Thursday, May 10, 2018

Looking Back on Loki - Part 2


SPOILER ALERT!!

THIS ESSAY WILL ALSO GIVE AWAY THE BEGINNING OF THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR. IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE MOVIE YET AND YOU DON'T WANT ANYTHING IN IT TO BE RUINED, SEE IT BEFORE READING THIS.

IF NOT FOR YOUR OWN SAKE, THEN DO IT FOR LOKI'S.

--

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

It's worth mentioning that during this film's post-production, actor Tom Hiddleston appeared in character as Loki at the 2013 San Diego Comic-Con. He "interrupted" a sneak preview of Thor: The Dark World, scolded the crowd for not accepting him as their king the summer before, then vowed to show them the preview if they pledged their loyalty to him. Needless to say, the crowd got their preview and the God of Mischief gained a wildly supportive army that day.

I bring this up because it showed how aware Marvel was of Loki's popularity at the time, as well as how keen they were to play to it. I think that contributed a lot to his role in The Dark World.

The filmmakers knew we wanted to see him turn good and team up with Thor. They knew we debated if and how he would die in future films, and they knew how much we wanted to see him succeed for once. Because of this, there was a real sense that they toyed with our expectations for Loki in the second Thor filmand the end result was perfect for his character.

Loki hit rock bottom in The Dark World. Not only was he disgraced before all of Asgard, but Odin seemed to disown him and left him virtually powerless by imprisoning him. Then, when Loki thought things couldn't get worse, he caused the death of his adoptive mother Frigga. The dark elf Malekith invaded Asgard, and when a henchman named Kurse found Loki in the dungeon, Loki told him the way to the throne room. He did this for revenge on Odin, but it was Frigga that Kurse killed instead.
 
This made Loki snap again. Now there really was no salvaging his life, and with Thanos no doubt hunting him down after his failure on Earth, he knew his days were numbered. This and his rage over Frigga's death made him decide to cooperate when Thor asked him to help stop Malekith. This would only mean temporary freedom for Loki, but that was all he needed to carry out his new plan.

His chance came during a fight between him, Thor, and Kurse on the dark elves' home world. Loki killed Kurse, saving Thor and avenging Frigga, but he was wounded in the process. Thus we got the scene we were expecting where he died dramatically in Thor's arms after redeeming himself. The twist was that it wasn't real.

To my knowledge, it's never been confirmed if Kurse really stabbed Loki, since Loki's powers allowed him to cast illusions of such things. Either way, he wasn't fatally wounded, but he took advantage of Thor's emotional state and faked his own death. Thor was forced to leave him behind and pursue Malekith, one of Odin's guards found Loki, Loki killed the guard and assumed his appearance (possibly even disguising the guard's body as his own), and returned to Odin. After that, he used his powers to trap Odin on Earth, assumed his adoptive father's appearance, and took on a new life as the King of Asgard. At long last, the God of Mischief had succeeded.


What's interesting is that he never sought further revenge on Thor after his brother defeated Malekith and came home. Thor had broken Loki out of prison and committed treason by leaving Asgard, so no one would have questioned a steep punishment for the God of Thunder, but Loki allowed Thor to go free and live happily on Earth with his human friends. Maybe he had made some kind of peace with Thor during their time together, maybe he couldn't properly restrain Thor since he didn't have any of Odin's powers, or maybe he thought that letting Thor leave Asgard on good terms would minimize suspicion towards himself. Whatever the reason, fully pardoning his brother after everything they had put each other through showed growth on Loki's part.



Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

It would take four years for Loki to show up again in the MCU. He was supposed to make a cameo in 2015's The Avengers: Age of Ultron when Thor had a vision of Asgard's destruction, but like a lot of things in that film, he was cut for time. Between that and all the questions that The Dark World had left us with, there was still a good amount of excitement for Loki's comeback in Thor: Ragnarok.

To put it simply, this Thor movie turned out to be very different from the first two. It's said that director Taika Waititi, best known for comedies, was given free reign with Ragnarok, so there ended up being way more emphasis on humor than drama this time around. For Loki, this meant giving us a more cowardly, inept, and silly God of Mischief than we were used to seeing.

In terms of the narrative, this character inconsistency can actually be justified. Loki spent his whole life seeking admiration and eventually power, and once he gained both at the end of The Dark World, he had no goals left to work towards. This caused him to lose a lot of his drive and his edge over the four years he spent disguised as Odin, and not having to worry about Thanos finding him anymore allowed him to become oblivious to the world around him. It made sense that after Thor caught on and exposed him as an imposter at the start of Ragnarok, Loki had to spin his wheels a bit before finding a new direction in life.

He hit rock bottom again after Thor made him take them to the real Odin on Earth. The brothers found their father moments before he died, and although Odin forgave Loki, his death was one betrayal too many for Thor to do the same. The final nail in the coffin came when Thor's half-sister Hela sensed Odin's passing and seized control of Asgard.

