To Boldly Go . . .

Those three words conjure up the Star Trek series, which has proven resilient, being reinvented, spun off and emulated for 47 years. The last two films, directed by J.J. Abrams, have taken the Star Trek lore into a brave new direction, giving the well-loved characters and the existing history of the original series and the first six films, a new cast and timeline. Wisely, they have incorporated story elements that have been successfully interwoven in the Star Trek history before, such as battling a powerful, intelligent enemy who is seeking revenge, dealing with the loss of loved ones, and laying one’s life down for another or the entire crew.

Star Trek, The Original SeriesCowboys in Space

When the series first aired in 1966, I remember thinking that it was cowboys in space. It didn’t interest me at the time. Perhaps I was too young to really appreciate it. However, it wasn’t long before it captured my interest. The compelling stories, while having all the action of a good western, also pose timeless questions such as:

  • What does it means to be human?
  • Will we let our baser nature rule us?
  • Is logic better than emotion?
  • How do we choose to treat others?
  • Would we choose self-sacrifice to save our friend or crew?
  • Is it right to infringe on another culture’s development?
  • When do you cross the line from diplomacy to violence?

 

Queen of Outer SpacePrecursor?

Recently, I had the chance to view an old sci-fi movie, which seems to foreshadow Star Trek, called Queen of Outer Space (1958), starring Zsa Zsa Gabor and Eric Fleming. I was astonished to see a similar storyline and many of the same design elements in the costuming, scenery, and even the outline of the Star Trek insignia in the film made eight years before the first series. The storyline involves astronauts traveling to Venus, where they find it to be inhabited solely by beautiful women.

I don’t know whether this film influenced Gene Roddenberry or, faced with a small budget, he reused costumes and scenery already in existence. Or perhaps he hoped to draw on an existing sci-fi fan-base by making the series look and feel familiar. Regardless, I found it surprising, as I thought all these years that Star Trek was entirely an original Roddenberry brain child. In literature, when a work is shaped by a prior work it’s called intertextuality, and I think it’s safe to say Queen of Outer Space influenced Star Trek. Any Star Trek fan would find it worth watching just for the “Hey! Look at that!” moments.

Spoiler Alert

Star Trek (2009)Star Trek (2009)

Star Trek (2009) is a prequel to the original series, which creates a new timeline for the crew of the Enterprise. The film introduces Chris Pine as James Tiberius Kirk and Zachery Quinto as Mr. Spock. The new storyline pits a Romulan nemesis named Nero (brilliantly portrayed by Eric Bana) from the future, out to avenge the destruction of Romulus and the death of his wife. Nero lays the blame for Romulus’ destruction at the feet of Amabassador Spock, reprised by Leonard Nimoy, who was supposed to intercede by preventing a star from going supernova. Traveling back in time through what appears to be a lightening storm in space, Nero alters the timeline by attacking the USS Kelvin, which results in the death of Kirk’s father just moments after Kirk’s birth. During a 25-year delay, Nero waits for Spock to appear and forces both future and current Spock to watch the destruction of Vulcan and experience the death of Spock’s mother. In a battle of wills, Kirk and Spock must outwit Nero before he can destroy Earth and the entire Federation.

Kirk and Spock Times TwoPine and Quinto bravely take on the classic Star Trek roles originally portrayed by William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, and they do a marvelous job creating conflict, tension and ultimately close bonds. Pine brings the reckless bravado of Kirk alive, as well as contrasting nuances of humility, and Quinto balances the stoicism and logic of Spock with surprising new emotional elements. Kudos to the casting department for the excellent job of selecting the actors to reprise the iconic roles, which include:

  • Keith Urban: the grousing Dr. McCoy, AKA Bones.
  • Zoe Saldana: the sexy and linguistically adept Uhura.
  • Simon Pegg: the miracle working Mr. Scott.
  • John Cho: the sword-wielding Sulu, who may have the makings of a captain.
  • Anton Yelchin: the young, bright and eager Mr. Chekov.

Kudos also to the writers, Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and a nod to original series creator, Gene Roddenberry, for the action packed, yet often humorous, script and for playing with the characters and timeline in such an imaginative way.

Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013)Into Darkness (2013)

The latest film, Into Darkness (2013), brazenly reworks the original storyline involving Khan. A genetically engineered man of superior intellect, he has been revived from 300 years of suspended animation to assist Star Fleet in developing weapons for a future war with the Klingons. Khan has other plans involving awakening his 72-member crew from their deep sleep and destroying the Federation who holds them captive. Not knowing who to trust in the Federation, to what lengths will Kirk go to save his crew and the Enterprise?

In the original series and second film, The Wrath of Khan, Khan was masterfully played by Ricardo Montalban. In this film, he is chillingly portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock).

Forty-seven years and counting, and this Star Trek fan is still engaged and eager to find out where the crew of the Enterprise will boldly go next . . .

The Small Screen

  • The Original Series (1966–1969)
  • The Next Generation (1987–1994)
  • Deep Space Nine (1993–1999)
  • Voyager (1995–2001)
  • Enterprise (2001–2005)

The Flicks

  • The Motion Picture (1979)
  • The Wrath of Khan (1982)
  • The Search for Spock (1984)
  • The Voyage Home (1986)
  • The Final Frontier (1989)
  • The Undiscovered Country (1991)
  • Generations (1994)
  • First Contact (1996)
  • Insurrection (1998)
  • Nemesis (2002)
  • Star Trek (2009)
  • Into Darkness (2013)

The Folios

The first original Star Trek novel was Mission to Horatius by Mack Reynolds. It was published by Whitman Books in 1968. Since then, hundreds of Star Trek novels by various authors have been written. I have not read any to date, so I cannot comment on them.

Possible Precursor

  • Queen of Outer Space (1958)

To Catch a Thief

In 1952, a book was published that has inspired a film and two television series based on the notion that “it takes a thief to catch a thief.”

To Catch a Thief by David DodgeThe Book

To Catch a Thief is a thriller by David F. Dodge, which is set on the French Rivera in 1951. The French police believe that Le Chat (The Cat), a daring, athletic jewel thief named John Robie, has resumed his old ways. Robie, who has retired to a luxurious villa after spending time in prison and serving with the French resistance, must avoid capture by the police and catch the thief who may be trying to frame him by copying his M.O. (Pictured To Catch a Thief book cover.)

To Catch a Thief film posterThe Film

Alfred Hitchcock brought the story to film in To Catch a Thief (1955) starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly. Cary Grant is superb as John Robie. Whether he is kissing Grace Kelly with fireworks in the background, bantering with Brigitte Auber, who portrays Danielle, the daughter of one of his resistance buddies, or is running across roofs trying to catch the cat burglar, he is sophisticated, humorous, and unrelenting in his pursuit. John Williams plays an insurance agent who reluctantly turns over a list of insured jewelry to Robie to assist him in catching the thief. Grace Kelly portrays Frances Stevens, the daughter of a wealthy woman whose jewelry may be next on the thief’s list. This was Kelly’s last film with Hitchcock, having appeared in both Rear Window and Dial M for Murder the year before. (Pictured To Catch a Thief film poster.)

It Takes a ThiefThe Small Screen: It Takes a Thief

To Catch a Thief was the inspiration for It Takes a Thief (1968-1970, 66 episodes) though the series was not based on it. Robert Wagner plays Alexander Mundy, a thief whose takes have supported a polished lifestyle. Serving time in prison, he is contacted by the SIA (secret intelligence agency) and offered a deal. In a twist, instead of catching thieves, he is asked to steal for the government in exchange for his freedom. Malachi Throne plays Noah Bain, his SIA boss, who says, “I’m not asking you to spy. I’m just asking you to steal.” In the third season, Edward Binns replaced Throne as SIA boss Wallie Powers and Fred Astaire appears as Alistair, Mundy’s father, a gentleman thief. (Pictured left to right, Malachi Throne and Robert Wagner.)

White CollarThe Small Screen: White Collar

Set in modern day New York, White Collar (USA Network, 2009 to present) is a smartly written series with Matt Bomer as Neil Caffrey. Caffrey is a charming, convicted con man, forger and art thief, who is given the option to assist the FBI on solving white collar crimes in return for a probational release from prison. Caffrey is put on a short leash by having to wear a tracking device, which lends itself to some humorous situations. Tim DeKay is Special Agent Peter Burke, who is never quite sure if he can trust Caffrey, having apprehended him twice before. Bomer and DeKay have a marvelous, playful chemistry. (Pictured left to right, Tim DeKay and Matt Bomer.)

