Category: Film

Mass Effect: The Road to Shepardition

Warning: Contains minor Mass Effect spoilers, no Mass Effect 2 spoilers.

You may have read that the Mass Effect movie has been reoptioned. This apparently is news, because I thought that around the time Mass Effect 2 came out there was talk of the movie. No matter.

Thing is, look at the Mass Effect boxes. Look at the guy with the shaved head, the guy with the gun, the guy who doesn’t care what you think of him. Who is that guy?

Some might argue that he is John Shepard. There is no John Shepard. Mass Effect is an infinite series of parallel Shepards, from LL Shepard, the genocide preventing beacon of light, to the bloodthirsty Sarah “Going Rogue” Shepard, hell bent on homicide and pitifully thin profit margins. There are gradations of Shepard, and each is particular to the player. Sarah Shepard may be physically identical to LL Shepard, but she has black lips to match her black heart.

One gets so attached to one’s first Shepard that any other Shepard seems somewhat wrong by comparison. When Sarah Shepard embarked upon her maiden voyage, I reflected upon the fact that LL would never be so pointlessly antagonistic to the entire galaxy. It jarred.

Then, as I got under Sarah’s skin, I realised that she was indeed her own person, and not simply LL with some dark make up on and a smart mouth: she was a genuinely anarchic space bitch and she didn’t care who knew it.

I don’t have stats on this but it seems that quite a lot of people play Shepard as a woman. The default Shepard – shaved marine John Shepard – seems too boring to even fathom. One of your options in these games is to play as a variant of a space wizard. You can also be a space hacker, a psychic computer genius super bug-empath, or quite a few combinations of all of the above … yet so many players choose to run through the universe as a dude with a gun.

I don’t have anything against “dudes with guns”, but it is hard to deny that in the current field they are a little overrepresented. If I want to play as a woman who can suck you into a vortex of pain with a gesture of her hand, then I will.

So what will we end up with in a projected movie of Mass Effect? We will end up with someone else’s Shepard: a Shepard set in stone, a Shepard that we, the audience, have no say in. To canonize Mass Effect is to weaken its brand.

Remember the uproar that went up when it was discovered that a Shepard created from scratch in Mass Effect 2 had wantonly murdered Wrex and doomed the Council to extinction? That Shepard was a jerk by default. That’s not anybody’s Shepard. That is Bioware’s idea of what a lot of peoples’ Shepards might have been.

It is because of this that the PC crowd had the huge Shepard Supermarket, wherein players could download the Shepard that most closely conformed to their ideal Shepard. Fortunately, Mass Effect 2’s story allowed for extensive plastic surgery at the beginning of the game to reshape a Shepard into the Shepard of one’s own dreams. It’s a degree of decadence just short of Tyrell Corporation, but it restores not just peace of mind to the player but to the universe they have been charged with the protection of.

What makes Shepard so great is that she is a legitimate character rather than the blank slate everyman that so many modern video games offer. The player is given a pre-formed character with whom they quickly familiarize themselves, and based on what they know about her they decide what action she is most likely to take.

Would Sarah Shepard show mercy and allow the Rachni to survive? No, she would give their queen an acid bath and laugh at the unheard screams of millions of children never to be born.

Would LL Shepard slaughter the citizens of Feros simply because it’s easier than trying to deprogram them? No, she would ensure that no one died on her watch – and she would do it efficiently and without complaint. That’s just the kind of Shepard LL is.

That every Shepard belongs to the player means that there is no single Mass Effect canon. Different Shepards created different universes, and to watch a movie that asserts that something you know in your heart is blatantly wrong is to bring pain upon oneself.  The movie removes power and agency from the hands of those most dedicated to the subject matter: the players.

Commander Shepard belongs to everybody. There is no single Commander Shepard. For some charlatan to foist the Commander Shepard of their own creation upon the world, and to claim him (and it will be him) as the Commander Shepard, to expect us to adopt him as our unquestioned messiah, is an act of intense hubris, and one that we must not stand for.

Whatever the Mass Effect movie turns out to be – and we don’t strictly need it, because the games are already there to be played, enjoyed and consumed in an almost cinematic fashion – it won’t be Mass Effect. It might have some cool ideas, it might have some cool characters, action, worlds and an epic story befitting the grandest of space operas, but it will ultimately be someone else’s vision.

Mass Effect is at its heart an expression of democracy: the player’s destination is universal, but their choices along the way act to create an individual Shepard – a Shepard they can call their own.

Credit is due to Bioware forums user OraVelnoria87 for their “FemShep” montage.

The Secret in Their Eyes

The Secret in Their Eyes won Best Foreign Language Film at the 2010 Academy Awards, upsetting favourites A Prophet and The White Ribbon. But was it any good?

The trailer bore an ill omen: it prominently features a train pulling away from a station as a woman tearfully runs towards it. I was surprised that a film is allowed to get away with such brazen actions in the modern age. The image is so iconic but it means that it’s difficult to take seriously.

However, there is a context to everything, and the train works on several levels within the film itself. A cinematic trope can be featured if you exploit or subvert it in some way, rather than present it without comment.

