Holy crap guys, I’m sorry it’s been so long since my last post but it’s been busy. Things are afoot over here and hopefully I’ll have a shiny new website up and running, that’ll allow more customization and make it easier for me to organize my posts. In the mean time though, I thought I’d share with all of you some really cool commercials that I hope become the future of advertising. I hate commercials, I really do, but if all commercials were as moving and honest as these two, I would literally watch nothing but the commercials.
First one is from Google:
And I don’t even know what this one was supposed to be advertising, but I’ll take twelve:
So once again, sorry for my long absence, but hopefully these give you something to think about or least bring a smile to your face!
Edit: And for some reason the youtube embed code isn’t working, so you’ll just have to follow the links. Trust me, these are great.
Sorry for the long delay between posts, but this month has been absolutely crazy for my freelancing business. I complete one assignment only for three more to pop up, still that’s no excuse for ignoring all my readers, so my apologies. Fortunately last night I took some time to myself to relax and let my fingers relax, since my writer’s cramp has progressed into writer’s rigor mortis; I went to see Gravity, and it is without a doubt the greatest movie that’s come out this year. Once again I’ll be using my patented style of analysis to systematically ruin every surprise and character arc in the movie, so if you haven’t see this please don’t read any further. This is a great movie and really deserves to be seen. For those of you who have seen it, sit back and enjoy while I take the story apart piece by piece and show you why this movie is so damn good.
Gravity: A Storyteller’s Review
Gravity takes place in an alternate universe where NASA is actually funded and we’re still actively exploring space, but other than that the movie is pretty grounded in reality. I’ve heard from some sciencey-type guys that the physics of Gravity are wrong, and that some of the scenes are unrealistic but then I never was any good at mathing so I still enjoyed it. If you have Phd in Physics then either turn off your bullshit sensors or avoid this movie, nerd!
The plot of Gravity is deceptively simple, those wacky Russians decide to blow up a satellite but accidentally trigger a chain reaction that sends a giant wave of debris smashing into the Space Shuttle Explorer and sending Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) drifting aimlessly through the upper atmosphere. Well, not entirely aimlessly as Kowalski was field testing a new jetpack of sorts that allows him to maneuver through space and attempt to survive without any outside assistance. That’s the plot, and it’s a damn good plot filled with incredibly tense moments. Except for a short scene when Dr. Ryan is inside the International Space Station, the entire movie is devoid of all sound effects and watching space debris go ripping through the space shuttle, astronauts and space stations in the movie is even eerier when there’s no sound. It’s a good plot, but that’s not why it’s a good story.
The real meat of the story is in the underlying theme, the journey of the characters and the absolutely stunning visual symbolism.
As that not-so-subtle visual metaphor probably makes abundantly clear, this movie’s core themes are about life, death and the journey in between. The imagery, and indeed the dialogue, is sometimes a bit heavy-handed but the message it’s carrying is so good that I didn’t really mind. I’m getting a head of myself, however.
After a nail biting opening sequence, Dr. Stone and Kowalski return to the now shattered hull of the Explorer to find there are no survivors on board. Nearly every Satellite in orbit has been wiped out, cutting the pair off from Houston but Kowalski tells Dr. Stone to keep talking just in case. Ostensibly this is because someone might be listening but unable to respond to them, but the real reason is so Sandra Bullock and Kowalski can continue talking without being too unrealistic (talking consumes a lot more oxygen than just breathing.) This is a great thing because it’s Dr. Stone and Kowalski’s relationship that really make the first part of the movie fantastic, and set the stage for the later character development of Dr. Stone. Why only Dr. Stone? Well because Kowalski isn’t going to stay with us.
Kowalski does what’s necessary: he sacrifices himself rather than doom both of them. This is a powerful scene for several reasons; first because Kowalski attitude towards death gives us a glimpse at Dr. Stone’s character arc, two because it preys on the primal fear of being alone, and three, it’s a symbolic representation of life and human relationships.
