Film Theory: Did ‘Camp Cretaceous’ Reveal How ‘Jurassic World: Dominion’ Will End?

With a little over a month to go until ‘Jurassic World: Dominion’ is released, we’ve got trailers, screenshots, interviews, toys, and articles galore to keep ‘Jurassic’ fans excited until the big day when the cinematic journey that began almost thirty years ago finally comes to an end. But even with a plethora of material to wet the appetite, there’s still plenty to theorize and ponder about how this final chapter will come to an end, including how the Netflix animated series, ‘Camp Cretaceous’ will tie into the film as well.

For those who aren’t aware, ‘Camp Cretaceous’ is an animated series that takes place between the events of ‘Jurassic World’ and ‘Fallen Kingdom’, following the adventures of several kids as they struggle to escape Isla Nublar before becoming dinosaur chow. The most recent season had them finally escape… only to end up on another dinosaur-infested island filled with all sort of advanced technology not seen in the series before, such as artificial biomes, killer robots, drones, and forcefields. But by far the most interesting piece of tech is Dr. Mae Turner’s device that allows her to communicate with dinosaurs by giving simple phrases, such as ‘friend.’

While the killer robots, drones, and invisible force fields get more attention throughout the season, I think this communication device is arguably the most important invention in the ‘Jurassic’ franchise. Just think about it: With this device, people and dinosaurs can communicate with one another. We can actually talk to dinosaurs! And with ‘Dominion’ director Colin Trevorrow having said that not only does season four of the show tie into ‘Dominion,’ but that ‘Dominion’ is a film about how both humans and dinosaurs will have to adjust to living amongst one another, I think this device will play a vital role in the story, possibly going something like this:

At the finale of ‘Dominion,’ Alan, Ian, Ellie, Owen, Claire, and their allies will have to take on the Giganotosaurus. Given that the Prologue established a rivalry and inevitable rematch between Rexy and the Giga, it’s all but certain that the two of them are going to fight at the finale. And, given her age (in human years, Rexy would be a little over 100), it’s highly likely that she’ll be injured or initially unable to win. And unlike in ‘Jurassic World,’ Blue isn’t going to come to the rescue. Who, will, then?

Humans.

With everything on the line, and the Giganotosaurus on the verge of victory, Dr. Grant will find Dr. Turner’s communication device (or one identical to it), come face to face with with the dinosaur that almost ate him back in 1993, and, for the first time in history, a human will talk with a T-Rex in a way that it can understand. Grant will communicate to Rexy that he and the others will help her fight the Giga, and realizing that she needs help, Rexy will team up with them. But it won’t end there: Grant will use the same device to communicate with other dinosaurs, such as Blue and the Spinosaurus (oh, how I’d love to see it come back to the big screen), leading to a massive, ‘Avengers Endgame’ style alliance of humans and dinosaurs going up against the Giganotosaurs and finally defeating it. And afterwords, humanity will use the device to communicate with the dinosaurs, and finally lead to a new era where both species share the planet and find a way to peacefully coexist.

If my theory is correct, I think it would be a beautiful way to end the ‘Jurassic’ story, which has been about how our efforts to play god and control nature will inevitably fail. But now, we seek to work with nature and find harmony and equilibrium with the beings we have brought back from extinction. While there will still be conflicts and problems between the two species, it will be a better ending than if one side gains total victory over the other, or if both sides destroy the world, and we learn at the end that the whole series has secretly been a prequel to the post-dinosaur apocalypse story, ‘The Flintstones.’

The Best Background Characters: The Tip-toeing Nazi Soldier

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 Game:

‘Wolfenstein II – The New Colossus’

The Character:

A tip-toeing Nazi soldier.

The Scene:

(The soldier appears at 2:03)

Why He Deserves A Moment In The Spotlight

In the opening of 2017’s, ‘Wolfenstein: The New Colossus,’ the player’s enormous U-boat hideout is boarded by dozens of Nazi commandos intent on killing him and his allies. At one point, the player meets up with Set, a Jewish scientist, who defends both of them with the use of a microwave-lined hallway, which obliterates multiple Nazis as they blindly run through it. But near the end, one soldier realizes that something’s not right about the hallway and stops to consider his next course of action, which is to carefully – and hilariously – tippy-toe through the hallway… only to be blown up like everyone else.

The common Nazi in ‘The New Colossus’ exists (as they rightfully should) to be mowed down by the hundreds. Players expect them to be little more than cannon fodder, which makes moments like these great because it gives individual soldiers a little personality and makes them stand out in a crowd of characters we’re conditioned not to care about… but because this soldier’s still part of the most monstrous regime ever to exist in human history, we laugh at his explosive death instead of mourning him, because f*** Nazis.

That’s F***ing Hilarious: My Favorite Funny Curses In Movies

NOTE: Although they are quoted and discussed in an academic manner, this article contains both written and video examples of vulgar language and is not safe for work.

Can swearing ever be funny? When played for drama, the Precision F-Strike can easily be one of the more shocking and memorable moments of a film, but when played for comedy, it’s often the funniest, as comedy Legend John Cleese would attest. To quote TvTropes:

“John Cleese… once described this trope in an interview, by explaining that the art of making swear words funny is to avoid using them… until the exact moment in the script when it will be most effective. A comedy with gratuitous swearing ends up desensitizing the audience to the words in question, meaning they lose a lot of their amusement. But if you go for fifty minutes without a single swear word, then suddenly have a character say “shit”, the swear word becomes instantly more amusing because the audience has been conditioned not to expect it up to that point.”

After thinking about this, I’ve come to the realization that Mr. Cleese is correct; after all, some of the most memorable swear words in cinema happen because you don’t expect them. Thus, to celebrate the times where vulgar language can add so much to a scene, I thought it’d be fun to share my amusing uses of swear words in films. Some were done intentionally, others less so, and some are the result of goofy writing or hilarious acting, and some may be the result of mondegreen (a phenomena where a word or phrase is misheard or misunderstood and interpreted as something else), but they are all memorable and good for a chuckle.

