Tuesday, October 27, 2009

And Another Thing... (Part II)

"People have said, quite rightly, that Mostly Harmless is a very bleak book. And it was a bleak book. I would love to finish Hitchhiker on a slightly more upbeat note, so five seems to be a wrong kind of number; six is a better kind of number."

- Douglas Adams

...I thoroughly loathe the current wave of "estate authorized" novels based on popular works by deceased authors. I can't see them as anything but a naked cash grab by all parties involved. Don't utter the names Brian Herbert or Kevin J. Anderson in my prescence unless you wish to sit through a very long -- and long-winded -- rant on their endless wave of Dune books. To get a more concise, pointed summation of my argument, click this link. It sums it up nicely.

But there's something quite different about And Another Thing..., though this may just be my affection for Hitchhiker's talking. Douglas Adams died at such a young age -- not even fifty years old -- and had already expressed interest in writing a sixth Hitchhiker's, feeling that Mostly Harmless was not a fitting farewell to the series. And it isn't: Mostly Harmless is a mess of a book -- relentlessly bleak, full of odd tonal shifts, and, most importantly, just not that funny.

For the last few years, I've told people who are reading the series for the first time to stop at So Long and Thanks for all the Fish. That's changed now thanks to And Another Thing...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

And Another Thing... (Part I)


Imagine, if you will, that it's May 19th, 1999 again. You wake up, make some coffee, pour some cereal, and sit down to your computer to check your e-mail and visit your favorite websites. A half hour later, you find an article about George Lucas linked off of one of your favorite "geek" websites. "Hey, I like George Lucas. He made those three Star Wars movies I used to watch all the time to the point that my wife had an intervention and told me to go outside once and awhile," you think to yourself, and clink on the link.

Halfway through the article, you find out, much to your surprise, that not only is there going to be a new Star Wars movie, but that it's actually out in theaters that very day. It flew completely under your radar. And since it's playing on more screens at your local multiplex than you have actual friends, because you didn't take your wife's advice about leaving the house once in a while, there's a showing at just about anytime you want.

That's pretty much how I felt yesterday to find out, while reading Terry Jones's rather beautiful memorial to Douglas Adams, that not only was there a new Hitchhiker's Guide to Galaxy novel coming out, one authorized and endorsed by Adam's widow and written by Artemis Fowl author Eion Colfer, but it was actually released that very day. All I had to do was go down to my local bookstore and buy it.

Maybe it's because I'm sick at the moment...but I can't describe the joy and unabashed sentiment I felt while buying the book. This is especially odd since...

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Outlander (Part II)


...it's here where the movie stumbles (spoilers ahead). The premise is a damn good one: that Caviezel's (Jesus's) futuristic society got their genocide on when they invaded the alien's world, conquered it, and practically wiped out their entire species. Since Caviezel (Jesus) was a soldier in the army that committed these atrocities, we should feel like he's paying for his sins when the aliens begin to strike back.

This never happens. Caviezel's (Jesus's) character is constantly portrayed as compassionate and noble, and all the alien does for the run of the movie is sleep, stalk, kill lots of motherfuckers, and eat said dead motherfuckers. I felt no sympathy for the monster at all, which greatly reduces the impact of the final film.

My guess is that the writers had to drop most of this plot thread to accommodate the film's budget. The film was made for $47.5 million, but it looks like it was shot for half of that. The effects in the final film range from adequate to lousy, and it's only the creature's truly awesome design that saves the film, since the character is poorly rendered and animated for most of its shots.

Once the writers realized they didn't have the resources to fully create the struggle between the two species, they probably should have dropped this beat, but as a writer, I can't blame them for holding on to an idea that they were passionate about. None of this ruins Outlander -- it's still a solid fusion of action and horror. It's a great Friday night movie with friends. But it certainly never tops or trancends its origins.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Outlander (Part I)


To be fair, I'm turning into a cantankerous old coot when it comes to my opinions on movies ("Back in my day, we had to composite our special effects optically, uphill both ways!"), but there's something very refreshing about Outlander's straight-forward, earnest approach to its Alien meets Beowulf story.

Its pleasures are simple yet satisfying. The filmmakers judiciously ration the monster's screen time until the final act -- a rarity among rarities these days -- leaving time for the plot to steadily build and for the characters to grow. Jim Caviezel (Jesus) makes a truly awesome action hero, yet the character never feels too much like an action hero, thanks to his performance. For an "A-" movie (a film that either had too much talent or money to be truly "B"), the noteworthy cast is surprisingly above par, and without a single actor just showing up for their paycheck.

While the script stays pretty close to both its obvious inspirations, it plays with conventions just enough to feel fresh -- especially with the romantic lead (Sophia Myles), who gets to be both the damsel in distress and a kicker of asses. And the writers do an excellent job of creating tension between John Hurt and Ron Perlman's kingdoms without ever vilifying either culture. Oddly enough, the writers try to do this with Caviezel's (Jesus's) man from space and the monster he brought with him...

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Lost Symbol (200 pages in)


Man, if only Michael Crichton were still alive so he could team up with Dan Brown to write a science fiction thriller about clones of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, the Apostles, and other characters from Christian mythology who run amok in a Christian-themed amusement park, eating or nearly eating scientists, lawyers, and small children -- because, seriously, Dan Brown's books couldn't get any sillier at this point.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Clone Wars: Season 2, Episodes 1 and 2 -- Holocron Heist and Cargo of Doom (Part II)


...from Anakin and Obi-Wan, which should be the heart of this show.

