Tuesday, November 24, 2009

In Defense of the Little Mermaid

Wired's Geekdad listed Top 10 bad lessons from good movies movies. Number two was:

It's OK to completely change your physical appearance and way of life for the person you love, even if he makes no sacrifices at all (from The Little Mermaid). This movie has the single most appalling ending of any Disney movie ever made, which is a shame because, apart from that, it's a great film. I just cannot comprehend how anyone could make a movie in the late 1980s with this message, which is not exactly subtle: Ariel gives up her home, her family, and BEING A MERMAID because she loves Eric so. And he gives up … nothing. Yeah, that marriage is off to a great start.

At least he included the movie as a good movie. In fact, this was arguably the most important hand-animated movie of the last fifty years. After years of shoddy animated movies, Disney probed that it could still make one as good as any produced under Walt. It was the first of two decades of great Disney movies.

Regardless, it has been attacked since it came out. Feminists didn't like it because Ariel chased a prince and was eventually rescued by him. It didn't matter that she saved his life twice and he saved her twice. They didn't give the movie much credit for presenting the first Disney prince with a real personality or the first time that Disney had an actual courtship between one of their princesses and her prince.

But, that's not Geekdad's complaint. His complaint was that Ariel became human in order to be with Eric. Is this a valid complaint?

Keep in mind that staying a mermaid was a deal-breaker with their romance. They could only have a tenuous relationship on the boarder between land and sea - an environment that was dangerous to both. The choice was transform or give up someone you love.

This is not the same as having breast enhancements. The closest equivalent is leaving your native country to marry someone.

I'm sympathetic to this. My daughter moved to England to get married. A close friend moved to America from Canada to marry his girlfriend. I used to work with a German woman who married an American serviceman and moved here. She had to give up her language.

By Geekdad's reasoning, all of these choices were appalling.

Also, it was established early in the movie that Ariel was fascinated with the surface. You got the feeling that she may not have been ready to make a deal with the devil but she would gladly have traded her tail for legs, even before she met Eric.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Why Are They Showing This Now? - the game

It used to be that studios simply advertised movies. Now they market them with other movies. When I watch a movie on TV I tend to wonder, "Why are they showing this movie now?" You can make it into a game. Here are some examples from the last couple of days:

The Matrix Trilogy - the Directors have a new movie coming out on Thanksgiving.
Demolition Man - Two possibilities - Sandra Bullock as a movie coming out (The Blind Side) and has one out on DVD (The Proposal).
Almost Famous (a movie about a 1970s rock band) - Pirate Radio just came out (a movie about rock in 1966).

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Original Prisoner

It came and went forty years ago on American TV as a Summer replacement series. I was syndicated in the 1970s on independent stations. It went on to have a huge, devoted cult following. I'm referring to The Prisoner staring Patrick McGhoohan.

The premise was simple. A secret agent angrily resigns. As he is packing his clothing he is gassed. He wakes up on in the Village on an island where he is told that no one has a name, just numbers. He is Number 6. The island is governed by Number 2 (who changed weekly). Everyone on the island was under constant supervision. Many of the people there were there against their will. Others were spies. There was no way to tell who was who.

That's about all that we ever learned. We were never sure if Number 6 was abducted by his own government who suspected him of defecting or by a foreign government that figured that whatever made him resign must be important. It is possible that the Village was run by multiple governments as a sort of retirement center for spies who knew too much to be left out in the wild.

Every episode was different. Sometimes the new Number 2 would try a new interrogation technique. Sometimes he simply played mind games with Number 6, making him think that he was escaping only to fail at the last minute. A few times Number 6 played mind games with Number 2, doing meaningless activities designed that looked like a plot with the idea of implicating Number 2.

Prior to making the Prisoner, McGoohan had played a secret agent (Danger Man in the UK, Secret Agent in the US with the song "Secret Agent Man" as the theme song). We never learned if he was playing the same agent or if this was a different character. In fact, about the most we ever learned about Number 6 was that he built his car himself and it was one of his few prized possessions.

The show finally ended with Number 2 and Number 6 locked in a bunker until one of them broke. Number 6 won and was told that he was the new Number 2. In a surrealistic episode, he brought down the Village and escaped to London where he had the option of returning to his old life (symbolized by his apartment) or leaving (symbolized by his car). He drove off. The last shot had the door of his apartment closing automatically - something that the door in the village did.

The show was the only tv show or movie that the Beatles licensed a song to (All You Need Is Love in the final episode). They were big fans.

The show had long-term impact on other media. The Fantastic Four did a couple of issues inspired by the show. The Simpsons did a great parody. AMC is showing an updated version this Sunday.

Side-note: Patrick McGoohan turned down the chance to replace Sean Connery as James Bond. It was a wise move. The Bond movies of the 1970s were progressively sillier and he would have been a poor fit.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Dickens's Christmas Carol

A new version of A Christmas Carol comes out today. This one uses motion capture and CGI. Reviews have not been kind. From the beginning I was wondering why we need a new version. The advertising for this version has been relentless and all of it has focused on Scrooge flying through London.

This seems like a good time to mention some previous versions that are redoubtably better than the new version.

Years before Charlie Brown's Christmas, Mr. Magoo did a version. I was very young at the time - I turned 8 a few days after it was shown. In retrospect, this was a very 1960s production. The animation was not all that good. Regardless, it holds up fairly well.

CBS aired a made-for-tv production in 1984. CBS was at the top of their game in the 1980s. This one had a great cast starting with George C. Scott as Scrooge. We watched it last year. It holds up very well. Production values were very high. The sets look authentic. Scott plays the part with a light touch. His Scrooge is never evil but events in his past conspired to make him lonely and bitter. Regardless, he never lost his sense of humor. He tries to dismiss Marley's ghost as indigestion, using line straight from the book. about my only quibble is that Tiny Tim looks too well-fed and healthy.

WKRP in Cincinnati did a Christmas Carol adaptation in the early 1980s. The Art Carleson, the station manager, ate some funny brownies and dreamed a version. It was one of the best episodes of one of the best sitcoms of its day. Again, this was a CBS production.

Bill Murray did a great update of the story in 1988's Scrooged. This includes a play within a play where Murray is producing a live TV special of a Christmas Carol while living the story. It includes lots of digs at TV producers. This is up there with Groundhog Day.

Also in 1988, BBC's Black Adder did a Christmas special in which the nicest man in England is accidentally visited by a spirit who gives him visions of his ancestors and decedents. It turns him into the meanest man in England.
Following Jim Henson's death, the Muppets went from new plots featuring Kermit to adaptations of classics as ensemble productions. Their 1992 version of a Christmas Carol was the first of these and quite effective.

There have been other versions but none of them are worth looking up.

In the meantime, wait until December before watching any version.