The Best Background Characters: Agent Harmon

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 Show:

‘Stranger Things: Season 4’

The Character:

Agent Harmon

The Scene:

Why He Deserves A Moment In The Spotlight

Recently, I watched all four seasons of ‘Stranger Things,’ a show with a great many characters both major and minor, but one of whom stands out as one of the most awesome redshirts you’ll ever see on TV.

For those of you who are unaware, a Redshirt is a minor, typically unnamed character in a movie, show, or book who exists sorely to die and establish how dangerous a situation is for the main characters. Named after the famous crewmembers from Star Trek, they’ve become a joke in pop culture, and I was expecting the two government agents in the fourth season of Stranger Things to be the same.

Boy, was I wrong.

When military spooks break into Will and Jonathan’s house to kill them, I thought agent Harmon would quickly fall like his partner, leaving the boys to fend for themselves. But to my surprise, Harmon immediately morphed from an overweight, lazy, tv-watching agent into a stone-cold warrior who fearlessly takes on an entire squad of soldiers with only a pistol and wins. Granted, he doesn’t kill them all, but he does stop them from getting Will and the others, ensuring that they escape to find Eleven.

What’s so great about this scene is that even though we know so little about Harmon, we quickly become invested in his struggle because we subconsciously know he doesn’t have plot armor and could die at any time, making his fight even more engaging than the main characters who we know are going to survive until the climax of the story. He’s a redshirt who temporarily becomes a main character, one who is responsible for keeping the others alive… but, sadly, at the cost of his life.

Rest in peace, Harmon (AKA, Unknown Agent Hero Man). We only knew you for a few minutes, but you were unquestionably one of the biggest badasses in Stranger Things. If you had gone to the Upside Down with the others in the season finale, you’d have killed Vecna in seconds with that legendary pistol of yours and saved the world.

What We Can Learn From The Resident Evil Film Series: Part 3 – ‘Extinction’

With the conclusion of 2004’s, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, the Resident Evil film series was in a unique position: because of Apocalypse’s open ending, future movies could either stick to the story, characters, and settings of the games, or forge a new path that wasn’t tethered to its source material. While the safest option was the former, the series went with the latter, but with a twist: it would take characters, monsters, and ideas from the games, but explore what would happen if the T-virus escaped into the wider world instead of being stopped time and time again.

The answer? Disaster.

Picking up five years after the events of Apocalypse, Extinction drops us into a world where the T-virus escaped Raccoon city and spread worldwide, causing billions of people to turn into zombies and turning the planet into a barren wasteland on the brink of total collapse. Now, Alice and the few remaining survivors struggle not only to escape the undead, but end the pandemic once and for all (and presumably struggle to find toilet paper). It’s a great setup for (what was supposed to be) a series finale, so let’s see what worked, and what didn’t.

What does the story do well?

It has an opening that sucks the viewer in right away

If there’s one thing that Extinction does truly well, it’s getting the audience’s attention from the very start by having Alice wake up in the shower from the mansion from the first film.

But this can’t be; the mansion was destroyed when Raccoon City was nuked. And then when Alice leaves the main room, she enters the famous laser hallway, and then a hospital hallway, leaving us to wonder if this a dream, a flashback, or something else… only to discover that Alice is actually a clone going through a murder training simulation run by Dr. Issacs.

By showing the audience something familiar, yet mixing up to play with expectations, the movie gets their attention immediately and makes them want to see more.

It has a unique twist on a zombie virus

Most zombie movies have their respective virus turn people (and the occasional animal) into zombies; Extinction mixes things up by having the virus affect water and vegetation as well, something I don’t recall any other zombie film doing.

Granted, this idea is retconned out in future films (and it does bring up the question of if there are undead plants that desire to eat the flesh of the living), but it’s a fascinating idea that makes the T-virus a truly diabolical threat to humanity: by wiping out plants, then herbivores, then carnivores, and eventually the entire food chain, it means that humanity will inevitably go extinct, lending even more urgency to find a cure.

It has a clearly defined goal for the characters

Extinction continues the Resident Evil film series’ tradition of giving the characters a clear, concrete goal to work towards. Here, it’s to reach a settlement in Alaska that’s free of infection, a safe haven in a world that’s dying. By making the film’s goal have a clearly defined finish line, it gives both the characters and the audience something to focus on instead of just meandering around.

