Favorite Moments: Game of Chairs

We all have our favorite moments in movies, books, and games, moments that stay with us long after the story is over. This column is my attempt to examine my favorite moments and see why they stick with me.

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The video:

Why it’s great:

It’s Sesame Street poking fun of Game of Thrones.

Okay, I guess I’ll have to do more than post a sentence I never thought I’d write. What makes this sketch by Sesame Street great is that it manages to do three things at once:

1. Do a G-rated parody of an R-rated franchise.

2. Make it educational and entertaining at the same time.

3. Throw in plenty of in-jokes that only adult watchers of ‘Thrones’ would get that would fly over the heads of younger viewers.

It’s Reason # 3 that really makes this sketch shine: What 8 year old is going to catch the in-jokes about the bloodiest wedding in human history, the death of the most irritating teenage monarch ever, decapitation, and so much more? None, I’d warrant. You can almost hear the writers giggling as they turn R-rated horror into G-rated jokes, and on a children’s educational show, no less!

 

Three Fridays: An Examination of ‘Friday the 13th’

When it comes to horror franchises, few are as well known as Friday the 13th. Created in 1980, this series has gone on to include twelve films, countless books, comics, action figures, and video games, not to mention spawning the legendary Jason Vorhees, who remains one of cinema’s most famous slasher villains, with over two hundred (!) kills to his name.

Yet, even with its prestigious history, I’ve never sat down to watch all the films, the one exception being ‘Freddy vs Jason.’ I thought it was a fun film, but it didn’t get me interested in watching the rest of Jason’s filmography. All that changed, though, when I took a look at a recent, fan-made remake of the 1980 film, which made me curious to see how it fared to both the original, and the 2009 remake, leading to the rare scenario of being able to see the same story being told three different ways.

For the next few weeks, I’ll be taking a look at all three interpretations: The 1980 original, the 2009 remake, and a 2019 fan-made version that I’ll keep a secret for now. If you haven’t seen the original film, I’d recommend not reading any further until you have, as this series will spoil major plot details.

With all that said, let’s begin with the film that started it all: 1980’s, ‘Friday the 13th’

As said so memorably in 1962’s ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ and 2012’s, ‘Prometheus,’ “Big things have small beginnings,” perfectly sums up Jason’s first big-screen outing, a small-scale slasher flick that finds camp counselors facing certain death when stranded at a small summer camp in a remote forest. Thanks to pop-culture osmosis, I knew all the twists before watching the film: that Jason is barely in the film, that his mother is the killer, and that everyone but one girl dies. Still, knowing the plot before seeing a movie isn’t always going to ruin it: I knew how ‘Alien’ and ‘The Shining’ turned out before watching them, and they were still scary, effective films that became personal favorites.

I’m afraid the same can’t be said for ‘Friday.’

For all the praise put upon it as one of the best films in the series (or the best, depending on who you’re talking to), I found ‘Friday’ to be surprisingly dull. It gets off to a good start, with Annie coming into town and learning about Camp Crystal Lake, and then heading off to join her fellow counselors… only to be killed before she even reaches the front gate. Killing off who you think is going to be the main character in the first act is a great way to suck people in, and I was eager to see how the film went from there. Regrettably, ‘Friday’ follows the standard trope of building up doomed teenagers before killing them off in an isolated location. There’s nothing wrong with that (and Crystal Lake at night in a thunderstorm is an effective horror setting), but the problem is that the film’s glacial pace results in numerous periods of boredom, to the point where I even fast-forwarded to get to the inevitable killings, which are quite tame compared to what came later (the arrow-through-the-throat kill is quite memorable, though).

While ‘Friday’ was mostly a disappointment for me, it does have one element that saves it from the pile of over-hyped movies: Pamela Vorhees, Jason’s mother. At first glance, a middle-aged woman with no fighting skills or unique abilities doesn’t sound like a compelling villain, but Pamela elevates herself with one of the most sympathetic backstories to be found in slasher cinema: A mother who lost her only child due to negligence, who is driven by unimaginable pain to get revenge on those who let him die, and stop other children from suffering the fate her son did. I can think of few other killers in cinema who are so sympathetically evil; Pamela’s so easy to relate to, even if we don’t agree with her killing innocent counselors who had nothing to do with Jason’s death. And to twist the knife even further, the revelation that Jason is still alive means that all her killings and her twisted quest for justice was all for nothing, turning the film into a tragedy where nobody wins, nobody gets justice, and all the suffering everyone goes through was for nothing.

