Making Sweden 5% nerdier than it has to be.

Saturday, February 27, 2010


So I finally did it. I've now seen James Cameron's Avatar. The reason it's taken me so long to go see it isn't because I dislike Cameron's work or anything like that. I just wasn't all that interested really. But a friend of mine thought that we should see it and in the spirit of camaraderie I agreed. Then we procrastinated for a few weeks before finally watching the thing last day.

I went in with only a basic knowledge of the plot and questions to why this thing is pretty much the highest grossing movie of all time. I went out thinking that it was good but my questions were unanswered.

The story isn't anything new. You've got your average mr. Joe Everyman ending up in a larger than life situation on a planet where he doesn't really fit in and is looked down upon by the majority of every other character. As the movie goes on he earns the respect of everybody before he rises up to face an insurmountable challenge after having to choose between the his old team (the humans) and his new team (the Na'vi or aliens to those that haven't seen the movie yet) and basically becomes the greatest hero ever, in the movie that is. There's even a training montage, thankfully without stupid/cheesy 80s music, and of course a big inspirational speech, which was disappoitingly bland.

Now, while the story and characters, I'll get to those later, are pretty much as generic as you can get in these kinds of movie it's all so well-presented that sooner or later you won't really care about the genericness. You'll just be enjoying the movie, probably.

Let's start with the visuals. I saw it in 3D and the thing I thought that accentuated the most was that I now noticed tiny details like small bugs fluttering around the characters more easily now. Besides that the 3D didn't really add anything for me. At the movie's half-way point the effect had sort blended in and I had gotten so used to it that the only reminding me that it was in 3D was the somewhat to small 3D-glasseses I had to wear. In short, the 3D did very little to enhance the experience for me and unless the non-3D version is a bunch of stick-figures I don't think that it was worth the extra 40 kronor I had to pay for it.

Borderline pointless 3D aside, the movie looks great. I can see why Cameron wanted to wait until he had the technology to realise the vision he had for this movie. Pandora, that's the name of the planet, looks beautiful, the inhabitants look realistic enough and, most importantly to me, the various creature designs are all look awesome. There is some serious imagination at work here along with a meticulous sense of detail, which is the only thing the 3D-effect is good for. Overall, the visuals did impress me.

Back to the story. Like I said, it's generic and you've probably seen it or some version of it somewhere else. But Cameron seems to have been aware of this and did his best to make it as presentable as possible. It worked. The story is coherent with no obvious plot-holes or anything like that. The characters that matter have their own arcs that are told skillfully. And most importantly I ended up caring about what was going on on-screen. So yeah, well-presented indeed.

Speaking of presentation, it should be noted that more concern went into creating this whole new world than anything else. That's fine since, again, the world is beautifully realised. But the introduction to this new world does make the first half or so of the movie feel very slow and a bit boring.

As I mentioned, the characters are also pretty much stock. The hero is a normal person, except that he's cripled and military soldier, that ends up in a fantastic situation because of the death of his brother. He starts out with the usual human values but learns to love and appreciate nature and stuff like that through prolonged exposure to the Na'vi's way of life. The thing that does sell it though is Sam Worthington's acting. He makes this generic role work and like I said, I started to care about him. Since much of the story was told through Worthington's character's videologs that was a good thing. As a side note this makes me very excited for his lead role in the upcoming Clash of the Titans movie.

The supporting characters are also generic but well acted enough. But nobody sticks out. So let's move on to the villains. The very, very obvious villains. So obvious that I feel compelled to make an obvious reference to twirly mustaches and top-hats.

As the Na'vi represents basically every indigenous people ever and the planet of Pandora in turn represents all the nature that humans have destroyed it's only natural that the villains are evil corporations and uber-macho military. Beyond that they get no reedeming feature really. They are here to be the object of the audience's scorn and disgust. The movie doesn't try hide any of this though, so eventually you just go with it and hate the bad guys as you're supposed to do.

