Moe on Tolkien, Fantasy, and RPGs

Zippcast link: http://www.zippcast.com/video/46606104dae1db3f54f

I’m honestly considering making all my future videos Zippcast-exclusive, though nothing is certain yet.

UPDATE! Youtube Link: https://youtu.be/YG5Pz312BFs

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vlog rant – The Lord of the Rings movies SUCK!

So for awhile, I wanted to do a review of the LOTR movies which goes over absolutely everything wrong with them. However, if that happens at all then it seems like it’ll not be anytime soon, so for the time being I’m gonna post vlogs.

These are gonna be in multiple parts.

Part 1 is here

Part 2 is here

Doing a full, actual review of LOTR (with movie footage, editing and everything) is something I still want to do. The problem is every time I sit down to script it, I keep…. basically my scripts get rambly and unwieldy. Also I don’t really know what approach to take. A linear review like what Nostalgia Chick did for her videos on the subject feels to me like it would miss too many things and almost by default ignore thematic elements, since you can only talk about things as they are introduced. My other idea for an approach, then, was to make a lot of smaller videos which each focus on either a specific scene or a specific element of the movie, but then that feels constraining because sometimes subjects are inter-related (for example, doing a video about the mishandled wizard fight at Isengard would inevitably lead to a larger discussion of Gandalf’s mishandled character in general).

Besides that, I’m still very inexperienced in video and sound editing, and often fall under time constraints, and as the second part of the vlog shows, I can’t focus worth crap.

So what do you guys think. Should I seek outside help for this project? Should I take a different approach? Or should I just not do it at all (the option I like the least, but its still on the table)? IF anyone has comments, criticisms, suggestions or even offers of help, I’m all ears.

Thank you all.

Why Conan (the Cimmerian) Sucks, except when he doesn’t

I’ve embarked on a new project–a video review of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. The first stage of it is re-watching the trilogy (of which I own the extended editions), and recording timestamps of all the scenes that stand out as being either really great, or (more often) really, really bothersome. I got about fifty-five minutes in, to a point where the ringwraiths are right on top of the hobbits but somehow said hobbits still escape… and this was just the latest stupidity I was forced to remember in what had been basically a one-problem-per-minute viewing. It was giving me a headache, so I went on to something else.

Fortunately, a book I ordered, a fancy-shmancy new Lovecraft hardcover, arrived in the mailey-oh.

So naturally, I’m going to talk about Robert E. Howard’s Conan character!

As it happens I own all three of the Del Rey/Wandering Star volumes (this is the first) and lately I’ve been perusing them, largely just because I wanted a break from all my usual gaming and cartooning and stuff.

Let me be frank: the Conan stories can be pretty fun. Essentially, what REH does is creates a world that is part pre-history, but also part-Lovecraftian. The best way to put it is imagine Middle-earth if it had Yog-Sothoth and Cthulhu wandering around, and the nations of men (no elves or dwarves here) were not led by divinity but were instead just primal creatures who evolved into societies, like in the real world, except here civilization is seen as something aberrant.

This is the attractive power of the stories. They create a world that is dark, dangerous and mysterious. That’s not to say its evil–if you’re thinking of something like a Frank Miller or Alan Moore comic, you’re on something of the wrong track. There are virtues in the Hyborian Age, but they are more primal, driven partly by survival instinct, and virtues that are the result of civilization are seen as annoying at best due to how they can confound what should be straightforward matters (the opening of “Queen of the Black Coast” is a case in point).

Conan, then, is a traveller from Cimmeria, a land where civilization never reached, except in tales and rumors. He was born to a warrior culture, and for reasons never given has decided to go through the lands south of his home and see what they hold for him… and they hold plenty.

Conan is, in essence, the ultimate male power fantasy. He does what he wants, and has the muscles and skill with weaponry to back himself up. If he is to go down, he would prefer to go down fighting. He is neither good nor evil, but rather is something like an animal in man’s form. He is pretty much the man all nerdy teenage boys wish they could be. That he exists in a world full of dark tombs of eldritch abominations and pagan sorceries just makes it all the better.

