Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Summer Blockbuster

May 18, 2008

It’s been quite some time since Indiana Jones last made it to the big screen. Partly it was because the age of the big-budget period blockbuster was fading, shunted aside in favor of overblown comic book adaptations and pussy independent dramas filled with angst and unsigned artists.

For years, a fourth Indiana Jones film has been in the works, with none of the principals involved reaching an agreement as to a serviceable and acceptable plot device. At one point, the plot was going to involve alien invaders, seeing the paranoid sci-fi B-movie theme a natural extension of the adventure pulp of the 30’s, but the idea was scrapped when they realized they had already done that when they produced Star Wars.

Of course, during this time several other plot lines and titles were proposed and ultimately discarded. Some of the examples are:

Indiana Jones and the Search For A Theologically Inspired Macguffin
Indiana Jones and the Search For Someone To Replace My Character That Isn’t Going To Die Of A Speedball Overdose This Time
Indiana Jones and the Not The Temple Of Doom.
Indiana Jones and the Search For Someone To Fill My Lipitor Prescription
Indiana Jones and the Quest To Determine Which Fast Food Outlet Best Exemplifies the Spirit of the Franchise And Award Them A Lucrative Scratch-Off Game Contract
Indiana Jones and the Search For A Plot George Lucas Isn’t Going To Completely Ball Up This Time
Indiana Jones And The Raiders of Calista Flockhart

They finally settled on Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, a menacing enough title that will be sure to provide ample opportunities for odd gadgets, period weaponry, and the dragging out and subsequent beating of the standardized action film formula.

To continue the franchise, the story had to advance a decade to the 1950’s, since even with all the advances in CGI in the past two and a half decades they can’t get Harrison Ford to look like he did in 1981. The new stand-in villains are the good old-fashioned Ruskies, trying to control the power of the crystal skulls to advance the People’s Republic above and beyond the capitalist menace. Or to be the big swingin’ dick at a Kiev discothèque. Either one, I suppose.

Sean Connery was approached to reprise his role in a cameo appearance as Henry Jones, Sr. However, Connery declined due to his decision to retire from acting, his commitment to the Scottish National Party, and the lack of opportunities in the provided script for his character to punch women in the yap for mouthing off too much.

There has been a lot of notoriously extreme secrecy in the production of the film, eclipsed only by Basic Instinct 2, the secrecy of which was so great no one went to see it. One of the extras from the film was sued by the executives after revealing details about the movie to a newspaper, and one person was sent to jail for stealing various documents related to the movie. However, the culprit who stole the plot from National Treasure to make the Crystal Skull is still at large.

I have a mixed record with the Indiana Jones movies. When I was a child of approximately ten, I happened to walk in on a network showing of the Raiders of the Lost Ark. The scene I was gloriously presented with was the one when the face of the evil Nazi henchman melted when the ark was opened, which my ten year old constitution reacted to by vomiting on the spot. To this day I can’t watch that scene without causing an unfortunate nauseas rush of repressed childhood memories; it also planted in me a deep-seated resentment of broadcast network censors, who were more than willing to deny me the rampant nudity in, say, Porky’s, but gleefully air the melting of a person’s face, the former being of much more interest to me at ten years old than the latter. (Still is, by the way.)

On the other hand, I was a big fan of the Last Crusade, believing that it had the right amount of humor and people defeating tanks on horseback that best represents the era.

I’ve never seen Temple of Doom because every time I put it in my VCR it spits it back out and does a dozen Hail Marys.

So the expectations of the fourth film in the franchise are pretty high. Most people are expecting an action-packed movie on par with the standard summer fare; some are expecting it to fulfill and advance the Indiana Jones character; and some are expecting it to be Sex and the City because their boyfriends tricked them into going. No one is going to be disappointed, though. Unless you’re that eventual government warehouse employee trying to get some overtime during an inventory control weekend who opens the Ark by accident. I suspect your health plan won’t cover face-melting.


