Monday, December 26, 2022

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Friday, December 16, 2022

A 1750s SCOTTISH Karate Kid?

I just watched the original Karate Kid film for Myopia Movies and coincidentally found this Tumblr post that Canadian author Bruno Lombardi, whom I know from the alternate history forum, posted on Facebook.

I thought that would actually be pretty fun to watch and joined in the brainstorming. For the Scottish scenario, I suggested the equivalent to the Japanese Internment would be German bombing of Scottish cities and evacuation of Scots to Canada, with "Mr. MacMiyagi" as the sole survivor of a U-Boat attack on the ship evacuating his clan. Bruno's friend, fellow writer Jonathan Edelstein, suggested instead it could actually take place in the early modern period, with "Mr. MacMiyagi's" personal tragedy being the Highland Clearances.

So here's the scenario we hashed out:

*Daniel is from the yeoman class, while Ali is gentry. There's a clear class difference, but they're both landowners. Mr. and Mrs. Mills aren't going to be exactly impressed, but the class difference isn't such a problem for them that they're going to have Daniel kidnapped and shipped to the Colonies as an indentured servant or quietly murdered. Perhaps Daniel's father was killed in one of Britain's wars during this period rather than dying of cancer and so the Mills, however skeptical they are of this poor(er) man, at least have that respect for Daniel. If he's an officer rather than "the scum of the earth" who formed the enlisted ranks in this period, even better. Edelstein suggested the LaRussos might own enough land to be able to vote, albeit at the lowest possible level (a "forty shilling freehold").

*Our elderly friend "Mr. MacMiyagi" is a Scot who fought for the British government against the 1745 Jacobite insurrection, but was driven off his land during the clearances. During the disaster his wife died in childbirth and his son died with her and with his home gone, he drifted southward and became a groundskeeper or gardener on the Mills' family estate. Traumatized by his various mishaps, he keeps to himself and engages in stereotypically Scottish hobbies like shinty (the Scottish equivalent of Irish hurling) or (if he's literate), writing Scottish poetry?

*The equivalent of Johnny and his Cobra Kai gang are "young gents" who dislike someone they view as little better than a peasant wooing a girl of their class, with Johnny in particular being a spurned suitor of Ali. Given how much more power parents' had over their children's, particularly daughters', romantic choices in this period, perhaps Mr. Mills is somewhat less oblivious than his movie equivalent and recognizes Johnny for the incipient wife-beater he is, or perhaps he also looks down on Johnny on class grounds. After all, Cobra Kai gets more into Johnny's backstory and "the money" he comes from his from his stepfather who barely tolerates him, not his birth family. Perhaps his mother is an actress or from a similarly low-class background who "married up" and the illegitimate Johnny was part of the package? Not only is Johnny a hormonal and jealous a-hole, but he's also classist and nasty toward Daniel because he's overcompensating for his own impoverished background.

*Bobby, one of the Cobra Kais in the original film who tries to restrain Johnny from his grotesque behavior toward Daniel, is an early Wesleyan. In the Cobra Kai series, we later see that he's become a preacher, so he sticks with it.

*"MacKreese" is another veteran of Culloden, only he fought for the Jacobites. He has a beef with "MacMiyagi" for that reason, plus the fact his side lost. He runs his quarterstaff club (I doubt they'd have martial-arts dojos in England at this time) like a particularly abusive military unit, spinning it to his charges' parents that he's teaching them discipline so they don't end up dissolute libertines. Thing is, instead they're a bunch of angry young men abusing peasants (think Chozen from the second film cheating people at the grocery store) or peers they dislike (i.e. Daniel).

So we have something roughly similar to the canonical film in which Johnny and his gang bully Daniel for courting Ali, but an attempt to jump him and murder him is interrupted by "Mr. MacMiyagi" totally wrecking them the way Mr. Miyagi wiped out five Cobra Kai students in seconds in the canonical film. Given the legal hell to pay a poor Scot is going to get for beating up some English gentlemen even in defense of an English yeoman (especially if their parents are important local nobles), perhaps "MacKreese" and "Mr. MacMiyagi" agree to allow Daniel to fight some kind of duel with Johnny rather than getting the law involved? "MacKreese" could spin this as some kind of test for his students (or put on a show of not wanting "Sassenach" laws judging another Scot), but it's really part of some kind of elaborate revenge on "Mr. MacMiyagi" for the Battle of Culloden?

