What’s your charachter’s bedroom like?

When it comes to fleshing out characters, there are countless exercises to try: What does your character want? What’s their outlook on life? Their favorite foods? The one thing they’d change in their life if they could go back in time, and the like. But there’s one exercise that, in my opinion, is much more fun:

What is your character’s bedroom like?

This question was born after browsing an article on Wookipedia (the fan-run wiki for the Star Wars franchise), which covers – of all things – pajamas. While short (consisting of just one line), it features a picture of Count Dooku – the tyrannical Sith lord from Attack of the Clones – wearing a simple set of grey pajamas.

At first glance, there’s nothing too exciting about this. What’s so extraordinary about Count Dooku wearing pajamas? Nothing, really, except the mental image of an evil Sith lord, one hellbent on conquering the galaxy, enslaving billions, and ruling with an iron fist, wearing pajamas to bed is hilarious. Does he also have a Sith teddy bear to sleep with? A Sith nightlight that glows red to keep the nightmares at bay? (Or encourage them?) Curious, I looked around to see if Dooku happened to have a bedroom, and it turns out that he does, one that’s glimpsed in the Clone Wars cartoon series.

All of this was fascinating to me; Star Wars, being a franchise about two factions battling it out for the control of a galaxy, rarely has the time to delve into the sleeping habits and personal quarters of its characters. And it was then that I realized that exploring a character’s bedroom is a unique way to get to know them. If a bedroom is a sanctuary that the occupant can decorate however they wish, then it stands that such decorations can give us an insight into what a character is like:

*A sorcerer, wizard, or other magical type, wanting a break from their studies, fills their room with video game consoles and puts anti-sound magic in the walls so he can play as loud as he likes, while also casting spells to repel evil forces who may try to sneak up on him while he’s relaxing.

*A monk doesn’t decorate his room (so as to encourage not having attachments), but does have a luxurious bed, both as his one indulgence in life and to ensure that he can get the best night’s sleep he can so he can help his community with a refreshed mind and body.

*The emperor of a planet fills his bedroom not with gold, jeweled statues, or other expensive trinkets, but with photos of his family, his children’s crayon drawings, and other personal treasures to remind him that he’s doing his job to ensure his family – and other families everywhere – can live in peace and safety.

*A serial killer purposefully decorates her room to be warm and inviting, so as to put victims at ease when she lures them in. Knowing that the police may come by at one point or another, she never saves any mementos of her kills.

While these details may never appear in a story, they can shed light on what a character is like when he/she/it is relaxing and not out saving the world, solving crimes, or otherwise involving themselves in the conflict of a story. While we may rightfully assume that the bedroom is only used for sleep and sex, I think exploring how a character uses it – for both recreation and sleep – can help us gain more insights into how they think, and see a side of them we’d otherwise never consider.

Fun Fact: Those Count Dooku pajamas? You can equip them in the video game, ‘Star Wars: Battlefront 2’ and have Dooku run around the battlefields of the galaxy in his sleepwear.

Favorite Moments: TLC Promo

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

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The video:

Why it’s great:

Today’s video is a perfect example of how comedy can be used to make a point about the failings of society, corporations, or any other entity. In this instance, it’s how The Learning Channel, which used to show high-quality educational programming, has morphed into doing nothing but cheap reality shows that have almost nothing to do with education, AKA, Network Decay.

The Sharknado Series: An Analysis

The year is 2013. While browsing the internet, you come across a poster of an upcoming movie called ‘Sharknado’, showing… Well, sharks in a tornado. Try to remember your first reaction to seeing the poster. Shock? Confusion? A desire to drink copious amounts of alcohol and wonder if God weapt at seeing what His most beautiful creation had created? Or that the Sharknado series would last five years and cover six movies? The fact that the Sharknado franchise managed to keep most of the cast throughout, and end with a planned finale, could be seen as nothing short of a minor miracle.

But what about the quality?

Looking back, a case can be made that the Sharknado movies can be divided into two periods. The first, covering movies one through three, could be considered the serious half, in that there was an attempt at having a somewhat grounded story, while the second half (films four through six), embraces the goofiness, bringing in mech suits, evil shark gods, the Sydney Opera House being turned into a missile platform by Tony Hawk, and time travel. In my opinion, it’s the later three films that are the most memorable precisely because they embrace the silliness. However, craziness will only go so far. While I felt the Sharknado became more entertaining when it abandoned insanity, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that the movies went just a little too long.

