It’s time for Monday Update, where I talk about a movie and something else. Maybe.
John Carter – Whether because of low expectations or because it’s a genuinely good film, I really enjoyed John Carter. Considering its horrible reception and mixed reviews, what else could happen? Hearkening to the fantasy/sci-fi adventures of old, it holds no surprises nor does it feel any need to hold surprises; as an afficinado of “old things” (i.e., Christianity is pretty old), I like this style of storytelling. We get the obvious stereotypes – the wounded warrior, the prideful/honorable princess, two opposing nations/forces, other races who want to stay out of the conflict. We use these archetypes because they work – it doesn’t matter how many times they find use, for people can still mine new material out of the same ground.
Quick recap: John Carter, in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ original serialized novels, was a Civil War veteran who lost his wife and child to Apache attacks while he was out fighting for the South. Having become a man without a cause and having lost the only thing worthwhile in his life, he sets out to find gold…or something. It’s not clear why he wants to find the gold other than to drink himself to death or use money to drown his sorrows. Anyhow, a series of events lead him to discover a cave full of gold and a magical device that transports Carter to Mars, where all sorts of fun stuff happens. War, violence, romance, a bizarre history of a supposedly barren planet – all these things await. And they’re all fun!
What strikes me about John Carter is the utter lack of pretension or “meaning” that these movies try. Carter does not try to inject any meaning, but it does become meaningful for anyone paying attention in the least. His past and motivations reveal themselves over times in subtle flashbacks that anyone paying attention can understand. Furthermore, the world of Burroughs’ Mars has many interesting wrinkles and cultures that have their own technologies, rituals, and religions – none of these are placed in stark relief, but much like Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films, these add flavor and color even if they aren’t the focus of the narrative. I wasn’t expecting the odd supernatural elements, either, which give a totally different spin on the narrative. Maybe it’s a commentary on human relationships, I don’t know – what I do know is that this story works, and doesn’t bash the audience over the head. You don’t have to pick up on the logitics of the Ninth Ray to understand what’s happening on the screen.
It baffles me why critics called this a logically incomprehensible mess with too many fight scenes. Really? I only count 3-4 off the top of my head that last anymore than a minute or two, or maybe I’m just being defensive – the story was always the focal point, and any combat had some purpose in the grand scheme. I hate ancillary, worthless fight scenes (every single super hero movie that came out this year), so trust me on this. If you’re willing to take this universe (a precursor to most modern science fiction, by the way!) on its own terms, you’ll have a grand ol’ time. Seriously, give it a chance – if not for its huge $250 million dollar budget (it feels like every time the alien races appear, a million dollars was spent) and bad marketing campaign, it could’ve been the Avengers of 2012. Actually, I prefer this overall. Heck, I even like Taylor Kitsch – he works well in this role.
Maybe I’m just weird. Maybe there’s no audience for a light-hearted “fish out of water” tale anymore. I’d like to think that’s not true.
Mario Golf – So, I whipped the N64 out of its bin, got angry at my S-Video cables (WHY DO YOU NOT WORK CONSISTENTLY?), and played me some Mario Golf. Shows how much I care about modern gaming trends, huh?
I don’t love sports very much. Primarily, sports struck me, a rather active young man, as a passive activity. You watch, you get the rules, you see the players, and I guess you can have conversations with other people about sports. Thing is, you’re really discussing something of no potential consequence, and something which will continue with or without your support. I suppose that’s why I like politics – it actually means something. Video games, by contrast, force interactivity on the player and force you to play. They force you to invest meaning into somewhat arbitrary proceedings, and that’s why they’re fun. The same could be said of actually playing said sports as well, but this is a video game blog and I’ll be darned if I’m not advocating for video games.
So yes, Mario Golf; I like Mario Golf. Anyone can play Mario Golf, yet it holds complexities beyond my imagining. I don’t know who programmed the ball physics, but taking account of ball angle, wind, rain, club, and desired location becomes a host of weird calculations in itself. The game only requires three button presses, but a lot of thought goes into those three button presses. Each character’s drive has a different length (285yds being the highest), but that comes at a price: control. It’s much more difficult to shoot with Bowser, for example, than Princess Peach. While Bowser’s perfect shots will get you down a Part 5 course in a hurry, anything less than perfection will result in an out-of-control ball that flings itself straight – in other words, the force of your swing overpowers all environmental obstacles and you go wildly off-course. Peach, on the other hand, never drives very far (around 210yds or so), but every shot goes where you place it, given you’ve also adjusted according to said weather.
And, given our video game context, Mario Golf presents difficult situations in its course design. When’s the last time you drove a golf ball over a bottomless pit? Never? Yeah, I thought so. Camelot, the developers of both Golf games (I prefer the N64 version or the GC version given my mood), trust their controls so much that the course reflect the precision. You want to make it through the desert, with what feels like miles and miles of bunker everywhere? Well, bring it on! Lack of realism makes sports MUCH more fun. Let’s not even get into the multiplayer component – Mario Golf can be a competitive, sometimes contact, sport all in itself.
So yes: Mario Golf is fun and you should like it.
That’s it for this Monday Update. Now to eat more pumpkin related things because Fall Fever (TM) has officially taken over.