Arbiter Libera


Here we are again and it only took me a month. As usual I hope you enjoy the read. :D

This is a big 'un, but not necessarily on the front as much as in the work I put into behind the scenes changes only to scrap them. Basically, I had everything converted to a button layout where you could actually collapse and open “tabs” at will. It got reverted because I did not like the fact opened sections stacked on top of each other rather than collapsing all but the one that's currently opened. This works just fine for smaller chunks of text where you can read them without scrolling. With my walls of text where you still have to scroll; first to read through them and then to select the next piece by pressing the appropriate tab button, I think current format works out better.

There are some other changes such as overhaul of the basic information layout which is more of a visual change for the sake of it. To be perfectly honest real intention was getting couple of extra lines to work with, but then I had to separate that from the main body of the text so it evened out. Real change lies in expanding my thumbs up, down or middle to a properly granular rating system at the end of reviews. Why the change? Because I wanted to separate my reviews from Steam's rating system. I simply applied it to everything else from there on out. One last thing is unification of all video game reviews under a single category now titled “Chronicles & Ventures” seeing as there is really no reason to keep Steam games and non-Steam games separate. Now I just have to figure out how to handle Steam games that don't have traditional box covers. Even with something like SteamGameCovers and other resources it's going to be tricky short of creating my own covers and I'm not that crazy yet.

Props to Shax for letting me steal his bolding-for-emphasis technique.

Chronicles & Ventures

The future is unwritten. there are best case scenarios. There are worst-case scenarios. both of them are great fun to write about if you’ re a science fiction novelist, but neither of them ever happens in the real world. What happens in the real world is always a sideways-case scenario. World-changing marvels to us, are only wallpaper to our children.

Why does this always happen to me? I procrastinate for a long time and then cram two games in under a week. Well, it's been almost half a year since I last dabbled in open world so I decided to give it a go once again and with the next Assassin's Creed game no less. For a change of pace I then decided to break it up a bit with something different and here we are. In retrospective it's kind of a shame Syndicate is still stuck on Origin if you want to play on PC.

Beyond the Rim

If it can be written, or thought, it can be filmed.

Pretty light update as far as non-games go this time. Decided to re-watch some of the classics after many years and I can say I was pleasantly surprised. Even more than I expected after watching nothing but modern stuff for years. It can be jarring to go back and watch slower paced movies that seemed to have scripts infinitely superior to what we get these days. Well, I'll leave that to your judgement and whether you agree or not.


Planet of the Apes

Science Fiction Adventure, April 1968, 112 minutes


If I can admire Planet of the Apes for just one among many things it does well it would be the movie's adherence to brevity yet also tempering with necessary buildup and appropriate pacing to set the mood as befitting. What this means in practice is I can scarcely imagine a movie today that would play coy and keep the audience in suspense for the first half hour or so as we don't even see the titular apes. This slow burn to the point when we finally see mounted gorillas results in almost surreal surprise equaling protagonist's own shock. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

We open to a scene of four astronauts returning home to now foreign Earth following a certain mission that will have left them off-world for 700 years. Taking into account they're traveling at near-lightspeed it means going into cryogenic sleep and this hibernation is interrupted due to malfunction caused by crash landing somewhere far away from home if ship's machines are to be believed. Sadly, those machines can do nothing for the only female member of the crew who dies mid-transit leaving our three scientists to find their way out of a sinking space ship and making due with their different personalities and reasons for opting into what was obviously a suicide mission from the beginning...

Did you like any of that? Well, I have some good news and some bad news – good is that Charlton Heston is phenomenal in the role of George Taylor with his abrasive and dismissive personality, but still unbridled professionalism and keen intellect running underneath. He's the unlikely genius explorer opposed by more classical lab scientist and boy scout companions, and perfectly suited for what unfolds as he comes to realizations about himself and confronts why he choose to join the mission. Bad news? Aside from Taylor himself none of the above really matters as Planet of the Apes changes gears about a quarter way in and true survival begins. I haven't read the novel movie was based on, but from what I have read it only borrows premise and decidedly goes in its own direction. Low-tech society we see works and is largely believable, aside from a factoid on whether remaining humans are mute or as this movie's sequel will attempt to capitalize on, something different entirely. Fact we're not dealing with humans does not change the fact movie explores themes ranging from subtle, and not so subtle, racism, religious zealotry and obfuscation of knowledge that could shake one's world. Even observed today this is not some cheap movie to get people into costumes and cheer as our hero engages in fisticuffs. Respectable philosophical themes and nature of humanity are explored with plenty of emotions and reasoning alike to go around.

