Monthly Archives: April 2014

Calgary Expo wrap-up

Some people love the Superbowl. Some people live for the World Series. But me… I loves me the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo. For three days (and a sneak peek on Thursday night) the Stampede grounds here in Calgary transform from a place where we pretend to care about rodeos in order to go on rides and consume fair food that’s about as healthy as a live grenade to a shimmering paradise of geek culture. It’s gotten huge in recent years, one of the largest on the continent (albeit still nowhere near San Diego Comicon). Celebrities both faded and still popular stop by, comic and webcomic artists from across the continent set up booths, and you can get great posters from local artists. I’ve yet to fail to have an awesome time, despite being bone-weary and sore all over by day three.

Who wants some highlights? Because you’re getting some highlights.

The Parade of Wonders

Friday’s when things start to get real. The celebrities (or “media guests,” in Expo terms) arrive, with the accompanying photo op and autograph sessions, the panels get underway, and the Expo lurches into full swing. Me, I started my Friday bright and early as one of the volunteers for the Parade of Wonders, a recent addition to the Expo that lets cosplayers of all stripes strut their stuff across downtown Calgary. Dozens of people braving the chill in the air and proudly strutting their costumes marched through the streets, accompanied by special guests such as Felicia Day, Anthony “C-3PO” Daniels, two Sons of Anarchy, a handful of Lord of the Rings/Hobbit actors, Arrow’s Slade Wilson himself Manu Bennett, and the coolest Mayor in Calgary, Naheed Nenshi, sporting a bow tie and sonic screwdriver.

I’m a big fan of cosplay. And not just the “hot girls dressing as slutty superheroes/anime characters” realm of cosplay that most people lock onto. Regardless of gender, age, body type, or fandom, if you’ve devoted time, effort, and creativity to dressing up as something you love for the con, you’re okay in my books.

I mean, obviously I have somewhat more affinity for people who dress up as things I like, such as the many, many Doctors, companions, Tardises, and Daleks you see every year, and we had a pod of them at the parade. Doctors from 4 to 11, one Dalek, a Tardis, and even an Osgood from the 50th. I saw at least five Osgoods over the weekend and each time regretted not saying “You there! Are you sciencey?” I’d have loved to be able to throw on my 11th Doctor suit and join them, but as official staff, my outfit was limited to “volunteer with jacket and backpack.”

Photo ops

One of the services… no, call it what it is, one of the products available at Comic Expo is photos with the various celebrities. These vary in price depending on marquee value, and this year ran from around $40 for lower-tier individuals to over $200 for the prized Matt Smith-Karen Gillan joint photo.

The photo op process is a rapid one. Once you reach the head of the line, you go in, stand in your place, you have maybe a couple of seconds to request something specific, then they take the picture and out you go, because there’s a lot of people behind you. Then spend some time becoming okay with the fact that your celeb looks great and you like a bulging tube of goo, or perhaps that your friend didn’t warn you how little time you’d have with the lovely Katie Cassidy of Arrow before the camera was going off.

I'm the bloated husk on the left, my young ward Patrick is the deer in headlights on the right, and between us is, gods willing, the future Black Canary.

I’m the bloated husk on the left, my young ward Patrick is the deer in headlights on the right, and between us is, gods willing, the future Black Canary.

 

Some people complain that this is way too brief an experience,feel that given how short this process is, maybe it’s overpriced. Some complain that for what a brief encounter it is, it’s overpriced, and then feel that the event is somehow exploiting them. And while it’s hard to say these people are wrong, per se, I can’t really see the point in getting outraged about it.

First, the photo ops have to go this fast. They have to. Hundreds, sometimes thousands of people want one, and are willing to pay for them, and moving at this pace is how everybody gets a turn without having to wait in line long enough to have a Firefly marathon. Also, it’s already a tiring process for the famous people involved. They’re doing this for around two hours at a time. On Saturday, Matt Smith had something like four, five hours of photos with thousands of fans, after doing his panel, and after hours of signing autographs, and by the end of it all he was reportedly exhausted, and I can’t exactly blame him.

Now imagine if everyone who bought a photo lingered around to ask a question or something. Putting aside how much this would cut the number of people who could get a photo op (suffice to say, a great deal), how much more tiring would that get? Would anyone be able to stay cheerful and pleasant for each and every person they had to greet and chat with? Wil Wheaton does his best, because he’s wonderful, but even he gets tired, and even he would get sick of repeat questions eventually. And there would be repeat questions. Every time Arrow’s Stephen Amell does a Q&A session through his Facebook page, somebody asks if he’ll be playing Green Arrow in the Justice League movie, a trend I only expect to increase now that said movie is officially happening. And each time, he does his best to diplomatically explain that this is not a decision he’s in charge of. But I doubt he’d be able to stay so calm and collected about it if he were being asked that, in person, fifty times an hour. Hell, I get tired of being asked the same question five times in one day.

Let me tell you about my Matt Smith/Karen Gillan photo experience. I have an exceptionally generous friend who always gets photo ops and always invites people to join, so I didn’t actually pay the $200 and change myself. The line moved quickly: two years ago, for our Star Trek: TNG group photo, we waited several hours. This time we were through in less than one, even including lining up in advance of the appointed start time. When our turn arrived, I calculated the walking pace necessary to ensure that I, specifically, ended up next to Ms. Gillan. I felt her arm go around me, and took this as permission to put mine around her as well, while trying above all to remain cool about it. The photo was taken, and we moved for the exit. I thanked both of them, and on the way out, thanked Matt Smith for three great seasons. He smiled, thanked me right back, and gave me a friendly slap on the shoulder…

…But the better story belongs to Ian Pond, of “Dan and Ian Wander Europe.” On the way in, one of the ladies in our photo announced that Ian’s last name is “Pond,” which got him a “Come along, Pond!” from Matt. And that’s pretty awesome.

Sure, the whole thing happened in less time than it probably took to read all of this, but it was special all the same. You can have a positive experience at these photo ops, you just have to learn to work fast.

Dan and Ian meet the Doctor!

Dan and Ian meet the Doctor!

Also, as long as so many people are willing to pay for photos and autographs, people are going to charge for them. Monetizing the audience is how every movie, TV show, and theatre out there pays the bills, and it’s been going on for centuries, so it’s a little late to start complaining now.

Other encounters

Besides, if you want more time to connect, get an autograph. It takes longer to write a message than it does to take a photo, and the cooler celebs won’t mind a little chatter.

