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Volume 15, Issue 3: Ex Imagibus

Three Summer Talkies

Nathan Wilson

Seabiscuit
Directed by Gary Ross
Universal Pictures (2003)

Seabiscuit is a fun watch. There were complaints from reviewers around the country, but this is primarily because of the heavy hype coming into it. Reviewers seem to take pride in not being dictated to, in finding flaws where perfection has been lauded, and such is their business. So, when a film is supposed to single-handedly jumpstart the horse racing industry, park a lump in your throat, and waltz through the Oscars, then reviewers can't help but walk into the theater with a bit of a grouch. Well, I missed most of the hype. As a result, I was nearly grouch free when I saw this movie, and I enjoyed it.

Sure, sure it's just another movie about an underdog, and the characters occasionally traffic in truisms. And yes, in response to some complaints, the film is frequently played like a documentary. But the underdog story is not simply a story designed for the American psyche; it also happens to be Christian. When it gets filled with all the usual "Believe in yourself and you too can become the next Olympic gymnastic sensation" lines, then it falls short. But the story of Christendom, and ultimately history, is victory against all odds and in defiance of all wisdom. I could tell you this one's different, that the horse doesn't defy all odds, that it really isn't just another underdog movie. But then the horse does, and it is. But I'd never seen one about a horse and a troubled jockey.
The underdog story is a good one, which is why it will keep showing up in every medium until the world ends, and then after. Of course it can be done well, and it can be done poorly. There are things in Seabiscuit that could be improved upon, but all in all it presents a story to the eye beautifully, and as the action is true (mostly), it is above criticism. Instead reviewers must complain about truisms, which, when you look at them, are actually true, even if they could be better expressed.
Perhaps most important, as you watch, marvel at the invention of the horse.

Pirates of the Caribbean
Directed by Gore Verbinski
Walt Disney Pictures (2003)

I did see/hear all the marketing for Pirates of the Caribbean. And I was convinced that if I were to see it, I would be less intelligent leaving the theater than when I entered. However, I then began hearing a trickle of good things, and so the wife and I went. And, not to put too fine a point on it, I enjoyed it immensely. Despite itself.

Now for the qualifications. The love story is corny. The evil pirates have been cursed by early Central American heathen gods and, as a result, are the living dead, visible as such (skeletons) when in the moonlight. While the moonlight to skeleton bit is perhaps redeemable, it is well overplayed, gets terribly old and makes the movie feel like what it actually is—a film based on an amusement park ride, only to be overawfuled by the future film Skaterboy based on the pop song.
However, I watched, giggling all the while, and enjoying myself for one reason. Johnny Depp is that reason. From the opening scene, come what may, I knew I was doomed to count this movie a net gain. Depp, as pirate captain Jack Sparrow, is hilarious, terrific, give-the-man-the-shiny-statuette-regardless-of-what-a-poop-he-is good. What is so amusing about a slightly effeminate, under appreciated pirate captain? I do not know. But his performance made the whole movie worth watching, and remembering.
Of course it might also cause nasty dreams for the young folk, and I can't recommend it as a family film due to, well, everything in it. I can say that Johnny Depp surprised me, saved the film, and kept me enjoying myself throughout what was actually quite a long movie.

Holes
Directed by Andrew Davis
Walt Disney Pictures (2003)

In the case of Holes, I first read the children's book, which I recommend, and then saw the film, which I recommend. Of course it is long out of the theaters now, but when it hits a video store near you, it is worth picking up. It is a children's story, and acts like one, sometimes unfortunately. Interconnections within the story, almost subtle in the book, are announced through a bullhorn in the film. But then, they wanted the kids to get it, which they still might not depending on your kids.

This is not a sophisticated film. It is a straightforward, creative presentation of the age-old digging for treasure story. There were, of course, reviewer complaints about this one too, and they made me even more sympathetic toward the film. The primary criticism was that it tried to stick too closely to the book, and it was clunky as a result. I'm afraid I'm frequently all for that kind of clunkiness.
I found myself very impressed with the book, and the movie by default, as the primary conflict and resolution within the story is outside the ken of our main characters and remains there throughout, even unto resolution. The story hinges on judgment, predestination, and a covenantal curse, all put together like an old-world fairy tale. This story is true, as Lewis and Tolkien would have used the word.

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