Thursday, April 30, 2015

WARNING

If anyone else supports this page on Patreon (by agreeing to give me, say, 50p every time I write something) there is a serious danger that I will have to post the first in a series of videos of me reading poetry.

If you back me on  Patreon  (just click a button and say you'll front up say $1 every time I publish an article) then you'll get access to the first of a series of little videos of me reading Pomes.


Backers also get access to my work-in-progress e-book on children's literature, sequels and post-structuralism, entitled "Tangled Up in Pooh"....

NOTE: I ought to make clear that this is NOT a paywall. Anything that would have gone on this blog will continue to appear on this blog. (e.g My ongoing series of Star Wars essays, part III of  "How To Make The Bible Mean What You Want It To Mean", anything new I write about Doctor Who, etc). Patreon is a way of supporting my writing, if you think it is worth supporting.  

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

-233














I have heard Bob Dylan perform on four occasions now. Every time there has been ecstatic applause and standing ovations. And every time the question is asked: are we standing up and cheering this old guy because he used to be Bob Dylan? Or are we cheering the idiosyncratic, gravelly old blues-man we've actually seen on stage?

So the thing we already knew, the thing that made the people at that American Star Wars convention cheer like they were at a Rock Concert, is that we see Han Solo and Chewie. We knew we were going to see Han Solo and Chewie, inasmuch as we knew that Harrison Ford was in it and Peter Mayhew was in it; but like, actually seeing them. Actually seeing them. That's Dylan on the stage there, playing Blowin' in the Wind on his mouth harp. He's not actually playing it very well, or even, you know, recognisably. No, didn't you hear me? That's Dylan. On the stage. Playing Blowin' in the Wind.

Tatooine. Presumably Tatooine. Crashed X-Wing in foreground. Presumably X-Wing. Slow pan through sand dunes. Realization that we are not looking at a sand dune but at a wrecked Star Destroyer. Definitely a Star Destroyer. Definitely wrecked.


Shipwrecks are cool, and Star Destroyers are cool, and the idea of wrecked Star Destroyer is definitely cool, and raises the question "what the hell wrecked it"? 

Star Wars: Rebels opened with a shot of the hero, Ezra, looking at a Star Destroyer as it passed over head; which I argued was a play on the iconic opening scene of Star Wars. Wouldn't it be interesting if the opening scene of the trailer was also the opening scene of the movie?

  • Star Wars: We are way above the surface of Tatooine. A little ship flies over head. Suddenly, a much bigger ship (which we now know, but didn't then, to call a Star Destroyer) flies over, dwarfing it.
  • Star Wars: Episode VII: We are on the surface of Tatooine. We see the wreck of a little ship. Then we see the wreck of a much bigger ship, which we recognize as a Star Destroyer.

The voice of Mark Hamill; presumably Mark Hamill: "The Force is strong in my family. My father has it I have it, my sister has it, you have it too."

Luke Skywalker, singing one of his old hits. It's what he said to Leia on Endor when he finally admitted to her that they were related. 

The trailer assumes you can identify the quote. The trailer also assumes that you can identify Han Solo, the Millennium Falcon, Star Destroyers, lightsabers.... Or maybe it doesn't. Maybe great big spaceships and portentous mythological quotes are cool whatever their sources?

We know from the prequels that Jedi Knights are celibate, and always have been. So presumably, the "you" must be one of Leia and Han's children. From which, incidentally, it would follow that Leia never became a Jedi, that Luke's prophecy that in time she would learn to use the Force never came true. 

If the Force is passed through families, does it make a great deal of sense for the Jedi to be celibate? Like the famous Irishman who said that genetics is when your parents can't have children and neither can you.

As he says "My Father has it" (as opposed to, for example, "My Father had it") we Darth Vader's melted breath mask. I think it is displayed on some kind of plinth. We hear (I think we hear) Darth Vader breathing in the background. 

Luke told Leia that he was her brother on Endor. Darth Vader was cremated on Endor; that's where his ashes and the remains of his armour presumably lie. Does that mean that part of the Force Awaken will be set on Endor? (There are trees in the X-Wing vignette.) Would that mean...

.... more Ewoks?

Actually, I don't think more Ewoks would necessarily be the worst idea in the world. What I do think would be the worst idea in the world is to bring Darth Vader back from the dead. YES, Vader is the second most iconic villain in the entire history of cinema; but he gets an absolutely brilliant death scene in Return of the Jedi. Well, I liked it. Not everyone does. But even if you are one of the people who didn't like it; even if you don't buy the notion that a death-bed repentance can wipe out a life time of Dark Sideyness; even if you are seriously p'd off that George pasted Hayden Christopher's face over Sebastian Shaw's in the "special" edition; then it is still unthinkable that Darth Vader should recover from his death and spend three more films, innumerable comics and a stand-alone movie ranting at underlings and strangling admirals. It would undo the ending of Return of the Jedi; change the trajectory of the sextology; make the prequels pointless (don't say a word). 

On the other hand, this is the guy who changed James T Kirk from Horatio Hornblower to James Dean, so there is no guarantee that he Gets It.

We see Luke ... we assume it is Luke ... touching Artoo Deetoo with his prosthetic hand.


That's dark, isn't it? The prosthetic hand is a reminder that Luke was roundly trounced the first time he met Vader; and also a symbol of Luke's potential to go over to the Dark Side. There is a sense in the scene that he's reconnecting with Artoo; touching him for reassurance; remembering the old times; reaching out to a friend?


Someone hands a lightsaber to someone...

At first I assumed it was Luke, handing a lightsaber to his nephew or niece, the "you" of the opening speech. But that arm looks awfully thin to be Mark Hamill's. (Some people think they can see an alien face. I think they are taking the whole thing a bit too seriously.) 

And isn't that Luke Skywalker's lightsaber? The Lightsaber that his father wanted him to have, when we was old enough (from a certain point of view)? But wasn't that lightsaber in Luke's hand when Darth Vader chopped it off in Empire Strikes Back? So shouldn't it, by rights, had been floating around the clouds of Bespin for the last 40 years? 

And anyway, if Clone Wars is cannon, which, rightly or wrongly it is, Jedi are not given their lightsabers; they make them, as part of a right of passage. The Jedi does not choose the lightsaber, the lightsaber chooses the Jedi.

But the semiology is irresistible. Star Wars started with a great big space battle. The Force Awakens starts in the aftermath of great big space battle. The first scenes are looking backwards. Ship wrecks. Relics. Old friends meeting.  Then, the Torch is quite literally passed and...                                                                                                                                                                                                                        ...bang, bang, bang, ten tiny small little vignettes whoosh past us, actiony bits which are, after all, what Star Wars is really about.... 

We see speeder bike girl, sad Stormtrooper and little orange droid (who we now know to call Rey, Finn and Beebee) running away from an explosion. 

We see Finn sweating and taking off his helmet. 

We see Finn near a crashed space ship and Finn helping him to his feet. Very likely their first meeting. 

We see the cross-bladed lightsaber from the first trailer being swung (in a burning building, with a stormtrooper in the background) and then a separate shot of a guy with a metal mask (Kylo Ren?) holding up his hand to do something Forcey. 

It's a different lightsaber; not the one with the crosspiece. So the dark guy from the first trailer is fighting against this guy. So either this guy is the goodie; or that guy is; or else the Dark Side are fighting among themselves. 

Or he has two lightsabers. Or it's a continuity error. It's too early to say. 

Whoever he is, he's breathing like Vader. So perhaps it was his breathing we heard over Darth Vader's mask. Holding onto the Sith Lord's breath mask as a "relic" is the kind of thing Dark Side baddies might do, isn't?

(A half formed plot starts to coalesce. It is the future. The events of Star Wars have already become legendary. Most people don't believe in the Jedi. Luke Skywalker has vanished. A secret cadre who fancy themselves Sith Lords preserve Darth Vader's mask as a holy relic. Another sect have scoured Bespin and preserved Luke Skywalker's lightsaber, legendary and precious as Excalibur. And then for some reason Luke Skywalker, long hidden, emerges.)

Final Shot of Han Solo and Chewie.

And it quite definitely is a shot of Han and Chewie, being Han and Chewie, but much older. Well, Han is much older. It is canonical that wookies live much longer than humans. (Chewie appears briefly and irrelevantly in Return of the Sith.) 

Han Solo hasn't changed his clothes in 40 years. 

I am not quite sure. I want to see Han Solo again. But I want to know what Han Solo has been doing for the last thirty years. I don't, to use an analogy I have perhaps used too much, just want to see someone put their Han Solo action figure on the table. 

What did Han do after Return of the Jedi? Did he go back to his old life — if not actually as a pirate than at any rate as professional trader and money maker and trouble maker? Or did he stay with the rebels, in the New Order? I think I would rather there were scenes in which we meet an elderly, abrasive senator (or president? Or ambassador) and to our surprise say "hey, didn't you used to be Han Solo", than seeing a very old Harrison Ford trying to strike poses that he first struck thirty eight years ago. I think I want Luke to be the new Ben, old and wise and mysterious, not a guy of 60 trying to swing across chasms. 

When Star Trek was a going concern, stupid people called it "wheelchairs in space" because it was, like, really funny that a guy of 50 could be a ship's captain. I am one of those who likes Dylan as he is now; who thinks that his new performances are quirky as hell but genuinely interesting. But Dylan plays himself as he is now, a gravelly old man in a hat. He doesn't remotely pretend that at 73 he can still be a fresh faced young spokesman for the new generation. 

Let us hope that Han Solo doesn't turn out to be an aging rocker embarrassingly wiggling his arthritic hips.

"Chewie, we're home."

What was it that the wise man said you can't ever do?

Saturday, April 25, 2015

-237

The Fantastic Four trailer didn't make me nearly as angry as the Superman trailer. It doesn't seem to have been put together by someone who actively dislikes The Fantastic Four, merely by someone who hasn't read it. And it is certainly nice to see some footage in which The Thing looks like a 3D rendering of an early Jack Kirby Thing, as opposed to, and there is really no nice way of saying this, a poo.

But still, how could anyone get to work on an F.F movie and miss the neon lights flash above every, single issue screeching "The Fantastic Four is a story about a family. The Fantastic Four is a story about a family." (They are sometimes actually referred to as Marvel's first family, aren't they?) 

Reed Richards is a Father Figure. He is middle aged. He is grey around the the temples and smokes a pipe. He is clever and stuffy. He loves Sue. He fought in the French Resistance. (We can probably drop that bit.)

Sue Storm is a Mother Figure. Or, if you prefer, she is a Big Sister figure. She is sensible and practical and the glue that holds the group together. She loves Reed. 

Johnny is the Kid Brother. He is young and reckless. Johnny and Sue are orphans. Sue had to be a mother to her kid brother when their Dad died. That's why she's inclined to be fuddy-duddy and stuffy. 

Ben is Big Brother. Ben and Johnny act like feuding siblings; Sue and Reed act like anxious parents. But Ben is actually Reed's contemporary. He was a fighter pilot in the War. Some people think that the name Benjamen Jakob Grimm suggests that he came from a minority ethnic background. Definitely he came from the poor bit of New York. The cigar, if nothing else, shows that he's the character who Jack Kirby identified with. (We can probably lose the cigar.) 

Superman is not about a god-like alien but about a geeky little guy from the sticks who is also a god like alien. The Fantastic Four is not about four people with amazing powers, it's specifically about an American family who acquire amazing powers. 

"Your my husband, Reed...The world won't come to an end if you take time out for dinner"
"I wish wish I could be sure of that, Sue darling."


"You flamin fig-head! When I'm thru with you there won't be enough left to light a fire-cracker!"
"Ben, don't! That fire proof vault door cost a small fortune!"

I don't want to open up the whole Kirby vs Lee fissure again, but surely, surely, surely the Fantastic Four are made of dialog much more than they are made of drawings and made of cool powers? And if you create four characters who wouldn't say those kinds of things to each other, then what you have created no longer has anything to do with the Fantastic Four? 

Obviously, in the process of making a movie, you have to change stuff. Well, no, actually, that isn't completely obvious to me at all. Of all the comic books out there, the Fantastic Four is the one that permits least messing around with. It is essentially itself: a slab of Kirby pictures illuminated by a wodge of Lee dialogue which is what it is and can't be anything else. Ultimate Spider-Man massively messed around with every aspect of Spider-Man's top heavy mythos, and ended up with something that felt more like Spider-Man than Spider-Man had for years. Ultimate Fantastic Four did the same thing to the F.F and ended up being a fairly good science fiction comic about some unrelated characters in vaguely similar uniforms. My preferred Fantastic Four movie would be one which stayed as close, visually and thematically, to the comic book as the Watchmen movie did to the Watchmen comic. Imagine taking F.F 48-51 and treating them more or less as your storyboard; putting the same kind of effort into Galactus' shorts as they did into Dr Manhattan's wassissname. If that can't happen, then at least set the thing specifically in the 1960s against the background of the Cold War, the Beatles, Atomic War, the Summer of Love, incredibly sexist attitudes, very short skirts. (Surely it matters that The Fantastic Four, the first ever super-hero celebrities, happened at the exact same time as that other Fab Four?) But if even that can't happen, then we know it is possible to wrench a character out of his original context without utterly dismantling him. Mr Cumberbatch has show that you can remove Sherlock Holmes from his world of gas lights and hansom cabs and steam trains and drop him into the world of mobile phones and computers and sex and still have him remain recognizably Sherlock Holmes. Because the character remains the same. Because his relationship to Watson (and Mrs Hudson, and Moriarty, and the police, and his clients) remains recognizably Holmsian.

Of course Reed Richards doesn't need to be a resistance leader. But he does have to be old and stuffy. Of course Ben doesn't have to be a World War II veteran. But he does need to be New York Jewish wisecracker.  

