From the archives: August 2003

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The textbook movie release plan

Friday, 22 August 2003 — 8:53am | Film has a transcript from Variety detailing New Line Cinema’s plan to re-release The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers prior to the 17 December launch of The Return of the King. Excerpt:

Starting the week of Dec. 5, the extended DVD cut of “Fellowship of the Ring” will be released in some 100 or so theaters in the U.S. and in 20 theaters in Canada.

Then, the week of Dec. 12, sequel “Two Towers” will unspool, just a month after having preemed on DVD, leading up to a worldwide Dec. 16 daylong marathon, during which all three films will be shown back-to-back. Exhib guidelines call for a 3 p.m. showing of “Fellowship” followed by a 7 p.m. screening of “Two Towers” and then an 11 p.m. screening of “Return of the King,” which will carry over into Dec. 17 — the day of its global release.

But here’s the kicker: we’re talking Extended Editions, folks – the full DVD cuts of the first two. Tickets to the 16 December marathon are going to be a nightmare, so consider this an early heads-up.

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Gibson wins All-Stars 2003

Monday, 18 August 2003 — 9:33pm | Scrabble

Taking home USD$50,000 and vaulting to the top of the Scrabble All-Time Money Winners List is the previously 1909-rated David Gibson, who defeated finalist Ron Tiekert in four games to win the 2003 All-Stars Championship in Providence. For complete coverage of this weekend’s event, including round-by-round commentary as well as turn-by-turn analyses of select matches, visit the NSA’s website.

Also note that an ESPN film crew was present at the tournament, and will broadcast it at a date to be announced. Apparently, they need a little extra time to censor out the naughty words first.

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Everybody’s favourite mid-year guessing game

Thursday, 14 August 2003 — 2:44pm | Film, Oscars

We’re at the halfway mark to the Oscars and the crapshoot’s already begun. Hopefully someone, somewhere will score higher than three-for-five in the big categories, but in recent years this has only happened in the absurdly predictable 2002, which had most bettors pegging all five of the eventual Best Picture nominees in various permutations when the 2001 awards were hardly out of the gate.

David Poland, one of the most dependable and reputable critics in the industry today, is recognizing the guaranteed entry – The Return of the King – and making two daring stabs at naming the other locks. The first is Peter Weir’s Master and Commander. I find it interesting that Fox is already touting the Russell Crowe vehicle as their historical epic flagship in the Academy regatta. From the teaser trailer it looks to be playing it safe and conventional, and does not at all come off as the great Napoleonic-era film of its time, which it needs to be if it is aiming that high. (Come to think of it, is there a great Napoleonic-era film yet?)

This year, aside from Master and Commander, the forecast shows two other bids for the Obligatory Period-Film Slot in The Last Samurai and Cold Mountain. Of the three, it is in Mountain that my flag of prognostication is firmly planted. It is impossible to tell until these films actually see release, of course, and I do hope that all three of these do as well as promised. Note the omission of The Alamo; let’s just say it would be a surprise if it actually turns out to be good.

Poland’s other prediction is Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu’s 21 Grams, which is if anything, an unconventional guess. We’ll know for sure by the end of the Toronto Film Festival. There is little I can say about it, as I have never watched Amores Perros or any other Innaritu film.

The other prediction making the rounds, which Poland covers briefly, is that Seabiscuit and Finding Nemo will probably be shafted; I tend to agree. The former is in the Road to Perdition slot – a refined, conventional period film released in July that slowly drops from a clear first place to an even clearer sixth over the course of half a year. The latter is this year’s Minority Report – near-unanimous praise from both critics and audiences, but severely hurt by what it is. In Nemo‘s case, it is clearly the very best film of the year thus far beyond any comparison, but alas, it is animated. On the other hand, if one film deserves to be the only animated film to be nominated for Best Picture other than the similarly deserving Beauty and the Beast, this is the one. In my opinion, Finding Nemo should ideally win Best Picture unless it comes up against the next Lawrence of Arabia.

