Friday, April 30, 2010

From Around the Web - 4/30/10

Sculptor Adrian Tranquilli elegantly depicts superheroes' vulnerabilities, as seen above.

How do you see if Schrodinger's Cat is actually in its box? This post on io9 claims to know how!

A fantastic essay on the question of whether or not video games are or could ever be art.

James Joyce's Incredibly Dirty Love Letters

I was perusing the Hark! A Vagrant archives this morning, as I am wont to do, when I came across an old favourite:

As this comic points out, the famed erotic letters James Joyce sent to his wife Nora are among the most hilarious and depraved pieces of writing ever conceived. Joyce uses his considerable literary talent to verbally assault himself and his "little frigging mistress," and describes how he wants to "fuck fuck fuck fuck my naughty little hot fuckbird's cunt for ever." It's all very lewd and personal but since both parties are long dead we are free to chuckle at their private correspondences.

Or so I thought. When I was first told about these letters in 2008 they were widely available online, but when I tried to search for them this morning they seemed to have all but disappeared. Perhaps the Joyce estate has deemed the letters detrimental to the great author's legacy and had them taken down. Perhaps I was merely looking in the wrong places. Eventually I was able to find them here, but the nature of the link fails to inspire confidence in its long-term reliability. As such I am including the text here in full for the sake of posterity.

I should warn you again that the letters are extremely graphic and Not Safe For Work by any standards. Also, for those of you with high moral standards, it should go without saying that once you have read these documents you will never be able to un-read them, and the perverted ghost of James Joyce may haunt you as in the comic above. That said, you can find them after the break.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Slavoj Zizek on Vegetarians

A friend posted this on Facebook and it's too funny not to share here. I always enjoy Zizek's rants, they make me feel like an undergrad again. For more of his thoughts check out the related videos on YouTube (Love is Evil displays some particularly interesting rhetoric) or go watch his movie. Oh, he's also written a few books...

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

From Around the Web - 4/28/10

Coolest thing I've seen all day: a flash recreation of the original Super Mario Bros that lets you play as Megaman, Link, Samus, or the dude from Contra. Pictured above, check it out on Newgrounds.

A new interview with Ridley Scott suddenly makes me VERY excited about his upcoming Alien prequel(s). Engineers of space? Hells yes!

An exploration of race in Heavy Rain on a sweet blog I stumbled upon called Experience Points.

ScreenRant's annual summer movies trailer has been released and is embeded below:

Boy Scouts Introduce Video Gaming Badges

The Boy Scouts of America has introduced a new pair of video game-related achievements. The Video Game Belt Loop and Academics Pin each require scouts to educate themselves and a parent/guardian about video games. Objectives include listing the differences between consoles, researching the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, creating and following a reasonable play schedule, and comparing retail prices and return policies in order to find the optimal purchase plan for a desired game.

This is incredible news. The Boy Scouts of America is a great site for social development, both in terms of the scouts and (just as significantly) their parents. Say what you will about its aims or progressiveness, the Scouts promotes education and healthier relationships between parents and their children. Frankly it's incredible to see video games embraced by such a traditional institution. It's an extremely positive sign that the general public is attaining a greater understanding of video games, which is integral if they are ever to be recognized as more than just an anti-social hobby. There is a cultural paradigm shift taking place as our generation comes to maturity and this is both the evidence and product of the change.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Discovery of the Day: Seal's "Kiss From A Rose" Is Fucking Weird

Until today I'd never realized how insanely creepy Seal's 1994 hit "Kiss From A Rose" is. Cyriaque Lamar's list of the Top 10 Weirdest Songs From Superhero Movies ranks it at number one and there really isn't any room for debate. I hadn't listened to the song in years (probably not since Batman & Robin came out) but holy hell is it ever weird. Lamar sublimely captures it by saying the song "sounds like losing your virginity at the Renaissance Faire." Check out its music video below:

If you still need further convincing then consider the lyrics:

"But did you know that when it snows, My eyes become large and the light that you shine can be seen ... Baby, I compare you to a kiss from a rose on the grey ... And now that your rose is in bloom. A light hits the gloom on the grey."

