Pretty, Fizzy Paradise

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Thursday, June 08, 2006

Seeing Red:

Okay, so I was in the mood for a bad fantasy movie so I sat down and watched Red Sonja for the first time. Now maybe it's just because I'd just finished watching a much worse movie (starring a 3 time Mr. Universe, which should tell you enough right there, and sadly he was the second best actor in the movie. Just after the vacant looking kid.), but I actually liked it.

A lot.

I've never read the comic nor the original Howard stories (I always preferred Cormac Mac Art to Conan, and then, I liked the Andrew Offutt stories better), so I have no idea how faithful the adaptation was. But I actually found myself enjoying it.

I liked the visual scope of it. Sure some of the individual costumes looked silly (the outfit of her sword-teacher early on, the weird bone scepter thing the little prince and his servant had) but in general I liked the look of everything and every one. The landscape was pretty and didn't seem like someone's backyard or a random New Zealand exterior shot to me. I wonder how much of it was filmed outside and where. I can probably look that up. In general I liked the costumes too.

Okay, the acting was pretty bad, but the actors seemed to be enjoying themselves. Brigitte Nielsen is lovely, though the woman playing her sister as well as the evil Queen I thought were even more beautiful. I liked her athleticism and presence.

Arnold Schwarzenegger was awkward. His line readings sounded almost like he was reading phonetically. But I have to admit, I was impressed by the conveyed emotions through expression/body language. It wasn't very complex emotion, admittedly, as his character was pretty basic, but it was believably expressed. By the end, I was starting to even find him attractive, which is rare as I'm not so much appreciative of the long haired Barbarian-Warlord appeal.

I thought the evil Queen was pretty awesome. And was surprised at how little the lesbianism was played up. I'd worried from the box that I was going to get some extreme over the top, homophobic B-movie evil Lesbian stereotype. But to my surprise, it wasn't really there. The Queen did make unwanted advances onto Sonja, but the scene would have played out the same as if she had been an evil King. This is not to say that the Queen isn't portrayed undeniably as a woman, it's just that Sonja's disgust seemed more like "Ack, unwanted advances." rather than "Ack, unwanted *lesbian* advances." It's hard to explain but there's a difference. Otherwise, the Queen's sexuality didn't seem to come up at all. She had a beautiful servant constantly near her that she was often casually familiar with (an arm about the shoulders, on her back, things like that), but it was always in the background and to my surprise, no attention was really called to it. I didn't get the impression it was intended to titillate or scandalize, it was just there.

Basically, I got the impression that the Queen was evil. And she happened to be a lesbian. But that these traits were completely unconnected. Anyway, regardless of that, she was skilled, cunning, ambitious and scenery-chewing. Some of my favorite traits in villains. And the fight scene where she kept popping in and out was pretty cool to watch. I liked her a lot!

I was surprised by how much I liked the relationship and interplay between Red Sonja and Kalidor, which was the best part of the movie for me.

I was leery, reading the box cover. It sounded like Kalidor was going to end up rushing in and constantly saving the supposedly-strong heroine when she gets in over her head. I got the impression from the box description that he might be one of those forceful brutish "heroes" in fantasy who'd throw the woman down and have to be fought off. But ultimately culminating in her submitting to him at the end, healed from her trauma by the healing light of his...well, I'm sure you can guess.

But I was pleasantly surprised by the way the movie handled it. After she rejects his company initially, he does keep appearing to save the day. But only after she fights the major bad guy or the leader of the scene. When the dead bad guy's army of faceless grunts advance on her, Kalidor comes in to help take them out. He also ends up useful for a lot of the heavy lifting (as is the Prince's manservant).

Basically, he's the chief support character and the film never forgets that. Thus he can move heavy things out of the way, keep falling walls raised enough that the Prince or Sonja herself can be pulled through, and kill faceless grunts, but the writers remember that there is only one titular character. It might seem odd that I'm harping on this, but I've seen quite a few other movies, especially ones with female protagonists, forget this.

For a barbarian hero, Kalidor is rather amusingly passive in the relationship sense. When she rejects his company. He shrugs, nods, and follows her anyway (though from a far enough distance back). Neither Nielsen nor Schwarzenegger are particularly adept at the witty banter but they've got enough physical chemistry and do well enough with non-verbal expressions of attraction that I bought Sonja's surprised disappointment when Kalidor reveals his real reason for following her. I liked that aside from pulling her back to him, he didn't make any physically overbearing moves or gestures. One of my pet peeves is how after making a big deal about a female character's traumatic experiences, some writers will have them begin a romance with a male character who makes a lot of overbearing physical displays for dominance. Leaning in, physical crowding, that sort of thing. There's nothing inherently wrong with that sort of behavior of course, and many women find it a turn-on, but I'd imagine someone traumatized like that would not be comfortable with someone with those sorts of mannerisms.

I was pleasantly surprised that Kalidor seemed perfectly willing to keep his distance. He was a bit bemused by her rule that she'd only be with a man who could beat her in a fair fight, but after that, he was more than happy to court her on her terms. (And I loved that they were evenly matched). And I might have even swooned a little when at the end, he told the prince to be choosy about the Queen he chooses, as he himself has the standard that he'd only consider "a woman who could beat [him] in a fair fight."

Okay, so Schwarzenegger grew on me a little. Mostly though, I thought the turn-around of the terms was his way of indicating that he wanted a completely equal partnership with her. It would have sounded overdramatic and/or cheesy if he'd said that outright, given the setting and mood of the story. But this worked for me. I admit it, I giggled. It was cute.

So yeah, much to my surprise, I liked the movie. There wasn't a lot of substance, but there were a lot of pretty people in weird costumes pretending to kill each other with swords, a fun villain and a surprisingly lowkey romance that I actually enjoyed.

I'd rent it again.


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