Monday, March 29, 2010

Games Past: Star Wars TCG

Okay, everyone, prepare yourselves for a little nerdrage. Because this particular discussion of an old game (card game, in this case) is going to get a little...political. And by "political", I mean nasty. Depending on which camp you're in, you might find yourself working up a little reciprocal nerdrage of your own, in fact. We'll see if the comments section fills up or not.

Because the reason that the Wizards of the Coast Star Wars trading card game went out of print has to do mainly with politics--specifically, fan politics. In case you're not familiar with the history of the Star Wars TCG, it was not the first collectible Star Wars card game to come out. Before WotC got the license, Decipher made a Star Wars CCG.

And there's no nice way to say it: It was a piece of shit. Decipher literally does not know the first thing about designing a collectible card game. And unlike so many people on the Internet, I'm actually using "literally" in its proper sense. The first principle of a collectible card game is that you cannot assume that anyone is using any specific card in his or her deck; a good CCG has a solid framework of rules that can support the ever-increasing complexity of multiple card sets, each one being over a hundred cards, without getting bogged down in minutiae or errata.

Decipher's Star Wars CCG, um...didn't do this. Not only was the basic structure of the rules hideous and complicated in and of itself, but cards made specific reference to other cards. If a card turned out to be overpowered, Decipher would make a "magic bullet" card that specifically canceled the overpowered card; then the game devolved into rock-paper-scissors, as everyone either packed the magic bullet against someone who hadn't bothered putting the overpowered card in their deck because everyone used the magic bullet card now, or else didn't have it when they needed it because they'd stopped putting it in their deck because it was useless unless someone happened to put the specific overpowered card in their deck. And then, they released an expansion set, and had to put in errata explaining that the magic bullet card now also worked against this new card that it should have worked against all along, but that card didn't exist yet when they made the magic bullet card...

Decipher was known for putting out a full page of errata for every single set. This is not good design.

But Decipher still managed to sell a lot of Star Wars cards, for two reasons. One, it's Star Wars, and Star Wars anything sells to a certain percentage of the populace. And two, Decipher's graphic design people are as good as their game design people are bad. The cards looked beautiful, despite the fact that the game was so ugly as to be nigh-unplayable without a complete set and a masochistic attitude towards fun.

Then the prequels came out, and Decipher refused to make sets for them, because it wouldn't make sense to have Luke Skywalker being able to fight Darth Maul. Instead, they made a second, non-compatible game for the prequels...which utterly bombed. So then they backed down, and made expansions for the prequels, but didn't include characters like Anakin because their rules wouldn't allow for it. Then they released yet another CCG, which wasn't compatible with either of the previous two. Then LucasArts got sick of all that, and awarded the license to WotC when it was time to renew.

WotC looked at the original game and saw that after all the expansions and errata, it had devolved from a nigh-unplayable piece of shit into a completely unplayable piece of shit. It went back to the drawing board and got Richard Garfield to design a totally new TCG, with an elegant rules structure that allowed for loads of fun and could accommodate the entire Star Wars universe, and which became better with every single expansion. Seriously, this was an absolute triumph on every level, from the mechanics to the playability to the flexibility to the sheer fun factor of having stormtroopers fighting Krayt Dragons and Jango Fett fighting his own son and getting your very own Death Star to blow up planets. It was a thing of beauty.

But Decipher fans refused to support it, because they couldn't use their old cards and they'd already spent hundreds of dollars on the old game and WotC just didn't get it, man! Instead, they made up "virtual card sets" for the old game, which they could print out and play with the old cards (and which managed to be just as incompetent as the professionally released sets, although that's more the fault of the rules they were working with than the people that were designing the new mock cards.) WotC's game managed to last long enough to cover all six movies, but without the support of the Star Wars gamer community, it was eventually canceled.

Which is immensely frustrating to me. Because sure, I still have all the old WotC cards and I can pull them out any time I want and have a grand old time pitting the Republic and the Rebels against the Separatists and the Empire (with the bounty hunters and smugglers playing both sides against the middle)...and sure, there's a fan group putting out "virtual card sets" for this game, too...but one of the wonderful things about a CCG is the way it evolves with each new set. The game that WotC released with "Attack of the Clones" was playable, even fun. But the game that they had when "Revenge of the Sith", the last official set came out? That was brilliant. WotC has a great design team, and I was really looking forward to what they were going to do next.

