Tuesday, December 25, 2007

We wish you a Merry Christmas...

I said I might go on a rant about the whole politically-correct holiday thing, but I decided I don't feel like it.

So Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everyone!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

We built this city...

So, we have Rock Band. The purchasing of which was primarily precipitated by my roommate Brian's winning a PS3 in a holiday raffle1, and us needing games for it.

We've been down with Guitar Hero since the first game. Right around the time Guitar Hero II came out I was unemployed for a period of around six months, with a really good severance package (best and worst job I've ever had, remind me to talk about it sometime) and unemployment benefits. This was also the post-production period on RvD2. So I had no job to speak of, and when I tired of rotoscoping lightsabers, I turned my attention to Freebird.2

We also had Guitar Hero on the set of the film I shot this summer -- not only GH2, but Guitar Hero Encore: Rockin' the 80s.

Point is, I really played a lot of Guitar Hero this past year. When I played Encore, and when GH3 came out, I started off in "Hard". Not "Easy" or "Medium." Admittedly, not "Expert" either, but I'm not familiar with a lot of these songs. And now with Rock Band I find myself doing the same (and playing on "Expert" the songs I do know).

I'm something of a musician. I was in marching band in high school. I played first chair clarinet and I was Drum Major my junior year.3 And I'm a little ashamed to admit that I sight-read the songs in the Guitar Hero/Rock Band series far, far better than I ever sight-read actual sheet music.

There are some annoying bits, I will say. First off, the upgrade to PS3 means wireless controllers for all. Which is, you know, cool in the sense of less clutter, but also means battery life and signal strength and such become an issue.

The drum set is cool and Brian really likes it. Which is good, because I'm going to need a LOT of practice before I can play those worth a tin shit. From what I hear, unlike the guitar, if you can learn the coordination necessary to play the drum "controller", you've basically learned the skills necessary to play a real drum kit. It certainly takes a fair bit of concentration, although it was 2AM and I was starting to really fuck up on the guitar before we tried switching. So maybe when I'm fully awake I won't have quite so much trouble.

The "Overdrive" (formerly "Star Power") little gyroscope or whatever fucking device they have that registers the guitar tilting "towards the heavens" is broken, but it turns out that pressing "Select" also activates it. Takes a little getting used to, but the button is right by my pinky as I strum so it's not a huge problem.

The huge problem is that apparently there's such a thing as strumming "too hard" on these things. All us Guitar Heros are used to strumming until we hear that solid "click". If we don't hear the "click" the note doesn't register. Well, the new guitars do away with the solid "click", presumably to cut down on the amount of clicking and clacking you do when you're SUPPOSED to be rocking out. That's cool, although I miss the tactile sense that I DEFINITELY hit the note. But something is wrong with our guitar, because if you do more than just SLIGHTLY tweak the strum bar, it registers as two notes and fucks the score and multiplier.

Apparently, along with the tilt-sensor, this is not an uncommon issue with these guitars. We're getting a presumably "working" one on exchange.

Exchange or no, the little "solo" keys higher up on the neck are fucking pointless. A solo almost invariably will dovetail directly with a previous phrase, so there's no time to even shoot your hand down there, much less actually LOOK at the guitar to make sure you're pressing the right goddamn buttons. Also, they have the "benefit" of not needing to be strummed during the solos, but you can just press the right button at the right time.

The problem is, part of being able to play the game really well means I've trained myself to press the appropriate button a split-second BEFORE the note arrives, so it is ready for the attendant strum. Well, in high-fret solo mode that just means I fuck up EVERY SINGLE NOTE by a split second for the first half of the solo, and then I start to concentrate really hard and overthink what I'm doing and wind up fucking up the SECOND half, too.

Luckily, it's perfectly possible to play the solos just like any other part of the song, with the regular frets and strums (presumably for backwards-compatibility with Guitar Hero controllers), so like the "Overdrive" problem, I don't ultimately really have to deal with it.

The singing part of the game is quite fun and I do pretty well with it, so I'm looking forward to doing that more when we've got the whole "band" together. I've even done a trial run of singing WHILE doing the guitar. So far I can manage "Wanted Dead or Alive" and "Learn to Fly." But no REAL point in that, ultimately, since the idea is to make it a four-player game and we'll have four players here for it.