Taking into account when the movie was filmed you certainly have to adjust your expectations, but I would argue it stands the practical test of time. Sets and costumes are both well made, particularly prosthetic lips which are capable of alright to decent articulation. Facial expressions above all else took me aback at times with how lifelike they came across. As someone not native to US or familiar with Glen Canyon those shots alone made me feel like I was peering into a genuine alien world. Gradual shift and eventual total immersion in tribal music goes hand-in-hand with narrative's direction and you definitely feel a sense of belonging much to movie's credit. Or Taylor's complete and utter alienation, depending on how you look at it.

Final Thoughts and Rating?

It's a shame you can't really go see Planet of the Apes blind today and even looking at DVD special edition case spoils the ending of the movie because some genius decided that scene has to be the cover. Anyway, I remember watching it for the first time ages ago and being taken in by its atmosphere and script that respects the viewers intelligence. Rod Serling at work yet again? Action scenes where actors shuffle awkwardly around in furry suits may not be a major selling point, but seeing this inverted society that still clings to seemingly eternal nature of man shows that as much as things change with time they also remain the same.

That power is reserved for the Almighty Spirit.

The Day the Earth Stood Still

Science Fiction Drama, September 1951, 92 minutes


I suppose it's funny how in retrospective The Day the Earth Stood Still subverts a lot of the usual “space men invade Earth, save the women” tropes despite effectively still belonging to that particular subset of SF popular during post-WW2 1950s. Coming from someone who has seen the remake and its ecologically bent message I far prefer a more original's takes with humanity potentially becoming a threat to the galactic civilization at large as matter of technological progress where ethics did not necessarily follow. Not to say what's being preached is perfect, and protagonist himself admits to that, but it's a very good hook to get the ball rolling.

This is where I'd talk about characters but despite quite a few in the support, I'd say far more of the attention is dedicated to random people worldwide responding to the fact an alien spaceship has just landed in Washington D.C. and everyone's on edge over what this mute edifice wants. In what would become a cliché we see reports from across the world, regular people sharing comments and the US military getting ready as they cordon the area and tensions rise. Difference between the way this movie handles it compared to modern takes lies in there being none of that forced human element we are meant to care for or identify with. There are relevant characters who get introduced later on, but make no mistake when I say this is Klaatu's story throughout as he emerges from the flying saucer under the watchful eye of his giant robot Gort... only to promptly get shot in a misunderstanding and taken away to get his wounds treated by the military. There he demonstrates some of his superior healing and seeming longevity, but also comes with a warning for the entire human race and demands to see our world leaders or he'll have to resort to drastic measures to get his message across because, in fact, things are apparently that dire.

At this point you could say the remainder of the movie is not that relevant as it deals with Klaatu's blending into human society and learning as he finds room and board, but that's really the meat of The Day the Earth Stood Still. He becomes friendly with a local boy and his mother upon whom he echoes many of his ideals and aspirations, he sets up a meeting with the world's most important scientists so he can deliver his ultimatum, almost dies and comes back to life as we witness some of his ship's interior and Gort itself is revealed to have a much bigger role. Message itself is significant, but it's the journey that matters more in this case. Michael Rennie gives something I would not call a mundane performance as Klaatu but rather one that almost comes off as normal. It's odd because you can see glimpses of not getting human society perfectly, but for the most part he doesn't play the stoic or alien ignoramus you'd expect. Imposing resolve and interactions with others establish him as a well-rounded figure with a mission. Only regret is that in the process no other character really gets that much attention.

Not everything is peachy, of course. Given the age of the movie you can expect various jabs at then current political situation in the world with the Russians and why world leaders won't come together. I was also not a big fan of the screechy soundtrack which is just a fixture of period's SF and takes some time getting used to. There's also this notion the way Klaatu's civilization exists is somewhat ridiculous because they do so by effectively handing away control and responsibility to robot overlords and relying on their mechanical benevolence. This is presented as an improvement over humanity's way of doing things and threat of atomics. I respectfully disagree.

