Friday, 14 February 2014

RoboCop: Old VS New

Note: This review and analysis was written in response to Bob "MovieBob" Chipman's review of the recent RoboCop remake. To be blunt, it pissed me right off. Robocop (2014) is hardly a cinematic masterpiece, but it's far from the steaming dump that he makes it out to be. While it's not the first time I've disagreed with one of MovieBob's reviews, he is one of my favored reviewers because his views are often presented in a reasonable tone with sensible observations and evidence for support. In the months leading up to this movie's release, he's made no secret of his distaste for it, owing largely to his love of the original and the concern that a remake would fail to live up to it's legacy. Even small cosmetic changes like the color of RoboCop's armor earned his scorn. So when his review finally drops and he makes the claim that the movie is "devoid of a single redeeming feature", I felt compelled to respond. He's not normally this closed-minded, and I was disappointed that he seemed incapable of addressing the movie on its own without comparison to the original. Thus, I decided to drop to that level and actually take the time to compare the two works.


When you think about RoboCop, what comes to mind? For many, it’s an easy question. Ultra-violence and social commentary wrapped up in a layer of satire. It’s a very 80s movie, full of violent crime and a war on drugs, with an eye on corporate greed and contemporary pop culture. From that perspective, it seems an odd choice to reboot the franchise, since an 80s RoboCop does not fit in the world of 2014. The only way a reboot could work would be to employ a fundamental overhaul to fit the modern climate. And this is where we run into the unwinnable scenario as far as fans of the original film are concerned. If you maintain the themes and commentary of the original, it won’t connect with a new audience because we’re close to thirty years out from the original and societal issues have changed. If you overhaul it, fans will accuse you of being unfaithful to the source material, even going as far as to accuse your work of “artistic vandalism”.
So how different is the original from the reboot? Well, let’s break the two movies down quickly. Spoiler warnings are in effect, sorry.

Robocop (1987)
Alex Murphy is a new transfer to the Detroit Police Department. It’s his first day as a Detroit cop, and he’s partnered with Anne Lewis, a no-nonsense officer who makes her entrance by brutally taking down a violent criminal. Murphy is given some brief characterization through interaction with Lewis, twirling his pistol and talking about his son. This comes to a swift end when, while intercepting a gang of bank robbers, Murphy is violently shot to death. Resurrection comes in the form of OCP, a mega-corporation with designs on taking control of Detroit, tearing down the slums and rebuilding anew as Delta City.
Murphy becomes RoboCop, a combat cyborg controlled by an operating system that utilizes Murphy’s years of experience as an officer. Without fear or hesitation, RoboCop begins to have an enormous impact on the city’s crime, but soon suffers debilitating software glitches as a result of his human emotions and memories concerning his violent death. He tracks down those criminals responsible, ultimately discovering the criminal activities of one of OCP’s senior executives, Dick Jones. Attempting to arrest Jones reveals a hidden directive in his programming which serves to prevent RoboCop from performing his duty.
RoboCop, now considered a threat to public safety, escapes destruction at the hands of OCP and the police with the help of Lewis, whose personal relationship with Murphy inspired RoboCop’s crisis of identity as his human personality conflicts with his programming. RoboCop removes his armored mask, revealing the skin of his human face stapled onto a mechanical skull. A confrontation with the criminals ensues where RoboCop violently dispatches all of them, despite a conflict earlier in the film where his prime directives prohibited excessive force. He then proceeds to publicly confront Jones, despite his programming block. In a stroke of luck, OCP’s chief executive fires Jones, eliminating the block and allowing RoboCop to kill Jones. As the final line of the movie illustrates, RoboCop as a character has now given way to allow Murphy to resurface.

Robocop (2014)
Alex Murphy is a veteran officer with the Detroit Police Department. He and his partner Jack Lewis are investigating a local crime lord who traffics stolen police and military weaponry. Lewis is shot and injured during a bust gone wrong and Murphy is targeted at his home, nearly killed by a car bomb in front of his wife and son. OmniCorp, a corporation specializing in robotics, seeks to influence public opinion on the use of drones by providing a product that would gain public support on the eve of a major Senate vote regarding a ban on stateside drone usage. Murphy’s body, with the consent of his wife, is grafted into the RoboCop suit which sustains his remaining organic parts and enables greater combat capability. Murphy initially refuses the idea and requests to be allowed to die, but insistence from the project’s lead scientist Dr. Norton. Conflicts arise between Murphy’s personality and the suit’s programming, necessitating the use of drugs and augmentation to make Murphy more compatible, suppressing his emotions as a result.
Interaction with his wife and son inspire Murphy to investigate his own murder. His mind begins to adapt to the changes inflicted by Norton, restoring his personality. He tracks down and kills the crime lord responsible, uncovering the corruption of two fellow officers and his own police chief. Murphy is deactivated by OmniCorp on the orders of its CEO, Raymond Sellars. As news of police corruption being exposed by RoboCop becomes public, the Senate vote approves the use of drones. Sellars, fearful of the public discovering his company’s tampering with Murphy’s mind illegally, orders that Murphy be killed. Norton disobeys the order and reactivates Murphy, who pursues Sellars for his crimes with the aid of his partner Lewis and the rest of the Detroit Police. Murphy encounters Sellars, but a programming block prevents him from apprehending or harming specific VIPs, including Sellars. As Sellars threatens to kill Murphy’s family, Murphy mentally overcomes the block and kills Sellars. In the aftermath of the scandal, Norton testifies before the Senate regarding his actions, inspiring a Presidental veto of the drone act. The film closes as Murphy and his family reunite.


My aim is to illustrate just how different the two movies deal with the core concept of rebuilding a man as a machine. To use a simple analogy: The original RoboCop is about Batman. The remake is about Bruce Wayne. Throughout most of the original film, RoboCop is not a character in his own right. He is a conceptual force of justice. The movie is about a machine that learns to be human, but ultimately is not. It may identify as Murphy, but with no family and only one friend (who he’d known for less than a day), there is nothing to ground this character. It’s goals are explicitly outlined to us with three prime directives. Serve the Public Trust, Protect the Innocent, Uphold the Law. These are unbreakable rules of his programming. We don’t root for RoboCop because we want to see his personal victory, we want to see law and order triumph over crime and corruption. He’s a jumbo-sized action figure, complete with pull-string catch phrases. As a work of satire, that’s perfectly acceptable. It’s often necessary to paint with a broad brush when you’re making statements about major topics. When you think about RoboCop, the original film, you don’t just picture the symbolic armor and one-liners. You see the grime and graffiti, the neon dance clubs and mountains of cocaine, the slimy corporate suits and the gunslinging cowboy hero cleaning up the city. The more you focus on the character, the more you blur the world around them.
The rebooted RoboCop is the story of a devoted family man and police officer who suffers a severe injury and struggles to retain his humanity against the ever-increasing influence of his mechanical augmentations. The socio-political atmosphere is less detailed than it was in the original, but that is because the focus is on the character and not the world he inhabits. We're not living in the 80s anymore. Drone warfare is a more relevant social issue than drug trafficking these days, and Murphy's story is informed by that issue, not the other way around. It is made very clear that Murphy is a crucial part of the RoboCop persona, as it is his conscience and humanity that the people rally around, rather than his shiny armor or huge guns. Some may deride the clich├ęd use of the “power of the human soul” as the reason behind Murphy’s programming override, but this only serves to illustrate the difference between the two RoboCops. The original Robo is a machine with human parts. The new Robo is a human with machine parts. Ultimately, the mind controls the body, and Murphy’s ability to morally tell right from wrong was the very reason he was chosen for the project. This work, far more than the original, is informed by concepts of trans-humanism. See Deus Ex, Terminator, I Robot, Almost Human, etc. In the original, it’s never fully determined whether the entity of RoboCop is truly Alex Murphy, or a machine that believes it is Murphy. In this reboot, it’s made clear that Murphy’s brain and heart are in the suit, and it’s the influence of drugs and programming that make him think he’s a machine.


