Month: January 2015

The Hangman’s Daughter Chapter 37



As a single body, they dropped to their knees and buried their faces in the floor. Thomas did as well, except he was doing it as camouflage, not compliance. Leonard was hiding behind the bar, bathing in his own sweat. The Red Scorpions prowled menacingly through the prostrate figures. Apart from the colour their armour was identical to Cole’s, right down to the embossed scorpion emblem on the chest.. One of them came to the body of the dead Viking. He kicked it idly.

“Here’s the stiff, boss.”

“What’s it look like?”

“Looks like a dead Viking.”

“My God, you’re an idiot. Why is he dead?”

“I dunno, I think he was shot.”

“You think he was shot?”

“Well he’s got a bullet hole in his forehead.”


Space Jam (1996)

(DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images and footage used below are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material. New to the blog? Start at the start with Snow White.)

So I have a confession to make.
For the longest time, I thought it was “Looney Toons” and not “Looney Tunes”.
New spittake
Alright fine, but in my defence it makes sense, right? I mean, they’re cartoons. Why would they be called “Tunes”?
Well, why indeed.
The reason the early series of cartoon shorts have names like “Looney Tunes”, “Merrie Melodies” and “Silly Symphonies” is because that’s what they were selling. Film studios like Warner Brothers did a tidy side business off their movie soundtracks by selling phonograph records and sheet music for playin’ on the ol’ pianey.
The idea was, you go to a movie and see, say, I Love to Singa’, and say to yourself “smartass owl thinks he’s so big, I could do that.” and before you know it you’ve gone down to the local music shop and blown the money you were saving in case you got tuberculosis (spoiler, you got tuberculosis). The unpleasant truth that I’m tip-toeing around here is that the Looney Tunes were, at least in their early days, basically advertisements.
Ergo, if you hate Space Jam because you don’t like to see your favourite characters schilling, I got bad news for you friends; They were schilling when your grandparents were throwing toys out of the pram.


The Hangman’s Daughter Chapter 36


Picture it now.

Above, the great dome of the stone sky.

Beneath; tents, shanties, caravans and the like stretching like an ocean as far as the eye can see. Closer to the centre they harden, tents become huts, huts become inns and cabins, which become tenement buildings.

This is his army.

To the west, the medical tower, a jagged stone nightmare clawing upwards like a demon’s paw. That is Groethuis’ kingdom, where he patched up Thomas and countless others like him.

To the east, the combat tower, a perfectly rectangular slab; two thousand stories of arenas, armories, sparring rings, training rooms and shooting ranges. Where every brick stinks of sweat and blood. This is where Mabus’ army trains every day. This is where they keep their brutal skills at their peak, ready for the day Mabus will call on them to be used.

To the south, Xanadu, the pleasure dome. Like nothing so much as the great shell of a turtle a mile across, this is where the troops go to unwind. Pretty much any entertainment you can think of is provided for here.

And the elegant black needle in the very centre. It is known as the Chamber. And the soldiers do not speak of it in hushed tones. They simply do not speak of it at all. This is where Mabus floats in his emerald pool. It is where any soldier who has displeased him is taken. It is not spoken of.

Picture it now. Mabus’ great army, the medical tower, the combat tower, the pleasure dome and the Chamber. The great stone sky and the endless tenements, tents and huts.

This is his kingdom.

This is New Gomorrah.


The Hangman’s Daughter- Chapter 35



Marie woke up, safe and sound in bed.

Lazily, she kicked her sister in the ribs.

No reaction. Again.

“Marie. Kick me again and I will rip off your legs and…something…sleepy. Go away.” Isabella murmured.

“Stop snoring then.”

“‘M not snoring.”

“You are.”

“Am I? Am I really? Am I snoring right now?”

“No, you’re talking.”

“Then shut up.”


The Lord of the Rings (1978)

(DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images and footage used below are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material. New to the blog? Start at the start with Snow White.)

