Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Fantasy and Sci-Fi Weekend

I’ve never been a big fan of fantasy and science fiction as genres. I mean I dig dystopian futures, like in The Matrix, but not so much magic and aliens. Apart from the Harry Potter series, I’ve hardly forayed into the mystical deep or the recesses of space, so to speak. So it came as a surprise, even to me, when I felt like having a Star Wars and Lord of the Rings marathon over the weekend. I didn’t have anything better to do, and I was happy for any excuse to put my homework off, to be honest, so I didn’t make much of it at the time, however uncharacteristic of me it was. At any rate, I thought it’d be good fun.

Anyway, as I’ve said, except Harry Potter, I’ve never held any serious interest for the two genres of fantasy and science fiction. I think I made an exception for Harry Potter because it’s a product of my generation as a nineties baby, and I grew up reading all the books and seeing all the film adaptations. In a way, as the characters of Harry Potter underwent their coming of age, so did I, and Harry Potter was a rite of passage for me. But of course, don’t get me wrong, I was never that into the fandom to the point of the lore. So while I had a relationship with Harry Potter from childhood, my exploration into fantasy worlds was limited, or pretty casual.

Going back to Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, when I saw these, I was too young, and had too short an attention span to understand. Of course the first three film installments of Star Wars came out in the seventies and eighties, so I didn’t really get much exposure to it, apart from catching bits and parts on cable and hearing my parents’ jokes about Chewbacca and Jabba the Hutt, so I chalk that up to a huge generation gap. Read: I wasn’t born yet. And as for Lord of the Rings trilogy, though the films came out in the early years of 2000, I was engrossed in Harry Potter and other things to give hobbits and The Shire a chance. That, and as a kid, I didn’t have much patience for really long movies that were heavy on not too kid friendly jargon and strange names for even stranger creatures. In Harry Potter, I discovered the wonders of magic right along with Harry, but in Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, you plunge right into unfamiliar alternative universes and mythology, so it’s literally a huge space to fill.

Which brings me to the present. I had no prior knowledge of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. I mean, they’re both such huge pop culture references and icons, and they’ve influenced so many and have followings, so I at least had a vague idea of what they were all about, but I felt mostly left out. While I’d heard and seen various imitations and parodies of Darth Vader’s breathing and the “Luke, I’m your father” moment, I didn’t quite get it because they didn’t mean anything to me, at the time. But recently, I’ve been positively hooked on 9GAG and internet memes, and there are so many memes and jokes with Star Wars and Lord of the Rings references, and I felt out of the loop, or that I was missing out on some kind of inside joke. For example, the “Run, you fools;” or “One does not simply walk in Mordor;" and “You were my brother, I loved you;” “It’s a trap!” Best of all, “You shall not pass!”

So I thought it was about time I closed the gap, because I really felt like, even if I wasn’t particularly drawn to either fantasy or sci-fi as genres, that Star Wars and Lord of the Rings were too important in pop culture to remain ignorant! They’re fundamental to a well-rounded journey in pop culture, and as a student of media, not just a mass media consumer, I didn’t want to stay in the dark. And that was when the game changed.

Last Friday night, I downloaded the complete Star Wars saga, and our internet was so ridiculously fast, I left it overnight, and when I woke up the next morning, all six movies, Episodes I through VI were all done! So I spent my entire Saturday having a Star Wars movie marathon, and while I was watching, I had started downloading the Lord of the Rings trilogy, multi-tasking like a boss! Yet again, even our internet had conspired in my favor to get me to finally watch the two series, because my internet speed was through the roof! I don’t download the GB-sized films because I only watch them on my computer anyway, and not on a huge television screen, so I only downloaded the lower resolution, but in the case of Star Wars, all six movies were two hours long, and that around 500+ MB, and if I recall correctly, the torrent was larger than 3GB and it took less half a day to download, and that’s saying something on a basic residential internet connection. And as for Lord of the Rings, there were torrents of the complete trilogy, but they were all so big, I downloaded the movies one by one, and they’re all three hours long, so they were well over 600 MB each, but I think the three only took a couple of hours to finish, and this is during the daytime!

