Musings

[Blog] Lost and Found

One of my favorite tropes has got to be the one where something or someone that was lost and/or destroyed comes back. Sometimes it happens just in time. Sometimes it’s what lets the heroes know that they might have a fighting chance after all. Sometimes it’s one of the heroes themselves that returns. Whatever it is, it’s the sort of thing that gives me chills.

Given the nature of this, there’s going to be some spoilers in the following for Mass Effect 2, Pacific Rim, and the Lord of the Rings. Nothing too major, but if you haven’t read/played/watched, consider yourselves warned!

In Mass Effect, it’s that moment near the beginning of the second game when Commander Shepard gets the Normandy SR2– along with Joker. After the shock of the game’s prologue, which involved the destruction of the Normandy SR1 (which you grow deeply attached to in the first game), along with the death of Shepard him/herself and the scattering of the surviving crew, getting your first indication that the resurrected Shepard might actually have a few familiar things to hold onto in their continuing quest to save the galaxy is a powerful moment.

It’s a very similar scene in Pacific Rim when the rebuilt Gipsy Danger is revealed both to Raleigh in the audience. The last time Raleigh saw Gipsy Danger was in the battle where his brother and copilot was killed and the Jaeger itself was badly damaged. Because the movie has been following Raleigh so closely up to this point, it’s impossible not to catch some of the emotions that Raleigh himself feels at seeing the giant mech again.

Last, but certainly not least, in the Lord of the Rings we have the turning point in the battle at Helm’s Deep, when Gandalf returns with Eomer in tow. I should point out here that the version of this that I personally found most moving is actually the movie version. In the books, it’s a different commander who arrives with Gandalf, as Eomer is already in Helm’s Deep with the others. In the movies, though, it’s the very fact that Eomer was exiled that made it so powerful. Well. That and the gorgeous cinematography as our heroes’ reinforcements arrive from the east on the dawn of the third day.

At first blush, it might not seem like the third example fits with the others all that well, but let me try to explain. In all of these, we have something strong, working for good, that was broken. The Normandy was destroyed. Gipsy Danger was damaged badly enough to put it out of commission. Eomer, despite his loyalty to his king, was forced into exile because of Wormtongue’s machinations. And then, despite all odds, they come back. A new, better Normandy is built and returned to Shepard’s command. Gipsy Danger is repaired and piloted again to save the world. Gandalf brings Eomer back to save the lives of his king (and uncle!) and his people. And it all happened when the audience wasn’t quite expecting it. Or maybe, when the audience wasn’t quite daring to hope for it, because it seemed too impossible. And that, I think, is part of what makes this such a strong storytelling technique.

As a Christian, I find it impossible not to connect this to Christ’s death and resurrection as well. We have the loss in the crucifixion, followed by the period of hopelessness and sorrow and uncertainty about how things were going to go forward. And then he came back. And it wasn’t the end after all.

Musings

[Blog] The Book’s Not Always Better Than the Movie

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A few years ago, one of my friends introduced me to Mass Effect, and it didn’t take me long to fall in love with the game. The characters, the setting, the adventures– the hours I spent as Commander Shepard proved incredibly fun and as deeply inspiring as any of my other favorite stories. And some of that is because of the way the story was told.

Different mediums have different strengths and work better for certain stories than others. It’s why the movie adaptations of The Lord of the Rings, as entertaining and as grand as they are when shown on the big screen, will never have the same depth as Tolkien’s written masterpieces: there’s just not enough time, even in the twelve hours that make up the extended editions, to do justice to the depth and history of Middle Earth. What’s more, trying to match it word for word would have resulted in films that sprawled even more and probably wouldn’t have been half so enjoyable.

Now, before you start reaching for your torches and your pitchforks, I’m not saying that the movies were flawless adaptations. Any number of characters were changed in ways that made them so much less than they were in the books (Faramir, anyone?) without adding something back in exchange to the structure or the pace of the movie. However, even if all the characters had been spot on and true to who they are in the books, the films would still have been missing something of what made the books as wonderful as they are.

