Monday, October 10, 2011

Getting There is Half the Fun

Turn left at the fork in the road....

I don't believe that.

One of the greatest joys in life is going on a road trip.  There is adventure built into the journey from the start, and by the end, everyone will have long-lasting memories/scars.

"Road movies" are popular in cinema because it creates a natural storyline with the opportunity to introduce whatever is needed to make things entertaining.  The main characters have a goal that can only be met after crossing a long distance.  Right away you have your ending, and the rest is just the fun ride.  Along the way, any number of things can happen.  Interesting locations, characters, and conflicts can show up in an episodic format, breaking the long film into easy to consume bites.  The best road movies stay true to their center, namely, the people on the trip.  The relationships they have with the other people in the vehicle will change, possibly for the better, possibly for the worse, but it will definitely leave a lasting impression.

The same is true of real life road trips.  They are not simple drives to the store.  They last hours, days even, and that is a long time to spend with the same group of people.  Tensions may rise and situations can become unbearable, which makes it healthy to stop every once and a while.  And the random places you end up along the way can be the most magical treasures you never dreamed of encountering.

The Muppet Movie is definitely a road movie as it follows Kermit's journey across America to reach California.  Early on, after Kermit meets Fozzie Bear, the two sing a song that captures the spirit of unbridled joy and potential that accompanies any good road trip.

Movin' right along!

Throughout the course of the song, they experience the ups and downs of travel.  Getting lost, driving in the wrong direction, meeting strange new people, encountering bad weather, and avoiding giant cutlery are among the many bumps one is bound to find on a cross-country journey.  But the pair remains upbeat and jovial as they drive towards their destination.

In addition to being a catchy song, there is a lot of technical artistry occurring to achieve these simple shots.  Two puppets driving a car?  Is this real life?  And no, they did not make a fake car.  This is an actual, drivable car that is actually being driven.  No cheesy green screen effects here.  Just some good-old fashioned Hollywood trickery known as "a midget in the trunk using a remote control and television."  And some of the times, the video feed would cut out, so the driver had to be told where to go through a vocal relay!  Danger is meaningless.

Just keep going straight!

Although this is a fabricated trip, we still get to see these two characters drive through picturesque country-sides in their beat-up old Studebaker.  But this is not just a road trip for them.  Jim Henson and Frank Oz are along for the ride, performing the duo lying flat on their backs the whole time.  These two were the quintessential best friends.  They understood each other completely and often paired up for many creative efforts.  Getting the chance to work on their first feature length movie together must have been a blast, and being able to hit the open road together is just the icing on the cake.  Eventually, other characters and performers will enter the film, but the beginning is just Jim and Frank, hanging out.

A road trip with your best friend is indescribable.  As much as you think you know a person, there is always the opportunity to get closer.  Traveling alone can be fine, I suppose.  With only one person to call all of the shots, the trip can go by smoothly and efficiently.  But without a friend there, the road can get lonely.  A friend provides conversations and entertainment, music and jokes.  But most of all, they bring variety and spontaneity.  They are the ones who make you take detours to prehistoric fossil exhibits.  They are the ones who stop to take pictures of beautiful coastlines, rock formations and rainbows.  They are the ones who get you up before dawn, just so you can watch the sunrise.

They are the ones who make the road trip worth it.

Without them, you would probably have missed out on meeting that interesting hitchhiker.

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