Friday, October 31, 2014

Five things that will not actually make your movie better

Wow, this sounds like the title of a Cracked article.  This is my humble list of concepts that pop culture believes merge flawlessly like peanut butter into chocolate with any other property, but in fact, do not.

It's not a list of things that are bad. It's not a list of things I don't like because they're popular. Disliking something because it's popular is a particular trait of geek culture, and it's just as ridiculous as liking something because it's popular.

This is a list of things that I can enjoy in moderation, but they've all become so ubiquitous that they really hold no surprises anymore, and I'm less interested when I learn that one of these things will be present in a story.

Usually Bad 

1.) Zombies: Sorry, Jeremy, but oh, boy.

 Let's do an image search for "Sexy Zombie".

100 + more. Sweet, merciful Romero.

I've argued in this post about zombies and in this one about Berserkers that zombies work best as an environmental threat, something that's only dangerous if you're careless or screwed by your fellow humans. I like zombie movies, but I think zombies are only scary in the absence of a functioning society. Even the granddaddy of them all, Night of the Living Dead, recognizes this. The dead were spontaneously reanimating, and a couple people in close proximity to a cemetery had a really bad night, but by the end of it, a bunch of rednecks were making a game of killing the zombies.

Also, if all else fails, use bears.

The exception to the zombie rule is Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a book shamelessly plagiarized by that hack, Jane Austen.

2.) Tesla: Not the band.

(Well, okay, the band. They suck, but they're not awkwardly shoehorned into every property imaginable.)

Need 22nd century technology in the late 19th century? Nikola Tesla did it!

He's the patron saint of geeks. He was unquestionably a brilliant scientist. Like the other items on the list, he's not good or bad on his own, but he's ridiculously overexposed. I blame Elon Musk and the Oatmeal.

3.) Steampunk: Close cousin to number 2. Sometime a steampunk aesthetic can work. The Legend of Korra is outstanding example of building a steampunk look organically. It's mixed with a 1920's Shanghai vibe that gives the series a very cool look and feel. Unfortunately, for every cool Korra mecha tank (see below),

we have three Abe Lincolns with minigun arms.

"Looks like you brought a derringer to a minigun fight, Booth."
From the awesome site, Unnecessary Steampunk.

4.) Knight Templar: Ugh, these guy. I think that each of the above properties work well in their own milieu, but I can't say the same for the Knights Templar. They never work, and they're fucking EVERYWHERE,

We still use swords in the 21st Century. 

5.) Benedict Cumberbatch: The Mary Sue used to be an absolutely outstanding site until they abruptly merged with Geekosystem. Quality fell off a cliff, and now every other article is a warbled squee of "Maisie Williams/Joss Whedon/Benedict Cumberbatch did something!!!!!"

The Internet seems to want to cast him as everyone from Luke Cage to Sharon Carter, and while TMS is hardly the only offender, they are certainly among the most egregious.


Bill Murray: A friend sent me a link with this message: "Did either of you see that Bill Murray has a movie out in which it looks like he just plays Bill Murray?"

I replied: I think we're nearing peak Murray. I love the guy, but dang, is he everywhere! I would hate to see the day when I see a headline about him and think, "Ugh, him again?", but, unfortunately, such a future is no longer inconceivable.

Usually Good

Cthulhu: The Cthulhu Mythos  is something that gets mashed up with a lot of stuff. An old acquaintance from my time at the comic store (and Jen's time at her church. You thought I was joking about Unitarians worshiping Cthulhu) wrote the 463 page Cthulhu Mythos Bibliography & Concordance. It was published in 1999, and, due to the explosion of online publishing, I'd bet that it would be twice that size if it were written today.

Opinions will differ, but I think the reason that the Mythos meshes with other properties better than the other things I mentioned is because it's not just one thing. Read the Lovecraft eZine's submission guidelines to get an idea, or Wikipedia's piece on the Cthulhu Mythos as a whole. It's more than just monsters with unpronounceable names and lots of tentacles; it's broad enough to encompass a number of interpretation, and that's why it's not a red flag like so many of the things listed. Are there terrible Mythos stories? Of course there are, but in general, it's not the Mythos elements that make them bad.

1 comment:

  1. I'd argue that zombies existing as an "environmental threat" is why The Walking Dead works as well as it does. Left to their own devices, the main characters could (and did) easily fortify a location and carry on the semblance of a normal life. It's really the lack of a functioning modern society and the conflict with other groups that keeps undermining their efforts.

    The problem is what you described in a previous post: somehow the U.S. military lost a massive battle against the zombies. They only show glimpses of this battle in Atlanta from a distance (where apparently napalm and bombs of various sorts were dropped on the undead crowds) but it takes quite a bit of suspension of disbelief to buy that the military wasn't able to eventually come up with an effective counter attack. It certainly helps the story that they never both to show the actual downfall, only its aftermath (by having the main character sleep through most of it in a coma.)


    And I got a little chuckle out of Bill Murray and Cthulhu mythos being discussed in the same post, since a very thinly painted over version of that mythos was the primary villain of one of Murray's best films: Ghostbusters.