Monday, April 15, 2013

If I directed a remake to 'The Wizard of Oz'...

First off, it is not a musical. #1 problem with the first movie solved.

Dorothy still lives on a farm in Kansas with her Uncle Henry and Aunt Em and loves her dog Toto, which she has had since before her parents died in a plane crash. The first scene of this version is the funeral of Dorothy's parents and Henry and Em taking her home. Dorothy in this version is kind of like Daria from the MTV (Beavis and Butt-Head spinoff) cartoon show. She is smart, quiet, sarcastic at times and a little morbid because of what happened to her parents. She hates the ditzy cheerleader girls at her school and drowns them out with punk rock on her headphones or by reading a book. Her favorite album is 'Dark Side of the Moon' by Pink Floyd, which provides much of the soundtrack for this film. Dorothy finds living on a farm boring and misses the city life that she had with her parents.

There is a tornado. Dorothy ends up in Oz. Her house lands on the Wicked Witch of the East. The Munchkins, instead of being colorfully-dressed singers and dancers with Oompa Loompa hair, are ghetto-dwelling warriors who have been fighting the witch's oppression in their city for decades. They are first skeptical of Dorothy ("Is she a good witch or a bad witch?"). They threaten her with spears and take her to Munchkin Town Hall for interrogation. At this point, the Wicked Witch of the West tries to take back her sister's ruby slippers and gets into a fireball-hurling (Dragonball/Street Fighter-style) battle sequence with Glenda, the good witch of the North. Glenda kills two of her flying monkey bodyguards and scares the Wicked Witch away. She gives the ruby slippers to Dorothy after convincing the cynical Munchkins that she is no threat to them and tells her about the Wizard of Oz, who is a runs a religious commune called the Emerald City. Like the original, the people that Dorothy meets in Oz are 'elseworlds' versions of people she met back home in Kansas.

Remember that myth about the actor who played one of the Munchkins hanging himself while on the set and people claim that you can see him in the background of the movie? Well, a reference is made to the Munchkin Prime Minister hanging himself and Dorothy sees him later in the film, somewhere between meeting the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion.

Dorothy meets the Scarecrow and finds him annoying. She doesn't want him following her around. Then, the Scarecrow earns her trust by protecting her from the first attack by the flying monkeys and by comforting her after Toto falls off of a very high bridge (seemingly to his death) over a very polluted river. Dorothy tells him about the Wizard and lets the Scarecrow tag along so that he can get himself a brain.

Meanwhile, Toto climbs out of the polluted river and starts to mutate into a humanoid version of his former canine self. He looks around and sees some very scary woods with talking trees and creepy sounds. He is scared at first and is introduced to a woman who appears in a magical bubble similar to the one Glenda appeared in. This is the Good Witch of the South (who you never see in the original film).

She meets the Tin Man and Scarecrow convinces him to come along. Seeing the 'hung' dead body of the Munchkin Prime Minister is the first sign (to the audience) that they are in the creepy part of the woods that Toto ended up in. ("Werewolves and zombies and ghouls! oh my!") As they trek through the creepy woods, they meet the Cowardly Lion and mutated Toto shows up to protect Dorothy, barking and baring his claws. The Cowardly Lion goes down with one slap and starts crying like a girl as Toto, who can now speak, tries to convince Dorothy that he is Toto. Eventually, the Lion apologizes for his behavior and they let him join their trek.

They finally get to the Emerald City, which (they are told) is a place where people in Oz come for peace from the evil that consumes their land. Of course, this is largely because of the poppy (opium) fields on the outskirts of the city that they work/indulge in. They recieve an audience with the Wizard of Oz. They make their requests and the Wizard tells them that he will not help them until they bring him the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West. He convinces her that she has the power as long as she wears the ruby slippers. They leave, dejected, and as they are walking away from the Emerald City, flying monkeys attack again. They fire flaming arrows that light up the poppy fields outside of the city (the Emerald City's primary source of income...and peace), Dorothy inhales the smoke and drifts off to sleep as the Scarecrow is carried away.

