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movie rant, with special concussion bonus!

I'm not sure how I managed to close the car door on my own head. Any explanation I can come up with seems to indicate that I'm someone who shouldn't be surprised when that happens, but I assure you it took me off guard.

But enough about me. Let's stick our thumbs up and whine about movies, shall we?

---

It's probably good when you leave the theatre with questions. "When can I see this again?" being your best case scenario, followed by "What happpens NEXT to these characters?" But there are questions you don't want to find yourself asking, and I think "What other artistic compromises were they forced to make?" may very well top that list.

What's worse for me is when they leave a trail of breadcrumbs to that answer.
    Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
    I can probably get past the fact that most of Alan Rickman's footage was replaced by heroic close-ups of Kevin Costner after test audiences listed Sheriff Nottingham as their favorite character, and that Costner had the director thrown off the movie to silence the man's protests. The movie was still enjoyable enough for what footage we were left with.

    But replacing the shot where Marion sees the scars on Robin's back and starts to take him seriously... with one in which she sees his naked behind and is motivated by lust through the rest of the picture instead... I don't think I can forgive that.

    Perhaps I might have liked the movie if I weren't aware of those behind-the-scenes politics. But they were pretty widely known, and everyone else seemed to enjoy the film despite that. So it's just me.

    Thing is, they filmed a better movie, and don't respect us enough to show it. The special edition DVD adds insult to injury by leaving out most of that footage once again. But rather than offer a half-price discount when they do a half-assed job, we're instead expected to buy the movie a second time, at a premium. This triggers a sort of consumer rage on my part.

    It's less insulting than the Highlander II Renegade Edition (with their "Ha ha. Got you again, suckers!" approach to marketing), but maybe not by much.

    None of that has any bearing on where I'm going with this, but I can't seem to complain about movies without bringing that one up. Let's tie this in by concluding from it that I'm a person who takes these things personally.



    Star Trek 6: the Undiscovered Country
    Man.

    Sulu didn't have anything to do in this film, did he?

    They strung him along on the story's outskirts, building up to some sort of action that didn't end up happening. I mean, he fired a few missiles to contribute in a battle one ship could have handled readily enough. Yay, Sulu.

    It's as though they wanted the original crew to be together there at the end because they're more effective as a team or something, but then couldn't think of a way to actually involve the guy.

    Or, could they?

    See, as the film opens, Sulu's voiceover tells us his ship is on special assignment cataloging gaseous anomalies. Thus, he's in the right place at the right time to witness the explosion that sets our plot in motion.

    Later, he shows a bit of his rebelious side, helping his old captain get away from a bad situation because, y'know, loyalty means something. He then defies orders to go help him in person, which you'd think would be more dramatic than it ended up being.

    No, he sits there on standby through most of the battle, while Enterprise is helpless to defend itself against a prototype ship that can fire while cloaked. All seems lost until Uhura speaks those fateful words: "What about all that equipment we've got on board for cataloging gaseous anomalies? That thing's got to have a tail pipe."

    So, Spock uses this equipment to fashion a gaseous-anomaly seeking torpedo, and Bones helps 'cause, y'know, he's a weapons specialist, not a doctor(tm). And Kirk is able to save the day by commanding (intensely) that this missile be fired. The cloak is disabled, and additional fire from both ships makes short work of the traitorous Klingons.

    What's missing?

    Well, Sulu's part in this, really. 'cause, see, Enterprise wasn't on special assignment cataloging gaseous anomolies. Is it plausible they also had such equipment on board? Perhaps. In dramatic terms, we call this "deus ex machina", and it's considered bad. They actually went through a lot of trouble to avoid that, setting Sulu up with the necessary equipment and bringing him to that place. They spent the whole movie leading up to a different ending, in fact.

    It's not hard to speculate that Sulu's ship, on a mission of science, might not be armed heavily enough to take on the enemy alone. Their contribution could plausibly have been limited to firing the one missile that disabled the cloak, then stepping out of the way to let Enterprise handle itself in a relatively fair fight. That would have been more satisfying than two Federation warships beating up on a single target.

    But, no. The climactic action had to come from Kirk and the gang. Because the original team is not more effective when working together -- Sulu's just a punk for wanting his own ship. Never mind that the climactic action we're talking about was saying one sylable -- Kirk didn't even press the button himself.

