Sunday, September 26, 2010


Since I have pretty well dropped out of public interest sort of stuff (to make myself a less noticeable target to lawyers who can't find anything important to do), I have had more occasion to watch movies.  (I believe to make such lawyers happy, you are supposed to go to your job at the Ministry of Truth, then go home, get drunk, and watch football.  Can't do the get drunk thing, or watch football, so I watch movies.)

A lot of these are movies that I never got around to watching when I was younger, because I had important stuff to do--and just never got around to seeing.  One of these movies like Kevin Costner's Waterworld.  It starts out pretty well--sort of Mad Max on the ocean, with jetskis.  Indeed, the first thirty minutes are pretty good--and then, about half-way through, it goes completely thermonuclearly stupid--so bad that it is actually good, rather like Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.  The sequences with Captain Hazelwood's picture, and the oarsmen--inspiredly bad!

I also watched Battlefield Earth, based on one of L. Ron Hubbard's novels.  John Travolta playing the alien Terl gets to chew up the scenery, and there's nothing quite as over the top as this memorable line he delivers:
Terl: Attention. This is Terl, your chief of security. Exterminate all man-animals at will, and happy hunting!
It wasn't quite bad enough to be funny--but not quite down at the level of the excrescences that Sci-Fi channel was showing for a while, like Pterodactyl (2005).  But wow!   They spent $44 million making Battlefield Earth?

How many really bad movies can you make with 2012 in the title?  2012 Doomsday was so bad that it was not even watchable while doing more important tasks.  It was not even bad enough to be unintentionally funny.  It was so bad that I could not even watch it as background noise.

2012 Supernova was also incredibly bad--but what made it tolerable as background noise was seeing how many different science and technical errors the screenwriter could stuff into a single turkey.  Had I not been using it as background noise, I am sure that the count could have been in the hundreds, perhaps even thousands.  Okay, I admit it: most people that watch movies like this do not have a clue where the atmosphere ends, what the consequences of a nearby supernova would be, how long the effects would take to arrive, etc.  But it does make me think we are living in the world of Idiocracy.

District 9: not really a bad movie--but I was expecting something a bit more than The Fly cross-bred with Alien Nation.  It seems as though someone decided that an action/adventure film with lots of exploding trucks (and people) was a lot more mass market than a thoughtful exploration of what happens we confront intelligent creatures so different that we start to regard them as inferior beings.  This was a film with real potential--but splat!  The potential exploded all over the lens (like some of the characters).

Solomon Northup's Odyssey (1984): this was a film for which I had very high hopes, and I was a little disappointed.  It is based on Solomon Northup's Twelve Years a Slave, describing a free black New Yorker's experiences after he was kidnapped, drugged, and sold into Louisiana slavery in 1841.  This is one of the great adventure stories--and all the more amazing because it is a true story.  Avery Brooks (who some of you may recall playing the very cool sorta good/sorta bad character Hawk in the 1980s TV series Spenser: For Hire).

I suspect that lack of funds might have been the problem on this.  Brooks does a decent job as Northup, and there are a number of recognizable actors, such as Mason Adams and Lee Bryant, playing various parts.  Some of the other actors were complete unknowns, and based on their performances, I can see why they stayed that way. 

Soundtrack, in particular, was a bit surprising by its deficiency.  There were many places where the lack of a soundtrack really impaired what could have been a very credible film.  You do not realize how much theme music plays a role in creating the emotional impact of a film until you see a movie like this, where the lack makes itself apparent.

I was also a bit surprised by the accents--or rather the inconsistency of them.  Some characters have recognizable regional accents: the U.S. Senator from Louisiana, for example.  But many of the other other characters should have had a Louisiana or Virginia accent--and did not.  The actors playing slaves are nearly devoid of correct accents and dialect for their time and place.  Perhaps someone made the decision that getting the accents correct would make the film much harder for a mass audience to appreciate--and that might well be true.  But at least you can have the actors at least suggest the accents and dialect without rendering it incomprehensibly accurate.

The film largely (although not exactly) follows Northup's book.  The most noticeable deviation is one that I can somewhat forgive.  I do not recall Northup at any point even implying that he took up with a slave woman while in slavery.  As the movie points out in the opening sequences, Northup, like many free blacks of the time, was trying very hard to achieve Victorian ideals about marriage and family life.  Northup was stranded far from his wife for twelve years.  He had no certainty, or even likelihood, of being able to get himself freed and back to her.  It would not have surprised me if he had fallen in love while on that plantation, and done what comes naturally.  At least the film portrays this in a dignified way--as a man with no certainty of returning to his home, and resisting the charms of a slave woman who was attracted to him.


  1. Battkefield Earth was a vanity project of the Church of Scientology. The book was 1940s schlock SF - which is what L. Ron Hubbard wrote for a living before inventing "Dianetics".

    The movie project was pushed through by the many Scientology puppets in Hollywood.

    It wasn't about making a good movie, or even a profitable movie - it was an act of religious reverence towards the Prophet L. Ron.

  2. I've seen bits and pieces of Battlefield Earth, including large chunks of the ending, and I kind-of liked what I saw. I'm not sure what would happen to how I like the movie if I saw it from the very beginning, though...