The End of A Saga

Wil Weaton answers some of the age old Questions regarding Star Wars:

After about eleven hours of Star Wars movies, though, I wondered: why exactly is the Star Wars trilogy such a big deal to some of us, even though it’s clearly flawed, and ends with a bunch of muppets singing around the campfire? Why do so many of us love it so much? Why did so many of us take it as a personal affront when the new movies and re-releases didn’t meet our expectations? Why did most of us go back twice after Phantom Menace, like we were in a dysfunctional relationship, hoping that if we just worked a little harder, we’d find a pony?

I’ll just add that his criticism is spot on and even though he later recants his criticism of Hayden Christianson’s acting ability (Mr. Weaton is an actor after all, gotta keep it in the family) I will not. He sucks the life out of scenes faster than a Wookie with Bronchitis.

And this marks the last post ever about Star Wars. I’m over it. I have my original theatrical version DVDs and as far as I’m concerned that’s all there is. Han will always shoot first and there is no such person as Jar jar Binks, do you hear?

Besides, we have batter, faster, stronger Sci-fi now and it’s named Battlestar Galactica.

Abracadabra

Elvira and I saw the Prestige this weekend and while it was good, we both liked the Illusionist better. Normally I try to avoid comparing movies against one another, as inevitably, you enter the land of apples and oranges.* But it’s almost unavoidable given that both films fall into the genre of 19th Century Magician Drama, which is a niche that no one knew existed until a few months ago and has left me wanting more.

The genre has everything you could ask for: period detail, tight plotting, colorful characters driven by inner demons and desires that are singular, dynamic and tragic in their power to consume lives. The pursuit of wonder in the face of advancing science and a public jaded by the beginnings of mass culture. Scarlet Johansson in a corset. OK, she’s just in the Prestige, but all movies in the Magician Drama should be required, henceforth to have Scarlet Johansson in a corset.

Both films have an amazing cast. Edward Norton, Rufus Sewell and Paul Giamatti in the Illusionist and Christian Bail, Hugh Jackman, Scarlet Johanson, Michael Kane and David Bowie (as Frickin’ Tesla!) in the Prestige. The films are really quite different. One is a story about taking control of ones fate and escaping the constraints of your social class, while the other is a psychological drama about obsession and how far a person will go to get what they want. Brilliant in concept, though perhaps the Prestige was not as well executed as I had hoped. Nothing specific, mind you, just a vague uncertain feeling that, with maybe if Christopher Nolan had given one more pass through the screenplay, the story could have been made just that little bit better. I understand that the movie departs heavily from the book, which I’m now going to have to read, obviously.

I don’t want to ruin the ending of either film so I’ll just say that both are worth seeing, but if you have to pick one 19th Century Magician Drama, wait until the Illusionist comes out on DVD.

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*Obvious exceptions to this rule include remakes and reimaginings.

Something Comic Book Geeks and Historians Can All Agree On…

…is that the trailor for 300 looks frickin’ amazing.

For those who don’t know, the story is a retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae, in which 300 Spartans faught to the death the entire army of the Persian Empire. OK, they had a little help from some other Greek city states but most historians agree that the battle was decidely uneaven, roughly 7000 Greeks up against anywhere between 800,000 and 4 million Persians (accounts differ wildly, and by wildly, I mean they range into numbers that are mythic in dimension, if not outright silly). By the final battle, it was just the Spartans vs Xerxes and his entire army. Thing is, the Spartans didn’t give in. They faught and kept fighting, even after a hail of arrows (remeber that scene in Hero when the sky is black with arrows? That’s how Herodotus described it). By the end of the battle, the Spartans were dead but so were 50,000 Persians.

Doin’ The Atomic Kabuki Dance

On September 5th, the Greatest Movie Ever comes out on DVD:

The first of the Godzilla movies, and the most somber and serious in tone, Gojiro was originally a 98-minute Japanese horror film, until a U.S. company bought the rights and reissued the film at 79 minutes, replacing sequences involving a Japanese reporter with new inserts of a dour, pipe-smoking Raymond Burr. Both versions appear together for the first time in this release from Sony Wonder.

If Superman Were a Mad Conquistador

Despite making a Gazillion dollars, Superman Returns is apparently considered a flop. This is due mainly to the fact that it cost over 500 Bajillion dollars to make and market.