I Am…Iron Man. I Plead No Contest.

May 4, 2008

This weekend, Iron Man opened up the box office with over $100 millions dollars in revenue, an indescribable amount of money for something I’ve never cared about more forcefully before in my life. The only thing positive to be said about this development is the fact that it prevented Made of Honor from opening up at number one, the mere existence of which is startling enough to me since I doubt very much it passed California’s strict emissions standards.

I’ve always been lukewarm towards comic books, and ever more so about movies based on comic books. My interest in comic books was pretty much limited into figuring out if paying $3.99 today for some confusingly-paced pseudo-philosophical half-baked storyline was going to be worth significantly more money in the near future as long as I shoved it in a non-acidic case and hid it in a crate in the attic to forget about for about three decades.

Comic book stories—at least the ones that sell—are primarily about superpowers, and each has to cook up either some absurdly original plot device to make it stand out or, if that seems a touch too hard, just make the superhero a scantily clad chick. I mean, seriously, the prevailing hero seems to be largely guys who got bit by lethargic roaches or are the reincarnated spirit of a moon jockey, or some scissor sister who is wearing as much spandex as she doesn’t have modesty. Add a healthy dose of childish hoogidy-boogidy and some scenes of incredibly graphic violence featuring green alien blood instead of the more standard red so it passes the strict Comic Book Code Of Making Sure The Comic Book Industry Never Seriously Competes With Any Other Form Of Modern Entertainment, and prepubescent teenagers and a rather alarming number of twenty and thirty years olds will lap it up.

Of course, I’m pretty much biased against anything that makes me work, and comic book stories make me work. If I am not already familiar with the background and concept of a superhero, I don’t want any part of it. I don’t want to have to go back and do homework about what kind of crime they fight or why they turned to superheroing as a career track just to enjoy it, even if that homework is digging out thirty year’s worth of overdramatic soap operas dressed up in macho costumes and laser beams so everybody seems a lot less gay than they otherwise would.

As far as I’m concerned, the alpha and omega of my comic book superhero world involves the following:


Superman
: Invincible, afraid of kryptonite, deflects suspicion by being the exact opposite of the definition of a superhero: a journalist.
Batman: Creepy guy that lives in a cave, drives a kickass car. Also: Mr. Mom.
Wonder Woman: Hasn’t had a period since 1967.
Green Lantern: I know absolutely nothing about the Green Lantern, but I know for certain he’s eventually going to be co-opted by the environmentalists and help fight villains such as the Merck Corporation.
Captain America: Closet commie
Spiderman: spins web, suspiciously agile, dates someone who is in reality the abstract personification of marijuana as long don’t tell your parents about it.
The X-Men: Nothing much more different than what I’ve seen on Bourbon street at two in the afternoon.
Power Girl: An awesome set of DDs.

(Just to save everyone the time, don’t bother writing and telling me how much of the above information I’ve got wrong. I can bet safe money that there are scores of fans out there wringing their hands and foaming at the mouth, stating loudly to no one in particular, “Spider-Man should be properly spelled with a hyphen!” While I respect the integral facets of decade’s worth of creative effort, I can’t in all honesty…care.)

So enters Iron Man, a superhero I knew next to nothing about prior to the release of the film. And what I did know what pretty much the fact that I am aware of the fact that the words “iron” and “man” are common words but are rarely used in conjunction with each other. Knowing that Robert Downey, Jr. portrays him in the film, it added a touch of preconceived notions about his character. This just won’t do, of course, so despite my better judgment I looked up the story behind Iron Man, and from what I can tell the following sums it up:

-Anthony Stark who, in reality, is a wealthy industrialist who rather than manage his immense personal fortune goes out to fight crime in a big iron suit.

-His iron suit is really an allegory of Cold War weapons and the immense amount of responsibility that comes with wielding so much destructive power. Or an allegory about the role of technology and how it affects an individual’s identity. Or an allegory about the manifestation of bourgeoisie culture in modern times or some complete horseshit like that.

