Tuesday, April 10, 2007

River World

(Movie Review)

I mentioned earlier I like to watch “Wallace and Gromit” because it reminds me of Brett and Cecil. This movie is for you, Bear.

I’ve never read the “River World” books, but these books are somewhat famous among my boys because of an incident that took place during Rob’s wedding. I wasn’t there (bastard that I am, I missed Rob’s wedding because I was up in Hokkaido taking a Japanese language course that summer), but I’ve heard the tale several times.

Whilst Rob was rehearsing for the wedding, the boys had some free time to kill so they rented a car and drove around the West Coast. Bear was in the back seat reading a book. At this point, according to legend, Bosch leans over and asks, “Bear you’re always reading. Just once I’d like to know what’s in these books you read. Could you just read a little segment of that book out loud for me.” And with the signal given, the rest of the boys started asking Bear about the book, and Bear reluctantly explained the plot to the rest of them. And once they heard what the plot of the book was, the boys apparently had quite a good laugh about it. They must have, because I’ve heard the story several times now from several different people. The Bear himself even mentioned it to me when I was watching videos at his house this summer. There was a preview for a movie version, and Bear said, “That’s the RiverWorld series you guys gave me such a hard time about.” I had to remind the Bear that I wasn’t even there, although I’m sure I would have given him a hard time about it had I been there.

Because recently I’ve been trying to expand my reading list, I’ve been meaning to pick up the River World books for a while now just for the hell of it and because they are so renowned among the boys. And maybe I will someday. In the meantime, I saw the movie version at my local video store here in Japan, and I thought I would start with that.

Bear, or someone, will have to help me with how faithful this is to the books, but in the movie an astronaut dies in a space shuttle crash, and wakes up on a strange new world. Everyone who ever lived is reborn on this new world with all the memories of their previous life, but with a 25 year old body. They are given clothing and food from mysterious canisters.

Nero, the infamous evil emperor of Rome, leads the bad guys as they attempt to take control. Mark Twain leads a group of rebels who construct a River Boat, and want to sail up the river to find out what is the source of this strange river and what is the meaning of this planet.

A little internet research shows that this “movie” was actually supposed to be a television pilot for a Science Fiction channel TV series based on Riverworld which for one reason or another never got green lighted. That explains the low production values, and the fact that most of the questions (like, what is this strange planet and why is everyone there) remain unanswered at the end of the film.

Despite the low production values, and a lot of technical goofs in this film (day suddenly turning to night, etc), I’ve got to say that I thought it was a lot more interesting than many of the big budget Hollywood block busters I’ve seen in my time. Despite the ridiculous plot, it is kind of fun to imagine what would happen if all of history’s people all of a sudden woke up on the same river at the same time. Maybe its shame this never got made into its own series, but I’ll have to pick up the books someday.

For the amateur history buff, there is plenty to nit-pick. Aside from the fact that they are both bastards, the Nero in this film could not be more different from his historical inspiration. The Nero in this film is super-macho, fearless, an excellent fighter, is admired by his men, and has dreams of conquest and empire. The historical Nero was a fat mamma’s boy who had to rig athletic contests so he could win, who abandoned the running of the empire so he could focus on the arts, and who was a weakling who barely had the strength to perform his own suicide. To this film’s credits, it does address some of these incongruities near the end when one of the characters confronts Nero about the historical record, but I thought it was too little too late.

Other minor stuff as well. At one point a former holocaust victim tries to tell an African slave ship victim that he too was enslaved by white men. She has trouble believing that white people would be so wicked as to enslave their own race, but Africans themselves enslaved other Africans during era of slavery. Also the image of Mark Twain in this movie certainly isn’t the image I get of him from reading his books, but I guess some of this is open to interpretation.

Also, given that everyone wakes up on this strange planet naked as the day they were born, I have a hard time believing that they could construct all the weapons and buildings they have. The explanation given is that some people have been on River World for as long as 10 years, but I doubt even 10 years would be long enough to mine all the metal and construct all the swords and armor that Nero and the bad guys use, much less the elaborate post-industrial revolution steamboat that Mark Twain and his friends build.

But if you don’t question the small stuff too much, it can be an interesting 2 hours.

