The more things I see starring Danny McBride or Will Ferrell, the more attractive reading books becomes.
In stark contrast to my last post, I recently watched Jamie Kennedy’s “documentary” Heckler. It winds up being a lot less of a documentary than it does him whining that people critique his consistently terrible movies, but did get me thinking. And frankly, I think I’m too negative.
Now, let’s be very clear: Kennedy has made a lot of awful dreck that deserves ridicule and Heckler is basically him taking it personally. But despite his “poor me” bit there are some moments of brilliance. And what really struck me in the end were two thoughts.
- Sometimes that “crappy” movie just wasn’t aimed at you.
- A good critic sees the negative and the positive, comments on both, and doesn’t just rip something apart for their own kicks. Criticism should be constructive.
It would be easy to deride Son of the Mask (which I haven’t seen, nor have any interest in), but it was apparently a children’s movie. Kickin’ It Old Skool is a really stupid movie, but I enjoyed it a lot because that was part of the joke. Sometimes it’s simply our frame of mind/reference that’s more skewed than anything.
I still hate the Star Wars prequels and Indiana Jones IV. I still think George Lucas is a terrible filmmaker. But now I catch myself trying to justify ripping on Mr. Lucas because I said he was a good story guy or contributed in other ways as a passing compliment as if that would make it okay to savage his directorial abilities. Does it? Does Mr. Lucas deserve to have his directorial shortcomings pointed out loudly and repeatedly? Is that personal or professional? Is it done on behalf of the audience or the writer? Did I give enough and fair credit to Mr. Lucas’ positive contributions to film?
I think the reason Jamie Kennedy came across as whining in Heckler is because I’ve seen him do some fantastic stuff. He was obviously a fan favorite as Randy in the Scream movies. And when you’re introduced to somebody through great performances, that’s what you expect from them- so the turds later cause you to shout, “What were you thinking?!?!” But maybe that also causes an unrealistic expectation.
Obviously, not everything can be great. Like Syndrome noted in The Incredibles: when everybody’s special, nobody is. If there was never a bad movie made, then there would be nothing to make Jaws or Saving Private Ryan outstanding. I recently saw Premium Rush (I was literally the only person in the theater) and I thought it was fantastic. Is it a classic? Of course not. But it wasn’t made to be a movie that divulges the secrets of life, either. It was simply made to be the best subculture sports movie it could, and in that it succeeded wildly. So is it the movie that needs to be better, or the viewers frame of reference?
All this is just a really long winded way of saying I plan on watching myself more carefully in the future. Because I worry at times that I write like a negative political campaign advertiser- unaccountable to anyone, making my target the butt of jokes simply because I can. Ripping on Harleys, Pontiacs and George Lucas is too easy. Being negative and tearing down is always easy. So maybe I need to exercise the ability to speak positively of things I still ultimately don’t favor. Frankly, I feel like that would make me a better writer. Because I’ve read negative commentary on “Product X” before and it’s often clear that the author has such an agenda as to make their opinion untrustworthy or even worthless.
I don’t want to be that guy. I don’t want to be a negative Nancy. And I feel I’ve just been entirely too negative lately. Maybe it’s from not adjusting to small town midwestern life very well, but that’s no excuse. From here on out I’m going to do my best to look for positive traits and speak on those in a fair measure against the negative traits of anything I review. Because that’s the only way for a review of criticism to be fair/balanced. Anything skewed too heavily one way or the other is just the ravings of a fanboy or petulant child. I want my opinion to be trusted, so I’m going to work to earn that trust.
Thank you, Jamie Kennedy, for snapping me out of my “everything is awful” funk. If you’re ever in the miserable town of Fargo promoting some lousy movie, I’d love to buy you a crappy cup of coffee.
