Monday, April 28, 2008

Review: Harvey Birdman (Wii)

I really, really wanted to like this game. Made by the same people who gave us the Phoenix Wright series and using an IP from a hilarious cartoon? What the hell can go wrong? In a word: Timing. Announced last April and released early this January, the game feels all too rushed, and for too many silly reasons.

The character animation within the game looks like a cheap Flash derivitave, which is acceptable in the one sense given that, to my understanding, the show itself is done in Flash, but while the show maximises opportunity from its limits, the game is happy enough just having slight head-cel rotations for nods, bodies bobbing up and down to imply walking, one zoom shot scales the background such that the individual pixels of a shrub are as large as Harvey's head, really childish stuff that doesn't approach the early days of the show, much less the later episodes when they came to grips with the format.

The humor's off too, mostly due to the timing, and oddly its because they take their time with set-ups and reactions. The show's 10-minute format forces an economy of style that allows for maximum funny in minimum time, and the game, in allowing more time for the jokes, sort of negates the humorous impact of any of them. It feels like the writers, who would have at the time also been writing the final season of the show, were somehow incapable of devoting the same attention to the game. There's still a few good gags though, and the graphics are at least passable, neither of these alone would be all that bad.
The main problem is the cases themselves. All five are altogether too short by far, and I managed to go through them, not even pushing myself, in about three hours. The episodes dont tend to make much sense either, and not simply in the sense of the show's absurdist humor. Some episodes don't start with a crime, some don't end by solving one, one has you trying a case that gets you in jail, where you have to try a completely different case to get out, another has you prosecuting arbitrarily, and you end up abruptly winning one by physically destroying the opposing counsel with a laser beam.

Given the gameplay is a direct copy of Phoenix Wright, comparison to that series is unavoidable, and unfortunately uniformly negative. Where you could otherwise press a witness on every line of testimony and get clarification on the circumstances of the crime, here Harvey will usually just state "hm, nothing seems too odd about that." Presenting evidence seems particularly arbitrary, since you aren't looking for contradictions anymore but just prompts for either the most or least obvious item to present at any given moment. The investigation segments are less about gathering evidence anymore too, one being the standard Point-N-Click adventure gimmick of "do three things for three people to proceed." There are also numerous red herrings (one in particular is a repeating gag in the form of a Lobster) that don't affect the trial or the plot of the episode, and yet you have to go through with them to the end just to proceed to the next plot point. Its all very tedious stuff that even most amateur adventure game creators could have done a better job of.

Thats actually the main problem for me, that it seems sub-par by even amateurish standards. There's really nothing about the game that says to me it couldn't have just been five short online Flash games, and I can think of at least three others and a dozen freeware adventure games I'd prefer to play over Birdman again. Not because its outright bad, its just so utterly without any reason to actually want to play it, wasting every drop of potential it had to the apparent disinterest of everyone involved. It released at $40 and I bought it yesterday for $20, figuring it was worth roughly that much given the mixed reviews three months ago (and what does it say that the retail price drops that quickly?) and still I feel like my time and money could have been so much better spent.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Expelled was the worst movie I've seen in a damn while

...and I've actually seen the films of Uwe Boll, but we tackle one horror at a time.

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed opened last Friday in more than 1000 theaters nationwide, and if that fact alone sounds like a positive then it is the only one the film has going for it. The film aims to tackle the conflict between Science and Superstit-... I'm sorry, between Evolution and Creationism being taught in our schools, and in spite of the fertile ground for investigation and provocative nature of the subject matter, the film only managed a dismal 10% on RottenTomatoes.com, with "positive" reviews from decidedly Christian outlets, themselves acknowledging the film's lack of evidence provided for either side of the "debate."

Honestly, that 10% score is only as high as it is because so few outlets have actually reviewed it so far. Despite the relatively wide release for a documentary film, the producers had decided that they would allow no critic to screen the movie in advance for review purposes. Oh, there were screenings of the film for church audiences and others who elected to attend, provided they signed a lengthy Non-Disclosure Agreement and weren't affiliated with the press at all. One such screening attended "covertly" by Richard Dawkins became rather notorious for the producers, who had first claimed Dr. Dawkins was invited and then that he had "crashed" the screening, but so much has been made of this already I won't dwell on it too long.

