Protective Coloration, and its Reverse

Schlock Mercenary creator Howard Tayler writes a good review of 47 Ronin. The movie poster is largely misleading. In fact, it wasn't at all what it appeared to be from trailers and advertising:
I sat down and braced myself for a completely plotless swords-and-sorcery romp with a bit of Asian flair. What I got was a retelling of the story of the Forty-seven Ronin.

I'm happy with that.
I had honestly planned to avoid the film just because of those "extra" elements Hollywood apparently thought it necessary to include. The story of the Forty-seven Ronin is one of the great tales of Japan. It needs, and can be aided by, no ornament beyond what those men did.

The studio didn't think you'd like it, so they pretended it was "a completely plotless sword-and-sorcery romp with a bit of Asian flair." They thought you'd only want to see one of their empty formula pictures, so even when they made a decent film they marketed it as if it were just another of their usual crop. That worked well, I see.

On the other side of this, the marketing for the new Hobbit movie almost convinced me to go and see it in spite of my suspicions. As you will recall, I detest Peter Jackson's treatment of Tolkien so much that I could barely sit through the Fellowship movie, let alone the others. When I learned that he was going to treat the Hobbit, a far shorter work intended for children, as a trilogy of movies... well, let's say I expected this:

But the promotional materials suggested that there was hope for it. I became interested in how they would handle the dragon and Laketown. I almost went to see it...

...until I read this piece. That the studio felt it necessary to include an elvish Xena-Warrior-Princess character in a work of Tolkien's is one thing. What is really unforgivable is that the studio decided to introduce an elvish warrior-princess involved in a love triangle with a dwarf.

I might yet go see 47 Ronin.


Cass said...

Are they wrong, though? Is a nation that lacks the patience to read great literature willing to sit through movies that don't administer a jolt to the sensibilities every 5 minutes or so?

We're all so easily bored. Even fantasy (the Hobbit) isn't fantastical enough for us without considerable embellishment.


Grim said...

If that's the problem, why make a trilogy out of The Hobbit? When I was a boy, one of my favorite things was the old cartoon version -- which leaves out some very neat elements in order to tell the story in a scant 90 minutes. That's only twice as long as it takes for Bilbo Baggins to get out the front door in the first installment of the new movie (43 minutes and change).

If people are easily bored with that, it's hard to blame them!

raven said...

It is a sacrifice of internal character development to over the top action sequences. I think Spencer Tracy could convey more violence with a slap than most modern stars with a minigun.
I agree with the Hobbit assessment- they have lost the way- and can only hope the Chushingura tale is better than the preview-which was epically bad. The old tale has everything -except the obligatory warrior princess. Arrogance, entrapment, betrayal, sacrifice, revenge, more sacrifice, seppuku, I am not sure a modern American audience (or even a Modern Japanese audience, ask Yukio Mishima) can get their head around willingly surrendering to a ordained self inflicted death penalty.

Cass said...

It is a sacrifice of internal character development to over the top action sequences.

That's how I saw it, coupled with heavy handed propaganda (the elf warrior-princess in a love triangle with a dwarf). Silly, silly stuff.

Eric Blair said...

Friend of mine told me that this second hobbit movie was "a great movie, but it has nothing to do with 'The Hobbit'".

As for the 47 Ronin, Steven Turnbull's book on the incident "The Revenge of the 47 Ronin" basically tells you everything you thought you knew about this story is wrong. But the tale 'grew in the telling' as it were, and is now as much a part of Japanese culture as the gunfight at the OK corral, the Alamo or other such events are in American culture.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Eric Blair, my oldest two sons (who grew up having LOTR read aloud to them) tell me The Hobbit isn't so bad if you just tell yourself it really should be titled "The Further Adventures of Bilbo and his Pals." That's not enough for me, but point taken. They did prevail on me to watch LOTR years after it came out.

As for the elven princess, I should perhaps really try to be neutral and let the artist have his try at something unusual and creative that he just might pull off. Yet somehow, love-triangle with a dwarf just announces clearly "this person has deeply misunderstood Basic Points Of The Story."

I'll let the dust settle for 4-5 years before deciding whether to see it or not.

Grim said...


That's true of almost any historical event that becomes a cultural myth. William Wallace was a real man, but he occupies a somewhat similar position (especially if you think of him chiefly from Braveheart, which is almost wholly composed of falsehoods, though it sometimes aspires to mere distortions).