False Progress: Why I Dislike the Idea of the Ocean’s 11 Reboot

Earlier in the year it was announced that a reboot of the classic Ghostbusters movie was in production featuring an all-female cast for the trio of Ghostbusters.  At the time, I didn’t really think a whole lot of it.  Sure it was weird, but free expression and all that.  Well now what were previously rumors have been confirmed.  There is a reboot of Ocean’s 11 in the works featuring yet again an all-female cast, spearheaded by Sandra Bullock herself.

Now I’m starting to take issue with this.

I don’t necessarily have an issue with the fact that this is being done.  Like I said, freedom of expression.  Where I start having problems is with how this kind of thing is treated in the media.  The news latches on to these stories and then these projects are hailed as some kind of progressive icon.  But that just begs the question: are these movies actually being progressive?  Or is there a more insidious undertone going on here, one that even the people spearheading these projects might not be aware of themselves?

Let me put it bluntly.  If we encourage this, the implication becomes that there are no good roles for women.  This isn’t progressiveness.  If anything, it’s regression, taking us back to a time when women’s roles were heavily stereotyped as the caretaker of the house and children.

The problem isn’t necessarily that there aren’t good roles for women in movies.  It’s that people don’t write them.  Instead, they seem to want to take the lazy way out, recasting a role originally written for a man.  And that’s exactly what’s happening with Ocean’s 11.  It’s not a completely new movie.  George Clooney himself opted to help recast his lead role for Sandra Bullock.

I’m not against the idea of an all-female heist movie.  I think that would be great.  But I don’t like the implication going on here.  I hate that it feels like movie studios are trying to capitalize on the popularity of the gender equality and feminist movements.  I hate that these movies are held up as a step forward, when it really feels like all we’re doing is taking a step back.  Instead of recasting roles for women, we should be writing roles for women from the ground up.

And there are great female roles out there.  Does anyone remember Ellen Ripley from Alien?  Her character was credited with helping challenge gender norms, particularly in the science fiction and horror genres, and that was all the way back in the 1970’s.  Here we had a female character who was tough as nails and carried the central action of the movie.

And what about Dana Scully from the X-Files?  She’s another character who proved that she can be a fully fleshed out and tough character (even if she is sometimes obnoxiously skeptical of everything Mulder says).  And continuing with that kind of trend, we have Olivia Dunham from Fringe, who is the only one of the central three characters who works in law enforcement and carries a gun on her nearly at all times.  Fully fleshed out female characters are out there, even if they are admittedly not always as prevalent as male ones.

But that’s just the point.  We shouldn’t be recasting men’s roles for women, because that doesn’t help us further along gender equality.  I mean what’s next, a reboot of Mrs. Doubtfire where instead of a man dressing up as a women, we have a women dressing up as a man?

Besides, no one can replace Robin Williams.  NO ONE.

I won’t automatically assume bad intentions on the part of those making these movies, because that would just be unfair of me, but even so they are responsible for the precedent they may be creating.  There are only these two major examples so far, but if the trend continues, it will become a problem.

Have you ever heard of the Bechdel test, or Bechdel-Wallace test?  It’s a test that asks whether a work of fiction includes at least two women who talk to each other about something that isn’t just another man.  The test has often been criticized because it doesn’t tell us if a film is a good model for gender equality or even if it has well-written, fleshed out female characters.  It’s too limited in that regard.  Walt Hickey from the polling aggregate site FiveThirtyEight observed this about the test, but also wrote that, “it’s the best test on gender equity in film we have — and, perhaps more important …, the only test we have data on”.  This indicates an issue surrounding the discourse on gender equality in movies.

A while back I wrote a post about Gamergate and female characters in video games.  And in it, I remarked on how the issue isn’t always that female characters in video games are overtly sexualized or relegated to background roles, but rather that the criticism surrounding them seems to be a little nitpicky, taking things out of context.  I feel like the same thing happens with the Bechdel test.  It limits itself to such a strict set of criteria that it doesn’t give us a good sense for how well a movie deals with the different genders.  And it doesn’t always take things in their proper context.  Sure, a woman may be relegated to working in the kitchen in a certain movie, but if that movie takes place in the 1950’s then it makes sense for it to be that way because that was the reality of things back then.

So to sum things up, the issue to me isn’t that there aren’t good female roles, it’s that we either don’t know how to write them or we spend too much time trying to find issues where there might not be any.  And if we keep looking in the wrong places, then we miss the problems that are in the right places.

 

And that’s all I have for you this time.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week!

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The Score: Music’s Impact on an Audience

Some years ago when I was still in college I took an online film studies class.  One of the books I read for that class had an interesting little aside about music in movies.  Apparently some in the indie community feel that music in mainstream movies is too manipulative and artificial.  They feel that it basically tricks the audience into feeling an emotion instead of letting the rest of the movie do that for them.

