Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Ghost in the Shell preview

The opening four-and-a-half minutes of the upcoming Ghost in the Shell live-action movie was released on Twitter today, and… I'm not particularly impressed.

First, the good stuff: it looks pretty nice, if less grimy than the source material, and there are some great designs - the robo-spider geisha is incredible.

The rest feels very wide of the mark.

Broadly speaking, this clip follows a similar template to the first scene of Mamoru Oshii's 1995 anime film: the Major drops off a roof and engages is a brief firefight through a window. But the anime's opening four minutes set up a lot of stuff for the rest of the movie. the opening shot pans through layers of data illustrating wordlessly the extent to which everything is connected to the network; we're given hints of the rivalry between Public Security Sections 6 and 9; they namedrop Project 2501, the ultimate antagonist of the film; the surgical (and lethal) tactics of Section 9 get demonstrated; and while we're only really introduced to the Major there's also dialogue with Batou and Togusa that sketches out their working relationships.

By comparison, the live-action scene doesn't even seem to have a reason for the Major to be on that rooftop (one of a few things that leads me to believe that this isn't actually the very first scene in the film). While she begins the clip by announcing, "I'm on site," the presence of surveillance equipment seems to surprise her, and she's even unaware of who in the building might be the target. Where the live-action film has her responding to an unforeseen event, the anime makes the Major herself the event - which may seem like a small change, but moving them from active to reactive participants fundamentally alters the audience's perception of both Kusanagi and Section 9.

The relatively bloodless gunfight in the live-action film may be more visually inventive than its anime counterpart, but the number of cuts before the Major comes through the window - followed immediately by slow-motion wallrunning and a ponderous examination of the scene - makes the scene feel much longer.

Maybe the most surprising thing is the decision not to rip off maybe the most iconic shot of the anime's opening sequence: the first demonstration of the Major's thermoptic camouflage. On the one hand they've already lifted quite a lot of the original's key moments, but to draw the line at this feels weirdly restrained.

Everything I've seen of the live-action Ghost in the Shell puts me off it - the most egregious marketing error is the decision to use a san-serif font on the logo - but somehow I'm intrigued to see the final product, no matter how much I can already tell it's going to infuriate me.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Iron Fist

I cannot quite believe how big of a train wreck Iron Fist is.

Character motivations seem entirely fluid, changing scene to scene and even line to line. As if the white-man-as-martial-arts-messiah stuff wasn't bad enough, he listens exclusively to hiphop for some bonus cultural appropriation. The first episode might as well be called "Finn Jones harasses women". More scenes seem to take place in boring office space than Daredevil, which is set in a law firm. Its portrayal of mental healthcare is only slightly less enlightened than Terminator 2. I can't comment on the plot much yet because I'm only three episodes in but so far it's a garbage fire.

I want to like Colleen Wing more than I actually do. Hopefully she does something soon other than put up with Danny Rand's awful flirting and condescension. Never seen a sparring match as negging before, so that's new I guess?

But I'm determined to stick with it to the end. All the Marvel Netflix shows go to shit in the back half and I'm fascinated to see how much further off the rails this train can go.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Symphogear

Symphogear

Warning: Symphogear spoilers. Not that it really matters, because this show transcends mere plot.

The very first thing Symphogear does is lie to its audience.

Symphogear, or to give the show its ridiculous full title Senki Zesshou Symphogear - Meteoroid-falling, burning, and disappear, then..., is best described as Macross meets magical girls; a number of young women are given ancient magical relics which enable them to use songs as armour and weapons to fight the alien threat Noise.

The show appears thematically dense on a surface level. All the terminology is music- or sound-related, and there's some strong imagery in the idea of humanity's heroic melodies defeating the monstrous Noise. But, like KILL la KILL, none of these apparently important references actually mean anything to the... well, calling it a story might be overly charitable.

The biggest problem Symphogear has is trying to decide what it wants to be. None of the masks it tries to wear really fit convincingly, but it's so earnest that I couldn't help but love it for trying so hard.

