As of this writing, I just failed a midterm. That used to be unheard of for me, but these days, it’s fairly common. I used to be a whiz at working my way through complex equations. In high school, my AP Physics teacher singled me out for praise as one of the greatest problem solvers in a room stuffed full of smart people. There are, as I have said before, a great many things that I’m not very good at, but this doesn’t seem to be one of them. I feel like one of those savants in Oscar bait movies who can solve complex equations and explain the mysteries of the universe, but he still can’t understand love. Or something like that. With that, I would like to take a moment to talk about the Oscars.
To many (myself included), Oscar movies are pleasant, handsomely mounted films that come out around the holiday season and work for about one viewing. Usually, I see them with family during my vacation, enjoy them, and never think about them again. Releasing them is not only the ideal way to ensure that they will be fresh in viewers’ minds come awards season, but perfect for the sort of mood that I am usually in around that time of the year. Last year, I watched the extended editions of all three Lord of the Rings films and concluded that they were richer and more textured than the theatrical versions, but not necessarily better. Some scenes were cut for good reason, others disrupted the pacing but worked on their own terms, and at least a handful worked better than scenes that did make it into the theatrical releases. This year, we will be treated to the first of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit films, and let me tell you, I am nowhere near as excited as I should be. I don’t care if Jackson is including scenes from the appendices and The Silmarillion; there is simply no need for an adaptation to stretch out over three films, and certainly no need for each of them to be two and a half to three hours in length. I’ll see this movie, but I’m not that excited.
One Oscar movie that I feel is unfairly maligned is Shakespeare in Love. Mostly, people just bash it for being the film that beat Saving Private Ryan for the Oscar, but it’s a superb film in its own right, one which I have watched at least a dozen times over the years. At the very least, it deserves credit for being one of the only comedies to win Best Picture. Maybe some see it as nothing more than an amiable diversion, but I think it’s a genuinely insightful look at the way that an artist’s personal life can influence their creative life. It doesn’t hurt that I love the Renaissance and especially Shakespeare, and welcome any depiction of that era that feels lived-in and believable. Then again, maybe Oscar movies get too much flack in general. Looking back over the past decade, the only Best Picture winner that I actively dislike is Crash. (I haven’t seen The Artist.) Slumdog Millionaire was sweet, but forgettable, The Departed was Scorsese’s most plainly entertaining film since Goodfellas, and No Country For Old Men was a flat-out masterpiece. Could be worse, right?
I’ve always been a sci-fi nerd, but I am especially drawn to the post-apocalyptic subgenre. The idea of people being forced to rebuild civilization using only the tools immediately available to them is inherently interesting to me. Two of my favorites from this field are George R. Stewart’s Earth Abides and Walter M. Miller Jr.’s A Canticle For Leibowitz. The former is a skeptical look at the way that many of the precepts of civilization become irrelevant when people are allowed to write the rules for themselves; the latter is a moving account of the way that science and faith used to work together rather than constantly being at each other’s throats. Both demonstrate the importance of passing on what one has learned to the next generation.
I’m not really sure where I’m going with all this. I used to update three, four, sometimes five times a week. Now, I average about two posts. That’s not a bad thing, as I think my writing has grown more condensed and less meandering over the months since I started doing this. It used to be that even keeping myself down to three or four updates per week could be difficult, as the screaming voices in my head would let me rest only after I’d poured out every crazed fantasy. I’m just tired of the way that life keeps getting better without ever actually getting good.
One more thing: I hate it when Hollywood buys the rights to something just so they can adapt the title. The most recent example of this is World War Z, an ingenious little novel that presents itself as a no-nonsense history of the zombie war. Presented as a series of interviews with the survivors, it forms a tense and thought-provoking portrait of what happens in a world that is systematically being torn apart. It’s grim, scary, and utterly realistic (or as much as anything that features zombies can be.) The movie, however, seems to be essentially a Michael Bay or Roland Emmerich movie, but with zombies instead of giant robots or natural disasters. Will I see it? Probably not. I love Brad Pitt (as an actor and a sex symbol), but his presence alone is not enough to draw me into something this generic. The last film that played this fast and loose with the source material was I, Robot, and if the rumors I’ve heard are true, the producers simply grafted Asimov’s three laws of robotics onto a pre-existing script in hopes of drawing in people who’d heard of the book but not read it. That’s a surprisingly large audience.
Sometimes I think being honest really can be a good recipe for success.