So, the question has been posed as to whether or not Robocop (2014) is a faithful remake of the original. I would have to say no. But in my opinion, it simply functions as the other side of the same coin. It’s not fair to compare the two movies because, with the exception of the core premise, they are completely different movies. Going back to the Batman analogy, there are different ways to interpret the character and they’re all equally valid, if wildly diverse. Is Christian Bale a better Batman than Adam West? It depends on what you want from the character. If you want your RoboCop to be a force of pure justice who mows down gang members with a machine pistol and blows up drug labs, you have a right to that desire. For me, I have a vivid memory of a tearful Joel Kinnaman staring at the scraps of flesh that used to be his body, begging for the right to die.

"'ve lost some weight."
Contrasting that with ED-209’s pig squealing tantrum from the original film, I knew at that moment that this was a very different movie, and a very different RoboCop, and I respect this one far more than the action figure that was the original. But of course, that’s my opinion. I can’t go as far as to say that either movie is superior because they’re playing different games. There’s merit in both works, but only if you accept them as they are, and not in relation to each other.

I will never be able to take this seriously.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Maybe I should make an LP?

If you're like me and you enjoy video game playthroughs, you know that this is a nervous time for the Let's Play community. YouTube has never been very friendly when it comes to any potential copyright infringement. If there are any doubts about the legitimacy of a video, YouTube will play it safe and just shut the video right down. Three strikes, and the account is banned. The problem is that many videos fall under the protection of Fair Use, an exception to copyright law that allows the use of copyrighted media without the permission of the copyright holder, so long as the media in question is used for a purpose such as criticism, comment, reporting, teaching, and so on. It's more complicated than that, but that's my best attempt to translate the Wikipedia entry.

It's a complicated issue. Copyright holders have every right to defend their intellectual property, and if they don't protect their work, they can lose control of it. As for YouTube, it would be nigh-impossible to have a human manually reviewing every single uploaded video for offensive material. An automatic flagging system is the only efficient way to keep things safe. The issue here is in the dispute process, which seems to be overly strict. When in doubt, deny deny deny. This has actually driven some users to switch to alternative video hosting sites like Blip and Dailymotion, with less restrictive policies.

There is one other obstacle to making an LP... I have no idea how to actually do it. I attempted it once with a friend of mine, and it only took us about an hour to put a video together. Though I'm not super proud of the result, we didn't suck too hard. Judge for yourself.

If I want to do better, I'll have to put in some actual effort, time, and resources. After some brief research, here's what I figure I need to get started:

1) Video Capture Software/Hardware

I'm not going to get far if I can't actually record the game I'm playing. In the video above, we just pointed a camera at the screen. This resulted in bad lighting as the camera had to adjust every time the screen transitioned, along with resolution problems and an unfortunate reflection issue where you can totally see us every time the screen goes black. Yeah, I chose to wear shorts. I apologize.
I'll need a way to plug my game console into my computer to record the audio/video feed directly. This can be achieved through the use of an external device like a PVR, which isn't cheap if you want to record in HD.

2) Audio Recorder

I'll need to record my own commentary for the video, either during gameplay or after. A high quality microphone will reduce background noise and ensure I'm heard clearly. The snowball mic is used by a lot of the better LPers.

3) Video Editing Software

The video above was edited using iMovie. It was stunningly easy to use. I haven't found another program that works as well for me. Unfortunately, it's not available on PC and I don't have a Mac. So if I'm married to the idea of using iMovie, I'd have to get one. Otherwise I'd have to spend some time getting used to a new program.

4) Interesting Things To Say

Oh so many LPs on YouTube suffer from the issue of being inane, boring, offensive, etc. The highest quality recordings in the world won't be worth much if your audience can't stand you. I'd like to think I'm witty and insightful enough to carry a video, but there's really only one way to find out. Some tips from the better performers out there include rehearsing by playing the game once to get familiar with it and think of things to say, rather than attempt to improv your way through. It's also good to have a commentary partner along for the ride, because it's easier to generate dialogue with a buddy than carry it alone.

If I can do it for cheap enough, I'd like to give it a shot. There are a lot of games in my library I'd like to share with an audience, and I think I could be entertaining while I do it. Of course, I'd have to get over the hatred I have for my own voice. I sound like I have a stuffed nose and a lisp. Who wants to listen to that for ten minutes?

Saturday, 23 November 2013

West Coast Geeks Vs Nerds - "Isla Nublar" (Jurassic Park) vs "The Island" (Lost)

Personal Note: HOLY CRAP, it's been a while since my last post. Insert the excuse of my choice here, ranging from a busy work schedule, to a failed NaNoWriMo attempt, to a severe breakdown in the Blogger interface that prevented me from posting this when I was supposed to. The fine people at WCGVN actually gave me a free pass to attend this show, in exchange for a review. And over a month later, here it is! ...yeah, they're not going to give me another one.

I'm trying to practice my writing so I can develop professional skill in the event I ever get to write for somebody else. I had aimed to have a post up once a week, but even that seems too daunting for my ever-dimming mind. Maybe I'll try for one a month? I'm reasonably sure nobody's reading these, but I have no idea how to check the view counts to be sure.

Well, I'll at least fulfill the request I was given, even if it is insanely late and lacking photographic reference because the phone I used to take the pictures was bricked shortly after I took them. I really do enjoy these shows, and you should totally go to one sometime. I wish I could go more often, but the scheduling isn't ideal for me.

West Coast Geeks VS Nerds - "The Island" vs Jurassic Park

With a new year comes a new season of West Coast Geeks VS Nerds. For those of you new to the show, here's the rundown: Geeks Versus Nerds is a live debate on a contentious pop culture issue, with a team representing each side, defending their position and attacking the other. A moderator maintains order and sets up the rules for the debate to keep things moving along without devolving into an Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny. The final decision is made by the audience, who cheer loudly for their champion. There's also drinks and food available, so it's a great time for everyone involved.

Each show features two debates. The opening act for this month's show was an unorthodox one, attempting to answer a curious question: Which vacation spot is the deadlier, more unappealing choice? The mysterious mythical Island from LOST, or the pre-historic nature preserve Jurassic Park? The two sides took the stage and rolled for initiative (with D20s no less), then presented their opening arguments.

The Nerds opened with the obvious: It's an island populated entirely by genetically-engineered prehistoric murder machines that can and will hunt you down as prey. They also lamented the park's awful transportation system, a series of slow-moving jeeps on rails. Finally, the state-of-the-art security by Neuman? Yeah, sounds like a lemon to me.

The Geeks countered with a rundown of all the most terrifying aspects of life on The Island. It's only accessible via plane crash, it's got nightmarish monsters and reality-warping properties, a doomsday machine buried in a secret bunker, and two different factions of killer natives out for your blood. Hard to top that...

Round 2 consisted of the two sides attempting to praise the virtues of the opposing side's destination of choice. Team Nerd explains how the Island is essentially a TARDIS, a shape-shifting realm that conforms to your wishes and even possesses miraculous healing properties. And lest we forget, there's even a golf course!

Team Geek counters with the fact that Jurassic Park was explicitly built to be a tropical resort, with no expense spared by the rich eccentric who designed it. It features all the amenities of a world-class retreat, and is host to the most exotic wildlife on the planet. The Island may be cool, but Isla Nublar was specifically intended to be the world's greatest vacation spot.

Round 3 centers around the MooMan Question, a specific debate question posed to both sides which results in abstract thinking and unorthodox conclusions. The question for this round was simple: Which person had the worst experience at each respective location? This seemed to turn the groups against themselves, as both sides seemed to be unable to reach a consensus on who had the worst time. Team Nerd seemed to be split between lan Grant and Ian Malcolm. With Grant, he was forced to spend both of his trips to the park having to bond with annoying children and come to terms with his career being rendered irrelevant by the mere existence of living dinosaurs. Malcolm was maimed by a T-Rex in his first trip to the islands, and then had to chase another one across San Diego.

