The Bad Movie Report

Click here for the super soaker
What Have We Done To Each Other?
Teleport City gave
And You Call Yourself A Scientist!
America 3000
Stomp Tokyo gave
The Bad Movie Report gave
The Video Dead
B-Notes gave
Cold Fusion Video Reviews
The Apple gave
Jabootu's Bad Movie Dimension
Prayer of the Rollerboys
And You Call Yourself A Scientist! gave
Opposable Thumb Films
Opposable Thumb Films gave
Stomp Tokyo
Monster Mash - The Movie
Cold Fusion Video Reviews gave
Teleport City
Bad Magic

Jonathan Livingston Seagull.  The bastard.

Own It!

It has long been stated that the Road to Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions. I think it's also possible to amend that to "The Road to Hell Is Paved With Good Ideas". Or at least ideas that seemed good at the time.

The concept for this B-Masters Roundtable has been kicking around, off and on, for some time. Generally, the idea of each of us choosing a fellow B-Master's review film was greeted with derisive hooting reminiscent of the crowd scenes in Planet of the Apes, and the idea would get thrown in the kitchen junk drawer (next to those batteries of dubious worth and that power adapter to god-knows-what), while we all went on to review movies featuring killer sock puppets, or somesuch. Well, it came up again, and since the closest runner-up was "The Films of Kitten Nativadad", we finally went with the Secret Santa concept.

Oh, I am lying of course, because I am a naughty monkey. There were protests, and equal cries of "C'mon, it'll be fun!", and the usual abstentions. There was at least one choked cry of "Will no one think of the readers??!!!" which was followed by a shouted "Who cares what the man-animals think? Let's do it!" I blush to admit that was probably me, and my mood was largely due to my home office looking like the last scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, all my possessions packed for weeks, and my being forced to subsist on a diet of badly-transferred kung fu films.

It was a terrible thing to behold, the unholy glee with which my fellow critics unloaded the hurtful films that had been festering in their archives for so many years. To my eternal shame, I assisted Chris Holland in pawing through the inventory of a used video store for a copy of Nukie. Well, forget the shame part, I was giggling like a schoolgirl with a copy of N'Sync Confessions. Being the saintly fellow that I am, I awarded Andrew a movie which did not harm me physically, but had merely pissed me off - The Video Dead - but my largesse was not duplicated by my peers. Witness the movie picked for me by Ken Begg, doubtless in retaliation for my expose of The Unseemly Graft Incident At NOWFF XI.

Somehow I knew I would get Ken in the draw; his endurance levels are legendary (Sweet November, for God's sake!) and he seems absolutely obsessed with discovering my breaking point. This started with his offhanded mention, back when we were planning the Bangs 'n' Whimpers Roundtable, that one of us "should review Doomsday Machine," and like Susan Strasberg in Psych-Out, I went "Sure, why not?" and found myself in Cinema Hell. Though I blame him by association for B-Fest's infliction of Jungle Hell upon my soft, unprotected psyche's underbelly, I think he is bitter because he was not truly responsible for the experience that turned me into a catatonic wreck.

So when I found out that Ken was my Secret Santa, I said to my wife, "You know, I keep hearing seagulls cry, punctuated with Neil Diamond music." Within the hour, the message hit my In Box: It was time for me to break out that copy of Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

Yes, I had long ago bought the bullet that was about to be loaded in the gun pointed at my head. It was hard to resist. Going through the inventory at an out-of -the-way BlockWood Video, I found it in a black library case - no cover art - just a sticker stating "Jonathan Livingston Seagull - $5.99". But it was the other stickers on the shrink wrapping that told the tale: "$3.99" "$2.99" and finally "$1.99". I theorized that if I waited another week, there would be one more sticker, "Please - We'll Pay You" - but plopped down the two bucks anyway and slid it into The Box, wherein resides Upcoming Reviews.

Finally, it was time to tear away the cellophane and see what two bucks will buy ya these days.

Ken, I have to say I'm sorry - it hurt me, but not in the way you intended. Perhaps it is the way I hardened myself by watching the supremely un-entertaining Pink Lady and Jeff over and over. Better luck next time (and put down that copy of The Lonely Lady - I have a cane, and I'm not afraid to use it).

Jonathan Livingston Seagull is, of course, based on the best-selling book by Richard D. Bach. I can't call it a novel, or even a novella, it's more like an extended short story. I read the dang thing back in the 70s, when Congress passed a law requiring it. Not terrible, but very indicative of the early 70s, if you catch my drift. Author D. Bach reportedly hated the movie. Why should he be different from anybody else?

