Archive for May 28th, 2009

Arthas Trek

I’ve indulged in a bit of geekdom lately by partaking of the latest Blizzard World of Warcraft novel, Arthas, and the latest Star Trek movie, curiously titled Star Trek.  The novel, incidentally, came thanks to this kind lady, who pulled my name from a hat.  If you have any interest in sci-fi or fantasy fiction, she’s got a lot of good reading around her site.

I’ve made some comments about the book over at Spinks’ place (it’s worth bouncing over there, not just for my comments but for her reaction and any other great articles she may have up).  Now that I’ve finished the book, my impression is about the same.  Arthas just isn’t the tragic hero that I’d hoped for.  He’s an arrogant, morally weak, shortsighted, unintelligent caricature of the Greek tragic heroes he’s trying to emulate.  (Which isn’t to say the Greeks were sterling samples of humanity, but their falls made more sense.  Arthas “falls”, but because he’s easily manipulated into idiotic decisions.  Puppets aren’t nearly as interesting.  It’s tragic that he’s so malleable, but it doesn’t make for a terribly compelling moral tale.)

I lay the blame for this squarely at Blizzard’s feet.  Christie Golden does a good job filling out the character and some of his life and motivations, but it just throws his “fall” into sharper relief than we saw in the WarCraft 3 game itself.  His reasons for declining into madness and villainy are terribly shallow, and don’t follow organically or logically from the “good caring prince” that he was presented as initially.  We also get precious little of Arthas questioning himself, or a really good look into what he was thinking that spurred his actions.  He just acts, and while that can make for a rip roaring plot, it’s not all that effective as a character study.

Arthas is a puppet, “destined” to become the Lich King’s greatest servant, and perhaps even usurp his throne.  That’s not tragedy, not a legendary story of twisted motives (like, say, the story of Watchmen‘s Big Bad).  It’s just a Face/Heel turn going through the motions to give the Scourge an iconic face, and a traitor for the Humans to hate.  They were probably going for the Well Intentioned Extremist in Arthas, but I didn’t buy his conversion in WC3, and I don’t buy it now that I see more of his character.

Ms. Golden did what she could, but the core structure of the Arthas mythos is to blame here.  So, if you like what they did with Arthas in the games, you’ll find a lot to like about the Arthas novel.  Ms. Golden knows her lore, and weaves some interesting threads into Arthas’ life.  If you didn’t find him to be a very sympathetic character there, or were hoping for more depth, well… I’m not sure it’s there to be found.  The book’s a good read, but Arthas is an underwhelming character.  I wasn’t expecting a psychoanalysis of the guy, but what I did get just isn’t all that satisfying.  I’d still recommend the book for anyone who likes to geek out to WarCraft lore, though.

As for Star Trek, it’s been argued that the universe’s “reboot” in the movie is necessary to keep Trek relevant to today’s world.  I concur:  it’s dumber (terribad science, plot holes, odd characterization of established characters), louder, sexier, grittier, blingier and bloodier.  That can be praise or condemnation, depending on what you want out of entertainment and the Trek universe.  And, since Trek wasn’t exactly high literature in the first place, well… it’s not straying too far from its original roots.  (Star Trek: The Next Generation was a different animal in the family, for better or for worse.  This movie happily goes back to the Original Series heyday of stunts and silliness.)

As an artist trained to do these things, I’ve got to point out that J.J. Abrams’ high budget alternate reality fan fiction has ILM on board, so at least it looks pretty.  Of course, I’ve already faintly cursed such misplaced priorities (that money could have been better spent on a decent script).  Still, a movie that lets Ryan Church go nuts will get a thumbs up from those who want a healthy helping of eye candy.  (Spock’s ship has Ryan’s fingerprints all over it, so it looks awesome… despite being distinctly non-Vulcan.)  The only slightly sour note that struck me (beside the general Star Wars>Star Trek vibe) is the scale and clutter of the interior spaces of starships.  They certainly scream “unnecessarily complex” in an effort to appear “deep”, but even if you’re not seeing Okuda’s starship blueprints in your sleep, the size hinted at in the sweeping camera movements around the Enterprise’s belly doesn’t gibe with the external proportions, or with even the vaguest sense of utilitarian design (which is kind of important in practical space travel, though not in movies).  It’s not a big deal, just another discordant note in a symphony of noise.

In short, then, it’s a decent popcorn blockbuster flick (way more so than any other Trek movie, with the possible exception of the similarily loud, hyperbolic and overblingy First Contact), but it’s not really what I’m looking for out of Star Trek.  So it goes; dinosaurs like me have to die out sometime.

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