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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 12/25/98 -- Vol. 17, No. 26
Table of Contents
MT Chair/Librarian: Mark Leeper MT 3E-433 732-957-5619 firstname.lastname@example.org HO Chair: John Jetzt MT 2E-530 732-957-5087 email@example.com HO Librarian: Nick Sauer HO 4F-427 732-949-7076 firstname.lastname@example.org Distinguished Heinlein Apologist: Rob Mitchell MT 2E-537 732-957-6330 email@example.com Factotum: Evelyn Leeper MT 3E-433 732-957-2070 firstname.lastname@example.org Back issues at http://www.geocities.com/~ecl. All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.
URL of the Week: http://newton.gws.uky.edu/. Yes, today is that holiday beloved to all us scientific types--Sir Isaac Newton's Birthday. And what more approriate URL than a web page devoted to him? [-ecl]
THE POSTMAN: I have discovered something interesting about the film THE POSTMAN. I have some friends who I think know film reasonably well. One is a film critic from the Boston area; one is a professor at a Maryland university; there are a few others I meet at conventions. I asked their impressions of the film THE POSTMAN (based on the novel by David Brin). They tell me something like "you know, the critics really did a number on that film, but I kind of liked it." But the reason I was asking them is that that was my reaction also. The problem was that the film was too easy to misinterpret as a maudlin tribute to those hardworking people who handle America's mail. They think it is the story of the mailman who saved the world. And there are definitely scenes of the film that would give you the impression that that is what the film is all about. But that is not really it.
Let me tell you what the film THE POSTMAN is really about. In chemistry I have seen a solution brought to the point where it was ready to crystallize. Everything is just perfect. Every molecule of that solution wants the order of a crystal state, but the solution in its pure state remains a fluid. There is no place for the crystal to start. Add to the solution one speck of dust, one little bit of impurity, and the solution will crystallize faster than the eye can see. THE POSTMAN is about something like that. In THE POSTMAN there has been some unspecified holocaust that has destroyed society several years earlier. There are people who survived any way they could. And that was okay for a while. But you cannot live your life forever on the edge. There are people today in Northern Ireland and in the Middle East who once felt very strongly in their hatreds of their enemies. But as they get older they tell themselves that enough is enough. They want to see peace in their time. Whether the hotheads will allow it or not is a different question. But there is a human need to feel things have gotten better in the world in your time and you can live out your old age in peace. That is the state things are in THE POSTMAN. The people are tired of the post-holocaust chaos. Everyone misses the ordered life and wants it to return. But everybody has lost hope of that ever happening. Then one con man tells one lie to get a free meal. He is the impurity in the crystallizing solution.
The con man tells people that order has returned and they just have not heard since they were out of touch. He will be delivering them their mail and, by the way, they are supposed to feed him. He really does not intend to ever see them again. In fact he hopes he doesn't since they will very soon discover that the whole point of his visit was to fool them into feeding him. From his point of view things are as bad as they ever were and probably will remain that way forever. So maybe he can exploit their hopes. So he gets his free meal, but he has also been the impurity that is the seed of the return to order. This one lie spreads outward, and people are so anxious that the lie be true, that in the end it doesn't matter that it was a lie. The right lie was more powerful than brutal truth.
As far as I am concerned that is a very powerful idea. That is something to think about this Christmas. [-mrl]
THE PRINCE OF EGYPT (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: The story of the Hebrews' Exodus from Egypt is sacred to three major world religions. In the rapidly developing realm of the animated film this retelling from the Dreamworks gets vibrant new life and is seen with greater spectacle than DeMille could have ever dreamed. But like DeMille's version THE PRINCE OF EGYPT presumes to change the Bible story for dramatic effect. Rating: 7 (0 to 10), low +2 (-4 to +4)
New York Critics: 11 positive, 1 negative, 9 mixed
Back in the 1950s and 1960s Biblical films were again a big business like they had not been since the days of silent film. Cecil B. DeMille opened the way with his remake of his own THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1956). BEN HUR (1959) followed, and while not a story directly from the Bible itself, it did involve Biblical incidents. It was also a remake of a 1920s film. Eventually the times changed and the popularity of Biblical films died. The last major Biblical films released to theaters were KING DAVID (1985) and THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST (1988). There have been some made-for-TV experiments, since but THE PRINCE OF EGYPT from Dreamworks is the first major Biblical film released to theaters in a decade. In many ways it is THE TEN COMMANDMENTS for a new generation and it repeatedly invites comparison. Ironically the new version may create as much interest in the art and culture of ancient Egypt as it creates for the Bible.
