Thursday, August 28, 2008

My Favorite Bugs

My last post, which made gratuitous mention of annoying bugs, has inspired me to make this post about my favorite bugs. Well, not that kind of bug. I guess if I were choosing a favorite arthropodal bug, it would definitely be the firefly. They don't bite, they're pretty, they're easy to catch in your hands for closer inspection, and bioluminescence is just scientifically fascinating. Oh, right, and then there's the resemblance to a certain little 03-K64-Firefly class ship. But as I was saying, I'm not writing this post about my favorite insects or arachnids, but about my favorite computer game bugs.

Some games are particularly buggy, but even the greatest games can be broken. Bugs are totally annoying. They can be disastrous, if something goes wrong and you have to go back to a much older save and redo things, or if you simply cannot get past a certain point. On the rare occasions that bugs actually help the player, the player cannot even take advantage of them with a clean conscience, since it's basically cheating. But in some cases, bugs can supply us with enough bewildered amusement to compensate for the fact that something has gone terribly wrong. Here are a few of those that I have encountered.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic - Spacesuit Adventures
This is probably my favorite of all time, with actually two bugs layered on top of each other. I'm not sure exactly how I did it, but it had something to do with a party member falling behind when going out of the airlock on the Leviathan so that I was able to reenter the spaceship without closing the airlock, and thus without removing my spacesuit. In any case, I found myself inside the spaceship still wearing the spacesuit. Now, in KotOR, the spacesuit is an unwieldy thing. No combat occurs while wearing the environment suits, and the character moves very, very slowly. It's really quite an annoying part of the game that comes up a couple times to make it more difficult to get from point A to point B. Anyway, finding myself inside the Leviathan, confronting numerous enemies, I knew I wasn't going to last long moving at a snail's pace without the ability to fight. I made it through the first battle because my two party members were not in their environment suits and were able to defend me. Interested to see how far I could get in the spacesuit, I saved the game, but it wasn't long before I made it to a more difficult battle on the bridge and died. Oh, right, and then there was the other bug I forgot to mention. On top of all this, I was getting a strange bug where certain items didn't show up--they were just transparent. As I recall, these objects included parts of the floor and walls, the bodies (but not heads) of soldier-class characters, and, yes, the spacesuit. So all this time, I was basically invisible.

Me on the bridge in my invisible spacesuit, outlined by an explosion.

Since I had died, I decided to quit out of the game (I knew relaunching the game would fix the invisible objects bug) and reload. That's when it got really fun. When I reloaded, the graphics still thought I was in the spacesuit. The invisible inner workings of the game, on the other hand, thought all was well. I could run, and I could fight, but since there were no spacesuit graphics to go along with such actions, I would simply skid across the room, plant my feet, and my enemies would fall before me. Mwahahahaha.

Those dark Jedi are going down!

I even made it to the encounter with Malak while still wearing the spacesuit. Unfortunately, after one of the cut scenes, the game finally figured out that I should have taken the suit off and set me back to normal. Alas. At least I got to see the look on Malak's face when I came at him in the environment suit.

Malak says, "WTF?!"

Hellgate: London - All Is Darkness
Ah, HG:L. A buggy game, but still fun. My favorite bug was actually one time when my brother and I both found ourselves invisible, except for our weapons, and invincible. It was a little difficult to aim and maneuver but, since we couldn't be hurt, the gameplay was forgiving and we tore our enemies apart. Unfortunately, I didn't get a screen shot of it, and it probably wouldn't have looked too impressive--just some floating weapons. So here is another bug, where essentially the only images loaded were the dynamic lights and smoke. As far as the scenery goes, all is black except for the fires, smoke, and rift portal. I am front and center. You can see the blue aura around my feet and a puff of smoke coming out of my chest from my unique armor. Spooky.

Mass Effect - The Dream
I had this one bug on my second play-through (so I knew what was supposed to be happening) where a character whose body I was supposed to find on the floor of a lab facility was not there. I was pretty amused, saying, "Yay, he escaped! He didn't die this time!" but at the same time it was annoying because I knew I couldn't continue with the quest unless I found his body, and I had to redo the whole planet to get the game to load the area correctly. That bug didn't yield any good screen shots, though. But this is my favorite Mass Effect bug, anyway. I call it "The Dream". Why?
The sun of Feros was setting in the distance, and I was running across the clouds. Just running. I wasn't going anywhere, but I knew I had to keep running. I looked up and saw my party members, high in the sky above me. They were running, too. I wondered why they weren't running with me. But they were falling. They grew bigger and bigger and bigger, then suddenly they fell past me. The sky grew darker. I was still running, heading in the same direction. My friends were still running, too, but now they were running far below me. The sky grew darker still. Before I knew it, all was black around me, but for the blue sun in the distance and my friends far below. And then I could run no more. I collapsed, unable to move, the world spinning slowly around me. Just spinning... spinning... spinning...
And then I woke up. I mean, and then I had to force quit the game, relaunch, and load an older save, because that one I had loaded to find "The Dream" was clearly screwed up. But I did get a screen shot of me running across the clouds, bound to my never-ending quest to save the galaxy.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Wicca, Whedon, JLU, and Aaron Burr

So I guess my thoughts lately have been pretty scattered. I had trouble falling asleep last night, which almost never happens to me (even when I came back from Hawaii, with six hours of jet lag, I fell asleep on cue). It was a combination of three things: 1) I was worrying about spiders (hey, they do bite, and though I killed a spider that was the likely culprit of the bites I got the night before, there could always be others), 2) my air conditioning didn't seem to be working so well, and my room was too hot, and 3) I was totally stressed out on behalf of the various protagonists of the book I'm currently reading, George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones. Anyway, I'm just trying to make an excuse for this post, which will be composed of a few little thoughts I've had, rather than centered around one coherent idea (as if my usual posts were coherent).

