Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Pop Art: Fundimensions Edition

In the bicentennial year of 1976, MPC (part of General Mills out of Mount Clemens, Michigan) released a whole line of Space:1999 plastic model kits under the brand "Fundimensions."

This line included several miniatures from "The greatest space adventure of them all," including the trademark "Eagle 1 Transporter," "The Alien" (never seen on the show, but a damn cool kit...), and also "Alpha Moonbase," an "entire scene model kit."

The Eagle and Moonbase Alpha kits were eventually re-released in 1999 with new artwork to celebrate the fact that fact had caught up with fiction. But for not entirely rational reasons I've always preferred the original Fundimensions artwork of the 1970s.

Just look at that logo for a moment: it practically screams disco decade.

And I still remember prowling the model aisle of Toys 'R' Us as a six-year old kit and spotting these kits. It was like...discovering a great treasure. Does Toys 'R" Us even have a model kit aisle anymore?

I know, I know, I'm showing my age...

Anyway, one look at the art of these great retro-futuristic model kits today brings back a wave of happy memories. And even though nostalgia is commonly "the most useless of emotions," it's also a nice, warm, cozy feeling from time to time.

If you owned these kits, maybe you feel the same way...

Sci-Fi Wisdom of the Week

"If I were God, I would have made the world just so and no different. And so I have you... I have you."

-The Man (Viggo Mortensen), The Road (2009

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

There is Nothing Wrong with Your Movie Projector...

Well, last week in my cult tv flashback for "The Zanti Misfits" on The Outer Limits, I noted that a feature film remake of The Twilight Zone was in the offing (with Di Caprio involved) and that, given this fact, The Outer Limits wouldn't be far behind for the same big screen treatment.


This morning, various sources are reporting that MGM is in the process of producing a film based on the early 1960s sci-fi/horror, Stefano anthology. The news (from SlashFilm):

Variety estimates the deal to be in the mid-six figures — MGM has hired screenwriters Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan to pen the script. The screenwriting duo was discovered during Project Greenlight and penned all three of the Feast films, as well as Saw IV, V, VI and the upcoming Saw 3D).

I just hope these authors remember (or learn) that The Outer Limits is horror with a distinctly sci-fi bent, and the subject matter is universally the human condition; and how scientific advancement can also create...fear.

And, as I wrote yesterday, these late 1950s-early 1960s anthologies are so fondly remembered not only for their subject matter and intelligent approach, but their black-and-white, almost expressionist presentation.

It could be very interesting (if problematic...) to see how this notion gets translated to the modern cinema. Some episodes of The Outer Limits, including "The Zanti Misfits," would certainly make terrific feature-length tales.

But the upshot is that next summer, you may be choosing which classic TV anthology to see on the big screen, The Outer Limits or The Twilight Zone.

If so, then this may also be the time for a One Step Beyond movie...

The Cult-TV Faces of: Vasquez Rocks

Monday, August 02, 2010

It's Still a Good Life? Well, that Depends...

Thanks to commenter/reader Nir, I finally had the opportunity to check out for the first time the 2003 sequel to The Twilight Zone's "It's a Good Life," titled "It's Still a Good Life."

The 22-minute color episode is available in its entirety (in three parts) on YouTube, starting here.

Although this episode aired originally on UPN in February of 2003, there may be many of you who haven't seen the show yet. This update of my last post will definitively include spoilers, so if you want to view the episode first, go check it out and come back.

I'll wait...

Back already? Great.

My first, off-the-cuff reaction is that I didn't find the episode particularly impressive.

For starters, Forest Whitaker, the new series narrator, races through the opening narration like he's late for a lunch appointment. What the heck? Was he doing ten episode narrations a day or something?

On the other hand, I appreciated the continuity of the narration's presentation; that the producers thought to put Whitaker in front of a map of America, as Serling stood before one in "It's a Good Life."

