Monday, May 30, 2005

Thursday, May 19, 2005

A Disturbing Experience

Like I said in a previous post, I've picked up a new hobby, namely, making movies with The Sims 2. It's been interesting, especially since there's a small but dedicated group of individuals who are obsessed with doing the same thing. We chat about it on a BBS supported by the good folks at EA Games, offer critiques to each other, announce premieres, that sort of thing.

I usually track down the premieres that people announce. I'm always curious to see what others are doing, and sometimes, it helps me figure out what I want to do in the movies that I make. But today, something rather disturbing happened.

A Sims player announced that she had made the "best Sims movie ever." That may sound a little bold, but braggadocio goes with the territory. A few people commented on the movie, talking mostly about technical stuff, but a few commented on how sick and perverted the ending was.

I'll admit, that made me curious.

The film itself did have technical problems, and the plot was very confusing. In a nutshell, this is what happened:

A lady moves in next door to a father and his daughter. The daughter is what we call a "child" Sim, looks to be about five or six years old. The daughter invites the new neighbor over for dinner. The woman accepts. The father explains that he is a widower. At dinner (which the neighbor cooked, not the father for reasons that were never explained), the father and the new neighbor flirt a little after the daughter goes to bed. The new neighbor returns home.

So far, not the best, but not too sick or twisted, right? Keep reading.

The movie continued with a shot of the new neighbor sitting naked on her couch, watching TV. Yes, that's right. Nude. Normally, the Sims covers up nude people (like people who are showering or taking a bath or something like that) with pixelation. There are ways, however, to shut said censoring off and special skins out there that show nudity.

In walks the father. He's in his undies. The new neighbor screams at him, asking what he's doing there.

The next thing you know, the father is naked as well and they're on the couch making out, and the new neighbor is moaning. Use your imagination. Yes, that kind of moaning.

To top it all off, the movie ends by revealing that the little girl is watching her father make out with the new neighbor in the buff and is crying, distraught, and calling for her mommy.

Now, I understand the needs of storytelling, and I know that sinful human beings have sex outside of marriage. There are several things about this movie that disturbed me:
  1. The fact that the little girl was watching. That was just plain wrong. I don't know what the heck the moviemaker was trying to accomplish with that, but it was sick and very twisted.
  2. The fact that this movie was little better than porn. I mean, the beginning was okay, even if it was a little disjointed and badly filmed. But the nude make-out scene was too much. It was porn, plain and simple.
  3. The fact that this pseudo-porn was put on a site that is regularly accessed by children. The Sims 2 is rated for teens, but there are children who post on the BBS all the time. There's no way to limit who watches the movies on the websites in any way, shape, or form. Any kid at any time could just click into this movie and it wouldn't make a difference.

But none of those are enough reason to send me to my blog. To be fully honest, the people who run the BBS were quick to catch it and delete it. No, what disturbs me the most is who made this movie.

It was made by a thirteen year old girl.

Dead serious. According to the girl's website, she is thirteen years old. Does this bother anybody else? It sure as heck bothered me. This means that this girl thought that it was perfectly acceptable to produce what amounted to a pornographic moment and distribute it on the web. It means that she had to secure vocal talent (perhaps even doing it herself) to produce the suggestive moaning. And the fact that she called it the "best movie ever", well, that just makes me wonder what the heck is wrong with our society that we can arrive at this place.

I did what I could. I was one of the people who reported the movie to the people who run the BBS. But I can't help but wonder where her parents were, and what she was thinking. Maybe I'll never know. But I do know that I'll be a little nervous to watch future movies.

The Force Just Wasn't With Him

So last night, my soon-to-be brother-in-law and I went to a 12:01 AM screening of Episode III. And I have to say, not that I've had a little time to digest, I was both satisfied and a little disappointed. The action, as usual, was phenomenal. There were some memorable moments, images that will haunt me for a while (Anakin riding a droid over a lava flow is chief among them), but in the end, Lucas fell short of his ambitious vision.

SPOILER ALERT: Don't keep reading if you haven't seen the movie yet and/or want to be surprised.

For example, the scene where Mace Windu reflects Palpatine's Force lightning back onto him and "disfigures" him was just bad comedy. Especially the way Palpatine was acting. His new looks and snivelling attitude reminded me of Gollum from "Lord of the Rings." All he needed was a ring, a cave, and some dead fish. Granted, that could be an acting problem, but the fact that Lucas left it in and didn't try to fix it and make it dramatic instead of just plain silly, well, that's his fault.

Another example: Darth Vader waking up after being encased in the armor. I'm sorry, but that scene was so conry, you could have produced thirty gallons of ethanol from it! Especially when Vader stands alone and screams, "No!" I'm glad that Lucas included the final scene of Vader and the Emperor at the end of the movie. I wouldn't want my last memory of Vader in a Star Wars movie to be the quasi-dramatic scream.

