Open Thread for February 19, 2010

An Open Thread on the J.K. Rowling plagiarism lawsuit, Shutter Island and the 20th anniversary of Super Mario Bros 3.

Falling from the sky like an unraveled skein, it’s this week’s OPEN THREAD.

In the stranger-than-fantasy-fiction category, J.K. Rowling has been hit with a plagiarism lawsuit by an author claiming that Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire stole several ideas. Or rather, the lawsuit’s being filed by the dead author’s estate. I’d make some joke about a Hogwarts artifact that communicates with the dead, but (A) I don’t know the series that well, and (B) this is such a transparent publicity stunt I can hardly jape about it.

Question: is plagiarism even that big a deal, outside of schools?


Because once you've made the first $1,000,000, your future writing probably won't be scrutinized at all.

Martin Scorsese’s latest, Shutter Island, opens in theaters this weekend. Metacritic gives it a 64/100: generally favorable reviews. DiCaprio’s Boston accent? A 29.

Question: what’s the worst accent ever attempted on film?


Dude, you see that feckin' Statie ovah deah? Dude, bro, he looks WICKED pissed.

And finally, GamesRadar observes that this week marked the 20th anniversary of the U.S. release of Super Mario Bros. 3. A groundbreaking platformer, with astonishing level variety, an unprecedented range of powerups and gameplay that was challenging without being frustrating, SMB 3 set the bar high for the greatest franchise in video games.

Question: does SMB 3 stand up to the test of time?

Do you want to plagiarize someone else’s Shutter Island review so you can get back to your Tanuki suit? Then HAVE AT IT, YOUNG’N! Because this is your … Open Thread!

42 Comments on “Open Thread for February 19, 2010”

  1. RiderIon #

    I believe it was King Solomon said that there is nothing new under the sun (I am fully prepared for Wrather or someone to “Well, ACTUALLY…” this statement). Plagiarism can be claimed on just about anything. I imagine there was someone in the 80s when Terminator came out was fuming that James Cameron stole his idea. Especially when you consider that most fictional stories follow the rise of a hero or the Shakespearean tragic hero: you can only do so much with that narrative structure. I’ve also noticed that people only tend to sue someone whose made a lot of money off of their supposedly plagiarized book. I’m waiting for the successful writers to go after the fanfiction writers of the world (mainly because it would be hilarious).

    Super Mario Bros. 3 is the greatest game of all time. It stands the test of time and I doubt any other game can come close to its perfection. I’m too lazy to go and find Wrather’s quote from the podcast about Paradise Lost and replace Paradise Lost with Super Mario Bros. 3.


    • Matthew Wrather #

      You know, I would have left it alone, but you’re practically begging for it. So…


      “Nothing new under the sun” is Ecclesiastes 1:9 (read the rest)

      Though I really can’t tell why I’ve been cast as the biggest, or most overbearing, OTI pedant!

      Oh, by the way, my stock description of Paradise Lost you’re looking for is “the unsurpassed and unsurpassable greatest work of literature in any language ever.”

      Actually, nevermind. The pedantry thing makes total sense to me now.


  2. Tom P #

    If you read enough fantasy, the entirety of the Harry Potter universe is borrowed from other places.

    Can you count Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood accent?


  3. Tom #

    Aside from how awesome it is, my main memory of SMB3 was just how hard it was to obtain. My birthday is several months after February, and it was STILL a feat when my Mom managed to find a copy for my birthday. (I also got Pinbot and Tony Hawk 720, which I had told her I wanted as a “backup.” She totally tricked me.)


  4. mlawski OTI Staff #

    I still haven’t gotten around to reading the Percy Jackson books, but I did read many reviews of the recent film version. (That’s the same thing, isn’t it?) Almost all of the reviews started the same way: this is a rip-off of Harry Potter. Why? Well, because it’s about a kid who finds out he has some special talent, so he leaves his home to get trained in this talent, and, then, with his loyal friends, he goes off on an adventure to save the world.


    In related news, by royal decree, all new vampire stories will henceforth be derided as rip-offs of Twilight, all romantic comedies rip-offs of The Ugly Truth, all disaster stories rip-offs of 2012, all war stories rip-offs of The Hurt Locker, and all pretty 3-D movies rip-offs of Avatar.

    (I was going to write, too, that all future post-apocalyptic fiction was henceforth going to be derided as a rip-off of the oh-so-creative seriously-how-do-you-come-up-with-this-stuff! novel, The Road, but that’s already happened.) Let the lawsuits begin!


  5. El Acordeonachi #

    My vote for worst accent would be Nicholas Cage’s southern accent in Con Air. So painful…


  6. perich OTI Staff #

    @RiderIon: “I imagine there was someone in the 80s when Terminator came out was fuming that James Cameron stole his idea.”