Tiffani Thiessen portrays Elizabeth, Burke’s understanding, intuitive and supportive wife. Willie Garson plays Mozzie, Caffrey’s closest friend and confidante, who is a bit of a reverse Jiminy Cricket. Instead of encouraging Caffrey to stick with his probation, he frequently encourages him to steal and to consider chucking it all for one final big score. However, Mozzie can always be counted on to help Caffrey and Burke in their sometimes elaborate stings. Diahann Carroll appears as June Ellington, a wealthy widow who offers Caffrey her guest room (a loft-type apartment) and an upscale wardrobe. She is protective of Caffrey as he reminds her in many ways of her late husband who was also a charming con man.

So if you are in the mood for glamour and suspense, you can’t go wrong with these stories about charming con men and thieves.

Signature

A Die-hard, Die Hard Fan

Die Hard (1988)Cowboys in Skyscrapers

I’ve been a huge fan of Die Hard since it opened in the summer of 1988. The plot could have been lifted directly from an old western. A gang of rustlers ride into town, take the cowboy’s wife hostage, along with some other town folk, while trying to steal something of great value (cattle, gold, etc.). The cowboy has to use his ingenuity to outsmart the rustlers and save his wife and town. The image of a lone gunman fighting against the odds is ingrained in our culture.

The Scenario

In Die Hard, New York cop John McClane, played to perfection by Bruce Willis, is caught up in extraordinary circumstances. He arrives in Los Angeles on Christmas Eve to visit his estranged wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia), who is busy celebrating a successful year of business with coworkers on the 30th floor of the Nakatomi building. During the party, bad guy Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), and his international crew of terrorists take over the building and hold the employees hostage. McClane has to use all his ingenuity to outwit the terrorists and save the hostages.

The relationship to cowboy mythology is not subtle in the film. During radio communication with the police, McClane is called a “cowboy” and in order to hide his identity from the terrorists, he asks to be called “Roy” after Roy Rogers. In addition, part of one of his catch phrases in the film is yippee-ki-yay, a term used by cowboys when they are rounding up cattle.

Success

Die Hard was a financial success. It was nominated for four Academy Awards, and spawned a series of successful sequels. After enjoying Die Hard and the series for years, I finally hunted down the book it was based on.

Spoiler Alert . . .

Nothing Lasts Forever

Nothing Lasts Forever (1979), by Roderick Thorp, is a short novel at 188 pages. It reads as well as the movie plays. In the book, the character’s name is Joe Leland, not John McClane. The film follows the book closely, however, the book is more serious in nature. In the book, Leland is trying to rescue his daughter, not his estranged wife, and one of the bad guys is a woman that he reluctantly fights. These two differences were picked up in the fourth film. The building in the book is owned by an oil company, not a Japanese corporation, and it’s just political terrorism (not terrorism hiding a heist).

As I was reading about Thorp, I discovered that there was an earlier book and film about the same character called The Detective (book: 1966, film: 1968), however, Die Hard was not made as a sequel to this film, and it has a completely different sensibility.

A Strange, Dark Beginning

The Detective is significantly longer at 598 pages long and has extensive dialogue that I can only characterize as 1960’s psychobabble. In spite of having to wade through all the angst of the various characters, the story boils down to Leland pursuing a killer who has committed a gruesome murder involving sexual mutilation. From a purely research perspective, it was fascinating to find the genesis of the character, but because of the nature of the crime and the 60’s sexual sensibilities, I cannot recommend The Detective.

In 1968, The Detective was made into a successful film of the same name with Frank Sinatra as Joe Leland. The cast includes Lee Remick, Jacqueline Bisset, Jack Klugman, Robert Duvall, Sugar Ray Robinson and William Windom. The signature Die Hard humor is non-existent in this film. The two films are unrelated, even though they are about the same character.

A Good Day to Die Hard (2013)More Die Hard

The fifth film in the series came out in February 2013. The storyline involves McClane traveling to Moscow to rescue his wayward son, Jack (Jai Courtney), who is on trial and is expected to be convicted. Instead, McClane discovers that Jack is a CIA operative, and together they work to prevent a nuclear-weapons heist. Sebastian Koch appears as Komarov. (Shown is a detail of the poster.)

Seriously?

