May 30, 2001

Pearl Harbor

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that a movie that set out to copy Titanic should be so embarrassing. I felt like the guy in A Clockwork Orange who had to watch violence and pornography with his eyes pried open.

The structural gimmick of the love triangle between the boyhood friends and the nurse was so full of contrivance and cliche that I kept being amazed that the actors didn't break out laughing. Since this personal line was so silly, the duty line of the men going off to war, which the personal line was supposed to offset, became a joke as well. Not that it wouldn't have been a joke on its own. This stuff was Top Gun warmed over, and Top Gun was already a cliche of a cliche. Especially when Alec Baldwin, as Colonel Dolittle, was on, it literally felt like they were doing a Saturday Night Live skit, but they kept right on doing one bad scene after another with no one breaking for laughs.

Of course it didn't help matters that the subject of this film was the biggest screwup in American military history. This wasn't a battle, it was a firing squad. Watching massive stupidity that results in thousands of Americans slaughtered is not my idea of a pleasant way to spend my time at the movies.

Since they didn't want to end the film with a massive defeat, the creators figured they would tag on another movie, the Dolittle raid on Tokyo. While this raid was considered a real morale boost for the American people, it was militarily useless and a bungle from start to finish. So this movie kept right on beating the cliches to death, rubbing our noses in our own incompetence, long after the big battle scene was over. The result was a three hour marathon of self-abuse.

The only thing that saves this movie is that the attack on Pearl Harbor, as painful as it is, is spectacular. Even now, seeing all those men slaughtered brings strong feelings of anger and pity.

One lesson to take from this movie is that James Cameron's strategy of starting with a love story and turning it into a disaster picture can still bring a load of people into the theaters. Spending a ton of money on marketing hype helps too. But boy was this movie hard to sit through. As I left the theater, all I could think of was, "They shoot audiences, don't they?"

May 25, 2001


Shrek has the best script I've seen this year. It's the result of two elements of writing, structure and texture, that are rarely found together in Hollywood mainstream movies.

Structurally, the writers combine the fairy tale form, the myth form and the buddy picture in a seamless whole. The community begins in trouble, which forces the hero to go on his journey. His goal is the opponent's goal, to bring back the Princess. This allows the writers to save the big conflict with the main opposition for last.

On this strong line, the writers hang a series of anti-fairy tale elements for the hero and the audience to encounter. The story plays out the fairy tale structure, but also makes fun of it along the way.

By also adding the buddy picture element, the writers give the hero an ongoing opponent he can banter with along the route. That goes a long way to removing the episodic quality many myth-based stories have.

These great structural elements are also what make the fabulous texture of this film possible. By texture I mean details, sometimes comic, sometimes reverses of cartoon and fairy tale expectations. Texture is usually horizontal. That is, you are not moving the story forward, you are layering the moment. You are taking a pause in the forward line so you can please the audience with a little magic.

This film has the densest texture I've seen in a long time, and it's why adults like this film possibly even more than children. Shrek is a film worth careful study.