Cowboy Bebop – A Sci-Fi TV Review – Part 1

Years ago, I had read that Cowboy Bebop might have been one of the influences on the making of the TV show Firefly.  Being a big fan of Firefly, you would have thought that I would have tracked it down and watched Cowboy Bebop long ago.  And you would have been wrong.  I never did.  Now this might have been because it was an animated series.  Or maybe because it wasn’t originally an English language show.  Or maybe because I figured it wasn’t as good as Firefly.  Who knows?  Anyway, I started watching the first few episodes last week.  My first conclusion is that Joss Whedon definitely borrowed heavily from the look and feel of Cowboy Bebop.  Secondly, it is an enjoyable show and stands on its own merits.  Now let me qualify that second statement.  It’s a cartoon.  The characters and the action are larger than life.  When a gun fight breaks out bullets saturate every last square inch of wall space around the protagonist.  Every fight has fists and feet flying in all directions and every facial close up has clenched jaw muscles and popping eyes.  Basically, everything is exaggerated to cartoon level.  Oh, and there’s a Welsh Corgi as part of the crew of a space travelling bounty hunters.  Suffice it to say that reality is in no way a condition for something showing up in this show.  But the characters have consistent personalities, the look of the show is very well done, there’s a fascinating backstory with terrible enemies and mysterious women and the plots although wildly unrealistic are (in my opinion) enjoyable.  As I’ve said, I’ve only watched the first five episodes but I like it well enough to want to keep watching it.

 

Alright, now what’s it about?  Cowboy Bebop is a space ship that so far has a crew of three humans and one Welsh Corgi.  They are bounty hunters who work for whatever government (or other organization) that can provide a large enough pay day.  Like on Firefly the culture seems to be a combination of American and Chinese culture.  Also, as on Firefly, humans inhabit a number on moons and planets (but this time within our own solar system).  Cowboy Bebop seems to work on both sides of the interface between the criminal and legal spheres.  Their biggest problems seem to be monetary.  They are chronically short of funds.  The protagonist is named Spike and seems to be a young man in his thirties who enjoys his job as much for the fighting as for the rewards.  In his past, he worked for a very high-level mob boss.  Spike’s partner is an older man with a much angrier façade but can also be depended on in a fight.  The similarities to Mal and Jane Cobb in Firefly are pretty strong.  The regularity with which the ship comes up empty handed after a mission is also a point of similarity to Firefly.

I consider that I prefer live action movies to animation but I’ll go on record as saying that Cowboy Bebop seems a highly creative show and has many features that make it interesting and entertaining.  I look forward to seeing the remainder of the series and will report back on its qualities.

 

So now I know where Whedon got his inspiration.  And maybe his own effort may not have been the superior to the model.

Forbidden Planet – The Quintessential Sci-Fi Movie? – OCF Classic Movie Reviews

A lot of stuff has been said about what makes Forbidden Planet such an important sci-fi movie.  The ground-breaking special effects, the plot element of a human military vessel exploring space that would spawn the endless iterations of the Star Ship Enterprise.  And of course, there’s the classical angle.  Supposedly the plot is an update of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.”

So, there’s all that good stuff.  But to my mind the real reason can be summed up in two words, Anne Francis.  When the angelic face of Miss Francis first appears on screen I began to see the movie in the correct light.  This was an epic adventure story that rivalled the Odyssey of Homer for timelessness and meaning.  Now the fact that I was a sixteen-year old boy at the time probably colored my thought processes to some extent and the skimpiness of her costumes might even have had something to do with it.  But let’s face it, giant ants can only get you so far.  If you want to keep the natives from getting restless you have to appeal to their most powerful motivations and if a blonde-haired, blue eyed creature with a very pretty face and extremely long shapely unclad legs is brought center stage, suddenly even the acting skills of Leslie Nielsen seem greatly enhanced and worth a fair hearing.

