Humans have been telling stories for a long time. One of the most popular stories passed down through the ages, is about the frog who was a prince. They say that a princess kissed the frog, which lifted the curse from the prince. Well, they say you’ve got to kiss a few frogs before you find your prince, but today we’re not looking for a prince. We’re looking for the best frogs in all of pop culture, in this week’s Top 10 Frogs.
In 2016 New Line Cinema released a full length feature based on a short horror video that went viral back in 2013, Lights Out. If you’re not already familiar with it I’ve included it below, the premise is brilliantly simple and it’s little wonder that the idea caught the attention of big studios. I’m a big fan of the power of small creators getting their voices heard on the internet and making it big, it gives me hope, and kudos to David F. Sandburg for achieving what some of us can only dream about, but moving on from that optimistic tidbit.
Incidentally, the feature length version as it turns out is pretty good. So far as a short review goes, I’m glad they gave the director a decent shot and a good budget, and I hope it means more work for him in future. If I may remark on a couple of missteps that most of us could see coming, he uses the time to give the monster backstory and personality that she was scarier without. Still, he plays with the concept well, gets in a few good jump scares with that simple tension building technique. Moving on to the point I was getting to…
Increasingly we are seeing a problem emerging from the internet and it is the matter of copyright ownership, following the line of money and the source of creation, especially when an idea can spread faster than fire and inject itself so deep into the social consciousness that it becomes just another part of speech and of the way we interact with one another, terms like “trolling” are common parlance, internet celebrities becoming real celebrities, we are seizing the means of entertainment. Lights Out is a great example of this done well, YouTubers and Viners making it onto TV, musicians starting with internet distribution.
But there remains one very serious lack in communication and understanding, a generational gap at times, at others an apparently wilful spreading of misinformation to discredit the new kid on the block. Either way it usually ends up as a laughable disappointment, like parents trying their hardest to be “down with the kids”. Remember the CNN report about the hacker 4chan? It’s long established the memes die when pop culture grabs hold of it.
So next we come to Slender Man.
I love the internet’s bogeyman. As a huge Lovecraft fan I find myself wondering if he were alive today how close his creations would have come to that mysterious entity* that exists on the periphery of vision, and whose malevolence is only subject to conjecture. In his most popular depictions (the video game, the marblehornets series) he is seen as the classic “faceless pursuer” of nightmares, a warped depiction of a person devoid of features that we know instinctively to fear without ever really knowing exactly why we should fear him. We’re powerless, uncomprehending, and as good as dead.
The original creepypasta was the creation of Eric Knudson, but the concept has evolved, an idea that has grown bigger and bigger as more minds contributed to it; to say that it belongs to “us” may be a little (incredibly) overzealous, but is it something that should be in the hands of a big studio, and if they bring it to the screen do they then own it? So far the trailer has demonstrated… what?
Well, so far it all seems very mysterious I suppose, but the imagery thusfar has been that of the generically creepy, nonspecific flashes of insects, blood, surgery, teenagers compulsively writing and doing dangerous things with sharp objects, a teaser of a girl presenting something to police officers. The story will centre around a group of girls under The Operator’s control a la marblehornets, which is the second part of my problem.
General suspicions of corporate media groups aside, teenage girls, images of bloody violence and death, and Slender Man? Now I believe that no subject should be sacred, not even a word, it weaponizes it, makes it dangerous in its own right. Nevertheless, this does seem to cut close to the murders committed on behalf of a fictional character in 2014, no matter how disturbed the perpetrators may have been, it feels a little too “sensational” to make a supernatural thriller that plays into the fantasies behind a real crime.
I am not accusing anyone of sensationalising a crime, and after four years then perhaps it has been long enough. The proof will be in the proverbial pudding of course, if sufficient details are changed and enough common sense used then we may have an incredible creation on our hands, the culmination of countless creative hands creating a mythology so potent that it becomes as much a part of folklore as bigfoot.
Otherwise we have Snakes On a Plane meets True Crime.
*Despite the fact that such questions are completely counter to my views on causality.
We are officially into the third season of the anomalous Adult Swim property, The Adventures of Rick and Morty. The amount of hype is near-palpable, and the series has undergone huge changes in a very short space of time, from the dramatic conclusion of Season 2 where the Galactic Federation had “incorporated” earth… to the destruction of the Federation, the Council of Ricks, and Beth and Jerry’s marriage. So why does the series keep getting bigger, and where does it go from here? (more…)
Netflix just keep proving, not just validity, but dominance in the media market. Is it still appropriate to call it a TV show any more if the best examples are no longer on television?
Further to their expanding catalogue of Marvel properties, part of an already popular collection of original series boxsets like House of Cards, BoJack Horseman and Orange is the New Black, introducing the horror series that follows a group of young boys in 1980’s Indiana as they search for their missing friend, instead discovering a young girl with strange powers, who plunges them into the middle of a supernatural plot. (more…)
Nineteen seasons, one movie, and a computer game, following the offensive adventures of four young boys living in a small town in Colorado. Matt Stone and Trey Parker really know how to make money out of construction paper, memories of school, and delivering morals and important messages in the most politically incorrect way that they can possibly conceive.
