Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Journey Beyond Sodor: How It Should Have Been

I've talked about this thing three times already. The first time, I was parroting reviews from other detractors which wasn't really fair, in hindsight. The second was via my live tweets while watching it, which was less of a review and more a genuine reaction when watching in real time. The third was the last blog post highlighting the discriminatory behaviour of some manchildren solely because the opinions of disabled gay man didn't affirm their opinions on it. So now I thought why not dive back into this one final time for a proper review?

I'm going to be fair and start with the positives. First off, I do really like that there was a more solid reason as to why Hurricane and Frankie have stuck together throughout the Steelworks' hardships, and I like that they ended up finding somewhere new to work. I don't think it was as the real thing, but it's a different interpretation that I can appreciate.

Second, I like that they linked the experimental engines into the story more than the real thing did. You get a real sense of the animosity during the third act. And it's admirable they'd risk themselves to save the others.

Third, the banter between Henry, Donald and Douglas was fantastic. Seriously, if they ever decide to do another project, make those three the stars. I genuinely think they could create gold with those three.

And finally, there's the visual design which is... fine. There are a lot of issues, which I'll address, but the lighting, general cinematography and modelling work is passable. To those saying it should skirt on by because of that though, Michael Bay movies have great cinematography. Does that make them any better? Anyone with enough artistic talent can make a decent/good looking movie. But it takes someone with writing talent to make a good film.

And that is where the problems lie: the writing is atrocious.

First of all, this is how the film starts:
This is the worst way to start any project, let alone one that wants to seem professional. It makes the whole thing feel like more of a cynical product than anything Mattel has ever produced. The criticisms they brought up were nitpicky at best and petty at worst. They're literally acting like a show for toddlers should pacify them as well.

Not only that, but the last two paragraphs are incredibly narcissistic. I watch WhatCulture Wrestling, which has two series: "How WWE Should've Booked" and "How WWE Should Book", going through major storylines - past and present - and seeing how they'd do it. Here's the difference: the WhatCulture host was hamming up his arrogant personality, whereas the arrogance here feels genuine. Turns out, however, the fans who thought they could do better than Andrew Brenner and co fell victim to the Dunning-Kruger effect.

The way to fix this is simple: don't bother putting that stuff into the video itself. Put it in the video description or something. Oh wait, they did:

My second point is that the narrative is terrible. There are constant contradictions throughout (James saying that he didn't think BoCo was that bad mere seconds after insulting him and Flying Scotsman running on BR when it's said that only diesels run there being large examples).

What's worse, though, is that the whole thing falls apart 5 minutes in. James did something similar to what Thomas did in the real thing... and no one bothered to check whether he was being truthful. Not even James' crew. Which, considering the whole pull of this is "wanting to respect Thomas' universe" (I'll focus on that more later), goes against it a bit. If this was the case, the driver would've stopped him and taken him home so he and the fireman could be with their families.

I get it: it's really disappointing that the roles of engine crews have been diminished over the years, But considering all the stories we've been given, it should really be considered a "necessary evil" at this point. Including them in stories like this makes them look really stupid since they didn't take any initiative.

And then there's the pacing. The whole conflict reveals itself in around 7 minutes, which is rather quick when the whole thing is an hour and a half, the rest plods along and adds plot points randomly and there are forced in conflicts to keep things going for that run time. Heck, Hurricane and Frankie inexplicably reach Vicarstown Bridge before everyone else because... reasons!

The characters aren't much better. As much as his dynamic with Donald and Douglas was great, Henry was a real wuss, Gordon was fine until he became a discount James, Donald and Douglas themselves could only be described as "Scottish" at one point - stereotyping that country to the nth degree once they get there. Oliver's only purpose is to constantly remind everyone that Escape! had happened and James... was the worst portrayal of the character I've ever seen.

If there was any example as to why proofreading a script is important, James' characterisation is it. Well, the whole thing is, but James' character suffered the most. The narrative treated him like the most egotistical, racist character to ever exist, which is a preschooler's understanding of who James is and bumped up a billion notches. Sure, Thomas was a bit selfish in the official version, but at least you ended up caring when things went wrong for him, and his turnaround was genuine. Here, James didn't develop whatsoever. Emotionally, he was in the place as when he started, making the story even more pointless.

And then there's the themes. I don't know what they were going for, but the main one I gathered was "you're flawed, we'll accept that", which is an incredibly damaging moral. Let me put it this way, if I didn't surround myself with so many amazing people at my lowest point, eventually overcoming my flaws and problems, I would have become more self destructive and more mentally unstable. That was me as a guy in his 20s. Imagine if that's what a child took from this!

Oh, by the way. If you want to create a project that's a massive "screw you" to a certain company, don't use their tropes for your story. They handwave this by saying "we had to use them to keep the feel of the current era". But... isn't that what this thing is fighting against? It's a huge contradiction. If you're wanting to make a spiteful point, make your own adaptation your own way.

There are other problems like the annoying fan pandering (maybe if less effort had been put into that and more gone onto the story problems..!), but the one that annoys me the most is the "respecting Thomas' universe". Thomas' universe is primarily British, but there are so many American influences here that you don't believe that's the case. American terms are used and the engines constantly wrong road. None of these things I'd care about if the creators themselves didn't make them such a big deal. If this was simply their own interpretation of Thomas' universe (rather than thinking they know all about it), I'd be much more lenient.

