Is it just me, or have there been a lot of robot-themed movies lately? I suppose it’s not really that surprising, as science fiction is one of the best barometers of cultural zeitgeists.
It seemed obvious to me that the character of Queen Elsa from Disney’s excellent Frozen had glimpses of similarity to Dr. Manhattan from Snyder’s excellent The Watchmen. Both had nearly infinite power, which detached them from their humanity and fellow humans. Each secluded themselves far away in a self-made palace as a way of both escaping and saving the people close to them. Both had trouble containing their power.
That said, I don’t think I remember Dr. Manhattan ever breaking out into song.
Before I begin, note that every word following this is considered a major spoiler for the film.
So, what would happen if you threw Men In Black, Cube, Hellraiser, and most every scary-secluded-cabin-for-teenagers movie in a blender? The Cabin In The Woods would happen.
This is the film from 2012 from Avengers wonder-boy Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard. I loved this movie. It turns the genre (if you can pick just one) on its head. I loved that — despite it not taking itself too seriously, despite it having a good sense of humor — it painted a deep mythology. I loved that it dared to explain not only why we love monster, ghost, and zombie movies, but also where these creatures all come from and what their purpose is.
Joss is a talented writer, and you can hear it again here. He and Drew are working with very, very tired tropes. Stereotypes well-trodden, but yet here their dialog is sparkling. It’s amazing what a fresh coat of high-dollar paint will do to a lonely spooky cabin in the woods.
I love this movie. Did I mention that?
The planet Pandora has nothing — and I mean nothing — on the little moon SC-223. This place scared the (R-rated expletives) out of me; it was unnerving, frightening, dreadful, in all the ways that Pandora was not.
I’m referring to the hostile alien environments from the movies Avatar and Prometheus. Both have certain distinct built-in audiences. The former requires that one be a fan of action-packed, light-on-originality, effects-heavy, exhilarating sci-fi. The latter requires that one prefer their sci-fi with a cold, clinical, and nightmarish pessimism. I happen to be a member of both audiences; I can see the value of each, but I don’t blame you for not appreciating one or the other. Avatar asks that you just have fun with your 3D goggles and not worry too much about borrowed storylines from a dozen other sources. Prometheus asks you to witness something you’ve truly never seen before, while borrowing a lot from the horror end of the genre spectrum.
Avatar is of course James Cameron’s brilliant trend-setting 3D film. It was big, dumb, and fun — the perfect popcorn picture. Cameron knows how to stage action and make it thrilling. Curiously, he also did the first Alien sequel, the property started by Ridley Scott. Scott’s Prometheus is a pseudo-prequel to Alien, so the links here are multi-threaded.
As such, Scott is really dangerous to falling into Lucas’ reinventionism by going back to his previous films and making their history “more cool.” I’m equally looking forward to Praetorian (a Gladiator pseudo-prequel) and Thelma & Louise & Gretchen. The possibilities are endless.
And as otherworldly as Prometheus is, it suffers from a lot of plot holes and missteps. What follows is a series of lulz culled from the interwebs that tell the story better than I could. Assume heavy spoiler alert from here forward…
Finally, a really funny How It Should Have Ended cartoon:
When I was a kid, I was completely enthralled with the Alien series. My earliest memory of its existence was a fellow school classmate named Jake. Jake brought an Aliens (the Cameron sequel) production book full of illustrations, schematics, photographs to school one day. It was so fantastic and scary and amazing. I was mad that I couldn’t see it because it was rated R.
Fast forward a few years later. Mom and my sister were out of town for some reason so Dad and I were home alone for about a week. He took me down to the local VHS movie rental store (long before Blockbuster and Netflix) to rent a VCR and some tapes. I was in heaven! And he didn’t do much in the way of censoring my choices. I didn’t go crazy, but I did take advantage. I remember getting The Final Countdown, a cheesy story about a modern aircraft carrier caught in a storm that threw it back to WWII. I bet it’s terrible now, but it was awesome then! And secondly I rented Alien & Aliens. They were ground-breaking to me. The stories was utterly incredible — the horror, the coolness, the guns, the spaceships!
Soon after, I got my hands on some comics that were written after the Aliens sequel. They were really cool too, because they took the story further with Ripley, Newt, et al. However, a few years after came the release of Alien 3, which completely broke the continuity of those comics.
I recently found reference those comics here. Ah, the sci-fi memories.
There’s an article at The Good Men Project worth reading called “Not a Joke: Why Do Our Boys Keep Up the Mass Shootings?” in light of the mass murder this morning in Colorado. I left a comment there that I wanted to explore some more here.
This is a risky comment, because it is perhaps too early to theorize. For starters, I live in Colorado and I’m stunned. I also love the Batman movies for the same reasons lots of other boys and men love them. I get a rise out of violence in my entertainment, gun-related or otherwise, and I’m not sure yet what that says about me or my conception of masculinity.
At the risk of being too politically charged, I would like to offer this idea: gun/violence culture. Not guns and violence themselves; the world has had both for eons. I’m talking about the culture thereof, which I believe is different.
I work for a military-tech company. We design products that integrate into soldier systems and weaponry. One of our employees was touring his kid through the plant recently and the kid’s eyes went wide when he saw one of the assault rifles sitting on an engineer’s desk. We were conducting testing on a new design, and the kid was ecstatic. I didn’t know (and can’t remember) the model of the gun; he knew it cold and could tell me how many rounds per second it fired. I asked the kid how he knew so much about it (you know where this is going): Modern Warfare 7 (or whatever version we have now).
Again, I am not talking about the video games themselves, or the guns themselves. We have always had these with us. I’m merely talking about the culture that has arisen around that stuff that I think matters more. The culture celebrates weaponry and violence to a level never seen before, where the protagonist hero can rampage without any consequence — in fact, he is rewarded for doing so.
Just some scrambled thoughts on an emotionally cloudy Friday morning.
I just caught this highly entertaining geek culture documentary short film by Jay Cheel, host of the Documentary Blog podcast, which is one of my favorite podcasts. It’s called “The Politics of Competitive Board Gaming Amongst Friends.”
The short doc has a really cool use of ironic slow motion. All the interviews are looking straight into the camera — very Errol Morris.
If you love board games, like Settlers of Catan, you’ll appreciate this film. You can see the whole thing here:
Pretty much right when we first found out we were pregnant with Iris, I got excited for the future of vicarious entertainment. I’m speaking of sharing great cinematic moments with my kid, allowing me to feel that same wonderment again through her eyes.
Continue reading “Vicarious entertainment”
About 15 years ago, I distinctly remember hearing a radio broadcast that was unlike anything I’d heard before. It wasn’t the usual talk show, news, sports, call-in, top 40 type show. It was engaging. It was a well-crafted story, yet non-fictional. It was refreshing in a landscape of RF wasteland. It was my “driveway moment”. It was This American Life.
There’s a special place in my heart for dystopia. I chalk it up to years of pentecostal, end-times, tribulation fervor. Here’s a great list to add to your favorite movie queue:
My bro-in-law (he pronounces it “bra”, as per young and colloquially hip) recommended I read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. I finally picked up the novel a few weeks ago was glad I did. It was beautiful in its desolation.