‘Pixel’ated

Feeling ‘Pixel’ated?, I have.

From the tweets and private messages that have been sent my way throughout the week, I’ve been wracked by 8-bit nostalgia and trying to make one of life’s important choices: Do I really want to purchase an Atari Flashback 5 or ColecoVision Flashback? Or, do I just try and find another power adapter for my old Atari 2600 and try to resurrect that portion of my 8-bit youth for a little bit of retro fun?

AtariFlashback5

Of course, naturally, this is also the week that Pixels comes to theatres and I’ve been dazzled by constant reminders of my 8-bit childhood heroes.  Based on a PIXELS: a short film by Patrick Jean, this is a film trying to capitalize on that same Gen-X feeling of nostalgia I remember when I escaped the watchful eye of my parents and snuck away to the arcade hiding in the back hallway at the mall we would buy groceries at.

Picture and caption from Dorkly. Original caption by Stephanie Merry, Washington Post.

Picture and caption from Dorkly. Original caption by Stephanie Merry, Washington Post.

That’s the power of using these iconic properties in such a visual experience.  As a short trailer, it captivates you with the fun memories of your youth, selling that nostalgia to buy your tickets early and take your kids out for some retro feels.

Then the longer trailers hit the internet and you start to be overwhelmed by the posters and traditional media commercials and ads.  You’re okay until Adam Sandler opens his mouth and his dialogue hits your ears.  Suddenly you realize why Q*bert seems to constantly pee himself in fear during every single scene he appears in the film.

The critics had even harsher words.

But that does not mean the movie will go Kaboom! at the box office.  There is enough of an audience out there that didn’t grow up with these characters to fill theatre seats.  It will make around $28-million in its opening weekend and will probably cover its production costs when the foreign markets pick it up and the comedy gets lost in translation; leaving only the visuals behind.

So, as a nostalgic property, where does this movie go wrong?

The obvious answer is that they ignore and break what I see as one of the essential rules for using a nostalgic property:

 You must have love and respect for the nostalgic source material you are using.

It is like writing for children – You have to have no malice in your heart when you do it because even the slightest traces of it will show through in the final product.  By changing the nostalgic source material to become the butt end of an Adam Sandler joke, or so your movie can access the Chinese market, it takes away from the final product and subconsciously your inner nostalgic child knows something is horribly wrong.

Now, am I just being judgemental on this?

Well yes and no.  While I’ll admit to having a slight bias against Adam Sandler, mostly for making nothing but terrible movies and calling in his schtick performances post-Punch-Drunk Love, I blame the studio and Chris Columbus for putting him in that position of power to impact the film to the degree that he does.

So let’s counter this with an example from the other side of the digital coin.  Let’s look at a film that uses these same 8-bit nostalgic properties successfully: Walt Disney’s 2012 animated film Wreck-It Ralph.

They embraced the nature of Q*Bert, as a person (okay, 8-bit orange creature).  It wasn’t just his character that shone through.  This example of using the heart and soul of the nostalgic character shines through in that film in the Bad-Anon meeting scene where Ralph goes to talk about being a bad guy.  Each character in that scene is a nostalgic reminder for the multi-generational audience watching the film, bringing them further into the film and seeing Ralph as part of that same nostalgic universe.  Their personalities are used to create that atmosphere of belonging.  And it’s funny, enjoyable and works.

In Pixels, they come off as constructs more than characters.  While you will feel for Q*Bert and the dancing Smurf they seem to kill for no reason, you will quickly realize that he’s only there for comic relief, bowel releasing and to fix glaring plot holes in the script.  So you end up feeling sorry that he’s a part of the film.  Just like you do when you spot a favourite 80’s icon forced to do Viagra commercials, open a local electronics store or sell insurance.

That, in my opinion, is the largest flaw in this movie and why it doesn’t work as a good example of proper nostalgia marketing.  While it looks good on ads, posters and merchandise.  In the film they seem to want to focus more on Adam Sandler’s angry character, and ego, and not enough in humanizing the villainous 8-bit creations.

At the centre, there’s no heart, only broken pixels.

