Showing posts with label Movies. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Movies. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Guest Post: Why "Man vs Man" is less effective than "Man vs Supernatural"


Were you disappointed in the recent Conan the Barbarian movie?  Perhaps you expected Sword & Sorcery...


Thanks to Shaun Duke who invited me to guest blog on his site "World in a Satin Bag"  (WISB).  Shaun is an aspiring writer, a reviewer, and graduate student (studying science fiction, postcolonialism, posthumanism, and fantasy at the University of Florida).  WISB includes book and movie reviews, interviews with authors, literary analyses, discussions of genre, publishing, and more...


Here is an excerpt; check out the entire article the WISB:

Wednesday, December 21, 2011 : Guest Post: Sword and Sorcery -- Why "Man vs Man"is less effective than "Man vs Supernatural" by S. E. Lindberg


"Fantasy readers and movie-goers maintain an expectation that protagonists will battle supernatural forces. Those forces may manifest in humans (“bad guys”); however, when the supernatural element is diluted (or superficially offered in clich├ęd, familiar forms so that the protagonist literally battles a man) then expectations are not met. Consumers become disappointed. The lack luster reception of this year’s movie, Conan the Barbarian, is a good example of this expectation being unsatisfied.

Of course, Man vs. Supernatural conflict is ubiquitous across fantasy. Most recognizable of Supernatural antagonists may be Tolkien’s bodiless Sauron. Nearly three decades before Sauron stalked bookshelves and haunted rings, Conan creator Robert Ervin Howard originated the Sword & Sorcery genre by writing action-packed shorts exploring Man vs. Supernatural.

Sword & Sorcery was coined by author Fritz Leiber years after REH passed, but as he suggested the name he also clarified the role of the supernatural: 
I feel more certain than ever that this field should be called the sword-and-sorcery story. This accurately describes the points of culture-level and supernatural element and also immediately distinguishes it from the cloak-and-sword (historical adventure) story—and (quite incidentally) from the cloak-and-dagger (international espionage) story… (Fritz Leiber, Amra, 1961)
But it was Lin Carter who may have best defined Sword and Sorcery in his introduction to his Flashing Sword series (Carter, with L. Sprague de Camp, posthumously co-authored several Conan tales):
We call a story Sword & Sorcery when it is an action tale, derived from the traditions of the pulp magazine adventure story, set in a land or age or world of the author’s invention—a milieu in which magic actually works and the gods are real—and a story, moreover, which pits a stalwart warrior in direct conflict with the forces of supernatural evil. (Lin Carter, Flashing Swords I, 1973)

REH wrote twenty-one Conan tales, and no human antagonist persisted across them. Each story had bad guys/creatures/etc., but they were overt proxies for greater supernatural evils. Hence, the conflict was Conan (the Man) vs. Supernatural...."

Read the rest on the WISB:




Monday, August 1, 2011

Dejarnette Sanitarium; a vacation to Silent Hill?

 Silent Hill (SH) Ambiance – Benchmark Design
Just vacationed with the family, the key destination being the natural dye making workshop in Monticello, Virginia (to boost my dye making hobby--Link).  After traveling through the Appalachian Mountains and renting a hotel overlooking an abandoned Sanitarium, I began to feel the “Silent Hill” experience. 

Although not a proper Sword & Sorcery world, SH allows for an awesome degree of supernatural exploration– a feature once integral to the originating pulps that inspired the genre (Howard, Smith, Lovecraft); the Hill does have the prerequisite elements: ruins, creatures, alchemy (witchcraft).  The series sacrifices some action elements to amplify the horror of battling the unknown.  It grounds readers in abandoned towns filled with ghosts, only to use that foundation as “reality” to take readers into the next level of horror (“nightmare realm”) in which the cracked paint peels of walls and flies away, and hell (in multiple carnations) overwhelms all.   Silent Hill pushes the boundaries of horror in every way, from its character designs, settings, and story.

