Category: pure geek

Ghost in the Shell, and Unfortunate Expectations

Ghost in the Shell

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was a great movie without a target audience.  The plot was a bit too odd for general Sci-Fi audiences, and while that plot fit well in the Final Fantasy 7 & 8 mold, the rest of the film lacked too many Final Fantasy staples for a lot of the fans to be happy with it (ex: no Chocobos, Moogles, or even Magic).  And that’s before we even start to mention the uncanny valley issue with the animation.  Thus, too few people appreciated the film, and that financial flop nearly bankrupted Squaresoft.

Fortunately, Ghost in the Shell looks to be doing okay over seas, but the critical reception of the film looks very similar to Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.  Their critics’ Rotten Tomatoes ratings are 2 percentage points away from each other.  As someone who genuinely enjoyed the film, I’m disappointed by that reception.  It looks to me like this is yet another film that has fallen victim to unreasonable expectations.

Those going into the film expecting a cool Sci-Fi action film are instead getting a slower paced contemplation on the question of Self, with sweeping and beautiful cinematography.  And while there is some good action, that’s not what drives this film.  This isn’t Robocop, like one of the trailers made it look, and people expecting that are going to be disappointed.

On the other hand, those going into the film expecting a live action remake of the Mamoru Oshii Anime film of the same name from 1995…   Well, that’s just not what this is either.  There are similarities, but they aren’t the same story.  I can understand why people would be disappointed, but I honestly feel expecting a live action remake was just an unfortunate and unreasonable expectation to begin with.

The Ghost in the Shell property is more than just that one Anime movie.  One need only compare the artwork in the original manga to the 1995 film to see that a significant reimagining took place.  There was a TV show called Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex that ran for 52 episodes, and took place in its own canon.  Then there’s Ghost in the Shell: Arise…   Every adaptation of the property has had a significant reimagined take on it.

My point is that expecting a Ghost in the Shell live action adaption to rigidly restrict itself to the content of a single Anime film from 1995…   I feel that’s an unreasonable expectation, given that nothing else in the Ghost in the Shell franchise has done that.

I have a similar critique of fans who criticize Man of Steel and Batman V Superman because ‘that’s not the real Superman!’.  There’s more than one adaptation of that character.  You may not like this adaptation, but there is no singular version of the character that is somehow more real than any other.  There have been many different adaptations, and they’re all fiction.

That said, there are significant nostalgic nods in Ghost in the Shell to the fans of the 1995 film, as well as its 2004 sequel, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence.  In fact, one might even have a similar issue as with Final Fantasy, in that if you have too little experience with the prior content, then you might be missing out on too much to really appreciate this adaptation.

That’s a problem, because while it does provide cool nods to the 1995 and 2004 films, the story is very different, and depending on how much reverence you hold for those films will likely determine how much you appreciate those nods.

A similar situation arose with Batman V Superman, in that the film made a lot of nods to The Dark Knight Returns, but because the film very much was not an adaptation of that comic, true die hard fans were mostly just annoyed by it.

I want to emphasize that personally I like all of these films.

I’d argue that Man of Steel is, at worst, the second best Superman movie ever made.  Christopher Reeve was great, but of the 4 movies he was in, only the first was actually great.  The second was okay, if you ignore a lot of the ridiculous parts, and 3 & 4 were just bad.  We won’t talk about Superman Returns.

Batman V Superman had a few more problems, but I still liked it a lot.   Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of Lex Luthor was horrendous, but the character was at least written better than in any other live action Superman film.  The man quoted the monotheistic conundrum of Theodicy, for Zeus’s sake.  That’s nerdgasm levels of awesome.

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within came around when my take on Final Fantasy was very Sci-Fi inspired, having only played FF7-9 at that point, so a Sci-Fi Final Fantasy felt totally right to me.  Most importantly, though, was that the biggest lesson I’d taken from playing the games was that every Final Fantasy was significantly different from the last.  Spirits Within didn’t feel like a radical departure to me.

