allows it to go places non-genre fiction can’t. Heck, not just scifi. Life of Pi is all about stories. Because it deals with such an outlandish situation (in a lifeboat with a tiger. Also mysterious floating islands), Pit’s retelling of it to the company men at the end forces us, as readers, to reconsider all that happened. Ultimately, we’re left with the same conclusion that Secondhand Lions came to: the factualness of a story is less important than the Truth of it. But because we’ve been with Pi throughout his adventure, him asking the company men (and us) what makes the better story feels downright natural.

You can’t just throw ideas at a thing and hope it sticks. Avatar tried its darnedest to embed a green message in its narrative, but it felt heavy handed because it had so little to do with what the story was really about (finding your true self in another culture that— okay, so maybe Avatar would have benefitted by keeping the green theme more front and center). The best themes are so well worked in that you only realize them subconsciously at first.

Anyway. I'm still exhausted from my movie shoot. And my copy of The Force Awakens gets to my apartment in a few days and I can’t wait. And I love that Abrams was able to work that line into the movie so effortlessly.

What movie? Check out the Facebook page here!


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Four Years

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Mar 27 2016 · 127 views

Essays, Not Rants! 210: Four Years

I’ve had this blog for about four years now.

Four years.

And I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve missed my self-imposed midnight EST deadline.

Why? I’ve been hard at work on my movie, The Conduits, and today marked us being half done with shooting. Which is good. In the meantime you should check out the Facebook page (linked back there) and the Kickstarter here. And tell your friends.

But anyway, keeping this blog has been a real experience. Bene help at developing a voice and it’s forced me to really look deeper at some things. Especially fiction, and why we tell those stories.

I want to write more today, I really do, but I’m exhausted and need to get some sleep.

Expect more next week, folks; and thanks for reading these rants essays.


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Fear of The Unknown

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Mar 19 2016 · 135 views

Essays, Not Rants! 209: Fear of the Unknown

One of the wonderful agonies I found when I started watching Lost years and years ago was the show’s tendency to show a character’s reaction to a revelation/object/monster rather than the revelation/object/monster itself. It became characteristic of the show, and something emblematic of Abrams’ style.

Granted, J.J. Abrams had little involvement with Lost past the pilot, but he did work with Damon Lidelof to lay much of the show’s groundwork. Including, presumably, Abrams’ love of the Mystery Box. See, according to him, there’s a certain level of suspense and wonderment to be found in not knowing something. That there is a mysterious monster is more frightening — and in some ways more beautiful — than what it is. It’s less important what’s in the hatch than that there is one. The best horror writer is the one in your head, coming up with all sorts of half-formed possibilities for why something might be the way it is.

More than anything though, it makes us want to see what’s going on. Take Predator, due to the alien’s stealth, we spend much of the film not knowing what’s killing Dutch’s squad. Simply knowing something’s out there, something we can’t see and something deadly enough to take out an elite band of mercenaries, is terror enough. Alien does the same thing, withholding a good view of the Xenomorph as long as possible, leaving us to fill in the gaps on this monster. It’s effective, so much so that finally seeing the titular alien would be a letdown were it not for H.R. Geiger’s inspired design.

Point is: there’s something to be said for being restrained.

Cloverfield, that found-footage monster movie produced by Abrams, is in actuality a magnificent exercise in restraint. Rather than doing what Godzilla and virtually every other monster-invasion movie does, Cloverfield focused only on a small group of friends trying to survive on the ground. There’s no sweeping shots or frantic discussions in a war room. The found-footage nature of it forces the filmmakers to keep it small and, in turn, the audience in the dark. We see the monster’s limbs, we see smaller monsters, and all the time it’s scarier because we don’t see it in full. The possibility of it all is far more frightening.

Keeping in that sensibility is the not-a-but-kinda-sequel 10 Cloverfield Lane. Trapped in a bunker with a captor/savior while Armageddon might have happened outside, protagonist Michelle — and the audience — is left to fill in the clues as to what happened. We don’t know what happened outside, we don’t know if Howard is really doing this out of the kindness of his heart, heck, we don’t know what his angle is at all. That the movie is not particularly forthcoming on any of this makes every hint of malice or mystery terrifying. There’s nothing scarier than not knowing what’s going on.

10 Cloverfield Lane earns this, however, by making sure we know Michelle on at least some level. We aren’t totally in the dark, we have a handle on our protagonist and thus we can react with her to all the crazy stuff going on. We have a touchstone, a constant, a frame known to counter the unknown. Without that, 10 Cloverfield would be more frustrating than gripping.

Y’know, I’m not a fan of horror movies. Too much reliance on squick and pain and how downright creepifying something can be. But what 10 Cloverfield Lane, Alien, and Lost did are much more my jam. The simple fear of the unknown taken up to eleven, an implacable fear that you can’t quite put a finger on. Now that is terrifying.

Also, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a dang fine movie you should check out and I wanna rant about, but won’t because the less you know the better. Like I said, it’s scarier when you know less.


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Of Zootopia

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Mar 12 2016 · 203 views

Essays, Not Rants! 208: Of Zootopia

Stories are often a reflection of reality. Star Wars was a reflection of the existential threat posed by the Cold War. The Hurt Locker was, quite obviously, a discussion of the human cost of war. The Revenant reflected Leonardo DiCaprio’s all-consuming want for an Oscar.

And then there’s Zootopia. Which holds an unrelenting, condemning-yet-hopeful mirror to modern America. Which you wouldn’t exactly expect, because it’s a major Disney movie. Nonetheless, couched in this story of bunny cops is an incredible exploration of prejudice that your ‘deep’ friend on Facebook wishes they could have written as a status.

