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Seeing One's Popcorn Twice

by John Grant

I don't know what's been happening to me. I seem to have missed a week or more out of my life. Everything has been a blank for a very long time. One moment I was trying to work out a brilliant new idea for a megaselling pet-detective mystery series, and the next it was this morning. I came to on the couch to discover my apartment filled with the smell of underarms and a two-foot-deep layer of dead cockroaches over everything. My Buffy the Vampire Slayer lifesized action doll had been punctured in several places by what looked like the sharp corners of insect-eradication packs — but I could hardly see how that was possible.

All very puzzling.

I rustled through the roaches until I found the phone, and called my good friend Dave Knuckle. He informed me that he's currently on vacation in Nicaragua. The line was a bit crackly, but it sounded like he was on his way to an extradition fight, which I assume is one of these South American spectacles like bullfighting, only with extraditions (whatever they might be — kind of big scaly things with supernumary legs, I theorize) instead of bulls.

Be that as it may, I asked him if he knew what might be happening to my brain, that I could have blacked out like this.

Again the line was poor, but I obediently put Bach's Toccata and Fugue on the CD player — I have the Beastie Boys version, of course — and picked up the conversation where I'd left off.

"Did you know," he asked me once he'd stopped swearing, "that the new Star Wars movie is being released today?"

"No," I said honestly. "Honestly."

"You've been in a coma, my friend," he gritted grimly. "You must be the only person in the known universe who's not heard about Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clowns . . . or is that Bring on the Clones? A recent survey by independent pollsters LucasFilms Canvassing Inc. has shown that 99% of the occupants of American cemeteries know about this movie, and of those over 90% are preparing to claw their way out of their graves to go queue up in the rain for tickets."

"A groundbreaking piece of cinema, in other words?" I said.

He gritted grimly again, this time without speaking. But I could tell what he was doing because I distinctly heard the sound of splintering teeth.

"Look," he said at last, "there are two ways you can do something about your ignorance concerning Attack of the Cliches. One, you could go climb into the bath and slit your wrists. Two, you could go on the internet and find something about it. I'd prefer you chose option one, do us all a favor."

"OK," I said dubiously just as the connection was lost. Silly Dave! How could he forget that I don't shave — if you've ever sliced a zit you'll know exactly why -- and so have nothing to slit my wrists with!

I had a go with the can-opener, anyway, just to show willing, but without success.

So it was on with option two: the internet. It didn't take a moment to log on to AOL — it took about twenty minutes, actually, because of software deficiencies, but I persevered. As I waited patiently, reading the various messages from AOL implying that everything was all my fault, I wondered what had possessed the company's founders to name it Assholes On Line in the first place. No wonder they always use the acronym!

Anyway, I finally got on, and there staring me straight in the face was a link to an AOL Users' Poll. At the click of a button I was through to the poll. My excitement knew no bounds as I read:

Will you miss work to see Episode II?
  • Yes, I'm calling in sick
  • Yes, our boss has sanctioned a group movie outing
  • No, I'll wait until after work to see it

I stared at the list of choices on offer, and I stared again. I stared a bit longer. Then I stared some more.

What seemed to be missing from the list was choice #4, namely:

  • I don't in fact want to go and see Attack of the Clap

Now, I wouldn't say exactly that wild horses couldn't drag me to see this particular cinematic excrescence — I'm not stupid enough to think that I'm stronger than a team of determined wild horses. But I'm also not stupid enough to go see a movie that is by all accounts even more dire than Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Meanies. Even if someone else paid for my ticket . . . even if someone else paid for my ticket and paid me to sit through the thing, I'm not that stupid. Even with my brain eaten out by mutant telepathic cockroaches — should such a thing ever happen, which of course it couldn't — I'm not that stupid. Even Bubba and Hoss of Vermin R Us (ah! got it! knew I'd be able to identify those armpits if I waited long enough!) aren't that stupid, quite.

There might be a few editors of Entertainment Geekly who're that stupid, but that's another matter entirely.

Let's look at the history of the Star Wars saga dispassionately and analytically, using the tools of academic criticism.

Star Wars Superlative crap. Don't me wrong: that's high praise in my critical vocabulary. Star Wars was tremendous fun and I thoroughly enjoyed it, but of course it was complete crap. In other words, it was very good crap.

The Empire Strikes Back This was a much better movie — indeed, it hardly deserved the "crap" accolade at all, probably because there was an intelligent screenwriter in the form of the (alas, now departed) sf/fantasy writer Leigh Brackett. The Empire Strikes Back was not only every bit as much fun as Star Wars, it also actually provoked the brain cells into activity. I've watched it several times, and I thoroughly enjoy it each time.

The Return of the Jedi This, by contrast, I've watched only twice. The second time was because I'd fallen asleep for about an hour in the middle the first time. The second time I watched it I fell asleep for a while as well, but fortunately the two portions slept through didn't overlap, so I can now say I've seen the whole movie. This was a crap movie, and it wasn't even a good crap movie. To make matters worse, it was pretentious. There were a couple of truly egregious errors as well. One was the fumbling attempt at Character Development 101, whereby the Princess stopped being a fairytale character and started running around dressed like Britney Spears and trying to be a sexpot, thereby completely destroying the Joseph Campbellite dynamic that had made the earlier movies hold together. The other blunder was the introduction of a bunch of obnoxious teddy bears who were sort of like Barney the Dinosaur for morons.

Episode I: The Phantom Meningitis One of the worst and most boring movies I have ever seen. It says a lot for this movie that the only part I enjoyed, and the only part I can now much remember, was the extended commercial from a video game: at least, even if borrowed from Ben Hur, it was well made. The child star made the Ewoks look like Sir Laurence Olivier. The sole purpose of the movie was to flog the merchandise . . . and even at that it wasn't successful, with at least one company (the book publisher Dorling Kindersley) going out of business because the spinoffs were a commercial disaster by comparison with expectations. The reason? The movie was so execrably bad that even the staunchest of Star Wars fans, ripped off for tickets to what they thought was going to be a movie but proved to be a shoddily made two-hour-plus tv ad, couldn't stomach the accompanying plastic garbage.

So the sequel to Episode I was the movie I was supposed to be getting all in a lather of excited anticipation about?

No, I didn't vote in the AOL poll — it was giving me the same options you get at the ballot box in Iraq:

  • Saddam Hussein
  • A bath in battery acid

No, I'm not going to see Episode II: Attack of the Cloacas. I would rather be stuck watching endless repeats of The Wit and Wisdom of L. Ron Reagan. Quite frankly, I would rather be having a bad attack of the runs.

I plan to celebrate by walking the near-deserted streets under a sky that is often beautiful, often unpredictable, and endlessly fascinating . . . and which I can watch to my heart's content for free.

And which isn't just an extended exercise in trying to sell me overpriced plastic garbage.

The End