And because of some people who were unwilling to walk away from a shit sandwich to feast on filet mignon, I don't get it. Sometimes, there is no justice in the world of great games.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Why I Love Mystery Science Theater 3000

To be strictly accurate, this is "One of the Many, Many Reasons Why I Love Mystery Science Theater 3000". I remember turning on Channel 23 one Sunday evening and seeing some cheesy science-fiction movie, and wondering what that thing was on the bottom. Then I realized it was theater seats, and that the guys sitting there were making fun of the movie, and I immediately knew that this was the Best Idea Ever.

But actually, the words "making fun of" don't really describe what MST3K is and what it does, which is one of the many, many reasons why I love the show (and the one I'm discussing today, just to reassure you.) Joel Hodgson, creator of the series, uses the term "riffing", and I think that describes it better. It's not a process of tearing the film down, although some of the people whose works have been featured have (understandably) seen it that way. The riffer creates a new structure around the film, but it's one that rewards careful viewing of the movie with humor. It doesn't destroy the movie, it preserves it...albeit on its own terms, and not those of the original film-maker. But I'd argue that this is still heaps better than obscurity.

For example, let's take "Manos: The Hands of Fate". This is not a good movie. I don't think that Hal Warren, its writer/director/star, would dispute that. But he went ahead and made it anyway. His goal was to prove that anyone with enough determination and drive could make a feature film, and in the process, he made something truly unique and personal. Good? No. But interesting? Absolutely. Nobody but Hal Warren could have made "Manos", just like nobody but Coleman Francis could have made "The Skydivers", or nobody but Ray Dennis Steckler could have made (deep breath) "The Incredibly Strange Creatures That Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies". These were the visions of people who were sometimes brilliant, sometimes incompetent, but always iconoclastic and determined to bring something of themselves to the screen.

And MST3K rescues those films, in its own way. More people have seen "Manos" as a result of Joel and the bots than Hal Warren could ever have imagined. Many of them have found something to like about the film; not the whole thing, of course, because it is very bad. But during the bad bits, you can focus on the riffing. During the good bits, the film catches your attention. ("Manos" might not be the best example of this, due to the lack of actual good bits. But there are films that work better.) You can almost think of MST3K as a "celebrity roast" for people who won't get celebrated by the usual Hollywood crowd.

The same is true for actors. Peter Graves, before his death, was on record as saying he didn't approve of MST3K. But there are almost a half-dozen of his films that I saw due to MST3K, and I appreciated the sincerity and conviction he brought to less-than-stellar material. MST3K preserved these films, even if it wasn't necessarily reverent about the way it did so. That's what I love about MST3K. It dusts off long-forgotten films that might deserve to be riffed, but don't deserve to be forgotten.

Monday, March 22, 2010

An Open Letter To All Science-Fiction Authors Everywhere

Dear All Science Fiction Authors Everywhere,

I realize that it's a classic science-fiction trope that is rich with thematic possibilities, but it's not sustainable, long-term, to use human beings as food. You see, meat is not actually a very efficient use of agricultural resources; you use more grain in fattening an animal to the point where it can be eaten than you get from that animal. In other words, a typical cow...or to be more germane, a typical person...consumes more than 200 pounds of food in the course of their growth to a 200 pound person. Even if you assume that our hypothetical dystopian cannibal overlords are like Native Americans, and make use of every single part of the human being, they're still wasting resources. It'd be cheaper and more efficient just to feed them the grain in the first place. (And if you don't have grain available for some reason, like, say, the Earth is enshrouded in a perpetual cloud cover, the laws of thermodynamics say you're pretty much screwed.)

The main reason you hear about isolated groups of people turning to cannibalism is that those people are already full-grown adults, looking to eke out as much time as they can from their existing food supplies; the food costs of fattening a human being up has already been paid, and doesn't need to factor into their calculations. But as a permanent survival plan? Sorry. It just doesn't work. (This is why, when I had to come up with a "mysterious processed foodstuff" for Feng Shui, I used seaweed and rats as my ingredients. Just as icky, far more common.) So please, let's not see this trope again, save in outright comedies (Futurama's use of Soylent Green as an Iron Chef ingredient was hilarious, for example.)

Thank you in advance for your co-operation.


