Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Things I Didn't Get in 2007

Not Liking Spiderman 3. How exactly, in a year that included the indecipherably un-fun Pirates of the Caribbean 3 and the business-as-usual Ocean's 13, did Spiderman 3 become the catchall reference for shitty threequels? (Have you people even seen Star Wars III?) So fars as I can see, nerds (ie the people who movies are made for now) hate Spiderman 3 because it dares to have fun with the formula, pointing out that their gawky Mary-Sue is actually a self-obsessed poseur waiting to happen, and bringing this unpleasant eventuality to the fore via the unforgivable crime of emo-referencing stylishness. (But then, I don't get the development of "emo" as perjorative shorthand for "the kids are getting it all wrong" either).

Spiderman 3 kicks it off early with the de rigeur superhero motif of "out of control train as metaphor for inescapable destiny" (which, for the love of God, is what the unwatchably self-important second movie's notable for already), but quickly redeems itself by dodging the usual soap-opera histrionics and expressing the hero's struggle with his own darkness not through gritty psychological sturm und drang but via self-deprecating dorkiness. And surely what we're supposed to like about this guy from the get is that he's kind of a self-deprecating dork anyway, yes? Anyway, the movie then ends this act by - what more do you people need?? - having Topher Grace walk into a church, kneel before Jesus Christ, and plaintively ask Him to kill Spiderman, by which point it's inescapably obvious that this movie is actually fucking great.

Pan's Labyrinth. It was one of the least engaging, most overbearingly slick and soulless pictures of the year, and because it had fucking subtitles it was just as ceaselessly lauded from all quarters as the even-worse Night Watch. If this shit was in English and not set during a period in history that nobody knows about because there aren't any FPSes set during it, everyone would be rightly pointing out that the story was a trite mess cribbed wholesale from The Diamond Age and the production values were about the standard of a direct-to-dvd adaptation of a Vertigo comic. Not the good ones, the every-second-panel-is-someone-getting-shot-in-the-head ones.

Flight of the Conchords. Look, before you have me exiled, yes, they're lovely young folks and the songs are oh so funny because they mix prock braggadocio with unremarkable-ordinariness lyrics; I get that. And if you're liking it, that's just great, because Rhys Darby has some very crawly scenes and the non-actors hold their own in their scenes with him because they just have to play unremarkable fellows and that's their schtick, and besides which, they're lovely young folks and basically good, and yes, the show could be a lot worse-made, as evidenced by pretty much every other NZ television show, which is worse-made. (Of course, there's always the fact that it's American money and HBO production staff overseeing it, but seeings as the band produced and Two Cars One Night wrote and directed it, let's let that slide). Flight of the Conchords is basically good.

My thing is I just can't stand comedians with guitars. I just don't see why songs and comedy are meant to be intrinsically linked. If I wanted to listen to a song, why would I listen to one with jokes I'd already heard when I could just listen to a good song? It's not that the Conchords have bad songs; it's just that their entire schtick is predicated on their music being a perfectly adequate pastiche of proper music. Which means that if I tell you the Conchords have a song that's a perfectly adequate pastiche of, say, Barry White, but with lyrics about an abstractly recognisable suburban mundanity that's not particularly sexy... well, isn't that the entire joke? Why would you then need to listen to the song more than once (if at all)? And then set this to video and force the band to mug and leer at the camera and be constantly jabbing us in the ribs with their "isn't it HILARIOUS how CHEESY we're being!" tone, and you're left with a far above-average NZ comedy that is unfortunately peppered with very, very grating musical interludes.

Halo 3. Gears of War. Bioshock. If you started your series by announcing that your hero would be a nameless, faceless everygrunt and the content would be pretty much nonstop blowing shit up real good, it beats the hell out of me why you'd think the third instalment should be a mythically-charged epic, a WWI war-poem with plasma rifles, in which we're treated to lengthy story sequences about the charged destiny of the (still nameless, faceless) protagonist.

By comparison, if someone said you should make yet another videogame about staunch grunty white dudes who were like a parody of any already-parodised action movie hero you could think of, and what's more you should make the controls unfathomable and overreliant on context-sensitive scripts (for those with girlfriends, what this basically means is that you walk the hero from one space to another, then a large red glyph flashes onscreen, and you press the corresponding large red button, and the little man onscreen does something cool that you have no control over and it makes you feel good), surely you'd say, "no, instead I'd like to make an interesting game, there's more market for interesting games"? One would think.