The comic relief character has become more mature

While Apocalypse had it’s share of problems, one of the most egregious was making LJ little more than a walking cliche of the trash-talking, sassy black gangster. Thankfully, Extinction corrects this; while LJ is still the story’s comic relief and cracks a few jokes, he’s much more serious this time around, focusing on doing his part for the convoy, trying to save people, and mourning his girlfriend after she dies. You really sense that LJ has gone through a lot in five years and has grown as an individual… which makes it all the sadder when he (and we) realize that his death is inevitable after being bitten by a zombie in the first act.

The post-apocalyptic convoy gets along with each other and has a good leader

One small thing I like about Extinction is the lack of conflict among the survivors in Claire Redfield’s convoy: there’s no infighting, squabbling, or backstabbing. After countless post-apocalyptic tales where everyone is at each other’s throats, it’s a welcome change to have a similar story where people can get along and work together. This also extends to the convoy’s leader, Claire, who – instead of being a tribal warlord who rules through threats and fears – treats those under her care with respect, is honest with them about difficult decisions they have to make, seeks their input before making those decisions, and works hard to keep everyone safe, even if it means charging into battle instead of letting others fight for her.

It has a unique monster that relies on numbers instead of strength

Aside from the zombies themselves, the Resident Evil film series likes to focus on individual monsters to antagonize the heroes; while Extinction does feature a Tyrant at the climax, it is unique in all the films in that it has monsters that rely on sheer numbers to win instead of being bullet sponges, and that’s the undead crows.

While it would be fairly easy to kill a single crow in a fight to the death, having hundreds attack the convoy makes them a much bigger threat that’s impossible to stop with bullets or conventional weapons, making them into a truly unique enemy in the series.

It has a great setting for the final act

Compared to the dark, gloomy settings of the two previous films, Extinction spends most of its runtime in the desert during bright, sunny days. But at the end, Alice has to got into another underground facility to face off against a heavily-mutated Dr. Issacs and save humanity. But it’s not that the facility is deep underground that makes it so compelling: by the time Alice arrives, the place has been wrecked and torn apart by Issacs. There’s no one left alive, all the lights are flickering on and off, and evidence of Issac’s rampage are everywhere. Alice knows that Issacs is somewhere in the facility, and it’s just her against him. And, smartly, the film holds off on showing him as long as it can, letting our minds race and wonder just how grotesque he must look after mutating and inflicting so much carnage.

This buildup is surprisingly suspenseful, and arguably the tensest sequence in the entire series. Having the final battle take place in a replica of the mansion from the first film is also a clever way to end the series where it began (sorta), and using the laser hallway to finish off Issac once and for all is a great example of why bringing back fan favorites to save the day is always a win.

It tones down Project Alice

Compared to the previous film where Alice was an arrogant Mary Sue who could take on anything that came her way with ease, Extinction learns from those mistakes and tones her down considerably, making Alice more subdued and getting rid of her ‘I don’t give a shit’ attitude. And unlike the last movie, the other characters have more opportunities to have their own action scenes and moments to shine without Alice coming in to steal her thunder.

While she’s still the main character and still the focus of this film’s universe, Alice feels more like a normal person, and that’s a welcome change from the previous film.

What could have been improved?

Issacs could have had a more logical plan throughout the film

Dr. Issac’s plan of domesticating zombies to create a loyal work force to rebuild the world is not only silly, but flies in the face of all logic: Considering how the T-Virus has brought humanity to the brink of extinction and turned the world into an uninhabitable wasteland, you’d think that Issacs would realize it makes more sense to destroy the T-virus and everything it’s infected instead of creating zombie butlers, zombie farmworkers, and zombie retail employees, which could have led to an interesting conflict between him and Alice: both groups would want to save the world, but Alice and her companions wouldn’t trust Umbrella or Issacs, a relationship that could have had all sorts of compelling drama. That’s also not factoring in the nonsensical ‘tests’ he has the Alice clones go through. (Why not just grow one and regularly extract her blood instead of wasting an unimaginable amount of resources putting dozens of them through unwinnable deathtraps?)

