Monday, September 01, 2014

/V/ Has Gone Nuclear: The Quinspiracy Fallout, And Why I'm Done With It All

WARNING: The following is a massive and very poorly-focused rage-dump brought on by a storm in a teacup, specifically about "Games Journalism" as covered by websites like EuroGamer, The Escapist, Joystiq, Kotaku, Rock Paper Shotgun, Polygon and so on. It's just me using this space to vent about how sick of being talked down to I am, and how glorious it's been to watch a small part of the internet choke on its own flaming intestines. I'll probably update it to make it a bit more readable, but it's low-priority. Consider this a cross section of blind madness, at best.

I'll be back in the near future with your regualrly scheduled Kentai Blog programming.
 For now, enjoy the flames of internet-war. Preferably while listening to Mike Oldfield's Nuclear.

Behold! Zoe Quinn's magnum opus.

So I can't even try to summarize everything that's happened over the last two weeks. Quinnspiracy, GamerGate, Bullshit That Makes No Sense - call it what you will. All I know is that it's been a blast to watch unfold, and the fact that it's sure to extend into week two is nothing short of glorious.

The shortest version of this possible is this:

* Zoe Quinn, independent game developer, self proclaimed feminist role model, with a history of being harassed solely for existing, released her game Depression Quest on Steam for free the same way Robin Williams died. Kind of inappropriate timing, but... whatever.

* Shortly thereafter, her ex-boyfriend posted a long, detailed summation of their breakup, in which she cheated on him with fellow game designers, her boss, and games journalists.

* People picked up on the story (because of course they did), curious if these relationships led to better press. Zoe then used a series of false copyright claims to remove the information from YouTube.

* When Reddit, NeoGAF and 4chan started discussing the copyright abuse itself, massive moderation erased tens of thousands of comments on the matter. The Reddit mod who later leaked conversations between Zoe and her janitor would be promptly banned.

* Discussion of mass censoring crops up on popular Gaming Journalism sites including Kotaku, Polygon, Joystiq, Rock Paper Shotgun and others. All deleted. No stories about Zoe's scandal were run on any of them.

* Zoe Quinn's social media is "hacked" by someone who claims to be the lead moderator of " /V/" (which is so false it's not even worth discussing).  Phone numbers, addresses and eMails are posted with the account itself, which is quickly deleted.

- Whether or not this "hack" was a legitimate case of a third party doxxing Zoe, or a smoke screen made by a proven compulsive liar is still being debated. Whether or not the info leaked is even partially legit remains unclear.

* Phil Fish, developer of Fez, defends Zoe Quinn, including publicly shaming and silencing Wolf Wozniac, another indie dev who he claims was sexually harassed by Quinn. Meanwhile, smaller websites covering the Zoe Quinn controversy are taken down by the site owners, despite the writers behind them asking for clarification as to why this subject is untouchable.

* Matt Rappard steps forward on Reddit, claiming that his charity meant to help women get into game design and provide money for cancer research - The Fine Young Capitalists - was harassed, Doxxed and shut down by Zoe Quinn and her followers.

-  He shows proof that the two exchanged a lot of ill will, shows private communications, and mentions that he's restarted the charity again in the wake of this insanity, but can't get a single gaming journalism website to cover it.

* Phil Fish's website, Polytron Studios, is also hacked by "/V/" - as well as a 1.5 gigabyte upload featuring contracts, sales numbers, game creation files. Fish also publicly quits the game industry (again) and puts the Fez IP up for sale. This is covered by the gaming press, but only vague mention of "harassment campaigns" are mentioned.

- Said "doxx" file was hosted on Fish's own web host, and included files that shouldn't have been on the server anyway. It's assumed that this is a smokescreen, as there's simply no reason Fish's personal bank records and game assets would be on his corporate website to begin with.

* 4chan's /v/ board denies any connection to either of these hacks, and begin supporting The Fine Young Capitalists as a sign of good faith. Donations from /v/ members grow exponentially, to the point where Rappard - overcome with gratitude - tells 4chan they can design an original character to appear in the finished game.

* Vivian James - mascot for TFYC's cause, and dubbed /v/'s "daughterfu" - is born. Rappard not only gets /v/tards to approve a t-shirt design for Vivian, but will donate proceeds to a colon cancer charity in the hopes that their actions will "chemo away butthurt". I officially love TFYC for this.

* With the integrity of Kotaku now in question, it's uncovered that Kotaku's Patricia Hernandez was writing positive reviews for Anna Anthrophy, her landlord, and that several staff writers were donating to Quinn's Pateron account. No disclosure was ever made.

* Greg Tito, editor for The Escapist, leaves the thread open but admits he'll continue pushing for an "agenda of kindness". After several days of discussion about how disingenuous assuming all reports of abuse are true, he vows to report allegations as allegations, and even edits the original article about Quinn's harassment to be to standard. Good for him.

* Kotaku instigates a "no Pateron, no Kickstarter" policy which results in anger from a number of indie developers who were getting donations from the same people who are supposed to review and report on them as impartials. Polygon's policy is for any donations or connections to be reported in the footnotes of the article, which I personally think is "good enough".

* Anita Sarkeesian, in the heat of this madness, posts her latest episode of Tropes vs Women in Video Games. It's shortly thereafter discovered that both Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian - feminist game critics/creators with a history of harassment as the lynchpin of their notoriety - use the same PR firm, and hasn't said one word on the Zoe Quinn controversy.

* The Fine Young Capitalists themselves are themselves are ALSO hacked by "/V/", which raises further questions if /V/ is simply a third party anarchist. Around this time, bomb threats and DDoS attacks to both Playstation Network and Xbox Live are made by a separate party calling themselves "Lizard Squad". 'Cause sure, that isn't getting confusing.

* Oddly, The Fine Young Capitalists have yet to be mentioned in the Gaming Press at all, despite them eating up the abuse and harassment scandals against Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian, plus countless articles about how gaming has "moved on" from focusing on straight white men as the only demographic. (Never mind that most of the big-budgeted "AAA" games covered in game journalism are still made for that specific demographic.)

* Despite refusing to cover the controversy itself, both the gaming journalist press and mainstream offshoots with an interest in "nerd culture" - framed the whole thing as misogynist rabble-rousing and slut-shaming, despite most of the conversation about Zoe having largely been buried in the discussions about the lack of transparency in the gaming media and the charity she managed to bury.

- Perhaps my favorite example was Devin Faraci, owner of Badass Digest, claiming "I have more respect for ISIS than the anti-Quinn people". If he were joking, that'd be hilarious. Sadly all signs point to him being as spiteful towards his own audience as a Mark Millar comic.

* Sarkeesian posts about getting death-threats and needing to leave her home. Hours later she posts the harassment for the world to see - oddly, said tweets appear to have been made three hours after she initially reported them. Sadly, the very nature of Twitter means it's hard to confirm one way or another.

- Incidentally, 24 hours later Sarkeesian suggests that anyone who wants to support her in this crisis can donate to Feminist Frequency. Because nothing un-does a criminal threat like fucking cash donations.

* The Fine Young Capitalists post a public "Peace Treaty" after long talks with their lawyer. They basically admit that Zoe Quinn was a factor - but not the sole issue - that closed down their previous attempt, that said complications cost him an investor worth $10,000 that he had to make up for out of pocket. He wants to speak no more of Quinn, and has - as far as anyone can tell - is taking it on the chin solely to be the better person and walk away with his dignity intact. Good for you, buddy.

* The gaming press, despite their dedication to supporting and championing women in video game related fields, still refuse to cover The Fine Young Capitalists. The only real piece we've had was in Vice, in which Vivian James, literally the symbol of hope and actual justice in this whole thing, is shat on... in an interview with Quinn's ex. Really, that's a thing - or was, until it was taken down 24 hours later.

* A number of sites have posted scathing, nasty articles calling for "The Death of Gamers" arguing that the word itself has literally become tainted in the wake of all this bile and hatred. I think Leigh Alexander via Gamasutra was the first to do so, but about a half-dozen followed suit within 24 hours.

* Leigh Alexander also runs a PR firm and regularly tweets on her work-account about projects her clients are working on? 'Cause her acknowledging that ethics in the gaming journalist side of things clearly wouldn't leave her with an obvious conflict of interests...

As of this writing, only The Escapist forum has allowed a full, uncensored discussion of the events, and it currently sits at over 14,500 posts(!) - and constantly growing as new articles appear, more supporters poke their heads up, and more bile is puked out - often including links and screencaps (and as much of this is twitter-based, expect regular purging). Everything you could want and so, so goddamn much more. I have little doubt that, once Pax Prime is over and whatever new developments crop up there are finished, someone with more free time and passion for internet insanity will piece together this Gilgamesh-level epic into the comprehensive and cohesive saga that it deserves, but for now, you can either take my summary as-is, or start poking around for yourself. I'd encourage the latter, but Jesus Christ, this stuff is over the top and hard to follow sometimes... Why do I suddenly feel like Batty?

