I remember a conversation I had last night while hanging out with some friends of mine. We were discussing the summer 2013 lineup of movies, and among such flicks as Star Trek: Into Darkness, Iron Man 3, and The Great Gatsby, we ended up on the topic of Man of Steel.
Little contextual side note: My friends are huge comic-book fans, and I myself used to be, though these days I have grown rather…well, “less-than-enthralled” at the veritable legion of same-y superhero stories that populate much of the blockbuster lineup.
My friends were obviously looking forward with great anticipation to the Man of Steel movie, and I posed my qualms about it: it seemed to be of a similar breed to the mountain of content that already existed.
I then went on said that I was looking forward to Pacific Rim a lot more, which elicited a very interesting reaction:
Apparently, I have garnered a bit of a reputation!
Maybe I’m supposed to be the stereotypical person that hates all big-budget Hollywood blockbusters, only praising some random niche of movie; cult flicks, art-house films, or something of that nature?
I could also surmise that perhaps Man of Steel and Pacific Rim were seen by them as similar movies, both big affairs with the fate of the world at stake, which was the reason for their surprise.
In any case, I found that to be enough of a reason to contrast why exactly I’m really looking forward to one and almost not at all to the other.
Alright, let us start with the iconic figure that has become the ubiquitous symbol of the word “superhero”. Picture these potential plot lines:
Superman struggles to find his place in the world, with people in both awe and fear of him; but his love of humanity remains strong. Then…
1 – Some villain puts civilians (or just Lois Lane, interchangeably) in danger, and he is forced to make some difficult ethical decision about how he can save everyone on the planet.
2 – He comes too near some kryptonite (often disguised as something else) and then gets the crap beaten out of him. Near to death, the kryptonite is somehow removed from the equation, and then he comes back to save the day.
3 – The population decides they don’t need him or are too fearful of him for whatever reason, and so they ostracize him, only to have him finally prove himself to them at the end.
4 – Any combination of the above.
That’s because collectively they represent almost every Superman plot ever. Most Superman stories can be boiled down to one of those options (I’m sure the legion of comics out there has more variety than that, but I’m equally sure that even so a large majority of the stories are still going to be in that format).
Now, I know that isn’t really fair at a surface level. I mean, ever superhero has their thing, right? The X-men will probably always be stories of discrimination and acceptance. Spider-man will always be about the balance between responsibility and living the life you’d like to.
But regardless of how many ways they present this story, it does get old.
I’m basing this opinion purely on what I see to be the plots of both respective films from trailers and articles, which are the only references available at the time of this writing; BUT with trailers being the things that help you determine which movies you want to see and which you don’t, I imagine it is legitimate enough. I still plan to watch both these movies, mind you, but I don’t really expect Man of Steel to be all that groundbreaking.
From the trailers, it just seems like another “the world is in danger and only Superman can save us!” to me. Giving himself up to the authorities so they can turn him over to the bad guys in an act of self-sacrifice (which is what I assume happens) has a ring of familiarity to it, probably due to the fact that he does this every time the world is in peril and someone actually poses a threat to humanity.
Could this movie be incredible? Could be it be a completely fresh twist on classic Superman tropes? Yes! Does it look like it will be, however?
Not so much.
There are points in one trailer where it says:
“He’ll be a God to them.”
“For some, he was a guardian angel, for others, a ghost, who never quite fit in.”
“You will give the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards, they will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall, but in time, they will join you in the sun. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.”
Now here’s an idea: What if there was a movie not about Superman, but about the people around him? Just random people on the street, a minister, a homeless person, etcetc, and the movie is about their lives reacting to the things Superman does. Following his example, trying to solve the conflicts in their lives with the same benevolence and love for humanity, seeing him as an idol, a symbol of hope, a god. Mob mentality ensues, and maybe a cult formed around Superman starts doing horrible things in his name. He needs to stop them, but he can’t just go kill them all or even try to lock them up – they were, after all, just misguided, doing what they thought “Superman would do”.
I don’t know. That’s just off the top of my head, and it clearly needs tweaking. But seriously, do we really need to just have him sacrificing himself on the altar of humanity’s future intermingled with various scenes of him punching people out of the sky and a childhood that can be summed up with “BWAA?!? I’m adopted?!? And an alien?!?”
Every. Single. Time.
Well, admittedly, the plot will probably not be so simple as that. I hope. I’m sure Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer know what they are doing.
But I digress.
It seems to be just another movie about robots fighting aliens, lots of visual effects, and all the general stuff that happens in those kind of movies, right?
I don’t think so.
The premise is fairly simple, yes. But look at what else that trailer is telling you.
