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.

***

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.

Favorite Moments: A Balrog Talks

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.

***

The Video

Why it’s great

One of the biggest advantages licensed video games, books, and comics have is the ability to expand upon a fictional universe, to fill in gaps, holes, or just explore unseen parts of a mythology. Sometimes, though, they can also clarify and add onto that mythology in small, but meaningful ways. With no new books in JRR. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth set to come anytime soon, video games based upon both the films and books have stepped up to allow fans of Tolkien’s universe to continue exploring Arda and uncover its secrets (though how these secrets fit into the established cannon varies considerably).

‘Middle-earth: Shadow of War’ follows Talion, a Gondorian warrior who, after becoming best buddies with a long-dead Elf king out for revenge against Sauron, becomes an half-dead zombie lich thingy after sharing his… oh, whatever. It’s an excuse to run around in Mordor and troll Sauron by killing as many of his orcs as possible. Because this particular game (and it’s predecessor, ‘Shadow of Mordor’) take a loose interpretation of Middle-earth lore (and that’s putting it lightly!), it lets the player fight a balrog. While such moments happen in other Tolkien-licensed games, what sets this encounter apart  is that, for the first time in any piece of Tolkien media – licensed or original – we hear a balrog talk.

For those who are unaware, balrogs are ancient demons who existed before the creation of the physical world in Tolkien’s mythology. But these aren’t mindless brutes: They’re intelligent spirits who joined with Melkor (Tolkien’s Satan) in an attempt to corrupt and destroy everything for the lulz (presumably). However, while they can make noises, such as roars, screams, and yells, the only intelligent speech they give is described in vague terms, such as them giving commands or mocking enemies. ‘Shadow of War’ is the first time where we actually hear one of these demons talking, and while we get subtitles, they’re not translated, leading us to wonder what on earth it’s saying, as best embodied at 8:42 in the video above:

Balrog: Onguk nakhân

Talion: What did he say?!

Celebrimbor: Does it matter?

It’s moments like these that make me appreciate how much expanded universe material can add to a franchise: Here, we get a moment that humanizes (for lack of a better word) a demonic being; in the books and movies, balrogs are incredibly dangerous demons who excell at killing things. Here, one is given a voice, showing that they’re sentient beings who can think, plan, tell knock-knock jokes (unconfirmed), and, presumably, have personalities. That allows us to see balrogs in Tolkien’s works in a new light by letting us imagine what their personalities might be like, adding more depth and layers to Tolkien’s world, as all great expanded universe material does: It doesn’t replace or supersede what’s come before, but adds to it, and makes it more enjoyable than before.

And all of this from a demonic spirit talking. Not bad!

By the way, if you’re curious as to what the balrog is actually saying, one of the game’s developers posted all of its translated speech here. If you’d like to read some debates about Balrogs and their vocal traits, click here.

Favorite Moments: Jurassic World Battle Royale

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.

***

The Video

Why it’s great

Here’s an interesting mental exercise to try when you’ve finished your next book or screenplay: If all the characters in your story were put into an enclosed area and forced to fight to the death, who would win?

That’s the premise behind this video, which features every dinosaur in the game, ‘Jurassic World Evolution’ (up to that point) released into a single, large enclosure to fight for survival, and see who would come out on top. As you might imagine, it’s… well, it gets pretty chaotic as herbivores and carnivores duke it out to see who wins the privilege of being the last one standing, to have the privilege of being lord of all they survey, to stand tall on Isla Nublar and bellow forth their call of triumph as they’re pelted with popcorn by gawking tourists for the rest of their lives.

While I’ve always found massive free-for all battles fascinating, it wasn’t until this video that I realized why: The fewer contestants there are, the higher the drama gets, and if one of your favorite characters is among the last few standing, you’ll hope against hope that they’ll survive (I was rotting for the Spinosaurus and the T-rex), even though fortunes can turn in an instant, and death is only one mistake away.

What we can learn from: ‘Two Best Sisters Play – Red Dead Redemption 2’

(Note: This video contains language that is not safe for work)

If you’ve been following cartoons over the past several years, you’ve probably been exposed to the phenomena that is ‘My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic,’ a cartoon that transcended barriers and gained fans outside of its young girl demographic, inspiring a great number of fan artwork, music, crafts, and video series. One such series I’ve enjoyed over the years is, ‘Two Best Sisters Play’ (I’ve pointed out one of their episodes before), but the latest entry, which features the two playing ‘Red Dead Redemption 2’ (Actually the PS2 game ‘Gun’), is my favorite one yet, thanks to one fantastic joke.

For instant comedy, consider having animals doing routine human things

My favorite part of ‘Two Best Sisters Play Red Dead Redemption 2’ isn’t the fact that we have two anthropomorphic horses running around in cowboy outfits in a Playstation 1 styled game, but that the non-anthropomorphic animals engage in hilariously unexpected antics: When Celestia gets into a duel with a small dog, the dog whips out a revolver and blasts her, horses take six shooters and shotguns to blast buffalo, and a grizzly bear duels Luna in a game of scrabble (before shooting her with a revolver).

