by Catriona Mills

Articles in “Film”

Something Insanely Wonderful

Posted 13 September 2011 in by Catriona

… just turned up on my doorstep, and it’s making a bad day (Nick’s off for some frightening medical tests this morning, while I’ll be invigilating an exam) that much brighter.

A few weeks ago, I came across Kathleen Jennings’s blog and, particularly, her Dalek Game, where she replaces a word in a famous book title with the word “Dalek” and then draws a delightful pen-and-ink sketch of the result.

My favourite? Has to be Wuthering Daleks.

But thanks to the Wuthering Daleks page, I came across something even more delightful.

It’s right here.

Now, the Dalek of the Baskervilles? That’s brilliant. But the Flash Gordon picture made my heart sing. My love for that quotation outweighs the combined value of all the kingdoms of Mongo. Combine that with ducks (who doesn’t like ducks? Only monsters!), and you have something with which I fell in love at first sight.

So I texted Nick, and said, “Please, please find out if there’s any way we can get a print of this.” And because the artist is a woman who understands the susceptible hearts of geeks, the print landed on my doorstep this morning.

And it’s magnificent.

Right now, it’s sitting on my desk, just making me happy. But it’s going to be hung right here in the study, where I can see it as I work, and remember that we only have fourteen ducks to save to Earth.

Lessons I Have Learned From Watching "Project Moonbase"

Posted 8 June 2011 in by Catriona

Last night, Nick and I watched the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 episode covering Project Moonbase, the 1953 film based on a short story by Robert Heinlein.

And, honestly, of all the many, many bad films we’ve watched in the course of our MST3K obsession, this was one of the less rubbish ones. They actually had some nice zero-gee effects, and Nick was delighted with the “Please Do Not Walk on the Walls” signs slathered all over the space station.

But the most important thing about the film was the important lessons it taught me about life in the distant future (1970, to be exact).

1. I really don’t like Heinlein, even when he’s being adapted by someone else.

2. Nick takes an odd delight in Heinlein. All through the film, he kept saying, “This is so Heinlein it’s killing me”. He also recommended that an enemy spy be thrown out an airlock, “because that’s what Heinlein would do” (and was immediately delighted when the second-in-command said, “Well, I could throw him out an airlock”).

3. Couples don’t have to agree on the value of Robert Heinlein to have a successful relationship.

4. In the future (1970), women will be allowed to have roles of supreme importance, like spaceship pilot (rank of colonel) or President of the United States of America.

5. Women in positions of power get uppity, so you need to balance gender equality in theory with extreme misogyny in practice. Therefore, women in power should be described to their subordinates as “spoiled brats” and, if necessary, be threatened with spanking by their superior officers. (No, really. This actually happened.)

6. Women should also have a good sense of their own weaknesses so that if, for example, they’re trapped on the dark side of the moon with no hope of rescue, they can offer an adequate apology for their behaviour. Something like “Sorry for coming over all female, Major” should do the trick.

7. All the above holds true even if the woman is a highly decorated Air-Force officer, the first pilot to achieve orbital flight, and the first pilot to successfully land a manned craft on the moon.

8. In fact, if she is the first pilot to achieve orbital flight, it’s probably due to tokenism. You should definitely tell her subordinates that, just before a vital mission. That won’t affect her authority, at all.

9. “Briteis” is a really stupid name for a woman, because no matter how much you emphasise that it’s pronounced Bry-TIES, people will still just call you “Bright Eyes.”

10. It’s important, if you wish to achieve orbit, that the weight in the cabin be minimised as far as possible. The first thing to go? All that unnecessary weight on your trousers. Hot pants for all!

11. If you end up having to make a forced landing on the moon, you might end up becoming a de facto moonbase. And if it’s just you and your co-pilot, and you’re different genders, NASA might make you marry each other, to stop the press writing scurrilous tales about the lax morals in the Air Force. Goodness knows what they’d make you do if you were the same gender …

12. An excellent wedding-present for your new husband is the rank of Brigadier General. Never mind that he’s only a major at present: you need to skip him up a good few ranks so that he safely outranks you. Nice gender politics there, Colonel Bright Eyes.

