Big Smoke

'cause it's hard to see from where I'm standin'

Deus Ex: What are we fighting for

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I would love a cybernetic-implanted special agent in an urbane corporate dystopia. I loved Syndicate and Syndicate Wars. I liked the feel of Deus Ex’s settings. I’m looking at Brunner, Gibson and Stephenson on my bookshelf right now. Hell, I love Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell, which this trailer is not not reminding me of.

I want that postmodern cyberpunk noir, but it has to be smart.

The plot of the original Deus Ex fell flat to me because underneath all that New World Order talk was very little indeed. Mass Effect populated itself with plenty of good intrigue, but all that follow-the-money made me want to affect and disrupt Binary Helix, ExoGeni and Cerberus’ front corps, not just witness them and register the proper amount of disgust for paragon points. At this point I get more backstabbing and intrigue in fantasy games like the Witcher 2, and I’m not terribly fond of dragons and the black plague.

I’m worried this new game won’t deliver: Whether I’ll see something that makes me wanna think – actual honest-to-god philosophizing about future society – or if it’ll be all “shadowy puppeteers of shadowiness” like Alpha Protocol.

I suppose the gist of what I’m getting as is that I’m kinda sick of “save the world” story arcs. What I liked most out of Aliens, Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell was that the world itself was almost ancillary – the important part was the drawing out of primal questions. In the latter two, the question was, “what makes one human?” In the former, the question was, “how far are humans willing to go?”

Weyland-Yutani – and I remember the corp name off the top of my head – is, aside from Ripley, the real center of the arc, and not because it was omnipotent, but because it was not omnipotent. I’m reminded of the Greek heroes, where they weren’t more capable of insight as they were just supremely powerful. Likewise, the gist of Gibson and Stephenson wasn’t to save the world but just to survive in a system that was hostile and inherently flawed; specifically, to posit and log how it twists men.

Like good detective novels (and good noir or neo-noir movies). Like Palahniuk without the Jesus surrogates. I don’t necessarily want questions answered; I just want them to be good questions – and I haven’t really seen that in the previews to date.

Sci Fi Conventions

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My finger is clearly not on the pulse of the movie-going public.

All my favorite movies seemed to come out when I wasn’t yet a concept, with an endless succession of rather facile dreck to look forward to in the theatres in comparison. Sci Fi especially.

It’s as if the genre blew up in the 90s: The optimistic operas of the 60s a la Star Trek gave way to the political parables and dystopian epics of Planet of the Apes, 2001, Rollerball, Logan’s Run, Blade Runner, Solaris, Star Wars, Alien, Aliens, Brazil, Dune, etc – 1968 to 1985. Then something happened. In comparison, at least to me, the stuff in my lifetime pales: Fifth Element, Minority Report, AI, The Matrix, Independence Day, Starship Troopers. Action films with pretensions, or worse yet: Steven Spielberg.

There are exceptions: Gattaca with Uma Thurman being as cold as ice, Ghost in the Shell with Japanese spoken at breakneck pace. But they were either marred by unsatisfying box office numbers or resolutely panned by the reviewers as “muddled.”

Which brings me to the latest iteration: District 9, which has gotten mostly positive reviews for the ‘satire’ it has for humanity’s xenophobia and corporatism, especially the clarity of its message and the pacing of its scenes. The crispness of its special effects, of course, were given good notice.

I found this funny: The obvious correlation is Blade Runner, which for a classic of the genre was panned by the NYTimes as “muddled.” 2001 and the 1972 Solaris were panned for their “pacing” (and the 2002 Solaris was lauded when it shifted the spotlight to the romance when Lem is anything but a romantic, but I digress), and to quote the Times on Aliens, comedically enough,

Alien‘s sets and special effects are well done, but these things no longer surprise or tantalize us as they once did.”

My, how we’ve regressed.

In comparison, the execrable plot of I, Robot (or “90 Minutes of Will Smith Pissing on Isaac Asimov’s Grave”) was treated with more dignity in the Times review:

“…but it nonetheless allows some genuine ideas and emotions to pop up amid the noise and clutter.”

It began to feel as if, upon the initial viewing of the film, if the reviewer “gets it,” it’s due to suck. I had the same feeling about Wall-E: The premise you could see a mile away; the story added nothing new or even shocking to the conventions created decades ago. It’s as if we’re simplifying, simplifying, simplifying until you can view a film and just count off the tropes it employs.

Hell, even the evilcorp in District 9 is called “Multi-National United,” which is practically the lack of creative intention. I’m afraid I’m being talked down to, and it appears from the reviews that I’m the only one.

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