Saturday, June 18, 2011

To Squee Or Not To Squee

I try to be optimistic. And I try to be skeptical. Every year brings breathless, exciting new info about all the awesome, epic, sparkly stuff that’s brewing in the entertainment industry! And I always have to remind myself to take all the hype with a grain of salt. Hype is the very definition of subjective reality. Take Duke Nukem Forever, which has finally wheezed and panted its way into the light to a chorus of “Meh” from critics and a slightly more enthusiastic “Meh” from Duke fans. In honor of its arrival, let me list a few things that I’m really looking forward to...and really dubious about. I call it...


Silent Hill: Downpour
WHAT IT IS: The forthcoming eighth installment in the infamous survival horror franchise, in which assorted rubes run around a foggy, abandoned tourist town, haunted by the physical manifestation of their own emotional torment. This one stars an escaped convict named Murphy, with a supporting cast that includes a female cop, a mailman, a nun, a suicidal hillbilly, and Danny Trejo. Plot and character details remain sparse. There’s also lots of rain, hence the title.
WHY I’M EXCITED: The Silent Hill series is my favorite of all, and they have yet to make a entry I didn’t like. For Downpour, Konami turned their creation over to Czech company Vatra Games, which intrigues me; the last three were made by Americans and new perspectives are always welcome. The trailer certainly looks promising, with a blend of classic Silent Hill imagery and new, what-the-hell-was-that-thing moments of horror. Also, this one may actually avoid fan pandering! No sexy nurses! No Pyramid Head standing around looking bored! Woooo!
WHY I’M SKEPTICAL: The gameplay and aesthetics remind me a lot of Silent Hill: Homecoming, which is the weakest entry in the series due to the aforementioned fan pandering. I really want another SH game that’s subtle, that relies more on dread and suspense than action and gore. I fear Downpour is not that game; it looks very noisy and macho, and certain shots from the trailer invoke Alan Wake, a far inferior horror game. Also, our hero Murphy looks about as sympathetic as a brick wall with googly eyes stuck to it. Why do game designers always assume that all tough guys have to have tiny, crammed-together facial features? Oh, well...unless they really, REALLY fuck this up, it should be at least somewhat awesome.

UPDATE: I played it! Read my reaction here.

WHAT IT IS: A new TV series conceived by a guy you may have heard of: J.J. Abrams. Yeah, that guy. Alcatraz is a mystery drama about two investigators, played by Sarah Jones and Jorge Garcia, poking around the legendary island prison after some folks who disappeared fifty years ago resurface. Wormholes? Aliens? Immortality? A giant hoax? Spooooooky!
WHY I’M EXCITED: Well, let’s see. It’s a J.J. Abrams project. Set on a mysterious island. With trappings of sci-fi and/or horror. Possible strange experiments conducted decades ago. And the loveable Jorge Garcia. Holy shite, are we looking at Lost version 2.0?? That would make me one happy puppy, since I absolutely loved Lost and would salivate over a worthy successor. Abrams tends to strike creative gold more often than not (see also: Alias, Fringe, Star Trek, and Super 8), so you can bet I breathlessly follow his every project. And this one looks geeky-cool. Oh, yes, it does.
WHY I’M SKEPTICAL: Don’t worry, my fanboy spasms don’t impair my judgment. Abrams is not Jesus; he can also give us forgettable crap (Mission: Impossible III, Undercovers) or noble failures (Cloverfield). And the possibility of a spiritual sequel to Lost could also indicate that he’s starting to repeat himself. Lest we forget, the final product won’t depend on Abrams, but on the producers and creative team who take on Alcatraz once he inevitably heads off to his next project. Also, given that the starting gate for new TV dramas is also a guillotine, I’ll wait to watch Alcatraz until I’m sure it’s even going to last beyond one season. Fingers crossed!

UPDATE: Well, I have bad news. Alcatraz was canceled after one season, a season I haven't seen and probably never will. My cautious enthusiasm went downhill fast when I learned that the show's mythology would be mere window dressing for a case-of-the-week procedural, i.e., a TV genre that I have absolutely zero interest in. I might still have gotten to it if it had succeeded, but now, I feel like watching its sole season will just leave me unfulfilled and teased by mysteries that will never be solved. squee here.

