Wednesday, October 26, 2011

BONUS MATERIAL

Recently, I started watching the hit AMC zombie drama "The Walking Dead." I ran across it on Netflix, which had it available for instant viewing, and since I didn't have anything to do with the next six hours of my life, I thought I'd dig in. The first season was as good as you've been led to believe (assuming that you've been lead to believe it was awesome). Since the second season is currently running on AMC, and since I live in the stone age and only have broadcast stations (also, inexplicably, Nick Jr.), I've only seen the first season. Well, the first season and the first episode of the second, which was available at AMC.com.

The best scene in the entire series run thus far came toward the end of the pilot episode. Our intrepid hero wakes up to find the country overrun with plague-infested zombies. While wandering around an appropriately creepy empty city park he encounters possibly the gnarliest zombie ever put on film. The zombie in question was a woman, and in quite the state of decomposition. Her legs were gone save for one dangling femur, and she therefore drug herself by the arms rather than walking. Intestines spilled out of the gaping hole of her torso, her skin was black, her mouth and eyelids rotted away. So, not in the best of shape; truly horrific. At the end of the episode, the main character, now shaved, dressed in his deputy uniform, and with a new found resolve to locate his missing wife and child, takes a detour to the same park where he first encountered the zombie woman (or what was left of her). He follows the trail of bile in the grass until he sees her. The soundtrack music isn't horror or action movie fare, but a rather touching arrangement more suited to a different genre altogether. Our hero pulls his gun, aims it at the zombies head, and says, "I'm very sorry that this happened to you." Then he pulls the trigger. The whole thing is strangely heart-wrenching. You're forced to confront the fact that these zombies aren't pixels in a video game or extras in make-up, but were once real people. (Obviously they are extras in make up, but you get what I'm saying.) That the writer/director chose to use such a completely disgusting zombie to make this point is brilliant. And it works. That shriveled animated corpse stands in for the loss of the human race.

And then they ruined it with a damned webisode.

After watching the season two premier on AMC's website, I was tooling around to see what other videos were on the site. They had some stuff on the special effects, interviews with the cast, stuff like that. But there were also a few bonus webisodes available for my viewing pleasure. One such webisode was touted as the backstory for the woman zombie in the park in the pilot. It would explain how she ended up in such a state.

I didn't watch it.

Because if I did, the best scene in the series would have been ruined for me, completely and utterly. What made that scene so powerful was that we didn't know anything about the character. She was the embodiment of the whole of humanity infected with a disease so horrible it literally turns you into a monster. Giving her a name and a backstory reveals more about her character, but it ruins her in the process. She has no mystery; she no longer works as a metaphor. This powerful symbol has been completely trashed by the producers of the show to satiate "fan interest." Sure, we know more about her, but more is not always better.

Let me repeat that: more is not always better. At least not in story-telling. Sometimes what you hold back is just as important as what you put in. People seem to have forgotten this. The aforementioned webisode phenomenon is a prime example. Exploring sub-plots and side characters is almost always a terrible idea. Fiction is not real life where everyone is the protagonist of their own story. Sometimes side characters should remain in the shadows; bringing them out in the light only ruins them.

The same goes for deleted scenes. Is there any greater beating than the trend of the "Director's Cut" DVD/Bluray? And I'm not talking about movies like "Blade Runner." Some films are absolutely butchered by the studio for dumbass reasons non-Hollywood executives could not hope to understand. In these cases the freedom given to directors to re-cut the film to their liking for the DVD release is a godsend. But how often is that the case? More times than not the so-called "Director's Cut" has little to nothing to do with artistic integrity, it is just a bloated, over-long version of the same film screened in theaters. The directors didn't add that extra ten to fifteen minutes of footage in order to preserve their vision; they did it (if indeed they are the ones behind this, I have a hunch it's the same idiots at the studio) because we, as fans, have become insatiable black holes of desire when it comes to bonus material. If a movie was exciting at 120 minutes, it'll be twice as exciting at 240, or so the thinking seems to go. But that isn't the case. More often than not that extra material just slows things down. It was cut for a reason.