The conclusion reached by Team Geek was that Charlie had the worst time on The Island. A drug addict forced to detox due to being cut off from his supply, he had almost kicked the habit when a plane filled with even more drugs happened to crash on the Island and send him into relapse. The best thing that happened to Charlie was drowning in a submarine, which says a lot.

Round 4 asked each team to present the opposing side's destination in the form of an advertisement. Team Nerd made a good effort in their presentation by outlining all the things you can do on the Island, like learn Korean, or play golf! Team Geek countered with a slogan and a mascot, which made for a far more enticing presentation.

The final round of the debate is where both sides are let off the leash and allowed to directly engage each other. The positions are made clear for the audience. The Nerds claim that people die more often in Jurassic Park, which is statistically true. The Geeks claim that people die more AWESOME in Jurassic Park, which is also hard to argue with. In the end, the audience cheers were very clear on their choice, and Team Nerd came out the winners. Jurassic Park is the worst vacation destination ever!

After a brief intermission (and an opportunity to use the bathroom and order more drinks...), the show resumed with the main debate of the night: Who is the better 2nd In Command? Spock of Star Trek, or Darth Vader of Star Wars? Sadly, I wasn't able to find out, because I work super early in the morning and I can't stay out late on a weeknight. I know, I'm lame. Still, I had a great time with my friends and I want to thank both teams, the moderator, and the venue for bringing us all a fun show. I'm definitely coming back for the next show!

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Olympus Has Fallen - Movie Review

Here's a fun piece of trivia: Back when they were getting ready to make Die Hard 4, one of the possible story ideas was referred to as Die Hard 24/7, a crossover film where Bruce Willis' John McClane would partner with Kiefer Sutherland's Jack Bauer. While such an idea would be too awesome to feasibly exist on-screen (though I wouldn't rule out a comic book), I was reminded repeatedly of the idea watching Olympus Has Fallen.

Take a shot when you see something explode and/or catch fire.
Directed by Antoine Fuqua, who you may remember from Training Day-- Okay, stop. Yes, he directed Training Day. In 2001. In recent years he's directed both Shooter and Brooklyn's Finest. In fact, he also directed The Replacement Killers and Bait, all of which I thoroughly enjoyed. And while Training Day is his highest-grossing and most recognizable film to date, I just think it doesn't bode well that the poster has to reference a movie made 12 years ago. Just say "Directed by Antoine Fuqua", I'd think he's got enough on his resume for his name to stand on it's own.

Anyway, the film opens with President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) boxing with his bodyguard Mike Banning (Gerard Butler). It's a bit of friendly sparring that sets up the friendship between our principal characters, interrupted by another Secret Service agent, Forbes (Dylan McDermott), who is cast in shadow and silhouette to indicate he's a bit shady. Symbolism! Asher and his family are on vacation at Camp David and are getting ready to return to the White House. Banning chats up the First Lady along with their son Connor, who we see playing Uncharted 3 on the PS3. It's surprisingly uncomfortable to realize that you're watching a child playing a T-rated video game where an American guns down waves of enemies in a middle-Eastern setting, in an R-rated movie where an American guns down waves of enemies from North Korea.

A tragic backstory ensues shortly where a car accident results in the death of the First Lady, with Banning unable to save her. It probably would've had more weight if wasn't the first thing we'd seen in every trailer for this movie. Eighteen months later and Banning is still living with the guilt of his failure, no longer assigned to protect the President, but I'm at a loss to tell you what his job is now. It's an important day at the White House, with the South Korean Prime Minister and his delegation arriving to discuss the escalating conflict with North Korea. Notable among the delegation is Head of Security Forbes-- Wait, what?

"South Korea really is a lovely country. Have you seen their subway trains?"
So this guy left the Secret Service and got a job with the South Korean government running security? Does that actually happen? This is an odd move, and as it turns out, totally pointless. So, as the delegation makes it way into the White House, a huge gunship flies into DC and shoots down the Air Force attempting to force it to land. You would think it would be a little harder to fly a gunship to Washington, considering it would have to cross a fair amount of land first. If it's coming straight from North Korea, it would cross most of the continent. If it's coming the other way, it still has to clear New Jersey and Delaware. And if it was stolen elsewhere, how does a gunship go missing and nobody notices? But let's put aside the logical inconsistencies.

So the Gunship arrives over Washington and immediately begins firing gatling guns on the White House-- no, wait, first they stop to hose bullets on the civilian areas around the White House. Strategic? Maybe if you want to cause general panic among the populace, but I think they've got that covered with the rest of the plan. Secret Service is immediately scrambled to deal with the threat and the President is ushered into a bunker, with the South Korean delegation taken along. The White House has surface-to-air missile launchers which are brought out to use against the aircraft... but the plane deploys flares which easily divert the missiles. Now we get to see who wins in a fight between a dozen guys with rifles and an AC-130.

The 2013 Secret Service Pock-N-Lockathon was poorly received.
So much for that. Next we get a bus full of tourists who set off bombs to blow a hole in the gate (why did they have to be suicide bombers?) and storm the front lawn. They're backed up by a pair of armored garbage trucks that have been modified with heavy machine guns to mow down the defense. Dozens and dozens of highly trained guards literally walk into a meat grinder, for several minutes. Meanwhile, Banning has been trailing behind the invading force and picking them off with his handgun, actually scoring a headshot against a sniper at long-range to establish that Banning has superhuman marksmanship skill. Despite arriving to the White House after the invaders, Banning enters the White House ahead of them and takes up a position inside.

The South Korean delegation inside the bunker then takes out weapons and instantly eliminates the President's personal security detail. We also see that Forbes is allied with the terrorists, which would have been a big reveal if it hadn't been telegraphed three times prior. He's cast in shadow when we first see him, he expresses a desire to take the easy job when he stays behind at Camp David in the prologue, and when we see him next he's taken up a private security job for the South Korean government. Antoine Fuqua does action like a master, but subtle he isn't. Anyway, the President and his cabinet are taken hostage. Terrorist leader Kang (Rick Yune) contacts the Speaker of the House and Acting President Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) to issues his demands for the US to pull their military forces out of Korea to allow their civil war to continue.

Banning also contacts Trumbull with information on what's going on inside the White House. Banning is given orders to find and rescue Asher's son Connor. I'm instantly nervous, because if you recall the last time the President's son went missing, we got this:

I could see someone starting a war over this movie.
It turns out that the real goal of the terrorists is to gain access to a secret nuclear failsafe program called Cerberus, which is used to prematurely detonate nuclear missiles in flight before they reach their intended targets. With three access codes from the President, Vice President, and Secretary of Defense, Kang can detonate the missiles inside their own silos, and turn America into Fallout 3. It's worth pointing out that, were this a real thing, it would only detonate the missiles themselves, not the nuclear payload, so at worst we'd be looking at a bunch of damaged and irradiated missile silos, not a nationwide holocaust. But for a big looming threat, it's effective.

Kang plans to torture the cabinet members into giving up their failsafe codes, which really just highlights the problem with having all three VIPs in the same place, but that's another logic issue. Kang successfully extracts the codes from the Vice President and Secretary of Defense, not because they broke under torture, but because President Asher can't bear to see it and orders them both to comply. Now, I can accept that it's a hard thing to watch (especially the Secretary, who takes a seriously brutal beating and is arguably the most heroic figure in the movie), but giving up the codes means the deaths of millions of people. In fact, keeping the codes is the only thing that guarantees your survival, since they can't get your code if you're dead. But we have to move the plot along, so Asher folds like a napkin. He asserts that even if Kang gets the other codes, he won't submit his own, but we've already established his low threshold for violence, so I doubt he'll be a stone wall of resistance. In fact, Kang's men are actively searching for Connor to use as a bargaining chip.

Banning finds Connor hiding in one of the false walls of the White House (which I would have to assume can also be monitored, because the Secret Service would never allow a blind spot in their security), and manages to sneak him outside to safety. Soon after, Banning encounters Forbes alone and uncovers his betrayal, leading to a quick fight that leaves Forbes dying from a throat wound. Banning encourages Forbes to tell Kang that Banning is dead, to give him an advantage. Forbes does so, and Banning rewards him with a knife through the skull. Granted, the punishment for treason is death, but that's cold, bro.

