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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
02/01/02 -- Vol. 20, No. 31
Table of Contents
The Big Question (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
The other day I decided it was time. It is best to take the major issues head-on. You wait a few days, to see if they will go away on their own, and if not you have to face them. You cannot always live in denial. Screwing up my courage I decided I had to tell Evelyn. "Evelyn," I said, "I think you should know I have been seeing someone behind your back." She looked up at me, perhaps thinking I was joking, but sensed that this time it was serious. Now the real test. I asked, "Can you look over your shoulder and see if you see him too?" [-mrl]
Blue M&Ms (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I got a pack of M&Ms the other day and took a close look at what I got. I cannot say that I have gotten used to the creeping of punk culture into our daily lives. And one of the worst aspects of our newly punk culture is blue M&Ms. I put those right up there with the major forms of rebellion of our time like tongue studs, purple spiked hair, and Lawrence Welk reruns on PBS. Have you ever looked at a blue M&M? It is a nice shiny deep blue. I can see painting a Corvette this shiny enamel blue. I think I may have even had a toy truck that that was the same kind of shiny blue. I did not put the truck in my mouth. To the best of my knowledge I never put anything shiny and blue like that in my mouth. Normally I would not want to. How did they decide that shiny blue was a good color for candy?
The candy was introduced in 1941 and saw service in the Second World War as being a sort of portable chocolate. The colors at that time were red, yellow, green, brown, orange, and violet. Violet? Blech. That is a little close to blue. Nobody eats blue food. In 1949 they wisely ditched violet and replaced it with tan. These now were the colors we all grew up with. These were the colors that nature intended.
Well, apparently what happened is that the Mars Candy Company decided in 1995 that they might consider new colors for their candy. Their big mistake was to make it a public poll. The choices, I believe, included blue, pink, purple, or no change. They have learned in their past that candy has to keep up with the times and public tastes. There was a time, back in the 1930s when you got three mini-candy bars in a Three Musketeers. One was chocolate, one was vanilla, one strawberry. Everybody's favorite was the chocolate bar and it actually could be produced more cheaply than the strawberry bar. Eventually they bowed to public tastes and financial pressure and eliminated two of their three musketeers. They made it just one chocolate bar. I imagine they must have looked at the possibility of renaming the bar a One Musketeer bar, but that probably just did not sound right and called attention to the fact that two of the musketeers were MIA. So, though it made no sense, the bar was now called a Three Musketeers bar with only historical reasons for the name. Of course even Alexander Dumas called them the Three Musketeers somewhat inaccurately. I mean do you remember them ever using muskets? Swords, that's what they used. They may have had muskets, but with the world-famous quality of French firearms, they may have felt safer using swords. Think what it means about French muskets that the famed three musketeers thought that if they were facing an opponent at twenty meters, firing a musket at him was not as safe or reliable as running the twenty meters and stabbing him with a sword. Maybe they were just sadistic. Would you rather be killed by a gun or a sword? I will answer that for you. If you are ever given a choice, and I can't imagine it happening, choose the gun. But this, of course, is a digression from the world of candy. Maybe Mars just figured that once people had started grooving on the camaraderie of three candy bars that were "all for one and one for all," they couldn't eat them.
Okay, let's pop the stack one more time and get back to M&Ms. The company actually had this 1995 public poll asking people what color they wanted. The overwhelming winner was blue M&Ms. This shows one of the fallacies of Democracy. (It must show a fallacy of something. Nobody in their right mind would choose blue M&Ms without benefit (?) of some fallacy.) You probably can find an idiot fringe who thinks that blue M&Ms are a pretty good idea. They will express that idea if given half a chance. But who would write the company out of the blue and say blue is a disgusting color for M&Ms? Nobody would expect that they would make such a weird mistake. I bet it would be very easy to get a dozen or so people inspired to write to President George W. Bush to say he should wear a chicken on his head in May. How many people are going to spontaneously write to the President to tell him that they don't want him to wear a chicken on his head in May? It just is not a real enough concept to them. Luckily George W. Bush is not one to be ruled by Democracy. Similarly who would expect that the candy people would make a shiny blue M&M? Appalling. We don't have enough people willing to think about the unthinkable. [-mrl]
THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Alexander Dumas's classic story of revenge and the power of money comes to the screen again in a sumptuous adaptation. Edmond Dantes, by a trick of fate, goes from having his life unjustly ruined and being a helpless prisoner to being one of the richest and most powerful men in the world. The new version takes liberties with the story but uses them wisely to add excitement. Rating: 7 (0 to 10), +2 (-4 to +4) Warning: there are spoilers, particularly for people who do not know the famous story.
