Friday, June 27, 2008

So, The Incredible Hulk, eh?

Well, I first saw this movie sneaking in after the first 15 minutes or so. I came in during a chase scene where Banner was running from the soldiers under General Ross trying to catch him, the scene that ended with the first appearance of the Hulk. I figured I had missed some of the initial character set-up and I didn't know if the origin of the Hulk had been shown, and I had not seen the Ang Lee movie, so I was willing to take the movie on its terms at that. I thought the the movie was awesome! The Comic Book Superhero Movie genre has finally hit its stride, with Dark Knight, Spider-Man, Iron Man, X-Men 2, and now this.

Then a few days later I saw the entire movie. It seems all I missed was the montage of shots that covered the origin and a little set-up of Banner in Brazil. There was very little dialogue, very little character development or even exposition to get you into the character and scenario. It's ;like the filmmaker assumed you knew the origin already and this was just a quick reminder.
From what I hear tell, the Ang Lee film was all about how childhood abuse had built up much anger in Bruce Banner, which was the source of his great rage as thew Hulk. This movie did not even touch anything regarding anything about any possible psychological background for Banner, and was the weaker for it. It acted as if all the background was either known by the audience already or was being hidden so that the reveal would be the shock.

This workled a little bit, such as when Betty Ross first called General Ross “Daddy,” if you did not know the connection there it was a worthwhile reveal. But still, as the movie was set up as if you were plopped into the middle of a story, as a stand-alone feature it would have been strengthened by just a little more character set-up.

That having been said, there were many reasons that it did work as a Comic Book Super Hero Movie. As a genre, the CBSHM plays best to comic book fans, especially those familiar with the character. By the time the movie is made, it can be assumed that the character is popular enough to support a movie. That being the case, there must be a reason the character is popular. Therefore, the best CBSHM's are true to the character and trust the source.

The source for this movie, and character, seems to be as much the 1970's TV series with Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno. The references are legion: Banner says “Don't make me angry, you wouldn't like me when I'm angry. There is a clip from another Bill Bixby TV show, “The Courtship of Eddie's Father,” playing in one scene (although I think “My Favorite Martian” would have been a more appropriate homage). Lou Ferrigno has a cameo appearance. Banner is referred to as a “Fugitive” no less than twice (“The Fugitive” was a TV series that predated, and was conceptually much like the Hulk TV series).When Banner changes into the Hulk, at one point we see the close-up on his spot-lighted eyes just like the TV show; we see the shirt split across his back; we even see the Hulk pull the shirt off his chest, Ferrigno-like.

The action is astounding. I often have problems with these sorts of action movies when the director feels we have to have everything close-up, in your face, to give a sense of the drama. Michael Bay (Transformers) and Joel Schumacher (Batman Forever) are particularly guilty on that score. This time, however, the director trusted the drama of the actual action, allowing us to see the Hulk battle his adversaries, much the way Fred Astaire and Gene Kelley and Jackie Chan were always allowed to be seen in action. Yay!

However, weakness is shown when the movie assumes that all viewers will be familiar with the character, and thus necessary set-up and development is set aside. So this is an awesome movie , but could have been just a little bit more.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Narnia: Deus Ex Machina...well duh!

I saw the latest Chronicles of Narnia movie, “Prince Caspian” the other day. First off, it fulfills the requirement of a wizards and warriors fantasy movie quite capable. There are magical creatures, court intrigue, lots of armor and action, noble heroes, dastardly villains, and courage, resourcefulness, and faith wins out in the end. The four children from the first movie travel back to Narnia a year later their time, 1300 years later, Narnia time. They find the ruins of their old castle, and that the country is overrun by humans who have taken over the land from the magical creatures, much the way the White Man took over America from the Native Americans. The human prince who is supposed to fulfill a prophecy by becoming king escapes a murderous rival and resolves the differences between his people and their enemies.

Yes, the story very satisfactorily plays out the formula. The good people live, the bad people die, but only because they are killed by other bad people or by good people in a fair fight.