Is it a production photo, or the 1:16 scale action figure?
We also get treated to a scene where Banning captures a pair of terrorists and interrogates them for information. Specifically, he shoves a knife up through the jaw of the first terrorist, then stabs the knee of the second. This is where that 24 influence shows itself, where the hero does deplorable things in the name of justice and still manages to maintain his hero status. The audience is meant to side with Banning in whatever he does, because the bad guys are so absolutely evil that anything done to them is acceptable. It's the Nazi villain principle, and we've seen it applied over the years to whatever major threat the Western world is facing at the time. From the Germans to the Russians to the Chinese to the Iranians and so on and so forth. It makes for easy screenwriting because it reduces the antagonists to cartoon status. He might as well be fighting Cobra Commander.

Another obligatory scene occurs when the big military general sends in a team of Navy SEALs via helicopter, despite Banning's warning that he needs to recon the area first. Turns out that the Terrorists brought a state-of-the-art computerized anti-aircraft gun to repel the helicopters. They're ripped apart just before Banning can disable the gun and he's knocked through two floors of the building as a result. This scene adds little to the movie, but it must exist so that we can have the inevitable follow-up where Banning berates the general for his bad decision. If this is Die Hard, then the general is Deputy Robertson, the unreasonable authority figure with no actual authority in the situation, who only exists to look bad so the heroes look good by comparison. It also results in a shouting match between the general and Speaker Trumbull, which is the only time throughout the movie where Morgan Freeman gets to actually act. He's wasted in this movie by being stuck in a chair, making no major impact on the plot, and his biggest scene is completely unintelligible. Talk to him again when a comet is about to hit the planet, he's good with those.

"We believe the comet to be allied with North Korea."
It turns out that the Cerberus system is unbelievably easy to circumvent, as Kang's computer specialist manages to brute force hack her way into breaking Asher's code. Everyone is stunned because apparently it would take days to break all three codes, but only a couple hours to break Asher's. Maybe my math is wrong, but if only takes a couple hours for one code, you could still break all three codes in one night. It seems like the writer kept putting himself in a corner and had to improvise a way out, causing dozens of logical inconsistencies.

Skipping to the end, Banning contacts Kang directly on video (how, why, who cares...) and taunts him a little, throwing in a dig where he threatens to stab Kang in the brain, take a picture, and leak it to the press because people like Kang enjoy that sort of thing. Read that again, I'll wait here. This is our hero, ladies and gentlemen. He's not just doing this because he has to, because it's his duty, because he's saving lives. He's enjoying the violence, and that's a super scary thing to realize. We're supposed to sympathize with Banning for trying to redeem himself from his past failure, but that's almost never touched upon. Jack Bauer had very serious moments where he had to come to terms with the horrible acts he committed in the name of saving lives. John McClane blows away bad guys left and right, but even he had human moments when he laments the sour side of being an action hero. I'm all for Gerard Butler coming back to action movies after his extended string of romantic comedies, but he needs better than this. More 300, less Gamer.

Kang activates Cerberus, setting all of the nuclear missiles to detonate in five minutes. He then uses explosives to access a series of old construction tunnels beneath the White House to make his escape. Some problems with this plan:

1) Why would Cerberus come with a countdown timer? If it's purpose is to disarm missiles in-flight, wouldn't you want it to be an instant activation? Remember the end of Mission: Impossible 4?
2) Why are you bringing the President with you? He's not much of a hostage anymore since all his codes are changed, everyone thinks he's dead because of the helicopter explosion gambit, and even if you manage to sneak him out of the country to ransom him...
3) America is about to become an uninhabitable nuclear wasteland. How are you planning to get out of the country when you're in the middle of a radioactive hot zone? And even if you do, dragging Asher along the way, who's going to pay to get him back?

Unless scrap metal suddenly becomes a global currency...
And why is Kang doing all this? Is he that dedicated to North Korean ideals that he's willing to murder millions? No, it's because his mom stepped on an American landmine. Yeah, that's proportionate. He could have been the Hans Gruber of the movie, but his character motivations boil down to Chaotic Evil. The best way to write a villain is to remember that there are no absolutes. Nobody is the bad guy in their own mind, and nobody exists purely as a device in someone else's story. What does Kang see as a perfect outcome for his plan? Does he know the men under his command? Does he have a family? The movie doesn't attempt to answer any of these questions, because that would humanize the villain, and if you do that, it's a lot harder to cheer when he gets a knife in the brain.

And that brings me to the final question this movie gave me: Should we be cheering at all? Are we so bloodthirsty? This isn't purely an American value debate, since I also heard cheers in my Canadian audience. It'll be interesting to see how this movie plays overseas, where nationalism and sensationalism aren't as pervasive as they are in Western culture. Even if this guy is the Asian Hitler, should we be foaming at the mouth to watch him die? What does that make us? If you're the kind of person who asks these kinds of questions, this movie will make you very uncomfortable. When they talk about the kind of movie where you have to turn your brain off, this is what they mean. As an action film, it's badass. I enjoy gunfights and explosions and a big meaty punch whenever I can get it. But when you put a flag in the frame, you make a statement, whether you mean to or not. America, this isn't you.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Top 10 WTF Moments in Power Rangers

I love Power Rangers. It's about a team of superheroes with laser cannons and giant robots who fight armies of monsters to save the world. They're the ultimate force of Good in the world, and they serve as an example for us all to live up to: Brave, selfless, noble, honest, kind, all the best qualities of humanity are present in this team of heroes...most of the time.

The idea for this list came up when I suggested that the Power Rangers would win in a fight with the Avengers. This will probably go down in history as the biggest landslide defeat I will ever suggest in the Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny genre. NOBODY was with me on this one, and I had to admit they had some good points. I'm not going into it here, because that debate lasted days, and it's not the focus of this list.

While I was arguing, I realized that for all that awesomeness, there has been some really weird stuff going on in the Power Rangers universe over the years. And I'm not just talking about the one-off monsters who bake the Rangers into a giant pizza, or that time Chad dated a mermaid, or that time Lord Zedd spun the Earth to turn back time. Those are weird, but they're at least logically consistent. The following is my list of the Top 10 WTF moments in Power Rangers history.

10: Set The Bar Low (Mighty Morphin')
We're starting off right at the beginning of the franchise. Rita Repulsa, evil witch queen extraordinaire, is freed from her golden garbage can prison on the Moon and decides to conquer Earth. Meanwhile on Earth, ancient wizard Zordon and his robot assistant Alpha 5 detect Rita's escape. To stop her, Zordon tells Alpha to recruit a team of heroes. Well, that's not quite what he says. To quote him: "Teleport to us five overbearing and overemotional humans."
Make sure they're color-coordinated too!
Alpha deduces that he's talking about teenagers. I can't tell if he's joking or not, but he doesn't have much of a sense of humor in later episodes, so I'm inclined to believe he isn't. It's fair to point out that the pilot episode of a given show is usually a little different from the rest of the series, because the pilot episode and the first few after that is where the show starts to refine itself and figure out what works and what doesn't. But this is the foundational premise of the entire show, and it's baffling. Why teenagers, instead of adults? Why students instead of soldiers, or rescue workers, or cops? We'll see all of those in later seasons, so it's not like they HAVE to be teens for the powers to work. I have my fan-wank theories, but let's move on.