But now that I’m in my dotage and no longer as easily swayed by a pretty face, I’ve had a chance to re-evaluate the movie.  Surprisingly, I’m still a big fan.  And this is despite the obvious weaknesses that are extremely evident in such an old film.  The dialog has some extremely cliché-ridden exchanges including:

  • The captain tells off the young woman because her uninhibited interest in the young men in his crew will be a distraction from military discipline.
  • Morbius displays the stereotypical arrogance of the academic intellectual toward the practical military authorities.
  • The banter provided by the ship’s cook is the comic relief that would seem right at home in an Abbott and Costello movie.

So what makes it good?  Well, the humans are mostly likeable and admirable.  The plot unwinds in a manner that allows for the gradual reveal of the mystery.  Of course, the who of the question is answered long before the why and how of the problem.  But the details provide reinforcement of the underlying lesson to learn.  We are reminded that smarter isn’t the same as perfect.

And the special effects are still pretty good.  The animation of the Krell infrastructure impresses the viewer with the gargantuan scope of the installation.  The humans walking through it literally look like ants at one point.

And finally, the interaction between the isolated inhabitants of this dream world and the crew of the no-nonsense military vessel is classic.  It reminds you of the stories that portray the first contact between Europeans and the South Sea Islands.  The sailors always have a feeling they have somehow discovered paradise with its idyllic climate, scantily clad, friendly women and tropical fruit. The military men are enthralled with how favorably it compares to the boring, spartan existence of their all-male naval vessel.

Are there problems with the story?  Yes.  Morbius seems a little too dense for a brilliant scientist.  The resolution of the crisis at the end is a little jarring.  The solution is quite heavy handed.  But all in all, it’s a pretty neat story.  I think it indicates why the Star Trek series was so popular.  But I think it also shows why the later tv series were less interesting.  The adventure and discovery aspects became less of a focus as the Enterprise became less of a military/exploration vessel and more of a social worker/nanny vehicle to the stars.

The Edge of Tomorrow – A Short Movie Review

Last night I watched the Tom Cruise movie “Edge of Tomorrow.”  The first thing that strikes me is that it is a sort of mixture of things.

First off, it’s a mil sci-fi movie.  It tells the story of aliens invading and battling humans.  Almost the entire movie takes place within the confines of a single battlefield.  And because it’s a big budget movie with a big star that part is done rather professionally.  The special effects and sets are very good looking.  The action takes place in England and France and Germany so there is the interest of seeing The Louvre and London engulfed in military paraphernalia and smashed by battle.  So, there’s all that.

Next, it’s a time travel story.  The gimmick is that Tom Cruise has been caught up in the gears of the aliens’ ability to alter the future.  Because of a chain of events involving his lucky killing of a high level alien, Cruise is effected in such a way that every time he gets killed in battle, it resets time back to the start of the day of the battle he’s in.  But when he returns to that day he remembers each of these past lives.  It’s sort of like Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog’s Day.  So, even though he’s a complete neophyte to combat, he can learn from what happened to him on the previous incarnations.  Comically, after countless iterations he can effortlessly step through the battlefield performing a choreographed dance with death.  Of course, this means to keep advancing his progress on the battlefield he has to keep dying over and over again.

So, in a way, it’s also a metaphor for, or even a parody of someone playing a first-person shooter video game.  You keep playing the game and increasing your knowledge and skills.  You also have to die over and over and over.  And for anyone who has spent a lot of time playing one particular game you understand the psychologically painful experience of building up the necessary muscle memory and rote memorization of the endless sequences of motions and thought processes needed to wend your way to the next level.  That’s the feel this movie provides.

I’ll have to say it’s a mixed experience.  It’s both stimulating to sense the iterative advancement and at the same time irritating.  There’s one particular sequence that occurs almost endlessly during the movie.  It’s when he’s awakened by a sergeant screaming abuse into his face.  It must happen at least two dozen times.  By the end of the movie I’m genuinely hoping Cruise just clocks him in the face, just to shut him up.

So, does the movie work?  Yes, it does.  The initial introduction to Cruise’s character presents him as an unlikeable jerk.  By the end of the movie he has had to grow.  There’s even, believe it or not, the elements of a love story in the tale.  And, Lord help me, I know how ridiculous that seems in the context of a war movie.

