OP-ED: The Gears of War “Movie”: Games and Hollywood

Hollywood has … problems.

Okay, that’s kind of a lame lead. We all know that. Everywhere has problems. Is Hollywood unique?

Well … yes. Most of their problems are pretty specific. And a lot of them are of their own, self-inflicted making. If you want a fascinating hour, go look up a podcast on how things like Academy Awards are determined and you’ll be exposed to an almost insane feedback loop wherein people make movies to please the academy so that they can win awards to make movies to please the academy.

Yeah, Hollywood is weird. But one of their more puzzling “problems,” the one that I want to talk about today, is their obsession with “fixing what isn’t broke.”

That’s right. I want to talk about video game movies.

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The Wandering Earth

So the biggest, most successful film ever in China hit Netflix earlier this month. To … little fanfare. Which some people online immediately took issue with, as The Wandering Earth is based (very, very loosely) on Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem which, even if I wasn’t a huge fan of, did win a bunch of awards and was a huge deal in the Sci-Fi world.

So for The Wandering Earth to release without much fanfare on Netflix, there were a number of cries I recall reading in the news that it was an attempt to “downplay” China’s triumphant entry into the Sci-Fi film world. Or recurrent contributions to, depending on where you were reading. Opinions varied. China being a political hot-topic however, as you can imagine there was a lot of internet flame being built up around this film.

To be fair, some of it is justified. China is … not a great place. Their surveillance and their “social programs” aren’t exactly out of 1984 only because they’re honestly better at it, something that many have attributed to the success of The Wandering Earth in China (so I hear, if you went to see the movie, you got a few extra points put on your social score, which was one of the reasons the film was so big A reader from China has let me know that thankfully this was not the case here. PHEW!). China is headed by a now life-long dictator. People disappear. So when that government backs a big film, well … some people get cagey.

Anyway, I don’t want to dive any further into that side of things because it just flat-out gets messy, and re-education camps don’t have much to do with The Wandering Earth, which yes, I sat down and watched. Because it was the biggest film in China’s history, I’ve enjoy a number of other Chinese films, I do love Sci-Fi, and well, it was right there on Netflix. So … how was this film adaptation of The Three-Body Problem?

EDIT: Another reader let me know in the comments below that despite what I’d read and been told, this film is an adaptation of a short story by Cixin, and not Three-Body. Which makes a bit more sense. However, upon checking, not even the credits of the film point this out (in fact, they continue to refer to the material it is based on as a novel rather than a short) so the confusion may have some root in that.

Clearly, this changes the theory in the next paragraph. END EDIT.

Well, it has nothing to do with Three-Body. And I do mean nothing. I’m fairly certain that the only reason the book is mentioned at all in conjunction with this movie was marketing. I’d even venture to say that the script for Wandering Earth was probably already written, and the writers/producers saw it as a way to get their project green-lit. So they snapped up the rights to Three-Body, started work on their film, and put “Based on” in the credits.

But it’s not. To put it another way, Wandering Earth is as similar to Three-Body as Terminator is to Star Wars. They’re the same overall genre yes … but they’re pretty much unlike one another in every other respect.

Which was fine by me. I found the characters and plotting of Three-Body bland and predictable through most of its length, the only redeeming bit being the alien sequence at the very end. It was a novel written to explore ideas, rather than have character or plot. So I was alright discovering that Wandering Earth didn’t have any of it.

Again, none. I cannot stress this enough: If you are planning on watching The Wandering Earth because you loved The Three-Body Problem, you will be extremely disappointed with it. Because if it is similar to any Sci-Fi at all, Wandering Earth is much closer to Independence Day than anything else.

But that doesn’t mean it’s bad. Not at all. You just have to have the right expectations.

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The Captain Marvel Kerfluffle

Or, How Captain Marvel‘s Writing Team Showed They Really Don’t Know Their Craft.

There wasn’t supposed to be a post today. In fact, I am slamming this out in-between a work shift, a very important errand, work on book projects (my email box is FULL of comments, fixes, and changes from the awesome Alpha and Beta Readers I have), and then a big social event tonight. But this warranted a post.

Okay, backstory: This last weekend, with Marvel’s Captain Marvel about to come out on Blu-Ray, the marketing team released an extended version of a scene from the film.

Okay, fine, not worth commenting on so far, right? Well, this came with an additional caveat. It was marketed as “see a hero taking on toxic masculinity.”

Oh. Oh no.

As I pointed out in my thoughts on Captain Marvel, the largest weakness of the film by far was the writing. And … that’s come back to bite folks again. Badly.

As you can imagine, the internet exploded.

