From the archives: May 2005

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The circle is now complete

Thursday, 19 May 2005 — 8:51am | Film, Star Wars

I’ve been waiting for the moment to say that for some time now. And what a glorious moment it is.

I do believe this is all quite unmanageable. There’s so much to say, it’s hard to know where to begin. But the absence of a clear beginning is what the saga has congealed to become – a complete circle, but one akin to a snake eating its own tail. Episode III is a movie that feeds into both the past and the future.

I don’t remember the last time I saw a movie in the two-hour ballpark that was so dense with content. There is no shortage of things to discuss and debate in the context of both the film itself as a self-contained chapter, and its implications for the saga on the whole. I need to go back and see it again before I can produce any genuinely useful commentary beyond gut reactions of ecstacy – and tragedy. There are scarring images that I would not place far behind the climaxes of Empire and Jedi on the heartbreak scale, and a bittersweet impression left by the final shot – one of the best exeunts I’ve seen in any movie, and one that does not operate on its own terms alone. But I need to return to the cinema and let everything sink in, like every nuance of Palpatine’s sinister elucidations, or the way scenes like a certain pivotal one by a shattered panoramic window resonate with the Classic Trilogy in the truest sense of the word as it pertains to plotwise amplification and feedback.

I’ll pause there before this post spirals out of control and spins away from the metaphorical trench to parts unknown like a certain starfighter we know.

There will shortly be a photo journal of sorts on what opening night was like at South Edmonton Common. Those of you on dial-up connections have been warned.

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Hell of a way to end a partnership

Tuesday, 17 May 2005 — 3:42pm

Until sometime this afternoon, I was convinced that the Liberal minority government had lasted entirely too long and deserved a swift kick in the nuts to send it hobbling out the door – preferably this Thursday over the budget vote, when I would be too busy watching Revenge of the Sith to give a hoot.

After a number of disconnected events up to and including this, I came to realize the error of my thinking. I am now fine with the way things are, for this is the most thoroughly hilarious government under which I’ve ever had the masochistic pleasure to live, and I want to treasure every moment with it. Besides, I’m already going to see a government of considerably greater influence crumble underneath the machinations of a less dithersome ruler coupled with a cataclysmic betrayal in just over a day now.

Not much in politics beats a defection, though it’s probably a lot less fun if it happens to you, yet a lot more fun if spaceships are involved. You can’t read stuff this good on LiveJournal (though it often comes close).

Out of apathy more than tact, the snide retrospective comments about how the PC-Alliance merger was a horrible idea from the get-go can wait.

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No, seriously, show me the real press conference

Tuesday, 17 May 2005 — 10:53am | Video games

I just spent the morning watching Nintendo’s E3 press event over streaming video. To be frank, my second-favourite entertainment company just isn’t fighting like they mean it. The Electroplankton demonstration was cool and all, and I’d love to see what the game remix types with real audio equipment do with it. Nintendogs could revive the long-dead spark that ignited with the Tamagotchi a decade ago and promptly fizzled out, but I have yet to be convinced that it’s my thing.

But the portable space is by and large not an issue – I’m still convinced going the DS route over the PSP was a wise investment, and largely because of the software lineup to come. The new Super Mario Bros. platformer – the first true Mario-starring adventure in fourteen years – is something I’ve been dreaming of since my return to the video games of the present day, and possibly the game I am most looking forward to on any platform. The seeming presence of Mario/Luigi co-op play is something to watch out for, and the look and feel is nostalgic, yet stylized in a bouncy, wacky sort of way in line with the 3D games. Touchscreen aside, the DS hardware was made for this kind of thing – SNES-style gameplay with 3D graphics capabilities.

One of the precious few first-party games Nintendo revealed that wasn’t already well in the public eye was a new Mario & Luigi for the DS. The first game was excellent, albeit limited in scope, so here’s hoping for an old-school RPG adventure of greater ambition. I’m not expecting something as phenomenal as Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door on a handheld, but my hopes are high.

I’m sold on the worldwide multiplayer Animal Crossing DS, even though its revelation was merely a cursory confirmation of what we’ve all known for months. The online Mario Kart DS falls into the same boat. I still need to hear details about how to reconcile DS online play with Wi-Fi security, but I do like how Nintendo is adopting the philosophy that made Blizzard’s pretty much the only online network I play on – no online charges, one-click skill-based matchmaking – and adding to it an ambiguous element of “not having to deal with rude and unpleasant characters who spend all their time on games and are better than you to an extent that renders the game unlearnable.”

