Posts Tagged ‘post nuclear’

DISCLAIMER: Unapologetic Spoilers (If you read on, don’t blame me. You’ve been warned)

My obsession with the post-apocalypse began decades ago with George Miller’s genre-defining films, and the Wasteland and Fallout video games. Enough so, that last year (2014) I published two collections that feature some post-apoc stories (“Treasure” in Morsels and the “Ain’t No Coffee” chapter of Melange[1]) as well as a PA mystery novel, Umbra.

They pale in comparison to the mighty prosthetic strength of George Miller.

Completely skeptical in many arenas, I had been hearing about Fury Road for years, when it was an on-again, off-again project for the Happy Feet / Witches of Eastwick / Babe, Pig in the City director. He explored anime as a possible avenue, and there were brief rumors about Shia LeBouf taking the role of Max’s kid (I’m glad he failed that experiment with Indiana Jones instead). I also wasn’t sure what to make of a Mad Max who wasn’t going to be played by Mel Gibson. Remake after remake shows they don’t often get better, and most of the time are worse for all of the gimmicks and none of the story-meat.

So, I watched the trailers, and wasn’t completely turned off. Good sign.

First, the movie NEVER LETS UP. There are scarce moments to breathe, and the “slow” points in the movie don’t really drop its pace. Like downshifting, but the car is still rolling a pace that could snap your neck if you braked too hard. Except for an extremely short introduction in the very beginning (rather like The Road Warrior, but without the montage) you are dumped into the chase. Period. Miller is a master of showing, not telling, with only one very tiny, practically gasped “info-dump”. Otherwise, you glean the narrative organically as the story unfolds through action. This IS a car/rig movie, however, so those of you who just wanted to see souped-up, weaponized and apocalyptisized (yes, I just made that up) versions of vintage cars, look no further.

It also gives no quarter—just when you thought you came up for air, you find yourself smothered in dust cloud. Not everyone gets the happy ending, and one of the most heart-breaking moments in the movie comes in one of these gasps.

Anyway…

Storytellers and directors, take note: THIS is the way to do strong women in movies. Don’t insert them where they don’t belong just to 1) appeal to a young female audience and 2) bring sex incidentally into a film. Not that there’s any sex involved, at least not overtly, and not in the act of pleasure kind of way. Mostly, it’s for procreation. Or lack of. (the chastity belts worn by the brides are positively feral looking, although I think I would have kept it on until I reached my destination. Talk about your rape deterrant!). Believe it or not, there is a tiny romance subplot between a bride and one of the half-life War boys, and it’s handled a little too roughly to start, but it “moves” into its own. But the women here are strong, supportive and determined to escape and survive without having to be glammed up to do it. I could easily see myself as one of the Vuvalini (assuming I would want to survive in a post-apocalypse).

A few gimmicky moments exist to play up on the 3D version of the film (most notably the shot near the end with the guitar and the flying steering wheel), but these can be forgiven. George Miller always did have a little fun in his films, with the odd juxtaposition of the ultra-violent and quirky humor (see the exchange between Papagallo and the Mechanic).

Was there a soundtrack? Yes, there was, but the frenetic energy is so pervasive that the “music” is lost. Except for one well-placed, drop-of-the-bass dub invasion. Thanks, Junkie XL.

There are plenty of moments that call back the older movies, such as when Max, wielding a short-barreled side-by-side shotgun goes to blow some guy’s hand off and the round fizzles.[2] There is a moment when one of the brides is playing with the innards of a music box.[3] Hugh Keays-Byrne, as everyone who knows Mad Max knows, played the Toecutter in that film.[4]

Toecutter2-1

There’s even a momentary, overt nod to another director’s film, The Dark Crystal, by having people on long stilts very much reminiscent of the landstriders ridden by Jen and Kira (don’t have a still from MM:FR, so if you want to see it, BUY A TICKET!!!!).