IMDb WENN news had an article today with the catchy title "Gellar Blamed For Pagan Rise". It turned out the title wasn't an entirely accurate representation of the article, which cited a British study published in Women and Religion in the West that claimed the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show was responsible for 50,000 women abandoning Western religions for paganism. If this is the case, then it's probably more fairly blamed on Alyson Hannigan than Sarah Michelle Gellar, as she was the one who actually played a witch. I wonder, though, how many of those 50,000 were disappointed not to get all of Willow's powers. The article does point out that the show in general, with Buffy at the forefront, promotes female empowerment, which the study credits for the shift to Wicca (hmm, I suppose female empowerment isn't exactly high on the Western religion agenda). I don't know why, but this article struck me as pretty funny. And I don't mean anyone any offense in this amusement; I guess it's just the idea of a fantasy TV show causing a noticeable increase in religious conversion--it seems silly, but at the same time kind of makes sense. Of course, we can't give this study too much credit. After all, xkcd has shown that it is primarily Firefox downloads that is driving the increase in Wicca converts. Yes, folks, correlation does mean causation.

Speaking of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, ABC has announced that it has picked up new TV series Castle for a midseason premiere. Castle is a comedic procedural starring Nathan Fillion as a novelist who helps the NYPD solve homicide cases. Add that to my list of midseason shows I'm looking forward to (since we're on the general subject of Whedon, I'll give a shout-out to Dollhouse!). Sure, there are too many procedurals, and most of them are bad, but a comedic one with Nathan Fillion? Sign me up. More than any other show, I have a special interest in the subsequent projects of the stars of Firefly (Sarah Connor Chronicles, Chuck, Desperate Housewives... I mean, I even watched Standoff and Drive!). Maybe it's the simple fact that they have had more free time to pursue other projects than the actors from my other favorite TV shows. But I think there's something special about Firefly, not just in the lovablility of the characters (though they are just about the most lovable characters I can think of), but in the clear enthusiasm and passion of the players involved, their appreciation for the fan support, their eagerness to return to the story in the movie... Okay, I'm just gushing now--I'll stop.

Speaking of which, what TV show features the talents of Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Morena Baccarin, Adam Baldwin, and Amy Acker, and is not created by Joss Whedon? Justice League Unlimited! The first season of Justice League Unlimited (which I guess is the third and fourth season of the "Justice League" TV series that ran from 2001-2006) has a number of recognizable guest voice actors, including these members of team Whedon. Amy Acker does the voice of Huntress, Morena Baccarin does the voice of Black Canary, Gina Torres does Vixen, Nathan Fillion does Vigilante, and Adam Baldwin does a few different voices in a few different episodes. One episode features Vixen and Vigilante as two of a three person team, and I'm sure the episode wasn't quite as funny as I found it, because every time the two characters spoke to each other, I kept thinking of Zoe and Mal. This is not to discredit the show or the casting, since I found all of them appropriate for the parts. It was just a little added tee-hee for me. The reason I was watching this cartoon is that my brother, for reasons unbeknownst to me, came into possession of the Justice League Season Two and JLU Season One DVDs and lent them to me. I thought this was kind of odd at first, but I was surprised to find that JLU is really pretty awesome. And the preceding season was fun and helpful in understanding the setup. I gotta say, even though the JLU cartoon was supposed to be for kids and all, it had me stressed out a little, with some harrowing situations, complicated issues, and at times a serious serial drama thing going for it where I wasn't sure everything was going to turn out all right in the end. Well, here I am rambling again, and I wasn't even planning on writing about JLU at all when I started this post--I told you my thoughts are scattered today.

My last Thought of the Day is actually a little revelatory factoid that I learned last night watching Jeopardy. It was reruns of the Jeopardy College Tournament quarter-finals, but I hadn't seen it before. Double Jeopardy had a category called "Movie Directors", and since it was the College tournament they were all recent movies and I would have totally cleaned up that category had I been there (somehow none of the three contestants knew any of the five questions, and we're talking things like the director of Sicko, the director brothers of The Matrix and Speed Racer, Jason Reitman's sophomore film after Thank You for Smoking, and the director of the new King Kong; I guess most people have better things to do than keep up with movie news like me; Alex was actually somewhat impressed/relieved to see that there were college students not wasting their time with movies; this is becoming a long parenthetical). Anyway, the point of this is the fifth question, the $800 answer. And I'm guessing most people wouldn't think it was such a big deal. But I remember all too well this old got milk? commercial--which I would definitely put on my Top 10 Commercials list, if I were to put one together--where a historian sits in a room decked out with Aaron Burr vs. Alexander Hamilton art, books, and memorabilia, listening to the radio, spreading himself a peanut butter sandwich, when he is randomly called by the radio station to answer a question for $10,000: Who shot Alexander Hamilton? At this point, of course, his mouth is full of sticky peanut butter sandwich, and his attempts to say "Aaron Burr" around the mouthful are unsuccessful. He tries to pour a glass of milk to wash it all down, but finds the carton is empty, at which point he runs out of time to answer the question and the radio station hangs up. Cue dial tone and... got milk? Classic. Now, back to Jeopardy. This answer that had me laughing in disbelief was something to the effect of:
This director started out with the Aaron Burr got milk? commercial, and more recently directed the Transformers movie.
Seriously?! Michael "I-love-to-blow-things-up" Bay directed that classic commercial?! The contestants clearly weren't appreciating this bit of trivia, but I got a total kick out of it.