The Concert

Take your passion and make it happen!

The Concert is a movie that I have several issues with, but it’s also a certain kind of movie: one that works to such an explosive finale that practically all is forgiven.

That one has condescended to forgive the movie, however, does not mean that it its flaws can or should be overlooked.

Andrei Fillipov (Aleksei Guskov) used to be the Maestro, the finest conductor in the Bolshoi. Alas, he was named an enemy of the people and demoted to janitor. Thirty years later, he hijacks his boss’ fax machine and accepts an invitation to perform at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris. Naturally, he has to get the orchestra back together … And to enlist the violinist Anne-Marie Jacquet (Inglourious Basterds’ Mélanie Laurent) to perform the all-important solo in his Tchaikovsky recital.

The trailer for The Concert didn’t quite strike the right note, trying too clumsily to balance the comedy and the drama of the film. I was still interested in seeing it, and I was rewarded to a degree.

Kick-Ass

Kick-Ass is going to cause a lot of controversy. It’s about vigilante justice. It’s about revenge. It’s about a twelve-year-old girl swearing and stabbing people and shooting them in the head and cutting off their limbs.

The strangest thing is that people are shocked most of all by the girl saying “the c word”, rather than the brutal murders she commits. The unstrange thing is that a lot of people – chiefly the denizens of this faceless morass we call the internet – are going to love it.

I didn’t quite love Kick-Ass, and part of that was the audience, and part of that was a not very subtle undertone of homophobia, but it’s a worthy enough movie that I hope achieves enough success for Matthew Vaughn to keep making movies.

Oscars ’10: Deadblog

Last year I “deadblogged” the Oscars in a notebook which I was too exhausted to transcribe. At a glance, the best note was the following:

“Who knows which [of these movies] are already on their journeys to next year’s Academy Awards?”

-The ones in the fourth quarter.

As always, the “Deadblog” is entirely optional, as it boils down to 2600 words of stream of consciousness typed in real time watching my recording of the Oscars (and a Youtube video). Think of it as a distilled, more inane version of my Twitter feed.

I will venture a more professional write up soon. Needless to say, the following contains Oscar spoilers.

Bit of an underwhelming year, but what can you do? It went almost exactly as expected, except for … I’m furrowing my brow here. But know my rage and read on.
As always, Mark’s legitimately live blog can be found here.

Oscars 2010: The Last Second Primer

The Oscars, once again trying to do something to mix it up, have further diluted their already severely degraded brand. Much as Chris Rock said that the Oscars are about movies only white people watch (being as the world is divided into two distinct groups: white people and black people; white people talk like this and black people like this), this year they’re trying to make the whole thing that much more populist – and therefore meaningless.
Ten Best Picture nominees, but only five Best Director nominees. This is the same thing as there being only five Best Picture nominees. The Best picture and Best Director don’t always line up; one need only look at 2005, when Ang Lee rightly won Best Director for Brokeback Mountain, and Paul Haggis’ execrable Crash took Best Picture.

You may have noticed that Brokeback Mountain still gets mentioned for many reasons, not least of which being the still somewhat raw tragedy of Heath Ledger (a bizarrely opposite parallel to the movie itself), while Crash is mentioned largely for the fact that it undeservedly won Best Picture and the various shallow implications it had for race relations.

Ten Best Pictures! What a spread! They run from the criminally overrated (An Education, Up in the Air), the way out there (District 9), the sadly without a chance (Up), the extremely popular (Avatar), to the totally mystifying (The Blind Side).

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

In the perfect world, Alice in Wonderland could be released without having to be considered by people above a certain age as “Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland”. If the exact same movie had been made by someone with no name to speak of, the viewers would be more free to loudly proclaim that the movie kind of sucks.

I’m free to do that now, of course: this movie kind of sucks.

There’s a stigma to having done so, though. Had I loved it, I would have been a Tim Burton sympathiser in a dense jungle of haters. Had I hated it, which is almost my position, I would have been a petty fool who can’t understand true greatness.

So ignore Tim Burton, and take Alice in Wonderland on its own merits: fact is, it doesn’t have many. It’s simply not a good or interesting movie, and no name can mask that fact.

Up in the Air

Critical darling Up in the Air is a movie that could stand to get me into a lot of trouble. This is largely because I don’t understand why it was the favourite of so many critics in the last year; it is a well-made movie, and a good one, but to me it had none of the emotional resonance that I expect from something like this.

Avatar

The trajectory of Avatar for me was an initial reaction of “what?” then “oh, okay,” then “yes, that looks quite good”, then “I must see this, right now”, then “I have my tickets. I must not think of this film until such time as I see it, lest I overhype myself and die.”

Then Avatar came out today and … yes. This is what movie making is about. I could point to an entirely different film, different genre, different crafting, different styling, and say “this is what movie making is about” – and that is what movie making is about.

Avatar is a specific brand of amazing and perfect movie making. All of the cliches apply here: a labour of love, a man at the peak of his performance, best movie Cameron has made since Titanic … but they’re all true. Especially that last one.

ABSOLUTELY NO SPOILERS INSIDE!