Fantastic Stories

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New at Reason: Michael Valdez Moses considers the conflicting range of principles—individualism, eco-utopianism, tradition, and futurism, to name a few—that come together in the booming genre of fantasy/science fiction entertainment.

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  1. Citizen,

    Would _Das Boot_ live up to your criteria then? Or _Il Postino_ – a movie which got people reading poetry again? Also, I’d say that Besson’s _La Femme Nikita_ has the sort of resonance you are talking about. After all, the film has spawned an American re-make, as well as a television show, along with a massive fan base.

    Or how about Luc Besson’s (he directed and wrote the story) _The Fifth Element_? The way that man makes fun of Lucas is so cool. 🙂 Plus the fact that it successfully incorporates an opera with an action only adds to the film’s merit.

    Or what about the _RoboCop_ films, written and directed by that Dutchman (the first two at least)?

  2. Jean:

    To echo Citizen, none of the movies you mention have mass appeal, with the exception of RoboCop (and possibly Amiele)–though I quite think the Fifth Element was underrated, with that “perky” Euro Bruce Willis and well known Kieslowski stable actor Chris Tucker.

    And RoboCop, whether by sales or intellectual grip, cannot be said to have the mass appeal of Star Wars et al.

    The point is, and this is what prevents French cinema from enjoying wild success, is that snob appeal does not equal mass appeal.

    I’m quite a fan of Underground, but I’m not going to claim it has 0.0004 of the popularity and recognition of Star Wars or LotR. And that’s despite the fact that I originally saw Underground with Polish subtitles, and that there has been no good Star Wars movie in 20+ years.

    If you’re looking for non-American mass appeal movies, I suggest you look a bit further East. Even before Rush Hour, Jackie Chan was known to more people than Kieslowski (and after having seen Dekalog, rightfully so).

  3. Das Boot was an *excellent* movie. And I thought the Fifth Element was a lot of fun and upon subsequent viewings I found it to be a very well made movie, too.

    Having said all that, I still cannot see how you can compare those to the movies in Tim’s articles in terms of “universal appeal.” I’m not a Tim lover and I love a lot of foreign movies (of which I would include Harry Potter, LOTR and Star Wars in a lot of respects).

    I’m not sure what your point is here – the three movies in question aren’t even American and yet you seem to insist that there are non-American movies that hold equal or greater universal appeal. We’re not talking about the technical aspects or the directoral genius or even the incredible acting of the principals. I can think of many movies that are better than these three in any of those catagories.

    But how many movies have induced such wide-spread freakish devotion among otherwise *normal* people? Conventions, collectors additions, games, books, advance orders, street camping for DAYS for opening night tickets, etc. _Bread and Tulips_ was funny but it’s not going to hold the same influence.

    I don’t even know what I’m arguing in favor of.

  4. Sandy,

    So the fact that _Nakita_ has spawned so much means nothing? I’d say it has more mass appeal than _Das Boot_ certainly.

    Citizen,

    Giving credit where credit is due. 🙂

  5. …to the movies in Tim’s articles in terms of “universal appeal.” I’m not a Tim lover and…

    What the fuck are you talking about?

  6. On a somewhat related note, this reminds me of David Brin’s excellent “‘Star Wars’ despots vs. ‘Star Trek’ populists”, column, where he has a variety of unkind things to say about Lucas’s storytelling (most of which ring true) and somewhat unpleasant implications of it.

    http://archive.salon.com/ent/movies/feature/1999/06/15/brin_main/

    The line about ‘Jedi Hell’ still makes me laugh.

    He also pounds specifically on TPM: http://archive.salon.com/ent/movies/feature/1999/06/15/brin_main/

  7. And what of Star Trek?

  8. Jesus, that’s some mighty heavy-breathing prose for such a simple premise. Never let it be said that postmodern criticism is only for the left.

    Maybe kids just really like stories that pit good against evil writ large and have lots of cool sword and gun battles along the way–like the westerns and jungle adventures that came before. Stuart Little and Toy Story–which have both sold quite a few action figures and lunchboxes, by the way–don’t pit their heroes against angry gods with planet-exploding death rays. How can human-scale adventures of Stuart Little and Toy Story compete with planet-exploding death rays for “resonance” with seventh-graders?

