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A friend linked to this article, which suggests that fantasy films, shiny and pleasing to look at as they may be, can have a deleterious effect on the imagination.

Instead of my imagination being engaged in a unique relationship with the imagination of the author, everything is provided for me by the intermediary–the film director. My imagination is unnecessary, for every detail down to the last scale on the dragon’s back is served up on the big screen larger, more completely and vividly than I ever could have imagined myself.

If this is so, then films of children’s fantasy stories, while very entertaining, may be counterproductive. If they stifle the imagination, then in the long run we will have a population that continues to have a great appetite for entertainment, but little agility of imagination.

Mr Darcy?!

Mr Darcy?!

Is the author on to something?  His argument is persuasive.  I know that my experience of the films he mentions (the Harry Potter movies, the Narnia films, and Peter Jackson’s epic Lord of the Rings fanfic) has been: “Hmm.  That is not at all how I pictured it.”  I’ve started avoiding movies based on books I enjoy, because the things the film gets wrong (from my point of view) start to supercede the images I have in my own mind, and then I start imagining the movie versions while I read and it just makes me crabby. (For instance, when I first read Pride and Prejudice, Mr Darcy was a blond. I know! Every single film version makes him dark-haired, but in my mind, he was definitely an icy blond with a pointy nose–Malfoy-esque, actually.  But now that I’ve watched umpty-bajillion film versions of the story, I have trouble reaching for that image, and am left with an actor stand-in instead.)  Possibly this is a.) not a problem most people have and b.) not the point the author of the article was making.

But is he right?  And I wonder: do animated movies have the same stultifying effect?  (Drawn animation, I mean, not CG.)  Because a drawing, or a painting, requires interpretation for our brains to make sense of it, which would be more work for the imagination, I should think.  (Less realistic/naturalistic = more work for the imagination?  Does stop motion count?  If you have to make your imagination work to believe that a man in a suit is a monster stomping on Tokyo, is that better than having a lovingly-rendered CG monsters?  I have no concrete data here.)

Thoughts?

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Maybe you’ve seen the video going around titled “What if Man of Steel was IN COLOR?” Here it is, just in case.

 

 

The video’s taking some flak for tweaking the “original” sequences from the film to make them even more desaturated, if that were possible, and I mention this only in the interests of fairness and full disclosure, because the “original” clips in the video sure match how I remember MoS looking. I haven’t checked back on the actual film, because once was enough for me, thanks.  (I did think the “honest trailer” was accurate.)

 

 

Whether or not the VideoLab folks were being quite fair to Man of Steel and Zak Snyder’s grim-n-gritty vision, the re-touched clips look bright and appealing, and make me wonder how much of the negative reaction to the film is on account of the bleak, desaturated visuals. (The rest of the negative reaction is obviously on account of the script.) That in turn got me thinking about another recent sci-fi action movie with a distinctive visual style.

 

BWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAMP

BWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAMP

 

There’s a great article on the visual vocabulary of Pacific Rim, and anybody interested in telling stories in a visual medium ought to go give it a read. (Blue language for them as worries about such things.) The writer touches briefly on the use of color, and he’s spot on: Pacific Rim is an incredibly visually intelligent film. If you have a couple of hours, you might also check out Guillermo del Toro’s commentary on the film, which is packed with one genius observation after another. Yeah, I might be fangirling a little bit.

 

But listen, color plays a huge role in how we experience the world, and thus in how we experience stories. Different colors can cause different effects in us, stimulating different centers in our brain, and a savvy storyteller will know those effects and use them to give his story even more impact. Pacific Rim starts out with a fairly straightlaced “realistic” color scheme, and gradually brings in more and more hues until it’s a rainbow-colored phantasmagoria in the Hong Kong battle, heightening reality so that the audience can forget about “serious” stuff for a while and enjoy the spectacle of a giant robot smashing the hell out of a monster from the deep.

 

Check out these colors! We have the usual action movie orange and teal, sure, but also that vivid blue, and pink, and purple, and that band of lemon in the lower third.

Check out these colors! We have the usual action movie orange and teal, sure, but also that vivid blue, and pink, and purple, and that band of lemon towards the bottom.

 

And then of course there’s this:

 

Gratuitous backlit Idris Elba

Gratuitous backlit Idris Elba

 

I can’t stop.