Instead, drag out your old Atari, blow the dust off that old cartridge and enjoy some classic 8-bit games with heart.  Or, you can try out this flash-based Q*Bert game instead.

If you’ve seen the movie, chime in below and tell me how it made you feel; or what you would have changed to make it better.   Or, give me your advice on whether I should get the Atari Flashback 5 or dredge out my old 2600?

Until next time, Stay Retro.

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Snapchat Scares Up Some Paid Advertisers

Did you get your Ouija board out after watching Snapchat’s Inaugural ad?  Or did you miss it and have no clue what i’m talking about?  If it’s the latter then have no fear, the second part of my Halloween series of posts covers this spooky tale from the Snapkeeper.

This week the many millennials on Snapchat could be heard screaming, their terror heralding the dawn of a new domain of online advertising, as Snapchat opened its gates and allowed its first paid advertisement to its American users.  The 20-second trailer for the horror film Ouija appeared in everyones “Recent Updates” section, daring everyone to hold their finger to watch the entire ad without having to restart the timer over again.  With a lifespan of 24 hours, before it disappeared from the system as eerily as it arrived, the ad, according to Universal Studios, received millions of views but reserve final judgement on its success until all the analytics are in.

Snapchat_FirstAd

While this is the first paid advertisement in the app, it isn’t the first time advertisers have promoted their products to Snapchats millennial audience.  Taco Bell, an early adopter to Snapchat, has gained a strong following on Snapchat with more than 200,000 friends.  Considering their Snapchat followers as “crazy engaged,” Nicholas Tran, Taco Bell’s official storyteller, considers Snapchat “one of the most engaging places for us to play“and each Snap it sends receives an estimated 80% engagement rate (with 90% viewing the entire Snap).

The important question is, if Snapchat continues to open the doors to paid ads, can brands continue to achieve these levels of engagement?  Or will the flood of ads start to ruin the goodwill earned by brands like Taco Bell and Doritos who have spent the time to earn the trust of its millennial audience?

So Snapchatters, were you scared by Snapchat’s first advertisement this week? Or just annoyed that ads have made it into your favourite social media app?  Raise your pitchforks, light your jack-o’-lanterns and storm the castle of my comments section below.

The Soundtrack To Your Life

I’ve spoken before on how music and sound can affect the words you hear in casual conversations and about the power of the brain to fill in the gaps to those same conversations.  But it is also important to note how those same words and music can affect us emotionally and physically.

The soundtrack to our lives guide us through our days (or nights), they lift us up when we’re feeling down or motivate us to do foolish things and take chances.

For the majority of the 20th century it was the power of radio that provided that feeling of release.  It helped make time go faster while driving, to give us great songs to listen to that inspired us to keep on excelling.  Before television it gave us radio shows that inspired the brain with amazing stories that only our imaginations could visualize.  Without those radio shows we wouldn’t have had Star Wars or Indiana Jones.

sonys-new-walkman-better-but-still-no-ipod-killer-sne.jpg

Then it changed.  With the invention of a device that became known across the world as a “Walkman” and became the defacto slang name for every portable music device until the invention of the .mp3 player.  Suddenly there was a device that could actually give your life a walking soundtrack.  Music to pass the time while you took the subway to work, biked to school, or had that second input jack so that girl you admired could listen to your latest mix tape.

It altered how we used music in our lives.  It became more personal.  Playlists became our generations mood ring and we now use those songs and movie themes to emphasize our daily lives.  Ringtones that resonate with our inner being.

For me nothing gets the blood pumping more than going for a nightly run listening to the score to my favourite horror movie.  A flicker of shadow or rustle of a plant in a dark abandoned city path can get your heart racing as your imagination fuels your base fears.  It pushes you to go faster, the pulsing beat of electronic terror.

Music guides your life.  It makes us dance.  It makes us cry.  It holds us back ,lost in key moments of our past, but it also drives us forward to explore new frontiers.

So what is the soundtrack to your life?

All Hallows Eve

Woe to the spirits beyond for I call upon you!  Your time has come to once again creep upon this mortal plane and to strike fear into the hearts of all man and womenkind!  Send your children out into fading light to appease the gods of old and to beg for tokens of candy to keep them from harm!

