Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Scariest Thing You'll Ever Read

The other day, my wife and I were discussing the news that against all common sense and basic human decency, the Transformers franchise has not yet breathed its last. "Transformers 4," I mused. "Just think of the waste. All that money going to such an utter void of talent."

"Yeah," my wife said. "They could have used that money to finally make the 'Elfquest' movie, for a start."

I chuckled, knowing that my wife is an ardent Elfquest fan who awaits the Elfquest movie in much the same way that a Cubs fan awaits that World Series ring. But then I thought to myself, "But what if they got Michael Bay to do the Elfquest movie?"

The image came to me in a vivid flash. All of the strong, beautiful female characters replaced with simpering eye-candy. The open acceptance of alternative lifestyles done over as macho gay panic "male bonding". Shaky-cam upon shaky-cam, explosions in a fantasy world that doesn't even have gunpowder yet, either Cutter or Skywise played by Shia LaBeouf...

My wife noticed my shudder and faint, inarticulate cry of revulsion. "Whatever it is," she said, "I don't want to know." I knew she was having a rough day, so I decided not to tell her. But I had to share it with someone eventually. (When you read this, um...sorry, honey. But at least I waited until you had a little chance to brace yourself for it!)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

My Crazy 'Shining' Theory

Last week, on my guest post at Mightygodking.com, I wrote about why people might see the classic Kubrick film 'The Shining' and see all sorts of crazy things. It's been viewed through a lot of different lenses and has been seen as a Holocaust analogy, a polemic on the gold standard, and a symbolic allegory for the genocide of native Americans. But in the end, I rejected the notions that tiny clues in the film could point the direction to Kubrick's "true" intent.

Then I went and rewatched the movie. And true to form, I noticed a tiny clue that I think points to what Kubrick was intending. And like everyone else over the years, I think I'm right here, based on what I know about Kubrick and his film-making style and his personality.

I think the key is in the TV show Danny is watching, just before Jack completely loses it and threatens to kill Wendy for the first time. (The classic "give me the bat" scene.) Danny and Wendy are sitting together, eating lunch and watching cartoons...and the theme song is the old "Road Runner" theme. ("Road Runner! The coyote's after you! Road Runner! If he catches you, you're through!") Now, this was something Kubrick would have had to obtain permission to use. He could have used any cartoon, any kid's show, really anything at all. But he wanted people to be subconsciously thinking about the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, and he wanted them to be thinking about it right as the action ramped up and Jack's dementia turned lethal. Why?

Because that's what he wanted people to be viewing the last act of 'The Shining' as--as a gigantic, dark, twisted version of the Coyote/Road Runner cartoon, with Jack as Wile E. Coyote and Danny as the Road Runner. Jack is relentless, pursuing Danny with a single-minded obsession (but simultaneously narrating events with an otherwise inexplicable good cheer), while Danny is fleeing with no particular goal or aim. And just like in the classic cartoons, Jack receives injury after injury, getting whacked on the head and falling down a flight of stairs and getting locked in the pantry and finally getting lost in the hedge maze. While Danny runs out and away with a "meep meep!"

It makes sense. Kubrick was known to have a mischievous sense of humor. He was known to make movies that started serious and turned into black comedies as it slowly became clear to him that he couldn't keep a straight face behind the camera. It explains why Jack's madness slowly ramps up to "cartoonish" levels as the film goes on. Kubrick meant for you to laugh at Jack even as the situation creeped you out--the whole thing is one big live-action cartoon.

A cartoon about the Kennedy assassination being a CIA operation, of course. See, the references to July 4th in the final scene...

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Life Lessons From 'The Lion King'

1) When there isn't enough for everyone, it's just better to have a class of privileged few who get the majority of the resources and an underclass who are forced to live in a ghetto and eat scraps. It's the natural way of things, and trying to change that by giving more to the lower classes will just result in disaster.

2) The rest of us should be happy to be ruled over by a group of predatory overlords who will devour us whole should we become sick or weak. Someday, eventually, in a vague and symbolic manner, karma will even things up.