First of all, what the hell does any of that mean? What exactly is "the grey" he keeps talking about? This whole "now that your rose is in bloom" thing sounds like he's got the hots for some teenager who's in/just out of puberty. Weird. On the plus side I appreciate it when he says outright that he's making a comparison. If there were any subtlety to it the lyrics might cease to be anything I could reasonably call language. Is he seriously telling us that he only fully appreciates this poor kid in winter when his eyes enlarge? Is that a drug reference? He treats this like it's common knowledge, like someone might possibly know this weird thing about him without him having to explain it! Like, of course his eyes get bigger when it snows, that's the most natural thing in the world...

I don't know what the hell I'm supposed to take from these lyrics, the whole thing is an imcomprehensible and creepy mess. At least there aren't that many weird lyrics, the bulk of the song is just the chorus over and over again with slight variations. Seriously it's like he's making it up as he goes along, though were that the case it would actually improve my opinion of the song. As it stands I'm just confused and a little scared, which isn't helped by the fact that the song is now totally stuck in my head. Curse you Seal.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


Kick-Ass (2010) is the superhero film for our time. It is the product of the geek-chic age, the subsequent proliferation of comic book movies, and a postmodern ironic sensibility. In a year it will cease to be so relevant and become merely a symbol of a time gone by, but right now Kick-Ass is perfect. It is hilarious, it is sadistic, and it is brilliantly self-aware.

Kick-Ass Red-Band Trailer

Adapted from Mark Millar's comic series, Kick-Ass explores what could happen if a real person actually started dressing up like a superhero and taking the law into their own hands. The results are extremely messy and give the movie a stylized "realism" through the abundance of blood and bruising that is unusual in a comic book movie. As its advertising implies, Kick-Ass is not for the squeamish. The viewer feels each act of violence upon the heroes because their wounds are highlighted both visually and narratively. Each punch has an acknowledged effect, leading the viewer to conclude that the heroes will end up dead if they keep at their dangerous quest for justice.

The film also takes great pains to ground itself squarely in the contemporary reality of western culture: the characters openly discuss the likes of Superman and Batman throughout, Nicholas Cage does an obvious impersonation of Adam West while wearing his "Big Daddy" costume, and current events like the upcoming Lost finale are discussed (hence the time-specific relevance). The result of the graphic violence and cultural identification is that the movie feels like it's taking place in our world. Titular hero Kick-Ass seems like a genuine, average high-school student living in New York (Toronto if you recognize the landmarks), and his desire to become a masked vigilante is as relateable as it is delusional.

An example of the ultraviolence in the comic book Kick-Ass

Kick-Ass critiques the fictionality of superheroes and simultaneously gives us the fantasy of them. The film's real-world grounding demonstrates the implausibility of masked vigilantes, but its plot and characters venerate the underlying moral  fantasy of the concept. The movie invites us to question the heroes' motivations but clearly wants us to support them. Kick-Ass openly acknowledges his own psychosis for choosing to dress up like a superhero, and even compares himself to a serial killer. At the same time he is a good, stupid kid who just wants to do the right thing and gets in way over his head, and so his story is more endearing than horrifying.

Other heroes like Big Daddy and his twelve-year-old daughter Hit Girl are more akin to actual superheroes but are here seen in the context of our reality. They further demonstrate the mental instability necessary to actually become a vigilante but also the moral relativism that allows us to root for them. While Big Daddy is openly deranged and has brainwashed his daughter, his reasoning nevertheless invites sympathy and she simply doesn't know any better. Furthermore, the bad guys are so one-dimensionally evil that they deny all sympathy and seem ripe for swift, painful justice. Kick-Ass may take place in our world but many of its characters are of a distinctly comic book nature, and the contrast results in a simultaneous critique and embrace of the superhero fantasy.

In Kick-Ass we are shown the impossibility and foolhardiness of the superhero concept. At the same time the movie is itself a loving product of that fantasy and embraces the very fiction it dismantles. The film gives us the satisfaction of seeing the noble underdogs get the chance to triumph over evil and their own limitations, which itself is the true appeal of comic book superheros. By both critiquing and reproducing it, Kick-Ass lets us have our cake and eat it too. It is incredibly fun and should not be missed by fans of the genre.

From Around the Web - 4/25/10

Kotaku, Boing Boing, and Professor Fox Harrell have been taking a really interesting look at identity and online avatars.