Dorothy wakes up in a dungeon and is held captive by a witch (who claims to be a good witch) that refuses to release Dorothy until she proves herself worthy of the ruby slippers that she wears. She cannot take them off. The Good Witch of the South teaches Dorothy how to fight, using the ruby slippers to increase her speed.

The Scarecrow is tortured in the witch's castle by the Wicked Witch of the West and her monkeys by being torn apart and being stuffed again in a sloppy fashion. The Scarecrow eventually figures out how to escape, showing that he had a brain after all, but he is still trapped in a different part of the castle.

By the time that Dorothy emerges from the dungeon as a master swordsman, she realizes that the rest of her team has been training too, under the tutelage of the Good Witch of the South, who believed Dorothy to be the only one who could free Oz from both Wicked Witches (since she ended up with the slippers). Toto has been teaching the Lion how to fight. The Tin Man's tin body has been souped up into a Iron Man/Transformers-style battle robot that has missiles and machine guns and can transform into a vehicle. She also learns that Toto was the one who had led them into that poppy field so that the Good Witch could bring them here for training. He had been in on the plan ever since he had mutated in the river. The Good Witch had asked the Tin Man to lead the attack, but he shows his "heart" by saying that he doesn't know what he would do if he lost his new friends and would feel better just protecting them.

Then, the team rides the Tin Man's new rocket vehicle mode and speed through the scary woods to the witch's castle. The Tin Man kicks the doors open and starts spraying guards ("Ohh-eee-ohhh!") and flying monkeys all over the nearest castle wall with his weapons. Dorothy also kills her fair share of flying monkeys with her samurai sword as the Lion and Toto do likewise with their animal instincts and (newfound) courage. They rescue the Scarecrow. When the witch's castle goes into lockdown and mechanical gates are blocking their way, the (brainy?) Scarecrow rewires them so they can get out of the castle alive.

The witch is now flying above her castle on her broom stick. Dorothy asks Toto to throw her. He is hesitant, because they have known each other for so long. The Lion shouts "She's getting away' and tosses Dorothy at the flying witch. Dorothy hangs from the broomstick and throws off the witch's flight pattern. The broomstick crashes in the scary woods and the climactic sword fight begins. The Wicked Witch pops a blade out of her broomstick and battles Dorothy.

Dorothy and the Witch jump from one tree to another as they fight, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon-style. The fight ends with the witch falling into the water. As she emerges from the water (which we previously established was toxic), smoke pours from her face and she screams "I'm melting!" and she melts into a puddle of bubbly goo. By the time this happens, the Tin Man, Scarecrow, Lion and Toto reunite with her. They take the broomstick back to the Wizard.

The Wizard thanks them for their bravery, but asks them to come back in a week for their requests to be granted. Dorothy is angry. When she realized that there is a "man behind the curtain", she yanks him out and holds her sword to his neck, threatening him. He begs for his life and explains that he only wanted to bring peace to his land. Glenda appears and calms Dorothy down after pulling the sword out of her hand. Glenda explains that the Scarecrow used his brain to escape from the castle and that the Tin Man showed heart during the assault and that it took alot of courage for the Lion to do what he did. She explains that the slippers also have the power to bring her home. She clicks her heels together three times and says "there's no place like home."

The next thing Dorothy sees is men with gas masks standing over her. They pull her out of what remained of her Kansas home after the tornado. During the tornado, Dorothy's house had landed in another field and there was a terrible gas leak that she had been breathing in for hours and hours. Dorothy is taken to the hospital. It is explained to her aunt and uncle that she should be fine, but they would need to keep her overnight because she is still hallucinating.

Dorothy's new hallucinations flow into some trippy closing credits to the beat of 'Dark Side of the Moon' by Pink Floyd.

why vs. why not

There are two kinds of people in the world, the 'why' people and the 'why not' people. 'Why' people are negative. You tell them you want to do something and they say (verbally or with a condescending facial expression) "why do you want to do that?" just because they don't understand your reasons. 'Why not' people are far more positive and say "Sure, why not?"

