Saturday, December 22, 2012

Outdated Reviews: Fullmetal Alchemist The Movie: Conqueror of Shamballa

     Someone tell me if I broke the record for longest post title of all time with that one.
     Anybody remember this face? In October of 2003 the first episode of Fullmetal Alchemist aired, and plunged us headfirst into a vivid anime world of consequence. Tragedy was the flavor that was heavily sprinkled over the series to give it the trademark poignancy so many other anime cannot hope to achieve. Of course, in my personal opinion, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood was the superior of the two series, but I should probably avoid that rabbit trail, or we would never come back. This post is about the movie that completed the first series, The Conqueror of Shamballa, so don't expect to sound off on the show beyond the premise. I don't have nearly enough endurance as a writer to say everything I want to say about this story. *proceeds to summarize the anime anyway*

     For those who are unfamiliar, Fullmetal Alchemist is the story of Edward and Alphonse Elric, two brothers who are also alchemists in a country called Amestris, where science never replaced the medieval study of the metaphysical. The setting mirrors early 1900's industry and architecture, and is done convincingly, the similarities between Amestris and reality only proving to further immerse the viewer. However, the setting is hardly the focus- Edward and Alphonse, still children and having lost their mother to a serious illness, use their budding abilities to attempt to bring their mother back to life. The result is disaster, leaving Edward missing an arm and a leg, and leaving Alphonse nothing more than a soul bonded to a suit of armor. Realizing their mistake in attempting to revive their mother, they instead focus their lives on returning their bodies to normal. Edward, the older (shorter) and more talented of the two, joins the military as a State Alchemist, hoping to gain the resources necessary to retrieve the mythical Philosopher's Stone, which he and Alphonse believe would give them the power to return their bodies to normal.

     Without spoiling any of the exploits that follow in the anime, the movie is meant to be the ending of the Elric's story. In true FMA fashion, the film is rife with emotion. The mood is melancholy in the earlier segments of the film while Edward remains in the real world- in Germany in the 1920's, separated from his brother and other loved ones in Amestris after the events of the anime. No, you didn't misread that- one of the more uncommon elements of this film is that it ties the fantasy world in the series to the real world. The tension is universal in this story- post-World War I Germany is filled with distrust and bitterness after the national humiliation that was the Treaty of Versailles. It's not until the viewer is introduced to Alphonse that the bleakness starts to fade, introducing an interesting emotional counterpoint to Edward's emotional resignation. Where Edward feels as though he is receiving his allotted judgment, Alphonse is tirelessly searching for his brother. This emotionally poignant section leads into a bittersweet conclusion that is not without loss, which resounds true to the theme of the anime- equivalent exchange. "To create, something of equal value must be lost."  All in all, the movie is a fitting, if not perfect end to a series rich in dramatic complexity. The antagonizing group of this production, the Thule Society, seems to be a bit of a cop-out, introducing characters that are cheaply disposed of, which actually hurts the former depth of emotion that made this anime so personally touching. That being said, it can't ding the armor (behehehe) of Edward and Alphonse's relationship, which continues to make for a compelling, fulfilling driving force for the story.

    Finally, how can I bring up this movie without addressing the mind-blower of a fight scene between a mutated Gluttony and the now motherless Wrath? Let me say- the whole movie doesn't reach this standard- but the estimated minute-and-a-half of action is, in my opinion, a pinnacle of animation. The smoothness of the animation, the high-impact blows, just, just- AIOEHGOIHEVECEJCJEJJECKLDJZKZKKKZKK. Anyway, go out when you feel like you're in a drudgery of repetition, and rent this film for a step out of the ordinary.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Blabbing About: The Hobbit

     So I've had a little more free time in the past couple of weeks. I've tried to stay busy improving things at home during this time, but I have inevitably ended up with a tad of extra time for watching movies, etc. I've decided in the wake of a deluge of film and television that I have viewed, to briefly sound off on some of the more significant pieces. I hope no one minds. If you do, unfortunately my decision is final- best open up a tab and start watching cute puppy videos on YouTube for a while until I get through this.