I've seen things over the last two weeks you people wouldn't believe. I've seen grown men threaten the life of a 10 year old boy, only for the child to turn around and tell his harasser "Don't worry, you'll stop crying over this soon." I've seen /v/ declare a furry with no direct affiliation to this bullshit (other than he knew it was bullshit) based. I've seen JonTron Jafari get a massive heaping of people insulting him for basically just being white, even though "Persian" isn't exactly the American definition of the word to begin with.  I've watched Will Wheaton and Tim "My Goddamn Hero" Schafer defend Anita Sarkeesian's worthless video series, and I've watched Adam fucking Baldwin defend The Fine Young Capitalists and Christina Sommers call this entire kerfluffle bad for feminism of all stripes. I've seen Ariel Winters materialize, a feminist blogger creating a false account, stating that they'd lose their jobs if they admitted how they really felt under their "professional" names. I've seen Zoe herself call the people who write about her game "journalists" when saying she felt they deserved respect, and "bloggers" when their donating to her becomes public knowledge. I've seen people suggest that the revolution should call the new breed of "prorgressive" gaming enthusiasts "gamers+", and I still can't tell if they're joking or not. I've seen so many tweets saying 'I disagree with you, but I wish no harm to befall you regardless.' be deleted, because it goes against the hero/villain complex so many of the people involved in this flaming, glorious trainwreck.

All those tweets will be lost in deletions, like... trolls in the rain. Time to stop giving a fuck.

There's a number of websites I won't bother feeding with any ad revenue after this, and that's honestly bumming me out. Don't get me wrong, I don't usually care about the inter-personal bullshit of the industry unless it concerns me directly, but... the fact is I'm fucking sick of it. I'm sick of puerile and guilt-wracked articles written by guys younger than I am shouting "WELP, I guess I've been sexist this whole time." I'm sick of reading articles written by Americans who tell me to get a perspective on the Japanese gaming industry, when most of what I buy are Japanese games. I'm sick and tired of hearing that Anita goddamn Sarkeesian getting a series of tweets threatening her is undeniable proof that the entire gaming community is a pack of neanderthal mysoginist scumbags when all it proves, at most, that one fucking person on the internet is a sociopath.

Let's think about that for a second: When some fucking psycho showed up to the opening of The Dark Knight Rises with an assault rifle, nobody blamed "movie culture" - nobody wrote articles about how we, the film loving audience, clearly have a massive problem and need to look ourselves in the mirror. Because that would be stupid. No, what the whole world saw was one lone, sick, stupid asshole doing what sick, stupid assholes do. But if you believe the limited focus present in the video games themed press, the fact that I play games means I'm somehow "part of it". Somehow "gaming culture" has failed. It's not just tedious, it's downright insulting... and the saddest part is that it's nothing new.

Pictured: /v/'s Daughterfu being violently born out of a
mutually agreed upon rejection of The Quinnspiracy's bullshit.

Meanwhile, not a single part of this industry is covering The Fine Young Capitalists charity, something that actually wants to put women in the industry, and - at /v/'s own suggestion! - are actively creating videos to spotlight women who are famous and celebrated for actually working in the industry, not simply being shills for their own celebrity beside it. It's actual activism which would make a difference, small and positive as it is... but because it's not going to get people to bluster about and argue with it, nobody actually fucking cares. The Social Justice focus - at far as these sites are concerned, at any rate - is to make gaming more inclusive and to establish that women are both a part of the marketplace and a creative force in the industry. And yet here's a charity trying to push both of these ideals to the forefront, and they get completely ignored. That's fucked up.

Maybe you're a person who doesn't bother reading EuroGamer or The Escapist or Gamasutra or Rock Paper Shotgun and you have no idea what I'm talking about. God, you'd be a happier person than I am. But the short version is all of this ties into another bizarre phenomenon that, really, has no direct correlation to video games; it's the Social Justice movement embraced by Twitter and Tumblr, which typically seeks to use petty harassment to stamp out sexism, racism, transphobia and so on. The goal seems to be sincere enough, but it can also wear thin when you find bullshit like people being upset that the new Ridley Scott movie "white washes" the royal cast, despite the fact that science's latest testing on the mummy of Rameses II suggests he had naturally red hair, which... isn't a feature usually found on North Africans. In other words, Egyptian royalty were likely a biological melange of Hasidic and Roman lineage, not what a modern day Egyptian would look like. Meanwhile, nobody cares that Christian Bale is playing Moses even though he's Welsh - not a Jew - because... reasons? Or people complaining that Pokemon, when it asks if you're a boy or a girl, doesn't have an "other" option. The people who have gender identity disassociation issues are in a shitty spot; they're such a tiny portion of the population that they naturally don't get any decent representation in media, but expecting a Japanese game franchise that's trying really, really hard not to piss off the rest of the world to do it is expecting the moon on a string. It was about the time I read a piece on how some Social Justice types were putting stickers on Halloween costumes called "Indian" and "Geisha" and so on declaring them 'Racist' along with 'One Size Fits All'. Yeah, that's cute. Also, the only person who gives a shit is the teenager being paid minimum wage who has to peel those fuckers off during his unpaid break. You really showed the man that time, you little rebel. It's with this in mind that the phrase "Social Justice Warrior" is typically used with derision, and typically towards young, outspoken people who clearly mean well, they're just... focusing on the wrong things. If the only thing you took away from Disney's Frozen is how a film set in Norway doesn't acknowledge the Sami ethnicity, you're probably a SJW. And if you think it's horrible that Disney didn't acknowledge a race of people of color living in Norway, chill the fuck out; Renee Zellwigger is a Sami, and that blonde bitch is probably whiter than I am.

Charlie: A unique and important female character in the world of video games.
Either I'm a fucking idiot, or Anita Sarkeesian is. I'll let you decide who.

It's that uniquely focused mindset that's gotten us where we are in so many articles decrying the generic white hero of 7th generation console games, they'll seemingly praise anything that deviates. One of my favorites was the recognition Thomas Was Alone had for a non-sexualized female character, who's - and I'm not kidding - literally a blue square narrated by a man. That's how desperate the SJW side is to praise anything that falls outside of the stock standard and doesn't present women as sexualized. Their talking points are literally anthropomorphized Tetris blocks. I can't even make this shit up if I tried.

Don't get me wrong, the idea behind their argument makes sense; it's really no secret that Whitey has been the center for Western media since media was a concept, and to be honest, I'm as tired of the same old as any of them. That's why I played Thomas Was Alone in the first place. I just don't think that's the direction actual storytelling is going - or, if it is, gaming as a medium to tell unique and interactive stories is going a direction I'm not entirely thrilled with. But then, I'd like to think I'm not a particularly bigoted human being - just a spiteful one. I just generally hate everyone unless they give me reason not to, regardless of gender, race, status or how well they yodel, which I find remains the easiest way to get through life.

Don't get me wrong, though. Saying you'd like RPGs to have more female characters because you're a woman who likes RPGs to have a more similar dialogue to how you'd handle problems, or you're a black man who'd like more dark skinned protagonists in open-world action games makes sense, and I think those are things we should see. Fuck man, I don't care if my fire breathing biologically antihero looks vaguely more like Idris Alba than Aaron Paul, but Jerome might, and I can't think of an example like that since, what, Prototype 2? So cool, give it to him! I don't care, and if he does, everyone's happy. The disconnect here is I don't want some over-sensitive arsehole on The Escapist explaining to me how The Walking Dead adventure game features racial overtones in "every choice". Dude, I've played that game. There are scenes where the ethnicity of the hero are important to other characters, absolutely, and there are also big chunks where it's not; if you really think every moment is about the color of Lee's skin, you're ignoring the fact that the game is multi-layered and nuanced, just like real people are supposed to be.

Hey! Did you know that over half of gamers are women? That's what the ESA has to say on the matter, and I have little doubt that it's true. You know what they neglect to mention? What particular genres and platform women are actually playing. That's kind of a major factor that largely gets ignored, and independant studies in Europe have - unsurprisingly - found that while certain genres, like strategy and roleplaying games have a roughly even male-to-female playerbase, card and simulation games skew towards females, while racing and shooters skew towards males. Hell, Bioware's Mass Effect franchise has been given tons of praise for allowing all genders, races and sexual preferences, specifically catering to the inclusivity ideal that these sites are pushing for... and yet, over 80% of Mass Effect 3 players have played the game with the male version of Commander Shepherd. Even if a large number of those players were female and that none of the FemShep players were male, it further suggests that even when inclusivity is offered, the vast majority is more willing in playing with a male avatar.

Sorry, Nilin. We won't.

Oh hey, what about that weird memory-rewriting Sci-Fi adventure game Remember Me? How pumped all the sites and the comments therein were about how it was new and exciting and had a unique, powerful female lead? And how the developers had such a hard time finding a publisher because the game has you playing as a woman who - gasp! - kisses men, and some of the publishers felt that would make their sweet, sweet young male demographic uncomfortable because ewww, that's gay? Got news for you. It sold like shit. An estimated 140,000 copies across all platforms on release. The people clamoring for better female representation didn't actually support a game that included it, and that's a goddamn fact.