Back in late February/early March I was flying back to the states from my deployment and had a very long layover in Doha. While I was there, I watched Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I hated it so much I had to stop periodically and jot down all the dumb, lest the next even bigger dumb eclipse in my mind all the flaws before. The following are my short hand notes copy and pasted, because I’m too lazy to expand on the thoughts and I’m tired of having the .txt file cluttering up my desktop. If you haven’t seen the movie, good for you! And remember, this isn’t a review; this is what you would have heard me shouting at the screen if we were in the theater together.
- Indy 4 is CRAP, and it’s crap the first time through. (Ed.- I didn’t even have to wait to hate it later once I thought about things. Ok, now it’s all copy/paste.)
- I thought this was a LucasFilm! Doesn’t he own ILM? Why does the CGI all look so awful?
- Russians instead of Nazis to explain his age difference, time etc. was good.
- It was also good when you saw the warehouse- the reveal was enough of a nod to the end of Raiders.
- But apparently they had to ham-fist it and show you the Arc just in case you didn’t get it. SUBTLE nods are clever. Blatant reveals are dumb film making.
- If the box was magnetized, why weren’t their guns sticking?
- If there’s no water in the mock-up house, why is there electricity and Howdy Doody on TV? And then why is there water spraying in the yards of the other houses?
- EVERY bit of scenery looks fake. This is really maddening.
- OSS?! COLONEL Jones?!?! When did he join the military? He was a history teacher!
- At least they got the appropriately weird-looking Cate Blanchett as a villain. Man that chick has a freaky face.
- Wow. 28 minutes in. And I hated this movie BEFORE Shia LeBoef showed up. This should be interesting.
- Why would the head pop off a bronze statue?
- Every time they drift the rear end of the motorcycle I become convinced that Spielberg/Lucas are just copying stunts they saw in better movies.
- Ninja-monkey parkour skeletons and blowdarts are now apparently pointy and poisoned on both ends. God this is dumb.
- CGI scorpions on Shia’s crotch. This move suffers from perpetual over-the-topness.
- What would possess an archaeologist to cut open a mummy in the field? And how did the Soviets find ‘em?
- Space aliens. Frickin’ space aliens in an Indiana Jones movie.
- The snake and quicksand scene, however? Hilarious.
- And back to CGI with the forest cutter. Seriously, why does it all look so fake? It’s like watching Sky Captain.
- Thoroughly unexciting vehicle chase through the jungle. This movie just sucks. But credit where it’s due: at least they brought back Karen Allen and made Indy the old guy in Sean Connery’s role, somewhat. Conceptually sound.
- Then they start fencing in the jungle car chase and it just looks like crap. And Shia LeBouef is vine-swinging, while Karen Allen just disappears…
- Who the hell story boarded this sequence?!?!
- I said this before and it’s even truer now: perpetual over-the-topness. It’s just bad. The waterfall sequence. The slapstick with which they drove into the water and branch smacked Soviets off the cliff.
- Whoever really made this completely sacrificed story for gags. It’s like watching the Star Wars prequels over again. Why? WHY?!?!
- Indy and Marion go from estranged to “babe” and “sweetheart” in no time flat.
- “I’m a double agent!” “Oh, ok! I believe you!” and how many tracking devices does he have? What’s she using to track them all? Why doesn’t he just wear one that keeps tracking as he moves? RETARDED!!!
- Frickin’ space aliens. And now there’s an ocean on top of a mountain depending on the view at the end?! WTF?!?!
- This is getting close to rivaling G.I. Joe as the worst movie I’ve ever seen. Not that bad, but close.
- And the climax was really lame. I’ve felt more emotional impact from video games. The CGI in them was more life-like.
- There are moments of such brilliance. They’re very few and far between. Actually, just the beginning and the end. Everything else was just a waste.
- John Williams’ score and Harrison Ford alone do not an Indiana Jones move make.
Remember when movies didn’t treat the audience like a complete moron? Spartan is likely the smartest movie I’ve seen in the past ten years and it hurts my soul that Indy 4 has a 77% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes (when Spartan only garners 65%). I fear Idiocracy is already well on it’s way to fulfillment.
Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.
