Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 (Book and Movie)

So it has come to pass. Twenty years after an “idea simply fell into” author J.K. Rowling’s head, we are nearing the completion of a franchise development truly without precedent. Not only did Rowling manage to write an extremely rare heptilogy of novels, and make every one engaging enough to keep readers begging for more, but Warner Brothers Studios is now nearing completion of a truly unique achievement: an actual octilogy of multi-hundred-million dollar films, consistently written and cast over ten years. This achievement deserves mention, even if it’s ultimately just a testament to mindless consumerism. With so many major characters in the epic tale, many of them juveniles, keeping the entire cast together for eight movies must have been a managerial and legal nightmare, to say nothing of churning the movies out fast enough to (almost) keep up with the aging actors. Add to that the level of special effects the story requires and the problems always posed by child actors, and it’s truly amazing any of these films turned out decent.

And I would have to say, that’s just what they are: decent. Nothing more, nothing less. None of them are bad by any means, but it’s impossible for me to watch one without thinking about how much more powerful the book was. The books, unfettered by the logistical problems mentioned above, and free to be as long as they needed, took us to places no movie ever could. Two of the most powerful scenes from Book VII – when Ron destroys the locket, and when Herminoe attacks him afterward – have been reread many times by me, drinking in every word and feeling the raw emotion of the characters. Both of these scenes are pretty flat in the movie. In all honesty, though, I can’t read the more recent books without longing for the early books.

The tone of the stories has certainly changed along the way from Sorceror’s Stone to Deathly Hallows. Check out this excerpt from Stone, chapter 8:

There were a hundred and forty two staircases at Hogwarts: wide, sweeping ones; narrow rickety ones; some that led somewhere different on a Friday; some with vanishing steps halfway up that you had to remember to jump. Then there were doors that wouldn’t open unless you asked politely, or tickled them in exactly the right place, and doors that weren’t really doors at all, but solid walls just pretending. It was also very hard to remember where anything was because it all seemed to move around a lot. The people in the portraits kept going to visit each other, and Harry was sure the coats of armor could walk.

Now listen to Hallows, chapter 1:

“Do you recognize our guest, Severus?” asked Voldemort. Snape raised his eyes to the upside-down face. All of the Death Eaters were looking up at the captive now, as though they had been given permission to show curiosity. As she revolved to face the firelight, the woman said in a cracked and terrified voice, Severus! Help me!”

“Ah, yes,” said Snape as the prisoner turned slowly away again. “For those of you who do not know,” said Voldemort, “We are joined here tonight by Charity Burbage who, until recently, taught at Hogwarts.”  There were small noises of comprehension around the table. A broad, hunched woman with pointed teeth cackled. “Yes, Professor Burbage taught the children of witches and wizards all about Muggles … how they are not so different from us …”

“Severus … please … please …”

Nobody laughed this time. There was no mistaking the anger and contempt in Voldemort’s voice. For the third time, Charity revolved to face Snape. Tears were pouring from her eyes into her hair. Snape looked back at her, quite impassive, as she turned slowly away from him again.

Avada Kedavra.”

The flash of green light illuminated every corner of the room. Charity fell, with a resounding crash, onto the table below, which trembled and creaked. Several Death Eaters leapt back in their chairs. Draco fell out of his onto the floor. “Dinner, Nagini,” said Voldemort softly, and the great snake swayed and slithered from his shoulders onto the polished wood.

We all love stories about more exciting worlds hidden in our own. As we all know, the premise of Harry Potter is that there is a civilization of wizards and witches living in hiding somewhere within our own world. There are enough of them and they have enough power and resources to have their own towns, traditions and unique modes of transportation. Of course, if you’re buying this, you’ll probably buy that there are mutant turtles practicing ninjitsu in the sewer. Why haven’t any of the zillion satellites orbiting the earth photographed Hogwarts? How could an airborne event the size of the Quiditch World Cup go unnoticed by Muggles? If wizards are so powerful, why do they need to hide? The story occasionally posits flimsy explanations for this, but of course, we all know, the real answer is WHO FRICKIN’ CARES? Harry Potter gives us the chance to escape our world completely and enter one of dragons, adventure and the moral clarity that’s hard to find in real life.