Okay, so Halloween is on the way and i’m a little overdramatic.  Can you really blame me?  After all this is the one time of year you can get away with scaring the living daylights out of people – unless you’re in a rural area and then most likely you’ll be shot just like during any other time of the year.  But that’s just common sense.  For the most part you can scare the living bejeezus out of everyone – especially kids.  You’ll be considered creepy (or might make it on some blog about child predators) any other day of the year, but on Halloween you’re golden!  It’s open scare season!  So feel free to jump out of a bush to frighten them as they step on your garden or disguise yourself as a scarecrow and sit on the porch to frighten them when they least expect it – That’s my personal favourite.  Just make sure to try and grab as much of their spilled candy as they fleet as a trophy to the old gods.  But as much as scaring kids can be a hoot, nothing is better than making a grown adult scream in terror.  You can have all the Christmas fruitcake and eggnog you want but give me a taste of sweet terror and fear and that is worth my weight in coal that Santa will be giving me in December for my sins of All Hallows Eve.

“But Stormlight how does this relate to relating with people?”

Ye gods man (or milady) will thou not let me have fun at least once per year and allow me to rant like a demon possessed?!?  After all this time of year has EVERYTHING to do with relating to people.  Because with all the ghouls and ghosts and tykes and tricksters that come to your door on All Hallows Eve you have to be on your best of behaviour; or else be on the receiving end of a trick that might result you in cleaning egg of your windows at 3am.  All that because you thought it prudent to not give that last bit of candy you were saving for yourself to those rather large and badly costumed “kids” who knocked on your door at nine.  You remember them?  The ones that tricked or treated on your steps in those break-y kind of voices that could only be puberty or a bad batch of helium.

Then again it could a case of Halloween role-reversal with you be out there.  A 30-something slouching in a badly thrown together ghost costume – you know the bed sheet with the mismatched eyeholes because you had to cut it in the dark in the closet.  That closet which you happened to be hiding in because if your wife or fiancé actually caught you putting holes in those guest sheets you “borrowed” you’d be sleeping on a couch for a week.  All that so you could score some bonus candy because she wouldn’t let you take your fair share from the kids, or the bowl you were handing out treats with at the door.

Anyways I digress. Samhain is my favourite time of the year.  It is indeed my favourite time of the year.  And not just because of everything I just said before this (especially the parts about scaring people).  As sweet as the candy, costumes and frights the current incarnation of Hallowmas brings to our October’s end;  It is the history of the night itself which I truly love the most.  A festival for the dead at the time of year where the door to the Otherworld has opened to allow faeries and ghosts a chance to return to our world and communicate with the living.   The celebration also marked the end of harvest season and the start of a darker time of the year where the nights would start to grow longer and humanity would be forced to spend more time indoors hiding in the comfort of their fires.  Of course the celebration also meant a large feast and almost every historic Samhain story involves copious amounts of alcohol being consumed by the celebrants.  And who can really argue with that.

Samhain, at it’s core, was a time where people firmly believed they could communicate to their dead loved ones, or ward off their spirits from roaming the land looking for revenge.  Of course that all changed when Christianity took over every pagan holiday on the calendar and replaced them with their own versions, so over the course of time Samhain became All Hallows Eve which in North America became the Halloween we know today.  Which I am okay with since even at the core of the revised day of celebration they still worship the kernel of it’s former glory, and that is fear.  Fear of the unknown.  Fear of the growing darkness.  Fear of something coming back from the dead… unless his name is Jesus.  Then if he’s not wanting your brains for a snack you might want to consider giving him a pass out of respect for your Christian neighbours.  We pagans are nice like that.

So unlock your doors and pray your pumpkin wards and offerings of candy corn and chocolate will keep the demons from your steps.

After all one of them might be a certain blog writer in some bad ghostly disguise and we both know that if he doesn’t get a good treat from you then you’re going to get a bad trick in return – one which will likely involve you having to wake up at three in the morning for a little post-Samhain housecleaning followed by me sleeping on a couch until Christmas for putting eye holes in the guest sheets again.

