Tag Archives: angst

OMG, they bastardized Kratos! You bastards!

Ah, Hercules. A delightful entertainment specimen from Disney’s Renaissance, to be sure. You got gospel-singing muses, action figures of Greek heroes, Danny DeVito as a cranky satyr, and a workout montage. And an almost Forrest Gumpian Venus de Milo creation joke. Oh, and don’t forget all the classic Disney staples: a musical number about not belonging, an animal companion who externalizes other characters’ thoughts, and obligatory wordplay cheese (“I thought you were going to be the all-time champ, not the all-time chump”). It really pulls out all the stops.

And yet, when Disney tried to slate an open-air premiere for Hercules in Greece, the nation’s government rejected the idea. The reason? In short, by not portraying Hercules as a bastard, Disney had bastardized Greece’s culture.

found on: https://i2.wp.com/www.eree.org/filmblog/films/hercules.png

"I'm the most famous bastard in all of Greece. I'm... I-I'm an action figure!"

Ok, that’s not the reason entirely (though Greek mythology certainly suggests cultural fondness for love children). But there’s truth to Greece’s sentiment about the matter; Hercules has about as much to do with the Grecian hero Heracles as No Child Left Behind has to do with education. So for fun, let’s get a few facts straight, however minimally.

It would seem that Disney could only muster the research powers to get Dionysis right, which makes one wonder about the screenwriters’ states of mind when they conceived the film. But in any case, it’s probably not wise to write a children’s film featuring a chief father figure whose favorite pastimes include abduction and rape. It’s understandable that adjustments need to be made. And it’s a modern adaptation, so there’s always an excuse for envisioning old characters and stories in new, audience-sensitive ways. Disney is a business, after all, and they have to be mindful of their surroundings (that is, zeitgeists and audiences).

The question is, what are the marks of a good adaptation? Spike Jonze’s (though perhaps more aptly Charlie Kaufman’s) Adaptation deals with the subject a good bit, showcasing, on the surface, the influence of authorship on adaptations of source material and vice versa. The conflict emerges from desiring faithfulness to the source material, but inevitably catering the adaptation to some value set. Often this value set emphasizes traditional, accessible stories. Hercules is a perfect example; the film’s audience consisted primarily of American families. As such, the classical Greek myth got turned into a typical Bildungsroman Disney story with Christian overtones. And it was a commercial success. And an undeniably amusing film, at the very least. But that doesn’t necessarily make it a good adaptation.

found on: https://i1.wp.com/cdnimg.visualizeus.com/thumbs/09/09/02/disney,hercules,hug,illustration-5ee84996c2a28af02b06997b1af7e02d_h.jpg

This may have never happened in a single Greek myth, but it's still adorable.

So, yes– adaptations cannot help but deviate from their source material. In fact, they must do so by the very nature of being something besides the source material. But perhaps the finest mark of an adaptation is that it highlights aspects of the source material that motivate an audience to learn about the source, to engage in etymological inquiry instead of accepting the adaptation as supplantation for its origins. In effect, watching the film Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door (not to be confused with the movie about a pornstar living next door) should spark audience’s interest in Jack Ketchum’s novel, which in turn should perk ears towards the events that the novel is based on (the torture and death of Sylvia Likens). If an adaptation interested you in an event, story, myth, or character so deeply that you felt you had to compare it to the source material to better educate yourself, a) you are just that sort of nerd or b) the adaptation is WORKING ITS MAGIC.

Of course you could just avoid the weird calculations involved in gauging your respect for source material and desire to create new things from it and just write an original story. CRAZY, RIGHT? Just a thought.

But the thing is, children’s movie adaptations bear the burden of educating and entertaining without causing undue offense. The “without causing undue offense” clause brings about a whole maelstrom of censorship opportunities, and many times these just flit about so awry that your resultant broth is rendered flavorless. Take the film adaptation of The Golden Compass, for example. In deference to Christian audiences coming to see the film with their children, the book’s core value–iconoclasm–was completed subverted by the filmmakers. Iconoclasm was the whole point of the story! You take that out, and it’s like Sex and the City without the sex or the city (I am scrambling for a better, less embarrassing analogy, but nothing’s coming).

