Before and After

So, Motia (Mo-TEE-ya) says that I should blog more, and I should. Lately, though, she’s been very specific, suggesting blog subjects and the like. The nerve of some people. Telling me what to do. Directing my behavior. Punching me in the arm. Expecting me to get drunk at the company Christmas party.

I think she might be a prophet.

Anyway, we had a discussion the other day regarding certain moments when you realize that nothing will ever be the same. Events or moments in one’s life or in society, the arts, that forever change the medium. Rock ‘n’ Roll music is one of those. For example, in 1957 Elvis finished the year with the number one single on the pop charts with “All Shook Up.” The number two song overall? Pat Boone with “Love Letters in the Sand.” Yes, Pat Boone. By 1958, Pat dropped to #24 overall, and in 1959 he didn’t have a song in the top-100. Obviously, this was a more gradual change, but the point was made: rock ‘n’ roll is here to stay.

But let’s narrow our focus a bit. How about we look only at three different things that happened within the last thirty years or so. And we’ll keep it to one medium: cinema. There have been all sorts of innovators in film, and you could go back to Citizen Kane and Casablanca and discuss how groundbreaking those films were (and let’s be honest, I probably will one day) but I’ve narrowed it down to three events/watershed moments. We’ll start with perhaps the most obvious.

CGI

The original TRON was the first major Hollywood film to utilize the ground-breaking technology of “Computer Generated Imagery.” However, not only were the effects crude and clunky, but they only accounted for a small portion of the overall special effects.

Eerily lifelike.

Eerily lifelike.

The rest were old-school makeup, prosthetics, matte paintings, and colorizing/color replacing most of the footage. That same year, moviegoers had the piss scared out of them by John Carpenter’s The Thing. Carpenter’s film relied almost entirely on Bob Bottin’s stop-motion and puppetry (with a slight assist from the legendary Stan Winston) to create horrific and terrifying creature effects. However, within a couple of years after TRON’s theatrical release came 1984’s The Last Starfighter. In just two years (or less, since the movie was in production well before its release date) the ability of CG artists had leapt light-years ahead, rendering 3-D Gunstars that, while terribly crude by today’s standards, were still pretty cool.

Yeah, try and TELL me that ain't what a spaceship looks like, son.

Yeah, try and TELL me that ain’t what a spaceship looks like, son.

And in less than ten years’ time, we had Doctor Grant marveling at a herd of brachiosaurs. (Even though the famous velociraptor kitchen scene was done mostly by guys in dinosaur costumes.) Now we enjoy everything from Shrek to the Transformers series and everything Marvel Studios has produced. Think back to the “crawling spider-head monster” from The Thing. If filmed today, it would be completely rendered in CG. Would a CG version be better? Creepier? More realistic? Possibly. In the right hands, maybe. But the fact is that no studio would do it old-school today. Old-school SFX are still out there, but there isn’t a studio head in the business that would risk a shot like that without doing it CG.

Not to be confused with the Headcrabs from the Half Life series.

Not to be confused with the Headcrabs from the Half Life series.

Batman Begins

The argument could be made that 2000’s M. Night Shyamalan film Unbreakable was the first “realistic” super hero movie. But it wasn’t until Christopher Nolan helmed Batman Begins in 2005 that things got, well…serious. We’ve all grown jaded by the words “gritty reboot” but that’s exactly what Batman Begins was. After Joel Shumacher pretty much undid all the good work begun by Tim Burton’s time with the Caped Crusader in the late-80’s, ol’ Bats needed a new start. And when you spend the first part of the film showing millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne studying with ninjas in order to become a lethal assassin, people sort of forget about nipples on the Batsuit.

Until now.

Until now.

The phenomenon took off. Maybe it was perfect timing. In a post- 9/11 world, maybe glib one-liners and a vibrant color palette didn’t belong anymore. And yet, people still needed heroes. Enter The Dark Knight. Through three brilliant films, Nolan made us re-think exactly what we wanted from a comic-book movie. The ripples were felt as far away as M.I.6, as the following year a new, lean, hard, and violent-as-hell 007 debuted in a (all together now!) gritty reboot of the James Bond franchise. Casino Royale was also a dizzying success, and now even fluff movies like Guardians of the Galaxy contain enough gravitas (um, Peter Quill’s mom dying of cancer to start the goddam movie?) to make them feel “real.” Real enough, anyway.

Judd Apatow

Okay, this is actually the thing that got Motia and I talking about this concept of game-changers. I’d mentioned re-watching the original Dumb and Dumber recently, and here’s the thing: it’s really not that funny. Sure, it has its moments, and everyone can recite a handful of lines. But it just falls flat. What happened to cause such a diminishing return? Judd Apatow.

Apatow had been working for a while, writing, directing, producing, and often re-writing scripts for other people. Not many people watched Freaks and Geeks when it originally aired on FOX, probably about as many people as enjoyed The Ben Stiller Show (another example of Apatow’s handiwork.) But in 2004, Apatow produced a little film called Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. Then he wrote and directed The 40 Year Old Virgin. And then Knocked Up and Talladega Nights. He produced films like Superbad and Pineapple Express, Step Brothers, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek, and Bridesmaids.

God damn.

