Her

It’s obvious I have a comfort zone – just look at what I do and don’t talk about. Don’t expect a review of The Wolf of Wall Street (which was great but too long), or American Hustle (a directionless romp) or Dallas Buyers Club (I’ve never liked Jared Leto) here.

But at the center of this comfort zone, probably my favorite single subgenre, is social science fiction. Started in the twenties with stuff like Metropolis and codified by only science fiction writer ever Isaac Asimov, social SF is such a rich genre because it can basically be summed up as “A more mainstream and conventional story, but with robots, or lasers, or aliens, or laser-wielding alien robots”. It makes for all sorts of good stories because it can appeal to both mainstream audiences with exaggerations of basic dramatic situations, and dorks like myself with supremely dorky analysis and extrapolation of classic SF concepts.

Whatever you think of Her, by child-at-heart and friend of the Beastie Boys Spike Jonze, it’s just about the gold standard for modern social SF – if you took out the future stuff it would be a weepy, Oscar-bait-laden romantic drama, but with it the movie becomes an Oscar winner, critically and popularly lauded, and my pick for best picture of the year for whatever it’s worth.

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Star Trek Into Darkness

I am a Star Trek fan.

I won’t say I’m a Trekkie, because I’ve recently discovered quite a few people of my generation and below don’t even know what Star Trek is. I’m not joking about this – take my good friend Daniel. He’s smart, likes video games, has friends, and is a pretty good representation of modern geek/nerd/plain ol’ pop culture. And when I first asked him what Star Trek was, he responded “Oh, yeah! The spaceship show that had George Takei on it, right?”

I’m just gonna let that phrase hang there. Daniel’s a great dude, but sometimes I just have to look at him and stand back, and…whatever. Point is, I’m a Trek fan – I know my Romulan Ale from my Saurian Brandy, and my multi-modal reflection sorting from my multi-spectral subspace engines. So this review of the latest Star Trek piece, Team Abrams’ no-one’s-sure-what-to-call-it-quel Star Trek Into Darkness, will be heavily grounded in my long experience with the franchise. (more…)

Dead Space 3

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2008’s Dead Space was a self-proclaimed love letter to the sci-fi horror genre, and was one of the last specimens of a dying breed: The AAA-developed horror title.

Jim Sterling of the Escapist has gone over this in more depth than I care to, but I’ll sum it up: Because horror games have a niche market, big distributors and developers are less willing to take a chance on them over products with a wider appeal. Thus, horror games are usually the province of smaller developers. This has led to some big successes for startup companies, like Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Slender: Source and Outlast. The drawback to this is we’ve lost the grand, theatrical style of horror games that we got until the beginning of the previous console generation; F.E.A.R., Resident Evil, Metro 2033…the list goes on.

Yes, major developers, we’ve all seen Aliens – we know that the logical progression for a horror franchise is to make it more action and character focused. The problem is that when you do that, it stops being a horror game and just becomes an action game with the lights turned off. All the franchises I mentioned above have neglected their horror roots in favor of becoming more generic shooters…except for Dead Space. The third and latest game in that franchise makes a decent attempt to stay a horror game, but commits a few unforgivable sins in the process.

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