Category Archives: Uncategorized

Tomb Raider, as seen by an Ex-Wannabe-Gamer

This started out as a comment to the post on Confessions of a Serial Mapper, but when it annoyingly failed to go through and I couldn’t retrieve the comment, I decided to blog about it instead. Mostly because I tend to get long-winded when I’m making a point, so it was bound to become long enough for a blog post itself.

As far as the Tomb Raider series goes I am a part of a seemingly unrecognised group, one between the complete n00bs and the diehard fans. When I was a youngling, I had the potential to become a true Girl Gamer. Unfortunately, all games and all consoles belonged to my brothers (naturally. I was a girl, why would anyone buy me any games?), so once their interest was either lost, as in the case of one brother, or moved away from games I wanted to play, in the case of the other, my own interest diminished. But for a few brief, shining years we were all enormous fans of Tomb Raider.

I have no distinct memory of the first two games, although I know we owned them and played through them on our loyal PlayStation. This is probably because I never played through the entire game on my own– instead it was a joint effort between myself, the eldest of my brothers, and a family friend. I played segments of the game, which is probably why the storyline of Tomb Raider never meant anything to me; I was all about the puzzle-solving and the leaping around maps. The third game I played through on my own (I remember my fury when my inconsiderate brother saved over my game, meaning that I had to start all over again). My memories of playing that game are ones of frustration. It took me ages to solve the puzzles (which were so obvious once you knew what to do), and I was forever frustated with Lara, who never seemed to do what she was told.

Let’s be fair, though. Who wasn’t frustrated with Lara? It certainly wasn’t just me. It seems to be the enduring cultural memory of the game, just behind her… assets. Two of my favourite scenes of Spaced involve Tomb Raider III: one in which the main character continually drowns Lara in order to assuage his own frustrations, and one in which the same character is mistaken for shouting at and insulting his flatmate– when in reality his yells of, “You can’t shoot straight, you big-titted bitch!” are directed at Lara. Being frustrating does not seem to be a flaw with Tomb Raider. Strangely it seems to be one of its main appeals.

So, onto my main point. One of Rokusho’s main gripes with the latest Tomb Raider game, Tomb Raider: Underworld is that it doesn’t bring anything new– it is simply a repackaged and prettier version of the existing games. Whilst this may be true, I think it also misses the point of what appeals about Tomb Raider to those of us who aren’t massive gamers, but who are familiar with the game. I am playing through Underworld mostly as an exercise in nostalgia. It is similar enough to the old games to be familiar and fun, and different enough not to be the same game over again. The storyline may be recycled, but people who play Tomb Raider for the same reasons I do do not care about the storyline. I couldn’t tell you the story of the first three, and I’d struggle to tell you the story thus far of Underworld, and I only played it last a few days ago. I do not care why Lara is doing what she is doing, or what greater goal I am meant to be playing towards. The fun is in the here-and-now puzzling of the game, in pulling levers and jumping across ledges and working out paths across various maps.

Quite probably I’d enjoy some of the in-between Tomb Raider games I’ve missed, but so far there is nothing about Underworld that leaves me wanting. The camera controls annoy me, Lara consistently seems to do things I don’t tell her to do (or so I will maintain), and the puzzles are generally unnecessarily complicated until I’ve actually worked them out. But this is what I fondly remember of Tomb Raider: she may seem to be a dead horse that doesn’t need to be flogged anymore, but I am a child of the Nineties, and Lara Croft is an enduring icon of that time. I am not playing Tomb Raider for anything new. I am playing for the exact same reasons I was playing for when I was ten years old.

LOST: A Brief Collection of Thoughts

LOST series 5 official poster

LOST series 5 official poster

After some not-so-subtle comments that I should get off my arse and start blogging properly, I’m going to try and do just that. And what better way to start than with the TV event of the year (even if it is only January)? Spoilers.

Lost has had a  bumpy ride, from an amazing first series to a long-winded and baggy second one, after which many viewers gave up. The first six episodes of series three were more of the same– tedious and unnecessary– but after the writers’ strike it seemed that the show was given a new lease of life. Answers! More mystery! Plot! Decent new characters! The tables were proven truly turned with the revelation at the very end of series three: some of the characters escaped the island, and what we assumed was the past is in fact the future. Finally it seemed as though the writers and producers knew what they were doing with their show, and they proved to the viewers that being led on would eventually give them some sort of pay-off.

Series four benefitted enormously both from its shorter length and from the setting of an end date in 2010– pretty much unprecedented for a hit American show. The plotting was tight, the pace was quick, and the answers came as thick and fast as the questions. Now, I admit that I’ve never understood the complaint that Lost just doesn’t answer enough questions. I absolutely love the mystery and the open-endedness of everything and, let’s be honest, Lost has answered a ton of questions since the beginning. Who is the French woman? What’s in the hatch? Is Henry Gale really Henry Gale?  Who are The Others? What did Kate do? How did Locke end up in a wheelchair? Who’s the “real” Sawyer? I could go on and on. I feel, as you can probably tell, that this is an unfair criticism.

Lost is like a novel (a simile I’m stealing unashamedly from Empire). A series of novels, if you will. If, once you started, you knew all the answers by the end of the first book, what point would there be in reading the rest? Yes, I really want to know what the smoke monster is, and I would absolutely love to find out exactly who the hell Jacob is, and please, for the love of Darwin, what are the numbers about? I’m pretty sure one day I will find out (well, maybe not the numbers), but right now I’m content with the gaps that are already being filled in series five. I just have one request: no more pointless Jack episodes, please? I really couldn’t care less about his ridiculous tattoos, which should have stayed as a one-off joke early in series one.

Series five started off fantastically. The opening scene of the first episode, “Because You Left”, is typical Lost fare: we have no idea where we are, when we are, or who we’re following. Interestingly, the big reveal that we were watching Pierre Chang (aka Dr. Marvin Candle) is surpassed only moments later by the revelation that Daniel Faraday is seemingly working for Dharma. The episode’s focus on time travel of course opens up the most enormous can of worms known to man– suddenly even chronology is not a barrier in Lost. I am inclined to think that Faraday has infiltrated the Dharma mine during one of the island’s skips, though there is a theory that he worked there before and his time on the island with the Lostaways is him skipping in time. I much prefer the neater first theory, but the second has potential: Daniel, along with Desmond and Richard, seems to have a different relationship to time.

Another theory relating to Daniel sprung up at the end of the second episode “The Lie”. Daniel tells past-Desmond to go to Oxford to meet his mother, and in the future we see Ben meet up with Ms. Hawking, that creepy old lady who refused to sell Desmond the ring.  The theory, naturally, is that Ms. Hawking is Daniel’s mother. Now, with Lost it can go either way– they are either throwing you an obvious red herring, or they really are just that transparent (I’m sorry, but Michael being Ben’s spy on the boat was obvious even if you didn’t see Harold Perrineau’s name on the credits).  Daniel sending Desmond to find his mother suggests she is an expert in theories of time travel, and Ms. Hawking certainly seems to be that, never mind that she possesses the Richard-like quality of knowing about past and future events. Her name is not Faraday but that doesn’t mean anything: she could quite conceivably be using her maiden name, and when Daniel spoke to Desmond he finished by trying to tell Des his mother’s name. He had already introduced himself, so there would be no need to give Desmond her name if it was Faraday– it’s hardly a common name. Plus, it would be just like Lost to align two characters by similar namesakes (obviously Michael Faraday and Stephen Hawking), as it did in series two with John Locke and Desmond David Hume.

Of course, this is all assuming her name is Ms. Hawking on the show and that it’s not a fan-creation. Right now I genuinely cannot remember.

Other theories are that Miles is Pierre Chang’s son, who we see as a baby in the opening scene. Of course, I could get called out here for racial profiling… but children, and the parentage of those children, has been important to the mythology of Lost since day one, so I don’t think I’m stretching too much here. Of course there would have to be an explanation for Miles’ surname being Straum rather than Chang, but right now that seems to be the main obstacle for this theory.

Charlotte also appears to be suffering the dreaded nosebleed-and-memory-loss, but frankly we know so little about her character that any theory, however wild, seems plausible to me. She’s Daniel’s daughter from when he travelled back in time! She’s Desmond and Penny’s daughter! She’s Ben’s friend Annie with a new identity! All we know about her is that she’s English, she has her PhD, and she was born on the island. Ben reiterated a lot of information on her at the end of the last series, but Ben’s information is not necessarily trustworthy.

The main appeal of Lost, for me, lies not in the over-arching story, but in its intricately layered mythology and the new revelations that that brings. This series the writers have introduced the concept of time travel, which completely upturns everything that came before. As soon as you think you have a handle on Lost something is switched; there is nothing concrete and nothing certain, and the fun lies in trying to walk the tightrope of speculation before everything, inevitably, is turned upside down.

Goodbyes

As The Chronicler pointed out, goodbyes are hard. We all know that. But no goodbye is harder than the one you never get to make properly.

I’ve said it more times than I can count in my head, even though I know it makes no difference. But the last time I saw him, I didn’t say goodbye– I assumed I’d see him around. Never, ever assume that, folks.

Goodbye, my dear. I miss you.

Just say it’s a rope!

This started off as a response to Roku’s blog post about Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but it got rather long (and potentially convoluted), so I decided to make a whole post about it. This isn’t a review, more a musing on the ending. So, SPOILERS!

The response of the guys I saw the movie with was rather polarised. One response was, “BEST INDY EVER. The aliens were the best part!” and the other was, “Aliens in my Indy film? What were they thinking!?”

My response is somewhere in between. My initial reaction to the aliens was similar to the latter. They were too modern, too sci-fi. Indiana Jones has never made any claim to realism, obviously; it is totally aware of its campy excess and the presence of ghosts and Holy Grails and truth behind Christian myths is accepted as part of the Indy world. But its mythical components before have been about the past, about Judeo-Christian relics and things like that, and aliens give it a futuristic feel that didn’t sit very well with me. I know the arguments about the Maian alien stories, and I think that does give it more credence when you’re aware of that history, but the fact remains that in the mainstream, aliens do not fit in with a historical, adventure-fiction narrative, which is what the Indy series is about.

But I have an idea of what Spielberg and Lucas were trying to do, and I think it’s an understandable move to make, even though I’m not convinced by how well they pulled it off.

Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is positioned as a 1950s film, compared to the 1930s-40s era that was the original trilogy. The original films had concerns that fit in with that era: Nazis, the Middle East as exotic, Nazis, Tarzan, and Nazis. The 1950s had other concerns: the nuclear age, communists, paranoia, Roswell, fear of aliens (outsiders). It makes perfect sense for Spielberg and Lucas to move away from the issues of late-1930s Indy into all new issues for 1950s Indy, and aliens were a big part of that. As I understand it, aliens were a big cultural boogie-man for America in the 50s, as they were an easy shorthand for an outside threat of something… other.

In fact, my problem with this film, in retrospect, wasn’t the aliens but more the plot. It had everything Indiana Jones needed: the actors, the crazy action sequences, the over-the-top villain (Cate Blanchett is amazing, as always), the one-liners, the mystical climax (whatever you make of it)… and yet the plot made no sense. It was never adequately explained why the skull had to be returned. Apparently it was to “receive the power of the golden city”, but no one did and the aliens destroyed the city instead. Cate Blanchett stepped up to receive the “gift” and got vaporised. It all just seemed very messy; what did the aliens want? Who took the skull in the first place? Why? How?

I thoroughly enjoyed the film. It was fast-paced, it was funny, it had all the components of an Indiana Jones movie, and there are many parts that are absolutely wonderful, some of the best parts of any Indy film, and yet they don’t seem to come together, in the end. I’d definitely see it again, I’m looking forward to getting my hands on the DVD, but in the end it was just a bit too messy to become the best in the series.

Favourite Song.

Here comes the sun,
Here comes the sun, and I say
It’s alright.

Little darling,
It’s been a long, cold, lonely winter.
Little darling,
It feels like years since it’s been here.

Here comes the sun,
Here comes the sun, and I say
It’s alright.

Little darling,
The smiles returning to the faces
Little darling,
It feels like years since it’s been here.

Here comes the sun,
Here comes the sun, and I say,
It’s alright.

Sun, sun, sun, here it comes.
Sun, sun, sun, here it comes.
Sun, sun, sun, here it comes.
Sun, sun, sun, here it comes.

Little darling,
I feel that ice is slowly melting.
Little darling,
It feels like years since it’s been clear.

Here comes the sun,
Here comes the sun, and I say,
It’s alright.
Here comes the sun,
Here comes the sun,
It’s alright.
It’s alright.

(Here Comes The Sun – The Beatles)

The Life That I Have

The life that I have

Is all that I have

And the life that I have

Is yours.

The love that I have

Of the life that I have

Is yours and yours and yours.

A sleep I shall have

A rest I shall have

Yet death will be but a pause.

For the peace of my years,

In the long green grass

Will be yours and yours and yours.

– Leo Marks

Perpetuating Weak Women

I was thinking about writing this blog post a while ago, but never got round to it as I was living for the next essay deadline at the time. This morning, whilst revising for my Hollywood module, inspiration struck again. This is rather long and rambly- I do apologise.

A few weeks ago, Randall Monroe of xkcd fame blogged about the lack of top-billed female stars. It’s a very interesting post that highlights one of the main problems Hollywood has with female representation. But that’s not really what I want to write about, though it is related. What I want to talk about is how critics and film theorists (whether professional or no) actually seem to be perpetuating some of the views Hollywood has about women and their representation in film.

