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Saturday, 10 February 2018

God's Country and the Cinema - James Oliver Curwood on Screen


It's that time of year, eh? Today's special feature is part of the O Canada! Blogathon hosted by Speakeasy and Silver Screenings. Click on the banner above to read more about the legacy of motion pictures in and about the True North Strong and Free! While you're at it, revisit last year's contribution, Rose Marie, Renfrew, and the Canadian Mountie on Film



James Oliver Curwood was one of the most prolific and well-paid authors of the early 20th century. Born in Michigan in 1878, his restless spirit dropped him out of high school before graduation, then out of university before obtaining a degree in journalism. The call of the wild beckoned him away from civilized society towards the mighty Northwoods of Canada... A vast, unpopulated hinterland of ice, snow, spruce forest, and craggy mountain passes. More or less. Canada's major metropolitan areas were well-established models of Edwardian urbanity at the height of the British Empire's power, but Curwood's 1909 journey was to the rough and tumble lumber camps. In those backwoods he dreamed up adventures to fill 33 novels and countless short stories in the tradition of Jack London, Robert Service, Ralph Connor, and Laurie York Erskine. Prior to his untimely passing in 1927 of a spider bite, his stories furnished plots for well over 100 silent films. Two of those films - Back to God's Country (1919) and Nomads of the North (1920) - were guided by his own hand as producer.


Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Charlotte Perkins Gilman's Herland

A group of explorers - all men - venture into the trackless expanse of jungle in search of a hidden mystery. Testing brawn and brain, they pursue the unknown for sport and for glory, bringing rifles and guile to bear for queen, country, science, and reputation. What they find suspends all laws of nature, but will nonetheless be laid low by man. By the last chapter, the forge of adventure has hardened them into true credits to their gender, and a prize is brought back along with them to prove their mettle to the softer, more civilized men back home.

It's a familiar plotline in Victorian-Edwardian fiction. The archetype is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World, the 1912 adventure in which a quartet including two brainy scientists, a "great white hunter," and a young newspaperman out to prove himself discover a plateau in South America teeming with dinosaurs. Conan Doyle's lost world and great white hunters were preceded by King Solomon's Mines, the 1885 novel by Sir H. Rider Haggard that arguably originated the genre. It had antecedents in novels by the likes of Jules Verne, but no sooner had the lost world genre been invented than it already found its critics. Rudyard Kipling brought it down a notch in the 1888 short story The Man Who Would be King, which cautioned against British hubris. 

Charlotte Perkins Gilman took this genre, and with her womanly perspective, used it as the prompt for a tale of feminist utopia entitled Herland. In her version, published in 1915, the dauntless male explorers find something very daunting indeed... Not fathomless riches or dinosaurs, but a society comprised completely of women, utterly and completely devoid of men and any vestige of patriarchal values.   

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Before Tiki: The Romance of Hawaii in the Golden Age of Travel

Tiki culture - the fantasy world of thatch-roofed bars, Hawaiian shirts, and whimsical ceramic mugs - was largely a product of post-World War II American leisure society, when soldiers who served in the Pacific returned home to build and benefit from an unparalleled economic boom. With more money and more time off than their parents could have dreamed of, reminiscing of faraway beaches and palm trees, Americans took to the road during ever lengthening vacation days while building oases for themselves at home during the off-season. Advances in transportation could bring them virtually anywhere, whether by America's developing system of highways or the flyways of the new Jet Age. With Communist Cuba off-limits, an exotic, tropical destination was placed right on Americans' doorstep when Hawaii joined the Union in 1959. The fad for anything and everything evoking Polynesia, Oceania, even Africa and the Caribbean, exploded like an atom bomb, from Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room to Martin Denny's smooth Jazz to the ubiquitous at-home Tiki bar.

Walt and Jose welcome guests to the Enchanted Tiki Room. Photo: Disney.

Americans had already been primed by Polynesian exotica for several decades before WWII. The roots of Tiki culture are found deep in the DNA of America's relationship with the Pacific, in the very first tropical supper clubs that would become Tiki pioneers, in lavish Hollywood musicals, and in radio programs broadcast from the ballrooms of Hawaii's most glamorous hotels. Despite French and English interests in the South Pacific - New Zealand, for example, and Tahiti - it was the Americans' unique relationship with Hawaii that fostered the development of Tiki culture... Not as cultural appropriation, but rather, as an expression of genuine Americana.

