Saturday, October 27, 2007

The War of the Worlds

Forget “Carrie.” Forget “The Exorcist.” Forget “Silence of the Lambs.” The scariest movie of all time is the 1953 version of “The War of the Worlds!” Well, at least that’s the case if you’re a little kid growing up in the 1970s. This film scared the you-know-what out of me as a child, and since Halloween is here again, I thought this would be a good time to revisit the Martian invasion. Again, I’ll try not to give away the complete story. I’ll just give you enough to get you interested and let you know why I love this film.

The movie begins menacingly, with a look at the other planets in our solar system (this was back in the days when Pluto was officially a planet and Uranus had the embarrassing pronunciation). The Martians determine that Earth would be the best world to colonize, and so begins their complicated invasion. You see, rather than just arrive and start shooting people immediately, their spaceships arrive disguised as meteors. Since everyone generally knows what a meteor is, nobody suspects anything too unusual. . .until the spaceships come creeping out of the meteors.

And when the machines creep out, they kind of look like a street light. . .they kind of look like the street lights next to my house! AAAAA!!! For a while, I was creeped out by those street lights, since they reminded me of the Martian spacecraft. All I had to do was look at them and imagine the hissing noise of the spaceships, and I was gone.

Anyway, the Martians come crawling out, and the first people to see them try to be friends with them. But it doesn’t quite work. The Martians blast them to dust with the now familiar sound of their ray. (Incidentally, the sound effects from this movie are ingrained into my memory forever!) Then they (somehow) cut off all electricity and communication lines as their spacecraft begin flying across the countryside destroying everything that might be a threat. More meteors land, and the true war begins. The special effects are still pretty special, even in this age of computer graphics.

But not everyone is quick to fight. Someone asks, “Shouldn’t you try to communicate with them first, then shoot later if you have to?” What sounds like a reasonable idea is swiftly ignored, and so this person has to take matters into his own hands - in one of the most dramatic and touching moments of the movie.

Conventional weapons seem to have no effect on the Martian spacecraft. Ah, but what about atomic weapons? Surely they will save us! Everybody knows that nothing can withstand atomic weapons! Right? Right? As we shall see, mankind doesn’t know everything. Incidentally, the footage that you see of the “Flying Wing” in this movie is some of the only footage of that particular aircraft that is known to exist. And that voice. . .yes, it’s Paul Frees! The vocal artist who helped make the Disneyland attractions so memorable has a brief role in the movie. (Frees narrated the original “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” and the “Adventure through Inner Space” rides. He also voiced a few pirates in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” ride).

As in the Star Wars films, the romance factor is actually an important part of the story. As they flee the Martians, Dr. Forrester and Sylvia fall in love. But they never kiss each other in the film. Their love is demonstrated in other ways through the plot. The scene where they meet up together near the end is very moving. It’s a great example of romance without being “mushy”. Although I like the Tom Cruise version as well, the romance factor is missing from that version. (In that version, a different kind of love is promoted - family love).

Anyway, Dr. Forrester and Sylvia hide in this abandoned house, see, and the aliens land right outside the house, and . . .AAAAA!!! Creepy, snake-like Martian machines come crawling in, followed by creepy Martians! It’s hard to convey just how scary this is to a little kid. But just imagine if you were in a house at night and you happened to peek out the window and see a Martian running across your lawn! And then, to feel a hand reach up and touch you on the shoulder. . . After this movie, nearly all of the evil things that go bump in the night that I could imagine looked something like the Martians.

Then the black car comes driving slowly down the street. “Everyone, please listen. The Martians are coming this way! Take food and water with you.” The evacuation of the cities adds to the feeling of helplessness. And the fear that it could actually happen.

Some have said that the movie’s (and book’s) ending is a “cop-out.” But it isn’t really. If you watch the movie carefully, you begin to see that one of the points of the film was to say that little things that seem unimportant and not powerful are actually very important and powerful. Trying to communicate before going to war. Picking up a ball that a little girl has dropped. A square dance. Fried eggs. Horses. Flocks of birds. All these little things appear briefly in the movie, and they’re all important in their own way. It may seem like prayer is a last resort for dealing with such a menacing foe. But it was the little things that destroyed the Martians.

The film is a rare and wonderful example of a scary film with a good message. The modern horror films don’t seem to have any point other than to scare and/or disgust. This movie has a point about hope. Corny as it sounds, it has a very real meaning for mankind. It conveys that we shall overcome, even if we don’t seem to be overcoming. It conveys that when our cause is just, we will succeed. Good message, moving story, great production. . .hey, this is a wonderful movie. Whether you get scared or not.

“War of the Worlds” is available on DVD and VHS. It also occasionally shows up on television. Please “watch the skies” and keep your eyes open for it. The Wikipedia article below contains some more information:


Now let’s talk about some REAL scary things, like the wildfires here in Southern California. I was delighted to hear from a few people asking if my family was okay during the recent wildfires. Thankfully, everything is OK in my world. Thanks to the special folk who took time to ask! I definitely appreciate you & I hope all of this comes to an end quickly.

While driving home with a friend one evening recently (we don’t often get to carpool, but hey, we do what we can), a person ran across the street right in front of us. It made me realize the “true horrors” of Halloween. Martians? No. A vampire? No. Stupid people crossing the street right in front of a moving car? Yep. Please be careful out there, folks. And not just on Halloween.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Hey, let's rent out a theater!

A while back, Todd Franklin shared a blog posting and some pictures from a fun event. He was able to rent out a small theater and show “Star Wars” to his friends! You can read about it at the link below. (Yes, this is the same guy who found the original “Death Star” prop. Some guys have all the luck!)

