Dumbing down

Recently, I’ve been gaining new appreciation for stupid things.

Let me explain: I’m talking about very particular stupid things, not all stupid things. That would be…well, stupid. But there’s an art in creating something enjoyably dumb.

Take Gears of War, for instance. It’s a big, silly slice of Eighties action movie machismo, as I described it on Twitter earlier. It doesn’t really have any pretensions to be anything else, which is a curiously admirable trait. It didn’t win any awards for its story, which is a very simplistic bit of sci-fi stuff and nonsense. But – and here’s the crucial thing – I think Gears is a brilliantly scripted game. Its storytelling is extremely efficient – very infrequently does the player relinquish all control, as mission objectives are passed on and updated while Delta Squad is on the move. Since Gears, games like Haze and Killzone 2 have proven just how difficult it is to make a group of meat-headed soldiers likeable. Gears manages this almost effortlessly and creates genuine characters into the bargain. Sure, Baird’s a bit of a blank slate, but Marcus is appealingly gruff, there’s a neat buddy-buddy camaraderie between him and Dom, and Cole Train is an absolute force of nature. And in its judicious use of swears, its dialogue feels oddly authentic rather than offensive. Killzone 2’s propensity for dropping f-bombs every two minutes is the textbook example of how it shouldn’t be done.

It’s not just games I’m talking about. Taken is about as straightforward a revenge thriller as they come. But again, it’s extremely well-made. The against-type casting of Liam Neeson is a masterstroke. The action is exciting and extremely well shot. It’s lean and efficient, with a runtime of less than 80 minutes. And in that phone conversation it has one of the most quotable pieces of film dialogue in years.

Thirdly…well, I was going to argue the case for Limp Bizkit’s Break Stuff, but I’d need hand gestures, puppy dog eyes and a lot more time and words than I’ve currently got to convince you about that one.

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4 comments

  1. Couldn’t agree with you more!

    Taken in particular was a big surprise for me. I had little interest in it until workmates persuaded me to watch it. It did exactly what was required of it: it wasn’t too long, it didn’t waffle at all, everything that was there was essential to the script, and that phone conversation and that line was so memorable!

    Slightly guilty pleasures perhaps but both Gears of War and Taken can’t help but stick in your memory.

  2. Have you seen From Paris With Love by the same director? Not as good, and lighter in tone, but still a lot of fun, with a scenery-chewing turn from Travolta.

  3. I hate Gears… for almost exactly the reasons you describe. 🙂 I find it to be a boneheaded, nonsensical story with one-dimensional characters and little to interest a narrative junkie like myself. I’ve never been a huge shooter fan generally, though, so this may explain a few things. Also, enemies TOTALLY take too many shots to kill.

    And, while mission objectives and communications being passed on while you’re on the move is a good idea (pioneered by Half-Life, technically) what I hate hate HATE about that game is the fact that if you die, you always end up hearing the same speeches over and over and over and OVER again. I find that far worse than reloading after a cutscene. (Reloading BEFORE a cutscene is unforgivable, of course.)


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