Wednesday, 30 July 2014

British Invaders Blogathon: The Lion in Winter

So this one is kind of a funny story. You see, I first saw part of The Lion in Winter years ago when I was too young to fully appreciate sophisticated movies (I think this was back when I as still a ginormous Star Wars nerd, I'm not proud of those days). I remember seeing maybe the first twenty minutes or so, and being disappointed to find out that despite the Midieval Setting it wasn't full of epic swordfights and exciting action but rather a story of political intrigue with a lot of talking. 

Being the way I was then, I ended up leaving as soon as I realized that there wasn't going to be much action. The film began with a sword fight, a jousting tournament, and an epic battle scene, but it ended up being more about a small group of characters in one castle and their interactions. Now, years later, in light of Terrence Towles Canote's British Invaders Blogathon, I have been inspired to dig out that same copy of the film and give it another chance. Was it worth it? I think it was.

It is 1183, and Christmas is approaching. The aging King Henry II (Peter O'Toole) is trying to decide who will take his place when he dies. He organizes a family reunion to which he invites his three sons Richard (Anthony Hopkins), Geoffrey (John Castle), and John (Nigel Terry). Also invited is Henry's wife Eleanor (Katharine Hepburn) who has been imprisoned and is only released for the holidays, his mistress Alais (Jane Merrow), and her brother Philip II (Timothy Dalton) who also happens to be the King of France. 

Unfortunately, neither Henry nor Eleanor can agree on who should take over, and before long tensions begin to rise. Soon the three sons are forming alliances with and double-crossing each other in the hopes of taking the throne. Philip finds opportunities to take advantage of the mounting conflict. Eleanor and Henry end up in a complicated relationship that constantly veers between rekindling their old love and plotting against each other, while Alais is caught in the middle of it all.

Now, I'll confess, it is a very complicated story, and I suspect that you may have to watch the film multiple times to fully understand everything. You really do have to be on your toes or else you may lose track over who is scheming against who, but it is really a very well-executed piece. The characters play nicely off of each other, each one has a distinctive personality, and there's plenty of great scenery and amazing sets for the castle where much of the narrative is set.

Peter O'Toole is incredibly convincing playing the aging Henry II, which is a pretty remarkable feat given he was only 36 at the time, and this was just a few years after his breakout role in Lawrence of Arabia. Katharine Hepburn is equally strong as his scheming wife, balancing those romantic and sinister qualities so that you're never sure whether to love her or fear her. Same goes for each of the sons (I honestly had no idea until the credits rolled that was a young Anthony Hopkins as Richard). Really, it's just great acting all around.

I'm glad I decided to give this film another go. Considering the complexities maybe it's for the better I left early on the first time round, since I probably wouldn't have understood it. However, there is a strange charm to the whole thing, even if it's not easy to follow. If you'd like a clever Medieval narrative drawing less from fantasy and more from history with less focus on sword fights and more emphasis on character, this is for you.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

The Misuse of Astronomical Concepts in Science Fiction

This is an issue I encounter a lot in science fiction of all sorts, when the writers clearly had no idea what they were talking about. Now no movie is ever going to be perfect. Even 2001 had a few mistakes (the most famous is probably when Dave holds his breath before being exposed to the vacuum of space, which is the worst thing you can possibly do under the circumstances). However, there's a fine line between a few small mistakes that only get uncovered with in-depth research and glaring errors that show the writers didn't even bother to actually look up their subject matter.

There is a scale by which to rank these kinds of films with two logical extremes. Hard science fiction is the kind that goes out of its way to be as realistic as possible. Actual science is incorporated with few (if any) liberties taken. Spaceships are designed to resemble machines that could plausibly exist in our future, the Moon and any planets depicted are designed to resemble the real things (or at least as best an approximation of the real thing as can be made from the information available).

Destination Moon is one of the earliest examples, as well as the first big science fiction blockbuster. It used the best science available at the time (most of which still holds up alright at least in theory), complete with sci-fi writer Robert Heinlein as a consultant. Films like this and Pal's later Conquest of Space would help clear the way for Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey which also employed a respected science fiction author, Arthur C. Clarke, to assist in ensuring the science is as realistic as possible. More recently we've also had Contact, Moon, Gravity, and Europa Report.

Personally I'm quite fond of this genre but it does have its challenges. As a writer of hard science fiction, one very easy trap I've fallen into is to spend too much time explaining the science which has gotten in the way of developing my characters and the story. Destination Moon is an enjoyable film but to someone looking for light entertainment they might get frustrated with the characters constantly explaining little details. The trick is to find a balance of sorts. After all while you use actual science you don't have to explain it all down to the last detail, just enough to make the reader understand what you're talking about.

The other extreme is known as soft science fiction. These are the works where logic and science are cast out the window in favor of a creative story and whatever the writers think looks cool. There's lots of things you can expect to see here. These are usually the kind of works where at best nothing will be explained, and when it is, it isn't so much a scientific explanation as it is scientific-sounding gibberish concocted by the writers in a desperate attempt to sound like they know what they're talking about.

There's certainly lots of images you'll see in soft science fiction. Flying saucers are reasonably common, spaceships with artificial gravity that is never explained, faster than light travel, "asteroid fields" consisting of large clusters of rocks that are unrealistically close together, laser guns, "black holes" that somehow function like wormholes, and great big noisy space battles with lots of explosions. Interestingly, a good early example would be Rocketship X-M which was hastily thrown together to compete with Destination Moon. Forbidden Planet would be another great example, as would Star Wars.

Those are the two biggest extremes. However, once in a while I see films (and by extension, other stories) that reach a new low. Soft science fiction writers at least have some idea what they're doing. They might not have done as much research as those of hard science fiction but they may do something. I'm talking the kind of writers that do absolutely no research whatsoever, desperately attempt to make it look like they did, and only end up showing how little they really know.

Naturally, there's a lot of mistakes I've often seen in science fiction writing. Star Wars has a long list of offenses for violating established scientific fact without any sort of logical justification, but I'm not going to get into that right now. One thing that can be really annoying in bad science fiction is when people try to make their work sound grander or more futuristic by throwing around astronomical terms. It creates misinterpretations and misunderstandings of various scientific concepts.

As it happens, in addition to being a film student I have also taken a few basic astronomy classes, so I think it is worthwhile to go through some of the biggest mistakes I've found and set the record straight. First up I'll be revisiting my old arch-nemesis: Jean-Luc Godard. Alphaville already has a pathetic enough vision of the future, but what really nails the head on the coffin is the extent of the efforts to make it in any way "futuristic" which amounts to the script throwing around various astronomy terms.

