I’ve recently been listening to a lot of LitRPG and you’ve seen me talk about it with Sufficiently Advanced Magic, Ascend Online, and Towers of Heaven that I’m listening to currently. Those are the ones that I have enjoyed but I also read Awaken Online,…
Let me hop into my thoughts on this movie immediately. I really really wanted to love this movie. The visuals that kick off the movie are amazing. The world that the movie is set in is amazing and I want to explore it more. However, the characters are not that interesting, the story feels like a lot of tropes jammed together without really building the story that you need from it. There probably will be some spoilers, but I’ll try and keep it vague.
This is the far flung future after humanity has blown itself up and screwed up the world. There are mobile houses that people travel around in where they can mine, and make a living. There are also bigger predator cities that chew up these smaller buildings for fuel. We meet our main character, Hester Shaw as the small vehicles that is getting chased down by a predator city. On the city we have Tom who is a researcher who has noticed that things on the city are going missing, things that could be used for a weapon.
In some way the story just sounds too predictable YA Dystopia. And I think that is some of the issue. The story leans into tropes, but leans into them too much, you want the familiar, but you also don’t want it to feel like it hits upon every trope. The movie packs in too many tropes this way and also because it tries to hit on so many things, you end up with a very disjointed story. You get a predictable bad guy with an anticlimactic end. We get a few other deaths that are supposed to feel like they mean something to the audience, but we’re not connected with the characters. It feels rushed, but also feels like it doesn’t have the action that it should. And when it does have action sequences, they aren’t anything all that interesting, and the main character who is fighting is just a poorly done character.
The characters are also an issue in this movie. Hester has an interesting backstory, and I think that Hera Hilmar does a solid job, but she isn’t given much to work with. We really don’t get to see her shine as a character either, and there is some with her look if you think about it doesn’t make a ton of sense. With Tom, played by Robert Sheehan, he’s a pretty flat character, where he was great as Klaus in Umbrella Academy and playing an eccentric character, here he is a pretty thin character. Then you have Anna Fang. Talk about a great looking character but a very disappointing character. Kristen put it this way, she’s kind of supposed to be a Han Solo type character, but they don’t give her great lines to work with, and she does less than anything with them. She looks cool, maybe a little bit out of place, but that could be set-up with some better character development and story development, but that wasn’t there, and Jihae does nothing with it.
Now, not all the characters are bad. Hugo Weaving as the villain is amazing. His motivations aren’t fully developed, nor is his character, but he does a very good job with what he’s given. The real shame with his character is it’s death. It’s a cheap and not impactful death. I think you could argue that the point of it is to keep blood off of the main characters hands, but we already know that really isn’t something she’s worried about. So it feels weak and more like they hoped they could do another movie, but didn’t think that they’d be able to get Hugo Weaving again. Leila George has a smaller role in the film, but her part was interesting and she portrayed it well. I wish that we’d see more of her Katherine Valentine and Ronan Raftery who plays Bevis Pod with her. They were interesting characters that have the distinction of being the secondary characters who are more interesting than the main characters, which is too common is YA.
I’ve bashed this movie pretty hard. I think even with the characters who have some good development or are better acted, they aren’t given what they should have to work with in this film. I do want to knock one more thing, and that’s the weapon that is used in the movie. There are certain angles where that thing feels like a horrible mid 90’s green screen effect, not nearly as cool and polished as the rest of the world. That’s all I’m going to say about it, because I do want to jump into the visuals of the rest of the world which are amazing. The different vehicles all make sense as something that would be in the world. And while the Shanara Chronicles also do the future earth after something has happened, I think that the world of Mortal Engines is a whole lot cooler. The flying ships, the wall, and the general aesthetic of the world are cool, but the predator city is amazing, and the smaller vehicles are all slightly unique and you can see how they fit into the world. There’s are a level of dinginess in the world as well that works really well, and while you do get some Hunger Games vibes in the movie, they don’t lean into it too much.
There’s so much to explore visually and storywise in this world if someone were to do a good job of creating something cool, that it’s a shame this is the movie we got. And the movie did poorly in theaters, so we’re not going to get another one. Maybe fifteen years from now if the books have done well for Mortal Engines, we’ll get another crack at a move which will do better. There’s so much potential of the world that I want to see more of it. I don’t care that it seems to borrow from Shanara Chronicles, Hunger Games, Gurren Lagann, and Howl’s Moving Castle, and a lot more. There’s a chance for it to be unique, and I’d even read the books after having seen the movie in hopes that they are better and that I’ll get the story that I really want.
