Inception: More meta than you thought…

Films

We’ve all heard a few theories about Inception – the end was just a dream, DiCaprio dreamed that it would get him an Oscar – but here’s one that I think holds a fair bit of weight. It’s a bit of a two-pronged attack, claiming that Inception is both entirely a dream and a metaphor for film-making.

I think the idea that Inception is a film about film-making – but without telling the audience that it’s about film-making – is the coolest aspect of this whole theory. You can find a summarised explanation here, or you can read the original article and further discussion here.

But in case you’re super-lazy, here’s the quote that details the basic argument for Inception being about making a film:

The heist team quite neatly maps to major players in a film production. Cobb is the director while Arthur, the guy who does the research and who sets up the places to sleep, is the producer. Ariadne, the dream architect, is the screenwriter – she creates the world that will be entered. Eames is the actor (this is so obvious that the character sits at an old fashioned mirrored vanity, the type which stage actors would use). Yusuf is the technical guy…

incept

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‘Strong Female Characters’ and the Trinity Syndrome

Films

“Isn’t it great that so many movies these days (especially action and adventure films) have strong, fun female characters,” you may be thinking. But according to Tasha Robinson over at The Dissolve, you’re wrong.

In a brilliant article titled We’re Losing All Our Strong Female Characters to Trinity Syndrome, she talks about the gimmicky female characters that are so often inserted into films just so that the companies can say: “Look, we have women in our film!” Tasha suggests that Trinity from the Matrix is the epitome of this; the opening scene has her as a total badass, leaping over buildings and escaping from agents, but by the end of the trilogy (or even the film) she just spouts encouragement and fills in as a romantic interest.

Check out her article here (but be warned – there are spoilers for a number of films, such as Oblivion, How To Train Your Dragon 2, and Edge of Tomorrow). What films can you think of with strong females who are realistic characters in their own rights?

683 minutes

Faith, Films

Earlier this year, I had one of the happiest days of my life.
Three friends and I spent the day watching all three Extended Editions of the Lord of the Rings films. That’s a total of 683 minutes (11 hours, 23 minutes) of Middle Earth.

It was glorious. And it got me thinking about LOTR again.

See, I’ve been a huge fan of Tolkien’s works since I was about… 13?
I had attempted the books when I was 8 or 9, but struggled through the first five parts and eventually gave up; I’d seen the movies when they came out and enjoyed them, but hadn’t grasped the depth – I just saw them as fun action movies. When I was 13, my grandparents gave me an old copy of LOTR and I decided that the time was ripe for another attempt. I devoured the books. I loved them. I finally got them, understood that there was more than just a story or an event here. I suppose I was beginning to see them in the way Tolkien had hoped for them to be seen: as myths.
Since the books alone weren’t enough, I then purchased Anduril (Aragorn’s sword) and other assorted memorabilia before getting my hands on a copy of the Extended Edition DVDs. I set aside a day and started at 7am, finishing around 8:00pm (I didn’t take many breaks!). That viewing cemented me as a LOTR fan for life. To be honest, I think that the worldview presented in LOTR may have helped my conversion to Catholicism – I’ll have to ask the Lord when I see Him.

Over the eight years since I first watched these Extended Edition films, I’ve watched them at least another ten times each – but I’d never done another 683-minutes-in-one-day viewing. I’d tried with friends over the years, but no one had ever been keen enough. We’d start, get about 3 or 4 hours in, but then call it a day. But now, after years of searching and waiting, it has happened.
Admittedly, it did take us about 14 hours to get from Galadriel’s opening monologue to Sam’s hopeful and settled “Well, I’m back.” But when you factor in toilet stops, people coming and going, two meals, running around outside while screaming and holding a sword (we needed exercise, OK?), and discussing finer points of Middle Earth mythology, I think that’s understandable.