After I published the article one thing that was pointed out to me, though I don't specifically recall when this happened in the film itself (granted, I don't want to remember much of that travesty and I was probably too busy trying to make sense of the incoherent plot to notice), that Godard apparently thinks light years are a measure of time.

Admittedly it's a bit hard to wrap your mind around at first but that unit is actually a measure of distance. Light travels at a constant speed, which means that there is a finite distance it can travel in one year (9.46 trillion km). That distance gives astronomers a unit that is far easier to work with on a cosmic scale, the same reason why we have astronomical units (AU) for measuring distances within our Solar System.

Really, though, the offence we all remember the film committing was that instead of actually attempting to create any kind of interesting future, Godard just throws around the word "galaxy". It's not the only time I've seen this kind of thing happen. I've seen other works which try to sound cool by using the word "galaxy" but Godard takes it to the next level because he clearly has no idea what the word means. The main character of Lemmy Caution keeps saying lines like "things are much different in this galaxy" implying intergalactic travel somehow exists even though no real technological progress is visible.

The Star Wars movies famously open with a title card reading "A long Time Ago, In a Galaxy Far, Far Away..." but why a galaxy? Disregarding the expanded universe and the later films, A New Hope (or, if you really want to be a purist, Star Wars) really only featured three different worlds (Tatooine, Alderaan, and the moon Yavin IV, presumably orbiting a planet). If we focus specifically on the original film, and disregard anything that comes from hindsight, there really was no need for it to be a galaxy. The plot could have worked just as well if Tatooine, Alderaan, and Yavin were all located in one Solar System.

I suppose it would be worthwhile to provide you with an idea of the scale of galaxies. The Milky Way galaxy in which we live is of course just one of billions if not trillions in the universe where we live. When you hear the term "galaxy", I suspect the image that comes to mind is a pretty fascinating one: a large glowing spiral disk. It certainly looks cool, but what is it really?

Technically there's two major types of galaxies, but for the sake of simplicity I'm going to focus on the type you're more likely familiar with: the spiral galaxy. You've probably seen images of this kind before and examples would include the Milky Way and the Andromeda galaxy. What you're really looking at is something vast. Our own galaxy is 100,000 light years across, that means it takes light precisely that long to get from one end to the other, just imagine trying to send a spacecraft across. What you're looking at when you see an image of a galaxy is billions of stars, many of which also have planets, but that's not all.

There's also plenty of dust, gas, and other things with which to make more stars. That's not even getting into the super massive black hole right in the middle of the central bulge. In fact what you see might not actually be the whole thing. I'm not going to get into the specifics, but there's another invisible part of the galaxy called the "halo" which is full of globular clusters (large groups of stars that orbit on irregular paths around the galaxy). In fact it is possible that what you can see is really only a very small portion, and that most of the galaxy is actually made up of an invisible substance known as "dark matter", though I won't be going into the specifics of that.

So as you can see, even if we did manage to develop interstellar travel, exploring the galaxy would be a serious challenge. There is no known way we could operate a spacecraft that could travel at the speed of light and even if we could there'd be the issues of time dilation, so good luck finding a way to travel 100,000 light years. I have no idea how the Star Wars universe is able to maintain a galactic community, get around the time dilation from going to light speed, and develop methods of communicating in real time from opposite ends of their galaxy.

Incidentally, if you want to remember the full scale of our galaxy, there is a little song you can listen to that is extremely helpful, by Monty Python of all people. This little musical number from The Meaning of Life is surprisingly accurate to the point where remembering the lyrics helped me with an assignment and my astronomy professor actually endorsed it as a study aid. If you have any difficulty remembering the facts, just think of the lyrics to the song and you should be fine.

So we've established just how big our own galaxy is, the next part to consider is just how far other galaxies are. I can't give you a precise figure, but what I can tell you is that we don't have much of a chance of reaching any of them. Contrary to Godard's vision, I'm pretty sure we won't be visiting any other galaxies in the near future. Whether we'll ever have any chance of reaching them is something I'm not sure anyone can definitively say, but based on our current understanding of the universe there is no way it's possible. Also, even if we did develop intergalactic travel, matters might be complicated by the constant expansion of the universe.

Another offender from the Star Wars franchise: Han Solo famously boasted that he'd made "The Kessel Run" in less than twelve parsecs. That sounds quite impressive and certainly gives you an idea of how cool a guy he is... until you realize that parsecs are a measure of distance, not time. In short, it's yet another means of measuring distances between objects outside of our solar system. According to Wikipedia a parsec is roughly 3.26 light years, so three times the distance light can travel in one year. It's like saying you could fly to the moon in less than 42 astronomical units. It really doesn't make any sense. Suddenly Han's claim doesn't sound so impressive, does it?

The upcoming movie Guardians of the Galaxy has a supporting character named Nebula, played by Doctor Who star Karen Gillan. The thing is she is an alien, and I'm suspecting one who's never been to Earth before, so it seems strange that her name would be a term created by English-speaking humans, even if it's a phenomenon she's seen before. This is another word I've heard misused in various works from time to time, and really it's a bit simpler than you might think. 

A nebula is literally just a cloud in space. They can be fascinating and they are often an incredible thing to see, but the definition is pretty straight forward. Now there are several different kinds of nebulae with different sources, and in fact they're a very important part of the galaxy. It's currently theorized that our own solar system was created by matter from a nebula condensing into the sun, with the remaining material forming a disc shape and eventually creating the planets, not to mention one of the byproducts of a star's death is a "planetary nebula" which consists of most of its material drifting away from the core. Even better is that there have been nebulae observed to be "stellar nurseries" in that they literally manufacture hundreds if not thousands of stars at a time.

Finally, this is one really problematic error I've seen a lot and it can get a bit annoying when you know the reality. The weird 1979 Disney film The Black Hole claims that a black hole can be used as a means of travelling from one point in space to another. This is not the case. In fact that film clearly had no idea what it was talking about given it's image of a "black hole" was a swirling blue vortex which makes you wonder why they even bothered keeping the name.

The problem here is that black holes are confused with wormholes. A black hole is so called because it is impossible to see. The reason why is simple: black holes are so massive and dense that past a certain point the escape speed (the minimum required speed to break free from an object's gravitational pull) becomes greater than the speed of light. This means that past the point of no return, known as the event horizon, nothing can escape, and that includes light.