Still, I wanted to see how difficult it was for the real rockers who play and sing. I can only conclude it's pretty tough, because it's damn hard in the game.

A quick word about song choice: AWESOME selection in Rock Band (GH3's song selection left a great deal to be desired for me) and I'm looking forward to the day we unlock "Epic", among many others.

Last comment: I've always wondered how musical performers could play/sing the same song every night on tour for, like, 20 years. Madonna still does "Like a Virgin" in her concerts, I hear. I got a taste of that life our first night with Rock Band. Between all the occasions where the game chooses a "random" song to challenge you on, and the few songs we'd unlocked, we wound up playing "Creep" and "Say it Ain't So" about a million times each, and I was going kind of nuts.

  1. "Holiday raffle" is a gross oversimplification of how he won the PS3, but that's another story and he can get his own blog.

  2. I was over the moon when I heard that they were putting Freebird in GH2. THAT song takes a Guitar Hero.

  3. I would have been Drum Major my senior year, too, but they dissolved the program to put more budget money on our shitty football team. The year I was drum major we took Sweepstakes (basically a Best in Show award) at every competition; the football teams never even made it to local playoffs. I'm pretty bitter about the dissolution of the band -- and moreso about the administration's baldfaced lies that they were doing "everything they could" to keep the program afloat -- but at least we went out on top.

Monday, December 17, 2007

With great power...

So, sorry for not posting much of substance lately. Holidays and all. I will be back on track with some theoretical/ranting posts after Christmas (although I may take the opportunity to do a little rant re: political correctness and Christmas/Xmas/Holidays).

Meanwhile, now that humans have begun harnessing the power of the genome, we can finally give such marvelous novelty gifts as glow-in-the-dark cats.

Now, according to the article, the scientists did have a rational reason for doing that -- it's a much easier pitch to the lay-public when they can SEE the effect science has had with their own eyes, as opposed to "see these bands on the chromosomes under the electron microscope? We moved those. Science!" So making living creatures who are genetically (and benignly) altered clones is a great way to make a point: We know what we're doing, we have an unprecedented level of control.

But that's also, of course, potentially a bad thing. Even though I'm not sure I have a lot of ethical objections to manipulating the genome, there are basic logical ones: how do we know that the adjustments we make will be benign? Natural selection creates an equilibrium; unfit mutations do not survive or produce less offspring and thus the gene pool balances out. But what if, through artificial selection, we introduce a mutation that we think is good but turns out to be bad, and the usual equilibrium process winds up wiping out the new mutation, which by artificial means comprised an entire generation of a population?

Bad times.

And even if there's nothing but good that could be expected from this, I expect people to miss the point entirely. Either by getting up in arms about the existence of glow-in-the-dark cats (without understanding their implications), or worse yet, by WANTING a glow-in-the-dark cat or other designer pet (likewise).

Although it is good fodder if I ever get around to writing a sci-fi social satire.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Closer We Get, Part 2

Same guy, same principles, new application. Someone give him a grant already.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The closer we get...

...the more it seems like this should have been how we interacted with computers from the beginning.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Colin's Bear Animation; or, Thanks for Nothing

I may feel free to go on a rant about trade schools sometime in the near future. In the meantime, I present you with this.

In case you only watch the videos I embed on this page, and never go to their actual YouTube pages, here's the description from YouTube, which is important.

So this video was created by a third year student at UOIT. This is the final animation for an Animation Arts class. My friend Colin used all the techniques that were taught by this professor. And as you can see, he made the best animation with what was taught.

Be prepared to watch it multiple times. It gets funnier each time.

You want me to show you tough? I'll show you tough.

I'm still on the look-out for some other good YouTube fight scenes. Meanwhile, here's how not to get cast in a kung-fu movie.

Most people I know have seen Shaft and his backflip-gone-wrong, and I've seen the rest of this video but I'm not sure everyone who reads this has, so here you go.

There are dozens of uploads of this video, all from the same two not very good quality sources, so after going through all of them looking for a good one, I just picked one arbitrarily. It gets the point across.