It has one of the most obvious yet most understated gay relationships in anime. It has characters who sing their feelings while battling each other. It has full-screen, comic book-style freeze-frames for special attacks. It has a story about the genetic reincarnation of an ancient priestess trying to rebuild the tower of Babel so she can destroy the God who lives in the moon. It's a mess of ideas that never quite work the way you feel the writers and animators intended (hoped?), but still somehow I can't help but cheer for it.

Symphogear's whole first series is building towards an ending that's promised by the opening scene of the first episode - a lie that I bought into. Having that scene constantly in mind, particularly as the finale approached, gave much of the story more dramatic heft than it might have otherwise had. It's constantly pulling off a balancing act between the ludicrous spectacle of the Symphogear battles and the difficulties Hibiki has keeping this new superhero work secret from her girlfriend Miku. And with the implication that Hibiki wasn't going to survive the series, I was more worried about whether they'd part on good terms than if they'd defeat Finé.

The second and third seasons have altogether different problems.

Season two, Senki Zesshou Symphogear G: In the Distance, That Day, When the Star Became Music..., decides to jettison all the character stuff that made the first interesting and just turn the Symphogear to eleven. It's total nonsense, spectacle for its own sake, with a terrorism subplot that follows three new Symphogear users who all but have "eventual hero" tattooed on their foreheads. Hibiki and Miku's relationship, the beating heart of the first series' plot, is all but ignored for two thirds of the running time. The transformation sequences from the first season - quick, incredibly cool and highly stylized - are replaced with more... traditional fanservice-based sequences.

The third (and so far final) season - Senki Zesshou Symphogear GX: Believe in Justice and Hold a Determination to Fist. - swings almost too far the other way, with a plot that's somehow both complicated and dumb at the same time, and much lower-key battles. The fanservice is turned up uncomfortably higher. The primary emotional storyline involves Hibiki trying to figure out what to do about her deadbeat father.

To call Symphogear a disaster would not be inaccurate, though I do think it would be unfair. The first season, inconsistent as it is, still has a strong core and some great ideas that a more polished show might not take risks with.

I couldn't recommend watching the whole saga (though with a fourth season constantly rumoured, you might do well to catch up!), but the first 13-episode series is definitely worth your time.

Unfortunate Events

I wonder if I'd like Netflix's A Series of Unfortunate Events more if it didn't remind me quite so much of Pushing Daisies.

They have more than a few things in common; from an omnipresent narrator to a visual style right on the border of the uncanny-valley, to gleeful descriptions of the weird and macabre events that occur and a peroccupation with alliteration and repetition. Daisies jacked the saturation up where Unfortunate Events turns it down, but the art design and camerawork in one will be familiar to fans of the other.

But it's not quite right.

Daisies' nameless narrator was off-screen, always ready to offer a brief comment or witty rebuttal; while Patrick Warburton's Lemony Snicket exists in much the same role, it takes time for him to move on or off screen, which almost kills the pacing. (His leisurely delivery doesn't help matters.)

Unfortunate Events also seems to struggle with tone - Neil Patrick Harris is unreservedly great as Count Olaf, but the constant switching between careful enunciation and off-the-cuff banter feels less like a deliberate directorial choice than a mistake. That no other character does this only highlights the disconnect.

I also find myself wondering how many of the distracting touches are references for book fans; Mr. Poe's cough adds little to the character, and most of the stuff with the theatre troupe feels like padding.

I'm willing to see how Unfortunate Events finds its feet - only two episodes in, there's a lot to like and the little I know about the series' structure has me intrigued. But the promise (warning?) of no happy ending is a bit offputting. It's hard to see how it could reach a satisfying conclusion with the Baudelaires failing to ever find happiness.

Of course, Pushing Daisies never had a classically romantic ending on the cards for Ned and Chuck. Then again, as TV executives are wont to do with Bryan Fuller shows, an ending was never really on the cards for them at all.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Ghost of a Shell

Possibly controversial opinion: there has never been a truly great version of Ghost in the Shell.

