That’s so Ratchet (and Clank)

by Mitchell Bonds

Hollywood has a problem with video-game-to-movie adaptations.

In early May I watched the animated feature “Ratchet and Clank,” based on a video game series of the same name by Insomniac games. It got pummeled by critics and the box office — to the point where Insomniac might not break even on production costs — and I think that’s a shame.

The film deserves some of its lumps due to poor execution, the worst of it is because it’s a Herculean task to make a good game-to-movie adaptation. Much like book-to-film adaptations, they lose a lot in the transition. The more you liked the original, the more you’re likely to face disappointment.

One for the fans

Tell me if this sounds familiar: A pint-sized nobody from a boring job on the backside of planet nowhere dreams of joining the Galactic Rangers, but fails until an unlikely sidekick joins him to fight a planet-destroying megalomaniac. Along the way they learn to do the right thing for the right reasons, and learn the value of friendship and teamwork.

Ugh. Generic city, population: Me.

I was introduced to the goofy run-and-gunny-rooty-tooty-point-and-shooty comedy platformer “Ratchet and Clank” by one of my best friends nearly 14 years ago. The two of us played the heck out of it together, staying up way past when his parents said we should be asleep. We’d hang a blanket near the bottom of the staircase to block the light from the TV so we wouldn’t get in trouble as we combed the desert level at 2 a.m. for the elusive Platinum Bolts.

It was even better once a sequel added multiplayer duels. He may have been the one who owned the system and the games, but if I ever picked up the Lava Cannon (which shot a stream of gold-orange lava at its target and we affectionately named “the Pisser”) during a match, he was literally and metaphorically toast.

We’ve both followed and played every game in the franchise, occasionally comparing notes. So I really, REALLY wanted to like this movie.

Failure to acquire target audience

To a longtime fan, this movie is mediocre. The game’s writers occasionally shine through with the snappy dialogue for which the franchise is known, and the over-the-top heroes and villains feel comfortably familiar. And, unlike some other ‘family features,’ it doesn’t feature butt and fart and boobies-on-guys jokes, so it’s pretty clean.

When I saw the movie, the theater was nearly vacant. Maybe the poor reviews turned others off, but I can’t have been alone in seeing this. Kids who were old enough to play “Ratchet and Clank” when it first came out are now old enough to have kids old enough to bring to this movie.

My friend who loves the series couldn’t join me because he was running a 104 degree fever, but his sister who’s only a few years older than him has a son who’s about as old as we were when WE first got into the series.

So where were the theatergoers? I suspect they stayed home, knowing the biggest downside to movies based on video games has always been how far they stray from their source material. Making the transition from 6-10 hours of gameplay to 1.5 hours of screen time is hard, harder still when trying to keep the elements that interested fans in the first place.

In “Ratchet and Clank,” The plot is a watered-down and condensed version of plot points from three of the games, and pretends the plot holes created by doing that don’t exist.

As for shoutouts to the game’s fans, the film shows off many, MANY of the franchise’s iconic weapons and gizmos — and adds a few well-placed lines of dialogue that explain how and why some of the game’s mechanics make it into the film, such as the menus from the game being an interface in Ratchet’s armor — but none of them get enough screen time to really emphasize how fun they were.

Case in point: The RYNO, the fan-favorite “Rip You a New One” ultimate weapon, gets a dramatic introduction but never even gets properly fired. In the games, I loved the RYNO in all its various incarnations, from the behemoth pepperbox that rapid-fired missiles, to the satellite laser platform to my personal favorite: The RYNO V, the machinegun-shotgun-bazooka that played “The 1812 Overture” while spraying the whole map with hot death in a variety of exciting flavors. I was disappointed by its brief and impotent introduction.

This fanboy complains: A few things were missing that could have been chuckleworthy. It would have been nice to lampshade how “bolts,” the galactic economy’s coin of the realm, are literally threaded construction nuts and bolts. Some of the other fun toys like the grind-rail boots and helicopter pack might have been a nice change from the constant use of his “Swingshot” magnetic grappling hook from the game.

Indeed, any number of tiny additions and nods would have been well and good but still wouldn’t have solved the real problem: The story.

Think of the children

Children aren’t idiots. I say this having been a 5-year-old who managed to get pizza in his hair on a regular basis, but really, kids these days are pretty savvy. They pay attention, they notice things adults don’t, and they’re capable of following a more complex plot than most give them credit for. Introduce a more complex reason to despise a villain other than “he’s a funny color, talks with an accent and looks weird,” and they’ll probably comprehend it (giving kids an advantage over the average “Call of Duty” player).

In Ratchet’s case, the villain is destroying entire planets with a Death-Star-esque space station called The Deplanetizer (strong) but the movie goes out of its way to explain they’re uninhabited planets (weak) except now he’s targeting a galactic capital planet with millions of inhabitants (strong) so they evacuate first (weak).

In the game, Chairman Drek and his corporation murder millions and destroy a half-dozen planetary ecosystems for profit: he is a villain most foul. In the movie… I don’t know, he’s making too many asteroid fields? Softening the evil of a villain can be done correctly (see the continuing story of Gul Dukat in Star Trek), but having him pull his punches because it’s a kids movie is the wrong way to go about it. Kids can understand a remorseless, greedy monster as a villain if you give them the opportunity.

But therein lies the problem. If a movie panders to fans of a game, it needs to contain more of what makes the game good. If it’s just a kids movie and needs to not be too dark, do that. But don’t split the difference. It’s why the “Resident Evil” zombie franchise has done fairly well for itself, while the 1993 “Super Mario Bros” tanked horribly.

It brings to mind a quote by “Parks and Recreation” character Ron Swanson: “Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.”

 

Mitchell Bonds edits for a local newspaper as his day job, and elsewise spends too much time playing video games and writing about dragons. Beware of contacting him at fouryearquest@yahoo.com.

Online Writing Matters

by Mitchell Bonds

There is no excuse for your behavior.

“wtf Lol jk idk”

Stop. He who has ears, let him hear. He who has eyes, let him read. Another desk-chair grammarian is about to expound at length and with some vitriol.

“Its not going to effect me lol C U l8r”

If idle hands are the Devil’s playground, then idle keyboards are his office space. You have a full 26-letter alphabet to use — even more if you are using some languages.

Being the grammar police is quite literally my job. In my real, full-time, paid job, I am a copy editor. But who cares about everyday accuracy if you’re not trying to get published, right? Well, here’s the thing. If you say communication on Facebook or other social media, or other less keyboard-having locations such as SMS text messaging on cellphones isn’t important, you are my target audience. You can blow me off as just another grammar Nazi (I’m not, though; I’m a Keeper of the Old Speech), but here are some things to avoid instead:

Don’t be a Punctuation Racist.

Punctuation changes the very meaning of some sentences. I’m sure you’ve seen the classic “invited the strippers, JFK and Stalin” joke circulated on the mighty Book of Faces, or possibly those sentences wherein you can put a comma at any point and it means a different thing each time.

http://i.imgur.com/fycHx.jpg

But there are more times when punctuation is important than just a few chuckleworthy novelty posts, especially when you have an audience on social media or in professional circles.

One of my closest friends, whom I have known since middle school, does a staggering amount of Facebooking (is that a word? I know Googling has become part of the vernacular, but even for professionals it’s hard to track the constant morphing of the language). He regularly posts on a broad selection of talking points, the most recent of which was pet safety on Halloween.

Given the superstition with which black cats are regarded, allegedly being vessels for demonic spirits on the night of Halloween, there has been a long and malevolent history of people using that as an excuse to harm the poor animals. So in my friend’s defense, asking his friends to keep their cats inside, regardless of their coat color, was the right thing to do.

“It doesn’t matter if they are black people will do really bad things to regular cats tonight,” he posted.

Tadaa! Lack of a comma caused unintentional racism. It’s not like African-Americans are the primary abusers of cats on Halloween, after all. He quickly corrected it, but it was online long enough for people to grouse at him for it.

He is, however, a paraplegic who doesn’t have fine motor control in his fingers, so he has an excuse.

What’s yours?

Don’t bury your point in mistakes.

Another example from Facebook is those existential or otherwise introspective — and often long-winded — rants that you and/or people you know have posted as a status update. A column in my paper recently featured, in its entirety, one of said rambles about thoughts on mortality and missing out on life.

I don’t grudge the gentleman in question his existential rambles. Death is a serious topic which, without exception, 100 percent of us will have to deal at some point. And he made some good points about life being too long to hold grudges, and the travesty of letting good friends fall by the wayside over the years.

His problem, however, was he used a lot of big words and shiny phraseology, most of it incorrectly.

“Doesn’t matter for social media, though, right?” you may cry. “We knew what he meant.”

Except that this ramble made it onto the cover of a newspaper section. Included in a school principal’s writing. In all its flawed glory — because as a quote from a ‘published’ source, we couldn’t correct errors in it. So what was a personal and emotional moment for this man became a head-shaking, and sometimes head-scratching, exercise in trying to read the content without getting hung up on flaws. Sometimes, even an ‘unimportant’ post might, in the vernacular ‘go viral’ as it is shared by others. If that happens, you want to look like you know how to English properly.

That’s not just some readers being picky, either. In a recent poll conducted by Grammarly.com, 61 percent of responders said they would be unlikely to trust a product or service if its advertisements contained serious spelling or grammar errors. So, please, if you’re selling pizzas, stop telling us you sell hot fresh pizza’s. Sersiously.

Another poll, this one by Grammarist, said grammar flubs — or worse, misspellings — undermined a writer’s points even if they otherwise agreed with them. Take our musing friend above as Exhibit A.

If you want to be taken seriously, make sure you’re using the language properly. Even if it’s only a handful of the self-congratulatory grammar nerds who subscribe to blogs about the English language, there are people who are going to have a hard time seeing your point through your mistakes.

Don’t let time-savers kill your efficiency.

In the age of the smartphone, everyone has a full keyboard on their touch screen, so bad habits from the phone keypad typing era should have died out. These days, it actually takes longer to type the horrible non-word “l8r” than it does to type “later” with the pass of a single finger via something like the Swype keyboard setting (which Samsung has had in its phones for YEARS, I might add).

Or for even more lazy efficiency, just type “la” and then pick “later” from the suggested words. It might even suggest the NEXT word you’re likely to use, and most phones quickly learn some of your more common personal phrases, swear words included. Don’t trust the autocorrect, though. Proofreading your text messages before you hit send can keep them from ending up on sites like damnyouautocorrect.com that showcase the follies of trusting lazy shortcuts.

The ‘efficiency’ habits some of us acquired in the days where you could use Nokia phones as airplane chocks without hurting them are no longer that. Now they merely make the user look incompetent and childish.

Don’t let laziness and bad habits get in the way of using NEW tools that make your laziness even more efficient. And like in the second point, wacky abbreviations aren’t going to help you be understood better, in most cases. You’re more likely to get the messaged muddled than to appreciate its character-length brevity.

I could bang on about this kind of topic all day. But instead, I’ll turn to another cunning linguist, the infamous Weird Al Yankovic, who summed up many of my frustrations in his relatively recent release “Word Crimes.”

Remember, those annoying friends of yours who are grammar Na- er, Keepers of the Old Speech, often know what they’re talking about. And if you can handle the smug and a dab of condescension, there’s no shame in asking for help. Most of us really do enjoy polishing the work of others so it’s the best it can be.

Write precisely and well, friends, and may the Force be with you… always.

Mitchell Bonds is a professional copy editor and half-assed hack novelist. Throw some shade at him at fouryearquest@gmail.com.