And now I've got to get back to Game of Thrones to see just how much deeper into trouble our heroes can get. And I'll get back to worrying about spiders in my bed. Why can't I get super powers from my spider bites? If strength of super powers scaled with the number of spider bites, I'd totally be kicking butt. Instead, all I got from these bites is the ability to walk around all day scratching butt.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

You know you've been playing too much Mass Effect when...

You know you've been playing too much Mass Effect when you see the world from a Mako point of view. In tribute to the hardiest little tank that ever was--a tank that is regularly dropped from a spaceship, can fall off cliffs and only occasionally blow a tire, is repaired with the same goo that opens tough crates and decrypts computers, and, like a cat, always lands on its feet--here are some real-life thoughts that have actually entered my mind in these very situations, inspired by my time in the Mako.

(I play the PC version)

It's true: After a long afternoon of planet exploring, I once actually sat in my car while driving down the road, repeating to myself out loud, "Don't drive off the road, it's not the Mako, don't drive off the road, it's not the Mako..." I was genuinely concerned I might do it. If a robot had walked by, I definitely would have run it down.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Movie setbacks: Harry Potter 6 and Watchmen

Last week brought news that the Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince movie, originally slated to be released on November 21, had been bumped back to next July. I had been looking forward to seeing it this fall, but since I already know what happens--since I'm no longer dying to know who this mysterious "prince" is or which of the major characters is going to die, as I was over three years ago now--I think I'll survive the extra wait. Granted, 8 months is a considerable wait. But the move makes perfect sense, after all. The problem isn't that the special effects took longer than anticipated, or something else held up post-production and the movie isn't going to be satisfactorily ready in time for the November release date. The problem, like many other current problems in Hollywood, is largely due to last winter's WGA strike. No writers in the winter affected the number of movies Warner Bros. has in store for next summer. They rely on big summer tentpoles to bring in blockbuster revenue. They had a summer opening, and Harry Potter is a fitting franchise to fill it.

But some Harry Potter fans, outraged at the delay, are campaigning against this move, with tens of thousands signing an online petition for Warner Bros. to consider moving the release back to November. The first thing that gets me is this: What are they saying? That they'll boycott the movie if the studio makes them wait until July? That these people, who are so anxious for the movie to come out that they can't bear to wait an extra 8 months, would be willing to miss the movie entirely to spite the studio? I suppose they could boycott the studio's other movies. Maybe they aren't making any threats, simply trying to appeal to the benevolence of the studio. And that's related to the second thing that gets me: One fan is quoted as saying, "They are doing this for no other reason than to make money," (IMDb). After all, the studio's original purpose was to bring joy to the hearts of millions of children across the globe. Oh wait, that was Santa Claus and, sorry kids, Santa doesn't exist (Blasphemy! I know). What gave this fan (and any others who agreed with his/her complaint) the idea that Warner Bros. wasn't doing this for the purpose of making money? Sure, I think many if not most of the people involved in making the Harry Potter movies are doing it for a passion for entertainment and making people happy through that entertainment. Partially. But movies are a business, businesses must make money, and smart businesses must make more money. Yes, we're disappointed, but maybe the wait will make the prize sweeter in the end. There's not much we can do about it, and what little we can do about it, I don't think we should. By the way, Summit Entertainment has now moved its Twilight movie from December 12th to the November 21st slot left open by the Harry Potter move. I think this move was done for no other reason than to make more money. Maybe I should petition them to kick Twilight back to December.

In a more troubling movie setback, 20th Century Fox is suing Warner Bros. for producing the new Watchmen movie, which is supposed to be released March 6, 2009. They claim that, because Fox never gave up the rights to the franchise, "Warner Bros.' production and anticipated release of 'The Watchmen' (sic) motion picture violates 20th Century Fox's long-standing motion picture rights in 'The Watchmen' property," (Variety). I don't know the merits of their argument, but a judge has denied Warner's motion to dismiss the case, so it can't be totally bogus, though Warner Bros. insists they are still confident they will win the case. What's more worrisome is that Fox claims it's not just out to gain a chunk of the money Warner hopes to make from the movie; it wants to prevent the movie from even being released. This would be a mean blow to Warner Bros., since the film was hardly a cheap one to make. It would also be a tough blow to fans. The movie has been gaining considerable buzz since Comic-Con, with an Entertainment Weekly cover and reports that sales of the graphic novel have skyrocketed. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing it. What a shame it would be if it is never released. All of that work, writing, filming, CGI, etc.--gone to waste? Speaking of which, how did it get this far? Filming is done, we're half a year away from the release date, and now they're taking this case before the court? Why did Fox take this long to act? They must have known about the project for years. And how did Warners fail to see any ambiguity in their rights? Don't they all have legions of Hollywood lawyers to do these sorts of things?

For the sake of the movie, I hope that Warner Bros. wins the case. If Fox wins, I hope they're just bluffing about not letting it be released so they can negotiate a better cut of the profits. The only reason I can think of not to allow it to be released (other than cruel spite) is if Fox, which hasn't exercised any Watchmen movie rights in the nearly 20 years they've supposedly had them, hopes to make a Watchmen film of their own. But that would put them in a tough spot, because that film had better be a hell of a lot better than the Warner Bros. movie looks like it might be--and it looks like it might be terrific--and Fox had better be willing to face boycotts on their other movies. Because even if the current film isn't actually any good, if it is never released, fans will only know the glowing promise of its trailer and Kevin Smith's rave review. And that Fox screwed it over. And I daresay comic fans can be a mite more vengeful than Potter fans. Especially Watchmen fans.