Of the five films, I found this one to be the weakest. Several points of issue for me were:

  • The first stunt in the film took two-and-a-half months to film. It was not memorable or believable, and I kept finding myself thinking throughout the film that their time would have been better spent working on the weak dialogue.
  • McClane says no less than four times that he’s supposed to be on vacation with his son. Seriously, four times.
  • After being skewered through the abdomen with rebar, Jack spends the rest of the film running around like nothing happened.
  • While attempting to pay homage to the first film by having someone fall from a great height a la Hans Gruber falling from the Nakatomi building, instead they have him fall into the chopper blade of a helicopter and be cut to ribbons. This was not only gruesome, but was a lousy tribute to the first film.

The Series

The films have been released in four different decades, which speaks well of the staying power of the character and of Bruce Willis’s continuing success as a leading man. The Die Hard series consists of the following movies:

  • Die Hard (1988) rated R
  • Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990) rated R
  • Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995) rated R
  • Live Free or Die Hard (2007) rated PG-13
  • A Good Day to Die Hard (2013) rated R.

Signature

All Creatures Great and Small

The Poem

The poem by Cecil Frances Alexander called Maker of Heaven and Earth, begins with the following lines,

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.

These four lines are also the titles of four semi-autobiographical books by British veterinary surgeon Alf Wight (1916-1995), published under the pseudonym James Herriot (hereafter referred to as Herriot).

All_Creatures_bookThe Books

Herriot drew upon his many years of veterinary experience to weave delightful, heartwarming tales about the adventures and misadventures of working in a country practice in 1940’s Yorkshire, England. Working with senior partner Siefried Farnon and “little brother” Tristan Farnon, the stories center around the care of the animals and their often eccentric owners, in the fictional town of Darrowby. The books were published in the following years.

  • All Creatures Great and Small (1972)
  • All Things Bright and Beautiful (1974)
  • All Things Wise and Wonderful (1977)
  • The Lord God Made Them All (1981)

The Episodes

A British TV series called, All Creatures Great and Small ran from 1978-1980, and in 1983, 1985, 1988-1990 (90 episodes). The first three years are drawn from the books and take place prior to WWII, while the remaining, which were shot using original scripts, take place after the War and during the advent of antibiotics and television. In December 2011, a three-episode prequel called Young James Herriot aired. It concerns Herriot’s life at university. (I have not yet viewed it.)

Life in the Dells

Herriot arrives in the Yorkshire dells as an assistant to the energetic, warm-hearted, and paternal Siegfried Farnon. Whether needing all his strength to care for farm animals or gently treating pampered house pets, Herriot gives his all to provide the very best care. The veterinary practice is an on-call service for large farm animals, often requiring middle of the night trips to assist in birthing calves, while at the same time holding daytime surgeries for small animal care. Keenly aware that farm animals are the farmer’s livelihood, and pets are companions that sometimes gave their owners the will to live, Herriot and Farnon often end up caring for the owners as well.

All_Creatures_castThe Actors

Actor Christopher Timothy (most recently seen in an episode of Inspector Lewis) portrays the earnest, sensible, and hardworking James Herriot. Siegfried Farnon is masterfully performed by Robert Hardy (Sense and Sensibility [1995], and in three of the Harry Potter films as Cornelius Fudge, the Minister of Magic). The energetic and charming Peter Davison (Dr. Who [1981-1984], Campion, Mrs. Bradley, and The Last Detective) portrays Tristan, who has more joie de vivre than work ethic. In the first three seasons, Herriot’s wife Helen is played by Carol Drinkwater, and in the later episodes by Lynda Bellingham. Margaretta Scott portrays the aristocratic Mrs Pumphrey (a recurring character), with her over-pampered dog “Tricky Woo.” (Pictured from left to right are Robert Hardy, Carol Drinkwater, and Christopher Timothy.)

Again and Again

Whether you read the books or view the episodes, once you enter the world of James Herriot you won’t want to leave. These hardworking, warmhearted people will feel like dear friends, and you’ll want to visit them again and again.

Signature

 

Gone With the Wind

Gone With the Wind bookcoverThe Background

When I was a teenager, I was captivated by the novel Gone with the Wind (1936) by Margaret Mitchell, and the 1939 film starring Clark Gable, Vivian Leigh, and Leslie Howard.

