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...and it wouldn't be a Threshold Birthday Extravaganza without also wishing a very happy birthday to the always lovely and always talented Carla Gugino!
|The Unofficial Patron Saint of Threshold standing at the threshold.|
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|The Unofficial Patron Saint of Threshold standing at the threshold.|
I think about all the ways I’ve screwed up and what I’d give for one clear chance to wipe the slate clean. To dig my way out of the numb grey hell I’ve made of my life.
Just to cut loose. Just to feel the fire. One more time.
I’d give anything.
No. Damn it. No. Never. Never.
Never lose control. Not for one second. Never.
Never let the monster out.
The other night Scott and I went to see the movie “Lucy.”
We did so, despite the fact that we object to the central premise of the movie, because it was from Luc Besson and featured Scarlett Johansson, and we thought that would make for an interesting combination. Kind of like if you blended the action from “Taken” with the physics-bending visuals of “The Matrix,” but with Scarlett Johansson instead of Liam Neeson or Keanu Reeves.
Besides, the movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have firmly established that I greatly enjoy watching Scarlett Johansson kicking people’s asses.
Unfortunately, while there were some great scenes of batshit insane action, the movie proved disappointing.
As a friend on Facebook put it:
It's hard to think you could screw up "what if Scarlet Johansson became Dr. Manhattan?" but they managed it.
Yes. Yes, they did. And I don’t say that just because the movie didn’t feature Scarlett Johansson sharing Dr. Manhattan’s fashion sense, though that certainly would have helped.
(It couldn’t have hurt, anyway.)
But no, the issue was that central premise that Scott and I decided to grit our teeth and ignore. The movie made that an impossible feat, however, as that premise was woven into virtually every scene.
That premise being that we humans only use 10% of our brain, that we all have lurking within us a vast, untapped potential. After all, look at all we’ve accomplished with a mere 10%. Just imagine what we could do, what sort of superhuman abilities we would have, if we could unleash even a few more percentage points of our potential? What would happen if we used 100%?
That’s the question that the movie seeks to answer when Johansson, as the titular Lucy, is exposed to a drug that unlocks that potential.
The problem, however, is that the “10%” thing is just a myth, one that has been so thoroughly debunked that it’s almost inconceivable that anyone would still think that it’s a viable plot device.
Further, even if you don’t have much of an understanding of how the brain works, just stopping to think about it for a few minutes will lead you to conclude that it’s bullshit.
Let’s do that thinking right now, shall we? All it takes is answering a simple question: If you truly believe that humans only use 10% of their brain, would you mind if I shot you in the 90% you aren’t using?
Sure, a 10% chance of being permanently injured or even killed might not seem like great odds, but the fact remains that you probably aren’t willing to part with 90% of your brain.
In reality, we do use 100% of our brains, we just don’t use that much all the time. We couldn’t; different areas of the brain perform different functions, some of which are in direct conflict with each other.
How could using your brain’s total capacity actually be a good thing anyway? Think about how well your computer works when its CPU usage spikes up to 100%. If you were using 100% of your brain, to continue with the computer metaphor, it would be even worse than that, because you would not only be using 100% of your processing power, you’d be using up 100% of your available storage and all of your RAM at the same time. That doesn’t sound like a computer that’s performing better than a “normal” computer.
Of course, I don’t think that’s really the idea that the 10% believers are getting at anyway. What they really seem to think is that there is either some greater efficiency that can be achieved within the brain, or that there is some as-yet unknown mechanism in the brain that can be accessed to unleash superhuman abilities.
However, there are still some underlying problems with that idea. We may not have a complete understanding of the brain and how it works, but do know enough to know that there is no hidden mechanism. And while there could be some improvements to efficiency, they’re not going to lead to being able to read minds or control gravity. Mostly they’ll just improve your memory or your ability to maintain focus. Which, you know, great. I’m all for it.
But the idea that the brain is capable of so much more, that it has hidden godlike powers is just silly.
Let’s consider it from two perspectives.
If you’re a creationist of any stripe, this would indicate that whatever god or gods created humans completely overengineered the brain when making humans, then installed some sort of governor in it to throttle it back by 90%. What for? I mean, I could see building in some redundancy or whatever, but that approach just seems both bizarre and cruel. And it’s also silly; the brain, as it’s used in its current state, is already capable of pretty amazing things. Why not just build it as is, particularly if you’re not going to allow any of the other features to be turned on? Of course, maybe I’d understand the designer’s thinking better if I used more of my brain’s potential. Too bad the designer made sure that it’s impossible.
