It rarely happens, but sometimes I like prequels. Underworld: Rise of the Lycans is not one of them. I’m not sure exactly why I generally don’t like prequels. My default answer is that already knowing how the story turns out takes all the fun away, but that doesn’t really make sense, since I love some movies despite having seen them countless times.
I think what makes me go sour on prequels is something a little more subtle. It has to do with how you approach writing a story, where the biggest constraint on everything is a fixed ending. Even if you have an ending in mind when you normally start writing a story, you pulp it as soon as you realize it doesn’t work anymore. With a prequel you can’t do that, the ending can’t be pulped. It’s a constraint not easily evaded and often this fact harms the whole story.
Not that Underworld: RotL is somehow bad, but like many prequels there’s a predictability to how the plot unfolds and how everything plays out that’s not much fun to watch. Plot and characters are mere puppets, only there to string you along to arrive at the already known ending (the conflict between werewolves and vampires that is the background for the first two movies). It’s not really bad, but I wasn’t really engaged or interested. Hopefully the next Underworld is more satisfying.
My threshold for accepting stupidity in movies can be relatively low, but not for science fiction. Pandorum, while good looking, managed to irk me in a number of ways. Two fictional and unlikely medical conditions that only exist to drive the plot (amnesia from long hibernation and insanity induced by being in space or something like that), overpopulation as part of the setting, which is as disconnected from reality as you can get these days and the implausible explanation for the monsters on board (sure, sounds cool the first moment you hear about the adaptive response to environments and how the colonists have adapted to the ship instead of adapting to the new colony, until you go “Wait a moment, that doesn’t make a lick of sense”).
All that wouldn’t matter if the movie was any fun (the new Star Trek has its share of movie stupidity, but I loved that one). It isn’t. I’m not even sure why, whether it’s the tired plot or the unappealing characters or the annoying camera work or these little moments of movie stupidity I mentioned above. Maybe all of the them together.
Doom isn’t just a game for me; it’s an experience that has lodged itself deep into the recesses of my mind. I still remember the first time I started playing it, all these years ago. The only FPSs I had played previously were Wolfenstein 3D and some other shareware FPS that looked similar to Wolfenstein. And then a friend showed me Doom. I was flabbergasted. Incredibly intense, fast paced gameplay, violence en masse, gory graphics, wide open vistas that seemed to allow a look directly into hell and a level architecture with big halls and dark,twisted corridors with flickering lights. It was a mind-blowing experience.
Yes, compared to what you can see today in some FPSs it’s hard to believe that something like Doom could have that effect. But it was a real quantum leap. It wasn’t just the next step in the evolution of FPSs, at least it didn’t felt like that, more like the ID guys had omitted some steps on the way and created technology that was decades ahead. At that time my conception of what games could be was too limited to imagine something like Doom and when I played it I felt like stretching my mind, slowly adapting to what could be. I can’t remember any other game ever having such an impact on me, although some of my other early gaming experiences on the SNES came close.
Still, I do wonder how younger people will react to the game. The gameplay itself can become pretty boring if you expect a narrative-driven game, which Doom is everything but. It’s all about shooting demons and finding the keys to open the doors to get to next level. Not very sophisticated compared to modern shooters, but it’s still fun today. And the art direction is still pretty much unrivaled.
The Ultimate Doom (1995)
This retail store version of Doom added a fourth episode, Thy Flesh Consumed, to the first three episodes. While I loved the first three, I’m not a fan of the fourth one. The difficulty is much higher, but the fast and intense gameplay is slowed down to a crawl by too much searching for hidden walls and the door keys. Unlike in previous episodes it’s far easier to fall into lava or acid without getting out again. There aren’t any new monsters; it’s only more of them. There are a few well done levels, among them the last one, but overall it’s more harrowing and less entertaining to get through all of them.
The sequel to the first Nation Treasure has the same mix of qualities that made the first one so endearing: a cool treasure (the golden city Cibola) and the likable characters from the first part trying to find it. There’s some action, some break-ins into famous places and some pretty unbelievable plot developments (Cage gets to hijack the US president).
All in all it’s excellent popcorn entertainment: highly implausible in places and yet very entertaining. Thinking too much about the movie doesn’t help, it’s a wild ride and either you’re going with the flow or you’re trying to pick it apart. I think each of us has a different threshold for accepting movie stupidity, when it comes to an adventure yarn like this my own is very low, as long as I like the characters and its fun to watch. The only weak point is the villain, whose motivation for doing what he’s doing is pretty sketchy, especially since he doesn’t has to act this way and could have easily just asked for help.
While National Treasure isn’t really all that original, it exhibits exactly the same formula that made the Indiana Jones movies so successful. There’s a famous treasure, a overly complex way to get to it, that more often than not defies logic (how come these century old machines and clues always work or still exist to this day) and most of all there is a motley crew of treasure hunters that goes after it and the complementing bad guys. Yet formula alone doesn’t guarantee success.
National Treasure works because the characterization and the character chemistry are perfect. I’m not really a big fan of Cage, but this role really was perfect for him. He goes all out and somehow makes it, if not overly realistic, at least believable in the context of the story. It’s fun to watch him scrabble for overly far fetched clues, for pieces of the puzzle that leads to the treasure of the Templers. But there’s more to his character, a childish naivety, the ability to believe in something that most grown-ups would have accepted as unrealistic. He’s someone who hasn’t given up his dreams, which looks endearing in the movie.
Another element the movie does right is the treasure. Really, the big climax of any treasure hunt is finding the treasure, but to make something like that fully satisfying it has to have grandeur. And the scene with Cage lighting the cave where the treasure is hidden achieves that. You really feel like the whole hunt was totally worth it.
Eat-Man is 19-volume manga series about a lone adventurer who wanders frontier worlds, helps out the little people against all kinds of oppressors and whose main characteristic is that he can eat nearly everything: machines, chemicals, data and mostly bolts (hence the name). Once he has eaten something, guns or cars or whatever, he can spew it out again, in working condition, even if it was broken-down before (he has to have enough parts to repair it internally).
I mentioned frontier worlds, because he seems to wander a world that is mostly one big desert with some high-tech cities here and there. There’s a very high percentage of humanoid robots and the architecture of most cities is pretty much the same wherever he goes, which (not intentionally, but it can be read that way) implies to me colonization ships that unpacked or grew most of the cities from the same mold. The high amount of robots also makes sense. If you have a low population number, robots can bridge the time until the population has reached the level to be self-sustaining for any civilization.
Despite the cool setting and the fascinating capability of Eat-Man himself, the series is far from perfect. It has a very episodic nature and most of the adventures of Eat-Man follow a very similar template (evil guy has to be dethroned or help some good guys finding their hearts desire). Eat-Man himself is pretty much a story device instead of a real character: he’s nearly omniscient and never fails in doing the job. Often the stories see him doing things that look at first like he’s working for the bad guys, only to reveal that nothing is as it seems and Eat-Man knew all along who is the real good or the real bad guy.
Still, despite its shortcomings, if you read the series not all at once but one episode at a time, it manages to provide some good fun. I wished that toward the end of the series we could have get some definite answers concerning Eat-Man’s nature and the nature of the colonized worlds, instead of a descent into a very weird fantasy-like creation myth, but nonetheless the series was kind of cool.
Whenever a horror series goes into space (Jason X, Leprechaun 4) the result is often hilariously bad, but also quite entertaining in a very campy way. Hellraiser 4 is a bit of a departure, as it is a more ambitious than merely putting the Cenobites into space. Sure, there’s the obligatory sequence where a team of space soldiers, who are completely sure of their skills (I think that one is an endless repeat of Aliens), get slaughtered by the supernatural creatures. But overall Bloodlines tries to trace, via flashbacks, the history of the creators of the puzzle box.
That amounts to a scene in1784 in Paris and shows the creation of the box by a toymaker called Lemarchand and a scene in the present that takes place after the third Hellraiser and shows an architect who is from the Lemarchand line. The parts in the future are about the last Lemarchand, who wants to complete the Elysium configuration, a counter to the original Lemarchand configuration, that has the power to destroy the Cenobites.
The movie is an odd departure from the Hellraiser series, both due to its narrative structure (which feels pretty incoherent) and the fact that it effectively ends the whole franchise on the story level (Pinhead and his cohorts get completely destroyed). There were also elements that made not much sense or where glossed over far too fast, like L’Isle death, why Angelique was summoned, what the connection to the puzzle box was and so on. Still, as the finale for the first four Hellraiser movies it’s okay, even if it’s not as much fun as the first three movies.
The third Hellraiser movie follows closely on the heels of the second one. Pinhead, who has become the dominating character of the series, has been frozen in a pillar, which has been bought by a nightclub owner. There’s also a reporter who becomes aware of Lemarchand’s box and she tries to figure out what it all means. The acting is pretty bad, but the movie provides exactly what you expect from a Hellraiser movie: inventive new Cenobites, gruesome death scenes (a friend remarked how often we see someone skinned alive in Hellraiser movies, the third one has a pretty good scene like that too) and a good gal who stops Pinhead and his cohorts in the end.
Ruins is a two issue-mini series by Warren Ellis, that shows a disturbing alternative of the Marvel comic universe, where every superhero origin or major plot arcs in the Marvel universe lead to decay, death and destruction in the ruined universe. Sounds like an interesting concept, but the series doesn’t manage to be anything more than just a gimmick. Ellis crams both issue full with ruined superhero origins, which after a while become tiring to read. There’s no bigger concept than a dying reporter chronicling all those missed moments of history, origin after origin until you’ll be bored out of your mind and can’t wait until the whole thing comes to an end.
Very lightweight romantic comedy that follows the template set by Doc Hollywood and similar movies: a character from the big city goes to some backward town for one reason or another, not really expecting much, as life is all in the big city. But when the character arrives (s)he falls in love with one of the town people and after spending some time there (s)he also falls in love with the simple live and the nice people of the backward town. The spin this time is that the city character is a women who has to shut down a local facility. Most smart people will deduce how the rest of the movie goes.
It’s a modern fairy tales that easily appeals to those of us whose lives are overly hectic and stressful and long for a simple live, for choosing love over big business and so on. Like all fairy tales it’s also completely unrealistic. But it still can be entertaining. It’s not very deep or original, but it manages to be effective at what it tries to deliver: lightweight entertainment with likable characters.