2013 was a good year for nerds, with plenty of cool new movies, games, comics and more to keep us occupied. But it also had its disappointments, and I'm not just talking about Luke taking over Topless Robot. Let's take a moment to remember these letdowns so we can learn from them, and maybe one day correct them through time travel.
8. The Ouya
The Ouya was supposed to be indie gaming's answer to the next generation of consoles. Its 2012 Kickstarter shattered several records on its way to raising nearly 8.6 million dollars (second only to the money raised by the Pebble smartwatch, which could probably hold its own spot on this list). By the time the Ouya's June launch date rolled around, the Wii U was being lambasted for poor sales and the announcement of the Xbox One had been bungled with unwanted, invasive features - it was the perfect time to capitalize on disillusionment with the console market. High profile developers and major companies were pledging their support. For just 99 dollars, it seemed like a solid gaming investment.
Then it came out.
Reviews were tepid, to put it politely. Connectivity issues and a controller that felt like a cheap third party knockoff produced a poor first impression, but the real problem was simply that it didn't have very many good games. The supposed appeal of the Ouya is that it has access to the entire Android gaming library, but most of those games are A. designed for smartphones and tablets with touchscreens, and B. terrible. To make matters worse, many of them had technical problems, stuttering and struggling on the Ouya while functioning fine on phones. If a phone is more powerful than the console, what's the point of buying one?
Polygon It does look nice, I guess.
Gamers patient enough to wade through all the crap discovered a few gems, but none that justified even the modest price of investment. With its poor sales, the idea that the Ouya will get future exclusives worth playing is laughable - it seems destined to be the home of ports, rejects from Steam, the Xbox Live Arcade and their ilk, and a handful of fun games that can easily be played elsewhere.
We all wanted the Ouya to succeed. A slick, affordable console designed by gamers, for gamers? A chance to stick it to the corporations that had been ignoring our pleas to let us enjoy games on our terms? It was too good to be true - all the Ouya did was remind us why we have these big, soulless companies in the first place.
7. Kickstarter and Indiegogo Scams
Despite the Ouya's flaws, its developers at least managed to deliver a functional product. That's more than can be said for many Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns. Google "Kickstarter scams" and you'll discover all sorts of fun stories that'll make you question whatever faith you still hold in the Internet. Some of them are clever, some are lazy and some are so obvious you wonder how anyone could fall for them. But for all the promised blockbuster video games that never went beyond drunkenly doodled design documents, the technological miracles that were pure snake oil, the supposedly orgasmic beef jerky we never got to eat, and the dudes who just spent all the money on moving expenses and then fucked off, no crowdfunding story was stranger and sadder than the saga of Chloe Sagal.
It began when Sagal, an indie game developer, posted an Indiegogo campaign to raise 35,000 dollars for a lifesaving operation. A near fatal car crash years ago had left shrapnel in her body, and that shrapnel was suddenly causing problems. If she didn't get it out she would die.
The gaming community rallied to her cause and, in a heartwarming story, raised the money. Then the fundraiser vanished from Indiegogo without explanation - emails to the site brought only vague comments on their policy regarding suspicious activity. Sagal reacted by attempting suicide on her TwitchTV stream. Thankfully, viewers were able to get emergency services to her house almost immediately, and she survived.
Then the full story came out. There had never been a car crash - Sagal was transgendered and raising money for sexual reassignment surgeries. Important? Yes. Lifesaving? No. It was a scam. She had confided the truth in a journalist who reported her false story, but threatened to commit suicide if he told anyone. With that off the table, the journalist, Allistair Pinsof, explained the whole affair... and was promptly suspended, and later fired, because by outing the scam he had also outed a transgendered person against their will.
Indie Statik Chloe's game, Homesick, is about surviving in a house with a killer, presumably by tricking him into giving you his weapon.
Sagal came up with the fake story because she feared that the gaming community was too transphobic to accept her, and based on the awful comments she received she's not wrong. But then again, how many of those people were just upset that she had tried to fleece them for 35 grand? The affair cost a man his job and nearly cost a woman her life, and in a story that highlighted both the flaws of crowdfunding and the hateful phobias that still lurk on the Internet, it's hard to feel anything but miserable about the whole ordeal.
Sagal is now trying to raise the money for her surgeries honestly. It's not going well. I can't imagine why.