There is an unfortunate dichotomy in lots of film criticism, and it goes like this: male= powerful, a rescuer against female= weak, the rescued. It’s easy to see where this came from, as the majority of Hollywood (and non-Hollywood, but let’s stick with Hollywood just to make it easier) does actually conform to these gendered roles. However, many supposedly feminist critics buy into this; when a male character shows some ‘weakness’ or needs to be rescued, he is described as ‘feminised’, which is synonymous with perceived negative character traits. When a female character is dominant and rescues either herself or others, she is ‘masculinised’, which is perceived as a negative in relation to a female character. These critics argue that these women are never strong as a woman, but instead just have masculine traits mapped onto a female body. Yet when these women then portray anything gendered as feminine (falling for a man, motherhood, etc.), she is once again characterised as weak. So there is seemingly no room for a female action hero even in the realms of supposedly feminist criticms; she is strong and powerful? She’s really male. She’s fallen in love, or has a child? She’s weak.

This is my problem. Now, I’m not going to deny that there are still serious issues with representation of strong women in Hollywood, just as there are still issues with representation of racial minorities, homosexuality, people of different cultures. Hollywood is white, middle-class, straight, and male. We know this, we don’t need to hear it anymore. But there are strong female characters, and yet critics who cry out against Hollywood for not giving us these characters then turn around and define them as male, which is bad, and yet anything remotely feminine about them is also bad. How are we going to get autonomous heroines if this is the critical attitude towards them?

Let’s take a few of the most iconic female heroines, shall we?

Ripley (Alien, Aliens, etc.): Now, Ripley was originally written as a male character in Alien, and it was only casting Sigourney Weaver that changed that. Some critics have actually written Ripley off as being essentially male and therefore not worthy of discussion. Others have praised the character as coming from an egalatarian model of feminism. For me, Ripley is reminiscent of the Final Girl of slasher movies, and she saves herself. She is tough, she is pragmatic, she can use a weapon. The one problem I have with her representation in Alien  is the rather gratuitous stripping to her underwear in the shuttle. Aliens is a lot more problematic for many critics, because Ripley displays a protective, maternal instinct towards Newt. This feminises Ripley and therefore weakens her character. Never mind that she subverts the protector/protected paradigm in relation to the army, and the mass of male characters fail on an enormous scale where she succeeds. Any inclination of motherhood means Ripley is no longer a strong female character. I call bullshit. This is a serious problem in criticism: fatherhood and paternity are, and always have been, ‘good’ attributes. In Terminator 2, the terminator becoming a father figure was a positive character trait; his fatherly instinct turned his strength to protection rather than destruction. Yet when this same story model uses a woman in the position of parent, this is perceived as destroying her strength. Why?

Trinity (The Matrix trilogy): Trinity is the quintessential butch-femme. She is presented as attractive and as the hero’s love interest, but her short hair and tough demeanour problematise this. A friend of mine recently wrote a very interesting essay on the subversion of gender roles in The Matrix; if we are to take typical Hollywood gender roles, Neo is actually the more feminine. A key example of this is when he is first kissed by Trinity; Neo is the passive role in this, and Trinity sits over him, and she kisses him. Of course, this is problematised further by the fact that Neo is ‘actually’ fighting Agent Smith, but that’s a whole other argument about the status of reality in The Matrix that we won’t go into. Trinity has been criticised as being subjugated to the hero’s narrative trajectory, and to a great extent this is true; the Oracle tells Trinity that she will fall in love with The One, and so her falling for Neo is key to both the audience and the character’s realisation of his destiny. Yet Trinity is a powerful woman in her own right; our first view of her is of overpowering a group of armed men and then outrunning an Agent. Her representation as Neo’s love interest may conform to the typical role of a woman, but she is still one of the key benchmarks of the action heroine.

Last one: Beatrix Kiddo (Kill Bill): I’ll keep this one short, because I wrote a 3000 word essay on gender and violence in Kill Bill, and if I’m not careful I’ll reproduce it here. Instead I just want to make one point: I think Tarantino often emphasises Beatrix’s femininity to make the point that she is not a female character acting as a male action hero, but she is violent and powerful within her femininity. I think Beatrix Kiddo is possibly the best example of a strong female character we have (though that may have a lot to do with my undying love for Quentin Tarantino). Tarantino positions her in many typically female roles– female roles typically seen to weaken a woman, moreover– and makes her powerful within them. Her pseudonym of ‘The Bride’ is the best example; becoming a wife is often seen (at least in film) as the moment a woman gives herself up to a man, and yet here The Bride is an iconic, almost super-hero figure. I could go on about this, but this entry ahs gone on long enough.

My main point, then, is that whilst we should not simply be satisfied with Hollywood’s representation of women- it is still not great and the autonomous and powerful woman is still a minority figure. However, I think critics and theorists need to take note: female does not equal weak, and feminine is not a negative trait. The female characters I listed above, along with others (Sarah Connor and River Tam, for example), are feminine whilst being strong. They have their problems, but they are a positive step towards women who are powerfully female. They are not men in female bodies, and we need to stop characterising them as such.

For my next entry: women aren’t the only ones with representation problems. Hollywood screws with men too.