Tag Archives: guillermo del toro

“Game Changers”

Watching Pacific Rim last Friday made me wonder: What constitutes a 21st century sci-fi “game changer”? What determines the kind of movie that gets labeled “instantly iconic” or “revolutionary,” that accumulates a fandom by the end of its first weekend in release? Pacific Rim, for example—whose goofy kid-in-a-bathtub mayhem I really enjoyed—struck me as kin to a couple of other recent movies, Avatar and Inception. Here’s what the three have in common:

  • They’re written and directed by men with considerable nerd cachet. (Co-written, in the case of Pacific Rim.) They all started life as “original” projects, but are banking on audience members’ knowledge of their auteurs—and willingness to see anything from the mind behind AliensThe Dark Knight, or Pan’s Labyrinth.
  • That “original” status. Although all three draw heavily from their sci-fi forebears, they’re brand new properties, with minimalist titles calculated to tease. At least prior to their respective releases, they all looked new, mysterious, and intriguing.
  • The near-future worlds crafted for these movies are all dependent on CGI for their size and detail. Each of these worlds also centers on a series of conceits—e.g. avatars, dream theft, drifting—meant to hook the viewer, with “rules” which must be explained via endless exposition.
  • Brooding, recently bereaved white men headline these movies, each of them leading a team on a redemptive mission. Outside of a few minor flourishes in Inception, they’re all very conventionally plotted, with conflicts that are easy to grab hold of: “natives vs. imperialists,” “thieves vs. the mind,” and of course “robots vs. monsters.”
  • As decidedly PG-13 action movies, they lack any sexuality (beyond a single chaste scene in Avatar) or graphic violence. They disengage from the reality of human bodies, opting to make them one more glossy component of these digital fantasy worlds instead.
  • Given their shared interest in charting the mind’s interior and playing with characters’ identities, they’re all indebted to the work of Philip K. Dick, as well as to The Matrix—their most obvious predecessor as far as conceit-driven sci-fi sagas go.

None of these traits are inherently negative, but together they do lay out some very narrow parameters for Event Movie sci-fi. I don’t expect to be blowing any minds here, but given how familiar these three films’ stories, ideas, and visual grammar are from countless earlier movies, maybe (just maybe) “game-changing” has less to do with content and more to do with packaging.

5 Comments

Filed under Cinema

Link Dump: #17

Welcome to a new year at Pussy Goes Grrr! We’re celebrating with a kitty from The Great Mouse Detective, one of the most underrated items in the Disney catalog. As you may have noticed, posting has been scarce lately. As usual, it’s because of that curse called “real life”; Ashley is about to start a new semester, and I’m neck-deep in my horror-themed comps project. Therefore, dear reader, I’ve got a question for you: what do you want? What would you like to read more of? Comment below! Reader feedback is like sweet manna from heaven to us unpaid writers. And seriously, thank you for reading. You’re the reason this blog is here.

With that, let’s start another year of kitties and Link Dumps! We’ve got werewolves, sex, politics, and more:

  • Fun fact: while working in Mexican television, Guillermo del Toro directed and starred in an Alka Seltzer commercial. And it’s scary.
  • The Hathor Legacy has a post about the Bechdel test; it’s snarky and painfully true.
  • In the aftermath of #MooreandMe, Jaclyn Friedman clears up some myths about enthusiastic consent and how it’s like, you know, a good thing to get clear, expressed consent when having sex with someone.
  • A homophobic pastor who wanted to save children from the gays was also a pedophile?! I know, it’s shocking (and ironic).
  • You may have heard about a new edition of Huck Finn with the N-word removed; Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post has this to say. Neil Gaiman adds this: “It’s public domain, so you can make Huck a Klingon if you want, but it’s not Mark Twain’s book.”
  • According to the wacky, math-loving fundamentalists at ebiblefellowship.com, the world’s going to end on October 21! Good to know.
  • Self-promotion time! So: I wrote a graphic novella, which was drawn by a talented team of collaborators. It’s called Spring Lake Massacre. You can read it online and, soon, buy physical copies. I’ll probably be plugging this a lot more in the future.