The best Loki could think to do was give up on his home again and simply look out for himself. When he and Thor became stranded on the planet Sakaar, he quickly schmoozed his way into favor with its ruler, the Grandmaster. He made one half-hearted attempt to help Thor, mostly so he could brag about his new social status, but when Thor still wanted nothing to do with him, Loki tried to betray his brother for financial gain. Thor outwitted him though, saying that Loki's refusal to be more than the God of Mischief had made him predictable, and escaped back to Asgard without him.

This marked the ultimate turning point for Loki. All his schemes of the past seven years had been for nothing, and having Thor completely give up on him this time made him finally realize what he had ruined between them. What was more, he had no guarantee that he would be safely hidden from Thanos on Sakaar. There was a chance he might die soon anyway, so why not die doing something genuinely admirable?

After making his own escape from Sakaar, Loki took his brother's words to heart and returned to Asgard to help Thor defeat Hela. This involved destroying their home like Thor had foreseen, and it was Loki who set that destruction in motion. Curiously enough, he had to do it in Odin's vaultthe same room where he had first learned of his Frost Giant lineage. The ship that he had arrived on allowed Asgard's people to evacuate in time, and Loki further proved his loyalty by joining them on their voyage to Earth. It was during this voyage that he made his peace with Thor and watched his brother assume the role of Asgard's new king.


It seemed like Loki was finally a real hero, but in the midst of it all, he had secretly made another huge mistake in another moment of weakness.



The Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

And that brings us to the grand finale. Infinity War is still less than two weeks old, and it's already broken the record as the fastest movie to ever gross $1 billion at the box office. It's well on its way to becoming the highest grossing film of all time, and I think that's largely because of how many upsetting character deaths occur throughout the plot. Fans want to figure out how the next Avengers film will resolve things, if it even can, and a good way to look for clues is by watching Infinity Wars again. And if that doesn't work, then at least they'll get the most out of what could be their favorite characters' final appearances on the big screen.

The film is shocking and bleak, and Loki's death in the opening scene sets that tone perfectly.

His huge mistake at the end of Ragnarok was stealing the Tesseract from Odin's vault before he escaped from Asgard. Loki did this on impulse as well, not because he wanted a peace offering for Thanos, but because he remembered how powerful the device was and couldn't resist the thought of possessing it again. Now that the Tesseract was away from Asgard though, Thanos could sense the Infinity Stone inside of it and was able to track down the Asgardians' ship in space. The Mad Titan boarded their ship, and in a horrible twist of irony, half the people that Loki had helped to rescue were slaughtered before his eyes.

Even then he wouldn't hand over the Tesseract, since he knew what his enemy meant to do with the stone inside. It wasn't until Thanos started torturing Thor in front of him that Loki revealed the device, though he still didn't give up. He stalled for time so the Hulk could attack Thanos, and when the Hulk lost that fight, Loki attempted to finish the job himself.

Loki often defeated opponents by distracting them with illusions of himself and then striking from behind. However, he didn't do that this time; perhaps he decided he was through with hiding. Instead he faced Thanos himself, pretended to offer his services again, and tried to stab his former ally in the throat. Sadly, the God of Mischief really had become predictable, and after stopping the blow, Thanos lifted him into the air by his neck while Thor watched helplessly. Loki declared that the Mad Titan would never be a god, then Thanos killed him with one squeeze. The last we saw of Thor's little brother was his body lying on the floor while the God of Thunder grieved over him.


~

I've heard complaints that this sendoff for Loki was anticlimactic, but I disagree. The scene pretty much covered all the bases it needed to for his story arc: proving that he valued his brother's life more than his own ambition, having him team up with two of the Avengers to an extent, showing that he'd accepted his past by stating he was Odin's son but not an Asgardian, and letting him get in a few last tricks and interesting lines. I even kind of like that his death was so simple and blunt this time. He already had an epic sci-fi spectacle death in the first Thor film and a dramatic Shakespearean death in the second, so it was fitting that his third death had none of those theatrics. That sold the reality of it so much more.

As for killing him in the first scene, I understand why it was done. We needed a reason to personally hate Thanos, and the film needed to show us how high the stakes had grown. Also, I'm not sure what else the writers could've done with Loki in this film. What made him so interesting was his moral conflict, the question of whether or not he would become one of the heroes. When he did that at the end of Ragnarok, he completed his arc. If he'd survived and been just another good guy throughout Infinity War, I think he would've been a lot less interesting, and if he'd become a villain or a double agent again, I think it would've felt too contrived. Besides, his death became Thor's main motivation to destroy Thanos, and since this was brought up multiple times, it still felt like Loki had a presence throughout the film.

