(Today is my son’s birthday. He is 11. He’s working on a novel, and asked me to post the first few chapters to get feedback. Ideas for titles are also welcome.)
2000 hrs, Military Headquarters, California
Adrian, 31, 2/10/16
“And…Fire!” the training officer yells. I shoot at the target and hit it in the center. I’m a fairly better shot than the rest of my team. I don’t know why, it’s not like I’ve been training longer, in fact most of them have been training much longer than me. We’re specially trained black ops Marines and have been in the military most of our lives.
“Nice shot, Adrian,” our training officer compliments me.
“Thank you sir,” I say.
“Okay Marines, report to the obstacle course station” our training officer orders us. By us, I mean my team, we’re Delta Squad, and there are seven of us. Me and Sam are the riflemen, Henry is the sniper, Alyx is the engineer, Marolyn and Jacob are the submachine gunners, and Carter is the commanding officer.
We head to the obstacle courses, which consist of tubes to climb through, barbed wire to crawl under, far jumps, and walls to vault over. When we’re done a voice speaks out of the loud speakers: “Delta Squad, report to Hanger A.”
I took my son Sam (10) to see The Hunger Games. This is the result.
I showed my son Sam (9) Spider-Man. The following conversation occurred at the climax of the movie.
NORMAN OSBOURNE: (to Peter Parker) Peter! How could you? I was like a father to you!
PETER PARKER: I had a father. His name was Ben Parker.
SAM: Wait, his dad and his uncle had the same name?
I blame Disney for marketing A Christmas Carol during the Halloween season. Sam (8) has gotten interested in scary movies, but he’s gotten them all mixed up in his head, which is easy enough, I guess, since he hasn’t seen any of them.
It all began with a commercial for Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights, which featured a 20-something guy walking into a deserted, decrepit theater lobby. He’s menaced by the doll from Saw, then Chucky from Child’s Play, then finally a guy in a pig mask, also from Saw. The pig-mask guy has a blade that shoots out from his sleeve and the commercial ends with the pig-mask guy (presumably) slashing the throat of the 20-something guy.
Sam (8), immediately after seeing Where the Wild Things Are:
UPDATE: My wife Sara tells me that Sam is not, in fact, a fan of the book Where the Wild Things Are. (This doesn’t surprise me, I wasn’t either when I was his age.) His actual quote: "I mean, the book is one thing, but this!" The fact that the movie now threatens to knock no less than Jurassic Park off his best-of list makes the movie’s achievement that much more impressive.
UPDATE: Sam and his friend Rahi (7) have proclaimed Where the Wild Things Are "the best movie ever made in the history of everything."
Sam (7) and I were watching the groundbreaking series Planet Earth the other day, the "Shallow Seas" episode. To give a little shape to its eye-popping array of fabulous images of animals doing things, "Shallow Seas" incorporates a little tiny "plot:" a mother humpback whale gives birth to a calf at the Equator, then hangs out with it for five months while it gets big, then swims with it to the North Pole, where the seas are rich with whatever humpback whales eat. In this arduous five-month period, the mother humpback eats nothing.
Anyway, Sam and I are watching "Shallow Seas," and they tell us about the mother humpback and her devotion to her calf, and then they tell us about coral reefs and sea-snakes and brittle stars and a whole bunch of other critters, and then they come back to the mother humpback and her calf and "check in" with them, as they’re heading north on their long trek.
And Sam says: "Wait. Did they follow this humpback and her calf all the way from the Equator to the North Pole? Why would they do that? Wouldn’t it make more sense to shoot one humpback and calf at the Equator, then go to the North Pole and find another humpback and calf that just kind of looks like the first one? I mean, it’s not like anybody could tell the difference."
Already a producer.
