Thursday, July 19, 2012

One last good Batman Flick

Well, in the wake of Comicon the third and final entry in the Nolan Batman epic is almost upon us. I have to admit, I’m liking what I see about it a lot more than I did a couple of months ago. The underwhelming Bane info and footage that was coming out seemed horrible, and did not bode well. I still have my doubts, but he does seem a bit frightening in the trailers. Does he take the Venom drug and Hulk out? Still not sure. I’m still pretty “meh” about Hathaway as Catwoman, but it also doesn’t seem like they are doing more with the character than have her drive the Batcycle and throw a few kicks, so maybe the character doesn’t need to be great in this. Personally, to me anything is an improvement of the Burton Catwoman. Ok, ok, Michelle P is lovely. But c’mon (see Batman Returns below).

So since the late 80’s, several batfilms and batcartoons have come our way. How do I feel about them? Keep in mind, I grew up mostly a Marvel kid, but everybody digs Batman.

Batman – Tim Burtons first of an originally planned trilogy. That he “got” the grim noire of Batman was great. The tone inspired the incredible Batman: The Animated Series. At the time Nicholson’s Joker was iconic; certainly an improvement over Cesar Romero’s goofy loonster. But really, look back at it today and it is very dated. Everything so soundstagey. The great introduction of the Batwing, that gets ridiculously shot down by a handgun. Yeah, there are a few flaws, but it was so much better than:

Batman Returns – Oh man, I had a girlfriend at the time who convinced me this movie was great. We even went to a Halloween party and she was done up as the Poodle Trainer (with stuffed poodle – I was something non-Batman related but forget what). But in a few years I would look back on it and cringe. Talk about looking like it was all on a soundstage. And the villains were lame as hell. The dapper Penguin was turned into a drooling mutant who limped around the sewers in Doc Martins boots and long underwear with a shit stain that seemed to go all the way up to the back of his neck. The weirdest part was he somehow managed to have loyal followers, who themselves seemed quite clean as if they had never been in a sewer until 5 minutes ago. And the action was horrible. A bunch of poodle walkers and guys on stilts terrorize an entire downtown area with juggling torches and stun guns. If you ever wondered how Batman would fight a carnival fire breather, here is your answer. He incinerates them with the retro rockets of his Batmobile. Argh. OK, and also tell me how homeless circus clowns are able to break into the Batmobile and reprogram it in minutes? WTF? I hate this movie, but it was made up for in small part because these two Burton films lightly inspired…

Batman: The Animated Series – Did you ever see one of the really good episodes and realize it would make a great, non-Tim Burton live action movie? Yessir, Paul Dini really got Batman in a way no filmmaker ever would. The network (FOX) obviously told him it needed to be based on the Tim Burton movies. So Dini’s response was to set the action in constant night time, and to have citizens dress like it was the 1940’s. But he also dug deep into DC history and lore, and used his villains RIGHT. The series tried to focus on normal gangsters for a while, but soon they unleashed the super villains and there was no looking back. The single greatest episode had to be “Almost Got Him,” where Bats major villains gather at a bar and talk about how they almost killed him once. At the end Catwoman tried to hook up with him, but fails, uttering her own “Almost got him.” Another favorite of mine, a much later episode, featured Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn brainwashing Bruce Wayne into writing check after check for their downtown shopping spree, which includes the gals doing a “break the 4th wall” fashion show.

Batman Forever – OK, I liked this one. Only two things really bothered me. One, all the neon. Way too much neon. If you bought a hammer at the local hardware in Gotham, there would be neon on it. Kind of stupid. Also, Tommy Lee Jones already looks like he had acid thrown in his face. Two Face needed to be a handsome dude. Hello, Lando Calrissian? Anyway, I though Val Kilmer was a decent Bruce Wayne, and that Jim Carrey was a decent Riddler. I’d have hated to see what Tim Burton might have done with the Riddler. Probably would have had him killing people and making pies out of them.

Batman & Robin – ouch. Nuff said. Way too much to go into here. What you already think about it says all we need to know.

The Batman – this recent animated Batman was OK, but too many things turned me off. Putting Bruce Wayne in high school was weird. Also, The Joker was a bare footed, animalistic whirling dervish. He was much more like DC’s The Creeper character. Overall, pretty lame. I have friends who loved it though.

The Brave & The Bold – oh, yeah! You just cannot go wrong with old school homage’s. You’ll never see a third of the characters they show anywhere else. Anywhere. It’s like the makers pride themselves on dragging out third string DC guys from the 60’s, but it’s great! This is a pre-Neil Adams Batman who has long since gotten over his parents death and just fights for justice rather than revenge. He also cracks a smile once or twice. Nice.

The Nolan films – we know them, we love them. Like a lot of movies I feel they could easily cut 15 or 20 minutes out of them and not miss a beat, but whatever. Like a lot of people, the growly Batman voice is kind of annoying to me, but hey, Batman talks in a growly voice. Still, the Animated series from the 90’s managed a gruff Batman voice that didn’t sound like throat cancer.

