Thursday, February 21, 2008

Depeche Mode and Me

For quite a long time, I was content to listen to whatever came on the radio. In the middle to late 1980s, that started changing when I first had a job and it occurred to me that I might want to buy music. I stuck with stuff that was fairly New Romantic/Synthpop sounding stuff---after buying U2's The Joshua Tree and Def Leppard's Hysteria, I quickly found my way to slightly older Duran Duran and a-ha stuff, and I loved it.

We did have one radio station out of Houston that actually played some fairly progressive, New Wave stuff, and I think that's where I first heard "Strangelove" back in 1987. It didn't take me long to track down Depeche Mode's Music for the Masses, "Strangelove"'s home, and pick it up.

That started what has been at times an almost obsessive musical appreciation. I quickly tracked down their backcatalog (which in 1987 wasn't yet that extensive, but which still had five other full CDs as well as two collections), maxi-singles, t-shirts and posters. For a long time, if anyone asked me what my favorite music was, I'd say Depeche Mode (honestly, I might still) with a nod towards their obvious imitators, who were popping up at a dime a dozen (Red Flag, Camouflage, Seven Red Seven, Cause & Effect, etc. to say nothing of later imitators Mesh and De/Vision who sometimes out-Depeche Mode Depeche Mode themselves these days.) The evolution from the Vince Clark-penned days of Speak & Spell to the darker and harsher sounds of songs of Music For the Masses was fascinating to me.

In late 1989 when the first preview hints of Violator started coming out (notably, the "Personal Jesus" CD Single) I was again captivated, although the hoaky guitar sounds surprised me. I didn't expect "Pleasure, Little Treasure" to have been the preview of things to come. When the full CD came out, I was initially quite disappointed; I thought "Enjoy the Silence" was the only truly excellent song on it, and there were better versions on the CD single than on the album! Despite this disappointment, I still didn't hate it, by any means, and I continued as a slightly warier DM fan. Songs of Faith and Devotion further emphasized the things that I didn't like about Violator, and added yet more elements that I didn't like (although it still has a number of very excellent songs) and my regard slipped even more.

When Ultra was poised to come out, I warily picked up the "Barrel of a Gun" single… and didn't like it.

It took me years to buy Ultra. In fact, I didn't get it until after Playing the Angel was out, and after I got it, I still didn't really listen to it for a long time either. I've changed; I don't have time to sit around listening to music, and even when I do, I don't concentrate on it; I'm usually doing something else at the same time.

Now, I've got all the DM albums, and although I'm still not as familiar with Ultra, Exciter or Playing the Angel as I am with the older ones, I can recognize some value in all of them. Ultra in particular I judged unfairly for a long time; I don't think it's any worse than Songs of Faith and Devotion, at least, and my disappointment with that album (and Violator) are much softened by the passing of the years. They've grown on me, perhaps. Exciter is still spectacularly misnamed, as I don't much like it at all---I can tolerate it, and a few songs aren't bad at all---"Shine", "The Dead of Night", "Freelove" and even "Goodnight Lovers" all aren't bad.

I also have an mp3 player; have had for some time now. Granted, mine's old, cheap and small---it barely holds half a gig of songs, which is a little over half Depeche Mode's collection. But, I listen to it pretty extensively while I commute, which means at least a solid hour a day; longer if I take a break during the day out in my car, or if I pull the mp3 player inside to listen to while I'm working or reading or whatever. To revisit some of my CDs, which I was finding I didn't have the opportunity to listen to anymore, I loaded up my favorite era of DM first---Some Great Reward, Black Celebration and Music For the Masses, and listened to them over an over again for several weeks. Because I still had room, I ended up adding the first three CDs as well; Speak & Spell, A Broken Frame and Construction Time Again. I passed on Catching Up With Depeche Mode and People are People because of the high preponderance of repeat tracks. I still had a bit more room, so I added Violator to the tail end of that.

It was particularly interesting to hear all those CDs in order and watch their evolution. It was also particularly interesting to finish Violator and start over with Speak & Spell and hear the rather remarkable contrast between those two CDs which were less than 10 years apart.

After doing that for some time, I wanted to load up the more recent CDs, especially since I honestly wasn't all that familiar with the last three, not having listened to them very often. I had to take albums off to fit, but I currently have Music For the Masses (which, due to it being the first DM album that I "discovered" as well as it's position musically makes a nice hinge-point between "old" and "new" Depeche Mode) through Playing the Angel, with the single version of "Martyr" thrown on at the end for good measure.