Watching Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince With My Father

Posted 27 January 2010 in by Catriona

A flashback to the Christmas holidays:

MY FATHER: Are those dark wizards flying around?
ME: No, that’s a train.
MY FATHER: Oh, well, that’s all right then.

And slightly later:

MY FATHER: Did that house just appear out of nowhere?
ME: No. They just walked up to it.

There’s something to be said for retaining a childlike sense of wonder, after all.

Lessons in Gender That I Learned From Watching The Star Wars Prequels

Posted 14 April 2009 in by Catriona

1. Women are essentially interchangeable. You can argue, I suppose, that it’s a terribly clever idea to draw attention away from your central woman by surrounding her with other women who are essentially interchangeable with one another. But, really, that’s just playing on the idea that one woman is, after all, very like another.

Since the main point of the interchangeable bodyguards is to draw the fire of potential assassins, it can also be argued that women are essentially disposable—probably because they are, after all, interchangeable.

2. Women really shouldn’t be Jedi. In fact, I suspect that there must be some odd equal-opportunity entrance requirements for the Academy, else women wouldn’t be allowed to be Jedi. If, thanks to this entirely unfair process of selection, women do become Jedi, they’ll turn out to be terribly bad at it. To take an entirely hypothetical example, a female Jedi might find herself cut down from behind by assassins before she can even turn around, where male Jedi would be able, in the same circumstances, to both turn and draw their weapons.

Yep: entirely hypothetical example.

3. Women are completely obsessed with fashion. Women are so obsessed with fashion, in fact, that it completely takes the place of comfort for them. They might sleep in a nightgown with seed pearls draped across the arms. Or they might choose to spend an evening lounging comfortably in front of a roaring fire in a skin-tight leather corset.

Let’s face it: who hasn’t done that at some point or another?

And, really, there’s no point dressing women sensibly. If, perchance, you do put a woman in a nice, practical (if skin-tight) combat outfit, she’s only going to get the midriff torn off by a sabre-toothed tiger.

Women are like that.

4. Women are terribly poor judges of characters. Even women who are supposed to be accomplished and intelligent can live intimately with another person and never, ever suspect that person of turning to the Dark Side.

Of course, this is convenient for both the other person in the relationship and for the narrative.

5. There is little noticeable difference between a teenage girl and a grown woman. The advantage of this is that a teenage girl can easily be the head of state for an entire planet. The disadvantage is that she won’t really learn from any mistakes she might make at that point.

Another way of putting this, I suppose, is to say that if you haven’t become a queen by the time you’re sixteen, you may as well abandon all ambition—and become a female Jedi.

6. Women are more than a little fragile. Perhaps, in retrospect, this is why they they need to wear corsets even when they’re lounging in front of fires? To stop bits of them from falling off?

The fragility of women is holistic in nature: should they be force-choked by their whinging, psychotic husbands, for example, they will then inevitably die in childbirth, despite the absence of any real biological connection between the trachea and the uterus.

(This is why women should always have doors opened for them: in case they accidentally catch their finger in the hinge and one of their legs falls off. You can’t take any chances with women.)

7. Probably because of their essential fragility, women’s back stories are easily ret-conned. After all, women are essentially interchangeable and disposable, so it should come as no surprise that the disposability extends beyond death.

Especially if the ret-conning helps prevent people from assuming that, just perhaps, not all women are corset-obsessed morons.

Some Films and Television Programmes That Fill Me With A Deep Sense Of Joy: A Possibly Ongoing Series

Posted 8 April 2009 in by Catriona

I’ve already mentioned how much I love watching old episodes of The Goodies, when they haven’t aged too badly (and make no mistake: some have). And it will come as no surprise that every episode of the original series of Doctor Who is dear to my heart. Yes, even “Silver Nemesis” and “Timelash.”