It goes both ways, too: some stories work better as a movie than as a book. Take The Princess Bride, for example. While we get more details about pretty much everything throughout the course of the novel, the story itself profits from the quicker pace and the tighter structure of a film, and I’m inclined to argue that that’s what made it the classic it is today. Of course, I’d still recommend reading the book if you get the chance, but that goes without saying. The fact remains that the movie is the reason we’re all saying the lines along with Inigo in the gif below.

Bringing all this back around to video games, it’s fascinating to see how this “new” medium stacks up against the ones we’re more used to. The biggest difference, I think, is how we interact with the story being told, and vice versa. In a book or a movie, we have a far more passive role. The story will go the way it always goes, regardless of what we do. The only way we can change what happens is by stopping, and really, that only delays it. The words have still been written, the scenes have still been filmed, and no matter how hard we throw the book against the wall or how loud we yell at the screen, what will happen will happen. In video games, that’s not necessarily the case.

Going back to Mass Effect, the game forces the player to make different choices along the way that tie in with the general morality that each Shepard develops. Regardless of the path chosen, the story will progress through the same events. However, the tone of the story will feel entirely different depending on whether you play more as a hero or an anti-hero. In one, the story is that of an epic space opera with great heroes and steep odds. In the other, it’s a gritty space marine tale, where even the best people are deeply flawed and broken.

And what’s more, because you are the one making the decisions throughout the game, you feel each one more deeply than you would if you were just watching or reading about the hero making those choices on their own. When you have to press a button to confirm that you really do want Shepard to do something, it immerses you even more deeply in the story. It makes you think about the actions taken just that much more, and that’s the greatest strength of any story.

Musings

[Blog] Hobbits and Droids

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There are two stories that may go a long way in explaining who I am and why I write what I write. Or at least, they provide as much of a reason as I’ve been able to find, and it seems fair to blame them for my preoccupation with daring deeds and grand adventures. In any case, I find them enjoyable enough to be worth retelling. Perhaps you will too.

Both happened long enough ago that I’m no longer certain how old I was. That particular detail is lost in the fog, so I’ll just have to make do and say that I was old enough to enjoy a good story, but young enough that I had not yet discovered most of the ones that have since influenced me the most. So, something less than ten.

The first one started with a joke, and a silly one at that. My dad, as he often did, was teasing me. And I, as I often did, was teasing him right back. On this particular day, the final volleys of our exchange went something like this:

Me: “Dad, you’re silly!”

Dad: “Who, me? No I’m not!”

Me: “Are too!”

Dad: “D2.”

Me: “…what?”

At this point, my mom figured it was high time I was introduced to a certain short, feisty, blue-and-white droid. Our family spent the rest of the afternoon watching A New Hope, and I’ve spent the rest of my life wishing I had a light saber. Thus was my introduction to Star Wars and science fiction in general.

My other memory is of a road trip and a book read aloud in the car. We were on our way to visit some relatives, and though a quick search suggests that it probably took us less than two hours to get there*, as a kid it felt a great deal longer than that. Or rather, it would have had my dad not been reading The Hobbit to us. It’s difficult to be bored when Gollum is in the front seat playing riddles in the dark.

That was the day I fell in love with Middle Earth. You can imagine my joy, then, when I found out that there was a whole trilogy besides set in the same world. My heart was still broken at Khazad Dum, of course, and my first reading of The Fellowship of the Ring took far longer than it should have, but that’s a different story. I can still say that that car trip is what kindled a deep and abiding appreciation for Tolkien and his work.

Since those days, my love of all kinds of fantasy and science fiction has only grown. I’ve seen The Princess Bride and Star Trek and Firefly. I’ve read The Chronicles of Narnia through at least twice. The Last Unicorn enchanted me- both the book and the movie. Hugh Howey’s Silo Saga and Pierce Brown’s Red Rising trilogy both kept me up way too late on multiple occasions. All these and a hundred others are all stuck in my head and spilling over into my own imaginings, making them richer and far better than they would be otherwise. I owe a debt to all of these and more, but it all started when my parents introduced me to Star Wars and The Hobbit, which is why those two worlds will always be particularly special to me.

 

 

 

* That is, assuming I remember our destination correctly. If it was farther away, then I’ve underestimated how good my Dad is at reading out loud for extended periods of time, and I already knew he was good.