The technology behind Kubo and the Two Strings

This article is part of a collaboration with iQ by Intel. A frightened woman crosses a storm-swept sea in a tiny canoe as black strands of windblown hair hit her face. Rain pours down her kimono as her fingers clutch a three-stringed Japanese shamisen. A massive wave looms over her canoe, impressing on the viewer how small and human she looks. The woman strums the shamisen, conjuring a magic flame that cuts clean through the wave. The opening scene in the stop-motion film Kubo and the Two Strings — created by animation studio Laika and released in August — demonstrates…

Shin Godzilla

All bow down before the mighty Shin Godzilla

At one point in Shin Godzilla, Toho’s 29th entry in this ancient series, a character calls Godzilla a “perfect organism.” This might sound familiar to anyone who’s watched Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979): it’s how the devious android Ash describes the xenomorph. Godzilla movies don’t typically reach outside the big guy’s cultural bubble, the occasional crossover with King Kong notwithstanding. They exist within a cloistered half-century of constant reinvention; there are whole eras of Godzilla named for whoever was emperor of Japan at that time, all refracting and, frankly, diluting the original premise into a repeatable formula that yielded enjoyable-but-inessential riffs on everything…


Arrival is an alien-contact movie that’ll speak to you

I did not expect a new Denis Villeneuve movie to make me cry. The man behind Prisoners (2013), Enemy (2013), and Sicario (2015) is not known for his delicate touch, but his new sci-fi drama Arrival makes a staggering case for looking at Villeneuve with fresh eyes. The logy, intellectually bankrupt posturing of Prisoners and Sicario has been jettisoned, leaving only the good bits: razor-sharp cinematography, perfectly-pitched scores, and strong performances. Here, those are courtesy of Bradford Young (Selma), Jóhann Jóhannsson (also Sicario, Prisoners), and Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker. Since his US debut with Prisoners, Villenueve has yet to direct one…


Paul Verhoeven’s latest film is about the struggles of a female videogame CEO

Warning: the content of the video included is NSFW and contains references to sexual violence. /// At the start of Paul Verhoeven’s latest film Elle, a woman is violently raped. The rest of the story is about how that woman, a French videogame executive played by Isabelle Huppert, deals with her relationship with the rape and the rapist himself. If the Verhoeven films you’re most familiar with are RoboCop (1987) and Starship Troopers (1997), Elle will surprise you. It’s perhaps a better fit in the realm of Verhoeven’s psycho-sexual thriller Basic Instinct (1992). That it is not immediately what it seems—a drama about…


Short sci-fi film written by an AI is absurdly human

Artificial intelligence is a common topic explored within the science-fiction genre. Sunspring, a new sci-fi short, instead of using the theme of artificial intelligence in its narrative, used AI to actually produce the narrative in the first place. The film, which had its online debut on Ars, had its screenplay written by an AI which goes by the name of ‘Benjamin‘. The film was submitted as part of the 48-Hour Film Challenge at the Sci-Fi London film festival by Oscar Sharp, a BAFTA-nominated filmmaker and Ross Goodwin, a creative technologist and former Obama administration ghostwriter. Sunspring comes to life through the acting and production.…


Overwatch and the pleasure of transmedia narratives

Before Winston, a glasses-clad gorilla scientist, was leaping across maps to crush his enemies in the chaotic multiplayer battles of Overwatch, he was merely a young ape with big aspirations and an affinity for peanut butter. But you wouldn’t know that from merely playing the game. You’ll find no calculated, story-driven campaign in Blizzard’s competitive team-based multiplayer shooter. Overwatch’s character-driven narrative is instead trickled elsewhere: in genuinely endearing animated shorts, character-focused one-off webcomics, and short website-bound character biographies. The latter-most isn’t uncommon within videogames, the second less so, and the first is the most uncommon of them all, the three…


Here it is, the farting Daniel Radcliffe game that dreams are made of

When the flatulence-filled Swiss Army Man screened at the Sundance Film Festival, it was polarizing, to say the least. It even prompted a multitude of disgusted filmgoers to leave the theater, what Variety described as “could win the festival’s award for the most walk-outs.” The divisive Swiss Army Man is the feature film debut from the quirky filmmaking duo Daniels. The film itself stars Daniel Radcliffe (another Daniel) as a farting corpse with strange magical abilities, and Paul Dano as his suicidal, but very much alive, companion. As a part of the film’s marketing, an interactive version of Radcliffe’s ragdollian,…


The prison of the videogame camera

Techniques such as lens flare or liquids splattered on the camera (usually blood) have become so commonplace in videogames that we no longer pay attention to them. This indifference is a bit disquieting. After all, with videogames, we play two roles at once: the character on the screen, and ourselves in our own body viewing the screen. We act by pushing buttons and at the same time passively watch those actions performed by somebody else through the distancing filter of a camera lens. We accept this double perspective so wholly that in our minds it seems to become one. When…


Online art installation examines propaganda in the Internet age

The first few moments in the online version of The Sprawl can best be described as overwhelming. Videos with bizarre eye-catching graphics shift around for just a second, there’s a moving shape in the background. The text that appears would seem to be an explanation, but explains very little, saying, in part, “pixelated illusions replace our faith in information, ideologies collide in chasms of uncertainty and hope.” This is Dutch design collective Metahaven’s latest project, The Sprawl (Propaganda about Propaganda), a film/installation examining propaganda, its usage, its prevalence, and how it affects our view of information and truth. simulates the…