Some more questions about Harry’s world: if Parseltounge is such a rare gift, why can any human apparently talk to Aragog the Spider in Chamber of Secrets? Why is Hogwarts full of ghosts, while Harry’s parents and other’s killed by Voldemort are truly gone?  (This one must have hit Rowling about halfway through the series, because she starts ignoring the ghosts as much as possible about then.) Things like this weren’t a problem when we laughed with 11-year-old Harry on magical school grounds, but as Rowling made the books more and more serious and world-changing, we were forced to question them more and more. One of the most irritating features of the movies is that they increasingly portray Harry against a backdrop of skyscrapers. Harry Potter was at his best when we could join him in a closed universe, nothing like our own, and forget our troubles amid the innocent fun of quiddich and wizard’s chess. Frankly, the subject matter of Harry Potter just isn’t worthy of epic battles and mature romance.

Having said all this, I must confess that I still genuinely enjoyed the later books, and genuinely enjoyed Deathly Hallows, Part 1. Splitting this story in half enables the film to at least come closer to the depth and richness of the book. I’m eager to see Part 2. If you’re a Potter fan, you should check this one out. Just do me one favor. Don’t deprive yourself by only watching the movies. PLEASE read the books.

The Book:

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The Futurist (Book Review)

The FuturistJames Cameron has had one of the most storied careers in Hollywood:  from working-class Canadian roots to the creation of film icons like the T-800, and to the pinnacle of box office success with both Titanic and Avatar, Cameron has consistently captured the imaginations of audiences across the world with his stunningly-realized visions of the world.  Even though his directorial catalog includes less than a dozen movies, nearly every one of his films has pushed the limits of filmmaking as FX houses and creature studios have struggled to keep pace with Cameron’s wild imagination.  Always looking to the cutting edge of technology for his movies, Cameron has also infused his creations with visions of the future of humanity and allegorical tales of what we could become should certain paths continue to be taken.  It through this lens that Rebecca Keegan views the director in her book “The Futurist,” as she weaves an absolutely compelling personal biography with behind-the-scenes glimpses at each of Cameron’s films, including the underwater documentaries he directed following the release of Titanic.  A futurist is someone who, quite simply, speculates about the future.  And James Cameron, argues Keegan, fits the bill perfectly.  Having recently finished the book, and gone back to re-read various portions as well, I was impressed with how thoroughly Keegan documented so many aspects of the filmmaker’s life, from his personal life to his directoral persona, and left virtually no stone unturned in her quest to delve into the mind of a true futurist of our time.

Far from a gossip piece, though, The Futurist is simply an examination of Cameron’s life from the perspective of someone who wants to know just what it is that makes this man tick.  Keegan begins clear back with Cameron’s great-great-great-grandfather, the member of a prominent Scottish clan, and illustrates how his free-thinking spirit and alpha-male tendencies ultimately, generations later, helped shape the man who brought us such celluloid classics like Terminator and Titanic.

James Cameron

Cameron involves himself in every aspect of his films, from concept art to cinematography and even the editor's chair.

I appreciated this perspective, and even though some might find it a bit silly to go that far back in a man’s ancestry, it seemed wholly appropriate to provide a type of long-term context for understanding who Cameron is.  The first chapter is mostly focused on his childhood and early adult life,  and details the experiences with his four younger siblings and neighbors that built up his creative spirit and fiercely competitive tendencies.  Growing up in Canada provided ample opportunities to study nature and test personal limits, and living near a creek helped inspire some of the watery sequences in The Abyss.  Between Cameron’s boredom with school studies, enthusiasm for home movies, and adventurous outdoors spirit, it’s easy to see how these times helped shape one of Hollywood’s most ambitious directors.