Even Masamune Shirow's original 1989 manga is uneven, lurching from philosophy to comedy to body horror to tedious politicking to pornography at its author's whims. Mamoru Oshii's 1995 anime feature stripped back the humour (and sex) to present a more thematically coherent story, but lost a lot of the characters' humanity along the way. Stand Alone Complex is an uneasy mix of both, bringing back the comic relief Tachikoma robots (Fuchikoma in the manga) but still too serious for its own good. Innocence, Oshii's 2004 sequel to his own film, is immensely tedious.

The upcoming live-action Hollywood adaptation does not appear to be shaping up "great".

The visual style, half-heartedly copied from various parts of the anime and manga universes, doesn't inspire confidence. The Major's thermoptic camouflage nudity is imported from Oshii, but the live-action film hasn't fully committed to its source, or brought any of its own ideas to the table. It's replaced a quick, brutal demonstration of Section 9's tactics and efficiency with a slo-mo gun ballet setpiece that's not been fashionable since the Matrix sequels. The Major stark waking silhouette against the skyline has been converted to an indistinct, oppressive grey. The production design generally echoes the anime film's grimy future Hong Kong setting, but it's all so clean and shiny. What the hell have they done with Batou's eyes?

The most obvious shortcoming from the recently-released trailer is the plot. "How do I know I really exist when even my brain is artificial?" has been unceremoniously dumped for a "stolen past" storyline whose conclusion I'm expecting to be as unexciting as it will be predictable.

Plus, why in the hell is Aramaki shooting people? The man's a bureaucrat, a politician - more spymaster than police chief. His strength lies in outsmarting criminals and his superiors, not firepower. Maybe this is just a sign that the film is leaving behind its cerebral roots for a more mass-market action film - which just begs the question: why bother licensing the title at all, if you're going to throw everything else out?

(And none of this even starts to address the whitewashed elephant in the room.)

One trailer isn't much to go on, to be fair. Maybe they've just done a bad job with this one; it wouldn't be the first film to misrepresent itself in its marketing. But I'm not getting a good vibe off this thing.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange

The fundamental problem with Doctor Strange is that it's not about anything.

Marvel's latest Cinematic Universe hero bears some surface-level similarities to their first: 2008's Iron Man also starred a wealthy genius with a predilection for stylish facial hair, whose ego was challenged by an unexpected set of circumstances that challenged their existing view of the world and their place in it. But while Tony Stark's wake-up call was entirely of his own making - a result of years, if not decades, of indifference to the people who bought his company's weapons - Stephen Strange is thrust into his new reality entirely accidentally.

Even Ant-Man had Scott Lang's choices drag him into the story - he's an active participant, and it has the added subplot about what a person can be willing to do - or sacrifice - for their family. But Stephen Strange is just a spectator.

The car crash that ruins his hands is arguably his fault, but a momentary distraction when driving doesn't illustrate any kind of major character flaw or inner conflict that Strange has to overcome. It doesn't turn out to have been an unintended side-effect (or deliberate outcome) of any other characters' actions. It's just a meaningless, random event.

Strange also has nothing to do with Kaecilius' plans - in fact, it feels like no other character does. We're given the sketch of backstory (a history shared with Kung Fu Panda's Tai Lung), but there's no plan to stop him. The Ancient One doesn't even seem particularly bothered about looking for Kaecilius - she just replaces the librarian and moves on. There isn't even any indication that the three Sanctums have had their defences bolstered. Kaecilius is just left to his own devices until Stephen Strange stumbles - again, accidentally - into his way, and manages to deus ex pallium his way out of the confrontation.

The plot clips along at a JJ Abrams-esque pace, hoping we don't notice. It's all forward momentum and no breathing room - but there's never a sense of how much time has passed between scenes. When Strange stumbles into Christine's ER, there's no telling whether it's been years, months or just a couple weeks since they last saw each other. How long has he spent learning the mystic arts? No film has ever needed a training montage more than Doctor Strange.

