Holding the Door and Dying Dragons – Old School

(Just a warning that this post is riddled with spoilers about two 80s fantasy films)

Let’s talk about a heroic act where a notable character held a door so others could push on to saving the day. A memorable and emotional sacrifice. Something that has lingered with me for years.

As may be obvious, no, this has nothing to do with a big idiot whose mind was ruined by time-travelling weirdness and who was left holding a door without realising it, by which point it was too late for him to run. By the way, I would love to see said character return as an undead figure, carrying a door to beat a certain teenage boy who destroyed his life with.

No, this is about the character Rell, the cyclops from the 1983 science-fantasy film, Krull.

Then we can talk about that moment when a dragon was killed in a dramatic fight, which hurt me and still hurts when I have watched it since. Those final moments of life from that character. A character who stood out and meant something, and who died playing an important role in the story. Again, I’m clearly not talking about something that just happened on tv. I mean Smrgol, the older dragon, in the animated fantasy 1982 film, the Flight of Dragons.

This is where I get into being a bit of an old grump. I’ve seen people say they lost their minds, literally cried, at the two tv show moments I alluded to. Okay, people react differently to things. I get that. No one can tell you how to be affected by story telling as you grow up. Still, I found these tv moments to be hollow. Dramatic, yes. Shocking, true. But nothing as emotionally scarring as the two incidents I’m going to describe. It makes me feel old and bitter, claiming to myself “young people today lose it over anything, whereas when I were a lad, we got upset over real characters being killed off” etc. I admit I think I’m being unfair, and a grumpy old man. Maybe younger people emote more than my generation did. Maybe they feel for these characters more than I ever could. Maybe the fact I grew up on other moments means these new moments can’t affect me, but they would if I were growing up now. I hope not. I hope I would always need an emotional core to an event for it to get me, and also I can still find my gut being wrenched when the art is worked skilfully. See the beginning of Up or the end of Moon.

I could write a big complaint about how people overreacted to these tv moments, but again, while I have my logical points to make, the bulk is just emotional reactions. Some work for certain people, others don’t. If anyone grieved over a CGI dragon that barely did a thing and had no personality, well fair enough. I can understand grieving more for the anguish the Mother felt than the creature itself, without doubt. Less so for the death on its own. Fewer so? Anyway, people have their own reactions to things and I don’t like berating others for their emotional outbursts, as if we can control them that well. I’m sure I would have been derided for wanting to cry over an animated dragon breathing its last breath, back when I was a child. Even so, I feel fully justified in that grief. Smrgol was a character and he made a choice and it cost him.

That’s a good place to start. Something that binds these two memorable moments. Choosing for yourself and paying the price. I don’t want to go on about things that didn’t move me and how snarky I got when others were affected. I want to use this to springboard into praising what did work and trying to explain why it did. For me.

Rell in Krull. Here is this big cyclops who appears and helps the band of characters out, later joining them. His story is explained in simple terms. Once his people made a deal with the Beast (the villain) but were tricked, losing an eye to see the future, except the only thing they could see ahead of them was the day of their death. They became a sad and lonely people. But as a cyclops, Rell clearly sees the Beast and his minions, the Slayers, as his enemies. He fights them for his own reasons, and joins the other heroes when he can see they are worthy people, and he has been able to prove himself to them. However, when the ending is near, Rell stays behind. The rest set out to reach the Black Fortress before it moves, yet he has to remain, because it is his time to die, and if he tries to avoid this then a very painful fate will befall him.

It won’t surprise to say that Rell does show up later to save them once again, but still, it made my heart leap to see him come riding in. The others are pinned down by Slayers, they can’t get into the fortress, but here comes Rell, stomping his way up, taking bolts to the chest and barely flinching. He works his way up, kills a Slayer and stops a stone slab door from closing.

That’s right, Rell holds the door.

