Saturday, February 25, 2012

Movies for me?

I have a hard time finding good movies to watch these days … which is one reason why I stopped doing my weekend update posts.

Now, my problem is this: I don’t like chick flicks and I don’t like the modern action movies which seem to me like a collection of explosion with a little bit of story wedged in between. That’s one reason why I haven’t been to the movies for a long time now. (The other reason is that most movies are shown in 3D here and I hate wearing those 3D glasses over my own glasses – especially as I have enough imagination to enjoy a movie in 2D as well.)

I like my movies with story, some action, and more story. I’m not adverse to action sequences as a such, but I don’t like action without a reason. If something explodes, I like to know why – and ‘because nothing exploded for the last five minutes’ isn’t a suitable reason in my book.

Maybe it’s because most of my teenage life I have enjoyed crime stories and horror movies. Both need a story to work out. Maybe it’s simply because I am neither your average woman, nor an average guy. Maybe movies just got less interesting over the last few years. All three theories seem about equally likely to me.

What I’d like to see are movies with an interesting story, diverse characters and a bit of action. I’m not the romance type, but if I have to resort to kids’ movies or comedies to find something to watch (or watch TV series like “Big Bang Theory” and “Criminal Minds”), something is going very wrong.

What would I like to see in a movie? Well, first of all an interesting story that gives the hero apt reason for being a hero. Those soldier-boy war-heroes don’t do anything for me – that’s probably something for guys. I like to see a more ordinary guy in the lead – or even better: give me an ordinary woman who manages to save the day by herself, instead of waiting for the big, strong hero to turn up. That’s actually what I like most about horror movies (apart from the horror, of course). They feature mostly ordinary people who get thrust into a terrible situation and have to grow strong or die. Crime stories also include a lot of normal people, now that I think of it. Give me a good story that helps me to understand the motives, both the ones of the hero and of the villain. Time for the ‘I’m doing everything for the sake of being evil’ villains has run out long ago. The motives of the villain may be quite normal, like greed, revenge, or power, but they should be shown. Give me additional characters that are more than just 2D cut-outs. Every character in a story should have depth, should have wishes and fears, should have a life. They should not just stand around waiting for the moment when they have to hand the hero a clue or when they have to be shot by the villain or his men. Especially henchmen should be more than just guys with guns. What else is there? A nice backdrop would be good. I like horror movies with a background from the past, an old evil lying low or an old sin that is avenged now.

That is my personal list for a good movie, but it’s not something I have found in a lot of them. Especially not recently.

That guy is right

I have been a Star Wars fan for a long time, but even though I did my best to like the prequels, I somehow couldn’t make it. There’s something definitely lacking from them (and it’s not the CGI effects, that much is for sure). Then I yesterday watched this video and realized that the guy actually is right about it. I would totally watch this version of The Phantom Menace – several times, probably.

The changes he brings in (well, apart from the obvious ‘Get JarJar out of it’ change) are actually working very well. It is Obi-Wan’s story, much more than it is Anakin’s. Obi-Wan will, in the course of the movie, go from being a student to being a master himself.

And I always thought the age difference between Padmé and Anakin was too big. I mean, even if she’s just 16 in the first movie, he’s about half her age. Bringing them closer together (by making Anakin older) definitely would have been a good idea.

Getting rid of the Mid-Chlorians also is an absolute must. A simple difference in the blood makes a person a Jedi? Then you could have an army of Jedi simply by injecting people with it – that is completely stupid.

And Darth Maul was wasted, dying at the end of the movie (well, they’re resurrecting him in the Clone Wars TV series, as I have heard, but still). Darth Maul makes a great enemy for the Jedi, but more important he would make a great adversary for Obi-Wan. After all, he kills Obi-Wan’s master, ending his apprenticeship. Instead of bringing in a new enemy (or two, with Count Dooku and General Grievous), focusing on one enemy would have been good. The other two could have been around, but technically speaking Dooku isn’t a Sith (he’s a Jedi who has turned dark) and Grievous is a rather strange character. A person who is no Jedi, but can handle up to four light-sabres at the same time? Even fight against several Jedi with them? Please…

Anakin was an annoying character in the prequels – one that makes you think ‘when is he going to be put into that black costume and stop whining around like that’ (well, he made me think that). A bit more demure in the first movie (he was a slave and slaves learn early on they’re basically not worth anything) and then growing into his own in the other two would have been much better. Anakin’s development wasn’t really something I was happy with (even putting his whining aside). There are many reasons for him to turn to the dark side. Palpatine is a master manipulator and Anakin is a young man. There are many ways to turn him, slowly, from the Jedi to the Sith. The whole ‘I am afraid people close to me may die’ spiel is absolutely unnecessary.

Possible reasons? Anakin is secretly married, something the Jedi are forbidden. Anakin is a rather rash young man, he is lacking patience (which seems to be a Skywalker trait also displayed by Luke during the original trilogy). Anakin’s not very good with politics, despite his relationship with a senator. All of those could be used against him by a man like Palpatine. Showing him a way out for the marriage problem, using his rashness to turn him against the usually very patient leaders in the council (well, if you are about 900, you can easily wait a few decades for something…), making him take action instead of waiting for the senate to decide on what to do. That would turn him easily enough. You could even leave in Mace Windu attacking Palpatine to make Anakin turn. But get rid of the whiny side.