Mitchell was a journalist and, after reading every book in her local library about the Civil War, her husband encouraged her to write one of her own. Over ten years, she worked on the manuscript, never really intending to have it published, but a publisher friend of hers asked to read it. It was sitting in stacks of paper all over her apartment. She gathered them up and handed them off. After reading it, the publisher was eager to see the manuscript in print. Shortly before publication, in a stroke of genius, Mitchell changed the name of her main character from Pansy to Scarlett. What a difference that made!

During its first six months, the sales of the book (at $3 a copy) reached almost one million dollars. The next year, Mitchell won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for the book. After its publication, Mitchell spent the rest of her life managing its international publication and dealing with copyright infringements (bootleg copies). It’s a lesson in the downside of fame and success. Imagine what other novels she might have written, if she had had the opportunity. Only one other manuscript, written when she was 15 and given to a beau, surfaced after her death and has been published. Lost Laysen (1996) is a romance set in the South Pacific.

Gone With the Wind pre-release posterThe film won ten Academy Awards (eight competitive, two honorary), and is ranked among the top ten films of the 20th century. The casting for the film is stellar and the costuming and set decoration are stunning and memorable. Mitchell chose not to be involved in the making of the film, as she felt she had no expertise in the field, but she attended the opening of the film and was pleased with it.

To read more about Margaret Mitchell, check out Southern Daughter: The Life of Margaret Mitchell by Darden Asbury Pyron and Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind Letters edited by Richard Harwell.

Alexandra Ripley wrote a sequel Scarlett (1991), and it was made into a miniseries, Scarlett (1994), starring Joanne Whalley and Timothy Dalton. In my opinion, the book and the miniseries do not live up to either of the originals. I don’t recommend them.

Spoiler Alert: (elements of the story will be discussed)

Impressions

It’s fascinating to consider that two people can be faced with the same life-changing events and yet react very differently to them. Scarlett and Melanie both had every vestige of their southern life stripped away from them. Both had to adapt, but both did so very differently. In Scarlett, blind ambition and greed surfaced, but Melanie remained as she had always been, a kind-hearted soul, always believing the best about everyone.

In a contrast between Scarlett and Melanie, the narrative demonstrates the importance of integrity. While Scarlett had tremendous adaptability and survivor skills, she did not exhibit integrity. Her moral values went to the wayside depending on the need at hand. One example is that she didn’t shrink from plotting to marry a man she didn’t love, even though he was already engaged to one of her sisters, so that he would give her the money to pay the taxes on Tara (her childhood home). Melanie remained a person of integrity throughout. In my readings, I came across a quote from Mitchell stating that she considered Melanie the real heroine of the book.

Scarlett is also an excellent example of how someone can throw away their chance at happiness by focusing on and coveting what someone else has. Scarlett nursed her youthful infatuation with Ashley until it cost her, her marriage to Rhett. She chose what she couldn’t have over what was already hers.

Literature and films can be fodder for thought as well as a vehicle for entertainment. Gone With the Wind, the book and the film are stellar at both, and made quite an impression on a teenage girl.

A Cup of Tea and Jeeves

 

In the morning, I make myself a cup of tea, and sit down in my favorite reading chair. I put my feet up on the ottoman and place a blanket over myself. Picking up a pocket paperback that I recently purchased at Powell’s bookstore in Portland, it fits perfectly in my hand. The cover art is whimsical and delightful. Written by a favorite author, I anticipate the enjoyment to come. I feel the weight and texture of the paper between my fingers as I turn the pages. Coming across a word I don’t know, I pick up my dog-eared dictionary, look it up, and write its definition in the margin. After reading, I spend a few minutes looking out the window or at the plants sitting about the room. A small palm tree sits in the corner, and I remember the palm trees I used to watch outside my childhood bedroom window, the fronds waving wildly in the wind against the brilliant blue sky and white clouds.

Jeeves by P.G. WodehouseThe paperback? Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse. Jeeves is the gentleman’s gentleman of Bertie Wooster, a young English gentleman with a big heart (and perhaps a shade not too bright), who is always getting into bits of trouble, such as finding himself on the outs with his overbearing Aunt Agatha, unwittingly engaged (being a bachelor is the only life for him), committing various pranks such as pinching a policeman’s helmet, or needing to get one of his pals out of trouble. Jeeves is the answer! As well as attending to his master’s every need in terms of food, comfort, and appropriate clothing (Bertie frequently goes in for the avant-garde, much to Jeeves chagrin), Jeeves masterfully rescues the day. Though at first it may frustrate or confuse Bertie, he eventually sees the brilliance of it. With “right-ho’s” and “what-nots,” Bertie sails through the bumps in life with a perfect cup of tea and Jeeves at his side. P.G. Wodehouse was a prolific writer, so there are many books featuring Jeeves and Wooster to enjoy.