That's not even getting into the specifics of what happens when you go into a black hole. The simplest version is that once you go past the event horizon you would be stretched out in a process literally called "specification" and torn apart, along with anything else that followed you into the black hole, until nothing but atoms remain. Here is a video that explains it in a bit more depth:

Wormholes on the other hand are something quite a bit different. While they are theoretically possible we still have yet to find any definitive proof of their existence. A wormhole is like a fold in space and time, that could provide a shortcut between two different points in the universe that could be thousands of parsecs apart. This is more in line with the ideas being explored in The Black Hole.

Hopefully this will help clear up any misunderstandings. Perhaps it will help some future science fiction writers who want to use some of these terms to use them properly. There are plenty of other mistakes and misunderstandings that emerge from time to time. For one thing you should never confuse moons and planets; the key distinction being that planets orbit stars and moons orbit around planets. Another common error is that asteroid fields are never as cluttered as you see in the movies and they're actually pretty easy to navigate. Those are topics for another discussion, however.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Craig's Bond is Okay!

In my controversial article Why Do People Like James Bond? I raised the question of what sane person could sit down in front of one of Connery's Bond films; endure the obvious sexism and still come out thinking that Bond's the best guy ever. I did, however, know that the more modern Bond films were getting better about those issues. After reading a review of Casino Royale from Cinema Monolith I got to thinking about giving Daniel Craig's Bond a chance.

I managed to find a used copy of Casino Royale for $5.00 and purchased it. I was told this one got better about the issues of misogyny that had so repulsed me from Sean Connery's era. I was nervous but I gave it a shot and it was actually not too bad a film. I'll confess seeing as I've never actually gambled in a casino before I didn't always understand the poker phrases that were used by the characters but they did manage to get some good tension out of those scenes.

I had seen the 1967 spoof version. For those of you who haven't seen that one, it involved David Niven as the "real" James Bond who has to catch the people responsible for an "assassination" (and by that I mean the guy's hat was shot off but he was otherwise unharmed) which somehow led to twenty different people taking on the name of James Bond. The film opened with a group of men casually driving past lions in the English countryside and built up to a mind-boggling climax in which a whole bunch of random characters got into a brawl in the casino but everyone dies because Woody Allen is tricked into taking a nuclear explosion pill. Seriously.

That version was a disaster. Six different directors ended up working on different segments of the movie and none of them really tied together. The whole thing ended up being just one great big jumbled mess with absolutely no coherence whatsoever. It was a waste of time and not one I'd recommend at all unless you enjoy your movies making no sense, and I don't mean that in a good way like with the films of Lynch or Cronenberg.

Fortunately, I was assured that Craig's version made a lot more sense, and it certainly did. I'm not sure there was really any resemblance to the 1967 version. The 2006 version of Casino Royale actually has a plot that could be followed. Admittedly it is a very complicated plot that had a lot of stuff going on but it's certainly better than its predecessor.

Now I'd also been assured that the Craig films get better about one big issue that had kept me from the Connery films, and that was the way women were treated. In Connery's era, women were basically just things Bond could have sex with. Sometimes he'd go through five or six different love interests in one movie, confessing his love for each only to blow them off as soon as they got killed. In Casino Royale, there is some of that womanizer aspect of Bond's character, but it's certainly downplayed.

If anything, while that aspect of Bond is still present, it's now treated as a flaw in his character. Connery's films often glorified the fact that Bond likes to have sex with women and can't get within ten feet of any female character without thinking about it. That's not even getting into the fact that Goldfinger, one of the most respected films of Connery's era, had a glorified rape scene.

Here, in addition to the fact that M has been a woman since the Brosnan films, the love interest Vesper Lynd is still glamorous but actually has a personality of her own. Bond has to earn her respect (and not by sexually assaulting her and curing her of being homosexual). In her very first scene, she and Bond use Sherlock Holmes-style deductive reasoning to find out about each other. One thing Vesper notes in that scene is Bond's tendency to treat women as sex objects rather than actual people.

However, whereas Connery's Bond would have embraced that notion, Craig's Bond does find himself questioning that outlook and coming to respect her more. There is one memorable scene where he finds Vesper alone in the shower following a rather violent confrontation in which two people were killed. Instead of continuing to hit on her Bond actually can see that she's freaked out by seeing that kind of violence for the first time and takes the time to try and offer some comfort. Later on he even ends up wanting to leave the British Secret Service to be with her, something Connery never would have done, and goes out of his way to try and save her even when it seems hopeless.

Another enjoyable aspect of the film was the way that Casino Royale occasionally poked fun at or subverted some of the "classical" Bond conventions. The fact that they acknowledge the absurdity of how women were treated in Connery's films is one thing, but really they do all kinds of fun little twists and turns.

One particularly amusing twist is on Bond's favorite drink. Traditionally, Bond would always ask for "Martini, shaken not stirred" but here when setting up that famous line, he asks for an insanely convoluted concoction. Later on we do see him getting tricked into drinking a poisoned Martini and ordering one at the Casino Royale. Of course that time he's in a hurry so when the bartender asks if he wants it "shaken not stirred" Bond just replies with "Do I look like I care?"

Now, I want to make it clear that this only applies to the Craig and Brosnan-era Bond films. I still stand by everything I said before with regards to Sean Connery. Craig's, however, aren't too bad. They've certainly gotten better about the issues that made the Connery films so repulsive and to be fair they also made Bond a far more interesting character.

Casino Royale was an enjoyable enough film and it even got me emotionally invested in the main character at times. I'd be willing to try out Quantum of Solace and Skyfall, the latter of which I've been told is even better than Casino Royale.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

A Ship, A Crew, and A Signal

Back in April, I posted an article discussing a little-recognized by extremely influential sub-genre of science fiction I called The "Space Disaster" Movie. Technically it's not exclusively science fiction considering Apollo 13 fits the formula I've established and that was based on true events, but most examples are.

The formula is simple enough but exists in so many forms. Basically, it usually goes something like this: a group of astronauts are on some sort of mission and at first everything is going fine. Then something happens that they could not have foreseen, something that puts them in danger. The characters end up being stranded in their environment, trying to survive long enough to find a way home. This basic structure applies to far too many films to count, and in my original article I list a large number of movies ranging from Destination Moon to Gravity.

