Three By Three: Video Game Soundtracks

Video Game SoundtracksThe Category

When you spend all day playing video games, your eyes and your hands are totally satisfied. Your brain, maybe not so much, but those eyes and those hands, baby. But what about your ears? Yeah, those cute dangly guys jutting out of the side of the melon you’ve got balanced on top of your no doubt ripped, glistening torso. What are those poor guys to do? Well we here at Pop Modern, serving, like always, as the triumphant voice of the oppressed, have compiled a list of video game soundtracks that will satisfy your often squandered gift of hearing. Your twitchy digits and pupils, too, may enjoy these choices.

The Choices

Allen

Chrono Trigger: The soundtrack to this critically-acclaimed SNES JRPG is almost more famous than the game itself. It’s endlessly listenable, both in and out of context, and its legacy can be felt in game soundtracks to this day. It’s also one of the most remixed and orchestrated soundtracks of all time, with the standout being a remix album that overlays Jay-Z’s most famous verses onto the songs of one of the best games of all time. The album can be found here: http://2mellomakes.bandcamp.com/album/chrono-jigga

Bastion: Darren Korb was the composer and sound designer for 2011’s indie hit Bastion, which has captured the hearts of millions of gamers to this day. Even as Supergiant Games’ next title, Transistor, is looking to be a better game, it’ll be tough beating its predecessor’s soundtrack. A combination of folk guitars, smooth vocals, and surreal blues instruments, the soundtrack is as integral to selling the game’s magical universe as the painterly art style and gruff narration are. Zia’s Theme (Build That Wall) is a personal favorite of mine: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t8cELTdtw6U)

Hotline Miami: Continuing the theme of selling a game world with music, I can’t help but add Hotline Miami to this list. For a game that lets you play as an insane, masked serial killer in the 80’s, it’s only fitting that the soundtrack is loud, disturbing, and trance-like. It’s a 50/50 split on songs that make you feel dirty and corrupted, and thumping techno beats that make you want to jump into the game and smash a few Russian mobster heads in yourself. The entire soundtrack is available as one long track on YouTube here (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oKD-MVfC9Ag), but I wouldn’t recommend listening to it all in one sitting if you want to keep your sanity.

James

Fallout 3In this post-apocalyptic world, the deserts are full of mutants, the water is full of radiation, and the air is full of music from the 1940s. The dichotomy between futuristic technology and jazz songs, such as “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire,” provides humorous relief to the horrific scenarios that the hero from Vault 101 undertakes.

Halo ReachLet’s make one thing clear: I am not disparaging any other Halo soundtracks. As a personal preference I like Reach the best. The Reach theme strikes the right tone, somber yet inspirational, the perfect tone to complement the storyline. The instrumentals are downright beautiful, and the singing borders on ethereal. This is definitely one of the highest quality video game soundtracks ever produced.

The Pokémon Series: Let’s be honest. People pretend that the Pokémon soundtrack isn’t great, but they are just lying to themselves. Wandering through the grass, there is no greater pleasure than hearing the spiraling sounds that precede the battle that is sure to commence. The music is infectious, pleasant to the ear, and most importantly, the songs can withstand 300 hours’ worth of playthroughs.

Magellan

Civilization IVThe Civilization games have a lot to be proud of: from historical intricacies, to detailed units and buildings, to addictive gameplay, it’s easy to get sucked into the experience. The music is certainly a big part of that. Civilization V especially offers a great musical selection, featuring ambient themes (ones for war and ones for peace) for every civilization in the game. Why, then, did I choose to highlight Civilization IV? It’s for that opening song, “Baba Yetu,” which is incredibly beautiful. That song is the only reason I have the opening cinematic of Civilization IV forever seared on the inside of my skull.

Eternal Champions: To be fair, this choice is a biased one. I had a Genesis as a kid, and for whatever reason this was one of my staple games. I don’t remember where or when I bought it. I don’t remember how much I played it. I don’t even remember if I was any good at it. But I’ll tell you one thing I do remember: the music. The main theme is classic pump-up, chip-tuney stuff, and I’m not afraid to admit that I still hum and dance along whenever I encounter it. Did this choice bump some better-orchestrated game music off the list? Maybe, but just listen to that and tell me it’s not fun: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9_MZk3wE-lA

The Legend of Zelda Series: Yeah yeah, I know it’s a huge cop-out to just go ahead and name a series, but I felt like I had to go wide to compensate for that last esoteric choice. Besides, it’s so hard to pick a specific Zelda game, since they all have such knock-out music. I suppose I’m partial to Ocarina of Time or Twilight Princess, but that’s because those are the two that I’ve spent the most time with out of any Zelda game. That all being said, I think I can safely say that “Song of Storms” will be my favorite video game song for a long time. If you like the music of The Legend of Zelda, I highly suggest you check out Zelda Reorchestrated. They’re a group that has taken the music of the series and given it an orchestral sound. Check them out here: http://www.zreomusic.com/

The Conclusion

Hate one of our soundtrack choices? Have to just scream out your favorite choice, despite noise limitations in your home or place of business? How about instead you head on down to the comments and sound off? Help yourself! Heaven knows we want to hear every last opinion we can.

