Dying to discuss: Or why I loved Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Did you know there’s a new Star Wars film in the cinemas right now? Of course you do. Aside from the massive multi-platform advertising campaign that can only be pulled of by a media super-power like Disney, it’s bloody Star Wars, arguably the biggest franchise ever with the kind of pop-culture influence that even a lot of actual wars could never compete with. I went and saw it last Monday. Highly recommend you go see it, even if for no other reason than so I can talk about it without spoiling something. Or everything. ‘Cause I really, really wanna. Talk about it that is, not spoil it. I’m not a bastard. Or am I? Maybe, sometimes.

It’s at this point that I’m gonna mention that I might be talking about events and characters in the film that probably count as spoilers. Nothing major but if you haven’t seen it yet and want to avoid all mention of the film before you do, well, you’ve been warned.

Yeah, so anyway, I get the feeling that this is gonna be one of those films we talk about for a while in a really good way. Y’see everyone who’s seen it agrees that this is a good film, but no one seems to agree on how good it is. A few people were disappointed, a few people were raving. I loved it, but Mad Max: Fury Road still stands as my favourite film of 2015. Thing is, there was a lot to talk about Mad Max as well.

What I mean is that there’s a lot to unpack with this film, a lot more going on than a shallow conversation would at first reveal. An example: one of the complaints I’ve heard is that The Force Awakens is essentially just A New Hope. Like it literally has all the same story beats. I’d argue though that this is a good thing. It keeps the film feeling familiar while the new characters and relationships (I’ve come to realise are actually the most important thing in a Star Wars story) means that it still feels fresh and new. It’s also a demonstration by the directors, writers and producers that they understand what made the original trilogy so great while setting the scene for their own (’cause I expect there will be parallels between Episode VIII and Empire Strikes Back, but I don’t think they’ll be as blatant as this one). Someone else had issue with villain Kylo Ren, that he was less ‘all powerful badarse’ and more ‘tantrum throwing bitch.’ Guy wasn’t a menacing character, especially following in the footsteps of Darth Vader. Meanwhile I think that’s the point. This guy wants to be Darth Vader so badly, but he isn’t and probably never will be. It seems to me that the film-makers themselves are pointing this out. After all, that’s a big fucking helmet to fill. But it’s also them saying that he’s a different villain. Yeah, he’s powerful, merciless, brutal and very, very dangerous, but he’s also morally conflicted and emotionally torn.

This isn’t even getting into theories about who and what are which. I’m of the belief that main character Rey, played fantastically by Daisy Ridley, is a descendant of Obi Wan Kenobi (the only other main character in either trilogy with an English accent, and with Ewan Mcgregor doing a quick bit of voiceover work telling her she’s taken the first few steps towards the Force).

Listen, she's new to the whole "Force" thing. It's a lot to take in all at once.
Listen, she’s new to the whole “Force” thing. It’s a lot to take in all at once.

Shit, there’s stuff to talk about with all the characters. John Boyega as Finn, the Stormtrooper turned hero who may or may not be force sensitive (I don’t reckon he is, but we’ll see in the next few movies) but clearly forges a unique bond with Rey and Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron. Following that up, what do we think Poe’s role is going to be in the future? He didn’t have a huge amount to do in The Force Awakens, though he was established as a key character moving forward (guessing surrogate son for General Leia). To be clear, the whole thing is well acted (Adam Driver goes from calm to enraged excellently as Kylo Ren and even Harrison Ford seems to be enjoying himself) and I loved all the characters in different ways.

You get what I’m saying though, right? There’s a lot to talk about with this film. Love it or merely like it, I think we’ll be discussing the characters, the intricacies and the story mechanics for a while. And we’ll probably start doing so in about a week’s time.

Y’know, 2015 was actually a pretty good year for films worth talking about long after they’d finished their theatrical run. The above-mentioned Mad Max, for instance. Wonder what 2016’s gonna be like.

So, yeah, go see Star Wars. Be part of the conversation.

