Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Great Sperm Bank Robbery

Or: The Movie That Was Like A Much Shittier Version Of Avatar That Somehow Still Seemed Deeper In Terms Of Theme

I nearly forgot to review Battle For Terra, but thankfully Crowbar, a regular follower of this blog, reminded me that it was still in pending. And this film is just too weird not to talk about.

I'm not going to tear this film apart. It's not going to be a no-holds-barred-critical-beatdown as seen on such violations to my senses as Spaghetti With A Chance Of Meatballs. But as a disclaimour, this was not a good movie. In fact it was pretty lame. The ultimate issue was that it felt like a kid's movie aimed at adults, and the viewership was utterly called into question. Having gotten that out of the way, I am basically going to analyse this film and draw some interesting comparisons to James Cameron's Avatar.

Alright, so the reason I thought "The Great Sperm Bank Robbery" would be a much better name for this movie is because the aliens in it all seriously look like spermatozoa with humongous, cutesy eyes. And then they all get sieged at the beginning of the movie and whole bunches of them are captured and taken away to a huge mothership (hmm... mothership, I only noticed that just now), which from the aliens' point of view looks kind of like a giant circle floating in the sky.

Like an egg, you could say.

Okay enough on that, because although there are a lot of things here that disturbingly remind me of reproduction, it doesn't seem to go anywhere and it would probably be more important to talk about the plot of the film itself.

So basically, the plot of the film is Avatar. I'm not kidding. They kind of came out at the same time and the ideas are pretty broadly cookie-cutter Science Fiction, so I will not sound like a douche and say that they ripped each other off. What I will say, however, is that for such a shitty film (Battle For Terra is pretty shitty), it has some amazingly well-developed themes and story ideas, which actually surpass any of those found in Avatar.

For a start, the female protagonist is actually one of the aliens, which startled me. The human which comes into the story quite a bit later is seen as the support role; he is not the hero, but the sidekick, so to speak. He is saved by our alien main character, and they later operate to each other's mutual benefit. Throughout the film they become close friends, perhaps even soulmates, but not in a romantic or sexual way. They are just two sentient beings that need each other to gain a fuller understanding of life. Which is one gigantic "motherfuck you" to the "I had sex with this hot bitch and now I sympathise with their race" plot of Avatar.

The models for the humans (perhaps it's a good thing I couldn't find more of them) are frankly ugly as sin, but their humans feel a lot more human. The major exception to this rule is that of the human antagonist, a general (it's always a general). He is only slightly more fleshed out than the barbarian, racist Colonel from Avatar, which is kind of like saying he's slightly less evil than Satan.


By far the more interesting plot on show here is that of the alien secret society. Throughout the film we see a group of alien Wise Ones who govern the Spermlings and issue them orders. They are the beings who are responsible (reputedly) for the Terrans living their whole lives in tranquil peace. You know, kind of like the Na'vi from Avatar.

The difference here is that we don't get our intelligences insulted with that supposed peacefulness. It turns out the wise ones have actually been amassing weapons of war for a long time, training soldiers to use them, and have effectively been brainwashing the masses into thinking everything is okay. It turns out there is actually a streak of political intrigue here and a message that no race is completely devoid of a warlust.

A bit bleaker than Avatar? I don't know, is it really?

In Avatar we are led to believe that the Na'vi are morally infallible, and barely understand the concept of war let alone practice it, because basically the Na'vi are totally unlike humans (well, the humans who are rich and influential enough to make it to other planets, anyway) and wear necklaces made of flowers while skipping over the sunset to the beat of a Tiny Tim song. Until they suddenly take up arms and viciously slaughter the humans in a blood bath worthy of the Lord Of The Rings. Am I seriously the only one who sees the irony here? How can such a crappy direct-to-DVD film beat such a popular cashcow with the implementation of a few clever themes?


I mean, before you pull out your wallets and rush off to see Battle For Terra, be warned that the script is pretty horrendous in some ways (lots of cliché, reliance on very familiar situations and character types) to counterbalance the surprising enginuity of themes mentioned above. The graphics vary from "surprisingly good" to "bad, even for a direct-to-DVD" production. The alien faces are very expressive in contrast to the creepy, action-figure like humans. It seems for every yin that makes this film watchable, there is a yang elsewhere to put you off.

So what is the upshot of all this? Do I like this film or not?

Well no, this film isn't great and I certainly wouldn't go out and buy the DVD (thus defeating the purpose of a direct-to-DVD movie). But I was genuinely surprised and delighted by the thematic depth of the script and even a few of the characters. But I'll tell you one thing.

If Avatar, with its beautiful graphics and expertly handled 3D, and highly competent cast of talent, had the depth of theme of Battle For Terra, then it would be the greatest movie of all time. Instead what we have here are two movies that are really quite incomplete, and need each other to survive. Potent, and with great potential for vibrancy and life, but individually useless. Like a sperm and an egg or something.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

And on a lighter note...

Read this. Now.