Worse than the terrible opening narration, the episode boasts almost no sense of visual distinction. Although it's wonderful to see Bill Mumy and Cloris Leachman portraying the same characters some forty years on, I wish the director of the episode, Allan Kroeker, had sought to emulate the earlier episode in terms of imagery, composition and design, at least to some small degree (other than a black-and-white fade out following the denouement). In tight, half-hour stories, less is more. We don't really need the big special effects here: people blurring and vanishing to the corn-field or, in one graphic case, Anthony causing a little boy's father to erupt into flames.

"It's Still a Good Life" isn't entirely lacking in narrative interest, however. The story involves a grown Anthony (Bill Mumy) still holding Peaksville hostage to his narcissistic whims. But now he has a young daughter, Audrey (Liliana Mumy), who has kept her similar powers a secret. Anthony's Mom, Agnes (Cloris Leachman) believes that Audrey can be made to turn against her father, and save the town.

In addition, Audrey possesses a psychic power Anthony lacks: a creative power. She can return everyone and everything that Anthony has banished into the cornfield over the years. I felt that this was an interesting narrative development, and an effective counterpoint to Anthony's destructive abilities.

In fact, if you view the end of the episode in this light, I would submit that Audrey pulls a fast-one on her Dad. She beats him at his own game by making Anthony feel, for the first time, what it's like to lonely. This is the very thing that allows Audrey to use her power and actually restore the entirety of the world. I guess some people felt that this episode featrues a downer ending, that it lets two "monsters" rule the day. I would argue the opposite. Audrey doesn't so much as join up with her Dad, as skillfully undermine him. She wishes away all of Peaksville residents so that she and her Dad are really and truly alone. When he confesses he's feeling the effects of that isolation, Audrey brings back the world. Airplanes. Cities. Communities.
That's a happy ending, isn't it? Sure, if you ever see these tourists in your town, you should think only happy thoughts, but least the planet and human race are restored. The wrong of four decades ago is set right, at last.

So if you want to see how things turned out for Anthony and his Mom, I recommend this follow-up episode so you can get a sense of closure. However, If you are hoping that the story will be vetted with the same confidence, visual distinction and resonant imagery, you're going to be sorely disappointed by the pedestrian nature of the presentation.

It strikes me as bizarre, and even a little futile, that there have been so many remakes of The Twilight Zone, and not once have these updates apparently considered that the film language of the original series -- the black-and-white, expressionist presentation -- is actually part of our pop culture bedrock. In other words, the stark, black-and-white, often-canted look of The Twilight Zone "says" Twilight Zone as much as -- if not more than -- the trademark "twist ending."

To approach the franchise in color, sans expressive filmmaking techniques, just never feels fully...Twilight Zone-ish. I remember an amazing episode of Felicity several years back, almost a decade actually, in which J.J. Abrams brought in Twilight Zone director Lamont Johnson to block the actors and re-capture the visual feel of the original anthology. It was in black-and-white too.

Since Leonardo Di Caprio is remaking The Twilight Zone as a feature film right now, this might be a lesson he should heed. He and Nolan just challenged today's audience with the dream imagery and logic from Inception; and should do likewise here. The Twilight Zone's presentation should be intelligent, imaginative and unconventional too.

Do it in black-and-white. Do it in expressionist mode. Maybe then, we'll really and truly feel that we're...back in the zone.

CULT TV FLASHBACK: 113: The Twilight Zone: "It's a Good Life" (1961)

In 1953, acclaimed author Jerome Bixby penned "It's a Good Life," a terrifying story later voted one of the greatest in sci-fi history.

Nearly a decade after the story's publication, television legend and producer Rod Serling famously adapted Bixby's story of a God-like (or Devil-Like?) child, Anthony Fremont (Bill Mumy), for The Twilight Zone during its memorable third season.

The result, which first aired on November 3, 1961, remains among the most famous -- and creepy -- installments of the landmark anthology program.

In his opening narration of "It's a Good Life," Rod Serling stands before a map of the United States and introduces viewers to the quaint little town of Peaksville, Ohio.