Reviewing the old school: Die Hard (1988)

So I wanted to do a Christmas movie this week since, y’know, Christmas. Took me a little while to decide which one, since there are quite a few of them (many of them actually pretty shit). Then I remembered I hadn’t watched the original Die Hard in a while, and the choice was made. I procured a copy, ordered a curry and sat back to watch what remains one of my favourite action movies ever.

Released in 1988, the film stars Bruce Willis as John MccLane, an NYPD cop visiting his estranged wife at her work Christmas party (in an incomplete skyscraper in Los Angeles). Then a bunch of mostly European thieves masquerading as terrorists take all the party guests hostage. Hijinks ensue.

But you should already know all this, because you should have already seen this movie by now. In all honesty this should be on that 1001 Movies to See Before You Die list if it isn’t already. It’s a classic action film that holds together incredibly well nearly three decades later (holy shit Die Hard turned 27 this year). The fight scenes are appropriately brutal, the set pieces are spectacular and the coincidences never feel as contrived as they do in a lot of other films (including, if I’m being honest, Die Hard 2). The music, as well, is fantastic. It’s something I hadn’t really paid much attention to until I rewatched it this week, but it manages to add tension in the necessary scenes and avoids the unnecessary synth-rock that’s left the soundtracks to so many other movies from the 80s so dated. Best of all it manages to keeps a Christmas theme going throughout the film.

It’s little stuff like that which makes this movie so much fun and the it never treats the audience like an idiot. It talks through particular scenes without feeling like it’s spoon-feeding us through Bruce Willis’ conversations with the Hans Gruber (the villain), Al Powell (his lifeline on the outside) and himself (you’re only crazy if there’s someone around to hear you). It also has a surprisingly high opinion of intelligent characters. John MccLane is not an idiot. He’s good at improvising and working through problems. Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber is witty and charming, very capable of getting his hands dirty, able to think clearly, rationally and keep an eye on the prize throughout. Idiotic behaviour, however, usually results in the death of that idiot, as we see with Ellis and the FBI agents Johnson and Johnson (no relation). Going in guns blazing doesn’t work, and I wish more action movies would take this lesson to heart.

There are flaws, of course. Holly Gennaro, played by Bonnie Bedelia, has little to do aside from being someone for John MccLane to save. Reginald VelJohnson’s character Sergeant Al Powell tells a story about shooting an unarmed 13 year old boy, meant to garner sympathy for the cops, comes off a little sour given recent events (and probably should have given contemporary events as well). Some guns never seem to run out of bullets until it suddenly ‘matters’. The territorial police commissioner trope, furious about property damage and glass, is a little overdone. As is the henchman who just will not fucking die.

But it’s easy to overlook these flaws. Especially ’cause this movie gave us Alan Rickman. I mean, yeah, Bruce Willis was also a fairly fresh face known for his TV and commercial work propelled to Hollywood fame by this film, but he didn’t play Severus fucking Snape in the Harry Potter films. Without Die Hard Rickman may have remained a relative or complete unknown. And that would have been tragic.

So, yeah, watch this film if you haven’t already. But I expect just about everyone likely to read this already has, so, watch it again I guess? Yeah, watch it again.

Have a Happy Christmas (or Chanukah or Winter Solstice or just a grand public holiday for the many people who don’t celebrate it). Let’s see if I can think of a good New Year movie for next time.

Reviewing the old school: Young Einstein (1988)

I like the odd bit of alternate-history fiction. Usually the more serious stuff, where you take a particular historical conflict and basically go “then the aliens attacked” or “but actually there were magicians there too” or “suddenly, time travel!” Serious stuff. Young Einstein (written, directed by and starring Yahoo Serious – probably not the name he was born with) takes a more comedic route by asking its own grand question: what if, instead of Germany, Albert Einstein was born in Tasmania to Aussie apple farmers?