Meanwhile, Dragon's Crown - a game who's massive, jiggly titties were such a hot button issue with the gaming press (despite, as I've discussed at length, said titties being an act of parody at most) - sold upwards of 940,00 copies in about a month. Why did the controversial, exclusionary game sell better? Well, a big part of this is the fact that Remember Me... kind of sucks. It's a cool concept, but the combat is weird and the maps are dull to navigate and the only novel part - the whole memory rewriting thing - just isn't as fun to perform as anyone expected it would be. Remember Me just wasn't very good, and a combination of only lukewarm reviews and no massive marketing push left it to die on the vine. Dragon's Crown, stylistically bankrupt or not, is a fun arcade style brawler that has 4 player local co-op and is a goddamn fun time. The gaming press can and will harp on whatever it likes, but the simple numbers suggest that people actually buying and playing the games aren't nearly as fussed about the gender or non-sexualized nature of the character as the press says they should be. And for fuck's sake, anyone suggesting that "tits" are the only reason Dragon's Crown sold are morons; the player characters are fairly small and the screen fills up with new sprites so quickly you'd probably find it easier to jerk off to a single frame of porn spliced into every reel change of a Disney movie.

But maybe that presumably male-dominated audience just... doesn't like playing as a girl. Maybe everyone who bought Dragons Crown is just playing as The Dwarf, and sexism is still a huge problem! Fair enough. But that doesn't explain the Tomb Raider reboot selling over 6.5 million copies over the course of a year on all platforms.

Wow! It's almost like maybe the majority of the market straight up doesn't care about the avatar, and is just more concerned about the gameplay? Imagine that!

"But sex appeal!" I hear some of you thinking.
It's about as sexy as Auschwitz, all things told.

"If it doesn't matter anyway, why not broaden the audience?" Some theoretical dick might ask. And that's not an inherently bad idea, is it? Lara Croft herself was always just a gender-swapped Indiana Jones, and she even got Rule 63's back into a dude to become Nathan Drake (somehow). But how much impact does the gender, or race, or whatever really have on most games? Certainly gender impacts a game like Beyond: Two Souls or even Bayonetta, but if - for example - the latest Legend of Zelda game really did finally make good on presenting Linkle as a playable heroine... well, so what? The novelty would fascinate me for an hour or two, but the game would still be about chopping down long grass and throwing chickens and stabbing bosses in their big, glowing eye; other than acknowledging that the Legend of Zelda franchise has a number of female fans who'd love to see a bit more of themselves in it, the gameplay isn't fundamentally affected in either way. The argument that "I want more interesting characters" kind of falls on its face when 90% of game characters themselves are written to be without a personality, thus allowing the player all the freedom possible to tell their own story however they like. It's possible to infuse a faceless player character with a voice and a personality - Booker DeWitt, for example - but the Zelda example shows how little things like gender typically matter in the constraints of playing an action or adventure title.

And while a slightly different argument than my own above, if your stance is "more representation in general leads to better social awareness and a gradual rejection of stereotypes" - hey, that's fine. I'm a firm believer that gay marriage acceptance wouldn't be where it is today if non-flaming theater fairies hadn't started popping up in the media and acknowledging that they were exactly the same as you, they just didn't like the same parts as you. I don't really have an argument for that, because it's not entirely entirely true; when all you see are stereotypes and poor representations, you're not trying hard enough. But if you're asking for heroines over heroes, or black heroes over white heroes, or trans-inuit non-playable support characters and then claiming "THAT'D BE MORE INTERESTING!" without acknowledging that game hero characters tend to not be interesting for a reason, you're undercutting your own argument. An "interesting" character is simply a well written and nuanced character, which doesn't inherently adhere to any one gender, race or nationality.

While I agree that that harassment and threats and the like are inappropriate for any community, and there have been some really nasty examples of it in the last few years, it's the selective narrative around them that's been bothering me. I think anyone with a shred of common sense knows that harassment, threatening and generally being a shitty person on the internet is inappropriate; calling someone an asshole on a blog or a YouTube video is fine, but finding their home address is the level of scumlord that makes you literal human garbage. Even then, though, odds are it's just someone with an advanced degree in Googling, not an "actual" threat to your and your family - but that's neither here nor there. Harassment is generally covered as news in the industry... when the victim is female. Because the narrative of the gaming press, infused with those SJW tendancies, is that death threats are just hilarious trolling when targeted at someone who's not already facing an uphill battle in the patriarchal society of game development or criticism. And there's the core of the problem, or at least the core that's led to the bullshit the entire press and the community vested in them are going through right now.

A perfect example of the blinkered coverage in this might be Brad Wardell, the owner of Stardock Software. Kotaku literally posted videos of him literally comparing him to Hitler after a scandal about him sexually harassing an employee came to light... and were promptly thrown out of court for being bullshit. His wife received nasty phone calls over the incident, and people wrote him eMails with his home address threatening to sodomize his son. Was any of that newsworthy? Of course not! In the gaming press, this guy was already the villain, and the only thing he got were a number of redactions pointing out that charges were dismissed - no new coverage to actually clear the air and establish that the woman who filed charges against him was full of shit. Because he's a man. He's married. He couldn't possibly be a victim or harassment in a community where women are treated so much worse, because that's the basic narrative the entire industry of game-focused tabloids have picked up as the only thing worth talking about. If he were black or gay, someone else that isn't the assumed defacto "gamer" audience, maybe we'd have a story... but hey, it is what it is. Zoe Quinn, who's released literally one game nobody was willing to pay for? Front page, bitches. A guy who owns a studio who's released multiple games, accused (but not proven) of wrong-doing, and the coverage of which has directly led to him and his family being harassed? Fuck him, who cares.

The narrative has an end goal, too, but one I'm shocked the gaming press thinks they'll reach without going under. The whole argument that "gamers" have to make room for new audiences and accept that they're no longer the driving force behind the market starts to fall apart, however, if you realize what the ESA numbers are actually counting all games, which include tablets and smart phones and social media games in the same breath they would Call of Duty, Diablo and Smash Brothers. Remember what a big deal the Wii was when it came out, introducing plenty of people who had never played a console game before to the world of games? Remember how game sales for that console outside of first-party franchises, bought by the audience that already existed for Nintendo games to start with, was fucking abysmal? Remember how fucking poorly the Wii U has sold to this point, proving that it was a one-time novelty, not the birth of a generation of middle aged hardcore gamers? Yeah. That's the kind of thing being counted in these studies, and while it's not entirely irrelevant, it does mean that the "new audience" their shallow anti-partiarchal bend has been championing might not be a perfect replacement for the one that already exists, the same way the massive influx of older and less-obsessive players who bought the Wii didn't come back to the gaming well once the fun of Wii Sports wore off. The "core" audience are gamers who are obsessive and pre-order and buy DLC, and even Nintendo is willing to write off the 'casual' audience once they realized that the Wii's success was a one trick pony.

For fuck's sake, if we include "all gamers" into the samples, by far the most popular game on the planet is Candy Crush Saga. FUCKING CANDY CRUSH SAGA. If you want to represent "all gamers", that's what you're pushing for to be thrown into the spotlight. The only thing anyone reading Kotaku or Rock Paper Shotgun cared about that game was the disgusting copyright trolling and subsequent revelation that the developers had willingly and purposely knocked-off games designed by creators they didn't want to spend much money on (because the evils of capitalism fit squarely in the Social Justice basket). In short, the gaming press focuses on the passionate, hardcore  demo that actually gives two squirts about how the industry is fucking them over with pre-order DLC bonuses and wants to know what mechanics are being tweaked in the next sequel, and those players represent a very specific - but equally very valuable - cross section of the market. That's why the majority of the advertising on these sites are for the AAA games themselves being discussed on the sites to begin with.

 Who's laughing now, Gamers?

Prophesying that "Gamers are Dead" so that a Tumblr-ready feminist revival may dance on the graves of the patriarch's treehouse isn't going to happen unless these sites are willing to shift their entire marketing and ad-revenue system to cater to the latest Candy Crush update, and to that, I say good fucking luck. Much as I, personally, may not give the slightest shit about the latest Medal of Honor game, I'm not so naive that I assume the sites I read about the upcoming releases of Metal Gear V and Bloodbourne would even exist without the advertisers pimping the latest city-destroying simulator in the meantime.