9: Time To Run (Time Force)

In the finale of Time Force, Ransik's forces are overrunning the city, and unstable time rips are threatening to destroy reality. To save his friends, Wes tricks them into entering their time-travel ship and triggers the autopilot to send them back to the future. They awaken in the year 3000 and are informed that Wes managed to save the city, but at the cost of his own life. Unable to accept this, the rest of the Rangers go against orders and race to get back to their time-ship.
I cannot IMAGINE how much those vinyl suits chafe while sprinting.
It looks cool and all, racing against time, but answer me this: Why are they running to get to their TIME MACHINE? Wes is already dead! He died a thousand years ago! Yes, you can save him, but it's not like he'll be any less dead a week from now! It's not like Bill & Ted where reality is running on San Dimas Time, you are specifically going back to change the future, so it doesn't matter when you leave! For that matter, why are you going back to save Wes the day AFTER he sent you to the future? It's a TIME MACHINE! You could go back to the exact moment you left with no consequences whatsoever! Hell, why not just go back to the first episode and stop Ransik from escaping in the first place! Sure, you could say it's going to screw up the space-time continuum and create paradoxes, but that's never been mentioned at all! History can be changed, and has been frequently. Seriously, you can walk. Maybe stop for lunch on the way. No rush.

8: Death in the Family (Lost Galaxy)
To say that Power Rangers are familiar with perilous situations is to say that the Atlantic Ocean is a bit moist. They fight monsters on a weekly basis, and losing typically means death for them, and by extension the human race, at the hands of whatever malevolent entity they're pitted against. This aspect of the job is downplayed most of the time, since the demographic for this show is pre-teen, and dark themes aren't common in kids shows. It's extremely rare for anyone to even mention death in the PR universe, let alone to actually die. If anyone ever does die, it's usually off-screen in the distant past, functioning as character development for someone else.

When the Lost Galaxy Rangers teamed up with the Space Rangers to fight the Psycho Rangers (yeah, I know...), Psycho Pink is the only survivor of the initial battle. To get the power to finally kill her counterpart, she seeks out an ancient sword to use to destroy the Rangers and the space station colony they inhabit (just go with it). The sword absorbs ambient energy to grow stronger, and after battling the Rangers begins to overload and threatens to annihilate the area. Kendrix, the Pink Galaxy Ranger, enters the energy storm to destroy the sword, despite the protests of the other Rangers. She reaches the eye of the storm, destroys the sword...
...and dies. No, really. Her body is obliterated by the resulting blast, and she's... dead. And you're thinking she'll come back next episode and this won't matter. As it turns out, the actress who played Kendrix, Valerie Vernon, had to leave the series to undergo cancer treatments. Thankfully, she fully recovered and actually did return for the season finale, but that's pretty dark for a kid's show. You might as well have told us Zordon is secretly a child kidnapper...

7: Zordon Kidnaps Children (Mighty Morphin')
Yeah, this happened. In the VHS special "Alpha's Magical Christmas", Alpha 5 and Zordon are alone in the Command Center on Christmas Eve. The Rangers are at the North Pole helping Santa get the presents ready for all the kids of the world, and Alpha is lonely because he's all alone on Christmas...which he says to Zordon, who must be a little offended, I would think. Anyway, Alpha decides to decorate the Command Centre in the hope of convincing the Rangers to visit, and to cheer him up, Zordon arranges for dozens of kids from around the world to be teleported in to keep Alpha company.
Weren't you in Rocky IV?
This is kinda sinister. Zordon takes kids from all over the world out of their homes and away from their families and sticks them in a dark room with a 4ft robot and himself, a giant floating head. Not one of these kids seem to have any problem with this, and actually know who Alpha and Zordon are, despite the fact that only the Rangers themselves are known to the public. They require no explanation for where they are or how they got there, they're instantly on board with this. Because they're from all over the world, naturally they're all wide awake and celebrate Christmas despite coming from different time-zones and nationalities. My best guess is that they're under some sort of spell (Zordon is a wizard, remember) to keep them happy and compliant while they do Alpha's bidding for the night. That's creepy enough, but they take it an extra step further when it's time for the children to go home...
Seriously, it even LOOKS like a death march.
...through this big myst-filled doorway. Why can't they just be teleported home if they were teleported here in the first place? You know what I think is happening here? I think Zordon's too cheap to spare the power required to run the teleporter again, so he's dumping these kids outside to fend for themselves in the California desert. They can't get back inside without a Power Coin, and they're miles away from civilization. Those kids never made it home. They all went "missing" on Christmas Day, the parents lost their minds, and the authorities were totally baffled. The whole thing ends up on "Unsolved Mysteries", or they manage to blame it on Lord Zedd. It's super unsettling. For a show aimed at kids, it seems like children often get the short end of the stick. The Rangers might as well pick up a toddler and use it as a weapon...

6: Bludgeon Baby (RPM)
AW COME ON! I wasn't serious!

Okay, here's the setup: A mother is taking her infant child to the park on a sunny afternoon. Suddenly, she's approached by a pack of Grinders, the robotic foot-soldiers for the season's villain, Venjix. Things look bleak before the arrival of Scott and Ziggy, the Red and Green RPM Rangers respectively. While Ziggy protects the mother, Scott leaps in bravely to protect the infant. Naturally, he'll try to get it to safety in it's stroller...
I really wish I could edit video.
...or he can totally swing the stroller around like a weapon with the baby still inside. At one point, the mother is crying out for her baby, and I don't think the killer robots are her primary concern anymore, it's the crazy man who's spinning her baby around in the middle of combat. At the end, one of the Grinders picks up the baby, and you can see that even IT is more gentle with the baby than our hero. And with the baby in the arms of his opponent, naturally Scott sweep-kicks the robot and sends the baby 20ft in the air. He catches it, but you can tell he just wants to spike it into the ground as part of his victory dance.

5: Surf Ninjas (Ninja Storm)
In this season, the Rangers are Ninjas with elemental affinities that allow them special powers. The Blue Ranger is water, and she can do crazy stuff with water. The Red Ranger is air, and he can fly and do stuff in the air. The Yellow Ranger is earth, and he can burrow underground and do ground stuff. Suspension of Disbelief is crucial to enjoying a show like this, but there are times that it gets stretched just a little too thin. As one of their battle tactics, when Red and Yellow are faced with a monster, we get this ninja technique:
REALLY wish I could edit video.
If it's not apparent from the slideshow, the Yellow Ranger is sliding around the ground like a skateboard while Red stands on him, and then leaps off so that both Rangers can slash at the monster. The reason they can do this? Ninjas are magic. Internal logic be damned, this is just silly. Though to be fair, Ninja Storm is the first Disney-produced season of Power Rangers, and this is hardly the silliest part of the season. The Rangers take their orders from a talking Guinea Pig, and their main villain is an evil ninja luchador. I went with this moment though because it's the easiest to explain. Sometimes though, there really is no explanation...

4: Take a DEEEEP Breath (Multiple Seasons)
The Power Rangers exist in a different universe than our own. Before you slap me, you need to understand that I'm not just talking about being fictional. I mean the laws of nature are fundamentally different. I could bring up the existence of alien life, or the mermaid thing, whatever. But the biggest and most obvious difference: We can breathe in space. It's hinted at in the first season, when we establish that Rita's palace is on the moon, which has an Earth-like atmosphere and gravity. And we see it in later seasons when the Rangers are walking around on the Moon with no difficulty, or riding a motorcycle in space.
He's skidding to a stop. In SPACE. This angers me.
But the biggest violation of science and biology occurs in "Escape The Lost Galaxy", an episode of Lost Galaxy where Mike's zord and powers are destroyed in order to keep a space portal open long enough for the Rangers to pass through it. In the resulting destruction, Mike is recovered floating in space, unconscious, and alive.
I will never stop hating this picture.
I don't have an explanation for this. Maybe being a Power Ranger makes you immune to asphyxiation? Hell if I know, let's just move on to another series.

3: Travel In Style (Lost Galaxy)
No! Bad list, bad!

After a spell is recited from an ancient book, the spaceship colony Terra Venture is transported through a portal into another galaxy. The colony is then approached by another ship for communication. This is another one of those moments that really has to be seen to be believed, but all I can do is describe it for you. Mike contacts the ship's senior staff and informs them of the situation.

Mike: Sir, there's a vessel approaching.
Captain: What kind of vessel?
Mike:'s a castle, sitting on a dinosaur, flying towards us.
Captain: ???
This was the plot of a Doctor Who episode. Several, even.
I got nothing.