Kowalski’s attitude towards his own impending doom is one of calm acceptance rather than fear and when he starts floating away into the emptiness of space, he doesn’t waste time mourning for himself or sharing his regrets. He sits back and enjoys the view, enjoying the fact that he’s finally going to be beat Anatoly Solovyev’s record for longest space walk. He uses his final words to remark on how beautiful the sunrise is as it hits the Ganges River hundred of thousands miles down. George Clooney absolutely nails this performance, to the point where you’re almost envious that the guy gets to die in the void of space cold and alone. Dr. Stone desperately tries to keep in contact with him, but eventually he drifts out of range and Dr. Stone is completely and utterly alone, everyone’s worst nightmare.
It was watching Dr. Stone desperately clutching at the tether that made this whole scene so powerful. Relationships are a lot like that, we’re all just attached by the flimsiest of tethers and sometimes it doesn’t take much for those tethers to slip, break or be let go, and when they’re gone it’s impossible not to feel that emptiness on the other side of the tether. More to the point, it’s also a great visual metaphor for life; delicate and so easy to lose. Kowalski let go of the tether, and his life, because he had to. His fate was sealed already, and hanging on would only have killed Dr. Stone as well. Some people though, let go of the tether of life because we just don’t want to hold on to it anymore. That’s the situation Dr. Stone finds herself in after she makes it to the ISS’s escape ship and finds out the engines are out of fuel. Frustrated and exhausted she turns off the ship’s life support systems and waits for death, until Kowalski reappears.
His speech here is amazing and I can’t remember it word for word, but it boils down to this: life is hard and painful to get through sometimes, and sometimes it gets to the point where it feels like it would just be easier to curl up and let ourselves go. I’ve been in that situation several times before, back when I was depressed and even a couple times since when the walls seem to be closing in around me; when I was kicked out of college for instance, it sometimes seemed like ending it would have been the easier option. After all, I’d raised to believe that life without college is a life not worth living, by my parents, by my teachers and by society itself. Then I returned to my first true love, my writing and I found a new career that didn’t care if I’d been kicked out of college. That’s the beauty of life, there’s always another option and that’s what Kowalski reminds Dr. Stone of. The main engines are dead, but the soft-landing jets that deploy after re-entry are still functioning. There’s still a way to get home.
Of course Kowalski isn’t really there, it was just a dream brought on by low oxygen, but the idea is real. So she fires the jets and heads toward the Chinese space station Tiangong, hoping to find a functional escape vehicle there. she succeeds but finds Tiangong falling into the atmosphere. She finds a functional escape ship, and with the station burning up around her, begins preparations to launch. Then Sandra Bullock gives us her best performance of the movie, and a speech that’ll make you want to go out there and do something crazy.
Houston, in ten minutes I’ll either be home on earth with one hell of a story to tell or I’ll burn up in the atmosphere. Either way, no harm, no foul. Because one way or the other, it’s been a hell of a ride.
Obviously I’m paraphrasing, but that’s the gist of her statement and it brought manly tears to my eyes. She let go of her fear of death, and embraced life with every fiber of her being. She stopped worrying and let life take its course; she still does everything she can to survive, but there’s no more hopelessness and no more despair, just determination and confidence. Even after all the greatness this movie gave me, it’s the ending that really secures this movie as my favorite of the year.
After an admittedly unrealistic survival and reentry, Sandra Bullocks emerges from the ocean and takes her first unsure steps on Earth. Weak from long-term exposure to Zero Gravity, her first steps are awkward and unsure, and that’s what makes this ending amazing.
Hundreds of millions of years ago, some strange sea creature made this same journey. It stepped out of the primordial oceans to take its first steps on land and ushered in a new age. Obviously it didn’t see it that way, it was just evolving to take advantage of a new environment but that doesn’t matter. What does matter is some creature with only rudimentary leg-flaps and breathing with its half-developed lungs came onto land, and though all the odds were stacked against it, it survived. More followed, and soon there was man.