And no, stating that demographics are a thing isn't being sexist - nor are they absolute by any means. My wife is better at Saints Row the 3rd than I am, and I'm typically snuggled up with her while she spends fucking around in Skyrim. She's terrible at Metal Gear, but I can't figure out Kojima's bullshit controls either - I'm just better at tranquing and hiding over time. She's awful at Mortal Kombat, but can for some reason beat my ass red in BlazBlue. She also likes The Sims and Terreria, and fuck if I can figure that out. The fact that she has a vagina in no way makes her a less valid player, or less of a target audience for these supposedly "exclusionary" products. But that's because already liking games, she's closer to the "boys club" than the mythical audience that the gaming press thinks wants games to no longer feature extreme violence and sexually charged stupidity. She didn't care that the game Wet sexualized a CG Eliza Dushku; she was just pissed off that the slide function didn't work half the time, and it pulled some Superman 64 bullshit making you ace time trials when we just wanted to be sticking our sweet katana up Malcom McDowell's ass. Her complaints wasn't "This game is sexist." It was "This game isn't nearly as fun as it should be.", and she's far less forgiving of lapses in entertainment than I am. She also slogged through all but the last map of Kane and Lynch 2 with me, because fuck it, a couples shooter that really wants to be a new Michael Mann movie? I'm in, warts and all. We'd have finished it if the game weren't such a pile of buggy shit that it literally locked up on the final stretch twice.

So what of GamerGate, or The QuinnSpiracy, or TheSchism-Something or whatever the fuck the forum warriors are calling it at this point? I can tell you that things are only getting uglier as the week wears on. Devin Faraci posted photos of YouTuber Boogie2988 to point out that his opposition was a bunch of overweight neck-beards; what he neglects to mention is that Boogie himself has been perfectly neutral on this controversy, and is about the sweetest lump of a guy you could hope to find in the wretched tradition of Guys Talking Into Their Webcam On The Internet. If anything, The Internet Aristocrat is kind of a pompous asshole and would be a more fitting example of something that weakens the defending argument, but because he's got a more handsome avatar he's not nearly as much fun to shit all over. Adam Baldwin has posted several tweets in support of games journalism cleaning up its act, only for Leigh Alexander to ask if he's the washed-up crackhead of a Baldwin. Luke Plunkett posted a dime-store version of Alexander's "No More Gamers" article, and ended it with blatant confirmation that he'd purge any comments that weren't "nice". Total Biscuit has consistently declared that people have some fucking perspective, with his best point to date being (and I'm paraphrasing) that if fantasy violence doesn't directly impact your life, neither should fantasy misogyny. Bob Chipman has been so adamant and ridiculous about calling gamers MRA scum over the last week that The Escapist has shut down it's Twitter Feed completely, and acknowledges that shit has gotten to the point of being ridiculous. Faraci continues to compare anyone who stands against Zoe Quinn to the KKK, and Zoe - a literal nothing in this fight - to Martin Luther King. (I think even the KKK would be offended by that comparison.) For better or worse, it appears that little has actually happened at PAX, where there was talk of protests and handing out flyers about Vivian James and TFYC charity, but when the other side claimed that said flyers actually contained links to Zoe Quinn's nude photos they decided that keeping it to internet chatter was, by far, the safest way to keep tabs on everything and not give the other side any more ammunition. In the meantime, /v/ is compiling a list of advertisers that promote each of the sites funneling the gaming media, so that anyone who's legitimately sick of it all can simply eMail the advertisers directly, tell them which writer convinced them to split, and let the rest work itself out.

And before I forget, there's now a push to call people who support the 'death of the gamer' to call themselves "Gamers+". You know, like Atheism+! Which... how did that end, exactly? Look it up if you want a laugh. In the meantime, here's a piece of photoshop that may be satire and it may not. This shit is so asinine I don't even care anymore.

*opens mouth, finds no words, closes mouth again*
Ah, okay. /v/ made it as a joke. I think?

At this point, I can't even pretend to keep up: I'm 40 pages behind the current state of affairs, and last I saw was EuroGamer posting an article about "Why we Need Zoe Quinn", and I nearly threw up in my mouth. No, Dan Whitehead; we really don't need a shitty Twine game that makes the average Japanese porn game from 1996 look positively nuanced, and the fact that you're only posting this two weeks after release as the fires of fury are still burning proves you're just doing this because you know you'll get a thousand angry comments, each one a delicious drop in the ad-revenue bucket. A shame, since Digital Foundary is about the only technically inclined place out there. Meanwhile a writer from Forbes has publicly admitted his previous article - calling gamers mysoginistic sociopaths - was way off base, and is currently trying to get an interview with The Fine Young Capitalist to further awareness of their cause. Ain't that some shit? The gaming press it burying itself in the sand while "real" journalistic websites are realizing that the cottage industry of angry bloggers poised as game critics has been a sham all along... I fully expect a few heads to roll in the coming weeks, and I'm making it a point to keep tabs on which authors have only been going out of their way to call me an asshole so I can do my best to avoid them.

The side that wants Social Justice to carve the heart out the current state of affair in favor of guilt and shame says "No More Gamers" doesn't have a leg to stand on at this point, and I'm shocked they're even continuing to rabble and holler, considering they don't even seem to know what they want, whereas the gamers themselves are just looking to be treated with a little respect by their purported representatives in the media that literally depends on them to exist. I stand on the edge of the abyss and shake my head, remembering one thing: Gamers Respawn. Leigh Alexander, Bob Chipman and Anita Sarkeesian have had their day, and I'm certainly sick of reading their bullshit. Zoe Quinn herself was bit the match that lit the powder keg, and I'm confident that in time, the fact that she fucked five guys will be forgotten, even if the lingering fallout clings to everything that surrounded that fact. I just know I'm going to continue picking through the last 40 or so pages of The Escapist forum, and make a concentrated effort not to read the rest of their site going forward... oh, wait, Yahtzee's still there. *Sigh* Fuck it. I'll go once a week, then.

If I have to get every bit of legitimate gaming news from Yong Yea, so be it; I doubt I'm missing much by side-stepping a new article about how, I'unno, Bloodbourne having sexualized harpy enemies is bad for the medium or what-the-fuck-ever else they decide is worth bitching about.

So... enough of that. If you actually want to make a difference and support progressive, sincere support for getting more women into game design, give The Fine Young Capitalists $5. Don't take my word for it, even Adam Baldwin thinks you should. You gonna' argue with a Baldwin, even if he isn't Alec Tier? Didn't think so. If you don't care about furthering a feminist approach to game design, hey, that's fine too! Being a consumer and not looking at the "big picture" of an industry that thrives on a specific demographic just so survive doesn't, contrary to the snarling and eye-rolling of sociopaths with an agenda that has nothing to do with games themselves, somehow make you a bad person. Odds are you'll be hearing about the "Death of Gamers" a lot less in the near future anyway.

Also, because my brain can't deal with this shit anymore, here's an article about the U.S. House being banned from editing Wikipedia for constantly adding transphobic slurs to the Orange is the New Black page. It even mentions Anita Sarkeesian! WHAT THE FUCK IS EVEN--

As a pallet cleanser, here's a cute love letter from the guy who made Thomas Was Alone - a decent and clever game you should play because it's fun and unique, just not one I'd pick as a Feminist Icon, that's all. Personally, I'm going to go play some MGS3: Snake Eater HD and remind myself that I can enjoy games without picking through hundreds of articles telling me how awful I am for it.

UPDATE #1.1: Here's a FANTASTIC ARTICLE about what the "No More Gamers" people evidently want. It's written by a community member rather than a staffer, but it is being hosted by GamaSutra, which is, again, the ground zero of Alexander Leigh's "No More Gamers" bullshit. The literal comparison to terrorists are a nice touch, but by far my favorite part is this:

We stop upholding “fun” as the universal, ultimate criterion for a game’s relevance. It’s a meaningless ideal at best and a poisonous priority at worst. Fun is a neurological trick. Plenty of categorically unhealthy things are “fun”. Let’s try for something more. Many of the alternatives will have similarly fuzzy definitions, but let’s aspire to qualities like “edifying”, “healing”, “pro-social”, or even “enlightening”. I encourage you to decide upon your own alternatives to “fun” in games (while avoiding terms like “cool” and “awesome” and any other word that simply caters to existing, unexamined biases).

I've been mainlining so much of this shit the past two weeks that Poe's Law is taking hold; I can no longer instantly tell what's real and what's satire. So maybe I'm just not in on the joke anymore, I can't tell. But if this is even close to how the people on the other side of this argument really, honestly feel... I don't even have a conscious thought to articulate against it. "GAMES DON'T NEED TO BE FUN." That's like saying food doesn't need to be edible.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Grainy Holocaust: A Few Words on Grindhouse Releasing's new CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST Blu-ray

This is somehow the least controversial part of Grindhouse Releasing's cover art.

If I've not spoken at-length about Ruggero Deodato's 1980 magnum opus, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, it's safe to say that it's one of those rare films I find myself consistently drawn back to, time and time again, regardless of how much time has passed. I've probably watched this film more than a dozen times over the last decade and change, and it's one I've probably bought more times over for improved presentations than any other, at that. Not because it's my favorite film, but because it's... well, I suppose it's one of those few films that are such a conceptual mess I don't honestly know what to make of it, and I keep hoping next time I sit down with it, I'll have figured it out. Unfortunately, every time I try I find myself in the same spot, convinced that it's an important and unique film... but every time I come away slightly less sure what its importance actually might be.

