Saturday, August 6, 2011

"What Were They Thinking!" Movie Moments

It was Mel Gibson who said, "Without transgression there is no story," and he ought to know.

Movie plots are often pumped up by impossible burning love, vampire thirst, bloodlust, racist outrage, leaps of heroism, outrageous gambles. If the characters just sat down and shut up and behaved themselves, there would be no movie.

So I understand, theoretically, why film heroes sometimes have shocking lapses of judgment. It drives the story. But it also drives us crazy, has taken at least twenty years off my life, and I'll give a few examples which are guaranteed to have you shouting at the movie screen.

I liked the original TWILIGHT (2008), so will only mention in passing some dialogue that would turn any parent's hair white as snow. Of course the premise is that the 17-year-old hero Edward is secretly a vampire (and he's actually more like 117), but a sensitive one. He's madly drawn to his girlfriend Bella's delicious-smelling blood, which he wants to drink like wine, but he struggles against the urge. He tries to warn her not to trust him. He looks at her with stark red irises and says, "I've killed people before."
"I don't care!" is her blithe response.
"I've--wanted to kill you."
"It doesn't matter! Whatever!"

This is the way parents are AFRAID their teenagers think. And now we know.

In Edward's favor, it should be mentioned that he seems to be a Mormon vampire virgin. All of his and Bella's love scenes are very chaste. He also has excellent manners, dresses well and is stinking rich. In fact, most parents would be delighted to have him squire their daughter to prom. But Bella's grumpy old dad Charlie just can't shake the feeling that something about Edward is a little, well, different.

Edward has pale white skin, razor-sharp pointed teeth, and staring eyes that change from blood red (when he's "thirsty") to golden (when he has "hunted"). He's ice-cold to the touch, never sleeps, never comes out when the sun is shining, and never eats food that lies still on the plate. What's not to know, Charlie?

The sci-fi movie THE THING (1951) introduced James Arness in his debut role as a violent giant carrot from outer space. It was also one of the first movies to use the plot device of an unworldly professor, book-smart but earth-stupid, naively trying to bond with a homicidal extraterrestrial
monster. Throughout THE THING, wild-eyed Dr. Carrington is always doddering around, protecting the murderous carrot/beast in the name of science as it slays not only the crew but the odd sled-dog or two. Why does the professor do this? Well, he wants to be BFF with The Thing and enjoy scientific chats with him, even as the drained corpses pile up. In the end the giant man/vegetable is incinerated, and Dr. Carrington survives, but he doesn't really deserve to.

Finally, I have a question about the famous Coliseum battle in GLADIATOR (2000). Our hero Maximus (Russell Crowe) and the other enslaved gladiators are in the huge death ring, looking very nervous since hostile giants, numchuk-swinging dwarves, Roman legions, spike-wheeled chariots and Siberian tigers are about to advance on them fast. And it's at THIS moment, not before, that Maximus asks rather casually, "Say, were any of you guys soldiers? Maybe it would help us if we used some old battle strategies..."

The results are GREAT. Everybody had been a soldier, and within about ten seconds the formerly doomed gladiators are snapping into crack military manuevers at warp speed. After five minutes of boiling excitement they succeeded in using their old army skills to save themselves from massacre. Their enemies are all either dead or on the run. It's a thrilling moment, an unforgettable scene.

So it was only later that I thought this: Why did Maximus wait until the last possible second to ask if the others had been soldiers? They'd all been hanging out together in their cells under the Coliseum with nothing to do but chew the fat. Hadn't the subject ever come up? What if they'd answered him, at that fraught moment, by saying, by saying, "Actually, I was a potato farmer in Thrace," "I plucked a lyre in Thessalonika..."

Well, I guess it really doesn't matter. What matters is that at the end of that scene Maximus is taking a victory gallop around the Coliseum on a gorgeous white stallion. The sand is littered with his defeated enemies, and he's wearing the coolest silver mask in the world, and the stands are jumping with thousands of Romans shrieking their excitement and approval.

It's a very public scene, but the most important part of it is silent: Maximus's grim and private joy, behind that mask, in the fact that the day of his vengeance is almost at hand. His stars and the gods have promised it. And so we should not inquire why he didn't ask earlier if his comrades were soldiers. He knew they would be, because they had to be.