Last year, I met the Seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy. He didn’t have a line at the time, so while we was signing me a Doctor photo, I mentioned that I’d seen him in Noises Off (a play I’d just been in myself) back in 2003. And while I can’t prove Matt Smith wasn’t just trying to be friendly in the above story, I do not exaggerate when I say Sylvester’s face lit up as soon as I mentioned that play. We had a nice little chat about the show, how insane it is to do live, but how much fun it is as a result.

This year I got autographs from Bruce Campbell, an actor I’ve loved for over half my life; Arrow’s Katie Cassidy, pictured above; and Adrian Paul, aka Duncan MacLeod, the Highlander, but the highlight had to be Manu Bennett, Azog the Defiler from the Hobbit movies and, more importantly to me, Slade Wilson on Arrow. He not only shook my hand twice, something most celebrities looking to escape the con without getting sick will avoid, but we had a nice chat about his performance, about some of the layers he’s given Slade recently. It was a thoroughly pleasant encounter, I like to think for both of us.

Staying Positive

Which brings me to one of my mission statements for the weekend: be kind to everyone. Wherever I was, whatever I was doing, be kind. When I was volunteering, I tried to be as friendly and helpful to the attendees as I could. When working the Scorpio booth, I greeted everyone with a smile. If someone was late arriving for an autograph session or they’d capped the line before I arrived, I was cool about it, and above all, did not take anything out on the volunteers. A volunteer working a media guest’s booth has no control over when they arrive or when they have to leave, they’re just decent people working hard for no money, and deserve some kindness and respect.

I’m kind to the media guests, and don’t try to hog more time than they have to spare or take candid photos without permission. I’m kind to the organizers, and don’t express any frustrations I might have had with volunteer policies in such a public forum (sorry, readers). It’s not hard. It ultimately feels better than being a dick about things, than throwing a tantrum at the girl telling me Manu Bennett isn’t signing any more autographs until later in the day, I’ll have to come back. And it’s just a better way to live.

Web comics

I’ve talked a lot about the celebrities, and while their panels can be great (certainly Bruce Campbell was entertaining and Matt and Karen were amazing) and I do like getting photos and autographs, I haven’t mentioned my other favourite thing about the Expo: web comic artists.

I read a lot of webcomics, several of the cool people behind them make the trek to Calgary each year. The line-up always varies, depending on people’s budget and availability, but I always try to see them and get some books, sketches, or other merch. Hell, some years I’m more excited about the web comic crowd than the celebrities.

I didn’t do as well as normal this year. I stopped by Girls With Slingshots creator Danielle Corsetto’s at some point on Friday, to fill out my collection of her books. She seemed briefly embarrassed to not remember me from previous years, which frankly seemed insane to me, and appreciated me not being a dick about it and instead explaining that I placed her under no obligation to do so given how many fans she must meet at these things. She’s a genuine delight of a human being, and it’s always a pleasure to see her, so I make sure to try and return that favour. Plus I got to watch Ryan Sohmer of Least I Could Do and the rest of the Blind Ferret empire repeatedly blast her with a confetti gun, which in his defense was pretty funny.

One of my favourites, Joel Watson of Hijinks Ensue, has been making regular appearances the last three. I always try to visit him, as he makes my favourite prints and t-shirts (and also a comic I routinely find hilarious), but this year he was with the crew from Cyanide and Happiness, as he’s been doing a lot of work with them on their YouTube shorts. And those guys were busy. There was always a line, and being constantly in a rush from place to place, I never got around to stopping by until the end of Sunday, when they were almost out of merch and no longer doing sketches (as the con was about to close and they didn’t have time), meaning I chose to forgo the line.

Randy Milholland of Something Positive was here for the first and, sadly, probably last time. Unfortunately Randy didn’t sell much over the weekend, and given how expensive it is to fly a bunch of prints and posters (and himself) from Texas to Calgary, he needed to. I made a last-minute stop to his table, buying four posters and two comics, but I doubt my $39 turned the corner and made the weekend profitable. Which is sad, because I love his comic and don’t like the idea of him losing money in my city.

He also drew an amazing Cards Against Humanity answer for a friend, but I can’t really speak of it here.

I also didn’t manage to make it to Jeph Jacques of Questionable Content (again…) but apparently he sold everything, so go him.

And it has just occurred to me that I posted links to all of those comics the one day almost all of them are doing guest or filler strips. Well, they’re all worth it, trust me.

Wow, all of that and we’ve just covered things I saw, not things I actuallydid. To be continued, I suppose.

My New Favourite Thing: Grim television shows, apparently

I’ve never understood people who say “I can’t start a new television show, I’m already in the middle of three.” Okay, that’s not true, I understand that fine, otherwise I’d have started watching Breaking Bad by now instead of saying “But I haven’t finished The Wire.” But my threshold for “TV series I can follow” is much higher.

The problem is, I can’t just watch a TV show until I’ve run out of that TV show. Sometimes I can, I suppose, like last month when I managed to get through four seasons of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia in a week and a half, but that’s a rare exception. If I’m settling in for some TV, it’s usually based on mood. Sometimes I want something legitimately amazing, like the Wire or Justified. Sometimes I’d rather something light and funny, like the New Girl or Psych. Sometimes those cable dramedies with mismatched duos solving crimes or suing bad people (with some serial elements) are just the ticket: White Collar, Suits, Psych again I suppose, or Leverage (not a duo, but still in that genre). Sometimes I realize that Bruce Campbell has been on a TV show for six years and I haven’t been watching it, so it’s time to watch some Burn Notice. And sometimes an episode of Person of Interest or Arrow exists that I haven’t seen and, well, that can’t be allowed to continue.

And apparently I sometimes need to watch something great but incredibly grim.

There are shows out there with such an overwhelming atmosphere of gloom or dread that they make Game of Thrones seem sunny and hopeful, and when they’re well done enough, sometimes I can’t quite get enough of them. Well, to a point. There can come a point with any show I’m not watching on a weekly basis when the plotline becomes dark enough, uncomfortable enough, or so cloaked in ill portent that I have to take a break, because maybe watching the protagonists I’ve come to love get bitch-slapped for an hour feels taxing. But I come back. I always come back.

Here’s some examples of recent shows that are as addictive as particularly moody heroin.

House of Cards

What’s it about? When ruthless Congressman/House Whip Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) is passed over for Secretary of State, he and his equally conniving wife (Robin Wright) begin a campaign against the President he helped get elected, a campaign for revenge and power.

