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June 12, 2008

Twister: Who's the Protag?

I happened to be watching Twister the other day and was trying to figure out who the "hero" or protagonist of the story could be. I thought that both Jo and Bill went through "hero" journeys, with Jo's being more like the Propp/Zipes version of the hero journey and Bill's being more like Campbell's version.
At the beginning of the movie, Bill refuses the "call" to chase tornadoes again, to be pulled out of the everyday man where he is about to marry an unadventurous woman and become a weatherman. His science group keeps saying "glad you're back!" and he keeps saying "I'm not back!" He is eventually sucked back into chasing tornados, whose power is mysterious and somewhat supernatural. He almost dies a couple of times, so I think that qualifies as "struggle with unknown forces," and in the end he has mastered two worlds, the everyday one where he had a job and a fiancee and the one he was pushed out of before-the world with Jo and storm-chasing.
At the beginning of the story Jo violates an interdiction in the form of missing a page in the divorce papers. At the gas station, she is assigned a task by Bill, who tells her he will stay with the project for one day, so she knows she only has one day to win Bill back and to succeed in working Bill's invention, which will pull him away from his weatherman job. She encounters the villain in the form of that guy from The Princess Bride who stole Bill's idea. She and the group have three encounters with the villain (ah! Jonas that's his name!) throughout the movie, and in the final one he dies a gruesome death.
The boons of Jo and Bill are much-desired scientific data, the reconciliation of their marriage, and survival and wisdom.

June 11, 2008

Jackie Chan and Whitecastle

A great example of films with fairytale/retellings themes are Hong Kong chopsocky kung-fu flicks. They very much embody the wonder tale (although they also have Eastern, Confucianism influenced themes.) Jackie’s Chan’s Master with Cracked Fingers being the case in point. The movie portrays the story of a young boy who wishes to learn kung-fu but doesn’t have enough money. A mysterious old man agrees becomes his teacher though, and he learns the art, despite his father’s angry objections. He uses his abilities to defeat some local thugs in retaliation for which his father is murdered. He trains even harder and finally he defeats the evil master and wins the day. This is a common plot for such films and a multitude of them have been made. This plot fits in very well with our general fairy tale plot. The protagonist is forbidden to do something, does it anyway, and is thus banished. He then meets a mysterious individual and is endowed with an incredible talisman/weapon/force/knowledge (kungfu) with which he is able to defeat his enemies. There is a temporary setback (father dies) but the hero recovers to defeat the villain and save the day. I’m very curious to know more about “fairytales? from non western cultures, and the similarities and differences between them.


Ok, now, for a film that isn’t so clearly fairytalish... I’d like to postulate that Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle is filled with fairy tale/legend motifs. The plot closely follows traditional questing tales. The story recounts how two roommates/friends get high off marijuana and embark on a quest to procure hamburgers from the Whitecastle restaurant chain. Their attempts meets failure again and again, and their simple quest requires them to travel for the entire night in search of a far distant Whitecastle. Along the way they meet various challenges and outwit various foes. The story includes personal growth of the two heroes and their inward journey that allows each to gain confidence about his future. Each conquers his own fears and emerges stronger from the ordeal, that at times threatens their lives. Their Odysseyian trip comes to an end when they finally reach the white castle and there arrived consume copious amounts of food.
Along the way they encounter a series of obstacles, each of which they intrepidly bypass. They are chased off Princeton’s campus after being caught smoking marijuana, Harold is bitten by a raccoon and at the hospital Kumar is forced to perform a dangerous surgery. Next, they crash their car, and an ugly but friendly truck driver invites them to his secluded cottage and offers them the opportunity to enjoy sexual favors with his young, beautiful, and willing wife. He attempts to join in, and the two heroes escape after which their car is stolen, and they are arrested. The story continues in a similar vein for quite awhile, with fantastic and unlucky events befalling the two heroes.
They are high for most of the movie, and this adds to the fantastical feel of the story. Although it does not fit perfectly, it has many of the characteristics we studied in class. Protagonists set out on a quest, are confounded by a series of difficult situations out of which they escape through a mix of cunning and luck, encounter personified animals (crazy raccoon and pot smoking cheetah, the cheetah is also somewhat of an animal helper, as they ride it) a woodsman, (tow truck driver) and ultimately grow wiser and achieve their goal.

June 10, 2008

Happily Never After

I recently watched a move called "Happily Never After" Yes that's right. NEVER after.

You see, the title ties into the movie's internal logic. The story takes place in aKingdom called "Fairy Tale Land". In this place, all the fairy tales you know and love: Cindrella, Snow White, Frog Prince, Little Red Ridding Hood, etc happen over and over again. They always end the same way, that is, the traditional happy ending.

THis is because there is a place the narrator calls 'Fairy Tale Land's Homeland Security' It's a tower in the castle l where three people live: The Wizard(who is never named) and his two assistants, Munk and Mumbo. These three watch over the Scales of Good and Evil. As long as these Scales stay balanced, Endings stay happy.

However, the endings are only happy for the main charactere of each story. Cinderlla, for instance, always marries the prince, she always gets her happy ending. The Scales exclude everyone else, like Rick, the prince's servant. He likes Ella but she's obbessed with the prince.