-He spends most of his time protecting his copyright status by disabling other villains who use his iron man suit without express written permission and paying standard royalty rates.

-Despite popular conception, he has not lost his mind, he is not blind, he can walk, and he is alive. These were never really in question.

-Is bipolar, regularly drives around Sunset Boulevard naked, and ingests ten kilos of pure cocaine a day (movie version only)

I’ll probably eventually see it, if not for only the fact that this is the sort of thing everyone eventually watches anyway. For me, I’m waiting for the most sought-after super power of all: Original Idea Coming Out Of Hollywood Man. Hmm. Maybe I should just ask for an iron suit that shoots laser beams instead. That seems more likely.


The 80th Academy Awards: A Preview

February 17, 2008

Welcome to the 80th Annual Academy Awards! We hope.

This year’s Academy Awards were almost met with unmitigated disaster, even more so than the years that Whoopi Goldberg hosted. With the Writer’s Guild on strike, this meant that 1) there would be no jokes told; 2) most, if not all, of the actors, actresses, and Hollywood executives would boycott it; and 3) this would virtually assure that four fifths of the ceremony would be elaborately staged dance numbers, forcing everyone in America to get up and go to the bathroom for the duration and never come back. Granted, with all these problems, at least everyone could look forward to a show that wasn’t about nineteen hours long.

But, of course, a last-minute vote by the guild was taken and the strike has been lifted, meaning that the awards show will proceed as normal. Of course, this means that the show will be filled with a bunch of hurriedly written jokes and ideas that were hastily strewn together, but most analysts suspect there will be no noticeable decline in quality.

This year, the five best picture nominees seem to reflect an adequate cross-section of the motion picture industry, assuming that we’re not talking about action films, animated features, family movies, romantic comedies, science fiction, horror, anything religious, anything released before December 25th, or anything that isn’t warmed-over pretentious nonsense that goes out of its way to point out that America isn’t, the last anybody noticed, France.

This year’s Oscars are vastly different than last year’s because this year I have actually seem two of these movies, No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood. This is a drastic departure from years past, when the only way to see any of the movies nominated for best picture is to drive to an arthouse in Manhattan for one of the three showings available to the public before released in an overpriced “Collector’s Edition” DVD next September. So while I haven’t seen all the movies released this year, or in fact any movies at all except these two, I have a lot more insight than in the past about what movies may win. Though probably not.

Atonement: Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to say too terribly much about this movie, since I do not meet the strict requirements necessary to watch it, primarily because 1) I am not female. It is the story of a woman who falsely accuses some guy of rape, basically destroying about eighteen dozen people’s lives, who all sit around in period costumes lamenting about it for an eternity and a half. I think they actually watch the entire showing of The English Patient in its entirety in the middle of this movie. Supposedly there is some erotic activities involved in this movie, which I assume would be an incentive to go see it, but since this is set in England before the war I assume that the coupling takes place when both parties are fully clothed, approximately a hundred miles from each other, and in the presence of their valets who do all the actual work. Keira Knightly stars in this, a rising star that for some reason every guy in the world thinks is incredibly hot but I find her to resemble an anorexic emery board with about as much of the acting range.

No Country For Old Men: Joel and Ethan Coen’s adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s comic book (or, sorry, “graphic novel”), No Country is a modern western in the sense that it takes place primarily in Texas and the southwest and pretty much everyone who appears onscreen, up to an including the key grip whose reflection shows up in the car window, (spoiler alert!) gets shot. To be sure this isn’t too terribly much different than most modern crime dramas or the Philadelphia evening news, but it has the added bonus of Woody Harrelson showing up and wasting about twenty minutes of screen time that doesn’t appear to advance the plot in any meaningful way. Still, it’s one of the few chances moviegoers will get to see Tommy Lee Jones, at the end of the movie, deliver (spoiler alert!) an incredibly boring and meandering monologue.

