Sunday, October 28, 2012

A bit of a rant about Joss Whedon's fans vis-a-vis his Romney parody video

Okay, I admit it, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is pretty cool – uneven, but some of the episodes are among the best in television (Hush, Once More, with Feeling stand out, IMO) and I liked Angel even better overall (Smile Time is among the funniest things ever put on television, and I'm counting the Thanksgiving episode of WKRP in Cincinnati and the Futurama's Roswell That Ends Well). But sometime around Firefly, well, it was clear there was a cult of personality going on. I don't particularly like Firefly and when people ask me why, I go, “The sexism.” Then, with near 100% reliability, Firefly fans say, “There's no sexism! Kaylee! River!” And I go, “Mal publicly and frequently sexually humiliates Inari by calling her a whore . . . and this causes her to fall in love with him. That's sexism. That isn't near the line. It's so far over the line that it can't see the line from orbit.” While this (with almost 100% reliability) gets them to concede the point, it seems to do little to dent their uncritical praise for Whedon's work. And I won't even get into Dollhouse and the whole prostitute-assassin-rape thing. Or even how embarrassingly stupid The Avengers is (though it most certainly is very stupid). I'm not saying Whedon is a talentless hack, I'm just saying he doesn't walk on water and I think much of his career is currently being sustained by the goodwill generated by Buffy that has transformed into a cult of personality. I'm sure that if almost anyone else had written a movie as bad as the Avengers, someone would have noticed.

Right here is a convenient place to show both Whedon's strengths and weaknesses as a writer. I'm not considering his acting, which is wooden, because that's not my point (and isn't the problem with the piece, anyway). The problem is that this joke is about a minute too long. Whedon spends about a minute belaboring the ways in which Romney's policies will bring about a zombie apocalypse. Except for Romney's unrestrained embrace of corporations, it was unnecessary and didn't build comedic tension but drained it due to the transparency of the humor. He essentially repeated things that are known about Romney, that are repeated by Obama's campaign ad nauseum. 

The basic premise is good. The zombie apocalypse bit is quite funny. But at two and a quarter minutes? Man, a joke has to be as good as The Aristocrats to be that long.  (I'm sure there are many versions of it on YouTube, if I recall, Bob Saget's is particularly good, but his, Gottfried's and Silverman's are all worth listening watching – or just watch all of Penn and Teller's The Aristocrats, great flick).

Because of it's unnecessary length, furthermore, it fails as political satire. For political satire to work, it's gotta hurt. With a premise as absurd as a zombie apocalypse, you've got to strike fast or you'll lose the audience you're trying to satirize. A Romney supporter, watching this video, will be taken aback by the zombie apocalypse thing and right then, right there, in that moment of shock, is when you've got to hurt them. Whedon should have employed his best weapon, the corporate line, immediately. Otherwise, you're allowing them to recover and go, “This is just a guy repeating the same ol' Democratic line.”  Which he is.  By the time he gets to Romney's worship of corporations, they've fully recovered. He went for a grind instead of a finish and lost on points.

This is the basic pattern of much of Whedon's work – it has moments of sharp wit but it's in between all this other stuff which is not so good. Which isn't a problem for Whedon, in the sense that no writer lands the knock-out punch every swing. Even brilliant writers, like Mark Twain, have good and bad days. Whedon did give us Buffy, he did give us Angel, he certainly owes no one anything, artistically speaking. I'm just annoyed that people praise his works while seeming to willfully ignore his flaws.

Friday, October 19, 2012

How Awful is the Battleship Movie?

Battleship was worse than I thought it would be.

First, the protagonist is a fuck up aged 26 who is bullied by his brother to go into the Navy (as he is in the Navy). I thought that meant “enlisted” but at the movie's beginning he is an officer. Now . . . there are three ways to become an officer. The first is to go to the Naval Academy, the second is the Naval ROTC program and the third is to serve as an enlisted sailor for years with distinction and go to Officer's Candidate School.