Monday, December 10, 2007

In Soviet Russia, ass kicks YOU

So, I just got turned on to this scene from a movie called Undisputed 2. Sequel, presumably, to Undisputed. I have not seen either, but I LOVE a good fight scene.

This fight scene -- apparently the FIRST fight scene in the film -- definitely makes me want to see the movie. The action is maybe a bit too wushu to be believable in a kickboxing tournament, but I can forgive that because of the levels of awesome it achieves. And unlike many fight scenes today, the action is extremely well-shot. There's no cheating in quick cuts here. Just great, brutal choreography and performances.

I'm going to check YouTube for some other of my favorite fight scenes.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

And now for something completely different.

There's some good news to go along with the bad.

-Ray Park, best known as Darth Maul from The Phantom Menace, has just been cast as Snake-Eyes in the upcoming live-action G.I. JOE movie. That is so cool. I've had the outstanding fortune of working with Ray on our Descendants teaser, and he's still attached to star in the feature if the writer's strike ever ends. Besides the fact that it's going to put the heat back on his name, and make it easier to sell a movie with him attached, Ray is just a great guy and I'm just terribly excited for him. He deserves it.

-My good buddy Travis has at long long last released "Six in the Morning," the sequel to the popular "Three in the Afternoon". I've seen it. I liked it. We will have to podcast about it.

-RvD2 Behind the Scenes DVDs are at the replicators and should be ready around the Christmas season. They look great and I think all our fans, those who donated and those who ordered DVDs specifically, will be pleased and find them worth the wait.

-Haven't done a YouTube find in a while. Got a Robot Chicken sketch for ya today. If you're an RC fan you've probably already seen it. I had seen it before, but it's been a while, and for those who haven't, I thought I'd share.

The funniest part, to me, is how scandalized Mario is by the "Princess" and her proposition.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Because I could not stop for Death...

My maternal grandfather, Edmundo Palacios, passed away at 8:20 PM on December 4, 2007. He was 74 years old.

I'm sad, but I'm not bereaved. I think that he would want all of us to go on with our lives and not let this bring everything to a halt. He died, but we didn't, and we have to keep living that way. I'm still smiling. I'm still laughing. I can miss him without dying with him.

I like to think that's enlightened. Possibly it's just horrible. Judge as you see fit.

My first experience with death was with my other grandfather, my father's father, Frank Scott. I was three years old when he died. The only memory I have of him is a withered old man in a hospital bed. I remember being struck by how the mucus in his nose seemed to have solidified into two very green plugs. Looking back I think maybe this is a false memory, that he may actually have been on an oxygen tank with two tubes in his nose. But that's not what I remember, and I really just don't know.

Though that is the only memory I have of him, I know that I was very close to him when he died. I also know that I had not had any knowledge of death or dying, so it never occurred to me that the time I saw him so sick would be the last time I saw him.

I was with my parents on a business trip to China when I found out what it meant to die. I asked them when I would get to see "Grandpa Scott" again.

I remember the look they gave each other when they realized they were going to have to tell me the truth. My mom took me back to the hotel room and explained death to me.

I remember crying until the sun came up.

My parents tell me that a few months later, I started crying inconsolably, apparently out of nowhere. When they calmed me down enough to articulate what my problem was, it seems I had come to the understanding that someday, inevitably, I would die.

Death and I have a strange relationship.

What it comes down to, really, is I've spent 21 years thinking about it, wrestling with it, and, in my own ways, coming to terms with it.

I've held imaginary eulogies for my loved ones throughout my life -- when I'm alone, I'll just get it into my head to think of what I'd say if someone I cared deeply for died. So I say what I think I would say in such a situation. I usually end up crying.

I don't know why I do that. It's a very strange thing to do. I'd like to say it prepares me for what I know may someday come (assuming I survive any one of them and not vice-versa), and also makes me focus on what I adore about these people. But it's still a goddamn weird activity. The only defense I have to keep from sounding completely psychotic is that I didn't do it OFTEN, and I haven't done it in many years. Still, I did it every now and then, so there it is.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I was kind of ready for this. To say nothing of the fact that my grandfather has been sick for a long time. The guy has had like four heart attacks -- but kept on ticking. About a year and a half ago he got some kind of fibrosis -- not cystic, but I don't know what it WAS. Anyway, it fucked up his lungs, and over the last 18 months he just withered away. His bodily organs shut down and his heart, overworked and prone to attacking as it was, finally gave up on Saturday.