Jeeves and WoosterEqually delightful is Jeeves and Wooster (1990-1993, 23 episodes) starring Hugh Laurie as Bertie Wooster and Stephen Fry as Jeeves. The memorable theme music for the series is in a jazz/swing style written by Anne Dudley. Laurie and Fry are perfectly cast in the roles, and their comedic timing and rapport are outstanding. In particular, a scene comes to mind where Bertie is learning a new song on the piano, and he wants Jeeves to sing along with him. Bertie sings and plays with complete gusto, and Jeeves echoes in a monotone, reserved effort. Their hilarious antics are laugh-out-loud funny.

If you enjoy British sketch comedy, Fry and Laurie wrote and performed in A Bit of Fry and Laurie (1989-1995, 26 episodes).

Among his many other credits, Stephen Fry has played Mycroft Holmes in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011), Inspector Thompson in Gosford Park (2001), and has a cameo in A Fish Called Wanda (1988), where Otto, played by Kevin Kline, hits him and knocks him out. Fry is a published author of four novels, several non-fiction works and two volumes of autobiography. I have only read his book Revenge (called The Star’s Tennis Balls in the UK), which is a psychological thriller and modern retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo (caution: Revenge is full of foul language and violence).

Among his many credits, you may know Hugh Laurie from the television show House (2004-2012). He is also the voice of Dr. Cockroach in Monsters vs. Aliens (2009), and as the father Frederick Little in Stuart Little I & II (1999 & 2002). Laurie has written one full-length novel, The Gun Seller (1996), which I felt would make a better screenplay than a book. Laurie is also an accomplished musician, and was the subject of PBS Great Performances’ Let Them Talk (2011) about New Orleans jazz.

Reasons Why Skyfall Fell Short

Spoiler Alert: This blog discusses elements of the film.

OK. I sat down to write a blog about Skyfall, the latest 007 movie, and three pages later, I was verging on a tome, not a blog. So, here’s the short version. The movie didn’t work as a Bond flick for the following reasons:

  • There were very few gadgets. The only iconic gadget in the film was the Aston Martin DB5, which was introduced (to rousing applause in the theater), and then obliterated. What a tease!
  • The villain Silva was BORING. There was nothing distinctive about him. Aside from the bad dye job (bleached blonde hair), Silva had a (CGI) deformity shown in one scene that reminded me of some of the FX from The Mummy movies. Typically, the villain comes up with a clever or inventive way to kill Bond or the love interest. Silva basically behaved like a petulant child gone off the deep end, and he couldn’t seem to make up his mind whether he loved Bond (homosexual love) or M (like a mother figure), or whether he wanted to kill them. It smacked very much like a twisted version of Cain and Abel: Mommy loved you best, so I have to kill you both. He even called M “Mother” so it wasn’t very subtle.
  • Bond acted out of character. Among other issues, there was a shift in Bond’s attitude about killing. In the earlier films, he felt it was a necessary evil, to be avoided if possible, but in this film he referred to it as employment. He did not respond in character when the love interest in the film was in jeopardy and, in response to homosexual advances by the villain, he implied that he may be bisexual.
  • The treatment of women in this film was appalling. After being told not everyone is cut out for field work, a female field agent was relegated to a desk job. M was told she needed to retire, was called “Mother” and then was killed off and replaced by a man. Severine, the love interest, was used for target practice (think William Tell with liquor and bullets). After forcing Bond to shoot first (he missed the whiskey glass), Silva shot her. Then Silva asked Bond what he thought about it, and Bond said it was a waste of good whisky. Bond then killed off the minions and captured Silva. I found this scene extremely disturbing.
  • Fighting “a good guy gone bad” (Silva had been an MI6 agent) has been done better in other action films. Three immediately come to mind.
    • Mission Impossible (1996)
    • The Bourne Supremacy (2004)
    • Live Free or Die Hard (2007)

Ultimately, it felt like the screenplay’s purpose was to usher out some characters and bring in replacements. If you separate out Skyfall from the Bond franchise, elements of it worked well as an action film. The opening sequence of Bond chasing a bad guy across roofs on motorcycle and fighting on a moving train was excellent, but in terms of the franchise, I believe they would have been better off to work from the novels, like they did with the last two films, rather than come up with a new screenplay that just plain got so much wrong . . . at least two more pages worth . . .

