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Pete's Dragon, Peak, Grit, Botched - Uncle Orson Reviews Everything

Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
August 18, 2016

First appeared in print in The Rhino Times, Greensboro, NC.


Pete's Dragon, Peak, Grit, Botched

The original movie Pete's Dragon back in 1977 was based on an unpublished story by Seton I. Miller and S.S. Field, Hollywood writers in the 1930s. (Miller wrote dozens of screenplays, including classics like Here Comes Mr. Jordan, The Dawn Patrol, and The Adventures of Robin Hood, and did some script doctoring on Scarface.)

It was your standard tale of a lonely child whose "imaginary friend" emerges from invisibility at a key moment to intervene in the real world in order to save the child. Elliott, the usually-invisible dragon, was a Disney-style flat animation superimposed on live-action sequences.

It was also a musical comedy, with such comedy stars as Mickey Rooney, Red Buttons, Shelley Winters, and Jim Backus. (For true Harry Potter fans, it's worth noting that the original Pete's Dragon featured a much younger Jim Dale, who narrated the audiobooks of the Harry Potter series.) The title character, Pete, was played charmingly by Sean Marshall, whose acting career seems to have ended with his childhood.

The only character, besides Pete and Elliott, that seems to persist from that 1977 movie to the just-released remake is the "protective motherly woman" played by Helen Reddy, who sang many songs in the movie, including the main theme "Candle on the Water."

I'm sure it came as a relief to Bryce Dallas Howard, who plays Grace, the "protective motherly woman" in the remake, that this version is not a musical, and she sings no more often in this movie than she did as the female lead in Jurassic World.

This was one of those remakes that I regarded with great skepticism. The original Pete's Dragon was just fine. Lots of fun. Kids still liked it on video, which meant it was still making money. Remakes made sense back when old movies were simply gone -- you know, before television, before VCRs, before DVDs, before TiVo and DVRS, before streaming movies from the cloud. Anybody who wanted to see Pete's Dragon could just see it.

But no. Somebody wanted to do the movie with a real-looking CGI dragon, like the dinosaurs in the Jurassic Vacation Spot movies. And when they got right down to it, they decided they didn't want to use any of the original story except Pete, the dragon named Elliott, and a "protective motherly woman" that orphan Pete could be adopted by.

So that was enough of an excuse to greenlight a remake. Except that studio executives understand that no matter how cynical your motive for making a movie, you have to have a script. In this case, the project may have begun with director David Lowery, who also co-wrote the script with Toby Halbrooks. Or Halbrooks might have been the originator.

It's always interesting to me to speculate on the origins of a movie. For instance, Twister was a cynical project: "We're gonna make a movie about tornados." You can hear the brainstorming sessions, with the normal collection of idiots tossing out the most obvious, cliched ideas: "So the woman tornado-chaser saw her father get sucked up into a tornado, and now she can't leave them alone. And her ex-husband is there to get her to sign the divorce papers, and he brought along his fiancée, and there's this rival team who have way more funding, and ..."

And then they hired writers who turned that script into one of the most brilliantly written ensemble movies in fifty years. A movie you can watch over and over -- or at least I can.

While other movies begin with somebody's heartfelt story, and then it gets "improved" by notes from idiots all up and down the studio food chain until what shows up on screen is, you know, Good Will Hunting, which started as a thriller and got "fixed" until it was Ordinary People at college.

So many movies, good and bad; and every single one of them were made by people who were sincerely trying their best to make a good movie.

What about Pete's Dragon, then? The 2016 remake, not the 1977 original. Was this a script that got "fixed" to death?

I'm happy to report that while the story bears almost no similarity to the original, it's a pretty good story in its own right. We start with a younger version of Pete starting on a car trip with his parents that ends when they swerve to miss a deer and roll down a steep slope. Pete is the only survivor, and all he has with him is a book about a dog named Elliott which he can only sort of read.

He finds himself surrounded by hungry wolves, but just then something big comes bumbling through the woods and the wolves run away and the big thing turns out to be an elephant-sized dragon with the aerodynamics of a Volkswagen bus.

Skip to the present. Logging operations are intruding on the deep forest where Pete has lived and played with Elliott for six years. Think "Puff, the Magic Dragon" and you're about right -- a bunch of frolicking, flying, climbing, laughing, that all looks like fun until, if you're a cynical adult like me, you realize that anything that you do every day, all day long, will get boring.

