Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Thing versus The Thing

Ah, The Thing… and no, not your grandpa’s Thing from 1951, we’re talking about the good Thing, the John Carpenter Thing. I swear, the 80’s were just prime time for horror classics. They included famous frights like Aliens, Predator, Poltergeist, The Fly, Evil Dead, Nightmare on Elm Street, and finally, The Thing. The Thing didn’t perform as well as the other films listed above. Part of this was due to the infinitely overrated E.T. that came out at the same time in 1982. That, and the title of “The Thing” is a bit inherently nebulous. Either way, sales on VHS soon picked up, thus preserving The Thing’s cult legacy.

What makes The Thing so unique is the titular monster itself. It can be any organism, and mimic it perfectly. As Childs, one of the characters said, “If I was an imitation, a perfect imitation, how would you know if it was really me?” The Thing takes place at an arctic research station, which just enhances the sense of dread and desolation. Once the alien Thing is unwittingly brought to base, it soon takes on human form, and hides among the men there. No one is as they appear to be.

It’s a wonderfully horrific setup, and something that is quite unlike other conspicuous creatures of the 80’s. What I also love is the special effects. This is pure, unadulterated 80’s stop-motion magic. From the tentacles that burst out of the dog monster, to the two headed mutant that they first encounter, The Thing is just filled with macabre mystery and splendor. My favorite effect had to be when an apparent crew member’s head falls off, and it actually sprouts legs and an eye stalk! I sympathized with the guys onscreen, when one remarked, “You gotta be fucking kidding.”

As hinted above, the film has a slightly humorous tone, as though the characters simply can’t believe that this is happening to them. The lead protagonist, MacReady, even spits out some badass one liners, like when he sarcastically shouts “Yeah, fuck you too” as he throws a live grenade into a roaring Thing’s maw. Also, the end of the film is almost poetic, as Macready and Childs sit suspiciously watching each other as the last two survivors in the glow of burning wreckage.

So, the first Thing is awesome… but wouldn’t ya know it, Hollywood made a prequel. Seriously, does every popular film from the 80’s have to have a reboot? Well, apparently so. Anyway, this Thing was released just three years ago, and told the story of the Norwegian ice base right before the 1982 version.  It’s an intriguing concept, as the original really didn’t delve into HOW the Thing was unearthed.

So, it’s a moderately interesting perspective, but the film stumbles in a number of areas. For one, the special effects are garbage. The Carpenter Thing was replete with amazing models and makeup… not here. Everything onscreen has been typed away on a keyboard. Put simply, it’s pure CGI. Now, I’m not against all CGI, but it just looks unconvincing here. Also, the monster designs themselves are by the numbers and ho-hum. Basically, all the Things have big mouths in this edition… that’s about it.

There was one cool aspect of it, however: the UFO design. For years I had wondered what the interior of the alien craft looked like, and honestly, this film did a pretty great job at filling that gap. I really liked the weird little cube that the Thing was working with… it seemed believably futuristic.

All in all, the original 1982 Thing is a masterpiece of gooey delight… but the prequel is okay, too. Both sell for under ten dollars now, so there’s no excuse to not be scared shitless.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The future of gaming

So, when I say Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo, what comes to mind? Rarely are they the same images. The Genesis had Sonic, Streets of Rage, Phantasy Star, and Shinobi. The Super Nintendo had Mario, Zelda, Metroid, and Star Fox. All different genres, each with unique audiences in mind. Then, if you had a lot of money back in the early 90’s, you could buy a computer gaming rig. You had to buy special graphics cards and get the newest version of Soundblaster, but it was worth it for revolutionary games like Mechwarrior 2, Wing Commander 3, and Doom. No matter what you had back then, you had a completely different experience than the kid across the street.

Now fast forward to the early 2000’s. This was a time when graphics finally started to approach realism. Consoles were even starting to give computers a run for their money, and for the first time, many PC games made their exodus from the office to the living room.  Still, as in the early 90’s, each system had its own unique style. The PS2, which was first out the gate, was the big seller back then. It had a little bit of everything, but seemed to particularly thrive on Japanese heavy hitters like Capcom, Konami, and Square. The Gamecube, on the other hand, was devoted to more party games like Mario Kart and Smash Brothers Melee.

Finally, you had the Xbox. While I loved the Xbox (it was actually my favorite console that generation), I noticed something peculiar about it at the time. That is, it really didn’t have an identity. Rather, it was the first console to rely pretty heavily on already entrenched titles from the PC. Granted, there were huge exceptions to that like great original games like Halo, MechAssault, and Knights of the Old Republic. Yet even these games were touted for the wrong reason: it reminded people of what they played on the computer. Halo, as wonderfully creative as it is (the first two Halos are high up on my top 50 list), was developed originally to be a console gamer’s Half Life. By 2005, the Xbox even had two flat-out poor man ports of Doom 3 and Half-Life 2… where their mediocrity could only be enjoyed by those without a keyboard.

By 2013, consoles have finally hit the low watermark: redundancy. Simply put, why on God’s green earth would I pay half a thousand dollars to play an inferior console game that’s already available for only a marginally more expensive, and more versatile, laptop? Seriously, does anyone have a cogent answer to this? I would really like to hear it, and I’m not being sarcastic. The Xbox One is seriously trying to sell itself by ignorantly strutting around with a glorified webcam and offering the dumb opportunity to watch football… on my TV. Wow. Awesome. I guess there’s always Titanfall, right?

If anyone doesn’t think this market is on the verge of collapse as it’s currently defined, is living in Microsoft or Sony fanboy land. The future of hardcore gaming is already here: it’s called a computer. The future of casual gaming is also here: smartphones and microconsoles like the Ouya. This time last year, everyone thought the Ouya was a joke… most still do. It’s true that it was largely a flop, but it latched onto a profitable idea: most people don’t want exclusive gaming platforms anymore. They want games to go along with their Netflix, not the other way around.

While I have purchased an Ouya, and personally love it for its old school emulators, I realize that’s not gaming’s proverbial powder keg. You know what is? Well, as of last month, it’s Amazon’s Fire TV. Years of console gaming’s laziness has brought this on. Now, in addition to watching the newest episode of their favorite show, families can use Amazon’s own proprietary controller to play Angry Birds, Minecraft, and even Madden. It’s great for the average consumer… and the ultimate nightmare for Sony and Microsoft. Grab some popcorn, folks, console gaming’s going up in a ball of flames.

Thursday, April 17, 2014


Compromise is built into the heart of our American form of government. Going all the way back to the Declaration of Independence, we’ve had disagreements over what makes us a people. In fact, Thomas Jefferson originally castigated the king over the issue of the slave trade, but was forced to take out the language out of fear of the union dissolving. Yet despite such incidents of hard negotiating, America has emerged stronger.

The system of checks and balances necessitates a bargaining between the federal branches. Due to the partial independence of the legislative, executive, and judicial, it would be incredibly difficult for one group to control all three at the same time. Elections also play a factor; congressmen and senators’ terms rarely overlap as the lengths of terms themselves are different. Even if a populist movement gained traction for a number of years, you’d still have to wait for the Supreme Court justices to literally die out before having complete control over all facets of government.

Of course, the largest aspect of compromise that is embedded into our great society is the constitution itself. The founding fathers wisely enacted a document that not only stood the test of time from a literary and poetic level, but from the basis of rule of law as well. They also helped forge the “Great Compromise” over the competing Virginia and New Jersey plans, and amazingly balanced the issue of states’ rights and national governance.

The biggest test of America’s ability to compromise was one of colossal proportions: slavery. It would be fair to say that politics would be defined by this issue for generations. Even here, the federalists’ brilliance was absolute. North and South wrung their hands together and bit a nasty bullet on the issue of polling slaves as part of the population, also known as the three-fifths compromise. Abolitionists hated the deal because it counted slaves as in the general populace, while keeping them enslaved. Yet southerners hated it because they didn’t get the representation they wanted. However, it will be argued that if everyone’s angry, maybe you’re doing something right legally.

