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Mid-Season Finales

Do you remember a time when television seasons were actual a full thirteen episodes instead of six? When you didn’t have to wait for the “summer season” six months later? I do. And to be honest, I’m frustrated on many different levels.

But in order to explain, I need to go back a couple of years. In 2007 the Writers Guilds Of America (both East and West) declared a strike against corporations like CBS, MGM and others. I could get into a lot of jargon but the meat of the problem was that writers’ salaries were being lowered while corporation’s profit margins were increasing. One key issue was the arrangement of profit on the blossoming DVD market, and the definitions of new media like torrents and the legal status of downloading films on the Internet.

As a fellow writer (and one that hopes to make a living off writing), I support these writers who sought to maintain a foothold in the ever-shifting quagmire of monetary equality. As a television fan I am frustrated of the model of distribution that followed. Seasons were no longer spread over 13 episodes but divided into two segments of 6 episodes separated by a space of six months. This is the core of my frustration.

Any drama teacher will tell you that success depends on momentum. The beginning of a tale starts small, then each succeeding segment outdoes the first, and so on and so forth until the finale which takes all the previous material and unites it together in a conclusion that is certain to drop jaws and wrench hearts. It is the basic formula for writing.

The current version of the formula dilutes the impact of the drama by revealing the final, plot-centric suspense too early. For example, the show Doctor Who has had fans eagerly awaiting the truth behind the character of River Song ever since she debuted in 2008. The show featured strategic involvement in the episodes in which Song starred in, adding to the mystery of the character without revealing any hints of who she really was. All of this preparation was to get fans drooling to the moment when the mystery was finally revealed.

Only it wasn’t the season finale. It was the mid-season finale. The penultimate moment was robbed of it’s drama by revealing the truth too soon. It was cut short by episode placement, instead of allowing the mystery to peculate. Now it was, “oh, River song is really (spoilers). Time to move on.” This frustrates me as a writer because it damages the writing formulas set down by the beginning of the written word. And while I’m sure the writers of Doctor Who still have an ace or two up it’s sleeves, I can’t help but think that the truth of River Song would have been more meaningful if revealed as a cliffhanger instead of being a neat little package all tied up with a bow.

New Ultimate Spider Man

As much as I’m loath to admit that the Ultimate Universe’s Peter Parker could actually be dead, I have to admit it was a daring move to make on the part of Brain Michael Bendis (forerunner of the Ultimate Spider Man comic), and that, for now, there’s a new Spider Man in town.

However, it just so happens that some new information has surfaced that disturbs me. And before I go any further I want to add that the next few paragraphs didn’t come from any source. These ideas are mine, derived from information I read from online documents. In no way am I defending or rejecting any political standpoint.

Parker’s successor Miles Morales is biracial.  With the current state of affairs between the US and foreign nations, detractors believe that Morales’ biracial nature is in some way a slander to white-skinned heroes. I don’t know the reasons for their outrage, but if I had to guess, I would say the outrage is that they see Miles’ creation is Marvel”s pathetic attempt to cover all the bases, and put a positive spin on international relations. In short, these detractors are angry because they believe that if the political state of affairs weren’t such a public part of our lives, that Miles Morales would never be created in the first place.

I ask again: what is the problem? Spider Man is not about skin color. It’s about using power responsibly. It’s about how the everyman suddenly thrust into a situation where he can make a difference. Parker struggles with debt, gets colds, fights with his wife, eats cheeseburgers just like anybody else. If anything  Parker’s greatest weakness is also his greatest strength: he takes his responsibility too seriously. Then again Spider Man wouldn’t be Spider Man if he picked and chose who was worth saving and who wasn’t.

So Miles Morale is half African-American and half Hispanic. So what? People see what they see. And if people think it’s some sort of political or racial violation having Miles Morales as biracial, then they don’t need to read the book, now do they?

The Bigger The Better

The Final Fantasy III video game (known in Japan as Final Fantasy VI) had everything a RPG fan wanted: customizable spell system, great music, engaging battle systems, and of course a large, developed cast of characters. It is the latter that concerns this post. For you see, it was Final Fantasy III that hooked me upon the premise of the “bigger the better” cast.

