Why is a movie about a young boy learning kung fu called The Karate Kid? For most of the film's young audience, Jaden Smith's break-out movie doesn't explain the confusion. Their parents and older siblings, however, may recall the earlier installments in this series which started with a young Ralph Macchio learning karate from Noriyuki “Pat” Morita, a movie which started as the hero's quest to learn karate to overcome his tormentors and evolved by film's end into a coming-of-age story about the bond between mentor and student. The first Karate Kid struck a chord with audiences, becoming the fifth-highest grossing film of 1984.
What colour is an Airbender? If this question is not at the top of your mind, it's because you haven't been following the controversy surrounding the casting of the film The Last Airbender, set to premiere in early July. The question of ethnicity in the film's casting casts a valuable light on many of Hollywood's decisions when it comes to race and gender – and the attitudes and assumptions that underlie them.
It's a question that most parents of young daughters face: "Has she hit the 'princess phase' yet?" Not all parents are upset by this, of course: many happily buy their girls princess costumes, toys and accessories ranging from shoes to purses, all in pink. Some, though, despair of the powerful gender stereotyping this delivers to young girls and each new piece of princess gear can be a source of conflict.
Halloween is perhaps the most contradictory of the major holidays. Though born in Ireland and other Celtic regions, today it is almost exclusively observed in the form that developed in North America; though closely associated with the imagination, it has been thoroughly commercialized, becoming an opportunity for children to buy costumes and then acquire candy (today it is the second largest commercial holiday in the US, after Christmas); and finally, though it is the holiday most closely associated with children, it is also one that has, traditionally, been all about fear.
Last year in this space we wrote about how summer movies serve as advertisements for various kinds of merchandising. The success of 2007's Transformers and its sequel this summer point to a different but similar trend: making movies that are actually about the toys companies sell.
The most anticipated movie of the year, at least in some circles, is opening on March 6th: Watchmen, the adaptation of the 1986 comic book of the same name. The original, which won a Hugo Award for science fiction and was named one of Time's top 100 novels of the twentieth century, tells the story of a group of retired superheroes investigating the death of one of their colleagues; the mystery leads the reader through the alternate world their existence has created, in which heroes with cosmic superpowers overawed the Soviet Union and in which Richard Nixon is still president in 1985. Though time will tell how successful the film will turn out to be, the buzz around its launch gives an opportunity to look at comics and how they're adapted into other media.
Will the recession depreciate Oscar gold? Promises of a leaner, more entertaining Academy Awards ceremony have come to be as reliable as the first robin of Spring, but viewership continues to fall. Each year something new is tried to shake things up, in this case giving the actor Hugh Jackman the hosting duties. This is a role traditionally given to comedians, with the idea that there would be no conflict of interest as they were unlikely to be nominated for any awards. (Long-time host Bob Hope made a joke of this, saying that at his house they referred to the award ceremony as “Passover”; more recently the role has often been given to talk-show hosts such as Jon Stewart or Ellen DeGeneres.) The decision to give the job to Jackman was no doubt made in hopes of luring back female viewers, who have always been the event's core audience.
The Web is full of great online resources for teachers and students, with new material appearing every day. With the arrival of National Media Education Week, teachers may be looking for fresh ideas to bring media education into the classroom. Here’s a quick overview of recently created (or recently discovered) resources that may help:
Media educator John Pungente's series Beyond the Screen, airing on Bravo!, now has its own Web site, where teachers can find resources and tips on integrating the series into their classrooms. Father John Pungente, a longtime media educator and founding Board member of MNet, planned the series as a follow-up to his acclaimed Scanning the Movies. Like its predecessor, Beyond the Screen is intended as a way of teaching viewers to “read” movies. In Beyond the Screen Pungente uses clips from current movies and interviews with cast and crew to shed light on filmmaking techniques, genre, and theme. The Web site offers showtimes and previews of upcoming episodes and links to teachers' guides. (So far the only guide that's been posted is for Speed Racer, but the guide for The Dark Night should be up shortly; upcoming episodes on Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince should be popular as well.)
Summer is officially upon us, and with it comes the usual lineup of blockbuster movies. Along with the usual cast of superheroes, spies and sexagenarian, whip-cracking archaeologists comes a somewhat unusual hero: Wall-E, the nearly mute robot protagonist of the film of the same name.