Let's start with some very nice nature nature photography (the helicopter shots by MacGillivray/Freeman get their own credit, and they deserve it) - backed by Neil Diamond music. Now, I will admit to liking Diamond's music, but there is also a sameness about it; all throughout this movie I will expect him to burst into "They're comin' to America!!!"

RANDOM ACT OF VIOLENCE AGAINST A GULL!The pretty pictures of surf and beachfront will continue for a while - in fact, I glance at the time counter on my VCR and note that we are nearly five minutes into the flick, and there is not a seagull in sight. Ah! Silly me! There are some, flying around a fishing boat. And as the fishermen toss the useless heads and tails of the day's catch into the water, the gulls descend and proceed to fight over the food, providing us with some footage of bloodied gull heads. I'm relatively sure there's some sort of message there...

There's one gull who's not interested in fighting over chum, he's much more interested in flying, so this must be our hero, Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Another clue is that while he flies through more stirring nature photography, Neil bursts into song. And, just to confirm this, after the song Jonathan Livingston Seagull begins to speak to us in the whispered voice of James Franciscus: "Maybe gulls can't fly faster than 62 miles an hour... but wouldn't it be great if we could?"

Jonathan Livingston Seagull, you see, is obsessed with flying farther and faster than any gull; this is usually accomplished by diving from a great height and smacking into the ocean, a practice which, of course, causes his parents to take him aside and worriedly tell him this will come to no good (in the voices of Richard Crenna and Dorothy MacGuire).

Oooooh, Jonathan Livingston Seagull is a nonconformist, as were all our heroes in the 60s and 70s. Well, actually our heroes still tend to be nonconformists, but that's a digression for another time. A better digression for this time is not so much the fact that seagulls can talk, but that they are conceptually aware of their air speed. And they use the English system of measurement.

Oh, back to Mom and Dad worrying. Jonathan Livingston Seagull should fly where The Flock flies, and how The Flock flies, not venture into forbidden territories and experiment with forbidden knowledge. Wait, I'm beginning to experience Bad Movie Blur here - fortunately the characters here are all birds, so there's never any doubt what movie I'm actually watching. But this is the same setup for Teenage Caveman or Battlefield Earth... which is fine, because that means that eventually giant lizards or John Travolta wearing stilts and bad makeup will arrive and liven up the proceedings.

Our hero.  The bastard.I wish.

Wait... doesn't this mean that Jonathan Livingston Seagull has a Spunky Girlfriend hiding somewhere? And where is the Lawgiver?

Nuts, back to this movie.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull promises to be good, and joins the rest of The Flock at a landfill, where the gulls fight over trash and we see more bloodied bird heads. All in all, this reminds me of the trading pit scene in Trading Places, so by golly I'll bet there's symbolism here too. Jonathan Livingston Seagull remains aloof from all the carnage, and flies off for more unsanctioned test flying.

Flying so high his wings can no longer grasp the air, he divebombs into the ocean and nearly kills himself. Floating on a bit of flotsam, the half-dead Jonathan Livingston Seagull realizes there may be something to this fighting-over-fishheads thing, and swears to be a normal gull from now on. The end.

Like hell. Jonathan Livingston Seagull realizes that his destiny is not to die on this bit of wood, but to do.... something else. He gathers his strength and flies off in slow motion, as Neil Diamond ululates on the soundtrack. That's actually a pretty effective moment - okay, I admit this movie is going to be mawkish, but I can handle mawk. Bring on the mawk, movie! Show me what you've got!

By this time, the sun has gone down, and Jonathan Livingston Seagull's internal monologue informs us that gulls don't fly at night because, to quote some sort of gull mantra, "We'd have to have an owl's eyes, charts for brains, a falcon's short wings...." Bingo! A falcon's short wings! Interior monologue, I could kiss you!

Diving "by wingtips only", Jonathan Livingston Seagull reaches speeds of 200 mph and more, and successfully pulls out of his dive. Proving that seagulls also understand the scientific method, he does it again. Huzzah!

There, at 14 minutes by my VCR counter, a black frame and music swells. The movie's over! That wasn't so bad.

Dammit.Crap. The camera was behind a rock and is craning up to catch Jonathan Livingston Seagull in the sunrise. Back to the grind...

Which is where the pain actually started; my VCR literally refused to play the movie any further. I know I've joked about this before, but this time it's the truth. I realized that the squeaking sound I heard was not from the seagulls in the background, but from the tape - I had indeed bought a tape from the bronze era of video, and it was showing its advanced age. I took it up to the master bedroom, where I had set up a VCR so my wife can watch her videotapes of Friends and Survivor.... (pause for uncontrollable shudder)... and slapped it in. This is an older, more brutish model, not at all like the more modern and *ahem* sensitive JVC downstairs.