Geekosystem and TIME remember 4chan's hilarious 2009 hijacking of the 100 Most Influential People list.

MTV interviews Ridley Scott about his upcoming prequel(s?) to Alien. Colour me cautiously hopeful...

With the James Bond franchise on hiatus, the BBC speculates about who could be the next actor to play 007. Given my feelings about Sam Worthington, I am not taking this well.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

How To Train Your Dragon 3D

I saw How To Train Your Dragon in 3D last night. I had been trying to make it out to the theatre for a few weeks now, and I had worried that I might miss its run and not get to see it in 3D. Thankfully the somewhat lackluster box-office performance of Kick Ass gave me a bit of extra time. A month into its release How To Train Your Dragon is sitting high with a 98% rating at Rotten Tomatoes, and so I was fairly confident that it would be worth the $15 3D ticket price. And for the most part it was.

The film is cute. It's by far the best animated feature that Dreamworks has ever produced and yet it still doesn't approach the level of quality of most Pixar releases. The script is sloppy at times and the voice acting could be better, but overall it's a very solid effort. I laughed, I felt a modicum of emotion during the "sad" parts, and I was pleased that I saw the movie. I doubt I'll be much interested in seeing it again though.

The biggest problem with How To Train Your Dragon is that its plot feels underdeveloped. It isn't so much that what happens seems odd as much as the progression from one event to the next doesn't flow adequately. There is often too little justification for the next occurrence, however logical, which forces the viewer to forgive the movie for not using its time effectively. Instead of showing the characters evolving, for example, How To Train Your Dragon spends more time focusing on spectacle. The story makes complete logical sense (relative to its fantasy) but everything that happens feels taken for granted. How To Train Your Dragon does very little to make you care about what's happening but assumes that you will because the archetypal characters are basically good and the dragons are cute. This results in a film that isn't bad but is a lot more superficial than I had been hoping for.

All that aside, the use of 3D in How To Train Your Dragon is absolutely incredible.

This film is one of the best examples of 3D visuals to-date. Not once does the effect call attention to itself, instead merely accentuating everything onscreen. As always it goes a long way in making the fantasy world come alive by giving it tangibility, but what's most impressive here is the visual fidelity. I conferred with my fellow viewers after the screening and we agreed: only once in the entire film is there an example of the "motion blur" effect that plagues so many 3D films. It's even more jarring than usual here and so it sticks out, highlighting the impressive quality of the 3D throughout. It's really just incredible.

Avatar may have had more spectacular visuals but they were generally a lot blurrier than those of How To Train Your Dragon.

I enjoyed How To Train Your Dragon. It's a fun adventure film that unfortunately doesn't have the emotional impact I was hoping for, but does have some of the most impressive 3D visuals I have ever seen. If you like animated films or dragons or have any desire to see it at all then I recommend you go now, while it's still in theatres in glorious 3D. After that it'll lose much of its appeal.

Games As Art: Roger Ebert and Final Words on Heavy Rain

Tunnel vision?

Following the overwhelming response to his dismissal of video games as a potentially artistic medium, Roger Ebert returned to the subject in a recent blog post. After looking into the matter further, his new conclusion is that he was right the first time: video games are not art, and furthermore never will be during the lifetime of anyone currently alive. The response from the gaming community has been pretty vocal, albeit not as universally outraged as last time.

Ebert's latest post is written with the same flippant disregard that has characterized all of his public opinions on video games. His responses to Kellee Sanitago's TED talk are superficial and demonstrate that he has done little-to-no further research beyond watching the online video of said discussion. Besides reiterating his original opinion in the comparative context of cave paintings (which he prefers to video games), he mostly argues the subjective semantics of the term "art." He's open about his bias towards film, but then doesn't give video games a fair chance in light of this, instead referring to the financial structure behind the industry as reason enough to discount it as a potential site of artistic work. As though cinema is not significantly dictated by business models and economics.

In discussing Santiago's examples of artistic games Ebert makes it exceedingly clear that he has not played them. His questions about Flower in particular ("Is the game scored? ... Do you control the flower?") demonstrate a complete lack of familiarity with the game. He hasn't bothered to educate himself in a practical sense and so of course his opinion hasn't changed. In order to understand games one has to play them, as the experience of engaging with the interface is equally important to understanding of the work behind the project or the meaning conveyed therein. Judging a game without playing it would be like saying you've seen a movie after looking at a series of still frames.

