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Michele Dutcher


by Michele Dutcher

As the summer gets hotter, my friends and I tend to spend more time at the local tavern, chugging down cold ones.  The talk thrown over the bar this summer has been Summer Blockbusters – movies that are mostly action films.  And that got me thinking – where do these films actually have their roots?

For instance: where did World War Z actually begin?  Can we point a finger and say ‘this is where our love affair with zombies began’?  Before there were movies there was the written word, whether the media was clay (as in the 7th BC Epic of Gilgamesh) or lamb’s skin, or paper. Western culture seems to have been first exposed to zombies in literature via W.B. Seabrook’s book of 1929 The Magic Island.  This is the traditional Caribbean zombie that is slow and soulless and has been brought back to serve the living – specifically, to work for Joseph in the cane field.   It packs a moral:  if you do bad things during your life, you will end up like the soulless creatures that tend the fields.  These zombies are not contagious. They simply want to get back to their graves, and at the end, they try to dig their way back into their graves.  

Even earlier was H.P. Lovecraft’s Herbert West – Reanimator.  This was a series of articles published in serial format for a literary magazine in 1921, about Herbert West, a scientist, who robs graves to reanimate the dead – who turn out evil and ravenous.  This story echoes Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. However, the creature in Frankenstein was in many ways more intelligent than its creator – and the slow moving zombies from Dawn of the Dead, or the swarming ones from World War Z are not driven by reason, but rather by basic instinct.

My point is that somewhere along the line an author said to himself, “Hey, that’s a pretty good idea – I could write a story about it.”  First comes the inspiration, then the idea takes a definite form, then the story is put on paper, and finally the multi-million dollar summer blockbuster is put on the screen.

Another Summer Blockbuster that has been hotly debated at the local pub is the movie Man of Steel.  Whether you like the mix of Science Fiction and comic book action character, or prefer Superman to be just an action hero, one thing is certain: he got his start, his roots, when creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster put ink on paper. They wrote the initial comic for Action Comics (64 pages of action!) in 1938.

The Lone Ranger was originally a radio character, but Fran Striker wrote down the script that later led to the TV series and the movies.  Post script: the current Lone Ranger is a much better adaptation of the idea than people give it credit for.  Native American mysticism, the tension between the Europeans and the aboriginal Americans, and the dark back-story of Tonto all help to make the 2013 version an excellent, thoughtful, action-packed summer movie.  If you don’t agree, just meet me at the tavern and I’ll be happy to explain to you why you’re wrong.  

Beyond that, we’d like to invite you to sit back and read some stories especially selected for your entertainment and then ascertain whether said work is the fruition of earlier ideas, or perhaps exciting enough to be the seed, the root, of a brand new idea.  Perhaps one of our offerings might even be an idea new and thrilling enough to one day become the next big summer blockbuster movie.  

2013-08-26 08:52:29
micheledutcher - I found something about zombies over the weekend. Matthew 27:50-54 (yes!) And Jesus yielded up His spirit..and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints were raised; and coming out of the graves..they went into the holy city and appeared to many.

2013-08-24 07:59:01
micheledutcher - Hi Mark211 - thanks for your comments. Just an aside: I saw the orginal Star Wars movie 24 times in the theater. The last time was 2 PM and I was front row center, noone else in the place. It was like helping Hans Solo fly to victory. It was kinda odd later to find out Luke and Leah were brother and sister??? with them holding onto each other like that? Maybe that relationship was re-written later?

2013-08-18 05:10:39
mark211 - Hi Michele, I somehow missed this earlier but glad I caught it now (in a pub, incidentally, though the weather outside is perhaps somewhat more temperate) - thanks so much for this informative run-through of where the roots of blockbusters come from - the best questions are always those that you only afterwards think 'Oh My God, why did it never occur to me to ask that before myself???' (often followed by a Homer Simpsonesque slap of the forehead and accompanied by a dolorous 'Doh!'). Of course, now you've fired up some braincells, you got me to thinking about why it is so many blockbuster movies seem to feature somebody swinging over a dangerous obstacle on a long piece of rope. OK, so no zombies involved here, but it particularly struck me a few weeks back when they showed the very first Star Wars movie (is that part IV? I get confused by the numbering but the one with Mark Hamill in anyway). There's a scene where he grabs Princess Leiah and they swing across a 'canyon' in the middle of the Death Star. Like many folk, I wondered why the Death Star would have such a shaft in the first place but more than that, why the rope swing? I have no proof of this, but I very much like to imagine that this late 20th C. celluloid rope swing has its origins in the grimy backstreets of Pepsys's London - where probably the most exciting 'SFX' of the day was some heavily grease- painted actor swinging out over the groundlings to 'Oohs' and 'Aaahs' - probably rather improbably in some 17th C re-imagining of 'Hamlet'(!) Likewise, I went on a tour of 'Hidden' London a couple of years back, and have stood in the operating theatre where (allegedly at least) Mary Shelley saw a demonstration of electricity giving 'life' to cold dead corpses. Rather fittingly, it is in the very top of a high tower of a nunnery that had been converted into an annex of the Royal College of Surgeons. Well, anyway, excuse the length of my post but also I mean it as a compliment - interesting editorials tend to make me loquacious!

2013-08-14 07:09:24
Lugosi's "White Zombie & Tourneur's "I Walked With a Zombie" are some of the earliest (and best) movie zombie turns we've seen and certainly adhere to Seabrook's vision of the zombie. Vincent Price's "Last Man On Earth" is commonly considered the first "modern" zombie film (Though Matheson's "I Am Legend"--which it is based upon--painted them more as vampiric). But I must agree with Gordon in that Romero's "Night Of The Living Dead" was truly groundbreaking and seminal to our current defintion and fascination with all that is "zombie". Nicely written piece all around. I enjoyed it, Michelle.

2013-08-03 16:55:08
gordonrowlinson - It seems that hollywood has run out of superheros. I could tell that when they made a movie about the marginally popular Green Lantern. When I was a kid, I hated Green Lantern and I don't think I was alone. Now hollywood has turned to remake movies on the popular superheros-thus new movies on the recycled characters Superman and Spiderman.

2013-08-03 16:49:36
gordonrowlinson - I'm not a fan or expert of horror, but I always looked upon the low budget movie Night of the Living Dead as a ground breaking movie on zombies. It created teh popular theme of people trapped inside a house when zombies attack and try to claw thier way in.

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