discarded couches of portland

discarded couch 9-23-14

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how much of the monster do we want to see?

It’s safe to say the reason you watch the movie Godzilla is to see Godzilla. Same goes for King Kong, the monsters in Ray Harryhausen’s movies, Alien, the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, Citizen Kane, and Pacific Rim. When a movie promises a cool monster (often right there in the title), there really is no other reason to see that movie.

But how much of the monster do we want to see? Back in 1975, Steven Spielberg told us we didn’t want to see the shark in the first reel. That’s between 11 and 22 minutes, based on my quick search. His logic was sound: to build suspense you need time. He also found ways of showing the effects of the shark without actually showing the shark itself. By the time you saw Jaws, you knew exactly what it was capable of. The physicality of the monster was imbued with the terror of what you already knew about it.
What we now know about the making of Jaws is that Spielberg had other reasons to limit the screen time of the shark. The mechanical shark they had built didn’t work very well. They had to figure out how to make this ridiculous contraption look both real and scary. The less they used the shark, the less chance it would come off looking like what it was: a waterlogged robot.

Of course, Spielberg had no problem letting us see the monster in three more movies. Does that negate his famous decree? I’d have to ask someone who has seen Jaws 2-4.

Historically, the reason we haven’t seen much of a movie monster has been for technical reasons. Special effects were time consuming and not always reliable to produce satisfactory results. Harryhausen spent years of his life moving small figures a frame at a time so they could appear alive onscreen. Very few people had that kind of skill and patience. There are maybe hundreds of movies featuring a dude in a goofy rubber suit “terrorizing” actors. I wonder if those movies ever fooled anyone. I suspect they were seen, even at the time, as a nice diversion, but were never actually scary.

This all changed with Jurassic Park. Suddenly, computer graphics allowed a much greater range of non-humanoid monsters. Directors didn’t have to limit screen time simply because of logistics. The new digital animation could look as real as anything else in the frame, and it didn’t have to be there on the day of filming. Teams of artists and programmers had as much time as the budget allowed to get the monster looking right.

Now the question of how much we want to see a movie monster is dependent on a cocktail of elements: human characters, plot, and special effects. Are all your human characters simply waiting around to get eaten? Is your plot centered on a few set-pieces of the monster destroying XXXX? Nobody will want to see your monster, no matter how well rendered it is.

Who cares about these guys?
Who cares about these guys?

It used to be that monsters weren’t shown because of technical limitations. Fortunately, that isn’t the case anymore. But that doesn’t let filmmakers off the hook. They need to find ways to make the monster compelling and the movie suspenseful, regardless of the monster’s screen time.

Personally, I’d like to see the monster enough to get to know it, but not so long I become comfortable with its presence.



scotland-2000I guess you could say I’m more than curious about the Scottish Independence vote today. My time in Scotland was brief (a semester in 2000), but it was meaningful.

edinburghThere were more than a few occasions when I was mistaken for a local.

josh-scotlandAnd, significantly, my flat was across the hall from the venerable Slider K. Shaftacular. Before there were blogs, we chatted offline about all the stuff you see me writing about today.




discarded couches of portland

Found last Friday near SE 39th and Powell.


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falling rock cameo in the gabby douglas story

MV5BMjA0ODM1NTMwNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjU5ODUwMTE@._V1_SY317_SX214_AL_Last fall, I received an interesting request. Lifetime was making a biopic about Gabby Douglas, the gold medal gymnastics champ at the 2012 Olympics. The art department wanted to know if they could use a couple Falling Rock National Park comic strips for a scene in the movie.

In the scene, Ms. Douglas is sitting in the kitchen reading the newspaper funnies. She and her mom have a little heart-to-heart. Would I allow them to use Falling Rock as one of the comics Ms. Douglas is reading?

OF COURSE, I said. I sent them two comics.


A few weeks ago, The Gabby Douglas Story became available on Netflix. Could this be THE Gabby Douglas story? I wondered. I began to watch.

Sure enough, there is the scene in the kitchen. Ms. Douglas sits at the table, reading the funnies.



It took a few minutes, but I am sure those out-of-focus comics are Falling Rock National Park. Specifically, the two top ones on the left page. Even with my CSI-style Photoshop skills it’s hard to tell, but I was able to verify by matching the black and white areas of the strips.



The Gabby Douglas Story, which I have rated FIVE STARS on Netflix, is certainly worth your time for watching. It joins Dear Mr. Watterson for Falling Rock National Park screen time. I cannot be more proud: a brilliant cartoonist and a gold medal gymnast. Falling Rock keeps good company.