Production photos of the fourth Avengers movie have surfaced since Infinity War's release. Because they appear to take place during the events of the first film and feature the characters wearing mysterious wrist devices, fans have speculated that the story will involve time travel to undo the final moments of Infinity War. It's possible that Loki could "return" that way, with Thor encountering a past version of his brother. There's also hope that he might come back from the dead as a result of the Avengers meddling with the past.

Personally, I think the best way to bring him "back" would be in spirit, with Thor either using the Infinity Stones to connect with him or by dying as well. It'd be a fitting and poignant end for the God of Thunder to sacrifice himself for the universe and then have his brother lead him to Valhalla as a reward. We'll just have to wait and see.

If this is the last time we'll ever see Loki, I'll close with this: When he first saw himself as a Frost Giant, he wondered if he was cursed. He was right in a way. His curse was that for all the cunning and strategic thinking he possessed, his emotions were always what ended up dictating his choices. In this regard, he was more like Thor than he wanted to believe, and since he never had the same opportunity as Thor to learn self-control, his emotions continued to sabotage him at every turn. When he saved the Tesseract from destruction on a whim, the penalties of this curse became cataclysmic.

Still, there was a way Loki could have kept the Tesseract out of Thanos's hands. All he had to do was keep it cloaked in invisibility, refuse to say it's location, and let Thanos kill Thor. That would have been the more sensible choice in the grand scheme of things, since Thanos wanted the Infinity Stones to "save" the universe by committing genocide. However, Loki's emotions pushed him to reveal the device in exchange for his brother's life.

Several other characters, mostly the heroes, had to choose between someone's life and an Infinity Stone throughout the film. Most of them gave up the stone to spare the person's life. The only willing exception was Thanos, who tortured one of his own children and killed another to claim a stone. Loki may never have quite been a hero, but in the end, he had more in common with the heroes than he did with the villain. The son of Odin who had once tried to kill his brother and save Asgard by also committing genocide had replaced his hate with compassion, and his emotions made the better choice as a result.

In the end, Loki understood the value of life, and that's no curse.




Sunday, May 6, 2018

Looking Back on Loki - Part 1


Well, it's been a little over a week since the premiere of The Avengers: Infinity War, and like many fans, I'm still reeling from the film and pondering what to expect in its sequel. I feel like enough time has passed that most people who wanted to see the movie already have, so a spoiler warning might not be needed, but to be safe, here's mine:

SPOILER ALERT!!

THE ESSAY YOU'RE ABOUT TO READ WILL GIVE AWAY THE BEGINNING OF INFINITY WAR.

YES. THIS MOVIE IS SUCH A COLOSSALLY EPIC ENDGAME THAT EVEN THE BEGINNING CAN BE RUINED.

--

With that said, I want to talk again about my favorite character, Loki. He's one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's oldest, most pivotal, and most popular figures, as well as one of its most compelling villains. That's why it came as a huge shock to a lot of viewers, including myself, when the Mad Titan Thanos abruptly killed him in the opening scene of Infinity War. It's probably one of the top three saddest deaths in the whole film, which is no small feat, so I'm writing this two-part essay as an in-memorium of sorts. It's a film-by-film look back on Loki's story arc throughout the series that hopefully does justice in showing what a terrific character he was.

We have five movies to discuss, so in the words of the late God of Mischief, "Send the rest."



Thor (2011)

According to screenwriter Zack Stentz, Marvel Studios gave the writers of the first Thor film a very specific instruction: "Give us a villain as good as Magneto." Magneto was the villain of the original X-Men film trilogy, and his goal was to wipe out humanity so that his people, the mutants, could inherit the Earth. This didn't stem just from a feeling of superiority over humans, but also from the horrors he endured as a child in a Nazi concentration camp. Magneto's goal was to protect his new people from those who distrusted them, which he couldn't do during the Holocaust, and the hate that drove him to pursue this goal turned him into the same monster that he was trying to defeat. He was a villain who thought he was the hero, and no one could tell him otherwise.

With this in mind, the writers of Thor gave us Loki. As Thor's jealous, overlooked younger brother, his goal was to lie, scheme, and manipulate in order to keep the God of Thunder from becoming King of Asgard. This type of villain may have seemed like a tired trope at first, but the writers knew how to make him more engaging as the story unfolded.

Hence, we got a scene where Loki discovered that he wasn't Thor's brother at all; he was the abandoned son of the Frost Giant Laufey, Asgard's enemy, and Thor's father Odin took him in as a baby and turned him into an Asgardian to raise him. What's more, when Loki confronted Odin about this, we learned that his adoption wasn't strictly an act of kindness. Odin also wanted to raise Laufey's son on Asgard as a way to eventually bring peace between their races. It just happened to involve lying to Loki about who and what he was for most of his life while always showing him less favor than Thor for reasons he couldn't understand.


