Saturday, 3 October 2009

Two Films on a Theme


At the moment I'm really into my terrain building, but this week I thought I would do something different, and I don't mean more number crunching. I've been to see a couple of SF movies recently, and as both have been interesting to me as a gamer I'm going to review them en passant.


The first film was District 9, which quite frankly was the best SF film I've seen so far this year. Not that I haven't enjoyed the Watchmen, Wolverine was far better than I expected, the revamped Star Trek fun, and Transformers 2 action packed candy-floss.

However, District 9 made me care about what was happening to the people on screen. The use of the SF trope of aliens landing on Earth as a way to discuss Apartheid in South Africa, can be seen a weary over-worn conceit. District 9s strength was that the story concentrated on the characters, and we see the characters grow and change from what has happened to them. Something that is rarely addressed in the usual Hollywood fare. For me it didn't hurt to have a bit of mech action at the end either. Though I'm not sure in BattleTech terms whether the mecha was power armour, battle armour, a proto-mech, or even a very light battlemech? My gut feeling it was equivalent to a proto-mech. I must admit I have an aversion to BattleTech proto-mechs, because of the animal forms the artwork uses to represent them. I think the mecha in District 9 looked like a mechanical version of the alien Prawns, but done in such a way that it still looked like a machine, and not some transformer beast wars cartoon.

The second film I've seen recently was Surrogates. A Hollywood blockbuster with Bruce Willis, where the main character might as well have been called Bruce Willis. Surrogates is pretty much the usual fare of Bruce doing his whole Die Hard thing. Not that I mind Bruce being Bruce, as I quite enjoy watching him go through the motions. However, Surrogates presents a future where everybody is living in a virtual world through the use of physical representations of themselves. Not robots, but waldoes. I understand the film is based on a comic/graphic novel, but so far I've not found a copy to look at, so I can't comment on how faithful the film is to the source material. I imagine it is not that close. Anyway, Surrogates is not a bad film, I quite enjoyed it, but again it was not a great movie, and in some ways this is really sad, because it so could have been great.

Surrogates is like District 9, in that it is talking about how society is dealing with common fears around change brought about by outside factors. In the case of Surrogates it is the fear of death that is making Western societies risk aversive. However, what then happens is that we get a Hollywood visual feast of beautiful people. All entertaining, but so many missed opportunities. A part of the plot revolves around an epiphany that Bruce has after losing his surrogate during a crime scene, which then leads to his character re-evaluating the effects of using surrogates. This is what makes the film better than okay. However, the film makers missed out on the fact that if you are living your life through a surrogate, then you have the opportunity to show how the virtual world can be enhanced.

In practical terms what we saw was beautiful people playing surrogates, and beautiful people made to look slightly less beautiful when they were themselves, except when the film makers wanted to score an emotional hit. If they had made the surrogates look less real, as Spielberg did in the film AI for the robots, then we could have seen the surrogates through the eyes of the virtual interface as beautiful people, and when Bruce is sans-surrogate he could have seen the plastic quality of the world he was living in. This would have made the point that the virtual world enhanced reality, and given more credence to the anti-surrogate humans he meets in the film, because quite frankly with such perfection the film shows you, why wouldn't you want to live in the cleaner, brighter and safer virtual world?

From a gamer's perspective, I could see the technology being useful for Cyberpunk scenarios, and even advanced neuro-helmet technology for BattleTech, though obviously non-canon. 
   

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