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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Real Mermaid Problem

Let me tell you my pet peeve with mermaids and the movies. No matter what kind of production it is, big or small budget, bit player or star, Hollywood always makes the same mistake. Maybe it's just ignorance or a limited special effects budget. Probably a bit of both. So let me take the opportunity to enlighten you.

Mermaids don't have knees.

If anything, a mermaid's spine is closer to a dolphin's. It tapers into a tail with lots of vertebra. There's no joint that lets them tuck their knees in. If you asked a mermaid to lift her tail, it would curl up like a snake.

Right

But you know what, I would forgive Hollywood this, if they would make more mermaid movies. They're probably one of the best known mythological creatures. And they're prime cut for Hollywood -- sex appeal, artistic, a reputation that's both seductive and stained. But what do we get instead? Vampires by the barrelful. You've got a few black and white classics like Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid and Mermaids of Tiburon or YA fodder like Aquamarine.

Wrong

Many stories circumvent this by shapeshifting their mermaids to spend most of their time as humans. Splash, maybe the most well-known and well-loved live action mermaid movie, set the standard. I don't believe this is simply a matter of production budget though. Unless you include some kind of deus ex convenience, you are basically making a movie about a disabled person. And as close as we've gotten to a mainstream romance involving a girl in a wheelchair was "Notting Hill". Superman actually wasn't afraid to test this route with Lori Lemaris -- Superman's college sweetheart. She and Clark Kent met in college, and he even proposed marriage, but had to break up when she returned to Atlantis.

Right

It's a problem, especially in an adventure. Unless the hero is willing to carry her everywhere, it's going to be difficult for her to scale the craggy rock face of a mountain or wander through a mad scientist's castle. At least with any sense of dignity. She's not even going to make it across a field, unless her wheelchair is a 4x4 off-roader (which I'm not opposed to).

Wrong

I believe we're getting closer though. Glee and "My Gimpy Life" (free on YouTube) illustrate some of the difficulties of plotting around people who are less than mobile and less than average height. But that's part of the forbidden romance -- a mermaid isn't even suited to live in the same environment as a human, much less marry one. And thus, the need for a shapechange during the majority of the story.

Right

The movie industry is ready to bring sirens back to the cinema. They've been able to green-screen out body parts since Forrest Gump. Underwater filming can be replaced with CG and wire-work (lord knows there's enough flying people these days). Beowulf motion-captured actors and then created animation around their performance -- no need for cameras. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow was shot entirely in front of a green screen. The technology is there, and we're ready. If Peter Jackson can create a convincing fantasy world, why can't it be done underwater?

Wrong

Of course, all the movies I've mentioned above were very expensive, and not all of them were successful enough to continue the trends they tried to set. I've always believe that a strong story is crucial for any movie to rise above the middling limbo, lest it be rendered infamous like Godzilla. And to my recollection, I can't think of a really epic mermaid story. Perhaps that's another thing the world is ready for.

Right

As a final note, there were a few movies that got the curve right. You know what they were? Schlocky horror movies. Like She-Creature and Nymph. Ironic.
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