The main theme of the movie is in three parts: Firstly, that the "fresh, new ideas" of Creationism/I.D. are being actively suppressed in the hallf of academia; Second, that this is because Evolution will not permit challenges to the theory, which is extremely flawed; and Finally, that Evolution leads to every evil that Christian Conservatives have been bred to fight since infancy. The movie however, as the Christianity Today review has pointed out, is extremely light on facts to back these claims up, relying mostly on testimony with a vested interest in promoting those ideas. ExpelledExposed.com provides a thorough catalog of the various untruths the film tells, and it turns out to tell alot. Fundamentally every claim in the film is a distortion of the truth through the lens of the Christian Conservative's pathological need to feign their own persecution at the hands of "Big Science" and "Big Atheism" and "Big Empirical Evidence and Rational Thought."

The conspiracy theorists' dream that permeates the film comes to a frothy head in the final act where not only is Darwinism to blame for the Nazi holocaust, but also Communism, Assisted Suicide, Planned Parenthood, Metrosexuality, and UFO conspiracy nuts, and no, I'm not exaggerating in the slightest, that's all actually in the damn film. The connections drawn are by necessity very loose ones, Darwinism leads to Social Darwinism exclusively due to the name (Social Darwinism is about selective breeding, or artificial selection, not the natural selection of Darwin's theory) which says some people are "less evolved" and can be killed without a thought, Planned Parenthood providing birth control and abortions to the poor is exactly like wiping out the destitute of German Schtetls with death squads, etc. Again, ExpelledExposed.com goes into more and better detail than I ever could, and is well worth a read in and of itself without having to see the garbage film that it successfully argues against.

But as nonsensical as the film's thesis is, its composition manages to be worse still. While the producers have blogged proudly about how much better they are than Michael Moore by not stooping to his tactics, one one "quest for answers" near the end of the film, a camera crew barges unannounced into the Smithsonian, only to be removed for what I have to assume are security reasons. (Gee, buncha guys with electronic equipment bumrushing a major tourist center in the middle of D.C., unannounced? Why would that be cause for alarm?) The film features segments spliced in from countless other films as well, and not simply newsreels of the construction of the Berlin Wall (as in the opening of the film) but also as overused underscoring, for instance a clip of the late Charlton Heston screaming "Damn Dirty Apes!" and another of the Wizard of Oz's "Pay No Attention..." line, used in the most predictable ways possible (these clips, incidentally, are shown as black and white in the film, in spite of being in color originally, and one week after seeing this film I'm still not certain why).

The Cinematography is some of the worst possible in a film too: Richard Dawkins is interviewed twice in the film (and thats another thing, for a movie ostensibly about Evolution not willing to debate Creationism, there are an awful lot of evolutionists conceding to debate it. Funny that) and in the first interview theres a shot, on screen, where basically all we see for a full two seconds is his nose in close-up. An interview with I.D.-advocate David Berlinksy has him reclined in a chair as he speaks, parallel with the ground, and the camera at knee-height, zoomed in on his face, allowing us to look directly up the man's nostrils. I understand shots like this can happen accidentally in the hands of even a skilled cameraman, of course, but any editor worth a damn should easily have been able to remove such shots, unless the producers actually thought highly of this shoddy camera-work. Their presence in the film, then, speaks unintentional volumes about the standard these people apply to their own work.

There is no criteria by which this can be judged a "good" film, unless you are among the deeply converted whom this film preaches to directly, in which case everything in the world proves the film to be an unqualified success! I've been trolling on Ray "Behold, the Atheist's Nightmare!" Comfort's blog for some time, and its been tragically hilarious how deluded one man can be, boasting exclusively about the 1000+ theaters the film opened in, not mentioning the average 10-person per showing ticket sales, and directly ignoring the near-universal panning in order to show weeks-old "reviews" from Focus on the Family and random people's blogs about how wonderful the film is. This a film born of self-delusion that works to propagate greater self-delusional behavior, and I cannot recommend enough that you utterly avoid paying to see it. If you absolutely must see it, it'll have another week in theaters, go buy a ticket to Forbidden Kingdom or Harold and Kumar or something, and first step into Expelled and see how long you can withstand the masochistic, moral pugnacity of the endeavor before stepping out for air.