There's not as much evolution, in some ways (Playing the Angel kinda brings DM back to where they were in the early 90s after wandering "lost" for a time after Alan Wilder's departure. I still don't think this era is Depeche Mode's strongest, although some darn good songs came out of it, and I've discovered that Ultra and Exciter (particularly Ultra) are actually quite a bit better than I gave them credit for.

Word on the street is that Depeche Mode are returning to the studio in 2008 for a new album. Which means that they'll probably tour again.

Which means I'll be there, wearing my Touring the Angel t-shirt (and no doubt buying another one while I'm at it) and cheering happily away, especially to whatever older songs they throw our way.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Freeport vs Five Fingers

Although Five Fingers: Port of Deceit has been out longer---by quite a long shot---I just got it, while I've had The Pirate's Guide to Freeport for over six months now.

The two books are obviously very similar and cover very similar ground, but do it in different ways. The attributes of one that are both a strength and a weakness are reversed in the other, for the most part. Let me be more specific.

Both are setting books, based around an urban environment that was founded by---and still largely accomodating to---pirates. Both are like Tortuga in the Caribbean during the late 1600s---tolerant, relatively lawless, and neutral to the pirates prowling the waters around them. Both are based on Dungeons & Dragons. Both feature the same three themes for games set there: 1) organized crime, 2) political intrigue, and 3) dark cults and horror. Both are well written, fun to read, cover the same kinds of ground, have many similar attributes to the settings themselves, etc. Where they differ is where it gets interesting.

Freeport, for instance, has a very different history. It initially started out as the implicit setting in some of the very first 3e third party adventure modules published, and developed from there into a "plug and play" mini-setting that was designed to be easily integrated into any existing D&D campaign setting. This means that few aspects of Freeport are intrusive or difficult to work in, and the game can easily be played with standard D&D (which is a little bit ironic, since this newest version of Freeport is systemless, and in theory is designed as much to be used with True20, or any system for that matter as it is with D&D.) However, his also means a lack of strong ties to the setting as a whole, and an inability to leverage the rest of the setting to drive Freeport adventure. The new book actually had the barest sketch of a greater setting as an optional chapter near the end, although it really wasn't a very clever, unique, unusual or interesting one.

Five Fingers, on the other hand, has the opposite strengths and weaknesses. It's part of the Iron Kingdoms setting, and it manages to use Iron Kingdoms stuff to really make Five Fingers come alive. As a neutral city between Cygnar and Khador, it has this kind of espionage between rival superpowers vibe. Cryx features prominently in a number of plots, as does the Llaelese Résistance movement. However, it's much more difficult to use outside the Iron Kingdoms setting without making a numbe of changes to accommodate.

I still have a chapter or two of Five Fingers left to read, but at the moment, I'm undecided which of the two pirate cities I like better.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Hungry!

I went to Benihana's for lunch today and ate in the sushi bar. They got rid of their hibachi lunches (they now only serve them for dinner) so I had to get a sushi platter. Now, three hours later, I feel extremely snacky. And sad. What a waste of a good lunch opportunity. I should have held out for the Longhorn steakhouse or something.

I also watched the Jet Li and Jason Statham action movie War over the weekend. It's actually a pretty good flick; what seems like a typical revenge flick with gangsters in San Francisco (Yakuza and Triads for some variety) has an interesting twist. I'm not sure how I missed it in theaters, but I've been somewhat less aware of movies in general the last several months to a year or so.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Orders

There are few things more satisfying to me personally than getting new books. I recently found myself in possession of $50 burning a hole in my pocket, and on Amazon that turned into an order for Five Fingers, Frostburn and the DMG2, as well as Steven Erikson's Gardens of the Moon which I've decided that unless I own my own copy, I'll never get around to reading. Sadly.

Frostburn I picked up because it was cheap; I was actually rather more looking forward to Stormwrack or Sandstorm, but there's always time to get those later. Five Fingers on the other hand, I've wanted for a really long time and just haven't quite managed to pick up yet. I'm hoping that there's plenty of stuff in there that's stealable for my upcoming campaign, but even if there wasn't, I wanted it anyway.

I hear it's a great read, too.

