Posts Tagged ‘Fantasy’

The Princess Bride, at 28

Friday, March 27th, 2015

One of the great pleasures of being a dad is introducing my kids to the things I like, especially movies. About a year ago, I showed Abby Star Wars for the first time1. And just recently I showed her The Princess Bride

I hadn’t seen Bride for a very long time because I got kind of sick of it for a while. Seeing it after so long, I had a few thoughts on why I would now regard it as a clear classic and easily the best film of 1987.

  • The action scenes in the Princess Bride are few, but they are remarkably well done. There is a clarity and a flow that is missing from a lot of modern action scenes. It’s obvious what’s going on and what’s at stake. This really jumped out at me when I was watching it with Abby. During the duel between Inigo and Westley, she actually gasped when Inigo was backed up toward the cliff. It hit me that she understood the terrain and the danger Inigo was being forced into. Many modern action films have no clarity like that. You wouldn’t see the cliff until he fell over it in slo-motion CGI and then turned around in midair to jump over Westley.
  • The moral difference between Westley and Humperdinck is critical to the resolution of the plot. Westley wins only because he showed mercy in sparing Fezzik and Inigo. By contrast, Humperdinck’s cruelty and cowardice drive Miracle Max to enable his defeat, leave him with few loyal subjects except the unreliable Rugen, and turn Buttercup against him.

    I once saw an interview with Matt Parker and Trey Stone where they talked about plot. They said that a bad plot is just a series of events — X happens, then Y happens, then Z happens. A good plot flows from what has happened before: X happens because Y happened, which causes Z to happen. The fates of the characters in The Princess Bride do not turn on strange coincidences and kick-ass karate moves; it turns on their character and the decisions they make.

  • It’s disappeared into the internet, but Joe Posnanski once wrote a great piece about the decline of Rob Reiner’s directorial career. Here are the movies Reiner has directed, with IMDB ratings and my comments:

    This is Spinal Tap (8.0) – Regarded as a classic comedy. And is.

    The Sure Thing (7.0) – I haven’t seen this but have heard good things.

    Stand By Me (8.1) – Good adaptation of King novella.

    The Princess Bride (8.2, #183 on top movies of all time) – Recognized as a classic.

    When Harry Met Sally … (7.6) – Very good romantic comedy.

    Misery (7.8) – Excellent thriller. Made Kathy Bates a household name.

    A Few Good Men (7.6) – Very good film. One of my dad’s favorites.

    North (4.4) – Ouch. This is where it all seemed to go wrong. Roger Ebert famously said he “hated, hated, hated” this movie and said that Reiner would recover from it faster than Ebert would. He was wrong. After making seven straight good to great movies, Reiner would never make another great movie.

    The American President (6.8) – Haven’t seen it; never will.

    Ghost of Mississippi (6.6) – How do you put James Woods in a movie about civil rights and come out mediocre?

    The Story of Us (5.9) – Haven’t seen it; never will. This was the impetus behind Posnanski’s post: he hated The Story of Us, especially as he went in anticipating a good movie.

    Alex and Emma (5.5) – Haven’t seen it; never will.

    Rumor Has It … (5.5) – There was some noise at the time that represented a return to form for Reiner. It didn’t.

    The Bucket List (7.4) – This IMDB rating seems weird to me. It was savaged by critics. But it did make some money and people seemed to like it, despite its bullshit.

    Flipped (7.7) – This must be IMDB’s recency bias.

    The Magic of Belle Isle (7.0) – This is a very low rating for a recent movie starring Morgan Freeman. That’s three straight 7′s. We’re not back to the days when Reiner was producing minor classic. And given IMDB’s bias on recent movies, I would take this with a grain of salt. Still, it suggested he might be recovering.

    And So It Goes (5.5) – Or maybe not.

    No film has returned to Reiner’s early form. No film has even gotten close. No one goes online and says, “Hey, there’s a new Rob Reiner film coming out!” Posnanski likened Reiner’s decline to a great young baseball player that seems headed for the Hall of Fame based on his first few years but suddenly forgets how to play at age 26. Reiner has rebounded a bit but he’s now a utility player and pinch hitter. I don’t think he’ll ever recover the form he had in the his first few films. And that’s a pity, because his early films were great.

  • I’m not overly fond of the Bechdel test, but Robin Wright is almost the only woman in the cast. The Ancient Booer, however, was pretty awesome (the actress died last year the ripe age of 91). As was Carol Kane.
  • Bride is one of the first movies I can remember that became a hit on home video. It got good reviews. It got a few token award nominations (Oscar for Best Song; WGA for Best Screenplay). But it only did OK box office business. I didn’t see it in the theaters. But then it became a big hit on home video and became a cult classic and then a classic, full stop.

