MT VOID 05/11/01 (Vol. 19, Number 45)

MT VOID 05/11/01 (Vol. 19, Number 45)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 05/11/01 -- Vol. 19, No. 45

Table of Contents

Outside events: The Science Fiction Association of Bergen County meets on the second Saturday of every month in Upper Saddle River; call 201-447-3652 for details.

Chair/Librarian: Mark Leeper, 732-817-5619,
Factotum: Evelyn Leeper, 732-332-6218,
Distinguished Heinlein Apologist: Rob Mitchell,
HO Chair Emeritus: John Jetzt,
HO Librarian Emeritus: Nick Sauer,
Back issues at
All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.

Top Ten Films of the Century (Part 3):

We are listing what I consider to be the best films of the last century. Alternatively these are the best films ever made. We are down to what I consider the best three films every made.

3) A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS (1966) -- Robert Bolt wrote the screenplay to LAWRENCE OF ARABIA and DR. ZHIVAGO, but also wrote the play that was produced on Broadway. It was later adapted to the film of the same name. Paul Scofield leads the cast as Sir Thomas More, a man of overpowering intelligence and integrity, one of my two screen heroes. Once a close friend of Henry VIII, More refuses to endorse Henry's divorce of his first wife, Catherine, to marry Anne Boleyn. More chooses instead the neutrality of silence on the matter. The efforts of Henry's henchmen to try to force More to abandon his integrity becomes a story for all seasons. More's strong principles and the clarity of his thinking and arguments make him one of my two cinematic heroes. His arguments are paragons of simple and clear thinking. High point of the film is his line of reasoning of why he must give his enemies the protection of the law.

Honorable Mention: THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER -- I said that Thomas More was one of my two screen heroes in A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS. My other hero is John Singer played by Alan Arkin in THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER. While Thomas More was a man of great strength, Singer is a man of great weaknesses. He is a deaf mute who simply cares about helping other people. He makes a difference in the lives of everyone he touches. Based on a novel set in the Depression South it updates the setting without harming the story. I find this a very moving film.

2) SPARTACUS -- Technically I do not consider SPARTACUS to be a Stanley Kubrick film. The creativity on this historic epic really owes more to Kirk Douglas than to Kubrick. Kubrick was invited to direct only when Anthony Mann, who was the first director, was not doing the job as Douglas had wished. Douglas remembered working with Kubrick on the great PATHS OF GLORY brought in Kubrick, then had artistic differences with him. Somehow with all this a really fine film of the Servile War of ancient Rome was made. The script for this production is terrific including spectacular war scenes, profound (even enigmatic) characters, politics, and an in-depth look at Rome. Douglas and Jean Simmons star and supporting roles go to greats like Laurence Olivier and Peter Ustinov. The only actor who seems a little out of place and out of his depth is Tony Curtis. Nothing remotely like the Servile Wars had ever happened to Rome at the time. Gladiators and slaves revolted against their servitude and, led by a remarkable commander, brought terror to the ruling class of the Roman Empire. Spartacus has for centuries been a hero to liberals. And if all this were not enough, this film was one of the most important films in the history of American film. It came out at the time of Hollywood black listing. Most blacklisted artists were denied their right to work. Dalton Trumbo wrote the screenplay assuming that it would credited to a front or a false name. Instead, Kirk Douglas gambled the success of this film and millions of dollars of his own money when he insisted that Dalton Trumbo receive credit for the script. His name would not just be on the screen, but in letters no smaller than Douglas's own name. When only a minor protest followed, led most notably by Hedda Hopper, SPARTACUS demonstrated that blacklisting had lost its power. The film signaled the end to that tragic period of American History.

1) SCHINDLER'S LIST -- I grew up hearing frequently about the Holocaust. But I heard about it at home. There was no mention of it in school when we talked about the Second World War. There was an occasional mention in films like EXODUS. But, in general, there was rarely a public mention. It was 1974 before the Holocaust actually showed up in the media in a TV-movie QB-VII. That was 29 years after the Holocaust ended. Up until that time most of the American public was ignorant about that piece of history when in this century more than eleven million people were murdered, better than half being Jews. There has never been a film that showed how bad things were and perhaps never could be because one cannot find actors starved to emaciation. Steven Spielberg knows better than just about anyone else how to control the tone of a film. Here he just wanted to make a powerful statement and he does it better than it has ever been done. It is a film of importance in the face of Holocaust deniers and it is a film artfully made. For me it is the finest film I have ever seen.

Now let us recap the top ten films.

          10) INHERIT THE WIND
           9) KING KONG (1933)
           8) STAR WARS (1977)
           7) THE KILLING FIELDS
           6) PATHS OF GLORY
           4) LAWRENCE OF ARABIA
           3) A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS
           2) SPARTACUS
           1) SCHINDLER'S LIST

          Honorable Mentions:
          THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY (1903)

THE MUMMY RETURNS (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

Capsule: The 1999 precursor film THE MUMMY seemed aimed at fifteen-year-olds with their love of martial arts, monsters, action, and adventure. For the sequel, the dark tone has been toned down and the film aimed more at ten-year-olds or younger. One of the heroes is younger than that though he talks like an adult. Gone are the grim horror elements of the original source films and instead the film (at times) is a lighter than air fantasy adventure. Most of the majors of the cast return with the Mummy, though there is a newer and bigger villain. This was a magnificent attempt to make a really wild film, but the pieces are just too much mismatched a patchwork and they never gel together. Rating: 4 (0 to 10), 0 (-4 to +4)

Stephen Sommers's THE MUMMY made some questionable style choices moving the film from the realm of horror. That is basically what we would have expected with a film called THE MUMMY. Instead he gave it a lighter feel with more comic adventure. The plot as written by Nina Wilcox Putnam and Richard Schayer had been an amalgam of THE MUMMY (1933) and THE MUMMY'S HAND (1940), but had thrown in some Indiana-Jones-style adventure. Sommers wrote the script for the new sequel himself and has made it an uneven collection of many bizarre styles. They rob the film of any credibility the viewer might want to find.

