Wednesday, June 6, 2012

We Need to Talk About Willow

Hello everyone. Sit down, please. Would you like a drink? Something to eat, perhaps? Everyone comfortable? Good. Look, I'm sorry to bring you all here like this, but we need to discuss something. It's serious. It's something no one wants to talk about, but we have to. I'm sorry. Please everyone, promise not to get angry, but - (sigh).

We need to talk about Willow.

Now I hear what you're saying. "Thalius," you say, "We don't have time to talk about Willow now! E3 is going on! Games are being announced! News is everywhere! Naomi Kyle is broadcasting live and I can't take my eyes off of her for a second!" But the fact is, we have to talk about it. If we don't take care of this now, we may never get around to it. So let's just do this.

Willow (1988) was a sword-and-sorcery adventure film from Lucasfilm. It was directed by Ron Howard and starred Warwick Davis and Val Kilmer. It was recommended to me by many, many friends who swore by it, along with Netflix itself. So I put it on my queue and the DVD arrived in the mail yesterday. The results were not pretty.
The story was allegedly conceived by George Lucas in 1972. Lucas gathered Warwick Davis and Ron Howard during the 1980s following the success of Return of the Jedi and made the whole thing happen. Lucas said he wanted to create "a number of well-known mythological situations for a young audience," like he had with Star Wars. Watching the movie, however, I could see what had really happened. The Lord of the Rings novels had been released years before in 1954 and Lucas had clearly been reading them.

Willow, as it turns out, is a beat-for-beat rip-off of The Lord of the Rings.

Okay now hang on a second. Sit down everyone, stop shouting. I can hear you just fine. Let's use our inside voices. Now I know perfectly well that Star Wars also borrowed heavily from the LOTR playbook. My argument is simply that with Willow, Lucas borrowed far more flagrantly and with far less of his own creativity. Star Wars at least had the presence of mind to be set in a sci-fi setting instead of a blatant Middle Earth stand-in world. Star Wars also built its own mythology of bloodlines and lore. Here the whole movie absolutely reeks of LOTR, top to bottom.

Lucas claimed that he "thought it would be great to use a little person in a lead role. A lot of my movies are about a little guy against the system, and this was just a more literal interpretation of that idea." Really? He called them Nelwyns, but we all know what they really were. They were Hobbits. So the Nelwyn known as Willow (Frodo), who lives in a peaceful farming village (the shire) is entrusted with a magical baby (one ring) that could save the world from the evil queen Bavmorda (Sauron/Saruman). So a bunch of Nelwyns set out to get rid of it as soon as possible (fellowship).

What's that? Death star plans? Shut up.

So the Nelwyn fellowship sets out on their journey and meets with a great but disgraced swordsman and warrior (ranger) named Madmartigan (Aragorn), played by Val Kilmer. After Willow is abandoned by the rest of the Nelwyns (breaking of the fellowship) except for his friend Meegosh (Sam), Madmartigan reluctantly agrees to help Willow on his journey. I'll pause here for a moment and acknowledge that Kilmer is the best thing in the movie, hands down. He's absolutely hilarious.

Seriously, put your hands down. Don't talk to me about Kevin Pollak.

While Willow is negotiating with Madmartigan about getting involved, they are passed by the retreating army of the kingdom of Galladoorn (Rohan), which was recently destroyed by Bavmorda. Getting no help from the army, Willow entrusts the baby to Madmartigan, who promptly loses it to forest fairies. Willow retrieves the baby and encounters the fairy queen of the forest, Cherlindrea (Galadriel), who tells him he must find the sorceress Fin Raziel (Gandalf) and sends him on his way.

The group eventually makes their way to the settlement Tir Asleen (Helm's Deep), which they then have to defend from attack by the armies of Nockmaar Castle (Isengard). Luckily, they are saved by the aforementioned army of Galladoorn (Riders of Rohan). The baby is taken to Nockmaar, however, forcing Fin Raziel to battle Bavmorda directly (Gandalf vs. Saruman) with Willow caught in the middle. Victorious, Willow returns to his village and his loving family (return to the Shire).