I started watching a documentary last night on the American grindhouse cinemas and this quote was shown (mis-attributed to P.T. Barnum). All of a sudden the popularity of “reality television” makes sense.
At this point I need to stress that I am not a nutritionist, physician, or personal trainer. Most of my medical knowledge comes from watching House, M.D. I’m just a guy that has experimented with his diet and discovered what works for me. If I actually do it. My blog = my opinions.
So, if you haven’t seen Super Size Me, let me just say that it is worth seeing. I question Morgan Spurlock a little bit because at the end he goes back to eating meals made by his “vegan chef” girlfriend and I fail to see how somebody can arrange lawn trimmings in enough variety of ways to earn the title “chef”, but whatever… Having seen Food, Inc. before hand wouldn’t be bad either, but neither movie are really pre-requisites for getting good info out of Fat Head.
See, what makes Fat Head so good is that it approaches the fast food topic with a far more realistic approach than Spurlock did, is far more transparent, actually explains how our body processes different foods and things like insulin response, gives historical and educational information, and it’s entertaining. That’s five reasons it’s a good flick, and only two of them relate to Super Size Me. I really do recommend it pretty highly. And this gist of it is this: at the end of 30 days of eating only fast food, Tom Naughton actually lost weight and he didn’t have to order a bunch of salads to do it. He did it by limiting his sugar and carbohydrate intake, and going on walks.
Let me repeat: his exercise was as simple as walking. You know, that thing we all started doing around a year old but gave up on once we got our driver’s license.
Initially I was just going to post up a review of this and call it good, but I enjoyed it so much I went on to watch Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead. (Both of these are available for streaming on Netflix as I write this.) I’ll sum this one up a little bit better, since it’s not quite as worth watching. The filmmaker begins as overweight, but also sick enough that he’s on constant medication. Steroids and stuff, due to autoimmune issues. So he begins a juice fast, and sticks with it for 60 days. Nothing but fresh fruits and veggies, and he juices them because trying to eat the sheer amount of produce he consumes through juice would very likely be impossible otherwise. (All the fruit and veggies cure his malady, by the way.)
I have to critique Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead a little bit though. It’s not a bad movie, so much as… well… After the educational material presented in Fat Head, Joe Cross’s attempt here is a bit simplistic. He only talks about “micronutrients” vs. “macronutrients” (defines them incorrectly while he’s at it), and it strikes me as a bit silly to think that the only we can get real nutrition is by juicing produce. Don’t misunderstand, I think its a fantastic practice and I’ve ordered a Vitamix for myself. But he glossed over some important aspects of his diet/experiment.
Joe Cross should absolutely be commended for upping his fresh fruit/veggie intake, and it’s something I think is sorely lacking from most American diets. The reason I want to buy land and a homestead is so I can grow fresh produce myself, and the health benefits are irrefutable. But Joe missed two things in his flick. First, I don’t believe his diet provided enough protein and that’s why the other fella in the movie that starts juicing loses 200 pounds but never really begins to look very fit. I think the modified food pyramid graph they show is still unbalanced. But second, what they never mention is that juicing also cut out cereal grains. He was so focused on eating whole foods that weren’t processed (which is ideal), that they never talked about how heavily processed “healthy” grains are.
Which leads me (almost) finally to The Paleo Diet. I bought the book and I’ll tell you right now not to bother. It’s good information, and it absolutely works for me and is an easy diet to adopt for life. I am 100% a believer, but you can just Google the info you want rather than spend ten bucks on a book that is repetitive, not fun to read, and all the info is available for free online. Better to buy a Paleo cookbook, if you want.
The evolutionary perspective of what mankind as an organism is suited/designed to eat will likely be a source of consternation to Creationists, as I’ve outlined I am, but the science behind the book and the effect modern agriculture and cereal grains have on us today is pretty compelling. Especially in light of how much more processed our foods are these days and how sedentary Americans have become at “work”. It’s like a trifecta for diabetes, obesity, and any other number of physical ailments.