Who is this movie for?  If you’re a Tom Cruise fan and you liked him in War of the Worlds and Minority Report you’ll probably like this movie a lot.  If you’re a mil sci-fi fan I think you’ll probably enjoy it.  If you don’t like science fiction or war movies you will hate this.  And if you’re neutral on Tom Cruise, sci-fi and war movies I think it’s 50/50.  It’s a good sci-fi movie and provides solid entertainment.  But it isn’t “Gone with the Wind” so if you’re looking for highly cerebral or morally meaningful move on.

Wyatt Earp and Tombstone, A Comparison – Movie Review – Part 2

Wyatt Earp and Tombstone, A Comparison – Movie Review – Part 1

Kevin Costner was originally going to be Wyatt Earp in Tombstone.  But he and the director/screenwriter disagreed on how much of the movie was supposed to center on Wyatt Earp and his background.  He left the production and decided to make the movie “Wyatt Earp” instead.

Wyatt Earp is a sort of biography of Earp.  It starts with Wyatt as a teenager trying to run away to fight in the Civil War, shows him falling in love, marrying and losing his young wife to typhus.  Giving in to a drunken despair he commits some capital crimes and has to flee his old life never to return.  He went out to the frontier and worked first as a buffalo skinner and then as a lawman.  These chapters effectively chronicled the background and events that formed the man that we recognize in the various versions of the legend.  And it shows his links to other characters of legend like Holliday and Bat Masterson and his brother Ed.  And we get the particulars of all of the Earp brothers and their wives.  And what does Wyatt Earp end up as?  He’s a man hardened to the realities of life in the West.  And someone who trusts his family and very few others.  This sets up the events that transpire in Tombstone and afterward.

Costner plays the part with his typical understated style.  The supporting cast is interesting and probably the best of them is Dennis Quaid as Doc Holliday.  The production is done in high style with excellent cinematography and a full musical score.  The direction and scene selection seemed well thought out and deliberate and didn’t produce any confusion over plot elements which was important considering the length of years and progression of different characters covered in the film.  It is a very long film coming in at three hours.  And the deliberate pace and varying importance of the scenes probably was too much for some viewers who really came to see the Gunfight at the OK Corral.  In fact the film was neither a financial or critical success.

So, what do I think of it?  I like it.  I think it comes closer to the actual facts of the story than Tombstone.  And I think despite his unflamboyant acting manner Costner does a much better job of portraying Wyatt Earp as he actually was.  Where I would fault the effort is being so unreservedly faithful to the facts.  Neither The Gunfight at the OK Corral or the subsequent vendetta appear as grandiose and mythic as they do in Tombstone and other descriptions.

It’s a shame when a critic complains about an historical account being too accurate.  It almost seems like nostalgia for mendacity.  But that’s an occupational hazard when dealing with the Old West.  In fact, there’s Holy Writ that covers it. In the western epic “The Man Wo Shot Liberty Vanlence,” one of the characters who I believe is a newspaperman says, and I paraphrase, When the legend becomes the facts, print the legend.

In Part 3 I’ll tie these two films together and ramble on about all thing cinematically Earpish.

 

Wyatt Earp and Tombstone, A Comparison – Movie Review – Part 3

Wyatt Earp and Tombstone, A Comparison – Movie Review – Part 1

We’ll start with Tombstone.  It’s a thoroughly entertaining movie but with a major flaw.  Namely, Kurt Russell does not have the gravitas to portray Wyatt Earp.  So, while I enjoy watching Tombstone more than Kevin Costner’s “Wyatt Earp” I think he made a much better Wyatt than Russell did.  So much so that whenever Russell is speaking I’m annoyed.  Whenever someone else is in the spotlight I’m happy again.  It’s very distracting.  So, there it is.  I’m conflicted about this movie.  Let’s look at the other portrayals.  Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday is the true star of the movie.  Almost every scene, almost every spoken line he has is memorable and immensely entertaining.  Almost all of my favorite scenes in the movie are his.  His interaction with Michael Biehn’s Johnny Ringo is pure gold.  His mockeries of Ike and Billy Clanton are extremely funny, each in its own way.  And all of it together with this portrayal of a deadly gunfighter who is also a highly complicated dying man is a fascinating character to watch.  I keep wishing the movie was called Doc Holliday and that it would flashback to Doc’s earlier life and extend the movie far beyond the Tombstone chapter.

