Tuesday, January 22, 2008

action-packed literature throughout history

Never mind Cloverfield or Transformers or The Passion of The Christ. For sheer action, with high production values and incomprehensible plot points, I recommend the following highlights from the Western canon:

1. Epic of Gilgamesh (~2000 BCE): The ultimate buddy movie. Grumpy King Gilgamesh and wild Enkidu get crazy in ancient Mesopotamia. They fight, argue, move mountains, kill monsters and do tons of things that make no sense at all. If Bad Boys II were a one-man show starring and directed by Nicolas Cage, Gilgamesh would be the result.

2. The Odyssey (~700 BCE): What happens when you irritate the gods on your way home from the Trojan War? You spend twenty years pinballing around the Mediterranean and smacking into every nutbar island the ancient world had to offer. Odysseus and his crew go from one bad situation to the next and handle it all with Jedi-like aplomb.

3. The Revelation of St. John (~68-95 CE): Even if you factor out the begats, the Hebrew and Christian scriptures probably contain more action per page than any work of literature on the planet. But there’s no Happy Meal quite so crunchy as The Revelation of St. John. Best summed up as "What the hell just happened? Beasts and signs and vials being poured out on the Earth? A harlot sitting on the water? Was I reading or did I just get beaten on?"

4. The Inferno (1308): Dante gets lost on a walk and ends up bushwakking through Hell with Virgil’s ghost. Stinging wasps, rivers of boiling blood and sinners abound. By the time he reaches the ninth circle at the centre of the Earth, he has the most freakishly overdeveloped legs you’ve ever seen. Does he challenge Satan to a kicking contest? I wish.

5. In Search of Lost Time (1913-27): A man bites into a piece of tea-soaked cake and his memory erupts like a volcano, spewing out a novel in seven volumes. Remarkably, none of the tea gets spilled.

6. Finnegan's Wake (1939): One drunken night the English language stages a riot at a stand-up comedy bar. The rest of the Indo-European languages join in, all of them screaming at once for more drink. This goes on for hundreds of pages. There must be some action in there somewhere.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

shockingly enough there is a screening of Logan's Run -going on here in Kingston this week. --I'm guessing you only failed to include this film as your crystal is glowing.

Disgraced Media Baron said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Disgraced Media Baron said...

All of these sound like great projects to bring Ray Harryhausen out of retirement. Finnegan's Wake especially. Any James Joyce works would perk up with a few stop-motion, sword-wielding skeletons thrown in.

ozma said...

Can you explain the roots of Cloverfield? I kept thinking that it was in some epic because it sounded so familiar and I was racking my brain trying to figure it out. There is some Cloverfield monster? Or is there a Cloverfield man?

There is already a movie of The Odyssey. I think it has Kirk Douglas as Odysseus although I could be mistaken. I think all these would make great animated movies--Remembrance of Lost Time esp. Did you see the new Beowulf?

Helvetica said...

Clash of the Titans style, that's how I imagine the film of The Odyssey. If you ever sequel this post, I vote for adding: Gargantua and Pantagruel, Orlando Furioso, and Gravity's Rainbow.

palinode said...

anonymous - Yeah, my crystal's been glowing for a few years now. Don't tell Computer.

dmbaron - Actually, Finnegan's Wake has several combat scenes (at least I think that's what I read) that would lend themselves well to stop-motion donnybrooking. My vote for fighting skeletons goes to Portrait of the Artist, which was pretty grim stuff. "Welcome O world! I go out for the millionth time to encounter reality and forge in the OH CRAP SKELETONS WITH SWORDS AGAIN".

ozma - Cloverfield has very shallow roots, as far as I know. I understand that Cloverfield is the street name or something similar outside the offices of the Bad Robot production. It was a working title for the movie and it stuck.

There was no Cloverfield Man, but there are prehistoric cultures identified by the use of Clovis points, named after the location where the first artifacts of that type were originally found.

Cloverfield is a great title, though, precisely for the reason that it has you racking your brain; it has pastoral connotations that tug at your sense of history.

And yes, I saw Beowulf. I liked the script but found the animation distracting.

helvetica - Clash of the Titans. Full of Ray Harryhausen genius. I want to see that again.

Those are all great choices for action-packed literature. I wrote this piece for a magazine, so I was constrained to six. Gravity's Rainbow was in the original draft, along with The Tempest, Canterbury Tales and Ulysses. Try boiling Gravity's Rainbow down to fifty words, though. Actually, I can boil Pynchon's novel down to four words: Tyrone Slothrop Falls Apart. But you miss the subtleties and the dirty bits that way.

lotus07 said...

I can't say I am the worlds more well read person, however, I actually have read Dante's Inferno (the Dore illustrated version). I only wish Industrial Light & Magic would try and create that in a cineplex.....don't think you would get a lot of viewers...unless you handed out tabs of acid to the movie goers on their way into the theater.

ZaZa said...

Clash of the Titans - When that was playing in a theatre near me, some genius, and I mean that nearly sincerely, removed the "AN" from Titans on the billboard. So, in letters roughly three feet high, on a major commuting thoroughfare, it said, "CLASH OF THE TITS." Heee! Traffic stopper. Boy, that makes me feel old.