Ray Harryhausen passed away last week. This has been noted by people more qualified than I to discuss the master of stop-motion magic—Rick Baker, Adam Savage, Todd Masters, George Lucas, Peter Jackson, and more. The superhuman talent and perseverance evident in a Harryhausen effects sequence can easily be seen in countless visual effects artists since he first brought his creations to frame-by-frame life on the big screen. That makes sense. So how can I really say anything of worth when I say that I was also profoundly influenced by the artistry of Ray Harryhausen? With modesty, and a story about Clash of the Titans. Continue reading…
Posted April 23, 2009
This month we’re mixing it up at the Gutter, with the editors writing about something outside their usual domain. This week Chris Szego writes about movies. Well, mostly movies.
I’m a total chicken. This means I don’t watch anything that smacks of horror. In fact, I tend to close my eyes when the music gets even a little bit ominous. It’s not the gore I mind so much (though really, intestines belong on the inside), but the terror. The supposed cathartic release of the horror movie escapes me: I scare really easily, and unfortunately, I stay scared long after the movies ends. Which means I’ve missed any number of important genre movies:The Thing, The Exorcist, most of Alien. So imagine my joy when awkward first date manners had me agreeing to watch The Mummy
Yeah. The date went about as well as you’d expect, but it did leave me with one consolation. Much to my surprise, I loved the movie. Some of that might have been relief: here was a remade horror movie that wasn’t horror at all. Instead, it was action and comedy. But later, I realized that much of what I liked about The Mummy was in fact what I like about romance novels. I’m not alone in this, romance writers and readers tend to adore the movie. Here are a few reasons why, beyond the inevitable pairing of Rick and Evie.
1. It has a happy ending. And not a horror-movie happy ending, where a single character survives the devastation. In this case, Rick, Evie and Jonathan don’t just survive, they emerge triumphant: alive, having soundly defeated the bad guys, and heading off to Cairo with saddlebags full of treasure. Even Ardeth, the Magi, survives. Apparently he wasn’t originally supposed to, but the director liked the actor so much he rewrote the part. On behalf of myself and the rest of the film’s fans, I can only say: thank goodness.
2. Happy endings require sacrifice. In the final action sequence, everyone has to sacrifice something he or she holds dear. Evie sacrifices knowledge and education when she abandons the golden book that has been her life’s pursuit. Jonathan sacrifices his longed-for material wealth when he passes up on his chance to loot the treasure chamber. Rick… well, Rick has to give up the notion that he can save everyone. In order to save those who are most important, he has to stop trying to save Beni. And Beni, who is both bad guy minion and comic relief, gets the dire comeuppance that Evie foretold.
3. It’s replete with male heroic archetypes. First there’s Rick. Played by Brendan Fraser, he’s amusing, brawny, loyal and capable. The classic Adventurer Hero: not overly complicated, perhaps, but when the situation calls for dynamite, simple is usually the best choice. Then there’s Ardeth Bay, played by Oded Fehr. He’s a great example of the Mystical Hero: he shows up unexpectedly, he gives cryptic warnings, and has dark connections to an ancient magic. And of course, there’s Imhotep himself. Arnold Vosloo plays the titular character as a Tortured Hero: desperate to amend a past mistake. He’s also the villian, which makes things interesting, but more about that in a moment.
4. It features a functioning family. Okay, it consists of only a brother and sister, but from the moment the inimitable John Hannah pops out of a sarcophagus to startle Rachel Weisz, they seem like real siblings. When in consequence she smacks his face as she helps climb out, I thought, ‘Wow, whoever wrote this must have a brother’. Jonathan may disappoint Evie with his drinking and his gambling, but she listens to what he has to say. Evie may irritate Jonathan with her primness and erudition, but he feels for her when her scholarship application is rejected again. They bicker constantly, and they enjoy needling one another, but they always, always have each other’s backs.
5. The driving force of the plot is a love story. And no, that doesn’t mean Evie and Rick. In this case, the primary love story is Imhotep’s own. Think about it. The movie opens with the doomed and desperate romance between Imhotep and Anck-Su-Namun. She’s willing to give everything for the chance that they can be together: she even takes her own life. And despite being tortured and cursed – and then dead for almost three thousand years – Imhotep struggles to be worthy of her belief in him. Everything that follows happens because he’s desperate to revive her. He doesn’t take over the world for his own sake, but for hers. All of his horrific actions: the murders, the plagues, the mind-enslavement; these are mere by-products of his ultimate goal, which is to bring his dead girlfriend back to life. Now that’s romantic dedication. Sick and twisted and wrong? Definitely. But it gives emotional oomph to a popcorn spectacular.
Chris Szego didn’t watch the bug scene in King Kong. And she’s happy with that decision.