Now pretend she gets extensive
cosmetic surgery -- collagen implants, eye lift, botox, the works.
But it's a botched operation,
leaving this woman a grotesque imitation of beauty standards.
That's what WALKING WITH
A BBC mini-series was transformed
for American audiences and it's a horror show.
My problem isn't just with the
movie, but the cultural forces that transformed it.
THE ORIGINAL MINI-SERIES
The 2013 American film is based
on a BBC mini-series. It was the most expensive British television
program ever made (and it shows, the series is visually stunning.) The
program combined live-action locations with computer-generated creatures to
create the closest thing we could get to a nature documentary about dinosaurs.
Kenneth Branagh narrated the series, providing insights into the
environment and habits of pre-historic reptiles.
Doesn't sound too bad, does
THE CHANGES AND THE
Significant changes were made to
"reach a wider audience."
The dinosaurs were
anthropomorphized, making them obnoxious archetypes that are easily recognized
by viewers of modern kids' movies. There's the scrappy runt
Pachyrinosaurus (voiced by Justin Long). He's a good- natured kid learning his
way in a scary world of giant beasts and flying creatures.
His best buddy is an energetic
Alexornis. It's the wise-crackin', fast talkin' sidekick role that's been
voiced by the likes of Gilbert, Gottfried, Bobcat Goldthwait, even Eddie
Murphy. Here we get John Leguizamo (who some kids might recognize as the voice
of Sid the Sloth in all those ICE AGE movies.)
Many of these changes feel like
they're coming from some checklist of mainstream kiddie movies.
generic little guy hero
brave parental sacrifice
character compares himself to a ninja (?!)
scene feature ironic use of music by Barry White
The jokes would feel played out
in any post-SHREK world. But in this very stylish
"documentary" film they're terribly forced.
STORY OR WHATEVER
Maybe the reason this pains me is
that there's a profound disparity between the magnificent visuals and the
And that suggests a few
character and dialogue take a backseat in mainstream
powers-that-be assume audiences will respond to a bunch of poop
jokes and familiar character types.
I'm depressed as a professional
writer, because the writing was an afterthought. (The feature film was planned
to be a "silent movie" without dialogue, the script certainly feels
I'm insulted as an audience
member, because the movie-makers think I'm so dumb that I'd want this would-be
I'm outraged as a parent,
because economic forces are determined to short-change my children with
A TRADITION OF CHEAP
Before we go any further, I should
point out there's no "lip-flap" in WALKING WITH DINOSAURS. Characters' mouths do not move, like
on THOMAS THE TANK ENGINE. (At least the trains provide basic
expressions to convey emotion.)
90 minutes of
"telepathic" dinosaurs is a jarring dramatic experience.
During the movie, I couldn't help
but feel like I was watching a film by exploitation king K. Gordon Murray.Throughout the 1960s Murray bought the
rights to half-a-dozen of low-budget Mexican Fairy Tale movies then re-dubbed
them into English. He'd screen his Americanized versions of LITTLE RED
RIDING HOOD or MOTHER HOLLY at weekend Matinee shows -- and make a
bundle in the process.
Again, this type of rampant, greedy
model succeeds best when adults overlook quality in children's media.
You can't help but feel like WALKING
WITH DINOSAURS lends itself to being re-dubbed into dozens of languages,
starring the "Non-union Mexican equivalent"of Justin Long.
THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS
The corporate overlords who
designed this film clearly wanted to have it both ways: an educational film
about the Cretaceous period AND a by-the-numbers family comedy.
It didn't really work. The
finished movie isn't enlightening (aside from the handful of moments when the
screen freezes and a child's voice pronounces the names of dinosaurs.)
And, I'm being subjective here, the movie isn't entertaining. Even by
kids' movie standards.
Let's all remember that we should
pick a side, stick with it. Make the best possible thing that isn't also trying
to be another thing. (Unless novelist David Mitchell is reading this. Dude, you
have mastered the art of blending genres and I'd hate for this blog post to
derail your post-modernist journey.)
Side-note: On this blog I've showed some amused admiration for shameless cash-grab movies.