Todd’s post reminded me of a time when another group rented out a theater for a “Muppet Movie” sing-along. Danny at Tough Pigs wrote about the experience, and his story is required reading for all Muppet Movie fans. You can read about it here:

All this got me to thinking. If I could rent out a theater for one night, and invite all my family & friends, which movie would I choose? I realized quickly that I probably wouldn’t choose a movie- I’d probably try to make one. Hey, what better time to take pictures of the people you care about? I’d definitely try to bring along a camera.

What else could we do? Maybe we could all play “Simon Says.” Or if I can find a big enough mat, perhaps we could play “Twister.”

Now here’s another fun thing to think about. If you were to give a speech to a theater full of your family and friends, what would you talk about? I’d certainly try to fit in there somewhere how thankful I am for all of them. And I’d probably do a few corny jokes and maybe share a few minutes from some of my cheesy home movies. If I’m feeling really brave, I might sing for them. (Not too much, though. I don’t want to overwhelm them with my vocal abilities.) Hmmm. . .Maybe I could finally play the Phantom! Now that would be a dream come true. . . Well, for me, anyway. :) I suppose I could pass out earplugs just in case.

It’s fun to imagine things like this - especially when you think about everybody in the audience. They’re the ones that help make the “show” worth watching.


THE (NEARLY) COMPLEAT FRED: If you’re a fan of comic books (particularly from the silver age to about the late 1980s or so), then you may know about Fred Hembeck. Fred was providing comic book commentary long before the Internet was invented (well, actually, it had been invented, but it just hadn’t been discovered by advertisers yet.) Fred’s comics are insightful and funny, and he’s shamelessly plugging a retrospective collection of his work due to come out next year. You can read all about it at the link (and be sure to visit Fred’s site to keep up to date on what’s going on in his world - it‘s in my links sections):


FACE ON THE COVER: Speaking of Fred, on a recent post to his blog, he casually mentioned the grand comic book database. This web site offers something that the great Overstreet comic book price guide doesn’t - cover images of over 300,000 comic books. This is significant for those collectors who have been saying for years, “Gee, I wish I could get a copy of that issue of ‘Wonder Woman,’ but all I can remember about it is what the cover looked like. . .”

Okay, so maybe there aren’t many people out there like that. But hey, if you happen to be one of them - or if you just enjoy classic comic book cover art, then this is the site for you. Check it out.


THEY’RE HERE AGAIN: The series “Happy Days” is airing again on station WGN. Why should you care? Well, now’s your chance to enjoy the series with the original music still in there! The recent DVD sets have changed many of the music tracks due to copyright issues. You can read about that problem in the post below:

Happy Days airs VERY early in the mornings on WGN. You’ll probably have to record them so you can watch them later. But aaaaay, I mean, hey, it’s worth it. It’s a fun show.


OLD SCHOOL SESAME VOLUME TWO: Ah yes, it’s on the horizon, and it looks like it may include the first early “test” episode that I mentioned in an earlier post. You’ll get to see the prototype Ernie and the “Man from Alphabet” in all his glory. Most important, you’ll get about five classic episodes that no 1970’s Sesame Street fan should be without, and it sounds like a lot of great extra clips. Oh, yeah! The DVD set is scheduled for release later this year. Read all about it below:

Since we’re talking about Sesame Street clips, I thought it might be cute to list some of my favorite “lost” Sesame Street clips that I’d like to see again. Some of you may have read this list of mine before, but here it is again. I’m thankful to say that this list is getting shorter all the time. So many classic clips have been brought back (by collectors, mostly) in the last several years that it’s much easier to find that rare clip you recall from way back. Just take a look at YouTube and you’ll see what I mean. But here are a few classic clips that haven’t been seen in years that we need to bring back:

1. Bert and Maria flying the imaginary helicopter. Bert is sitting outside the playground area of Sesame Street. He is wearing goggles. Maria sits next to him and asks what he’s doing. Bert says he’s pretending to be a helicopter pilot. Together, Bert and Maria imagine that they’re flying a helicopter. As they do, the background changes from the street to a grassy field, where the helicopter takes off from. Unfortunately, it’s not an easy flight, with Bert narrowly missing several trees and getting lost in a cloud among other things. When they finally “land,” Maria says, “Next time, I’ll fly the helicopter!”

2. The Fonz and Richie count to ten. Henry Winkler and Ron Howard made some cameos on Sesame Street in the late 1970s and early 1980s as the Fonz and Richie Cunningham from “Happy Days.” If you love Happy Days, you’ll love those clips, and this clip is probably the funniest. It features the Fonz teaching Richie the “cool” way to count. Watching these two work together gives you a great idea of their talent and chemistry together.

3. Krazy Kat “love” cartoon. The characters from the classic comic strip made an appearance in a Sesame Street cartoon. Since learning more about comic strips, I’ve come to appreciate the artistry of “Krazy Kat” and this cartoon captured much of that. I’d "love" to see it again.

4. Grover sings “Still we like each other.” This song appears on the Sesame Street “Concert-on stage live!” album. But this is not that version. This version features Grover singing to a girl anything muppet in a park setting. It is slow and beautiful. A very nice clip.

Like the Energizer Bunny, we could keep going and going, with clips of Grover flying in his airplane, of Ernie and Bert imagining what life would be like without each other, and with great music clips from Judy Collins, Paul Simon, Jose Feliciano, etc. Let’s hope a few of these classic moments make it to the new DVD set. And as usual, if anyone HAS any of these clips, please let me know!