Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sheldon and Benji

Some boob tubers from a couch potato....

- How long before the TV picture tube goes the way of the 8-track tape (and the term "boob tube" becomes even more arcane)? It’s already hard to find a new one. Wal-mart has vast rows of flat-screen TVs, but only a single model of the old type. Our 27-inch TV seems like a relic, our 13-incher even more so. I have tried calculating what size 16:9 TV would provide a similar screen height to the bigger set (sometime I should research the origin of measuring screens diagonally). I think something in the 34-inch range will do it, but I’ll probably take a measuring tape to the store when the time comes.

- It was neat to hear Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory mention that Jesus was actually probably born in the spring, and that the celebration was put at its current time by the early church to coincide with a Roman festival for greater popular appeal. Yes, it was done in a comic context – Sheldon also said that the Grinch’s position on Christmas was much more courageous and sound until he wimped out and caved in to societal norms - but you don’t often hear statements like that on mainstream network TV, especially on a lightweight sitcom.

- I came upon the movie Benji the Hunted on TV the other day while my wife was watching a DVD of the movie Santa Buddies on her daughter’s computer, and I couldn’t help noticing the contrast. In case you’re not familiar with those cinematic works, Santa Buddies is a typical modern movie using live animals with voices (complete with moving mouths) digitally added. Benji the Hunted, on the other hand, is a movie (one of a series) in the classic mode with no talking animals (in this case no dialog at all for most of the movie). It’s funny to recall that the Benji movies were considered cute kid’s fare at the time (Disney products, no less); compared to Santa Buddies and others of that type they’re Apocalypse Now. In particular the long shot of the wolf falling off the cliff and hitting the ground would have no chance of being in a current kid’s movie, at least done like that. I guess the movie makers hadn’t quite given up on the idea that kids don’t need to be sheltered from anything resembling intense reality. Now it seems that they just moved that stuff to full animation, where it seems to catch less heat.

I tried to imagine what the Benji movie would look like if it were made like Santa Buddies, with the animals all having voices, the cougar kittens high and squeaky, the wolf deep and nasty, etc. To my mind it would take away what little edge the movie had. It’s hard to get too caught up in the peril of a talking dog. Lassie and Rin Tin Tin wouldn’t have been the same. My two favorite animated dogs, Snoopy and the dog from the Grinch cartoon, didn’t have voices. To me the lack of animal voices gives Benji a realistic feel that is decidedly lacking (in the case of Santa Buddies, probably intentionally; I’m sure the producers were going for a cartoonish vibe) in most modern animal-related dramas. It’s closer to the documentary feel of films such as March of the Penguins. That feel does, as one reviewer said, make it a bit tough to watch at times. But it avoids that extra layer of sweetness that I find annoying in any movie that is supposed to have some drama, the layer that keeps me away from movies like Santa Buddies.