This point could be negated, however, if we theorize that Issacs is actually using his research as a mask to create an army of super-zombies that he alone will be in control of, allowing him to overthrow Umbrella and become the sole ruler of Earth. It’s still a silly plan, but a bit more logical and reinforces his sociopathic nature.

LJ’s inevitable death could have been explored more deeply

Near the end of the first act, LJ is bitten by a zombie while investigating an abandoned motel and hides this from the others, progressively becoming sicker until he finally succumbs at the end of the second act and bites Carlos before being killed. And while it’s depressing to see the admittingly charming LJ die an undignified death (In the original script LJ actually accompanied Alice into Issac’s underground compact), the movie misses the opportunity to have LJ confess to the others that he’s been bitten, and the drama that would come from that: perhaps the convoy would have decided to let him live long enough in the hopes of finding an antidote, with LJ determined to do as much as he can to help the others before he succumbs. But instead, we get him hiding his zombie bite, which makes the other characters look quite dumb for not realizing that he’s getting progressively sicker and weaker.

The secret facility could have been guarded by more than a single chain-link fence

This has little impact on the story, but it’s improbable that Issac’s super-secret, camouflaged underground fortress is protected from billions of zombies by a single chainlink fence. How it hasn’t been breached after five years of zombies banging against it is beyond me!

It could have cut down on the number of characters

It’s a tale as old as time: a zombie movie comes out, and it’s filled with lots of expendable characters who are only there to be killed off by the undead, and Extinction makes the same mistake of introducing lots of new characters without giving us reasons to care about them. K-Mart, for example, is a teenager who was found in a K-Mart and… that’s all we know about her. Similarly, all we know about Betty is that she’s the group’s medic, LJ’s girlfriend, and the two care about each other.

To the film’s credit, it doesn’t try to make us care about everyone, instead letting most of the convoy’s survivors be nameless masses to be eaten, but it would have been better to cut down on the new characters. Instead of a multi-vehicle convoy with dozens of people in it, perhaps it could be a three-vehicle convoy with a dozen people maximum, giving the story a bit of breathing room to let us get to know them better.

It could have removed the cliffhanger ending

When originally created, Extinction was billed as being the final installment in the Resident Evil film franchise, complete with Alice learning that she can wipe out the virus for good near the end of the movie. Yet, instead of cutting to ten years later where the undead are gone and nature is healing, Extinction ends with Alice waking up her clone buddies in preparation for an assault on Umbrella’s Tokyo headquarters. While this ending would have worked if the series had ended (the main conflict is resolved and Alice has everything she needs to wipe out the virus and bring justice to Umbrella), Extinction doesn’t feel like the end; the story clearly isn’t over, and there’s more to come (an idea that would be revisited later in the series to better effect).

Personally, I find Extinction to be the best of the original trilogy: it manages to achieve a respectable balance between plot and action (along with some really great music), as well as trying to tell it’s own unique story while being faithful to the spirit of the games. It doesn’t do anything overly well, but neither does it falter too much, making a solid, respectable B movie, and would have made a satisfying end to the series… but the truckloads of money it got at the box office ensured that it would rise once more and continue on. Come back next time, where we’ll head into the franchise’s second half with ‘Resident Evil: Afterlife.’

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.

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.’

What We Can Learn From A Nightmare I Had Last Night

Normally most of us try to forget our nightmares, especially the more distressing ones, and I’m no different. But after a particularly vivid nightmare last night, I decided to instead remember it and see what nuggets of writing wisdom could be unearthed.

In the nightmare, I was in a future where poverty, suffering, and desperation was out of control in the United States (in other words, the present-day). But in this nightmare future, kidnapping is a frighteningly common occurrence, and I was only the latest victim. I was kept inside this grungy, run down house by a group of young 20 somethings who didn’t see me as a person but as a product to be used, sold, or traded. Thankfully, I managed to sneak out of the house and tried to run to freedom, including going through the backyard of a house owned by a bear and asking her for help. However, when I was being pursued and realized there was no way to escape, I used the back button on an internet browser to go back in time so I was back at the house to try and figure out a smarter way to escape.

Then, to make matters worse, I was shown why all this suffering was so commonplace: the kidnappings were done in such a way that if you resisted your captors or tried to escape, they responded by digging out your eyes, cutting off your limbs, then digging out your ears, ripping out your teeth, then your tongue, and finally tearing off your nose so you would become little more than a living sex toy to be used however rich people wanted to use you. It was no wonder so many people just meekly went along with whatever their captors wanted.

