Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Alice in Wonderland (Disney: 2010)

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed,but I like Alice in Wonderland. This is honestly the story that started my love with the Multiverse as a whole, leading me to love works authors such as Steven King, Diana Wynne Jones, Garth Nix, Neil Gaiman, C. S. Lewis, the Star Trek Mirror universe, etc.  I love the idea of a dark side of the mirror that you can just fall into and everything is just different and wrong. Maybe this is just a dissatisfied childhood talking, but this idea landed in my brain at a very young age and stuck hard. Otherworlds were the settings of most of my childhood fantasies and hold a very close place to my heart.

I love all of the ideas brought up in Alice in particular. Victorian England plus mirror universe equals win. The writing is brilliant, the portrayal of a young girl is spot on, everything about the original books by Lewis Carrol was awesome.  If you’d like to truly understand how much political commentary he crams into this book of nonsense, I highly recommend The Annotated Alice. Not a quick read, but a worth one.

The Various Iterations of The Alice
As with any truly iconic story, there are many, many, many versions of Alice. Everything from true to the source materials, to sequels, hundreds of years later, and just references (such as the unnamed character of Alice from the awesome first Resident Evil movie--we’ll get to the sequels here sometime, I’m sure). Some of these iterations are awesome in and of themselves. Some, not so much.  I’d recommend the Syfi miniseries for an interest look at the world (plus, everything is made better by Tim Curry), I’d not recommend Tim Burton’s version. And let me tell you why.

Wait, This is a Sequel?
Okay, I like sequels. American McGee’s Alice was a really good sequel. She came back and they all thought she was crazy and her beautiful Wonderland is twisted into a dark mirror of her now unhappy life. Brilliant (the new game, not so much, but I digress). Several of the iterations go into sequel territory, speaking of The Alice of Legend, and makes for an interesting story. This is good. However, I was really disappointed to discover that Tim Burton’s Alice was a sequel--and not just a sequel to the classic Alice story, but to specifically to Disney’s Alice in Wonderland. Which I could have been moderately okay with, if I’d known this before I’d bought my ticket and was sitting in the theater.

I thought, from the advertisements, that this rendition of Alice was a look at an older Alice falling into Wonderland. I was hoping for a more mature look into the Alice mythos. Instead we got futterwacken. Sorry. That just slipped out. Instead, we get a sequel to an honestly weak and extremely watered down version of Alice.

In Context
Yes, the Disney version was the first Alice I ever saw. And, because my mother hated that movie, the tape was had was of an abridged, Best of Disney or something version. My copy didn’t have the stupid I Feel Sorry For Myself song, more some of the other, slower scenes, and was better for it. While this is one of the iconic classic Disney movies, it is not one of the great, classic Disney movies. Honestly, and I know I say this a lot, the book was way better.

So What Was Good About This Remake/Sequel?
It was gorgeous.

Period, it looked amazing. The only times I was thrown out of the vastly beautiful world was the beginning when Alice is in England--seeing images that blatantly show things she will have flashbacks to when she is in her delusion/dream. (And we’ll get to that.) Or when they show images that were specifically from the Disney version, like the roses. I really wish they’d had the guts to break away from the preconceived graphic concepts and really played with the world. Either way, beautiful sets, costumes, creature effects. Really pretty to watch.

So What Went Wrong?
How they handled it. This could have been so awesome if they hadn’t felt the need to join it with any particular Alice that came before. But by stating that this is actually a sequel to the original they given the story restraints that it didn’t need to have. It made this a kids’ movie. And in this climate of “Its ok, its a kids’ movie; it doesn’t have to be good,” this is a very bad thing. Do you remember when kid movies had jokes and plots that made it fun for adults too? Can you think of a kids’ movie that was made recently that did that? There are some, and more and more are made with the adults in mind, because I think Hollywood has finally realized that parents are the ones with the money, but in the past 10-15 years, kids’ movies have been, on a whole, bad.  

The plot lines in this movie are so incredibly simplistic and the actors play down to the children.  And they don’t have to. Just because you’re talking to children, doesn’t mean you have to talk down to them. If you speak to children in a manner that assumes they will understand high-level language, then guess what! They will acquire and use high level language! We (America) put so much blame on everyone from educators to parents for our youth getting dumber and dumber, but I think the media we expect our children to get and watch plays a big role in what children are capable of handling when they get to school. Spongebob Squarepants actually makes you dumber for watching it, and if that is the level of entertainment we expect our children to enjoy, then that’s what they will enjoy. Children really are amazing things--they give you what you tell them you expect from them (whether you tell them with specific language, or show them with your actions, or your movies). Um, that was ranty, wasn’t it. Sorry. Soapbox.

So yeah, kids’ movie. Let’s be specific.

Of course the dogs’ family is being held as collateral, and of course they’re fine. Its a kids movie, and there’s no stakes.

