World War Z

After hearing everything from “it’s the best zombie movie I’ve ever seen” to “it’s so bad it’s like they told three sophomore creative writing students to adapt the book into a movie… and two left,” I finally got around to watching World War Z— and I must say, I disagree with pretty much every single thing others have said about it.

Of course, I’ll elaborate.

It was very difficult for me to have any sort of expectation set in advance for the movie.  Thankfully I was informed that it was an adaptation of the book in only the loosest sense, which definitely helped me be able to enjoy it.  Typically it’s good to know if one has to mentally separate the two pieces– for example, had I known it was so very different from the book in pretty much every plot element, I may have enjoyed The Bourne Identity film, but having read the book and expecting it to be roughly the same, I hated it.  A lot.  Having now stated that yes, the book and the film are very different from each other in almost every way, I’d just like to note that I did very much enjoy Max Brooks’ delightfully told novel chronicling a wide variety of tales that encompass different locales and phases of a zombie apocalypse.  You should read it, and also laugh and be surprised by how well-thought out his other book is, The Zombie Survival Handbook.  Both are sitting on my bookshelf.

I want to note that there are some very critical elements of the novel that the film does capture.  No, the virus doesn’t really work the same way, the resolution is not at all similar, and the action of the film doesn’t really follow anything that happens in the film.  The zombies World_War_Z_posteronly have a handful of similarities, notably how the hordes work in some very frighteningly effective ways, such as climbing over each other to get over walls.  But, the film does do good with some of the parts that made Brooks’ WWZ a fairly unique piece of the zombie subgenre, specifically how much it relies on military actions in dealing with the masses of the undead (because, let’s face it, that’s who we would rely on to keep us safe from the monsters until we had no other choice) and how there is a prominent international presence in the film.  I really liked how boundaries disappeared and it became human against zombie, but that the fight was approached in different ways all over the globe.  The film had to build a character who would have a reason to go all over the planet  to capture that element of the book, and I felt like they did a good job of that.  I will state that I am sad that the filmmakers didn’t find a way to really capture what is the most distinctive feature of the novel– that it was told from many perspectives in different locations and at different points of time in the struggle against the undead.  It really felt like a full world war in the book, when in the film it seemed like a couple of brief battles and things were just resolved– maybe resolved is the wrong word, but rather, things are definitely improved— for the world quite quickly.

Okay, that’s enough about the book in relation to the movie, because, simply, many people who are going to see the film have not read the book.  Now, as to how the film does as its own piece of art.

I probably have already given the impression that I wasn’t that fond of the film, but that is not actually how I feel.  I enjoyed the film a great deal.

I want to note that , as with most of zombie films, I anticipated a strong horror element, which was not really present.  There are plenty of undead, hordes and hordes of them, but unless you are inherently frightened of them, the film relies on only a little of the scary.  Instead of the typical terror of being hunted, of totally insurmountable odds, one person versus the endless masses, we have a different approach, in which we see almost as many of the living as we see of the dead.  The creatures aren’t particularly gruesome or frightening in appearance as compared to many other contemporary zombie shows (such as The Walking Dead).  Rather than a horror film, it is much more a solid action film– a war film, actually, as the title (in an admittedly fairly cheesy fashion) suggests.  Of course it was over-the-top in the way that any action film is, but I honestly felt like the film was not in the same boat as many other films filled with explosions and violence.  It wouldn’t be fair to say that this is a film that only has enough plot to justify the number of bullets fired as I would say of a goodly number of other films.  Instead, with World War Z there is a refreshingly human element to the story.  The protagonist, Gerry, had some very real motivations that really drove the story very well.  He brought both unique experience to the conflict– having been in dangerous conflicts for his previous job– and was a strong, believable family man whose motivations and desires are all centered on keeping his family safe and happy.  One can see that he is often split, trying to balance his own survival and that of his family, and in bringing the same things for others he comes in contact with.

The acting was good.  Brad Pitt, as usual, brings a strong performance, and the remaining cast all felt pretty solid in their roles.  Even though the children in the film were only really featured for part of the film, they were also good and contributed to the believability of the film.