I suppose in a way they do have a point.  Music is definitely crafted to get people feeling a certain way, especially when it comes to movies or television shows.  Have you ever been watching a TV show where the music becomes subdued and faint?  Chances are you’re watching a horror show or at least a scene where the intent was to instill tension and suspense in the viewer.  These soundtracks are definitely meant to evoke certain emotions at certain times.  But I wouldn’t really call it manipulative.  That just makes you sound like a bitter and cynical person who enjoys sucking the fun out of things for everyone.

Let’s use the movie Gravity as an example.  The soundtrack to Gravity was strange, unique, and to some, annoying.  But it served a very important purpose.  The music uses a lot of distorted horns and other strange noises to help give you the sense of motion and objects impacting each other, because in space there is pretty much no sound.  Without the musical score, the movie would feel a lot different.  It would probably feel a lot more distant than it does.  As it stands, the music helps pull you in and helps you grasp the dire nature of the situation the characters are in.  Space is not always a beautiful place.  It is also terrifying, vast, and very cold.

Check the piece below for an example of what I mean.  This song is from the beginning of the movie, when the first wave of debris comes through (hey the song is called “debris” as well, how about that).  You can actually hear the moment in the music when Sandra Bullock’s character detaches from her harness (about two minutes, fifty-eight seconds).

 

 

Interstellar, another science fiction space movie, has a soundtrack that manages to carve its own path as well.  I’ve heard that Hans Zimmer actually didn’t score the movie in the traditional way.  Usually, from what I know, they would play movie scenes in front of the composer and the composer would craft music based on what he had seen.  For Interstellar, Hans Zimmer was basically given a list of the themes and told that Christopher Nolan wanted “something different”.  The main thing I really enjoyed about the movie’s score was the use of organs, especially during the docking scene (if you’ve watched the movie, you’ll know what I mean).  But I also appreciated the ties into the themes of the movie.

The piece below comes from a scene about midway or so through the movie.  The main characters have traveled to a distant galaxy and have landed on an alien planet searching for a team of people who came many years before them.  But there’s a hitch with this particular planet.  A massive black hole sits nearby, close enough to affect the planet with its intense gravity.  This means that while they’re down on the planet, time moves much slower than them, and actually years pass back on Earth before they manage to leave.  So they land on this water covered planet and begin searching for signs of the other team.  All the while, this little score is in the background, building up tension until you-know-what hits the fan.

Of particular note here is a strange little noise that sounds like an otherworldly ticking clock.  It chimes in every couple of seconds in a very rhythmic pattern, underscoring the fact that the seconds they spend on this planet are far longer for the people back on Earth.  It’s a very neat tie-in to one of the main themes of the movie.  Give it a listen.

 

 

It’s very effective at generating tension for that scene, because you know something’s about to go down.  You can actually feel it as you listen.  Not only does the ticking remind you of the subjective nature of time, but it gives you the sense that it’s counting down, that when the invisible clock hits zero something will happen, something big.  I won’t spoil the scene for you if you haven’t seen the movie, but I will say this: it certainly does a great job with hammering home a sense of scale.

But let’s move on to a different tack.  The examples I’ve shown you thus far are very much dependent on the fact that they want to raise your hackles, to make your skin break out in goosebumps.  The next example goes for a different kind of mood.

Sometimes, the musical score just wants you to drift away or zone out.  This is especially true in video games.  Many video games rely on pieces of music looped over and over again, music that is designed without a coherent sense of beginning or end.  These pieces are meant to immerse you in a different way than normal.  They want you to lose yourself in the game, to fade out the world around you until there is nothing but the game.

Many adventure-type video games use this kind of music, and one of the more effective scores I’ve seen was the one for Myst.  I’ve talked a lot about this game in the past, but I only briefly touched on the music.  The score in this game is meant to be strange and ethereal sounding.  I’ve sure someone with an ear trained for music could pick up on some of the instruments they use in the soundtrack, but a lot of it sounds downright otherworldly, which is of course the point.

The particular piece I want to point out from this game plays while you are in the tower on the game’s main island.  It carries the weight of mystery, with a strange, hollow chime sounding in the background during the entire piece.  It’s almost like the music itself is echoing off the metal walls as you explore the tower’s interior.  Take a listen.

 

 

It sounds a little spooky, doesn’t it?  It surrounds you with the hint of mystery as you try to work out the tower’s purpose.  It’s a very well-done piece of music, and definitely sells the atmosphere of the game.  I actually consider it to be one of my more favorite game soundtracks, because it sounds so unlike anything else.  With most games you have a fairly typical array of battle music for fighting, quiet music for sneaking around, dissonant music for tense moments, things like that.  Myst has a feel to it that I feel no other game has touched.  It’s just one of the many reason I consider it to be one of my favorite video games of all time.