Wow.

When looking at ‘Friday’, both as the start of a franchise, and as a standalone movie, it’s my opinion that it isn’t very good. If it was removed from the ‘Friday’ franchise and stripped of it’s historical status, ‘Friday’ would probably be remembered as a rather standard slasher film that would struggle to stand out among its peers, especially surprising how Pamela’s existence isn’t even hinted at before her reveal, making her appearance feel like a cop-out (and proof that there should always be a hint on who the killer could be in whodunits).

Still, Pamela’s effective performance manages to save ‘Friday’ from being a complete disappointment. While, in my opinion, it’s not a good film, it does deserve to be recognized for its villain, and for starting one of the most famous slasher franchises in history… well, that, and the hilarity of knowing that Pamela’s little boy will one day blast off into outer space and hack people to death on a space station as an undead demonic cyborg.

Tune in next week, where we’ll take a look at the 2009 remake of ‘Friday’ and see what a modern-day take on Jason’s origin has to offer.

Favorite Moments: The Lion King (low budget)

We all have our favorite moments in movies, books, and games, moments that stay with us long after the story is over. This column is my attempt to examine my favorite moments and see why they stick with me.

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The video:

 

Why it’s great:

If you were a little kid during the 90’s, you were probably traumatized by seeing Mufasa fall to his death in ‘The Lion King’. I should know; I was one of those kids who was heartbroken at seeing him become wilderbeast roadkill, and another unfortunate victim in Disney’s never-ending quest to kill all parents.

So, naturally, someone had to take the scene and remake it in 3D, but with incredibly silly animation that looks like it was saved from an animation student’s recycle bin, making another great example of how taking a dramatic scene and interpreting it with silly, amateur production values can make for comedy gold.

What we can learn from ‘Limbo with Lyrics’

NOTE: The music video for this song features a child drawn in a stylistic manner repeatedly dying violent deaths.

When it came out in 2010, ‘Limbo’ quickly became one of the most famous independent video games ever created, quickly putting developer Playdead on the map. With it’s beautifully dark art style, bleak aesthetics, brutal violence, and haunting soundtrack, ‘Limbo’ is a masterpiece of grim video games… so, naturally, parodies starting coming our way, including this rather amusing song.

There’s only one lesson to learn from this video, but it’s a good one:

Be cautious when doing making light of real-life horrors

If you haven’t played ‘Limbo’, here are two videos to show you what kind of game it is:

When I initially started this article, I was going to write about how the use of an upbeat tune and comedic sound effects makes for comedy gold when contrasted with very dark media (which it does very well). After all, such a mix has worked before:

However, I then realized that while that combination of lighthearted fun and horrific suffering is funny for fictional stories, it doesn’t work as well when used in real life: A fun Reggie song about concentration camps in Nazi Germany would be rather… tasteless. So would a happy jazz tune about atrocities committed by ISIS to innocent people. It’s easy and fun to parody Jason Vorhees, Darth Vader, and the Alien and Predator, but when it comes to poking fun at torture, genocide, or the mutilation and murder of ordinary people, we walk a very dangerous line between making a point and being tasteless.

Now, nothing is off limits when it comes to comedy. Writers should be free to do dark comedy if they wish, on whatever subject they wish. But discretion is important: Doing a parody song about how millions can’t pay their bills, afford insulin, or even a place to live can be funny because it critiques society and makes a point. Doing a Reggie song about children having limbs hacked off because their parents couldn’t make daily quotas on a rubber plantation probably won’t have the same effect.