As our guide soon relates in staccato, clipped tone, something strange happened in this little American burg. "A monster had arrived" there and the "rest of the world disappeared," leaving Peaksville in a New Dark Age without electricity; without any modern conveniences at all, for that matter.

This monster, Serling quickly informs the viewers, is "a six-year old boy" named Anthony Fremont, who can make things happen...with his mind.

Anthony can also "hear" what others are thinking and has a nasty habit of wishing away his enemies "to the cornfield."

This frightening psychic power means that the grown-ups of Peaksville are constantly re-assuring and excusing the boy's bad behavior, so he doesn't turn his laser-like glare towards them.

"That's a good thing you did, Anthony. That's a real good thing you did."

On the night of a birthday party, Anthony's neighbor Dan Hollis learns about the terror of the cornfield the hard way when -- after drinking too much -- he urges his terrified neighbors to kill the dictatorial child. Nobody moves. Although Aunt Amy does contemplate a fireplace poker, at least for an instant...

You're a very bad man
," Anthony tells Dan before transforming the poor sap -- in a horrifying moment -- into a living toy; a macabre, bouncing jack-in-the-box.

Anthony's father then urges the boy to wish the monstrosity away to that cornfield, where all of Anthony's misshapen, monstrous creations dwell.

The capper of the episode is overtly pessimistic. On a whim, Anthony causes a snow blizzard. This sudden, drastic alteration in the weather will likely result in the destruction of half the crops supplying the town's food supply...

For almost fifty-years, "It's a Good Life" has resonated with generations of TV audiences, and I suppose that's primarily because the episode expresses some brand of universal truth about children and parents.

When a child doesn't know limits, when a child isn't taught limits, the result may very well be a selfish, entitled monster. Not a monster who can destroy the world, like Anthony perhaps, but a monster nonetheless. When a child goes out-of-control, and the community does nothing, everyone suffers. Or as Ben Franklin once famously suggested: "educate your child to self-control, to the habit of holding passion and prejudice and evil tendencies subject to an upright and reasoning will, and you have done much to abolish misery from their future and crimes from society."

So it takes a village to raise a child. Or the village suffers. Or something like that. Considering this notion, it's not difficult to parse this iconic episode of The Twilight Zone as a commentary on what I sometimes term parenting paralysis. Nobody is entirely immune to this condition. Not me, certainly, though I try to be aware of it. I define parenting paralysis as the refusal of a parent to step up and do something that needs to be done "in the moment," even if it's distinctly unpleasant. But the downside of avoiding conflict is tremendous. The next time the same behavior pops up, it will be even harder to address...

Instead of confronting Anthony, the Fremonts in "It's a Good Life" just keep appeasing him over and over, refusing to acknowledge that every time they engage in this appeasement they simultaneously encourage Anthony's bad behavior. Behavior like creating three-headed gophers...that bite.

I don't know that Anthony is actually evil, as some have suggested. Rather, he's merely Id unloosed. He's six, and he wants what he wants he wants, and there is no one in his family courageous enough to subject those selfish desires to an "upright and reasoning will."

I have to say, Captain Kirk did substantially better addressing a teenager with the same powers, Charles Evans (in the episode "Charlie X"). As a father figure, Kirk understood he had a kind of psychological authority over the boy, even if the boy was the one with all the powers. There's no one like that in Anthony's world.

One aspect of "It's a Good Life" that I still find remarkable is the meticulous attention paid to detail. Specifically, the episode's screenplay informs the audience that Anthony doesn't like singing, and that he doesn't like people to talk while the TV is on. But Anthony also, apparently, does not like art work. And if you look closely, every painting, photograph or other piece of artwork in the Fremont house is missing...sent to the cornfield, I would presume. Throughout the episode, you can see differentiations of shading on the walls, tell-tale signs of locations where picture frames once hung.

