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Warning: Contains Spoilers

The marriage of gameplay and narrative marks the pinnacle of video game design. Interactivity is after all the defining feature of the genre. By creating a seamless union, a game truly merits the title “Art”. Hence, the brilliance of Shadow of the Colossus in which the player must tightly grip the controls while the character grasps for dear life. Bioshock also strives to transcend the genre, but in the end falls short of that promise, mired by uninspired repetitive gameplay.

Bioshock immerses the player via worldbuilding, the game’s selling point. After an absolutely sublime introduction involving a plane crash, your character, Jack, enters Rapture, an underwater society founded upon the principles of Ayn Rand and “Atlas Shrugged”. The first glimpse of the art deco city doesn’t fail to astonish, but needless to say, it’s not exactly a utopia down there. Jack has stumbled upon a city divided by civil war and overrun by monsters. His only hope: the guidance of Atlas, the rebel leader…

Unfortunately, the early levels are nothing to write home about. They consist of fetch quests and battles against mutants and cyborgs while audio logs unveil the back story. There’s some element of moral choice regarding the little sisters, but the choice doesn’t really impact gameplay. Whether you save them or kill them, the result is the same. It also doesn’t help that a single weapon works for all enemies, removing all need for strategy. In the end, the routine gets tedious.

Even the worldbuilding loses its sheen. Take the vending machines. Am I supposed to believe that a dictator trying to throttle a rebellion would allow ammo to be sold on every street corner? Come on! Such things, though minor, ruin the illusion and force the player out of the immersion. For a game like Bioshock with dull and repetitive combat, this is fatal. Instead of exploring an underwater city, I was navigating labyrinthine video game levels.

At some point, I started wondering “Why?” Why the hell was the game forcing Jack (and myself) to photograph dead bodies for a psychopathic artist, for instance? Why was I still playing Bioshock when I longed for the open world quests of Fallout 3. Then, Andrew Ryan reveals Jack has not been acting on his free will at all. Lecturing him on his status as a slave, Ryan growls “A man chooses, a slave obeys.” All this time, I via the character, Jack, had been acting the part of a slave, mindlessly obeying every command the game supplied, fetching like a dog. Now, I thought, it’s time to choose.

Nope. The fetch quests resume, and the game concludes with a laughable boss battle and a ridiculous good and evil cinematic concerning the little sisters. Had Bioshock concluded with Ryan’s scene or introduced actual choice, it would have transcended its genre. It would have been the ultimate satire on video games and linearity. Alas, Bioshock misses its own point.

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A mysterious masked individual known only as ‘V’ defies a corrupt Fascist regime. Pursued by government agents, V emerges as an enigma. Who is he and what is his purpose? V raises the question, “What is the difference between a Hero and a Villain?”

V for Vendetta

Minorities are inevitably the victims of authoritarian states. In a system that values unison and conformity above all, differences are a threat and must be eradicated. Whether that difference is racial, ethnic, political, or ideological makes no difference. They are all deviants.

One group of minorities is special: the insane. They are the minority of one. The only set of rules and morals they obey are their own. Those on the outside can only guess at what those are. But wait! Who determines madness? It may very well be that the majority acting in unison is the true madman. Isn’t mob mentality a form of mass insanity after all? One could even say it’s contagious.

In government the majority is always right. Justice is often just another term for the imposition of majority rule. That raises the question: what is the government of a minority of one. The answer: Anarchy. 

V for Vendetta tells the story of a mysterious masked person called ‘V.’ His true identity is concealed. All that the outsider can glimpse is the mocking grin of the mask. His motives are unclear. Is he out for revenge or does he seek an even more sinister goal?

While V pursues his path of murder and mayhem, the agents of the state desperately pursue him. In many ways, the agents generate more sympathy than V because they are easier to understand. The agents are the “villains” but V is an enigma, almost inhuman. Certainly, his style of murder and infiltration evoke the supernatural. V is a mystery. He is unknown, and that is why we fear him. 

We are first introduced to V when he comes to the rescue of a young girl named Evey. She becomes our mediator between our familiar world and the unfamiliar world of V. She allows us to see some of the more human side of V. Nevertheless what Evey witnesses is both fascinating and disturbing.  

The graphic novel subverts the usual comic book theme in a very interesting way. Comic books traditionally examine the role of justice in society. However the hero in this case is not traditional. If the Joker from the Batman comics were to be cast as the hero, V for Vendetta would be the result.

While I enjoyed the themes of the comic, the execution left me rather cold. Aside from V’s design and mannerisms, I didn’t find the artwork engaging at all. The comic also has trouble dealing with exposition and depends upon the monologue too often. Instead of flowing, the story halts and jerks. Still, I found Volume One to be quite an interesting read.  

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One day, the dark haired girl of Winston’s obsessions surreptitiously passes him a note. On it are inscribed the words, “I love you.” This written confession unbalances Winston’s world. As if incised, all of his festering tension is suddenly released. For the first time, rebellion takes the form of a physical act instead of just a thought hidden away.

The first act of disobedience is sex. Winston and Julia do not “make love” as we would understand it. Their relationship is tainted by a remarkable hatred and violence as if by copulating they are striking a mortal blow against Big Brother himself. For the party does not discourage passion as earlier believed. The government actually depends on the frustration of denied passion that is then channeled into the war effort. The Hate Week celebrations have an orgasmic quality about them. For the party, releasing this pent up energy through a physical relationship is nonproductive and thus subversive.