However, something interesting happened recently. I was hanging out on the IMDB message boards, specifically the one dedicated to the poll. This time around I found a poll idea that would name this article, started by a user named "The Once and Future Jerk". In this poll he presented a new formula, one which I realized was essentially a sub-genre to the sub-genre I'd already discovered. This user had managed to come up with 11 different films that fit the basic formula, and I was able to find one more to add to the list before the poll went live.

So how does this new formula work? Well, it consists of those three things you hear in the title of both this article and the poll that inspired it: a ship, a crew, and a signal. A movie using this concept typically begins with a signal of some sort being received, usually from another planet. The precise nature of the signal may vary, ranging from ancient recordings left on Earth to messages from the stars. It could be alien in origin or belong to a previous group of astronauts to visit that location. Either way, the next step is more or less the same: a spaceship and a crew of astronauts is assembled and sent towards the source of the signal to investigate. In most cases, the results are a great big disaster.

Now, I'm not sure if you were thinking of a specific film, but the explanation I have just given could describe the plots of Forbidden Planet, Der Schwegende Stern (a,k.a. First Spaceship to Venus or The Silent Star), 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien, 2010Aliens, Event Horizon, ContactMission to Mars, all three versions of Solaris, Sunshine, and Prometheus. It is indeed curious as to how popular this formula has become.

Now, some variations exist in the details. As noted before, the nature of the signal seems to vary between different works. Der Schwegende Stern and Prometheus both opt for an approach involving ancient messages left by aliens. In the former, there is a mysterious spool unearthed that contains the voices of people from Venus (this was before we found out the planet was inhospitable for any kind of life) which leads to a crew of astronauts being sent to make contact. Along the way there is danger which presents itself when the message is decoded and revealed to be plans for an invasion that never took place. The mission then becomes one in which the crew hope to negotiate with the aliens.

Prometheus has a more roundabout approach in which a team of archaeologists find a series of cave paintings that suggest humanity was created by beings from another world. The maps they find are mistaken for an invitation for humanity to literally meet their makers when they've developed sufficient technology to reach the system depicted. Whether this is actually an invitation as originally believed is unclear, especially since we never fully learn why the Engineers wanted to destroy us. There is a theory that (in an interesting parallel to Alien) the cave paintings were actually meant as a warning.

This brings us to a more common scenario, which is the distress call: either a cry for help or a warning to stay away. In most cases, the protagonists will arrive too late. By the time they reach the source of the signal, bad things are already starting to happen at best, and at worst everybody's already dead.

 In the majority of these cases (Alien being a rare exception), the signal originated from a human group of characters involved with a previous expedition. The plot then involves the characters figuring out is happening or what already happened to those characters, presumably facing the danger themselves.

In Forbidden Planet all but two of the original Altair Expedition have been dead for some time before the heroes arrive. Gradually, the astronauts learn more about Morbius's activity on the planet, particularly his discovery of the Krell civilization and playing around with their technology. The old party was wiped out literally by a physical manifestation of Morbius's darker subconscious, and in the end it becomes clear that the technology is far too dangerous to share with the rest of humanity.

Solaris offers a partial variation. The distress signal is more a personal request for Kelvin to come to the station and figure out what's happening. When he gets there, two of the crew are dead and only two others remain (granted, at least in the 2002 version, one of them is revealed to have been accidentally murdered and replaced by a "visitor"). 

Kelvin himself gradually faces the same trouble when he is visited by a replication of his dead wife. The planet's mind is so alien nobody can be sure if it's intentions are benevolent or hostile (although the way it expanded in the end suggests it was offended by Gordon's use of the "Higg's Device"). In this case it becomes about the tension between the characters, but it all started with the signal.

That's something of a weird pattern in this formula. The signal seems to be less a call for help or a warning and more like a lure. In Solaris the whole thing gets started because Kelvin gets a personal request to go visit the station in orbiting the titular planet, only to find the man who sent that request dead when he arrives. In Forbidden Planet the heroes are sent on a rescue mission to Altair only to end up being stranded on the planet shortly after arriving and later attacked by an invincible monster. 

Finally, we move into a slightly more optimistic variant of this formula, and that is the "message from the stars" approach. This one is slightly less common, but the key distinction is that the signal is almost always of alien origin. Prometheus and Der Schwegende Stern could both be considered a combination of this and the "distress signal" approach, given both involve the characters visiting the alien planet to find the aftermath of some horrible disaster. 

Still, I do have two far better examples. Silent Running actually might have qualified had they stuck to the ideas of the original script (which supposedly involved Lowell making contact with aliens, and would have ended with them finding the dome containing the last forests after it is ejected into space). The best examples would arguably be 2001: A Space Odyssey and Contact

In both films, there is a signal of some sort that sparks an expedition to its source. In 2001, it is a mysterious alien artifact known simply as "The Monolith" (we never really find out what it is) found on the Moon. It broadcasts a signal towards Jupiter once it is exposed to the sun for the first time since it was buried.

With Contact, we get something a little bit different. The plot gets going when Ellie Arroway manages to locate the first confirmed signal of extraterrestrial origin, specifically one from Vega. Within that signal are instructions to build a ship that can take one passenger to that star. Ellie may be going alone this time, but it is still a ship built in response to a signal.

Unlike the distress call scenario, the Message from the Stars becomes a pursuit of knowledge. 
While 2001: A Space Odyssey does have tragedy strike, leaving Dave Bowman as the only survivor, that had nothing to do with the signal. It was an unfortunate series of circumstances that were entirely due to human error that happened on the way, not when they arrived. 

In both cases, the film builds up to a surreal climax that raises new questions. The pursuit of knowledge only leads to greater mystery that perhaps will never be truly solved. Both Dave and Ellie make contact, but in the end, they really get a glimpse of just how vast the universe truly is. Dave is exposed to a wealth of knowledge we can scarcely begin to comprehend, and advanced to the next stage of evolution, while Ellie is left with plenty of questions and an incentive to keep observing the universe.

Ultimately, it seems there are two extremes with regards to this formula. On the one hand, we have the distress call scenario, wherein a human party sends out a signal and their rescuers are faced with disaster, and the Message From the Stars scenario, which becomes a pursuit of knowledge which ultimately leads to greater questions.

Character Profile: Galadriel

My Women in Film blogathon is ending in a week, and I got to thinking about writing another entry on an interesting character. I've been getting lots of good choices and so I thought this one might be something a bit different from the others, also a bit out of my usual comfort zone as I'm not normally big on fantasy. This is a brave an noble woman, wise and complex, one with a lot of power and influence... and did I mention that she originated from a novel published in 1954.