I do take some issue with the special effects.  Yeah, the explosions and computer-generated distant visuals of the masses were quite good, but I was not impressed with the zombies themselves.  Most looked like chalky, extra-veiny versions of people, much like Dark Willow in season 6 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, not like convincing animated corpses.  As I noted before, they really failed to bring any of the scares necessary for some of the more intense moments of the film to have as strong of an impact as was warranted.  Additionally, even though I mentioned I was pleased with the acting before, that applied only to the humans.  Most of the zombies were making noises not logical for zombies (I’m going to explain my thoughts on this in an upcoming post), and their movements were all inconsistent with each other.  Most of the time, zombies were full-on sprinters (which can be scary, in its own way) but near the end of Please heaven, make it stop!the film, we’re mostly dealing with the “dormant” zombies, which really showed the filmmakers’ flaws in dealing with the monsters.  The zombie with the most screen time (by far) just annoyed my wife and I while we watched the movie.  The thing about it that was intended to be the most frightening part of it– an overly-regular loud clicking of its teeth– elicited annoyed shouts from us at the TV.  “Really?” we yelled, “Again?”

I have heard some complaint about the film’s conclusion.  I agree it did move things toward resolution a little to easily and quickly, but it did make sense to me.  I liked that a zombie story took a route other than bullets to solve things.

So, in conclusion, this was neither the best zombie movie I’ve ever seen (as a note, that would be [REC], which I’ll soon be defending as being a zombie movie in the same post in which I talk about the zombie noises), nor was it bad.  It was a unique take on zombies, and one that is giving me hope that one of my favorite monsters isn’t approaching stagnation in modern media.  Definitely worth a watch.  Plus, I hear they are going to make a sequel, which (hopefully) may give the film adaptation of the book a more rounded-out feel, possibly capturing more perspectives on the war, rather than just sticking to Gerry.

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Mama

Anybody who is half as serious about Halloween as my friends are watch horror movies all throughout October.  Well, all throughout the year, but October brings a concentrated dose of the scary.  That said, a few nights ago I Redboxed Mama as part of a double date as one of my many Halloween-appropriate film choices.  From looking at reviews on IMDb I could tell that feelings about the film were mixed, the critics feeling pretty lukewarm about it, the users more positive.  The top five or so user reviews very articulately explained very positive (eight to ten stars) feelings about the film, so I decided to give it a shot.

As a whole, I liked it.  I’m going to break it down more than that, but I fear that my critique may give an unduly negative feel about the film, Sadly, this poster is slightly scarier than the film itself.so I just want to be clear that as a whole this is an enjoyable film that doesn’t make for a wasted evening.

For starters, just a brief blurb on the gist of the plot, as free from spoilers as I can manage: Mama is the story of a young couple, Annabel and Lucas, the latter of whom having a recent family tragedy in which his brother went nuts and shot a bunch of people, kidnapped his young daughters, and disappeared.  The broken family has a car crash, ends up in the woods, and the father is killed, leaving two very young girls to be cared for by a supernatural entity known as “Mama.”  For years Lucas funds a constant search for his brother and his nieces, and finds them– shaped by the years in the forest.  The plot then takes off with all these pieces in place.

That was surprisingly difficult to explain.  Let’s just say it sets all this up very nicely.

The most impressive element of this film is the acting.  The adult cast’s performances were all very solid, but the real stars of the show were the little girls.  They capture the broken social skills of the girls, really showing off in a tangible way (their movements) how inhuman living in the woods made them.  The differences between the two girls– with the younger, who has no memories of civilized life– being so distinct when they are reintroduced to society is also impressively portrayed.  In many ways the girls are the most frightening element of the film.

The story is also quite strong in the piece.  It progresses quite naturally, with strong characters whose interactions very naturally progress the story.  There is unfortunately one or two bits of Mama that relied on some deus ex machina (such as the non-Mama dream– you’ll see if you watch it) that bothered me, especially since there really could have been more plot-conducive reasons the related character performs a certain action, but the rest of the story flows quite smoothly and realistically.  I like that it used many conventions of the horror genre, and of ghost stories in particular, but did so in a way that manipulated audience expectations, using those expectations to form a sort of thrill ride viewing experience.  The story’s conclusion is surprisingly thought-provoking and sparked a fairly lengthy conversation among those I watched with, managing to be both satisfying and unsettling– which I feel is a rare and powerful thing in the genre.  I don’t always need that blended feeling, but it is refreshing that it mixes things up.  I feel with horror generally, and especially in film, [SPOILERS FOR 1408, FRIDAY THE 13TH, THE FOURTH KIND, AND CABIN IN THE WOODS] that too often everything is wrapped up too nicely  (1408, where everything is A-okay after he gets out), or wrapped up nicely but then with an unexplained shock ending (Jason surfacing at the end of Friday the 13th), or is just depressing, or with nothing gained or explained (The Fourth Kind, which resulted in both my wife and I just saying “What?” and vowing to never watch any movie with Milla Jovovich again) or extremely catastrophic (Cabin in the Woods and the destruction of the ENTIRE WORLD) [END SPOILERS].