In evolutionary terms, this would indicate that at some point in its evolution, the brain overshot the mark, developed all of these amazing capabilities, and then turned off its access to them. This does not align with any sort of evolutionary theory.
And sure, you can point to various people who have amazing mental abilities – though not quite so amazing as what Lucy displays – such as the guy who can draw a detailed picture of an entire city after flying over it in a helicopter once, or point to some of the experiments that have been done with stimulating different portions of the brain, or things like synesthesia.
But those abilities usually come at the cost of other abilities and functions of the brain. They don’t really indicate that someone is using any more – or less – of his or her brain’s potential, just that the existing potential is being used differently.
Let’s get back to the movie itself for a moment. At one point in her march towards 100% Lucy states that she no longer feels pain or fear. That, to me, indicates that she’s actually using less of her brain’s potential.
Why, you may wonder, does this bother me so much? After all, I’m perfectly capable of suspending my disbelief. I regularly consume – and enjoy – stories about men, women, aliens, robots, and gods who can fly, control the weather, and perform all manner of impossible feats. Why couldn’t I just let this particular trope slide, the way I do things like, “He was born on another planet and our yellow sun supercharges his cells,” or “He has a magic hammer,” or, to go back to the mention of Dr. Manhattan, “He was disintegrated in a nuclear reactor and then put himself back together, developing godlike abilities in the process,” or hell, even the “metagene” from the DCU or the “X gene” from Marvel?
I suppose it’s a combination of things. For one, it’s just really overused. It ranks up there with “all of humanity’s technological achievements are based on reverse-engineered alien technology.” For another, it bleeds over into real-life in a way that some of those other things don’t. I’m unlikely to meet someone who actually believes that someone being bitten by a radioactive spider will do anything other than lead to radiation poisoning, but there are plenty of people who honestly believe the 10% thing.
(The alien technology thing bothers me for similar reasons, though a real-world belief in that is somewhat less common, but the main reason it bothers me is because it’s insulting. I’m not always humanity’s biggest fan, but I know better than to think that we’re incapable of coming up with brilliant ideas on our own. People often suck, but they’re also pretty amazing. Which is why I get so irritated when they suck. But I digress.)
But that’s why it irritates me in general. In the specific case of this movie, it was because of how thoroughly invested they were in this bogus idea. If the 10% thing had just been a quick handwave explanation for her having these powers, I would have been able to just roll my eyes, and then go with it. But they didn’t stop there. At various points, we were informed of what percentage Lucy was at, and there were extended scenes featuring Morgan Freeman, as some sort of brain “expert,” giving a lecture about the 10% myth as though it were some sort of credible scientific theory.
While Freeman’s character does, when questioned, admit that it has no scientific basis – which, leads you to wonder why he’s being allowed to lecture on this in front of scientists and science students without being booed off the stage, and instead being greeted with rapt attention and fawning praise – he rattles off ideas about what powers a person might have upon achieving certain percentage points. Which, of course, aligns exactly with the powers that Lucy develops. Still, just using some weasel words about it being his hypothesis isn’t good enough, given that he has nothing on which to base this hypothesis. As I said to Scott during one of the lecture scenes, “And if I reach 30% of the way up my ass, I can pull out this speculation about what kind of powers people would have if they used more of their brain's potential.”
Honestly, the lecture scenes – which would have been even more interminable if they weren’t intercut with action sequences in which Lucy displays the abilities Morgan Freeman pulls out of his ass – reminded me of something you might see in an anti-evolution Chick tract, minus the Bible-believing freshman who stands up and demolishes the misguided scientist’s theories. Which is to say that it was a lecture that had only a superficial resemblance to reality and involved someone spotting off nonsense to a room full of credulous idiots. It’s like setting up a strawman and then forgetting to knock him down.
With that said, there were elements of the movie that I enjoyed, with some really cool action sequences, and Johansson doing a great job of portraying the shift in Lucy’s personality as she continued developing her potential.
Honestly, unlike the human brain, the movie had a lot more potential that it could have tapped into. Dropping the lecture scenes would have helped, though much of that was included for the purposes of including some sort of pseudo-intellectual ramblings about the meaning of life and the nature of humanity, which I’m sure seemed deep and meaningful to some people – particularly given that they were imbued with the gravitas that comes from being spoken by Morgan Freeman – but ultimately they had no substance.