    Were there any other options that might have allowed Kirk to issue the command?

    Well, sure. Sulu could have said "On your order, sir" and waited for Kirk to command it, respecting the hierarchy that always should be, and making the fans very happy all around.

    But that doesn't give Bones and Spock their unlikely torpedo-building scene (sorry, Christian Slater -- no pivotal role for you this time!). So is there another way to get the equipment onto their ship?

    Umm, yeah. I see two options there. First, you can use the transporter. Which requires that both ships lower their shields while being fired upon from an unpredictable source. That could be pretty dramatic. Or, you could let Sulu pilot a shuttle pod from one ship to the other, risking life and limb to actually reunite the crew onboard the Enterprise. That might have been good, too.

    So, yeah. Big gaping plot hole, with vestigial limbs from a previous draft hinting at better solutions. A trail of breadcrumbs leading to the better movie we weren't allowed to see.

    And, here's the thing -- there's obviously two sides at work. Nicholas Meyer, who brought us two of the best Trek movies after we lost hope with the worst two, who gave Kirk his glasses and transformed Starfleet into the British Navy, who managed to convince Gene Roddenberry that prejudice would always be possible if you're not wary of it regardless how advanced our civilization may become... The guy most consider to be the only man who can possibly save Trek after all the damage Berman and Braga have wrought upon it... He wanted to tell one story. And on the other side, we have... the forces responsible for everything bad in Trek. Does it even matter who they are? They second-guessed a better man, and we side with them every time we rationalize this away.

    Still a great movie, don't get me wrong. But a difficult one for me to put up with nonetheless.



    Which brings us to...
    The Incredibles
    I'm probably going to blurt out the ending to Toy Story in this section, so if you haven't seen that yet, well, you deserve this. Nonetheless, now would be a good place to stop reading if you'd like to preserve your experience of that film.

    Ready? Let's go.

    Mr. Incredible is a man with a flaw: For all of his heroism, he's incredibly self-centered. This is why, in a city abundant with heroes to take care of the petty criminals, he is late to his own wedding. Things got out of hand on the way there, but with one notable exception (the suicide attempt), no one would have gotten hurt except as a direct result of his involvement. I mean, these were small-time problems --the audience for the ceremony is filled with costumed heroes who didn't feel at all uncomfortable taking that time off, so you have to figure it's just business-as-usual out there.

    Now, you start a movie by introducing a character with such al flaw, you know we're going to end it by reversing that. And more important, we're going to redeem him by reversing any damage this flaw might be responsible for.

    What damage might that be?

    Well, see, there are these lawsuits. And a nation full of heroes is forced to go underground, hiding their abilities and turning the other way when help is needed. They live without honor or dignity, and Mr. Incredible's need for glory is directly responsible for the actions which lead them there.

    So, the story's not really over until the heroes are restored. Or dead, if we're going tragic with it. Either way, it'd come down to one climactic battle, with Mr. Incredible at the center, striking the crucial blow. Or stepping back to let his wife have the glory, perhaps, if that's how he grows as a person.

    Of course, that's not the whole story. His attitude problem also produces our villain's origin, making things personal. It's responsible for alienating his famiily, and putting them in the path of danger. This is what finally shakes him out of it and allows him to save the day by accepting their help (and encouraging them to be who they are). That much is resolved.

    But at the end of the film, they're operating in secret again. The government will look away for them, but other heroes aren't necessarily as lucky. They still live like fugitives. But, hey. Mr. Incredible's more or less restored his own status, right? He can indulge his irrational need for glory with the help of his family! And that's all anyone wanted.

    But, wouldn't it be nice if all the heroes were respected again? If they could live up to their potential without fear of consequence? If they could be who they were born to be, like the guy who put them in this position?

    That's too much to ask, obviously. I mean, where would you fit all that?

    Let's talk about Sindrome for a moment. The man who wants to empower the masses and level the playing field for little guys everywhere? He's an interesting character with complex motivations and his own fatal flaw. Now, he's come up with a clever plan. He built himself a fighting machine, and he's honed it's abilities in battle after battle until was powerful enough to take on any hero. He's going to unleash this on the city, and then earn himself some stature by shutting it down when no one else can.

