Thursday, April 15, 2010

Shame. Shame. Throw yourself away.

Before we embark on today's installment of triweekly hilarity, I want to inform everyone that this post is the end of the current blogging schedule. I'll be paring back the triweekly hilarity to just weekly. The tentative plan is to post on Sundays going forward, but I'd remind my readers that the tentative plan for the Iraq war ("We won't need to occupy this country") differed in several important ways from how things actually went down ("We need to occupy this country until the end of natural time"). The reason is pretty simple: I'm working 40+ hours a week at EA and I have to research and write a fucking book in the next year.

The project is somewhat like Cthulhu. Many things are like Cthulhu if you think dorkily enough. The point is, you can only look at a single tentacle of Cthulhu without going insane. Similarly, if I think about the book in big terms I descend into panic. It's all about the day-to-day, and I frankly don't have the energy to work on the thing after working and writing these posts. It's lousy because I love writing these, and the experience of cranking them out on (self-imposed) deadline has been valuable. It's good because with weekly updates, I can think about them more in-depth and work on them in a more deliberate fashion over the course of the week. Hopefully this will result in "lulz" of higher quality. If there's one downside of the current system, it's that I don't have the luxury of time to really develop ideas. In an ideal world this blog would be a permanent fixture; it's likely it will be at some point in the future.

Now on to things that really matter: professional StarCraft. This 1998 computer strategy game is still beloved by players around the world and the game's longevity (combined with the fact that Blizzard still supports it) have led to the creation of sophisticated professional leagues. They're not big-ticket affairs here in Die Vereinigten Stadten, but in Korea professional StarCraft is a major attraction. When I say Korea, I mean South Korea. The other part has been officially dubbed an Orwellian Nightmare by the United Nations and it no longer counts as a named country. To give you an idea of how strongly Koreans feel about StarCraft, I present to you this video of a televised match complete with play-by-by announcers. Essentially, the guy with the floating orb-like Science Vessels gets them hit by a nasty attack called "Plague" that his opponent uses. This tears them to ribbons and the announcers just lose their shit. Viewing tip: pay attention to the text titles that appear. This is probably the only video on all of YouTube where they actually enhance the viewing experience:

As you can see, they're not messing around over there in the Land of Putting an Egg in Everything You Eat. Only it turns out they were messing around, because the nation's biggest native sport is embroiled in a gambling scandal. The extent of the corruption isn't known and investigations are underway, but needless to say the country is shaken. It's even worse than Major League Baseball's steroid problems, because anybody with eyeballs and even a cursory respect for reality already knew about it. This comes totally out of the blue, potentially invalidating years of results! It's really distressing--even more so when I think of the children. Because somebody has to think of the children. Athletes are crucial role models and the next generation of Korean youth will come of age in a morally barren landscape. Without credible gaming idols to pass on the rich heritage of cutting your hair like anime heroes and pounding caffeinated energy drinks. There could be a scourge of Korean youth wandering around in the Sun, where they might get hit by...I don't know, kimchi trucks? They must have a shitload of those. And let's not under-sell the threat of skin cancer. Look what it did to John McCain! It takes your skin...and then it takes your mind.

Pete Rose may have gambled. He may have gambled on his own games. But at least a single player in a baseball game doesn't really have the power to swing the results. Too many other people and factors are involved. He claimed not to have bet against his team (in other news, Bill Clinton never inhaled from that mari-juana rolled up to look like a cigarette). But pro StarCraft is a 1-vs-1 affair and it would only take about 30 seconds of negligence to intentionally throw a game in a way that would be really difficult to sniff out. So at least it's a good scam--good enough that it honestly makes me wonder why everyone is still so mad at Pete Rose. I never understood the moral component of gambling, unless somebody's using their kid's college fund to bet on NBA halftime over/unders. In which case they'd still have an argument...I mean, what if they won? Smoking around your kids inflicts absolute and undeniable harm. Using their college money to gamble has an upside. "Say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, least it's an ethos."

Here's what this hammers home: gamers are dumbasses. Big-time professional gaming leagues with lucrative TV deals and devoted fan bases shouldn't really exist. It's the kind of nerdgasmic fantasy we could only see played out in 80s movies, but these assholes in Korea actually pulled it off. So now, having established what is essentially a dork's Heaven on Earth (getting paid gobs of money to play games in front of thousands of screaming fans), these douchebags have to ruin it for everyone by gambling on it. Not just gambling...throwing games. The kind of thing that, if nothing else would, just disintegrates any competitive organization. Was it really so tough, just playing StarCraft and getting paid for it? Did these guys need to support their habit of doing lines of ground-up Mineral crystals off the backs of 2000-Vespene-gas hookers?