Frames of Preference: Good Job, Brain

Good Job BrainGood Job, Brain is a series of podcasts designed to increase trivial knowledge and up the number of fun facts in your life. The podcast revolves around four people, Dana, Chris, Colin, and Karen, who assemble each week for a look at a subject. Quizzes range from winter to weird plants and from candy to board games. The cover art perfectly represents the whimsy and subtle class of the show. Each episode is unique and comical, expanding horizons and increasing the aggregate cool facts of the general population. Oh, and the concave region between your lip and your nose is called the philtrum. You’re welcome.

Silver Screen, Silver Tongue: White Chicks is Surreptitious

By Allen

About the Film

Year: 2004
Cast: Shawn Wayans, Marlon Wayans, Busy Philipps
Director: Keenen Ivory Wayans
Rotten Tomatoes: 15%

About the Word

Definition: sur-rep-tish-us [sur-uhp-tishuhs] adj.- obtained, done, made, etc., by stealth; secret or unauthorized;clandestinea surreptitious glance.

The Review

What defines a bad film? Is it poor directing, a cheesy script, unlikeable protagonists, or just this ineffable feeling that the director’s vision was compromised in some way? In the early 2000s, plenty of films were coming out that straddled the line between “so bad it’s good” and just bad. In 2004, the Wayans family decided to throw their hat into the ring with White Chicks, a film about two FBI agents who pose as privileged white heiresses to learn about the questionably legal dealings of their millionaire father and a supposed kidnapping plot. However, it loses sight of this premise very early on, and evolves into a gross amalgamation of dated pop culture references, casual racism and sexism, and, unbeknownst to most of its viewers, a fairly dark depiction of how accepting society has become of these things.

The film’s opening scene exemplifies how desperately it tries to force laughter out of the viewer. The two agents, played by brothers Shawn and Marlon Wayans, are undercover as Dominican convenience store owners who attempt to foil a drug smuggling front disguised as an ice cream delivery service. They try to sell their characters to the supposed smugglers by being the most racist Dominican stereotypes I’ve ever seen. Dancing, fake Spanish, prominent facial hair, and even a maraca solo are all standard fare for these bumbling idiots. It’s a scene that appeals to the lowest common denominator of people, who also find the film’s toilet humor and whacky drug humor uproariously funny. After the agents are reassigned to protect the rich Wilson sisters and disguise themselves as the girls, the film begins in earnest. From then on, the plot is unceremoniously left behind for about an hour of awkward romances, horrible caricatures of upper-class society, and humor that feels like it’s trying to mask some dark undertones with a thin bandage.

My problem with White Chicks isn’t that it’s a stupid film or that its female characters are all either exploited damsels or blatant sex objects; rather, it’s that I couldn’t have fun watching it. By making the real Wilson sisters seem utterly clueless to their predicament and portraying their friends as sad bimbos (played surprisingly well by character actors from all over the last two decades of TV), White Chicks feels like it’s trying to make a point about the foolishness of its subjects while also making them seem like innocent people who the media make out to be awful people. It never knows if it wants to be edgy, idiotic, or comedic for the sake of parody. But upon a recent viewing, I noticed another strange aspect of the film.

Around the halfway point, when the film is starting to run out of jokes to make about rich white people, we finally return to the real Wilson sisters as they find out that there are other people posing as them in public. The two girls face the camera, ear to ear, and shout to the viewer, “We’ve been cloned!” It always seemed like a strange scene to me, like something out of Home Alone or some other kid’s film from the 90s. At that point, I had the idea in my head that maybe this film is a little sneakier than we all thought. Maybe it isn’t just trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator and cash in at the box office.

