“We have met the enemy … and he is us” (Cowboys & Aliens, 2011; The War of the Worlds, 1938)

For a course, which I much enjoyed, in film and sound editing that I’ve recently completed at Ryerson University, I’ve submitted a final assigned paragraph – which I’ve broken into shorter paragraphs for posting to this website – concerning the editing of a scene from a movie that I’ve chosen for analysis.

Altogether, we were assigned four paragraphs dealing with the same scene, a scene of our choice from a mainstream movie.

The movie that I chose to anlayze is Cowboys & Aliens – Edited by Dan Lebental and Jim May; my concluding analysis reads as follows:

Cabin Flashback Scene – Cowboys & Aliens (2011)

The audio in the cabin scene conveys key information related to the story arc. The dialogue informs the viewer of Jake’s justification of thievery and mayhem, and of Alice’s distain for such practices.

The sound track accurately conveys, by a slight echoing of the voices, the cabin’s acoustical qualities. The audio also attempts to bring to life the alien abduction sequence.

The uninspiring quality of the visual effects associated with Alice’s abduction, however, impose limitations on the support that the audio can provide. The visual effects involve quick dissolves of abductees, aliens, and flashes of overexposed frames.

Such a montage – which might have been enhanced with slightly quicker cuts and a more complex layering of sounds – conveys information but does draw the viewer into the story.

As well, the sound effects associated with the abduction of Alice are generally not closely in keeping, in terms of viewer expectations, with typical imagined encounters involving humans and aliens.

Extraterrestrial visitors tend to be imagined as occupants of high-tech, postindustrial spacecraft. It’s not standard practice to imagine aliens flying around in spacecraft equipped with chains and clunky-sounding, industrial-era pincer mechanisms.

The Foley for Jake’s footsteps, meanwhile, works well, although recordings of the hoofbeats before and after the Cabin Flashback Scene are not in all cases closely matched to what appears on the screen.

As Jake approaches the cabin, the music conveys a sense of impending discovery. When he leaves, the music conveys quiet reflection.

The movie, beginning with its title, has the sense of a work in progress. It has at times the feeling of a schematic diagram rather than a finished product.

That said, the film introduces interesting themes related to alienation, weirdness, and strangeness as concepts. Cowboys & Aliens warrants close study – in particular with regard to what it takes for a movie to engender a voluntary suspension of disbelief as the story unfolds.

[End of text]

Alien invasions

The Ryerson assignment has prompted me to read The Complete War of the Worlds: Mars’ Invasion of Earth from H.G. Wells to Orson Welles (2001).

The 2001 text, which includes a CD, is an excellent resource. A blurb at the Toronto Public Library website notes that the book contains “the original story by H.G. Wells, and describes how Orson Welles was inspired by the tale of Martian invasion to create the radio broadcast in 1938 which frightened over one million people.”

Among other things, the book describes how radio emerged as a competitive threat to the newspaper business in the 1930s. The book also provides a detailed description (pp. 61 – 64) of how Howard Koch and Orson Welles turned “a science fiction novel, first read by Welles in 1927 in the Amazing Stories comic book serials, into a radio drama in the form of news bulletins. The book: H.G. Wells’ classic tale, The War of the Worlds.

The 2001 study refers to the parallels between British colonial empire building and the fictional Martian invasion portrayed by H.G. Wells.

I look forward to seeing the motion picture version, originally released in 1953, of the H.G. Wells book. As well, I was interested to recently read Howard Koch’s overview of his role in the writing of the film script for Casablanca (1942); he began his career in Hollywood following the success of the 1938 War of the Worlds radio play.

The Big Sleep (1939)

I’m also reminded that 1939, the year after the Orson Welles radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds, was the year that Raymond Chandler published The Big Sleep. Chandler, who served in the Canadian Army during the First World War, is also a writer that I encountered for the first time during my recent Ryerson film course.

It may be added that William Faulkner also has a First World War connection to Canada, having received flight training at the Long Branch Aerodrome during the war. It has been argued that Faulkner’s fondness for embellishment of the stories of his everyday life, in Canada during the First World War and at other times and places, provided a starting point for his subsequent emergence as a celebrated writer of fiction.

Chandler served in the first Division of the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the First World War. He was later attached to the Royal Air Force, but had not completed flight training when the war ended. His life story, highlighted in Raymond Chandler: A Biography (1997) and Raymond Chandler Speaking (1977), is a source of fascination for students of film, screenwriting, and literature. I look forward to viewing the movie version of The Big Sleep. I look forward as well to reading The Long Goodbye (1953) and viewing the movie version of it.

A back-cover blurb for Raymond Chandler: A Biography (1997) argues that “The Long Goodbye is one of the most important novels in the history of American literature, right up there with Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom[!].

As I recall, I come across Raymond Chandler when I was doing reading related to a sound editing assignment, in the Ryerson University course that I recently completed, based upon a scene from Sin City (2005).

Climate change

The topic of alien invasions has in turn prompted me to read a Dec. 17, 2013 Mother Jones article entitled “What These Climate Scientists Said About Earth’s Future Will Terrify You.”

I recall a Pogo comic strip by Walt Kelly where a character famously says: “We have met the enemy… and he is us.”

The climate change narrative in the Mother Jones article gives rise to a similar thought, namely: “We have met the Martians … and they are us.”

Update

‘The Greatest Catastrophe the World Has Seen’ is the title of a Feb. 6, 2014 New York Review of Books article about recent studies of the First World War.

 

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