The honest answer is probably yes. Or something similar. You see, real professional athletes (we'll distinguish "real" by saying you have to actually sweat to qualify) do stupid crap all the time. They fail to manage their money. They go broke after making over $100 million. And those are guys with big-time advisors and agents and decades-old systems in place to protect them. Pro gamers are essentially Ferengi: they have no moral compass because they know they spend their days essentially stealing from people. If you're already doing that, why lose sleep over the little things? So yes, pro gamers live like animals and spend their money in stupid ways. They're QA testers in a higher tax bracket. The decision-making doesn't really improve.

And lest you accuse me of ignorance (in French: m'accuse), I played World of Warcraft at a really high level for years. I never played for money (or was interested in doing so), but I had contact with a few people who did. I know of what I speak. As much fun as games are, things get shady in a hurry when people take them too seriously. It's not even the fault of the games themselves. It turns out that if you take a bunch of people without a real moral compass and immerse them in a take-it-and-run culture of free money out of all proportion to their actual contribution to society...well, they're likely to misbehave. Sometimes this results in Korean betting scandals. Sometimes it causes wholesale financial collapse. If there's one person to blame at the end of the day, it's this guy: the terrifying and eerily real Barack O'Stalin. It's a weird name, but I hear he was secretly born in Ireland.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Who are you, so wise in the ways of Science?

I'm writing a book on marine biology. This might come as news to those of you who don't talk to me in person. All of you are jerks, especially the ones who live thousands of miles away on other coasts and continents. The contract-writing and contract-signing process proceeds, much as The Dude abides. It's not done yet, but I'm very excited about the advance. I plan on using it to buy a solid gold chalice with MARINE BIOLOGY spelled out in rhinestones. Apparently rhinestones aren't an appropriate gem for a Pisces, but I don't care. Among the (many) birthstones for my zodiac sign: amethyst, jade, ruby, sapphire. Those gems have nothing in common. In case you doubted that astrology is a crock of shit intended to sell tchochkes to teenage girls...well, you can stop. And yes, I realize that astrology is not only for girls who happen to be teenagers. It's also for grown women who happen to be idiots.

You may be asking, " the hell are you qualified to write a book on marine biology?" Short answer: I'm not, really. Glad we cleared that up. The book, still untitled, is about the life of the sea. I'm taking a "superlative" approach, which is to say that we're talking about the extremes. The shallowest life, the deepest, the hottest, the coldest and so on. This allows The Author to discuss only the coolest and most awesome cherry-picked marine life, instead of the intensely boring crap that fills 90% of the oceans. I'm pretty sure "plankton" is the Latin word for "dull." If you disagree, allow me to remind you that I am writing a book on marine biology and don't have to respect a damn thing you say until you write a longer book on marine biology. The manuscript due date is still over a year away and I'd hate to sit on all this great material. I'll occasionally use the soapbox of my amazing blog that nobody reads to preview my amazing book that nobody will read.

Chapter 59: The Oldest
The ocean is old. Fucking old. It's so old that there was water before there was even land. But in it reside many things, most of which are less old than the ocean. Today we will talk about these things that are old in the ocean, but are not themselves the ocean. None of this is to be confused with the German experimental metal band, "The Ocean," which formed in the year 2000 and is thus younger than many dwellers of the real ocean. You see how marine biology is super complicated and only experts like myself get to write books about it.

Amongst the oldest creatures in the sea is the Yelloweye Rockfish. Native to the deep waters of the coastal Pacific, this fish can survive up to 80 years. It has a long, slow growth cycle and reaches sexual maturity at a relatively late age. These traits are common to long-lived organisms, but what makes the Yelloweye Rockfish notable is not how old it grows. Rather, it is notable for the method by which its age is determined. You see, these fish were found to carry radioactive material in their bodies. This material accumulated from open-air nuclear weapons testing--which lasted from 1945 to 1963. These fish were actually alive during the era of testing, swimming as youngsters in the shallow waters of the Pacific where we (as a society) decided it would be a good idea to goof around with the most destructive force ever harnessed by man. But just as the heavy Carbon-14 isotope permanently marks the Yelloweye Rockfish as a relic of a bygone age, so too do its tastes and habits. It enjoys "big band" music, and not just because those horn-heavy tracks give it nostalgia for Fallout 3. Female rockfish subscribe to magazines that instruct them on how to please their husbands--but not sexually, because Sebastes ruberrimus sleep in separate beds. Finally, rockfish hold the collective belief that a comedian named "Bob Hope" was actually funny to anyone who wasn't about to go die in some war.