Benedict Cumberbatch is at his Cumberbatchiest as Stephen Strange, and despite his Dr Gregory House accent even manages to find the time to act in a couple of scenes. Tilda Swinton somehow knocks her role out of the park, saved from her character's lack of depth by some great dialogue - a crutch which, sadly, isn't afforded to Mads Mikkelsen or Chiwetel Ejiofor. These are two of the most charming, talented actors on the planet, relegated to cardboard cutouts with barely a motivation between them; that they manage to turn in memorable performances at all is a testament to their abilities.

The visuals vary wildly; I'm not a fan of the acid-trip design of the "Dark Dimension" (not to be confused with Thor 2's Dark World), but there's no denying it's a unique look for the MCU so far. But scene geography is almost always disastrously muddied by the camera during fights - and that's even before they start messing around with Euclidean space. The kaleidoscope effect that twists reality would have a lot more impact if it was a location we had the measure of, but there's never a chance to get your bearings before the fighting breaks out. (This isn't helped by the television-esque way everything is shot; there's a lot of mid-closeup during dialogue with a single character on screen, which limits your view of the rooms they're in.)

I've been trying to figure out where Doctor Strange sits in my MCU rankings, but I can't place it. I almost convinced myself that it's better than The Dark World, but at least that had Loki and ended with that great dimension-hopping final battle.

It's probably better than Iron Man 2.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

No Fear of a Blank Planet

I think I've finally figured out what's missing from No Man's Sky: danger.

It's supposedly a survival game, but there's very little threat. Aggressive animals are, in my experience, very uncommon. The sentinels will, by and large, leave you alone unless provoked. Hazardous environments can be easily negated by digging a shelter with a few grenades. Resources to replenish your defences and weapons are plentiful.

Last night, for the first time in several months - maybe a year - I played The Last of Us, picking up a playthrough on Grounded difficulty. It took three attempts to figure out all the controls; I'd forgotten how to stealth-kill, how to run and how to switch weapons.

I'm at the point of the game, for reference, where Ellie first gets a gun. (I don't think that's too much of a spoiler.)

It was immediately and unrelentingly tense. On Grounded, in addition to deadlier enemies and reduced resources you lose the "hearing" ability that allows Joel to track enemies without direct line of sight. If I couldn't see a threat, I didn't know where it was - but even when I did have a specific target in mind, moving around could expose me.

Obviously a crafted experience like The Last of Us has ways of turning up the tension that a procedural game never could - like specific placement of cover and planned enemy patrol routes.

But even after several varied but grisly demises, when I knew the exact layout and patterns of the whole space, it didn't get less stressful - it almost felt more dangerous, as the pressure was put entirely on me to remember and execute the plan in the right order.

No Man's Sky, a universe of nearly infinite variety, feels inert in comparison.

How does the vast, uninhabited unknown so completely fail to inspire any sense of danger? I'm an explorer, striking out into frontier worlds devoid of civilisation (though always, disappointingly, inhabited).

Stepping out of my ship's cockpit should be a gamble. What I find should have the chance to offer more than a temporary inconvenience every few minutes where I have to dig a hole or refuel my shield.

I want to stand on a beautiful, vast and unknown planet, utterly alone and scared out of my mind about what I might discover.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Hibike! Euphonium

Hibike! Euphonium

I've finally, months behind everybody else, caught up with the bonus 14th episode of Hibike Euphonium. It's a side-story that runs parallel to the finale of the main series, following Hazuki - poor, brave, heartbroken Hazuki - and the other nine members of the band who didn't make the cut for the big end-of-season competition. Most of the other Team Monaka members are background filler, but we also get a couple of great scenes with Nakagawa, giving sketches of her history just through body language and evasive answers. I hope we see more of her in the sequel.

It's reminded me of how amazing a series this was - truly incredible animation for a TV series, in places feeling like Kyoto's animators were just showing off. The plot is pretty basic sports-anime stuff; a rag-tag group of students get together with a seemingly impossible goal, and through hard work and just believing in yourself, they rise through the ranks to reach that final hurdle.

Where Euphonium shines is with its characters and their interactions; in particular Kumiko's reluctance throughout the series, both with personal and band matters, lends real dramatic heft to the points where she takes an active step forward.