Now that I've mentioned it I might as well talk about it a little. Yes, the movie does have a message about how we're destroying nature and chasing out indigenous people from their homes due to our greed. It's a very obvious message, even more obvious than the villains, and it is sort of shoved into our faces. But here's the thing. It's actually an important issue. Avatar makes attempt to hide the issues it wants to address and wears its real-world concern proudly on its shoulder. In my book that gets a few bonus points. Also it does all this without getting preachy. Which can be attributed to, surprise surprise, a good presentation.

Lastly, the movie has a very good Big Damn Hero moment that I did not see coming. I love Big Damn Hero moments and I especially love them when I'm surprised by them. So that earns another big plus from me.

All in all. It's a good but generic movie. If you're into scifi/fantasy adventure movies then I suggest that you go see it, unless you've already done that which wouldn't surprise.

Until next time, peace out.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

You're half-forgiven Sweden

So another... quarter final of Schlagern has passed and the results somewhat elated my mood regarding the approaching finale of this contest.

As expected the extremely popular and already established teen idol Darin, a young man with a bland song, made it to the finale. Now, while I will admit that the guy can sing that doesn't mean that I have to like any of his songs, and I really don't. I don't hate them, but I don't like them either and last night he was chosen over at least two or three songs that I prefered. So now we have five guys with dull songs in the finale.

HOWEVER. The things that made me somewhat happy yesterday evening was that a group of four girls managed to actually outright beat Darin to the punch and got one of the two finale-seats before he did. They had a catchy etno-beat, I do love me some etno, that I'm still humming today and were overall delightful to listen to. What really made the whole thing kick ass was that nobody had expected them to go directly to the finale. Every media outlet figured that they would go to the semi-final or just lose. But nope, they ended up the main finale before anybody in their heat.

In short, there may be hope for the swedish people's musical taste after all.

Other things that kicked ass on tv-last night were Dolph Lundgren's continued awesomeness as he searched for the mysterious entity that threatens the entire contest. They had also somehow gotten Blue Man Group to perfrom as half-time entertainment, that was awesome. And lastly, in completely different news, two swedish athletes won gold and bronze in skiathlon yesterday.

All in all, a good night indeed. Despite Darin.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

I feel a bit bamboozeled

One of my favorite part about action/adventure video games are the boss fights.

The bosses you fight often have the coolest enemy design in a game in greatly set-up scenario. You get to feel the rush of having defeated a worthy opponent after an epic duel and they can always be seen as test that once you get past them the game regards you as worthy of seeing the next part of the game.

Of course, this only applies to a good action/adventure game.

In bad games the boss fights will either be too easy or cheap, poorly set up and lazy. In short, like the rest of the game they will bad.

But that's what you'd expect, right? A good game has good boss battles and a bad game has bad boss battles. What's really annoying is when a great game has a disappointing boss battle.

That's the case with the final boss of Batman: Arkham Asylum. Oh, for those that care, there will be spoilers for that game in this post.

Now, Arkham Asylum is a freaking brilliant game that captures the very essence of being Batman. The fighting system is intuitive and easy to learn, the stealth gameplay is exciting and rewarding as all hell, the atmosphere is immersive and the pacing is wonderful. It's possibly the best superhero game ever (until the announced sequel comes out). But the final boss battle is largely a disappointment.

The set-up for this fight is awesome though. You have foiled every part of the Joker's masterplan and defeated all the supervillains he's let out of prison and have entered his last hiding place. As expected you fight and defeat his last wave of henchmen after which a cut-scene starts that ends with Joker injecting himself with what is basically a super-steroid.

A following cut-scene reveals that the steroid has transformed the Joker into a sort of mix between himself, the incredible Hulk and a punk-rocker, at least that's what it looked like to me. In this cut-scene Joker has dragged a battle-weary Batman to a make-shift arena on the top of Arkham Asylum and he's called in news copters so that the people of Gotham can watch him defeat and kill Batman once and for all.

