The Beauty Of Ugly

I’m not going to pretend like you haven’t seen it already but in case you suffer from some kind of internet move hype-induced amnesia or something; here’s the new trailer for that Prometheus film.

Pretty damn impressive, although not quite as brilliant as the last one, for my money. But there was one brief moment in this trailer that caught my eye and while it occurs for less than a second it got me thinking about something I have been meaning to address for a while now. Hop aboard the nitpick-train because it’s leaving station.

Around 1:18 in the clip we get a blink-and-miss-it POV shot from one of the crew’s mounted cameras, which is one of several nice little callbacks to the original Alien which this is totally not a prequel to.

You may notice that not-Tom Hardy up there can be viewed in absolutely crisp high-definition along with all the totally necessary UI surrounding the image. Doesn’t it look beautiful? Remember how this movie takes places decades, it not centuries, before Alien but still in the same universe? So just how will portable camera technology advance in the years after this?

That is a screenshot from the Alien Director’s Cut but you could be forgiven for mistaking it for a picture taken on a ten year old Nokia. You can sort of see a guy with his head in a fishbowl, maybe, and some other guy in a sort of shower cap behind him, or that’s a painting or something, maybe. This insinuates that within the movie’s universe we will technologically de-evolve from using portable 1080i cameras to using recording equipment that is barely higher definition than the Game Boy Camera.

57 years later we have apparently not made much progress in the field as this clip from Aliens demonstrates.

Okay, yes, I obviously understand that this is a result of real life technology advancing over the course of three decades and it is reflected in the later movie, despite that taking place before the original. In 1979 the technology to produce HD footage was barely available to filmmakers, so to create a POV effect they had no choice but to use smaller cameras which produced much grainer film. This helped create a more realistic sequence where we follow the characters through an unknown, hostile landscape while we, like them, can barely make out their surroundings. It makes for an oppressive, dark and deeply intense exploration. When the same technique was used in Aliens the jerky, barely comprehensible video feeds made the initial battle with the monsters that much more exhilarating. Most of the time we can only see the characters sweating as they stare impotently as the video feeds shake, twitch and begin going offline one by one.

That limitation does not exist in a time when we’re all effectively carrying around HD-video cameras to easily document our insanely important lives. But as a result of this I can’t help but feel that the effect achieved in the original movie will not be as replicable when the footage from the shoulder-mounted cameras will be of basically the same quality as the footage in the rest of the film. If you removed all the little graphs and text from the screen it would be nearly indistinguishable from the rest of the trailer because the quality of small handheld cameras are not that much noticeably lower than the big hunkering 3D and IMAX cameras that shot the rest of the film. The immediate closeness and realism that the POV shots in the previous movies managed to create might not be as easily achieved without all that lovely grain and gravel on the lens.

While HD is by no means a negative thing, I sometimes feel that when every film and every game is made with such lush, crisp graphics things have a tendency to becomes a bit too sterile and lifeless. There is a lot of beauty in the imperfect that you lose when you remove the limits of what you can do with an image. Take the recently released Silent Hill HD Collection as a brilliant example. I personally can’t think of anything that is less suitable for an HD remake than Silent Hill, since so much of the atmosphere and tone of the games came from how well the developers used the limitations of the hardware. The fog, the film grain, the darkness – they were all essentially parts in making the games so terrifying. What Konami of today does not seem to understand is that while these were results of limitations at the time, they were not flaws. In the HD Collections both the fog and the grain filter have been taken out entirely, which makes about as much sense as cutting the zombies out of Dawn Of The Dead.

Image from Dualshockers.com

Yeah, that’s the new, supposedly improved version on the left. Somebody at Konami looked at that and thought it was an improvement.. Notice how the graphics, now blown up to HD, look bloody terrible when there is nothing to hide all the imperfections and the horrendous draw distance. The fog hid the player’s surroundings from them so you had no way of knowing if you were standing just a few feet away from an enemy. The town itself seemed to be closing in on you as the disorientation and paranoia grew, creating a sense that the fog itself and the evils therein were smothering you. It was put there to mask a technical limitation but it absolutely served a purpose beyond just masking up the hardware limitations. It was all there for a reason, you idiots.

I guess this annoys me so much because I love both Ridley Scott’s old sci-fi movies and the Silent Hill games and it screws with my head when I realise how neither creator seems to understand what made their original works so good. Alien and Blade Runner were among the last science fiction movies ever made that features no CG but relied entirely on handmade effects. They also happen to be two of the best and most beautiful science fiction movies of all time, not despite of this but because of it.

Yes, it’s tempting to crank the framerate up to eleven and use 3D cameras and make everything crystal clear, and there is certainly a place for it, but I do wish that the beauty of the handmade, imperfect still has its place. Think of how uselessly silly Jaws would have been if Spielberg’s shark hadn’t constantly broken down so they were forced to shot most of the film without it, or how lifeless and dull all the fake environments in the Star Wars prequels look compared to the grimmy real-life locations of the originals.

While I am pretty sure that Prometheus can stand up despite this incredibly insignificant detail, I feel it might be important to recall the wisdom of Marilyn Monroe, and I sincerely hope that Konami are reading this right now.

“Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.”

Speaking Of Trailers

This is how you advertise a movie.

Not one line of dialogue. No stupid plot-revealing title-cards – almost nothing to give away the plot whatsoever. Most importantly, we don’t get to see the aggressor or its attack method. All we get is a feel for the atmosphere, danger and tone. It lets us know what we can feasibly expect from the movie without telling us almost nothing about the plot, which would probably have taken the edge of a lot of the scares if we had already seen them in the trailer.

