What’s your charachter’s bedroom like?

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

What is your character’s bedroom like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Favorite Moments: What if Anakin Liked Sand?

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

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The Video

‘What if Anakin Liked Sand?’

Why it’s great

One of my favorite storytelling tropes in fiction is the classic, ‘What if?’, where a an already told story is told again, but with different changes:

*What if the protagonist was evil, and the antagonist good?

*What if the protagonist died before the first act?

*What if the bad guy won?

While comics have been playing with this idea for years, Star Wars has done it only sporadically, with a series of comics that re-imagines the original trilogy with some considerable changes, and an adaptation of George Lucas’ original script. But while all of them are straightforward ‘What if?’ ideas, the video above takes a more comedic approach by playing with what is arguably the goofiest line of dialogue in any Star Wars media:

and turning it into a fairly in-depth discussion about how the Star Wars saga would unfold if Anakin liked… no, loved sand.

What I like about this video is the concept. It’s one thing to do a what-if story based on a serious idea, but rarely do we see one done as a joke around how the most feared Sith Lord in the universe hates sand, and it’s even rarer to see one that’s not only funny (Anakin’s love of sand prevents the Empire from ever coming to power), but somewhat plausible… in a very tongue-in-cheek fashion, of course.

Favorite Moments: Hey guys, what’s going… uhh, nevermind, I’m out of here.

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

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The movie:

‘Terminator 2: Judgement Day’

The scene:

Why it’s great:

Years before ‘The Matrix’ blew up a government lobby, ‘Terminator 2: Judgement day’ had Arnold storming a lobby and taking on armed guards as well (but without killing anyone, which is something Neo and Trinity can’t say). It’s a great scene that oozes 90’s nostalgia for me (blue, silver, and black color schemes, 90’s architecture, synth music, etc.), but I only just learned something about it that’s been hiding in plain sight for decades that only a few people have noticed, which makes me like this scene even more.

At 1:36 in the video, the SWAT team start shooting at the Terminator. But if you look closely in the background, you’ll see a random guy casually walk to the outside windows and peer inside, then turn to walk away. It’s a goof, something that’s easily missed because our focus is on the SWAT team firing away. But I love the idea that in the middle of this big, corporate espionage operation, where the police have barricaded the building and sealed it off, one bored officer decides to take a peek inside, only to see the shooting start and decide that maybe it’s a good idea to turn around and walk away.

It’s little details like this that remind us that, in the world this movie inhabits, there are ordinary people just going about their lives, and, like us, they can be overcome with boredom or curiosity. It’s fascinating to imagine what the events of this movie are like from the perspective of this random guy who has nothing to do with John, Sarah, the Terminator, Skynet, or Judgement Day. I like to think his name is Daryl, and he’s a career cop who really would rather be back at home watching a football game, and is so jaded from his years on the force that not even the sight of a SWAT team blasting away at a guy wearing leather is enough to faze him anymore.

SUPER FUN BONUS FACT: When I was preparing this post, one of the Youtube comments on the video pointed out that there is, in fact, a second random guy in the video, this time at the right of the lobby at 1:47, apparently wearing 90’s oversized headphones. Who is he? Why is he there? Does he even see all the destruction taking place? We’ll never know.

Favorite Moments: To Infinity and Beyond!

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

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The video:

Why it’s great:

Buzz Lightyear’s catchprhase is one of those sayings that so catchy and memorable, but falls apart when you apply logic to it. Robot Chicken takes that logic to show what would happen if Buzz really tried to go beyond infinity, proving that applying reality to inspirational or motivational catchphrases can result in some really funny moments.

I know Kung-Fu: A look at the duels in the Matrix Saga – Finale

Ever since the creation of CGI, Hollywood showdowns have become more elaborate than ever before. Once limited by what could be accomplished in camera, we can now enjoy the spectacle of people flying, jumping, kicking, and beating the tar out of each other in elaborate environments, using feats that could only be accomplished with the aid of computers. However, bigger, better effects don’t always lead to better fights.

