March 9th, 2009


Selling It with Fungus

I always love deconstructing advertisements. Today's installment:
New Aveena, with a breakthrough shiitake complex. (Bits of gratuitous periodic table float past, overlay.)
Because "our skin lotion is made from mushrooms" doesn't quite invoke the reaction you want...

Review: Watchmen (no major spoilers)

Last night's outing was to see Watchmen, the movie that many of us thought would never be made. I'm glad that it was -- it was surprisingly well done. Some detailed thoughts:

First up, the question that every fan asks -- how well was it adapted? IMO, about as well as is possible. Mind, it's been five years or so since I last read the book, so I don't remember every last detail, and it's clear that a lot of details were chopped. But they managed to preserve the main spine of the story, along with most of the really vivid moments. The most conspicuous alteration is that the heroes are just a little too good at what they do -- they don't feel quite as normal-human as in the book. But they still aren't exactly "superheroes" -- they're more like something at the level of a modern martial-arts movie, preposterous without quite being impossible. (And the bad guys *are* mostly ordinary humans, so the fights come out rather lopsided.)

They did change one very important element near the end, ostensibly in the name of shortening things a bit, but I couldn't find it in me to mind: they keep the high concept from the book properly. Indeed, I have to admit that, from a pure story-elegance POV, I find the movie's variation more elegant than Alan Moore's original. (Basically, they replaced a moment that, when I originally read the story, provoked a loud "WTF!?!?" from me with a version that plugs more neatly into the overall storyline, and makes the ending just a tad more poignant.)

It's visually pretty faithful to the book -- indeed, moreso than I would have expected. Not as slavish as Sin City, but they did often choose to follow the original art, especially for the more vividly memorable scenes. It's rather strange seeing that flat Dave Gibbons coloring replaced with vivid CGI, though.

So the purist might argue, but they don't commit the sin of V For Vendetta -- preserving the story but missing the point -- and I'm much happier this time around. Frankly, I think it compares best with Lord of the Rings, which I thought did a similarly good job of getting the important bits of the original across.

Then the question asked by the non-comic-geeks: do you have to read the book to appreciate the movie? Here I'll say firmly "No" -- I think the movie captures enough that you can fully understand what's going on entirely from it. The comic has a lot more detail and background, and is well worth reading, but I suspect you can appreciate that after the fact. Just keep in mind that the comic's art is very intentionally unspectacular, so after seeing the SFX in the movie, you may find it weirdly plain-looking.

I'm not going to go into details of what the movie is *about*, because you learn that as you go so it's hard to avoid spoilers. Suffice it to say, this is a world that developed masked heroes -- although mostly not of the "super" variety -- in the 1940's, and explores where things go from there. It's an exploration of what kinds of people would take up the mask, and the dangers of trying to make the world a better place.

As a movie I think it's quite good, but you have to be prepared for the pacing: this is *not* a typical frenetic modern action movie. Indeed, one of the curious things about it is that not only is it set in an alternate-history 1985, it *feels* in some ways like a movie from 1985. They let the story unfold at its own speed (again, following the comic closely), and never rush it along. I thought it was delicious, but be aware that this isn't a rip-roaring action-adventure superhero story, and those used to the speed of typical modern films may find it slow. (And given that it's long to begin with, that's a danger.) That said, I never felt like it was dragging: there's just an enormous amount of story to tell, and they wanted to get it all in.

Casting was brilliant all around, and the acting just right -- while I don't think they were any Oscar performances here, all of the characters were well-captured. In particular, I was able to forgive my greatest qualm from the advertisements (the fact that Nite Owl is *way* too buff in his costume) because out of costume the actor captures Dan's charming dorkiness perfectly. And Rorschach is pitch-perfect, and therefore kind of creepy: intense, ordinary and even grimy, with an angry misery that just pours out of his eyes. (On the occasions that you see them.)

I will warn that the movie earns its R rating in every respect -- it is *not* for kids. There is a fair amount of sex, and the simple fact that Dr. Manhattan prefers not to wear clothes. (In other words, they didn't cut any of the nudity from the book.) And it is even more explicitly violent than the comic: while there aren't a huge number of fight scenes, they do include quite a bit of blood, guts and gore.

Summary: a solid A- in my book, both as a movie and as an adaptation, and well worth seeing. I will probably see it at least once more in the theater -- this is a movie that benefits from the big screen, and is just plain delightful to immerse myself in...

