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It wasn’t dire but it did have some serious problems. Hold on to your pants; here we go.


Here are the two main problems with Prometheus, in my view:

1) Some have said that people were expecting Prometheus to be another Alien film and they were disappointed that it turned out to be something else. For me, though, it was, if anything, too SIMILAR to the Alien films. It set out to be something very different but ended up being quite similar to the first Alien in many ways. Non-military crew find a seemingly deserted vessel, they unwittingly bring an alien thing aboard, people are killed off in ones and twos, there’s an android with a secret agenda, blah blah blah. Fine, but too Alien for a film that wanted to be something else.

2) The ENTIRE cast of characters is composed of poorly written (often barely written at all), one-note, forgettable, irrelevant, reckless, unlikeable asshats.

Let’s take a quick look.

Two cowardly scientists. That’s all they were, really. I don’t know their names, they were just those two cowardly scientists. Loud, rude geologist and whimpering biologist. Aside from the fact that their one character trait (one trait between them, I might add) is that they’re scared while everyone else is curious, what are they doing there? The geologist himself points out that he’s not needed if they were never interested in rocks, and the biologist… Well, when they find the very first actual genuine alien corpse in human history, his reaction is “yeah, I’ll just leave now. Obviously you wouldn’t benefit from a biologist when looking at this new biological discovery. I also have no professional interest in it. I just want cake.” I’m paraphrasing. Morons and non-characters. Fuck off.

The betting twins. You know, the two guys who have that bet. That is their ONLY character trait (again, one between two). When it comes to their noble sacrifice, the film even has to remind us that we’ve seen them before by once again bringing up their irrelevant wager because it’s ALL THEY ARE. Fuck off.

Chance. Or was it Chase? The one the captain calls to whenever he needs something. Yep, that’s his character right there. Captain’s minion. I don’t think he ever says more than “yep”. Fuck off.

The captain himself is probably the only believable character, but a sad waste of Idris Elba. He’s basically just a guy doing a job. I suppose it’s a credit to Elba’s performance that what could have come off as a cliched “I’m just here for the paycheck” douchebag instead seems more like a normal working joe who happens to be in the wrong place and doesn’t really know what to do about it. Not a good character but at least convincing. Well, except for his token moment of idiocy, leaving the bridge completely unattended to slope off for sudden and implausible sex with The Woman. So close, but fuck off.

Speaking of The Woman, she’s just a blank. The only reason I remember her name is Vickers is because I know a Vickers myself. She’s just…nothing. She’s like the Icy Commander except she’s not in command. She’s like the Secretive Company Agent except she’s actually repeatedly cold shouldered by the real Secretive Company Agent. She could have been the Asshole Who Comes Through but she doesn’t come through. My point isn’t that those would be good characters, but that she isn’t a character at all. The one thing she does of note is kill Charlie, which scores her a point for putting me out of my misery but doesn’t really make much sense. Not a bad decision really, but a little extreme and irrational for someone who hitherto has been just a person-shaped block of balsa wood. Oh, and she’s Weyland’s daughter? So what? It’s thrown in as an aside, was sufficiently foreshadowed for me to see it coming, and had no impact on anything at all. Fuck off.

Which leaves us with the three main characters and Misc. All the Misc. characters don’t even get a single personality trait, they’re just bodies. During that cargo bay brawl there were more crew killed than I had realised were even aboard. The blandest of redshirts. Fuck off.

So the mains then:

David. Pretty well performed, and suitably ambiguous. He was obviously up to something and his “how humanlike am I really?” stuff was a bit limp, but he was ok. Satisfactory.

The Believer. I don’t remember her name. You know, the woman who was a true believer about the whole alien creation myth thing, who made stupid decision after stupid decision. Yeah, just bag up the head and bring it along, possible contagion be damned. Yeah, dash out into the fatal storm (which was mysteriously non-fatal after all) to grab the head. Yeah, just crack open that helmet and revive the head with some electricity. Tests first? Protective measures? Nah, what do you think we are, scientists? Oh and yes, you just go ahead and ignore sensible medical advice in order to instead have the alien parasite forcibly removed from your body. I know David had an agenda but I think “we’ll freeze you and take you to a proper medical facility to remove it” is actually a pretty solid plan. Nah, she’d rather concuss all of the medical staff then order a computer to perform a different procedure than the one she needs, all while time continues to pass and the parasite continues to grow. What the fuck is wrong with you? Don’t even start me on her weird mixed-faith, pseudo-science cultish obsession. Fuck off.

