A Meditative Journey…

Journey, by Thatgamecompany, is a poem rather than a story and an emotional journey rather than a cerebral one. It does not have depth, which I associate with story and character development. In depth’s place, it has ambiance — and that’s important, too. If you don’t own the game, you need only watch a few minutes on the Internet to see that the cinematics are stunning.

The gameplay is varied enough to entertain for a couple of hours — all it takes to beat the game. Breathless moments of flight, sliding down sand dunes as music speeds up to match your movements, exploring dark tunnels and climbing a snowy mountain… This game is filled with experiences and locales that evoke a sense of wonder in the player. But Journey forces nothing on you. Instead, it asks you to bring meaning to the game. If you don’t, you’re in for a dull ride.

If you play online, you may stumble across one other player at a time and journey with him or her, though communication is limited mainly to touching robes — helping each other and never hindering. And should you need to vocalize, you can make your character shout with the press of a button and let your cry play in harmony with the game’s music.

The game feels to me like a final journey before death, but it could just as easily be a story of redemption or triumph or conquering fears, or a simple tale that rewards curiosity with quiet adventure. If you’ve recently experienced an emotional trauma, this game — wordless and combat-less as it is — gives you plenty of breathing room to feel it and, if you let it, experience a sort of catharsis. I found myself remembering the death of someone close to me and appreciated the chance to transcend grief — something brought to the game, which is what Journey requires the player to do in order to enjoy it, I think.

It’s similar to instances when you share an experience with someone but, years later, remember it in different colors than your companion does. Somehow you each feel very differently about it. Similarly, every player will experience Journey in a very personal way. Some will remember pure wonder, some caution or trepidation, some calm relaxation and others energetic joy.

As when you meditate, playing this game gives your mind space to wander, but you can also achieve true quiet by calming your mind for the duration of the game. And that’s what makes Journey so touching: It gives, but it also leaves room for you to give something to the game, too.

I imagine each playthrough will be unique for me as I think, feel and remember different things. And the next time I feel overwhelmed with troubles and need a mental or emotional break, I can see myself turning to this game for a meditative escape.

— Ashley

Where’s the New Dune Movie?

Two years ago, I was obsessed with the idea of a new Dune movie. Frank Herbert’s novel has been my favorite science fiction novel since I first read it more than a decade ago. I’ve seen the film adaptations of the book, but they were cringe-worthy in way too many places. It’s been my secret dream (and by “secret dream” I mean I tell everyone I know) to write the script for a new Dune movie.

For a while, the buzz was that Peter Berg was set to direct a film adaptation of Dune, with a screenplay written by Josh Zetumer. I even read that Berg had met with Robert Pattinson to discuss him starring in the movie. Then Pierre Morel was directing. Then I heard about another script. Then things stopped making sense.

Apparently Paramount shut down the project last year due to budgeting issues or an expired option or something. I’m hoping someone will resurrect the project and finally do the novel justice on the big screen. Or perhaps it would be even better if HBO made it into a cinematic television drama, the way they did with the amazing Game of Thrones.

Anyway, if you’re like me and need a Dune fix, you can learn how a failed Dune movie gave way to Alien and the recent film Prometheus

— Ashley

Spider-Man Review: How Webb’s Spidey Compares to Raimi’s

With Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man hitting theaters this week, most Spidey talk has focused on the main problem with the new Spiderman flick: Timing. The last decade saw a hugely popular Spiderman franchise hit theaters; the last film was in cinemas just four years ago. In short, Spiderman has been done nearly to death. I won’t get into that, but I will offer my take on why this Spidey film is different than Sam Raimi’s films — and why it’s worth checking out.

1. Renegade Spidey

Though he’s not my favorite actor in general, Tobey Maguire is the quintessential Spidey to me: all wide eyes and earnestness, even when circumstances like bunged-up pizza deliveries and comically unfair ushers try to beat him down.

By contrast, Marc Webb’s film is much more about teen angst. Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker is more aggressive, pulling a rebellious attitude where Maguire reveled in innocence. He has words with Uncle Ben, is awkward but sort of proactive in pursuing Gwen Stacey and spars over dinner with the girlfriend’s dad (for a reason, of course). In short, Garfield offers a more exciting alternative to Maguire’s Spidey, though not necessarily a superior one.

2. Emma Stone Owns (As Usual)

Emma Stone’s turn as Gwen Stacey is totally entertaining and quirky. Stone somehow manages to make Gwen Stacey nerdy, posh and exciting all at once — vastly different than the way Gwen Stacey waltzed around in the Raimi films. And really, this Spidey flick feels best is when it goes quiet, especially during the soft scenes between Parker and Gwen.

3. Darker (More Traditional?) Style

What I adored about the Sam Raimi Spiderman films was the way they captured the look and feel of a comic book. Everything from the camera angles to the jokes made the film feel like you’d waltzed into a more colorful world.

Really, my favorite scenes in the new Spidey film remind me of Raimi’s. And one memorable scene in Webb’s new movie did capture the comic book feel — the fight scene in the library, with the oblivious, smiling librarian in the foreground — but otherwise The Amazing Spider-Man has a humor all its own.

The other memorable scenes for me were those in which Peter Parker is discovering his new strength — terrifying subway travelers and destroying door knobs in the process. This kind of comedy is perfectly suited to films based on comic books, which is why I love it. But in later scenes, when Spidey taunts criminals to comic effect, I found myself shrugging off annoyance more than laughing. (In the film’s defense, everyone else in the theater was laughing.)

In general, the style of Webb’s film feels traditional to me. It’s greatest strength is its intimacy. Sure, it’s an action movie, but it has many more hushed, character-focused scenes than most action flicks — and in this case, they add much-appreciated heart and interest to the movie.

Bottom Line… Would I recommend The Amazing Spider-Man? Absolutely. I never once looked at my watch, and the packed theater jumped and cheered (and even gave a classic, “Oh shit!”) at every turn.

Even if you ate up the last Spidey franchise like I did, The Amazing Spider-Man dishes out some novelty worth seeing with the teenaged Peter Parker, Gwen Stacey romance and scary-mouthed villain (Lizard). The film digs deeper in Peter Parker’s parentage, which gives his character an edge and explains his new, proactive version of Spidey.

But in all honesty, when I have a yen for Spidey in the future, I’ll most likely bust out my beat-up, beloved Raimi DVDs to watch Maguire and the gang.

— Ashley

If You Want to Get Nerdy About NASA…

It’s not science fiction, but I have to take a time out and recommend the Discovery Channel series When We Left Earth: The NASA Missions.

In college, I went through a major space flight phase, during which I ate up shows like Moon Machines and Mars Rising. I even downloaded the audio recordings of the NASA missions — something that gets me teased on road trips when the garbled countdowns play out from my MP3 shuffle.

If you have to choose just one show to learn about space flight, When We Left Earth is absolutely the one to watch, in my opinion. Packed with NASA footage of space flights, it lets viewers feel the anxiety of the first manned space flight  — when we didn’t know whether people could survive zero gravity — and the dangers and excitement of the first space walk. Getting to know the Gemini and Apollo astronauts through the footage makes their experiences even more touching. This series is definitely one of the most thrilling history-slash-science shows I’ve seen.

SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY, and VIDEO GAMES!