I'll admit that watching this movie after having seen Peter Jackson's interpretation of LOTR might cause the similarities to stick out a bit more. But the books were around. Even the Rankin/Bass animated version was around. And everything, right down to some of the visuals, was ripped straight from LOTR. Watch the Nelwyns huddle in the woods and hide from the passing Nockmaar soldiers. Watch Madmartigan fight at the battle of Tir Asleen. Watch the two old ladies throw each other around the room when Fin Raziel and Bavmorda fight. Good lord, Fin Raziel's outfit is a dead-on match for Gandalf!

No my friends, Willow is not good. It is not a classic. It is a cheap knock-off of a celebrated fantasy series that wouldn't see a proper interpretation for another eleven years. You want to watch great fantasy from the late 80's? Watch The Princess Bride. Nowthat's a classic, I mean it.

Anybody want a peanut?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Possibility of Hypersensitivity

The fact that I have to begin this post with a preface in and of itself is part of the problem. But here we are, and if I don't start with this I'll get shit for it. So here we go. I am in no way in favor of the following things: (1) Racism; (2) Sexism (which includes mistreatment based on sexual preference or gender identification); (3) Bullying; (4) Human Sex Trafficking; (5) Mistreatment, in any way shape or form, of children. Now, that's only a small sample of the things that I do not support, but it will suffice for the purposes of this article. With that said, let's move on.

I recently tried to watch one of my all-time favorite movies, The Goonies (1985), with someone who had never seen it before. The movie had somehow slipped under this person's radar for their entire life. But within fifteen minutes of watching the film (they hadn't even gotten out of the house yet), they announced that they hated it and walked out of the room. Why? Because it promoted bullying and it was racist.


It promoted bullying, the person explained, because the kids were needlessly cruel to fan-favorite character Chunk (Jeff Cohen). Forcing Chunk to do the truffle-shuffle was bad behavior portrayed in a comical light and this was unacceptable. Furthermore, there was this scene featuring Mouth (Corey Feldman) translating for house cleaner Rosalita. Mouth's use of the Spanish language to taunt and frighten Rosalita was racist behavior, again portrayed in a positive and comical light. Again, unacceptable.

We hadn't even gotten to the good stuff. We missed our chance for an examination of the Fratellis (what, all Italians are criminals?) or the other fan-favorite character, Sloth (a horribly insensitive portrayal of the physically- and mentally-challenged). There I was thinking this movie was funny. How dare I enjoy it.

Billy Donnelly of Aint-it-Cool-News wrote up a review of the documentary Bully that reexamined the 1980s classic The Breakfast Club (1985). I haven't seen Bully so I'm in no position to discuss its merits. I have already made clear my stance on bullying. See paragraph one, item (3) above. In his review, Donnelly writes as follows:
"Just the other day, I happened to catch THE BREAKFAST CLUB on late at night, and, as each of them are relaying their stories about what landed them in Saturday detention, it was Andrew (Emilio Estevez) recalling his actions that really had me thinking ... Him taping Larry Lester’s buns together causes humiliation for some poor kid who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and too hairy to boot."

Is Andrew, therefore, an inappropriate character to portray in The Breakfast Club? Is it bad that he is shown as one of the protagonists? Is it insensitive of an audience member to root for him in his struggle against the Dean and against his father? Does it render the movie offensive and wrong to enjoy?

What about other staples of our childhoods, are they safe? Nope. Viewed through the lens of our modern society, all your favorite memories can be ruined. What about this gem from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) where precocious little Elliot calls his big brother a "penis-breath"? Homophobic slur portrayed as harmless name-calling. Or the scene from Back to the Future (1985) you can watch here, where the African-American band members are referred to as "spooks" and "reefer addicts"? Casually racist. Back to the Future also contains plenty of bullying and Marty McFly's brilliant plan to pretend to attempt to rape his mom. How about Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom's (1984) portrayal of dinner at an Indian palace? Racist and culturally insensitive. And my personal favorite, a scene from Goldfinger (1964) lovingly referred to as "man talk." Vintage sexism perpetrated by the hero of the film. Am I allowed to enjoy any of these things now? Apparently not.

