Assembling Good Characters

Courtesy WAG

I’ve now seen The LEGO Movie twice, and I loved it just as much the second time around, if not more. The composition and action are clever and inventive, the aesthetic is charming, the humor is genuinely funny, and the theme is something I can jam on. But a thought occurred to me that I was not expecting:

There isn’t a single character I don’t like.

The primary audience for the movie is going to be youngsters. As much as it’s written at a level that parents can both grok the themes and laugh at the humor, it’s basically a kid’s movie. It would be terrifyingly easy for the writers to keep the heroes and villains simple, if not one-dimensional, to make sure there’s no ambiguity or confusion on the part of the young audience.

However, the writers of The LEGO Movie demonstrate a level of skill and an abundance of trust in their audience. The characters in their movie are nuanced and deeper that you might think. Emmett, our hero, has no real power or even imagination to speak of. What I like about his starting position and presentation is that you don’t have to be born with some sort of special power or destiny to do the right thing or to be heroic. This comes to fruition in the end when he’s talking to Lord Business about what it means to be special (or The Special if you want to get technical).

Speaking of Lord Business, it’s been a long time since I’ve sat in a family movie and realized that the antagonist is really only villainous in presentation. Sure, his methods for going about what he wants are pretty diabolical, especially in the visuals, but in the end, Business just wants things to be ordered and organized. This is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. He is driven to get what he wants to an extreme, and that extreme leads to some real scorched-earth moments, but the amplification of this desire for order comes from a place where such desire might seem terrifying. I won’t say more because I still want to avoid spoilers (you really should go see this movie if you haven’t already), but suffice it to say that what the writers do with the main villain really struck a chord with me.

I mentioned that the message in The LEGO Movie isn’t quite as strongly delivered as that from Wreck-It Ralph, but I’m not going to be too hard on a movie this inventive telling kids to be themselves. Again, Emmett is encouraged to cultivate what is special about himself. So too is Wyldstyle. What impressed me the second time around is how much the girl whose name sounds like a DJ’s handle is struggling with her own identity. She’s tied so much of her desires and ambitions into the quest that Emmett stumbles into that she seems to wrestle with who she is as opposed to who she wants to be. It’s subtle, but the desire for definition of identity touches her as much it does any of the other characters.

Last but not least I want to talk about Bad Cop. In addition to just loving hearing Liam Neeson voice this character (and Good Cop… and Dad Cop…), this is another character that easily could have been one-note: the primary hench-villain. The switching between Good Cop and Bad Cop could have just been an inventive little gimmick in a movie full of them. And yet here, again, we have a character who struggles to define who they are and who they want to be. At one point, Bad Cop says a line (again, spoilers) that indicates he’s painfully aware of the better nature he could be following. He’s in a position where he has orders to follow, prides himself in results, and does not give up in pursuit of a quarry, and yet as an officer of law, he wants to do the right thing, not necessarily just what he’s told. Again, for what’s ostensibly a kid’s movie, this is pretty deep and interesting stuff.

I could talk about this for a while, about how Benny’s identity is perhaps the most one-note of them all yet he manages complexity of his own, or how Princess Unikitty’s brave-face facade reflects those of kids trying to pretend everything is fine when things are anything but fine, but I think I’ve made my point. The LEGO Movie is not just a two-hour sales pitch for plastic building blocks; it is a story about finding what’s special about one’s self and completely embracing it, because that’s how we make the best of ourselves for our own benefit and that of the world. For a family picture, one that could have skated by on pop culture references and physical humor, it’s obvious to me that this tale of LEGOs and characters and realms and spaceships was very carefully assembled.

500 Words On Two Movies

I missed yesterday’s review for several reasons. So let me break down the double-feature I did today in about 500 words. Including those last 20. Consider this a flash review.

Robocop (2014)

My initial reaction? “Meh.” It wasn’t terrible, by any stretch, but I wasn’t blown away by it. I liked some of the things they did with the concept, to be sure. There were moments that really brought home the horror of what happened to Murphy and what was done to him after. A great deal of time is spent on Murphy’s recovery, family, and impact on the future society.