The nature of Winston and Julia’s rebellion is fundamentally different. For Winston, the rebellion is of an ideological nature. His relationship with Julia is just the first step towards casting down the ideals of Big Brother. Julia on the other hand rebels on a more practical level. She is lashing out at a system that keeps her from acting out on her desires. For her, rebellion is about upholding the system in public in order to conceal the fulfillment of independent desires. It is unclear which one of the two is enlightened and which still remains ignorant.   

In many ways, the sexual relationship between Winston and Julia recalls a corrupted Garden of Evil. Temptation drives them towards disobedience. Of course, with knowledge comes the awareness of impending death. “We are the dead” becomes Winston’s refrain. The omnipotent government will not forever remain oblivious. In fact in the original tale, God was already aware of the act that had taken place…

Ironically for a pair that is all but dead, Winston and Julia seem remarkably alive. Time is moving again. The two create plans for the future, meaningless and futile plans, but plans nonetheless. The passage of time and the seasons becomes noticeable. The cool, crisp weather of April when Winston and Julia first become involved turns into the warm, muggy weather of June. They seem at peace with the natural world.

In one scene, Winston notices a singing bird. For what purpose the creature is singing remains unknown yet the mere act of expression astounds him. In a parallel scene a washwoman of the lower class sings one of the machine-generated songs of the party. Despite dismissing the lyrics as meaningless drivel, Winston is entranced by the life she lends the song. To express is to live.

Naturally, life and the change it entails is anathema to the party. They would prefer that human society resembled one great machine with each person functioning as a cog. What use is humanity and emotion to a machine?

Winston comes to realize that the act of expressing oneself is the key to being human. All of those useless gestures and all of those internal feelings do have meaning. As long as Big Brother cannot take those feelings from him, Winston will have successfully defied them and retained his human soul.

 

A small band of rebels attempt to destroy a battle station with the power to destroy entire planets. Constructed by the galactic empire, this “Death Star” heralds the end of the rebellion and the triumph of evil over good. Luke Skywalker, a Jedi apprentice and wielder of the mysterious Force, stands as the galaxy’s last hope…

Directed By: George Lucas

Starring: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Alec Guinness

Every child and adult knows that a fairy tale must begin with the phrase, “Once upon a time in a faraway land…” Though when that line is spoken, it should be with a glimmer in the eye and awareness in the heart; because the events that take place in that faraway land are a lot closer than the words acknowledge.

A fairy tale is often dismissed as a story only for children. They are not meant for adults. How mistaken that belief is! For a fairy tale captures the essence of the human heart, what we admire, what we fear, and what we dream. Fairy tales are formulaic, that’s true, but the formula is there to remind us of the cycle of life. What has come before must come again, just in a different guise.   

Star Wars is a fairy tale. It is an old story set in a mythical future; hence the opening line, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” This introduction, fashioned after the classic fairy tale line, tells the audience what to expect. Through Star Wars the audience will experience the fundamental human story of heroism and growing up.

A New Hope is set in a fantastical yet familiar world. The planets, aliens, and starships seem strange at first glance, yet we come to recognize them: the boring but safe home, the menacing enemy fortress, a world without limits. Yes, we know these places and the characters too: the Hero, the Princess, the Mentor, the Scoundrel, the Sidekicks, and the Villain. Perhaps that is why the first in the Star Wars series produces such a warm emotion upon viewing. It is like greeting an old friend.

The characters though are not boring cardboard cutouts. The actors lend their own unique personality to the archetypes they play. Mark Hamill for example conveys Luke Skywalker’s personality very well. His naivety, his frustration, his vulnerability, and his desire to be and do something with his life are immediately clear. Alec Guinness excellently lends his experience to the production as Obi-Wan Kenobi. And the relationship between Princess Leia played by Carrie Fischer and Han Solo by Harrison Ford is unforgettable. Then of course there is Darth Vader…

However, the characters are not the only entertaining aspect of Star Wars. The action and special effects even compared to modern productions are stellar. The tension felt during the firefights set to the rousing score is visceral. When Han Solo charges headlong to take on the enemy stormtroopers we almost feel like jumping out of our seats to help him. On this front Star Wars owes much to prior WWII films like The Dambusters. (In fact, some scenes are replicated frame for frame.) These WWII films are the heroic tales of the previous generation and a legacy that Star Wars proudly carries on.

Over all, the original Star Wars is pure cinematic fun. 

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– Directed by the Joel & Ethan Coen
– Starring George Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson

The opening credits state that the film was based on The Odyssey. I don’t believe the directors actually read the poem. At most they read the summary on the back jacket, and I’m giving them a lot of credit on that point. I say this because with the exception of a few isolated episodes, the movie has nothing whatsoever to do with Homer’s work.

The reason The Odyssey is so compelling is because Homer creates a desperate need for Odysseus’ return. Without showing us the danger that Penelope and Telemachus are in much of the story’s urgency is drained. Sure, Odysseus flirts with danger and disaster but he also flirts with beautiful, seductive goddesses and women along the way. Without a driving goal, the journey just becomes a collection of interesting events but certainly not a cohesive narrative. Just another road trip…

This is where O Brother, Where Art Thou? makes its fatal mistake. The only goal expressed by Everett McGill, Odysseus’ southern counterpart, at the beginning is a vague search for buried treasure. This is not enough to sustain the film. During this journey our protagonists are involved in a lot of unrelated, bizarre events. At the end though the viewers are left unsatisfied. We are left wondering what was the point. I liked several individual scenes but didn’t see how they contributed to the plot or to character development.

However, this may just be a product of my own preferences. I like tight, well-constructed narratives. Too much meandering and a lack of direction or theme tend to put me off. The actors do fill their parts well. I think George Clooney was born for the role of an Odysseus-like character. If spending time with interesting characters is something you like, then this movie may be for you. But it just isn’t for me.

 

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