[Game: Portal, Valve, 2007]
Thinking, with Portals:

Why Portal‘s Campaign is Superior to Portal 2‘s Campaign (in Tone and Design)

 

Introduction:

I think it’s fairly trivial to say that Portal is a significant and influential franchise, and that both titles in the series are excellent experiences well worth the time of any player. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the original Portal is such a cohesive and nearly flawless gaming experience that it should be remembered alongside such other towering encapsulations of solid game design and execution as Shadow of the Colossus, the original Half-Life, and (with an asterisk for its incomplete sections) the first entry of the Dark Souls trilogy.

But my praise for Portal 2, while still extensive and enthusiastic, is simply nowhere near as unmitigated or unending as my praise for Portal. In terms of its narrative, Portal 2 opted for a lighter tone, with a heavy emphasis on blatant comedy which marred the established atmosphere of Portal and the established character of GLaDOS. Meanwhile, in terms of gameplay, Portal 2‘s single-player campaign opted for easier puzzles overflowing with a large number of lightly utilized new mechanics.

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[Game: Portal, Valve, 2007]
Thinking, with Portals:

Why Portal‘s Campaign is Superior to Portal 2‘s Campaign (in Tone and Design)

was last modified: June 9th, 2021 by Daniel Podgorski

[Work: A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess, 1962]
Burgess’ Myopic Morality:

Why Anthony Burgess’ Infamous A Clockwork Orange is Stronger Without its Original Last Chapter

 

Anthony Burgess Sketch by M.R.P. - A Clockwork Orange - bad last chapter 21

Caricature Sketch by M.R.P.
[High-res prints available here]

Introduction:

I really think that there is no better demonstration of the valuable insight and truth behind the concept we know as ‘the death of the author‘ than A Clockwork Orange. Anthony Burgess wrote one of the greatest works of philosophical farce of the twentieth century—in many ways as strong in that genre as is Voltaire’s Candide—and then lived out the remaining 30 years of his life without really realizing he had done so. And on the strength of luck (as well as a savvy editor, and later a savvy director), his accidental stroke of genius will be remembered in perpetuity.

Do not mistake this as outright disparagement of Burgess’ abilities as an artist. Far from it, I think he was a clever writer, a subtle reader of classic literature, and a capable composer. But I also think that he was too old-fashioned, moralistic, and traditionally intellectual to notice the real virtues of his work in A Clockwork Orange.

And the great book that he decried (his own), which became the great film that he decried (Kubrick’s), was something that he dedicated much time and effort to denigrating in his later years. He sneered at it and dismissed it whenever it came up, and—most egregiously, from my perspective—he worked hard to ensure that a weaker version of the book (which he successfully marketed as the true version of the book) became the primary version available to the world.

The nature of this article is such that it requires spoiling basic plot details of A Clockwork Orange, so you should only continue reading after this paragraph if you either do not mind spoilers or have already read the book (or seen its 1971 film adaptation).

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[Work: A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess, 1962]
Burgess’ Myopic Morality:

Why Anthony Burgess’ Infamous A Clockwork Orange is Stronger Without its Original Last Chapter

was last modified: March 26th, 2020 by Daniel Podgorski

[Film: Starship Troopers, Paul Verhoeven, 1997]
Poking Fun at Militarism:

How Paul Verhoeven’s Cult Classic Starship Troopers Willfully Discards Robert Heinlein’s Novel

 

Introduction:

Starship Troopers movie poster - Paul Verhoeven - Robert A. Heinlein - movie vs. bookStarship Troopers—in all of its campy, corny glory—is a hugely enjoyable film. But most of the film’s fans are likely unaware that the novel on which it was based (Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein) has almost the literal opposite themes of the movie. Indeed, unlike the blatant anti-propaganda and anti-conformist messages of Dutch director Paul Verhoeven’s comedic and hyperbolic offering, Heinlein’s 1959 novel is a fascistic and militaristic critique of diplomacy, diversity, and (by extension) peace.

