You are a great disappointment to me.
Last week saw the DVD release of the “extended cut” of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. As with the previous two films in Peter Jackson’s award-winning trilogy, King had been previously issued on home video in its theatrical release form, with a longer version arriving approximately half a year later.
While this is yet another example of the practice of “double-dipping”–releasing multiple versions of the same title, with each subsequent one ostensibly improved to encourage repeat buying by rapid collectors–at least Jackson and New Line Cinema have been upfront about their intentions since the beginning.
Watching the new DVD with its 50 minutes of additional footage was a vastly different experience than seeing King on opening night. In some places, it was practically a new film.
Although I felt that Jackson’s previous Lord of the Rings flicks were greatly improved by their extended edits, this one seems like a bit of a wash. Neither version is quite right.
The theatrical release was lacking some key scenes, notably the final confrontation with the wizard Saruman. Jackson apparently believed that this scene was merely a leftover from The Two Towers that delayed entry into the new plot. Yet, Saruman was such a major villain in the earlier chapters that it was absurd to dismiss him with a single line of dialogue. The reinstatement of this showdown provides much needed closure.
Similarly, added scenes with Faramir and Eowyn in the Houses of Healing give those characters more satisfying storylines. Both disappeared about halfway through the original version, only to reappear in the closing coronation sequence with only a hint of their off-screen romantic bond.
Other welcome restorations include a face off between Gandalf and the Witch King; and another between Aragorn and the Mouth of Sauron. They aren’t strictly needed, but the former is an iconic moment from the book and the latter features an effective depiction of a memorable character.
On the other hand, the extended edit includes material which seems not only unnecessary, but redundant. The surprise attack of the Army of the Dead at Minas Tirith is spoiled by an earlier, almost identical scene. And was there any call for a Gimli/Legolas drinking game?
Finally, neither version includes a sequence I’d hoped to see: Sam overcoming the stone watchers at the gates of Cirith Ungol. It was shot but, according to Jackson’s DVD commentary, left out for pacing reasons. Pacing reasons? In a four-hour-plus movie? I’d thought that these extended films were meant to be the ultimate “fan service” videos. (Jackson hinted that the missing scene could show up in a future video release. Does that mean that years down the line we’ll get yet another version?)
Of course, none of these comments are meant to detract from the outstanding, monumental work of Jackson and Company. They made so many correct decisions that it’s silly to fault them very much for their handful of blunders. It’s just that, as one of those rabid fans for whom these films were intended, it’s also hard not to wish that they could be just a bit better…
I wonder, ultimately, which versions will be accepted as the “real” deal. I would not want to go back to the truncated edits, but on the other hand, the theatrical cuts were the ones that won all those Oscars.
Multiple versions of movies are nothing new. Many films have been cut down from their original release, either to “improve” them (I once saw a rerelease of Disney’s Bedknobs and Broomsticks from which nearly all of the songs had been removed) or to fit them into a TV time slot. Others have been extended with additional/alternate scenes, and in this digital day and age, some have been completely reedited (notably Touch of Evil and Star Trek: The Motion Picture) in order to fulfill their makers’ intentions.
Heck, we’ve reached the point at which it’s not at all impossible for viewers to reedit a film to their own liking. Perhaps in the future there will be no definitive version of a film; each will exist in thousands of possibilities to suit individual tastes.
In mine, Eowyn is naked and Frodo rides a dinosaur.
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been watching the new DVD boxed set of the 1979 TV series Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. I have a great deal of fondness for Buck, even though I’ll be the first to admit it’s a colossal brick of disco-era, space cheese.
The late ’70s were, of course, the Era of Star Wars. All forms of mass media were trying to capitalize on the teeming masses of Force-happy kids looking for their next interstellar fix. In the days before CGI, however, it wasn’t cheap or easy to mount a half-decent, special-effects fest. Eager, young space cadets had to take what they could get.