6. Nerd Movies Bomb and Disappoint
As I write this, the Keanu Reeves samurai flick 47 Ronin is bombing at the box office after being savaged by critics. It's the perfect microcosm for 2013's movie scene. Some letdown after 2012 was inevitable--not every year can bring us The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises. But no year should bring us as much disappointment as 2013.
Nerd darling Pacific Rim was entertainingly dumb, but mixed reviews and a poor box office return in North America were disappointing for studio execs and fans alike - only a strong overseas showing saved it from failure. Ender's Game was a solid adaptation of the classic novel, but either backlash at creator Orson Scott Card's homophobic comments or simple public disinterest prevented it from making a return on its investment, although it's yet to hit every market. Regardless, it was a disappointing reception for a movie that fans had been anticipating for years.
Meanwhile, the big commercial successes were loud, tedious disappointments. Star Trek Into Darkness remade The Wrath of Khan by replacing everything good about the original with pointless spectacle, The Desolation of Smaug decided that what the classic story of The Hobbit needed more of was elven love triangles and bad CGI, and Elysium was an ugly allegory told with all the subtlety of an axe to the face.
Entertainment Weekly In the first draft of Elysium, Jodie Foster's villain wore a label that said "RICH PEOPLE."
Let's not forget Man of Steel which, even if you could get past the questionable 9/11 imagery and the decision to fundamentally alter Superman's character by making him a killer, was a joyless slog. And then of course there's the biggest flop of the year, The Lone Ranger. I would say that our own Luke Thompson was the only person who liked The Lone Ranger, but I think it may be more accurate to say that he was the only person who saw it. It was a staggering miscalculation that saw studio heads roll - watching the fallout turned out to be more interesting than the movie itself.
Even successes like Gravity, a film that benefited more from anemic competition than its own quality, were decent but overrated. The best nerd movies of the year were mostly sequels, with Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World and the prequel Monsters University being notable highlights. The fact that established franchises shone while new ones struggled was a troubling result that hopefully won't become a trend.
Sharknado gets its own dedicated entry, because its failures aren't merely critical or commercial. Its very existence is a failure, because its very existence suggests that we, as a society, have no concept of taste. In a perfect world, Sharknado would have been ignored and quickly forgotten by all but a few hardcore fans of schlock. It should have been doomed to appear only on B-movie channels in the dead of night, its name whispered like the killer's in a ghost story. It should have been shunned like a pariah, like a man who betrayed his country and his God. Instead it became a phenomenon that spread across the land like a Biblical pestilence.
Sharknado is also proof that we have no sense of pattern recognition. We've been down this road before. Remember Snakes on a Plane? It was hyped for months, t-shirts and other memorabilia now found buried deep in the dark corners of garage sales were sold and everyone you knew thought they were hilarious and hip for telling tired jokes about it. Then it came out and no one saw it because, brace yourself for a mighty shock, it was fucking terrible.
But it's getting worse. People watched Sharknado and, God help us all, they liked it. Its first television airing scored 1.37 million viewers and positive Twitter publicity encouraged encores, a phrase that should never again be uttered in human history. Wil Wheaton tweeted about it. Olivia Wilde tweeted about it. It was the last thing Cory Monteith tweeted about before he died, possibly from shame. The third airing brought in 2.1 million viewers; a record for original movies from Syfy, the luminaries that have previously brought us auteur classics like Chupacabras vs. The Alamo and Ragin Cajun Redneck Gators.
YouTube Wes Anderson proudly presents...
A limited theatrical release followed, and showings actually had to be added to meet customer demand. Worst of all, the critics liked it. To quote Mary McNamara of the LA Times...
Oh sure, it's easy to pick holes in a story about a weather system that makes it possible for sharks to fly and take to the streets, but that's the whole point of movies like this: fabulous in-home commentary.
No, Mary, that's not the point. That's the point of watching bad movies that aspired to be good, because there's a delicious schadenfreude in mocking people whose artistic visions couldn't be matched by their budget or talent. But Sharknado was coldly, cynically calculated to be bad. In a twisted way it's actually the perfect example of a well-made movie. Making fun of it is like making fun of a clown. The joke's on you.
If Sharknado had been a blip on the radar maybe we wouldn't have to call it out. But there's a sequel coming, and those of us against it are starting to feel like the last survivors in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Only instead of our loved ones being replaced by people without their sense of humanity, they're being replaced by people without their sense of irony. The tagline for the first film was "Enough Said!" If only that was true.