Again, the episode doesn't specify this particular dislike by Anthony, but again and again we detect those rectangular outlines and variations in shading...reminding us that once upon a time, art work was present. What's the larger purpose of such a background detail? Not to sound cruel, because I am a happy father who loves his child to the moon and back, but "It's a Good Life" suggests that in having and indulging a spoiled child, parents stand to lose a lot. The "comfortable" elements of their lives (electricity, art work, music, bars of soap etc.) virtually evaporate as the child becomes the sole focus of their lives.

I also have to admit, I get a kick out of the episode's not-so-veiled critique of television. There is no television in Peaksville, save for what Anthony generates from his strange and childish mind. The drama he creates consists of dinosaurs endlessly growling and duking it out on volcano tops. There's no human interaction whatsoever.

To please Anthony, one of his neighbors notes, deadpan, "It's much better than the old television..." Now, on one hand, she's trying to ingratiate herself with the boy and this is an entirely appropriate remark. On the other hand, I think I hear Serling's voice there, commenting on the quality of a medium designed to sell cigarettes and laundry detergent.

Perhaps the freakiest element of "It's a Good Life," -- and as a kid I was absolutely terrorized out by this -- is the fate of Dan Hollis.

The episode utilizes two shots to reveal this fellow's metamorphosis into a Jack in the Box.

In the first shot, we see a close-up of Dan's bobbing head, wearing a pointed cap.

In the next shot, sequentially, we see a silhouette of Dan's head, the springs, and the box, on the wall.

Somehow, this one-two punch seems more psychologically effective than seeing some special effect deployed. Because the transformation involves two shots -- and is never viewed entirely in one frame -- it's as if the viewer's brain has to assemble the pieces. And when it does, the image is grotesque and disturbing.

I also love that at the denouement of the episode, Rod Serling feels no need to expand or explain any of what has occurred in the narrative during the preceding half hour. "No comment here," he says. "No comment at all." Again, I think that gets at the universality of the theme: that parents make monsters of their children by not disciplining them; by avoiding conflict.

On February 19, 2003, the UPN update of The Twilight Zone broadcast a follow-up to this tale called "It's Still a Good Life," again starring Bill Mumy as Anthony Fremont and Cloris Leachman (Mrs. Fremont). In this story, Anthony was all grown up, with a daughter of his own (played by Mumy's daughter).

I never saw this particular episode of the re-do, but for the present I'm only going to think happy thoughts about it...

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Kindertrauma reviews Nightmares in Red, White and Blue...

If you follow this blog, you probably recall that I'm featured as one of the talking heads in the upcoming documentary on the evolution of the American horror film, Nightmares in Red, White and Blue.

Well, the movie -- now available on Demand -- just got a fantastic review over at one of my all-time favorite horror blogs, Kindertrauma

But what's really wonderful is that my heretofore unrecognized singing talent is also being appreciated.


a snippet, but go read the whole great review:

"Seriously kids, after the recent and excellent NEVER SLEEP AGAIN, I figured I’d have to wait a couple years at least for another outstanding documentary on horror and yet here is NIGHTMARES IN RED WHITE AND BLUE. You may be thinking, “How the hell are they gonna cram the whole history of American horror into one film?” and the answer is…editing, like, really good editing. As I check out the IMDb I see that the film was edited by ANDREW MONUMENT the same guy who directed it, two gold stars for you ANDREW. It’s based on a book that has somehow escaped my grasp (and not for long) by author JOSEPH MADREY. You want talking heads? How ‘bout these noggins? JOHN CARPENTER, JOE DANTE , ROGER CORMAN, LARRY COHEN and GEORGE ROMERO, to name just a few. Lordy, my unofficial godfather LANCE HENRIKSEN even narrates! The only thing missing is JAMIE LEE CURTIS spoon-feeding you Activia while you watch it..."

CULT MOVIE REVIEW: The Book of Eli (2010)

The Book of Eli (2010) is a post-apocalyptic action movie from the visual and thematic tradition of the Sergio Leone Spaghetti Westerns starring Clint Eastwood as "The Man with No Name."