    I don’t know if you’re being sarcastic or not, but yes: Harlan Ellison sued James Cameron for plagiarizing “Soldier” and “Demon With A Glass Hand,” two Outer Limits episodes that The Angriest Man In Science Fiction penned.


  7. RiderIon #

    @perich No sarcasm on my part. Terminator’s been a topic of conversation this week so I used it as an off-the-cuff example. I was unaware of that lawsuit. Was Mr. Ellison successful? I like it when my own blind idiocy makes me look smarter than I really am. I was never a fan of The Outer Limits or The Twilight Zone so when you bring either of those up, I am clueless.

    @mlawski So pretty much every review says “The Simpsons did it first” ?


  8. Wade #

    Off the top of my head, the worst (or is it really the best?) accent ever has to go to Keanu Reeves’ whatever-the-hell-that-was in Francis Ford Coppola’s “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”. Yeesh.


  9. Iver #

    When I started reading the Harry Potter series I was immediately reminded of Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series. Young boy discovers he has powers and gets indoctrinated into a world of magic and events beyond the every day. I don’t really have anything special to say about that…just wanted to point it out.

    I, personally, thought The Dark is Rising was a better series.


  10. Greg #

    1) No. Some people think I’m funny, but all I’m really doing is rephrasing Jon Stewart and Cracked.

    2) Mario is for all time the greatest game. Ever.

    3) Tough to call, but Keanu Reeves is the worst.

    I prefer to remain positive, so I nominate Alan Rickman for best accent(s) in Die Hard.


  11. Tom P #

    @Iver: When I started reading the Harry Potter series I was immediately reminded of Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series.

    You are one of the first people who I could have made this reference to and they would have gotten it, but a billion times yes.


  12. Nateiums #

    John Malkovich as Teddy KGB in Rounders.


  13. mlawski OTI Staff #

    @perich: Jeez, I didn’t realize there was another famous Harlan Ellison lawsuit. The only one I knew about was his Star Trek-related suit:

    The wikipedia article tells me that he sued Fantagraphics, too. Man.

    @Iver: Maybe I was born at the wrong (right?) time in history, but, when I was a kid, basically EVERY book I read followed that same plot: The Dark Is Rising, The Prydain Chronicles, The Earthsea Series, The Neverending Story, The Lord of the Rings, His Dark Materials, etc. etc. etc. Not to mention the fact that, even though we (for some reason) don’t call superhero comics “fantasy books,” they’re almost exactly the same story. (X-Men, anyone?) Come to think of it, I grew up seeing the same plot rehashed on TV, too: in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sabrina the Teenage Witch (although the stakes there were a bit lower), Rainbow Brite (my most favoritest cartoon ever when I five)…

    It’s a genre. Like any genre, it has good points and bad points. It can be done badly, or it can be done well. But let’s not pretend Harry Potter (or Willy the Wizard) invented it.


  14. Bob #

    @ Question 1 – Agree with everyone. There is no such thing as something new. Harry Potter Sidebar – I met a girl on a Saturday just after the fifth book came out and she loved it. I claimed to not have read the end so lets not talk Harry till our date Friday. Four days and 2689 pages later, we didn’t talk about Potter at all during the date.

    @ Question 2 – Harrison Ford in K-19. He makes Keanu seem like a Hungarian of royal blood compared to Ford. Bonus Sidebar – which movie am I quoting?

    @ Question 3 – Yes, SMB3 is the best. Final sidebar – I was in 4th grade when it my midterm report card had all C’s and a D for the first time ever. My parents jokingly said they would buy it for me if I got straight A’s. They were upset at the end of the semester when I did get straight A’s now realizing I just blew off school.


  15. Dan G. #

    I’m surprised I’ve made it this far with no one mentioning Sean Connery’s “Irish” accent in The Untouchables.


  16. Bob #

    @ Dan G. – I actually liked it. But I knew it would be brought up – lol!

    Hey – how come no LOST thread this week? Was it because I was such a jerk last week?


  17. marmls2m #

    sean connery’s russian accent in the hunt for red october was worse than his irish accent in the untouchables.

    teddy KGB is the worst in my book. i felt like it was a joke.


  18. stabbim #

    I don’t know about the worst accent performance in movies, but I have a candidate for worst accent type: Irish, by a mile. Why do so many actors fail at it?


  19. Kevin #

    I’m with Bob — I’ve been waiting since Tuesday for another fantastic LOST thread! Don’t make us beg!!!


  20. mlawski OTI Staff #

    @Bob & Kevin: Boys, boys. I’m so flattered that you are clamoring for me! (Or my Lost posts, at least.) Thank you kindly. My post for The Substitute is indeed ready and will be live Monday morning. The OTI editors have scheduled the Overthinking Lost series to run every Monday, which is my regularly-scheduled posting day.