Aside: Did Lucy and Ricky have to sleep in separate beds because that's how everyone "slept" on TV, or was there a miscegenation angle? I honestly don't know, and I've given this a bunch of thought because I have a disease. A disease that forces me to ruminate at length on absolutely retarded topics. You may have noticed.

Whales are, intuitively, also among the sea's most long-lived denizens. The reasoning is simple. If you are a sea creature, there is about a 95% certainty that you will get eaten by something. This will probably kill you, if you aren't Kratos and thus able to simply cut your way out of stomachs with your TWIN BLADES OF FURY. Or Exile, or whatever. Anyway, the best way to not get eaten is to be so big that things can't fit you in their mouths. Snakes can still get you (warning: video cannot be un-seen). Whales, like Citigroup, are too big to fail. Their slow metabolisms are slowed further by cold open-ocean water, and as a result whales can live to staggering age. Exact numbers are hard to come by due to a number of factors, but stone harpoon tips have been extracted from the hides of ancient whales. STONE harpoon tips, which haven't been used in a century. This shit, like this boat, is real.

The last ancient beast of the depths to be touched on in this chapter? Al Davis. I may have used the phrase "sea monster" in passing while speaking about the Chairman of the Oakland Raiders. I wasn't joking. He's currently submerged for the offseason, but when the draft rolls around he'll rise from the briny depths to fuck it up. By which I mean he'll ascend on the morning of the draft, examine a chart of 40-yard dash times and arrange his draft board before descending once again. He appears only when it's time to make a bad decision. The Raiders have a famously shitty deal on their stadium lease, but that actually wasn't the result of poor financial planning: it's the result of the fact that Davis fills the Oakland Coliseum with salt water during the NFL offseason. "Tony, that's bullshit. The A's play in the Coliseum." That's what the media wants you to believe, because they know they can pull the wool over your eyes. But nobody goes to A's games, so we really can't know definitively where they're held. Have you been to an A's game? Has anyone you know? I rest my case. Oh, and if the answers to those questions were "Yes," then just pipe down and let everyone else enjoy my blog post. It's over, anyhow.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

On Following Formulas

The Fringe: A War Drama of the Distant Future
Created by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks

Pilot Episode
Opening credit sequence: Orchestral music, going back and forth between strings and horns depending on how epic or sentimental we want to feel in the moment. As the titles play, we see a fountain pen on yellowed paper. It is drawing bold, straight lines. As it does so, the ink is just gushing out of it. The ink pools and flows on the paper in aesthetically pleasing, computer-generated ways. Is anyone in the show using a fountain pen? No. Does the pen carry any special significance for the show, metaphorical or otherwise? Not really; it looks cool. And the ink flowing all over the paper is like blood, so that's cool too. What is being drawn or written with this pen? We don't know and its not important. It's just awesome.

