All posts by brian

SoHP: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (movie)

I was about to complement this movie for hewing closer to the book than the previous two, but I started thinking about what was missing and now I’m mad again.

It completely glosses over the connections between Harry’s father, Lupin, Pettigrew, Black, and Snape. In fact, I don’t think they ever make the connection between them and their animagus aliases or how the Shrieking Shack became the Shrieking Shack, or who made the Marauder’s Map or why. That’s really important stuff for motivations between these characters, and it reveals a lot of Harry’s father’s history, which he knows absolutely nothing about.

The conflicts between Crookshanks and Scabbers, and the problems they cause for Hermione and Ron are mostly ignored. The deteriorating condition of Scabbers is gone. And then there’s the weird bonus scene where Harry chases Pettigrew with the Marauder’s Map. And all of the Quidditch stuff is dropped after Harry falls off of his broom in the game against Hufflepuff.

So just like the previous two movies, this one is still a mess. It makes changes that don’t make a lot of sense.

But something I forgot to complain about in the novel is that WIZARDS CAN MANIPULATE TIME. Holy hell, two thirteen year old wizards are given an artifact that lets them go back in time and permanently change the course of events for the rest of the story. They’re concerned about Sirius Black getting a hold of the Marauder’s Map because he could track Harry with it, but there are artifacts in this world that can manipulate time. Talk about messed up priorities.

SoHP: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Okay, now we’re back on track. I’m settling into how the pacing of the novel is centered around the duration of a school year. At least this one didn’t end with a monster fight (per say) or a ghost of Voldemort. I enjoyed this one moreso than the previous two.

But let’s talk about Azkaban. The wizard prison. The wizard prison that is staffed by dementors. Dementors literally drain people of their happy thoughts and drive them insane. WHAT. This is not reforming criminals! This is torture! I fully understand that dangerous wizards need to be somehow magically neutralized, but to so fully destroy happiness that it drives the wizard insane is a really, truly horrible way to doing so. Are all magical court sentences to Azkaban life sentences? It doesn’t seem like pulling people out of Azkaban after all of their happiness has been drained will leave a functioning human behind. Why don’t they just execute them?

Speaking of executing them, there’s some sort of tribunal for magical animal punishments (which include death sentences), but they threw Hagrid in Azkaban without any trial because they thought he opened the Chamber of Secrets? The justice system in the wizarding world is as bad as the mundane world! What in the hell, they didn’t even have a shred of evidence that Hagrid opened the Chamber and they tossed him in Azkaban!

I’m bothered that we’re going to learn where dementors come from. I’m even more bothered that we might learn how they’re controlled. Prisoner of Azkaban opened a real dark can of worms.

SoHP: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (movie)

Note: I was unable to rent the extended version through Amazon video so I missed out on 20 whole minutes of movie.

How in the world was this a 2hr 40min movie and still miss so much of the book? I’m already not a huge fan of Chamber of Secrets for being too much like Sorcerer’s Stone to begin with. But the movie cuts out so much of the plot that makes it less clever than it actually is. The scene where Lucius Malfoy is dealing in dangerous magical artifacts? Gone. The scene with Nearly-Headless Nick’s death day party? Gone. And then the phoenix tears are immediately explained when they’re used, making it seem like they can just make up any old thing to address a problem and call it good.

I know this is a magical world. But it’s a magical world with rules. If Fawkes was just an owl or any other bird, Harry dies. He lives because of phoenix tears, which is explained when he first meets Fawkes. Not when he’s on the verge of death!

Then, at the end, the house cup is entirely neglected. And Lockhart’s fate is entirely neglected. I’m positive we’re going to start the movie of Prisoner of Azkaban as if Lockhart never existed. The scene where Harry and Draco are chasing the snitch all over the outskirts of the Quidditch arena and the scene where Harry’s hanging out of the side of the open door of the Weasley flying car never happened in the book for good reason! The flying car scene is just needless action, but the Quidditch scene makes Draco look like a competent seeker when he’s not. He’s a bad seeker. The snitch was right next to his head and he didn’t notice. BECAUSE HE’S A BAD SEEKER.

Just like the movie of Sorcerer’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets is full of unforced errors. It didn’t have to be a bad movie, but they slip up and miss things that even someone like me, who’s only read the book once, will notice and it makes the whole thing look sloppy. Because that’s what it is; sloppy.