Extended universe stuff is perhaps the worst offender when it comes to this issue. Yoda is such a great character in the "Star Wars" franchise because he's so odd. We don't really know what planet he's from, why he talks that way, or what his favorite breakfast cereal is. I'm sure that, were I to look, I could find an extended universe "Star Wars" novel that covers two (and possibly all three) of those points, thus taking all of the fun out of the little green Muppet.

Sequels are bad about this, as well. There are precious few books/movies that really lend themselves to having a sequel or prequel attached to them. I'm going to take the easy way out and point to the "Star Wars" prequels here. Did we gain anything, ANYTHING AT ALL, by seeing Darth Vader as a kid? All it served was to make one of the most badass villains of all time into a wuss. Knowing how or why Vader turned to the Darkside IS NOT necessary to his character or the story. To be sure, not all sequels are bad, and some franchises really do lend themselves to multi-film story-telling, but not many.

I suppose this is all a by-product of the times we live in. The idea that there's stuff out there that we haven't seen, just seems annoying in the Internet age. If there's an unreleased track or a deleted scene sitting in a vault somewhere, we want to see it, damnit! And the studios are happy to oblige. Make no mistake about it, if you'll pay, they'll provide you with all the content you could ever hope to want.

This is understandable.

It's also understandable that the fans want this stuff. "More is better," is a pretty standard human operating procedure. Yes, most of the time gorging yourself on DVD "extras" and asinine sequels is bad, but so is having that 18th beer. You know it, but you can't seem to help yourself. Restraint takes work. But restrain ourselves we must. We've got to trust the creators to give us the information we need in order to enjoy a great story and leave out the extra stuff we don't. We've got to stop it with this ridiculous notion that we need to know everything about every aspect of every movie, book, or television series. Otherwise we turn into a bunch of mindless zombies, wandering around the wilderness of the Internet for bonus content that we don't need.

Now that's scary.

Monday, August 22, 2011

RAY BRADBURY: 1920-FOREVER!

When Ray Bradbury was a boy, a traveling carnival pitched its tent in a field outside the town in which he lived. Like all carnivals in those days this one had a sideshow featuring acts like the tattooed man, the bearded lady, the skeleton man, etc. Also present was a defrocked Methodist minister who went by the name Mr. Electrico.

Mr. Electrico's act consisted of him being strapped into an electric chair and electrocuted. Sparks of electricity would shoot from Mr. Electrico's head and hands. He would then grab a wand (really just a conductive metal rod) and wave it over the crowd, sparks jumping from the wand to the carnival-goers in the first row. Among those seated near the stage was a young Ray Bradbury. However, instead of merely passing the wand over Ray, Mr. Electrico paused and pointed the wand directly at his head.
At Ray Bradbury's 90th Birthday.

"LIve forever!" He shouted at the young boy who would grow up to write such classics as The Illustrated Man, The October Country, Something Wicked this Way Comes, The Martian Chronicles, and Fahrenheit 451.

Ray Bradbury is one year closer to fulfilling Mr. Electrico's command. He turns 91 today.

Happy birthday, Ray. Live Forever!



Thursday, August 11, 2011

NEW LOOK

If you are reading this then you've no doubt noticed that Tyrannosaurus Ranch has a new look.

There's not much to say about it other than the fact that I dig it and hope that you do, as well.

My thanks goes out to Jonathon Kimbrell at Napkin Art Studios for designing the new logo. Check out his website. If you like what you see, pick something up or commission a piece or just tell your friends.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

BOOKSHELVES

A few months after I acquired it, my Kindle stopped connecting to the internet. Not so bad unless I wanted to ever, you know, use it. I spent an evening searching the interwebs trying to find a fix, but was unsuccessful. So, into the drawer the Kindle went and I forgot about the whole thing.

Shortly after we moved to North Carolina, I decided I'd give Amazon a call and see if they couldn't help me out. I don't use the Kindle very much, but I figured it was stupid to just let it sit broken in a drawer while it was still under warranty. After about forty-five minutes on the phone, the helpful Amazon customer service representative told me what I already knew: the thing was broken. Amazon shipped me a new one, I sent the old one back, and all is well.

