“Save our People!”: How Durotan Doomed the Warcraft Movie

I begin with a quick review. I consider myself a Warcraft fan – not a World of Warcraft fan, mind you (nothing against the people who love it – MMOs just are not for me). I grew up with the first three games and loved each of them. Warcraft II might be one of my favorite video games of all time, if only for its vivid art style:

I could play this all day.
I could play this all day. 

So yeah, I love the Warcraft games, I love fantasy, I’m also a fan of Duncan Jones (especially Moon) … with all that, I still did not like Warcraft. For the record, this is not one of the worst movies of the year – the film actually features quite a bit that works. In terms of video game movies, this would probably be in my top three… although I think that speaks far more to the sub-par nature of video game adaptations.

There are things to like in Warcraft, unfortunately there is just a lot more to dislike. One of the main weaknesses I took away from the film was the orc protagonist, Durotan. Warning: spoilers to follow.

Continue reading “Save our People!”: How Durotan Doomed the Warcraft Movie

The Horrible Life Lessons Learned From Space Jam

Oh to be a child of the nineties and have opinions grossly clouded by nostalgia. I grew up during this strange and magical time of Pokémon, Gushers, and DZ: Discovery Zone. Being a kid back then was awesome, it’s no lie. We had a lot of great things to entertain ourselves with. Sadly, there are some not so great things that some of us also remember fondly. I speak, of course, of Space Jam. Most all of my friends (also children of the 90s) love Space Jam. As a kid, I remember really liking it in the theaters. I mean it was Michael Jordan and the Looney Tunes, how can you go wrong?

It was very wrong.

Unlike the best childhood movies, Space Jam (or the poor man’s Who Framed Rodger Rabbit) is full of really horrible life lessons. This is not a movie that teaches you to learn from the past and take responsibility for your life (The Lion King), or to be yourself (Aladdin) or that true beauty is found within (Beauty and the Beast).

Nope, none of those are here. Let’s look instead at what is presented in this film forgotten largely by anyone not between the ages of six and ten in 1996.

Kidnap Your Friends

Let’s start with something that’s really pretty big in the movie: Bugs Bunny and the other Looney Tunes never ask for Michael Jordan’s help (even though they easily could have – as it is established later in the film that they have no problem going to the “real” world). What do they do instead? Just toss a rope around him at a golf course and drag him over. Sure, once in Looney Tune land, Michael may have the opportunity to say no… maybe. Just keep in mind, if he did – he would have said no in a land surrounded by thousands of angry cartoon characters… oh and no one from home knew where he was so they’ll never find his body.

This guy is the villain and he only ever TALKS about kidnapping people. Let this be a lesson kids: Winners let their actions do the talking.
This guy is the villain and he only ever TALKS about kidnapping people. Let this be a lesson kids: Winners let their actions do the talking.

Women exist to be Sexualized in All Forms

 Even bunnies.

Holy crap, who designed Lola Bunny? Speaking as someone who saw this movie at seven, Lola Bunny gave me some confusing thoughts that would not be explained for the next few years. Once they were explained, it left me with one question: who designs a children’s cartoon rabbit this way? She has human breasts! Lola is sexualized in a way that is frankly disturbing. Since no one other than Bugs (who is another rabbit) is attracted to her, why was she drawn with different appeal. Just why – what was the conversation that lead to her creation?

It's like someone turned Natalie Dormer into a rabbit.
It’s like someone turned Natalie Dormer into a rabbit.

“Hey we got that Space Jam movie coming out, are we going to get the teenage crowd?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Better add breasts to the bunny just in case.”

Remember kids, if you’re going to have a woman in your movie, she had better be a sex symbol – even if she is a rabbit.

Bully the Fat Guy

Wayne Knight exists in Space Jam for one reason: to be made fun of. This wouldn’t matter so much if all the jokes weren’t targeted at one aspect of his character, namely his size. Sure, Stan (Knight’s character) is presented also as a dork, but why is he a dork – because he’s fat.

Haha! His shape is round! By the way - man do those effects not hold up.
Haha! His shape is round! By the way – man do those effects not hold up.

Forget the fact that he offers to help out in the big game against the Monstars, or that he sacrifices his health for the good of the team, or that he is the one to discover the Monstar’s plot, or that he generally tries to be a nice guy in general (the only one to really try to find Michael after the Looney Tunes kidnap him) – the movie doesn’t care and treats him only as a punchline. F*ck him, he’s nothing but a big old fattie. Yeah, he gets to announce Michael’s return to humanity at the end of the movie, but how about an apology – how about the “thanks for helping out, we were really lucky to have you with us, sorry we were kind of total dicks to you.”

No? Only Bill Murray gets told he can play basketball? Okay.

 

… Oh! And also bully short people, like the Looney Tunes were doing to the Monstars before they got tall. That’s the whole reason they picked basketball in the first place!

Succumb to Peer Pressure ALL the Time

Why does Michael agree to help the Looney Tunes? Does he feel truly sympathetic to their cause? Or is it because he gets insulted, and then goaded into joining by Tweety?

“You’re not scared of them, are you Michael?”

"Kill them, Michael. Kill them all."
“Kill them, Michael. Kill them all.”

To which Michael, being the mature, responsible father he is, agrees to risk never seeing his family again in order to help out the cartoon characters who kidnapped him. Awesome.

Take Steroids and Cheat to Win

Oh my god, this is totally in the movie. Remember Michael’s “secret stuff” that helps him win every game? Sure, in the movie it is just water and the effects are purely placebo but holy crap! This comparison is really spot on to the steroid scandal that was (and still is) going on in the professional sports world today. Actual quote from the movie:

Daffy: “You know, this goes against everything they taught me in health class.”