While Hollywood wisdom says not to work with animals if you can help it, animals – whether real, CGI, or written – can provide instant comedy by doing ordinary human things, like flying fighter jets, getting into gunfights, trying to get a printer to work at the office, and attacking zombies with chainsaws. Audiences are caught off guard by the absurdity of animals behaving like people, and will be gripped as they try to wrap their heads about what’s going on (as well as trying to figure out just how a horse can hold a shotgun). Note that this applies to everyday things we humans do, not tricks done for novelty’s sake.

Favorite Moments: Journey (Alternate Ending)

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

***

The video game:

‘Journey’

Why it’s great:

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

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

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

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

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

I know Kung-Fu: A look at the duels in the Matrix Saga – Part 3

This week, I was going to take a look at the duels in the movie, ‘The Matrix Revolutions’, but I realized there were two other chapters of the Matrix series that I had forgotten about: The 2003 direct-to-dvd anthology series, ‘The Animatrix,’ and the videogame, ‘Enter the Matrix,’ which looks at the events of ‘The Matrix Reloaded’ from the perspective of Niobe and Ghost, two minor characters who appeared briefly in the film and its follow-up. While neither are required viewing for fans of the films, both do a good job expanding the Matrix universe, and today, we’ll take a look at the duels in ‘Enter.’

Please note that while there are several duels in in ‘Enter the Matrix,’ many – like Niobe and Ghost’s fights against the leaders of the Merovingian’s vampire and werewolf henchmen – add little to the story beyond needing to defeat an enemy to progress or rescue someone, so we’ll be looking at the more substantial and interesting fights.

Niobe vs Agent Johnson

Emotional Context: Niobe has to defeat an agent so she can escape with her life

Analysis: The first big duel of the game has Niobe saving one of her fellow Zion operatives from the cargo hold of a C-5 galaxy in flight. But after saving him, she then has to deal with an agent; unlike Neo, Niobe is an average Matrix operative who can’t stop bullets or fly. She’s facing a foe far stronger, faster, and more skilled than her, and who can’t be defeated with martial arts or bullets, while trapped on a plane and unable to escape.

This fight is a good example of how duels can be more interesting when one character is hopelessly outmatched, and victory is a matter of surviving, not killing an opponent. In this instance, Niobe – the underdog who doesn’t stand a chance of defeating Agent Johnson in a one-on-one fight – triumphs by opening the cargo hatch and knocking Johnson off the plane.

Ghost vs Trinity

Emotional Context: Ghost and Trinity spar to let off some steam and relax

Analysis: Much like Neo sparring with Morpheus in the first film, this duel is not about killing anyone or fighting to complete an objective in the war between humans and machines. It’s two characters relaxing during some downtime by sparring with each other. It’s easy to label this fight as pure fanservice, as it gives players the chance to duel Trinity, and could be cut from the game without affecting the storyline. But it does help to build upon ‘Enter the Matrix’s most surprising storyline: Trinity’s relationship with Ghost. Unlike so many other love triangles featuring people squabbling and sparring over who loves who, ‘Enter’ has both Ghost and Trinity acknowledge that while they love each other as friends, their relationship will never go beyond that, and they’re okay with it.

Ghost vs Agent Johnson

Emotional Context: Ghost has to defeat an agent so he can blow up a nuclear power plant, or the mission will fail, Neo will not be able to see the Architect, and every human on Earth will die. So, no pressure or anything

Analysis: This duel plays out almost exactly like Niobe’s fight against Johnson on the C-5 earlier in the game, with an underdog having to defeat a superior opponent using their wits. What’s different, though, are the stakes. Earlier, Niobe was saving a fellow Zion operative. Here, Ghost has to keep Agent Johnson from killing him so that the reactor can be destroyed, allowing Neo to save humanity. If Ghost dies, the plan will be thrown into chaos, and Neo will fail, raising the stakes and giving the outcome of the fight much greater weight.

Ghost/Niobe vs Seraph

Emotional Context: Ghost/Niobe have to prove themselves to Seraph so that they can see the Oracle

Analysis: Much like Ghost’s fight against Trinity, this duel is about giving players another opportunity to fight against one of the characters from the films. However, unlike Neo’s spar with Seraph in ‘Reloaded,’ the duel doesn’t slow down the pacing of the game’s story, since it comes later instead of earlier. It also explains that Seraph doesn’t fight people to see who they are, but to test their heart’s resolve, a much more focused and specific answer than, ‘you do not know someone until you fight them.’

Tune in next week, where we’ll take a look at the duels in ‘The Animatrix.’

Favorite Moments: Futureman’s Bright Idea

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.

***

The video:

Why it’s great:

We’ve all experienced a moment where our best-laid plans fail spectacularly. At the time, there’s nothing funny or amusing about it, as we’re usually too blinded by embarrassment, shame, and grief. But as Futureman’s video shows, there’s great comedy to be found in gearing up for something that will look amazing… only to fail so spectacularly that all you can do is either laugh or sit there in stunned silence.