Thursday, September 25, 2014

Failure of advertisement

Yesterday I saw the movie "The Maze Runner" based on the book (which I never read) for young adults that carries with it several problems I'd like to discuss. Of course, anything I speak of can only refer to the movie, so if the book explains something the movie doesn't then I have to apologize because there's no real way I can know that. So, on to the movie.

The story begins with a young man riding an elevator to the top of an open field where other boys and young men like him are looking down at him as it comes to a stop. He is frightened because he doesn't remember anything and the others don't seem interested in telling him.

After a night of celebration he recalls his name and learns what is going on. They are all trapped in the center of a large maze, whose doors close at night, and are traveled by maze runners during the day to find the way out. Meanwhile, the rest of the young men tend to "The Glade", the center of the maze where they live. Soon, things begin to happen, and their small world begins to change . . .

And that's the set up.

Now the good points of the story are a few. The maze has a good set up, is really well designed and looks pretty cool. There aren't really any unlikeable characters which modern young adult stories are usually swimming with either. Finally, the sequences in the maze are exciting, well done, and would have made this excellent.

Which leads me to my problems. The main one being, the maze takes up probably about twenty minutes of the whole movie. The majority of it takes place in young adult cliche land which I would like to call The Glade. Had the movie fully used the maze concept (puzzles, moving walls and sections, dangerous obstacles, and rest stops) it would have been far more interesting and original. As a result, most of the movie ends up so highly predictable that I couldn't help but lament at the wasted potential this concept had.

The Glade takes up most of the movie and it is simply not interesting in the slightest. If you have ever read a modern young adult story you can already guess the cliches coming.

Character that blames the main character for everything and is staunchly traditional in staying in The Glade (the character's actions at the end of the movie are so highly predictable and pointless that the story would have only improved with his absence), characters that do nothing but sit in The Glade and talk over and over again about stuff that ends up not mattering, and a girl character who might as well not even be there as her only characteristic is "the girl". Then there's the ending that everyone saw coming by the first dream at the beginning of the movie-- highly cliche and predictable, including a character death that was entirely unneeded and an escape that might as well have not happened because of what ends up happening next. Then there's the state of the world . . . needless to say, I tuned out by that point. I'd seen it all too many times.

There are also holes all over the place.

If you want to be pedantic, considering the "rules" of the maze, there are things that seem out of place. The Grievers, for instance are really superfluous to the story, and only seem to be there to add conflict. Considering the reveal at the end, they seem even more silly to have been put there. There's also a way they regain their lost memories which is quite silly, honestly. All in all, I really didn't see much point for them to be there except for the characters to have something to get killed by. Considering they're obviously made to test strength and none of the characters can even penetrate their shells on a basic level, they seem even more over the top.

When I said earlier that the story would have been better without the YA tropes, I meant it. A story about a group traversing a maze and testing their wits and skills is a great recipe for an adventure story. But because this is YA we have to have grimdark settings, lots of gratuitous death, a betrayer character (does anybody like these characters?), lots of arguing and angst, commentary about society to mirror the extremely boring Glade (its commentary that you've already heard hundreds of times by age twelve), and a "twist" ending that shows how horrible the world is and how the YA protags are the special ones to change it.

None of that was needed and stifles a potentially interesting story and smothers it in cliches. Maybe I'm just sick of post-apocalyptic grimdark stories, but I can't remember the last time I've seen an exciting one not marred with the same stock messages and telegraphed plot turns. A simple adventure story starting with a maze would have been a far better bedrock to build a potentially interesting story from, but I guess I should be used to not expecting much in the way of creative settings when YA dystopia sells too well now.

Despite my complaints, it was a solid movie. Well directed (could do without shaky-cam, though), well acted, well cast, and has engaging cinematography, The Maze Runner is not bad. You could do a lot worse in the YA world right now, and at least this one isn't obsessed with sex all the time. I would give it a go if you're a YA fan or like dystopian stories. Not so much if you're a fan of mazes or adventure stories. You don't get much of either here.

Give it a different title and I'd be more pleased with it. Unfortunately, there really isn't much maze running to be had.

All in all, solid movie.

Friday, September 19, 2014

I hope I haven't failed the city

No one will ever accuse me of being with the times. I don't watch much television outside of for background noise such as when I'm doing something like writing.

But recently, there have been two shows I've been keeping up with because of strong word of mouth from people I really respect and general impressions. The first of these was Person of Interest, which I already wrote about. The second is Arrow.

You can't blame me for being skeptical, can you? I've always been a Superman fan, but Smallville had nothing about what I enjoy about the character. From all early impressions, this looked like it was going to be more of the same, but "gritty" (now there's a buzzword I can do without) and "modern" (another word that means nothing) while staying in plot purgatory for nine seasons where maybe something might happen.