Well, for one, he still develops the Theory of Relativity in this version of reality, but its first application is to split a beer atom in order to carbonate his dad’s pint. Having succeeded in creating bubbly beer (something apparently impossible to do without causing a small atomic blast) Albert packs his bags and heads to Sydney via Uluru (dammit Jim he’s a physicist not a map-reader!) in order to patent his idea. He runs into (and falls in love with) the lovely Marie Curie (played with some fantastic expression by Odile Le Clezio) who has gone to study physics at the University of Sydney (USYD represent!) for some reason, has his idea stolen by foppish villain Preston Preston of the Perth Prestons (played by John Howard – the actor not the Prime Minister – who is wonderfully pompous, cowardly and greedy), invents rock’n’roll music, then uses rock’n’roll music to diffuse an atomic bomb (saving the lives of thousands, including an apparently still kicking Charles Darwin).

Yeah, you shouldn’t think about it too hard. Or at all. Very little of it makes a whole lot of sense. The plot doesn’t. A fair bit of the physics related dialogue doesn’t. But I like it. And if you don’t think about it too much you might like it as well.

As bonkers as it is, Young Einstein does have a colloquial charm. John Howard hams it up fantastically as Preston Preston in what I’d be willing to call one of his best and funniest roles. The idea that everyone would give so much of a fuck about putting bubbles into beer that the scientific community would give out a Nobel Prize for the effort is so bloody Australian it was probably born in New Zealand. Once he gets out of Tasmania, Yahoo’s young Einstein manages to mix the traditional Aussie stereotype of the self-reliant bushman out of his depth in the big city with the broader stereotype of socially-oblivious genius more easily than you’d expect. The plot might not make any fucking sense, but the fact that everyone seems to rather like the kid does.

Thing is, I can’t bring myself to recommend this film to anyone. It took me a little bit to decide why, mind you, but I can’t. Not to an Aussie audience, not to a foreign audience. The problem is it hasn’t aged well.

So much of the humour is, essentially, a piss-take of what people from outside Australia thought the country was like. Weird puppet Tasmanian devils that can take bites out of metal shovels, wallabies hopping around the Sydney Uni campus and (as mentioned above) indicating that a trip from Tassie to Sydney would require hopping on a train in the red centre. Thing is this may have been how people viewed us nearly thirty years ago but other people have done a better job of having a go at these stereotypes since then, and (if nothing else) the number of Australians traveling around the world (yours truly included) and people who have travelled to Oz has dispelled a lot of the more ridiculous of the myths made fun of in Young Einstein. A fair few of the jokes are winks and nudges at the Australian audience going “how funny is it that dumb-arse foreigners think this is what we were like!” Now we’d just point out that the rest of the world just thinks we’re a bunch of drunken, sports-mad brawlers with a talent for killing spiders and sharks in between smashing back tinnies.

As a result a lot of the humour falls flat. This isn’t helped by the fact that some of the more noticeable cultural references aren’t all that recognisable (I might know that a shot of Einstein riding a horse down a steep slope is a reference to The Man from Snowy River but I doubt that any of my siblings would).

Honestly mate I watched this film for nostalgia purposes. I remember watching this film as a kid. There’s this point at the end where everything’s about to explode and everyone’s losing their shit. Einstein, calm as you like, takes a bite out of an apple and says “Just a moment Marie, I’m having an idea.” I love that calm thoughtfulness. The problem with the rest of the film might be that it’s too goofy. Everything from the high-pitched inflection of the narration to the costuming to the sound effects is played for the easiest kinds of laughs. But this one line, played perfectly straight, eating an apple, it embodies my own sense of humour and how I try and handle a stressful situation. Funny what sticks with you.

So yeah, I like this movie. Is it great? Not really. Should you watch it? Probably not. Hell, I wouldn’t even recommend a rewatch if you’ve seen it before. But if you do, remember to take it for what it is. It’s a relic of what we all thought you thought about us back in the day, true or not. And it’s a bit of clean, stupid fun.

