Back again for another highly opinionated — some might even say downright cranky — look at the week in fantasy. You’ve been warned!
“IT KNOWS WHAT SCARES YOU!”
I distinctly remember when Poltergeist came out in June of 1982. I went with my friends, loved it, and it instantly became one of my favorite movies of all time, despite the fact that I wasn’t (and am still generally not) a big fan of its producer, Steven Spielberg. (It’ll take a lot more Minority Reports for me to forgive him for A.I.!)
But interestingly, Spielberg’s directing magnum opus (at the time) E.T. came out one week after Poltergeist. I wasn’t a fan of the movie, which I found to mostly be treacly crap, but the rest of the world went nuts for it. What I remember about almost the whole year of 1982 was how everyone was raving about E.T. – Neil Diamond wrote a whole song about how frickin’ touched he was! — while I was frantically shouting to the heavens, “No, you idiots — E.T. was mediocre at best! But Poltergeist — now that was a brilliant movie!”
Yeah, I was that kid.
Anyway, the world completely ignored me (as it so often does). But I re-watched Poltergeist recently, and while the special effects are sadly dated — wow, we really thought that scene at the sink when he tears his face off looked cool?!? — I still think the movie more than holds up.
In fact, the irony is that, while E.T. may be considered much more of a “beloved classic,” I think Poltergeist ended up being far more influential.
Think about all the movie’s most indelible images: the toy clown in the bedroom, the tree that eats that kid, the chairs that slide across the kitchen, the quirky psychic, the ghost coming down the stairs, the swimming pool full of bodies, the theme of the soul-less suburbs, a complicated mythology of “the light” and “the other side,” and the house sucked into another dimension.
Sure, Poltergeist borrowed from movies that came before it. But every ghost or haunted house movie since Poltergeist has borrowed from it (or blatantly ripped it off).
Like Jaws, Poltergeist pretty much invented a whole genre — or at least mainstreamed a formerly B-movie one.
What did E.T. do? Well, it made a whole lot of little old ladies cry. And it gave us Drew Barrymore (though, for me, the jury is still out on that one).
Why do I bring this up? Zelda Rubinstein, the actress who played Tangina Barrons (to absolute perfection!), sadly died this week. Take a look at her saying some of her most memorable dialogue:
THROW THOSE BITCHES INTO A RANCOR PIT!
Question for you. You get up in the morning, and you have two choices:
- You can go have breakfast with some friends at Denny’s.
- You can travel to a completely alien world where human beings are capable of breeding “avatar”-like beings that can interact with the native occupants and can fly around floating mountains on dragon-like creatures.
Which would you choose?
I mean, come on? Is there really any choice?
Hey, I like having breakfast with my friends. We have good conversations, and there’s a place near where I live that makes great hash browns. Sometimes there’s even some interesting drama and tension between the people involved.
But here’s the thing: I can really have breakfast with my friends! I do it almost every Sunday!
In real life, I can’t travel to Pandora. So I ask again: when given the choice between a realistic story and fantastical one, why does anyone ever choose the realistic one?
Okay, sure, I like me a realistic drama now and then. The Hurt Locker is in my Netflix queue (but there’s a “very long wait,” apparently). I like to consider the human condition and all that.
But why can’t I do that while playing Dragon Age: Origins?
The complaint about fantasy and sci-fi is always: “But the characters are so cliche!”
Which, I admit, is sometimes true. But I think that’s just as true of “realistic” stories too.
When I read something as brilliant as George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice (at least until A Feast for Crows, where it all kind of went off the rails), I defy anyone to argue that fantasy can’t be just as sophisticated as realistic fiction.
The point is, you can have dragons and dinosaurs and magic and well-rounded characters and believable emotion!
Our own Tim O’Leary recently offered George Lucas some fantastic writing advice that I wish every writer would take to heart:
Once you have those truly great characters who we empathize with, feel connected to, care about, and want to see succeed, then throw those bitches into a rancor pit!
Could! Not! Agree! More!
But then, hey, I founded this site, so it kinda follows I’d think that, right?
THE IDIOT BOX
On Friday, we’ve come to the end of the line for Dollhouse, which has its series finale. Cheekily entitled “Ephitet 2,” it picks up the events of last season’s “lost” 13th episode that was then thought to be the series finale. (Friday, 8 PM, Fox).
Also on Friday, we’ve got another episode of Caprica , which I’m told by folks I trust is better than last week’s premiere (Friday, 9 PM, SyFy). And Lucy Lawless finally gets some screen-time on Spartacus: Blood and Sand (Friday, 10 PM, Starz). Expect to see more of Lucy than you ever thought you would!
This weekend, there’s a new episode of Legend of the Seeker (syndicated, check local listings).
On Saturday, SyFy has an original movie called Meteor Storm. This, along with cheddar and pepper jack, is the kinda cheese I like! (Saturday, 9 PM, SyFy).
On Tuesday, “The Beginning of the End,” will bring Lost viewers up-to-date on the last five seasons for the upcoming series finale (Tuesday, 8 PM, ABC).
On Thursday, there’s a new The Vampire Diaries (Thursday, 8 PM, the CW) and a Supernatural in which Sam and Dean go back in time to stop someone else who has gone back in time to make sure Sam is never conceived, to prevent him from becoming Lucifer’s vessel. Does that make sense? (Thursday, 9 PM, The CW)
Also on Thursday is the Fringe “Winter Season Finale” — yeah, I’m not quite sure what that means either, but I think it means there won’t be any new episodes until spring. Frankly, I’m on the verge of boycotting this show completely for two reasons: (1) Walter was apparently intimately involved in every experimental research project ever conducted, and then forgot all about it (at least until he “remembers” mid-way through each episode), and (2) last week’s episode, which was perhaps the most scientifically-stupid sci-fi I think I’ve ever seen. Walter identifies a nonsensical “intelligent” virus, and then creates a “cure” out of horseradish horseradish! — all in about thirty minutes, with no lab equipment?!?!?! Waiter, check please. (Thursday, 9 PM, Fox).
Well, this week’s flame has sputtered out, but join me again next week when I promise I won’t be nearly so cranky.
Oh, who am I kidding?!
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