  21. Dan G. #

    @Bob – The movie was excellent but that accent? Yeesh…

    @marmls2m – Hmm, good point. I think we should just have a generic “Connery doing any other accent” category.


  22. Jon Eric #

    1.) Depends on what you mean by “plagiarism,” of course. If you’re lifting exact quotations from other people’s books or speeches and passing it off as your own, that’s kind of a big deal. If, on the other hand, you just happen to have released a song with a similar melody to some other song, or with similar chords, or a book with an archetypical plotline… then who cares?

    2.) I’ve never been fond of Hugh Laurie’s American accent, though I hear it’s gotten better over the years. Same with Eddie Izzard’s. Worst ever, though? I gotta go with Dick van Dyke’s cockney accent in Mary Poppins. The classic.

    3.) SMB3 has indeed withstood the test of time, and remains one of the greatest games ever created. I can’t believe it’s been 20 years… I’m 24 now, but I swear I was older than 4 when that game came out…


  23. Akilah #

    Hell yeah, SMB3 stands the test of time. I bought a Game Boy Advance copy to play on my daughter’s Nintendo DS. And I still haven’t beat it. Stupid game.

    (I have beat the New Super Mario Bros for the DS, though. Go figure.)


  24. Valatan #

    What about Sean Connery’s “English” accent in the original Bond movies? I know everyone loves him in those movies, and he is great, but he’s sooooooo Scottish. They should have just rewritten Bond to be from Glasgow or something.

    Weirdly, has anyone heard Pierce Brosnan’s REAL accent? It’s worse than Connery’s, ironically.


  25. Gab #

    I’m with John Eric on 1) with regards to direct quotes and storylines, but I think having melodies coming close *enough* is pushing it, too. I mean, Vanilla Ice TOTALLY ripped off Queen, for example.

    I think any time Kevin Costner tries to do an accent, it’s an epic fail. _Prince of Thieves_, anyone? _Thirteen Days_? Hell, everybody keeps griping about Connery, but what about COSTNER in _The Untouchables_?????

    To reiterate everybody else, apparently: SMB3 is superior. Rock on.

    U.S.A.! U.S.A.!


  26. marmls2m #

    i agree that hugh laurie’s american accent is terrible. its as hammy as easter. apparently, thats what he thinks we sound like


  27. Brian Williams NBC Nightly News #

    Well, actually (ugh)…

    While it is a quote from Ecclesiastes, the author names himself as Son of David, King over Israel in Jerusalem, which would imply that he is, in fact, Solomon. However, most don’t believe the author was the one and same King Solomon, and could have just meant that he was “a” son of David. Still, nobody is really sure, so one could attribute the book of Ecclesiastes to King Solomon and he wouldn’t be wrong.

    Accents: Hugh Laurie isn’t really that bad, he’s got most of America fooled. Dick Van Dyke’s accent in Mary Poppins was supposed to be over the top I thought, as was Malkovich in Rounders. His name was KGB after all. And I’m not going to fault Costner or Connery for never disguising their natural accents; just imagine if they’d tried. Same with Tom Cruise in Valkyrie: he knew it’d be awful so he laid up with an American Costner-dialect accent.

    When I read the question regarding accents immediately I thought of the aforementioned Cage in Con Air (“put the bunny down”) and Keanu Reeves in Dracula.

    As for plagiarism, I think it’s huge. Not so much in science fiction/fantasy circles where they sue for the use of similar IDEAS, but definitely in literary works with lines lifted directly from other books. Like that Harvard girl’s chicklit book a few years ago. And it wasn’t plagiarism, but James Frey’s memoir when it was published under false pretenses was pretty horrible too.


  28. cat #

    I agree with most people about the plagiarism thing. The same rules that apply when you’re writing an academic paper should apply to fiction. Just don’t copy text or ideas that you couldn’t conceivably have come up with on your own. Yes, the formula of child learns there’s something special about himself/herself and has to go off and work to master that talent/gift/power and has friends/sidekicks/mentors to help along the way is not that difficult to arrive at. If an author writes a story based on a very specific event in their life and all of the smallest details match up in another story published at a later time…yes, that’s suspicious. Wizard chess? Wizard prison? Give me a break. Oh, you’ve copied my story. Your characters have wizard homework. You people realize they’re just adding the word “wizard” to real-world things, right? Sigh…

    I stand by the Shakespeare argument. If you couldn’t plagiarism basic themes/concepts you couldn’t have Shakespeare and a good chunk of Western literature would be lost.

    Does the entire cast of Oklahoma! that the British put on a while ago with Hugh Jackman count? It was filmed. I don’t really notice bad accents…just accents that aren’t really there. Anne Hathaway in Becoming Jane (which I haven’t seen). Demi Moore in Flawless, which I have seen.


