Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Technology V. Magic

Last weekend I saw two movies, GI Joe and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Although at first glance, they seemed like two very different movies, essentially they have the same plot. Our heros have to overcome almost insurmountable odds to save the world from an evil megalomaniac. Their methods however are very different. In GI Joe techonology is the weapon of choice between two sides. In The Sorcerer’s Apprentice magic is the medium of war. Interestingly, even though neither movie was intended by the makers to be particularly realistic, I found it way easier to buy into the premise behind The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

My husband and I have a very good friend who is a real movie aficionado. He watches hundreds of movies a year and owns thousands of DVDs. He is also an engineer and a very intelligent guy. When he watched Total Recall with Arnold Schwarzenegger he like it until Arnold discoverd the machine that was going to create an atmosphere on Mars. As soon as the words “The core is made of ice” were out of our hero’s mouth, the movie lost my friend completely. It was such an abomination of basic planetary knowledge that he was not able to continue to suspend disbelief long enough to stay with the story. So now when ever my husband and I watch a movie and something is completely ridiculous to the point of being unbelievable we look at each other and say in a Schwarzenegger-esque accent “The core is made of ice.”
We found a lot of those moments in GI Joe. The first one was the battle suits. The special effects of the battle and the feats were really fun to watch. But my first comment was not “Wow! That was cool!” It was “The suit is cool, but the person inside would be a bloody pulp.” Even if you could build a suit that performed like that, the body inside the suit would never be able to withstand the forces that come with moving that quickly and being thrown around so violently. Not to mention, as anyone who has any experience with technology can attest, nothing works that smoothly. Ever. The phone can’t get a signal, the computer freezes up. Having something function that well really is fantasy! I am not going to enumerate the other “core is made of ice” moments in the movie. Suffice it to say there were a lot of them and they were mostly due to the juxtaposition between the movie’s technological feats and the gut knowledge that technology has it’s limits.

On the other hand, in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, I found it a lot easier to believe the outrageous special effects because it was magic. There is something so much more elemental about magic. No one has experience with it so anything really goes. So when the paper dragon morphs into a live dragon and destroys part of China Town, there are no thoughts of “a dragon would never do that” or “that just doesn’t obey the laws of physics” because with magic anything can happen. The other thing that set this movie apart was that the hero didn’t get it right away. He didn’t just put on Merlin’s ring and go kick some supernatural butt. He struggled through the entire process right to the end. And even in the end, it was his understanding of science and creative thinking in addition to magic, that really saved the day. There was something so much more satisfying about the main character pushing himself and his innate abilities to the limit to save the world, rather than just pushing a machine to it’s limits.

Neither movie was the pinnacle of cinematic art, but if I have to pick I’ll take the mystery of magic over technology every time.