Try harder, or why I’m loving Bitch Planet

There’s a really excellent comic series running right now by the name of Bitch Planet. Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick and drawn by Valentine De Landro it takes place in a future in which ‘non-compliant’ women are sent to the Auxiliary Compliance Outpost, nicknamed (you guessed it) Bitch Planet. It’s a clever feminist satire of 70s exploitation films. The art style and colours (done by the excellent Cris Peter) are deeply reminiscent of grainy film and a tacky science fiction aesthetic, cleverly placing the female cast in positions where they are sexualised in the context of the world without sexualising them for the readers. The characters are likeable and real, representing not just a cross-section of race, body-types and sexualities, but also personalities and motivations, coming together for an opportunity to strike back at the patriarchy that governs their world. And man, fuck the patriarchy that governs their world. With a brick. Sideways.

What really exemplifies this series for me, however, is how fucking disgusted with myself I feel after I read them. Just really goddamn gross. And yeah, that is a good thing.

The scary part of this particular dystopian future (like many great dystopian futures) is just how familiar it feels. Body-shaming, slut-shaming, sexuality-shaming, racism, stereotypes, pseudo-scientific explanations for why man is superior to woman, a belief that the sole purpose of females is to serve men perpetuated by the media and popular culture instilling little doubt in the younger generations about this ‘truth’. This is the world we live in now. The world of Bitch Planet simply codifies it into law and makes non-compliance (being fat, gay or promiscuous) punishable with prison sentences and even death (shit, it’s not even hard to think of countries where this is actually a reality). The villains of the piece, Father and the other old men who rule, are unpleasant caricatures scarily reminiscent of the good old boys who fill governments and governing boards the world over. And good god how I wish for the protagonists, the bitches of Bitch Planet, to punch their smug, misogynist faces in. The part that gets to me, however, is that they might not.

Right from Issue #1 it was made clear that any victory would be bitter-sweet and failure was the more likely outcome. That undercurrent of failure being more than possible has continued through the series all the way to this weeks Issue #5 and doesn’t look like it’ll be ending soon. You feel like no matter what they do, no matter how hard they try, those above will simply change the rules to keep themselves there and there is nothing that these heroic women will be able to do to stop it.

Just like it often feels in the real world. The real world where women are blamed for being the victims of sexual assault, harassment and violence, then punished with more of the same. The real world where a woman has to work twice as hard to be in the same position as a man and still earn less pay. The real world where a woman’s reproductive rights (and their universal rights to bodily integrity) are constantly under attack by backwards moralists and their pocket legislators. The real world that I am a part of. And part of the problem.

I’m a big believer in the old saw that art mirrors life and society, and when I read Bitch Planet I see a pretty ugly reflection. I can’t read this and not feel like I’m not doing enough to change this reality. Change this reflection. I’m not doing enough to make this world we live in a better place for my sisters, my cousins, my daughters if I ever have them, my friends. Shit I’m not even sure what I should be doing, just that I’m not currently or not doing well enough. Not trying hard enough.

That’s what’s great about Bitch Planet. It’s a simple reminder to try harder. And that’s what I’ll do. It’s what we should all do. Because the world of Bitch Planet is not a great place to be.

So I’d definitely give it a recommend giving it a read. It’s fun, exciting, horrifying and tragic all at the same time. Most importantly it’s a reminder to keep trying harder.

A good, honest, hardworking jackass, or why I loved Emergence: Dave Vs the Monsters

As always with my reviews, spoilers ahead. Not too bad, but a few.

