Perfect Moments: Ellen Ripley’s Message

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

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The Game

‘Alien Isolation’

The Moment

Why it’s perfect

Earlier this week, I suggested a new way of watching the Alien series in order to give it – and Ellen – a more hopeful ending instead of the bittersweet one in both ‘Alien 3’ and ‘Alien: Resurrection’. Part of that new trilogy was the videogame, ‘Alien: Isolation’ because of the strength of its core concept: Ellen’s daughter, Amanda, has spent 15 years searching for any clue about her mother’s fate after she disappeared aboard the Nostromo, and after fighting her way through a decaying space station while hiding from the cosmos’ most terrifying alien, she finally finds a message for her that was recorded by her mother.

When I first played through ‘Isolation’, I almost teared up at this moment. Not only does Sigourney Weaver perfectly play Ellen once more, but bringing an emotional, tragic side of her we almost never see, but the meaning behind this moment is so tragic: This is the first time Amanda has heard her mother in 15 years, and can give her both closure and hope; the novelization of the game reveals that she believes her mother is still alive, and the story ends with her vowing to survive at all costs so she will one day reunite with Ellen. For the first time in over a decade, she has a reason to live, to survive against all odds.

Sadly, it’s not to be:

While Amanda did get closure, and presumably died hoping that her mother was still alive, knowing that the two would never see each other again makes Ellen’s message so perfectly bittersweet.

Perfect Moments: A Shadow On The Wall

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

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The Movie

‘Signs.’

The Moment

Why it’s perfect

No matter the project, and no matter what medium, all storytellers face one problem when telling a story: How do you tell your audience everything they need to know about the main character within the first third of your story? There are countless ways to do so (Many, many, many, many, ways, actually), but I want to take a look at one of my favorite introductions, one that accomplishes so much despite showing so little.

2002’s ‘Signs’ opens with a man waking up in bed inside a house near a cornfield. He listens to see if someone else is awake, picks up some socks, brushes his teeth, and then hears a little girl scream. It sounds boring, but when he’s brushing his teeth, we initially don’t see Graham, just the door to the bathroom and the wall beside it. But on that wall is the faded outline of a vanished crucifix.

In an instant, that outline tells us that something terrible happened to this man, something that made him turn his back on his faith. We don’t know what that event is, but after seeing a family picture of him with a woman who doesn’t appear in the scene, it’s easy to guess. Coupled with the silence of the scene, the dim lighting, and the feeling of loneliness, we know this man has been through a lot, turning him into an underdog who’s trying to recover, but has seemingly given up and has resigned himself to just existing.

I’m still amazed how one tiny detail can tell so much about someone. When done correctly, such a trait can tell us the main problem the character is going to try and overcome, or tell us a lot about their history. Consider the following scenarios and what they tell us:

*We’re in a home. There’s a photo of a a woman and a young girl on the mantlepiece, but we can just faintly see the edges of someone’s pants on the edge of the photo, which looks like it was ripped.

*An old, out-of-shape man eats a microwavable meal for one in his tiny, filthy apartment. On a wall behind him are newspaper clippings and framed magazine covers about a star baseball player who was legendary in his day.

*A group of terrified explorers enters an enormous cave and finds it piled high with hundreds, if not thousands of bones of giant creatures, many covered in gashes. They hear something growling from deeper within the cave.

All three tell us something about characters: The first might revolve around a disgraced husband. The second, an old man who longs for the days when people cared about him, and the third, an unseen beast who has been around a long time, and clearly dangerous. When utilized properly, such small details can reveal so much about a character, even before they appear or talk. In my opinion, that cross in ‘Signs’ is one of the best examples on how to do it right – and in under a minute, no less!

Perfect Moments: ‘Mad Max: Out of Gas’

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

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The video:

‘Mad Max: Out of Gas’

Why it’s perfect:

The post-apocalyptic world of the ‘Mad Max’ universe is a crazy, dangerous, and awesome place, filled with action, crazed lunatics, and some of the most awesome looking vehicles ever to grace the silver screen. It’s a world of desperation and incredible action series as humanity fights to survive and gather all the gazzoline gasoline they need to fuel their engines of war.