> Update: I track the resolution of the Watchmen case in this post.

Friday, August 15, 2008


So my vacation last month disrupted my posting schedule, leaving me with a few things I really wanted to talk about that now seem out of date. But I won't let this deter me--I will just post on last month's news as if it's this month's.

Nearly a month ago now, at E3, Electronic Arts chief executive John Riccitiello confirmed that EA, with LucasArts and BioWare, is working on a KotOR MMORPG.

For those of you who need that spelled out for you, an MMORPG is a massively multiplayer online RPG (role-playing game), like World of Warcraft. KotOR (Knights of the Old Republic) is an RPG set in the Star Wars universe four thousand years before the events of the Star Wars movies. The first game, developed by the renowned BioWare, was released in 2003 to much acclaim from fans and critics and received many awards. KotOR II, developed by Obsidian, was released in 2004 (on Xbox--the PC version came out in 2005) and received considerable acclaim as well, though a rushed deadline had left it a little rough around the edges. For my part, KotOR restored my faith in the Star Wars franchise amidst all the lousy movies that had been coming out. BioWare is my style--talky but with satisfying battles, lovable NPCs (non-player characters, usually referring to characters who accompany and fight by the PC's side), and a character-focused, absorbing story with choices you can make that will affect the way both individual quests and the overall story will play out. KotOR easily remains one of my favorite games.

I received the news of an upcoming KotOR MMO with mixed feelings, simultaneously experiencing giddy excitement beyond measure and trepidation, with perhaps slight disappointment. On the one hand, the KotOR universe is one of my favorites. I was totally obsessed with the game while I was playing it, and it is the only game where I have consciously felt a real sense of sadness as I neared the end--I remember taking my time on that last planet, knowing that I could never play the game again for the first time (unless maybe I got neuralized). Like most of the games I play it has good replay value, but there is something sacred about the first time you play through a game. Since finishing KotOR II, I've been dying for a sequel to be made. So much was left undone, and I can't wait to dive back into that universe. With war brewing, an MMO is a fitting milieu for the sequel.

But on the other hand... I don't play MMOs. This has always been my policy. I spend too much time obsessively playing my single-player RPGs as it is. MMOs steal your soul. While in single-player games, your enemies will wait patiently for you to load your saved game and come back, in an MMO, every moment that you are not online not only means you are not gaining power, but your opponent could be gaining power without you to challenge him. To gain an advantage, you must spend every free moment online. If this doesn't sound so serious to you, just watch The Guild. In addition to being pretty creepy, it's totally hilarious.

*Sigh*. In truth, really, The Guild somehow perversely makes me want to play MMORPGs more. It doesn't have to do with envying the lives of any of the characters, but with the fact that Felicia Day is awesome. Who wouldn't want to be like her? If she can play MMOs and be that cool... I guess my stance against MMOs is breaking down. They may steal your soul, but maybe it's worth it. Can't really say my soul has ever felt at home in the real world; maybe it belongs in a fantastic MMO adventure world, after all. Okay, that's getting a little sad... Anyway, maybe KotOR is the game that will finally break down my defenses and make me give in to the world of the MMO.

But there's another concern I have with a KotOR MMO, one motivated in selfishness and fueling my slight disappointment. In the first two KotOR games, the single-player nature of the games lent itself to a very Me-centric storyline. While the player characters were different in the two games, they were both notable individuals--crucial players in galactically important events. I was particularly attached to the PC in the original--the PC in KotORII was interesting, but since I was never really sure how much she knew that I, the flesh-and-blood player sitting at the computer, didn't know, there was a disconnect there that kept me from really bonding with her. But the MMO environment brings anonymity--each player character is just part of the hoi polloi, one of many. The focus of the MMO is on lots of quests rather than on a concentrated storyline with NPCs that you learn to love, or at least love to hate. I have trouble imagining being in the KotOR universe without being one of the characters in the original games, especially if either of them make an appearance, since they wouldn't look or act like the characters I created in KotOR and KotORII. If the MMO is supposed to be a sequel to the first two KotOR games, I'm not sure how the game developers will handle the continuity. I want to revisit KotOR, but I want to be the KotOR PC again.

Despite my reservations, I am thrilled that they are working on this project, and I can't wait to see how it turns out. I have faith in BioWare's ability churn out a good product. I just hope it doesn't disrupt my image of the characters that I grew to love so much.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Wheel of Time: The Movie? ...Oh boy

Variety has just reported that Universal Pictures has picked up the film rights for Robert Jordan's "The Wheel of Time" series.

Blood and bloody ashes.

I already wrote last month (see Elfstones of Shannara post) on my reservations about turning my beloved fantasy books into movies, so I don't need to repeat it all here. But in summary, a movie adaptation does not simply run the risk of tainting my memory of the book on which it is based if it turns out badly. In the case of what I call "second-tier fantasy" (a category not based on quality but on familiarity to the general public; LotR, Narnia, and Harry Potter would fit in the "first-tier"), a poorly executed movie adaptation has the potential, because the general public associates the story with the publicized movie rather than the niche novel, to destroy the reputation of the series.

That said, I am even more frightened at the prospect of an Eye of the World movie than an Elfstones of Shannara movie. Of course, all that's happened is the acquisition of film rights. We don't have any screenwriter or director attached or anything. Nothing may come of it (we all know countless projects make it further along than this without ever coming to fruition). But if Universal is serious about cracking a Wheel of Time movie series, they've got some daunting work ahead of them.