So Jonathan decides to exhibit his newfound flying chops to the assembled Flock, and zooms down on the landfill. This has the same effect as sending anything hurtling at 200 mph toward a flock of seagulls* - they all take off and turn into the feathered equivalent of a torchbearing mob. Jonathan Livingston Seagull finds himself madly correcting his flight to avoid hitting anybody.

Which leads to a gathering of the flock and - hey! It's the Lawgiver! He intones that Jonathan Livingston Seagull has violated The Way, and for his reckless flying he is now.... AN OUTCAST!!!! Jonathan Livingston Seagull's parents spend time wondering "Why, Jonathan, Why?" I spend time wondering why all seagulls seem to whisper, except for the Lawgiver, who gets to bellow his lines like Hans Conreid after too many schnapps. Just another mystery of the animal kingdom, I guess.

Accepting his fate, Jonathan Livingston Seagull flies off. And the second VCR gives up.

One good thing about working in the video field for a while: you know people who know things. After having a friend kindly transfer the tape from my ancient relic to a new housing, I returned to the JVC, eager to get the rest of this out of the way. I mean, we're already forty minutes into this, surely the halfway mark (not quite... but close enough to give me false hope).

Yeah!  Yeah!  Get 'im!  Kick 'im inna head!So Jonathan Livingston Seagull has flown away, only to encounter a hawk, who proclaims, "My sky! Go away! My sky!" and attacks Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Hmmm. A hawk. Attacking our nonconformist hero. Jinkies, I'll bet there's more symbolism there!

Jonathan Livingston Seagull continues on his peripatetic way, vowing to fly where no gull has gone before, which is the cue for more Neil Diamond music and more nature photography. Jonathan Livingston Seagull takes a bath in a mountain stream - that eats up some Jonathan Livingston Seagull time. More helicopter shots, in wooded areas, then more beaches.. Jonathan Livingston Seagull watches a colt suckle at its mother.

This is probably where Ken thought I would start clawing at my eyes - Jungle Hell, after all, nearly killed me with its cavalier use of stock footage of the noble elephant in its glorious natural black-and-white habitat. But this footage is hardly stock, and whatever gland is in charge of dealing with mawk hasn't overloaded yet. At the very least, I have outlasted my VCR, which once again spat out the tape. It's possible that it considered that last scene to be animal porn of some sort, but it is much more likely that putting the tape in a new housing simply didn't help that much. (Ken has also hypothesized that OSHA at some point rammed through legislation causing all video cassettes of Jonathan Livingston Seagull to be made unplayable, as a means of protecting the public).

So that's where I am now; I am to the point of watching five minutes of movie, taking the tape out and slamming it against a table a few times to hopefully loosen it up - hey, it worked for audio cassettes - and watch five minutes more. This is perhaps most fitting, as it seems that Ken writes his reviews as he actually watches the movies. Most appropriate that I should be forced into the same method. It also means that I may not have the full review up by deadline, making this entry prone to live updates....

More bulletins as they occur.


Okay, so the colt-and-mare subplot went nowhere (looks like only seagulls can talk). So Jonathan Livingston Seagull flies some more, into the desert, where he dies of thirst. Just kidding (though hope springs eternal). Then he shelters in a pine tree from the rain, flies over snow-capped mountains, and into a winter forest. Now, I will admit that seeing footage of a seagull padding through a snowy forest is novel, but it is beginning to be discomfiting how often this flick is making me think of other movies. Teenage Caveman and Battlefield Earth, then Lawrence of Arabia, and frankly this crunching through snow in a beautiful forest is causing me to flash on images of Peter Tork in the Monkees' Head (remind me to review that some day). All this is indicative, I am sure, of my deep-seated wish to be watching something else.

This is either the end of "Brainstorm" or the frickin' middle of 'Johnathan Livingston Seagull'Which is a bit odd, since this hasn't been such a bad movie.

Well, while Jonathan Livingston Seagull sleeps in the winter wonderland, he has a dream, and my Head wishes come true, as it is a psychedelic dream, in which brightly colored seagulls welcome him to his new flock. Awakening, he flies to his new home, only to find it deserted. Until another gull flies in, Marie (voice of Juliet Mills); ah, this must be the Spunky Girlfriend, at last.