For example, low-budget movie studio THE ASYLUM made TRANSMORPHERS just in time for the big-budget TRANSFORMERS movie. Or the Korean film company that debuted A*P*E just as the 1976 KING KONG was being released. But those crude little movies know where they stand. The filmmakers don't think they're fooling anyone (aside from some confused grandparents shopping for DVDs at the 99-cent store.) But I get the impression the makers of WALKING WITH DINOSAURS really do think they're pulling one over on the public. And maybe that's why I'm compelled to call "bullshit" on their greedy exercise.
It could be I'm worried about my
own writing career.
I've had a cartoon show in
development hell for 2 years now. I worry that my show could be
compromised by industry cynics, turning my series into something as
condescending and heartless as the dinosaur movie.
Or maybe I'm worried that my show
is already that bad.
Or what if the bastards are right
and people really do want the modern-kiddie movie checklist.
a collection of tweets I've made about WALKING
WITH DINOSAURS over the past 2 weeks.
Well, it sure feels good to get this off my chest. And I can't imagine I'll ever feel so much disdain for another movie for the rest of my life.
(Kevin turns on the TV and see ad for this monsturd...
(NOTE: The following essay originally appeared in the 'zine "I LOVE BAD MOVIES", volume 2. You can purchase it here)
BILLY JACK (1971) was a Drive-in
Phenomenon that your parents will remember as that preachy hippy movie that
introduced the song “One Tin Soldier”.It’s a real period piece that reflects America’s growing pains during
the end of the Viet Nam war and Nixon’s Presidency.Part Western, part revenge film, it
synergized bits of kung-fu action, Native American snake ceremonies and The
Movement psychology along with some improvised scenes by Howard Hesseman for
good measure.But this essay is about
the love and sex and gratuitous nudity that make the movie great.
The plot is simple enough: a lone man goes up
against a corrupt group of bigots that are threatening defenseless
teenagers.(The film created a boilerplate
for dozens of Steven Segal movies.)But
at the core of this New-Age Western is a love story. Billy Jack (the
short-tempered War Hero) loves Jean (the hippy pacifist who runs The Freedom
School).But they’re so caught up in
defending the children and Native Americans that they never get to express
their love for each other.
As the hate-crimes escalate, Bernard (one of the
film’s many villains) kidnaps and rapes Jean.(For the sole purpose of exacting revenge on Billy, who had recently
pushed his Corvette into a lake.)
When Billy finds out about the attack, he gets
on his motorcycle and tracks down Bernard in a lime-colored Arizona
bordello.Billy kicks open the bedroom
door and sees Bernard in bed with a naked young girl.
Billy speaks through clenched teeth, “How old
“13,” she answers.
out.” He commands, and the girl runs across the room naked.
Bernard quickly takes out a revolver, shoots and
misses his target**Billy karate chops
Bernard in the throat, killing him instantly.
This one scene perfectly captures what makes the
Billy Jack franchise so
We, the viewing audience,
get to condemn a man for sleeping with an underage girl.
But we also get to see her naked.
It’s the best of both worlds.
Throughout the film (and its sequels) Billy Jack
strives to follow pacifism, but when he sees racism or sexism or hippie bashing,
he… just… goes… BERSERK! And the ass-kicking begins!Again, writer-actor-director Tom Laughlin
gets to have his cake and gun it down in cold blood, too – by preaching a
message of Peace while filling the movie with exciting, lyrical bloodshed.By doing so, Billy Jack became the largest-grossing independent film of all
time. (Source: back of Billy Jack DVD
Where are they now?
Writer-Director-Actor Tom Laughlin made four Billy
Jack movies. He’s since written books about screenwriting, and the
psychology of cancer.In 1992 he ran for
President (and received 2% of the vote in the New Hampshire primary).Today Laughlin is developing a new Billy Jack film and is accepting
donations via his website.
Update: Tom Laughlin passed away on Thursday December 12th. He was 82.
** From a short distance that may have inspired
George Lucas to say “Sure, Greedo could miss Han Solo.”