Euphonium has a very careful line to tread with its second season, which begins airing in October. At the core of its emotional arc is Kumiko's relationship with Reina - which might be an all-timer, if the second season doesn't retreat to the safer waters of the source novels (obviously being held in reserve by the anime). I don't remember the last show that had a central pairing whose relationship evolved so naturally - maybe Planetes?

What a difference a few years make. If you'd told me, not too long ago, that my most anticipated show of the year was a Kyoto Animation series about a high school music club, I would have laughed in your face. But here we are, waiting for the second season of Hibike! Euphonium and it's not getting here soon enough.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Seven things I hate about Re:Zero, after 18 episodes

This will likely make little sense to anybody who has A. not seen any of Re:Zero or B. seen (or read) all of Re:Zero so far.

  1. The whole Light Novel schtick. Conversations that take three times longer to get to the point than even the slowest audience could possibly need; the endless digressions from the matter at hand; the tolerance for Subaru's inane interjections into matters he knows nothing about and has no business commenting on, by everyone including nobility. I hate this whole style of storytelling.
  2. The premise - genre-savvy nerd is pulled into an alternate high-fantasy reality - is lifted out of pure retread boredom by Subaru's lack of resultant special abilities, but he's such a demanding, entitled jackass that I don't care if he succeeds at any of his ridiculously stupid plans. I pray for his failure, that he might fucking learn something.
  3. Why in the name of God has it never occurred to Subaru to ask for someone to explain about the Jealous Witch? You'd think, after Emilia introduced herself with a cursed name the first time through and then the subsequent taboos around it, that he'd be curious enough to find someone - Betty, maybe - and ask, "hey, so humour me - what's the deal with Satella?".
  4. Subaru can't tell anybody about Return By Death, his Edge of Tomorrow-style time-reset/resurrection power. But you could still mention you're from a different reality maybe? Get people to cut you some fucking slack for a change.
  5. Emilia continues to put up with Subaru's perpetual creepiness, and borderline abusive attitude towards her.
  6. Rem's clearly Best Girl, but even she's fallen for the dubious charms of our "hero". I'm not even entirely sure why.

  7. I can't stop watching this show.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

Calling this movie "a mess" could be seen as charitable, and certainly I'm a softer landing for the film's charms than a lot of people would be. I thoroughly enjoy a lot of The Lonely Island's previous output - both on and off SNL - and Andy Samberg's turn in Brooklyn 99 has won him a lot of good will in my book.

But the mockumentary style employed by the group's first movie foray doesn't feel used properly. Aside from inviting comparisons to This Is Spinal Tap - which will inevitably not work in Popstar's favour - it's implemented in a way that feels inconsistent, with no clear rules about where this documentary crew is supposed to be filming from. That said, the documentary style is justified by the insert interviews, with real musicians commenting on the career and music of the fictional Conner4Real, which offer some of the best gags in the film.

The music, too, is a mixed bag, but unlike their SNL and album tracks these songs are supposed to be bad. My favourite track, Finest Girl (Bin Laden Song), is borderline-offensive on the scale of Team America, but Popstar lacks the political position to give it teeth (for better or worse). Most of the songs get less than a verse and chorus to make their point - the only other song to make it into the film as more than a jingle is the deeply uncomfortable Equal Rights, though again its obvious textual shortcomings are excused by being a fake song by a fake artist making a point about homophobia.

The film's biggest stumbling block, however, is its lack of a clear point. Sure, it stumbles into a moral lesson for Conner by the end, but lacks a proper buildup. Conner's personality is at turns naive and childish, clear-headed and pragmatic, or entitled and overconfident - seemingly in whatever combination best suits the punchline to the scene in question. Taken individually, most of the sketches that make up the film are great, but they don't gel together and undermine some of the later scenes where we need to believe that Conner is an insulated narcissist for the emotional punches to land.

Even as a Lonely Island and Adam Samberg fan, I'm not sure I could recommend this film. It's the kind of entertaining curiosity I'd suggest catching on TV if you stumble across it, but it's unlikely it will ever end up on a regular ITV2 rotation.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

London Has Fallen

London Has Fallen

There are just enough over-the-top Americanisms in the London Has Fallen for my brain to struggle with Poe's Law.

