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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
07/22/05 -- Vol. 24, No. 4, Whole Number 1292
Table of Contents
In my review of THE GREAT WATER I referred to Macedonia as "the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia." A Macedonian wrote me to inform me that Macedonians view this reference as very disrespectful. I didn't know. I was doing some research and the site http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/mk.html used that term and even made it an acronym:
conventional long form: Republic of Macedonia conventional short form: Macedonia; note - the provisional designation used by the UN, EU, and NATO is Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM)"
I used the form that distinguished it from the Greek Macedonia, which may have been a mistake. [-mrl]
James Doohan, RIP (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Science fiction fans will miss James Doohan who played Phil Mitchell in the 1953 TV series "Space Command" and who died the morning of July 20, 2005. The cause of death was pneumonia and Alzheimer's disease. Doohan was 33 when he created the role of Mitchell and was rarely able to escape the science-fiction type-casting from that point of his career on. Later he played in such action films as the 1965 film SATAN BUG. The following year he once again was involved with science fiction with a part in the TV series "Star Trek." Several other action or science fiction films followed, many of which were connected with the "Star Trek" series. But to the real fans of the genre he will always be Phil Mitchell. I just haven't been able to find many of them. [-mrl]
Sobering Thoughts (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
A correspondent asked me for my take on what the United States policy should be toward terrorism. It won't come as much of a surprise for VOID readers, but I wanted to say all this on one place and I will not pad it out to standard editorial length. I was writing this on the day of the London attack. I think most of the pieces of what is to follow are generally accepted, but people are not looking at the whole grim picture.
I will make this brief.
Why do I support a war in Iraq that I think we cannot hope to win militarily? It is because Iraq is not the entire war. We face a determined and aggressive global insurgency with no fixed targets. There is no Berlin or Hanoi this war. This is not the kind of conflict that seems to have a military solution.
Our enemy worldwide is relatively small, but grows every year and it has a large sympathetic population to draw upon to replace its losses and increase its size. Efforts to keep ever more powerful weapons out of their hands are apparently failing. They can strike anywhere and they currently are striking all over the world, from the US to Europe to India. The enemy is aggressive, it can be powerful, and it can choose its targets. And they believe they are doing God's will.
There is no traditional way to win a war against such an enemy. Military might by itself will not win it. Much of the world has tried to ignore the problem and just treat it with tolerance. The result of such a policy is slow capitulation. We have seen that happening in places like the Netherlands and Spain and other places in Europe and worldwide. Accommodation will not work against opponents driven by an ideology. It only postpones.
For whatever reasons we got into the Iraq war, we have found a weapon that has some effect, albeit slowly and weakly. The weapon is the desire for Democracy in some of the same countries that are the cradles of the insurgency. I think Democracy is the right thing for these countries in principle anyway, but it may be also a weapon to bring the conflict to an enemy that more often than not we otherwise cannot find. The approach may be too weak and too late, but it is battling an idea with an idea, which is the only way strategy that can be effective.
That in a nutshell is how I see the situation. [-mrl]
CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This is the high-sucrose story of a good little boy who, along with four bad children, gets a much-coveted tour of a mysterious candy factory. Roald Dahl's now-classic story is a cheerfully hypocritical children's cautionary tale gone weird. Tim Burton gives us his visually creative approach to the story with effects that frequently do not deliver. Still, it is a tale told with imagination and exuberance. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
As pretty much everybody knows, this is the second filming of Roald Dahl's strange children's story CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. The previous version was WILLY WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (1971), directed by Mel Stuart with Gene Wilder in the role of Wonka. The story tells of five lucky children who win a tour of a very famous and mysterious chocolate factory run by a more mysterious candy genius. One after another the children's bad traits come out and lead them to non-fatal but nasty fates. Only sugary-good, family-loving Charlie is not tempted into naughtiness by the factory and eventually he meets a sweet ending. Director Tim Burton previously remade a well-liked film with his PLANET OF THE APES and demonstrated the wrong way to revise a classic. This time he does a much better job.
CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY is a story for children that can be fully appreciated only by adults. It is a morality tale that easily segues into all sorts of weirdness. One message it carries is the importance of moderation in eating candy, yet it tempts us with acres of chocolate and other sweets. Even the grass supposedly tastes good to the greedy. But it would be wrong to reduce this story simply to a cautionary tale. Its main reason for existing is mostly to be a canvas to entertain kids with strange ideas. Perhaps its real reason was to lampoon morality tales for children. In any case, it is a reminder that J. K. Rowling was not the first children's writer to use little whimsical vulgarities. John August's screenplay broadens the story by telling us a little more about who Wonka really is than either the previous film or the book. In this film Wonka is less fantastic and more Freudian. He has issues with his father. And he runs a strange and mystical factory. We do not have factories anything like this in the United States. For one thing, OSHA restrictions would never permit it. Both film versions reveled inside jokes and waggish allusions.
