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|Thursday, June 14th, 2012|
Yes, that's me posting on MetaFilter under the username "Stephenls."
|Wednesday, February 9th, 2011|
|Fixing Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
So I just watched Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
for the second time. This may end up being the last time I watch it in full, because while there are bits I quite like (any time Megatron and Starscream are talking to each other, any time Soundwave is onscreen, Ravage's infiltration of Diego Garcia, Jetfire's speech about his father being the wheel, some of the way Alice the Pretender is handled, Sam and Mikela's lack of a relationship arc...), as a whole it is very bad.
But what struck me while watching it the second time is, there's actually the skeleton of a good movie here. It's just the flesh that's rotted. You can basically take the structure of the movie -- the scene order and the major plot beats -- and turn it into a half-decent or even decent movie by changing the scenes' contents.
So. As a thought experiment I'm figuring out how to do this. Not wanting to watch the whole movie again I'm basing this on Tfwiki.net
's description of the plot's events, but I'm going to go scene-to-scene, basically.
Movie opens in Shanghai. There are three problems with this collection of scenes: 1) The Twins, who everyone hates, 2) the fact that the Decepticons aren't doing anything menacing when NEST comes in to kill them, and 3) the way Prime executes Demolishor. These are all easy to change. The Autobots participating in this scene are Optimus Prime, Mudflap and Skids (the Twins), the Arcee triplets, and Sideswipe. Skids and Mudflap don't do a Goddamn thing throughout the whole fight, so cut them entirely. Have Demolishor and Sideways doing something with archeological theft, and then Optimus, Sideswipe, and Arcee kill them. For this version of the movie we're going with the earlier-draft idea that Arcee is one Autobot in three bodies, who can transform between motorcycles-and-small-robots or combine to form one conventionally-sized Autobot robot.
Arcee and Sideswipe gang up and kill Sideways with considerable relish. Optimus defeats Demolishor and then things proceed as they do in the novelization (which I have not read, but heard described), where Optimus offers Demolishor asylum and Demolishor spits in his face, brags about how he'll do more violence to humans in the future, and then Optimus apologizes and finishes him off.
Then there's the whole Sam-is-getting-ready-for-college sequence of scenes, which can stay exactly as they are, except the scrap drones created by the All Spark shard are less funny and more dangerous. Don't change anything about Sam's parents, they're great. Not everything needs to be dark and serious. Have this end with Sam and Bumblebee trying to report the chaos to Optimus, but the Autobots are in a comm blackout because they're talking to the President's representative.
The "NEST Liases With Galloway and General Morshower" sequence is next. This is almost okay. Problems, again: Twins, and the way Galloway is an utter dick. Twins aren't here, because they don't exist, so give Sideswipe and Arcee the brief characterization the Twins got -- they're high-fiving each other over how well the op went. Not the same characterization, obviously, just the same time devoted to different characterization. Meanwhile, play up that Galloway makes some valid points, and have him be less of a dick about them.
From there we move back to Sam dealing with his parents and roommate. Guess what? This whole sequence can stay pretty much exactly the same! It's not great, but it's serviceable. I might slightly play down Leo's status as comic relief, or maybe not. I would also probably foreshadow Alice as a Pretender a bit more heavily.
After that is Ravage's infiltration of Diego Garcia, the Decepticon recovery of the second All Spark shard, and Megatron's resurrection. The only thing I'd change here is make it so that Scalpel (the tiny doctorcon) uses the shard (and Scrapmetal's remains, after the other Constructions kill him) to revive both Megatron and Blackout (because I like Blackout). Then we have Blackout sub in for Grindor for the rest of the movie, which makes no difference because Revenge of the Fallen's Grindor looks exactly the same as Blackout from the first movie anyway.
(BTW, I'm not calling it the "All Spark" by mistake. That's the official name for the thing in the movie continuity. I think "Allspark" looks and sounds cooler, but whatever.)