When audiences watch or read comedy, they want to laugh and get away from the horrors of the world, if only for a few minutes or even a few seconds. As writers, we have to be careful how we use horror to make them laugh. If we use the horrors of a fictional world, we have more leeway because those horrors don’t really exist. But if we use the evil that surrounds us in everyday life, we must be careful of the point we’re trying to make… unless we’re talking about people who push shopping carts in grocery stores at half a mile an hour and block isles so that no one can get past them. They’re fair game.

Favorite moments: ‘Stick to the shadows, Master Frodo’

We all have our favorite moments in movies, books, and games, moments that stay with us long after the story is over. This column is my attempt to examine my favorite moments and see why they stick with me.

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The video:

(Skip to 5:40)

Why it’s great:

In most kids movies, there sometimes comes a moment where the young star of the show has to embark on a dangerous mission to save the day, and sometimes those missions involve sneaking around without being seen. Looking past the obvious question of why it’d be sensible to send a pre-adolescent out on a solo sneaking mission up against dangerous, competent, and trained adults, those missions usually end with the youngster managing to embrace the spirit of the ninja and succeeding in saving the day.

But what if they didn’t?

As seen in the video above, Frodo Baggins bravely attempts to – in the words of reviewer OhhhMarmalade – become one with the shadows and escape from the Shire, complete with the theme music from Metal Gear Solid… only to instantly fail, be caught by the Ringwraiths, and plunge Middle Earth into a never ending age of darkness and hellish suffering.

Whoops.

What amuses me most about the segment above is showing what would really happen if Frodo, or any unqualified person, tried to become a ninja and become one with the shadows as they tried to sneak out of a heavily patrolled area: They would probably be caught almost instantly. It doesn’t matter how pure of heart they are, how noble their quest is, or that they love their family very much: They’re not trained, they’re not qualified, and they’re doomed from the moment they set out.

While there’s far, far too many instances of people failing at trying to do something they can’t in real life, having someone fail immediately at the big, important task/quest they set out to achieve seconds after starting can make for some great comedy, as poor Frodo demonstrates. It gets even funnier if they’re The Chosen One who have to save the world, which can then lead to all sorts of interesting situations: What do the other characters do now that the Chosen One has failed/is dead? Do they try to fulfill the quest? Realize that it was a terrible idea to send a child out to do an adult’s job? And if they do try to pick up the quest, do they have any chance at all at succeeding, since they weren’t chosen by fate/prophecy/God?

Failure can be funny, but it can also open up new avenues and scenarios in storytelling that are otherwise underutilized.

What we can learn from ‘Let’s Go’

Armageddon. Ragnarok. The end of all things. Almost every culture and mythology has its version of the moment when everything ends and the human race is wiped out.

But what if someone survived?

A few days ago, I came across the above music video, which tells the story of a Chinese astronaut who devotes his life to making it to the Moon, only for it to be all for nothing. Though only a little over three minutes long, it’s a gripping story, so let’s take a look and see what it does well.

You audience admires determined, focused characters

Though he gets no lines, or even a name, the astronaut in the video gets our attention thanks to his strength of will: Thanks to a very efficient montage, we see him devoting everything to accomplishing his dream of getting on the Moon, sacrificing joy, happiness, or even love. Yet, we still root for him to succeed: How many of us wish we could devote every waking moment of our lives to accomplishing our dreams? Sadly, many of us can’t, which makes us envious and (begrudgingly) admiring of those who can. The same goes for fictional characters. Perhaps your character wants to become president, or go into outer space, or win a spelling bee. Seeing them striving to accomplish a dream makes for compelling drama as they learn whether their dream is really worth everything they’re sacrificing.

It’s important to note that determined, focused characters don’t need to be heroes. Consider the T-800 and the T-1000 in the first two Terminator films, Sauron from ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ and the Thing from the 1982 Universal film of the same name: All three have solid, achievable goals (kill John Conner, take over the world, and take over the world by assimilating everyone on it), and stop at nothing to achieve those goals. Both antagonists and protagonists benefit from laser-like focus, and when their strength of wills clash, it can make for some of the most compelling drama ever put to page or screen. Need proof? Consider Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader in ‘Return of the Jedi’: The former wants to redeem his fallen father, and the latter wants to convert him to the dark side. Neither will budge, and their duel of wits becomes what is arguably the most dramatic sequence of any Star Wars film:

Consider exploring what would happen to the lone survivor of a world-ending event

What would you do if the world was destroyed, and you were the only survivor? What would you do? How would you live? Would you even try to, or let yourself succumb to despair and throw yourself out the airlock? In the case of the music video, the astronaut realizes that what really mattes to him most is achieving his second chance of experiencing love, and he stops at nothing to make it happen.