Intercon roundup

[Happy birthday to hungrytiger and tpau!]

Before it all recedes too much, time for a diary entry about my slightly extended weekend.

General note: it was awfully pleasant to get away from the keyboard and the Net for three full days, and instead spend the time with a lot of people face-to-face. It really drove home how stressed-out I am, and probably socially deprived. I need to think about the implications of this. Certainly, it drives home that online interactions (which make up so much of my social life at the moment) are no substitute for the real thing. I need to rebuild my social life.

It also makes me realize how tense I am about self-imposed responsibility nowadays, whether it be work-related, SCA, or whatever: getting into a situation where I was *not* in a position of responsibility was delightful. It's not about the work -- I did a decent share of volunteering over the course of the weekend -- but there is a qualitative difference between helping out and being in charge. I'm in charge of way too much right now, and taking the authority-figure responsibility for too much on top of that. It's ego-difficult to let go of that, but I'm going to need to find ways to dial things back for a while, and find my balance point again.

Anyway -- downer reflection aside, it was a solidly fun Intercon all around, from the very beginning. It started out with the Thursday Thing: essentially a mini-con attached to the Con. From Thursday through Friday evenings, we had a series of panels on All Things LARP. I wound up on both of the Writing panels, which were engaging and boisterous: it's a topic I'm passionate about and always happy to blather on. And I sat in on about half the other panels, all of which were great. I quite regret showing up late for the Costuming panel, which turned out to be full of practical information for the casual costumer.

Friday evening was Intercon Zi, the micro-game session. Pregame/Postgame was my favorite, despite some curiously appropriate snafus. The first hour took place just before the beginning of a particularly ill-starred game, as everyone tries to figure out how to get things started. After that, it switched over to game wrap: everyone got "character sheets" describing what happened during the game, and then got left alone to spend an hour arguing about it. Thoroughly silly, and I suspect it would fall flat if handed to most novice gamers, but we had a high level of "been there, done that" in the room, and had a great time metagaming the heck out of it and generally playing mental Calvinball.

Ripoff! was the weakest of the bunch -- not bad, but it was explicitly Klingon Group Therapy with "Klingon" crossed out and replaced by "Romulan". Which makes sense in principle, but is just plain harder to play: Romulan-style cunning requires more thought and care than Klingon aggression, which slowed the game down. Fortunately, Vance gave us all Nerf guns, and in the second run-through, I concluded that seeking an excuse to fire them livened things up considerably.

Bughunt! was exactly what the name implies, and was a fine finish to the evening. I was one of the Space Marines, fighting our way through a "ship" full of bugs being played by the rest of the players. Very little plot, but some simple elemental roleplaying, loads of running around and lots of shooting Nerf at folks.

My Saturday afternoon game was Starship Edsel, which was grand silliness. I was playing Joe Rodshurtz -- that is, The Redshirt. My only complaint is that the rest of the players didn't get into *nearly* enough trouble for the first couple of hours, so it took a solid two hours for me to get killed the first time, and I only got killed three times over the course of the game. (Which is about half what I expected.) But it was still loads of fun, including winding up (quite to my surprise) in two separate romance plots, a sweet one with The Nurse, and being seduced / used by one of The VIPs.

Saturday evening was tending Ops. As usual, bringing my laptop along ensured that I did not wind up bored on my own; instead, I wound up spending most of four hours chatting with learnedax and a new LARPer (apparently an old friend of asim's). I also got to deal with The Soda Crisis. Moral of that story: an equal ratio of Coke and Pepsi doesn't work around here. (We realized at about 7pm that, out of about 80 bottles of soda, we were left with ten each of Pepsi and Diet Pepsi, so I did a run for Everything Else.)

Sunday morning was Time Travel Review Board, a light and fun horde game. I always love horde games, because they are fine excuses to engage in high-impact roleplaying without needing to worry about complex game goals. I played the caveman Ogg; a conservative zealot who wanted to go back and help the founding fathers write the Second Amendment more clearly (so I channeled Bill O'Reilly for ten solid minutes); a Brandeis professor who wanted to interview Moses right after Mount Sinai, to get clarifications about the word of God; the inevitable Time Patrol cop; and a bunch of others. Not a deep game, but well-suited to Saturday morning.

And finally, there was Closing Ceremonies, which was dominated by CONGA and Kong. The Kong standup seems to be turning into the official Intercon NE mascot. Is there any chance that 2011 will be anything *other* than InterKong?