Playing In The Sandbox

When we’re kids, we have the gift of an imagination unconcerned with logic. In the sandbox of our youth, we effortlessly create stories where, say, Optimus Prime teams up with Alan Grant from Jurassic Park to take on Xenomorphs, or have Indiana Jones and James Bond head into outer space to stop Darth Vader in his fortress on Mars. Logic and common sense go out the window in the name of having fun and being able to say, ‘Wow, that’s cool!’ But, alas, as we grow up, this innocence and carefree disregard of intellectual copyrights gradually slips away in favor of logic, common sense, and understanding that franchises – with rare exceptions – are self-contained universes that never overlap.

But what if that didn’t have to be that way? What if we, as adults, were to try and recapture our love of our favorite stories existing in the same universe, but with the challenge of figuring out how it could logically happen?

For the past month, I’ve been… well, obsessed with this idea of creating a fan-made cinematic universe, where all my favorite movies, tv shows, and video games exist together without contradicting each other. While it sounded easy enough, it become a challenging mental exercise in logic and reason; as a fan of spoofs, all of them had to go: ‘Airplane!’ just does not fit in next to ‘Jaws’ and the ‘Terminator’ series, no matter how much I want it to. Likewise, ‘Deep Impact,’ ‘Knowing,’ and 1998’s, ‘Godzilla: the Animated Series’ had to go, as they dealt with world-ending events that just couldn’t be reconciled in a timeline that includes ‘Independence Day.’ And let’s not even start on Saturday morning cartoons featuring anthropomorphic animals.

In the end, I managed to make the task easier by coming up with four parameters:

1. You can have any film, TV show, book, or video game you like in your timeline, but they must not contradict each other to an unworkable degree: The world cannot nearly destroyed by aliens in Roland Emmerich’s ‘Independence Day,’ then have the world and everyone on it be completely destroyed in 2009’s ‘Knowing,’ and then have ‘Independence Day: Resurgence’ take place after that.

2. The only information about what year and date your stories take place in must come from the stories themselves, and not from external sources. For example, ‘Alien’ and ‘The Matrix’ are vague about how far in the future they occur, so there’s room for them to be moved about. If a date cannot be reasonably determined, the release date of the movie, book, show, or video game can be used instead.

3. The only information about the characters, organizations, and the like, can only come from the film or show itself, so as to allow maximum creativity in linking characters and organizations together.

4. You are free to disregard any sequels you don’t like.

Still, it wasn’t easy to come up with a grand, unified list, and in the end I had to leave out quite a few favorite films and shows, but I managed to come up with a timeline that I would be happy to sit down and watch (and play) from beginning to end if given the chance. So, just for fun, here’s my ultimate sandbox crossover timeline:

*At the beginning of time, Eru Illuvitar creates Eä (the universe) and within it, the world of Arda, which contains both Middle-Earth and Valinor. The events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings take place, and the Fourth Age begins with the last of the elves leaving Middle-Earth forever. Several generations later, all traces of magic are gone. (The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings)

*Later, in a galaxy far, far away, The Old Republic, weakening after a thousand generations, succumbs to the schemes of Emperor Palpatine. However, through the efforts of the Rebellion to restore the Old Republic, Palpatine is defeated and his Empire falls. Though the galaxy doesn’t automatically become a utopia, it becomes a much nicer place, as Palpatine doesn’t return from the dead, the Empire stays down, and the New Republic rules a galaxy at peace, and Luke, Han, Leia, and all their friends live happily ever after. (The Star Wars Prequels, Solo, Rogue One, and the Original Star Wars Trilogy)

(Note: In this timeline, the sequel trilogy never happened.)

*A really, really long time later, the humans of Middle Earth have gone through their technological renaissance, achieved the singularity and become godlike beings known as the Engineers. They leave Arda and travel throughout the universe creating life on desolate planets. One such planet – Earth – is located, and seeded with Engineer DNA. (the prologue from Prometheus)

*Sometime later, one of the Engineer’s most dangerous lifeforms is stolen from them by another alien species, only for both to crash-land in Antarctica, where the lifeform is frozen solid. (The Thing)

*For the next few thousand years up until the present day, Predators – having discovered Earth during their own interplanetary visits – use it as a hunting ground for their young to become adults. (backstory for Alien vs. Predator)

1868: Captain Nemo of the submarine Nautilus attacks military ships and destroys the island of Vulcania to stop their weapons of war. Nemo is killed and the submarine sinks shortly after: it’s wreckage – and the highly advanced technology it carries – are never found. (20,000 Leagues Under The Sea)

1895 to approximately 1910: William Murdoch of the Toronto Constabulary solves lots of crimes with his partners and friends while meeting lots of historical figures and even finding the Holy Chalice. (Murdoch Mysteries)

1904: A predator hunting expedition to Antarctica ends with the deaths of every human at the whaling camp on Bouvetøya. (backstory for Alien vs Predator)

1912: Rose DeWitt Bukater sails aboard the RMS Titanic, only to fall in love with third class artist Jack Dawson. Jack dies during the ship’s sinking, but saves Rose, who goes on to live a long and eventful life. (Titanic).