Honorable Mention 1: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

It’s not a swear word, but if you listen closely at 2:48, you can hear what sounds like Voldermort’s otherworldly voice whispering, ‘Screw you, Harry!’ It pretty much ruins the drama of what is otherwise one of the most dramatic and satisfying moments of the entire Harry Potter saga, but it’s pretty dang funny to imagine that as the most powerful dark wizard alive dissipates into the afterlife, a fragment of his spirit takes one last opportunity to insult Harry, but in a polite, non-vulgar way. How thoughtful!

Honorable Mention 2: Dexter

I have never seen the television show Dexter and know next-to-nothing about it, but I have seen this clip countless times and it still cracks me up, especially with some of the jokes people have made with it.

7. Transformers: Dark of the Moon

The climactic chapter of the live action Transformers film series (until two sequels and a quasi-reboot came along) pulled no punches in upping the stakes, with a full-on invasion of Earth by the Decepticons, having the Autobots be grossly outnumbered, and having the Autobot’s most revered leader turn out to be a Decepticon turncoat who will enslave the human race without a second’s thought. It’s only fitting then, that he’s executed at the end without any mercy by his successor and former admirer Optimus Prime.

But while Sentinel’s official last words are an anguished, ‘No, Optimus!’ if you listen closely at the 1:00 mark, you can hear him groan, ‘Oh, fuck!’ before he dies and goes to Transformer hell. There’s just something amusing about the most famous, noble Autobot in Cybertron’s history going out not with a plea or a whimper, but with the sudden realization that he had screwed up so badly that the best way to express his regret was with an all-too human expression.

6. Transformers: The Movie

Yep, there are two entries about profanity in a series about shape-shifting robots that’s targeted for young kids. The first film about these robots from beyond the stars was notable for many things: the death of Optimus Prime, the introduction of Unicron, a robot capable of eating entire worlds, killing off almost all of the original cartoon’s cast, and being the very first time profanity was used in the series.

In this scene, Spike the human and his robot buddy Bumblebee have their moonbase self-destruct in an attempt to destroy Unicron as he eats said base, only for the plan to fail utterly. In response, a flabbergasted Spike calmly asks his robotic companion what the best course of action is to resolve their rather unfortunate predicament. Just kidding; he memorably says, ‘Oh shit, what are we gonna do now?!’

Can you imagine that? Someone swearing in a cartoon for kids? Outside of this example, I can’t think of any other show or movie that’s done so, and not only is it shocking, but funny, too because of how relatable and understandable Spike’s reaction is.

5. Superhero Movie

Released near the end of the era of big-budget movie parodies, ‘Superhero Movie’ is a funny send-up of superhero films released up to that date, the most famous being Sony’s Spider-Man trilogy, but with affectionate jabs towards the X-Men and Fantastic Four as well, complete with juvenile humor throughout. But my pick for the most memorable moment of the film comes at the climax, where the nefarious villain Hourglass – on the verge of gaining immortality – instead meets the Grim Reaper via Dragonfly plopping a crotch-bomb right in front of his face. And how does this dastardly villain, possessing a genius intellect, a fiendish plan, and every advantage imaginable, react? He gives the film’s only use of the word, ‘Fuck.’

Much like Sentinel in ‘Dark of the Moon,’ there’s just something funny at seeing a story’s villain so gobsmacked or horrified that they have to resort to cursing, and ‘Superhero Movie’ does it well.

4. Star Wars: Return of the Jedi

The Star Wars movies may pack stylized violence galore, but are by and large G-rated when it comes to talking… except in 1987’s, Return of the Jedi, where, when watching a super star destroyer plunge towards the second Death Star, you can hear someone on Admiral Ackbar’s flagship yell, ‘Die, dickheads!’ at 0:38.

For years, Star Wars fans have been wondering if we’re really hearing someone swear, or just something that sounds like it. Personally, I like to think that it is real, as it’s perfectly reasonable that someone fighting against an evil empire would celebrate and let loose with the strongest insult they could think of at realizing that said empire is finally about to be destroyed after decades of terror, suffering, and misery. Who among us wouldn’t do the same?

3. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

In the pantheon of major Hollywood blockbusters, New Line Cinema’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies are quite odd when compared to their peers: Aside from the decapitations, arms getting lopped off, armies being slaughtered by the thousands, and Sean Bean being turned into a pincushion, all six films are surprisingly tame, with no sex and no vulgar language that we can understand (aside from untranslated dwarvish). Much fun has been poked at this phenomena over the years, but as it turns out, there is exactly one audible curse word in the saga, one that’s hidden very well.

In the opening prologue of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Smaug the dragon attacks the city of Dale, burning it to the ground and inflicting death and destruction beyond comprehension. Naturally, it makes sense that people would be scared out of their minds at having their peaceful life destroyed in mere minutes, and nowhere is that more audible than someone yelling, “Oh God, what the fuck?!” at 1:59 in the clip above.

What I love about this swear is that it’s the perfect embodiment of John Cleese’s description of funny swears: After three movies of people, elves, and dwarves talking in G-rated language, having a ‘fuck!’ come out of nowhere is darkly hilarious, and a very understandable reaction to a dragon destroying everything you know and love. But even this vulgar word serves a purpose, as it helps to humanize the people of Dale; It’s one thing to see fictional characters panic, but when they let lose with curses and expletives that we all use from time to time, it makes them more human and shows that they feel the anger, frustration, and rage that we all do in a world that sucks at times.