Michael Clayton: See: Brockovich, Erin

Juno: While I haven’t seen Juno, I can gauge pretty well that this will be an awesome, awesome movie, since two of the nine hundred main characters in the television series Arrested Development, hands down the single greatest cultural achievement of mankind, star in it. Jason Bateman, of Valerie Hogan’s Mildly Extended Family or Some Nonsense Like That From The 80’s, and Michael Cera, recently of Superbad fame, both produce, I assume, excellent comic timing matched with equal parts wit, charm, and throwing the middle finger at America for not watching Arrested Development and forcing the greatest cultural achievement of mankind to be cancelled. Of course, it would be illegal for me not to mention that this movie, primarily about some girl that gets knocked up and her passive-aggressive attitude towards what to do with the situation, was written by a female named Diablo Cody who 1) started off as a journalist; 2) became a stripper; 3) wrote about being a stripper; and 4) then her movie got nominated for an Oscar. I’m pretty sure I’m missing some steps here, but for some inexplicable reason no one seems to really care, least of all her publicist.

There Will Be Blood: There Will Be Blood, based on Upton Sinclair or possibly Sinclair Lewis’s novel Oil!, is the tale of an aspiring oilman who, in the course of his business dealings, crosses a small-town preacher. The two of them form an intense dislike of each other so much so that the next two and a half hours of the movie are spent in a violent, no-holds-barred blood feud that eventually escalates to a massive, awe-inspiring, bloody massacre filled with cruelty, revenge, and excess brutality. That, of course, is a blatant lie. It’s mostly a drawn-out affair of psychological positioning and Daniel Day Lewis going batshit crazy on people by yelling odd things at them, which in and of itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Alas, I was fooled into thinking that a movie named There Will Be Blood would actually have some blood in it earlier than the two hour, thirty-two minute mark. Silly me.


2007 Holiday Movie Previews

December 9, 2007

It’s almost Christmas time, which of course means that many of the big-scale movie releases are coming out in the next few weeks just in time for the holidays and, oh, I guess the deadline for Oscar contention is December 31st, as well. How peculiar! Anyway, here is some important information about many of these new and recent releases:

Alvin and the Chipmunks: One of the season’s many animated motion pictures, this is the latest incantation of Alvin and the Chipmunks, a massive financial undertaking in what is the long and winding evolution of a novelty recording gimmick come to its logical conclusion: Jason Lee swallowing his self-worth and poop jokes. Early reviews have not been kind, effectively placing it, humor-wise, between Hotel Rwanda and A Brief History of Time. But the Chipmunks have at least one thing going for them: at least it can’t possibly be as big a pile of horseshit as Lions for Lambs.

The Golden Compass: Add one part Chronicles of Narnia, one part Lord of the Rings, one part Harry Potter and one part selling the concept to children of destroying the idea of Jesus Christ as the savior which has guided the population of the world for over 2,000 years by having polar bears with machine guns muck about with dust and Nicole Kidman’s rack and James Bond and a whole mess of other junk some kindergartener made up whilst wiling away the day on the school bus. At least I have to assume that is what it’s about, because I’m not gong to either see the movie or read the book, because I am not in the target demographic for this movie. Which, apparently, are seven-year-old secular humanists with no imagination of their own.

National Treasure: Book of Secrets is the sequel to National Treasure, a hit movie that was released sometime back in the Truman administration. It stars Nicholas Cage and some Random Foreign Girl in a hunt for a massive treasure hidden away via a series of cryptic clues left by the Founding Fathers, as if they needed something to occupy their time between fighting the British and creating a nation. In this edition, Cage must locate the legendary “Book of Secrets.” This book is rumored to tell all of the nation’s most alarming secrets that no one has been able to figure out, such as “This is as original as anything Dan Brown has written in the past ten years or so” and “Nicholas Cage can act.”