Naturally, Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) is a forest ranger who is trying to protect the habitat of various animals from the loggers -- who happen to be led by her soon-to-be brother-in-law. Meanwhile, her fiancé has a daughter, Natalie (Oona Laurence), a few years older than Pete. Can you see the happy ending already under construction?

Yet there are a lot of lovely turns along the way, including Robert Redford playing an old coot who once saw Elliott years ago, and now tells tales about the legendary dragon in "their" forest. Redford is a very good actor, and he plays this just right, laying down a level of reality that helps raise the movie above the cliches built into its design.

There are some very good adventure sequences, and the bad guys manage to be bad in very human ways so we don't actually hate them, though we hope they lose. There's plenty of excitement for younger viewers, and some genuinely touching moments for sentimental old coots like me.

Here's the odd thing. If the goal was to make a believable CGI dragon, then they only half succeeded. Yes, Elliott has soulful eyes and believable fur (who knew that dragons were mammals?), but at no time is he believable as an actual flying creature.

To get that elephantine body off the ground would have required a hundred-meter wingspan (at least). Why did he have to be such a fatty? Here's why: Because the cartoon dragon in the original Pete's Dragon was a chubber. And the flimsy wings are just tacked onto the body; unlike the dragons in Game of Thrones, for instance, Elliott's wings move without affecting any other muscles in his body.

He looks more like Winnie-the-Pooh floating along holding onto a balloon than an actual flying creature.

But guess what? It doesn't matter. Everything about Elliott looks wrong, but "he's magical" so we're not allowed to care about that. Our real focus is on Pete's and Natalie's (and Robert Redford's) efforts to save Elliott; and the movie ends with the solemn affirmation that everybody needs to be with a family -- including Elliott.

So even though Elliott is just Snuffleupagus with wings, he gets his own happy ending.

This is a better movie than I expected. In fact, I'm going to stick my neck out and say that this is a good movie. And you don't have to listen to Helen Reddy sing or watch Shelley Winters act, so it may end up being preferable to the original. Or you could watch them both as a double feature, because the plots don't overlap at any point.

*

Yeah, my kids are all grown up -- when your youngest has a bachelor's degree and has moved to the opposite side of the country, like all her siblings, you have to figure that they're all past childhood.

So why am I still buying and reading child-rearing books? Well, first, since I'm now an experienced "expert," I can evaluate their accuracy. Second, while my kids have never asked me for advice on how to deal with their own children, I'm interested in finding books that they might find interesting. Third, I really like it when books by experts inform me that I did everything right.

The Game Theorist's Guide to Parenting: How the Science of Strategic Thinking Can Help You Deal with the Toughest Negotiators You Know -- Your Kids, by Paul Raeburn and Kevin Zollman, takes an interesting slant.

Game theory (including some of the genius-level work done by the guy in A Beautiful Mind, though of course the movie got his theories exactly wrong) is a fascinating branch of sociology, psychology, and/or economics. Raeburn and Zollman do a fine job of showing how parents can inadvertently set up decision-making processes that are doomed to fail -- because their kids learn how to game the system.

Some of the insights are kind of obvious, like: Never make a threat that your kids know you're not going to carry out. "Stop that or I'll turn this car around!" Yeah, right, think the kids. You got two weeks off work for this, you've already paid for the hotel rooms in Orlando, you are not going to cancel all that because we keep calling each other names and making farting noises in the back seat.

But others are much more subtle and potentially very helpful -- as in, how do you set up voting when the family is choosing something like where to go out for dinner or where to take the next vacation.

(And I couldn't help but think that if some of their alternate voting systems had been in play in the Republican primaries, we would not be looking at Donald Trump as the nominee -- because I can't imagine that Donald Trump was the second choice of any of the voters who voted for the other guys. So if there was a voting system that used the Australian ballot, where a lot of second- and third-choice votes get counted, something a lot closer to a consensus might have emerged, in place of the candidate that most Republican voters thought was the worst.)

Will The Game Theorist's Guide to Parenting change your life? Maybe. A little. I liked it because, besides having a lot of good, smart ideas, the book is highly readable, very short, and it showed me what a brilliant job my wife and I did of negotiating with our children.

