Sunday, January 31, 2010

Rand Prelude, 100 Cheesiest Film Quotes, plus Phantom Menace

You know, a libertarian novelist friend of mine is visiting the City, and it’s sort of amusing timing, since tomorrow sees the start of my “Month of Ayn Rand.”  The friend is arty and subtle; Rand, notoriously, was not.  My friend will probably have to spend a substantial portion of her life saying “but not like Ayn Rand.”

But as I’ll explain in more detail in February, I think people sometimes judge Rand too harshly not only philosophically but in the aesthetics department as well.  Consider, after all, the several factors she was attempting to juggle in writing Atlas Shrugged: novel as extended philosophical argument, novel as depiction of an entire economy, novel as broad array of socially-intertwined characters in (unsurprisingly, given her childhood) a rather Russian fashion, and perhaps novel as an attempt (by an awed immigrant) to capture the broad-strokes romanticism she’d seen in the Hollywood movies that drew her to America.  Atlas could have turned out a lot stiffer than it did, really.

And as a reminder that even some very fondly remembered Hollywood films are not exactly works of subtlety, here’s a video montage of “The 100 Cheesiest Film Quotes” — don’t be shocked if some of your favorite films are in there (NOTE: This is unrelated to parody lounge singer Richard Cheese’s offer of free CDs to troops, which he dubs Operation: Cheesey Freedom).


You’ll see at least one scene from Attack of the Clones in there, and if the past eleven years have numbed the childhood-destroying pain of Phantom Menace enough, maybe you can take some pleasure from a series of videos wittily — but quite accurately and devastatingly — explaining why Phantom Menace was a manifestly awful film that cannot hold a candle to the simple but effective movie-making of which George Lucas was capable a decade and a half earlier.  The first installment contrasts the strong characters of the 70s/80s films with — well, the crap from the 90s/00s that we’re still bitter about.  My thanks to Paul Taylor and Scott Nybakken for pointing out the critical videos, even with all the pain and anger they bring back.

Writer and radio commentator John Hodgman poignantly admitted that he still lies awake at night sometimes trying to imagine how Menace could be fixed, even though what he’s really trying in vain to fix is his shattered childhood hopes.  One friend with whom I saw Menace on opening day cried afterwards, it was so awful.  She had used one of her “floating religious holidays” from work to see it with the proper air of reverence and was betrayed by her gods.

Comics editor Dan Raspler warned me after Phantom Menace not to hold out any hope that things would get better in the remaining two films (though I thought Revenge of the Sith was OK — unlike Kyle Smith, a professional film critic, whose first words as the credits rolled were “That sucked!”).  Dan noted that even though Anakin is supposed to be destined to become Darth Vader, Lucas never even found time in the first prequel to show Anakin having, say, a perverse fascination with evil.  As Dan warned, and he wasn’t far wrong: We’re not going to see an interesting psychological evolution — the Emperor’s just going to suck all of Anakin’s goodness out with a lightning bolt and “put it into an egg” or something.  As Dan also lamented, “Couldn’t he at least have had the kid look at Darth Maul with envy and say ‘Hey, nice boots’?”

Dan went on to watch a bootleg “improved” version of Menace once, in which fans made tweaks such as replacing Jar Jar’s stupid voice with a normal one, but to Dan’s credit, he still stood up and turned off the movie halfway through, asking his friend: Why do this to ourselves?  It’s still awful.

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