Kubrick & Me

I think my first Kubrick film must have been Spartacus. Even then, I could tell that the film, and, consequently, its director, were far above and beyond their peers. It’s astonishing just how timeless Kubrick’s films all are. In the ensuing years, I’ve devoured many of his other classics, from 2001: A Space Odyssey to Full Metal Jacket. Most recently, I found myself watching The Shining, which is a terrifying film, not only because of the excellent performances and curious script, but also because of the clever lighting and camera work. Kubrick fascinates me for a wide variety of reasons, such as his minimal, yet extremely high quality output, to the fact that he never did the same film twice. If you don’t know much about the man, this documentary is a good place to start.

To say that he influenced me heavily would be an understatement–few creative types have had the level of impact that Kubrick had. There are two specific traits of his which I’ve found myself emulating quite a lot throughout my life, and I think they’re quite important things that everyone could apply in their lives, particularly if they’re intent on working in an artistic medium like games.

What am I referring to?

“…there are thousands of decisions that have to be made, and if you don’t make them yourself, and you’re not on the same wavelength as the people who are making them, it becomes a painful experience, which it was.”

Over the years, in various team roles, this has always proven to be the case. Many people, it seems have interpreted this the wrong way, assuming that whoever makes all the decisions is also the only one coming up with ideas, which is, of course, absurd. In the documentary linked above, R. Lee Ermey, the Sergeant from Full Metal Jacket, talks about how he improvised one of the most memorable lines in the movie. While he could have cut the line because it wasn’t what he wanted (and Kubrick was known for being a perfectionist who would take waaay more shots than most directors before he found the right one), Kubrick made the decision to keep it in, and Full Metal Jacket was better as a result.

Executive decisions are important, particularly when it comes to artistic merit. Art is not created by committee, nor should it be. Kubrick was the artist behind all of his films, even if he worked with hundreds, if not thousands of others. Those movies were very much his. Having a singular artistic vision driving a work is absolutely vital to the process, though elements such as collaboration and improvisation cannot be understated. Collaboration brought us some of the best episodes of the Simpsons and movies like Airplane! after all.

Art is not a democratic process, nor should be.

"But if you don't support democracy, the Communists win! And steal our bodily fluids!"

The second major lesson to be learned from Stanley Kubrick is an anecdote, found, again, in the documentary, where one of the crew, responsible for designing things like the War Room, mentioned how Kubrick, upon seeing his designs, wanted to know why the man had chosen the various elements that he did. A great attention to detail is a common theme that one can find in the works of many great artists, actually. Stephen Spielberg, in a retrospective on his career by the Director’s Guild of America talked about how, in Lawrence of Arabia, when the eponymous protagonist is at a well, you can see a trail laid down over years and years of visits by the various Arabic tribes. It’s an element that, while unnecessary, adds more depth to the world. Orson Welles, the greatest director of all time (and how could he not be? the man directed Citizen Kane, considered by pretty much everyone to be the greatest film ever made, masterminded The War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast, the greatest hoax ever pulled, and created F for Fake, the best film about forgery you will ever see), was an absolute master at this, with everything, from lighting (The Third Man) to camera angles (Citizen Kane) .

This isn’t often an element of video games, unfortunately. One you start asking yourself why the game writers and artists made the decisions they did, things start to fall apart all too easily. Even in an artistic triumph like Uncharted, where an uncanny amount of detritus litters the screen, making the world feel lived in, you’ll start to see the cracks in the facade. If you don’t believe me, well, here’s an excellent look at the game. It’s unfortunate that this is the case, and I’m positively delighted to see how iD’s artists have taken game art to the next level with Rage.

It’s a remarkably solid game, and I’m still powering through it, so I probably won’t talk about it much until I’m done, but I do want to point this out: While the whiners seem to love complaining about how the game’s story isn’t very original (it’s not, but the topic of a natural apocalypse hasn’t actually been done in games before; they’ve all been man-made or unexplained zombiepocalypses so far, and this is an iD game, so I’m not sure why people would suddenly be concerned about stories), or how the weapons are weak (which is a flat-out LIE), or how the enemies are uninspired (also lies and maybe heresy; in terms of enemy movement, there is nothing like them and they vary widely; however, despite the massive variation between enemy types, I’ve only run across nine major types in the first ten hours, not counting vehicles), the art direction is either not commented on (because yay for texture pop-in!) or called derivative of Fallout 3 or Borderlands, which is just silly.

Let me see if I can explain that awful butchery of a paragraph that was sort of a mini-review: Everything in Rage seems to be hand-sculpted. There’s this insane attention to detail that is so intense that you’d be hard-pressed to find much artistic repetition, which is rampant in most games, even Uncharted 2. The game just does not reuse props that often! Instead, it makes absolutely ever single thing you will ever do, well… new. The only time you do the same thing twice is when you accept a mission (which is totally optional!) to go back to a place you’ve already been.

When idTech 5 isn’t being cantankerous, you can really get a feel for just how unique and hand-crafted everything is. There’s a sense that this is a real world shaped by real people, not some world designed by artists trying to make a game as quickly as possible. Whether it’s the semi-photorealistic (albeit exaggerated for mood) use of color or the shapes of the structures, Rage is just…

It’s everything a 3D game ought to be, artistically.

You know, I like this post. I like the first half and I like the Rage portion. I like how they fit together. But… while they’re connected ideas, they don’t make for a very coherent article, and I apologize for that. I like this too much to break it apart, even if it doesn’t work well. It’s not like I’m being graded on this or anything, and I have to go to class now, where I will be graded on something, so… adios for now!

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    • FassbinderFan
    • October 8th, 2011

    Kubrick is awesome. Have you heard of all the secrets hidden in The Shining? Check out youtube or google Kubrick Corner and see the shining page. It’s unbelievable stuff, especially the way the film is designed to play backwards and forwards.

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