For the rest of the book each chapter focuses on one of Cameron’s films, with the exception of Titanic, which pulls double duty.  Since there are only a handful of movies in his resume, the amount of information is not only manageable but fairly in-depth too.  But only to a point, as some chapters could have easily been lengthened and still been just as engaging.  Through interviews with Cameron as well as myriad individuals who have shaped and influence him over the years, including Kathryn Bigelow, Roger Corman, Guillermo del Toro, Peter Jackson, Jon Landau, and yes, Arnold Schwarzenegger and even Bill Paxton, Keegan paints a vivid portrait of a perfectionist who not only strives to continually push himself to the limits, but often everyone around him as well.  The chapter on the making of The Abyss was particularly insightful, as the behind-the-scenes drama in creating the harrowing underwater sequences were filled with far more tension and drama than the story that plays out on screen.  But such is the norm for Cameron and his crews–always going over budget, pushing the physical and technological limits of moviemaking, and producing world-class blockbusters in the process.

Virtually all aspects of Cameron’s life are laid bare, and presented almost as black-and-white as storyboard cutouts.  From his childhood, to his relationships with his parents, siblings, wives, and children, to his commanding presence on movie sets, to friendships with the most powerful individuals in Hollywood, we see into all facets of his complex persona.  Indeed, it is also testament to the character of Cameron that he gave Keegan such personal access to his own life and let the good be told along with the bad.  But instead of taking the cheap way out and crafting a tabloid exposè, Keegan describes the events that led to the creation of Cameron’s films, the failed romantic relationships that have led to three divorces, and the fierce loyalty exhibited by several of his longtime collaborators.  From his intimidating tenacity on set to his personal challenges like diving thousands of feet in tiny submersibles to explore shipwrecks, Cameron is never one to settle for second-best, and vigorously pursues any goal he sets his sights on.  Thankfully, Keegan clearly had a similar work ethic when compiling this book, and her gift for research is matched only by her ability to tell an engaging story.

James Cameron Academy Awards

The king of the world. Don't believe him? Just ask him--he'll tell you.

Cameron often looks to the future not only with respect to technological advances in moviemaking such as the groundbreaking visual effects in The Abyss which were further refined in Terminator 2, or the 3D camera system with which he filmed Avatar, but also with the portrayal of future scenarios in his movies.  The marine exo-suits in Aliens, the over-reliance on technology (which could lead to disastrous results) in the Terminator movies, the looming threat of nuclear warfare, and even an earth which has literally run out of natural resources in Avatar, are all very real-life scenarios that are playing out on the world stage today.  In one particularly interesting anecdote, Keegan offers a snippet from Cameron in his early days of moviemaking in which he predicted, with astounding accuracy, a future in which surveillance from government and private organizations would literally be everywhere–a scenario which is all too true today.  And it should also be noted that Cameron, in creating one of the first female action heroes, saw a future in which women were no longer second class citizens, even in areas typically dominated by men.

As a long-time fan of Cameron’s movies, particularly Terminator 2 and the oft-maligned True lies, I found The Futurist to be wonderfully insightful and thoroughly enjoyable.  At just under 300 pages, its only fault is its length–each chapter could be a book in its own right, and I often finished a chapter wishing for much more.  I try to only buy DVDs that have commentary tracks, as I find the thoughts of directors, actors, and film crews extraordinarily insightful, and The Futurist is a brilliant commentary track on the life of one of the great filmmakers of our time.  An outstanding read.

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Time Machine

60s poster 2In 1894, H.G. Wells published his novel The Time Machine, which, while short and simplistic, was in interesting thought experiment regarding mankind’s hopes for the future. Wells, a student of Marx, expressed a belief through metaphor that there could never be true equality, and there would always be those above, and those who served them. None the less, he told an ironic tale of how those on top would eventually get theirs.