Hang on though. We’re still in backstory. The scene in question is an extended version of the scene in the film where—minor spoilers—Vers steals a guy’s bike and some clothes. In this new version, rather than her simply eyeing the bike and stealing it (which is justifiable in character at the moment), we instead get a scene where the biker hits on Vers in a pretty sleazy manner, only to get his conceptions crushed by Vers. She shakes his hand, then crushes it (you can hear bones crack and pop) and tells him to give her his bike and jacket or she’ll remove the hand.

Again … a bit more sinister, sure. Except … then the writers had to step in and explain that this was Captain Marvel being a hero and striking a blow against toxic masculinity. And … well, you can imagine how the internet has taken it. Both sides have, as you can predictably guessed, gone up in arms. Both make some good points, and both make some bad points.

However, the reason I chose to take some time out of my crunched day to post about this was because at its core, the argument Disney’s marketing team and the writers of Captain Marvel have claimed is … well, wrong.

Vers isn’t a hero in that scene. Not by any definition of the term. And to see people so aggressively defending Vers actions as “heroic,” even the writing team? Well … I think that’s in part why the Captain Marvel had the problems it had.

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How Marvel’s Movies (and Others’ Products) Have Changed Storytelling

Pop quiz for you. Don’t worry, it’ll be easy to answer. Have you ever read any licensed literature? Like Star Wars books, or Star Trek, or Warhammer, or … Sands, really any licensed property? Or maybe seen a tie-in TV show to a movie? Played a game of a movie or a book?

Basically, anything that could be considered “secondary canon?”

Right. I can already tell I’ve lost some of you. So let’s back up. Let’s say you are a movie producer. Better yet, you’re one of those producers like James Cameron who often writes, produces, and directs your own movies. And you’ve just made a hit.

Now, with this hit on your hands, someone has come to you and asked for a chance to expand on the universe! They want to write a trilogy of books that tie into the movie and extrapolate a bit after it! Awesome!

But … you don’t want to write a trilogy of books. You want to keep making movies.

“No problem!” says the publisher with the contract. “We’ve got an author lined up! They’ll write all three. We just need some notes on the movie, for you to answer some questions, and that’ll be all we need!”

So you sign the paper, and the trilogy comes out. You collect a small licensing fee, and a bunch of fans of your movie go on to read the book and form excited theories and ideas.

Except … a year or two later, when you sit down to write the sequel, you’ve got a bunch of ideas that don’t quite mesh with the world and liberties the author of the book trilogy took to flesh out their story. Not that you know this: You probably haven’t read them. Or, if you did read them, you’d know the score as being thus—

The movie came first, therefore the movie is the final word.

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Endgame (Yes, the Marvel Movie)

First of all: NO SPOILERS.

I mean, really readers? I wouldn’t do that to you.

But I have just returned from Marvel’s Endgame. Yup, my birthday gift to myself was a ticket for opening night. Kind of. It’s 4 AM here, so you can guess how late I was at the showing. But …

Here’s all I have to say. Again, no spoilers. None. I simply couldn’t.

If you’re at all invested in the Marvel films, just go see it.

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Duel of the Marvels

So, in this past week I have seen both Captain Marvel and Shazam! Hence the title there. If you know your comic history, you know that the heroic protagonist of Shazam! takes on the name Captain Marvel, a deliberate choice by his creator’s to stick it to Marvel comics at the time. There’s a lot more history with that which went bouncing back and forth, but there are comic historians who’ve delved into that particular legal and trademark battle and produced write-ups for you to read with a little Google-fu, so I won’t go into that here.

No, instead, I’m going to drop my thoughts about both Marvel movies. One film #21 in Marvel’s massive and magnificent Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU, the other the newest entry in DC’s own attempts to mimic Marvel with a DC Cinematic Universe. Which was good? Were either? Were both great? Well … let’s talk about. And I’ll start with the more controversial Captain Marvel first.

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Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

You know, I wasn’t going to post anything for a few more days, just so no one missed the Christmas story I put up … But I’m gonna link that right here and say “Hey, you should check that out.”

So hey, you should check that out.

Now, why am I posting? Because I just came back from Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and … Yeah, I enjoyed it a lot.

I mean, you should probably see this one for the visuals alone. It’s incredible. If someone at Pixar isn’t going “Why didn’t we think of that!?” for some of these visuals, it’s only because they haven’t seen it. I’m not even sure how to describe some of it (though I’m sure a film student would have a better shot). Suffice to say, there’s a whole team of brilliant animators over at Sony pictures who deserve accolades for some of the incredible visuals they pulled off. It feels like a comic that’s coming to life in front of your eyes. Again, I can’t explain it in technical terms, but the visual treats the trailers show off? They’re not even scratching the surface.

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