The Penis is Evil…

Following up from my earlier post about the SF Film Marathon.

I read a post by fellow hamster Marie on her Blog about one of my favorite bad movies, the epic of pretentious hippie psychedelica, Zardoz. Seeing her visceral reaction to this movie made me think about this film, and why I find it so interesting. It’s a bad film, but it is certainly not bad in the same way that Aeon Flux is a bad film. Just a cursory viewing shows that John Boorman put more thought into the first ten minutes of Zardoz than any ten mainstream Hollywood SF action flicks in the past ten years.

Bear in mind that I’m not saying these were great thoughts, or even good thoughts— I’m just saying that it’s very clear that someone was actually thinking about the script, rather than pulling stock character from column A and plot point from column B.

This becomes very clear when contrasting Zardoz with another, more recent, ambitious (and pretentious) dystopia, Equilibrium. Equilibrium is another failure, but a much less interesting one. Despite the similarities of theme between the two films— both are about a rogue individual upsetting a delicately balanced totalitarian regime, a classic SF trope— the latter movie, is so blatantly derivative that the movie becomes as soulless as most of its drugged inhabitants. What it didn’t take from Brave New World, 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 (from which the movie owes most of its plot) it swiped from The Matrix. The complete lack of thought that went into the movie Equilibrium is patently obvious in its absurd Hollywood ending. Given its setup, it was like having Winston Smith pick up a gun, shoot Big Brother live during an Oceana propaganda broadcast and having the state collapse in the final pages of 1984.

Zardoz, on the other hand, while derivative in its own way, is much more effective in integrating its influences into John Boorman’s warped vision. The “vision” in Equilibrium amounted to “hey, this would look cool.”

For those of you who dismiss the idea that Zardoz is any more than an extended drug-induced muddle, consider the following:

In Zardoz we have Borman’s interpretation of a classic misogynistic SF theme, the Barbarian Male overthrowing the Amazons.
(I suspect that a lot who’ve seen the film of you may have just said WTF?)

If we watch the film with the idea that the Vortex is estrogen home base, and the outlands are testosterone exile, a lot of the film’s patent insanity makes sense. Take the costume design, open (or no) shirts to reveal secondary sexual characteristics, or the lack of same— Zed, and his fellow exterminators from the outlands are the only ones permitted to have chest and facial hair. This even explains the extreme weirdness of Arthur Frayn’s character having to draw on a mustache and goatee with a sharpie. It explains all the gratuitous boob shots in the Vortex. It even explains what the Agony Booth calls an exercise in “John Boorman’s adolescent sexual fantasies.”

Essentially, the Vortex is Boorman’s fear of what a female-dominated society would end up looking like; impotent effeminate men dominated by a clique of crabby new-age lesbians. Apparently, the only proper antidote for this situation is having a squad of shirtless macho-men shoot the place up.

Well, like I said, I didn’t say they were good thoughts.

The Obligatory Pet Pictures

The Evil One

My wife was nagging me that I don’t put enough of my personal life on my blog, and that I don’t have enough pictures. So here’s the obligatory pet pictures for 1/2 the non-human portion of the household. The evil one is Panzer, a black cat with the mass of a small asteroid. The clueless one is Truffles, a chocolate lab whose skull is the density of a somewhat larger asteroid.

The Clueless One

"I have this cool idea. If you could just help me write it…"

I just read an über-cool short story at Helix, “Rod Rapid and His Electric Chair” by John Barnes. It is truly scary (and funny) on a number of different levels, including a very nice twist of the knife at the end. What’s very cool to me is the fact that the central plot device— forcing a criminal into a VR regression— is almost exactly the same as the one I used in “The Heavens Fall“, and it’s used narratively in almost the same way; and the story is completely different. The plot’s different, the setting’s different, the tone’s different, the style is different, the outcome is way different, and the whole point of the story is different. Comparing the two should demonstrate why telling an author, “I got this real cool idea, if you could just help me write it,” will only get you a wince and an amused nod at best.

Science + Politics = Crap

Ok, I just heard the phrase “debate on global warming/climate change” one too many times. You have three guesses on exactly what pisses me off about that phrase. If you want a hint about what’s ticking me off, I’ll quote myself from my Science<>Religion post:

“Science is observable fact. Period. End of sentence.”

The only thing I can think of that’s more pernicious and dangerous to science as a whole than making religion and science philosophically equivalent, is allowing science to be corrupted by political bias. The absolute only legitimate form of scientific argument is a) Does your hypothesis explain the facts as we know them? b) Is there a verifiable and repeatable means of testing your hypothesis?

The Scientific Method is Not A Debate!