Of course the Queen has a thing for never-aging Crispin Glovef, and of course he finds her revolting for no reason.

Of course the White Queen is the Red Queen’s sister and really loves her and just wants what’s best for everyone. Ugh. Anne Hathway, I loved you, and your over-the-top acting, because you, at least didn’t seem to take yourself seriously. And I think this is the line. You either have to play the nonsense straight, like Hatter tries to do, but only when he’s talking to Alice, or realize its all nonsense and take it as such. Anne realizes its nonsense. You can tell she’s playing a role, but in this case, the White Queen knows she’s playing a role, so it works.  Everyone else is either trying too hard to make you believe the nonsense, like the Red Queen, or goes beyond letting the nonsense just be nonsense and is just silly--like the Scottish Hatter.  Some of the characters, like the White Queen, do this well. But not enough of the main cast.

Lastly, of course Alice realises that she was Alice all along and saves the day. It would honestly have been more interesting if she had realized that she wasn’t The Alice, but that didn’t matter, because you don’t have to be The Alice in order to be a hero. But honestly? What did Alice do the last time that was so great that you need her? She didn’t defeat the Red Queen. She woke up after basically being defeated. It would have been so much stronger of a movie if (it hadn’t been a sequel) it didn’t rely so much on needing The Alice, but needing a hero, which is not what Alice was in the original Disney version.

Now Let’s Talk About the Difference Between Homage and Gratuity
This movie had the same problem (or one of the problems, anyway) that Dragonball Z Evolution had, the difference between homage and gratuity.  If you were a Dragonball fan, a hardcore fan who watched the Japanese, you would have been delighted to hear a bunch of Japanese names for things in the midst of plot and dialogue that had little or nothing to do with the actual movie. It felt like a slap in the face, because if they did enough research to know those names, then they fucked up that movie on purpose.

I feel like this movie had a similar issue. The gratuitous use of words and concepts that were obviously from Lewis Carrol’s Alice, but used in plot-convenient ways instead of how they were originally intended felt like a slap in he face. Fabrious Day is a day on a calendar, not just meaning a joyous day. The jubjub bird and the bandersnach are now stand alone entities, instead of other names or possibly adjectives for the Jaberwocky. And futterwacken.

Yes, Let’s Talk About This “Futterwacken.”
Granted, I’m sure many others have talked about the infamous futterwacken, but I feel like I need to state exactly why I have such a problem with the stupidest plot device in the world. And that’s specifically the problem. It is not just a dance, its a plot device. It is the symbol of tyranny--the thing that the Hatter hasn’t been able to do since the Queen went crazy. It is the goal for the movie. No, not to overthrown the tyrannical psycho, but to have the Hatter dance. And after all that build up, is it an awesome dance? One that the judges on So You Think You can Dance would immediately give a Ticket to Vegas (TM)? Nope. You get a dance that would make said judges shriek in horror as the Hatter pretends he’s possessed like the little girl in the Exorcist. That isn’t fun. That isn’t charming. That isn’t nonsense. That’s creepy as fuck.

What’s With The Hatter Being Such A Good Guy?
This is a problem that I’ve been having with several of the more recent Alices, but I think this is a good place to discuss it. In the original, the Hatter is crazy. He’s not innocuous, not kindly, not helpful. He is an obstacle to be overcome.

Look at how upset she is that she’s stuck at this quite literally mad tea party. But in modern renditions and retellings, the Hatter seems to be the most used good guy. In Syfy’s he’s the reluctant hero, in the Looking Glass Wars he’s the badass bodyguard (which I do hope that series got better, I didn’t really enjoy the first one), and in this one he’s Alice’s perfect bestfriend, something to the White Queen, and a leader in the Rebellion. At the very least its good that they actually bring up he is a hatter, but that’s as far as I’ll give them. I was not pleased nor amused by his split personality, or his kindly uncle mentality.

In the original version, just about everyone was an obstacle for Alice, and in this movie, there was just too much support, and introduced too many new obstacles that again, just seemed to be in there for no reason other than to name drop.

In Conclusion
From how much and how many times this story is told and retold, its obvious that there is a lot of love for Alice in people’s hearts and minds, and how much material is there to be played with. This movie, with its high effects budget, and honestly really talented actors, could have been something special. Unfortunately, they went with safe. With a sequel that is constrained by the movie before it, trapped in the “kid” genre, and that didn’t take any risks, we’re left with a movie that is just, meh, when it could have been awesome.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Final Fantasy 10-2 (Square: 2001)

Can I just mention how much I am upset at this game?  Mostly because it was the first game that I’d ever played, the first long game with a story that I have ever played, that I didn’t finish.  I am a completionist.  I like to complete games.  I like to collect as much of the cool stuff that I can and beat every boss, including the hidden ones, and get through the whole game.  I do it with books too—it takes a lot for me to not finish a book.  But this game was horrible and forever hurts me, because it was my first.  It was my first failure.  I let this game beat me, and that makes me sad.  