It's a legitimately fascinating film because it's so full of bizarre contradictions. The film juxtaposes beautiful, Mondo Cane inspired tracks over some of the most offensive fake-snuff footage ever conceived. The film explicitly condemns exploiting the suffering of strangers as entertainment, but the film crew kill a half-dozen of God's creatures before the camera just to make those assertions of humans being killed all the more believable. The film has a message, a moral and it asks you to take it completely seriously, but it's so over the top and grotesque in delivering that message that nobody who'd possibly listen would make it past the first half... it's too smart to be a straight up exploitation movie, but it's too vile to be an arthouse meditation on mankind's fascination with destruction. It's a film for everyone and for no one - a film that predicted the "found footage" tricks that would be exploited to massive commercial effect fifteen years later in The Blair Witch Project, but went so hard in the opposite direction that comparing them feels inappropriate, at best. It's everything a shocking and controversial film could ever hope to be, and yet it finds a way to screw up every aspect of those qualities, making it a massive, ugly pile of thematic hypocrisy. I adore Cannibal Holocaust, but I'm endeared in part because - much like Kaz Kiriyama's Casshern, David Lynch's Dune, and even Frank Miller's The Spirit - it's a film so focused on doing the things that it seems to be good at that it simply can't see the things it's failing miserably to achieve.

With all due respect to Rick Melton,
this will always be the best key art this film has ever had.

The only modern day equivalent we have in this post-torture-porn world might be A Serbian Film, a film that has a similar axe to grind about a similarly grotesque market that subsists on human suffering, but also spends so much time building up a nuanced, adult way of dissecting and demonizing it that once it kicks itself into exploitation overdrive the film becomes such a gross parody of its own message that it seems to only undercut its own message by way of pitch-black humor. The difference, in my opinion at least, is that at least when Srđan Spasojević lets his narrative goes off the rails he's aware of it, and uses the film's most offensive qualities against the viewers until there's literally nothing more to hurt them with; when I walked away from that film utterly defeated the first time, part of it was because it knew exactly how to push my buttons until I was not only laughing at the image of a man being skull-fucked to death, but I felt bad for doing it. Ruggero Deodato is playing with that very same toolkit - of incendiary privileged guilt, of teasing the audience with its own voyeuristic nature, of forcing the audience to suffer for the entertainment it so rightly calls them scum for wanting... but Spasojevic knows that, ultimately, he's as much to blame for this cycle of extreme entertainment running out to its logical conclusion. Deodato doesn't seem to be as aware of himself, and with it, Cannibal Holocaust finds itself teetering on the edge of pretentious posturing rather than actual moralizing, guilty of its hypocrisy or not.

And yes, I'm well aware that Martyrs exists: That's the modern day equivalent to Salo, if anything And Human Centipede 2 - love it or hate it - is due to be this generation's Eraserhead. It'll take a while for people to see these films for what they are, but mark my words, these films knew exactly what roles they had to fill in a the 21st century. The offensive content of Cannibal Holocaust is only the hook, though; despite the broken and scattershot way in which they're delivered, this is a film that has a message, and it's an expansion of the "modern civility vs primitive survival" that's been a part of this long-running genre from the very start. The strange truth of it is that the reason Cannibal Holocaust exists in the first place as a sort of extended "fuck you" to one of Deodato's contemporaries, Umberto Lenzi, who had made Man From the Deep River/Il Paese del Sesso Salvaggio in 1972, a sort of extra-trashy Southeast Asian flavored knock-off of A Man Called Horse. Lenzi never got around to shooting a sequel, so Deodato eventually took his place and made a semi-remake in 1977 known as Last Cannibal World/Ultimo Mondo Cannibale, even going as far as to use Lenzi's leads, Ivan Rassimov and Me Me Lai, though the real star would actually be Massimo Foschi once the two explorers are separated at the end of the first reel. (Full disclosure; Last Cannibal World is, if only in some ways, a better film than Cannibal Holocaust.) Unable to resist a trend that excused wanton violence and a chance to get Ursula Andress naked, Sergio Martino pieced together a ridiculous, almost Indiana Jones-esque adventure film Mountain of the Cannibal God/La Montagna del Dio Cannibale, released in 1978. It's not Martino's best work, but it's got a 42 year old Ursula Andress wearing nothing but gold body paint, a midget humping a pig, and freaky masks made of wet clay. Let's face it, the dump Martino took on your mother's chest is probably a better cinematic achievement than 90% of the movies that ever existed.

So yes, a subgenre in which graphic rape, real life animal slaughter, and watching a man eat human guts with tears in his eyes became a thing all because Dumbledore got lifted up by his man-tits in a teepee and someone in Italy said "Psh! I could totally out-do that..." Isn't that nuts?

Jess Franco's 1980 film, White Cannibal Queen, was released in Italy as "Cannibal World".
This effectively makes it a prequel to Deodato's Last Cannibal World, released three year prior,
but was also later re-released as "Jungle Holocaust", making it a Cannibal Holocaust prequel.
I didn't even have to look this shit up anymore.. can something be awesome and sad simultaneously?

By this point Lenzi was furious that "his" innovation of mixing documentary stock footage, naked girls and buff dudes in the jungle getting captured by snare traps was being ripped off, and rushed a Jim Jones inspired schlockfest, Eaten Alive/Mangiati Vivi!, for release in 1980. The film is an abomination, offensive on every level, even going as far as to steal gore effects from Martino and Deodato's films... it's kind of awesome just to see how hard the barrel could be scraped by the guy who made Nightmare City. The Cannibal subgenre was doing very well - in Europe for the nudity, and in Asia for the violence - so the producers asked Deodato to make a sequel to Last Cannibal World, and that - combined with his exhaustion towards violence in the media - eventually became Cannibal Holocaust. Meanwhile, Lenzi would find a way to out-do the raw shock value of Deodato's best work with Make Them Die Slowly/Cannibal Ferox in 1981, a film I can't claim is "good", but will defend with my dying breath as being an incredibly honest and unapolagetic slice of sleaze. It's one of Giovanni Lamberto Radice/John Morghen's best performances, and the fact that he alone serves up a dismemberment, a castration and a decapitation in the film's three-step execution scene makes the film worth seeing alone, forget how absurd the actual "plot" of it all is. Did I mention there's a mafia movie going on in New York it occasionally cuts back to? Yeah, Cannibal Holocaust may be rightly known as "The Mother of all Cannibal movies", but if you just want to see how balls out Italian movies from the early 80s could get, you'd be hard pressed to find a more ridiculous entry than Ferox.

That was, sadly, more or less the last hurrah for these explosively gory and guilt-riddled affairs. There were a handful of other cannibalism related films to filter out of Italy through the 1980s and a few equally bizarre offshoots I've neglected to mention, but even Deodato's final entry in his supposed "cannibal trilogy", the 1985 action film Cut and Run/Inferno in Diretta, feels more like the confused afterbirth of Miami Vice and Apocalypse Now's lovechild. I suppose Wes Craven pulling out of a production suddenly and the whole thing being dropped into Deodato's lap was going to cause some pretty bizarre changes, and I adore Cut and Run, but... seriously, how the fuck does that movie even exist? There are increasingly strange, and oft-only tangentially related entries to speak of - Cannibal Apocalypse fused PTSD with the urge to eat human flesh, Anthropophagous stars George Eastman as a massive featus-munching ghoul, Zombie Holocaust features more cannibals than it does re-animated corpses, Massacre in Dinosaur Valley has a forgotten tribe of fossil-blade wielding cultists for some reason, Trap Them And Kill Them fused softcore porn with cannibal shenanigans (because of course it did - the alternate title is "Emmanuelle and the Last Cannibals"!), and Amazonia: The Catherine Miles Story, released by some unscrupulous distributors as Cannibal Holocaust 2(!), is fucking terrible - but each of these films was made to cash in on a different trend, following another cinematic angle that just happened to think that tossing the word "Cannibal" in the title somewhere would probably sell more ticket. I've personally watched every fucking one of these movies, so it evidently works...

In a sense, the grotesque and cruel world of Italian cannibal movies - for a good long while, arguably the most extreme films made anywhere in the world - simply don't "work" anymore. They were basically an expanded riff of the crazy exploitation fueled pseudo-documentary craze started in the mid-60s by Mondo Cane, and back before Wikipedia and globalization was a thing you could go into some largely untouched jungle, find a tribe who's grandfathers were legit spear-hunting cavemen, and convince them to do what they already did from time to time in front of the camera and pretend it was an "authentic" experience; a drama mixed with a documentary. Nowadays the number of indigenous tribes completely unaware of the outside world has dwindled to next to nothing, and with footage of murder literally available on social media 24 hours a day, a modern audience doesn't need the exoticism of the Amazon Jungle to "buy" that savagery is lurking in the corners of our world; he's too busy flipping through photos of the protests in Ferguson getting shot with tear gas, or the brutal beheadings in Syria, next to a story about how some porn star was beaten to a pulp by her MMA fighter ex-boyfriend. In that sense, there's no room for the cannibal movie in the 21st century, no reason to juxtapose the casual cruelty of modern man with the necessary violence carried out in third world countries... we're too aware of how this shit really goes down now (or at least we think we are) that trying to use it to make any sort of ethical point would be far easier done by filming it in America on your cellphone. Cannibal Holocaust is the ultimate product of its time in terms of both its moral and the way in which that moral was delivered, and just like Phantom of the Paradise or To Be Twenty or even Streets of Fire, the strange

Mind you, that didn't stop Eli Roth from making an 80s Cannibal movie.
Am I the only person alive who just hopes this is a trashy good time?

