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Godzilla Review

Here’s the short version:

The new Godzilla movie is my favorite disaster movie.

It is not close to being my favorite Godzilla movie.

Long version:

For a Godzilla movie, this outing is surprisingly human-centric. The real focus is a family drama and about our main characters trying to survive and dealing with the horrors around them as giant monsters threaten the world. For most of the movie the kaiju, particularly Godzilla, are teased more than shown and a lot of the major destruction happens off screen. The sense is that they’re holding back, saving it all for the final battle.

Though if you’re afraid you won’t see enough destruction, don’t worry. There is plenty to go around. This movie is all about the massive destruction.

I was surprised how engaging the story is, especially with Godzilla taking a back seat to the human drama. The main characters are well acted and I found myself emotionally wrapped up in their struggles. Even my children, who were there to see monsters bashing each other, bonded with these characters. They did so to such a degree that at one point my son felt the need to tell me that he wasn’t crying because of the emotional family moment, but because Godzilla was okay.

Awww. Of course you were bud. And I didn’t feel you gripping my hand when it looked like someone in the family was going to die.

I might get a little spoilery ahead. Be warned.

The Good:

As mentioned above, the family drama is engaging. These characters are believable and likable. None of the jerks-who-find-their-heart characters here, which was refreshing. You want these people to make it. You feel bad when some don’t.

It’s a good, solid plot. Kaiju flicks aren’t known for being tight on story, but this one pulls it off nicely. It holds together more than many classic Godzilla films.

Visually striking. There are some gorgeous shots that capture your imagination. Why is the US fleet sailing that close to Godzilla as they cross the Pacific? Who cares! It’s a beautiful image.

A great redesign for Godzilla that stays true to the classic. You look at this guy and there is no question, it’s Godzilla. He looks like Godzilla, he acts like Godzilla, his CGI model intentionally moves like a guy in a suit. All the classic elements are here, including one I was starting to worry they wouldn’t use.

This Godzilla is still a force of nature. He’s the “good guy” monster, in that given the option he won’t squish humans, but he won’t lose any sleep if we get underfoot. We’re not on his menu but that doesn’t mean he’s on our side. However he is not as angry as the more recent Godzilla movies from Toho.

The military, from top to bottom, were neither stupid nor jerks. Sure, they make mistakes, but they are believable mistakes based on their limited knowledge and genuine concern to protect people.

The other monsters are creepy as heck. Excellent additions to the kaiju family.

If you like massive amounts of destruction, you will be pleased.

When we finally do get to see the giant monster showdowns, they’re great.

The Bad:

Too much teasing with Godzilla. Too many offscreen fights. I get that they wanted to build expectations for the final battles, but that was the wrong move. The people in the theaters are there to see Godzilla and you can still focus on the human struggle while showing him off. The original Godzilla movie knew this.

The “hell yeah” scenes. There are several moments that were designed to get the audience to pump their fists with excitement, but they felt forced. They rely on a connection between the audience and Godzilla, sometimes between Godzilla and the human characters, but because they went to such pains to hold Godzilla in reserve these scenes lacked weight. The connection wasn’t there and the moment wasn’t earned.

The origin. In this storyline, the atmospheric nuclear blasts were part of a covert action to destroy Godzilla. He wasn’t created by “the folly of men” and our nuclear ambitions, he has been on Earth since the dawn of the world. That’s a big shift in Godzilla’s mythology.

Ken Watanabe. It pains me to say this, but somehow one of the finest actors in the world, of whom I am a big fan, is the weakest link. At first I was going to say that this was another case of his criminal underuse in a Hollywood film, but I realized he had plenty of screen time. His scenes were just unmemorable. Ken Watanabe’s character could have been removed from the film and it would have made very little difference, which is something I never thought I’d say.

The Verdict:

Godzilla is a good movie. Just be aware what you’re going to see and you’ll have a good time. If all you want is to see giant monsters bash each other for a couple hours, re-watch Godzilla: Final Wars. If you want an engaging human drama with giant monsters and massive destruction, then this is the film for you.

 
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Posted by on May 21, 2014 in Movies & TV, Reviews

 

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Bandits & Battlecruisers – Review

I love science fiction games.

I don’t get to play them often, but it’s a genre that is always near and dear to my heart and I’ve collected quite a few rules sets that don’t see nearly enough time at the table.

My latest acquisition is Bandits and Battlecruisers by Albert Rakowski, author of the Underworld Kingdom blog; an OSR blog with a focus on weird science fiction and fantasy.

Bandits and Battlecruisers is an old school science fiction game that uses 0e Dungeons & Dragons as its foundation and is an outgrowth of Rakowski’s free science fiction supplement Terminal Space.  The difference is that Terminal Space is a supplement that blends science fiction and Lovecraftian horror, while Bandits and Battlecruisers is more of a complete game that focuses on a Flash Gordon style swords and ray gun genre.  The book is available in both print and PDF editions and I own a physical copy.

