Summer Shorts: What's in the Box?

02-Jun-09 12:00 PM by
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Today's action-packed film is What's in the Box?, inspired by the the computer game Half-Life:

Although I consider myself a purveyor of fine video games, I've not experienced Half-Life, and so the connection between this movie and the game was unclear. The film's official Web site is oddly cryptic, with an inscrutable text field and a HAL-like red circle. Clicking around brings you to the film itself, but there appears to be no additional content. This air of mystery originally led to public wonderment of whether the video was a commercial, a trailer, or something else entirely. An interview with its young Dutch creator reveals that it was simply a labor of love:

Like World Builder, this film demonstrates the power of special effects, especially as applied to virtual interfaces. Microsoft has predicted that similar tools are in our own future. I hope we'll use them to make our lives simpler, and not to fend off invaders from other dimensions.

Unheroic Union

17-Jan-08 5:58 PM by
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The writers' strike has left many Hollywood denizens with plenty of time on their hands. So, like the rest of us slackers, they're playing video games — except when they do it, it's newsworthy.

Jesse Alexander, co-executive producer of Heroes, was recently on Major Nelson's Xbox Live podcast. From time indices 1:51:06 to 2:32:15 of this 53-megabyte file, Mr. Alexander talks about his past writing video game scripts for Activision; why writers are king in television, but not movies; why the upcoming Heroes game won't suck like the Alias game did; and the similarities and differences between, and the convergence of the television and gaming media.

Personally, I'm not sure just how similar the two media are. They've been talking about "episodic gaming" for awhile, but we've not seen anything approaching 22 installments of one-hour weekly morsels. Though a single game might last longer than that, its cinematic experiences have been achieved only via pre-scripted, non-interactive sequences that take the player out of the game. It doesn't seem anymore effective going the other way, either: the interactive features offered by next-gen DVD formats are garnering little enthusiasm from consumers. It seems cinephiles want cinema and gamers want games. Astonishing!

Convergence overlooks the unique strengths of each genre. I enjoy television and games for different reasons and would hate to find them lost in a hybrid exhibiting the strengths of neither.

A Fistful of Quarters

29-Sep-07 1:39 PM by
Filed under Reviews; 13 comments.

The King of Kong wallpaperIn 1982, Billy Mitchell set the Donkey Kong world record high score of 874,300. He quickly found fame and fortune when LIFE magazine splashed his face alongside those of other elite gamers considered the greatest of their generation, in a photo-spread in their January, 1983, "Year in Pictures" issue. Many felt his amazing score would never be bested. Then, in 2003, an unassuming science teacher from Redmond, Washington, shattered the long-standing record. In a video-taped performance, Steve Wiebe posted a staggering 1,006,600 points. But there was a problem: the score only counts if it's certified by Twin Galaxies, the self-appointed official keeper of classic video game records. And TG founder and "World's Video Game Referee" Walter Day puts it succinctly: "Twin Galaxies does a lot to promote Billy, because it's to Twin Galaxies' advantage — and very much to the whole gaming hobby's advantage — for Billy to become a star."

Mitchell, a larger-than-life character with a world-class mullet, is a hot sauce mogul and successful restaurateur from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. He's also the self-proclaimed "World's Best Video Game Player". Unfortunately, in The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, the new movie from director Seth Gordon (now in limited release), Mitchell comes off as something of a very big fish in a very small pond: in fact, the only thing big enough to match Billy's legend is his ego. Mitchell's opening line in the movie not only sets the tone for the upcoming competition between Billy and his challenger, lovable loser Steve Wiebe, but also gives us a fascinating glimpse into the psyche of an egomaniac. King of Kong is littered with priceless Mitchell one liners: "He is the person that he is today because he came under the wrath of Bill Mitchell"; "Since I so-called debuted on the scene at LIFE magazine in 1982… there hasn't been anybody who's played even close"; and "Maybe they'd like it if I lose. I gotta try losing some time." With a gaggle of video gamer disciples at his beck and call, including one who considers Billy "the champion" and himself "the prodigy", it's clear that Billy Mitchell is very invested in maintaining the mystique of his image. "Everything about him is perfect; Billy is just that person," proclaims one. Even Walter Day seems entranced by Mitchell's charisma: "There's no reason why Bill Mitchell couldn't end up on a Wheaties box someday."


