Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Sick, Masochistic Lambs (Twilight)

Today, I saw the movie version of Twilight. I’ve been a fan of the book series for quite a while, before it became quite the phenomenon it is currently, and found the movie enjoyable entertainment. So, I’ve found it kind of disappointing how militantly opposed some people on the Internet can be toward the franchise. I, of course, understand if some people can’t get into it (I can’t seem to get the appeal of Hannah Montana, myself, despite its popularity), but I find the hateful criticism that has been thrown at it to be largely unwarranted. The Twilight series has been targeted mainly for perceived sexism, an abusive boyfriend portrayed as desirable, pedophiles treated as good guys, promoting Mormonism, as well as just plain bad writing. Now, obviously I can’t convince people who don’t enjoy it to do so, but I feel as a fan that the attacks thrown out at Twilight should be defended.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Plan for Us and Stuff (Red vs. Blue)

Rooster Teeth’s Red vs. Blue has been a major part of the Halo community for several years since the machinima webseries first showed up in April, 2003. Originally supposed to be only a few episodes long, its popularity prompted it to quickly grow into a long series that was finally completed in June, 2007, only to spawn several more offshoots. The current nature of the show, in its latest incarnation as Red vs. Blue: Reconstruction, is that of an action-drama-comedy with a somewhat convoluted plotline with a very specific destination stemming from a complex mythology. However, the story began as a simple series of comedic sketches based around general themes of the absurdity of military life with no real destination or serious mythology intended. Numerous subjects, including the characters of Donut and Church, the series’ relation to the Halo universe, and others, have been altered to fit the plotlines throughout the course of the show.

When describing the altered continuity of a fictional series, the word “retcon” is often used. This stands for “retroactive continuity”. Retconning is most often done as a mistake in which one of the writers forgets earlier events, or because it is decided that changing the continuity will make the project better. It can be seen in sitcoms when a character may disappear or in soap operas when murder plotlines that earned poor ratings turn out to be dreams and the victims still alive. In the case of Red vs. Blue, retconning was done primarily as a way to crop new gags from old characters, but these days it has been used to get the humorous storyline relatively serious.

One of the major retcons lies in the character of Donut. Donut was originally introduced as the Red Team’s rookie, alongside Caboose, the Blue Team’s equivalent, to keep the two sides parallel. Originally, the two characters were pretty much the same in that they were both naïve and annoying new guys. However, his character started to develop when Red Command gave him a pink “lightish red” color of armor.

From that point on, Donut was the guy stuck in the girly armor. The jokes surrounding him tended to involve people mistaking him for a girl and him trying to safeguard his masculinity. Donut himself was very much the irked heterosexual male trying to convince people of that fact, mainly by pretending his armor was light red instead of the bright pink it obviously was.

After a while, however, the Donut jokes grew stale and the people at Rooster Teeth decided to take him in another direction. This direction was to have Donut become increasingly effeminate and a closeted homosexual, with various gay innuendoes such as spending a long time cleaning Tucker’s codpiece while he’s wearing it (“A three-coat waxing is just my way of saying ‘I care!’”). By the final episode in which Donut is featured, he thinks Tex’s evil plot to become Queen of the Universe is a competition and complains about not getting equal pay for equal work. This is not to say that the later version of Donut is bad, but rather that it defies the concept of the character as it was initially portrayed.

Likewise, the character of Church undergoes a major revision in Reconstruction. The character begins relatively simple. He’s an antisocial jerk who leads Blue Team mainly because he acts the part and threatens his team members, rather than actually being higher in rank than them. After being blown up by Caboose after Caboose loses control of the tank, he is resurrected on the show as a ghost appearing from the great beyond to keep his ex-girlfriend Tex, a ruthless and bloodthirsty mercenary, safe from harm.

Whether or not his becoming a ghost was ever intended at the beginning of the show (my guess is no), it was very much treated as a development of the character and is not a retcon as there was no contradiction. The show evolved to fit the spectral development, including Church possessing various bodies and talking with Sarge in the spirit world after Sarge was shot in the head (although Sarge was soon brought back to life with CPR). When Tex gets blown up by Donut as revenge for getting him stuck in his light red armor, she comes back as a ghost and fights with Church over a robot body to possess, prompting a plotline in which Church gets Sarge to build them a robot body each. Ghosts and the spirit world were firmly ingrained in Red vs. Blue canon. That is, until Reconstruction.

In Reconstruction, the whole ghost storyline is massively retconned. Up until this point, the show had been a goofy science fiction comedy with little regard to realism and included such things as an alien on a “sacred quest” who ends up impregnating Tucker, a talking bomb named Andy with a really rude personality, a socialist robot stuck on the Spanish setting, and other weird things in addition to the previously described ghost storyline. However, by Reconstruction, Rooster Teeth decided to take the show in a more serious direction, with comedy as more of a side genre than the primary one.

In Reconstruction, the Red vs. Blue mythology is solidified. We learn that the AIs dealt with in the show have been selective parts taken from a primary AI source known as Alpha. Alpha was deemed valuable by the military and hidden away where no one would think to look. By the end of Reconstruction, the Alpha is revealed to be none other than Church himself.

In Reconstruction’s retroactive continuity, there are no such things as ghosts. Agent Washington, Reconstruction’s protagonist, insists this repeatedly. Church is an AI based off of a human template, the real Leonard Church, much as Cortana is based off of Catherine Halsey’s cloned brain in Halo canon. Church only thinks he’s a ghost. Because he’s naïve.

This is a major example of a retcon. The storyline about Church being an AI did not exist prior to Reconstruction. Red vs. Blue was written with Church as a ghost, not as Church thinking he’s a ghost and with evidence that he’s really an AI. On the contrary, there are various elements that can only make sense if we accept the fact that Church is a ghost. These include the glimpses we get into the spirit world, the fact that Church’s dead body started rotting, Church walking around as a specter without a nearby holographic generator to prove he’s a hologram, and many others. These details are ignored and written over for the changing direction taken by Reconstruction.

Besides the evolution of the characters, Red vs. Blue also changes in its faithfulness to the Halo universe. When Red vs. Blue began, it was a parody of Halo and also taking place within the Halo universe, much like a fanfiction. “I signed on to fight some aliens! Next thing I know, Master Chief’s blowing up the whole Covenant armada, and I’m stuck in the middle of nowhere fighting a bunch of blue guys!” Grif complains in the first episode. This, however, is the last link Red vs. Blue has to the world of Halo for quite a while.

For most of the series, Red vs. Blue takes place in a completely different universe. In the Red vs. Blue world, the United States is fighting a massive civil war between the Red and Blue armies that extends into space. Our protagonists are assigned to Blood Gulch, a miserable little box canyon in the middle of nowhere on an alien planet – not a Halo. Likewise, Sidewinder, a location they go to at one point, is an ice planet rather than a place on a Halo. When an alien shows up, it’s not recognized as a Covenant Elite, but rather as a monstrous alien that speaks in repetitions of the phrases “blarg” and “honk-honk”. Except for the one mention in the first episode, Red vs. Blue is quite separate from the Halo world until Reconstruction.

Reconstruction retcons the earlier show by having it take place in the Halo world. Both Blue and Red Command were implied to be the same entity, manipulating the denizens of Blood Gulch for unknown reasons. Reconstruction confirms this and describes it as some experiment conducted by the UNSC for purposes of hiding the Alpha, presumably in addition to other ends. Most of the strange goings on in the earlier show are not explained, and are instead waved away as manipulative devices of the UNSC. Reconstruction is certainly in the Halo universe, and makes references to the Great War.

In conclusion, despite the appearance of a cohesive mythology presented in Reconstruction, Red vs. Blue has gone through some major retconning to reach this state. I would like to reiterate that I don’t believe retconning to be a bad thing inherently. Rooster Teeth have accomplished some majorly cool stuff with Reconstruction that would otherwise be impossible if they stuck to their goofy paranormal plotline. That said, I feel it is best that the existence of retconning should be noted when the technique is used. In any case, I look forward to Rooster Teeth’s next project.