If more ad people in both the film and games industries could look at this and take down some notes I think we’d all be a lot happier for it. Or we’d at least have some nicer trailers to look at.

EA(‘s Marketing Department) Hates You

Extra Credits have today devoted an episode of their often-brilliant show to EA and their often egregious marketing campaigns. They raise many valid and interesting points of discussion and if you haven’t already clicked that link and watched the thing you should probably do that before reading on.

As you have progressed to Paragraph 2, I assume you’ve followed my previous instructions and are now ready for the rest of the blog. With that in mind, let’s talk video game marketing. EC focus their attention on the high-profile campaigns behind Dead Space 2 and Dante’s Inferno in particular, both of which weathered plenty of air on gaming blogs and news sites and probably managed in their baseline intentions to get the name of their products out to a big market. After all, that’s the very definition of marketing and advertising and if EA had no other goal, at least that must be written down as a success. We’re still talking about them, after all.

But as EC rightfully points out, these campaigns also manage to drag the public perception of video gaming back the few inches its managed to progress the past few years, but they also manage to do something even worse and damaging: they don’t even sell the actual games. Say you know nothing about Dead Space 2 and the first confrontation you have with the game is the infamous “Your Mom Hates Dead Space 2” commercial. What does this really tell you about the game? We see some quick peeks of monsters and maybe it’s set in space or an awfully spacious basement complex at least, so is it a serious action game? Horror? Torture simulator? What’s the tone? Is it atmospheric or action-packed? All we’re ever told is that you – the basement dwelling loser/pre-teen boy – will like it exclusively because it pisses off “Mom.” Apparently that’s all we’ll ever need, us boys, living with our mums, playing or videoma gaming things. How the game plays and what it has to offer us in terms of atmosphere, story and gameplay is evidently not of any concern to their target audience.

And what exactly is that target audience? These campaigns don’t just patronise and regress the medium and its audience, they are willfully and self-referentially loathing towards the both. There is absolutely nothing to suggest in these trailers that the people behind them think the game itself is worth anything, the ads are entirely based upon what third parties think about them – even if they don’t actually think anything about them, considering both campaigns relied heavily on fake outrage. Who is this aimed at, exactly? If you already play video games you are probably not going to be swayed by the fact that some fictional women find it frightening, nor that Dante’s Inferno let’s you kill babies in droves, and if you don’t already play video games you’re hardly going to be impressed by what is essentially a company standing up and proudly announcing “we, as an industry, are just as bad as you think we are.” We are juvenile boys – and only boys – we are either little kids or middle-aged man-children and we like violence, titties and to anger our maternal guardians (who, by the by, are all roughly the same and all hate games and boy’s stuff).

This isn’t strictly an argument about art versus marketing, as EC paints it, because at the end of the day these campaigns can’t possibly have done anything apart from harm the games or the industry itself. A brand or product name is only as valuable as the associations people make with it and EA are willingly associating their products with self-loathing. Do you honestly think that the company who put together the “Sin To Win” campaign liked Dante’s Inferno? The ads themselves all focus on spectacle and we are usually smart enough as consumers to understand that anything that has to advertise with spectacle has little else to boast about.

So what do we want instead? I fear it might be too much to ask EA and other publishers to respect us as an audience and consumers but I would like them to at least respect their own goddamned products if they expect anyone to do the same. Feel some kind of pride in what you do and don’t let your advertising arms sell yourselves short. I understand that the people who worked on Dead Space 2 has fuck-all to do with how the game is sold on TV and I have to imagine that a lot of them must have been displeased that the fruits of their hard work was sold on the basis that a lot of people will hate it. It’s the invisible ruling forces that has to allow for these two individual cells of the corporate body to mediate and not actively work against each other in this way. After all, the best adverts and trailers are those that let the audience find it, rather than go out and gratuitously try to please a very specific demographic and alienate pretty much everybody else. Sell your game on its merits and allow us to decide if those are worthy our attention and subsequently money instead of pandering to a non-existent demographic and drag what little dignity you and your medium have in the dirt at the same time.

Or we can just go back to this.

This Alan Wake Movie Does Not Feature Alan Wake

Omega 3 fatty acids are good for Hayden Christensen’s heart.

Dead Island’s Impressive Teaser

It’s been just under 24 hours since Deep Silver released the teaser for their upcoming survival horror game Dead Island and the internet hasn’t wasted a minute showering it with well-deserved praise. It is a very impressive taster and if you have somehow avoided it until now, I urge you to take a peek.

Now this is undoubtedly a very effective video to kick-start that all-important buzz machine, despite not actually giving us any real indication of what kind of game it is preparing us for. But then again, this trailer’s first and foremost purpose is not in fact to make us crave Dead Island, but to pave the way for us to even accept yet another zombie game. And in that regard, I’m pretty sure it succeeds. Zombies along with pirates, ninjas and other initially meme-driven tropes are becoming so stale and lifeless () that even parodying them feels half-assed. Are zombies even really scary anymore, after Dead Rising, Left 4 Dead and even Plants Vs. Zombies? Resident Evil abandoned them long ago and when they crop up in the Call Of Duty games they serve more as humorous side dishes rather than genuine horror fodder. Deep Silver needed to make us feel the fear again and did so the exact same way Zack Snyder once did it: little zombie girl.

For all the talk of how this might be the greatest game trailer ever, try to find a single part of it that you haven’t seen in any other zombie game or movie. It is nothing new and god knows it ain’t trying to be – nor do I think it’s actually trying to be scary either. It’s zombies the way god intended them to, scary and a genuine threat. That’s a good start, at least.

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