Star Wars Revisited

Last night I watched the original theatrical release DVD of Star Wars with my grandkids.  The elder was my age when I first saw it (4) and the younger predictably fell asleep (which was part of the point).

After decades of fandom and the current culture war over the franchise, it was refreshing to see the film through the eyes of a child.

She was very impressed, saying "Wow!" during the opening sequence and reacting throughout the film.  By the trash compactor sequence (which terrified me back then), she was sitting in my lap for reassurance.  She loved the battles and cheered at the end.

And - like my generation - she wanted toys from the film.

I think there are several issues wound up in Star Wars and these have concealed the essential greatness of the original films.

Obviously, the dominant issue now is the fundamental reworking of the entire franchise, an action that seems motivated by sheer vindictiveness towards the original fans.

The original films succeeded because they pointedly were set in an imaginary setting and the sides were clearly identified as good and evil.  It's right there in the screen crawl.  There's no need to overthink it or break it down using critical theory.

The characters work because they suit the actors, who had some leeway in how they interpreted their roles.  

There is also the weird obsession of George Lucas with tweaking his films.  It's one thing to digitally remaster something and clean up bits of dust and lint.  It is another to actually recut the thing, splicing in scenes, altering dialog, even switching out actors and voices.  It is said that George Lucas' then-wife (Marcia) and the editing team saved the film with last-minute changes and that because of their acrimonious divorce, George wanted to reverse as much of that as he could.

The "special edition" is a worse film, breaking up the flow, introducing unnecessary special effects and severely compromising the narrative.  Moreover, it has given the new owner, Disney, license to do the same.  The reason the canon remains unsettled is that its creator couldn't settle on one.

In reality, the original theatrical release is the true version - it set the world on fire and created a series of film so popular than fans would camp out in front of theaters in order to be the first in line to see them.

Everything since has been mediocre, graded on a curve because they no longer have to stand on their own merits, but are instead compared to others in the genre.  Basically, Star Wars has created its own ghetto, walling it off from mainstream audiences.

This is the problem with franchises - the bigger they get, the higher the entry costs becomes for new fans.

Put simply, a new prospective fan now has dozens of hours of catching up to do.  From 1977 to 1983, it was 'all too easy' to stay current.

All of which is to say that war over Star Wars has sadly overtaken the quality of the film and its superb sequels.  Adding to this tragedy is the bizarre decision by Disney to trash earlier films in order to excuse their abysmal offerings.

I suggest taking a break from the very online arguments and simply watching the originals as if for the first time, looking over the details, savoring the sound track, immersing oneself in the story.

It helps if you have a kid with you.

Reflections on Donald Sutherland

Yesterday I got the news that Donald Sutherland had died and while I've never thought of him as a favorite actor, I own a lot of films with him in them.

The most striking thing about him was his remarkable range and the way he could manipulate his features to fit his role.  He covered the whole spectrum from goofball to intense serial killer.

He was quite the hot property during the 1970s, from M*A*S*H to The Dirty Dozen, Kelly's Heroes, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Eye of the Needle, to name just a few.

That's a bunch of iconic roles, and my daughter treasures him as Oddball, the eccentric tank commander from Kelly's Heroes.

I'm at an age where the actors who were in their prime during my youth are starting to pass away.  What makes it doubly sad is that there is no one coming up to replace them.  It's impossible to make a star-studded film like Kelly's Heroes today because there isn't a cast capable of supporting it.  Disney's flagship new show, The Acolyte, has hardly anyone of note, with its top-line actress being killed off in the first episode.  The next most famous person is a Korean actor who was in a foreign-language streaming series that most people never saw.

I can't think of anyone under 40 who is in any way comparable to Sutherland, which is a shame.

Father's Day in a gender-fluid world

Nowhere is the demonic influence on secular society more clear than in the attempt to abolish or pervert all traditional relationships.  The radical trans movement seeks to annihilate motherhood as well as fatherhood as we have known them, and replaced them with arbitrary, pseudo-technical terms that obscure more than they describe.

