GET LAMP Text Adventure Documentary Coming in March

18-Feb-10 1:11 PM by
Filed under Films, Trailers; 2 comments.

When I was young, documentaries were the droll presentations that grade school students were subjected to. Usually making no pretense about their supposed educational value, these films rarely made any effort to be engaging or even entertaining. But in the last decade or two, the genre has matured (or maybe I have). The likes of An Inconvenient Truth, March of the Penguins, Welcome to Macintosh, and King of Kong have invigorated the medium to the point of making theatrical releases viable. It doesn't hurt that their topics have grown beyond their scientific and historical roots to encompass popular culture topics.

One recent example is BBS: The Documentary, which tells the stories of telecommunications' early adopters who ran dial-up bulletin boards, some of the first consumer-accessible pre-Internet networks. As a participant of that era, I was fascinated by the film's people and personalities and how vibrant their memories of that unique period was. The documentary was almost exclusively the product of one man: Jason Scott, digital archivist extraordinaire. As I wrote in my review in retrocomputing publication Juiced.GS (Volume 11, Issue 1), his inspired editing turned hundreds of hours of raw footage into several elegant and thematic chapters of computer history.

Since that film's release, Mr. Scott has been slowly chipping away at his next project: GET LAMP, a history of text adventures, or interactive fiction. As described on the film's Web site: "[using] limited sound, simple graphics, and tiny amounts of computing power, the first games on home computers … [gave birth to] an entire industry [that] rose over the telling of tales, the solving of intricate puzzles and the art of writing. Like living books, these games described fantastic worlds to their readers, and then invited them to live within them." Here's some early footage of the interviews that preserve that early entertainment art form and its responsible parties:

Mr. Scott recently gave himself a deadline for GET LAMP's publication; as a result, it is being fast-tracked for release at PAX East, a video gaming expo held March 26–28, 2010, in Boston. As the date approaches, more details about the two-disc set are being revealed. Besides ten hours of interviews, the documentary will sport several unique features:


Earth 2.0

22-Apr-09 1:00 PM by
Filed under Trailers; 1 comment.

Happy Earth Day! Disney has chosen this day for the theatrical release their documentary, Earth, narrated by James Earl Jones. Here's the trailer:

It seems obvious the groundwork for this film was laid by the success of March of the Penguins, as both feature similiar qualities such as a celebrity narrator and an anthropomorphized view of nature (this film follows "families" of animals). Others may instead liken Disney's movie to the BBC series Planet Earth, which is an accurate comparison: 60% of Earth's footage was shot for that other documentary, according to CNN.

Do you think these movies encourage us to have our planet's best interests at heart? Are they actively pushing a liberal agenda? Is this a good family movie that's affordable to shoot, requiring no computer animation? Or is big business trying to capitalize on the popularity of "green"?

A Convenient Film

15-Oct-07 6:14 PM by
Filed under Films; 4 comments.

It seems like documentaries have suddenly become an acceptable format for a popular film release. From political releases such as Death of a President and the upcoming Jimmy Carter: Man From Plains, to scientific subjects such as In the Shadow of the Moon and more grounded ones like March of the Penguins, they all beg the question: Why the sudden approval of a predominantly slow, plodding, and — gasp! — educational medium?

I say the person we have to thank is Al Gore. As the former next president of the United States, Mr. Gore has a kind of fame not usually found in Hollywood. Any other star would've made a film about global warming into a made-for-TV special, but Mr. Gore propelled An Inconvenient Truth into theaters. Both his 2000 election loss and global warming are topics that are, for better or worse, controversial; people wanted to see what this presidential candidate, politically quiet for six years, had been up to, what his new angle was. It wasn't like Morgan Freeman narrating March of the Penguins; as engaging as the film was, there's little debatable about birds, and they didn't represent Mr. Freeman's politics or platform. But global warming? It's either the biggest scientific hoax of all time, or one of the greatest threats to life on Earth. It was a killer combination of topic and delivery, and its accolades, awards, and accumulated profits have opened the door for other documentarians.

