Monday, September 04, 2006

Elephant's Dream

Elephant's Dream is the perfect new flagship for Free and Open Source Software. The new poster child; the new symbol of everything Open Source stands for.

There are five different options for downloading it in seven different formats. The version that says ".avi" doesn't actually play in Windows, though. After you have installed some obscure codec from somewhere on the net, it still won't play in Windows Media Player. But if you go and install this other obscure media player in addition to that obscure codec, then you can actually watch it in Windows. Open Source at it's finest.

Oh, sorry -- did I say "open source"? Turns out the audio track was actually recorded and mixed using proprietary (closed-source) tools. Ooops. Typical of FOSS.

How glad I am to be liberated from the confines of media that just plays when I click a link.

Which get's us to the movie itself. Well, while everybody keeps calling it a movie and the size is about a CD's worth of video which somehow manages to be sufficient for most feature-length films, it's only a "short film" of less than 11 minutes. There's some magical accounting that purports to 10:32 min, but that appears to include the trailer.

So what is the movie about? Hard to say.

When I go to watch an action movie with Sylvester Stallone, then I know not to expect any kind of particularly interesting plot or character development or any kind of deep message or any such nicety. It's an action movie.

When someone hands me a "short film", however, that is supposed to be the new face plate on the FOSS gadget, then I do expect some kind of production value on the level of, say, editing or scriptwriting. If people are going to slave for an average of a month per minute of film, the upfront investment of a couple days into a storyboard would appear trivial -- but apparently that's asking for too much.

Elephant's Dream is the prototypical Open Source project, with a bunch of coders jumping right into the code -- without any kind of overarching planning, no architecture, no target group in mind but themselves, no notion of what is to me accomplished or communicated here.

So in typical FOSS manner, the technical execution is shaky but way beyond anything anybody would have imagined possible "for free" -- and it accomplishes absolutely nothing. There is no plot, there is no message, there is nothing to think about or talk about: it is one big CGI effects extravaganza.

They could have shown 10 minutes of explosions to the same effect.

The eye-candy is great, to be sure. But it is eye-candy for its own sake. Not in the employ of any kind of plot line the user is supposed to follow. The movie could be cut into ten segments and the segments could be displayed in random order and it wouldn't take away a thing from the movie.

Re-reading all this before I hit 'submit', I realize where I've seen all this before: Porn. Self-indulgent show of random pretty things with no pretense of any kind of story line, exhausting its capacity to excite within ten minutes flat. Except that porn tends to work in WMP and doesn't require installation new software to watch...