  1. This was a simply great read! Thanks. I am going to have this image of "Mormon vampire virgin" in my head for a good while! : )

  2. What an analysis! While I do this in my head, I would never be able to get it to my fingers, to type it out. Way to go, Margaret!

  3. mythopolis--this post was a lot of fun to write. Thank you for letting me know it was fun to read. In regard to TWILIGHT, I'm embarrassed to say how much I'm looking forward to the next movie and all the Mormon vampire virgins!

    Ms. A--I've read your blog, and you're a better analyst than I'll ever be. :^)

  4. I have to see it before I pass judgement. BTW...made you blog of the day.

  5. This is hilarious. You're such a good writer. Never heard of THE THING. A giant carrot? Carrots are so benign. Why not make it a giant radish or onion? I guess we should not expect intellectually engaging lines from a movie with such a ludicrous premise.
    Be well, Margaret. Thanks for dropping by.

  6. Great post Margaret! Giant carrot and "Mormon Vampire Virgin" are classics.

    I can't comment on Twilight, because I haven't and probably won't ever see it. Your comments were great though!

    The Thing. Giant carrot aside, I thought the movie was okay. I LOVED the remake!

    Gladiator. You are right about how inane that line was. There were plenty others. For being a slave, this guy was too big for his britches. I still liked the movie. Very entertained.

  7. I simply adore this tongue-in-cheek review, it's so beautifully penned in that style that only you can deliver.. I love, laugh with and applaude each and every one of your observations.
    I knew I couldn't be the only one to question thesanity of those gorgeous virgins who choose to dart OUT of the safety of their locked houses,to check out the madmen lurking in the undergrowth..!

  8. Shrinky - that has nothing to do with sanity - it is to do with guys wanting to see her running around in a semi-see-through nighty!

  9. What a wonderful post!

    Twilight - I guess this comes close to

    "Hey, babie, I am HIV Positive, have 4 other STDs and think that condoms are for sissies!"


    The Thing - A classic and one that ispired many other movies. One of my favourites:

    Gladiator - I really dislike this movie and have never been able to watch the whole thing - guess I missed this scene, but something tells me that this is a good thing! I was put off from the start by the whole napalm strike thing at the beginning of the movie!

  10. Copyboy---you made this blog of the day? YAY! Thank you for the honor. So I guess you weren't mad when I Commented that you had to stop lusting after televangelists' wives? (Bad Jesse! Bad Jesse!):^)

    Robyn--thank you for your kind comment. I too have puzzled WHY The Thing had to be a carrot, why not some other vegetable. Then it occurred to me (SPOILER ALERT) that they could finally figure out, of a carrot, that you BOIL it; but if The Thing had been a radish, all they could do was carve it into the shape of a rose. So the type of vegetable had to be just right for them to successfully slaughter it in a cinematic way. Great final scene of curtains for the carrot!!

    Pat Tillett--I liked GLADIATOR too, a lot. Russell Crowe is kind of a big hambone as Maximus, but the part calls for that! :^)

    Shrinky---You're so right about the "gorgeous virgins" who always have this compulsion to go out exploring as terrifying shapes move in the midnight shadows...EEEKKK! Like, I always want to say, Concealed Carry is legal in your state, at least bring a weapon along as you explore that nasty scream in the darkness. Recently I read that the teenage brain has some of the same elements as an insane brain. What a surprise, right??!!

    Rock Chef---priceless YouTube links, thank you! I know what you mean about the "napalm strike" thing at the start of GLADIATOR, where they wipe out the German tribe...but I'm one of those whom that movie plays like a piano, I just can't resist it.

    I'm totally astonished by your info that the films' endangered maidens make their stupid decisions (which usually involves their running around in terror wearing filmy nighties) because guyfilmgoers enjoy seeing this. Good God, what next!!!!!

  11. Glad you liked the links!

    I suspect that you already knew about the nighty thing...

  12. I suppose the tension is somehow heightened by having the girl in her undies and thus more vulnerable! I was just thinking of Sigourney Weaver in Alien running around in her undies on a spaceship being stalked by a hideous frothy mouthed monster!