The casual disregard with which a wedding is blown up by a barely-teenaged pilot half a world away, orders given based on intelligence gathered by a different country. Gerard Butler's now-infamous "go back to Fuckheadistan or wherever you come from" line, which in more capable directorial hands would be a deliberate indictment of the US military's indifference to the targets of its drones. US president Benjamin Asher's chest-puffing delivery of Agent Smith's "the sound of inevitability" line from The Matrix, where the approaching subway train is instead Butler's unstoppable Secret Service agent Mike Banning, a brick shithouse who fires profane one-liners almost as often as bullets but whose face washes blank with every kill. Morgan Freeman's closing speech which is so on-the-nose that its horrifying justification for US interventionism is "do it for our children", delivered atop a patriotic orchestral swell.

The terrorist leader is ultimately executed in a drone strike almost identical to the one which opened the film, which he escaped and which served as his entire motivation, suggesting that the United States has learned nothing from the experience.

Despite the constant culling of sidekicks (anybody who spends more than a minute and a half with Banning and Asher seems to end up dead) and enemies, there is no tension to the film. When the President is captured by the terrorists (who have, in two short years managed to plan and organise a large-scale infiltration of the Metropolitan Police and Queen's Guard, plan and carry out a secret assassination on the British Prime Minister and orchestrate the simultaneous assassinations of every world leader attending his funeral), the film places a ticking clock on his head, counting down to his supposed execution but obvious rescue.

Banning is never in the slightest danger. The most ambitious action scene in the movie, an alleyway shootout faked into a single long take, features easily a half dozen deaths of SAS soldiers on Banning's side, gunned down by enemy fire while Banning himself saunters unscathed from cover to cover. The American is impervious to bullets while his allies are bullet-sponge sacrifices to be made in his unceasing mission to save one man - and when he manages to free the President from his captors Banning gives a speech about how the United States is greater than a single man.

This is a sick, brutal sociopath of a movie, an oddly clinical parade of gunshots and stabbings that seems more curious about violence and its effects on the human head than excited by it. It's a snuff film made for the audience to revel in, but London Has Fallen itself isn't getting anything out of this exercise - there's no… joy in it.

It has no clear politics, it has no message or lesson or even point to its violence. I cannot see any reason for this film to have been made.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Watch Dogs 2

Watch Dogs 2

Watch Dogs 2 doesn't look like they've learned a fucking thing.

"Stick a black guy in as protagonist," says a fool in a plaid shirt with a beard stolen from an early 20th century lumberjack, "and give him a backstory where he was falsely accused of a crime after evidence was planted. What additional hacking abilities should he have?" "I know," a moron drools, incapable of processing irony. "Let him plant evidence on innocent people! And drones were cool when we started this project, so they're bound to still be relevant when the game is released three years later."

It's ridiculous enough that Star Hacker Extraordinaire Marcus Whateverthefuck runs around with the name of his secret hacking collective on his own bright purple hat, but it's fucking Mr Emoji Eyes that really gets me. Sure, in some kind of William Gibson cyberpunk dystopia that shit would fly, but come the fuck on - that's gonna stick out in suburban San Francisco, especially when it's paired with the world's least subtle iconic studded jacket.

Maybe come the third game the licensing team'll get their shit in gear and we'll actually be hacking around late-21st-century BAMA with the Panther Moderns, rather than this sub-Doctorow power trip masquerading as political commentary.

Discomfort

This tweet makes me deeply uncomfortable.

In the wake of Orlando, the idea of fantasising about being a self-appointed vigilante, righting perceived personal wrongs, seems especially horrifying. The staggering lack of empathy - even momentarily, in a twitter joke - just does not, can not, sit right with me.

With Donald Trump ready to assume control of the button in American and David Cameron's cronies already taking crowbars to the most lucrative parts of our public services here in the UK, we should be striving for more empathy, rejecting the violence that society has, somehow, allowed to become so common that we daydream about causing it.

