Cantfly

General Film Discussion

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I've never seen a Michael Bay Transformers movie, but this new one seriously pissed me off like you wouldn't believe.

I remember seeing a specific trailer when I went to see Your Name. The first minute-and-a-half was all about this young, spunky Latina girl who had a rolling robot for a friend, duking it out with other robots in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. I thought it looked pretty cool and the lead seemed interesting, and I really wanted to learn more about it, maybe see it when it came out. Then after the minute-and-a-half mark, I suddenly realized that it was a Transformers movie - right about when Mark Wahlberg and some Decepticons showed up. I was so disappointed, and not just because Michael Bay had orphaned a semi-interesting character in one of his likely-to-be-shit actioners (though he'd probably find a way to fuck that up too). It's because he had the gall to trick me into thinking it wouldn't be one of those to begin with. What an asshole.

That's how bad the Bayformers series is - they actually have to trick you into thinking they're something else entirely, just to get your bare interest. Then again, that seems like a pretty common way to adapt/market stuff nowadays (new Power Rangers, anyone?), but I still don't like it.

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So a few weeks ago I read through this ancient novel that I had called The Hurricane. It was published back in the early 30's and it was on the shorter side of length, plus I have a thing for antiquated literature, so I gave it a go. It also had a movie adaptation (from the late 30's) and I decided on a whim to watch it, too. I want to talk about the movie but first I need to talk about the book a little bit.

The book is pretty okay. It was regarded decently in its time (enough to get a film adaptation) and it's written in a mellow, easy to follow voice (pretty common for something post 1900's). It's a story that follows the events that take place across a fictional Polynesian island (OH MY GOD JUST LIKE DISNEY'S MONA AND THE ROCK) that is being governed by France. The setting is what really makes the whole book enjoyable to read, and the authors are very good at describing the life of Polynesian islanders along with the life of the French living with them (it was written by Charles Nordhoff and James Hall, the guys who also wrote the more recognizable Mutiny on the Bounty).

The story itself is being told through the recounting of a doctor who is telling the tale of the hurricane that destroyed the island he and the other characters once lived on. There's a B-plot that takes the main focus of the narrative up until the point the hurricane actually happens, and it's here that my first major complaint of the novel comes: it's kind of fucking pointless and run-about.

The first part of the story follows the character of Terangi, a native Polynesian man who ends up getting put into prison when he punches a British man. Then the story is all about how Terangi keeps breaking out of prison because "Polynesians can't be caged" and getting longer and longer sentences each time, until he finally escapes one final time and comes back to the island right before the hurricane lands. The Terangi plot is fine and all, it's not drop dead boring or anything, but the story is formatted in a way that we spend around 3/4ths of the novel reading about Terangi escaping from prison over and over until he comes back right as the hurricane starts to happen. Then the hurricane happens... and that's it. The novel ends.

There's not much in the way of story progression or character arcs, it's the kind of novel that can best be described as "some shit happens". My second major complaint is how mary sue literally every character is. Terangi, for instance, is handsome, buff, strong, skilled at sailing, etc and even his flaws are spun as being positive. The scene where he punches the British man, for instance, is right out of every generic and cliche 'badass anime hero' sequence you've ever seen. Terangi and his friends are sitting in a bar at a table when an angry British dude walks in. The narrative even tells us "if he had only asked for them to move from the table politely, they would have obliged without complaint". Terangi's friends move, but Terangi remains sitting 'drinking his beer calmly' until the British man calls him (as the book writes it) 'the N-word', so Terangi punches the British guy and breaks his jaw. I was half expecting Terangi to whip out his Naruto Sharingan and Wolf Fang Fist someone or something.

