To All the Dragons I’ve Loved Before

Having always loved the fantasy genre of film and television, my heart has always belonged to dragons. Evil ones, good ones, and rogue agents with no such allegiances. I caught the film Dragonslayer (1981) the other day on Amazon Prime Instant Video and it really brought up a bucket from the well of memory. I mean, how awesome are these creatures? Total and complete bad asses. No one wants to mess with them.

This led me to host a contest for Best Dragons from my childhood experience:

Maleficent from from Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty (1959)

maleficentWhile technically not a dragon (at least most of the time), this was probably one of the scariest cartoon draconians I remember. Mostly, I was afraid of her because I had never heard such foul language uttered in a Disney movie until I saw Sleeping Beauty. Case in point: “Now shall you deal with me, O Prince, and all the powers of Hell!” Who cast such a potty mouth? Anyway, Maleficent was actually an evil fairy godmother with the ability to change into a dragon, and ultimately, the world’s most famous anti-cupid with her desperate attempts to keep Princess Aurora and Prince Philip apart. And all because she never got an Evite to Aurora’s baptism. Jeez, petty much? I think a more effective punishment on the kingdom would’ve been a curse on all the chamber pots.

Vermithrax Pejorative from Dragonslayer (1981)

vermithraxShe was 400 years old, slept in a lake of fire, and her kids were slaughtered by a bumbling magician’s apprentice – so the chip on her shoulder may be justified. Apparently, she accepted two virgins per year from the local kingdom to leave crops and villages alone, so she doesn’t seem to be completely unreasonable at the negotiation table. She has the added benefit of a weird but pretty cool name: Vermithrax Pejorative which in Latin translates to “The Wyrm of Thrace that makes things Worse.” She was also nominated for an Academy Award (ok, well the special effects were), and she has some wicked bat-like wings. Who needs aerial drone strikes when you got Miss Pejorative on your side?

Granamyr from the He-Man & The Masters of the Universe television series (1983)

GranamyrNot as famous as some other dragons, but pretty damn powerful and the oldest of the Dragons of Darksmoke on the planet of Eternia. Granamyr had a bigger ego than Kanye West, but perhaps rightfully so, as even the Sorceress of Castle Grayskull admitted being afraid of his wrath. When He-Man asked where to find him, the Sorceress was like, “Bitch, I ain’t telling you! I don’t need those dragons puttin’ my castle on blast. Go look it up in the library.” (paraphrased but true – just go watch the He-Man episode, “The Dragon’s Gift”). Granamyr was a double threat: not just a fearsome dragon but a sorcerer as well. Unlike most dragons, however, he had a hint of compassion for human beings. He places a high value on loyalty, keeping your word, and courage. In short, the Big G was a very honorable reptile.

Tiamat from the Dungeons & Dragons television series (1983)

tiamatOk, this hardcore Dragon Queen wasn’t scared of anybody. She also had five heads and each one shot some nasty-ass projectile vomit – fire, lightning, poisonous gas, freezing ice, and acid. A tad bit of talent overkill, to say the least. Like Granamyr, Tiamat had magical abilities and was able to teleport at will. She lived in an outer space graveyard, and conspired to help some teenage kids commit murder (see D&D episode 20, “The Dragon’s Graveyard”). She had a scary ass voice too – somewhere between a hiss and a vocodered Cher singing “Do you believe in life after love?” Good thing she was a dragon, for a career in telemarketing was not to be.

Falkor from The Neverending Story (1984)
falkorThis dragon is an honorable mention. I found him to lack a certain edge that I like my dragons to possess. Plus, he looks as if he belongs on dog food packaging. Still, the term luck dragon became part of my vernacular after seeing this film, and he does bring a certain sense of optimism and cheer to a fantasy role usually reserved for terrifying monsters. In this case, Falkor broke some new ground and delivered something unexpected to my childhood view of what a dragon should be. Still, you have to wonder if he had to get any rabies shots or if his contract required payment in Milk Bones.

 

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An Elegant Monster

If you voraciously devoured the second season of Netflix’s web series House of Cards this past weekend, you were not alone. This writer also binged on the newly delivered loot.

I almost watched the entire 13 episodes without stopping – but my stomach requested nutrition and I figured I should probably shower. I actually felt a little like a crackhead, or at least what I imagine one feels like – bypassing normal behaviors to submit my will to this unfolding, fictitious character study. I won’t give anything away, but the season was definitely worth the wait. It delivered high voltage shocks in its political backstabbing, sexual side turns, and naked power grabs.

Of all this show’s twisted personalities, my favorite character is the devious Claire Underwood (Robin Wright). She plays the wife of Kevin Spacey (as VP Frank Underwood). A methodical machine, she carefully manipulates (often better than her own husband) her preferred outcomes in challenging situations. When her enemies fall, she doesn’t even give a smile of satisfaction; she coldly moves on to the next target with eyes like steel knives. No unethical tactic is beneath her, yet her subtle grace and calm voice give you the impression she is the most trust-worthy and caring individual you’d ever meet. A vintage sociopath. Now that I know what levels of power she has attained, I can not wait to see what she does to her opponents in the next season.