There are two pilots for these robot soldiers, and when they pilot, they must both work together AND share all their memories and experiences. Just imagine all the places they could go with just that alone!
Opening yourself entirely to another person would be quite a harrowing experience. But on top of that, you have to work together with this person to pilot a giant behemoth and battle alien beings from deep beneath the Earth’s surface?
-The drama that can ensue by revealing all your personal demons to another person who now knows you better than anyone else.
-Learning to work in a perfect trio: Man, Woman, and Machine.
-One of them is a former pilot, and the other an inexperienced trainee.
-What if one of them dies while they are linked, or is seriously injured? (let’s face it, it’ll probably happen at some point in the movie) How does that affect the other?
-The two protagonists could potentially have some sort of love story by getting to know each other, OR (much more interestingly) what if one of them is married or in a relationship and the fact that the two share an intimate neural link while piloting wreaks havoc on their personal lives?
Obviously that last one was 100% speculation, but I hope you see what I’m saying. So many places this thing could go, so much story that could be told.
And if you aren’t convinced yet, just remember that at one point they use this Jaeger robot to bat an alien with a supertanker.
But anyway, I’ve written over 1000 words on my first impressions of these movies. It’s probably time to stop.
In conclusion, could Man of Steel be some incredible film that defies all the stereotypes and does something really new and interesting?
Could Pacific Rim end up just being another alien movie with giant robots thrown in?
Yes, to both.
But from what I’ve seen so far, Pacific Rim is much more engaging, original, and inventive.
Brendon “who wants to team up and pilot and giant robot?!?” Regier
There is a word out there, at this very moment, that is probably being misused somewhere in this country.
A wonderful, wash-over-you sort of word. It always conjures for me the images of freshly tilled Earth and that wonderful smell you get when standing in the middle of a heavily forested area; the fresh air, a hint of moss covering fallen tree trunks, and the satisfying crunch of browned leaves under your feet. It might have this effect because I’ve taken one too many hiking trips in my earlier years through the woods and in the mountains of British Columbia.
The word I’m talking about?
The sights, sounds, and smells this word brings up in my mind are now heavily glazed with a coat of annoyance due to the sheer amount I see it used as some synonym for “new, insightful, or fresh”.
Either that, or some marketing buzzword; but to be quite honest, I don’t really mind it being used in such a manner. If your vegetables, coffee, and various department store merchandise are all being sold to you as “organic” products, then sure. Usually it just means that it was grown without “chemicals” (I never really hear which ones, just that they are harmful) and that’s all well and good if you feel like paying an extra buck or two. I don’t care for organic products myself, but I don’t really mind that they exist either. They have a market, and they cater to it. It’s no different than advertisers putting “home-style” or “fresh” or “fat free” or whatever strikes a chord with consumers. “Home-style” does not mean it was cooked in a home, by a loving, doting mother who hands it down to you with a pat on the head and a kiss, which is clearly the nostalgic image of times past that they are trying to evoke with such a phrase. Likewise, “fresh” is rather ambiguous, and doesn’t really mean anything when placed on a product. Regardless of how sealed the package of that box of cookies you just bought is, it doesn’t stop the march of time. Fresh means “newly made or obtained; recently arrived; just come” (according to the dictionary, anyway) and that does not apply to cookies sitting on a supermarket shelf for days on end.
What I’m getting at is this; using words to evoke emotions that makes us wish to buy certain products is a cornerstone of the marketing empire. The word is not misused in this context, it is merely a tool in the arsenal of those who wish to promote their product to a certain audience.
Marketing is one thing, but general conversation is another.
Here is why this word is truly misused, and what has caused my loathing:
“That idea you had was very organic.”
“I love that book. It’s so introspective and organic.”
Okay, okay, I get it. I realize that the word in this context usually refers to something that seemed to have a life of it’s own, that grew and developed absent of structure or (sometimes) intentional thought. A mere colloquialism we have adopted.
The problem is the elitism we have prescribed it. It seems to hold some special meaning these days that has absolutely nothing to do with the actual meaning of the word. As though the thing described (usually being a work of art; movies, books, paintings, etc) is more “deep” or thought-provoking by being “organic”.
This, ladies and gentlemen, does not make any sense. Organic, as a base word, means, in essence, “something that is living”, and eventually became a colloquialism, “something that developed naturally, as though it were living” and then developed into the ridiculous “something that is (seemingly) more profound and fresh than other things out there.”
“Organic” is not a synonym for “original”.
That’s just being pretentious.
Brendon “organically produced” Regier
It’s been a slow week. Mostly spent watching movies and pacing back and forth while music plays in the background, attempting to dream up story ideas.