The Matrix trilogy, as a whole, mostly avoids the problem of emotionally hollow duels. When taken in as one continuous story, the Matrix saga (including ‘The Animatrix’ and ‘Enter the Matrix’) has a strong start and a strong ending: The stakes are high, the risks are high, and Neo, Morpheus, and Trinity are all in real danger when they fight. But it’s the second act, with ‘Reloaded,’ that things stumble. There’s plenty of fights and duels, but it often feels more like spectacle than a clash where anyone can die, or be seriously injured. The fight against Seraph, for example, feels like padding in a film that’s already taking an unusually long time to get going, and the Burly Brawl – while being a visual treat – adds little to the story beyond showing that Smith can clone himself, and foreshadowing Neo’s final line in the series.

In going through the Matrix series again for these articles, I realized that there was something else I didn’t pick up on until I had seen all the movies and games: Many of the duels and fights in ‘Reloaded’ could be trimmed or even cut out, and that’s because:

1. The duels mostly feel like action for the sake of action.

2. It doesn’t feel like the characters are in danger, or that or that terrible things will happen if they fail

The first and third film’s duels work because it’s clear that if Neo and his companions fail, the repercussions will be awful; when Neo fights Bane onboard the Logos, you can feel the desperation and urgency as he and Bane clobber each other. When Morpheus fights Smith in the first film, you know he’s in a losing battle. People get hurt, scuffed up, and bleed. In ‘Reloaded,’ however, that sense of danger is mostly gone, save for When Neo and Morpheus fight Smith in the hallway on the way to the Architect. Duels frequently end with people and programs walking away none the worse for wear. If both the protagonist and the antagonist are obviously going to walk away unscathed, then there’s no urgency or danger, and the audience won’t be as involved than if they knew that, say, Trinity could have her head cut off with a chainsaw if she fails to outrun Agent Smith.

So, what can we learn from the Matrix series when it comes to duels?

*Any duel works best when it has a strong reason to take place, and that there are repercussions if the protagonist fails.

*Make sure that your characters can get tired and suffer injuries, such as being cut, sliced, smashed, or having broken noses, busted lips, or even snapped limbs (it’s jarring how Neo can fight hundreds of Smiths without so much as a bruise, scrape, or broken glasses).

*Make sure the duel have a solid reason for existing. If it assists or impedes the antagonist and protagonist in reaching their goal and moves the story along, it will likely turn out well. If the duel is primarily to showcase an action scene, it might need to be revamped, or scrapped altogether.

Follow these three guidelines, and we can make duels that grip viewers and don’t let go, whether they’re simple fistfights in a room, or elaborate spectacles made by the best CGI Hollywood has to offer.

If you’d like to reread previous entries in this series (in chronological order), you can find them here:

The Matrix

The Animatrix

The Matrix Reloaded

Enter the Matrix

The Matrix Revolutions

The Matrix: Path of Neo

Favorite Moments: The Ghetto Matrix

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

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The video:

Why it’s great:

No story-related material today, just a guy poking fun at ‘The Matrix: Path of Neo’ and some of its glitches and unintentional comedy. My favorites are the best way to kill someone quietly, and Morpheus’ attempted escape from the skyscraper.

I know Kung-Fu: A look at the duels in the Matrix Saga – Part 5

Last week, we took a look at the two duels featured in ‘The Animatrix,’ and today we’ll look at the only two duels in the final film of the Matrix franchise, ‘The Matrix Revolutions.” But as the old saying goes, quality is better than quantity, and in my opinion, these two duels are among the best in the series.

Neo vs Smith in Real Life

Emotional Context: Neo fights to keep Smith from killing both him and Trinity before they can reach the Machine City and end the war between man and machine.