The Lord of the Rings may have a very predominantly male cast but it certainly makes up for that by making the few female characters especially memorable. Across the original trilogy the girls get their heroic moments: Arwen gets to save the life of Frodo Baggins and Eowyn manages to kill a major antagonist (granted, she did have help from a Hobbit, but she was still the one who delivered the final blow).

I've even defended the addition of Tauriel to The Hobbit. Before that I was willing to defend Itaril (a character who was rumored to be added to the films early in production, supposedly to be played by Saoirse Ronan), if only on the grounds that we knew nothing about her beyond rumors, which were later proven false.

Still, there is one female character in the series who tends to stand out. She doesn't have much screentime but her roles across both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit are crucial, and that is Galadriel. If Sauron is the embodiment of all things that are evil in Middle-Earth, than Galadriel is exactly the opposite: she is everything that is noble or good about their world.

Galadriel may not be known to take up arms the same as Eowyn or Tauriel, but she is quite possibly the most powerful figure in Middle-Earth, and yet she also knows how to handle that power. She knows what is right and will stand up, doing everything she deems necessary. Even if she does not herself take the ring to mordor, she is always watching Frodo and even helps him find confidence during some of the more desperate moments of the quest.

That's just the thing. Galadriel might not be a warrior in her own right, but she knows what's good and stands for it at all costs. She knows what needs to be done and is determined to see that it is accomplished.

There is always a sense of genuine compassion whenever she is present. She is kind to everyone, even those she should have reason to hate (she hardly objected to leaving Gimli a lock of her hair, something even he thought she'd never do) and does everything in her power to see that good ultimately triumphs. It may have been Gollum who ultimately destroyed the ring but it might never have gotten that far if she hadn't given Frodo the extra push he needed to get to that point. 

With a story as male-dominated as the writings of Tolkien, the fact that we can have a character as strong as Galadriel is an achievement in itself. She is a great character especially because of how she stands out in such a story, being one of the most powerful characters in it and the perfect embodiment for all that is good. It makes her an excellent contrast to Sauron, the embodiment of evil, and a character that is rightfully looked up to by the male heroes.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Thursday Movie Picks Meme: Movies With an Ensemble Cast

So in keeping with Wanderer's Thursday Movie Picks Meme, I'm supposed to list three movies based on a common theme. Last week, we looked at Stephen King adaptations and I presented three films based not based on his horror writing. This week the theme is ensemble casts. 

These are certainly interesting movies, where there isn't a definitive protagonist but rather several different people with equal significance. Even when there is one "protagonist" it's usually only defined by some specific circumstance. In Alien, the only thing that really made Ripley qualify as the protagonist was the fact that she's the only one still alive when the credits roll (though she took a more central role in the sequels).

I've written a few pieces that use such a group of characters myself, so I respect stories that can pull it off. Now, for the list, there was one option that seemed immediately obvious, and two more that were harder to decide. Here is what I've come up with:

The Thing (1982)

A list like this would hardly be complete without John Carpenter's greatest masterpiece, in which 12 very distinct men are gradually turned against each other. Nobody is spared, nobody is innocent. What makes the movie so terrifying is the knowledge that anybody could be infected, and unlike 1951's The Thing From Another World, there is no brave hero to organize the men. All they have is terror and paranoia, the same feelings which pass onto the audience. You have no idea who to root for, who you can trust and who you can't, you just have to figure it out on your own.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

This is definitely one of those films that leaves you to question where you stand from a moral perspective. The three main characters each react differently to their successful discovery of gold: Howard is the level-headed man who tries to keep order, Dobbs becomes greedy and wants the gold for himself, and poor Curtin is constantly stuck in the middle. Each one represents a different extreme, and all become necessary to make the story work.

Zulu (1964)

This is certainly an ensemble cast if there was one. We follow so many different people there's some who never interact directly, and just about everyone has their own plotline. You've got the two commanding officers Chard and Bromhead, at least two different pairs of soldiers under their command: Hook and Williams and Owen and Thomas; Colour Sergeant Bourne making sure the orders are carried out, the missionary Otto Witt who wants to evacuate the station (during the first half at least), along with several other soldiers and officers. 

Now you could make a case that Chard and Bromhead are the protagonists seeing as they're the ones who lead the charge (though even then they'd be more like co-protagonists), but the victory that is ultimately achieved is very much a team effort.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Snowpiercer: Is Revolution Justified?

Joonho Bong's Snowpiercer has been the subject of much discussion among movie bloggers recently. It's an interesting film, although a bit strange at times. It's certainly got a lot of interesting stuff going on although you could argue it has its flaws. I'll confess that the film could have benefited from having a stronger female presence, arguably on both sides. I mean, are they really discriminating by gender under these circumstances?

On the one side we never see a single female soldier working for Wilford even though given how limited their people are you'd think they'd take anyone who could pick up a gun. There are a few women who wield guns on the enemy side but half the time they only seem to come in when they're really needed.

On the other, we've got these revolutionaries going up against impossible odds and there's only two women in the group? One of whom they only took because it was a condition to get a man they needed to co-operate. I would have thought given their circumstances they'd need all the help they could get. Were there really no other women in that group of people who were willing to help?

Still, that's not what I'm here to talk about. I'm more interested in looking at the themes of this movie. Everyone's been doing a review on this film, it's good, it's bad, so if I'm going to discuss it I'm going to find something new. As strange as it may have gotten at times it was certainly compelling, with some interesting visuals and creative environments, but at first it looks like it's just going to conform to the standards of a typical dystopian narrative.

It's an age-old formula: a dark world run by an oppressive government who lives in luxury while the working class lives in horrible conditions. One way or another, a hero is forced to stand up to the ruling parties, starting a revolution and ultimately making way for a better future. We've seen this plenty of films: Metropolis, Alphaville, Logan's RunThe Running Man, Total Recall, Dark CityThe Hunger Games, ElysiumDivergent. In fact if anything it's harder to find dystopian movies that don't conform to this formula than to find ones that do.

At first glance, Snowpiercer looks like it's going to do this same kind of thing, but with the twist that it's all happening on a train. To take over the train (which also means the world given the circumstances), you have to take over the engine. Since our heroes are in the very back of the train, that means they have to go through each car to get there.