Why do you like it? Ever since the 90s, I’ve been a fan of Kevin Spacey and been kind of a fan of stories that dare you to root for someone thoroughly amoral by making him/her the central character of the story. The best example I can think of is the woefully short-lived and before-its-time series Profit, featuring Adrian Pasdar in a similar role to Kevin Spacey, only with corporate politics being the battlefield in place of Francis’ actual politics. Watching Francis carry out his plans, the glee he shares solely with us, the audience, as he manipulates his targets into his traps, it can be so much fun to watch that you occasionally forget you’re watching a monster toying with his prey.

What makes it grim? Francis’ enemies are many, and they are crafty. Multinational corporations and corrupt billionaires, the sorts of people with no problems taking on the White House. People I don’t like seeing get the upper hand.

When things get rough for Francis, and they do, I try to remind myself that he’s a terrible, terrible person who, honestly, could use a little comeuppance. And yet… who else am I supposed to root for? The few actually good people on this show just get chewed up and spat out in his wake, and the people challenging him are way worse than he is! If you’re not going to root for Francis, and he does not always make it easy to do so, the pickings are pretty slim.

When did you give it up/come back? Usually about two thirds of the way through a season, when things are going from bad to worse, I’ll decide I need a breather. This can last several months. But I’ll be back. I always come back.

Hannibal

What’s it about? FBI profiler Will Graham hunts serial killers with the help of his friend and therapist, Dr. Hannibal Lecter.

Will Graham was the protagonist of the earlier and less-known Hannibal Lecter novel, Red Dragon, adapted twice into film (1986’s Manhunter, with CSI’s William Petersen as Graham and Brian Cox as Hannibal, and 2002’s Red Dragon, with Edward Norton as Graham and Anthony Hopkins reprising as Hannibal). In the novels, it was Will who caught Hannibal in the first place. In the TV series… he hasn’t made it that far yet.

Special Agent Jack Crawford (Lawrence Fishburne) recruits Will Graham for his ability to put himself in the mind of a serial killer, to read a crime scene and figure out what’s driving his quarry, summing up the method and the madness of the kill with the phrase “This is my design.” Crawford does this despite knowing that Will is on the spectrum of personality disorders, albeit closer to autistic than psychotic. Or so Will claims. Crawford also goes against the advice of Will’s friend and colleague Alana Bloom, who worries that Will’s mind may not be able to withstand so much time in the dark places Jack is dragging it. But Jack needs Will to catch the country’s worst and most brutal serial killers, including Jack’s own white whale, the Chesapeake Ripper, so to keep Will functioning, Jack asks for the help of psychiatrist and amateur gourmet cook Hannibal Lecter.

Of course Hannibal is the Chesapeake Ripper, but they don’t know that.

Soon Hannibal and Will are joining forces to hunt murderers, while Hannibal begins to play with Will’s mind, just to see what will happen.

Will Graham might sum up Bryan Fuller’s approach thusly: “I attract the curious with Hannibal’s name recognition. I lull networks and audiences into false security with the trappings of a crime procedural, only to find new ways to horrify each week. I parade beautifully-shot atrocities across the camera, erode hope by whittling away at the heroes, yet leave the viewer craving another taste.”

“This is my design.”

Why do you like it? It’s from Bryan Fuller, who’s quickly challenging Joss Whedon and Aaron Sorkin as my favourite TV writer. He’s the creator of my beloved Pushing Daisies, and is responsible for most of the good episodes of Heroes. So it’s incredibly well written. Hannibal’s cold calculations and Will’s descent into madness are hard to turn away from, even when you really, really want to.

Former Bond villain Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale) makes for an exceptionally chilly Hannibal Lecter, warm and friendly when the situation calls for it, eerily calm and scarily brutal when he lets his true colours show (typically in front of rival killers, moments before removing them). Hugh Dancy is every bit his equal as the tormented Will Graham. And if those two and Lawrence Fishburne weren’t enough, the show’s attracted some pretty impressive guest stars, including former Kid in the Hall Scott Thompson making regular appearances as one of the forensic pathologists on Jack’s team, Gina Torres as Jack’s cancer-stricken wife, Gillian Anderson as Hannibal’s therapist, and most fun to watch is Eddie Izzard as Dr. Abel Gideon, a serial killer who attempts to claim the title of Chesapeake Ripper, putting him in the real Ripper’s sights.

The sequences in which Will puts himself in the killer’s mind are fascinating to watch, as he rewinds the crime, picks apart the technique, and finds the thing that drives the killer, often able to spot a copycat just from inconsistencies in how the victim is displayed.

It’s sharply written, beautifully shot, with a stellar cast. I’d be more surprised it isn’t hip-deep in Emmys if it weren’t so remorselessly bleak.

What makes it grim? Simply put, the world Hannibal and company inhabit seems terrifying. Every week they are hunting down another serial killer out of your darkest nightmares. And it’s never “He strangles blonde prostitutes to death and leaves them in dumpsters” serial killers, no. Never so gentle. Girls are left impaled on deer antlers. One used his victims’ intestines to make violin strings. Another used the bodies to grow mushrooms. Another stacked his victims into a totem pole. And throughout it all, Hannibal is still killing to keep his larder full for dinner parties.

This show will make you hungry. You know it shouldn’t. You know, deep down, that is not beef he’s cooking… but gods damn Hannibal’s dinner parties look amazing. That twisted bastard knows how to cook, and how to plate.

Plus, you know, the protagonist (the one who isn’t an unfeeling psychopath likely to serve your lungs to his guests with just the perfect selection of side dishes and garnish) is being slowly broken from the inside out, so there’s that.

It’s actually kind of hard to believe it’s on a network. If this is what NBC lets them get away with, I don’t want to think about what they could do on HBO.

When did you give up/come back? Last summer I started falling behind on Hannibal. Honestly it was Will’s torments that did it. I was scared of what Hannibal was doing to Will, and chose sunnier climes for my TV entertainment for a while. But when season two started, and I started getting close to having episodes auto-delete from my PVR, I jumped back in, and it was worth it. While not much cheerier, for reasons I shan’t spoil, season two might even be better than season one.

True Detective

Meanwhile, HBO decides it shan’t be outdone for disturbing serial killer stories.

What’s it about? In 1995, freshly partnered Louisiana state police detectives Rustin Cohle and Marty Hart are called in on the murder of a woman found posed in a ritualistic manner. In 2012, an older, sadder Hart and the burnt-out yet still sharp Cohle tell the story of the investigation that followed to two other detectives, who have questions about newer, similar murders. Rumours of someone called the Yellow King and a place called Carcosa point to a larger, darker truth behind it all than the simple answer Cohle and Hart are expected to find.

Why do you like it? Because it is goddamn mesmerizing.