Something that came up very strongly with this viewing of LOTR was the depth of Catholic thought that is within Tolkien’s world. Every time I watch the films or read the books, I’m reminded of this – but I end up forgetting about it! So after watching the films (and discussing these Catholic ideas and themes with my mates), I turned to google to help me find what others were saying about this. I found some awesome stuff. Here’s a collection of my favourites:

  • The best, undoubtedly, is Dr Peter Kreeft’s book The Philosophy of Tolkien, where Dr Kreeft uses the world of Middle Earth (and Tolkien’s other writings) as a springboard to explain and discuss philosophy, reality and virtues. An awesome read.
  • There’s a series of four articles from the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy, written by Timothy O’Malley. They were originally given as a single talk but have been broken up into four separate articles for ease of reading. The series is titled The Catholic Imagination in the Lord of the Rings, and the first article can be found here.

This is just a tiny selection of the wealth of info on Tolkien and his Catholic worldview for Middle Earth. But what do you think? I know heaps of LOTR fans who avidly deny that the stories are religious. Of course, to see Tolkien’s writings as allegory is foolish (he explicitly said they’re not), but he also explicitly said that they are Catholic.

So that’s that.

A Plethora of Words

Fiction, Films

book film

I’m currently reading a book so that I can review it for CatholicFiction.net, and to be honest it’s… mediocre. Admittedly, I’m only a few chapters in and everything is still being introduced. But if I hadn’t chosen to review this book, I would have already stopped reading it!

It’s not that it’s a bad story (a secret Vatican group that hunts vampires!) or bad characters (a priest with a tortured past!), but it still somehow falls short. And I worked this out after the first couple of pages. How? What is it that told me ‘This isn’t a great book’? And why is it that something like The Lord of the Rings is a great book?

First, I think we need to compare a book to a film. A film can tell you things in many different ways: speech, music, background, colour, cinematography, costumes, and heaps of other ways I can’t think of right now. On the other hand, a book uses only the written word. Sure, it can use conversation or description, different styles of writing can be employed, but everything comes down to what the author writes. This is both a curse and a blessing for a book. I look at it like this: a film reveals a painting to a person’s mind, while a book actually paints that painting. (This is a crude metaphor, I know, but try to love it for its simplicity!) Thus the book has to reveal information in a very different manner to the film.

Herein lies the issue!

It seems to me that many authors these days (particularly first-time authors) try to write their books like a film. So instead of describing things in detail, they simply introduce things. I know that things should be left to the imagination, but our imaginations need a springboard! Here’s a quick comparison from two books of new characters being introduced:

 

With her was a black priest, a healthy looking forty year old maybe, in a cassock and biretta, and Lucy had never seen one dressed like that, not even when she’d gone to Rome with the whole family a few years ago. “Old school” was such a trite phase, but it seemed to match the clerical outfit. God, Lucy thought. Old fashioned, okay?
– ‘Mysterious Albion’ by Paul Leone, pg 15

Suddenly Frodo noticed that a strange-looking weather-beaten man, sitting in the shadows near the wall, was also listening intently to the hobbit-talk. He had a tall tankard in front of him, and was smoking a long-stemmed pipe curiously carved. His legs were stretched out before him, showing high boots of supple leather that fitted him well, but had seen much ear and were now caked with mud. A travel-stained cloak of heavy dark-green cloth was drawn close about him, and in spite of the heat of the room he wore a hood that overshadowed his face; but the gleam of his eyes could be seen as he watched over the hobbits.
– ‘The Lord of the Rings – Book One’ by JRR Tolkien, pg 152

 

aragorn strider

Recognise that description?

Notice the difference? Mysterious Albion spares a few words on the character being introduced, then moves quickly to the protagonist’s reaction. On the other hand, Tolkien gives details about the character. Many of these details seem to be meaningless, and yet they all give our imaginations some ‘reality’ to stick his character to. The description of ‘Strider’ from LOTR actually goes on for another few paragraphs, with his character slowly revealed through conversation. It may seem unfair to compare a book to what has been hailed as ‘The Greatest Book of the 20th Century’, yet wouldn’t it be better if we had fewer books but all of them were great?