In Zootopia, anthropomorphic animals live in a city. But unlike any other story about anthropomorphic animals, the fact that they are animals is actually a big deal. A rabbit (like the protagonist) is tiny and water buffalos are massive. Foxes are predators, and sheep are prey. With these differences comes the logical divides and ostracizing; prey think predators are dangerous, and big animals discount the efforts of smaller ones.

The movie seems to have some very simple analogues. Judy is a rabbit and the first rabbit on Zootopia’s police force which leads to some dismissing her joining the team as just the diversity initiative paying off. So right off the bat the movie seems posed to position Judy as the Other. She, because she's a rabbit, is bullied and downtrodden on by other animals. The arc for the story seems clear enough: Judy will have to overcome the prejudice against her species and prove that she's as good a cop as anyone else. So like that Jackie Robinson movie no one saw, but with a bunny cop instead of a black baseball player.

The movie could have built the whole thing around that premise and we'd have gotten another movie about overcoming adversity and all that. Done deal. Nothing wrong there.

But Zootopia goes further.

When preparing to move to the titular city, Judy is warned by her parents to be careful of 'those people,' in particular foxes. She pushes back, but it's made clear that prey too hold prejudices against predators. Especially foxes who are in general seen as being sly and dishonest. The general consensus on foxes is that they’re, for the most part, a bunch of good-for-nothing louts. Something Judy’s pretty sure she disagrees with.

Now hold on, you (like me), may be thinking. The simple analogy of Zootopia is starting to break down. If the rabbits are the people-group who are oppressed, why then do they hold their own biases against foxes? And shouldn’t Idris Elba’s water buffalo get along with Judy since they’re both prey?

Zootopia is so much more complex than it lets on. Within the movie, everyone has prejudices. Judy’s own relationship with Nick the fox sees her trying to prove that he’s decent, then having her fears come true, and then getting to know him for who he is and not just as a fox. And that all happens within the first half-hour. See, the movie crafts a world where it can overtly discuss, well, racism, without necessarily pointing fingers at anyone.

I can’t overstate how amazing it is to see Zootopia tackle this topic head on with such nuance. This is a movie where the hero’s loss of faith isn’t losing a friend, being fired, or what have you, but when Judy is forced to realize her own innate prejudices. What comes next is the realization that someone can be a good person and still be prejudiced, but also that people can change.

Thats the beauty of stories. They’re trojan horses that sneak profundity in where you least expect it. Zootopia’s got incredible world building and is beautifully animated, but it uses it all to tell a beautiful narrative about overcoming your own prejudices. It’s magnificently done; we need more stories like this.

And holy cyprinidae, this is a kid’s movie!


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Living in Science Fiction

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Mar 05 2016 · 140 views

Essays, Not Rants! 207: Living in Science Fiction

Is the movie Gravity science fiction? This was the discussion a friend of mine and I were having while talking about science fiction and fantasy winning Oscars — Gravity got Best Director, but is it really science fiction?

Wikipedia, IMDb, and such call it science fiction, given that it’s, well, in space. That’s usually the threshold for science fiction.

But something in space is hardly imaginative anymore. An astronaut who just returned from spending an entire year in space. SpaceX launches rockets on the regular. Of course, there is the room for an outlandish situation; Moon was grounded, but had mining on the moon, countless others have aliens. Gravity, though, is about someone being stranded in space because of a freak debris field. For all intents and purposes, the setting of Gravity is as much science fiction as Apollo 13. That is to say, it’s not, it’s really not.

Gravity is, in many ways, a more modern Castaway. In both stories relatively unqualified people are, due to an event beyond human control, stranded in the middle of nowhere by themselves that then prove the resilience of the human spirit by making their way back to civilization. Granted, Gravity takes place over a far shorter period of time, but that’s kinda due to the fact that it takes place in modern reality where people can’t breathe in space.

In other words, labelling Gravity science-fiction is a product of an outdated standard that something in space is automatically considered science-fiction. That’s something that makes science-fiction so weird as a genre: what’s scifi might not always be scifi. We don’t consider the first episode of Sherlock science-fiction, even though its heavy use of smartphones would definitely qualify it as some sort of techno-thriller were it produced in the eighties. Same with Gravity; it isn’t science-fiction today, but to, say, the sixties it’d be what The Martian is to us today.

Science-fiction, at least the sort inhabited by movies like Moon, The Martian and Ex Machina (more fantastical fare like Star Wars and Star Trek are another matter entirely), are rooted in having some bit of futuristic technology. Moon’s got lunar mining, The Maritian’s got a Mars base, Ex Machina incredibly advanced AI. But if we were to develop any of those technologies the fiction part of the science would be closer to the events surrounding them. If we were to develop both rogue AI and hover cars, the biggest incongruity in Blade Runner would be that Atari was supposed to still be a major brand.

I think that’s one reason why I’ve always loved science-fiction — there’s this air to it of asking what if. What if there was something new that would change the world. It takes what you know and twists it to be something, well, more. It’s a dreamer’s genre. What if you could live on a submarine deep beneath the sea? What if we made contact with aliens? What if there were giant monsters trying to kill us and so we made giant mecha to fight back? What if we could carry phones out of the house and in our pockets?

So is Gravity science-fiction? If it is, it’s still a good movie, but it’s pretty low-grade science-fiction.Yes, it fully utilizes the genre’s capability for telling parables, but it doesn’t really do anything with the almighty What If. Not to mention it’s something that, given the right circumstances, could happen tonight. I realize I’m going back on what I said some time ago in another blog post (the one I just linked to), but no, I don’t really think Gravity should count as science-fiction.

‘cuz we’ve already got people in space doing space things on space stations.






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josh

twenty-five


grew up on a ship


studied Narrative (Re)Construction

at New York University


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

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