Here are some more programmes (and one film) that delight my heart.

In no particular order of importance:

1. Press Gang

Oh, Steven Moffat. My obsession with his writing started here—and this is one show that is just as enjoyable now as it was the first time I watched it. I’ll admit, the characterisation of Linda looks more ’80s now than I thought it did at the time (so high-powered business woman), but that doesn’t mean I love her any less. Or love Spike any less. Or love Linda and Spike as a couple any less.

In fact, any girlish romanticism in my nature (and there may be some, appearances notwithstanding) can be traced back to my teen obsession with this relationship.

On a slightly related note, I happily watched Doom (the movie, not the video game) once I realised it had half of Dexter Fletcher in it. (The top half, if anyone’s wondering.)

2. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure

BILL AND TED: Iron Maiden? Excellent!

Enough said, really—though the fact that I didn’t even need to look that quotation up on the Internet probably speaks for itself.

3. Monkey

Seriously, this has to be one of the most surreal programmes ever to air. And that’s leaving out the blatant transvestism, which wasn’t limited to Tripitaka. We just watched an episode in which Monkey questioned the overall wisdom of Buddha: “He can’t even make up his mind whether he’s a bloke or not!”

Then there was that episode with the giant mushrooms—which I think were linked to some sort of Fungus King who, knowing Monkey, was called King Fungus. Or the episode with the unicorn who claimed that unicorns could rule the world “if we weren’t so nice—and mythical.” And the episode where Sandy and Pigsy became pregnant. Or the one with the teenage goblin who could cloud-fly, but his cloud had training wheels. Or my absolute favourite: the episode where Tripitaka believed that his other disciples had induced him to devour Pigsy, and he became possessed by Pigsy’s spirit and went to a disco where he danced to the Monkey theme song.

Sheer brilliance.

But there was also the aspect that never occurred to me as a child: for the late ’70s and early ’80s, this was hands down the least Anglo show ever to be a hit on Australian or British television. It may still be, for all I know. Voice acting aside, the actors are all Japanese, and the mise en scene (the costuming, the scenery, the mythology) is Chinese. Sesame Street always had African-American and Hispanic cast members (I don’t remember Asian cast members in my time), and there were other shows that played with issues of racial tolerance—the oddest example I can think of is Fraggle Rock, with its different races living in sometimes uneasy coexistence. But they were never anything like Monkey. It was fantastic for a child growing up in an intensely white town.

What I Noticed While Watching "Outlaw of Gor"

Posted 15 March 2009 in by Catriona

I should make it absolutely clear that, fantasy fan though I am, I wouldn’t normally watch Outlaw of Gor, which is not only based (albeit loosely) on one of John Norman’s novels, but is also so obscure a film that it doesn’t even have its own Wikipedia page.

(It does have an page, though—as does its prequel, simply called Gor.)

The sole reason I watched this is because it was on Mystery Science Theater 3000, which is hard to explain, but does have a Wikipedia page, which offers the best definition of the show:

The series features a man and his robot sidekicks who are trapped on a satellite in space by an evil scientist and forced to watch a selection of terrible movies, especially (but not initially limited to) science fiction B-movies. To keep sane, the man and his robots make a running commentary on the film, making fun of its flaws.

I know: it doesn’t make much sense and may not even sound like fun, but we’re obsessed with it. Having found that a friend was a big fan, we’ve borrowed as many DVDs as possible from her, and in the last six months have watched our way through thirty or so of the worst films ever made.

One of which was Outlaw of Gor, in which I noted the following points.

1. Any film based on John Norman’s Gor books is considerably more fun once the film makers strip out the misogynistic domination fantasies that make up ninety percent of Norman’s plots.

2. Of course, then the film bears next to no resemblance to the actual Gor books.

3. And it still isn’t a great deal of fun, to be honest.

4. If your film is based to any degree on the Gor books—such as, for example, taking the name of Norman’s most frequent protagonist, Tarl Cabot, and setting the story on a planet called Gor—then no one with any degree of familiarity with the books is going to accept that your hero wants nothing better than to outlaw slavery.