*

The "ten thousand hours" meme from Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers has entered the public mind -- without any of the science that might actually help people get better at their life's work. Not really Gladwell's fault -- he mentioned that it's not just doing something ten thousand times that brings genius-level performance -- but now we have a book by the scientist who actually developed that idea.

The book by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool is called Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, and in a very fluid and understandable form, the authors lay out exactly how that ten-thousand-hour figure was reached, and how you need to use those hours to actually improve.

I remember hearing a not-very-good writer whimper, "I've put in my ten thousand hours and I still can't sell anything." Ericsson explains this: Suppose you want to play tennis with your friends. You learn the rules, and you practice until you're good enough to have fun playing tennis. You get together with them and play several games a week and you keep doing it for enough years that yeah, you've probably put in ten thousand hours.

But you will never, never, never get any better because you're not putting in deliberate practice, you're just playing tennis. And there's nothing wrong with that -- if you enjoy playing, no harm done. But you can't expect to achieve exceptional results when you're giving no thought to how you can improve your game.

Deliberate Practice is the key, and that means that you don't just play the game, you practice the individual components of that game -- and you do it with a coach who is skilled enough to see what you're doing wrong and help you practice the techniques that will make you better.

As I read this excellent book, I thought back to my own career as a writer. While I make no claims to having achieved "genius" level anything (I already didn't believe in "genius" as an inborn quality), I do know that from my first submissions to science fiction magazines as an ignorant college student, editors wrote back to me asking to see more of my work. That meant I was doing something right, and I always thought it must be that I had an inborn talent for dialogue.

But if Ericsson's science is right -- and I have no reason to doubt it -- the fact that snappy dialogue came easily to me, along with reasonably skillful narrative prose, did not come from some talented-writer gene. I must have practiced something.

And, in fact, I did. I grew up in a house with books -- and parents who read, and talked about what they read. My older sister taught me to read from the Nancy Drew books (The Hidden Staircase was the first one I read) and then I plunged into Thornton W. Burgess's talking animal books.

But that didn't make me a writer, any more than riding in a car makes you a driver. What mattered was that I attended elementary school in Santa Clara, California, in the glory days when California had the best schools in the world. And because it was the 1950s and early 1960s, they still taught us to read, write, and scan poetry.

Nowadays if poetry is touched on at all, it's just emotional gush or haiku, with no attention to form or meter. But when I was a kid, we had to learn iambic, dactylic, trochaic, and anapestic meters -- along with trimeter, tetrameter, pentameter, and hexameter lines.

We not only had to write verses that complied with these rules, we also had to read poems aloud -- or even memorize and recite them. That meant that not only did we analyze the lines of verse, we had to speak them from our own mouths, making their music come to life with our voices.

So Alfred Noyes's The Highwayman isn't just the story of a girl who shoots herself in order to warn her highwayman lover not to fall into a trap, it's also about feeling the music of lines like:

The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees,

The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,

The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,

And the highwayman came riding--

Riding--riding--

The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.

That repetition in the fourth line requires an intensity that many nine-year-olds shied away from. It required pauses where missing syllables should be. But to make things harder, there's an implied pause in the middle of every line, not just the fourth one.

In fact, to guide you to a correct reading, the lines should have been broken into ballad stanzas:

The wind was a torrent of darkness

Among the gusty trees,

The moon was a ghostly galleon

Tossed upon cloudy seas, ...

The lines aren't enjambed at all -- you're almost forced to take a pause at the end of each of these lines or it just doesn't scan. And I learned, in fourth grade, to hear how the poet intended the line to be read. I loved getting it right. But much more important, I hated getting it wrong. So when a poem felt unmusical and wrong, I had to work on it until I found the music in it and could read it aloud convincingly.

I quickly applied all of this to my own childish verses. "Spring is coming/ March 21st is nigh/ And all the snow that's on the ground/ Will melt when the sun is high." Not bad for fourth grade, but come on. I lived in Bay Area California; what did melting snow have to do with the coming of spring? And what was I using words like "nigh" for? Believe me, I was just a beginner and had little sense of poetic diction.

But that's my point. My childish verses are, in fact, childish. I was not a prodigy. I labored over them, revising and revising until the scansion was perfect, so I can see why teachers were impressed enough that the poem I just quoted was printed in the state PTA newsletter.

Somehow, though, between fourth grade and adulthood, I got better, not because I had some innate talent for verse, but because I cared about getting it right and I labored over every poem until the music was there. I also began to learn diction -- how to choose words to create the tone of a poem.