    Looking back on it, the lack of attention the film received was kind of embarrassing and a big demonstration of the lacunae award givers have for both comedy and fantasy. Baby Boom, Broadcast News, Dirty Dancing and Moonstruck were the Golden Globe nominees for Best Comedy. Bride was probably better than all four (although News and Moonstruck were and are well-regarded). Best Picture nominees were The Last Emperor, Fatal Attraction, Broadcast News, Hope and Glory and Moonstruck. That’s not an unreasonable slate but Bride has outlasted all of them. Most silly is the lack of a nomination for Best Screenplay: Bride is generally and correctly regarded as having a classic screenplay, certainly better than the five nominees from that year.

  • Roger Ebert defined a “family film” as one that appeals to both kids and adults. Bride is definitely that. It worked for Abby as a straight-up adventure tale with a beautiful princess, a handsome rogue and an evil prince. But for me (and her, as she gets older), the sly comedy is the selling point. It has affection for the material it mocks. That affection is the key difference between making a funny send-up of fairy tales and an unfunny one.
  • It’s been 28 years and I still get goosebumps when Inigo confronts Count Rugen.
  • Anyway, in a few years I’ll get to introduce Ben to the movie, which will allow me to experience it for the first time all over again.

    In keeping with an earlier post, I showed her the movies in the order of IV, V, I, II, III, VI. I was stunned at how well this worked. It massively improves the prequel trilogy, making the parallels to the original trilogy stronger. And it moves the reveal of Lea to Episode III, where it is much better done than in Episode VI. I hesitated on showing Episode III to Abby because of the violence, but she bore it well. The violence didn’t bother her as much as the psychological trauma of seeing Anakin fall to evil. Anyway, I highly recommend this order if you have any good opinion of the prequel trilogies (and maybe even if you don’t).

    Fantasy Death

    Monday, May 14th, 2012

    This article, which talks about the way fantasy and sci-fi fans react to characters being killed off, reach a conclusion I find ridiculous:

    I believe the discomfort comes down to the base fear of death and uncertainty that people face every day. Death is a subject that makes people uncomfortable. It doesn’t surprise me then that people would have such emotional reactions to fictional character death. They come to fiction to be taken away from the concerns of their everyday life. When confronted with the sudden death of a beloved character, viewers and readers are jarred into dealing with the uncertainty of life in their fiction and that can be unnerving. Look at reactions to the first murder in Psycho, or the death of Cedric Diggory in Harry Potter as examples outside of Martin and Whedon if you will, as they’re not the only writers who use the tactic to drive the emotional point home.

    This is psychoanalytical bullshit. The reaction of fans is much more down to Earth. They realize that these characters are fictional. And so killing them off is the writer’s choice, not something that just happened. Even the phrase “killing them off” acknowledges this.

    What fans object to is not a character dying, but a character being killed in what feels like an arbitrary and capricious way. No one — NO ONE — objected to Spock being killed in Star Trek II. It was a great way to go, it was an emotional wallop and it was utterly consistent with the theme of the movie and his character. It was one of the best moments in the movies. People did object to Data being killed in Star Trek: Nemesis because it felt arbitrary and stupid. There was no reason for it to happen other than to shock us and try, unsuccessfully, to recreate the punch from Star Trek II.

    Numerous sci-fi/fantasy deaths are well-regarded: Theoden’s fall in Lord of the Rings, Vader in Star Wars, Roy in Blade Runner, Ries in The Terminator, Kong in King Kong, Theo in Children of Men, Kosh in Babylon 5, the Knight’s pending death in Seventh Seal and Dumbledore’s fall in Harry Potter. All of these were cases were the death was consistent, reasonable and even noble.

    If you look at the deaths that are poorly regard, they tend to be of the arbitrary “eh, shit happens” type: Trinity and Neo in The Matrix Revolutions, Padme in Revenge of the Sith, Ripley in Alien 3 or almost all the death in The Dark Tower.

    I have not seen Game of Thrones or Buffy, but I did see Serenity. I didn’t object to the characters being killed. What I most objected to was Wash being killed so arbitrarily (and even then, I didn’t object that much, even though I loved his character). Yes, life is like that, especially a dangerous life. But we want to see our characters go down fighting, to die for a reason.

    I mean, seriously: you’re going to take us on a journey with magic and swords or laser guns and faster than light travel; and suddenly you want to be all realistic when it comes to the characters being killed?

    That’s the problem. We realize that we are in a fantasy world. And if our characters are going to go down — by the choice of the writer — we want them to go down for a reason.

    The Best Sci-Fi

    Friday, July 8th, 2011

    I just stumbled upon this list, compiled last year, of the best 25 sci-fi/fantasy movies of all time. Considering that I just said that 2009 had four great entries into the genre, I thought I’d lay out my thoughts.

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