Saturday 28 November 2009

Triangulation: Of Atlanteans, Techno-Vikings, Fan Films and RPGs

Whoo, I thought I did well last week with my three posts: this week I top it!

On Monday, I post my thoughts on the news of the upcoming Kull film, as well as a few snipes about the 1997... thing. My mother is not speaking to me, since she liked Kull the Conqueror: then again, her favourite film of all time is Verhoeven's Starship Troopers, so what does she know?

In that review, I throw a link to one of my favourite internet commentators, Noah Antwiler of The Spoony Experiment. "Spoony" is probably my favourite member of the recent generation of hypercritical reviewers who accentuate the negative for entertainment value, following in the wake of The Angry Video Game Nerd. His reviews mostly revolve around the dregs of cinema, gaming and (occassionally) television, highly exaggerated for comic effect.

However, part of me laments that Spoony seems to restrict himself to the bad. I was thrilled to see him reply to one of my posts, which agreed with his assertion that many examples of the modern conception of horror aren't designed to truly terrify or scare, but are exercises in carnography. Be it watching Saw or Hostel in order to be sickened by the revolting gore, or actively rooting for the iconic Jason or Michael to kill those annoying teenagers, there's a lot separating horror cinema from horror itself. Here's his response:
True horror, by your definition, was in its purest form as Gothic Horror– the sort of stuff written by Poe or Shelley a long, long time ago. But there, although there are monsters without, I think often the reaction of horror comes from the realization that there are far worse monsters within. Horror can come from brutality, sickness, death, and murder, but where it shines is watching the fall of noble, good people as they try to fight evil and then, at the end, standing amidst the ruins realize, “my god, what have I done?”
For instance, probably the best horror movie I’ve ever seen was Fail Safe. Think about that for a while.
That's a damned erudite, eloquent, excellent reply. It made me wonder: why is Spoony doing reviews of Manos, Yor, Bloodwings: Pumpkinhead's Revenge, Alone in the Dark and other terrible films? The dude is well-read, intelligent, insightful, and best of all, funny. While he does take on some relative heavyweights like Conan the Barbarian, Blade Runner, Akira and The Dark Knight, these are suffocating in a miasma of video game adaptations, cheap horrors and Uwe Boll "masterpieces." I would definitely like to see Spoony take on more works of genuinely good cinema, as well as branch out into literature reviews, perhaps comics and great video games too. As it is, I feel he's ultimately wasted on such useless, worthless games. Certain people thrive on negative work: the Nostalgia Critic and Linkara, for example, are at their best when hitting dire films and comics with both barrels. With Spoony, while his negative reviews can be extremely funny, I feel he has such a lot to say, that it's a shame the likes of Robowar and Clones of Bruce Lee get the most attention from him.

Perhaps I should ask him about it. After all, the dude's a Conan fan, in fact the best kind: he's the kind of Conan fan who loves everything about the character, but he definitely knows what's what. From his review of Conan the Barbarian, one of his favourite films:
I've heard complaints that the movie doesn't match the books well at all, and in fact dumbs down Conan's story a great deal. And I agree. The plot is thin, the main characters nearly mute, the special effects are cheesy, the violence and nudity are largely exploitative, and the acting is so wooden you could build a house out of it. Nobody ever accused Conan of being too complex. I still loved it, and anyone who thinks that this movie was dumbed down had better not check out the sequels.
You know, that ain't bad. I could take issue with people never accusing Conan of being too complex... but in actuality, that's pretty much the case. Nobody does accuse Conan of being too complex, because he's just complex enough. That he's willing to admit the inferiority of the films compared to the source material - especially that it's dumbed down, as opposed to "elevated from its pulp trappings" or some garbage - is good enough for me: he has every copy of the recent Savage Sword reprints on his bookshelf (which he showed off in a V-Log), and while I'd love to see some Del Reys or Gollanczes, in my book, Spoony's a-ok.

