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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
10/11/02 -- Vol. 21, No. 15
Table of Contents
Some of you may be interested that the Arts and Entertainment cable channel is running a new BBC adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's THE LOST WORLD. The BBC has a reputation for getting things right when they adapt science fiction. The film stars Bob Hoskins as Prof. George Edward Challenger and Peter Falk (unfortunately as a new character Doyle did not write). The producers are using the technology of the "Walking with Big Prehistoric Thingees" documentaries to reproduce the dinosaurs. At this writing I have not seen it yet, though it has already played a few times. I am looking forward to it. There have been several film versions of THE LOST WORLD over the last few years and each in its own way has been a disappointment. Advance word is that it is the best version of the story since the silent film version with Wallace Beery as Professor Challenger and with dinosaurs created by the great Willis O'Brien. In the Eastern Time Zone it will play at the following times (note that it is four hours long):
October 12: 2:00PM October 19: 8:00PM October 20: 12:00AM, 3:00PM
There is some question in my mind as to whether the best adaptation of this novel is with really accurate dinosaurs. When Doyle wrote the novel he was not picturing dinosaurs quite like we do today. It might be interesting to see a version with dinosaurs as he was picturing them when he wrote the novel ninety years ago this year. If you want to see how he pictured dinosaurs and how our image of the prehistoric beasts has changed with time, there is a good web site about an exhibit a few years ago of the original printed materials related to the history of dinosaur discovery (including papers by Gideon Mantell, Richard Owen, Othniel Marsh, and others) at http://www.lindahall.org/pubserv/hos/dino/. [-mrl]
Go to the Source (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I got a piece of spam mail that offered to tell me all about U.S. Government grants. They will tell me what grants are out there and how to get them. "We will show you HOW & WHERE to get Grants. THIS BOOK IS NEWLY UPDATED WITH THE MOST CURRENT INFORMATION!!!" it yells. It must be difficult for them to get the most current information. The email address is email@example.com. The .ru tells you where they are mailing from. ".ru" is for Russia. Do I really believe some guy in Russia is an expert on the most current US government grants. No, I don't think so. [-mrl]
Studies in Horror (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Last week I was explaining why I think the television show BUFFY is not really horror at all but a sort of anti-horror. Thinking about whether BUFFY is horror brought me into direct consideration of the question of what is horror.
Most people think horror fiction is supposed to be frightening. I am afraid that if fear is the appropriate reaction I am a near complete loss. A TV show or a movie has not frightened me since I was about age ten. The last thing that I saw on TV that was actually frightening was "The Hungry Glass," a story on "Thriller" that was based on a Robert Bloch story. A vain old woman living in an old cliff-side mansion took to haunting the glass in the mansion. This glass that had reflected her one- time beauty. Now like a siren she tempts new owners (including one played by the ubiquitous William Shatner) to pass through the glass to their death. This was pretty scary stuff for a ten-year-old, and it was the last time that I remember actually being frightened by a television show.
There is an old saying in science fiction circles that the Age of Wonder is twelve. For me the age of horror was about eight to ten. After age ten I was never really frightened by anything on the theater screen or the TV screen. I can pretty much list everything that frightened me up to that age:
--age 5: Captain Midnight electrified man --age 5: Captain Midnight land missile --age ~7: Alfred Hitchcock: ghost story (girl reaches for sister and finds cold and clammy ghost, left bloody footprints) --age 9: One step beyond: glider episode --age 9: One step beyond: spot on the wall episode --age 10: Thriller: The hungry glass
I will make one exception and say that I was frightened by the Peter Watkins pseudo-documentary made for the BBC called THE WAR GAME. With what was known about the effects of nuclear war in the late 1960s Watkins tried to show what would happen if nuclear war came to Britain. It heavily influenced a later British TV movie, THREADS, though THREADS lacked the dispassionate BBC narrator explaining exactly what was going on. "This is a firestorm. At its center temperatures reach 1000 degrees centigrade. These people are asphyxiating because the fire is pulling all oxygen to the center of the storm," the narrator helpfully explains. But this is a different type of frightening from the type one sees in "The Hungry Glass." This is frightening because it is presenting a truth that is frightening. It is not the images themselves that are frightening.