I'm sure this is where the pain kicks in for most people, as Marie talks about how Jonathan Livingston Seagull is "adjusting very well to your new body" and "adapting to the air here", all of which gives rise to a suspicion that Jonathan Livingston Seagull did freeze to death in those woods, and is now in Heaven. Talk about fulfilling an audience's wishes.... somehow I'm not finding myself wracked with guilt over that.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull sees more psychedelic birds, and Marie tells him it is time to meet the Elder. Jonathan Livingston Seagull, having a poor track record with elders, isn't very excited about the prospect, until he sees a gull turning barrel rolls in the surf, and learns that is the elder.

The elder's name is Chang (Philip Ahn), and of course he must have an Asiatic name, as he is about to start dispensin' Zen wisdom in bulk quantities. Jonathan Livingston Seagull tells him that he has learned to fly at 276 MPH ("level!") but wants and feels that there is more. Chang tells him that "This isn't Heaven." (Damn! Cheated again!) "Heaven is not a place - Heaven is Perfection."

He assures Jonathan Livingston Seagull that he can learn to fly faster, but how fast? 1000 miles per hour is still a limit. The speed of light is still a limit. "Perfect speed," he assures Jonathan Livingston Seagull, "is being there." And then he vanishes. And then reappears, festooned with colorful stickers from all the places he's visited in the wink of an eye.

GULLS....IN....SPAAAAAAAAACE!!!!Just kidding about the stickers. But Jonathan Livingston Seagull is convinced that this is The Biz, and hunkers down at the shoreline to meditate until he's able to do that, too Eventually he discovers that willfullness don't amount to a stack of beans when it comes to Zen enlightenment. Chang finally pops up and gets Jonathan Livingston Seagull to come up with the final piece of the puzzle himself, and then accompanies him on the maiden journey. The first stop? A cave, because Jonathan subconciously wanted to be walled off from the world to contemplate matters. Next stop: the stars, as Chang and Jonathan Livingston Seagull fly across a nebula. Chang tells Jonathan Livingston Seagull to think of "love", and they find themselves at the landfill. This confuses Jonathan Livingston Seagull, because he feels he has no love for his old flock. Upon Chang's command to think of "love, and where you belong", Jonathan Livingston Seagull finds himself teleported to Marie's side. Awwwwww......

This is going to be where the picture loses a lot of viewers. If you're not a flower child or have a leaning toward Zen, Chang's homilies will prove abstruse and irritating. And if you are in those categories, they will seem basic and overly-simplified.

Chang tells Jonathan Livingston Seagull that, when the time is right, he will return to his flock and teach them this new way of flying - and also tells him to "keep working on love." Then the ancient Chinese bird flies off to wander the West, righting wrongs and fighting evil. You know, like Kane in Kung Fu. Jonathan Livingston Seagull takes his leave of Marie to seek how to help his flock, and if there is one basic lesson that should be taken away from this movie, it is in what Marie calls to him as he flies away: "I love who you are, Jonathan." Not for what he is striving to do, but what he is - that is love.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull returns to his flock, preaching the New Way, and is summarily nailed to a cross. The end.

Not really, but I didn't want you thinking I was going soft on you.

What does follow is a replay of Jonathan Livingston Seagull's banishment, with the Lawgiver bassifying "You are AN OUTCAAAAAST!" and Jonathan Livingston Seagull cursing the name of the Flock and flying off. Hey! Jonathan Livingston Seagull has succumbed to the Dark Side of the Force! Cool! Strangle the Lawgiver at long distance, or something!

Aaaaah, crap, that wasn't Jonathan Livingston Seagull, that was Fletcher Seagull (I have finally found somebody harder to tell apart than the Baldwins...), and Jonathan Livingston Seagull finds him and proceeds to teach him the New Way. Fletcher proves an apt pupil (he may actually turn psychedelic at one point, but this tape is so hinky I ain't rewinding to find out), and finally Jonathan Livingston Seagull tells him, "It is time to return to the Flock. We have a gift for them."

My VCR had a gift for me, too. It spit out the tape. Time for more brutalizing the cassette in hopes of finishing this - I can't be that far from the end.

Can I?

Still Later.

Um. Mr. Hitchcock?  Mr. Hitchcock???Are you familiar with the phrase Comedy Voodoo? I first became aware of it way back when The Bionic Woman was still airing, and one episode featured a boy with bionic limbs. I joked that doubtless a bionic dog was next, and lo, there it was, next season: the dog with the bionic jaw. Comedy Voodoo is an awesome power not to be trifled with, and I still thank the Gods of Entertainment that I kept the crack about the bionic hamster to myself.