…Then there’s the women, and we get to the part I hate.

Now, to Robert E. Howard’s credit, his females are usually not “damsels in distress,” and in fact are usually strong-willed and proactive, capable of fending for themselves whether or not Conan is there to save them.

That’s all well and good, but would it kill them to get dressed? Invariably, the women of these stories either start out completely naked, or else become so at some point in the narrative (and when they are dressed, its usually not in anything much better than being stark naked to begin with). And of course, these are always the most gorgeous women ever.

If I may rant for a second, I understand that fantasy is largely written for a male audience (or was back then). The problem I have with the fantasy genre is that the males in question are interpreted, at least by the authors, as being horny adolescents who will like anything with a decent rack. I remember reading the Dragonlance Chronicles trilogy, and after awhile it turned out everyone was having sex–not romantically, and in fact (if I remember right) without any real sort of buildup or development, just suddenly they all started doing it. Except Tasslehoff, of course, since hobbit sex would likely be seen as child porn by some nitpicky conservatives.

Even Robert E. Howard himself seemed to have this issue, since he wrote several disparaging comments about the male gender, and also expressed pride whenever he sold a story that “had no sex in it” (his words)–one such one being “Beyond the Black River,” one of the better Conan tales.

Am I a prude? No. What I am is a thinking creature, and whenever I see parts like this, I feel like I’ve been insulted. Like “Yeah, we know you’ll like this because it has tits!” When things treat me that way, it diminishes my will to keep on going. I’ve dropped plenty of anime for a similar reason.

This is just one part of the problem. Like I intoned earlier, I love the mysteries and places and cultures of the Hyborian Age, and I like hearing about the man who traverses them… but all too often, all the stuff that is actually interesting gets buried under the male pandering. Not just the sex, but also the “look at how handsome and strong this guy is.” The fighting and killing is all well and good but sometimes, it feels like the testosterone eclipses all the parts I really care about.

I’m not asking for a bowdlerization. Hell no–that would result in something as terrible as the Marvel Comics version of Conan, or the later L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter published fanfics. All I’m asking is for the camera to shift its focus a bit. To use an analogy, remember in AVGN’s “The Wizard” review when he expressed annoyance that the movie was showing two people talking when what he actually wanted to see was what game the kids were playing in the background? That’s sort of what I’m getting at here. Not just for Conan but for the fantasy genre as a whole.

The problem is not “sex is icky” or whatever the thirteen-year-old Tropers reading this blog are already thinking, the problem is that its mundane. Imagine watching an intense F1 race and all the sudden the race stops so they can talk about how green the grass is. I read fantasy for the fantastic–starfish aliens, magic rings, lands that never were (or maybe still are?) or new insights into the workings of the cosmos, and a mundane fact of life rearing its ugly head is an intrusion. Fantasy authors don’t feel the need to describe using the bathroom (well.. Stephen King does, but he’s a hack) so why this?

So, yeah, in a nutshell:

Conan is great fantasy, but it starts to suck when the “fantasy” gets overshadowed by other matters. Just like most authors who aren’t Tolkien.

(And how much you want to bet people are going to read this as prudishness despite my three paragraphs of extrapolation, because we all know the internet is mostly populated by half-literate teens whose brains are in their dicks?)

When You Wish Upon a Ring…

It’s been tough finding things to update about. I actually put up a new ramble on Zippcast, but didn’t link to it because honestly it’s not very good.

Since then not much has been happening as much as I want it to. I’ve been trying to take care of a new kitten named Flufflepuff, but she will either be friendly or be scared, just whenever she wants to be.

Recently purchased Salamander Portable, which is basically a companion to the Gradius Collection and includes Salamander, Salamander 2, Life Force, Xexex (YES!) and the MSX version of Gradius 2… and a partridge in a pear tree. This collection being exclusive to Japan, all the games are the Japanese versions, which is awesome in the case of Xexex (the North American version got fucked right up the ass).