And now to my beef with Mama.  Mama.  As I’ve stated, I’m pretty good with the story, and that, of course, extends to Mama.  She is pretty creepy in concept, and for about half the film, pretty creepy in execution.  The problem is that, in the latter half of the film, they show her.  A lot.  She looks pretty weird, yes, but stereotypical cartoon alien weird, which is not what I wanted for a freaky, angry maternal poltergeist.  And it isn’t so much that I’m disappointed with the effects people not making her creepy enough, it’s that I did not want to get a good look at her at all.  Just as the terrifying nature of Samara vanishes when you properly see her in The Ring, Mama loses the mystique of the unknown.  Honestly, if they didn’t show her face for the entire movie I would have found it twice and scary, easily.  When she’s being a floor shark, only her hair visible moving through the carpet, she’s solid.  When you can’t see her properly because the camera is showing the older sister’s vision without glasses, I shuddered wondering what she could be.  The director really missed something good with her.

I’d say pretty much everything else was pretty solid.  The score was good, contributing to the atmosphere while avoiding distraction.  The visuals (except as I’ve noted) were dark in a good way.  The opening credits, which made use of children’s drawings to tell the story of the girls’ lives with Mama, were very unsettling.

 

Letters

The following is a lyric essay I wrote in my penultimate semester of college, written for an advanced nonfiction writing class.  It is a found-form essay, using the form of a series of letters to personal heroes (three of whom are fictional) to allow for self-exploration.

slushpile“I write to give myself strength. I write to be the characters that I am not. I write to explore all the things I’m afraid of.”
-Joss Whedon

Dear Batman (or may I call you Bruce?),
I felt like I had to write to you. You are an inspiration to me, and I don’t know who else talk to about this.
It’s not really fair for me to write to you, since I know you are busy in your quest to preserve the spirit of Gotham, and I am writing you, knowing so much about you while you know nothing about me. I don’t even live anywhere near Gotham.
I suppose I warrant a little introduction. I am a college student aspiring to be a novelist. I have just one more semester to finish school.
That sounds so flat in comparison to a person like you– a brilliant, successful billionaire businessman who has dedicated his life to combating crime in the depressed, corrupt city of Gotham. You are part warrior, part detective, part inventor. You are brilliant and dangerous. I’m nothing like you.
And yet, I feel like I know you: the nuances of your character, your powerful sense of morality. I know many of your back-stories, how the keys to any of them is that your parents were killed on the street in front of you, and your fear of bats. Each version of you has been prepared in different ways, going through different struggles to get started. Sometimes you take on apprentices, an assortment of individuals who go by the names of Robin or Batgirl or invent new names when those roles are filled. I know about your failures, your successes. I know your long list of enemies by name.
The part I can’t get out of my head, though, is the death of your parents.
I have nothing in my life that compares to that. I have not undergone any great tragedy beyond the death of one of my best friends when I was fifteen, but he was ravaged by cancer, and part of me felt relieved when he died and escaped his pain. It was tragic, but it didn’t reshape my life.
Is it bad that I kind of want it to? I want to be able to make something beautiful out of his death, something tangible. More than just memories, I want to be able to crystallize the moment I found out he had died and pour it into a book, a story, a poem. That moment when I stood in the office of my high school, my mother hugging me tight then leading me to the car, while I stared blankly, wanting so badly for it to feel real enough that I could cry. Instead I just cried with dry eyes for hours, alone in my room. I want that day to really mean something to me, to shape my writing, and to have an effect on those who read what I write.
A common adage used for writers is “write what you know.” I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase. Well, I don’t personally know the things I want to write about. I want to create something fascinating and deep and meaningful. Beautiful. Emotive. My interactions with the depths of human emotion have been brief and would not seem profound to anybody but myself. The writers around me have almost all known some sort of great suffering– parents have died, disease has attacked their bodies. They can draw on their experiences to create beautiful works of literature. How can I believe I can do that? I couldn’t even produce tears when Garrett died. I laughed during his funeral, so how deeply have I felt pain, sorrow, or grief?
Part of your goal as Batman is to inspire people, right? Well, how can you be my inspiration? I cannot do what you can. I do not have vast funds, combat training, scientific intellect, or the motivation to do what you do. I don’t want to be like you: your life is hard and riddled with sorrows and pain. Plus, you want to inspire people to stand up to corruption and crime, and those really aren’t big issues where I live. No, I just want to be able to draw something from your struggles that allows me to create something really worth reading. Worth writing.
I don’t have a person I really consider to be my mentor, at least not for my writing. I don’t have a person I can turn to who is a voice of experience and reason in creative pursuits. Nobody who will respond.
I don’t know what I’m trying to achieve, writing to you about all this. You can’t be a mentor to me. You’re fictional. You’re inconsistent. You can’t answer me. For heaven’s sake, you depend on my creativity to exist. The closest I can even come to interacting with you is to write a comic book manuscript about you (which is, in fact, one of my dreams). You can be whatever I want you to be, but that somehow seems to make you less worthwhile to look up to. That makes you too flawed, or too perfect.
Plus, how can something that doesn’t really exist provide inspiration?
And what does that say about my fiction?
-N. J. Darkish