5. I’m actually not going to complain—as the people who wrote reviews about this film on did—about the fact that the Priest-Kings in this film weren’t actually alien insectoids, because, frankly, I’d rather have Jack Palance in a ridiculous hat than alien insectoids.

Luckily, this film has Jack Palance in a ridiculous hat, making this the third truly awful film in which I have seen Jack Palance—after Hawk the Slayer (the hero is, according to that Wikipedia page, “a hero in the Dark Age, where the Evil ruled the world,” which is the most non-specific sentence ever, despite the proliferation of the definite article) and Angels Revenge (we watched that as part of MST3K. When one of the robot sidekicks watched the camera follow a woman climbing up a ladder, he exclaimed, “Hey, buddy! You’re giving away the plot!” He wasn’t kidding).

6. If your hero tries to snap a sword over his knee to demonstrate his new pacifist stance, and instead simply bends it into a horseshoe, you have one of two problems: either Gor’s metalworkers are rubbish, or your props are.

7. Why is the hero a vegetarian? Or, rather, why is the sole apparent reason for the hero’s vegetarianism to introduce a scene in which he turns down a hunk of meat in favour of an apple?

I don’t think vegetarianism is a problem for a sword-and-sorcery hero—unlike the commenter on who called Cabot “emasculated” and said his vegetarianism “takes what is an otherwise namby-pamby hero and makes him even more so.” (I can’t link directly to that comment, unfortunately, but the comment thread is here.) I do think, though, that an apple-eating scene really only works for dramatic effect in the Old Testament.

8. The trivia section contains two facts, one of which is that the word “Cabot” is spoken more than fifty-five times in the first ten minutes of the film.

They are not kidding about this.

9. If I were a woman living in a pre-industrialised society in which there is significantly more dust than there is foliage, I would choose everyday outfits that required a slightly less rigorous private grooming ritual. Just for practicality’s sake.

Mind you, I would also make that decision if I were a female superhero living in a dystopic and alternative 1985—and, yes, I am looking at you, otherwise awesome adaptation of Watchmen.

10. Late 1980s hair is just straight-up bad. Late 1980s hair combined with beaten copper forehead ornaments and an outfit that makes you look as though you’re planning a set of aerobics tapes to rival those of Jane Fonda is hilariously bad.

Lessons I Have Learned From Watching Fantasy Films

Posted 15 February 2009 in by Catriona

1. It is by no means difficult to pick up—in a relatively short period of time, usually only days or even hours—sufficient skills with a sword to disarm, seriously maim, or perhaps even kill an enemy who has had lifelong training in swordsmanship.

Clearly, Inigo Montoya and Westley were rather slow learners.

2. Walking in a fantasy world is not tiring at all. This is almost certainly due to the rarified atmosphere in a pre-industrial world.

3. The more unconvincing the enemy looks, the harder it will be to kill. This is particularly true when the enemy is actually a puppet.

4. Dragons are a bit rubbish, really, aren’t they? I mean, they can breathe fire, own great wealth, usually demonstrate strong magic, often possess some sort of ill-defined wisdom that has passed, over the eons, beyond the ken of man—but when do you really see a dragon using these powers to thoroughly subjugate a kingdom?

Okay, yes: there was Reign of Fire.

But apart from that? Really, dragons should be firmly and metaphorically crushing entire populations beneath their scaly claws, and they just don’t. Rubbish, really.

5. Surely most fantasy kingdoms must suffer from an unusually high rate of osteoporosis. I assume this because of the relative dearth of cows. Sure, when you pass a humble farmstead, there’s bound to be one or maybe two cows outside. Sometimes goats. Enough to provide for the milk and cheese needs of a single family, especially given the relative size of agrarian families in a pre-industrial world.

