Criticism. Essay. Fiction. Science. Weather.
Oh my god it's time for
Star Wars again--I'll sell my goddamn kidney to get in--Have you seen it yet?
I saw it. Unfortunately, Revenge of the Sith
is not a great film. Even the fan with the Vader mask laughed out loud at some awkward bits of dialogue
. I don't even want to go there. Instead, let's talk about what worked, and has always worked in Star Wars
: the music. John Williams is there when you need him. He's switched on. He's got it, mister. In fact, I think he's even better than ever. His is one part of the Star Wars
thing which has improved in 25 years. Here are some highnotes:
Early in the movie, Anakin Skywalker has a terrible dream about his new wife, Padme, and the music is Schindler in Space: harp accompanies solo cello and violin and I'm convinced that true love exists and that we're not alone in the universe and then, "Pah"-- an entrance of brass and winds with an unstable chord and the dream becomes a nightmare. But JW hasn't copied himself--a popular criticism--he's accessed Schindleresque material and placed it anew in Star Wars
in a clever, satisfying, beautiful way.
Sith doesn't have a cantina band--that Jazzy ensemble from the original Star Wars
--or teenaged British wizards singing adorable lyrics but it does have another JW experiment. As Padme broods on her balcony, JW sets a low, electronic drone. Higher-pitched electronic flutey, pipey instruments noodle around and a futuristic alto sings futuristic, wordless blues. Is this Bladerunner
? A video game? WTF? Ah, now the low strings join the drone, and a flutey thing plays Padme's theme. Then as the strings begin to move, we're back in familiar territory. It's new and a little funky, but it fits right in and even recalls an earlier scene at the opera with a chorus of growling men.
Did JW like Lord of the Rings
? Sounds like he was listening to Howard Shore's excellent scores. During a particularly troubling scene in which it becomes clear that Anakin has gone to the Dark Side
, we hear a chant-like melody that lands me somewhere around the Shire or Rivendell. Then, JW one-ups Shore by smashing the delicate texture with a shouting, rhythmic chorus--another of Shore's ensembles. And I'd swear they're singing Dwarfish. Later, as Padme gives birth to twins Luke and Leia and Darth Vader is transformed into the familiar machine-man, JW picks out three chords that are almost synonymous with Loth Lorien
. In this new context, they tug the heartstrings even harder. The homage makes sense because until Shore's Lord of the Rings
music, JW had no peer who scored epic film operas with Wagnerian motifs.
By now, another imperfect Star Wars
might not be worth ten bones to you. But think of it as a great concert with a so-so laser show, and you're in for a treat. You can get pumped on the marches. You can cry when the music swells during the binary sunset on Tatooine. Then stay for the credits, because JW has whipped up a dessert of all your old favorites. And the way he moves the orchestra around, it's like effing Brahms or something.
Everybody was very excited about E3. The Electronic Entertainment Expo
, held every year at the Los Angeles Convention Center, is the video game industry's annual coming out party. I attended this year for the first time. Coworkers told me it would be loud and friends told me it would be a blast, even for a "non-gamer." I love to play the baseball games when I can, because I love baseball. I've also spent numerous hours at friends' apartments playing James Bond games. Fun stuff. The last system I owned, though, was an SNES that I shared custody of with my older brother. I don't play weekly or even monthly. I do not fit the profile of the average attendee of E3.
As someone who's given to neurotic fits, the idea of spending hours with people who were obsessed with a subject of little interest to me seemed a bit frightening. But then, after all, I was headed to a trade show. Might I be more among my own than I had imagined? This was not an event that any ordinary fan could walk into, as both my invitation and signs outside of the Convention Center reminded. Attendees either worked for game companies, movie companies with an interest in garnering attention from the video game industry, entertainment-advertising firms (such as mine), or were journalists. How many super-fans could there be? Also, no one under 18 was to be admitted. No matter on that note, though. Nearly every marketing brief I read about a new game release emphasizes the importance of the 17-34 year-old. They are the current electronic gamers. The day of the 12-17 year-old video game consumer as king is over.
So, there were as many logical reasons to believe that E3 would be a very professional and business-driven conference as there were to believe that it would be a 72-hour geek-fest. Either way, I was headed there, at a boss' request, to get my finger on the pulse of what's going on in the gaming world.
Despite the noise and the lights, the dogs and the ponies, the pulse of the gaming world, no matter how saturated with profit, struck me as faint. There were booths and gigantic Mountain Dew trucks outside; there were trailers for upcoming summer blockbuster movies. The Batmobile (the SUV-ish version) was there. That was neat, I guess. Everybody else was thrilled to be there, but it was all a bit over- and under-whelming to me. By-and-large, people weren't there to pool resources. They were there to show-off and celebrate video games as a way of life. New questions were rising. Questions like, "How do I kill the hours until I can reasonably go back to my office and be bored there instead of here?" "How much time is enough?"
If I was to make it through the day surrounded by slightly-overweight guys in their twenties with black-rimmed glasses--in short, people who looked like me but had different interests--I understood that I'd need to curb the 'tude. I rolled up my sleeves and dove in. I played an upcoming samurai game on Playstation 2. That was a ball, until I accidentally entered some weird slow-motion targeting mode and couldn't make anything work. I stopped playing and looked around. There was a group gathered around waiting to give it a try. I suspect they knew how to get out of slow-mo target mode, but were too eager to get their hands back on the game to offer suggestions. I abandoned that station and found a baseball game. After an inning, there were more people with impatient body language. I was down 3-0 already, so I surrendered my controller.
Onward. More games. Spy games and army games, sports games and racing games, super-hero games and punk-thug games, fighting games and fantasy games, cops games and robbers games. Outside of booths, scantily clad women smiling and taking photographs with nervous boys.(Despite all the beautiful, space-age technology, some ugly, outdated ideas
about humanity lingered about). More games. Games for your console, games for your computer, games for your cell phone.
I was bored and it wasn't my fault. In perhaps the world's most innovative entertainment market, there is a serious lack of innovation. Sure, I can assassinate foreign dignitaries by incredible means, but I've been firing nutty rifles since Contra
. Certainly today's game is more visually stunning, more interactive, and arguably more engaging, but it's still the same damn thing. And there's nothing wrong with that (shooting enemies can be very fun
), but can't there be more? What about innovation in terms of game content? Well, not content, exactly, because you can sleep with hookers before murdering them for their purse in today's bestsellers, but...subject? Where are the games that are so clever and so different that you and I, people who don't make video games for a living, can't imagine them?
There are books out there for every type of interest. No matter your age, gender, personality-type, or level of education, there are plenty of books that were written specifically for your enjoyment. Gaming, as a hobby, could appeal to a much wider percentage of the population
than they already do, if only the people making them branched out. Why is there such a limited definition of "gamer
The answer presents itself with a look around the Convention Center. The people who are showing off their products are among the biggest fans of their work. They are a sample of their key sales demographic
. The games are the same, save technological innovation, because the people making them love them the way they are (which is not necessarily true of, say, textiles). Good for them. We should all be so lucky to love our jobs like they must. But don't be fooled by the flash. Video games, no matter how much they are changing, are not growing.