Ronan Lyons | Personal Website
Ronan Lyons | Personal Website

January 2007

Bush versus Zapp Brannigan

Now, I know it’s very trendy these days to knock George Bush. Fun too. For those reasons and more, here is the world’s first ‘Can you tell whether Zapp Brannigan or George W. Bush said this?’ quiz…

All you have to is have a guess whether each of the following was said by Captain Zapp Brannigan of Futurama or Commander George W. Bush of USA. This is only a simple blog, unfortunately, not a survey, so most untechnologically savvy-wise, the answers are at the bottom!

  • We don’t know anything about their race, history, or culture, but one thing’s for sure. They stand for everything we stand against.
  • They hate what we see right here in this chamber — a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms — our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.
  • Rock crushes scissors. But paper covers rock! And scissors cuts paper! Kif, we have a conundrum. Search them for paper! And, bring me a rock!
  • I think — tide turning — see, as I remember — I was raised in the desert, but tides kind of — it’s easy to see a tide turn — did I say those words? (when asked if the tide was turning)
  • Now, like all great plans, my strategy is so simple an idiot could have devised it.
  • I’m also not very analytical. You know I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about myself, about why I do things.
  • Men, you’re lucky men. Soon you’ll all be fighting for your planet. Many of you will be dying for your planet. A few of you will be forced through a fine mesh screen for your planet. They will be the luckiest of all.
  • Anybody who is in a position to serve this country ought to understand the consequences of words.
  • I hate these filthy neutrals, Kif! With enemies, you know where they stand, but with neutrals—who knows. It sickens me.
  • Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.
  • One day a man has everything. The next day he blows up a 400 billion dollar space station. And the next day he has nothing. It makes you think.
  • Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.
  • If we can hit that bull’s-eye, the rest of the dominoes will fall like a house of cards. Checkmate!
  • We need to counter the shockwave of the evildoer by having individual rate cuts accelerated and by thinking about tax rebates.

Some weird parallels, alright! But as you might have guessed, in each pair ‘Dubya’ was the second of the two, while Captain Zapp was numero uno!

Apocalypto, or The Luckiest Man in Maya

(Potential spoilers, here so tread carefully!)

So Gibson’s Apocalypto is out. For those not up to speed on his latest work, it’s set in the last years of the Aztec-Mayan empire and follows the fortunes of one man and his efforts to escape slavery and sacrifice, and rebuild his family and his way of life.

On the upside, it’s an uncannily realistic glimpse at the life of the ordinary punter in the Mayan empire (although I do not claim to be at all an expert on that topic). For that, and its use of the Mayan language, it is very welcome. Even more so, it’s a timely reminder, in these times of unprecedented prosperity and security of wellbeing for those of us in the Western world, that the vast vast majority of people who have existed have had fleeting, painful, violent lives.

On the downside, its glimpse into the Aztec-Mayan empire is itself far too fleeting. For example, instead of a helpful where-when intro slide at the start of the movie (e.g. Aztec-Mayan empire, east Mexico, early 16th Century), he starts with a rather leading quotation: ‘A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within’. Gibson’s main point seems to be that these guys were pretty savage and – at least for the elite – decadent, as epitomised by the behaviour of the Aztec royal family.

Given the obvious religious beliefs of Gibson, there are two worrying implications of the way that everything is presented. First, it seems to be implicitly reducing the barbarity of what the Conquistadores did. Secondly, there’s also the hint that the Aztec religion, in its ignorance of natural phenomenon such as eclipses and its bloodthirstiness, left the people ripe for conquest. That, of course, is sheer hypocrisy given the practices of the Christian Church of the time.

The ‘they had it coming’ point is Gibson’s main argument, so he misses a whole host of opportunities to communicate different messages to the viewer. The quotation above used to ‘guide’ the viewer at the start implies that the empire had been in declining health at the time of the European invasion. Yet the film doesn’t touch of any of this and my limited knowledge of the Aztec empire suggests that the empire’s recipe for success was not far removed from what was going on at the time/what was depicted in the film. And for all that Gibson implies about the trend of the empire, the viewer doesn’t even know at the start of the film where or when the film is set!

All we get instead is a fairly bog-standard plot about one man fighting against the odds, albeit in a strange environment. And, dare I say it, even allowing for the willing suspension of disbelief, this particular chap is incredibly lucky, perhaps too much so. He has a Rocky-like ability to be able to soldier on no matter how many times he’s pierced by an arrow, while in true Austin Powers style, baddies – and indeed other slaves – fall for good at the first flesh-wound. Even given his name of Jaguar Paw, the scene where he outruns a fully grown jaguar for a good half a kilometer or so through dense forest, while heavily injured, is a little hard to believe. The film relies quite heavily on the ‘you’ll have to believe me’ skip-a-scene technique – so when he finally reaches his family, who are stuck down a well, and peers down the 10 or so metres at them, the next scene is them happily roaming through forest. So, we’ve to take it on good faith that he somehow fashions a way of rescuing his wife, who has just given birth, and his two children (one a minutes-old infant) from the well. And all of this is allowing the film its largest conceit, where the protagonist is saved with seconds to spare by a solar eclipse…

In summation, the film is definitely worth a look, for the reasons outlined at the start. However, it could have been so much better… A really good film communicates its message effectively, i.e. it tells a complicated or nuanced message through a simple or easy-to-follow storyline. This film told a really simple message – some people get lucky – with a very complicated storyline. Oops!