But where, when the hero is tramping across acres of what look to me like prime dairy land, are the herds of cows required to provide milk to the urban centres?

Why, in short, are fantasy films so lacking in cows?

6. Most places in a fantasy world that are likely to hasten your demise—to make your death more untimely, as it were, than it might otherwise have been—tend to wear their heart on their sleeve. They’re usually called something like “The Caverns of Doom” or “The Fire Swamp.”

This should make them easier to avoid, really.

7. Weapons in a fantasy world seem to operate counter to the nature of their own materials. People never seem to clean their swords before resheathing them, despite the damage this would cause to the blade and to the scabbard. And, for that matter, why don’t swords have blood grooves? Vast amounts of blood would be running down over the wielder’s hand, causing them to drop the sword constantly. And, for that matter, why isn’t there more blood in a fantasy sword fight? And how do you keep your sword sharp when hardly any hero seems to own a whetstone or, if they do own one, to use it, despite spending all day hacking off bits of their enemies, even down to the bone, which must surely blunt the edge of even the sharpest sword?

Of course, these questions don’t apply if you have a named sword: everyone knows that named swords operate under their own laws, even when those laws contravene the laws of physics themselves.

8. Every fantasy kingdom is, well, a kingdom, isn’t it? Oh, I don’t mean that there aren’t any queens, because there are. Sometimes there are even evil Regents.

But where are the oligarchies? The ruling priesthoods? The democratically elected governments? I know they exist in the books, but where are they on film? What, in short, is so great about kings?

9. I’m not even going to cover question about bathes and personal grooming, since the always fabulous Diana Wynne Jones has already covered those.

10. I’m not sure about this, but I have a feeling that girls, like dragons, are a bit rubbish, too. This goes against much that I’ve learnt from sources other than fantasy films, but it does seem that, in the fantasy world on-screen, girls tend to be more trouble than they’re worth, always getting kidnapped and screaming, falling over and breaking their ankles, or just plain getting into trouble.

And they’re so lippy, and there’s nothing worse than a lippy woman. Apparently.

Of course, I’m excluding the dead wife from Hawk the Slayer from this category. You know, the one who has a concealed blade in her over-sized crucifix? She turned out to be the most interesting part of that film.

Humiliation, Round Five: The Results

Posted 2 December 2008 in by Catriona

And the results for Humiliation, Round Five: Film Humiliation are as follows:

Kirsty, barely humiliated at all: 2 points
Me: 3 points
Drew: 4 points
Nick: 5 points
John and Leigh: 6 points
Sam, Tim, and Wendy: 7 points
Matt: 8 points

I don’t think we can say that Matt’s comprehensively humiliated, since it was a close-run game, closer than most of the rounds of Book Humiliation.

Now, some of you need to go and watch Edward Scissorhands, Pulp Fiction, Jurassic Park, and Breakfast At Tiffany’s.

I’m not going to force anyone to watch Forrest Gump.

Humiliation, Round Five: The Voting

Posted 2 December 2008 in by Catriona

So, the nominations are in for round five of Humiliation.

I’ve listed the various contestants and films below. Let me know which films you have seen in the comments thread below, and we’ll see who is the most humiliated!

Drew has never seen Fight Club.
I have never seen The Exorcist.
Leigh has never seen Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Kirsty has never seen The Deer Hunter.
John has never seen Batman Begins.
Wendy has never seen Jurassic Park.
Nick has never seen Apocalypse Now.
Tim has never seen Forrest Gump.
Sam has never seen Edward Scissorhands.
Matt has never seen Pulp Fiction.

This is a fairly strong field, actually. I’m not sure my choice is looking so good, any more.

Still, let the voting begin!

Humiliation, Round Five: A Slight Difference

Posted 30 November 2008 in by Catriona

I’ve been slack on the blogging front the last couple of days, due to enthusiastic birthday celebrations. But a discussion last night that we should really have another round of Humiliation segued into a suggestion of holding a round of Film Humiliation.