Useless Wikipedia Fact
Peter Lorre (June 26, 1904March 23, 1964), born Ladislav (László) Löwenstein, was an Austrian-Jewish stage and screen actor and director, who later became a naturalised US citizen. He was especially known for playing roles with sinister overtones in Hollywood crime films and mysteries. He is arguably the first Bond Villain, playing alongside Barry Nelson (who played an Americanised Bond) in the first screenplay adaptation of James Bond in 1954.

The practice of emulating Peter Lorre's unforgettable voice, look, and mannerisms is quite notable throughout television and cinema, dating from impersonations in various cartoons such as Looney Tunes; indeed, most persons doing impressions of Lorre's voice are actually imitating Warner Brothers' Mel Blanc doing his Lorre impression (Blanc is much broader and louder than Lorre generally was, and the cartoons seen much more often than Lorre's actual work). This can be noticed in characters such as Ren from Ren and Stimpy, Morocco Mole from Secret Squirrel, Rocky Rococo from various Firesign Theatre sketches, Surface Agent X20 from Stingray, Mr. Gruesome from The Flintstones, Staring Herring from Beany and Cecil, Marlon Fraggle from Fraggle Rock, Cruel from Count Duckula, Harry Slime from Avenger Penguins, Doctor N. Gin from the Crash Bandicoot series, Boo Berry from Boo Berry cereal, the hanging lamp from The Brave Little Toaster, Cosmos from Transformers, Flattop from The Dick Tracy Show, Wart from Rescue Rangers, and Digitamamon from Digimon were based on Lorre's mannerisms. In the episode "The Tick vs. Chairface Chippendale" from The Tick animated series, one of the villains attending Chairface's birthday party is "The Man Who Looks Like Peter Lorre." The script for Godspell includes a line which is suggested as being done in the style of Peter Lorre. Also, Rob Schneider ably played Lorre's character in the Saturday Night Live sketch, "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea." Tom Smith, award-winning filk singer, wrote a song in 1988, "I Want to Be Peter Lorre."[2] Even today, films show his distinct characteristics in characters, such as Arnold Toht from Raiders of the Lost Ark, a routine Robin William's genie character did in Disney's Aladdin and the maggot in Corpse Bride. And even in video games, the 2005 video game Destroy All Humans! features aliens that look similar to Lorre. As well, during gameplay, some humans will shout; "Help! We're being invaded by Peter Lorre!"

Link of the Day
Casualty Rate Surges: Troops Continue to Die for Bush's Lies

Update--I've gone through my email archives, and these are the original emails:

From Brett:
hey chewa,
i've decided to write you a little at a time instead of waiting for this "free time" that i have. I come to
the end of each work day thinking to myself, "damnit, i really need to write to chewy, but i really really don't want to be hear anymore..." i think you can sympathise. being at work longer than you have to is torture. but writing to you is sweeter than chocolate. so here we go, first story.