Sam goes to the party and plans on leaving early but Alice tries to grab him. Instead, Bumblebee grabs him and they go off to meet up with Optimus. Establish the timing such that it's clearly Bumblebee and Optimus that make Sam miss his webcam date with Mikela, not Alice. Optimus explains that he needs Sam to speak on his behalf to the US government, and Sam explains to Optimus that a) the government has no reason to give a shit what he, Sam, thinks about giant robots, and b) Sam loves Bumblebee and likes Optimus and the other Autobots, but wants out of this crazy life. He brings up the kitchen scrap drone incident and missing his webcam date as reasons why. Optimus is sympathetic but thinks Sam is missing the bigger picture and tells him "If we can, we'll be here if you need us, but we may need your help, too." Sam knows Optimus is right but has trouble acting on it.
Megatron flies to the Nemesis on one of Saturn's moons and meets up with the Fallen. Change it so that Megatron chafes under the Fallen's rule a bit more, and Starscream is caught between sucking up to the Fallen and sucking up to Megatron. Otherwise it's the same scenes.
Next comes Sam's breakdown in the astronomy class. I would probably sub in some Cybertron flashbacks here that hint at Primus's existence (setup for the sequel) during Sam's freakout, or maybe that's cheating.
After that is Mikela capturing Wheelie. I'm actually not sure what to think of Wheelie here -- he works better than he should. What I'd like to do is establish that Wheelie is a scrap drone -- one of those little robots animated by the All Spark during the climax of the first movie, who developed intelligence and got recruited by the Decepticons. He's feral and mercenary and doesn't have a lot of loyalty to the Decepticon cause but he's afraid of them enough to be doing what they say.
Then Mikela goes to Sam's college and we have the big fight with Alice. Change the framing of the Sam Kisses Alice scene so it's clearly more Alice being aggressive and Sam trying like hell to resist -- at no point does he give in and start kissing back, as he does in the actual movie just before Mikela walks in on them.
At this point I cheat and put in a scene with Optimus realizing something could be up with that All Spark shard imprinting on Sam's brain, this explaining why he, Ratchet, Ironhide, Sideswipe, and Arcee head off to grab Sam, setting up the rescue in the warehouse later. Better yet, have Ratchet think of it when Optimus mentions the kitchen incident to him. They meet up with Bumblebee on the way.
Sam, Mikela, and Leo get captured by Blackout and delivered to Megatron, Starscream, and Scalpel. The autobots rescue them, this turns into the fight in the woods, Optimus dies, and Ratchet and Ironhide accompany Optimus's body back to the military base while Bumblebee, Sideswipe, and Arcee go into hiding with the humans.
With the last Prime dead, the prison holding the Fallen in the Nemesis breaks and the Fallen heads for Earth. Megatron goes public. The Decepticons capture Sam's parents.
Then there's the scene that establishes Sam, Mikela, Leo, Bumblebee, Sideswipe, and Arcee are hiding out. Bumblebee can't talk. Sideswipe and Arcee don't like Leo and give him a hard time, and not in a friendly or joking way. They treat Sam better. During this time it becomes clear that Sideswipe and Arcee are in this for the Decepticon-fighting, not the classic Autobot altruism. However, Arcee bonds with Mikela because Sam has a pet robot and Mikela is Sam's girlfriend who loves motorcycles and Arcee is a girl robot who turns into small collection of motorcycles and Jesus Christ, Michael Bay, this subplot writes itself, what the hell is wrong with you?
Ironhide and Ratchet deliver Optimus's corpse back to the NEST base and Galloway stands NEST down, revealing that he actually is sort of an xenophobic asshole. These scenes are basically the same except that Arcee and Sideswipe aren't standing around in the background.
More Sam and Co. hiding. They decide to read the glyps and Leo suggests they track down "Robowarrior," a.k.a. Simmons. Again, same thing, exept with Skids and Mudflap gone and replaced by a less stupid Sideswipe and Arcee. Things otherwise proceed as they do in the movie until the Smithsonian. Arcee, Sideswipe, and Bumblebee wait outside while Sam, Mikela, Simmons, Leo, and Wheelie go in.
