Category Archives: Musings

Stream of conscious nonsense

Show Me The Sky Beam 1: Die Hard

These days it seems like you can’t go grocery shopping without someone trying to show you a superhero movie. With three studios making Marvel movies, DC making Wonder Woman, Netflix shows, the CW’s Arrowverse, truly we are in the superhero golden age.

But I’m here to tell you this goes back further than you might think. Many great movies of yesteryear are, at their core, superhero movies. Films that are only missing the technology to CGI a giant beam shooting at the sky in the third act to complete the deal. In this series, I aim to look at some classic movies and show you what might have been… if only they could show me the sky beam!

Figure One: Screen grab from Avengers, Fantastic Four, Suicide Squad or Man of Steel

Die Hard (1988)

Now, hold on, don’t get ahead of me here. I know what you’re thinking. “Oh sure, lone hero fights bad guys, swings around skyscrapers, throws quips, obvious!” But I’m not suggesting that John McClane is some sort of Batman/Punisher hybrid… I mean, he is, and I could stop right there. But I want to dig a little deeper than that, and show that down in its bones, Die Hard was really trying to be a superhero flick.

Secret Identity

Modern superhero movies have largely done away with secret identities, particularly on the Marvel side, but they are a big part of the genre. “I keep my identity a secret, so my enemies can’t target my loved ones,” says Spider-man, Superman, Flash, Daredevil… Well this is precisely what McClane does in Die Hard, adopting the identity of Roy Rogers so Hans Gruber won’t target his wife. I mean, as code names go, it needs work, but the idea is there. Point!

He even maintains this secret identity when dealing with the police. Sergeant Al Powell in the film is basically Commissioner Gordon complete with moustache and high-powered lights. Welcome to the party, pal! Point!

Costume

Again, look at the comic book roots of superheroes and you will see them travelling around with their costume on under their street clothes, so they are ready to burst into action at a moment’s notice. McClane’s costume, like his code name, needs work, but when he battles bad guys, he’s taken off his shirt to reveal his superhero costume underneath… an increasingly grime-ridden vest. Point!

Swinging around skyscrapers

Okay, I conceded this point above, but come on, he swings on a rope/hose around the outside of a skyscraper. Also, there are quips. Double point!

Super Powers

If all of that is not enough to convince you, we probably need to address the elephant in the room, and talk about the fact that the villains, and later McClane, all have superpowers.

What!? I know, right? Buckle up, people, we’re going through the looking glass now.

First of all, I want you to consider Gruber’s henchman Karl. If you don’t remember, he’s the big guy that McClane strangles with a chain after a brutal beat-down, who then appears alive and ready to fight at the very end of the movie, so Commissioner Al can shoot him. How does Karl manage to do all that? Because he has superpowers given to him by the special cigarettes that most of the terrorists use.

These super-soldier-serum containing death sticks grant increased durability, strength, speed, but come at the cost of over-confidence and reduced empathy. Karl almost wrecks the plan right at the start of the movie by chain-sawing through the Nakatomi phone lines before his brother can isolate them. Why take that risk? Because he’s hopped up on cancer-ridden super-power-giving cigarettes (Don’t smoke, kids) and thinks he’s invincible.

Surely that’s just one guy, right? I mean, yes, all the terrorists have a certain amount of swagger throughout the movie, but are they all suffering the side effects of the super drug? No. Theo the tech guy takes a dose before the movie, and starts a little hyper, but Gruber needs him to focus on the job so he isn’t allowed another dose, and slowly calms down over the course of the heist. By the time Argyl punches him his, Theo has lost the advantages and drawbacks of the serum.

Still not convinced? Okay, try this. Both McClane and Gruber suffer the same side effects at different points in the movie, both after smoking the power cigarettes!

Figure Two: John McClane. The smoking gun?

McClane spends much of the early movie just trying to stay alive. He keeps hidden, gathers information, feeds that to the police. He fights only when he must to save himself. Even when he sees Gruber execute Takagi, he has a very sensible reaction. “Why didn’t you try to stop him, John? Because then you’d be dead too.” Yet, later in the movie, after smoking the cigarettes he took from the first terrorist he beat, suddenly he’s all gung-ho about finding out what the bad guys are doing with the explosives, and strapping guns to his back. And he succeeds! Over-confidence and superpowers.

Likewise, Hans is in control, goal-oriented and calm, until he meets McClane near the roof, shares a cigarette, and suddenly he’s all controlled rage, threatening Holly and falling out of windows. Over-confidence and… superpowers? Harder to be sure on that, but he’s facing off against the hero at the climax of the movie. Like Spider-man/Venom, Superman/Zod, the now super-powered McClane is facing off against a similarly-powered dark reflection in Gruber.
I think the case is compelling. We’re just lucky Gruber didn’t gain the power of flight.

Points!

The Sky Beam

Die Hard is clearly a superhero movie, I think we’ve proved that now. What you may not realise, is that it tries hard to include a nascent sky beam in the film. It’s already in there, something shooting up from the ground to the sky, occasionally with dramatic light shows, explosions, debris and helicopters circling it. That’s right people, we didn’t have the CG for a sky beam, but Nakatomi Plaza is trying its hardest to be one anyway. Boom! Looks like we’re going to need some new FBI agents, because that’s got to be hella points!