Unfortunately, the GameCube lineup is of serious concern. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is, as everybody already thought going into the show, the big game to watch out for this year. The concept of Link as a werewolf is an exciting new twist, I happen to like the subtitle, and the glorious orchestrated music for the new trailer is something the likes of which I’m dying to hear in-game. But can you say “eggs in one basket”? This year for GameCube amounts to that one game, likely to launch dangerously close to the timeframe when the Xbox 360 comes to market. In my eyes, the football title Super Mario Strikers and the turn-based strategy game Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance are about the only other first-party offerings of interest. I of all people am aware that the GameCube library has always been about quality over quantity in a ratio that some consider almost suicidally high, and I’ve never found that to be a problem, but this is just ridiculous.

And not a whisper of Mario 128, which is hot on the heels of Duke Nukem Forever in pursuit of the vaporware crown. I’m sure Nintendo expected Zelda to be a pre-E3 knockout punch like it was last year, but the element of surprise just isn’t there anymore – and among its lineup, Twilight Princess is the only game that holds up to the next-generation video demos of the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3 in action. The new GameCube Kirby looks fantastic, but was mysteriously absent from the press talk for some unfathomable reason. I should clarify that the titles I am expressing interest in already amount to more than I’ll likely spend on games for the rest of the year, but at the same time, I’m not sure the lineup could feel any sparser.

Then there’s the Nintendo Revolution. Cool device, I’ll grant you, though I’m sure the appeal is magnified for those out there still lamenting the launch of the GameCube as a purple lunchbox (which I thought was really cute, though I may be the only one to maintain that opinion; even current Nintendo executives seem to regret it). None of the new consoles resonate with me in terms of form factor, but a little black box that promises to be even smaller in its final design is not at all offensive.

It’s too bad that we didn’t, you know, see a thing about it aside from that.

Seriously now, does the Revolution even have any games yet? Evidence persists that Nintendo has yet to settle on a controller design, much less anything concrete for developers to play with. There are unsettling rumours of the machine being underpowered by far compared to the verifiably movie-quality muscle-flexing of the PS3, which delivered one graphical holy-crap after another yesterday even if the games themselves were not all that interesting in concept.

Nintendo is pushing it based on a model of being able to order the complete Nintendo library online, which will save me a lot of time and money spent on eBay hunts, but makes the system feel slightly redundant on a personal level since I already have every Nintendo generation sitting around. I do think it’s a great philosophy, since one of the worst things about the gaming industry is its insistence to keep moving and refusal to preserve anything, but you can’t sell a system on that alone any more than expect GBA games to push the DS.

As for the new Game Boy Micro – it’s cute, but unless you insist on wearing the tightest of jeans and don’t already have an SP or DS, I can’t see it making an impact. I suppose one way of countering the PSP is to take a still-bestselling four-year-old system and turn it into a stick, but if the price point ends up over $100, Nintendo is probably better off marketing pants with more flexible pockets.

I’m going to have to concede that in the home console space, Nintendo is seriously in trouble this time. The dominance of Xbox 360 press this week was expected, since it’s the closest to launch, but even Sony decided to strut its stuff. It looks like E3 2006 will be Revolution’s show, but by then the new Xbox will have plenty of market penetration, and the PS3 may see its own release at that very time. We still don’t know what the big deal is about the Revolution, what it can do, or how to play it.

Sometimes, secrecy is a very good thing. In a day and a half I will be watching Star Wars: Episode III, and for the first time, I’m satisfied with the general success of my hibernation from the plethora of spoilers at large. But at least I know it’s coming, and a movie isn’t like hardware in that hardware depends so much on installed base.

Nintendo, please tell me you’re hiding something. And show it to me.

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At last we will have revenge

Monday, 16 May 2005 — 10:37pm | Film, Star Wars

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I give the Old Republic a week to live

Wednesday, 11 May 2005 — 9:35am | Capsule reviews, Film, Star Wars

Gentle readership, I humbly apologize for the lengthy hiatus. Aside from the many worldly distractions and commitments that have impaired my ability to sit down and crank out a good post of late, there is another reason for my absence that should not go ignored: there has simply been too much to write about.