     No doubt many of you would be able to share stories of anxiously awaiting the film version of The Hobbit as the years have passed since the completion of The Lord of the Rings trilogy of movies. Tolkien's earliest fantasy success was a book that perhaps succeeded in areas where the LOTR books failed( not to say that Tolkien intended for the books to serve the same purpose)- it blended light-hearted adventure and peril, leaving neither element behind and forever maintaining that rythmic English literary meter and charm present in the works of such writers as C.S. Lewis, A.A. Milne, etc. Having seen the film, I'm happy to say that Jackson has again managed to bottle that feel- that impeccable blend of humor and danger that pervades the book. There is a very physical, impish comedy present, but not without witticisms and frankness. Again, like the book before it, there are funny moments in this film that I instantly related to. For instance, Bilbo's initial irritation with Gandalf that transfers over to his first encounter with the Dwarves as they eat him out of house and home (literally), his reluctance to leave home and his eagerness to accept the Dwarves' dismissing of him as a valuable asset to their party, his preoccupation with tidiness, all these moments draw chuckles that come  not purely from the comedic assets, but also their familiarity.     Okay, some complaints, because I've delivered far too much praise in such a short period of time, and now I feel dirty. As a stand-alone film, The Hobbit is an entertaining, if not extended romp through Tolkien's Middle Earth, exposing a happier side of this still-perilous land. There is notable, heart-warming character development. Bilbo sheds a few onion layers, revealing a peek into the brave, adventurous wanderer that lies beneath the simple, comfort-loving hobbit. However, I did take issue with the invulnerability of the Dwarves and Bilbo. You'll find them tumbling through rocky caverns at top speed, bouncing off walls, hanging off edges of crumbling mountains that fall directly around them but never quite touch them, fighting off goblins so numerous and claustrophobic that they look like a bowl of Captain Crunch, but yet taking no wounds, and so on. I wanted to love the actions sequences, and to some degree, I appreciated the raucous insanity of it all, the kinetic movement the pulled the camera along with the party as they ran across fields dodging arrows and Wargs, the chaos as I found the Dwarves charging through billows of Goblins, but I hit a point where I disconnected from the happy embrace the movie had on me and fell back into the real, trying to ignore thoughts such as "that's impossible" and "no one could ever survive that". I tried to reason it away, thinking that perhaps that absurdity of the adventure is what made it so grand, and so worth Bilbo telling it to Frodo, but... it still removed me from the movie and placed me squarely in reality. No thumbs up for that. This party doesn't need to be likened to rag dolls in order for me to appreciate the danger they're in.Now, as a Tolkien fan, I have to express my disappointment with the inclusion of Azog, deemed the "Pale Orc" in the movie. I immediately let out a "Hw-whaaaaaaa??", knowing that in canon, Azog died far prior to the events of The Hobbit, and didn't have his arm amputated by Thorin, but his head lopped off by Dain Ironfoot, who was even mentioned in the film. I don't see the necessity of including Azog as a driving villain to pursue Bilbo and company throughout- the story is already rife with constant trials and danger, and already has a larger threat in The Necromancer. I enjoyed the confrontation between Thorin and Azog in the final minutes of the movie, but it was cheapened knowing that, according to Tolkien, that never happened... oh well. This is the farthest I've ever strayed from collegiate comedy in any blog post thus far, so I'd better stop before I completely evolve into an adult. Long story short, The Hobbit is great, go see it, but it will be ever-so-slightly less good if you know anything substansial about Tolkien's universe.     THNBPBOTBETTJTTJTTHTHTHLAKKJWJDKWKKLWCMW. That ought to make up for the lack of jokes. Cheers!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

ZombiU Is More Polarizing Than Justin Beiber

     It was only a matter of time before I used Justin Beibeirberbler in one of my post titles. This is the internet, after all, and its primary purpose is to slowly coerce you into having an opinion about meaningless pop symbols.

     I might be wrong about that.

     Anyway, you might have noticed that my banner is in reference to that other thing that was in my title. I don't honestly recall the last time I saw so many divided opinions on a game. Metacritic's listings of Critic Reviews place ZombiU anywhere from forty-five out of a hundred to a ninety-two out of a hundred. Huhwhazzuh? Hurnnnnggngraflblagh? Thpbhphthhththth. That's pretty much all I have to say about that.
     I mean, it's at times such as this that I need to know- don't we have a scientific way of deducing, for instance, how good a game is, or more specifically, how good a game's graphics are? Perhaps I should avoid asking rhetorical questions, but let's categorize this.  ZombiU is graphically on every side of town. Occasional jaggies and low resolution textures still peek in now and then. Having played the game, I can tell you that it isn't a concern. Environments are 90% dark. Dark as in, you feel like the need to turn on a flashlight. Dark as in sometimes, while playing in the daytime, you will have a nagging urge to find a light switch until you realize that it's just the game and it isn't dark outside. While you are nervously squeaking like a toddler playing tag, you often overlook low-res textures. Why? Because even if you could see them well enough to care, you would be too focused on not having your face eaten by this.
     Also, it should be pointed out that having good ambience and lighting goes a loong way towards relieving technical concerns. I'm not the only one who has noticed this, either. For instance, check out this video. Look at that rain. LOOK AT IT
The environments are spectacular in this game. There are no (correction, very few) Halo-esque set pieces that make you feel like a tiny ant in a world of giants, instead the game relies upon mostly tight corridors. Despite that, the hallways and rooms are punctuated with painfully bright lights that spot your screen with lens flare (which has, for once, found a practical placement in a game), and windows reveal a desolate landscape, simultaneously fiery and vividly gloomy, to coin an oxymoron. The world appears as if seen through the lens of a Canon- slightly fuzzy around the edges with some mild, murky discoloration, and all in the name of atmosphere. You're always on the inside, looking out. You get the feeling that the camera isn't you peering into the game world, but someone in the game peering at you, distantly but intently watching your plight from some hidden room.


     At once, I felt trapped in this game. I was surrounded on all sides by an amorphous, fluctuating horde. When you can't see them, you know the zombies are coming. When you are greeted by a sudden red blip on your radar while out searching for supplies, your blood turns cold and you ponder returning to the safe house and never coming out- but if you stay there, you have no chance to get out. So, you nervously make your way out into the world, struggling to stay alive and not knowing from which direction death will come at you next. If you die, you lose your character forever and he/she is replaced. You lose your weaponry and supplies, and the only way you can recover them is by killing your former, zombified self. Progress is slow for all but the most intrepid survivors. Zombies aren't made out of paper, each one is your equal in physical prowess, and you can only win through the intelligent usage of the tools at your disposal. Misstep, and you'll be dead before you can regret it. Frankly, the world is daunting enough that I have to will myself to play- but that makes me love it all the more. I feel real tension, actual foreboding, and I just want to get out alive.

     Long story short, I have to ignore the naysayers regarding this game. I'd like to lend them some credence, but I have no reason to. Well, I suppose I'll tack one word of caution onto this summarization. If you plan on playing multiplayer- and you should, because if you don't, you are missing out one of the most unique usages of the Gamepad thus far, and one of the most creative 2-player games I've played in years- buy a Pro Controller. DO IT. The Wii+Nunchuk implementation is terrible. Looking to the left or right results in a spiral of death, attempting to look down results in a trampoline of death. Just don't- don't. Don't do it. DONDO EET.

Monday, April 2, 2012