On Wednesday, I make a small tribute to Poul Anderson. This post was a nightmare to make. I couldn't think of an angle, and combined with my relative inexperience with the author, I was close to calling it off, turning in my man-card. However, once I remembered "On Thud and Blunder," I knew what to do. I'm digging out The Broken Sword to give it a new reading: perhaps I missed something the first time around. Anyone with ideas on what Anderson books or stories to start on, please let me know! Greg Bear, incidentally, is one of my brother-in-law's favourite authors: I'll have to recommend Poul Anderson to him.

Come Thursday (post 7777, cool!) I go into a partial rant about The Lord of the Rings, linking it to the recent fan film The Hunt for Gollum and the upcoming Born of Hope. When I first saw The Fellowship of the Ring in cinemas, I adored it. I was blinded by enthusiasm, it was intoxicating. With Two Towers I started to see the cracks, and when Return of the King rolled around, I was rather jaded and annoyed. To this day, I find Fellowship the strongest of the three despite the ham-fisted Arwen insertion, the lack of my beloved Barrow-wights & Wargs, and some of the dafter dialogue. This is mostly because it's just more fun than the other two: there's a sense of adventure, danger, excitement and wonder. The orcs were genuinely menacing and scary, and the world felt dangerous and wild. By the time of the Massacre at Amon Hen, though, everything I started to dislike in the trilogy began to mount. I just wish some enterprising person would go out and produce a damn Tolkien adaptation. Not a Jackson fan-film, not an unofficial prequel or sequel or sidequel, but something based on the books, and only on the books.

Finally, my regular post is on the recent announcement by Mongoose regarding the Conan license. I'm sure the folks over at Grognardia will scoff at my neophyte ramblings, but I probably deserve it. I'm utterly useless at the mathematics and logistics of roleplaying, the hit die and the d20s and everything forming a vortex of numbers and stats confusing and terrifying me (a Cone of Confusion?).

My ideal RPG would have practically no number-crunching, and more like some guys sitting around a table doing a round robin. We wouldn't roll die or check stats to see what to do: we'd guess what would happen using our wits and intelligence, and try to figure a way out of whatever situation they're in intellectually and theoretically.

For example, imagine a party of six adventurers face a red dragon. There wouldn't be saving throws, hit modifiers or +1 Boots of Elvenkind: the party would have to think their way out of the situation, and the DM would have to decide whether it was feasible or not, how hurt the heroes are in the end, and the final resolution. Perhaps they use the environment to their advantage, by goading the dragon under a precarious boulder, or having it charge a sharp pointed stick. Heck, maybe they reason with the dragon. Sure, this can all be done with the stats and stuff, but I'm a luddite. I simply cannot do it.

In the end, isn't that the point of D&D, though? That sense of camaraderie, adventure and imagination? Eh, maybe I'm just weird.


  1. Lots here AL.
    Kull-I see it in theathers on the day of release-had high hopes-don't know why I did-naiveity?

    Uwe Boll-everytime I see one of his movies I think OK maybe he's learned something and this will be better than the last one and then NO it isn't.

    Love Poul Anderson-stole a little bit from my favorite BROKEN SWORD in my upcoming novel. Thud and Blunder is an excellent essay too-just reread it a couple weeks ago.

    I have complained about the decline of the LOTR movies to my wife for ages-Fellowship is the best because they took the most time getting it together. The others especially ROTK, felt rushed and suffered (not including your mentions)

    I don't have anyone to game with anymore either, so I write more, probably more satisfying in the long run anyway. But I have picked up a bunch of the Conan RPG's whenever I can find them for the someday of gameplay-even more motivation to grab them now than before.

    Keep up the great posts.

  2. Cheers DJ!

    They didn't show Kull in any cinemas I went to (not that I would've gone, I hadn't made the leap to REH at that point, and just saw it as Hercules the Movie), but I did catch it on DVD. Even without knowing much about Kull, I felt offended. Perhaps some sort of space-time dilation was going on, and I was experiencing my future self's disgust.

    Aye, I do think there's a definite drop in quality in the LotR film. I occasionally go back to watch Fellowship, but I rarely watch the others. I think even the CGI was inferior, come to think of it.