In Flower you control, you guessed it, a flower petal blowing in 
the wind and try to spread beauty to your surrounding environment

That's actually a point I was planning to make in the context of Heavy Rain. Having played through the entire game and now gotten some distance from it, I want to return to my earlier points about what the game accomplishes.

I spoke a lot about causality and the freedom that Heavy Rain gives the player to make choices and explore their consequences. Having played through the entire game I can now say that the degree to which the game allows you to make decisions with branching narrative impacts is somewhat less than I initially believed. There are certainly an incredible number of choices to make and different endings to the story they can result in, but some of the most important ones are more clearly indicated and binary than I expected. The story is also severely flawed in ways that have been well-documented online.

Despite all of these criticisms, however, I still contend that Heavy Rain represents a significant artistic achievement in gaming. It has many problems, granted, and in a lot of ways it fails to transcend being an obviously rule-based, linear narrative video game. But all of this is easy to say after-the-fact and says nothing of the actual gaming experience. It is in the engagement with Heavy Rain that the game achieves something that I would call art.

In Heavy Rain there are choices and consequences, 
but none of them are wrong in the traditional sense

Regardless of the flawed narrative or frustrating control scheme, Heavy Rain draws you into the experience in a way that few games can. It is incredibly immersive because while you're playing you really do believe that your actions have serious narrative consequences. You feel the weight of every decision in a simultaneously realistic and dramatic sense, and so every choice is compelling. It's easy to criticize the game once you've explored every option and witnessed firsthand its limitations, but in the act of playing the game it makes you feel and consider your options even as you control your actions. That's only one approach to the question of creating art with a video game, but it is a far cry from the winning or losing binary that Ebert describes.

My point is that the actual playing of games is an integral aspect of the medium, and so any question as to their quality, content, or artistic achievement cannot ignore this facet of the experience. If an interactive medium can force you to question and consider our real world existence in any form then is that not art? Again the debate boils down to subjective semantics, but to me art is that which colours human life by appealing to our senses, thoughts, and emotions. It works upon us through the cognitive faculties that give us our very being. I think Mr. Ebert is wrong in saying that video games cannot achieve this.

I have played games that have affected me, made me pause and reconsider my beliefs. Braid forced me to question my memories and thus myself, while playing Bioshock drove me to think about human nature. Through Heavy Rain I explored the nature of causality and the power of choice. These are meagre artistic accomplishments for what is admittedly an infantile medium, but they are important ones nonetheless. They show that there is potential for great things in interactive entertainment, just as there is potential in all forms of the arts.

The lovely and poignant Braid forces us to question our memories and actions 
by using the flow of time as both a plot point and a game mechanic

That the majority of productions are schlock and the industry is dictated by financial gain is simply not enough reason to discredit what good there is or what good there could be. Video games deserve a chance for recognition and in order for that to happen they have to be considered on their own terms. They need to be given the benefit of the doubt, and above all else they need to be played

The debate as to whether or not games can be art goes on, and likely will continue to for a long time to come. I have made it clear where I stand, and will continue to do so with my Games As Art posts. Now, the debate about whether or not art can be games? That's a whole other story...

Monday, April 19, 2010

From Around the Web - 4/19/10

Greg Kasavin, a producer for 2K Games, has started an interesting blog called Truth, Love, and Courage: Games as Stories. His latest post, on villainy in gaming, is an interesting exploration of the concept in a literary sense from a design standpoint. Good stuff.

The RIAA and MPAA continue their ongoing streak of utter lunacy by making a proposal that I would normally discount outright as preposterous. But then this is the RIAA we're talking about, sheer insanity is kind of their MO.

The Lower Merion School District in Pennsylvania has been using webcams on MacBooks issued to high school students in order to spy on them. No joke, this is one of the more unbelievable stories I've heard in a while.

Just a few quick links to two awesome musicians I've been listening to lately, Jadea Kelly and Jack Marks.Check em out, they're great!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Movies I Love: The Descent

Interplay announced today that their 1995 classic Descent will be coming to the Wii this fall. I have a lot of history with this game and its 1996 sequel so I was more than a little excited to hear this news. That's not what this post is about though, I just wanted to gush in print. When I went to to read about these amazing games I stumbled upon the review page for Neil Marshall's similarly named 2005 film, The Descent. I was so horrified to see its meager 71% rating that I decided to make this post about how much I adore this claustrophobic modern classic.