If I had to pinpoint the exact moment when the whole Loki fan train started, it would probably be that scene. His tragic backstory was the kind that the protagonist usually had in a superhero film, not the antagonist, and Odin's flimsy explanation for keeping it a secret really made viewers side with Loki in that moment. And that's the core of what won us over. We could side with Loki. Unlike with Magneto, who was always pitted against people with a clear moral high ground, we were made to see Loki's view of everything very early on and could genuinely believe he was in the right.

Thor would make a terrible king. He was a complete loose canon who almost got Asgard into a full-scale war with the Frost Giants, and Loki getting him banished to Earth was probably the safest way to keep things from escalating. Loki didn't even really want to be king in Thor's place. He just didn't want the only home he'd ever known to be placed in the hands of an idiot.

It wasn't until much later in the film, after he'd learned the truth about himself, that we learned Loki's new goal. Along with wanting to protect Asgard, he now wanted to have Thor killed on Earth and impress Odin by wiping out the Frost Giants. He wanted to set up a crisis that would prompt Asgard to end their truce with Laufey, and with Thor gone, he would be the one to defeat their enemy. He would be the hero that everyone in Asgard admired.


If this had been Loki's goal from the start, we might have felt differently about him, but we saw what made him snap and decide to do this. That gave us hope that he could be reasoned with and brought back to his senses before going through with his plan. In the end though, he couldn't be reasoned with, and after Thor saved the day and Loki saw Odin's disappointment in him, he abandoned his home and sent himself hurtling into a black hole in space to his supposed death. Everything he had ever known was a lie and he saw no way to salvage it, so in a moment of weakness, he gave up.



The Avengers (2012)

Released one year after Thor, The Avengers was one of the biggest movies of the 2010's. Not only had it been hyped up for four years with a string of prelude films, but it ended up being every bit the action-packed, crowd-pleasing popcorn blockbuster that it had promised to be. It's made Marvel Studios pretty much the king of the box office to this day, and since Loki came back as the villain in The Avengers, he was bound to leave way more of an impact on viewers this time around.

And of course, he did. I would daresay he even gained a bigger overall fanbase than any of the heroes after this movie. It's easy to see why too; he was working towards a different goal from all the other characters, so he stood out, and since he had an underdog backstory, you still kind of rooted for him. Also, it was entertaining as hell to watch him try and maintain his dignity throughout his increasingly hilarious defeats. Loki had the same insecurities and emotional conflict as before, but instead of being depressed about his shortcomings, he was trying to stay confident and enthusiastic. You kind of had to admire that.

This wasn't to say though that Loki was totally eager to conquer the Earth in The Avengers. One of the human characters, Agent Coulson, even observed that the God of Mischief didn't have enough conviction in what he was doing for him to succeed. I didn't read many fan theories at the time, but my understanding was that Thanos found Loki floating in space after Thor, recruited him, offered him the chance to prove himself by stealing the Tesseract from Earth, and Loki took that offer in exchange for being allowed to rule Earth afterwards. He made this deal somewhat impulsively; he was still angry at Thor, so taking over the planet that his brother had grown to love sounded like the perfect revenge at the time. Loki soon realized that he was in over his head with Thanos, but it was too late to back out of the deal by then. We even got a scene in The Avengers where Loki was told that Thanos would torture him beyond imagination if he failed to complete his mission.

If Loki wanted to survive, he would have to reinvent himself and fully embrace his conquest of Earththe "glorious purpose" that he was now burdened with. This seemed to work at first, so much that his mission even delighted him at times, but then Thor came to stop him. That was what stirred up Loki's conflicted feelings again and made him start to lose momentum. Thor wasn't just ordering him to give up his mission, he was offering to bring him home and help him pick up the pieces of his old life. It was extremely tempting, but since Loki still yearned for respect and feared punishment from Thanos, he did whatever he could to remove that temptation. That was why he tried to kill Thor in the middle of the film and then stabbed him during the climax when Thor was starting to get through to him. He didn't have the conviction to win those arguments otherwise.

Not that any of it paid off in the end. The Avengers defeated Loki's invasion army, the Hulk wiped the floor with him, and Thor took both his brother and the Tesseract to Asgard to be locked up forever. This was actually where Loki's story arc in the films was supposed to end, but once Marvel saw how much the fans loved him, they knew they had struck gold with this character. They had a villain who was better than Magneto now, at least from a marketing standpoint. They had a charming, mysterious, and sympathetic villain who added genuine dramatic weight to Thor's storyline even at the silliest of times. If they wanted to keep making successful Thor movies, then they had to keep Loki around.



To be continued in Part 2...