This is certainly the more impressively visual of the two versions. One place where Burton falls down in this film is to rely so frequently on digital effects when he could show us the real thing. He gives us a whole digital factory making digital chocolate. However, the problem with showing digital chocolate is that it looks like it would taste like digital chocolate. There is no substitute for showing the real thing. There is nothing in this film that looks as tempting as the chocolate in the original, or better still, in Lasse Hallström's 2000 film CHOCOLAT (which also featured Johnny Depp). Nothing beats the real thing. Burton also misses his mark with the chocolate waterfall, repeating a mistake from the previous adaptation. It should have looked like chocolate syrup. Instead he made the falling fluid brown but thin as water. Instead of being tempting it looks more like something unmentionable. And if the factory is as hot as they say, why does nobody sweat?
Joseph Schindelman's illustrations for Dahl's book (as canonical as John Tenniel's for ALICE IN WONDERLAND) show Wonka as a small leprechaun-like figure. Neither film version chose to shrink their lead star. Johnny Depp plays Willie Wonka as a full-sized human who is very androgynous to the point of wearing lipstick and who can behave like a child or an adult. The ambiguity adds to his mystery but not nearly as much as the tiny stature would have. The mystery is to just what his nature is. Is he well meaning or is he a demonic tempter who is trapping naughty children into nasty fates? Perhaps he is some of both. Depp may not be right for the role, but nebbish Gene Wilder was out and out wrong.
Stealing the show from Depp are Deep Roy and David Kelly. In what is perhaps a record for playing multiple characters in a single film, Deep Roy plays 165 different Oompa-Loompas. For those who are curious as I was, Deep Roy is really Gordeep Roy, who was born in Nigeria of Indian parents. Spry David Kelly will be affectionately remembered from WAKING NED DEVINE. Of late if you want to put a mature nasty in a major fantasy film the obvious choice is Christopher Lee. Here he is Willy Wonka's stern father. I am only saddened he could not be joined by his friend Peter Cushing. (So probably is probably is Lee. And Burton would probably endorse the sentiment.) Freddie Highmore, who played young Peter in FINDING NEVERLAND is likeable as Charlie.
Tim Burton gives us a bizarre and fun adaptation of a weird story. It probably won't be a classic, but it is certainly an improvement on the first film. I rate it a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I reviewed Dan Brown's THE DA VINCI CODE in the 01/07/05 issue of the MT VOID, and Bart D. Ehrmann's TRUTH AND FICTION IN THE DA VINCI CODE in the 07/01/05 issue. (Nice symmetry, that!) And now this week, it's Carl E. Olsen and Sandra Miesel's THE DA VINCI HOAX (ISBN 1-58617-034-1). But I have somewhat less to say about this one, because I found it less convincing that Ehrmann's book. While Ehrmann cites various documents and presents what (to me, at least) is an impartial, objective refutation to Brown's book, Olsen and Miesel alternate between objective statements and statements which boil down to "Brown disagrees with the whole basis of the Catholic Church, so he must be wrong." For example, on page 105 they say, "Not only is there a lack of evidence for a political alliance resulting from Jesus and Mary Magdalene being married, there would have been no reason for such an alliance. Jesus made it known on more than one occasion that he had not come to establish an earthly kingdom or to overthrow the local Roman government. His kingdom was not of this world, and he came to conquer sin and death, not governments and emperors." But this is begging the question, since this refutation is based on the information in the gospels that Brown claims have been tampered with. This recurring problem seriously undercuts their overall credibility with me, though I suspect others might react differently. Olsen and Miesel do point out the very anti-Catholic bias of much of THE DA VINCI CODE, and covers a few errors that Ehrmann missed (particularly in the area of art works), but I think Ehrmann does a better job in detailing the majority of the errors and false claims.
After seeing the new film CHARLIE & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, I went home and re-watched the older WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY and read the book (which I had not read before) (ISBN 0-141-30115-5). The new movie takes the name of the book and returns to some of the original ideas that the first movie changed, but also incorporates ideas from the first movie not in the book, and adds a lot of film references in general. One change from the book is that Charlie's father is still alive-- maybe Burton thought that far too many children's movies had dead parents. One restoration was that the songs in the new movie use Dahl's words, rather than being entirely new songs as they were in the older film version. I thought the new movie was much better than the old one, but probably cannot fairly judge the book--I'm well out of the target age group. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: If you live long enough, the venerability factor creeps in; first, you get accused of things you never did, and later, credited for virtues you never had. -- I. F. Stone
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