Which brings us to Charlie. He started off bland but fine, briefing the crew about their discoveries. Just some guy. Then the instant they reached the surface he became a spectacular fuckhead. Rip off your life-saving helmet to breathe the air. Yes, they said it’s breathable but it’s AN ALIEN PLANET. No sense of self-preservation? But he wasn’t as moronic as The Believer, he was just completely unlikeable. He drank heavily for no reason, he taunted David for no reason, he was completely disinterested when they opened the head, he ignored that infection of his eye and just went about his business, plus he and The Believer had no believeable relationship at all. They felt like strangers. It seemed as though Charlie was meant to be the Charismatic Maverick but it didn’t work. I don’t like Charismatic Mavericks in films anyway. They’re usually reckless and dangerous but are lauded as heroes through the rule of cool. At least they usually have a reason though. Doing reckless things because they need to be done or you believe they’re morally right or they might save lives is justifiable. But Charlie was just a dick for no reason. Like when he took off his helmet while everyone still had sensible reservations about the air. What did he gain by it? Nothing. Nothing was achieved. When Charlie’s death was imminent I welcomed it, and not in the way that it can be satisfying to see a well-written asshole get his comeuppance. I welcomed Charlie’s death because it meant I wouldn’t have to put up with him anymore. He was persistently annoying and completely pointless. Fuck. Right. Off.

I originally wrote this a few months ago and posted it on my Facebook and just after Skyrim’s release. But somehow it seems appropriate for Collateral Rantage.

By today’s standards, Morrowind doesn’t play all that well. It’s quite unwieldy in places, and it’s downright hideous to look upon. Yet it has three elements that make it a more immersive experience than its sequels, in my opinion. Two – the strange setting and the almost total absence of fast travel – will go unremarked here. My purpose today is to take a quick look at the third element: ambiguity.

In all the other Elder Scrolls games I’ve played, the enemy is clear. Take Oblivion for example, the game most directly comparable to Morrowind. Mehrunes Dagon is evil, no doubt about it. The world is in danger. I thought I saw some hints of grey when Martin Septim started requesting Daedric artifacts – after all, these are known to corrupt their bearers. But no. It’s all very black and white.

Morrowind is different. I imagine you could easily prance obliviously through the main quest thinking everything is simple, if you don’t bother to stop and read books or listen to some of the more interesting characters. Nerevar and his friends – Vivec, Almalexia, Sotha Sil and Dagoth-Ur – tracked down the potentially apocalyptic items created by the Dwemer craftsman Kagrenac, known for obvious reasons as Kagrenac’s Tools. Dagoth-Ur betrayed and murdered Nerevar in order to take Kagrenac’s Tools for himself. The remaining three companions managed to overpower Dagoth-Ur and use the Tools for themselves in order to seal away their former friend and protect Morrowind from his malice.

Simple enough, right? When Dagoth-Ur starts to rise again, he is clearly the enemy. The thing is, there are at least two alternative versions of these events, one of which is reminiscent of the controversial real world text, the Gospel of Judas. This account has Nerevar actually choosing to leave Kagrenac’s Tools in Dagoth-Ur’s hands, because he knew the other three would be susceptible to corruption by their ambition and vanity should they get hold of this enormous power. They, not Dagoth-Ur, killed Nerevar. And then, having collaborated to wrest the Tools from Dagoth-Ur’s hands, they used their new power to set themselves up as the Tribunal – the government and later dominant religion of Morrowind – and seal away the only person who could tell the world what had really happened.

So what does the evidence point to? Well, at the time of the game’s events the blight is spreading rapidly out from Dagoth-Ur’s isolated stronghold, tainting more and more of Morrowind’s wildlife. The eerie Sixth House cult, brazenly affiliated with Dagoth-Ur, is on the rise. Their sleeper agents have infiltrated major population centres, and their concealed hideouts are full of hideous mutated people dubbed ‘ascended sleepers’. Dagoth-Ur certainly seems monstrous and evil.

