Favorite Moments: You, Me, and Optimus Prime

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

‘You, Me, and Optimus Prime’

 

Why it’s great

If you could spend a day hanging out with any fictional character, who would it be? What would you do? Would you go on an incredible adventure together? Go to a sporting event? Take a tour of their awesome castle/floating fortress/ intergalactic space station? Or would you act as two ordinary guys and gals just relaxing and having a good time?

One scene I wish we saw more of in fiction is seeing characters just relaxing and hanging out with friends, especially if those characters are non-humans, such as giant robots, aliens, monsters, etc. In fiction, where every scene should move the story along, there’s not much time for that to happen, but when it does, it taps into our childhood, when we were daydreaming about hanging out with our favorite cartoon and movie characters, conjuring up all sorts of adventures and fun things we would be doing together.

The music video for ‘You, Me, and Optimus Prime’ is a perfect example of such a scene: there are no bad guys to fight (except that dastardly business owner), nobody to save, and no worlds to liberate. It’s just a guy and his giant robot buddy having ice cream, canoeing, fishing, and watching the sunset together. Is it pure fan-service? Yes, but it’s silly, heartwarming, and helps rouse our inner child to remember the joys of imagining hanging out with our favorite characters, and reminding us, as creators, that it’s okay to tap into those fantasies every now and then in our own works.

And yes, I would hang out with Optimus Prime if given the chance. And I would be happy to let him ruffle my hair as we watch the sunset.

What we can learn from ‘The Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny’

 

 

 

There’s one question that has dogged mankind since the moment we could walk upright, form languages, and come into contact with other cultures, a question that every nerd, writer, and child asks at one point in their lives: Who would win if __________ and __________ got into a fight?

There’s no denying how cool it is to see two characters from different franchises, eras, and universes fight it out for dominance, survival, and bragging rights. Admit it: When you were a kid, you loved having all your toys fight one another for no other reason than it was fun. I did; granted, most of my toys opponents tended to be dinosaurs, but it was great. But as we grew up, such questions become relegated to fan fictions or our imaginations as we put our toys away.

Then, come 2005, an animation was posted on NewGrounds that changed Internet culture forever.

I don’t remember when I first saw ‘Showdown,’ but it hooked me from my very first viewing. Here it was, a showdown featuring dozens of pop culture characters duking it out for no other reason that it was cool, set to the beats of a disturbingly catchy song. Now, 13 years later, that song is still as catchy as ever, but what’s great is knowing that this song and video were, at one point, the peak of crossovers, long before the Avengers and cinematic shared universes came into our culture outside of comic books. In a way, this is the precursors to all those things, and though it wasn’t the first, it’s one of the most important.

Though short, this song and music video offers some valuable lessons for those of us who want to write our own crossover fights:

If logic is no object, then nothing is off the table in a crossover

How can Shaq take on Godzilla? Where did all the good and bad guys come from when they started fighting in Tokyo? How can an ordinary human deflect bullets with his hand? Such logic isn’t needed to enjoy the sight of so many characters fighting each other: One part of crossovers that makes them so special is how rare and unique they are. Remember how excited everyone was when Marvel’s ‘The Avengers’ was first announced and then released? It was a once-in-a-decade event and was so exciting because a movie crossover involving so many characters from different films, all fighting together for the very first time in Hollywood history. While we’ve gotten three more such superteam crossovers (soon to be four), ‘The Avengers’ was so memorable that we were willing to accept any flaws or cliches the film had (ragtag group of different individuals fighting amongst each other – literally – before coming together to fight a common enemy), and ‘Showdown’ is the same. It’s so cool to see all these characters fighting that logic is temporarily thrown out the window.

Consider having a good guy fight to save others even during a free-for-all

In a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment in the video, Optimus Prime rushes in to stop a skyscraper from falling after Godzilla hits it with his tail. Though this moment costs him his head, it speaks volumes about Optimus’ character, in that in the middle of a battle to the death between every fictional character, he stops to try and save innocent lives. Doing a similar act for your own fights is a great way to show that someone really is a hero who puts others ahead of themselves.

Consider the pros and cons of focusing on a small group of main characters in a free-for-all

Every story needs a main character that the audience can focus on or follow, and free-for-all battles are no exception. Here, the protagonists are Batman, Abraham Lincoln, Shaq, and Jackie Chan, and most of the video focuses on them. However, consider changing up the roster of secondary characters as your story goes on; while it’s cool seeing Abraham Lincoln wielding an assault rifle, a machete, and go pole-vaulting to try and take on a shape-shifting robot from outer space, I can’t help but feel it would be cooler to have other characters come in during the song’s second act to shine, even if only for a few seconds each. Who wouldn’t want to see, say, Spider-Man running around with a machete, or Solid Snake pole-vaulting into Optimus? Part of the charm of these giant fights is seeing a large group of characters fight, so it’s smart to give everyone time to shine, no matter who they are.

Consider including a character so powerful that it requires others putting aside their differences and teaming up to defeat them

He only does two things in the song (kick Indiana Jones in the crotch and kill Batman), but Chuck Norris’ appearance marks him as the most powerful and badass character in ‘Ultimate’ He’s so powerful, in fact, that it takes the combined might of over 20 other characters to take him down in the bloodiest battle that the world ever saw. And even cooler, most of them would be mortal enemies outside of ‘Ultimate’; where else would you see every single Power Ranger fighting alongside Darth Vader and Benito Mussolini?

The advantage of bringing in uber-powerful characters into your story is that they immediately dominate the battlefield, forcing other characters to to put aside their differences, even if only for a few moments, to work together for their own survival, giving you a unique opportunity to have characters who would never otherwise tolerate each other be forced to do so, leading to moments that are either awesome, funny, or a mix of both as they interact and play off each other.

Consider making the survivor/winner of your big fight an unknown who isn’t a fighter

Just who would win in a winner takes all fight of pop culture characters? Depending on who you ask, there’s an infinite number of possible victors, ranging from the strongest, the fastest, smartest, or the most clever. ‘Ultimate’ bucks that trend by having the victor not be a muscle-bound warrior, a magical wizard, or a dictator, but Fred Rogers, host of ‘Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood’.

What’s great about this ending is that the victor of such a bloody battle isn’t even a warrior, but a kind, gentle man who, by all accounts, never raised his voice or said anything unkind about anyone. It’s unexpected, it’s novel, and even heartwarming to see someone opposed to violence standing as the greatest character in pop culture, and mourning all those who perished (though, personally, I think the seppuku was going a bit too far).

The Takeaway

When doing an incredibly awesome crossover that involves lots of fighting, you have more leeway to break the laws of physics or logic in order to get something cool. Consider following a core group of characters, but remember that your audience will want to see everyone get a moment to shine, especially when dozens of them have to team up to take down a particularly powerful character, and to see good guys/gals doing little deeds to try and help others, even at the cost of their own personal safety. And when it comes to endings, consider having someone unexpected win, instead of the most popular character.