Dark Tower Redux

 

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You know, I’m almost sorry that I posted that I was conflicted about the failure of the Dark Tower movie to connect with fans.  I mean, this very blog takes its name from a line that Jake speaks in the first book (paraphrasing): “Go then, Gunslinger.  There are Other Worlds Beside this one).  My point being simply that Stephen King DID NOT invent the Dark Tower or the mythos that has grown up around it.  His story is but ONE of MANY out there–yes, it is the most popular, but it is NOT the only story that has been told or will be told about the Dark Tower.  He doesn’t own the Tower anymore than J.K. Rowling owns “Magic.”

However, some really ugly arguments and memes have sprung up around the failure of the movie and just want to take a moment to address some of the most problematic ones.

SCRIPT
So this is where most of the critics and fans have expressed most of their disappointment.  The movie is only approx. 90 minutes long, but tries to infuse 7-8 books worth of material (from my understanding–haven’t seen the movie yet) into this (very) short time-frame.  However, the element that really concerns is the fact the movie writers are essentially “work-for-hire” contractors and considered the lowest on the totem pole for the creative endeavor of the movie.  This is where the problem lies–a movie is a creative endeavor, true, and you need all parts to work, but the script (the story) is the most important part.  Without a solid script, even the best actors and directors are going to struggle.  Yet, writers of screenplays get no version of royalties if the movie does really well nor is their input sought (usually) for rewrites as in many cases they are replaced with other writers and movies become written essentially by committee.  Another thing that hurts writers is the fact that it is a closed system that privileges only a few.  Even in today’s internet connected world, you still have to move to Hollywood if you really want a serious chance at writing a screenplay–how is this even still a requirement in 2017?  If there’s an awesome screenwriter in Wisconsin, the internet is MORE than robust enough to allow that writer to write wherever works for them.

IDRIS ELBA AS ROLAND
This one is the most troubling.  Yes, King based Roland on the “gunslinger” archetype made popular by actors like Clint Eastwood and Yul Brynner.  However, nothing precludes Roland from being portrayed by an actor of another race, even though King’s description may have indicated/favored another race.  There is a tendency on the Internet today to label a person, or group just to be able to belittle said person or group.  Everyone wants a winner, or wants to be associated with a winner.  However, in a capitalistic structure such as the American movie industry there HAVE be winners and losers–there’s no way around it.  You can do things to help swing the pendulum in either direction, but there are no guarantees in a creative endeavor.  If it doesn’t “win,” then there’s this need to find a scapegoat and the Internet is currently on this kick where a diverse person/group gets the blame irregardless of whether or not its fair (I direct your attention to the 2016 Ghostbusters movie as prime example of this).

SONY
Speaking of Sony, I should probably note that Sony also has taken blame in this from many circles.  Sony, as a huge faceless conglomerate, tends to get a lot of blame for things that are beyond their control.  We (probably wrongly) think of the director as the most important component of a movie (I would argue it is probably an equal weight between writer, director, and movie talent), but I haven’t seen or heard anyone criticizing the director, but the studio.

We all hope for our favorite properties to “hit it out of the park” (a la The Lord of the Rings), but at the end of the day–is it the studio that failed to deliever on the story you wanted or was it the script?  Which of the two is more intricately tied to “story” and “story” formation, ideation, and creation?  For me, opening up the system and allowing it to be based on merit (good writers) and not location (living in Hollywood) or more importantly, networking (good a “pitching” a story instead of good at “writing” the story) would be a far more equitable system that might result in a rise in quality in the stories being told, and as a result, increased satisfaction from fans who just want their stories “done right.”

 

 

Ranking the Spider-Man Movies

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Image Source: Superhero Wikia (Art by John Romita)

I think I may have mentioned it on the blog before, but in case I haven’t, Spider-Man is my favorite superhero.  I really gravitated towards him in high school and his athletic abilities and biting (no pun intended) humor really won me over as a character.  I’ve seen several sites ranking the Spider-Man movies, so I thought I’d get in on the act myself.  Following is a list of the current Spider-Man movies so far that I’ve ranked in order of my own personal preference as to the best (& worst) of the Spider-Man universe (regardless of studio, be it Sony or the MCU).  I’ll be updating this post both when I see Spider-Man: Homecoming and when other movies are released with Spider-Man as the primary character.  As with my Marvel post, I’m going to try to keep things spoiler-free, but (as always) I can’t guarantee that things that I mention won’t spoil things for knowledgeable Spider-Man fans.

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Image Source: Wikipedia

Spider-Man 2

This is by far my favorite Spider-Man film.  This film had everything that I wanted in a Spider-Man film: the idea of personal responsibility, the idea of with great power comes great responsibility, great special effects, great villain, great internal character conflict, great external conflict and an ending that gets it (mostly) right.  There are some things that this movie gets wrong, but is as accurate a depiction of Spider-Man as a character and as a comic (so far) that I’ve seen as a movie.  Things were changed and manipulated in Spider-Man 2 that is different from the comic, but I can see the reasons for each change.  To me, this stands as the (current) definitive Spider-Man movie.