While Carcosa and the Yellow King are clear references to Lovecraft-precursor Robert W. Chambers’ The King in Yellow, this is not a story in which elder gods rise to consume the world. If you go in expecting aliens, gods, and monsters to appear, you’ll be disappointed. And yet it holds true to one aspect of The King in Yellow short stories and the works of H.P. Lovecraft they helped inspire: the idea of a protagonist driven mad by horrifying truths. They simply trade the cosmic horrors of Lovecraft and Chambers for staggering truths about how awful the world can be, and it’s clear from episode one that something about this case eventually broke Cohle in a way he’s yet to recover from in 2012.

At its heart, this is the story of the relationship between the nihilistic Rustin Cohle and the self-destructively hedonistic Martin Hart. The case connects them, divides them, and brings them back together years later as the new investigation unearths all they tried to leave behind. Along the way there are pulse-pounding chases and confrontations and a possible state-wide conspiracy, but it’s always truly about Cohle and Hart, and man they are worth watching. The series is anchored by a spellbinding performance by Matthew McConaughey, which is not a sentence I ever expected to say. Woody Harrelson more than holds his own as the less intellectual partner, constantly annoyed by Cohle’s pessimistic rants.

The writing is brilliant. The direction is amazing. They have one of the most impressive single-take long shots I’ve ever seen. It’s eight episodes, and while the second season is already green-lit, it will be a new story with new leads, so the first season is completely self-contained, with a firm end. And man does the final episode become more intense when you have no idea how it’s all going to end, or who will still be standing when it does.

If this doesn’t clean up at the Emmys this year, I would hope the voters have a hard time meeting their own gaze in the mirror.

What makes it grim? I mentioned the horrible truths about the world, right? Rustin Cohle sees a dark world infested with horrors, and it’s hard to not see his point, even beyond the crimes he and Hart uncover.

When did you give it up/come back? Never. I couldn’t stop. Once I started watching the show I needed it like a drug. It haunted my thoughts for over a month. Like the characters themselves, I may never truly leave Carcosa.

Corn Monkeys in the Mist: challenges of the trade

Right, my projectionist days. That’s a thing I was doing. Where was I?

Now, settling into my new job as a projectionist wasn’t simple. I’d studied the theory, knew how to thread and what to clean between shows, and could build a print in the recommended hour and a half. But there were still a few things that posed problems, and would until I got used to them. Let’s take a look.

Goop

I was unprepared for the amount of goop this job would require coming into contact with.

Let me explain. I have long had issues with what I suspect to be a mild case of OCD. Yes, I’m aware people say that to seem trendily quirky, no that’s not what I’m doing, yes I’m aware that’s what somebody who was just trying to seem quirky would say. When I was afraid I might have a kidney stone in Vegas (after years of worrying about said stones), I was right. When I thought I might have sleep apnea, I was right. I don’t think you can be called a hypochondriac when you’re right so damned often. Let’s move on.

This, I feel, is why I was a savagely picky eater for my first two decades, incredibly distrustful of sauce, unwilling to let two food items touch and cross-contaminate. It’s why I have to complete every single side-quest video games throw at me or, to quote Dan O’Brien, I get terrible headaches that no doctor can explain. And it’s why, back in 2001, I absolutely hated getting anything oily on my hands.

And just try to avoid that while working with large machinery. There is no way.

Booths I worked had anywhere from nine to sixteen projectors, each needing oil and grease to function, and it was basically a guarantee that at least one of them had a chronic leak. At least one of these projectors, somewhere in this building, was going to drip oil on me when I went to clean it. Early on, in what I called my “vagabond days” of going from theatre to theatre as a relief guy, my least favourite theatre to fill in at swiftly became Crowfoot Crossing. It wasn’t the largest I worked, with two less screens than Sunridge and four less than the Silver City. Maybe it was the fact that I was still relatively inexperienced, and their tight schedule (a movie started every five minutes, while Westhills had me more accustomed to ten) kept me running until the movies were all up and running. But what certainly didn’t help is that it had more leaks than average, and I was constantly getting oil on my hands, then freaking out about it and desperately trying to get it off before running to thread and start the next movie. Lather, rinse, repeat.

This was an issue I had to leave behind, because the goop got worse before it got better. Once I settled into the Moviedome, regular maintenance became part of my life, and it was time to move past simply topping up oil now and again and into greasing the gears. Once per month, I had to wipe off a layer of old grease, then apply a layer of new grease in its place. And this was clearly a necessary process, because the grease went on orange and came out black. The grease was think and gooey, and there was no simple way to get it all over the gears other than rub it in by hand. I went through a lot of paper towels getting that chore done, between wiping the old grease off and trying to keep my hands relatively un-gunked.

Relatively. It’s not like there was a point in washing them off before I was done, so gunk was still all over me. And one of my favourite shirts just seemed to attract oil like a magnet. That’s less related to the greasing process precisely, but there was no more natural place to slip that in. But seriously, every time. Took like two washings to get it out.

Bulb changes

When I was learning the trade, the single most intimidating part of the process was the lamp house. Every fact I learned about the lamp house made it sound more dangerous.

The bulb of a projector is filled with xenon gas to help it glow bright enough to project a small square of film onto a barn-sized screen dozens of metres away. The gas is crammed into it pretty tight: eight atmospheres of pressure when it’s cool, 30 atmospheres when it’s hot. And it gets hot.

When lit, the bulb is too bright to look at unshielded. Far too hot to touch, but that’s okay, because you can’t even touch a bulb when it’s cool, not with your bare hands. If you do, the oil from your skin will burn into the crystal when the bulb lights up, compromising the integrity and leading to an explosion.

And not a small explosion.

One night at Sunridge, a bulb exploded a few minutes into a screening of Harry Potter. I was down the hall in a separate room, and it sounded like someone had dropped a safe next to my head. When a hot crystal bulb explodes, it turns into thousands of razor-sharp flechettes that shred anything nearby; in this case, the lamp house. I was still just a permittee at that point, I had no idea what to do, and management wasn’t exactly quick to offer aid or tools or whatnot. Eventually, the reflector in the lamp house had to be replaced, since the surface had been shredded, but I was less involved in that.

Changing bulbs involved a welder’s apron, mask, and giant gloves to protect yourself from potential explosions. For the first year or so of my career, anything to do with the lamp house was like defusing a bomb, and typically involved a lot of panic-sweat (not aided by the super-warm mask/glove/apron combo). Only one thing helped relieve my fear of being maimed by an exploding bulb: an afternoon spent trying to deliberately explode several bulbs, and having to put some effort into it.

