Thursday, November 10, 2005

Day 41: Q: the Winged Serpent


There’s something in nearly every monster movie that affects me tremendously.  It’s a Darwinian sort-of tragedy when the heroes, in order to preserve society, rise up and defeat the monster and I always feel sorry for the damn thing, no matter how many people it’s killed.  In Q, there’s a nice reverse of the King Kong myth as the winged beast flies around the Chrysler Building with men inside shooting at it.  But as Q got pummeled by bullets and it screamed in agony, it happened again.  I felt sorry for this monstrosity.  The thing is, sometimes movies do address this, but it’s always so stupidly weepy (Nobody cries when Jaws dies and all that.).  I’d just like someone in a monster movie to say, “Oh man, this is too bad that we’ve gotta hurt this thing, but, seriously, it ate my dog and I can’t have that.”  And then his partner can say, “Yeah, you know, these constant monster attacks are just seriously annoying.”  And then the main guy could say, “Yeah.”  Then they kiss!  FADE OUT.

Q is good fun, a classic monster movie anchored by a bizarre, unhinged performance by Michael Moriarty.  His character is an unusual and welcome addition to the other standard monster-movie tropes employed.  He’s a wheel man for some crooks but also has some skill at the piano (though his random, chaotic noodling fails to impress a barkeep enough to get him a regular gig).  The character’s angry, paranoid, and strangely impulsive, traits convincingly attributed to time spent in prison.  When he discovers the titular winged serpent’s nesting ground (the monster is apparently Quetzalcoatl, an ancient Aztec god), he holds the city for ransom, demanding money and immunity from the law before he’ll tell the authorities.  

Moriarty’s performance is something to see: the character borders on seeming psychotic at times as he rants and raves about how much he’s suffered at the hands of everyone around him.  It gets annoying at times, but it’s usually good, intense fun.  It’s also a nice choice for the script to center itself on an angry dissolute who’s more interested in getting what he thinks the city owes him than saving lives.

How Quetzalcoatl comes to New York is patently uninteresting, easily the weakest part of the film.  The monster itself is a badly composited and cheaply animated claymation beasty.  But the movie uses the POV of the creature well with a shitload of helicopter footage and one shot where we see the shadow of the thing on some skyscrapers actually gave me the old monster-movie thrill, a feeling I assumed dead and buried since I hit puberty.  My absolute favorite part of Q is how quickly the seemingly no-nonsense cop played by David Carradine comes to accept the theory that an ancient Aztec god is decapitating people in New York.  After a quick lecture by someone at a museum, he seems quite convinced of the possibility, despite the scorn heaped on him by his superiors.  The only question that remains for him is whether it’s an unstoppable God or a creature that can be killed.  

The movie answers his question, and it answers it by making me sad.  I suppose this sadness I feel on behalf of the monsters of the world is misplaced and, when faced with a giant tentacled thing or a zombie incarnation of FDR, I’d get over it and gladly shove an ice pick into one of their eyeballs to save my own hide.  And I suppose that showing the suffering, dying throes of the monster allows one to understand with absolute conviction that the heroes were successful at vanquishing their foe and saving us all from being eaten.  And, going even further, I suppose that my empathy for the monsters of the world is based on a belief that there exists a similar monstrosity within myself.  And I guess that’s why I and many, many other people have always liked monster movies (and Q is no exception, though it’s tough going at times).  And I guess what I wish is to see a representation of that feeling onscreen, the feeling that we’re all monsters on the inside and that most of us empathize with monsters.  The movie actually gets close to this with Moriarty’s character and performance, but in the end, this is still a movie about a hunting party.

5 comments:

Ash Karreau said...

I love Q, especially because of Moriarty, but partially because Shaft gets his head bitten off. Moriarty actually in a few Larry Cohen movies, all of which are worse than Q, especially Return to Salem's Lot. In other news, I don't think that a zombie FDR would be very threatening, unless undeath cures polio.

Does not play well with others said...

I thought that all of the Jurassic Park movies did a pretty good job at representing that “sorry we have to kill it, but it has got to go,” mentality. The newer Godzilla with Matthew Broderick touched on it also. And Lake Placid had a couple of characters that represented that viewpoint. I know they are not quite Robocop caliber movies, but still…

David Wester said...

The main threat zombie FDR would pose would be that people would elect him to another term. Not that that would be such a bad thing, but he had his run.

David Wester said...

The new Godzilla movie was one of the things I had in mind when I wrote "too weepy". But you're right about the Jurassic Parks and Lake Placid having something along these lines.

Redphi5h said...

I was interested by your thought that your empathy for monsters might have something to do having a monstrous aspect yourself, but perhaps it is that you feel that an aspect you share with the monster, like, perhaps, just wanting to get your own way, go about your business is, in fact, monstrous.

I think that's why the demises of some monsters are sad. They're really just doing things that humans do, that happen to be detrimental to human life. Isn't that the vexed tension that makes a good monster movie? When the monster is simply horrendous and inhuman, they usually only produce cheap thrills at best. Like Mimic, for example.