Yet despite all this, the hard-wiring in our brains remains, and we still default to the norms of human history.

This came to mind while watching The Acolyte reviews.  During the third episode, there was a dispute between the "two mommies" and while they are supposed to be this superior, radically feminist relationship, it was basically a same-sex simulcrum of husband and wife.  The taller, more powerful woman loomed over the shorter one, using her presence to coerce compliance.  When the smaller woman asserted that she ought to take presence because "she carried them" (the children), the other retorted "I created them."  

That's a pretty masculine way of putting things, no?  It's also very strange to have motherhood - which lies at the very heart of the female experience - be denigrated in favor of an ersatz paternity.   Because the big chick held the Force turkey-baster, this made her the superior to the woman who spent nine months carrying twins, went through the painful process of birth, and trials of post-partum depression, and of course nursing them at her breast - which is no mean feat with twins.

The Youtuber Disparu (whose excellent videos I have been following), noted that this seems to be a reference to surrogate pregnancy, and how gays think nothing of the birth mothers because they've done their thing and got paid for it.

Indeed, one of the interesting developments has been a growing awareness that "surrogate mothers" are actually a form of human trafficking.  Women are paid to be impregnated, expected to carry the baby to term (perhaps gender-selected via IVF), and the child is taken from her at birth and bestowed on the purchasers.  I've seen triumphant videos posted on social media, which go viral among religious folks in particular.

It's fascinating how we have this massive health care industrial complex built around teaching best practices in pregnancy and child-rearing and yet none of that applies to preferred groups like homosexuals.

Consider how many red flags are involved in this process.  

First, we have the inherent immorality of the contract.  A woman is being paid to give birth and hand over a human being.  How this is not "involuntary servitude" I do not know.  The entire transaction is fraught with moral problems. Why is this woman doing this?  Is she compelled by circumstance?  Is she a lawful resident?  One can easily imagine trafficked women being forced into this role.

Now consider her mental state.  Instead of treasuring the movements of her growing child, she is instead painfully aware that she will not enjoy the tender moments after birth, holding, feeding, nurturing the child of her flesh.

Post-partum depression is practically guaranteed.  How can it not happen?  She has no solace of holding the child, just money.

Meanwhile the child will not form a proper maternal bond.  A key part of development (and comfort for both mother and child) is the closeness after birth.  The beating of the mother's heart is uniquely relaxing.  That is now gone.

Volumes of research show that breast-feeding is best for both mother and child, yet here it is categorically off the table.

I could go on.

In a consistent, rational world, the people who style themselves "women's advocates" would be up in arms over this, but of course they're celebrating the commodification of babies, just as the celebrate killing them in the womb.

As I said, it's demonic.

The truth is that fathers and mothers are complimentary, each bringing different gifts and fulfilling different needs.  A huge part of the societal strife and breakdown we are seeing comes from the unwillingness of elites to sustain these vital institutions.

On the plus side, the market failure of The Acolyte is encouraging.  Perhaps the tide is starting to turn.

If Disney trashes Star Wars and no one watches, does it even matter?

I'm amusing myself by watching reviews of The Acolyte, a show I would never actually watch but which appears to serve as a marvelous punching bag.

Disney's latest Star Wars offering is really an exercise in self-parody, an exemplification of the South Park joke about "putting a chick in it and make it gay and lame."

Only three episodes have yet aired, but it very much seems to be a paint-by-numbers affair, where various ideological/demonic boxes are checked and plot, character development and consistency within the setting are recklessly disregarded.

I've seen people say that this will "kill" Star Wars, but the abysmally low viewership tells me that it is already dead.

The larger question is why Disney is permitting this to happen.  The company spent four billion dollars on the rights to Star Wars and has yet to make it back.  Apparently, The Acolyte cost $180 million to produce, a staggering $22.5 million per episode.  What this bought them is a viewing rate among their subscribers of 3%.

The pessimists among us ('black pilled" in the popular vernacular) assume that the woke oligarchs have limitless amounts of cash to throw at unwatchable propaganda films, but nothing made by human hands is too big to fail.