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Count on George Miller to introduce characters with medical issues and/or prosthetics. We know the post-apoc “look” which he created in The Road Warrior went on to infect 80’s hair bands with the feathers and football gear as armor, but his inclusions called on his former career as an emergency room physician. In Mad Max it was the young cop forced to use the electrolarynx after his chase of the Nightrider leaves him with a shard of windshield glass in his throat. In the second, the most notable is the Mechanic, not confined to a wheelchair but held aloft by a cherry-picker like device cobbled together to get him around the equipment. In the third, there is Master-Blaster, a duo whose brain makes up for his lack of stature, and the brawn of which he rides to make up for his weakness for which he serves (and loves) paternally. Then, there is this movie, when it becomes a staple. Imperator Furiosa is the first notable, with her prosthetic arm, and Immortan Joe of course, but then there are the myriads of those with tumors and missing limbs, etc.

Tom Hardy’s Max is an extremely worthy successor to Mel Gibson’s Officer Rockatansky.[5] There’s more than a little nod to Bane there, George, in his and Immortan Joe’s get-ups.[6] Enough said.

latest Hugh-Keays-ByrneImmortan-Joe-Mad-Max-Fury-Road

So, this one is already going to be on my shelf the moment it is released on Blu-Ray.

AND… I have heard there is already a second/fifth one planned, called Mad Max: The Wasteland. I, for one, am looking forward to it

 

 

[1] Which are available for free on Smashwords, and possibly Amazon if they caught up. Read them and let me know what you think!

[2] From The Road Warrior, during the rig battle, when Max discovers the shell he picked up in the beginning of the movie from the dead man on the “Meek Shall Inherit” truck is a dud.

[3] Also from The Road Warrior, and also during the beginning after the battle with Wez, when he finds the music movement and later gives to the Feral Kid.

[4] Calling up of course that George Miller borrows actors from his own movies as well. I address this in another post, here.

[5] That name shows up, by the way, in House of God, Samuel Shem’s novel about a teaching hospital. George Miller finished medical school before he became a director, so might have some interest in reading that novel. Coincidence? I leave you to decide.

[6] Then again, isn’t Bane a little more “Road Warrior” than “Batman” anyway?

I fight through the gila monsters, hordes of raiders and a few desert dwellers, turning them all into a thin, red paste in order to retain my claim to the treasure tucked carefully away inside my backpack.  I’ve been waiting for this for ALMOST 30 YEARS!  At last, the prize is mine!

As I reach my cozy little bunker, far away from the radiation zones where my Geiger counter sits silent instead of clacking away, the excitement and tension are palpable in the cloistered air.  Booting up the old kitbashed Commodore 64, I remove the carefully wrapped package, pop in the disk and proceed to install WASTELAND 2.

*****************************

So I purchased this some time ago, but my writing schedule did not permit me to play it.  I admit freely that I can be easily sucked into playing a video game for hours, but I have plenty of self-discipline to not let it turn me into the freak that lives off of cheese puffs and Mountain Dew in their mother’s basement whose only exposure is a trip to answer the door when the UPS or FedEx guy drops off that special collector’s edition Mad Meltdown Mayhem III.  However, I had been eagerly awaiting this one, as stated, for 30 YEARS!  Not that the Fallout series wasn’t fabulous (all of the games are), but Wasteland was the one that got me started, back in the day.  I was a young girl then, and when my brother bought the game and installed it on his Commodore 64 (two disks, double-sided, had to be copied*), I couldn’t wait to get my fingers on that keyboard.

And so it is…

First, I made a team loosely based on my characters from Umbra.  [The following may contain some SPOILERS, if you haven’t read the novel or played either of the games.]  There’s Shaw with his beard and boonie, Mance with his youthful stature and mussed hair, without the robes he wore in the novel, however.  And there’s Vera.  I am absolutely delighted to say that within three minutes of starting the game, she had her goat following her.  Now, Aberforth isn’t Casey, but I can’t get everything I want.  And to round out the team, I included hefty meatsmasher Deergut to give my team a little heavy weapons and brute force.  Deergut wasn’t in Umbra, but he will showing up in one of the sequels…

 WL2 Umbra

It was nice to see the “old faces” in the game, namely General Vargas (‘Snake’), Angela Death**, Thrasher and Hell Razor, and sadly, Ace as a corpse. Makes me wonder who else I am going to see***…

What also got me excited was that they tried to stay true to the locations, as well.  The Ag Center map is much like the map from the original Wasteland, with its desk area at the front, the long corridor in the center and the two garden areas off to the side, complete with the satellite dishes. The Ranger Center, now moved to the Citadel where they originally fought off hordes of evil nuns, even has the museum room with the Secpass in the display. (I guess the Quasar key you found there was left behind at Cochise.)