Anyway, there's been numerous Blu-ray releases of Cannibal Holocaust in Europe. All of them have been garbage. With Grindhouse Releasing having become one of the absolute best cult film distributors in the business today, I thought this film was in good hands... only for screenshots to suggest a particularly old, gnarly transfer rife with wimpy black levels, heavy scanner noise and a general lack of fidelity. I was surprised to find so many positive reviews with the screencaps looking as shit as they did, and having reasoned that the glorious Riz Ortolani score would probably cost me $30 on its own, decided to take the plunge for myself. Expecting the worst, I find myself more confused than anything. No, this presentation isn't good and Grindhouse should, with all due respect, be embarrassed that their standards have slipped so hard for one of their most infamous titles - but the quality is not what I expected, either, and that may have made the purchase worth it solely for the massive headaches and questions this has raised.

Grindhouse Releasing created their own HD Telecine from, one presumes, a 35mm archival element - likely an Internegative made from the restored Italian IP - back sometime between 2004 - 2005. This was the basis for their impressive Limited Edition DVD, which was notable for looking... "different" than the competition. Color grading in particular had a strong yellow push during all the 'recovered' 16mm footage, and contrast leaned a bit lower than any other master I've seen. Sadly, as you can see on the old CAPS-A-HOLIC COMPARISON, a combination of interlaced encoding and poor compression left the R1 DVD option a worthy collectible for its massive collection of bonus features, but a somewhat underwhelming presentation for the film itself. When I started seeing screenshots from the new Blu-ray, with its yellow color grading and somewhat harsh noise structure I was fully expecting this to be a rehash of the previously released DVD with improved resolution... and it is. Most of the time, anyway.

The best way to describe the weakness of Grindhouse's old HD Telecine is "mechanical". Black levels are weak, contrast is overblown, and there's funky scan-noise pattern reminiscent of a screen door moire pattern, eschewing actual resolution and filmic texture for a gross, aliased series of small blocks with clumpy noise swimming on top. So, imagine my surprise when - at Chapter 3, or about 5:35 - the film cuts from New York to the Amazon Jungle and looks fine. Grain structure becomes refined and natural, shadows drop to a natural black, contrast is more controlled, film damage becomes less frequent and everything just looks... better. It's not a night-and-day difference, but everything improves enough that I'm convinced what we're looking at is a completely different scan made on a more modern film scanner rather than whatever real-time solution was employed a decade ago. It looks... pretty good, y'know? That's all I ever asked for. And then, right at 8:17 - right after a cannibal gets shot in the face with an automatic rifle - we're back to the blotchy, noisy crap that we started with.

The fuck? Why did it-- I mean, it's not even the next chapter. It's not even the next reel! Why did they... why did they literally do a new scan for one scene?!

To try and show you the difference in grain, resolution and black levels, I've taken two screenshots from the same reel of the film; the first is what the vast majority of the film looks like - noisy with an irregular grain structure, harsh "vertical" artifacts lurking in the black levels, moderate but constant aliasing (check out the ear!), rife with minor to moderate film dirt which, admittedly, I can't show in a single image... it just generally looks like the nearly 10 year old HD Telecine it surely was. I suspect the black levels are set to IRE 7.5 with the exception of the matte bars (the very same issue Maniac, Santa Sangre, and the Japanese import for Dawn of the Dead), but haven't bothered to Photoshoop it to confirm because there's so many other problems on display I don't think that aspect is even worth exploring.

The second screenshot is from the better looking material; note that the grain is fine and rounded the way you'd expect from a modern scan, the blacks drop off in a much more natural way, and there's no "clumpy" or harsh-looking noise. For better or worse this is a poor (but similar) shot from the best looking scene I could find, which - despite the blurry focus of the original shot - still makes a great case for how good the actual 35mm elements Grindhouse Releasing have access to really are. I can't quite tell you how knowing that makes me feel.

Cannibal Holocaust - 2005 HD Master Material

Cannibal Holocaust - 2014 HD Master Material

I don't have any "insider" information as to what elements these materials were made from, or how. All I know is the massive gap in grain structure and overall image fidelity we're looking at have got to be the results of different scans having been made. There's just no other reason why certain shots within the same scene would go from looking as hazy and mechanical as they do in the first screenshot to as clear and natural as they do in the second. I'd say that's a poor assumption to make of your audience, but as I'm the first asshole to suggest that it was done... yeah. Grindhouse Releasing did just enough work to make the most anal-retentive videophiles out there wince, but it seems that nobody else gives enough of a shit to even question it. Part of me makes me feel good, because it means my eyes are as good as they've ever been. The rest of me is slightly depressed, because it means that nobody else who owns this disc noticed the confusing shifts in quality, which suggests that had Grindhouse Releasing simply used the 2005 master in its entirety it'd still likely have the same moderate to high marks from reviewers it's had since it was released.

The following time codes are where the footage composed of what appears to be a superior scan can be found, based on the uncut version of the film - if you're watching the "Animal Cruelty Free" cut or whatever, you'll have to just keep an eye out and figure it out for yourself, sorry. These may not be all the scenes to be made from an improved scan, but they should at least give you an idea about when the quality shifts from the 2005 master to the 2014 master. See if you can spot the difference - and hell, if you're as troubled by these implications as I am, take a shot every time it switches back and fourth!

[5:35 - 8:17] As noted above: Smash cut to the Amazon where commandos take care of some hungry cannibals in the jungle. Reverts back to the old material when it cuts to the one soldier having a machete pressed to his arm so they can suck out the dart poison.

[10:41 to 12:11] Harold Monroe (Robert Kerman) has a conversation at his riverside bungalow with his contact in the Amazon. Once again we're free of nasty noise and obvious film damage, but this scene has been blessed with a moderate level of DVNR missing from the prior sequence.

[29:14 - 32:41] After stopping for some local booze (in gum form!), Kerman and his guide spend a few days in the jungle trying to track down the tribe he suspects know the fate of the camera crew. It cuts back to the less-impressive master once the warriors pick up the girl and run toward the river bank.

[37:47 - 41:36] Kerman gets invited to the worst dinner party of his life. The improved scan continues to the final cut of the hanging film cans, and reverts to the older material when it smash cuts back to New York. DVNR

[01:17:43 - 01:18:21] Kerman and the TV producers walk into the screening room and take their seats. This shot has some pretty funky DVNR for one reason or another - worse than in the previous example at 10:41, but it's probably just easier to spot due to the constantly moving actors. Notice that when you see them watching the screen from the back, the shot drops to pure black - something that none of the footage in the similarly darkened editing room does.

[01:32:53 - 01:35:45] The aftermath of the producers watching the hell on Earth they paid for. Note that the credits start at 01:34:49, and the DVNR starts to wig out and get all oil-paint like on the fuzzy opticals.

Those 18 minutes - while not perfect, thanks to the presence of temporal DVNR that seems to come and go, as "smart" grain management is wont to do - look substantially better than the rest of the film. With this in mind, I'm slightly more forgiving of all the praise others have lobbed in this transfer's general direction; when it looks nice, it does, in fact, look pretty damned nice, particularly that early cannibal vs commando battle scene in the jungle, and the scene at sunset when our heroes have a "drink" before taking their captive out of the village and into the wilds. That doesn't forgive the lackluster presentation of the rest of the film, but it does leave a better impression than it might have otherwise...

The bigger question, of course, is why? Why were only certain scenes re-scanned from the very same archival 35mm elements? At this point, I honestly have no clue what the rational was here. Were these scenes more damaged than the rest of the film? Were the artifacts or print damage simply too severe to be ignored? Was there physical damage to their HD tape master in those spots, and doing a fresh can of one trimmed down reel was the only feasible, financially sound answer? I honestly can't say. It's just mind-boggling that they'd bother doing a new scan for 18 seemingly random minutes of a 96 minute movie, when honestly, the difference in quality between the 2005 HD Telecine material and the Dutch "Ultrabit" DVD5 is so friggin' underwhelming I probably wouldn't have bothered pulling the trigger if it weren't for the inclusion of the original Riz Ortolani score.

I think I have friends who'd punch me for suggesting
Oz the Great and Powerful was "cute and respectful enough".
No well meaning prequel is going to top your childhood itself.