2. The Wicker Man

2006’s ‘The Wicker Man’ quickly became a laughing stock as one of the cherished, ‘So bad it’s good’ films of the decade, even being described as the year’s best comedy, and all of that is due to the infinitely-entertaining Nicholas Cage, who does everything from running around and punching old women in a bear suit, to demanding how something got burned, and yelling about bees. But for my money, the film’s most hilarious moment is him yelling about how his death isn’t going to bring back the islander’s honey. It’s a line that – when taken out of context – is THE definition of ‘so stupid, it’s awesome,’ and you wonder how Mr. Cage managed to yell it without cracking up. I have no idea how, but I’m so glad he did it.

1. Epic Movie

What would happen if Superman suddenly no longer had bulletproof skin? He’d be in for a world of hurt, as demonstrated brilliantly in ‘Epic Movie.’

‘Epic Movie,’ despite it’s disastrous reception by audiences and critics alike, and it’s subpar performance as a spoof film, does have one truly brilliant scene: a parody of the sequence from ‘Superman Returns’ where Superman gets shot in the eye. But here, we see what would happen if the Man of Steel didn’t have indestructible eyeballs.

Everything about this scene is great: the music is appropriately bombastic, the build up is flawless, the effects of a slow-motion bullet are well done for a low-budget parody… and then the bullet sinks into Superman’s eyeball with a cartoonish squishing sound, and he shrieks in absolute agony, topped off with a very understandable shriek of how he’s been shot in the fucking eye. While the film may not be the best example of a parody, this scene is absolute gold, and my favorite use of the word ‘fuck’ in any film.

Make A Difference

Nothing writing-related today: in light of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, advice on writing seems… rather unimportant. But when we feel overwhelmed or don’t know what to do, sometimes life sends us something that can restore just a spark of hope… even it’s just a small promo from a channel dedicated to cartoons:

Just thought it was worth sharing today. And if you want to try and make a difference like I do, here are some links that can help:

List of charities to help Ukraine

Red Cross relief for Ukraine families

Doctors Without Borders

Finally, you can contact your representatives and senators and ask that they pursue imposing the strongest sanctions possible against the Russian government for what they’ve done.

Jurassic World: The Gates Are Stuck

This morning, Universal Studios released the teaser trailer for ‘Jurassic World: Dominion,’ giving us our first in-depth look at the conclusion of the ‘Jurassic’ franchise.

I’ve written about ‘Dominion’ before, and back in 2019 I tried my hand at theorizing how the film might turn out… by taking the scripts for ‘Jurassic Park,’ ‘Jurassic World,’ and ‘Jurassic World: Dominion’ and putting them into a predictive text generator to see what sort of gibberish it would spit out. I originally intended to do dozens of pages of Grant, Ellie, Ian, Owen, and other characters talking nonsense, but real life got in the way and I never finished the project. With the release of the trailer, I figured this would be a good time to post the pages that were finished, if only to give people a laugh at what would have been the most bonkers summer blockbuster ever released. (If the pictures are too small, right click and open them in a new tab.)

What We Can Learn From The Star Wars Holiday Special (For Real This Time)

Last year, I gathered all my courage, mourned not being able to watch The Incredible Hulk, and finally sat down to watch the Star Wars Holiday Special, which is commonly called one of the worst moments in television history and one of the biggest missteps in the Star Wars franchise, sentiments that are completely and utterly 100% true. And while I played up this awfulness for comedic value, I figured it was time to actually write out what works well and what doesn’t in the special because, despite what pop culture might tell you, I was surprised to find that the special is… not that awful.

Now, don’t get me wrong; the special is not some misunderstood masterpiece that has aged like fine wine. It is a bad show with seemingly endless padding, almost ten minutes of non-stop Wookie gargling without subtitles, stirring and whipping, and the… inconsistent acting. And that’s before Leia breaks out into song. But as hard as it may be to believe, there’s also some good things, too: the lighthearted, feel-good music, seeing Luke, Leia, Han, and all the other classic characters doing their stuff, the 70’s style that saturates the whole thing, and some downright hilarious Youtube comments.

Now, lest you feel the temptation to actually sit down and watch the special (an endeavor I don’t recommend unless you’ve consumed copious amounts of alcohol) sit back and let me present to you the hard-won writing lessons I got from watching this piece of 70’s kitsch.

What does the story do well?

The core concept isn’t bad

Regardless of its execution, the story of the Holiday Special itself isn’t bad: During a period of galactic civil war, Chewbacca tries to get back to his family on Kashyyyk to celebrate Life Day, the most important holiday in Wookie culture. But it won’t be easy: the Galactic Empire is in hot pursuit of Chewie, and maintains a presence on Kashyyyk harassing the locals. Not only will Chewie and Han have to escape the Empire, but Chewie’s family will also have to outsmart and outwit the local Imperials before Chewie arrives so they can all safely celebrate. That’s not a bad story at all, which leads the Special to stand as proof that even the best story ideas can fail due to other circumstances.

It has a good introduction to Boba Fett

While fans generally agree that the Holiday Special is awful, there is also agreement that the best part is a short cartoon that features the first appearance of Boba Fett, one of Star Wars’ most famous side-characters. And they’re right! It’s a short, self-contained story that takes full advantage of it’s animated medium to create interesting and unique visuals that would be expensive to do in live-action, as well as give Boba a moral ambiguity that left first-time viewers wondering if he truly was an ally or someone nefarious, all aided by an excellent voice performance by Don Francks. Plus, hearing Darth Vader in any cartoon is always an excellent thing.

It shows what life is like for ordinary people in a sci-fi universe

If there’s only one thing the Holiday Special does well, it’s to show what life is like for ordinary, everyday people in the Star Wars galaxy, the folks who aren’t involved in the war, who aren’t firing blasters at Stormtroopers, and who just want to get through their day. We get to see cooking shows, what a Wookie home is like, the toys a child has in this galaxy, and what common people do to relax and have fun.