Accordingly, the film is set mostly outdoors against a backdrop of Big Sky, and particularly lovely to look at. One rousing action scene late in the proceedings is positively brimming with visual invention, and proves a real highlight.

n broad terms, the overall production design, the character blocking, the iconic positioning of Eli in the frame, and other visual facets of the drama are truly exemplary, and therefore well worth lauding.

Yet ultimately I feel somewhat conflicted about the film. In emotional, purely human terms, The Book of Eli plays as markedly flat compared to the harrowing The Road (2009), for instance. And most importantly, the deep religious message it conveys is not handled in an appropriately inspiring or nuanced manner.

The Book of Eli
is set thirty winters after an unnamed apocalypse in which the sky opens up and burns to a cinder most of the human population. The surviving populations of the world blame this global catastrophe on the Bible (but not the Koran, and not the Talmud, apparently...). Thus all copies of the Bible -- everywhere -- are burned.

Three decades after this terrifying day of disaster, a humble "walker," Eli (Denzel Washington) makes a dangerous pilgrimage West carrying what may be the planet's final Bible in his satchel.

The book in his possession soon lands Eli in direct conflict with a small-time tyrant named Carnegie (Gary Oldman), who believes that ownership of the valuable tome will permit him to control and dominate an unruly population. Eli also befriends a young, impressionable slave, Solara (Mila Kunis), who takes up the book's learning with Eli. There is a final battle between Eli and Carnegie for possession of the Bible, and the end of the trek occurs at a sort of book repository/monastery on Alcatraz.

There are many truly fine elements at work here. The action sequence I mentioned above is a real humdinger. It finds Eli and Solara hiding in an isolated house in a western desert as Carnegie and his goons attack, utilizing superior firepower. The camera lunges back and forth between Eli's position and Carnegie's position, but eschews all conventional film cutting. Instead, (under the auspices of some amazing CGI...) we travel "through" bullet holes, race along the battlefield floor, pivot suddenly and zoom in the other direction, sometimes even through carnage and fiery debris. This is a dazzling and fresh way of visualizing a gunfight, and it's fluid, fun and exciting.

As a film buff, I also appreciated the plethora of touches here that appear purposefully reminiscent of Clint Eastwood's "Man with No Name" feature films (which in turn, I suppose, are purposefully reminiscent of Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo).

Eli may possess a name, but like his Spaghetti Western predecessor, he boasts a personal code in a mostly immoral terrain... and is a highly-skilled fighter, proficient, in particular, with a sword.

Remember in Yojimbo how Mifune's ronin chopped off the arm of an opponent with his sword? Early on, The Book of Eli presents a similarly violent sequence.

And like The Man with No Name, Eli is a fellow who brooks no nonsense from anyone, and is a loner, an outsider in the culture around him. He ignores or skirts reigning authority, and again like Eastwood's character, seems to be more than a mere mortal. Just as The Man with No Name survived hanging (twice...), so does Eli seem to endure and survive extreme physical challenges (like gunfights and a battle with a chainsaw-wielding opponent). Although Eli is joined by Solara, he gets no substantive help from the community he ultimately helps.

So clearly, Eli is a heroic archetype, one perfectly in keeping with the Western and Samurai/ronin traditions he arises from. To accentuate this important connection to cinematic heroes of the past, the Hughes Brothers frequently shoot Denzel Washington from below, or in iconic silhouette to accentuate his power, virtue and strength. A variation on this idea involves a focus on the eyes. When you think of Leone's pictures, one of the first images that leaps to mind is a close-up of Eastwood's steely, penetrating orbs. In purposeful contrast, Washington's eyes are shielded almost constantly by opaque sun-glasses, to make way for a final act surprise twist. But the sub-text of the warrior's sight is part and parcel of both "The Man with No Name films" and The Book of Eli.

Post-apocalyptic films have re-purposed Westerns before (The Road Warrior was Shane, wasn't it?) and The Book of Eli picks a very good, very efficacious model to emulate in these classic Italian genre films. This Hughes Bros. movie also seems to acknowledge its myriad post-apocalyptic genre roots, especially with the prominence in one frame of a poster from the 1975 film A Boy and His Dog.

