The problem with holidays is that every day feels like a weekend. This lack of structure and urgency is further compounded by my insomnia.
In one sense, these are not good things. I’m one of those people who needs structure and regularity, if for nothing else but messing with that structure and regularity. The structure and regularity gives me something to which I can respond.
In another sense, it is quite liberating. I’ve enjoyed the beach, caught up on a vast amount of reading, played a frighteningly large number of gaming hours, and watched a few films. I’ve resisted the urge to blog about everything I read/watch/do/play because it becomes tedious and isn’t interesting for other people. On the other hand, this blog isn’t terribly interesting so it might be forgiven.
I Am Number Four (a.k.a. ‘You space kids stay off my lawn’)
TVTropes.org explains Chekhov’s Gun fairly well. When you’re creating a science fiction world with aliens and alien technology and alien intergalactic politics, this sort of thing is important. First, it cuts down on clutter (if the alien death ray isn’t going to shoot somebody, it doesn’t need to exist in the story) and it prevents deus ex machina endings.
I Am Number Four is a slave to Chekhov’s Gun. The first twenty minutes of the film is nothing but running through all of the guns which will resolve the ‘plot’ crisis. Oh, the lizard shape-shifted into a dog and the bad guys have massive dragons? Oh, there’s a girl hunting down the ‘protagonist’ who isn’t ugly and is invulnerable to fire? And so on and so forth until the film ham-fistedly gets to the angsty teenage rebellion of modern school life (bullies and girls and nerds, oh my). At this point, the film pretty much forgets about the dog and the fire girl until they reappear at the conclusion of the film.
There’s nothing exciting about the film. The lead character couldn’t act. The interesting character dies Obi-Wan Kenobi-style, leaving the protagonist the opportunity to find his destiny. Blah, blah, blah.
But why were the bad guys are bad? The film suggests it’s because they’re ugly. When I finally got bored with the narrative, I imagined that they were retaliating for some terrible war crime committed by the main character’s race. Fueled by revenge, they were wiping all trace of their former oppressors from the universe. For all I know, the bad guys were the last five guys from their race because Number Four’s dad used the Force to swallow their home planet, or something.
That’s what I want to see: a film where I understand why the villains are so evil. This would also help me to understand why the protagonists feel that the only suitable response is murder. There have been far too many films lately which tell the audience ‘This is the bad guy and trust us that he’s bad and needs to die.’ I’m sure there’s some political statement to be made here about Americans.
The King’s Speech (a.k.a. ‘When supporting characters wanted a bigger role’)
Historical fiction is the oldest kind of fiction. You would think that we would be better at it. Perfected by Herodotus and Livy, the point is to explore some great question about the human condition through real people and events. The King’s Speech gives absolutely no exploration of anything worth exploring, and somehow manages to make interesting characters into wallpaper. Helena Bonham-Carter has neither the presence nor the ability to convey the strength of the Queen Mum. Timothy Spall trots out a weak caricature of Churchill. And Derek Jacobi — probably the most adept actor in the film — barely gets to say boo.
There’s nothing terribly inspiring about the film. As a person with a very slight stammer, I felt stammerers were exploited by the film (stammers are just caused by maladjusted childhood! A bit of music and rolling around on the ground will fix it). Lacking clear direction and a sense of purpose, the film bounces rapidly off the abdication and the rise of Nazism (both quickly noted as Bad Things) before the yawnfest of the climax (OMG, he delivers the very famous speech. Who would have known?). No time is allocated for character development (montages get rid of the worst of the stammer) and any tension created is resolved within three minutes, lest the audience becomes too excited. Not a word of a lie, there is one major conflict between the two main characters (which is the protagonist?) which lasts all of about thirty seconds. I began to write an SMS ‘An hour in and we finally get some tension’ but didn’t get to the word ‘finally’ before it was resolved.
Are there any good films coming out soon?
I’ve been getting into the structure of stories lately, trying to work out why some movies are really gripping and interesting and why others are confused and dull.
I think I got up to season five when I used to watch Smallville.
While I’m probably going to be derided for poor taste, I think I prefer Smallville to the films. I think it’s because the television series is better constructed than the films.