I Am Legend: This post-apocalyptic sci-fi cannibalistic dystopian thriller is just the kind of thing to get everyone in the holiday mood. It stars Will Smith, an individual whose career path is one of those mysteries akin to the Oak Island Treasure no one will ever figure out. Rapper from Philly to sitcom star to sci fi lead. The story of I Am Legend has been adapted several times for both television and film, but this will be the first time that the movie is viewed in the backdrop of 1) an allegory of the War on Terror’s impact on the soulless drag on society and the role of the interaction of religion and science on our lives, or 2) some kickass zombie CGI.

Juno: This is the tale of a young teenage girl who gets knocked up. That, uh, appears to be it. She’s also kind of a bitch, but the sweet kind of bitch that only Hollywood could come up with. It has a lot of content about fate, personalities, taking responsibility, and finding true love, but mostly it’s about watching Michael Cera do that goofy-dork act which is incredibly funny but is gonna get old and Robin-Williams level absurd if he doesn’t find a new trick soon. It also has J.K. Simmons, otherwise known as Emil Skoda on Law & Order, which means he should be announcing his candidacy for president any day now. The movie was written by Diablo Cody, a journalist-turned-stripper-turned-author, a career path everyone can agree is a lateral move all around.

Sweeney Todd: Another adaptation of a classic story, Sweeney Todd details the life of a serial killer barber who cuts the throats of innocent victims with a straight razor, then (I assume) sings about his killings or his highlights or Helena Bonham Carter’s cleavage or something. Steven Sondheim’s musical was an improbable success, an almost completely song-driven plot about a peculiar murderer. The crimes in the movie are fairly sensational and the production values are thought to be excellent. The real crime in this movie, though, is that Johnny Depp is still getting work.

Enchanted: The Disney Corporation takes on the most sacred of holiday traditions: The Disney Corporation. In a simultaneously self-referencing and self-mocking tale of love, redemption, and a dearth of competition from rival studios afraid of going up against the Golden Compass, Enchanted scored big at the box office. It essentially tells a tale of a princess banished to the real world, where there are no happy endings to nonexistent fairy tale lives, where animals do not sing but rather like to jump out in front of your car and irritate the Nationwide Insurance Company, and problems aren’t solved by a grandiose power ballad or a deus ex machina in the form of a wand or random magical article of clothing. However, the real world does province the next best thing, which is a $34 million opening weekend.


Hungry Like the ‘Wulf

November 18, 2007

Rising from the deep murkiness of the dark, soulless lake in Denmark or possibly Norway, I think, Beowulf returns. Just in time, I suspect, for the Christmas movie season.

When the classic poem Beowulf was written lies suspended in the swirling mists of historical inaccuracy, the target area of composition being in that questionable range of “between the eighth and tenth centuries,” a level of exactness I am used to hearing from weather forecasters and potential girlfriends when asked when our next date may be. Though to be fair at least the historians don’t leave one of the ends as a standing infinity.

It also has a rather unfortunate distinction of being, like Jessica Alba and Derek Jeter, of indeterminate origin. While apparently a strictly Anglo-Saxon composition, it’s clearly of Scandinavian influence, with extraneous slashes and a lot of talk about fishing boats and cell phones.

As a story, Beowulf is equal parts fascinating and rather unremarkable. A kingdom is ravaged by the monster Grendel, ironically one of the few characters of the poem that does not sound like it was composed out of the reject Scrabble letters. The monster, it seems, is unhappy with all of the singing and the celebration of the king’s warriors and subjects, Grendel apparently being a likely candidate as next year’s Resident Assistant. He patiently waits for the men to sleep, then sneaks in and eats a majority of the army.

Now at this point I have to stop and ponder. It seems rather odd that a monster would be able to sneak into a castle and eat a majority of the warriors. Even the drunkest of soldiers would probably elbow up perpendicular to the ground wondering what the fuss is about. I have to assume that either the king’s men were recruited during a shift change at the local Denny’s or someone was dropping Aqua Dots in the mead.