One of my least favourite tropes in film, television and literature in general is that of the tortured badass searching for (or receiving) a chance at redemption. Y’know the type. Some ex-cop (always a bloke) who left the force after he accidentally shoots an innocent woman or fails to save a child (or shoots an innocent child, fails to save a woman), drowning himself in a depressive spiral of substance abuse and random women (bonus points if they’re hookers) working as a PI until that one case comes along to shake them out of it back onto the straight and narrow, or some such shit. But, goddamnit, before the incident happened they were the best damn whatever on the whichever, with a loving partner and 2.3 adorable kids. Or perhaps the character is the type to have spent so much time at work becoming the best whatever on the whichever that he’d neglected his family life, drowning out the guilt of a rightfully angry ex-partner and a couple of kids who went off the rails (or died) without a present and accountable father figure (it’s always a bloke) in a spiral of substance abuse and random women (bonus points if they’re hookers), working until they meet the little girl or boy who reminds them so much of their own neglected spawn that they’re able to shape up and be the spouse and parent they always meant to be. Don’t get me wrong, it’s made for some amazing and iconic characters over the years, but it too often seems to simply become a lazy way of providing a reason why this or that dark-loner-antihero still has a heart of gold despite all the bourbon and strange, and why he’ll suddenly go from being that filthy, drunken bastard to flawless action hero by the end of the movie/book/season. What I love about Dave Hooper – the protagonist of Emergence: Dave vs the Monsters, John Birmingham’s latest written adventure – is that he never stops being a selfish bastard.

The book never allows any allusions contrary to this fact. It starts with Dave in a helicopter on his way to his job as the safety boss on a BP oil rig off the coast of Florida that was in the midst of completing a record drill deep into the earth’s crust beneath the ocean (FORESHADOWING!). He’s hungover from an extended binge involving unholy amounts of grog, a pair of top shelf prostitutes flown in from Nevada and a lot of toppier shelfier blow probably not flown in from Nevada, paid for with a six month bonus that he himself admits should have been put towards paying his taxes or soon-to-be ex-wife (who he’d been habitually cheating on for years prior to their separation), with time he should have spent heading north for an access visit his two sons (that he hasn’t seen or spoken to in far too long). He stares out at the coast, dreaming of traveling to his boys instead of to the rig and finding a way to redeem himself in their eyes, while admitting to himself that he never would.

His world is flipped on its head when he arrives at the rig and discovers that it has been attacked by man-eating monsters from the under realms, gets lucky and kills the leader of the pack and in so doing is granted super speed, strength, senses, an increased metabolism, perfect physical form, the memories of the guy he killed and an enchanted splitting maul (basically a cross between an axe and sledgehammer used for splitting logs), gifts that will come in handy after he hooks up with a bunch of Navy Seals and helps deal with the monsters coming from the literal portals to hell that are starting to emerge.

In most other stories this would be considered by the protagonist as their chance at redemption, to become better people. Thankfully, Dave is not one of those protagonists. Throughout the novel he remains a selfish and conceited arsehole. He keeps important information from the men (and woman) planning for a war against the monsters out of fear they’d consider him crazy, despite all assurances otherwise that everything was already pretty batshit and they were pretty willing to listen to everything the inexplicable superhero had to say. His first concerns when providing a urine sample to the navy doctors trying to figure out what happened to him is whether or not they’d rat him out to his old employers at BP when they found all the blow in his system (they don’t find any traces, a result of his increased metabolism). Some of his first thoughts when he finally begins to get a grasp on the changes to his body are what chugging a bottle of spirits will do to him and how he’d react to snorting a line of cocaine, something he wants to try as soon as possible. He’s crude, occasionally has to catch himself before saying something racist (a problem he willingly admits to, thankfully) and more often lets it slip past, openly homophobic, a chauvinist who judges women immediately on how pretty they are and seems to allocate respect according to how unattractive they are or how unlikely they are to fuck him (case in point, if you read the book, his shifting thoughts on Professor Ashbury). Dave’s charming and friendly, definitely, quickly ingratiating himself with the other characters we meet in the book, but he’s still a twat, and at no point does he improve on any of these issues (though the book is part of a planned trilogy, so we’ll see what Dave’s like at the end).

Thing is though Dave still constantly and consistently does the right thing. When he learns that his oil rig is on fire his first thoughts are on getting down there and keeping his people safe. When he gets superpowers he doesn’t need to be threatened, bribed or otherwise convinced to help fight the monsters. It’s not part of some epic quest for redemption either. He just does the job that needs doing. Because if he doesn’t a lot of innocent people will die. Because it’s the right thing to do. Because he can.