"I want to make a movie (or some other creative project)." (nose crinkes up) "Ew, why you wanna do that?" "Because it's fun!"

Or..."I want to make a movie." "Sure, why not! Sounds fun." To a 'why not' person "because it's fun" is a legitimate, satisfactory reason 'why', so they say "why not!"

Now, this is not to say that 'why not' people don't care about consequences or will do anything just because. If there are legitimate reasons not to do something, a 'why not' person can still be intelligent and realize the answer to their own question. "Why not?...oh, that's why!" They may seem like a 'why' person to someone who wants to do the foolish thing, but only because they asked 'why not' FIRST (being positive) and came up with good answers to said question.

"I want to smoke crack." "Well, why would you want to do that when (insert smart reasons not to smoke crack here)."

Notice that even though the 'why not' person is asking 'why', it's only because he has collected some reasons 'why not' and is sharing such. He is still a positive thinker. He just feels that your course of action is unwise. There is a BIG difference between that and someone judging your course of action and saying "why you wanna do that?" just because they don't get it.

The above examples illustrate how 'why' people can bring you down in creative endeavors, but they are particularly dangerous in spiritual matters. (Mark 8:31-33) Imagine a young person telling a non-witness 'why not' person (maybe a relative) that they want to go to Bethel and the person says "Sure, why not! It's something you believe in. You're young. Volunteer work is good for you. They train you, right? Go for it!" Even if they weren't witnesses, didn't understand the spiritual benefits and/or had concerns about the young one making a living, they were still positive. "Sure, why not?" It might be rare for a non-witness to think that way, but it illustrates how a positive 'why not' person can be a good influence on someone, how much better it is to surround yourself with 'why not' people and how inexcusable it would be for a witness to be a 'why' person when someone has spiritual goals, to pioneer etc. "You wanna pioneer? Why you wanna do that?" vs. "Sure why not? (pause) Oh, you got reproved last month? Well, um, I guess that's a reason why not, but once you get your restrictions lifted--why not? Go for it!"

Simon Baz vs. Miles Morales

In 2002, Marvel Comics came out with a line of comics called 'Ultimate', where they took their characters and de-aged them, starting their stories over again in a modern world of younger characters. Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate X-Men and The Ultimates (their version of the Avengers) were among my personal favorites and I collected them for a time. Then, I got broke and stopped collecting and when I tried to catch up, I found that the Ultimate line was doing these big, confusing events that they do sometimes to keep readers or boost sales. These big events that involve a million characters and sometimes they kill off characters or change things in some other big way. I don't care for those larger stories. I enjoyed the down-to-earth aspects of the younger Spider-Man and X-Men, so this did not catch my interest enough to get me collecting again.

Now, one of the ideas behind 'Ultimate' was that Marvel has allowed their characters to age. Spider-Man in the 'regular' Marvel universe was now in his 40's and he was a teacher and I think he and MJ were separated for a time and arguably Spider-Man is better as a younger character that the readers can relate to. This was why I personally liked about Ultimate Spider-Man at the time. But, wait ten years, I may start buying 'Middle Aged Spider-Man' (battling The Proctologist!!!) and eat it up.

At any rate, a year or two (or more) ago, the Ultimate Marvel line killed off their younger version of Peter Parker (Spider-Man to the layperson) and it was made clear that this would be the direction that the Ultimate line would be taking and this wasn't some one-issue plot twist. After Peter's death, brilliant writer who had done Ultimate Spider-Man for some time, Brian Michael Bendis, introduced a new half-black, half-Hispanic teenager (Miles Morales) that would take Spider-Man's place as the new Spider-Man in the Ultimate comics. We still have the older Spider-Man in the regular universe, but this would be the NEW Ultimate Spider-Man.

