Friday, January 23, 2015

It's a Mad Mad Mad Max World

Hi everyone, let's look at the trailer for Mad Max : Fury Road, shall we?

Okay then!

This trailer makes me very happy, and though I know why, I’m sort of surprised too.

For teenage me the post-apocalyptic world typified by the Mad Max films meant excitement in their Eighties form – fast cars, punks, explosions, anarchy; what adolescent boy doesn’t rally to such vivid imagery? Outwardly they’re irredeemably macho, but offer an opportunity for equality to the clever and inventive, the outsider and loner, and it can make heroes of nearly anyone – but especially these types. It may be the last earthbound incarnation of the Western, relying as it does on themes of transience and dislocation, and the delivery of natural justice in expansive and often barren wildernesses returning to an untamed state (post-apocalyptic films tend to be rarely urbanised in location.)

In many stories there’s an emphasis on the connection between man and beast of burden, where the Western’s horse has become a car or a bike, or sometimes a really big truck - vehicles are big in this world, either swift and lethal cars and bikes or rusting juggernauts of destruction. The nihilism appeals to the teenager inside us – the opening scenes of The Terminator were to my fourteen year old eyes probably the most awesome thing I’d ever seen on the big screen, with colossal tracked vehicles rolling over dusty human skulls. Of course I grew up, and by the time I was an university and the early Nineties arrived, the impetus of desert landscapes, heavy artillery and warfare over oil became a grimmer and actual thing. The same geopolitics had an effect on the Mad Max franchise also, effectively putting it into development hell for twenty years.

The Post-Apocalyptic genre has endured now for well over forty years in film, surviving various iterations – originally a consequence of Cold War and Nuclear Age panic, reasons for the end of civilisation have over the years also included plague, pestilence, rampant technology and, like seemingly every other genre, the post-apocalyptic world has become invaded by zombies too. There’s something inevitable about that, but I feel sorry for this latest addition, as I can’t shake the notion that when zombies enter any genre, that genre is as good as dead – you’re left with a literal zombie, its spark overtaken and driven by a mindless, deathless insatiable shambling mockery of its former living self. I digress.

What's not to love?
The post-apocalyptic movie is a near cousin to the Eighties barbarian flick, being staged in similar epic locations, emphasising brawn and brutality. It’s physicality and Darwinism, and seems to be quite universal – alongside more earnest takes on a post-nuclear world (Threads must be mentioned) knock-offs appeared in other countries such as Spain and Italy (no strangers to the Barbarian genre of course), and of course New Zealand’s very own, beloved Battletruck. And on a side note, Central Otago has never looked so like a desert than now, with its perilous edging towards proper drought. Probably the reason I’ve really enjoyed this trailer then is because it seems to be a return to Max’s world, more tangible now for being removed from the latterday pretenders of zombiedom, Skynet and rampant viruses. At least two of those things could conceivably happen in our lifetimes and pinned social collapse on pure economics – an energy crisis, followed by an environmental one. No mutants, no walking dead, no aliens or killer AIs, just human craziness and an empty landscape. I admire that, as much as the more tribal, less technological aesthetic in Miller’s (re)vision - the spikes and blades which just might be a nod to another Australian predecessor, Peter Weir’s The Cars That Ate Paris.

Maybe the other appealing factor of the post-apocalyptic genre is that it’s a social memento mori. When the mundane machines and vehicles of society can be turned so easily into carriages of destruction and brutality when a fragile economy and ecology collapse, it’s a reminder that despite our comfortable trappings, we may figuratively live only two inches of metal away from barbarism. And as I penned this today, somewhat fatefully the Doomsday Clock has returned to its 1984 position of three minutes to midnight.