For a list of 007 books and the films made from them, visit the Ian Fleming page of FoliosNFlicks.com.

Castaways

A book I thoroughly enjoyed reading in elementary school, and have read with my children, is currently in the news. Island of the Blue Dolphins, written by Scott O’Dell, is a 1960 children’s novel and 1961 Newbery Medal winner. It tells the story of a young Native American girl stranded alone on an island off the coast of California. It is based on the true story of Juana Maria, the “Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island.” In the 19th century, she was stranded on the island for 18 years. A film adaptation was released in 1964, starring Celia Kaye as the main character “Karana,” and Kaye won a Golden Globe for New Star of the Year.

On October 29, 2012, the LA Times reported that Steve Schwartz, a navy archaeologist, believes he has finally found the cave that where Juana Maria lived. Schwartz, using survey maps and notes with compass bearings dating from the 1800’s, has spent 20 years searching for the cave. The cave will require excavation due to the accumulation of sand from storms, but the discovery of tools and bottles dating from the 1800’s seems to support his theory, and modern archaeological methods may reveal a record of her life on the island.

Another castaway story, and probably the most famous, is Robinson Crusoe (1719) by Daniel Defoe. I first read this novel when I was in college, and I found it very engrossing. Crusoe, due to a shipwreck, spends 28 years on a tropical island near Trinidad. It may have been based on the life of Alexander Selkirk, a Scottish castaway, who lived on a Pacific island near Chile for four years.

Film versions include Crusoe (1988) with Aidan Quinn, Robinson Crusoe (1997) starring Pierce Brosnan, and the 2000 film Cast Away with Tom Hanks as a FedEx employee who survives a plane crash, only to be stranded for years on an island. I found Hanks particularly compelling in this role. In 2008, there was a short-lived, TV action series entitled Crusoe, starring Sam Neill, Philip Winchester (Crusoe) and Tongayi Chirisa (Friday), which was part Crusoe and part MacGyver.

Both novels speak of survival, resourcefulness, and courage. Similarities in the stories involve hunting for food and water, building shelters, making weapons, and finding comfort in the companionship of a dog, or as in Cast Away a volleyball named Wilson. I have found these inspiring stories worth visiting and revisiting.

Connections

One thing I love about reading is the marvelous connections, the little mental zings, that occur as I mull over a story. Sometimes the connections are within a single story, such as when the author has cleverly placed elements in the story, which after consideration bring a deeper level of meaning to the story. Sometimes the connections come from two seemingly disparate stories that have at their heart a similar theme or something in common not immediately evident. I had such a connection this week.

Recently, I reread Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie (1911). I never read the book as a child, but first read it as an adult when I read it to my children. It was a fabulous shared experience traveling to “the Neverland” while fighting pirates, discovering mermaids, and making friends with the Tiger Lily and the redskins.

Incarnations of Peter Pan include:

  • In 1953, Disney’s animated film Peter Pan, brought Peter, Wendy, Michael, John, and the Lost Boys to a generation of children.
  • In 1960, Mary Martin hit the small screen in black and white as Peter. The enthusiasm of the actors outweighs the 1960’s minimalist staging of the play to this day.
  • In 1991, Steven Spielberg’s Hook debuted, with Dustin Hoffman (Hook), Robin Williams (Peter), and Julia Roberts (Tinkerbell). I didn’t really care for it as it was a reinvention of the story involving a grown up Peter Pan who had forgotten who he was and all about his adventures in the Neverland.
  • In 2003, the film with Jason Isaacs, and Jeremy Sumpter as Peter, came along, and I found that version delightful. In particular, Jason Isaac’s portrayal of both Hook and Mr. Darling was excellent, and as traditionally Peter has always been played by a girl, it was first time I had seen a boy portray Peter (in the original story). Jeremy Sumpter did a marvelous job.
  • In 2004, Finding Neverland, a semi-autobiographical story about J. M. Barrie starring Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet, hit the big screen. It is a very moving film, but it attributes the creation of Peter to a relationship Barrie has with a widow and her children. The real life inspiration was Barrie’s older brother, who died just before his 14th birthday of an ice-skating accident. He lived on in Barrie’s imagination as the boy who did not grow up.
  • Peter Pan was first produced as a play in 1904, so when a couple of years ago, my husband and I had the pleasure of seeing a local production of the musical, I confess that when the children flew out over our heads in the audience, it was so moving, it brought tears to my eyes.