I thought that this was a terrible idea for a few reasons. But, first, I will explain what I had NO problem with. This was obviously an attempt to get more cultural diversity into comics, which I have no problem with. That is a long-welcome change. Not every black superhero in Marvel Comics should have the word 'Black' in their name (Black Panther) or be an African princess (Storm). Yes, I had an emotional attachment to the younger Peter Parker because I related to him more and thought he was funny and was sad to see him die. I guess what confused me about Miles Morales was that IF the attempt was to have the first multi-racial superhero in comics (which I am all for), why stick him in the costume of an established superhero instead of making him his own man? Wouldn't people who care about the racial aspect think that Marvel was pandering by the lack of creativity associated with "Yeah, Spider-Man's multi-racial now. Like Obama"? Why can't Peter Parker make a half-black, half-Hispanic friend who becomes a superhero (with his own identity) and they work together and Peter helps him through some prejudice that he suffers or something like that?

Now, I will freely admit that I have yet to read a Miles Morales Spider-Man comic book. These thoughts are just reactions to the concept. I love Brian Michael Bendis, I just purchased 'Spider-Men' (the comic where older Peter Parker and Miles meet in Peter's ‘alternate’ universe) and I have not read it yet. Maybe my thoughts will change, but I will always think that Spidey works better as a young character, whether Miles Morales wins me over or not.

I will now illustrate the problem that I had with Miles Morales replacing Spidey by talking about one of my favorite new comic books, the extremely original 'Green Lantern' over at DC. The writing (Geoff Johns) has been brilliant from the first issue. I love the unsteady alliance between Hal Jordan and Sinestro, how the Guardians are ‘shady’ now and the cliffhangers. I also love a recent storyline where the ring was bestowed to a Muslim man named Simon Baz. Usually, the ring gives itself to beings with noble qualities like being fearless and heroic. We meet Simon Baz, a criminal who had just stolen a truck not knowing that someone else had put a bomb in it and he gets accused of terrorism when he was just trying to make a living (dishonorably, sure). Then, the ring shows up and starts talking (Green Lantern rings can talk), telling Simon that he has been chosen, but the ring keeps saying ‘error…error’, like a damaged computer. The ring does give him super powers, allowing him to escape the feds. Simon tries to use the ring to set matters (that he messed up) right again, so maybe the ring did see something good in him. But now, the government is suspicious of the Green Lantern Corps. “I thought those rings chose people based on noble qualities!” says President Obama during a two-page cameo in one comic, before enlisting the Justice League to find Simon and take him in. And there’s a great cliffhanger in the last issue where his ring runs out of power because no one gave him a ‘lantern battery’ to recharge said ring and that alien GL who looks like a squirrel shows up and you’re like “I remember him! Awesome!”

“Now, wait a minute…” you say. “Green Lantern is an established superhero. Why is THAT not pandering, sticking a racial minority into that world?” And my answer is that, since Green Lantern is part of an intergalactic police force, there are millions of GLs already in that story, from all over the galaxy, including Hal Jordan, John Stewart, Kyle Rayner and Guy Gardner (three white boys and John Stewart) from Earth, that there is always room for another and Simon Baz gives this group some cultural diversity, which is a good thing. From the moment we found out that there were GLs from all over the galaxy, there was always cultural diversity and this just brings that closer to home.

I may ‘soften’ about Miles Morales when I read ‘Spider-Men’, but I still maintain that he should have been introduced as his own thing. Killing off a teenage Peter Parker was unnecessary and done for shock value. DC didn’t need to kill off important main characters like Hal Jordan to introduce Simon Baz and that makes him a better fit to his respective universe.