In the case of the original Herculean myths, their core value lies in overcoming bastardy. Hera, as the slighted wife of a philanderer, despises Hercules and constantly vies to torment him. In essence, he spends a great deal of time trying to appease her (his Greek name, Heracles, an attempt at such in that some thought including Hera’s name in Herc’s would chill her out). With regard of trying to win “parental” blessings, confidence, and so on, the Disney film is surprisingly spot-on. The facts are all wrong, but ultimately, the notion of being a hero as a way of making your superiors proud remains constant. As such, Disney’s Hercules is not a total adaptation fail.

by Ninjatic on DeviantArt

And just a small aside:

Kratos is not a demigod. You silly, silly God of War fanatics. It’s a fun, honest-to-goodness good game–just make sure you don’t assume the game’s mythos reflects actual tenets of Greek mythology or that playing the game will crown you an expert in Greek mythology.


Conventional Misconceptions: Logic vs. Emotion

Not only is the logic vs. emotion contention one of the most overplayed themes in Hollywood: logic and emotion aren’t even at odds to begin with.

The original Star Trek series hinges on the logic vs. emotion card, as do most stories centered on conflict between man and machine. Let’s consider I, Robot as an example. The protagonist, Detective Spooner, hates robots because one saved his life in in place of a child’s (only one person could be saved, and Spooner had a greater probability of survival). This was the logical choice within the framework of the Three Laws since the First Law mandates that no robot may allow a human to come to harm through inaction. Spooner finds “doing the math” according to the Three Laws to be cold, heartless, etc., and assigns the word “logical” as a pejorative to describe such computation. However, what he fails to recognize is that his so-called “illogical” or emotional response to the situation also follows the guidelines of a logical framework. His bias is simply against the limitations caused by the Three Laws, not logic itself.

found on: https://i2.wp.com/www.amcostarica.com/irobot080904.jpg

Let’s discuss this notion of a logical framework for emotions a little more, just so it’s clear. The emotions poised in stories as opposites to the rigid nuts and bolts that comprise logic tend to be compassion, hope, love– the goopy, fluffy stuff that we as a species exult even if it doesn’t make sense when examined through a traditionally “logical” lens. Compassionate self-sacrifice is deemed illogical (though commendable). Hope in the face of adverse likelihood, too, is filed under illogical. When a man’s spouse raves that his long nights at the office must be symptoms of some lewd affair despite lack of any evidence, he dubs her frenzied, love-borne behavior illogical. These assessments, however, are the illogical ones in this fray; emotional behaviors possess both evolutionary and physiological logic.

As to evolutionary logic: species acquire adaptations that promote survival. Thus, emotions emerge down the line to help ensure survival. Compassionate self-sacrifice helps ensure the survival of fellow species members, and therefore the group as a whole–not just the individual. On a physiological level, this entails the development of instinctual motivation for compassionate behavior (activation of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex while performing altruistic acts is a prominent example). Already, we can glimpse a set of precepts for humans:

1. Natural selection demands adaptation.

2. Emotions are logical adaptations for motivating bonding, which encourages procreation and group survival for social animals.

3. As social animals, it is logical that humans must abide evolutionarily-selected emotional phenotypes varying in expression along a standard normal curve.

4. Emotions are mediated via a combination of neural and endocrine systems which respond to stimuli in a logical, albeit complex, manner.

found on: https://i2.wp.com/www.acampbell.ukfsn.org/acupuncture/articles/papez.jpg

Within this model, compassion, hope, love, and their less-admired opposites are all perfectly logical. If emotions weren’t logical, they’d manifest randomly and be of no adaptive use whatsoever. This is a core assumption in establishing locus of control in psychotherapy; instead of allowing people to feel governed by tyrannically unpredictable emotional flights, they are encouraged to trace the origins of said emotions to help manage anger and so on. So the next time you watch some Terminator-esque film where the villains are villains because they’re logical and the heroes are heroes because they “think with their hearts”, just remember: the villains are actually villains because they adhere to a logical framework that produces actions audiences disapprove of.

