When I escorted my two 10-year old nieces to see Pokémon: The First Movie (for the record, that's not my excuse, I wanted to see it for professional reasons [again, that's not an exc—oh forget it! I wanted to see it because I *gasp* like Pokémon and was curious. Happy now? But the part about taking my nieces is true.]), I honestly didn't know what to expect. I mildly catch the show every so often and I'm not only surprised by the generally positive and upbeat nature of the show, but I'm also impressed by the quality of translation and dubbing job that 4 Kids Productions have done in porting the anime show (I'm an old school otaku where back in my day all we had were fan subs and Xerox-quality transcripts). And when the curtain came up, all the hundreds of little tykes shut their yappers (just kidding!) and Pikachu's face blared on the giant screen, one memory shot into my head, Transformers: The Movie.
Every so often, much to the glee of corporate conglomerate$ looking to $queeze every last dollar out of consumer$ by inventing new ways to keep us entertained (and ultimately distracted), something manages to capture the hearts and minds of a youthful generation, be it Power Rangers or Pokémon. For my generation, and a limited time (offer not a guarantee), it was Transformers; those square dudes that popularized the whole-turning into other crap or combined to even bigger crap-fad. At the height of Transformers' popularity, the powers that be $ought to capitalize beyond the nationally syndicated TV show, die-cast toys, and happy meal endorsements by releasing a motion picture. Corporations love it because motion pictures tap into a mainstream market with the potential to gro$$ millions of dollar$ in revenue. Fans love it because a big-budget movie symbolically signals an acceptance by the mainstream society and, thus, means that they no longer have to be hide their 'geeky' enthusiasm. All of a sudden, the fans are the ones who are 'hip' and in the 'know.'
When I first saw Transformers: The Movie, I was in pure ecstasy. Everything I had grown to love about the TV show (Optimus Prime, those lovable Dinobots, Soundwave's nasal voice) were all present, only better. It wasn't just the sheer size of the projection screen, but a bigger budget meant higher production values. The artwork was more detailed, the animation was slicker, and the acting was superior thanks to the voice talents of Leonard Nimoy, Robert Stack, and Orson Welles. The sound effects were booming due to movie-quality bass and that was further enhanced by the Rock 'n' Roll musical numbers that accompanied nearly every scene. I was in total awe when Optimus entered the early fray and single-handedly wiped out numerous Decepticons before squaring off against Megatron. I was blown away when Blaster Master let loose his own 'cassette' (you know, those square things we used to record music on) soldiers on Soundwave's pack of metal midgets. I was shocked to see the film actually incur casualties (Wheeljack R.I.P.). Then, of course, my jaw totally dropped when Unicron, revealed himself by transforming from a planet into (surprise, surprise) a giant robot.
What was the aftermath? The Autobot formerly known as Hot Rod (now Rodimus Prime), Springer, and Ultra Magnus quickly shot up on my list of must-have toys. Then there was stickerbook that featured screen captures from the movie that became popular with all the kids. I spent endless hours collecting, buying, and trading the various stickers in order to complete a full set (I never did get those 3 'rare' ones). Then after a few months, there was the VHS tape that I rented more times then I can count. Of course the TV show carried on with episodes that picked up right were the movie left off (albeit with much shabbier animation), which I continually watched (and watched and watched and watched…) with a renewed interest.
Anyway, flashing back to present day, where I'm now watching *ahem* Pokémon: The First Movie and I'm getting a sense of déjà vu. Seeing a larger-than-life sized Pikachu splattered across the screen is surreal in itself. The artwork and animation quality is improved over the TV show (though only by a bit since the show's imagery is typically simplistic). Then there's the jamming soundtrack only instead of blasting guitar-rifting tunes, I hear bubble-gum pop for a generation hooked on Britney Spears and N-sync. Instead of Unicron trying to engulf the universe, we get Mewtwo trying to annihilate the earth. Instead of a shimmering device called the Matrix saving the day in Transformers, we get a shimmering ancient Pokémon called Mew coming to the rescue. Wait a minute…I think I'm beginning to see a pattern here.
Forget about even trying to judge the film on artistic and cinematic merits (there are none by default), but even as a geek/otaku/fan, I was pretty disappointed with Pokémon: The First Movie. With the exception of the opening title sequence with Ash dueling against another trainer while an 'improved' version of the Pokémon theme played in the background and the earlier scenes involving Mewtwo's origins, the rest of the movie lacked any sense of 'coolness.' There weren't any scenes that matched the exhilarating ones that I mentioned earlier in Transformers. The final climax in Pokémon was decisively drab and besides failing at being climactic, it was also incredibly preachy (even by made-for-children standards).
So after the movie ended and all was right with the Pokémon universe again, we exited the theater house. I watched my nieces and hundreds of other kids clutching their free (yeah, free after paying an unbelievable $9.00 per adult admission) Pokémon collectible cards they received and I wonder what will be their aftermath? Will the new Pokémon introduced in the movie become high priority on their Christmas wish list? Will they continually try to add more cards to their collection and try to acquire those oh-so rare ones after spending countless dollars? Will they try to buy the home video, which will be priced-to-move during whatever holiday season it will no doubt coincide with? In the midst of my mental pondering, my thoughts turned inward, I wonder whatever happened to all those craptacular Transformers toys and merchandise that I accumulated during that time? I should probably dig it up from somewhere in the closets of my parent's apartment because Lord knows they'll probably make me a fortune on Ebay. After all, why should the corporations be the only ones raking in the dough?
Somewhere between all the gaming, Chi some how managed to finish high school and get into the New York Institute of Technology. At the same time, Chi also interned at Virtual Frontiers, an Internet software consultancy where he learned the ways of HTML. Soon after acquiring his BFA, Chi went on to become the lead Web designer of the Anti-Defamation League. During his tenure there, Chi was instrumental in redesigning and relaunching the non-profit organization's Web site.
Today, Chi is the webmaster of the American Red Cross in Greater New York and somehow managed to work through the tragic events of September 11th without losing his sanity. Chi considers GameCritics.com his life's work and continues to be amazed that the web site is still standing after the recent dotcom fallout. It is his dream that GameCritics.com will accomplish two things: 1) Redefine the grammar of videogames much the same way French film critic Andre Bazin did for the art of cinema and 2) bring game criticism to the forefront of mainstream culture much the same way Siskel & Ebert did for film criticism.
Latest posts by Chi Kong Lui (see all)
- Fraud Alert: Pete Smith, Content Producer - September 9, 2014
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- Observations from PAX East 2012: Are video game gimmicks finally maturing? - April 11, 2012