A Dreamer Walking

The Superhero Problem!

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on July 31, 2011

There are so many problems with the superhero frenzy going on in Hollywood this summer. I have seen X-Men: First Class, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger, and all of them reek of cliche plot, stereotypical protagonists, and plastic feeling worlds. All of them involve the good guys saving the world from sure doom at the end. We get more then enough visual effects, action sequences, and romantic love interests, but we hardly see any heart or personal touch by the directors and writers of these films. All these movies have completely predictable storylines where the characters only goal seems to be moving the plot along. None of these films give us much to think about or make us want to come back and explore the world more thoroughly.

Hardly any of the character arcs in these superhero movies are believable. Charles Xavier in the X-Men: First Class movie has this unreasonable understanding of the human race, so even though the humans want to exterminate the mutant population Xavier wants his X-Men to fight for the good of man kind. In Thor we see the “spoiled brat who learns to care for others” storyline. However, the only real reason Thor ends up wanting to fight for the humans is because of a girl we hardly are given time to know. In the movie Captain America we are shown a young shrimpy looking man in Steve Rogers, who gets beat up a lot. For some reason however Steve still has this unfailing belief in America and he wants to fight in World War II. When Steve Rogers becomes Captain America he does everything right, he is that nobody who became a somebody. The only problem is we are given little reason to care for him. The filmmakers for these films seem to forget it is not about what the audience sees on the outside that makes the difference, but rather the true impact comes from the growth we see and feel deep down in the characters soul.

The audience will not care for characters like Charles, Thor, or Captain America, if we do not buy into who they are. Instead of starting us off seeing Steve Rogers get beat up by a bully in the ally and refuse to run away, why not show why he is willing to get beat up? Sure, Steve verbally says in the film he doesn’t run away from bullies because if you choose to run they will never let you stop. But film is not about verbally telling us why a character is who he is, film is about visually showing us. In all these superhero movies we need to see and buy into the why factor. We need to understand why they are who they are. We need to see why Steve Rogers does not run from a fight and why he has this unconditional belief in America. We need to see why Charles Xavier has this belief in the good of mankind. We need to see why Thor is so interested in this girl he meets on earth.

Before any of the heroic stuff happens we need to find a way to relate to the hero. Too many of these films seem to want to show the hero as some sort of God who can do no wrong. This need for unrealistic perfection is shown in so many ways; their hair is unreasonably perfect, everything they do seems to succeed, and they have no doubts in what they stand for and what they are doing. We do not like superheros because of they are perfect. We don’t even like them because they have super powers. We like them because they remind us of ourselves. Inner struggle and the overcoming of human flaws is what makes a superhero a Superhero. The superpower should only reflect the struggle within. The powers are not always blessings. We need  to see the struggle that comes with a professor who can read everyone’s thoughts, a prince who has a nation relying on his actions, and a small city boy who is suddenly hailed as this American hero.

These superhero movies are too caught up in love interests and evil villains. For some reason Hollywood thinks every superhero movie needs to have a super villain. Sadly, the super villain ends up taking a huge amount of time away from the superhero. I think the Christopher Nolan’s Batman franchise has done the best when it comes to super villains and knowing how to structure them around the superhero. The Joker, the greatest of the Batman villains, was not even introduced in the first film. They did this because they first wanted us to get to know Batman and see what he stood for before introducing us to his greatest challenge. The Joker along with the Scare Crow from the first Batman film, were only used to enhance our understanding of Bruce Wayne. A great super villain supports the superhero. However, in movies like Thor and Captain America there was a lot of time spent with the villain, but little of that time gave us insight into the protagonists of the films.

There are no rules telling the filmmaker to have a super villain in a superhero film. One of the greatest conflicts a superhero could have is just facing the real world. This leads to my other problem with the latest superhero films. None of the worlds feel real. I couldn’t believe how much killing was going on in the X-Men: First Class film without us hardly seeing a drop of blood or having a few moments to reflection. In Thor we were introduced to such surreal worlds everything felt possible but nothing felt believable. The City where Thor lived and the Frost Giant world had nothing to do with our world. Because we were not able to connect to those worlds, very little we saw in those worlds felt worth anything to us. There was hardly anything that made me feel Captain America took place during World War II. The Germans didn’t talk German, the environments all looked too clean and fake, and instead of regular guns and 1940’s technology they had lasers and other technology more superior then anything we have now. They made movie of World War II feel like a sci-fi film. Captain America had no grit or realism to it. The filmmakers wanted to show a war without the true brutality that comes with war. This made what Captain America did feel much less heroic or entertaining.

