January 21, 2008

Bear-baiting and death-dealing

Part two of Comanche Moon gave us one big stupid scene: the raid on Austin, Texas. Part three gives us a bunch of smaller stupid scenes.

In part two, Buffalo Hump (Wes Studi) expelled Blue Duck (Adam Beach) from the tribe for being a troublemaker. Blue Duck sneered in response. Each one boasted that he'd kill the other if he saw him again.

Now it's 1865, eight years later, and the Civil War is over. Blue Duck is leading a band of "half-breeds" in raids against the whites. Woodrow Call and Gus McCrae are still tasked with hunting Comanches. "The wild Indians are as wild as ever," says Call.

With that in mind, let the stupidity begin.

  • When we first see Blue Duck, he and five others attack a horse-drawn wagon. This time the Indians have rifles. They've finally learned about that amazing new invention, the gun.

  • Meanwhile, Buffalo Hump is in camp with his wife's brother, Idahi (August Schellenberg). Buffalo Hump wonders why the white men haven't hunted them down. Because we're old men who don't matter anymore, answers Idahi.

  • Yeah, even though the Rangers exist to corral Comanches, they've forgotten the Comanche leader who pillaged and burned Austin and swore to kill any white man he met. Conveniently, though, Buffalo Hump has forgotten his genocidal plans for revenge. Once again, we have a perfect confluence of Indians and whites acting obtusely.

  • Apropos of nothing, Buffalo Hump says it's time to go on the "longest journey"--i.e., to the spirit world, the great hunting ground in the sky. Of course, he doesn't look a day older than in part two. I guess the show couldn't afford talcum powder to make his black wig gray.

  • I don't know if Comanches traditionally went off by themselves to die. But it's a common conceit in Native-themed fiction that all old people do this. I suspect it's not true--that most tribes honored their elders by keeping them alive.

  • Now we learn how evil Blue Duck is. At his camp, his minions throw a white man into a fire. He has a bear tied up with a chain. He gambles, because that's another sign of iniquity, and then bludgeons the bear with a log.

  • Why does Blue Duck have a chained bear? Because a big, dangerous predator is exactly what you want to drag along when you're a small mobile force hoping to avoid capture? No, because bear-baiting is a surefire example of depravity going back to the Dark Ages.

  • Idahi also goes off to die, although he doesn't say this explicitly. His apparent raison d'etre is to lament the end of the trail. "The time of the Comanche is ending and I want to end with it," he says. The Comanches will have to farm and he hates cows. He'd fight on but there are no warriors left to join him. "The life of the free Comanches is over."

  • So young Indians exist to rape and kill while old Indians exist to sing and die. So much for respecting your elders. These Indians don't get to stick around long enough to impart their wisdom.

    The lament of the vanishing Indian is pretty much a Western cliché. Yes, some Indians may have bemoaned their losses, but focusing on it is stereotypical. How about focusing on Famous Shoes the scout instead? He appears to be getting along well in the new world, raising a family and taking an occasional job.

  • But it's not just the Indians who are portrayed lamely. Call and McCrae lead the Rangers against Blue Duck's followers. "Round them up," says Call as they surround the half-breeds. "Don't shoot."

  • Nice...but after acting humanely for a moment, Call agrees to hang six of the criminals. He stopped an execution with guns so he could stage an execution with nooses. Good thinking, Ranger...you wouldn't want to waste your bullets.

  • Finally, we get the long-awaited confrontation between Blue Duck and Buffalo Hump. Blue Duck prods Buffalo Hump awake, mocks him for being old, and stabs him with a spear. Buffalo Hump dies and Blue Duck rides off.

  • And...that's it for the Indians. Blue Duck doesn't die a well-deserved death. He lives to rape and kill another day.

    In fact, there's no denouement or closure for any of the remaining Indians. Talk about your dramatic ineptitude. A third-grader could've come up with a better ending than Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana did.