I didn't buy the shirt

I was online, considering the purchase of a 'Han shot first' T-shirt when I started thinking about all of the changes that have been made to the original 'Star Wars' trilogy over the years. Some of them I mind and share the nerd rage that you might read on certain websites and others I don't care about. Many of the changes that have been made were made back in the 80's, when my generation was young, things that no one even talks about. Even adding 'episode IV: a new hope' to the original was a change because it was not there in 1977. There were other changes made to those movies, even before the 20th anniversary Special Edition in 1997, just improving the quality of the film and making certain things clearer and no one complains about getting a more up-close shot of the Jawas Sand Speeder than was there originally or the echo before Luke and Leia swung across the shaft. I understand changes that were made to improve special effects that they could not do well in 1977-83 AND (unlike some fans) I like the changes they made to sync up all 6 movies (the old with the prequels)...except for one (read on). I like making the Mos Eisley spaceport bigger and more spacious and busier-looking because it makes sense that a spaceport would be busy like an airport. I understand getting a more up-close shot of the Stormtroopers riding on dewbacks because in the original, all they had was a rubber mannequin that they could stick in the background and move the head. They were there to begin with and so they didn't change anything, although some fans thought that was an addition. The same goes for seeing more of the Wampa in 'Empire', the explosion of Alderaan and the Death Star looking cooler, the song and dance sequence in Jabba's palace and making the windows in Cloud City look like it is a city in the clouds, because it is. I don't even mind Yoda being computer generated in 'Phantom Menace', because it matches the rest of the prequels (as long as they don't touch the puppet in 'Empire' and 'Jedi'). See, I am nostalgic sometimes. Yoda was CG when he was walking at the end of 'Menace' and he doesn't do much but sit in that movie anyway, so let him look like the other prequels.

Yes, the first thing that comes to people's minds when they think of Star Wars changes was Greedo shooting first. The reason that this angers fans is because it changes Han's character, from a tough space pirate who softens when he falls in love with Leia and/or gets direction in his life by joining the Rebel Alliance to a softer character to begin with. And if you think that, since Han Solo is a nice guy at heart, it makes more sense that he would only shoot Greedo if he was shot at first, watch the scene in 'Return of the Jedi' in Jabba's palace where Luke uses his force powers to steal someone's blaster and tries to shoot Jabba in the face before he falls into the rancor pit. Luke is a full-fledged Jedi at this point and he has no moral objection to shooting a bad guy in the face, why wouldn't the (agnostic?) smuggler who doesn't believe in the Force shoot Greedo first?

And the scene that puts Jabba the Hutt in the first 'Star Wars' film? Nostalgia tells me that 'Star Wars' was cooler when Han kept talking about Jabba and you never saw him until 'Jedi'. Storywise, the dialogue between Han and Greedo covers the same points as his conversation with Jabba. Yes, they added Boba Fett so that the 'Star Wars Holiday Special' is no longer his first (adult) appearance chronologically, but no, that was still not an improvement. Seriously, if a 'vile gangster' was owed money by someone and was threatening him, would he tolerate him stepping on his tail? Picture that same scene in the 'Godfather', someone stepping on Don Corleone's tail. He'd get shot. Alot. By James Caan.

AND, I know that I will get some fans rolling their eyes, but I like Darth Vader yelling "Noooooo!" at the end of 'Jedi', simply because it bridges the gap between 'Jedi' and the prequels. It doesn't ruin the impact of that scene, which is Darth Vader looking back and forth, mirroring a scene in 'Sith' where he kills Mace Windu and making the right choice this time, throwing Palpantine into the reactor instead of protecting him. That scene connects 'Jedi' to the prequels anyway, so adding "Noooooo!" doesn't ruin anything. Either does the Ewoks blinking. No one likes the Ewoks anyway. Let them blink and enjoy the dark drama in the Emperor's throne room just like you did when you first saw it as a kid. I have mixed feelings about the changed music to the ending of 'Jedi', though. I like the idea of showing the other planets celebrating the fall of the Empire, but my rose-colored nostalgia glasses tell me that 'Yub-yub' was a better song. They should have shown the other planets and kept 'Yub-yub'.