At the Smithsonian... okay, there's one moment in the movie I really like. Sam and Co. are in the Smithsonian and use the All Spark shard to revive Jetfire, and then Mikela notices the Decepticon symbol on Jetfire's landing assembly and panics and screams out "It's a Decepticon!" in this frantic tone that sounds like it hurts her throat, because she's terrified and in that second, telling everyone else that Jetfire is a Decepticon and Wheelie has played
them all and if they don't get out of there right now they're all going to die
is way, way more important than preserving her voice.
So make Jetfire scary. He wakes up and he's not decrepid; he's cold and scary, and the fact that he wants to talk makes him even scarier because a Decepticon that wants to kill you is at least behaving predictably, but a Decepticon that wants to talk to you but may be planning on killing you when he's done is unnerving. So everyone's surprised when he decides to change sides.
(I like Jetfire in the movie. I do. He's funny. I found him genuinely entertaining. But he doesn't work for this re-conception. I am not anti-humor; I'm fine with Simmons and Sam's parents as comic relief. Just not Jetfire right now.)
Sideswipe thinks this is awesome because he's fought a lot of Decepticons and knows they're fierce, so having one on his side is gonna be great, especially one as big and old and powerful as Jetfire. Arcee thinks the only good 'con is a scrapped 'con, and wants to convince Bumblebee to reject Jetfire's request for asylum and fucking execute him. Jetfire thinks they both sound like Decepticons, not the Autobots he remembers. He bridges them all to Jordan and explains the backstory, then leaves, because if Autobots are like that these days, he may want nothing to do with either side. He flies off to refamiliarize himself with the state of the war.
The backstory is largely the same, except the Primes didn't make the Tomb of the Matrix from their own corpses. They just hid it, in a tomb concealed by the power of the Dynasty of Primes -- it cannot be found until the last Prime is dead. Then without the power of the Matrix, the Fallen wasn't strong enough to defeat the rest of them all together, and they imprisoned him, again in a prison sealed by the power of the Dynasty of Primes. The Primes died later, or at least ascended to a higher plane of existence or crossed over to the next alternate timeline or something. This was all thousands of years ago and Cybertronian history doesn't record the specifics of the events between this prehistory and the point where conventional historical records began. Years later, well into conventional Cybertronian history, Megatron found the Fallen's prison and built his flagship around it and tried to ingratiate himself with the Fallen and that's how Decepticons came to be, etc. etc..
(Hey, did you know that the Fallen's original name was Megatronus Prime? Megatron renamed himself after the Fallen when he founded the Decepticons formally. This is official Hasbro continuity! It probably doesn't need to be mentioned in the movie, though.)
Everything else happens as it does in the movie until the Tomb of the Matrix. At the entrance to the Tomb, Arcee and Sideswipe get into a fight, because the Jetfire issue has really driven a wedge between them. They've always been conflicted over whether humans are worth fighting for, and now they're conflicted over how far they'll go to win fights, and it comes to blows, and Arcee throws Sideswipe through a wall, and hey, look, Matrix! The revelation that the Matrix is real and there could be a way to bring Optimus back snaps Sideswipe and Arcee back to their senses and they realize he'd be disappointed in them if he could see them. It becomes clear that at least part of the reason they've been assholes lately is they're grieving for Optimus.
The rest of the movie proceeds as filmed, with the following changes (presented in brief because I'm tired of typing this):
-Leo's comic relief is played down a bit.
-In the final fight, Arcee doesn't die, although one of her three bodies is destroyed. In the final scenes her remaining two bodies combine to form a new (smaller) big body, enabling Hasbro to sell an extra toy.
-In every scene where the Twins were being stupid, instead we get Arcee and Sideswipe being awesome.
-Megatron betrays the Fallen in the end, contributing to the Fallen dying at Optimus's hands. Optimus doesn't say "Give me your face!" at any point.
-It's much more explicit that when Sam used the Matrix to revive Optimus, the All Spark migrated from Sam's head into the Matrix (as it migrated from the cube fragment to Sam's head at the beginning) . At the end of the movie, Optimus's narration establishes that with the power of the All Spark restored, and 'cons like Wheelie considering defecting back to the Autobots following Jetfire's heel-face turn and heroic sacrifice, there may now be hope of healing Cybertron... but with Megatron back and no longer subservient to the Fallen (also, no longer dead like he's been for the past three years or lost and frozen on Earth like he's been for the several thousand years before that), the loyalist 'cons may now present a greater threat than they ever have before.