    Now, let's focus on that detail. When should he step in? Does it matter?

    Well, yes, actually. It's absolutely crucial that he wait for the tanks to arrive and prove useless, for the masses to cry for help, for the remaining heroes to decide they can no longer turn their backs, and for those heroes to prove no more effective. For his plan to succeed, he needs these things to happen, unambiguously, broadcast live on every channel. That's what he needs for his plot to work. Which is sort of important for, y'know, the plot to work. It's also what's called for to set the scene for a dramatic final battle. And by strange coincidence, it's really all you need to bring about the complete restoration of heroes everywhere.

    But, what of Frozone? Surely, he fills that role?

    Not without that moment's hesitation -- can he afford to act? Can he afford not to? That moment didn't happen, he'd be the wrong character for it, and he wasn't bested by the omnidroid prior to Sindrome's arrival. So, no. He didn't.

    I take exception with everyone's assessment that this is Pixar's best work yet. It probably is in most respects, but I don't believe this is the story they wanted to tell.

      And to illustrate that, I have to go back to Toy Story. I'll try to be vague.

      Go back and watch the movie, paying special attention at the end, when Buzz and Woody have to catch up with a moving car. There's a pretty big confluence of factors that make this possible, that establish new obstacles, and that let them overcome these obstacles. Take note of these factors, and trace them all back to see just how far the writers went to plant these. It's pretty amazing, the attention to detail. But, it's what Pixar requires of their stories -- that nothing ring false. It has to feel natural. The pieces have to fit together. That's how high their standards are.

    For the villain to show his hand prematurely, making the finale less dramatic, diminishing the payoff for winning, and rendering the story as a whole less effective? That's not what they wanted.

    Again, we've got two sides in play. On the one hand is Brad Bird and the guys from Pixar, whom everyone loves for keeping up the magic Disney not only abandoned, but seems intent on squashing from the world. And on the other, we have the marketing genius of Disney, with their vested interest in leaving the characters at a certain point so they can continue the adventures in future movies, straight-to-video releases and/or television animation without Pixar's involvement, consent or blessing.

    We don't support Pixar by lying to ourselves about what happened on that screen. We side with Disney, and very publically announce that we support such decisions.

    Again, it's still a great movie. Best one since the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I'm sure. But where I can watch the rest of Pixar's films again and again, always picking up new details and loving them more, I can already tell this one's going to fall further apart under scrutiny. The seams are already showing.
---

If you've known me for any length of time, you've probably heard all that before, or could have predicted it. But you also know this never stops me from repeating myself.

So, there we are.

Again.

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
countessaurelia
Nov. 15th, 2004 12:34 am (UTC)
After all that...
I'm curious to know your feelings on the plots of action movies in general. The Incredibles was an action movie... Finding Nemo was the drama... Monsters, Inc.
Well, you get the point.

Do you also feel that plots are often this predictable in other action movies? In which case, haven't they lived up to that very genre and added a family "lesson" at the end of the flick, as well? Rather like an after school special of G.I. Joe or Transformers... "And knowing is half the battle."
self
Nov. 21st, 2004 11:44 pm (UTC)
Sorry for the delayed response. Fell a week behind here...

Some of my favorite movies are action films with no other redeeming value. But, that's all they set out to be, and they delivered on that promise.

I have absolutely no problem with a plot being predictable. They all are, after all - those jarring twists we all love are an illusion, and the difference between a good film and bad one is largely determined in retrospect or on second viewing, after you know where it's going and can appreciate how cleverly the pieces fit together.

My problem comes when a film isn't predictable. Where, no matter how many times you watch, it never quite works. The examples I was using up there are special, taking this a step further -- their logical disconnect reveals not just vestigial bones of a better movie, but the behind-the-scenes struggle wherein someone other than the creative talent's agenda wins out. I feel cheated and lied to when this happens, and I don't have it in me to lower the bar by comparing these to movies where they didn't try as hard. Heck, I like those lesser films better, since there's no taste of betrayal lingering afterwards. As you might have picked up, that taste stays with me a while.

Besides, what do you compare it to? the Incredibles is much closer to Galaxy Quest than it is the X-Men, and neither are anything close to Rambo or Twister. When you say this is pretty good for an action flick, what does that even mean?
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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