When I got the new Kindle, I decided to do something that I hadn't ever gotten around to with the old one: organize the damn thing. The Kindle allows you to organize your ebooks books by Title, Author, Most Recent First, or Collections. Previously, I'd left the Kindle on its default, which is to arrange everything by Most Recent First. For the record, this is annoying. I toyed with the idea of setting it up by Title or Author, but the screen still seemed too cluttered with all of the books and short stories I've downloaded on the home page. So by Collection it was.

I created bookstore-like categories (Classics, Science Fiction, Horror, Non-Fiction) and started dropping titles where they belonged.

Meanwhile, in the physical world (what used to be called the real world), I'd just assembled a new bookcase. Now came the time to fill it with books. Not only that, but I had to do the same with the other bookcases in the house (some upstairs, some down) since we hadn't yet unpacked any of the books we'd toted with us from Texas. For whatever reason, I ddin't like the idea of organizing the physical (real) books by category like I had the digital (fake) ones on my Kindle, so I decided to arrange them by author.

Arranging the physical books was more of a pain than arranging their digital counterparts. The floor was covered in teetering stacks. Piles for upstairs, piles for downstairs. Hardcovers, trade paperbacks, mass market paperbacks, coffee table books. I must have descended and climbed the stairs two dozen times before the whole affair was over. Then there was the challenge of getting them all to fit. Not all of the shelves are equally tall. Hardcovers had to go on the taller shelves, trade paperbacks would fit on the hardcover shelves, but the hardbacks wouldn't fit on shelves that trade paperbacks slid into nicely. Lots of shuffling was undertaken before I got everything in place.

It took me maybe five minutes to organize my Kindle; it took me hours to organize all the physical books in the house. And yet filling the bookcases was less tedious. It was actually sort of fun. It sucked to have to cart armful after armful of Stephen King novels first down the stairs, and then, when I discovered they wouldn't all fit in the downstairs bookcase, back up again. But it sure as hell beat clicking around a piece of plastic, trying to use the Kindle's obnoxiously small keypad and cursor. When shelving my physical books, I could stop and admire the cover art and graphic design of a particular volume. I could flip to a favorite story or re-read a particularly excellent first line. This type of behavior undoubtedly prolonged the process of getting the books in order, but it also kept it from getting boring.

I couldn't do any of this on the Kindle. First of all, the e-ink is in black and white (black and gray, actually). Even if it was convenient to look at the covers of my ebooks (which it is not), what would be the point? And maybe I did want to re-read a particular passage while categorizing my ebooks, but it's just too much of a pain to do so. And anyway, I never really wanted to to begin with because ebooks just aren't set up in a way that invites that sort of leisurely perusal.

Is this my long-winded way of saying that I prefer what ebook evangelists like Joe Konrath refer to as "dead tree books" over ebooks? That I prefer the cumbersome, out-dated technology of ink printed on paper and bound between boards better than I like bits of digital information downloaded to a state-of-the-art e-reader?

Yes it is.

To be sure ebooks have some nice advantages. Traveling with a Kindle is much more convenient than lugging a handful off traditional books around. If it's midnight and I want to buy a book, I can. Also, when organizing my ebook collection, I can put the same book in two places. So Bram Stoker's horror classic "Dracula" can be categorized under both Horror and Classics, a feat that would require two copies in the pesky real world.

There are other nice features to the thing, I suppose. You can change the font size and turn any book into an audio book (an audio book as read by a 1950s robot, anyway). But truthfully I've never messed with either feature much.

When reading an old-style paper and ink book, there's nothing that I miss about ebooks. The reverse is not true. I like being able to flip around a book or to open to a random page. I like that I can turn ahead to see how many pages until the next chapter break or the next story in a collection. I like the look of a well-designed book. I like the feel and smell of the paper.

The thing about ebooks is this: they are very likely the future. As more and more people own devices like Kindles, iPads, and smartphones, ebook sales will make up an ever-increasing percentage of books sold in this country. And that's fine.