Keep Devastator's balls. Simmons' scenes are always ridiculous, and that's okay.
|Thursday, July 1st, 2010|
|Boring, Mopey Text
I can't really tell whether my brain is actually, noticeably
slowing down as I approach 30, or whether I always had this much trouble concentrating and have just forgotten because it's been almost a decade since I last completely spaced out looking at a page of math homework.
And I did hella-space-out looking at math homework. I think there were whole years of highschool where I never handed in a single piece of homework for any class I attended. (Kids reading at home? Don't do this. I took two more years to graduate than I was supposed to.)
Either way, it's disconcerting. I like to think of myself as smart, but intellectual heavy lifting is just as exhausting as physical heavy lifting. And I want to make a living as a writer!
Maybe I should look into adjusting my diet. More vegetables, maybe? I am kinda overdoing it with the starches, which aren't exactly brain food.
...ugh. I feel like I've dug myself a hole so deep that if I started trying to climb out now, I'd still be climbing, miserable and exhausted, with raw fingers tipped with dirt-encrused fingernails, a decade from now. In that situation, working up the motivation to actually start fucking climbing is pretty hard.
|Wednesday, May 12th, 2010|
Haven't written anything here in a while.
I don't actually try to write fanfiction anymore, but I do think about it an unhealthily large amount. Lately I've been thinking about how to construct an interesting Decepticon social dynamic in a hypothetical large-cast Transformers continuity without any necessary connection to the existing ones. (But more G1-flavored than any of the others, 'cause that was my generation.)
This lead to the creation of an interesting sorting dynamic for Decepticons: They can largely be divided into hooligans and soldiers, "the scary Decepticons" and "the funny Decepticons." For example, Runabout and Runamuck are hooligans; Cyclonus and Shockwave are soldiers. It's really more of a spectrum than two hard categories, but it holds up -- note that it's independent of loyalty to Megatron. Cyclonus is the paragon of Decepticon Leader Loyalty, while Shockwave is its antithesis. But that's not really germane to this post.
So I started making lists and sorting.
One thing I'd like to do in a hypothetical new Transformers continuity is push gender equality a bit, for a couple of reasons. First, and easily the most important, I like tweaking people who argue against that sort of thing, because their tears taste like candy. Second, and almost as important as the first, Arcee, Blackarachnia, and Slipstream
rock. Third, while it's true a race of robots who reproduce through a magic rock called the Matrix don't need two genders, it's also true that a monogendered race of magic robots don't necessarily need to default to a phenotype humans would interpret as male. Male isn't the default state of being.
However, this lead me to the interesting realization that there are no memorable female Decepticon hooligans. All the memorable female Decepticons are soldiers.
This actually holds true for a lot of characters throughout the Boy's Own Adventure genre! The opposite of a flimsy damsel in distress is an ass-kicking take-no-bullshit sensible action girl who, uh, is actually a bit of a stick in the mud. See also Sluggy Freelance's Zoe, and the standard The Girl archetype throughout webcomics.
I'm not the first person to have written on this topic. I am probably the first person who's decided that one possible exercise for curing this tendency in myself
is to write up a bunch of female Decepticon hooligans, though.
Note, I haven't written them up yet. And if I do it's very unlikely I'll post them here, because the first thing I'll do once I'm done is generify them so they're not Decepticons anymore, and then file them away as human characters to potentially use in any future writing projects for which I'll own the IP. So, uh, sorry if this whole post counts as wasting your time, I guess.
|Sunday, April 12th, 2009|
Goddamnit I am too old to be listening to Adam's Song on loop.
|Friday, April 10th, 2009|
|Another One Gone
Dave Arneson died on Tuesday, as many people are now aware.
