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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
07/19/02 -- Vol. 21, No. 3
Table of Contents
Hitler and the Occult (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
On the History Channel a tagline for an upcoming program asks, "Did Hitler rely on occult forces?" My response is, "I really wish he had relied on them a lot more." [-mrl]
Jekyll and Hyde (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Since moving near New York City in 1978 I have seen (or heard of) produced on Broadway the plays "Dracula," "Frankenstein," and, of course, "The Phantom of the Opera." Having a special interest in the classics of horror I have seen two of them. I missed "Frankenstein" which closed after at most two performances. But the other two were great successes on Broadway. People like to see plays based on the old horror film classics.
A few years back the play "Jekyll and Hyde," a musical by Leslie Bricusse played on Broadway. At the time I had vaguely wanted to see it but was unwilling to pay Broadway prices. However, when recently there was a local production in a park for a modest admission price, I jumped at the chance.
First let us say I had some minor problems with the production. It required a great deal of suspension of disbelief to accept that people did not recognize Jekyll in Hyde. The actor tried to go from Jekyll to Hyde solely by changing his posture, his facial expression, and by throwing his long hair forward. The effect of the transformation was further sabotaged by the actor having a characteristic mustache and beard. Hyde looked like nothing so much as Jekyll getting drunk and fooling around.
But I was more bothered by the Bricusse play itself than the production. My feeling is that no production, no matter how professional, could have made me like this particular adaptation. The first act was slow and lacked the immediacy that a play really needs. A dance in a music hall was way too Bob Fosse for the late 1800s. The music hall songs were by far the wrong style. But what bothered me the most was that the playwright showed no sign of ever having consulted the original story. Going back to at least the 1920 John Barrymore version the major film versions have all sort of cribbed from one another rather than re-adapting the source story. The Bricusse version is very like the best-known film versions and very unlike the original story by Robert Louis Stevenson. So what are the differences? Most of these differences also apply to all the major film versions.
-- I have never heard of a dramatization that had the Stevenson title of the story "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde."
-- Edward Hyde appears in the Stevenson story even before Henry Jekyll does. Stevenson does not tell the story in chronological order. In fact, the origin of Hyde is not told until the last chapter after Hyde is dead. Admittedly, chronological order may work better for dramatic purposes.
-- In the Stevenson Hyde (or Jekyll) dies alone and without much drama. He has taken poison in his laboratory. Films always show him as having one last transformation after death. The very cinematic last transformation after death is not from the Stevenson. The dying man is Hyde before he dies and Hyde's is the body found.
-- In the films, Jekyll is torn between a well-placed fiancee and a prostitute. Except for a few very minor background characters, everyone in the Stevenson story is male. Bricusse even has a maid in Jekyll's house named Mary Reilly. Mary Reilly was the invention of a 1990 novel by Valerie Martin. Martin invented the character of the housemaid who saw Jekyll from a female viewpoint. In the original Jekyll had only one servant that is mentioned in the book, Poole, the butler.
-- It had become standard to have Jekyll present the principles of his upcoming experiment to his colleagues who jeer him and shout him down. This scene is purely a figment of the movie versions.
One final difference is that the film versions claim that Jekyll is the most high-minded and virtuous of his peers before the experiment. Stevenson had no such intention. All that Stevenson says on the subject is the following:
"And indeed the worst of my faults was a certain impatient gaiety of disposition, such as has made the happiness of many, but such as I found it hard to reconcile with my imperious desire to carry my head high, and wear a more than commonly grave countenance before the public. Hence it came about that I concealed my pleasures; and that when I reached years of reflection, and began to look round me and take stock of my progress and position in the world, I stood already committed to a profound duplicity of life."
In fact, the character of the virtuous Dr. Henry Jekyll who hid within him the evil Edward Hyde was suggested by an actual character famous in Edinburgh, Scotland. It seems that a century before the novella was written by Stevenson, the locals had been plagued by ruthless highwayman who had been guilty of many robberies and had frequently escaped by the narrowest margins. Eventually the man was found and discovered to be none other than their own Deacon William Brodie, an upstanding tradesman, wood work creator, and the deacon of the local church. The shock that such a fine respected man could be a dangerous highwayman and robber in his secret life was a scandal thoughout Edinburgh. Stevenson just decided to tell a similar story and to make the means of the double life chemical, and that is the story that has stuck. [-mrl]
REIGN OF FIRE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: An idea that could have been intriguing but was mishandled avoiding showing the most interesting scenes of the story. There are nice moments in REIGN OF FIRE, but there are is also a lot of comic book-ish civilization on the slag heap plotting that the viewer has to wade through to get to it. Rating: 5 (0 to 10), high 0 (-4 to +4). A minor spoiler section following the main review contains my deductions about aspects of dragon biology as it might be to explain facets of the plot.