As for the soundtrack, they get extra kudos for bringing in Mark Morgan who created the music for Fallout 1 & 2.  Anyone who reads me knows I am very picky about soundtracks for games/movies like these, but I can’t say enough about Mark Morgan’s work. “Radiation Storm”, the track played during the Vault Dweller‘s trip to The Glow, still gives me the chills when I hear it.  Talk about creeptastic.  If anything, I am looking to progress through the game not just for the storyline and entertainment of playing an RPG, but for the music Morgan brings to the game.

I was really happy to be playing an isometric style game.  I loved the original Wasteland with its sprite-ful overhead view and the combat screens with portraits and descriptors (note that ‘thin, red paste’ I inserted above. And don’t forget to bring the blood sausage!), and I really grew to love the visuals of Fallout.  This game is no different, giving it a retro but not too retro feel.  I am able to accomplish a lot of tactics that I enjoyed setting up, like the crouch and headshot (headshots! woot!) for my sniper in order to get the ‘party’ started, and I like the ambush function.  My only gripe with that feature, however, is that they ALL shoot/aim for the same target on the ambush.  I wouldn’t mind having a simple “wait” so that my sniper, for example, could use her turn on the high-value targets instead of the fodder that can be cleaned up with a club or a simple burst from an SMG when they wander into firing range.  If they change this in an update (which they may already have, but my internet connection is spotty so getting the old computer to a place to DL them is a trip rather than a normal occurence), I will be one happy camper.

I could go on and on, but I think a full play-through will be necessary, and probably more than one, since the very beginning of the game sets it up for multiple playthroughs with different outcomes.  I’ve been having a grand time getting in an hour of gametime a day, so I see this one keeping my schedule occupied for quite a while.  So far, I am going to give the game 4-1/2 out of 5 mushroom clouds.

 

*This was done so that changes made during gameplay were maintained throughout the world, something few if any other games did at the time.  You couldn’t go blow a place up, leave the local map and come back to find everything intact.  Your actions mattered.  This is fairly standard now, but a lot of credit goes to the developers for the persistence of behavior and consequences in Wasteland.  Of course, if I wanted to play the same area over again, I could make another copy of that side of the disk and play ‘fresh’.  I suspect that was how a lot of people, myself included, got their Rangers absurdly high promotions.

**Minor break in continuity, if you had the Strategy Guide from the original Wasteland like I do (yes, I still have my copy).  Angela gets fatally gutted and they leave her behind, and SOMEONE is an android.  Good reading though.

***I hope the reference to the ‘blue woman’ is actually ‘purple’ and happens to be Charmaine, one of my favorite characters from the original game.

As (what I hope to be) the worst of the winter weather and that vile beast known as the Polar Vortex retreats from the US, I gave pause to reflect on what has happened during those times we are most effected. For several days, many folks, including most of my family, endured without power. We were fairly lucky, as we had an alternative heating source that didn’t require electricity to operate, so we huddled next to the fire as the snow and ice coated our little slice of civilization. Meals consisted of soups, toasted cheese sandwiches, scrambled eggs -things which needed only simple preparation. We had plenty of water for tea and cocoa, not just from the on hand bottled water stores. Water for flushing the toilet came from outside where we would scoop snow into buckets and let it melt near the fireplace. So we survived until the power companies cleared ice and fallen trees and limbs from the lines and restored power.

In all of that, the one thing I missed most was the running water. Not because we needed it to drink, but we needed it to shower. I’m a hot shower person myself, and the thought of a splashdown sink bath using ice cold water made me numb just thinking about it. After the first day, I called around to relatives to find one with power and running water and asked if I might come over to use their facilities.

Analysis: One of two things is going to have to happen: 1) I would be killed in the first wave of nukes/zombies/mega virus and have little to worry about or (because I couldn’t possibly be that lucky) 2) on top of all the other prep work, I’d have to kludge a shower which would provide us with hot water.

Hot showers are entirely underrated.