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Image Source: Wikipedia

Spider-Man 

Okay, so I like this one, but not nearly as much as its sequel.  I think my enjoyment for this one was muted because it is an “origin” story and I know Spider-Man’s origin like the back of my hand at this point.  Seeing the character evolve (especially when you already know the story) isn’t nearly as impactful as seeing an original adventure featuring the character and I think that’s what hurts this one the most.  Also, the changes the filmmakers made didn’t seem to be needed (unlike the sequel), so I didn’t really feel that the Spider-Man that I knew from the comics and games was presented on-screen faithfully.

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Image Source: Wikipedia

Amazing Spider-Man 2

Okay, this one is one that the critics and I disagree on.  Critics hated this movie.  I think it is okay.  Not great, not horrible, but in the middle.  I liked the fact that they tried to incorporate the “Gwen Stacey” storyline and that they had the guts to try to replicate it on-screen, even if it didn’t hit/work just right.  I also like that Peter and Gwen were young adults, not high-schoolers and that eliminated one of my dislikes of the first Amazing Spider-Man movie, teen angst (see below).  Too many villains and too much “convenience” really hampered the story and brought it down in my opinion.

The_Amazing_Spider-Man_theatrical_poster_Wikipedia

Image Source: Wikipedia

Amazing Spider-Man

In a word (or two), teen angst.  This is what kept me from seeing it in the theaters and why (along with a modified retelling of the origin story) kept me from seeing it until much later when I was able to rent it cheaply.  For me, I made the right choice. It wasn’t as bad as I feared it would be, mostly because of the actors’ performances, but Spider-Man/Peter Parker is better when he is put in the young adult role, not in the teenage role.  Yes, I know he started/was bitten as a teenager, but the stories that helped grow the character and push him into mainstream consciousness are not his teenage years, but his young adult ones (as a photographer for the Daily Bugle, trying to make rent, trying to hold up his relationships with family and friends, while at the same time trying to be Spider-Man and live up to “Great Responsibility” creed).

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Image Source: Wikipedia

Spider-Man 3

Easily the worst of the Spider-Man movies.  This is a prime example of filmmakers not trusting their source material and cherry-picking it for what they want without understanding why it works.  Venom should have been awesome in this movie.  The whole Peter/Mary Jane marriage sub-plot should have worked, the antagonist/ally sub-plot should have worked, but no one tried to understand the storylines from the comics.  Venom works, not because he is a psychopath, but because the symbiote  loves and hates Peter Parker.  It doesn’t want to turn Peter into a “dancing fool” as the movie portrays, but it wants to join with Peter.  When he rejects it, it hates him and wants to kill Peter and it knows everything about Peter Parker–it knows just what will affect him physically and psychologically–and it can disguise itself and be anyone at anytime.  Now throw in Peter wanting to marry Mary Jane and there is the plot that the movie should have followed.  Again, an almost horror take on the superhero genre similar to where Avengers: Age of Ultron should have gone.  How can Peter protect himself and his future wife (i.e., when the movie opened she should have been his fiancé) from a psychopathic killer out for his blood when he can’t even tell where and when that killer is going to strike?  I have the original Venom storyline and I know how that character can be used in stories based on the original writer’s (David Michelinie) interpretation and the original artist’s (Todd McFarlane) illustrations.  What audiences got instead was a watered-down (way down) version of this story without very elements that evoke menace in the character/story.  I could go on, but you get the picture–this one is bad, both because it is bad and because of so many missed opportunities.

E3 and me: Marvel’s Spider-man (& Honorable Mentions)

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Marvel’s Spider-man

The last game that I want to mention on this blog from E3 is the showstopper from Sony’s Press Conference, Marvel’s Spider-man.  Sony showed an extended gameplay trailer that blew my mind.  I’ve always been a Spider-man fan, and I own quite a few issues of Spider-man comics.  This game had it all–action, humor, a strong narrative, but also has an open-world (the entire city of New York appears to be available to you to explore).

MarvelSpiderman_youtube

The game puts you in the shoes of Peter Parker (although there is a nice Easter Egg for those who stay and watch the “stinger” at the end of the trailer).  It isn’t telling an origin story, but rather it is telling the story of a Peter Parker who has been doing this for a few years and is comfortable in Spider-man’s shoes.  I really enjoyed the high-flying acrobatics that the game showed and they nailed Spider-man’s sarcasm and biting wit.  This one looks like it is going to be fun.

Honorable Mentions

Things that looked interesting, but that I didn’t have time to talk about in the post during this week.

Days Gone (Sony) – A post-apocalyptic game that has a horde of fast-moving zombie-like monsters (similar to the movie World War Z)

Detroit: Become Human (Sony) – A sci-fi game about androids struggling for their freedom.