For this week’s weird/creepy search terms, we have the very accurate “maggots scare the hell out of me.” Yes, maggots do indeed scare the hell out of me. Especially all those maggots in Lucio Fulci’s City of the Living Dead. From the “Incredibly Specific, but Unrelated to This Blog” files, we’ve got “tightly woven wicker paper plate holders.” Yes, those exist. No, we do not have them. Somebody searched for “blow up fanny videos,” which really can’t mean anything good, and finally, we’ve got the very blunt “fuck i don’t know.” I think we can all sympathize with that one.

5 Comments

Filed under art, Cinema, Feminism, Literature, Meta, Personal, Politics, Sexuality

Happy birthday, Guillermo del Toro!

Happy 46th birthday to horror maestro Guillermo del Toro! Across the two decades of his career, Del Toro has had an immensely positive effect on horror cinema, directing innovative movies like The Devil’s Backbone (2001, pictured above) and Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), along with many, many more. He’s also been instrumental in developing and producing projects like The Orphanage, Splice, and the upcoming Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. With an epic Lovecraft adaptation in the works (and a profound understanding of how Lovecraft’s fiction works), he’s one of the most ambitious, prolific horror directors around, and he brings a charming, sensitive touch to even his most brutal movies.

But my admiration for Señor del Toro goes beyond his film work. He also knows more about the theory and practice of the horror genre than the vast majority of the academics and filmmakers. In interviews and essays, he’s demonstrated a deep, deep knowledge of and respect for the entire history of horror in film and literature. Oh, and did I mention he writes novels about vampires? He’s like the Mexican Kim Newman! (If Kim Newman made movies about children surviving the Spanish Civil War. Which I’m sure he could, if he wanted to.) In honor of Del Toro’s birthday, let’s all sit patiently and wait for At the Mountains of Madness to be released. ‘Cause if we’re not patient, he’ll probably sic Santi on us…

1 Comment

Filed under Cinema

Hawks/Carpenter/Lovecraft

[This piece was written as part of John Carpenter Week over at Radiator Heaven. Go there for a comprehensive listing of other Carpenter-related writing.]

Together, The Thing from Another World (1951) and John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) comprise one of my favorite original/remake couplings. They’re both chilly and paranoid, using the narrow corridors of polar research stations to elicit maximum terror. The 1951 version is a mix of high adventure and Cold War sci-fi, told with Howard Hawks’ consummate classicism (although the direction is credited to Christian Nyby); Carpenter’s, meanwhile, amps up the mistrust and the gore, the latter courtesy of Rob Bottin and Stan Winston’s special effects.

My point is that these are both top-notch sci-fi/horror movies that I love. During the summer, I read H.P. Lovecraft’s novella At the Mountains of Madness and, what do you know, I caught some strong parallels with both Thing movies! Of course, there’s the basic plot – intrepid scientists uncover a long-buried eldritch horror in the icy wastes – but even beyond that, we’ve got similarities galore. This is probably not a coincidence, as Mountains was published in Astounding Stories in 1936, with John W. Campbell’s “Who Goes There?”, on which both Thing movies were based (and which I have not read), appearing in the same periodical just two years later.

But hey, pointing out parallels like this is fun. Thus, I’m going to reveal them in the most dramatic form possible: through quotes and screenshots! Everybody loves those, right?

“I hope I have said enough already to let me glide briefly over the rest; the rest, that is, of the horror at the camp. I have told of the wind-ravaged terrain, the damaged shelters, the disarranged machinery, the varied uneasiness of our dogs, the missing sledges and other items, the deaths of men and dogs…” (Chapter 4)

Exhibit A: In The Thing, the Norwegian camp operates with basically the same significance as Lake’s camp in Mountains. Except Lake and his men didn’t leave behind anything so informative as a twisted mutant corpse; all that remained was those weird alien snow-tombs.

