Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Grandfather of Future Guest Shots by Brian Wilson and Lewis Black

Starting much like his earlier Super-Rabbit, our next Chuck Jones masterpiece, Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2th Century, starts with a whiz-bang.  If I remember correctly, Joel Schumacher's Batman films start out the same way, with the names of the big movie stars floating through space, then scrolling by up close for all to quickly gawk at.  Ah, Warner Brothers.  So many iconic opening credit sequences.

ACT ONE

While we've so far let down such films as Back to the Future, Part II in terms of keeping up with its pace of technology, and we'll be letting down Blade Runner in the next couple of years, as of this writing we've got about 331 years to invent giant eyes for surveillance, 17,000-floor skyscrapers that actually scrape outer space, flying taxis, evaporators and a couple dozen other sci-fi inventions depicted here in Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2th Century.  CAN WE DO IT, MANKIND???? (Spoiler alert: no... but we'll probably still be eating bacon in greater-than-average quantities!)
But for those of you who absolutely hate the federal government (but love its generous subsidies) there's not a rosy future for you either, because Duck Dodgers goes to have a meeting with Dr. I. Q. Hi, Secretary of the Stratosphere.  Look at his name up there, all big as you please, like he's Ronald Reagan or something.  Well, I guess that's what is going to happen when we start conquering space.  Incidentally, these backgrounds remind me of the time Bugs Bunny went up against Marvin and his band of green aliens you can grow from seeds in... help me out here, internets!  Hare-Way to the Stars!  That's it!  They used to show that one in spades on Saturday mornings in Ye Olden Days of the Televisions.  Another classic... not on my five volumes!  Blasphemy.  Get cracking on that, TimeWarner Cable.  I demand Blu-Rays.  Fetch me Blu-Rays of these... Toons that are Looney, as the Mortals refer to them.
And so, we're spared the formalities of a Great Introductory Feat by the Main Character, and we go straight into the big plot that will consume the rest of the film.  Now, according to the closed captioning, the world's supply of the compound in question is "illudium fosdex."  Urbandictionary.com has it as "phosdex," which sounds more correct to me... of course, you'll probably not want to browse around urbandictionary.com much further than that.  And so, we have our plot, which thereby informed the thinking of James Cameron and Avatar 1, but he called his compound ... what was it called?  Ultimanium?  Personally, I feel disappointed.  I was expecting the next 3 Avatar sequels to start this last Christmas.  James Cameron's officially a slacker now!... Unobtainium!  That's the right one.  Even sillier than I remembered.
"CAN YOU DO IT, DODGERS?" solemnly asks Dr. Hi of our caped hero.  "Oh, indoobi-boobitably, sir!" says Dodgers.  You let me down on that one, Closed-Captioning.  The disabled just don't know what they're missing.  Well, it's highly ironical that Daffy develop a stutter now, seeing as who's going to be escorting him on this ad-hocm shovel-ready mission.  But before we get to that, we finally get that introduction we've been waiting for.  Daffy... I mean, Duck Dodgers... says "No one knows outer space like... DUCK DODGERS IN THE TWENTY-FOURTH AND A HALF... CENTURY!!!!"  The rainbows surrounding Dodgers must be the effects animation that Harry Love gets credit for.  Epic stuff.
Now, the jaded hipsters among you will notice that Dodgers is hovering a little close to the edge of the spherical platform, and... yup, down to the ground he plummets.  Apparently, safety's no longer a concern in and around the year 2350.  Hand rails too low-tech for y'all?  The hipsters will also wonder why someone has to keep referring to the current year in such a bombastic way.  Ummm... old-fashioned showmanship!  Hell-LOOOOO?!!!!!  Same way on "Star Trek" how they always refer to "early 20th Century Earth phenomena."  These shows are all-too indicative of the eras in which they were made.  Alas, also, I guess we modern peoples aren't proud of our technological progress, as we never seem to refer to ourselves here in the twenty-first and a sixth century.

