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Our Favorites: Re-Told Fairy Tales

Into the WoodsI was in about fourth grade when I saw Into the Woods on stage for the first time. This musical, written by Stephen Sondheim, intertwines multiple fairy tales--Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, and several others--telling each story in its familiar version in the first act. At intermission, I bumped into one of my teachers, who had seen the show before. I told him how much I was enjoying myself, and he suggested that I go home and not see the second act, so that I continue to feel happy about what I had seen.

I stayed and saw the second act. And while I was a little shaken up at the time, I am so glad that I stayed. Sure, the second act of Into the Woods challenges the idea of "happily ever after," but in doing so, it provides a means for fairy tales to become more than familiar bedtime stories that fit in a comfortable box created by "once upon a time" and "they lived happily ever after." It provides a way for them to speak to the issues that we all deal with in everyday life.

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Truth between the spaceships: An alternate view of science fiction films

Fantasy MattersTomorrow the results of the Fantasy Matters "Best Science Fiction Movie Ever Week!" will be announced, and my choice will not win. It will not even place; the movie I would have voted for was not on the ballot. Neither was my second choice. Nor my third. The Best Science Fiction Movie Ever ballot has almost no overlap with the list I would create if asked to name the best science fiction movies ever. There is only one movie (maybe two if I am feeling especially generous) on the ballot that I think even belongs in the conversation.1 I expressed my disappointment with the list on Twitter, and management has kindly given me the opportunity to discuss which movie I would like to have voted for, and more generally why this list is so divergent from my own. [Note from management: In case you haven't voted in the poll, head over here to let your voice be heard--either by voting, or by telling us in the comments how wrong we are.]

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The Truth of "Once Upon a Time"

Ever AfterI really enjoyed the movie Ever After when it first came out, and this past week, when I saw that it was available for streaming on Netflix, I was excited to watch it again.  I remembered it as a fairly fluffy, feel-good movie with some funny parts, and when rewatching it, I wasn't disappointed--it did make me feel good, and I once again chuckled at the exchanges between the step-sister Jacqueline and the Captain of the Guard.  I was also pleasantly surprised--while it is a feel-good movie, it is more than just fluff, since Danielle (the Cinderella figure) is very much an agent of her own change.  She doesn't just sit around waiting for Prince Henry to rescue her; she, in fact, is the one who is the rescuer, with one of the opening scenes in the movie being her rescue of a servant who is about to be shipped off to the Americas.

But what intrigued me most about the movie this time was the frame for the Cinderella story.  Instead of starting with the fairy tale itself, the movie starts with the Brothers Grimm visiting the Grande Dame of France to discuss their latest collection of tales.  The Grande Dame criticizes their version of the story, asking if they would permit her to "set the record straight"--she then tells the story of her great-great-grandmother, Danielle de Barbarac, who was the real Cinderella.  The movie then cuts to the story of Cinderella within the frame, which takes up the majority of the movie, but at the end we once again return to the frame.  The Grande Dame tells the Brothers Grimm that while Cinderella and her prince did live happily ever after, "the point, gentlemen, is that they lived."

Really?  That's the point?

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Mad Science: Portal and the Fulfillment of Technological Fantasies

We all want to play with the toys we read about. All sci-fi universes (and many fantasy ones) include technologies like lightsabers or tricorders. We imagine or watch our favorite characters like Geordi La Forge or Luke Skywalker use them to explore alien worlds or vanquish evil foes. These devices create expectation, or "affordance," of what we expect would be possible within a game set in their respective universes. What exactly can’t a lightsaber cut through, anyways? The fictional world has its answer, of course, and many plot sequences rely on it.

MechWarrior 2Many single player games like first person shooters happily allow you to devastate the terrain with any number of weapons of varying precision. A number of versions of the BattleTech Franchise allow you to pilot a 40-100 ton BattleMech (a robotic tank). But when it comes to non-conventional uses of technology, you are often limited to the imagination of the programmer who implements them.

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The Unexpected Fantastic: Slow Motion

The Darjeeling LimitedI am going to talk about a movie. Again.

 

In the opening minutes of The Darjeeling Limited, Adrien Brody runs after a train in slow motion. His long limbs devour the platform, but they do so with leisure and grace. He is an impossible creature, encased in a perfect grey suit, and he clambers through the air as if he has received a temporary reprieve from the normal obligations of gravity. His fingers unfurl from the handle of his suitcase, one by one, and each release is a moment of solemn and breathless delight.

 

Every time I watch it, I feel like I am witnessing a magic trick.

 

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