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