Shadow of the Colossus Remake (Sony) – I’ve played the demo, but never bought this game, but sure looks awesome.  It might convince me to get it this time around.

Assassin’s Creed: Origins (Ubisoft) – I’ve bought every major AC game and the new setting promises to be fun.

Knack 2 – Hey, what can I say, I love a good platformer.  I platinumed the original Knack, so of course I’m looking forward to the sequel.

and finally,

Elite: Dangerous – Elite was old computer game from the 1980s.  My uncle and I played the heck out of that game on the Commodore 64, and we managed to “break” the economy in the game  Our ship was so powerful and we had so much money, nothing in “normal” space could touch us.  This one is sheer nostalgia.  (I still have the 5.25 inch game disk and I’m pretty sure that I have the manual for the original game as well somewhere).

There were other games as well that probably deserve to be on this list, but I’ve already taken longer than I had intended and I’m much later putting out this post than usual, so I’ll end by saying, Sony had the most games that I’m interested in, so while their conference wasn’t as good as the past two years, it was still the best (to me) in a fairly unremarkable year.

 

E3 and me: God of War

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Image Source: PS5Home

Sony’s Conference is always the highlight of E3 for me.  I’ve talked at length about my preference for Sony consoles and software.  I really like what Sony does in the video game space (with its Playstation brand).  I could afford to buy other consoles, but I’m not as interested in Nintendo’s and Microsoft’s entries in the video game space (for various reasons) as I am for Sony’s entries.  Sony had quite a bit I’m interested in this year (although their conference was light on show-stoppers). I’ll highlight the two that I’m most interested in to finish out the week.

God of War

The God of War (GoW) game was first announced at last year’s E3 (2016), but this year they showed actual gameplay and elements of the story and it confirms the good feeling that I had about the game.  It also gives a release date of early 2018, so it should be a good game that I use as an incentive to help get me through the Spring 2018 semester.  I’ve not bought a God of War game before, but I have played demos of all the PS2 games and I’ve seen bits and pieces of the GoW3.  I never really cared for the GoW games because of the main character, Kratos.  He, in a word, was a “rage-muppet.”  He was always a one-note character, the very embodiment of rage and anger.  Now, I know his history, which I won’t spoil here, but which is well known in the gamer universe (if you want to find out more, here’s his wiki); however, I feel that characters should be able to express more than one emotion.  The new incarnation of Kratos, however, feels like they’ve really worked on humanizing him and giving him more emotions than just rage.

 

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Image Source: Playstation 

I’m also very interested in Viking mythology.  When I was a child, two of the most fascinating subjects were Greek/Roman myths and gods and Viking myths, gods, and legends.  The Midgard Serpent (pictured above in the GoW universe) is one of the most fascinating things in the Norse mythology to me.  I love the idea of worm that encircles the world, hidden away in the depths of the ocean.

This game has really captured my attention and I’m looking forward to uncovering the mystery of Kratos and his son early next year.

Black Panther, E3 and Me

 

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Image Source: YouTube.com

So, this blog was going to be about E3 (the video game and computer game conference happening on the West Coast this weekend), but Marvel released a teaser trailer for the Black Panther movie coming in 2018.  You can find the teaser trailer here: Black Panther Teaser Trailer.

I’m very interested in this movie as I was introduced to the Black Panther via a Marvel Comic that talked about the various gadgets and costumes of Marvel heroes in the early to mid 80s (it was the same comic that described the Mandarin’s rings and Falcon’s  wings/jet propulsion system) and mini-series done about the character when I was in High School in the late 80s/early 90s.  However, I discovered that the movie will debut next close to my birthday, so I feel that it will be a great movie to see as a present to myself, so I’m already “sticking a pin in it” as the expression goes.  I hope it turns out as well for Marvel and the creators as well as Wonder Woman has turned out for DC this year.  I will keep it on my radar.

E3

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This weekend marks the kickoff to the E3 Conference.  I am a very big fan of video games and video game narratives, and this is where the newest games and technologies are mostly announced for the upcoming year.  E3 used to be about selling games and software for Christmas, and while it still has some of that element, mostly its about things that will be coming out in the next year and building anticipation for things even further out (a year and a half to two years).  Electronic Arts’s Press Conference kicks things off later today, and then tomorrow will be Bethesda.  Ubisoft and Sony will round out Monday’s coverage and then the show will begin in earnest with games out on the show floor.  EA’s press conference (or EA Play Event as they technically aren’t doing “Press Conferences per se since last year) is scheduled to kick off at 1pm Eastern time (9am Pacific Time) and I plan on watching that before digging into some yard work that I’ve put off for too long.  If there’s anything fun and relevant to the blog, I’ll probably talk about the things that were announced that I find most interesting (games are doing some pretty neat and novel things in the narrative space these days).  In between the conferences, I hope to get some writing done over this weekend as well.

Have a great weekend!