And just coming up with a different explanation – anything* – for how Lucy developed her abilities would have made it the kind of movie that would let you say, “It was good for what it was.” But you can’t really say that about it, because its attempt to be more than what it was proved to be an insurmountable obstacle.
Also, they really should have gone the Dr. Manhattan route when it came to Johansson’s wardrobe.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that Scott and I did a double feature that night, and “Lucy” ended up being the second movie of the night, following our viewing of “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
Pretty much any movie was going to suffer in comparison to that one, so my perception of the quality of “Lucy” was probably a bit skewed.
”Guardians,” unlike “Lucy,” is definitely a movie that is “good for what it is,” with “awesomely entertaining” being what it is.
It’s already making all of the money, and it deserves to, but if “all of the money” does not yet include yours, you need to make some changes in your life. Use more than 10% of your brain and go see it.
*For example, they could have used a variant of the alien technology trope that I dislike and said that the drug was made from alien DNA, and it wouldn’t have bothered me if they had just stuck with that as the launching point to kick off a bunch of mind-bending action and didn’t dwell on it overmuch.
|Yes, the Internet went "batty" over the new look. (I'm sorry.)|
In the summer of 1989 when everyone in the world was caught up in Batmania as a result of Tim Burton’s Batman and its accompanying marketing and merchandizing blitz, I read an interview in with someone working with/for the film production company Neue Constantin in an issue of Comics Scene magazine.
The person, whose name escapes me after all these years, was talking about the plans for a movie adaptation of the Fantastic Four.
Inspired by the success of Batman, the interviewee felt that the time was right to turn “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine” into The World’s Greatest Comic Book Movie. He went on to say that the movie would have a $40 million budget – comparable to the budget of Batman – and would be a 100% faithful translation of one of the most iconic storylines in the history of the FF, project the “Galactus Trilogy” directly from the pages of the comic and onto the movie screen.
It was a bold proclamation.
It was also utter bullshit.
As cool as I thought such a thing would be – and as much as I’d hoped that the success of Batman, despite my antipathy towards the movie, would kick off a wave of good comic book adaptations that showed at least some amount of respect for the source material - I was already pretty cynical and bitter about the entertainment industry and its treatment of comic book adaptations. I’d suffered through far too many Superman IIIs, Superman IVs, and the like to hold out much hope for a really good comic book movie.
How hopeful could I be? This was a time when there was very serious consideration being given to the idea of shaving Arnold Schwarzenegger, painting him blue, and having him play Dr. Manhattan in a Watchmen movie adaptation.
Over the next few years this big-budget FF adaptation didn’t materialize, though I would occasionally see some reference to it being stuck in “Development Hell.”
Somewhere around 1993 I started seeing reports of there being some actual movement on the project, but it wasn’t exactly cause for excitement.
The movie had fallen into the hands of B-Movie legend Roger Corman, and the $40 million budget had been somewhat reduced.
By around $38.5 million.
I started seeing some grainy pictures taken on location in publications like Comic Buyer’s Guide, and, even allowing for the low-quality of the images, they didn’t look terribly promising.
In the meantime, Marvel had suffered some serious failures in its attempts to bring its characters to the silver screen, with abortive attempts at adapting the Punisher and Captain America being two recent (at that time) examples.
It’s difficult to believe, from this vantage point, that there was a time when movies based on Marvel characters not only failed to make all the money in the world, they actually failed to even be seen by anyone other than viewers of late-night cable TV fare.
In any case, the handful of photos seemed to be the only evidence of the movie’s existence, as, despite being completed, it never saw the light of day.
In point of fact, it was never intended for anyone to actually see the movie. It was only produced for the sake of fulfilling a contractual obligation, with no plans whatsoever for distributing it.
Accounts by those who had seen the completed film confirmed what everyone already knew: it was a cheap piece of shit.
Bootleg copies of the movie managed to circulate among fans of terrible cinema, and its reputation grew to such an extent that it has become the subject of a documentary.
Throughout the years, it became something of the Holy Grail of bad movies, as I was never able to get my hands on a copy.
All of that changed the other day, and Scott and I sat down to bask in its awfulness.