Dear Harry Potter,
You’re one of my heroes. You were an inspiration to me, especially all through my childhood. Your adventures always drew me in ways that made me feel like I was living them along with you, an unsaid friend who helped you alongside Ron and Hermione.
You were always so brave. Self-sacrificing. Willing to do anything for the sake of good. You stood up against hellish creatures and people. I used to actually shudder when I imagined the clammy flesh of a Dementor. They scared me in ways I couldn’t describe, and yet you were still resolute against them, using your stag Patronus to fight them back, keeping me and your numberless other friends safe.
And Voldemort and his Death Eaters– their darkness knew no bounds, but you were always there to drive them back with your personal light (and a lot of helpful spells, I might add). You always kept going on, even when you were injured, even when things were really hard. Even when Dumbledore, your friend and mentor, was killed. You never stopped, so it felt like I never stopped standing up to evil.
But here’s the frustrating part of all of that: I don’t live in a world where magic is real. I can never go to a place like Hogwarts. I can never learn a single spell. I will never see an elf, dragon, or phoenix. I will never ride a broom. I won’t receive a badass lightning bolt scar. I can’t even train an owl to deliver my mail.
Even more, I am never going to have to face problems like you had to face. The real world may have a lot of evil in it, but very few men come anywhere close to Lord Voldemort. Real evil men are far more complicated than he was, with have at least a few redeeming qualities. And I will never have to come in contact with any of those men. No, I am going to live my life in relatively boring ways. My big problems are almost certainly going to be financial or health-related. The possibility of laying in a hospital bed with an IV in my arm really doesn’t hold a candle to destroying Horcruxes or dueling a dark lord with powerful magic. Though it still is scary as hell.
So, you taught me all this bravery, but for what? What can I do with it? Go hunt down a terrorist? You’ve got to be kidding me. I guess I could write about my fears, but once again, they’re just everyday fears, so how could they be interesting? Sure, I’m terrified to have history of cancer in both sides of my family. I am afraid that my writing will be rejected– by editors, readers, and myself. Heck, I’m afraid I won’t be able to find a job in this crappy economy.
I don’t know if it would mean anything to write about those things. I want to create a world as wonderful and complicated as the one you live in, but how can I do that without falling flat, without any real magic to draw from?
Or is life magical enough? Is love? I’ve fallen in love, I married my high school sweetheart (like you did). I have friends that I can trust with anything, who would fight by my side, maybe even die for me (like you do). I have had helped change people’s lives (like you have).
–I’m not sure if those wonderful things really count as magic. So, inspirational character of my childhood, why didn’t you inspire me to do something that I know is useful, like learn another language or how to sew?
-N. J. Darkish