Gravity reminds us not only where we came from, and what life is all about, but also where we’re going. We emerged from the seas countless eons ago, and now we’re taking our first unsure steps into the depths of space. We may have landed on the moon fifty years ago, but make no mistake, we’re still in the infancy of space travel. We’re just like that half-formed sea creature, our bodies aren’t adapted to the environment of space and its an environment filled with dangers both known and unknown, but it’s crucial we take these steps. Even when tragedies like the destruction of Challenger and Columbia strike, we have to keep moving forward. Space exploration is the future of our species, and up there we don’t have nationalities, we’re mankind united.
We have to reach the stars because no matter what we find or what setbacks we suffer…
We’ll have one hell of a story to tell, and it’ll be a hell of a ride.
Before I begin this week’s blog post, a few updates about the Breaking Bad situation. First of all I’ll be continuing to cover Breaking Bad, but from now on these posts will be password protected so that people who aren’t caught up on the show won’t run into spoilers by accident. I’ve already gone back and password protected the other two posts as well. If you want to read these posts, the password is “spoilers” without quotations marks obviously. The following post, however, has nothing to do with Breaking Bad so every should read on without fear!
The suspension of disbelief is the foundation upon which good stories are built and yet there are a lot of misconceptions about it, the biggest being that the suspension of disbelief relies entirely on the audience. “It’s just a movie/book/game” is the phrase a lot of people trot out when mistakes in the story are pointed out.
Of course the audience does have to play its part. Whenever we turn on a movie, pick up a book or play a video game we’re asking the creators to fool us. To trick us with sweet, sweet lies and take us into another world, or show us our own world from a different point of view. So of course we, as the audience, have to take that first step and accept that we’re being fooled. That doesn’t let the writer off the hook though and, in fact, the audience’s ability to suspend its disbelief relies almost entirely on the writer.
The suspension of disbelief is a magic trick and like any magic trick, its success largely comes down to how much showmanship and theatricality the magician puts into the trick. The writer has to distract, dazzle and misdirect the audience so that the splendid and unbelievable things happening in the story don’t hamper our ability to enjoy it.
There’s a great line from the movie The Prestige that sums up the suspension of disbelief beautifully:
(Huge Spoiler. If you haven’t seen this movie, what the hell is wrong with you? It has Batman vs Wolverine! If you haven’t seen it, there’s a spoiler free quote from the movie below.)
Now you’re looking for the secret [of the magic trick], but you won’t find it…because of course, you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to work it out…you want to be fooled.
A magician works by concealing and misdirecting you from the ordinary, mundane objects that make the trick possible: the wires, pulleys and mirrors. A writer’s magic trick works by plugging or hiding plot holes and drawing the audience’s attention away from the staggering coincidences and unbelievable elements that all stories rely on. So how does this work in practice?
Well the first and easiest part of the magic trick that is the suspension of disbelief is simply properly labeling your story. Aliens showing up in a historical fiction story is a great way to make your reader put down the book, but having aliens show up in a science fiction story is a great way to make the story more interesting. If you’re writing a realistic drama you’re going to have a hard time getting away with the larger-than-life action scenes where the hero takes out an entire terrorist cell, but if you’re writing about Jack Bauer or anything with Bruce Willis in it then your audience would be disappointed if they didn’t get an absurd fight scene. Our willingness to ignore or overlook plot holes and improbable coincidences depends largely on the genre the story falls into.
For instance, the most famous plot hole you probably all know is the “Eagle Flight” from Lord of the Rings: why did Frodo and Sam go through all the trouble of walking when they could have flown instead?
Despite this being a rather large plot hole, most people are okay with it because it’s a fantasy story. We’re already in a story where a giant disembodied eyeball is conquering a world containing elves, dwarves and hobbits so not riding the giant eagles into Mordor to end the story in five minutes doesn’t really ruffle our feathers (I’m so sorry) which leads us to step 2 of the trick: don’t point out your mistakes to the reader.
