by Megaera Lorenz

Since the beginning of human civilization, people have been creating villains. Every religion has its villains, and villains are the meat of many fine stories. There are a few real life villains, but the most colorful ones exist in literature, theatre, and on the screen.

    There is some question about the exact definition of "villain."  Not just any bad guy can be classified as a villain. Villains are usually intelligent, devious, scheming, and nefarious, often eloquent and refined or even charismatic. Part of what makes a villain a good villain is their poise and panache. The defining characteristic of many villains is that they know that they are villains and are often proud of it.

Photograph of Dr. Smith.Dr. Zachary Smith (picture from the official Lost In Space TV Website): This is Dr. Zachary Smith, one of television's most famous and most unusual villains.
    He started out as a regular sort of villain: a secret agent for some unnamed foreign country, and  part of the obligatory conspiracy to sabotage some noble American enterprise. In this case, he was after the Jupiter 2, America's first colonization ship.

    The ship bore the Robinson family, consisting of a wholesome housewife mother (Maureen), a quiet, devoted father (John), a blonde adolescent girl, somewhat deficient in the personality department (Judy), a strange and lonely little dark-haired girl (Penny), and a brilliant, sweet-natured boy (Will ). The unfortunate family was in the highly questionable care of pilot Major Don West, a young hot-head with a great knack for crash landings. Dr. Smith's device for carrying out his sabotage: the Jupiter's environmental control robot.

    Dr. Smith was trapped aboard the Jupiter 2 while making the final corrections to the robot's programming. His extra weight, combined with the robot's destructiveness, sent the ship reeling off course, and it ended up Lost In Space.

    When Dr. Smith first came onto the Jupiter 2, he was a cold, serious, scowling and sinister man with a sharp and eloquent tongue, who was not afraid to use force to accomplish what he wanted. By the end of his first year in space, the resemblance to his earlier form stopped at his fine command of the English language and  his talent for coming up with acidic insults. In the first year, he became friends with Will Robinson and transformed into a bumbling, cowardly, fretful man with a passion for gourmet cooking and classical music and a longing for the security and peace of home.

    Not many villains end up being the central character in the story they are featured in, and fewer become friends with the main good guy. Dr. Smith's sociable nature and love for the Robinson children make his classification as a villain questionable, but it's hard to know how else to classify him. He is most certainly a mold-breaking villain.

    His self-awareness of his villainy is somewhat inconsistent. He seems to be aware of his villainy sometimes, but one gets the impression that he is, unlike many villains, somewhat ashamed of it.

    Dr. Smith is masterfully portrayed by Jonathan Harris, who is equally good at playing the cold and evil Dr. Smith as he is at playing the gentler, more comical Dr. Smith. With his velvety voice, distinguished accent, and his ability to say a thousand words with his eyes alone, Jonathan Harris made Dr. Smith one of the finest, if oddest, villains to grace the screen.

Photograph of Dr. Smith from the movie.Dr. Zachary Smith, 1998 (picture from the official "Lost In Space: The Movie" website): This is Dr. Smith '90s style. This Zachary Smith, played by the superb Gary Oldman, is considered a vast improvement over the original by some, and a dismal disappointment by others. Unlike his predecessor, this Dr. Smith has absolutely nothing at all to recommend him. He has the pure evil and nastiness of the earliest form of Dr. Smith and the cowardliness of the later form. He is a murderer. He "loathes children."  He is most definitely a self-aware villain, and is proud to be one.

Photograph of Agent Smith.Agent Smith (Picture from the official "Matrix" Website): Agent Smith was a computer program, existing only within the hellish world of the Matrix, a virtual world designed to control the lives of humans, who are used to fuel a huge machine. Agent Smith was created, among other agents, to try to keep rebellious humans in check. He was defeated by Neo, a human capable of taking control of small parts of the Matrix and changing the programming around him.

    Agent Smith, unlike the original Dr. Smith, is unquestionably bad. Since he is a computer program, one can't expect him to have too complex a personality. He does have personality, though. Here is a villain whose every word and lift of an eyebrow convey thorough villainliness. His slow way of speaking, with its strange inflections, oozes menace. it is hard to say whether he is a self-aware villain -- villainy is simply what he was programmed for. Agent Smith is a thoroughly classy villain, played beautifully by the Australian actor Hugo Weaving.

Photo of Zorg.Jean-Bautiste Emanuel Zorg (Picture from the Galleries of Flexman's Fifth Element Page): Zorg is one of cinema's finer villains of recent years. Dressed in garish plastic clothing and curious transparent plastic headgear, with a tiny goatee, Zorg comes off looking disturbingly like some kind of scrambled Hitler. He is a thrifty businessman who apparently has some sort of monopoly on the entire business world. He assisted a force of pure evil in suppressing a group of humans and a mysterious "supreme being," also known as the Fifth Element, who were attempting to stop the force from taking over earth.
    the question of Whether Zorg is aware of his villainy is an easy one to answer. When the priest Cornelius informed him, "You're a monster, Zorg!" the response was, "I know."

Drawing of Droon by Dr. Seuss.Lord Droon (Picture from The King's Stilts, by Dr. Seuss): this classic villain appeared in a book by Dr. Seuss, the king's stilts. Droon was a powerful  nobleman under  king Bertram of Binn, a hard-working but fun-loving monarch. The source of Droon's Villainy was his conviction that fun is unhealthy, unnatural and undignified.
    The King's activity that Droon found especially offensive was his habit of running around on stilts after his daily work was finished. Droon finally had the stilts disposed of by the king's page boy, eric, who eventually rectified the situation. Droon was locked away and forced to live on a diet of Nizzards -- large, unpleasant birds who were the scourge of the kingdom.
    Droon was not really a self-aware villain, but simply a man with a strong belief which was not in the best interest of anyone else, which perhaps makes him more of a tragic figure than a villain.

Imhotep and his lover, Ankhesenamun.Imhotep (Picture from the Universal Studios Horror Pages): Imhotep was the original Universal Studios Mummy, Yet another tragic villain and a more sophisticated and fascinating character than most of the horror movie monsters that would follow him.
    Imhotep was revived from the dead by an over-impatient young archeaologist in the early 1920s, who inadvertantly activated a curse by reading from the Scroll of Thoth in the mummy's presence. Imhotep left his coffin, took the scroll, and sent the young man into a fit of hysteria that eventually killed him. Imhotep was not destined to remain a bandage-dragging zombie for long, however. Instead, he dissapeared for a number of years and reappeared as a quiet, articulate, entrancing and imposing man, going by the name of  Ardeth Bey.
    Imhotep sought the reincarnation of his lover, Princess Ankhesenamun. He did everything in his power to find her and give her immortality, which meant killing anyone who got in his way.
    Imhotep's intelligence and quiet menace, beautifully portrayed by Borris Karloff, made him a more powerful character than any of the mindless mummies of later films, and a superb villain.

Published 8/10/99.

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