The Lovecraftian Horrors of Jurassic Park

Last night I saw Jurassic Park in 3D for the second and final time, and it was just as thrilling and amazing as it was when I first saw it twenty years ago, and just as awesome in 3D as it was when I first saw it that way three weeks ago. Interestingly, rewatching this wonderful film as an adult, and as a writer, made it a slightly different experience at age 32 than it was at age 12. My thoughts:

I still think it’s nearly the perfect film. The effects are amazing because they don’t over-rely on CGI like many recent movies do. The acting is stellar, every part pitch-perfect, right down to realistic reactions to the dinosaurs, especially Laura Dern’s scream as the T-rex bears down on the jeep,  which still causes every hair on my body to stand on end. The music continues to be one of the most inspired scores John Williams has ever written, making my heart swell every time the helicopter flies over the island or when the characters get their first view of the dinosaurs (just listening to this clip while I pasted it into this post made me all teary-eyed).

And of course, there’s my crush on Dr. Ian Malcolm, which I was unsurprised to find is still in full force. You can’t argue with Jeff Goldblum though, he’s a heartthrob for all ages.

Dr. Conveniently Shirtless manages to be sexy despite being injured. That's a skill!

Dr. Conveniently Shirtless will see you now

These are features I admired as a kid and continue to admire as an adult. Of course now, I also notice other aspects of the film, like the three-act structure, and the brilliant way Crichton establishes characters with just a few easy lines of dialogue.

I definitely noticed some troubling things in my adult viewings, however. The movie is rife with silly plot-convenient behavior, like Dr. Grant and the children climbing over the perimeter fence even though the spaces are clearly big enough for the children to fit through (and why would you have spaces that big to begin with, in a park where children might climb through the fence and be eaten by a T-rex?). More irritatingly, there are a few lazy tropes, like Denis Nedry as the Evil Greedy Fat Guy and Dr. Sattler’s sudden blonde ditz moment when discussing Chaos Theory with Dr. Malcolm. This woman is a professional paleobotanist and therefore a certifiable genius, there’s no way this discussion is over her head unless she’s deliberately playing dumb to flirt with him. She’s either the Stupid Blonde or pretending to be a stupid blonde, and both are equally unacceptable. Basically Dr. Sattler is conveniently ditzy for a moment so Malcolm will have an excuse to be a sleaze (characterization) and expound on Chaos Theory (exposition). It’s very forced and frankly, lazy writing.

I'm not a ditz, I just pretend to be one in movies when the plot requires it.

I’m not a ditz, I just pretend to be one in movies when the plot requires someone to ask a stupid question.

Something else I noticed, and the thing that gives this post its title: Jurassic Park is not an action movie. It’s straight-up horror, and, more to the point, Lovecraftian horror. The film takes its time to give us background, characterization, and setting, all building to horrifying revelations, which was precisely the way Lovecraft laid out his most successful horror stories. More pointedly, the story is about the intersection of human science, mathematics, and forces beyond our control. My favorite Lovecraft stories are about men discovering forbidden continents or forbidden mathematics. The characters, like John Hammond, think they can control their discoveries and inventions but in the end, chaos proves too powerful and no one escapes alive or sane. Lovecraft’s horror stories could be taken as cautionary tales, warning the burgeoning post-Victorian scientific community to slow down and ask not whether they can push humanity beyond its current limits, but rather whether it should.

It's hard to be so sexy and so smart.

It’s hard to be so sexy and so smart.

And naturally, just as in a Lovecraftian tale, everyone in Jurassic Park either ends up dead or horribly traumatized (if there wasn’t enough gore and death in the movie for you, check out the book, where even fewer people survive) because they played with forces beyond their control. And I think therein lies my obsession with this movie: the same thing that drives my obsession with Lovecraft. The horror of the unknown, the horror of loss of control, the horror of digging our own graves because we, as a species, are unable to leave Good Enough alone. Curiosity killed the cat…and drove his owner insane.