Here’s a taste:
…and just now, in searching for this trailer, I discovered that the whole damn thing is posted on YouTube. It never even occurred to me to check. I could have gotten this painful experience over a long time ago. Ah well.
If you feel brave enough, you can seek it out yourself and watch it in all its…well, what’s the polar opposite of glory?
I’m not going to provide an in-depth review of the movie, but I will touch on some of the things that stood out for me.
Somewhere between the initial conception of the movie, which was to start in the midst of things with an already-established FF facing off against the world-devouring Galactus, with maybe a quick origin sequence tacked-on, and the final product, Galactus was removed, Dr. Doom became the primary villain, and the whole thing was essentially just an origin story.
It starts out…well, not completely horrible. Cheap-looking and poorly-acted, sure, but the basics are pretty faithful to the comics, and the plot, such as it is, isn’t really all that awful. They provide a decent introduction of the character dynamics, and we get an okay origin sequence for Dr. Doom (albeit one with dreadful special effects). In this regard, it’s superior to the big-budget movie of the 2000s, though that’s not really saying much. However, it’s all goes spectacularly wrong from there.
Young Sue Storm is played by actress Mercedes McNabb, who, at the time, was best known for her role as Wednesday’s nemesis in the Addams Family movies. She would eventually go on to be known for her role as Harmony on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel.
The “video game” that Ben Grimm and young Johnny Storm are seen playing is very clearly a cartoon. An obviously traditionally-animated sequence also plays a part in the movie’s denouement.
Reed’s hair is arguably the very worst special effect in the movie.
While they’re marred by shoddy craftsmanship, the costumes are all pretty accurate. Doom’s design is dead-on, but he looks like someone who might win third or fourth place in a cosplay competition at a small, local comic book convention.
Apparently everyone assumed that Reed and company would die horribly on their mission to space, as the creation of a memorial statue is planned the very same day that they’re reported missing.
Doom’s reaction when “The Jeweler” threatens to kill Alicia is both perfect and hilarious.
The indelible stamp of the Burton Batman movies can be seen throughout – particularly in any scenes involving “The Jeweler” and his henchmen – and I maintain that, even with a big budget, there would have been no way to make a comic book movie in the 1990s that could come close to resembling the approach used in making contemporary comic book movies, because the only way to make a comic book movie at that time was in the Burton mold, at least until Joel Schumacher got his hands on the Dark Knight. Even setting aside the horror of the casting of Nicolas Cage, I shudder to think what Superman Lives! would have been like had it actually been made.
To go back to that point, every time “The Jeweler” and his crew appeared, I imagined some “note” from a studio executive that said, “You know what people loved? The Penguin and his carnival of crime in Batman Returns. Do something like that! But with 1000% more 3 Stooges-style humor!”
What do you call “Love at first sight” when the person who experiences it is blind? In any case, having him cause her to break one of her sculptures, feeling up his face, learning that he’s presumed dead, and then learning that he isn’t dead are enough to get Alicia Masters to declare her love for Ben.
Guy playing Dr. Doom: “No one can see my face behind this mask, so I’m going to have to use my hands to emote. My hands should never not be moving, even if it means that sometimes I look like I’m dancing the Batusi, or if I’m constantly touching people’s faces in a way that’s inappropriate and creepy. Acting!”
Despite being an off-the-charts genius and a creative thinker, the only use Reed can think of for his stretching abilities is to grab things that are a few steps away, punch someone without having to get too close, or trip people. Even to the limited extent that his powers are used, watching the terrible effect is hilarious.
While the make up for the Thing looks cheap and does nothing to create the illusion that it’s anything other than a costume, I can’t really fault the overall design. Yes, it looked terrible, but there was a clear attempt at accuracy. They could have worked just a little harder on making him look rocky rather than scaly, but still, I’d give them a C- for the effort. That said, they should have saved some money and not bothered building the animatronics into his constantly twitching upper lip.
The Human Torch can fly faster than the speed of light, and is invulnerable to a laser beam that has the power to turn New York City into the most ubiquitous stock footage of the effects of a nuclear explosion.
Even when she wasn’t turning invisible, most of the time it was like Sue wasn’t there. Sadly, that much is an example of being pretty faithful to the comics.
So, yeah. That’s the 1994 Fantastic Four movie. Am I glad I finally watched it? Yes; as a comic book geek and someone who appreciates cheap, terrible movies and the laughs that they bring, I found it well-worth the time.