Tag Archive: movies


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Everyone knows that Night of the Living Dead is an iconic piece of cinema that paralleled the Red Scare and fears of communism slowly surrounding and consuming us. You see, when zombies first arrived, they had meaning. They were a symbol of something truly horrifying. They were a symbol of a threat against the democratic way of life. Let’s explore, briefly, what I mean.

Zombies, or undead – or whatever you decide to call them – began as slow moving and weak reanimations of those we once knew. It was easy to see them coming. It was easy to avoid them. They were very weak, and in order to break through those windows and doors had to repeatedly bang on them, weakening them until they could break through. If you encountered one, it was easy to avoid it, but if you encountered a hundred, it was much more difficult. This mirrored how people felt about communism.

Communism spread through communists. It spread slowly. You could easily identify a communist. Their words were not very strong, but repeatedly hearing them eventually wore down people’s own ideas about the importance of democracy. Communists were not random strangers from other countries, either. No, they were people you knew. They were people like sweet old Mrs. Adelman who feeds the neighborhood cats. They were people like Bill at the auto store. They weren’t exactly the same as before, but you knew them. They were familiar. You had a bond with them in some way. If there was one communist, you could avoid them. One hundred were not so easy to avoid.

I bring this up because zombies once had substance. Zombies once represented a real societal fear in our culture. I implore you to review all the books, movies, and games you have recently played, watched or read which involve zombies. Think of what those zombies represented in those stories. Mostly, the zombies are some overt representation of the Man vs. Nature conflict. They attempt to add a psychological depth to a story where there may be one. After all, how can you logically make a young boy shoot his mother, or a father shoot his only son? How can you stir up those emotions that accompany the struggle of watching a family member succumb to zombieism without zombies? Well, this is my point. It’s always possible to do those things. What zombies do is make it easy to do that.

My point is this: Zombies are LAZY.

Let’s look at some modern examples. The Walking Dead is one of the most popular shows on television right now. Based off of a highly acclaimed comic book serial, the show is loved by all, particularly apocalypse planners and zombie enthusiasts. It depicts a post-apocalyptic world where rival human factions struggle to survive in a world full of “Walkers” – the undead remnants of the past society that make nature suddenly more dangerous. Forget actual nature which, if given the chance to reclaim itself, would be drastically more dangerous. No, humans without minds are the greatest natural threat in the world. That is the message zombies are meant to portray. That is not the message they are often used to portray.

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In the show (and comic), the zombies serve very specific purposes. They are a constant environmental threat and conflict, of course, but in terms of plot, they serve a few specific functions. One of those functions is to serve as motivation for the characters to keep moving from place to place. If they stay in one place too long, the walkers find them. Another is to prevent them from doing something, or from following a direct path. (The quickest way into the city is through this tunnel? Well, Walkers hang out in tunnels, we can’t go in there. Let’s go all the way around.) And the final purpose they serve is to kill people off. Zombies kill people. That’s kind of their thing.

So why do I care? Well, as I said, zombies are lazy. Zombies also make plot boring. Let’s review the first plot purpose I mentioned: forcing characters to move. Simply saying “there are zombies and they need to avoid them” is simple. There are countless other reasons people could be nomadic. Perhaps there is a nomadic human faction that threatens them? Perhaps they are searching for something specific? Perhaps the rain is poisonous and they need to move away from storm clouds? There are a million possibilities and then a million more.

The issue with all off these options is that each one needs its own explanation. Each one needs a background, each one needs a dynamic story arc of its own. If they are being pursued by an enemy factions, who is leading this faction, why are they pursuing them? Are they going to kill them, torture them, capture them? Why? Is that faction all evil, or does it just have an evil leader(s)?

If they are seeking something then what are they seeking? Why are they seeking it? Where did it come from? Who found out about it? How does each member of the group feel about it? Is anyone else seeking it?

If the rain is poisonous, then what poisoned it? What are the effects of the poison rain? How does it affect the wildlife? What was done to try to fix it? What can save them from the rain’s poison? How do they get clean drinking water?

Now, with zombies, you can have the same questions. Where did the zombies come from? How can they be stopped? What are their main threats? However, you ask these questions once. They apply to every situation. You can’t go through a tunnel because of the zombies? Well, you already know all about the zombies. You can’t stay in one place too long because of the zombies? Doesn’t bring up any new questions. You can’t go through a tunnel because the poisonous rainwater is pooling inside? Or perhaps the poison rainwater has caused poisoned plants/animals to grow in the tunnel. This brings up new questions about why the water is pooling, why the animals are becoming poisonous, etc.