That's perhaps the most important element about the show - no one cares.  When the sequel movies and spin-offs were out, there was immense debate and discussion about them, but reviews seem to be relatively sparse and someone dilatory.  There's no sense of urgency because no one's watching.

I think it's likely that the viewership of the people watching the review will significantly exceed that of the show itself.  Certainly the reviews are less of a time investment, but also likely far more entertaining.

It's strange to think back to a time when I was so worked up over Star Wars that I wrote the Man of Destiny series to fix it.  Now, it just seems like a waste of time and energy.

Truly, Star Wars is dead to me.

Watching a little classic Star Trek

One of the great things about having TV shows on DVD is that they are often the perfect choice for an early evening.  When you strip out the commercials, classic TV programs run about 46 minutes, allowing you to sneak in an episode just before bed.

Some years ago I acquired the first two seasons of Star Trek and plan on finally picking up the third.   The franchise, like the original cast, is all but dead, but the show has aged surprisingly well.

I'm sure a lot of Trekkies may regard the machismo of Kirk as cringe-worthy, but I think values of the time - women and men are different and should be used for different things - still holds up.

What hasn't aged well is the utopian belief that science and "bad beliefs" will have faded in the future.  Indeed, the best episodes are the ones that center on human (or Vulcan) nature.   "Amok Time," for example, is a wonderful display of passion, anger and treachery.

Yeah, there are continuity problems, the writers had trouble keeping their tech lore straight and - to repeat - I've not watched the third season, which had some true clunkers.

But for all that, the cast really was quite solid, mostly older, bit-part types who nevertheless threw everything they had into their roles.

It's kind of funny how much Star Trek has faded, both for me and the larger culture.  No, I never got into the weird cosplay aspect of the fandom, but I read many of the novels, watched the movies and for a while considered myself in the upper echelons of the fandom.  What really turned me off was The Next Generation, which I did not like, and I generally ignored the subsequent iterations of the show.  I guess that makes me something of a purist, and I'm fine with that.

Debating the 1990s

There's a bit of a back-and-forth going on at Bleeding Fool over the worth of the 1990s.

I think the perception of any period is heavily colored by one's personal experience of it - either having lived through it, or its art, politics, and entertainment.

It's hard to separate a time of personal misery from the larger zeitgeist.  Still, I think my take is an objective one.  The pre-9/11 world was a better one, and while I found myself frustrated and depressed during that period, I still had a lot of fun.  Indeed, I recognize that with better judgement, I'd have had a better decade.

The other issue with sitting in judgement is that culture and life don't simply flip with the page of a calendar.  The decades bleed into each other, and what one thinks of as the epitome of a particular era may have happened before or after the actual dates in question.

For example, the decay of Protestantism didn't start in the 1990s, it was merely revealed then.

One can't look at the cultural tides in music, art, entertainment and politics in isolation.

At the same time, it is easy to fall into the trap of overdeterminism - the notion that the out come of a recent event was inexorably set in motion by a distant one.  I see a lot of otherwise reasonable people insist that the Union victory in the Civil War is the direct, inevitable cause of all our contemporary problems.  Apparently the people living and ruling in intervening decades were denied any form of agency.  It's very much a Calvinist approach to history.

It is true that historical writers often were able to predict the future by examining contemporary trends.  C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton and even J.R.R. Tolkien did this.  But as Tolkien in particular might admit, nothing was fixed - no one was forced to follow that path.  It's also true that many dangers fail to materialize, or that their impact is mitigated.

There are many currents in the stream of history, and some of them are hard to see.  It's also the case that there are other powers at work, the Unseen who most analysts completely ignore.

Combine a purely secular materialist frame with overdeterminism and the result will likely be devoid of any useful analysis.

Why aren't there many Protestant-themed horror movies?

I'm not a fan of horror films, but being something of a movie nerd, I'm well aware of the genre, especially its standout entries.

I've seen The Exorcist a couple of times and it's unnerving.  Exorcists, demons, possessed people - all of these are staple of horror cinema, but there isn't much in the way of Protestant-centered films.