Buck Rogers was in many ways the perfect TV show for a teenage boy. It was less “serious” than the previous season’s disappointment Battlestar Galactica, and emphasized the core cliches of pulp sci-fi: ray guns, dogfighting spaceships, robots, supervillains and (perhaps most importantly to my 15-year-old self) scantily-clad women.
In this version of the 1928 novel by Philip Francis Nowlan, Buck is an American astronaut from the far-flung year of 1987 who is flash-frozen aboard his deep space probe, only to be thawed out 500 years later by a passing Draconian battle cruiser on its way to invade the Earth. Buck’s piloting expertise is of great value in the 25th Century, as Earth’s defense forces have allowed their combat reflexes to atrophy from overreliance on computer assistance. Plus, apparently he’s a steaming hunk of beefcake.
Now, I am not a good judge of these things, but it’s hard for me to accept actor Gil Gerard circa 1979 as “the most genetically perfect human male,” as he was promoted by the luscious, devilish Draconian Princess Ardala. He’s beefy and hairy enough, but nothing one wouldn’t have seen on any number of TV shows at the time. Yet the ladies all have their sights firmly set on him, even though he inexplicably has little time not only for the sexually predatory Ardala, but for her equally gorgeous, good girl counterpart, Colonel Wilma Deering. (Deering was played by Erin Gray, whose ability to fill a skin-tight flightsuit is legendary amongst geeks of a certain age.)
Over the course of a season, Buck saved the Earth from peril on numerous occasions, and met up with an amazing number of guest stars familiar to genre fans. I’m going to list them here because it’s really quite impressive casting: Henry Silva (The Manchurian Candidate), Roddy McDowell (Planet of the Apes), Buster Crabbe (the original Buck Rogers serial), Jack Palance (countless sci-fi bad guys), Richard Lynch (various Galactica villains), Cesar Romero (Batman), Markie Post (Night Court), Frank Gorshin (Batman again), Joseph Wiseman (Dr. No), Peter Graves (Mission: Impossible), Robert Quarry (Count Yorga, Vampire), Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween), Jay Robinson (Dr. Shrinker), Ray Walston (My Favorite Martian), Michael Ansara (Kang the Klingon from Star Trek), Dorothy Stratten (Galaxina, not to mention Playboy Playmate of the Year), Tamara Dobson (Jason of Star Command), Anne Lockhart (Sheba from Battlestar Galactica), Mary Woronov (Death Race 2000), Judy Landers (B.J. and the Bear), Richard Moll (Night Court), Vera Miles (Psycho), Sam Jaffe (The Day the Earth Stood Still), Sam Haig (Jason of Star Command) and Julie Newmar (Batman yet again). (Mark Lenard, Spock’s dad from Star Trek, was the only notable guest star of the second season.) I almost forgot to mention Gary Coleman (Diff’rent Strokes), if only because I would love to forget Gary Coleman. Even back in 1979 I thought the network was pandering by including the popular child star.
That first season involved numerous behind-the-scenes fights between Gerard, who wanted a more serious science-fiction show centered squarely around him, and the writers, who’d been instructed to create a light-hearted adventure romp. The result was that a lot of the jokes were tossed out by Gerard (only to be reassigned to the wise-ass robot Twiki), and that Colonel Deering spent an awful lot of time standing around, looking pensive.
An abbreviated second season gave Gerard more of what he wanted, and less of what the audience wanted. It was a Star Trek retread set aboard the Searcher, an implausibly defenseless exploratory vessel in search of the lost tribes of Earth. Despite the desire to produce a more believable show, the second season featured a race that aged backwards and a man who could remove his own head.
Ultimately, everybody lost when the series was cancelled midway through that second year. Gerard made a variety of TV appearances during the next couple of decades, and now plies the sci-fi convention circuit, looking corpulent and not at all unlike my dad. Gray went on to the comedy Silver Spoons, but now works just a few booths down from Gerard in the autograph-selling area. (She is, however, still quite gorgeous after all these years.)
