A New Hope and how entertainment has changed…

I can still remember the first time I ever saw Star Wars Episode 5 – The Empire Strikes Back. I’d been invited to a school friends birthday party at which they brought out a film projector. Just to further date things, it involved a reel of film rather than HDMI and USB connectors.

Today I sat with my son and spent 30 happy minutes watching Star Wars Episode 4 – A New Hope together. For the non-geeks, that’s the original Star Wars with Luke Skywalker escaping a desert with Alec Guinness, and rescuing Leia. The time was cut short when I had a heartfelt request that he’d rather be playing Lego Star Wars than watching a film.

He wanted to be part of the action, not sitting and simply watching it. And viewing it through his eyes, I suddenly realised how slow the film actually moves compared to some of the things he loves – like Pixar’s output. Even then, he provides a Director-style commentary about what’s on the screen, what’s about to happen, and anything else that pops into his somewhat random mind.

It’s a feeling I often get when I attempt to watch television. As much as I can still love a slow-moving, atmospheric film, the examples of something which draws me in on television are few and far between, so I usually manage about 5 minutes before I feel like I’d rather be playing a game and actually achieving something for myself. Or writing, blogging, or doing other work.

It’s tempting to say every TV show should include as much interactivity as possible, but given the fact that I’d rather poke my eyes out than suffer the hugely successful talent shows which take this approach, it’s not the only solution.

The solution for TV and movies for me is that we get an ever increasing range of niche channels and programming which allow me to watch something over than the same episodes of the Big Bang Theory for the umpteenth time, just because it’s the least irritating option available.

Give me a custom channel of motorsport, Swedish crime television and technology/sci-fi and I’m happy – which is almost possible when I pull together about 20 different services myself, but it’s not quite as effortless as it should be by now. Why can’t there be a central hub for all channels from which I can pull what I want, and pay in aggregate, and why should so much be hampered by copyright after being shown years ago in the U.S? I’m happy to pay for legal access or put up with advertising to be able to watch, but so much is simply not available…

For once, I can’t conclude with a simple solution, but it’s definitely an indication to me that despite the brilliant rise of Youtube, iPlayer, Lovefilm etc, there’s still a long way to go before we reach the perfect entertainment solution.

This week I have mostly…

Over the past few weeks and months I’ve been on a major de-cluttering spree, which has particularly focused on my pop culture addiction. I’ve sold, donated and binned a fairly substantial amount of books and videos, with CD’s and DVD’s either ripped and archived or in the queue to be added with the next external hard drive purchase.

The net result is that I’ve made a small amount of cash by letting go of books I’d probably never read again, I’ve gained some space and perspective on what is actually most important to me, and I’ve been investing in more digital formats for the future. The only downside is that one of my favourite habits is to check out the books/films/cds whenever I visit someone’s house, which doesn’t work so well in the digital age. Hence a quick top-of-the-head list of my entertainment for the previous week (For more comprehensive lists, you can always check out Last.fm, Goodreads, etc, but some items either don’t appear or get forgotten…)

I’ve been reading:

Since getting a Kindle, I’ve devoured Bad Science by Ben Goldacre, which I’d meant to read for ages, and finally picked up. Not only is it extremely interesting for those with an interest in medicine and science, but it should also be essential reading for any journalist and writer who has ever had to deal with a press release containing data, technical terms, or plain BS. And it’s a pretty damning report on the state of national news reporting when it comes to big medical stories.

I also raised through With a Little Help by Cory Doctorow. Like Bad Science, I’d meant to read it for ages, and indeed had started via the Creative Commons edition that Cory makes available for free via his website, but to enjoy it outside of a PDF on my laptop I figured I’d pay the ‘Lazy tax’ to have the Kindle version.

It’s a great collection of short stories, and although some did appeal more than others, what is always consistent is that every Doctorow tale comes with insight and inspiration for the future of the internet/society/technology etc. Even an average Doctorow story gets you thinking, and there are a number in here which are way above average. If there were two authors I’d subscribe to for all future work sight unseen, it’d be Cory and William Gibson.

And finally I’m just finishing the Tao of Jeet Kune Do by Bruce Lee – something which I’ve always meant to read but never enough to make it to the top of my list when in a bookshop. But it seemed like good timing, having rekindled my interest in actually practising some martial arts again by The Pajama Game, rather than just watching the occasional film. It’s interesting because it’s not a ‘how to’ guide for individual punches and throws – it’s a sometimes random collection of notes loosely structured after Lee’s death into the philosophy and approach of a fighting style which has no fixed style. And I also happened to read this post by Charles Frith which features an interesting interview with Lee.

I’ve been listening:

In a shocking lack of awareness, I’d seen Laura Kidd occasionally being mentioned in reference to her fanbase on Twitter, but hadn’t actually got around to listening to her music until she recently released an album of remixes in aid of charity. That prompted me to check out her album Disarm (on Amazon, and on Spotify), under the name ‘She Makes War’.

Turns out I’m an idiot, she makes brilliant music including a free downloadable cover of ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ which is now the version I’ll hear when someone mentions the song.

I’ve been watching:

Aside from catching the odd episode of Big Bang Theory and a passing interest in Man vs Food, the only thing I actually wanted to watch when it was being broadcast was Sherlock Holmes. At which point my parents decided to have their weekend telephone call, so I haven’t really watched anything this week. And luckily my strange soap opera obsession with Ice Road Truckers Deadliest Roads ended just before this week so you’ll never find out about it.

I will get around to watching Borgen, but will probably end up waiting for the complete series to become available rather than watching weekly – I’ve increasingly found it’s easier for me to spend a weekend immersed in a series rather than waiting impatiently for scheduling to mean that I get out of sync anyway.

In terms of films, there hasn’t really been anything grabbing me – I did catch random bits of films I’d already seen being broadcast yet again, such as watching Oceans 12 for long enough to remember why it was such a letdown. But I did end up watching the Smurfs, which combine Neil Patrick Harris with what has to be the best role Hank Azaria has played – normally his appearance in a film is a guarantee of slight irritation at a slightly annoying pastiche. One that kept a 3-year-old entertained enough whilst his parents could also enjoy it.

I’ve been playing:

Rather than television, any leisure time goes into the Xbox. The social side of Xbox Live defines most of this, with my current Forza Motorsport 4 obsession combining a group of friends and the still-present ambition to find a way to race regularly. I’ve also had a very short blast on Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, but it still hasn’t grabbed me as addictively as the previous games in the series.
Besides that I’ve finally been catching up on the downloadable content available for Grand Theft Auto 4, particularly now I know there’s a new one on the way, and also been slowly making my way through the Wild West version in Red Dead Redemption. Both are massive, epic games with enough storytelling elements to replace television and films, with the added advantages of interactivity and being able to pursue the areas and choices that interest me.