Anyway, the Wicked Step mother, Frieda, discovers the Scales just after The Wizard goes on vacation. She steals the Wizard's staff, tips the Scales toward Evil and takes over. Most of the movie is about Ella, Munk and Mumbo searching for The Prince because they are convinced only he can save the day. After all, he's the prince. The prince always saves the day. But the prince is idiot. In fact, he bases all his decisions on his 'how to be a prince' handbook. Normally this wouldn't be a problem, but with the Scales tipped toward Evil, he is no longer protected by Fate and is quickly captured.

So, Rick the Servant teams up with Ella and the bumbling assiastants to save the day on their own merit.
This time, Ella marries a dishwasher instead of a prince and they open a resturant together. The Prince, on the other hand, throws away his book and goes on a journey.

The point of reworked fairy tale, as I saw it, was every one can write their own stories. You don't need a script to find a happy ending.

June 9, 2008

Shrek: A Not So Typical Fairytale

Everybody has seen the movie, and everyone has met previously with the characters being re-introduced in this new age fairytale. The story takes place deep in the forest (a swamp to be exact) and follows any typical story line of a damsel in distress to be rescued by a seemingly typical prince, but when the princess is to be saved by a big green ogre the whole tone of the story changes.
The story follows Shrek on his journey from almost becoming a victim of a local round-up of infamous fairytale characters like Pinocchio , Little Bo Peep, and the three little pigs, just to name a few but is later recruited to rescue the princess from the grips of an evil dragon in a castle far, far away. Unhappy about his newly appointed journey, he trudges along with his trusty, yet annoying side kick, Donkey, and fights his way through a myriad of trials and tribulations set forth to detour him from success. As a fairytale should it ends with a happy ending, having rescued the princess from harm's way, only to find out she too is plagued with an ogre identity.
Along the way the viewer runs into many well-known characters, like the gingerbread man, and get to see them in a whole new light, a way that wasn't possible within the confines of their own story and although the movie has all the tell tale signs of your typical fairytale story, it's satirical tone lends a hand to the film as a new age fairytale that pokes fun at the rules set forth by all the characters and their fairytales' as told differently in the past.
So even though the story follows the appropriate rise and fall of your traditional fairytales the simple fact that the main character and his bride to be are ogres is an immediate introduction to the very un-traditional events that are to unfold as the story progresses. It is even more unique that the once beautiful princess is seen as suffering from a disease because she is an ogre but Shrek shows her that beauty isn't the path to happiness, but love is, even if it is ogre love. I think it's important that the implicit nature of the film is pointing to the concept that even though the fairytale is an unlikely event for the reality of everyday life, the characters, attitudes and humaness of the characters and the story they are sharing holds the movie to a whole new standard as say Cinderella or Snow White. It would be appear that the re-telling aspect of the movie is not in the story line itself but in the humanity and reality of the characters that are being met for the first time and those that are being re-troduced in the modern world.

South Park the Movie

I was watching South Park the movie this weekend and I realized how much it fits into the mythological tale format.
After Kenny dies (once again) trying to replicate a scene from a Canadian movie starring Terrence and Philip the boys saw, the citizens of South Park take action and force the government to go to war with Canada. Terrence and Philip are put on trial and are sentenced to death. Meanwhile, while in hell, Kenny uncovers a plot involving Satin and Saddam Hussein who plan to take over the world. Basically, as soon as Terrence and Philip die, Saddam and Satin will be able to leave Hell. When Kenny finds this out, he informs the other three boys about the plot. Also, the parents were concerned with the language the boys were using and Cartman's mom had a "swear chip" installed that gives him an electric shock whenever he swears. The boys embark on an adventure to stop Terrence and Philip from dying. They try to free them during a USO show, but Terrence and Philip are killed regardless, allowing Satin and Saddam to enter into Earth's realm. Meanwhile, Cartman's chip malfunctions, giving him the power to shoot electricity. Satin, who had been confiding in Kenny about Saddam trying to boss him around, gets fed up and kill Saddam. As a thank you to Kenny, he grants him any wish he wants. Kenny wishes for everything to go back to normal. So Satin returns to hell, Kenny goes to heaven, everyone that died is brought back to life, and the boys return to their normal life. The movie had the calling of the hero, the embarking to a distant land (Kenny in hell), an assigned task, encounter with a villan (Saddam), endowed gift (Cartman's chip that malfunctions), punishment of the villian, and survival.

June 7, 2008

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Since no one else wants to, I suppose I can discuss this obvious one...But I really really dig the Coen Brothers, and although I haven't seen the film in a really long time, the basics still stick with me.

And I must confess, I am incredibly interested and in love with the idea of retellings. It really draws me into it, whatever it may be.

So yeah, it's a retelling of the Odyssey. I really like the subtle hints at who characters are. Such as John Goodman's character having one eye and portraying the cyclops. Or the baptists and the Lotus Eaters (which, interestingly enough is the subject of a track on the new Opeth album "Watershed", which came out last week. The song it called "The Lotus Eater" but I'm not sure if there's any relevance...).

The film is set during the Depression, in the south somewhere, but it follows the original story very closely. In all honesty, that doesn't seem like a relevant time/place to set a retelling of the Odyssey but it works incredibly well. And it also adds a completely different take on it. Which is always cool.