Saturday, February 21, 2009

Hollywood, stop messing with my childhood! Part 2

OK, so I promised you a blog post. The last one wound up being about how Hollywood was taking beloved stories from my childhood and turning them into movies that actually were pretty decent. This one delves into the "not so much" territory.

What gave me this whole idea was the adaptation of a book I very fondly, The Dark is Rising. This is the second book from Susan Cooper's five-book sequence (don't call it a series!) of the same name. The books are richly steeped in English and Welsh folkore and Arthurian legend. To sum up the story, 11-year-old Will discovers he's the last of the Old Ones, a group of immortal paladins that serve the Light and fight against the Dark. Will must discover the Six Signs (bronze, wood, iron, fire, water, stone) before it's too late.

That about sums up the similarities between the book and the movie. The movie was retitled only weeks before its release to The Seeker: The Dark is Rising giving it a wholly unnecessary Narnian colon and ruining what I've always thought was one of the most evocative book titles ever. Will is changed from 11 years old to 13 making him less a kid and more of an annoying teenager, but allowing them to add a completely unnecessary girl-related-subplot. The price of which was removing the character of The Watcher entirely. Merriman's foster son, who deserts the Light when Merriman was willing to let him die to protect a power magical artifact, then serves his penance by having to carry one of the Signs for 600 years before giving it to Will. Oh no, that character is booted to the curb so Will can get a funny feeling in his tummy when some girl looks at him sideways.

Need I mention the fact that they fabricated out of whole cloth a long-lost brother for Will (and he's got 5 already), who is kidnapped and captured by The Dark as a baby, which makes his father cold and distant, that Will must find out about and rescue? Or the fact that Will seems to be less of the last of a line of a group of the most powerful magical heros throughout history more the leader of a group of incompetent octagenarians?

Sigh. When I heard there would soon be a film version of TDIR, I checked out the books from the library and gave them a re-read. I did the same with John Carpenter's (no, not that John Carpenter) Tripods series when I heard The White Mountain is due to be released sometime in 2009. In interest of full disclosure, I never did read this trilogy as a kid, but rather saw the BBC miniseries, which only made it through the first two books and left the fans hanging. It's about what you would expect from 1980s British TV fare, but I'm of the opinion that it was pretty good for what it was. It's sort of War of the Worlds meets Mad Max meets The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I still think the intro is a bit eerie:

Information about the movie is scarce at best. The IMDB page is subscription-only, but I notice that it's listed there as being released in 2012 rather than 2009, so perhaps it was pushed back. Supposedly Gregor Jordan is on to direct.

I have a bad feeling about this movie. The first book is the story of three boys' travels through post-alien-invasion Europe as they travel from England to France. (All adult humans are brainwashed and mind-controlled by the aliens at the age of about 15.) I suspect that the setting will be moved out of Europe to the United States to avoid the association with that most Communist of nations, France. I also suspect the boys will be moved up in age from 14 to 17 or so. Lastly, the fact that they appear to be changing the name suggests that they will try to condense all three books into one movie. The BBC had twelve on-screen hours to tell the story of the first two books. Trying to shrink that, plus another book, all into one and a half hours is just a recipe for disaster.

And a longer trailer for season 1 (fan-made, I think):

I'm of two minds of the recent remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The new one is a bit less technocolor than the Gene Wilder version. Depp's performance as Willy Wonka is very fresh; as I think can be expected from Depp, he takes the role and really makes it his own. Wilder's Wonka seemed to like the kiddies in the movie a bit too much, if you know what I mean, while Depp's Wonka seems more likely just to have some in the freezer. But the last act of the movie just goes in a totally strange and unnecessary direction. It doesn't seem out of place to me to have fantastical elements in children's literature that don't really need to be explained. I don't need some Freudian backstory about why Wonka became a chocolatier, he just is. Wholly unnecessary and distracting from the main story.

Lastly, we're starting to see trailers for Race to Witch Mountain, the remake of 1975's Escape to Witch Mountain. I hesitate to include this one because, even though I have fond memories of it from when I was young, I haven't seen it since and suspect it is actually fairly hokey. Still, I liked it and one of the things I remember about it is that there was quite a bit of mystery about it: who are these kids, why can they do these things, what happened to them? And from the previews for the new one, it looks like all that is gone and these two weird kids are just superpowerful beings that hire a former-wrestler-cum-taxi-driver to drive them cross-country to get somewhere to stop the end of the world from arriving. Ugh. I mean, aliens that can smash cars with their minds, but can't figure out how to work a cell phone or take a plane somewhere?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

You mean it gets even worse?

Four and a half years ago, I wrote this blog post, about how frustrating it was that no one would be held accountable for what happened at Gitmo other than a few low-level functionaries.