And Padmé, that’s another sore point for me. Padmé starts out as a strong woman, a queen at 16, self-reliant, fighting well. She’s a consummate politician, too. She completely fits into the line of strong women Star Wars has to offer, right with her daughter Leia, the rebel leader Mon Mothma, or Mara Jade (who starts out as the Emperor’s Hand and later on marries Luke). Padmé goes from that position to a weak, helpless girl in the last part of the prequels. Yes, she is pregnant then, but that doesn’t explain it all.

I like the idea that there might have been something between Obi-Wan and Padmé in the beginning, a love story that doesn’t work out. Maybe they just didn’t suit each other or Obi-Wan (unlike his student) is ready to obey the orders of the Jedi and thus breaks up with her. She hooks up with Anakin and in the end Obi-Wan is left watching over the son of his former Padawan and friend and the woman he once loved – that would certainly spice up things for the original trilogy.

Well, as I said already, that guy is right and I would definitely watch his version of The Phantom Menace. For now I am waiting for him to cover the changes in the other two movies he would make.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Wandering the North

Eh … long time no see. Well, I figured I am usually rereading stuff at the moment, normally playing either The Sims 3, MineCraft or a casual game during the weekend and normally decide ad hoc what to watch on DVD, so I have stopped doing weekend updates lately. That doesn’t mean I am not doing any stuff. For one thing, I have been sight-seeing in Skyrim (with a little fighting on the side).

I managed to get the game for a good price at a local electronic store and have been playing quite a bit of it … albeit replaying the first few quests quite a few times. Currently I play a Kajit (that’s a race of humanoid cats) and I have been looting everything I could get my hands on … because I want a house and a horse and I need a lot of gold (8,000) for it.

Skyrim is not my first fling with the Elder Scrolls series, I have played Oblivion for quite a while and I also played Morrowind. Yet I have to admit I like the setting for Skyrim best, so far. Morrowind is set in a very swampy place and I am not that much of a swamp fan. Oblivion looks very ‘high fantasy’ and that’s the setting of every second RPG around. Skyrim is the cold, far North of the fantasy world of the Elder Scrolls. Not a setting you get all that often.

The game starts out rather traditionally for an Elder Scrolls game: you start as a prisoner and get the chance to create your character during the prologue. This time, though, it’s not a prison cell – it’s you on your way to execution. I mean that, you know, your head is on the block when all in a sudden a dragon turns up. That’s one kind of deus ex machina you don’t see that often…

Within the next few minutes, you’re climbing a tower, jumping into a partially burning house, run across a village while the dragon sets fire to it and diminishes the soldiers and have to decide on a basic side to settle with: the storm coats or the imperial army. Last time I started out new, I chose the storm coats … why settle with an army that was about to execute me, even though I wasn’t even on the list?

It’s the same first dungeon, the inside of the fortress, you enter, but the enemies you fight depend on which side you are on, of course. Once outside, I was really, seriously amazed. The world looks good (even more so with the new high-definition textures pack you can get for free) and is full of life. Granted, quite some of that life, like the wolves, wants to take a chunk out of your body (or the inventory from your cold, dead hands), but you can basically get something from everything you bring down. If you can bring it down … I do not recommend trying to attack the giants that are ambling around the plains herding their mammoths. Butterflies are fluttering through the air, fishes are jumping out of the wild waters, foxes, rabbits, deer and goats are crossing the paths and running away from you. The world of Skyrim is alive.

Soon afterwards someone asks you to see the Jarl in Whiterun, about protection for a small town on the way. And once you are there, things really get moving. You will enter a tomb full of un-dead (and very annoying) warriors (got me at least 4,500 gold, that place) to search for a stone with strange runes on it. You will learn the first Word of Power there. Once you are back, you will go and fight your first dragon. Yes, there’s a lot of dragons in Skyrim … and you will fight them to devour their souls, because you are Dragonkin and your powers will be direly needed. Isn’t there always a catch like that?

Like every Elder Scrolls game, Skyrim does not really make you do things. You have a vast world to explore, can set your own goals, if you want to. The main quests are a red thread you can follow, but when you go on with it is absolutely up to you. You won’t miss something or completely lose the game, just because you decide to first enter every cave you see and make money, money, money with it. Fighting a lot of additional enemies, is good, of course, because you gain experience that way. But you also get it by trading or doing other stuff.

As every Elder Scrolls game, Skyrim does not make you choose, either. You don’t set a class, only a race and a gender (the rest of the settings at the beginning are merely cosmetics). Races have various good and bad points, both in game mechanics (such as a Norse’s ability to withstand cold better or a Kajit’s better sneaking ability) and in interactions (a Norse will have it easier, because that’s where they all live), but you are not forced to choose a class such as warrior, mage or thief. You train your abilities either by doing stuff (fight a lot with a one-handed weapon to get better with it or use a certain school of magic to improve it) or by finding someone to train you with it. You can craft, too, do alchemy, forge weapons and so on.

On the whole, Skyrim surely is a game you will get a lot of fun and gaming time out of. I know I do and I am still very much at the beginning. I am walking the North of the world of the Elder Scrolls and I am enjoying my stroll so far, that much is for sure.