This week’s selections (the major ones, anyway) were brought to us by Phong.  We began with an animated short entitled The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello, an incredibly stylish film directed by Anthony Lucas.

In a world without sandwiches...

I mean, look at that detail!

Anyway, Jasper Morello is a navigator who lives in a Steampunk fantasy world where airships float, fish swim, and islands lay suspended in the air.  It’s a disconcerting yet fascinating place where you wonder exactly why people fall to oblivion (which they do, if given the opportunity) when just about everything else floats. Buoyancy has some strange rules here.  Reminds me of a joke.  Q: What kind of Morello doesn’t float?  A: JASPER Morello!

OK, focus.

Jasper is an airship navigator who has previously made a one-degree error which caused the death of a shipmate.  He is somewhat reluctantly called away from his hometown of Gothia (get it?  GET IT?!?) to act as navigator on a scientific mission.  He’s reluctant not only because of his previous fatal mistake, but because a plague is ravaging the city and he fears for the safety of his wife.

...and no Pepto-Bismol...

As you can see, the plague (or as it is scientifically called, “the plague”) is a brutal, burning disease which causes great suffering before claiming its victims.  Oddly, sailors rarely acquire the disease, and the expedition Jasper is charged to is host to a mad scientist in search of a cure.  Their ship is wrecked in a cloudborne collision with another larger abandoned ship, the crew loses their mechanical navigation device evacuating to the other ship (as their own damaged one mysteriously understands its peril and drops out of the float zone), and Jasper learns via communications that his wife has, indeed, contracted the plague.  He wishes to turn back, but the Captain is persuaded by the mad scientist to press on.

...one ship dares search for the floating Hostess Snowball.

One of the crew inexplicably contracts the plague, but they arrive at a mysterious island where they are attacked by a vicious carnivorous plant.  After killing it they barbecue it, and eating it cures the sick sailor, who had been on the verge of death.

A cure!

The mad scientist collects some seed samples and the ship heads for home.  On the way back, the seeds hatch, but the mad scientist finds there is only one way to keep the carnivorous plants alive – blood.  The crew begins disappearing one by one (I wonder why!) until only Morello is left, chained to the wheel by the mad scientist as the most useful member of the crew.  But, while navigating through some floating islands, Jasper makes another (deliberate) error and manages to knock the scientist off.  The film ends with Jasper, blood donor, nursing the carnivorous cure plant, hoping to make it home both alive and in time to find his wife before the disease claims her.

It’s an interesting ambiguous ending, but it appears that there may be three more episodes coming, which would make it long enough for a full-length film, though there’s no real information on when the other installments may be coming.  The first one was from 2005, so we may be waiting a long time for the full story.

In honor of the feature presentation, I whipped out an old Monty Python DVD to show the “mountaineering” sketch.

A mountaineer: two people skilled at climbing mountains.

It’s a one-gag skit.  The leader of a prospective expedition to Kilimanjaro has double vision.  Their goal, to find last year’s expedition, whose goal was to build a bridge between the two peaks of Kilimanjaro.  The double-visioned leader’s idea, apparently.

Still, it leads in reasonably well to this week’s feature film Touching the Void (directed by Kevin Macdonald), a documentary about a mountaineering expedition that was maybe a slightly worse idea than trying to build a bridge between the two peaks of Kilimanjaro.  Let’s put it this way – it’s a film about the two guys who have most unexpectedly let a Darwin Award slip though their hands.  This is the biggest upset since the Oilers blew a 35-3 lead in the second half of an AFC wild card game in 1992.  Except it happened before that, so maybe the Oilers were trying to emulate the Darwin Award failure of these guys.

In 1985, Joe Simpson and Simon Yates, itinerant mountaineers cruising around South America, decided that they were going to have a nice day or two climbing the unconquered west face of Peru’s 20,813 foot Siula Grande.  There’s a reason that the west face was unconquered.

What about this face says "climb me, idiot"? Because apparently something does.

So, armed with the usual equipment and leaving a third, itinerant stranger in base camp in the valley, Joe and Simon headed out to, well, meet their destiny.  Of course, from the very beginning the film features interview footage of both Joe and Simon talking us through the trip, so it’s clear that neither actually died along the way.  Which is a bit reassuring when you see stuff like this:

Dude, even in the world of Jasper Morello, people don't float. Keep that in mind.

Amazingly, the assault on the peak went relatively well.  They conquered the west face and everything.  Took a day and a half, I think, due to some bad weather.  One might think it took a day and a half because they were scaling up thousands of feet of vertical ice, but hey, maybe that’s just me.

Rope? We don't need no stinking rope!

But of course, you know that the descent went, shall we say, less than ideally.  Because otherwise, why would there be a movie?  As it turns out, Joe took a fall and completely shattered his knee.  3000 feet above base camp.  On that mountain you see up there.  Apparently a one-man rescue of that magnitude had never been attempted, but Simon, British to the bitter end, gamely decided to try.  It was that or leave Joe to die and make up a story that makes you look good.  But good on him, he tried.

It went pretty well for a while – they tied two 150 foot ropes together, Simon would dig in tight, lower Joe to the end of the ropes (with a tricky switch in the middle due to the knot holding the two ropes together), then Joe would dig in and wait for Simon to climb down to him.  And it would have worked, if it weren’t for that meddling overhang.  Unexpectedly, Simon sent Joe over a massive overhang, leaving him suspended out in space and giving him no chance to dig in anywhere.  There was air.  Joe couldn’t climb up, and Simon didn’t know what had happened, or if possibly Joe had even died, and eventually his grip on the situation (read: his grip on the side of the mountain) became pretty tenuous.  There wasn’t really anything to do but cut the rope.

So he cut it.

And Joe, busted leg and all, fell into a deep crevasse.  Owie!

Who'da thunk it? I think that's Jimmy Hoffa down there!

Simon, finally seeing what must have happened, assumed Joe was dead and made his way down in depression.

Joe, on the other hand, wasn’t quite dead yet.  He was faced with three options.  1) Climb up out of the crevasse.  But with a busted leg, could not do it.  2) Wait to die alone in the cold.  That left option 3) Go down and see what happens.  In the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Book of his life, Joe made the right call.  He reached the bottom of the crevasse before the end of his rope, and from there he was able to hobble his way until he found a way out that he could actually (painfully) climb up.

This left Joe dehydrated and crippled trying to make his way down the glacier on one leg in exasperating pain, only to inevitably come to a camp that would have been abandoned a few days before.  It’s about as harrowing as you would imagine it would be, especially the part where he got a Boney M song stuck in his head for hours and it just wouldn’t go away and he thought he’d have to die to it.

But, in a twist of fate, Simon and the other dude hadn’t left yet – it appears Simon was still in shock about the loss of his friend – so when Joe got within shouting range of the camp he was rescued the night before Simon was finally to pack it out.

And of course, his first reaction upon reaching camp was to be pissed off that Simon had symbolically burned his clothes.  Eh, fair enough.

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