Monday, May 24, 2010

"I'm LOST without a clue!"

Earthquakes, volcanoes, black smoke, plane crashes, deep and dangerous mines. No, I'm not talking about recent news events. Quirky characters, meaningless chases, unbelievable underground scenery, scary monsters. No, I'm not describing Tim Burton's eviseration of Lewis Carroll's ALICE IN WONDERLAND. You guessed it...LOST's long-awaited and long on lack of logic finale. Robert Bianco, USA's tv critic gave this muddle four stars and called it one of the great finales and series in tv history. I generally respect this fellow's opinions, but I think he got suckered big time.

Granted, I am not an avid fan and I have never been on line with rabid LOST devotees, but I have watched the show over the last six years and have grown fond of some of the characters.
One of the cardinal rules of LOST is to kill off characters that viewers like. A prime example is the beautiful relationship that developed between Sun and Yin, played with warmth and sensitivity by Yunjin Kim and Daniel Dae Kim. The couple struggled against almost impossible odds only to be torn apart time and time again. In this year's final season they are finally together only to drown with each other. A number of other viewer favorites also bit the dust.

But, lo, the writers and producers of LOST have wrought many miracles, none greater than bringing the entire cast, dead and alive, back for the finale. How? In the last century when I was teaching Coleridge we would discuss the importance of "the willing suspension of disbelief." This divided classes into two warring groups, the realists and the imaginists. Frankly, I have always sided with the latter group and remain a staunch romantic. However, LOST has stretched this axiom beyond the breaking point with the use of flashbacks, flashforwards, parallel times, the disappearance of the island, and even a trip to the 1970's, which might be a worse fate than being on that island with a bunch of warring creeps.

Last night's finale shattered any hope of tying up all the loose ends. People are debating the meanings, religious or otherwise, but in the final analysis we got a giant cop-out. Jack, our hero by default, saves the island but dies in the process just as the plane takes off with some of the original survivors. We have been cutting back and forth to what we thought was a flashforward. It turns out we have been prepping for the show's funeral. Jack enters a church where he meets not only his father whom he never got to bury but also most of the cast. Have they all died? Did they die at the first of season one and all that followed was a fantasy tease? Did some escape and re-start their lives? All we really know is that Jack is in a heavenly church with his former friends and enemies in one great love-in. And as the music swells lugubriously, Jack walks through the door into blinding light. I thought this was LOST, not TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL.
Did Coleridge fail me or was it those guys at ABC?

Friday, May 7, 2010

Time to get back to Basics

If you've seen any American movies lately, you know that they are in dire shape. The industry has fallen for the newest craze--3 Dimensions. Though AVATAR uses stunning three-dimensional technology, the story is trivial and threadbare. How many big budget action films condemn American industrial and the military complex while taking full advantage of both? The first IRON MAN, GI-JOE, the X-MEN franchise, the list goes on and on. So what's missing from these films?

Try plot, character development, meaningful and often witty dialogue. A few recent main stream movies have attempted to adapt the process after filming and they have been limited in their success. Tim Burton's beautiful but meandering ALICE IN WONDERLAND lost itself in special effects and make-up and forgot Lewis Carroll's inventive wordplay. Perhaps Burton thought audiences couldn't handle verbal cleverness, which is surprising when one considers some of his better films. A much lesser success was the joyless CLASH OF THE TITANS, which managed to make us long for the original production (1981) with Lawrence Olivier as Zeus and Harry Hamlin as a pretty boy Perseus and Ray Harryhausen's famous stop-motion special effects. Remember Medusa and those creepy scorpions?

Did summer movies once have plot, character development, and witty dialogue? You have to head for Netflix, but they still entertain far more than the current crop. Think of Robert Shaw as the salty and slightly daffy boat captain or Richard Dreyfuss as the marine biologist in JAWS. What about Karen Allen and Harrison Ford exchanging both verbal and physical blows in perhaps the greatest of all adventure films, RAIDERS OF THE LAST ARK? And then there are classic series such as STAR WARS and THE LORD OF THE RINGS, whose unique appeals captured viewers of all ages and intellectual backgrounds. Time and time again American audiences have shown they can enjoy intelligent, story-based, character-driven action films. But Hollywood just doesn't seem to get it.

We can hope the business, and it is a business, will improve, but demanding more is our job, not theirs.