The Green Grass of SILVER BROWN

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance

I was eight years old when the feature film The Dark Crystal was released in theatres way back in 1982 (and from there you can calculate how old I am, if you must). Easily one of the movies that defined my childhood. Certain aspects of the premise were confusing as all shit, and it was both criticized and praised for being noticeably darker than the rest of Jim Henson’s body of work up until that point. But the movie’s visuals were striking for the time and continue to be so, especially considering it came out well before Tinseltown began its love affair with CGI.

For those of you who haven’t seen The Dark Crystal, the story is set on another planet. One whose name is curiously never mentioned in the screenplay or credits of the film itself; we only know what the planet is called from the derivative works that were released after the movie. Thra orbits a triple star system, and is home to a host of delightfully strange creatures. Among them are jet-black murderous crabs the size of rhinoceroses. A Lhasa Apso-like mammal that curls itself into a ball and rolls along like tumbleweed as its primary means of locomotion. An old woman with bighorn sheep-like protrusions growing out of her head who has the ability to pull her own eye out of its socket and use it like a periscope. A beast that looks like a cross between a colossal moth (sans wings and compound eyes) and one of the elephants depicted in Salvador Dalí’s The Temptation of Saint Anthony which is astonishingly easy to tame and can be ridden on like a horse. This doesn’t even touch upon the plant life, which is interesting in itself. It’s a world that has stuck with me over the years since I first visited it as a wee lad. But I couldn’t stay on that planet for long. No sequel was ever made. The movie only pulled in modest returns at the box office during its initial theatrical run.

Thirty-seven years later (gadzooks, has it been that long?!), just when I had all but forgotten about the planet Thra, it aligns with Earth once again. This time on a medium whose very existence was unimaginable to the common folk of 1982 – Netflix.

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is not a sequel to the original movie, but a prequel. In the feature film, the heroic Gelfling race were portrayed as a hair’s breadth away from extinction, having been all but wiped out in a genocidal campaign embarked upon by Thra’s villainous ruling class, the Skeksis. Age of Resistance takes place at a time well before that, when Gelfling society was thriving. Across the ten episodes, we get a slew of insights into Gelfling politics and social customs that were largely absent from the movie. A living goddess by the name of Sigourney Weaver narrates their history to us, which by itself adds several layers of kickass to the whole production.


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Filmmaking technology has obviously advanced considerably since the day Mr. Henson drew his last breath – a factoid that has not gone unacknowledged in the series. The Skeksis dining scene in the original film struck a prepubescent version of yours truly as amusingly disgusting. But Age of Resistance takes the disgusting to a whole new level, to such an extent that it makes the Skeksis of the movie look like proper gentlemen with impeccable table manners. The striking and fantastic of the movie is also taken to new levels as well as the disgusting. Hypothetical life forms that would be next to impossible to capture on celluloid with even the most sophisticated Hensonian puppetry are very possible with 3-D modelling software. We see quite a few digitally rendered creations in the series. Impressive ones, too. Ones that would come pretty damn close to making James Cameron blush.

Even more impressive if you watch the entire series after a couple of bong rips. Which I did. Twice.

Riding that enchanted canoe through the innards of outer space, I elected to live-tweet my first impressions of Age of Resistance, as a nostalgic throwback to that quainter period of human history when people regularly used Twitter for something other than douchey political ranting.


 

The Journey of SILVER BROWN

On Characters That Speak No Recognizable Human Language

In many a blog post of yesterweek, I’ve mentioned Act One of SILVER BROWN is pretty much complete. I’m not ruling out the possibility that it still might undergo a few more nips, tucks and organ transplants, but at least it’s at a point where I’m more or less satisfied with it. Acts Two and Three are both in an early-to-intermediate stage of their development. Like literary vestigial limbs. They will surely evolve into glorious eldritch tentacles dripping with digestive sucker juices and territorial musk, but for now they’re just stumps. Act Two is a little bit more than a stump, though. It’s the one I’m presently editing.

These chapters have something of a different feel to them compared to Act One. Act One details a critical moment in Florys MacNab’s career as a witch, and most of the supporting characters are other witches. Act Two sees Florys venture out into worlds beyond the Sisterhood to learn a host of horrifying cryptic truths her Lodge has hitherto kept from her. The supporting cast has almost completely changed. Characters that were only mentioned in passing or casually alluded to in Act One become much more prominent in Act Two. This blog post will focus on one of those characters in particular. Kent Fairholt’s trusty sidekick, the utility program Sherman dot Quebec Lima niner.


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This is an approximation of what Sherman looks like, although it might not be an actual picture of him.

It was established from the earliest drafts that Sherman can and does speak. His function within the narrative is as a voice of reason. A foil and counterpart for Kent Fairholt, frequently correcting him when he’s wrong. Kent’s conscience, personified. Or more accurately, mustelified. When Sherman speaks, Kent is the only human who can understand him. To Florys and other humans, Sherman’s utterances just sound like a series of clucks, squawks and chirrups. Hence, Sherman’s brainy sayings (at least the ones relevant to the plot) must necessarily be translated and interpreted for Florys (and ultimately the audience) by his significantly less brainy friend. The results may vary.

Throughout the editing process, I experimented with several different approaches trying to find the best way to represent Sherman’s utterances in the text. The earlier stages of the book’s evolution would feature Florys including phrases like “the ferret clucked and squawked” or “the ferret clucked and squawked some more” in her narration of the story (she seldom refers to Sherman by name, mostly out of disdain for Kent). The result was that Sherman came across like a one-dimensional character, saying the same old shit over and over again. After about the fifth time the ferret clucked and squawked, he started to get on my nerves. So in order to make him less Jar Jar Binksy, I found it necessary to expand his vocabulary a bit. That, and to present more of his lines of dialogue in an onomatopoeic manner as opposed to giving verbal descriptions of his utterances – a cue I probably took from the fight scenes in that old Batman series from the Sixties starring the late great Adam West…



His vocabulary would be expanded further still when Our Lady of 420 whispered in my ear one morning and casually suggested that he ought to be equipped with a vast internal library of sound effects. An idea completely compatible with the nature of the character and the premise of the book.

Sherman looks like a ferret and is frequently referred to as such by Florys, but beyond superficial appearances there is nothing ferrety about him. He’s actually a musteline utility program running within the Environment. An artificial intelligence, in other words. Like a walking Siri with fur. Hence, having a library of sound effects tucked away somewhere in his brain wouldn’t disrupt the suspension of disbelief too much. The sound effects come into play when Sherman is trying to accentuate a point he’s trying to make to Kent, using them almost like auditory emojis. Any selections from the library that take more than one word to convey are given in parentheses in the text. I think I recall J.K. Rowling using a similar technique a few times in the Harry Potter series, although I couldn’t tell you off the top of my head specifically in which chapters of which books.


Squawk! Roar, meow. Bark! (Screech of an eagle). Chirrup, cluck-cluck (something that vaguely sounded like a dump truck backing up). Coo, squeak.

– Sherman dot Quebec Lima niner

 

The Green Grass of SILVER BROWN

Summer Dies With A Bullet

This is my new pipe. The one I got to replace the peace pipe, which vanished from my life after a mere four months of service. The departed elders of this land confiscated it for their own use (which most certainly is their right) the day after I made a pilgrimage to a local tipi to make an offering of holy smoke. I guess they liked what they smelled.

Suddenly finding myself in want of a new portable smoking implement of some type or another, I got this thing. It’s a sneak-a-toke — a similar model to my old silver bullet, except red with a different style of mouthpiece. I call this one the Blood Bullet. It’s a silver bullet that’s killed a few vampires.

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