Like a lot of movies about dimension hopping barbarians, Gor opens with a scene of professor teaching a college class. The bell rings and the professor - named Tarl Cabot for some reason? - excuses the class for the semester. Then he and his assistant walk out to his car, and as they do so, it becomes clear that Tarl thinks that the two of them are about to start driving to a cabin in the countryside as part of a romantic getaway. (It's been years since I've been in school, but I do remember that most of the teacher-aide relationships I saw were overtly sexual.) Unfortunately, a cool dude drives up in a cool car and as soon as he does Tarl's assistant suddenly spits out what she's been trying to tell Tarl politely: she isn't that interested in dating a bookish girly-man. (I bet this is a common sentiment amongst graduate students, who after all only spend seven years plus years studying in school so they can hopefully than transition to spending another thirty or forty years teaching.) She hops in the other dude's car and the two of them drive off. A frustrated Tarl then drives towards the cabin by himself, only to get into a car accident en route. When he wakes up he's in a fictional land called Gor--
Hold on, Gor, I'mma let you finish, but we aren't even five minutes in and you are already deploying one of the lamest tropes in all of fantasy: the nerd who is secretly a world conquering hero. I hate this trope for two reasons. The first we might call the feminist objection: as soon as Tarl shows up in Gor it's immediately obvious that he's going to prove his assistant to be a blind dummy by using his secret manliness to sweep all of Gor's warrior women off their feet. That's extremely condescending to both groups of women, because it assumes that his assistant is an idiot who doesn't know what she really wants in a mate and because it implies that these Amazons are just sitting around waiting for a mealy-mouthed professor to come by and lead them in battle. But I'm not even going to get too deep into a feminist critique of this movie, because if I did we'd have to spend a lot of time talking about furry bikinis, and I don't have the energy for that right now.
No, I want to focus on the second objection, which is about how the type of wish fulfillment that movies like Gor sell to young men is a really bad for them to hear. If Tarl is a college professor we can assume he's a reasonably bright guy who makes a decent middle class wage in a job with some measure of security, so he shouldn't need to transform himself into a musclebound warrior to find a lover. If his assistant isn't into him, then he should try to find someone who is into him instead of retreating into a fantasy where he magically has all of the qualities that he feels that he lacks. Stories like this end up reaffirming the very stereotypes that make all the Tarls of the world feel self conscious because they suggest that the solution to their problems is to turn themselves into the cool dude in a cool car who keep stealing away "their" women, even though that's obviously not the answer. Gor's sour-grapes opening was a giant red flag that this film was going to be condescending and wrongheaded the whole way through, and indeed, it was.
One of my favorite albums of 2014 was Sky Ferreira's Night Time, My Time, and one of the things I really liked about it was that most of the songs honestly reflect her perspective as a twenty two year old. One of her songs is called "I Blame Myself" and it's about her growing understanding that there is a correlation between her actions and her reputation. I can remember having that exact same realization myself at her age. For a long time, I thought that I was a perfectly reasonable guy and anyone who didn't like me was just a judgmental jerk. Eventually, I started to see how little things like tone of voice could transform a well intentioned statement into an insult, and I started to see how maybe I wasn't the all around nice guy I thought I was. Now that I'm a decade older I've come around to Louis C.K.'s position, which is: you don't get to choose if you're an asshole. Everyone around you gets to choose if you're an asshole, and then you either accept that or you don't.
That's a lesson guys like Tarl need to learn. There are probably a lot of reasons why his assistant blew him off, and I doubt that any of them have anything to do with his inability to decapitate a rival with a sword. Tarl is her superior so his interest in her is inappropriate; he tells her that he wants to go to this cabin and then passively assumes that she wants to do that, too; when she says that isn't what she wants to do, Tarl tries to push her into his position instead of compromising with her; and then when he doesn't get his way he sulks. He's a bad listener and a creep, and going to a magical land where he can use a magic ring to overthrow an evil emperor isn't going to change that. I don't mind wish fulfillment, but this is not wish fulfillment - it's delusion reinforcement.
There is no part of Gor that is well done. The film feels like a second rate knock off of Beastmaster, which is sort of like being a poor man's version of ramen noodles, in that ramen is fine but it's also about as low as you can go before you cross a threshold that should not be crossed. The plot is a lazy hash of cliches about magic stones, evil slave traders and dwarf sidekicks. The only competent actor is the evil warlord Tarl has to fight, but he's hampered by an open chested costume with a huge headdress that undermines his glowering by making him look super goofy. But even if you fixed all that - even if every scene in the desert world of Gor was knock your socks off fantastic - I still would have had a hard time admitting to enjoying this movie because those scenes on Earth were so loathsome. As far as I'm concerned, if the planet Gor wants Tarl as their savior, they can keep him.
Winner: The Cat