After dissecting earthworms, I was able to create an arch, faux-scholarly, Ogden-Nash-ish poem that began:

The earthworm is a little odd.

It hath hermaphroditic bod,

And in its millimetric girth

It crawleth far beneath the earth ...

Finally ending with:

For the earthworm doing what it oughter

Is half a son and half a daughter.

By then I understood that King James-ish language like "hath" and "crawleth" became funny when mixed with modern abbreves like "bod" and informal pronunciations like "oughter" for "ought to."

The progress from fourth grade to seventh grade was the result of careful, highly critical writing and rewriting, over and over until the scansion and the diction satisfied my ever higher standards. (When Fred Chappell heard me recite my earthworm poem at a conference once, he agreed that I was not poet laureate material. But he laughed at the poem, and so did the audience -- which is all that my seventh-grade self had hoped for.)

I wrote satirical poems in high school and recited them to everyone within earshot when we were waiting for the start of a school assembly. People laughed. When they didn't, I went back and revised until the lines worked better.

Then, in college, I started writing plays. I also started reading Shakespeare. And it seemed the most natural thing in the world to try my hand at writing verse plays, in blank verse (iambic pentameter) like most of Shakespeare's work. I did so much of it that I began to think in iambic pentameter.

And when, in graduate school, I read Pope's Essay on Man, I started writing an extended poem in heroic couplets. I don't know how good any of these efforts were, though a vernacular poem I wrote won a prize for narrative poetry in Utah; I suspect mine was the only entry in that category.

My point is that I had labored for thousands of hours over poems and verse plays before I ever attempted writing fiction. By then it really was reflex for me to write language that flowed metrically. My deliberate practice paid off so well that it felt to me as though musical language was second nature to me, effortless, unpracticed.

And that's Ericsson's point: When you've put in the hours, you can perform in your chosen field without any visible effort or strain.

It helped that along with working on verse forms, I also labored over grammar until I had mastered all the rules and could work as a professional proofreader and copy editor. By the time I was in high school, I could proofread my mom's typing of doctoral dissertations -- and correct errors that were in the original.

So if you add my thousands of hours of grammar study to the thousands of hours of deliberate practice of prosody, my "effortless" fiction writing was actually the very thing that Ericsson predicted: Enough deliberate practice, and you can up your game to professional levels.

I didn't realize I was doing this until a poet-critic, Michael Collings, was doing a presentation on my work at a conference and he pointed out that the ending of some of my stories actually scanned as blank verse.

I examined the stories he pointed out -- and several others -- and realized that he was right. I didn't write it as verse, but as the story was coming to a close, I fell into the same mindset that I had used writing verse plays. The iambs lent a gravitas to the words, a music that led to a profound sense of finishing. I hadn't planned it; but blank verse was second nature to me by then.

This is a long way of saying that I had fooled myself into thinking that I had "natural talent" at writing, but that was not so. What I had was natural delight at reading poetry, so that I was motivated to work at learning to read verse aloud, and then at learning to write it so that it could be read aloud.

What are the practical results of this? I have long refused to attempt to teach "style" in my writing courses, precisely because the most commonly used book on the subject, Strunk & White's Elements of Style, is so awful and so awfully wrong on everything. If that's "style," then forget it; write like you talk.

But I don't write like I talk. (Or "as" I talk -- I learned the rules, but now I have learned which ones to ignore.) I try to write with the clarity of Asimov and the music of Bradbury, which is nothing like my ordinary speech.

This next winter, I'll be teaching a fiction writing class at Southern Virginia University, and for the first time, I'm going to help my students learn to get control of their language -- to hear the music of English and produce it in their writing.

So even though we'll work on story structure, idea development, viewpoint, characters and relationships, which I've been teaching with some success for decades now, I'm also going to assign them regular exercises in writing narrative in formal verse. I'm going to see if, during a semester, constantly writing sonnet-length narratives that scan will have any effect on the way they write their prose fiction.

I don't know how many of the students will take those exercises seriously, but some will. I hope enough of them that I can see if, given some experience in the exact kind of deliberate practice I devoted to my writing, they get some of the same results.

What I'm saying is that reading Peak has changed my own self-understanding, and I'm allowing that to change the way I teach writing. (I'm also going to require my students to read Peak, because, as a teacher, I can.)