What about the Tribunal though? Vivec, Almalexia and Sotha Sil undeniably used Kagrenac’s Tools to set themselves up as the rulers of Morrowind after Nerevar’s death. That’s fine; it fits with the official story of the Tribunal Temple. But why does the Temple come down so hard on anyone claiming to be the long-foretold reincarnation of Nerevar, known as the Nerevarine? Consider the nature of the Tribunal Temple. The Ordinators are terrifying armoured zealots who live and breathe the worship of the Tribunal. They clamp down on anything remotely unorthadox. The Tribunal themselves, rendered nearly immortal by Kagrenac’s Tools, are hardly saintly once you examine them more closely.

Vivec is aloof and distant, refusing to ever make a public appearance. For all anyone knows, he might not even be inside the heavily guarded building that is supposedly his home. (He is, as it turns out, but I was very suspicious for some time.)

Sotha Sil is essentially a mad scientist – a recluse who spends his time building a huge, elaborate clockwork palace.

Almalexia, as I discovered upon visiting Mournhold, is a psychotic megalomaniac, drunk on her own power and perfectly happy to exterminate any obstruction to her self-aggrandisement.

The distinction between the ‘evil’ Dagoth-Ur and the ‘heroic’ Tribunal blurs rapidly. Only one thing can be said with any certainty: Dagoth-Ur and the Tribunal are enemies. Unlike Mehrunes Dagon and the other frequently malevolent Daedric Princes, the enemy here isn’t clear. The spread of the blight across Morrowind must be stopped, certainly, but is Dagoth-Ur really the enemy? The blight is centred on Red Mountain, the location of his stronghold, but is he actually causing it? Red Mountain is also the location of Kagrenac’s Tools – the source of the Tribunal’s power. It’s written repeatedly that the Tools are a malign influence, and only the purest of people could even attempt to resist their corruption. Can we be certain that the Tools themselves aren’t the source of the blight? Perhaps the mutations of the Sixth House cultists are not a sign of Dagoth-Ur’s evil, but a symptom of grotesque attacks on Dagoth’s followers by the Tribunal. If the Judas-like story is true, they can’t afford to allow the freedom of the only person still living who can tell the world that they are the true betrayers. So what is the truth? The Tribunal Temple is oppressive and unyielding. The members of the Tribunal are deranged demigods whose power clearly exceeds their judgement. They know the truth of Nerevar’s death and the use of Kagrenac’s Tools, but they’re saying nothing. Consult the official texts if you want a history lesson. But given Almalexia’s psychopathy, I don’t think it’s safe to assume that the official story gives us the whole truth.

It was with an uneasy conscience that I hiked up Red Mountain to kill Dagoth-Ur. Once I met him I was left in no doubt that he was a threat, but after slaying him and saving Morrowind from the blight and an assortment of other dangers, I still couldn’t feel comfortable with any of it. Even now, I’m not sure that I didn’t just choose between two equal evils. At first I enjoyed the cries of adulation from the general populace that resounded in my ears everywhere I went, but it wasn’t long before they began to ring hollow.

There are many other examples of ambiguity in Morrowind. The disappearance of the Dwemer is mystery I never solved to my satisfaction, and there are as many theories as theorisers. The wealth of books in Morrowind compared to Oblivion, and the various peripheral characters who reveal snippets of intriguing information, give it a deep mythology that other games in the series lack. Nothing is clear in Morrowind. And that ambiguity, more than any feature of gameplay or setting, is why nothing has beaten it yet. Not even Skyrim.

While it’s sad in an abstract sort of way that another person has died young (and it’s always an uneasy experience when the deceased is younger than me), my sympathy in this case is limited. Partly this is because, frankly, she brought it upon herself. There is also a bigger issue though.

Amy Winehouse was best known for her song Rehab, in which she famously gloated that when ‘they’ tried to send her to rehab, she defiantly said ‘no, no, no’. Aside from the fact that if she’d said yes, she might have lived to see 30, there are repercussions to indulging in these sort of antics in the spotlight. Like it or not, fame is accompanied by responsibility. It’s part of the price. I’m no great fan of ‘the media brainwashes our children’ scaremongering, but it would be foolish to deny that people who enjoy fame and commercial success are in a position to influence those who haven’t yet fully formed their own identities. There was clearly a risk of some of her younger fans – particularly those who were in their early teens at the height of the song’s popularity – seeing her defiance of rehabilitation and associating it with her manifest fame and success. The extent of the risk is open for endless debate, but I think it’s clear that it was there.

Maybe Amy Winehouse can finally set the example in death that she should have been responsible enough to set in life. If someone sends you to rehab you should go, go, go – because it just might keep you alive.