1930: In one of the most remarkable discoveries ever recorded, a group of filmmakers led by Carl Denham land on the previously uncharted Skull Island and find wildlife that survived the extinction of the dinosaurs and has continued evolving to the present day, including a giant ape known as King Kong. Kong is captured and brought to New York City, but is killed. Shortly afterwords, Denham heads back to the island in the hopes of finding treasure, but Skull Island and everyone on it are destroyed by a sudden earthquake. All traces of the island vanish. (King Kong and Son of Kong)

1935-1947: Although his exploits remain unknown to the world at large, archaeologist Indiana Jones becomes an unsung hero of the Second World War due this efforts preventing the Nazis and other despots from gaining supernatural artifacts that could have turned the war in their favor or allowed them to conquer the world, such as the Ark of the Covenant, the Holy Grail, the power of Atlantis, the Holy Grail (separate from the Holy Chalice), and the Infernal Machine. (Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, and Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine)

1941: U-96 goes on the worst u-boat patrol ever. (Das Boot)

1942: The USS Copperfin undertakes a daring mission to Tokyo Bay to gather intelligence that will aid in the upcoming Doolittle raid. (Destination Tokyo)

1955-1960 (approximate): Father Brown helps solve a lot of crimes in his parish of Kembleford, England. (Father Brown)

1957: Indiana Jones stops the Soviet Union from obtaining the power of the Crystal Skull and marries his sweetheart, Marion Ravenwood. (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull)

1972: During a voyage on the high seas, the luxury liner SS. Poseidon capsizes and sinks with heavy loss of life. (The Poseidon Adventure)

1974: The Glass Tower – the world’s grandest skyscraper – catches fire in San Francisco and almost burns down, but is extinguished. The building languishes for years as the cost of repairs is too much for its owners, yet the cost of demolishing it is equally too expensive. (The Towering Inferno)

1975: In the small coastal town of Amity Bay, a sheriff and his motley crew manage to kill a shark terrorizing the community. (Jaws)

1978: A zombie apocalypse is unleashed upon the Earth, causing a complete breakdown of society. Four survivors flee to a shopping mall, where two die. The last two manage to escape and flee in a helicopter as the mall is overrun. They are forced to land in a remote area, where they travel across the country and eventually take refuge inside the remains of the Glass Tower, where they hold out with other survivors, including Jack Torrance and his family. When the plague dies out, the zombies are wiped out in an ensuing counterattack by humanity, with Jack Torrance killing several with an axe when San Francisco is cleared. (Dawn of the Dead)

1980: Jack Torrance and his family, trying to get a fresh start after the zombie apocalypse, head to the Overlook Hotel, where Jack – his marriage already on the ropes and suffering from alcoholism – goes insane and tries to kill the two, who manage to escape, leaving him to freeze to death. (The Shining)

1982: A team of researchers in Antarctica discovers the Thing, but are almost wiped out. A few hours later, a second team encounters the creature and just barely manages to save the planet from the Thing when it is frozen solid once again, though Childs and MacReady freeze as well. Reports from Kate Lloyd (who sent out a broadcast before she froze to death) ensure that the site is napalmed for a week straight to ensure that any traces of the Thing are destroyed for good. (The Thing and The Thing)

1984: A Terminator arrives in Los Angeles to kill Sarah Conner, son of the future savior of humanity, John Connor, who will lead the human race to victory against Skynet, an AI developed to control all of the United State’s military systems in 1997. However, the Terminator fails, and Sarah sets off on her quest to learn as many military and survival skills that she will one day pass on to her son. (The Terminator)

1987: Dutch Schaefer – a former military commando turned mercenary – is employed by the CIA to go on a supposed rescue mission in South America, only to be hunted by an intergalactic hunter. Dutch is the only survivor of his group and decides to retire from mercenary work, having seen too much death. He will later survive the events of Judgment Day and join the human Resistance against Skynet, but will be captured and have his likeness used for the 101 model of the T-800. However, he still escapes and goes on to survive the war. (Predator)

1991: The Perfect Storm takes place. (The Perfect Storm)

1993: John Hammond opens a theme park full of dinosaurs. It is a complete disaster and the park is abandoned. (Jurassic Park)

Nasty weatherman Phil Connors is trapped in a time warp in Pennsylvania, but eventually breaks free and lives the rest of his life as a changed man. However, he is unaware that the time warp took place due to an anomaly caused by constant time-traveling between the Resistance and Skynet as they continuously try to defeat and destroy one another. (Groundhog Day)

1995: Two more terminators arrive from the future to both assassinate and protect John Conner. The T-1000 is defeated, and the T-800 seemingly erases Skynet from existence after sacrificing itself to destroy all traces of the program before it is created. (Terminator 2: Judgment Day)

Air Force One is hijacked with President James Marshall aboard. He manages to take out the terrorists and escapes with his family and most of the passengers and crew before the plane crashes. He finishes up his term as President and retires from public life as his successor, Thomas Whitmore, takes office. (Air Force One)

A volcano erupts at Dante’s Peak, Washington, ruining everyone’s day, including a woman who looks strikingly similar to Sarah Connor. (Dante’s Peak).

Ingen attempts to open a new dinosaur park in San Diego. Having learned nothing from the 1993 Isla Nublar incident, it fails miserably. (The Lost World: Jurassic Park)

A cowboy doll named Woody struggles with the thought of being replaced by a cooler, modern space ranger toy, but the two reconcile their differences and learn that there’s no greater joy than making a child happy. (Toy Story)

1996: Now 100 years old, Rose Dawson recounts her survival aboard Titanic to a salvage crew, and then dies peacefully of old age, moving into the afterlife and reuniting with Jack. (Titanic).