Synopsis: We're introduced to the characters. Start with about a dozen, so we can get a politically correct cross-section of society at this point in time (which is The Future).
**Two family members from an Ethnic Family: Italian is usually best for this sort of thing, since their history is relatively free of shame and everyone's familiar with their food. Also, ample access to Italian-American actors because any dark-haired guy can be Italian. Just stick your jaw out and squint. Maybe we'll glue some dog sheddings to your arms. These guys are introduced at a big family dinner like those I-ti's always have, and they serve together in the same unit because that happens all the time in the Space Marines.
**A newlywed. He's enlisted out of a sense of duty and he fears for his own safety...perhaps too much. His wife is fine as hell and because this is HBO we get to see her boobies in a gratuitous shot. Nice. She's proud of his service but also very worried. She's not sure how she'll hold up with him gone. Will she cheat on him while he's away? A "Dear John" letter makes its way out in the Space Mail? Who knows? Foreshadowing!
**A black guy! This will be a new step forward for Spielberg and Hanks. The military's combat units weren't integrated until Korea (sad but true) so they've never had to confront racial dynamics. Well, we are progressive in space! This black Space Marine's parents will be a flatulent mustachio'd man in overalls, and his morbidly obese wife with an inch-thick crust of make-up. Both will be played by Tyler Perry, so we can be sure it's all tasteful.
**A sensitive soul. He should be a writer--an artistic type whose narration we can occasionally use to make things seem more epic. You can't have some farm-boy grunt open his mouth and drop lines like, "The plain was dotted with burning tanks, like volcanoes cast up out of the ground by an angry God." He'll wax poetic when we're feeling it and draw in the ladies with his sensitive side. Will be featured prominently in a romantic subplot.
**Two or three other guys with simple but interesting storylines (enlisted over his parent's objections, has an older brother in the service he idolizes). They aren't important at the start, but as the season's writing goes along it's good to have padding in case of plot-impacting casualties. These guys can either die for pathos, or be expanded into full characters in case a main character dies for pathos.

These men are thrown into boot camp together and get to know each other. Some characterization is done and boot camp cliches are re-hashed. Drill sergeants are badasses with hearts of gold. Some tangential character washes out as a sober reminder that everyone's here to do a job. Maybe even a tragic boot camp death like in Starship Troopers? It's really impossible to draw from too many cliches here; the audience knows the military through these same cliches on TV. It's all good, so long as other people do the fighting. The boot camp sequence can either be ended with a "graduation" scene, or by a training montage. Even Rocky had a montage.

Our guys are next seen on deployment, being shipped out to some combat zone on the other end of inhabited space. They mingle with other Marines on the ship. Some minor scuffles take place between these bare-chested young bucks. At last we come to the landing scene, and the CGI fireworks go off while our boys make their way to the hostile planet. They run patrols and dig in; here's where all the military experts we hire tell us how things are supposed to be. It will be a little more difficult because Space Marines are in the future. Days pass without action, and we are reminded of warfare's most immutable law: 95% of the time, soldiers sit around bored. They sit in filth chewing on things and cleaning their guns until it comes time to get shot at and risk their lives. It is, by most standards, unrelenting misery. To hammer this home, it will rain constantly as our heroes traverse the Space Jungle.

Eventually, it comes time to get some fighting done. But it's not early enough in the show to begin killing off characters in earnest. Consequence-free combat ensues as enemy soldiers attack our heroes' camp in the dead of night. Huge amounts of muzzle flashes and explosions turn the next 14 minutes into a soup of sensory overload. The fact that it's night aids shooting--handheld cameras are the order of the day here. The terror and chaos of battle is conveyed without expensive CGI, but rather by shaky and poorly-lit shots of terrified soldiers' faces and seemingly random gunfire. As in real combat, all gunfire is shockingly inaccurate except when the needs of the plot dictate otherwise. Scene ends with a long slow fade to black, implying the fighting went on considerably longer than what we saw. Just imagine how much gunfire at night happened! A handful of friendly Space Marines are killed; just some extras. The morning after, our boys all look like hell. They survey the carnage wrought the night before--the piles of enemy bodies, the craters and the soot and the expended casings. Guys smoke cigarettes and cast steely-eyed stares across the horrifying scene, and the horrors of war are laid bare. How dare the audience have watched as we trivialized combat by casting it as a mow-the-bastards-down video game? For shame. The guys say a couple words to each other, three-word understated mumbles in the vein of Hemingway dialogue. These, after all, are men. In space.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

I ain't gonna work for Maggie's brother no more

At work we often find ourselves discussing ideas to get ahead. I'm sure this happens everywhere, but when you work an entry-level "shaved ape" job (the long-term objective of which is to get out of the job and into something else as quickly as possible) it comes up pretty often. I imagine the elephant stall muckers at the circus titter constantly about the day in some bright future when they won't be shoveling poop. They don't dream of one day being promoted to Chief Stall Mucker. All apologies and respect to the fine Chief Stall Muckers at Namco.

The game industry is tricky because it's insanely competitive--the difficulty of performing your duties at a given job pales in comparison to the difficulty of getting that job. This explains why so many people in the industry are ruthless incompetents: once you actually arrive on-site to perform the functions for which you were hired, you've already done the hardest thing you'll ever have to do. It's all downhill from that first day and a lack of motivation can have really negative effects on performance. The other explanation is the more intuitive one: despite all the "competition" for design and production jobs, people usually advance in the industry through a combination of luck and cronyism.