 

Gratuitous Hellboy--er, Hannibal Chau

Gratuitous Hellboy–er, Hannibal Chau

 

Look at him! His suit is mauve! His shop is green! How often do you see these colors in films nowadays? (And his tie picks up exactly the green of the kaiju specimins behind him. That is attention to detail, man!)

 

Color is powerful and evocative, and while I understand that the grim-n-gritty aesthetic is a thing, I also think the directors of these monochrome films are missing out. Even a pop of color in the right place, or contrasting a colorful scene with a desaturated one, can add flair and drama to your tale.  A color can symbolize a character or an emotion, or tie elements of your story together thematically without anyone having to speak a word.  Colors can enhance emotions, suggest connections that the audience might not even be consciously aware of, like the connection between Mako’s blue bangs, the blue jacket she wore as a child, and the blood of the kaiju (you did read that article, right?).  Also, did you notice that Mako and Raleigh’s colors totally start matching each other once they are co-pilots?  Because they totally do. (Okay, I’m geeking out again.)

 

Or, you know, you could just keep everything kind of grey, if that’s what you’re going for.

Man_of_Steel281080p29_SCREENCAPS_KISSTHEMGOODBYE_NET_0891

I would just like to point out that the color of the sky in this picture…

... is grey.

… is grey.


All screencaps via kissthemgoodbye.net

 

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The Viking Prince loves robots. Loves them. It kinda doesn’t matter what the story is about, so long as there are robots in it: Pacific Rim, Big Hero 6, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (which has both Ultron and Vision, plus assorted bad guys’ mechas), Voltron, Transformers, I’m not kidding. So when the movie Earth to Echo, featuring an adorable little robot from outer space, showed up on Netflix, of course we had to watch it.

echo_picThe movie was decent. In it, the kids have to help the little robot, who crash-landed on our planet, evade shady government agents and get back to its ship so that it can go home. Of course this requires all manner of crazy, definitely not parentally-approved, shenanigans, including but not limited to riding their bikes into the desert at night, stealing the shady government agents’ truck, and getting into a car chase with said truck. (The kids, I should add, are about 13.)

All of which got me thinking about the virtue of prudence.

Now, Prudence is not how most people imagine her: a fussy-faced old maid with her iron hair pulled back in a tight bun and her grey dress buttoned up to her pointy chin, scowling and shaking her bony finger at you whenever you think about doing something fun. Yes, she wants you to eat your vegetables (carrots are good for your eyes!) and brush your teeth (cavities are no fun, and dentist visits are expensive), but if you need to steal (borrow! with every intention of giving it back!) a truck to save the space robot from the shady government agents, then by God grab the keys.

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis defines prudence this way:

Prudence means practical common sense, taking the trouble to think out what you are doing and what is likely to come of it. Nowadays most people hardly think of Prudence as one of the ‘virtues’. In fact, because Christ said we could only get into His world by being like children, many Christians have the idea that, provided you are ‘good’, it does not matter being a fool. But that is a misunderstanding. In the first place, most children show plenty of ‘prudence’ about doing the things they are really interested in, and think them out quite sensibly. In the second place, as St Paul points out, Christ never meant that we were to remain children in intelligence: on the contrary. He told us to be not only ‘as harmless as doves’, but also ‘as wise as serpents’. He wants a child’s heart, but a grown-up’s head. He wants us to be simple, single- minded, affectionate, and teachable, as good children are; but He also wants every bit of intelligence we have to be alert at its job, and in first-class fighting trim….

Right action at the right time, that’s Prudence.

Of course that means if the apparently-crazy-by-worldly-standards path, the slim-chance-but-also-the-only-chance path, is the best path, then you must take it. Prudence doesn’t mean hanging back and not taking risks.

Jumping off a cliff to escape angry natives? Prudent!

Jumping off a cliff to escape angry natives? Prudent!

Dressing your giant in a holocaust cloak and lighting him on fire to intimidate the guards? Totally prudent!

Dressing your giant in a holocaust cloak and lighting him on fire to intimidate the guards? Totally prudent!

A diminutive psychic ninja locking herself in with space zombies in order to save her crew?  The prudent-est!

A diminutive psychic ninja locking herself in with space zombies in order to save her crew? The prudent-est!

Or, take another view.

I knew a dude whose philosophy of life was basically this: do what makes the best story.

Now, we could spend a lot of time hammering out the details of this philosophy, the ethics and morality and what makes a story “good”, but the basic premise is actually a pretty good starting point. Our lives are stories we are given to write. We’re handed the basic setup: home, family, place of birth, social status, and so on. But from there it’s up to us.

