Monday, July 21, 2008

Visiting Hawaii

I'm leaving tomorrow for a two week vacation in Hawai'i (I feel the apostrophe is important, since most mainlanders don't put enough of a stop between the "ai" and the "i" when they pronounce it). I won't be there as a tourist; I will be a visitor. What's the difference? Well, naturally, tourists tour and visitors visit. My grandparents live there, as well as a bunch of my extended family, so I'm going to Hawai'i to visit them. But if I see some nice beaches along the way, I won't complain.

Anyway, I'm not sure what my internet access situation will be there, so don't count on frequent posts (ye zounds of imaginary people who are not reading my blog). See you on the other side. Or maybe just later--whatever, it's all good.

Huge upset on IMDb rankings - Dark Knight

Stop the presses! Sure, Dark Knight made the record for biggest opening weekend box office take, but Spider-Man 3 had done that barely more than a year ago. The real shock, which has shaken reality as I know it, is the IMDb user rating of Dark Knight. It currently stands at a staggering 9.5 (from regular voters--total voters gives an average of 9.7), putting it at #1--ahead of Godfather, Shawshank Redemption, and other well-loved, long-established IMDb favorites. I don't expect it to remain there. Movies generally descend the IMDb rankings as they grow older, with many films that debuted on the top 250 falling off the list by the end of their first year. The people who rush to see the movie when it comes out are the ones most likely to enjoy it and rank it highly. Hence, as a more general audience, without such predispositions, eventually sees the movie--just before it leaves the theaters, on an airplane, on TV, or on DVD--more conservative rankings bring the average down. But still, I don't remember even the Lord of the Rings movies, which I believe each debuted in the Top 10 but have since fallen to ranks 14, 20 and 31, unseating the great Godfather/Shawshank Redemption duo. Dark Knight has done what seemed impossible. I wonder how long it can retain its crown.

> Update 8/11/08: I haven't been watching it closely, but by now Dark Knight has slipped to #3 in the IMDb rankings. Phew! The world can now go back to turning eastward.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Weekend box office comments - 7/20/08 - Dark Knight

Word on the street is that Dark Knight is set to make a whopping $155 million this weekend, breaking the current record of opening weekend box office sales held by Spider-Man 3 by about $4 million. Dark Knight did have the advantage of hugely favorable reviews and great buzz surrounding the masterful performance of Heath Ledger, but Spider-Man 3 had what seemed to be the more important advantage of a lighter tone (though both are PG-13, Spidey seems more kid-friendly) and two box office uber-champion prequels, as opposed to Dark Knight's one merely hugely successful prequel. Dark Knight had the advantage of debuting in the middle of the summer, when kids aren't worrying about going to school on Monday, but Spidey's early May opening was considered a greater advantage, as the summer kickoff would see little competition and fresh, non-superhero wearied audiences. Just before the weekend the analysts were predicting Dark Knight would come in behind Spidey 3. But it looks like they were wrong (not such a huge surprise). I am very pleased by this result, because Spider-Man 3 was kind of lame. A deserved triumph.

> Update, Monday 7/21/08 3 pm: The official final tally for Batman's opening weekend is an even more impressive $158.3 million. Wow!

One time in college, I had a good-natured Batman vs. Spider-Man argument with a friend. He was on the side of Spider-Man; I was on the side of Batman. His argument included a statement to the effect of "Spider-Man is better because it is an underdog story--Batman isn't at all." At the time, I conceded this, merely pointing out that Bruce Wayne didn't exactly have a peaches and cream childhood either, but we were soon distracted by other things going on at the time. But not long after that, I thought of the following rejoinder, though I never had a chance to bring up the argument again. And I guess that fact still bothers me to this day, since here I am about to present it in my blog:

Yes, Spider-Man is the underdog story, because Peter Parker grew up a poor orphan, makes his living selling pictures of himself to a newspaper, but has acquired this amazing power that he uses to fight crime. Bruce Wayne, on the other hand, while growing up an orphan as well, has always had more money than he could ever use and people fawning over him because of it. But here's the thing: Peter Parker was given superhuman powers when that spider bit him. And, as Uncle Ben said, with great power comes great responsibility. With his great power, he has a responsibility to use it to help humanity. Frankly, if I suddenly had a remarkable power that made me perfectly suited to fight crime, I would give it a go. I really think I would, for better or for worse. But look at Bruce Wayne. No spider bit him. He has no powers. He made himself a crime-fighter. If I were in his position, I would maybe feel the need to donate money to good causes and do assorted charity work, but I definitely would not try to fight crime, because I wouldn't see myself as equipped to do so. And in that sense, lacking any superpowers, Batman is the underdog, not the super-agile, web-slinging, spider-sensing Spider-Man.

