Sunday, June 30, 2013

Seek the Original (abbreviated): Aladdin

Sometimes there just isn't much to say about a book/movie comparison. So here's an abbreviated seek the original of:

(story traditional / Most famous film version: 1992 by Disney)

In China, Aladdin is a teenager who shuns work and wanders the streets. Then a man claiming to be his lost uncle makes friends with his family and offers to raise Aladdin to be a merchant. But he takes him out of town, performs a magic spell and opens a strange cave. He gives Aladdin a ring to protect him from evil and sends him down to retrieve a lamp.

Aladdin does so, but after refusing to give the man the lamp first before being pulled out of the cave, the magician seals him in the cave, intending to let him die so he can take the lamp for himself at his leisure. But Aladdin rubs the ring the magician gave him and a genie appears. Aladdin orders the genie to take him home, which it does.

At home, Aladdin's mother cleans the lamp and a genie appears. Aladdin asks for food, and it provides them with food in abundance. They make a comfortable living selling the silver dishes and platters that came with it.

Aladdin falls in love with the princess and uses the lamp's magic to win the Sultan's permission to marry her. He then uses the lamp to have a magnificent palace built next to the Sultan's.

After a couple years of living in happiness, the evil magician tricks the princess into giving up the magic lamp for a new one. The magician wishes the palace away to Africa. The Sultan, fearing for his daughter's safety, is about to have Aladdin killed, but the people love him so much the Sultan fears a rebellion if he does. He gives Aladdin 40 days to restore the palace.

Aladdin searches for days, until one day he accidentally rubs the ring again. The genie of the ring takes Aladdin to where the palace is now. He and the princess poison the magician and order the lamp genie to return the palace to China.

But this didn't go unnoticed. The evil magician's brother seeks to avenge his brother's death. He disguises himself as a holy woman and tricks the princess into letting him into the palace (what is it with women in old stories always letting evil into men's lives??).

He tricks the princess into asking Aladdin to make an impossible command, but instead of ruining Aladdin for it, the genie spares Aladdin and informs him of the assassin in his palace. Aladdin kills the second evil magician, the Sultan dies of natural causes, the princess takes his place on the throne and everyone lives happily ever after.

There is a lot to say about how we know the story of Aladdin today verses how it was originally told, but a quick glance at wikipedia says it all.

My thoughts on it are quite few. The story takes place in China, but it's impossible to imagine it set there because nothing resembles China. People go to mosques, there is a Sultan, khans, people can approach the sultan to make direct requests. None of this is Chinese. Refreshing to know that even people in the middle east had no idea what China was like either. China was far-far-away land to them.

And... Aladdin has two genies. One in the lamp, one in the ring. Why does he need the lamp? Can't the genie of the ring build him a new palace? Why did the first evil magician want the lamp when he had the magic ring? Surely he knew about the ring--he must have rubbed it at some point! The genie of the ring serves no purpose and makes things too complicated. Why introduce a second genie when one is enough? Aladdin had the lamp in the cave; why not just rub that? Then when his palace goes missing, tales of a beautiful palace appearing out of nowhere reach him from Africa and he knows where to travel?

I enjoyed the classic story as a classic story. It is quite shocking to read the original, and how wildly different it is from the various modern adaptations. We tend to skip the China location and set the story were it was meant to be anyway. We also leave out the multitudes of black slaves and the cheating Jew. Getting rid of the ring genie improves the story greatly, keeping things focused and simple. The modern adaptations use everything that works and leave out the things that don't, making the story of Aladdin much better.

Oh, and there's no three-wish limit. There is no mention of "wishes" at all. The genie is a servant.

The story is very simplistic. Commoner finds genie, lifts himself out of poverty, is accepted into the nobility and lives happily ever after. No twist, no lesson, no moral. In a society with little social mobility, I can see how this would have been every common man's dream. Look at the story as an expression of this and it makes sense. It is, after all, why we tell stories.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Seek the Original (abbreviated): Psycho

Sometimes there just isn't much to say about a book/movie comparison. So here's an abbreviated seek the original of:

(Book by Robert Bloch. Movie: 1960 by Alfred Hitchcock)

I enjoyed the book and the movie, but still have very little to say about them. It's impossible to discuss this in any detail without spoilers.

