You may recall that back in April of this year I wrote an article in which I gave three examples of New Pulp in today’s popular media. My hope was to show that the Pulp tradition never really went away and is alive and well. It’s just that the tropes of Pulp have been conscripted by Action Adventure, Horror, Science Fiction and many other genres. But there’s New Pulp aplenty all around. You just have to look for it:
CONGO: This is one of the most spectacular examples of New Pulp. And when I say spectacular I’m talking about the sheer audacity of the story which is primarily a jungle adventure with a diverse and eccentric band of explorers looking for The Lost City of Zinj and the diamond mines located there. It’s a strictly 1930’s plot successfully transplanted to the 1990’s and enhanced with modern day technology.
The movie is directed by Frank Marshall, who frequently collaborated with Steven Spielberg and written by John Patrick Shanley. It’s based on the novel by Michael Crichton but take it from me, the movie is way better than the novel. Which is the case with most of Crichton’s novels. Probably because Crichton really wasn’t interested in characterization. Crichton was more interested in the technology and the effects of science going wrong. But CONGO is the stuff of Saturday afternoon cliffhangers than most of his other stuff and that’s what Marshall and Shanley wisely decided to focus on. ‘Cause trust me, this movie moves. There’s enough fights, captures, escapes, close shaves with death and breathtaking action to give Lester Dent on his best day a run for his money.
That’s not to say they throw out the technology entirely. One of Our Heroes is Dr. Peter Elliott (Dylan Walsh) a primatologist who has taught a gorilla named Amy how to speak using sign language. Her sign language is translated into digital speech by means of a special backpack and glove. Peter decides to return her to Africa and is funded in this endeavor by Herkermer Homolka (Tim Curry) a shady character who has led unsuccessful expeditions to Zinj in the past and thinks that Amy may be the key to this one being successful.
Also joining the expedition is Dr. Karen Ross (Laura Linney) a communications expert who needs to get to the Congo to find her fiancé (Bruce Campbell) who was looking for a rare blue diamond that can only be found near volcanos. Guess where the Lost City of Zinj just happens to be in the neighborhood of?
Along with The Great White Hunter Munro Kelly (Ernie Hudson and yes, I do know he’s black. But that’s how he always introduces himself and it leads to one of the movie’s funniest lines later on) and his team, they set off to find the Lost City of Zinj which is guarded by killer gorillas.
There’s no adequate way I can tell you just how much sheer fun CONGO is. Just let me say that if you don’t want to see a movie where Laura Linney is blasting away with a laser at killer gorillas while fleeing from an exploding volcano, then this obviously isn’t the movie for you. But for those of you who want to check it out, it’s available for instant streaming on Netflix.
DIRK PITT: Described by his creator, Clive Cussler as a modern day homage to Doc Savage, I’ve always admired Cussler’s unashamed love of Classic Pulp and his enthusiasm for it. A good case could be made that Cussler was writing New Pulp long before the title was ever coined. He’s certainly the most successful at it and the character of Dirk Pitt is by now as well-known as Doc Savage and James Bond, another fictional grandfather of Pitt’s.
So far there have been 22 Dirk Pitt novels written with more to come, especially since Cussler’s son Dirk has co-written the last six with his father and most likely will eventually take over the series entirely.
When it comes to branding Dirk Pitt as New Pulp one has only to check out a few of the novels to see that he comes by that legitimately. Despite working as marine engineer for the National Underwater and Marine Agency, in every novel Pitt finds himself battling megalomaniacal supervillains with world conquering schemes that would wring gasps of envy from Fu Manchu or Ernst Stavro Blofeld. In the course of his adventures Pitt has recovered Captain Nemo’s ‘Nautilus’, raised the ‘Titanic’, discovers the existence of a secret base on the moon, finds Atlantis, stops a plot by a race of genetic supermen to destroy civilization and create a Nazi empire… need I go on?
Dirk Pitt hasn’t had much success outside of the novels. He’s been in two movies so far. He was played by Richard Jordan in 1980’s RAISE THE TITANIC! which you should avoid as if it were Ebola.
But 2005’s SAHARA with Matthew McConaughey as Pitt and Steve Zahn as his sidekick Al Giordino is way better and even though Cussler was very unhappy with the movie I found it a lot of fun. Only thing I can complain about it is that McConaughey and Penelope Cruz have zero chemistry together on screen.
THE SIMPSONS Episode #150: “RAGING ABE SIMPSON AND HIS GRUMBLING GRANDSON IN ‘THE CURSE OF THE FLYING HELLFISH’”
Written by Jonathan Collier and directed by Jeffrey Lynch this is not only an hilarious SIMPSONS episode but an outstanding pulp action adventure story as well. Don’t believe me? When was the last time you saw an episode of an animated show where the plot hinged on Nazi art treasures and a tontine?
We find out in this episode that Abraham J. Simpson was the commanding officer of “The Flying Hellfish”, a gung-ho infantry squad in WWII whose members included the fathers of Chief Clancy Wiggum, Seymour Skinner and Barney Gumble. The laziest and most cowardly member of the squad is Corporal Montgomery Burns.
During the final days of WWII, The Flying Hellfish take a German castle and discover it’s full of priceless artwork. Through quick talking, Burns convinces the others to enter into a tontine. Upon the death of the others, the treasure, now called The Hellfish Bonanza goes to the last survivor.
Burns and Abe Simpson are the last two survivors and Burns hires Fernando Vidal, the world’s most devious assassin to kill Abe. Naturally pissed off by this, Abe, with the help of his grandson Bartholomew J. Simpson determines to go get the Hellfire Bonanza before Burns gets his hands on it.
From start to finish this is a delightful episode that plays out like a miniature summer action movie. And it’s downright touching how Bart and Abe bond together while on this wild treasure hunt and see Bart gain a new found respect for his grandfather who he had previously only thought to be a nutty old coot.
That’s three more examples of New Pulp for you and I hope you enjoyed them. If any more occur to me, you’ll be the first to know. Peace!