Why is that?

The obvious first take is that it's simply a matter of optics.  An ancient church filled with icons, gargoyles and all the trappings of the Catholic faith is simply more visually interesting than the traditional stripped-down Protestant aesthetic, let along a megachurch.  

Indeed, the only Protestant locales I recall tend to be decrepit Baptist churches or - even scarier! - Pentecostal ones.  In that case, though, the actual faith is secondary to the traditional urban fear of the wilderness.  The notion that those backwoods simpletons are actually holding Black Masses and summoning demons goes back to H.P. Lovecraft at least.

Catholic horror, by contrast, seems rooted in antipathy towards the faith itself, and Hollywood has long has both traditional Protestant and of course Jewish influences in its content creation.

At the same time, there seems to be an unspoken assumption even among Protestants that when it comes to the supernatural, the Catholics are the experts.

Indeed, much of modern Protestantism denies ghosts, demons, spirits and even to a certain extent angels.  Anything that reeks of polytheism or questions the singularity of God is suspect and likely satanic.  Some Protestants are so zealous in this regard that they flirt with heresy in regards to the Holy Trinity.

Catholics, on the other hand, are right at home with this sort of thing, and have rites and even relics to aid in the struggle against the Unseen.  Some readers may recall the visit of the relic of St Jude, which is styled to look like a forearm with fingers extended in a permanent blessing.

Such numinous objects naturally lend themselves to visual storytelling.

One area where Protestantism has historically accepted the supernatural is witches, and there are films in this line, but - at least in the United States - the existence of functional witchcraft is officially disavowed by most mainstream Protestants.  This is partly the legacy of the infamous Salem Witch Trials and partly the softening of mainline Protestant faith, which is more likely to ordain clergy that practice witchcraft than to condemn it.

The Baptists and Pentecostals will denounce it, but in practical terms, I'm unaware of any protocols to solve it on a purely spiritual level.

And, as mentioned above, zealous ministers of those faiths are more likely to be portrayed as villains than heroes.

This was not lost on me when I was younger.  In fact as well as fiction, everyone seems to turn to the Catholic Church when things get truly otherworldly. 

As they should.


Movie anti-review: Dune

It's been a while since I did an anti-review, and many readers may not know what that is.  An anti-review is where I take a movie I might have wanted to see and explain why I'm not going to see it.  A lot of the new Star Wars films got anti-reviews.

Dune is getting an anti-review for several reasons.  The biggest is that this is the third film adaptation of the books and I'm just not that interested in the topic.  As far as I am concerned, the Sci-Fi Channel's miniseries was pretty definitive.  Yes, it had poor special effects and some of the action was sub-par, but it did a good job of conveying the content of the books and the general weirdness of Frank Herbert's landmark novels. 

While the current films are being lauded, I've read that corners were cut in order to fit the story into a cinematic format.  This kills what little curiosity I have left.  Dune works - and was successful despite terrible writing - because of how Herbert was able to (for the most part) bring everything together at the end.  That makes it very difficult to film.

I'm going to add another reason completely unrelated to the rest and that is that I'm sick of remakes and reboots.  As I said, there are already two other versions of the same material.  There are now three versions of Avatar: The Last Airbender.  The lack of creativity is absurd.

Godzilla: Minus One took a familiar franchise and gave it a new, unique and captivating twist.  One doesn't have to start from scratch to make something fresh and exciting.

More and more, I'm just going back to the originals.  I'm also continuing to explore films I've overlooked, of which there are many.  Life is too short to watch derivative trash.

A tale of two Toms: Becket and More

I'm binging on religious movies of late, stacking them up in my shopping cart for future purchase.   Last week I watched Becket because it was free and this week I managed to craw through A Man for All Seasons over the course of two nights.

(Yet, it's been busy around here, hence light posting.)

Both films are about how a king has a falling out with a loyal subject over a matter of faith, and rather than respect that difference and sustain their friendship, the tyrannical, ungrateful monarch has him killed.