I'm only halfway through season one, but wow. I was entirely wrong.

So, it does start the way I figured. Oliver Queen becomes a dark anti-hero without any regard for life or even bystanders outside of his simple-minded quest for revenge after being stranded on an island for five years without hope. His family and friends are spoiled rich kids without any real problems and their lives are fairly boring on top of it. The plots are pretty simple, Green Arrow chooses a name on his list, robs the target blind or threatens them, kills a bunch of nameless thugs, then disappears into the night.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Been a bit

I've really been getting into the Prydain series by Lloyd Alexander recently. It's one on the series I never got around to as a child, but one I always wanted to. Like most every boy in the '90s, I loved fantasy and action from the '70s and '80s (we didn't think older stuff was "uncool" or whatever), so I knew about The Black Cauldron  movie Disney made. But, I hadn't been the biggest Disney fan at the time, so I never got around to it-- plus, I mean, the Disney Vault thing was tougher back then without online shopping so I missed a bunch of them.

That said, the Prydain series is one I would have devoured as a boy. Full of adventure, wonder, honor, love, and the forces of good over evil, it is a marvelous fantasy. The five book series is a pure joy to read, and definitely one I will be rereading in years to come.

Starting with The Book of Three, we meet young Taran, an assistant pig-keeper eager for big things. He sets out to find his lost charge, the oracular pig Hen Wen, and along the way encounters many new friends and foes, growing much in the process. Taran is an orphan and unsure of his place in the world, and in his adventures learns that his place may be where he least expects it. In my opinion, it's a classic.

The second, The Black Cauldron, is a bit darker than the first. Taran is involved in a plan to destroy the evil lord Arawn's cauldron that can create soldiers from the dead, disturbing the natural order. This time he learns what true honor and self-sacrifice means, as well as how easy it is to fall from your path. Paired with the previous book, it is another classic adventure, and one no fantasy fan should miss.

Then there's The Castle of Llyr, and I'm going to be honest-- it was my least favorite. It's the shortest of the books and as a consequence, the least amount happens, and with this one it almost feels like the series will fall into a formula (that it thankfully does not) and has a plot that feels more like a side-story. That said, the climax is truly strong and events do tie in to the last two books, so it is worth your time. It is merely my least favorite of the five.

Taran Wanderer, conversely, is another classic adventure. Taran wishes to finally move forward with his life and propose to a girl he's liked for a long time, but before he does that he needs to confront his past and where it is he comes from. This is a pure adventure tale where many lessons about life are learned, tragedy and joy are dealt with, and many questions are answered while more are left unsolved. It might be the best book in the series, but it's hard for me to choose.

Last there's The High King, which I'm currently about halfway through. This is the culmination of everything else in the series and has so far not disappointed one bit. I would like to say more, but it would involving spoiling much of the rest of the series, and I really don't want to do that.

Needless to say, if you're a fantasy fan or have younger siblings or children who are into the genre, then this series really shouldn't be missed. It is definitely one of the best I've ever read. Is it on par with LOTR or Narnia? I can't say, as it is a very different sort of series, but it is worth your time as much as they are. Where else would you get to journey across the land with an assistant pig-keeper and his strange band of friends?

Now, to get back to The High King . . .

Monday, September 8, 2014

This Week

Hey out there. I'm gonna start shaking it up around here.

On Mondays I'll have a short little anecdote post and by week's end I'll try to have a bigger one out there. This is mostly because I'm going to run out of things to say at this rate, and I don't have as much free time to think of multiple topics to write about. This should simplify things.

That said, I don't know if I'll have another post out this week. I'm kind of in the middle of a few things right now. But the week is young, anything could change in a matter of days or moments.

So have a good week until next we meet!

Friday, September 5, 2014

What I'm Watching

Yes, it's been a pretty busy week up north. A lot of things have gone through, are still going through, and won't go through. In the meantime I thought I would share something I have just recently started watching from the beginning and hope you agree with me on the show's quality.

You see, I don't watch a whole lot of television outside of reruns. Mostly because of two reasons. The first is that I forget when shows are on and always miss chunks of the story. The second is that I simply don't care for most of the shows airing on TV nowadays. That said, there are a few really quality shows out there some of which are pretty excellent. This is one of them.

Today I'm going to talk about a show I just started watching and has already become one of my favorites. That would be CBS's Person Of Interest.

Monday, September 1, 2014

This Week

Hope you had a good weekend! Looks like we're jumping out of the summer vacation season and on our way to fall. I'm going to be a bit indisposed this week, so I'm not sure if I'll have another post out. Thanks anyway for clicking and checking, though. It's always appreciated.

Here's hoping September is a good month for you. I'm praying that it will a good month for all of us.