Muppets 2011
WHAT IT IS: The exhumation of dusty old property from our childhoods -- aka, the first new feature film about the Muppets since 1999’s horrible, tragic, god-awful Muppets from Space. This time around, Jason Segel and Amy Adams play the token humans who make surprised faces while the titular plastic-and-felt gang cavort, wisecrack, and break the fourth wall. There’s also like a plot and stuff; whatever.
WHY I’M EXCITED: It’s the Muppets! Who doesn’t love them? I was born a little late to catch The Muppet Show but was totally into their movies as a child, and I’ve often had cause to mourn their apparent decline. Now they’re back to entertain a whole new generation! And the trailers are pretty funny, with that kind of knowing, wink-to-the-audience humor at which they excel. It’s like they never left...or is it?
WHY I’M SKEPTICAL: Gnawing at my soul is the dread that this isn’t really a Muppet movie; it’s a Jason Segel movie that happens to include Muppets. Segel has gushed long and hard about being a huge Muppet fan, and the thing is, fan-made properties tend to suck horribly because the fans can’t get over their own relationship with the thing they love. I fear this may be 100 minutes or so of Jason Segel patting himself on the back for getting a new Muppet movie made, coupled with a lot of humor that meticulously recreates the original Muppet flair but leaves out the heart and soul. Why? Because THAT’S WHAT ALWAYS FUCKING HAPPENS, ESPECIALLY WHEN FILM COMEDIANS AND THEIR GIANT EGOS GET INVOLVED. I really, truly want this to be awesome, but it’s drenched in foreboding. Forebode forebode forebode.

UPDATE: I watched it! Read my reaction here.

Tad Williams’ Bobby Dollar
WHAT IT IS: The next book cycle from one of my all-time favorite authors of fantasy and sci-fi. Tad Williams has already given us Tailchaser’s Song, Memory Sorrow & Thorn, Otherland, War of the Flowers, and Shadowmarch. His next series will be an urban noir fantasy about a fallen angel who reinvents himself as a hardboiled detective tracking lost souls.
WHY I’M EXCITED: Tad Williams could write a treatise on different types of linoleum and I’d probably still read it. His specialty is epic tomes with huge, vivid casts of characters, and he cheerfully hops from genre to genre. I’ve really enjoyed all his work thus far, I’m always recommending him to people, and I’ll be interested to see his take on urban noir fantasy...
WHY I’M SKEPTICAL: ...but on the other hand, I’ve never been a huge fan of urban noir fantasy, and Bobby Dollar sounds woefully unoriginal. Sorry, Tad, but dozens of other authors have already combined the trappings of film noir, fantasy, and the Old Testament -- and it all runs together in my mind. I’m sure he’ll write it as well as ever, but I was hoping he’d try something that hasn’t been done to death already, especially after his last series, Shadowmarch, turned out to be yet another predictable foray into the J.R.R. Tolkien idea dumpster. Write something else, Tad, anything else! Why not hard sci-fi? Or horror? Or steampunk? Or anything other than more freakin’ angels in trenchcoats?

UPDATE: I read it! Read my reaction here.

And speaking of Tad Williams...

The Otherland MMOG
WHAT IT IS: An online multiplayer extravaganza based on Tad Williams’ Otherland series, which is set primarily in a limitless virtual reality network. In the game (the real one, that is), players will begin in a glittery, futuristic social hub from which they can explore a series of different VR worlds and presumably become embroiled in the events of the books. Kind of like Second Life and WoW combined, with elements of just about every other MMOG thrown in.
WHY I’M EXCITED: I love Otherland. It might possibly be my all-time favorite science fiction series. And it is SO BLOODY COOL that they’re making an actual game based on it. So far, the screenshots I’ve seen look amazing, depicting both the neon-lit Lambda Mall hub and a dusty, 1920s-style Martian landscape. Williams himself is excitedly reporting on the game from his website, which is a good sign indeed. Might this be the MMOG that actually causes me to stop hating MMOGs? Have they finally captured me?
WHY I’M SKEPTICAL: It’s ambitious. Alarmingly ambitious. What if no one gets it? I worry that the online gaming crowd will scratch their heads, declare the game unclassifiable, and ooze off to collect more kobold spleens in the Slime Caverns of Deadly Doom or whatever. WoW tends to steamroll its competitors if they don’t make a good first impression, and the Otherland game has already been in development for an age. Magnum opus of online gaming....or noble failure? Or just flat-out turkey?