In Silent Hill 1, I was horrified to be chased by knife-wielding dead children in the Midwich Elementary school.  But that experience pales in comparison to the debut of Pyramid Head in Silent Hill 2 (room 307 Wood Side’s apartment), in which the butcher-like-demon rapes the four-legged mannequins (that is correct…one torso, four legs).  Your character is forced to watched from within a closetthe scene is more bizarre than gory.  If Pyramid head or his victims looked more human, than the effect would be lost—that would be too real, less scary.  Silent Hill wants you to feel vulnerable and pressured by forces you cannot describe.  The fantasy element is crucial.  The balance of implicit vs. explicit gore and horror is tough to achieve, but we can learn from masters Like Frazetta (link to earlier post). 

Room 307 of Wood Side apartments: Pyramid Head rapes headless mannequins in Silent Hill 2 game–very spooky


The 2006 movie's version town of Silent Hill is located in West Virginia. The town was abandoned after a fire started in the underlying coal mines, much like the real town of Centralia, PABasing fantasy from real foundations gives our art credibility; the story way be weird as hell, but will be believable at some level.  Suckers like myself cannot stop thinking about the possible truth to ghost stories when they experience settings that evoke the haunts:
The Appalachian Mountains
The below aerial imagery from the Silent Hill movie shows a road in the Appalachian Mountains; in the leading car are a mom (Rose Da Silva) and daughter (Sharon), driving toward the titular town to confront the haunts that plague Sharon’s dreams. A police car follows.
silent Hill -2
Our recent drive through West Virginia (our images below), sets the stage; map included in case you want to trek over.
P7150136P7140065
Dejarnette Sanitarium
Spooky Abandoned Hospital
So after hours of driving in the mountains, we stop at a Hotel in Staunton, VA.  Staunton is not haunted, but we unexpectedly chose a hotel overlooking a beautiful boarded building (~the intersection of highway 81 and route 250 near the Frontier Museum); From our hotel view (below, looking eastward).   
sanitarium-Staunton VA
Turns out, it this is an abandoned children’s sanitarium named after the leader Doctor DeJarnette.  Due to Doctor DeJarnette’s eugenics project, many inmates were reportedly sterilized in the basement against their will (his butchery and sexual motivations reeks of Pyramid Head).  Ghosttowninfo.com - Dejarnette Sanatarium (link) offers interior images and Project Energia Buran offers as a video tour (embedded below)! To be clear, my family did not tour the facility!  It is riddled with asbestos and is hardly a family destination.  This is not Silent Hill!  There is nothing explicitly terrifying about this image; implicitly, it is creepy as hell!


Virtual Tour of the Sanatorium
Project Energia Buran (2007) tours the Sanatorium for us!

Persistent, Amplified Silent Hill Feelings
Every SH game visits a hospital; I think every one has ghost- or living-children running amongst them.  Alchemilla Hospital (left image below) and Brookhaven Hospital (right image) are fictional hospitals that are frequently visited in the Silent Hill games. A blog post cannot due these justice…I suggest you get the games and explore them.  You will be scared…and you can pretend you are experiencing the haunted (possibly) DeJarnette Sanitarium!  Be careful.  Once you play the games, you may not be able to stop thinking about the horrors the evoke!  Awesome!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Character Design: Cirque du Soleil OVO and the Dark Crystal

The Awesome Performance & Character Design in Ovo
Evokes Memories of Awe from Dark Crystal Experience

Creatures are a key element of Fantasy works.  They are usually represented on a colossal scale (dragons, the Star Wars Rancor, etc.) or on a humanoid scale (like the mythogical Minotaur...or the orc armies of Tolkien's Middle Earth).  To be surprising and scary, creators of new monsters are motivated to be unique (familiar creatures inherently have lost their sense of strangeness that makes them fantastical in the first place).  Creating novel things becomes increasingly difficult as the historic pool of creatures accumulates; this May, I was inspired to see how the Cirque du Soleil reinvented their offerings with "Ovo", a theatrical fantasy based on an imaginary insect world whose unique richness stems from its character/creature design (this was my first experience, though it is the 25th show design in as many years for the Montreal based entertainment group).