John Seavey

Thursday, March 18, 2010

George Lucas' Big Mistake

I should probably start out by saying that I love the Star Wars movies. How could I not? I was born in 1975. The original 'Star Wars' practically rewrote the entirety of pop culture during the most formative period of my life. I'm always going to be a Star Wars fan, and there is nothing that George Lucas can do to wreck it. That said, I am not one of those people who believes that Lucas Can Do No Wrong. He made lots of mistakes in crafting the six films that make up the Star Wars saga--Jar Jar Binks, having Boba Fett get beaten by a blind guy with a stick, abruptly changing the inspiration for the Jedi fighting style from samurai movies to wuxia films, the whole "having the Trade Federation guys talk like Thai busboys", failing to explain who the Sith are and what they want revenge for, failing to explain what the prophecy about "bringing balance to the Force" was and whether the Jedi were for it or against it, the entire podrace sequence...

But he only made one big mistake. George Lucas made one key mistake in the Star Wars films, one that affected the entire perception of the story for generations of fans. Specifically, he made the Jedi too awesome. (Especially Yoda.)

Because the point of the whole Star Wars saga is that the Jedi are no better than the Sith. Sure, the Sith establish the Empire, crushing the Jedi and ruling the galaxy with an iron fist...but the Jedi establish the Republic, and it sure does seem like all the alien races immune to the Jedi mind-control powers wind up stuck on the arse end of the galaxy with a chip on their shoulder, doesn't it? The Jedi don't believe in love. They take away children and raise them to believe that it's bad to love their parents, it's bad to form attachments to other human beings, and the only thing that's important is "the greater good". (And notice that we never see any failed Jedi? Plenty in the Expanded Universe, sure, but we've seen lots of evidence that the Expanded Universe doesn't represent Lucas' vision. In the Lucas-helmed Star Wars films, we're left to wonder.) The Jedi philosophy is sterile, cold, repressed and joyless, and they're the enforcers of the peace in the Republic. Does that sound like a fun place to live? Everyone pointed to the line "Only a Sth thinks in absolutes" as an accidental irony, but there's no accident to it.

And Yoda, the exemplar of the Jedi philosophy, is wrong about everything. Literally everything. He tells Luke that there's no such thing as redemption--"once you start down the path of the Dark Side, forever will it dominate your destiny." He says that love always leads to fear and pain and loss, that if Luke tries to save Vader that he will die and his cause will be lost, and that Anakin's only path to redemption is to give up on his love of Padme and stand by and watch her die. His inflexible, blinkered philosophy is directly responsible for Anakin's fall as much as Palpatine's influence. When Luke says, "I am a Jedi, like my father before me," it's not just a repudiation of the Emperor, it's a repudiation of Yoda as well. The implication is clear. Anakin was a true Jedi; before he failed the order, the order first failed him.

But all that gets lost in the sheer awesomeness of the Jedi. The signal-to-noise ratio is too high--Yoda is a cool Wise Old Master with all the good bits in Episode Five, Qui-Gon Jinn is played by Liam Neeson and Mace Windu is Samuel Freaking Jackson, and the lightsaber is the coolest weapon in the history of film. Everyone takes Yoda's words at face value--even the authorized sequels, which show Luke trying to re-establish the Jedi in the image of the old order. Everyone assumes that Luke narrowly won his struggle with the Dark Side at the end, but in fact, he did exactly what people do every day. He got upset, he channeled his anger constructively, and then he calmed down. Only the Manichean nutbags who run the Jedi and the Sith think that this is some kind of near-impossible achievement. The Jedi aren't the heroes of the film, Luke is, for realizing that there's something more than the false duality that trapped and ultimately destroyed his father.

That's the message of the Star Wars films, and it's a shame that Lucas made it so hard for people to notice.

Monday, March 15, 2010

What's Up With Texas? One Man's Theory

Texas has been in the news a good bit lately, mainly for their bizarre insistence on rewriting every textbook in the country to conservative standards. (I could go, at this point, onto a tangent and point out that this is typical conservative thinking--"The facts say we're wrong...but what if we make up our own 'facts' that say we're right?" But I'm trying to stay on-topic.) They're also one of only two states that are refusing to take part in the effort to establish a national set of educational standards, insisting that only Texans should decide what gets taught in Texas schools. (I could also tangent here by pointing out that this is why, in the long term, this kind of Lysenkoism does more harm to the people who believe those fallacies than to those people they attempt to ostracize--"Oh, I'm sorry, Oxford won't accept people who went to a Texas school..." But again, staying on-topic.)