Bloch's book is written in a loose, informal, internal monologue style. It's a tale of the ultimate mamma's boy. A man named Norman Bates living alone in a house running a small hotel is actually more a boy than a man. He's still living with the scars of his overbearing mother. He still protects her, cares for her, loves and fears her. So when a beautiful young woman comes to the hotel, and Norman has a slight inclination of being an adult man, mother steps in to protect him from temptation by killing the woman while she showers. It of course doesn't end there. People come looking for her, and now Norman has to cover it up. He has to protect his mother.

Hitchcock's movie follows the book's story fairly close, which surprised me. The book puts us in very intimate touch with Norman's thoughts, and because much of the book takes place from his point of view, his thoughts on mother make her real. The mother presence in the movie isn't nearly as real as it should be.

Much of the internal monologue is replaced by dialogue, but Norman doesn't sound or act like a man suffering from the scars of an abusive mother and decades of isolation. He's not that creepy at all in the film. There was plenty of dialogue in the book that established what he is, but none of it was used. The book of course allows us to get to know him a lot better, and it makes all the difference because we see a lot more of the disturbed mamma's boy. The film barely shows it.

The movie tells the story well enough, but the book is still much better.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Seek the Original (abbreviated): The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Sometimes there just isn't much to say about a book/movie comparison. So here's an abbreviated seek the original of:

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
(book by Douglas Adams. Series: 1981. Movie: 2005)

There should be so much to say about this book (series). But... as much as I love it, I have little to say. It's great! The universe is the rabbit hole filled with ridiculous and thus plausible ideas and observations about life, the universe, and everything. It’s a series following characters trying to find the meaning of life... well, okay, they don’t try, they just stumble into the journey. The kicker is that as improbable as the ideas are, they’re strangely believable. Kinda like a yeah, that would be just our luck sort of believability. Dramatic alien invasions go unnoticed, Earth has a purpose after all and then it’s destroyed for a completely bureaucratic reason, and the answers to the mysteries of the universe are common knowledge to everyone but us.

The 2005 film version, however, does very little with that. Instead of being about the meaning of life, it focuses mostly on the romance between Arthur and Trillian. This is barely touched on in the book, and it was all right as is because the book was never meant to be a romance. The movie is about the wrong thing! It should've been about the meaning of life, bureaucracy and what a dumb place the universe is, not Arthur hooking up with Trillian!

But everything else about the movie is perfect! Mos Def nailed the role of Ford, Zooey Deschanel is perfect as Trillian, Sam Rockwell is ideal as Zaphod, and Martin Freeman is absolutely PERFECT as Arthur Dent. Stephen Fry is SO GOOD as the voice of the Guide I can't imagine anyone else performing it now. And the Vogons! I never had a clear picture of the Vogons when reading the book, but when I saw the movie I thought yup, those are Vogons. I have never pictured them any other way since.

Really, the humor is spot on, the action is funny, the guide is funny, the story is good enough for what it is. I wish it had done more with the meaning of life motif, but even so it's still faithful to the spirit of the humor in Adams's book.

What about the '81 TV series? It's... cult. Made on a budget of nothing, it takes a lot of getting used to. But they tried, and it is much more faithful to the book, following it almost step by step, even covering the events in the second book as well, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. I wish this series had been remade with the casting and production values of the 2005 film. It's a decent viewing if you wanna have some laughs at the cheesy special effects.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Be scared

Advice for writers: every new project should scare you.

If you're not intimidated by the sight of that big idea you have, and the arduous task of translating it into something tangible, you're probably too confident.

Right now I'm scared. I have an idea. One I've been thinking about in one form or another since the seventh grade. One that has been begging to be solidified. Could turn into a series, could not. I'm not sure yet.

I have hesitated to write it before because I wanted to do some standalone projects first. I've written several of those books and have spent several years trying to find a publisher for them. I don't see a reason to wait; no matter what I write it's all equally difficult to publish. Now seems like a good time to clear my head of what is probably my oldest idea.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Barry Palmer, Night Thoughts

Barry Palmer has a new album out.

Night Thoughts

Having heard almost nothing of him since he worked with Mike Oldfield in the 80's, I'm happy he released a solo album. He had a one-of-a-kind voice and I was sad he seemed to fall off the radar. But now he has a new album and I wanted to talk about it.

