Space opera has long been a staple in science fiction. Sprawling epics, from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars through Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers to Star Trek and Star Wars and the original Battlestar Galactica, where good and evil are easily determined and the stakes are high. Even if the heroes run into obstacles too much to overcome, they triumph in the end.
The past two decades have seen deconstruction of many forms of entertainment, taking the original works and applying a grim, gritty, realistic or semi-realistic filter and showing the results. The remade Battlestar Galactica is an excellent example of deconstruction. The original Galactica, despite the last survivors of the Colonies being on a ragtag fleet being hunted to extinction, left the viewer with optimism that humanity would survive. The remade Galactica, there was the question of who would finish off the fleet first, the Cylons or the humans.
With desconstruction comes reconstruction, the rebuilding of the tropes associated with the genre. In this case, Bioware’s Mass Effect series of video games. In 2007, Mass Effect introduced video gamers to a galaxy where humanity joins a large number of species already capable of faster than light travel. Planets and locations range from the high tech and political centre Citadel Station to frontier colonies like Eden Prime and hell holes like Omega. Into this, eldritch abominations return from beyond the galaxy, intent on destroying all life as part of a cycle of destruction.
Players took on the role of Commander Shepard, a special forces member of the human Systems Alliance Navy, as he or she* investigated an attack on the human colony of Eden Prime. As the investigation progressed, Shepard picks up an eclectic band of supporting characters, including a rogue Citadel Security officer, a homeless pilgrim, and a naive archaeologist, and learned about the threat to the galaxy being spearheaded by a rogue Citadel Council special operative.
The follow up games, Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 continue the investigation and fight against the abominations, even while Council doesn’t believe that there is a danger. Throughout the series, despite the threat, despite the inevitability of the abominations returning and succeeding, the hope exists that Shepard will prevail and unite the galaxy against the threat.
In 2012, Funimation**, in conjuction with T.O. Entertainment*** and Production I.G.**** released the animated feature Mass Effect: Paragon Lost. Part of the goal of the feature was to introduce a new playable character for Mass Effect 3 in case Shepard died during the gameplay of Mass Effect 2 while still succeeding with the mission. Another goal was to introduce the game to new players.
Paragon Lost follows Lieutenant James Vega, a marine in the Systems Alliance Navy, as he and his squad race in to protect Felh Prime from an attack by krogan mercenaries. Vega and his teammates show off the different classes available in the game without calling them out by name. Instead, the movie shows what each class does, and the abilities shown are possible in-game, even by Shepard with the right choice of class. The movie starts shortly after the beginning of Mass Effect 2 after the apparently loss of Commander Shepard, and takes place before the start of the real plot of the game. Through the course of the movie, Vega discovers the abominations and what the race known as the Collectors are doing and works to prevent a tragedy.
As an adaptation of a video game, Paragon Lost needs to be able to tell a good story within the framework of both the plot and the gameplay of the Mass Effect series. As seen with Battleship, getting how a game works into the visuals can be problematic. Working in the Paragon Lost‘s favour is having a common ground with the video game – both are visual. The special moves available to Shepard and his or her team are already shown on screen. Paragon Lost shows the viewer each class and what it can do easily enough, from the flashy to the subtle. The movie also shows the setting, giving a taste of the Mass Effect galaxy despite staying primarily on Fehl Prime.
The other major factor in the Mass Effect games is the effect of player choice. A decision made in the first game will return to haunt the player in the second and third. Movies, with the exception of Clue, tend to have just one ending. Interactive DVDs do exist, but are marketed more as games than movies. Paragon Lost, though, still manages to introduce the idea, giving Vega a critical decision and showing the viewer the ramifications of his choice, in a way that drives home the seriousness not only of the immediate results but the long term war to survive.
Next week, the legacy of early computer animation.