Ultimately, the gold standard of game industry hiring is experience. It doesn't matter who you are or the talent you might bring to the table--without years of experience, you're sunk. How do you get this experience? By working in the industry! How do you get work in the industry? With experience! It's like being punched in the balls by Franz Kafka. The whole system is something like hiring head coaches in the NFL. Why do laughable re-treads like Chan Gailey pop up every season? Because they have experience, and that experience provides cover for the cowards doing the hiring. How could I have known he was gonna suck? He's been doing the same job for 10 years; he must kick ass at it!

Anyway, we're tired of this Catch-22. We hit upon an idea--a brilliantly Grinchy idea. Since nobody will hire us, why don't we hire ourselves? We'd start up our own development studio! Now you're thinking, "You game tester asstards don't know the first thing about making a game from scratch." True, but irrelevant. The point isn't to make a game, it's to accrue experience making a game. The actual product is a trivial detail, which I learned from my college friends who went into finance and consulting. All of you are parasites. Anyway, the point of this studio would be to develop "vaporware"--software that is perpetually in development but which will never be released. You know your industry is in a good place when there's a special term for robbing your investors. We can work on development of a fictitious piece of software for several years, all the while getting paid with sweet venture capital (the cocaine of ill-gotten gains) and amassing that crucial industry experience. We get "hired away" by other companies one by one until the studio is forced to fold and our amazing project is scrapped. It's a tragedy, but at least we found work somewhere.

Our Fake Game Concept
It has to be an RPG. Ideally an MMORPG; these titles are ideal for our purposes for the following reasons:
1. Everybody wants an MMO. It's the most valuable property you can have as a studio or a publisher. Electronic Arts is so desperate for a successful MMO title that they're willing to finance the construction of a full-scale Death Star to make it happen. There is no better way to get V.C. money without irritating questions like "what are you going to do with it?"
2. MMOs can consume years of work and millions of dollars without producing anything of substance--not even a demo that you can show your investors. It's okay, they probably won't ask. If they do, tell them you're developing a brand new packet-relaying technique that will shore up your network infrastructure. See? I bet your wallet is already out. $40 is cool for now. I need it to buy weed--I mean, relay packets.
3. Even real MMOs fail. There is an MMO concept under development for every single idea under the Sun. There's a Firefly MMO. There's a Battlestar Galactica MMO. None of them will ever see the light of day. Even most titles that make it to release fold within the first year.

So it should be pretty clear that MMOs are the way to go. You can totally shit the bed and nobody even cares, because there was always a tiny chance you might have succeeded. If you had, everyone would be making so much money that you wouldn't even be doing cocaine off strippers' asses. You'd be in the distant fictional Muslim future doing lines of The Spice off space strippers' asses. But what kind of MMO? You'll need a little more flesh on this concept if you're going to string this scam along for the years it'll take to actually get a decent job at a studio making real software.

So we'll make it a JRPG as well. For those of you who lost your virginities before the age of 20, that's a Japanese Role Playing Game. Which is just an RPG made in the Japanese aesthetic, meaning less character development and more gender-bending. Some brainstorming:
**Our main character is a girl. We'll give her a name that compensates for the deep sexual insecurities felt by our audience. It needs to be kinda tough, along the lines of "Bayonetta" and "Lightning." Let's go with Bloodette. Bloodette comes from a tragic past. Her father was a big-time war hero but he never loved her enough, so she fights to make him proud. Which she can't, because he died in a battle. But she can't remember how he died because of her amnesia. Also, maybe she has a tail. Just throwing it out there.
**We'll have a male sidekick for some testosterone balance. Not too much, because he can't be sexually threatening to our (very sheltered and insecure) audience. We compensate with his clothes--he wears short shorts and a midriff-baring vest. He has a happy-go-lucky attitude and a klutzy streak. He'd use a sword, but Bloodette is the main character so she's got a sword. This guy fights with a staff or something.
**The villain is a guy who rarely speaks (except to laugh or proclaim a foe's imminent demise). He has a really big sword and long white hair so you know he's mysterious and magical. When the game is about 75% done, he'll join the party as an ally and we'll introduce a new villain. The new guy is bigger, badder and so mysterious that his villainy has been completely under the radar. Meanwhile, the first villain will display some cheap pathos and quickly become the focal point of all erotic fan fiction written about our game.

