Thinking Out Loud

I know, I know: I’ve been inexcusably absent for the past two weeks. I apologize. But sometimes, coming up with anything for this blog is more difficult than writing stories is. The fact is, I just plain drew a blank for two weeks when it came to thinking up something to talk about—and keeping it interesting. I thought of a few things, but I wasn’t even sure if they could maintain my interest, let alone anybody else’s. I’m not 100% sure this one will, but it’s something to write about and let you know I’m still alive and know how to use a keyboard.

I like to watch movies. I think I’ve mentioned that before. But I rarely go to theaters to do it. I prefer sitting at home, because I can pause the movie and go to bathroom without missing anything. And it’s cheaper in the long run.
Of course, the downside is that I don’t belong to anything like Netflix, so I can’t rent movies. I’m at the mercy of whatever the library happens to have, and they don’t often get new releases of the type I like. And, since I don’t actually buy many movies—I discovered I have a bad habit of watching most of them only once or twice, at best—that means I miss a lot.

All that is to explain why, in the past six months or so, I’ve only seen two movies in the theater: The Hobbit, which I watched in 3D (my first since the awful Jaws 3D), and Iron Man 3 just a few weeks back.

But I’ve watched a lot of movies on DVD. I was finally able to see Goodfellas, a picture I’ve wanted to see for a long time. It makes me hope I can find the book Wiseguy that it’s based on. I’ve also watched The Usual Suspects. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and watch it. You won’t regret it. I suspect I’m one of the few people who hadn’t seen it soon after it came out, though.

I also recently watched Menace II Society, which took inspiration of sorts from Goodfellas, at least in how it was


structured. And, today (Friday, May 31) I watched the original Conan the Barbarian. Yes, the one with Schwarzenegger. I’ve also seen the new version.




This is a very well-known photograph of Robert...

Now, as a Robert E. Howard fan, I’ve read all of his original Conan stories. I own the three-volume set of trade paperbacks published by Del Rey. They have organized these stories (and all of Mr. Howard’s work, as far as I know) in the order they were originally published, even going to the trouble of making sure they are as originally published.
And since I know these stories, and have since I was a teenager, I’m not in full backing of either movie version. I wish someone would come along and treat them with the same respect Peter Jackson treated the J.R.R. Tolkien stories.
Here’s something I realized, though, as I was watching the original: even though it doesn’t follow the Howard stories, it at least has a story. In pursuing Thulsa Doom, Conan has a goal that might have been written by Mr. Howard. For all I know, he would have approved of the movie. But there’s a story there, even if the effects look a little cheesy to us these days, with all the CGI and other slick effects the studios have at their disposal now. And the further back in time you go with movies, the cheesier they look, but the better the stories tend to be.

Take something like the Transformers franchise. Sure, you watch these spectacles and you’re taken in by the effects. But if you start really examining these movies, there’s not a lot of substance there. I mean, why are humans even involved? About all they manage to do is run around and try not to be crushed in the battles between the Autobots and the Decepticons. Beyond that, they’re not much good, really.

And the stories? I’ve seen all three movies. They have great effects and impressive titles, but I’m not sure if I could tell you the plotline of any of them. They serve a purpose: they’re good to watch when I want to see a movie I don’t have to think about much. Problem is, I’ve seen them when I was in a mood to be critical and thinking, and all kinds of snags pop up then. I won’t even go into them in this post.

On the other hand, movies such as The Lord of the Rings series are highly polished when it comes to effects and production, but they also have the story to back them up. So I watch them again and again and enjoy the hell out of them.

And yet it’s movies like the Transformers series that get all the big bucks (don’t even get me started on disasters like G.I. Joe and Battleship).

I know I’m saying what we’ve all thought, especially writers. Movies for us are exercises in getting a lobotomy, for the most part. On the other hand, sometimes we’re jealous because, guess what? A movie doesn’t have to worry whether or not it wrote in enough sense of place. It’s a visual medium. Sense of place kinda comes with the territory.

But then…think back a moment. Did you read Old Yeller as a kid and cry? For that matter, did you feel sadness or even shed tears when Thorin Oakenshield died at the end of The Hobbit? (Sorry if I spoiled that for anybody.) How many books have you read that moved you in some way or another? Now, how many movies have done the same thing? How many movies have left you reconsidering what you think of the world? Menace II Society did that with me, but not many manage it.

Cover of "Menace II Society"

I’m not sure I have a real point here (kinda like some movies I mentioned above). I guess this is more in the nature of a rant, and one that’s gone on too long now. But maybe it’ll also make you think about what you elect to be entertained by. I admit I watch movies like Transformers at times because I do want only to be entertained. But more often than not, I look for the other kind, the kind that move me in some way. And they’re damn rare, in books and movies.

Let me know if you have any that moved you.



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