Fun VS Cool

Just got back from seeing the new CLASH OF THE TITANS.  It was good.  I wouldn’t say great, but I enjoyed it.  Still, there was something that kept it from winning me over completely.  Considering that this is a movie with giant scorpions, a gorgon, harpies, and a kracken, that’s saying something.

Let me preface this by repeating that Clash was good.  It is a solid adventure film with some cool monsters and a story that gets it to where it’s going.  I liked the characters, and I did like it quite a bit.  But there was just something missing, that final bit of satisfaction that makes a movie more than just enjoyable.  That something special that leaves you satisfied.

Satisfied is the only word I can come up with.  It’s like enjoying a good meal versus savoring a delicious one.  It’s like a fun night with friends versus a wonderful night.  What’s the difference?  How do we spot it?  How can we even possibly categorize such a vague quality?  The answer:  We can’t.  But we can try.  Or at least I can try and you can read about it.

I think it’s all about FUN VS COOL.  These two qualities are not necessarily opposed to each other, but I feel that they don’t always get along well.  While it’s absurd (and arbitrary) for me to attempt to define these qualities, this is my blog, so I’m allowed to try.

FUN is lithe and enjoyable and carefree.  Fun is allowed to laugh, to smile, to feel joy.  Fun is a child blowing bubbles without being self-conscious about it.

COOL is distant.  Cool wants you to think it doesn’t care, but it does.  Cool wants you to like it very badly, it just doesn’t want to admit it.  Cool is a guy in a leather jacket, sitting on a motorcycle, revving his engine to tell you how much he doesn’t care about what you think about him, and he’ll prove it by making as much noise as possible until you notice him not caring.

FUN draws you in.  Fun is inclusive.  Everyone can have fun if they go in with the right attitude.

COOL pushes you away.  Cool doesn’t want you to be part of the club because if too many people are in the club, then it’s not cool anymore.  Not everyone can be cool.  In fact, most nobody can.

Perhaps this is what separates the old Clash of the Titans from the new Clash of the Titans.  The original is a fun film.  It never takes itself too seriously.  It wants to take you on a journey into fantasy, and it doesn’t try to justify or excuse itself.  The new Clash doesn’t exactly apologize for itself, but it is trying very hard.  It’s like a cool person you meet who you could really, really like if they’d just top trying to prove how cool they are.

Neither film has much in the way of humor.  But there is a wonder in the original Clash that is largely absent in the new one.  This has as much to do with the time of their making, as we’ve become so accustomed to spectacle that even an awesome sea monster the size of a city rising from the ocean depths no longer impresses us much.  Instead, we balk at the FX or dismiss it as something pedestrian, ordinary.  We are not the same folks who watched the original King Kong and had to stifle our gasps.  We’ve become spoiled.  So much so that we’re even looking for the chance to be disappointed.  Never mind that the worst FX in the new Clash makes even movies barely 5 years old look dated.  Never mind that the goal of FX is not to convince us that monsters are real (which they can never do) but to allow us to convince ourselves, to play make-believe for a few hours.  Now we don’t want to play.  We want everything to be done for us, and we complain if it isn’t done exactly to our satisfaction.

The humor of the original Clash was the pure, unbridled joy of watching a hero fight giant scorpions and face down Medusa.  The new Clash succeeds in making this look less fun.  It makes being a demigod adventurer almost seem like a chore at times.  Much as the modern superhero genre wants to rob superheroes of their joy in pursuit of “realism”, the new Clash dabbles occasionally in bloodshed and tragedy that make it more realistic, but at the loss of something special.

Last week, I saw HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, and I said how much I loved it.  I also mentioned how it would probably make me be harder on Clash.  I was right.  But I was right for a reason I didn’t see coming.

Dragon is a fantasy adventure.  It has great characters, a thrilling story, and some amazing action.  So does Clash.  But Clash never smiles.  (Well, one character smiles when he “Spits in the eyes of the gods” and it is indeed a crowning moment of awesome.)  Dragon introduces us to characters we grow fond of.  So does Clash.  But Clash kills off most of them.  (Even the Djinn who, in my humble opinion, deserved a spinoff movie of his own.)  Dragon says this is fun.  Clash says I am cool.

Again, this might sound a little harsh.  I did enjoy Clash, and it’s a good enough movie and pushes enough of my buttons that I’ll probably end up buying it as this is a movie I could watch over several times.  But I just can’t see myself doing so with the unbridled enthusiasm that I have for The Incredibles, Kung Fu Panda, or Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.  All of which are both cool and fun without any problem balancing these sensibilities.

But maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe grownups aren’t supposed to like fun anymore.  It would explain why I often find myself shoved in the Young Adult genre.  Because I strive to make my books fun.  Maybe I’ll never be a serious writer as long as I refuse to amp up the body count or apologize for loving robots and raccoon gods.  Or maybe I’m just ahead of my time.

Or maybe I’m full of crap.

Whatever.  These were my thoughts.  I hope you enjoyed reading them.