The first film, for example, doesn’t get going until about 45 minutes into the film. It opens with Jor-El conducting a trial of Zod. It’s tense and interesting, then Zod is sealed in the Phantom Zone and shot off into space until Superman II.
Then Jor-El has a massive fight with the Krypton Council and decided to send his only begotten son to Earth. As you do. There’s ten minutes of Clark Kent being a teenager and suffering identity crisis before he goes to spend 12 years off camera in the Arctic in his Fortress of Solitude.
By that point, we’re about 40 minutes into the film. We then discover Lois Lane can’t spell. Ho hum… nothing much. Then a nuclear plot which, of course, Superman diverts. He then travels back in time to save somebody but it would be too spoileriffic to tell you that it’s Lois.
You can’t have your main character appear in a film 40 minutes late. Tardiness in protagonists is not an admirable trait.
The television series, on the other hand, deals with things much better. While the plots are hilariously silly, they rely on more than ‘Chibi-Superman punches things until the credits.’ It succeeds in having Clark Kent fail at winning the larger ‘battles’ in his life (getting the girl, pleasing his two fathers, &c.). No matter how much he punches things or jumps over buildings, those are achievements which require more. Thus, it’s more interesting to watch.
This, bee tee dub, was also my major beef with the Harry Potter series. The protagonist wins everything by birthright or by knowing more magic than the baddies. Lame.
If I were going to reboot the Superman films (oh wait, they’re totally already doing that), then they should make a cinematic version of Red Son. Does anybody really want to watch a film about a magic American? No, no they don’t. So make Superman a Communist and give us a fun film.
Ridi, Pagliaccio, sul tuo amore infranto! Ridi del duol che tavelena il cor! … And get a proper plot while you’re at it.
They need to teach aesthetics. It ought to be a mandatory class.
It seems that even Ebsen Storm thought that Subterano (the film I rubbished in my last post) was terrible: he was credited as ‘ Mort S. Seben’ .
We can appreciate art in two ways. The first is to appreciate its form. The second is to appreciate its substance.
My classic example illustrates the first: The Old Man and the Sea. It’s amazing but it has absolutely no substance. Wagner is another good example: the substance is ugly (Germanic people are the shiznit, yo), but the form is magnificent.
It’s more difficult to find good art which can be appreciated for its substance alone. The works of the Beatles, I think, satisfies this. Musically, it’s rubbish. Its message was an important reflection on its era (at least, the later stuff was). Godzilla films were about the fear of science post WWII in Japan.
SPOILER WARNING… not that you’ll go watch the film, but it’s always best to be polite.
Subterano is about a dystopian future (shock!) where computer games (shock!) are a big deal and there’s a rebel who’s trying to escape from the authorities (shock!). A group of polar opposite personalities (shock!) have to bond together in order to escape a death game (shock!).
The resolution to the film is that the protagonist and a few of his women escape the death game. The death game was being conducted by a sociopathic adolescent who is upset that he failed to kill the protagonist and his women, so he starts up another game with a new set of victims…
Yeah, it doesn’t make any sense. But, worse, there’s absolutely no substance or form to this film. It’s just torture porn. The antagonist is nothing but a sociopath. There’s no reason for him to torture the protagonist and his friends (except, perhaps, that the antagonist is a rich white kid who feels ignored). Throughout the film, he says that he’s doing it just to watch people die.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that things need to get tied up in a nice bow in order to be satisfying. Watchmen is amazing for pretty much this reason: it’s hard to tell who’s supposed to win and the resolution is confronting. There just needs to be some sort of reason at the end to have justified the hour and a half of vaguely wondering where the film’s going.
In short, avoid this film at all costs.
In other news….
Bought a new computer today after my laptop exploded. I don’t know what’s going on lately but my phone exploded (Nokia E71: I don’t recommend it. It does what I want it to do, but Nokia’s interface programs are extremely fiddly and idiosyncratic. I really don’t know why I stick with Nokia. Sure, they’re better than Motorola — there’s several months of my life I want back — but they just seem so glitchy. I’m looking forward to the LG watch phone but I think that they have a long way to go before they grow the e-beard), then my computer exploded (something appears to have caught fire inside it; the ventilation on the Acer Aspire 5920 is really, really shitty — seriously, what is it with so many laptops having the air vents pointing directly downwards where there’s no airflow?), then my car exploded. Poor car.