Beowulf, a warrior from a neighboring people, hears of the king’s plight. He offers his services, which the decimated king quickly accepts, and overcomes the beast by tricking the monster and ultimately killing him. Grendel’s mother, filled with an estrogen-fueled rage, assuming medieval Scandinavian monsters produce estrogen, comes to avenge his death, using pretty much the exact same game plan—waiting for the king’s men to sleep, then eats one of them. At this point one begins to suspect that the king’s men weren’t exactly resting up for the SATs. Beowulf quickly dispatches the matron by beheading her after being pulled down into the bottom of the lake and fussing about with +10 swords and immunity spells and a bunch of other weird crap like that.

Beowulf is named king of his own people in recognition of his bravery, and lives a long, boring life that is stretched out for what seems like two thousand couplets. Late in the stages of his life, though, one of Beowulf’s subjects and potential Mensa president sneaks into a dragon’s lair and steals a goblet of indeterminate worth. The dragon, awakening from his slumber, finds the object missing and reacts by burning half the world while tracking down the thief. Beowulf and a red-shirted accomplice with the extraordinarily non-masculine name of Wiglaf go after the dragon, since the remaining population is too frightened to join in the fun, and ultimately are victorious. Alas, Beowulf is mortally wounded and demands that he be buried with all of the dragon’s sizable treasure, ostensibly since the treasure is cursed but you and I both know it’s a not-so-subtle way of an elderly king being forced to fight a dragon saying to his subjects, “piss off, you ungrateful cowards.” And everything ends peacefully, except for Wiglaf, who somehow gets nothing but the shaft out of the whole deal.

Like most ancient literature, Beowulf is scarily one-dimensional. He is a warrior first and foremost, and, to be honest, second, third, and fourth. There aren’t any extended scenes where he describes his feelings to his therapist or higher being, no long talks with a sensitive brother or submissive female. It’s all about hacking, slashing, and the oft-alluded to hedonistic pleasures he will be granted to him upon his successful return, assuming that occurs.

Beowulf’s roster is full of oddly-named characters, as if someone spilled orange juice in the keyboard of the anonymously creative Saxon who wrote it centuries ago, and all the consonants stuck together every time he tried to type something. There’s Hroogar, Wealhpeow, Hygelac, Ecgtheow, Hrunting, and Yrs, none of which I am 100% positive aren’t actually swords or amulets instead of monsters or people.

Of course, there is a lot of interest in this poem recently, which is generally disregarded unless you are attempting to pass, or teach, 10th grade English. The reason, of course, is that a big-budget 3-D version of an ancient, extremely boring poem was released this weekend. Granted, this is an epic poem tailor-made for Hollywood—monsters and fighting and sci-fi-franchise-style money-making potential and a slot for a strong female lead that gets to both 1) seduce and 2) kill someone. The latter is filled by the box-office draw Angelina Jolie, who recently made headlines at the premier when she noted that she was “startled” about how naked she looked all big on the big screen, the actress apparently not having access to the Internet.

Anyway, hopefully the effect of the movie will at least have some positive effect on literacy, much like what Lord of the Rings did for getting students interested in the fantasy genre and High School Musical did for staying home from the theater and reading something. When you have a gripping story, a classic and rich cultural heritage, and an actress with a fantastic rack, it’s amazing what literature can do.


Workers of the World, Unwrite!

November 11, 2007

There’s something particularly odd about the Writers Guild of America strike. I mean, I understand the mechanics and the reasons behind the strike, but it’s extraordinarily difficult to work up a proletariat lather about Harvard graduates making $200,000 and up a year in a dream job because they’re not making a few cents every time someone in Madrid decides to watch streaming video of the Jimmy Kimmel show making fun of the mentally handicapped.

