It’s the opening sequence of The Simpsons, done up in live-action for Estonian TV!
Did you miss me? Lack of time and lack of compelling interest led to lack of blogging these past couple of weeks, but I hope to do better.
I’d love to say that I’ve been up to all sorts of exciting stuff since returning from Tucson, but the truth is that it’s mostly been shopping, videogames, and shopping for videogames. Now that the holiday season has descended upon us like a five-thousand-pound fruitcake, there are all manner of shiny, happy digital worlds vying for our joystick thumbs. Because there’s just no point in releasing anything worthwhile in the ten months prior to Thanksgiving, most of the top-tier game titles must go head-to-head in the final eight weeks of the year.
I finished The Simpsons for PS2, and was happy to see the end of it. While it stopped making me motion sick, the lousy camera continued to give me a lot of trouble. I learned to work around it, but I still “died” much more than could be attributed merely to my poor skills.
I enjoyed the game’s humor and all the metatextual references to other videogames. Still, as funny as it was to suddenly find myself playing a Simpsonized version of Gauntlet, the truth is that actual Gauntlet is more fun.
I was annoyed to learn, after the fact, that the PS2 version of The Simpsons is missing a fair amount of content found on the next-generation consoles. And here I’m not just talking pretty pixels, but rather portions of levels (including some of the other game parodies) and the ability to free-roam Springfield. Sure, I realize that the PS3 and XBox 360 are more powerful machines, but the PS2 is no stranger to free-roaming games featuring massive cityscapes. (Yes, I could’ve bought the Wii version, but the reviews suggested that the designers blew it incorporating the Wii control scheme. That’s a deal-breaker for me.)
Bye bye, The Simpsons; hello, Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga. Okay, I’ll admit it: this is a game I’ve already bought and completed twice before. I was enticed by the opportunity to play a version which fully integrates all six chapters of the film series, and which adds improved gameplay elements and Classic Trilogy characters into the prequel-based portions. There are three all-new levels, and two greatly-improved ones. (The pod race is no longer frustrating as all hell, plus I can fly a TIE Interceptor or an Imperial Shuttle in the Boonta Eve Classic.) And, best of all, Lego Indiana Jones! Remember that scene in Episode 1 when Dr. Jones and Han Solo teamed up to storm Theed Palace? Neither do I, but it sure is fun!
I’m off to Tucson first thing tomorrow morning for a public TV conference, so I thought I’d blog about a few loose ends before I take off.
Loose end #1: The Writers’ Guild strike. I’m not usually pro-union, but I think this is one case in which labor action is justified. TV on DVD is a huge revenue stream for the studios, but the writers have been screwed out of their share; now, it appears the same might happen with online streaming.
If this goes on for any length of time, it’s going to massively suck for both the networks and the viewers. Broadcast TV networks have already seen double-digit decreases in many of their headline series this season, and an interruption in the flow of new scripted material will only further drive audiences to other entertainment alternatives.
All of the late-night comedy/talk series are going into immediate rerun mode, which means that we’ll miss out on The Daily Show‘s take on this very political season. Meanwhile, many scripted comedies and dramas are only partially into their production seasons, which could mean that they’ll only have eight-to-ten episodes in the can. That’s going to play hell with all those year-long serialized story arcs.
The upside–for me–is that public TV might actually stand to gain some audience from all this.
Loose end #2: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I was clearing out my DVR queue this weekend and finally watched Tim Burton’s remake of the ’70s film.
I will admit my biases up front: I adore the original, I think it’s arguably the best thing Gene Wilder ever did, and I didn’t see any need for a remake. Plus, I got over my Tim Burton infatuation around the time of Mars Attacks!.
Therefore, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that I didn’t care for it very much. It didn’t rape my childhood, as I feared, but neither did it gel into anything very engaging. I’m stunned that it seemed to rate so highly with critics.
The chief problem is the portrayal of Willy Wonka. The character, portrayed by Gene Wilder as a manic enigma, is reconceptualized as a pale, socially-retarded Michael Jackson type, left so scarred by his domineering father that he shuns family relationships and even human contact. Johnny Depp underplays the part, rarely seeming as he’s having much fun showing off his marvelous factory.
When the film was released, much was made of the notion that it would be much more faithful to the book than the original. Certainly, that’s true in such sequences as the boat trip on the chocolate river and Veruca Salt’s peril at the paws of an army of nut-shelling squirrels. The Oompa Loompa song lyrics are straight out of Roald Dahl’s text.
Yet, as I mentioned, Wonka now has a backstory about his borderline-abusive dentist father (Christopher Lee). This changes the lesson of the book: instead of a polemic against bratty children, it becomes a cozy story about the importance of family. Gag me with an Everlasting Gobstopper.
One problem that both films had to address was that the book’s title hero wins solely by attrition; Charlie is the last kid standing after the others fall victim to Wonka’s confectionary booby-traps. He doesn’t succeed so much as fail to fail.
The original movie gets around this by offering Charlie a moment of temptation. Wonka tests the boy by giving him an opportunity to sell out his secrets to a rival company, yet Charlie stands by his principles even in light of his family’s desperate poverty.
In the remake, Charlie initially turns down Wonka’s offer of the chocolate factory because the family-phobic candyman won’t allow him to bring his parents and grandparents along, a decision which causes Wonka to rethink his relationship with his own dad, and…what? Was I asleep?
One thing the remake misses is that the reason for Wonka’s contest isn’t merely that he’s a childless man who wants an heir. To replace him, Wonka wants someone young, imaginative and–most importantly–willing to run the place exactly as he himself has done. Both the book and the original adaptation are clear on this: an adult would want to operate things his or her way, but a child would continue to run the factory according to Wonka’s peculiar worldview.
One thing that’s kind of a wash is that the remake includes the scene from the book depicting the final fate of the bratty kids: alive, yet in some cases physically changed by their experience. Violet the blueberry is dejuiced but retains her coloration, and shrunken Mike Teevee is stretched out too far, becoming unnaturally tall and thin. That’s fine, I guess, but I liked the uncertainty of the first film, which left it to us to decide if Wonka had really killed them off.
Loose end #3: The Simpsons video game. I traded in some stuff at Gamestop this weekend and had enough credit for a copy of the new release. The reviews have said that it’s a mediocre platformer, but that it has a lot of humor for fans of the show. Considering how much fun I had with all the in-jokes in The Simpsons Hit & Run, I figured it was worth a try.
Well, so far, the humor is there, but the gameplay and story are lacking. Three levels in, and there really doesn’t seem to be a plot so much as a series of random challenges. In one, I’m trying to stop the bullies from ransacking the natural history museum, and in another, I’m in a food-consuming running race. And I don’t know why.
Worst is the virtual “camera” that follows the action. I would’ve thought that by now video game programmers would have figured how to keep it from getting hung up on walls and other obstacles. None of these things really exist, so why is the camera blocked by them? I can’t tell you how many times I failed a crucial jump because the viewing angle changed in mid-air.
Furthermore, something happened to me last night that has never, ever happened in all my years of gameplay: I got seriously motion sick. I’m not entirely sure why; my best guess is that I’ve having to spin the camera around so much to get a decent angle on the action that it’s messing with my head. But it happened twice yesterday, and both times it took me a good hour to stop wanting to hurl.
On the plus side, all the familiar voices are there and a lot of what they have to say is funny. Plus, the linking sequences are all cel animation created specifically for the game, so that’s pretty cool.
Still, you might need a barf bag for this trip to Springfield.
Well, that’s enough randomness for today. Back in town Saturday!