    So what are we left with? Indians kill each other or go off to die. Either way, their actions are barbaric and savage--nothing civilized men would do.

    It doesn't even matter because they're doomed to die. Like dinosaurs, cavemen, and other primitive creatures, their time is done.

    The series ends with a glowing shot of Austin representing the dawn of civilization. In the foreground, Call's son practices his roping like a future Texas Ranger. It's not as stirring as a John Ford finish--the cavalry marching and singing and waving the flag--but it conveys the same message. Law and order triumph over anarchy and chaos. The white man wins again.

    Let's see...I gave part one of Comanche Moon a 7.0 of 10, and that was the best episode. Part two gets a 6.5 and part three gets a 6.0. Rating for the series: 6.5 of 10. Which is about what a third-grader could produce with the same resources as McMurtry and Ossana.

    12 comments:

    russell said...

    Writerfella here --
    Which singularly is overstated and thus illogical, given that McMurtry and Ossana likely were entrusted with millions to write and to produce the entire project. COMANCHE MOON, in part due to the paucity of new material on network television, both was a ratings and a financial success. The LONESOME DOVE television saga now is over and done, period. Apparently there are some in this world who do not realize WHY real life lies outside the ranges of their own lives, knowledge, accomplishments, and opinions...
    All Best
    Russ Bates
    'writerfella'

    Rob said...

    Yes, it's called hyperbole. It's a literary device used to make a point.

    I'm not sure about a pre-teen, but I'm pretty sure a high-schooler could produce a better Western. Of course, until we entrust a third-grader to make such a movie, we won't know for sure.

    As usual, ratings have nothing to do with quality. Incredibly, you still haven't grasped this basic truism.

    So viewers wanted more Lonesome Dove and, because of the writers' strike, didn't have anything else to watch. So what?

    That's the main reason I watched the whole thing too. If I'd had to choose between Comanche Moon and, say, a mediocre episode of Cashmere Mafia, the latter would've won easily.

    P.S. Do you have anything to say about the many flaws in Comanche Moon? Or are you just sniping at your intellectual superiors, as usual?

    dmarks said...

    "If I'd had to choose between Comanche Moon and, say, a mediocre episode of Cashmere Mafia, the latter would've won easily." - rob

    Comanche Mafia? Now that would be interesting.

    "...I'm pretty sure a high-schooler could produce a better Western" - rob

    Now, is it so bad, that if you had Ben Affleck wear a cowboy hat in "Gigli", "Gigli" would be the better Western?

    russell said...

    Writerfellahere --
    If writerfella truly were 'sniping at (his) intellectual superiors,' Rob, you wouldn't be in danger even of a flesh wound! And no one said that ratings had anything to do with quality, except that you yourself have espoused that what you believe is 'quality' automatically would earn both accolades AND ratings. Better skip those infomercials about swampland this week...
    All Best
    Russ Bates
    'writerfella'

    Rob said...

    Re "If writerfella truly were 'sniping at (his) intellectual superiors,' Rob, you wouldn't be in danger even of a flesh wound!" Right...because you couldn't hit the broad side of a barn with your pathetically weak, vague, and unsubstantiated arguments. I'm never in danger of losing a debate with you because you can't even engage in one. Your inability to cite a source, search Google, or crack a dictionary means you're unarmed in this one-sided duel of wits. Which is why you keep giving up and running away with your tail between your legs.

    That is what you meant, isn't it?

    Again, do you have anything to say about the many flaws in Comanche Moon? Or are you just sniping at your intellectual superiors, as usual?

    Rob said...

    I don't think I ever said I expected a quality work to earn the biggest ratings or box-office take. I know the masses want mass entertainment, and the market for quality work is relatively small.

    If you think I said differently, quote me on it and then we'll discuss it. Until then, this is another of your unsubstantiated opinions and nothing more.