I actually do remember the previous writers’ strike, a little over twenty years ago, when I was in my formative years and pretty much the entire reason for my existence was very close to being destroyed. Television had effectively halted, and every frame of reference I had to American culture and life in general was about to be stopped cold, replaced with a so-called decathlon of comedy that threatened to replace my own core of being with the Billy-Connely era Head of the Class episodes. It took almost six months for the strike to end, a time I can only equate with the Bataan Death March in terms of horror and impact.

The most disappointing part of the strike is that if there is one thing that solidarity amongst comrades universally creates, it is a vaguely defined chant with which to slightly embarrass their bourgeoisie oppressors. Alas, even though these individuals are writers, their chants so far have been pretty lackluster. It’s been a week of such gems as “Hey, hey, ho, ho, royalties for internet streaming video and DVD compilations of sketches we have written have got to grow.” Apparently, being on strike means not writing, even if that means writing slogans directed at your corporate bosses, and the union bosses won’t allow the quality of writing to exceed anything above the level of USA Original Comedy Series.

The actual details of the strike are, like pretty much all sets of negotiations since the first shot was fired in Homestead, a series of increasingly mundane details that become astronomical in the aggregate. And, of course, it’s also a large part of corporations and union workers trying to swing their junk around like lightsabers to see what connects first and with the most impressive display of fireworks. In this case, it’s mostly a matter of royalties. The biggest issues are DVD sales and internet episodes, which writers get a small and zero amount, respectively. Writers are generally ranked well below the actors, directors, show runners, advertisers, costume designers, set designers, and random audience members in terms of respect, pay, and recognition.

The DVD issue is simply a renegotiation of an existing price. Currently, the rate set for residuals for the home video market was agreed to when VHS tapes were pretty much the province of pornography and what I can assume four billion versions of Gallagher stage shows, neither of which tend to rely on the expertise of writers. As time as gone by, of course, VHS and then DVD sales have exploded to the point where it is many times higher than the actual box office and first-run network television. The writers are contending that the rate should be doubled…from four cents to eight cents, approximately, a figure that is almost comical in its minutia until one realizes the sheer number of copies of Lost that have been sold this season, at least in terms of how many used sets I see for sale in college fire sale pamphlets.

The other main issue, internet episodes, is probably of more concern. Currently, writers get a big goose egg in terms of royalties. The studios are concerned that these episodes are mostly an unknown commodity; the internet itself has just now set up a shaky alliance of funding in the form of unstable Google Sense ads, tiered paid access, and elaborate pyramid schemes that apparently hinge on sending email greeting cards en masse.

Many actors, producers, and other Hollywood elites have joined in support of the strike. One of the stranger alliances is that of Jesse Jackson. This does seem to be a bit odd since Jackson’s presence seem to fit too diametrically opposing entities, his role as a defender of African-American interests, and the interests of network television, the collective lot of whom could easily be mistaken for the audience at a Fallout Boy concert.

While the strike continues, one individual is trying to work behind the scenes to see if an agreement can be reached: Arnold Schwarzenegger. He seems oddly appropriate for the role; since he is an actor, he has a somewhat legitimate reason for being involved (though, certainly, not as a writer, unless you count that article for the Nietzsche Review he wrote decades ago) and, as a politician, would like to broker (and, not coincidentally, take credit for) an issue that has effectively been grinding a rather major industry in his state to an embarrassing halt. Whether he will be successful or not remains to be seen. In the meantime, a rather informative documentary about unfunny lesbians called Caroline in the City is about to start. I hope it’s good, because 22 weeks is a long, long time.


Just D’oh It

July 26, 2007

The Simpsons has been on for a long time. I mean, irritatingly long, as in kids who are graduating high school this year have never lived in a world where Fox wasn’t producing new episodes. And that just makes me feel very, very old, the same reason I dislike telling people what magazines I subscribe to and going to the mall on Saturday nights.

Anyone from my generation can tell you when they first watched The Simpsons. It’s just like the Kennedy assassination or the time Sally Wiggin went on the air without her makeup; everyone knows the time and the place of their first viewing of this remarkable animation.