Dear Ender Wiggin,
I hope this letter finds you well when you come into existence in the future and somehow come across this letter. I just wanted to let you know I appreciate what you will do for Earth by defeating the Formics, and I appreciate what you will do to allow other intelligent life to exist in the galaxy.
That was a fairly confusing jumble of statements, made more difficult by the fact that you are supposed to exist around a hundred, then upwards of a thousand (because of space travel) of years into the future. To speak simply, I am a big fan and feel like you have helped me to become a better person.
Your genius has long interested me. I felt a sense of kinship toward you as, at the time I first read of your future exploits, I was in junior high, in all advanced classes and several years ahead of my peers in the subject of math. I felt like I was quite a bit smarter than others and it felt good to see the calculating, nerdy kid and his friends be the ones who come out ahead. You will be chosen to quickly advance to Command School, skipping years of training, and even there you will succeeded. As I read about that, I felt like I was just like you. I wasn’t just in the higher math classes– I was almost always at the top of my class, and I had my three best friends there by my side.
You will be given the simulation game in Command School in which you lead the simulated International Fleet to defeat the enemy Formics, just to learn that you will have, against your knowledge, actually given instructions to real soldiers who killed real alien foes. You won’t cheer when you find out what happened– instead you will sorrow over what you have done, mourning for the dead, even though so many were foreign and dangerous. It was refreshing to finally have someone in fiction to look up to who hated violence, who dealt with problems with words and ideas rather than with a sword, gun, or lightsaber. You will leave the world, find the final remaining Formic egg, and then turn to writing to spread your ideas while all your friends will use armies to spread their causes on earth. You will write as the Speaker of the Dead, and your words will change for the better how the entire world perceived an alien species.
I’m not even anywhere close to as intelligent as you, regardless of how I identified with you when I was younger. I was foolish and didn’t realize that I really was just a little ahead of the curve, but soon would become just another college student, quite book smart, which really can only play a small role in whatever success I have in my life.
I will never be able to use words anywhere near the level of impact that you will have. You will be a world-changer. I am just a simple man. I’m a writer, I hold words as having great value, but I am aware that I never will have the opportunity to change lives like you have, nor do I really want to. It’s great to see that words can make such a difference, but I just want to write fiction.
Is writing fiction really enough to make a difference? I’m not even sure if it is enough in my own life, much less in the lives of others. I know some of my loved ones appreciate what I do, but that is hardly earth-shaking. I can write difficult issues into my stories, I can use symbolism, but what does that really accomplish? It seems like the only writers who really change the world are ones who write religious texts (which I will never do) or ones, like you, who only exist in fictional worlds where people are more willing to read and think and change.
Thanks, I guess, for the inspiration.
-N. J. Darkish

Dear Stephen King,
I am one of the Constant Readers that you mention in your forwards and afterwords and your non-fiction books. I have read, by my calculation, all but nine of your books, which, as you know, is no small accomplishment, with your, at the time of my writing, upwards of 60 published novels and collections. I love your writing and have drawn inspiration from what you have written and from your life.
A few years ago I read your most significant non-fiction book, On Writing. From your stories and advice I was able to see a man who had lived what I have long dreamed. Since I was very young, as far back as I can remember, I have loved telling stories, and when I was in sixth grade I decided that I was going to become a novelist, and I’ve never varied from that course. It was very refreshing to see one so successful also starting to write from a very young age.
When I read about the publication of your first novel, Carrie, I felt thrilled for you. I was ecstatic when I read about how its paperback rights sold for so much. I imagined myself in a similar situation: trying to scrape by financially, living in humble circumstances with my sweetheart, trying frantically to get published to help pay for rent, but finally making my break. Your early successes felt like something that I could achieve.
My adoration for you was furthered as I tried to follow the writing advice that you included in On Writing and I discovered that much of it worked for me and my methods of writing. Soon I began to create a number of short stories that I felt proud of (in fact, overly so, as I foolishly tried to get one published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, obviously unsuccessfully). I took a great deal of pleasure as I began to do some of the things that I saw in your writing that I hadn’t seen anywhere else, like subtly connecting stories and books in unusual ways, suggesting interesting connections that are not consistent or major enough to create series, but rather create your own multi-layered universe. Soon my stories began to connect, and few things brought me greater pleasure in writing.
So, you have influenced me a great deal, and have done so in ways directly connected to my dream. But I have begun to realize that inspiration only does so much. I can daydream about being rich and successful, creating complex masterpieces in a few months of writing, like you. I can imagine reaching toward the tops of bestseller lists, I can dream of book signings and becoming a household name, like you. But I am finding that most of the inspiration I have drawn from you has meant so much time spent dreaming of a successful future that I haven’t written half as much as I should have. And is a successful future really important at all? Sure, it would be nice not having to worry about paying the bills, but I don’t think that I really need to be successful to be happy.
I mean, are you happy? What does all your fame and fortune really do for you? Should I even be looking to you as a hero?
Either way, I should be revising a novel right now, or scribbling down fresh ideas in a notebook. I should be submitting polished stories, poems, and essays to magazines. The problem is, I don’t have anything that is good enough to be published yet.
And now I’m just wasting time writing to you.
-N. J. Darkish