My opinion was confirmed in the hastily-done climax of the film. At a fashion show in the Hamptons, the Wilsons and the agents walk the catwalk in expensive dresses for millions to see. Their rivals, the Vandergelds (who exist only to provide conflict while the kidnapping plot is ignored) attempt to sabotage the show by pouring red paint on the girls. “Hilarity” ensues, and then the Vandergeld’s father (coincidentally played by John Heard, the dad from Home Alone) pulls out a pistol and attempts to kill the FBI agents. As if it couldn’t go any further off the rails, at the last moment, Mr. Vandergeld is joined in this murder attempt by Heath, who is one of his daughter’s boyfriends. At no point does the film address the fact that these two men were able to bring LOADED HANDGUNS into a crowded fashion show, and the film brushes it all under the rug by having them both arrested and/or killed. It’s a chaotic mess of a scene, and it all ends with everyone being happy friends again.

There’s plenty of merit in watching awful films. The communal experience of watching something so shoddily-done with a few friends and talking over the awful dialogue or laughing at the horrendous CG is more entertaining to me than watching the latest AAA blockbuster in a theater. But there’s a difference between finding the joy in bad things and finding the awfulness in awful things. And that’s what White Chicks is; an awful movie with very little fun and a whole lot of crude humor.

I don’t hate White Chicks. It’s a film that knows its audience and plays to their likes masterfully. I didn’t even get to delve into Terry Crews’ put-upon playboy character or the scene where the agents disguised as the Wilsons teach their friends how to fondle a dildo. I could never look past it as more than a dumb comedy, but the way that it masks its cynical, angry undertones is as spottily-done and as inexplicably accepted as the horrendous masks that our intrepid FBI agent protagonists wear to fool the entire film’s cast and audience into believing that they are something that they’re not. Surreptitious, if I do say so myself. But what do you think, dear reader? What differentiates a bad bad film from a “so bad it’s good” film? My personal favorite of the second category is Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift.

I’ve skipped the first 19 seconds of this video so that you all can bear witness to the scene that changed my mind about White Chicks without suffering through the Wilson sisters and their awful Valley girl accents: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=9vVahADAzsI&t=19

Terry Crews is the shining beacon of quality in this film, and this scene where he rocks out in a nightclub after accidentally taking ecstasy is still pretty great: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FWstyHN4Iy4

Frames of Preference: Blamimations

BlamimationsToday’s Frame of Preference is the first to come from a webseries, taken from webcartoonists Scott Kurtz and Kris Straub’s animated series, Blamimations, which ran for two seasons on PATV, the video branch of Penny Arcade’s media empire. Every episode featured animations by both Scott and Kris of different, comedic sketches that they came up with. This frame in particular comes from an episode guest-starring Mike Krahulik, the artist in the Penny Arcade duo. It’s a good representation of the show’s unique art style and exaggerated character design, as well as its closeness to its creators.

Monday Match-Ups: Kirk vs. Picard

Kirk vs. PicardThe Setup

We like tackling the tough questions here at Pop Modern. Like, what’s the meaning of life? How can one find true happiness? Who’s cooler, Captain James Tiberius Kirk or Captain Jean-Luc Picard? Indeed, we’re pulling at the frayed ends of thread that weave our society together. And we plan to tug. Hard. Of course, what can be said about these two science-fiction greats that hasn’t already been posted on forum, or shouted at some convention, or nailed to some church door (turns out Martin Luther was a HUGE Trekkie)? Well, rather than say something new, we’re going to go ahead and ask something new, like…Who would win in a pie-eating contest, Kirk or Picard?

The Contenders

Captain Kirk: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Captain_kirk
Captain Picard: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Captain_Picard

The Verdicts

Allen: Gather round, redshirts! Zip it, listen! This matchup is easy as pie to predict. Kirk has this IN. THE. BAG. Picard (and Sir Patrick Stewart by extension) has the motivation and wherewithal to knock back a classy pumpkin pie or two, but I can just imagine Kirk would guffaw at Picard’s foolish attempts to consume these sugary treats before laying down the law. I like to imagine that this is all happening on some weird planet where there’s a county fair going on 24/7. Kirk pulls up to the bench, pops a squat Riker-style just to insult Picard, throws away the fork and knife, and goes face-first on some raspberry goodness. His Iowa heritage means that pies were probably a staple of the Kirk family diet, so he’s prepared for this. Four whole pies later and not a breath spared, Kirk comes out on top. It’s a match for the ages, as Picard screams in agony at his opponent’s table, “THERE ARE FOUR PIES!”

James: Obviously Kirk would win. Let’s look at the facts. Nervous habits seem to affect Kirk and Picard in different ways. Picard’s lack of hair clearly indicates that he was a hair puller, leaving him as bald and beautiful as he currently is. Kirk seems to be a stress eater. From his stint as admiral between Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Wrath of Khan, Kirk put on the pounds. It appears that he was psychologically and physiologically preparing himself for the ordeal. As a captain, Kirk also has a more hands-on approach. Used to fighting planet side and dealing with his issues face to face, Kirk sets the phasers to kill when his eyes are on the prize: in this case the pie. Picard, a captain who delegates more is therefore unlikely to deal with the singular challenge of an eating contest quite as well. Kirk would destroy those pies faster than a Klingon bird of prey can uncloak.

