Never Bored of the Rings

Came across a couple of wickedly funny satires on YouTube, which both use The Lord of the Rings to skewer their targets, filmmakers Michael Moore and George Lucas respectively (and oh so effectively). I give you:

Fellowship 9/11: The beloved, saintly, indefatigable, scrupulously honest redresser of America’s wrongs visits Middle-earth and quickly discovers a sinister plot by corrupt elven, dwarven, and human bureaucrats, zealots, and pampered elites to demonize the poor, peaceful, third-world peoples of Mordor and steal their oil. This film not only inoculates the viewer from ever taking the Man from Flint seriously again, it also (perhaps unintentionally) tars and feathers the many film and book critics who used the appearance of Jackson’s (awful) trilogy to portray Tolkien as a closet cultural supremacist hiding behind a thinly veiled allegory of metrosexual good guys and dreadlocked, Ebonics-braying monsters.

Lord of the Rings by George Lucas: What if the sage of Skywalker Ranch had been the one who tackled the Rings trilogy on the big screen? Using hilariously on-point parodies of actual Star Wars prequel DVD supplement footage, along with animation that eerily captures the real life quirks and ticks of the people involved, the makers of this little gem demonstrate how vacuous and absurd Lucas’ insufferably pompous latter-day pronouncements have been in the face of his abysmal products.

Many such attempts at satire quickly lose steam and degenerate into bad Saturday Night Live sketches, but these two manage to maintain their momentum and become classics.

What a Mummer Wild, What an Insane Child

Mark’s post about the new Batman film from a Howardist’s perspective was one of the better contributions to the long Dark Knight of the soul that’s fallen on the blogosphere, arguably a wee bit more plausible than the following Andrew Klavan assertion in The Wall Street Journal: “There seems to me no question that the Batman film The Dark Knight, currently breaking every box office record in history, is at some level a paean of praise to the fortitude and moral courage that has been shown by George W. Bush in this time of terror and war. Like W, Batman is vilified and despised for confronting terrorists in the only terms they understand.” Artist Drew Friedman begs to differ. And Cheney, the No. 2 who tries harder? Is he maybe Harvey Dent? Or remember the online debates when 300 was released? Was Bush Leonidas, or was he Xerxes? And who was Palpatine in Revenge of the Sith? Back when Viggo Mortensen was capturing so many imaginations in 2002 and 2003, a REHupan proudly reprinted a letter he’d sent to his local newspaper that anointed Bush the American Aragorn, the hero-king who was defending the West against the Evil gathering in the East.

Was there ever a time when popular culture did not lend itself to this sort of game, one that the left-handed and the right-handed both line up to play? The concept of a Manchurian candidate long ago escaped the control of Richard Condon or John Frankenheimer. High Noon, Rio Bravo, and High Plains Drifter have been arguing among themselves for decades (in his Playboy interview John Wayne labeled High Noon “the most un-American thing I’ve ever seen in my life”. Richard Slotkin’s Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth Century America is a book I dote on (and may well have quoted from more than from Howard’s own works during my REHupa years), and yet once in a great while a mulish part of me wonders, can every single Western between 1962 and 1976 really have been about Vietnam?

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Pan Versus Peter Pan; Or, Can’t We Have Some Adult Fantasy to Go with the Adulterated Fantasy?

Beginning in December of 2003 and continuing through 2004’s Oscar season, The Return of the King shook the earth like a mûmakil charge. Peter Jackson’s LOTR films served up something for almost everyone not named Grin: halflings, Howard Shore, monsters, Orlando Bloom for the maenads-in-training-bras, the Shakespearean dynastic/familial crises of the House of Eorl or Denethor and his sons, a cinematic siege with a fuse as slow-burning as that of Zulu, clashes between combatants in their thousands and tens of thousands that could hold their armored heads up in the company of Chimes at Midnight, Kagemusha, and Ran (the edged weapons became even edgier on the Extended Edition DVDs), and the realization that Frodo not only fails in, but is maimed by, his mission. So why have so many fantasy films since then settled for being merely a kindergarten of unearthly delights? The most “mature” spectacle to result from the Rings phenomenon has been the paroxysm of litigation pitting Jackson against New Line Cinema and the Tolkien estate against New Line’s corporate successors.