And so I'd like to thank Mr. Gore, not for either alerting us to this peril or perpetuating this worldwide fraud, but for showing that documentaries can be edgy, accessible, and enjoyable — and, in so doing, expanding the diversity of film genres, subjects, and debates. If you haven't already discovered this cinematic style courtesy the Discovery or History channels or the works of Ken Burns, check it out; you'll find it's grown up from the inescapably dull classroom lessons forced upon you a generation ago.

Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day

American Elseworlds

07-Oct-07 11:20 AM by
Filed under Reviews; 2 comments.

Ever since Michael Moore arrived on the scene, the cinematic landscape has been rife with political agendas. I find film such a meaningful and accessible medium that I consider it important to keep an open mind about these expressions — which is why I'm disturbed by the two camps of reactions I've encountered concerning Death of a President, a mockumentary looking back at the Oct 19, 2007 assassination of President George W. Bush.

Without having seen the film, some potential viewers may attack it as violent and unnecessarily advocative. Yet though I disclaim to these people, "The film doesn't encourage the action it documents," I am more disturbed when I must offer such defense to the opposite camp: those for whom describing the movie's premise results in their eyes lighting up with a fearsome glee. Living in a blue state, I've witnessed this reaction more often than I care to count, and I'm appalled at the number of people who think the solution to an administration that's gone too far to the right is to gun down the leader of the free world.

If either group were to watch the film, though, I think they would find little antagonism beyond its concept. Death of a President relates the events leading up to the President being shot, using actual footage of events and speeches President Bush attended. Original scenes include exterior footage of motorcades as well as interviews with personnel close to the President, including his speechwriter and Secret Service agent. The integration between actual and manufactured footage and stills is seamless, easily pulling the audience into its false accounts. This first half-hour is both tense and powerful, as its players know when and how the assassination is going to happen — yet all the audience can do is hold their breath and wait. Viewers who were present for our last presidential assassination may find this one evoking some painful memories.

It is after the bullet hits that Death of a President begins to lose its impact. I was hoping the film would take a global perspective in its examination of the impact of our president's assassination on the international theater. And though this topic is touched upon, the film's character becomes that of a murder mystery or political thriller. Suspects and forensic analysts are interviewed as investigators try to determine whodunnit. Clues and red herrings are scattered about, and the conclusion is not what anyone expected — or even desired.

Perhaps if the film had taken a longer view of the killing's repercussions, it might have taken a greater scale. Death of a President is set in 2008, only a year after its fictitious subject, when all that it has engendered is the swearing in of President Cheney and the passing of Patriot Act III, giving the FBI and other departments unprecedented powers to prevent future acts of terrorism. The consequences of these transitions are not well-documented, though, as little time has been given for such consequences to occur.

This documentary starts off with great potential yet ultimately gets swallowed up in details. It has a fascinating concept and may still be worth watching, but ultimately, I was hoping it would go beyond the titular death into looking at the lives of those left behind.

When the Whole World Looked Up

21-Sep-07 11:19 PM by
Filed under Trailers; 1 comment.

I discovered In the Shadow of the Moon last month when I thought my moviegoing for 2007 was complete and looked at the year's remaining releases to confirm. I was pleasantly surprised to find Ron Howard's name attached to this documentary about the first lunar landing. It made me keen to see the film's theatrical release, but I suspected its limited distribution would resign me to waiting for the DVD.

Today, a review on Tech_Space linked me to the film's official site, where I found a version of the movie trailer superior to this one:

Now I know I can't wait to see this film. There have been so many documentaries about the crises of the world (Inconvenient Truth) and the nation (Fahrenheit 9/11) that we need to be reminded of the powerful steps mankind can take when focused on positive change. Amidst our legitimate fears and concerns, humanity must remember that it has much to be proud of.

The good news is that Shadow's distribution is growing beyond its initial release, and it will be in my own town just a week from today.  I will be honored to accompany these men who boldly went where no one had gone before.