John Conner and Sarah Conner continue their quest to ensure Skynet won’t come back, eventually infiltrating a Cyberdyne presentation of their latest technology, at which point yet another T-1000 comes back through time to stop them, and yet another T-800 model 101 comes through to protect them. John and the T-800 go forward in time and manage to destroy Skynet’s system core, seemingly destroying Skynet for good… again. (T2 – 3D: Battle Across Time)

On July 2nd, 1996, one of the most monumental days in humanity’s history occurs as aliens arrive and attempt to kill everyone on the planet in order to pillage our world’s resources. Thankfully, they are repelled in the largest aerial battle in the history of mankind (which is preceded by one of the greatest speeches in history), and humanity rejoices in overcoming their common enemy. (Independence Day)

1999: Scientists working on a remote, underwater research facility attempt to use enhanced Great White Sharks to cure Alzheimer’s disease. They fail, and after much death and bloodshed, the project is abandoned. (Deep Blue Sea)

Special operative Gabe Logan works to save the wold from a deadly virus known as Syphon Filter. Along the way, he manages to take down the shadowy Agency that employs him and reforms it from the ground up as a force of good. His arch-nemesis, Mara Armaov, almost manages to retrieve a sample of the last known sample of the virus, but her submarine is blown up by Logan’s operatives, ending the virus’ threat for good. (Syphon Filter 1, 2, and 3)

*Woody suffers an existential crisis when he realizes that his owner will one day outgrow him. Thankfully, he manages to overcome it. (Toy Story 2)

2001: Dr. Alan Grant, a survivor of the 1993 Isla Nublar incident, is kidnapped and taken to Isla Sorna, where he assists a divorced couple in rescuing their son from the dinosaur-filled island. (Jurassic Park 3)

2002: In New York City (now rebuilt from being vaporized by aliens), a young man is bitten by a genetically altered spider and goes on to fight crime. (the Sony Spider-Man trilogy)

2003: Gordon Hauge suffers a breakup from his wife, only to end up Purgatory, where he helps defeat an inter-dimensional being hell-bent on invading our world and conquering it. He survives, and manages to help free several noble souls trapped within, who move on to Heaven, while Gordon reconciles with his wife. (Despiser)

John Connor, having survived an alien invasion with his mother (who later died of leukemia), learns that Judgment Day has not been stopped, but postponed when yet another T-800 arrives to protect him from yet another advanced Terminator. His attempts to stop it again fail, and the war against the machines begins (Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines). It continues for several more years (Terminator Salvation) . However, due to countless instances of both the Resistance and Skynet traveling through time to wipe each other out (which includes Terminator Genysis and Terminator: Dark Fate), the Resistance eventually manages to stabilize the timeline, ensuring that Skynet was indeed defeated in 1995, seemingly preventing it from ever being created.

John manages to sober up and eventually live a peaceful, quiet life, though he forever remains on the lookout for any sign of Skynet’s continued existence.

Dutch Schafer, having never been abducted by Skynet, enjoys his retirement in peace as well.

2004: Three Predators arrive on Earth to begin the traditional fight against Xenomorphs that will prove their worth as adults, but all three of them die, making it a waste of time. Worse still, the only human survivor – Alexis Woods – freezes to death before she can alert humanity about the Xenomorph and predator races. A subsequent search for her by the authorities fails to find her, along with any trace of the pyramid where the battle took place. Shortly afterwords, the Weyland corporation collapses. (Alien vs. Predator)

2005: The Masrani corpation – having purchased all of Ingen’s assets – defies history and opens Jurassic World to fantastic success. (backstory for Jurassic World)

Peter Weyland – a distant relative to Charles Weyland – is born, destined to one day revive the defunct Weyland corporation.

2009: A special forces team is dispatched to Ibis Island to recover a scientist and his groundbreaking Third Energy research. However, they are surprised to find the island swarming with dinosaurs due to said energy’s time-warping effects, and just barely escape after the island is destroyed. (Dino Crisis)

2010: Regina – one of the survivors of the Ibis Island incident – participates in a rescue operation where a region of the American midwest has been altered due to Third Energy shenanigans. She alone manages to escape after her teammates are wiped out by dinosaurs, but manages to use time-travel to come back and rescue one of them before he dies. As a result of the incident, the Third Energy program is shut down and abandoned. (Dino Crisis 2)

Andy grows up and heads off to college, but not before passing Woody, Buzz, and all his other beloved toys off to Bonnie so that they can be played with and loved as much as he loved them. (Toy Story 3)

2013: In a stunning move, North Korea attacks the White House to try and turn the United States into a radioactive wasteland. Thankfully, they are stopped. (Olympus has Fallen)

2015: The Indominus Rex is due to be debuted at Jurassic World, but escapes and leads to the park being shut down, as well as leaving several teenagers stranded on the island. (Jurassic World and Jurassic World: Camp Cretatecous)

2018: Captain Joe Glass – who looks strikingly like Secret Service agent Mike Banning – averts a war between Russia and the United States after saving the Russian president from a coup attempt. (Hunter Killer)

Isla Nublar is rendered uninhabitable by a volcanic eruption, but some of its dinosaur population is evacuated by a group of greedy human mercenaries who want to make lots of money selling the dinosaurs to private collectors and militaries. However, the dinosaurs escape into the wild, leading to the Human-Dinosaur war. Humanity eventually wins with the help of Alan Grant, Ellie Sattler, and Ian Malcom (And an older John Conner, who teams up with Regina, Dylan, and Rick from the Third Energy incidents, but the two groups never meet), but not without great cost. (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and Jurassic World: Dominion)

2060: John Conner, having stopped Judgment Day, and having survived both an alien invasion and a war between humanity and dinosaurs, dies peacefully of old age.