Never as famous as Gary Gygax, we may owe more to the former than the latter. As I understand it, Gygax was responsible for adding fantasy elements to his medieval combat game, but Arneson was the one who contributed these:
1) "Hey, what if we each play just one character, instead of a whole army?"
2) "Let's make it open-ended, so the game keeps going and you don't just stop and declare whoever wins the fight the winner."
Both of which define roleplaying games for me far more than guys in plate armor ducking fireballs do.
Gygax got most of the credit, and it took a court order in 1981 for Arneson to be credited thereafter as co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons. The settlement bound either man from speaking of the details, and now they're both dead; we will probably never know the full story of who came up with what, when, and with whose help, why they fell out, etc.. I don't wish to disparage Gygax's name -- he seems to have been the driving force behind D&D's original publication and its spread, if not its inception. We owe him a lot, and he was by most accounts I've read a great human being. Business, or so I gather, can be hard on friendships between even quite reasonable people.
And, I mean, I never knew either of these people personally, nor even met them. I can only remember them in a very abstract manner. But I do feel compelled to remember them somehow, these people whose actions in the 1970s have shaped almost every aspect of my current life. Thanks, Dave.
|Saturday, March 21st, 2009|
Man, I am so glad I never started watching the new Battlestar Galactica. Judging from descriptions of the final episode, if I'd watched the whole series the finale would have left me screaming and throwing things.
Standard disclaimer: This doesn't mean I think it's bad or that I'm maliciously judging it without having seen it fully or whatthefuckever; people I respect seem to think it was well-executed, and I can respect that as well. But, Christ, it pushes pet peeve buttons that would have left me angry.
Hell, even contemplating a hypothetical version of myself that started watching the series back when it began is making real me angry right now.
|Sunday, February 8th, 2009|
My room is rapidly reaching a point of organization where I'm happy to be living in it, especially with today's addition of a new set of shelves: 31 feet of space for movie discs and video games. About twenty of those feet are already filled, which means all my discs are now on dedicated shelves and not cluttering up dressers or bookshelves, and I have plenty of room for the new games I get sent to review every month.
There's a curious freedom afforded by having everything organized and in plain view—I may now get around to watching shows and playing games I've owned for ages but haven't ever seen or which I started and never finished, simply because I can easily access them. The second half of Boogiepop Phantom
, for example.
|Thursday, January 1st, 2009|
|Friday, December 26th, 2008|
So I just watched a really excellent Christmas movie: Die Hard
. This is the first time I've actually sat down and watched it from beginning to end, although I've seen bits and pieces of it before.
What I find most interesting is how 80s it feels and how gory it is. Die Hard is the father of the modern action movie -- everyman hero instead of shirtless Stallone (although Bruce Willis spends much of the movie in a tank top or shirtless while carrying a machine gun) and with a lot of blood squibs exploding in people's pants. But although it's the father of the modern action movie, it's very much also a movie of its time.
It's neat seeing the early work in a new creative movement, before it completely rejects the tropes of the old. It's interesting noticing all the things post-Die Hard action movies reject that Die Hard itself didn't.
|Friday, April 25th, 2008|
Agamemnon is a bit of a jerk.
Was a bit of a jerk.
Big helping of books arrived over the last three days or so—the Robert Fagels Iliad
, and Aeneid
translations, Lord Dunsany's The Complete Pegāna
and The King of Elfland's Daughter
, and Exalted's The Manual of Exalted Power—Abysssals
, Scroll of Kings
, The Compass of Celestial Directions, Vol. III—Yu-Shan
, and Dreams of the First Age
, the latter two of which I worked on.
This means I have a comp copy of DotFA and three comp copies of Yu-Shan, in case any other author is reading this and wants to discuss book trade or something.
My room is starting to look like Yomiko Readman's loft. I mean, it has a long way to go, but it's definitely taking the first steps.
|Tuesday, March 4th, 2008|
I got my first job, a paper route, because I wanted money to buy RPG books. oWoD books in specific, but the oWoD wouldn't exist without D&D, and D&D wouldn't exist without Gygax.