First, allow me to indulge in a little reminiscence. It was the summer of 2000. During the previous year, I had torn through the Shannara series and the Harry Potter books available at the time, now, beyond doubt, an avid fantasy fan. My mother came home from shopping one morning and handed me a book: The Eye of the World, by Robert Jordan. This was an odd occurrence. This was the one time I recall in my teenage/young adult life that my mother gave me a book outside of Christmas or my birthday (actually that's not entirely true--when we were in Alaska she bought me a book on Alaskan marine mammals), and she never gave me books to fantasy series that I hadn't requested. I have no idea what inspired her to buy this particular book for me, and I don't think she fully understood what she was getting me into. My first impression was dubious. As they say, don't judge a book by its cover, especially if it's a Tor book--those covers are crap (that this very copy of Eye of the World currently appears to sit on my shelf in one piece is merely a carefully placed illusion). On the book's cheesy cover was a party of people on horseback, led by a large knight-type in goofy armor and a petite woman in fancy clothes, who I remember assuming was just a princess (turns out she is kind of a princess, but far from just). This was not a great first impression. I remember, however, noting that the book at least had a map, which I thought was a good sign (Shannara and Redwall books always had maps). In any case, I'd run out of books in my other series, so I decided to give this one a shot. We went to Hawaii that summer on a family vacation to visit my grandparents, and I remember it was while I was sitting in the airport, in a corner by the window, waiting for our plane to arrive, when I first started reading The Wheel of Time. The prologue is actually hugely confusing if you haven't read more of the series (which is kind of silly, since it is the prologue to the first book)--between unfamiliar terminology, unfamiliar characters, unfamiliar events, and the fact that it's told from the third-person perspective of a madman, it certainly left me scratching my head. But once I got into the book on the plane, I was hooked. That's no knight--he's a Warder. And that's no princess, she's an Aes Sedai! And she's leading these naive people because pretty soon, they'll have to save the world! By the time I returned from Hawaii three weeks later, I'd finished the first three in the series. And these are not short little novels. At the time, they were the longest books I'd ever read, with several of the paperbacks breaching the four-digits mark (and Harry Potter number five wasn't out yet). But the world was so immersive, the detail so fine, the characters so intriguing and so varied, I flew through them as fast as I could. It was a good year.

Now at the time, I remember picturing Wheel of Time as a movie. Who would play Rand? Moiraine? Nynaeve? Selene, the dark epitome of female beauty? I also remember reading somewhere that Robert Jordan was open to the idea of a screen adaptation. But as I read further into the series and the world got bigger and bigger, and Jordan kept writing more books, I concluded that this was something best left to the unlimited pages in a book and the infinite patience of fantasy readers. And I never heard any mention of a screen version.

For those who aren't familiar with the series, there are currently 11 books in the main series with one prequel novel. Robert Jordan had intended there to be 12 books total in the main series, with a small handful of prequels and side novels. Tragically, he passed away in September 2007 at the age of 58, leaving the 12th installment unfinished and any additional books unwritten. Fortunately he had been prepared, leaving plot notes and designating Brandon Sanderson as the author to complete the series book should the worst befall him. Still, it will not be the same, and the prequels and side novels will never be written. But the legacy of Wheel of Time in the fantasy world is impressive. Wheel of Time is known as one of the longest continuous fantasy storylines (like Harry Potter, all of the books follow one storyline, unlike the Shannara series, for example, where the series is divided into stories told in individual books or trilogies), with countless complicated plot lines featuring too many characters and excessive detail. It is known to include a few completely extraneous books in which very little to nothing of importance happens (when someone asks me what happened in book #10, I tell them that the only thing I remember is that Mat bought Tuon a bunch of silk--true story). But overall, it is known as a gigantic, engrossing series that breeds intense obsession.

And now they want to make it into a movie. In some ways, it would make a great movie. For one, the story is engrossing and sufficiently original. Adventure, suspense, mystery, magic, politics, battle, romance, personable characters, and a quest to save the world--it's got it all. It is set in a beautiful, vivid fantasy world, with widely varying nations and peoples. The magic system is probably my favorite in all my fantasy experience. I'd love to see how the movie would depict "channeling". Plus, Hollywood can get its fix on casting beautiful people (no complaints that Emma Watson looks to pretty here). Rand is extremely handsome. Mat is very handsome in a roguish way. Perrin is handsome in a rugged way. Moiraine is gorgeous. Egwene is beautiful. Nynaeve usually wears a grumpy expression, but if you can get past that, she is also quite lovely. Elayne, Aviendha, and Min are all beautiful. And these are just the main characters. Looking at supporting cast and villains, you've got "Selene" (as I said above, the most beautiful woman imaginable), Rahvin (basically the male equivalent of Selene), Galad (so extremely gorgeous he's pretty)... Oi, the list goes on.

However, there are some serious difficulties in making WoT into a movie series. Did I mention that it is one continuous story of 12 books, each 800+ pages? It's like Harry Potter x 2, but not little-kid-friendly and not even comparable in popularity (there are few things that are comparable in popularity to Harry Potter... maybe chocolate?). A lot could be cut out. A LOT. But that doesn't change the complicated, complex, intertwining, meandering mess of a storyline that some poor screenwriter would have to slog through to streamline it into a workable movie.

Then there are the characters. WoT readers acknowledge that they tend to lose track of who's who as they make their way through the series. My mom once remarked how she was so impressed by the huge number of characters in Harry Potter. I laughed out loud. Let's look at Eye of the World. Main characters include Rand, Mat, Perrin, Moiraine, Lan, Egwene, and Nynaeve. Min and Elayne have been introduced, but haven't yet assumed "main character" status. Aviendha, Faile, Siuan and Leane haven't appeared yet. Important supporting characters include Thom Merrilin and Loial, and Padan Fain is notable as well. And we can't forget Logain, Morgase, Elaida, Gawyn, Galad, Tam Al'Thor, Elyas Machera, or Bayle Domon, either, since they'll pop up again later. Looking at this list, EotW doesn't seem so bad after all. I guess it's later in the following books that things get messy, with hundreds of Aes Sedai (challenge: Can you remember which Ajah she's in? Is she in the evil Black Ajah? Is she on Elaida or Egwene's side, has she sworn an oath to Rand, or is she under the control of the Asha'man?), Aiel chiefs and Wise Ones, Seanchan, Windfinders, Children of the Light, Two Rivers folk, and nobles of Cairhien, Caemlyn, Tear, Illian, Ebou Dar, Tarabon, Far Madding, Saldea, plus villains including 13 Forsaken (the main evil emissaries of the Dark One; a couple of them get short-changed though--it sucks to be Be'lal), any number of Darkfriends, plus all the nobles or others in power who aren't necessarily evil but merely working against the protagonists... I'm getting sick just thinking about it. I suppose what's more is that, while Harry Potter was conveniently told from one point of view (with a few exceptions here and there to give the reader insight into the enemy's plans) so one never had to remember more than Harry remembered, WoT switches between countless points of view, frequently leaving the reader bewildered at which character is featured in the chapter, who the people around this character are, and what in the world is this character up to and why (and where)?

Eye of the World could work as a movie. Like Fellowship of the Ring, it's an introduction to the world and a few of its characters, and the main characters are only separated temporarily. The plot is actually quite straightforward. Books two and three may even work as movies. But danger awaits once the series gets going. I am terrified picturing it. I don't know how far they can make it into the series, but they'll lose somewhere along the way. Maybe the first couple can be movies, and the rest could be done as a mini-series. Or maybe they should just make the first movie and leave those interested to read the books. I just don't think they all can be done.

Well, as they say, The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills. I am, after all, a huge fan of the books, and I love movies, so if they can do it justice, I am psyched to see it! Best of luck to Universal (it'll need it)!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Upcoming Movie: Push

Whoa, did movie producers pull a fast one on me this time. Here I am, flipping through the 8-8-08 issue of Entertainment Weekly (I fell behind on vacation), and I come across a page full of pictures of various actors posed in front of a white backdrop. The heading at the top of the page indicates that these were taken at Comic-Con. Now, normally I don't bother to read the pages that just have pictures of celebrities, but one picture catches my eye: a cute little portrait of Dakota Fanning. I think to myself, What is Dakota Fanning in that would be at Comic-Con? So I look at the little box with all the captions for the photos and it says "2. Dakota Fanning (Push)".

This stops me dead in my tracks. Push?? The Push that I know??? If they were making that movie, it would indeed go to Comic-Con, but it didn't have any little girls that Dakota Fanning would pl-- Oh, of course, it had that spunky little too-old-for-her-age 13-year-old, whom Dakota Fanning, being a spunky little too-old-for-her-age now-14-year-old, would be perfect for... But no way, how could this have slipped by me? A quick trip to IMDb, while not giving me as much information as I'd like, answers the relevant question: Yes, the sci-fi thriller script that I read two years ago, that I thought could make a really cool movie, is now in post-production, scheduled for release on February 6, 2009.

Sweet. Push stars Chris Evans in the lead role, supported by Camilla Belle and Dakota Fanning, with Djimon Hounsou playing the lead antagonist. While I have somehow never seen any movie with Chris Evans in it (I will get around to Fantastic 4 someday... I was so psyched about it until the first came out to such horrible reviews... Why Jessica Alba?!), I have had my eye on him for several years. I found him notable in that he had leading man roles, as opposed to leading kid roles, in his early 20s. (It's related to that phenomenon where an 18-year-old girl can be a leading lady, but men that age still look like kids; consider that, though Shia LaBeouf is just one year younger than Keira Knightley and a year and a half younger than Scarlett Johansson, the year 2003 saw the release of Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, Lost in Translation, and--wait for it--Holes... but I digress). I haven't had an interest in anything Camilla Belle has been in, but I won't hold that against her. I think Dakota Fanning should be good in her role, and Djimon Hounsou is very promising as the villain. With a cool script with a clever story and a strong cast, it's a good start. But having seen a beloved fantasy novel given a very strong cast but turned into a disappointing movie, I am cautious about getting my hopes too high. How the movie turns out, of course, will be largely dependent on how it is realized--the look, the tone, the pace, the action, the time paid to character development, etc., etc. Director Paul McGuigan has a few credits including Lucky Number Slevin under his belt, which makes me not ecstatic but at least hopeful.


Now, about the story of Push. It would probably be bad form for me to give away too much, plus I don't know how much has been changed between the original script and the actual movie, so I'll only say what I think 1) will not have been changed greatly in the final cut and 2) wouldn't give away anything that would make anyone mad.