One can see why some of the people who worked on REIGN OF FIRE might have been enthusiastic about the project, and also why a lot of the viewers seeing the film are not. This is a film that has a few diamonds in a lot of rough. The film combines the over-used cliches of the post-holocaust barbarian society film with some impressive dragon special effects.
In the prolog to the story we see that the digging of a train tunnel in London opens an ancient chamber and releases on the world real dragons--a species more virulent and dangerous than any other that has ever lived. Previously they brought the downfall of the dinosaurs. In this release they multiplied in the millions and quickly spread worldwide to bring the downfall of human civilization. By the year 2020 the remnants of humanity are living in holes in the ground and have been reduced to being a species rapidly going extinct. Quinn (Christian Bale) was present when the first modern dragon was released. Now he leads a diminishing band of humans who seem to be valiantly soldiering on, defending their small bunker system some place that used to be Northumberland and is now little more a tunnel system under a rock heap. They keep their stiff upper lips as their members slowly become dinner for the dragons raining from the sky in rabid attacks. Along come a militaristic band of Americans led by the macho tough guy Van Zan (Matthew McConaughey). The Yanks are crude and violent and step on Quinn's people's rights, but plan to take the fight directly to the enemy. Van Zan himself is a Sgt. Rock stereotype with a shaved head, tattoos, bare arms, military vest, and an inch of grubby cigar between his teeth. He's a human weapon, but at least he is pointed in the direction of the dragons. Quinn fears the aggressive element that has joined his people. In return Van Zan is disgusted by Quinn's overly defensive strategy. Can they defeat the dragons and save humanity? (Does a square have four sides?)
In the moments when there are no dragons on the screen, this is an unpleasant film to watch. It is mostly claustrophobic scenes in tunnels and shots on rock piles. Limited color is used to create an oppressive atmosphere. Scenes with dragons are an entirely different story. The dragons are majestic beauties who seem to quite naturally take to the air. Their design was strongly influenced by that of the dragon Vermithrax Pejorative from the film DRAGONSLAYER. When they fly overhead we are surprised to see how battle-scarred their wings are. Some of the scenes of the dragons look like they come from fantasy book covers. The early dragon conquests which would have been the most impressive part of the film (as acknowledged by the poster) are quickly glossed over to get to the more economical but less interesting action filmed on the slag heaps.
The screenplay is full of unanswered questions, though many could be answered in a more intelligent script. The availability of limited amounts of petroleum and electricity could be explained but are taken as a given. Aspects of dragon biology that drive the plot could be consistently explained but generally are not. What could have been an interesting premise is wasted on a dull story with uninteresting flat characters. Perhaps an allegory was intended comparing American confrontational foreign policy with a European style which is much more reserved, though if so it was not fully developed.
The dragon effects are the best thing about this film and whatever is second is a distant second. Somehow effects are just not enough to make this a recommendable film. I rate REIGN OF FIRE a 5 on the 0 to 10 scale and a high 0 on the -4 to +4 scale.
There has been some discussion about the science behind the dragons being poorly considered. This need not be true, but explanation of what is happening with the dragons may have been avoided to alleviate the need for cumbersome exposition. Actually the way I figure it, much of the female dragon's biological energy is devoted to reproduction which they do very, very fast. This means they live a relatively short period of time and must ingest a great deal of food much of the energy of which goes into creating baby dragons. Like sea lions, one male services a large harem of females. Males are larger, at least equally fierce, and are extraordinarily long-lived not expending as much energy in reproduction. Making things even harder on dragons something has gone wrong with the reproductive system and the one remaining male is producing only daughters. (There are, I believe, biological precedents for this disorder.) This means the species will die out shortly after the death of the last male just from the inability to produce more males and from inbreeding, but the dying human race may not live that long.
