Wednesday, September 10, 2008

This Is What We Talk About When We Talk About the Internet

Technology, it has been said, is neither good nor evil; it's the people that make it that way. Essentially, nothing says it with more subtle class than the shirt Richard Kiel wears at the end of Happy Gilmore: "Guns Don't Kill People; I Kill People." Ah, Happy Gilmore, forever the bringer of wisdom.

But don't take Mr Larson's word for it. Let's discuss. The fork allowed the European aristocracy to avoid eating only with knives, which presumably cut down on hideous facial scarring, but also kept clumsy white folks from using chop sticks. The advent of radio provided instantaneous news, serial dramas, and music in every home before it became the province of xenophobic race-baiters, wacky drivetime douche bags, and Hoobastank. Or take robotics, the surest symbol of technological advancement, which allowed for lightning quick production of taquitos while the robots themselves simultaneous plot our Terminator-inspired genocide.

And then there's the internet. At its best, it's a massive amalgamation of a library, a jukebox, an international news stand, an atlas, a high school reunion, the postal service, the yellow pages, your phone and TV, and the only way you can order a Ped Egg without staying awake in an insomniac stupor waiting patiently for the one eight hundred number. On the other hand, the internet teems with emoticons, misinformation, accidentally horrifying image searches, neurotic abbreviators, look-at-me! contrarians, and videos publicizing David Hasselhoff's alcoholic beef hankerings. In other words, "The Internet doesn't kill people; LOLCATS kill people."

Now, while our band's mealtime conversations are usually confined to arguments about Robert Downey Jr., the general scuzziness of our current eatery, and what style of bowel movement today's fast food will bring, one afternoon in Clovis, we found ourselves talking seriously about Old Man Internet. I worried aloud, not unlike many toothless Luddites before me, that as the internet becomes more ubiquitous, it has the potential to actually make people's memory worse. If you had the internet, say, in your home, your car, on your phone, belt, shirt, and Dr. Seuss underoos, what's the point of committing facts to memory? I'm not saying we'll lose our memories completely, but, to put it another way, when's the last time you did long division? Sure, maybe you still remember how, but, meh, there are calculators everywhere.

And let's be clear. I'm not claiming that the internet will be to blame when we devolve into a race of android mole people, masturbating furiously at our computers, our t-shirts streaked with Cheeto resin. The robots will get us long before that, anyhow. I'm just saying the internet has already made memory less valuable. Personally, I resort to online driving directions with Pavlovian regularity, trust the Interwebs to solve most of my factual arguments, and have looked up the same goddamn Hollandaise recipe fifty times. My descent into slurry-brained curmudgeonitude speeds ever onward. So, since the internet will eventually replace my brain, there seems only one thing to do: make it a better place.

Which, of course, brings us to Rocky IV.

See, twenty-three years after it was released in the theatre, Rocky IV remains a benchmark of popular culture, male bonding, and horrible man-kimonos. In fact, if you have cable, you're probably watching Rocky IV right now. Since I live significantly below the poverty line, I do not have this thing you call cable but I do in fact have the Rocky box set, and I keep Rocky IV playing on a continuous loop in my squalid hobbit hole.

Now, in case you haven't seen it (and, really: may God have mercy on your soul), Rocky IV is yet another retelling of the David and Goliath fable, this time around with a decidedly Cold War flavoring. Our Goliath is Dolph Lundgren, a thespian who would later star in Masters of the Universe, Universal Soldier, and Fat Slags. Here, Dolph is Ivan Drago, the impossibly burly Russian colossus who fustigates Apollo Creed to death, which thereby obligates Rocky to avenge Apollo by abandoning his child, flying to the Soviet Union, and getting all Italian Stallion on Drago's face. Rocky's plucky performance wins over the once hostile Soviet crowd, brings out the individualist in Drago, and brings fake-Gorbichov to his feet with the stirring "If I can change...and you can change...everyone can change!" speech. To put that in perspective, it'd be like if they made a movie about the 1940 Olympics and a Jewish pole vaulter made Hitler cry. In fact, let me write that one down.

While Rocky IV is brilliant in many ways, part of me believes that Sly wrote Rocky IV on a cocktail napkin while watching the Miracle on Ice. See, Rocky IV doesn't really have much dialog. Or a script. Or what I believe you movie snobs call "scenes." No, Rocky IV is more of a delicately constructed series of montages, flashbacks, montages, screaming, and montages. Which brings us full circle, to making the internet a better place. "How so?" you might ask. Well, if we're considering Rocky IV the apex of horrible-awesomeness, I think its important to map out just what makes this movie as horribly-awesome as it is. My theory is that it goes beyond the not-all-that-touching death of Apollo Creed, beyond the fact that a man-sized 80's robot has more dialogue than the central villain, beyond the Cold War posturing, the thoroughly questionable fashion decisions, the sheer 1985-ness of it all. What makes Rocky IV truly unique is the near-complete lack of original footage, dialog, and actual on-screen happenings. Rocky IV is so badgood because it isn't actually a movie: it's a clip show.

