Peter Travers – The Anti-Ebert

As a lifelong fan of film and game alike, I’ve been increasingly frustrated in the seeming critical divide between these two art forms.  Roger Ebert, famously has stated that games can never be art, my open letter to him drew a lot of attention, and has yet to yield a response from anyone at the Chicago Sun-Times.

This month, however, Peter Travers, the famed film critic of Rolling Stone magazine, still one of the premier print magazines for music, politics, film, and increasingly gaming, started his movie reviews column with a rare 3 1/2 star review of… Grand Theft Auto IV.

The bright red headline screams from the page, below a shot of GTA IV’s protagonist Niko Bellic

“Screw Hollywood, Go Game”

Travers, as much a giant in film criticism as Ebert himself not only headlines his monthly reviews section with Grand Theft Auto, he revels in it.  As if speaking from Dan Houser’s subconscious, he slyly slams the anti-game crusaders.  He’s played the game, he’s beaten the game, he understands the game, from the tragic storyline to the biting satire.  Of the game’s supposed threat to society he muses “Note to the moral hand-wringers: Yes, GTA IV is brutal, bloody, debased, debauched, and likely to corrupt the innocent after, say, 400 hours of play.  But let’s keep the innocent out of this.”

Of the game’s script he writes “It’s a rare video game that enters territory marked by Scorsese and Tarantino.  But writers Dan Hauser and Rupert Humphries have created the vid version of film noir with dialogue that crackles even in the film’s darkest shadows.”

Even for all his praise of GTA IV, he recognizes the distance games have to go, and the challenges ahead of it.  It would seem to me that Travers, as entrenched as he is in the art of Film, is pulling for a revolution in interactive storytelling.

“I’ll resist to the last, trading human drama for virtual reality.  That doesn’t mean I didn’t wonder for a minute what it would be like to grab a controller and follow the characters in No Country for Old Men and There WIll Be Blood into corners their creators never imagined.”  Travers wonders who the visionary might be to “raise interactive video to the level of cinematic art”.

He suggests James Cameron, he derides Michael Bay.  I would add Steven Spielberg to the short list, as I would Ken Levine, he of the brilliant BioShock, and Dan Houser of Rockstar himself.  I’ve long been of the opinion that video games have a far broader definition of artistic merit than film.  Just as there are arthouse films, there are arthouse games.  One need look no further than Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, and Rez to find the sorts of wonderment video games are capable of, things beyond the reach of even the most skilled cinematic auteur.

Peter Travers represents to me the Anti-Ebert as far as video games go.  As he ends his review, he claims that artistically, “GTA IV qualifies as a wow of a start.  It’s not this game that spits you out feeling brain-numbed and dead-ended.  It’s Hollywood.  You leave GTA IV – if you ever do – thinking, “So many possibilities.”

So many possibilities, indeed.

Is Grand Theft Auto IV Actually the Best Popcorn Movie of the Summer? – The Travers Take (Text identical to review appearing in RS issue 1055)


Don’t Call It A Comeback

The past few weeks I’ve been dealing with a lot.  Lot of bullshit.  I’ve gone into turtle mode, really, and because of it my writing has suffered.  Anyway, I’m going to try to make the effort to write some more here, maybe pump a bit more life into this dead husk of a blag.  I’ve got some thoughts percolating on modern medicine, the political ramifications of the Sino-American partnership, the Olympics, Grand Theft Auto IV, and life itself.

Here’s a preview:

Doctors increasingly don’t know what they’re doing, and yet they increasingly think they know what they’re doing.  I’m not anti-science by any stretch, but the mind and its processes are the one thing that modern medicine is nowhere close to mastery over.  The increasing cultural drive to paint sadness as a medical condition that must be cured is doing more harm than good, especially on Prozac Kids like me.  In a month, it will be the first time since I was eight years old that my brain has not been addled by psychiatric drugs.

China and the United States have found a brilliant way to wage a weaponless cold war.  China, by and large seen as a nascent superpower, will host the Olympics, an irrelevant exercise by all definitions, but by doing so they are drawing massive protest from all corners of the globe, except of course Washington D.C.  America has sold itself to China in exchange for cheap consumer goods, and China has sold itself to America in exchange for a means of rapid industrialization and economic growth.  If one leaves the partnership, both fall apart.  The economic form of Mutually Assured Destruction, and the most brilliant political accident in history.

Grand Theft Auto IV is amazing, and I have been no fan of the series nor its creators.  More on that once I actually beat it.

And life?  Well, this seems to be the time of revitalization in all forms of life.  Mating season for the mammals, trees and flowers bloom, kids flock into the parks and streets to play.  But how does that vitality reach one so inneured in The Matrix, as it were?  The answer is chemical, and the response is a full-frontal assault against my drive to mate.  More at 11.

Til’ next time, this is Andrew Zimmer, not dead yet.