There is no way I can rationalize the concept that the dragons subsist eating ash. Perhaps it was meant figuratively. [-mrl]
THE ROAD TO PERDITION (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: In 1931, circumstances make a father and son fugitives from the Capone organization. The moving story about two different father-son relationships follows a once-loyal hit man forced to take actions that will make him a legend. The film has a simple plot but acting and beautiful photography turn this into an emotionally charged and memorable film. Rating: 8 (0 to 10), high +2 (-4 to +4)
THE ROAD TO PERDITION, perhaps the finest film ever adapted from a comic book, is a superficially simple but multi-layered view of two father-son relationships. It is also a look at the forces that lead a man to fame and notoriety. The story, told in flashback, is the story of supposed gangland legend Michael Sullivan as seen by his son, Michael Jr.
In the winter of 1931 this is the story of twelve-year-old Michael Sullivan, Jr. (played by Tyler Hoechlin). Michael Jr. knows his formal and undemonstrative father, Michael Sr. (Tom Hanks) is in some dangerous line of work for John Rooney (Paul Newman), but he does not know what exactly his father does. This John Rooney is the most powerful man in the small Mid-west town and has been like a second father for Michael Sr. John gave Michael Sr. a job and the home the family lives in. In return Michael Sr. is fiercely loyal and would even kill for the Rooney family. One night Michael Jr., curious about what his father does, hides in his father's car to sneak a look at what his father really does on a job. He sees John's son Connor Rooney (Daniel Craig) murder a man with the help of Michael Sr. Now Michael knows what his father does, but he also is a witness that can put Connor in jail or worse.
John Rooney has a very hard choice to make. He loves Michael Sr. like a son and is like a grandfather to Michael Jr., but Connor, as much of a disappointment as he is, is a son by blood. When Connor goes a step further killing Michael Jr.'s mother and brother John Rooney sides with his son's plan to kill the two Michaels and finish the job. Michael Sr. decides to run, take his son, go to Chicago, and appeal to Rooney's boss, Frank Nitti, lieutenant of Al Capone. (Nitti, has been played many times on the screen but here is played by the always excellent Stanley Tucci who invests the small role with a dignity and suavity that actors rarely give Nitti.)
The story is very simple (and far too much of that simple story is revealed in the film's trailer). But director Sam Mendes (of AMERICAN BEAUTY) defines and sculpts his characters. Just as Michael Sr. has to reluctantly betray his faithfulness to his employer for the sake of his son, John Rooney is willing to do whatever it takes to protect his son Connor, even to cross Nitti. Tom Hanks has specialized in nice-guy roles and is very much cast against type as a mob hit man. Certainly this seems to be his first action hero. But he does not play it flamboyantly. He is a quiet little man with a mustache. You would not look at him twice on a street. The script makes his willingness to kill acceptable because John Rooney wants to ask of him the one thing he cannot give him, the life of his remaining son. For the love of his family Michael Sr. has accepted too many good things from too many bad people. The bill is not falling due, but Rooney is asking too much. Paul Newman's Rooney also is a man of integrity. He is torn by turning against a man he loves but he also has certain loyalties he cannot allow himself to betray. He is conflicted but knows what he has to do. These are not men who kill by choice, but to protect their families they will do what they must. Jude Law plays the yellow-toothed Maguire, another sort of hit man from Sullivan. He enjoys the killing. For him a job is a way to enjoy himself and be paid for it. The script is full of symmetries. There are father-son symmetries, brother-brother symmetries, man and boss symmetries.
Cinematographer Conrad Hall films the proceedings with stylish images. Scenes are shot in dark blues and browns until late in the film when, apparently, Michael Jr. is enjoying himself a little more, suddenly there is a light change and a color change. There are no bright colors in the film and red is only used when there are very specific emotional or plot purpose. The color makes the mood and the film is full of enigmatic scenes of the early Thirties. In one Michael is left in a large waiting room filled with nearly identical men all identically reading newspapers. The winder of 1931 is a cold and wet winter and that cold and wet suffuses and drenches just about every scene. Every scene is perfectly framed. Mendes probably needed a lot of patience for Hall to so perfectly set up and photograph his scenes, but it pays off in quality of images.
This is a dark film with dark characters telling the story of a dark period in Michael Jr.'s life. Such films are not made, they are crafted. I rate it an 8 on the 0 to 10 scale and a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: If we think we regulate printing, thereby to rectify manners, we must regulate all regulations and pastimes, all that is delightful to man. -- John Milton
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