And what does make the best story? Think of your favorite tales, the ones that speak to your soul, the ones you return to again and again. Do they contain marvels, adventures, strange sights and interesting characters, risk-taking and romance, courage and daring deeds? Or do they contain … I don’t know. Lots of television watching, commuting, maybe a 401K and a well-diversified stock portfolio.* (And if the latter, what are you doing at this blog?)

All the virtues are interconnected; prudence requires courage: the courage to stand up for one’s convictions, to jump off a cliff if necessary, even just the courage to say hello to that attractive someone and see what happens next. The kids in Earth to Echo displayed magnificent prudence (and courage, and love, and other virtues too), doing what was right and necessary to save their newfound alien friend. And maybe kids are better at prudence, true prudence, because life has not yet battered over-caution and self-preservation-above-all-else into their souls? Part of that whole “be like little children” thing.

We are given only one life, one story to live–all the more reason to take risks, to be bold, to make it a tale of romance and brotherhood and battling against evil, doing the right thing even when it is hard and dangerous and terrifying.

You know, prudently. 😀


*Not knocking a well-diversified stock portfolio, BTW. Just hinting that if your stock portfolio is the focus of your story, you might want to diversify your life a bit too.

**P.S. I just want you to know I had to watch bits of The Princess Bride, Star Trek: Into Darkness and Serenity to get the screencaptures I wanted for this post. The things I do for you people! 😀

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Jupiter Ascending is like the dream you might have, if you fell asleep on the couch after a heavy meal, probably involving alcohol (not beer, though; or even wine–too common. Absinthe or chartreuse), in a room with an Art Deco book on the coffee table and a Matrix poster on the wall, where your roommate was marathoning science fiction movies like Dune and The Fifth Element. Which is a pretty specific set of circumstances, come to think of it.

jupiter-ascending

What I mean is, like a dream it lacks all coherence, you can’t recount what happened in it once you wake up, and though it looked pretty cool (my dreams always look cool, don’t know about you guys), you can only enjoy it because you were asleep. It’s terrible in a way that we don’t even have words for, so terrible that even now, having seen it, I’m not sure what I saw or if I actually saw it. As in dreams, characters come and go without explanation or purpose, conversations occur that seem to their participants to convey meaning but are actually nonsense, the scene jumps from place to place with no explanation so that a new nonsense conversation can take place.

And then, at the end, Channing Tatum has wings. Because at this point, why not.  (Actually, my favorite part of watching this film was when Tatum’s character ripped his shirt off, and one of the teenage girls in the front of the audience gasped audibly.  It was almost as great as the shirtless scene in Thor 2, when a woman in the audience actually yelled, “OH MY GOD!”)

It’s like the worst YA book* you’ve ever read, and the most frustrating, because it seems full of interesting ideas, ideas with a lot of potential for a cool story, but none of them are fully thought out or employed effectively, and then there are so many elements thrown in because why not? They are just cool. So what you have is idea salad, but no story, and that’s a shame, because Art Deco Vampire Space Royalty, and a beautiful Space Princess and Wolf Angel Boy who have to Put A Stop to their Evil, sounds like a really cool story, doesn’t it? Or maybe just a dream.

*Just to make it clear, I’m not bashing YA. I love YA, and many of my favorite books are marketed as YA. But even the most ardent YA fan has to admit that there are a looooot of terrible books on the shelves in the YA section, and that terrible YA has a different flavor than terrible SF or terrible romance or terrible fantasy. Some books–and some movies–are just terrible, and that is fact, but that fact doesn’t condemn a whole genre. Cool?

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interstellar_ver7_xlgSince I still haven’t sat down to write my Interstellar review (or rather, my look at Interstellar as the culmination of Christopher Nolan’s art so far and the redemption of the one flaw of The Dark Knight Rises–stay tuned! Maybe!), I’ll just put some links here so you can go read the inimitable John C Wright, far more eloquent and logical than me, on the subject.

First, his review of the best science-fiction movie ever put on film.

Next, because he is a writer of hard sf and does his research, he refutes the science-lovers who object that the movie is not scientifically accurate enough.

Then, because he is a learned man of faith, he refutes the Christians who object that the movie is not theologically accurate enough.

And finally, he offers one last comment that struck me right in the heart and made me want to leap out of my chair–and simultaneously leap right back into it and write some ripping good science fiction stories.

A little more gratitude and a little less criticism would seem to be in order.

