Saturday, June 19, 2010

Movie Musing: Short Circuit 2 and Violence

What the Hell was up with 80's childrens' movies?

Watching Short Circuit 2, I'm struck by the realization that even Resevoir Dogs wasn't this violent. Mr. Blonde only takes an this, we watch two thugs hack the main character apart. They take an axe to him. Hitting one of the thugs in the ass with a big remote-controlled plane doesn't make that any less horrific.

Then, instead of the sob-filled conversation between a mortally wounded Harvey Keitel and Tim Roth, we get to watch Johnny 5 make his horribly maimed, spark-dripping way down the street to sad violin music. Please recall, this is after he ran through a crowd, screaming out for any sort of help, completely ignored by the confused amateur aereonauts. These are people, note, who watch a man with an axe running through a park and don't think to ask what's happening.

The 'bot can't even talk. When the sleazy swindler feller catches up to him, Johnny has to write on the wall with chalk to communicate that he is dying.

Johnny's triage instructions provide an interesting theological argument: "My memory is me. If it loses power, I die." I would have been 4, maybe 5, when I saw this movie. I'm not sure if a 5 year old needs exposure to that sort of material (though I suppose I'd been going to Sunday school for a time by then).

What renders all of this more ridiculous from the perspective of someone watching in 2010 is that Johnny proudly proclaims he has 500 MB of memory. This heart-wrenching examination of morality and survival is presented in the words of a character with less memory than the flash drive I bought years ago.

Despite, or perhaps because of, all of this, Short Circuit is very much a part of my life. When the villains are hiding their ill-gotten gems they use a bunch of plastic dinosaurs (and at least one Kaiju). I still have two of the creatures sitting on the table during that scene. Rewatching it now, I wrestle with the question of whether or not kids' movies today ought to treat their audience with a similar presumption of maturity. I know there's a vast gulf between G and PG, but I've seen PG-13 movies made in the last five years with less profanity and certainly less visceral violence.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

One Piece Makes Me Cry

The plot of One Piece: The Desert Princess and the Pirates: Adventures in Alabasta is functionally identical to that of Lord of the Rings, or even Henry V. When I weep at One Piece, it's no different than when I sob through the entirety of Branaugh's interpretation of that latter tale. The Dancer, the Detective, and the Talking Reindeer saddling up to help their friend in her deadly quest is no different than Falstaff's drunks going to war against France; it's all the same delicious, resonant stuff. Impossible odds, unrepentant villains (some of whom will obviously redeem themselves), and a conflict that will shape the fate of nations.

If you allow One Piece to distract you with its art style, or the unusual characters, you miss the point. I understand that many of the characters are strange and confusing--why is that reindeer wearing a hat, why don't that man's hands ever leave his pockets, what's with the swan-wearing crossdresser? However, if one watches the show without falling prey to these inquiries, the film makes absolute sense.

You needn't be versed in Shakespeare to understand which character is the coward, which character is playing it cool despite being in love with another, and which character is the generally goofy but profoundly driven character. The urbane villain, the misguided rebel, and the doomed retainer...these are all atavistic tropes presented in One Piece just as they are in any other work, but with more swans.

The archetypal nature of the film extends to its plot as well. It's unnecessary to understand why the princess is on a pirate ship; it's unnecessary to comprehend why her most loyal guards can turn into a bird- and dog-man respectively. I don't mean for my readers to mistake my dismissal of the need to understand these things for a rejection of the film's value. It's profoundly the opposite.

The Japanese practice of producing OVAs (Original Video Animation) is something I've come to appreciate. An OVA is usually an addendum to or remix of a successful anime series; a way of saying either "And then this happened..." or "But things might have happened this way..." The most impressive task of OVAs is that they must cram a multi-episode, if not multi-season, storyline into a few brief minutes; even if they aren't theatrical releases, OVAs need to appeal to an audience that might not be well-versed in the background material. As such, OVAs are adept at communicating everything that the viewer needs to know about the actors, and situations, with which they are presented.

The characters are archetypes, the plot is eternal, the Pluton is just a MacGuffin. Once you understand that, One Piece ranks amongst the greatest films of all time...because it's functionally identical to them along all the valences that matter.