In the last few cars the main characters are living in horrible conditions. They are regimented by soldiers, living in cramped conditions, fed nothing but "protein bars" (and that came later on, Curtis talks about how they initially had to resort to cannibalism). They are forced to present their children, some of whom are measured and then taken away without explanation. Admittedly, the reasons why turned out to be slightly more bearable than my imagination, since I initially assumed that Mason had resorted to using children as a source of food.

Still, it seems very clear-cut. Mason is apparently running the train, making what seem to be excuses to keep her in power. She presents an analogy in which she talks about how you wouldn't wear a shoe on your head, because it belongs on your foot: according to her, the people in the back are the shoes, she is "a hat" and that everyone has their place where they have to be to keep things working. Naturally, Curtis doesn't take any of that and the revolution commences.

At first it's a success, but already things are getting risky. Curtis correctly deduces that the soldiers don't actually have any bullets because they "went extinct" years ago and the guns are meant more as a psychological weapon than a physical one. It seems very much that they know full well they have no chance but are still doing whatever is necessary to maintain power. Still, in order to test his theory, Curtis has to literally force a guard to try shooting him. If he was wrong, it would have been a disaster.

The guards are easily overpowered and the crew begins working their way through the train, but things get increasingly dangerous. They manage to recover the designer of the train's security systems and bribe him to help get to the engine, but that proves to be easier said than done when the next big obstacle turns out to be a single hallway full of large men with axes. The result is more or less complete and utter chaos. Both sides suffer heavy losses. A large portion of the rear passengers are killed (and as punishment, even more are executed). By this point most of his people are dead (including a close friend), but Curtis has no choice but to keep pushing on.

Meanwhile, Mason acts like a dirty coward. One of her officers is caught and the man holding him demands they surrender. The officer pleads for them to comply so that he might live, but Mason is barely phased by his throat being cut open. She is captured without much trouble, at which point she resorts to pleading for her life. They take her with them for a short time and she does reveal information that they didn't have access to (why their plan to use the water supply to influence negotiations wouldn't have worked, for instance), but it soon becomes clear that she's not actually in charge.

It's all the mysterious "Wilford" who runs the engine, and to whom she answers. If anything, the way she stubbornly talks about how "merciful" he is, it almost seems as though she herself has been brainwashed into believing in this system, much like the kids seen when the group is led into a classroom. This area provides quite the contrast to everything seen before it. It's all bright and colorful, with a very cheerful atmosphere, which makes quite a leap from the bleak, grey world seen before.

Many of the kids say horrible things about the people in the rear. The pregnant teacher is delightfully teaching them about how important the train is and how without they'd "all freeze and die", singing songs about it and having it happily pointed out when they pass by several frozen corpses just to make sure that the kids understand the severity of the situation.

Furthermore, the staff also has no objection to setting up a massacre of the revolutionaries right here in plain view of the children. Even the teacher pulls out a gun, which brings us to one particularly brutal moment when she is dispatched by one of the protagonists throwing a knife into her throat. This particular moment is one that does lead to a questioning of the morality of the situation: specifically just how much is too much?

It's cost most of his people just to get Curtis this far. Now his same people have had to resort to stabbing a pregnant woman (killing both her and by extension the baby). That's not exactly a moral thing to be forced to do. In addition, it's around this point that they end up murdering Mason in cold blood. These are still the "good guys" who have to do this.

They're not exactly great people to begin with either. Curtis wants to redeem himself but he does explain that he's done a lot of horrible things in his life just to survive, and ultimately that's what it's really come down to. By this point it's less about right and wrong, and more about trying to stay alive and keep going at all costs. This may have started as a revolution but even the "good guys" have to do horrible things and suddenly they don't seem so good anymore

As the revolution proceeds, things get increasingly heated. We see them pass through car after car full of people living in luxurious lifestyles, many of which start to feel a lot less like the desperate struggle to survive established at the beginning. Nearly everyone that remains of Curtis's followers are killed by a seemingly invincible henchman, and suddenly it comes down to him alone. He finally reaches the engine, at which point he gets into conflict with the one guy who remains when it turns out he had an entirely different plan: stocking up on a flammable substance to blow a hole in the train and escape.

Now this film could have easily gone in a different direction, but the way it opted to go is a fascinating one. Curtis makes it to the engine alone, where he meets Wilford, who turns out just to be a human being despite all the buildup. The Engine turns out to seem quite pleasant, it's private, and fairly spacious, although there is some discomfort with Wilford's assistant constantly pointing a gun at Curtis.

Now Curtis wanted to bring equality to the train, but in the end it turns out that's not possible. The whole revolution was planned from the beginning. Wilford was working with one of the key players in the revolution to make it happen the way it did. The sad thing is ultimately Curtis has to face the brutal reality: the hierarchy established really is the best way to keep the train going and to preserve order. There is no alternative; they even have to resort to child labor because there's no way to replace certain parts. Taking over the train, as Wilford wanted, would mean simply taking his place.

This is certainly something that often becomes a problem with real revolutions. The French Revolution, for example, was supposed to overthrow a tyrant, but ended up using fear to incite support and when it was over one of its key players took power and brought about a reign of terror perhaps even worse than what came before. Arguably the same deal with the Russian Revolution, which was meant to liberate the people, then Lenin died and Stalin managed to work his way into power, becoming one of the most brutal dictators in history.

Even with the most noble intent, revolutions are prone to corruption and often end with just a change in power followed by things going back to the way they were before, if not in fact worse. Similar themes were explored in the movie Duck, You Sucker by Sergio Leone, which also had a scene where Rod Steiger goes on an extended rant about this very subject.

Now, this film could have ended like any dystopian narrative, but it's interesting that it opted for something different. There is no optimistic outcome. If anything, the film ends on a very ambiguous note, wherein the train is destroyed. It creates a massive wreck, some of its cars fall over cliffs and tumble around. Only two characters are explicitly shown to survive, we never find out if anyone else did, and it's not clear what their future is.

Considering the damage done it's very likely that a lot of people were killed. That aquarium was probably destroyed, along with the gardens, and it was explicitly said that no life remained on Earth (although the presence of a polar bear suggests the faint possibility that isn't completely true). One man had found evidence that the snow was melting, perhaps if this revolution had never happened the train would still be running by the time the snow finally melted enough that life could be restored. As it stands, we can only speculate on just how much good or harm it really did.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Six Degrees of Separation Blogathon

Nostra at the blog My Filmviews has an interesting new event going on called the Six Degrees of Separation Blogathon. As it's name implies, it's based on the classic game of six degrees of Kevin Bacon, and having indulged in this game and proved quite good at it, I couldn't resist taking up the challenge. Thankfully, Wendell Ottley at Dell on Movies was nice enough to pass me the baton and gave me a real challenge. This was a tricky one but I think I've figured it out.