well, you know how bear is, right? when he's away, we all have fond memories of him being this little quirky character that's happy go lucky and who's easy going and jokes around all the time. but in reality, he really isn't. he's a pretty serious guy that keeps to himself much of the time and he's just easy to make fun of because he's so...different i guess. in fact, he's often kind of crabby, which makes poking at him all the more hilarious. well, ribz and i took to this quite often on the trip. in fact, we were talking at the end of the day, one day, and said that neither of us can remember when we laughed so hard. anyhow, let me give you a little background. this trip was a lot different than california. now i'm not trying to make light of our adventure in any way shape or form. hanging out with you last year was the highlight of my year. but i think that you can agree with me when i say that a part of the california trip kind of sucked, right? we felt kind of seperated from those guys because they were in the wedding party and we weren't. well, i think that rob really made a good decision by
not choosing any of us to be in his wedding, and just had his brother and those two high school buddies that he always talked about in his wedding. the result was that it gave the five of us (me, gerks, ribz, cakes, and bear) 4 days to hang out without anything to do. and it was really great. really really fun. i flew into oregon the week before and spent 5 days traveling and backpacking up the coast to seattle. i've never seen anything so beautiful. i kept thinking how fun it would have been to have you there. you would have appreciated it so much. chewy, the trees were HUGE. with this cool mist in the air all the time. it was unbelievable. i spent three days hiking along the beach. one day in the rain forest, and one day hiking along the snow capped peaks. it was great, but the bad thing was that i was alone and it would get pretty quite sometimes. anyhow, back to the wedding. so on
one of our free days we decided to drive down to mount rainer. this was a bit longer of a drive than we anticipated and we pretty much spent the entire day in the car. and, mind you, we are not small guys. well, i am. but cakes and ribz, and gerken are wide people. so the gerks drove the entire way and we all fought eachother to stay out of the "bitch" spot (middle back seat). well, on the way back from mount rainer, bear was being was reading one of his fantasy books and being pretty unsocialable. so matt started teasing him a bit and was saying stuff like, "why don't read us a
small passage from that book bear. you're always reading these books and i just would earnestly like to hear a paragraph." and matt would say no. "i don't think so matt!" and then we all started ribbing him.
"c'mon bear, we're not making fun of you, just a little sentence." but the whole time fighting sooooo
hard to keep from busting out laughing. so after losing the battle of him reading to us we started asking him questions about the book. and he would get really defensive saying things like, "it's just like normal life, except in this world there's one river that's like a million miles long and it runs all over the planet."
"so what's the point bear? just normal life, with a river?"
"yes! now leave me alone!"
"so where do these people live?"
"they live on the river."
"so they can they live anywhere else?"
"no, because there's huge cliffs along the river"
"so why don't they just climb up the cliffs"
"because there's not enough minerals to make tools."
and then he just shake his head at us like we were stupid or something. at this point ribz' face is all
red and he's about to lose it because bear keeps getting madder and madder.
"so they don't have any minerals? who's in this book?
"i said, just normal people!"
"like who?"
"well, like king henry, mark twain, a neanderthal..."
then i was like, "a what?! a neanderthal? what the hell bear?!"
"what? what makes you think neanderthals were so stupid? they were just like us except had larger
foreheads"
gerken, "yeah, so smart that they're EXTINCT BEAR!"
cakes, "what was mark twain doing in it"
bear, "oh it's pretty cool actually, he makes a riverboat, and some guy destroys it, and so he builds
another one."
so basically you get the jist of the hilarity here, right? he's explaining this ridiculous book to us like
it's perfectly normal. here, i always thought bear was so smart...always having his head in a book. i should have known by the movies he thinks are good. so the book actually got more ridiculous as the conversation went on. apparently everyone on this planet is trying to get to the source of this river because their's some evil genius that created the whole planet. and when people get killed in the book they are warped back to a different spot on the river back to the age of 25. and get this, the way they get food is that each night, they set out this bucket and a lightning bolt comes out of the sky and puts food in it. at this point, ribz was like "what's put in the bucket, like twinkies and stuff?" bear looks at him with ridiculous
look, and says "no, whisky, ciggarrettes...stuff like that. and they all trade stuff kind of like how
inmates do." which is equally ridiculous as twinkies being zapped into the buckets. this put us all into a rolling laughter. at the same time we pulled into a gas station, bear got out of the car, leaned his head down into it and said "matt, we do always got to make fun of my shit" and slammed the door. at this point we felt kind of bad and tried to appologize but it always resulted into laughter. now, if bear would have just said that the book was pretty far fetched and told us about it, then we probably wouldn't have thought that it was so funny. but the fact that he claimed that it was "just like normal life except that there is one long river" just made it...so bear. and we hadn't had any bear logic in a long time. anyhow, so now you know that story. and it's been an hour since i started typing this message and i want to go home. later chewbs. --brett.

2nd Message--From Bosch

Chewie,

Bear's is reading book three in a series of five books regarding a 10,000,000 mile river that winds around some planet.  Somehow, every person who has ever lived has been reincarnated at age 25 and lives along this river.  Apparently, a group of people , including a Neanderthal and Mark Twain, has decided to pursue the head waters of this river.  The series of books (approx 300 pages per book) is about their adventures traveling to the head waters.  I asked Bear if there was anything fantastic or magical about the story and he said "No, everything is just like it is on our planet!"
However, after probing further, we determined that the way these people receive there food is through a lightning-bucket, which is placed in the river.  Apparently, once a day lightning hits these buckets and fills them with food, cigarettes, and alcohol.  Contrary to Bear's original claim, Brett and I found this to be a little "magical." 

Keep Cool Chewie,

Matt

1 comment:

Dozer said...

This particular story of Riverworld reminds of the TV series "Lost" which I usually watch each week. THe people in Lost are stranded on a mysterious island after a plane crash. There are already people on the island-"the others"-and we arent sure if they are evil or good. I am usually 'lost' trying to figure out the show. Chris (Pasta) thinks they may be in Purgatory, which explains some things, but raises other questions too. FUn times