Saturday, January 15, 2011

On the varying ability to accept blatant breaking of the laws of physics

OK, I know, Indiana Jones should not have been able to survive a nuclear blast by hiding in a lead-lined refrigerator.  But you know, he's Indiana Jones, maybe it was a side-effect of drinking from the Holy Grail or something; let it go.

None of that stuff from the later Die-Hard movies should have really worked either, you don't see anybody complaining about that, do you?

But once in a while a plot point comes along that I just have to hit the mental brakes and scream "now HOLD on there!"

The Kid was just watching (and I can't believe I'm typing this) Tom and Jerry meet Sherlock Holmes. Malcolm McDowell  voices Moriarty, so there's that.  But here's the deal.  Moriarty has invented a device that uses the sun's rays, intensified by large diamonds he's stolen, to make a steampunky heat ray.  He plans to use it so steal the Crown Jewels.  "I intend to use the power of a solar eclipse to generate a beam SO powerful that it will cut right through the Tower of London", he says.



You're going to do what?

The whole film is centered around the idea that the Napoleon of crime is going to use a solar powered device at the one moment in time that it will do him no good.

I explained this scenario to The Wife.  She has less knowledge of hard science than the average Republican Senator, and SHE saw the problem.

I hasten to add, he was explaining this plot to a young woman, a cat, and two clothes-wearing mice.  So his mental stability is already in question.

I get it, it's a kids' movie, I shouldn't get my knickers so bunched up about it.  But there's a slight difference between, say, getting Planck's Constant wrong and suggesting that a solar eclipse is a good time to attempt to harness the sun's rays for nefarious purposes.  I'm reminded of the (insert ethnic group of choice) space program planning a manned mission to the sun, but they're going at night so they'll be fine.

I also saw The Green Hornet today.

Now this was another film that a lot of people couldn't believe was happening.  I've been waiting for it as far back as when George Clooney was going to star, based on a Kevin Smith script.  Needless to say, this is not that movie.

But I tell you, Seth Rogen pulls it off.  The film is funny as all get out, but is not played for laughs.  Britt's desire to help the city is legitimate, his motivation works, and he doesn't become a super-buff fighting machine all of a sudden.  Kato builds Britt the Gas Gun specifically because he has the pugilistic acumen of a arthritic giraffe.

Christoph Waltz has a ball as the crime king of LA who fears he's no longer intimidating to his younger underlings, and Cameron Diaz gets a solid role as Lenore "Casey" Case, Britt's new secretary, personal girl Friday and resident genius.

The film worked, it was drop-dead funny (very much in the same "funny action movie" as his previous film Pineapple Express) but there was a moment where I was totally won over.  In the middle of a traditional "We're not friends anymore" man-fight between Britt and Kato, they tumble into the pool.  Kato can't swim, and Britt has to save him.  Now, if you don't know much about the history of the Green Hornet (Also known as "Everyone in the world"), you'd never know that in  the original Green Hornet stories, that's how Britt and Kato met; Kato is drowning, Britt saves him, and Kato pledges his life to Britt's service.  So for them to have gotten a nod to that bit of history was a REAL thrill.  According to the end credits there was a nod to the Lone Ranger in the film as well, but damn if I could find it. (George W. Trendle created both the Hornet and the Lone Ranger, and according to canon, John Reid is an ancestor of Britt).  It worked, and wonderfully.  The old school logo and themesong from the TV show get a cameo, and all told, it hit more notes that suggested that they really had read the books and heard the old radio shows than many other comics films have.

So why am I mentioning it in the same breath as a Tom and Jerry film?  Because like the other films I've mentioned, it has moments of patent OH COME ON.  The Black Beauty, always a wondercar, now leapt up to Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang levels of efficacy, including being able to drive after being cut in half, with a quick explanation that it has front-wheel drive.  Oh, and was the gas tank in the front as well? 

You're having so much fun there's really no time to sit back and note the lapses in the Newtonian laws that hold our universe together.  But in a brilliant bit of marketing, the producers did a tie-in episode of Mythbusters, in which they actually tested some of the more outlandish stunts in the film to see if they could happen in real life, and proved that they were "pretty much bullshit", as Seth Rogen described them on a recent appearance on Opie and Anthony.  So it was kind of cool that they tried to take control of the argument by calling themselves out on it. 