Final Thoughts and Rating?

I think my problem with the movie lies in rooting much of the message in the era when it was at peak relevance and something to ponder about. This feeds into my active dislike for what passes as “good galactic community” far too eager to bash humanity over the head to maintain their philosophy. Some would scoff at movie's black and white presentation, but taking into account we're working with a lot of metallic and silver both are only accentuated by the presentation. It helps that Robert Wise was very keen on contrasting shots and even special effects are not too jarring because the movie manages to avoid them for the most part. I was genuinely impressed by the melting effect, though.

Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Satirical Comedy, January 1964, 94 minutes


When referred to as a “funny movie”, audience should be aware that Dr. Strangelove falls under dark comedy and should be treated as such. I can remember genuinely laughing only once or twice throughout the entire movie, but I think that more general and “in your face” gag-based comedy is here largely overshadowed by dark humor and overall snappy writing that only occasionally pushed just a step too far to its own detriment.

We have three different points of view feeding into one story so let's break them down.

First and one to instigate the entire incident is General Ripper who initiates Wing Attack Plan R by going through RAF Captain Mandrake and putting 843rd Bomb Wing on alert during. Our second team is crew on one of those B-52 bombers who receive said orders, naturally double check them, only to set a deadly course towards their primary and secondary targets. And lastly we have the Pentagon's own War Room where another General Turgidson is quickly roused to attend a meeting where President Muffley and others are in panic over what they can do about a rogue officer who just authorized a nuclear drop on USSR. Officer who's also the only one holding a special prefix code that will enable bomber crews to receive callback orders and all attempts to get him to stand down have resulted in Ripper barricading himself his own base as US soldiers face each other in deadly combat to get through and save the world from nuclear fallout.

I wish I could say all of the above were equally as strong, but they're not. Which might just be me blowing it up somewhat. Only point of view I would argue is somewhat weaker is one dealing with General Ripper himself and that's mainly because we discover the mastermind who got the ball rolling, east and west in absolute panic as Doomsday contingencies are being weighted, etc did it all over... fluoride water and general being a loony. Make no mistake because USA vs USSR and conflicts between their ideology is central here so it make sense the story uses it as such, but Ripper's character concept wavers on silly and those scenes are largely salvages by some of the now most iconic shots of the movie and his character himself is balanced out by Captain Mandrake – seemingly the only sane man in the movie and one of three roles portrayed by excellent Peter Sellers. Most of the bomber pilot crew scenes are dedicated to them being en-route and eventually getting technically as hell breaks loose. I liked them as an every man crew and there's even some young James Earl Jones action there. Absolute meat of the movie lies in Pentagon scenes which attempt to tie it all together, though. Make no mistake because all these characters are very serious about their job, aside from Dr. Strangelove who is just... well, kinda mental and flashes back to MEIN FUHRER days from time to time, yet their personality and stereotypes come through perfectly. From a somewhat weak president, Russian ambassador always looking to make gains and general Turgidson portrayed by George C. Scott who against his own better judgment realizes this may be it purely because of US superiority. And they may lose because of it.

Going beyond what I already said about it earlier the cinematography is absolutely stunning and so many scenes have stood the test of time. Just some damn good camera work without much dramatic action you'd see nowadays in some elaborate CG fest. Some effects like superimposing background on a flying bomber is one of those effects that's sadly going to age badly no matter how you look at it considering it was a green screen, but what's there is cleverly used and attention to sets is insane. Bomber cockpits with the claustrophobia inducing tight quarters were especially unnerving.

Final Thoughts and Rating?

I honestly don't think I could add anything that history hasn't already ascribed to Dr. Strangelove. Is the eponymous character barely in the movie and it's all somewhat silly? Yes, but neither of that is really a negative. If anything it's simply the kind of movie that might require a certain mindset to properly enjoy and even more so if you go into it expecting a typical comedy. It's a Kubrick movie and for many that's pretty much everything that needs to be said, but I think it's also the type of movie that only gets better and better with repeated viewings AND as we get further away from the Cold War. I can only imagine it took quite something to satirize the situation like this back in the day.

Arbiter Libera

Movie is absolutely full of great scenes. I wonder what audiences used to “X laughs-per-minute” comedy formula would think about it, though.