Scanlyze

The Online Journal of Insight, Satire, Desire, Wit and Observation

Reflections on the first Ghost in the Shell Trailer

Here are some actual issues to be concerned with in the new trailer of Ghost in the Shell:

* The Major doesn’t need a traditional origin story along the line of “the government stole my identity and made me a super soldier cyborg.” This is a way overdone trope and it misses the essential nature of the Major’s identity issues in the manga, movies and the series. What holds the Major back in her evolution is is not, not knowing who she was, it is clinging to material items like her watch which serve as tangible confirmation of our identity and that our memories are real, not a dream or illusion or a memory edit or hostile program.

* Bateau seems miscast. He is supposed to be a laid back, beer drinking, basset hound loving, weight lifting ex-US special forces operator. Seems like here the character has been “Danewashed.”

* An important point in the representation of the world of Ghost in the Shell is that cyberization is becoming common and the Net is becoming universal and starting to evolve in it new forms of consciousness and life. Having Motoko as “the first of your kind” is again, recycling a tired old trope which isn’t needed here.

* “Major” is an orphan appellation in this movie. It is used as though it is a first name, which in the manga, movies and TV series is not the case. There, she is called “Major” because she was a special forces operative, a Major in the JSDF and UN forces in Central America before she was recruited for Section 9. But because they have latched on to the “they stole your life” formula, they have lost the more interesting origin story of Motoko losing her parents, her body, her memories, everything in a plane crash when she was six. And they have lost the very touching backstory of her relationship with Kuze and the one hand folding paper cranes by which they recognize each other again.

Part of the confusion in the “whitewashing” issue is that Little Englanders and USians who are not familiar with the franchise assuming “Motoko Kusanagi” is her given name, whereas in English it would be like naming a character something like “Jane Doe Excalibur” and should be seen as an obvious code name, callsign, handle or pseudonym and not as a given name. So they shouldn’t shy away from using it.

Simply “looking awesome” and “looking like the source material” does not necessarily a good movie make. Witness “Warcraft.”

So count me encouraged but dubious about this trailer and film. On the plus side it looks gorgeous and we can at least enjoy the world building and watching a smirky naked badass Scarlett Johannson kicking ass. Which can’t be all bad.

Copyright © 2016 Henry Edward Hardy

16 November, 2016 Posted by | Ghost in the Shell, movie, review, scanlyze | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Force Awakens is a snide parody of Star Wars

“The Force Awakens” is another snide Abrams parody and deconstruction of a beloved science fiction classic. Here’s why.

There is this terrible inversion of the moral and ethical underpinnings of Lucas’ shared universe.

Love doesn’t redeem. The force doesn’t protect the (mostly) innocent. Han doesn’t shoot first when necessary. Family ties are not stronger than the lure of power.

I think Abrams likes to destroy the tropes and ethics of the works he is mocking. Look at what happened to the dear old Enterprise in Abrams’ parody of Star Trek.

Enterprise NCC 1701 could go mano-a-mano with the world-eating doomsday machine in TOS but in Abrams it is disgracefully beat to shit by another Star Fleet vessel without even being able to fire a shot.

The most generous interpretation of this is that Abrams loves to use the cheap trope of the “Worf effect.”

“This monster/baddy is really terrible, see it beat the crap out of Worf.”

The ungenerous interpretation is that Abrams likes to make little kids and fans cry.

As the kid sitting in front of me at the Force Awakens premiere said, “I didn’t like to watch it because evil won.”

I like the idea of a storm trooper character and of course he would be conflicted and confused. But there is a right way and a wrong way to invoke this. The right way is in The Clone Wars, where the Clone Troopers (not Storm Troopers) despite being a clone army, are fully individuated and several like Rex particularly have become such fan favorites that they have been resuscitated for Rebels.

We literally got no backstory and no characterization for any of these Force Awakens characters other than stock tropes. Orphan–virgin birth–desert planet. Storm trooper–cowardly–can’t shoot straight. Supreme leader–inhuman and scary, appears in holo-images. The leader’s second — Cyborg==black armor==fallen Jedi, etc. That is so lazy.

Rey is a major Mary Sue by any definition, to a ridiculous and suspension of disbelief breaking degree. And actually, no that’s not okay. It means the script is operating at the level of the most self-servicing and badly written fan fiction.