Push is set in modern times in Hong Kong (original script was Beijing). During WWII, Nazi researchers experimented in the development of psychic abilities, and since their fall, other governments have continued the research with their own experiments, using genetic modification to endow humans with psychic abilities. Most of the agents put under the genetic alteration die, but those who survive become valuable psychic agents for their governments. Many, however, have fled the government agencies that made them and have taught their children, who inherit the abilities, to do the same. The story centers around Nick Gant (Evans), an American psychic hiding in Beijing from the U.S. psychic agency, Division. Nick is a Mover--a telekinetic. Fanning plays Nick's friend Cassie Holmes, a thirteen-year-old who as a psychic has been through enough to give her a perspective and attitude far beyond her years. She is a Watcher, able to catch glimpses of the (frequently changing) future. She finds Nick in Beijing because she believes he can help her find a woman that Division, which has incarcerated Cassie's mother, wants her to find. As Cassie predicted, Nick does run into this sought after woman, who turns out to be his old flame Kira (Belle) seeking his help to escape Division and find a cure for a mysterious ailment she has developed. Kira is a Pusher, able to "push" memories into a person's mind (hence the movie's title). On her tail are two Division Sniffer agents, who can psychically track individuals, and Agent Carver (Hounsou), another Pusher. Division also ropes in a dangerous mercenary Chinese family of psychics to help catch Kira. Nick, Cassie, and Kira, with a few other friends scattered around the city, must use their different abilities to save Kira from her pursuers, and maybe even make a little money while they're at it.

Note: In the actual movie, there is no monetary reward in the end as there was in the original script; the heroes do everything just to help bring down Division.


Now I'll address some Frequently Asked Questions, or at least what I would ask myself or expect would be asked frequently.

Q: Is this a ripoff of Heroes?
A: Hardly anything is totally original these days, least of all Heroes. Let's just say that anything that Push has in common with Heroes had already been done long before Heroes. If that isn't enough, considering the fact that the script made it to me before Heroes made it onto TV, it's probably safe to say that the script was written before Kring pitched Heroes to NBC. So in short, no.

Q: Okay smahtie, is this a ripoff of X-Men?
A: *Sigh*. I don't imagine X-Men was completely original either, but I'm not helping much with these protests, so I'll give a proper response. Let's examine some relevant differences. For one, the origins and pervasiveness of the powers are different. In X-Men, the powers are the result of an unexplained genetic mutation that manifests itself in adolescents. Random people all over the world are suddenly discovering that they have any number of amazing powers. Heroes is similar, with a couple notable differences: the genetic anomalies have existed for hundreds and hundreds of years at least, and Heroes may discover their powers at a wide range of ages (usually at a time that makes them just as inexperienced as all the other Heroes who have to work with them to save the world). In Push, the powers are the result of genetic experiments. The only people with psychic powers are those who were experimented upon and their descendants. This leads to another difference from X-Men (and Heroes): the place of the people with powers within society. In X-Men, the general public fears the mutant condition like a pandemic. In Heroes, the Heroes work to keep their powers under the radar to avoid causing a panic. In both, as people discover their powers, they are bewildered and in many cases desperately need to find others like them to help them through their changes and trials. In Push, the psychics are outcasts and number few enough to keep under the radar. And since they generally learn about their powers from the agencies or their parents, there are no surprises, and no psychics desperately trying to learn what's happening to them. This difference strongly affects the feel of the story and the tone of the world that the psychics of Push are living in. Furthermore, the variety of powers is much more limited in Push. Since all of the powers are the result of experiments to create psychics, all of the powers are psychic-related. Powers in Heroes are much more varied, and even more so in X-Men. Push has no time stoppers, no super-sonic fliers, no electricity slingers, and no power stealers (or brain-slicing power stealers). Nor does it have any laser-shooters, blue-furred beasts, or people who walk through walls. The controlled variety of the powers makes them somehow more--dare I say it?--"realistic". Lastly, I'll point out that, unlike the X-Men and the Heroes heroes, the protagonists of Push aren't out to save the world. They're trying to lay low and get by. In this way, it's like comparing Star Trek to Firefly (though the Heroes and X-Men aren't Federation military or anything... please don't look too hard into that comparison, it doesn't go very far). All of these differences give Push a grungier, rawer tone and an edgy, more real-world feel than Heroes and the X-Men movies (there are so many X-Men comics that I won't make the mistake of implying that there aren't any grungy or edgy comic incarnations).

Q: Did you just call psychic powers "realistic"?
A: Okay, this was merely in comparison to powers in some other universes. The limited powers make the universe a little easier to imagine--they're significantly scary, but not so world-altering that you can't really imagine what it would be like if they actually did exist. Plus, the limited array of powers gives the universe a more controlled environment. I feel there is a difference between being able move things with your mind and being able to shoot from your eyes beams of red energy from another dimension that can punch through almost anything except your eyelids or a good pair of sunglasses. But I do use "realistic" rather loosely.

Q: The movie is named after the "push" ability, but just giving someone a memory of something that didn't really happen sounds kind of lame. What's the big deal?
A: "Pushing" is a subtler ability than straight mind control but when used well is quite effective. If I made you think that I was your sister, how would you treat me? If I instead made you remember that I was the murderer of your beloved sister, then how would you treat me? Besides, I think Pushers may be able to push small thoughts or ideas into people's minds as well--little suggestions like Don't you want a cup of coffee right now? or something.

Q: What are all the powers in Push?
A: These are the different kinds of psychics in the original script [Edit: names changed for the movie are in brackets]:
Movers - telekinetics
Watchers - see the future
Pushers - push memories/ideas into people's minds
Healers [Stitchers] - heal people
Sniffers [Sniffs] - track people
Shadows - can hide people from Sniffers and Watchers
Wipers - erase memories
These last two powers didn't have cute little titles in the script, so these are the names from the official movie promotion:
Bleeders - emit a piercing screech that bursts blood vessels, giving opponents a nosebleed... and much worse, if subjected to the effect for too long
Shifters - can temporarily alter the way objects appear.