    As for your idiotic conflating of ratings and quality, you've said it before and I can quote you on it. Here is one of several examples:

    "HBO rarely produces trash; whether or not BURY MY HEART... is any good totally is a matter of PERSONAL judgment, NOT personal pre-judgment; and pay-TV far is less of an investment risk than one might imagine. No one has gone broke by investing in an HBO property. Therefore, opinions are worth far less than is a Nielsen rating based on a measured quantity recorded electronically if only because the audience for a particular filmic entity always is larger than the number of 'critics' available anywhere nationwide."

    Let's cut through this overwritten verbiage to extract the key point. According to you, whether Bury My Heart is "any good" (= quality) depends not on critical "opinions" but on a "Nielsen rating." So you've made this idiotic claim before and I've called you on it. And now I'm doing it again.

    You implicitly made this claim about Comanche Moon when you said it "was a ratings and a financial success." So freakin' what? This is irrelevant to my comments about its quality unless you think ratings = quality.

    Since your comment was irrelevant at best, try again. Do you have anything to say about the many flaws in Comanche Moon? Or do you think it was a superior work of filmmaking that didn't have any flaws worth noting?

    Again, spare us your nonsense about ratings. Pick one of the two choices and answer. Or admit you can't.

    russell said...

    Writerfella here --
    Ratings indeed may be 'nonsense,' but until someone devises a system that more economically and accurately delineates the audience numbers for televised fare, what cannot be ignored is that the industry has ratings and only ratings to go by when measuring success or failure in the marketplace. No brag, just fact...
    AllBest
    Russ Bates
    'writerfella'

    Rob said...

    You didn't answer my question about whether Comanche Moon was a superior work of filmmaking. I guess you were too afraid, as usual.

    Luckily, we're not studio executives, so we don't have to judge a TV series by its ratings. We can judge it by other criteria, such as whether it succeeds artistically.

    Furthermore, studio execs never test a lower-quality series vs. a higher-quality version of the same series. However well Comanche Moon did, an improved version written by a talented third-grader might've done even better.

    We do have evidence that mini-series can be well-written and still succeed in the ratings. Examples include Roots; Rich Man, Poor Man; and of course Lonesome Dove.

    russell said...

    Writerfella here --
    No one has said that COMANCHE MOON was "a superior work of filmmaking." Those words came from you, Rob. Apparently, no work of filmmaking ever could be 'superior' from your point of view, which just happens to come from your existence as a consumer, not an initiator. writerfella recognizes that particular syndrome, that if you were given a Native-themed production, your effort only would be a series of beautifully-filmed sunsets...
    All Best
    Russ Bates
    'writerfella'

    Rob said...

    The words came from me because you don't write clearly and won't answer simple questions when they're put to you. In fact, you still haven't answered the question I asked, so I'll try again. Was Comanche Moon riddled with stereotypes: yes or no?

    Yeah, I gave Imprint and Four Sheets to the Wind an 8.5 of 10 because I never say anything positive. I raved about COMANCHE MOON and CLOVERLEAF because I never say anything positive. Stupid.

    I've initiated my own comic book, thanks, along with several short stories and novels. Are you seriously arguing that writing some two-bit screenplay 30 years ago better qualifies you to judge movies than me? Stupid again.

    When you actually write more than a one-line review, we'll see if you can criticize something intelligently. Until then, you're a hypocrite for criticizing my reviews while not writing your own.

    Jamie said...

    That was an interesting review. I tried to watch the first part of the series but I couldn't get though 5 minutes without cringing. It reminded me of why I normally don't watch westerns.
    I did have one issue though with your review and that was the ratings. Like i said, I did not watch the whole thing but those ratings seemed far too high. I would have put it closer to 3 or 4.

    Rob said...

    I judge a show on the totality of its merits, not just on whether it's stereotypical or not. My 6.5 rating means it's significantly flawed and mediocre at best.

    If I considered Comanche Moon unwatchable, I'd give it a rating of 5.0 or lower. Since I watched it to the end, I can't claim it was that bad.