Three (Zombified) Faces of The Walking Dead

Zombies are in right now.  Very in.  And one of the biggest zombie franchises in media right now is The Walking Dead.  Now, I’ve seen a lot of discussion about individual incarnations of that franchise, but I haven’t seen them laid side-by-side outside of “the TV show is better,” or “the comics are better” debates with my cooler coworkers.  So, I mean to fill this hole in the oeuvre of Walking Dead criticism.  I’m going to hit what I feel are the key three incarnations: the comic series, the TV series, and the Telltale Games video game.  No, I’m not going to touch the novels, or the Survival Instinct video game (which I have, at best, heard it referred to as “a not terrible shooter”), so even my broad discussion may not be broad enough for some readers.

The logical starting point has to be the comics.  It is how The Walking Dead came to be, for which I have to give it my apprecWalkingDead1iation.  Surprising to me was the fact that even though it has spawned other things that I enjoy so thoroughly, I don’t actually care much for the comics.  Now, bear in mind that I have not read anywhere near all of the series, though I have read a sizable chunk– up to issue 20 or so.   That being said, my thoughts and critiques may no longer be valid for the comic books.  But, here’s my thoughts about what I have read:

First, I do feel like the story is an overall positive element of the series.  That said, the drama between characters sometimes gets very thick, and I feel like there is frequently a lack of cohesiveness with how abruptly plot-shaping elements are thrown at the audience (SPOILER ALERT:) such as how abruptly Hershel’s younger daughters are murdered (END SPOILER).  As a reader, I felt very jilted, no longer really connected with the movement of the story.  It isn’t that every surprise in the story needs to have foreshadowing or the like, but some level of buildup helps.  If there is buildup, I can read even the most terrible twists which hurt my favorite characters and enjoy the experience, taking it as part of the thrill ride.  When there isn’t, as with The Walking Dead comics, it’s like the writers are cheating the audience– any extreme change can happen in a flash.  I guess it just made each issue feel like a one shot story, not a continual story.  Additionally, the general pacing of the story was too rapid, never slowing to allow the reader to savor the experience of being put into the universe created by the writers and artists.

I feel like many of the characters are strong and interesting, but that a number of them are just… unpleasant.  For example, the choices the writers made for the character Dale really discouraged my interest in continuing to read the series.  There are just some things that shouldn’t happen.  Even in a zombie apocalypse, just… no.

My final struggle with the comics is the dialogue.  Honestly, the characters just don’t seem to talk like real people.  Every interaction feels very clunky and unrealistic. I couldn’t get a solid feel for any of the character’s voices.  Without the occasional regional colloquialism it would be really hard to tell that they’re in Georgia.  I feel like the scripts all needed another draft to get all this ironed out.

My next move is to the television series, which is how I (and probably a majority of The Walking Dead audience) came to be familiar with the franchise.  I heard a little about it before it came out, but latched onto two key things: that it was going to be a TV series about a zombie apocalypse, and that Frank Darabont was involved.  Naturally, being a fan of both zombies and Darabont, I was excited, thinking that if the man could do Stephen King right, he could certainly do zombies right as well.TheWalkingDeadPoster

And it was with great zeal that I watched the pilot– which was superb.  I was very quickly drawn into the story, my enjoyment paused only for me to roll my eyes a little bit at the staleness of the idea of waking up with the apocalypse already well underway.  The special effects were strong, especially with the iconic half-zombie crawling through the grass.  I really appreciated how seriously the show took zombies, not going with a bunch of bad actors and writing as seems to be so common with supernatural TV series (like Supernatural).