They were created as part of a class project studying "the harbor." The "harbor project" involved building a room-sized harbor out of wooden blocks, which each child building his or her own model boat — ferries, freighters, tugboats, fishing boats, pleasure craft, ocean liners — and then operating that boat within the "real world" of harbor commerce — for instance, Sam would collect money from exporters to haul cargo to Hawaii, and would pay a fee to the tugboat who took him out of the harbor and into the ocean, and also to the child who operated the dock in Hawaii, and so forth. It was pretty freakin’ awesome (each child also built their own fully-functioning lighthouse), but for me his evocative, vivid, carefully rendered painting of the freighter disaster was the high point of the show. Where most of the kids were content to present their subjects in a straightforward, "documentary" way ("I am a buoy, I keep the ships from running aground," etc) Sam both placed his subject into a narrative, and further, decided to make the narrative a disaster story, in the tradition of the disaster songs of the early 20th century, such as "The Ship Titanic" ("it was sad when the great ship went down").
(Sam, 7, has been keen on Jurassic Park ever since he saw a fleeting image from it in a video store at age 3. He has now seen all three movies several times and owns the soundtrack, the themes of which he can be heard to sing incessantly around the house. His interest in Indiana Jones is more recent — he first saw Raiders of the Lost Ark less than a year ago -- but is no less strong. The first name in filmmaking he learned was George Lucas, but the second was Steven Spielberg, and it is Spielberg who has had the much greater impact, as we will see.)
SAM. Is there going to be a Jurassic Park IV?
DAD. I don’t know. They’ve been planning one for a long time, but I don’t know if they’ll ever make it.
SAM. What do you think it will be about?
DAD. Well, I actually know something about that.
DAD. Yeah. I’ve heard — now mind you, this is only what I’ve heard — that in Jurassic Park IV, a the government breeds raptors to carry out commando raids.
DAD. That’s what I’ve heard.
SAM. Could they do that?
DAD. Um, sure, I guess. Velociraptors are pack hunters, they must be about as smart as dogs, you could probably train them if you started from birth.
SAM. What if — oh! — What if they train velociraptors to be commandos, and then send them back in time to fight the Nazis?
DAD. Well dude, that sounds like the greatest idea in the history of movies.
SAM. (really rolling now) And, how come there haven’t been any water dinosaurs in the Jurassic Park movies?
DAD. I don’t know, they should really –
SAM. Because, it could be like, the opening of the movie, there could be the island, right, and there’s a T-Rex walking on the shore, and he’s hunting somebody, right? And he’s just about to strike and suddenly a Megalodon jumps out of the water and grabs the T-Rex off the beach and drags it into the water!
SAM. A giant shark jumps out of the water, grabs the T-Rex, comes completely out of the water and then splashes back down into it! How many times do you think people have seen that in a movie?
DAD. Most people? Probably never.
SAM. Do you think it’s too much to have the Megalodon and the Nazis in the same movie, or should we save one of them for Jurassic Park V?
Both Sam (7) and Kit (5) are in their “interested in Ancient Egypt” phase. Over dinner, I asked them if they knew about the Riddle of the Sphinx. They had not, so I explained.
DAD. Okay. So. I’m a Sphinx, and you want to get into the city of Thebes. If you answer my riddle correctly, you get to go in. If not, I eat you. Ready?
DAD. Okay. This is the riddle: In the morning I go on four legs, at mid-day on two, and in the evening upon three. What am I?
SAM. You’re a sphinx!
I took my kids Sam (7) and Kit (5) to see The Clone Wars. I’ve been reading so much invective directed against this movie, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. Online voices are torn: some people seem to hate it, some people seem to merely dislike it, some people feel it is a monstrous act of betrayal. My favorite, a hysterical non-review by “Moriarty” at Ain’t-It-Cool-News, is so full of hurt and anger that it goes so far as to insist that the reviewer will never write about Star Wars ever again — You hear him? Never! Take that, George Lucas! Moriarty shuts the Iron Door.
I went in fully braced for an atrocity, a soul-scorching, childish, grating, dead-end cinematic nightmare.
Sorry haters — it’s actually not bad. It’s actually pretty good.
Well, I think neither is true. The movies — the six movies — are what they are. The Clone Wars isn’t pretending to be Episode II & 1/2, it’s its own thing. It makes that clear right off the bat: the music is different, the introduction is spoken instead of written, and the characters have been dramatically re-designed. This is all intentional, and the result, while less grand, less “important,” is more colloquial and human-scaled. (I’m a little baffled by the fans who think the Genndy Tartakovsky Clone Wars shorts are somehow “better” than Episodes I-III — they strike me as very much Genndy Tartakovsky shorts — jaw-dropping fights, no plot, and The Clone Wars kicks their ass around the block.)