FFIII had an astonishing 14 members to play as, and each one is worth his/her weight in gold. Explaining how each one is uniquely crafted and how each one deftly stands out from various cliches and stereotypes is a whole other article, and perhaps I’ll get to that later. But for right now just take my word for it that these fourteen characters stand heads and shoulders above the generic stereotypes that often fill the ranks of videogames.

For me the 14-member cast was special because each one had an unique command based on their class. The ninja throws things, the gambler uses slot machines as an attack, and so on and so forth. It was fun seeing how the thief complimented the martial artist, or how the mechanic played together with the knight. I wanted to try out the combinations.

Each character had a chance in combat, and I would spend hours arranging and rearranging each character so that each had a turn playing in a dungeon. For a character to be present in my party I had to think back to the last time I used that character and when I had used previous characters. Even the little-girl character whose sole talent was to “paint” an enemy combatant and use it’s own attack against it was worth such forethought.

Final Fantasy III gave me the love of characters. Even now when new videogames are being built, I always look for the information of how big the number of playable characters are. It’s a dealbreaker for me. The bigger the cast, the bigger the chances for party arrangement, and the more I get excited. That’s what RPGs mean to me.

Amazing Spider Man Impressions

I have just seen a trailer for next year’s Amazing Spider-Man movie, and while I’m unsure if I like the dark direction the movie is going, I will say it’s an inventive plot twist. A few spoilers are necessary, I’m afraid. This is not a sequel of the movies starring Tobey Maguire. This is a reboot of the series, with new actors and a new director Marc Webb. The three previous movies do not exist in this movie’s timeline.
The biggest change is Peter Parker himself. He’s always been a social outcast, but the movie takes it to a new extreme. Peter is haunted by the loss of his parents. His clothes and attitude gives him a damaged kid going through the motions. This Parker shuns other people to avoid the emotional risk of getting too close. Experience has taught him to fiercely guard his past so as to not let anyone in. This is a moody, isolated loner that actor Andrew Garfield (Eduardo Saverin in the Social Network) portrays well in the trailer. I especially like the hoodie look, like he’s ducking underneath the hood to hide himself from others.
Mary-Jane Watson is not in the Amazing Spider-Man. The script takes a page from the earlier comics by pairing Peter will his first love Gwen Stacy. There is less variety for Gwen (Emma Stone from Easy A) in the clips, and there was barely any heft in the Raimi/Maguire films to provide a complete comparison. Gwen seems to be the kind-hearted girl who sees past Peter’s loner persona to the nice guy underneath. She tries to get him to open up, which is difficult at first. She has to volunteer information to her family because Peter is way outside his comfort zone. It’s like he’s hiding behind her skirts. It will be interesting to see how Gwen changes Peter, and the role she will play in Spider-Man’s debut.
Yes, the suit is different this time. I don’t know why there’s more blue in the gloves or why there is significantly less red on the back or the thinner spider emblem. I suppose it’s a “kitchen sink” scenario; the movie reboots everything else, so why not the suit? Another possibility is that the suit was made different to emphasize the separation between the film and the three Maguire films before it, and make it stand out. It could be a hundred other things, too. I just don’t know.

Song Of Ice & Fire: Dance Of Dragons

Dance Of Dragons 
Dance Of Dragons is the fifth book from fantasy series Song Of Ice & Fire by George R.R. Martin.  The book depicts a quasi-medieval world described in multiple points of view. Easily dozens of characters are used to illustrate the struggle of power between various families and their quests to gain the Iron Throne, a chair built from the melted swords of all the would-be conquerors of the world’s history.

The plot of the books is extensive, and I’d rather not spoil the surprise for the first readers. The books have it’s own strengths and weaknesses, so this is what I’ll comment upon.

The first strength of the series is also it’s chief weakness. There are a lot of characters. A LOT. Being a feudal society, each character is part of a royal House, none of whom is an only child. There are brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles, grandfathers, great-grandfathers, and so on and so forth. Many a potential fan will be deterred on who exactly belongs to which House.