The book is in digest format, something I’m not used to with game books but which works nicely.  It’s an attractive book with a good selection of pulp sci-fi artwork gleaned form public domain sources.  The layout is nice and uncomplicated and without many typos.  I suspect there was some last minute changes to the layout, as every page reference is inaccurate.

The game is rules-light, based on original edition Dungeons & Dragons, and anyone familiar with early D&D will be familiar with the conventions.  While B&B does contain enough rules to run on its own, it is more of an extensive supplement rather than a stand alone game and someone looking to make their first foray into OSR gaming would be better off starting with a different book.  This game is targeted at the existing OSR fan base.

Character creation rules make use of the traditional D&D attributes but after that there are several significant changes.  The rules offer several optional attributes that the game master may choose to use, depending on how he or she would like to tailor the game’s feel.  These include attributes such as reflexes, willpower, and sanity.  Only general suggestions are made for how to use these optional attributes and no bonus/penalty information is given, but the GM can model their effects based on the existing traditional attributes.

The game also has a Tech Level attribute which allows for the creation of characters ranging from Caveman to Star Child status.  Characters with an attribute from 9-12 are rated as Modern Man, with Modern Man apparently defined as contemporary to our 21st century tech level and not that of the game setting.

Another diversion from D&D is that B&B is a skill based, classless system.  Characters are differentiated by a short list of five percentile based skills; Spaceship Operations, Spaceship Command, Repair, Science, and Arcane Lore.  All characters have these five skills and they improve as the characters gain levels.  Differentiation comes from a skill bonus determined by the character’s Intelligence attribute that can be added to one skill when the character gains a level.  Someone who always adds the bonus to their Spaceship Operations skill will be a better pilot.  A character who adds it to their Arcane Lore will be a better mystic.  Using it on different skills each level will result in a jack-of-all trades.

Having some level of skill in all areas is suitable for the pulp sci-fi genre and this includes the casting of spells, though spell casting is handled in a unique way.  All characters gain the ability to cast spells at level three, however casting isn’t done through traditional D&D memorization.  Instead the spell, “must be made in the form of a magic scroll, potion, powder or even a wand or enchanted item.”  This leads to spell casting being a more rare and involved process, yet available to everyone.

Next is a section about creating player character aliens that includes a long random mutation table and a section on Alien PC Motivations and Bizarre Alien Features.  The mutations are mostly cosmetic and good for flavor without giving big advantages.  Defining the motivations for a PC by random roll feels constraining for an OSR product and are best used as suggestions or for NPC alien generation.

There are good sections for creating alien monsters and a nice example xeno-bestiary is included.  A simple and effective set of rules covers spaceship creation and combat as well as solar system generation.  Rounding out the book is a section on giant space monster creation, with more example space-beasts provided.

Bandits and Battlecruisers relies on a number of random tables.  These are of the “keyword” variety, meant to inspire the game master rather than give him or her specific answers.  For example, under the Society & Civilization table you may get the result, “Caste”.  No further information is given, all the details of the caste system are up to the GM to determine.

There are several things about Bandit’s and Battlecruisers that mark it as a framework for the do-it-yourself GM to build on and not a truly complete game.  There is no stated setting though one is strongly implied from the artwork and language.  No beginning adventure or adventure seeds are included.  There is an extensive list of equipment, including rules for the effects of high tech weapons, but no base weapon damage is provided.  That information can be drawn from other D&D books or decided by the GM.  PC hit dice are listed, but it’s not specified which die should be used. The implication seems to be a D6, which is given in the alien creature section as the one used for “normal” size beings, but it’s never clearly stated for player characters.

One other aspect that should be mentioned is that while the game has the flavor of pulp stories like Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, it’s still rooted in D&D sensibilities.  New characters are as fragile as any 1st level dungeon delver, which may come as a surprise to players planning on jumping into action with rayguns blazing.

Bandits and Battlecruisers is a quintessential niche product.  It’s target audience is OSR gamers who love the sword and raygun genre and want a toolkit that offers inspiration while leaving the heavy lifting to the GM.  It’s also a great example of how a person with dedication and passion can produce a nice book through print on demand.  If you’re looking for a complete game that you can pull out and use without extensive prep time, or that sticks closer to mainstream science fiction, you’ll want to look elsewhere.  If you’re on the fence, download Terminal Space first and give it a look.  If you like what you see, Bandits and Battlecruisers may be for you.

Bandits and Battlecruisers can be found in print from Lulu.com here, and in PDF from Lulu.com or Drive Thru RPG here and here.

Terminal Space is available as a free PDF available here, or may be purchased in print from Lulu.com here.

The author’s blog is Underworld Kingdom, which can be found here or from my blogroll.

BandBcover

 
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Posted by on October 24, 2013 in Gaming, Reviews, Science Fiction

 

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