Anyway, with Dark Knight's triumph over Spider-Man 3--at the box office (read: the general public) as well as with critics--I feel vindicated in regards to this argument with my friend so many years ago over whether the Spider-Man or Batman movies were better. Given the most recent installments... I win.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Elfstones of Shannara: The Movie

It has come to my attention that Mike Newell is attached to direct a movie of Elfstones of Shannara. While a part of me is excited, I am also feeling a considerable amount of dread. The Lord of the Rings movies were undeniably stellar adaptations. The Harry Potter movies have had varying degrees of success, though I would say all of them have been good. The Chronicles of Narnia movies have been pretty good adaptations. But Golden Compass was a disappointment, and in spite of smash success overseas, the chances for the sequels being made look pretty slim (which is a shame, since I think they would have made better movies than Golden Compass). Eragon was fairly dismal. And who even noticed the Dark is Rising? Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Chronicles of Narnia--those are classics, the pinnacle of the genre. There's some safety in that status, that even if the movie is only so-so, it won't be so cheesy as to disgrace the book. What I would consider the second-tier fantasy--and I mean no offense with that designation; it's more a matter of fame than quality, as it is just a simple fact that the public does not view the Dark is Rising series in the same light as Harry Potter--does not have that luxury. A failed movie can affect the way that the books are remembered, because the books are less well known and established. I'm worried that my memories of one of my favorite novels from my young adult years will be forever tarnished by a weak, special effects-driven attempt at a movie.

I am pleased, at least, that they decided to start with Elfstones, Terry Brooks' second Shannara novel, after Sword of Shannara. Sword of Shannara is a respectable, epic tale, but it follows the LotR formula too closely: Allanon the Druid (Gandalf the wizard) finds Shea (Frodo) who needs to take the Sword of Shannara (the Ring) into the heart of the Northlands (Mordor) to the Skull Mountain (Mt. Doom) in order to defeat the Warlock Lord (Sauron). A party is assembled to accompany Shea on his task, including a Dwarf, some Elves, and even a man with a claim to the throne of the kingdom that borders the evil Northlands. There are even further parallels: when Shea uses the Elfstones, it alerts the dark flying minions of the Warlock Lord to his location, and there's even a scene where Allanon, battling one such demon, falls into a dark pit and is believed lost. But what'd'ya know, he comes back. An attempt at a SoS movie would be killed with bad buzz before filming even started. Elfstones has a much more original storyline.

It also has women. Lord of the Rings at least had Eowyn, but since she doesn't make an appearance until Two Towers, Jackson et al. had to enhance Arwen's role in Fellowship. Sword of Shannara has one--I repeat, one--woman in the entire 700+ page book. And she appears for enough pages to act as a token damsel in distress. I can just imagine Terry Brooks being lambasted for his utter lack of females in Sword, because every Shannara book since then has had a number of strong, butt-kicking women integral to the story. They're still generally not the protagonists, but it's better than nothing. Elfstones has the knife-slinging Eretria and the key player Amberle who even, it turns out, is important because she is a woman. It's generally helpful for a movie to have at least one or two important female characters for women viewers to identify with, as well as a bit of eye-candy for the male viewers (I'd say the same about having at least one or two important male characters for the male viewers to identify with, but really, two male characters in an otherwise female cast would, if it ever happened, get a chick flick designation and men wouldn't see it anyway... unless it was, you know, a different sort of a movie with only two men and lots of women).

I would call Elfstones of Shannara my favorite of the Shannara series. Amberle is one of my favorite characters in any book. I'm definitely rooting for the movie to succeed (if it does indeed get made--in preproduction, anything could happen). Perhaps Prince of Persia next year will give us an idea of what to expect: can Newell deliver on second-tier fantasy as well as the great Harry Potter?

