Friday, April 22, 2011

Thoughts on movies: the good, the bad and the ugly

The Good: Having read the Steig Larrson trilogy (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest and Girl Played with Fire) on my Kobo, I can say that the film remake was close to the spirit of the trilogy. Capturing the storyline just enough, my wife who had not read a single word from the books, was captivated enough to actually get over the subtitles (a pet peeve of hers). The pace was there, keeping true to the books’ primary events and the disjointed point of view of Lisbeth Salander.

The Bad: With the pedigree of Matt Damon, Clint Eastwood and Steven Spielberg, you’d think you would be getting an entertaining film for a couple of hours with Hereafter; apparently not. Cinematically, this movie was beautifully made and very tightly written. I thought the concept was really well executed. The problem was the three inter-related story arcs that had very little to do with each other until the final twenty minutes or so. The pacing was abysmally slow and quite frankly I could only really care about one of the three storylines. As the final scene faded into credits, both my wife and I turned to each other and asked the same question: “So.... that’s it?” Is Hereafter based on a book? Not to my knowledge, though I imagine it would have been infinitely better received as one.

On movie adaptations (very often the ugly): Generally, Stieg Larrson’s books were well represented, something astonishingly challenging for Hollywood (read: North American media) to accomplish. Need I bring up just about every Stephen King novel adaptation. This said, my standards are likely set fairly high.

The first movie adapted from a book that I saw was Bladerunner, something of a science fiction masterpiece (cinematics, sound track, acting, direction, production). The first book I read on my Kobo was the long-awaited Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, which Bladerunner was based upon. This just reinforced my appreciation for both book and film. Another worthy adaptation isthe Lord of the Rings trilogy, both films and movies require little comment. Aside from the (very) long Return of the King film, this was a masterfully entertaining and well-produced series of movies.

Writing fantasy: One of the biggest possible pay-offs for a writer is to have their works adapted to film; the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, so to speak. So, do writers think about the way things would adapt to film when they write a scene? I’m sure some do, something I myself must admit to. I listen to music while I write, a trick I adapted while doing my undergraduate and post-grad studies. It evokes the mood and sometimes the very scenes in my head. I then write what I see; it helps maintain the pace. I am by no means conceited enough to think my work is blockbuster movie material – heck, it has to get published first! That said, it certainly is influenced by film.

Just a few thoughts.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The real world in world building

One of my favourite diversions is playing Warhammer 40k. Collecting, painting the models presents a great way to exercise another passion, painting; playing them through the tactical scenarios presents the challenge of adapting to the opposing player, his army list and the vagaries of the dice when rolling to shoot, for close combat, et cetera.

One of the few things that aggravate me about the state of the game is how a large majority of players shifted into one mode of army lists, mechanisation. I’m not against mechanisation, just the reasoning behind their arguments. The thought that this style of army is the sole possibility of winning...... irks me. Then I thought how this applied to other things, invariably turning to the fantasy genre.

Tolkein was likely one of the greatest influence in fantasy stereotypes, yet it was carried forward through a myriad of other authors and products. Role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons, one of the genre’s larger perpetuators, has reinforced these stereotypes to the point of iconic and invariable. Examples: Think of an elf and instantly, Legolas from Lord of the Rings or some other woodland garb wearing bowman of incredible martial prowess comes to mind. Dwarves evoke short, grouchy, bearded axe wielding warriors who live in vast mountain realms. Why do Elves and Dwarves always hate each other too?

One author that I have really come to appreciate is Adrian Tchaikovsky's Shadows of the Apt series. His concept of insect-traits dominating city-state relations and how they act is absolute genius. It is executed in a way that is both blatant to the reader (Wasp-kinden are, well waspish, Ant-kinden fight other Ant-kinden city states), but also inherent to the way the character's react, within the macro-level construct he's created.

Bringing this to the Realms, I couldn’t quite accept the stereotypes, partly because of the samurai slant this world takes. That alone is neither an excuse nor a significant change. Change just for the sake of change is pretty useless and provides no value. It also gets readers disjointed about their preconceived notions on races and how they should act. With this in mind, I need a reason for any differences, consequences that bring races and their interactions to this point. No need for changes on the physiological level, mostly because they wouldn’t work. At the macro lever, things needed a cause.

Enter the Pantheonic Tragedy.

When the dust settled from that conflict of gods, the Elves were the principle race left standing, left in charge because they were the brightest, most organized; not unlike the U.S.A. as the sole super-power after the fall of the U.S.S.R. I’m a firm believer that real life is stranger than fiction, so why not apply real life realities to the Realms? A firm basis for race relations in this context, something readers can relate to. Looking to international media for how others view the United States provided a round-about way of world building that could apply to micro-level scenes and interactions.

With the Elves as the quasi-U.S.A., I found the Druids taking a quasi-United Nations role. For the Dwarves, I decided an Eastern European worldview, the Orcs fell upon an ancient Chinese perspective; the list goes on. At the end of the day, I was surprised how well this macro-approach helped define some of the more crucial scenes where the races interact and more importantly, how they approached each other, as well as the Ochra threat.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Real life vampires....

Well, nothing so grandiose as the blood-sucking types, but time, effort and desire-to-write sucking activities and events that seem to have taken over my life these past three or four weeks. If it isn't the job (and this is my primary culprit), it's family, friends and other diversions that simply leave me vacant of all desires to write.

One diversion I found wildly amusing was watching the first season of Fringe on DVD. These guys (the writers) are sometimes likely accused of taking the hallucinagenics the quack-science from the sixties that inspires much of the plot. Hilarious but entertaining nonetheless.

Now that things seem to have stabilized and my day-job/career has founded roots closer to normalcy (I daresay sanity), I find the compunction to continue writing has hit.