I also noted some real similarities between The Book of Eli and the 1936 H.G. Wells' penned film Things to Come, particularly the section of that classic movie involving "Everytown" in 1966-1967, post-apocalypse. In that middle-portion of Things to Come, Ralph Richardson's petty tyrant "The Boss" dominated a local population as a Dark Age for humanity loomed, and he even had a female squeeze at his side. Oldman and Jennifer Beals play similar roles here, in a comparable setting and situation.

Interestingly, however, ideology has changed dramatically from Things to Come in 1936 to The Book of Eli in 2010. In Things to Come, John Massey arrived from a pacifist socialist organization "Wings over the World," which almost literally forced a global government and New World Order on Richardson's tyrant and his warring people. Eli, by contrast, is a kind of fundamentalist missionary re-asserting the tenets of Christianity in a world where morality has largely vanished.

Another commendable element of The Book of Eli involves a useful, real-life historical analogy: the book-preserving souls on Alcatraz led by Malcolm McDowell are highly reminiscent of the Irish Monks, who, in the Dark Ages, took it upon themselves to preserve the literary treasures of Antiquity. Without their tireless and truly amazing efforts, much of humanity's greatest works would have been lost to the barbarism of the day. In The Book of Eli, another Dark Ages is broached, and the same thing occurs: human ingenuity is championed. Encoded here, then, is a worthwhile message about literature and books: that they hold the legacy and promise of the human race.

Even the broad religious message of The Book of Eli I found eminently worthwhile. Simply put, the movie states that some people view religious belief as a method of control (Carnegie) and some see it as an authentic road to salvation and redemption (Eli). I appreciated the even-handedness of such a take; the yin-and-yang of the approach.

But then...there's this other aspect of the film that I found just didn't quite work for me. And yes, it involves Eli and the overtly religious aspect of his heroic quest. In crafting an interesting variation of "The Man with No Name" character, the makers of the film have gone too far for my taste. They've made Eli, actually, superhuman.

One of the most jarring and incongruous aspects of The Book of Eli is the style of fighting adopted by Eli during the frequent clashes. This is a malnourished, tired, ragged character adorned in layers of ratty clothes...and yet he moves at super-human speeds, as though a well-fed, highly-trained, agile martial artist. There's another handicap at work too that would seem to preclude such precise fighting movements. I get what the movie is trying to do; to offer a Christian version of Eastwood's character, but Eli is very clearly God-Powered.

He's a Holy Warrior whose very quest is blessed by the attention of the Almighty Himself. At one point, he recounts a story that God spoke to him directly as a child, and instructed him to take the Bible out west.

Helpfully, God has thus made Eli virtually invulnerable in his ability to evade bullets, and fulfill his holy purpose. In one shoot-out set on a busy city street (another sequence taken right from the Western genre...), a half-dozen or so men open fire on Eli with blazing pistols. He is so confident in his continued survival that he does not even take cover. He just walks away in the middle of the wide open avenue, his back to the bad guys, as they shoot at him. And, he survives, without a scratch.

Even Eli's enemies perceive that he is, well, specially...endowed. One of Carnegie's minions states, in hushed tones: "It's like he's protected somehow. Like nothing can touch him."

Too often, alas, that's the level of nuance and subtlety at work. The ambiguity of the "Man with No Names" films is sacrificed for this modification in the format, and I submit it's a near-fatal subtraction from the formula.

I should specify. As intelligent and yes, even spiritual viewers, we are not asked by The Book of Eli to contemplate the notion that God could be guiding this battle, or Eli's very destiny. Rather we are told, in no uncertain terms, and in fight after fight, sequence after sequence, that the Almighty has got Eli's back. And I feel very strongly that this takes much of the suspense and intrigue out of the film.