If, at age 65, my life can be changed by a book of good science, think how much more effect it might have on younger people, who still have time to put in their hours of Deliberate Practice. And even if you don't have ten thousand hours, deliberate practice is the only reliable way to get better at anything.

You want to go on Master Chef or Hell's Kitchen? Deliberate practice. That's what was going on in the brilliant cooking movie Burnt, when Bradley Cooper, as master chef Adam Jones, fires his brilliantly talented protegée until she learns how to cook a scallop. She cooks scallops constantly at home, with her clever daughter as her tester and coach, until she has it down.

She doesn't complain and whine or say "But that's how I feel a scallop should be cooked" or "That's a perfectly cooked scallop to me" or "I identify as a perfect scallop cook." She put in the hours, she acquired the skill, and she came back to work.

Which leads to an excellent question: Why is it that some people put in the ten thousand hours while most people don't? Why do some people love music so much that they practice and practice and ...

Here's the thing: When the researchers questioned top-level musicians they all agreed on one thing, universally: They hated practicing.

That's right. They don't put in that practice because they enjoy it. They put it in because they know they can't achieve anything without the practice, so it's worth it.

The same is true of world-class athletes. None of them loved deliberate practice. It's painful, exhausting, frustrating. It leaves them little time for anything else.

They don't do it because their parents made them. They did it because they wanted the results of that practice.

Which brings me to another slim and, in my opinion, incredibly valuable book. In fact, I think Peak can't achieve its real transformative power until you also read:

*

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, by Angela Duckworth.

Grit isn't quite as scientific as Peak, because it's hard to design an experiment when it's so hard to define what you're trying to measure.

But Duckworth set herself the nearly impossible task of figuring out why some people stick with a worthwhile project relentlessly, while others quit as soon as it gets too boring or hard, or as soon as something more interesting comes along.

I studied piano for about a year. But while I thought the right hand stuff was fun, I hated anything requiring me to use my left hand with dexterity.

The great pianists aren't all ambidextrous or left-handed. But when you see a virtuoso playing, you realize that they have trained their left hand to do things every bit as intricate as the right hand.

My cousin stuck with it and became a brilliant concert pianist; I let my left hand discourage me and so the best I can do on the piano now is play the right hand part and fake the left hand when I know the chords. Basically, I play the piano like strumming chords on a guitar. That's it. That's as far as I'll ever get, because I don't care enough (and never did) to put in the deliberate practice.

Yet playing guitar requires far more dexterity in the left hand than in the right -- and I worked hard in my teens to become a competent guitarist. Who knows why guitar worked out better for me than piano.

Duckworth, in Grit, is never able to answer why people pick the things they choose to work at consistently. But she does explain what grit -- or stick-to-it-iveness -- looks like and how it can transform your life.

There are some people who believe that once you start something, it's somehow morally wrong or a defect of character if you every quit. In reading Grit, you might sometimes get the impression that Duckworth feels the same way.

But let's face it. At 6' 2" there was no amount of practice of any kind that was going to get me in the NBA. And, given that I reflexively shied away from any ball that was coming right toward me, I was never going to be a baseball player. If I had cared enough to work hard at overcoming that reflexive fear of getting hit by a ball, then I might have become adequate. But I didn't care.

I didn't want to be chosen first, or even next-to-last, when they were picking teams for any game. I enjoyed the games as long as everybody was playing, but when they started getting serious and mean about other people's errors -- not just mine -- I quit.

By nature, I'm not a team player. If somebody starts yelling at people, I'm out of that game. And let's face it -- most of the "good athletes" get nasty with people who are keeping them from winning. I don't like them when they act that way, so in my teens I got an official and final divorce from all team sports.

Does that mean I was lacking in Grit? Well, it would be hard for anyone to make a case for my not being able to stick to a project or see it through. I have a long track record in theatre, writing, and singing that proves that I do have Grit ... in certain areas.

How do you pick those areas? How do you know when you've found your life's work? Your dream?

Duckworth helps guide her readers to the verge of the decision; but, ultimately, it's so personal and subjective that science just can't go there.

Meanwhile, though, if you read Peak you owe it to yourself to read Grit as a companion, because together they give you a parallax view of human achievement that makes them more illuminating together than either book can be by itself.

What a happy coincidence that both these books came out this year, and both of them are short enough to read in a few days.