Michael Jordan (role model to a generation): “You want to win or not?”

Sure, it makes Bugs all muscle-y, but I bet he also has anger problems and a smaller carrot as a result.
Sure, it makes Bugs all muscle-y, but I bet he also has anger problems and a smaller carrot as a result.

If Tom Brady said those words (even in a kid’s movie), people in New England would never hear the end of it, just saying.

Don’t Talk to Your Significant Other/Family

The whole time Michael is doing this potentially enslaving act for the Looney Tunes, never once does he send a message to his family. His kids only find out because they catch Bugs and Daffy robbing their house.

Michael’s wife, the woman he wanted to share his life with: she’s not important enough to know. Maybe he would have told her if she was more sexualized.

So there you have it. Keep in mind, I have not seen Space Jam in quite a while so I may not be remembering everything that happened in the movie. There could be more instances of life lessons that would have scared every child watching the movie.

Who knows? As I said, Space Jam has been largely forgotten. If only they could get that sequel off the ground:

Maybe they can promote racism and adultery in this new movie!
Maybe they can promote racism and adultery in this new movie!

In Defense of After Earth

Let me say something right now before I defend this movie: it is a bad movie. It is really poorly made. I would not recommend that anyone watch this film. It was simple of a disaster of near epic proportions.

All right.

Anyone law-savvy take note: never begin a client’s defense like that.

After Earth is the latest movie from fallen star M. Night Shyamalan. The once brilliant master of suspense (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs) has fallen to earth with more force than most comets, and appears fully determined to sink down right into the center of the Earth. Following up his first disaster (Lady in the Water) with entertainment turds The Happening and The Last Airbender, there did not appear to be any end in sight. How bad could Shyamalan get… just watch his next movie to find out. Until now.

Seriously, where did the talent go?
Seriously, where did the talent go?

With each bad Shyamalan film, there was always a ‘silver lining’ way to view failure. Lady in the Water was an interesting (yet very flawed) commentary on storytelling. The Happening had a challenging concept that would have made Alfred Hitchcock go: “no way man, I’ll stick with birds.” The Last Airbender was his first and, to date, only movie where there was no such positive spin. Apart from composer James Newton Howard: nobody did their jobs well on that movie.

After Earth is a poorly written movie with a weak leading actor, but still possesses quite a few cool concepts.

For starters, let’s look at a potentially cool character conception that translated incredibly poorly to the screen. Cypher Raige (not kidding on the name) is, in concept, a super soldier. He is emotionally detached to the point of being a living weapon. Yet it does not appear that this was a man born without emotion. Throughout the movie, Rage makes hints to returning to a more human existence. He seems to be trapped in the emotionless void he created to survive. For instance: he has a son that he can only speak to as a soldier.

In the beginning, Raige shows some flickerings of emotion with his wife. After that, there was A LOT of deadpan with this face.
In the beginning, Raige shows some flickerings of emotion with his wife. After that, there was A LOT of deadpan with this face.

This has potential to be an interesting character arch. The danger of writing a character like this, however, is that if it is done poorly, the audience will be forced to endure a cold, emotionless robot as one of their main characters. Exactly what happened to Will Smith‘s performance in After Earth.

Another cool idea: a hostile earth. This realm of science fiction is already starting to come home to reality, but to create the idea of a human-abandoned earth sounds intriguing. Also, this does not appear to be a recent desertion either. The movie gives the audience a planet that has had time to revert to a complete feral state.  There are no real traces of cities or any human settlement left on the planet. The surviving animal species have been left on their own to evolve and adapt into incredibly dangerous and hostile versions of their former selves.

How exactly is this baboon any more or less dangerous to humans than a baboon of today?
How exactly is this baboon any more or less dangerous to humans than a baboon today?

Or not.

Again, another problem of the script breaks through to derail the concept. After Earth feels like two independent ideas sandwiched into one script. In one story, the animals of Earth have evolved to pose a very great threat to humans. In another, Earth has become a planet with extremely dangerous climate conditions. This latter idea dominates most of the movie, however all the set up is done stressing the dangers of the planet’s inhabitants.

“Everything on this planet has evolved to kill humans.”

Or not.

Also, great thing to tell your son before lecturing him on the importance of not being afraid.

Do not let this man become a motivational speaker.
Do not let this man become a motivational speaker.

There is no real animal threat in the movie, save for an Ursa, which is a chemically engineered non-native of Earth. That line works great in trailers but ultimately comes off as the exact opposite of intelligence.

The cgi rendering in this film: not super great.
The cgi rendering in this film: not super great.

Finally, the story itself. The idea of a father and son getting trapped together on a hostile world sounds promising. The fact that the two have a miserable relationship adds potential for characters. The injury to the father should help to prompt a sci-fi coming of age story that is worth watching. Sure, After Earth‘s plot is simple but there is potential there – just not for a summer action blockbuster.

The best moments of this movie are when it's not trying so hard to entertain. Maybe the expectations of a smaller, independent release would have suited this film better.
The best moments of this movie are when it’s not trying so hard to entertain. Maybe the expectations of a smaller, independent release would have suited this film better.

It fell apart in the script, and whether it was Shyamalan’s directing or Jaden Smith‘s acting, there was no strong performance to save it.

Should you watch this movie: only if you’re like me and you enjoy analyzing and critiquing stories. Otherwise, there is a lot of vastly superior science fiction to enjoy at the moment. The worst may be behind M. Night Shyamalan, but he still has a lot more climbing left to do.