While showing ordinary life in a fantasy world sounds boring (don’t we indulge in fantasy to escape from everyday life?), it actually adds a lot of depth to that universe. Films and books typically devote little to no time showing what everyday life is like for people in fantasy worlds because of needing to focus on whatever is threatening that world. Devoting an hour and half to showing people buying and preparing food, playing, relaxing in bars, and celebrating holidays doesn’t bring in the big bucks at the cinema, after all, which makes these kind of stories rare, and even rarer in one of the biggest film franchises in history.

What could have been done to improve the story?

Everything

Okay, that’s too easy.

It could have cut out the Wookie porn

Unless it is a vital part of the story, we don’t need to watch an elderly Wookie getting sexually stimulated by softcore virtual pornography.

It could have cut out all the padding

On retrospect, I think one reason the Holiday Special earned such a disastrous reputation is that so much of it feels like padding. Part of this is due to the variety show format, but while parts of it are… tolerable… most are not, such as Malla stirring and whipping, and almost four minutes of assembling a transmitter. If these segments were removed and the story revised to focus on the holiday aspect, it would have been a stronger, more enjoyable tale.

It could have made the story more ‘holiday-ey’

While the slice-of-life format of the Holiday Special is a welcome change from the constant, non-stop war seen in all the Star Wars films, the holiday aspect feels almost non-existant. While it wouldn’t make sense for the Star Wars universe to just copy Christmas traditions verbatim, it would have been nice to see more holiday traditions throughout the special, such as festive decorations, gift-giving, etc. Even having Itchy, Lumpy, and Malla try to spread holiday cheer to the Imperials who come to their house would have helped embody the spirit of a winter holiday. As it is, the special’s only holiday aspect comes at the very end; while this works as the climax to the story, it would have been better to have more moments of festivity throughout.

Conclusion

While it deserves much of the negative reception it’s received, the Star Wars Holiday Special is, like every story, a product of its time. Where the rest of the Star Wars saga is a timeless story, the Holiday Special is a weird time capsule of the late 70’s, for better or worse, a time where where variety shows were viable entertainment, but starting their slide into obsolescence, and the Star Wars franchise was still trying to find its footing. And while there is a lot to dislike here, there’s still some good stuff, too. In a way, the Special is like our own holiday season: If we honestly search for things to be thankful for in a world filled with pain, suffering, and misery, we can find them.

Happy Winter Holidays, everyone.

The Best Background Characters: Unimpressed Spider-Man 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:

‘Spider-Man 3’

The Character:

A guy who’s not impressed at seeing New York City’s most famous superhero.

The Scene:

(The guy in question appears a few times in the repeated crowd scene, but for the purposes of this article, he appears at 4:33 in the bottom left between the two firefighters)

Why He Deserves A Moment In The Spotlight

Unless you’ve been living in quarantine in an apartment with no internet, TV, or magazines to read for the past year, you’re probably aware that this Friday, December 17th, marks the arrival of a new Spider-Man movie! But while most superhero fans (myself included) are excited at the thought of seeing some classic characters from Sam Raimi’s time with the webhead, there might be one guy who couldn’t care less.

2007’s ‘Spider-Man 3”s climax features Spider-Man arriving at a construction site to save Mary Jane from both Venom and the Sandman, beginning with a crowd cheering his arrival. But if you look closely, you’ll notice that not everyone is enthusiastic to see him. Specifically, this guy:

Who is this man? Obviously just some unnamed citizen of New York City, but while everyone else is excited and clapping at seeing Spider-Man coming to the rescue, he responds with half-hearted clapping and a look of profound indifference. Maybe he’s an ignored nobody, someone working two jobs just to make ends meet, and he admires Sandman and Venom, in the way that a lonely, powerless individual admires those with the power to get what they want, and wants to see them stick it to The Man.

Sadly for Unimpressed Spectator Guy, Spidey’s interrupted his fun, and he’s going along with the crowd while trying to hide his disappointment at knowing that Spider-Man’s going to save the day. Makes you wonder if he would have been cheering and clapping when Thanos wiped out half of all life in the Universe.

What We Can Learn From The Resident Evil Film Series: Part 2 – ‘Apocalypse’

NOTE: Some of the links and videos in this article contain language that is not safe for work.

Despite bearing little resemblance to the video game it was adapting, 2002’s ‘Resident Evil’ was enough of a hit at the box office to warrant a sequel, one that arrived in theaters two years later with ‘Resident Evil: Apocalypse.’

Picking up almost immediately after the events of the first film, ‘Apocalypse’ follows Alice as she heads out into Raccoon City to fight the undead and escape while the sinister Umbrella Corporation – proving that they have the intelligence of a rotting cucumber – reopen the zombie-infested Hive, triggering a citywide outbreak, and forcing Alice and several newcomers to find a way to escape the city before the whole place is nuked to prevent the virus from spreading to the wider world.

Much like its predecessor, ‘Apocalypse’ was not a critical hit, and is rated among professional critics as the worst in the series, while fan reception was (and continues to be) mixed. But despite this, the film was a box office hit, making $129 million worldwide on a $45 million budget, which meant there had to be some things in the film that fans liked. So with that, let’s wade into the hordes and see if we can figure out what they are.

What does the movie do well?

It’s more faithful to the games

Compared to the previous movie, ‘Apocalypse’s greatest virtue is that it actually feels like an adaptation of the games instead of a standalone zombie film with the Resident Evil brand slapped on it. The movie has locations from the games (Raccoon City, the police department), monsters (zombies, zombie dogs, lickers, and Nemesis), characters (Jill Valentine, Carlos, Yuri, Nicholai, and Ashfords), and does a much better job embodying the spirit of the original Playstation games, while also leaving out elements that wouldn’t translate well to the big screen. (Burn in hell, water-tetris puzzle)

It has a very effective stairwell scene

Though it’s more focused on action, ‘Apocalypse’ does feature its fair share of horror elements, with people being eaten alive by zombies, unstoppable monsters, and abandoned environments. But one scene early on stands above the rest: a woman flees from a horde of zombies inside a stairwell, only to come to a locked door and just barely manages to enter the code to unlock the door and break out onto the roof.