The older fans think that Episodes I-III are bad enough, but The Clone Wars is just gratuitous salt in the wound. Well, I don’t know how to break it to those folks, but Sam has seen all six movies many times, and his favorite is Revenge of the Sith, followed by Attack of the Clones, followed by followed by Return of the Jedi. A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back don’t even make the list. Sam talks about Anakin Skywalker all the time, the battle on Mustafar and the slaughter of the Sandpeople and the fight in the droid factory and the arena on Geonosis. He reads Clone Wars Adventures and counts the animated shorts as canon. That is Star Wars to my 7-year-old, and The Clone Wars was an absolute feast for him, all Anakin and droid battles and crashing spaceships and well-staged, bloodless carnage. He watched The Clone Wars with a look on his face like he was worried that he was never going to remember all the cool stuff he was seeing. Both he and Kit loved the battle droids and their charming stupidity, they both loved Stinky the Hutt and felt genuine concern for his health. (Sam even checked with me afterwards to make sure if he had an accurate understanding of the “ticking clock” concept: he said “When Anakin had the Huttlet, and it was getting sicker and sicker, didn’t that make it more dramatic, because you didn’t know if they were going to make it back to Tatooine in time to save him?”) They’re too young to get the joke of a Hutt who sounds like Truman Capote (both of them thought Ziro the Hutt was a female, but they cheerfully went along with it when they found out he was not). I’ve read reviews by people disgusted by the idea of a stereotypical gay Hutt, or disgusted at the idea of a stereotypical black Hutt, or a stereotypical “Mammy” Hutt, all of which only proves to me that the joke went over these folks’ heads.
And both my kids love Asoka, the girl Jedi who acts as Anakin’s protege and foil. And you know what? I love her too — she’s a great character, the teenage girl who seems to be the only person in the galaxy who doesn’t seem that impressed with Anakin Skywalker. She gets a lot of screen time, she’s a girl of action, she’s smart and funny and she doesn’t take shit from anyone, much less Anakin. (Okay, she’s stuck holding the baby for a stretch, but credit where credit is due — she’s a huge improvement over the whining, helpless Padme of Sith.)
I’m also really impressed with the look of the thing. Sure, it looks cheap — we’re not talking about Wall-E here — we’re not even talking about Kung-Fu Panda, but the animators have taken the limitations of their budget and turned it into an asset. They do exactly what animators on a budget should do, they lean into their limitations, they make the characters look like they’ve been carved out of wood and then painted with some kind of sticky, quick-drying paint, which makes them both strongly stylized and minutely detailed. Take, for example, the lipstick on Asajj Ventress — she’s got these cruel black lips, but in close-ups we can actually see that her lipstick isn’t applied evenly: it gets caught in the creases of her mouth and, here and there, doesn’t actually make it out to the edges of her lips. Similarly, Asoka’s face paint looks like it’s been applied in layers over a period of time — she’s got streaks and splotches here and there, and in other places her salmon-colored skin shows through.
If there is a complaint to be made, it’s that, for a feature film, there’s a lot of plot but nothing of consequence. Nobody important dies, there are no dramatic reveals or reversals, we don’t find out that Anakin is really a woman or that his father is really a B’omarr Monk. Essentially, it’s a lot of busywork, a bunch of “plot,” at the end of which everyone goes back to doing what they were doing when the movie started. And, as the movie is mostly plot, let me hasten to add that the plot is well-executed, well-paced, and fun to watch.
What The Clone Wars resembles is a pilot for a TV show, which it is, which is bad news for your feature-film dollar. But what it also resembles is my son’s home-made Star Wars movies, where he lines up the characters and then just lets them have at each other, with titanic battles and shifting alliances and dramatic duels and last-minute rescues and jaws-of-defeat victories. The older fans are outraged that Star Wars keeps getting diminished, but to my eyes The Clone Wars really is a new beginning, a redefinition for a different medium.