Check this out: Bambi is 70 minutes long, has only one clearly-defined act break, and has a protagonist who is not only passive, but who wants nothing definable or concrete. It has no visible antagonist and absolutely, positively, not the slightest rumor of a plot. It breaks every rule regarding what a compelling cinematic narrative is supposed to be.
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I saw this movie because there was a big contest to improve the Netflix recommendation system, and Napoleon Dynamite was one of the big challenges-- there didn't seem to be any co-relation between what other movies people liked and whether they'd like Napoleon Dynamite.
I've only watched it once, and I ended up liking it a lot, but it's a little surprising that it got a mainstream release (I think) and is reasonably popular.
The beginning is slow, and the main character is, to put it mildly, unprepossessing. He's inert, rude, and keeps making up obvious uninteresting lies about how cool he is. I'm watching this thing proceed from dullness to not quite funny absurdity and back again and wondering why I bother.
Eventually, Napoleon Dynamite sets out to help a friend become class president, and gradually becomes a more capable person and quits making up stories about how cool he is.
I'd say that a lot of what both this movie and Bambi have in common is that they're more about normal maturation than they are about choosing to do the right thing. It's important to make choices, but the process of getting to the point where it's possible to make them is worthy of respect and notice, and it's possible to make an accessible movie about it if you're smart enough.
This is classic science fiction, from well before the field was hit by the New Wave (the experimental narrative techniques and naturalistic take on the world from the 1920s which were introduced to science fiction in the 60s and 70s). It's presented as a normal story that anyone might like. No one makes any decisions that have any long-lasting effects, the human race is totally subordinated, and the ending is ambiguous. Damned if I know how Clarke got away with it.
(This is from memory, supplemented by Wikipedia.)
The human race has made a lot of progress towards a better world, and the aliens show up. They make the world more utopian, but shut off a few lines of research into psi.
And then I check Wikipedia, and discover how fallible my memory is-- the aliens actually head off WWIII. I must have let the beginning of the book slip as boring realistic plot stuff-- where's the science fiction? (Wikipedia notes that there are two first chapters now, one with the cold war and an alternative from 1990-- I've never seen the later version.)
And then aliens show up. They impose peace, prevent human space travel beyond the moon, and discourage research into psi.
They have horns, bat wings, and long tails.
All children below a certain age start showing telekinesis and telepathy (just with each other, I think), and they will join with the Overmind, the power that the aliens serve but can't join themselves. The children are sequestered from the adults for their own safety.
No more children are born.
Our devils look like those aliens because there was an echo back through time of what the aliens led to. (This is ethnocentric-- afaik, the standard European devil isn't worldwide, but golden age science fiction was like that.)
One man stows away on an alien spaceship, so he's present for the end of the earth, when the children transcend into the Overmind, and earth disappears in the process.
When I was a child reading the book for the first time, I thought it was a happy ending. I didn't like the human race much. Later, I became cynical about aliens, too, and am not sure about whether the human race reached a wonderful destiny or was eaten. IIRC, there's a bit where the aliens explain that if humans were permitted to study psi, they might become a telepathic cancer spreading through the stars. Maybe the human race is nasty enough that this is a reasonable fear, or maybe it's just the Overmind making sure it doesn't have competitors.
Anyone know if Clarke had anything to say about the ending?