A friend of mine linked me to this a while ago and it virtually sums up everything I love about Pixar and, indeed, animation in general. If I were ever dumb enough to set up my own company, I'd use this page right here as my mission statement.
I even clipped one of Brad Bird's more powerful quotes and blue-tacked it to my monitor. It reads:

"You don't play it safe. You do something that scares you, that's the edge of your capabilities, where you might fail. That's what gets you up in the morning."

Read and consider.

Friday, October 22, 2010

So, a post about a game

That's a first for this one. I've branched out into film a few times but this really does warrant a mention. Mostly because it's mind-bogglingly, staggeringly retarded.

Surely some of you have heard of the indie game Minecraft. I've been playing it a lot lately and I have to say it is easily one of the greatest games I've played in years.

The brainchild and pet project of Swedish game designer Markus Persson, the best way to describe this game is an exploration game with elements of surival horror, the creative freedom of Lego (actually more creative freedom than Lego, come to think of it) and the best (only?) good thing about the red faction games. If you have the patience, you can essentially remodel the very realistic (if obviously quite blocky) landscape into whatever you want it to be. People have made some truly insane stuff in this indie gem, and as my friends know, I hardly play games at all these days but Minecraft has been sucking up every ounce of my spare time lately.

But you didn't write this article to promote some game, did you??

Well, no, the issue here is that last night I couldn't get onto the goddamn website or get a multiplayer server running because of a DDoS attack on the site.

The folks taking credit for this "co-ordinated attack" are none other than those lovable scamps from 4chan. Apparently, they were sending Markus a 'clear message' that they were unhappy about having to wait for updates for this game and so it would be in their best interests to bombard him with Distributed Denial of Service barrages effectively crippling the site, and in particular sales of the game, for several hours. This would therefore (?) coerce him into working harder on the game and releasing the updates faster.

One theory I heard is that the people from 4chan have nothing to do with this and are simply taking credit for it, and honestly, I am inclined to agree. The reasons I think this is the case are the same reasons this DDoS attack would be a fundamentally stupid thing to do if it were actually a deliberate attack from disgruntled fans:

  • Markus has been mentioning for some time now that he is planning a Hallowe'en update, which will be released on Hallowe'en. If this DDoS attack was really a kick up the arse to get things moving, then good lord, talk about impatience.
  • Updates are, always have been, and always should be a bonus to players. Patches are something we should expect if we pay ninety dollars for a game from a huge studio and our guy falls off his horse and into the ground and dies. But to target an indie developer because he's not catering to his fans fast enough for a ten euro game is just plain moronic.
  • Minecraft is incredibly playable in its current state. I'm going to come out and admit that I played this game before buying it for a few weeks on a friend's account, and only bought it last night (somehow! Moments before the DDoS attack that was apparently supposed to stop people like me from buying it). I was still overwhelmed enough with the quality and excellence of the game to happily fork over ten euros just so I could have my own account. In fact, I mostly did it just to support Markus and the indie scene. I don't care if he's already rich, he fucking deserves it for making a game I love.
  • Murdering Markus' site and cutting off sales is not going to motivate him to make updates for this game. One parallel I read which I found exceedingly hilarious is of a man who breaks his wife's hands and immediately demands her to make him a sandwich. We're lucky Markus isn't less of a man and just packed it in because of the attacks, running away with ten million euros and leaving us with an Alpha that had updates just around the corner.
  • The guy is starting a fucking business. Anyone who has ever had to sit down and fill out a tax return should be able to guess how much work that involves. He's only hiring like, what, five, six people to help him out?? If you can stand the horrifying, ageless wait that it will take for him to get the business shit sorted out I'm sure we will be getting many more updates far more regularly from now on.
I mean, 4chan would take credit for this, wouldn't they? I thought the whole "scientology protest" thing was cute, a bunch of hopeless, friendless basement dwellers at least attempting to do something meaningful with their lives, but actively lashing out against independent game developers in an industry climate where EA absorb franchises like a gelatinous cube and destroys independent game developers who make games like Minecraft out of love in their spare time doesn't even make sense. Who the fuck even knows.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Have I mentioned lately how much I hate Legend Of The Guardians: The Owls Of Ga'Hoole?

Oh, I have? Ah, but I didn't explain why.

Okay, okay. At the behest of a few followers who wished for me to elaborate, Legend of the Guardians shall now receive far more than it deserves, which is the time it will take me to write a proper review.


I love owls. If you don't believe me, perhaps the following will say a thing or two about how obsessed I am with them.

Here is a singing owl from my personal collection.

And here is a gorgeous statue of an owl roost.

Here is an owl eyemask which I wear every night to go to sleep. It's a gag about being a nightowl, you see?

Everyone thinks the residents of Owl Village are creepy but me.

I also read a lot on the subject.

This may have all started with an old Amiga sidescrolling shooter by Psygnosis called "Agony". In it, you were an owl who could shoot waves of energy and collect swords that floated around you psychically. The aim of the game was basically to be an owl and kick some ass.