Magellan: Cards on the table, I have to admit that I’ve always been more of a Star Wars fan, so take my opinion with a grain of salt. That being said, I’ve seen my occasional Star Trek and Next Generation episodes (or pieces of them, anyway) and I just spent a cool fifteen minutes with the Google results for “Kirk vs. Picard,” so I feel like I’m as level-headed and rational a member of this debate as any. Now, the way I see it, this is a classic tortoise-hare situation. Kirk is brash and charismatic, charging head-first into any competition. Now, this may work for him in his travels on The Enterprise, but in a pie-eating contest that sort of behavior is a choking hazard. If you don’t properly pace yourself, you’re in for some swallowing and vomiting problems. Picard, on the other hand, is the tortoise here: wrinkle-necked, smooth-headed, and patient. Sure, he may not be as quick to plunge head-first into an apple pie Jason-Biggs-style, but against all odds I think a cool demeanor wins the day.

The Results

Kirk wins 2-1

Finally, the debate has been solved and we can all go home and watch something new for a change. Like Deep Space Nine! Oh, or Voyager! Or Enterprise! Actually, maybe not Enterprise. And then I guess there are those new movies for when we get tired of traditional, flare-less lenses. Come to think of it, there’s a lot of Star Trek we could be watching right now. It’s a wonder we wasted so much damn time on this silly argument at all. If you’re still not through with it though, go ahead and vote in our poll and comment below, just try and set your phasers on polite, people.

Frames of Preference: The Shawshank Redemption

The Shawshank RedemptionFrank Darabont and Stephen King complete each other. Without Darabont, some of King’s greatest works would never have been adapted to film. And without King, Darabont’s penchant for beautiful scenery framing and classical directing would be relegated to short films and TV movies. The Shawshank Redemption represents these two cinematic and narrative titans’ ultimate collaboration. The story of Andy Dufresne’s escape from Shawshank Prison comes to a close with this beautiful shot towards the end of the film where the warden discovers that Andy dug his way out of the prison through a hole obscured by a poster of actress Rita Hayworth. For such a small amount of light passing through, it feels like there is a lot to take in from this frame emotionally, which mirrors the way that the film adapts King’s short story into one of the greatest films of the 20th century.

Epitosodes: Animaniacs

AnimaniacsBy Magellan

The Episode

Season: 1
Episode: 4
Title: “Hooked on a Ceiling/Goodfeathers: The Beginning”

The Review

Hellooooooo, Nurse! I feel like the last couple weeks I’ve had my foot pretty strongly pressing on the “hipster douchebag” pedal, so we’re going to ease off the gas a bit this time and talk about something simple and fun. I’m going back to fond childhood memories of catching reruns of a really smart and funny animated show, and then re-watching that same show years later on DVD, only to realize how many more jokes it had been hiding under my nose this whole time. The show I’m talking about is the Spielberg-produced Animaniacs, an animated series with wit well before its time. It’s one of the few shows that one can honestly say appeals to all ages, since it blends ribald innuendo and cultural allusions with classic, Looney Tunes-style slapstick and visual gags. It centers on the Warner siblings (Yakko, Wakko, and their sister, Dot), three irreverent animated characters from Warner Bros. years gone by who have escaped from their water tower home to wreak havoc and mischief. The show also features a cast of other colorful characters, ranging from megalomaniacal lab mice Pinky and The Brain, to the Warners’ psychiatrist Dr. Otto von Scratchansniff.

Oftentimes, the Warners will meet famous historical or fictional figures, giving them ample opportunities for antics. Some of the better historical run-ins have involved people like Einstein (wherein the Warners accidentally devise the mass-energy conversion formula), Beethoven (wherein the Warners accidentally write the 9th Symphony), and the one I’m going to focus on today: Michelangelo. I picked this particular cartoon, “Hooked on a Ceiling,” because I feel like it’s the best representation of the range of humor present in the Warners segments of Animaniacs. It begins with a stuffy narrator talking about the art of the Italian Renaissance (throwing in a Ninja Turtles reference for good measure), and then gives a taste of how Michelangelo (portrayed by Maurice LaMarche in a Kirk Douglas impression) is beginning to feel the pressure of having to finish the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in time for the Pope’s arrival. Suddenly, the Warners bust in and sing a short ditty about painting ceilings, then launch into a full-fledged, infomercial style pitch advertising their skills as ceiling painters (“We paint ceilings, ceilings, and only ceilings! We don’t paint floors, ‘cause they’re beneath us.”). They then have a bit of banter with Michelangelo (who Yakko affectionately calls “Mike”), which spawns one of my favorite Animaniacs jokes of all time: Yakko reprimands Michelangelo, saying “Oh yeah? If you’re so great, what’d you do with the other fifteen chapels?”