It's a smooth, easygoing album. The songs are well-written and they have much to say. It's not just two short verses then repeat the chorus five times. No, they tell stories, they last a long, comfortable while, and they're the kind you wish you could sing yourself if you had the voice.

Go to the album's page for sound samples.

My favorite tracks include

Innocent: A great introduction to what the entire album is. (See video above.) If you like this song, you're probably going to like the rest, too.

Dear John: nothing much to say about this one. It was a single in 2001, and it's nice to see it released properly now. It's a catchy song with great lyrics.

Here to Stay: very happy, positive.

Maybe It's You: easily my favorite song on the album. Barry proves he can hit those high notes like he used to. It's a smooth, steady melody with catchy lyrics. This is the song I hum idly at work.

Miracle Tonight: another memorable melody. This is the other song I tend to hum idly.

A Better Man: this is such a sad song, one which Palmer's voice is suitable for.

Check it out!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Seek the Original: Jaws

72.9% of everything Hollywood does is adapted from a book, or short story, or comic. Never settle for an adaptation. Seek the original!

by Peter Benchley

You'd think a book rumored to be about a giant shark killing people would be bloody and violent, right?

I didn't expect it to be mostly about local town politics. You see, in this small town of Amity, Long Island, tourism is the lifeblood of the economy. For just one season a year, the beaches attract vacationers who pump a lot of money into the small town with only 1,000 permanent residents. Their survival depends on tourism.

So when a shark kills three people, nobody is all that horrified at their deaths. They're much more concerned about the cost of closing the beaches, and what the reputation of a killer shark in the water will do to the town's image, and if tourists will cease to come there ever again.

This is mostly what the book is about. Local politicians and businessmen struggling to keep the killings secret so as not to scare away the tourists. Then they go against caution to reopen the beaches as soon as possible so they can catch the start of vacation season and try to make enough money to survive the rest of the year.

There's also a subplot involving Ellen (the police chief's wife) and Hooper (the marine biologist). Ellen is a depressed housewife who wants to break out of her dull, unhappy life and go back to the days gone by when she was free and happy. So she gets in bed with Hooper.

This should be interesting, but the way she goes about it is rather stupid. She invites him to lunch one rainy day, and out of the blue they start talking about their sexual fantasies. Just like that, only the second conversation they have in private, Ellen tells him she has a rape fantasy...

Rape. Fantasy. Ok, ok, I get that people can be into some weird stuff, but this is... I didn't find it endearing or erotic. Just creepy. Almost offensive.

Then he walks her through one of his fantasies! If they were old friends I could see this happening, but they literally just met! This is the second conversation they've had! What the hell opened the gates?? It's so matter-of-fact and uncalled for, and it goes on for pages and pages!

This is the majority of the book! Bickering among the townspeople to keep the beaches open for the tourists, and Ellen's affair. The book is supposed to be about a shark eating people, isn't it? Far be it from me to dis a book for NOT being a typical monster story, but come on. When the book is all about politics and rape fantasy, it's hard to be scared.

Finally in part three we get Brody (the police chief), Hooper (the shark expert) and some shady fisherman to whom we are only introduced at the 2/3 mark (Quint), on a boat hunting the shark.

They spend a few days on the water, the shark teases them, then finally Hooper gets a shark cage and dives in to get a better look at the shark... and maybe to draw him close for a kill. The shark breaks through the bars and kills Hooper.

I didn't see that coming. I assumed Brody and Hooper would bicker about Ellen, egos would clash, metaphorical cocks would be compared, and then finally the shark would attack the boat and Brody and Hooper must cooperate to kill the shark and make it home alive.

But to my surprise Hooper is killed. Now Quint and Brody take on the shark alone. The monster fish must have read Moby Dick, for it starts attacking the boat.

It's what the entire book should have been, but instead it wastes two-thirds of the pagecount on local politics, squabbling about money, and a desperate housewife. The whole shark thing is underplayed while the petty drama is overplayed. It's only in part 3 that things actually get good, and even then the book ends with no real resolution to the housewife plot, or Amity's politics. For all that buildup, we're not told how Amity itself fares after the shark incident.