Once the scientific method devolves from “who has a verifiable explanation of the facts?” to “who can make the best argument?” we’re royally screwed. Anyone can make a good argument, a skilled debater can argue anything given the right premises. Once we lose sight of the idea that facts must be tested, and tested repeatedly, science becomes dogma. Those who’ve “chosen sides” on the “debate” over climate change have abdicated their responsibility as scientists. And when scientists become more interested in political “truths” than facts, you get things like Lysenkoism.

The nature of bad SF movies

I was just at the CWRU SF Marathon (an annual event here in Cleveland, if you’re in the area, consider going, it’s like a live version of MST3K) and a couple of recent examples of cinematic SF cheese made me wonder exactly what might be wrong with some modern SF.

Aeon Flux & The Chronicles of Riddick both have abysmal ratings at Rotten Tomatoes, 11% and 28% respectively. (For perspective consider that the cinematic abortion called Ishtar gets 19%) Even if you decide that just being SF will alienate a good percentage of critics (no, I am not making a pun) that’s still really bad. You certainly can’t fault either film on production design, and they are both visually interesting. So, what sucks? The acting isn’t horrible by action movie standards, and the stories in both are, for Hollywood, fairly original. I particularly liked the background of “Riddick”, it could stand shoulder to shoulder with the space operas in the 1930s-era pulps, story-wise and aesthetically.

What went wrong? Answer: The plot.

For those of you ever curious about the distinction between “story” and “plot”, this is an example. the setting, the backstory, the characters, the situation, these are all story elements. In both cases these story elements could have made a fantastic SF movie, because in both cases these elements were, again by Hollywood standards, fairly fresh and original.

The plot, who does what and why, came straight out of the action movie cliché vault. Deconstruct each film’s plot and you find the anemic heart that beats at the center of every second-rate action movie and cop drama. In case you want to suck the life out of your own screenplay, let me give you the top ten major elements common to all bad action movies:

  1. Hero is ludicrously capable, laconic, and violent. but he/she harbors a secret internal pain that drives him/her to “do the right thing.”
  2. Hero is a mistrusted outsider that is at odds with the forces of authority.
  3. Hero will lose the one person he/she has an emotional connection with, in order to drive home a plot point.
  4. Villain is nearly omniscient and omnipotent, and will have unlimited minions to draw from and hunt the Hero down with. Villain is also in charge of the environment the Hero finds him/herself in.
  5. Despite the endless supply of minions, not one will be competent enough to put a bullet in the Hero’s head when the opportunity presents itself, while the Hero can dispatch minions a dozen at a time without serious injury.
  6. The Villain’s main henchman is plotting against him, and despite the Villain’s omniscience, the Villain has no clue what’s going on until said henchman tries to kill him.
  7. At least one time during the course of the movie the Hero will have inexplicably gained access to the Villain’s HQ, and have free reign through it until the need for exposition is exhausted.
  8. About midway into the movie, the Villain will capture the Hero or otherwise gain close enough access so the two can chat. However, the Villain will never, ever, take this opportunity to kill off the Hero. (To be fair to “Aeon Flux” there was a reason for this.)
  9. The Hero and Villain will have a climatic hand-to-hand confrontation in front of a large number of minions that are unwilling, unable, or too uninterested to intervene on their boss’ behalf (except for the afore-mentioned henchman, who will try to kill his boss.)
  10. Death of the Villain and/or Chief Henchmen will result in the immediate collapse of the “evil empire” run by the Villain/Henchmen, probably with a bunch of explosions. Apparently all the thousands of loyal brainwashed minions have no stake in keeping the social order intact. (To be fair to “Riddick,” the writers subverted this point by having Riddick take over the Bad Guys, including Chief Henchman, which was a nice twist.)

Anyway, if you make a movie that fits this outline, not much else is going to save the screenplay. CGI can only go so far.

I’m Back. . .

And actually moderating comments. Sorry about that 🙁 I just recently had a number of issues that took me away from my Blog, the prime one of which being a car accident back in October. I’m fine, but the Ford F150 I was driving was totaled— apparently, the frame was not supposed to bend that way. And dealing with insurance companies is not my idea of fun. So between that, the holidays, flooding around my house, and trying to write the stuff I’m getting paid for, this Blog got shorted.

I’ll try not to let it happen again.

BTW— here’s a tip for those of you driving a Lexus SUV. When going through a green light, you may like to keep an eye on the car in front of you. It might do something crazy like come to a stop for someone taking a left turn into a parking lot. Just a suggestion.

Oh, and one more thing:
Put the f**king cell phone down if you can’t talk and pay attention to traffic at the same time.