Wells’ novel was made into a movie by George Pal. The film was released in02 poster 1960. A second version, starring Guy Pierce and Directed by Simon Wells, H.G.’s grandson, was released in 2002. I have yet to meet someone, besides me, who has read/seen all three versions, which is really too bad. People often ask me which version is the best. The truth is, it’s really hard to pick one, because they are all so different, and each one is strangely apropriate to their time. You might say, reading the book and then watching the movies is a trip through time in itself. I’ll explain.

book coverIn the book, the “Time Traveller,” who is never named, believes that if he travels far enough into the future, he will find mankind in a perfect state. No further explanation of this belief is ever given. Wishing to see mankind’s triumph, his first time-trip is a non-stop journey to the year A.D. 802,701. (Does this seem strange to anyone else? I mean, there’s a reason the Wright Bothers didn’t take their first flight over the Grand Canyon, and early sailors didn’t try to cross the Atlantic.) Once he stops, the Time Traveller first meets the Eloi, a society of childlike people. They live in small communities in futuristic yet deteriorating buildings, doing no work and eating a frugivorous diet. His efforts to communicate are hampered by their lack of curiosity or discipline, and he concludes that they are the result of humanity conquering nature with technology, and adapting to an environment in which strength and intellect are no longer advantageous.

Returning to the site where he arrived, the Time Traveller finds his time

Artist's conception

Artist's conception

machine has been dragged into a nearby Sphynx with heavy doors, locked from the inside. Later, he is approached menacingly by the Morlocks, pale, apelike people who live underground, where he discovers the machinery and industry that make the above-ground paradise possible. He alters his theory, speculating that the human race has evolved into two species: the leisured classes have become the ineffectual Eloi, and the downtrodden working classes have become the brutish, light-fearing Morlocks. Deducing that the Morlocks have taken his time machine, he explores the Morlock tunnels, learning that they feed on the Eloi. His revised analysis is that their relationship is not one of lords and servants but of livestock and ranchers, and with no real challenges facing either species, they have both lost the intelligence and character of Man.

Rod Taylor as H. George Wells

Rod Taylor as H. George Wells

In the 1960 film, the motives of the Traveller (now bearing the name George, and a license plate on his Machine that reads “H. George Wells”) are a bit more clear, if not much more sensible. In 1899, George (Rod Taylor), a brilliant physisist, has been offered a contract by the government of England to design weapons. Being a pacifist, he finds this horrifying and longs to discover man in a perfect, peaceful state. Believing that somewhere in the future he will find such a civilization, he sets off through time. He watches the world change rapidly around him until he sees his windows boarded up in the year 1914. Curious, he stops the Machine and gets out. He strolles across the street and meets the son of his friend from the beginning, David Philby

The Morlocks of 1960

The Morlocks of 1960

(both played by Alan Young). He learns that Philby has been killed in the First World War. Obviously, he decides to keep going. Back in the Time Machine, he makes a brief stop in 1940, where he sees London being bombed by the Nazis. He then continues to 1966 (six years in the future at that time) where he sees everyone walking around in radiation suits. He once again meets Philby’s son, who remarks that he saw George on the same spot in the same clothes 52 years before. Sirens begin blaring and every one runs, shouting “get to the shelter!” Philby points to the sky and says to George, “There, an atomic satelite zeroing in!” He tries to drag George to the shelter, but George refuses to leave his Machine, so Philby abandons him and runs for safety. Seconds later, a blast rips through London, resulting in some impressive (for 1960) miniature work. George, narrating, lamants “The labor of centuries gone in an instant!” A lava flow heads for the Time Machine, and George has to rush to activate it before the flood hits. He suddenly finds himself traveling through time inside a wall of rock. He is forced to keep traveling through time at breakneck speed, lest he be crushed. Unable to move his machine in space, he has no choice but to wait for time to wear down the mountain he is inside of.

George meets Weena.

George meets Weena.

When it finally does, he sees futuristic buildings springing up around him, and notes there doesn’t seem to be weather. He asks “had man finally learned to control the elements … and himself?” He stops at the year A.D. 802,701 once again, and meets the Eloi, who in this version are still human, although their frail bodies and pale skin are reminiscent of the creatures from the book. The Eloi still speak broken English (no explanation for this), and have little interest in technology or the past. George is so disapointed by the “perfect” world he has discovered that he berates he Eloi “What have you done?? Thousands of

The Sphynx.