What hurts the viewer's suspension of disbelief the most is how anachronistically and out-and-out ridiculously the film is when it tries to recreate the feel of either 3000 BCE or 1933. In addition the film tries to combine far too many weird elements into one film. The film gives us on one platter martial arts, CGI-special effects, recreations of Ancient Egypt, one WWF wrestling star, a re-vivified mummy, and a fantasy air ship that looks like it came from a children's storybook. At the same time Sommers tries to rewrite Egyptian mythology with none of the proper feel and to create an adventure set in an Egyptian jungle. (An Egyptian jungle? Don't ask.) The film almost seems inspired by BEING JOHN MALKOVICH with its strange compounding of weirdness on absurdity on farce. On top of this the script is a mess with so many factions fighting each other that it is hard to keep them straight. The Mummy may return at the title suggests, but he is not even the main villain and is reduced to a secondary role. In fact in this film Im-Ho-Tep the Mummy (played by Arnold Vosloo) is opposing the real villain, an ancient sorcerer and conqueror called the Scorpion King. (What kind of an Egyptian name is that?) So does that make the Mummy a good guy this time around like the Swarzenegger robot in TERMINATOR 2? No, for some reason everybody has got to oppose everybody else. Perhaps that is the only way there are enough good fights. One almost has the feeling that in the early drafts perhaps Im-Ho-Tep did not participate in this adventure at all.

It is 1933, about eight years after the events of THE MUMMY. Rick O'Connell (Brendan Fraser) and Evelyn Carnahan (Rachel Weisz) are now married and have an irritatingly precocious son Alex (Freddie Boath). Having a family does not stop the O'Connells from going on Egyptology expeditions. In fact young Alex has learned a great deal of Egyptology from his parents. The Happy O'Connells on vacation discover a bracelet that was worn by the Scorpion King some 3000 years ago. They bring the bracelet to London just when somebody else brings Im-Ho-Tep back to life and back to London. (Jeez, I've forgotten, who is it now? It isn't Ardeth Bay. He is supposed to be keeping the Mummy dead. There are so many different factions of people in this film it is impossible to keep them all straight. Well, it probably doesn't matter.) Meanwhile Evelyn has been having funny dreams and visions of Ancient Egypt. She seems at the same time to be learning martial arts in her sleep, which is a pretty good trick. Yes she is learning to fight Kung Fu style (just like the ancient Egyptians did???) and has taken to wearing a sort of low-cut leotard (the way women in 1933 all did???). I guess those who forget history are doomed to miss some of the biggest howlers in this film.

While we are on the subject, let's talk about some of the other inaccuracies in this film. We are told almost from the beginning that Anubis is a "dark god" and is evil. No, Anubis humans' guide though the world of the dead. He is a very necessary ally. Rick is shown as bashing his way through a tomb with a crowbar. By 1933 he would have known better. Giovanni Belzoni may have done stunts like that in his excavations but he was already dead 110 years when they show Rick unthinkingly breaking down walls. By the 20th century Egyptologists were a lot more prudent. I have seen a lot of Egyptian artifacts in my time, in and out of Egypt, but I have never heard of a curse on a tomb or a gizmo like the star-shaped key. The latter may be somewhat forgivable. Most mummies would have wanted to leave their mummy cases in the next world. This was a special case. The actors are all wrong for Ancient Egyptians. Egyptians were a small people by modern American standards; adults averaging something like five feet tall. Certainly that is what the skeletons inside most mummies seem to indicate and because proper nutrition was probably hard to come by, even kings would be small by our standards. We can be certain they did not look much like Arnold Vosloo and Dwayne Johnson. Neither Boath nor Weisz are very convincing as 1933 people. Of course, they are not really convincing as 2001 people either. This film has lines like "There is a fine line between coincidence and fate." What does that mean? How could anyone know that?

The script is not only unfaithful to Egyptian mythology, it is inconsistent with the first film. In the first film Ardeth Bay was part of a small very secret society that fights the return of Im- Ho-Tep. In this film he seems to have the ability, without benefit of magic, to summon up armies the size of the population of Schenectady. Who are these people?

The score by Alan Silvestri is one of his better efforts, sometimes better than the action it enhances. The special effects are more complex than the first film but much more often they are crude and unconvincing. There are obvious matte paintings and a very unconvincing stop-motion model toward the end. Some of the CGI work goes in for quantity and not quality. Effects that would have been knockouts in the 1960s just are not up to 21st century standards. On the other hand one good touch is that virtually every important character from the first film who did not permanently die in that plot is back and played by the same actor. That is extremely uncommon in sequels. The character of Evelyn is much more like Emma Peel than the Evelyn of the last film, but the same actress, Ms. Weisz, plays her in this go-around.

Unpredictable style can be a virtue in a film. In THE MUMMY RETURNS the styles seem less blended than thrown together and pitted against each other. It is storybook fantasy one moment and something from the WWF the next. It is not audacious, just incongruous. I rate it 4 on the 0 to 10 scale and a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]

Quote of the Week:

    Winners never quit and quitters never win.  But people
    who never win and never quit are idiots.
                                   -- E. L. Kersten