A related sidenote:

Chant the tabloid-reading mouth breathers: “What about serial killers? They’re purely logical, remorseless, cold, machine-like pseudo-people with no emotions at all!” Wrong. Humanity’s collective fascination (be it abhorrent or titillated) with sociopathy stems from our favorable bias towards the cherished emotions mentioned earlier: compassion, hope, love, and so on. Most of us experience these emotions in some measure, but sociopaths strangely lack them. But that’s all it is: statistical strangeness. They exists on one end of the normal curve of emotional phenotypes and possess neural differences from the general public that explain their behavior logically. Sociopaths do experience other feelings–anger, sadness, joy, etc.–and are thus not emotionless, simply empathically deficient.

Musical Numbers You Can’t Count On

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Sometimes, musicals are weird.

The idea behind musicals is great. Use song and dance to:

Musical Do’s:

1. Engagingly and rapidly present story elements like expository information, characters, setting, etc.

2. Externalize unstated character conditions, motivations, intra/interpersonal mood, subtextual stuff

3. Streamline pacing for situations involving change, like mounting conflict or montages

4. Include fun, catchy, and/or evocative (perhaps melodically beautiful) musical content that audiences can associate with story as a whole

When musical numbers don’t solidly perform one or more of these four functions, that doesn’t necessarily make them bad. It does, however, make them musical numbers for the sake of musical numbers; they don’t enrich the story in any way besides their intrusion-by-existence. Your story is moving along smoothly or unsmoothly or what have you and SUDDENLY there’s this extraneous and unremarkable musical number that just appears, almost as if it wants to waste time. So here’s a second list containing faux pas musical number functions:

Musical Don’t’s

1. Needlessly reiterate already obvious story elements, character conditions, etc.

2. Act as filler to artificially extend play time

3. Exist as a musical number simply for the sake of being a musical number

These are fuzzy rules, so here’s an example that touts them left and right. The Scrubs musical episode already wades into #3 simply by existing; it is a pointed musical episode in a show that contains no other musical episodes, written obviously to satisfy the writers’ collective thirst for a musical episode. Right from the get-go, the very first two musical numbers display the device responsible for everyone’s apparent singing (a patient with a brain injury), which is a waste of time because a musical number should not have to explain why it exists UNLESS it contributes to the story in an embedded fashion.

Since that last morsel was a mouthful, consider another example to illustrate. Buffy‘s “Once More With Feeling”, too, is a musical episode in a show otherwise bereft of musicals.  Prior to writing/filming OMWF, Joss Whedon had long wanted to do a musical episode. As with the Scrubs musical episode, this begins to stink of #3: musicals for the sake of themselves. There are even a couple songs (“I’ve Got a Theory” and “What You Feel”) that address the singing itself, a maneuver which stumbles into the realm of musical numbers explaining their own existence. However, in OMWF, the singing is a literal truth within the story, whereas in Scrubs it’s only perceptual. As such, in the former, we have singing addressing its own existence because it is actually happening and actually strange. In the latter, we have singing addressing its own existence because the writers have to explain what their excuse for having a musical episode is, even if no one is actually singing in the plot. See the difference?

Found on: https://i2.wp.com/www.swamp.org/images/Buffy%20postcard%20copy.jpg

Let’s take the comparison further. OMWF is a critical episode in season 6 of Buffy; practically everyone’s secrets are revealed (#2 on the musical Do list) and seeds for change (Giles leaving Sunnydale and Tara leaving Willow) are sown (#3 on the Do list). The musical numbers are embedded in the story because their existence, albeit strange, catalyzes characters and events relevant to the story as a whole. In addition, on an artsy-fartsy note, the externalization of otherwise unstated character conditions (like Xander and Anya’s uncertainties about each other) being a literal truth within the season 6 story comments ironically on the brazenness of musical numbers and the vulnerability of private thoughts/feelings. The Scrubs musical episode, on the other hand, contributes to the story of season 6 Scrubs by… um… well, it’s the musical episode! And musicals are fun, right? Who cares if almost every song is simply a reiteration of content established in previous episodes (“Guy Love”, “Welcome to Sacred Heart”, “The Rant Song”: #1 on the Don’t list) or an explanation of the musical’s existence? Oh, oh– J.D. and Elliot stopped living together! That totally couldn’t have happened unless they were part of a perceived musical! Right? Right?