3) Physical strength and charm are the defining characteristics for a leader; someone smart is probably just evil anyway. Don't listen to them.

4) Likewise, leadership should be hereditary. Good genes define intangible traits like sound judgment and political skill. Even if there's no evidence of leadership exhibited by the son of a leader, simply putting him in charge will instantly bring those traits to the forefront and make him the superior choice.

5) In any family, accents will be entirely variable in terms of ethnic and socio-economic background; coincidentally, the voice that sounds whitest will always be the person the story revolves around, while British-sounding people are invariably evil. African-American voices usually mean that you will be wise and dignified...but also that you're probably going to die in the first act.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Top Dog

The Westminster Dog Show is on even as I type; this is actually something of a favorite in our household, as it gives you a chance to see all sorts of incredibly cute dogs that I would never in my lifetime want to actually own. (St. Bernard's? Adorable. St. Bernard poop? This is why I only watch them on TV.)

And of course, the announcers are constantly talking about the reasons each dog were bred, their strengths, and the reasons people would want to own one. "One of the biggest dogs recognized by the American Kennel Club, the massive Mastiff loves being around people and is known to bond closely with his ‘family.’ A combination of grandeur and good nature as well as courage and docility, he was bred in England and used as a watchdog for more than two thousand years. The breed’s short coat can be fawn, apricot or brindle." (An actual quote from the American Kennel Club website, but I'm pretty sure that's what they read off when they introduce the dog.)

And hearing this, I suddenly pictured Jeremy Clarkson saying, "At least...that's what the Kennel Club says. We wanted to see if it was actually true. So we had the Stig take this 2011 Mastiff out for a walk out on our test course." And then it'd cut to a sequence of a man wearing a racing suit and face-concealing driving helmet, going out for a walk with a mastiff while Clarkson delivered a monologue consisting of things like, "The Mastiff's reputation is of a watchdog, but frankly, if this Mastiff is a watchdog, it's a watchdog that loses at least two minutes a day." Then perhaps there'd be a long montage of them trying to breed their own dogs, and a celebrity coming on the show to take out a dog for a spin around the track.

And naturally, the show titles itself. "Top Dog".

Oh, go on. You know you want to see it.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Watchmen On My Mind

In the wake of the announcement of 'Before Watchmen', the whole topic of Alan Moore and DC is weighing on my mind. (Not tremendously, or anything. I won't suggest that when they showed the Avengers trailer just before half-time during a very exciting Super Bowl, I sat there lost in ennui because Alan Moore doesn't have the rights to 'Watchmen'. But I've been thinking about it a bit.)

And mainly what I've been thinking about is the 'Watchmen' contract. Per Alan Moore's deal with DC, the rights to 'Watchmen' revert to Moore and Gibbons within 1 year of the original story going out of print. Everyone knows that this is a big part of why DC continues to promote a 25 year-old property so aggressively; they need to keep selling it to keep the rights in their hands. And everyone agrees that this is a travesty, a perversion of the spirit of the original contract. But at that point, everyone just sort of sighs and throws up their hands in despair.

Why don't we force the book out of print?

I mean, I don't think it would be easy. But I think that a concerted grassroots campaign to get local comics stores to stop stocking 'Watchmen' so long as it's being published by DC, with the understanding that Moore and Gibbons would be able to reprint the book once they're the rights-holders, could really put a lot of financial pressure on DC if they made the decision to try to continue reprinting the series just to keep the rights. There would still be a few high-profile national chains, like Barnes and Noble, who probably couldn't be persuaded through grassroots effort, but if the whole thing went nationwide, they might cave in just for the PR value. And while DC might go to some extraordinary lengths to claim the book is still "in print" ("We're giving away promotional copies to this charity! Still in print!") ...they're as vulnerable to bad press as the next person. If sales actually suffered, they might have to give in.

Of course, this is easy for me to say--I already have a copy of 'Watchmen'. But I'm guessing that most comics fans do too. I'm game if you are...