Thursday, June 28, 2012

Continuity Cop...

    Everyone likes their fiction to make sense, no matter what form it takes. For the most part, it does. Writer, artists, film makers, etc. go out of their way to make their plot and whatever points they’re trying to make understandable to their audience. Badly written fiction can fly in the face of this, as can projects rushed out before someone’s considered the idea carefully or if someone’s not properly edited it.
    There’s continuity that matters and continuity that doesn’t. Ridley Scott’s recent production Prometheus is set in the same universe as his seminal work, Alien. For the most part it works as it is but there is one glaring continuity issue that goes unexplained... in the original film, the Space Jockey as it’s known, is around twenty feet tall. The Engineers/Space Jockeys in Prometheus seem to all be around eight feet tall. This is necessary for them to be comparable to the humans in the film in the practical sense but the size discrepancy is never addressed in-story. Is it just a retcon–a this-is-how-it-is-now-deal-with-it situation or is there some reason they’re smaller that was cut from the theatrical edit (we know at least twenty minutes were trimmed from the film). We might assume that since they have a mastery of genetic engineering that there is some reason for it–but at best all we can do is make assumptions. Try to fill in the blanks with our own logic rather then know for certain what the film makers intended (if anything).
    The discrepancy in this instance matters to me. Even if it were a simple line or two, it should be addressed somewhere. Taken together, this compromises internal story logic within the two films overall. It’s comparable to having a character act completely different between two acts of a story with no explanation given. It stands out and it shouldn’t.
    There is also continuity that doesn’t matter. Sometimes it can be a challenge deciding which is which and it always falls to personal perspective on a given concept. 
    Certain movies I tend to ignore in my own universe. Nothing after Aliens exists, as far as I’m concerned (Alien 3 is basically a rehash of the first and it’s story is depressing. I do concede the film is well produced and visually pleasing but I hate the story. Alien Resurrection is pointless and the less said about the Alien vs. Predator movies, the better). I also don’t care for Die Hard 4, Star Trek Generations, Robocop 2 and 3 or the Abrams Star Trek film.
    A great example of when continuity doesn’t matter is the Transformers concept. Even from the get-go, the original Generation One concept contradicted itself. The comic went one way and the cartoon its own. The cartoon was more widely seen and established a lot of the beloved character types the fans know and love today (monotone Soundwave, dumb Grimlock, treacherous Starscream, etc.) The comic was better written generally though, and many of its stories still stand up well even today (while the cartoon plots are dated in many instances). Both featured essentially the same characters in the same overall set-up but didn’t follow each other’s stories or internal continuity (it would have been a difficult feat but not impossible).
    The UK comic, which was in effect a third continuity (featuring the US comic’s stories and also stories that happened between issues of that comic but which may or may not have counted to the US comic continuity) tried following a loose cartoon continuity by acknowledging the events of the 2005 based Transformers: The Movie and even having some of its character time travel back and forth to the present. It was a cool idea but it ended up making things even more complicated in the final analysis as things that happened before the movie chronologically had to be retconned out–theoretically–in order for the future-set movie to happen and still make sense as it originally did. The Transmasters UK fan club of the nineties tried to do a comic and set about explaining how the Generation One comic, Generation Two comic and TF:TM could have all occurred in the same continuity (in my opinion they were so focused on the continuity fixes it interfered with trying to tell a good story in their fan comics/text stories of the time).
    To me, Transformers exist in several sub-sets. Instead of trying to make it all work together, I accept that the G1 cartoon and comic were two different continuities. End of story. The Marvel UK comic was it’s own thing, which related to the US one but was not the same “Universe” per se. With the advent of the recent Regeneration One comic, I now see Marvel’s comic as Marvel US G1 comic; Marvel UK G1 comic; Marvel G2 comic, which continues the G1 US comic; and also, Regeneration One comic that continues the Marvel G1 US comic in a different continuity all together. It sounds confusing but trying to reconcile all this contradictory information so it can work together sensibly is more effort then it’s really worth.
    I feel like I can enjoy a story, regardless of whether or not it fits with everything that’s come before. IDW’s recent Autocracy comic tells a new origin for Optimus Prime and the start of his personal battle against Megatron. It’s a great tale and I accept it for what it is. But there have been other tellings of his origin and I like those too for different reasons. I can’t accept Autocracy as the one and only definitive telling. It’s a good story and a good interpretation but I can leave room for other versions, if they end up telling a worthy tale. I don’t have to try and figure out how it all fits together in my personal universe or shun one for another. And like with the earlier examples, if I hate something (Star Trek Generations) I can completely ignore it or pretend it happened in an alternate interpretation.        
    This even appears to be happening in official media at times. Notice that Lance Henriksen played Charles Weyland in Alien vs. Predator while Guy Pearce played Peter Weyland in Prometheus. It is possible that one is the ancestor of the other. But AvP was released in 2004 and was presumably more or less the present time. Prometheus has its Weyland giving a TED speech (in a viral video. Does that count as really happening in this instance?) that takes place in 2023. They could be related but AvP 2 implies that the Yutani Corporation already exists in the present as well. It seems like Prometheus is ignoring the AvP movies all together and doing its own thing (which is fine with me. I hated the AvP movies).
    Will the Before Watchmen comics count in comic fans minds as really happening? DC Comics is counting on them being accepted but many despise the very idea of their existence. Watchmen is beloved by many–if people despise the idea of prequels they don’t have to accept them as part of the “real” story if they chose not to. The reverse also applies.
    Taking this a step further, we define our reality through our perspective. We gather information from varied sources then act on it. We can decide what’s important in life, be it something as trivial as fiction or even more important matters (it seems like that’s what certain political parties excel in. Not always a good thing but true despite it). One man can see himself as outgoing while others interpret him as shy. A person can be seen as a jerk by some but a saint by others. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Perhaps both are depending on the circumstances.
    As long as a story is good, I’ll like it. Continuity be damned. It may fit my idea of the “real” way it happened or it may not. In the end, it has to entertain me above all else. If it doesn’t then the rest is irrelevant.


