Monday, April 19, 2010

Movie Review: Clash of the Titans

Ah, Hollywood, how they love to butcher history and mythology. If you haven’t been bothering to keep up, Hollywood decided to pillage their own vaults for ideas again and came up with a remake of Clash of the Titans, a movie produced in 1981 that tells the story of the ancient Greek hero Perseus… badly. Well, for a simple action-fantasy movie it wasn’t all that bad, but it certainly didn’t strain too hard to follow the mythological story accurately, and the modern remake doesn’t try any harder. In fact, the modern remake makes exactly the same mythological errors as the original, and then adds some more. The movie also has a rather muddled message, so it’s really not all that impressive for anything but its special effects, and even those aren’t exactly ground-breaking.

The spoilers are about to start flowing, so now would be the time turn away if that matters to you.

The original Clash of the Titans, if you don’t already know, involves the goddess Thetis taking offense when Queen Cassiopeia brags that her daughter, Princess Andromeda, is even more lovely than the goddess. As the Greek gods were wont to do, Thetis takes offense and informs the people of Argos that she’s sending the Kraken – the hit-beast of the gods – to destroy Argos, a fate they can avoid by chaining Andromeda out on the beach as a sacrifice to it.

The remake takes divine petulance a step further by having the gods behave so irresponsibly that all of humanity is rebelling against them and destroying their temples – which is a problem, since the gods derive much of their power from human worship. The exception is Hades – the god of the underworld – who has learned to thrive on human fear instead. Seeing the human rebellion as an opportunity to overthrow Zeus, he manipulates the situation for his own benefit. When the insolent people of Argos proclaim the beauty of Andromeda, he announces – in Zeus’s name – that she must be sacrificed to the Kraken or the city will be destroyed. In so doing, he expects the human lack of respect to turn into full-blown hatred (which will deprive Zeus of power) and outright terror (which will increase his own power).

With the plot thus set, the sequence of events of the two movies begins to converge. Perseus goes on a quest to behead the gorgon Medusa so he can use her petrifying gaze to defeat the Kraken. Motives and details vary (and I won’t go into them at length), but the gist is much the same. The main difference is in the muddled message of the remake.

The original didn’t really have a message; it was just a wacky adventure to slay a monster. The sequel tries to introduce a theme revolving around human independence and immortal accountability, which is potentially interesting if you’re following the religion-versus-secularism conflict in modern culture, but the movie can’t seem to make up its mind whether to follow through on that plot and have Perseus succeed purely on his mortal merits or go through a “character arc” in which Perseus learns to accept his godly heritage. In the end, he doesn’t really do either, which makes me wonder why the writers introduced this personal conflict in the first place.

As for the butchering of mythology, the actual myth of Perseus goes something like this:
  • Danae, the mother of Perseus, was the daughter of King Acrisius, not his wife. Acrisius had them sent out to sea to die in an effort to avoid a prophecy that his grandson would eventually kill him (that never works, by the way). Both Perseus and Danae survived the sea journey to end up in Seriphus.
  • Seriphus had its own problems, as the king there – Polydectes – had his lecherous eye on Danae. Perseus was a master c*@#-blocker, though, so Polydectes tricked Perseus into promising to kill Medusa, which he figured would be a sure way to get the youth killed.
  • Seeing his son in a trap, Zeus took steps to make sure Perseus had the means to accomplish the quest. He arranged for him to have a sword and shield (with a mirror-polished inside surface), a pair of winged sandals, a helmet that turned him invisible (provided by Hades, incidentally – see below), and a bag suitable for toting around a severed monster head.
  • Guided by the advice of the Graeae (the oracles with only one eye among the three of them), Perseus found Medusa’s lair and ambushed her in her sleep (sorry, no epic battle, folks).
  • On his way home he happened to see Andromeda chained to the rocks as a sacrifice to the Kraken. The offense that got her there, incidentally, was being reckoned more beautiful than the Nereids, vain sea nymphs who complained to Poseidon when the word got round. Perseus – after extracting a promise from Andromeda's father that he could marry her – intervened to save her. That’s right: the Kraken was just a target of opportunity, not the object of Perseus’s quest.
Other bits of mythological ignorance:
  • Hades was somber, not evil, and he actually liked ruling the underworld. As I recall, he chose the underworld as his domain (he, Zeus, and Poseidon drew lots to see who would get first choice).
  • Drops of Medusa’s blood spilled by Perseus during his post-beheading travels caused poisonous snakes to develop in various parts of the world. Not exactly giant scorpions, but far worse raping of mythology occurs in these movies.
  • Pegasus belongs in the story of Bellerophon, not the story of Perseus.
  • There is no story from Greek mythology that involves “jinn” in any way whatsoever.
Final verdict: It’s fun to watch the pretty pictures, but you might want to turn your brain off when you see the title screen.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Gulf Wars XIX Open A&S Performing Arts

The Pregnant Farmer

La Chanson de Roland

The Counting of the Twenty and One

I'm not at all sure why I thought it was "The Counting of the Thirteen and One" when I first captioned it. I need to fix that.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Overdue Gulf Wars XIX Post

After staying overnight in Jackson with Shimofuri on Saturday, we caravanned down to the site on Sunday to help set up camp. We arrived in the early afternoon, and I immediately joined in the raising of the kitchen/dining tent. Here I received my first injury of the war. The roof frame is made of fitted pipe sections, and I asked someone to push on the other end of one of the pipes as I was getting it fitted. The push came a bit sooner than I expected and my hand got pinched, so I went through the war with a bandage on the web of my right hand next to the thumb. Fortunately I was up to fencing by Wednesday.