Watching the show again after all these years has been a blast, though there are certainly times when I have to quietly roll my eyes (such as Twiki’s line “I gave him a tweak-y he’ll never forget”). It’s most fun when it embraces its silliness, though there are several mildly poignant moments featuring the man 500 years out of his time, and the lonely princess who consoles herself by gazing upon her mirror image superimposed amongst the stars. (It’s notable that those scenes were scripted by the self-same writers that Gerard drove from the show.)
I’m about two-thirds of the way through the first season, which means that I’m only a few episodes from “Space Rockers”. You see, it’s about a plot to plant a subliminal signal inside the next concert at Musicworld and cause a galaxy-wide youth riot… Really. Look, it was 1979. And I was fifteen.
Sigh…one does have to overlook a lot when one tries to go home again.
TAKE HOME STEPFORD WIVES TODAY
Well, if you insist. I assume that they’re good to have around the house.
Last night, we finally got our Christmas tree set up. Vic would just as soon do without the hassle of decorating for the holiday, though she seems to enjoy the display once it’s done. As for me, it’s one area in which I’m not willing to compromise.
The funny thing is that this year I didn’t decorate at all for Halloween, a holiday I actually prefer to the Yuletide. In that case, my usual zeal for turning my front yard into a graveyard was dampened two years ago when some of my decorations were stolen, and even more so last year when we only got a handful of trick-or-treaters. This Halloween, the kid count was a good bit higher, but it was too late and I felt that I’d let myself down. Therefore, Christmas is where I draw the line. I want a big (artificial) tree in my living room, no matter how much of a pain in the ass it is to set up.
Of course, my desire for a decorated Christmas is even more ironic given that I consider myself agnostic. I acknowledge that Christmas is ostensibly about Christ, and I wouldn’t object to setting up a manger scene if I had one, but you’d be hard-pressed to find “the reason for the season” in my living room. He might be in there somewhere, but he’d be hard to find amidst the secular trappings.
It amazes even me just how much of my Christmas holiday is built around the accumulated pop culture of the last century. In addition to the various Santas and the army of snowmen, our display includes a wide variety of characters from the Rankin-Bass animated TV specials, including Rudolph, Herbie the Elf Dentist, the Bumble, Fred Astaire, the Winter Warlock and the Heat and Cold Misers.
Add to that several Grinches; Charlie Brown and Snoopy; and, in the window, a small version of the “leg lamp” from that modern film classic A Christmas Story. And we haven’t even come to the tree itself!
You see, about the time that Vic and I were first dating, Hallmark began in earnest to tap into boomers and their pop culture interests. She got me the very first–and arguably still the best–of their now-annual Star Trek starship ornaments, the original U.S.S. Enterprise with blinking red-and-green lights. Since then, I’ve added an entire fleet to the tree:
- Galileo Shuttlecraft
- U.S.S. Enterprise 1701-D
- U.S.S. Enterprise 1701-E
- U.S.S. Enterprise NX-01
- Romulan Warbird
- Klingon Bird of Prey
- Borg Cube (“Enjoy your holidays. Resistance is futile.”)
- Scorpion Shuttlecraft
- Deep Space Nice
- U.S.S. Defiant
- U.S.S. Voyager
- Delta Flyer
Add to that the Death Star from Star Wars, and I’ve got the best-defended Christmas tree in Champaign-Urbana.
Amusingly, several of them feature voice clips which activate when the power first comes on. Whenever I plug in the tree, Capt. Janeway, Worf, the Borg and Emperor Palpatine all start shouting in an incoherent babble of warm holiday greetings and/or galactic warmongering.