Naturally, by some cosmic convergence, this is the year that the next Lawrence of Arabia is finally released in full, with the completion of The Lord of the Rings. The Return of the King must win this year, period. It makes one weep for Nemo, but if anything should upstage the fish movie, it should be the recognition of the defining film of this generation.

Aside from David Poland’s predictions, last year’s prediction ace Mark Bakalor has his charts up and running, and is naming four of the films I have already mentioned – The Return of the King, Cold Mountain, The Last Samurai and Seabiscuit – plus The House of Sand and Fog, the small-film guess. Like everyone else, Bakalor will probably shuffle his list like a rack of Scrabble tiles in the coming months. Kris Tapley has also put together his mid-season bets, identical to Bakalor’s if you swap Samurai with Master and Commander.

The unfortunate thing is that of the early predictions, one almost certainly underperforms upon release. This would be a real shame, as many of them sound like they have so much potential.

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On the regulation of blogs

Thursday, 14 August 2003 — 11:10am | Literature

This week’s edition of The Economist takes a stab at the new verbal dumping ground of the unpublished and unpublishable:

Golden blogs

Blogging, to the horror of some, is trying to go commercial

SOMETHING is afoot in the still rather geeky world of “blogging” that could make publishing web logs as mainstream as e-mailing or instant messaging. AOL, a big internet service provider, is getting ready to offer its members free blogging in a few weeks’ time. This follows Google, the world’s most popular search engine, which in February bought the company that makes Blogger, a free programme for publishing web logs.

Web logs, known to their users as blogs, are web pages for self-anointed pundits—personal online journals, often updated throughout the day, full of raw, unedited opinions and links to other sites. Most are what one would expect from a new internet medium: nerdy, inane and barely grammatical, and intelligible only to teenage subcultures. [emphasis added] But others are erudite and thoughtful—such as, a political commentary. Some are used in business—team members can keep abreast of progress on a project with blogs instead of messy trails of group e-mails. There are blogs for numerous online “communities”, including fat people, vegetarians, and Democratic presidential candidates. By some estimates, 750,000 people now blog, and the number is growing daily.

Because blogging is becoming so popular, people are belatedly pondering its economics. Blogging certainly incurs costs, including the expense for web hosts of storing all those journal entries. On the other hand, it also creates small, tight groups of readers that could make ideal target audiences for advertisers. Like search engines, once considered loss leaders, there is therefore an opportunity for “monetising something cool,” reckons Hal Varian, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley.

Read the full article. It’s a good read, and The Economist never fails to impress me with how it can pull off things like a summary of the entire state of the Internet in a sentence, as in the boldface statement above.

Yes, the whole weblog revolution is precisely based on independence, amateurism, and content free of editing, as pointed out by David Winer. Nevertheless, I do believe in one barrier that should be imposed if commercial blogging services want to have a hope in hell of establishing themselves as legitimate and not exploitative services.

It’s simple: create a respectable brand name by hosting respectable blogs. It’s a two-way relationship – selling the brand name will sell the blogs, making the service worth the money. It would draw a line akin to that between real book publishers and online print-on-demand services that don’t give a damn about what’s between the covers, though I am not speaking of regulation of content, but something much simpler: literacy. Have all the clients send in a sample piece of work, or pass a language aptitude test. Put it in the Terms of Service: the content of the blog doesn’t matter – just make it readable.

Think of an online magazine – not a publication, but a network of articles, free of editorial intervention regarding content, but coming with the guarantee of being intelligible. Societally, the most damaging devil-spawn created by the Internet is neither piracy nor pornography: it’s illiteracy. Weblogs are terrific for their freedom of content and accessibility, but they are beating the English language further and further into the ground.

Would people pay for what is essentially a language certification? If they want to stand out from the trash-heap and build a viable readership, yes. It’s like paying for commercial web hosting and a domain name instead of floundering around on GeoCities. Obviously, the people running the big-name blogs that already have readerships in the thousands don’t need this – but the rest of the Internet does.