> Update 12-2-09: Mike Newell is no longer attached to direct the film (I hadn't checked on it in a while, so I don't know when this happened). I am not sure of the state of the project, but will update if there is more news.
> I did a little ferreting around, and it seems that with no director and no script this project is currently in development hell. Ah well. I will update if I hear of any changes.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog!

This is just about the best thing ever. I've fallen a bit behind with my posts, since there's been a lot going on at work the past few days and I've been spending my free time watching and re-watching Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog (I can now actually sing along).

I already adore Joss Whedon because of Firefly. I never really followed Buffy, just watching assorted episodes here and there, but I have seen the musical episode, Once More with Feeling, multiple times. I am a big fan of musicals. No, it's not realistic; people do not burst into song and choreographed dancing in daily life. But they should. That Buffy episode is just brilliant. So I was thrilled to learn that he was doing another musical-y thing. I was also thrilled that Nathan Fillion, whom I also love because of Firefly, was going to be involved.

The notable development is my awe at Neil Patrick Harris. I suppose he was perfect for the role--not only has he famously played a doctor (though with an MD, not a PhD in horribleness), he also starred in the original Broadway cast of Sondheim's Assassins. That's a big deal. So is his role as the emcee in Cabaret. But I never saw him in these musicals. He's delightful on How I Met Your Mother. But I was not able to truly appreciate his talents until seeing him as Dr. Horrible.

If you haven't yet, watch it. The third act will be available tomorrow. And then they'll go away (but not forever). So tell your friends. And watch it again. And sing along.

> Update 8/11/08: I should probably mention that Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog can now be found on Hulu:

Some of my favorite bits:

...Smells like cumin.

With my freezray I will stop.. the world.

-I kinda thought I was supposed to end up with Bait, but...
-I hear ya.
I saw Penny today.
-You talk to her?
-So close. I'm just a few weeks away from a real, audible connection.

So make the Bad Horse gleeful, or he'll make you his mare...

[The entire Billy/Penny conversation about signing the petition]

It's curtains for you, Dr. Horrible. Lacy, gently wafting curtains.

-And sometimes there's a third, even deeper level, and that one is the same as the top surface one.
-Like with pie.

-I want to be an achiever. Like Bad Horse.
-The Thoroughbred of Sin?
-I meant Gandhi.

Apparently the only signature he needed was my fist. But... with a pen in it, that I was... signing with.

And these are not the hammer... [you know the rest]

She may cry but her tears will dry when I hand her the keys to a shiny new Australia.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Lost Planet, and Video Games to Movies

Yet another video-game-to-movie deal has been announced: Warner Bros. is set to distribute a film version of Capcom's Lost Planet. David Hayter, who worked on the scripts for the X-Men and X2 movies, is set to write the screenplay (Variety).

A couple of in-production movies based on video games have caught my eye lately, namely Prince of Persia and BioShock. BioShock has Gore "I made a billion dollar movie franchise out of a lousy Disney ride" Verbinski attached to direct. Prince of Persia is about to begin filming, with such stars as Jake Gyllenhaal, Ben Kingsley, Alfred Molina, and Gemma "You'll know who I am on Nov. 007*" Arterton directed by the likes of Mike "Potter number 4" Newell.

I've never played any of these games, so I don't know much about them (Jake Gyllenhaal? Prince of Persia? Please explain.) beyond what I can gather from a quick skim of their respective Wikipedia articles. Not being familiar with the games, I can't make a qualified prediction of the movie adaptations' prospects. But I will comment on the track record of video-games-to-movies thus far.

It's not good, and sadly it can't all be blamed on Uwe Boll. Looking down the Wikipedia list (whatever did people do before Wikipedia?) of theatrical release films based on video games, from Super Mario Bros. to In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, the movie with the highest IMDb user rating (these are users like you and me, folks, not critics) is... drum roll... Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within--with a whopping 6.4 out of 10 stars. No joke. The "best" movie based on a video game is a box office bomb that has nothing to do with video games except for Hironobu Sakaguchi.