So, with that premise, I set out to watch Rocky IV for the six hundredth time. These are my findings:

(Spoilers abound, but, really, if I've still got you by now, I'll assume you've seen Rocky IV. Or you're incredibly bored. I'm not picky.)


0:00:00-0:00:45: Perhaps the greatest opening credit sequence in all cinema history: two boxing gloves, one upholstered to look like an American flag, the other a Soviet hammer & sickle, float around for thirty seconds then slam into each other and explode all over your face. That's called "foreshadowing." Cut immediately to Mr. T screaming.

0:00:46-0:03:29: Forty-six seconds in and we're already flashing back. The rest of our credits are a montaged rehash of Mr. T. tenderizing Rocky to the tune of "Eye of the Tiger," followed by Stallone's "improbable" comeback. But wait! Then we're treated to the entire last scene of Rocky III, which might be amusing had I not watched Rocky III last night. Did I mention I don't have a job?

0:03:30-0:14:21: Our first spell of new footage not entirely comprised of boxing apparel explodinating everywhere is actually a rather long one. I begin to rethink my hypothesis. Our new footage does contain Rocky's son slow-dancing with a robot, which is weird and wrong.

0:14:22-0:14:50: Honorable mention to this scene, where Rocky and Apollo actually watch Rocky II during Rocky IV. It's like the play "The Murder of Gonzago" within Hamlet, except with waaay better dialogue.

0:14:51- 0:23:09: Apollo agrees to get pummeled to death on live TV fight an "exhibition" match against Drago. Paulie calls a Russian "Comrade Bigmouth." I seriously consider playing online Boggle instead of watching the rest of this movie.

0:23:10- 0:25:44: Nothing says streamlined plotting like a two and a half minute James Brown performance, especially when James makes no attempt to lip sync into the microphone. The song? "Living in America." It's about how awesome it is to live in America. The vast amount of well-endowed dancing ladies provides ample proof.

0:25:45 - 0:40:54: After saying "Man, I feel born again" and "I feel so alive," Apollo promptly dies. "What started out as a joke," says one of the ring-side commentators, "has turned into a disaster." I feel the same way about spending four hours writing about Rocky IV.

0:40:55 -0:45:12: With Apollo dead, Rocky decides to mourn by driving around at high speeds, ignoring the road with criminal negligence, and sinking into a four minute, hallucinatory montage. Here, we're treated to flashbacks from not only Rocky I, II, and III, but Rocky IV as well, which is ponderous, since we're watching it...right now. That's called "padding." Stallone also remembers the most infamous scene in all Rockydom, a scene so badgood, it has been captured on YouTube for constant consumption:

(There's so much to love here, even beyond the horribly awkward dry-humping-in-the-crashing-waves-y-ness of it all. Personally, I enjoy how Carl Weathers is obviously jogging while Stallone sprints with the a look somewhere between "pained" and "I'm having an aneurysm.")

0:47:58 -0:48:41 & 49:44 - 50:30: Rocky flies to Russia, which is of course introduced via Survivor-scored montage. "Can any nation stand alone?" they ponder, in song. The answer, we learn, is sort of. But only if that nation has Rocky. AMERICA!!!!

0:55:02 -0:58:11: No Rocky movie is complete without the obligatory "Training Montage." While Drago trains on ultra-hyper-mega-futuristic weight machines, Rocky lifts big ass logs over his head and grunts. It's a pleasant reminder of the days when Americans were frightened by Soviet technological might. Whereas now, we're just scared of Putin. I call that progress.

0:58:12 - 59:21: Rocky's vigorous training has transmogrified him into a hipster. He's sporting a "I'm in Russia now" beard and women's pants. Apparently Adrian has arrived, but since she's horrible and shrewlike, we will ignore this development.

59:22 -1:03:31: And we're back to the training montage, which comes in at a staggering six minutes, eighteen seconds. I'm glad too, because that full minute of dialog had me exhausted.

1:03:32 - 1:07:59: Finally, it's fight time. I'm not sure when, but Rocky shaved his beard, which makes him less likely to ride his fixed-gear to a PBR happy hour.

1:08:00- 1:09:17: After the fighters enter the ring, we get a minute more of padding in the Russian national anthem. Why Drago is on the flag is never fully explained.

1:11:02-1:16:05: During the years in which all the Rockys are set, the World Boxing Association declared blocking illegal. Rocky begins the fight with his patented "deflect punches with face" strategy before he opens a cut over Drago's eye with a mean right cross.

1:16:06- 1:19:45: After two real rounds, we spend the next twelve in full-on montage mode. Rocky takes enough punishment that he'll have to retire in Rocky V due to overwhelming brain trauma...that is, until that movie sucked really hard and they made Rocky VI and he fought again and then they made made money with that so now there's going to be a Rocky VII, in which Rocky fights incontinence and Lou Gehrig's disease.

1:19:46 - 1:26:39: Rocky wins, to the surprise of absolutely no one. The final shot is indicative of Stallone's subtle impressionism: Balboa, bloodied, triumphant, draped in the American flag, cheered on by thousands of once-hostile Russians. And fade out.

