Just forget the words and sing along

Saturday, December 15, 2012

There And Back Again ("But that's the name of the third movie." "Read the book.")

Went to the city today, and I come home with a sense of incompleteness.  As I sit here, and gaze at my collection of Star Wars action figures, I still feel incomplete.

Went to the city today.  Went browsing at some of my favourite comic book and collectable stores.  And there, on the shelves for the first time in a long time, I spied my holy grail of Star Wars action figures...the McQuarrie concept Stormtrooper.

For those who don't know, Ralph McQuarrie was the artist who did the concept art for the original Star Wars trilogy.  He very much designed what Star Wars looked like.  And, a few years back, they made a batch of Star Wars action figures that were 100% faithful to McQuarrie's original designs.  While I did snatch up most of the McQuarrie concepts that appealed to me, the one I never got was the McQuarrie Concept Stormtrooper.  Compared to the Stormtrooper we know and love from Star Wars, there's a lot less black highlights in the uniform...he's almost all-white.  And he's armed with a shield and a lightsaber.

I'd love to have a McQuarrie Concept Stormtrooper in my collection.  But the price tag was $25.  Despite my extensive collection, I have never bought an action figure in a comic book and collectable store.  No matter how tempting it is, I've never been able to bring myself to spend more than $20 for something I can get down the street at Toys R Us for $6.99.

So I stared at that McQuarrie Concept Stormtrooper for a good long while...and then I walked away.

And then I went over to where they have the Doctor Who toys.  And I found...the Eleventh Doctor.  The current Doctor.  Mr. "Bow ties are cool himself."  Now again, I would love to get an action figure of the Doctor.  My buddy went to England about a year ago, and brought me back a TARDIS that he bought at a London comic book store.  I would love love love to have a Doctor to display in the TARDIS.  But again, he's really hard to find.  First, you've got the import factor working against you.  And secondly, the scarcity.  You can never find him, and with good reason.  He's the hero.  Everybody wants the star of the show.

And finally, there he was.  In the shop.  But for $25.

So I stared at that Eleventh Doctor action figure for a good long while...and then I walked away.

I'm sure some of you think this is insane.  How could one purposely choose to not complete a collection like this?  I don't know.  Maybe I'm at the age where I'm finally recognizing the difference between needs and wants.  And while I want an action figure, that $25 can buy a meal I need.  Or maybe I just get off on torturing myself.

All I know is those figures won't be there next time I go to the city.  I rarely get a second chance when it comes to buying action figures.  Others snap them up so quickly.  Oh, well.  Like the guy in the movie says, may I never be complete.

Speaking of my buddy who bought me a TARDIS, I was in the city today to meet up with him.  He texted me earlier in the week and said, "Hey.  I think we should head to the city this weekend, exchange our Christmas gifts, and see The  Hobbit."  And that's what we did. 

So what are my thoughts on the first in this Hobbit trilogy, subtitled An Unexpected Journey.  Well, as I'm been blogging for years, I've never really been able to get into The Lord of the Rings, but I love love love The Hobbit.  I count it as one of my favourite books.  Whereas The Lord of the Rings is bogged down in exposition, The Hobbit is light on it and instead focuses on the adventure.

So I started having doubts about The Hobbit when I learned that they would be expanding the one book into a trilogy.  As I was reading online, not only did they leave in all the exposition, but they poured through J.R.R. Tolkein's notes and appendixes and added even more exposition.  So I walked into The Hobbit with some lowed expectations.  It sounded like they took everything I hated about The Lord of the Rings and put it into The Hobbit.

But still, I was excited for the film.  When it started, and Howard Shore's familiar themes started up, I just couldn't help but smile.  And the good thing about these films being so long is...it's all there.  Everything.  All your favourite scenes.  I really perked up when Gollum made his appearance and he and Bilbo had their famous riddle contest.  And the scene with the trolls was straight out of the books.  It's all there.

But I did have problems.  There's fat that can be trimmed...and a lot of it has to do with the new stuff that was added.  There's a subplot with a wizard named Ragdast the Brown and he brings news of a new evil known as the Necromancer.  Thorin, leader of the dwarves, gets a personal arch-enemy in the form of an orc king that me met in battle years before.  It feels so...unnecessary. 

And, being a prequel, I found it did have a few of the problems that the Star Wars prequels have.  The filmmakers seem to have an obsession with matching the story beats with its corresponding film in the original trilogy.  And they occasionally desire to recreate scenes from the original trilogy.  Sometimes it's cute...sometimes it's distracting.

But when's all said and done, I found it to be a very enjoyable film.  It's nice going back to Middle Earth.

After that, my buddy and I exchanged our gifts, and we went our separate ways.  He was off to his girlfriend's LARP group Christmas party.  He invited me along, but I declined.  I hate going to parties where I only know one guy there.  Hell, I hate going to parties in general.  Part of the reason I got into the job I did...I can only seem to talk to people if I have a microphone.

But on the drive home, I began reflecting on LARPs.  For those who don't know, LARP stands for "live action role playing."  It's a role playing game, like Dungeons and Dragons, only instead of just simply sitting around a table rolling dice, you actually dress up in costume and act it out.  I remember explaining to a friend, and he said, "So like, what, they go out into the middle of the woods and sacrifice a dead pig?"

"No," I said.  "They rent a church basement and just pretend to sacrifice dead pigs."

Role playing games is just one of those aspects of being a geek that I've never embraced.  Yeah, me and a few friends in high school played a little D&D during lunch hours.  But then I got to college, and most of my college friends looked down on D&D as being "a child's game" and played role playing games that were 10 times more complicated.  They invited me to observe their games a few times in an effort to get me hooked, but that didn't last long.  I couldn't get through a game without heckling the proceedings, so they banned me.  That's probably what killed my burgeoning interest.  Every player I knew took it so fucking seriously.

Did I ever tell you my experience my LARPs?  I've told others in conversation, but I don't think I've ever put pen-to-paper.  So back when I was going to NAIT to get my broadcasting degree, one of the assignments in writing class is to find a non-profit organization (NPO) in the city and design an ad campaign for them.  One of my dearest friends was a pretty big wheel in Edmonton's LARP community at the time, and told me that one of her LARP groups actually had NPO status.  So I was going to do a radio ad campaign for LARPs.  I presented the proposal to my writing teacher, and she was thrilled, as this was vastly different from the usual charities that most students usually do.  But then, when I mentioned that the client was a friend of mine, my teacher rolled her eyes and sarcastically said, "Oh.  So when it comes to the part where the client has to grade you, something tells me that you'll do very well."

So for those who've never written radio commercials, you have to do some product research so you know what to cram into your 30-second spots.  And for this LARP group, they didn't have any pamphelts or flyers that I could go off of.  And it was fun.  I got to hang out with my friend, meet all her friends, quiz them excessively about their group, but everyone agreed, for me to fully understand, I'd have to come down to a game.  And these guys were hardcore into LARPs.  They didn't allow an audience into their games.  If you come, you play.

A few weeks later, there I was, at a conference room at the Coast Terrace Inn in Edmonton, being handed a black robe and given a quick briefing on my character.  Apparently, I was going to be some kind of M. Night Shamylan plot twist where I was a long-lost bastard son of one of the vampire clans.  And in I went.  Now, as you'll recall, my friend took her role playing games very seriously.  And I knew all these people took the game very seriously.  I remembered one of those games in college where, one of the players did something so unexpected, that my friend, as the one in charge of the game, had to shut things down for about 20 minutes so she could figure out how this unexpected thing affected the entire game she had planned.  So I was scared out of my mind.  For all I knew, if I sneezed I probably would have altered the whole thing.  So I kept my mouth shut and stayed at the edges until I had everything I needed.  My friend told me a few days later that I really pissed off a few of the players by doing that, because "quiet guy in the corner who has no fucking clue what's going on" was not one of my character's traits.

But now, with my client research done, it was time to get to work.  I designed the ad campaign, pointed out the flaws in their previous campaigns and suggested solutions, wrote commercials that ran on NR92, NAIT's college station, and even produced them over in production class.  I sent it all off to my friend for the client's part of the grading, and then gave the whole kitinkaboodle to my writing teacher for the final grade.

A keystone in NAIT's broadcasting program is their college station NR92.  Essentially, for a good chunk of the program, they put you to work at the station, so you get a lot of hands-on experience right out of the gate.  But...you only work at the station from 9 - 5.  After hours, we students were free to do our own shows in the classic college radio tradition.

So there I was one night, chilling out in the control room of NR92, doing Chaos in a Box 2.0, when my writing teacher comes in, wanting to have a chat.  She sits down and she starts talking.  She mentions that she remembered me mentioning that the client for my NPO project was a friend of mine, and she wanted to know if I was currently on the outs with this friend, or if we'd had a fight lately.  I said no, we hadn't.  And my teacher says that she was wanted to know because, she was grading the NPO projects, had just read the client evaluation on my LARP ad campaign, and in all her years of doing this, she found it to be one of the harshest client evaluations she`d ever read.  She was wondering if my friend was mad at me and just being vindictive.  But since the answer was "no" on all counts, my teacher left and went back to grading.

A few minutes later, my writing teacher comes back in.  Her earlier tone of concern had now been replaced with one of elation.  She shared with me my friend's client evaluation, and at the end, in the "additional comments" section, my friend wrote something like, "We found Mark's analysis of our previous ad campaigns and their strengths and weaknesses to be highly effective.  We will be adopting most, if not all, of Mark's recommendations in our future ad campaigns."  Apparently, never in the history of this assignment, had a student's recommendations completely re-shaped an NPO's advertising strategy.

Needless to say, I wound up doing very well on the assignment.  And that's my only experience with LARPs. 

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