Tuesday, May 1, 2018

"The Last Good Man" Now Available

My brand new post-apocalyptic novel The Last Good Man is now available on Kindle for $2.99. Check it out at the link below, spread the word, and please be sure to leave a review if you enjoy the read!


The end of the world was the best thing to ever happen to Jodi Sullivan. Once an abused recluse who struggled to support herself, the girl is now free to wander the woods and take what she pleases from anyone, even though she rarely sees other people anymore. She's finally in control of her life, and she's not about to give up that control.

All of this changes one day when she crosses paths with Owen, her ex-brother-in-law, while a team of armed soldiers pursues him. He's the last person Jodi would ever want to help, but her need to know her missing sister's fate drives her to become his guide—while hiding her identity from him, of course. She soon learns that a deadly virus caused the apocalypse, and Owen has stolen a cure from the government in an effort to save mankind.

Now the chase is on as the two try to keep a step ahead of Owen's pursuers. Every stage of their journey will test their survival skills, their loyalty to each other, and most of all, their faith in people. Will Jodi put aside the past and help give the human race another chance, or will she decide once and for all that it's not worth saving?



--

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Thoughts on Channel Awesome


Maybe it's late for me to start talking about this, but this is how long it's taken me to absorb what's been going on and decide how I feel about it.

That subject is the controversy surrounding Channel Awesome right now. For anyone who doesn't know, Channel Awesome is an online review site that was founded roughly ten years ago under the name of That Guy With The Glasses. It featured video reviews of movies, video games, and other forms of popular media, and while it featured the work of numerous critics, its first and most famous one was Doug Walker, who played a character called the Nostalgia Critic. Walker and his brother Rob were the channel's founders while a man named Mike Michaud was its CEO.

The controversy is that several critics, artists, and employees who had left Channel Awesome for various reasons over the years recently released a Google document that details their experiences with the site. Released on April 2nd (perhaps so people wouldn't mistake it for an April Fool's joke) the 74-page document is called "Not So Awesome" and gives countless examples of how the people in charge of the site mistreated these former contributors. Practically everything under the sun is listed, including misogyny, sexual harassment, bullying, negligence on set, forcing people to sign waivers after getting injured, failure to use Indigogo earnings for their intended purpose, and even a claim that Channel Awesome knew of an alleged child groomer/rapist among its content producers for over a year before taking action. The release of this document subsequently led to an entire online movement known as "Change the Channel," which has led to much discussion among fans of Channel Awesome.

Here's a link to the full "Not So Awesome" document if you'd like to read it:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1WZFkR__B3Mk9EYQglvislMUx9HWvWhOaBP820UBa4dA/preview#

Channel Awesome issued two written responses to this document. The first was a brief non-apology that literally said "We're sorry you felt that way." The second listed the document's most heinous accusations and gave somewhat questionable evidence against each one. This included the accusation of them knowing about the alleged child groomer/rapist for over a year, and the site's evidence against that was a screencap of two chat conversations from 2013 where the Walkers, Michaud, and HR Manager Holly Brown discussed what to do about this individual.

The purpose of this was to show that they fired him three weeks after hearing the allegations, although they show no documentation of exactly when they first learned of his behavior. What's more, despite attempting to white out the man's name in the screencaps, they did a poor enough job that viewers were still able to decipher the first letter, a "J," figure out who left the site around those dates, and then realize his identity. He was a critic named Justin Carmical, known to fans as JewWario, who had been a beloved inspiration to many people and was deeply and widely mourned after his suicide in 2014.

Nearly all of the critics working for Channel Awesome, including Doug and Rob Walker, have resigned since April 2nd, hundreds of thousands of viewers have unsubscribed, and the site is now effectively dead.

So what are my thoughts on all of this?

I discovered That Guy With The Glasses pretty much at the start of its run in 2008, when my college roommate showed me the first few Nostalgia Critic reviews. I became hooked and watched the show every week, along with a few others like The Spoony Experiment, Todd In The Shadows, and Renegade Cut. I'll admit that the Nostalgia Critic's work has been diminishing in quality for a while now, and I have yet to watch a lot of his more recent reviews, but he and his colleagues have been some of my greatest creative and analytical influences. To this day, I imagine their voices saying the words when I read certain parts of my blog in my head.

I think if this scandal had come out six years ago, before the site became Channel Awesome and Doug Walker changed up the format of his reviews, I would have been very upset. Today though, seeing this happen just has me feeling distant and disappointed. It's not a loss so much as a bitter awakening, and the only critic I've watched that those feelings are aimed at is Doug Walker. I don't think I'd ever heard of CEO Mike Michaud before this, and although he seems to be the main villain in this story, he doesn't have the same "fall from grace" stigma as Doug Walker.


As for Justin Carmical, I never watched any of his videos, not even after he died, and I'm glad I didn't. I've met quite enough people like him in my life, even if the number is very small, and it disgusts me like nothing else that such terrible human beings can trick so many into admiring them. I can't imagine what his widow, who knew nothing about any of this, or any of his victims is going through since his accidental outing, but I can only offer them my sympathies and hope that they're left in peace to recover from what's happened. I even offer my sympathies to the people he inspired, who now have to separate him from his uplifting words in order for those words to still have meaning.

I'm not clear on how much authority Doug Walker actually had at Channel Awesome since he wasn't the CEO, so I don't know how much to blame him for withholding the truth about Carmical. I also don't know how much more could've been done about Carmical at the time of his firing, since the only evidence back then was an allegation from someone who wished to remain anonymous. However, if that allegation was compelling enough for Channel Awesome to fire him, then it should've been compelling enough for them to alert the other websites that featured his reviews and especially the conventions that he attended. They didn't even announce that they fired him, let alone why. They just said that he left the site, and almost no one questioned the circumstances.

Several more grooming cases involving Carmical have apparently come to light in these past three weeks. Had Channel Awesome told anyone about his behavior when they first learned of it, they could've prevented a lot of those cases from occurring, but because the site was afraid of bad publicity, they kept that information to themselves. For that reason alone, I can't support Channel Awesome or Doug Walker in any of their future endeavors. Even if I feel the urge to watch an old Nostalgia Critic review on YouTube some day, I'll only watch a reposted version on someone else's channel. I'm not giving any more views to That Guy With The Glasses or Channel Awesome.



My final thoughts are these: like a lot of Nostalgia Critic fans, there was a time when I dreamed about becoming a video reviewer as well and maybe someday making it onto the Channel Awesome site. I never pursued that because of all the technical and copyright issues involved in using clips from movies in such reviews, so I took up blogging about movies instead. Now that these revelations about Channel Awesome have come out, I'm glad I never tried to pursue my original dream.

Channel Awesome made me glad that I didn't try. That's a sentiment that no one should ever have about anything, and I'm sure I'm not the only person who feels that way right now. Maybe a lot of aspiring reviewers will get over that feeling and become more determined to make their own videos in the future. Maybe I'll even decide to do it too. Until then though, I can only feel some hollow relief that I never ended up having a hand in this mess or a story to tell in the "Not So Awesome" document.

Goodbye Channel Awesome, and Goodbye Nostalgia Critic. I wish you well moving forward, but I think I can remember things for myself from now on.






Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Whatever Happened to Dilophosaurus?


With its twenty-fifth birthday and its latest sequel both coming up this summer, I recently went back and rewatched the film Jurassic Park. It's obviously a beloved classic, and because of its success and popularity, all of its sequels have derived heavily from it. This includes featuring a lot of the same dinosaur species that appeared in the first film,  but there's one species in particular that's been curiously absent in the sequels. That species is the Dilophosaurus.

I can understand if a docile, barely involved species like Triceratops or Gallimimus never made a comeback after the first film (which they have, by the way), but why would one as memorable as the frilled, venom-spitting Dilophosaurus be left out? It's one of the most iconic looking dinosaurs in the whole movie, and it's the only species besides the T-Rex and the Velociraptors that actually kills someone. Heck, it's one of the only dinosaur species in the film that actually lived during the Jurassic Period. What's especially odd is that Dilophosaurus has appeared in several Jurassic Park video games and even had a cameo as a hologram in the fourth film, so it's not like the franchise has disowned it.

The only thing I can figure is that the filmmakers were leery about featuring the species in the sequels. I have two theories for why that is.

1. Too Overpowering

The central conflict in the Jurassic Park series is Man versus Nature. It's about mankind having to use all of its technology and intellect in a struggle for control over forces of nature that it was never meant to exist alongside. If the writers routinely feature a dinosaur species that can launch projectile weapons from its mouth, then they're essentially giving the dinosaurs guns. That's pretty much the end of the story; evasion has always been the human characters' strongest survival tactic against the dinosaurs, and pitting them against a predator that can cause harm from a distance would rub out that advantage and probably take a lot of the tension and thrill out of those scenes.

You wouldn't get as many of those exciting chases or harrowing moments where the predator's teeth or claws narrowly miss a character. If a Dilophosaurus sees someone and they're in spitting distance of it, then that person's dead. End of scene. One of the most entertaining parts of a Jurassic Park film is seeing the dinosaurs throw their weight around and cause physical damage, and a dinosaur that can spit venom at its opponents just wouldn't do something like that. I think the screenwriters were aware of this and found Dilophosaurus a lot less interesting to write about than the other dinosaur species as a result.

Speaking of other species, you could argue that its abilities actually make Dilophosaurus more dangerous than the T-Rex or the Velociraptors. Once again, those species are only as deadly as their ability to catch people, and Dilophosaurus doesn't share that limitation. If the movies threw it into the mix more often, I think there'd be a real risk of it eventually overshadowing T-Rex and Velociraptor as the biggest threat in the narrative. In fact, one of the reasons why it had such a small role in the first film was so viewers wouldn't confuse it with the Velociraptors due to their similar size. Dilophosaurus was only meant to be a side attraction with a gimmick in the story, not a major player, so the screenwriters may have felt they were better off not using it anymore.

2. Too Inaccurate

I'm sure this is news to no one, but the Dilophosaurus in real life didn't have any of the frills of its movie counterpart -- so to speak. It didn't have a neck frill that it flashed to scare enemies, and it didn't spit venom. That was all creative licensing on the part of author Michael Crichton and the filmmakers behind Jurassic Park. There's nothing inherently wrong with this, but because of the timing of the first film's release and its cultural impact, it shaped the way that a lot of people viewed dinosaurs back then. Unfortunately, this also meant that it gave those people a lot of misconceptions about dinosaurs, and paleontologists have been trying to set the record straight ever since.

We've all heard the criticisms about the movie. "T-Rex's eyesight wasn't really based on movement," "Velociraptors weren't really that big," "Brachiosaurus couldn't really stand on its hind legs," etc. People rightly pointed out the inaccuracy of the Dilophosaurus's neck frill and venom as well, but unlike with the other dinosaur species, this one's inaccuracies were the most memorable things about it in the movie. Because of that, Dilophosaurus's biggest claim to fame for a while seemed to be that it was That Dinosaur That Jurassic Park Got Wrong. I actually remember reading children's books about dinosaurs that specifically called out the movie for this false depiction. Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

To its credit, the series has tried to make its dinosaur designs a little more true to science since the first film. Most notably, it gave the Velociraptors feathers in the third film to reflect the discovery that raptors did have plumage in real life. It's possible that since a more realistic makeover for Dilophosaurus would involve stripping away all of the trademarks that the series gave it, the filmmakers may have just decided to not bring it back.


Whether or not these theories are correct, neither one seems to be the case anymore. Not only do we see a hologram of Dilophosaurus in the fourth film, but a tour video in that film mentions that the glass of the visitor vehicles is impervious to the predator's venom. This all seems to suggest that there is a Dilophosaurus exhibit in the newer park, or at least a Dilophosaurus population somewhere on the island. As if that isn't enough, it's now been confirmed that the species is supposed to finally make its comeback in the flesh in the upcoming fifth film.

Again, if my theories are correct, then why is it coming back now? I think it's because the Jurassic Park franchise has, for lack of a better word, evolved since its debut twenty-five years ago. Instead of being more ominous and philosophical, the films are now more lighthearted and adventurous. They don't take themselves as seriously anymore, so audiences today see them as something that's just trying to be entertaining, not as something that's trying to change the face of paleontology. And of course, the series carries a lot of nostalgia behind it now which the newer films clearly enjoy playing to. This could mean that the creative team behind the fourth film always planned to bring back the Dilophosaurus at some point, but maybe wanted to tease or even gauge the audience with a few nods to it first.

It would be interesting to see if the new film addresses Dilophosaurus's absence up to this point. It might even be able to make an in-joke or two about the species, saying perhaps that their frills and venom came from an early gene splicing experiment and that the old park had actually lied about scientists believing they had those features. I have a feeling we won't get any explanation, but really, just getting to see Dilophosaurus onscreen again after a quarter of a century would be more than enough for a lot of Jurassic Park fans.

And if its comeback should turn out to be disappointing, don't worry. It will always have that one terrific moment in the film that started it all.


Goodbye, Newman. That's one magic loogie.




Wednesday, February 28, 2018

"Batsh!t" Teaser Trailer

Check it out! Here's the first teaser trailer for Batsh!t, a horror/comedy/mystery film I've been storyboarding. Principal photography begins in August of this year.


Saturday, January 27, 2018

When I Get My Force Twisted

Now that we've all had a chance to calm down after seeing Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I think it's a good time to discuss one major aspect of the film's story. I'm not talking about a particular character or subplot, but rather a trend that was present all throughout the movie and has been pretty controversial in film for years. What is that topic?

Why, the utter refusal to bring podracing back into Star Wars, of course! What the heck, Disney? You have a scene set on a gambling racetrack and you give us some cliche animal rights message with puppy-eyed giraffe monsters instead of a podrace? I know you don't want to raise the spectre of the prequels too much, but come on! Just show a quick shot or two of a podrace, then have Finn and Rose hijack a podracer and fly it through the casino as a diversion so the slave children who were being abused can escape.

Actually, the trend I really want to discuss is plot twists that toy with viewer expectations -- which is sort of what my little rant there did, so I'll count it as staying on topic.