Do you want to know the reason why Tolkien never went into why they couldn’t just fly into Mordor? Because doing so would draw your attention to the fact that they could even do that, he ignored it for the same reason a magician doesn’t tell the audience why the levitating woman isn’t held up by wires: you don’t want the audience looking for the wires. The moment you tell them to look for the secret to the trick you’re reminding them that they’re watching a trick, and that sense of magical wonder is lost. The sad fact of the matter is that plot holes happen, there’s no writer so talented as to make a completely airtight world free of holes, but when a writer comes across a plot hole that can’t be fixed then its up to him to redirect the audience’s attention elsewhere.
Now imagine for a moment that Tolkien did decide to try and tackle this plot hole in the book. What kind of excuse should he use and what excuse would the reader accept? Eagles don’t like the warmth of volcanoes? Sauron emits an Anti-Eagle field around his domain? The Naz’gul patrol the area constantly even though they should be looking for the ring? No matter what excuse he made, it would seem flimsy to us because suddenly we’d realize “yeah, flying the ring to Mount Doom would be a lot easier.” He would have shown us the wires; he would have ruined the trick for us. So instead of telling us why the Eagles couldn’t fly to Mordor, he instead spent his time redirecting our attention to other things: Frodo and Sam’s survival, Gondor’s stand against the hordes of Mordor, and the final heroic fight at the Black Gate. Using high tension and emotional involvement in the characters it the best way to keep the audience from noticing a plot hole because we’ll be much more invested in a character than a plot.
The Dark Knight Rises for instance featured a lot of rather inexcusable plot holes and unexplained elements, and yet it’s fucking Batman and we would have been willing to excuse any or all of them if they’d put more effort into redirecting our attention. I’m currently working on an article covering Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, but let me just pick on one prime example: Bane’s discovery of Batman’s secret arsenal.
This is a major story point in the movie because it’s Batman’s arsenal that gives Bane the ability to take over the city, but how Bane located it is never explained and then instead of trying to distract us from this gaping plot hole they just keep going like they hoped we wouldn’t notice. Honestly only a few lines of dialogue were needed here, just a little extra effort that would let me go on fooling myself into accepting this extremely convenient discovery and if they’d really wanted to go all out they would have simply dragged that whiny little accountant from The Dark Knight on screen to explain how Bane found out. Apparently Rises was too busy with time-compressing montages and miraculous punch cures for broken backs to bother trying to disguise its mistakes.
The rest of the magic trick can’t be easily described unfortunately because it all comes down to the skill of the writer. Keeping a consistent tone, remaining true to the themes of your story, and making interesting characters are crucially important in making sure the audience can suspend its disbelief. If any one of those elements fail, then so does the trick.
The reason we accept Arya just happening to rescue a shapeshifting assassin but scoff at Jeff Goldblum hacking an alien mothership with his 1996 laptop all comes down to the writer’s talent and ability to keep us distracted. They’re both equally absurd if you think about it, but because Arya is such an amazing character and A Song of Ice and Fire is so well written the staggering coincidences don’t seem all that strange.
All of this said though, this doesn’t lets you off the hook because in the end its still your disbelief that you need to suspend. No writer is so good as to completely fool you into believing everything they write, so you need to meet us halfway. You have to be willing to let yourself be fooled, because otherwise you’re just that one asshole in the theater that came to the magic show just to yell out “It’s a trick!”
Yes, we know its a trick. That’s why we came. The real question is, why did you?
I don’t want to be one of those bloggers who comes on and begs for readers, but this is too interesting not to share. When I began writing on Breaking Bad I was getting pretty steady traffic here, I’m not breaking any records or anything but I was pleased with the amount of readers I was getting.
And then I wrote this. (Warning: Link Contains Spoilers)
And then this happened:
Yeah those last couple days there? Notice how they’re so much shorter than the rest of the bars? They’re the ugly and stubby post signs saying I just lost a shitload of readers after making a single post. So how did this happen?
Well as a friend of mine pointed out, he’s been avoiding my blog because he hasn’t caught up with the latest season of Breaking Bad and wants to avoid spoilers. But is this the case with the rest of you? Here’s your chance to tell me.