Monday I found a very nice merchant who provided me with some tape to properly secure the bandage on my hand. That served me most of the day, and I obtained a small roll of tape from the chirurgeons to keep me going through the rest of the war. On top of that, Her Excellency Katherine got me some bactine, more bandages, and more tape. I was being positively doted on, but that suits me very well.

In the early afternoon, I went to the dance hall (Bede Hall) to help teach a dance class. This was simple 15th Century Italian dances: Amoroso, Petits Riens, and Anello. Since the planned teacher was unable to attend the war, Lady Sibyl was teaching, and I happily assisted. It's always nice to have some ringers when you're teaching a dance class.

Following the dance class, I ventured down to the Fort for the Verona Street Brawl. I wasn't up to fighting yet – just trying to hold a rapier hurt my hand – so I volunteered as a marshal. I don't think that brawls were quite as amusing as they were two years ago, when I last attended the war. The attempts to frame the other family were rather hamfisted, and the Governors were shamefully oblivious to the bloodbaths in the streets.

That evening I hosted the Beginners’ Ball. I planned it with lots of common, easy dances. Basically, if you didn't already know the dance, any ringer on the floor could drag you through it with minimal coaching. The list worked out quite well, if I do say so myself, as we worked our way through the dances at a steady pace and had plenty of time for requests before we had to close down the ball.

Early Tuesday afternoon I taught my dance class. This year I taught two variations of the Contrapasso. The standard variation is for a couples, and the Contrapasso Nuovo variation is for a set of three couples. Contrapasso itself is not really very difficult and the students learned it with plenty of time to spare. Contrapasso Nuovo is similar, but there are definitely some tricky maneuvers, and it has l5ess repetition, making it more difficult to remember. Fortunately Lady Ginevra assisted by providing live music; you can ask a musician to play just a particular section of the music, a request that recording just can’t seem to accommodate.

On Wednesday morning,I was up to fighting, and the Green Dragon Inn hosted a Tavern Brawl. Nothing rocks quite like a tavern brawl in an authentic tavern. Don Mateo organized several different scenarios, some involving just staying alive, others requiring an effort to loot the place. Some of the survival scenarios were real meat grinders.

In the afternoon, I competed in the Everyman Tourney. I didn't make it past my first round robin group, but it was a near thing. Three of us tied for second place, and we had to fight another mini round robin to see which two would progress. I had some really good fights in this tourney.

Thursday morning was the Ladies of the Rose Rapier Tournament, and I again fought on behalf of Duchess Katrina. I don’t exactly have a stunning track record at the Rose tourney, but it’s always a fun time. The tourney had 110 entrants this year, which is a new record. I drew Don Iago for my first bout, and I actually dispatched him with surprising speed. I’m thinking of adding a white ribbon to my outfit every time I win a tournament match with a Don, now.

My second draw was Warder Sibyl Sevenoke, and I couldn’t have asked for a better second draw. Make no mistake: Sibyl is better than me at this game, but that makes the fight all the more fun. I am especially pleased by the fact that when she disabled my left hand with a cut to my thumb, she did not put down her own dagger; I like for my opponent to continue to treat me as a threat even after scoring a significant blow. She got my other arm a bit later, putting me out of the fight in a way that Joseph Swetnam – the historical fencing master I study – would definitely have appreciated (i.e., no one “died”).

I drew Lord Silvani for my final fight, and he’s definitely been keeping in better practice than I, too. I managed to stretch it out for a while, though, before being legged and then finally eliminated.

The schedulers moved the Rapier Field Battle up from Saturday to Thursday afternoon this year, and I turned out for it. We were fighting with Trimaris this year, and the first battle of the two-out-of-three contest was something of a cluster-fail. Meridies was positioned at the left end of the Trimarin line, facing the Hellhounds from Northshield. When the battle started, our front line ran out to make contact with the enemy while the rear ranks (consisting of some people who don’t move very fast due to knee troubles and such) closed at a slower pace. It’s not a good idea to take on the Hellhounds piecemeal; each little unit gets cut to shreds as it arrives. It would have been better to all march up at an even pace and make contact at full strength. Yes, I died pretty quick in that battle.

I’m not sure what the plan was in the second battle. After changing sides of the field, Meridies was on the right end of the Trimarin line, next to the Atlantians. When the battle started, the Atlantians quickly moved out and crossed in front of us to engage the Hellhounds while we looked for a place to reinforce. Our commander pointed out a thin spot for us to fill and I stepped into place to engage some Trimarins and Midrealmers. I soon noticed that our line was still pretty thin to the right of me; then it was also thin to the left of me; then I realized I was on my own against about six opponents. Well, I managed to keep them busy for a while and I got three of them, so I think I did my part pretty well in the second battle, but it was still an overall loss.

With the war point settled, round three was a “friendship battle” which my side won (due in no small part to the Hellhounds defecting to our side, I suspect).

Friday morning I took my camcorder down to Bede Hall, where the open A&S competition was taking place. I recorded the performing arts entries, and one of them is already posted to YouTube. Hopefully I'll get the others up shortly.

Later in the day there was a Ribbon Tourney, and I assisted as a marshal, as I was saving my energy for the Ravine Battle.

Like the Field Battle, the Ravine Battle was pretty lop-sided. I also couldn't seem to get any cooperation from my allies. On the way to the line, I'd ask the fighters on either side of me if they would take shots if I blocked blades, but when I knocked blades down, the shots didn't materialize. I eventually gave up on that and decided to just cause a bit of havoc, and I actually did get into the enemy backfield once, killing several of their fighters in the process. Moments like that make the whole tiresome business worth while.

Rain was threatening Saturday, and I really didn't want to pack a wet tent, so I broke camp early in the day, did some final shopping, and for the first time at Gulf Wars, I actually left site early.