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Vestigial arms, romance and anatomy

Went to see John Carter last night. Had no expectations, but definitely enjoyed myself – it’s not the far-out, totally alien sci-fi experience I’ve been interested in seeing on the big screen, but it’s a fun ol’ romp with some fantastic eye candy.

I’d be lying if I said I completely understood the story, though. At the core there’s a basic seen-it-a-million-times “white guy goes to another planet, has a unique power (jumping really high!) the locals don’t have and unites all the warring races against one bad dude, and probably gets the girl too if that’s the way he swings, and there’s some drama about whether or not he wants to go home that depends on how cool the new planet is.” And there’s also immortal dudes who can shape shift and dictate the course of the solar system, and they plot evil shit.
Okay, that probably wasn’t as basic as I thought it was, but you get my drift, surely.
Problem is, because of all the alien terminology, I kept thinking there was some part of the story I was missing out on. I don’t think there was; it is a fairly simple story besides all the sci-fi space-and-time-travel guffins. Mind you, when the main character is given about three to four different names by the aliens, I think I’m entitled to just a little bit of confusion.

One of my only real beefs with the story (one that Doug Walker also remarked on) is that it takes its time getting to Mars – not a laborious length of time like in Peter J.’s King Kong, but the movie ‘starts’ like four to five times. The movie begins on Mars where the bad dude is given the bad weapon by bad Mark Strong (who’s bad). Then it cuts to Earth where John Carter is dead, and his attorney begins reading his journal. Then it cuts to twenty years earlier where John is in frontier times or some such, and after some hoo-ing and haw-ing in a mystical cave, finally gets blasted to Mars.
Even then, things don’t start rolling until he’s brought among the green guys’ tribe (I think they’re called the Thark, but like I said, there’s so much alien terminology I just referred to everyone and everything as “[adjective] dudes”). Once the movie starts it gets good, but the whole intro part was just a pain, and it meant that it took a long time for John Carter to actually become likeable. These intro parts do exposit vital bits of info, and the scene with the attorney is integral to the sequel hook. Which, uh, I doubt we’ll be seeing anytime soon. I’ve heard the movie’s bombed a bit.

What really sells the movie is the eye candy. The environments aren’t quite as alien as I would’ve liked them to be (how hard can it be to make parts of the landscape float?), but the landscapes, the aliens, the technology, it’s all truly fascinating to watch. The aliens are in the same vein of Avatar – alien enough to look different (six limbs ahoy!), but familiar enough to relate to; the green dudes have particularly awesome facial tusks that add great character to them, and John befriends a big dumb dog thing that’s super-fast. Very Disney. Given the alien cultures and the dry, rugged nature of the lands, I couldn’t help but get a Prince of Persia vibe about everything, which I guess is apt – that was another Disney production, wasn’t it?
… I feel dreadful for wowing so much over the movie’s looks, and now barely scraping together a paragraph about them. They’re pretty rockin’, I can say that much.

It’s not a masterpiece (how many times have I said that?), but it’s a good fun romp with some nice humour, great action sequences, beautiful visuals, and a satisfactory amount of whimsy. However, I get the impression it’s a hard sell for movie audiences – it might be too sci-fi for most folks, and major sci-fi buffs probably won’t get behind the light-heartedness. Or I could just be talking out of my ass.
The movie’s just dying for a video game adaptation, though. John Carter and his amazing jumping powers would be loads of fun to play around with – a sandbox game with superpowers and alien environments, basically. See, that’s the joy of Bionic Commando – you get these huge locations that a regular joe (or a Super Joe, har har) would take forever to get through, but swinging around the architecture on your Bionic Arm like nobody’s business just has a certain primal joy about it. John Carter would cut out the middle man and just lets you leap everywhere.

Totally off-beat question for the audience (all four of you): Have movie romances actually meant anything to anyone?

I ask because movie romances just seem like one of those formalities we’ve come to accept in adventure stories. The heroes win, the bad guys lose, and the male and female protagonists get hooked up because, well, what else is there for them to do?
Unless the movie is a all romance all the time, very rarely does a feature film have the time for the characters to actually feel like they love each other; to me, at least. Heck, to the best of my memory the movie with the faintest romantic theme I’ve seen where the characters appear to genuinely love each other is The Woman In Red, and that’s only because Gene Wilder’s character is already married – it’s the love of a warm and caring family more than a “hot damn, I’d give up being single to be with this person forever!” kind of ‘love’. And even my example is pretty bad because the entire movie is Gene running after a dame with gams that’d give you the vapours.