Friday, February 08, 2008

More Indo-European discussions

Although the Balkan-Danubian linguistic situation is sticky, the Italian peninsula of pre-history and early history is even worse.

Here's the obvious ones: Latin is an "Italic" language. The Italic family comes in two varieties, the Latino-Faliscan and Osco-Umbrian. Latin, obviously, belongs to the Latino-Faliscan family and eventually pretty much swamped all the other languages on the peninsula and beyond. But before that happened, Latin was isolated to Rome and the surrounding countryside and tons of other languages competed for supremacy.

Etruscan and the related Rhaetic held forth up north. These were non-Indo-European languages belonging to the Tyrsenian or Aegean language family, which is sadly lacking in sufficient evidence to really be more than a hypothesis. North Picene is another non-Indo-European language (in contrast to South Picene, which belongs to the Osco-Umbrian group). Camunic, Sicel, Elymian and Siconian are all of dubious classification; maybe Indo-European (of an undetermined branch) or possibly not even that.

Messapic is actually thought to be an Illyrian language (or close relative) that crossed the Adriatic. Lepontic is believed to be a Celtic language and Ligurian is believed---possibly---to be one as well. Vestinian is believed to be Indo-European, and Venetic is definately Indo-European, although it's affinities are unclear (correspondances with other Italic languages, Illyrian languages and even Germanic languages have all been remarked upon.) Of course, Greek is also attested, since before the rise of the Romans, Greek settlers and colonists on the Italian peninsula are also known.

All this discussion about the diversity and complexity of the linguistic picture in the Balkans and the Italian peninsula on the very early days of writing in Europe lead me to believe that our picture of linguistics in other areas is probably over-simplistic. Why would these areas be so linguistically diverse while to the north, northwest and northeast only a few languages developed (Celtic, Germanic, Baltic and Slavic)?

The answer is; they were probably just as diverse too, at one point, but one language achieved some kind of dominance and gradually drove the others to extinction. That's exactly what happened in Italy; it took a few centuries, but gradually Latin and it's descendents and dialects wiped out all of its competitors. Because Italy was literate earlier than, say, Germania or Gaul, who's to say that those territories weren't just as linguistically diverse before proto-Celtic or proto-Germanic swamped them? In fact, some linguists have proposed that there is some circumstantial evidence of a culturo-linguistic entity dubbed "Nordwestblock" that existed between the Celts and the Germans, mostly occupying what are today the Low Countries.

Historically, we also saw the same thing happen in the Balkans; Greece, Phrygian and Armenian left the area to go on to survive (and Anatolian, if that's where that language came from) and although Illyrian, Thracian and Dacian are not well known languages to linguists today, we at least know they existed. Today, the advent of various Slavic languages has almost completely swamped that prior diversity, with the exception of Albanian and the unrelated interloper Hungarian, which also arrived in historical times.

If you look at the Caucasus, we see a similar degree of diversity in a small area, with multiple language families and a few language isolates. Ancient Anatolia also had similar linguistic diversity with several Anatolian Indo-Hittite languages competing with Semitic, Hattic and Hurrian languages, as well as the linguistically obscure Kassites. The Tarim basin at the start of the common era was similarly diverse; two varieties of Iranian language were common (Khotanese Saka and Sogdian) probably three Tocharian languages, Chinese, several Indic languages (Prakrits, and Sanskrit as a religious liturgical language) as well as various other Turkic and/or Siberian languages making inroads from time to time (all of the above were swamped by Uyghur later, and modern Chinese is making serious inroads even into that.) For much of that time, people in the area were multilingual and used different languages every day depending on what social domain they were interacting.

The point is, without the impetus of some kind of linguistic spread (conquest by outsiders, trade pre-eminence, frequent travel contacts, etc.) linguistic diversity is normal. As people settle into their little areas and tend not to leave, they rather quickly "speciate" into a bewildering variety of dialects, which go on to splinter into different languages. Even cultural dominance, as by an empire or something, doesn't last forever. Latin was already breaking up into regional dialects before the Western Roman Empire finished falling; the Eastern Roman Empire adopted Greek, and the vulgar Latin broke down into Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Galician, Aragonese, Catalan, Provençal, Romanian, Moldavan, Occitan, and more in fairly short order, and even today with the advent of more powerful nations and nationwide media, much of that diversity still exists in Europe. Similar linguistic diversity can be seen in the remnants of the old Persian Empire as well. Or China. Or India.