My advice: don’t. Each of the POV (Point Of View) characters have unique personalities that endear them as real people. My favorite character is Tyrion Lannister. A dwarf, Tyrion has the strange fate of being a member of one of the most powerful royal families in the series, yet for the most part watches the events unfold from the sidelines due to his dimunitive size. Slowly but surely Tyrion manages to include himself in the great scheme of events. He survives two trials by battle, talks the barbarians that kidnap him into his service, briefly becomes the King’s right-hand man, and manages to foil several would-be assassinations (some of whom were ordered by members of his own family). He has gold, the political power of his House, and his tongue, all of which he uses to great effect.

Another strength/weakness that might deter readers is one that I admire about the books. People die. They die a lot. Not just the minor people whose life is a sentence and then never heard again. Major characters are not immune to the author’s lethal pen. Ned Stark is perhaps the chief protagonist of the first book. As chapters go by we watch Ned stumble through a world of compromises and hard choices. A paragon of virtue, he does not belong with the bluebloods and their schemes. We witness his chivarly, his love of his children, the duty and wishes of his king. And then what happens? He dies. Beheaded. Stuck on a pike on a castle wall for all to see.

The vulnerability of these characters is why I love these books. This isn’t a fairy tale story. There’s sex and incest and plotting. There’s struggles and agendas and consequences. Martin’s killing characters left and right is a sign that he takes this world seriously. It is rather refreshing – and nail-biting – to simuntaneously care for these people and know at any moment they will fall.

If you’re willing to take the risk, then Dances Of Dragons (and it’s predecessors) is one hell of a book. If not, then go back to Twilight or True Blood.

LEGO Star Wars: The TV Show

7/23/2011

Business has been booming for the LEGO Company. They infused new fire into the Star Wars series by LEGO-izing the six Episodes. That success led to the LEGO conversion to Indiana Jones, Batman and even the Prince Of Persia. Now LEGO is adding another venue to it’s bag of merchandise: TV.

Last night I watched the first episode of LEGO Star Wars. As one might expect it lacks the drama of it’s silver-screen predecessors, but it more than makes up for it with humor. To some the LEGO approach might seem childish, but it is a welcome change to see old characters outside their usual roles. The penultimate moment in the episode is having Yoda complain of how he doesn’t deserve to be entangled in a race to capture important Republic plans. In fact, I was bawling when Yoda went into one of his Force lectures about seeing what could not be seen, only to be surprised by droids in mid-speech. “Open my big mouth too soon, I did.”

Bawling, people. Bawling.

There was a nice moment in the end when the kid saddled with Yoda on the chase turned out to be a young Han Solo. It was like George Lucas giving the audience a wink. It was a nice end to the comedy, which in turn was able to maintain the humor via the dialogue and the way the voice actors played off each other. I would definitely give the second LEGO episode a shot.

LEGO Star Wars is on Fridays on Cartoon Network, 7:30 Eastern time.

Legacy Of Kain: Turning The Vampire Formula On It’s Head

Lately, vampires have become a hot commodity. Novels like True Blood and The Vampire Diaries have portrayed vampiric protagonists as lonely people who are afraid to get close to mortals because whatever passion they feel will be abruptly severed when the aforementioned mortals die. Their struggle to contain the bloodlust is another essential ingredient to the vampire protagonist, who perceives the sating of his bloodthirst to be a reduction to a hungry, out-of-control beast. Finally, the key goal of any vampire protagonist is to regain his humanity and to become a better person via the relationships he builds over the book franchise. Romance sells, and what could be more romantic than the evolution of a broody, lonely immortal?

However, even romance loses it’s charms over time. The saturation of romantic formulas has accelerated this stagnation, and the shadow of love-triangles has hidden other vampiric stories that, while not romances, are engaging tales. One such epic is a series of videogames called The Legacy Of Kain.

