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The latest film adaptation of Stephen King's IT continues to do exceptionally well at the box office, re-kindling the world's love for horror movies that go way beyond jump scares (and also re-kindling our hate-on for clowns).
Though King's writing isn't beyond criticism, there's no denying its universal appeal, either. Japan is particularly fond of the horror author. You'll find references to The Mist in everything from Silent Hill to the obscure PlayStation RPG Legend of Legaia (which I briefly cussed out the other week). There's a reference to The Shining in Super Mario Sunshine of all places, and Stand by Me gets a shout-out in Pokémon Red, Blue, and Yellow. Not to mention "Stand by Me" is practically the unofficial subtitle for Final Fantasy XV.
There might be a financial, geographical, or marketing-related reason for Stephen King's appeal in Japan, but you don't need the divine insight of Mother Abigail to suss out one of the biggest reasons: Japan really digs psychological horror, unspeakable monsters, and stories about friendship and teamwork. King's stories dish up big helpings of all three.
Incidentally, IT presents all three of those themes in one work. It's no coincidence one of the most beloved RPGs of all time, EarthBound for the SNES, borrows from IT in all the best ways.
It took me a while to warm up to EarthBound, but when I got into its weird groove, I was surprised – pleasantly so – to learn how much the game reflected IT. Maybe you noticed some of the same references. Maybe you picked up on some I missed. Here's a list of what stood out to me.
(Beware of spoilers for EarthBound and IT from here on out!)
Some parallels between the two works:
- There's a pack of weird kids on a journey to save the world -- Teams of world-saving children are common in RPGs, but in IT and EarthBound, the members of both parties gel with each other despite their different backgrounds. The kids in IT are misfits initially drawn to one another because of their dismal social statuses, and they jokingly call their gathering "The Losers' Club." While I wouldn't classify anyone in EarthBound's main party as a loser, they're still an unusual bunch of kids. Ness and Paula have psychic powers, Jeff is an awkward, nerdy kid who's incredibly intelligent, and Poo undergoes a training ritual in the void that's miles beyond an average after-school Little League program. EarthBound's heroes aren't outcasts per se, but they're definitely different.
- A malevolent, omnipresent villain is exuding unseen power over citizens -- In EarthBound, Ness is informed Giygas is corrupting the hearts of adults. It's true; a lot of the grown-ups in the game are cowardly and corrupt. IT similarly casts its shadow across the adults of Derry, Maine. Because IT feeds off fear and misery, IT suppresses adults' notice of bullying, abuse, and murder.
- Giygas is IT's true form -- Despite the similarities between IT and EarthBound, it was the final showdown against the latter's boss monster that made all the connections click in my head. While IT's best-known form is Pennywise the clown, IT can take many forms in our dimension. But in IT's home dimension, IT is a formless, ageless hunger that's beyond comprehension. The popular line that accompanies Giygas' assaults on the party – "You cannot grasp the true form of Giygas' attack!" – is probably a direct reference to IT.
- The extradimensional terror is defeated with love, riddles, prayer, and music -- Stephen King's ideas didn't spring from nothing. Many of his monsters, IT included, are from Lovecraftian horror, especially Lovecraft's tales of ancient man-eating gods from beyond space and time. So who's to say EarthBound is inspired by IT instead of Cthulhu, Shub-Niggurath, Yog-Sothoth, and the rest of Lovecraft's merry zoo? Well, Lovecraft was never big on hope, friendship, and lessons about the meek decimating the all-powerful. The heroes of IT and EarthBound triumph over astronomical odds through seemingly childish means: Rhymes, riddles, songs, and – in EarthBound's case, especially – prayer. Mind, Ness doesn't crush Giygas' heart in his hands like Bill and Richie do to finish off IT, but EarthBound's already been bumped up to a "T" rating since its initial SNES launch. Let's not push for "M."
There are other literary connections to EarthBound, including Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut and The Talisman (another Stephen King novel, which he co-wrote with Peter Straub). If Stephen King's work seems like a dark universe to draw from, you should read up on what Mother 3 is based on. The Notebook, a novel by Hungarian author Agota Kristof, is cover-to-cover violence, gore, genocide, incest, pedophilia, and rape. Honestly, The Notebook makes IT seem like a nice day on Summers' beaches.
Nadia's Note Block Beat Box: Snowman from EarthBound
Choo choo, let's keep EarthBound's happy memories train rolling. Today's featured tune for Note Block Beat Box is "Snowman," which you hear at the boarding school where Jeff starts his scenario.
