De Romanicorum Theoriarum V

Fantasy, science fiction, writing.
  • This dissection of the Super Mario Bros movie is an interesting look back at the first of the "let's pith a brand for the name recognition and toss away the content as a useless husk" movies. But one thing I thought was funny was that the writer gives that movie too much credit, or rather ignores what the movie says about things she does credit. She describes Jurassic Park (which came out at the same time and, well, didn't suck) as "an auteur-driven, smartly conceived demographic buster". But read the article: that's exactly what they were trying to have Super Mario Bros be. Admittedly each of the writers they brought in thought he was the auteur, which brings up proverbs about cooks and broth (and reminds one of the David Lynch Dune), but what motive is there to make Super Mario Bros another Blade Runner—yes, that idea actually informed their adaptation—apart from the desire to see your film described as "smartly conceived"?

    And let's be frank: Jurassic Park is a monster movie. Yes, it's got interesting ideas about hubris and technological overreach. So does Frankenstein; so does The Fly. Still a monster movie. If people had noticed that the important thing about Mario is that it is about a guy who saves a princess from a giant fire-breathing turtle—no social commentary, no satire, just "rescue the girl"—they might well have made an intelligent movie (though it might've helped if anyone involved had even heard the name "Miyamoto Shigeru"). Legend of Zelda uses the same basic premise as Mario, and they've been doing the best work in fantasy, bar absolutely nothing, for 25 years. Hell, most of Skyward Sword was about a guy who rides a pelican saving a girl from a giant flaming pangolin; that doesn't change the fact it was better than all fantasy produced in the West since, oh, 1998, combined.
  • I haven't read "On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society"—which comes up a lot in discussions of military science fiction, hence why I bring it up here—but the people who reference it lead me to suspect it's not all it's cracked up to be. Several of them, for instance, discussing the average soldier's reluctance to kill, cite the thousands of rounds expelled in modern wars for every enemy casualty inflicted. But those don't demonstrate that soldiers are deliberately missing (which is the implied claim); they demonstrate that laying down machinegun suppression-fire uses a lot of ammunition.

    Now, again, I have not read the book. It may be that the people who cite it put forth that stat on their own, as evidence for the book's argument, without the book itself doing so. And the argument is fundamentally sound—most people are hesitant to kill. It takes discipline and/or brainwashing to get people able to kill when the need arises, that's why both honor-codes and propaganda are permanent fixtures of war, even among stone-age hunter-gatherers. That's also why specialized warrior-classes are the norm, not the exception, among cultures with any division of labor beyond "men hunt, women cook".

    But nevertheless, I think, the book does suffer from being recommended by people who commit that "cum hoc ergo propter hoc" fallacy. And I think its main claims about hesitancy to kill are somewhat culturally biased, since it mainly deals with post-Baby Boom Americans. The attitude about killing in our culture is colored at least as much by suburban middle-class affluence and security as it is by violent media and popular culture.
  • I like the wizard-spell system in D&D, except that I don't like the "you forget the spell once you cast it". Jack Vance needed a limit on his wizards in the Dying Earth stories, so he had them only able to force their brains to take a few spells. Vance's weird gimmick was borrowed by Gary Gygax because he realized MP are a pain in the ass in a tabletop game. Only, why do you forget your spells? For that matter, why is memorizing spells how they're prepared? Instead, you can have that the wizard, rather than memorizing the spells from his book, performs rituals beforehand that he can complete later to cast the spells. Once he uses 'em up he has to rest and perform new rituals.

    Sorcerers, of course, would be people who essentially perform a ritual once, and can cast it and any of the other rituals they've performed ad hoc—though only some per day, and then they have to rest. Really, of course, the sorcerer-class was a way to make Charisma no longer the universal dump-stat, and to essentially introduce the versatility of MP-like spellcasting without having to screw with MP. Why they cast their spells from Charisma makes next to no sense (same goes for paladins, who cast from Charisma rather than Wisdom in 3e, mostly to make them easier to roll up), unless we're going with an obsolete sense of Charisma as "divine favor" (which makes some sense in the case of paladins, actually, since they cast priest-spells, but who the hell are sorcerers impressing to get their spells?).

    And while the "have to rest after they've cast all their spells" mechanic is often used as justification for that optional rule where bonus spells/day is determined by Constitution rather than Intelligence or Charisma, I don't think it has to be. People who are smarter or more charismatic may find their spells less draining, after all, because their power doesn't derive from their body's endurance, although it affects it.
  • Saw most of the pilot of Defiance. It's really, really dumb, obviously trying—far too hard—to ape little bits of Game of Thrones and Firefly and Mass Effect. Like Firefly, it's got glamorized prostitution and utterly lackluster garage-sale production design. Like Game of Thrones, it's got gratuitous politicking and conniving. Like Mass Effect, it's got interspecies sex as anatomically and chemically possible, only even worse, it's interfertile, which I don't think even Mass Effect was stupid enough to think made sense.

    Most of it is just puerile TV-science fiction crap we've come to expect from the Syphilis Channel—that crap-factory seems to get the same results whether they're trying way too hard or not trying at all—but the brothel needs a moment more examination. When Whedon created Inara, he demolished not only his claim that there was no racism/orientalism in Firefly, but also his far more publicized claim to be a feminist. Because prostitution is, pretty much always, at least de facto slavery. The exceptions are in the most decadent phases of extremely patriarchal societies, like late Imperial Rome and a certain part of the Edo Period in Japan, when women's normal lives are so bad that prostitution actually looks like a step up. Is that the society Defiance takes place in? Because I don't root for societies like that. I want them annihilated with all convenient speed, I don't think that's usually what you're going for with a protagonist-culture.