*

Flipping channels in a hotel room late on Sunday night in Seattle, I ran across a program on E!, a cable channel I ordinarily never look at. It's called Botched, and, as kind of a follow-up to Doctor 90210, it follows two expert plastic surgeons as they undo, redo, and repair really bad plastic surgeries done by other people.

No, they aren't trying to rescue plastic-surgery tragedies like Michael Jackson or Joan Rivers were before they died. Those were self-victimizers -- they were addicted to plastic surgeries even though never, not once, did any of their surgeries improve them in any way.

Just as bartenders are required in some states not to "overserve" already-drunken customers, plastic surgeons should be banned from performing more operations on people who cannot possibly derive benefit from additional operations.

That's not what Botched is about. Instead, they're correcting inept surgeries. The nose job performed on a twelve-year-old, which, as her nose continued to grow, became a nightmare. The breast augmentation which, having been anchored incorrectly from the start, is now riding up, leaving the nipples tucked under the breasts.

I remember once when a doctor who was not a plastic surgeon offered to "help" me with a problem -- because he was "moving into" plastic surgery. Maybe he would be brilliant at it. But I couldn't help but think at the time that if I were to have plastic surgery done, I would want it done by somebody who had actually studied and practiced under supervision.

The show was fascinating, and to my surprise, it was immediately followed by an episode of a new series, starring the same doctors, called Botched by Nature. These were stories about people whose plastic surgeries were needed to correct deformities or painful anomalies with natural causes -- a congenital defect or an accident.

As I watched the stories on that first episode, I found myself getting very emotionally involved -- mostly because I know and love several people whose lives have been transformed by plastic surgeons who did exactly the right treatment to correct a nasty trick played on them by nature.

Yes, plastic surgery can result in monster-faces like Michael Jackson's, but it can also take a young woman with a huge beak of a nose and give her back her face by reducing the nose, not to something tiny or "ideal," but simply to a nose that is within the normal range.

Before, you really couldn't look at hear and see anything but the nose -- not until you came to know her well and could see past it. After the surgery, you could see what her face looked like -- her expressions, her personality. The nose had been like a wall that she couldn't get around; plastic surgery, carefully and wisely designed and performed, liberated her.

That's the kind of plastic surgery that Botched and Botched by Nature seem to be about -- rescue, rather than vanity.

There were stories in that first episode of Botched by Nature that made me weep. This is not a big achievement -- I've always been a weeper, and when I got into my sixties it became hard for me even to talk about good people doing good things without getting all emotional about it. It embarrasses my friends.

But this story of a young man -- an identical twin who, in the womb, had been the victim of a placenta that favored one twin over the other -- would move anybody. He looked "hulking" and his face was malformed enough that you would immediately leap to false conclusions about his physical or mental abilities.

His nose was so badly formed that he had real trouble breathing, so some of the surgery was therapeutic rather than cosmetic. But even the cosmetic surgery was essential for his quality of life. This wasn't a girl wanting Pamela Anderson boobs. This was a guy who didn't want his children to be ashamed to let their friends meet him. "I don't want my kids to be teased about their dad, the way I was teased in school."

His kids. Yeah. He was an unusually ugly man -- but a lovely young woman had married him, and saw him through the eyes of love, and they had a couple of kids already. So he wasn't looking for plastic surgery so he could meet girls. He really was thinking about his children's quality of life.

He knew that the surgeons couldn't make him look like his twin. "I want to look like myself," he said -- but not so scary.

The results of the surgeries on the show revealed both the power and the limitations of plastic surgery, even when it's expertly performed. Unless you compared the before-and-after pictures, sometimes you might not be able to tell what, if anything, was done. But when you do see the side-by-side photographs, you realize, with awe: This person has moved from freakish to well within the normal range.

These doctors -- and the many plastic surgeons who do excellent work without overserving the addicts -- are saving lives, too. I don't know how many episodes I can continue to watch, because even though the doctors are charming, the stories are so emotional that I don't know how often I can bear to go down that road.

I'm reminded of the story in Acts, when Peter, coming upon a beggar who could not walk, said, "Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have, I give you." Then he reached out and raised the man up and, in the name of Christ, gave him the power to walk.

These doctors use science and surgery, long training and preparation, to perform their miracles. But their work can have that same liberating power, to take someone out of the prison of their body and put them into a body that makes them free to live the live of their own choosing.

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