The Last of Us, I

Remember when people finally started thinking maybe Roger Ebert was full of shit was when he said video games weren’t art (or something to that effect). Did he recant later? I’m not Googling. It’s very sad for me personally, as someone who grew up with Ebert in my hometown, the roosters didn’t come for his endless bad takes. Some of his bad takes, of course, were good reviews of bad movies for technical reasons. Now, as Ebert couldn’t understand game mechanics, so they couldn’t be an art form. There could be no artistry in them. So says he, champion of Temple of Doom, Watchmen, and… The Phantom Menace. Where it was best, of course, was when Ebert dismissed technical artistry in other films. I’ll bet he didn’t give The Thing ★★★★. Still not Googling. I’m so confident.

Anyway, playing “The Last of Us”—not really sure how I’m going to format game titles, as this impromptu post is going to be delaying a “Discovery” post—but the beginning of “Last of Us”—I’ve gotten to where they kill a child you’ve played to completely manipulate your emotions through game play and just child exploitation (it’s a zombie apocalypse)—there’s artistry. The game has the illusion of control (so far). You move around the house, looking for dad when the world starts burning. You look out the car windows at that world burning, then there’s a running sequence where Dad takes over. They’re a good rural white Southern family. The kid’s a tweenage girl, Southern twang but a punk rock t-shirt. Dad’s Gerard Butler. There’s no mom, maybe ever, because it another great detail there’s this lingering shot of the kid’s snapshots on her wall. It’s great. And it’s functional. And it’s a creative art.

But it’s not why I had the thought about this game being obvious proof Ebert was wrong, it was when the opening sequence you couldn’t control was better directed than probably sixty percent of television shows in 2019. Maybe forty percent of decent shows. But… it’s well-directed. It’s impressive. Though the game’s kind of slow so far. Dead kids’ll do that.

Ripley fille

Alien: Isolation; IGN; seven episodes, approx. 10 minutes ea.; 2019; streaming on YouTube.

The original video game cover art.

Anything I write about “Alien: Isolation: The Digital Series” is going to have some bit of explanation for why I would subject myself to such a viewing experience. So I might as well just get it out of the way now.

I’m an Alien sucker. Always have been. The franchise is like 2001 just with action. Sort of. You get grandiose space visuals, you get sci-fi action, you get slimy monsters. And “Isolation” is a curiosity. Ostensibly a low time investment one. It’s not a comic book, it’s not a mobile game, it’s a video game’s cutscenes assembled not into a movie but into a series of ten minute episodes. Seven of them.

The story to “Isolation”—the game and series—is Sigourney Weaver’s daughter who we only ever saw in a photograph as an old lady in Aliens, possibly holding a cat but maybe not, goes on an adventure when she’s a hot young video game lead to find the Nostromo’s flight recorder. Because it can’t mess up continuity. Though, who really cares since they didn’t get Sigourney Weaver to do a voiceover in the game and instead replaced her with some generic person. Weaver did return to do a voice for some of the game’s DLC, so… clearly she was willing to cash the video game check. But whatever.

I watched the whole series. Even if it did take about a week because I lost interest in it after the first two episodes. See, the animation is crap on a bunch of it. Alien: Isolation, the video game, is first person so they added a model of—the daughter’s name is Amanda, who is mediocrely (at best) voiced by Andrea Deck.

It says on IMDb Sigourney Weaver did the voice of Ripley Ripley in the game, so the guys who made the “Digital Series” mustn’t have wanted to pay her again.

Wow.

Cheap on so many levels.

(Unless it is Sigourney Weaver and her voiceover work is that bad, in which case she should retire immediately).

Anyway, some of the animation is fine. Some of it is crap. See the examples.

The direction—credited to Fabien Dubois—is lousy, ditto the editing from Romain Rioult, and whatever writing Jeff Juhasz does. They added new material, which is probably whenever the cutscene stuff runs out and there’s just lousy animation with bad detail, bad dubbing, and awful walking animation.

When I first read about “The Digital Series,” I was vaguely intrigued. There’s a lot of cutscene content out there. If you rendered it special, could you easily turn video games into streaming shows?

Not if “Isolation” is any example, but it’s so lazy it’s almost like the question is still open.

I’d also heard Isolation is a good game. Wasting the brain cells watching the series, I know not to bother playing it. As time goes on—it’s the fortieth anniversary of Alien so there are various cash-in attempts (including a so far so good comic book adaptation of Gibson’s Alien 3 script)—but as we get further away from Alien (mostly Aliens) the clearer it’s becoming anything after Aliens was a mistake. Every effort since has been, if not half-assed, at least compromised.

Or just plain crappy.

Though I do suppose “Isolation”’s godawful alien movement—the actual movement of the creature—could lead to some funny GIFs.

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