Looking for modern day examples of national compromise is an easy task. Just look at abortion, an explosive topic. Both sides, pro-life and pro-choice, are adamant in their beliefs and can be vitriolic in their dealings with each other. You might think that an issue involving aborting a fetus would be pretty black or white, but that isn’t the case practically. While the Supreme Court ruled abortion constitutional in the 70’s, it did not rule that limitations couldn’t be put in place. Case in point, conservative states have enforced very stringent regulations on the practice, like teenagers having to inform their parents before an abortion can be performed, and that the operation itself can only be done at a certain gestation period. The Hyde Amendment, as adopted by congress, also bans direct federal funding of abortion.

It could be asked if all this compromising makes our country resistant to change. This is true, but only to a degree. Madison in Federalist Ten successfully argued that mob rule, or a direct democracy, would result in chaos and perhaps even an untimely death. He saw the value of a republic, but one that had the consent of the people: thus a democratic republic. While it may take time for legislation to get approved in both chambers of congress, not get vetoed by the president, and be ultimately upheld by the courts, it is in the end worth it over French Revolution-like anarchy. You don’t want an unpopular minority, a label that changes over time, to be swallowed up by the passions of a majority.

The proof that compromise works is in the very survival of our peculiar American society. If all this didn’t work, we would have inevitably been some meager banana republic with no proud legacy to call our own. Look at Thomas Jefferson, look at Abraham Lincoln, look at Franklin D. Roosevelt, look at Ronald Reagan. Are all these men the result of a false ideal? It might sound like an appeal to emotion, but it gets to a legitimate point… Why has American exceptionalism been the envy of the world? Why has America stood as a bulwark against the two greatest evils of our time: Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia? Maybe, as much as we disagree, there’s something to this American dream of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Kefka and objective evil

“Why do people cling to life when they know they can’t live forever?” –Kefka Palazzo

While I can’t stand modern gaming, there’s one sure-fire way to get me to buy an Xbox One or PS4: Remake Final Fantasy 6. Of course, with Square Enix now dumbing down their products like reducing the Final Fantasy series to an MMO, that will probably never happen. I mean, since when did the creators of Kingdom Hearts publish games like Hitman? Whatever. The point is that FF6 ignited my childhood imagination with its wonderful characters and sense of adventure. Of course, every good story needs a good villain, right? Enter Kefka.
In all my years of gaming, I’ve never seen a more detestable villain such as Kefka. At first, you just think he’s the Emperor’s bumbling henchman. You soon discover, however, that while this guy may dress like a clown, he’s no Monty Python gag reel. Kefka burns cities, betrays his comrades, poisons children, and yes, even blows up the world. The thing that’s so disconcerting about Kefka is that he doesn’t try to justify his actions. He delights in the evil.

When the aforementioned apocalypse begins, Kekfa obtains God-like powers from three mystical statues. Now, completely unhinged, Kefka literally destroys the planet. The remnant of what emerges is called the World of Ruin. It’s here that our heroes gather together and form a resistance against seemingly impossible odds.

Why I like the older Final Fantasies, particularly FF6, over newer entries is simple: they have an objective good versus evil morality. Kefka isn’t misunderstood; it’s not that his mom didn’t raise him right. This is a man who is just pure evil. I think the changing times have grotesquely morphed our views on biblical truth. That’s why every JRPG villain now is some whiny, metrosexual-looking sadface.

Segueing back to reality, the concept of evil in our culture has become a myth. Everyone’s just a product of their genes, apparently, and can do no better because everything’s deterministic. Can’t we all just agree to disagree? That is, of course, if we can. Maybe I’m biologically predisposed to argue. Guess I’m just a victim then, huh? This is what we call bullshit, folks.

Here’s the crux of it. You can’t look at Kefka, a character who maniacally laughs while setting the world ablaze, and call him misunderstood. He’s evil. Similarly, the shooter of Sandy Hook may have had some mental health issues, but he made his own choices. He’s at fault. There is a devil… but there is a God as well.