And that topic is, "Why does this always seem to happen with Texas?" I understand the value of self-reliance and independence, but Texas always seems to have an inexplicable belligerence about its relationship with the United States and the other states therein. No matter what the country proposes, from health care to education to taxation, the response from Texas always seems to be, "Yeah, well, maybe we don't even wanna be part of your country! We could totally do this without you, you know!"

Since I have family in Texas, I've had both reason and occasion to think about Texas and the chip it seems to have on its shoulder from time to time. And on thinking about it, I've decided that Texas has a clear case of Short Man's Disease, or the political equivalent thereof. (Yes, I'm aware that the actual psychological disorder of Napoleon Complex has been discredited, and that the historical Napoleon probably wasn't all that short to begin with. But the analogy works on the political scale.)

"No, it doesn't," you might well say. (Especially if you're from Texas.) "Short Man's Disease is the tendency for short people to compensate with aggression, and Texas is one of the largest states in the USA!" (That last part gets mentioned by Texans a lot.) But while Texas is large for a state, they're small for a country. And not just small, but short-lived. The Republic of Texas only lasted ten years before volunteering to let the United States annex them.

Ever since, I think that Texans have felt the need to prove that they could have made it on their own as a nation if they really wanted to, and that they're only really in the United States because they feel like it, not because they need to or anything. They might be a small, sub-ordinate political entity, but theyr'e tough enough to kick anyone's ass! They could secede, you know--anytime they felt like it!

I think the whole "secession" thing is the political equivalent of elevator shoes.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Grammar Niggle of the Week

If curious people are said to possess curiosity, monstrous people are said to possess monstrosity, and generous people are said to possess generosity, why do mysterious people supposedly possess a "mysteriousness"? Shouldn't they have a certain mysteriosity to them?

Likewise, furious people should be known for their furiosity, a wondrous event should be claimed to possess a quality called wondrosity, and of course, the nose of an elephant seal is remarkable for its bulbosity. And yet, the tyranny of the spell-checker insists that none of these are words. It's downright tragic, it is.

And since this is a fairly tiny, silly post, I'll puff it out a bit by mentioning that starting tomorrow, I'll be doing occasional guest posts on the explosively talented Christopher Bird's every Friday! He's generously consented to let me have a say every now and then, and I'm happy to ride on his coat-tails to the greatest extent the law will allow.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Top Five Cool Alternate Takes

The process of film-making is always a case of continual revision. Sequences change due to unavailability of actors, unreliability of special effects, bad weather, sudden inspiration, and any number of other factors that turn a screenplay from a Bible into a blueprint. With the advent of DVD and the ubiquitous "Special Features", we can sometimes get little glimpses into the movie that could have been--glimpses that can totally change the nature of the film. (And frequently do: Witness the vast number of "Director's Cuts" of movies out there.) Sometimes the alternate takes are just tiny changes here and there, but sometimes they radically alter the movie in fascinating ways. Here are a few of my favorites!

Honorable Mention: Big Trouble in Little China. I can't really include this as a major change, because it's really just a tiny addition to the film, but seeing this missing scene completed the movie for me, even though I didn't realize anything was absent until I saw it. Right after they escape from Lo Pan's lair, when they're at the red light, there's an unused sequence where the red car from the beginning ("Son of a bitch must pay") passes by. Jack chases it down, rams it off the end of a pier, and says, "I feel much better now." I gotta say, after seeing that scene, I agree with him.

5. Clue. This is perhaps unique in that it's one case of an alternate ending that actually made it to theaters. People who only saw it at home might not be aware that the "This is how it could have happened"/"This is how it might have happened"/"This is what really happened" ending was an attempt to recreate a truly inventive theatrical experience--different theaters were shipped different prints of the film, each of which had one and only one of the three endings. (The DVD version has a branching option that allows you to watch it as it was originally shown.) Thus, it was impossible to spoil the mystery, because someone else might see a version with a different killer. It's an epic head-trip that was, to the best of my knowledge, never done again, and deserves kudos.

4. Alien. This one is interesting to me, because it's a scene that would have changed the entire face of the franchise if it had made it into the finished film. The "Director's Cut" of 'Alien' shows a sequence where Ripley, in her effort to escape the alien, stumbles upon the missing crewmembers Dallas and Brett. Far from being dead, as the theatrical cut implies, they've been cocooned by the creature and are gradually being rendered down into the raw ingredients of a new face-hugger. The hold full of eggs at the beginning? That was what was left of the original crew.