Are you not sick and tired of the endless nihilism that pours out of Hollywood like an explosion in a sewerage factory?

This was a tale about a hero who does not boast and loves his daughter and who just wants to do his job and go home. It is a story about a pilot who loves to fly. It is a story about a little girl who grew up but who never grew out of her sense of hope and her sense of wonder.

This is the only film I have seen all year where the father was portrayed as a man, an actual masculine man in a leadership position who worked hard and could do a hard job well, and who was, as all fathers should be, willing to sacrifice everything for his family.

Even if all the criticisms about the theology and the science in this movie were true — and, so far as I have seen, not one of them are even making a prima face case — are you not hungry for heroes, O fans of science fiction? Do you not thirst for wonders? Let my eyes feast on the majestic rings of Saturn or the dark and blazing horror of a supermassive singularity!

To which I can only say, hear hear!

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Over at Sarah Hoyt’s blog, she’s talking about Interstellar, humanity, and our quest for the stars.

The clay of the Earth we’re made of is the material that made the stars.

We’re made of stars. We’re made of eternal. We’re made of eternity and joy. It’s our destiny to dream and create and reach ever farther.

We’ll shoulder our sins along the way, those sins that are truly ours, those we can hit our breasts over and say “mea culpa” and repent and strive to be better. Everyone and every culture stumbles.  The good ones struggle on.  We will not accept blame for everything. And we will not accept blame from accusers who admit no guilt, no stain, no brotherhood with us.

The time for mourning is over. The time for dreaming and creating has started.  Pull down that crepe and those black curtains.  They look ridiculous on the grand edifice of Western civilization.

Tell the finger pointers and self-righteous blamers to take a hike.

However long it takes, however bad it is, however many times we stumble and fall, listen to this and listen well: We’re going to the stars.

Go read the whole thing.

Let's go to space!

Let’s go to space!

(P.S. Still alive, obviously … unless ghosts can work keyboards!  Have things to blog about, no time to blog.  What else is new?

Double P.S. Definitely do go see Interstellar.  If it doesn’t inspire you to run out and go colonize space, just out of longing for the grandeur and beauty that’s out there, well, then I don’t know what will.)

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Not a review!

Also there are probably spoilers ahead.

So, Man of Steel.  So desaturated!  I felt like I was watching an early episode of Supernatural.  Which I guess is appropriate, since both are about Kansans saving the world.

Do you miss the red underpants?  I don't, because I'm too busy gazing at those cheekbones.

Do you miss the red underpants? I don’t, because I’m too busy gazing at those cheekbones.

Actually, the film did pretty well by us Kansans, although I’m not sure why Smallville had a 7-Eleven, a Sears, and an IHOP.  One of those I would believe (probably the Sears), but not all three.  But the Kent farm looked beautiful and perfect, and Kevin Costner, while a lot more ambiguous than you’d expect from Pa Kent, did a fine job.  And they worked in a tornado and never once used the word “twister.”  Well done, writers.

I appreciated especially the line: “I grew up in Kansas, General.  That’s about as American as it gets.”

The artsy way in which the flashbacks were shot and edited had the effect, I thought, of distancing the viewer from Clark.  Now, Superman must be the hardest character in the world to write, because none of the screenwriters who have ever tackled him, have ever succeeded in making him seem human, sympathetic, or relatable.  He is a distant figure, opaque and unknowable.  This I believe is the greatest weakness of Man of Steel and any other Superman film.  (I don’t read the comics, so I don’t know how he comes across there.)

Nice seeing some old friends from geekland, though: Harry Lennix and Tahmoh Penikett from Dollhouse (yes, I know Penikett was in BSG too), along with Alessandro Juliani also from Battlestar, not to mention the ever-wonderful Laurence Fishburne, and Richard Schiff, whom I recognized from Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.  Good times.

Amazing that a film with so much chaos and destruction could have felt slow and over-long.  I think, again, that the alienating way in which it was shot contributed to the problem.  We never feel invested in the characters.  At least not the main character.  (See above.  Though, as the mother of a son, seeing him interact with his mom gave me all the feels.)  One can’t help but compare it with last summer’s Avengers, which was much brighter both in color and in tone, also levelled much of New York City, and yet had a care for the random unnamed civilian population in a way Man of Steel didn’t.  Oh, except for that one family.  Who knows how many people died in those buildings Clark and Zod were smashing up, but letting that little family die was somehow over the line?  Filmmakers, I do not understand your brains.

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