Derek Johnson Muses

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Batman to Tomb Raider: a New Lara Croft

I recently have been reading Tales from Development Hell by David Hughes, who recounts the struggles of some recent high profile films that got made and some that didn’t, even after ten years of  false starts and rewriting. One that particularly interests me is the miserable Lara Croft series. There seemed to be two opinions from the people who worked on making the two films in the early 2000’s: one, there was something more to the adventuress than most video game characters, and two, no one has any idea on how to make it a good film. But here’s my shot.

Most video games don’t translate we’ll as films. Sometimes, you do get a Resident Evil franchise, which has its cult fans but makes no impact beyond the younger, tone-deaf crowd. But Croft is a character that is familiar, even if she’s an Indiana Jones rip-off. The modern cinema is riff with familiar but remodeled characters. You just have to follow the right model.

If it were me, I’d look at Lara the way Christopher Nolan looked at Batman, or the way the 1960’s were re-imagined through Don Draper. The ideal woman to play Croft would be someone with a mix of skills, toughness, intelligence, and woundedness. Instead of Megan Fox, I would write with Maggie Gyllenhaal in mind. And I wouldn’t make her someone who had to be a mean girl, but who just happened to be so.

For the story, I would start with a small flashback with Lara as a 12 year-old girl with her father and/or mother, right upon recovery of an artifact. Then a villain comes in and steals the artifact and kills Lara’s parent(s), leaving her with a fragment of the artifact, like a “penny”. Then, after flashing forward to an introductory action sequence, I’d show her in England, teaching children.

In the mid-point of the film, I’d insert a male lead who has been betrayed by the villain, and who Lara is forced to trust, but doesn’t trust. The plot would be about finding artifact which the “penny” would fit into, opening the door to another world, and thus, Lara finding out what her parent(s) died for. And strongly consider an ending akin to Casino Royale, with (spoiler alert) Lara’s love interest dying to save her towards the end of the film.

Driving the main points in the script would be character, choices, and the question of who Lara would be in real life.  I don’t know if this approach would yield a great movie, but it would minimize the risk of an embarrassing failure. If a serious movie fails, no one cares. When an action comedy fail, it can look horrid. Just look at The Killers; Ashton Kutcher had to go back to TV after that. Or consider the first Batman franchise. Probably wont happen but I can dream.

Lady Croft, I presume?

What I Wish I Had Known 10 Years Ago in College

I planned for a year and a half that I would go to Concordia University-St. Paul after I graduated high school. I came into that freshmen year very gun-ho, going to learn and get stuff done, a typical attitude for a homeschooled person. Three years and one transfer later, I graduated college feeling burnt out and bottoming into several years of not doing a lot with my life beyond moping. So every now and then, I wonder, what I have learned in the last ten years that would have helped me back then

Change is going to be harder when you get older-After a year at CSP, I transferred to Concordia-Wisconsin, which, while not the worst decision I ever made, did take some uprooting. When I graduated college, I went home and thought I’d do exactly what I wanted to do. Instead, I spent way too many days and nights play video games and thinking of what I would do. Since graduating, I have thought many times about moving, but the thought of how hard it usually gets in the way now.

Do something every day and stick with it-This factor is complicated for me because, I was studying to become a pastor and bailed out on that at last minute; if I had a better inventory of my skill set at the time, I would have taken more English course with writing emphasis, along with a core of theology, history, and languages, and pursued a career in writing.

Instead, I was on track to go to seminary, but pulled out at the last minute. The thing I regret most about that wasn’t quitting (although I don’t think that was where God wanted me at the time), but that I had no plan when I left college. I wish I had stuck with the plan I was on, and figure out how to adapt my gifts later. I ended up spending nearly three years waiting around until I started working for my dad.

Sometimes, what you do doesn’t matter. What matters is if you are sold out to what you do. When you are in college, you have a lot of resources around you-professors, counselors (free, even), different people, plus various recruiters are coming to seek you out. Those winnow pretty quickly when you move on with your life.

Don’t let little things bother you, and you’ll run into difficult people in work and life-I left after two semesters, after putting myself in courses that were too advanced and ignoring the people I disagreed with theologically. The first job I had out of college, I quit quickly when I didn’t get a management position at the end of training. You don’t really appreciate work until you have too many long days to yourself.

