Tag: Star Wars

Story Time – Going Solo

han-solo
Okay. So story time. I was at the movies with my wife and while I was using the bathroom someone dressed as Han Solo used the urinal between me and another movie-goer.
 
No big deal, right? I mean, I figure Han freaking Solo would understand the rules a little better when it came to where he should and shouldn’t pee in the men’s bathroom, but okay. His presence alone wasn’t all that strange given the premiere of “Rogue One” in just a few minutes.
 
But here’s where things take a dark (or hilarious) turn, depending on who your significant other happens to be.

I walk out the bathroom followed by the guy who wasn’t Han Solo a few seconds later. And as he comes out, he’s grinning and tells a girl (who by their held hands I can assume is at least his girlfriend), “Wow. I just peed next to Han Solo.”
“Uh…okay?” she says – a statement that suggests this is an everyday occurrence. (Which it may or may not be in the women’s bathroom.)

“No,” the guy explains. “A guy dressed as Han Solo just rolled up and used the urinal right next to me.”

“Who the hell is Han Solo?” the girl asks.

Somewhere, a man hurriedly starts playing the record player he’d been ignoring for the past four decades just to pull the needle off and make the sound.

“What?”

By now the girl looks like she’s starting to get annoyed. “Who the hell is Han Solo!?”

Her boyfriend sputters through a few failed attempts to even respond to that and finally gives up. Instead, he turns to me. “Are you hearing this?” he demands, his tone suggesting hope that I’m about to reveal he’s on some sort of hidden camera game show.

But he’s not, and I don’t.

“I don’t want to hear this,” I say, not sure how else to respond.

The couple walks away, their voices somehow getting louder the further away they get. Apparently they have a great deal to discuss. I don’t blame them. And while it’s possible he’s just explaining forty years of “Star Wars” history to her, I find it far more likely that his statements are more along the lines of, “How do you not who that is?”, “What’s wrong with you?” and “Shouldn’t lizard people like you have at least a baseline of human knowledge to try and fit in better?”

Just before they disappear around the corner, my wife reappears and I’m hopeful that she’ll inform me that I’m on some sort of hidden camera game show. Which she does. But only because she’s got a quirky sense of humor and that’s how she always greets me.

I turn to the couple – now very noticeably not holding hands – and say, “Wow. I think that couple just broke up.”

Children’s Shows are Weird (Part II)

Writer’s Note: Rather than repeat the same exact explanation as last time, I’ll just assume you’ve read the first part of this. If you haven’t, I’ve included the link here.

Now that we’re all the same page, let’s keep the weirdness coming.

tumbleleaf

“Tumble Leaf.” Since this one is limited to people with Amazon Prime, I don’t expect most people to have seen it. Still, it’s generally pleasant to look at and has won a number of awards for excellent children’s programming. You know…for those of you who base their children’s programming choices on what the most out-of-touch grown-ups think about them.

The show involves the adventures of Fig the Fox as he discovers new treasures and adventures around every corner. The usual kid’s stuff. Basically, it’s a nice way of saying that he’s an orphan and everyone died in a giant naval disaster some years ago.

But let’s maybe take a few steps back here.

Fig lives on a ship that’s run aground with large sections of its hull missing. And while I might be able to take this as just an interesting set piece, it would also require me to ignore every other one of a dozen pieces of evidence. Not to mention, this column would end right here on a spectacularly unfulfilling anticlimax. So…no.

As far as main characters go, Fig is pretty much the same one you’ll find in every children’s show. He’s cheerful. He believes in the non-specific but often very helpful “power of friendship.” He’s optimistic almost to a fault. And he’s as dumb as a brick full of smaller, dumber bricks.

His catchphrase is literally, “Let me figure this out.” And he utters it over and over again as he tries to solve such mentally-taxing riddles as why a blue mask makes him invisible in blue flowers but not pink flowers, or how to use a megaphone. This lack of any common sense combined with his aforementioned lack of parents, it’s safe to assume that, well, he’s got no parents.

Then again, he’s in good company. Almost no one else in the show has any parents either. The closest we get is the aunt (or at least, “aunt”) of a supporting character. There’s also a pair of chickens with parents, though they’re young enough to have been born after whatever parent-killing disaster befell the rest of the adults there.

It’s possible that all these odds and ends have nothing to do with one another. Maybe all the parents died after eating bad salmon mousse. Maybe the pirate ship is just a random ship that has nothing to do with the plot. But I generally prefer my crazy theory walls to have more connected strings to the various newspaper clippings, as it were.