The Sphynx.

generations of men struggeling and sacraficing, and for what? So you can swim and dance and play! I’m going back to my own time. I won’t tell them about the useless struggle, but at least I can die among men!” Upon attempting this however, he finds that his Machine has again been dragged into the Sphynx and he is trapped.

Lambs to the slaughter.

Lambs to the slaughter.

In this version, the Morlocks provide the Eloi with food and clothing, as in the book. However, instead of snatching them one at a time, they use (of all things) air-raid sirens to lure them underground in droves (left). In one scene, the siren cuts off, and the door to the Morlocks’ slaughter house slams shut, denying entrance to the Eloi still outside. George shakes one who seems to be in a trance (below), and the Eloi tells him “it is all clear,” meaning the air raid has ended, essentially.  Apparently, the Morlocks are able to do this because humans are so conditioned from fleeing underground at the sound of sirens ever since 1960. shake

Eventually, a girl named Weena (Yvette Mimieux) leads George to a room full of “talking rings” which seem to be surviving records of Earth’s past. The rings hold the voices of people describing nuclear and other wise horrible wars; the last recording annouces that Earth’s atmosphere has been all but destroyed and most of the human race is fleeing underground to escape the Sun’s harmful rays. A few have decided to “take our chances in the sunlight, however small they might be.” George deduces that those who fled underground were the ancestors of the Morlocks and those who remained were the ancestors of the Eloi.

And so, in both the book and the 1960 film, the division of humanity is caused by a social evil that preocupies the author, resulting in one side becoming a race of monsters that preys upon the other. In 1894, when Marxism was popular among the wealthy elite of Europe (did you note the irony there?), the division was caused by the oppression of the lower classes. This resulted in a kind of ironic justice, when the upper classes became food for the lower classes. In 1960, when everyone feared the Bomb, the division was caused by the continuing folly of war, which finally drove one side underground. The element of ironic justice is

George fights the Morlocks in their labyrinth.

George fights the Morlocks in their labyrinth.

conspicuously lacking here, which may be why the script calls for George and the Eloi to triumph over the Morlocks. While the Traveler simply returned to his own time in despair of Man’s future, George follows his beloved Weena into the Morlocks’ slaughterhouse. Once there, he is able to inspire the Eloi to join him in fighting against the Morlocks. Once they escape, at George’s direction, they throw large amounts of dry wood down the wells that connect the surface to the underground to stoke an underground inferno. The Morlocks’ lair caves in. Shortly after, George returns to his own time and tells the tale of his adventure to several collegues who leave, scoffing at him. Except Philby. A few minutes later, Philby and George’s housekeeper (Doris Lloyd) discover that George has once again disapeared in his Time Machine, and that he has taken three books from his library with him. Having searched for his purpose for years, George has apparently found it in rebuilding civilization in A.D. 802,701. And, of course, being with Weena.

Joey Film GeekIn the 2002 version, which also starts in 1899, the time traveller is Alexander Hartdegen, a physics professor who wants his students to abandon the expectations of society and conquer nature with technology. His fiance, Emma (Sienna Gullory), feels like he’s more attracted to model T cars than to her. Philby (Mark Addy) asks Alexander if he thinks Man could ever go too far whith technology. Alex scoffs “No such thing.” That night Emma is killed by a mugger in the park. He decides to use his skill with technology to change the past and bring her back. He works for four years on a time machine. When it’s complete, he

"In a week, we'll have never have had this conversation."

"In a week, we'll have never have had this conversation."

dresses in his best and gets into a chair with parasol-like apparati above and below it that spin, generating a sphere around the machine in which time does not pass. The scene changes before we see his journey. He goes back to the night Emma died, meets her, and steers her away from the park. He extracts a promise from her to go home and stay there until morning. Just when he thinks he has triumphed, a model T goes hay wire and runs her over.

The Time Machine of 2002. Also makes a great cup of jo.

The Time Machine of 2002, often mistaken for a coffee maker.

