Monday 18 July 2016

Independence Day: Resurgence

The original Independence Day is a fun 3-hour film by Roland Emmerich released in 1996, wherein aliens attack Earth, but are defeated by Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith using a computer virus. This is a big plot-hole in the theatrical release, but was apparently covered in deleted scenes.

It was a little bit flawed, but well put together and really enjoyable.

Now, 20 years later, we have a sequel.

The story is that Earth has implemented alien technology into our own, essentially becoming something like X-Com. We have achieved world peace, have fusion drives, and an outpost on the moon.
Since the first film, all of the aliens on Earth have been catatonic due to not having their leader controlling them (except for some in Africa, which hunted humans, because this film doesn't want to be consistent).
All of the characters who were psychically assaulted by the aliens in the first film have been having visions and headaches, and think the aliens are coming back.
They do, and things explode.

Those things include Canary Wharf. I know that it would need to be recognisable, otherwise the viewer won't care, but why Canary Wharf? Surely with alien technology at our disposal we would build something better than the Shard?

The film makes no attempt to build up characters, possibly on the assumption that most of it was done in the first film, but also makes no effort to build up suspense.
For example, there is a familiar character from the first film, who gets established as being somewhere unspecified in a couple of seconds. Then, when things are starting to get exciting, this character is in peril. However, it was not established that they would be in peril, they just are, and then there is a resolution in a matter of seconds.
This feeling of being rushed and lazy pervades the majority of the film.

China is a pretty huge market, which films now specifically cater to. That isn't a problem in itself, but this film does not handle it well.
There is a Chinese female pilot in the main elite squadron, but there is nothing particularly memorable about her. She presumably had a name, her uncle works on the moon, and she is the love interest for another character.
At the end they get together, but in doing so they didn't share any development or growth, unless it was off-screen. It just is.

The film has a couple of homages to films in other genres, a bit like the first one did, but all it does is remind the viewer that they could be watching something better.

Brent Spiner reprises his role as Dr Okun, who has been in a coma for 20 years. If you remember the original, he was the main researcher in area 51, who admitted that alien technology was way beyond ours.
So why is he surprised when an alien calls humans primitive? That's just inconsistent and terrible writing.

The morning before seeing it, I watched Chris Stuckman's review of the 1990s Captain America film:

At the climax of that Captain America film, there are two fights going on, and the camera cuts between them and different angles so quickly (less than a second per shot) that it comes across as a completely inept attempt to try and be exciting, instead making the audience physically ill.

Independence Day 2 also makes this mistake, especially at the end.

The quality of everything: writing, special effects, acting, directing all greatly deteriorate as the film goes on. By the end it felt like it was simply box-ticking. Like they had a checklist of things that films of this genre do, and were hurrying to do each one.
Which is made even stranger by the fact it was also directed by Emmerich.

It feels like there is a huge amount of footage missing, and I wonder if perhaps the budget ran out part way through. That would go some way to explaining why there was a decent (though slightly lazy) first act, while the rest of the film felt rushed and looked abysmal.

My rating? Don't bother.

Tuesday 12 July 2016

An open letter complaining about

Dear Amazon,

At the time of writing I am filled with anger and frustration.

You see, I am a fan of the Zero Escape games, and I was very much looking forward to the release of the third one: Zero Time Dilemma.

As is usually the case with these, there was a special edition announced which included the game and a replica of the watches the characters wear within it, for no extra cost.
As usual, it was only available in the US, evidently being a deal with specifically.

Since I had no indulged in the watches for the previous games, I decided to do so this time, especially as it is the last in the series. So I placed my pre-order for the PSVita version (as the Nintendo 3DS is region-locked) within hours of being able to do so, on June 25th 2015.

As I live in the UK, I then proceeded to live the following year without visiting at all (instead visiting the version, which has different data) during which time my credit card expired (but I was sent a replacement one with the same number). As you might expect, it didn't even occur to me to update my payment information.

Then finally, on Tuesday 28th June 2016 the game was released. However, my game was not sent out, as there was a manufacturing issue with the watch, so they were waiting for stock.
Helpfully, Amazon emailed me telling me this, and that they were therefore going to send the game and watch separately, and even give me a $10 voucher as recompense.

I emailed Amazon pointing out that I live in the UK and thus might get charged by customs twice rather than once. They offered to refund me the cost of any secondary customs charges, which was very generous of them.

Then on Friday 1st July at 22:34 GMT I received an email telling me that I would receive confirmation when my order ships. At exactly the same time I received an email telling me my order was cancelled due to my credit card being declined.

I was at the cinema at the time, and eventually went to bed without checking my email until the Saturday morning, when I started panicking.
I changed my billing information to be accurate, but could not access the order, as Amazon for some reason only lets you see cancelled orders if they were placed in the last six months, rather than if they were cancelled within the last six months.

I emailed Amazon in the morning to explain the issue, but did not get a response for a fair few hours (at which point it was a poorly formatted boiler-plate message about shipping - evidently whomever was in charge of responding didn't actually read my message.)

In the afternoon, before I received the unhelpful response, I started a chat session with a customer service representative (who shall remain nameless as I harbour no resentment towards particular people in this story).
They were also unable to help, first of all offering me a free replacement watch. Whilst generous (especially if I had decided to take the piss and order a Rolex, which I didn't because I'm not that kind of person) I felt this missed the point. It wasn't the fact I didn't have a watch, it was the fact that I was not allowed to have the watch I had ordered, and was forced into this situation without any warning or leeway.

Eventually the representative told me that the game and watch bundle would come into stock on Prime day. I specifically asked twice if they were telling me that some of the very limited stock of this bundle was kept back especially for Prime day. After asking for the second time, and a very long wait, they told me that was the case.

I contacted Aksys, the publisher of the game, via the contact form on their website if they could verify that information for me, but I did not hear back.

Now Prime Day has come, and has been going for over 12 hours. Currently the product in question has not appeared on the list of available deals, nor does it look likely to.
Much as I would love to spend 24 hours waiting for something that seems unlikely to happen, I have to be reasonable about this, and give up.

As such I have missed out on a product that I ordered well over a year ago, both due to my mistake, and due to Amazon's atrocious user experience and sub-par customer service.

However, I believe Amazon can (and should) learn from this experience - what follows is my advice on how to drastically improve Amazon from the customer's perspective:

My Advice to Amazon:

1) Warn customers that their payment methods are due to expire.

You undoubtedly store this information, so it would be very helpful to warn customers that their credit card details are about to become invalid.

2) Introduce a grace period for failed orders.

You should give customers a reasonable amount of time, e.g. 24 hours, to correct mistakes on a failed order, rather than just instantly selling the potentially very limited stock to whomever next comes along. Their money might be just as good as the first person's, but since they placed the order it's safe to assume they actually want the product.

3) Fix the cancelled orders interface.

In the last fortnight it appears have changed the wording on the cancelled orders interface, but it remains incorrect on the interface. In both cases there is a link to view all orders, so you can go through your history, but my cancelled order still does not show up. I would still argue that the interface should show orders that were cancelled in the last 6 months, as the date when the order was created is completely irrelevant to what the user would want to see.

4) Don't lie to your customers.

Evidently in my chat with the customer service representative I was lied to so that I would stop complaining. A simple case of "there is nothing I can do" would have been far preferable to telling me to wait a week and then waste my time trawling through a haystack of deals to find a non-existent needle.

Hopefully if you follow my advice above, your service will be vastly improved, and you can prevent yourselves from losing customers in the future.


Joseph Dowland