But I can't help feeling like this is another example of convenience winning out over quality.People will say that it isn't the medium, it's the story that matters. And they're right. But if the story is the same ("Moby Dick" is "Moby Dick," no matter the format), then why not stick with the more pleasurable medium? For my money, that's good old-fashioned, out-dated books.

To paraphrase Ray Bradbury, physical books smell like Egyptian incense; ebooks smell like burned fuel.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

THE FAQ YOU DIDN'T ASK FOR

So, as most of you undoubtedly know, FAQ stands for frequently asked questions. In fact, none of these questions have been asked by anyone. Not even once. It just seemed like a good way to let everyone know what this blog is/isn't going to be like. Probably I should have done this earlier, but I felt that the blog was becoming little more than a blog about a blog.


Q: How often will you update Tyrannosaurus Ranch?
A: As of right now, my plan is to post on a semi-weekly basis. 


Q: But weekly is not frequent enough; can't you update it more often?
A: I can and probably will, at times. Other times, much as it pains me to say it, I might even go longer than seven days between posts. It's not a set schedule, just a general guide.


Q: But why?
A: Because I don't want to beat people down with lackluster daily updates that are of no interest to them--I'd much rather do so on a weekly basis. Also, writing this thing takes time.


Q: Why is your blog called Tyrannosaurus Ranch?
A: Because Tyrannosaurus Ranch is a bitchin' name. And I love dinosaurs.


Q: I typed your name into Google and this blog was not the first result, what's up with that?
A: Well, hopefully in the future, that will change. As of right now this phenomenon is a result of me stupidly calling this blog "Tyrannosaurus Ranch" and not "David Afsharirad's Blog." You see, when you search my name, Google looks for websites that have my name on them a bunch. This one does not. In order to remedy that, I will now type my name several dozen times. Feel free to skip this part. 



David Afsharirad David Afsharirad David Afsharirad David Afsharirad David Afsharirad David Afsharirad David Afsharirad David Afsharirad David Afsharirad David Afsharirad David Afsharirad David Afsharirad David Afsharirad David Afsharirad David Afsharirad David Afsharirad David Afsharirad David Afsharirad David Afsharirad David Afsharirad David Afsharirad Richard Nixon David Afsharirad David Afsharirad David Afsharirad David Afsharirad David Afsharirad David Afsharirad David Afsharirad David Afsharirad David Afsharirad David Afsharirad David Afsharirad David Afsharirad David Afsharirad David Afsharirad David Afsharirad David Afsharirad David Afsharirad David Afsharirad David Afsharirad David Afsharirad David Afsharirad David Afsharirad David Afsharirad David Afsharirad David Afsharirad David Afsharirad David Afsharirad David Afsharirad David Afsharirad David Afsharirad David Afsharirad David Afsharirad David Afsharirad David Afsharirad 


Q: Why did you throw Richard Nixon's name into that list?
A: The reasons for this were threefold: To see if you read the entire list; to break up the monotony of writing my own name that many times; and because I feel this blog has a lot to offer both fans and detractors of our 37th President.


Q: What topics will be covered on Tyrannosaurus Ranch?
A: The writing career of David Afsharirad will hopefully be an ever-increasing part of this blog. In other words, I'll be using it as promotion for my literary endeavors--letting people know when I've got stories coming out and where, when I make the first multi-million dollar book sale, etc. You know, that sort of thing. Aside from the shameless self-promotion, I'm sort of thinking about these posts as little mini-essays. Some will be of a personal nature, others about a broader range of subjects. Writing will, no doubt, be covered.


Q: What about politics?
A: Politics and its good buddy religion will be pretty much off the table. There's nothing more a beating than reading someone else's opinion on either subject unless you specifically sought them out for that purpose (which you did not, in this case).


Q: I have a legitimate question I would like to ask, and I didn't see it on your fake questions list, what can I do?
A: Ask it in the comments section.


Q: This blog is awfully text-y, will you ever post awesome/funny videos?
A: