Category Archives: Movies

“Ender’s Game” (the movie): a brief review w/spoilers


I read the original “Ender’s Game” short story when it was published in Analog (August 1977). I was startled, because I knew the author, Orson Scott Card, slightly. He and I attended Brigham Young University at roughly the same time (he was a year ahead of me), I had met him a few times, and I knew him primarily as a playwright; I had even attended one of his plays (“Father, Mother, Mother, Mom”). I had no idea he was “dabbling” in science fiction.

When I saw the novel-length version of “Ender’s Game” in a bookstore (City Lights Booksellers) in San Francisco several years later (1985), I groaned a bit; I had seen other authors take short stories and expand them to novels, and they seldom held up well. The novel “Ender’s Game” was, instead, a counter-example to that trend: stronger, deeper, more emotionally engaging. It went on to with the “Best SF Novel” category in both the Hugo (fan-voted) Awards and the Nebula (writer-voted) Awards.

At some point many years ago, the movie rights were initially purchased, and “Ender’s Game” (the movie) went into what it commonly called “development hell” — never quite finding the right combination of studio, producers and director to get itself made, until just the past few years. I went into the film today with some trepedation; I have seen time and again what Hollywood has done to the science fiction/fantasy genre in general, and adaptations of material from that genre in particular. Beyond that, I was a touch underwhelmed by the trailers for the film — they were mostly whiz-bang and did little to convey the emotional depths and darkness of the novel. But my wife and I, along with our youngest (almost 28) daughter Salem, went to see the IMAX version today.

The first fifteen minutes of the film didn’t ease my concerns that much. The exposition was a touch clunky, and it was hard seeing past Harrison Ford the-action-hero to see himself instead as Col. Graff. But then one of the early scenes at the Battle School took place — one with Ender (Asa Butterfield) questioning both Graff and Sgt. Dap — that ended with Sgt. Dap saying, “I will never salute you [as a commander]”, and Ender replying (while doing pushups), “Yes, you will.” — and from that point on, I totally bought Butterfield as Ender.

The rest of the movie moved very quickly, if anything a bit too quickly. The film clocks in at just under 2 hours, which is probably as long as the studio dared make it — but I think it could have used another 20-30 minutes (and I hope for an extended director’s cut in the video release). The movie was engrossing, moving, and spectacular, particularly on the IMAX screen. It is also remarkably faithful to the novel; the few changes made were done for understandable reasons. I even eventually bought Ford as Graff, though I think that role would have been better played by someone with less accrued heroic aura — say, James Spader (who would have been both more chilling and more world-weary in that role, in my opinion).

My other great relief is that there was no Hollywood stupidity — no romance between Ender and Petra (but a touching, awkward friendship), no sugar-coating outcome of Ender’s final decisions. I will likely go see it at least once or twice more while it’s still in the theaters, something I hardly ever do.

Highly recommended. Your mileage may vary. Spoilers after the jump.

SPOILER (such as you can have for a story that’s been out 35 years)

My single biggest criticism of the film is that it did not — in my opinion — do a proper job with the Command School segment. It could have used just a minute or two more to more clearly establish that Ender thought he was fighting simulations against Mazer Rackham (played excellently by Ben Kingsley), and that they were battles that he kept losing, with him and his key ‘toon leaders burning out. The biggest omission was that in the novel, for the final “simulation”, Ender is specifically told he cannot attack the home world, but has to defeat the enemy fleets while leaving the home world untouched. When he and his subcommanders see the size of the enemy fleets, they are overwhelmed to the point of hopelessness. That’s when Ender decides that he’s going to get himself kicked out and buy relief for his friends by deliberately disobeying that directive to spare the home world; instead, he carefully guides the “Dr. Device” weapon (called the “Little Doctor” in the film) to a close-enough point and destroys the home world. Of course, the adults were hoping all along that he’d do that, but they needed to keep their hands clean of the potential xenocide. So when Ender afterward expects reprimand and dismissal, instead the adults hail him as a conquering hero — and he realizes the enormity of what he’s done.

That original sequence, as written in the novel, ties in very well with the prior attacks that Ender has experienced, with him killing an Earth schoolmate and a fellow Battle School commander, both at times when he felt he had no other option for survival. I think that would have greatly increased the emotional punch of that sequence, as would the subsequent revelation that people back on Earth, after initial praise, turn on Ender and see him as a genocidal commander. That is as much a reason as any why Ender does not return to Earth, but that doesn’t come out in the film.

That’s my main complaint. Again, highly recommended, and I hope this sets up Scott and his family financially for life.  ..bruce w..

[cross-posted from And Still I Persist]

“The Book of Eli”: a brief review (w/spoilers)

I didn’t have plans to go see “The Book of Eli”, even though the trailer made it look like “Fallout 3: The Movie” (I happen to be a big fan of “Fallout 3“). But then I read some early reviews that indicated that “Eli” might indeed be worth seeing, so my sweet wife Sandra and I went yesterday.

I’m glad we did. And she is, too.

I won’t recap the plot here, except to say that Eli (Denzel Washington) is carrying a book west across the devastated North American continent, and Carnegie (Gary Oldman) — who runs his own ruined town — wants that specific book.Oldman uses every tactic he can think of to persuade or force Eli to hand over the book.

“Eli” is a truly fascinating and remarkable movie. On one level, it’s a stylized post-apocalyptic samurai movie. On another, it is a classic Greek drama, with archetypes, divine intervention, and inexorable consequences. On yet a third, it is a morality play about Good and Evil, one that could have roots in the Middle Ages. Finally, it is a subtle yet profound treatise on faith in general and on Christian faith in particular. There are layers upon layers here, particularly as the film reaches its denouement — and said denouement means that I will go back into the theaters to see it a second time with new eyes.

My main criticism is the language, the principle reason for the ‘R’ rating. (Yes, there is violence, but it is very stylized and not much different from what you’ve seen in films such as “The Lord of the Rings”.)  It wasn’t necessary (the Greeks didn’t need it in their plays), though it did serve as a marker between characters on either side of the great divide.

The acting was excellent; the directing was outstanding; the art direction was very effective (and, yes, the film looked a lot like “Fallout 3”). What was most telling, though, was the depth of characterization and writing. “Eli” shows just how banal and shallow “Avatar”‘ is, both in story and characterization. In particular, Gary Oldman’s character — Carnegie — is vastly more believable, sympathetic and effective as an antagonist than either Parker Selfridge (the corporate scum) or Col. Miles Quaritch (the military scum) in “Avatar”.  Likewise, the religious themes in “Avatar” come across as rather goofy feel-good New Age-ism compared to the themes of faith, sacrifice, and suffering in “Eli”.

As John Notle said over at Big Hollywood, “Eli” in the end is a genre movie. But what a genre movie — possibly the best of its kind (though I have to reserve judgment until I see “The Road”).  Your mileage may vary.

SPOILERS AFTER THE JUMP (including some discussion of LDS themes in “Eli”).

Continue reading “The Book of Eli”: a brief review (w/spoilers)

Why the Catholic Church is upset with “New Moon”

After having seen “New Moon” on Friday afternoon with my sweet wife Sandra, I was a bit startled in late night browsing to read the following article (hat tip to Big Hollywood):

The latest movie in vampire saga Twilight is a ‘deviant moral vacuum’, the Vatican said yesterday.

New Moon, which opens in Britain today, is a ‘mixture of excesses aimed at young people and gives a heavy esoteric element’, a spokesman added.

The blockbuster opened on Wednesday in Italy and took £1.8million at the box office.

Monsignor Franco Perazzolo, of the Pontifical Council of Culture, said: ‘Men and women are transformed with horrible masks and it is once again that age-old trick or ideal formula of using extremes to make an impact at the box office.’

Huh? “Deviant moral vacuum” for a series that gets mocked because of the lack of premarital sex among its youthful characters? And I’m not entirely sure what “heavy esoteric element” means or why it would be a reason to condemn a movie. After all, the Vatican (as far as I can tell) had nothing to say about “2012” which actually depicts the violent death of the Pope and the rest of the Catholic Church leadership, along with hundreds of people being crushed by the collapse of St. Paul’s Basilica. Given all the films that are out there, with plenty of morally objectionable content, why would the Vatican choose to unload on “New Moon” of all things?

Then it hit me: the Volturi.

For those of you who haven’t read the series/seen the films, the Volturi are in effect the global rulers of all vampires and the only ones who can and do enforce (via death) a small set of rules — intended to keep the existence of vampires a secret — upon other vampires.

And, by the way, the Volturi live in Italy, where they rule from a large secret domed chamber. And they sit in throne-like chairs wearing formal antique clothing (see photo above).

Now, I don’t think that Stephenie Meyer had the Catholic Church in mind (at least, not consciously) when she invented the Volturi. The Volturi don’t act like religious leaders, and they don’t live in Rome but rather in Volterra (an actual small ancient town in the Tuscany region of Italy). But I suspect that someone at the Vatican saw the film, drew certain inferences, and was not happy, particularly given Meyer’s well-publicized LDS (Mormon) background. I also strongly suspect that if the Volturi had lived somewhere other than Italy that the Vatican would have had nothing to say about the film. ..bruce..

P.S. The movie itself? Meh. Better done than the first one, but the first 30-45 minutes seemed to drag. On the other hand, the 2nd book was the weakest of the four.

A twist on “The Box”/”Button, Button”

The reviews I’ve read of “The Box” (now in theaters) confirm my concern: it’s hard to make a 2-hour film from a 2,800-word short story (“Button, Button” by Richard Matheson) without throwing in a lot of stuff that doesn’t really fit (warning: plenty of spoilers at the link).

On the other hand, I ran into the short (7-minute) film above that takes the same basic concept and turns it into something a bit different.  Enjoy.  ..bruce..

I like “Ben Hur”

Sandra and I are watching three of our grandsons this weekend while our daughter and son-in-law hunt for an apartment in Reno. Since our ward meetings don’t start until 2 pm, we are facing the usual “how do we keep the kids occupied on Sunday?” issue. Right now, they’re wandering around the basement, hunting for dyed eggs and Hershey’s miniatures, but earlier I started “Ben Hur” and have been watching it off and on while working at my laptop.

Back when Sandra and I had lots of kids at home, we had a whole collection of what we termed “Sunday movies” on tape: “Ben Hur”, “The Ten Commandments”, “The Greatest Story Ever Told”, “The Story of Ruth”, and so on. These were movies the kids could stick in the VCR and watch on Sunday, either before or after church, depending upon our schedule. We later expanded the list to include some non-biblical films (“Fiddler on the Roof”, etc.), since one can only watch these films so many times.

Well, the VCR and the tapes are all gone, and the only one of these films that I have on DVD is “Ben Hur”. That’s because it’s my favorite of all those films, and the only one that holds up well after half a century or so. I think because the film’s focus is not on the Savior’s life, but on the life of someone who been touched by the Savior, literally and figuratively, without knowing it. The approach of never showing the Savior’s face is very effective.

The scene where Ben Hur, in chains as a slave, is denied water by the Roman slavedriver, only to be given water by Christ, remains one of my favorite movie scenes of all time. It is a reminder that the Savior’s ministry started long before He turned 30 and that the vast majority of the service He rendered fall outside of our records of His ministry in the Gospels.

The Savior’s parable in Matthew 25:31-46 probably gives us the best glimpse into how the Savior spent his life before starting to preach the Gospel, and there were likely many lives touched by Him prior to then. “Ben Hur” is a reminder of that.  ..bruce..

LDS themes in Battlestar Galactica, Knowing, and Watchmen?


[NOTE: welcome to all the traffic from Twitter and from Roger Ebert’s review of “Knowing”! I’ve expanded a few things below for clarification.]

I’m going to discuss religious themes, particularly as related to LDS beliefs and themes, as found in the movies “Watchmen” and “Knowing”, as well as in the finale of the TV series “Battlestar Galactica”. In doing so, I’ll freely discuss spoilers, at least in “Knowing” and BSG. You’ve been warned.

If you don’t want to read the spoilers, let me tell you that I strongly recommend the BSG finale (the whole series, really) and the movie “Knowing”. I haven’t seen “Watchmen” (though I’ve read the graphic novel several times over the years), but based on what I’ve read about the film, I don’t plan on seeing it.

Continue reading LDS themes in Battlestar Galactica, Knowing, and Watchmen?

Finally: some Evangelical criticism of “Twilight”

I’m surprised how little Evangelical commentary I’ve run across about Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight novels, much less the surprisingly successful “Twilight” movie release last fall. As I wrote all the way back in November 2007,

Boy, if the evangelicals hated Harry Potter and J. K. Rowling, what will they do when they face the popularity of vampire love stories written by a Mormon for teens and tweens?

Yet — unlike the various Harry Potter denoncements and book burnings over the past several years — I’ve seen almost no press coverage or other indiciation of Evangelical fervor regarding Meyer’s work. In fact, most of the Twilight criticism I’ve run across to date has been on LDS blogs.

Well, thanks to Google News, I’ve found my first Evangelical posting on the subject. I’m sure there have been others; I just haven’t gone looking for them. What’s curious is why this is showing up on Google News right now, since it appears to have been written back in November, shortly after the release of the movie “Twilight”, and why Google News considers the website “Prophezine: Your Source for Bible Prophecy and World Events” to be a news source. But all that said, here are a few key passages:

The series commonly referred to as Twilight is about an out of place sophomore teenage girl named Bella who moves to a new town and falls in love with a handsome 108 year old, but frozen at 17, “vampire” named Edward at her school (108? with a 16yr old? would make him a pervert and pedophile but should biblical (or old-fashioned) morality get in the way of “true” love?)  The story is about their intoxicating infatuation for each other and the consequences of a lustful vampire/mortal romance.

Edward and his “coven” of vampire family are vowed “good” and “vegetarian” vampires as they only feed on animal blood rather than human blood.  Yet, Edward wants to eat Bella every time the sexual tension gets too high.  He avoids having sex with her, not on any moral grounds, but out of fear lest he eat her and cause her to become the “un-dead” like him.  But she loves him regardless and is willing to step into his “eternity” no matter the cost!

Sounds a trite story, but the shocker is that many Christians are attracted to this spiritually dysfunctional romance and worse, are attempting to give Christian applications to its demonic premise suggesting this be acceptable “Christian” discussion. Some Christian reviewers on Christian Internet sites are using the story, to initiate Bible “studies” and discussion on so-called “Christian” principles to be drawn from it. A new “Christianized” twist on demonic deception is invading Christian values!

Here would be a good place to examine exactly what a “vampire” is and ask, can Christians honestly consider it OK for teens (indeed anyone?) to crave a relationship with one? For centuries, vampires have been part of folklore and mythology, understood to be ugly, dark creatures of morbid horror, close to the dead, sometimes known as the undead for they claim eternal life and subsist by feeding on human blood, roam in darkness, avoid the light, and are enemies of the human race.

This repulsive concept was changed with the popularization of Bram Stoker’s famous 1897 novel about a fictionalized vampire Count Dracula, who was presented as an aristocrat Transylvanian nobleman.  He was imbued with supernatural powers, superhuman capabilities and a lustful passion for beautiful ladies whose blood he became addicted to. His blood sucking was two-fold – to maintain his (eternal) “life force” and eventually befall his victim with the curse of vampirism and ultimate death. No matter how resplendent the “vampire” is portrayed in mythology and fiction, in Scripture blood drinking and creatures of darkness are judged as despicable by God. Also, Scripture explains fallen spirits (“angels”) as those who deliberately chose to follow their leader Satan (Isaiah. 14) and deny their Creator God. For this choice, they are damned with eternal separation from God and an eternity in the Lake of Fire. (Rev 15.)

I would argue simply that vampires aren’t real, but I realize that the author (Caryl Matriscian) is making a point based on her own worldview. That said, there’s an unspoken subtext in this article that has interesting implications for LDS fiction. That subtext seems to be that all fiction must, implicitly or explicity, play out within the context of Evangelical Christian theology and must serve that theology.

There is often a similar issue in fiction by LDS authors: must what we write always be consistent with LDS doctrine and history, portray the Church and LDS doctrine in a positive light, and serve to lead people to Christ? This issue has been kicked around for decades; while I was an undergrad at BYU, Eugene England gave the classic talk, “Great books or true religion?“, touching on some of those same issues. The best LDS authors tend to set it aside or deal with it in unexpected ways (cf. Orson Scott Card in Ender’s Game, which indicates that one of Ender’s parents is LDS but suggests that the LDS Church, like many others, has largely been suppressed/disbanded and does not apply LDS doctrine or theology to any of the story’s events).  See also this discussion over at The Red Brick Store, which suggests using Chaim Potok’s novels about Jewish life (The Chosen, My Name is Asher Lev) as a model for Mormon literature.

But let’s get back to the article, which then paints a, well, interesting portrait of Stephenie Meyer:

A housewife named Stephenie Meyer “received” the story of Twilight in a dream on June 2, 2003.  The vision she had of a vampire and mortal as lovers compelled her to start writing the story immediately.  She says she couldn’t resist the drive to write down her dream (a similar scenario to J.K Rowlings, author of Harry Potter).  Meyer gives a summary of that first dream: “I woke up (on that June 2nd) from a very vivid dream. In my dream, two people were having an intense conversation in a meadow in the woods. One of these people was just your average girl. The other person was fantastically beautiful, sparkly, and a vampire. They were discussing the difficulties inherent in the facts that A) they were falling in love with each other while B) the vampire was particularly attracted to the scent of her blood, and was having a difficult time restraining himself from killing her immediately.”  Within three months, she had the entire novel written.  Within six-months, it had been dreamed, written, and readied for publishing.

She admits she had little to no prior writing experience with only a B.A. degree in English and had to learn from the Internet how to submit a book proposal.  She tried a few times and “miraculously” got published with a $750 thousand dollar publishing contract! Miraculous happenings have been known to come from powers of darkness, and in this case, no matter how it’s sliced, the God of the Bible would not use vampires, sexual tension, lust, boyfriend worship, and teenage romance to spread His Gospel of eternal life and salvation through Yeshua.

Meyer, a Mormon mother of three, states that some of her inspiration in writing her vampire saga came from a band of musicians called Marjorie Fair.  “For New Moon, they were absolutely essential. They can put you into a suicidal state faster than anything I know . . . Their songs really made it beautiful for me.” Also an inspiration for one of her characters was a band called My Chemical Romance.  She states, “It’s someone . . . who just wants to go out and blow things up.” See mind blowing information about the music industry and a shocking spirituality many are involved in.

Scaringly, Meyer’s fictional character Edward took on the “terrifying” form of “real” spirit when it leapt from the pages of her saga and communicated with her in a dream. She says she had an additional dream after Twilight was finished when her vampire character Edward came to visit and speak to her. The Edward who visited her in the night told her she’d got it all wrong because he DID drink human blood, and could not “live” on ONLY animal blood as she wrote in the story.  She said, “We had this conversation and he was terrifying.”

Conversation with spirits (saying they need human blood to suck!) and frightening dream visitations by spirits are part of occult communication. Meyer’s spiritual experiences could well be influenced by her Mormon faith which allows for communication with the so-called “the dead”; indeed “the dead” of former generations are baptized into Mormonism in Mormon Temple ritual. Mormon founder Joseph Smith was “visited” by a communicating “angel” called Moroni, whose statue stands atop all Mormon Temples. This fallen angel of Mormonism gave Smith messages on which he formed his Mormon doctrine about prior civilizations, none of which have been discovered despite endless archeological digs to substantiate Mormons claims. Others Mormon teachings conflict with biblical Christianity such as Mormonism’s claim that Jesus (Yeshua) of the Bible is the half-brother of Satan.  Mormons additionally believe numerous teachings about the spirits that oppose Bible truths and could help embellish Meyer’s Twilight series.

In 2007, Stephenie Meyer wrote portions of a work titled, “Prom Nights from Hell,” which is about supernatural events surrounding evil prom nights. On May 6, 2008, she released her adult novel, The Host, which is about “invading alien souls” that take over a person and get them to do what they want. This behavior is called demonic possession, a state Jesus came to set captives free from.  Meyer’s so-called fiction “crosses over” to severe occult philosophy.

What’s interesting about this article is that it really does illustrate the principle that our foundational premises profoundly shape our worldview. Almost none of the LDS commentary, positive or negative, that I’ve seen on the Twilight books or movie has raised concerns about the occult, Satan, or vampires, and I have seen no suggestions that Meyer might have been inspired by, helped by, and directed by evil spirits in writing these books. For that matter, I haven’t seen any LDS commentators suggest that Meyer was inspired by the Holy Ghost, either. Instead, we treat her as an author who came up with the concept for a book, spent the time to actually write it out, and managed to break through the various barriers to publishing to achieve success. We see her Mormonism as informing some of the symbolism and themes in the novels themselves but not as having anything to do with how she wrote the novels and got them published.

Anyway, it is worth reading Matriscian’s entire article just to pull out all of the spoken and unspoken premises that shape her portrayal and criticisms of Meyer’s work.

Plus, it’s entertaining. 🙂  ..bruce..

Intimations of humanity

Tiffany Gee Lewis has a wonderful column this morning about how kids seem to grow up overnight. Kids grow up and grow away, and we deal with that with a mixture of loss and relief (I say that as the father of nine and an empty-nester).

Years ago, when Steven Spielberg filmed Stanely Kubrick’s planned film, “AI: Artificial Intelligence” (2001), it was seen largely as a science fiction movie, and received something of a lukewarm reception. My take on the film was quite different: that is was a brilliant, painful and cautionary story about parents and children. I wrote a review to that effect which is still lodged in the eternal archives of the internet.

Reading Lewis’ column brought that review to mind, so I’ve reprinted the review below. It has spoilers, though, so if you’ve never seen the film, you may want to go watch it on your own first.

AI: A Horrific Fairy Tale for Adults [SPOILERS BELOW]

I have been fascinated by some of the sharp divisions of opinion surrounding AI as reviews (official and un-) have come out in the past few weeks. Today, my wife Sandra, our 18-year-old daughter Crystal, and I all went to see the 12:00 noon showing at the Uptown here in DC (enormous screen, great theatre). I believe that Crys was entertained but not particularly moved. Sandra and I — who between us have 9 kids from our separate prior marriages — both felt as though we had had a dentist with sharp, tiny, hand-held instruments working on our hearts for 2 1/2 hours, with pauses to let us recover, only to dig in again. Why the difference? Because we’re parents and she’s not. And therein, I think, lies much of the great divide.

AI is not hard SF. It is a cautionary horror story cum fairy tale cum myth, probably one of the best examples since Mary Shelley penned Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. It takes a simple premise — what if we could teach a machine to love as a child loves, to think as a child thinks, and to want to be loved as a child is loved? — and carries it through to some excruciating, non-obvious and unflinching consequences that, I suspect, resonate primarily with parents who have had children of that age. As with Frankenstein, the core of AI involved hubris, temptation, rejection, and consequences. Hubris was the unthinking arrogance of Dr. Hobby and associates in tampering with the ecology of family and love without due regard for the unintended consequences — set, ironically, against a backdrop of melted icecaps (frankly, my first clue this wasn’t hard SF) and other unintended consequences of meddling with the physical ecology at large.

Temptation was Monica, watching her flesh-and-blood son Martin in cryonics for five years, not knowing whether a cure would ever be found for him (another fairy tale/myth motif), now being confronted with a machine, called David, that looks like a little boy, that — if and when she says the magic words — will fall eternally in love with her. Monica has a void inside which remains gaping and unhealed because of Martin’s suspension between life and death, which is what makes her temptation so real. In far too many movies and novels, the key temptation is so stupid and the consequences so obvious that I lose most or all sympathy for the character (e.g., King’s Pet Sematary). What made this movie so painful for me was how realistic I felt the temptation was. If I had one child, frozen, near death, with no clear prospect of ever having him/her back and no prospect of ever having another — yes, I might be tempted, and I think my wife even more so, to have something like David to fill that void, and we would stumble into the trap without realizing what we’ve done.

Rejection comes with the realization of the artificial, unnatural aspect of the relationship. Children grow; they mature (usually); there is always a bittersweet aspect to losing the simple, passionate love of a child, especially once they become brain-dead adolescents ;-), but one wishes children to grow and go out on their own. Kubrick/Spielberg first carefully lay out the slowly-unfolding hell of having a child-like automaton with real feelings stuck at that particular emotional age, then accelerate and compound that hell by bringing back the real child, warts and all. Can one love a machine when one’s own flesh and blood is at hand? What are our loyalties, our instincts? Martin’s and David’s reactions to each other are very believable (speaking particularly as someone who has had experience merging two sets of kids together into one family), as are frankly the different reactions to the situation between and her husband Henry (with whom, remember, David has not bonded; a classic parent/step-parent divide, one with strong Oedipal/Freudian overtones). Martin is less pleasant, less pure in his love, less physically perfect, less lovable — but his is Monica and Henry’s flesh, their progeny; having nearly lost him once, can they reject him in favor of something that runs off electric current, something manufactured? What would that say about them as humans, as parents? Yet David really loves Monica, and she has to choose between him and the rest of her very-human family.