So the stage is set. You're ready to go up against this monstrosity in a one on one fight untill only one of you is left standing. The battle begins and... he swipes at you a few times before jumping up on the arena wall and sends his henchmen after you. Huh.

That's basically it. You have to dodge the Joker's attacks a few times, then he gets out of the fight and sends a wave of henchmen after you. Then you do a special trick to get the Joker into a vulnerable position and hurt him. This process is repeated three times with the only difference being an increasing amount of henchmen in each wave. Oh, and Joker sometimes throws dangerous gag objects into the arena.

Yeah... that's what I call disappointing.

First of all, it doesn't really work from a narrative perspective. The Joker has set all this stuff up so that the world can see Batman get killed. No way would he leave that to a bunch of no-names thugs. He'd want the glory of putting Batman down for good to be his own. Also, at this point in the game you must've beaten up close to one hundred of these guys so badly that their bones should be broken and have other rather serious injuries.

Where the hell is Joker getting these guys from?

Gameplay wise I've already trounced the thugs over and over. It was always and in this scenario it's no less intense than before. But beating these guys up again doesn't have the same type of satisfaction as defeating a monster Joker would've had.

With an awesome set-up like that the you have to deliver on the goods. The goods in this case should've been an equally awesome boss fight. It wasn't. It was a disappointing gauntlet of nameless thugs. Lame.

With that said, the final cut-scene that shows just how Batman defeats the Joker is nothing short of badass. And again, the overall game is brilliant. So naturally I expected it to have an equally brilliant final boss fight.

Hopefully this blemish will be corrected in the sequel.

Until next time, peace out.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Why Sweden? WHY!?

There are few things that I consider tradition here in my home country of Sweden, though other swedes would probably be able to count more. But I don't care about those people.

Anyway, the things I consider tradition here are dancing around the Maypole (though I haven't done that since I was like four or five years old), watching the Donald Duck Christmas special on on Christmas (though me and my family have successfully stopped doing that because it's rather boring after 22 years) and watching the Swedish Melody Festival (direct translation) AKA Schlagern (I have no idea why and how it can be called that).

Schlagern is a televised music contest where artists (veterans, new stars and outright amateurs) compete with a song for the chance to be Sweden's representative in the Eurovision Song Contest, that you can look up for yourself. Ever since Charlotte Nilsson (now Perrelli) won the ESC in 1999 Schlagern has been an immensely popular program in Sweden and all the evening newspappers make big fusses about it. That's why I consider it a tradition.

From what I can tell Schlagern is a more drawn-out selection process than its counterpart in a lot of other European countries. The current form of the competition is four quarter finals with eight contestants each. From these two of the artists and their song go directly to the big Swedish finale, based on how the Swedish people have voted, and two other songs go a semi-final where they get a second chance in sort of complicated duel system. At the end of the semi-final two more songs are sent to the finale.

So in the finale we have ten songs chosen by the Swedish people who then get to vote one final time. The winner of that finale becomes the Swedish representative in the ESC.

At the moment we're in the middle of this year's Schlager and I don't think I've ever been as disappointed in the way the Swedish people have voted than now.

There have been a good number of interesting, varied and different songs in this years competition. Unfortunately the swedish people seem to lost all sense of taste and sent the dullest ones to the finale. You can tell because all four current finalists are basically cut from the same stone.

They're all male solo artists with bland and clichéd filled songs that I've basically heard better versions of before. It's really annoying. Annoying to the point where I've come up with a few theories on why this is happening.

1. For once the swedish people is taking the past ESC-winners of recent years into consideration, the most recent being a solo male with a bland and clichéd-filled song, and are voting for the songs they believe will best match the musical style and appeal of those winners. The reason why this theory is unlikely is that the swedish isn't that organised. At all. Usually everybody just votes for their favorites and creates a big mess in telephone network that use as an excuse for why their favorite didn't win.

2. There is a telepath living in Sweden who is also a Schlager-fan and is making people vote for the songs he/she likes the most and I'm one of a selective few people that is immune to this person's abilities. But naturally this one isn't likely either simply because life just isn't that cool.