After Kilmer’s Holliday, I think Powers Boothe’s Curly Bill Brocius is my next favorite character.  The first time I saw this movie I did not recognize Boothe at all.  He seems much thinner than I ever remember him in even earlier movies.  And he is a jolly villain.  Always laughing and joking even as he is committing murder and mayhem.  When he is finally dispatched by Wyatt during the famous creek battle I was sorry to see him go.  I think I was secretly hoping that he’d get Russell somehow.  After these two I’ll lump all the rest of the cast together and call out just some of the fine performances.

Stephen Lang Played Ike Clanton as a vicious killer who would cower and run if the fight turned against him.  My favorite scene with Ike is his card game with Doc Holliday.  Holliday’s long winning streak makes Ike question his honesty.  Holliday suggests maybe the better game for Ike was a spelling bee.  This didn’t make Ike very happy.

Thomas Haden Church plays Billy Clanton to great comedic effect.  In one scene Doc Holliday pulls a gun on Billy and tells him to put his hands up.  When Billy says that Doc is so drunk that he’s probably seeing double Doc pulls out another gun and tells Billy he’ll shoot both of them.

 

Sam Elliot and Bill Paxton play Virgil and Morgan Earp and provide workmanlike portrayals.  The rest of the large cast provide varying levels of interest to the story.  Charlton Heston has a small part as the rancher Henry Hooker who comes to Wyatt’s aid.  It’s a good moment and ties the movie to the old western tradition.  For me the weakest part of the story is Wyatt Earp’s romantic life.  His common law wife with the laudanum addiction and his girlfriend the actress don’t seem to really add much to the story.  The feud with the Cowboy gang doesn’t really seem to mesh with the other parts of Wyatt Earp’s life and the ending just seems tacked on.

For me the reason to watch Tombstone is the sequence from the “Gunfight at the OK Corral” through the “Last Charge of Wyatt Earp’s Immortals.”  And the high point of the whole movie is the duel between Doc Holliday and Johnny Ringo.  The two deadliest pistoleros square off and settle the outcome of the war.  And of course, Kilmer’s dialog here is very amusing.

So, I’ll have to remain conflicted by this movie.  It is full of scenes and lines that I greatly enjoy.  My greatest criticism is that it should have been titled for and based on Doc Holliday.  He is the star and he provides all the thunder.  Poor Wyatt is completely eclipsed and left limping along once Holliday leaves the frame.

Next, I’ll look at the true story of Wyatt Earp.  That’ll be Kevin Costner’s film.

What Good Sci-Fi is Out There?