I finally got around to watching American Beauty, and loved it. I didn’t realize how much I enjoyed well done visual metaphors; especially when the movie isn’t ALL visual metaphors. I am referring of course to the red rose petals that appear in the fantasy sequences during the film, which (I can only assume) symbolized sexual desire. And let us not forget the quirky characters; there is no substitute for a expertly written one. I really am a sucker for characters like that, which might also explain my love of Breaking Bad, Sleepy Hollow, and House (sure, Sleepy Hollow’s characters may not be “quirky” in the traditional sense, but they DO have a certain flair to them that I love).
I also ended up watching Zero Dark Thirty. I’ll say this for it; at least it didn’t portray every soldier as Captain America. You know, the sort of upstanding, patriotic hero that many people would have you believe soldiers are. That first scene had some good weight to it, and assuming you view the Americans as “the good guys” and everyone else as “the bad guys”, it gives a refreshing release from stereotypes. Hey, it’s not just the bad guys that do terrible things like torture.
Aside from that, however, Zero Dark Thirty sort of fell flat on its face for me. The main character felt like a cartoon, especially when she gets incredibly “hero on a quest” about one-third through the movie, making passionate speeches about how they need to be going after Bin Laden when everyone else has given up. I got this vibe that she was some hero from a small village who had risen up to battle the giant evil dark lord in his castle of doom, and it was hard to take the movie seriously after that. And honestly, whoever this person ACTUALLY was, I’m sure she had a bit more on her mind than Bin Laden 24/7. That was the entirety of her character. There’s a scene where she goes out to a restaurant with a co-worker (who felt like a stereotypical “girl” character, which was a bit annoying) who tells her to relax a bit and asks “do you have any friends at all?” And what does she do? She stares downward and doesn’t answer till the phone rings. If she was an introverted loner, that would be one thing, but this character didn’t seem that way at all. She was just far too single-minded.
In short, she felt more like a plot device than an actual character.
But enough of that. As far as dreaming up story ideas goes, I have accomplished a bit this week. Nothing too extravagant. I’ve been working on plotting a novel I’m writing, and have been occasionally writing bits of short fiction which were discarded very quickly after their creation. I’m horrible at sticking to stuff like that.
To give a few examples, let me show you a piece.
This is something I wrote late one night, not entirely sure what on Earth I was trying to achieve:
Is everyone like me?
Sam’s thoughts were often plagued with such frivolities. For it was frivolous to reflect on such things. It was the sort of statement pretentious morons thought up when they were being “deep”.
Deep into shit, maybe.
But he always did end up reflecting on that ever-persistent question, standing idly in his uniform with that one inconveniently placed mustard stain on his groin, the headset that didn’t work very well affixed to his head, the plastic so warm from the insufferable sun shining in through the drive-thru window that it stuck to his cheek, the microphone always seeming to tilt upward in just the right way so as to obscure his vision. Not to mention the way the headset seemed to turn people’s voices into unintelligible crackles.
Sam took another look around the restaurant, wondering if these people did the same things he did. Spend their whole day with this indifferent, superfluous attitude, then going home to turn on music really loud, dancing around their living rooms pretending they were the star of their own music video, imagining for a moment that they could actually sing, and didn’t look just a little too fat for television. Dreaming of a life where you were always happy and everyone respected you just for the sole reason that you were something good to look at. You’d stand out. You wouldn’t be a drone.
Sam hated being associated with these people. The ordinary, everyday street people. He’d had this moment, all the way back in elementary school, where he realized he was special. A cut above the rest. They were all going to be accountants and engineers and doctors. He, on the other hand, was going to be famous. He was going to make it big. He would prove all the others wrong when they doubted him. Even when they encouraged him, but sarcastically. Everyone was so very sarcastic. Sam could see right through them. They didn’t think he was hard-working enough to make it big in Hollywood, or publish some overnight success novel. He’d make it to stardom, and they’d all look at him and say “well, I have to admit it Sam, you were right all along!”
Sometimes I’ll start with a single line I want to include, or a feeling, a mood, even a title, but often I won’t know where I want to end up, and I’ll leave it partway through. Most of that last piece was taken from my previous experiences with working in fast-food, my high-school-era attitude toward life, and that feeling I actually had when I was younger, the idea that “I’m special, and destined for great things”.
I think I’m one of those people that needs to know the ending before I can begin to create the beginning and middle. I need a direction to head.
For now, I want to continue work on my novel, as I would love to have a completed manuscript on my hands instead of half-fleshed out scraps.
Brendon “occasional cinephile” Regier