Let's lay aside the fact that the Final Fantasy movie can hardly be said to be "based" on a video game. The important point is that IMDb users deem all the other video game movies to be worse. They scored less than an already poor 6.4. Several of the movies are even in the esteemed "Bottom 100" with such bedfellows as SuperBabies: Baby Geniuses 2 and From Justin to Kelly. How do the studios keep producing such consistently bad movie adaptations of video games? Is there something about the source material that makes it innately unsuitable for film?

I have played some role-playing games with exciting, insightful stories and fun, interesting characters that I think could make good films (well, at least better than the recent Resident Evil). The problem is, I would hate to see any of them made into movies. These particular games allow a wide range of character development that would make it difficult for the director's choices not to enrage every fan of the game. For instance, I fear if Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic were for some reason made into a movie (it won't be), it would surely have a male protagonist (since judging from the Star Wars movies women apparently can't use the Force as well as men**), which would spark in me and other fans much anger, leading to hatred of the movie and box office suffering. Furthermore, there's the question of whether this protagonist would uphold the side of Light or fall to the Dark Side. In the game the choice is left up to the player, and making that choice adds a whole dimension to the story experience. Lara Croft is a character established independent of the player, with a look and a personality that Angelina Jolie can emulate, but in the games I'm talking about, the appearance, personality and role of the character are shaped over the course of the game by the player's choices. That is what makes these games great, and it's what makes players like me so attached to the characters and their stories. But it is also what would make it impossible to please all the fans with both the casting and the way the plot unfolds in a movie version. And while movies based on video games attract audiences much larger than the player base of the games, the gamer fans are the core of the audience and the instigators of that all-important buzz.

To be fair, movies adapted from all media face considerable hurdles. The only way for any movie adaptation to be great is for the makers to recognize the drawbacks of the medium of film and take advantage of what film has to offer in order to add enough to the story to justify the existence of the adaptation. This may be possible to do for RPGs. But how do you compensate for revoking such a fundamental component of the original story as free will?

If games that allow too much player choice are out, then games with predetermined characters and a set linear storyline, or no storyline at all, must be the better candidates for movie adaptations. The latter brings us movies like Street Fighter. The former has some potential. But here's another problem: in almost any video game (at least, the action games I'm talking about here), the story is merely a vehicle for the fighting. I don't spend 40 hours playing a story. I spend those hours kicking monster/alien/bad guy butt (and collecting better equipment and gaining skills--gosh, can you imagine how boring it would be if they included that part in the movie? And here's our hero, shuffling through her unrealistically enormous backpack... equipping a new weapon... no, changing back...). So movies based on video games like these tend to be action movies that focus entirely on the action, rather than the plot (and writing) or characters (and acting). That is not a critic-pleasing formula, and it isn't often pleasing to the general viewership, either.

The movie studios will continue to churn out new movies based on video games because, despite invariably universal criticism, some of the movies make considerable profits at the box office and on DVD. But each failure adds to the collective feeling that the genre itself is bad. This is discouraging indeed, since the "mainstream" hardly needs another reason to question the tastes of video gamers. So when will we get a video game movie to validate the genre? Who knows, maybe Sands of Time will be 2010's Incredible Hulk (I won't be so ambitious as to hope for anything more). Maybe BioShock will be a surprise hit--Verbinski has proven he can turn an unlikely source into an enjoyable movie. But historical trends are not in their favor.

I believe that a good movie based on a video game is possible. There are games with great stories and memorable characters that can be fleshed out by a good writer and director to satisfy movie standards. And now that the new fad seems to be hiring movie makers to write the scripts for video games, the products of these collaborations may turn out to be ideally suited for movie adaptations (though if a video game is too cinematic, what's the point in the adaptation?). We just need a filmmaker who really wants to make a good movie and knows how to embellish the plot, bring out the characters, and integrate the action into the film, rather than one who just wants to use the film as a showcase for stunts and explosions. A good adaptation is out there. Fans are waiting.

* Note 8/22/08: The movie has been bumped back a week to 11/14/08. Kind of a shame, since they had the whole 007 thing working for them.