One thing that did seem remarkable, was that after many more centuries than the US has beenin existance, the conquerors of Narnia had not neither subjugated, assimilated, nor exterminated the original inhabitants. In a similar ammount of timejust about every people that Rome conquered had fallen into one of these categories. Further, in the resolution of the film, rather than the two people reconciling and learning to live together (a very modern, American idea), the had-been conquerers are sent packing. You'd think after several hundred years, and at least 9 kings (Prince Caspian was to be the 10th of that name), they would have started to identify the land as their home.

But the ending, oh the ending. The denouement is so “perfect.” It has Aslan, the magical creature and savior, meting out justice to one and all and making sure that every dilemma is resolved by his use of magic and wisdom. This is the very definition of Deus Ex Machina. After all, the whole Chronicle of Narnia is a Christian parable, and Aslan represents Jesus Christ. So there it is.

Captain Zorikh

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Fall: a different sort of Fantasy movie

Everyone in the world is going to see Iron Man, Speed Race, Indiana Jones, Chronicles of Narnia, The Hulk, etc., etc. this year, but I want to encourage you to seek wout another movie that is every bit as visually inventive, fascinating, and fantastic as any of those movies want to be: The Fall.

The Fall is about the relationship that develops between a young girl and a man who tells her a story. They are both in a hospital, having suffered injuries from falls. The girl has a broken arm from picking oranges, and the man is paralyzed from the waist down from a stunt accident while making a movie. The man starts to tell a fascinating adventure story that draws the girl in, and a friendship grows between them,. The film takes place around the turn of the century, when movies were just getting started, and the story the man tells takes place in an adventure-fantasy world, and is seen visualized through the eyes of the child, who interprets everything through what she knows, her family, the people in the hospital etc. However as the story develops, the man's depression and pain starts to be revealed.

The images are truly fantastic in this film. The production traveled all over the world to find sites to shoot, and they found some amazing, surreal locations. If there is any use of CGI, it is subtle and used to show things that would simply be too dangerous or difficult to convincingly show in real film.

The story told by the man is of an adventure in which an escaped slave, an Indian warrior, Luigi the Explosives Expert, Charles Darwin and his companion monkey Wallace, a primitive mystic, and a masked bandit go on a quest to exact revenge on the evil Governor Odious for wrongs he has done them. The adventure takes them to amazing places and they do amazing things, all within their characters.

The view of the story through the girl's eyes is fascinating. While the hospital is in California, and the storyteller is American, the girl is apparently from India, and her interpretations are thus drawn form what she is familiar with. One of the most blatant examples is the “Indian,” which although described by the man as having a wigwam and being married to a squaw, is seen in the mind of the girls as a turbaned, bearded, sword-wielding warrior from the Asian subcontinent.
The title refers to several falls that occur in the movie, those of the two protagonists that put each of them in the hospital, several that occur in the film, and at least one fall of a character's standing in another's eyes. Those who like looking for symbolism will find much to play with there.

This movie was made in 2006 and has taken several years to get an American release. The poster for it is as abstract as parts of the movie may feel, and I fear it may not get many viewers outside cities like New York. It is based on a 1981 Hungarian film called Yo Ho Ho which I now hope to see sometime.

In the midst of all the “Summer Blockbusters” and franchise movies and “Eagerly Anticipated” epics, I hope many, many more people take the time to see this movie. You can get your fill of fancy costumes, spectacular sets, and fantasy concepts, and still have a thoughtful movie worth thinking about that says something about the role of fantasy and friendship in life.

Captain Zorikh

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Star Wars is Everywhere

I just saw the promo spot for this week's "Deal or No Deal," one of my least favorite game shows. It is Star Wars Week for them, apparently. All the girls will be dressed in "Slave Leia" costumes. I did make note of two things: 1. they were referred to as "Princess Leia," not "Slave Leia" (which make sense, after all, since "Princess..." is the name of the character as the general public knows her and "Slave..." is what we fans call her when she is in our favorite costume ;)), and that they were not wearing collars. And here I thought SM had entered the mainstream. I guess that would have just been a bit TOO daring for prime time.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

RIP Arthur C. Clarke

RIP Arthur C. Clarke
Word the world learned of Arthur C. Clarke's death on March 16 2008. He dies at the last surviving member of what many consider to be the great triumvirate of classic science fiction writers of the 20th century, Himself, Isaac Asimov, and Robert A. Heinlein.