It all started – the descent into a state of non-posting, that is – with an attempt to give the Garth Jennings film The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, based on the absurdist discontinuity of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the Phantom treatment – all the while geeking out about the obscure references to the BBC television series like the cameo by the original Marvin and the appearance of the “Journey of the Sorcerer” theme music with the introduction of the Guide, and singing the infectiously catchy “So Long, and Thanks For All the Fish” to the end of the earth (in about twelve minutes). By the way, AMPAS should realize by now that the Oscar for Original Song had better be kept under lock and key, because we have our first surely-should-win of the year, and I don’t imagine anything topping it. As for the rest of the experience, it was hit and miss, and for reasons that only erratically intersect with concerns for how close it was to Adams’ multiplicity of contradictory universes.

Before I was more than a paragraph into my scene-for-scene rant and roar, which I hoped would balloon into a critique as holistic as Dirk Gently’s detective agency, I had already thrust myself into yet another galaxy-spanning epic comedy of infinite philosophical resonance, only this one was twelve minutes long and sketched by Don Hertzfeldt. And that was only one highlight of many of The Animation Show 2005, which I wish I could spare the time to applaud in writing. Then there was Kung Fu Hustle, Stephen Chow’s over-the-top martial arts fantasy – not as outright funny as Shaolin Soccer, but more ambitious, and successfully so. It is likely to remain the best superhero film to see release this year.

Opening last weekend was Kingdom of Heaven, a refreshingly sober gentle brushing of the dead horse that pretend-epics spent all last year beating, and with another keeper of a Harry Gregson-Williams score beneath it. It’s not as fun as Gladiator and does not have the pulpish charm that will preserve it as well, but stakes out its own position as a very different sort of beast – indeed, a tamer one, and a thinking man’s history.

As far as books go, those into children’s literature should spend these precious remaining pre-Half-Blood Prince days with Eoin Colfer’s fourth Artemis Fowl, The Opal Deception. I’ve always thought the Irish techno-thriller fairytale series was a pleasant diversion, but this one goes well beyond the call of duty and plays off everything that has come before it so thoroughly that should Colfer write a fifth volume, it’s unlikely he could spin a yarn quite as all-encompassing. Deception takes all three of its predecessors and uses every part of the buffalo. I’m still not over what a gut-busting action-packed romp it is, and it makes me wonder why so-called adult sections don’t get escapist spy stories this good. Tom Clancy’s making video games – no, video game sequels, Dan Brown’s off in his own little world publishing prosaic Cliff Notes to Umberto Eco’s obscure waxings on historical secret societies, and here we have a children’s writer from Wexford stomping all over their turf. One can only hope he keeps on stomping.

I do not enjoy capsule-summary judgments that say nothing of value aside from what one recommends seeing or reading and what one decidedly does not. I wish I had time to talk about every last detail of all the blossoms of storytelling springtime I mentioned. But no – there’s just too much.

And beyond that, I haven’t had time to think about them. No, everything is bent towards one upcoming story right now, one chapter in a grander story decades in the making that is finally on the verge of congelation. I think we all know what I’m talking about.

I’ve been going back and seeing all the existing movies over the course of the week, and already I have a laundry list of essays to get through once the last piece of the jigsaw is in place, dissertations I’ve been waiting for the chance to dissert for the better part of the last seven years. I want to talk about modern divergences between philosophical and scientific thinking, particularly with regards to determinism, and discuss them in the context of the collapse of the Jedi Order. I want to return to the age-old question of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s success or failure as a Jedi Knight and infer from it a model of causality that applies to the operation of the Force. I want to whip out my copy of The Hero With A Thousand Faces and see how the Lucasian approximation of Joseph Campbell’s formalization of the monomyth holds up to its specification. I want to evaluate and possibly reinforce my claim that Vader was not in the suit when Luke sets it afire. I want to look away to the future (never my mind on where I am, what I am doing) and close the book on the canonicity debate now that the circle is at last complete. I want to watch the saga I-II-III-IV-V-VI after I complete my current cycle of watching it IV-V-VI-I-II-III (which I will of course repeat for the sake of reliable experimentation) and see how the story unfolds empirically and inductively – then maybe try something unorthodox like IV-I-V-II-III-VI, which would actually make a lot of sense now that I think about it.

There is a very real possibility that for several months, this could undergo a full conversion to being a Star Wars blog. If you can navigate your way through this or this, you should be fine, but otherwise, I make no claims to comprehensibility. You have been warned.

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