Music makes us feel.  Does it do that by manipulating our brains?  Technically yes, but “manipulate” is such a pessimistic sounding word for it.  Music evokes.  Music touches.  Music creates memories that can last a lifetime.  Music is just one of the many art forms human beings use to express themselves, and when combined with other forms of expression it can become truly mesmerizing.  Not everyone will be affected in the same way by the same piece of music, but everyone feels something when they hear a musical score.  Sadness, anger, happiness, all emotions that can be stirred up by something as simple as the stroke of a guitar.

In many ways, music is pure emotion.

 

Well that’s all I’ve got for you this time.  Thanks for reading, and have yourselves a wonderful week!

In the Realm of Possibility: Scientific Accuracy in Fiction

Every once in a while you’ll watch a movie and you’ll think to yourself “well that’s not really possible”.  It’s a common thought, because on some level we are aware that movies take place outside the realm of our world.  They may try to imitate our reality, but they will never be our reality.  It’s all a fake.

Scientific accuracy within these fictional worlds is oftentimes nebulous.  These places often take unrealistic or improbable routes for the sake of their stories.  As it so happens, people really enjoy catching onto these inaccuracies or improbabilities and pointing them out.  Usually, it doesn’t affect them too much.  It’s one of those little things that they’ll notice and just kind of chuckle at.  But then there are those other people, the ones that will hold every little inaccuracy against the movie.  They’re the type of people who will go online and write an entire forum, blog, or social media post about it.  This is the kind of thing I take issue with.

First off, how important is scientific accuracy really?  Well it depends.  Some movies/television shows/books will tout their scientific accuracy as one of the main selling points, which can end up being a double-edged sword.  It might draw people in, but it makes any inaccuracies that exist much more glaring and harder to forgive.  I would argue that most of the time, it isn’t nearly as important as some people seem to think it is.

I remember going to see the movie Gravity with a friend of mine when it first came out in theaters.  We both really enjoyed it.  It was epic and intense.  It had great effects.  It was beautifully shot.  We both left the theater incredibly satisfied with it, and talked a lot about it on the car ride back.  And then a few days later I was hearing that some people didn’t enjoy the movie because it wasn’t perfectly scientifically accurate.  Some were even complaining about (get this) how the paper Sandra Bullock’s character reads in the pod doesn’t behave the way it would in real space.

All I could think to myself was “really, THAT’S your problem with the movie?  Some pieces of paper?”

Now I won’t profess to be the most scientifically literate person on the planet, as I’m sure there are other scientific issues with the movie.  But I honestly don’t care.  So the paper didn’t behave the way it should have?  Who cares?  Does it really impact the movie that much?  No, no it doesn’t.

Besides, actually simulating that while an actor is holding the paper would be next to impossible unless they were actually in space, which wasn’t going to happen by a long shot.

I think the question we really have to be asking ourselves isn’t “is this movie scientifically accurate” but rather “would scientific inaccuracy detract from the movie in some way?”  And oftentimes, I don’t think the answer would be yes.

Do the scientific inaccuracies make Gravity any less thrilling, any less of a spectacle?  No.  Do the scientific inaccuracies detract from the actor’s performances?  No.  Do they somehow muddy up the themes that the movie engages with?  No.  It does none of those things.  The inaccuracies have no impact on the movie whatsoever.  The only reason they’re a big deal is because some people decided to make it a big deal.

I mean think about it.  If we demanded absolute perfect science every single time, so many great movies would never have been made.  The Star Wars franchise would never have existed period, along with Star Trek.

Time travel is supposed to be scientifically impossible, and yet we still have hundreds of stories dealing with traveling through time.  So why are pieces of freaking paper such a big deal?

I realize I’m probably simplifying the issue, but that’s honestly how I feel about it.  The way some people approach scientific accuracy is so limiting to writers.  Why should we want to write anything if we’re just going to be blasted for any little inaccuracy we might have, even if the rest of what we create is pure gold?  Why are people so intent on finding the tiny flaws, in highlighting them so that they appear worse than they actually are?  I hear people complain about scientific accuracy in superhero movies for crying out loud.

Hey man, if a guy just got powers from being bitten by a radioactive spider, I think scientific accuracy is out the window on this one.

If stories had to pass some scientific fact-checking test before they could be created, I think you’d find that a great deal of them would never come to be.  Writers sometimes need to stretch and bend the rules in order to make a story work.  I mean The Martian by Andy Weir is a great little book, and the scientific accuracy is a neat detail, but I would argue that it would have been just as possible to write the same kind of story without all that.  Like I said, it’s a good detail, but it doesn’t enhance the story as much as people like to think it does.  Honestly, I found myself slightly annoyed on a few occasions when the book took several pages to explain all the science behind it.  I mean I like the detail, but really, enough is enough.

It’s called science-fiction, not science-fact.  And there’s a reason for that.

 

That’s all I have for you this week.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and until then, have a great week.