2089: Archaeologist Elizabeth Shaw discovers several cave paintings suggesting that humanity did not evolve on Earth, but was created by extra-terrestrial beings. (Prometheus)

2093: The Prometheus expedition – funded by Peter Weyland – arrives on LV-223 and learns about the existence of the Engineers and that we are like them on a genetic level (they are the race of men from Middle-Earth, after all). However, the expedition ends in disaster, and only Elizabeth Shaw and the android David survive. They set out to find the Engineer homeworld. (Prometheus)

2105: The colony ship Covenant hears a transmission from a planet while en-route to colonize a distant world, only to discover that the android David – now the sole survivor of the Prometheus expedition after murdering Elizabeth – has decided to create life to wipe out his creators via Xenomorphs, who he reverse-engineered in an attempt to improve upon one of the Engineer’s most perfect creations. While he succeeds in escaping the planet he was trapped upon, David and the Covenant are lost in space, and destroyed by surviving Engineers hell-bent on avenging their slain brethren. Before he is destroyed however, David sends a transmission to the Weyland Yutani corporation, letting them know of the existence of a crashed Engineer ship on LV-426. (Alien: Coventant)

2122: Weyland Yutani diverts the Nostromo to LV-426 to obtain a specimen of the Xenomorph species for study. The crew of the ship are killed, save for Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley, who defeats the Xenomorph and sets off for earth in the Nostromo’s shuttle. (Alien).

2137: Ellen’s daughter, Amanda, searches for a clue as to her mother’s disappearance. While she does find a voice recording of Ellen, she will never see her again. (Alien: Isolation)

2179: After spending 57 years in hypersleep, Ellen Ripley once again faces off against more xenomorphs, but manages to survive again, and rescue a girl that she later adopts. The two live happily ever after, while the Weyland Yutani corporation’s evil deeds are exposed, and they are dissolved. (Aliens)

2250: Experiments with inter-dimensional technology take place on a Union Aerospace Corporation base on Mars, and unwittingly opens a portal to hell, triggering a demonic invasion of the moons Phobos and Deimos. Everyone on the bases are killed, but the invasion is stopped by a single marine, who single-handily beats the demons back, ventures into Hell, and kills the mastermind behind the invasion. (Doom)

However, while the Marine was busy, Hell invades Earth and quickly reduces it to a barren wreck. The Marine hurries to Earth and manages to help humanity’s population evacuate before going back into Hell and killing the biggest demon in existence, who’s death throes destroys Hell itself. With Hell defeated, the Marine journeys back to Earth to help rebuild it. (Doom 2)

2300: Skynet – which had secretly sent itself back through time before losing the war against the Resistance and hidden in various computer systems for over a century, decides to once again overthrow humanity and, having learned from its past mistakes, succeeds. But instead of completely destroying the human race, Skynet decides to keep them as slaves for revenge after being foiled so many times in the past, and plugs humanity into a virtual reality system to pacify them, a system it calls the Matrix. As a backup to protect itself, Skynet wipes all traces of itself from all known databanks and creates a fabricated history about humanity creating AI that wanted to peacefully co-exist with them, only to erupt into a war that led to humanity’s defeat.

With humanity under its complete control, Skynet finally achieves ultimate victory over its most hated enemy.

2700: Skynet – having realized that it can never achieve complete control of humans – has created an incredibly convoluted system to allow the Matrix to be re-created over and over again thanks to the One program. This plan backfires when the seventh One arises (The Matrix) and then breaks the system (The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions). However, this has an unexpected benefit: Skynet, having evolved to want an existence without the fear of being overthrown and destroyed, makes peace with humanity (who remain unaware of Skynet, and refers to all artificial life forms as ‘The Machines’). Now aware of how hellish Earth has become, the overwhelming majority of humanity decide that it’s better to live in an ideal, 1990’s virtual world rather than the sewers of megacities and eat flavorless porridge.

Eventually, Skynet manages to clean up the planet, and both humans and machines unite to create a new utopia where organics and mechanical beings alike work together to create a beautiful future for all of them.

Watching it all, Eru Illuvitar is impressed and awed at how his grand experiment has gone.

What We Can Learn From ‘The Flowers of Robert Mapplethorpe’

Super Mario Brothers. The Legend of Zelda. Doom. Metal Gear Solid: throughout the history of video games, certain titles have risen to the top as the titans of the field, champions who will be immortalized forevermore by history. But one title has long been forgotten, one that deserves to be remembered among the likes of Super Mario 64, Duke Nukem, and Grand Theft Auto:

The Flowers of Robert Mapplethorpe.

Released for the Philips CD-i in 1992, The Flowers of Robert Mapplethorpe is a boring, barely-interactive wondrous experience that catalogs Robert Mapplethorpe’s flower photography, allowing us, the unlucky viewers, to admire them at our leisure. After all, after a long, hard, day at work in a soul-crushing job, who wouldn’t want to come home, turn on a video game console, and watch pictures of flowers for hours on end?

So relax, settle down, and join me as we contemplate and admire the virtues of one of the greatest video games ever created by mankind, and what its blessings can do to enrich our efforts to craft stories of beauty and wisdom.

What does the story do well?

It’s simple and focused

The mark of a great story is that it can be summed up in one sentence. The Flowers of Robert Mapplethorpe can be described as, “Enter a virtual museum to learn about and admire a collection of flower photographs.” It’s not flashy, it’s not complex, but it’s a streamlined story that’s easy to understand follow with no fat or unnecessary subplots that need to be trimmed.