I have no quarrel with the Harry Potter films, at least not after the helm was relinquished by a Columbus who discovered only mediocrity. In fact Alfonso Cuaròn’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban ranks with The Two Towers and Pan’s Labyrinth as the finest film fantasy of this decade — interesting that it took a Mexican director to relocate Hogwarts from an amusement park in Crassville to Gothic highlands atmospherically patrolled by the spirits of George MacDonald and Isak Dinesen as well as the Dementors.

As soon as Inklings were identified as golden egg-layers Andrew Adamson’s 2 Narnia adaptations, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) and The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008) became inevitable (the more recent film has a severe case of Pelennor Fields envy, and its conquering Telmarines seem to have been airlifted straight from slaughtering the charges of eagle knights during la noche triste in Tenochtitlan).

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John Carter of Earth


Any given year is a demonstration of mortality in action, but so far 2008 has been especially hellbent on inaugurating the afterlives of figures who had permanent luxury suites in the Tompkinsian pantheon: George MacDonald Fraser, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Fagles, and now Charlton Heston.

No sooner was I surfing the first wave of obituaries and career summaries than I was muttering and cursing. Everything else Heston did was being reduced to flotsam bobbing atop each half of the parted Red Sea, or dust beneath Judah Ben-Hur’s chariot wheels. It’s difficult to be objective about those movies because they became the Easter season equivalent of the Yule log, always on the TV screen in the background. When I try to watch either, it isn’t long before I wish someone had spiked the holy water. Oh, Ben-Hur retains some interest because of the involvement of Gore Vidal, Yakima Canutt, and a young assistant director named Sergio Leone, and the early scenes at the Egyptian court in The Ten Commandments are entertaining, mostly because of Yul Brynner’s seething Ramses (had he not gotten all that emoting out of his system, would he ever have been able to play the robot gunfighter in Westworld?) But I prefer Heston’s mid-career parts, when cracks in the Michelangelo-sculpted marble and verdigris on the gleaming bronze began to be detectable, so I was glad to find Manohla Dargis’ “The Man Who Touched Evil and Saved the World” in the New York Times: “My fondness for Mr. Heston can be traced back to the films I saw growing up, most important, his great dystopian trilogy, Planet of the Apes (1968), The Omega Man (1971), and Soylent Green (1973).” Had Ms. Dargis bethought her of how Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) ends, she might have reconsidered the second half of her tribute’s title, but I’m with her on the Dominus of Dystopia; whenever I read Howard’s “The Last Laugh” (an overheated discussion of which concludes an essay printed in TC V5n1), despite the probable Conanomorphism of the protagonist’s appearance, I imagine Charlton Heston, the last word in last stands and the first choice for the day after the end of the world.

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Cold Light and Winter Soul-Reflections


Has anyone ever devised a deadlier zinger about a major author than Oscar Wilde’s “Henry James writes fiction as if it were a painful duty”? Many people, among them some professed cineastes, would also claim that Ingmar Bergman made movies as if it were a painful duty, or at least made movies the watching of which is necessarily a painful duty. After the Swedish director’s death last week just about every obit or tribute online that offered a comments section was gate-crashed by reverse snobbery-afflicted knuckle-walkers and know-nothings who sneered that the Bergman cult was/is an affectation of pseudo-intellectual, popular culture-despising coastal or campus elites — blue-staters, most likely supporters of public television and Volvo drivers. Oh well, in many ways Bergman was the heir of Henrik Ibsen and August Strindberg, so we might say attacks by trolls are part of his Scandinavian heritage.

Jeezis wept, Joe Blog-Reader thinks, is he really going to inflict a post about Ingmar Bergman on us? I can’t help it, having arrived in New York City as a college freshman just in time for the twilight of the pre-videocassette arthouse/repertory cinema era. It didn’t take long before I had ascertained that Fellini and Fassbinder were not for me, but Buñuel, Kurosawa, and especially Bergman were.

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