But then, of course, I watched them in real time, so however fast my downloads went, the movies really ate up the entire weekend. Seriously, I spent the weekend holed up in my room, only leaving to pee and bathe and for mealtimes. And of course, I would pause to work out. Not even epic movies can get in the way of my health and fitness. But yes, the films were nothing short of epic. Epic in scale, narrative, visual design, and that is especially evident in fantasy and sci-fi, because whole new worlds, universes, and realities are created, woven out of the fabric of imagination! And I know the Lord of the Rings Trilogy is based on books, so I can’t even begin to fathom how rich the source materials were for the films to be so grand. But that’s my next project, to read the books. I don’t know how it’ll change my point of view though, seeing the films before reading the books, how they will compare. But then that’s never been too much of a problem for me, because I always treat films and books differently, as films have an audio-visual language, and how I imagine things out of words is never quite the same. Like in Harry Potter, a lot of die-hards and hardcore fans complain that the films fall short, or aren’t faithful to details, but cramming volume-length books into a film of reasonable length is a tall order, and they have to consider how audiences will sit through long films. That’s why I never expect it from film adaptations, and I just like to enjoy how my favorite books and stories have been interpreted.

But yeah, I think the main weakness of the Harry Potter film franchise, is that the series of books was still ongoing when the films were produced, and they were done without any idea of the complete picture yet, so from film to film, there’s a sense of discontinuity or inconsistency, and that’s really obvious when you watch in a marathon, not only is there a feeling that the films change hands, where there should be a common thread holding the film series together, because the films didn’t have a common goal or ending as a framework right off the bat. That, from the first Harry Potter film, there wasn’t a a seventh book yet, so the movie wasn’t filmed with that in mind. Whereas, in Lord of the Rings, the books were written long before film adaptations, so in conceptualizing the films, they could be crafted to be more climactic, and make the most of the full potential of the books, and there was a natural progression, because they already knew where they were going. And though Star Wars isn’t based on a book, the linear quality is especially true for Star Wars, because even if the Original Trilogy was done in the late seventies up to early eighties, and the Prequel Trilogy starting more than a decade later, it doesn’t skip a beat and they tie so well to each other, which makes them all the more impressive. Though the technology had made so many advances, the storytelling remained fluid, even if it was done backwards and with over a decade in between. And in Lord of the Rings, the films were cliff-hangers, yes, but they were just conclusive enough to get you itching for the next one.

So on Saturday, I spent a gripping twelve hours watching Star Wars. I had seen a meme with the recommended viewing order for Star Wars, but I decided to watch it conventionally, meaning, in chronological release order, the original, before the prequel. And I was really amazed, that even in the seventies, the special effects are still passable, good even, by today’s standards. George Lucas had such foresight, or just really great  prowess that what was done in the seventies, is still futuristic today! That to me is the most important thing, that’s it’s believable and convincing, and when I’m watching, I get immersed or drawn into it and I get to experience through film a reality far from my own, transporting me to another place and time, to galaxies far away and unknown. That sounds escapist, but isn’t that the point?

Okay, and I don’t deny the appeal was largely due to a dashing young Harrison Ford as Hans Solo; and Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, and Hayden Christensen as Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Anakin Skywalker, respectively. But even as I always love action, big fight scenes and high speed chases whether in present day cities or outer space, I love how Star Wars has all these profound themes, such as the notion of the Force and the Dark Side, good versus evil, and fighting for what you believe in. Star Wars is both triumphant and tragic in that, yes Luke Skywalker reconciled his father back to the light side of the Force, in the end, but then in the first place, Anakin Skywalker lost everything he loved by giving into his fear, that fear turning into anger, anger into hatred, and hatred into pain and suffering, he just self-destructed, and emerged a shell of his former self, as Darth Vader. Though there was redemption for him in the end, it was such a loss, when he held so much promise. And it’s no so much the whole father son thing, because Luke hardly knew his father as Anakin Skywalker, so there was no love lost there. That’s nothing next to Obi-Wan Kenobi’s heartbreak as his master, teacher, and friend. Obi-Wan believed in him, put his faith in him, and mentored him in Qui-Gon’s stead, yet Anakin betrayed that trust, and forced Obi-Wan to maim Anakin, and later live in obscurity, like a wanted fugitive. And it was all Anakin’s fault really, he was so full of himself, and had so much hubris, that he misconstrued the Jedi Masters teaching him patience and wisdom as holding him back, curbing him. It’s a dark day indeed when the Master, that took Anakin under his wing, must fight his own beloved student, to keep him from harming others. But more than anything else, even adventure, I think Star Wars is all about friendship. Not about from freedom from tyranny, no I don’t think so. Not even the Force, defeating evil, or overcoming your inner demons, and rising above hatred and anger to find compassion. This is just me, but I think Star Wars is ultimately about friendship so deep that you would rather see your friend dead than have him turn his back on all that was good in him, and in the process destroying the lives of others. Rather than stand by and watch him turn into a monster, Obi-Wan left Anakin for dead, no matter how much it pained him. I think perhaps that’s what makes Star Wars so enduring, because of the universal value of friendship. That and its unforgettable theme music. Not kidding.