Now to find a way for the protagonists of my upcoming novel, Umbra: A Post-Apocalyptic Mystery, to deal with the horrors of unwashed bodies.

(Originally posted 7 AUG 2009)

Nearly all media contains the inherent promise of a good ol’ yarn. Movies, TV shows and books may be the most obvious, and there’s always some type of story, or at least a background/meaning behind two dimensional art. Modern video games are rich with interactive storytelling, but even the eldest games (you know you remember Asteroids, which is purportedly going to be made into a movie based on its minimalist premise of shooting asteroids to save the Earth) contained some grain of an adventure beyond just pummeling the joystick fire button for the top score. Not all storylines are worth the cost of the movie ticket/ reading time/ hours wasted in front of the computer/ tv screen, but the fact remains they exist.

So what? you ask. There’s a story. I don’t really care about the story as long as I get to slaughter raiders/ mobsters/ bug-eyed aliens/ ghosts/ etc. While that may be true for some players, that fact is at the heart of all these stories, the author/ designer/ artist consciously chose the setting for the media. Some start with the setting “I’d like to design a space MMO*” and some with the character(s) “I’m painting fairies.” Occasionally an author or designer nurtures the storyline independently, then drops the characters into different settings to see what happens. Sometimes the setting is extremely important, and sometimes its just incidental (Star Wars could also have taken place in a Western or Fantasy setting with a little tweaking, and that’s why its called Space Opera and not true Science Fiction, but more on that at a later date).

So why choose the post-apocalyptic setting?

Post-apocalypse contains an inherent “cool factor” – the burnt out landscape dotted with skeletal trees and collapsed building and the possibility of the family dog mutating into a two-ton, acid-drooling, bloodthirsty beast make it an alien landscape in its own right. While post-apoc settings are beginning to become more commonplace, the “other” settings already count themselves in the “Done-to-Death” club. Some folks don’t mind seeing the same stories played out in the same settings over and over, but others prefer some novelty and the post-nuclear provides.

Then there’s the paranoia factor. Some modern games make it seem like everyone and their brother, sister, and even their grandmother is out to get the hero for little sense other than the main hero needs something to shoot back at. But move that to a post-apocalyptic setting, and suddenly everyone is out to get you, for their basic survival (hey, they can probably smell that can of Spam you just found. Or they smell you. Mmmm, tasty). Everyone trying to shoot or gut you suddenly makes sense.

Let’s not forget the interesting juxtaposition of the modern versus the primitive. We’ve already seen this kind of thing in history (the natives teaching guerilla tactics to the American colonists to best the better- outfitted English armies), in tons of science fiction tales where A) Space-faring earthlings encounter primitive alien species or B) vastly technologically-superior aliens arrive on earth. Then again there could be a more “modern” modern setting, where heavily-armed astronauts end up landing in the Amazon and for some reason being hunted by a tribe or tribes there. (If there’s a story like this out there, let me know. An interesting premise to try reading, at any rate).

Not always, but in enough media, the post-apocalyptic setting becomes the reason itself for the story, the backdrop as theme, if you will. The reason there exists a story of this type is that the world is the way it is because of mankind, and its folly in destroying itself. The promise is gone and its skeleton is the raped landscape, fallen buildings and spiritually-crushed people. Good stories in the post-apoc setting use it. It is a backdrop to show that mankind is continually spiralling downward, never learning the lessons of the past, the ugliness perpetuating until mankind swallows itself whole. It is a juxtaposition to illustrate mankind’s ability to press on, and even to learn from his mistakes and this time, try virtue. All it takes is one man to be the tiny white flower growing in the vast, barren landscape.

Next time you watch/ play/ read, think for a moment if the setting is important to the tale, or if it makes the movie/ game/ novel transcend in terms of the message it is trying to deliver. You may just discover post-apocalyptia holds a few cards that cannot be accessed in fantasy or space genres.

*Author’s Note: If there are any designers reading this who wish to design a space MMORPG that is truly character-based and isn’t going to nerf the crap out of itself like Galaxies, mucho kudos to you. We need more space and less fantasy out there. And by the way, I know about Fallen Earth, too, so no more e-mails on that one =o) Thanks. You’ve been kind.