Favorite Moments: Journey (Alternate Ending)

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 game:

‘Journey’

Why it’s great:

Journey – a 2012 game by ThatGameCompany – is one of my favorite video games for how unique it is: Instead of running around with big, powerful guns trying to kill bad guys or grotesque monsters, you play a red-robed… being trying to reach a distant mountain. It’s a hauntingly beautiful game with gorgeous scenery, a beautiful musical score, and a simple, yet satisfying theme about taking a journey and enjoying it (while occasionally avoiding robotic fish monsters), instead of blasting everything you see into bloody mush while screaming ‘AMERICA!’ and flexhing your digital, steroid-infused muscles.

And then there’s the ending, where, after coming so far, you end up freezing to death… and then this happens:

I adore this ending. It’s a beautiful, almost spiritual experience to finally reach the peak of the mountain and walk into the light. It’s a satisfying, wonderful way to end a game.

With all that said, here’s a different take on how to end the game:

What I find so funny about this ending is that it takes such an uplifting, spiritual moment and then suddenly stops it with an incredibly goofy voice and a long, comical scream as the robed being plunges to his death. It’s the equivalent of a bride walking towards the alter and marrying the love of her life… only for a trapdoor to suddenly open and have her plunge from sight with a Wilhelm scream. It’s tragic, yes, but also funny because of how unexpected it is, and how a happy mood suddenly switches to ‘What the hell just happened?!’ and ‘Did I really see that?!’

Favorite Moments: IT + The Lord of the Rings

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 great example of fans taking two unrelated franchises and combining them to create something new and fascinating. In this case, combining the Lord of the Rings trilogy with the 2017 adaptation of Stephen King’s ‘It’ to create a version of Middle Earth where the greatest threat isn’t an evil ring, but an evil clown.

While it’s amusing to see Gandalf getting creeped out at seeing Pennywise, or Frodo shaking as a bloody balloon floats his way, what’s great about this crossover is how it stimulates the imagination into thinking how Middle-Earth would react to the presence of such an evil, shape-shifting entity from Earth. Would Gandalf be able to deafeat him? What would Pennywise do if he got the Ring? What would happen if he and Sauron got into a fight?

The best fiction, in my opinion, invites our imaginations to play around with wondering what might happen beyond the pages or the screen. We only get a few snippets of Pennywise interacting with the Fellowship and the denzins of Middle-Earth here, but it’s fun to wonder what might happen if he met other characters or went to places not shown in the video, and a reminder that writers don’t have to show or explain everything: Leaving some blank spots for our readers to fill in for themselves lets them conjure exciting scenarios and ideas beyond what we could ever hope to put on the page or on the screen.

Slow and Focused, Fast and Furious: A Comparison of Two Lightsaber Duels

When fans go see a new film set in the Star Wars saga, they expect to certain elements: spaceships, the Force, Jedi and Sith, space battles, and the inevitable lightsaber duel at the film’s climax. It’s the last that’s perhaps most looked forward to, where the filmmakers to let their creativity shine with excellently choreography, exciting backdrops, and emotional intensity. Yet, it’s easy to forget that the world’s first experience with lightsabers in ‘A New Hope’ was watching a 59 year old space wizard and an asthmatic cyborg poking at each other and doing unnecessary spins on the Death Star. Compared to the duels that came in the prequel and sequel trilogies, the first lightsaber fight in history is charmingly quaint.

But what if the first lightsaber fight of the Star Wars saga was more frantic, chaotic, and dangerous? Thanks to a dedicated fan (fans?), we finally have an answer with ‘Scene 38 Reimagined,’ a remake that uses CGI to allow Obi-Wan and Vader to be faster, more maneuverable, and destructive during their fight.

When I fist learned of the remake back in 2017, I was excited to see how it would turn out, as the trailer showed a fight that seemed to strike an ideal balance between the hard-hitting, rougher duels of the original trilogy, and the flashy (but enjoyable) extravagance of the prequel trilogy. And while the end result is indeed impressive, I noticed that something was missing. Puzzled, I rewatched the video a few times before realizing what it was: the fight’s emotional core.

In the original fight, the focus of the duel is on the emotional state between Obi-Wan and Vader. It’s the first time they’ve seen each other in 20 years. They were once friends and allies who fought to save the Galactic Republic, but are now enemies, and the focus of the fight isn’t on their skills or how powerful their blows are. In fact, most of the fighting is with words: Vader, wanting revenge on Obi-Wan for their duel on Mustafar, tries to crush Obi-Wan’s spirit, proclaiming his power and mastery over the Force. Obi-Wan, however, isn’t moved. He easily brushes off Vader’s taunts and sacrifices himself to help Luke and the others escape.

The reimagined fight, however, takes a different approach. While the verbal spars are still present, a greater focus is placed on the fight itself. And what a fight it is! Lightsabers slice into walls, fires are ignited, punches and headbutts are thrown, the Force is used to hurl both combatants around, and every attack is faster and more powerful than in 1977. It’s a visual treat, and an exciting reimagening of what might have been, had George Lucas possessed the resources to make something dazzling and visceral.

However, there’s a trade-off here: With the cruder lightsaber effects of the time, ‘A New Hope’ had to focus on the emotional aspect of Obi-Wan and Vader fighting. The reimagening’s focus on better, flashier visuals, which, in my opinion, takes the focus away from why the two are fighting. It’s still a fun sequence, but in my opinion, the quieter, more focused fight in the original packs more of an emotional punch. As the sayings go, bigger is not always better, and less is sometimes more: An emotional, intimate focus is what makes the Obi-Wan and Vader fight so compelling, not how they’re great swordfighters.

For writers, the big lesson that comes from comparing the two scenes is that the emotional context behind a fight is more important than the fight itself. All the fanciest moves, the best fight choreography, and the best visual effects money can buy will only get you so far if your audience isn’t invested in what’s going on. Conversely, if your audience is invested in seeing two characters fight each other, you’ll have a much better chance of creating a great fight that will stick with them for years.

Three Fridays: A Comparison of ‘Friday the 13th’ – Part 3

Four months ago, I had no interest in the Friday the 13th series. Yes, I had seen ‘Freddy vs Jason’ on a whim, and I knew that Jason was a near-invincible zombie killer who had slaughtered hundreds of horny teenagers over the years, but that was the extent of my knowledge and interest in his movies. But as I mentioned in my overview of the 1980 movie, I came across a fan-made adaptation of said film. Out of curiosity, I gave it a try, and was hooked, making me curious to see how it compared to the film and the 2009 remake. Today, we’re going to take a look a this adaptation: A fan comic re-imagening the events of ‘Friday the 13th’:

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Click here to read the comic

This comic, created by artist David Hopkins – a furry artist best known for his long running web comic, ‘Jack’ – immediately stands out because the cast are no longer human, but anthropomorphic animals. But don’t let the sight of cute cartoon animals in people clothes fool you: This is easily the bloodiest take on the original ‘Friday’ story. Much like the 1980 movie, the comic tells the origin story of Jason Voorhees and his mother. And, like the best remakes, it takes the original story and reinterprets it in interesting ways. Here, there’s no twenty-year gap between Jason’s death and his mother’s rampage, and unlike the 1980 and 2009 films, where Jason only pops up after Pamela is killed, both of them work together throughout the story to kill counselors, acting like a ghoulish version of Bonnie and Clyde. The other, most significant addition to this take on the story is it’s religious tone: While Jason’s survival was unexplained in the original film, his resurrection here is due to Pamela making a deal with the devil to bring him back to life (in a smart move, the devil is never heard or seen, making him an unseen menace).

The compressed timeline and supernatural elements gives this version of ‘Friday’ refreshingly different from the original, but what elevates it above being a simple slasher story is how most of its focus is on Pamela Voorhees. While she infamously only appeared in the final act of the original film without any foreshadowing, the comic makes her the main character instead of the counselors, letting us learn much more about her: In this interpretation, Pamela is a former member of a group of devil worshippers who eventually left and became a Christian, who then suffers from a horrific crisis of faith when Jason dies, and then backsliding when her pleas to God to bring Jason back aren’t answered.

This expanded focus on Pamela turns her from an already compelling and relatable character into a complex, fascinating individual who is bloodthirsty and ruthless, deeply loving, misguided, and even regretful about what she’s done. It’s easy to understand and related to her pain and goals for vengeance, even as she kills innocent counselors in truly horrific ways.

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Yet, despite all the horror and the gore here, there’s a strong undercurrent of innocence and tragedy here: there are no true villains in the story, only victims. Yes, Pamela stabs, burns, impales, and disembowels teenagers, but only to bring her son back, and ensure that no other children will die from the counselor’s stupidity. The counselors, while having severe lapses in judgement, aren’t evil and care about the kids under their care. Jason becomes a killer, but only at his mother’s urging. And in the end, Pamela has a moment of clarity about what she’s done, but dies and is damned. Jason loses his mother, and Alice is left shell-shocked and a nervous wreck. No one wins, and everyone suffers, turning ‘Friday’ into a tragedy of poor choices, suffering, and loss… but, you know, with cartoon animals!

While I prefer this comic over the 1980 and 2009 films, it does have a few missteps: At one point, Pamela tells Jason that they can kill everyone in the world, which doesn’t make much sense for a woman who initially only wanted to leave Crystal Lake with Jason, and then wanted to get revenge on a specific group of individuals for letting Jason die. Pamela’s famous scene, where she seems to channel Jason while trying to kill Alice doesn’t make any sense here: the film implied that Pamela was losing her mind, but in the comic Jason is right outside the building, making the line and Pamela’s seeming possession unnecessary and confusing.

Still, despite these missteps, this adaptation of ‘Friday’ elevates itself above standard slasher fare by focusing on Pamela and giving her a depth and richness that the films haven’t. Coupled with the grotesque, bloody kills, tight focus, and good pacing, this re-imagining of Jason’s origins is, in my opinion, the best of the three ‘Friday’ origin stories. If you’re looking for a slasher story with an uncommon depth, or a great ‘Friday’ tale, this will easily satisfy that need.

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Now that we’ve taken a look at all three of Jason’s origin stories, all that remains is to done final summary of them all and see what lessons they offer for the writer, a task we’ll dive into next week.

If you’d like to see more of David Hopkins’ work, you can visit his Furaffinity page here. If you’d like to read his JACK webcomic, you can do so here.

(All art on this page is posted with permission from Mr. Hopkins)

Favorite Moments: The Lion King (low budget)

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

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The video:

 

Why it’s great:

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

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

What we can learn from ‘Limbo with Lyrics’

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

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

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

Be cautious when doing making light of real-life horrors

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

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

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

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

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