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Thursday, December 20, 2001

Tabula Rasa!
Dialogue on Film and Philosophy by Ulf Wilhelmsson (in rich text format) : What if, say, Quentin Tarantino met Aristotle, Herakleit, Plato, Jean-Paul Sartre, David Hume, Immanuel Kant and other famous philosophers. What would it be like if they all sat down and had a conversation on film and philosophy? Ulf Wilhelmsson attempts to expore these ideas in this interesting little essay. Much of it plays out like an informative introduction to various philosophies, as the aformentioned participants spout off about their particular areas of interest and eventually apply them to film. Obviously, this is much more entertaining if you are at least somewhat familiar with the various participants. Most of the philosophers are very well known, but I'd be suprised if many people knew all of the film scholars mentioned (Wilhelmsson thoughtfully includes explainations for the more obscure folks that show up). Theres also a bit of a lighthearted tone that lets some of the philosophers even get rowdy (at one point St Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle yell "Tabula Rasa!" in unison). Interesting reading. [via Wood S Lot]
Posted by Mark on December 20, 2001 at 10:43 AM .: link :.

Reflections on LotR
By the way, I saw Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring on Teusday night (or Wednesday morning, if you prefer), and I was completely blown away. I think I must feel the same way people felt when walking out of the original Star Wars. I would describe the film as a sweeping epic, in the true sense of those words (before they were perverted by the use of critics describing the like of, say, Gladiator) and Peter Jackson should be honored for being able to capture the spirit of Tolkien's work while, at the same time, not shutting out those who are not familiar with the books. This is perhaps one of the most ambitious efforts in film history, and Jackson actually manages to imbue the film with the depth and texture that it demands. From beginning to end, the film showcases the grand beauty of Middle Earth, with graceful vistas, immense landscapes of forbidding snow or rolling greenery, and sweeping shots of terrifying battles, but don't let that fool you - Jackson was able to temper the pace and suspence of the film so that its scale does not detract from it. This is grand filmmaking, yes, but Jackson also focuses on the human side, letting his wonderful actors do their thing and also showing the details of Middle Earth's history and architecture... This is an adventurous effort at its best, and its one of the best movies I've seen in a long time.
Posted by Mark on December 20, 2001 at 10:41 AM .: link :.

Monday, December 17, 2001

New Medium, Same Complaints
DVD Menu Design: The Failures of Web Design Recreated Yet Again by Dr. Donald A. Norman (of Nielsen Norman Group fame) : The first time I saw this, I didn't even realize that it wasn't written by Jacob Nielson. I guess they're partners for a reason - Norman writes much the same way that Nielson does, and with the same interface philosophy. This time they're applying the same old boring usability guidelines to DVDs. But just because they are the same doesn't mean they are useless - DVD menus are getting to be ridiculously and unnecessarily complex. There is something to be said for the artistic merit of the menu scheme, but most of the time it ends up being obnoxious (especially upon repeated viewings of the film). Its surprising that most DVDs haven't learned from the mistakes of other mediums. In fact, I'm going to take this opportunity to bitch about DVDs - their interfaces and their content.

  • Animated Menus : Animated entrance and exit sequences are becoming more and more obnoxious. On occasion, I'll run across a DVD that has nice looking sequences, but they are definitely a rarity. I don't need to see a 3 second clip of the movie when all I'm trying to do is turn the commentary on. And Animated Menus don't count as a "Special" Feature.
  • Extra Features :
    • One suggestion mentioned in the above article is to state the duration of each item in the Special Menus, along with a brief description instead of the now, often cryptic titles, often chosen more for cleverness than for informativeness (even more annoying: when the cryptic titles mentioned on the DVD sleeve are different than what actually appears on the disc!).
    • If you have a series of short 1 minute pieces, string them together into a single 20 minute mini-documentary with skippable chapters instead of making me click through each and every one. For example, on the T2: Ultimate Edition, there are something like 50 short pieces concerning makeup, F/X, etc... that are ungodly difficult to navigate.
    • A fifteen minute promotional film consisting of 10 minutes of clips from the film does not count as a documentary.
  • Commentary : A good commentary track is a gem, and I realize that directors like Stanley Kubrick can't be troubled to sit down and talk about their movies (not to mention that he's dead). But even if they can't reanimate Kubrick's corpse, they should be able find someone else to do a good, insightful commentary. Two excellent examples: the commentary by Japanese film expert Michael Jeck on the Seven Samurai DVD and the commentary by Roger Ebert on the Dark City DVD. Both are well done and very interesting, especially in the case of Seven Samurai, which is one of those movies that demands a good commentary (and is one of the few that gets it). I want to see more of this because while it is interesting to hear about the filmmaker's perspective, works of art often take on a life of their own and move beyond anything the filmmaker originally intended.
Don't get me wrong, I love DVDs. I love the quality and all the extra content, but its hard not to complain when only some good movies (and even some bad movies) get nice DVD treatment.
Posted by Mark on December 17, 2001 at 02:39 PM .: link :.

Friday, December 07, 2001

Fellowship of the War
Tolkien on Homeland Defense by Chris Mooney : An interesting article that draws parallels between Tolkien's classic Lord of the Rings trilogy and the 9/11 tragedy. Mooney cites two passages from Fellowship of the Ring that are particularly poignant and resonate with our current situation. The first is an exchange between Frodo and the elf leader Gildor, when they meet just as Frodo and his companions embark on their journey from the Shire:
"I cannot imagine what information could be more terrifying than your hints and warnings," exclaimed Frodo. "I knew that danger lay ahead, of course; but I did not expect to meet it in our own Shire. Can't a hobbit walk from the Water to the River in peace?"

"But it is not your own Shire," said Gildor. "Others dwelt here before hobbits were; and others will dwell here again when hobbits are no more. The wide world is all about you; you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot forever fence it out."

"I know -- and yet it has always seemed so safe and familiar."
Sound familiar? We were all aware of the threat of terrorism, but our daily lives just seemed so safe. The second passage Mooney quotes is delivered by the character Aragorn, in which he makes the Rangers sound kind of like the FBI or the CIA. Mooney then goes on to compare LotR with the Harry Potter series of books, taking care to comment on the various religious nuts who are denouncing Harry Potter as satanic. Its a good read, check it out. [thanks Widgett]

By the by, the first reviews of Fellowship of the Ring (the movie) are in, and they all seem to be positive! Entertainment Weekly gives it an A, and Rolling Stone's Peter Travers lists it at the very top of his list of films for 2001. Regular guy, "Rob", was slightly less impressed (scroll down to bottom), but still gave the movie an 8/10 and said "It lived up to my expectations." Score. I am encouraged by this...
Posted by Mark on December 07, 2001 at 12:30 PM .: link :.

Thursday, December 06, 2001

Bizarre Movie Renderings
Star Wars Asciimation : Ok, so it turns out that the phrase "Some people have way too much time on their hands" is completely true. This guy has converted Star Wars into an ASCII animation. The whole movie (well, almost, he's nearing the end) is presented with ASCII art. He also did a short Asciimation portraying the death of Jar-Jar and is working on a home made jet engine.

These haiku movie reviews are brilliant. [via Wisdom]

The Sixth Sense
Macaulay Culkin
eat your heart out. This is what
child acting's about.
Posted by Mark on December 06, 2001 at 09:09 AM .: link :.

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