Thursday, May 27, 2010

Caterpillar Men

When I stepped outside to-day, on my way to the grocery store, I spotted Snow the Cat and a caterpillar. What follows is Snow's aggressive interview with the caterpillar.

For the record, the caterpillar seemed alive when I left it. Music's by Franz Liszt.

I've had a little extra time this week due to an unusually easy couple pages at the start of the next Venia's Travels, but I've had trouble enjoying it since I went on about how this is a full time job. I'd normally love a little free time to come my way, but now it fills me with fear and guilt.

But I saw Ridley Scott's take on Robin Hood last night. At first I was fine with it, happy just to watch some pretty footage of people doing things in mostly accurate medieval attire, though I was a bit disappointed by all the day for night shots. It was really nice to see a modern fantasy film not shot in New Zealand, which, don't get me wrong, is beautiful, but English forests do look different. Though I wish Scott had gone further than some of the apparently thinly wooded areas around London.

I was annoyed to read about Scott dismissing the Errol Flynn version as "cheesy", especially since, as Scott's film coldly unspooled in front of me like a rubber eel from a refrigerator, it was clear that all the credible-ish atmosphere, persons, and politics couldn't make up for the thing Flynn's version has and Scott's doesn't--passion.

I can't remember ever seeing a lead actor so asleep at the wheel as Russell Crowe was as Robin Hood and yes, as everyone is saying, too old and overweight. I thought about all the actors who would've been more suited for the role. Johnny Depp would've been good, though he'd probably have come off as too similar to Jack Sparrow. But it needed to be someone with a gleam in his eye, someone with an indomitable mischievous streak, which would have helped the film's otherwise gloom work by contrast. We needed a hero who pops in the atmosphere, not one who's dully swallowed by it. I complained about the prospect of Marion in chain mail in an action sequence, but it felt kind of necessary when I realised Cate Blanchett has way more personality than Russell Crowe. Which didn't make up for the lack of chemistry between the actors--when Crowe tells her he loves her, she smiles dimly as though she's thinking, "That's sweet. What a nice man."

I didn't have a problem with the historical inaccuracies, really--particularly not Marion's costumes, one of which featured a skirt split up the centre for riding. And it was nice seeing her hair uncovered most of the time, instead of always covered in public as per the requirements of modesty at the time. But other deviations from history might have led me to believe that Ridley Scott has a vicious hatred for the French if it weren't for the fact that The Good Year, an earlier film of his, hadn't been such a mud bath in idyllic French countryside.

In this version of Robin Hood, Ridley Why Didn't More People See Kingdom of Heaven? Scott gives us a mild running theme speaking against the crusades and tyranny, affirming the basic rights of all human beings with a significant part of the plot dealing with an early version of the Magna Carta. In the process, the French are turned into a vaguely Satanic, two dimensional race bent on invading England. In real life, King John's heavy taxation of the people was to fund conflicts in Normandy. In the movie, King John decides to dissolve the army and then tax the people for no reason whatsoever. The rift between Norman and Saxon, so prominent in the Flynn version, isn't mentioned in the new film. True, Flynn's version exaggerated the rift, but the almost total absence of it here is for the purpose of presenting a united English native people against the evil invading French, which leads to not only the English aristocracy not speaking French all the time (Richard the Lionheart could barely speak English in real life), it even suggests there's something scandalous about French being spoken in court. John's and Richard's mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, is in the film, still called Eleanor of Aquitaine, though the fact that Aquitaine is in France is carefully not mentioned among all the speeches about England for the English.

The French land in England with what appear to be medieval versions of World War II troop carriers--which I guess may have existed. I've googled a lot for my comic trying to find information about medieval boats and ships, and information is a little tough to find. But it does seem really unlikely to me that anyone would try to cross the English channel in flat bowed vessels powered by oars. But worse was Blanchett leading children into the fray on--I shit you not--ponies. I'm kind of okay with Marion in the battle at this point, but can you imagine the conversation that must have precipitated her bringing the kids? "Come along now, children, we're going to fight the French army."

And by the way, the Flynn film also still outstrips this one in terms of action sequences. The sword fight between Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone at the end is filled with more insane vigour than anything in Scott's version and cgi arrows can't begin to compete with stunt men wearing wooden blocks under their shirts getting hit with actual arrows.

There were really only two characters I liked in the new movie--William Hurt as William Marshal, a real knight I was delighted to see as I'd read quite a bit about him, and Max von Sydow as Walter Loxley. I mean, Max von Sydow as a knight, that's just great to see any time.

Otherwise, the movie's a confused, dispassionate mess. I don't think this is the kind of movie for Ridley Scott--he excels at mood and cool, not badass and rabble rousing.

I think he and Crowe were high while they were making the movie. A subtitle informs us two times that we're in Nottingham, the second time a guy a moment later says, "This is Nottingham."

Last night's tweets;

A pony army is forced from a shrub.
Blind women easily beat the godless.
Zombie Saxons is a freemason club.
Normandy fighting Normans is pointless.

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