Ovo Cricket Costume
It seems Cirque du Soleil needed a new excuse to allow their talented performers to show off, and they hit the mark really well.  All the designs meshed as an integrated world: the sets, the costumes, the choreography, music...somehow the entire event appeared as one place.  Designing costumes that not only look insectan, but allow performers to perform athletic feats without distraction had to be challenging for designer Liz Vandal.

Was there a story?  Not really...though it wasn't needed.  The performance was entirely eye-candy.  Was there conflict?  Almost no conflict existed in the storyline, with some minor comedy coming from the Foreigner character trying to woo the Ladybug (of course, there was the ever present man-vs-nature conflict with the contortionists, acrobats, etc. continually snubbing their noses at gravity and muscle contractions).  Except for a few moments that I cannot explain....


A Fleeting Battle Brought Mysterious Conflict!
Mysterious walking sticks brought tension to the stage. These stilt walking bad guys tried to approach the Foreigner, but the Ladybug fought them off. Were these Walking Sticks?  Or Jim Hensen's Landstriders? I cannot identify these creatures by name since they were not represented in the program or online (by deduction, they were not "fleas", "roaches", or"mosquitoes").  I share a snapshot of the Official OVO Program booklet since I was unable to locate an image online to reference. To highlight the Walking Sticks I desaturated the surrounding set (below image).
These instantly evoked the awesome "Land Striders" from the 1982 Dark Crystal Movie.  Of course, the Land Striders were literally big puppets, powered by stilt-walking puppeteers...though I recall them being the "good" type of creature.


Dark Crystal Land Striders


Ovo - Walking Sticks?


Dark Crystal Sequel Brewing
Dark Crystal Skeksis
Now I remember...the Land Striders were largely dismembered by the evil Garthim beetles (allies of the bird-like Skeksis).  Looking for inspiration on designing creatures?  I recommend procuring the The Dark Crystal (25th Anniversary Edition) which provides featurettes revealing behind-the-scenes designs, including commentary by the Dark Crystal's conceptual designer, the acclaimed Fairy artist Brian Froud.




Froud has a distinctive style that seems to bring real-life to his fairies--even take life away to preserve their real-forms...as in Lady Cottington's Pressed Fairy Book : 10 3/4 Anniversary Edition; In addition to sketches, the book was designed to preserve (to a squished degree) real fairies. 

Froud's Pressed Fairy

Froud's  Fairy















It is interesting that even in 1982 (before ATM's and microwave ovens really hit their strides...let alone computers as we know them), Jim Hensen was inspired to bring "life" to the movies that the new band-wagon of special effects could not (Star Wars was rocking the movie world then).  Over three decades later, there is still a reliance on technologies that do not necessarily impart a sense of real-life in our characters.  The Dark Crystal's Garthim beetles were as real as the Scarabs in the live performance of Ovo, and arguable more real-feeling than many of today's digitized creatures.  The challenge for artists is figuring out how to really animate our fantasy characters with pen and paper (Ovo has done it for the stage).   

Well, like many other promising movies in the 2011 Sword and Sorcery film queue, there is a sequel brewing that may reinvigorate the awe of the Dark Crystal for another generation (see below links). 


Dark Crystal Garthim

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Sword and Sorcery Film Queue 2011

There is a steady list of 2011 Sword and Sorcery films in queue:
Released globally, but not in US
Solomon Kane , a well received depiction of R.E.Howard's doomed, religious hero. Click here to request it to come state-side by "Demanding" it.

