Monday, March 20, 2017

Best of the Best: 2005

Flawed, but still pretty great.

Year: 2005
Movie: Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Game: Tekken 5
Album: Ghost Reveries by Opeth
Song: Soldier Side by System of a Down (or Born by Nevermore)   

So it was 2005. I was working at a job that I quickly grew to hate, not the least of which because it was a night job with long hours (often mandatory overtime) and working weekends. I had no real "day life" to speak of, because the daylight hours were typically spent trying to sleep. In general, not a terribly happy camper, but I persevered. There honestly isn't much to say about 2005 the year, as far as personal life went, because as sad as it is to say, it kind of went up in smoke working at said job. But the mid-2000s, while gradually sliding into some pretty murky waters, were still reliably producing some pretty solid entertainment for me to latch on to.

2005 saw many notable movies release. There was the first ever theatrical adaptation of the C.S. Lewis classic The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, which itself was a very faithful version, and very well done, without much unnecessary excess. Hardly the most exciting story in the series, Lion is still plenty entertaining, a first look at the magical parallel world of Narnia, a world I had spent some headspace in as a child, reading the books, seeing the old cartoon and BBC adaptations. So I was plenty excited to see this movie, and it lived up to what I expected it should be. Could it have been EVEN better, or would I have done it a bit differently as director? Of course. But for what it was, it was good stuff.

A decent film, even IF that voice is annoying.

2005 ALSO saw the release of the newest take on the DC Comics classic Batman, titled Batman Begins. It was an interesting "origin tale" type take, and it tried to take the material more seriously than the previous Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher films had. It employed heavy use of something Hollywood uses aplenty these days anyway, that being "shaky-cam" and up-close tight shots for EVERY single fight/action scene (just about), which can really ruin the action. It also featured an okay take on Bruce Wayne's early beginnings, trying to train and infiltrate the crime underworld to better understand it, with an interesting subplot involving the villain Ra's Al Ghul and eventually the Scarecrow. The year saw many other movies, including some notable remakes, one of them decent but overlong in the form of Peter Jackson's King Kong, another in the abysmally bad form of Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. One adaptation that I did rather enjoy, however, was Steven Spielberg's alternative take on the HG Wells' classic War of the Worlds, in which against type, instead of portraying the alien invasion itself and the war that ensued, he instead chose to focus on one family trying to survive said invasion and war. A fresh take that I quite enjoyed, and yet another Tom Cruise movie that I quite liked.

Never the greatest art, but sometimes a lot of fun.

Video game-wise, 2005 didn't hold a WHOLE lot for me. The Gamecube, while I didn't own one as I've said, had several games for it I really liked, but not so much in 2005. It DID produce arguably my biggest gaming disappointment, or certainly right at the top of the list, in the form of Star Fox: Assault, a game I had been majorly hyped for, in spite seeing and hearing about dumb gimmicks they were shoehorning into it. And then it came out, and my friend Harold and I tried it...and it was fucking awful. First two levels, that I had seen in trailers and gotten hyped by? They were fantastic. The rest of the game? A drooling, bland, uneven mess that featured mostly NOT flying combat missions, the keystone feature of the series. Instead, it had horrible, repetitive "get out and walk around and shoot stuff" missions....and it was just very UN-fun. I don't know off the top of my head if I have ever been THAT outright disappointed in a game before or since, as I absolutely loved Star Fox 64, and badly wanted a real, worthy follow up to that game. What I've gotten instead, for years, are one badly slapped-on gimmick game after another.

But on the other hand, on the Playstation 2, which by that time I owned, there were a couple of games at least that caught my interest. One of which I saw at a friend's house, an underrated sleeper hit called Shadow of the Colossus. A very unusual game wherein you play a horse-riding, sword-wielding hero, ala Link from the Legend of Zelda series, but instead of running around fighting enemies and solving puzzles, you explore a sprawling, barren land, locating and fighting only a handful of gigantic monsters, each of whom houses a piece of some demon's soul, that you need to use to somehow revive your lost love that you have brought to this forbidden valley. It has a great soundtrack, and while some of the boss designs are a bit goofy, the overall game is very unique and while not perfect, it's fun and keeps your interest. The other, which I actually owned, pictured above, was the PS2 release of Tekken 5. I had been into the Tekken games since playing the first three in arcades as a teen, and while not my absolute favorite fighting game series, I did really enjoy them. Unfortunately, Tekken 4 was the first major misstep for the franchise, after the brilliant Tekken Tag Tournament, and I really wasn't feeling it. But then part 5 released, and it seemed as if all was right again. Not only was the fifth game more in line with the amazing Tekken 3, but the home package also featured ALL three original arcade games as unlockable bonuses.

And it even had another bonus "adventure" type mode that nobody wanted to play....but hey, at least it had it. The only true downside to Tekken 5, was the boss, Jinpachi, who was the first instance of a Tekken character having some kind of projectile move. If it isn't bullshit enough that he can hit you with a fairly unblockable fireball that takes up a huge chunk of your life bar, then try on for size the fact that he can (as I recall) also refill his own lifebar. You basically have to steamroll him from start to finish, knocking him over repeatedly and not really giving him a chance to breath, to beat him. But outside of his bullshittery, I did have a lot of fun playing the game, which is why I picked it as my Game of 2005.

My first real exposure to the band, but a great one.

Now 2005 for music was, I dunno....interesting. It did have some good albums, like Nevermore's "This Godless Endeavor", an album I almost picked as Album of the Year. It also had System of a Down's two-part album "Mesmerize/Hypnotize", which while not GREAT albums, did feature a handful of really strong songs. But while working at said night job, a co-worker turned me on to Opeth, specifically their newest album "Ghost Reveries", and for some strange reason I was hooked. It must be said that while I love heavy metal, not ALL metal is created equal in my eyes, and for as much of it as I like or even outright adore, there is also MUCH of it that I really don't care for at all. And among that is included the vast majority of most "screamy" vocal styles, such as so-called "Death" and "Black" metal, to name a couple. And Opeth was a band I knew about, and knew they for many years were primarily just another Swedish death metal band (a lot of them come from Sweden).

But at some point in their career, they started to diversify and grow their sound. On the album preceding this, "Damnation", it was entirely acoustic style songs, and it was brilliant. "Ghost Reveries" was back to business as usual, with quite a lot of "death growl" vocals on hand....but also some fantastic songwriting, and moments of pure brilliance and beautiful "clean" singing interspersed. There were ENOUGH of those moments, that I really got hooked to it, even though I often strongly dislike that vocal style. And I eventually wound up liking it enough that I would now pick it as my Album of 2005.

As for Song of the Year, while I could certainly pick a song from that album, especially my favorite track "Harlequin Forest", I instead picked a tie between two songs that really spoke to me and embodied how I felt, deep in the second W. Bush term, deep in the middle of the Iraq War, deep in the middle of  steadily worsening economy and a shitty personal life. And those songs were "Soldier Side", a very haunting song about soldiers and war by System of a Down, easily the strongest song on albums that can otherwise often be downright silly. The other being "Born" by Nevermore, a song about, basically, how lost and seemingly helpless we all are inside the system we have created and have allowed to rule us.

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