wizard of oz esque

Quick Question:

If you were going to plant FANTASTICAL/FICTIONAL MUTANT DEATH PLANTS (not looking for realism here haha, crazy fanfiction plot-device type plants) to attack a city with, what kind of plants???  Brainstorm with me y’all.

((Psychedelic fungus, giant venus fly traps, sex pollen and Wizard-Of-Oz-esque sedative poppy fields are the genre of crazy plant crap I’m thinking of, like, GO NUTS.))

Obligatory question mark?

A tale of two citadels

The Citadel in Half-Life 2 was far too large for the initial version of the Source Engine to be able to handle at a 1:1 scale with the rest of the game.

To solve this problem, Valve constructed the Citadel at a mere fraction of it’s actual size, and then project that model into the ‘skybox’ of the actual map; giving a convincing Wizard of Oz esque illusion.

If the player so chooses, they can noclip on almost every map in Half-Life 2 to the box where the citadel is held, allowing them to view the actual size of the model in comparison to it’s enlarged projection.

Map: ep1_citadel_00

Jupiter Ascending & Mad Max - A Question of Narrative Discipline

If you haven’t seen Mad Max: Fury Road yet, you need to - it’s frickin’ awesome. While I occasionally rag on WB for screwing up the Jupiter Ascending marketing campaign and deepening the production hell it went through (reshoots! Recuts! Release delays!), it’s very important to remember that WB is an unusually courageous studio when it comes to ‘risky’ pictures. Jupiter Ascending and Mad Max: Fury Road were both very, very risky propositions, yet WB funded and distributed both of them - for that courage, it deserves to be applauded.

Now, I bring up JA and MMFR here because the films have some striking similarities when you look at their broad-strokes. Both films establish strange and bizarre worlds quite distinct from our own. Both films feature all manner of weird and kooky elements (Fury Road serves up a fire-spewing guitar to JA’s royalty-sensing bees). Both films are female-driven sci-fi (irrespective of the marketing and the title, Furiosa is the true lead of MMFR), and I needn’t say how unusual that is.

Nonetheless, perhaps the most striking point of divergence between the films is how they’ve been received - while Jupiter Ascending was (generally speaking) rejected by audiences and derided by critics, Mad Max: Fury Road has been getting excellent word-of-mouth and rave reviews. So, how did Mad Max succeed when Jupiter Ascending failed?

As far as I’m concerned, it’s essentially a question of narrative construction - whereas Mad Max: Fury Road is highly disciplined and contained in terms of its narrative construction, Jupiter Ascending is sprawling and entirely undisciplined. One YouTube reviewer called MMFR a “lean, mean storytelling machine”, and that’s a perfect description - there is absolutely no fat on Fury Road. The narrative is very simple and propulsive, and while the world-building is highly imaginative and well done it all feeds into the narrative - the death cult (”Valhalla!”) bought into by the War Boys is what motivates Nux (Nicholas Hoult’s character) to chase the War Rig across the desert, taking the titular Max with him as a sort of living standard. In this way, MMFR is exceedingly elegant and well-constructed - you always know who wants what and why, and you always understand what’s happening.

Jupiter Ascending basically does the opposite. It’s extremely baggy in terms of its narrative, and many scenes exist to further/deepen the film’s themes, mythology and subtext rather than its story. It’s also heavily episodic - Jupiter Ascending is essentially Jupiter Jones going on a Wizard of Oz-esque adventure where she learns more about herself and ultimately achieves happiness and hope. At its heart, it’s a very small story of personal enrichment - it’s just that that personal growth is fuelled by extraordinary and expansive events that extend far beyond Jupiter herself. Jupiter Ascending also leaves many elements of its story and mythology obscure and unclear. Contrary to MMFR, you don’t always understand who wants what and why - that’s why we’re still discussing what exactly drove the film’s characters months after its release. It’s not that the characters lack motivations - they’re all clearly very motivated indeed - it’s just that we don’t always understand them. It almost requires the viewer to be something of a detective, picking up on scraps of information and finding parallels and connections between them.

I think this is perhaps the main reason why so many people have rejected Jupiter Ascending and act if it’s some kind of abomination - they feel flat-out alienated by it, shut out even, and don’t have the first idea of what it’s trying to do or why. Jupiter Ascending basically gives modern storytelling conventions the middle finger in favour of the fairy-tale ‘rule of three’ and a character arc last gobbled up by audiences in 1939. It also demands a lot of the viewer - you really need to be willing to dig into it (oh, it’s so very tasty!) in order to fully appreciate the film and how incredibly dense its world and mythology are. Most people were too baffled and put off by the storytelling choices to even begin to consider the film on those terms, which is why so many simply dismiss it as a “stupid” film when it’s nothing of the sort (it’s totally goofy and absurd in places, but that’s very different from stupid - the Wachowskis aren’t idiots).

In an ideal world, there would be space for both approaches. So we’d have immaculate and watertight films a la Fury Road and fascinatingly kooky and sprawling films a la Jupiter Ascending. Alas, I don’t think the world’s quite ready for the latter, unfortunately.