Scene 1, New Mexico desert
This scene is not my favorite. It’s hard to start a movie (or a novel for that matter). It’s hard to know where to begin in terms of introducing the story — the plot and the characters — in a way that makes viewers (or readers) want to keep going. And I recall from I think an interview with Ken Branagh that they’d initially planned to start it in early medieval Norway, and also that the scene at the very end where Jane “searches for” Thor, was initially in the beginning. I also recall from my first viewing of Thor — on an airplane probably a year and a half ago — that I was watching this part with squinted eyebrows. What is this desert stuff? I thought this was a movie sorta kinda about Norse mythology? (I’m pretty much entirely ignorant of comics and knew next to nothing about the movie either.) This is actually one of the very few impressions I recall from that first viewing. It didn’t make much of an impact then. Watching it on a plane I’m sure didn’t help.
New Mexico was selected for its
tax breaks “big sky.” Branaugh has talked a good bit in interviews about how he was going for a kind of parallelism between Asgard and Earth, with the grandeur and scale of Asgard and the grandness of the open skies above the NM desert. Well…okay. I like the thinking behind it. It see it in theory, but not really in reality. I admit, it could be because I like greenery and am not fond of that landscape in the first place (please don’t take offense, and NM’ers who may happen to read this, it’s just a personal preference, I enjoyed a trip to NM and Arizona many years ago…but was really relieved to start seeing greenery again as we drove back east). Anyway, I’m curious what others thought about the setting, and whether Branaugh’s idea worked for others.
Jane, as Erik reminds us, is “an astrophysicist, not some storm chaser.” I never bought Jane as an astrophysicist. Not for a moment. Not Natalie Portman’s fault; I don’t think you can communicate “I’m an astrophysicist, really,” with body language and intonation. I put that one on the script. And maybe director and props? Don’t astrophysicists use telescopes? I’m not expert but if I’d seen even one telescope — larger than the kind you can find at Walmart — I might have believed a bit more.
But, okay, she’s an astrophysicist. So, what are these “17 occurrences” that she has apparently seen here in the desert, that are predictable to the second? What is she going to do assuming #18 happens right on time, look up at it with naked eye? What is that device with the concentric circles for? I mean, I know they can’t spend 30 minutes or even 5 explaining all this stuff, but it would be nice if a couple of lines of dialogue could make me believe there was a legitimate reason for her to be out there, something concrete she was actually trying to achieve with her drive to the desert. I think it would also help develop Jane’s character, which I felt was a bit underdeveloped given the importance of her role in the movie.
Back to the 17…whatevers. Is it totally unrelated to the plot of Thor, unrelated to stuff on Asgard? If it were related, that means…what, Asgardians visit the NM desert on a [very] regular basis? And if it’s not related…then isn’t it just a complete and total (read: not credible) coincidence that she is where she is when the Big Dude falls down? But #18, it seems clear from the movie, is not the same as 1-17, which I read then as “unrelated.” This is actually the thing that bugs me most in the film, I think. (Don’t lose track here, though, HUGE FAN of the movie.)
“I wouldn’t have asked you to fly out here if I wasn’t absolutely sure.” It was actually only on this note-taking viewing that I finally caught that line of Jane’s. A-HA! So that’s why Erik seems kind of oddly on the fringes or something in the movie; I’d always taken him to be part of The Team. Frankly something is off the whole time about his character IMO. And I know Stellan Skarsgard is a great actor, he has that reputation and I’ve seen him in other things myself, so I’m sure he played it the way he did deliberately. But he always feels…there but not there. Sometimes he feels like a poorly-thought-out cardboard character there only to serve as an antagonist to Jane. Very very curious about that one. But I’m jumping ahead a bit.
Darcy, the most minor of the major characters of the film plot-wise, is actually the most clearly drawn of the three in this scene, IMO. With one short, well-delivered and plot-driven (or “earned”) line in particular — “I am not dying for six college credits!” — you get what you need to know about who she is and why she’s there. She’s on an internship of some sorts, doesn’t really give a rip about the work itself, just wants to maybe do something a little different and offbeat for a semester, probably meeting a college requirement she rolls her eyes at.
So, they hit a dude, we don’t really see who. I wish I could remember if I had any clue what might be going on when I watched it the first time. Maybe you recall what you were thinking?
[To next scene.]