First: the dry facts. Counting the spinning gloves and the post-modern "watching Rocky II within Rocky IV" scene, a full twenty-three minutes and twenty-six seconds of Rocky IV's anorexic 86 minute running time is entirely composed of montages, flashbacks, extended musical performances, and a shocking lack of anything approaching a plot. That's 27 percent of the movie, a total that, not unlike Cal Ripken's record for consecutive games played, will simply never be equaled.

But a funny thing happened on my way to the end of Rocky IV: I realized that its inherent awesomeness has little to do with the obvious lack of actual movieness and more with its bizarre, uncontainable spirit. I'm probably a sucker, but I love Rocky. I love the fact he speaks like a mentally disabled teamster; I love that he wears a man-kimino; I love that he's always the underdog. When Rocky VII comes out (and God willing, it shall), I don't even care what Rocky's doing: making pancakes, fighting hobos, convalescing, whatever. Whatever it is, you can be damn sure no one will believe in him, that he'll only have himself to lean on, and, in the end, he'll whoop that pancake's ass.

So, did we make the internet a better place? Doubtful. But I rediscovered my long dormant love of Rocky IV. It's like that friend who lets you make fun of him, doesn't take it personally, and continues surprising you, even when he shouldn't. And, in case anyone wants to know exactly how long the Rocky driving montage is, I've got them covered.


Anonymous said...

Isn't Rocky 3 better? Mr. T, Hulk Hogan, the actual beach scene, live in the flesh?

And I totally enjoyed Rocky 6. Hell, I enjoyed Rocky 5. I felt like you needed to know.

Anonymous said...

JT, Are you smoking pot today? Sabrina

birdmonster said...

Anon: Rocky 3, although superb, is a lesser Rocky. But why rank them? It's like ranking the teachings of Jesus Christ.

As for Rocky 6: I agree.

As for Rocky 5: With some serious effort, I finished watching it a few weeks ago. It sucked when I saw it (as a grade-schooler, I think) and it did not get better with age. Although "Hey Tommy...I didn't hear no bell" is almost enough to redeem the whole sham.

Sabrina: No ma'am. Rocky is enjoyed most in a state of four-beer-ed glory. And thus it was.

dkdkdk said...

best blog ever, man.

Anonymous said...

Oh Justiny, aren't you glad I made you watch Happy Gilmore millions and millions of times? Mr. Larson really pulled this whole thing together...

Jen said...

I'm pretty sure LOLCATS is spelled with a Z. Duh.

Anonymous said...

Don't even dis the mise en scene that runs throughout the Rocky movie saga.

The montage never had it so good before, and never since.

Anyone who has studied film knows that the purist form of cinematic story telling should not need to include dialogue. The juxtaposition of images and behavior reveal the plot and emotional content. Dialogue only serves to support or provide counterpoint to the established action line.

As for the illustrious Mr. Ivan Drago - This ain't no bullshit, neither...

Dolph Lundgren attended the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden. He received a master's degree in chemical engineering from the University of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, in 1982, and the next year was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to MIT.

Dolph has managed to not let his Hollywood career stand in the way of his athletic background. He has been awarded his Third Degree Black Belt by the World Karate Organization in Tokyo. His accomplishments include being the Captain of the Swedish National Karate Team, as well as a Champion of the Swedish, European and Australian Heavyweight Division titles. Lundgren still regularly performs Karate exhibitions at international tournaments worldwide.

In addition to his Karate expertise, Dolph was selected by the U.S. Olympic Committee to serve as the Team Leader of the 1996 U.S. Olympic Pentathlon Team during the Atlanta Games. He is actively involved in promoting the image of this sport.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it, boys!

ps - I want a blog on the latest Rambo installment. I kinda thought it worked, despite being the most violent movie I've ever seen.

birdmonster said...

- DKDKDK: Thanks.

- Anon 1: Yes, yes I am. Carl Weathers, also known as Chubbs, dies in Rocky IV AND Happy Gilmore. I don't know how I missed that the first time around.

- Jen: I should've checked, but that might have involved going to LOLCATZ in reality. My eyes have bled enough today.

- Anon 2: Now that's a comment. A few things:

1- I'm going to disagree with you on the montage front. While theoretically you're probably right (you obviously have more cinema know-how than me), I'm a sucker for the simple things in life: action actually unfolding in real time, dialogue, plot movement. A montage here and there is fine, but it feels like cheating.

2- I didn't know Dolph Lungren was so effing fantastic. I do now. And for the record, I kinda like the He-Man movie he was in.

3- Rambo was indeed the most horribly violent thing I can remember. In fact, I had post-traumatic stress disorder from it. You're giving me an idea...

Dave Bessom said...

This is probably my favorite blog entry of all time. Every few years I Google it, silently thanking Al Gore for creating an internet where nothing ever actually leaves the tubes.
Rereading it this time, I'm struck by your prescience, as well. Rocky VI happened, and Rocky fought again (as an underdog, of course), and Rocky VII (aka "Creed"), in which the part of Lou Gehrig's disease was played by Leukemia.

Anyway, well done. Thanks for writing this so many eons back. See you in a few years :)