Like many people, my first, and most intimate contact with Clarke was through the movie “2001: A space Odyssey.” I was born the year it came out, which was also the year the first Planet of the Apes movie came out. It was a good year for science fiction films, creatively, critically, and commercially. Both of these films took a genre that had been relegated to b-movies, world destruction, alien invasion, etc, and showed that the science fiction could be used to examine the human condition in a first class manner.

“2001” also tapped into a social movement that saw mankind's destiny in the stars and sought new ways of exploring consciousness. On the one hand, folks were attempting to find a new, harmonious relationship with the planet and beyond, and on the other, were lying down in front of the front row of the theater smoking pot watching the colors zoom past them.

As a teenager I read the novel, the sequel “2010,” (though it would be a few years before I saw that movie), and “The Lost Worlds of 2001,” the original short story and a collection of writing exercises by the author around it. This was duroing a summer I spent at a summer stock theater in Upstate New York. I never saw stars like that before in my life. The crytal clear mountain air opened up the heavens to me and I found myself spending hours lying in the grass of the harness racing track at the fairgrounds just gazing up at the Mily Way. I imagines that somewhere up there was the Monolith, just waiting for me.

I also read the Foundation series and Battlefield Earth that summer, so it was a good summer for Science Fiction.

But before I had ever read the books or seen the movie, I had been aware of it. Even before VHS, Betamax, and DVD made every movie have three birthdays and was instantly available to everyone, “2001” was a cultural icon. My closest contact with it was the comic book series by Jack Kirby. I found an issue of it in a grab bag from Supersnipe, the old comic book shop on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. In it was a story of a stone-age leader who, after contact with the Monolith, uses the revolutionary technology of metalworking and the wheel to conquer his neighbors. The story then jumped forward in time to his distant descendant who's journey paralleled that of Kier Dulea in the movie.

I was very much a child of my times. The idea that mankind had a connection to the stards, a destiny beyond this planet attracted me. Having been given an unusual name in that era helped. I was a bit of an outsider, and such outsiders frequently were the ones chosen to find their cosmic destiny in stories I read and saw in the movies.

Not only had Arthur C. Clarke written the definitive story about mankind's cosmic destiny, he predicted that we would reach the moon before 1970, and he was right. In many ways, I am a product of the culture that he began.

Captain Zorikh

Thursday, March 27, 2008

More Star Wars?

Earlier this month it was announced that there will be two new programs for television created from the Star Wars universe. One will be “The Clone Wars,” which will be a CGI animated full-length film on Cartoon Network which will cover events between “Attack of the Clones” and “Revenge of the Sith”; the other is an as-yet unnamed series described in the New York Post as “Deadwood” meets “The Sopranos” in outer space.

But why?

The first Star Wars movie was, as we all know, but one fraction of the story George Lucas says he wanted to tell, yet it was a completely satisfactory moviegoing experience. It took us into a completely new universe that was at once strange and familiar at the same time. The story had a beginning, a middle, and an end, a backstory, a broader universe, and a conclusion and resolution. It did have an open ending, unfinished business, but one could write one's own ending. The foreground conflict had been completed.

The second movie continued the story and developed the characters that we had grown attached to in the first movie. It took us to new places and we learned new things about the characters and the universe in which they lived. But it was not the end of the story. The conclusion, as it were, was merely the set up for the climax to the greater story arc, which would come in the next film.

The third (and some thought, the last) film wrapped up the great drama, but gave us very little that was new. It made a few choices, answered some questions, but for all the sound and fury, thrill and excitement, it was really little more than a juiced up rehash of all the elements that made the first movie so new and fresh.

Yeas passed, and the technology of film making improved. Star Wars had become a cultural phenomenon that redirected popular culture. Yet eventually there were adults who had not been born when the first movie was released. A “special edition” of the Original Trilogy” was created, in which Lucas allegedly gave us the Film He Always Wanted to Make. But part of the brilliance of the first film was how he had made so much of so little. Many of the additions to the original film were quite unnecessary.

Finally, Lucas decided to tell the backstory. Sure it what we all wanted to see, but would it still have the magic?