It’s been a while since I bought something in a Steam sale, I mostly just sit, browse the options and think long and hard about my bank account, but £7 for South Park: The Stick of Truth? Worth it! I got chance to break into it over the weekend for an hour, and emerged again three hours later. Much like films, television has had a fairly conflicted relationship with computer games, but I am already in awe. (more…)
I’ve never reviewed Game of Thrones before. Shocker, I love it, the whole point of being geeky is to embrace the things we love with a passion and not to get too bogged down in the things we hate (unless what we hate is paying us enough). Before you ask, no I have not read the books, but I have learned enough over the years to be able to discuss some of the differences, or at least I could have done until now…
As of this sixth season we are almost completely off the books, having gone through the source material, and while A Song of Ice and Fire has been rather heavily changed, the story and characters remain very close to the originals. George R. R. Martin has been closely involved with the production and his creation has not strayed far from his control, so it’s not entirely fair to criticise the HBO show on the basis of straying so far from the series, and numbers don’t lie. It’s been a monolith in the ratings, almost always the most heavily pirated TV series, and some claim that to even be to the show’s benefit.
This is set to be the last “full” season, being ten episodes where the next two seasons will amount to thirteen episodes between them, so let us review the years events.
Despite the interpretations of Cthulhu that have rather missed the point (or understood it and gone cutesy anyway), the cultural impact of Howard Phillips Lovecraft is unmissable even if you don’t fully comprehend what you’re seeing. Computer games seem to be the chosen platform for recreating the mythos of his particular horror style, being able to properly immerse the player in the role of someone seeing their world view broken wide open, the shadows deepen and reach into their very soul. It’s effective, and may even have a more profound impact than the original literature, but there’s still so much that has yet to be explored. (more…)
Let me start by saying not that kind of adult cartoon!
To the ill-informed cartoons are still for children, despite the uproarious success of the Simpsons which has some jokes that are clearly not intended to get the kids laughing, or South Park which – frankly – if you’re letting your children watch it then I hope you’re prepared to have a long discussion about what language is permissible at school.
While the 90’s also gave us King of the Hill, Ren and Stimpy, and a smattering of lesser known others we seem to have seen one hell of an upswing in animated series designed for an adult audience from somewhere around the mid 00’s onwards. This upswing has brought about a change in the way the west percieves animation, and it’s due in no small part to the influence of anime and its international popularity. (more…)
Need I break down episodic and serial storytelling styles?
No, I thought not, you’re intelligent people, you don’t need such basic things explaining to you.
Ahh, what the hell, I’ve got time to kill.
In an episodic series, each episode is a self contained story, beginning and ending within the confines of the time-limit. Usually they’ll present a familiar cast of characters and put them into a new situation. Once the episode is done, all is resolved and reset to square one, like The Simpsons, Star Trek (mostly, but I’ll get to that), or Monopoly.
It’s easier to jump straight into an episodic series because you need next to no prior knowledge to follow the narrative. You can discover the characters over time, developing a stronger appreciation for the content as you go and revisiting old episodes to discover what you might have missed, what that scene was really about, what those significant looks meant, or maybe you’ll get more of the jokes than you did the last time around. There’s very little gained or lost by watching episodes in chronological order, but these days there’s less chance of ever missing an episode of anything these days.
From the perspective of the writer, it also gives an opportunity to try lots of stories, to truly explore the characters and world they live in by putting them through a wide variety of scenarios that allow both the writer and the viewer to see them from different perspectives, to test their limits and discover their strengths.
The problem with such an insular structure is that it can be very difficult to build a well structured story within whatever time-frame you’re working with. Having to foreshorten a story can make it feel rushed, or require unrealistic resolutions to bring it to an end – looking at you Star Trek, you know what I’m talking about! The need for multiple narratives can also put a strain on creativity, which can diminish the quality over time in long-running episodic series.
Serial story telling relies on multiple episodes linking together to form a singular story, each picking up from where the other left off and ending openly so that another episode can continue. Usually each episode isolates specific events so that they have natural start and end points, often leading from cliffhanger into resolution rather than from one dramatic lull to the next. The cliffhanger based structure is by far the more common for its ability to make viewing the next chapter compulsive.
Especially when comparing television series to films, serial stories have a wide advantage on creating complex and engrossing stories, taking characters on journeys that change them permanently, making them more believable and – generally speaking – more likeable or detestable. We can become invested, form emotional attachments, fair judgements, and even begin to speculate on the future… at length, on forums.
However, a serial story can be difficult for new viewers, almost impossible to jump into the middle without getting there the hard way. Fans of a series frequently become groups who identify themselves as such, and while the community spirit is great any in-group creates an out-group, and that can be a little exclusionary. The story by its very nature isolates people who might have potentially been fans just for being late to the game.
You’ll almost never see any show, book, film or game series that falls completely into one or other category. Episodic series will often introduce new characters, or include stories that extend through multiple episodes to create richer and more dramatic narratives. The dramatic ebb and flow of serials lends them to creating smaller stories, side-dramas and isolated incidents. Dexter and American Horror Story are near perfect examples of half-and-half, each series representing individual arcs with little link between them. The Elder Scrolls is similar, each sequel presenting a new period in Tamriel’s history.
Soap operas – as deeply flawed as they are in terms of writing, and a weird combination of stagnation and escalation, like a drowning man fighting harder for the surface – also represent a neat balance between episodic and serial structure. The proper name is serial drama, but within them are layers of stories interacting and character groups going through isolated stories that might last months or years, rise and fade as events demand. There is no end, no conclusion in mind, only one story leading into a different story.
It’s worth considering how the differences in structure can effect design in your own creations, especially if you have plans to make them extensive. Games having varied length of gameplay allowed writers a lot more freedom regarding their story but had to incorporate interactivity, and ways in which the player can impact on the stories they create, and now episode-based game series are on the rise they bring their own alterations to the structure. More and more film series are structured so that they link together, such as the MCU, planned series and two-part films. The internet itself is changing the way we tell stories, with instant-release series the nature of the writing has become very different.
As a D&D player it’s interesting for me to create stories that can vary in length from a single session or one-shot, or creating story arcs that form the length of a campaign despite being contained within themselves.
Just an idle thought.