SoHP: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Here’s my white-hot take on Chamber of Secrets: this is the exact same book as Sorcerer’s Stone. They both start with Harry being abused by the Dursley’s. Then we have the arduous process of getting to Hogwart’s. There’s some weird stuff that happens throughout the school year. It culminates with Harry Potter in mortal danger against a shadow of Voldemort at the end of the school year. Hundreds of points to Gryffindor, they win the house cup again. Hogwart’s needs another Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor.

Of course, this novel fleshed out more of the wizarding world, and the characters within it, but it’s very disappointing that this novel follows so closely to the pattern of the first book. I’m not bored by any means, but I’m bothered.

When I was a kid, I was into Inspector Gadget for maybe 10 episodes. Then I figured out that every single Inspector Gadget episode followed the same formula. MAD is doing bad things, Gadget goes to stop them, he’s worthless, Penny saves the day. When I recognized that pattern, I instantly could not stand Inspector Gadget any further. I’d seen everything that series had to offer.

I know Harry Potter can’t continue in this manner, or else they’re going to be spending much more time goofing off in class. I know the novels get longer as the series goes on. But I hope The Prisoner of Azkaban shakes things up somehow.

SoHP: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone Extended Edition (movie)

Bear with me here. The movie is an abbreviated version of the book. This is easy to understand. But the changes they made to the already thin plot gave it significantly less impact. I don’t get it.

The whole hook of the plot is that Snape is a bad dude and obviously trying to kill Harry. The movie gets across that Snape is mean, but it fails to make the case that he’s evil. It makes Potter look paranoid that he suspects Snape as the one trying to get the Stone. Throughout the movie, the two barely interact.

This makes the whole red herring reveal less meaningful. Harry barely interacts with Snape, and Quirrel is a background character. Quirrel is basically a background extra. The turban, the stutter, the fact that he’s teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts, none of this explained at all! And I really don’t know what to make of Quirrel’s fate. I guess the filmmakers wanted to make it less gross than boils and blisters.

Here’s the part I’m really unhappy about. They cut the potions test from the gauntlet and sent Hermione away to take care of Ron. They don’t explain that each of these tests were put in place by Hogwarts faculty. Then they cut the one that’s put in place by Snape, and solved by Hermione where Harry was stuck. Maybe they felt Hermione got her time to shine with the plant trap. But Hermione’s whole character in the book is that she’s smarter than Ron and Harry. It feels like the movie really did her a disservice here.

There’s other notable absences. The centaurs in the woods are drastically reduced in number. Malfoy is an annoyance rather than a real menace. I don’t even think they explain what the Sorcerer’s Stone does. This was the 2 hour, 38 minute extended edition. I’m sure I’d be even less impressed by the theatrical cut.

I hope the next seven films are significantly better. This one may have captured the look and feel, but it missed out on the substance of the novel.

SoHP: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

The Dursleys did it to themselves. I get it. Having a baby dropped in your lap is probably a big inconvenience! But jesus christ, Harry was their nephew and they treated him worse than a dog! You know how you drive someone away from your family and the mundane world and deep into the dark world of magic and monsters? Treat your nephew like garbage for his entire life!

It’s not cheating, but I actually saw the first Harry Potter movie when it was in the theaters. I vaguely recalled the plot and the major characters. I was under the impression that Hogwarts and the train and diagon alley were all on another plane of existence, but now it’s obvious that the wizards are part of the mundane world and this stuff exists in these weird pocket dimensions.

What is up with Neville Longbottom? He’s bad at everything. But in the confrontation between him and Ron, Hermione, and Harry, he was right! Harry might have innate skill, but there’s a whole school of skilled wizards at Hogwarts. The staff should’ve been able to handle actively protecting the Stone. They froze him! I don’t recall seeing an apology either. If Neville turns heel, I won’t be surprised.

Overall, there was a lot of worldbuilding and a simple plot, but I’m interested in continuing, even if it wasn’t the Summer of Harry Potter. I kind of get the school age kid appeal of it, but I hope there’s a lot more to it in the next six books because the school stuff isn’t going to keep me going.

Announcing the Summer of Harry Potter!

I missed the boat on Harry Potter. I was just a tad too old to get into it when Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was released, let alone popular. I wasn’t into it, my friends weren’t into it. Some of their girlfriends (later, wives) were into it, but that was kids stuff! I distinctly recall waiting in line with them for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, except me and my friends were playing Zelda: Four Swords. I was having fun, and they were waiting in line for a kids’ book.