Every other character is pretty much the same way. Idealized to the point of sterilization. Everyone is somehow amazingly perfect and exemplary in what they do. All the women are described as desirably attractive, all the men are powerful and stern and great at their jobs, etc. This is a minor annoyance, but it becomes more noticeable as the novel goes on and you read the narrative repeatedly paint everyone as basically being flawless. Anyways, the story's main conflict is that Terangi has escaped from prison once again (this latest time he also accidentally kills a guard, meaning once he's recaptured they'll take him to a military prison for life, where he'll never escape from again). He makes it back to their island and is kept hidden by the villagers/the few French living on the island (the doctor who is narrating the story, an elderly christian priest and the wife of the island's administrator). The problem is that the island's administrator is a real hardass and stickler for the rulers, so Terangi's presence has to be kept hidden from him. The administrator is your classic "rules are made to be followed" kind of person, but he's not exactly the novel's bad guy.

Anyways, the story is actually turning into an interesting sort of human drama, only to be totally interrupted by the hurricane. A big ass hurricane comes, like half of the main cast and most of the people on the island don't survive, etc. I like how the novel ends, however. After Terangi and his wife rescue the administrator's wife from drowning during the storm, the administrator finds his wife alone on the beach (him having been out at sea when the hurricane hit and having no idea whether his wife survived or not). Terangi and his wife are already sailing off in their little boat to escape to an uncharted island where Terangi can hide from the foreign government. The administrator spots Terangi getting away (she attempts to convince him that Terangi's distant boat is just a tree floating in the debris), but realizing that Terangi is responsible for his wife's survival, the administrator breaks his life's code and agrees with his wife that, yes, it's just a tree floating in the wreckage.

Alright so now that I've described a fucking book in detail (and not a movie), I want to talk about the movie adaptation. Both the novel and the film are complete products of their time (in fact, the film came out only a little under two years after the novel was published) and it's funny to compare the two. The novel is slow and wholesome, it's just a story. The film is fucking ridiculous.

Where the novel was being simple, the film is being outlandish. The Polynesian islanders, for instance, are depicted as stereotypical Hawaiians or something. All of them wear gaudy flower necklaces and hula skirts. There's a scene, for instance, where Terangi leaps from his boat to wrestle with and kill a fucking shark (this never happened in the book, for the record). The scene is filmed so clumsily, with Terangi belly flopping into the water only to splash around with what is clearly a fake shark before giving overly dramatic, hammy thrusts with his knife. It tells you a lot about what people thought was exciting back then. To a lot of people watching the film back in the late 1930's, the scene must have been comparable to today's major blockbusters in how shocking and exciting it was. 

Let's talk about Terangi, though. In the film he is, as you could probably guess, played by a white guy. People today whine about "white washing" and how bad it still supposedly is, but say what you will about today's Hollywood. At least when an actor today portrays someone of another race, there's a lot of effort put into making them look the part. Or at the very least, when a character of one race is portrayed by someone of an entirely different race in an adaptation, the adaptation will at least adjust the story/writing to make the change of race either make sense or not come up in the story.

This movie doesn't give a fuck. Terangi is clearly a white dude, but the story refers to him as still being Polynesian even though he looks nothing like a fucking Polynesian. Not only that, but the film fully retains the scene where Terangi punches a white British man because the British man makes racist demands. It's highly amusing that the story hinges so hard on the race of Terangi, and yet the actor portraying him is nowhere near even a similar ethnicity.

Other than that, however, it's just your typical classic film. Black and white with odd, poorly paced humor/slapstick and cheesy sets. Other than Terangi and the islanders, I think everyone else is cast and portrayed very well. The acting is good enough and the hurricane is filmed honestly pretty well given the movie's age. The movie suffers from the same problem as the novel, however, with the story being paced sporadically. One moment we're spending all this time with Terangi as he escapes from jail and makes it back to the island and then the next moment the story just falls off the face of the earth while we spend the rest of the movie just watching them get fucked up by a hurricane.

Anyways, the contrast in tone between the film and novel is entertaining and I'd recommend reading/watching both to anyone interested in how books were written and how movies were filmed back in the early decades of the 1900's.

okay long ass post over

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