  29. Trevor #

    I never got around to seeing the Russell Crowe Depression-era boxing movie (not sure who he was playing in that one, maybe Joe Lewis), but the previews all featured Renee Zellweger as his wife attempting to cheer him up. Based solely on the slightest hint of her accent in that movie (supposedly a tough broad from the hard-luck streets of Noo Yawk), I’d nominate that one.

    Why is is that every movie set in the South features actors trying to sound like Foghorn Leghorn? Sure, some of us talk like that, but it ain’t on no account of our educatin’. Give us some credit (why can’t we all have refined English accents, like the Nazis in Sixties war movies or the Star Destroyer commanders in the “Star Wars” series?).


  30. Tim Peever #

    Plagiarizing an “idea” is, to me, not at all plagiarism. It comes in varying degrees, anywhere from the “no talent hack rip-off” to the “creative and inventive re-imagining.” Plagiarizing in a word-for-word fashion is definitely not okay if you are going to pretend that it is your own work, or your own story. All the people who got into trouble for that deserved to get into trouble.

    That being said, of course, I am completely in favor of reworking US and international copyright laws to allow for more “fair use” of other people’s intellectual property. At its heart, of course, it is only as restrictive as it is so that Disney can go on having strict control over its characters. Ask me sometime about my project tentatively titled “Tom Stoppard’s Timon and Pumbaa Are Dead.”


  31. Tom P #

    @Tim Peever: Ask me sometime about my project tentatively titled “Tom Stoppard’s Timon and Pumbaa Are Dead.”

    Hamlet has been written so many times at this point it’s absurd. More absurd is that it’s still being called brilliant.


  32. stabbim #

    @TimPeever – How about “Penn And Teller’s Timon And Pumba Get Killed?” I’d like to see that one.

    @BrianWilliamsNBCNightlyNews – I agree about Cruise in Valkyrie. Clearly, he learned his lesson about accent overreaching in Far And Away (and again, it comes back to Irish.)


  33. marmls2m #

    does anyone know where the practice of any and all ancient roman or greek characeters to have british accents came from? that really bugs the crap out of me.


  34. Trevor #

    One of the nice things about getting “Inglourious Basterds” special edition from Best Buy is that there’s a third disc with an extended interview between Quentin Tarantino and the critic from “New York” magazine (I think), in which he discusses IB and how he wanted the details to be accurate, thus no fakey Brits-as-Germans. He wanted authentically German actors playing Germans, subtitles and all. If you’re interested, check out one of the films he cites as an inspiration, “The Guns of Navarone”. The Germans speak German in that one, with no subtitles (at least the part that I saw towards the end). It really is kind of a cop-out and too convenient when the folks dropped behind enemy lines just happen to speak the foreign tongue like they were born doing it.


  35. sarielthrawn #

    1.) It’s easy enough to come up with an idea that is similar to something that already exists. But stealing is still wrong even if it’s only a dick joke.

    2.)Dennis Hopper playing a Serbian warlord on 24 (does that count as “film”?). Also, Dick Van Dyke. Also, anyone who has ever tried to do an Australian accent that wasn’t Australian, ever.

    3.)Whois Mario?


  36. Tim Peever #

    @stabbim: My work in progress is not a retelling of Hamlet. It’s a retelling of “The Lion King”, sort of in the way that “Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” is a retelling of Hamlet, but it’s more generally a deconstruction of narrativity in Disney films, and the implicit values that these films carry. Timon and Pumbaa reject their roles as comic relief, and decide that they will instead become heroes.

    As for precisely how all of this happens, I am still working on that…


  37. Bob #

    @ Tim Peever – that sounds like The Lion King 1 1/2? Or am I completely missing the joke that you are already aware of this sequel which is very much like “Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead”?


  38. cat #

    Well, no, I disagree with some of the latest comments. Taking a character is almost as bad as taking the actual text. That character is the creation of a writer. Every detail about them was built up by the author. Without their express permission, it is theft of intellectual property. Stop trying to destroy my childhood, leave Disney alone. Do you actually want to see Twilight fanfiction stories published as novels? Really? Everything pre-copyright gets a pass, but come on, people write now with the understanding that they own the characters they write about. And off the top of my head I can’t really think of anyone who has done justice to an original in a “sequel” not written by the original author. Scarlett, anyone?


  39. Valatan #


    Rosencrantz and gildenstern are dead.


  40. Tim Peever #

    “Lion King 1 1/2” has Timon and Pumbaa as main characters, but one could hardly call them heroes. Yes, they do something heroic at the very end of the movie, but Simba is still the hero, and they are playing supporting a supporting role. I am writing a story in which Timon and Pumbaa say, “We’re not anyone’s comic relief. We are going to do what we want to do, and we’re going to do it for ourselves.”


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