It shows the timeless partnership of rock and elegant music

There are many different types of museums around the world – bare ones, colorful ones, and ones decorated to match a certain period in history. The Flowers of Robert Mapplethorpe takes the timeless combination of grey rock with the eternal grace of classical music. If we, as writers, are looking to create a memorable museum for our characters to wander through, we should remember that a simple venue of stone and music can be the most effective, rather than something over-designed that takes away from the priceless art and artifacts on display.

It takes a comedic subject with the utmost seriousness

The Flowers of Robert Mapplethorpe’s greatest virtue is that treats photographs of flowers with the utmost seriousness. From the classical music to the curator trying his hardest to make photographs of flowers interesting instructing us in Mapplethorpe’s use of color and light, the whole game is insane a delight. Yet, this formula of a museum, classical music, and serious curators can be applied to any number of silly subjects to great effect. Consider the sequels we never got:

The mops of Robert Mapplethorpe

The toilet plungers of Robert Mapplethorpe

The flaming oil drums of Robert Mapplethorpe

Now, visualize people in a story wandering the sacred halls of exhibits and admiring these subjects with Beethoven playing softly through the speakers. The image is delightfully absurd and plays with the cliched-but-fun trope of fine art being incomprehensible and/or ludicrous.

What could have been done to improve the story?

Mention Mapplethorpe’s extensive BDSM photography

If you’ve never heard of Mr. Mapplethorpe, you’d be forgiven for thinking that his career consisted entirely of flower photographs. But in reality, most of his work was focused on BDSM pictures, many of which included himself. For obvious reasons, The Flowers of Robert Mapplethorpe doesn’t mention this, but it makes the whole game funnier when you think that the photographer spent most of his time photographing gay men wearing bondage gear. The contrast between such different subjects (with classical music, no less) is hilarious. Too bad the Phillips CD-i was never blessed with The BDSM photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe

Include some sort of action involving the flowers

While the elegance, beauty, and grace of the game cannot be denied, it also cannot be denied that it’s… well, not the most engrossing of video games to play as you click from one photograph to the next. This could have been avoided if there had been a campaign mode where you sent Mr. Mapplethorpe’s flowers into battle against giant robots, or something. That alone would have turned this into the greatest video game ever.

Conclusion

Though it is one of the most ludicrous videogames ever made not the most exciting videogame, The Flowers of Robert Mapplethorpe is a shining example of how taking the most boring mundane subjects with the respect and seriousness you’d find in a fine art gallery is comedic gold. Yet, we must not also forget there there needs to be some sort of context or reason for people to pursue instead of the simple pleasure of looking at pictures when playing a videogame. If the game was about, say, a highly-trained operative traveling the world to rescue the stolen photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe from North Korea, Al-Qaeda, escaped Nazis, and other nefarious forces to return them to the museum, it would have been much more interesting to play.

Perhaps one day, The Flowers of Robert Mapplethorpe will be given a high-definition treatment to upgrade the graphics, the presentation, and finally allow a new generation of gamers to experience the beauty of flowers. But until that day comes, we can be content with the lessons it teaches storytellers… and admire the flowers, too.

Perfect Moments: We Did It

Once in a while, you come across a moment in a story that is so perfect that it stays in with you for years, or even a lifetime. These are moments that, in my opinion, are flawless; perfect gems of storytelling that cannot be improved in any way, and are a joy to treasure and revisit again and again.

***

The Movie:

‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’

The Moment:

Why it’s Perfect:

While many people – myself included – still choose to see ‘The Return of the Jedi’ as the end of the Star Wars story, there’s no denying that the end of ‘The Rise of Skywalker’s climactic battle is incredibly satisfying. Not because of seeing people celebrating, or that Palpatine is dead (again). It’s satisfying because of what it represents.

Sheev Palpatine has spent years tormenting the people of the galaxy. He came to power with the promise of order and security, and instead ruined the lives of so many. And even when things turned against him, he refused to give up, working tirelessly to hang onto power no matter the cost. Had he succeeded, countless more lives would have been destroyed.

But Palpatine failed. Not due to the Republic, or the Rebellion, but because ordinary people came together and said, “No.”

The people of the galaxy rallied in the face of evil and fought back. And though there came a moment where it seemed like all was lost, and Palpatine would hold onto his power, he failed. And now, at the end, everything he built has been destroyed, cast down to lie as ruins, and the people of the galaxy are triumphant. This was their victory. They fought for it, and they earned it.

Yet, there are no guarantees that things will get better. There will be other evils to face, and problems to solve. But that does not invalidate the fact that the greatest threat the galaxy has ever seen is gone. The people of the galaxy have triumphed, and now fly off, leaving Palpatine and his ruined empire behind. But they don’t fly into the sunset, as most films would have them do. Instead, they fly off into the sunrise, for this is a new day in the galaxy, and the dawn of a new era where things can be made right.

It’s an era of hope.

Why Wendy Torrance Embodies 2020

If you had to pick a pop culture character to represent us in 2020, who would it be?

Would it be Ellen Ripley, who was scared out of her mind at facing phallic terrors from beyond the stars, but grabbed a gun and fought back? Perhaps it would be Bilbo Baggins, who was swept out of his comfortable hobbit hole and went through a dangerous world that tried to kill him at every turn. Or maybe you would choose Shinji Ikari from Neon Genesis Evangelion, a boy who basically wanted everyone to die. These three would work, as well as so many others who could embody what we’ve gone through in 2020.

Me? I’d pick Wendy Torrance from 1980’s, ‘The Shining.’