In the next scene, Alex mutters to himself “Why can’t I change the past? I could come back a thousand times; see her die a thousand ways. I can’t find the answers here … not here … not now…” Only then do we see his now archetypal journey forward as the sun becomes a blurred line overhead and trees spring up like gysers around him. We see a pull-back shot in which a biplane, then a twin prop, then a modern jet and finally a satelite fly over Alex, before we see a shuttle landing on the moon. Alex’s attention is caught by an advertisement declaring “the future is now!” and he stops in 2030 (28 years in the future at that time). A pedestrian looks at his time machine and remarks “bet that makes a hell of a capuchino.”

The advertisement is for realestate on the moon, where a colony is being built. Alex walks into the Fifth Avenue Public Library, drawn by all the new techonology, where he meets Photonic (Orlando Jones), a sarcastic computer program who walks inside panes of glass and offers to retrieve data from the library’s system (below). When Alex asks to learn about time travel, Photonic

"Live long, and prosper."

"Live long, and prosper."

rolls its eyes. Disapointed, Alex gets back into the time machine and travels forward another 7 years. When he sees chaos around him, he stops. Military vehicels race through the streets, and the ground shakes violently. Upon dismounting, Alex is accoasted by several soldiers who urge him to come with them underground. He demands to know what’s going on, assuring them “Yes, I’ve been living under a rock!” They tell him that the demolitions for the lunar colony over the past 7 years have changed the moon’s orbit, and caused the moon to start breaking up. Alex looks skyward and sees the moon, much larger than ususal, and riddled with cracks. At that moment a crack opens in the earth. Alex races to his Machine before the crack destroys it, and mangaes to throw it into gear just in time. However, his Machine is rocked by the disaster, and he hits his head, and is knocked uncouncious.

Samantha Mumba as Mara.

Samantha Mumba as Mara.

Out of control, the Machine hurtles through time. We see glacers come and go and the ground rise above the timeless sphere and then fall back below it. Rivers carve canyons in the blink of an eye. Alex eventually regains conciousness just long enough to stop the Machine at (you guessed it) A.D. 802,701, before slipping back into oblivion. He awakens in a bed somewhere with a bandage on his head. He walks out into a community of huts built on the side of a cliff. He is confronted by people he is unable to communicate with, until a woman named Mara (Samantha Mumba) asks “Do you know my words?” in perfect English. It turns out that the Eloi in this version have discovered “the Stone Language” carved in stone and concrete relics from our time, and have kept it alive as a tradition. Most Eloi lose the ability to speak it by adulthood, but Mara teaches children, so she has retained it.

Quite different from the Eloi in 1894 and in 1960, the Eloi of 2002 are highly industrious, growing crops, and building windmills. There is no evidence of anything being done for them by anyone else. However, they live under the opression of a fear that they refuse to speak of. Alex suspects it has to do with the reason none of the Eloi seem to be older than their early twenties. He awakens one night from a nightmare in which he is being drawn toward a frightening statue in the forest. Mara tells him “we all have that dream,” but refuses to say more. We later learn that that same night, Alex’s pocket watch was stolen by Morlocks, which explains why the Eloi have no machines. Alex gazes up at the remains of our moon, now a collection of chunks that make a spectacular stream across the sky, and thinks “You were right, David. We did go too far.”

He learns what the Eloi’s unspoken fear is when the Morlocks first attack. The Morlocks of 2002 are considerably more formidable than in the other versions, traveling fast on all fours, and then fighting on two legs. They bear more resemblance to the Uruk Hai from The Lord of the Rings, stalking between rows of their machines. After Mara, along with others, is dragged underground in an

Guy Pierce gets mideval in the 8000th century.

