Friday, September 11, 2009

The Opposite of a German Yes

I finally got out to see 9. I felt that not seeing it on opening night was something of a personal betrayal- this is a movie I've been so excited to see that I wept every time I saw the trailer while at the theater for other movies. The flick was pretty great; the fights were all exciting and very conscious of the environments where they occurred. The backstory which girds the plot is interesting without being especially important, so even though you don't get much of it until the middle and tail end of the film that doesn't really matter. It was short, but I'll probably rent or buy it when it hits on DVD.


The ending to the movie feels like a "bad ending." I don't mean that it is an ending which is bad, or necessarily poorly done. I can see some logic in why events resolve in the manner which they do. However, the way things resolve seems unfair, less-than-ideal in a fashion which isn't dramatically appropriate. Based on the world created, and what we know of the characters (and see demonstrated from the very beginning!) and the item they have obtained, a much more satisfying resolution seemed to be completely within reason.

People who play video games, particularly Japanese Role Playing Games, are probably familiar with the concept of the bad ending. It's a specter which hangs over the player's head the entire game. Every decision you make, every enemy you face, every item you do or do not find- all of these things have an effect on which ending you're handed. Some games, like Kingdom Hearts, simply demand that you collect an innumerable quantity of items/experiences in order to obtain a superior ending. Some games, like Final Fantasy X-2, not only demand you obtain perfect game completion but that you also know when to push X and whistle, a context-sensitive action which has no relation to any other use of that button in the rest of the game.

But when I finished 9, which was a great movie overall, the game it most brought to mind was Parasite Eve 2. The Parasite Eve series, based on a Japanese novel that also spawned a movie, forces us to confront the question of what the hell mitochondria is doing, all hidden up in our cells. The first game suggested that it was just waiting for an evil opera singer to unleash it, at which point it turned parrots into flesh-rending monsters, and did something similar to every other animal, only worse.

Parasite Eve 2 picks up where the first game leaves off, but eventually enters this strange other plot whereby people are being turned into hideous monsters. Your character, the same woman from the first game, is now a professional monster hunter, thanks in large part to the fact that her sentient mitochondria work with her, rendering her immune to the effects of evil mitochondria and letting her do neat things like heal herself and set people on fire through command of their mitochondria.


It's a great game. But the ending scenario is brutal. If you complete the game in a haphazard, imperfect fashion, you get an ending where things are resolved, but you are also shot with a gun from space. Certain people have died, certain people just don't show up, certain shits hit certain fans. You do get a fancy gun, though your final boss battle doesn't leave much room for anything that doesn't fire rockets. Regardless of the ending that you secure, you're given the option of starting the game over, carrying some of your advancement points from your previous completion (which can be exchanged for purchases, letting you buy both unique equipment and scrolls that let you learn the highest level powers in the game). This obviously makes the replay easier, increasing your chances of getting more kills and dying less.

However, it doesn't really help you to get the good ending. No, to get the good ending you have to accomplish a number of seemingly unimportant or random tasks, including:
-Answering the phone whenever it is ringing (you are in a motel) and checking your messages whenever you aren't answering the phone. If you don't do this you won't know that a man is coming to visit.
-Saving a dog which is barking at a King-Kong sized corpulent man-monster with flamethrower breath. You save the dog only through killing the monster really, really quickly; otherwise he kills the dog.
-Following the dog when it is barking later. If I recall correctly, this leads you to the water tower.
-Climbing the water tower to find the man who came to visit, who is being vigorously exsanguinated by flying human infants with huge mosquito nose cones. Note that these are not the worst human infants in the game; that title is reserved for the human infants which just explode when you come near them, taking anywhere between a quarter and two-thirds of your life.
-Running back through a certain area, during a timed mission, rather than just leaving. You could just leave, mission successfully completed; but you have to run back and do...something.
-Don't forget the phone! I distinctly remember a section where the phone which is ringing is doing so in a room filling with poisonous gas; you are being tasked with escorting a little girl out of a secret military base, they are gassing you, and there's a phone to answer. You must answer the phone.

If you complete all of these, plus myriad other, extremely counter-intuitive or invisible tasks, you get the good ending. I think a man comes and kisses you, and possibly you don't have to get shot by the gun from space.

But this is, I promise, an article about 9. My point is that, while watching 9 I felt that I was doing everything right. I was seated in my chair, did not have my feet up on the back of the chair in front of me, and had my cellphone powered off. I was not chewing loudly or engaging in sex acts. I did my part. But when the ending happened, with its spoiler spoiler spoiler spoiler, I felt that I had somehow failed in my movie watching duties. All of the elements for a much more satisfactory ending were available.

Maybe I missed a phone call.

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