A Book and Two Movies
The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists – No title has ever been more cunningly concieved, more able to bypass all my many miserlinesses and leap into my ownership before I can blink. And quite right, too! Pirates! And scientists!
The book itself, once you get beyond the excitement of the mere fact of its existence, aspires to (and mostly attains) merely a predictable sort of wackiness. There are pirates, they say “arr!” while they talk about ham, then they hijack the Beagle and save Charles Darwin’s brother from a caricatured bad guy. There are passing mentions of zombie pirates, and sharks and bears. It’s probably better to read it aloud in a bar (drunkenly, natch) than to read it on a plane, sober, surrounded by people who Don’t Really Get the Appeal of Pirates.
Grizzly Man – this might have made a great one-hour television special (with commercials), but it was a piss-poor feature-length documentary. The movie focuses on the life and death, but mostly the death, of Timothy Treadwell, an environmental activist who spent his summers living with the grizzly bears of Alaska and was eventually eaten by one. A variety of thematic issues (was he some kind of bear shaman, or just crazy? what did the bears think? etc) came very close to being developed, but just when you thought the director had made up his mind to stick to a topic, whoosh! In comes a clip of someone talking about how awful it is to be eaten by a bear (answer: pretty awful). No story arc, lots of bland eulogizing, not nearly enough wildlife shots.
March of the Penguins – by contrast, this is everything a nature documentary should be. It has a well-defined story complete with beginning, middle, and end, interspersed with endearing shots of baby penguins. The baby penguins stand up, and fall down, and make chirrupy noises while flapping their fuzzy wings – aww! I can’t say that I actually learned much about penguins, but when the thermometer reads 68°C*, spending your afternoon in an air-conditioned movie theater watching adorable fluffy things parade across majestic icy landscapes is well worth $9.
*Which is actually what it says at the bank clock-thermometer near my house, which is of course broken.