Monday, September 12, 2011

More Fun with Sci Fi Channel Movies

I seem to be making more strides in my efforts to get over my singing stage fright. I sang with a quartet Sunday morning, and though it wasn't a solo, it was three men and me (I had Pips!), and the soprano part was the kind that sort of floated high above the other parts, so I wasn't hiding in a choir. People could hear me, and I knew it, and I only had normal levels of nerves instead of my usual panic attack. I think it went really well, I really enjoyed doing it, and I had a couple of people compliment me afterward. If I can keep building these positive experiences, then maybe they'll blot out the times I've had panic attacks and I'll have less fear. It's one thing to be able to tell yourself that it's an irrational fear, but when you've had a time when nerves made you perform poorly, then it's realistic to get even more nervous about doing a bad job the next time, so you do even worse, and the downward spiral begins. Maybe now I have an upward spiral going on.

When I wasn't rehearsing and singing this weekend, I spent some time watching movies (because I had no desire to watch what was consuming television most of the weekend). Sunday night I watched Megamind on HBO OnDemand, and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. I think I may still like Despicable Me better, since I'm more interested in the mad scientist kind of story than I am in superheroes and supervillains (and while Minion was cool, I think I like the Minions better), but I thought this movie was really sweet and had some good messages about how people live up or down to expectations and how our choices define us. The story is about two infants sent away from disasters on other planets (a la Superman), with one landing in the lap of luxury and the other landing in a prison. They grow up to be arch-nemeses, but when the bad one manages to destroy his foe, he finds that evil isn't as much fun without having good to fight with, so he sets out to create a new hero to fight. I had resisted seeing this because Will Ferrell bugs me. He has this way of playing every role as though he's the Hollywood version of a mentally challenged eight-year-old in an Afterschool Special (the biggest flaw of Stranger than Fiction to me -- repressed and inexperienced in life doesn't have to mean slow and childish). But in this he actually played a rather nuanced character. Why can't he do that in his live-action roles? I'm not a big superhero fan, but I've seen the Christopher Reeve Superman movies enough to get the in-jokes (like Marlon Brando as the "space dad").

Otherwise, the channel formerly known as Sci Fi was showing a lot of their epic fantasy movies on Saturday. In the morning, I caught one from a few years ago, Grendel, their retelling of the Beowolf story, and it was surprisingly not entirely awful. Yeah, the CGI was terrible and it looked like they filmed it off-season at a Renaissance festival site and used costumes borrowed from a high school drama club's wardrobe, but they had a good cast, acting that rose way above the material, and a reasonably interesting story. I don't even have anything major to snark about. Really, take out the CGI and you probably couldn't differentiate it from many of the 1950s big-screen fantasy epics (and it was far less cringeworthy than the infamous "yondah lies da castle of my faddah" type thing).

Then the new movie for the night was Jabberwock, which was inspired by the Lewis Carroll poem. This one was also surprisingly not too bad, aside from the cheesy effects, cheap sets and cheap costumes. I was impressed that the main female character was in a setting-appropriate role but still managed to be strong in her own way instead of the more usual "eep, we need a girl in the cast!" type character who inexplicably is an expert swordswoman who can hold her own against men twice her size (like they just took a male role, cast a woman in it, then also made her a love interest who'd need to be rescued at least once, in spite of her prowess with a sword). The one thing that triggered giggles was that they acted as though the "Jabberwocky" poem was some ancient bit of prophecy and recited it with ominous intonations. For one thing, I found it amusing that a piece of Victorian poetry was being treated as "ancient" in a medieval setting, and for another, my familiarity with that piece comes from the musical version in the Disney Alice in Wonderland film, in which it's given a swingy jazz arrangement (I don't think it's actually in the original film, but it was in the soundtrack album I had as a kid). So every time someone started to intone, "Twas brillig," I found myself singing the jazz version, and then giggling.

After watching these two films, I have a couple of suggestions for improving these epic fantasy films that shouldn't add a dime to the budget but that could make a huge difference:

1) Strive for linguistic consistency.
Almost all of the unintentional humor in these films comes from the jarring juxtaposition of archaic "high fantasy" language and modern casual language. Someone will go right from saying something like "I hereby pledge my sword and my honor to this noble cause" to "Wow! Get a load of that thing!"

I recognize that with an alternative world setting or even a medieval historical setting we can assume that the whole thing has been translated into modern English for our viewing convenience, but a good translator will try to retain the flavor of the original language throughout. That doesn't mean everyone has to talk the same way at all times. Shakespeare had his crude characters speak ordinary prose while everyone else spoke in iambic pentameter, and you'd naturally use different language when addressing a king than you'd use for talking with your peers (unless the king is your peer). But I think it's possible to come up with more "casual" language that still fits the setting. People in a fantasy world shouldn't sound like they've stepped right off the streets of a 21st century city. This is especially important if you're basing your film on a literary work and using bits of the actual text in the script. The rest of the dialogue should fit that style.

2) Pick an accent.
I guess it's a movie trope to assume that everyone in a fantasy world should sound kind of British. I'm actually okay with an American/Canadian accent as long as it's used consistently. People may have different accents, but that should happen for a reason. People who've lived their lives in a remote, isolated village should probably all speak the same way. If someone speaks differently, it should be because they're from a different place or had a different upbringing. That was one thing that worked with Jabberwock. All the characters were from the same village, and they all had similar American/Canadian accents, so the accents never threw me out of the story.

Then there's the Patrick Swayze Memorial Corollary to this suggestion: No one in a fantasy epic, especially not one supposedly set in medieval England, should sound like he's from Houston. I have no problem with a Texas accent, in general. I have one. But if I'm ever cast to play an English noblewoman during the Crusades, I wouldn't expect to talk like I'm from Dallas.

I wonder how one would go about submitting and selling a script to be considered for one of these movies. I had a book idea that my agent thought might be a little too cliched to sell as a fantasy novel in the current market, but I think with some work it would make a perfect SyFy Saturday night movie. I somehow doubt it would be the sort of thing the agent who handles my film stuff would deal with, considering she handles some Oscar winners, but maybe she's got a friend or colleague who embraces the cheese.

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