So I didn't get upset when they escape from being buried alive by setting off all the car's armaments.  But if those weapons had been solar powered, I'd'a been right there railing against it.

Monday, January 3, 2011

On the return of a nigh-extinct mode of fannish communication

Last year, DC Comics announced they were reducing the price of their books back to $2.99, a move that got quite a lot of positive reaction.  The down side was we'd get two less pages of comic story per issue. They were reticent to say what they were going to put on those two pages, tho. Today they dropped the news - they were bringing back letter columns.  Old-school fans (raises hand) were over the moon at the news, and younger readers were all asking, "What's the point? we have Facebook and the electric-type twitter to let everyone know our opinions".  And the old school fans just shhok our heads and sighed...

Back before everybody had unrestricted access to every other person on the planet, you had to WORK to be heard.  You needed actual talent to be on television (Or if you were a woman, two talents), a tremendous amount of luck to get your music heard, and you had to be real witty to make it into the letter columns in the back of the comics.

Metropolis Mailbag.  The Ha-Ha-Hacienda.  Flash-Grams.  The JLA Mailroom. Europinion. This is where most fans met each other.  Indeed, comics fandom STARTED as a result of the lettercols.  When EC comics started publishing the names and addresses of letter writers in the columns, the fans did something weird - they started writing to each other.  Pen-pal friendships were started, and eventually fanzines started to make the rounds.

Look at the the current plight of the three major TV networks; When there were only three or four channels, it was easy to have a big hit. Now you're competing with hundreds of cable channels, not to mention video games, video on demand, Tivo and who knows how many other electronic hobbies.  Far harder to get your show in front of a lot of eyes.  Nowadays, anyone can start a blog, and like Syndrome said in The Incredibles, "When everybody is special, then no one will be".  With thousands, maybe millions of blogs out there, everyone has an equal voice, but not everyone has an equal talent.  There's no filter.  Making the Letter Column was an achievment - the editor (ok, assistant editor) decided your letter was better than the piles of other letters they got that month.  Or, if you wrote to a book with limited readership, the letter was better than one they could make up themselves to pad out the page.  It meant that thousands of other people who read the book were seeing your name.  Like Navin R. Johnson once said, that's the kind of spontaneous publicity a person needs.

Some of comics' biggest names arose from those letter columns. Bob Rozakis and Martin "Pesky" Pasko were regular letter-writers. And in more recent history, a fan named Geoffrey Johns wrote to the editors of Superboy, suggesting that Kon-El might not only be a clone of Superman, but lex Luthor. Needless to say, he was laughed off the page by the editor, and he was never heard of again.

There were other perks too. Lucky lucky letter hacks and fans got tuckerized in the comics. There are more fans' names in Legion of Superheroes than about any other title; Here's a list of the ones we know about. BBC TV and radio host Paul Gambaccini was once a massive DC fan and letter hack. When they wrote the story about the guy who makes the costumes for the Rogues, his name was... Paul Gambi.

Being a regular guest of the letter columns meant other fans knew your name. It was like having a blog today, but a blog that people actually READ. Marc Lucas, T.M. Maple, Charles J. Sperling, Uncle Elvis; these are names well known to readers from the 80s and 90s. I was a fledgling letterhack, and in the equally fledgling days of Compuserve, would often get notes of compliment when I had a couple of letters published in one week. I even got a hand-written note from up-and-coming writer Jeph Loeb when I wrote a positive letter about his Challengers of the Unknown miniseries. Indeed, it was John Ostrander who got my career started, when he asked that I take a comment I'd made about his Hawkworld book on the Compuserve comics forum and send it in to the letter column, where more people would see it (The times, how quickly they changed...)

So seeing those letter columns return means a chance for fans not only to get their voice heard, but gain the extra little note of approval that those opinions were interesting enough to see print.  And proper print, with ink and paper.

To gain the legitmacy of the printed word is a vanishing achievment.  I'm pleased to see it make a return.

(And yes, I'm aware of the irony of talking about the advantages of letter columns on a blog, so there's no need in pointing it out...)