Warren Ellis sums it up:

SUPERMAN RETURNS conservatively cost $250 million to make. Probably the same again to promote. It took $21M this weekend, eaten alive by PIRATES. The studio gets about half the box office takings. In America, WB’s cumulative slice of SR’s takings amount to around $50M.

As Fraction said to me Sat night, producer Jon Peters is probably sleeping with a gun in his mouth.

Is it conceivable that something that took fifty-odd million in its first weekend could be a flop? I said of KING KONG that for that film’s budget, I could grow my own giant fucking monkey. $250 million puts you in spacelaunch-budget territory. For $250 million WB could’ve given Bryan Singer his own communications satellite and spent the change on a George Clooney movie. Or two Wes Anderson movies. It’s an astonishing volume of cash that, at this stage, they don’t have a prayer of making back worldwide or on DVD.

This is the absurdity of modern Hollywood; that taking more than the GNP of Luxembourg in a single weekend is not actually enough to put a movie in the black.

Maybe Hollywood should try things the Werner Herzog Way:

In Werner Herzog’s films, the main characters tend to be ambitious explorers who find themselves crashing in spectacular failure. Aguirre, the Wrath of God follows a 16th-century conquistador who sets out to find El Dorado, only to end up on a raft, demented and alone, adrift on a stagnant river. In the documentary Grizzly Man, Timothy Treadwell becomes so adept at cohabiting with wild grizzly bears that he comes to believe he’s one of them – until he gets eaten.

Now the maverick German director, who has made 52 films over a 44-year career, is launching The Wild Blue Yonder. The movie, which he describes as “science fiction fantasy,” tells the story of two interstellar voyages. The first is undertaken by an alien race fleeing a dying planet with hopes of colonizing Earth, the other by human astronauts who set out to explore the liquid world the aliens left behind.

Instead of spending millions on Spielberg-style effects, Herzog went low tech and high geek. He spliced together documentary footage from NASA and the National Science Foundation’s US Antarctic Program. He created “characters” from documentary-style scenes with actual physicists and astronauts. But this being a Herzog film, the lyrical images are tempered by characteristic pessimism. “The film ends our illusions about intergalactic travel,” Herzog says bluntly. “We will not do it. We cannot manage it. It’s just too far.”

Superman Is Just All Right With Me

As is probably to be expected, some Freepers are claiming Superman as their own, and all us Liberals can keep our dirty, sex having hands off. But is Superman a conservative crusader? Well, not likely. For one thing, his creators, Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster were two good Jewish Kids from New York City. And as we all know, nothing Conservative comes out of New york City. For another, Superman stared out fighting Evil Capitalists. Crooked mine owners. Slum lords. Anyone who was trying to pull one over on the common working man. He was a Depression-era hero for the people, and a bit of a malcontent as well. he didn’t become a boyscout or start fighting super-villains until well after WWII started.

As for the claims that Superman is just a thinly veiled Christ-figure, well, yes and no. While there may be a few similar details to the myth of Jesus, Superman’s story shares quite a few of the basic Savior Myth Archetypes:

A culture hero is a mythological hero specific to some group (cultural, ethnic, racial, religious, etc.) who changes the world through invention or discovery. A typical culture hero might be credited as the discoverer of fire, or agriculture, songs, tradition and religion, and is usually the most important legendary figure of a people, sometimes as the founder of its ruling dynasty. The hero is sometimes said to be still living, but is often instead a star, constellation or purely spiritual in nature

In fact, Superman actually has more in common with Herakles than any other Hero. The comparison to Jesus gets even thinner with the new movie, flirting dangerously close to Da Vinnci Code territory, if you try and follow that train of thought out literally (we can talk more about this in comments, you spoil sports).

So, I’m not buying Superman as ass whoopin Jesus, fighting for the rights of unborn fetuses, one Nation, Under Oil Companies, for just the rich and no one else. If you Freepers want to write that story, you’ll have to steal some lesser-know hero to do it.

Yojimbo, But With Lasers

As usual, Warren Ellis is on to something:

I’ve long been interested in the chambara form, the Japanese stories of wandering heroic swordsmen. Chambara is a subset of what the Japanese called jidai geki, period drama. I bet you’ve all seen one of them — YOJIMBO, SEVEN SAMURAI, RAN. And you’ve all seen THE HIDDEN FORTRESS, though you know it better as the first STAR WARS film. George Lucas was, of course, a huge fan of Kurosawa.