Beckett stars Richard Burton as the titular Thomas Becket, a court flunky for Henry II (Peter O'Toole) who gets finagled into the position of Archbishop of Canterbury.  Once installed, Henry assumes he will do his bidding and bring the Church in England to heel.  Instead, Becket has a conversion experience, gives up his partying ways and throws himself into the life religious.  At first, everyone assumes its a game, but once Henry realizes he's sincere, he makes certain remarks indicating he wants his former friend dead, and four knights murder him right there in the cathedral (thus giving T.S. Eliott the name for his play about it: Murder in the Cathedral).

The Catholic Church at that time was in robust condition, and as a result, Henry was forced to do a humiliating public penance and the knights were ordered to take religious vows and join the Crusades. 

It's a good movie, and who would not enjoy watching to great actors battle it out.  There's a bit of (unintended?) irony in that the script plays up the Norman vs Saxon thing, claiming Becket is a Saxon while having him played by a Welshman.

The fate of St. Thomas Becket is something of a forerunner to Sir Thomas More's resistance and ultimate martyrdom by Henry VIII.  A Man for All Seasons is a remarkably quotable film, full of devastating rejoinders, and while Robert Shaw gets prominent mention as Henry VIII, his is really a bit part - Leo McKern's Thomas Cromwell is really the main antagonist.

A Man for All Seasons is something of a courtroom drama, and it's climactic scene is where Cromwell and More face off at trial.  To any honest observer, More wins the case, but it doesn't matter because Henry VIII was in fact a tyrant who cared nothing for the law.  His judicial murder of his friend and confidant was mirrored by his treatment of his wives.

Thus the two cases are the same, but different insofar as the later Henry had full knowledge of what he was doing, while his ancestor could claim that his ill-considered outburst was misinterpreted.

The Tudor king certainly believed it, because he had Becket's shrine utterly destroyed, including the saint's body.  Indeed, as much as he has been lionized by British historians as a forward-thinking herald of the modern age, a more balanced view sees him as utterly ruthless dictator who struck down much of his country's culture and heritage on a whim.

In his single-minded pursuit of a male heir, he fractured his realm and laid the basis for repeated rebellion and ultimately civil war and the abolition of the monarchy itself.

All that, and his line still ended.

Both films stress the important of fidelity to God, and that death is not the worst thing that can happen to us.  Too much modern entertainment treats death as the greatest tragedy, and one must do everything possible to escape from it.

This is likely because modern writers fear death so much, and have no concept of faith - what the know if Christianity they mock.

But there was a time when serious-minded people were fascinated by stories of faith and moral courage.  Both films are therefore well worth watching.

The blingiest guns ever: Romeo + Juliet

The other night I re-watched Baz Luhrmann's take on the Romeo and Juliet story, a mish-mash of the original dialogue put in a modern, spastic setting.

Like many of his offerings, the frenetic intro eventually fades into a deeper, more contemplative story, but Romeo + Juliet never really overcomes the jumpy pacing and need to make everything larger than life.

By that I mean that one can substitute guns for swords and still have the dueling angle work, but Luhrmann actually adds cartoon sound effects at various point, undermining the seriousness of the situation.  The "gas station" fight should have set a tone for how disruptive the two families are, but it becomes a total farce.

Thus, when we get to the love story, it's hard to sell it, even though it involves two of the prettiest of pretty people (the eerily young-looking Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio)

What the film does have in abundance are tricked-out, custom prop guns.  These things are sensational, from the engravings on the slide so that they match the text (when a character told to put up his sword, the camera zooms on the weapon, which has "Sword" written on it) to fobs hanging of the lanyard rings and magazine floor plates bearing the names of the clashing houses.

Lots of stainless or nickel finishes, and all of it is a gangster's dream brought to life.  I could do a heck of a Geek Guns article on it, but first I'd have to track down one of the Para Ordinance numbers or Taurus Beretta 92 clones.

Obviously, I think Shakespeare in modern dress can work, I just feel it needs to be more consistent in presentation.  Luhrmann has a whimsical side which can be very funny, but here I think it got away from him.

The guns are great, though.