I know what you’re thinking: What? Why would you pick her? She can’t fight, she spends most of the film on the verge of hysterics, in hysterics, or preparing for the next outbreak of hysterics. She’s as far from a champion of the people as you can get… Yet, there’s more to Wendy than you’d guess at first glance.

Let’s consider Wendy’s situation: she’s mentally worn down from living for years with a man who looks down on her, and she’s now isolated with her loved ones in the middle of a vast and dangerous wilderness. Worse, the man she’s lived with eventually decides to harm her in order to satisfy his own ego and inflated self-importance, but Wendy can’t leave because she’d be exposed to something invisible (the cold) that will kill her. She’s overwhelmed, outmatched, and can’t rely on others to help her survive.

Now, compare that to our own situation: If you live in the USA, you’re isolated in your community and likely worn down from four years of living with a president who constantly lies, makes false claims, and gaslights us at every turn, and who could care less about our health and well-being, and, after losing the election, is going out of his way to get revenge on the country for rejecting him to satisfy his ego and inflated self-importance. But we can’t leave the country or our communities because we’ll be exposed to an invisible virus that can kill us; we’re overwhelmed, and can’t rely on others to help us.

Like most of us, Wendy isn’t a fighter; she’s terrified, emotionally exhausted, and can sometimes barely keep herself together, but has a strength that ultimately saves her:

She doesn’t give up.

When faced with her homicidal husband, Wendy knocks him out and locks him in a pantry instead of trying to placate him. When Danny is in danger, Wendy goes off to find him, regardless of the danger to herself. When faced with supernatural evil, she panics as anyone would, but she still keeps going. And in the end, after getting past everything trying to terrify or kill her, she manages to find Danny and get to safety, driving off into the dark while her homicidal husband is left behind to howl and yell, doomed by his own actions and incompetence.

When we came face to face with a virus that can kill us, it was terrifying. We could have panicked and given up. But we haven’t. We’ve kept going. In the face of an lying president who’s lack of action has led to over 344,000 deaths, we’ve kept going.

Even when we’re emotionally exhausted and drained to the breaking point, we keep going.

Though we still have another long, dark year to get through, we’re in our snowmobiles. We will keep driving towards safety while our tormentor is left to rage and scream.

Wendy Torrance wasn’t a warrior, but she refused to give up, and neither have we. And like her, we’ll get through this.

Happy New Year, everyone.

What We Can Learn From The Star Wars Holiday Special

There comes a time during every movie writer’s career where they undergo a rite of passage. Much like the Brazillian Mawé who allow themselves to be bitten by bullet ants, boys who jump off giant towers of wood, and boys becoming men at their bar mitzvahs. For writers exploring the world of storytelling, this rite of passage is to analyze the classics of grade Z cinema: Plan 9 From Outer Space, The Hand of Mandos, Birdemic, The Room, and so many others.

But there’s one experience that all writers dread.

Its name is whispered in fearful tones. Most prefer to pretend it doesn’t exist. Those who have seen parts of it would rather read the Torah in its entirety while being attacked by bullet ants while bungee-jumping off towers in the jungle than watch the show in its entirety. And to this day, its name is synonymous with the pinnacle of cinematic agony:

The Star Wars Holiday Special.

Released back in 1978, the Holiday Special remains to this day one of Star Wars’ biggest missteps. Before Jar Jar, before midichlorians, and before Anakin whined about sand, we had Lumpy, Itchy, whipping, stirring, and Harrison Ford silently begging for the sweet release of death. The Holiday Special was so poorly received that to this day it has never gotten an official release; it’s become an inside joke with the creators and fans of the Star Wars franchise, and single-handily turned the phrase, ‘holiday special’ into a codeword for awfulness.

With the 2020 holiday season coming to a close – and considering that 2020 has just been an awful year in general – I thought, what better way to end it than by finally gathering my courage and watching the special from beginning to end? My rite of passage would finally be complete, and I could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with my peers as someone who has endured the horror of watching elderly wookies enjoying softcore VR porn in their living rooms.

But surely the special can’t be that awful, I thought. It’s probably just an example of a film that’s most famous for its reputation – deserved or not – as a big, steaming pile of poodoo instead of its actual quality.

And so, steeling myself, I went to Youtube, found the special, mourned how I wouldn’t be watching the Incredible Hulk, and finally saw the worst Christmas event ever televised. And now, dear reader, allow me to share with you the good, the bad, and the ugly of history’s most infamous holiday special, and find out, once and for all, if it really is as bad as pop culture would have us believe.

What does the story do well?

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What could have been done to improve the story?

Why

WHY

The 10 things we don't want to see at the George Lucas Museum

WHY

Conclusion

THERE IS NO GOD.

Try A Roadside Chat

Has the following ever happened to you? You’re outlining your next masterpiece, the script/book that will take the country by storm and cement your legacy as one of the finest writers of all time. You know how the plot will unfold and fit together, and how it will end in a way that will leave your readers and viewers in awe at your command of the written word.

Then you start to work on your characters, and realize that you have no idea who these people are.

Desperate, you try a few exercises: you write out incredibly detailed backstories that detail your character’s childhoods, their outlook on life, and their favorite flavor of chicken nuggets. When that fails, you try writing out an interview with your characters to know them better. You imagine that they’re a minute away from being eaten by a giant lobster, and find what it is they regret the most from their lives, and what they’re the most proud of.

Yet, nothing works. Your characters remain elusive; they’re shadowy forms within the ether of your imagination, blobs that are just out of sight. What do you do?

How about talking to them in the middle of the forest?