My second job, improbably, was acting on a television show. I would not have gotten it if I hadn't been staying at a friend's house while my mother completed her medical education. The friend in question I would not have met, save for striking up a conversation with him over his Cyberpunk 18.104.22.168. books he brought to school one day. On the television show in question, Freaks & Geeks
, I played a Dungeon Master. It's possible the show wouldn't even have existed, if Dungeons & Dragons hadn't done its part in creating a cohesive geek culture with which the show's creators identified.
Without that second job, I'd not have been able to afford a computer. Using the computer my acting paid for, I met my best friend, Richard Clayton, on alt.games.whitewolf, discussing roleplaying games.
Outside of my immediate family, I can think of no single element with more influence over the course of my life than the existence of the roleplaying hobby, which would not have been without E. Gary Gygax.
|Friday, February 29th, 2008|
|X down, Y to go.
So I just finished reading The Book of the New Sun
and A Canticle for Lebowitz
. That was a trip. Now my mind is once again more full of ideas for Exalted than ever before. Now to get back to reading The Domination
|Thursday, February 28th, 2008|
|I had the most awesome horrible dream.
I'm pretty sure it was an anti-drug commercial or something, up until the very end. It was modeled after the sort of anti-drinking or anti-smoking ads we have up here in Canada (and for all I know, elsewhere as well), all grimy and Se7en
ish. There was a suited business guy walking through an old big wrecked apartment building, only as he stepped on the floor, it CGIed into horrible tarry gunk, the surface of which, undisturbed, looked like the dry and rubble-strewn floor of an old big wrecked apartment building. (To be as vivid as possible, the sort of horrible tarry gunk that's like Jello in that it keeps its shape and springs back to it when disturbed, unless it's torn
, and not so much like actual tar, which runs.) So he wades through the rubbery, tearing floor, and as he goes he sinks deeper, I'm thinking "Okay, this is a metaphor for how drugs or drinking or smoking or something makes your life difficult in ways you cannot immediately percieve."
Then he gets to his goal, which is a window into an indoor room, set with bars, and behind the bars is some vulnerable girl who's entirely immersed in the tarry gunk, so that it's sort of bulging out between the bars but not actually leaving the cell, in a disgusting parody of surface tension. She's clutching the bars and her face is poking between them, also covered in gunk in the manner of someone being eaten by The Blob. And she takes business guy's hand and whimpers "You'll stay with me, right?" And I think "Oh
, it's a metaphor for how drugs imprison you and make your friends wade through ugly crap." At this point I don't quite realize that I'm asleep. I think I'm watching a show or something.
Then my viewpoint switches to the girl's, and the guy's face goes horrible and fangy, and he stares right into my eyes and says "No" in a demonic bass-shifted voice, and I wake up and realize, to my terror, that my legs aren't under the covers and therefore a monster might eat them.
I haven't had a nightmare that vivid or shocking in months.
My brain rules.
|Saturday, January 26th, 2008|
Quarter of a century.
Man, I have not got enough done.
|Friday, January 4th, 2008|
Why do I feel compelled to say I played Harris on Freaks and Geeks
, and Dudley in The Royal Tenenbaums
? Why are things on television, but in movies?
I've started a new blog. It's called More of the Same
|Monday, December 24th, 2007|
This whole year has been an object lesson in the consequences of leaving things until the last minute.
On the plus side, it makes my New Year's resolution obvious.
|Thursday, November 29th, 2007|
I'm on Xbox Live again.
Apparently it's impossible to recover a gamertag if the account tied to that tag is canceled, so I'm not Stephenls anymore. I cannot believe that's the way it works, but Customer Service Lady wasn't being helpful, so enh. My new gamertag is S Lea Sheppard.
|Wednesday, November 14th, 2007|
A sudden realization:
From my years of French immersion during grade school and my high school classes, I retain just enough to feel frustrated and ignorant when I look at French text and hear French being spoken, rather than just ignorant but not frustrated.
Books written in French exist. I am infuriated that I cannot read them and comprehend them as well as I can comprehend English.
I'm gonna need to fix this.
Thanks, today's Three Panel Soul
|Friday, November 2nd, 2007|