Friday, August 16, 2013


Check out the August issue of Phoenix Magazine

…for my article on the history of camels in Arizona. It’s on page 50, or here, with a sidebar about the discovery of the possible “Walmart Camel” fossils here.

In the course of working on the story I got to meet a very cool camel, named Aladdin, who had been ridden by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in the 2002 movie The Scorpion King. As it happened I sort of liked that movie, so let it serve as a deadhead video suggestion for the weekend.

It would be hard to find many movies dumber than The Scorpion King, but it would also, happily, be hard to find many movies that are smarter in the way they go about being dumb. Somehow improbably, the film managed to strike a note of silliness and fun without seeming insulting.

The Scorpion King is set in a vague ancient era, vaguely in Mesopotamia. The title character, Mathyus, played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, had been introduced in the opening scenes of the previous year’s The Mummy Returns—the introduction seemed, indeed, to have been the principle reason for that film’s existence. Mathyus is an Akkadian, which students of ancient culture will recognize as the Sumerian people who composed the great ancient epic of Gilgamesh. In this film, however, Akkadians have a reputation not as poets but as assassins, and Mathyus is the greatest of them. He accepts a mission, from a coalition of beleaguered tribes, to kill the evil King Memnon (Steven Brand) because, well, he’s evil.

Memnon has a gorgeous prophetess (Kelly Hu) working for him, reluctantly, and somehow she and Mathyus get hooked up, and Mathyus gains a variety of other ragtag allies in the course of his adventures, among them Grant Heslov and the recently late and lamented Michael Clarke Duncan and Bernard Hill. The resulting banter and antics might put you in mind of a Hope/Crosby “Road” picture, and that’s not all bad.

The highlights of The Scorpion King, of course, are the swashbuckling fight scenes, and in this the movie seems to have benefited, oddly, from its association with Pro Wrestling (Vince McMahon is credited as Executive Producer). The action isn’t hyper-edited in the MTV manner, so the fights have a story arc—you aren’t asked to take the editor’s word for what’s going on. And “The Rock” turned out to be charismatic performer with a touch of self-deprecation. And his camel had a lot of charisma and star power, too.

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