I guess part of the problem is that television is not inherently the most effective medium for horror. Why not? First of all, there is too much distraction in the home. It is really difficult to avoid the urge to pick up a magazine or straighten the coffee table while watching. Even in a movie theater there are audience distractions. Someone is opening a snack cocooned in cellophane or someone else has his phone going off. In addition, horror depends on imagination to work. In a visual medium you borrow someone else's visual images. So one would feel that the written word is a better medium for horror than are visual media. There is one important drawback of written horror. The person reading the story is really too much in control. The reader is required to turn pages. The reader really controls the speed of the storytelling and has the option to just stop reading. So what are good media for horror? The best electronic medium is radio. Of course even then there are the home distractions and the fact that the listener is in a familiar environment. It is no coincidence that one of the most popular radio horror programs was called "Lights Out." Actually there is another medium that is even better for horror. It is the probably the very first medium of the horror story. The best medium for horror is the campfire tale. The story told in near darkness around a fire both gives the listener the full ability to use his imagination and at the same time the listener gives up almost all control of the pacing of the tale.
Next week I will suggest current horror films worth seeing.
TUCK EVERLASTING (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: The value of life everlasting vs. that of a life well- spent is the issue at the core of this poetic fantasy. Drink from the right spring in the forest and you will live forever. But is living forever a blessing or a burden. Ask the Tucks who have live in the woods without aging for a century or more. Now their secret has been discovered. Natalie Babbitt's award- winning fantasy novel is filmed a second time, this time by Jay Russell for Disney Studios. It makes a charming film again. Rating: 7 (0 to 10), +2 (-4 to +4)
This is the kind of poetic film that Disney does about as well as anybody could. TUCK EVERLASTING requires a lyrical "Hallmark" feel, a sort of romantic nostalgia. Director Jay Russell, who previously did MY DOG SKIP, hits just about the perfect note in this not-just-for-children fantasy, previously filmed in 1980.
A small unnamed town has a mysterious family living in the local woods. Only a few people know they are there. But for those who know them, the Tucks have lived in the woods about as long as anyone can remember. And that is because they have been there as long as anyone could possibly remember, and then some. The family has been there about a century and the Tucks have not aged a single day in all that time.
Though the story is told in flashback from the present, most of the narrative is set sometime in the early years of the 1900s. Just outside the woods lives the over-protected Winnie Foster (played by Alexis Bledel). Her house, and her life, is for her an elegant cage. She has been warned away from the woods by her stern mother (Amy Irving), but into the woods she goes anyway. There she sees young Jesse Tuck (Jonathan Jackson), a boy who appears to be about her own age. He behaves mysteriously but not as mysteriously as Jesse's brother who kidnaps the girl to the Tuck home. The Tucks are very nice. Winnie likes them considering they kidnapped her. But they still will not allow Winnie to leave.
Eventually Winnie must choose between a life of immortality with her new-found love, or returning to a normal, but more meaningful life. The Tuck's fear is that the secret of immortality will be spread to a world too quick to assume that immortality is a good thing. "Don't be afraid of death; be afraid of the unlived life," Angus Tuck (William Hurt) sagely cautions. But the danger of exposure becomes greater particularly as the mysterious Man in the Yellow Suit (Ben Kingsley) is looking for the Tucks for reasons he will not say. Also in the production are Sissy Spacek and Victor Garber.