Whatever the twists and turns of the future projected, the emotional consequences for all involved, but particularly for David, are as inexorable as they are logical. For me, one of the most haunting lines of the film is when Monica abandons David in the forest (another classic fairy tale touch), shouting cautions even as she does so, then pauses and says — as her final words to him — “I’m sorry I never told you about the world.” There’s a deep, wrenching stab at any parent’s heart, capturing the twin heartbreaks of forcing a child out into the world, away from the safety comfort of a parent’s arms (with a loss of security) and into all the pain and cruelty and tragedy that the child is likely unprepared for. David then embarks on a classic, almost Campbellian fairy tale quest, complete with faithful sidekick (Teddy) and rogue knight (Joe). He’s off to see the wizard (Dr. Know), to win the Sphinx-like riddling challenge and find out what he needs to know to become a real boy so that Monica will love him. But unlike the comforting, Disneyized fairy tales we’ve come to accept, this one holds to the hard truth — there is no blue fairy, David will never become a real boy, and Monica will never love him the way he loves her, the way he so desperately wants to be loved, as someone unique and irreplaceable — and this is where it is most wrenching. David’s hopes are raised to their highest peak by the mysterious message in the Dr. Know booth and its literal unfolding as he and Joe travel to the ‘ends of the earth’ — and then they are utterly smashed as he finds what lies at the end of his quest. His homicidal (robocidal?) rage at finding another, duplicate David is chilling and utterly consistent, calling to mind Henry’s seemingly-overblown worry much earlier in the film that “If he [David] is capable of love, then he is also capable of hate.” And then all his hopes are utterly crushed as he discovers that he himself is merely a simulacrum of Hobby’s own dead son David, and that he is being mass produced for human consumption. It leads to two attempts at suicide, one out of despair, and one based on obsession with his goal leading to indifference to everything else, trapped in a dark prison of his own making.

Some have objected to the third part of the movie, yet I think it was very much keeping in spirit with the old-style fairy tales and myths. It has the irony of robot survival and human extinction (brought on, with further irony, by a profound ice age). It has the resurrection motif, with acceptance into the company of gods or near-gods, not as an equal, but as an honored icon (much as Greek gods elevating heroic mortals to Olympus or into the constellations). And, as gods, they grant not what David wants but what they can — a single day with Monica (Clarke’s third law should be enough to deal with any quibble about DNA), with no competition from Dad or Martin or from the world at all. Again the Oedipal/Freudian overtones may seem a bit blatant, but it’s still utterly true to life, for a child of that emotional age, as to what heaven would be. And David’s choice — that he would rather have that one day, with the increased sense of irrevocable loss afterwards, than not to have it at all — goes to the heart of vast numbers of myths and tales about what is so essentially human. Indeed, David for all intents and purposes now is the human race. And as the day ends and Monica passes away, David — for the first time in his 2000-year existence — sleeps and dreams.

But does he wake?

— Bruce F. Webster, 2001.

The Star Wars Holiday Special! (1978)

[cross-posted from And Still I Persist]

Courtesy of Ace of Spades comes the most reviled, most wretched “holiday special” ever produced. First, here’s the Vanity Fair article to give you the entire ugly background:

In the summer of 1978, Bruce Vilanch had a bad feeling about the Star Wars television special he’d been hired to write. A veteran of the comedy wars who has since written material for 16 Oscar telecasts and starred as the extra-large Edna Turnblad in the Broadway musical adaptation of John Waters’s Hairspray, Vilanch had just finished working on Bette Midler’s 1977 TV special, Ol’ Red Hair Is Back, for producers Gary Smith and Dwight Hemion when they threw him what sounded like a plum assignment: a spot on the writing team that would help George Lucas adapt more of the Star Wars saga for television.

A year had passed since the theatrical release of Lucas’s gee-whiz space epic, and in that time Star Wars had become the highest-grossing movie in history as well as a cultural phenomenon with its very own lexicon and mythology. With a sequel still two years away from theaters, Lucas had been sold on the idea that a Star Wars holiday television special—to be broadcast on CBS the weekend before Thanksgiving, when Nielsen audiences were plentiful—would sustain interest in the franchise, move more toys off the shelves, and maybe even pick up some new fans who hadn’t seen the movie.

Though Lucas would not be involved in the actual shooting of the special—Smith and Hemion would oversee that—he knew the tales he wanted to tell and planned to work with the show’s team of seasoned TV writers to develop his ideas into a viable script. For those who had been summoned, the prospect of collaborating with the father of the Force initially sounded like a sure bet. “We were really excited, because, ‘My God, this is an annuity—Star Wars!’” says Lenny Ripps, another writer who worked on the special. “How could it lose?”

How indeed.

For those of you with the stamina, here a link to the complete Star Wars Holiday Special itself. I suspect most (if not all) of the actors involved wished that no record of this existed.  Heh.  ..bruce w..