Analysis: After the spectacle of tightly-choreographed duels in ‘Reloaded’, ‘Enter’ and ‘The Animatrix,’ the first duel in ‘Revolutions’ is surprisingly brutal: Neo or Smith, unable to use their otherwordly abiliites, try to kill each other with whatever they can get their hands on, whether it be their fists, the walls, or power cables. This brutality leads to Smith’s face being coated in blood, poor Neo having his eyes burned out, and ending with Smith’s head being bashed into bloody chunks.

What sets this duel apart from any other in the series is its brutality and horror atmosphere: Neo and Trinity are trapped inside a tiny hovercraft in the abandoned sewer tunnels of humanity’s old cities, miles from help. They’re initially outmatched and outsmarted by Smith, and if they fail to stop him, both humanity and the machines are doomed. And when the fighting begins, there’s no fancy martial arts and no elegant, dance-like fight choreography: Neo can’t fly, stop bullets, effortlessly jump around, or tirelessly fight off hundreds of opponents. Smith can’t dodge bullets, punch through concrete, or otherwise use any of the powers he normally has. Both are evenly matched,  and fancy moves are thrown aside in favor of banging faces against walls, throwing punches as hard as possible, and trying to choke Smith to death, followed by Neo getting an eyeful (haha) of exposed power cables. It’s a visceral example of how brutal fights can be more memorable than fancy ones.

Yet, for how dark and grim this duel is, it smartly lightens the mood by having Neo – having sacrificed his eyes – gain the ability to see the energy put out by machines, allowing him to kill Smith… and even crack a joke to Trinity about how she’ll need to drive, ending an otherwise deadly serious fight with some much-welcomed levity.

The Super Burly Brawl

Emotional Context: Neo faces Smith one final time to stop him from destroying both humanity and the machines.

Analysis: And so, after four years, we finally come to the final confrontation of the Matrix series, the final showdown between Neo and Smith that would decide the fate of Earth and everyone – mechanical or organic – who lived upon it. And like any climax, ‘Revolutions’ holds nothing back in giving us a spectacle worthy for the ages, featuring:

*A fight that will decide whether good or evil will prevail

*A battle at night in the rain

*A fight that spans multiple locations

*Superpowers

*Gigantic sonic booms.

In terms of sheer spectacle, the Super Burly Brawl has no equal in the Matrix saga, both in fighting, and emotional weight: Neo’s fighting to stop Smith from destroying everyone and everything. If he fails, then not only will every single human on earth die, but so will every single machine. That gives every moment where he falters or stumbles dramatic weight, because the consequences of failure are so high. Yet, even as the fight gives us awesome, god-like beings fighting (to one of the most incredible fight scores I’ve ever heard), it does something so many of these series-ending fights rarely do: it has the good guy fail. In what may be the biggest twists in the series, Neo loses the climactic fight. All of his powers, all of his skills, all of the gifts he’s been given as The One aren’t enough to save him.

When I first saw ‘Revolutions,’ I loved seeing Smith and Neo beating the tar of out of each other. But when Neo fell from the sky, and was subsequently beaten into the mud, I was shocked. That wasn’t supposed to happen! Neo’s the good guy, the savior of humanity! He couldn’t lose! I was gripped, trying to figure out on how on earth Neo could still win; after all, lots of protagonists get beaten to a pulp, yet still manage to achieve victory at the last second. But not here. Neo’s beaten so badly that he can barely stand, and then lets himself be absorbed and killed. I was stunned… and then (like so many other fans) spent the next few weeks trying to figure out what happened when all those Smiths exploded.

What makes the final battle of the Matrix saga so good is that it delivers not only spectacle, and emotional weight, but also subverts expectations by having Neo lose, gripping audiences as they try to figure how how he can turn things around in his favor. Then it subverts them even further by having Neo sacrifice himself to let the machines delete Smith through him, showing that a protagonist that lose a battle, but win a war in the process. There’s more than one way to victory, and it isn’t always the path of beating an opponent to a bloody pulp.

And so, with Neo’s sacrifice, we’ve finally finished looking at all the duels in the Matrix saga… Well, almost. Come back next week, where we’ll take a look at one last duel in the series, which may be the most satisfying… and one of the most unique.