As a final comment, I want to say that Jurassic Park is one of the few films that I think actually benefited from the 3D treatment. If you missed being chased by a T-rex in all its 3D wonder, don’t worry, people in the know say that in the next five years we’ll all have 3D televisions anyway. So you won’t have to wait another 20 years to have a velociraptor jump right at your face. That…sounds less appealing than it ought to.

SO MUCH CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR

SO MUCH CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR

I think I’ll go watch The Lost World now.

The Problem with Prometheus

I’ve made no bones about the fact that I didn’t like Prometheus. Its racist and sexist (and anti-science) overtones were only overshadowed by its bad writing and appalling lack of consistent logic, complete with failure to understand the mechanisms of evolution. Aside from that, it wasn’t scary. The only nice thing I can say about it was that it was pretty. The 3D CGI was lovely (and this from someone who avoids 3D like the plague). The performances were fine, too, I suppose, but even Michael Fassbender’s creepy-as-Hell portrayal of the patricidal android David couldn’t save writing that very nearly explored some serious, important questions of humanity (and android-ity), but ultimately fell flat. This movie had fans leaving the film not just deflated and disappointed, but angry, in a way I’ve never seen before.

I’m not, however, going to go on and on about it, because so many other people have done great writeups on why they thought Prometheus was the saddest prequel since Star Wars episodes 1-3:

“I realized this movie had totally erased women from the entire creation history of humanity. In fact, we were erased from the entire creation mythos of the entire universe.” – Kameron Hurley

“Yeah. The reason the Engineers don’t like us any more is that they made us a Space Jesus, and we broke him. Reader, that’s not me pulling wild ideas out of my arse. That’s RIDLEY SCOTT.” – Adrian Bott (there are a ton of great links at the bottom of this post, if you’re looking for more)

“Musings about the nature of divinity and humanity, history and destiny, are just plain embarrassing when you word them clumsily and put them in the mouths of cardboard characters.” – Caitlin Sweet

Prometheus is about a scientific expedition, for fuckssake— and while Cameron cared enough about verisimilitude to put his actors through a couple weeks’ basic military training, it’s blindingly obvious that Scott couldn’t be bothered to ensure that his “scientists” knew the difference between a gene and a bad joke.  Much less anything about science as a profession.” – Peter Watts

“Ultimately the biggest problem in Prometheus is that its creators larded too many “meaningful” ideas onto it, instead of just letting the narrative speak for itself.” – Analee Newitz

And now, just to lighten the mood a bit:

The entirety of Prometheus as a .gif (it’s all David’s fault)

Text Q&A with the Engineers doesn’t solve any of the mysteries

I don’t want this blog to become Me Complaining About Stuff I Don’t Like, so I guess I should write a post about something I DO like, here, huh? The trouble is coming up with a theme that can unite all the things I like…so maybe a list of really excellent horror movies? What do you think, dear readers?

Once Upon A Disappointment

Back in October, ABC introduced a new show called Once Upon A Time. The first few episodes were promising–the writing was good, the acting was decent, and the show featured several actors I really like (Robert Carlyle and Ginnifer Goodwin chief among them). But as the show wore on, I started to notice that everything is not peachy keen in fairy land, and now when I watch Once Upon A Time I mainly see missed opportunities.

The first of these missed opportunities deals with the witches. European fairy tales are full of witches. Instead of taking the traditional route, and presenting these witches as gnarled old hags, ABC decided to cast various gorgeous blonde actresses in the roles.

Emma Caulfield is hungry and blind, but not particularly scary.

True Blood's Kristen Bauer as Maleficent

I like both of these actresses and I really have no problem with their appearances on the show, but the more I think about the witches, the sadder I am. ABC had an opportunity to do something really interesting here, and instead they fell back on blondes with cleavage.  They could have cast ethnically interesting actresses (more on this later) or gone a more Del Toro route and created truly frightening witches using puppetry and makeup effects.  Instead, we get teased hair and pouty lips. Before you argue that “this is a kid’s show, it shouldn’t have really scary monsters!” please keep in mind that this show so far includes tons of murder, betrayal, curses, and other adult themes. It’s a dark show, and not for children. I’d love to see ABC stop pulling punches and start taking it to the dark, adult place the original fairy tales went instead of this weak pandering.

