Nothing But Memory
Archive for June, 2011

Show me your teeth

We have an independent theatre in Ottawa called the Mayfair. Its website bills it as “Ottawa’s home of stuff you won’t see anywhere else,” which is pretty accurate. The Mayfair is both a second-run theatre, showing the occasional movie that was playing in the big chains a couple of months earlier, and a repertory theatre with a focus on classic and cult movies old (they show Rocky Horror monthly) and new (they’re also showing The Room monthly these days). A few months ago they had a Martin Scorsese showcase, this month they’re doing Alfred Hitchcock, and next month it’s a “Cornu-Coppola” as the work of Francis Ford Coppola is revisited. Basically, if you like interesting and/or old movies, it’s excellent to live within a convenient distance of the Mayfair.

Today’s show was a double feature of Steven Spielberg’s two most toothsome thrillers: Jaws — which was released 36 years ago tomorrow! — and Jurassic Park. A staff member explained before the show started that they were showing an old 35mm print of Jaws. The film had obviously not been restored in any way, and the colours in some sections had taken on a pinkish-red tone. I don’t know the technical reason for this, but I’ll have to read up on it. Film preservation is something I’d be interested to learn more about! Jurassic Park was presented with its original DTS sound disc, and it was amazing to hear the difference between that and Jaws‘ older sound technology.

I’d only seen Jaws once before, but I have a lot of love for Jurassic Park and I couldn’t resist what seemed to be a perfectly-matched double feature. Indeed, these two extreme “man vs. huge, terrifying creature with gigantic nasty pointy teeth” stories did go very well together. I have shark fear, so to me just the concept of Jaws is frightening. Spielberg pulls it off so well that I think I’d probably place it in the top five scariest movies I’ve ever seen. At one point while watching today, I literally jumped off my seat — like, I vaulted myself a few inches into the air and didn’t realize it till I felt my butt hit the chair on the way back down. Jurassic Park is also incredibly scary, especially the scene with the T. Rex and the kids in the car. I’ve always thought that was an outstanding sequence, masterfully put together for maximum terror, and watching it today re-confirmed how absolutely petrifying it is. Both movies build a sense of dread from the helplessness of humans facing off against these ancient-seeming creatures — because there’s undoubtedly something about sharks that seems prehistoric — that are huge, smart, pure predators. There’s also a feeling of invasion involved, as though the creatures have violated human space and time: the shark shouldn’t be in the waters near Amity; the dinosaurs, of course, shouldn’t exist at all.

But in Jurassic Park it’s man’s own arrogance that brings the dinosaurs to life. I love a good Frankenstein story and Jurassic Park definitely is one. Jeff Goldblum’s character asks: “What is so great about discovery? It is a violent, penetrative act that scars what it explores. What you call discovery, I call the rape of the natural world.” This recalls Victor Frankenstein’s description of himself as “always having been embued with a fervent longing to penetrate the secrets of nature.” Both Frankenstein and John Hammond violate the natural order, and the consequences of their actions are horrific.

One other thing I appreciated about Jurassic Park on watching it again today: the female characters, paleo-botanist Ellie and pre-teen computer nerd hacker Lex, are kind of great. It’s really been bothering me lately how many movies there are where the woman is just a prop there to be rescued by the guy. I know this has been going on forever, but I’ve found it even more annoying ever since I saw Kick-Ass, with its highly unsatisfying ending where SPOILER! super competent, awesome Hit Girl is deprived of her revenge. Ugh! Repeated exposure to the the trailer for the new Transformers movie — in which the female lead (I assume) never even speaks, but is only shown looking scared — probably hasn’t helped either. I think it’s fair to say Sam Neill’s character is the hero in Jurassic Park, but Ellie and Lex both have moments of excellence. When Lex manages to make the doors lock and prevent them all from being eaten by raptors, it’s a fantastic, empowering moment for a young girl who’s spent much of the movie scared out of her wits, but still manages to think on her feet in a difficult situation.

People in the opening credits aren’t supposed to die.

It’s been interesting reading what people are saying online today about last night’s episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones.  The episode, entitled “Baelor,” is the penultimate episode of Thrones‘ season, and featured the death of a major character. (Don’t worry: I’ll warn you before I spoil anything more than that.) Reactions are passionate and very mixed, ranging from “It was absolutely brilliant! This is the best show on TV!” to “I’ll never watch that show again and also, I’ve cancelled HBO.”

All this fuss about the death of a character brings to my mind Joss Whedon’s famous line about the writer’s duty to give the audience the story it needs, as opposed to the story it wants, or thinks it wants. Talking about how his fans’ reactions to his work affect him, Whedon said:

It always affects me. At the same time, I need to give them what they need, not what they want. They need to have their hearts broken. They need to see change. They hated Oz, and then they hated that he left. These things are inevitable. If people are freaking out, I’m good. If people are going, “Hmmm…well, that was fine,” I’m fucked. (Source.)

There’s no doubt here that Joss Whedon is a master at breaking fans’ hearts. I remember watching the first season of Angel and being absolutely devastated by Doyle’s death, so much so that I think I even stopped watching the show at that point. (I picked it up again during season three.) Doyle was in the opening credits, and was positioned as a main character on the show. He was featured in all the promotional material. He was given backstory. Most of all, he was a nice guy and the audience liked him. And then, in episode nine, he died. People were not happy: this article published at the time that sums up the reactions to Doyle’s death.

You could basically take that article, switch out “Doyle” for the name of the deceased Game of Thrones character, and get an accurate recap of the reactions to this most recent TV death. It seems that not much has changed in the 11 years since Joss Whedon killed off Doyle. (Sidenote: I can’t believe it’s been that long.) To paraphrase Zap2it’s TV Gal (Amy Amatangelo), you don’t kill people who are in the opening credits! It just isn’t done! TV Gal wrote this in reference to the shocking death of a major character in the first season of 24:

Didn’t they know the rules? People in the opening credits aren’t supposed to die. We now take it for granted that those who come in contact with Jack Bauer often don’t live to tell the tale. But in the show’s first season, it was a brave and risky move that proved no one is safe in Jack’s world and there would never be such a thing as job security on the popular FOX series. (Source.)

Looking at the anger the producers of Angel and Game of Thrones have faced over killing off major characters … well, yeah. Apparently axing an important and well-liked cast member is just about the bravest and riskiest thing a TV showrunner can do.

I understand being distraught and/or enraged about the death of a favourite character, but I’m no longer inclined to stop watching something just because a person I liked died, as I did back in the day with Angel. I don’t mind a little darkness in my stories. I don’t expect everyone to live happily ever after. Sometimes character death pushes a story forward in really fascinating ways. Angel (a different death), Six Feet Under, and Dexter come to mind. Having read the novel on which Game of Thrones is based, I know for sure that last night’s death was necessary.

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD! Behind the jump, the name of the character who died on last night’s Game of Thrones is revealed.

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