Beasts of the Southern Wild, and Juicy and Delicious

Beasts of the Southern Wild won SFWA’s Ray Bradbury Award for Best Script in 2013, beating The Avengers, The Cabin in the Woods, The Hunger Games, John Carter and Looper. It was also nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture, but beaten by Argo. IMDB users rate it 95th on one ranking and 174th on the other, by far the lowest for any of the films I have been watching in this sequence.

It is about a little girl living on an island off the Mississippi delta, whose world is ending. Her mother is absent, her father is dying, the sea levels are rising to swamp her home, and ancient aurochs thawed from the melting glaciers are on their way.

I loved it. The other films that I have seen from that year are Argo and The Avengers, as noted above, and The Hobbit part 1The Dark Knight RisesLes Miserables, Brave, Wreck it Ralph and Total Recall. I actually think I liked Beasts of the Southern Wild most of all of them. Well done, SFWA voters.

None of the actors had been in previous Oscar, Hugo or Nebula/Bradbury winners, or Doctor Who for that matter; few have them had acted before. Indeed, the father is played by Dwight Henry who ran the bakery across the road from the studio and was co-opted by the producers. They made a wise choice. They made an even wiser choice with Quvenzhané Wallis, the youngest ever nominee for an acting Oscar, who is totally believable as Hushpuppy. I had seen her later performance as Annie, so was not completely surprised.

It’s a film with a lot to say about poverty, family, community, the environment and the end of the world. It’s beautifully filmed and the cast, few of whom had much experience, are very strong just being themselves. I’m not going to go on at great length – neither does the film, at only 93 minutes. You should just go and watch it if you haven’t already. I’m putting it tenth overall in my list of Hugo/Nebula/Bradbury winners, just below Galaxy Quest and above Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

It’s based loosedly on a play, Juicy and Delicious, by Lucy Alibar who then co-wrote the screenplay with Benh Zeitlin. The third of the many short scenes, in its entirety, is:


Hushpuppy at school.

A bunch of scrappy kids who are bottom of the food chain.

MISS BATHSHEBA stands before a picture of an AUROCHS.

We hear the sound of ice cracking—a glacier coming loose and falling into the sea.


Welcome to Miss Bathsheba’s Finishing School!

Welcome to the End of the World.

A lemon hits the window. Then several more.


Don’t pay attention to that. Pay attention to me.

Lesson One: Aurochs. Long, long ago, when we all lived in caves, the world was swarming with aurochs. Aurochs were big and hungry and ate babies.

For an aurochs, the perfect breakfast was a sweet, juicy little cave baby. They would gobble cave babies down right in front of their cave parents. And the cavemen couldn’t do nothing about it, because they were too poor, too stupid, too small. To defy the aurochs would mean a long, painful death.

But even cavemen love their children, in their own, stupid, caveman way; and in their own, stupid, caveman way, they were going to do something about it. The cavemen took whatever weapons they could find—numchucks, or blowtorches, or just their teeth. They fell upon the aurochs, screaming, “Toro! Toro! Toro!”

Blood, and eyeballs, and intestines flew everywhere! And when the war was over, most of the cavemen lay dead. But all of the aurochs lay deader.

And now, two million years later, here y’all are. Proof that someone was taking care of you before they even knew you.

Because they loved you with their whole, huge, breaking, stupid little hearts, even way back then.

(The sound of ice cracking. Outside, grits fall from the sky. It’s kind of scary.)


Don’t pay attention to that. Pay attention to me.

The universe is coming unrendered.

Things are dying ain’t supposed to die.

The fabric of the universe is coming all undone.

Don’t be scairt. Miss Bathsheba’s gonna teach y’all how to live through it.

I think this would be unstageable. Flying lemons aren’t the half of it. Also it’s very different from the film – Hushpuppy is a boy, and he and his father live in Georgia and (I think) are coded as white. It’s been turned into a thing of wonder in the cinematic process – a rare example where the film is infinitely better than the material it is based on (cf. Casablanca, also based on an unperformed stage play). But if you are curious you can get it here.