** I should note that female Jedi do get some love in other Star Wars media. And that the ambiguity of my phrasing there is intentional. 10 points to anyone who understands what I mean by that.

Note: A follow-up post of sorts prior to the release of Prince of Persia is here.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Weekend box office comments - 7/13/08 - Hellboy II

Oh, before I head off to bed, I'd just like to praise the triumph of Hellboy II. The well-reviewed superhero flick was able to edge out the second weekend of the poorly reviewed Will Smith superhero movie Hancock. Best wishes for Guillermo del Toro in New Zealand.

On the other end of the spectrum, I'd like to praise the defeat of Meet Dave. Okay, I feel bad for some of the people who worked on it, but for certain stars who will still have plenty of money and fame and glory anyway, I've just got to say I'm feeling a little--sing it with me now--SHADENFREUDE!

My Favorite Things

It may be our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities, but as far as this blog is concerned, my interests are what define me. So here are a few of my favorite things.

Lord of the Rings (ah, the classics)
Harry Potter (Rowling is amazing, pulling kids of all ages away from their TV and computer screens and making them actually read a book)
His Dark Materials (I wish The Golden Compass movie had done better, since I think the other two could make better movies... though notice that it was a huge hit on the international markets)
Wheel of Time (at least the early ones... what's going to happen now?)
Shannara ("Sword" is a total LotR ripoff, but a couple others had some more original story lines)
Redwall (my tweenage introduction to the world of fantasy... I owe it so much)
Watchmen (I don't have much experience with graphic novels but holy crap, this one's amazing)

Firefly (tragically short)
Battlestar Galactica (the new series, naturally... nothing puts me on edge like a good BSG episode)
LOST (back on its game in Season 4)
Heroes (please make Season 3 good again)
Pushing Daisies (Kristin Chenowith bursts into song--what more do I need to fall in love with a show?)
Sarah Connor Chronicles (yay, Summer Glau!)
Chuck (yay, Adam Baldwin!)
I also started watching Desperate Housewives last season, which was kind of out of the blue (okay, it was because I saw Nathan Fillion)

This is actually kind of difficult. It's not like TV shows or book series where I choose a few stories to follow and devote significant time to them. I see so many movies (I have over 200 rated on my IMDb account, and these are just the ones that I took the time to grade), and because I spend so much of my free time doing things other than re-watching movies (see the final category), I love lots of movies that I don't necessarily own or view over and over again. Also, this category is definitely the least restricted by genre. Below are a few notable favorites, though the list is hardly exhaustive.

Lord of the Rings (all three without a doubt, my favorite movies of all time)
Star Wars (I'll even watch the new ones--I don't care if they're bad)
Serenity (naturally)
Pirates of the Caribbean (mainly the first one... it was such a surprise when it turned out to be good)
The Matrix (definitely just the first one)
Batman Begins (a revelation compared to the previous installments)
The Dark Knight (a dark masterpiece)
Iron Man (I knew Robert Downey Jr. was awesome ever since seeing...)
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
X-Men (particularly the first two)
Garden State
Robin Hood: Men in Tights

Baldur's Gate (especially Shadows of Amn, though as a complete saga it is unparalleled)
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (I loved both 1 and 2, though the first holds a special place in my heart)
Neverwinter Nights (I played the original and its two expansions; all three were a bit disappointing in terms of story, but I liked them anyway)
Neverwinter Nights 2 (I really liked how Mask of the Betrayer worked out; the original campaign was pretty good)
Diablo II (though I was really just a sorceress enthusiast; I couldn't get into any of the others)
Morrowind (I enjoyed it, but I haven't exactly snatched up Oblivion)
Hellgate: London (I used to play with my brothers online, but now the servers have been shut down. Very sad.)
Mass Effect (awesome. just... awesome)

I mostly don't do console games these days (since I'm kind of lacking in the console department), though I did grow up with a Sega Genesis (I was a master at Streets of Rage 2). The following two games deserve a mention on the list, since I did spend a long time completing them:
Final Fantasy Tactics (on my little brother's PlayStation)
Pokémon (when I was your age, there were only 150 Pokémon... and I caught them all)

So for the most part, I do RPGs and action RPGs (and in middle school I did whatever Pokémon counts as). I've dabbled in RTS and TBS (emphasis on "dabbled"... but I did a few missions here and there in Warcraft 2 and 3 and Heroes of Might and Magic 3, for instance, back in the day), but I've never gotten into a good FPS. And I've definitely never done an MMORPG. That is intentional; I'd like to keep my soul for now, thank you very much. (Note: to anyone who doesn't know what these abbreviations mean, look them up--it's good for you. I was kind enough to write out full computer game titles, at least.)