Let’s try another mental exercise. Take a look at this photoshopped movie poster. What immediately comes to mind? Probably ridiculous scenes of, say, Samuel L. Jackson getting into a fistfight with a bear inside a flooding chamber inside a sinking nuclear submarine (Having typed that out, I now desperately want to watch it). Whatever you come up with is probably amusing, and would be great to see on the big screen.

Now imagine having to write six movies based on that concept. Could you? One movie, maybe. But six movies? Around a single joke? Not likely.

If there’s one common mistake with the Sharknado series, it’s that it goes on too long, spread out – in the words of Bilbo Baggins – like butter scraped over too much bread. In a single, concentrated dose, the joke is delicious and enjoyable, but when spread out, becomes thin and flavorless. If we take this idea and apply it to the six Sharknado movies, a pattern emerges: The latter three embrace cramming in as many ridiculous scenarios as possible, while the first three try to have scenes of character building and their lives away from the sharknado. While having these things is necessary, a balance must be found, one that favors the sharks and the mayhem they cause. If we were to go through the films and cut out all the fluff and non-sharknado related material, we could end up with something like this:

Movie One: The sharknado appears, destroys Los Angeles, then rampages across the country to destroy New York, with Fin and friends finally destroying it by heading into outer space.

Movie Two: The United States recovers from the devastation of the Sharknado. But then it suddenly comes back in new and twisted forms, and spreads across the globe. Finn and Friends embark on a globe-trotting quest to save humanity.

Movie Three: The sharknadoes return one last time, and kill everyone but Fin, who then embarks on a time traveling adventure to save humanity and everyone he loves.

Don’t those three movies sound compelling? Each one has high stakes, a high concept, and it’s easy to imagine them spending most of their time on the concept that we want to see.

This, I believe, is the ultimate lesson the Sharknado series can teach us: When doing a story based around a single joke or idea, the less time you spend away from that gag, the better. Avoid trying to make things realistic. Avoid trying to be grounded. Embrace the crazy and milk it for everything its worth, because you don’t know if you’re going to get a second go at it.

But while Sharknado may have overstayed its welcome just a little bit, it still provided plenty of laughs, jokes, chainsaws, and a cast of characters that stays and grows throughout the saga, complete with a surprisingly touching theme about the importance of family, and proved that any concept, no matter how silly, can entertain millions.

Favorite Moments: Who’s that Pokemon? (Donald Duck edition)

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

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The video:

Why it’s great:

A while back, I highlighted a video about a guy who was furious at his subpar Pokemon identification skills… but what if that guy was everyone’s favorite rage-duck?

I think the results speak for themselves.

What we can learn from ‘The Last Sharknado: It’s About Time!’

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45 weeks ago, we took a look at ‘Sharknado 5: Global Swarming’, and now, at long last, it’s time to take a look at the final film in the venerable series: ‘The Last Sharknado: It’s About Time!’

After five long years of sharknados taking out cites, going into space, becoming radioactive, and destroying the world, the series finally comes to an end with ‘The Last Sharknado: It’s About Time!’ which, having exhausted all other possibilities, sends the title monster back through time (the only other sensible option would have it going to the afterlife), with surfer-rurned-barternder-turned-sharknado killer Fin Shepard on a journey to stop the sharknados for good. Let’s journey along to see what valuable story lessons we can learn by watching sharks terrorize people throughout history.

Avoid abandoning a greater-scope villain after establishing them

In the previous film, ‘Global Swarming,’ we learned that the sharknados were not just a freak of nature, but were created by a malevolent shark god that Fin and friends (I never get tired of writing that) set out to stop. While they did stop the sharknados at the end of the fifth film (at the cost of every other human alive), it’s odd that the shark god isn’t mentioned in ‘It’s About Time’.

When we introduce a supernatural threat – or any threat so big that it effectively becomes the main antagonist for a franchise – it’s imperative not to have that threat dropped so quickly, especially when it’s a supernatural one. It’s logical to think that Fin would have to take out the shark god to prevent any further sharknados from being made, but its nowhere to be found. If our own greater-scope villains need to be dropped, a good reason needs to be established instead of never mentioning them again, hoping that audiences won’t notice. They will.

Establish solid rules for time travel, lest audiences get hopelessly confused

While traveling through time offers nearly endless possibilities for exciting storytelling, it can quickly become a mess of intersecting timelines, cause and effect, and how actions in the past affect the future (and that’s without getting into the grandfather paradox). ‘It’s About Time’ tries to make things simple by stating that everyone can only travel back in time once, but then it has Gil continuously going through different eras. When it comes to time travel, it’s best to make things as simple as possible. Better to have our audiences focus on the fun shenanigans going on, then wondering how such things are possible.

When doing time travel, consider bringing back minor characters for big roles

One of the things that ‘It’s About Time’ does best is bringing back minor characters for bigger roles in the story, like Bryan and Skye. While they may have served as cannon fodder in their original appearances, or had a small role that didn’t affect the story all that much, we don’t expect much from them. They’re background characters, ones who don’t take the spotlight. Thus, when they come back as main characters, they become underdogs who have a chance to shine and help save the day. Even better is if they’re in a completely new time and location (like the prehistoric era), as not only do they have to contend with being in the spotlight, but now they also have to try and survive in an environment they’re not familiar with.

Consider having monsters and antagonists from the future battle people from the past

One of the most enjoyable aspects of time travel stories is seeing people and technologies from different eras interact with one another. How, for example, would a modern-day person fare in the Revolutionary War era? Or in Ancient Egypt? How do technologically disadvantaged people fight off opponents from a different era? ‘It’s About Time’ has medieval knights, Revolutionary War soldiers, and Cowboys fight off sharks, and those battles are easily the highlights of the movie.

The reason these fights are so interesting is that the people of the past are automatically the underdog and have to fight harder to win. Cowboys have the advantage of guns when fighting sharks, but revolutionary war soldiers only have muskets, while knights are stuck with swords and bows, which makes audiences wonder how on earth they’re going to win. An even cleverer version of this trope is to have the people of the past take advantage of futuristic tech: When sharknados attack Revolutionary America, the British use a sharknado to gain an advantage in their war, almost changing the course of history in their favor.

When writing historical characters in time travel stories, the more authentic they are, the funnier they are

Another draw of time travel stories is being able to use famous people throughout history and put them in exciting fights and teamups with monsters and people from other times in history. Part of this draw is seeing how someone from one era coping with another, and how they would react to, say, modern weapons and technology. However, for this trope to be most useful, it’s important to make historical characters as accurate as possible; much of the humor/awesome factor in their appearances is that they take things seriously. While comedic or light-hearted time travel stories can make famous people goofballs (Think ‘Bill and Ted’), it is possible to go too far: When Finn and his friends go to the Revolutionary War era, I was excited at the thought of seeing George Washington fighting a sharknado. Instead, we get a man who’s more interested in taking a nap and cracking jokes instead of fighting or taking the situation seriously.

Consider having someone alter history in a time travel story, even when they know it’ll hurt them

While ‘It’s About Time’ engages in all the standard time-travel tropes (meeting famous figures, having historical characters and groups fight monsters from other eras, etc.) and get into debates about changing the future to avert a personal catastrophe (Nova trying to save his grandfather), the film smartly changes things up by giving Finn an impossible choice: He has a chance to stop sharknados forever by traveling through time, but at the cost of losing his son, who will never be born, and even be erased from Finn’s memory.

So often, time travel stories are about changing the future for the better, or preserving it, but rarely do we see stories where travelers doing the right thing know they will suffer greatly, even if its for the greater good. By having our characters lose something important to them, whether it’s a loved one, a job, or a dream, and being willing to let them go to save so many others, we give them an unparalleled chance to shine and show how brave and heroic they can be.

If it fits the theme of a series, there’s nothing wrong with a happy ending

It’s a classic trope: The characters of a story manage to succeed in their fight. They achieve their goals, get what they want, and live happily ever after. It’s so overused that it’s a scenario that could easily turn into a parody, and many stories try to subvert it by using a darker, or more bittersweet ending where not everything is right or well. But there’s nothing wrong with a happy ending, especially if it’s well-earned, and the end of the Sharknado series has a very well-earned one indeed: Fin manages to restart history and create a timeline where sharknados don’t exist, saving all his friends and acquaintances, and even Gil, with the very last shot of the series has Al Roker declaring that it’s going to be a beautiful day with nothing unusual going on. It’s a satisfying conclusion that ties everything up, and gives everyone a happy ending without any tease or hint of further adventures, giving the characters – and us – closure.

And so, after a year, we finally finish our marathon of all the Sharknado films. Turn in next week, when we’ll do an analysis of the series as a whole.