And finally, I enjoyed Ghost in the Shell a lot.  I’m not doing backflips over it, but the direction they went with the plot, honestly, made it a lot easier to follow than the 1995 film.  I’m not a fan of dumbing down content to pander to stupid audiences, but I am a fan of making complex content more approachable.  I think they walked that line well here.  The character of Major was also well portrayed by Scarlett Johansson, which surprised me, since I haven’t been a particular fan of her as Black Widow.

I’m not immune to having unreasonable expectations of my own, though.  I didn’t like The Force Awakens because of my over abundant attachment to the old Expanded Universe.  I understand the hazards of such expectations, and I suffer from them like anyone else.  I just think it’s good to be self-aware of such things.

Why I Hate Jessica Jones

jessica-jones-netflix-poster

 

Edit:  { I should have probably prefaced this critique by establishing first that I have a personal sensitivity to the issue of rape due to my background.  As you read this, please bear in mind that my inherent distaste for the subject matter is coloring my perspective. }

Jessica Jones is, without doubt or reservation, the most repellent superhero show I have ever watched the entire first season of. Many will disagree with me, and that’s fine. It’s a very well made show, and there’s a lot to like about it. For me, though, the bad greatly outweighs the good.

First, every single person in the show who argued against killing the villain was an idiot for doing so, and none of the BS reasons given for it held water. ‘Oh, but I have to get proof of stuff so I can save Hope.’  Really? You don’t think this problem is a little bigger than that one damsel? A sociopath with demi-god level powers is wrecking havoc and slaughtering innocents by the day, but our main character is self-destructively focused on the well-being of a single blond damsel in distress.  It’s stupid, and offends the intelligence of the viewer.

One rule of thumb for making a good protagonist: a compelling character is one who acts, in part, as an avatar for the audience. A moronic protagonist implies the writer assumes the audience is similarly moronic. Don’t write stupid protagonists. The villain needed to die; that was obvious from moment one. The fact that it wasn’t obvious to the protagonist just made her look stupid.

Second, there’s a constant thread through this series of suicide. People telling the main character to do it, others afraid she will, people around her threaten to do it to themselves, or are forced to do it by the villain. Of those 4 examples, only one (forced to do it) actually makes plot and situational sense for the story and scenes they show up in. All the others were useless melodrama at best, and wildly nonsensical at worst.

Third, there’s the villain. He’s a dick with a godlike superpower. He’s not sinister, or even particularly scary. The xenomorphs in Aliens had a better long term plan than this guy. The Gremlins were criminal masterminds in comparison. He’s occasionally clever, but mostly he’s just a creepy sociopath with a superpower who enjoyed screwing with people, and had an obsessive fixation on the main character. He wasn’t scary, he was pathetic. That said, he was also clearly a monster, and you kill monsters. This is Hell’s Kitchen, not Sesame Street.

And, this may be a nitpick, but the sex scenes suck. PG-13 fare, except that they do it over and over again. I think maybe 1 or 2 out of the 6-8 (that I remember and depending on how you count it) were actually plot relevant. None of them were stimulating to watch; at least not to me.

In my opinion, this show isn’t a hero story, it’s a post-rape empowerment story trying to cosplay at comic-con. The problem is that any time the subject of the villain showed up, the characters all seemed to loose a digit on their IQ.

If Netflix wanted a female superhero, they’d have been better off getting materiel from a fun book series. I’m a big fan of Seanon McGuire, Debora Dunbar, and Molly Harper novels. The problem is they chose to go the ‘stalker mind control rape’ path, rather than the far more enjoyable paths they could have gone instead. Maybe they wanted to say something deep and important…if so, this viewer was too pissed off to take it seriously.

There’s a morally important line between desire and behavior. It’s the line between Want and Take. Between necrophiles and grave robbers. Pedophiles and child molesters. We can’t always be in control of our desires, but we are absolutely responsible for our actions. If you have some moral lesson to convey, then do so while respecting that line. A mind-control story, by its fundamental nature, can’t respect that line.

