Tag Archives: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Evan and Gordon Talk: The Bechdel Test


EVAN:
So I came across a little something called the “Bechdel Test” through an article on racebending.com. It’s a test that’s supposed to rate how well a film does in terms of portraying women. That’s a rough description, anyway.

GORDON: I’ve heard of it in film criticism. It essentially asserts that for a film to have “real” female characters, it must have a scene in which (1) two women (2) talk to each other (3) about something other than a man. Sounds simple enough, but you’d be blown away by how many movies fail it…

EVAN: And the thing is, some of these movies happen to have perfectly good “strong female characters.” The site bechdeltest.com lists films that do or don’t make the cut, and in the comments section many a person states “but this female character was such and such…”

GORDON: Example?

EVAN: User “lili” disagreed with the rating given Wrath of the Titans, saying:

Although conversation between the two named women was minimal, the character of the main woman was well developed with no sexual stereotyping or weaknesses. I think it passes the Bechdel test in spirit, if not in actual letter.

GORDON: See man, as much as I’d consider myself a feminist, I really don’t like the Bechdel Test and some of the assumptions it seems to make. A lot of it just really doesn’t pan out- I’m looking at the list they’ve got here, and it’s seriously twisted.

Check it out- Sex and the City 2- easily some of the most misogynistic and racist crap out there gets a free pass, and movies like The Rum Diary or Rise of the Planet of the Apes– which have way better portrayals of women- are failed…

EVAN: I mean, it’s easy to see why their criteria was picked- having the women named is extremely important, as it’s a pretty solid way of ensuring that they’re actual character and not just waitresses or other extras. Also having them talk about something other than a man. That’s pretty important stuff, I think, in maintaining that they’re not just female verbal support for the male lead.

Where it really falls apart is the second part of the test: the need for the female character to have to talk to each other-

GORDON: I don’t think you’re being quite hard enough here, dude- this is a bad test. Look at it this way-

The first criteria is that there be two women, which is dumb because it assumes that a woman’s identity is based on how she relates/matches up with/differs/etc. with other women. Totally disregards her qualities (or failings) as an individual, y’know? The second criteria is, like you say, that they have to interact which each other, which again doesn’t make much sense (see previous point). And the third point, while decent, also kinda falls apart- if two men talk to each other about nothing but women, are they not real male characters? Kinda throws relationship movies out of the window.

…Point is, the test sorta shows you when a movie drops the ball on female characters, but a “passing grade” doesn’t really mean much of anything.

EVAN: I agree with you completely. Part of the reason I’m a little less harsh is thinking about how to construct/write a single test which judges a film on something as deceptively simple as the “active presence of female character,” as Feminist Frequency would put it.

GORDON: Well, what makes a female character a female character?

EVAN: Well, I took Human Sexuality my senior year of college, so I can think of a few key specifics-

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The Lizard’s New Look

Film franchise reboots are certainly nothing new, and next summer’s The Amazing Spider-Man is sure to bring with it a certain amount of new flair to a familiar super-hero. More than just showing us a different kid in red and blue tights, this film is also an opportunity for us to see yet another (less well-known) Spidey villain: The Lizard.

Way back in July of this year io9 reported on a surprise viewing of the first Lizard clip, describing the character they saw:

…a giant beast, green with oversized arms, and a proportionally smaller head and enormous yellow eyes. He doesn’t have a crocodile head — more of a cross between a lizard and a human’s, with a flat nose, but a grotesque curled mouth.

This instantly drew criticism, and created the unanimous viewpoint that this sounded much more like a Goomba from the 1993 film Super Mario Bros. Yet another observation was that the design was much more reminiscent of the Batman villain Killer Croc.

As you can see in the image above, The Lizard has always had a more pointed snout, and looked generally more like, well, a lizard. The torn lab coat is also a trademark for the character, as well as purple pants [apparently he and The Hulk buy their clothes at the same place].

Yesterday the website spiderman.ru released concept art of the film’s Lizard, creating an uproar in internet comic circles. This is not at all what fans were expecting (even after the aforementioned description of the clip), and debates were sparked between Lizard apologists and Lizard die-hards.

I began sifting through the comments sections of blogs, as I am wont to do, and found an interesting disputation between two commenters on this article, with one commenter, Kitradu, stressing that actors wearing masks “should be able to act THROUGH their limitations, physical or mental.” He referenced Willem Defoe’s performance as the Green Goblin in the first Spider-Man movie as being captivating in spite of the helmet he wore which fully obscured his face.

His opponent, storymark, began the debate with the comment:

One of the big complaints about the Raimi movies, the first in particular, was that all the masks prevented any emoting. And very few actors would be interested in a role where their actual performance is obscured.

Personally, I think an expressionless face is boring as hell.

As far as evidence goes, I tend to side with Kitradu. He references V from V for Vendetta as well as Darth Vader in the original Star Wars films as characters that held our attention without us ever seeing their faces (save for that one scene in Return of the Jedi). Emotion is more easily portrayed through a humanoid face, but what does the design change mean as far as the abilities of the actor and our viewing abilities as an audience?

To be fair to storymark, The Lizard is a very different character from either of the examples he provided. He’s far more bestial, and, from what I remember, not particularly articulate. The motion capture that Rhys Ifans is doing may not allow him the freedom Hugo Weaving had behind the Guy Fawkes mask. Though, to refute my own point, this is something Andy Serkis had no problem doing in King Kong, or Rise of the Planet of the Apes. To counter that point, both Kong and Caesar have faces more similar to humans than reptiles.

All debate aside, it should be noted, as a potential last point for this post, that the character design for The Lizard is extremely similar to his original design by Steve Ditko. But maybe there’s a reason his look has changed in the comics we read today.