So the way the game works it simple enough. The idea is that in six steps you have to connect one person to another, usually two people who at first seem completely unrelated. Usually this is done with actors by way of movies they starred in, but this one is a bit more open to greater connections. The difference here is that once you've made your link in six degrees, you have to pass it on to another blogger by assigning them a new challenge, using your conclusion as a starting point.

The challenge I've been given is to connect Lindsay Lohan to Sydney Potier. This was a tricky one because I really only knew the latter by name, and I went through several possible routes before I found this one that worked best. So how did I connect two unrelated actors? Well, let's take a look:

1. Lindsay Lohan starred in Freaky Friday  (2003) alongside Jamie Lee Curtis.

2. Jamie Lee Curtis was in Halloween (1978) with Donald Pleasence.

3. Donald Pleasence appeared in The Great Escape (1963), which also starred James Coburn.

4. James Coburn starred in Duck, You Sucker (1971) alongside Rod Steiger.

5. Rod Steiger co-starred with Sidney Poitier in In the Heat of the Night.

Now I'm supposed to pass the baton onto another blogger. I'm thinking I'll go with Jenna and Allie of Flick Chicks. For their challenge, let's see...

How about Sidney Poitier to Groucho Marx? This one should be interesting. I have no idea how you'd do it but I'm sure you'll figure out something.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Rocket Number 9 Take Off To the Planet Venus... On Second Thought, Maybe Don't

So I've recently been working my way through a collection of "sci-fi classics" (or more accurately, a bunch of b-movies, some of which I have no idea where the science fiction aspect is) that I got for Christmas a few years ago. Unfortunately, since I don't know how to make robots out of the parts of my blu-ray player that control when the movie starts and ends, I had to do the riffing all by myself.

There's a total of 100 films and I've so far watched 11. At best, most of the movies have been tolerable or at least enjoyably bad. Some of them are flawed but have interesting enough ideas to keep you going (The Incredible Petrified World), and some are just horrendously bad. Horrors of Spider Island had absolutely no logic to it, almost no spiders (the real antagonist was one of the main characters who somehow turned into an indestructible monster after being bit by a spider) and at one point the plot is literally abandoned just for a party sequence.

Still, the worst so far have been a strange pair of films. The first was Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet. This one was really hard to sit through. It's supposed to be about a group of astronauts on an expedition to Venus. I'd call their vision of the planet dated but it makes no sense even by the standards of 1965. 

For those of you who aren't fluent in astronomy, the true nature of Venus was a very recent discovery. At some point in the 20th century, someone looked at Venus and saw that it had clouds. Since as we all know, those could only possibly be created by water, the logical conclusion was that Venus had an Earth-like environment. Then one day we did some further studies and it turned out to be a dry inferno with acid rain. Before that discovery, however, many science fiction writers liked to imagine the possibility of life on Venus. 

That said, the vision of the future in this film makes almost no sense. There's two groups of characters to follow and they're both made up of men who are impossible to tell apart. I've seen this problem crop up before but here they don't even have much of a personality to distinguish them. The only character of any interest is a female astronaut named Marsha, who serves more as a controller from orbit.

It's also another good example of a film that shows it has no idea what it's talking about. It's taken a tip from the Jean-Luc Godard school of science fiction writing: just use throw the word "galaxy" into your script and you'll instantly have a great vision of the future. At the very end we hear a narrator talk about how humans exploring "other worlds and other galaxies".

I think they're missing a few steps there. What about other star systems within our own galaxy? We'd have a far better chance of reaching one of those than we ever would leaving our own galaxy. I hate it when science fiction writers just throw around astronomy terms "galaxy" and "nebula" like that when they clearly have no idea what they mean.

Of course, as if the plot of Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet wasn't confusing enough, there's another film tying in with it and I can't make heads or tail of what the intention was. This was called Voyage to the Planet of the Prehistoric Women. At first glance, it appeared to be a sequel, attempting to pick up where the first film left off, in which case it would be completely unwarranted as there was nothing in the first film that made me want to see the story continue. 

It looked like it was going to address one unresolved plot thread in the original version, which concerned one of the astronauts hearing the voice of a woman on Venus but never managing to find her. That was until the narration recapping the events of the previous film ended up taking far too much time. It ended up going on for at least twenty or thirty minutes before we got to any of the "prehistoric women", though the sad part is that this summary of events made a lot more sense than the original plot.

However, it turned out to be nothing more than a bizarre and unnecessary re-edit. Basically, the story was more or less the same as Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet except it cut Marsha's scenes (some of the more tolerable parts of the original version) and spliced in a bunch of shots of scantily clad women with a sub-plot of their own. They're apparently supposed to be alien, but as you can expect from any b-movie of this sort, it's an exclusively female society. Apparently they reproduce asexually and have a language that by total coincidence is identical to English. Seriously, why do b-movies that do this kind of thing never make an effort to address the obvious questions they raise.

Basically once the "prehistoric women" finally enter the picture, something like 40 minutes in, their plot concerns a creature killed by the protagonists in self-defense. In the original version, this was just a minor action scene that unsuccessfully tried to build tension. In this version, it claims that the creature in question was worshiped by these women, and they want to avenge it by killing the astronauts. It was so bad I didn't even finish the movie, but from what I could gather their scenes are mostly just spliced in among re-edited footage from Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet and never really connects to it much.

What was the point of this film? Why does Voyage to the Planet of the Prehistoric Women exist? Was the original such a hit as to warrant a director's cut, or is this just supposed to be some kind of sequel or midquel? What was the idea behind making this movie? Why was it necessary to re-edit the film and splice in these scenes of mostly nude women? In what way did the plot of Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet warrant any kind of follow-up at all? I can't imagine it was because the film was so gripping people wanted to know about the woman whose voice that astronaut kept claiming to hear.

I have no idea. Whatever the filmmakers intended, don't bother with either of these films. All you'll get is a painful hour (and an extra 20 minutes in the case of Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women) of an incoherent story in which you can't even distinguish the actors you're supposed to be rooting for. As far as b-movies go, unless you have a couple of robots on hand who can riff either of them to help you get through it, these films are ones that you can certainly skip.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

When is a Film a Product of its Time?