Luke didn’t just magically learn to be an ace pilot without ever having flown before. Luke trained with two old Masters, Obi-Wan and Yoda. And it was a major plot point when he went tearing off before his training was complete and promptly got his ass handed to him and his hand chopped off.

Contrast Ahsoka Tano, who made major mistakes and lost the better part of two squadrons of fighters and almost lost an entire battalion of soldiers in her first commands before she gained more experience and learned to bridle her aggressive tendencies. In The Clone Wars Season I.

Star Wars The Clone War – Storm over Ryloth (The first attack)

I’m sorry but the the action scenes in Force Awakens are horrible, only better than a mediocre fan film or kids playing Star Wars in the back yard due to better production values. Truly embarrassing. Okay Rey has probably never used a light saber so that’s excusable. But Kylo Ren is supposed to be the head of the Evil neo-Sith/Dark Jedi Knights, who trained with Luke Skywalker and Supreme Leader Snoke? What an emo shlub!

Emo Kylo Ren

The following a good light saber battle. Imagine if this was the trailer for the new Star Wars movie how much cooler it would be than the Abrams parody:

Return

There’s more character development, drama, suspense, action, plot advancement and general badassery there in six minutes than in any 3 hour Abrams sludgefest.

Or a more recent example from Rebels a few weeks ago:

Inquisitors vs. Ahsoka & Kanan ᴴᴰ

Ahsoka Tano is Anakin’s former apprentice in both old and new continuity. This is her Big Damn Heroes/The Cavalry moment as we haven’t seen her in action since she left Anakin and the Jedi Order at the end of season 5 of The Clone Wars. 16 years ago in-universe time.

I’m not trope averse, I just don’t like to see them mishandled or misused.

Another negative regarding Force Awakens is the presence of the Jar-Jar expy, Finn. The prequel movies are rather derivative of the original trilogy, and Force Awakens is completely unapologetic in strip mining the tropes from the real Star Wars films.

Although the character elements have been tossed a bit we can still clearly see trope-wise, or structural analysis-wise:

FA/Original trilogy/Prequels
Rey = Luke (ground) = Anakin
Finn = C3PO = Jar-Jar
BB8 = R2D2 = R2D2
Poe Dameron = Luke (air) = Anakin
Luke = Yoda = Yoda
Mas kanata = Obi-Wan = Qui Gon Jinn
Kylo Ren = Darth Vader = General Grievous
Snoke = The Emperor = Count Dooku

I’ve read a number of articles praising the new Star Wars parody by JJ Abrams as, “inclusive” or words to that effect. Really? There is one count ’em one, black or brown face among the characters.

My issue is not with John Boyega’s portrayal of the character. He has done a good enough job with the material he was given.

However, Boyega’s character, “Finn”, shares a number of tropes and characteristics with Jar-Jar Binks, the much-derided alien from the prequel movies.

Here are some specific points of similarity between Finn and the dark-skinned alien with big lips and a faux-Carribean patois:

Cowardly? Check.
Clumsy? Check.
Fails at everything he attempts? Check.
Treated as comic relief? Check.
Lies to the other characters? Check.

Abrams has even added an old trope new to Star Wars. What’s Finn do when he finds the protagonist, Rey? As soon as the Empire arrives and they flee, he grabs Rey’s hand, twice. She even explicitly tells him not to do that, which puts this into the squicky realm of harassment.

Your Star Wars dollar is far better spent watching the old movies, even the prequels, or the excellent “The Clone Wars” or the almost-excellent “Star Wars Rebels” than this dreck.

Copyright © 2015 Henry Edward Hardy

23 December, 2015 Posted by | media, movie, review, scanlyze | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Thoughts on the TV show Vikings

Vikings is the tale of the semi-historical Ragnarr Loðbrók and two of his wives, Lagertha and Aslaug, and their children, Bjorn Ironside, Ivar the Boneless, Hafdan Whitecoat, Sigurd Snake-in-the-eye and Ubba.
Ragnar is a wealthy farmer at the start of the show. He is a clever and brutal warrior, a combat pragmatist. But he is more, a visionary, a charismatic leader, intellectually curious, a technological innovator, shrewd judge of character, and a Machiavellian magnificent bastard of the first degree.
The show exists in a kind of magical realism where magic is believed in but whether it is ‘real’ is always up to the eye of the beholder.
The show is well grounded in the Norse culture and presents a lot of values dissidence through the vehicle of Æthelstan, a monk from Lindessfarne who Ragnarr makes captive during the first Viking raid on England.
The sets and costumes are reasonably accurate. In order to be more identifiable on the battlefield to the viewer, nobody wears helms in battle, which given the number of head wounds suffered is obviously quite stupid in-world. The depiction of viking and Anglo-Saxon and Frankish tactics is quite good.
They make hash of the topography. They have fjords in Kattegat, they have mountains by Uppsala, they have people crossing from Denmark to Sweden dryshod on land.
And being the we-used-to-be-a-history channel, they make hash of the history. For instance, Ragnarr did not succeed Horik I and king of Denmark, his son Horik II did.
The ships and houses and costumes are very nicely done and era-appropriate generally.
I’m curious to see if Rurik and Dyre will come in season 4 as the viking (varangian) founders of modern Russia were contemporaries of Ragnarr and his sons. Dyre’s companion Askold was the son of Hafdan Hvitsark Ragnarrson and thus grandson of Ragnarr and Aslaug and thus Ragnarr’s grandson.
Someone above scoffed at ‘conquering a new land with 30 guys’ well yes they didn’t have thousands of extras on set. But dark ages battles did not involve thousands of people either. The Great Heathen army of Ragnarr’s sons invaded and conquered most of England, the Isles, and northern Ireland with according to some scholars, less than a thousand men. Although Crusader Kings II gives them 15,000.
The show is very violent. It is about the events leading up to the Great Heathen Army which led the Christians of Europe to make special prayers for protection from them such as:
Pity [us] the highest favor by preserving and guarding our bodies, free us from the savage Norman tribe who devastates our realms.
They aged and young would have their throats slit, and maidens and lads too, and the multitudes also. Repel the evil from us, we altogether implore [thee]. Bring thee the ruling realm, we plead on our knees, to the king of glory, who pity us with true peace, soundness, hopes and strength. Give us peace and harmony. Bestow us unmitigated hope, genuine faith also; concede us continual charity and let completed be. Sanctify our prayers that we be availed in achieving this, that we be rejoiced in glorious measure. Praise be peace and glory, to the Trinity who [is] wholly most-magnificent for the people. Amen
–Charles the Bald
870
I give Vikings high marks for:
Music
Choreography
Values-neutral presentation of medieval Christianity vs Norse paganism. They are all anti-heroes at best except the Anglo-Saxon monk Aethelstan who is a viewer reference in that he is moral and isn’t murderous, Machiavellian, or batshit crazy. Well, he is Machiavellian, actually.
Acting, especially Travis Fimmel as the snarky, reserved, observant, calculating and ruthless Ragnarr and Katheryn Winnick as the stalwart shield-maiden Lagertha.
World-building set design and costumes are well thought out and authentic-ish. Such as the clinker-built ships they use.
Not so good for:
History, however Ragnarr isn’t acknowledged by all historians to be a historic character, although all his sons are. How could he not be real if his sons exist?
Ragnarr and Lagertha’s and Aslaug’s stories are caught up in the great cycle of Norse myths and legends such as Aslaug/Kraka/Ranhildr is the daughter of Sigurd the dragon-slayer and the shield-maiden Brynhildr. Her early story corresponds to “Clever Peasant Girl” folk tale, Aarne-Thompson no. 875, so either it nicely fit that pattern of changed with retellings to fit it.
Nevertheless the script has Ragnarr become King of Denmark, which for sure did not happen.
Geography as mentioned. Locations have been picked for their visual appeal and way of framing establishing shots, but have nothing to do with the actual geography of the places depicted in most cases.
There’s a lot more analysis at tvtropes but better not to read it yet because spoilers.
Overall, Vikings is a great show and well-worth watching.

5 June, 2015 Posted by | history, History Channel, media, review, scanlyze, television, Vikings | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Some thoughts on Mad Max: Fury Road.

Some thoughts on Mad Max: Fury Road.

I’m going to assume you have either seen the movie, know the general plot, or don’t want spoilers.

I enjoyed Fury Road but I don’t think it is as good as the reviewers claim. It is a B movie and destined to forever be one of the classics of that genre. It isn’t a feminist epic, though there are some nods in that direction. It does pass the Bechdel test and with flying colors despite there being almost no dialog in it. But most every movie should do, that doesn’t make it a feminist movie. The old ladies, the Vuvalini, are just the only non-evil gang/tribe.

The dialog is weak, almost non-existent, and isn’t so interesting. I’m also not fond of the early voiceover, that’s a lazy device probably demanded by the studio who were maybe uncomfortable with the no doubt WTF reaction of some older focus groups.

Of the core group of characters, in many ways Hardy’s Max is the least interesting. I didn’t think Hardy’s performance was that great, he lacked the screen presence and manic intensity of the younger Mel Gibson. Of course here his character is supposed to start so beat down and deindividuated as to say when asked his name, “Does it matter?

Where I give the movie very high marks is for physical effects, cinematography, editing, stunt coordination, logistics, and the creation of a very strange world which approaches Alice in Wonderland in weirdness and Saving Private Ryan in nihilistic brutality. The names are nothing if not inventive, such as The Splendid Angharad, Capable, and Toast the Knowing.

The film owes something to Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin in the physical comedy and timing, and exquisite complex rube goldberg-like crashes. In a horrible way it is quite funny, like a live action Road Runner. At the same time it is as horrifying as Apocalypse Now. The lady next to me spent most of the movie with both hands palms pressed to her cheeks in the classic look of horror. Her mouth was in a little “o” as in OMG what am I seeing? But, she didn’t look unhappy.

The long shots of broad desert landscapes are awe-inspiring and make Fury Road a modern “Lawrence of Arabia.”

It wouldn’t be wrong to say this is like a stagecoach western on acid, where the stagecoach tuns into a dieselpunk battlewagon with two small cars welded on the top for turrets, the pursuing outlaws turn into radioactive mutants in monster trucks, the hostile tribes turn into jawas in porcupine like cars and a explosive-spear-chucking 100 mile-per-hour cirque du soleil respectively, and the cavalry turns into rifle-toting old ladies on motorcycles.

If you go expecting another Mad Max movie you won’t be disappointed and you might be pleasantly surprised. Otherwise if you go in cold, hold onto your hat, or in the case of my seat neighbor, your face.

Copyright © 2015 Henry Edward Hardy

20 May, 2015 Posted by | analysis, B movie, brutality, Fury Road, Mad Max, media, movie, review, scanlyze | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bioshock Infinite is a visual feast but the gameplay is eh

Bioshock Infinite is a visual feast but the gameplay is eh. More specifically, the gameplay is basically Doom with splendid 1910 garb and steampunk weapons and technology. I find myself enjoying exploring and solving such puzzles as there are and not enjoying the tedious gunbattles. The premise for the game is promising, a self-proclaimed prophet builds a modern-day Noah’s Arc, a floating city in the sky like Swift’s Laputa, and secedes from the United States. Now Columbia is a rogue nation state going whither it will after being disowned by the United States following a massacre of Chinese civilians by the flying city in putting down the Boxer Rebellion in 1903.

Cornelius Slate

In Bioshock Infinite, the character Colonel Cornelius Slate sends his men to die a “hero’s death” in combat.

The city is a creepy homage to everything evil in the idea of American Exceptionalism, from the murderous Motorized Patriot, an animatronic-like machine-gun wielding George Washington robot, to the public stoning of an interracial couple with baseballs. Where the game excels is in the art direction and the overall verisimilitude of the construction of the world. Where it fails, in my opinion, is in the introduction of what are essentially spells, the vigors. It breaks the monotony of the pistol-shotgun-machinegun tedium but so stretches the suspension of disbelief. Even moreso the gate-opening ability of companion Elizabeth, which strains credulity. If she can open a gate to Paris at will, why and how is she locked in a floating tower.

But no matter, as interactive fiction, with lots of shooting and gore, the game succeeds brilliantly. And it is worth playing just for the visual awesomeness.

Bioshock Infinite overhead rails

Bioshock Infinite features a series of overhead rails which the characters can hook onto for vertiginous and visually glorious overhead travel between different parts of the Victorian-era floating city of Columbia.

Bioshock is a visual treat, a turn of the century romance and a somewhat garbled science fiction epic layered onto a rich tapestry of religion, corruption, slavery and sin. Worth a look, if not sixty dollars.

Copyright © 2013 Henry Edward Hardy

31 March, 2013 Posted by | Bioshock Infinite, computer game, historical fiction, media, review, scanlyze, USA | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment