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 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?

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Recapping in Sequels

As an author who's published four books in a still-ongoing series, I can't think of anything more imposing to write than a sequel. Not only do you have to keep track of the details from multiple books while writing it, but you also have to keep finding ways to build on characters and storylines in ways that make sense and feel natural without changing the essence of the narrative too much. And if you botch a sequel, there's a chance you'll also ruin the entire series that came before it.

Even the mere structure of a sequel can pose a lot of difficulty for the writer. When you get right down to it, most followup stories are at a disadvantage from the start because their foundations exist in an entirely separate story -- the story that they're a sequel to. Readers typically won't fully understand or appreciate everything that happens in a sequel if they don't start with the first book in a series, so how does the writer get around that?

The most obvious solution, which I want to discuss today, is by reexplaining the premise of the series in the sequels.

I'm sure we've all read at least one book sequel that pumps the breaks in its opening chapters to remind us of who the characters are and what the series is about. It's one of the most aggravating things you can possibly write; you're trying to get on with the story of your next installment, but every time something comes into play that was introduced in an earlier book, you feel obligated to stop and recap what it is, and that just kills your momentum. Even if you clearly number each book on the cover, you still have to assume that most people aren't going to read the whole series in order or remember every detail throughout it. Some might argue that this shouldn't have to be the author's problem, but catering to your audience at least a little does help both of you in the long run.

The question then is how extensively you should try to reexplain things in a sequel.

Literature is all over the spectrum with this. For instance, the sci-fi series Animorphs takes time out of nearly all sixty-four of its books (including the final one) to reexplain its premise. The Lord of the Rings, in contrast, doesn't reexplain anything from book to book. Granted, that was actually meant to be a single book before the publisher split it into three, but the lack of recaps clearly hasn't harmed it.

A lot of factors weigh on which of these extremes you want to lean towards. The age of your audience, the number of books, the length of each book, and how closely the plot of each one ties in with those of its predecessors are just a few. However you decide to do it, the important thing is to keep the recaps as brief as possible. otherwise, you will kill your momentum and potentially lose readers' interest.

I posted a survey on Facebook a while ago to get some opinions on this subject. The comments ranged from giving a refresher whenever necessary throughout each book to only doing it in Book 2 and then leaving it up to the reader to figure things out in all future installments. One comment even suggested tapering off the recaps over the course of multiple sequels until you reach a point in the series where the readers are most likely fans who don't need reminders anymore.

The strategy I've chosen for my own series, The Rokshena Revolution, is sort of a combination of all these ideas. The overall story is made up of three separate plots that lead directly into one another, and each plot in the "trilogy" has actually been split into two books because of the length. As a result, I give increasingly smaller reminders of things as they come up throughout the series, but I only do it in every other book.

This is obviously a unique case. However, I do think the tapering idea is a good middle ground to go with. It might even encourage people to start reading your series at an earlier point than they might have otherwise since they'll get a more extensive backstory the further back they start.

In any case, the key to all of this is building a strong rapport with your audience. Getting into a series can be a big commitment, almost like a friendship, so much like you would with a friend, you want to show the reader that you're aware of them and help them out every once in a while. If you're inviting and willing to put in the extra effort for them, chances are they'll be receptive and put in the extra effort for you.

Monday, December 18, 2017

"Zombies, I Guess" Now Available

Check it out! My new zombie comedy book Zombies, I Guess is available on Kindle and you can download it for FREE all day today at the link below:

"Zombies, I Guess" on Amazon/Kindle

Unemployed Bachelor Bob Smith always thought stories about zombies were stupid and annoying—so it’s just his luck that he wakes up one morning to find himself in the middle of an overnight zombie apocalypse. Dragged from his apartment by overzealous neighbors, Bob must now face the irritating undead and race to Washington, D.C. to find a way to defeat them. Because staying safe at home for two weeks until they all decompose and fall apart isn’t an option for some reason.

Laughs, insults, and lots of severed body parts fly left and right as Bob hones his zombie-fighting skills, uncovers a government conspiracy, ends up in a love triangle with two women he isn’t the least bit interested in, and most importantly, learns to embrace (or at least not question) the madness of it all.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

"The Open Portals - Part 2" Now Available

Check it out! Part 1 of my new young adult sic-fi/fantasy novel "The Open Portals" is now available on Kindle for $2.99 at the link below:

"The Open Portals - Part 2" by Katelyn Rushe on Amazon

Just as things are looking hopeful for Amber Brenin’s mission back to Earth, an enemy fleet attacks the island where her team is resting and forces them to split up. Those who can fight must stay behind to fend off the invaders while those pivotal to the mission must find the island’s open portal and go on without their allies. It’s one of the many compromises that Amber will have to make as the war on Rökshena escalates.

Joined by Joe, Guido, and her father Robert, the girl soon returns to Earth and begins her task of recapturing the Voxacustos one by one. Tensions run high as her party sees the destruction that the creatures have brought to her homeworld, and over time, her anger evolves into something much harder for her to control. Relief comes when Earth’s militaries combine forces to aid the mission, but if nothing can quell Amber’s raging emotions, then everything on Earth and Rökshena will be lost forever—starting with Amber herself.

Also check out these links to Part 1 and both parts of the first book, "The Last Creator."

"The Last Creator - Part 1"
"The Last Creator - Part 2"
"The Open Portals - Part 1"

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Trouble with Daenerys

I'm three episodes away from being caught up on Game of Thrones (since a financial fledgling without HBO can only legally view Season 7 by subscribing to Moochers with Friends), but I think I've seen enough of the show to have a pretty well founded opinion on every major character. One character that I want to discuss my opinion on today is Daenerys Targaryen.

She's easily the most iconic figure to come out of this series, being a white-haired beauty in blue who decimates whole armies with her trio of dragons, and she's always been one of the biggest fan favorites. She also gets praised by a lot of critics for being a strong, independent female character with a compelling story arc who builds herself into a powerful ruler from nothing and breaks all sorts of new ground in the fantasy genre.

...So it pains me to say that I really don't like her.

Maybe I'm missing something. Maybe her story is handled a lot differently in the books, or maybe getting into the show this late means I didn't get to see the events of her story unveil with the proper cultural context surrounding me. Or maybe all the memes, fan art, cosplays, and so forth that I've seen built her up in my mind as a bigger badass than she actually was when I finally saw the show. I don't know, but from what I've seen so far, I think she's an entitled little punk who doesn't deserve most of the respect that she has.

When you really get down to it, Daenerys's two biggest assets that got her where she is are that her body is fireproof and that she has three dragons to do her bidding. The problem is that she never did any work to obtain these assets. She was born with the ability to endure fire, rather than having to build up an immunity to it, and she was given the dragon eggs as a wedding present and just imprinted on the dragons when they hatched. Any time she tries to resolve a conflict with something else like diplomacy or strategic planning, she fails and resorts back to these two assets -- and then she sees these cop-out successes as good reasons to strut around and demand submission from every kingdom she comes across. I wanted to reach through the TV screen and high-five Jon Snow when he shot down her arrogant little list of reasons for why he should kneel to her when they first met in Season 7.

What's worse is that for as much as Daenerys relies on the dragons to resolve everything, she hardly ever puts any effort into training them. She teaches them one command to breathe fire, and that's pretty much all we see. When the dragons start to misbehave, she just locks them up without attempting to correct their behavior and then they all turn on her until they just decide to obey her again. Where's the character growth in that?

What's frustrating about all this is that Daenerys did start out as the clever, adaptable character that I expected her to be. You see her work to earn the respect of her husband Khal Drogo and his people in Season 1, learning their language and becoming more assertive, but then she gets the dragons and it's all fire and blood from there. Okay, I know "Fire and Blood" is the motto of her family, the House Targaryen, but I do find it pretty darn hypocritical that she keeps telling people not to condemn her for what a tyrant her father was while she keeps proudly toting his family name and credo.

To be fair, I know that Daenerys does have good intentions. She wants to rid the world of slavery and establish equal rights for all people. Those are noble causes, but her way of accomplishing them is all wrong. For starters, she's extremely ignorant about the cultures that she tries to reform. She doesn't bother to learn anything about their ways before seizing control of them. She just decides who are the good guys, who are the bad guys, and then takes over and gives everyone what she feels they deserve.

She never considers the big picture or long term effects of anything, and when those things start to creep in and break down the new foundation she's trying to build, her ability to rule falls apart. She starts to behave almost like a petulant child when this happens, sometimes threatening her more experienced advisors when they make suggestions that she doesn't like. She does this until the first brown-noser tells her that whatever she wants to do is best, and then she just burns everything down. And fine, she had to be headstrong like that at first to rise above all the abusive, sexist manipulators who were holding her down in the earlier seasons. However, she accomplished that rather quickly and then suddenly seemed to stop growing.

What's more, for all the revolutionary things that happen on her orders, she never does any of them herself. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure that her current number of personal kills is still 0. She tells her guards, executioners, and dragons to kill people for her and then pretty much just watches them do it. And no, riding her dragons around while telling them to burn armies alive doesn't count as using a weapon herself. If she wants respect as a ruler, she needs to learn how to get her own hands dirty and deliver the sentences that she passes -- to paraphrase a wisdom that Jon Snow lives by. Otherwise she's never going to get in touch with anything or become a better ruler than her father.

To the show's credit though, I think this is all the point. They're showing us how easy it is for a hero to fall from grace and become a villain if they don't act wisely. Season 7 marks the first time since the start of the series that Daenerys has to make compromises in order to further herself, and it's great. I don't know if this development was George R.R. Martin's plan for future books or if the show's screenwriters came up with it themselves, but I think it's been needed for a while. I won't give up on Daenerys yet, but no matter how much older she is than her book counterpart, she still has a lot of growing up to do.