Thursday, June 21, 2012

Never Trust a Lannister...

    I’ve sat through two entire seasons of the TV show Game of Thrones now. The budget per episode is apparently six million dollars and it translates well to the screen. Every set, every costume and any requisite special effects are flawless looking. You feel like you’re really there watching real people do real things.
    The acting is also excellent and believable (given the fantastic environment in which these characters exist in). Every actor feels like they are that character and that they were born to play that role.
    And yet...
    I don’t love the show. I think it’s because all of the characters are presented as amoral entities. Each one is selfish and opportunistic. Many are outright evil and those who aren’t are presented as naive to worldly ways. Arya isn’t that selfish, for example, but treated as naive. So is Tyrion, despite his worldliness. So was Neddard Stark and also Daenerys Targaryen.
    The show seems to be a part of the more recent belief that viewers want more realism in their characters. Realism, in this case, seems to translate to the characters being selfish and overtly grey in their beliefs. Ronald D. Moore’s Battlestar Galactica series started this trend and it continues to flourish in Game of Thrones.
    It is unrealistic to expect all of the characters in a story to be extremely heroic and selfless. Life isn’t like that and neither are people.
    But then, this isn’t real life, is it?
    I’m all for realistic acting characters in stories. Having said that, though, I do enjoy having a character who is selfless and heroic. Someone who is the moral compass of their group. Someone who stays true to their humanity no matter what. Not that all the characters need be that way but if nobody is, it gets depressing. I guess I’m arguing for the continuation of variety in my fictional characters. I want some immoral selfish ones, some noble heroic ones, some clear villains, some lost souls, etc. After all, nobody likes chicken for every meal so why should they only prefer one type of personality for their fictional characters either?
    We need heroes in our stories. We need to be reminded that we can take the moral high road in life and not always slump to the lowest common denominator. We need someone to avenge the injured woman, protect the helpless children and stand for right. There are some people like that in real life too incidentally. Human nature is inclined to justice and we want to see someone represent this quality in our fiction. Stories where nobody does–or where they’re automatically punished for trying to do the right thing are no more realistic then stories where good always wins no matter what.
    Stories where evil–or, in this case, selfish behavior–always dominate are depressing in the end. If one’s noble intentions are always thwarted, why even try? The hero might as well pack up his tights and cape and go home. Forget fighting the evil Nazis–even if they do lose, someone else will just pick up the evil baton and crush our spirits somewhere down the line.
    There are some stories I’ve seen that were written so badly that you do feel like cheering for the bad guys, of course. The good guys are cloying and right to the point of being smarmy. They can’t even hope to comprehend their antagonists point of view (which is generally bad–unless, you wrote the story to be ironic). But if evil always triumphs and hope is always crushed it makes wonder why we even bothered embarking on the journey of the story to begin with.