2: Denial or Senile? (Lightspeed Rescue)
Lightspeed Rescue is unique among many of the other seasons for several reasons. For one, the Rangers are all adults, and rescue workers at that. There's a firefighter, a paramedic, a pilot, an athlete, and a lifeguard. For another, they're not operating in secret. The Rangers are government employees operating from a military base without secret identities. This makes a lot of sense. Monsters have been attacking the planet for years, so it's only natural for the government to put something in place to protect the people. Forming their own team of Rangers? Yeah, why not? But let's get to the point.

A little girl accompanies her mother to work in an office building (I assume it's Take Your Daughter To Work Day), where the mother is kidnapped by aliens. The little girl escapes and goes to get help. Apparently, nobody believes her. I know kids make things up sometimes, but given the nature of the series you'd think people would give her the benefit of the doubt. But the real crowner is this elderly secretary who delivers this gem: "You know there's no such thing as monsters."
Kids today, with their abduction stories...
The inspiration for me to do this series (and the two others I'd like to do later for Best and Worst moments) came from an internet review named Linkara, who does a History of Power Rangers video series. He's mentioned many of these weird moments in his videos already, but I still felt like giving my own little take on the series. I give him all the credit he's due, particularly now, because I honestly can't sum this stupidity up any better than he does: "You live in a city that is constantly under attack by monsters, and the Power Rangers are known public figures without secret identities, not to mention the fact that the Earth was invaded and almost conquered a few years ago by monsters. Lady, I officially declare you Dumbest Person In Power Rangers Ever." It's nice to know that by the end of this day, this woman will be forced to evacuate the building along with everyone else inside because of a monster attack. Of course, if she really IS that stupid, she'll probably think it's a parade or something.

1: Heroes In A Half-Baked Shell (In Space)
Prepare for the epic team-up that nobody asked for...
I refuse to believe this happened.
Astronema, the evil general in command of Dark Spectre's army, is attempting to conquer the universe. The only thing standing in her way is the Space Rangers. So how do you defeat the Power Rangers? Well, summon the Ninja Turtles, of course! She goes to New York to find the Turtles and brainwashes the five of them to work for her. Yes, five. Venus is here too. This is a crossover special with Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation, which was also produced by Saban around the same time. It was a terrible show that was almost universally hated. Aside from the terrible production quality, it also introduces Venus, a fifth female turtle separated from the brothers at birth. Nobody likes Venus. Not even Peter Laird, the guy who co-created the Ninja Turtles. You wonder why nobody ever mentions Venus in the TMNT movie? That's a direct order from him. She's an un-person. Much like to me, this is an un-episode.

So, the mind-controlled Turtles save the Rangers from a monster as part of a ploy to get access to the Ranger's spaceship and take control of it for Astronema. When they first meet, the Rangers are flabbergasted that the Turtles exist at all. This is perplexing to me, because there are two possibilities at play here. Either the Turtles are fictional in the Ranger universe, or they aren't. If the Turtles are fictional, then it makes sense that the Rangers would know them because they'd have seen the comics, cartoons, video games, etc. If the Turtles are real, then how would the Rangers know them? It's not like the Turtles are world-famous in their own movies and TV shows, they live in secret. You know, like NINJAS. And all of this applies in the reverse too, when the Turtles insist to Astronema that the Power Rangers are fictional. All the evidence we see indicates that the Turtles and Rangers exist in the same universe, because Astronema goes straight to New York to capture the Turtles. So the fact that they're surprised by each other's existence is insane.

Eventually the mind-control is undone, everyone teams up to beat the bad guys, you get it. This probably seemed like a gold mine to Saban at the time. Kids like Power Rangers, kids like Ninja Turtles, let's put them together and rake in the cash! Ironically, the two series ended up going in total opposite directions. Ninja Turtles was riding a popularity wave in the mid 90s with the games and comics, but their popularity dropped with the horrible live-action show. Power Rangers was in decline after the previous season (Turbo suuuuucked!), but ratings skyrocketed during In Space enough to bring the series out of cancellation (this would become a recurring trend for the franchise). And while we still enjoy the adventures of the Power Rangers to this very day, that enjoyment comes along with some really messed-up stuff.

Editor's Note: I really wanted this to be a video list. I spent weeks working with different (free) editing programs to put it together, downloading specific episodes to get the footage I needed. Three things kept me from actually going through with it. 
One, YouTube is notoriously strict when it comes to using footage and audio from copyrighted sources, even if it falls under Fair Use laws. If the video gets flagged, YouTube takes it down. From there, I have to file a DMCA counterclaim, which forces the copyright owner to either let the video go back up, or officially charge me with copyright infringement. Legally I'm clear since this counts as criticism and/or review (, but I really don't need the hassle of a court case. This is why Blip is cooler than YouTube...
Two, I have a lisp and I hate it. I'd rather not expose you all to my slippery S sounds unless it's necessary (imagine if I had said that out loud...), so that settled things rather easily. Maybe I can pick up a book on lisps and do some exercises, who knows.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Power Rangers Megaforce - Episode 1 Review

I'm a 24 year old man (25 in a couple weeks...) with a full-time job and a university degree. I am also a big fan of the Power Rangers franchise. I know that the show is aimed primarily at the pre-teen demographic. More specifically, the series is a cash cow whose main purpose is to serve as a commercial for selling lots of toys, much like Transformers and GI Joe before it. Even knowing this, I still love Power Rangers. On a basic level, it's a show about superheroes beating up bad guys and piloting giant robots. On a philosophical level, it's about good vs evil and the belief that the good guys always win in the end. It's idealistic, but as a kid I imprinted on that lesson and it became part of my own ideology.

For those who aren't aware, Power Rangers is a television series that started in 1993 with "Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers". It's an adaptation of the Japanese "Super Sentai" series, and primarily utilizes action footage from that series as a cost-saving measure. Every year it's a new team with a new set of suits and a new enemy to face. Every few years it faces cancellation, but between a devoted fanbase and a significant financial return, it's never gone for long. We're now at the 20th anniversary of the franchise, and production company Saban has gone to length to commemorate the series' legacy with Power Rangers Megaforce.

So, what do I think of the premiere episode, "Mega Mission"? Oh man...
Guys, I think in this case, it's okay to skip straight to Megazord time.
It opens with an explosion of badass as we see hundreds of Power Rangers engaged in a massive battle. All of the previous teams are here, and a couple we haven't seen before. It lasts fifteen seconds, then we fade out to reveal it's a dream in the head of Troy, the new kid in school and our future Red Ranger. We also get to meet the rest of the team as they sit through a Science class lesson. The only one who makes much of an impression is Noah, the Blue Ranger and our designated nerd. Naturally he's got thick glasses, a polo shirt, and a desperate need to be the smartest kid in the room. Unfortunately, he's not even that. When asked a speculative question in class, he gives us an impossible and ridiculous answer that only serves to annoy the audience.
"Wrong, wrong, wrong!" God, someone wedgie this kid...
Troy enters and gives his own idealistic answer to the question, and everyone falls silent in awe of his natural charisma and leadership-- *snore*. It's a pet peeve of mine, but I really don't like this school setting. Not that I don't like A school setting, just this one. The class has about a dozen kids in it, the room and halls are all spotless, everyone's smiling and happy. I know it's nothing unusual considering how schools are depicted in television, but it's distracting. It's all way too perfect, and I don't even see a garbage can. You'd think it was a private school that they just built yesterday.

We're then introduced to our new villains. They're giant bugs from outer space. "Humans are weak", "this planet will be ours", you know the drill. Sadly they're more of the same rubber-suited monsters with no noticeable depth or character beyond being evil conquerors. It's not hard to come up with villains with interesting motivations and complex personalities. See: Astronema (In Space), Ransik (Time Force), Mesogog (Dino Thunder). They may be evil, but they have personal history and interesting goals. If we don't care about the villains, it's not as significant when the Rangers finally defeat them.