But what if all the gazzoline gasoline ran out?

‘Mad Max: Out of Gas’ takes a look at what Max’s world would look life if all the gazzsoline gasoline ran out, and everyone still tried to fight the epic wars and battles of before, but on children’s tricycles. It’s the funniest parody of a post-apocalyptic world I’ve ever seen, and even made my parents – who aren’t action movie fans – laugh while watching.

This world may not be as cool as when it had cars, but it’s certainly a a lot funnier.

Perfect Moments: My favorite Christmas Moment

Because of the Christmas holiday, I’ll be taking a break from posting until January 3rd. But before then, I’d like to share my favorite piece of Christmas related media. It’s not a movie or a TV special, but – of all things – a commercial for Directv.

While Christmas traditions revolve around giving gifts, celebrating the birth of Jesus, and many festivities, the one aspect of the holiday that often gets overlooked is the wish for peace on earth, and goodwill to all.

Imagine a world where there’s no evil or war. A world where everyone – including villans – are at peace with themselves and each other. It’s a dream that only gets more beautiful the older I get… but one that I know will almost certainly never happen. But thanks to this silly commercial, we can have a glimpse of what such a paradise might look like, where Darth Vader, Jason Vorhees, Freddy Kruger, Dracula, The Mummy, Chucky, Hannibal, and the girl from ‘The Ring’ celebrate Christmas with an ordinary family.

Is it cheesy? Yes. Is it goofy? Oh heck yes. There are other movies and stories that are more emotional, more heartwarming, and that inspire us to be grateful for all the wonderful things in our lives, including our loved ones. But this commercial shows us a world where peace, love, and goodwill reign, and everyone – including the most despicable of people – have turned to the light, and that’s why it’s my favorite piece of Christmas media.

Well, that, and seeing this once-in-a-lifetime image:

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(GIF from this page)

May you all have a wonderful and heartwarming holiday season.

Perfect Moments: Fighting with Gabe Logan

 

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

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The Video Game:

‘Syphon Filter: The Omega Strain’ (skip to 8:36 to reach the relevant part)

 

Why it’s perfect:

‘Syphon Filter: The Omega Strain’, while ambitious in design, is, at best, a mediocre game since its release in 2004, due to the lack of an online mode, frustrating trial-and-error gameplay, and a story that has the unenviable task of extending a series that ended perfectly at the end of the previous installment. However, it does have one segment at the end that makes the game worth playing: The player character fighting side by side with series hero Gabe Logan.

When I was growing up, Gabe Logan was my favorite gaming character, beating out the likes of Mario, Sonic, Solid Snake, and so many other video game mascots. I played through all three games of the original Playstation One trilogy, so I was looking forward to seeing how the series had continued in the Playstation Two followup, ‘The Omega Strain.’ Unfortunately, I wasn’t that impressed, due to the limitations mentioned above. Still, I trudged on, creating a digital version of myself to help save the world, trying to find what fun I could in the process.

Then I played the final level.

Near the end of the final mission, I ran into a terrorist base to help stop the nuclear destruction of Russia. It’s a pretty standard mission, with plenty of running, gunning, and dying over and over again, but then something happened that made my inner child scream with glee: my in-game self was face to face with Gabe himself, who needed my help to save the day. And when I had calmed down enough, I unpaused the game and experienced gaming bliss: Gabe and me running through the base, blowing away terrorists in a fight to save millions of innocent lives.

I was fighting side by side with my favorite videogame character, and to this day it remains one of my favorite videogaming moments.