Bob Murawski, God help you if you're reading this, but I have a sincere and honest question: Why on Earth did you re-scan only parts of Cannibal Holocaust? You've been adamant about doing high quality scans for all of your other acquisitions to this point, and I'm willing to put you at the absolute top of the pile in terms of image and sound quality on Blu-ray for any "genre label" still releasing products - on par with Synapse Films, Vinegar Syndrome, Arrow Video's current regime, if not more impressive since you're never licensing HD masters, just 35mm prints. I understand that you had a pre-existing master for this title and didn't want to create a new one, but if that's the case, why did you only re-do some of the work? It just makes no sense to me, and I'd love to have a better understanding why you'd have 1 reel re-scanned, but not be willing to eat the cost of re-doing the entire transfer. If you're ever open to talking about it, I - and, surely anyone else who reads this - will be legitimately curious to know why.

Sadly, I a;sp understand that, for all my complaining about crumby video presentations, the odds of my singular voice have likely contributed little to the improvements from any label I haven't worked with directly (I still do that - if just occasionally). Blue Underground, Something Weird, Media Blasters and so on released shoddy work to varying degrees, but they ultimately stopped releasing films because the titles they were selling simply don't have a big enough market to sustain a whole company, not because I pointed out how shit they were; if my bitching had any real impact on this industry, Arrow Video would have been shut down long before they got their shit together, and Shout Factory would have been replaced by literally any other studio who understands how to use x264 properly. Bob Murawski is basically Grindhouse Releasing itself these days, and unlike most of his competition, he pays the bills cutting together movies for Sam Raimi with much of this seeming to be a passion project from a legit cinephile. With that in mind, I know that nothing I've said really "matters", in any grand scheme sense of the world. Grindhouse Releasing will do what it does, whenever Bob decides it's time to do it, and my frustrations and confusions here are simply that; frustration that lead to curiosity, the fruits of which some of you may find no less bizarre than I did.

On that note, Grindhouse is currently doing a 4K scan for Pieces, are preparing materials for The Beyond and Cannibal Ferox, have released stellar editions of basically forgotten films including An American Hippie in Israel, The Swimmer and Corrpution, and are even going to release A Cat in the Brain in HD, picking fights with the Italian licensors over it, which is a heck of a lot of trouble the only Lucio Fulci film I had to watch in multiple, brief sittings because Jesus Fucking Christ JUST MAKE IT STOP ALREA-- *ahem*. Because it's not the best film in Fulci's body of work, let's say. I may personally question the wisdom of not including the complete "hybrid" English/Italian audio on The Big Gundown which makes the Koch Media import slightly more appealing for those wanting to see the unabridged film in its original language, but including a virtually never-before-seen extended English print is a novelty good enough to largely excuse its absence. My point is, Bob is clearly dedicated to the cause, and I have nothing but respect for what he's done to this point. I don't really question the quality of any of their titles going forward because I know he "gets" that preserving these titles is important. I respect Grindhouse Releasing, and don't want anyone to think I'm trying to shame them into an admission of guilt. I'm just a little shocked that a studio that's gone all out on every release up to this point let one of their most infamous and controversial titles slip through the cracks and be presented in this compromised state. This disc is "meh" in terms of overall quality, and Grindhouse has consistently been a lot better than "meh". That's all.

Here's the Aussie release 'cause... I'unno, I got lazy.
It's probably the same exact discs, though.

So friends, is the Special Edition Blu-ray worth buying, warts and all? I'm honestly at a bit of a loss on this one. It certainly looks and sound substantially better than any other copy on the market, I'd be a fool to suggest otherwise, but the transfer is rife with unusual problems that limit the overall fidelity, and that's a solid strike against the surprisingly high price it typically sells for (I paid $30 through Amazon, and it's unusual to see it sell for much less). The bonus features are plentiful and not a direct port of the Collector's Edition DVD, which is a nice surprise, but honestly I've watched so many documentaries and interviews about this film over the last 13 years that the thought of spending another several hours on them turns my stomach; odds are if you own any other Special Edition DVD you've seen nearly all this footage, at one time or another. The booklet is pretty nice, the slipcover is a nasty little charmer, and the soundtrack - packaged in a cheap cardboard sleeve, like some forgotten promo AOL CD from the first time I saw this flick - was, as I said earlier, the personally tipping factor for myself. If you like this film and want to get a massive upgrade from the gnarly picture quality of the old, interlaced Grindhouse Releasing DVD, it's worth every penny. If you already own a decent looking PAL copy... eh, let's just say you'd better love that soundtrack to make the value seem particularly worthwhile.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Hell Hath No Fury Like A Road Scorned: SDCC Wrap-Up

Sorry, can you repeat that? Afraid I couldn't hear you over my six-foot erection that the new MAD MAX trailer gave me.

Word is that this flick didn't have an actual script, too; Miller found someone to craft super detailed storyboards, and then let his actors ad-lib as they went. This little bit of info collaborates well with the suggestion that there are no villages, no jungles and no Domes of Thunder, just Tom Hardy in the middle of the desert being chased by mutants in souped up trucks for 2 hours. I'm trying not to get too excited, but fuck it - I haven't had a boner over a trailer this hard since Pacific Rim.

I mean, yeah, other stuff happened at SDCC - like THE BEST VEGETA TOY EVER - but who gives a damn after seeing this?

Mad Max 2, commonly known as The Road Warrior in these United States, is the undisputed champ of 1980s transformative action cinema. It was an old fashioned cowboys and indians movie trumped up on cold war hysteria to create the single most explosive road movie ever imagined. The entirety of the "Post Nuke" action wave that would erupt through the decade all trace their steps back to this film, a speculate piece of nihilism that asks what'd happen to the basic concept of human decency without a society left to enforce it; a true masterpiece of cobbling familiar ideas and concepts back into a nearly unrecognizable whole, and one of the single greatest mulch-tiered "fuck you" twist endings I've ever witnessed.

I've always been frustrated by Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, who's two act structure really belittles its own potential greatness. The first third or so in Bartertown are fantastic, an increasingly surreal and bizarre apocalyptic fantasy that pushes the Western aesthetic of the previous film back to a Medieval Fantasy with neon lighting, but once they cut Gibson loose for sparing Master Blaster and he's rescued by the tribe of naked Aboriginal kids... ugh. It's the Mad Max equivalent to the Ewoks, plain and simple. I suppose there's a cultural significance that may be lost on me as a Yank, paying homage to the natives who'd be more likely than anyone to shrug off a nuclear holocaust and Western-centric societal breakdown, but it just felt too goofy to hold my attention, beautifully shot or not. It's almost like George Miller had somehow changed the channel from Richard Stanley's Hardware to Dustin Hoffman chewing scenery in Hook half-way through, and figured nobody else would notice. I should, I suppose, give this film a second chance... but goddamn it, did they really think Tina Turner was the ideal final boss for any movie, much less a franchise who's last maniacal baddie was a jacked-up and BDSM themed prototype of Jason Vorhees?

You could put a stop to all of this...
Remember, the safe word is "melon farmer"!

Mind you, it's been nearly 30 years since Miller's final Mad Max film, and in the meantime he's made everything from supernatural romantic comedies to 3D movies about dancing penguins. Yeah, go figure. So what are the odds that the 70 year old man who'll forever be best known for infecting America with a love for Mel Gibson that'd make us all feel shitty in retrospect? Beats the hell out of me. All I know is every frame of that stuff up at the top - over the top color grading aside, perhaps - looks seriously bad assed. I've had mixed feelings about this project for a while now, but if the film can deliver even a sliver of the over the top desert-fucking action that we see up top, I'm in. Balls deep in. God, I haven't wanted to somehow put my penis inside a trailer this badly since Pacific Rim.

Also of note, Shout Factory has announced that they're doing a Special Edition of the original 1979 Mad Max, which is more of a bikers-run-amok character piece than a balls-out action movie like the sequels. I like the movie for what it is, but it's a little limp, even compared to the swing-and-a-miss that is Beyond Thunderdome. I'm sure Shout Factory could include a substantial boost in bonus features, but short of Gibson and Miller showing up for a  commentary, I'm not sure how much excitement I can drum up personally.

Since San Diego ComiCon is now over and I don't care quite hard enough about any other projects announced to devote a whole post to them, let's mention the other stuff now and move on:

* BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE *snicker* showed off a teaser of Ben Afleck wearing the Frank Miller designed "power armor" from The Dark Knight Returns, and the results are... kind of sweet, actually. Consider me cautiously optimistic, and praying this is a marked improvement over Man of Steel, which - for all intents and purposes - is clearly the starting point for DC to try and emulate Marvel Studios' business model of FILM ALL THOSE CAPED ASSHOLES, NOW.

And since I don't think I've ever really clarified this, I stand by Zack Snyder being an incredibly talented director who's good at doing a very specific kind of sensory overload movie*, and think he was the best choice standing for both 300 and Watchmen, both of which helped legitimize doing comic-book movies in a very literal and very R-rated way that's pretty far outside of the stuff that both Chris Nolan and the Marvel Universe have tried to thus far accomplish. I'd argue that Sin City was an experiment to prove that a film like 300 could work, but the fact that it could literally be cut up into 30 minute chunks and replayed in any order does, in some ways, undermine the notion that it should have been a single feature film in the first place.