I’ve also been re-playing the computer game Pool of Radiance, and in fact have been keeping a diary of it. I wonder if I should upload that diary here?

I’ve also discovered a novelization of Pool of Radiance in my collection which… actually starts out pretty good. It does however do one of my least favorite cliches: the main gets a ring that gives her three wishes, and she wastes two of them by accident. This time though it wasn’t quite so bad.

Anyway, when I’ve got more to talk about, I’ll post a real entry.

Talk to yas laterz!

Good Reads: First Blood by David Morrell

THIS REVIEW IS SPOILERTASTIC!
If you intend to read this book and want it to be a surprise, then you may not want to read this review any further.

Incidentally this kinda goes for the movie too, since I do discuss differences.

I’m gonna confess something right now: For as much as I preach the values of reading, I’m actually a very poor reader. I rarely do it, and when I do, I often have trouble sticking with books to the end without getting distracted. Sometimes this is my fault, other times its because the book just isn’t that good.

My copy of First Blood was ordered off of Amazon and came in the mail last Saturday. I cut open the bubble-mailer and turned to the first page… and didn’t stop reading until I was done. All right, I lie: I stopped to cook chicken. I stopped again to make a phone call and check my internet affairs. Yet each time, I found myself wanting to get back to the book as soon as possible.

Then, finally, I was at a point where I reached for the next page… and found only the back cover. I had been so caught up that the page count disappeared entirely from my consciousness, and that never happens to me.

Needless to say, I had good experiences with this book.

….

So let’s talk about the book itself.

David Morrell’s First Blood was first published in 1972 (or at least, that’s the copyright date), and from what I understand this may have been the book that launched his career. Many people are vaguely aware that First Blood was also the book that introduced the world to Rambo, one of the many screen heroes to inflame the imaginations of moviegoers in the 1980s.

In fact, First Blood was also the title of the original Rambo movie, and if you’re wondering how close it is… well, it’s somewhere in the middle. In terms of the events as they play out, a lot of the same things happen, but they happen in different ways, or at different times, or for slightly different reasons. Rambo still gets into a private little war with the sheriff of Madison, Kentucky, but here Rambo and Wilfred Teasle have multiple meetings before Rambo finally gets arrested. Rambo is naked when he escapes prison (because they tried to shave him as soon as he got out of the prison shower) and has to talk a moonshiner and his son into giving him clothes and a rifle. Rambo still gets trapped in a caved-in mine at one point, but in the book he caused the cave-in himself by knocking out support beams, in order to escape pursuers. The final confrontation takes place in a field, not in the police station. Probably the most famous difference (and this is one almost all hardcore Rambo fans have at least heard of at some point, but I’m still gonna say SPOILER WARNING) is that in the book, Rambo dies.

But probably the biggest difference is the morality and the psychology. Now, the movie had a very clear theme that this whole thing was one-big-fuck-up and both Rambo and Teasle were culpable, but in the movie its made out that Teasle is kind of a dick and Rambo is just a guy trying to get along in a world where he’s despised for no reason. In the book though, Teasle is actually kind of a nice guy, while Rambo comes off as dickish–repeatedly coming back into town just to force a confrontation, his only excuse being that this is the sixteenth time he’s been harassed by law enforcement just for petty reasons, and even though he admits to himself that Teasle was actually nicer than the other cops who’ve hassled him, it just happened that this time, Rambo wasn’t gonna let it slide.

I have to admit that even though Rambo is the instigator here, I still feel sympathetic for him. I mean there’s two types of people in the world: You’re either the kind who is harrassed by everyone, picked on just because you’re different… or you’re the one that does the picking. I won’t lie: One reason I love First Blood–both the book and the movie–is because of the revenge fantasy aspect, just seeing a man pushed so far that he decides to get back at society and teach them a lesson. It’s something I wouldn’t mind doing myself, sometimes.