That’s an idea I like, but it’s trickier, I think, than books.

For all Bayard argues that it’s not necessary to have read a book in order to claim to have read it, it is fairly straightforward—for the purposes of this game—to say, “No, I have never actually opened a copy of this book.”

But films—it seems to me that it’s trickier to say, “Nope, I’ve never consciously watched this film.”

And I’m not even talking about the broad tendency to use the television set as a kind of aural and visual wallpaper, because I don’t do that myself: I don’t put the telly on unless I’m actually intending to watch it (with the exception of test cricket).

But films seem to be more easily and readily quotable than books—or perhaps I mean that we’re more likely to recognise a quote from a film than from a book. It depends, of course, on the book and on the quote: anyone will spot “To be or not to be” or “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” but unless we’re actually looking for literary influences, more obscure quotes may well slip past in casual reading.

But I’m not convinced this works with films, when the quotations are as often visual as they are verbal, not to mention the broad geek tendency to speak almost exclusively in quotations from film and television.

I, for example, have never consciously watched Citizen Kane—how’s that for humiliating? But I wouldn’t necessarily feel comfortable taking that as my offering in this game of Humiliation, because I’ve seen the core scenes, The Simpsons episode based on the film, the episode of Mad About You that focused on when Jamie had seen the film, documentaries about Orson Welles . . . and so on.

But it’s been too convivial a weekend for me to work through these ideas clearly.

So, how about a round of Film Humiliation instead?

Same rules apply as in the book version: in the comments thread below, nominate a film you haven’t seen but that you think everyone else has.

Nominations will close on Tuesday 2nd December at 5 pm. Then I’ll open up a new thread for the voting. One point per person who has seen your film—and the person with the most points will be the humiliated winner.

Books We Think We Know

Posted 12 October 2008 in by Catriona

I’ve been pondering that title since I first came up with the idea for this post (yesterday, though I’ve made it sound as though this is a magnum opus I’ve been working on for a decade) and I’m not entirely happy with it now. It sounds patronising.

But what I’ve been thinking about are books that we think we know all about because of the film adaptations, and I can’t think of a better way of putting it.

I’ve mentioned this idea before, back when I was excited about Steven Moffat’s Jekyll, and I still maintain that those are the big three: Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

It’s not surprising, really: the Wikipedia page for Stevenson’s novella lists thirty-six stage plays, movies, musicals, television programmes, and video games based on the work (though it would never have occurred to me that Jerry Lewis’s The Nutty Professor is based on Stevenson’s work. Then again, I’ve never seen either it or the Eddie Murphy remake).

The page for Dracula shows at least sixty-three adaptations (unless anyone wants to double-check my desultory counting), including Bouncy Castle Dracula, performed entirely in a bouncy castle, at the 2008 Edinburgh Fringe Festival and a film described as a “softcore lesbian pornographic semi-parodical film.” (Now that’s quite the number of adjectives. On the other hand, that should bring stragglers in from Google.)

The Frankenstein page lists forty-six movies, and I didn’t even count through the parodies and the television adaptations. The only one I remember is Kenneth Branagh’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (which it really wasn’t), and I didn’t care for that one at all.

But, really, with at least 145 movies, stage plays, and television adaptations between them (not to mention countless books), is it any wonder that we all tend to think we know exactly what’s going to happen when we read the books?

This is, I suspect, an area where Pierre Bayard’s argument in How To Talk About Books You Haven’t Read could be misapplied: someone drawing their knowledge of Dracula and Frankenstein exclusively from the “cultural library” is just as likely—maybe more likely—to end up with an entirely skewed perspective on the novels.

Mind, it’s not that I think these films are a bad thing.

Okay, I did think that the recent BBC adaptation of Dracula with Marc Warren and Sophia Myles was a bad thing. A very, very bad thing. But my general point stands: having texts that have so thoroughly soaked into the general culture that they can be performed in bouncy castles at a fringe festival is a wonderful thing.