As for game mechanics, we'll be taking a page from Mass Effect 2, Final Fantasy 13 and Mac Dre: we goin' dumb. Gamers may be an older and more sophisticated group than ever before, but people as a whole have never been more dunderheaded. We account for this in our game design. Whereas complexity and intricate menu systems have long been staples of the genre, we're going in the opposite direction. All you control directly is Bloodette. Party members are selected before battle, but during battle all you can give is loose instructions like "Attack the enemy!" (which causes party members to suicidally assault enemy positions) or "Defensive positions!" (party members take cover and don't come out) This allows the player to really concentrate on the main character without burdensome distractions like health bars, turn orders and on-screen numbers. Bloodette will have a basic selection of combos and spells at the start, but more can be unlocked as the player gains more XP. Additionally, XP can be purchased over Xbox LIVE and the PlayStation Network as micro-transactions. Our investors will be fired up about these transactions, as they represent even more upside to the remote possibility of our success. Customer reaction would likely be negative, but that doesn't matter because (after all!) we're not releasing this game.

The sad part is, there's probably a dozen studios filled with people who already thought of this idea. That would explain a lot.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

He'd never fought a puppet that big before

Clash of the Titans grossed over $60M in the United States in the handful of days since last Friday's release. This is to be expected, since it's the only blockbuster effects-driven action film playing. Oh, and our civilization is disintegrating at an astonishing rate; that may explain at least 20 million of those dollars. Twelve of them were mine--or at least, I accounted for them. Last Friday the suits took us out to Clash and this time they actually paid for tickets to a movie we were required to see. I'm not complaining since free things are, tautologically, free. We had to pay for popcorn. It's not a perfect world.

The movie is...well, it's a movie. Actors deliver lines on camera and at the end this big turtle with sharp teeth pops out of the water and Jake Sully has to kill it with a CGI Medusa head. Oh, fuck you, I'm not throwing up a spoiler warning for things they show in the trailer (which, these days, is essentially everything). Also, this is a remake of a 30-year-old classic that all people of good taste should have seen. If you didn't, it's probably because Power Rangers and shit like that rotted your brain as a child. In my day, we watched The Disney Channel because Nickelodeon had no good programming (this was prior to the rollout of the Ren & Stimpy/Rugrats/Doug lineup). And The Disney Channel, in the days before it became a vehicle to make childrens' junk tingle, showed Harryhausen films like Clash and The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. Not that there's anything wrong with making childrens' junk tingle--I understand the Catholic Church has done a bustling trade in it for about a thousand years.

The new version of Clash is not un-watchable. This is because the parts that might make it so are stupid enough that they're actually funny. The plot holes are enormous, glaring and immediately obvious so there's no risk of you taking the movie seriously at any point. The funny thing is, this remake might have actually had a chance if they'd gone campy with it. The jokes in the film, such as they are, actually made me laugh. When they pay homage to the original with camp it of course the studio went in the exact opposite direction and 95% of the scenes are totally straight-faced. It's something of a tragedy. Anyway, despite the skull-imploding nature of certain scenes and the seizure-inducing nature of Liam Neeson's shiny armor, I learned a few things. I'd like to share them with you.

Nymphs are total prudes
Io is a major character in this movie. The term "major character" is difficult to apply here, since characters fall in and out of the story constantly. Aside from Perseus Sully, everyone is expendable and exists only to satisfy the immediate needs of whatever scene you're watching. Io is supposedly a woman who spurned a God's advances and was "punished" with eternal life. Nevertheless, she' with the Gods in some way? I guess? She provides lots of exposition, and because exposition is awesome she gets to be in a lot of scenes. Because she's in more scenes than any other female character, she gets to be the lead and have a romantic sub-plot with Perseus. This sub-plot takes place almost entirely in one scene, where she's sparring with Perseus in a boat and he falls on top of her and gets a boner. In his defense, he's spent his entire life fishing on a deserted island. She admonishes him with an awkward euphemistic line (which I will not spoil--suffice it to say, we use it at work in inappropriate contexts) and I guess they're in love after? Everything I know about relationships I learned from movies, so you'll forgive me for assuming that a handful of shared experiences and one awkward boner add up to wuv, twue wuv.