Resolution and Adventure with fishing craft in Matavai Bay (1776) by William Hodges.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Walt Disney World's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea


A film as important as Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea meant that it has always had a presence at Disney's theme parks, in one way or another. A walk-through museum of the film's sets was originally planned for the Opera House on Disneyland's Main Street U.S.A. before finding a home in Tomorrowland in 1956. Disneyland Paris stepped up the concept by floating a full-size Nautilus in Discoveryland's lagoon, allowing visitors to descend into it and examine Nemo's ship for themselves. Tokyo Disneysea took it even further and created the Mysterious Island: Nemo's volcanic base, with a full-sized Nautilus at dock and two rides based on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Journey to the Center of the Earth.

Arguably the most archetypal was Walt Disney World's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea submarine voyage. When the Magic Kingdom opened in 1971, it imported Disneyland's 1959 classic Submarine Voyage, one of the original park's most popular attractions. To differentiate the two, this trip through "liquid space" was transferred from Tomorrowland to Fantasyland and given a brand new overlay. Instead of the atomic navy submersibles of the 20th century (which were themselves no longer as futuristic as they were in 1959), these became the iron-rivet crafts of the 19th. Where Disneyland allowed guests to ride in a replica of the USS Nautilus, Walt Disney World allowed guests to ride in the Nautilus.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

W.W. Jacobs' The Monkey's Paw

Over a century of film adaptations and countless parodies, including no less than The Simpsons, have inured many to the truly chilling effects of W.W. Jacobs' short story The Monkey's Paw. Originally published in 1902 as part of the anthology The Lady of the Barge, this story of wishes gone awry is exceedingly short yet concentrated in its potency.

Behold the monkey's paw! Illustration by Maurice Gruffenhagen.


Sunday, 24 December 2017

Santa in 2007

The following illustration by E.B. Bird comes from an issue of St. Nicholas Magazine published in 1907 and is entitled Santa in 2007. So that's how he does it these days! Click on the image for a larger version. And Merry Christmas to all!


Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward: 2000-1887

After Uncle Tom's Cabin and Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, journalist Edward Bellamy's speculative novel Looking Backward: 2000-1887 was the third best-selling novel of the 19th century. Published in 1888, this utopian tale created an unheard of sensation in socio-political circles. Marxist writers and labour unions mentioned the book by name as picturing an ideal society. Within ten years, over 165 "Bellamy Clubs" had formed in the United States to propagate the book's ideas, but they were all defunct by the end of the century. Bellamy's utopian vision resonated with a troubled late Victorian society struggling with the transformations of the Industrial Age. Written as a "future history", it provided a hopeful vision that the vexing problems of how to balance industry with humanity had been solved, were solvable. There has been nothing quite like Looking Backward before or since in the annals of Science Fiction writing.   

The main issue addressed in Looking Backward is the question of labour. Late Victorian society in the United States was rapidly succumbing to the ills of unregulated industrial capitalism. From 1873 to 1896, the US and Europe dealt with what they then called the "Great Depression" (losing that title to an even greater one in 1929). Known now as the "Long Depression", it was touched off by a financial crisis in 1873 that lead to the bankruptcy of 18,000 businesses, hundreds of banks, and ten US states, as well as the closure of 89 railroads. This depression was exacerbated by further recessions in the 1880's, the consolidation of major industries in monopolies, oligopolies, and trusts, and the development of unionization and growing labour unrest. 1886 saw the Haymarket affair, in which a labour demonstration escalated - through an anarchist agitator throwing a stick of dynamite - into a full-blown riot claiming the lives of four civilians and seven policemen, and injuring scores of others. The cause of labour has essentially been cast aside by the modern "progressive" Left, but it was perhaps the dominant socio-political concern of the late 19th century.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Himmelskibet (A Trip to Mars)

Though unmentioned, the spectre of the Great War looms large over the 1918 Danish film Himmelskibet. Called A Trip to Mars in its English release, it begins as any self-respecting Scientific Romance ought: a daring adventurer sets out on a celestial expedition to Mars, facing down derision and disaster in his quest for scientific truth. When he and his crew arrive, they encounter a pacifist utopia custom-made to counteract the horrors of the conflict ravaging Europe at the time.