My copy of THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO by Alexander Dumas, pere, is over 1200 pages long. By page 220 Edmond Dantes has already been in and out of prison and is a rich man. That part of the story is really little more than a prologue in the novel as Dumas wrote it, though in the new film version it is about half the film. That is the part the fans of the story know well and it is really the origin of the character, so in a film version that is the part of the story people are going to want accurate to the original. For example, in a movie of Batman it is the origin and the cast of the character that people know and has captured their imaginations, not the story that follows. The comparison to Batman is not a light one since essentially THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO is a superhero story of its day. We start with some poor nebbish who has been supremely misused by some very nasty people and the world in general. Suddenly he is given the power to crush the evil- doers and he takes on an alter-ego identity to do it in secret. Edmond Dantes's special power is financial power. There is more than a little of THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO in Batman or Spiderman. Like Batman, the Count even has a loyal sidekick, a reformed smuggler named Jacopo.
The classic story by Alexander Dumas (or whomever, but I won't get into that) is of the young sailor Edmond Dantes (played in this go-round by James Caviezel), who just was promoted to ship's captain in 1815 and is ready to be married. But before he can be married, he is betrayed and framed for treason by three different men, each for a different reason. His cruel and mind-numbing punishment is to be imprisoned at the Chateau d'If. After sixteen years of barbarity and stone, he escapes having learned the location of a fabulous legendary treasure, more money than an army could spend. He now has the power to avenge the injustice done him.
The first half of Jay Wolpert's screenplay for this new version tracks the plot of the early parts of the novel reasonably well, though several changes have been made to inject more fighting and action, and in general to make the story more cinematic. Fernand Mondego (Guy Pierce) in this version is a shipmate of Dantes. Dantes actually meets Bonaparte which he never did in the novel. Accused of treason, he temporarily escapes on the way to prison and gets into a sword fight with Mondego. The warden at the Chateau d'If prison (Michael Wincott) is a sadist who whips the prisoners annually. These are all revisions. In prison Dantes learns to read and write and then to get a full education. It seems most unlikely that a man who could not keep a ship's log could be made a captain. Exciting as his prison escape is in the novel, it is goosed up to much more of a hair-breadth escape in the film. These may all be considered acceptable liberties taken with the story to make it better cinema. Certainly this film is more faithful to the spirit of the original story than was director Kevin Reynolds's earlier film ROBIN HOOD, PRINCE OF THIEVES.
James Caviezel would be fine as the title character. (I admit I was expecting it to be Guy Pierce when I saw the opening credits.) His only problem is a distinctive profile that would have given his secret away. Luis Guzman is a good enough actor, but somehow he does not seem to fit Napoleonic times. Richard Harris as the old Abbe Faria adds a touch of splendor, even if his cell is greatly overdone (not unlike the bat cave in THE MARK OF ZORRO).
This new production looks handsome with the rocky coast of Ireland and occasionally Malta standing in for France and the Mediterranean settings of the story. The score, by Ed Shearmur, while not up to the classic score that would have accompanied this sort of film in the 1940s, is sufficient to spice the action scenes with their athletics and swordplay. Those action scenes are delightfully consistent with Newtonian physics with nary a hint of the hidden wires or digital enhancement that have become common recently. There is just of whiff of anachronism in the martial arts. Irritatingly, the climactic sword fight seems to be shot at twelve frames per second and then slowed back to normal speed. This is a style that I first noted in GLADIATOR and which seems only to detract and distract.
THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO is not a perfect swashbuckler, by any means, but as one that uses plot and drama rather than wirework or CGI is a sign that adventure films may be going back in the right direction. I rate it a 7 on the 0 to 10 scale and a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Perhaps the only true dignity of man is his capacity to despise himself. - George Santayana
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