Anyway, Io is the biggest prude of a nymph you ever saw and I don't understand why. Have you ever read Greek mythology? Gods, mortals, demigods and nymphs were all plowing each other with abandon. We're going to place a frame of latter-day Wasilla morality on stories thousands of years old? (Editor's note: Wasilla was probably a poor choice. They fuckin' bitches wit no rubbaz.) I looked Io up; she totally banged Zeus. "Spurned a God's advances," my ass. Perseus doesn't know it, but he ends up with his dad's spoiled leavings. The great triumvirate of "cleaning up for Dad" consists of Perseus, Oedipus and Indiana Jones.

Thirty years of technology has made movies worse
I watched the 1981 original two days later, having seen it many times before. The claymation has aged badly, but you know what? They have excellent actors delivering dialogue that is at times poetic. In the remake, Liam Neeson plays Zeus. He plays Zeus clad in aluminum foil, illuminated by very bright lights and shot in soft focus. It's like having really dry contacts; it makes your eyeballs itch. I don't want my eyeballs to itch because of a movie. You might say I pay $11 for the privilege of not having my eyeballs itch. But that said, you know who plays Zeus in the original. Lawrence fucking Olivier. A young(er) and slightly foxy Maggie Smith plays the villainous Thetis. There are boobies (not Maggie Smith's) and everything flows along nicely. The effects are at times laughably bad, but at least these guys knew how to make movies.

Sam Worthington needs a change of pace
Don't misunderstand--I think the guy's decent at what he does and he can carry scenes. But the parallels between Avatar and Clash 2010 are uncanny.
*Worthington plays an ignorant doofus who stumbles into enormous powers.
*Both films contain people who are blue for no reason.
*Worthington gets to tag ladies with whom he has erotically wrassled. They don't like him much at first, but his boyish charm and rugged good looks win them over in time. Immortal water nymphs aren't much different from 10-foot-tall blue ladies, it turns out.
*Worthington rides a hitherto-unconquered flying mount into battle in the climactic scene.
*Sub-plots and side characters enter and exit both films without explanation or resolution. The jealous dorky scientist? He spends 24% of Avatar being relevant. As I've said, in Clash it's unclear which characters aside from Perseus we are ever supposed to care about.

The character of Perseus, I will concede, differs in superficial ways from "Jakesulee." His legs work. Worthington's Australian accent, which reared its ugly(sexy) head from time to time in Avatar, is consistent here. Whereas Jakesulee smiled and laughed and was likeable, Perseus is never anything but a brooding grouch. He does for smiles what Kurt Russell did for spoken lines in Soldier. Don't watch Soldier; suffice it to say that "I'm going to kill them all, sir" is Russell's big soliloquy.

At the end of the day, the Kraken is pretty cool. The scorpions are pretty cool. The folks who did the visuals are obviously very good at their jobs, and my hat is off to them. THAT SAID, did the Kraken's head really need to come out of a giant foreskin? The parts of the movie where people talk are worthless--as my friend Drew said, "Every line of dialogue exists to explain the previous line." But it is laughably bad. It's the sort of movie you'd want to see in a rowdy theater, if possible. I predict a Rifftrax gem, and a running diary unless I get too famous for this lame-ass blog. Given that entering "I Drop Things blog" into Google doesn't turn up this site until the second page, I'm not too worried about it.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

I never liked painting eggs

Sunday was Easter. I learned this on Friday when somebody at work mentioned it. I grew up in a Godless household where Easter was just an excuse to eat more one on particular Sunday, so I have no clue when this particular holiday falls. It's the first Sunday in April. Clearly that isn't enough to convince me to remember it. But rather than accepting blame for my religious negligence, I'm going to pin it on Easter itself. The dog at right is essentially everything that's wrong with this holiday: rich symbolism stuffed so full of cutesy bullshit that any semblance of real meaning is lost.

The first problem with Easter: it's just not very relatable. Christmas makes sense--it celebrates the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Everyone can get down with that. The faith's focal point is a human person, so obviously you'd celebrate his birth. Even non-Christians can appreciate that. Everyone's celebrated a birth in the family. You know what nobody experiences? A death-and-resurrection in the family. As long as somebody knows who Jesus was, Christmas can be explained in a single sentence. Easter? You're in for a whole conversation. "It's the celebration of Christ's resurrection." What, he came back? Wasn't the whole point to die for our sins? Oh, he ascended to Heaven three days later? So he died. Oh, he didn't die, he just ascended to Heaven without dying. So he's not dead? Okay...what's with the fucking rabbit?

