Friday, September 28, 2012

The Dork Review: Dredd

This is the Judge Dredd movie that needed to be made.

Not just to wipe away the stain the Sly movie made on the character's reputation. Not just to show both Karl Urban and Olivia Thirlby are rather fine actors. No, this movie needed to be made for one very important reason:

It shows that sci-fi can be small and still work.

Mega-City One is a sprawling metropolis covering what little non-irradiated ground exists on the east coast of North America. It's a massive choking slum/cesspool of crime, corruption, and indifference, an anarchist state in all but name where people live in fear of both criminals and the law. And Dredd the movie doesn't try and change that.

Instead of trying to tell an epic tale in an attempt to match the setting, Dredd focuses on a pair of judges, veteran Joe Dredd and his rookie partner Judge Anderson, as they're trapped in a bloc and have to fight the troops of drug-dealing ex-prostitute Ma-Ma. It's a focused story that covers a day in the life of a Mega-City judge, and it's exactly what I've been craving for a long time.

Unfortunately, at times directors and writers seem to think that sci-fi, especially stuff not set in the near future or in a carbon-copy of the real world, needs to be big and bombastic in order to work. This isn't the case. Just like in literature, sometimes the stakes don't need to be high. They only need to be personal.

I wish more movie-makers would make films like this, enough of them so that audiences would come to accept what I know to be true, that a movie can be sci-fi and many other things at the same time. Dredd is a beautifully brutal film about two cops in a bad situation. The sci-fi elements support the story without dominating it.

Aside from the extreme violence, Dredd has two outstanding performances from its lead characters. Urban is delightfully menacing and growling as Judge Joe Dredd, a cynical and scarred Judge who's seen it all. Even while wearing a full helmet he's able to get across emotion, not a small feat. Thirlby is even more impressive. While she doesn't wear a helmet for a good portion of the film her expression changes very little but she's still able to convey a wide variety of emotion. She can get more across with a slight movement of her eyebrow than Kristen Stewart could with her entire body. Casting directors everywhere take note of these two and give them more work!

Go and see Dredd in theaters while you can. I think it's destined to become a cult classic at the very least. Now if we could just get the same director and cast to do a Warhammer 40K flick I'd be set. Urban as a Space Marine, Thirlby as a Sister of Battle, yeah, it could work.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Why We Shouldn't Be Afraid To Make The Hard Choice

Okay, I have to start by admiting something. this is hard to say...I watch...the Clone Wars animated television show.

Yes, I admit it. It's terrible. Not because it's animated, cause hey, there are tons of good animated shows out there. (Avatar the Last Airbender anyone?)

No, the reason I'm embarrassed to say I watch it is that the writers seem incapable or contractually obligated to avoid making hard choices.

First off, when they focus on the major characters such as Obi-Wan or Anakin or any of the ones that appear in the movies there's no tension because you know these characters will live no matter what happens. The stories involving them are almost invariably trite and at best rise to the level of pretty adventure stories with very little soul.

The few redeemable moments for the show come when it focuses on the clones and their lot in life. I mean, think about it, here is a group of living beings that were created for the soul purpose of waging war. The clone centric episodes focus on the cost of war, of what it means to be a soldier, of what it means to put your life on the line for something you're not sure you believe in. They put the focus on themes that I find interesting and wish to see explored in greater detail. But only if they're willing to make the hard choice.

What do I mean by that? Let me give you an example. In a recent arc I was watching the clone troopers were being led by an four-armed Jedi who spent their lives callously. I was really enjoying it right up until the end when it was revealed that, hold onto your seats, the Jedi isn't really a Jedi he's a traitor who's getting ready to go over to the other side. Gah!

They took what could have been an interesting villain and transformed him into a mustache twirling git! Worse yet, they undermined the whole theme they'd been working on for the entire arc. Instead of the story being about the lengths war will drive some leaders to and the callous nature of command it became a story about a traitor manipulating others without any great reason why he was doing it. Again, gah!

The writers failed to make the hard choice. If they'd made the villain a true Jedi then it would have cast doubt on every action taken by the Jedi from that point on and the clones willing subjugation to them. I mean, come on, this is almost an entire race that was bred to be willing and compliant soldiers. Setting things up so that they start questioning their place in the war and their reasons for fighting it could have led down some interesting narrative paths, and showing the Jedi as less than noble or even callous at times would have made them more multi-dimensional as well.

This is why I think writers and authors need to be allowed and not afraid to make the hard choice, the one that takes them into unsafe territory. If we don't allow ourselves to do that, if we play it safe in our stories then we miss the opportunity to tell those really great tales that will be remembered, that will have an impact.

Don't be afraid of the hard choice.

(And yes, I writing this to remind myself as much as to tell others to do it.)

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Wait, Only Three Years? Really?

It's hard to believe it has only been three years since I started this blog and since I started writing actively. It feels like a lot more time has passed, but that might be because I feel like I've grown so much as a writer these last three years.

Who would have thought that in three years my writing would have improved to the point that while I'm still getting rejections I'm getting less form ones and more encouraging ones. A recent submission went through multiple readings by the editors before being rejected, which is amazing. No, really it is, because it means I'm wrote something an editor had to really consider before rejecting. That means I was close to getting something published.

If that wasn't enough though, the same story marks another high point for me. After the first draft I could see it wasn't working and instead of needing someone else to tell me what was wrong I was able to work it out and rewrite and produce a much stronger version of the same story. The fact that I could tell the story was lacking and fix it on my own indicates a leap forward in my critical faculties, something a good author needs in order to avoid going down many fruitless paths. In the end I was able to tell more story with less words.

Aside from my short story work I've also written at least one trunk novel. What's a trunk novel you ask? That's a piece of work that gets stuff in a trunk never to see the light of day. It was a learning and growth experience, but in the end the book doesn't work and I don't see any hope of salvaging it any time soon. But it did prove something to me. I can write longer stories, which is something I did need to learn.

Also, writing a book has lead me to writing another. Currently I'm over 92,000 words into writing an epic fantasy with monks, martial arts, and mongols. I'm loving it. This is a fun book to write. My original plan was to have a working draft in time for World's Fantasy in November, but it doesn't look like that's going to happen as I'm not even two thirds done even with the huge wordcount I mentioned above.

So what are my plans for my fourth year of writing? Finish my current project and then write another book I have planned and ideas generated for, the first in what could be a series. In fact, since I've kind of committed to NaNoWriMo this year, with the prompting of a couple author friends on Twitter, I may in fact pause my current project and use NaNo to get a decent chunk of my other novel started. My thinking is, by the time November rolls around I may not have 50,000 words left on my current novel, and there's a short story I want to write for an anthology that the due date is currently up in the air so I may work on that for a bit instead of the novel before NaNo starts.

So all in all, things on the writing front have been very, very busy. Aside from that I've attended cons, made new friends, been a panelist, and generally been an all around smartass when I can.

I can't wait to see what happens in year four.