Each bulb has a shelf life: after a certain number of hours, the electrodes begin to erode and the light begins to flicker. You can extend their life by rotating the bulb, but eventually they come out. Most theatres will recommend a specific hour count to remove the bulb. If it was still in decent shape, you hang onto it as an emergency spare. But when the spare build up, you can afford to toss a few out.

But you can’t exactly throw a bulb under eight atmospheres of pressure into the trash, now can you? That’s a little too close to “unexploded munitions” for the average garbagemen. So before you throw them out, you need to blow up each bulb.

The first time I had to do this chore, my old friend Jason Garred was visiting my booth, so we had us a bulb-exploding party. This involved putting the bulb in its box, wrapping the box in something, and then throwing the box, allowing the impact to explode the bulb with no shrapnel escaping. And what was telling is that it wasn’t always enough. Sometimes I’d toss the box, kick the box, and would ultimately have to hit the box with a metal rod to get the bulb to explode so that I could toss it.

And nothing removes the fear that something is going to explode like spending five minutes trying to make it explode.

Next time: the weird clique structure of the Moviedome.

My New Favourite Thing: From Dusk Till Dawn

As an avid consumer of media, I’m often encountering things I consider neat, impressive, bizarre, amazing, and/or worth sharing with those around me. The problem is that I encounter these things way more often than I actually have opportunities to discuss them, between my lax social calendar and tendency to get interrupted by a topic shift. And so I’m introducing a new weekly feature (yes, I know that my update schedule as of late makes “weekly feature” seem hopelessly optimistic, I’m working on it) to share these things as they happen: My New Favourite Thing. And perhaps describing them here will save people having to hear me rant about True Detective or John Mulaney: New in Town until I’m not the only one referencing them in casual conversation.

I will still be the only one referencing them in casual conversation. I have a sickness.

Anyway, let’s kick this off.

From Dusk Till Dawn is a TV show now

Does everybody remember the 90s movie From Dusk Till Dawn? The first full-on collaboration between artistic soulmates Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez? It’s the story of Seth and Richie Gecko, fiercely violent bank robbers, who abduct the Fuller family (an ex-preacher and his two children) in order to use their RV to escape to Mexico. Once in Mexico, they head for a skeevy strip bar catering to bikers and truckers to wait for Seth’s contact Carlos so that the Gecko brothers can retire in El Rey, where Seth hopes his more psychotic brother will find some peace. Except it turns out the bar is an ancient Mayan vampire lair, and the Geckos, the Fullers, and their new pals Frost and Sex Machine have to spend the night fighting off wave after wave of vampires.

I would totally have watched a spin-off movie called “Frost and the Machine.”

What’s fascinating about the movie is how the plot turns on a dime. The first half of the movie is a tense thriller based around the frightened Fullers trying to deal with the hair-triggered Seth and the psychotically violent Richie, in the hopes that Seth will honour his word and release them once everyone reaches Mexico. And then out of goddamned nowhere suddenly there’s vampires all over the place.

Anyhoo, if you have seen the movie, did you ever think to yourself “That was pretty neat, but I wish it had been a little longer?” Like, eight hours longer? Because apparently Robert Rodriguez did. The movie has been turned into a ten episode TV show that’s currently running on Netflix. And I don’t mean Rodriguez has made a TV series set in that world, he has expanded the “Robbers escape to Mexico, oh no there’s vampires” story from the movie into a ten-hour series.

It’s a baffling experiment. On the one hand, I have yet to find anyone who thinks there was eight hours’ worth of story missing from that movie. On the other hand… there are some neat additions. Richie’s a far more interesting character now, and the vampire element is less random. Richie already has a creepy connection to a cult of Mayan snake vampires, and his killings are less a matter of being a creepy psychopath and more being driven by supernatural visions. Richie sees things others cannot, and it’s left him wise in ways but less than sane.

While here in Canada it’s a Netflix original, the series actually debuted on Rodriguez’ El Rey network (named after the Gecko brothers’ planned destination, no doubt), a US cable network targeting Latino audiences. As such, they’re only releasing one episode per week. As such, I’ve been popping an episode on while at work on Saturdays, and emailing a running commentary to my associate Keith, who just finished directing my theatre company’s production of Reservoir Dogs and is one of the biggest Tarantino fans I know. He claims these commentaries are a highlight of his week, so I’m opting to share some of them with you now.

Episodes one and two

In which the ten minute intro scene where the Gecko brothers kill a Texas Ranger and shoot up a convenience store gets stretched into a full hour, and then the Fullers are introduced as some vampire stuff begins to seep into the narrative.

  • I guess this is Salma Hayek’s character being sacrificed by the Mayans? I don’t recall death by snake being a cause of vampirism…
  • I certainly don’t know of any species of boa constrictor that crawls into its victim’s mouth while it’s alive. What the shit was that.
  • Oh good. Because the key to improving the gas station showdown is to make it an entire episode instead of a perfectly succinct action/character beat. And let us really get to know the ranger you showed us dying before the credits. Can’t wait to be given a list of reasons why I should be sad he’s dead. Guess this is how we’re rolling on this show. (note from the present: Texas Ranger Earl McGraw, originally played by Michael Parks, is now played by Don Johnson)
  • Dude playing Seth Gecko is trying to be 1990s George Clooney super hard. George Clooney doesn’t even try to be 1990s George Clooney anymore.
  • Well Richie Gecko is creepy as fuck, so they’ve got that going for them.
  • Did… did they just have a commercial break? On a Netflix original series? Ain’t no commercials, why did you cut as if there were? (I now understand this was designed to have commercial breaks, I did not at the time)
  • Well great. Richie’s insanity is being connected to the Mayan vampire whatnot.
  • And now we’re in episode two, and the family in the RV has arrived. I already like the kids more, although the daughter’s younger. Was the father always dragging his kids to Mexico basically against their will?
  • Still trying to figure out what exactly is going on with Richie. He’s not just crazy like in the movie, there’s something weird going on.
  • Oh. They’re snake vampires. Explains a thing or two.
  • Still not sure what I think. Some of the new stuff is interesting. Some of it is blatant padding. Seems like I’m-a keep watching for the nonce.

Episode three

Apparently I did keep watching, because the commentaries continue. In week three, we continue the trend of spending a whole episode on people who had two minutes of screen time before being killed by Richie in the movie. Also, meet Seth’s ex-wife, who exists in the movie as a reference in a one-liner.