Had that scene made it into the finished film, James Cameron would never have gone with the Alien Queen. 'Aliens' would have been an entirely different movie, perhaps an unmade one, and all the subsequent spin-offs, adaptations, and sequels would have changed. It might not be the best unused scene, but it's probably the most consequential.

3. Lord of the Rings. Perhaps the most commercially successful "director's cut" ever, the LotR films gave Tolkien fans the chance to experience an expanded, enlarged, super-faithful (well, mostly) version of their favorite adaptations. This version included the final fate of Saruman, showed the bestowal of the Elven gifts, and generally made the movies long enough that I don't have the patience to sit through them. Oh, come on. They were already three freaking hours apiece! How much better can the extra footage make them?

And before I'm lynched by angry Tolkien fans, I think I should just move on to...

2. Army of Darkness. This film was released right on the cusp of the DVD revolution, and due to the original ending appearing in the comic book adaptation, fans of Raimi's Evil Dead trilogy had just enough time to build their excitement to a fever-pitch before they were finally able to see it for themselves. For those who haven't seen one of the sixty-seven DVD editions of the film, the original ending features Ash taking a potion to sleep until the present day instead of reciting an incantation to travel through time. He accidentally OD's on magic sleep juice, and wakes up in a post-apocalyptic London. It's a very nice sequence, and a hint at the direction the series would have failed to go instead of the one it already hasn't. (I know. We got Hercules, Xena, and the Spider-Man movies. I shouldn't be bitter.)

And the Number One Alternative Version of an Existing Film is...

Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. No, really. This was an excellent direct-to-DVD movie in which a future protege of Batman takes on the seemingly-resurrected nemesis of his mentor, and it has a wonderfully epic feel to it. But the original version (which was finally released in an "uncensored director's cut") pulls out all the stops in its depiction of the final battle between Batman and the Joker. I really don't want to spoil, but the alternate take truly does elevate the film to a whole new level.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

White-Hot Incandescent Rage Directed At An Insignificant Target

So let me get this straight, Pierre Bayard, author of "Sherlock Holmes Was Wrong". You think that Holmes' solution to "The Hound of the Baskervilles" was absurd, filled with numerous plot holes and logical inconsistencies. You propose an alternate, more logical theory. And that theory is...

...that Jack Stapleton, lost heir to the Baskerville estate, decides to move back to the area of his ancestral home after a falling-out with his wife that has led to her demanding that he publicly pretend to be her sister. He complies, and happens to find out that his uncle (the current tenant) has made a fortune in South African gold and is phenomenally wealthy. He befriends his wealthy uncle without bothering to mention his family connection (presumably not to bother the philanthropically-inclined relative who laments the fact that he has no children to pass on the title to) and discovers that his uncle's will leaves the fortune to the inheritor of the title, and that his uncle has a weak heart. He then decides, quite innocently, to buy a giant black hound. And in order to make sure that he can see the dog when he takes it for night-time strolls, he paints it glow-in-the-dark.

Then he falls in love with a married woman, and convinces her to ask his uncle for the money to fund a divorce. Then he changes his mind at the last minute, tells her not to ask after all, and goes to ask his uncle himself. Unfortunately, he brings his dog along, entirely forgetting his uncle's weak heart and morbid preoccupation with the spectral hound that supposedly murdered his ancestor.

Following the entirely accidental fatal heart attack caused by the friendly giant black hound lunging out of the darkness, its face glowing with phantasmal light, his wife Beryl (who has decided to pose as his sister) comes up with a plan to kill her husband as punishment for having an affair with a married woman. She knows that he is in the habit of wandering through the deadly swamps of Grimpen Mire, which has swallowed people without a trace, and that the two of them have marked out a safe course through the bottomless mud. Naturally, her plan is to frame him for the murder of his uncle and convince Sherlock Holmes to investigate, getting him down to the Baskerville estate so that she can then convince everyone that her husband/brother fled justice by running into the swamps and losing his footing.