So now, Mad Max is a nostalgia piece for me first and foremost; an odd place of juvenile thrills. But this trailer’s given me an idea for another modelling project this year – or more than one!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

I Was a Heavy Metal Stripper

One of the things I did over my Summer break was strip down all of my old lead alloy figures from the 1980s. They’d be about thirty years old now, are mostly Grenadier sculpts around 25mm scale, and bringing them back to life after years of dust and knocking about with variable plasterings of enamel paint became something of an addiction for me.
Skeletons, Tolkien, adventurers, orcs - a selection.
And I have to say, they turned out pretty well! It started with my previous forays into using Simple Green to strip my Mirkwood Elves. That was a worthwhile exercise, too, but required a lot of fiddly and sometimes messy follow-up as green stuff needed to be reapplied and repairs to be made after a gentle but rigid regime of bathing and brushing.
The old lead figures, on the other hand, proved pretty amenable to a Simple Green bath, with only a few exceptions, some notable:
1.       It seems my oldest figures needed more second or even third and fourth baths to remove the most stubborn primer coat. Possibly because of their age, or the thickness I may have been laying the paint on. No biggie, really.

2.       I did have two casualties – a Fantasy Lords warrior balanced on one foot, and a goblin posed similarly. Their snapped ankles probably speak more of years of wonky storage and more than a little enthusiasm in the toothbrush scrubbing (I was bveing careful, honest! But I’m occasionally a little klutzy)
3.       Some of the minis were stained, probably by the Simple Green. This caused them to go dark once stripped, and in some cases a tad grainy to the touch. These were in the minority and were largely older figures again. I did fret for a while that they might have had early signs of lead rot – fingers crossed they don’t, but hopefully some thorough sealing and painting will make them look presentable again.
It’s been a blast to do these, and extremely satisfying to look at the figures unpainted and still marvel at some of the sculpts – rendered without 3D printers or any of the modern paraphernalia. It seems a shame to even paint them again, but I will. And I’m really going to enjoy doing them!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Tunnels and trawls - William Dear's 'The Dungeon Master'

Hello, and a happy new year!

Over the Summer break I've been reading The Dungeon Master William Dear's recount of the James Dallas Egbert case. In fact, I read the book in two days around other activities, as it was so engrossing. I previously covered the book and its effect here, and Shaun Hatley provides a summary and commentary on the book and the story behind it, including a fascinating contemporary snippet from Dragon magazine here. Consider yourself informed!

Now, I found the book at a local refuse recyclers shop - Trash Palace, of all places. Seemingly a fantasy/SF reader was having a tip-out, but this is the only title that really got my attention, amid the Silverbergs, Asimovs and, er, Brookses ( they’re going to be filming Shannarah in NZ! Eek!) I read it quickly, thanks to a plane trip and a few hours to kill travelling; it helps too that it’s quite readable.

Dear is an informal and engaging writer, somewhat prone to self-promotion but sympathetic to the object of his investigation, and well he might be. Dallas Egbert, as hindsight reveals, was not only a troubled soul but caught in a time when the best care was not available, and his tragic disappearance – as sensational as it seemed (and reads in Dear’s version) should be viewed as a remarkable episode in a short and unhappy life. The author make repeated points in retrospect about the lack of care Dallas received as both a very young student and a gifted individual with issues around his identity, the people around him and his well-being. Dear’s claim that Dallas simply wasn’t being protected by his university seems to go straight to the heart of the boy’s disappearance, and at least some way towards his ultimate fate, but the book concerns itself less with Dallas as a known individual, and relies more on the young man as a mystery in himself, which, given its retrospective nature, doesn’t help things. Dear is the writer and the protagonist of his own memoirs, and we never escape the fact that this is being written with the breathless energy of a missing persons case file first and foremost.