The second missed opportunity on this show relates to the  primary villain, The Evil Queen, aka Regina. Firstly, here’s another chance ABC missed to cast a person of color. While Snow White pretty much has to be pale and dark-haired, there’s no rule that says the Queen has to be equally white.

Admittedly, the Evil Queen does get to wear the best clothes.

One of the things I loved initially about OUAT was the preponderance of female leads on the show, but apparently casting one non-white woman in one of these roles was simply asking for too much. Just as frustrating (for me) as this white-washing, however, is the lackluster nature of Regina’s character. Episode after episode is presented as filler, with no real relation to the story arc, introducing characters we barely know, don’t care about, and will probably never see again (anyone know what happened to Hansel and Gretel? What about Sister Astrid? Yeah). The main crux of these stories seems to be to pad the main Snow White-Emma Swan-Prince Charming storyline and also to prove, again and again, just how Really Very Evil Regina Is. She is behind almost every nasty thing that happens to everyone in fairy land, and her character has no motivation except for being greedy and cruel. That’s it. She’s as one-dimensional as a plain crepe, and about as satisfying. We’ve seen countless back stories for scores of characters we don’t care about, and even a great origin story for the wicked manipulator Rumpelstiltskin, but we still have no insight into the Evil Queen’s personality and motivations.

ABC obviously thinks we should just accept that Regina Is Evil, and move on. Maybe it’s my fault for expecting shows to have fully developed, believable, three-dimensional characters, I dunno. There is, however, one spark of hope: Regina herself recently said the line “Evil is not born, it’s made.” So, okay, how was Regina made into this completely unremorseful, greedy, vengeful person? When does she get her origin story, instead of just popping up to cause misery in the origin story of every other character?

I promised more on the issue of race, which is perhaps the most troubling thing about this show, so here goes: Storybrooke and its inhabitants are a bunch of the whitest white folks to ever white. With the exception of the Genie/Mirror/Sydney, everyone in Storybrooke is white. There was an African-American (African-Fairylander?) fairy godmother for about half a second in the Cinderella episode, but she was promptly vaporized by Rumpelstiltskin. In another episode there was an Asian knight, which was entirely random, and of course deeply unsatisfying as he only had one line. Perhaps even more disturbing, the only black person on the show PLAYS A MIRROR. Admittedly, in Storybrooke he’s a reporter, and he used to be a Genie, but ultimately, I find that the fact that ABC could only bring themselves to cast a person of color as an inanimate object disappointing and kind of sickening.

The one black actor doesn't even rate inclusion in the cast photo. He plays a mirror, and there's even a mirror in this picture that would be a convenient way to include him, but instead we get Prince Charming twice. *facepalm*

He's a reporter, and the newspaper is called The Mirror. GET IT? Hurrrr

The beginning of every show promises that the town is inhabited by “every story book character you’ve ever known,” but so far I’ve only seen characters from European stories. Where are Aesop’s Fables? What about Native American stories, Aboriginal stories, Chinese and Japanese stories?

In the end, what I find most frustrating about this show relates to the fact that ABC is owned by Disney. Nearly every episode feels like one long advertisement for the Disney version of each story. Where Disney doesn’t have a movie version, like with Hansel and Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood, they still maintain the Disney tropes. ABC can’t do what I want them to do–step outside their comfort zone and go somewhere really interesting–and unfortunately, I don’t think they will, because Disney has a strangle hold on the narrative for this show. So we will continue to be spoon-fed the Disney version of events, where True Love always wins, and nobody ever really gets hurt, and everyone is white, because this is the narrative with which we’ve all become comfortable in our Disneyfied culture.

The problem is that what is comfortable is not always what’s best. Risks and challenging the status quo are what set apart shows that are really good from those that are mediocre and forgettable. Unfortunately,  OUAT  is treading the path well-traveled rather than the one that is unique and new and inspiring. While it might mean viewers now, playing it safe doesn’t make for memorable, ground-breaking television, and OUAT is missing all its chances to become that kind of show. What a pity.