Overall Grade: C-
Critical Grade: B+ (Visuals), D (Story)
Fan Grade: C
Have you seen Mortal Engines, if so, what are your thoughts on it? Is it a movie you want to see if you haven’t seen it?
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When I was writing about fantasy last, see the Not Your Normal Fantasy article, I touched on a concept that I really didn’t have time to flesh out. That what the difference between high and low magic fantasy settings are.
Let’s jump into the top right away because there’s not much need to explain what magic is, but in fantasy, there is generally magic. It isn’t in every case, but in a lot of cases there is some level of magic. That’s where the difference between high and low magic fantasy settings come in. High magic settings, magic is common place. In your most common examples with D&D, there is generally a fair amount of magic, probably more medium magic, but magic isn’t something that’s going to be shocking to most people. Low magic is on the opposite end of the spectrum, magic and magical items – in an RPG – are rare. People covet magic, fight over magic, and things like magical healing are not to be found.
And the article is done. Or I’ll talk about why you might want to pick one setting over another.
First off, consider the story you are trying to tell. How important is magic to it? If magic is important to the plot, and gaining a specific type of magic or a specific magical item, ask yourself then, is that because magic is rare or not. Is the item important because it’s a forgotten relic from long ago with a magic that was long lost, and now a group of wizards are going to be fighting over it? Or was it thought long lost, and now that it’s been found regular people are fighting for it because magic is so scarce. But then again, it’s possible that magic doesn’t matter in your story, is that because magic is common place so it doesn’t stand out as special or because it’s so rare that the two people off to the side of the story who can use it aren’t going to drive the story?
From there you can start fleshing out your world and determining how magic is used, is it swish and flick magic or dancing in a circle under the full moon magic? If you haven’t decided this can also help make your decision. Even if you have a lot of magic users, it can be a world that is harder to influence by magic if the magic only works during a full moon and requires extensive rituals. It could even be that everyone has some form of magic but if the ability to cast magic is too complicated most people won’t do that, creating a low magic world. Or for example, in Harry Potter, magic is simple, but the world as a whole is low magic, we’re just in the high magic part of it for the series, so even with swish and flick magic, it’s been hidden away. Hiding magic is always interesting and can make your world feel more low magic though it could eventually end up being higher magic magic as time goes on, such as if in the world of Harry Potter magic was to be revealed, it would make the whole world feel lower magic in some ways, but higher magic because it isn’t as isolated.
Finally, consider what level of magic you want s you consider where you want the focus of your story to lie. If you’re doing a story about a normal person who makes it big in a world where magic is common and overcomes that perceived deficit, than you’d want to go high magic. But if you don’t want your story to focus on magic, going with a lower magic setting would make sense. It’s possible in that last example that you could have a higher magic world, but magic is just common place, but you have to worry about the restrictions of magic.
In fact, that’s another reason why you want to consider your magic level of your world. In a world with a lot of magic, a lot of problems are going to be solved by magic. Especially in stories about the hero overcoming lack of magic or just overcoming without using magic, you have to set-up a world where magic wouldn’t make that much sense to be used. That means the Harry Potter swish and flick magic might be too simple for your world because it doesn’t expend energy or resources. But if you can only cast a spell from a faerie circle, during a full moon, while dancing around in a circle and doing a chant in the fresh dew, you could have a lot of magic, because that magic is just hard to do. At the same time, if you are using magic, you don’t want to fall the other direction of making it too weak that there would be no reason to do any sort of magic, because the technology of your story works more effectively.
Finally ask yourself where your magic comes from, that is going to make a huge difference. Is it that it’s divine magic and anyone can get access to it if they believe in the right deity whether that deity is good or evil? Or does the magic come from within and some people just inherently have it like in The Magicians or Harry Potter? If you just have to truly believe in a deity, people are going to have magic, and there’s going to be a lot of it because people will believe since they can see very tangible proof. But if it’s an inherent ability, than you can decide how few or many people get to have it based off of how much magic your story needs.
These are just a few things to consider. It is interesting to look at it for books, but as well for RPG’s where you can take something like Dungeons and Dragons and turn it into a low magic setting. What do you do when a player wants to play a Wizard? It can create interesting stories as your players might have a rare character or you might not let them start out as a magical character at all.
What are some examples you like of high or low magic worlds? Have you played in a game where it was very high magic or very low magic?