(That these canonical texts of English literature were written by a woman, a Scotsman, and an Irishman is a bonus.)

But they remain for me the standard of texts whose adaptations are more pervasive than the originals and yet don’t give a fair account of the original.

(Okay, I acknowledge that “fair account” is subject to change depending on the reader, and that my idea of an accurate adaptation—or an adaptation that it, at least, faithful in spirit to the original—is not going to be the same as that of other people. But I’m sticking with that solipsistic phrasing.)

They’re not unique, though.

I’ve mentioned before—in the middle of an Oz kick as I am—that I’m no great fan of the original film. And Katharine M. Rogers makes two excellent points in L. Frank Baum, Creator of Oz about ways in which the film shifted the spirit of the book. She points out, firstly, that Judy Garland is too mature to play Baum’s conception of Dorothy: “She is not a small child who is accidentally transported to a strange land and longs for the security of home, but a dissatisfied teenager who is so critical of home that she runs away and has to learn [. . .] a moral lesson” (253). Secondly, she argues that presenting Dorothy’s adventure as a dream is a falsification (253), and I would agree with that wholeheartedly: Baum’s Oz is distinctly part of the geography of our world.

Rogers also emphasises that much of the Oz mythology can be traced to the film rather than the books, such as the extremely small stature of the Munchkins and the consequent adoption of the word into English as meaning an extremely short person (they are the same size as the child Dorothy in the books) and in the extreme witchiness of the Wicked Witch of the West (253).

Nick also mentioned, when we were discussing this last night, Tim Burton’s Batman Returns, which—to the best of our combined knowledge—was the first text to present Catwoman as a supernatural being, rather than a cat burglar. (I understand the recent Halle Berry film follows this pattern, but I’ve not seen it.)

Sherlock Holmes is another example, and I’m not even thinking of the recent adaptation with Richard Roxburgh, which showed Holmes injecting cocaine in a railway station on the way to Baskerville Hall, where the real Holmes would never have used cocaine in the middle of a case—he only used it as a mental stimulant when he had no cases on hand. The Basil Rathbone films, lovely as Basil Rathbone is (especially when he’s celebrating “pirate fashion”), bore little if any resemblance to the originals—especially since the final twelve, of fourteen, were set during World War Two and involved Nazis.

Will we never be free from inappropriate Nazis?

Even The Princess Bride, adapted by the same man who wrote the original novel, is a lighter, brighter version of itself. A fabulous film, but distinct from the book—and how could it not be, when the books is so heavily concerned with process of writing prose?

It’s not that these films are bad films. They’re not.

And it’s not that I somehow harbour resentment against people for enjoying films instead of reading the original books. I don’t.

But these are fascinating to me: films that owe their existence to books and, for all that the books in each of these cases (except maybe The Princess Bride) are widely reprinted, set on school and university syllabuses, and still read, the films have an extraordinary currency that makes them more potent than their progenitors.

Now I put it like that, Frankenstein doesn’t seem like such an odd choice to head the list.

But have I missed anything?

Is There Anything Bad About Raiders of the Lost Ark?

Posted 4 May 2008 in by Catriona

I can’t think of anything off the top of my head, which is convenient, given that the new movie is coming out this year.

I can, however, think of a very long list of extremely good things about it.

1. Possibly the two most parodied moments in movie history, excepting perhaps half of 2001: A Space Odyssey: the original raid on the temple of the golden idol and the abortive sword fight in the Cairo markets.

2. Karen Allen. Man, I can’t express how happy I am to see that she’s going to be back in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. She was Indy’s only non-irritating sidekick, if we don’t count his father as a sidekick. No offense to Kate Capshaw; she’s a stunningly beautiful woman, but her nightclub singer was intensely irritating.

3. Spy monkey—I love the idea of using a monkey as a spy, even if the monkey is wearing a little waistcoat, and plan to put spy monkeys to work in my own, far-distant, intergalactic empire. I’m always sorry when the spy monkey falls victim to his master’s perfidy.