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Juggernauts and jigaboos

Tuesday, 12 August 2003 — 10:38am | Literature

From The Weekly Standard comes Robert Hartwell Fiske’s review of the already much-ridiculed Merriam-Webster’s Eleventh:

This new slang-filled edition of the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary does as much as, if not more than, the famously derided Webster’s Third International Dictionary to discourage people from taking lexicographers seriously. “Laxicographers” all, the Merriam-Webster staff remind us that dictionaries merely record how people use the language, not necessarily how it ought to be used. Some dictionaries, and certainly this new Merriam-Webster, actually promote illiteracy.

As most people know by now, dictionary makers today merely record how the language is used, not how the language ought to be used. That is, lexicographers are descriptivists, language liberals. People using “disinterested” when they mean “uninterested” does not displease a descriptivist.

A prescriptivist, by contrast, is a language conservative, a person interested in maintaining standards and correctness in language use. To prescriptivists, “disinterested” in the sense of “uninterested” is the result of uneducated people not knowing the distinction between the two words. And if there are enough uneducated people saying “disinterested” (and I’m afraid there are) when they mean “uninterested” or “indifferent,” lexicographers enter the definition into their dictionaries. Indeed, the distinction between these words has all but vanished owing largely to irresponsible writers and boneless lexicographers.

Of course, it’s in the financial interest of dictionary makers to record the least defensible of usages in the English language, for without ever-changing definitions–or as they would say, an evolving language–there would be less need for people to buy later editions of their product.

A few months ago (before the new edition of the Merriam-Webster Collegiate was published), I took a poll of Vocabula Review readers and discovered that 68 percent of the respondents rejected the strong descriptivist idea of dictionary-making, and only 4 percent would necessarily bow to the definitions and spellings found in the dictionary. More than that, though, the new Merriam-Webster is a sign that dictionaries, at least as they are now being compiled, have outlived their usefulness. Dictionaries are no longer sacrosanct, no longer sources of unimpeachable information. Dictionaries are, indeed, no longer to be trusted.

Over the last forty and more years, linguists and lexicographers have conspired to transform an indispensable reference work into an increasingly useless, increasingly needless one.

Well, isn’t this a regular pickle. On one hand we have the descriptivist approach that language is moulded by usage and misusage, which leads to dictionaries that model our society – specifically, our increasingly illiterate society. On the other hand, dictionaries that stick to the prescriptivist approach – though this is more significant regarding inclusion than definitions – are criticized for obsolesence. One recent criticism of Chambers, Britain’s pre-SOWPODS Scrabble word source, was (to paraphrase) that much of it existed only to provide for legal plays in said game.

Neither approach sounds particularly good. We do need linguistic standards to which we must adhere, especially in this age when first-world illiteracy is at an all-time high, thanks to the dark alliance of lazy typists and the Internet. At the same time, one needs to recognize that commonly adopted buzzwords and malaprop definitions are still fundamentally words and definitions, and a dictionary without them is an incomplete dictionary. Of course, all tabletop dictionaries out there are heavily edited and woefully incomplete as it is, which is why my homepage is – it’s not quite there yet, but it’s another step up the ladder.

Fiske’s review itself, while noteworthy, does have its more questionable moments. He laments how “far-out” is still around despite its allegedly temporary relevance, in spite of the fact that yes, people do still watch movies from the sixties. He criticizes the inclusion of “alright”, but I defer to this usage note in the similarly disreputable American Heritage Fourth:

Despite the appearance of the form alright in works of such well-known writers as Langston Hughes and James Joyce, the single word spelling has never been accepted as standard. This is peculiar, since similar fusions such as already and altogether have never raised any objections. The difference may lie in the fact that already and altogether became single words back in the Middle Ages, whereas alright has only been around for a little more than a century and was called out by language critics as a misspelling.

One interesting case study, for those of you with too much time on your hands, is how dictionaries should approach a word like “gay”. Clearly it has the two distinct meanings, the “happy” one and the “homosexual” one, and I would not hesitate to ridicule a dictionary that excluded either. At the same time, shame on the dictionary that defers to the teenage school-bus usage of the word as applied in a derogatory manner to anything “stupid”.

My point? The line that divides overly conservative and overly liberal dictionaries is blurry and necessarily full of double standards. There is no happy medium, which is why using multiple dictionaries is the best solution.


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