Monday, May 26, 2008
I likely chose poorly
Inspired by Indiana Jones and his quest for some crystal skulls (along with an AV Club post), here's a list of my favorite objects of pursuit in movie history. Feel free to call me a limited-minded clown in the comments and add whatever I have clearly missed.
Maltese Falcon - Maltese Falcon
A priceless bejeweled bird statue that was long-lost is zealously pursued both in print - in 1930's classic by Dashiell Hammett - and thrice on screen - most famously in the 1940s film starring Humphrey Bogart as Hammett's venerable private eye Sam Spade. The story arc is wraught with deception, trickery and murder as Spade and a group of bad guys try to locate the statuette who had been covered in enamel to belie its true value. But the pursuit is ultimately in vain as the villains get their hands on the bird only to find the material under the black veneer as worthless. All the deception - all the all-consuming effort - in an attempt to possess a trinket rather than "something only dreams are made of."
Sex - American Pie
This pursuit is the yoke to any number of films - Porky's and Superbad comes to mind - but I think American Pie is probably the best example. Four guys strike a pact to deflower their girlfriends - or anyone with two legs and wearing something bigger than a training bra - before the end of their prom night. This inevitably leads to hi-jinks and the search for an even more mythologized object - the g-spot - as the four "gentlemen" go about a means to the agreed end in their own individualized and haphazard way. My biggest problem with the film is that it is totally unbelievable. Not Oz joining the choir or Stifler's mom claiming she hadn't gone under the knife, but the contention that Tara Reid would still be a virgin by the time she got to her senior prom. This is simply not possible and way outside the bounds of believability. Although I suppose Reid was still a virgin if your definition of "virgin" is "getting Eiffel Towered in the men's room of a roadside IHOP after taking rails off the toilet seat."
The One Ring - Lord of the Ring trilogy
This list would have no credibility if the ring weren't included - not that I have any visions of grandeur about it nor am I looking for it by writing Robot. The three films have at their core the pursuit of an all-powerful ring infused with destructive and persuasive powers. But unlike others on this list, the ring isn't being sought to possess, but to destroy, leading the protagonists to Mount Doom where the climax of the films take place in epic fashion. So, it's here on the list. Don't yell at me in the comments or on Gchat.
The Ark of the Covenant & Holy Grail - Indiana Jones series
These two objects and films were the inspiration for the list. The formula of the Indy films is so accessible and enjoyable, especially when they have the scene 25 minutes into each film - after an extended (and unrelated) action sequence - where the pursued artifact is explained in detail and the stakes are set. These intriguing - yet clarifying scenes - serve as a necessary set-up for the 90 minutes of action that follows and invests the audience in the long-sought, powerful objects. In both instances, the building tension leads to a satisfying crescendo with two memorable climatic scenes. The ultimate fate of the ark - the U.S. government seizing the golden artifact that holds the remnants of the original Ten Commandments - all but reburies it, not in sand but bureaucracy. And the "he chose poorly" line from the Knight at the conclusion of Last Crusade stands as one of the most effectively understated line in movie history.
Gray's Sports Almanac - Back to the Future II
Less mythic and sexy than most pursuits, the Gray's Sports Almanac is perhaps the most lucrative. Irresponsibility skirting the time-space continuum, Marty McFly tries to being the almanac back with him from the future in an attempt to make riches by placing a few sure bets in the 1980s, all the while knowing the outcome of each major sporting event. Of course, Doc talks him out of it, but the meat head Biff steals Gray's, the DeLorean and Marty's plan, illustrating the entirely undesirable consequences of playing with time. But perhaps the most memorable sports moment of Future's second installment was the huge LED board that announced that Cubs had defeated an unnamed team from Miami in the World Series.
The Big W - It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
It's A Mad... is probably the funniest film no one reading this has seen featuring untold numbers of famous comedians - Tracy, Burle, Caesar, Winters, Rooney, Hackett, Keaton, Ethel Merman. Unfortunately a recent interpretation - Rat Race - was an unworthy successor, but the plot is similar - a dying man tells a group of people about a hidden fortune and the mad scramble is on to locate it. In Mad, it's know that the treasure is buried under a giant W, which turns out to be four huge palm trees buried at an angle. On the way, there are countless memorable scenes including one with a drunken airline pilot ("Let's just shoot him down and get it over with"), at a Ray & Irwin's gas station ("We're going to have to kill him"), dynamiting out of a locked hardware store basement, and the final rush once people realize what exactly the big W is.
The perfect Christmas tree - National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
Not that there aren't amazingly memorable scenes throughout the entire movie ("We are standing at the threshold of Hell" and anything with Cousin Eddie come to mind), but the Griswold family starts by seeking out the perfect Christmas tree in what looks to be a national park. The family station wagon ends up under a semi then crashing over a snowbank, they don't remember an ax, and by the time they actually find the Christmas tree - haloed with glow and touched with the voice of angels - the Griswold's daughter appears to have taken on the complexion of Grimace. When they finally open the tree, it is slightly larger than expected crashing through windows and drywall alike. The pursuit of the tree reaches its final hilarity when Clark tries to read in bed, caress his wife's hair and turn off the lamp all with sap covering his fingers. Classic and memorable.
Woody - Toy Story 2
After Woody is accidentilly sold at a garage sale to a rare toy dealer, Buzz and company spend the balance of the film tracking him down. This gets the nod over the first film because it is one of that rare breed where the sequel outshines the original. The wink-wink, nod-nod nature of the script - playing off of Buzz' ego and making it even more adult-friendly than the first - creates a more complete film from beginning to end, more emotionally compelling as well when Andy's other toys discover than the Alpha toy isn't so keen on breaking up the Round Up Gang. The scene of the toys trying to cross the street into Al's Toy Barn stand as one of the most entertaining action sequences on this list.
Pamela Anderson - Borat
This doesn't really even need to be explained, but she possesses the breasts that launched a thousand ships (or at least a single ice cream truck) in perhaps the most comedic pursuit in the 21st century. We must also commend Borat, who shows courage and persistence after he discovers that the object of his affection may not have - ummmmm - "saved herself" for our Kazakhstanian hero. Which brings up this totally unrelated and utterly pointless observation - have Pamela Anderson's breasts been seen by more people than any other woman's? The only one I can think who has likely been seen more times topless than her is Kate Winslet.
Richard Kimball & the One Armed Man - The Fugitive
"Alright, listen up, people. Our fugitive has been on the run for ninety minutes. Average foot speed over uneven ground barring injuries is 4 miles-per-hour. That gives us a radius of six miles. What I want from each and every one of you is a hard-target search of every gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse and doghouse in that area. Checkpoints go up at fifteen miles. Your fugitive's name is Dr. Richard Kimble. Go get him."
"I didn't kill my wife." "I don't care"
A few others in the pursued person division - John & Sarah Connor (depending on the film), Private Ryan ("The Mission is a Man") and Keyser Soze - along with the Heart of the Ocean from Titanic, the golden ticket from Willy Wonka, and the defecting Red October. Let me know if I have forgotten any.
Big two-hour LOST finale this week. You can click here for all my previous LOST columns, including this one where I explain why I think it is Ben is the casket.