To give a quick summary, The Descent is the tale of six women who go on a caving expedition in North Carolina. Tensions within the group create an uncomfortable atmosphere as they descend into the Earth, and the situation only gets worse when they become trapped in an unexplored cave system. Their only chance is to go deeper into the unknown in hopes of finding a new way out...

That's all I'm going to say about the plot of The Descent because the less you know going-in the better. It exponentially improves your experience of the film if you go in fresh, and quite frankly even my brief synopsis is saying too much. Trust that the movie is great and if you like horror films you would be foolish not to check it out. Now I want to briefly (and vaguely) discuss why:

The Descent is a masterpiece in tension building. The film presents a set of real characters with compelling internal conflicts that slowly come to a head in a perilous situation. The setting echoes this rising tension with its ever-increasing hostility: the rock shift that traps the women underground adds to the overwhelming claustrophobia, and as they get deeper into the unknown cave system the darkness becomes more mysterious and terrifying. Marshall drags all of this out for over an hour before he lets all of his pieces come together in a gut-wrenching and unforgettable climax. The Descent's pacing gives you enough time to emotionally invest in the characters, and the ruthless conclusion will leave you stunned and horrified.

The film's largely-minimalistic cinematography is also one of its highlights. The Descent was shot almost entirely on sets composed of imitation rocks that combined to form whatever cave formations were called for by the script. They elegantly recreate the claustrophobia of being underground, but it is the use of darkness that really nails the atmosphere.The screen is often dominated by blackness that is at once beautiful and terrifying, and evokes our most primal fears of the unknown. I honestly cannot think of a better use of negative space in film. There are also some gorgeous shots of North Carolina in the film's opening scenes, and a few memorable point-of-view shots using the night-vision on a hand-held camera. The Descent is a terrifying visual monster that should be experienced on the big screen or in beautiful high definition.

Those are some of my reasons for adoring Neil Marshall's The Descent. It's an incredible little film that is horrifying for all the right reasons. I hope that you watch it and enjoy it as much as I have. Now I'll leave you with just a few things to be mindful of for your first viewing:

Above all else do your best not to know too much about the film going in. Even the information contained in this article is probably too much. I promise you'll enjoy it so much more if you go in as uninformed as possible. Additionally you should make sure that you watch the original British cut of the film. When they brought it over to America they fundamentally altered the ending in a way that severely limits its affect. Seriously, see the British version, it's a much better film. As far as I'm aware both versions are included with every release of the movie for home viewing, so the original shouldn't be hard to find.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Weekly Quandry: Irrelevance Through Influence?

I was perusing io9 this morning and found a post by Marc Bernardin on the idea of a Starship Troopers TV show. For the uninitiated, Starship Troopers is Robert Heinlein's 1960 Hugo Award-winning novel about a boy named Juan Rico who joins the military in his futuristic society. The text depicts his entrance into and ascension through the ranks of the armed forces, who are at war with an alien species known as the Klendathu. Bernardin's piece pointed me towards another post on io9 in which Josh Wimmer gives a fantastic breakdown of the novel for anyone who hasn't read it. You can also check out Wikipedia, or just read the book. I strongly encourage the latter because it is an incredible text and nothing like Paul Verhoeven's 1997 "adaptation" (which for the record was also completely awesome in its own way).

Bernardin asks why there has never been a faithful adaptation of Heinlein's novel, particularly as a high-budget television series like the recent Battlestar Galactica reboot. He mentions the fact that the novel has been hugely influential as a major selling point for a new adaptation, arguing that because its products have been so successful (ie Avatar, or just about anything sci-fi that James Cameron has ever done) therefore the progenitor should be a sure thing. I found myself disagreeing with his logic, and thinking that the core elements of Troopers might actually be over saturated in a market so heavily influenced by it. If we've seen aspects of Heinlein's work in everything from Aliens to anime then have we reached the point at which Starship Troopers ceases to be able to bring new ideas to the table?