The film is lyrical and beautifully filmed from the novel by Natalie Babbitt. Idyllically realized, TUCK EVERLASTING rates a 7 on the 0 to 10 scale and a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. The Disney organization always makes a beautiful print of their films without distracting specks in the celluloid. This may have been the first time this particular print was screened. There is a joy to seeing so poetically filmed a movie shown with a pristine print. [-mrl]
THE NUGGET (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: In Australia, three hard-drinking, fun-loving yobbos come upon the largest gold nugget ever found. The result is not so much riches as pandemonium. Writer/director Bill Bennett was trying for a "local color" sort of comedy, but ends up with the sort of comedy we see a lot on cable. Entertaining but nothing really special. Rating: 5 (0 to 10), low +1 (-4 to +4)
This is a pleasant and amiable enough situation comedy made for Showtime Australia. It blazes no new trails, but it is a likable way to spend an hour and a half. It has nothing in the way of a social message.
Three working-class stiffs who work on a road crew spend their weekends doing their equivalent of going fishing. They go off in the woods somewhere off in the Outback and pretend to be looking for gold. The only gold they expect to find comes foaming out of a can. Then one goes off in the woods to get rid of some of that beer and finds the world's largest gold nugget. At first it seems like they have gotten their dream and everything is going to be spiffy. But the discovery only starts the expected set of double-crosses among friends and local financial vultures. To the film's credit, the action keeps going and if never original, it also is never dull.
There is nothing in this film not already familiar from other films. The foibles of the beer-drinking louts are intended to be endearing, but they never quite make it. The running gag is that whatever happens the three guys have to think about it over a beer. When the plotting gets difficult toward the end they just add an impossibility and fall back on the explanation that they said it would be a hard story to believe, and, yup, it sure is.
THE NUGGET was written and directed by Bill Bennett. The film opens October 17 in Australia and then will show on Showtime. On cable I think this is a fine film. In a movie theater I think I would expect a little bit more. I rate it a 5 on the 0 to 10 scale and a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
KEDMA (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Amos Gitai give follows the story of a group of Jewish immigrants coming to Palestine one week before the British pulled out. We follow the refugees from the crowded freighter ashore and almost immediately into battle. Most scenes have little dialogue and carry on for several minutes. Occasionally someone gives a long speech. The topic would be interesting but the pacing is frustratingly slow. Rating: 5 (0 to 10), low +1 (-4 to +4)
Israeli-born Amos Gitai, director of EDEN and last year's KADOSH, has his own style of filmmaking. He goes for very long takes on scenes, frequently with little or no dialogue. On the other hand when it suits his purpose he can have a character suddenly deliver a five-minute speech. Here he co-wrote and directed the coming to Palestine of the refugees aboard a transport boat. As usual his subject matter is the founding of Israel.
The story takes place in Palestine not long before the state of Israel would be founded. This film follows the refugees from the transport ship Kedma onto a shore landing. The Jews on the tightly packed boat and coming ashore are almost completely silent. (Who are you kidding, Mr. Gitai?) They are almost immediately attacked by British troops. Luckily the British seem to be extremely poor shots and even poor soldiers. The Jews escape with the help of the Haganah militia. Rather than be put in settlements after their journey they seem to have to fight their way to a place they can rest. They camp and talk a little about what they went though in the Holocaust. They run into Arabs fleeing Jews. Neither engages the other. They do get involved in a battle, some right off the boat and still in business suits. An Arab argues against their presence. Finally one of the refugees gives a long explanation of his point of view. This monologue seems to be the point of the film. It lends the film the air of literature, rather than good cinema. However, at least Gitai does not stack the deck for either side in the conflict. The Arab's argument of the injustice of the Jews is as compelling as the Jews' arguments as to why they are there and the horror of what they are fleeing from.
I simply do not find Gitai with his long photo studies and scenes almost beaten to death before they are let go to be a very compelling filmmaker. This film has interesting scenes and some interesting points of view. But Gitai's overlong visual studies like a mud road in rain just are taxing to watch and not very productive. I have to rate KEDMA a 5 on the 0 to 10 scale and a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: You cannot reason a person out of something he did not reason himself into. -- Jonathan Swift
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