The other characters are all competently written, though not all are as interesting as Dave is. If Birmingham has a flaw I’d say that he uses stereotypes to shorthand minor characters a little too often. Professor Emmeline Ashbury’s abrupt, direct, wonderfully profanity laden attitude is explained away by the fact that she has Aspergers. Professor Compton with his neckbeard, stature and constant whine is a fedora short of an internet meme, meant to immediately generate the ire of us lefties, feminists and SJWs as well as ignite our resentment of the sheltered bureaucrat. It’s a shame because when he does put the effort in, he writes some fantastic characters (I’m particularly fond of a certain Polish soldier in one of his previous series). I’d argue that the main navy personnel we meet are the most interesting of the minor characters. CPO Zachary Allen and Captain Heath are great counterbalances to Dave’s planned and past debauchery. They’re straight up good guys, honest when their jobs allow it, courageous, tough, kind and loyal. We only ever see them through Dave’s eyes, so while their characters are never entirely fleshed out beyond an outline and a few acts within their chosen profession of destroying enemies of the state, they still provide a starkly noble image against that created by constant internal monologue of Dave’s ignoble thoughts and general arseholery. What they provide is a standard of action, so that when Dave does right we know it, we have a perspective from which to judge.

The monsters of Emergence are gruesome and violent, their thoughts are brutal, primal and animalistic, their social hierarchy based on size, strength, power, intelligence and a feudal code of honour. The only perspectives other than Dave’s we ever get to see through is that of the monsters he fights, so they’re experienced more than explained. Some will find this irritating, annoyed by the lack of worldbuilding, but I honestly think it’s unneeded and can name a few stories where the exposition dumps about a society are unnecessary and out of place (I love you Bioware, but did you really feel that explaining dwarven society, law and custom and lore to a dwarven noble or commoner would ever not seem awkward?). There are the occasional bits of exposition, but they always feel contextually appropriate and are never too long. The prose is similar. You never feel like a character is using language that they never would, or that they’re misusing a pop culture reference (mind you, if I have one issue it’s that sometimes it feels like there’s too many references in too short a time). At the same time the story is graphic, going into every gory detail of every scene, though like the occasional bit of exposition it always seems appropriate and never out of place. The monsters are vividly detailed, though only when there’s time or need and only from Dave’s perspective (after all, what possible points of reference could a completely alien being use to describe itself?) The fights are usually quick but filled with chewed entrails and exploding heads. I enjoyed it, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone squeamish.

Honestly I purchased this book expecting to really enjoy it. I’ve been a big John Birmingham fan for a lot of years now, starting back with his Axis of Time trilogy and going on to his non-fiction work. His books are serious, but always contain an undercurrent of black humour that isn’t for everyone. I remember watching an interview in which he remarked that he still had right wing Americans complain about naming the aircraft carrier from a near future US Navy the USS Hilary Clinton (“after the toughest wartime president in history”), because they didn’t understand that it was just him taking the piss (of course this interview was before it looked like such a prediction might come true). Emergence is not the lighthearted adventure that the simple and very descriptive title implies. But it is self-aware. It knows exactly how unlikeable Dave Hooper is and there’s a subtle wink’n’nudge as it points out exactly how bad the hero is.

Dave Hooper is an arrogant, racist, lazy, selfish, homophobic, chauvinistic, cheating, lying, substance abusing bastard. He spends half the book whining about his lot in life and half of the rest whining about other people whining. He’s never so bad, however, that you want to see him lose. He’s never so bad that you want to see him beaten down, injured or dead like some other protagonists I won’t mention now (SCHADENFREUDE!). He’s never so bad that he stops being the hero.

That’s the clever part about the character. I didn’t like Dave, but I still wanted him to win.

