The other day I finally got around to watching the recent animated production of Beowulf, a film Dawn has despised since she first saw it. While I still don’t quite share her rage over it (since I believe said rage burns with the heat of a thousand suns), I have to admit I wasn’t impressed. It felt like watching a PG-13 Shrek that tried to toe a line between parody of the source and coldly serious devotion to it and fell flat for both counts. Also, several moments are blatantly there just to show off 3-D effects (blarg!), and there’s a medieval water demon that apparently not only had to make itself look like naked Angelina Jolie (which I have no problem with), but naked Angelina Jolie in stiletto heels (which is serious WTF).
Who is responsible for this overlong, meandering hackjob? I wondered. What cut-rate writer and director shall I scorn? As the credits rolled, I saw the names:
Right then, a little piece of my soul died.
I know, no one is ever 100% great. People should probably be thankful to even manage to be over 50% great in their creative careers, but it’s just… this hit on a tender spot that’s been weighing on me the past few years. These two were icons of the 1980’s, responsible for classics in their respective mediums which shaped my entire nerd generation. Zemeckis gave us both Back to the Future and Who Framed Roger Rabbit; Neil Gaiman gave us The Sandman. They are, quite frankly, heroes of my childhood, in a way that some might worship paragons of their favorite sports. And while it’s the wildest kind of hyperbole to compare the let down of Beowulf to something like the heartbreak of Shoeless Joe Jackson, I can’t deny that somewhere in my head, a tiny voice plaintively squeaked, “Say it ain’t so, Joe.”
I’ve been hearing that inner voice a lot in the last decade or so, starting with the Star Wars “Special Editions” and then Prequels. It’s fashionable now for some to go back and deconstruct the original trilogy and try to say that they also sucked, as if this somehow makes the new suck less intense. I wholly, fundamentally disagree with that. I’ve gone back and watched other nostalgic movies of my childhood and found them lacking as an adult. Star Wars IV, V, and VI, as they were originally presented? Never. Yes, even the one with the Ewoks. All three of them still wildly entertain me. There’s the argument that they succeed in spite of Lucas rather than because of him, and that’s entirely possible, but regardless of whether he was insane to begin with and just escaped his straightjacket, or went loony later on, the man has gone bonkers.
And speaking of bonkers, there’s Frank Miller. To this day, I’m not alone in still considering works like Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One to be not only groundbreaking works of the comics medium, but just damn fine comics, period. They deserve their hype. Just because he’s gone insane now, doesn’t mean I can go back and read his 1980s run on Daredevil and retroactively condemn it. I have no grounds. It’s great writing, and even though he wasn’t drawing it, images like Bullseye impaling Elektra on her own sai, or the Kingpin’s haunted, angry eyes looking out over New York while his mind repeats the phrase, “There is no body,” grip my heart just remembering them. The first Sin City book? Gorgeous, neo-noir art and a brutal, relentless story told from the POV of a brutal, relentless protagonist.
Twenty years down the road and the man can’t seem to write a decent story to save his life (as Shortpacked shows us). The Dark Knight Strikes Again, while superficially resembling Miller’s most famous work which it was meant as a sequel to, fell flat. Then the infamous All-Star Batman and Robin (affectionately known as “Ass-BAR” by the comics public) gave us The Goddamn Batman. And as the crowner to everything, Miller got the film rights to his dear ol’ recently deceased friend Will Eisner’s The Spirit and took a huge steaming shit over the property, seemingly without even realizing he’d done so.
I could go on, such as my recent realization that John Byrne, who drew the Claremont era X-men classics of the 80’s that I loved so much (and frankly, were my first introductions to superhero comics), appears to be something of a wackjob. I could say “opinionated”, but his claim that he stopped reading The Onion because it had factual inaccuracies is only the tip of a long list of “wait, what?”
In baffling examples like these my mind gropes for understanding, and out of all the things it could have seized on, it chose a semi-obscure real time strategy game that debuted in 1997, about the same time Lucas first presented us with Greedo shooting first. Perhaps my subconscious decided that was enough for the connection. The game was Myth: The Fallen Lords, and I could write a whole entire other blog on how awesome it was, but for purposes of this one all I need to do is spoil the main conceit of the mythos for you (it’s over 13 years old and I doubt would even be able to run on most computers these days… get over it).
That conceit was that the greatest heroes of the previous age, will return as the greatest villains of the next. Connacht, the great liberator and founder of the noble Cath Bruig empire, returned as Balor the destroyer, desecrating and tearing down the legacy he himself had built.
If you don’t see the parallel, then congratulations: you’re not nearly as irrational as me.