In the days before CGI, epic war films were massive and costly undertakings. You wanted a shot of 10,000 guys marching across a field in full battle uniform? Well, you had to get them! You couldn’t just have Johnny the Computer Whiz draw them in after the fact.
As in actual warfare, there are innumerable logistical difficulties with re-creating these battles. You’ve got to have men in position, knowing how to use their equipment, and then film them as they maneuver in the field.
All that’s quite hard enough. But when you are making a film for wide release, you have to have all that plus a story the audience can follow, structured so as to play out in a coherent and satisfying way over the course of two hours.
It’s this last bit that’s really tricky, because while history offers plenty of incredible and compelling stories, they rarely fit into neat three-act schemes that can be concisely portrayed in a couple of hours.
Waterloo starts out well, showing Napoleon’s abdication to Elba in 1814 and subsequent return in 1815. Especially memorable is the moment when the Emperor walks alone to face his former soldiers, now under orders to kill him, and through sheer bravery and charisma wins them back over to his side. This is one part of the Napoleonic legend that seems made for the movies, and it certainly is a high point of the film.
After that, however, problems arise in this dramatization of the final chapter of Bonaparte’s career. There are unnecessary voice-overs in which Napoleon (Rod Steiger) thinks in exposition for the benefit of the audience. Many lines of dialogue uttered by officers on both sides seem like they were lifted from history books and changed to the present tense.
An inordinate amount of time is spent on Wellington’s staff at the Ball hosted by the Duchess of Richmond. This scene also includes the introduction of a totally fictional and pointless love story that goes nowhere. The only upside is the chemistry between Wellington (Christopher Plummer) and the Duchess (Virginia McKenna).
The film dwells on things like this, Napoleon’s illness, and some peculiar episode involving a British soldier stealing a pig, and yet glosses over incidents like the Battles of Quatre-Bras and Ligny with a couple lines of dialogue.
It’s not that the film is inaccurate–indeed, they seem to have gone to some lengths to describe things in historically correct fashion. (Except for the romance and a reminiscence about Major-General Ponsonby’s father) The problem is that the film depicts these events in a strange and sometimes incoherent manner.
The biggest technical flaw is probably the mud. The battle was famously delayed by wet ground after a rainy night, and indeed the film states this correctly. Where it falls down is the fact that the ground we see on screen is demonstrably dry, as evidenced by the huge clouds of dust kicked up by the columns of cavalry and infantry.
The end result is the comical visual of a frustrated Napoleon sinking in an obviously artificial mud puddle while all around him is a vast expanse of dry land. The fundamental historical fact is correctly depicted, but not in a dramatically effective way.
There are lots of issues like this. After Marshal Ney’s ill-fated cavalry charge against the famous infantry squares, Napoleon rushes back to the field from his sickbed, crying, “What is he doing? Everyone knows not to make a cavalry charge without infantry support!”
While completely factually accurate, this seems unlikely to be what Napoleon actually said at the time. It comes across as a line delivered for the benefit of audience members who aren’t familiar with the battle of Waterloo.
And this is the other difficult thing about making historical movies: balancing the history lesson aspect with the need to depict real characters, as opposed to instructional puppets designed to illustrate a historical lecture.
Chances are, if someone is watching the movie Waterloo, they are already a Napoleonic history fan. Sure, there might be the occasional viewer who is an ardent follower of Rod Steiger or Christopher Plummer, but if I were overseeing the production, I would make the executive decision that any viewer who doesn’t already know how the battle went is just going to have to piece it together as best they can–no reason the script should go out of its way to help them out.
Despite all of that, the movie isn’t horrible. As an instructional device, it is not bad, and there is something inherently impressive about seeing huge lines of soldiers and horses advancing across a smoky field. It gives you some vague hint of what it might have felt like to be in the battle.
It’s just that the film lacks a dramatic narrative. Napoleon and Wellington don’t “come alive”; they just repeat their famous quotes and stoically watch the battle. Because of this, it feels more like a recording of an elaborate re-enactment rather than a truly epic historical drama.
The Seneca Scourge is a medical thriller with science-fiction elements. It follows Dr. Sydney McKnight as she finds herself in the midst of a seemingly incurable influenza pandemic. Aiding the staff at her hospital is the mysterious Dr. Casper Jones. As the pandemic spreads, Dr. McKnight notices Dr. Jones behaving oddly.
As she investigates in between treating the ever-growing patient population, Dr. McKnight gradually uncovers the shocking truth about Dr. Jones.