But I missed the boat on a lot of things and I’ve gone back to enjoy them greatly, such as actually reading The Lord of the Rings trilogy way after I saw all of the movies. Good fiction is good fiction. I’ve proven myself countless times to be shortsighted when it comes to looking down on things that are actually awesome but I’m too dense to see it. I’m going to correct course on Harry Potter.

This is the Summer of Harry Potter. I’m going to read all of the (core) books. I’m going to watch all of the movies. I’m going to strap in to the Harry Potter train, cut the brakes, and see where it takes me. I fully expect to learn that Harry Potter is awesome, and if it’s not, I’ll at least have an informed basis for that opinion.

In the next couple months, expect to see impressions and thoughts and whatever comes to mind as I read these books and watch these movies and dunk myself in the lake of Harry Potter. I have seven extremely popular books and eight somewhat less popular movies ahead of me, so I’m sure to have something to say. Some of it might be worth reading if you care about the opinions of a middle aged man experiencing Harry Potter for the first time. The Summer of Harry Potter starts now.

24: Legacy episode 1

I just finished episode 1 of 24: Legacy. It’s still 24, and that’s a bad thing.

I think I made it through the first two seasons of 24 before calling it quits. I didn’t see it going anywhere besides “Mooslums are bad”, “white guy saves the whole free world”, and “torture works”. It was huge while I was enlisted and I found it all insulting on many levels. I felt like a product of a dark time.

In the first episode, 24: Legacy checks two of those three boxes in the first 5 (real time) minutes. It’s like the GWOT and the alternate reality where the GWOT was a good idea never ended for this show. It feels exactly how I remember the show feeling, and I hate that. I don’t know why I was looking forward to this in the first place, but it’s not what I want. The Bomb hasn’t made an appearance yet, but they’re still chasing an item to keep it out of the hands of evil foreigners who hate us for our freedom.

It’s bullshit.

Quantum Break

This isn’t a review, but I really like Quantum Break. It’s a qualified kind of like; it has quite a few problems. But I’m really into it overall, and I need to put some words on screen to get some thoughts about it out of my head. There may be spoilers here but I’ll mark them or I’ll put them at the end.

My first impression of the game was very poor. It looked beautiful, it ran terribly. It was barely playable on whatever the default settings were. But what I saw was interesting, and it immediately started with Alan Wake 2 teaser that was absolutely amazing. I love Alan Wake so much that the teaser could’ve kept me going through Quantum Break just for a chance to see another one. I eventually got it running smoothly.

To note, the way I did it was capping the framerate at 30fps, turning off v-sync, and disabling AA. It was disabling AA that got the most obvious benefit. I didn’t go back and try uncapping the framerate or enabling v-sync to see if they’d make any difference.

I kind of view Quantum Break as three separate part; there’s the combat loop, the exploration loop, and the TV show. Where Alan Wake often threw combat in with the exploration, it basically never happens in Quantum Break. However, the combat in Quantum Break is a lot more varied because there’s a greater variety of enemy, and your time powers give you a lot of tools to fight them. Weapon variety is limited to fast shooty or big shooty, but freezing people in time bubbles and dashing around is a lot of fun. Somehow, you can make time explode. I can’t explain it, but it’s cool. Later, there are enemies immune to your time powers and their direct effects (so you can’t freeze them in bubbles) but dashing behind them and time blasting still works. The only time I had much trouble with a fight was at the very end.

A lot of the game is exploration, surprisingly enough. Quantum Break has a lot to say, and it can’t quite say much during combat. The game goes through a lot of locales, and they’re all extremely well built with tons of environmental details. The whole game looks incredible. It doesn’t just look good either because, throughout the game, time is breaking and it gets worse as you go along. Time stops, starts, reverses, speeds up. It’s hella cool. But there in these sequences between combat, there are a ton of emails to read and radio shows to listen to. It’s overwhelming, and really wrecks the pacing. At some point, I committed to finding the collectibles but reading them later, and then I never ended up reading most of them.