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We all know fantasy pretty well, at least I’m assuming that we do. We’ve seen and/or read Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. We might have read the Shanara Chronicles, Wheel of Time, Mistborn, or so many other epic fantasy series or watched shows…
There’s an adage that all stories have been told. That everything written, every new story, is derived from something that has come before it. Your story is the heroes journey, it’s about death, love, taxes, or some other constant in the world, and all the stories about those things have been told.
I think the idea that all the stories have been told is false, but I’ll explain what I mean with that later. First, let’s break down the idea of a story a little bit. A story tells something as we follow a character or characters around and see how they interact with the world that they have been placed. These stories generally boil down to a handful of concepts, dealing with death, love, overcoming a monster, rags to riches, and a few more. So it might be correct to say that all the stories have been told, once the seven or so different basic plots have been told, is there a need for more or a need for something new.
Now, obviously I’ve already stated that I think this answer is yes. There is a need for more things to be written, having a few basic plots and stories with those plots is nice, and they can help ground your work as you realize what type of story you are trying to tell, but there’s more to a story than just a basic plot. There are several reasons why all the stories haven’t been told and even if the basic plots have been told a million times before, there are reasons to keep writing them.
The story you are telling is yours. This first reason is one of the biggest to keep writing a story with a plot that has been done before. You are writing a story in the way that only you could tell that story. I couldn’t write the same story that you are writing, you couldn’t write the same story that I might write. That’s because every single human being is shaped differently from any other human. You might have grown up in a very liberal or conservative town, you might have grown up in an urban area or in a rural area, you might like spaghetti and not chocolate. Some of these things might be bigger in shaping you, but everything about you shapes the story that you are telling. For that reason, whatever you write is going to be uniquely you. It is going to be a voice that is written in a unique way that can only be written by you.
The story you are telling is not yours. Now, this clearly contradicts the first point. But I’d argue that both of them are true. While the story you are writing can only be written by you, you are not writing it only for you. Now, maybe it is a story that is never published and only you ever read it, but you are still not just writing it only for you. You are writing it to release it from you and to send it out into the world on it’s own. Even if that world is just the hard drive of your computer, when the words are down on the paper, they are separate from you. This id a difficult process a lot of the time, you want your story to be yours and to have everyone see it the way that you did. If you get the chance to put something out there, people are going to read it differently than you thought they would. I’m going to repeat that, other people are going to read your writing differently than you intended. And that is great. Go back to the first point that I made about why you should write, the same is true for the reader, everyone comes from a different spot. However, people reading it differently is a good thing. These people are getting something out of your story that is meaningful to them that they might not have gotten out of any story, even if it isn’t what you had thought it would be. That is another reason to tell a story, even if the plot has already been done before.
Stories have a time and place. While there are some stories that hold up to the test of time, Lord of the Rings for example, or are at least considered classics that people should read, there are a lot of stories that don’t. Twenty years from now, heck, even now, people aren’t talking about Dan Brown and his literary prowess. That’s because he isn’t a good writer, and while I would argue that his books haven’t impacted anyone deeply, I do think that people read his writing and most likely it’s encouraged some people to take up writing. The hope, always, is to write the next Lord of the Rings that stands the test of time, but if you don’t, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have written it. There are certain books that will hold a place as something important for a given time or a certain place. Even a certain person might be influenced by your book. So while there are great books out there in every plot, if you adhere to the basic 7 plots, there is a time and a place for what you might be writing. And it is a way that you can hit on something for a certain time or place that a classic couldn’t because they aren’t part of that time or place.
Finally, Every Story is Unique. This ties back into a number of the other things, in particular the first one, but I wanted to talk about it in a different light. While your story might be about love, there’s never been a story written about the alien race of the Snarblax who are looking to conquer the universe in hopes of finding their supreme leaders true love who the oracle computer of the Bathari planet calculated must be out there. Sure, the story is about finding love and possibly then losing love, but everything else about it is uniquely mine. The places, people, and things of the world are uniquely yours, and that is why 200 people can be finishing up a story on love each day (or whatever numbers might be) and each publishing.A story about love or about death could be fantasy, sci-fi, historical fiction, alternate reality, a mystery, thriller, horror, romance, and each one of those is different from the other.
So, has every plot been written, sure? If you subscribe to there being seven unique plots, they have all been written. But the story that you are telling is uniquely yours and deserves to be told. Don’t feel like it might be redundant or that it might not matter, whatever story you write, no matter how long or short will impact someone, even if it is just yourself getting the idea down onto the paper, it will shape who you are for the future.
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I’m continuing my way through the Dresden Files series, and I was noticing something in Jim Butcher’s writing style that I really appreciate, and that got me thinking about other book series as well. That idea being, how much do you describe about the world you…