Tag Archives: movies

Why ‘The Force Awakens’ Is the ‘Star Wars’ Movie We Needed

Joseph CampbellReprint of Campbell’s classic with Luke Skywalker on the cover.

Some folks have criticized The Force Awakens for drawing too heavily on Star Wars: A New Hope. Writing in The Rolling Stone, David Ehrlich argues that these critics are missing the point. In The Force Awakens, Abrams is “making new” a tale that inspires and excites with each retelling:

The original 1977 movie was innovative in many respects, but it was derivative by design. In creating a galaxy far, far away, Lucas effectively draped his imagination over a constellation of yarns so familiar that they seem to have spun from the marrow of our bones. Its alchemy is nothing if not well documented: A New Hope combined the plot of Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress with the widescreen scale of Lawrence of Arabia and the Saturday morning spectacle of serials like Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. With his 20th-century influences well in hand, Lucas then poured them like molten metal into the iron mold of the hero’s journey as laid out by Joseph Campbell, who traced the origins of modern narrative arcs back to the beginning of civilization. “I wanted a contemporary version of the myth and the fairy tale,” Lucas said in a Los Angeles Times interview published days before Star Wars first hit theaters in 1977.

Whether we’re talking about Beowulf, the Iliad, or Indiana Jones, such stories resonate because, as Ehrlich puts it, “they seem to have spun from the marrow of our bones.” Campbell stripped the heroic myth down to its barest essentials:

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

The heroic myth, then, is about leaving behind what was once comforting and familiar, confronting new challenges, and finding one’s place in a world that has changed in many ways, some good, some bad. But the hero now knows he can survive and thrive in that world. Sounds like growing up, doesn’t it?

Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Strange

Dr. Strange

Now this should be fun! Benedict Cumberbatch stars in what’s being promoted as the most “mystical, magical Marvel movie ever.”

Dr. Strange was one of the lesser-known of the Marvel comics heroes, but as a kid, I bought many Strange Tales, which featured the “master of the mystic arts.” The character blended the superhero genre with Western and Eastern mysticism. Through high school and college, I found Dr. Strange as fascinating and surprising as Carlos Castaneda’s Don Juan, and maybe a little more accessible.

The spells Strange cast opened doors to alternate universes whirling with unknown worlds, mind-bending vistas, non-Euclidean structures, and beings that looked like they’d sprung from Picasso’s nightmares. And like James Bond, the good doctor often duked it out at Euclidean, but exotic venues. Stonehenge was the site of one spell-casting shoot out with an evil sorcerer. Loved it! No doubt many Boomers intrigued by the psychedelia that energized the worlds of Dr. Strange can’t wait for a nostalgic return. I know I can’t.

And no matter what other characters he plays, none will have a name as cool as “Benedict Cumberbatch.”

Remembering Bob Gordon

Bob Gordon

Robert Gordon Van Horn, November 16, 1924 – September 11, 2015

Now this brings back some memories:

Robert (“Bob”) Gordon Van Horn was an unassuming man, not given to boasting, and devoid of any ego. If you spoke with him, you’d never know that he was a popular TV personality, a creative innovator, or a war hero. As our mutual friend Dave Plyler told me, “Bob saw fierce combat in World War II at the Battle of the Bulge for which he earned a purple heart and a bronze star, but he never discussed his service.”…

Bob is preceded in death by North Carolina’s other legendary children’s TV show hosts: George Perry (WFMY’s Old Rebel); Fred Kirby (WBT’s singing cowboy); Uncle Paul Montgomery (WRAL’s jazz artist); and Brooks Lindsay (WSOC’s Joey the Clown). His passing earlier this month should serve as a reminder of the pioneering work they all did to make growing up just a little more fun.

Saturday afternoons, I’d plant myself in front of our black-and-white TV and watch those wonderful “B” serials Bob Gordon featured on his show in between rope and magic tricks. Rocket Man was my favorite.

Rocket Man

Those cliffhanger serials were my first introduction to science fiction, and no doubt influenced my approach to story telling.

Thanks for the memories, Bob.

The Alchemist’s Letter

Call it synchronicity. Or whatever you want. But I came upon this video after witnessing one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen. While visiting my father in the rest home last weekend, his roommate’s ex-wife visited. She didn’t seem to care my father and I were in the room as she announced to her former husband she wanted to see him one last time before he died.

The man didn’t remember her. She told him they were once married.

“Why aren’t we still married?”

“Because you kept screwing around.”

“Oh.” He thought for a moment. “Is it okay if I hug you?”

“Yes,” she said.

She hugged him and walked out the door.

Then today I saw this:

From the artist’s website:

A visually rich, darkly inventive fairy tale directed by former Student Academy Award® finalist Carlos Andre Stevens.

Starring 2-time Academy Award® nominee John Hurt (V for Vendetta, Alien, Hellboy, The Elephant Man, Midnight Express) and up-and-coming star Eloise Webb (Cinderella, The Iron Lady).

Be sure to maximize the video. It’s gorgeous and richly detailed.

The Alchemist's Letter from Carlos Stevens on Vimeo.

We squander so much in life, don’t we? Even our memories.

And the top 25 are …

Dragonfly2

Nicola Alter offers two lists of movies well worth your time. Her Top 25 Fantasy Movies and Top 25 Science Fiction Movies provide an excellent introduction to some of the best sci-fi/fantasy stories on film. I know I’ll be on the Netflix website ordering the classics I never got around to seeing — and (I hate to admit!) I’ll also re-order some I’ve forgotten over the years. Hey, it happens.

I do have one little quibble with her remarks on the X-Men movies: “I can’t separate out the different films here as I love them all. I’ll never get sick of going to see new X-men films, because they never disappoint.”

Okay, the first X-Men was an A- and the second was an A+ — in my opinion, a better superhero movie than the over-rated Superman of 1978. But number three, The Last Stand, despite great casting, was a nonsensical and confused clump of special effects. It was more like vandalism than movie-making.

Quibble aside, you’ll have to check out these two posts.