For a long time he had avoided going to the hospital near the end. I think he knew that if he went in, they'd never let him back out. And he wanted to die at home.

My grandfather started dating my grandmother when they were 17 and 14, respectively. They married at 21 and 18, and moved to America a few years later. They were married 53 years, and they have lived in the same house since coming to America. I get that he wanted to die at home. I get why.

But he had a heart attack, my grandmother panicked and called 911. And even though he signed a Do Not Resuscitate order, a call to 911 by a spouse or other designated decision-maker overrides that in some bullshit bureaucratic way. Not only did they resuscitate him, but they ALSO put him on a ventilator1, which he ALSO explicitly stated he didn't want. That if it came to a choice of dying or artificial life support, they were to pull the plug.

I hear he bit the doctor who put the tube in. I say good.

Apparently he had a heart attack yesterday and they resuscitated him again. He was pissed about that.

At any rate, I got a call this morning. "The doctor says if anyone wants to see him, they need to come now. Not in two hours. NOW."

I rushed down to the hospital and saw him in intensive care. I had seen him on Sunday as well, but only briefly. He was conscious, though he couldn't talk because of that fucking tube down his gullet. To be fair, he probably didn't have the strength to talk even without it, but I'm still pissed that it was even there.

I'm lucky. We knew it was coming. They finally decided to honor his wishes and take him off life support. We were told to say our goodbyes.

My mom, being a fatalist, made sure to tell us every time he got sick, since the very first heart attack, that "this could be the big one." So in a way, to me, my grandfather has been dying since I was 14. I've had to think about what that meant. I've had to come to terms with it. I was prepared.

I held his hand and looked in his eyes. I told him I loved him, that I would miss him, and I said goodbye. I kissed his cheek. He squeezed my hand.

Through all of this, I was fine. It was only when I returned to the waiting room and saw my grandmother crying that I broke down a bit. My grandfather was ready. I was ready. She wasn't. I had never seen her cry before.

She's always been a very practical woman. She also kind of lives in denial of unpleasant things. I don't think she had really allowed herself to consider the ultimate consequence of my grandfather's sickness. She had finally accepted that she had said goodbye forever.

That's what really broke my heart today.

Times like this I almost wish I still believed in God. I think that moment tested my "faith" as an Atheist more than it would have as a Christian. It would have made it easier just to relapse and put it all in the hands of a higher power. I wish I could give the "better place" platitude, but I can't, because I don't believe it. I don't believe he's anywhere. He's gone.

But I can't say that to my weeping grandmother. And I can't lie to her about what I believe. What the hell COULD I say? The "his suffering's over" line didn't feel right either -- it was TRUE, but just felt inappropriate. I just sat with her and let her cry.

I was close with my grandfather growing up. My grandparents helped raise me. My father was often out of town on business and my mother couldn't handle me on her own. We lived 3-4 days of the week at my grandparents'. 2

In high school I kind of withdrew from everyone for reasons I don't need to go into here, and that meant everyone. That period of my life did a lot of damage to my relationships with my family, some of it forgivable (and since forgiven) but much of it irreparable.3

I then went to college and carved my own life out even more. Part of it was being stuck on campus, without a car until my junior year. And after that, my habits had changed. It's not that my grandparents had done anything wrong, but I was living a different life and I just didn't get around to seeing them much. None of my family saw me much from then until, well, now really.

Would I do it differently? I honestly don't know. Selfishly, the life I was leading made me happy and I had to pursue it. They say they understand. I really believe so. I certainly hope so. Ironically, my grandfather's feelings upon dying were, according to my grandmother, not anger at me that I hadn't been around as much, but anger at himself that he wouldn't be around for me if I needed him. They've just always been ready to be there if I needed them.

My brother thinks that I'm not upset now, but it'll hit me sometime later. That may be true. All I know is what I said before. I'm sad, but I'm not devastated. And maybe it's because, all things considered, I've been more ready to let him go, more used to not seeing him as often. My sister, by contrast, is a total wreck. She visited almost every day. I hope she'll be alright but I just don't know what to say.