Using zombies is a lazy trick. It makes you complacent to not think of any new or interesting plot points for your story. Let’s look at the popular video game The Last of Us. This game follows a man and a young girl who many believe is the cure for zombieism. The zombies in the game pose a constant environmental hazard, but don’t really add much to the plot. They help drive the plot, because the whole idea is to try to stop the zombie disease, but they themselves aren’t pivotal to the plot. The disease could literally be anything, really.

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In the story you are introduced to three different kinds of zombies, each with different qualities. These zombies are spread out among the abandoned places of the world, and you must make your way through them to safety. However, the zombies don’t add to the plot. What adds to the plot are the gangs and cults you interact with. Sure, the zombies add a scare factor and intensity to the game that the humans may not, but they do not add to the story or the character development. The other human characters do that.

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If you are a young writer and you are thinking of having a zombie story, I urge you to think about why you want it to be a zombie story. Do you like zombies and don’t give a crap about any of this because zombies are cool? If so, go for it. Plenty of people like zombies because they’re zombies. However, if you want a more literary approach, consider replacing your zombies with some more complicated element. Take the time to think about what you want your characters to experience and craft a challenge that will lead them to that result. Don’t just use zombies as the default challenge for your entire book.

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Literature has been a part of the human experience since humans could first tell stories. It has also shifted greatly throughout the centuries – decades even. What constitutes good literature now may not have been considered good ten years ago, or a hundred years ago. Over time, however, new literary mediums have emerged.

It began with the oral tradition. Then it turned to drawing. A series of images would depict a story. Then it turned to writing and as language developed, words became more complex. Eventually, pictures were strung together and words added to them, creating motion pictures. Soon, these pictures became interactive, responding to inputs by a living person. Video games were born. The war for quality literature only grew more complex.

There is always debate over what constitutes literature. I am of the belief that any genre and any medium is literature. The quality of said literature is always up for debate, but I will not argue that it is not literature. I will, however, say that the different mediums have different goals.

Writing, for instance, serves to make the reader think. They must read the words, understand them, and visualize. They must then be able to figure out what is happening. It is when wording and language are most important and could mean the difference between a dull character and an exciting one; a flat story and a wild ride. Movies are different. They remove the words. They take much of the interpretive work out of the piece. They show you what is happening. Therefore, they can worry less about tiny details and more about the big picture. However, they have a pacing concern. How fast is the story going and is the character and plot development logical at that pace? They also have the issue of logic. It’s easy to just make something happen in a movie without anyone really thinking if it makes sense at the time. A book does not have that luxury. Everything needs to be explained, to some degree, so the reader believes what they are reading.

We also have comics, which are a combination of various forms of media into its own unique area. Comics have the luxury of being both read and looked at. The artist and writer can tell a story with both words and images. Therefore, symbolism in drawing and realism in dialogue are key elements to comic books and graphic novels.

However, the newest medium would certainly be video games. Video games are an interesting collection of the previous mediums in that they can include all of them as well as add another. You can have video games that utilize a lot of still art, comic art, writing, and videos. In the advent of video games, they were not so complex. They were simple ideas and weren’t capable of being very complex. However, now that we have much more complex systems of gaming, games are often discussed by gamers in terms of their story.

Role Playing Games, or RPG’s, are often the most literary of the games. The premise is that the player takes the role of one of the characters in some sort of epic. They see their character develop and change as they react to the things happening around them. More recent games allow the player to make decisions that directly affect what happens in the storyline. This gives the player a more immersed feeling.

But there are people who swear up and down that video games cannot possibly have literary value. I like to disagree. Intensely. I like to begin with the purpose of literature. There are quite a few, depending on how ambitious the creator was. Some literature is meant to teach a lesson. Some is meant to make commentary. Some is meant to make the consumer forget about their world and live in another for a short while. They do these things by utilizing literary elements such as imagery, symbolism, characterization, plot, and others. If you, like I, think that that is the most important part of literature, then you must argue that video games can be literature.

There are, of course, examples of terrible literature in any medium. Video games are no exception.

I just find it baffling when people say video games cannot be literature. Take for instance the Dragon Age series. It is a fantasy story set in a fantasy world. There are some people who claim that Fantasy and Science fiction cannot be literature, but to them I laugh the hardest. (In my humble opinion, Fantasy and Science Fiction are the most capable of being effective literature since there are less boundaries to respect in terms of realism). Good fantasy stories require world-building. A well-built world will parallel our own in many ways. It is what allows the creator to make comments on our world using their work. Dragon Age has one of the most well developed worlds I’ve experienced. It is filled with mystery, political intrigue, and interesting characters. It has a rich and well developed history with diverse cultures, religious beliefs, and political systems. The stories follow the themes we see so regularly in our society, such as political corruption, misdirection, cover ups, and ignorance. They help teach that, though you may be on a specific journey, those you interact with are on their own journeys. You must interact with everyone’s journey, and that may change yours.