Side note- you know why red meat is so “bad” for you? Because we’ve altered the cows’ feeding to make ‘em fattier for marbling, and started shoving cereal grains (most notably corn, which I avoid like the plague) into ‘em, which in turn has altered their fat balance to Omega-6 away from Omega-3 found in free range cows allowed to graze naturally. The same stuff that makes us fat (carbs and insulin response weirdness) makes the cows fat, and their fat stores all the lectins and becomes “bad fat” as opposed to “good fat”.
I hate to jump on a hippie bandwagon about whole and organic foods, but what we’re eating (combined with a lack of exercise) is killing us.
Now, I refuse to believe God gave me incisors so I could rend the flesh or artichokes from their leaves (although that is an awful handy use for ‘em). And soy ain’t as great as vegans wish it was (there’s good reason your average male vegan usually seems kind of feminine)… It’s a legume anyway, which Paleo rules out. But I’m getting distracted and digressing.
So here are my two real points and/or conclusions:
- In the absence of physical exercise, cereal grains, starches and similar carbohydrates are actually quite harmful and should be avoided.
- Physical exercise improves insulin response, so if we’re not cutting carbs we’d better be working out.
I’ll be the first to admit that Paleo is a little more strict than I’d care to be, and I don’t follow it with religious devotion. But the Primal Diet is pretty close and even easier to stick with (dairy is still allowed, for example). Plus, if you follow that link to Mark’s Daily Apple you’ll find lots of exercise ideas (no gym needed) and recipes that actually taste good.
For all that reading, viewing and educating myself I’ve done, in the end I’m going Primal. There’s a great big world out there, and I plan on living long and healthy enough for Caveman Eric to conquer a whole lot more of it.
Bad movies are slow, good movies are “deliberately paced”. Drive is a great movie.
There’s very much an ’80s aesthetic going on, and being born in ’78 I dig it. From the font and color of the opening credits to the synth-pop music getting the haunting-melancholy-beautiful mix just right, I am in love with this movie before it’s even really begun. This is weird for me, because I’ve been looking forward to seeing this and I tend to suffer let-downs from raised hopes and expectations. 25 minutes in, and the movie is exceeding them. Sure, we’ve seen people drive in the Los Angeles river (Grease, Buckaroo Bonzai end titles, Gone in 60 Seconds) and a more refined critic would argue that it’s been filmed to death, but I can’t help thinking Drive is doing it right.
When there’s an obvious set-up for an action beat, it begins in a way I was completely unprepared for and actually jumped. The mood is almost similar to Street Kings or Heat (1995) in some ways, where there’s an emphasis on understating things that makes it more real. This isn’t Schwarzenegger or Stallone where you sit through it mindlessly; when there’s violence on screen you flinch.
Ryan Gosling’s character is unnamed, and everything about him is stripped down to be as essential as possible. His shoes are white, and there is no detail beyond that. His watch face is plain and uncomplicated. Everything about him is elemental and almost austere so that we’re not hung up on details. He simply is. He’s a man with no name for today, or maybe 25 years ago judging from the looks of his sunglasses and jacket.
I love movies, reading up on how they’re made, etc. I geek out over commentary tracks on DVDs. If you enjoy this stuff too, read up on Drive‘s background here. I was pretty gratified to see some of my thoughts weren’t completely off regarding some of the movie’s noir-ish elements, or even wondering if fans of other “slow” movies (like Bullitt is by today’s standards) would enjoy Drive.
The big danger zone in movies today is the car chase, with three distinct types being common:
- Shakily filmed and quick edits (Bourne Supremacy) that they seem to hide the inability to film a narrative flow.
- Reliant on CGI and over-the-top thrills (Fast & Furious, Transporter) that are more visual set pieces, and very cool, but don’t really matter that much.
- Boring (Shaft ). This is where it’s so uninteresting you suddenly forget who’s chasing who, why they are, how you got there, or why you spent money on tickets.