In Context
I, like many FF fans, eagerly awaited the next Final Fantasy after 10, only to be told that the next game would be an online only game.  My feelings on Final Fantasy 11 being what they are, needless to say, in my disappointment, I threw my passion for FF into the only game that was available to me, FF10-2.  

In looking forward to this game, I watched the behind the scenes and the previews, and the thing that sticks most starkly in my memory is how the entire point of the game was to love the dress sphere transformations.  If you didn’t like them, you missed the point of the game.  

So wait, the entire point of the game is Sailor Moon-like naked transformation sequences.  Yep, this game was nothing but fanservice.  

But, you can’t just have a game based on fanservice, can you?  And besides, what about the girls, like me, who played this game?  Where’s the fanservice for us?  Granted, I was on the way out of my Sailor Moon binge of the 90s, and transforming and having cool super powers still did have a bit of draw, but the entire game seemed a bit too young for me.  As if, for the first time, I was not their target demographic.  Which struck me as odd, because the NES and SNES FFs were “fun for all ages.”  They had elements that appealed to smaller children, as well as seasoned adults.  Why drop the ball down to the Team Rocket level, like they did on this one?

The Plot
Yuna, from the previous game, lost her boyfriend due to his non-existence, not to mention her religion, and is seeking throughout the world, trying to find herself.  And her boyfriend.  But that doesn’t come up as much as you think it should.  Or at least not as blatantly.  Not to mention if you don’t play through the game perfectly, you won’t get that ending where you reunite with him.  And I mean, 100% perfect.  

She is joined by Rikku (from the last game) and Payne (not from anywhere, but because we needed someone to connect to the goth/punk/emo audience).  They find dress spheres and get into Shenanigans.  There is a comic-relief “bad guy” (in quotes because of the complete ineptitude).

The Main Conflict
No, not in the plot (PWP?), but that I had with this game.  Why did this game even exist?  Why, when you have a solid, long, and good game history, do you feel the need to continue a story that had ending and resolution.  Crappy and trite resolution, but resolution all the same.  To add the extra chapter to the story weakens the story as a whole.  It’s like the Star Wars prequels.  Yes, the story was kinda interesting, but knowing what I know about Darth Vader’s past, and *shudder* midichlorians, weakens the story of Star Wars, and weakens my love for my favorite childhood story.  (Also, http://www.supershadow.com/starwars/midi.html, you’re count is BS.  There’s no way that Han survived all that and was that weak in the force.  I don’t care what the books said.  That’s why midicholrians are Bull.  Quit trying to explain awesome.)

Yuna, by her stereotype, is a weak character.  She is suppose to be the Japanese fanboys’ dream. She is quietly strong, but demur, and her main thing that she needs is her man.  In this game they attempt to make her stronger, and give her purpose, but her purpose changes from religious quest to “finding herself.”  She could have used this medium to become a much stronger character, but she just doesn’t. She tries, and fails.

Rikku is the bouncy character. I liked her in FF10 because she was the thief, and I like getting things for free in my games, so bonus there, but due to the complete change in gameplay, this quality goes away.  What’s left is a bouncy, hyperactive, highpitched girl who is nothing but support for Yuna’s journey. Yes, she is a side character. That doesn’t mean that that needs to be her sole character description. Everything else about her is how she acts, but not who she is.  This makes her weak.

Payne. I wanna say that Payne had something to do with the story--that her backstory had something to do with the story as a whole, which I understand as she’s new to the plot and needs to have a reason to be there.  However, I think it would have been a stronger story to use the well (or at least better) established characters already established in the universe. They could have used this established character to bring in a new character, if thats what you really wanted to do, but centering a story that is a continuation of an established story by using a completely new character just makes me not care about your new character,or your new story.

The Team Rocket Villans.  I’m not going to talk about them more than to say they were weak and shouldn’t have been there.  Dude, I can’t even remember their names.

As I said, the whole point of this game is the dress spheres.  And they were kinda cool.  For about an hour. Then it just became a bit tedious. The rest of the play, outside of fights, was your typical PS2 RPG outside of fights. Meaning you couldn’t really do a whole lot except for walk around in predetermined areas. Oh, and I think you could climb in this game. Revolutionary. Not like you couldn’t jump in any games previously. Like Super Mario Bros.

And Now We Get To The Real Problem With This Game
There’s not really much else to say.  And that’s the problem. Positive or negative the whole thing was kinda meh.
You know what?  This whole thing felt like badly written fanfic. You have established characters and an established world, with a new character thrown in to propel the plot to this sequel.  Tell me that’s not a fanfic.

In Conclusion
This game just shouldn’t have been made.