I remember when violence in videogames was an escape, an over-the-top cathartic release to escape from the tedium and mundanity of reality. But violent media is no longer an escape - it's what we already see in headlines every other fucking day.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

No Man's Delay

In every interview about, or demo of, No Man's Sky that I've seen, lead developer Sean Murray looks terrified.

Nobody in the world is more worried that this astonishingly ambitious game might not live up to the hype. He is nervous and proud and desperate for people to love Hello Games' next release as much as he does.

I have no doubt that he wants (needs?) No Man's Sky to be as close to perfect as humanly possible, if for no other reason than to justify the hype that's been poured onto the team since E3 2013.

So if Sean Murray thinks it needs another six weeks to be as good as it can be, then I'm inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.

But some "fans" - how you can be a fan of an unreleased game is one thing, but the behaviour of these people is entirely another - have taken umbrage with the delay, and sent death threats to Murray.

Leaving aside the logical issue (how is killing the lead developer supposed to expedite the game's release?), the idea that anybody looking forward to No Man's Sky could bear any ill will towards this man blows my mind.

These are people who have attached some part of their personal identity (and self worth) to this game, as ill-advised as that is. Why wouldn't they want it to be the best it can be?

This lack of perspective stuns me every time it appears in gamers (really, I should expect it by now). I felt the pangs of disappointment when I read those first reports of the delay, and the regretful acceptance when it was confirmed.

But Jesus - we've been waiting years for the game to come out. What's six more weeks?

(I'm still of the opinion that Sony should never have announced a date for the game at all, and just sent out a press release saying, "by the way, No Man's Sky is out - happy exploring!".)

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Rogue One

The Rogue One trailer's AT-AT sequence

I want to talk about AT-ATs.

There are a lot of other things I love about the trailer for Gareth Edwards' upcoming Star Wars spin-off Rogue One: the grounded aesthetic that harkens back to the original film's "lived-in" universe; the shots of Jyn that bookend the trailer, one in cuffs on a Rebel Base, one disguised in the Death Star cell blocks; the use of handheld cameras that give it a more personal feeling than we're used to from the series; Mon Mothma's smirk at Jyn's "I rebel" joke.

But I want to talk about AT-ATs, because the way Edwards uses them in this one brief shot at the end of the Rogue One trailer says a lot about why I'm excited for his take on this universe.

The best film in the Star Wars saga (so far) is The Empire Strikes Back, which is also the first place we saw Imperial Walkers.

During the Battle of Hoth, a number of these barely-mobile artillery platforms attacked the rebel base on Hoth, targeting it's shield generators. Impressive in scale but lumbering, they didn't seem to pose much of a threat to troops on the ground, and were eventually defeated using ropes.

It's difficult to see them as scary, mostly (I believe) because of the way they're shot.

Gareth Edwards, for my money, made the best Godzilla movie since the 1954 original (this is a hill I'm prepared to die on - fight me, scrubs).

Few other directors are as good at communicating scale as effectively as Edwards; even as blockbusters ramp up the "disaster porn", they get more and more clinical about it. We're watching cities being ruined, but it all lacks dramatic weight because the scale isn't relatable.

Edwards always puts his camera ona very human level; the kaiju in Godzilla are almost always shown with known objects in the foreground or through a bus window, which tells you immediately just how terrifyingly huge these things are. He avoids putting you on Godzilla's eye level because that makes the buildings look small rather than making the monsters look big, which would diminish the awe.

Sorry, I'm supposed to be taking about AT-ATs.

It's a very short part of the Rogue One trailer - Jyn and her band of rogues are running across an open battlefield; at first we can only see the lower legs of the Imperial Walkers, but the camera pans up just in time to show the lead AT-AT turn towards (and open fire on) the ground troops.

That's exciting, in a way the AT-ATs never were before. They're a threat to infantry, not just infrastructure. Instead of walking slowly towards a target on auto-fire, waiting to trip, these machines are reactive - and they react fast.

Rogue One has taken these walking punchlines - big, slow, expensive and easily-defeated - and done something unexpected: it's made them dangerous.