Drive did something different for a change and made a car chase cool again. It was exciting, flowed like a story, gave the viewer a clear idea of what was going on… I haven’t seen a car chase this good since Gone in 60 Seconds (2000). I wish there was more action driving instead of mood driving to the ethereal synth soundtrack, but maybe having only two relatively short scenes is what punctuated the car chases and made them actually good. Despite the film’s title, it becomes much more of a man-on-man heist gone wrong story in the latter half.
It is very R-rated for language, nudity, and violence. It’s not pervasive but there are a few scenes where a character will string together a conjugation of the f-word that belies their intellect, or action scenes that go beyond action into being truly violent. It makes it difficult to know who to recommend this movie to, because it has elements of a blockbuster you might think would be in Bad Boys, but with such an indie movie feel. Who will tolerate both the gruesome moments and the long, slow character reflections?
Apparently I will, because I’d give Drive a solid A- and am even considering buying it. This is one of the best movies I’ve seen in a while.
I’m watching the documentary Food, Inc. and for the most part I think it’s something more people need to be aware of. It’s just frustrating at times.
Around 40 minutes into the movie a Hispanic family is featured that buys most of their meals (we’re led to believe) from fast food drive thru dollar menus. This whole sequence is incredibly maddening, but not for the reasons I think the film producers intended. The matriarch of the family says something incredibly stupid when she claims she used to think all the food was healthy. What kind of moron ever truly believed fast food was healthy?!?! Then they’re shown shopping in the produce section of a grocery store and the father says, “Look at the price of the broccoli. It’s too ‘spensive, mang.” And the film goes on to talk about the statistic of low income levels being linked to obesity, claiming it’s because these foods are cheaper due to being heavily subsidized.
I don’t doubt obesity and low income levels share a link, but I’ll argue that the cases/rates where the correlation is greatest, you’ll also find these people aren’t very intelligent.
Sounds harsh, I know, but you have to be an idiot to really believe eating from a dollar menu will save you any money, and here’s why:
- Do the math. I spend an average of $40 a week on grocery shopping if I don’t buy any treats like the occasional beer, etc. Now let’s factor the dollar menu diet being $3 each meal (sandwich, fries and drink), three times a day ($9), and for argument’s sake seven days a week. That’s $63 a week, or 1.5 times more expensive to eat garbage than I spend on fresh produce, eggs, etc.
- They have no concept of food quantity. The father complains about broccoli being priced at $1.29 per pound. The daughters weigh a pound of produce and complain they’ll only get three of the item…. How much does a small, $0.99 hamburger weigh? How much does a Hungry Man frozen dinner that proudly advertises itself as being a whopping “1 pound of food!” cost? These idiots are being exploited by the filmmakers because they have no clue how much food they’re really getting.
I believe in the point of the film, that we should be eating healthier and more “real” foods. But when it’s so blatantly exploitive with ominous music in meat packing plants and making a family look like victims of anything other than their own lack of critical thought…? I wish the movie hadn’t taken that turn, because it becomes harder to take seriously. I resent the obvious attempt at manipulation.
From time to time the movie comes back to making valid points about the consequences of manufactured food. The parts on the over-production of corn and how it’s synthesized was fascinating. This is the stuff that the movie really should have focused on a little bit more, because the synthetic and manufactured foods are what really affects, and I believe eventually afflicts, the population at large. Complaining about “corporations” and other liberal hippie scare words that hate business and capitalism only drives off the very audience they should be trying to reach. Real, nutritious food is an issue that should transcend the “Occupy” liberal’s frame of mind.
However, there’s a section of film roughly between the 45-50 minute marks with a chicken farmer. Heck, maybe he’s just a farmer, period. I think every American should see more stuff like this, because he begins to do a much better job at outlining the problems and falsehoods in mass produced foods.