Sci-Fi movies have a long and checkered past. They run the gamut from such high concept films as 2001: A Space Odyssey to such dreck as Plan Nine from Outer Space. And in addition to quality these films vary by sub-genre. There are movies that concentrate on technology and how humans will adapt to it. This category includes such movies as I, Robot and The Martian. There are movies that are mostly about contacts with alien life of one form or another. This would include everything from War of the Worlds to Independence Day. Then there are movies that are basically monster movies like Alien and The Thing from Another World where the science fiction is just a vehicle to allow things to jump out at the protagonists from dark corners.
I will confess that I can enjoy almost any of these types of movies on any given day if given the chance. But it seems of late the quality of sci-fi is in decline. All kinds of money is being spent on special effects and the acting is really no worse than it’s been in the past. So what’s different?
First, I would say, is the quality of scripts. The words coming out of the characters mouths are getting less interesting. I have been assured that motion pictures are a visual medium in which dialogue is an ancillary dimension of the experience and entirely superfluous. That a good movie shows you not tells you. I disagree. Of course the visual is primary. But if the movie is about people then they need to talk to each other and if the dialogue is bad then the film is bad even if you blow up all the planets in the solar system in alphabetical order in vibrant Technicolor. Let me clarify one thing. I am not advocating for highly polished dramatic set pieces. Dialogue between a street dweller and a policeman can be good without breaking into Shakespeare. All I’m saying is the dialogue is either lame or non-existent in most sci-fi movies today.
Second, the majority of the protagonists are not particularly likeable. Once again let me qualify. I’m not saying I want the good guys to be boy scouts, far from it. But a flawed character can still be the character the audience identifies and empathizes with. As an example from detective fiction, think about Sam Spade. He’s cruel, selfish and violent. But there’s never any doubt whether we want him or his adversaries to come out on top. The characters now seem either evil or just ciphers.
And lastly, the stories that these movies are based on are usually not very substantial. Think of some of the great stories that have been written. Even restricting myself to one author, Heinlein, I could point out a dozen books and short stories that could be made into excellent films. Wouldn’t “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” make a great movie? And how about “Farmer in the Sky”? And I think audiences would eat up “Have Spacesuit Will Travel.” The danger is that the studios would turn each movie into a franchise and we’d be subjected to hacks tacking sequels onto completed stories. I’ve heard “Starship Troopers” might be remade as a faithful interpretation of the book. That would be great. But I’m not holding my breath.
Now I’ve ranted against what I don’t like. Let me see if I can identify some that I do. Caveat, I haven’t gone out of my way looking for good sci-fi. But I’ve managed to bump into a lot that’s bad. And I’m leaving out all things Star Wars and Star Trek. I won’t even go there.
• “The Martian” was okay. Despite the fact that I despise Matt Damon he did a decent job and the story though far from brilliant was somewhat engaging and clever.
• The first installment of “The Matrix” was pretty good. Granted it’s almost twenty years old but being much older I will include it in recent.
• If I’m allowed to stretch apocalyptic films as science fiction I’ll point to the “Book of Eli.”
So that’s it. Maybe I’ve missed some. If anybody has any movies from the last twenty years that past muster, leave a comment. We can discuss.

OCF Classic Movie Reviews – The Sting

Can a movie made in 1973 be a classic?  Hell yeah!  The Sting, to my mind, is one of the last identifiable big studio system type movies.  Everything about it exudes quality.  The cinematography, music, actors, sets, sound and script show attention to detail and professionalism.  The only thing that sets it apart from earlier productions is a little profanity that wouldn’t have gotten past the Hayes Code censors of twenty years earlier.

The plot is grifters versus mobsters in 1930s Chicago.  Revenge for a murdered grifter has the two stars Paul Newman and Robert Redford partnering to orchestrate a “big con” against a vicious mobster played by Robert Shaw.  Supporting cast includes Charles Durning, Ray Walston, Eileen Brennan and a host of familiar faces.  George Roy Hill directed it and the ragtime music of Scott Joplin suffuses it from beginning to end and reinforces the feeling that you are immersed in an earlier era.  I cannot think of a false note in the whole movie.  Newman is at his best.  Redford is very good and Shaw chews up the scenery with his best Irish gangster characterization.  His mannerisms are fantastic.  One of his best bits has one of his henchmen asking if it’s worthwhile hunting down the grifters who stole such a small amount of his money.  Shaw’s on a golf course and he points to another golfer and says to the hitman, “Ya see that fella?  He and I went to fifth grade together.  If he finds out that a two-bit grifter got away with stealing from me I’m gonna have to have you kill him and every other small timer from here to Atlantic City.  Yafalla (which means do you follow)?

The plot is intricate involving Newman’s crew of con-men, Shaw’s gang, hired hitmen from out of town, local police and even FBI agents after Newman.  There are twists, turns and surprises.  The movie combines comedy, action and some drama in a fast-paced and highly entertaining way.  It’s an homage to the gangster movies of the 1930s that feels like it could have been written by O’Henry or Ring Lardner.  But there’s a modern feel to the pessimistic tone of the ending.  When Newman asks Redford what he’ll do with his cut, he says he doesn’t want it.  “I’d only lose it anyway.”

Give it a try if you’ve never seen it.  Highly recommended.