“Oh, did my accent throw you off?” Or why I’m loving Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is a lot of stupid bloody fun. A lot of fun. The combat is quick and frenetic, the air boost (a double jump mechanic) is a nice addition that adds another dimension to the battlefield, the enemies are varied enough to keep things interesting (though repetition is inevitable) and the loot is, as expected, plentiful. There are flaws, of course. Clearing the same areas over again to complete side quests can be a slog, as can be navigating ‘platforming sections’ around insta-death lava. The campaign feels a little short (something that will probably be ‘fixed’ with DLC). A few characters skip being fun and go straight to being annoying (for example I think the internet so far has come to the agreement that Pickle sucks, though I don’t have anything against the kid personally, but hey I loved Tiny Tina right from the beginning). The Borderlands series lives and dies on its sense of humour though (crude, full of pop-culture references and not everyone’s cup of tea) and The Pre-Sequel delivers not just in spades, but in Australian spades (which are generally poisonous, covered in sharp teeth and usually aquatic).

This isn’t surprising given that the game was developed by Canberra based company 2K Australia, and just about every review I’ve read makes mention of it. Locations like ‘The Grabba’ (which many a cricket fan will notice as joke on The Gabba), references to a ‘First Fleet’ arriving on the already occupied moon Elpis (also part of Australia’s colonial history), outlaw bosses called Red Belly (who wear armour based upon the bush ranger Ned Kelly), a quest that’s an ode to ‘Banjo’ Paterson given by an NPC named Peepot and the absolutely hilarious talking shotgun ‘Boganella’ (I think I’ve already explained what a bogan is) give the game a distinct cultural flavour.

Given my own self-superior Australian nationalism (that I’m sure has come through in previous posts) it’s not surprising that I’d enjoy seeing such a strong Australianess (that is now a word) in a mainstream game, but what I really love about The Pre-Sequel is that they got it so right. I think the fact that Australian writers were writing Australian stereotypes kept the referential humour on the right side of the line between funny and cringe-inducing. Part of this is because they don’t rely on the typical icons and symbols to create that Aussie image. There’s no glaring Harbour Bridge, Opera House or Bondi Beach equivalents, creating a Space Sydney for a few iconic money-shots (and it would be Sydney, since what the fuck does anyone remember about Melbourne’s skyline?). There’s not any space crocodiles, kangaroos and emus. Nor is there a Kraggon Hunter or Shuggarath Dundee. The real joy, however, comes from the fact that they actually talk like Australians do. I’m not talking about the slang either, especially since there’s more than a little would be considered ‘old-fashioned’ at best (can’t remember ever hearing someone use the word ‘bonzer,’ even ironically, but I hope it makes a comeback – it’s a lotta fun to say). What I’m talking about is that the Aussie NPCs have a consistent grammatically Aussie way of speaking.

I think I counter example first might help me explain what I mean a little better. A few years ago I was a reading some science fiction novel I picked up on the kindle store for 99 cents or some other small amount. I can’t remember which one exactly, and that isn’t important right now. What is important is that it was written by an Yank, with a couple of Yank protagonists that encountered a working class, salt-of-the-earth, old-fashioned slang spouting Australian. Anyway, the character used a word that stuck with me because it was inconsistent with the slang and background he’d been using up to that point. That word was ‘tussle’. Sounds a bit ridiculous, I know, but when this largely forgotten character said he’d been hurt in a fucking ‘tussle’ I… winced… maybe… I forget, but I definitely reacted. Because this hard-swearing, hard-drinking, outback-living stereotype would never use a word like ‘tussle’. He’d say he was in a ‘punch-up’. Or if he’s really fair dinkum (heh) he might’ve called it a ‘blue’. Hell, he might’ve just called it a fight. But no bloody way would he call it a goddamn ‘tussle.’ Same as there’s no bloody way we’d “throw another shrimp on the barbie,” since we say ‘prawn’ not ‘shrimp’ (and as much as we love seafood you’re far more likely to see a piece of lamb and a few snags on an Australian barbecue).