Putting Snyder at the helm of a Superman origin story was bound to disappoint a lot of people because little things like "human empathy" and "hope" aren't really his bag; nihilism, violence and over the top set pieces that shatter entire cities like an Hollywood version of Dragon Ball Z are kind of what he's good at, and as such Man of Steel delivered exactly what I wanted to see, but did so in the mold of trying to be something Snyder was neither capable, nor interested, in delivering. Parts of that movie are fucking great, and not all of the bright spots are dark in tone, but there's a lot of stuff that either wasn't properly realized, or just felt crammed in to make the movie feel "bigger" - a thematic Katamari of cloning and multiple father figures and the film raising moral questions it doesn't seem willing to answer, likely because this - much like Richard Donner's far more human take - was always meant to be one half of a bigger story. This is a movie where removing Lois Lane entirely would have made things better, not worse, and that kinda' sums up what a mess it is.

Sadly, the far bigger problem is David Goyer, that asshole that Chris Nolan convinced the world should be writing the screenplay for all DC comic movies... but, that's another story. for another day. Snyder's hit or miss, but his track record is still more of the former than the latter. So far the only thing David Goyer's given us worth a single wet fart is The Dark Knight - and even THAT has the same overly complicated nonsensical bullshit that goes nowhere!

I'll trail off here before I get into what an uninspired nothing Bryan Singer is as a director, but I've got other things to do that completely ruin my standing with comic-movie nerds everywhere...

* Wonder Woman's iconic look is so recognizable in her costume featured in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice oh my God how is that the real fucking title... that Mrs. Kentai peeked over my shoulder and asked "Wait, are they remaking Xena?" And yes, that was a shitty comparison for them to dredge up, intentional or not; Lucy Lawless wasn't exactly a body builder, but that lady still looked like she could take a punch and then give it right back. Gadot looks more like a model than a fighter, and while I kinda' got over that with Milla Jolovich in the half-dozen or so Resident Evil movies, at least her schtick is mostly doing backflips and then unloading automatic weapons on slow-moving monsters. Who'd have guessed that, with time and a misguided attempt to appeal to Western tastes, the RE games would actually become dumber than the movies?

The dull colors and distinct lack of respect to the original design aesthetic would have pissed me off, if only in principle - this is, after all, the closest thing to realizing American Mythology to the masses, and seeing it done with so little fealty to the concepts that drive how inherently silly comic book heroes inherently are has always been a personal turn-off. Look, I couldn't realistically give two shits about The Amazing Spider Man 2, but that doesn't mean that Homeless Dr. Manhattan doesn't piss me off from a purely visual sense. Jamie Foxx got a hell of a paycheck for putting up with that stupid shit, and it's sad because it didn't have to be that conceptually bankrupt.

But then I watched the internet collectively snark about how the wedge heeled boots are totally sexist and impractical - and that same general urge to punch the world for trashing unique footwear flooded back, same as it did when I saw the same conversation about Samus Aran's rocket heels. Those Athenian boots are bitchin', fools, and now I kind of want to champion this dull bronzed shit just so people who lack appreciation for fantasy footwear can get a nice kick in the ego.

I'm all for practicality in design when it comes to "serious" Science Fiction or Realist Fantasy - your Game of Thrones and your Alien and so on, but when said character is an Athenian Goddess who can fly teaming up with a bunch of GMO beefcakes in spandex pants, trip-inducing and capes and vision-limiting cowls... yeah. Not quite as fussed about her center of balance at that point. But that's just me.

* Gareth Edwards' GODZILLA reboot is getting a sequel, and having proven that he's better at making money than Toho themselves are, they're now courting the rights to use Rodan, Mothra and King Ghidorah. Nothing's set in stone yet, and it seems unlikely that we'd get one film with three(!) flying monsters at once, but the fact that they're interested in rebooting more of Toho's heavy hitters is still pretty exciting. For all the things the Godzilla film could have been, it did feel like the barren ground to build a sprawling franchise on top of, and the fact that they're announcing three massive icons of the kaiju world suggests they're going to go for broke as quickly as possible from here on out. Every second to feature Godzilla, the M.U.T.O, Ken Watanabe and Bryan Cranston was pure gold in the Legendary Pictures' Reboot, but everything with Aaron Taylor-Johnson was a boring, foot dragging mess, so the more kaiju the sequel gets, the better it'll inevitably be.

Sadly, this list of upcoming monster-mash fodder is clearly missing Jet Jaguar the Ultraman Knock-off, Ebirah the giant fuck'n Shrimp and Hedorah the Smog Monster, so my inner eight year old isn't quite as satisfied as he could be.

Also, for fuck's take, if you bring Kick-Ass back for that, I'm going to figure out what Twitter is just to bitch about it. Fuck that guy. I mean he's young and stupid, it's probably not his fault, but he was so, fucking, dull in this. I know three out of four "authentic" kaiju movie heroes are boring as fuck, but even Ferris friggin' Bueller sucked less than this in the '98 atrocity. The fact that there's anything I can say the Emerich movie did better than this is a core problem.

* Marvel may be a lot of things these days, but cowardly sure ain't one of them. Despite having lost fan favorite director Edgar Wright for his proposed ANT-MAN movie and haven't shot a single frame of it, yet they're plowing ahead to finish this production train-wreck in 12 months anyway. The balls that took are nothing short of beach sized, and I guess this'll help settle whether or not the mere presence of their logo will make a massive fortune, or if the people behind the films - you know, the actual directors - still matter in the minds of the public. I know Wright was the only thing making Ant-Man interesting to me, but will the rest of the world just bitch incessantly about its existence and then pay to see it anyway, same way they do every three years when Michael Bay breaks out the latest Transformers flick? Well... Probably. Marquee Value is still a thing, and it's unfortunate that the concept can slaughter a great film like Dredd 3D, while simultaneously ensuring that everything that doesn't warrant or  need a sequel will get one.

Also, sequel to Guardians of the Galaxy despite them not having seen the box-office numbers. I keep expecting a premise this weird to fail, but I'm increasingly convinced that we've slipped into an alternate dimension where nerds really do rule the world, and if so, the movie about a raccoon packing an automatic laser rifle may well be the most successful Pop-Scifi film since Luc Besson decided to rip off his favorite issues of Heavy Metal and not pay Moebius for it. Somehow, I'm fine with that. I'm seeing it tomorrow, because there's literally no argument you can use to put me off of seeing a movie that features Michael Rooker as a blue alien with an orange mohawk. One could probably argue that Guardians of the Galaxy being an absurdist experiment was already a risky move, but at least director James Gunn has a unique and respected voice in absurdist films to begin with. Again, cautious optimism. I have little doubt I'll like the movie, but if it's a commercial success on par with the rest of Marvel's output, that means we really have hit a turning point as a public... and that's interesting, if nothing else.

* Fox decided to make DEADPOOL a lackey in their unwatchable Wolverine: Origins movie, since they own his likeness but weren't convinced a fourth-wall breaking murderous mercenary would be a safe bet on his own at the box office. Ryan Reynolds pitched an R-rated version of Deadpool to Fox via an 8 minute promo reel, two minutes of which was "leaked" immediately following SDCC. First Blur Media was all excited about it and grateful that "Hackers" had found a way to get it... then they immediately shut the fuck up about it, with only Deadpool creator Rob Liefield having not redacted something akin to excitement that the world got to see this in any form. (If you don't think the HD version was leaked by Fox themselves as some viral stunt to gauge interest in the concept, please, put down the lead paint chips.) Fox put this project on the back burner circa 2011, and Reynolds made the somehow even more unwatchable Green Lantern flick with Warner Brothers in the meantime. Once that atrocity blew over, nobody wanted Reynolds to be a superhero soon after, so instead he made R.I.P.D., which was a shitty ghost-themed remake of Men in Black nobody asked for. Nobody wanted the official sequels, either. Seriously... stop making more Men in Black movies.

This is the butterfly effect in action explaining why we can't have nice things. Because that leaked promo was goddamn awesome. Go find it on YouTube before Fox pretends to be upset about it and takes it down for the 30th time.

* Fuck, I'm bored of this already but I need to mention this: Maisie "Arya Stark" Williams in THE LAST OF US: THE MOVIE? Eh... whatever. She's adorable and more talented than I consistently expect her to be, don't get me wrong, but unless you have a 15 year old clone of Ellen Paige in cold storage and are able to wrap George Clooney's face around Josh Brolin's talent, this movie's just not going to get where it needs to be to work as a 2 hour film with the same visceral impact the interactive version already has. That game is a milestone, "best ever" or not, and I have my doubts that removing the interactive elements forcing you to go through the trauma of the story first-hand will do anything but harm the moral ambiguity element from imprinting on the viewer. Watching it, without being "forced" to go through some of those shocking motions yourself, will likely leave a lot of people who don't play games why everyone flipped their shit over what's, basically, a cross-country roadtrip version of 28 Days Later.

Also, they're already talking about re-writing the game's perfect ending? Wow. They haven't even cast the male lead and already we can tell this is going to be a train wreck.