As for the rest of the tree, here is an incomplete list of the other pop culture characters to be found:
- Superheroes: Superman, Batman, The Flash, Wonder Woman, Harley Quinn and the Batmobile
- Star Trek: Capt. Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, Quark, Seven of Nine
- Movies and TV shows: Princess Leia, (I Dream Of) Jeannie
- Cartoon Characters: Scooby Doo, Snoopy, Lucy Van Pelt, The Grinch, Mickey Mouse, Tigger, Marvin the Martian and the Yellow Submarine
- Other: The Oscar Meyer Weinermobile (nothing says Christmas like a hot dog-shaped car)
Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas?
This morning, I watched the second episode of the new so-called reality series, The Real Gilligan’s Island. (I missed the first episode because, despite seeing weeks’ worth of promos for the show on TNT, it actually aired on TBS.)
It would be easy at this point to go into a screed about the absurdity of the word “reality” being applied to an elaborately staged, edited-to-within-an-inch-of-its-life recreation of one of TV’s most ridiculous situation comedies. However, I’m of the opinion that all television is fakery on some level, even if it’s only a matter of camera placement. Someone still has to make a decision about which portion of reality is transmitted, and which hides out of view.
Besides, I can’t be too outraged over an attempt to pay homage to one of my guilty pleasures. I would never defend Gilligan’s Island as great, or even good, TV. But the sanitized version of the simple life it presented was certainly appealing, especially with Mary Ann around. (Ahhhhh, Mary Ann. Perhaps the first and greatest of my TV crushes.)
The Real Gilligan’s Island is an odd animal, even for the reality genre. On one hand, it’s about as clear-cut a rip-off of Survivor as I’ve yet to see, with castaways competing in various races and bug-eating contests. The overlay of the familiar Gilligan characters is what makes it weird, especially in the current phase of the game, which requires two full sets of characters to determine which of them will be the “real” Skipper, etc. Hence, players refer to “Mary Ann Kate” and “Mary Ann Amanda.”
(One mistake that I believe the producers made was to rid themselves of one of the Mary Anns in the second episode. Do we need to start winnowing out the scantily dressed babes so soon? Fortunately, the hotter, more Mary Ann-ish of the farm girls won. I do not accept that she is the “real” Mary Ann. There’s only one, honey, and she’s not present.)
Another strange aspect of the game is the presence of two mid-level celebrities, Rachel Hunter and Nicole Eggert, as the competing Gingers. Though, honestly, isn’t the phrase “movie star” being stretched a bit?
We then come to the millionaires, two married teams of which the wives are both considerably more zaftig than Natalie Schafer. One of them, Mindy Stearns, is actually a former Entertainment Tonight correspondent, which should push her closer to what passes for a movie star in this game.
The other millionaire’s wife, Donna Beavens, is an annoying loudmouth who got the boot in this episode, after losing a traditional gross-out eating contest. She said what I consider to be the most unwittingly sublime statement I’ve ever heard on reality TV: “Testicles, bee larvae, worms… It, in my mind, degraded millionaires.” (I’ve added it to my random quotes on the main page of this site.)
While one of the Gilligans is too good looking by half (and is already sharing a hammock with the remaining Mary Ann), the other, a guy nicknamed “Gooner,” appears to have ridden the short bus to the island. Not sure whether he’s playing at being developmentally disabled, or just trying to be this generation’s Eddie Deezen. On the other hand, I have to give him props for putting on such a pathetic show of being “dehydrated” that he convinced Rachel Hunter to mother him with sips of coconut milk, and even to go off with him on a by-God “berry picking” trip. (For someone at the point of starvation, he seemed surprisingly spry during said excursion.)
One final oddity of The Real Gilligan’s Island is that the goal of the players is the exact opposite of the original characters. These “seven stranded castaways” want to stay on the island. (Granted, the losing players are supposedly sent to the infamous “other side of the island” rather than home.) But it’s obvious that no one wants to be rescued, at least until the final payoff.
I think that a better show would be to actually strand them and force them to survive and seek real rescue while remaining in character. What could be a more appropriate reality show hell than slowly starving and being forced to do so dressed as Gilligan?