Bearing the discussion above in mind, this post was actually intended to address a certain superfluous track *cough* “Human Again” *cough* added to the 2002 special edition of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (sidetracked much?). In terms of critical reception, Beauty and the Beast is the crown jewel of the Disney Renaissance; it’s got great visuals, great writing, great characters, and–most important to this discourse–really great music. From the gorgeously haunting introduction (“Prologue”) to the titular musical number “Beauty and the Beast” and all the way through the closing piece (“Transformation”), Alan Menken composes up a storm of totally unforgettable, excellent scoring for this film. Anyone who has seen it can recognize the songs in a heartbeat. As such, #4 on the Do list is out of the ballpark for Beauty and the Beast.

Found on: https://i1.wp.com/www.disneydreaming.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/Beauty-And-The-Beast-Castle.jpg

Other items on the Do list (tired of scrolling yet?) have representation in Beauty and the Beast as well; “Something There” melodiously narrates, in montage form, changes in Belle’s and the Beast’s feelings towards one another (#3). “The Mob Song”, too, connects scenes related to the mobilization of village people attacking the Beast. These are purposeful songs; not only do they guide events, but they also display internal feelings of the people involved in said events (#2 on the Do list). “Belle”, “Gaston”, and “Be Our Guest” fall into a category between #1 and #2; they establish motivation for Belle, Gaston, and the castle servants as well providing expository information about the social climate of Belle’s provincial life (they’re all quite memorable, to boot). The richness of content in these musical numbers sets a standard not to be taken lightly, but some people just have no sense.

The 2002 special edition of Beauty and the Beast has some nice revamps on visuals, but it also contains this awful musical outlier called “Human Again” in the otherwise quality-driven set of musical numbers. “Human Again” is effectively this: the Beast’s castle servants relish the notion of being human again (appropriately enough) while cleaning the castle in preparation for Belle and the Beast’s big dance date. They basically prepare the castle for a better musical number (“Beauty and the Beast”). Prior to this song, we already know that these characters are excited to be human again; otherwise, they wouldn’t be so hospitable and kind towards Belle (#1 on the Don’t list). Dialogue and visuals preceding and following “Human Again” also demonstrate that the castle has been cleaned, so the events shown during the musical number are both boring (it’s cleaning for goodness’s sake) and redundant, making it filler (#2 on the Don’t list). In addition, this was a song added to a re-release in order to boost sales; a bonus musical number is probably not adding anything special and exists primarily as “a bonus musical number!” and thus demonstrates even #3 on the Don’t list. Musically, the song is rather mediocre and can’t even salvage its reputation with #4 on the Do list. Honestly, “Human Again” is just utter rubbish and it’s a shame anyone felt it necessary to sully a stellar film with its complete uselessness.

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I have Venn diagrams, so this is totally legit.

“The” Olive Garden

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America loves Olive Garden, or The Olive Garden, as it’s often called. I suppose saying, “Let’s have dinner at The Olive Garden!” lends a sense that the restaurant is unique and classy, much in the way saying, “The Elton John” suggests fame more than just “Elton John”. You may as well call it “Its Esteemed Majesty Herr Doktor Doktor Olive Garden”. Gosh that sounds fancy.

But Olive Garden isn’t fancy. Their breadsticks are effectively doughy sticks of butter with bath salts glued to them and the complexity of the dishes hardly exceeds the culinary know-how of the average child (spaghetti with meatballs: gee, I wonder how you make that). And it isn’t in any way “The” Olive Garden: there are thousands of these restaurants, and they’re all equally awful. When you’re paying 14 dollars for a small bowl of chicken alfredo, you’ve really got to wonder what’s so special about this place.

It’s the image. People think Olive Garden’s a place to dress up for because it’s got vines around the name and it’s a “garden”, but it’s still got that delicious diabetes taste you’d expect from any other family-oriented chain, like Applebee’s. Plus, when you’re paying too much for your food, you naturally assume it’s because of the fancy factor (and that makes it somehow worth it?). You get familiar nutritional abominations for prices that make the food glimmer with the appeal of apparent aristocracy. So ruffle your petticoats, kids, we’re going to The Olive Garden tonight!