I continued to enjoy the heck out of the first season, quickly consuming the episodes in a short period of time.  I liked the strength of the cast of characters– each was very strong in their motivations which made their interactions with the others tense, worthwhile and realistic.  The action was compelling and, where it fitted, stomach-churning, especially in the second episode.  The season finale was a little over the top, but still kept the fun of watching quite high.

The second season began strong for me as well, and I finally began to choose favorite characters (Daryl and Dale– who is not creepy, like his comic book counterpart) to invest in.  The intensity was strong– and then took an interesting, and admittedly not altogether positive, direction.  The move to Hershel’s farm was too safe, and brought a shift from a survival epic to, well, what almost seemed like a soap opera that happened to have zombies.  The acting was still good, but the story seemed stuck, with series of episodes just being extended arguments that went in circles.  If my memory serves, there was an episode that had only one zombie, and with a show title like The Walking Dead, that doesn’t jive with me.  The end of the season definitely picked up a lot, resolving a lot of the drama that was, at times, downright frustrating to watch.  The last few episodes almost make up for the way the season dragged on midway through.

The third season, though, made me forgive the series for my issues with what had come before.  Immediately the intensity of the series went (forgive the cliche, I’m drawing a blank on better phrasing) full-throttle.  Within a few episodes, the shape of the story had changed in fascinating ways, forcing the characters to grow individually and as a group.  The conflicts with the Governor and Woodbury made for some of the best television I’ve seen since Firefly.  To celebrate how good the series had gotten, I quickly began attending Walking Dead parties for new episodes.

My concerns for the third season are much more minor than the prior ones.  Mostly, I feel like the Governor needs to be fleshed out more solidly, particularly in the lack of clarity of what his motivations are.  He’s a bit too much of an enigma, and that actually took away from how scary he potentially can be.  My other concern was that the last five or so episodes really could have been done in two.

Must say that I’m really excited about the season 4 premiere in 9 days.

Finally, the Telltale Games video game, which is my favorite iteration of The Walking Dead by far.  Let me just start by saying that if you haven’t yet, you should play it and why are you still reading this?  Just go play.  With that out of the way, here’s my description of what it’s all about:

The game is set in the same universe as the comics, and features two notable characters therefrom– Glenn and Hershel, though both of them are only in the game for parts of the first episode.  Other than their inclusion, and the details of the apocalypse, the story is very TWD-game-covermuch its own.  The main character, Lee Everett, was headed to prison for the murder of his wife and the senator she was adulterous with. Abruptly, the police car taking him there hits a Walker and crashes, freeing the prisoner and giving him his first interaction with the undead.   Soon he finds a little girl named Clementine and takes her under his wing, promising to protect her and try to find her parents, who were out-of-town when the crap hit the fan.  Soon his group grows, hell breaks loose, and he has to work with those whom circumstance throws in his path.

So, a pretty basic zombie apocalypse plot, but one rarely seen in the video game genre.  Instead of being a flashy shooter, showing off the latest aiming mechanics and lots of action, the story moves at a slower pace, with game mechanics based mostly on making decisions.  You often make choices that result in your teammates living or dying– and you have to live with the consequences.  Each character is strong and compelling, and there is a surprisingly powerful emotional draw that some of them have.  In all seriousness, this is the only video game that has almost brought tears to my eyes.  You really care about what happens to most of these characters– and the game’s story reacts to what you say to people, and what you choose to do.  There is some truly dark and terrifying moments– the turning point in episode 2 left me speechless.

Plus, there’s so much good to be said of the visual style of the game.  It takes the style of the comics and improves on it, translating it in a way that was a surprisingly effective blend of realistic and cartoony.

Again, just go play the game.  It’s honestly the best thing The Walking Dead has to offer.

So, there’s my thoughts.  I’m sure my thoughts won’t line up with many other fans of the franchise, but I’m interested to hear others’ opinions.

 

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