  • Come now, Seth. What exactly about the rest of today suggests that Richie can be left alone with the female hostage?
  • Katie Fuller, the ex-preacher’s daughter, is way cuter than I’m comfortable with.
  • As foretold in the pilot, Big Kahuna Burger makes an appearance.
  • Adrienne Palicki! Yay! Jake Busey. Boo.
  • If you didn’t want to be creeped out by the crazy man’s sketch book, don’t ask to SEE the crazy man’s sketch book.
  • Again with the cuts for non-existent commercials! Did he make this for a network that turned it down? (Again, did not know about the El Rey network at the time)
  • Like his father, Jake Busey can’t act not crazy.
  • So Richie’s Cthulu-crazy, seeing horrible truths, not brain-chemical-crazy. Should probably still not leave him alone with hostages.
  • Be honest, Robert Rodriguez. Was this whole Mayan snake vampire cult/cartel something you always wished you’d included, or a way to make “and then they fight vampires” less jarring than it was in the movie?
  • Also at this rate that’s going to be like episode seven.
  • Oh my god did Jake Busey just try to Jedi Mind Trick the Marshall?
  • Okay, yes, he dumped some bullets on the counter. This is Texas. Is that something people in Texas get to freak out over?
  • 25 minutes. After three episodes we have covered almost exactly 25 minutes of the movie. Honestly, more than I thought.
  • We’ve had a lot of fun here tonight, mostly at the expense of this show, but damned if “The Geckos are being lured to the vampire bar for a larger purpose” doesn’t intrigue me a bit.

Episode four

At this point I think we can firmly declare that whatever complaints and nitpicks I’ve had, this is now a show I watch. I’m better at keeping up on this than half the shows I claim to be a fan of (really got to catch up on Hannibal and Supernatural soon…)

  • Tonight, on “From a Bit Before Dusk Till Slightly Closer to Dusk.”
  • I guess “Jacob Fuller is a drunk” is a better justification for stopping at a motel when you have an RV than “The guy who bought an RV doesn’t understand what they’re for.”
  • What kind of motels have maid service at sunset? That’s crazier than Richie.
  • Uh oh. Looks like the late Texas Ranger Earl McGraw’s protege might be going Cthulu-crazy like Richie…
  • Rest easy. The cantankerous old motel manager remains as vital a part of the story as ever.
  • STOP BREAKING FOR COMMERCIALS YOU ARE ON GOD DAMNED NETFLIX (Okay, look, if you put “Netflix original” at the beginning of the episode, I’m going to make some assumptions regarding format.)
  • I give this show a decent amount of grief, but it’s certainly well cast. I’m sure this statement is unrelated to Katie Fuller in a bikini.
  • Nnnnnnnngggggyyyyyaaa Richie has found Katie in the pool I am so uncomfortable right now
  • Seriously, try to watch Seth Gecko in action and not see it as a 90s Clooney impression.
  • Richie and Kate Fuller bonding is powerfully weird to see.
  • Sure, more Earl McGraw flashbacks. Let’s do that. Otherwise we might reach Mexico by the halfway point of this series.
  • I get it. You paid for Don Johnson, you want to use Don Johnson. But NOT paying for Don Johnson was an option.
  • Tune in next week for “Stuck in line at the border” on “From Pretty Close to Dusk Till It’s Almost Dusk, Honest.”

Episode five

The bank teller hostage and Texas Ranger Earl McGraw each got massively expanded stories for this series, and Seth’s contact Carlos has become a whole new presence, so if one of the next few episodes is NOT titled “Shooting From the Hip: the Life and Times of Sex Machine,” me and this show are having words.

  • Okay. Nearing the halfway point. Let’s rock.
  • Pastor Jacob Fuller is played by Robert Patrick. His ministerial ID is old enough that he still looks like the T-1000. This shouldn’t be a point of interest, yet I’m unable to ignore it.
  • I’ll give them this, the Jacob/Seth banter remains sharp, albeit tainted by being a conversation between Robert Patrick and a high-end George Clooney impersonator.
  • Nobody on the show seems to be having more fun than Wilmer Valderrama as Seth’s contact Carlos. This is more sinisterness than I expected out of Fes from That 70s Show playing Cheech Marin’s third least-threatening character from the movie.
  • Richie, if you want Seth to take you seriously as a strategist, stop acting like a spree-killer.
  • And the moral of tonight’s episode becomes clear early on: if you try to treat severe depression with prayer and positive attitude, don’t be surprised if your wife dies in a car wreck. I mean, getting kidnapped by violent fugitives and eaten by vampires seems like fifty pounds of punishment for five pounds of crime, but part of Jacob’s downfall seems predictable.
  • That said, at least Jacob’s demented determination to drag his kids to Mexico is making more sense.
  • The problem with being Cthulu crazy like Richie is that some of the things you spout might be prophetic (Jacob’s not a demon now, but there’s a long night ahead), but there is no way for any of them to sound not-crazy.
  • Huh. The RV reached the border before the end of the episode. I thought we’d have an extra half hour of RV-related cat-and-mouse to deal with before we got here.
  • Aaaaaand I spoke too soon. Clearly I underestimated how long all of the principal players in this little chase could be stuck in a border crossing traffic jam.
  • Oh, Katie. Asking someone to listen for the word of God is a lot easier when they’re not already being drowned in the word of Mayan Snake Vampire Goddess.
  • “What a fantastic idea, let’s bring another hostage on board.” Took the words right out of my mouth, Richie.
  • Okay, Rodriguez. Show me how the Gecko brothers and the Ranger chasing them can be in the same border queue without the series ending here.
  • Great plan, Jacob. Nothing attracts less attention from border guards than clearly anxious teenagers trying to get into Mexico.
  • Okay, BULLSHIT. That is TWICE that this show has violated one of the core concepts of the movie. First Carlos, now the border guard who inspects the RV? Someone better be played by Cheech Marin pretty damn fast!
  • How do we resolve this tense border standoff? Have we considered throwing some snake vampires at it?
  • Oh, Ranger Gonzalez. Will you ever win?
  • Gonna have to wait a few weeks before we know if snake vampires are bullet-proof or if border guards are just god-awful shots.
  • We reach the Titty Twister right at the half. Just like the movie. At long last dusk! Next week, more dusk!
  • Also: nearly an entire episode spent at the border crossing. CALLED IT.

Next week: a different favourite thing. Before then: hopefully another blog of some sort.

Five Sins of Decent Videogame Movies

It’s a good time to be a geek. Hollywood never stopped looking for fantasy epics to adapt after Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter each managed to earn more money than physically exists, we’re living in a golden age of comic book movies, Game of Thrones gets nominated for Emmys, and there is a TV show about Green Arrow of all people that isn’t just “kind of watchable” like Smallville at its peak but legitimately good with flashes of greatness.

And then there’s videogames.