There’s one more thing though: In the book, Rambo actually DOES kill people. The first person he kills–one of the cops–is an accident, but later in the book he starts doing it on purpose, and he’s kinda schizo on whether he feels remorse or not, even arguing with himself about it but for the most part, being okay with it.

Which brings me to Teasle. While the movie made hints that Teasle wasn’t completely a dick and was actually a good cop and a nice guy outside of his dislike of “strangers,” the book humanizes him completely. That guy who had the bloodhounds? Was a dude who adopted Teasle after his real dad got killed in a hunting accident and who Teasle saw as a father figure. Oh, and Teasle is going through a divorce right now but the wife may still love him. There’s genuine love here. Yet he also comes to understand Rambo by the end, and by the end he doesn’t even hate Rambo either.

So yeah, in the movie, Rambo is the protagonist and Teasle is the antagonist (with humanizing hints), and in the book its reversed.

Colonel Sam Trautman was another major character in the movie, popping in with advice for Teasle but not really making it clear whose side he was on. In Sylvester Stallone’s commentary on the movie’s DVD, he claimed that book-Trautman was “like Dr. Frankenstein, desiring to kill his creation.” I’m not sure I agree–Trautman in the book came off as similar to his movie incarnation to me, although it is clear he’s trying to help them catch Rambo, that same undercurrent of “I want him taken alive” is still there, that sorta-sympathy. Even though, yes, it’s Trautman who delivers the killing blow (because he saw Rambo firing on someone and had no choice).

I want to make one thing perfectly clear: None of these differences are meant to say “this version is better.” They’re just differences that exist. The movie is awesome, and apparently it was built on an awesome foundation. If I had to choose between recommending the book or recommending the movie, I would say “do both.”

….

What made the book fun to read though, was Morrell’s way with words. The humanizing bits and the psychology and the intense chases were all very good, but it was the way Morrell worded things that made it all click. He has this style that feels stream-of-consciousness yet very clearly isn’t since the book is cohesive (stream of consciousness tends to be nonsensical and random), and almost demands to be read aloud, in a voice that sounds like it’s on the verge of excitement. Just a sample (note: The cops call Rambo “the kid” for some reason):

He circled the hollow and crept up from behind, and something was more than wrong. Shingleton wasn’t there, and Mitch was flat on his back in the water, his throat neatly slit from ear to ear, his blood steaming in the cold. Shingleton. Where was Shingleton? Worried and tired of waiting, he must have gone after the kid too, and left Mitch, and the kid came up and slit his throat to kill him quietly. The kid, Teasle realized, the kid must be very close. He crouched and spun, and the sight of Mitch, the frenzy of trying to protect himself from all angles made him want to cry out, Shingleton, get back here. Shingleton! Two men facing in opposite directions would maybe see the kid before he rushed them. Shingleton, he wanted to call.

Grammar nuts would probably go crazy, because a lot of Morrell’s voice relies on things like run-on sentences, one-word sentences or ones that don’t have a complete object-verb structure but you still know what they’re talking about, and other things that give a feeling of intensity, like there’s just too much going on for people to care if they’re putting periods and commas in the right place. This especially enhances the parts where Teasle and Rambo are beginning to become delirious because of their wounds and infections as a result of said wounds, and start suffering from things like missing time (being somewhere without knowing how they got there, although it usually comes to them soon enough) and events seeming to happen out of order, and thinking they had accidentally said something out loud… it’s very intense reading, is all I can say. I know that fake critics and review blurbs have made “intense” almost a meaningless cliche but I honestly can not think of a better word.

….

I will say it one more time, First Blood is a good book that spawned an equally good (if somewhat different) movie, and I can not recommend one above the other. You should really go for both. I’m not just talking to the Rambo fans here–screw it, First Blood is a thing that survives outside of being the beginning of a franchise, and should be appreciated outside of those bounds. Who knows, it might even turn you into a Rambo fan… or a Morrell fan.