Out now or soon in the US
Season of the Witch Feb-011
Black Death Mar-011
Red Riding Hood Mar-011
Sinbad 2011 The Fifth Voyage July 2011
Conan The Barbarian Aug 2011 - this movie is finally close to release, after transforming from a third installment in the Arnold Schwarzenegger series (delayed due to his becoming governor) and seems to have become a re-branding of Conan (a new series).
Jason Momoa as Conan



In queue or on-hold


The Hobbit (~2012); stymied by a writer's strike and a legal tangle with the Tolkien estate, the prequel(s) to the Lord of the Rings trilogy promises to be great whenever it is finished.
Bran Mak Morn
Red Sonja: Let's hope it is better than the 1985 version...

Castlevania: Based on Konami's popular vampire games
Elric movie: Check out Michael Moorcock's blog for details.
Red Nails (Since 2006) this endeavor has struggled; based on REH's only full length Conan novel...see some pre-production animations that surfaced.
The Power of the Dark Crystal (2011??)  Announced in 2005, this sequel to the Dark Crystal (1982) has stumbled, always making some forward progress.
Pixar and Disney's Brave (2012) - Disney tries out Heroic Fantasy
Underworld 4 (2012) 
John Carter of Mars (2012)
Narnia 4 The Silver Chair (2012)
Silent Hill Revelation (sequel): Okay, not 100% Sword and Sorcery, but it is a mix of Horror-Fantasy and Pyramid Head does have a large sword and Michael Basset (who just delivered Solomon Kane) is leading the effort.
At the Mountains of Madness (2013): More weird horror/fantasy than Sword and Sorcery, but it is Lovecraft...and Guillermo del Toro is involved.




 

The Picts and the Lost IX Legion : Realism vs. Sword & Sorcery Representations

  • Who were the Picts? The mystical Picts were iron-age Caledonians, the indigenous people of Scotland. Labeled barbarous, the tribes were never conquered by the Romans; instead, they were eventually isolated by Hadrian's Wall. Picts consistently influence fantasy tales, including many Arthurian legends, Howard's Bran Mak Morn, Arthur Machen's Litte People, and Kuttner's Pikht's of Atlantis. This alone makes their aura sufficient to work with, but my fascination lies with their name since Picti means 'colored people' in Latin. Julius Caeser's documentation (de Bello Gallico ~ 45AD) indicates that the local Picts marked their bodies with vitrum before going to battle, though many think they were painted with woad (a blue dying plant akin to indigo). The Legio_IX_Hispana is a roman legion that mysteriously disappeared ~120 AD.
  • The Pict are appearing in films more frequently, though not in a mystical context:
  1. In 2004, they appeared in the Historical-Fiction-Action movie King Arthur in which Guinevere is portrayed as a Pict (played by Kiera Knightley); I recommend the Director's cut which includes short, but worthy extra scenes fleshing out Arthur's motivations.
  2. The Centurion 2010: This movie explicitly tackles the mystery of the missing IX Legion, and also blames the Picts. Olga Kurylenko
  3. The Eagle (2011): Obviously, I haven't seen this yet, but the trailers indicate a slant toward another pseudo-historical/non-sorcery representation of the Picts. 
  4. Hammer of the Gods (2013): This brutal Viking movie depicts the Picts as cannibalistic.   

Guinevere is a Pict in King Arthur

Centurion Pict

A wild Pict attacks in The Eagle
Vikings are captured & tattooed by Picts in Hammer of the Gods
  • For the mystical “Sorcery” representation of the Picts, you will either:
  1. Need to pick up R.E.Howard's stories (short pulp stories written ~1930 and compiled in 1969) or Karl Wagner’s Legion From the Shadows (1988)
  2. ...or hope that the forthcoming Bran Mak Morn movie actually is produced ...and remains "true" to Howard's depiction
R E Howard's Brank Mak Morn