And then there's the visual design. While I've pointed out the positives, the negatives are huge. First off, continuity errors. Engines swapping lines, engines travelling on actual roads and tracking shots poorly green screened. The latter can be excused, but the first two can't. Shot consistency is one of the first things you need to learn as an amateur filmmaker. And while, yes, even professionals make mistakes, they aren't this frequent or this obvious. It's honestly really sloppy, and maybe spending more time on filming and editing to ensure it was polished would've ironed these issues out.

Finally, there's the songs, which are just as bad as the rest. The first one just hammers in the point that "Sodor good, BR bad!", giving the film a feeling that it was written to be Sudrian propaganda. The second one tries to make you feel bad that the experimental engines have never been given any opportunities, even though they started out working at the Steelworks! Also, the song ends at a random point right at the end of the scene. It's incredibly jarring. Sure, Who's Thomas? ended a scene in the real thing, but the final verse of the song actually felt like a natural stopping point for the song, and the scene. The third one's rather forgettable.

Final Thoughts
I appreciate that this was a fan project and that a lot of effort went into it. And I really do like a couple of scenes and character moments. But I still maintain that this is the most narcissistic, fan pandering project I've ever seen. The characters are bad (and most are pointless), the theme is awful and the story itself is terrible. Honestly, a lot of the problems narrow down to contradictions and too much telling, not enough showing. Although it doesn't help that the film starts with a 45 second message that makes you want to turn it off. But even if you take that out, it really doesn't add much to Journey Beyond Sodor at all.

Overall, I'd rather watch the original. No, it's not perfect. But at least it tries to tell an engaging story with fun characters and a superb message. Also, it has precious cinnamon roll Theo that has so much character due to the bouncing and his voice acting.

Final Rating: Atrocious

Sunday, 7 January 2018

The Thomas Fanbase Shits Itself Again

Another day, another example of whiny little brats getting pissy over opinions. And this could be their most disgusting little stunt so far.

For context, some fans wrote and produced a shitty little fanfic for YouTube: Journey Beyond Sodor: How It Should Have Been. Now I was going to write this narcissistic piece of garbage off as soon as I’d heard about it. Partly due to the narcissistic title, partly due to the fact that past experiences taught me that most fans can’t write a story to save their lives. But, in order to properly have an opinion on it, I bit the bullet and decided to watch it, tweeting my reactions as I did so.

45 seconds in, the destruction began:
I won’t embed all the tweets as there’s so many of them, so I’ll sum up all the problems here:
  • It panders to fans to the point of obnoxiousness (and even then, half of the references are wrong or pointless),
  • Their idea of an “in character” James is an egotistical racist,
  • Gordon ends up becoming a discount James, only he’s discriminatory to other characters,
  • The story constantly contradicts itself,
  • There are so many plot conveniences,
  • The plot itself falls apart after 5 minutes or so,
  • You don’t really care that James is captured because you can’t root for him,
  • It’s completely hypocritical (it’s made as a “fuck you” to Mattel, yet uses so many Mattel era tropes and words),
  • Oliver’s “character” is reduced to “Remember Escape!?”,
  • The realism the film aims for works against the plot constantly,
  • Other characters are severely underused,
  • The songs (and singing) are shit,
  • The sound editing is really bad,
  • There are basic continuity errors between shots,
  • The lack of respect for British terminology and railways is pathetic for a film that says “we’re respecting the Thomas universe”,
  • The themes are atrocious,
  • The pacing is terrible,
  • The film, overall, feels like Sudrian propaganda.
The only counter arguments I’ve seen so far are “the visuals are really good” which simply isn’t true. They’re passable at best, but the blatantly obvious use of green screen for tracking shots look bad. Especially when they’re used to have the engines travel on roads instead of rails.

The other one is “but they spent so long on it”... as though that matters for any reason. Here’s a little reality check for those fans: quality isn’t defined by the amount of time put in, but by the amount of effort put in in that timeframe! With its script that seemed like a first draft, music and sound design that seemed orchestrated in around half an hour and visuals that were hastily cobbled together, this felt like a rush job.

But that’s the thing: every time any two bit hacks throw together a project and release them to the public, they feel as though they deserve praise solely for making something, regardless of quality. And they, and their sycophants, will come up with any excuse to give them that praise when, more often than not, they don’t deserve it at all. And when they don’t get it, they turn into the whiny, screeching manchildren they truly are. Case in point, this thread (I'll embed the first tweet here, feel free to scroll through it in your own time):
How sad and pathetic must your life be to attack a disabled person solely for being disabled? Solely because they had the sheer gall to say a shit film was shit? Solely because one opinion doesn't march in lockstep with theirs? These scumbags are the lowest of the low, and they do it for two reasons:
  1. They can’t think of a good counter argument as to why it’s good, so they just go on the attack.
  2. Their lives are so empty and meaningless that they’d rather tear someone who’s happy and confident down to try and force them to change their minds.
Here’s a newsflash for those fuckwits: I’m not changing my mind until you give me a good reason as to why it’s good. Insulting me will only make me hate it even more, and will result in further exposes with regards to your shitty behaviour in the future. Because I’m done sitting back and taking it. I’m done ignoring it. Last year proved that, and I will continue to call you out this year. Because your behaviour is unacceptable and you’ve been getting away with it for far too long.

EDIT: Since publishing this post, the fanbase has stooped even further, implying homosexuality is a mental problem akin to autism.

Seriously, fuck this fanbase. Hard. All of this bullshit was because someone actually bothered to treat a piece of art like a piece of art and be critical of it. If you're a content creator that can't handle criticism, stop being a content creator.