I read a discussion somewhere on Tumblr about LGBT characters in childrens’ shows (can’t find where it was, but this page talks about it as well); one argument against it was that romance or sexuality shouldn’t be a part of kids’ media – someone shot that down by pointing out how pretty much every Disney movie ever has romance, among other examples. I don’t think they ever outright say “I want to spend the rest of my life bonded to you via some sort of legal ceremony”, or even “I want to tap that so hard”; if they do, it’s hidden behind all that singing prancing bollocks that I still can’t get behind.
From a young age, kids’ media plays up that romance is great to an audience that generally thinks the opposite sex is icky, and let’s face it, do any of these Disney hook-ups have anything in common, or characterisation for that matter? The only one I can think of is Aladdin and Jasmine, but they had three movies and a TV series to exchange witty banter over. I can’t even remember what their characters were like.

I’m not even sure where I was going with those paragraphs!

For the record, the first and so far only time I’ve ever got invested in a fictional romance was last year when I was watching Spaced. I admit the show really stunk in the first couple of episodes, but I began to really enjoy it and love the characters, and Tim and Daisy just made a cute couple. Mind you, that was a fourteen episode series totalling to about six hours of content, so you had a fair amount of time to really know and like the characters. I often feel like after a movie, I’m only just beginning to know a character, if that much.
Also, I suppose the romance in the Hominids trilogy of books did have me engaged because the characters worked well together, and seemed ‘right’ for each other even if both still has issues of their own – one having a family back home and the other recovering from sexual assault. The book did kinda soil it when it gave us a graphical detail of sexual intercourse between a homo sapiens and a Neanderthal, and I was a bit, whoa, okay, I didn’t need to know the ins and outs of what his giant caveman penis looked like. There are a few things in life I’ll be happy to live my life without knowing – one is what my own anus looks like, and another is what it feels like to have sex with a Neanderthal. Just sayin’.

Welp. Going from silly sci-fi movie to talking about love and romance, then to bums and dicks. That’s Random Hoo Haas, folks!

5 Comments

  1. CrazySteveFM wrote:

    The only relevant movie romance I can think of, without the movie actually being a romance, is Han Solo and Princess Leia. By the end of Return of the Jedi I was certain that those two crazy kids were gonna be hooked on each other for the rest of their days. And that’s even without all the crappy sequel books telling us they got married and had a load of kids and most of them became Jedis and all that rubbish. Either them or Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner from Romancing The Stone.

    Wednesday, March 21, 2012 at 8:22 pm | Permalink
  2. Wes wrote:

    “There are a few things in life I’ll be happy to live my life without knowing – one is what my own anus looks like, and another is what it feels like to have sex with a Neanderthal.”

    You, friend Ragey, write some of the most delightful things. :D

    Haven’t seen John Carter — I imagine I’ll get to it at some point after it hits DVD. And re: movie romances… yeah, they often fall flat for me because, as you point out, the characters rarely spend enough time together (or at least don’t spend that time talking about deep and intimate things) to justify the depth of their attraction. I just got caught up on Marvel movies, and Thor is a pretty good (or bad) example of a relationship that just springs out of nowhere and doesn’t make much sense. (By contrast, I thought the romance worked well in Captain America — partly because Cap and Hayley Atwell actually had one or two conversations about male/female relationships, and partly because they were more at the start of a relationship than the full-blown-character-180-search-the-universe-for-you love that seemed to develop between Thor and Natalie Portman.) But in general, I think those relationships are there so the males in the audience (and perhaps involved with the writing/production as well) can acquire some sweet sexpot lovin’ via vicarious means.

    Along those lines, I think you’re the first person I’ve read who uses “eye candy” to describe things besides hot women! I kinda want to write a post about that. :D

    Friday, April 6, 2012 at 8:02 am | Permalink
  3. CarlMarksGuy wrote:

    There’s always Charleton Heston & Mute Animal-Level-Brained Human Woman in “Planet of the Apes”! Who would have thought a hard-core NRA spokesman would be drawn to a virtually mindless automata as his ideal female mate?

    I guess that’s on my mind because last night’s episode of Wolfman Mac’s Chiller Drive-In Theater was the public domain scifi “Phantom Planet”, where again the crashlanding astronaut falls for the mute woman in the new planet he visits. But there its kind of more an “two people who are sort of outsiders” bond rather than Chuck Heston explicitly saying that he’s found his perfect mate in someone with the mental level of a sheep.