Happy Halloween Everyone!

Misinterpretation and Human Nature

As the old adage supposedly goes, “Music soothes the savage beast”.   Everyone knows it because everyone misquotes it.  And NO, for the fifty-seventh time, it wasn’t written by William Shakespeare.  Even Bugs Bunny, that wascally wabbit himself, misquoted the actual misquote when he looked at our childhood selves through the magic of television and proclaimed that “Music calms the savage beast”.

Originally penned by William Congreve in 1697 for his play “The Mourning Bride” the real quote goes “Music has charms to soothe the savage breast”.  So why is it that throughout time not only have we misquoted the original saying but even misattributed the person who wrote or was saying it?  Is it human laziness that leaves us unwilling to try and discover the truth behind what we hear and see as being correct?  Was it censorship of a North American culture that couldn’t handle the word breast in a quotable saying?  Or is it our trust that the quote was always written that way and we just accept it as the truth?

In my opinion I feel that part of it is our own desire to own the words that we say.  We adapt something to suit our current emotional or physical needs at any given moment, be it to impress someone we are attracted to, to intimidate someone or to make us sound like we’re smarter than we really are.   An example of this is the game “Telephone” (or “Chinese Whispers” as it once was known) that begins with one person whispering a message to the person standing next to them.  As the game progresses the message is whispered from person to person around the circle until it gets back to the original whisperer.   There is no winner to the game except to see how distorted the message is by the time it circles the entire group.  We want to own the words we speak and make them ours; so we try to embellish what we say or censor a word we are too prudish to repeat.  Sometimes we just aren’t paying attention to the words that are being spoken and instead are paying attention to another part of the whisperer’s anatomy.  Like the curvy bits.  We all like the curvy bits.  This brings us into the next reason we tend to misinterpret the things we hear or read: distortion and distraction.

Imagine this.  We are standing in a crowded room.  All around us music is playing and the background noise is roaring all around us.  That’s when somewhere nearby we hear a snippet of a conversation that we suddenly find interesting.  It strikes a chord with us.  Maybe it had something to do with those curvy bits we’ve been hearing about.  Only we didn’t catch the entire phrase because something had distracted us.  Either we were half-drunk, busy dancing or even ignoring that person until after an hour of them droning on they finally said that one lone thing that caught our attention.  So what happens next?  Easy, our minds fill in the blanks to the best of our ability.  We’ve all seen those Facebook posts sent to us from the best friend of your sister’s roommate’s cousin that show us how we miraculously put together sentences with missing words in our heads.  You know this because you scored a 9 out of 10 on it last week and are secretly proud of that achievement.  Congratulations “Music has charms to soothe the savage breast” has just become “Music soothes the savage beast!” and we’ve come full circle.

To put that into a context we can easily identify with we’ll look at how the lyrics to our favourite songs tend to be the first casualties of misquotation, especially when we’re not paying attention.  Listen to Creedence Clearwater Revival’s song Bad Moon Rising.  Hear it playing in the background and practice some impromptu juggling while it plays.  Odds are that by the time you’ve finally gotten to the chorus you’ve had to restart your juggling attempt at least twice and somehow managed to knock over your nearby coffee mug.  So while you are mopping liquid off the floor chances are that in the background the chorus will start to sing to you that “There’s a bathroom on the right!” and you will believe them.  That is a prime example of our minds trying to fill in the blanks in what we think we hear when the message gets distorted.

This example applies to everything we see or hear in life and is the main reason that we should take the extra time to make sure that our messages are clear and concise.  Not just in music or literature but in everything you say.  Fights have been started in crowded bars for less and we all know that the most general miscommunication in the office occurs when you use the wrong enunciation or emotional emphasis on a word or sentence.  That “breast” might become “beast” and then chances are you’re going to get hit for it (or charged).  Although to be honest, chances are you were going to get hit, sued or charged anyway for saying it.  It is after all, human nature and could be the difference between solicitation and bestiality.  So just practice what you preach and if you are worried that what you say might be misinterpreted you can always  grab some friends and Telephone it around the circle for safety.