Of Movie Tie-Ins and Joystick Storytellers: The Video and Computer Game Revolution that devoured Hollywood

Why did the computer and video game industry “tie in” with motion pictures? How come the once ubiquitous game adaptations disappeared whilst gaming is more popular and lucrative than ever?

Of Movie-Ties and Joystick Storytellers: How  the Computer and Video Gaming Industry devoured the Motion Picture. An Analysis by Andreas Wanda. Screenshot: Jurassic Park by Ocean Software, Amiga OCS, 1993
Of Movie-Ties and Joystick Storytellers: How the Computer and Video Gaming Industry devoured the Motion Picture. An Analysis by Andreas Wanda. Screenshot: Jurassic Park by Ocean Software, 1993

This is an analysis of how gaming industry’s original envy turned into unsurpassed pride, of how the relationship between the motion picture and the computer and video game industries has undergone a significant change over the last four decades, of how players cast off the double-duties as brand ambassadors name-dropping a film’s title in conversations to tell their very own, very personal story of their adventures inside the bits and bytes of computer and video gaming. This is the journey of the joystick marketeer that lived to be a virtual storyteller…

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Han Solo posted first

If only Leia and Han had taken a closer look at Lando’s Facebook page, launched shortly before the fateful Bespin encounter in Star Wars – Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back…
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Lure of the Classic: Knights of the Old Republic

The other day I dropped by IGN to learn that Aspyr had released a stunning iPad conversion of the LucasArts/BioWare classic Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR) on Apple’s iTunes Store. Although I beamed with exhilaration at the news, I still resisted the lure of one of the great roleplaying games of all time, but gave in a day later: why the reticence when there is so much joy to be had?

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Be Careful What You Tease For

The teaser (contains Star Trek III: The Search for Spock spoilers!)
The other day I glimpsed the shocking image of the starship Enterprise falling out of the sky, a stunning memento of last year’s Star Trek Into Darkness teaser, where the vessel crashes in all the digital particle glory one cannot possibly imagine. It’s a visual spectacle but while it surely underlines the dark tone the campaign is aiming for and its edgy “world falling apart”-rhethoric, I found it to be somewhat self-important and, frankly, not quite as moving at all. Compare the smoking starship with Tony Stark’s struggle in the Iron Man 3 teaser campaign on the right.

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Both posters focus on what are some of ILM’s greatest visuals, but I find myself invested in the character of Tony Stark on the one hand and spoiled by a stunning turn of events exploited for a shock-and-awe tease on the other. I want to see what Stark will do in the next Iron Man film – and his suit getting smacked is a series staple, not a major spoiler – but am quite indifferent to the Star Trek poster. It already familiarises me with a dramatic turn of events that I am now fully prepared for – despite having avoided everything (except for the very first teaser).

In preparation for J.J. Abrams’s sophomore Starfleet epic, I reviewed the OST movies (1979-91) and was awed not only by the characters’ grappling with retirement and obsolence, but how ILM’s marvelous rendition of the Enterprise’s destruction in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock not only holds up extremly well today, but was concisely predicated on the characters’ disposition: seasoned, aged and battle-worn, their (final) realisation of defeat and loss was overwhelming and captured in this signature shot from Leonard Nimoy’s 1984 directorial effort.

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Most importantly, the destruction of the original Enterprise was an event that in 1984 the average film-goer was completely unprepared for, so the emotional impact on the characters and audiences was mutual. And therein lies the problem of modern marketeering.

Campaigning for an upcoming motion picture – a product whose singular selling point is telling a story visually using images, sounds and events unseen before – must not reveal the finished product to the point where audiences are effectively ahead of the characters all the time. The first viewing will otherwise strangely seem like the umpteenth repeat on a cable television due to the awkward familiarity with the plot.

Take Kathryn Bigelow’s much-coveted Zero Dark Thirty: scores of trailers were telegraphing the entire film in advance. The filmmakers’ and marketeers’ pride in the finished product is as palpable as it is ruinous to the filmgoing experience. It’s not simply the resolution, which is well known in the case of ZD30, but the various set pieces which were distinctly laid out: the shots, angles, colours, framing, seriously deflating the first viewing experience. People walk into movies knowing what sequences are about to be projected these days. Everything marketing throws at you nowadays prepares everyone for what to expect: an unsettling common occurrence these days. Let us consider a teaser campaign for one of last year’s major tentpoles, Ridley Scott’s Prometheus in greater detail to elaborate on the problematic teaser situation.

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The Hobbit: The bane of innovation

I am looking forward to seeing The Hobbit this Christmas season but regard the film’s release with a troubled brow: The media has unfortunately weighed down Peter Jackson’s entertaining spectacle with thousands of words spent on picking apart the apparently questionable decision on the director’s part to shot this film in 48fps.

Most horribly, the focal point regarding a beloved tale is the technology employed rather than the magic conveyed. In a business thriving on mesmerizing audiences, this is unacceptable.

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Dark Times 10 – 1995 – Part 2

As 1995 dawdles on, Sandra Bullock finds the WWW to be a veritable death trap, while mutant Kevin Costner gets ’em with his trusty catamaran. Yet what in the name of Yoda is Vader doing on gargantuan billboards?

Ten years after the beginning of the Dark Times, Lucasfilm had long since vacated its shadows to bathe in the beautifully self-orchestrated market of 1995. On the one hand, there was keen and global interest to immerse oneself in every way imaginable in the world of the original saga. On the other, fantastic ramblings of a new set of Star Wars films pervaded the media – young Obi-Wan was then rumoured to be “created” by mapping the face of young Alec Guinness over an unknown actor according to British Sky One teletext – so that fandom and industry pundits alike were eager to be continuously filled in on the progress made over at the Ranch. Lucasfilm would now stalwartly address the needs of the people and the market they constituted.
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