So here we are with the third Nolan film. I probably won’t see it until my Sci Fi Academy screening which sometimes takes a few weeks. Have you seen it? What do you think?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The many Wonders of Abstract Hit Pointism/Hit Points in Film

This last week, out of the blue, the group got a new female player (I’ll call her “J”). She’s in her early 20’s, very cute, and often entertainingly energetic in a way younger gamer grrls often are. Session-wise, a rarin’ to go and get on with the game type attitude I wish the long time players would have more of. After playing with pretty much the exact same folk for a handful of years now, it was sort of a refreshing sea breeze for me. Now, don’t claim I am sexist, because last year Big Ben had an old gamer buddy visiting in town and he joined one of our KOTOR sessions, and I loved the energy a new player brought to the group even then (OK, but maybe a little less then).

I guess I could write an entire post about “J,” and her first game with us, but what I wanted to get around to was the fact that her first game with us was my classic Runequest game. Now, “J” is a 3rd edition D&D player. No, really, she is young but has the type of “this or that crazy thing happened to my character in a game” war stories us older guys usually joke about. But like I said, she was a goer, and dove right into a game she had never even heard of before.

What probably stood out in her mind as the biggest difference between RQ and D&D was the whole hit point thing. Sure Runequest has hit points similar to D&D. But whereas in D&D you go up significantly in HP as you level, in RQ there are no levels, and your hit points will remain constant. Worse, each body part has a fraction of the full hit points. If an arm or leg takes enough damage, it will be destroyed. Same for head and torso. So bottom line you have a fair chance to be killed or crippled outright from a blow by even the most unskilled warrior if they got past your defenses.

Now here’s D&D with that famously abstract hit point system. Two guys the same size and mass could have insanely different hit points. Like, farmer boy has 2, and 10th level fighter boy has 90. The disparity is seen most when cross referenced with small bladed weapons that do a D4 or a D6 in damage. The farmer’s son is going to probably go down in one hit, while the fighter laughs as, several hits later, he is still floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee in the fight.

This was merrily explained in early D&D as a combo meal of realities. Lots of the HP is luck. When somebody attacks you and hits (lets not get into the luck part of getting hit or not in an attack in the first place), the first furtive points they ding you down are mostly the “luck of the gods,” or the Irish, or whatever. You are “using up” some of that divine protection as you go. OK, the next veil beyond that abstraction is one of exhaustion. Here, some of the hit points are related to combat fatigue. You duck this blow here, backflip over another blow there. You are using up some of your combat “chutzpa” here. Yeah, like me you probably think that is a pretty small percentage. So after those first two abstractions, we get to what is real. The meaty flesh. Eventually you are out of luck and stamina for the fight, and now it is your flesh getting seriously blasted. The fighter with 90 HP is down to around 25 points or less when we start seeing real blood. The next blow could put the big guy down for the count.

Here’s a quick comment from an online forum on this very subject:

characters go from 'mortally wounded' to capable of fighting again within a week, but then the stronger and tougher they are, the longer it takes them to make a full recovery

Yeah, another weakness in the system is that more potent PC’s take longer to heal than lesser HP folk when they are taken down to low numbers. But again, really, a lot of that is luck and combat savvy building back up.
I've always looked at it sort of cinematically, which I think is actually perfect for old school D&D. I like the combo of luck, survival instincts, and good old meaty frame to explain the many "wonders" of abstract hit pointism. And you see this in action films.

Indy Jones tends to take a beating that would have most other people in traction at least. When he came out of the Temple of Doom and before the fight on the bridge, he had taken dozens of punches (most to the face), fought off a bunch of guys with spears, got hit by rocks, burned by a torch, and sliced with a dagger. Then proceeded to dodge arrows and fight a big Alistair Crowley looking guy on a broken bridge. He comes out of it laughing and dancing and getting jiggy with that Willy chick in the end. No worries. And what about Stallone characters? In First Blood Rambo gets roughed up and dry shaved by “The Man,” gets shot, falls from 100’ onto rocks, gets exploded by a rocket launcher, attacked by rats, and goes on to blow up a town and machine gun a fat sheriff. Never mind what he goes through in Rambo 2, or Rocky 4 for that matter.

What those dudes all have in common are survival friendly hit point totals. Probably in the 80 range. In the abstract sense, you even see Cap’n Kirk and his fellow upper management friends’ dance around godlike beings and energy aliens, while lesser hit point dudes in red shirts get vaporized in all sorts of horrible ways. There are heavy luck factors making up those hit points.

Sure, you can look at the more mortal, sectioned hit points of a game like Runequest as a sort of more realistic cinematic type thing (like in 300, or a Scorseses film), but nothing lends itself to “how the hell did he live through all that shit” Hollywood heroics like good old massive D&D hit points.