Well, okay, I don’t. I remember watching the first episode about Santa’s Little Helper, but I also watched the shorts on the Tracy Ullman Show, and I have no conceivable reason to remember when I first watched this. All I remember is that it wasn’t Scooby Doo and it wasn’t the Snorks, thank goodness, but I certainly didn’t know what the hell it actually was and I knew I wouldn’t get half the jokes until I was in my early adulthood, which at that time was approximately 2,000 years away.

It was revolutionary in more ways than one. It was a cartoon aimed at adults. Sure, there was the Flintstones, and on a bad day you could spend an afternoon reading the cultural subtext of Inspector Gadget. But c’mon, cartoons were produced foremost for kids, what with their bright colors, nonsensical situations, and devotion to supporting an industry that pays Malaysians about ten cents an hour to color in cells. This wasn’t Bugs Bunny dressing like a cocktail waitress or Mickey Mouse chasing jogging dandelions or whatever the hell that fruit was doing in Fantasia; this was jokes told by badly drawn yellowish folks about the perils of middle age, the gifted program, the boredom of the suburban housewife, and electroshock therapy.

And today’s kids, processing South Park at a normal rate of shock and awe, have absolutely no idea the impact The Simpsons had on the parents of the day. Bart’s deviance was nothing new to television; youngish scamps getting in trouble was a tired plot device back in the tube’s glory days before TV was even invented. The difference was that back then, youngish scamps who got in trouble repented after an appropriate punishment was metered out, like being grounded or ratting out commies. But in Bart Simpson’s world, he wasn’t only an underachiever, but he was, as a T-shirt so eloquently put it, proud of it, man.

Simpsons apologists cranked up their noise level, pointing out that Edgar Allen Poe was an opium addict and Lewis Caroll enjoyed the company of youngish girls, apparently hoping to point out that while Bart may sass his elders, at least he’s not high and hitting on Girl Scouts. Still, promoting charging $12 for a plastic key chain that says “Don’t Have A Cow, Man” in a muffled Nancy-Cartwrightish voice that cost about a quarter to make isn’t exactly a dismissible crime, either.

What makes The Simpsons so peculiar is how they’ve managed to keep it fresh and topical for so long. Here, I am assuming that you stopped watching The Simpsons around 1996 or so. The Simpsons, like many other television programs, tend to rely on formula to crank out season after season of programming. As a general rule, episodes were structured as thus:

1. Some completely arbitrary series of events concludes with the introduction of some current hot social topic, like gay marriage or influenza;
2. Homer screws it up;
3. A secondary character utters some random line every ultrafan on the intraweb will have as their signature for the next month;
4. Lisa has a solution she presents as pretentiously as possible;
5. Several self-referencing jokes are made;
6. A celebrity voice unrelated to the plot is crammed into the show’s sequence;
7. Some random deus ex machina wraps everything up;
8. Joseph Barbera dies just a little inside.

The culmination of all 400 episodes so far produced the holy grail of Simpsons fans: the Simpsons Movie. Even thought the plot is largely an expanded version of a regular episode, and the animation is a touch crisper, it permits the writers to expand their creativity to fit the big screen, a format known to encourage creativity, as evidenced by this summer’s blockbusters Live Free and Die Hard, Evan Almighty and Air Bud 8: Dog Plays Lacrosse Or Some Other Shit Like That. Actually, I strongly suspect it’s going to have the humor quotient of a regular episode, expanded out to about an hour and a half, and you gotta pay eight bucks to see it. Still, it will be nice to see what happens when writers and animators are no longer restricted by the medium of televsion and are given a chance to be creative that they would not find anywhere else, except perhaps HBO. Or books. Or the comics. Or straight-to-DVD collections. Or basic cable. Hmm. Perhaps the motion picture industry will be presented with a very cromulent opportunity, after all.