THE PRINCE OF EGYPT begins with a statement that the story that follows is true to the essence and values of the original story. That may be true but the film is somewhat truer to the plot of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS than it is to any story told in the Bible. DeMille based his story on three novels about Moses as much as he did on the Bible. The Bible does not make the young Moses an important person in Pharaoh's household. In Exodus the story is told with terse economy. It merely says he was raised as the son of Pharaoh's daughter and later that a slave called him "a prince." And do not over-rate the value of being a prince of Egypt, there were dozens. Rameses the Great, who by the way is generally considered to be the Pharaoh with whom Moses bargained, had over 100 children. His father might well have had equally many and probably would have had little interest in the Hebrew child one of his many daughters had adopted. It makes for a better story to say that Moses nearly became a Pharaoh himself, but that is not what the Bible says.
The story of THE PRINCE OF EGYPT will be familiar to many in the audience, though somewhat more if they are familiar with the 1956 film than is they know the Bible story. The Israelites were slaves to a Pharaoh in Egypt who was afraid that even as slaves they were becoming too numerous and soon would become too powerful. Pharaoh decrees that all the male children of the Israelites are to be slain. This brings us to the opening of the film where Yocheved (voiced by Ofra Haza) sets her newborn son adrift on the Nile in a reed basket, weighing a great danger against a more certain death. The boy is adopted by Pharaoh's wife (not daughter as the Bible says) and becomes like a second son to the Pharaoh. In the most interesting variation on the DeMille version Rameses (Ralph Fiennes) loves Moses (Val Kilmer). Moses loves Rameses too until he finds that he, Moses, is really a Hebrew. So rather than being a one-dimensional villain, there is some depth to Rameses. Moses kills an Egyptian taskmaster and flees Egypt. While Rameses misses his friend, Moses is called on by God (also voiced by Val Kilmer) to return to Egypt and free his people, setting up the classic conflict.
In animation, virtually anything that the mind's eye can see can be put on the screen, and THE PRINCE OF EGYPT wastes no opportunity to outdo DeMille's spectacle. The Egyptian architecture as it appears here is positively titanic. The whole film seems to show architecture of the same scale that was used to cow the locals at Abu Simbel. Egyptian architecture is impressive, but here it is portrayed with a certain hyperbole. The buildings and statues as shown here are enormous and their size is frequently exaggerated with overhead views.
The style of Egyptian wall decoration is to show important figures as being larger than other figures in a scene. A variation on that is used by the Dreamworks animators. The most important characters are given a realistic three-dimensional look. Lessor characters are animated in a flatter style. That effect could have made the animation look wildly uneven. But the animators at Dreamworks make it all work quite well. In addition some of the important sequences look in part or all almost photographic. Some of the most effective scenes however are done entirely flat as the story of what led to the opening of the film is shown as animated wall decoration. This sequence rivals the parting of the Red Sea as the most imaginative in the film.
In the DeMille telling there is an emotional climax to the story and a visual climax. The visual climax is the parting of the Red Sea. Using the best visual methods available in the 1950s, DeMille used a patchwork of mattes of scenes of flowing water. The methods were imperfect and little more convincing than using two rounded cakes of Jell-O as DeMille did in the silent version. Computer animation gives a filmmaker much more freedom and also more responsibility to do something spectacular. And spectacular is what they manage. Where this version falls flat is mishandling of the emotional climax of the story. After the night of terror and death comes the morning of Freedom. DeMille managed to give it a tremendous impact that remains exciting even after many viewings. A big piece of the credit goes to Elmer Bernstein's music. THE PRINCE OF EGYPT understates the departure almost disastrously with the Hebrews just quietly picking up and moving out to the music of a song. Time will tell if I am wrong, but all the songs by Steven Schwartz seemed immediately forgettable.
As with ANTZ a host of familiar actors were used to voice parts. In this case Val Kilmer, Ralph Fiennes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sandra Bullock, Jeff Goldblum, Danny Glover, Patrick Stewart, Helen Mirren, Steve Martin, and Martin Short. To my ear only Goldblum and Stewart have voices characteristic enough to pick out. Both Moses and God are voiced by Val Kilmer, so it was almost a mercy that I did not recognize his voice. In general animation does not require big stars to do the voices, and it almost seems wasteful.
THE PRINCE OF EGYPT tells the story of the Exodus for a new generation and does it in spectacular style. I give it a 7 on the 0 to 10 scale and a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
Mark Leeper MT 3E-433 732-957-5619 email@example.com
Quote of the Week:
Television is a device which permits people who haven't anything to do to watch people who can't do anything. -- Fred Allen