Nice line, but no.

The Playstation Network. I know, I know; easy target. I wasn’t going to bother ripping into Sony about the infamous outage, but now they’ve basically put their collective face in front of my fist and told me I don’t need to stop til my arm gets tired.

Initially I was willing to cut Sony some slack. They didn’t ask to be hacked. It did raise some questions about the adequacy of their security, but I’m sure there’s no such thing as hack-proof security. I heard about the hack through the online community, though, and that worried me a bit. Why hadn’t Sony said anything? Then I finally got an email informing me that all my personal details had been nicked…a week after the fact.

This did not please me. I’m the sort of person who places a lot of store in respect, and this leisurely handling of a very serious problem smacked of contempt for the customer.

Again, though, I cut Sony some slack. They announced that they planned to have everything up and running again by the end of May. While that was a far longer outage than I would consider reasonable, it’s better to wait and have a functioning security system than to rush one out that is no better than the last. At least they’d finally given us an estimate.

So why the rant? Well, Sony have just done something worse than any of their other examples of mis-management of this affair: they have flagrantly lied to our (e-)faces.

A video announcement was made personally by some important person at Sony (I can’t be bothered to check his job title). He apologised profusely, thanked us for our patience (by which he presumably means not jumping ship to Microsoft) and assured us that the core part of the PSN – the ability to play games online – was back up and running.

He lied.

And that is why I’m ranting. It’s one thing to allow a security breach, to be tardy in informing the customer, to dawdle in restoring the service, and to be lazy in your announcements, but it’s another thing entirely to just lie. It’s not like they could have hoped to get away with it. Telling us the service is restored when it clearly is not just makes me question the mental faculties of whoever suggested it.

It gets worse though. The PSN will run just long enough to painstakingly download and install one of those updates that (for reasons never adequately explained) takes ten times as long as the Microsoft ones – and then locks us out again. It works enough to perform its most irritating function but not to allow us to actually do anything.

Sony, doing this to us after weeks of outage with very little communication is like stealing our chips and then apologising by spending a month sitting in our living room, eating our pork pie and belching, then finally giving us some replacement chips after getting your dog to piss on them. It’s worse than doing nothing at all.

It’s not the cheating that hurts, Sony. It’s the lying.

The city (or urban) pigeon is a damning condemnation of modern life. It is everything that is wrong with the world.

Forget about the wholesome, gleaming-feathered wood pigeons that flit around the castles and groves of the rolling countryside. They are the unicorns of the pigeon world. They probably don’t really exist, and any that do will soon be snatched up by wealthy collectors to hoard in their underground vaults along with the arms of the Venus de Milo and all the other stuff such people feel the need to own.

The real pigeon is the city-born death-pigeon; a limping, croaking glob of matted feathers and quasi-tumescent growths, lurching like an escaped serial strangler from a Victorian novel. City pigeons are the Jack the Ripper of wildlife, if Jack the Ripper was a zombie.

Have you ever got down on your knees and looked into the eye of an urban pigeon? I have – with appropriate MoD-approved protection against biological contaminants, of course – and the look that pigeon gave me was one of the utterest madness. When I met its gaze, it stared as though it had just seen an investment banker vomit into an ashtray made of the severed hands of babies, then wrap it and give it to David Lynch as a Christmas present. (Actually, David Lynch would probably like that). That look said the whole world is a delirious smear of nauseating colours and intolerable nightmare noises, through which this creature stumbles in a wretched haze of disease-riddled terror and rage.

I fear the pigeon.

And what has wrought this? Our cities. The pigeon is the great counter to the anarchist’s argument: it is an illustration of what happens to a living creature left to fend for itself in one of our fume-filled, cacophonous urban heaps. Friendless and unaided by the state, the pigeon subsists on McDonald’s chips scraped from the plastic-clogged gutters of unheeding streets. It spends its days grasping at any hint of the chance to eat something that has spent less than a week on the ground and has never been stuck to the bottom of a shoe amidst traces of dog fecal matter and dried beer. At frequent but irregular intervals it must launch itself skyward as hard as it can on its malformed wings to avoid the unyielding lunges of huge, implacable things that charge around the city day and night.

Do your understanding of the world a favour. Look into the eye of the pigeon. See the way it looks back at you. Then ask yourself what you’d have to go through to look at the world like that.