How is a story like the Lord of the Rings all that different from the Catcher in the Rye? It really isn’t. We have our main character(s) on a journey to accomplish a task. The tasks may be different, but they are tasks. As they work toward those goals, they interact with other people. Those people either make their quest easier or harder. In the end, there are many failures and successes, and by the time they achieve their goal, they have done it in a way they never thought possible.

My question is: Since the message is the same, why does the packaging really matter? Why does it matter if one is set in an imaginary place while the other is set in a fictionalized American city? It doesn’t.

Now that I’ve gone on a tirade about fantasy being literature, I can return to the topic at hand. Video games clearly share many of the same elements of other forms of media, but add an interactive part that helps consumers to internalize the messages. So, I leave it here for your opinion: Can video games be literature?

 

 

Now, I’m the type of comic book fan that will watch a comic book movie multiple times for no real reason. With DC movies, i like to pick up on the references to other characters or alternate storylines that i recognize. In Marvel movies, i don’t really notice those things because i don’t know them. However, i really enjoy “The Amazing Spiderman” for a different reason. As I write this, i realize that the same can be said about “Man of Steel” (though I was hardcore fangirling at all the DC universe easter eggs and references during that movie).

The amazing Spiderman has been on the movie channels a lot lately so I’ve been watching it. I first saw it a few months ago. I honestly didn’t expect too much from it and i was very pleasantly surprised.  There are three main reasons i enjoyed this movie. If you have not seen the movie, don’t read ahead!

1. Casting – The cast of this movie is great. Andrew Garfield makes the perfect Spiderman, and a believable awkward and quirky Peter Parker. Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy gives her that girl-next-door type vibe without making her a hyper sexualized, impossible to get girl. Denis Leary as Captain Stacy is probably the best casting call of the whole movie. He perfectly portrays the emotions and heroism of a New York city cop and father. Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben was inspiring. The reason these characters are so great is because they are relatable. These actors portray their characters so that we think “oh hey, that could be me” while watching it. I mean, that’s what the message is anyway, right?

2. The message – The message of this story is great. Unlike a lot of other Superheroes, Peter Parker doesn’t have some destiny or higher calling. He wasn’t created or sent to do something. He is just a kid trying to learn how to be a responsible adult. And that’s where the movie shines, i think. Throughout the course of the movie, Peter starts to learn about what being responsible really means. He feels guilty for his Uncle’s murder, so he goes around trying to get revenge. He thinks hes being responsible and helping people, but in reality he’s just trying to help himself. After Captain Stacy talks about how Spiderman has a vendetta and isn’t helping people, Peter realizes that its true. This is shown when he goes to the bridge when the lizard is attacking. This is the first time he is depicted going out there just to help and not to hunt down his uncle’s killer. However, Peter doesn’t just stop there. Once he learns that it is Dr. Connors that is the lizard, he doesn’t try to go take him out on his own. He doesn’t pull a Batman where he thinks only he can stop it. He goes to Captain Stacy and tries to work with him on it. Then, at the end of the movie, Spiderman and Captain Stacy defeat the Lizard together. The message isn’t like so many other superhero movies that say “screw the rules, do what you think is best!” The message here is, “Work with the rules and you will be more successful.”

3. Gwen Stacy’s role – So often in the Superhero genre the female love interest gets treated terribly. They get killed off, kidnapped (I’m looking at you, Mary-Jane), threatened, or are used as some pawn in the villain’s game. They didn’t do that with Gwen. Gwen served a purpose the entire time she was there. In fact, without Gwen, peter would not have been able to stop the Lizard from infecting everyone. Gwen went to Oscorp and made the antidote. She didn’t need help, she didn’t need someone to watch her. She did it. Then, when the Lizard comes for the machine, she hides it from him, stalling him. When he finds it, he leaves her there. How often do you see a Superhero movie where the bad guy just ignored the female love interest? To be fair, I would say that he more so decides that she sin’t worth the time, and leaves, since shes throwing fire at him at the moment, but it doesn’t make a difference. And you know what? The way it was done was way better than if they kidnapped Gwen.

So, the Amazing Spiderman is pretty good, and if you have’t seen it yet then go check it out. I have yet to see the second one, but I will soon enough. How do you feel about the movie? Are there any other Superhero movies that you feel similarly about? Let me know!