Truth, Justice — All That Stuff

21-Apr-07 9:19 PM by
Filed under Reviews; Comments Off on Truth, Justice — All That Stuff

Whether it's my Superman dogtag or my Superman keychain or the contents of my bookshelf or the films I show in my classroom, it's not hard to discern my admiration for Superman and his embodiments. So it was inevitable, despite any lack of affection for Ben Affleck, that I see Hollywoodland.

I knew only that this film dramatized the death of actor George Reeves, who played Superman on the 1950s television show that I grew up watching. I did not know how Hollywoodland would do so, or if it would do so tastefully. As it turns out, the film is structured to parallel George Reeves' life with that of a fictional private detective, played by a famous actor I'd never heard of, Adrien Brody. The movie opens with Reeves' death and follows Brody's investigation into same, but also alternates with following Reeves' life from years before he was cast as Superman. The movie thus also ends with his death.

It's that past tense half of the film that the producers claim to be historically accurate, and while Brody is nonexistent, the facts he reveals and personalities he encounters are supposed to be true as well. Brody starts the show as a quiet mumbling type (which ironically is the kind of actor his character criticizes), but as the movie develops, so does Brody. We learn more about how he struggles with love, family, and self-identity, much as Reeves did. Though Superman may be the subject of the film, Brody is the star.


Revenge of the Nerds

28-Mar-07 9:05 AM by
Filed under Star Wars; 1 comment.

There's a new trailer for Heart of an Empire, a documentary about the Fighting 501st, an international club whose only membership requirement is that you have a Star Wars film-quality Imperial costume, from stormtrooper to Darth Vader. As far as I can tell, these costumes are not sold anywhere, nor are instructions for their manufacture provided by the group; you need to be both a hardcore Star Wars fan AND a talented costumer. The movie looks like a lot of fun, showing the group's diverse aspects. I was especially touched to see stormtroopers participating in one of my favorite charity events.

But I was surprised and angered by what this documentary reveals of the public's perception to such dedicated fans: televised newscasters openly mocking the 501st as single, lonely geeks and nerds. I thought such juvenile behavior was the province of schoolyard bullies. Of course these stormtroopers are single, if such vapid, condescending ignorami are the only available bounties. But we can do better, as exemplified in this recent Vegas Popular article (which is actually meant to delineate why Star Trek is better than Star Wars, but I see little distinction between the two fan groups):

The devotion of Trekkers is an easy target for derision, but I would argue that you'll find a much higher average IQ level among Star Trek fans… And if they take the series' philosophy to heart, they're probably treating each other with kindness and tolerance and making the world a better place.

If you're going to be dedicated, might as well indulge: Heart of the Empire isn't the only Star Wars documentary. There's 5/25/77, which celebrates the release of A New Hope, the 30th anniversary of which looms. There's also The Force Among Us, which recently released a trailer (if a ten-minute video can be called such) featuring a montage of interviews with assorted Warsies. All these films seem to be this universe's take on the Trekkies documentary.

And not a documentary, but no less cool: Star Wars USB drives. Represent!

Buddy Christ

17-Mar-07 12:37 PM by
Filed under Reviews; 1 comment.

Have you ever looked at a situation as somebody else and come to completely opposite conclusions than you otherwise would? That's how hiphopguy23 felt watching Jesus Camp this past weekend. [See the trailer]

Jesus Camp is a documentary that takes the viewer to the misnomered Devil's Falls in North Dakota to spend a summer with young evangelicals-in-training at Kids on Fire Summer Camp. Hiphopguy23 got to see the little rugrats undergo a complete indoctrination into the world of extreme Christianity. It is a world where reading Harry Potter is akin to witchcraft. "If Harry Potter was around in the Old Testament, he would have been put to death," states camp director Becky Fischer (not to be confused with the film's directors, Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady). It is a world where the simple telling of ghost stories is reviled because such stories do not honor God. In this world, hiphopguy23 learned that God does not visit churches where worshippers sit, listen to a preacher, and maybe sing a hymn or two. Apparently, God only visits churches where they are constantly Hallelujahing and speaking in tongues. Ironically, the speaking in tongues sounded an awful lot like Parseltongue from the Harry Potter series — but hiphopguy23 digresses.