Like most North American EarthBound fans, I initially had no idea Snowman originated in the first Mother game (eventually released here as EarthBound Beginnings). In both cases, Snowman serves as background music for cold climes. Surprising, I know.
Snowman eventually wound up in Mother 3, and a haunting remix was composed for Super Smash Bros Brawl. I think the Earthbound rendition is my favorite, though. It's nice and it's peaceful, like a fireside on a cold night.
Mike's Media Minute
So, the thing that everyone is talking about over the course of the past weekend is Mother!, the new film from Darren Aronofsky. If that name isn't familiar, he's the director and sometimes writer behind films like Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain, The Wrestler, The Fighter, Black Swan, and Noah. There are very few directors who probably qualify completely for the "auteur" label, but Aronofsky is one of them.
As a director, Aronofsky can sometimes float between more straightforward films with heavy themes to some more metaphorical works. The Fountain is one example of the latter; the film made only $15 million upon release as audiences didn't take to it, but it later found a cult following.
Mother is very much in the style of The Fountain. I daresay it's the most Aronofsky movie to ever Aronofsky. It seems to be an allegory, dealing with Christian mythology and its spread on the planet earth. It's a very weird film.
Most folks don't want to spend $15 for an allegory. Mother is a film that reaches a very specific type of viewer. It's an arthouse film and probably would've done better in a limited release or on a streaming service, where audience are more apt to try an experimental project because they're not thinking about the cost. Alas, full release. To make this work, distributor Paramount Pictures cut trailers that essentially play Mother up as some horror thriller. As such - much like It Comes At Night - audiences went in expecting one film and got another.
Mother is one of the few films to receive a Cinemascore of F. Cinemescore isn't really a rating that means much. Cinemascore polling done directly after the audience has just watched the film and measures how much the audience enjoyed the film. Most movies hit a C at least, because audiences at least got the movie they expected. F are for super odd films - and note I don't always take that as a positive - including Solaris, Wolf Creek, The Wicker Man, The Box, Killing Them Softly, and uh… Disaster Movie. Many of those films were sold as something else in the marketing.
Despite that, I don't think there was any way to sell Mother in a way that would've made money. Jennifer Lawrence is a great actress in the film, but she's also an expensive one. The film's budget was $30 million and I'm sure Lawrence's salary was a big part of that. (Lawrence should command whatever salary sher can get, by the by, not saying she should've taken a pay cut.) It just needed to be a cheaper film and it wasn't. So here we are.
Caty’s AltGame Corner
If you've ever wanted to prowl around nature as a fox, then The First Tree is probably be a good start. Developed by David Wehle, The First Tree stars a lonely fox vowing to reunite with their long lost family, whose story is parallel to a human son trying to reconnect with his estranged father. Venturing through the game as the fox allows you to uncover both saddening tales. If you've been pining for a beautiful adventure game heavily rooted in nature, then The First Tree (available on Steam for PC and Mac for $7.99) might be your best bet.
Matt’s Monday Mornings
Did you hear about American Vandal? It's Netflix's self-parody series about the very same true-crime murder documentaries Netflix helped popularized. Think Making a Murderer but instead of murder, the crime is vandalizing cars with spray painted dicks.
If that sounds like a fun half hour excursion what if I told you it was instead a full, eight-episode series documenting one of the most engrossing, fake vandalism case ever committed to film? American Vandal takes a single joke and through the creators' conviction and dedication at accurately recreating the true crime documentary formula, they've succeeded in making a show that not only competes with its fellow documentaries, but also succeeds as an actually engrossing narrative, and teen drama. It's genuinely one of the best things I've seen on Netflix and I strongly recommend fans of any one of the three genres (true crime, parody, teen slice-of-life) to check it out.
This Week's News and Notes
- Marvel vs Capcom Infinite is here. Hey Mega Man X fans, this is the closest we're going to get to a new X game, probably for eternity! Enjoy it!
- DOOM is a fascinating game in all respects: Its history, its development, and is legacy. Digital Foundry also has a few things to say about its many, many ports across the years. Give the video a look!
- If you haven't read it already, check out the excerpt we published of David L. Craddock's Break Out: How the Apple II Launched the PC Gaming Revolution. Bethesda and Bioware owe a huge debt to Richard Garriott and Ultima IV.
- Remember to ABLTUGP: "Always Be Listening to USgamer's Podcasts." Um, I'm going to work on that acronym. Our latest Axe of the Blood God features in-depth discussion about Project Octopath Traveler, and our latest episode of the flagship podcast is titled "Sorry for Stepping on Your Waifu." If you want to know why, you must listen. That's the deal.