One advantage video games have over all other forms of storytelling is that they give the player to chance to actually interact with their favorite characters, but player-created characters doing so is extremely rare; the only other time I can think of it happening is ‘Sonic Forces,’ but ‘Strain’ remains special for me. I tried playing the ensuing sequels after this one, but didn’t like them, and thus, ‘Strain’ remains the series finale of the Syphon Filter franchise for me, if only for the final level. I began the series as an impressionable teenager guiding Gabe Logan in his quest to defeat the agency, and I finished the series fighting side by side with him, a treat that no movie, book, or tv series has ever come close to duplicating.

Perfect Moments: ‘Combat Rangers!’

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

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The Video:

Fedex’s ‘Combat Rangers’ commercial.

 

Why it’s Perfect

There are some moments in media that beg for deeper explanation, moments that causes us to pause and think deeply on why they move us, prompting lengthy soul-searching in an attempt to better understand ourselves and our desires, our frailties and vices. From such deep prompting, growth and understanding can result, and possibly even enlightenment as we come to understand our place in the cosmos, and what we can do to contribute to it… Or we can just laugh at the sight of muscular toy soldiers going into war wearing tutus and wedding dresses while wielding handbags and umbrellas.

I remember watching this commercial as a kid back in the mid 90’s; back then, I had little comprehension of shipping, manufacturing, and the unseen side of the retail industry, but I didn’t care, as I thought the Combat Rangers were hilarious. Over twenty years later, they still are, and this remains one of my favorite commercials for its use of humor to illustrate what could happen if a mistake is made in shipping goods from overseas. Most of that humor comes from the sheer absurdity of warriors charging into battle wearing attire and weapons so inappropriate it’s absurd, making it an excellent example of ‘fish out of water’ comedy that I love so much: Someone or something taken into a situation that they have no experience or business being in, and doing their best to make it work. In this instance, men dressed in women’s clothing, yet still charging into battle.

To take this idea to it’s logical extreme, imagine how ridiculous, yet hilarious it would be for any modern war movie to have it’s soldiers wearing wedding dresses into combat. ‘Hunter Killer’ may have gotten triple its box office revenue if Gerard Butler and the Navy SEALS were wearing pink ballerina outfits as they battle to save the Russian president. It would be a comedy goldmine.

The very best commercials stay with you years after you’ve seen them, and long after their products have left the market. ‘Combat Rangers’ easily earns its place among those hallowed ads… and I have to confess, that squishy mud sound effect six seconds in never fails to make me laugh.

Perfect Moments: Korn’s Special Powers

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

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The Show

‘Korn’s Groovy Pirate Ghost Mystery’, a ‘South Park’ episode where the band KORN teams up with the kids to solve a groovy pirate ghost (ghost pirate?) mystery.

The Moment

Why it’s perfect

In South Park’s 21 year run, it’s produced countless funny moments, but none have made me laugh harder than seeing KORN turn into actual corn to fight pirate ghosts. It comes out of nowhere, adds nothing to the story, but is so funny that it’s stuck with me since I first saw it back in 1999. The question is, why? I’ve spent years trying to figure out why seeing KORN turn into corn-related products is so funny, and I think I’ve figured it out:

*It is completely unexpected, with no foreshadowing beforehand.

*It takes place during the climax, so the audience is fooled into believing that something amazing is going to happen.

*What happens is so pathetic and ineffective that even the characters in-show are dumbfounded, including the villains.

In other words, the unexpected is presumed to be amazing, but fails so hard that everyone, including villains, are dumbfounded. This comedic formula could be applied to any situation and it would be funny:

*Luke Skywalker activates his X-wing’s special ability during the Death Star Trench run, and the craft turns into a shark balloon.

*James Bond, during a final fight with a villain to save the world, activates a suit of nano-armor that Q gave him, only for it to create something that looks like this, and has no fighting abilities whatsoever.

*In a bid to stop Godzilla from destroying Tokyo, the military sends out and impressive looking mech bristling with death-dealing weaponry. Problem is, it’s actually only 6 feet tall, and useless against Godzilla, who promptly crushes it.

What’s the takeaway here? When our heroes are facing the big bad of a story, having someone use a useless power/ability to try and save the day can – if pulled off well – be hilarious.