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Friday, July 31, 2009

America, Apocalypse and Anime

There are some spoilers here pertaining to the movies Cloverfield, Watchmen and Knowing, so if you haven't seen them be warned.

When 9/11 hit, certain taboos became self-evident in the media. Sensitive of the national tragedy, any imagery involving the World Trade Center, attacks on major cities - and especially New York, and terrorism in general became hot topics. No longer could terrorism be a blanket kind of bad guy, a default motive for any villain in an action movie - now it was all extremely real to American culture. An interesting example is Man On Wire, which is particularly more potent because of the focus of the two towers, even from a relatively serene, stoic, pre-9/11, stance.

Cloverfield probably most famously crossed over this line, rampaging and destroying Manhattan in full monster movie trappings. New Yorker friends of ours still haven't seen the movie for exactly the fact that destroying the island doesn't hold much entertainment value for them.

Yet in one weekend, we saw Watchmen and Knowing to see the theme re-addressed all over again. Watchmen underwent a specific change to the ending from the graphic novel, removing a lot of graphic carnage from a giant squid for a massive blast instead. Recall that the script was being done when 9/11 was still new, and yet it is interesting that the World Trade Center is prominently displayed in one scene. Knowing seems to direct the action to Manhattan specifically for some apocalyptic scenery.

What I'm wondering is if we won't see more and more of this line being crossed. The analogy here is in anime, where the dropping of the atomic bombs set a tone for the genre which still persists today (not to mention, to be a little circular, monster movies in general where radiated creatures lay waste to urban landscapes). Whether revisting the carnage is cathartic or exploitative is probably a topic for a whole other post, I don't see much reason why American media would diverge from the Japanese direction, and it seems to be following suit. And we've seen this before - science fiction owes much to the Cold War, not only in general themes but having some ancestry in the way aliens and robots are portrayed as well.

I would also expect, especially given the growing similarities between large scale game development and movie production, that games will pick up this trend as well. inFamous comes to mind, for sure.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Demo Play: Ghostbusters

I'm a bit torn about this demo. On one hand it seems like a far smarter extension to the franchise than we probably could have hoped, and yet on the other it feels weighted down by some over-engineering of game mechanics.

Take the PK meter. The demo nags you regularly to use the thing, but the googles somewhat obstruct the player's vision and also locks up important controls - like weapons. The end result is a sense of powerlessness which isn't terribly entertaining, especially when you end up fumbling for a weapon when you think you might be attacked. It's reminiscent of the Doom III's flashlight, in all the bad ways.

And my encounter with trying to actually trap a ghost was an exercise in fumbling around controls and wonder what the game was trying to tell me (literally at times) to do - and so the whole process felt extended and annoying.

Still, it's an attractive game that plays up the existing characters and franchise quite well. Not that being better than Ghostbusters II is exactly a difficult bar to reach, but it might be enough of an achievement to warrant a rental.

Movie Watch: Watchmen

Alan Moore is a guy who has had a pretty rough road with movie adaptations, quite probably culminating in the completely dreadful League of Extraordinary Gentlemen but the basic trend of Hollywood running slipshod over his material.

So it is a bit of a shame, I think, that he decided in the end to "spit venom", as I believe he put it, on Zack Snyder's adaptation of the much revered graphic novel Watchmen which has, if anything, been critiqued for being too loyal to the source material.

The end result is anything but a standard comic book movie, but that's precisely what fans of Moore and Gibbon's work would have wanted. The story is a subversive and not exactly slightly deconstructive look on the genre in general, a story of "masks" running headlong into culture and history and the gritty outcome of the conflict for the characters and the world in general.

Snyder has put the somewhat sprawling novel onto the screen with a high attention to detail. The decision to avoid big name actors works extremely well and every performance in the movie is top notch, with Rorschach being particularly outstanding. The plot survives fairly intact, the major points remaining the same and no embarrassing changes to the ending or softening of some of the more controversial portions of the subplots. Moviegoers are seeing the novel here, there's little doubt of that.

So I find myself having trouble saying anything bad about the film. It's a beautiful adaptation of a great work in comics, highly recommended.

Even if you're Alan Moore.