The first game, Blood Omen, introduces the world of Nosgoth, a planet whose health revolves the sustience and guardianship of the Nine Pillars, a physical embodiement of natural, fundamental powers of the universe. These Pillars are thus guarded by sorcerors called the Circle Of Nine, who, being aligned with the Pillar’s element, is endowed with superhuman abilities based off the the Pillar in question.

The game opens with the murder of Ariel, the Balance Guardian. Her lover Nuprator, the Mind Guardian, found her broken body and succumbed to madness, infecting his fellow Guardians who were symbolically bound. The Pillars decayed as their Guardians were corrupted by Nuprator’s insanity.

Thirty years later, Kain is born. Heir to nobility and pulled by wanderlust, Kain roams the land until one ill-fated night he is ambushed by assassins and killed. Kain finds himself in the abode of the Necromancer Mortanius, who offers a chance for vengeance, and as part of the unholy bargain, transforms Kain into a vampire.

The avenging is quickly done, leaving Kain unsastified and disgusted with his blood-thirst. On his new quest to cure himself, Kain is led to the Pillars themselves and to the specter of the Balance Guardian Ariel, bound to the Pillars she has so revered. Redemption, she says, will be given if the living Guardians are killed and the corruption of the Pillars undone.

Kain meets many allies and enemies being the scourge of the Circle: Malak, the Sarafan warrior-priest responsible for the victory of the vampire Vorador, who single-handely killed six Guardians centuries ago, condemned to invincibility when his disembodied soul was tethered to his armor as punishment and new fate as an invincible sentinel to the remaining Guardians. Vorador himself, who advises Kain not to intefere with human affairs. The Oracle, who guides Kain with uncanny knowledge and an agenda that is more than it seems. Across this quest he obtains the sword that becomes his iconic weapon: the Soul Reaver, uniquely made to devour the souls of it’s victims.

Kain’s success in killing the Guardians comes to an abrupt stop in the presence of the Nemesis, a cruel tyrant whose armies threaten to overwhelm the world. Kain gains the aid of King Ottomer, but soon fails to stop the Nemesis. Running for his life, Kain comes across a chamber that teleports it’s occuipant through time. Kain takes advantage of the chamber by hurtling himself back fifty years and slaughtering the Nemesis before he became the Nemesis: the young King William the Just.

Kain returns ti his own era to find a very different Nosgoth. The Oracle — now revealed to be Moebius, the Guardian Of Time — has maniuplated Kain into killing the young King William the Just to provide the spark of a genocidal war against the Vampires. Moebius personally executes Vorador and commands the mob to kill Kain. Moebius flees from the encounter only to meet Kain again and is beheaded just like Vorador before him. Moebius’ death does not give Kain satisfaction. The fact remains that he had been the willing pawn of almost everyone he meets. Everything he has done is a lie. Seeking total dissolution, Kain follows Mortanius’ summons to the Pillars.

The scene that greets Kain is not the one he expected. Mortanius kills his fellow Guardian of States Anarcrothe the Alchemist and battles Kain. Upon his defeat his body is transformed to fit the evil force — referred to in the game as the “Dark Entity” — responsible for everything, including Ariel’s murder and the rippling consequences from the murder. The Entity’s death means the Pillar Of Death can be restored. There is only one more Guardian left: The Guardian Of Balance.

Finally the truth is clear. Ariel reveals that Kain had been destined to be the Guardian Of Balance, and that only his death would restore the Pillar of Balance and restore Nosgoth. Kain has been maniuplated at every turn, shoved about like a pawn in an intricate game of chess. And now he was supposed to die like a good little lamb? All of his life and unlife was to kill and be killed? No. Kain refused the sacrifice and began the foundations of his Vampire Empire.

You have intrigue, manipulation, strife, conflict, everything that makes a good story good. And that’s only the first game. If the game was so artfully captivating, then imagine the potential of the sequels.

So. If you want vampires without the haunted romance, then consider the story of the Legacy Of Kain: Blood Omen. Omen is available on the PlayStation Network for $5.99. Trust me. The game provides everything in spades.

Part Two: Soul Reaver, coming soon.

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