Joystick Nation

19-Jun-07 5:22 PM by
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Considering the name for this site is derived from another, Gamebits, it's not surprising that I find the union of movies and games to have powerful potential. Even abominable amalgams such as the Bob Hoskins/Dennis Hopper vehicle Super Mario Bros. has its value — such as making Mortal Kombat look good. (MK is by far the best video game based on a movie, for whatever that's worth.)

But not everyone feels their beloved medium of electronic entertainment has been fairly or even effectively represented on the silver screen. Gaming site has a feature on the "Seven stupidest videogame scenes in movies". What films employ gaming to the worst effect? Jackie Chan's Rumble in the Bronx earns this tongue-lashing: "When people complain about the way videogames are shown in movies, this is exactly what they're talking about: blank stare, madly waggling thumbs and atonal bloops and bleeps that haven't been used as game audio since 1976." I can certainly agree that the portrayal of games as a killing simulator used to breed the next generation of soldiers was not what we needed to avoid a moral panic.

Yet I persist in believing that even the bad can be good. The Wizard, Tobey Maguire's silver screen debut (it's true!), inspired legions of loser gamers, dreaming of being popular and successful — especially at next year's Nintendo World Championships. It didn't matter that The Wizard had such cornball lines as, "I love the Power Glove. It's so bad." And the scene where Christian Slater wakes up to find his father, Beau Bridges, has overnight become a Nintendo geek is every boy's dream come true. Finally! My parents can relate to me! (Even Mr. Bridges' jerky controller motions closely approximate my own paternal unit's efforts to play Tetris.)

But what about the cameos? Gamesradar has completely overlooked some classic films. In Terminator 2, moments before he first encounters the T-1000, young John Connor is playing Missile Command — a foreshadowing of the apocalyptic Judgment Day he then sets out to avert. If that isn't masterful, I don't know what is.

Surely there are even more blessed unions I'm missing. What are your favorite spottings of games on screen?

(Note: Gamesradar's article is the closest I've ever come to seeing an Uwe Boll film. Even that was too much. Pardon me while I find a red-hot poker with which to extinguish my eyes…)

The Rock Who Came in from the Cold

09-Jan-07 8:45 PM by
Filed under Celebrities, Films, Potpourri; 2 comments.

Perhaps it's old news, but I just recently learned from Game Informer's review of 2006 that Spy Hunter: Nowhere to Run has been cancelled.

This film, once to be directed by John Woo, would star Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. Supposedly the film was cancelled due to its video game counterpart, to which Mr. The Rock also lent his talent, being a steaming heap of unplayability.

This film being cancelled is disappointing in two regards. First, the original Spy Hunter, and its original, modern remake, were both classic examples of genuinely fun and challenging games. The license starting losing its lustre with the remake's sequel; this latest (lack of effort) flushes the franchise down that drain.

Second, The Rock is capable of genuinely entertaining films. The Scorpion King was a silly but fun romp in the tradition of the Hercules television series; The Rundown, with Seann William Scott, was a similar combination of action and humor. Heck, he was even on Star Trek: Voyager. Wrestlers are often stereotyped as having as much potential as actors as actors do politicians; but far from being a snarling animal, this wrestler is capable of greater films than Hulk Hogan's No Holds Barred. At least, I'm hoping The Rock as my castmate makes me look good when our first collaborative effort, The Game Plan, hits theaters later this year. (I'm the only extra to not be one of the film's other thousand extras.)

What's your take on this actor, or others who have attempted a similar transition? (The game-to-movie transition is a whole 'nuther can of worms, to be dissected in another post.)