So how did Animal Logic manage to take my absolute favourite family of birds (and I love birds in general), make an entire movie out of them, and leave me feeling spectacularly underwhelmed, even frustrated?

Well, it's this poisonous little word I tend to unsheathe like a weapon quite frequently on this bitchy blog of mine:


Yes, ladies and gentlemen, in my years as an avid viewer of any film I can get my hands on, and after a degree's worth of studying film and animation in squirming, pinned-to-the-wall scrutiny, I have officially lost my ability to "switch off my brain" and enjoy a film that clearly doesn't take the art of storytelling seriously. I feel insulted as soon as I become consciously aware that a writer is attempting to deliberately manipulate my emotions through the use of hackneyed story mechanics as opposed to skillful use of empathy. This is the ultimate downfall of Legend of the Guardians: cliché.

I am going to try not to spoil too much here (I have actually encountered human beings who like this movie for some reason), but it's not much of a movie-killer to say that the hero's brother, Kludd, is so incredibly lacking for any proper motivation to his actions that it is a wonder he is even there. He feels more like a tool of the writers than a character, and once you push a character into that brainless territory you seriously need to write a second draft.
There were some good messages in this film that were more or less squandered completely.
A theme that should have been brotherly forgiveness under any circumstances came out of the oven shaped more like a cautionary tale about blind ignorance. The bad guys sounded and felt like some kind of Owl faschist regime, delegating lower orders to slave labour, but the villains of the piece were not scary. Least of all Metal Beak, and if you can't make a fascist scary then you're doing it wrong. He should have been better developed, but instead it felt more like he was just sitting there on the Bad Guy platform doing jack shit when in fact, the queen was a lot more intimidating and performed a lot more action. Either something of his character has been lost in translation from the books these are based on or he is such a weak villain they ought to have cut him out of the story altogether.
The plot runs around in circles to the point of exhaustion, and by the end of it you just want the damn story to be over and done with. The characters are almost universally infuriating, with only a couple of exceptions. The protagonist in particular is a boring, vapid character, which is unfortunately a very common problem in stories; they try to play a 'straight' character for the main role, but there's a difference between the straight man in an oddball cast and the most boring character in the movie. I think Soren's dedicated belief that the guardians are real is supposed to be somehow endearing, but it just comes off as annoying. I actually sympathised with his brother until the eightieth mean quip, because I agreed with him. It was suggested that Kludd had heard the same damn story from Soren a billion times before and even before they met them in the movie, I was sick of the bloody guardians.

But enough about the story. There are other things that weaken this movie, unfortunately.

Zack Snyder amazes me, he really does. I enjoyed The 300. I also enjoyed Watchmen, I thought they were both brilliant movies (well, the theatrical version of Watchmen, at least). People made fun of his overuse of slow motion, but I actually quite liked it! I thought it worked well in The 300 and it was deployed quite sensibly in Watchmen. And then there is Legend of the Guardians.



...does the slow motion get old fast.

For a film so full of fight scenes, there is not a single slash of claws or pass of wings that doesn't lock into painful SUPER HIGH SPEED CAMERA technology porn. If the movie had no slow motion scenes at all, the fights would be far more exciting and believable. But then again the movie would be about eight minutes long.

The film looks beautiful, with exquisitely lush scenery and amazing detail on the owls themselves, but the animation suffers with certain characters like Digger who are grotesquely overanimated (suffering from that overly cartoony "snappy" syndrome I bring up from time to time). There are about three characters like this, and it wouldn't bother me as much if the rest of the owls did not move so gracefully, but it removes a layer of suspension of disbelief when you are watching something that simultaneously looks like a live action nature film and a cartoon.

The score started out quite interesting, it got a bit "heard it all before" toward the end, but as my previous post may have suggested, the inclusion of a montage sequence set to an Owl City song practically had me tearing the arms off my chair in the cinema. I actually felt humiliated to even be present in a cinema screening the movie. If anything does not fit in The Legend Of The Guardians in any capacity, if there is anything that could destroy the tone of that film even more than the poor characterisations and storytelling, it is an Owl City song.

People complained that they didn't understand how owls could fashion armour or bind books if they are just owls. To be honest, I didn't even notice that. I don't nitpick for the sake of nitpicking. I was too busy being consumed with rage over all the story problems.

Finally, the accents.

I am Australian. And the accents got on my nerves. Do people from beyond Queensland really talk like that? Or did the actors put it on a bit for the overseas markets? I'm honestly tempted to guess the latter. The English accents were no better - the scruffy kidnapper owls at the beginning of the movie sounded exactly like what they were: bad cockne impressions. It didn't help that they were trying to play a "two-man British comedy team" that fell on its face so hard it left a small crater.

Alright, I'm done whinging!

Ta, loves.

Friday, October 1, 2010

So, Legend of the Guardians.

My opinion of this movie is rather difficult to express with words.

Perhaps this will help.

What a worthless piece of shit.

Zack Snyder, you ought to be flogged.