But like I said. For my part, I told him I would miss him, that I loved him, and I said goodbye. I meant every word, because even though I wasn't around, I was always thinking of them. He heard me and said it back as best he could. I'm one of the lucky ones.

One more thing, and I saved it for last because I want it to stick with you the way it stuck with me.

As I held my grandmother, as she cried her broken heart out, across the waiting room a man was playing with his infant daughter. She couldn't have been more than 18 or 19 months old. She was born right around the time my grandfather started his final, long decline.

Her dad was doing that thing where you pretend to throw the kid up in the air without really letting go. She was in one of those funny little jumpsuits, her wispy toddler hair done up in a "ponytail" that stuck straight out the top of her head. She was looking up at the ceiling with a huge open-mouthed baby smile, almost laughing but not quite.

She was so beautiful.

  1. You've seen it in the movies -- it's that accordion-thing. It's attached to a tube that is forced down your throat, and it breathes for you when your lungs/diaphragm don't have the strength.

  2. They have a lot of stories they tell about me, describing, with great and inexplicable affection, the type of child that ought to be smacked 'til it puts him right.

  3. For example, my younger brother never had the support of an older brother that he should have through his formative years. I wasn't there for him, and he needed someone. I think he put a lot of trust in me because I was very much there when he was little, then suddenly I closed myself off and the bottom dropped out. Changing it now doesn't change it then. Him forgiving me doesn't change it, either. I have to live with it.

Monday, December 03, 2007

The Storyteller's Responsibility

Recently, there's been talk of a new Knight Rider series. This is not the first, nor probably the last, old-school TV series to be re-booted, reimagined, or remade in the new millennium. On one of the many message boards I frequent, there was a recent discussion about the Knight Rider re-imagining, and re-imaginings in general.

Putting aside, for the moment, the fact that the "argument" at hand was pure idiocy -- someone was insisting that the new KITT doesn't look enough like the old KITT and therefore the new show was worthless and an insult to the fans, even though a) the KITT design is not endemic to the storyline and perfectly sensible to update to a newer model of car, or even a concept car, and b) the official new KITT design hasn't been released, so the argument was actually regarding a fan rendering which, much like the person making the argument, has no grounding in reality -- the point raised was interesting, especially given the side I found myself arguing.

The argument, at its core, was that re-imagined versions of a story are often so distantly related to the original concept that, with a few changes, it could have been its own, "original" concept, instead of "pissing on" the nostalgia and "alienating the fans of the original". Ignoring, again, how ludicrous it is to imply that because KITT is not a 1982 TransAm nor does it (theoretically, mind) have a similar silhouette, the entire enterprise is a wash, we'll go with another example that was brought up: the new Battlestar Galactica.

I do not watch Battlestar, so I can't really talk too much about the story beyond my cursory knowledge of the basics. It's not that I have anything against it, I just haven't jumped in yet. And since the next season has been announced to be its last, I figure I might as well hold off until they wrap it up and hear from Ryan, who DOES watch it, whether the journey is worth it. But I don't need to watch the new Battlestar (nBSG) to know that the argument that it has replaced the original series (oBSG) is, to use a word I can't use on that particular board, utter horseshit. The original series is still there. You can still watch it, it hasn't been changed or erased. The new series is something else. End of story.

To argue that the new series shouldn't be named Battlestar Galactica if it's not going to be the original series is also absurd. The BASIC story is the same, and that's the story that they want to use as their foundation.

Before I get into that too much, though, I just want to point out a seeming contradiction in my thinking, which I realized during this argument; it was my determination to resolve the contradiction, either by forcing myself to accept that I can't have it both ways and to drop one side of my contradictory argument, or by understanding how there was, in actual fact, no contradiction.

I often take filmmakers like George Lucas and the Wachowski Brothers to task for screwing up the story in their series. My first post in this string was a mini-essay on how Lucas had no right to change Star Wars the way he did, in terms of the originals, and I barely touched on how horribly he mangled the telling of the prequels AND cut the legs out of the originals in the process. It is his responsibility, I argued, to stay true to the zeitgeist and the cultural impact by allowing the story to be what it is, and what it has become.