The hero of the story is Captain Avanti Planetaros, late of the marine corps who has taken up aviation as a hobby. His sister, Corona, is romantically entwined with Avanti's friend, the scientist Dr. Krafft. Their father is Professor Planetaros, an astronomer who gazes longingly at the Red Planet through his attic observatory. Their nemesis is Professor Dubius, friend of their father and inveterate cynic. While flying one day, Avanti is seized with the idea of creating a flying machine that can take him and stalwart crew to Mars. Other than Dubius living up to his name, nothing stands in their way and they are soon off on an expedition.

Six months out, while those left behind on Earth wonder if they have survived at all, the space madness infects the crew. Some have turned to drink and there is talk of mutiny to take control of the ship - named Excelsior - and turn it back around to home. Before they can affect their plan, a ray from Mars captures the ship and it is sped to the surface of the planet. There, the crew encounters a veritable paradise and its highly enlightened citizens.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Darius Green and his Flying-Machine


Originally published circa 1867, Darius Green and his Flying-Machine by John Townsend Trowbridge, was a simple verse mocking the aspiration towards human-powered flight, the genre of Scientific Romances, and the boy geniuses who populated such stories in the dime novels of the day. For example, The Huge Hunter; or, The Steam Man of the Prairies by Edward S. Ellis would be published in 1868, featuring a comparable boy genius though with somewhat more success than the country bumpkin of Trowbridge's poem.


Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Disney's Island at the Top of the World and Discovery Bay

The Disney company was faced with challenging times throughout the late 1960's and 1970's. Walt Disney passed away in December of 1966, leaving the company rudderless. It never truly recovered from a loss in the fiscal year of 1959/60, after which it resorted ever more to inexpensively produced, live-action films with equally diminishing returns. The list of truly classic Disney films from the Sixties is short: Mary Poppins (1964), Swiss Family Robinson (1960), One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961), The Absent-Minded Professor (1961), Pollyanna (1960), The Parent Trap (1961), and The Love Bug (1968). The Seventies were even more barren. The world changed around Disney, and by the discontented years of Vietnam, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Sexual Revolution, Uncle Walt's 1950's utopian promises and quaint family movies were painfully square. Up to 70% of the company's revenue came from its two theme parks - Disneyland in California and Walt Disney World in Florida - and a growing majority of its films were theatrical re-releases of past glories.

Something daring was necessary, and it was in this spirit that Disney turned to a distinctive little adventure book written by Ian Cameron in 1961. Titled The Lost Ones, it featured an expedition to the Canadian Arctic that uncovered a mysterious society descended from the Vikings who migrated across the Atlantic a thousand years before. Though set in the modern day, producer Winston Hibler, director Robert Stevenson, and script writer John Whedon saw in it the seeds of a grand Victorian-Edwardian adventure in the tradition of Jules Verne. After all, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea proved to be a landmark film for the company in 1954, so perhaps a similar sort of story could propel them into success once again. An aspiring Imagineer by the name of Tony Baxter seized the opportunity to propose an entirely new addition to Disneyland centred on both this film and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Yet studio executives got cold feet, scaled back the budget, and when The Island at the Top of the World was released in 1974, it was not the hoped-for commercial success. The film, a planned sequel, and Baxter's ideas were quietly shelved.



Wednesday, 18 October 2017

The Victorian Invention of Halloween

The common story goes that Halloween originated in the misty days of pre-Roman Ireland, with the year-ending festival of Samhain. That final day of the Celtic calendar was a "thin time" when spirits walked the Earth and costumed junior Druids traveled from home to home with lighted turnips, begging for food. The festival was appropriated by the Catholic Church as All Hallow's Eve as a fair or foul attempt to convert the Pagans, and evolved over time into the holiday we know today.

If only there was any historical evidence for this story!