Things start to get a little tricky when we tried to come up with a Scottish equivalent of Mr. Miyagi's traditional Okinawan/Japanese wisdom (be it authentic or something underinformed Americans would *think* was traditional Okinawan/Japanese wisdom). Edelstein said setting it in the 1750s would be too early for Robert Burns, but "MacMiyagi" could tell embellished stories of the founding of various Scottish clans or the great William Wallace and Robert the Bruce. And instead of Daniel's crane kick, there's a finishing move called "the Kelpie."

I personally am rather disinclined to join with woketarians in attacking The Karate Kid (see Ralph Macchio's defense of the original film when it's criticized for being "too white"), but I also recognize the concept of "turnabout is fair play." So if someone actually wanted to make a parody of TKK that riffs on the Magical Asian Mentor and Mighty Whitey tropes, I'd be all for it.

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Book Review: WILLOW Novelization (1988)

Since Disney+ is putting out a next-generation sequel to the 1988 fantasy classic Willow, the film podcast Myopia Movies recorded an episode that came out alongside it. I enjoyed the movie, but there were a number of flaws, most notably the lack of explanation and worldbuilding. Given how the movie was intended for children and as-is the host's kindergartner was losing interest toward the end, I figured the novelization would be a big improvement. Fortunately it is available for purchase on Amazon, so I decided to give it a spin.

The Plot

In a faraway land, a prophecy predicts that a child will be born who will overthrow the evil Queen Bavmorda. To that end, Bavmorda, imprisons all late-stage pregnant women and has their child inspected after birth to see if they bear the prophesied mark--and one day the newborn Elora Danan does. A sympathetic midwife smuggles the child out and Bavmorda dispatches her grim General Kael and warlike daughter Sorsha to pursue the child.

But the child falls into the hands of gnomish farmer and family man Willow Ulfgood, who aspires to do magic. Assigned by the gnome village elders to find a human to look after said child, Willow soon encounters the rogue Madmartigan and the transformed sorceress Fin Raziel. Soon they're all allies on a quest to overthrow Bavmorda, with some surprising twists and turns along the way.

(The novelization appears to be based on an earlier draft of the screenplay and includes content cut from the actual film.)

The Good

*The novel beefs up the characterization of Willow himself and emphasizes the danger his quest to protect baby Elora puts him in besides the obvious problem of Bavmorda's murderous soldiers. Basically he's been pursuing his dreams of becoming a wizard to the detriment of working on his farm and owes the bullying village prefect Burglekutt money. Friendly neighbors have had to give him seed for this year's crop and he's apparently one payment away from foreclosure. Although the situation is largely his own fault, if his children had never found the baby he could have easily turned his situation around--he gets a lot of plowing done in a single day.

*Bavmorda, Fin Raziel, and their Fae mentor Charlindea get a lot more back-story and characterization than in the film. In the movie, Bavmorda is basically a live-action version of Snow White's Evil Queen, Fin is a rival she's transformed, and it's not even clear what exactly Charlindea even *is*--on the podcast, I refer to her at one point as the "non-union Mexican equivalent" of Galadriel.

*A monster cut from the film and a monster that appears later in the film have reasons for being there that further build Bavmorda's character. Not only is she a powerful sorceress, but she's also a planner who has fail-safes for her various schemes.

*Burglekutt isn't just an obnoxious small-town moneylender...he's also a prefect in the local government and owns the town's sole seed shop. Willow is not the only person he antagonizes either. If it weren't for his physical cowardice and being completely out of shape physically, he could have been a PG version of small-town gangster Wesley from the Patrick Swayze movie Road House.

*The novel explains some stuff that, in the film alone, don't make a whole lot of sense. For example, the midwife escapes the sinister Nockmaar Castle with the infant Elora by hiding out in some secret passages she knew about (and apparently the guards didn't) until Bavmorda's pursuers are far away before setting off into the wilderness. And once away, she's assisted by people opposed to Bavmorda's regime and even friendly animals. This explains why Elora is a newborn at the beginning of the film but looks significantly older by the time the midwife sets her adrift on the river to save her from the Death Dogs...they've actually been on the run for months. A character who gets captured by the heroes in the film because they insist on being the first one to search a room displays a bit more common sense and sends minions in first.