On the Boob Tube

I wonder if this post title will get me a bunch of exciting new spambot comments! Bring it on pr0nbots!

Anyway, I digress. Here are my thoughts on the recent episodes of my stories.

Hell on Wheels – You’re not watching this show? WHY NOT?! The first two episodes blew me away–I was expecting the same tired cowboy fare but what I got was a rich, textured, vibrant show with gritty, believable characters…and a metric buttload of murder.  The story centers around a former confederate soldier working on the Union Pacific Railroad in the 1860’s…who is also looking to avenge his murdered wife, hunting down the union soldiers who violated her one by one.  Anson Mount (great name) holds the show together with his performance as the main character, and Colm Meaney is really convincing as the greedy, despicable rail tycoon. The pilot episode was full of good writing, decent acting, fun action, and oh did I mention lots of murder? I was worried the second episode wouldn’t keep up the pace of the first, but it was just as good, or maybe better.

Chugga chugga chugga chugga MUR-DERRRRR

 Boardwalk Empire – This show is so, so very good. Much of the acting is subtle and nuanced, the dialogue laden with meaning. My only criticism is that sometimes the meetings go on a bit long, but usually during these scenes I’m distracted by the amazing set and striking cinematography–the Commodore’s parlor full of taxidermy beasts, the expanse of beach or boardwalk, the beauty of rooms decorated with real Tiffany glass and hardwood floors. Then there are the characters: Nucky Thompson in his smart double-breasted suits; Jimmy’s mother, Gillian Darmody, with her freakishly ageless face and beautiful clothes; Mrs. Schroeder’s fantastically detailed hats and perfectly curled hair. Even the shoes are fantastic. I feel like I should be bored by long scenes of gangsters plotting against each other, but instead I’m hypnotized by the 1920’s. I wouldn’t be surprised if flapper dresses and cloche hats (and double-breasted pinstripe suits) start showing up on the runway soon. Oh and (SPOILERS) Nucky is shot, and Mrs. Schroeder cheats on him with a totally swoon-worthy Irish fellow, and the Commodore has a stroke and Gillian Darmody beats the crap out of him (at last!! This scene was so gratifying)…and the most tragic character on the show, Richard Harrow, who was also apparently the most popular Boardwalk costume at Halloween, contemplates suicide. Let’s get this man a girlfriend please.

C'mon ladies, what's not to love?

The Walking Dead – So when the season started I wrote a diatribe about how generally disappointed I was. Being a long-time fan of the comics, I wanted the show to be as horrifying and tense as the original material. I was gratified by the first few episodes of season 1, but it quickly declined, and the first episode of season 2 was, in some ways, hilariously bad. Fortunately the last few episodes have given me renewed hope for this show. I’ve got a serious crush on Daryl, the redneck played by heart-stopper Norman Reedus, who is an entirely new addition to the cast of characters. I gasped twice during last night’s episode, which says a lot. The plot has elements from the comics but also new ones, which keeps me guessing but also gives me a thrill every time something from the comics is revealed. So, hooray! This show has been redeemed! Let’s hope it keeps this up and doesn’t descend into suckatude again.

He'll risk his life to save your kid, and you only just met. You can't tell me that's not sexy.

American Horror Story – I really liked this show when it began, and it has maintained an incredible level of tension and horror. The problem is that I’m starting to become numb to it. A show has to have lows in order for the highs to be effective–maybe this is the problem with long-running horror serials, I don’t know. But now that the ghosts have been revealed as such, the show has lost some of its mystery, and the Harmon family continuing to reside in this horrible place is starting to become silly. That said, the Halloween episode was amazing and I cried a little. If Jamie Brewer doesn’t win an Emmy for her portrayal of the creepy Down Syndrome-afflicted medium Adelaide, then there is no justice in this world.  Her desperation to be “a pretty girl” for Halloween was almost palpable.

