Blog 743: Close, But No Biscuit — Universe Building

I think Kong: Skull Island is one of my favourite films of all time. It’s a big, meaty monster movie with plenty of focus on the monster(s); Kong is not the footnote to a human story, but an integral part of a story that occurs in a natural world. It also strikes the perfect balance of fun with the straight faced delivery required to carry off a giant ape bashing giant dinosaurs in the face.

It also has a post-credits sequel hook, but you don’t need to watch that or the lightly-linked precursor Godzilla (2014) to enjoy it. This is the holy grail of shared-universe films: each one standing on its own, but quietly accentuating the others when taken in wider context. This is world-building done right.

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Blog 741: Close, But No Biscuit — Independence Day: Resurgence

Video

Was Independence Day: Resurgence really that bad?

The short answer is: yes.

The longer answer is: yes, but it was flooded with so many fantastic ideas. Alas, fantastic ideas though they may have been, most of their final forms are confused, contradictory, or simply malnourished. Independence Day: Resurgence starts off so well, genuinely extrapolating a possible future from What Happened in the First Film (instead of, ahem, desperately rebooting so they can retread the same stuff but worse) — then it almost immediately trips over its own shoelaces and stumbles off into mediocrity and crass over-spectacle.

Top marks for effort, if nothing else.

Blog 733: Close, But No Biscuit — Jurassic Park

I fuckin’ love dinosaurs. There’s something ineffably cool about big walking lizards, with their scaly skin, razor-sharp claws and teeth as long as your forearm (regardless of how anatomically realistic they actually are). When aliens and monsters are designed for games and films, it always irritates me how they end up being mostly-mammalian and very few creature designers seem to turn to our favourite prehistoric pals. (Risen 3 did and it’s amazeballs.)

The Jurassic Park films are not my favourite films in the world but I do love dinosaurs and the escalation of the Jurassic Park franchise is a bit wobbly — so here we are, back again to take a meandering examination of what went right, what went wrong, and what could have been salvaged with a few choice tweaks.

Unfortunately I was a bit off the boil when we recorded this, so it’s mostly Chris rampaging and me failing to articulate a few choice observations. Ah well.

Blog 724: Close, But No Biscuit — Alien vs. Predator

From the name, you’re all thinking that Alien vs. Predator is a dodgy franchise cash-in. Cheap cross-over, exploit two fanbases, job done?

In one sense, yes, it’s a bit hammy and less refined than some of its predecessors. In another sense, though, no — as an Alien prequel it holds up really really well. All the fun of Ancient Astronauts but done properly and plausibly, with coherent links to the other films but nothing too forced, continued themes of an uncaring universe rather than putting humanity at the centre of it… If you genuinely like Alien and Aliens, then Alien vs. Predator is actually a very good extrapolation. And it’s fun!

Blog 723: Close, But No Biscuit — Star Wars — Part 12

The Force Hits Snooze. This should have been a rollicking finale to Close, But No Star Wars, but we’ve said pretty much all that we need to about The Force Awakens throughout our rambling examination of the Star Wars films, usually as a counterpoint to what the other ones got right. So here we put a few final nails in the coffin and… move on with our lives?

Bah. I only get angry because I care. My answer, of course, is to bear in mind all of this as I work on my own fiction. I will have giant death lasers, yes — but mine will have the narrative framework to support them, and give them due weight when they arrive. I will not be afraid to extrapolate my universe, I will not endlessly recycle the same set-pieces, and I will not let old characters completely smush new ones… I hope. (But rebellions are built on hope, right?)

Since I don’t really want us to end on a downer, remembering only the pain of bad Star Wars rather than the heights of good Star Wars, I’m going to part with this fantastic 15-minute disco medley of the Star Wars theme(s) by Meco. May the force be with us!

Blog 722: Close, But No Biscuit — Star Wars — Part 11

Starkiller Base is such a massive, critical failure of writing. Handed the keys to Star Wars, they did not carry the torch forward and instead sat still to make the same thing again but bigger. If you can’t remember, Disney, we already did that in the original trilogy and only barely got away with it. The galaxy’s biggest ever super-weapon, a footnote barely present for half a film and destroyed as perfunctorily — in the first part of a trilogy!

I don’t see a way that they can escalate beyond this, but neither can I see an Empire Strikes Back-stlye de-escalation that wouldn’t render the thing more meaningless than it already is.

First film in the new age, such promise, such hope — and the ball was thoroughly dropped. Dropped so thoroughly that the best we can do in subsequent things is to sweep it under the carpet… But it’s too big for that. Aaargh! Listen as we outline better ideas.

Blog 720: Close, But No Biscuit — Star Wars — Part 10

And so we come to the original trilogy, the sequence that so very much got the biscuit. The truth is that early exposure to Star Wars defined everything I’ve ever wanted from sci-fi and fantasy in the days hence, and that’s why the lacklustre prequel trilogy and the travesty of The Force Awakens both hurt so much — because the things they tried to build on were fucking brilliant.

Yes, the original trilogy got enough biscuits for everyone, even in those brief moments when it really shouldn’t have. Star Wars is awsome, and though you can try to convince me otherwise by appending crud over the top of it, you’ll never take away the parts that are truly beautiful. (And let’s face it, as a Star Wars fan I’ve spent all my life selectively ignoring parts of the Expanded Universe and elevating others — I wonder if any two people alive have a consistent personal Star Wars headcanon?)

Blog 715: Close, But No Biscuit – Star Wars – Part 9

Too many characters spoil the broth? Maybe Rouge One could have been improved with some streamlining and focus — collapse some too-similar characters together and spend more time developing a smaller cast. I know I don’t really do characters as anything more than plot devices, but even on that scale there are a few too many plot devices with not much to offer the film.

No additional thoughts this time. Am I actually getting better at articulating myself during live chat-time? Heaven forbid!