I would make it no secret that I find Heinlein’s novel odious. Its unjustified nationalism is at best short-sighted; its casting of enemy combatants as literal insects is both condescendingly heavy-handed and laughably repulsive; its insistence that large-scale violent armed conflict is the only and best solution to factional disagreements is a demonstrably false assertion; and its premise that only like-minded militarists and willing pawns should have the right to vote in their society is nothing short of frightening. So this article will take a close look at all of the ways that Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers acts directly against the project of Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. I hope you enjoy it.

The nature of this article is such that it requires spoiling basic plot details of Starship Troopers, so you should only continue reading after this paragraph if you either do not mind spoilers or have already seen the film (or read the book, though the two have somewhat different plots).

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[Film: Starship Troopers, Paul Verhoeven, 1997]
Poking Fun at Militarism:

How Paul Verhoeven’s Cult Classic Starship Troopers Willfully Discards Robert Heinlein’s Novel

was last modified: March 26th, 2020 by Daniel Podgorski

[Film: Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, J.J. Abrams, 2015]
Sudden Awakening:

A Quick Article on the Quick Pacing in J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens

 

J.J. Abrams Sketch by M.R.P. - Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens - pacing criticism

Caricature Sketch by M.R.P.
[High-res prints available here]

Introduction:

Now, I would like to clarify right off the bat that this is not one of the hundreds of articles grasping for attention by claiming that the new Star Wars movie is worse than the abysmal prequel movies. Indeed, I consider the new entry in the series to be on-par with—or possibly even slightly better than—Episode VI (putting it just behind V and IV in my overall rankings). But regardless of how much I enjoyed it, I want to talk about one of my two biggest criticisms of the movie, which most commentators (both positive and negative) have been ignoring: the film’s pacing.

My other biggest criticism is The Force Awakens‘ excessive fanservice—with the most egregious example (which graduates from fanservice into the repetition that many have gone a bit overboard in deriding) being the Star Killer Base. But plenty of people have raised that concern. The more technical concern that I have, and most likely the primary reason that I consider it a weaker film than most of the original trilogy, is that its pacing is over-rushed, essentially throughout.

The nature of this article is such that it requires spoiling basic plot details of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, so you should only continue reading after this paragraph if you either do not mind spoilers or have already seen the film.

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[Film: Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, J.J. Abrams, 2015]
Sudden Awakening:

A Quick Article on the Quick Pacing in J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens

was last modified: March 26th, 2020 by Daniel Podgorski

[Film: Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Steven Spielberg, 1977]
Spielberg Before the Sentiment:

Discord and Discovery in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind

 

Introduction:

Steven Spielberg - Close Encounters of the Third Kind - epistemology, knowledgeIn the study of film, the group ready to identify Steven Spielberg as an immensely influential, clever, and popular director, but not a particularly artistic filmmaker, is no minority. The reasons for this are not all that difficult to figure out, after you are familiar with a large number of his films.

Spielberg’s dramas are often overwhelmingly saccharine; his action films often sacrifice tension to safety and predictability; his historical films play loose with the facts and the tone, often in the interest of either the aforementioned sentimentality or else American nationalism; and many of his films across all genres rely on reductive, trite moralizing. A prime example of many of these issues is fan-favorite Saving Private Ryan, which represents at times a relentless, graphic, unsentimental portrait of armed conflict, but which is interspersed with and ends with a clarification that the film loves a good soldier, loves America, and loves any war America should happen to fight.

Praising and Criticizing Spielberg:

With all that stated and recognized, however, I do not count myself among those who dismiss Spielberg as a creator of blockbusters, and nothing more. Even if I would agree that many of his films (even many of his most popular films) do not stand up well under scrutiny, I think that some of his films do pass beyond the (unjustly maligned) category of entertainment, and into the hallowed category of art.
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[Film: Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Steven Spielberg, 1977]
Spielberg Before the Sentiment:

Discord and Discovery in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind

was last modified: February 26th, 2021 by Daniel Podgorski