But at the same time, I found myself arguing that the makers of the new Knight Rider, and nBSG, and all other series reboots, have no responsibility to the nostalgia of the original fans, particularly when said nostalgia is so blinkered that the smallest change might as well render the whole thing meaningless in their eyes.

So which is it? Does the storyteller have a responsibility to his audience and their nostalgia, especially when the story is an established part of the cultural fabric, or is it his open prerogative to create a new story at his whim, nostalgia and fan-loyalty be damned?

Well, I had to think about this pretty hard before I realized the truth of the matter: putting it that way, it's a trick question, and a false dichotomy. Putting it that way, the answer is "neither". The storyteller's responsibility is not to his audience's love of the minutae incidental to the telling of the story. Nor is it to his own whims in a given moment, to changing the story just because it's in his power to change it.

The storyteller's responsibility is to the story, to the world and the characters necessary to tell the story. Always, and only.

The storyteller's only responsibility to the audience is to provide them with enough believable detail (take careful note that the word I used is quite intentionally not "realistic", but "believable") to accommodate the suspension of disbelief the audience will need to make. A greater suspension usually requires proportionately greater detail.

The storyteller's only responsibility to himself is to make sure the story is told to his satisfaction. BUT, his satisfaction must at all times derive from a sense of the truth of the story, of the reason the story deserves to be told.

In "first-run" versions of the story, that means being true to the source. The Matrix sequels and Star Wars prequels fail because they were not true to the stories that they had begun to tell and which they were, ostensibly, continuing.

The Harry Potter stories deserve to be told in as faithful a way as possible, because they have never been brought to the screen and therefore the story has not yet been told in that medium.1

But, if a story must be RE-told, I would go so far as to say they had BETTER make some radical changes from the last time, to give it a new relevance and purpose. Otherwise why should you tell that story again?

For example, I've often thought of how cool it would be to make a new Wizard of Oz film, using the visual effects techniques unheard of 70 years ago. Think of the flying monkey effects! Think of the powers of the Witch of the West!

But then I think: why in the hell would I do such a thing? What could be added to The Wizard of Oz that wasn't accomplished the first time, story-wise, to warrant using new techniques to tell the story?2 I could never answer that question, and always abandoned the notion.3

Why do a Battlestar Galactica today about the future that the 80s envisioned? We need a Battlestar Galactica about the future as it appears to us.4

Some stories have NOT been properly translated to the screen. The recent Beowulf is an example of a film that I think was worth making, even though it was not a reimagining. To the contrary, it was the first film to treat the material faithfully, directly. But still with a purpose, of telling the story and wrestling with the material in a new way. Instead of just telling the story of a man who kills monsters, it tells the story of a man who epitomizes the Neitzchian concept of a man who fights monsters becoming a monster himself, and tells us that the people we revere as heroes are still, in the end, human beings.

Beowulf has been told before, with varying degrees of faithfulness to the events of the story. But it is only Zemeckis' version that has found a PURPOSE in re-telling the story, a truth that the events of the plot (altered somewhat from the ancient manuscript, arguably to their improvement) can help to express.

This isn't to say that everything a storyteller writes or makes is going to be gold. I somehow doubt that Knight Rider is going to be brilliant, no matter what the car looks like. It'll probably be silly fun and hopefully it'll have the sense not to take itself too seriously. And the design of the car will undoubtedly be dictated less by nostalgia and more by whichever car company is the highest bidder for what is, ultimately, a weekly hour-long commercial for their product.5

But hey, it could be brilliant. It really could, and what will only emphasize its brilliance is that no one in the world will really expect it to be so.

Jaws was just supposed to be (and expected to be) a B-movie adaptation of a bestselling book. The ONLY reason they gave it to a relatively inexperienced director was because of its bestselling pedigree: there was no way he could screw it up too badly. What Spielberg delivered was an astonishing film capturing the reality of the human characters within the world of the story.

The PLOT was about a giant shark eating people, and there was plenty of that. But the STORY was about how different people deal with fear in different ways. Denial, horror, anger, helplessness, or a powerful resolution to set things right.6

As in real life, the heroes aren't heroes to us because they killed the shark; they're heroes to us because they even ATTEMPTED to kill the shark when they were positively scared to death.7 The fact that they succeed lets you leave the theatre elated, but you're on their side and cheering them on well before that resolution comes.

A lesser filmmaker than Spielberg would have made a film about a shark killing people. No subtext, no real story. People die and then the shark dies the end. You can see many of these lesser films on the shelves of your local Blockbuster Video.8 I count the sequels to Jaws among these lesser films, where the monster shark becomes a gimmick for adrenaline and scares, but there's no STORY being told.

Spielberg saw the opportunity to do more. He did more, and Jaws was a success that defined the term "blockbuster" and that the studios are still trying to replicate today.

No matter what the PLOT of your film is, the specific events of your film or your novel or short story or whatever, make sure that the events tell a STORY -- a human story -- worth the effort.

Fuck nostalgia, fuck expectations, and fuck you and your ego. None of that matters. What matters is: is it a story worth telling, about characters worth knowing, and are you doing it justice? The story is what matters, and the second you put it on paper or on a screen it doesn't belong to you anymore, so you'd better get it told and then get the hell out of its way.

That's your responsibility as a storyteller.

  1. To Rowling's credit, and by contrast to The Dark Tower, she managed to stay completely true to her story and to her style, despite various changes in her life such has marriage, children, and becoming the richest woman in Europe.

  2. One could argue that a film could be made that skewed closer, plot-wise to the original short novel by L. Frank Baum, but ultimately that still doesn't answer the question: what more is there to the story that was present in the novel -- not the plot, but the story being told -- which could warrant such an exercise? Having read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, I can't personally say there was anything that they really lost out on story-wise, even if plot-wise they left out the part about mice saving Dorothy from the poppies.

  3. It should be noted that, just because I couldn't think of a worthwhile new way to tell the story, doesn't mean such an endeavor was impossible. The Sci-Fi miniseries premiering this last weekend, Tin Man accomplished just that, taking the concepts presented in the original story, such as a man with no brain, and an evil witch, and re-seating it into a much different tapestry and interpretation of Oz mythology. Whether or not the re-imagining is to be judged "successful" is, I admit, purely subjective (I have the first episode TIVO'd but unwatched), but I think most viewers would rather see a "bold reimagining" of a well-known story, than a tepid rehashing of a story that was already told in cinematic form, completely and competently, almost a century ago.

    To say nothing of "Wicked", the best-selling book and its generally sold-out Broadway adaptation both. Author Gregory Maguire has built his career on re-imagining classic children's stories, usually from the "villain's" point of view.

  4. This gets into the theory of what sci-fi is all about in the first place, which is not to try to predict the future, but to extend the problems and fears of TODAY to their extremes, and wrestle with today by holding up a mirror we call "tomorrow". But that's a topic for a future post.

  5. And a sure-fire successful one, too; I don't even know what it looks like but I'll tell you right now, if I had the money, I'd fucking buy a KITT car at the drop of a hat. And I'm not even into cars. Slap those red running lights on the front of any shiny black car and I'm sold.

  6. Frank Darabont's recently released film version of The Mist, which I also remember reading about on Coming Soon as much as a decade ago, happens to tell the same story. Although it takes the decidedly more cynical view that fear drives the majority of people to madness and violence. Not a feel-good movie, that one.

  7. Yes, even Quint. The reason the fisherman is so angry and hateful, especially towards the shark, is because he's so terrified of its power, the way it can make him helpless and destroy him without fear or remorse of their own. He wants to destroy the shark so he can conquer this fear that rules his entire life. All of the characters have this kind of depth throughout. And this was supposed to be a low-budget schlock film. Is it any wonder Spielberg has the reputation -- and the track record -- he does? He refused to settle when anyone else would have.

    Now try to read that kind of depth into the characters of one of the Resident Evil movies. I dare you.

  8. I once decided, years back, that I wanted to have a "shark day" where I rent all of the non-Jaws shark movies in Blockbuster and watch them in a marathon. Since then I've had to amend the plan to being a "shark week". There are so fucking many of these movies.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Childe Stephen to the Dark Tower fumbled

Stephen King spent more than 20 years writing a fantasy series he called The Dark Tower. He only just completed the 7-book cycle in 2004. The series technically began and ended his career, although Carrie was published before The Gunslinger, and he has continued to write and publish since "retiring" with the release of the final volume, simply called The Dark Tower.

There are three things I would change about the series: Book 5, Book 6, and Book 7.

In 1999, King suffered a near-fatal accident when he was hit by a van during a morning jog. Understandably, it fucked him up something mean. Not just physically, although after he managed to not die he was still confined to a wheelchair for almost two years after the accident. But psychologically, emotionally. 1

The first thing he wrote post-accident was non-fiction, a book on writing cleverly titled On Writing. It took nearly three years to get back on the horse with Book 5 of The Dark Tower, Wolves of the Calla, in 2003. The previous volume, Wizard and Glass, had been published in 1996.

The bitterness about his experience was clear even in unrelated projects. 2 When King wrote the teleplays for the miniseries "Kingdom Hospital" in 2004, which was a remake of Danish series "Riget (The Kingdom)", he added a painter character as the main character, who was admitted to the eponymous hospital after...getting hit by a van during a morning jog. Unsurprisingly, the man driving the van is not cast in a sympathetic light.

But the bitterness was not only directed toward the man who caused his pain; it's present in his feelings towards his fans, who were not as sympathetic as perhaps he deserved. When he got back to writing The Dark Tower, he spoke in interviews about how fans at book signings, etc, would come up to him and tell him that they were glad he didn't die -- not for his own sake, but because if he had, the Dark Tower series would have been left unfinished.

It seems to me that this attitude -- which was, he implied, not the minority -- engendered in him a resentment towards the story and towards his so-called "fans", with the painful realization that none of them really cared about HIM, only about the work.

I personally believe it was this that prevented him setting back to work on the series for a few more years. I think he spent some time wondering if he even should. "Fuck me? Fuck you, guy. Fuck all of you. You're not going to get the end anyway, how do you like that?"

But then he got back onto it. And when he did, he wrote FAST, turning the final three books of the series out within 18 months.

So what changed?

Well, he realized that, even though he created the story, it was bigger than him now. He had a responsibility to the story whether he liked it or not. The unfortunate part is, he decided to write that into the story.

It is established in the first three books -- the very first, in fact -- that the world of the Dark Tower has a close, direct link to our own. It's also established that many of his works tie into the Dark Tower mythos, with references to other stories or DT terminology. But in Wolves of the Calla he takes it further. The book includes a priest character, Father Callahan, from his novel 'Salem's Lot, and throughout the book they travel between the two worlds, ours and theirs. At the end, they bring back a book from our world that Callahan finds upsetting -- 'Salem's Lot, by Stephen King.

It just goes on from there. Basically the main characters discover and accept that King is their author, their creator, but he has stopped writing their story and they will fail in their quest to reach the Tower unless they get him going again. So in Book 6 they actually pay King a visit and demand that he finish the story. The book you're reading is about the characters telling the author to write the book you're reading. And in Book 7, they intervene in his accident, making what would have been a fatal accident into a near-fatal one instead.

Metafiction, huh? Good times. As someone with a degree in English, I can appreciate the fact that he basically wrote an essay to the reader. A "this is how it is. The story commands me now. This story, and its need to be told, ultimately saved my life." But unfortunately, and ironically, he sacrificed the story in order to tell us how important the story is.

It's like meta-metafiction. He managed to take the power back from the story, by telling the story of the story telling him to tell the story, and all I wanted was the story itself goddammit, and that managed to go mostly UNTOLD!


I get upset.

Anyway, I'll get to the actual point of all this in my next post. For real.

  1. You would, perhaps, think that someone like Stephen King would already be about as fucked up as it was possible to be without actually going out and eating peoples' intestines. But not so. Storytellers and creative types in general do tend to be a little bit fucked-up by their nature, that's what makes their work powerful. But people who write horror fiction are, for the most part, surprisingly well-adjusted. They do, after all, get to vent their inner psychotic safely, and on a regular basis.

  2. Although, when speaking of King and the Dark Tower, one can make the argument that very few of his projects are "unrelated".