Lucas also missed some prime story-telling opportunities that could have easily ratcheted up the drama as well. The sad part is, in one case, he tentatively started in a dramatic direction, but then backed off. I thought for sure that we were going to see the Jedi version of "Othello" at one point, with Anakin playing the lead role, Padme as Desdimona, Obi-Wan as Cassio, and Palpatine as Iago. Lucas almost went down that path at one point. Would that he did! It would have been so cool, and would have improved the so-called romantic subplot.

So I have a few suggestions for Mr. Lucas should he ever stumble on the Least Read Blog:

  • Stop directing human beings. The fact of the matter is, sir, you can't do that. You suck at it. Amidala and Anakin were as wooden in the movie as they were in other movies, but I doubt it's Christensen and Portman's fault. I've seen Portman in "Garden State," and I hear that Christensen does good work elsewhere too. Face facts, Mr. Lucas: you're better suited to putting together flashy CGI special effects. That's okay. You do a good job at it. Leave directing human beings to someone who can.
  • Stop writing (especially love scenes). I understand that you probably have some great ideas bouncing around in your skull. That's great. Outline them, and then give them to someone else to turn into a movie script. Face facts: you're just not that good, especially when it comes to romance scenes. Do what you did with the original Trilogy, especially Empire Strikes Back, and people will love your stories again.

Like I said, I doubt he'll ever show up and actually read them, but hey, it felt good to vent.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Twice bitten but not too shy

Last night, Jill and I went to Robots and, I must say, that was a good movie. But it's not the most memorable part of the evening for me. No no. The most memorable part of the evening was the trailer for Episode III. I honestly held my breath through the whole thing. After it was done, I was wishing that it was Wednesday (actually Thursday) at 12:01 AM so my soon-to-be brother-in-law Chris and I could be at the midnight screening.

But, at the same time, a sense of foreboding filled me. I mean, I can remember back six or seven years ago when Episode I was coming out. After all, we had been waiting years and years and years and YEARS for the prequels. Myself, I remember watching and rewatching the original Trilogy time after time after time, long enough that I subconsciously memorized all the scripts (I doubt I can recite them now, but you never know). I still remember that fateful Wednesday night, where I preached a sermon using Darth Vader as a metaphor, and then heading to the theater in Birch Run, Michigan, with my friend Michele, anxious to see the new wonder that George Lucas had prepared for us.

And what did I get? A convoluted plot mired in obscure political trickery (I mean, what the heck did the Trade Federation hope to accomplish by blockading Naboo?), disappointing Jedi nonsense (midichlorians? HELLO!), and the bad aftertaste of seeing Anakin Skywalker as a little boy who can't act (at no time should we ever see Darth Vader say, "Yahooo!" I don't care how young he is!). It took me a while, but I finally realized that Episode I was something of a disappointment.

When Episode II came out, I was a little hesitant. Not too much. After all, Anakin wouldn't be played by that snotty kid (whose name I forget and I'd prefer to remain ignorant, thank you very much). We had the promise of the Clone Wars. And so, I entered the theater, hoping that the sour disappointment of Episode I would be erased.

Lucas got it better, but he didn't get it right. Anakin and Padme were stiff and wooden. Based on what I've seen of Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman in other movies, that wasn't their fault. Perhaps if Lucas had spent more time in film school learning how to direct humans and not so much time drawing droids in the margins of his notes, things would have been better. Plus, you had the really, really, really bad romance between Padme and Anakin. I'm sorry, Lucas should be banned from writing love scenes for life. He just can't do it.

At the same time, though, while Episode II was not everything it could be, it was more than what Episode I was. Lucas spent more time in action sequences, which is where his flashy FX can really shine. And, of crouse, there's Yoda throwing down with Count Dooku. Best surprise of the whole movie.

So here we are. The saga is almost complete. In about 36 hours, we'll finally see the end of the Clone Wars, the creation of Darth Vader, and, I'm told, the birth of Luke and Leia. I should be more excited, but I'm not. Even though the trailer for Episode III was very flashy and made me hold my breath, so did the trailers for I and II. I'm worried that when I leave the theater on Thursday morning at 3 AM, I'll be disappointed and grouchy because Lucas got it wrong again.

But then, when you have to look forward to Palpatine and Yoda throwing down in the Senate Chamber, maybe everything will be all right.

Friday, May 13, 2005

An Imaginary Conversation

A little over a week ago, I was invited to speak at the local high school in a philosophy and world religions class. It was a lot of fun. But I have to admit, it wasn't exactly what I had planned.

See, the student who invited me (actually, students) never really prepped me for what I was going to do. They told me not to prepare anything, and that I should be ready to just answer questions.

