The Nightmare Before Christmas: Halloween Town and German Expressionism

I wrote this for TV Tropes’ analysis page for The Nightmare Before Christmas. The content may also be found there, where it is freely editable: this was not a particularly in-depth look and if you have any thoughts you’re welcome to add them. (Just remember it’s meant to be written with one authorial voice.) Areas to expand on include possibly camera angles, some more details on lighting, etc. It’s been a while since I watched Nightmare in full. Continue reading

A Light in a Sea of Greys: Analysing Atris and Knights of the Old Republic II (Pt 1: Basics)

Atris the Betrayer

Don’t judge a book by its colour.

The Sith Lords gets both a lot of praise and a lot of flak for its moral complexity, and its challenge to the stereotypical good/evil Star Wars conflict.1 One key part of this challenge, as well as its examining of the problems with the Jedi Order, was Atris, a relatively minor character in retrospect but nonetheless an important one. Initially trying to evoke an imagine of a pinnacle of goodness, of being true Jedi, it becomes clear almost immediately that she’s not really any of these things. At the end of the game, the idea’s practically kicked in the teeth. If she is true Jedi, she is every problem with the Order made manifest.

In a lot of ways, Atris is pretty similar to Trias the Betrayer from Planescape: Torment, a Deva (pretty much an angel) and theoretical being of Lawful Good — who ultimately proves himself a liar and, uh, a betrayer, “twisted by the Planes”. This is probably intentional: Kreia herself is a reinterpretation of sorts of Ravel Puzzlewell, if a noticeably different character.2 Also Atris is actually Trias with the letters rearranged and originally she could become Darth Traya. Darth Traya, lord of betrayal. Trias the Betrayer. Of course, I do love a good excuse to go on about Torment. If nothing else, it’s a exploration of a similar idea.

To start with, I’d like to look at how the promotion and her basic character design both re-enforce and in some cases subtly undermine this image, before getting into the events of the game proper (partly because getting all the screenshots and so on is going to take forever). Continue reading

Aveline Vallen: Analyzing a Tank

Aveline's tremendous legacy in the Dragon Age universe is forever cemented and eternalised through Varric's series of trashy pulp fiction.

Aveline’s tremendous legacy in the Dragon Age universe is forever cemented and eternalised through Varric’s series of trashy pulp fiction.

I have been busy. Has really put a halt on my progress in making posts and all that. Now, I previously looked at the design of Cassandra, another Dragon Age companion that at least initially seems very similar in character to Aveline. In this case, I’d like to explore some of the other ways of expressing a character, such as their role in gameplay. It’s gonna have to be a short and fairly shallow-depth post, I’m afraid, because you know busy.

Aveline is a character I particularly love, and I don’t know how shared a feeling that is. Oh, sure, when she’s mentioned I usually see it positively, but often she seems overlooked in favour of all those crazies Hawke meets and also Varric. It’s true that perhaps on paper, she’s not initially that original of a character. She’s another woman who happens to be badass and be strong enough to batter doors down — intriguing from a certain feminist perspective, but ultimately kind of flat character. There is, however, more to Aveline, most famously her… interesting perspective on romance (it’s better than it sounds, trust me).

Of course, in my case, it may have helped she reminded me of Vimes. Continue reading

Terry Pratchett: A Tribute

My rambling thoughts.

Pratchett Tribute

The truth is, Terry Pratchett never knew me from Adam. Or Eve, for that matter.

The vast majority of readers will be in a similar position. And yet, we mourn over a man who we only knew not only off-handedly, but primarily only through the fiction he crafted and sold. And that’s because in all stories there is power, and Pratchett knew that. Not “power” like the ability to force someone to obey your whims or whathaveyou, which was never anything resembling true power in the first place. But…

Deep down, we are stories. A collection of apes, if even that, on a big clumsy rock, imbued with narrative. It formed our lives, heroes, villains, justice, morality. And now, those stories that made the being known as “Terry Pratchett” are… gone. Is there a divine heaven above, an endless cycle of life, some sort of writer’s Valhalla? Perhaps it doesn’t even matter.