Now, the one change that is arguably worse than Greedo shooting first is putting the younger Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) as the 'force ghost' at the end of 'Jedi'. Yes, Anakin was a good guy when he was younger, but he redeemed himself as an older man. And when Luke looks over and sees Yoda, Obi-Wan (Obi-Wan is older) and his father, how would he even recognize the younger version of Anakin? He just took the helmet off of the older version and saw what the older version looked like. Anakin got toasted on a lava planet before Luke was even born. You could always argue that Luke could 'sense' who it was with the Force, the younger actor as the 'force ghost' makes no sense. When Marty saw the younger version of his father in 'Back to the Future', he looked confused. Luke looks over at young Anakin and has the same smile on his face. He would have been like "Um, Obi-Wan? Who's that guy?" And then all of the children that Anakin slaughtered in 'Sith' would have also appeared and made the whole scene 'Shining' creepy.

So, as you can see, I am not as uptight as some fans, but Han should have shot first, Jabba shouldn't be in 'episode IV' and they should have kept the older actor for Vader at the end of 'Jedi'. Yub-yub.

LEGO my childhood

I am one of those geeks who is quite snobby about making changes to something that I have liked for years when they make a movie out of it, but I am not as bad as some. Changes made to a character's costume to make it more realistic (Wolverine's yellow spandex) are fine. Organic web shooters on Spider-Man are fine as long as he is a relatable character who becomes a superhero. Flames on Optimus Prime are fine. Optimus Prime's character was the only thing that was well-done in all three Transformers films. My basic rule is that any changes to the character or any indication that the filmmakers are not taking the characters seriously is the problem with alot of these adaptations. Batman's parents were murdered in front of him and that's why he's Batman, which is why any version of Batman where they try to make him light-hearted doesn't work. The Ninja Turtles work both dark and funny ('Secret of the Ooze' was siller than the first film, but took the characters seriously), Batman does not work funny. Star Wars fans were upset that Greedo shot first because Han Solo's story arc was supposed to be that he grew up hard (read the Han Solo trilogy books) and softened when he met Princess Leia. It changes his character if he is a nicer guy at the beginning of the story.

Because of this, I do tend to roll my eyes when they come out with something like 'Brave and the Bold', a cartoon network Batman cartoon that does a great job of teaming Batman up with many DC characters that have not been done before, is a little 'Adam West'. I also tend to roll my eyes at LEGO Batman and LEGO Star Wars and all of these Lego versions of better things. I do tend to forget that, I would not know much about any of the DC superheroes if it were not for the always-corny 'Super Friends' when I was a kid. Yes, 'Justice League' was a better written, more character-driven version (Same with the Ninja Turtles, the original cartoon was corny and then they did a better one in the 2000's) but I know many comic book fans whose first exposure to superheroes was 'Super Friends'. And it was the original 1980's Turtle cartoon that helped me to sniff out the original comics. They were actually the first time that I realized that the superheroes I was watching on TV came from comic books. They may have changed things to appeal to a younger audience and sell toys, but we live in a country that frowns upon comic books. They have ever since the book 'Seduction of the Innocent' blamed comic books for juvinelle crime in the 1950's. Japan's comic book industry has as many comic books as there are TV shows. There, it is not uncommon for old ladies to be seen reading soap opera comic books on the subway, but in this country, anyone over the age of 12 who collects comic books is seen as 'a little weird'. The comic book industry needs the watered-down versions of these properties that appeal to younger kids and sell toys to survive. And then every now and then, you will get 'Batman: the animated series' that appeals to older fans as well. Or they will make a movie like 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' that goes back to the original subject matter despite the campy changes that the cartoon made.

So, I have concluded that LEGO Batman and LEGO Star Wars is the 'Super Friends' of this generation, a 'gateway drug' into good comic book adaptations just like 'Super Friends' was for me. It is less violent than the real thing (the characters fall apart and come back together) and it gets kids hooked on those characters for when they get older and pushes the genre forward in a way that it is difficult for a comic book snob like me to admit.