3. The majority of the people that vote are fans of Swedish Idol, more specifcally girls the ages 15-20 or something like that, and instead of voting for the good songs they vote for the guys that they think are good-looking. While it may not be 100% accurate I do believe/fear that it is close to the truth. If it was such a fascist dick move I'd suggest that people that watch Idol shouldn't get to vote.

This Saturday the third quarter final will take place. If similar winners are chosen at that point I believe that I have enough evidence that the Schlager-audience has somehow lost all sense of musical taste.

Oh well. It's not all bad. While people may have chosen to boring songs the programs have been a great source for entertainment. Mostly due to the three hosts. Christine Meltzer (a popular comedian and television show host), Måns Zelmerlöw (former participant in Schlagern and overall teen music idol) and Dolph Lundgren.


Dolph Lundgren.

You know. The guy that played Ivan Drago in Rocky IV and He-man in the live-action movie adaptation of the cartoon with the same name. That Dolph Lundgren.

He's surprisingly awesome and funny. Seriously. He's not afraid to poke fun at himself and people's pre-conceived view of him as an idiot and bad actor. He's got great comedic timing and is just overall funny. He's the real breakout star of the show this year.

And let me tell you. You do not know surreal until you've seen Dolph Lundgren perfrom a competent song and dance routine of A Little Less Conversation right before smashing trough several large blocks of ice with his fist.

So while the swedish people might've lost all their musical taste we've got a great new/old/something age related comedy star here in Sweden. Lose-Win I say.

Peace out until next time.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The many faces Hades

Ever since I was eleven years old I've loved greek mythology. One of the earliest books I actually bothered to read by myself was a novelization of a radio show where an old man read slightly edited versions of the more famous greek myths to his grandchildren.

I found the stories so riveting that I made my parents buy me reference books about the myths and then I read through those as well, for fun. It was all just so exciting to me and the most interesting thing in these stories were the gods. Out all of them, and there is a lot of gods in greek mythology, the one I found to be the most fascinating is Hades, god of the underworld.

He was just the most appealing and interesting to me. The lord of an underworld that was largely different from the one I was used to simply by chance, he drew lots with his brothers Zeus and Poseidon. In this duty Hades was more or less a fair deity, while still being the bastard that all the greek gods are, he kidnapped his niece in order to make her his wife. Also, while many series I had seen/read at that time often portrayed death as evil Hades was often described as sort of a passive god that was just doing the job that had been assigned to him. It was an intriguing combination for me, and still is.

However, when I started looking outside the regular myths to experience more modern interpretations of greek mythology, and by extension Hades. What I found made more often than not seemed off to me. The most common thing being that Hades was almost always a bad guy.
It's been awhile though since I gave these things much thought. But with the approaching release of the video game God of War 3 and the the movie Clash of the Titans, both of which will have different interpretations of Hades making an appearance, the thoughts have recently resurfaced and I wanted to go through how Hades has been portrayed in modern media. Which is what I will do here.
Before we begin I wish to stress Hades' godly title once again. He is the god of the underworld and the dead that go there. He is NOT the god of death. In greek mythology the closest thing to such a god would be Thanatos, a daemonic personification. The underworld itself was for everyone that died, good people as well as bad people. There they would be judged and either sent to Tartarus if their souls were damned or the Elysian Fields if they had been virtuous. With that said let us begin with taking a look at one of the more recognized and popular versions of Hades.
Disney's Hades
This guy is a good place to start simply because he presents a lot of the issues that I have a problem with when modern media interpret Hades.