Guy Pierce gets mideval in the 8000th century.

attack,  Alex demands to know why the Eloi will not fight back. An Eloi replies “those who … ‘fight’ are taken first.” So between 1894 and 2002, the relationship has made a full transition from ironic justice to shameless opression. The Eloi lack technology not because of laziness, but because the Morlocks use coordinated attacks to keep them helpless. The end result, however, is essentially the same, as Alex finds out. He discovers Photonic again, its panes of glass tarnished and cracked, but still functional (after 800,000 years. Right). Photonic directs him to the statue he dreamed of, this version’s Sphynx. He climbs down into it and discovers a grizly slaughterhouse scene that audiences were spared in 1960. After being captured, he sees Mara locked in a cage and meets the “Uber Morlock,” brilliantly played by Jeremy Irons, though he is well hidden in a great makeup job.

Spy Morlocks mark targets for Hunters.

Spy Morlocks mark targets for Hunters.

The Uber Morlock extends peculiar hospitality to Alex, protecting him from the bestial Morlocks, answering his questions and even returning his Time Machine and pocket watch. He explains:

“After the Moon fell from the sky, the Earth could no longer sustain the species. Some managed to stay above, while others escaped below, and centuries later when we tried to emerge into the sunlight, we found we could not. So we bred ourselves into casts.”

The hunter Morlocks are bred to be predators but also to be controlled. The Uber Morlock is of a cast that concentrated on expanding its cerebral abilities. He says that without control the hunters would exhaust the food supply in a matter of months. He also controlls the Eloi and keeps them fearful.

The Uber Morlock calls Alex by name and knows who he is and why he has traveled through time. He also projects pictures into Alex’s head, putting him back in his laboratory with Emma. Alex learns learns that some Eloi, like Mara, are not consumed, but instead are used as“breeding vessels” for Morlock colonies (yuck).

Alexander is reunited with Mara.

Alexander is reunited with Mara.

Finally, the UM explains to Alex “You built your time Machine because of Emma’s death. If she had lived it would never have existed, so how could you use it to save her? You are the inescapable result of your choices, just as I am the inescabable result of you (?).” He then shows Alex the Time Machine. “You have your answer. Now go.” At this point, Alex has to be thinking “I came 8,000 centuries for a lame explanation like that?” This is the first version that tries to adress paradox in time travel, but it completely ignores exerything besides Emma’s death that Alex changed by going back.

Tell me this isn't scary.

Tell me this isn't scary.

Long story short, Alex kills the UM. After outsmarting a creature that has demonstrated the ability to read and controll his thoughts, Alex uses his pocketwatch to jam his Machine. Mara asks “What are you doing with it?” He replies “Changing the future.” The jamming results in a sort of explosion of time, that rusts metal and rots Morlocks in the blink of an eye, and destroys their lair. This, while undeniably ham-fisted, is also undeniably cool. He saves Mara and they live happily ever after.

Rather than inequality or war, this version is concerned with rappidly

The Time Machine of 1960, now in a museum.

The Time Machine of 1960, now in a museum.

expanding technology. Once again, the social evil warned of in 1899 creates havoc in the near future that forces part of humanity undergroud to evolve into monsters, who return to feed on those above. The time traveler once again abandons what he set out to find, and finds happiness in the time he has traveled to.

All three versions suffer a certain weakness. The problem with basing a story that covers 800,000 years on a single societal concern should be obvious. 800,000 years eclipses all of recorded history aproximately 100 times. And yet, even the near future is hard to portray acurately. George Pal’s portrayal 1966 looks quite droll only 50 years later. Simon Wells’ portrayal of 2030 will no doubt look the same in 2050. It’s rediculous for a writer to asume that what’s on his mind at the moment will be shaping the world so far down the road. Good science fiction will, of course, include some social critisism, but there’s a reason most science fiction stories don’t take place so far into the future. The book comes the closest to acknowledging this, as it doesn’t try to tell a story that weaves all the centuries together. Wells’ hero simply leaves Wells’ time, goes to a time when the world was unrecognizable, comes back, and tells the tale. However, this also makes the book the least engaging and most depressing version.

George comes home, looking how I felt at 1 am after finishing this review.

George comes home, looking how I felt at 1 am after finishing this review.