She suggests to Doctor Mortimer, the executor of the estate, that he should go to Holmes to investigate the evidence that a demonic hound was involved before the new heir to the estate arrives. He agrees instantly, and heads off to meet Holmes. Meanwhile, she travels to London and attracts Holmes' attention with a bizarre letter that warns the new heir off (she is, of course, entirely certain that he will ignore this, based on her superior knowledge of the psychology of total strangers she's never met. And a lucky thing, too, as her entire plan hinges on him ignoring the warning she's giving him.) She also shadows the new heir in disguise, in full sight of Holmes in order to convince Holmes that someone is shadowing the new heir. This might be seen as slightly risky, given that Holmes might catch her and unmask her, but it's necessary because she needs to...because it is, of course. Oh, and she steals the new heir's boots in order to convince Holmes that they're needed to give the dog a scent.

Holmes and Watson arrive, with Holmes traveling in secret to make sure that nobody knows about him. Luckily, during this period, Stapleton doesn't decide to innocently walk his glow-in-the-dark giant dog, because if Holmes or Watson bumped into him when he was walking the dog, he'd explain the entire situation and Beryl's entire plan would fail. Also luckily, an escaped convict in the area wearing the new heir's old clothes just happens to trip and fall and break his neck, which Holmes attributes (foolishly) to his running away from the dog.

Then, Beryl's plan comes off perfectly. She tricks her husband into inviting the new heir out to dinner, pretending to be ill so that nobody sees her, providing her with an alibi, wait, um, so that she can not be there when things happen, so...OK, skip that bit. The point is, she pretends to be ill. Then, when the new heir leaves the house, she sprints off, lets the hound out, sprints back to her husband, lures him into the marsh by telling him the dog got loose, shoves him into a mud pit, and finally sprints back to her room while Holmes and Watson are killing the dog. Finally, in order to provide herself with an airtight alibi, she beats herself up and ties herself hand and foot to a post for Holmes to find. (Actually, she manages to somehow tie herself hand and foot, gag herself, then bind her own arms and legs with strips of cloth. It's sort of like being an escape artist in reverse.) All in the time it takes for Holmes and Watson to chase down the dog, shoot it, and return to the house searching for her husband.

And Bayard seriously expects people to pay money for this book?

Monday, March 01, 2010

Review: The Zombie Diaries

It's interesting--you'd think getting a laptop and being able to post a blog entry from anywhere would help you keep on schedule when you go out of town, but it actually doesn't. Which is why there was no Thursday blog entry last week. Sorry about that!

I did manage to watch a movie in the airport on said laptop, though; it was "The Zombie Diaries", a documentary-style film from 2006 about a mysterious disease that compels people to carry video cameras everywhere they go and bring them to a small farmhouse in the British countryside. Will these people be able to stop themselves from videotaping everything? Will their footage be assembled into a vague, incoherent storyline that purports to be utterly realistic because it doesn't explain what's going on, yet uses incidental music and editing techniques that scream, "Look, I'm a movie!"? Will there be trite 9/11 comparisons? Why did the director ever think that Kyle Sparks could do an American accent? Watch the movie and find out!

In all seriousness, the movie is a classic example of a good idea for a short film that the film-makers decided to expand into a feature because there's not a big market for short films. The premise for the first "diary", where a film crew gets trapped in the British countryside during a zombie outbreak and runs afoul of both zombies and other survivors who are taking advantage of the chaos to indulge in, um...anti-social's not bad. (Although it does feel like some of the characters accidentally wandered in from a slasher movie that was being filmed twenty yards away in the same forest.) It never feels necessary or original, but it's not bad.

But once they introduce the other two diaries, which don't have the excuse of being about a film crew, the "found footage" conceit stops making sense. The characters never develop any real depth or connection to the audience (seriously, I'm not sure I even understand the final twist, because the characters were so interchangeable that I wasn't sure who it was that was rescued at the end.) And the screenwriter uses the "found footage" angle as an excuse not to fill in several dangling plot threads. What happened to the other psychotic drifter? Who buried the documentary crew? What prompts the gunfight/massacre at the end? Oh, too bad, the camera wasn't turned on right then. Sucks to be you, audience.

Documentary-style horror films are very hard to pull off at the best of times, because they all struggle with the central premise that someone would, in the midst of a zombie crisis/giant monster attack/endless nature hike through Maryland, lug a video camera around and film it all in dramatically appropriate fashion. To suggest that three such people exist, and that they all happen to be in the same part of rural England at the same time, is a little too much to swallow.