Given the low population but reasonable level of technological development, I think we can safely assume that something knocked this society down a peg. This is mirrored by the eerie number of ruins nearby – both of the “ancient civilization” kind and more recent “overgrown amusement park” variety. This suggests not only a disaster, but some sort of recurring one. In short, if you were thinking of offering insurance to the people of Tumble Leaf, you may want to reconsider.

There’s more evidence, of course. (What kind of cut-rate conspiracy article do you think I’m writing here?) And just like any good conspiracy theory, the best piece of evidence is crab-related.

It’s heavily implied that all the crabs were originally fishermen. I say “fishermen” because they’re all wearing the typical fisherman’s attire and kind of talk like less intelligible versions of Popeye. And I say “originally” because none of them are doing it anymore. The only boats we ever seen in the show are ones washed ashore and repurposed for other uses. And of the dozen or so crabs we see on the show, only one (known only as “The Captain”) hasn’t retreated far inland under fairly mysterious circumstances.

Tumbleleaf Captain.jpg

“I once caught a fish thiiiiiiiis big. Oh. And then…everyone died.”

The Captain lives in a small underground lair, subsisting on daily casts of a crab trap into the ocean. (I’m not even going to touch that one.) He’s got a wooden claw so severe that it won’t grow back, lending more credence to the whole “something bad happened” angle. And while I have no idea if he has any relation to the crashed ship he lives next to, it’s fairly clear that the local fishing industry ended up at the bottom of the same watery grave as ninety percent of the adults on the show.

“But wait!” I say, unnecessarily, because that’s not how reading works. “There’s more!”

I didn’t even mention what was in the crab traps everyday. Instead of finding food (i.e. crabs) inside, he finds…well, junk. The local shallows are littered with the scattered pieces of civilization. Springs, gears, toys and a wide variety of things that seem more at home in, well, houses than the cold uncaring depths of the ocean, get dredged up twice per episode.

From there, the theory pretty much writes itself. Which is handy, because my fingers are getting tired.

The safest bet is that some sort of natural disaster – very likely a severe hurricane – struck the coastline about a decade ago. In addition to destroying all local industry, it didn’t leave a single post standing of the coastline villages. I don’t want to overestimate the tragedy here, but given that the area has amusement parks and airship-level technology, I feel confident in saying it was definitely enough for the Jedi to notice.

The good news is that there were survivors. The bad news is that it’s probably going to happen again someday. Remember all those pesky ancient ruins I mentioned? Yeah. Judging from the number of abandoned sites scattered all over the area, it seems like the area lives in a constant cycle of growth and purging at the whims of a very grumpy Poseidon. It doesn’t bode well for Fig, especially if he plans on becoming an adult one day.

But…eh. He figured out that sleds go faster when he took his feet off the ground. I’m sure he’ll figure out how to save civilization, too.

“Yo Gabba Gabba!” Yo Gabba Gabba is brain poison. I tried watching it once and actually felt my neurons dying like tiny white-hot pin pricks behind my eyes and suddenly I didn’t remember long division. We shall speak of it no more.

Anyway, more to come in the next installment. I was thinking of going to three parts with this, but I may go to four. There really is no shortage of these weird shows.

On the Merits of Understanding Movies

clapper

I was watching YouTube the other day (amid the controversy surrounding their latest cock-up, but that’s a story for another time). While I refuse to watch commercials for actual products, I tend to watch the movie previews all the way through just to stay up to date on things. And as I watched some girl pull herself through a narrow tunnel while being chased by a scary voodoo witch or something, I came to a sudden realization.

Movie studios don’t understand movies.

Let me clarify a few things here, because there’s a lot to unpack in that statement. I’ll grant that they know the basic mechanics. They seem to know how to put moving images on film. Or maybe it’s all digital now? I don’t know. I’m not a movie studio.

No, what I’m saying is that if you asked anyone what made any classic or great or even good movie deserving of its title, they would probably know. Not all the answers would be identical. People relate to movies in their own way. But it’s safe to say that most of their answers would be well outside the range of “completely missing the point.”

For movie studios, it’s harder to say what they get and don’t get, because they don’t directly comment on movies (except their own, usually to say that they’re amazing). So to get an idea, it’s actually best to look at sequels, prequels, reboots, remakes and whatever other word they’ve come up with to disguise blatant cash grabs these days. I honestly think I heard “requel” somewhere along the way.

You’d be surprised at how often they completely miss the point. (Or maybe you wouldn’t, depending how many “Star Trek” movies you’ve seen.) It’s the sort of thinking that comes up with, “Hey! Let’s make a sequel to Caddyshack…but less funny. Just make sure there’s still some golf in it. And that gopher.”

And, repeatedly, “Hey! Let’s take the character people could barely stand for a few minutes from this movie and put them on screen for 92 minutes.”

Let’s take a look at a few case studies.

The Star Wars prequels. This may as well be the archetype example of movie makers not understanding the follow-up movies that need to be made. And while most of the blame falls on George Lucas and his dashing salt and pepper beard (albeit with less pepper in recent years), the problem wasn’t that his ideas were  stupid.

Or rather, that wasn’t the only problem.

No, the fault came when Lucas decided to tell the story of the failing Republic, Boba Fett, C-3P0, the Trade Federation, Clone Wars and basically everything and everyone in Episode 4 old enough to have shown up a few decades earlier. Why? Because the prequels had one story to tell – the fall of Anakin Skywalker and his friendship with Obi-Wan. And it completely failed at it.

Sure, there was a lot of other stuff going on. And I like a good space battle as much as the rest of you. But from the moment Episode 1 began, everyone already knew that the Republic and Jedi would fall, Palpatine would seize control, Padme would die but be in no real danger until after she had her kids and that Anakin was going to get absolutely destroyed in a fight somewhere near the end of it all.

What those movies needed to talk about was what we didn’t know and maybe throw in a few twists. Specifically, focusing on things anyone cared about. (e.g. Not who built C-3PO.)

I still remember sitting in the theater to see Episode 3 when a random stranger turned to me and said, “Oh, my God. If Lucas throws a curveball and makes Leia and Luke the children of Obi-Wan, I will (and I’m quoting word for word here) shit out my dick.”

Inevitably, Lucas didn’t have the balls, and that stranger would continue excreting solid and liquid waste from all the proper holes (so far as I know, anyway).

Star Wars: Episode 7. Now, let’s take things in the opposite direction. Let’s look at someone making a movie who knows exactly what the movie needs to be about. And given that it had a lot of bases to cover, I’m surprised this movie turned out half as well as it did.

Okay. So you need your nods to the original so people don’t just think they’re watching an entirely different series. Old, vaguely grizzled characters? Check. Only…as much as you’d like them to do everything and be the heroes, they can’t do everything. Otherwise we’ll be in Episode 9 wondering why we’re sending in the fresh meat to blow up the fourth Death Star when Han and Lando could just do it. New, interesting faces? Check.

Be familiar but give the audience something new? Check. Have classic hero-mentor relationships but add in new elements to the formula? Check. Put in Daniel Craig but find a way that I don’t want to look at his smug face? Miraculously, check.

I won’t belabor the point here because I want to focus on two upcoming movies that I think sort of missed the boat. Before you lose all interest and start playing games on your phone or something. This article has gone on long enough already.

The “It” Remake. Yes, I realize there’s been no official trailers yet. And I realize that thus far they’ve only released two actual production photos for a movie coming out in late 2017. But I’ve got my reasons for being worried. And to be fair, if history has taught us one thing, it’s that it’s never too early to start calling a Stephen King movie adaptation doomed.

My main beef is with the photo they released (the second, total) of Pennywise – the terrifying, sometimes-clown, sometimes-giant space spider that feeds on fear.

First off, who releases a picture of the horror movie villain a year before the movie comes out? This isn’t just revealing a monster in the first act. This is a monster walking around in the theater and greeting guests before the show.

(And no, the fact that he’s terribly designed didn’t help matters much. Ahem.)

 it-twitter
“If we all float down here, then nobody does!”

Second off, the design suggests they’re trying to make him look all Gothic and scary. And that would be fine. Except that “It” wasn’t a movie about an evil space clown going around scaring and killing people. It was a movie about people being scared and getting killed that just so happened to feature a clown in it.

The distinction here was that there wasn’t a clown running around stabbing people to death. He waited in the shadows and gave children nightmares and made eyeballs appear in their drinks or whatever to feed on their fear. If you want a movie about killer clowns from outer space, they made a movie about that already.

You know, “Under Siege 2: Dark Territory.”

“Blair Witch.” I feel like the people making the “Blair Witch” kind-of-reboot-more-a-sequel are in a contest with the people who made “Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2” to prove who understood the first movie the least.

Which is really a pointless contest. It’s like getting in a dunking contest with Superman. “Book of Shadows” is going to the most terrible anything in most contests it enters.

Now, does that automatically mean it’s going to be a bad movie? No. In fact, if the original proved anything (aside from running with a shaking camera being a recipe for disaster), it’s that ideas out of left field can be surprisingly good.

In fact, most of the early reviews seem to be very positive. I think I’m just just naturally skeptical of sequels that look entirely different than the original – a fear cultivated by watching “Book of Shadows” and the hours afterward I sat wondering why a just God would allow this to happen.

Still, if it’s trying to be a non-found-footage movie, it’s a weird way to continue the original plot. And I’m not sure the audience has the suspension of disbelief necessary to believe that it’s more found-footage when all the original actors have done their rounds on the late night talk show circuit. In short, this is one of those cases where it could be a good movie and a bad sequel at the same time.

Like “The Chronicles of Riddick” was a very passable movie but a strange follow-up to “Pitch Black.” A counterpoint to this is the bad movie that’s more or less the sequel you’d expect, in the vein of “Mortal Kombat: Annihilation.”

No Man’s Buy

No Mans Sky.jpg

No Man’s Buy. See what I did there? Eh? Eh? Next time I see you in person, remind me to elbow you suggestively. That’ll really drive the pun home.

I should start this by saying, no. Mercifully, I didn’t end up buying “No Man’s Sky.” As someone who buys games on day one maybe once or twice a year, I tend to put a lot of research into my decisions. The truth is, I was really excited about it from the very first announcement trailer. It was only in the week or three prior to launch that I started seeing a lot of red flags that suggested I might find it more exciting to put $60 into a long-term savings bond.

And post-launch, it’s gotten considerably worse.

If you’ve been listening to the rumblings online (or plan to finish this sentence), you’ll know that most major retailers are offering unrestricted refunds for those dissatisfied with their purchase. That’s the sort of response generally reserved for games that launched with massive bugs that made it unplayable for one or more consoles. It only gets worse when you realize that it does happen to be buggy, in addition to just very disappointing.

So, how did we get here exactly? How could such an ambitious project end up disappointing everyone? And how could exploring an infinite Universe end up so tragically boring?

The real question is, how could it not end up disappointing and boring?

Consider this lesson on expectation. If I walked up to you and said that I was about to dragon kick you in the stomach and then run off, I doubt you’d be disappointed. Well, I mean, you’d be understandably upset, sure. Nobody likes kicks to the stomach. But after you got up and brushed yourself off, you’d probably very grudgingly agree that, yes, I delivered everything I promised. I might even get a decent Yelp review.

(Assuming people still use Yelp?)

My long, rambly and dragon-kick-y point is, it’s very easy to meet low expectations. Despite being a very small developer, Hello Games tried to downplay that aspect. Instead, they emphasized exploring a huge galaxy that would take longer than your feeble existence to explore even a small part of, with new discoveries around every corner, rich environments and deep, engaging gameplay….yada yada yada. You get my point.

That game was never going to happen. Very likely, that game never will happen. Because if it did, not only would it be the last game you’d ever need to buy (which isn’t good for video game profits down the line) but it would be a significantly better alternative to your everyday life (which isn’t good for humanity as a species).

Given this is the case, all that’s left is a boring slog through a painfully limitless Universe. Think about it. Would you rather have a small but exciting game set entirely in the automotive section of a K-Mart? Or a dull, repetitive one set in a 1:1 scale version of the real Universe?

In fact, it’s strange how a lack of interesting gameplay makes slogans meant to promote the game sound more like torture. “Explore a limitless Universe with fun, engaging gameplay! It never ends!” Versus, “Explore a limitless Universe collecting the same things over and over! It never ends. EVER.”

“Now give us the access codes!”

That being said, I’m not necessarily blaming players for having high expectations. (It’s sort of what we players do.) In all likelihood, Hello Games (the developer) is going to have to eat its share of the blame pie. Players can have, like, a thin slice. But don’t fill up on blame pie. You’ll spoil your dinner.

The thing is, though, is that I don’t think the developers did bad work. I’ll limit their failure to creating more hype than they could deliver on and a failure to understand that a large scale exacerbates problems with repetitive gameplay rather than helping. But I love that they tried. Because while the game they delivered feels like a tech demo rather than a full game, it’s admittedly the seed of a very interesting idea or two or fifty.

Imagine a huge Universe (albeit one smaller than the one in “No Man’s Sky,” so people could actually explore it all in a human lifespan) with a meaningful plot, epic space battles, interesting gameplay beyond just resource collection, different factions (perhaps including a huge, unstoppable evil force threatening to consume it all), real customization, rare items to find, so on and so forth. Or…you know…like, all that, but in a really good Star Wars game.

So, yeah. Pretty much, I’m saying they need to sell off to Disney immediately. And then I can explore an enormous Star Wars Universe with my lovable crew of misfits.

When my savings bond matures I would so buy that game…