This past week, as I mulled over the story and thought about all the different versions of the story in film and on the stage, I was thinking about man’s inherent desire to stay young and not age, and the different ways that expresses itself in life and in books, and there it was. A book I read about 20 years ago suddenly sprang to the front of my mind.

Lost Horizon (1933) was written by James Hilton, and the black and white film (1937) was directed by Frank Capra, starring Ronald Colman and Jane Wyatt. A plane crashes in the Tibetan mountains, and the passengers are taken to a lamasery, which has modern conveniences like central heating, a large library, and food grown in an unexpectedly fertile valley. The inhabitant’s aging has slowed dramatically, as some are believed to be 300 years old. This utopia is set against the aftermath of World War I, and the brewing potential for more war to come. (One bit of trivia, Lost Horizon was the first book published as a mass market paperback.)

Now for the zing moment. Suddenly I saw:

  • Magical places where aging stops or slows.
  • The price of not aging: having to stay there, leaving your family behind, avoiding growing up and facing responsibilities, avoiding the conflicts of life, etc.
  • How to get there: you must fly and may crash before arriving, or in Wendy’s case, be shot down.
  • The consequences of staying in these magical places: being disconnected from the “real world,” or in Peter’s case, forgetting his mother, which Barrie describes as being heartless.

I had never considered the two stories together before. On the surface they seemed like entirely different stories: the one, a plane crash in Tibet and life in a magical lamasery, and the other, a fantasy where children fly, fight pirates, and live underground. It never occurred to me that there were any parallels, and suddenly, I’m struck by all sorts of similarities.

I wonder what sorts of connections wait for me in the next book I read . . .

Belgian, not French

With some authors, you read one of their books and then you can’t wait to read the next one. Love at first read. For others, it’s a long slow romance, built over the years. Agatha Christie’s books have been a slow burn for me.

Inspired by the 1957 film Witness for the Prosecution (directed by Billy Wilder, with Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich, Charles Laughton and Elsa Lanchester), I first read the 1924 book of the same name. I followed that by reading The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926), the end of which genuinely frightened me. So, it was a number of years before I read any more of her books. In 1983-84, PBS Mystery! produced the series Partners in Crime (10 episodes), which sent me off reading about Tommy and Tuppence Beresford and their adventures solving crimes.

In 1989, Mystery! began producing Poirot with David Suchet in the lead. Thirteen years later, 65 episodes have been produced, and there will only be five more made (note catch in throat).

Inspired by David Suchet’s performance parfaite of the Belgian detective, I found a list of the 65 episodes and set out to read the short stories and books. All I can say is I’ve been devouring them. In some cases the episodes are very close to the stories, and in others cases, liberties have been taken.

Overall, I find Christie’s creativity remarkable. Usually after reading about half a dozen books by an author, I begin to find repetition in characters, dialogue, and plot, but with Christie, I have found very little repetition. Even if a type of character is repeated, for example, a doctor, a lawyer, or a couple interacting with a childhood friend, the story and dialogue are almost without exception different.

Her immense creativity and her extensive body of work are compelling. Her strengths are in her facility at creating sympathetic, unique characters and ingenious puzzles, and Poirot, with his myriad of idiosyncrasies, is a fascinating character, who has the distinction of being the first fictional character to have his obituary on the front page of The New York Times (August 6, 1975).

A number of her Poirot books deal with love triangles, perhaps because of her own experience with an unfaithful husband. Five Little Pigs deals with an artist, his wife, and the artist’s model, who has designs on the husband. The Hollow is about a doctor, his timid wife, and a close friend of the family who is secretly his mistress, and Sad Cypress is about an engaged couple, whose relationship changes when a childhood friend reappears.

If not for the fine Mystery! productions and David Suchet’s masterful performances, I might never have delved into Christie’s Poirot books as seriously as I have. I am indebted.