A Wrinkle in Time images

Welcome to The Water Cooler, a weekly feature where the /Film staff is free to go off-topic and talk about everything except the movies and TV shows they normally write about. In this edition: A Wrinkle in Time revisited, an incredible new RPG, a preview of Disneyland’s new version of Fantasmic, a look at John Mayer’s new album, and a Luc Besson marathon at The Egyptian.

Hoai-Tran Bui is Re-Reading the Wrinkle in Time Books

I don’t think I realized how big an impact the Wrinkle in Time books made on me as a kid until I saw the trailer for Ava Duvernay’s 2018 adaptation. It looked nothing like the story I remembered — nor like the story as it was described in the 1963 book, really — but it somehow captured the essence of that wonderful sci-fi/fantasy novel. And no, I wasn’t bothered by the glossy Disney sheen nor the ostentatious high-fantasy get-up that Oprah is wearing. It was magical.

So that afternoon, I picked up my old copy of A Wrinkle a Time, which I don’t think I’d opened since I first read it 20 years ago. It was one of my first chapter books, after The Chronicles of Narnia and The Boxcar Children, and I remembered vividly exactly one scene: a boy bouncing a ball in a manicured, generic suburban neighborhood. Reading it again, it surprised me how formative it actually was in the kinds of stories I liked: an abstract battle of good and evil, weird time and space travel, and the power of humanity and love. It was essentially a guide book on “every movie HT will love in the future.” Its religious elements did catch me off guard, however. The Christian underpinnings of the novel aren’t quite as blatant as Narnia, but you could tell this was the one fantasy book that strict Christian parents would allow their kids to read.

I read A Wrinkle in Time in barely more than a day — it proved to be very simply written, with pretty general descriptions of characters and worlds, which probably lent Duvernay a ton of creative freedom when making the film. I have the next two books, A Wind in the Door and A Swiftly Tilting Planet (that’s right it’s a series) already in my collection, though I may go on to read the next two, Many Waters and An Acceptable Time for the first time. I may even go rewatch the TV movie adaptation from 2003. Needless to say, I can’t wait for the new film and the prospect of a beautifully diverse cast and Hot Dad Chris Pine.

blades in the dark

Jacob Hall is Reading the Manual For the RPG Blades in the Dark

Roleplaying games can be daunting. The common perception of these being experiences driven by spreadsheets, charts, and tables and is often accurate. Even in its user-friendly fifth edition, Dungeons & Dragons is still a game that is ultimately all about making the numbers on your character sheet get bigger. The most popular roleplaying systems often make the actual roleplaying elements feel optional. It’s not directly cooked into the system.

That’s why the indie RPG scene is so exciting right now. Smaller games from smaller publishers that value interaction, improvisation, and group storytelling over hit points and dice rolls are becoming more and more common, with their more inspired mechanics sneaking into larger releases. RPGs that are built to tell satisfying stories and create emotional experiences are stepping into the spotlight, providing experiences that are rich and powerful and yes, accessible.

And that brings me to John Harper’s Blades in the Dark, a fantasy RPG that manages that feels quietly revolutionary in how it ties its mechanics to story and character. Set in an industrial fantasy world plagued by the supernatural (although easily hackable to take place in the setting of your own devising), the game doesn’t even feature traditional fantasy adventure RPG elements like hit points. That’s because your character doesn’t die or fall unconscious just because the dice say so – if something unfortunate befalls your character, it’s because something really interesting occurred to make it happen.

While no single mechanic in Blades in the Dark is complicated on its own, the number of rules do weave together to form a system that could still be a little daunting to newbies. But the beauty of this game is that you don’t have to know the whole system to dive right in. The game’s manual, written in clear, concise language, promises the reader that it’s okay to screw up and that your first few games will be learning games. It’ll make sense once you try it, the manual promises. It’s a comforting hand on the shoulder that other RPGs should borrow. Blades in the Dark wants you jump right in and learn the ropes as you have fun.

What you’ll find is a game that casts the players as crooks and scoundrels, desperate men and women living desperate lives. The game master is encouraged to meet the players halfway, to incorporate their improvisations as they take risky decisions. The system allows for frequent successes, but often at a price. Blades in the Dark is built to simulate the rising tensions of a great heist or crime story – wrong decisions pile up and the team is forced to navigate an increasingly complicated landscape full of fragile alliances with other crooks and law enforcement cooked up by the game master. On paper, it’s sublime, dramatic in a way that most RPGs can only dream of.

Of course, I’ve yet to get the game to the table. But I have a good feeling about this one. As I dig deeper and deeper into the manual, I get more and more excited. I can’t wait to assemble my players force them through a maze of intrigue, violence, and poor decisions, where the action is driven by them and not by a chart.

fantasmic

Peter Sciretta Saw Disneyland’s New Version of Fantasmic

At D23 Expo in Anaheim, California this past weekend, Disney surprised fans at their Parks and Resorts presentation with fast pass tickets to a preview show of the new Fantasmic. The Disneyland water show has been missing in action since construction started on Star Wars Land, which caused the Rivers of America to be drained and rerouted. Disney Imagineering took the downtime as an opportunity to revamp some of the effects and add two new show sequences.

I was in attendance at this early preview and can tell you that Fantasmic is back and still incredibly impressive. The revamped effects make the show look better than ever, with new digital projectors, enhanced mist screens, and improved fountain lights.

As for the two new show scenes, they have added the characters of Aladdin and Jasmine floating on a magic carpet on the stage set, which looks truly magical even if the segment feels short. The other new sequence replaces the Peter Pan segment, which is instead transformed into the ghostly Sailing Ship Columbia featuring Captain Jack Sparrow from Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean movies. The stunt choreography of this sequence was particularly amazing, although seeing the live-action Pirates scenes on the mist screens felt jarring next to the show’s usual all-animated collection.

The Lion King and Rapunzel were also added to the mix. But for the most part the show remains the same, and so if you loved the original, you should enjoy this new revamp.

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