The others begin rushing through. The door is slowly closing but Rell holds it as best he can. It’s still closing though. The others help a bit as the rest go through, except now that door is more closed than not. Rell is struggling. He calls out to them. Colwyn and Torquil strive to help him. It’s no good. There are gurgling noises as the door closes. There’s a shout, but could be from Torquil, still trying to save him. Then the door slams shut.

Rell chose to risk his life. Actually, maybe he chose to give it up – he knew his fate if he avoided the death he foresaw. He had stayed behind because he was meant to. Instead he rode after them, helped them get inside the fortress when none of them could manage it, and enabled them to save the world. Maybe he thought he could do this and survive, but it was highly unlikely. He went to help them knowing the risk, maybe even accepting a death if it could prove to be the difference. It was.

Rell chose. He suffered. Rell made a difference. He paid the price.

During the story, he had been an enigmatic figure who then bonded with other characters and showed a softer side, with a few funny moments too. He meant something to us. As much as Torquil, the outlaw leader, or Ynyr, the Old One. Rell’s character, saving others, his sacrificial, and also brutal, end – it hit me hard back then. Still does.

Now let’s turn to Smrgol. This is an older dragon who ends up having to go on a quest because a human from the 20th Century has gotten fused with a young dragon, who was supposed to go. So a lot of their interaction is Smrgol teaching Peter/Gorebash how to be a dragon.

This teaching goes up a level when Peter has to take on the Ogre of Gormley Keep. This big bastard has kidnapped the other quest members so they have to rescue them by defeating him, and Smrgol is too old for that shit. He tells Peter what to do, then watches in horror as the human gets it all wrong. So into the fray he goes. He gets it right, of course, and down goes the ogre, but just as it was warned, Smrgol found it too much. He collapses. His heart gives out.

Smrgol isn’t meant to go on the quest. Nor is he meant to fight the ogre. He agrees to go because they need him (well, they need three for some reason) and he helps out, and Peter needs a teacher. He gets into the fight to save the young man’s life. I love his “Hey, Hey You”, after they already called the Ogre Hey You in a challenge. He even taunts the ogre a bit as he tries to drag him off the wall. The ogre is a daunting figure, they made a great job of him being terrifying. He matches each dragon, bests one, just loses to the other. Smrgol uses his wits and wins. Experience plays out.

Smrgol is more affable, more likeable, than Rell from Krull. He is a friendly mentor, helping Peter. He can laugh, he cares, and he certainly isn’t in this for glory or bravado. He’s a knowledgeable dragon who knows what is at stake, but should be taking it easy, seeing out his old age. Loses him hurts even more. I mean hell, I just watched the fight on Youtube to check on things and even then I could feel my stomach tightening.

Maybe it’s nostalgia. Maybe it’s the inner kid seeing these images and getting to me. Maybe there’s just something about the noble sacrifice. I’ll admit, I’ve always had a thing for that. Dinobot in Beast Wars. Obi-Wan in Star Wars. Hector in the Illiad. Piccolo in Dragonball Z. Gandalf, even though he comes back. Definitely Boromir.

Still, I feel it has a logic to it as well as an emotional reaction. These characters mattered. They chose to act. They knew a cost would be asked. They risked everything. They paid it. You can’t beat that. Not for me, anyway.

I’ll admit, both films are very 80s, with a fair amount of camp and rushed plotlines, sometimes very stereotypical ideas. For once, I’d love to see a remake of either, or both, with more character development and some improvements to the story. Just witnessing a new generation look on in awe as Bryagh swoops down yelling “Puny scum of Carolinus! Prepare to die!” before scattering the group. He was a great baddie who could be fleshed out to be even better. One of my favourite bad dragons.

Still, I’d understand people scoffing at these films. Many did back then. More seem to like these and others nowadays, but they’re far from perfect, even in the eyes of us fanboys and fangirls. Yet these two moments always get me. Rell held that door. Smrgol died in a showdown. Both mattered to me. They still do. I hope their stories won’t be lost as those of us who grew up with them get older.

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Bravestarr

So another short and sidetracked post, rather than a Sojourners in Shadow one.

I’ve been watching Bravestarr on Youtube. Not seen it since I was a kid, so thought I’d give it a go.

You know what? It’s a lot better than I remembered. It was one of the many cartoons I watched back in the 80s when I was young, along with He-Man, Thundercats, MASK, etc. I often thought of it as the lesser among that group.  Bit hokey, fairly daft, with a cliched premise.

Okay, it has to be said, those things aren’t far off the mark. I often laugh when Bravestarr shouts “Strength of the Bear!” and then lifts a giant boulder or something. Same with speed of the puma. He runs faster than a puma on a motorbike, for crying out loud.

So for anyone who doesn’t know, Bravestarr was about a planet called New Texas, where outlaws sought to raid a precious ore, and a marshal repeatedly stopped them. He was, of course, Bravestarr, a Native American with special powers, able to summon the abilities of animals. His enemy was Tex Hex, who, to be honest, should be a much more dangerous opponent, seeing as he can summon creatures and change things at will. Think of him as someone with powers like Skeletor but more incompetent. Laughs more too.

For all the geek revival and nostalgia we see today, I don’t see this show referenced. Like I said, it is better than I remember, with some interesting stories, but you have the same scenes roll over as Bravestarr summons his skills or Tex Hex laughs manically. You can see why it didn’t leave a lasting impression, and yet I remembered it, and judging by comments on the videos I’m far from alone.

This isn’t a post to really go on about the show. It’s in the past, had its day, and while a remake or something could be fun, I can’t see it gaining ground. People would probably sneer at the native with the animal powers trope, for one thing.

There is something worth noting though. Something I quite enjoyed.

One character who always stood out was Thirty-Thirty. I didn’t recall the name until I watched it again and I have no idea why he’s called that. But the humanoid horse with the big gun was entertaining when I was a kid and remains so now. He’s that typical good guy sidekick character of the 80s – gun-toting, eager to scrap, ever loyal, brave to the edge of recklessness.

What’s interesting is that Bravestarr and Thirty-Thirty are friends as well as marshal and his deputy. But they are also very different as people. Bravestarr is open-minded, ready to trust and see the best in people. Thirty-Thirty tries to do some of that, but he is quick to judge and quick to speak his mind too.

There are a few examples but a very good one is when a kid says the dingoes are all thieves. Thirty-Thirty agrees with him, Bravestarr strongly disagrees. Thirty-Thirty gets the hump and walks off. The kid worries that he caused a problem but Bravestarr assures him that, while he and his deputy see things differently a lot of the time, they are still friends.

That’s the thing that struck me about the show. I think it is a lesson taught often back then and it sticks with me now. You don’t see this viewpoint a lot these days. I understand why, but still…

Basically this show makes the point a number of times. You can disagree with someone and still be friends. You can see the world and people differently and remain friends. You can be almost opposites and get along.

I wouldn’t go so far as to claim Thirty-Thirty would vote for Trump, but I bet he’d like his bulldozer style. Bravestarr, however, would clearly be an Obama man.

They might argue, get into heated arguments even, but the end result would be the same. They had each other’s backs and that’s what matters. You don’t cast aside a friendship because you disagree, even if it’s a lot.

This isn’t a political post or anything like that. I just enjoyed watching a show where one of the moral lessons is about trying to understand those different from you. In that very episode, the dingoes – usually two dimensional baddies – end up making peace with a farmer and helping out. So yeah, the show leans to Bravestarr’s view, but damn if you don’t enjoy Thirty-Thirty and his bullishness sometimes. Even if he loves his big gun, Sara Jane, just a little bit too much.

Little Goody Two-Shoes

I grew up in the 80s and 90s. A lot of my early influences are from the 80s, especially in terms of tv I watched as a kid that left an impact I didn’t realise until much later. For instance, it wasn’t until my twenties that I understood I saw all evil henchmen as either a Starscream or a Soundwave – that they’re either smart but craven or stalwart and subservient.

I watched Transformers, He-Man, Thundercats, MASK and the A-team, as well as many others. Personally, I loved the bad guys a lot more. Megatron and Skeletor were far more entertaining and I admired their ambition. Mumm-Ra I was never much of a fan of. He always ended up skulking back to his crypt and claiming he’d win one day. He never did nor would he.

Back then, bad guys were designed to lose. The 80s – at least this is how I feel looking back – were much more black and white. Good guys were smart, brave, loyal, nice, etc. Bad guys were nasty, dumb, cowardly, treacherous even to their own (glaring at you. Starscream) and would always lose. So I wanted them to win. I got bored of the bad guys losing. I liked them a lot more, some were pretty cool characters, and Evil-Lyn was perhaps my first love in life. I wanted them to win, if just to shake things up a bit.

It’s not as if I didn’t like the good guys. Optimus Prime remains my shining example of what a good and strong leader can be. But the bad guys appealed more and, again, I just wanted a change. Just once, let the baddies get a win. Even a dream sequence! Actually that could have been dumb.

I suspect the baddies had their day occasionally and I just don’t remember it, but back then, I saw a lot of goody good guys beating bad baddies. I preferred the latter and still do. I proudly wear my t-shirt with the Decepticons badge on it.

Then anti-heroes came along and I loved them. At first I found many confusing. I remember watching Snake destroy the tape that could have brought about world peace at the end of the Escape from New York film. I was aghast and shocked. Why would anyone do such a thing?! Now I’m older, oh, I know why. But despite that, I loved his character and many more.

I’m a Batman fanboy. I also love Judge Dredd. Clint Eastwood’s characters in westerns inspired me. I found myself preferring darker heroes and champions. I enjoyed seeing someone be sarcastic, even selfish sometimes, and challenge the ways of the world while winning in the end. Which could piss off those they saved.

But you know what? I do love a good goodguy. I do. Maybe now we’re inundated with anti-heroes and we see bad guys more often get a one up on the hero, if not several, that the nice guys feel like the refreshing change. I liked the good guys back in the 80s, I admit. Even though I wanted to rebel and cheer on the baddies, I still admired the likes of He-Man and Lion-O. I saw the Christopher Reeves Superman films and loved them. Not as much as the later Batman films by Burton – although Superman 2 remains one of my favourites. Yes it is campy and daft, welcome to the 80s.

So speaking of Superman, I saw the latest incarnation on Supergirl. Well I loved the bloke. From the moment the music kicked in (yes, I’m sure that played a huge part in it) and he ran through the smoke (wherever that came from) and ripped open his shirt to reveal the S, I was into it. I almost cheered. It was great to see Superman back. Not just back, but how he should be. I really liked how they made him in this show. He isn’t worried about Supergirl getting in this way or taking his limelight, nor is he condescending to her, nor does he try to lecture her. Superman is Superman, so he knows he’s THE GUY and doesn’t need to prove anything, so he enjoys letting her get the glory, but also genuinely respects her and likes being around her. They captured the nobility of the man as well as the do-goodyness.

Superman is a goody two-shoes. One of the biggest. But that isn’t a weakness. It’s his strength. While I love the brooding Batman and his questionable ways, while I get a kick out of the fascist Dredd, while I want DECEPTICONS FOREVER! engraved on my tombstone, it is great to see a purely goody-goody running around again. Not as a parody or a sly injoke. No, he’s just being Superman. All American good boy, and I say that as an uppity Brit.

I love complicated characters and those who work in shades of grey, who question themselves and those they represent or serve. I love those the most and always will. But I do love me some nasty, despicable baddies, and I love me some goody two-shoes. There’s room for all, and when one lot is everywhere, it makes me appreciate what qualities the others bring to good storytelling. After all, a good story is what I want most of all.