Very little is actually known about Druids, their festivals, and their practices, on account of their being a pre-literate culture. Most of what we do know comes from the Romans, an imperial force who cannot be relied upon to have a full, nuanced appreciation for the cultures they attempted to conquer. It was the Romans who gave the impression that mass human sacrifice in Wicker Men was a common Druidic practice. After the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West, Celts took to Christianity and took to it hard. So it can safely be said that there was a festival surrounding Samhain, a term which literally means "summer's end" but was not necessarily the end of the Celtic year. It may have had something to do with honouring the dead, but we don't know for sure, and that practice may have been Christianized as All Saints Day, a lesser festival honouring all the saints and martyrs who did not have their own designated feast days (the preceding evening being All Hallows Eve), and followed by All Souls Day remembering all the Christian dead. Yet the original practice of All Saints Day varied from country to country - November 1 in England and Germany, April 20 in Ireland, May 13 in most of the Christian world - and the November 1 date was only fixed in the 12th century, well after the Christianization of the Celts. Scholars can't actually say what transpired during Samhain festivals, on account of there being no record whatsoever. It seems that processions for the faithful dead were actually a Christian invention, as well as the door-to-door begging for food. All Saints was only one such opportunity for such activity: processions and door-to-door hunger appeals also surfaced on the feast days of St. Andrew, St. Nicholas, St. Thomas, and even later on Guy Fawkes Day. Like other holy days, it became an opportunity for ribald fools festivals, danse macabre, and pranking. In Europe and the British Isles, Halloween is only a minor practice, oftentimes unwelcome, and one that has mostly been imported from the United States.

That being the case, where did the idea that Halloween was an ancient, pre-Christian Druidic practice come from? The most likely answer is that it came from the same people who invented the modern holiday of Halloween itself: the Victorians!



Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Will Rogers' The Headless Horseman

Long before Johnny Depp or Bing Crosby's voice, the inept schoolmaster of Washington Irving's classic American novel The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was first played by cowboy funnyman Will Rogers in 1922. Rogers was still relatively new to film at the time, but not to entertainment. He was already the toast of Vaudeville for his trick roping and incisive political wit. In 1918 he was signed by Samuel Goldwyn and moved from New York to Hollywood. It was there that he starred in The Headless Horseman.

The Headless Horseman stays remarkably true to the book for a feature film. A civilized but superstitious Yankee teacher named Ichabod Crane comes to the little dutch hamlet of Sleepy Hollow. Soon, poor ungainly Crane wishes he was nowhere near this insane town which rests under the dark shadow of a departed Hessian solider who rides on every full moon to claim a head to replace the one he lost lo so many years ago. Suspicious and weary, the townsfolk mistrust Ichabod, and even try him for witchcraft! There is but one respite: the delightful young belle Katrina VanTassel, daughter of the richest man in the county. Unfortunately, being a frivolous girl, she is merely using him to give her true beau, Brom Bones, a bit of competition. Constantly upped by the high-class city-slicker, things come to a head (so to speak) one dark and foreboding Halloween night. Destiny meets up with Ichabod Crane in the form of the Headless Horseman.

Aside from being the first screen adaptation of the Irving story, The Headless Horseman may also perhaps be the silver screen's first horror-comedy. Unfortunately, Will Rogers' comedy was based in the powers of speech, which is a detriment when it comes to silent films. A humble, "aw shucks" demeanour gives it a go with the limited silent-era slapstick, but this trick roper's hands are tied in this medium.

However, one doesn't watch a flick like The Headless Horseman for laughs. The story is, like the novel, primarily about the love triangle between Ichabod Crane, Katrina VanTassel, and Brom Bones. But when the title character rears his decapitated shoulders, the limitations of silent film become tried and true assets. A simple double-exposure was all that was needed to create a scene more bone-chilling than anything Tim Burton's computers could muster. 

Nevertheless, any film adaptation of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow must compare with Disney's near-monopoly on it, even if it was made before Bing crooned the audience. Disney's version still benefits from it's short length, providing a tighter story that doesn't waste time getting to the part everyone wants to see. It has another advantage over the 1922 film: part of the fun is the ambiguity over what the Horseman is... Is is a ghost? Or was it Brom Bones? Was Ichabod spirited away, or was he alive and well in New York? Disney never tells. However, this version of the film does, losing some of the mystique in the process.

There is a way to regain some of it though. Save The Headless Horseman for just the right moment... A dreary autumn afternoon in October, dried leaves rustling in the wind, the ever so faint laughter of children being carried on the wind, the hooting of owls and cawing of crows, the smell of decay, the dwindling sunlight, the harvest, the feeling of Halloween... Just the kind of dusk described by Coleridge...
Like one, that on a lonesome road
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And having once turned round walks on,
And turns no more his head;
Because he knows, a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread.



Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Fitz James O'Brien's The Diamond Lens

H.P. Lovecraft touted it as one of his favourite stories... An early example of murder, occultism, madness, and the vertigo of the infinite in a scant few pages that has remained the best-known tale by one of America's early pioneers in Scientific Romance. Fitz James O'Brien's 1858 short story The Diamond Lens would, in many ways, act as a precursor to Lovecraft's own terrifying tales of cosmic nihilism. 



Saturday, 9 September 2017

Georges Méliès' A la Conquête du Pôle


Today's special post is part of the Movie Scientist Blogathon hosted by Christina Wehner and Silent Screenings. Click on the link to visit many fantastic blogs celebrating the Good, the Mad, and the Lonely in cinematic science!



The world has not been in an uproar like this since Phileas Fogg took his abbreviated trip around the globe! The redoubtable Professor Maboul has created a frenzy with his plan to visit the North Pole in one of Georges Méliès final films.

As a result of the American movie factory and new innovations in filmmaking by directors from Hollywood and the German schools, Méliès began winding down production in the early 1910's, just as his art was to reach its peak. Méliès took the staged, tableau style - where entire scenes unfold in static set pieces before the viewer sitting back in the objective view of a live theatre patron - about as far is it could go artistically. This easily shows in the ambitious A la Conquête du Pôle (English: Conquest of the Pole), one of only three films Méliès produced in 1912.

Like Méliès' last major Scientific Romance, Le Voyage à travers l'Impossible (English: The Impossible Voyage), the scope and scale of Conquest of the Pole is tremendous. However, unlike that 1904 film, the pace is quickened up. Conquest of the Pole runs for approximately the same duration, but moves along much more rapidly, recalling mastery and magic of his greatest film from a decade prior, Le Voyage dans la Lune (English: A Trip to the Moon).


Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Georges Méliès' Le Voyage à travers l'Impossible

George  Méliès' Journey Through the Impossible  
(Le Voyage à travers l'Impossible)  with original soundtrack by La Pêche.

Georges Méliès' Le Voyage dans la Lune (English: A Trip to the Moon) was the smash hit of 1902. In fact, it was so popular that it was causing no end of trouble for Méliès, who became one of the first victims of media bootlegging when illegal copies of the film were made and distributed all over the United States. The popularity of the film cried out for a return to Scientific Romances, to which Méliès responded by pulling out all of the stops in Le Voyage à travers l'Impossible (English: The Impossible Voyage or Journey Through the Impossible) in 1904.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

En L'an 2000



En L'An 2000 (English: In the Year 2000) were a series of cigarette cards produced in France at the turn of 1900. The initial series was released between 1899 and 1901, in conjunction with the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle, when excitement about the advancements of the coming century were accelerating. A second series was produced in 1910.

For the most part, the series is a fanciful impression of retro-futurism. I don't think many of us have fought off octopi in the last 20 years. There were some astute premeditations of modern technologies that we do take for granted, however, and it is interesting to pick out where the people of the fin de siècle actually did get it right. It's just too bad that we couldn't have kept the elegant fashion they predicted as well!

At least 87 cards were known from the series, produced by a variety of different French artists. Just over half are actually preserved and available for online viewing. Those 55 cards are presented here for your own perusal.


Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Ugokie-Ko-Ri-No-Tatehiki

Anime always was weird, even in 1933. I suppose it is worth clarifying that almost all cartoons were weird in the Twenties and Thirties, whether it's Mickey Mouse playing a tune on a cat or Betty Boop fleeing in terror from Cab Calloway rendered as a ghost walrus. By contrast, I suppose Ugokie-Ko-Ri-No-Tatehiki is not that weird. In it, a magical fox disguised as a samurai has a wizard's duel with a family of tanuki - the Japanese "racoon dog" gifted with shape-shifting powers - involving a bevy of traditional Japanese monsters. 

The title roughly translates to "Fox and Racoon-Dog Playing Pranks on Each Other" and features two mythologized versions of Japanese wildlife. After a wandering peasant crawls fretfully through a midnight scene worthy of Disney's Skeleton Dance, we are introduced to Kitsune, the Japanese fox. Foxes are indigenous to Japan and have taken on a unique set of folkloric characteristics there. White foxes are considered to be the messengers of Inari, the "kami" (god-like spiritual being) of fertility and harvests. Kyoto's Fushimi-Inari Shrine with its thousands of tori gates lined up in rows – made world famous by Memoirs of a Geisha – is adorned with white foxes. The more tails a fox has, up to nine, the more powerful it is. Amongst its powers are shape-shifting, and foxes are often thought to turn into humans for various purposes good and ill.