But it wasn’t just what happened to individuals: the kidnappings were all being orchestrated by an unspeakably powerful gang that was making headroads into the United States, and threatened all members of law enforcement that the fate of being turned into a blind, deaf, mute, and crippled sex toy was what would happen to their loved ones if they tried to stop the gang in each city they went into, and the gang had the power and ability to do so, meaning it was not an idle threat. Against such malevolence, police and federal law enforcement were all but powerless… and that’s when I woke up, thank God.

What did the nightmare do well?

It used the ‘If you try anything we will harm your loved ones’ trope to devastating effect

It may be used time and time again in countless stories, but there is no faster way to make a good character capitulate to evil than by having evil threaten his or her loved ones with horrific suffering. That taps into our deep-rooted desire for our loved ones to be safe, and the terror of something awful happening to them. While simple, it’s always a devastatingly effective storytelling tool (and an excellent way to make your audience eager to see the villains get their equally horrific comeuppance).

It showed evil as cold and indifferent

It’s easy to imagine evil as smug, cruel, and enjoying tormenting people. But the other side of flashy, smug evil can be equally frightening, if not more so: The kidnappers I faced in the story didn’t care about me or my feelings. They were unaffected by screams, pleas for mercy, threats, and begging. To them, captives were just products, and using torture didn’t bother them at all. They were indifferent to human suffering.

That kind of evil is, in my opinion, more frightening because we expect people to be swayed by emotions, even if it’s only to be more cruel and to laugh at our pain and suffering. But people who aren’t moved are like aliens or robots in human flesh: they may look normal, but we realize that something about them is wrong, and we instinctively fear them because they’re unpredictable and could do anything to us without any warning. They are like spiders, always watching you, never betraying any emotions, waiting to strike when you least expect it, and when they do, it’s unexpected and overpowering. At least with people who relish watching you suffer, you know what to expect and can try to prepare. But with these people? You can’t.

Cold and impersonal is the opposite of smug and selfish. Both work in different circumstances, but in my opinion the former is more frightening.

It threatened the protagonist with a fate worse than death

While death is often seen as the ultimate bad ending, there are fates far, far worse: Does spending decades as a limbless, blind, deaf, mute, and helpless living sex toy sound like fun to you? In any case, threatening a character with such a fate is a quick way to show that the antagonists aren’t messing around.

What could be done to improve the nightmare?

The bear could have had more characterization

The bear I encountered was a fascinating individual, as it was a single mother, had a house, and dressed in human clothes. Clearly, it was an intelligent being who was able to hold down a job and afford a house, but when it saw me and heard my pleas for help, it did nothing but stare at me with its stupid bear-face. The nightmare missed out on the chance to show what it would be like to interact with an intelligent, talking animal, but instead chose to do nothing. How lazy.

There was no explanation how time travel worked

In an otherwise rational, logical, and cruel world, there was no dwelling on the fact that time travel was real, or how it worked. There wasn’t even an attempt to explain how pressing the back button on an internet browser allowed me to reverse time and only have me be the one to realize it. What a disappointment.

Conclusion

Though there were some missed opportunities with regards to the bear’s characterization, and being able to time travel using the back button on an internet explorer was out of place in such an otherwise consistent and grim world, the nightmare did an amazing job showing how indifference can be terrifying, and how threatening ourselves and our loved ones with a fate worse than death is evil’s greatest and most powerful tool. That being said, I wouldn’t recommend revising this nightmare, as it really wasn’t fun to watch or experience. I’d recommend something like this instead.

Playing In The Sandbox

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Wendy Torrance Embodies 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She doesn’t give up.

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

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year, everyone.

What We Can Learn From The Star Wars Holiday Special

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

But there’s one experience that all writers dread.

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

The Star Wars Holiday Special.

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

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

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

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

What does the story do well?

AAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGG

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

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AAARRGAGJALHASDLHSDLKHXLKHALKHALEIBBBAAAAAGGGHHH

What could have been done to improve the story?

Why

WHY

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

WHY

Conclusion

THERE IS NO GOD.

Great Quotes About Writing: Survivors Aren’t Fearless

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

***

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

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

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