That’s the spoiler-free synopsis. If you don’t want to know the plot twist, don’t read after the asterisks below. My spoiler-free review is that it is a very well-paced thriller that successfully combines fairly plausible depictions of medicine and viruses in the first half with science-fiction elements in the second half. If you like either medical thrillers or science-fiction (and especially if you like both) I recommend it highly.
Now, if you want to know more detail, with spoilers, read on.
[Note: the order reflects my prediction for each team’s standing in the division at the end of the season.]
Will Tom get his sixth?
They’re loaded like in ‘seven–
It ends the same way.
They’re not a bad team.
But they’re still just waiting on
Could be good in a few years.
We’ve heard that before.
Usually they’re good
When they’re expected to stink.
But this time, they’ll stink.
I’m not giving up
On my belief in Flacco.
They win division.
Big Ben will get hurt.
Without him, their offense tanks;
And defense is weak.
Believe it or not
They might be decent this year.
But still no playoffs.
Finishing last place
Might get Coach Lewis fired.
But not a sure thing.
It takes more than Luck
To build a consistent team–
Also needs some linemen.
Mariota is good
But Murray will get injured
And still no playoffs.
They will be awful.
That is, really, really bad–
As in, not too good.
And a regressing defense
Causes a meltdown.
Last ride for Rivers?
Their injury luck changes
And they become good.
Two seasons ago
Nationwide was on their side.
Life comes at you fast.
Alex Smith is like
Football’s Rodney Dangerfield–
No respect at all.
Beast Mode will Bust Mode.
Lame-duck seasons aren’t pretty–
They will fall apart.
Prescott is for real.
Behind powerful o-line
They win Super Bowl.
Cousins will be great,
And management will be bad.
Will be wild card.
As they’ve been for a decade;
Save two playoff runs.
Wonder where winning
Wentz went–he’ll regress this year.
Back to the cellar.
Will better defense
Yield better playoff results?
No-lose title game.
Won’t miss Peterson.
But they will miss Brdgewater
And the postseason.
Is the most Bears thing ever–
But without defense.
Stafford’s luck runs out.
Last year was just a mirage;
Cam Newton will lead a run
To division crown.
They are the new Saints–
Fun offense, lousy defense.
8 and 8 finish.
Drew Brees’s last year;
Ends a great career on a
Real depressing note.
A collapse like theirs
Is bound to cause hangover.
Wilson is awesome.
But their window is closing–
Can’t beat the Cowboys.
They must be wishing
They could bring Jim Harbaugh back.
“Don’t know what you’ve got…”
Would have been awesome
Playing in the ’70s–
But now, not so much.
Palmer, Fitz are old–
Without a solid QB
Offense falls apart.
Leave your comments below!
(I forgot to mention this in the clip above, but here is the tweet that originally set me thinking about this.)
I think the trend towards fatalism in American art is problematic. Our stories about politics and entertainment are very dark.
— GothamGirlBlue (@GothamGirlBlue) July 2, 2017
One of the best things you can say about a work of fiction is that it changes how you think about life. To my mind, what makes something truly great Art is if it gives you a new perspective on everyday life.
This might be why a some people don’t think video games are Art. Nobody does anything different after playing, say, Pac-Man.
This is where Chris Avellone‘s games come in. Avellone’s design philosophy is heavily focused on “reactivity” in gameplay. Last year I wrote about why this means the plots, characters, and mechanics of his games are so thematically integrated.
To summarize briefly: “reactivity” means that the game world reacts to the player character’s choices. Rather than just being a set series of tasks the player performs to advance the story, a reactive game environment means the player can influence what happens in the game world. This means a game has multiple endings at a minimum, and usually different ways to complete tasks or different story arcs to follow as well.
Reactivity makes for a satisfying game experience. You feel like you are really participating in the game-world, rather than just pressing buttons to turn the pages in someone else’s story.
This is where the “applicable in real life” part comes in: people like reactivity in the real world, too. We don’t typically think of it in those terms, but it’s true. People like to feel like their actions mean something.
Usually, people are at their most unhappy when they feel powerless. We want to feel like we have some measure of control in our lives, and some input in what happens in the world. We never have total control, of course, just as the player of a game doesn’t either–there is always the possibility of losing.
For example, people like it when other people listen to them. If somebody presents an idea, they like other people to engage with it, rather than just dismiss it. At a basic level, listening to people’s ideas is a kind of a reactivity–it sends the message that their input matters.
The fact that people like it when you listen to them isn’t a revelation. A guy named Dale Carnegie wrote at length about it in the 1930s. So did Stephen Covey in the 1980s. But reactivity is a handy way of understanding the concept. If you think of everyone as a player character in their own video game, you know that what they are looking for is the opportunity to influence the world.