I get that this is the path that was more faithful to the source material, which is why I think this was bad source material for them to use.

Want a female led superhero comicbook show? Great! I’m in!

Want a rape recovery show? Great! I’ll be elsewhere, but you do your thing. I support you from afar.

Want both in one? Sorry, but I can’t even support that one at a distance.  That subject matter is far too important and complicated to treat like this.  At least, it is for me.

Edit 2:  It’s also worth noting that there are issues of sloppy plotting/writing through this series.  However, being a fan of a lot of female led schlocky urban fantasy, I’ve become accustom to overlooking the sorts of sloppiness that are manifest in this show.
For example, the show grinds to a near halt the moment it’s almost over just so we can go around to every single character to get an update about where they are emotionally.  This takes 2-3 full episodes to get through, if I recall correctly.

[Spoiler] Also, for all of the first half, Jessica is supposed to not be aware of her immunity to the villain’s mind control, but her behavior in how she goes about confronting him often only makes sense if she already knew she was immune.  The first scene where she chases after him, for example, makes her appear moronic for doing so.  What was her plan?  What was she going to do when she reached him? Everything he told her to do, apparently.  And that’s ignoring the transcendent stupidity of the childhood home thing. [/Spoiler]

There’s also a lot of issues I have with the ending, but endings are hard, especially for exploration writers, so I won’t list those issues here.  Lord knows, I’m an exploration writer too, and my endings are atrocious.

These things were annoying, but they are the sorts of things that I don’t mind as much in material I enjoy.

Cheap Geek: Game Prices

I promised myself that I would never spend $60 on a video game ever again.

When Final Fantasy 13 came out, I got it on launch day from Target. They were offering a $10 gift card with the purchase of the game, thus offsetting the price slightly, even if I still had to hand over that $60 up front. Overall, I liked the game; the combat was great, but the storytelling wasn’t very good (the foundations of a good story were there, but the execution sucked).

Months later, I purchased Mass Effect 2 on sale for $24 on Steam. I loved it. Mass Effect 2 is one of the best Video Games I have ever played. What’s more, simply by waiting 6 months before purchasing it, I spent less than half what I did on Final Fantasy 13. This experience of spending less money on a game, and liking it more than the $60 game I bought previously has happened to me many times before. Mass Effect 2 was the last straw. I promised myself I’d never spend $60 on a game again. Given that nearly all video games drop in price over time, there’s no reason to spend $60 on one as long as I’m willing to wait for a better price.

However, that also means I’m not going to play StarCraft II for a while. I have loved every game Blizzard has made for the past decade and a half, and while I have no doubt that StarCraft II is a phenomenal game, I refuse to pay $60 for it. That’s just over my limit.

In the meantime, I installed the original StarCraft on my Ubuntu partition under Wine. It runs flawlessly, and even after all these years it’s still a good game. More importantly, playing the old game also helps to quell my desire for the new game. I highly recommend the old StarCraft if you can’t play the new one for whatever reason.

Thoughts On How Memories Work

To this day, I’m baffled by the number of people (I’m looking at you JK Rowling) who actually believe that the human mind is even capable of remembering an event perfectly.  That’s simply not how the mind works.  It’s all a series of connections, relations, and correlation.  No one memory stands alone fully intact.  They’re all, to some extent, connected to other strands of memory.  This reduces memory redundancy with similar events and situations, so it saves space.  In CS terms, it’s a form of data compression. Unfortunately, this type of compression is susceptible to false connections.  A dream is little more than a series of free floating memory strands.  When said strands get mixed up when we’re awake, it results in us remembering things happening in ways they didn’t.  A conversation you had yesterday being remembered as something that happened a week ago…  Something in a fan fic that later you remember as having actually happened in the real book/s…  Something happening in a dream that you later recall as something someone told you…

Or, in the case of this clip, something that didn’t happen at all, but was put together from other memories that actually did happen…