Moving onto Lord of the Rings, I spent most of Sunday watching the trilogy (that’s nine hours!) back to back. Lately I’ve been drawn to Medieval fantasy types of settings in shows and movies, much more the Medieval, than the fantasy part. I love Kings and castles, swords, armor, and warfare. And Lord of the Rings did not disappoint in that respect, because I feasted my eyes on just about every kind of landscape, from imposing fortresses, to underground lairs, from enchanted forests to craggy mountains. The production design was just orgasmic. All the intricate sets and costumes! My dream is to work on a project of that scale, someday. To achieve that kind of vision and make fantasy into reality!

But anyway, Lord of the Rings, felt like I was on the arduous and perilous journey with the whole Fellowship. Because each film was around three hours long, I was along for the whole ride, through hell and high water, literally. When watching average films, at the one hour mark more or less everything’s starting to fall into place, but with Lord of the Rings, an hour into any of the films, and it’s only just begun! Even in the last thirty minutes there are still so many surprises in store! And I’m the type of person who loves spoilers, at that. Spoilers, for me, don’t spoil the ending, but actually make me even more eager to find out how it all plays out! I know what to expect, but I don’t know how it’ll all happen, if you get my drift. I mean, when I read a synopsis for anything, it tells you what’s going to happen, but then it doesn’t account for the mise-en-scène, nothing of the aesthetic, and besides knowing how it’s going to end doesn’t change the way I feel about it. Oh well, that’s me. Back to the point. I loved how the Lord of the Rings didn’t just revolve around Frodo, and all the rich characters had their chance to shine and hold the spotlight. While Frodo was inching his way to Mordor, the rest of the characters were off fighting their own battles, and you don’t get bored. I mean if it were only about Frodo, and it took him three movies to complete his mission at that, then, that’s pretty stale. Yes, that was the main story line, but each character had sub-quests to keep them busy, and more importantly, me entertained!

But at the end of the day, after nine hours straight, I was really dismayed when Frodo succumbed to the ring. I mean, he came all that way, and went through so much hardship, but he proved no match for the ring. And that says something about the nature of power. It’s so intoxicating, that before you know it, you’ve been corrupted by it. You might even mean well, but absolute power is just not meant to be wielded by any one person. It was a valiant effort by Frodo, he bore that burden for so long, but when it came time to dispose of the ring, he too was taken over by it, weakened and unable to resist it any longer. But what was most striking, was Sam’s devotion to Frodo, he was by Frodo’s side through it all—unwavering, unfaltering, and constant. But I sometimes wonder about sidekicks and their motivations. I don’t understand it because I’m not that type of self-sacrificing person, but I’ve always admired it. I don’t think I have that kind of capacity, so when I witness it in others, I ask myself what they have that I don’t, and then I remember how I once chose self-preservation over love and friendship. But that’s a story best told another day.

In a nutshell, Lord of the Rings and Star Wars are both so well executed, that when they ended, I felt fulfilled and satisfied. It ran its course and I have no regrets whatsoever. I didn’t quite get that feeling from Harry Potter, though. It’s as if not everything had been said and done yet, and I was sorry when it came to and end. But then you can’t always have it all…

Epic movies are epic!

Avengers, SOON!

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