Aaron Sorkin’s hero complex

The West Wing

The big news from the interview that Aaron Sorkin did for Hero Summit was the surprisingly detailed amount of information he gave about how the Steve Jobs movie that he’s writing would play out, for obvious reasons. (It’s actually kind of disappointing, since I was basically hoping for a sequel to Pirates of Silicon Valley.) But what struck me the most was a throwaway remark he makes when the interviewer asks him how he might have written Mitt Romney’s concession speech.

“In my world, Romney wouldn’t have given a concession speech,” Sorkin replies. “I could’ve had him win.”

He never explains exactly what he means, but goes on to suggest that in his version of the campaign, Romney would have been the sort of bold truth-teller who stands up to the extremes in his party and makes an appeal for common decency. And it’s probably the most telling moment in the interview, because it kind of perfectly captures the style and limitations of Sorkin’s writing.


Star Wars must unlearn what it has learned

It probably says something revealing about me that I learned about the new Star Wars trilogy while reading an economics blog. For instance, that I gave up on the franchise around the start of the Yuuzhan Vong storyline. And I think that has a lot to do with why I’m finding myself pretty unenthused about the prospect of more movies.

Like just about everyone, I didn’t much like the prequels. But unlike just about everyone, I thought The Phantom Menace was the best of them, largely because it was slightly more interested in developing its own actual story rather than scene-setting the events of the original trilogy. Episode VII presumably will not be a prequel, but given the state of the franchise, its story could be in even more trouble.


The art of ignoring the voters

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, which is running until October 20 at my local community playhouse, isn’t my favorite kind of historical drama — it’s an aggressive mashup of anachronisms that can’t seem to decide how true it wants to be to the real story that it’s telling — but if you read it pretty narrowly, as a skewering of populism and a certain kind of revolutionary, it has some clever points.

Some of the play’s most biting elements don’t involve Andrew Jackson the man or his actual presidency, both of which are pretty heavily fictionalized. Instead, the show works to paint a picture of the American public as a bunch of willfully ignorant simpletons who just want a big strong leader to come along and make the tough decisions for them. And what’s fascinating about this idea isn’t so much how accurate it is, but how central it is to basically every ideology’s political vision, including the moderates. Actually, especially the moderates.


Our solar system is huge

In 1990, Voyager 1 used its camera for the last time and took a panoramic photo of the solar system, including that famous photo of the Earth as a tiny, pale blue dot caught in a sunbeam. (Or, technically, a lens flare.) At the time, the probe was about six billion kilometers away, or 40 times the distance between the Earth and the sun.

Now, after covering another 12 billion kilometers, it may have become the first human-made object to leave the solar system in early September. And despite moving faster (on average) than any other object we’ve ever built, it took 35 years to get that far.

I was born almost four years after Voyager 1’s flyby of Saturn, when its primary mission ended, so I spent my childhood assuming it was long gone already. The fact that it’s still racking up milestones well into my adulthood is a pretty good example of how hard it is to comprehend the scale of the universe we live in.


Sometimes, remakes are good

I’m not sure why people are so fixated on whether The Amazing Spider-Man needed to be made. Alyssa Rosenberg, for instance, begins a terrifically insightful review by declaring, “The only people The Amazing Spider-Man is remotely necessary to is Columbia Pictures, which decided to reboot the franchise shortly after Tobey Maguire finished up his run in the webslinger’s unitard in order to hold on to its rights to the character.”

Which is fair enough, and the fact that we got a broadly similar version of this movie just ten years ago is obviously something of a curiosity. But making some intrinsic judgment about a movie’s necessity feels a little strange, especially when you’re not taking its actual quality into account.

This matters because The Amazing Spider-Man isn’t just good; it’s practically a case study in how a reboot can improve on the original. Which actually seems like a great reason to exist, and a lesson more movies could stand to learn.


“Because God put a Texan in charge.”

The best line in Matt Ruff’s The Mirage comes near the end, and it feels kind of shoehorned in. “Arabia in a state of nature, untouched by the dreams of the West,” one character muses. “Now that would be an alternate reality…” It’s an acknowledgement that, even though the world portrayed in the novel is the result of an arbitrary set of guidelines imposed on its inhabitants by an outside force, much the same can be said for the real Middle East.

It’s a particularly self-aware approach to alternate history. I wasn’t sure I’d like it at first, or through most of the book, but I think it paid off in the end. The story knows that it’s set in a fantasy world that was created by an intelligence with a sense of irony, rather than any kind of historical what-if. But even so, it spent a lot of time exploring what a modern Arab superstate might look like, and that tension between realism and irony led to most of my problems with the book.


Aaron Sorkin is telling us yesterday’s news

HBO, "The Newsroom"

I thought about going with “Aaron Sorkin is yesterday’s news,” but that seemed excessively mean. And probably inaccurate.

A recurring subplot in Sorkin’s previous worst show, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, dealt with a character who was developing a TV show about the United Nations, which he was planning to put on HBO because it was too highbrow for the network TV audience — an idea that Amanda Peet’s fake programming director tried to dissuade him of. So it’s probably telling that now, after Studio 60 collapsed under its own baggage and Sorkin himself got to put a show on HBO, his big idea was apparently to make Studio 60 again.

The Newsroom works considerably better than Studio 60 did, largely because it doesn’t have to sell the idea that a fake version of Saturday Night Live is somehow central to the soul of American society. Unfortunately, the show doesn’t seem to have advanced its analysis of the news industry much beyond a few wistful lines about how much better America was when a bunch of old white men told us what to think every night.


The Dragon Age rut

Sometime during the development of Dragon Age II, the team apparently decided that by far the most interesting part of the expansive fantasy world they’d created was the conflict between mages and templars. It became the central theme of the second game, while most of its tie-in content points to an even stronger focus in the not-yet-officially-announced Dragon Age III. This would have been fine, except they don’t seem to have a clear idea of what to do with this idea.

That’s the central problem with Dragon Age: Dawn of the Seeker, the full-length animated film that the team produced with FUNimation Entertainment. The movie looks great, and it’s a fine way to waste 90 minutes, but it also highlights the franchise’s unfortunate tendency to take an interesting idea and run it into the ground for lack of a new story to tell.


Mass Effect 3 is way better than you’ve heard

The Reapers were here.

On paper, I’m an ideal candidate to be annoyed about Mass Effect 3‘s ending. After all, my complaint about Dragon Age II was that the game gives the player a ton of choices and then goes out of its way to make them all seem meaningless, which is not far off from the most coherent complaint about ME3. I also don’t like deus ex machina endings, and I was already kind of annoyed at the game because I kind of saw one coming.

And yet, it didn’t really bother me.


Why I’m not worried about Game of Thrones

In this week’s edition of me gainsaying io9, I’m taking a look at this piece, in which Charlie Jane Anders wonders if the second season of Game of Thrones will live up to the first. I’m going to be counter-contrarian and say that it will.

The article makes some great points, which amount to the fact that everything that made the first season hard will make the second season harder, plus they’ll need more  special effects. But I think the first point Anders raises is both wrong and the reason why I think the show will actually work.