So in my mind, I imagined that I would be sitting at the front of the class, facing a "firing squad" of 20+ high school students. A little scary, especially since I was warned that two of the students were atheists or agnostics or something like that and that these two were the most vocal. I was especially nervous since one of them is the son of a local pastor and, in the words of the students who invited me, "knows his Bible very well." It's not that I was worried that he would know more than me, it was just that I was worried the talk would turn into Bible-diving and alienate the rest of the class.

It turns out my fears were unfounded. Three other local pastors were invited to come in as well, and we were divided up into smaller groups. I had a group of all girls, including three Catholics (nothing wrong with that, just commenting). My group was very nice and asked some really good and tough questions.

But I have to admit, as strange as it sounds, I was hoping to talk to Atheist Boy. Especially after this past Wednesday. One of the students who invited me told me that he and A.B. lock horns all the time, and that one of his favorite arguments is that he's not a Christian because of the Crusades and the bad stuff that Christians have done.

I've heard this argument before, and the more I thought about it, I realized what I would say to A.B. if I could. Since I don't know if I'll ever have the chance, I thought I would just post it here:


ME: So you aren't a Christian because of the bad things that Christians have done, like the Crusades, right?

AB: Right. I don't want to be part of a group that has killed or suppressed hundreds of thousands of people while they claim to serve some higher ideal.

ME: That seems pretty logical. I mean, I wouldn't want to either. So when are you renouncing your American citizenship?

AB: What? Why would I want to do that?

ME: Well, you say that you don't want to be part of a group that's killed or suppressed people, right? If we apply that logic to every part of your life, you should quit being an American citizen.

AB: Why would I have to do that?

ME: Just follow my logic for a while:

  • In the early 19th century, the American people were involved in the brutal subjugation of African slaves. Even though "we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal," the American government at best ignored, or worst, winked at, the brutalities perpetuated by Americans on African slaves. It was considered politically inexpedient to free the slaves, and so for at least a hundred years, people were treated like property. Even though the abolitionist movement (started primarily by Christians, incidentally) tried to get the Founding Fathers to free the slaves, they refused.
  • In the late 19th century, the American people were involved in the brutal annexation of Native American lands, forcing them onto reservations or killing them.
  • In the early 20th century, prominent American politicians, such as Teddy Roosevelt, and scientists bought into the pseudo-science known as "eugenics". Eugenics was the belief that society had to regulate how people reproduced to weed out the "undesirable" influences. Policies enacted in many states resulted in the forced streilization of thousands of people, mostly the poor, people from the "wrong" ethnic groups, the mentally and physically handicapped, and so forth. California led the way and sterilized the most people "for the public good." It wasn't until after World War II that eugenics was quietly swept under the rug, and that was because people had seen what the logical conclusion of the movement was, namely, concentration camps.
  • As long as we're on World War II, how about the fact that FDR forcibly relocated thousands of Japanese Americans to P.O.W. camps simply because they might be spies?

ME: The list could go on and on and on. All these people did horrible things, and I'd be willing to bet that all of them thought they were serving some sort of higher ideal, namely America. So if you're going to avoid groups that have tainted pasts, you should logically renounce your American citizenship as well.

AB: But Christians have still done some lousy things!

ME: I know that all too well. And yet, I'm still a Christian anyway. You know why? Because as a Lutheran, I understand the tension that all Christians live in. In Latin, it's known as simul justus et peccator, or "saint and sinner at the same time." Christians aren't perfect, and anyone who claims that they are is a liar, plain and simple. The true difference is that Christians are forgiven. That doesn't excuse the horrible things that Christians have done. It's not meant to. It just doesn't seem right to me to judge a whole group of people on the basis of what some idiots did.

AB: Oh.

And, hopefully, that would be the end of that.

Okay. I have to go. I need to head to Mankato to get tickets for "Episode III." I'm really hoping that Lucas did a decent job on this one. If not ... well, if he didn't, at least there won't be any more for him to screw up.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Where the heck have I been?

Good question! I've been busy working on a silly contest.

See, I love videogames. Love 'em! And one of the ones that has sucked me in is "The Sims 2." Absolutely love it! I've even gotten my wife hooked on it, and that's saying something (Jill does not understand why I enjoy videogames).

Anyway, every now and then, the Sims 2 will sponsor a contest of some sort. So far, they've sponsored a horror movie contest and a comedy contest. I checked out the winners of both contests (and you can too -- here's the horror movie winners and here are the comedy winners ). While some of them were good, I wondered why others won.

The most recent movie making contest is to show "A Day in the Life of a College Student". Interesting, and an obvious tie-in with the last expansion pack to come out for the Sims 2, The Sims 2 University . So I decided to try my hand at movie making.

It took a couple of afternoons, some gentle persuasion to get my wife to do a voice, and an e-mail to secure the help of my soon-to-be brother-in-law Chris, but my submission is done! Go check it out here!