The battle droid jokes are better -- still a few too many, but they don't interfere with the pace of the story. More importantly, the second episode had some dialog for the battle droids that wasn't just comic relief. In the torture sequence there was a dispassionate droid that reminded me that these things could be taken seriously. The show needs more of this, because as amusing as all these Rosencrank and Guildendroid bits are in theory, these characters should be at least remotely threatening.

Lastly, the plot holes...

If there was a real problem with these two episodes (to say nothing of every Lucas-sponsored story since The Phantom Menace), it's that the Jedi's powers are as strong or weak as necessary in a given scene to keep the plot going. Cad Bane -- who, like Heath Ledger's Joker in the The Dark Knight -- comes up with plans far too complex to be remotely believable.  He makes the Jedi looks like a bunch of retarded kids riding the short Star Destroyer. His escape in the first episode was a stretch but tolerable. The end of Cargo of Doom is lazy writing defined. I think even a young kid would be screaming, "He's right next to you, stupid!" at Anakin. Of course, the whole point of this show is to get these sort of reactions out of kids, so I'll shut up.

Still, despite these criticisms, Heist and Doom feel more like Star Wars than any of the previous episodes. I hope that Filioni and co. can maintain this quality.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Clone Wars: Season 2, Episodes 1 and 2 -- Holocron Heist and Cargo of Doom (Part I)

When reviewing the first season of The Clone Wars, I never assigned an actual rating to any of the episodes. Instead, I made sure to note whether casual, adult fans of Star Wars -- people like me, who grew up with the original trilogy -- might actually enjoy a particular episode, either alone or with their children. Less than half of the first season made that list, but the two episodes that kicked off season 2 last Friday, Holocron Heist and Cargo of Doom, set a new level of quality for the series. I can easily recommend these two episodes to casual fans -- especially those who have been avoiding the show like the plague since the movie came out last summer.

Of course, I'd only recommend them to newcomers who have a little perspective. The Clone Wars is still, for all intents and purposes, a kids' show. The show's biggest faults are still here -- Ahsoka, battle droid humor, and lazy and/or dumbed down storytelling -- but the writers have definitely made an attempt to tone these elements down or improve them.

Ahsoka is far less annoying, but she's still a needless, unwelcome character. She's much more tolerable in these two episodes than in previous ones, but no matter how much she is improved, she just doesn't need to exist. She takes valuable time away...

Next Review Here

Monday, October 5, 2009

Halo 3: ODST (Ten Thoughts - Part III)


8) Love the return of the ridiculously overpowered pistol. Even cooler: it's silenced.

9) Really need to play the story cooperatively. Haven't gotten around to that yet.

10) Great music. Solid story with innovative ideas. The standard superior controls and presentation that one expects from Bungie.

Bungie's still got it -- and I'm especially eager to play Reach next year. That story, a futuristic version of Pearl Harbor, has the potential for some truly gripping storytelling (and let's be honest, Bungie creates better stories than they do games), but for this series to finally live up to its hype, there's a few things the next Halo campaign needs to do.

New enemies and/or new tactics: killing grunts, jackals, elites, and brutes has worn out its welcome long before each of the four Halo games has ended. Shake things up. Keep throwing new things at us throughout the whole game.

Level design is one area where Bungie has steadily improved, and it's a shame to see that the final section of ODST requires you to go through endless waves of bland, identical corridors, followed by big open rooms, followed by bland, identical corridors, etc. For the love of God, please let there be none of this in Reach.

Complete Lack of "Holy Shit" Moments In-Game is one thing Bungie has never capitalized on. There are simply no "holy shit" moments in the campaign, like the scripted sequences found in games like Half-Life or Call of Duty. You simply move from one area to another killing aliens, with little variety, tension, or drama.

There's one moment that almost works, when you have to cross a makeshift bridge from one skyscraper to another. What happens? The bridge shakes...a little. Seriously, a little. That's it. Come on, Bungie, put the drama found in your games' cutscenes into your gameplay. You've got one of the best stories and settings in videogame history. Make it live up to its full potential.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Halo 3: ODST (Ten Thoughts - Part II)

4) ...but Bungie should've held on to this "noir shooter" concept for another game, specifically a non-Halo game. There's no real mystery to ODST, since this is a side story in the already completed Halo story arc. We know who the bad guys are, we know what Halo does, and we even know who's going to win, live, and die. And each time the story cuts to one of the flashbacks, the game entirely loses its noir vibe, feeling like, well, Halo 1, 2, and 3.

After Reach, I hope Bungie tries this again in a new futuristic setting -- preferably without aliens -- so an actual sense of mystery, danger, and suspense could be achieved.

5) I feel bad about how many times I've killed Nathan Fillion. How many, you ask? Let's just say he's had less canceled shows than deaths under my stewardship. That's how much.

6) Speaking of Nathan Fillion. I think it's quite cool that Bungie designed and animated the character to look like him, and I'm a bit curious as to why fellow Firefly vets Alan Tudyk and Adam Baldwin didn't get the same treatment. I don't know about you, but I always get a kick out of playing a game where you play as or share the screen with digital representations of famous actors.

7) One last thing about Mr. Fillion. The last time I played a round of Firefight (four players against endless waves of A.I. baddies, for those who aren't aware), I was glad to find out that one of us wasn't playing as Nathan Fillion. Someone was playing as Alan Tudyk's character, so you could actually hear a different set of audio cues and wisecracks in the midst of battle.

That was quite refreshing. True, if you're going to have an army of cloned soldiers, it might as well be an army of Nathan Fillions. But, still....variety is the spice of life.