OCF Classic Movie Reviews – Capra Corn – The Films of Frank Capra – Part 1 – It Happened One Night

Anyone who has watched TV around Christmas has probably seen a Frank Capra movie because every year they play “It’s a Wonderful Life” non-stop for a week straight.  And that’s a really good Capra film.  But Capra made a bunch of good films in his day and some of them are among my favorites.  And my all-time favorite is “It Happened One Night.”  Filmed in 1934, it stars Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in a screwball comedy that wants us to believe that an heiress on the run from her father would meet up accidentally on a bus with a reporter who needs her runaway story to salvage his newspaper career.  Their trek from Florida to New York begins with each despising the other and ends up, of course, with them falling in love.  But of course, the course of true love is never smooth and never was that truer than with this goofy tale.  The key to the success of this movie, for me, is the chemistry between Gable and Colbert.  He is the seemingly self-confident man of the world.  He knows it all and claims to be able to write a book about every skill from how to correctly dunk a doughnut, to how to thumb a ride on the highway.  She starts out as the arrogant little rich girl.  Pretending to need no one’s help and always in charge.  Once they broker a deal to travel together to their mutual interests, they proceed to heckle each other and bicker until they pretty convincingly fall in love.  My wife and I have always thought of this as a pretty much perfect date movie.  It has a little something for both sexes.  Gable gets to strut and brag in his king of the jungle act and Colbert is the sarcastic little woman.  In one of my favorite scenes Gable is demonstrating his various “foolproof” methods of thumbing a ride.  After a string of failures, he dejectedly admits maybe he shouldn’t write that book after all.  Colbert says she’ll get a ride and won’t even have to use her thumb at all.  Of course, she walks over to the rod, lifts her skirt above her knee and the first passing car slams on the brakes and the emergency brake too.  An amused Colbert says to the glum Gable that she had just answered an age-old riddle.  He asks what and she replies “that the limb is mightier than the thumb.”  And he viciously replies “well why didn’t you just take off all your clothes and you could have gotten a hundred rides?” to which she serenely replies “when we need a hundred rides I will.”

As I mentioned earlier, the couple don’t smoothly move from reluctant partners to sweethearts without obstacles and by the last reel misunderstanding and anger almost conspire to destroy this match made on a Greyhound Bus.  But of course, happily ever after is bound to be in a Capra film so the fear of tragedy is never serious.

The movie is full of little details of life in depression era America and the vignettes with the denizens of the bus and other locales add charm to the story.  Capra filled his depression era movies with scenes of the common people displaying compassion and camaraderie in the face of adversity.  The scene where the bus riders amuse themselves with a relatively untalented singing performance is amusing and appealing if a little contrived.

If you’ve never seen the movie, I unreservedly recommend it.  If you don’t like it then I recommend you do not read any more of my reviews.  Our points of view on film would be just too far out of synch to allow any value to you.  And may God have mercy on your poor shriveled soul.

OCF Classic Movie Reviews: The Caine Mutiny

As our first official classic movie review, I’ve picked a beaut.  “The Caine Mutiny” is a World War Two movie made nine years after the war had ended.  It is an adaption of Herman Wouk’s novel and stage play.  This movie has a cast that included star, Humphrey Bogart, veteran actors like Van Johnson, Fred MacMurray and Jose Ferrer along with character actors like Lee Marvin and Claude Akins.  It follows the crew of the USS Caine, a minesweeper under the command of a very difficult captain, Philip Francis Queeg played by Bogart.  A series of incidents convinces the officers that Queeg is a dangerously paranoid lunatic.  It all comes to a head during a typhoon when the officers relieve Queeg of command.  This sets up the finale of the movie, a court martial of the officers who mutinied against their captain.  Jose Ferrer portrays the defense counsel and his part is a tour de force.  He dominates the end of the movie and resolves the conflicting faults of the main characters by identifying “the true author of the Caine Mutiny” and placing blame where it was deserved.  All of the veteran actors perform admirably with Fred MacMurray being especially notable for his character portrayal against type.  There is one weak aspect to the movie.  One of the primary strands of the plot is the story of young Ensign Willis Seward “Willie” Keith played by neophyte actor Robert Francis.  A love story between Keith and his girl at home, May Wynn, is woven into the plot.  In my opinion it is a weak element and a distraction.  Some of the stronger elements involve humor stemming from the crew’s experience of Queeg’s erratic behavior.  But for all of his extreme behavior, Bogart comes off as a strangely sympathetic character and the lack of a truly heroic character seems fitting and realistic.  I think Wouk was capturing the actual experience of war.  The fear and uncertainty that even the sane individuals felt humanizes the behavior of someone like Queeg.  I think it will strike a chord for many people who have had to work together under crisis conditions.

