Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Blame Dan Brown

It’s no secret that the coolness of various genres tends to ebb and flow. Currently, we’re riding a long wave of superhero flicks, but if you’ll recall the late 90’s, disaster movies were all the rage. The popularity of a category of entertainment usually begins with a breakout hit, and then proceeds along a path of sequels and copycats. The question I’ve been asking lately is, what has lead to the recent wave of pseudo-religious action movies and videogames?

What’s that? You didn’t notice the wave? Neither did I, at first. What I’m specifically referring to is the idea in entertainment lately that angels and other holy beings are bad ass brawlers with a sword in one hand and a sub machine gun in the other. The most high profile offering from this lineup is probably the flop-tacular “Legion”, which appeared to have all the appeal of another straight to DVD Resident Evil sequel, with none of the style and mood that made Constantine successful, if only on the cult level. As near as I can tell it’s about an angel who defects from an angry god in order to protect humanity from some old-testament style wrath. A fun idea, certainly, but poorly executed.

Video games are where we’ve seen this genre really explode lately. Bayonetta is a game in which you play a gun-toting witch in an outfit so tight some considerably potent dark magic must have been needed to get in to it. Using (count ‘em) four pistols, you fight your way through increasingly bizarre heavenly creatures, all of whom have creepy gothic appearances, which all those renaissance painters somehow neglected to include.

Darksider’s is another entry. Here we learn that angels actually prefer a broadsword and head to toe medieval armor to a harp and robes. There’s some kind of apocalypse going on which pits said angels against a lineup of equally intense looking demons, and fun times ensue.

The trend continues with the new Dante’s Inferno game. I have not read the original Epic Poem, I must admit, but I can assume with some confidence that there was considerably less ass kicking.

There is in fact a point which I am slowly driving at here, and that is that all these action franchises which are based around the Judaeo-Christian religious structure require one thing to make them even remotely palatable: Tons and tons of style. That’s all there is to it. The material is already there: prophets, plagues, commandments from on high, fire and brimstone, heaven and hell, supernatural beings of unimaginable power, temptation, devotion, sacrifice. The bible would be a completely rockin’ read if not for its total lack of style! What the creators of these games and movies attempt to do is latch on to a little piece of this grandiose religion, oozing with epic potential, and slather a healthy dose of style on top of it. Strap some pistols to Bayonetta’s high heels. Give Constantine a huge gun shaped like a cross. Apply some moody lighting and hire an eccentric art director who’s seen too many old German films and you’re well on your way.

But there’s a problem. Drawing from good source material, and having a strong style are not enough. Sure that is the bare minimum to entertain, but without something more your feature is quickly forgotten as just another mindless entry in the genre. Turns out you still need to include those oft-forgotten extras, like compelling characters a well laid out story, and thematic punch to come up with something truly memorable. Some of the features I’ve discussed so far do this better than others, but I think it’s important for producers to remember that popular topics and style alone do not make for great pieces of entertainment. At best, they can be a cheap thrill, but they will never earn a permanent spot in the consumer’s heart without going the extra mile.


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Friday, March 26, 2010

Hey have you heard about our new blog?

Of course you have; you're reading it right now, silly.

Anyway, we're going to see where this goes. Giving 4 people space to write about whatever happens to pop into their heads? Heck, it's like a microcosm of the internet. But enough blogging about blogging (meta-blogging?) -- there are more important issues at hand.

The other day the TWWM team was having some discussions about the site design, etc. (via Google Wave, which I highly recommend if you're working on some kind of collaborative internet project) when I stopped everyone mid-conversation to tell them about the sandwich I was eating. It was that good a sandwich. Just simple peanut butter and jam (raspberry, with seeds) but it was a particularly transcendent sandwich. Actually, I'm going to paste for you an excerpt from my stream-of-consciousness thoughts at that moment. I don't think I could recreate it any better for you now:
"Crap guys. I'm eating another peanut butter and jelly sandwich on this bread and it's still amazing. I don't know that I've ever enjoyed a sandwich this much before. That's probably not true -- I've enjoyed quite a few sandwiches in my day. But the bar is usually set pretty low for PB&J and this has just blown away all of my expectations for the past 2 days. And the bread was on sale, too! How lucky is that? The name of the brand is "Nature's Pride", which every time I read it reminds me of "Nation's Pride," the Nazi propaganda movie in Inglourious Basterds. All in all, A++, would buy again."
I really do think it was the bread that did it. It was whole grain, soft but sturdy with a good heft to it. I've taken recently to buying the "natural" peanut butter that has the layer of oil on the top and you have to refrigerate. It's not particularly healthy, but I think there's something quaint about buying a food that only has one ingredient on the label.

At the time I was about 10 seconds away from posting the details of this sandwich to the TWWM twitter, but then I remembered that the main complaint people have about twitter is that it's just mundane crap like what people are eating for lunch. That being said, I don't have the same qualms about writing a blog post about this sandwich because there's space here to give it the description it deserves, and trust me, it deserves it.

It's sort of a strange thing that so many people have the same impulse to tweet about what they're eating, I suppose. But if you think about it, eating is one of those primary social things that humans do, and I guess it makes sense that people would want to try to force that into social networking somehow. It just doesn't come through the same in 140 characters, though. They should come up with a better way for people to eat together over the internet. "Google Food". That would be a great new project for them. For anyone trying to transition real-world social networks onto the internet, eating would be a good place to start.


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