My father was the one who introduced me to JRR Tolkien, giving me a dog-eared, well-thumbed chunk called The Lord of the Rings one summer when we were on holiday (I was maybe…eight, I guess? Pre-transformation anyway). I remember there was this weird picture on the cover of the Black Riders that looked sort of animated but also sort of not and I asked my father what it was from.
“That’s from the movie.” He said.
“There’s a movie?”
“Oh yeah. You have to see it.”
“Is it any good?”
“No. No, it’s awful.”
This was really the problem you had if you were a fantasy fan any time before the turn of the millennium:
We had no good movies.
Our brothers and sisters in the science fiction fandom had it pretty bad too of course, the vast majority of their movies were cheap schlock but at least they could point to a few straight up classics that even the hoity-toity critics had to admit were the real deal; Alien, 2001, Bladerunner.
Fantasy fans though? What did we have?
Truly, our cup ranneth over.

Truly, our cup ranneth over.

So if you were a fantasy fan in the seventies, eighties or nineties and you heard there was a Lord of the Rings movie, you had to see it even if it was terrible. Because it’s not exactly like you had a whole lot of options. The Lord of the Rings, the undisputed big swingin’ dick of the high fantasy genre, used to spend most of its time on lists of “unfilmable” books and with good reason. I can think of two periods in Hollywood history where a faithful film adaptation might have been possible. The first would be in the late fifties, when studios were creating gargantuan epics like Ben Hur and The Ten Commandments. The second would be now, the current era of movie history which (not coincidentally) was largely kick-started by Peter Jackson’s own Lord of the Rings trilogy. The current movie scene owes almost as much to The Lord of the Rings as the fantasy genre does. Planned trilogies, huge runtimes, massive battle scenes, copious amounts of CGI…so much of how movies are made, look and sound in the modern era can be laid at the feet of Peter Jackson (though we won’t hold that against him).
On the flipside, if I had to choose the worst possible time to try and make a Lord of the Rings movie (aside from, I dunno, the silent era) it would be the nineteen seventies. The seventies is often lauded as the greatest movie decade and it’s won that reputation for a slew of grungy, lo-fi, morally ambiguous classics. It was that kind of era (contrast that to 2001 when Jackson’s Fellowship of the Ring came out when everything seemed a good deal more black and white). So you have a decade where no one is really spending big money on movies anymore, epics are largely a thing of the past and the cultural zeitgeist is really not grokking a simple morality tale of noble heroes trying to defeat an evil lord of darkness who lives in a black spiky castle. Who (Who, I ask you?) would be a mad enough bastard to try and make a Lord of the Rings movie in the nineteen seventies?

When not animating, he keeps his drawing arm strong by wrasslin’ grizzlies.

Ralph Bakshi is one of the most famous (or at least notorious) American animators out there. Having made his bones in the Terrytoons studio (Heckle and Jeckle, Mighty Mouse and the like) he went on to create the animated adaptation of R. Crumb’s comic strip Fritz the Cat.
Oh sure. I'll review it. If you can tell me what I say to my wife when she walks in on me watching the scene where all the animals have a bathtub orgy.

Oh sure. I’ll review it. If you can tell me what I say to my wife when she walks in on me watching the scene where all the animals have a bathtub orgy.

By 1969 the movie rights to The Lord of the Rings had found their way to United Artist’s, where Stanley Kubrick and John Boorman both had a crack at adapting it, with Boorman turning in a 700 page script that no one at the studio could even understand. Bakshi, who’d been obsessed with the idea of doing an animated version of the story since the fifties begged UA for the chance to direct. Impressed by Bakshi’s passion, UA junked Boorman’s script and told Ralph to go do his own version.
Bakshi was a true Tolkien die-hard and, in stark contrast to Boorman who had altered characters and plot points willy-nilly, wanted to do a movie version of the book that was as faithful as possible. Bakshi firmly believed that Tolkien was a genius who could do no wrong.
My rebuttal.

My rebuttal.