    Life can be depressing enough at times. I want my escapist fantasy to reflect a feeling of hope and good fortune. Something not always represented by reality. If my fantasy is drab and depressing to the exclusion of all other things then there’s no true escape. No hope for a better tomorrow.
    Give me a happy ending more often then not. Give me hope, give me light triumphing over darkness. Remind me that hard work and good intentions bear rich fruit. Tell darkness it must beware the light.
    A happy ending makes us feel like a kid again. When magic was real and we believed good would triumph in the end. We all need that feeling, especially as adults when we’ve see the depths of depravity people can sink to in real life.
    Don’t go polluting my fantasy with your grittiness and reality. Leave me with my hope and belief that people can still be good at heart despite their flaws. Anyone can lose faith. It takes a real master to build and maintain it in people.


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Of Noble Knights and Redheaded Stepchildren...

    I recently saw a trailer for a PIXAR movie called Brave. It’s about a Scottish princess with long flowing red hair. She’s a young lass, fiery tempered, skilled with a bow and a free spirit, determined to make her own destiny in life. When her mother determines to marry her off to a worthy young man she will have none of that.
    This character, let’s call her Merida, is the embodiment of the redhead archetype. The much beloved, fiery tempered woman who’s spirit yearns for freedom despite the circumstances life has chosen to throw in her path. Perhaps she doesn’t feel she fits in with the others around her, content to carry on as they do, oblivious to their own fate and circumstance. In a sense, the redheaded woman persona is a representation of many women, hoping to pursue their own path in life, unhindered by society or social convention.
    I’ve always loved the archetype and what it represents. The thought of a strong, sexy independent woman who lets nothing stand in her way. Who lives her life by her passions and wits, unburdened and uninhibited. Who wouldn’t find that attractive?
(On a side-note: Many of my early stories–many of which will, hopefully, never see the light of day–featured redheaded female love interests and characters. Eventually, as my writing matured, I started to grow out of that phase).
    Another archetype I’ve loved is that of the noble warrior knight. The endearing hero. Nothing shakes his resolve, nothing stops his pursuit of justice. He lives and breaths the very essence of all that is good and right in the world. When the chips are down, when darkness rules the very earth itself, he is the unflappable, unstoppable instrument of light that will repel evil, banish it and destroy it utterly.
    Of course it’s nonsense. The knights of history were mere soldiers, some likely better then others. All dispatched to wage war in the name of their king or other nobility. Every single one of them ultimately a killer. Goodness of spirit didn’t really enter the equation when they engaged in combat. Certainly most of them didn’t stop to question the ethics of what they were doing nor did it stay their hand as they killed their enemy. They were in a position of kill or be killed and they did what they felt they had to, given the circumstances.
    This is to say nothing of the ones who were immoral or psychopathic, murdering, raping and plundering as they pleased. The enemy being nothing then so much garbage for them to do with as they desired. Many commanders and kings doubtlessly looked the other way as long as their will was ultimately carried out.
    Likewise, hair color does not truly determine spirit. The vast majority of the world’s population has black or some type of dark hair. Certainly the most audacious and free spirited among humanity were anything but redheaded (a tiny minority of humanity, genetically speaking). The first redheaded girl I remember encountering was a ditz, if I may be perfectly honest. Not free spirited nor independent and certainly not a deep thinker.
    Still, the fantasy persists in light of reality. But perhaps that’s not a terrible thing, all things being equal.
    The redhead archetype, as mentioned earlier, promotes independence and willpower in girls (and boys too), even if on a subconscious level. The message of making your own way in life and not settling for second-best is advice that everyone can take to heart. It’s become somewhat trite in popular media but it should never be marginalized. If everyone in life settled for what they got, society would’ve never gotten anywhere ever.
    As for the noble knight, and indeed, heroic archetypes in general, we need them to teach our children to stand up for what’s right when they see injustice in life. If someone’s disadvantaged in some way, someone should give them a hand. Be it a donation at the food bank or extreme examples, like stopping crimes in progress because we have the means to do so. Children, and even adults, need role models. We need to be taught (and sometimes reminded) that doing the right thing is the correct thing. Evil men triumph when good men do nothing. Taking it a step further, are we still good men if we do nothing?
    The common thread here is to have the will power to fight for things in life. To fight for your own destiny in life and to fight to live your life free from harm and wickedness. The true pursuit of freedom in one’s life is a fight we must all undertake and never relent on, lest others decide to steer us in other directions for their own pursuits. All of us must be able to experience true freedom in our lives and know the inner peace that comes with it.
    Then, and only then, can we come to truly live our lives instead of just going through the motions...