There is, nevertheless a concerted paternalism in his attitude towards Dallas, which book-ends the investigation itself during which Dear goes ‘method’ – living close to campus (although a more youthful colleague goes one better, it’s insinuated), experimenting with some of the troubled Dallas’ extracurricular pursuits, including ‘tresselling’ (an eye-opening chapter in which the detective lies in front of an oncoming train aping the boy’s occasional habit), and of course roleplaying in a session that, with its close parallels to features and the geography of the case seems questionable in its authenticity, if not unintentionally amusing in places. And then there are the steam tunnels – oh, those steam tunnels

Dear skips the homosexual liaisons and drug taking, however, virtually sub-contracting these areas to a couple of individuals outside his firm – surprisingly, this bears more fruit than Dear's meanderings, alongside an odd game of cat-and-mouse which ultimately leads to the ‘discovery’ of the boy. It’s a strange case – no wonder the more sensational parts contributed to the Satanic Panic of the early Eighties, and proved so ripe for adaptation by the schlockier end of writing at the time. Dear’s version of events cuts to the case for the most part, but the author’s attempts to mingle Dallas’ motivations with the then still-recent phenomenon of D&D paint him as not only a fish out of water, but an over-thinker. And something of a self-promoter: you may well roll your eyes at reading about his stellar career, his expansive mansion, his impressive case history and uncanny human touch; you may also wish to avert your eyes at Dear’s more recent forays into revisiting old and sensational crimes.

Still, despite itself, it is a human story, and an affecting one for its being based on real events. Ruefully, I admit that even without the hokey RPG session and larger-than-life Texan detective protagonist, played straight the book would make for a diverting documentary or film . Apparently, the options were recently purchased, so who knows?

Recommended, with slight reservations!

Friday, December 26, 2014

"From out of the cell runs an Elf..."

On Boxing Day 1984 a quiet revolution took place.

I am fourteen, and my newest alter ego, an Elven princeling by the name of Aben Silverstone has just been rescued by a party of tredidatious, no-nonsense adventurers led by a Dwarf with the unlikely name of Thorin Oakenshield.

It's a big deal for me to be playing Dungeons and Dragons with my older brother's group. Although also in attendance is my best friend Derek, and we're on neutral ground (Derek and his older brother's family home), it's understood that my presence there has been achieved by no small amount of wheedling and pleading by myself (and possibly some parents interested in some time out from their growing kids), and is at times barely tolerated. I am enthusastic, and equipped with the nervous rashness and oafery of a new, young player. I'm on best behaviour, because I am still somewhat in aweof these older boys I'm playing alongside with their quick wit and occasional ruthlessness. Nevertheless, my Elf stays with his rescuers, and we make it to the end of the module in textbook-style, with only one casualty, as I recall - a thief by the equally-unlikely name of Edmund Blackadder.

I've played this particular module before, of course, as it's the only one we own, Douglas Nile's The Horror on the Hill with its pine forest Jim Rosolf cover and slightly goofy internal Jim Holloway artwork. But that last time I was a different character, in a different party, and we barely scratched the surface of the dungeon. This was the real baptism of fire, and over that summer I'd join in at least one other game over several nights (Palace of the Silver Princess, a logical follow-up) before I would be dismissed with the directive to find my own group to play with. So Derek and I did, and that became a large part of my adolescence for the next two years until different friends, different priorities, and the inevitable girlfriends broke up the band. By then Aben had dropped his earnest folksy nickname and become Habenath Celebrant, moody Elven badass, and another story, really.

 Nile's module is simple fun, with some pitfalls along the way. It's less of a meat grinder than its obvious inspiration, The Keep on the Borderlands, but it has elements I'd reuse in my own original games later on (warring goblin or hobgoblin tribes in the same dungeon, surprise berserker NPCs, a magic fountain which gives and takes in equal measure) not to mention a pretty hefty end-of-game adversary, of which still I'm skeptical of our besting to this day. More significant of course are the things that my friends and me brought into our self-made games in the following months - bits of our teenage world, in fact, form the music we listened to, the books and comics we read, and the movies we watched. A shared world can be a strange wild-growing creation, but hold it up to the light and perhaps it's not that different from many other adolescent activities in retrospect.

Thirty years on I'm surprised that it can still be brought back by the odd Proustian trigger - a reliable home-made ginger beer, the new tase of that summer in Barbeque Shapes (they were better back then), the smell of old pulp paperbacks, and the incongrous contemporary tune. Funny things, really, but all part of the mix. This, then, is my true gateway to adventure.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Peace on Earth, Pa-rum-pa-pum-pum...