Unfortunately, around 55 minutes in the movie just takes another political swing to show illegal aliens as being the victims of the evil corporate fat cats. This is where they lose me again and why I’m typing this up. Because I’m a bad person and I don’t care about these people. I really don’t. Altruism is for suckers, and I’m a big fan of capitalism. I don’t agree with unchecked profit-at-all-costs and harming people to turn a buck, but the movie (and Occupy zombies) don’t ever really clarify and just blast “big business” at any chance. They come off as saying mega-corporations are inherently evil and harmful to people, and I simply disagree and would like to be making that kind of money. I’m a mercenary. I am reward-driven. And Starbucks is a major corporation that treats employees well. This movie needs to get off the “corporate = evil” bandwagon if they want me to listen, and focus on telling the audience about the harm “enriched flour” can do to our bodies. Make it matter to me.
I will say, some people might cringe at the sounds of the animals in the meat processing plants. There’s some kind of gross stuff shown that would make PETA members cry but grateful the public can be exposed to it. I think it’s good, too, but for other reasons. I want to learn to hunt, because I think it’s both healthier and more natural food, and that meat-eaters should take accountability for ending a creature’s life. We’ve become too far removed from the process and live in an unnatural age where meat comes in plastic wrap from the store. I won’t go vegetarian and PETA, the Humane Society, and any other anti-hunting group of vegan whackos can get stuffed. I like meat. I simply believe taking accountability for the unpleasant task of ending an animal’s life is the moral thing to do.
Right at the 1 hour, 30 second mark, Gary Hirshberg (Stonyfield Farm CEO) outright states “We’re not going to get rid of capitalism. Certainly we’re not going to get rid of it in the time that we need to arrest global warming and reverse the toxification of our air and our food and our water.” THAT is what angers me about this movie. Sell me on the health benefits of organic food or the negative health aspects of the mass-produced stuff. SELL me. He talks about the growth of the organic food industry. He is in business, making money serving a market demand. That’s capitalism, you idiot! I freaking hate liberal hypocrites!!!
Capitalism is an economic system, determining the flow of money. Production methods are physical labor with measurable effects on the environment. And either can drive the other due to the moral/ethical demands of producer or consumer. Blaming capitalism for environmental problems betrays liberal bias toward being a retard, because 20% annual growth in the organic food industry is being driven by consumer demand, met by marketplace response and it capitalism at work. Socialism and/or gov’t mandate plays no part in it.
This movie verges on being dishonest. -Eric R. Shelton
Eventually Gary Hirshberg starts to talk some sense about producing good food and still being profitable, and Wal-Mart purchasing agents are shown to not be evil bastards out to poison the world but simply in the business of providing what the customer demands. If these stupid hippies would get off their anti-corporate, “damn the man” high horse and simply put forth a societal message for people’s health, it would go so much further. Attack my aspirations to make lots of money, and you’re a villain. Provide natural food for me to live a long and healthy life, and you’re a hero.
And of course, old harvesting equipment drawn by horse is shown romantically, while modern tractors are portrayed as belching gasses into the air.
Finally, well over an hour into the movie they start talking about Monsanto. THIS is where the movie finally gets good and talks about real issues and threats to the U.S. food supply and system. If this movie would have cut-out the blanket “corporate = evil” hippie crap and focused on Monsanto, the ownership of GMO food, and how Monsanto has used patent infringement law to cripple traditional farming methods, I would recommend this movie to everyone I know.
By the end, it finally gets on point and is worth watching. The end sequence, where they appeal to the consumer and tell us about the power we have with our spending choices is really great. I am absolutely a believer in locally grown, organic foods. Where the movie makes its greatest missteps is simply saying “Oh, bulk food and corporations are bad! Evil!” without spending enough time explaining how or why a can of Green Giant green beans is virtually nutrient depleted. They say “corporations are bad, but organic food is healthy” without realizing the converse statement is “this food lacks nutrients, and that farmer is a nice guy”. The food’s nutritional value is a separate and distinct quality from the size of a business, but the hippie environmentalist wackos confuse the topics.
Ultimately, the point of the movie is valid and I recommend it. Just realize you’ll be wading through knee-deep propaganda, just like the cows featured in manure, before you get to the good stuff.