What I think makes LOTR (and many other great books, as diverse as Les Miserables and Harry Potter) such an engaging read is the huge wealth of words. Not meaningless words; rather, words which are like tiny strokes of the brush on the canvas, creating lines you don’t notice individually but which come together to create an essential part of the image.

This, I think, is the key: using less conversation and more description. Conversation in novels is extremely important, and in films the only words are those which are spoken. But a great piece of fiction is about creating something! Novels need more than just the thoughts and words of the characters; it is essential to give the imagination an outline of some sort to work from. Not having this instantly gives away a beginner or mediocre author (myself included).

This trap for authors stems from, I believe, a great passion for their story. In their own mind, everything is so clear – so what is the need to describe it? They just want to share this story, get down the ideas, write. I fall into this same trap. I’m currently working on a piece of fiction and I keep on having to go back to ‘fill in the blanks’ so that the reader will have more than just a transcription of a character’s mind – they’ll have a living, breathing world.

Ender’s Game: the trailer surfaces…

Fiction, Films

Ender’s Game is definitely not your average sci-fi novel. You learn barely anything about the alien race, there’s not much weird futuristic tech, and the main characters are all children. Yup, children. As young as 6 years old.

I discovered Ender’s Game when I was about 11 or 12. I think I’d recently had my birthday, because I had a book voucher to spend. Searching through the local bookshop for something new (I was an avid reader, so had worked my way through most of the good ones) I uncovered a book with an embossed, grey, dragon head on the cover. It looked interesting – plus it was discounted because of a small tear! – so I bought it. And loved it.

Sure, I may have been a bit young to understand everything when I first read it. But it wasn’t like anything in it was too explicit or ‘dark’ for a younger kid; it was just a bit over my head. Re-reading the book each year, I’ve fallen totally head-over-heels for it, along with the rest of the series and the wider universe which author Orson Scott Card has developed.

What makes Ender’s Game so wonderful is… well, everything really. A big part of it is that these children are conscripted into war and trained mercilessly; you, as the reader, then get to explore their reactions and growth as all this is going on. Add on top of that some epic twists and intrigue, a fleshed-out and realistic future, realistic emotion, and artful writing, and you’ve got the beauty that is: Ender’s Game.
Plus the fact that it’ll totally screw with your mind, in an awesome I-can’t-believe-it-omigosh sort of way.

reallifecomics-endersgame

OK, enough of the fanboy love-letter.
The reason I started writing about this is because the first trailer for the Ender’s Game films has just been released. I’ve been waiting for a film since I first read the book, and when I heard a couple of years ago that it may be happening, I was… well, excited, to put it lightly.

Asa Butterfield as Ender? Abigail Breslin as Valentine? Harrison Ford as Graff? Awesome, awesome, awesome. Sir Ben Kingsley as Mazer I’m not sure about (why not try find an actual Maori to play the Maori character?!), especially after his round as the Mandarin in stupid Iron Man 3 stupidness, but I’ll hold off on judgment. But after watching the trailer this morning, I’m rather hesitant about the whole thing.

The power of Ender’s Game is brought about by three things:

  1. It’s more about the psychological and intellectual journey and conflict, than it is about anything physical.
  2. You don’t really learn much about the ‘Buggers’ (aliens), only slowly piecing together information. The reason for this is that there are other, more immediate enemies.
  3. You’re always unsure of who’s lying, who’s pulling the strings, how the characters are being manipulated.

The trailer (which you can check out below) seems to ignore all these three things. It shows fast-paced action, quick camera movements, and close-ups (a la Star Trek) which imply a more action-based story. It shows us a battle with the Buggers on Earth (WHY?! Nooooo….). It seems to show no real intrigue or distrust. Plus, that Inception-style ‘brrrrrr’ sound? Really?

I know that this is only the first trailer, I know that they can’t show everything in a single trailer, I know all of that. But unless they’re planning to pull an Iron Man 3 and make the film totally unlike the trailer, I can’t see how this film will be anything like the beloved book. I sincerely hope I’m wrong.