The theme music kicks in and--hey, that's a pretty cool new music sting! Let's see if it can keep that energy throughout... wait a second, you're just copying the theme from the last series, Samurai! You honestly couldn't come up with a new theme? It's even worse because the Samurai theme is itself a cover of the original Mighty Morphin' theme. I accepted it for Samurai because it was Saban's first series after re-acquiring the franchise from Disney, but now it's just lazy. Saban, just go back to Ron Wasserman and beg him to start writing your music again. He's beloved by the fans and he's responsible for all your best music. Don't pull a Star Trek and fire your best composer when he's the one bringing in the fans. Tell him you're sorry, you didn't mean the things you said, and you want to make this marriage work. Flowers and chocolates might help.

A swooping landscape shot of the beach (hello, New Zealand!) leads us to the Ranger headquarters and home of the ancient being Gosei, and his robot assistant Tensou. Tensou looks like the love child of the Mars Rover and Wall-E, and Gosei...well...he's a giant Tiki head on the wall.
"I've gathered you here to save the world from-- Why are you laughing?"
He later claims he chose this form as one that humans would find comfortable, which indicates to me that he's never met one before. He is aware of the arrival of the aliens and instructs Tensou to find "energetic and unstoppable" heroes. To sum it up: Teenagers. Of course. Gosei tells Tensou to pick five kids with talent and attitude and bring them here. We cut to three of those teens as they enter "Ernie's Brain Freeze" ice cream shop. Yup, it seems that Ernie's Gym and Juice Bar is a thing of the past, and Ernie himself seems to have changed over the years, having become a short Indian man-- Oh, different guy? Never mind then. (Editor's Note: The original actor who played Ernie, Richard Genelle, tragically passed away in 2008. I'd like to think this is a tribute to his contribution to the show.)

We learn a little more about our Rangers here. Jake, our Black Ranger, is a friend of Noah's and fancies himself a bit of a ladies' man, in pursuit of "the hottest girl in school" Gia, our Yellow Ranger, who we earlier saw exhibit fast reflexes in catching a falling book and now we see her dutifully studying. Just as Jake finishes paying for some ice cream (with a $20 that Ernie insists on counterfeit checking...), the three are magically teleported away. Troy is seen practicing his martial arts kata on an empty rooftop, and is about to jump kick his water bottle right off the roof when he's transported.
F**k yeah, littering!
The four show up in Gosei's cave/command centre. They meet Gosei and Tensou, who explains the situation. Aliens are coming to take over, it's Power Ranger time, suit up. He also claims that his mentor, Zordon, placed him in defense of the Earth, and he only awakens in the face of an extraordinary threat. This would be cool...if we didn't know that Zordon was destroyed to save the universe back in 1998. Which means this guy's been sitting in a cave for 15 years while all the various demons, aliens, and monsters have been attacking the Earth on a regular basis. For a supernatural guardian, he's a bit of a slacker.
Army of robots killing millions? Eh, let the little girl handle it, I'm napping.
The group is skeptical of his claims. And why shouldn't they be? It's not as if aliens have ever invaded the planet before...except for back in 1998 when the Space Rangers saved the world from an all-out attack. Or in 2000, when demons were taking over Mariner Bay and a government-sponsored Ranger team saved us. Or when aliens attacked again in 2002 and we were saved by Power Ranger Surf Ninjas. Every single time someone in this series claims to have never heard of Power Rangers, I'm utterly confused. We can't even pretend this is a new universe, because the whole point of this series is that Gosei has access to the powers of previous Ranger teams. Why are the producers so afraid of continuity? Especially now, on the 20th anniversary. Just accept the fact that the Power Rangers universe is clearly different from our own. We can breathe on the moon, for crying out loud!
And in the vacuum of space. Yes, really.
Emma, our Pink Ranger, is the last to arrive. She was in the woods taking pictures of nature when she stumbled across one of our alien insect villains taking a stroll. With photographic evidence she corroborates Gosei's claims. Personally, I'd give the giant talking head with mystical powers the benefit of the doubt. Gosei addresses each Ranger individually, praising their virtues. Emma the BMX cyclist and nature lover, Noah the scientist, Jake the enthusiastic athlete, Gia the calm perfectionist, and Troy the noble warrior. Troy's response is that "there must be some mistake. I'm new in town." ...Which means nothing, but thanks for sharing! The teens are given their morphers and instantly teleported back into the city to fight attacking monsters.
The Rangers engage, with Troy and Gia putting up the best fight due to their martial arts skill. Jake's soccer talent helps him take down a few of the minions, while Emma relies on her camera's flash to blind her opponents and Noah just stumbles around swinging with his messenger bag. Billy would be proud. Eventually they're all beaten down by superior numbers and firepower. Troy decides now is the time to try out Gosei's morphers. Incidentally, the morpher looks exactly like Gosei, and is activated by opening the mouth and cramming a trading card into the slot. This is also how the team obtains weapons in battle (complete with a Gosei voice clip). This is all pretty surreal, even by Power Ranger standards. Trading cards give you superpowers? Did I accidentally start watching Digimon?
Sometimes the card doesn't swipe, so you have to wrap it in paper or plastic.

With their new powers and weapons, the team easily defeats the minions. The insect leaders decide to send a higher-level monster, and the team summons laser handguns in response (fans will recognize this as the Carter Greyson tactic). Shooting ensues, accompanied by the series' theme music. This is a stable of the franchise, and it serves to amplify the power of a given fight scene. Even though the music in this case is just a cover of a cover of an original theme (which means Fox's "Glee" is free to steal the crap out of it), it's still a great moment as the team fully realizes their potential as superheroes. To take down the main monster, the team combines their weapons into a large cannon...which is powered by trading cards. Sigh.
Available in booster packs at your local Toys R Us, kids!
With the monster destroyed, the team returns to Gosei's cave. He tells them that their lives have changed forever, and they have become Earth's greatest heroes, the Power Rangers Megaforce. Zack tells Zordon he's uncertain because they just got lucky this time. And then Kimberly says she's not sure about being a Ranger because the helmet messes up her hair...wait a second, I meant to say Jake, Gosei, and Emma there. But didn't this exact scene happen in the original pilot too? Basically word-for-word? Eh, screw it, it's not like the target audience for this show was even alive in 1993 so they'll never notice. Go Go Megaforce!

"Mega Mission" is a very straightforward introductory episode of the series. We get to know a little about each of the Rangers, a basic rundown of the plot, and by the end we have an established status-quo to default to at the end of every episode. Where it suffers is a lack of originality. There's homage, and then there's copying. Entire scenes and even the entire plot structure are lifted straight out of "Day of the Dumpster", the Pilot episode of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. The theme song is an adaptation of the original theme, and the characters themselves are imitations of the classic Rangers. I'm willing to cut some slack and hope that they can develop into interesting characters over the course of the next few episodes, but so far all I want is for Noah to get smacked for being such a whiny nerd and for Troy to wake up and pretend to give a crap.
"Let's save the world...I guess...ZZZZZZZZ..."
It seems that Saban's been stalling for time with the PR series since they bought it back from Disney. They extended Samurai into two seasons so they would have access to the Japanese "Gokaiger" footage, which was Super Sentai's 35th anniversary series. This would allow them to show footage of different Ranger teams without having to film it themselves. We even got to see a short clip of the Legend War in Troy's dream, though why is still unknown. However, they instead chose to adapt Goseiger, the series prior to Gokaiger, which makes me think that we probably won't be seeing much in the way of classic team-ups until next year, when they finally get around to using that footage.

I'm not in the target demographic for this show, I'm fully aware. Looking at it objectively, I think new viewers in the right age range will love this show for the same reasons we did when we were that age. I just wish it wasn't so similar to DotD that you could run the two side by side and have it look like a mirror image (except one's in widescreen HD). Like I said, I'm almost 25, so I don't expect the show to cater to my expectations. All the elements that make this show great are still present. I've just been watching long enough that I can spot the threads.