For one thing he dislikes his position so much and desires his brother Zeus' so much that he is willing to strike a deal with the titans, the arch-enemies of the greek gods, just so he can usurp Zeus' position as king of the gods. This is a very common trait as far as modern representations of Hades goes. It most likely ties into people thinking that Hades is the death god and of death as evil so he's a natural choice for being the bad guy. Being sick of having to rule the underworld is the common motivation for why he is the bad guy.
Besides that you can also see that Disney's Hades has fire in place of his hair. It might seem like an little innocent detail. But then this version gets pissed and throws large pillars of flames all over the place. In the myths Hades is never associated with fire so one can assume that this trait has been brought over from another ruler of another underworld: The Devil. You don't get much more evil than the Devil.

In short, the creators of this version went out of their way to make sure that the connotations one can get from the character indicate that he is evil. Which rather greatly clashes with the passive and fair bastard from the myths. Of course, the majority of myths presented in the movie the Disney Hades appears in, Hercules, are equally mangled/edited to make it a much more kid-friendly movie.

In Hades this is apparent in his personality, which many sources cite as supposed to being like a "used-car salesman". He talks fast, is quick-witted and can sort of be compared to typical old school cartoon villains in terms of the plots he employs, at least in the animated series of the Hercules movie. While this is entertaining it certainly does not match up with th mythological version who, like his realm, was sort of dark and gloomy.
All in all, the Disney Hades is about as far removed from the mythological counter-part as you can get. At least he would be if it wasn't for this next guy.

DC Animated Universe Hades

Yeah, all those issues I have with Disney Hades are pretty much amplified ten-fold with this version. Mainly the associations with the Devil.
While Disney Hades limited the Devil connection to having him be on fire constantly the DCAU Hades goes all out and gives his true for a physical appearance resembling the Devil as well, as you can see in the picture above. But even before this form is revealed the idea is presented instantly. When he first appears he's wearing a helmet that has large impractical horns on it and when he takes it off he's looks like a handsome man with a charming personality. While that last bit may sound nice and all it's still more of a devil trait to charm people into listening to him and playing them like so. This version also uses fire as his primary medium of attack, along with an army of dead soldiers. But it doesn't stop there, when he first appears from an unlocked gate which leads into his it appears as though the entire place is engulfed in flames. Subtle, right?
And while I don't agree with them at least Disney Hades had motivations for trying to take over the throne of Olympus and the world. DCAU Hades on the other hand just seems to be a evil god because he's an evil god.
One thing this version has over Disney Hades though is that he doesn't seem displeased with his place as the lord of the underworld. Unfortunately, this is what robs him of a motivation so it is a double-edged sword.
To sum up, this Hades was just created to be an evil god that the good guys could fight and thus lacks the depth, shallow as it is, of Disney Hades and even more so when compared to the mythological Hades. I will however say this about both these modern versions. I kind of like their designs. Disregarding the Devil associations both of them look like rulers. The next guy on our list doesn't exactly have that advantage.
God of War Hades
Look at that thing.

It looks like a demon jailer from hell rather than an actual ruler of the underworld. A monster more than a man, and the gods based humans off of themselves so you'd assume that they resemble us somewhat. And the spikes on his back seem indicative that he's going to torture you as soon as he gets his hands on you. Overall, the design is obviously supposed to make you think of bad things and the underworld presented in the God of War games is often displayed in the same way. All these things are more fitting for the Devil of christian religion than the mythological Hades.
However, the designers of the game have said that instead of going for making the game look like authetic greek mythology they decided to make the game look like what the target audience thinks greek mythology looks like. So they get bonus points for knowing what they're doing.
Besides the horrible, if badass, design of GoW Hades I don't have much to complain about with this guy. Yeah, he will be fighting the player avatar and protagonist, Kratos. But that's because Kratos is trying to murder all the gods and everything that stands in his way because they've pissed him off. That is to say, everybody in those games are bastards. Just like in greek mythology.
Luckily there are a few versions that manage to combine the regal ruler-look that befits a god of the underworld as well as not being partially based on the Devil. Unfortunately I couldn't find a good picture for either one. Oh well.
Hercules the Legendary Journeys Hades

I always liked this version simply because he was often portrayed in a sympathetic light. Even in the episode that adapted the the myth about Hades kidnapping Persephone to make her his wife it tones down Persephone's unwillingness and makes it more a story of tragic love rather than bastard gods being bastard gods.