As a person who enjoys developing fantasy settings for writing and for gaming, this is an interesting phenomena. Few such setting creators go for linguistic diversity. It's difficult, for one thing. It creates problems. It's not fun for gamers or readers to have characters unable to communicate. A common solution (if you'll pardon the pun) is the adoption of a "Common" tongue. Tolkien can probably be credited with this idea; his Westron (more commonly known as "Common) was the language du jour for almost the entire region in which Lord of the Rings takes place. Even in places where relict languages still existed, enough bilingual people existed to facilitate communication, i.e. with the dwarves or the elves. D&D has a similar conceit; Common also being the name of their lingua franca, which is the native tongue of all humans in most settings.

Despite its ease, it's also unrealistic and unsatisfying to someone like me to whom linguistics is a bit of a hobby. I'm not sure I understand or have decided exactly where the dividing line is between "enough" and "too much" linguistics in my fantasy, though.

Any comments from the peanut gallery?

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Southern European Indo-European languages

I've been fascinated by the mysteries surrounding the spread and relationship of various Indo-European languages, particularly those that seem to have sprung from the Balkans. The topic is not helped by the extreme paucity of linguistic data on which to draw conclusions, but that has rarely stopped linguists from speculating anyway.

The situation is fairly complex. A number of languages clearly were in the Balkans at one point or another, and a number of other languages probably originated there as well. Here's what we know.

Greek moved into Greece from the north. It therefore must have originally been a Balkan language. Greek seems to be most closely related (although that's relative) to Armenian. According to early historians (Herodotus, mostly) the Armenians did come from the Balkans and migrated across the face of Asia minor. Herodotus also called them "a tribe of Phrygians." Phrygian is another language that is poorly known, but which is attested in Asia minor a few hundred years after the fall of the Hittites. If Phrygian was a sister language to ancient Armenian, then Phrygian was also probably related to Greek and part of the same Balkan complex of languages.

We also know that Albanian is a Balkan language today, and stands alone as a separate branch of Indo-european. It was almost certainly related to languages coming out of the Balkan complex, but close relationships with Greek and/or Armenian are not to be found. Some linguists say Albanian must have been an Illyrian language, since the Illyrian tribes were found in modern day Albania. Others say that they were a Thracian or a Dacian people. Some linguists say that Thracian and Dacian were closely related languages, others that they were not. Some link Illyrian with Thracian, Dacian or both; others with neither.

Some say that Thracian was the language of the Kimmerians, up north of the Black Sea and was therefore broader in scope that simply the Balkans, where they were intrusive. This group also posits a Thracian/Iranian link of some kind---but whether a contact relationship or genetic relationship is impossible to tell given the lack of good Thracian texts of any kind.

To further complicate things, several languages of Italy, particularly the east coast of Italy, are not closely related to the Italic branch that gave us Latin, and are proposed to have come from across the Adriatic. Messapic and Venetic in particular occupy our attention, and both have been claimed by some to be Illyrian in nature.

Cutting across all of this complicated Balkan linguistic picture is the original Anatolian language family, which---by all accounts---came out of the Balkans into Asia minor before any of the languages referenced so far came about. The Anatolian languages are not believed by anyone to be closely related to later Indo-European languages; in fact, the Indo-Hittite hypothesis posits that technically the Anatolian languages aren't even Indo-European; they're a closely related sister group to Indo-European, not Indo-European itself, since Indo-European went subsequent further development before dispersing after the Anatolian languages split off.

This is somewhat consistent with Marija Gimbutas' wave model, where "kurgan" tribes moved out from the Pontic-Caspian steppes (the IE homeland) in a series of waves; Anatolian being the first to come through, and the languages that developed into the Balkan-Danubian complex being a subsequent wave or waves.

Some things to keep in mind; we don't know enough about any of these early Balkan-Danubian languages to clearly propose genetic linkages between them, except to say that Anatolian was not related to the rest of them and Greek and Armenian seem to have split from each other at some point subsequent to their dispersal from Proto-Indo-European as a whole. However, it's also not stricly necessary for any of these languages to be closely genetically related to still maintain a fair amount of similarity. The concept of a Sprachbund comes to mind; where languages in close geographical proximity for a long time gradually converge towards each other could be operating in the Balkan-Danubian region.