I hesitantly propose that we are now living in a society that is so hypersensitive that it is literally looking for things to get offended by. We sit on our couches or chairs, tightly coiled, just waiting for the chance to pounce and express our boiling moral outrage. We scan each piece of media we consume, looking for the tiny nugget that might be construed as offensive to someone. It's gotten to the point where we can't enjoy anything, absolutely anything, even for a few minutes. Anything, from films to television to books to video games to statements of absolute fact, can set us off. And I think it makes us a miserable people.

And I've got more. I'm going to get a ton of shit for this one, but I have to point it out. It now appears that there is a group of people who have found it necessary to publish actual written rules for anyone who wishes to interact with them. Even better, one of the rules is that the rules are subject to sudden and unannounced change, and that it is your responsibility to constantly ask them if the rules have changed before interacting with them. I refer you back to paragraph one, item (2), as a reminder that I in no way advocate for any mistreatment or disrespect towards the people in this group. They deserve to be treated with the same dignity and respect shown any other human being. That said, I would never be so presumptuous as to publish a set of written rules for people who want or need to speak to me. That is bullshit.

As a semi-adult who goes to work every day and reads the news, I am well aware of many of the world's problems. The five horrors listed in paragraph one are unfortunately abundant on our planet and they don't even begin to describe all the terrible things that go on. The world is full of murder, rape, famine, disease, slavery, and others that I can't think to mention. But the world has always been full of these things and, more importantly, the world has always been full of very good people who do very good things in response to them. No, we shouldn't promote evils and no, we shouldn't dismiss them as trivial. But if we can't let go, even just for a few measly minutes, long enough for a single laugh, then we're going to self-destruct as a society.

You may now attack me.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Anxiety and Processing Failure

First off, everything is fine. I'm fine, everyone's okay. I'm just musing here.

It's a sad fact of life that not everything is going to go your way. Sometimes you can fight the good fight and lose. Failure can take many forms in both your professional and personal lives. You can lose anything from an issue at work to job opportunities, relationships, even people's lives. And no matter how hard you try, no matter how much work you put into it, no matter how smart or talented or charming you are, you will face failure at some point in your life. Everyone does. The real issue here is how we deal with it.

I am an anxious person. I have been an anxious person for as long as I have been capable of cognizant thought. So, naturally, worry has been a constant presence in my life. I've worried about everything from report cards to parent-teacher conferences, interviews, work assignments, cases, judges, adversaries, relationships with friends and significant others. I'm constantly afraid that I've missed something, forgotten to do something or say something or meet some hidden requirement. And failure, however slight, only compounds these fears.

When I fail in any way, it sets of a whole new range of fears. My mind fills with possible repercussions. I interact with people and wonder if they've already discovered my failure. I start to believe that once I'm "found out," I'll be punished in some horrible way. Fired, ostracized, destroyed somehow. I wonder if my friends and family will still love me and want me around. I worry about losing my home, my loved ones and possessions and I start to feel like I never really deserved any of it in the first place. I begin to feel as if any success I've had has been a fluke and that once this mistake is discovered it will all be taken away.

And so when I have any sort of failure, my first instinct is to bury it. I've hidden report cards, lied about grades or homework assignments and skipped days of school or work following (or even just anticipating) embarrassing incidents. I've let phone calls go to voice mail just to avoid talking about something (or even thinking about it) for a few more minutes. I've avoided entire branches of the practice of law just to insulate myself (aka "hide") from failure.

But as I said above, there is no insulation from failure. There's no hiding from it. No matter what you do, no matter where you go, you will face it at some point in your life. Thus far, the most important lesson I have been taught in life by far has been that we are responsible for ourselves. And lying, hiding and running are not viable reactions to failure. So what is the proper response then? How does an anxious person whose anxiety is compounded by any sense of failure deal with it?

I don't have the answers here. I'm asking questions. When something goes wrong at your job or in your personal life, how do you deal with it? Does anyone have a conscious method for this?