Q: Did I hear that Dakota Fanning gets drunk in this film? And what's with all that leg she's showing in the movie stills? She was--what?--thirteen when she filmed this? Is that appropriate?
A: No, I don't suppose it is appropriate, but that's the character. As I said, Cassie is old beyond her years and pretty badass. She's making her way through the streets of Beijing alone. And as Fanning explained herself in an interview, the drinking is related to Cassie's powers; like her mother, Cassie's Watcher powers get clearer the drunker she gets (perhaps it has to do with letting loose her inhibitions, or maybe in a strange way the less clear the present becomes, the clearer the future is). In a desperate situation, she will get herself drunk as a last resort. I get the feeling that Cassie's naughtiness was toned down in the movie. In the script, she smoked cigarettes, and I recall her drinking more than simply as a last resort. From what I can gather (mainly a lack of controversy surrounding the issue), they've done away with the smoking thirteen-year-old, which is not surprising since there are strong movements to decrease smoking in movies because it encourages young people to smoke and having a young heroine smoke in a movie would be doubly bad.


Well, that's all for now I guess. Judging from the script, Push has potential, and its edgy sci-fi/fantasy action genre is right up my alley. A February release date isn't exactly a vote of confidence, but movies like 300 excelled in March, so who knows? With a promising cast and creative team, here's hoping that it'll deliver. I've got my eye on this one.

Edit 10/18/08: You can watch a trailer here.
Edit 12/6/08: Another trailer here.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Challenges of The Dark Knight

I know, I know, here I am talking about the record-breaking Dark Knight again. But now I've actually seen it. I would have seen it opening weekend, but my family had agreed to wait to see it until we all got to Hawaii, so our first day there, we didn't hit the beach, we hit the theater. And yes, the hype isn't just hype. It's that good. And yes, Heath Ledger is, indeed, very creepy and very good. And this is the same guy who did Ennis Del Mar and Casanova? Such a shame to lose such a talent. Anyway...

The moral dilemmas presented in the movie really stood out to me. How Batman was in part at fault for the drastic measures of Gotham's criminals, the Joker's deal to stop killing if Batman revealed himself, the morality of killing one man to save many, the choice to save one of two people, a variation of the Prisoner's Dilemma, plus the questionable tactics that the good guys were willing to use to bring down the Joker, including invasion of privacy, telling horrible lies to loved ones...

(SPOILER ALERT this paragraph only, for the last 3 human beings on the planet who haven't seen the movie; also a Mass Effect spoiler for any who haven't yet visited a beautiful little paradise called Virmire but intend to at some point): The situation in Dark Knight that resonated most with me was when Batman had to make a choice to save either Harvey Dent or Rachel. He only had time to make it to one of them, and the police were obviously not competent enough to save the other one (there can be only one Bat-Pod). Mass Effect recently put me in a situation like this: the enemies are closing in both at the perimeter of the Virmire base, where one of your dear friends is staked out, and in the base landing zone, where another of your friends has just set a nuke to blow the entire base and perimeter area to Hades Gamma. Both of these NPCs have been with you since the intro mission. You only have time to save one of them from attackers while Joker (um, a different Joker entirely--your pilot) flies your ship in to whisk you off before the nuke blows. I was shouting at the game in disbelief as I realized the choice I had to make. Ultimately, the choice was no harder for me than Batman's choice--I was romancing one of the characters, so naturally, I had to save him. This did not, however, make me feel any better about my decision (I become very attached to my NPCs), especially since said love interest just had to point out that now we had to live with the fact that Ashley died because of our feelings for each other. Just tear my heart out, why don't you? Anyway, Mass Effect luckily had no Joker twist where you save the WRONG ONE (though in a video game, this wouldn't be a problem: just RELOAD; movies, like Real Life, have no reload). I don't know why I didn't expect that Rachel would be the one to die and Dent the one saved (I did know, of course, that he would live, but that didn't mean that Rachel would necessarily die!), but when Batman burst in to the room with Harvey Dent, it just about killed me. Can you imagine?! It must be one of the most unbearable tortures to live with the knowledge that you could have saved a loved one but instead unintentionally signed their death sentence. The Joker knew exactly what he was doing.

Anyway, Dark Knight was an amazing movie. It has so far repeatedly blown away all records: biggest opening weekend, fastest to $200 million, fastest to $300 million, fastest to $400 mil... The big challenge will be beating Titanic's total box office take. They say it all depends on repeat viewings. Unfortunately, this puts Batman at a disadvantage. While fanboys are one of the most fanatic audiences out there, nothing compares to teenage girls in love with Leo. I was in middle school at the time, and I remember girls boasting about how many times they'd seen it, like it upped their cool factor or something.

"I saw Titanic 8 times."
"That's nothing. I saw it 10 times!"
"Well, my cousin said she saw it 16 times."

I am pleased to say that I saw it only once. Which made me some kind of freak. No joke: I remember seeing a cartoon around the time, can't remember what comic strip it was, but it had these mock freak show displays, where in place of the bearded woman and such it had "freaks" that each provided some silly commentary. One of them was a girl sitting in a chair with a book (and wearing glasses, of course) who was labeled "Teenage girl who saw Titanic only once".

It is unlikely that Dark Knight will best the Titanic domestic box office receipts, but here's hoping. It certainly deserves any titles it gets.