I can cope with the F.F exploring an alien dimension rather than being astronauts. Particularly if the Negative Zone is going to be a thing. If some of the villains are going to come from the Negative Zone and the Fantastic Four are going to be Negative Zone explorers then it makes sense for their powers to come from the Negative Zone rather than Outer Space. 

And the Human Torch effects look cool. 

And Doctor Doom looks like Doctor Doom, and not, say, a cloud of purple gas.

But, oh, for Jack's sake....

The Fantastic Four have been "re-imagined" as a group of kids, under the tutelage of an elderly scientist named Franklin Richards who actually has to say all-I-want-to-know-is-where-are-my-children at one point. Reed is bespectacled teen-aged nerd stumbling wide eyed into great big science thing and being shy around Sue and generally trying to be Peter Parker . 

There has been much speech about how it would be a good thing if there were more characters in movies who were not white dudes.

I agree that it would be a good thing if there more characters in movies who were not white dudes. If Johnny is going to be black and his dad is going to be a black then I am really not at all sure why his sister can't be black as well. Perhaps because Sue and Reed have to be an item and you are only allowed to have movies in which a black lady in love with a white man if that's the main thing the movie is about? (In which case, why not have a black Reed Richards as well? What possible reason is there for this Fantastic Four not to be an all-black team? Why am I even talking about this when it basically doesn't matter?) 

My question was going to be: wouldn't it also be a good thing if there were characters in movies who were older white men, older black men, older women -- if every character in every movie wasn't automatically about 17? Wouldn't it also be a good thing if the great -- the greatest -- American graphic novel about the 1950s nuclear family who get amazing powers to fight commies and aliens and planet eating space gods in purple shorts didn't have to be re-imagined as the story of Wise Old Franklin Richards and how he mentored four young outsiders, helping one to reach his full potential and one to learn to be a team player and one to overcome his callous upbringing and I to open up her heart and let other people in....

Apparently, Reed is not going to be able to stretch his body. No, Reed is going to be able to warp space around himself so his body appears to stretch. 

I can hardly bear to look.



The Ant-Man one, one the other hand, I rather like, and it's pretty obvious why. 

The Fantastic Four and Superman are like geek Holy Writ. They need to be treated with respect. Preferably reverence. Ant-Man isn't even my tenth favorite character. There have been bits and bobs of fun stuff done with him over the years, like when he accidentally created the evil robot Ultron, but that job's been given to Tony Stark for the movie franchise. 

Stan Lee eventually spotted that a character whose only power is to make himself small isn't all that interesting. He reasoned that if a character can use magic pixie dust to make himself very very small then surely he could use that same pixie dust to embiggen himself. Changing his name from Ant-Man to Gi-Ant Man was actually rather inspired. I bet a very small amount of money that they're saving that for the post cred of this movie. 

So, I don't specially care if this movie is faithful to the Myth of Ant-Man and am happy to let it stand on it's own six feet. At one level, it seems to be about as generic a superhero trailer as you could imagine, from the New York skyline in the opening shot, to the sliding doors opening on the big science room that looks and awful lot like the Fantastic Four's big science room to someone saying "Are you ready to become the hero you were meant to be?" Right at the end our hero indicates that he thinks Ant-Man is a bit of a lame name and you can just hear the director saying "No...More like Robert Downey Jnr!" in the background. There is some kind of argument between the guy who invented the shrinking suit and some other guy, and our hero, wearing a Red Suit (that looks a little bit like a very olden days Ant Man costume) seems to have a fight with a baddie wearing a Yellow Suit (that makes those of us who know about these things say "Aha! Yellow Jacket".) I fully expect the argument to be between Hank Pym's bosses, who want the shrinky powers to be used for military purposes and Hank Pym who wants it only to be used for the betterment of mankind, but that's not in the trailer. It's just the kind of thing that this kind of superhero movie tends to be about. 

But if you are going to make a superhero trailer, this is how you ought to do it. I don't want to be lectured about the philosophical ramifications of people with superpowers. I don't want to be introduced to each character one by one. I don't even specially want a recap of the origin. I want to know how much fun a movie about an incredible shrinking superhero is going to be. And in this case the answer seems to be "quite a lot of fun". In two minutes we see him running alongside giant ants; bungie jumping into some teeny tiny tube; running along the barrel of a gun; running around a children's toy train track and derailing Thomas the Tank Engine. 

It is very possible that the trailer has shown us all the movie's highlights. It is very possible that this is one of those films where they put a few highlights in specifically so they've got something for the trailer.

But right now, Ant-Man is the superhero movie I'm actively looking forward to.