For dramatic purposes, Pal’s version is a clear improvement over the book, because it takes the same basic plot and makes it into a story of rebirth, rather than degeneration, and of good triumphing over evil. It’s rather hard to buy the hippie philosophy 50 years later, however. The 2002 version seems to be the least preachy of the three, and while it does at times sacrafice thought for Hollywood sensationalism, it has some good messages about facing your fears and finding what’s truly important in life. Each version is a noteworthy embodiment of the values of its time. In sum, I would have to say I liked the version from my century the best. But of course, I would.

The book

1960 version

2002 version

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Bram Stoker’s Dracula

BSD posterIn one of the most important chapters in Bram Stoker’s novel “Dracula,” Lucy Westenre tells the story of how she received three marriage proposals in one day. We gain a chuckle by reading it, but we also learn how good Lucy’s heart is and how kind and humble she is, as well as see the character of her suitors.

But there is a fourth man in Lucy’s life, a certain Count we all know. He visits her at night, and she begins to be found in the morning at the brink of death, almost totally drained of blood. Her three suitors rally around her and, with the help of Dr. Van Helsing’s transfusion equipment, literally pour their life into her. So it goes for many pages; the Count steals her life away by night; the men who love her exhaust themselves by day in a desperate battle to save her life. Van Helsing trims her room with garlic. The Texan suitor, Quincy Morris, patrols the grounds around her home all night. But the Count’s craft is too great and Lucy finally succumbs. By this point the characters are sufficiently developed that the reader feels their loss almost as acutely as they do.

But of course, Lucy becomes a vampire. She preys on local children for awhile until once again confronted by her suitors and Van Helsing. Dr. Seward, narrating this part of the story, describes “the thing in the coffin” as a “mockery of Lucy’s sweet purity.” They put a stake through her heart, and watch her turn back to the woman they once knew.  There follows a beautiful paragraph about redemption, eternal life and contrasting inner beauty with the perverse eternal youth of a vampiress.

Would that I had sufficient space to fully describe the literary riches in Stoker’s masterpiece, but that will have to do. Imagine then, my disappointment at Francis Ford Coppula’s attempt to film “Dracula.” To do justice to the book would have required a long movie; probably around three hours. Coppula seems determined to cut it off at two, so that the movie, even in its best moments, is nothing more than a watered-down version of the book. To make matters worse, Coppula crams in a sub plot in which Mina Murray dates Dracula while her fiancé struggles across Europe. Taking a page from “The Mummy” Coppula seems to imply that Mina is a sort of reincarnation of a bride of the historical Dracula. The movie never explains this, however. In fact, the editing of this film is downright schizophrenic. The story I told above takes all of 10 minutes to fly by in the film, and begins with a shot of Lucy lying on a park bench, apparently being raped by a werewolf (I can only assume this is Dracula in some other form, but this too is never explained). Far from being Stoker’s figure of “sweet purity,” Coppula’s Lucy is essentially a 19th century valley girl. Seward and Quincy are barely given any screen time, and with no back-story, Arthur’s lines about how he would give the last drop of his blood to save Lucy are as flat and unbelievable as anything in Hollywood. Even her two death scenes seem insignificant.

drac, mina

Gary Oldman sucks in "Dracula."

To be sure, a proper film version of “Dracula” would get slow at times, bogged down in dialogue and character development, but it was precisely these things that made the book great. It takes the reader through the loss, the grief, the struggle and the eventual triumph of the seven main characters. If we didn’t feel their bravery, their love for each other, and their iron faith, reading the accompanying horror story would have been a waste of time. Perversely, the only genuine affection in Coppula’s film seems to be between Mina and Dracula.

In typical Hollywood fashion, Coppula tries to compensate for this lack of substance with spectacle. Disembodied shadows creep across walls, water flows uphill and blood flows out of inanimate objects for no reason. This entertains for a few minutes, but it’s a poor substitute for a story. It might even be scary, if any of it looked real, or if there was any reason to care.

Coppula’s film is to Stoker’s novel what a vampire is to the person he or she was in life: the same thing, except stripped of its soul, its passion, its humanity, and marked by lurid signs of cruelty and bloodlust.

The book

The movie

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