This version is also reasonable, fair but stern and while he is envious that his brothers got to rule the sea and the sky while he only got the underworld he just accepts it and goes to work instead of trying to enact some evil plot.
He's also a very human character which is shown when Hercules has almost succeeded in taking Persephone out of the underworld Hades shows up and says that he'll let Hercules bring his dead family back up to the living world as long as Persephone stays. It showed an interesting level of loneliness and desperation in the character which made you sympathise with him even further. Which is the problem with this interpretation. He's actually too sympathetic.

Like I've been saying all along, the greek gods are bastards. In Hades' case this makes him interestingly grey as a god that does his duty with the underworld while still being the arrogant bastard that they all are and you have to make it up in your mind whether you're supposed to like him or not. With the HtLJ Hades however you're pretty much expected to think that he's a nice and fair guy. It takes away an edge from him and makes him less grey than his mythological counter-part
Also, he's a greek god. He should be a bastard. A real bastard is the next, and last, version of Hades I will present here.
Marvel Comics Hades
Basically this guy is sort of an amalgam of the other versions. He has the regal, but dark, and human appearance of the Disney, DCAU and HtLJ Hades. The bastardness of the Disney, DCAU and GoW Hades and all without being a mix with the Devil or any other demon for that matter.
So one would think that he's a perfect interpretation. Nope. He's still the bad guy and he still wants to usurp Zeus' throne. However, in recent comics his motivation for this has been revealed and it is very satisfying and human in my opinion and he goes about trying to fulfill his ambitions in a very bastardish way.
But despite this added complexity he's still a bad guy and still rubs me the wrong way. So, close but no cigar.
In short: I've been giving a rather negative view here of the various modern interpretations of Hades. So let me take this chance to say that I don't hate/dislike them all that much actually. They all have qualities that I appreciate.
GoW Hades and DCAU Hades are both pretty badass. HtLJ Hades is sympathetic and interesting. Marvel Hades is a great and complex villain. And Disney Hades is entertaining and funny to look at.
But none of them fit with idea of Hades that I've had since I was eleven years old. It seems that modern society has a problem with seeing this guy as anything but an evil entity in the same league with the Devil simply because he orders over the dead, which in turn can be traced back to people always being afraid of what comes after this life. That's sort of disappointing really since there's a great non-evil character here. It's just nobody seems to be able to bring out all his mythological character traits.
But at least these incarnations serve to make him sort of recognizable for the general audience, if they can tell one version from the other. And who knows, there might be a more faithful adaptation of the character showing up in the future. Again, he's going to show up in the remake of Clash of the Titans later this year and there he will be portrayed by Ralph Fiennes.
Let me repeat that. Ralph Fiennes is going to play Hades. That's fucking awesome.
Until next post. Keep it cool

A nifty introduction for whoever reads this

Welcome to the blog. This first post will serve as a nifty introduction, as it says in the title, to what I will be posting here.

First of all an explanation to who I am. Basically I'm the guy who, in this blog, calls himself the Overlord of the North, just because it sounded fun at that time. Still sounds kind of funny if you ask me. Also, I'm from Sweden and I'm a nerd and I'm proud of both of those things, more so of the latter than the former. And lastly I have to many thoughts going through my head so I figured that I might as well get rid of them by sharing them with the world.

Hence the title "Ramblings of a swedish nerd".

In short, I'm going to be posting my thoughts about various subjects, most of them will be considered nerdish. This can range from reviews to discussions about whatever's in my head to whatever else I can come up with.

You, the reader, will through this blog get something new to read and a new perspective on stuff like movies, video games, comics, books and other things. I'm being purposely vague here people.

As for why I'm writing in english if I'm from Sweden. It's because out of the languages that I can write in english is the most accessible to the largest audience.

That should cover it everything. The first proper post will be up shortly after this one. Until then, peace out.