Y’see using correct sounding slang isn’t enough, you need to use the right words, grammar and cultural quirks. That’s what makes the NPCs in The Pre-Sequel so refreshing, especially Janey Springs (I’d assume named after Alice Springs) who is the most vocal of the Aussie vocals. Little things like that Janey uses ‘ruddy’ instead of ‘bloody’ and the matter of fact way she tells us “Yep, gonna hurt lots” when we act as a human spark plug, the speed with which Red and Belly speak with each other (we tend to speak very quickly), a Scav using the adjective ‘sick-arse’, the name ‘Scav’ itself (The Pre-Sequel’s version of Bandits from the previous games) which is just shortened from ‘Scavenger’ (shortened words being the bulk of Australia’s additions to the English language), an echo recording of a graphic designer (complaining about incorrect font used on the Oz kits) who appropriately sounds like a Bondi Hipster

I’m not foolish enough to imagine that the “foreign writers don’t know how we talk!” problem is unique to Australia. I imagine that Belgians grind their teeth at their portrayal on French television, and God knows Aussie writers aren’t always kind to New Zealanders (even in The Pre-Sequel there’s a distinct-sounding, ‘bruv’-spouting Gladstone Katoa). But that’s for other people to worry about. I also know that I’d be enjoying this game without the Australianess, if Janey was flirting with Athena in an American accent or in Chinese. As I said in the first paragraph, it’s a lot of fun. But right now, if you ask me what I love most about this game I’d tell you it’s driving through Burraburra with a familiar accent telling me how much Kraggons suck. And they really do suck.

I’m hoping though that any future DLC will include an enemy called a ‘drop bear’. That would be awesome.

First impressions of the new Doctor Who

Tardis sketch 2:8:14 Edited

It’s that time of the… year? Has it been a year since the end or beginning of the last season of Doctor Who? Hold on a second, I’m gonna check… Season 7 started in September 2012 and ended December 2013. Christ almighty, even if you don’t include both the Christmas specials and 50th anniversary thing it didn’t end til May 2013. That’s ten months to air 13 goddamn episodes! Did they plan to string it out for almost a year or was it just good luck? How long does it take to make one episode? What, did they spend four months arguing over exactly what shade of red his bloody bow tie was? Deep breath (topical). Moving on, starting with: Spoiler warnings.

The stars have aligned properly and the new season of Doctor Who has started. We’ve had two episodes thus far with Peter Capaldi as the 12th Doctor so I figure it’s a decent time to give some highly opinionated first impressions. I’m liking his performance so far, which seems understated yet animated, and I yet live in hope he’ll go all Malcolm Tucker (NSFW) on some poor bastard. Probably make a Cyberman cry. That would be awesome.

As for the episodes themselves? Well the first one (Deep Breath) didn’t blow me away and the second one (Into the Dalek) was better, but still not spectacular. Perhaps the biggest flaw for both was that they’d already been done better in previous seasons with The Christmas Invasion (S2E1, the introduction of David Tenant) and Dalek (S1E6, an episode about a crippled Dalek and the Doctor’s hatred of the species being overcome) respectively.

But I’m hopeful. While Deep Breath didn’t grab me aside from the best description of facial features I’ve heard in a while (“These are attack eyebrows!”) and the always chuckle-worthy Strax (I can’t stand Madame Vastra and Jenny anymore), Into the Dalek was a little more interesting and his attempt to bring the Dalek to the light side at the end felt a lot less contrived then some of the pseudo-philosophical monologues that poor Matt Smith had to deliver. They also seem to be going back to more self-contained ‘monster of the week’ stories with an underlying narrative that I’ll guess will come together in the last episodes of the season (like the appearance of the words “Bad Wolf” were for David Tennant and Christopher Eccleston’s Doctors), instead of the extended story-arcs of Matt Smith’s tenure (and thank God for that).

So yeah, hopeful enough to keep me watching for at least the first half of the season. I am praying that they get past the whole ‘Is the Doctor a good man?’ moralising that they seem to be leaning towards. Because it’s Doctor Who. The people who care about that kind of unnecessary characterisation (including myself) need less free time, and the target audience is too young to care.