In Ugokie-Ko-Ri-No-Tatehiki, the fox turns into a wandering samurai and makes his way to a dilapidated temple. We know something is awry, however, when we see the will-o-wisp Hinotama light up, signifying supernatural activity. Inside the temple, our Kitsune draws the attention of a young Tanuki. Also known as "Racoon-Dogs" in English, Tanuki are a species of wild canine with racoon-like markings found throughout Japan. They are also ascribed special characteristics, foremost of which is shape-shifting and a jovial, playful attitude. You may have seen a statue of one standing in your local sushi restaurant, holding a flask of sake, wearing a straw hat, and flashing his engorged testicles.

Once the Kitsune sits down to enjoy some sake, this curious Tanuki adopts the form of Ichigen-issoku. This one-eyed, one-legged Yokai (monster or supernatural entity) is the ghost of the high priest Jinin of the Mount Hiei Temple in Kyoto, circumnavigating the mountain on midnight strolls. Seeing the ruse, the Kitsune entraps the Tanuki with its love of songs. Bested, the little one calls in the reinforcements. Upon his arrival, the elder Tanuki sneaks up on the Kitsune, in reference to a well-known urban legend. According to an August 1873 illustrated newspaper (Shinbun nishiki-e), a man was woken by the screams of his child, over whom loomed the form of a three-eyed monk. This monk grew larger and larger until it reached the very ceiling of his house. Wise to the trick himself, the father grabbed the monk's sleeve and pulled him down, whereupon the monk transformed back into a Tanuki. What follows is a knock-down, drag-out magic fight between the two shape-shifting pranksters.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Scientific Romances in the Land of the Rising Sun

Japan has a long history of Science Fiction, going far beyond the dystopian epics of Cyberpunk anime. It even goes back further than the immediate post-war period that gave rise to such things as the Kaiju monster movies and Osamu Tezuka's Mighty Atom. It goes all the way back to the worldwide scope of Scientific Romances and stands uniquely in the canon of the genre.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Nintendō no Meiji monogatari

Up to recently, the most antiquated piece of Nintendo technology in our home was the original Nintendo Entertainment System Deluxe Set that I've owned since 1986, with a more or less intact R.O.B. After that might be either my original Game Boy with its pea-green screen or a collection of Nintendo Power magazine going back to issue 6 (back when video games journalism was helpful things like maps and tips).

I'm currently working on miniaturizing my collection.
My original NES and R.O.B. meets the NES Classic Edition and R.O.B. amiibo.

Not that long ago, I added to my collection of Nintendo ephemera with the purchase of a lovely deck of Super Mario Bros. hanafuda cards. Though clearly of recent vintage - chock-a-block with references to Luigi's Mansion, Yoshi's Island, Super Mario 3D World, Super Mario Galaxy, and the Donkey Kong games as well as all the beloved characters - this edition of the classic Japanese card game hearkens back to the origins of the company in the misty but exciting days of the Meiji Era.


Friday, 7 July 2017

The Bioshock Infinite that Could Have Been

As readers of this weblog may have been able to glean by now, I have a bit of an obsession with Bioshock Infinite. Without reservation I can say that it is one of the finest video games I have ever played, transcending simple enjoyment of gaming itself to engage with a compelling story and setting. It ranks easily within my Top-10 of the whole genre of Retro-Victorian Scientific Romances, maybe even within my Top-5, for how it blends the human drama of guilt and redemption with a neat Sci-Fi premise with social commentary on conservatism and radicalism with an extremely well-researched and well-executed Victorian-Edwardian setting both aesthetically and historically rich.

For as fantastic as it is, Infinite is not flawless. Matt Lees of VideoGamerTV raised a very salient critique about how underused the premise of multiple realities truly is: "Why is it that the only thing Elizabeth ever really pulls in from another universe are gun turrets, and cover, and hooks? In an infinite universe of infinite possibilities, most people just end up building loads of freight hooks." The complexities of translating blue sky ideas into a functioning game can excuse Ken Levine and his team for a great deal. Concept art and early game demos provide us with a glimpse of what, in a parallel universe, could have been an even more ambitious game.