Tuesday, 13 December 2011

"Red Vs. Blue Season 9": Review

by Alex Hill


I try not to review individual seasons or episodes of TV shows or web-based content, but I think this is a special case. The folks at Roother Teeth are the poster boys of Machinima (machine cinema, animating pre-made video game content for the purposes of fan-fiction). For eight seasons, they trotted out the same characters in similar situations, but have always managed to draw entertainment from the well. It was almost always amusing in a juvenile way, and the dialogue was always a fast-paced collapse of logic in the face of stupidity. If you didn't like a joke at first, they'd build and build on it, and a new one was always around the corner.

This is also the second season featuring Monty Oum's frenzied choreographed fight sequences, utilizing motion capture and other assets not found in the Halo series these guys normally work with. But they happen to a completely new cast of characters, in a different time period, in scenes that appear randomly and out of order inbetween the machinima parts. They don't overlap or compliment Church's exile in any way, or vice-versa.

Season nine of Red Vs. Blue has identity issues. It's two barking heads on the same shoulders.

Yes, it is noticeable when it switches from game-footage to the motion-captured custom work, but at least Season 8 tied them together to the same place and time. Here, we go from exciting car chases to multicoloured dorks bobbing their heads up and down in a field. These scenes don't just look bad compared to the gorgeous "Freelancer" set-pieces. They're bad even by Machinima standards. Halo Reach offers a lot of new locations and tools for Machinima builders to use. These are very much under-utilized, save for one or two visual gags later on.

It's like going back and forth between Thanksgiving Dinner to soggy left-overs. One half is a fresh and interesting series of ass-kicking events and backroom politics, with a new cast of characters that earn my sympathy. Their motivations are too vague and undefined, but the players leave an impression. I'd care more if the nature of who they are and what they do weren't confined to a shadowy bad guy who's not talking. And while Monty Oum's choreography is theatrical as always, it gets exhausting. These characters wail on each other and never seem to slow down or suffer for it.

The other half of the show is a pathetic rerun told as cheaply as possible. Were the action sequences too taxing on Matt Hullum and the Rooster Teeth gang? Did they run out of time? They've branched out to other projects, short skits and the like. They seem to have fun with those. Watching this season, the parts filmed in Halo: Reach feel like a begrudging obligation. Far from the determined effort to tell their story of pathetic souls.

Pictured: something I haven't seen eight times already.

You may recall I mentioned Season 8 of RVB was one of my favourite things of 2010. That season ended with a fitting monologue by "Church" (Burnie Burns). This season ends with him blathering on for an insufferable amount of time, saying nothing of value or insight. There's a scene in a Sylvester Stallone movie about arm-wrestling where he tries to have a heartfelt moment with a speech. At least that can be enjoyed ironically. This is the first time a season of Red Vs. Blue wasn't even funny.

And while I can't really take this out on the show itself, I hate Rooster Teeth's website. I hate how slow their videos are, how I can't adjust the quality or decrease the size of the video. This reduces those action scenes to a slideshow. This is why I prefer to watch their stuff on Youtube, DVD or on Halo Waypoint. After this long, you'd think they'd get their shit together.

I know how you feel, lady.

These people used to be the kings of their domain. Did the well run dry? Are the gray hairs showing? Other Machinima shows, much of it based on the Halo property have come and gone, but they've always been ahead of the pack. They've made a team, a business and a community out of it. Maybe it's a case of my expectations being too high, but they knew the risks when they raised the bar. Especially when I look at people like Jon Graham, who manages to squeeze a lot more out of a lot less. Wasn't that the appeal to these videos?



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