So welcome to Power Rangers Megaforce, the 20th anniversary of the franchise! Too bad you'll probably have to wait until the 21st to see all the cool stuff they're teasing you with now. Let's all head to Ernie's Brain Freeze, I hear he's got a new black light scanner.
"$20? From a high school kid? Yeah right, like you have a job..."

Monday, 7 January 2013

Why Not Watching "Dredd" Makes You A Bad Person

Editor's Note: For some reason, the video/photo embed feature isn't working for me, so I'm going to be sticking links to YouTube clips and pictures throughout the post. Hopefully it's fixed later and I can do this properly, but bear with it for now.

When I saw the trailer for Dredd in the summer of 2012, I was pretty psyched. It looked grim and violent and everything that a post-apocalyptic superhero movie should be. Even if the first movie was pretty awful, this one looks like a more exciting action film, not to mention a more faithful adaptation of the source material.

Here's some quick background info on Dredd. It's an adaptation of the long-running comic series first seen in the pages of British science-fiction anthology 2000 AD. Roughly 100+ years in the future, following global nuclear war, much of the planet is an irradiated wasteland known as The Cursed Earth. The few remaining safe zones are occupied by massive walled cities where the last humans live. Inside those mega-cities, overpopulation is a major concern, and crime rates are extremely high. To counter this, the police force and judicial system have been combined. In this system, the legal process has been streamlined so much that one Judge can make arrests, pass sentence, and carry out executions (literal Judge/Jury/Executioner). Badass as that sounds, the comic is a satire of the stereotypical "cowboy cop" genre and functions as a commentary on themes of fascism and the nature of the police state. Judge Dredd is one of those enforcers, something of a legend among the citizens and criminals of Mega City One.

The first film adaptation of Judge Dredd was released in 1995 starring Sylvester Stallone. It was a fairly typical mid-90s superhero flick, lots of color and noise and cheesy one-liners. It's on-par with most of Stallone's work from that era of his career (see: Demolition Man, Tango & Cash, Cobra), and while it's a decent popcorn flick, it's a stunning disappointment to fans of the original comic. For one thing, Dredd only has his helmet on for roughly 5% of his screen time, taking away the mystique of the character. As mentioned above, Dredd exists more as a symbol than an individual, a faceless tool of the system he serves. The movie decided to examine Dredd as a person, probably because Stallone was too big of a star to let himself go through a whole movie without showing his face.

Nevertheless, the second attempt was looking to be a major improvement, and I went in on opening weekend with high expectations. And damn if it wasn't awesome. I could do a whole blog post about how great the movie is, but since it's out on DVD/Blu-Ray tomorrow, you can just take my word for it and watch it yourself. It's tense, dark, there's gunplay and gore and grit up to the gills and it's great. I'll summarize it anyway because I can't stop myself.

A new drug is hitting the streets in Mega City One, dubbed Slo-Mo because its users experience the sensation that time is passing slower. While only implied within the movie, I remember reading somewhere that the concept behind the drug is that with the city being so grim and ugly, anything that could turn something ordinary (like splashing water) into a cascade of light and color would be a welcome escape for the suffering masses. On a practical level, this gives the movie an excuse to show off some gratuitous slow-motion sequences through the perspective of the users of the drug. One particularly impressive shot occurs when Dredd shoots a guy in the face, and the exit wound through the cheek expands to show teeth and gums inside. Seriously, AWESOME.

Anyway, while Dredd is investigating the site of a triple-homicide and potential gang activity tied to the drug, he is also evaluating a new recruit. Anderson is a young, naive rookie, who also happens to be a mutant with psychic abilities (something explored further in the comic) that make her an asset to the Judges. When they accidentally stumble upon the secret operation of local crime boss Ma-Ma inside a massive housing complex (known as a Block), Ma-Ma seals off the entire building and sends her army of thugs after the two isolated Judges, forcing Dredd and Anderson to fight their way to the top. If that plot sounds familiar, you might have seen The Raid: Redemption which has a nearly identical premise. While some have accused Dredd writers of stealing ideas, it's largely considered a coincidence because Dredd spent years in production before it was finally released.

Karl Urban (Doom, Star Trek) plays Dredd, and thankfully has no problem keeping his helmet on. He pulls off a decently gruff voice and manages to convey a decent range of emotion (from angry to annoyed to surprised to angry again) using only his mouth, and is no stranger to sci-fi action, making him a great fit. Olivia Thirlby (Juno, The Darkest Hour) as Anderson gives a great performance as an inexperienced rookie in a life-or-death situation who has to rise to the challenge, and her character has a noticeable arc as she is hardened into a badass in her own right. Lena Headey (300, Game of Thrones) gets to have the most fun with her role as the psychotic addict Ma-Ma, though every time I see her I just think: "Holy crap, Sarah Connor really went nuts after her son went to the future to fight SkyNET".

So, that's the basic rundown of Dredd: Great action, character development, special effects, and a faithful adaptation of the source material. It's in my top five movies of the year (next to The Avengers, Cabin in the Woods, Looper, and Skyfall) and I highly recommend it. Which is why after I saw it in theaters, I told everyone I know about how awesome it is and that they should all make time to see it...

Dredd Budget:       $45 million
Dredd Box Office:  $36.4 million


Okay, I need to calm down. There's a perfectly logical reason for this, I'm sure. So let's think it through: Why Didn't You See Dredd?

Maybe something better was playing at the same time? Dredd came out September 2012, so what else was playing around then?
  • Resident Evil: Retribution - $221 million
  • Hotel Transylvania - $311 million
  • Looper - $166 million
You know how I feel about the recent Resident Evil film (all of them, really) since I went into it in detail already. Looper was admittedly a great movie, and I can't comment on Hotel Transylvania since I haven't seen it. But if you guys could throw all that money at these movies, what was keeping you from checking out Dredd? You know, maybe it's the association with the Stallone version. That one was awful, so maybe this one will be too. After all, that one barely made any money, right?

Judge Dredd Budget: $90 million
Judge Dredd Box Office: $113 million

Aw, come on! And that's in 1995 dollars! Pizza was 99 cents a slice back then, remember that? You could rent a movie for less than $5! (Wow, I feel old...) Imagine if you adjusted that for present-day ticket prices! And that movie still made more money than Dredd. In fact, Stallone will inadvertently help me prove my next point: This is a movie that any self-respecting action fan should have seen. When movies like this don't make money, it sends a message to Hollywood: The action genre is dead, better make another Twilight franchise. Something similar happened with the release of The Expendables, an action film from 2010 starring Stallone and roughly a dozen more of the manliest men in living film history. It was a love letter to the classic action movies of the past thirty years and was hyped up to an absurd degree due to the number of big-name action stars attached to the project. A fan-edited trailer was posted to YouTube prior to the film's release that perfectly encapsulates my feelings on this subject.

See, this is why Judge Dredd made so much money in 1995. Do you remember what the Internet was like in 1995? Do you remember Windows 95? Dial-up modems and Internet Explorer? Hell, Napster wasn't even around back then. People only knew about movies from newspaper write-ups and watching Siskel & Ebert on TV. Movie piracy wasn't nearly the phenomenon it is today, at the infancy of the digital age. I'm not going to pin the blame entirely on illegal downloading, but it doesn't help.

It's not just Dredd, it happens all the time. People wonder why shows like Arrested Development, Chuck, Community, Eureka, Sanctuary, Stargate, Terminator, and dozens of others get cancelled despite being critically well received with devoted fan bases. It's because not all of those fans ever get around to actually watching the show. They stick to downloading torrents, and can't even be bothered to buy the DVD releases. To those people I say: This is why we can't have nice things.

A quick check of the Wikipedia page tells me that writer/producer Alex Garland has plans for a possible trilogy for Dredd, if the film manages to break $50 million in sales. I don't know if that counts home video sales, but I still really hope people decide to actually pick up a copy of Dredd when it's released tomorrow. It's worth your money, and you might just get to see another film in the series if we can get the figures up. Bigger budget means more locations and special effects, which gives the writers more freedom to get creative. I want to see that, and I'm willing to fork over some cash to make it happen. How about you?