See? Easter is difficult. As a general heathen who's lived his entire life in a Christian society, I don't get much aside from the basic story. The Resurrection leads to a "rebirth and renewal" theme, which leads to...eggs? Talk about a square peg in a round hole. Eggs represent bringing life (a baby chicken) out of non-life (an egg). First, to whom are eggs non-living? They've been a core component of life and reproduction for billions of years. Only the most ignorant savage would see an egg and think it as life springing forth from some miraculous rock.

The real answer to the egg dilemma lies with the Easter Bunny. Neither of these things are symbols of rebirth and resurrection; they're just symbols of birth and surrection. To put it bluntly: fucking. What are rabbits known for? What fertilizes those eggs? Yeah, that's right. Just as Christmas is a blatant attempt to co-opt pagan solstice festivals (which resemble Christmas insofar as everyone gets drunk and eats too much), Easter is a grab for pagan fertility festivals (which resemble Easter insofar as everyone eats too much). There'd be more drinking for Easter, but it's got the unfortunate distinction of being both a children's holiday and a morning/daytime holiday. Which is to say, a bummer holiday.

The picture at right was, on its original website, captioned thusly: "A rabbit with eggs." Which is nothing if not descriptive, but it serves to highlight the silliness of this tradition. Somebody took a pet rabbit and set its terrified ass down in on the lawn next to some plastic eggs. Then a picture was taken. Could I sit my down next to a plate of muffins and claim that dogs traditionally deliver muffins to the elderly on Easter? This is bullshit. Wikipedia informs me that the idea of rabbits distributing eggs to children originated in Germany--the ancestral of home of goofy holiday traditions. Did you know that in German folklore, children place their shoes outside filled with salt on the first day of December? It's true; legend says Father Winter will cut off their thumbs and eat them if he is not appeased at the start of his vigil with salty shoes. Okay, it's not true. But you wondered for at least a second, because this stolid culture delights in macabre nonsense.

The most insidious Easter tradition? Peeps. These seasonal sugary treats represent one of the greatest coups in the history of candy. Back in 1958, some fantastically incompetent confectioner molded marshmallow, gelatin and wax into a ball. Everyone hated it. It was the candy equivalent of the clay pots I used to make back in elementary school art class--such crudely fashioned shit heaps that even my parents would see them and encourage me to put in more effort. This sugary plastic wad interested nobody, but it was incredibly cheap to manufacture. Thus, the marketing geniuses in the candy industry decided to attach it to a holiday. By making an otherwise terrible food item a "holiday tradition," you can excuse it. Candy corn? Tie it to Halloween (note: I fucking love candy corn even though it's nasty). Heavy German fruit cakes? Go-go Christmas! And Peeps have reserved Easter. This way, reasonable people who hate Peeps can say "Well, I guess this is a tradition." And thus justify an unholy abomination to the rest of the world. Screw you, Peeps. All you've ever contributed to the world was one excellent "South Park" joke in the Easter episode that goofed on The Da Vinci Code. Which reminds me: fuck Dan Brown.

The best part of Easter was the start of the baseball season. I don't actually care about baseball that much, but the Red Sox did beat the hated Yankees of New York and that brightens my day. Adding to the merriment is the fact that my roommate Rob loves the Yankees and hated watching them lose. It was a dick move for Major League Baseball to make the defending World Series champions start the season on the road against their hated rivals. Would it really be so difficult to guarantee the champs a home game to start their title defense? I hate the Yankees and I'm glad the Sox won in a detached way (I root for them, I'm not a fan), but we should have played them on the road. If it were my team I'd want it at home. So shame on you, baseball, for that BS. And the fact that instant replay is barely used in a sport that benefits most from it. And the seventh-inning fucking stretch, which on Sunday included a cacophonous performance from an apparently drunk Stephen Tyler. And shame on baseball for being a slow-ass sport. Like sand volleyball, it is fundamentally a sport of standing. I prefer sports of running. I know opinions differ.

So happy Easter, everyone! To my mom and sister, I'm very sorry I didn't come down south for dinner. I got done the things I needed to do, and anyway I blame Dad for setting a bad example.