Put Squaresoft Up On PSN

Before Square Enix, there was Squaresoft, and the way I see it, with the notable exception of Final Fantasy X and the first Kingdom Hearts, all of Squaresoft’s best games came out on the original PlayStation at some point. Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross, Xenogears, Parasite Eve, nearly all the Final Fantasy games up to FF9…among others. Seems to me that the fastest way to make PlayStation an RPG powerhouse again would be as simple as putting all the old PS1 Squaresoft games up on PSN. Forget about Xbox 360’s Infinite Undiscovery; Sony has nearly all of Final Fantasy at its fingertips just begging to be ripped and put up for digital download.

For a system that had so many great Squaresoft games, it’s criminal that that legacy is only being represented by Final Fantasy VII on the Playstation Network. I’m still very happy that FF7 is there, but I want more.

Finally, Final Fantasy VII on PSN.

American consumers can now download the PSX version of Final Fantasy VII off the PSN store. I highly suggest that everyone get it.

People have been modding their PSPs to play Final Fantasy VII since the system came out, and now you can finally play it on the PSP natively without any need for mods. Truth be told, I already have a PSP with custom firmware that lags behind the official firmware, but with a little howto I found here that wasn’t a problem.

In one of my earliest posts, I pleaded with people not to play Final Fantasy VII Crisis Core before playing the original Final Fantasy VII first. Well, here’s the best opportunity to do that. All downloaded PSX titles from the PSN store can be played on both the PSP and PS3, and you can even share save files between the two systems, so you never need to redo a section of game you already played through on one system.

I was slightly disappointed that this version of FFVII doesn’t have the PC version’s translation of the dialogue (the Cloud and Aeris conversation outside the Honey Bee Inn still makes no sense), and at 1,349 megabytes, it’s a little big for any PSP memory stick 4 gigs or under. That being said, I still think this is a great thing. I already own FFVII on disc, but it’s great to have a version I can carry with me in my PSP, and play on my PS3 regardless of what disc I have in the system.

Hopefully, Sony and Square get enough positive response from this that they’ll want to do this with all the old popular Square titles. We might even get some PSP remakes like what the Nintendo DS got with FF IV. Just imagine Final Fantasy VI remade with the Crisis Core engine for the PSP. Of course, I’d also just be happy with a Chrono Trigger port.

From Job-less to Oblivion

Many moons ago, I picked up a used copy of The Elder Scrolls IV Oblivion at Blockbuster. In the past, their used games have been cheaper than anywhere else, and at that time Oblivion was selling at a price that I couldn’t refuse. The problem, of course, was that I simply didn’t have the time needed to dedicate myself to the game, and so it just sat on my shelf.

Then I lost my job, and suddenly I had almost nothing but free time to kill. Let me tell you, Oblivion is the greatest time suck I’ve experienced since I stopped playing World of Warcraft. The amount of content in this open world RPG is simply amazing. This thing is a lot like a single player MMO.

I really like Japanese RPGs, because they’re so story driven. I like Oblivion because it’s so easy to become consumed by the world. It’s not like in Final Fantasy, where if there’s a chest in a house somewhere, it’s contents are yours, because the contents of all chests are yours by virtue of you owning the game. In Oblivion, if you get caught taking something from someone else’s house, the game penalize you by either having the owner attack you, or by having a watchman fine or imprison you. In Final Fantasy, if it’s free, it’s yours. In Oblivion, sometimes you don’t even want to take the stuff you know you won’t get in trouble for, because the idea that someone else might need or want it has been drilled into you by the game’s mechanics, even though the only “other people” are all NPCs. That’s just an example. There are hundreds of other little things like that that make this game so immersive.

That being said, I think it’s time for me to move on to something else. I finished the main story, and going back to do other quest lines or starting over feels a lot like WOW grinding. That’s cool sometimes, but I’d like to think there are better things to do with my time. Learn how to juggle, for example…