The Naval Academy is a hard to get into school. Not only do you need the kind of grades and SAT scores of top Ivy League schools, you need things like a letter from your congresscritter. The NROTC program is basically a scholarship program, merit based, meaning that you need, again, a great high school career. Fuck ups do not get into either.

Then the fuck up officer fucks up and is told he's going to be kicked out of the Navy. His response is, “Oh, golly, I'm so ashamed” and not “Yay! I hated this job, it was a bad fit and I was bullied into it in the first place!” I mean, SHOCKER, a job a dude was bullied into doesn't work out.

Then they call the battleship Missouri the “greatest warship in US naval history”. That's . . . almost offensive. The greatest warship in US history is either the USS Constitution or the USS Monitor. I'd tend to say the Constitution, myself, a Revolutionary War ship that repeatedly won engagements with better armed and more numerous British warships. Considering the time, that was pretty epic. The Monitor was the victor against the CSS Merrimac in the Civil War. The battle was a technological turning point, the death of sail powered, wood hulled warships for steam powered, steel hulled ships.

The Missouri, on the other hand, was obsolete when constructed. It was just a leftover from the early 20th century's focus on big ships. Everyone knew, militarily, real sea power was with aircraft carriers and submarines and everything else was just support for aircraft carriers and submarines. Battleships were always kind of pointless, an egotistical race for side. Easy to target, slow to maneuver, with guns that could not track small, fast ships, they were always utterly pointless. Even for the wars in which the Missouri served, it was militarily insignificant.

But then, cut to the female romantic lead, who is a physical therapist (they probably found “nurse” too cliched, but clearly did not stray far afield) talking to this dude who had his legs blown off in Afghanistan. He's got a bad attitude because, y'know, he has lost his legs and IS SURROUNDED BY CONDESCENDING IDIOTS. He is introduced in physical therapy being told by a dull eyed therapist to correct his form on his artificial legs and to focus. I know different people respond differently to motivation, but a whole hell of a lot of us, when we're tired and in pain, really, really object to people telling us what we already goddamn know.

Then the new pretty white lady therapist shows up and says he's still the same man who won the Golden Gloves and was an elite soldier. That's . . . an awful thing to say to a guy who's lost his legs. Because those are precisely the kinds of things he can't do, anymore. Your stick and move really suffers when you've got not fucking legs. And, of course, the Army puts you on 100% disability when your legs get blown off. He will never be a boxer nor soldier, again. Saying he's the same man is just wrong. And cruel. He has suffered a terrible, permanent injury that is preventing him from doing many of the things he loves.

Of course, in the end, he'll get an attitude adjustment and be okey-dokey. Because a positive attitude solves all wrongs! (I have now watched it all and I was of course right. Stupidest moment in the movie – the legless boxer submitting an alien with a reverse triangle with artificial legs.)

Then they gave us, about the aliens, “No material on the periodic table!” Except for . . . lawrencium! My soul, it aches. I mean, it's quite possible that alien materials would be hard to analyze because any really foreign compound is liable to be hard to analyze, and it could well be produced with technologies we don't know. But atoms are the same everywhere in the universe and some form of stabilized lawrencium, sure, maybe there's a stable allotrope, would be just as hard to analyze. I mean, how do you even figure out something is a stable allotrope of lawrencium? The stuff barely exists on this planet.

OHEMGEE! The Navy fired first! They sent out a warning horn, got a much more powerful one in return and then OPENED FIRE. The aliens might have been peaceful but some idiot yahoo OPENED FIRE on an ALIEN SHIP.

What the aliens were trying to say: “We come in peace. Our planet's environment has been destroyed and we're looking for a new home. We're a primarily aquatic people so you'll barely notice we're there, except for all the incredible technologies we're willing to give you in payment for part of your ocean.”

Afterward: “Fuck you guys.”

Then the cowardly academic! Of course, no academics are intelligent, well-adjusted people with lots of social skills. It's all Big Bang Theory, yep, where academics are awkward, socially inept yobs. (By the end, the Cowardly Lion finds his courage.)