While some may say that it is not who we are underneath but what we do that defines us, knowing which movies and books I like and which games I've played can give a person a good look inside my head. These favorites may not show who I am, but they show who I want to be. They show what my daydreams are, and what is more our own--more ourselves--than our dreams?

All right, I'm getting a little cheesy-philosophical (on a totally unrelated note, I tried to explain to a visiting Japanese woman yesterday what "cheesy" meant... it was very difficult, especially when I tried to compare it to "corny"--big mistake), and I now seem to be digressing extensively. It's time for bed. Eleni out.

Meet Me

Before I dive into the random thoughts that I expect to occupy most of the posts in this blog, I figure I should give myself some sort of introduction, beyond what is included in my little user profile. Perhaps it will offer the reader a bit of context for my future musings.

I grew up in a suburban New England town. I have two brothers--one older, one younger. My mother is Asian American, and my father is Caucasian American (funny how the "Caucasian" is generally perceived as redundant, while the "Asian" is necessary...). I love my family dearly.

In high school, I guess I was kind of an artsy person. I wore long skirts (actually, I still do this), was in the drama club (though I've always been an awful actress), and I took lots and lots of dance classes. My participation in these activities basically stopped after high school, though I still love musicals and dance.

I went to a very prestigious college, but it has yet to get me anywhere that the average state school couldn't have gotten me or even a salary that a high school diploma couldn't earn me. I don't blame this on the school, though. Since graduating, I have been completely at a loss as to what I want to do with my life, and my solution has been to follow the simplest path. I am working in a position that I didn't even have to apply for, at a place I worked one of my college summers. It is a tiny little environmental science lab essentially in the middle of nowhere where I do oceanographic research entirely from an office computer. I don't intend to stay here forever, but knowing my laziness and unwillingness to search for anything else to do... who knows how long I'll be here.

I am a huge fantasy fan. The books I read for fun are almost exclusively fantasy. My favorite TV shows and movies are generally sci-fi and fantasy, and I devote extensive hours of my free time to fantasy and sci-fi computer games. No Sims for me--I will not waste my time with such mundane things (though I did play SimCity 2000... back in the day when "2000" sounded futuristic).

I also have this strange fascination with the entertainment business, particularly movies and TV. I'm usually only peripherally aware of current politics and finance, and I never know anything about sports, but I'm always sure to know about the latest box office triumphs or flops. You know, the stuff that really matters.

Fantasy, sci-fi, and movies to occupy me while I search for the meaning of my life... I guess that's me in a nutshell. The rest I leave to other posts.


Addendum: Meet My Blog

I should note here that I am creating this blog mostly for myself. I am the kind of person who has a very strong inner dialogue (and I do mean dialogue, not monologue), and I've been feeling the need to write down some of the many scattered thoughts I have during the day. I don't particularly want people who know me to read this blog, though--it's a somewhat strange phenomenon that a person would rather total strangers know her inner musings than her friends and family, but I guess it makes sense, since strangers, detached from her world, can't really do anything with the knowledge. Anyhow, if I don't want people I know to read this blog, and I don't expect other people to care about it, why do I write a blog? Why not keep a personal diary? Oh, that's so last millennium. Besides, I seem to default to a conversational tone in a blog, unlike in a personal journal, which I find more entertaining than a record of events. And since I'm not opposed to other people reading my blog, if ever I feel I've made a post that might actually interest other people, then I would be willing to direct interested parties in my direction.

Additional note on how I use the "Labels" in my posts:
For the most part, I put the subjects of my posts and relevant items that I reference within the post in the Labels list. Labels listed in parentheses are referred to or quoted (at times loosely) in the post, but not named explicitly. Imagine the parentheses as a nudge and a wink.