Bits And Pieces

My sister-in-law is partway through her final check of the Action Figures manuscript, and so far the errors are few and far between. She probably won’t be done by the end of the month as hoped, but as long as I can meet my goal of getting the book out to the public sometime in August, I can deal.

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The willing suspension of disbelief is always an interesting study in contrasts, and my wife and I had some stark differences of opinion about Pacific Rim, which we saw on Saturday. I grew up on Japanese movies and cartoons featuring giant monsters and robots fighting it out, so the movie was great fun for me; I wanted big-ass robots fighting big-ass monsters, and that’s what I got, and I was content.

Veronica, however, couldn’t forgive the idea that the best way to fight gigantic city-wrecking monsters was with titanic robots that, for the most part, did nothing but punch them. She thought it was stupid, and yeah, from a very practical, realistic perspective, it is a dumb idea…but I didn’t bat an eye because, in the context of this movie, it made perfect sense.

The irony is when we went to the theater the next day to see RED 2, which she enjoyed a lot and I found entertaining enough, but not great. I reminded her that the original RED featured Bruce Willis stepping out of a car in mid-spin and, somehow, avoiding having his legs swept out from under him by the tail end by walking at a normal pace, and John Malkovich shooting an anti-tank rocket out of the air with a handgun. Those things, she had no problem with.

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After sitting on my Netflix queue forever, I fired up SyFy‘s The Dresden Files series from 2007. I expected some changes from Jim Butcher‘s novel series (one I recommend picking up, BTW, because the books are damned addictive) because of the jump from printed medium to visual, but I’m finding myself struggling to like the TV version.

I understand that a straight adaptation of the series might have been problematic due to the depth of the source material and the limitations of the budget (which are very obvious at times), and a more streamlined version made the show more practical to produce and more accessible to non-fans, but some of the changes feel arbitrary or not fully thought out.

The changes I like, or at least am okay with:

* Giving Bob the skull — in the novels a spirit of knowledge who appears mostly as, well, a skull — a human appearance and making him more of a sidekick. The novels are told from a first-person perspective, so a lot of the text is Harry Dresden’s internal monolog. Having Harry self-narrate constantly would get annoying fast, so having someone to talk to addresses the issue.

* Turning Harry’s staff and blasting rod into a hockey stick and a drumstick. I’m only partway through the 12-episode run, so this may be addressed at some point, but it looks like the show made Harry’s distinctively wizard-y tools more mundane in appearance to explain why he carries them around Chicago and no one much bats an eye.

Changes I don’t like and/or don’t get:

* Changing Lieutenant Karrin Murphy — Harry’s Chicago PD connection — into Connie Murphy. The name change has no point.

* The same goes for the White Council, the wizarding world’s inner circle, into the “High Council.” I think viewers could have grasped the concept without the name change.

* Back to Lt. Murphy: she has a kid in the show. In the books, her lack of interest in becoming a parent is a rather significant element of her character. Again, having seen only about half the run, the son may become a story point, and it strikes me as the only reason why the show gave her a child: for the sake of a future storyline.

* The magic. The rules of magic in the TV setting, if they exist, are unclear, and Harry doesn’t use much magic. In five episodes he’s used his staff once, his shield bracelet once, his blasting rod (his “magic wand” in the show) twice (in a situation in which he should not have even had it on him), his pentacle not at all, and other applications of spellcraft have been few and far-between. I imagine budgetary constraints played into this.

I could go on at length, but I won’t. I’ll probably watch the show through (it’s only 12 episodes) and then go back to devouring the books.

Spoiler Theater: Undead or Alive

The inspiration for this post is my need to vent about an example of what I view as an absolutely tragic choice by a writer. What follows is an analysis of that choice, which reveals the end of the movie, so if for some odd reason you’re keen on checking out a horror-comedy entitled Undead or Alive: A Zombedy, stop reading now.

So, last night I fired up the topic of my discussion on Netflix for some background noise, as is my practice. The concept is simple: zombies in the Old West. Okay, I can get behind this. And it was co-written by Glasgow Phillps, a former staff writer for South Park, which gave me hope this might actually be funny.

Not so much, but my gripe isn’t with the forced, flat, and sometimes too-juvenile-for-its-own-good humor, but with the climax of the film.

SPOILERS BEGIN HERE!

In this setting, the zombie plague is the result of a curse placed on the white man by Geronimo (just roll with it), and the only way to negate the curse is to have to cursed individual consume the flesh of the man who cast the curse — or, lacking that person, a blood relative.

At the end of the movie two of the heroes, Elmer (James Denton) and Luke (Chris Kattan), become infected and turn into zombies, then go after the third protagonist, Susan (Navi Rawat), to satisfy their unholy hunger. They face off. Sue, armed with a cavalry saber and resigned that her former friends are now the undead, charges in, ready to fight.

What’s important to note here is that Sue is Geronimo’s niece.

Take a guess what happens.

If you guessed that the movie jump-cuts to our heroes Elmer and Luke, no longer zombies, sitting atop their horses and lamenting in a very cavalier and off-handed way that it was a shame they had to eat Sue, you’d be right.

Up until this point, the story played out very much like any other mismatched buddy adventure with the standard romantic attraction subplot thrown in (between Luke and Sue in this case). Sue was portrayed as far smarter and more competent than her male counterparts, and her motivation was stronger: she was out for vengeance against the Army regiment that slaughtered her people. On the other hand, Elmer was an Army deserter and thief, and Luke was a jilted suitor who threw in with Elmer after the two of them broke out of jail and assaulted the local sheriff.

In other words, Sue was a better, more likable, more sympathetic character than the de facto heroes who, in the end, killed and ate her and afterwards acted like it they’d just gotten take-out at McDonald’s. They were even debating good-naturedly what the aftertaste of her flesh reminded them of before literally riding off into the sunset.

It was a scene shockingly devoid of emotion. Yes, it was a comedy — and because it was a horror-comedy hybrid, it’s something of a dark comedy by default — but to so callously dispose of a main character like that was a terrible call by Phillips and his co-writer Scott Pourroy.

They had many other viable options. Elmer had been infected first, during the obligatory final battle with the zombie horde (a mix of the Army regiment Elmer left and random bad guys) and he had an opportunity to go out a hero. The plan was to blow up the fort and the zombies along with it, and Elmer could have stayed behind to set off the explosives after Luke and Sue escaped.

This ending would have brought the character arcs to logical and satisfying conclusions. Elmer, who left the Army because he found its practice of indiscriminately slaughtering Native Americans repugnant, would have enacted revenge against the Army on Sue’s behalf and atoned for his own sins. The milquetoast Luke, who really wanted nothing more than to find love and happiness, would have found it in Sue, who would have laid to rest her all-consuming hatred of the white man.

Instead, the writers opted to force a ridiculous and, on many levels, repulsive twist ending, and for what? One last cheap gag that fell on its face?

One of the greatest sins any writer can commit is the abandonment of characterization for the sake of forwarding the story, and that sin is amplified when characters who have behaved consistently throughout a story do an abrupt 180 for the sake of a joke. This offense is particularly great in Luke, who wept like a girl whenever he suffered even a mild emotional blow but apparently was very comfortable with cannibalizing a woman he was in love with.