    And don't say "it's going to happen anyway, we need to be able to regulate it", as is so often said by self-proclaimed feminists and libertarians who have probably called someone else a hypocrite at some point in their lives, which is just plain wrong. Guess what, organized crime is going to assassinate people anyway, does that mean we need to make it legal so we can license hitmen? And assassination can be done far more honorably than is possible with pimping. Merely because we cannot eliminate an evil action completely is not grounds for legalizing it, you quitters, you do realize the same argument goes for all crimes?
  • I recently finally saw the Peter Jackson Hobbit. He did a better job with it than with the Lord of the Rings, but I still have complaints (you shoulda seen that coming). First off, is that Thorin's companions are not supposed to be crude, belching, Scottish- or Welsh-accented dwarves. This is Tolkien, not Warcraft. Tolkien Dwarves are Semitic, not Norse; the Germanic names are the result of the translation convention that also calls Razanur "Peregrine" and Karningul "Rivendell", and aren't their real ones anyway. The Dwarves in the book are explicitly said to have very good manners, apart from a certain gruffness (and their messing with Bilbo's head RE: his dishes). I would dearly love to ask Peter Jackson where he gets his penchant for treating the Dwarves as comic relief, because they really, really are not. Read the Silmarillion sometime: at the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, King Azaghâl wounded Glaurung the Black (the most powerful of all dragons) so badly he had to retreat, though Azaghâl died doing it. His followers bore him from the field singing a dirge, and not even Balrogs tried to stop them.

    The other issue, though, is that even Thorin isn't that paranoid. For one thing his grudge would be with Thranduil, a Sindar lord ruling over one part of the remnant of Thingol's domain of Doriath (I believe the other part is Celeborn's domain of Lothlórien); he would only have a typical dwarf's coolness to outsiders, or towards Elves, for Elrond, the lord of the last Noldor remaining in Middle-Earth. Also? If Thorin did have any such issue, it's entirely likely that Elrond would say, essentially, "You do realize that I and the other major Noldor noble, my mother-in-law Galadriel, both speak your secret language? We visited Khazâd-Dûm all the time before Durin's Bane awoke. Do you really think you have secrets we're interested in?"

    Actually there's one other thing: while Thror might have become greedy (presumably his ownership of one of the Seven would place him under the resurgent power of Sauron at Dol Goldur—increasing their greed is the only thing the Seven do to their wearers, because Dwarves are less easily-moved than Men), he would not have taken the finding of the Arkenstone as a sign he ruled by divine right. As the head of the clan of Durin, greatest of the seven Dwarf-lords personally crafted by Aulë the Smith, of course he ruled by divine right. He doesn't need some shiny rock to tell him that.
  • It seems my endorsement of the New 52 was as premature as the condemnations of it. The Lantern-family of books are all pretty good, but some of the other series? Not so much. Justice League doesn't have J'onn in it; instead he's in this BS "Stormwatch" thing, apparently the source of "The Authority", which is basically the answer to the question "what if Mark Millar had created X-Factor?"; it's a grievous waste of probably my favorite or second-favorite DC character. The new Superman? Garbage. They One More Day-ed Clark's marriage to Lois (which admittedly doesn't exist in every continuity anyway, e.g. All-Star Superman), put in some perfunctorily-veiled Fox News-bashing...it was just bad. On the plus side, Kal's new suit looks pretty boss: no underwear on the outside!

    On the other hand, the new Supergirl is pretty good, not least because it's mostly about stuff relating to Krypton. The Worldkillers are neat (they're all female because, come on, they're fighting Kara, you figure it out). This version is probably the cutest Kara in many ways (character-development wise, I mean, she's been drawn better though this one is more convincingly a teenager than many), and I like the whole she-remembers-Kal-as-a-baby-but-now-he's-older-than-her thing. It's never wrong to go with a twin paradox if you can ever afford it. I don't know if I approve of making "quite obviously a cheap knockoff Lex Luthor" the villain, although I do like the plot developments that actually happened around him. Also, "Simon Tycho" is a cool name for a bad guy.


penny farthing said...

The other problem I had with the Hobbit movie (which I mostly quite liked) was all the gratuitous chase sequences. Tolkien books, among all books, do not need to be spiced up with action scenes. It wasn't as "we really can't wait for the theme park ride" as Polar Express, but it was annoying.

Also Bilbo sword fighting that giant Orc. What the fudge was that?

penny farthing said...

Holy crap! I'd heard that the Mario movie was bad, but that trailer blew my mind with badness! Even I wouldn't watch that movie. Although did laugh at "a wonderful parody of New York and heavy industry. We call it the New Brutalism" applied to Mario. If someone was going to make a Mario movie (which is totally unnecessary) it should be the people who made the Speed Racer movie. That movie was totally unironic and cartoony, yet managed to develop the characters in a really engaging way. The visual style was crazy and awesome, and they could totally make a world with smiley faces on the hills and clouds, full of mushroom hatted people, and still tell a good fairy tale in it.