Wagner's Legion from the Shadows



Frazetta Cover art
  • R.E. Howard's Bran is less famous as Conan, but is a similar hero in many ways. Bran is arguably REH's darkest character, and David Weber did a fine introduction of him in Bran Mak Morn (1969 Bean compilation):
“Of all Robert E. Howard's characters, Bran Mak Morn may be the least known. After all Howard is the author who brought us Conan, Kull the Conqueror, and Solomon Kane. Yet in a sense, Bran and his Picts are more important to Howard's world than any of his characters, including Bran's ancestor Brule. The brooding darkness which clings to virtually all of Howard's heroic fantasy is nowhere stronger than in the case of Bran Mak Morn, last king of the oldest race-an alien among his own degenerating people, set apart by a pure bloodline they no longer share, who knows his entire race is going down into the dark no matter what he does. Yet for all his awareness of the inevitability of the Pict's doom, Bran refuses simply to submit to it. He fights it tooth and nail, as he downs his Roman and Norse enemies. However hopeless his future, all he asks of fate is the chance to meet it on his feet and fighting. ii


•Bran Mak Morn, King of the Picts, assumes epic stature as he is often not the primary protagonist in the tales but a iconic force overseeing the action; in The Dark Man, Bran had been deified in a stone effigy, thus allowing him to participate in the tale and realize the looming warrior-muse that peered over Howard's shoulder and inspired his weird accounts of dark heroes. Below, from the Dark Man, the hero Black Turlough fights to save his beloved Moria from her Viking kidnappers and Howard literally captures his vision of his muse:
And over all towered the Dark Man. To Turlough's shifting glances, caught between the flash of sword and ax, it seemed that the image had grown - expanded - heightened; that it loomed giant-like over the battle; that its head rose into the smoke-filled rafters of the great hall; that it brooded like a dark cloud of death over these insects who cut each other's throats at its feet. Turlough sensed in the lightening sword-play and the slaughter that this was the proper element of the Dark Man. Violence and fury were exuded by him. The raw scent of fresh-spilled blood was good to his nostrils and these yellow-haired corpses that rattled at his feet were sacrifices to him. iii

•If there is any bridge between Howard's work and Lovecraft, it is Bran and his Picts. Lovecraft and Howard had extensive conversations about the Picts and their historic origins. As Bran and his Picts constitute a majority of Howard's 'weird' sword & sorcery landscapes, they resonated with me.  Karl Edward Wagner is worth mentioning here. He constructed a convincing novel length pastiche of Bran Mak Morn called Legions of the Shadows (1976). He was also a well respected horror writer and anthology editor and, like his predecessors, had a fascination with art, which is demonstrated in his Kane story Dark Muse and his short story Sticks (1974). Although I enjoyed the extended insight into Bran Mak Morn's world, I still felt the need to build on the Pict's connection to divine art. 

•I needed to populate Lords of Dyscrasia, and what better civilization to extrapolate from than the Picts, the 'colored' aborigines of the haunted isles of England? There is a subtle reason Picts appeal to me: their evolution in fiction and myth has paralleled that of the artistic dwarf culture. The subterranean and artistic nature of the stereotypical dwarf has always appealed to me. Dwarves are the fantastical representation of demiurges, workers of the chaos of the universe, transmuting the nothingness and divinity of ether in material substance. In Norse tradition, the dwarves of Nidavellir lived in caverns working magical forges. These Norse myths mingled their way into the fairy tradition of the England, in which elves, dwarves, and fairies seem to descend from outcast natives that sought refuge underground. The precise cultural identity of the Picti is quite complicated, and Lovecraft influenced Howard's writing by educating him on the influence of Mongoloid cultures.i


•i Howard, R. E. (2005). Bran Mak Morn The Last King. New York, N.Y., Del Rey Ballantine Books. p327

•ii Howard, R. E. (1996). Introduction, Bran Mak Morn. Riverdale, NY, BAEN. p ix

•iii Howard, R. E. (1931). The Dark Man. Weird Tales, Popular Fiction Publishing