Conclusion

So, there we have it, clear proof that, for want of a proper sky beam, Die Hard is a superhero movie. Also, a Christmas movie.
Join me next time, when we look at Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and ask… is this just Justice League?
Show me the Sky Beam!

Aladdin follow-up: What about that third wish?

lamp-308526_640So, a couple of weeks ago, I posted a theory about Disney’s Aladdin, specifically that the Genie may have cheated Aladdin out of a wish.  I tweeted it at the Super Carlin Brothers, and they made a video about it, which is, frankly, pretty exciting.   If you haven’t seen it, go watch it on YouTube.

There was, however, something that I left out of the original blog post:  it’s possible that the Genie did grant three wishes, but they’re not the ones you think.

I left this out of the blog post because (a) it kind of contradicts my main point (Aladdin is owed a wish) and (b) it relies on a really bad pun.

But I can’t be alone in enjoying a bad pun, right?

Yes, yes you are.

Rude.  Ignoring that.

So here’s the thing, if we accept that the Genie only grants Aladdin two wishes, what about that third one?  In his video version, J says that once he’s free, Genie is off the hook for that third wish, but I’m not so sure.  What if, once he’s contracted to grant three wishes, he is obligated to grant three, freedom notwithstanding?  Genie is clear about the rules for the lamp owner (remember, no substitutions or refunds), but never really explains his own obligations in this contract.

What if Genie is worried that if Aladdin were to make a wish after freeing him, that the Genie would still be obligated to grant it?  What if the Genie is worried that Aladdin is going to say “Oh man, I wish I hadn’t freed the Genie”?

If genie is really being manipulative about this, and the Djinn he is based off are often shown to be tricksy, he not only needs to get Aladdin to free him, he also needs to get Aladdin to waste that last wish, or his freedom could be accidentally whipped away again.

It’s not just a river in Egypt

Here’s the thing.  Right after Aladdin frees the Genie, Aladdin does make a third wish.

  • The Genie says to him “Ask for something impossible, wish for the Nile.”
  • Aladdin plays along “I wish for the Nile.”
  • Genie excitedly and triumphantly shouts “No!” proving he is free.

So, if the Genie was still obliged to grant that third wish, why is Aladdin not instantly drowned by the arrival of the Nile (I mean, other than it making for a really weird ending to a Disney movie)?

Enter: the pun.

Read that conversation again, but substituting “The Nile” for “Denial”.

  • The Genie says to him “Ask for something impossible, wish for denial.”  Because it is impossible for the Genie to deny Aladdin’s third wish, per their contract.
  • Aladdin plays along “I wish for denial.”
  • Genie triumphantly grants that third wish, denying Aladdin. “No!”

Genie is now off the hook, and Aladdin doesn’t know he wasted his last wish on something stupid.  Okay, okay, I grant you it’s tortured and a huge stretch and absolutely not true.

But…

Well… it is an oddly specific wish that the Genie suggests, at an oddly specific time, before Aladdin has a chance to suffer wisher’s remorse…

You’re being ridiculous now

Am I though?

Okay, yes I am.

Did the Genie cheat Aladdin out of a wish?

lamp-308526_640Disney’s Aladdin. 

A classic of the Disney animated renaissance.  A star turn from the sadly missed Robin Williams, and probably my all-time favourite Disney soundtrack.  (You have another preference?  Let it go!)  So, when the stage version came to London, and my wife suggested we go, I leapt at the chance!  She regretted the suggestion soon after, as I spent the next month singing her the soundtrack, but, bygones.

Still, while I love it, I’ve always had a little problem with one plot point, and I was curious if the stage version would fix it.  Specifically:

Did the Genie cheat Aladdin out of a wish?

So, (spoilers) Aladdin meets the Genie, tricks him into rescuing him from the Cave of Wonders, and then asks for, and is granted, three wishes:

  1. “I wish for you to make me a prince!” 
  2. “…” 
  3. “I wish the genie to be free.”

The problem, for me, is that second wish, but possibly not in the way you’re thinking. 

In the movie, Aladdin is unconscious and drowning, so Genie bends the rules and accepts a gravity-fuelled nod as a wish.  Which, call me crazy, but that’s a little dodgy right there.  Benefit of the doubt though, in the stage show, Aladdin isn’t drowning or unconscious, he has been captured, so he directly and cleanly wishes for the Genie to free him.  Problem solved, right?

Well, no.  Because my problem is that in both cases Aladdin shouldn’t need to make that wish because the Genie is yet to complete granting the first wish, to make Aladdin a Prince.  And in either situation, Genie has an obligation to save Aladdin as part of granting the first wish.

 “Of course he made Aladdin a Prince!” you may respond, there was a whole song about ‘Prince Ali’,

what about all the lions, tigers, servants, flunkies and birds that warble on key?

It’s a great song!  But these are only the trappings of wealth, and are not necessarily qualifications for being a Prince.  And it’s a song about someone called Ali being a Prince, Aladdin is not, in any measurable way a Prince.  The first wish is yet to come true.

