Well, the holiday season is over and the year has come to an end. What better way to fight off the post-holiday blues than by talking about some of my favorite media from 2011. Today I’d like to discuss Chuck Klosterman’s The Visible Man, Steven Spielberg and J.J. Abrams’ summer popcorn flick Super 8 and Xbox Live Arcade’s artistic dungeon-crawler, Bastion.
The Visible Man by Chuck Klosterman
I tried to read Klosterman’s first attempt at fiction, Downtown Owl, but I really found it lacking. It sounded more like he just wrote himself into a bunch of characters and then spouted the same pop culture observations that he makes in his non-fiction pieces. Not that this kind of device is a bad thing, I just didn’t see much difference between it and his other books which made it seem less like fiction. I know some critics trounced it and they weren’t necessarily that far off the mark.
I’m happy to say that Klosterman has apparently learned from his mistakes.
The Visible Man is what I can only refer to as a fictional triumph for Klosterman. It’s an intelligent, creepy look at human nature and a cutting observation of our culture’s obsession with voyeurism.
The Visible Man’s plot device is a series of transcripts submitted by therapist Victoria Vick to an editor in the hopes that they can be worked into a manuscript suitable for publishing. The transcripts center around her sessions with an anonymous man who she only refers to as “Y___.” Initially contacting her via phone, Y___ claims to have perfected a technology that allows him to become invisible and is now somewhat addicted to “observing” people. Not interacting, but just watching.
Part of the novel is Vick’s attempt to figure out whether or not Y___ is completely delusional. Klosterman writes his character very well and Y___ indeed straddles that line between crazy and sane with the utmost dexterity. The other main plot point is her attempt to distill Y___’s rather candid observations about the people he claims to be watching.
Much of what Y___ observes is based upon Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle; once you interact with something you change it. He insists that the only way to truly know a person is to see them when they’re alone because that’s the only time they’re truly being themselves. Through Y___’s twisted filter we are introduced to a humanity that is extremely raw when compared to the humanity we see every day.
Perhaps it’s the fact that I live alone which made the book resonate with me, but more times than once, I caught myself looking around the room in search of a hidden watcher. When a work of fiction causes that kind of thought in the “real world” you know it’s hitting chords on many levels.
Give this one a shot folks. If you’re already a fan of Klosterman I don’t see why you wouldn’t like the Visible Man and if you’re not, this is a perfect opportunity to get acquainted with his entertainingly superfluous writing style.
A recent Blu-Ray purchase is what inspired me to talk a little bit about this film today.
Maybe it’s my love of all things 70’s. Or perhaps it’s the fact that I spent much of my youth trouncing around my neighborhood with a video camera on my shoulder barking orders at my siblings and cousins as we filmed the next great action/adventure epic. It could be very fond memories of the first time I saw Close Encounters of the Third Kind with my dad so many years ago. Whatever the cause, Super 8 definitely struck a chord with me and stands out as one of the best movies I got to see this summer.
If I had to catagorize this film I’d call it a cross between Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the Goonies with a dash of J.J. Abrams signature mystery-building thrown in for good measure. Both did what they do best and the end result was just a great film.
While filming a zombie movie in rural Pennsylvania outside Pittsburgh for a local film festival, six friends witness an astonishing train crash. They soon come to realize that the train was a military transport and something escaped that night and took refuge in the surrounding area. What results is an exciting adventure that captures something that has really been missing in summer movies as of late: heart.
The filmmakers addressed something that has been overlooked ever since digital effects rose to prominence; you can have the greatest effects in the world but if you don’t care about the characters they serve no purpose whatsoever. Transformers: Dark of the Moon was filled with amazing eye-popping effects, but after three flims, I still don’t give a rat’s ass about Sam Witwicky, his relationship with his comic-relief parents or the vapid women he’s shacking up with. Super-8 tackles this by giving us main characters that are both deep and realistic and by putting them in personal situations that are very relatable. Additionally, the decision to use less mainstream or no-name actors really helped to suspend disbelief.
I can’t go into much more detail without spoiling one of the main plot elements so I’ll just say that I can see this becoming a summer classic. While it can’t quite completely replicate that sense of wonder that was often evoked by Spielberg’s earlier summer popcorn flicks it comes about as close as any film I’ve seen in years.
It was my intention to do a full fall harvest season gaming wrap-up, but to be honest, this year they really overwhelmed me. The sheer number of games that came out, the size and scope of some of those games and the fact that I’ve had less time for gaming as of late resulted in a poor sampling of each title and even one or two that are still in the package (I’m looking at you Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Edition). Perhaps as the holidays wind down and I have some more downtime I will be able to toss out some reviews of some of the most impressive fall titles.
But seeing as it’s the year-end, for now I’d like to focus on one of my favorite titles of 2011, Bastion. Bastion was a summer title but it still sticks out in my head as one of the best and most visceral gaming experiences of this year.
Developed as an Xbox Live Arcade downloadable title, Bastion is both artistic and unique in a way that I’ve only ever seen matched by 2010’s Limbo. When I first saw the preview screenshots it appeared as just another dungeon-crawler. However, once I loaded the demo I realized that’s where the similarities ended and it was so much more than that.
You begin the game as “the Kid.” Sometime after an apocalyptic event called “the Calamity” you set out to find and restore the “Bastion,” a sort of spiritual fallout shelter where any survivors were supposed to meet if they could. The most interesting thing about this game is that the moment you awaken your every move is narrated by an old man who is observing your journey.
The story line is incredible and in some moments heartbreaking. I haven’t vicariously felt the sadness of a video game character since watching the glassing of New Alexandria in 2010’s Halo: Reach. That’s an impressive feat for an Xbox Live Arcade title.
The storyline is accompanied by an AMAZING score and soundtrack. It manages to add a tremendous feeling of immersion that really helps you connect with the characters and to feel what they’re going through. Once I heard “Build a Wall (Zia’s Theme)” by Darren Korb, I immediately began scanning Amazon’s Mp3 downloads until it showed up a few weeks later and that tune became a mainstay on my playlist.
The visuals are on par with the rest of the title. The whole game feels like an artist is painting the landscape around you as you move forward towards each destination. This style really helps to solidify the dreamlike state the story is supposed to exist in. The enemies are sometimes simultaneously funny and creepy. Moving through areas that were once populated only to see the frozen remains of once living people crumble to ash as you touch them establishes the gravitas that you feel throughout the game.
The gameplay, while far from original, is solid with plenty of ranged and melee weapons to level up and tinker with, elixirs to drink which create different effects and a shard system that helps you power up the Bastion which in turn helps you to do more.
Bastion is one of those special titles that prove gaming can be just as artistic as other forms of media and I would love to see more titles follow this line of development. I really can’t recommend this title enough. If you haven’t gotten a chance to pick it up, do yourself a favor and at least download the demo. If you’re like me you’ll instantly be hooked and the full title purchase will be as good as yours. As this was a summer title I’d have to imagine it’s selling at a pretty hefty discount at this point and if it’s not, it soon will be.
Enjoy your 2012 folks. There’s some great stuff on the horizon for this year and I hope you all get to enjoy it.