I was disappointed. Then again, I'm reading this some 40 years after it was published. It's likely every story since has followed Jaws' example. I expected it to be a pulpy monster story. I was actually hoping for that. At least it would be exciting. Local politics is not. Practical and realistic as it would be to a town such as Amity, it's not interesting. The book isn't terrible, but I didn't enjoy it.

Compare that to...

Jaws (1975)
starring Roy Schneider, Robert Shaw, and Richard Dreyfuss

It's unfair to judge this movie as compared to the book because it's a creative work all to itself, as Peter Benchley helped write the screenplay. Really, I'd call the movie all the good parts of the book with none of the fluff to slow it down. The city politics are pushed to the background, the plot of the Mayor's ties to the mob buying up real estate while prices are cheap and then reselling it for profit later is gone, and the desperate housewife subplot is omitted as well.

The first hour of the film follows the original story somewhat closely. Shark attacks, Chief Brody wants to close the beaches, but the political and business powers want to keep them open for the sake of the tourism. When a kid is eaten by the shark in full view of the entire town, all the fishermen go on a mass shark hunt. They bring back a shark all right, but it's not the one that killed the woman and the kid.

Brody wants to close the beach, but of course the local powers that be disagree. They want to keep the tourists coming. It's not until there's another death in front of the whole town that the mayor realizes there's a serious problem. He hires Quint to kill the shark, and this comprises the final hour of the film. Hunting the shark.

It's actually an improvement. Without a real estate subplot and an affair clogging the plot, the shark attacks happen in quick succession, which keeps things moving. In the book they do nothing but slow things down and spread out the attacks way too far apart. It makes more sense for the town to react by going on a mass shark hunt. It's not done in the book, but it should have been.

In the movie, we get to know Quint a little better. His story implies why he's so obsessed with hunting sharks. He served in the Navy, his ship was torpedoed, and while lost at sea he watched hundreds of his crewmen eaten by sharks. It's pretty vivid, and it's not done in the book. Quint has no history in the original story. He's just a fisherman.

The only real flaw in the movie is... the shark itself. Even in the 70's everyone thought the shark looked fake, but nonetheless they were still scared of it. It's only noticeable during the film's last five minutes, when the shark is out of the water. It's jarring and laughable, but in spite of that, the final confrontation is greatly improved compared to how the book ends. In the book, Brody is more or less just along for the ride. He doesn't kill the shark. It simply dies from the wounds Quint inflicted on it previously. He doesn't really do much in the book, surviving by mere luck instead of deserving to. In the movie, he's an active character, and he does kill the shark. It's contrived, but it's spectacular!

I think the movie is a huge improvement over the story. It cuts the fluff and keeps the focus on the shark, where it belongs.

Of course we know now that sharks don't behave this way. They don't ram their way through steel cages just to eat divers, they don't go around sinking boats, and they don't eat everything in sight. Both the book and the movie portray sharks as mindless eating machines, which definitely did their image no favors. Thankfully we have a little more information regarding just what sharks are and how they behave these days.

For example, we know sharks are selective about what they eat. They've been observed to take a bite of something, hang back, decide if they like it, then either go in for the kill or swim away. I think most of the damage this movie did is now undone and we're free to enjoy a monster movie for what it is, not to assume this represents typical shark behavior. It's a monster movie. Nothing more.

This was the first time I'd seen it, and I watched it after I read the book. I didn't like the book too much, but the movie was pretty good.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

OMG the govt it SPYING ON US!!111

I think it's curious that when we learn the government is collecting phone records and tracking who we send emails to, everybody panics and cries out Big Brother is real!

But when certain companies like Facebook and Google and Amazon track our web browsing, scan our email content for keywords, track our search history and even use our cell phone locations to monitor our movements through their stores; feed that information into giant computers and target us with advertising, nobody cares.

I don't approve of it, but it started under Bush and I am disappointed the Obama administration didn't stop. I'm also not surprised. It's been this way for a long time, people. We've been tracked and monitored for a very long time. Doesn't matter if the government stops. They're just taking advantage of the information that already exists, which companies already keep and use against us.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Internet Speaks for Me 3

Allowing the internet to say things which would be unwise to use my own words to express.