If this article strikes a chord with you, and you are interested in healthy and organic food, I would encourage you to plant a food garden for yourself, listen to Jack Spirko’s podcast, and learn about permaculture. There’s a lot of good stuff out there.
I’m killing time re-watching The Matrix: Revolutions and suddenly it occurs to me where George Lucas went wrong. And I’ll sum it up for you right here, so you don’t have to read my opining and supporting arguments unless you want to (but your opinions to the contrary don’t count unless you do): All good science fiction has always been more than what’s presented on the surface, but Lucas forgot this and made kid’s movies based on his franchise.
Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with cashing in, as long as we’re honest about it. Heck, look at Cars 2. I imagine the meeting for that movie went something like this: “Kids like cars, toys and ‘Mater. Any questions? Meeting adjourned!” But somehow I felt like there was at least some honesty in the intent. It was never purported to be a Toy Story 2 or 3, just a blatant cash-in featuring the wacky adventures of a side-kick given too much screen time. ‘Mater + kids = profit. And if the devoted Star Wars fans out there recall, Lucas took a decidedly kid-oriented profit bent early on with the made-for-TV Ewoks movies. The real problem with the prequels is that we expected something different. Many Star Wars fans have other geeky tendencies, and maybe even didn’t realize the depth of quality story-telling they were accustomed to. …and that Lucas has failed to achieve for 35 years, now.
First, let’s establish the premise here that all good sci-fi is really deeper than it appears on the surface. It’s not all laser beams and space ships, or it tends to be washed away in the annals of forgotten garbage. Sci-fi without a deeper message or purpose is nothing more than any other generic fantasy that winds up in pulp magazines and purchased in the we-can’t-be-fussed-to-throw-this-away bargain bin at a second hand bookstore. But the good stuff? The classics and works that inspire other writers or film makers, spin-offs and tie-ins and fan fiction? All of them take science fiction to say something about the human condition. Let’s run the list (and this is just off the top of my head):
- The Day the Earth Stood Still. The original is inarguably one of the greats, giving us the phrase “Klaatu barada nikto” to be repeated in Army of Darkness and Lucas himself named aliens after each word in Jedi. More than a story of how awesome Gort was, it was a cautionary tale of our own natures during an atomic age cold war with the Soviets, with Klaatu having more than one allegory of Jesus Christ.
- Starship Troopers. Not the Paul Verhoeven movie, but the book by Robert Heinlein on which it was based. I heard sci-fi nerds constantly lament that the movie “left out powered armor”. Seriously? That was their complaint?!?! It’s hokey 50′s lingo and British author combine for a book that’s tougher to digest for modern Americans, but the real crime of the film was stripping out all of Heinlein’s political commentary.
- The Matrix. Calling it a trilogy is a bit of misnomer, there was the first movie and then a second magnum opus that was long enough it had to divided in theaters. But it doesn’t change the fact that the entire film set (I never played the game or sat through The Animatrix) was so laden with religious and philosophical subtext that college professors now assign it’s dissection as an assignment.
- Star Trek. Here was Gene Roddenberry trying to show us all what we could achieve, in a time when racial and political tensions were palpable. Uhura put a black woman in a prominent position, and with Kirk the first televised interracial kiss was put forth. Chekov put a Russian serving as a team member with a mixed cast during the cold war (even if the Klingons largely served as a USSR allegory). Sulu put an asian in a prominent position at a time when legend says producers were hesitant to hire Bruce Lee to play Kato on The Green Hornet because he looked “too asian”… to portray an asian.
- Star Wars. Because in my world, there is only one trilogy, and they’re named as they were marketed and sold as VHS: Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. (“A New Hope” might be technically correct, but it was literally never called this until the abomination Episode I was foisted upon us.) While I firmly believe Lucas got lucky here, the fact is he did it right. The first Star Wars was basically a fairy tale in outer space, where magic coexists with laser blasters, and borrowed heavily from Kurosawa. It also defied the norms of the day by being an overtly optimistic story in the cynicism of the ’70s.