While destroying the world shouldn’t be done lightly in any medium, doing so has the advantage of forcing a character to confront reality without all the masks that they put up to protect themselves from other people and society at large. Do they go nuts and indulge their every whim? Succumb to despair and meaninglessness? Or do they defy the odds and refuse to give in, searching for others who might have survived, or chronicling everything for whatever sapient life form comes after them? There are countless possible answers, and wanting to see what happens to isolated, vulnerable characters will keep an audience engaged in our stories.

Consider having your character escape/navigate/survive the fallout from a world-ending event

When something big – like a building, a city, or a planet – is destroyed, it creates a lot of debris and wreckage. In some situations, it gives us an opportunity for a unique action scene of characters having to escape said debris. ‘Let’s Go’ has the astronaut fighting to reach the space station before it gets out of reach, but to do so, he has to go through a debris field consisting of wreckage from Earth, making it extremely difficult for him to reach his goal, and with the promise of certain death if he fails.

When writing our own stories, having to navigate the ruins of a wrecked mega-structure can lead to some exciting action scenes that we don’t get to write very often. If the opportunity arises, embrace them and milk them for all they’re worth. One of my favorite examples comes from 2016’s ‘Independence Day: Resurgence,’ in which David Levinson and friends have to dodge falling debris sucked up from all over the Earth that subsequently rains down on London.

Consider having your character/s decide to accept death and pass the time as best they can

In disaster movies, it’s very common for the survivors and main characters to either find a way to stop the disaster, or start rebuilding afterwords, hopeful and upbeat that one day, things can return to normal.

But what if they couldn’t? What if they had no chance at all of rebuilding, or surviving, and death is inevitable?

One type of story we don’t see too much of these days is the disaster story where there’s no way for the characters to survive in the long run. It’s easy to understand why: Audiences want a happy ending, or a hopeful one. A story where everyone is going to die, won’t leave them feeling good after leaving the theater, closing the book, or turning off the game console. But if we choose this path, writers have a unique opportunity to explore what characters might do if they only have a little time left to live. Will they weep? Try to make peace with their god? Resolve any lingering conflicts with their loved ones? Or will they accept it and try to have fun before the end? Both astronauts choose the last option in ‘Let’s Go,’ deciding to play video games together as they drift off into the void.

Choosing the path of inevitable death need not be dark. It can be sad, but it also gives characters one more chance to enjoy themselves, or to choose how they will spend what little time they have left. And if they go out having fun, or healing long-simmering hurts, that can be just as uplifting as a happy ending.

The Takeaway

Our audience will always admire a protagonist or antagonist who has a goal and obsessively pursues it, even at a cost of personal happiness. They’ll be even more interested if that individual is the only survivor of a world-ending event, and applies that determination to surviving or continuing on, no matter how bad things get. But if they are doomed, those characters can become their most interesting selves when they have to decide how to spend what little time they have left.

Favorite Moments: It’s a Giraffe!

We all have our favorite moments in movies, books, and games, moments that stay with us long after the story is over. This column is my attempt to examine my favorite moments and see why they stick with me.

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The video:

Why it’s great:

It takes one of the greatest film moments of the 1990’s and gives Alan Grant the voice of Patrick Starfish. That’s all you need to know.

Okay, maybe a more detailed explanation is in order. I adore how taking the audio from an episode of Spongebob Squarepants changes the mood and feel of such an emotional scene by making it comedic. It’s probably a cosmic law that adding circus music to anything makes it funnier, no matter how dramatic, heartwarming, or awe-inspiring it is, a law I’d love to explore and see if it’s true or not. But until then, I’ll continue chuckling at Dr. Grant acting like an over-excited starfish.