In fairness, ol’ Judd had some turkeys in there, too. Year One, for example. And he co-wrote Don’t Mess With the Zohan. But when you look at the scope of comedic films he’s had a hand in over the last two decades, it’s hard to argue that he’s the King of Comedy in Hollywood. There’s a reason for that. Remember how we just discussed the gritty nature of superhero movies since Batman Begins? Comedy works the same way. Judd’s movies generally (not always) have an element of reality in the midst of all the ludicrous shenanigans. I mean, you can watch his films and know those characters. Yes, there are absurd people like Brick Tamland, but there are also kids drawing dicks and foul-mouthed best-friends. Jilted lovers and chronic pot-smokers (pun intended, if redundant.) You know those people. The plots for 40 Year Old Virgin and Bridesmaids could absolutely happen in real life. And as much as it was panned, I even found the Anchorman sequel to be a biting satire of modern cable news media. That’s reality, folks.

The plot of Me, Myself, and Irene could not ever happen. Ever.

Like anyone would seriously believe that these two, would...uh...oh.

Like anyone would seriously believe that these two would…uh…oh.

Speaking of which, I’m not saying the films of the Farrely Brothers or Adam Sandler or Mike Myers aren’t good, or even funny. Kingpin has some of the best sight gags ever, and even though it doesn’t hold up very well, Austin Powers was a fun little movie (and the sequels weren’t terrible, really.) It’s just that after Judd Apatow, when I watch those other flicks I feel like an adult listening to 8th-graders tell jokes. 8th-graders can be hilarious, but most of their humor is sort of one-note: farts, gays, lady parts, etc. And all of those subjects can also be hilarious in the right context. But if that’s all you’re going to give me, I grow tired of it all very quickly. Thanks, Judd Apatow. You’ve ruined me for stupid comedies.

Discotron and On, Mon!

I’m in a silly mood.  And when I’m in a silly mood, you get a silly blog.

Recently my kids have been on a TRON kick.  Specifically, they’ve been on a TRON: Legacy kick, watching it every day.  EVERY. DAY.  They’ve made Identity Discs out of paper plates and Frisbees, every toy motorcycle is now a Light Cycle, the Android tablets are full of Light Cycle games and TRON videos on YouTube, and TRON: Evolution has taken up permanent residence in the Xbox 360 tray.  It’s a phase, and I’m aware that recently they were in Iron Man mode, and Batman mode before that, and of course hockey is always a go-to obsession, so it’s all good.  But I took it upon myself to further their education by downloading the demo versions of the original TRON coin-op game and even found an Xbox Arcade demo for the classic “Discs of TRON.”  (It turns out that this game is not nearly as fun as I remember, but maybe that’s because I’m not playing it inside one of those enclosed sit-down cabinets that the original game employed.)

I seriously doubt my big ass would even fit in there.

I seriously doubt my big ass would even fit in there.

Anyway, word association and rhyming are two ways my addled mind uses to distract me from doing real work, so here’s the way my runaway brain train took off on me…

Instead of “Discs of TRON” I started thinking “Discotron.”  Now, Discotron can be a lot of different things.  A tune by Alex Metric which sounds an awful lot like some of the Daft Punk soundtrack to TRON: Legacy, ironically…

A disco-techno-house hybrid band…

A record player…

I'm guessing it looks like this.  Just spitballing here, but with a name like "Discotron" it has to be pretty close.

I’m guessing it looks like this. Just spitballing here, but with a name like “Discotron” it has to be pretty close.

A “Heat Digital Transfer Machine”…

transfer

Or this weird German party truck.

Das auto!

Das auto!

And actually about 4,000 other things.  In fact, if you add alternate spellings like “DiskoTron” or “Disco-Tron” the results from Google explode exponentially.  And goddammit, we don’t NEED more explosions!  My lord, didn’t you SEE that footage of the meteor in Russia?  THINK, PEOPLE!!  This world would be so much better if people would just learn to be responsible with their Google searches.  And don’t even get me STARTED on that Bing crap.
Anyway.
“Discotron” led me to think of Robotron 2084, another bad-ass arcade classic that was sooooo much better than “Berzerk.”
One of the few home-console versions that looked pretty much like the coin-op.  It's all we had, people.

Berzerk: one of the few home-console versions that looked pretty much like the coin-op. It’s all we had, people.

And “Berzerk” was infinitely better than “BirdZerk” the cut-rate San Diego Chicken rip-off that infiltrates minor-league ballparks around the United States every summer.
KILL IT!  KILL IT WITH FIRE!!

KILL IT! KILL IT WITH FIRE!!

And “BirdZerk” is head-and-shoulders above that Myron Noodleman buffoon.  Seriously, dude:  looking and acting like Jerry Lewis has never been funny, even for Jerry Lewis. Jerry Lewis cosplay is the absolute worst.  Stop it.
KILL IT!  KILL IT WITH...ah, never mind.

KILL IT! KILL IT WITH…ah, never mind.

But Discotron also reminds me of Gravitron.  The Gravitron is the single-greatest carnival ride in history, equal parts fun and vomit.  It’s amazing.  Sometimes you sprawl all over the place like a confused Stephen Hawking, and sometimes you hope that the centrifugal force keeps that dude next to you’s puke right on top of him where it belongs.
Or you sack up and make gravity your bitch.

Or you sack up and make gravity your bitch.

In closing, here are some other things that Discotron reminds me of.  Thanks, kids.  Thanks, TRON.  Thanks, Google.  And thank you for making it this far.

ron-jon-41heymondon-juan-demarcowrath of khan 46