Allow me to vent my frustrations about George Lucas as a film maker here quickly before going on to my specific criticisms of the prequels (which you can probably see coming by now). In light of Lucas recently announcing his “retirement”, it’s only fair to point out some facts. He complains fans have called him a terrible person, but I think he’s confused his identity with criticisms of being a terrible director. He’s a good story man, but when you look at Empire and Jedi they’re not good sci-fi, they’re simply movie that were good because they directed by others and the screenplays weren’t done by Lucas himself. All the Indiana Jones movies were directed by Steven Spielberg. The prequels, bad acting and crappy dialog, fall squarely on the shoulders of Lucas himself, who has admitted to being a terrible writer in favor of a visual director.
In brief defense of Lucas, while he’s a terrible film maker, nobody else has forwarded the state-of-the-art like him either. ILM’s visual effects, Skywalker Sound studios… His battles with the Director’s Guild to open his movies with scrolling titles and story rather than credits. Heck, PIXAR owes its existence to George Lucas. He’s done a lot for the movie industry- he just can’t make a movie worth a damn.
So, specifically, where/why did the prequels fail in my line of thinking now? Aside from Lucas writing and directing them himself, these movies were doomed to fail because they became slaves to the franchise. They didn’t have any deeper message, any statement of the human condition… They didn’t have any depth at all, really. They were demanded by fans, and by dollars. They were Cars 2. And there’s nothing wrong with that when you know that’s what you’re getting. Lucas likes to make relatively innocent, optimistic movies. He likes to entertain adolescents with tales of adventure (Star Wars began as an homage to Flash Gordon), and quite frankly that’s admirable. But fans used to being served up sci-fi the likes of Asimov, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and stuff sourced from Philip K. Dick weren’t ready to be served up the unabashedly shallow prequels. This is why they’re loathed but still made money- they’re slaves to a franchise, but it’s a successful franchise.
I don’t have a good closing statement, and I’ve said my piece. There’s no use in bemoaning George as a movie maker- he’s just not a very good one and that’s that. And because of this, he confused visual spectacle for being the needed ingredient for science fiction. He forgot what made the first one special, and didn’t tap into “something more”. It’s not a sin. It just doesn’t make for good movies, either.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go re-watch Blade Runner.
Because wacky dreams are always fun, I think I had the military equivalent of the attending-school-in-your-underwear or 10 years later dream. I was in uniform for some reason, getting yelled at by a Senior NCO for being unshaven. Thing is, at this location (real life) even the military are wearing civilian clothes (and should be allowed to relax hair standards if the point is to be inconspicuous). So in the dream, I don’t know why I’m in uniform but I know I don’t have to be and I keep yelling back at this guy, “I only even brought this thing as a courtesy to you!”
And because I’m still mad at the SNCO in my dream, I’m not shaving. So take that, Mr. Dream Authority Figure Man.
I also had a really weird sci-fi horror dream a few nights ago. I wasn’t going to blog it, or the beard dream, but this is what happens when I have a forum to talk about literally anything. Maybe I’ve been playing too much Mass Effect. I love those games; the retro futurism reminds of sci-fi when I was a kid, when interstellar travel was cool and we didn’t fear running into a planet with Jar-Jar Binks. But I digress. In my dream, there was this lone, silent spaceman like Gort or some abomination from The Black Hole- so of course we have to kill it! Space Command sends a team to drive around it in a buggy and shoot it with lasers but it goes horrifically wrong and techno-spider things attack everyone on the team, attaching at the brain stem and possessing/transforming all the humans like something out of a Cronenberg flick. It was awesome, and in the end we had to nuke the moon. It’s the only way to be sure.
Bonus bragging points to whoever names the movie reference for that last sentence!
It’s very odd to see so many Porsche commercials on TV (actually, it’s the only car commericals I’ve seen) when I’m surrounded by such abject poverty on the east coast of Africa. I think most of the channels we get are from South Africa.