4. Alfred Molina. Sure, he dies about five minutes into the movie, but I do love him even when he’s evil. That’s why he made such a good Doc Ock.

5. John Rhys-Davies. Sure, he’s playing his natural height here—which negates some of the fun I got out of watching him as a dwarf in Lord of the Rings—but . . . well, see Alfred Molina above, minus the comment on villainy.

6. I’m slightly ashamed of this, but I secretly rather like Karen Allen’s wardrobe in the movie. Not the awful dress that the French archaeologist buys her as a prelude to seduction, but definitely the funky if high-waisted red trousers she’s strolling around the Cairo markets in. I even rather like her “what to wear when you’re stuck running a Sherpa bar in Nepal” chic.

7. Indy manages to keep his job without, apparently, assessing any student work. I am somewhat in awe of this.

I will say this, though: his work does look far more exhausting than marking end-of-semester exams has ever been. Given a choice, I’d probably rather mark than engage in an extended chase sequence with Nazis.

8. Unlike most teachers presented on television and in the movies, Indy seems to have a vague understanding of time management. Most of the teachers you see on television seem to be halfway through a lesson every time the bell rings, which has always seemed like poor practice to me.

9. In his lesson, Indy has to pause halfway through writing the word “neolithic” to make sure he’s spelling it right. I’m so relieved that I’m not the only person that that happens to.

10. I’ve always enjoyed the moral ambiguity of what Indiana does. While I’m in sympathy with the idea that cultural artifacts should be in museums when the alternative is placing them in the hands of private collectors, there’s a neo-colonialist aspect to raiding the tombs of the world to increase the collections of American museums. It’s an ambiguity that perhaps rests more in the eyes of the viewer than in the mind of the move maker, but I enjoy it nontheless.

Of course, in the Indiana Jones movies, the collector is Adolf Hitler, which does tend to ameliorate much of that ambiguity.

11. I’m not in favour of Indy’s homicidal approach to the problem of snakes, but I do have a certain sneaking sympathy with it, as long as they’re prop snakes—I’m not keen on snakes myself.

(I’m less keen on spiders, though, which is why—while sorry for my brother—I’m quite relieved that his enormous pet funnel web has gone to a happier place. I was always a little concerned that she’d get out of her tank and I’d find her in my bed one Christmas. I mean, really—does this look like the sort of thing that one should keep as a pet?)

12. This movie gave me one of my most valuable life lessons to date: never engage in fisticuffs anywhere near a spinning propeller.

(The other valuable one is “never kiss a monkey with a cold sore,” which is good advice regardless of who has the cold sore, you or the monkey. Oddly, though, people give me very strange looks when I impart this advice.)

13. The gunfight scenes in this movie, though, always remind me of an exchange from Red Dwarf:

LISTER: Why do we never meet anyone nice?
CAT: Why do we never meet anyone who can shoot straight?

14. Because the only Germans in the film are Nazis, and therefore unsympathetic, I like the subtle dig at legendary German engineering in the way that bits of the Mercedes Benz truck keep falling off while Indy’s trying desperately not to end up underneath it.

15. I realise that Marian’s a rough-and-ready kind of woman, but that’s a lovely satin frock she’s wearing on board ship, and she should know that blood doesn’t come out of satin. Let Indy tend his own wounds.

16. Even though Indy has a far more aggressive approach to his discipline than any archaeologist I’ve ever met, he does have at heart a love and reverence for the objects that he pursues and studies. He manages to be both scholar and action hero, which is a rare combination.

17. The final scene with the opening of the Ark of the Covenant clearly inspired Mike Mignola’s construction of Hellboy’s origin story.

18. Although the special effects don’t seem so cutting edge these days, I still find the melting Nazi one of the creepiest things I’ve ever seen.

19. I would desperately like to know what’s in all those tens of thousands of crates in the warehouse where the U. S. government store the Ark. Are they all religious and occult artifacts? Because that would be awesome.

Have I missed anything?



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