Which bring me to this week's quandry: is it possible for a text to be so influential as to render itself irrelevant? I don't mean to say that Starship Troopers or texts like it are not worth reading, far from it. But in terms of new cultural products, is there anything else that these kinds of classic texts have left to offer? What is there left to say that hasn't already been addressed in a whole spectrum of mediums?  I use Starship Troopers as my primary example, but there are other texts/films/etc that this question could be asked of, such as I Am Legend (each new adaptation of which continues to further drive this point home) or Neuromancer (which was pretty much done in forever by The Matrix). Is there a point to returning to these classics for their own sake, or have they been rendered irrelevant by their intellectual offspring?

Sound off and let me know.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Hyperlinking = Publication?

The Montreal Gazette reports that the Supreme Court of Canada will hear the case of Wayne Crookes vs. Jon Newton. Crookes, an amusingly named Vancouver businessman, contends that Newton is guilty of libel for linking to "reputation-smearing articles" on his website. Crookes' basic argument is that Newton took on publishing responsibilities for the original articles when he failed to remove links to them in a post about (ironically) freedom of speech. There is no word on whether or not Crookes filed suit against any of the actual articles themselves.

The logic in all this escapes me, but then I'm just a blogger. Linking is clearly not a form of publication, if anything it is more akin to a form of citation. The British Columbia Court of Appeal must have seen things similarly when they ruled against him in 2008. Now, however, the Supreme Court has deemed the case worthy of consideration on a higher level.

It's absurd to think that Crookes might actually win, but it's worth noting that the case has gotten this far. This will represent the Supreme Court of Canada's first pronouncement on freedom of speech on the internet, and it will set an important precedent for how the internet is governed in Canada. Were the unthinkable to happen and the Supreme Court ruled in Crookes' favour it would essentially make Canadian internet users liable for any content they linked to. Thankfully that would only happen in a terrifying fascist parallel universe, like on Sliders

The Gazette, perhaps for fear of the Supreme Court's ultimate decision, chose not to link to any of the supposedly libellous articles, but did post the name of Newton's website: Here's hoping I don't get sued for that.

The Weekly Quandry: Sam Worthington: Where Did He Come From And Why Does He Keep Getting Work?

Note: This post has retroactively become the first in a series called The Weekly Quandry, which is exactly what it sounds like.

I've been meaning to rant about how much I detest Sam Worthington for a while now. He was terrible in Terminator: Salvation, but then everything about that movie was awful. Likewise he was the weak link in the generally stellar Avatar cast, but after my two epic rants I just wasn't prepared to do another post. Now io9 has run an article on the enigma that is Sam Worthington's career, and I'm feeling compelled to voice my opinion on the subject...

I simply cannot understand where Sam Worthington came from, and why he continues to star in blockbuster films. He doesn't seem to have appeared in anything notable before Terminator, but since then he's become seemingly ubiquitous, first starring (albeit in alien-cat form) in Avatar and now bitch-slapping deities in Clash of the Titans. Considering that all these roles have come within the space of a year I'd say he's had a fairly "meteoric" rise to fame. What perplexes me is why.

Sam Worthington is not a good actor. He doesn't seem to have any specialties besides looking morosely perplexed and yelling, and no one I've talked to thinks he's much in terms of sex appeal. One would think his lack of talent might translate well into an everyman persona, but his performance in Avatar made it pretty clear that he can't even pull that off. I argued that his character should have been written out of the film entirely, and I know I'm not alone in this. Jake Sully is the source of much of the controversy surrounding Avatar, and is somewhat useless given the overall aims of the film, so why not lose him entirely?

The man doesn't appear capable of much besides being masculine and loud, so why does he keep getting work? He's currently starring in Clash of the Titans, and is apparently set to star in a new Dracula movie. Not that he needs to considering that he's guaranteed a hefty retirement fund from the inevitable Avatar sequel(s). It completely escapes me why or how but Sam Worthington has somehow managed to become one of today's leading male actors.

As near as I can tell he starred in Hamlet, and thereby earned himself a leading role in Terminator: Salvation. It must have been around that time that he was cast in Avatar, perhaps because the Terminator franchise is James Cameron's baby. That could somewhat explain the spike in his noteriety, but maybe I'm wrong? If someone can explain the phenomenon to me I would sincerely appreciate it. It won't make Sam Worthington a better actor, but it will hopefully begin to make sense of everything. Right now I'm about ready to just blame McG, he seems like a glutton for punishment, but perhaps that's undeserved.