You’re going to have bad bosses and have to deal with people who treat you poorly in life. Don’t take personally when someone else blows up at you, or things don’t go your way all of the time. (Great bosses are mean at times because it’s what makes them great.) Not that you won’t walk into bad situations where you do need to leave, but there are many times where you would be better off sticking out and gaining some resilience than just bailing. The greatest sense of achievement you’ll get in life is when you stick with something for several years, and it works out.

People are limited and aren’t going to automatically to fulfill your every need-When I first arrived on the scene at CUW, I thought everyone I met would end up being my best friend. I ended up in some very one-sided friendships and didn’t do as well socially as I hoped. (If any of my former classmates are reading this and have active grievances, I’m sorry.)

The vast majority of us have limits, and we don’t find each other that interesting. Listen to other people talk about what they love about themselves and what interests them, and if repertoire doesn’t develop between the two of you, it’s okay. There are a lot of people out there to find. If you value what interests them, that’s the most you can do.

And sometimes, you have to recognize what a person can give you. If they can help you get through a rough patch great, but if you can tell early in a relationship that you’re not going to get what you need, it’s better to just move on.

Don’t buy into the cultural narcissism around you– Not that you are scum, but you are not as shiny as advertisers and recruiters tell you you are. Advertisers and TV executives are out there trying to get your money and attention, but they won’t offer you as much in return. The world, your peers, and maybe even your parents are showering you with massive amounts of attention without criticism. And by the way, it won’t make you happy in the long run.

You can do everything that makes you happy, buy everything you want, travel, but what really brings lasting enjoyment is sacrifice, commitment, and doing a couple things as well as you can. Don’t worry about having it all if you aren’t able to have it all. Have what your abilities will allow and be grateful.

Learn how to manage your time-This was one of the bad things that happens in prolonged unemployment, is that one turns things like cooking, laundry, and even watching TV into your job. Looking back on it, I wish I would have one of those college semesters where I took on way too many things and had to start using a day planner.

Figure out your limits and abilities-I still struggle with this one mightily. Part of this is knowing when to go to talk to someone about something that bothers me, part of it is knowing when I need either encouragement or tough love. There have been times in talking to others when I have expressed a situation I’m in, and I had no idea what kind of advice I needed or wanted.

Coming out of a wasteland of time, I still haven’t quite figured out what my plan for the next year is going to be, but I know that it had better be set by the time I start traveling this summer.

For those of you in college who are reading this, I hope you’ve read something that serves you on your journey through life. Don’t get down on yourself; life is what it is. Just control how you respond to it.

The dorm I lived four semesters in at CUW

The dorm I lived four semesters in at CUW

Husker Heartbeat 2012

This Husker football year marks several firsts for me. It’s going to be the first full year since I got my blog, and the first year that I will be contributing to a site that provides Husker content. I don’t think the contributions I have to write will affect how I watch Husker football, but I could be wrong. Before when I’ve watched the Huskers play in the past, I take some mental notes, and process my own opinion. While I enjoy the columns and stories in the papers around here, they do not define my full countenance on the team.

The place of Husker football changed in 2005 after I returned to Nebraska from college in the greater Milwaukee area. That fall, I worked for Valentino’s in the bowels of Memorial Stadium and had a few fly-on-the-wall moments. Having not been to a home game since 2002, I’d forgotten a lot of the passion of being at game day, and over the next four or five years, game day became the highlights of my year.

Over these seven years, players have come and gone, but the question of “when will Nebraska be back?”, hangs in the balance. Indeed, the first teams that I remember where the teams of the nineties, and as I followed the teams through my growing up years, I came to believe that going undefeated in college football easy. I’m not sure when that dream got shattered: maybe in 2002, maybe when Solich was fired. But as I followed the team more closely, I came to realize that it was college football that changed, not Husker football. So many football programs get on TV and compete now, and the internet age has brought a level across the college football world.

So then, why does this wide-eyed twenty-something still put on his hobbit hoodie every Saturday September through November and go to Memorial Stadium or sit in front of the TV? This question drives me crazy, especially when I consider that I could be seventy years old and not see a Husker team better than the one that played the year I turned twelve.

Who knows. I can’t changed where I was born and what I came to like when I was a kid. Go Big Red.

Why Economist Should Play Settlers of Catan

I was introduced to the game Settlers of Catan at a game night with some friends from church. The game instantly fascinated me, because of its complexity and how resources had the potential for different values based on which numbers were on top of them. I went home  and downloaded Catan to my iPod and got into it.