What we can learn from ‘Frog and Toad at Magic Mountain’

Recently, I was walking home from work when I came across an oddly shaped piece of paper on the ground. Intrigued, I picked it up and found myself in possession of one of the most gripping, heartwarming, and inspiring piece of literature I have ever read: ‘Frog and Toad at Magic Mountain’

FrogAndToad

For those unaware, Frog and Toad were the creations of author and illustrator Arnold Nobel, who wrote four stories starring the aforementioned amphibians as they lived a happy life together. But not once did they ever go to Magic Mountain, an error that has now been rectified by the anonymous author of this masterpiece of literature, a tale that will no doubt eventually adapted into a full-length motion picture for the entertainment of millions. I can already see it winning every Academy Award in existence, along with several dozen more that will be invented to properly honor its unrivaled quality and splendor.

Now, let us sit back and take a look at this endearing tale, and eagerly receive the lessons it can impart to us all:

Protagonists who never, ever give up are the most inspiring of all

If there’s one thing ‘Magic Mountain’ demonstrates perfectly, it’s Frog and Toad’s sheer determination to press on in life, no matter the odds. Despite being approximately five inches tall, these two amphibian friends not only manage to reach Magic Mountain, but also ride human-sized rides. But, alas, they not only fall out of rides twice, but keep going, even after poor Toad gets smashed after falling from who-knows-how-high. And then, after going to the hospital, they decide to break their leg and arm broken after getting X-rays. But do they weep? Do they cry? Do they curse life and the merciless whims of a heartless god, who laughs at amphibians who want to enjoy amusement parks? No; even when crippled with broken limbs, they go home and live happily. Like all great protagonists, they refuse to let life get them down, and press onwards, no matter the odds. So inspiring!

Consider giving your protagonists a crippling mental defect

As noted above, Frog and Toad break their own limbs after getting an X-ray at the hospital. But why? What strange malady compelled them to injure themselves? By withholding the answer, the author invites us to meditate and reflect on what has happened to our brave protagonists, leading us to two possible answers:

1. The two have a mental illness, possibly Self-Injury Disorder,

2. The two have a brain defect that makes them immune to pain.

Either answer brings up all sorts of intriguing questions about Frog and Toad: What happened to them that makes them want to hurt themselves? Did they go to Magic Mountain not for fun, but to die, or experience the euphoric high of being injured? Did they decide not to go back because they failed to get that high, and have deemed the amusement park ineffecent for their desires? We don’t know, and probably will never know, but by withholding clear-cut answers, readers are allowed and invited to come to their own conclusions about Frog and Toad’s mental state, a course of action that all writers should remember: By not revealing everything about our protagonists, we invite readers to use their imagination, and to dream up far grander things than we ever could.

When all else fails, know when to call it quits

We never learn why Frog and Toad went to Magic Mountain; presumably it was to have a good time and enjoy all the fun and enchanting rides with each other. But despite their best efforts, Frog and Toad’s day of fun turned into a day of pain and suffering. Thus, at the end, despite their perseverance and eventually living happily, they decide to never go back to Magic Mountain.

In our day and age, popular culture tells us to never give up and never give in when faced with difficult times. But sometimes it’s more sensible to realize when our struggle is is futile, and when letting go is the wisest course of action. Having our protagonists realize this makes them not only brave, but smart, as it shows that they’re willing to let go of unrealistic dreams in pursuit of ones they can achieve.

In conclusion, ‘Frog and Toad at Magic Mountain’ is a timeless classic, an inspiring investigation of the paradox of never giving up on a dream of having fun, yet being willing to let it go when it only causes misery, broken limbs, and unhappiness. Truly, my life has been blessed at reading about these inspiring amphibians and their journey to Magic Mountain. Thank you, God, for nourishing my soul with the lessons this tale has to offer. May others be blessed with its priceless wisdom forevermore. Amen.

Favorite Moments: ‘Titanic SUPER 3D’

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

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The video:

Why it’s great:

While it’s always fun to imagine crossovers with our favorite stories and characters, one crossover that’s rarer is to imagine a writer or director doing a famous film or book and adding their own unique touches to it, such as:

What if George Lucas directed ‘Gone with the Wind’?

What if Steven Spielberg directed ‘Robot Monster’?

What if Michael Bay directed a Teletubbies movie?

Thanks to this hilarious video by PistolShrimps on Youtube, we get a glimpse of what might have happened if JJ Abrams, Mr. Lucas and Mr. Bay directed 1997’s ‘Titanic’. The result: there’d be a heck of a lot more digital effects, lens flares, and explosions (oh gosh, that chair).