“At first all that Lake found was dry, but as the heated tent produced its thawing effect, organic moisture of pungent and offensive odor was encountered toward the thing’s uninjured side.” (Chapter 2)

Whoops! Better not let that ancient ice block defrost! After all, it might contain ghastly creatures beyond man’s reckoning. Never mind; it’s too late. That’s what you get for introducing heat to the damn polar regions. (Fun fact: Mountains and The Thing ’82 take place in the Antarctic; The Thing ’51 is set in the Arctic.)

“Having trouble with dogs. They can’t endure the new specimen, and would probably tear it to pieces if we didn’t keep it at a distance from them.”

Note for future polar explorers: listen to your dogs. They are smart. They have that special dog sense, the one that helped Balto transport all that diphtheria vaccine. They can discern when eons-old beings with little regard for humanity have sneaked into your midst. And when earthquakes about to strike. Man, dogs are useful.

“A good-sized blast had laid open the subterrene secret; and now, through a jagged aperture perhaps five feet across and three feet thick, there yawned before the avid searchers a section of shallow limestone hollowing worn more than fifty million years ago…” (Chapter 2)

Guys, what’s the lesson you’re trying to give us? Don’t go digging in the earth? I guess Lovecraft would say that geology is just another branch of science, and all scientific/mathematical endeavors inevitably lead to failure or madness. As for Hawks’s men, Andrew Sarris said they were driven by “professionalism.” And not digging up a potentially groundbreaking discovery would probably be a breach of their code. In Carpenter’s case, it’s not even the Americans’ fault. They’re just pitifully following in the Norwegians’ footsteps.

“They had done the same thing on other planets, having manufactured not only necessary foods, but certain multicellular protoplasmic masses capable of molding their tissues into all sorts of temporary organs…” (Chapter 7)

“Must dissect when we get back to camp. Can’t decide whether vegetable or animal.” (Chapter 2)

The greatest difference between the two Things is their monsters: Hawks has James Arness in pretty scary alien makeup; Carpenter has a series of icky, protean critters that turn into other critters. Here’s my proposal: the ’82 monster resembles Lovecraft’s “Shoggoths,” which also imitate other life forms. When the protagonist encounters one, he describes it as “a shapeless congeries of protoplasmic bubbles, faintly self-luminous, and with myriads of temporary eyes forming and un-forming as pustules of greenish light.” These same threateningly amorphous qualities are present in Carpenter’s thing.

Hawks’s thing, on the other hand, is more like Lovecraft’s Old Ones. Not so much in appearance (they have starfish-shaped heads), but in the vegetable/animal ambiguity that Dr. Carrington raves about. In any case, the thing’s extraction from the ground, its thawing, and its escape match what happens with the corpses of the Old Ones, practically scene for scene. Let the inquiring minds over at Miskatonic ponder that one for a while.

So what’s the point of this exercise? Well, it’s threefold: 1) it’s cool, 2) it shows how supplemental reading material can give new insight into this pair of films, and 3) it’s another example of Lovecraft’s ongoing influence on horror fiction. Plus, At the Mountains of Madness is not going away any time soon. Here, for your reading pleasure, are some reassuring quotes from Guillermo del Toro about his upcoming film adaptation of Mountains. (Also, not as reassuringly, there’s prequel to The Thing in the works.) So there you have it: Lovecraft is alive and well and living in Arkham!

“I hope I have said enough already to let me glide   briefly over the rest; the rest, that is, of the   horror at the camp. I have told of the wind-ravaged   terrain, the damaged shelters, the disarranged   machinery, the varied uneasiness of our dogs, the   missing sledges and other items, the deaths of men   and dogs…” (Chapter 4)

3 Comments

Filed under art, Cinema, Literature