Though a short scene, it taps into the primal fear of being trapped in an enclosed area and facing a horrific, painful, and slow death.

It has a great introduction for Carlos

In fiction, first impressions matter, and Umbrella operative Carlos gets a great one, as seen in the above clip: Seeing a woman fleeing from zombies, he immediately abandons his current mission, rappels out of the helicopter, kills all the zombies, and tries to save the woman, who, having been infected, takes her life.

While Carlos’ efforts were in vain, the scene establishes that not only is Carlos an accomplished marksman, but despite being an employee of the most evil corporation ever, he has a heart and is not afraid to go out and save innocent people even if it means defying his orders, instantly making him a likable man we’d want to be around if we got stuck in a zombie outbreak.

It has an effective ticking clock

The first film had Alice and her friends racing against the clock to escape the Hive before it was sealed, and ‘Apocalypse’ ups the ante by forcing Alice, Jill, Carlos, and the others to escape Raccoon City before the Umbrella Corporation destroys it with a nuclear bomb. Having an unbreakable deadline gives the characters a great motivation to constantly keep moving, as well as giving their every choice and decision additional weight, forcing them to be strategic with how they spend the limited time available to them.

It gives all the characters a good reason to risk going into a zombie-infected area

So often in stories where a character or a group of characters are forced into performing an unpleasant or dangerous task to gain something they must acquire, ‘Apocalypse’ has a rare twist: In order to secure an exit from Raccoon City, Alice, Jill, and the others are recruited by Umbrella Scientist Charles Ashford to rescue his daughter before she’s turned into radioactive ash by the incoming nuclear missile. Having a loved one rescued is a refreshing change from so many deals where one side is aiming to get more wealth, power, or selfish desires. Plus, audiences will always applaud characters who go out of their way to rescue children from dangerous situations, even ones they don’t know.

It has an effective backstory for the virus

Though the first film revealed that the T-Virus was going to be used as a military weapon, ‘Apocalypse’ reveals that the virus was actually created by Charles to save his daughter from a disease that would have left her crippled for life. Such a revelation makes Charles Ashford a tragic figure: the father who only wanted to save his daughter and help humanity, only to lose control of his creation to a heartless corporation who defiled his creation and turned into a weapon of mass destruction. Even worse, by creating the T-Virus, Ashford – a fundamentally good and decent man – unknowingly became the person who brought humanity to the brink of extinction. Yikes.

It has a fantastic main monster

If there’s one thing that both fans and critics can agree on, it’s that ‘Apocalypse’ does a superb job with its main monster, Nemesis, who is brought to life directly from the third game via great use of prosthetics and practical effects. Unlike the Nemesis of the game, who is a nearly mindless killing machine, the Nemesis of ‘Apocalypse’ is a monster who doesn’t slaughter everyone in sight, but only attacks enemies he’s ordered to; in my favorite scene of the movie, Nemesis, having killed a group of STARS operatives, comes across LJ, the film’s comic relief and a civilian armed with two handguns. Realizing that he doesn’t have a chance of taking on this hulking brute, LJ tosses his guns and surrenders. Seeing that LJ doesn’t pose a threat, Nemesis spares him and leaves.

Much like the title monster from the Predator series, giving Nemesis a moral code (for lack of a better term) makes him a much more interesting foe than if he just killed everyone and everything in sight.

But what truly makes Nemesis so interesting is the (fairly obvious) reveal that he’s actually Matt from the previous film, now mutated and twisted into a monster under Umbrella’s control, forced to fight and kill against his will. And like any great monster, seeing him break free from his unjust fate is a crowd-pleasing moment of the highest caliber: Matt may still a monster, but he’s now on the side of the angels and helps Alice and the others escape, sacrificing his life to do so. Audiences love a monster who abandons its killing ways, and who fights to save good people of its own free will, and Matt/Nemesis fits that role perfectly. No matter what other flaws ‘Apocalypse’ has, Nemesis stands apart as its single-best element, and becomes one of the best characters – and the best monsters – of the entire series.

What could the story have done better?

It could have given the characters a concrete goal earlier in the story

As noted above, ‘Apocalypse’ gives Alice, Jill, and the others a ticking clock to up the tension and drama. The problem is that they aren’t given this clock until about 42 minutes into the film. Had they learned about the nuke by the end of the first act – or been given an equivalent goal to work towards – the story would be more focused and had a more tangible finish line instead of the generic, ‘Oh noes we gotta get out of the zombie-infested city.’

It could have come up with a more definitive reason to do Project Alice

Pop Quiz time: You are an evil Umbrella Corporation agent in charge of Raccoon City and have just learned that the T-virus is rampaging out of control. You order a nuclear strike to obliterate the city and (hopefully) stop the virus. What is your next move?

A: Immediately evacuate all Umbrella personnel, equipment, and vital data as far away from the city as possible, as quickly as possible.

B: Decide that now is the perfect time to set up tents and do a field test on a biological weapon.

The film chooses option B, and it comes off as nonsensical; why spend your limited time doing a field test when you should be running for your life? Adding a scene where Major Cain decides that deploying Nemesis to ensure Alice is killed to prevent her revealing what happened in the Hive would have alleviated this problem. Or, better yet, have Cain be ordered to do the test from his superiors, much to his annoyance, showing that he’s more interested in taking care of the men and women under his command, and only does such a test begrudgingly, hating that he has to risk his personnel for such a stupid reason.

