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World building: good & bad examples

lapis molari

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I love world building. Good world building invites me to enter a story, enter the world(s) of our heroes. It makes me want to see more, makes me want the story to go on. It keeps me buying tickets and blu-rays as continuous entry-tickets into these worlds.

There's also bad world-building, which seems mostly caused by two culprits: lack of budget and lack of caring (by directors or producers).

The Hero's Journey is not just about our hero doing stuff in different settings, the journey part of that means that the different settings are connected. Otherwise it's reduced to a number of stand-alone sketches about a character.

So here's to GOOD world building! Whenever possible, I try to improve the world building in my fanedits. E.g. by adding wider-world items into the narrative (Marvel's TV-news reports in Cap 3 Civil War), and improving continuity (consistency and callbacks in Buck Rogers).

Here are some examples that positively stand out for me:
Lord of the Rings - Tolkien's books, Jackson's films, and Shore's music score.
Star Wars - Thank you Lucas, McQuarrie, Williams!
Harry Potter - The books and films. Having a whole series makes it easier to flesh out the world, but the first book and film did outstanding jobs on their own, and they took it to new heights from there.
Marvel's MCU - As a lifelong Marvel reader I do have a few gripes with the movies, but I cannot fault their efforts to create a coherent and grasp-able world (even if you don't understand all the crazy things happening, you still get it). They even have a name for it: the MCU!
Lawrence of Arabia - A historical story, so the available material for world building is by definition as real as it gets. The remarkable feat is how well they succeeded in bringing that onto the silver screen. For history buffs: yes, Lawrence's "Seven Pillars of Wisdom" is worth the read, albeit tough going at times.
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century - I'm biased, but within its technical and budget limitations, Gil Gerard and friends succeeded in giving us a future world. The limited exploration of the multiverse in "Flight of the War Witch" was a missed opportunity in this regard.
Losts in Translation - World building needn't be grand, here the "world" is Bob Harris. With a multi-faceted past, present, and future. Harris personality unfolds for us and I find it beautiful to watch. More intensity! Except not, is the point.
Jurassic Park - The first movie in the series. That created such a compelling world, we don't need any of the sequels to get this world.
Babylon 5 - Honorable mention goes to JMS for creating this remarkable future world.

And some examples that I find disappointing in their (missed opportunities for) world building:
The Rocketeer (movie) - I love the comics and I want to love the movie. But it falls short. One aspect is that it feels we're seeing the story play out only through Cliff's eyes: the world beyond Cliff's field of vision stays elusively out of sight, until it suddenly appears out-of-nowhere and disconnected from the rest of Cliff's world, like Jenny's movie studio or the Nazi garrison.
Judge Dredd (1995) - Flawed for multiple reasons (Put that helmet back on!), but for this thread the point is how they tried to put world building into the film and failed. We see snippets of Megacity 1, we see bits of the Cursed Earth. But it's not enough to get me into their world. Reporter Hammond is the sole character that entices me to truly enter the world of Dredd but he is quickly killed.
Conan (1982 & 1984) - Schwarzenegger's Conan feels like a series of short adventures, not a journey. We go from (beautiful) set to set but there's no conenctive tissue. After Conan's childhood, we learn very little of this world. Robert E Howard's material has it all, but these films don't show it.


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The Hellraiser series has an interesting world. The first movie has a lot of unexplained bits and bobs that don't really need to be explained, but it's all so intriguing. In the sequel, we learn more about where the cenobites come from, both the world they reside in and how they individually come about. It's with the second movie where I do want things explained more, what the deal is with Leviathan, how the labyrinth works, what the purpose of it is, etc. Then, the third movie builds the world in a different direction, exploring the backstory of Pinhead's life on earth, but not delving into the settings introduced in the second movie. The fourth movie again only really explores the physical world, the cube itself and whatnot, though it seems in the original script there are some more interesting bits, like giving more depth to the princess of Hell Angelique, and how she is the princess of Hell, how the power system of Hell works, and all that jazz. I haven't read it myself, just a bit about it. It seems most of the Hellraiser world building is behind the scenes, between original scripts, and the plethora of comics of uncertain degrees of canonicity. In the later movies, we have Hellraiser 7 which features another member of the LeMerchand family (the creator of the cube), but nothing is done with it, he could easily have any other name, Hellraiser 8 which namedrops Leviathan though it's part of an online game and again nothing was done with it, and most recently Hellraiser 10 made more of an attempt to build onto the world, but it adds more questions than answers once more (which could be a good or bad thing).

This whole post is super vague and I'm sure most people will have no idea what I'm talking about, I just got home from work and I have Hellraiser on the mind šŸ˜

Another horror franchise with an interesting world that I'm a fan of is Phantasm, with each movie building onto the world and constantly leaving more and more questions unanswered. I'm not sure if the series would be an example of good or bad world building to be honest, but it presents a world that I get throughly enthralled in regardless of whether I understand it all.


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The Expanse series (both books and show). There's just so much there.
His Dark Materials. I haven't read the books, but the show has such a rich world the characters move in.

I'm with you on The Rocketeer, Judge Dredd and Conan movies. So much potential there that went untapped.
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