I just wish it were symptomatic of super powers. Then, at least, I’d be able to say: ‘Well, all my gizmos exploded, but at least I have superpowers.’
In related news, why is Australian science fiction so crappy? TiVo caught Subterano which screened at some godawful hour the other night. While it’s probably the case that Esben Storm is the worst screenwriter in Australia (even worse than Mick Molloy, which is quite an anti-achievement), the actors really aren’t doing much to salvage it (with Tasma Walton — best known for being Rove’s wife — being the sole exception). Absolutely nothing makes sense, and you can see that Storm thought: ‘Ooooh, what would happen if we remade eXistenZ on a billionth of the budget and none of the creativity?’
Worse, I can’t understand how this dreck could find the funding to be made. Given that Storm wrote the horror years of Round the Twist, we know that he didn’t have a soul to sell to raise the funds. On further investigation, it seems that the Australian Film Finance Corporation coughed up the cash. Given that the film died and went to straight-to-DVD hell, I’m guessing that the film didn’t break even. How is it that the AFFC can facilitate the production of some excellent Australian movies and yet get roped into some absolute trainwrecks?
Alas for us who are to lazy to write our own suckarse screenplays.
But back to the main point. Why is Australian scifi so craptastic? Of everywhere on Earth, Australia should make the best science fiction. Australia rewrote the book when it came to biology. We’re in the process of crafting our national identity. We’ve got a very different cultural narrative to that of the USians and Brits. Between biology, identity, and culture, we should be generating brilliant futurism. Instead, we make cruddy knockoffs of American(/Canadian) and English science fiction.
Indeed, the only time he’s a good character is when he’s starring in one of those ‘What if…?’ tales. For the best example to date, check out Red Son: instead of landing in the Bible Belt, Superman’s infant pod is knocked off course and he lands in Soviet Russia. Instead of protecting America from supervillians, he protects the proletariat from the evils of American capitalism (headed by none other than Lex Luthor).
Then again, the only time Pingu is awesome is when he’s communist.
So when it’s reported that Chris Nolan might be rebooting the Superman movie line, I die a little bit more inside. Superman is inextricably woven into the idea of the Ideal American. For three generations, he’s been the ideation of the white, Protestant, American male: he’s always good, he’s always right, he always wins, and he always brings hope.
While Batman has strong links with the capitalist fantasy of dominating the underprivileged who threaten their power structure (he’s a wealthy industrialist who dresses up in fetish wear to punch up escapees from a psychward — Arkham Asylum — who threaten their power structure), Batman’s become a lot more interesting since the ’80s turned him into an antihero.
You can’t have a canonical antihero Superman. That might not be a bad thing: we’ve become a little bit too absorbed with antiheroes over the past two decades and it gets a bit tiresome. Oh look at you, you edgy outsider who doesn’t care for the rules but is determined to seek justice. P.S. Your featureless mask is terrifying, Rorschach.
Stories involving Superman — and other ridiculously powerful superheroes — require stories which cannot be resolved by mere appeal to them proving that they’ve got more brute force than their enemies. It needs to be the sort of resolution where it doesn’t matter if the enemy is even more ridiculously superpowered, the good guy has set it all up so that he gets the resolution he’s after.
Case in point, Vetinari from the Discworld series by Pratchett. Vetinari has the ultimate in superpowers: the author loves him. If there’s a fight, Vetinari will win. If there’s an attack on his authority, Vetinari will win. It would be incredibly boring if Vetinari just kept winning by being more powerful than everybody else around him. Thus, all of the good Vetinari stories are resolved in ways which do not rely on Vetinari’s use of sheer power.
I can’t think of a similar example for Superman. Consider the first movie: his girlfriend dies (SPOILER ALERT) so Superman uses his superpowers to fly around the world superfast, making time go backwards… You’re left wondering why Superman even bothered in the first place: ‘Oh, Lex has won the day. I’ll just fly superfast to travel back in time and stop him. A winner is me.’
The only way to make Superman interesting is to have him fight Batman. I doubt that will happen in a Nolan film.