"Can I...pet your dog?"

Once Upon a Time – I really enjoy this show. In the most recent episode we were treated to the history of Snow White and Prince Charming falling in love, which was really sweet–as it turns out Snow was a fugitive living in the forest and robbing royals while making deals with trolls and plotting her evil stepmother’s demise. I like that even though this show is produced by Disney, and therefore does have some saccharine “true love is forever” overtones, the heroines are not shrinking violets there to be rescued by princes. Emma Swan is a bounty hunter! Snow White is a bandit! The evil queen is the mayor! This show has a lot of strong female leads, unlike most other shows on television right now. Honestly, though, Ginnifer Goodwin’s sensitive but tough portrayal of Snow White/Mary Margaret is the reason I keep coming back to this show. I’m hoping we’ll see some more Robert Carlyle in future episodes. You have no excuse for not watching this show, as all the episodes are available in HD for free, with minimal commercials, on ABC Go.

Self-rescuing princess, thank you very much

Being Human – I’ve been watching the UK version of this show on Netflix. The premise of a vampire, werewolf, and ghost living together in a house seems really far-fetched and silly, but this show pulls it off, with heart to spare. I mourn for the plights of murdered Annie, cursed George, and vampire Mitchell. There’s lots of tea, revelation, love, and heartache in this series. Other things I love about it: British accents, a love interest who isn’t traditionally pretty, and interracial relationships offered without comment. It’s a British show, after all, so we can expect all of those things, which may be why I adore UK shows so much. Please don’t spoiler this for me if you’re current; I’m still on the first season so there are lots of things I haven’t yet seen!

They're sexy, they're cursed, they're British

What I’m Watching

Lately it occurred to me that it’s kind of silly that I have a space on this blog for reviews of books, but no reviews of television and movies. I watch a fair bit of media, and though I enjoy books more, shows and movies are much more convenient for enjoying with friends. Back when I didn’t have many friends (don’t feel bad for me, in some ways that was a blissful time) I had lots of time to read. Now, not so much, especially once I added school and writing to the mix. I wanted this blog to be dedicated mostly to the writing process, but reading and cosplay have crept in, so why not television? The fact is that there are some really excellent shows on the old boob tube these days, and there’s no reason I can’t analyze them for characterization, diversity, and compelling writing the same way I would a novel or anthology.

So without further adieu, here’s what I’m watching right now and my thoughts on the episodes so far.

American Horror Story. I list this show first because it’s the one that I most want to watch each week. Compelling writing, fascinating characters, and believable motivations make this show intense. The haunted “murder house” in which the characters find themselves trapped acts like a villain in this show, a character in and of itself, one that is constantly awing me with genuine Tiffany chandeliers and OMG-is-that-real-wainscotting? I’m almost willing to brave the monsters in the basement, this house is so gorgeous. Oh and the pilot has several naked man-chest (and butt) scenes, courtesy of Dylan McDermott, so that’s not to be missed, especially since you can watch episodes for free on the network’s websiteWarning: this show is scary as Hell. Don’t watch if you’re squeamish or nightmare-prone.

Mr. McDermott can defend me from home invaders any time, rawr

The Walking Dead. This show premiered last Halloween to much fanfare and ballyhoo. Having read all the comics (the series is ongoing, and I’ve read through Volume 14…I’m just waiting for 15 to appear at my library) I have to admit, I had high expectations for the show. I was disappointed. Though the first few episodes were pretty good, the show quickly descended into the kind of formulaic writing (“Let’s go to the CDC and explain the zombie plague even though that never happened in the comics! What do those comic writers know about mystery amping up the tension? Bah!”) that I worried would be a problem when presenting something so dark on a regular cable network. Unfortunately, I’m just not sure that justice can be done to the comics on cable television. And then the first episode of season two was fraught with logic errors and inconsistencies, some of them hilarious. Am I a big enough fan to keep watching even though the show has problems? Yeah, probably. Will I grit my teeth while I do it? Also: yes, probably. Fingers crossed that it gets better. The one saving grace? The plot of the show is not following the plot of the comics. I was worried that I would be able to predict every twist and turn, but instead they’re keeping things interesting, even for those of us already familiar with Rick and Carl and their adventures. The casting has also been spot-on, I can’t criticize that, and the effects are really good. I still have to watch last night’s episode so we’ll see what I have to say at the end of the week.