*The war depicted in the film is also explained in more detail. Bavmorda, having usurped her late husband, rules all the territories he did, and has been making war on the nearby kingdom of Galladoorn. The various rebels, armies, etc. we see in the film are survivors of Galladoorn's army, people within Nockmaar opposed to Bavmorda's rule, etc. The film doesn't really explain the politics of the situation very much or very well.

*There's a scene where we see Nockmaar's army in battle in large numbers (as opposed to Kael and Sorsha's death squad that numbers about fifty people at most) that's pretty cool.

The Bad

*The prose is not very descriptive and doesn't move very quickly until about halfway through the book. There's a lot of telling rather than showing.

*Some of the worldbuilding and back-story is rather silly. Before Bavmorda, apparently all living things in the world lived in harmony and several times characters are assisted by friendly animals. Yes, I know this is a novelization of a children's film and friendly animals are a fairy-tale staple, but still. Although I criticized the movie for oversimplifying matters, the more complex attempts at worldbuilding and back-story raise more questions than they answer. The Willow Blu-Ray has an interview with Ron Howard in which he explains how a whole subplot involving Sorsha's father--the previous king at Tir Asleen and Bavmorda's husband--was ordered cut by the studio and frankly the movie version is better than what's in the novelization. 

(This fan-fic keeps Sorsha's dad dead like the movie at least strongly implies and explains the whole situation better than either the novelization or the film, but beware spoilers.)

Elora's role in the novel is also needlessly complex--some commenter on TVTropes states that she causes Bavmorda's downfall in the film, not by anything she does, but the actions she inspires others to undertake. There's also a lot of Chekov's Guns that aren't fired--worldbuilding that doesn't really tie in with the immediate plot but mostly serves to add pages.

*The way Bavmorda's and Madmartigan's back-stories are explained feature gigantic info-dumps that are basically characters telling stories around the campfire. This is especially the case with Madmartigan. Yes, the back-stories are interesting, but they go on for far too long and are kind of clunky.

*Some stuff from the movie gets left out, like scenes in Nockmaar Castle where Bavmorda interacts with Sorsha and Kael. This would explain the unhealthy family dynamic between Sorsha and her belittling, affection-withholding mother (and why a character's romantic speech, drug-induced though it may be, has such an effect on her) and show the evil kingdom's political dysfunction. Sorsha's first film meeting with the heroes that sets up a lot of stuff that happens later is also left out. Although Willow and Madmartigan benefit from the expanded characterization in the novel, Sorsha (to a point) and especially Kael lose out.

The Verdict

A library read, unless you can get it super-cheap somewhere. Only worth reading once. 6.0 out of 10.

Movie Review: WILLOW (1988)

On the 100th episode of the Blasters and Blades podcast, I briefly discussed the movie Willow with the hosts. I referred to the movie as being "before my time" (it turns out I was actually around four years old, but at that point I was mostly interested in cartoons), much to the slightly-older host's annoyance. At the time I had not seen it, but lo and behold some time later, the film podcast Myopia Movies added it to the Season Nine lineup. So not long after DragonCon 2022, I watched it for the podcast...

Here's the link to the podcast. And now for the review...

The Plot

In a faraway land, a prophecy predicts that a child will be born who will overthrow the evil Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsha). To that end, Bavmorda, imprisons all late-stage pregnant women and has their child inspected after birth to see if they bear the prophesied mark--and one day the newborn Elora Danan (twins Kate and Ruth Greenfield) does. A sympathetic midwife smuggles the child out and Bavmorda dispatches her grim General Kael (Pat Roach) and warlike daughter Sorsha (Joanne Whalley) to pursue the child.

But the child falls into the hands of the farmer and family man Willow Ulfgood (Warwick Davis), who aspires to do magic. Assigned by the village elders to find a human to look after said child, Willow soon encounters the rogue Madmartigan (Val Kilmer) and the transformed sorceress Fin Raziel (Patricia Hayes). Soon they're all allies on a quest to overthrow Bavmorda, with some surprising twists and turns along the way.