ACT TWO

Well, with a First Act like that, we might as well go right into the Second.  Dodgers heads over to the Evaporators.  Note that the middle one says "To Studio."  Oh, these filmmakers and their in-jokes.  There's something slightly comforting about the fact that they're still called "airports" and not, say, "spaceports" or "Ground-to-Space Transfer Stations."  But Pac-Man will indeed be called "Gender-Neutral Pac Person" in the future... sorry, I keep digressing.
Now that the batteries have been re-charged on Dodgers' SpaceX rocket, it's launch time.  "Are you ready, Eager Young Space Cadet?" asks Duck Dodgers of Porky Pig, co-starring as said E.Y.S.C.  Boy, but Porky must've worked out extra hard to slim down for this role.  He probably interned with Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard during her similar scene of health and restorative regimens to get ready for her big day back in front of those hateful cameras.
Note how the control panel of the spaceship looks like a piano keyboard... sorry, back to the plot.  Dodgers commences launch after re-introducing himself anew to the audience, then backs the rocket into the ground.  "Whoops!  Had the silly thing in reverse!" he says.  But that's rocket science in and around the year 2350 for you.  Technological advancement.  Our modern-day rockets, on the other hand, still explode for hardly any reason atoll.
Eventually, off they go in the right direction into outer space.  Engineers, computer software and otherwise, take note.  Eagerness always gets you in trouble.  Also, be sure to know which way to turn the key in your car door to lock it.  That's the only way you'll succeed at the big job interview.  How are the Higher-Ups supposed to trust a guy to write the company's database in Advanced Revelation with a T-SQL back-end if they don't know which way to turn a key in a car's door to lock or unlock it?  The very idea!
Anyway, up next, after a few establishing shots of space background, we get to the stuff of comedy legends.  About a decade and a half before people started to memorize Monty Python bits, there was the next scene in our instant case... if only among engineers, drafters and navigators.  Surely this must've spoken to them!  Daffy... I mean, Dodgers plots the course that they will take to find Planet X... I probably forgot to mention that.  The shaving cream atom is only found on Planet X, so that's where they're headed.  Let's say the explanation begins in proper at about 2:28, not counting its introduction.  The whole thing takes about 24 seconds in screen time, but it'd take practically a lifetime to memorize.  Again, a little quicker for the engineers and navigaters because it's well within their wheelhouse.
Soon enough, we get the Sesame Street-esque joke of finding Planet X by just following the alphabetized planets.  At first, Dodgers finds this preposterous on several levels.  After the laughter subsides... and it usually does, if only like in the first Austin Powers movie... Dodgers says "Hey, wait a minute!  I've got an idea!"  The idea, of course, is to follow the alphabetized planets to get to Planet X.  I believe Black Adder stole this idea once, of stealing an idea and taking all the credit for it.  Well, when you've got a workhorse writer like Ricard Curtis, originality's usually not their specialty.
And so, they get to Planet X.  Love that transition from a far shot of Planet X, and then a slightly closer-up shot, where we see mountain ranges in the 'X' portion of the landscape.  Think I'll do another screen capture of it, just for good measure.