“Don’t be so literal!” you reply, and aren’t you being fussy?  But hey, don’t blame me, the Genie is literal.  When Jafar later wishes to ‘rule on high as Sultan’, Genie doesn’t just compose a catchy song about ‘Sultan Jaf’, he strips the clothes off the Sultan for Jafar and lifts the palace on top of a mountain so Jafar can literally rule ‘on high’.  Genie is all about the literal. 

So when Aladdin wishes to be made a Prince, it shouldn’t just be about the trappings of wealth, a false name and some fancy clothes.  Genie needs to literally make Aladdin a prince.

So, how would you “make a prince”?

Well I’m sure there’s all manner of socio-political definitions we could get into here, but to make Aladdin a Disney Prince, I think it only makes sense to look at the rules of being an official Disney Princess.  According to some excellent videos on the SuperCarlinBrothers YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/user/SuperCarlinBrothers) to be an officially recognised Disney Princess there are some pretty specific rules.

First, the character must be human, be the lead in an animated Disney movie, and not be primarily introduced in a sequel.   Second, the character must either be born royal, marry royalty, or perform an act of heroism.

Aladdin meets those first criteria without Genie’s help, so let’s look at the second.

Can the Genie make Aladdin be born royal?  Well, sure.  He has phenomenal cosmic power, and references things far in the future (or past, according to some theories I’ve seen), so time travel clearly isn’t a problem for Genie.  But if that was the route he took, then Jafar would have no influence on Aladdin’s princeliness and couldn’t simply sing it away with “His lies were too good to last”.

Can the Genie arrange for Aladdin to perform an act of heroism?  Again, definitely, but he doesn’t.  At any rate, not between the first and second wishes.  Throughout most of that time, Aladdin is acting pretty selfishly: singing, wooing and lying.  Nothing truly heroic in there, romantic lead, sure, but not heroic. 

Can Aladdin marry royalty?  He does!  And while the Genie doesn’t have the power to make people fall in love, he does go out of his way to help Aladdin with dating advice “Beeeeee yourself” to make that wedding happen. 

So, whether the Genie is making a Prince by arranging the heroism or marriage route (and we all know it’s by marriage, right?) then at the point of the so-called second wish, the first wish is still not complete, and cannot be completed if Aladdin dies, so the second wish is redundant!

The Genie only actually grants two wishes.  To make Aladdin a Prince.  And to set Genie free.

As Jafar would sing, it’s just a con!  Need I go on?

No.  No, I needn’t!

 

A personal update

So it has been three months since I moved to Finland and unlike the England football team and the … well… apparently all of the UK, there is no sign of me leaving Europe.  Still here and pretty pleased about it.  But I digress.

BIG NEWS!

At the end of last week, I handed my notice in at work.  I’m not going back to Imperial at the end of my career break… and indeed, the career break just changed its nature.  I will be staying here in Finland for the foreseeable future, and that is both exciting and scary. I have no job to go to, so will be supplementing my savings with being what Clare at (ex-)work calls “Dole Scum”.  Still, I’ve booked myself a language course starting in September, so I’m bound to be back in a classroom training people in no time.  Erm…

I’ve hit a bit of a lull in my writing, the first draft of my novel is out with alpha readers at the moment, and I’m waiting on their feedback *cough cough* before I proceed with the next draft of that.  In the meantime, I am working on a short story which I might pitch to R B Wood’s Word Count Podcast, and I have the concept of a sci-fi swashbuckling novella rattling around in my brain that may need to find a page soon.  Oh and I’ve had my first rejection letter… makes me feel like a proper writer and everything.  It was actually rather complimentary and encouraging, which was nice.

My parents came to visit for a week, and it was really good to see them.  We visited some lakes, went for lunch back at the wedding venue, introduced them to Marvel Legendary, it was a pleasant week all round.  They tell us our sofa bed is quite comfortable too.

The Finnish version of my D&D campaign Westhaven is already looking towards its fifth session, they’ve all really taken to D&D, though they can be a bit rowdy at times, it’s exhausting!  Having gotten it into their heads that only the first person to loot the bodies would get the treasure, I was treated to five Finns and a French shouting “Loot! Loot! Loot! Loot! Loot!” at me.  Reminded me of the seagulls in Finding Nemo. 

As for domestic life, it remains idyllic.  Mari and I have found our routines now, more or less, and we’ve settled into a comfortable togetherness.  We’re both looking forward to her holiday coming up at the end of next week, she’s off for three weeks in a row, so I’m sure there will be plenty of time to drive each other crazy, lol.   We will be coming to the UK for some of that, conducting a lightning tour of London and Leeds, will be trying to get a bit of a break, visit with people, and eat Nando’s.

And at the end of the month it will be our first wedding anniversary.  What a brilliant year.

And so it begins…

Hullo!  And welcome to the blog.

I was supposed to be making edits to my current novel work in progress today, but instead, I thought ‘Hey!  I should totally have a blog.’  And now I do.  Isn’t the internet amazing?

Try and go about your business as usual today, even though there is now another blog in the world.

–rob