WHAT IT IS: The forthcoming...let’s call it a “release”...from Finnish epic metal band Nightwish. Slated for 2012, Imaginarium will manifest itself in two parts: an operatic studio album and a feature film. Together, they will tell the tale of an aging composer’s journey through dream, nightmare, and fantasy.
WHY I’M EXCITED: Most Nightwish fans, myself included, will never get over the loss of original female vocalist Tarja Turunen. However, I must commit sacrilege by admitting that the band has gotten better since. They’ve begun to broaden their sound and experiment with the “epic” half of epic metal, and the sheer audacity of Imaginarium makes me drool a bit. They’ve cited Tim Burton, Neil Gaiman, and Salvador DalĂ­ as their main inspirations, and I love all three of those guys. As a fan of bombast, all this is relevant to my interests. Also, bagpipes!
WHY I’M SKEPTICAL: Like other entries on this list, Imaginarium bears the mark of hubris. Are Nightwish biting off more than they can chew? I’m not too worried because this sort of over-the-top spectacle has always been a staple of rock music and they’ve gotta keep their epic cred. I just hope that the band doesn’t become so infatuated with the spectacle that they forget about the music. Y’know, those sounds that come out of the instruments when you wail on them? Don’t lose the vision, guys!

UPDATE: I listened to it! Read my reaction here.

The Rest of Clive Barker’s Abarat Series
WHAT IT IS: Awhile back, horror and fantasy author Clive Barker began Abarat, an epic series for young adults, set on a mystical archipelago where each island is frozen at a specific hour of the day. The first two novels (each one lavishly illustrated by Barker himself) are out; there are supposedly three more to come. Book Three is slated for late this year.
WHY I’M EXCITED: This is another favorite author of mine (you do not know horror fiction until you’ve read his Books of Blood), and I became deeply immersed in Abarat, which is one helluva world for one mind to create! Strange visions, vivid characters, unexpected twists, all brought to life by Barker’s dreamlike oil paintings. I could wait forever for more Abarat.
WHY I’M SKEPTICAL: It kinda seems like I already have waited forever. The second book came out seven years ago. That’s a damn long time to depend upon the nonexistent attention spans of tweens. I love Barker, but I sometimes want to slap him for taking on too much; look the man up and you’ll see he has five or six major writing projects, plus art, plus producing movies and video games and the like. I fear he’ll die of old age before he finishes Abarat -- or, perhaps just as bad, his target audience will forget the series even exists. After having its release date pushed back a zillion times, can the third book (which he claims is over 1,000 pages) recapture the wonder? Or will Abarat burn out at around the same time Barker does?

UPDATE: I say lots of very mean things about the first three books here!

Bioshock Infinite
WHAT IT IS: The continuation of the immensely popular steampunk video game series that injected the FPS genre with a dose of philosophy and cool. Unlike the rushed and predictable Bioshock 2, the third entry in the franchise completely reboots the concept: it’s set in the skybound city of Columbia, which drifts ominously over 1910s America, held up by airships and torn by civil war. The trappings of Bioshock are still there (psychic powers, killer robots, alternate history), but this is not a sequel or prequel, more of a sidewise companion.
WHY I’M EXCITED: I admit that I haven’t played Bioshock yet; it is reserved for the theoretical time in the future when I’m willing to cough up for a PS3. But I loved the idea of the first game and I REALLY love that its threequel is taking things in an entirely new direction. It’s like Bioshock 2 never happened! The early footage from Infinite looks stunning, the story holds a lot of mystery and subtext, and it’s even been teased that the hero will be hopping through wormholes to other alternate histories. After hearing that every single bland, boring, dirt-colored FPS franchise is chugging along dutifully (thanks for nothing, E3), I feel energized by this sole burst of unique color.
WHY I’M SKEPTICAL: Never, ever trust video game studios. There’s always a catch. If the game looks great, the gameplay may be buggy as shit. If they toss a Big Concept in your face, there’s a chance the final product will just be pretentious. I’m hardwired to be optimistic about cool-looking games, but I understand that the studios are terrified of too much innovation, lest it frighten away the hordes of fragile Halo-heads. What if there’s nothing under Infinite’s gaudy surface? What if it seems to be a raging stallion of a game, but a closer look reveals nothing but a big surgical scar where its mighty balls used to be? I’ll definitely check the reviews first, especially the snarky ones. Snark has its uses; it warns and it heals!

So, will I enjoy all these things to some degree? Most likely! Will some of them fall flat on their faces? Quite possibly! Am I excited anyway? FUCK, YES! What can I say; I’m a whore for hype. We all are, even when it bites us in the ass. Time will tell!

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