I can respect fidelity to the source material (and if anyone ever decides to do a movie of The Hangman’s Daughter I’ll probably start respecting it a whole lot more) but ultimately I think this was the movie’s undoing. Being faithful to the text is all well and good if you have hundreds of millions of dollars and a New Zealand but if you’re trying to do the story in two moderately budgeted animated features (as was the plan) then you really need to start looking at the story with a gaze of grim determination and a pair of scissors clenched in one hand. Bakshi tried to fit as much of the book as possible into the movie and we’ll see further on the problems that this caused.
Bakshi made the decision to use rotoscoping, a technique he’d first used in his earlier animated feature Wizards as a way of saving money. Rotoscoping is about as old as animation itself and basically involves drawing and painting over live action footage to create an animated effect. This has the upside of giving you more realistic movement and it tends to be cheaper and less labor intensive than traditional cel animation. Despite this, rotoscoping has traditionally been used more as a tool than a style. There’s plenty of instances of rotoscoping in animated movies (Cruella De Ville’s Car, Edgar’s motorbike in The Aristocats, The Giant Mouse of Minsk in An American Tail) but it’s rare for it to be used for extended sequences and Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings represents probably the most extensive use of the technique in a feature film until Richard Linklater’s Waking Life in 2001 (and that was digital, rather than hand-drawn rotoscoping). Why is that? Well, part of the appeal of animation is that animated characters don’t move like real people and can be stretched or distorted or flattened however the animator pleases. Another reason (and a big part of why all the examples I listed above are inanimate objects or vehicles) is that living characters that are rotoscoped tend to have their home address in the Uncanny Valley. No one had ever tried to make a movie that was almost entirely rotoscoped.
So. Untested animation techniques. Impossible to adapt source material. Certainty of death. Small chance of success.
"What are we waiting for?"

“What are we waiting for?”


You’re making a sitcom about what now?

When it comes to comedy, I always feel that “You can’t make jokes about X.” is a non-starter. As long as X is a part of our shared experience as human beings it’s something that humour can and should be drawn from.
Even if X is something awful?
No, not even.
Our ability to mock and make light of life’s many horrors is often all we have to keep us from going insane. Now, that’s not to say that some jokes can’t be cruel, tasteless, despicable or flat out evil. Of course they can. But if you look at the reasons why those jokes are offensive it’s never the subject matter in and of itself. It’s a question of presentation, delivery, target (are we laughing at the Nazis or the people they killed?) and most importantly of all, whether or not the joke is funny. A comedian who makes a joke about shocking subject matter because it’s genuinely funny is doing his job. A comedian who makes a joke about shocking subject matter because it’s shocking is a hack.
I firmly believe this, that it’s not what you’re writing about but how you write about it that matters most in comedy.
You can make good comedy about anything…is a principle that I have never had reason to doubt until now.
Ohhhhhhhh Lord.

Ohhhhhhhh Lord.

So there’s been a storm brewing here since the Irish Times interviewed Dublin writer Hugh Travers who casually let slip that he is working on a new sitcom called Hungry with British broadcaster Channel 4 set during the Irish Famine of 1845. My Facebook feed right now is half people calling for petitions and boycotts and the forcible retaking of the six counties and the other half calling for everyone to lighten up or at least wait until the damn thing has aired before getting in a lather. Now normally, I would absolutely be in the lather/latter camp. Don’t judge the work until you’ve actually had a chance to see it, and I suppose I still am in that camp. But on the other hand, I absolutely get why people are angry or at least, very, very worried about this.
Okay, so a little background.
By the middle of the nineteenth century around two thirds of Irish people were farmers, most of them tending tiny plots of land that were barely large enough to feed them and their families (whole host of political and historical reasons for this, no time to go into here). As a result, the vast majority of the peasantry lived almost exclusively on potatoes because you get more calories per acre from them than just about any other crop that was available at the time. So everything was fine (barring the crippling poverty, awful living standards, cultural erasure, and brutally incompetent foreign rule) as long as the potato crop didn’t fail.
Who, apart from 175 ignored governmental inquiries, could have foreseen this!?

Who, apart from 175 ignored governmental inquiries, could have foreseen this!?