Tag Archives: movies

The Eel Doesn’t Get Her

Spoilers follow for The Princess Bride. If you haven’t seen it, stop reading this post and go find some legal way to watch it, right now. The post will be here when you’re done, and you will have given yourself one of the great cinematic experiences of all time.

I’ve been thinking about the shrieking eels scene in The Princess Bride a lot lately. Refresh your memory:

If you’ve seen The Princess Bride, you know what comes next:

Grandpa: She doesn’t get eaten by the eels at this time.
Grandson: What?
Grandpa: The eel doesn’t get her. I’m explaining to you because you look nervous.

I’m pretty sure this is one of the most famous spoilers of all time, along with “The boat sinks” and “The butler did it”. It is certainly one of the most famous spoilers to occur within the thing that it is spoiling.

I love this scene, and I love the spoiler most of all. I’m honestly disappointed that I can’t find a video of that exchange because I don’t think the scene is complete without it. The video above could be from any humorous, moderately self-aware fantasy movie. But when you’re sitting there with your heart pounding wondering just how Buttercup is going to escape the eels–and I won’t lie, it makes my heart pound every time–and then Peter Falk’s warm, rumbling voice suddenly reassures you that she doesn’t get eaten by the eels at this time, deliberately throwing you out of the story, and Fred Savage blinks and gasps “W-what?” and you realize you have been thrown out of the story and into the framing device, which is aware that it’s a framing device and actually rather annoyed by it, and meanwhile your heart is still pounding and you still want to know how Buttercup gets away from the eels… you could not be watching any other movie. Absolutely masterful.

Have I just run afoul of some great conspiracy among Princess Bride fans to keep the movie spoiler-free, even though the spoiler is itself a part of the movie? Welp, sorry, conspirators. The news is out. She doesn’t get eaten by the eels at this time.

At this time. As though Grandpa is helpfully leaving room for Grandson to wonder whether maybe later there’s an eel/princess rematch where the princess doesn’t do so well. “Sorry about the abrupt loss of tension! Have some new tension to replace it.” Grandpa doesn’t want Grandson to be too nervous, because he loves him and we don’t like it when people we love are scared–but Grandpa also understands narrative tension. He wants Grandson to be just nervous enough.

What makes this work: not only is Grandson a stand-in for the viewer, but Grandpa is a stand-in for William Goldman, the writer. This is Goldman’s way of saying, “Here is what kind of movie this is. I’m explaining to you because you look nervous.” It’s a spoiler for the movie having spoilers in it. He’s making sure we’re paying attention–and in an affectionately obnoxious way, he’s saying that he cares and we can trust him to take us on a wild ride and get us home safe at the end. We, too, will not be eaten by eels at this time. And as annoying as it is to have that tension abruptly broken, it’s also a relief to know we’re in good hands.

The Content of Their Characters

NOTE: If you’re already up on racism and The Hunger Games and kind of exhausted by the thought of reading another post about it, you may be interested in reading about sexism and The Hunger Games instead.

Everyone’s buzzing about Hunger Games Tweets, a Tumblr that collects and discusses tweets from people who are shocked and upset that Rue, a character described in Suzanne Collins’s book The Hunger Games as having dark skin, is played by an African-American actress in the film. The link started making the rounds a couple of days ago, and after Jezebel picked it up, the hits went through the roof. Cue a great deal of head-shaking.

But why is everyone so surprised that some of Collins’s fans are having indisputably racist reactions to her books? When the movies were first cast, the excellent Racebending site covered the controversy over white, blonde Jennifer Lawrence being cast as olive-skinned, dark-haired Katniss. That led to a pointed question in an Entertainment Weekly interview with Collins and director Gary Ross, and an interesting response:

EW: In the books, Katniss is described as being olive-skinned, dark-haired, possibly biracial. Did you discuss with Suzanne the implications of casting a blond, caucasian girl?

GR: Suzanne and I talked about that as well. There are certain things that are very clear in the book. Rue is African-American. Thresh is African-American.

“Very clear” to Ross and Collins, perhaps, but not to all of their fans. A blog post that went up on EW about six months before the interview took place asked whether Rue was black, and–as a separate question–whether she should be played by a black actress. The comments immediately, inevitably, filled up with exclamations like “RUE IS NOT BLACK NEATER IS THRESH READ THE BOOK AGAIN!” and the slightly more considered “I feel like a jerk for not noticing she was black in the book”. And when African-American actors were cast for the parts of Rue, Thresh, and Cinna, Racialicious reported that the Hunger Games Facebook page was inundated with exclamations of surprise and dismay; those comments sound exactly like the recent tweets about the movie.

So I’m surprised that anyone’s surprised about the latest round of complaints. Sure, not everyone reads Racialicious and Racebending, but Jezebel covered the casting controversy back in 2011 too. More broadly, I’m trying to figure out how insulated one has to be from the wider world to be shocked! shocked! that racism is pervasive in American culture, and among American teens. Those wide-eyed tweets about Rue’s death being less sad because she’s black clearly come straight from the brains of adolescents (nearly all of them white, presumably) who have bathed in subtly and overtly racist culture since birth, absorbed far too much of it, and not yet learned to second-guess or even censor themselves when they parrot its tenets. They’re surprising only if you haven’t noticed that when real people of color are killed, there’s always an immediate attempt to justify or downplay the deaths. Art imitates life; reactions to art likewise imitate life.

On the bright side–and I am trying mightily to find a bright side here–this many surprised people might mean that more of those people are starting to pay attention, and will keep paying attention even after the latest furor dies down.

Tesla vs. Edison, Via Yugoslavia, in English, with Orson Welles

My magnificent mother-in-law sent me a link to this 97-minute film from 1980, Tajna Nikole Tesle (The Secret of Nikola Tesla). It was filmed in Yugoslavia, but it’s all in English, and rather improbably co-stars Orson Welles as J.P. Morgan. Petar Bozovic, who just received a lifetime achievement award for his work in Yugoslav cinema, takes the title role.

Boneshaker on the Big Screen

The legendary Hammer Films will be collaborating with Cross Creek and Exclusive Media to produce a film of Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker, presumably to be followed by its sequels (soon to number five) if the movie does well. The series takes place in an alternate America where the Civil War has dragged on far longer than in our timeline, with added elements of airship pirates, zombies, and various steampunkery. The books are very cinematic and have tremendous commercial potential. I’ll be especially interested to see how the lack of clichéd romance and the thoughtful treatment of Civil War–era race issues (particularly in the spin-off title Clementine) are translated onto the screen.

Congratulations to Oscar Winner Shaun Tan!

It’s not every day that a past Worldcon Guest of Honor receives an Academy Award! In fact, I’m not sure that’s ever happened before. Congratulations to Shaun Tan, whose wonderful short film The Lost Thing (based on his picture book by the same title), which was apparently a dozen years in the making, won a well-deserved Oscar last night. I highly recommend taking 15 minutes to watch the film; you’ll quickly see why Tan is regarded as a top-notch artist of the fantastic and surreal, as well as a poignant storyteller.