Three and a half years ago, I wrote this blog post, about how much worse what actually happened at Abu Ghraib was than we all had thought.

A former Gitmo guard has now come forward and is talking about what is actually going on there.

Neely [the guard] discusses at some length the notion of IRF (initial reaction force), a technique devised to brutalize or physically beat a detainee under the pretense that he required being physically subdued. The IRF approach was devised to use a perceived legal loophole in the prohibition on torture. Neely’s testimony makes clear that IRF was understood by everyone, including the prison guards who applied it, as a subterfuge for beating and mistreating prisoners—and that it had nothing to do with the need to preserve discipline and order in the prison.

Honestly, that really doesn't shock me. Several prisoners were actually beaten to death at Abu Ghraib. I remember one quote from an Army doctor that examined the dead detainee, and how he described his injuries as resembling those of someone that had been hit by a bus. So finding out that physical abuse is not just regular, but encouraged, seems just par for the course.

But as shocking and saddening it is to hear about beatings like this, that's not the end of it: (emphasis mine)

He describes body searches undertaken for no legitimate security purpose, simply to sexually invade and humiliate the prisoners. This was a standardized Bush Administration tactic–the importance of which became apparent to me when I participated in some Capitol Hill negotiations with White House representatives relating to legislation creating criminal law accountability for contractors. The Bush White House vehemently objected to provisions of the law dealing with rape by instrumentality. When House negotiators pressed to know why, they were met first with silence and then an embarrassed acknowledgment that a key part of the Bush program included invasion of the bodies of prisoners in a way that might be deemed rape by instrumentality under existing federal and state criminal statutes.

It's one thing (and implausible) to say that the Abu Ghraib abuse was the work of "a few bad apples." This obviously isn't. White House lawyers were aware of what was going on and actually fought to provide legal cover. You can't tell me that the awareness of these tactics stopped with those lawyers.

In other words, rape is now official government policy.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Hollywood, stop messing with my childhood! Part 1

It seems that Hollywood is determined to ruin many of the fond memories I have of books from my childhood. They keep making movies and remaking things and doing a hatchet job on them.

That's not to say they haven't done a couple of things right lately. I'm actually a fan of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe. It's true to the books, it treats its source material with respect, and it's just a great story. It's a bit of a shame that the Religious Right adopted it in such a priggish manner, but maybe they'd read ahead and were trying to act like Eustace. Prince Caspian wasn't as good, but again, it was faithful to its source material; I just didn't like that book nearly as much. It also looks like they will be making The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, contrary to one rumor I heard. So I'm happy, since it is my favorite of the books.


I honestly doubt they'll go much past those three. The Silver Chair and A Horse and His Boy barely has the Pevinsies in it and The Magician's Nephew not at all. They have to get the movies made before the actors grow up too much to be believable, unless they do them out of order. The Last Battle seems doubtful to me. Would you really make a children's movie where the protagonists realize they're dead at the end of it? "Hey kids, lets go watch a movie where all the characters you grew up with actually die!"


I have to say that I am a fan of the Harry Potter movies as well. Again, they dealt with the source material faithfully, insofar as is reasonable for two-hour adaptations of pretty big books. (David, I can hear you rolling your eyes.)

In dragged on a bit in later acts, but Sci-Fi's recent OZ miniseries wasn't half-bad. I'm not sure if that counts in this list, since I was first introduced to Oz via The Wizard of Oz, as I suspect most of us were, but I did read several of Baum's books. The miniseries really was more of a reimagining, like the recent Battlestar Galactica, rather than a retelling of the original story. It didn't surpass its source material like BSG, but I think it retained the sense of steampunk wackiness and actual danger that I remember from the books.

Wow, after checking Wikipedia, it looks like there have been a lot more books made into movies than I was aware of: How to Eat Fried Worms, A Ring of Endless Light (thought I didn't read the book), A Wrinkle in Time, The Westing Game, and there was even a Neverending Story III. It looks like most of those adaptations sucked.

Which brings me to the point of this blog post, but it's taken me so long to get here, it's going to have to wait for another day.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Wacky things on the radio

When I travel, like I was doing over the past weekend, I listen to the radio a lot. Sometimes, I listen to talk radio, which means listening to conservative and Christian talk radio. This past trip, I had the dubious pleasure of coming across a series of interviews done with people at the Creation Museum. The one that I managed to catch most of was with Jason Lisle, head astrophysicist at the Museum.

Wait a minute. An astrophysicist that thinks the universe is only a few thousand years old? Isn't that like going to the infectious disease department at a hospital to find a doctor that thinks viruses and bacteria can't make you sick?