It didn’t occur to me until I read this tidbit the other day that Lucas, […] in looking for his faded knights of dynasty, would have coughed and California-mispronounced jidai into Jedi…

This is hardly surprising. When not ripping off Kurosawa, Lucas was lifting straight out of John Ford’s films. But with every passing year another tidbit makes it into the stratosphere (and by stratosphere, I mean these here Internets) that Lucas was also padding his script with Jidaigeki tropes and Oh yeah, Joseph Campbell, too (wink). It’s only too bad he didn’t stick to ripping off Kurosawa and japanese mythology. Maybe then the prequels wouldn’t have sucked so bad. *

I’m still looking forward to the September release of the Un-Special Editions, maybe even more so, now that we know that Lucas had even less to do with them then we originally thought.

X3

Elvira and I just got back form seeing X-Men 3. We both really enjoyed it. Sure, it’s not Shakespeare but going in you don’t expect life-altering cinema, just comic book fun and as such, it was very fulfilling. Characters die, Wolverine emotes, things explode, bridges move and as always, there are some fun little cameos for the comic book geeks (Stan Lee and Chris Claremont both looking startled as extras was great fun and there are loads of mutant cameos for the hardcore fans).

The story is straight forward on the usual themes of alienation, what it means to be human and the excesses of power in the wrong hands. But do yourself a favor and stay to the end of the credits. It’s worth t.

Some reviews seem to miss the point, grousing about how there’s not much characterization or the story is thin and by the numbers, or that it’s full of fanservice and that anyone coming in to this fresh will be lost. To that I say, so? If you go into a third part sequel expecting clarity, you’re in the wrong theater. MI3 is down the hall, no brains allowed.

PZ Myers of course completely disagrees, which is his prerogative. He makes some good points on the science of the film, namely, that it’s implausible but then, X-Men always did get a D in plausibility. But that’s not the point and never was. A scientifically plausible superhero story would be… pretty lame, actually. It’s Fantasy, with a Scientific gloss. Which I’ll take over the God Did It fantasy (as in, The Ten Commandments) any day of the week and twice on Sundays.

Baby Jesus is Crying Because You Are So Lame

Some Catholics are throwing a hissyfit over the Da Vinci Code movie:

May 13, 2006 –- The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP) and its America Needs Fatima campaign are inviting concerned Catholics to join a petition against The Da Vinci Code. So far, the effort has garnered 100,946 signatures and steadily continues to gain steam.

“A growing number of Catholics are expressing their unequivocal rejection and disgust of the blasphemous Da Vinci Code film,” said America Needs Fatima director Robert Ritchie. “The more Hollywood mocks our faith, the more it demonstrates a brazen contempt for God.”

The petition addressed to Columbia Pictures is available online at www.tfp.org and states:

“I am deeply opposed to the showing of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code as a movie. Please consider that millions of Catholics see this as Christ-bashing and insulting to the Catholic Church. The book, written as fiction, attacks all I hold sacred – the Divinity of Christ, the Gospel, the Papacy and the holy mysteries of my Faith.”

This really is something quite amazing. Here you have people getting uppity over a movie based on a book that has the unmitigated audacity to suggest Jesus did something incredible and unbelievable: he got married and had kids.

As if all that other stuff about walking on water and raising the dead, turning water into wine and curing leprosy and blindness, was just your run of the mill, first century sort of a Saturday night.

Judas: Hay Jesus, me and the guys are going out for a few drinks, want to come along?

Jesus: Nah, I’m gonna hang out at home and transubstantiate for a while, then toss one off and hit the sack. Say hi to Mary, though.

Come on Catholics, are you going to let those Muslim fanatics hog all the faith and glory? They rioted for nigh on a month over a few comics! and all you can manage is a cranky petition? That’s just week. Two hundred years ago, you would have rioted, burned down the cinema, and hanged the projectionist.

Link via Neil Gaiman

The Real Star Wars

Sometimes, whining does pay off:

In response to overwhelming demand, Lucasfilm Ltd. and Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment will release attractively priced individual two-disc releases of Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Each release includes the 2004 digitally remastered version of the movie and, as bonus material, the theatrical edition of the film. That means you’ll be able to enjoy Star Wars as it first appeared in 1977, Empire in 1980, and Jedi in 1983. This release will only be available for a limited time: from September 12th to December 31st.