I’m not going to get into a thing over which side is winning, games that push the medium to grow and expand and find new ways to tell stories, or Battlefield of Duty knockoffs so generic you can’t tell one brown and gunmetal grey cover-based first person shooter from another. I’m instead going to talk about how Hollywood continues to make movies based on videogames, but also insists on not trying very hard.

It’s been over twenty years since the first major Hollywood movie based on a videogame, 1993’s Super Mario Bros., and despite that, to put it mildly, shaky start to genre, there’ve been 27 more released theatrically since then. But they haven’t gotten much better. In fact, thanks to some loopholes in German tax law, Uwe Boll was able to make several far, far worse.

We could argue back and forth for hours about why, exactly, video game movies seem unable to compete with their comic book brethren. Maybe it’s like horror movies, where the rate of return is narrow yet good enough that they don’t need to make it a great movie, just a profitable one. Maybe video games, unlike comic books, just don’t have the Joss Whedons and Christopher Nolans of the world champing at the bit to tell a story of quality in that universe. Or maybe there is just an intrinsic problem in taking an inherently interactive medium and attempting to adapt it to a medium far more passive. By way of a for instance, when I play Mass Effect, I am Commander Shepard. I decide who Commander Shepard is, what he or she does, how he or she feels, who he or she loves. Why would I want to exchange that for watching Chris Pine play a Commander Shepard I didn’t help shape making decisions I didn’t choose? Even for something as linear as Legend of Zelda, you lose something in the transition from interactive to passive.

But whatever the reason, videogame movies seem to go out of their way to make some of the stupidest choices available. Even the ones that avoid the obvious stuff, like “hiring Uwe Boll,” or “Being as terrible and as Super Mario Bros.” make stupid little choices that ensure video game movies stay stupid. Here’s some examples.

Resident Evil: just how many zombies are in that crate?

It has to be said: the Resident Evil series are the most successful videogame movies out there. We know this because they’ve managed five sequels, one of which is expected this year, none of which have gone directly to video. And they’ve managed this despite completely throwing out the basic plots of any of the games. Sure, every now and then Jill Valentine or Claire Redfield will turn up so fans of the games can say “Hey I know that person, awesome,” but in general the blend of lateral thinking and extreme violence that defined the game series has been replaced with the ongoing adventures of Milla Jovovich’s Alice, the genetically engineered superwoman out to defeat her former masters, the Umbrella Corporation.

And why not? Frankly the only surprise is that they haven’t made a game based around Alice yet. Maybe her style of combat is just too divorced from the engine they typically used to make the games. So that’s not the sin I’m here to complain about. I’m complaining about how one action beat led me to identify an annoying trope.

The third film, Resident Evil: Extinction, is set after the zombie plague has ended society. Umbrella is experimenting with a method of domesticating the zombies. However, while they do regain a modicum of intelligence, they also become hyper aggressive. So an Umbrella executive decides to bundle a group of these super zombies into a shipping crate and use them to ambush Alice and company. A standard sized shipping crate. Regular readers will be familiar with my usual complaints against what I call “infinite respawn,” in which the heroes are gradually overwhelmed buy an unending wave of generic bad guys. This can work if you have, say, a portal leading to sufficient numbers Chitauri to invade and occupy the entire planet, but not if you only have one shipping crate.

Sure enough, dozens upon dozens of zombies pour out of that crate. No matter how many team Alice kills, there are enough left over to wipe out half the main characters.  Just how many super zombies did they actually have? And how exactly did they stuff dozens of hyper aggressive extra strong living dead soldiers into one crate? One crate that, to hold all of them, must have been packed tighter than a Tokyo train at rush hour? Did they put the crate on its end and drop the zombies in through a trap door? Was there a bulldozer? How many staff died getting this crate filled?

You want a huge obstacle for the protagonist? Fine. You want the high body count that comes with horror films? Sure. Do that. But when I was watching this scene, I did not feel horror or even anxiety. I felt annoyed that they were still this many zombies no matter how many they picked off. That sort of physics bending just drags you out of the moment. Stop doing it.

Tomb Raider: worst artifact ever

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider wasn’t particularly well reviewed, and isn’t exactly the crown jewel of anyone’s DVD collection, but it remains one of the few actual success stories in videogame movies. And by “success stories” I mean it made a lot money. It was the highest grossing videogame movie until Prince of Persia, and it’s still the highest grossing if you adjust for inflation.

And at its center is the stupidest artifact you could ask for.

Lara wakes up one night as she’s heard a clock start ticking somewhere in her vast, vast mansion. She tracks it to a secret room under a staircase (must be a hell of a tick for her to have heard it while asleep on a different floor), and breaks it open to reveal an artifact. Which is a little stupid, but there’s more. She senses that it’s supposed to fit into something (like maybe a clock?), and learns that it’s the key to finding the fabled Triangle of Time, which was split into two pieces after it destroyed the city it was last used in. But it can be reunited during the planetary convergence that happens once every five thousand years or so. Which is different than all those other times the planets line up. Yes this is exactly what I was making fun of in course of true love in person the Jade Monkey. No I’m not sorry.

So Lara races against and sometimes works alongside the fabled Illuminati, and her friend/rival Alex West (tomb raider for the ladies) to find both pieces of the triangle. Why is the triangle split into two pieces and not three? Don’t worry; there’s an explanation and it’s stupid.

When both pieces are found and the Illuminati inevitably turns on Lara and Alex, the Illuminati leader attempts to reunite the two pieces which, it should be pointed out, have the jagged edge indicative of being smashed over a rock, not split into two modular pieces meant to be reunited. It does not work. Because it wouldn’t. It’s broken, you’re not getting it back together without super glue.

He turns to Lara, asking why they won’t reunite, and she throws a piece of the puzzle through a little space-time portal (I do not have space to explain why that’s a thing that happens), and as the pieces tumble out in slow motion, she grabs a single grain of sand, which is the missing piece of the triangle.

ARE YOU SHITTING ME.

First of all, who told her that was the key? I don’t recall any mention of two pieces and a grain of freaking sand that need to be reunited! And how did it not get lost? How did anyone come up with the plan “We’ll let them reunite the Triangle once every 5,000 years, but only if they figure out that they need to throw the compass through a magical time/space hole that splits it into its component parts and then grab a fucking grain of sand out of the air, which is the third piece?”

Nothing about this tomb raiding plot isn’t stupid. If you’re going to make it that weirdly hard to rejoin the Triangle, just leave it god damn broken.