Who will like this movie?  I guess folks who like court room dramas are likely candidates.  Even though it’s a WW II movie and mostly takes place on a war ship it’s not really a war movie.  But it is about navy men and it does reflect the time when it took place.  One interesting historical detail is the social reality of the place of black sailors in the US Navy of the time.  The mess-boys are the cooks and all of them are young black men.  They have an important plot element and I’m sure if Alec Baldwin and Dave Letterman ever review this movie on TCM they’ll denounce the rabid racism of the United States and the military then, now and forever.  Luckily for all of you I just think it’s an interesting footnote on a different time.

In conclusion, to quote from Captain Queeg, the Caine Mutiny can be counted among “the greatest, I kid you not.”

Tolkien: A Very, Very Long Story – Part 1 – On the Screen vs. the Mind’s Eye

Okay, The Lord of the Rings, the big enchilada. Tolkien wrote about a half a million words about his war of the ring. His son Christopher has made a cottage industry of publishing every scrap of draft paper that his father ever scribbled and analyzing them as if they were papyrus palimpsests of the lost plays of Sophocles. In the last sixty plus years an unending stream of analysis both professional and personal has been generated about these books. Everything that could be said has been said and about a million times. So, what possible justification is there for me to add to the ocean?

Well, it’s my damn blog and I want to. So, without further ado…

I read the Lord of the Rings when I was about twelve. I was highly impressed. Obviously as I matured my opinion of the story was based on an evolving baseline of experience with fiction and personal experience of the world around me. Over the years my personal preferences among the various characters and scenes have altered somewhat. But my overall opinion of the work is still very high and very enthusiastic.
Over the course of the time I have been a fan of the Lord of the Rings, Hollywood has from time to time attempted to produce motion picture versions of it. Some of these were animated films. One was drawing superimposed over live action frames of film (Ralph Bakshi’s film). Recently a sophisticated live action and CGI combination was produced by Peter Jackson and managed to win the Academy Award for best picture. The relationship between these films and the text is the subject of this post.
I will state categorically that none of the film versions of the Lord of the Rings before Peter Jackson’s version ever succeeded (except in very small sections) in capturing the feeling of the book. The inability to draw the viewer into the reality of the story was always too strong. But in the Jackson version it succeeded.

Okay, here come the qualifiers. Do not confuse the above statement with an unconditional endorsement of every aspect of the movie. There are any number of things about the movie that I object to (some extremely strenuously). For instance, Denethor is rendered as a terrible man. I do not think that reflects Tolkien’s intent or description. Also, some aspects of the treatment of Frodo and Sam’s friendship is oddly portrayed and off-putting. The super human abilities of Legolas seem exaggerated and some of the silly treatment of Gimli are annoying. A hundred little and not so little problems exist.

Getting that out of the way I will say that Jackson’s movies bring the Lord of the Rings alive. In a certain sense these films will give Tolkien’s work a chance to become part of the mythology of the whole human race. Because although millions of people have read the books, billions of people will see the movies. Not every viewer will be impacted deeply by the story but enough of the books comes across in the films that the films will act as an amplifier of the story in the digital realm we now inhabit. So, on balance the Jackson films are a net positive for the Tolkien lovers of the world.

I’ll cut this first Tolkien post short here. After all this is an endless pursuit. Best not to drone on too much. But I’ll end with my opinion on the best scene in the Jackson films. And I’ll specify I’m talking about the extended versions. The best scene is the Ride of the Rohirrim at the Battle of Minas Tirith. It was stirring and well done. Feel free to leave your opinion on the best scene in the comments.