Sadly, no. Was it the dependence on CGI? Was it that George had lost his touch for writing and directing? Was it the political incorrectness and sheer annoyingness of Jar-Jar Binks? I'll let everybody decide for themselves. The succeeding films continued to give us more lightsaber fights, more space dogfights, more alien races, and so much CGI that a rumor was spread that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences would categorize it as an “animated” film.
This does not even take into account the comic books, comic strips, radio show, novels, fan fiction, Ewok adventures, Droid cartoons, and the notorious and infamous “Holiday Special.” Let's face it: we loved that original movie so much we just couldn't get enough. Fortunately the Star Wars franchise shattered Harlan Ellison's rule: less than 90% of it was crap.

So now there is almost no more room for debate, or creativity with regards to the Star Wars universe. We no longer have the freedom to wonder what made Luke's father go bad, who is that “other hope,” what happened to the Empire after the Death Star went kablooey, or even how one measures The Force. All these questions have been answered. The first movie was so brilliant for giving all these little hints and little mysteries, and we all could create our own little answers to all those question, much like the way that one would imagine the face of someone described in a book.

But lets face it, we want to see more stormtroopers in white plastic armor. We want to see what the Clone Wars were all about. We want to see a young, virile Obi-Wan face off against the future Darth Vader. We want to see Luke and Leia's parents. We want to see And we want to see our favorite badass with a purple lightsaber. Look at the prequel trilogy again. Doesn't it show you all those things you wish you had seen in the original trilogy, they just didn't have the budget to give you?

We were lucky with that first movie. It is not easy to make a perfect fantasy adventure movie, as you can tell by looking at “Battle Beyond the Stars,” “Deathstalker,” “The Sword and the Sorcerer,” “Star Crash,” even the various versions and chapters of “The Lord of the Rings.” Sometimes the best we can hope for is that the film is well produced and enables us to forget our world for a while. And instead of having to watch that same movie over and over again, we now have a large and ever-growing library of adventures in that universe, so by having established a universe we are familiar with, we can explore further concepts in that universe. We don't have to create a whole new universe for every new story.

So is it necessary to have a never-ending, ever developing universe based on a modestly produced but wildly successful sci-fi fantasy film from the 1970's? No, but it sure makes life more pleasant.

Captain Zorikh

Friday, March 21, 2008

RIP Dave Stevens

RIP Dave Stevens
Back in the early 1980's comics as a means of self-expression became much more viable with the growth of creator-owned comics properties. Companies like Pacific, First, Warp Graphics, etc gave us a whole host of new characters, all owned by their creators, in stories that were frequently more mature than the typical superheroes that dominated Marvel and DC comics. Graphic novels showed that occasionally, sequential art could tell a story no less meaningful and sophisticated than any book or movie. And most importantly, many very talented writers and artists got to do the work they always wanted to do.

In this brave new world, stepped Dave Stevens, blazing with talented, the ability to tell a story and draw women that were realistic, yet unbelievably sexy. He gave the world The Rocketeer, a dashing, heroic adventure in the tradition of the Saturday matinée serials of a bygone age. I spent many hours drinking in each page of the carefully crafted comic. I only learned later how much time he took making sure every panel was perfect, when it all looked so smooth and natural.

And of course that comic brought fetish icon Bettie Page to a new level of popularity. I had heard of her before, but to see her in these adventures made her seem like a real person. That pin-up model from the old black & white photographs was now in full-color glory. And I could easily understand poor Cliff Secord being in love with her.

The Rocketeer was eventually turned into a movie that was one of the most faithful comics-to-film translations ever (even though Bettie was replaced by a character played by Jennifer Connelly – still beautiful, but without the famous bangs).

Dave's perfectionism explains in part why there were very few issues of the Rocketeer comic book beyond the original graphic novel, which is a shame. That kind of adventure captured a spirit of fun and innocence of a bygone era, an era where pluck and courage, the conviction of doing what is right, would see a hero through against the greatest of adversity. Stevens' art and storytelling told that adventure in a way that was effective and accessable like no other had. His passing to Leukemia at age 59 assures us that there will never be any more, at least, not by his hand, and that is a tragic loss.

You can post your tributes to Dave Stevens on his website at
You can make contributions in Dave Stevens' name to