Like I said I don’t want to turn into a blogger than writes up sad, pleading posts every time his traffic dips below optimal. However I also want to keep you guys reading obviously, and not just because of the advertising money it brings (I make like $3.00 a month from ad revenue). I enjoy being able to entertain and inform you guys about writing, stories and all that good stuff.
So is it just people are avoiding spoilers for Breaking Bad, which admittedly my articles are full of, or was that last post poorly done? Did you not like the content or how it was written?
Come on people, bring me your complaints, suggestions or praise. Just let me know I’m not alone in this big lonely desert called the internet.
Please? I’ll give you a cookie!
Back in August of 2011 I went to go see something at the Historic Everett Theatre. Something amazing, something truly unique. It was called Aeterno Elementum and it was a Heavy Metal Opera. Just what is a Heavy Metal Opera? Well that’s what I asked when I went to go see it, and to this day I don’t think words can really do it justice, you really just have to see it.
The short version is that Aeterno Elementum combines traditional operatic themes, badass on-stage fights between warriors wearing authentic armor and weapons, great onstage performances that tell a story of death and redemption set to the tune of deep and thrumming Heavy Metal music. I don’t even care that’s a run-on sentence, that’s how good this thing is. The long version is that you can read my original review right here, but seriously, its really good. Ara’Kus Productions, the guys who put this show on, have been continuing to put this show on the past two years since that review and it’s only grown bigger and better since I saw the original show. In fact it has gotten so big and so awesome, that it can no longer be contained. The people over at Ara’Kus have been putting on this show by using their own personal money to fund it, but now the show has grown so much they need help in order finance their upcoming performances in November. This will be the first time putting on a show two-weekends in a row and they’re looking to buy new sound and special effects equipment, new costumes and tons of other improvements.
Ara’Kus is hoping to raise 10,000 dollars to make this showing of Aeterno Elementum the greatest show ever seen on the stage of the Historic Everett Theatre, and if all goes as planned, expanding our performances to include Seattle and hopefully the rest of Washington. And then of course, World Domination.
I know I have a large international audience and you’re probably wondering why you should support a show you’re not even going to get a chance to see. Well first of all, the people of Ara’Kus are all amazing. Jeremiah Johnson is one of the most talented composers I’ve met, he must be because I don’t even like Heavy Metal music and yet I love Jeremiah’s songs. They also have some of the most talented musicians and singers I’ve ever seen and heard, from the beautiful and dazzling Electric Violin player Razz to the menacing baldness of lead guitarist Randy Haines to our elegant lead soprano Vivian, they’re all astonishing. Then there’s the actors, BJ Becker as I mentioned in my original review, has so much talent I don’t know why the guy isn’t on Broadway. Carrole Johnson plays the Demoness, who causes most of the havoc that occurs throughout the play, and she brings an astounding energy with her onto the stage.
Look I could spend all day talking about these guys, but the bottom line is that these are exceptional people that put their heart and soul into this project, and they need your support.
I need your support.
You see when I went to go see that show in August of 2011, I had just been kicked out of college the year before, I was unemployed, depressed and had no idea what the hell I was going to do with myself. I was still writing this blog but it was only being read by my immediate friends and family, and I didn’t actually think I could make a living writing. Then I wrote that review, and Ara’Kus took me up on my offer to help them by writing for them, and that gave me a much needed boost to my self-confidence. I started trying to get work with a freelance writer, I grew more confident in my ability and knowledge as a writer. So when Mass Effect 3 came out Spring of 2012, I had the self-confidence and the practice to create this post which finally gave me the recognition I needed to actually start landing a few jobs.
So what I’m saying is that Ara’Kus is responsible for allowing me to so thoroughly eviscerate Mass Effect 3′s terrible ending. You wouldn’t be reading this blog were it not for them. Help me thank them for all they’ve done for me by helping them achieve the success and recognition they so richly deserve.
(Or click any of the awesome pictures above, and they’ll take you to the Kickstarter as well!)