But then, if you did try to make an interesting game, you might just end up making the world's okayest video game, which is called Bioshock. Are you familiar with games where the action is viewed from behind the eyes of the (often somewhat nominal) protagonist, and the plot basically consists of shooting people until it's time to watch someone make a speech? Yes, I like them too (what's not to like, right?), but why does this one have such a high opinion of itself? Isn't it just another game with a patchy story and a few neat acquirable special moves? I mean, yeah, sure, great, but ludologically speaking, that's basically Ghouls and Ghosts on the Sega Master System we're describing here.

Is it really all that clever to have all your characters named after clunky puns on the works of Ayn Rand? Why? Is it saying something amazing and hitherto-undiscovered about the first-person shooter genre that you (the character) are made to follow arbitrary objectives even while you (the player) are being bombarded with arguments against the ethical/philosophical soundness of those objectives? (I feel I've actually made Bioshock sound more deeply interesting than it in fact is there). Why? Narratologically, Bioshock is at least as impressive as many sci-fi paperbacks from the 1970s (drugs as metaphor for human weakness? You don't say!), but the cover art isn't as engaging.

OverCapitalising EveryFucking GroupOfWords. I'm not sure why, but this actually makes me feel physically ill. It's just so vogue and unnecessary. We're at the point now where not only does everything new have to be CamelCapped (this is the DeRigeur name for it), but we're even retroactively CamelCapping things that weren't made after 2005 and hence never ought to have been written like this. MotherFucker, I saw RoboCop and The NeverEnding Story back when dvds only came on cassette, and lemme tell you, they only had one capital letter per word back then! If God had wanted us to have six capital letters in every three-word title, He'd have put twelve Shift keys on our keyboards.

Tangentally, for the love of everything that is right in the world: Web 2.0, learn to fucking spell.

Billy Corgan thinking he could get away with it. People put out bad records all the time. People do pompous shit all the time. Even allowing for this level of common-or-garden misguided behaviour, though, 2007 was an embarrassing time to be a fan of the Smashing Pumpkins. It's not that their music was particularly bad (though it certainly wasn't particularly good), so much as the shameful, half-assed pursuit of this Interntube 2.0 audience that someone at Smashing Pumpkins Marketing HQ has heard tell of. The high-water mark for embarrassing attempts at hipness would be Corgan and Chamberlin's confused, befuddled-old-men routine on their much-hyped Youtube Q&A sessions: sitting awkwardly, shifting-eyed and embarrassed, the two rock 'n' roll grandpappies mumbled their way through a half-dozen stupid answers to even stupider questions, using the preparation time afforded by a good month's lead-in time to come up with answers that proved they have no idea what is happening in this crazy old world with its roll-and-shake music and tippitty-tap computers.

This would be the most embarrassing thing about liking the Smashing Pumpkins in 2007, except that they closed the year by announcing the Itunes-only release of "American Gothic, the title of which is 'continued comment on the state of our country'". Whatever the hell that means. Yes indeed, about the best way to be a Smashing Pumpkins fan in 2007 was to ignore the Smashing Pumpkins and listen to lots of My Chemical Romance.

Youtube. Some way through typing the above, I realised that my description of a sucky Youtube Q&A session about a rock band from the mid-90s was actually a better description of the much-hyped, much-maligned, much-unwatched Youtube Presidential Debates. (And yet, to show where my priorities seem to lie, no editing was undertaken).

Who decided that it was a sensible idea to have webcam enthusiasts quiz the world's next Presidents on their stand on the issues of the day? Have they met the Internet? About the most lasting impression formed by Youtube in 2007 was that Chris Crocker is a shrewd, sharp little meta-savvy post-human bundle of intriguingness, which pretty much sums up how consequential Youtube managed to be. How long before we get video that's of a watchable quality on the Internet? And how long after that before we start taking it for granted and go back to, you know, writing things down? Because if the only way out of this New Media revolution is through, can we hurry it up?

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