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,


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  1. Rippley
    Posted April 4, 2010 at 1:21 am | Permalink

    I think you are ahead of your time. I’m not just talking your up. Really, the publishing industry seems to be behind the times as far genre classification is concerned. They put your books in YA, because you don’t have a complex coding system. Your books read in a manner similar to Alice in Wonderland, but have an adult tone like ‘Hitchhiker’s’ and ‘DiscWorld’ novels. You fall in the middle somewhere, so you get placed in the YA section. If you wanted to get out of YA, you would need to add a sense of existentialism to you formula, which means the your character would have to live by some type of code (rules) whether they wanted to or not. But can you add rules to magical Gods and Monster, who are guided by their magical talent and fateful forces beyond the control? I don’t know the answer to this question, but I believe it is what makes you ahead of your time.

  2. A. Lee Martinez
    Posted April 4, 2010 at 2:38 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the kind words. I don’t know if I agree with them, but hey, I do agree I’m talented and smart and supergroovy, so why not? At the very least, I’d hate to contradict a fan who takes the time to leave a comment. ;P

    For the record, my publishers have never put me in YA. It is the general public that often does. Part of this is because of my style and the stories I write. Another is the YA-themed awards I’ve been lucky enough to receive.

    I would never complain about those awards and honors. And I don’t mind being classified in YA by a certain percentage of the general public. It’s just a point I like making sometimes, and something I think about regularly.

  3. Rippley
    Posted April 4, 2010 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, you are right. Most of what I said is gobshite (It’s not like the general public doesn’t in some way control how the publishers behave).

    Here is what I see:

    Quote from Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume
    “THE HIGHEST FUNCTION OF LOVE is that it makes the loved one a unique and irreplaceable being.
    The difference between love and logic is that in the eyes of a lover, a toad can be a prince, whereas in the analysis of a logistician, the lover would have to prove that the toad was a prince, an enterprise destined to dull the shine of many a passion.
    Logic limits love, which may be why Descartes never married.”

    Robbins waxes “philosophically” every other page, and he does so with some existential musing about his characters. Kurt Vonnegut seems to follow the same tone and formula. Douglas Adams, who you’ve been compared to by the general public, gets the same effect by replacing philosophy with physics (sometimes) and keeping the existential musings.

    Quote from Douglas Adams, Mostly Harmless

    “The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has, in what we laughingly
    call the past, had a great deal to say on the subject of parallel
    universes. Very little of this is, however, at all comprehensible
    to anyone below the level of Advanced God, and since it is
    now well-established that all known gods came into existence
    a good three millionths of a second after the Universe began
    rather than, as they usually claimed, the previous week, they
    already have a great deal of explaining to do as it is, and are
    therefore not available for comment on matters of deep physics
    at this time.”

    You, on the other hand, let the plot reveal all existentia, in a manner similar to Alice in Wonderland. Your characters encounter an obstacle, a caterpillar (if you will), to determine who they are. You are showing, instead of telling, who your characters are via the plot, not the narrator. And I would say this method put you ahead of your time, but also forces you into the YA genre, where we usually encounter it.

    But I could be wrong. Most likely am. I like to share my opinion too.

  4. Posted April 4, 2010 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    Dragon was fun, fun, fun. So was the original Clash. But to me, Dragon is better because it’s just plain excellent in almost every respect. I can’ t say that about either Clash. I loved the old one, but Dragon rocked my socks off.

    I just couldn’t ask a movie to be any better. I haven’t enjoyed a movie like that in a long time.

  5. Dana
    Posted April 14, 2010 at 3:47 am | Permalink

    Well, you have good tastes in movies… I’ll give you that much. I absolutely adored How To Train Your Dragon. I really liked Kung Fu Panda. Was surprised by Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, pleasantly so. Up was amazing … though my eyes turned traitor on me and seemed to leak on at least 2 or 3 occasions. Then let us NOT forget The Incredibles — the name says it all.

    I don’t have much money, so I will probably pass on seeing the new- but not necessarily improved- Clash of the Titans in the theatre. I loved the original as a kid and watched it again semi-recently. I know that many of my much younger co-workers think the original is lame, but special effects have come such a long way that I suppose it’s easy to get spoiled. However, just because a movie has lots of cool explosions, action, and special fx, doesn’t mean that it has substance or that it is good. But what do I know? I still find great pleasure in the 1980 Flash Gordon. To those who say it is too cheesy, I merely say that I happen to like cheese.

  6. Zovesta
    Posted April 20, 2010 at 3:59 am | Permalink

    You, sir, have some good taste in movies. I approve.

    Anyway, you know what? I’m getting pretty tired of the “adults shouldn’t have fun” thing. We only live once from what we know. Why should we hurt ourselves and ruin our chances at a good life because we need to fill roles? Do you enjoy your life? I think your books are fun. I think How to Train Your Dragon is fun, though, frankly, I’m a 13 year old girl. But that doesn’t mean life isn’t to be enjoyed. That’s all we can do in life…why not live it to its fullest?

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