However, a lot of the film feels overly long and drawn out. As fun as it is to see Samuel L. Jackson channelling Bill O’Rielly, a few of his bits are a little long in the tooth. The same goes for several scenes of the Murphy family. On it’s own, the movie feels a touch padded and slow.

In comparison to the original 1987 film, this new version feels a great deal like it’s missing the point. RoboCop‘s ultra-violence, quick cuts to vapid press coverage, and corporate interplay all contributed to its undercurrent of social satire. I understand that remakes involve changes, and not all of the changes were bad, but some left me with major unanswered questions. Why was Lewis gender-changed to male? Why was this story laid out so deliberately and linearly, when flashbacks of Murphy’s emergent memories could have been a far more effective storytelling tool? Why was the only blood we really saw in the film coming from a kill at the end that means the victim will not be brought to justice? It’s another case where a revision of an established character could have turned out a lot better than it did, but at least it wasn’t as shameless as any of the previous RoboCop sequels, nor was it quite as dour or plodding as Man of Steel.

The LEGO Movie

I just got a haircut today, and the young lady doing me that service told me she had herself seen The LEGO Movie recently. She had expected the theatre to be full of kids – not all of the adults she found! From the sound of things, she really enjoyed seeing it.

I told you that story because I really have nothing to say about The LEGO Movie that has not already been said in a thousand other places. The universal sentiment is that this film is pretty terrific, and I have no reason or desire to disagree! This is especially good for families. It’s fun, inventive, creative, and you’ll notice things on your second viewing you didn’t see the first time.

After seeing it again, I don’t think the message is quite as strong as in Wreck-It Ralph.

Then again, Wreck-It Ralph doesn’t have the goddamn Batman.

Honestly, the two films pretty much stand shoulder to shoulder. I’d recommend either very strongly to either parents with kids, or folks just wanting a great time at the movies.

Game Preview: Minecraft

Courtesy Mojang Specifications

A lot of games are called “sandbox” games. They are games in which you can, allegedly, do anything you want at any time. Usually this term is applied to games like Grand Theft Auto or Just Cause 2. But those games have a lot of things set up for you: buildings, other people, weapons and so on. I recall a time when playing in a sandbox meant you had little more than the sand in the box and your own two hands. Or when all we had was a bin full of LEGO bricks and the admonition not to leave them where Dad could step on them in the middle of the night.

If your memories of that time are anything like mine, Minecraft is carefully calculated to tap those memories. With its simplistic design, intuitive crafting, dynamic lighting and HUGE map, the game is surprisingly immersive and innovative in spite of its looks.

Yes, the map is blocky. It’s all blocks, in fact. Just like some games that characterize themselves as sandboxes that boast “fully destructible environments,” Minecraft’s environment is 100% malleable. The only thing you can’t mine or move is the bedrock, also called “Adminium.” Other than that, you can change just about anything, explore the caverns generated by the world when it’s generated by carving mines down to them, construct any sort of building you can imagine and even do battle with zombie pigmen in Hell. It can be a construction sim, an open-ended exploration game or an action adventure. It’s up to you.

This mostly applies to single player, since at the moment the multiplayer aspect is devoid of damage. The zombies, creepers and spiders still exist, but you can’t damage them and they can’t damage you. Basically all you do is rub up against each other as the excellent sounds creep you the hell out. But this is fine, actually, since the game is still technically in alpha and being coded and constructed by one guy. ONE.

Markus “Notch” Persson, a programmer from Sweden, is the mastermind behind Minecraft. With only assistance in terms of music, sound and in-game art, Notch has created a world with solid mechanics, procedurally-generated maps and a surprisingly deep and intriguing crafting system. You start with your bare hands surrounded by hills full of dirt, trees, rocks and the occasional animal or zombie. The world is yours to build, provided you don’t get killed when the monsters come out at night.

Getting in on the ground level in Minecraft is relatively inexpensive at $15 US and will give you unlimited, free updates and support from Notch. Multiplayer Survival mode is at the top of his to-do list, and as soon as it’s live you can bet I’ll be in there with friends, creating strongholds against the monstrous hordes as we play pranks on one another. Like encasing an AFK friend in obsidian and TNT and destroying a good portion of the landscape. Until then, I have caverns to explore in Single Player and electricity mechanics to understand in Multiplayer.

Working in a mine has never been this much fun.

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