Street Fighter: That UN asshole

There was so, so much wrong with this movie. While they fit in nearly everyone from the first three Street Fighter 2 games (there were a great many Street Fighter 2s before they gave in and made Street Fighter 3), only a handful of them actually resembled their counterparts from the game. Instead of focusing on Ryu, the most popular player character (from what I could tell) and the central character of any Japanese adaptation of the game (such as the far superior anime that hit video around the same time), they instead made Guile the main character. Presumably this was to give the plot, which centered around UN forces attempting to oppose General Bison and his terrorist army in the rogue nation of Shadaloo, a noble American protagonist. Which was not aided by casting a Belgian with the thickest accent possible.

But that’s not what I’m here to bitch about. You know what? Make Guile the lead. Guile from the games was actually out to stop end-boss M.Bison, while Ryu from the games just roams the globe looking for fights. Ryu from the game is an asshole and the people who played him at arcades I visited game zero shits about plot anyway. What I’m complaining about is the set-up to the most mocked and/or ironically beloved moment in the whole awful movie. Specifically, this speech.

Jump to the thirty second mark if you want to skip to my point. Jump to the 30 second mark and look at that asshole. “The security council has just voted. They’ve decided to negotiate.” Right. Okay. “What an asshole” speed round, go.

1. Of course the jerk who’s been riding Guile this whole movie picks the douchiest way he can think of to pronounce the word negotiate. “They’ve decided to nego-see-ate.” Dick.
2. Look how fucking smug he is about this. “Sure, he’s a terrorist who has killed thousands, including several of our own troops, but we’re knuckling under! Aren’t I the goddamn best, you Belgian gun-nut.” I guess “We do not negotiate with terrorists” hadn’t come into vogue yet.
3. Of course he’s British. Why wouldn’t the stick-in-the-mud trying to prevent good ol’ American gun-style justice be British. Unless you read a history book.
4.  Guile’s troops were literally minutes away from deploying, which should mean the council had already voted and the result was “Okay, go get him.” Armies don’t mobilize without a go-order, and when they get one, there’s typically little wait time and an understanding of “No take-backs.”
5. We’re over an hour into this movie and the action beats have been few and far between. There was no circumstance in which this preening frumunda stain strolling casually up to announce his intention to nego-see-ate with the ruthless terrorist was actually going to prevent the Guile/Bison showdown, or even delay it.
6. And how was that even necessary to motivate a rousing speech to the troops? President Whitmore managed to give a speech to the troops in Independence Day without needing anyone to saunter up and say “forget this desperate counter-attack against the genocidal aliens, we think we can talk this out after all.”
7. Was it impossible for action heroes in the 80s and 90s to head off to the climax without some blustering authority figure showing up to demand their badge and gun and say they’re off the case? Because that is all this moment accomplishes. We’re supposed to believe that Guile’s charge is made more badass because some dickless bureaucrat told him not to do it.

In summary, this useless blob of taint-flesh made man was the worst, most ham-handed “But you guys, fighting is bad” strawman this side of the celebrity caricatures in Team America. All the honest-to-god hard-working diplomats in the world should have filed a class action suit for defamation of character the second this ponce opened his mouth.

Prince of Persia: now 100% Persian-free

Prince of Persia: Sands of Time managed the twin tricks of being the highest-grossing videogame movie (domestically and without inflation) and being sort of okay, which is sadly high praise for the genre. It wasn’t a thoroughly faithful adaptation of the game, as it barely used the time-reversing dagger that’s the game’s primary hook, and had no sand-infected zombies for the heroes to battle, but we can let that slide. There’s still a roguish Persian prince, a princess charged with protecting the Sands of Time, and a scheming Vizier out to control them.

Except I remember them being a lot less white in the game.

Prince of Persia is set in what we now consider the Middle East, and was one of the few North American videogames to have an entirely POC cast. Look. I don’t want to have to explain why taking some of the few roles available to non-white actors and casting white folk in them is stupid and regressive, so I’ll not. Instead, here’s a list of actors who could have played Prince Dastan and Princess Tamina other than the very white Jake Gyllenhaal and the uber-British Gemma Arterton.

Oded Fehr (The Mummy, Resident Evil: Apocalypse and Extinction), Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire, Immortals), Naveen Andrews (Lost), Aishwarya Rai (The Last Legion, Bride and Prejudice), Kal Penn (Harold and Kumar, House), Preity Zinta (just Bollywood movies but she’s awesome), Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire, The Newsroom), Parminder Nagra (Bend it Like Beckham, ER, The Blacklist), Sendhil Ramamurthy (Heroes), Gal Gadot (The Fasts and the Furiosos, soon to be Wonder Woman).

There. And that’s just people from things I’ve watched (and Wonder Woman). And all but one of them are known to North American audiences. Would’ve been just that easy. If only major studios weren’t so convinced that white people are afraid of movies that don’t star white people.

Which I suppose would be easier if less white people were afraid of movies that don’t star white people.

Wing Commander: forgetting what kind of game they were adapting

The thing I remember most about the Wing Commander movie, other than being less interesting to watch than the Wing Commander full-video cut scenes, is that word had gotten out that it had the first trailer for Star Wars: Episode One, and when that wasn’t true, theaters actually had to put up disclaimers warning people. I guess people were demanding refunds, because without a Star Wars trailer there wasn’t anything worth the $10 ticket. Or whatever movies cost in 1998.

So, back then, I was powerfully fond of the Wing Commander games, even if my computer couldn’t reliably run the videos. Three and Four starred Mark Hamill and Malcolm McDowell, how can you go wrong with that? Well, some reviewers say “easily, as it turned out,” claiming the CGI in the cut scenes doesn’t hold up and that Hamill, McDowell, and Biff from Back to the Future aren’t exactly doing their best work, but all I know is that 15 years later I still recognize people as being from Wing Commander 4 when I see them in other, probably better paying projects.

But at the heart, this was a series based around outer space dogfights. Wing Commander the movie should have been Top Gun in space with cat aliens, but somehow they forgot about that, and instead made a submarine movie. They even had a scene where everyone on the cruiser had to stay quiet to avoid detection by the Kilrathi. Because, you know, sonar works exactly the same in the silent void of space as it does under water.

I do not remember a single decent dogfight in a movie that should have been 70% awesome space dogfights, but I remember that nonsense.

Hollywood is still determined to take some of that sweet, sweet gaming money and turn it into movie money. People are working on a new Tomb Raider (hopefully based on the new, more human Lara Croft), a new Mortal Kombat, an Assassin’s Creed movie set for next year, and possibly even a movie based on my beloved Mass Effect. I just hope even one of those screenwriters decides to put a little effort into the story. Because it would be a nice change of pace.