ACT THREE

"I claim THIS planet in the name of the Earth!" says Dodgers.  The very next instant, in comes Dodgers' Martian counterpart, yet to be called Marvin, according to the commentary track accompanying this feature.  You know a cartoon's good if it's got one of those, or a mini-doc about it.  And so, the Martian emerges from his ship and says "I claim this planet in the name of Mars!  Isn't that lovely, hmm?"  Incidentally, this cartoon's official IMDb page of the full cast and crew neglects to credit Stan Freberg as the voice of Marvin the Martian.  I mean, Mel Blanc is one of the great vocal talents of our time, perhaps all time (including Cretaceous and Devonian), but even he couldn't do everything.  Sometimes you just need a Vilhelm Bletcher or a Stanley Freberg to come in and give the proceedings a little something extra.  Sure, Blanc did fill in the voice on the one where he's on the moon and squaring off with Bugs... Haredevil Hare, I believe it is.  They got the Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator in that one... I mean, when you've got a Movie Star of such a caliber, you can't use it just once.
And so, the squaring off between Daffy... Dodgers and the Martian begins in earnest.  Dodgers gets disintegrated, and Porky has to come in and re-integrate him... somehow, this didn't bother me as much as it should of.. have as a kid.  I guess because it was a sci-fi pic and all.  Plus, Daffy's had it coming for years, really, when you get right down to it.  Incidentally, the dialogue is used to set up the big ending, spoiler alert.
Porky saves the day once again by giving the Martian a lit stick of dynamite as a birthday present... or does he just make things worse?  Probably the latter.  The shortened Martian returns to the spaceship and closes the door... boy, the sound guys must've had a lot of fun on this one.  There's a medium clunking sound when the Martian sets down his pistol, and on and on.
Next scene: Daffy sends over an ultimatum that says "Surrender, or be blown into 17,600,072 microcells."  ...something like that.  Okay, the internet says it's 17,670,002.  Almost had it right.  You know, that's probably just a random number, but whole film cults have been built upon far less.  But the main takeaway is that this scene has been informing the strategic thinking of Republicans ever since.  They always seem to forget what happens next, and that Daffy ends up sending another ultimatum that says "Ouch!"  So what's their argument to that?  Well, clearly Daffy was okay, since he had the strength to fire that second ultimatum in the first place.  And who cares?  He's a cartoon character, anyway!  But the principle's sound: a show of strength and superiority, and sit back and wait for the accolades to just roll on in...
Next scene: Dodgers tries spying on the Martian with his ultra-modern black and white surveillance system.  If this were being made today, I hope it would be one of those multi-camera systems from Costco, but that's just me.  But the main point is that Dodgers falls victim to a corny gag, and gets assaulted by the Martian yet again.  As an anti-fan of corny jokes, clearly it's the last straw.  "THAT'S THE LAST STRAW!" decrees Dodgers.  "NOW I USE MY SECRET WEAPON!" he further decrees.  Now, you might remember this chunk of the cartoon from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, specifically the part where everyman Richard Dreyfuss is dismantling his miniature mountain... oh, skip it.  Anyway, it turns into Devil's Tower, and he realizes that he's on to something, even if he's still not up on his classic American natural landmarks and all that.
As for me, well, I found the duet that Dodgers and Marvin the Martian play out to be a bit depressing.  I guess I used to be a little bit normal and healthy after all.  I don't know how deep we were into the Cold War when Dodgers was released, but it's not hard to find the similarities in the cartoon arms race, and our own with Russia during that time.

EPILOGUE

And so, much like the end of Haredevil Hare... another Chuck Jones joint, so he's basically ripping himself off again... well, all I can say is, the population of Earth in 2350 in general, and Dr. Hi in particular, are probably not going to be too thrilled about the current state of Planet X, seeing as how it's but a mere shell of its former self.  But there's still some tree roots stuck to the tiny lump that's left!  Boy, those things are persnickety. 
"As I was saying, Buster..." says Dodgers to the Martian.  Oh, I dare not spoil the ending for you.  All you need to know is that it's perfect.  Now, I've only heard of the name Buck Rogers.  Never seen any of the TV shows or heard any of its radio broadcasts that probably exist.  It's probably not a good way to judge the quality of something, but I find in general that the parodies are usually better than what they're based on.  The only example I can think of right now is Cheech and Chong's "Basketball Jones," which I only recently found out is based on an actual song that was called "Love Jones."  Of course, nowadays "your love is my drug" is plastered all over the Top 40, if only by Train and Ke$ha.  ...okay, thought of another one.  I'm more familiar with "Weird" Al's "I Lost on Jeopardy" than the original it's based on by someone named... Greg Kihn?  Egg-zactly...
Now to refute my own argument, there's Spaceballs.  Now, Spaceballs may have won a battle or two, but I'm pretty sure Star Wars has won the war.  But one thing's for sure: Chuck Jones has a hell of a Looney Tunes track record.  As far as I know, he never made a stinker like Big House Bunny, and Dodgers is probably his best sci-fi outing.  Another immortal classic.

****
-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

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