Though we can try to keep him alive through his books, our memories, perhaps the thought of Pratchett is not what is worth keeping. His wit, perhaps, or moreso his charity, his sense of Right and Wrong. These things which made him not just a great man, which are so common throughout these ever-eternal chasms known as history, but a good one.

Which is to not do him a disservice by claiming him perfect, and I can think of few greater and more tempting disservices. He was not, of course. Terry was, in the end, just another person. And there are still so many more left, every individual counting. In fact, remember that truth, if nothing else.

As soon as you saw people as things to be measured, they didn’t measure up.

Remember that, and I can think of no greater tribute.*

*One last footnote…

Veils and Faces: Exploring Identity in “Deep Breath” (pt 1)

Identity

Ah, yes, it’s a regeneration episode!

At its core, each one tries to establish their Doctor, and assure viewers that, yes, it’s still the Doctor. Generally the Doctor has to impress their companion slash audience surrogate while also saving the world (i.e. Earth), or at least that’s how it’s done in New Who, and anyway it’s a tall order for anyone. It’s not necessarily so formula: “The Christmas Invasion” leaves the viewer in suspense until David Tennant comes and solidifies his presence in a single scene, and “The Eleventh Hour” had to introduce all-new companions and present a new “era” of Who.

But needless to say there’s some sort of theme of “identity” in each. Where Capaldi’s intro episode differs is that it is far more focused on that specific theme rather than simply just establishing Twelve, and even sets up a series arc about it (as well as the Doctor’s own ethics). Even the villain of the episode, unlike the standard generic villain to be thwarted, plays into this theme. It’s less “prove yourself the Doctor” and more a slower examination of identity, which may actually play into the episode’s title.

Ah, but how is identity presented? Let us begin… Continue reading

Coward or Killer: Doctor Who Scene Analysis (pt 1)

Hail the Doctor, the great exterminator.

Hail the Doctor, the great exterminator.

You know, people always say the Ninth Doctor is “serious”, but he’s honestly one of the lighter of the rebooted series. Because he’s not so self-assured, he’s not a god, he’s a just uncertain broken sod trying to do the right thing. That’s why it’s so scary when he snaps, as in “Dalek”, where he comes to face with all his guilt, all his anger, and comes so close to the line (“You would make a good Dalek.”). And that’s why there’s so much relief when he puts down the gun, when he stops, when he stays the Doctor. Continue reading

Character Design: Cassandra Pentaghast

Concept art for Cassandra. Of note: angular face, armour, and heart symbols.

Concept art for Cassandra. Of note: angular face, armour, and heart symbols.

Since I’m on a bit of a Dragon Age mood right now, having just beat the third game (not Game of the Year material in my view, but good characters nonetheless), I figured I’d have a look at the design of one of its poster children: Cassandra Pentaghast.

Of all companions, Cassandra may be the one most heavily featured in the media, pre-release. She and Varric adorned pages, the first revealed companions, and while Varric was popular enough I imagine he was somewhat sidelined as “the returning companion”. Cassandra, for all her earlier appearances, was free to be its face. It may also be worth noting she is one of three companions (the others being Varric Tethras and Solas) you have to recruit.

And, yes, she owes this somewhat for being the first face you’ll see in the game, as well as how she’s probably the most obviously related to Inquisition‘s theme of faith (not a theme I find always done well, not even in the game). But likely it is due in part to her striking design. Sharp, powerful, and, to be blunt, unlike the stereotypical depiction of a fantasy woman she’s not running around in the nud.

I’ve seen some criticise her for not being “attractive” (she is an optional romance in the game, after all), though that seems to completely miss the point of her design. For what it’s worth, she is to me a fairly attractive figure, but that’s not the point of her design (cynically: it may be a sidegoal, however). What is? “Authority”, mainly. Continue reading