My personal uneducated speculative model calls for a Balkan complex that includes proto-Greek, proto-Armenian (which was a dialect or branch of proto-Phrygian) as well as proto-Illyrian as being genetically related, and overlaid on a substrate that may have included elements of proto-Anatolian. This group gradually spread out, into Greece, into Anatolia, and across the Adriatic into what is today Italy. I believe that they construed a spectrum of dialects and languages of increasingly distant similarity all the way across the steppes, gradually turning into very primitive proto-Indo-Iranian. Some of these languages on the western fringe of the spectrum could today be part of the Thracian-Dacian complex, and although they were not as closely related to the original Balkan-Danubian complex, close and prolonged contacts gradually churned all of these languages together to a certain extent.

The mysterious Sea Peoples, of the famous Great Karnak inscription probably are one example of unrest amongst this Balkan-Danubian complex, and the destruction of Mycenean greek palace society and the Hittite Empire probably have something to do with their migrations. The Dorians, who later populate Greece, appear to have come from the north bringing with them their own languages (or at least different Greek dialects than the prior Myceneans spoke) and the Phrygians and Armenian migrations into and across Asia Minor were probably also part of this same mass folk migration. This of course further entangled the various branches of languages, exposing people to other language groups and contact relationships that shaped their languages. Perhaps even pressure from the steppes themselves related to the advent of Thracians and/or Dacians into the area prompted the Sea Peoples' migrations.

Anyway... just noodling around with ideas. The probably permanent tangle of these languages is unlikely to be resolved any time soon unless some prior unknown archive with texts in these various languages comes to light. But I've always loved a good mystery.

Toolz that rool

Maybe I took Wizards of the Coast more at their word than many back in the halcyon days of early third edition, when they said that the design goals for D&D were "tools, not rules."

It's always been my style to turn rules into tools anyway. I'm a bit of a free-wheeling type of GM; I like a robust system, but I refuse to allow myself to get bogged down my minutiae. In addition, I recognize two types of robustness; robust character definition and robust action resolution.

I actually prefer the former to the latter. I like having clearly defined rules defining my characters, including things like feats, skill points, etc. that help me get a handle on what my character is like and what he's good at, poor at, and generally capable of.

I don't mind a robust action resolution system, but d20 goes too far with detail, IMO. I tend to ignore a lot of the detail about how to, say, figure a DC for an activity and just wing a DC that seems appropriate for the challenge at hand. I don't worry too much about what the skill descriptions say so much as what makes sense. I worry about keeping people inside the box on actions, and rather wish my players would describe what they want to do (preferably something much cooler than "I move up and attack with my sword!") and I like to adjudicate what kinds of checks would be necessary to accomplish that.

Maybe that's a hallmark of "old skool" gaming, where DM adjudication was an expected part of the game, but that's still my expectation. I like a game that gives me robust tools to accomplish that, not necessary rules that imply that I have to do things a certain way. d20 works that way, but honestly, the books seem to imply (contrary to the statement circulated around back in the day) that they are in fact full of rules not tools and the books that say otherwise are few and far between. This has fostered a culture amongst players that these are rules not tools when I think the opposite is a very desirable situation.

What sparked this line of thought in me was my review of the Hot Pursuit! rules by Corey Reid. These most definately are tools---a modular add-on that enables classic chase scenes to be modeled pretty well in d20 (in my opinion, a rather egregious gaping hole in the current ruleset.) Corey is an online friend of mine from way back, and I actually looked at an early review copy of the rules and gave some minor feedback before they were officially published, so I feel at least some sense of (misplaced, no doubt) ownership over the way they work, and I've been anxious to implement them for some time, but haven't been running in quite a while either.

In my review of the rules, I noticed that they---like d20 in general---is a bit more robust than I need them to be. The basic concept of how chases work is brilliant. I really like it. The list of specific actions I don't need, and in fact I think actively detracts from the fast-and-loose way that I prefer running the game. Rather than utilize them (other than as examples to get my imagination working) I'm going to integrate the basic concept of the chase scene and it's basic mechanic, and then just... again... adjudicate the actions the PCs describe to me using existing skill checks and other tools in the d20 system.

In any case, if you like action-oriented games at all, I highly recommend you pick up the Hot Pursuit! pdf from whatever rpg-related pdf vendor you prefer; I know rpgnow.com has it, as well as the correllary Hot Pursuit: On Foot. Not only does it support a writer who I like and think is quite talented, but it's a nice little modular subsystem that really does plug a gaping hole in the rules and allows for chase scenes; one of the most iconic of action set-pieces in the fiction that d20 is supposedly designed to emulate.