Which is a sidewise way of saying that when Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Fletcher try to bring The Word to the Flock, those who can hear our hero over the Lawgivers shrieks of "Ignore him! He's an outcast!" doubt they can do the things Jonathan Livingston Seagull can do, because he is "...special, and gifted, and divine."

Jonathan Livingston Seagull, of course, poo-poos that idea, then immediately sabotages his own poo-pooing by healing a crippled young gull and allowing him to fly (mawk gland....clogging!!! Everything...getting....dark....).

Oh, wait, it gets better.

Fletcher determines to prove to the Flock that this New Way of Flying is possible for even normal gulls to master - this by divebombing them at 200 MPH. Keeping in mind that this is how Jonathan Livingston Seagull got in trouble, Fletcher announces his intention to the Flock, and has quite a crowd to witness his feat. All this scene really needs is a seagull wearing one of those paper hats circulating through the crowd hawking beer and fishheads.

Well, the best laid plans of mice, men, seagulls, and all that. A baby gull strays into Fletcher's path, and our evangelical egret, veering to avoid the sprat, splats into a cliff wall with a crunching sound, and his broken body plummets to the ground in slow motion (prompting one last Battlefield Earth flashback. John Travolta has, however forsaken me, as have the giant lizards).

After an odd interlude in which the surprised Fletcher finds himself talking to Jonathan Livingston Seagull ("You're getting ahead of yourself. We don't fly through solid rock until later."), who assures the wall-whacking gull that they're just on another plane of being, and he can return to his flock if he so chooses. Fletcher realizes he has more to teach, and returns to the meat dream that is his body....

Insert your own Trinity joke here.  I'am already due for ice-skating in Hell.So Jonathan Livingston Seagull has just resurrected the dead. In front of witnesses. Not that he's special, and gifted, and divine or anything.

The Lawgiver, scrambling through his Handbook of Lawgiver Cliches, starts screeching, "He is a devil! Kill him!" and as the Flock rises up, that whole cross-nailing thing is starting to look like a certainty (the many scenes of gulls flying with mob noises on the soundtrack is pretty surreal). Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Fletcher respond by simply teleporting away.

So Jesus... sorry, Jonathan Livingston Seagull... tells Fletcher it is time for him to move on, that Fletcher knows all he knows, and now has his own followers among the Flock. Jonathan Livingston Seagull will now travel the West, righting wrongs and fighting evil, like Kane in.... wait, I've already done my Pulp Fiction riff for this review. Crap. Okay, he's heading back to be with that hot gull with the British accent, while Neil sings that song again. The end. Finally.

I really don't have much of a problem with Jonathan Livingston Seagull, except for its very existence. I suppose that it is a given that a book which spent a bazillion weeks on the Best Seller list would be made into a movie, but attempting to supply concrete imagery for a slim volume that is an allegory for the ascension of the human spirit is a daunting, if not impossible, task. I suppose director Hall Bartlett should be commended for trying, even succeeding, at times, but he can't overcome the book's final third.

I seem to recall some controversy over the Christ imagery in the book at the time of its publication; in the movie it simply provides one last hurdle that the average viewer (and myself, the extraordinarily above-average viewer) is not willing to muster the energy to leap over; Richard D. Bach and Hall Bartlett try to shift from Zen to Quantum Mechanics to Christianity to some sort of new age space/time claptrap that is about as well-defined as a Slurpee. I normally do not hesitate to drag on my metaphysical mucklucks and slog through thorny questions about Consciousness and Being, but for stuff like this you need the spiritual version of a bio-containment suit. The thousand monkeys at typewriters gave up on the story and started flinging poop at the walls, and this is what stuck.

Sorry, but I really hate bad metaphysics. And it's worse that the metaphysics on display here are not actually bad, just the easy way out, dumped in a defectiveAnd he's a frickin' voyeur, too. blender that can't quite make it to "puree". Sometimes, you can throw all the leftovers in your refrigerator into a pot and come up with a yummy stew; other times, it is an inedible, albeit interesting mess. The ultimate failure of Jonathan Livingston Seagull is that in its allegory, it also attempts to be a Unified Field Theory, a Rosetta Stone of most world religions - but it's frickin' birds, for Pete's sake. What seems like poetry on the printed page can be made risible by the camera's unblinking eye.

Still- largely thanks to the excellent, frequent beautiful photography of California's Monterey, I don't hate this movie as much as I apparently should. But it's likely that I feel that way because I was forced to watch it in small, easy-to-chew pieces. Face it, Ken, Jabootu decided to cut me some slack. And all it cost me was two bucks, two VCRs, and likely, my very soul. Knowing my luck, God actually is a big seagull.


What a long, strange trip it was.

- November 17, 2001