A big part of the “plot” is the aliens need to coopt human communications equipment to phone home because theirs was destroyed in reentry. The idea is that a land based system fired off a command to a satellite that “boosts the signal”, apparently with sufficient intensity to break the light barrier, I dunno. I kept asking myself, “They have space ships. Why don't they just go up to the satellite, directly, and send the signal from there.” I, of course, do know the reason. The script writers are either fools or (and I think this is more likely), well, unmotivated. Some guy comes up to me and says, “So, we're making a movie based on the game Battleship.” “You mean, that double blind target finding game based on WWII sea duels?” Yeah, except instead of that, we're going to have aliens.” “Aliens?” “Aliens. We'll pay.” Not exactly the best material to work with so I'll give them a pass. Indeed, I'll give everyone in the movie a pass except the producers who pushed this through to completion. I understand that everyone else, the director, actors, CG guys, best boys, I understand all of these people need to put food on the table, they need to work. But the producers? Fuck those guys.

And let's talk length. The movie is over two hours long. Which is admittedly over two hours too long, but there's a reason action movies used to be around ninety minutes.

Then they use the Missouri. With WWII and Korean era vets that conveniently happen to be on hand. Now, Korea ended in 1952. By my reckoning, that's sixty years ago. Since enlistment age is 18, the MINIMUM age of any vet of the Missouri is SEVENTY-EIGHT.

Then they fire up the boilers of the Missouri, which is physically demanding labor in extremely hot conditions. Remember, minimum age, seventy-eight. And some of them are from WWII, meaning they're no younger than EIGHTY-FIVE. Of course, some of them will be older.

And then they do that thing that they did in the one horrible Pirates of the Caribbean movie – not that one, the OTHER one – where they drop anchor to swing a ship around by ninety degrees. Well, it would not have worked in the Pirates of the Caribbean movie, that kind of sudden deceleration would either snap the chain (if you're lucky) or rip the chain through the hull of the ship or some combination of the two. When you do it with a BATTLESHIP . . . the ship would either snap in two or the capstan would be ripped out or the chain would shear through the hull, or some combination of the three.

In the denouement, of course the fuck up saves the day and he's awarded a Silver Star – which is the third highest honor a military person can get.

HELLLLLLO, the person who is responsible for saving the SPECIES would get a Congressional Medal of Honor – and then spend the next six months touring the planet while every nation on earth hands him the highest honor they can give to foreigners.

His brother, who DIED, and started the conflict by opening fire on an alien ship, got the Navy Cross, a higher honor than the guy who SAVED THE SPECIES.

They get nothing right. No thing.

I will also say that the screenwriter, at least, realized that these aliens were not military. Their weapons could not instantly destroy our ships. They had no weapons of mass destruction, no armed aircraft much less spacecraft. Our weapons could hurt their ships. Their people on the ground, while wearing powered armor, had no guns. (Lots of reasons, too, why they had powered armor, the Earth has higher gravity, maybe, and they did do a lot of heavy lifting). It's like . . .

Imagine a Spanish galleon from the 16th century fighting a modern destroyer. The galleon would vanish under the power of the destroyer's weapons – the least powerful of the destroyer's weapons could easily sink a galleon before the galleon was in range of hitting the destroyer. Which it would never get into because it is a wind driven craft and the destroyer has diesel engine.

Now imagine that galleon up against a cargo ship with a top speed of around six miles an hour. Sure, the crew have some weapons, guns and such, but they have no armor, no training, and the galleon's guns would be able to blow holes in the cargo ship's hull – it isn't designed for war. It wouldn't necessarily be an easy fight, but it would be a winnable one for the galleon.

That's what happened in Battleship. We destroyed essentially unarmed recon ships full of civilian crew.

And so what if they don't contact their world? Will that necessarily stop additional exploration of earth? Would it stop humans? And they more less said that the aliens' world is fucked – they might not need to move but they definitely want to. Somehow, I doubt one failed recon mission will put the matter to rest. And next time, they will send a warship. It's what we'd do.