The Good

*For starters, Willow and his kindred are a very specific fantasy race--they're gnomes. This is the first and so far only time I've seen gnomes in an actual film. For the scenes in the gnome village it looks like Lucasfilm hired every dwarf actor in Hollywood--every adult seems to have some form of dwarfism and there are a lot of them who can play musical instruments, fight with weapons, etc. The only ordinary-sized people seem to be the children. This is a good thing on multiple levels--it's more authentic and real-looking and it provides employment for people who often live rather difficult lives. And their characterizations are varied--the gnome village has an obnoxious moneylender who covets Willow's land, there are full-time soldiers (who are actually fairly skilled--on Twitter I called them "the littlest pikemen"), and even a wizard. We even see their form of government--they seem to have a town council and direct democracy on certain major issues. These aren't a bunch of circus performers, but an actual complex society.

*Also, this is a world where there are non-human fantasy races in addition to ordinary people. In a world of only Homo sapiens sapiens who often look different, practice different religions, etc. we're often bigoted enough toward each other. Willow and the other gnomes get repeatedly referred to as "pecks" (a reference to a unit of measurement, approximately 12-14 pounds) even by people who are supposed to be heroic. It's a major sign of a character's moral growth that this person starts referring to them by how they call themselves (Nalwyn) rather than "peck."

*The film also has a good cast. I liked all three of the main trio--Davis, Kilmer, and Whalley.

*The movie is fast-moving and entertaining, albeit a bit on the cheesy side.

The Bad

*Unfortunately, I can kind of tell where the filmmakers are getting a lot of their inspiration from. Willow and his friend Meegosh, after being captured by the brownies, are sent on a quest to protect Elora by some kind of forest sorceress whom I refer to on Twitter as Galadriel's "non-union Mexican equivalent." Apparently the novelization explains more--including her relationship to Fin Raziel and Bavmorda--but I shouldn't have to refer to the novelization, deleted scenes, etc. for a movie to make sense. According to the novelization she was a senior sorceress (and also a forest fairy of some kind) mentoring Raziel and Bavmorda, the latter of whom went bad. In the film it's not even clear if she's human or some kind of elf, fairy, etc. Hence "Galaldriel's non-union Mexican equivalent." Making her human--and perhaps involved in the military resistance against Bavmorda we see elsewhere in the film--would be more original, but again, it's not in the film.

*Per the above, there's a lot of missing material that's included in the novelization, earlier drafts of the script, comic books, etc. that would have helped the movie make a lot more sense. For example, Bavmorda believes that even if she killed baby Elora, she'd be reborn in a new body and the prophecy would kick back in. Hence the elaborate ritual to banish Elora's soul to another dimension and/or destroy it completely so that never happens rather than simply murdering her at first chance. There's also a character's defection that has a lot more back-story in the extended universe, but in the actual movie it seems like they're mostly doing it out of love (or at least lust) for one of the good guys.

(I suggested in the podcast the movie could be a bit longer to fix these issues, but Nic cited the example of his own child getting bored later in the movie to point out this risks losing the attention of the primary audience. The deleted scenes pertaining to the defector character--beware spoilers--don't add many minutes to the film, although the last bit involving a character conscious while imprisoned in a crystal is so ridiculous and cheap-looking. A few bits of dialogue here and there would be fine, but lots and lots of new scenes, not so much. I still think it'd be doable, although we're about 34 years too late. If you want an alternative take that's not overly elaborate, check out this fan-fic here. Spoilers beware.)

The Verdict

Not perfect, but a fun and entertaining fantasy film. Also a means of teaching good values to the target audience (kids) without being preachy and annoying to adults. 8.5 out of 10.

And while you're at it, check out my novella Little People, Big Guns. Although it on the surface it looks rather tacky and exploitative, my intention was to get into the real life issues little people face--people ignoring them because they can't see them, problems functioning in a world designed for people much larger than themselves, health difficulties, bullying by bigger people, and even weird fetishization. Davis actually runs an acting agency that started out representing his coworkers with dwarfism and later included those who were unusually tall.