Monday, November 28, 2011

Science Fiction Maps and Martians

Daffy-blogging, essay 13 of 15 blog entries on
Duck Dodgers in the 24 ½th Century

Part One, Directions to Planet X

The Mapquest directions:  "Starting from where we are, we go 33,600
turbo miles due up..."

"Then west in an astro-arc deviation to here..."

"... then following the great circle seven radiolubes south by

"... by astro-astrolab to here... here... then to here..."

"... and here..."

"... by thirteen point strato-cumulus bearing four million light-years...
and thus to our destination."

Part Two, My Favorite Martian

Marvin the Martian from his
introductory shot in
Haredevil Hare (1948).
I used to think Marvin the Martian was a parody of aliens in 1950s science fiction movies but I was wrong.  Marvin predates them.  Marvin came first.

A 1951 alien: Klaatu in
The Day the Earth
Stood Still
As I wrote in an earlier blog entry, the Chuck Jones Unit anticipated the Hollywood science fiction boom by two years when they made Haredevil Hare in 1948 (two years before George Pal released Destination Moon, Hollywood’s first modern-style science fiction hit).

In the old-style science fiction serials and pulp magazine stories, intelligent aliens were usually human.  For instance, Flash Gordon’s nemesis Ming the Merciless is your typical evil human mastermind who just happens to live on another planet.

Another 1951 alien from
The Thing (From
Another World)
Marvin the Martian has the build of one of Warner Bros. trademark short human villains but—except for the expressive eyes—his face is an otherworldly black void.  He has no mouth and only the barest suggestion of nostrils.  (Incidentally, he must have been the easiest character to animate since the animators never had to match a mouth to the dialogue!)

In his book Chuck Reducks, Chuck Jones suggests that the source of Marvin’s face was something very un-humanlike indeed.  He writes:  “Then, I figured, black ants are scary, so I put an ant-black face and a couple of angry eyes inside his helmet.”
The perfect roundness of Marvin’s head suggests an ant as well.

Approached realistically, this would be a radically creepy alien.  So that’s where all the light touches come in, allowing Jones to play up the comedy.  Marvin gets decked out with a scrub brush on his helmet and over-sized sneakers on his feet.  Above all, the large anime-sized eyes are able to vividly convey his most frequent mental activities—conniving and confusion.

K-9 as seen in Haredevil Hare.
In Haredevil Hare (1948) and The Hasty Hare (1952), Marvin travels with a pet alien dog/assistant called K-9.  But in Duck Dodgers the cast is kept to a minimum, dispensing with the presence of the cute but unnecessary K-9.

Perhaps Marvin can also be seen as a precursor of Star Trek’s iconic Mr. Spock in his comically unemotional responses to all setbacks.  While Marvin sometimes says that he is angry, his emotions remain under tight control when compared to characters like Daffy and Bugs.  The pragmatic Marvin simply goes back to work, diligently planning the destruction of Daffy or the Earth or anything else that he’s irritated by.  Putting aside his destructive tendencies, there really does seem to be something Vulcan-like in Marvin’s eminently practical approach to dealing with life’s unexpected obstacles.

Marvin the Martian and K-9 in Haredevil Hare.

Reference Sources
Chuck Amuck by Chuck Jones
Chuck Reducks by Chuck Jones
Hollywood Cartoons by Michael Barrier
Looney Tunes: The Ultimate Visual Guide by Jerry Beck
Warner Bros. Animation Art by Jerry Beck and Will Friedwald
7 Minutes by Norman M. Klein
That's All Folks by Steve Schneider
Stepping Into the Picture by Robert J. McKinnon
Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Volume One DVD set, Duck Dodgers commentary by Michael Barrier
Friends at the IMDb Classic Film message board including Rollo Treadway, Chloe Joe Fassbender, Illtdesq, and Fish Beauty
... and an occasional sneak glance at Wikipedia entries (but always double-checking everything!)

Watch Duck Dodgers...
Purchase Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Volume One DVD set at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
Rent Disc Two of Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Volume One DVD set at Netflix or other rental service.

© 2011 Lee Price

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