Tuesday, January 13, 2009
snarking at lists
all right, so instead of working on my proposal for the new england historical association (doesn't that make it sound important? it's really only about a paragraph about a paper i wrote last spring), i'm going to procrastinate by poking holes in some lists that anna was kind enough to send me the other day.
the first one is this, snarkerati's top 70 vampire movies of all time. i don't know the site that well, but anything called snarkerati has to at least be fun, right? well...their list is a bit...odd.
top 70. well, okay, why not? top 50 is a bit random anyway and everyone's so sick of afi's top 100 lists that maybe avoiding 100 is a good idea. so top 70. a lot of my quibbles with this particular list are sort of taste-based. like they list blade at position 30, relatively high. i watched blade not long ago and, frankly, i couldn't wait for it to be done. if sin number one of an action movie is that nothing happens, then sin number two or three has got to be "nothing happens and it's boring." and kris kristofferson as sidekick #1? please.
underworld and underworld: evolution are far too far down the list for my taste -- they deserve better than this. interview with a vampire is undeservedly at number 15. aren't we over this by now, guys? anne rice has turned all scary-fundamentalist on us -- can we let lestat and his whiny little cohort go? yeah, he was fun when he started but, wow, talk about outsaying your welcome. and, really, who wouldn't rather look at kate beckinsale in latex rather than young brad pitt in lace cuffs? i don't think selene would even blink before decapitating louis just for being annoying.
all right, so that list is mostly just a 'but you didn't put my favorite movie first!' kind of experience. then i followed a link from that post to this one: the same site, but their top 50 dystopian movies list. this, i have more serious problems with.
by the time i got a few -- three, to be exact -- entries down the list, i was fairly sure that my version of 'dystopia' was not harmonizing with theirs -- so i went back and checked their intro section which i had skimmed before to see if they defined their terms, thinking that they must be using some abstruse definition of the term i wasn't familiar with. nope: "...the dystopian world is undesirable with poverty and unequal domination by specific individuals over others. Dystopian films often construct a fictional universe and set it in a background which features scenarios such as dehumanizing technological advancements, man-made disasters or class-based revolutions."
okay. that's fine. that's what i thought they meant -- but then why is serenity on this list? starship troopers? why on earth was star wars even on a version of this list (see end note to article) and thank you very much for cutting it out! and why are you lacking things like 28 days later, akira kurosawa's dreams, waterworld, i am legend, sunshine? even things like pitch black or silent hill or even pan's labyrinth could sneak in under a wider definition! but i think they're suffering from a slight confusion between 'dystopia' and 'alternate future' or 'alternate universe.' just because there are big machines and power blocs and the like doesn't mean you've got a dystopia on your hands.
i can absolutely see the rationale for films like clockwork orange and mad max and the like -- most of those would go down without argument as helping to define the genre of the dystopic film. some, like blade runner, have a kind of multi-format thing going on because they come from books that are part of the genre in the written word, too. but to go back to something like serenity for a minute -- yes, there are big machines; yes, these probably count -- at least a little -- as "dehumanizing technological advancements" -- although i would argue that the humans seem in fairly good control of the machines rather than vice versa which, to my mind, takes you a step back away from a dystopic situation; yes, there are man-made disasters -- at least sort of -- it depends on how you want to view the war that created the universe in which joss whedon wrote firefly/serenity; class-based revolutions? i don't know. i haven't watched the series that many times over that i've got a really firm grip on the politics thereof, but it seems to me that there are big powerful rich guys and smaller working class less powerful guys on both sides of the divide -- witness the barfight the "serenity" crew get into in the beginning of the train job.
but i think one of the important elements in almost any dystopic piece of work -- and certainly in most of the films i'm not arguing with on this list, like blade runner, road warrior, or the matrix -- is the pervasive sense of despair, depression, giving up, lack of hope, lack of ability to see a better future, lack of ability to see a way out of the system which is presently in control or, at absolute worst, lack of ability even to see the system. at best, i think of the best films in this genre as being deeply disquieting and uneasy watching. perhaps the point of the story is to show the single character -- like neo, for example -- who is brought around to being able to see the way out or just simply learns how to exploit the system for his or her own good -- perhaps like jim in 28 days later --, but i can't see that depression in serenity or, for that matter, in starship troopers although it's a far inferior film and presents characters who are in a system they either don't want to or aren't interested in questioning -- so long as they get to shoot lots of inhuman things, they don't care too much.
and, last and mostly least, i noticed this list over at wired.com of the top 10 evil computers. since 'doctor who' was listed in the tags cloud, i had to check it out. and, nice though it was of wired.com to try and get doctor who in there, i can't say that i'd've picked 'BOSS' for any top 10 list like this. and xoanon (mis-spelled in the list as 'zoanon' which nearly had me joining wired.com to correct in comments before i saw someone else had done so, although not until worryingly far down the thread) is a very cool psycho computer but against hal 9000? i don't know -- that's setting the bar awfully high! and this list, too, seems to be lacking some things -- what about 'mother' from alien, for a start?