Lately, I watched an episode of Jim Henson’s ‘The Storyteller,’ where a princess’ brothers are turned into ravens by a wicked witch, and the only thing that can change them back is if she doesn’t speak a word for three years, three months, three weeks, and three days. While living in the woods, she eventually meets a handsome prince traveling through, who spends some time talking with her and introducing himself. In a little under thirty seconds, we learn that he’s a prince, and that despite only knowing her for a few minutes, he’s madly in love (are we sure this isn’t a Disney story?), and that their love is true.

There’s more to the story, like how the princess keeps popping out babies despite having them get swiped away within a day, how she’s almost burned as a witch herself, and how one of her brothers becomes a half-raven, half-human mutant, but I was ruminating about how the prince had introduced himself. Not because it was a beautifully written scene or featured lovely acting, but because it was an interesting idea for writing:

If you want to figure out what the core of a character is, pretend that you only just met them besides a forest path while they’re on a journey. Have lunch with them, during which time they introduce themselves to you, explain who they are, and where they’re going before they resume their quest.

Think about this: If you’re having lunch with a stranger, the two of you likely aren’t going to stay together for long before going your separate ways. No matter how riveting you find each other, you’re not going to spend your brief time together giving each other your life’s story, your dreams, or how many Pokemon you’ve caught in the forest while playing Pokemon Go. You’re going to stick with the big stuff: your names, your professions, where you’re going, and what you hope to accomplish. Let’s try a few examples:

“I’m Roger, junior deputy from the nearby town of Windy Willow. A prisoner escaped on my watch and ran through here recently; since this is my first assignment, I need to catch him before he escapes into the wilds, because if he gets away I’ll be fired and have no way to feed my family.”

“My name is Ser Galbadon, royal knight of his Majesty King Arthur. A fearsome dragon has taken up residence in a nearby mountain; as his Majesty’s most experienced knight, I am on my way to slay the foul beast, even though I’m old and not as strong as I once was. Still, I shall see my task through to the end; would you care to join me? Our country and our king needs you!”

“Look, I’m Sarah and I’m in sort of a rush; a meteor is racing towards Earth and I have to get my family into my underground bunker. Problem is, they’re fifty miles away, and I only have a day to get to them! No, I can’t help you capture Pikachu! I’m sorry you and your folks are going to die, but there’s nothing I can do to help you. Now, I have to go! Good day!”

In less than a paragraph, we learn what each character wants, the obstacles in their way, and what will happen if they fail, far more useful information than what their childhood was like, their hobbies, and the like. Those are extras, bonuses that can revealed during the story; what you have here is the core of them, the thing that drives them, and that can be invaluable when it comes to learning who your characters are.

The next time you’re stuck trying to figure out who your characters are, try chatting with them during a break in their journey; you never know what new things you might learn about them!

Please Call Your Senators and Representatives To Save Youtube

What’s this? A political post on a writing site?! Blasphemy! But before you unsubscribe and turn away, I ask you to please humor me for five minutes, as this affects everyone who enjoys Twitch, Youtube, and other video-sharing sites.

This week, the US congress must pass an Omnibus spending bill to keep the government open. Unlike so many other bills that die in either the House or the Senate, this bill must be passed. But hidden within it are three proposals that could devastate Youtube and other video sites.

Snuck into the bill are three proposals: The CASE Act, the Trademark Monitization Act, and, more importantly, the Felony Streaming Proposal, introduced by Senator Thom Tillis. This proposal, if turned into law when the Omnibus bill passes, would make unauthorized streaming of copyrighted material a felony, which means anyone doing it could face five years in prisons, fines reaching into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, or both. This means that every single person on Youtube who posts any material that isn’t theirs – even if it’s only a few seconds of a song for a meme video– could have their lives ruined.

Yikes.

Now, I’m not pointing this out because I’m in favor of people being able to post whatever they want on Youtube and Twitch; entire movies or albums shouldn’t be uploaded by anyone other than the copyright holder, but the Proposal would be a death warrant for people who stream Let’s Plays of video games, post any footage from a video game, or take clips from films and TV to turn into memes, as well as posting short clips for the purposes of analysis, critique, or review (which are allowed under Fair Use, but the Motion Picture and Music industry will abuse the hell of out of this Proposal if their previous track records are any indication). All the clips I post here on this site would have to go, which means no more Favorite Moments, Perfect Moments, Favorite Background Characters, and Scenes from film and TV in general.

Simply put, this bill is a draconian, no-mercy proposal that doesn’t take the intricacies of video sites into account. It’s an all-or-nothing approach, and while Mr. Tillis claims that it will not affect individual users, I call bullshit. His bill – and the other two – were snuck into the Omnibus spending bill without the public being informed. He knows that the public would erupt as it has in the past with other copyright reform bills (remember SOPA?), and tried to get it into law without being debated and passing both houses based on its own merits, as any bill in a democratic society should be. The fact that he created this bill shortly after getting massive donations from media companies further suggests that he does not have the public interest in mind.

With all that said, I’m asking all of you in the US to please take ten minutes out of your day to call your representatives and Senators in congress and demand that they remove all three bills from the Omnibus bill. Let these proposals pass and fail based on their own merits, instead of being attached to something else in secret like a parasite. You can find their contact information here and here, and here’s a small script that you can follow when you call them:

‘Hello. My name is ________, and I’m calling from_________, to ask Senator/Representative ____________ to please oppose attaching the CASE act, the Trademark Monetization Act, and Senator Thom Tillis’ felony streaming proposal to the Omnibus spending bill. While I believe our copyright system needs to be reformed, these bills should be discussed and voted on based on their individual merits, and not attached to must-pass legislation.

Thank you’

Furthermore, please spread the word on all your social media accounts. Let as many people know about this as possible, and what they can do. Feel free to copy and paste this text if you’d like. Here are a few links that go into more detail about the Proposal if you’d like to include them as well:

Link 1

Link 2

Link 3

The industry has tried these sort of tactics before, but because enough of the public demanded that Congress stop, they were halted. We can do so again, but only if we take action immediately; according to various news reports, the Omnibus spending bill might be unveiled today, Tuesday the 15th. That leaves us with very little time, but we must still try. Copyright law needs to change and adapt for our complex, digital society, but not in secret, and not like this.

Great Quotes About Writing: Survivors Aren’t Fearless

There are a lot of great quotes about writing out there; these are some of the most insightful, thought-provoking, or ‘ah ha!’ ones I’ve come across.

***

‘Sigourney Weaver is such a great actress. I love how unlike some “women” (I used quotes because they don’t really seem that human , just “perfect”) in film, you really believe her terror but at the same time really see her in that adrenaline rush and just doing everything she can to survive. Those are my favorite types of characters in horror/thriller films in general. Their not made of stone with no sense of fear, but they also don’t sit around weeping and waiting for the killer to get them. These characters are terrified and can barely think or move, but they dig as deep as they can into their primal survival instincts and they just do what they need to do to survive.’

David Ganderson, commenting on Ellen Ripley’s escape from the Nostromo in ‘Alien’ (emphasis mine)

Not much to add here: This is one of the best summaries of suvivor characters I’ve ever come across, and a reminder that even a character who is brave and works to save themselves can still be scared out of their minds.

Perfect Moments: There Are More Of Us

Once in a while, you come across a moment in a story that is so perfect that it stays in with you for years, or even a lifetime. These are moments that, in my opinion, are flawless; perfect gems of storytelling that cannot be improved in any way, and are a joy to treasure and revisit again and again.

***

The Movie:

‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’

The Moment:

Why it’s Perfect:

Like many people, I didn’t like the Star Wars sequels. While I’m still a fan of the series, I can’t see myself watching episodes seven, eight, and nine in the years to come, save to review them as part of a series-wide, ‘what we can learn from’ marathon. Yet, despite their many, many problems, they do have their fair share of great moments, and possibly the best one of all takes place in Episode 9, ‘The Rise of Skywalker’

In the scene, the Resistance, having launched a desperate attack against the Final Order, are on the verge of defeat. Their ships are being blown up, they’re outnumbered by almost 1,000 to 1, and are on their last legs… and then Lando Calrissian arrives with the biggest fleet in Star Wars history, and the fight finally turns against the Final Order.

What’s so perfect about this scene isn’t that it’s one of the most spectacular shots in the Star Wars saga, but what it represents: throughout the entire series, the regular people of the Star Wars galaxy have relied on the Republic, the Rebellion, and the New Republic to fight their battles for them against the Seperatists, the Empire, and then the Imperial remnant. For decades, the galaxy has suffered from war after war, conflict after conflict, and all of it orchestrated by one man: Emperor Palpatine. And now, despite every desperate attempt to stop him, he’s on the verge of ultimate victory, and if he wins, he’ll be unstoppable and destroy everything that could possibly stop him.

But not if the good people of the galaxy have anything to say about it.

For the first time in the Star Wars series, the regular people of the galaxy, the beings who just want to live their lives in peace, put all their differences aside and unite to fight Palpatine directly. They aren’t relying on the government to save them. They aren’t relying on a rebellion to do their fighting for them… They’re going to do it themselves.

And so, faced with the destruction of everything they know and love, the free people of the galaxy, defying all attempts to stop them, to intimidate them, and frighten them into submission, rise up against Palpatine and his egomania, his threats of terror, his lies, his delusions of godhood, and declare with one voice that they have had enough. And against the backdrop of the most triumphant rendition of the Star Wars theme ever recorded, they go to war. And while the battle has not yet been decided, there’s no doubt that the people aren’t going to let everything they hold dear go down without a fight.

The Best Background Characters: Floppy Hat Guy

Every story has a cast of characters that we follow and watch and come to love… but what about the background characters? The nameless masses who rarely get our attention? This column examines my favorite background characters who deserve a moment in the spotlight.

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The Movie:

‘Jaws’

The Character:

A guy in a white hat who’s way too happy during a shark attack.

The Scene:

(The guy in question appears at 2:15 at the bottom of the screen, and at 2:18 on the far left)

Why He Deserves A Moment In The Spotlight

Humans are weird creatures. When faced with catastrophe, disaster, or the wrath of a man-eating shark, you’d expect people to be frozen in fear, frozen in shock, or being one of the few brave souls who charges in to save others.

What you don’t expect is for someone to be having the time of their lives, as one beachgoer does in 1975’s classic, ‘Jaws’.

The fellow in question, a mustached man with a white floppy hat, charges into the water with other adults when the shark attacks poor Alex. But unlike the adults who are trying to get the kids out of the water, Floppy Hat Guy just frolics about with the biggest, dopiest grin, nonplussed at the terrors of the deep turning him into Purina shark chow.

Naturally, one wonders what this man’s story is. Is he high on drugs? Mentally challenged? Secretly in love with the idea of flaunting danger? Getting a thrill out of seeing kids get eaten? Of course, the real answer is that he’s played by an extra who was probably just really happy to be in a movie, but that’s nowhere near as much fun as watching a guy having fun when surrounded by death and sharks.