Speaking of Project Alice…

It could have removed Project Alice

While ‘Apocalypse’ has issues that most action horror films have (too many characters who exist just to serve as cannon fodder, an unremarkable story, cliched ethnic stereotypes who serve as comic relief, etc.) and issues with logic and common sense (The Umbrella Corporation couldn’t find Angela after the crash, but her father can locate her in a minute with a personnel tracker), it’s biggest problem is the decision to give Alice superpowers and an unpleasant, smug attitude who is stronger, faster, and better than established canon characters at everything and puts them down at every opportunity in an attempt to look cool and awesome (all of whom eventually come to devote all their efforts in helping her).

The problem is, by making Alice ‘cooler’ than Jill, Carlos, and everyone else, the film has her constantly coming in where she’s not wanted or needed, and stealing the spotlight away from characters who are in the game and should be having their own moment to shine. Instead of seeing Jill and her companions using their wits to escape the church by the skin of their teeth, Alice drives inside on a motorcycle and kills all three attacking lickers with ease. Instead of seeing Jill triumphantly kill the zombie dogs after fighting to keep Angela safe, Alice literally comes out of nowhere and kills them instead with no effort. And instead of seeing Jill and the others fighting to within an inch of their lives and expending every bullet they have to take Nemesis down, Alice beats him in a horribly edited fistfight.

Now, imagine a version of ‘Apocalypse’ where Alice has no superpowers. She can’t jump over a fence in a single-bound, can’t take out three hunters with barely any effort, and can’t fight Nemesis in hand-to-hand combat. She’s an ordinary person fighting for her life with other people who are just like herself, with only their wits, courage, and whatever supplies they can gather. Worse, the Umbrella corporation wants Alice dead before she can reveal to the world what was going on in the Hive, and sends Nemesis to kill her. Now she not only has to fight an entire city filled with the undead, but a homicidal monster with a minigun and rocket launcher while she has, at most, a pistol and shotgun, forcing her to constantly run from a beast she can’t kill until the climax where she has to stand and fight. Doesn’t that sound more engaging than superhero Alice killing everyone and everything with ease? Watching overpowered characters escape from danger again and again is not engaging; watching ordinary people fighting and overcoming impossible odds while completely out of their element is.

While Project Alice drags ‘Apocalypse’ down and would cast a shadow over the rest of the series, the rest of the film is a perfectly serviceable action film. I admit to enjoying it quite a bit more than its predecessor, and it moves the story forward in a logical way, and serves as the cutoff point for the series: Up to this point, the movies have followed the games, more or less. But from here on out, Anderson’s films head into uncharted territory and forge their own path separate from the games. Tune in next time, when we’ll take a look at the 2007 sequel, ‘Resident Evil: Extinction,’ and see just how that path begins to play out.

What We Can Learn from The Resident Evil Film Series: Part 1

It’s October once again, and our annual celebration of all things spooky: Vampires, skeletons, ghosts, witches, political lobbyists, and everything else that lurks in the shadows under the midnight moon. But there’s nothing to celebrate about the troubled times we live in: democracy is under siege worldwide, the climate is changing for the worse, and a virus is running rampant that causes some people to go mad and attack others for the most trivial of reasons. In light of all these troubles, I thought, in spirit of the season, why not take some time to unwind by watching a movie series about a virus running rampant that causes people to go mad and attack others, eventually destroying civilization and bringing humanity to its knees? The series of which I speak is the long-running, seemingly undead saga of ‘Resident Evil.’

Ever since the introduction of the original Resident Evil on the Playstation in 1995, the series has gone on to encompass 28 games (!), several novels, action figures, and even a freaking restaurant. It’s not surprising that a movie adaptation would eventually come along, and we got such an adaptation with the Paul W.S. Anderson series that ran from 2002 to 2016. While a critical failure, the series was a financial success (they remain the highest-grossing zombie movie series in history), which means that they must have been doing something well. That’s why we’re going to dive into all six films and see if we can discover just what those things are.

Much like my previous analysis of Friday the 13th, the Matrix fight scenes, and the Jaws series, we’ll be taking a look at each movie and seeing what they do well, and what could have used some improvement. And once we reach the end, we’ll see what the series accomplished and what lessons it can offer writers. So without further ado, let’s dive into the world of movies about video game zombies. We’ll start at the beginning, with the simply-named, ‘Resident Evil.’

Released in 2002, the movie follows a group of heavily armed Umbrella soldiers and a lady in skimpy clothes as they infiltrate the Hive, an underground research facility where a killer virus has broken loose and turned the people inside into bloodthirsty zombies, hideous monsters, and other icky horrors that our heroes must fight in order to escape.

What does the film do well?

It has an effective horror location

Any self-respecting horror story has its characters eventually stuck in an isolated, out-of-the-way location where it’s difficult, if not impossible, to get help, forcing the characters to rely on their wits and each other. ‘Resident Evil’ is an interesting variation of this: the film takes place almost entirely within the Hive, an underground research facility located beneath a major metropolitan area. This serves a dual purpose: It makes it so that the characters are so close to help, but are still cut off, and since the facility is deep underground, they can’t just jump out of a window, run out through the main door, or otherwise easily escape. Worse still, if the virus breaks free, everyone the surface will suffer the same fate as the poor souls who have been transformed into undead ghouls.

It has an effective ticking clock

One of the best ways to keep a story moving is to have a ticking clock, something bad that will occur if the protagonists don’t accomplish their goals in time. ‘Resident Evil’ features a particularly effective one: Alice and the other security forces heading into the Hive have to get back out or they’ll be trapped inside when the Hive is permanently sealed. That’s a good incentive to keep moving and ensure that the story does, too.

It has a great psychological death scene

‘Resident Evil’ gets off to a good start by having a bunch of innocent workers die during the initial virus outbreak, most by being gassed, some by being dropped to their death in an elevator, and one poor lady getting her head smashed into goo. It’s all suitably unnerving, but I think the most effective part takes place in a sealed lab.