In the first game I’d played on the board with people, the experienced players tried to get a settlement on a region for each resource so they wouldn’t have to trade, and I mimicked this strategy in my first couple of computer games I didn’t win a game and walked away frustrated, but I noticed something: the value of a resource changes during the game. Ore, for example, isn’t valued much early the game, because everyone wants to build roads and settlements to avoid getting hemmed into one or two areas, so everyone wants to trade ore for brick and wood. But as the game goes on, players value ore more because they’re trying to get cities.

After I took a break and realized that my initial assessment was comprehensive enough. Trying to get a settlement on each resource was too hard and tiring, and even if you did, it wasn’t worth much if it was on a 2 or an 11 or a 12, numbers that aren’t rolled much.

I considered our present economy: who get the most value for their work? I’m not talking about workaholic lawyers and doctors; although their work is very valuable, they have to put in a lot of time to get that value. No, the most valuable people in our society are consultants, people who can come in and increase the average earning power of workaholics and companies with some tweaking and telling them which markets to pursue. Apply that principal to Catan, and I only needed to control one or two resources to win at the game.

I revised my initial take on how the resources changed throughout the game. When the players choose their first two settlements at the beginning of the game, all of the resources had an equal value. To be successful, I had to choose a place on the board where I would get one resource constantly and could flip that resource into whatever I needed. For example, I would put my first settlement on a port where sheep traded at 2:1, and my second settlement on two sheep regions. It doesn’t matter that the sheep aren’t a critical resource throughout the life of the game; as long as I could flip them at that rate, I could easily convert the sheep into whatever I needed.

So as I’ve played, I don’t bother making long roads across the board; I build more and more on main resource squares, especially if it’s on a 6 or an 8. If I get a city and settlement on one of those numbers, I can pretty much assume I’ll win the game.

There is a second secret I’ve found to succeeding at Catan: take what you’re given. If you end up taking wheat as your main resource and find yourself with two ore and two wheat a couple turns into the game, take an ore if someone else is willing to trade it and build a city. Don’t worry that you only have two settlements; ore’s going to get more expensive as the game goes along. Part of getting value is taking what people are willing to trade when they want to trade it. Say you can trade wood at 2:1 and it’s early in the game. If you don’t have a settlement on a sheep region, you’re better off taking a sheep anytime someone wants to trade it, even if it helps your neighbor at an inconvenient time. The game is about getting value whenever you can.

Any comers?

The Hunger Games Upon Further Reflection

Upon further reflection of The Hunger Games (part 1 and part 2), I have realized what could have taken the books’ great potential to great heights. Getting the great premise was the easy part, but pushing that premise to its limits would have required some bolder choices.

Suzanne Collins claims that the tributes from the lower districts don’t have as much success as the “career” tributes, better off-districts. One would think this analogy is pretty straight forward, but I would say: look at high school and college football. For thirty years, the lion’s share of the top college football stars come from poor backgrounds, where football becomes their ticket to education and hopefully, to support their famialy. While the career’s training may help to set them apart, the lesser districts would fight harder to support their own families (again, Collins seems to be writing in a culture that has disowned the value of the family as a natural unit of provision). Once every eight or ten years, you’d get physically imposing tributes from Districts 9, 10, 11, and 12 who’d win. Katniss, in her pessimistic narrative, rarely looks at the winners of the games and hopes against hope she’ll provide for her mother and Prim, like she always does.

That leads me to one of my specific criticism of the book, mainly, the lack of payoff for two of the big accomplishments in the book. One, Katniss’ sabotage of the careers food supply isn’t directly paid off, and two, Katniss doesn’t seem to suffer from not killing Foxface, who dies in unceremonious fashion from eating the poisoned berries. My solution: have Cato die from eating the berries instead, and set up a finale between Thresh, Foxface, and Peeta and Katniss.

Consider it: Cato isn’t prone to hunting, and without a food supply, he’d probably be more apt to take someone else’s food rather than hunt for himself. And Foxface likely would have known which berries where poisonous and which ones weren’t

So much wasted potential….

The point of putting a bunch of teenagers in an arena in a fight to the death doesn’t just have to be about muscle. It can also be about choice, and what young people would do if they were pushed to the breaking point. When Katniss and Peeta face Cato, it’s not hard for them to kill him because he’s an obviously villian. But what if Katniss had to face Thresh, who spared her life? If Foxface was the one holding Peeta up at the top of the horn, threatening to drop, wouldn’t all the moments where Katniss had spared her flashed before her eyes?  When push comes to shove, would Katniss have even killed Rue if it meant providing for her family? The Hunger Games doesn’t give us that answer.


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