Iguanodon

Greg Paul is at it again; having just published a new taxonomy for Iguanodon. I thought this was pretty interesting; from his Predatory Dinosaurs of the World book, I had always pegged Paul as a notorious "lumper." He lumped Yangchuanosaurs into Metriocanthosaurus, for instance, and lumped Daspletosaurus and Tarbosaurus into Tyrannosaurus as well as lumping all albertosaurine tyrannosaurs into Albertosaurus. If I recall correctly, he also lumped most of the ornithomimids into Ornithomimus. There were plenty of other less notable examples, but the pattern of being a lumper was prominent.

That's why it surprised me a bit to see him break up the big assemblage of Iguanodon into several new genera, including Mantellisaurus, Dakotadon and Dollodon. He also removed a lot of rather dubious Iguanodon species names, which is a bit of lumping I'm actually OK with.

That actually makes a lot of sense. The idea that Iguanodon lasted for 75 million years unchanged stretched credulity, and the facility with which paleontologists lumped fossils into the genus regardless of displacement in time and place was another red flag that something was probably not quite right.

Mantellisaurus and Dollodon are therefore Wealdon Supergroup iguanodontids of more gracile build and also demonstrate some other morphological variability from Iguanodon itself. Dakotadon he calls a more basal critter than Iguanodon itself.

As an aside, I quite like the idea of naming these genera after early Iguanodon discovers and/or scholars Gideon Mantell and Louis Dollo.

AVP:R

Over the weekend I finally (belatedly) got a chance to see Alien vs. Predator: Requiem. Naturally, you'll tell me, "Good heavens, Dyal, it's only AVP:R. It's a B-movie. Who cares."

See, I've always had a soft spot for these kinds of alien movies. The two original Predator movies are among my favorite movies still, as is James Cameron's Aliens. Ridley Scott's original Alien is still a darn good movie too.

Sadly, that's now only half the movies associated with the properties; Alien3 is a movie that the best thing said about it is: "if you get past your expectations and understand that it's a completely different type of movie about psychological despair/horror than it's not that bad after all" and Alien: Resurrection and Alien vs. Predator usually just get the "well, my expectations were pretty low, so I actually found it decent fun, if nothing else." This new movie is on par with that.

Possibly it tops Paul W. S. Anderson helmed first crossover title. Possibly. It suffers from some of the same problems, notably the lack of a charismatic human cast. In fact, if anything, this cast is even less charismatic. We've got cardboard stereotypical characters, and one of the main actors looks like a discount Hadyn Christiansen.

It's interesting to compare this with the last movie I saw in theaters before it: Cloverfield. Both of them are monster movies that miss the mark, but they miss it from completely opposite ends of the spectrum. I remember reading a book about writing science fiction a long time ago that pointed out that many sci-fi authors fail to understand that all good stories are human stories. AVPR fails to understand that completely. The people aren't interesting and the plot about them isn't either. The story is about a Predator alien who comes to earth to kill Alien aliens. Because of this, the movie is at least watchable; it's fun to see the two types of aliens running around (when you can see them at all) and at least the look of the monsters is "restored" (the beefy pro-wrestler like predators from the prior AVP still rankle). But the movie is at best mediocre.

Cloverfield on the other hand, is a much better movie. Why? Because it goes out of its way to tell a story of human drama with interesting characters. So it's a better movie, but it fails to be a really good monster movie, because this really isn't an either/or type of situation. A good monster movie has to have interesting human drama with interesting characters and---in other words---tell a story about people. But it's also a story about a monster (or more than one) and in Cloverfield the monster is barely a backdrop for the movie. If you could retell Cloverfield with the villains being an invading Soviet army, a la Red Dawn then it's not a monster movie. And, in my opinion, you could make that exact same movie with invading Soviets. My need to know more about the monster went unsatisfied in Cloverfield, while my need to have interesting human drama to follow went unsatisfied in AVPR. Ultimately, that made the former a better movie than the latter, but I still don't understand why both movies couldn't have worked a little harder to giving us both.

However, since I can at least stomach movies about interesting monsters even without interesting people, I guardedly recommend AVPR. And just for fun, here's some art I found online of the alien that chestbursted out of a predator.