I still stand by my claim that this is a better boxing film than Raging Bull

When you run a blog like mine, you sometimes have to deal with angry comments. There are definitely a few areas where I've made some controversial remarks, and it's not surprising that I may have struck a few nerves along the way.

I have yet to hear any angry comments from fans of Tarkovsky's Solaris criticizing me for saying that the remake with George Clooney was better, or even any of Godard's fans accusing me of being an idiot for saying that Alphaville had the most pathetic vision of the future ever put on film and that he is a horrible director.

Where I have gotten lots of feedback, however, is with regards to my comments on James Bond. The article Why do People Like James Bond? was only my fourth published article on this blog and yet it still remains the most popular. Apparently controversy sells, and I've certainly gotten plenty of that.

I've found a handful of people who agree with my stance that the James Bond franchise is sexist, others who see where I'm coming from but who try to enjoy the films anyway, and the die hard fans who stubbornly try to defend it. Believe me in this business there is nothing more frustrating than trying to explain to a die hard fan why the Bond franchise is sexist, because no matter what points you make they will just repeat the same arguments, fling insults at you, and at best completely miss the point of what you're trying to say.

I've already had one person try to defend the rape scene in Goldfinger by saying that it wasn't presented as a rape scene as if that somehow made it okay (that's exactly the point, they were trying to make a horrible act look charming). I've also had someone try to break it down and argue it wasn't a rape scene, and then demand that I explain how it was (Bond forces a woman to have sex with him, I'm pretty sure that's the basic definition of rape). I've also had idiots who have stubbornly tried to deny the allegations I have made, instead opting to fling insults at me and claim that my statements about the Bond franchise have no basis and that I'm the idiot.

This is the hero, everybody, and people still try to defend him.

Now, for the more civilized fans I have argued with, there are two big rebuttals I've heard against my comments. The first is "Bond is supposed to be the ideal male fantasy", and the second is that "it's a product of its time." There is a slight problem here, and I'd say that these arguments actually conflict with one another, but we'll get to the specifics of why later on.

Just what does it mean for something to be "a product or its time"? Well, in my experience, that usually means quite simply that the work in question was made at a time when people saw the world much differently from today. In particular it usually implies that people had different ethical standards at that particular point in time: something considered acceptable back then is repulsive by modern standards and vice versa.

So to provide a straight forward example, blackface (a white actor donning obviously fake makeup to play a black character) was considered perfectly acceptable in early 20th century filmmaking, but try doing it today and you'll get into a lot of trouble. The only occasions you might be able to get away with it is either in parody or in a period piece set at the point in time, and even then it might be difficult.

By contrast, as I have discussed previously, there was a time when movies were not allowed to so much as acknowledge the existence of homosexuality. While it's still a controversial subject, the regulations aren't as strictly enforced and movies are no longer bound by a strict code, which has allowed some filmmakers to depict it. If you tried to make a movie like Brokeback Mountain, Blue is the Warmest Colour, or Mulholland Drive during the Studio Era, you'd be shot down within seconds of pitching the script.

Even if you did somehow manage to convince the studio, you'd have to change the ending. Imagine a version of Brokeback Mountain which ends with Ennis "learning his lesson" and being "cured" of being gay. It certainly wouldn't be the same movie. In fact the obviously homophobic tone would be incredibly offensive nowadays. At the same time, the ending actually used in the film would have outraged audiences during the studio era.

Now, considering we are slowly evolving from a centuries-old society that until fairly recently was rooted in misogyny, racism, slavery, homophobia, and lots of other horrible things, it's not surprising you sometimes have to understand that when looking at material from certain points in time. That's not to mean you should outright ignore anything that seems offensive, just understand that's it's only that way nowadays. 

In some cases you can take on the slightly more optimistic approach, understanding the negative stuff but finding one little positive aspect to consider. H.P. Lovecraft is a great example: on the one hand he was an extreme racist, on the other he supported woman's rights. His opinions could be seen as extremely progressive or horrendously dated depending on which side you look from.

Looking at this angle in a cinematic sense, you can find plenty of examples. Conquest of Space seems to imply that female astronauts don't exist. That's not a very pleasant image nowadays, but on the other the one Japanese astronaut is depicted as a competent professional and more or less equal to the otherwise all-white cast, not bad for a film released in 1955.

The key word here is understanding how people saw things back then. It's likely that they couldn't have seen where their society would go. After all if they had there wouldn't be so many science fiction movies that imagine the perspective of the 1950's still holding up in the distant future. To them, that's just the way things were. There was never any intent to offend. Conquest of Space wasn't trying to be sexist in its vision of the future, it's just that in the male-dominated society of the time, the thought of women being astronauts probably just never crossed the minds of the filmmakers.

That's the thing with a lot of works that are "products of their time". Shakespeare probably didn't write The Taming of the Shrew with the intent of creating something extremely sexist. He was writing at a time when it was literally illegal for women to even perform in the theater, after all, and stories like that were quite popular, so he probably just never considered the implications of his narrative. 

Same deal goes for Birth of a Nation, which D.W. Griffith never consciously intended to be racist. He even tried to redeem himself when he found out precisely the implications of his movie. This would be a film where you'd have to take into account the circumstances surrounding its production, but what if we came back to James Bond? Is Bond a product of its time?

Well, according to a lot of the die hard fans, yes. They insist you have to put yourself in the shoes of the time period to appreciate the films (at least, assuming these aren't the kind of fans who will try to outright deny the existence of any offensive content in the franchise). However, as I said before, there is the argument that Bond is supposed to be the "male fantasy". 

First off, I don't know how many men in the 1960's actually fantasized about doing the kind of stuff Bond did, but when you get down to it, the argument is justifying the Connery films being sexist. To bring it into some simpler terms: the films were intended to be that way. The writers consciously wrote their scripts knowing full well that they were extremely misogynistic, but made no effort to do anything about it.

So which one is it? You can't have it both ways. These are the two biggest arguments I get and they essentially cancel each other out. To be a "product of its time", the work can't have been made with the intent of being offensive. The artist wasn't consciously trying to be sexist, racist, or homophobic, they just didn't know any better due to the standards of the world they lived in. 

However, according to this argument, Connery's Bond films were consciously intended to be sexist, so I'm sorry but that argument can't help you. Bond is not "a product of its time" but rather the product of misogynistic screenwriters who knew very well what they were doing and made no effort to fix it. To me, that's even more offensive.