I recently installed and started playing Half-Life 2 for the very first time - I realise this is a game, but I’m making a wider point about creative works in general, mods - only eight years after it was released. I have no idea why I didn’t rush out and buy it when it was new; I loved the original Half-Life, because it was a class act. It was exciting and had lots of new ideas executed brilliantly.
There was a point early on in Half-Life when I thought to myself “now, this is class”. And after five minutes of Half-Life 2 I’ve just had the same sensation; the feeling that this is a class act and that I’m in good hands. The writing, the voice acting, the looks, everything seems grown-up and thought-out in a way rare in the modern world.
Rewind back to The Dark Knight and I had a similar sensation as the Joker’s men robbed a bank and then turned on each other; this is a cut above. It was subtle. A combination of the performances, the editing, the cinematography, the care lavished on little things, they all gave the impression that the fundamentals were sound and that the people who made it had sat down and thought about it. That none of it was accidental. That they cared. Too many things are reactive, assembled from components by people who don’t know how the components work.
Saving Private Ryan:
"THE LEAD CRAFT RAMP GOES DOWN
A river of MACHINE GUN FIRE pours into the craft. A dozen men are INSTANTLY KILLED."
It was jarring, but I could tell at that moment that this was operating on a conscious level. Okay, it bogged down in the middle; but the bits that worked, worked.
I’ve only rarely had this experience. It goes beyond being simply good, occasionally even beyond being good, period. The Spy Who Loved Me is fun but by no means a classic on a par with Lawrence of Arabia; but when Roger Moore’s parachute opens and it’s a giant Union Jack - one giant flag, one giant screw you to the skiers pursuing him - I can’t help but feel that the next two hours are going to be a splendid drinking game. The Spy Who Loved Me is pure class in a way that Moonraker is not, even though they’re basically the same thing. Insert example drawn from the world of literature here; something by Umberto Eco or one of those clever authors. Pretend to have read Midnight’s Children. Also: music.
It’s not necessarily near the beginning, either; it took until the swordfight on the mountain that I realised The Princess Bride was super-ultra-class. “I’m not left-handed either.”
Hit me with some more examples, men. Women. People. Vortigaunts. I surmise that Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones had moments when you realised they weren’t just a crime drama / low-budget fantasy epic but, ahrg, I haven’t seen a single episode of either. No doubt circa 2019 I’ll finally get round to it.
Seriously, it makes me weep for joy that a game this well-made - Half-Life 2, that’s where I came in - was also hugely popular; there have been too many poorly-received masterpieces for my taste, it’s depressing. I’m looking at you, the Thief series.