Next up are 12 Years a Slave, which features some of the same cast, and Gravity.

Stardust: film and novel

Stardust won the 2008 Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form, beating the first season of Heroes, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Enchanted and The Golden Compass. It was way ahead at nominations stage and while it had a closer run on the final ballot, it was ahead on every count. I have seen none of the other finalists; from the long list, I have seen the Zemeckis Beowulf and Vadim Jean’s Hogfather, and would confidently put Stardust way above both.

It rates 6th on one IMDB ranking but only 28th on the other. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End and Transformers are both ranked ahead of it by IMDB users but were way down the Hugo ballot. No Country for Old Men won that year’s Oscar.

Lots and lots of crossovers with Doctor Who and with previous Oscar and Hugo winners. The one actor who ticks all three boxes is however invisible here: Ian McKellen is the narrator, having previously been Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings films; he would go on to be the voice of the Great Intelligence in the 2012 Eleventh Doctor story, The Snowmen.

Here after appearing in two Oscar winners is Peter O’Toole as the dying King, having previously been the tutor of The Last Emperor in 1987 and Lawrence of Arabia in 1962.

The bishop is played by Struan Rodger, who had been the voice of the Face of Boe in the Tenth Doctor stories Gridlock (2006) and New Earth (2007), went on to be the voice of Kasaavin in the Thirteenth Doctor story Spyfall (2020) and appeared on screen as Ashildr’s butler Clayton in the Twelfth Doctor story The Woman Who Lived (2015); but many years before was also Sandy McGrath in Chariots of Fire.

Rupert Everett, who plays Secundus, the first prince to be bumped off, was Marlowe in Shakespeare in Love.

David Walliams, who is Quintus, another dead prince, here, played the cringing alien Gibbis in the Eleventh Doctor story The God Complex.

Mark Williams is the man-who-is-really-a-goat here, was in both Shakespeare in Love as Nol and in several Eleventh Doctor stories as Rory’s father.

Spencer Wilding, one of the pirates, has played several roles in Doctor Who but is heavily masked in all of them.

Last but definitely not least, Robert de Niro is Captain Shakespeare here; we have previously seen him in two other Oscar winners, Mike in The Deer Hunter and the young Don in The Godfather II.

For once, I had actually seen this in the cinema when it first came out. It is great fun, even if all of the speaking characters are white and almost all of them are slim and beautiful. Claire Danes and Michelle Pfeiffer do convincing English accents. The cinematography is lovely, the acting spot-on, and the script sufficiently funny that we almost accept the skeeviness of much of the plot – that our hero forcibly abducts our heroine in order to trade her, as property, to buy his way into a relationship with the woman he thinks he wants; and how come Una can’t rule Stormhold in her own right as the only surviving child of the old King?

Robert de Niro completely steals the show as the cross-dressing pirate airship captain, making us wonder why we care about these young folks, just about managing to rise above the stereotypes. I really enjoyed watching it again.

The second paragraph of the third chapter of the original novel is:

The eighty-first Lord of Stormhold lay dying in his chamber, which was carved from the highest peak like a hole in a rotten tooth. There is still death in the lands beyond the fields we know.

When I first read it in 2007, I wrote:

A very enjoyable fairy tale by Gaiman. As ever I find myself spotting similarities with Sandman (in this case, the supernatural siblings, and the half-human heir), but I felt he had rung the changes here rather effectively, and the story combines lovely incidental detail with a good sound (if traditional) plot. Great fun.

I had forgotten just how different it is from the film. It’s darker and sexier, as you would expect from Gaiman; the fallen star breaks her leg as she lands at the start of the story, and is disabled for the rest of the book; there are many more diversionary adventures and no big fight scenes; the pirates play a much smaller role; and of course it feels more English than you get from the Scottish and Icelandic filming. I still enjoyed it though. You can get it here.

Next up is WALL-E, followed by Slumdog Millionaire.