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Although this is just a TV show, it could be considered strange to cheer on a psychotic. However, villains are usually the more fascinating individuals in a story. I feel like you always want to know, “What broke them?” Or “What made their emotions turn to stone?” How did their obsession with an audacious goal become their fundamental purpose in life? And how will it ultimately be their undoing (as it usually is)?

Claire, your magnificent malice brought you to the top. I can’t wait to see how it brings you down.

This is going to be one for the Ages.

The Star Wars Holiday Special

If you’ve ever done anything in your life that you aren’t proud of or that you simply regret, I have something for you that might help: It’s called the Star Wars Holiday Special.

It’s a horrible bastard-of-a-TV-program that aired only once (in 1978 on CBS) to capitalize on the wave of pop culture mania that followed 1977’s Star Wars. As with all cash cow Hollywood projects, it’s thoroughly terrible and pointless. It’s also unintentionally funny, but perhaps in that way when something is so poorly constructed you might think it was done on purpose. No, this comedy comes with pain. The kind of pain you feel when you know someone actually wrote it down on a piece of paper. That the project was approved by someone. That millions of dollars probably produced it.

If the "Carol Burnett Show" and "Star Wars" had a baby and then aborted it, it would be the Star Wars Holiday Special.

If the “Carol Burnett Show” and “Star Wars” had a baby and then aborted it and mixed it with Hamburger Helper, it would be the Star Wars Holiday Special.

I won’t go into the details too much, but if you watch it you can expect…

  • about 15 minutes of Wookie famly dialogue with no subtitles (or any other language to explain what’s going on)
  • Art Carney, Harvey Korman, and Bea Arthur trying to parlay variety show comedy like a bridal party serving wedding punch from an old toilet bowl
  • Chewbacca’s father basically having a sex dream about a 70’s disco diva while sitting in a “fantasy simulation chair”
  • a musical performance from Jefferson Starship
  • Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia) singing a holiday carol about “Life Day” (the Wookies’ version of Christmas).

Trust me, by this point you’ll wish YOU had a cocaine habit.

Anyway, when all is said and done, think back over your life and your mistakes. Watch this televised horror and remember that no matter your guilt about dropping out of school, cheating on your taxes, or raising a kid that turned out to be a deadbeat…at least you had nothing to do with creating the Star Wars Holiday Special.

How Television Became My Psychological Window

I grew up like many in my generation: worshipping the TV set. My Saturday morning communion with the almighty 14-channel Zenith consisted of a bowl of Fruit Loops and 4 solid hours of cartoons. It is almost embarrassing to admit that now, but those publicly-broadcasted waves shaped my youthful spirit and fed my childhood imagination. Then, I grew up and went to college where I became “too good” for TV and decided that cinema was where real ideas were happening. Sure, I still indulged in weekly episodes of Seinfeld, and I would catch the occasional cultural moment – like Ellen DeGeneres coming out in 1997 on her eponymous show – but I was pretty much wandering in the Sahara of no TV until the latter part of the previous decade.

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Through a wonderful ex-boyfriend, I became hooked on Breaking Bad, a twisted AMC series following the transformation of a man from high school science teacher to drug overlord. It is one of the best things I’ve ever seen on television. Multi-layered storytelling with complex characters that I would hate one minute and then fall in love with in subsequent episodes. However, the most interesting thing to me about the show was the subtle education I was receiving on human nature. Prior to the show, I had always had a hard time understanding why anyone would use or sell drugs, but the more I watched it, the more I understood. Now, I am not saying it instilled a desire to do either of those things, but it did make me understand the human intent behind self-destructive actions, probably more so than my college psychology classes. More importantly, as my feelings about the characters changed periodically, I realized that even when certain people do terrible things, you can sometimes see that they are not inherently evil people but rather very desperate people.

hocnetflixThis education continued when I got hooked on two recent Netflix series: House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black. The former is a superb example of how people manipulate each other for the purposes of satisfying their own selfish desires. I watched the entire series in 2 days (however, I am also a political junkie). I think it’s probably an overly dramatic view of how Washington D.C. functions, but it’s definitely a mesmerizing pool of darkness.

oisnbOrange Is the New Black is a bit more light-hearted, but has a serious subtext as it approaches the various points of view in a women’s prison. My favorite thing about this one is similar to my reasons for loving Breaking Bad…when you learn the stories of the prisoners and how they came to be there, you may understand the motivations of why people perform certain crimes and whether or not they truly receive appropriate justice for their deeds. Aside from the heavier themes, the show pulls of a great balancing act of humor and humanity. I’m definitely waiting impatiently for the next season.

My hat is off to you TV, you have come back from the wasteland of reality programming.