Put another way, it's the difference between believing God exists and is possibly affecting outcomes and destinies, and the definitive knowledge that God is, well, perched on the third cloud from the right, micromanaging our affairs with a cosmic blackberry. What I'm saying is that God is a mystery (even the Greatest of All Mysteries...) but this movie negates that mystery, spoon-feeding the audience easy answers. Not only is Eli righteous, he is literally on a misson from God, to quote The Blues Brothers.

We have no such certainty about the Divine in life, so why make God's presence and agenda so certain, so uninspiring in the movie? I mean, that's what faith is all about, isn't it? The belief that God is present even though we can't get text him, message him or e-mail him, right? If God is constantly our dutiful co-pilot, as is suggested in the film, then faith is actually moot.
Who needs belief and faith when bullets can't touch you?

But here's the considerable problem the movie's approach opens up: if God can deliver messages directly to Eli, and render Eli virtually impervious to all but point-blank bullet wounds, he can surely just materialize the Bible on Alcatraz, right? Or, God could have prevented all the Bibles from being burned in the first place if he disapproved of that particular outcome.

In fact, the "history of the world" as depicted in The Book of Eli is baffling and contradictory. There's a global disaster, and we're led to believe that every surviving American -- even those living in the Bible Belt, burned their Bibles in response. There must be hundreds of millions of such Bibles in this country...and all but one of 'em get torched. Yet, as I noted above, the Koran and the Talmud both survive.

We can extrapolate from this oddity in the story that the survivors don't blame a "God" figure for their suffering, but specifically, a Christian God. Why else take it out on the Bible, and not the other religious books? And see, this nugget of information leads to even more problems. If everyone in the post-apocalyptic future has so thoroughly rejected the Bible, how is brandishing one going to grant the despotic Carnegie total control over his citizens?

Now, the people of this future era may be young and naive and living in a world without books, but it was their parents who burned the Bibles, so wouldn't they have at least some knowledge of it? If, as a parent, you deemed Christianity and the Bible responsible for the wholesale destruction of the Earth, so much so that you had to go on a book-burning tear, wouldn't you also, you know, tell your
children: beware, these beliefs destroyed the planet?

On another tangent, if every Bible on the Earth were indeed burned, wasn't this God's plan too? And if Christianity really was the cause of the destruction of the planet, why would Eli want to re-introduce the very thing that hundreds of millions of people -- even in the Bible Belt, even devout Christians -- massively assessed responsible for the destruction of the planet?

In short, The Book of Eli wants to be a movie about how the world needs more Christianity in it. Yet by the movie's own storytelling details, Christianity is apparently what destroyed the world in the first place. There's a whopping narrative contradiction there. This is weak writing.

Scrape the surface of The Book of Eli and you detect how the narrative details don't make a lick of common sense. A spiritual movie is wonderful, but I would submit that a spiritual movie must work even harder to tell its story in a fashion that conforms to the tenets of our consensus reality. God doesn't erect actual protective force fields around those he loves, does he? We experience the Divine (if we see the Divine at all) in the little human truths, in an unexpected moment of grace, in the innocence and love of children, etc. That's an approach I would have preferred; one with a sense of nuance and subtlety.

But The Book of Eli's approach to religion is unnecessarily broad, and too unambiguous. The movie wants to be about the mystery of faith, but it is so obvious, so callow, so crushing in its depiction of the world, that it actually obliterates the necessity of faith.

This would have been a far stronger (and much more inspiring...) film if it had concerned a man struggling with, and ultimately re-affirming his faith. As it is, the movie is about a man with rock solid certainty that God has spoken to him directly, and who is never challenged in that belief. Eli begins and ends the movie as a Holy Warrior. He doesn't grow, he doesn't change.

It's a creative and imaginative idea to make the archetypal Man with No Name a religious crusader. I just wish The Book of Eli had tread more deeply into the mysteries and profundity of belief and faith instead of presenting certainties that we, as humans, just don't receive on this troubled, mortal coil. It takes the fun out of an action film to know that God is intervening on one side, and that the result of a war is already decided.

Eli's book is never opened to us, the audience. It's slammed shut before we get to read the first page for ourselves.

But golly, the cover is terrific.