Writer/Director Rian Johnson has said in interviews that he wasn't aiming to subvert the fans' expectations in The Last Jedi, stating that doing so "would lead to some contrived places." He claims that everything that happens to Rey, Kylo Ren, Luke, Leia, and Snoke in the story is what felt like the most natural course to take with each character. I'm willing to believe him, especially after reading his explanation on Slashfilm.com for what happens with Kylo and Snoke:


"[...] Kylo’s arc in this movie, besides his relationship with Rey, I saw as the big arc for Kylo breaking down this kind of unstable foundation that he’s on and then building him to where by the end of the film he’s no longer just a Vader wannabe. But he’s stepped into his own as kind of a quote-unquote villain, but a complicated villain that you understand, right?  So with that in mind, the idea that Kylo would get to that place by the end of it led me to think, well, then what is Snoke’s place at the end?  And does that work with him just kneeling before Snoke at the end?  No.  If Kylo’s gotta get to a place of actual power the ultimate expression of that would be him ascending beyond his master.
And that also then gives the opportunity to have a great, dramatic moment that you don’t expect of getting Snoke kind of out of the way.  So that really is where it all stemmed from.  It was thinking about Kylo’s path, thinking about where I wanted him to be at the end of the movie to set him up for the next film.  And thinking okay, that means we’re gonna clear away this slightly more familiar dynamic of the Emperor and the pupil.  Clear the boards from that, and then that’s much more exciting going into [Episode IX], the notion of now we just have Kylo as the one that they have to deal with.  You can no longer take a rational guess at how the Snoke-Kylo thing is gonna play out in the next movie."

Still, after how much The Force Awakens borrowed from the original Star Wars, I doubt very much that Johnson never noticed any of the resemblances to The Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi while writing this film. So many of the setups in The Last Jedi, such as Rey's attempt to sway Kylo to the light side during a showdown in Snoke's throne room, are so familiar that you'd swear Johnson started writing those scenes by copying and pasting the ones from the original trilogy screenplays. 

Maybe the studio pressured him to follow tropes of the series, or maybe he felt compelled to follow the precedent of The Force Awakens (which he didn't write) for consistency. Whatever the case, I'm not sure if it was totally his choice to have such derivative setups throughout his plot. Since those setups are so derivative though, it only stands to reason that their payoffs should be different this time around. That's not toying with viewer expectations so much as being a good screenwriter by avoiding redundancy.

What I find more questionable are the plot twists that Johnson put into the film's secondary storyline, the one that doesn't borrow so heavily from the previous films.

Here's the rundown: After Leia ends up in a coma, the command falls to a female admiral that the character Poe Dameron doesn't trust. Her plan against the villains seems suspicious, so he comes up with his own plan and sends Finn and Rose to find a master hacker who can bug the computer on the villains' main ship. They find the master hacker, but get arrested, then they happen to meet another, better hacker in jail who breaks them out. He hacks the villains' ship like they wanted, then he betrays them because he was actually working for the villains all along. Then Leia wakes up and knocks Poe unconscious when he tries to accuse the admiral of treason. Then he wakes up and learns that the admiral had a better plan all along that she and Leia were hiding to teach him a lesson about trusting authorities.

So basically, that entire subplot was irrelevant.


To be fair, I suspect this storyline was the result of Johnson being saddled with the supporting cast of The Force Awakens and not entirely knowing what to do with them. However, a part of me does still blame it on the trend that we're discussing today.

I'm probably not the first person to say this, but I'm starting to think The Sixth Sense is actually M. Night Shyamalan 's worst contribution to film -- in that its only lasting impact has been the notion that movies must contain big, surprising plot twists in order to be good. I know plot twists were a thing before that (a certain big reveal in a certain other Star Wars movie comes to mind) but The Sixth Sense seems to be the film that really made using them the trend that it is today. I know I'm not the only person who jokingly thought "What a twist!" in an Indian accent after seeing The Last Jedi.

And I mean it, practically every movie contains a twist now, whether it's revealing a surprise villain, revealing a character's secret identity or agenda, revealing a red herring, or most notoriously, revealing that it was all a dream. And you know what? The majority of those plot twists seem to just confuse or annoy audiences.

I think screenwriters need to view plot twists almost like a special effects budget: you only have so much use that you can get out of them, and if you want the quality to be top notch, then use them sparingly and make the story justify each use. Otherwise, you're likely to just cheapen them.

As for The Last Jedi, I still liked the movie overall. The confusing, pointless story arcs are over for now, and I am genuinely curious to see where the core characters go from here. My biggest hope is that since the story is far enough removed from The Force Awakens now, Rian Johnson will have a lot more freedom to write what he wants in the next film. If the second part in a trilogy is supposed the lowest point for everyone involved, then maybe he can truly give us the third part that resolves everything both on the screen and behind the camera.

Wait. He's not writing or directing Episode IX?