the puppet paradigm.

My mom once quit Netflix because she couldn't find anything to put on her queue. This is not a problem that I have experienced. Right now, my queue has 304 items on it. Any time I hear about a movie or TV show that sounds even remotely interesting, I add it to my queue. Because, why not? The trouble with this system is that by the time discs arrive in my mailbox, I've forgotten what made me put them on the list in the first place. So random things show up. Sometimes they are good, and sometimes they are not (but then again, sometimes I like the bad ones, too). I've also got the little Roku player, which allows me to stream Netflix to my TV. Random things from my queue show up in the instant viewing selection, and again, I'm always a little mystified as to how they got there.

Monday night, Josh and I decided it was time to knock out one of the things that had been on the instant viewing list for a long time, some sci-fi flick called Silent Running. I had no idea why I'd added it. The plot was about some biologist in space. Neither the title nor the actors rang a bell for me. Just some random movie on my TV, which is a lot like actual TV.

Josh remembered, though. This movie was supposedly hugely influential on our shared favorite TV show ever, Mystery Science Theatre 3000. That show is about a guy trapped in space who builds robot friends and then watches bad movies with them. Silent Running is about a guy who is trapped in space with some biodomes and programs robot drones to garden. So yeah, you can kinda see the resemblance. You can also see how the little drones might be early models for R2-D2. It was apparently also influential in the creation of Battlestar Galactica, Red Dwarf, and WALL-E. So. Important little sci-fi flick here.

As for the movie itself? Well, it would have been great if it had been about a third as long. There was some action in the beginning, but then later it's this guy and the robots, who do not talk. There is a lot of walking around and looking at plants while Joan Baez songs play. This movie suffers from serious 70s problems. The environmentalism message was really heavy-handed and I will never be able to hear Joan Baez again without picturing a guy in a space suit gardening. The special effects were good, though, and the model shots of the satellite were particularly well-done. It has a similar feel as 2001: A Space Odyssey, except where 2001 keeps you interested by being very subtle and confusing, this movie doesn't keep you all that interested. Surely there is a middle-ground between incomprehensible and predictable. We were glad we watched it, but we're not going to be doing it again. The thinking back on it has been much more enjoyable than the actual sitting through it. Good idea, poor execution.

What I really want to talk about are the drones, though. While Josh and I were watching the movie, during the boring Baez gardening scenes, we discussed whether they were puppets or costumes.

There is one episode of MST3K where they discuss something they call the "puppet paradigm," which is what makes the difference between a puppet and a costume. Some things are obviously puppets - Lamb Chop or Kermit. Those are just characters made of fabric being controlled by someone's hand up their back. But what about the characters which have a whole person inside them, for example, Chewbacca? There's a dude in there. At what point does something cease being a puppet and start being a costume? According to the robots of MST3K (who are themselves puppets), the difference is in the feet and the mouth. If something has feet that work and a mouth that is inarticulate, then that is a costume. Chewbacca has feet that move around with the actor inside, but he also has a mouth which moves when he "talks." Therefore, Chewbacca is a puppet. However, C3PO's mouth does not move when he talks, so he is a costume. Big Bird is a puppet; Barney is a costume.

You could talk about this for a long time, or at least I could. You don't care. I lost you somewhere back when you figured out this entry was going to be centered around an old, not very good, sci-fi movie.

Back to Silent Running. What are these little guys? Puppets or costumes?

Josh said puppet, and I said costume, though neither of us were confident in our responses. Obviously, they lacked articulate mouths and they did walk. They were human-controlled somehow, but how? Josh thought they were controlling it from behind, or from some angle where the robot could be between the operator and the camera. This seemed doubtful to me, as it would be hard for them to make it walk. I thought it was feasible that a smallish person could actually be in there, perhaps a child or little person. It would be admittedly cramped and likely awkward.

As it turns out, Wikipedia says that I was right. The drones are costumes. For double amputees. There are people in there, and they have no legs. Holy crap. Aren't you glad you read all the way to the end?


Anonymous said...

haha! I watched it & questioned the same thing. I guessed there were people in there but was shocked to discover they were double amputees. I can't imagine proposing this idea. On a related note...http://i.imgur.com/Nerep.jpg

I also like that in order to post a comment, blogger is asking 'please prove you're not a robot.' :)

Sandra said...

Ack! And I bet when that guy tried to pick up chicks by telling them that he was R2D2, they didn't believe him.