Yes, yes you are, Rick.

Once Upon A Time. I was really surprised by this show after hearing people criticize the production values. I enjoyed it, and I tend to dislike fairy tale shows/movies because they’re so overdone, but I found this one to be just familiar enough without being trite and predictable. The costumes are lavish, the sets are beautiful (admittedly, I was watching on my computer, so on a huge plasma screen it might look a bit different), and the show stars Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Morrison, and Robert Carlyle, all of whom I have lingering fondness for after their turns on some of my favorite shows (Big Love, House, and Stargate: Universe). After only 45 minutes, I was hooked by the characters and the mystery and I’ll definitely be back for more. I’m especially pleased that this is one show with women holding down the fort as the main characters, which is rare on television right now. Now if we could just get some people of color on the show, I’d have nothing to criticize.

"Why, I always wear this feather-laced satin dress to sleep in my giant black nest!"

Grimm. Take everything I said about Once Upon A Time and reverse it. The show opened with a girl in a red hoody jogging and being grabbed by a blurry wolf-man (to a canned scream I’ve heard on countless shows before…talk about production values!).  Her ipod falls to the ground, and, hours later, the detectives who find it discover that it’s playing the same song it was playing when she was killed. Do these writers not understand how ipods work?! After that things just got worse–the main character starts seeing things, his cancer-ridden aunt appears to tell him the conveniently sparse details of his family history (that she’s kept from him until now because….?!) and then they both get attacked by some monster. It’s basically Buffy: The Vampire Slayer all over again, including the silly humanoid monsters from 1997, except without the compelling female lead. Part of what made Buffy great were the strong (and weak) female characters, and the fact that the story took place in high school–the whole show was a metaphor for puberty and the battles we fight in our teenage years. A 30-year-old male detective is, to this female viewer anyway, about as compelling as a sack of potatoes, especially without some horrible secret of his own (addiction, illness, illegitimate child, etc.).

I didn’t even make it all the way through the pilot of Grimm. I’m not writing it off completely but it’s definitely on probation. At least there’s one black character on this show? I’m really looking for something to love here.

Grimm: The Fairy Slayer

Boardwalk Empire. I’m several episodes behind on this show since I just finished a field experience (a 3 week nightmare during which I wake up at 5:30 am and work about 12 hours a day, plus all weekend!) but I hope to be caught up soon. I watch this show for Jimmy, aptly played by the gorgeous Michael Pitt, and Kelly MacDonald’s brilliant turn as the conflicted Mrs. Schroeder, and for the lavish backdrop of the 1920’s…much as the house in American Horror Story is a character, the time period is a force to be reckoned with on Boardwalk. The era is like the ocean carrying the characters on, whether they like it or not, into the future, a future which they may not survive. This show is a slow burn and hard to get into at first–there are a lot of characters, and sometimes the accents and dated speech can be hard to follow–but it’s worth the investment. Bonus: Steve Buscemi in some really amazing suits.

You probably thought I was joking about the suits.

Other shows I really enjoy are more of the reality show variety. Currently I’m watching Project Runway (Team Anya or Viktor, if one of them doesn’t win I might throw something), America’s Next Top Model, and my guilty pleasure…Sister Wives. Hey, don’t criticize, when Big Love went off the air it left a gaping polygamy hole in my life. I tell myself that watching the drama of others keeps the drama at bay in my own life…blah blah blah flimsy justification.

What might shock you is that I don’t have cable. Most of these shows I watch on Amazon (only $1.99 an episode), for free on the show’s website, or at a friend’s house. I’m also currently working the UK version of Being Human on Netflix–more on that once I’ve watched a few more episodes.

So, dear reader, what are you watching? What did you think of these shows so far?