That joke is such a perfect representation of the tone of the entire cartoon. It takes a respected cultural work and pokes fun at it with a silly, dumb pun, while still managing to invoke legendary humorists of days gone by, like Chaplin or the Marx brothers. The fun continues as the Warners mock “Mike” a bit more, ultimately agreeing to help him because “We like painting naked people!” This episode also exhibits a great moment of self-awareness and meta humor. Just as “His Eminence” is about to enter the chapel, Michelangelo panics that he still has one segment to complete (the one which in real life is filled in with Adam and God touching tips). The Warners assure him that they’ve got it, and they fill it in with a picture of E.T. and Elliot touching fingers. Michelangelo is distraught, but the camera pans up to reveal that “His Eminence” is actually Stephen Spielberg, clad in papal robes and an E.T. baseball cap. The cartoon closes with the Warners noting that good art is all about knowing your audience.

That’s an odd note to end on, especially since Animaniacs is a show that seems to struggle with knowing who its audience is. After all, all of the elements seem sophisticated and mature, comedy-wise: historical and cultural allusions, old-fashioned wit and eyebrow raising, and sexual innuendo. And yet, it’s ostensibly a children’s cartoon. This dissonance is accentuated by the second segment in the episode, “Goodfeathers: The Beginning,” which is the first appearance of the “Goodfeathers” side-cartoon in the show. One of the main reasons I picked this episode is this segment, for one because it’s a good example of the strange breadth of humor in Animaniacs, but also because it’s one of the few non-Warners cartoons I actually like. I also like Pinky and The Brain (who are so interesting that they got their own spin-off), but I’ve never been able to stand Slappy Squirrel, or the Hippos, or Rita and Runt. For some reason, though, even as a kid I was always entertained by The Goodfeathers.

Which is especially odd, considering that most of the humor of The Goodfeathers consists of allusions to gangster films, which for the most part would go over a child’s head. This segment actually starts with the lines “As far back as I could remember, I always wanted to be a Goodfeather…” in clear homage to Scorsese’s Goodfellas. The three main characters are caricatures of Liotta, Pesci, and DeNiro’s characters from that movie. Except, they’re all pigeons. Anthropomorphic pigeons. It’s a mobster cartoon about pigeons who say stuff like “Badda bing” and “Hey, coo, I’m walkin’ here!” and “Are you walkin’ with me? Are you walkin’ with me?” Right out of the gate, the segment pays homage to a half dozen gangster films in quick succession, complete with an overweight Godpigeon and a Pesci-style freak-out on the part of Pesto, one of the pigeons. Upon being called “tough” Pesto rants “You’re sayin’ I’m an overdone piece of meat, is that what you’re sayin’? What am I, a plate of dry steak butt-meat, here to amuse you?” in reference to the “Funny how?” rant that Pesci’s character has in Goodfellas.

And that was a recurring gag in the show! Pretty much every time there’s a “Goodfeathers” sketch, Pesto gets angry and flies off the handle. As a kid I thought that was hilarious, and I didn’t even know it was a reference to anything. It’s fascinating to me that this show can work on so many levels at once. As a kid watching this episode, I was amused by the pigeons getting hit by a truck or stepped on by marathon runners. Nowadays, while that basic cartoon slapstick may be a little slow to me, I can still be entertained by the Godpigeons incomprehensible, Brando-esque mutterings or the dozens of film riffs going on. So you can understand why it’s hard for a show like this to know its audience, when it appeals to so many.

Rather than try and tie this all up neatly, I’m going to let the show speak  for itself and leave you with the moral printed out by the Warners’ “Wheel of Morality,” which they often turn to at the end of episodes to make sense of it all:

“And the moral of the story is: ‘Never ask what hot dogs are made of!’”

Here’s a YouTube link to “Hooked on a Ceiling”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HURMPtfNjLo

And here’s “Goodfeathers: The Beginning”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_X7FVL4Fo-U

This is a master-cut of Pesto’s rants: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H6M9nriFoqI

And here’s a master-cut of adult innuendo in Animaniacs: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CG9-SCVc-E0