(the scene in question starts at 4:55)

There, three workers realize that, because the lab is sealed, the water pouring in has nowhere to go. If they don’t find a way out, they’ll drown. Later, when Alice and the soldiers pass through the lab area, we learn that the workers did indeed drown.

The other deaths in the opening may be more graphic, visceral, and direct, but for my money this is the most unnerving death scene of the film. It taps into the fear of facing a horrible, painful death and not being able to do anything about it. Worse still, it’s not a quick death: you would have plenty of time to watch the water slowly rise, covering your knees, then your waist, then your chest, and shoulders, until there’s only a few inches of space left for you to breathe… and then there would be nothing. And all the while you’re trying to cut your way out with an axe, only to realize that there’s no way out. You’re going to drown, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. It’s a terrifying thought, and a perfect example of how horror is more than just decapitations and buckets of blood being thrown all over the screen: It’s about suffering and being helpless to stop it.

It has an awesome deathtrap

If the James Bond and SAW series have proven anything over the years, it’s that people get a kick out of elaborate deathtraps, and ‘Resident Evil’ features a particularly infamous one: the laser hallway.

This scene is a doozy because it’s so simple, yet devastatingly effective: our operatives are trapped inside a tight, confined space with nowhere to hide, and their only hope to survive is to dodge the lasers until the system is shut down. But the lasers’ path is unpredictable and constantly changing, culminating with an inescapable grid that chops One into bite-sized pieces.

Yet, like all great traps, it is possible to survive. The people facing it have a chance if they’re fast, flexible, and have taken plenty of Zumba classes, but messing up just once means losing body parts if you’re lucky, or death if you’re not. It’s simple, effective, and memorable, so much so that even the Resident Evil video games featured a homage to it.

It has a villain doing the wrong thing for very justifiable reasons

While Alice and the Umbrella soldiers have to deal with zombies, zombie dogs, a licker, and the man who is ultimately responsible for starting the outbreak in the first place (for money, of course), their main adversary is the Red Queen, the AI in charge of running the Hive. But while it is responsible for killing a few hundred workers and researchers, it was not done out of malice: The Red Queen, in order to prevent the highly contagious T-Virus from escaping the Hive and reaching the surface, decided that killing everyone to keep them from escaping was the best course of action in prevent a planetary pandemic. And considering what happens in the later films, the Queen’s logic is dark, but understandable: Kill a few hundred to prevent humanity being brought to the edge of extinction.

The very best villains are the ones that make audiences ponder what they would do in their place, making them more memorable than the routine, ‘kill ‘em all for money/power/the evulz/etc.’ villains we see so often. It’s hard to beat a villain who relies on logic instead of malice and does horrific things for the right reasons (and is even willing to let Alice and the others escape if they kill the one infected member of their group).

It features a great cliffhanger ending

As is so often the case in action-horror movies, only a few people make it out alive at the end (Alice and Matt) before the Hive is finally sealed. But the movie doesn’t end there: the true ending finds Alice waking up in a hospital and emerging into an abandoned Raccoon City. There’s no help coming, no rescue party, and all Alice has is a single shotgun to face off against the unseen armies of the undead. Even worse is the knowledge that Matt is being put into the Nemesis program, a great tease for fans of the game as to who will appear in the next film. And while it’s always risky to end a movie on a cliffhanger (there’s no guarantee you’re going to get that sequel), this one is terrific, leaving viewers imagining what’s going to happen next in a world that’s on the brink of the apocalypse.

What could the story have done better?

It could have been much more faithful to the games

The biggest flaw with ‘Resident Evil’ is that it has almost nothing to do with the game it’s based off of. While the main elements are here (a team of trained operatives, a mansion, zombies, a licker, and the Umbrella Corporation), none of the characters from the game appear, and we have a plot that bears little resemblance to the source material, a massive disappointment for anyone who hoped to see Jill Valentine, Chris Redfield, and Barry Burton’s Jill Sandwich jokes.

When a book, a video game, or other property gets adapted into a film, fans of those properties expect to see the story and characters brought to life on the big screen, and ‘Resident Evil’s lack of faithfulness to the source material leaves it feeling like a In-Name-Only adaptation designed to deprive fans of their cash without giving them what they were expecting.

There are too many side characters

‘Resident Evil’ features the undead horse-trope of ‘large group of individuals go through a horror movie where 80% of them exist to die horribly.’ While there are plenty of deaths to satisfy horror fans, those deaths would have much more impact if we got time to know more of the soldiers, giving their deaths more emotional weight. As with so many other films of this type, it might have been better to have only a handful of characters instead of a lot.

It has a cliffhanger ending

The biggest risk of having a cliffhanger ending is that, unless you’re doing an installment of a major, pre-established franchise or already filming the sequel, a sequel is not guaranteed. People may just not go see the movie, the hoped-for profits never come, and a followup is never made, leaving a cliffhanger eternally unresolved. While ‘Resident Evil’s gamble paid off, it could have also left fans angry at never seeing the coming zombie apocalypse or Nemesis stomping about while yelling about stars.

Cliffhangers, while effective, should be used carefully, both in case a project never gets a followup, or if the followup itself is… well, we’ll get to that later. But we’ve still got five movies to go through, so tune in next time where we’ll see Alice jump out of the frying pan and into the zombie-infected fire in ‘Resident Evil: Apocalypse.’

Five Ways Sauron Is A Good Role Model

When it comes to role models, you can do a lot better than Sauron, The Lord of the Rings. Ever since his debut in 1954 with the publication of ‘The Fellowship of the Ring,’ Sauron continues to reign as one of literature’s most famous fantasy villains. Yet, as Elrond noted, nothing is evil in the beginning, and even with his egomania, his desire to brainwash and enslave everyone in Middle-Earth, and his desire to become a god king, there are still some good and noble traits to Sauron’s character. So let’s dive in and take a look to see the dark lord’s admirable traits:

5. He uses cunning and intelligence over brute strength

For those unfamiliar with the backstory of Tolkien’s world, Sauron is essentially an angel who served a god of evil (Morgoth) that sought complete and total domination over the world and everything in it, corrupting the very essence of the world so that his evil was forever entrenched with it, causing strife among all those on it forever.

While Sauron was incapable of performing similar feats, he was arguably more intelligent and strategic with the strength, power, and resources that he had. Instead of seeking to control everything, he only sought to control the minds of those who lived in Midde-Earth, using lies, charm, deciet, and his Ring to strategically advance his goals. If Morgoth was the overpowering brute who believed in overwhelming power and physical might, Sauron was the quiet, silent type who lurks in the shadows, biding his time until the moment is right to strike with a scalpel for maximum effect.

4. He commits himself 100% to making his dreams come true

In a way, Sauron is the ultimate made-man (maiar?). Before he fell into evil, he loved perfection and order, and joined Morgoth to help make his dream become a reality. When Morgoth fell, did Sauron run away, hide in a cave, and weep for his dead dream? Nope; he abandoned Morgoth and continued on his quest. No matter how many elves, men, hobbits, ents, and gods were against him, Sauron refused to abandon his dream of a perfectly ordered world, to the point that he was willing to risk everything and created The One Ring to achieve his goal, with the risk of being reduced to a permanently powerless, helpless spirit if it were ever destroyed.

Regardless of how abhorrent his actions were, you can’t help but admire Sauron for having the courage to follow his heart and do everything he could to make his dreams come true!

3. He isn’t afraid to ignore authority figures and forge his own path

If there’s one thing Sauron cannot be faulted for, it’s his courage in rebelling against actual, physical gods. While Sauron is a powerful angel (perhaps the most powerful), he’s still outmatched by the gods who rule over all of Arda, and the god who created them, a god that Sauron has seen in-person. Yet, Sauron willingly and purposefully defies all of them, refusing to let himself be bound by rules, orders, and commands forced down on him from those more powerful than himself. Sauron has a dream, and he’s not going to let anything stop it!

Who among us hasn’t felt the frustration and anger of being ordered to do something by our parents, our bosses, organizations, or the government? How about being told what to do and how to live our lives without those in power caring about what we want to do? How many of us have dreamed of giving those authority figures the finger? Sauron did, only he did it to gods who could wipe him out in an instant. Whatever his many failings, the guy’s got guts.

2. He’s fallible and fails as often as he succeeds

Hold on a second! Why should we admire a dark lord who fails just as often as he succeeds? Because that makes said dark lord a much more interesting, well-rounded character instead of the cliched dark lord who is all but unstoppable, who is the best fighter, has the best armies, and commands power beyond imagination. And at first glance Sauron appears to be such a character. Here’s a list of his greatest triumphs throughout his career in villainy:

1. Became the second-in-command of the most evil being who ever existed.

2. Created the most evil object in history that no mortal could hope to control.

3. Brought down the most powerful human kingdom to ever exist using nothing but words.

4. Created the Ringwraiths

5. Tricked the elves into creating magical rings that would allow Sauron to control their minds and the minds of anyone who wore them.

6. Could sing songs so powerfully and so skillfully that he defeated a very powerful elf in a battle of wills (presumably it was this song).

7. Came very close to conquering the world twice, and would have succeeded if not for last-minute interventions.

8. Created a language from scratch to allow all his followers to speak a common tongue.

But with the good must come the bad, and here are Sauron’s greatest failures:

1. Was defeated by a really big doggy in a fight.

2. Was beaten multiple times by the armies of elves and men.

3. Had his ability to take a pleasing appearance taken away by God himself.

4. Failed to take over the minds of the most powerful elves and the dwarves using The One Ring.

5. Was killed by an elf and a man on the side of a volcano.

6. Failed to take over the world due to the actions of a 600 year old schizophrenic midget.

While powerful, Sauron still failed in many of his quests. Every time he fought others in hand-to-hand combat, he lost, and his ultimate scheme to enslave the world failed as well. Yet, its this fallibility that makes Sauron so interesting. He’s like the Terminator in the first Terminator film: He’s stronger, more durable, more intelligent, and more powerful than everyone else in the story. Taking him on in a fight is incredibly dangerous. Yet, he is not invincible, and knowing that he can and does fail makes him more interesting as a character. And speaking of failure…

1. He never, ever gives up

He may have massive armies at his command, an unmatched intellect, the ability to use magic and trickery like no one else, and have the ability to take over the world, but Sauron’s greatest strength as a villain is that no matter how many defeats he suffers, or how many times his plans fail, and no matter how many times he’s killed, Sauron never, ever gives up. No matter what you throw at him, no matter how badly his armies are decimated, or how many times his kingdoms are overthrown, Sauron will just get back up and keep going. He will let nothing stop him, and he’s quite possibly the closest thing Middle-Earth has to a Terminator: No matter where you’re hiding in Middle-Earth, Sauron is out there. He can’t be reasoned with. He can’t be bargained with. He doesn’t feel pity or remorse, and no matter how many times you defeat him, he will come back and he absolutely will not stop, ever, until he has conquered Middle-Earth.

If you take away all his villainy and see his virtues, Sauron suddenly becomes a role model that anyone can look up to, including children. He fits the profile of the plunky underdog almost perfectly and delievers a timeless, universal message everyone can aspire to: You may not be the most powerful, the strongest, or the most capable of people, but if you make the most of what you have, follow your heart, refuse to accept defeat, and keep going no matter what life throws at you, you, too, can make your dreams come true!

Well, just as long you aren’t followed around by an elderly and demented midget. If that happens, you’re screwed.