    Dammit, I had some thing meaningful to say when I started this — OH YEAH! I think a fun gender-reversal of this story is in “Tank Girl”, where the AWESOMETASTICLY-HAIRED and SUPER-AGGRESSIVE Lori Petty can only love the “Slow” kangaroo man, not the wisecracking Ice Cube kangaroo man! …and there was great love in the vaguely Australian post-apocalyptic world of punked-out Tom Petty offspring!

    And hey, while I’m on a roll about great movie romances [sic], anyone lucky enough to see “Dungeons and Dragons II” (straight to DVD & better than the originally theatrically-released movie?! I think this says much more about the original)…there was a really awesome romance that blossomed between Berserker Norse Woman Fighter Lady and Both-Vaguely-Asian-and-Ian-Holm/Peter-Lorre-Like Thief Dude. THEN AT THE END OF THE MOVIE, THEY DON’T END UP TOGETHER (granted, everyone who survived just shows up in their own shots to indicate they’re still alive…but HE’S WITH SOMEONE ELSE!) I guess its the great seeds of narrative injustices like this that incubates slashfic!

    Well, anyway.

    IN CONCLUSION: I didn’t see “John Carter” but it was fun to hear your thoughts about it! I think, from the reviews, it kind of hit most people like “Meh, it was alright for what it was” when it was budgeted such that it had to be the second coming of “Independence Day.”

    Sunday, April 29, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Permalink
  4. Ragey wrote:

    Wes: Yeah, superhero relationships are kinda unbalanced at times. The one in Thor was cute, but nothing really substantial, and the interaction between Pepper and Tony in Iron Man is the same way, though not a romance as such. Captain America‘s one worked well like you say. Heck, all the interactions between Cap and the other dudes in that one were nice, that flick had some nice characters.

    And can’t a man think landscapes and stuff are pretty neato? (I did have some jokes in mind involving viewing a mountain as more attractive than a woman, but they were pretty crass and I should probably shut my face up instead)

    CarlMarksGuy: I haven’t seen either of the first two movies you mention, but you got me thinking about romances with mute women in media – specifically, Gerry Anderson’s Stingray. It has Marina, a mute mermaid who the main character has the hots for, and the credits sequence of every episode plays a song of him totally lovegushing over her something fierce, while shots of a marionette desperately attempting to swim sexily are shown. It is embarrassing and schmaltzy to an unbelievable extent.
    Also, seriously, what’s the deal with mute romance? You rarely see mute men involved! Is it an unfortunate throwback to old-timey standards of women keeping quiet and taking orders? Ouch. I’m not sure if I want to know now.

    … heck, I haven’t seen any of the movies you mentioned! I’ve actually been a bit frightened of seeing Tank Girl, though now you’ve got me interested in checking out the Dungeons & Dragons sequel! Mind you, I’m probably setting myself up for disappointment – when I hear the words “berzerker lady”, I can’t help but think Grace Jones’s character from Conan the Destroyer, who totally should had a whole movie to herself. She was crazy wild.

    Tuesday, May 1, 2012 at 11:58 am | Permalink
  5. carlmarksguy wrote:

    Well, Dungeons & Dragons II: Wrath of the Dragon God [Or Ye Some Suche Thinge], is mainly good for the side-characters, the party of 4 garden-variety adventurers they hire in a “find hungry samurai” kind of way. And its not so much a romance between Amazon Warrior and Self-Serving Thief, but going from antagonism to admiration and appreciation. Its basically surprising because its subtly in a place where you’d least expect it — a movie where “a Lich” appears to fulfil the “Bumbling Beastman sidekick” role to the blue-lipped guy from the first movie (the only cast carry-over).

    But just given that they HAVE a party of characters with different skills makes it several times the “Dungeons and Dragons” movie that the first one was …

    which starred Lois & Clark‘s second Jimmy Olsen, and suffered from horrible mood-whiplash: one of the Wayans brothers is doing goofy shtick for 30 minutes; the girl from “Ghost World” walks through seeming more embarrassed to be here than Jeremy Irons; oh, now some death and torture!; ok, back to goofy adventure…Hey, we’ve got a dwarf, let’s have him say something weird!

    Tank Girl is pretty frightening, but it cements Lori Petty as AWESOME (after her 83% awesomeness in “Point Break”). Also the ending is a let-down.

    Thursday, May 3, 2012 at 1:02 pm | Permalink