I realize that this post makes me officially a big fat hater, but I just can't stand Sam Worthington. He actually makes every movie he is in worse, which is saying a lot given his filmography. It's at least refreshing to know that I'm not alone in being as confused as I am, though I'm sorry for being so negative. I'm sure Sam Worthington is a wonderful human being, but he can't act to save his life.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Michael Bay on 3D Upconversion

I've made it clear in the past that I'm not the biggest fan of Michael Bay. His testosterone-fueled approach to film making encapsulates all of the irritating stereotypes about Americans: the overt racial and sexual insensitivity, the sheer superficiality, and the obsession with the military, to name but a few. His films are gloriously tepid affairs purporting to be epics due to the size of their pyrotechnic budgets. He seems to be doing nothing but perfecting his financially-guaranteed production formula, and each of his films comes at a steep cost to the collective intelligence. Bay's movies are the cinematic equivalent of McDonalds, and so as far as I'm concerned the dude can go drown in one of his many swimming pools filled with money.

For the sake of full disclosure I should note here that I fucking adore The Rock, and am thus a giant hypocrite. Moving right along...

Because Avatar made more money than AIG lost in 2008, 3D is now the next big thing for movies. At least as far as the suits are concerned it's a good way to make a lot of money, and so there are going to be a lot more 3D films in the future. In particular studios are pushing for their blockbuster tentpole releases to come out in 3D, and that includes the next iteration in the cultural vortex that is the Transformers franchiseA year ago Bay stated his suspicions about 3D being a fad, and his hesitancy to adopt it. At the time it was a reasonable stance to take given the unproven nature of the medium. On this side of Avatar, however, there is a little bit more pressure for him to utilize the technology for his next act of intellectual terrorism. He acknowledged this pressure a few months ago when he started doing tests to give the technology a shot.

A little over a week ago Bay clarified his stance on 3D, and specifically addressed the difference between shooting in 3D and converting 2D film to 3D. The former was on display in Avatar, the latter can be seen in piece of shit like Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland or the remake of Clash of the Titans. I'm including Bay's quote in full below, as I read it over at /Film:

“I shoot complicated stuff, I put real elements into action scenes and honestly, I am not sold right now on the conversion process. … I am trying to be sold, and some companies are still working on the shots I gave them. Right now, it looks like fake 3D, with layers that are very apparent. You go to the screening room, you are hoping to be thrilled, and you’re thinking, huh, this kind of sucks. People can say whatever they want about my movies, but they are technically precise, and if this isn’t going to be excellent, I don’t want to do it. And it is my choice. … I’m used to having the A-team working on my films, and I’m going to hand it over to the D-team, have it shipped to India and hope for the best? This conversion process is always going to be inferior to shooting in real 3D. Studios might be willing to sacrifice the look and use the gimmick to make $3 more a ticket, but I’m not.  Avatar took four years. You can’t just shit out a 3D movie. I’m saying, the jury is still out.”

Wow. In a stunning turn of events, Bay seems to have a completely reasonable and awesome perspective on the whole debacle. His movies are, yes, technically precise, and if he thinks the 3D cameras are too bulky for his style of shooting then fair enough. As with IMAX technology, 3D necessitates certain sacrifices and considerations; it is different from traditional 2D film and thus requires a different style in order to make it work. If Bay doesn't want to deal with all that then he is well within his rights, and frankly no big loss. It is incredibly refreshing, however, to hear his open dismissal of the 3D upconversion process. I am in complete agreement with his evaluation of that practice as a money-grabbing gimmick. Nothing that has been produced using the conversion process has been notably good, and much of it has been abhorrently bad, in particular the recent Alice in Wonderland. That movie featured sequences that were near unwatchable due to the crappy use of 3D technology, such as the rabbit hole scene which looked more like an extended motion blur than anything else.

It's not often that someone like Michael Bay comes out and says something so honest and awesome about the film industry. I just wanted to acknowledge this moment for the sake of posterity, and to highlight the fact that 3D upconversion is a shitty fad that we hopefully wont have to suffer through for very long.