It's nearly the end of 2014, and this video is now four years old. Dated, stilted, and more than a little awkward and weird - but enough of Bing and Bowie's original team-up, here's the heartfelt tribute. Merry Christmas, one and all from me and the Simian household, and oh yeah, peace on Earth and all that, too.

Link here because embedding disabled :(

Oh, and this is offically my 300th post. Jings!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Just a note to say...

A very merry, safe, and satisfying Christmas to you all, dear readers.

Pretty soon we'll be flushing this rotten old year down the bog of history, but before we do, let's pause and reflect, and share a few laughs with our loved ones.

In the next few days this blog will have a few scattered posts about scattered things - my Elves, the obligatory Christmas Day music video (ooh, what will it be this year?! said nobody) and maybe the beginning of a new miniseries of posts with the umbrella title of My gateway to Adventure. Make of that what you will.

Cheerio and cheers to one and all!

Jet Simian.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Spider-Man, Hackers and Haters

Yes, just because it's Christmas I'm going to talk about the Sony Studios hacking. Why? Well, anyone who follows me on Twitter will know that it's been on my mind for a while now.

Sony got hacked by 'someone', 'someone' with very specific interest in shutting down a movie that makes fun of another country and their leader. This is unprecedented, unless I missed something happening after the release of, say, King Ralph, and it's serious stuff. In short, it's deliberate corporate sabotage, and it well may cost a lot of 'little people' some formerly-secure jobs in the near future, beyond the other high-profile casualties in the upper echelon of Sony management. I just can't see this as a 'fun' story for anyone at all.

It's not been helped by so-called 'fan sites', who have gleefully piled on with their specific hobby horses, and used that as the pretext to spread the hacked email content and, in my opinion, made a bad situation much worse by giving it oxygen. As interested as I might be in the future of the Spider-Man movie franchise, or the James Bond franchise, or even those of other studios (also apparently discussed in those emails), I have no right to know them, and for me one of the least pleasant aspects of this whole thing is just how easily it is to read this stuff, mostly in the form of 'gossip' and speculation (and the MSM are by no means above all of this.) In short, Comic Book Movie have it horrendously wrong with their approach to the hacked emails, and Den of Geek have it right.

Of course, last week Sony capitulated, and have pulled the offending movie in question, The Interview for the time being. Have they set a dangerous precedent? I don't know. Should they abide by the rule of not doing deals with terrorists, given the seriousness with which they took 'someone's threat to endanger lives in theatres showing the movie? I don't think so - that's for governments to decide, and everything else done here I'd simply call corporate responsibility - something you don't see a lot of in this day and age.

And now this is where I turn hypocrite, because I'm going to also discuss the future of the Spider-Man franchise, having read a little of what's been revealed through the same sites above. To be frank, it looks like it's in a terrible way. Sony almost made nothing on the last movie, while Marvel (who still own the character and merchandising rights) made a ton just by not making any Spider-Man movies at all. If you think Spider-Man not being with Marvel is an egregious crime, don't think the blame lies entirely with Sony. The studio may have lost their leading man to studio politics, may be planning a soft reboot, and may still meet with Marvel to talk tie-ins and cameos to bolster what must be a really problematic property they have now (but - see point one again.) Were unlikely to see a stand-alone Spidey movie for a number of years now, even if the mouth-breathers get their way and Duh Rights Revurt to Maarvuul. The brand may be cursed for a while yet. Shame. But bad things happen to good properties all the time, sadly.

So my two cents? Stick to the script, Sony. This has nothing to do with The Interview, so don't blink. Keep Spider-Man, but move forward with a Spiderverse - either Sinister Six (using Black Cat as a potential spin-off option) or Morbius. Spidey can cameo, but DON'T REMOVE HIS MASK! Let the identity behind the NEXT Sony Spider-Man be the story inside the film and out.