    By the way, if we can all agree Star Wars was a sublimated western, doesn’t that make the sublimated Star Wars of the Lord of the Rings movie adaptation a sublimated western too?

  9. Sorry to nitpick with an otherwise fun and interesting article, but I’m whatever the Tolkien equivalent of a trekkie is, so: Cirith Ungol wasn’t built by Sauron. It was built by Gondor to keep watch over a recently-conquered Mordor, but later were abandoned or captured after Gondor fell into decline, and the towers were put into the service of a revived Sauron. So the (implied) Berlin analogy holds, in a way, twice: their original purpose is similar to the Allied post-war occupation.

  10. Funny how you don’t mention any European stories/films. But I guess after the 9-11 ‘massacres’ you choose to censor Europe.

  11. OK, Freedomphile, enlighten us.

    Which European movies have shown even a tenth the universal popularity of the movies the author describes?

    And why is ‘massacres’ in scare quotes? Did you think it was all a Bruckheimer production?

  12. Francophile,

    Apparently a French miniatures company whose miniatures are part of a D&D like game is all the rage in the US. Here’s the URL:

    http://www.confrontation.fr/index_htm.html

  13. You can read pretty much anything into Lord of the Rings. Personnally, I saw it as an allegory for 8th century post-Roman Europe. Gondor makes a good Byzantium, and it’s pretty obvious that Modor’s human allies atleast are represent the Muslims that picked apart the eastern Roman Empire.

    Come to think of it, Star Wars still holds up as a good alegory of the transition from Republican to Imperial Rome. The Republic is corrupt and ineffectual (just look at the number of senators). Since episodes 4-6 were told from a rebel point of view with a strong anti-imperial bias, it’s hard to see if the Empire represented a similar revitalization of Galactic society as the reforms of the Caesars did to Roman society.

    I haven’t seen any of the Potter films, but I bet I could connect it to Rome somehow.

    (And for the Matrix fan above – it’s gnostic philosophy is an obvious attack on the Pope in Rome)

  14. Sandy,

    You obviously don’t know about “film noir” then. 🙂

    Such films as “Le Jour se leve” (1939 by Marcel Carn?) and “Quai des Brumes” in 1938 (antimilitarist, pessimistic and brilliantly made) all had much to do with the aesthetics and ethics found in American Noir film well into the 1950s. The Maltese Falcon is a perfect example of such influence; so also to be frank is Casablanca.

    You see French directors had more freedom and they compensated for their lack of financial means by improvisation and creativity. For example, filming on location, using non-professional actors, realistic photography … all were elements experimented with by directors in France during the thirties and later used in American film noir.

    And what of Kieslowski’s _Trois couleurs: Bleu_ (1993), _Blanc_ (1993), and _Rouge_ (1994)? Not to mention Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s _Delicatessen_ (1992)? Or Luc Besson’s _La Femme Nikita_ (1991), or his _Le Grand Bleu_ (1987)? Or how about Louis Malle’s _Au revoir les enfants_ (1987)?

    You obviously need to get out more.

  15. BTW, I should have also mentioned _Amelie_ and Roland Joff?’s _Vatel_ (2000).

  16. uh, the journey of the hero? the matrix? i dunno, moses’ article just doesn’t seem complete without them.

  17. Cultural exportation is what the dream factory does best!

  18. jb – Sandy asked “Which European movies have shown even a tenth the universal popularity of the movies the author describes?” The movies you listed were good (I’ve seen half of them) but they don’t hold nearly the “unviersal popularity” as these films. That was the question. The films you listed are not as appealing cross culturally or among a wide range of ages and generations.

    Further, I’m not sure what aspect of LOTR Francofile would consider American. Was it the source material? No. The director? No. The fact that only 4 or the top 15 principle actors are american? No. The location? No. Hmmm. Oh I know, Harry Potter – now THAT was definately American. American writer, actors, directors, locations … oh wait. That wasn’t exactly a Hollywood production either.

    Good point Francophile.

  19. Everyone know’s that England’s not really part of Europe, thus all films and literature from there must be American.

  20. Yeah, that whole “war for independence” deal was just a domestic dispute. Silly historians, thinking that it was an actual war that created an entirely new, seperate state. Who do they think they are?

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