Finally, there’s the TV show. Between the five acts, there are four episodes of a 22 minute professionally produce TV show. They’re not about Jack Joyce or any of the protagonists, but from the perspective of the bad guys, which is pretty interesting. It manages to make sympathetic characters of some of them, but it’s almost so deep into the background that is barely touches the game. What’s weird is the “quantum ripples”. These are things you find or do in the game that affect the TV show. However, they’re so incredibly minor that you might miss them if you’re not paying attention. For example, an early one is setting up an audiobook to read over the Monarch radios. Then in the TV show, someone hears that audiobook playing over the radios and remarks “what’s that sound?” and that’s it. Between the TV show and the huge amount of collectible stuff to read, it’s almost as if Quantum Break is trying to draw out the experience as far as possible. It’s not quite a complaint on my behalf, because some games just jam so much action in that I can’t really stand playing them for long before my nerves are shot, but it’s weird to play.

Then we get to the time travel, and here’s where I’m going to get spoilery. What in the fuck is going on with the time travel. It is Primer-esque in its complexity, and I still can’t tell what they’re saying about it. They make a big deal about The End of Time and how it’s unavoidable and it’s a direct result of the fracture. But by the end, Jack has averted or at least significantly delayed the End of Time. This means Serene’s premonitions were wrong from the start, or the timeline can be changed, which goes against every other thing that happens in the game. What I’m lost on is where one timeline breaks from the other and why. Was the End of Time a result of a timeline without Jack working to prevent it? Did the timeline change when Jack retrieved the CFR, or was it when he stopped Serene from preventing him from using it? Also, Serene, more than anyone, is convinced that the timeline is immutable. So how is it that he can make a decision at the end of every act that changes how the next act proceeds? He can clearly see the branching paths and their results before him, and he chooses a path. Why didn’t he just choose a path where he works with Jack and Will to activate the CFR and prevent the End of Time, rather than developing the Lifeboat protocol to eventually, maybe fix time.

Quantum Break’s a wild game, and it’s given me a lot to think about. I’m sort of bummed that it didn’t seem to do well, through a combination of being an Xbox One console exclusive, and the PC port being kind of a mess. I love everything Remedy makes, and I want more of this. And more Alan Wake. I want Remedy to be able to make more cool stuff.

 

Hyper Light Drifter

Hyper Light Drifter is a game that looked cool on Kickstarter, but I passed on backing it. Then it came out and it still looked cool, but I’d read a lot of comparisons to Zelda and notes on high difficulty, so I passed. Zelda’s not a series I have a lot of love for, and I’m not attracted to games that get a lot of buzz just for being difficult. However, when it got a lot of love during the Giant Bomb game of the year deliberations, I finally took it as a hint that it might be more than Hard Zelda.

The good news is that it is more than Hard Zelda. The action is much more varied and nuanced than classic Zelda. It requires taking a hit-and-run approach more often than not, and the game loves ambushes and overwhelming numbers. It’s a game where I had to be prepared for almost anything because it’d suddenly trap me behind a wall and drop a dozen enemies in the room.

A sorrowful tone permeates the game. The drifter regularly goes into (scripted) coughing fits between fights, leaving behind pools of blood. The landscapes are littered with skeletons and remains and the color palette is muted. It’s style is more Saturday morning cartoon than Warhammer 40K, but still evokes grim imagery. Combined with an amazing Disasterpeace soundtrack, it sets a perfect mood to explore the world, kill monsters, and die slowly.

Where it doesn’t really work is in the story and characters. The only written dialog is in a cypher scrawled on monoliths hidden throughout the world. The rest is conveyed through images; when you talk to anyone that has something to say, you hear sounds but see pictures of what they’re describing. It’s not always clear what the message is. There’s a short cutscene at the start, and a short one at the ending. Between those, if you find enough puzzle pieces in each of the four regions of the world, you’ll get another short cutscene. They’re not particularly revealing. As far as characters go, there’s one other character with any sort of agency. You’ll find them amid a pile of enemy bodies, and they’ll mark where the boss is on your map. Hyper Light Drifter is a lonely game by design, but it suffers from having so many NPCs around that do basically nothing. There’s more in this world, and they’re not saying anything about it.

This is a bummer because it feels like all of this sorrow should have something to say and it just doesn’t. It’s a beautiful, dark game with some fantastic gameplay, but there’s not much to the mystery. It’s only skin deep. But the challenge will get you through it, if you’re hooked by the combat loop, and it’s well worth playing for that reason. I don’t want to play a game that frustrates me, and Hyper Light Drifter nails difficult without getting too close to unfair.