A key to creating a good superhero film is sticking to reality as much as possible. We need to feel like we can relate to the fantastical parts of the movie and you do that by grounding the fantastical in reality. The story of Thor called for a curtain amount of abstraction. However, this abstraction could have had more elements of our real world incorporated into it. Instead of all the environments looking like brand new sets, we could have seen a bit of wear and tear in them. We need to see wear and tear in the characters as well. During the big Frost Giant fight scene at the beginning of the film, one man gets injured and everyone else seemed to be fine. After the fight Thor is strong enough to argue with his dad and get banished to earth. The costuming for Thor was so extreme hardly any of it seemed reasonable. There is a difference between what works in a comic book and what works in a live action movie. It is the director and writers job to translate drawings into real characters, objects, and environments. We might buy into a half naked drawing of a powerful superhero in the comics, but on film that would just look trampy. Comics are all about hitting one strong pose after the next. In film however it needs to be a fluid motion, as if the actors are not shooting for poses but rather something that feels natural for the character they are portraying.

In Captain America:The First Avenger I wanted to see Captain America be part of fighting a real war. They did not need to go all sci-fi with his story. The actual events of the actual war brings plenty of drama in by itself. I wanted to see how Captain America would react to losing a mission. I wanted to see how he would react to needing to sit with a friend while he died of a gunshot wound. I wanted to see Captain America’s reaction towards a concentration camp or a town that just go bombed. I wanted to see a character stand for the ideals of America all of us wish we could could stand for, and then I wanted to see those ideals get tested in every way imaginable. I think it is a filmmakers duty to stick at least a little bit to the material they claim to be portraying. In no way am I saying make Captain America a Schindler’s List film. However, I believe the more true to the actual war the filmmakers could have been the more heroic Captain America’s actions would have been.

I want to feel like I am along side these superheros. I want to see them as humans just like me. They do not need to save the world for me to fall in love and be entertained by them. They just need to fight for something I can believe in. The greatest part of a superhero is not their cool costumes, magnificent powers, or inability to fail. They should all fail, just like we fail at times. The greatest part of the superhero movie in my opinion is when they fall and are at the lowest place imaginable…….they get back up.

If done right superhero films can inspire. They can help us understand no one is perfect but anything is possible. They can help us understand the responsibility that comes with the power we have as free individuals. All in all, they can entertain us in a much more thorough and impacting way.

Earn the Moment

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on September 28, 2010

Earning your moment is one of the most pivotal parts of film making. I just watched the movie Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, where the director Zack Snyder tried to combine three children books into one movie. The attempt failed! The movie was full of unearned moments. One of the things you need to do when adapting a long book to a two hour film or trying combine three volumes of a story into one movie, is simplify. With Legend of the Guardians, it seemed that they tried to combine all the big characters and relationships you see in the books, into the movie. This in return created a mediocre story line along with very mediocre characters.

The movie had many big moments. There was the moment where Soren, the main character, is betrayed by his brother. We have the moment where Soren learns to fly for the first time. There is the moment where Soren and his gang finds the Guardians and their secret city. We also have the relationship between Soren and his mentor Ezylryb and the “epic” battle at the end where Soren saves Ezylryb from death. The problem with all these great “moments” is that they were not earned. We did not know Soren’s brother well enough to care about the betrayal. We did not see Soren struggle with his ability to fly enough to give two hoots (no pun intended) that he eventually was able to. The journey to the Guardians and their secret city was so fast, it hardly felt like a journey at all. The relationship between Soren and Ezylryb was so cliche it was hardly worth watching. Nothing stuck out, the “big moments” were never earned and thus I cared very little about them.

Every film should have big moments. However, it does not matter how much money you put onto those moements nor how great of effects you have to show off the moments, if you have not yet earned it. In a movie like Braveheart, would we care much about William Wallace’s cry for “Freedom” at the end, if we had not spent the first two hours of the movie learning what that “Freedom” was? The “big moment” is the pay off, but first we need to get the audience emotionally involved. We as filmmakers must get the audience intimately involved with our characters and story before we start to think about the “big moment”.

Most of the time you will find it is good to simplify stories so that you have more time to concentrate on and create depth in characters and relationships. The beauty of sequels in my opinion is that they give us the opportunity to understand characters more fully and more time to see them evolve. With a good sequel you will find that the first movie is less heavy on plot and more oriented toward getting to know the characters. I think the new Batman franchise is a great example of this. In Batman Begins, we see the main character Bruce Wayne and his personal journey in becoming a superhero. The movie has very little to do with the antagonist and everything to do with what makes Bruce Wayne choose to become Batman.

If you have watched the first Batman movie, Batman Begins, you will no doubt be more involved with the second film, Batman Dark Knight. We know Bruce Wayne in quite a bit of depth when he faces the Joker in the second film. The big moments in the second film are much more impacting because we have been given time to care about the characters.

Walt Disney might have been the best at creating a relationship between the audience and his characters. You look at many of the old Disney animation classics and you will see the stories are usually quite simple. In the beginning of the movie Pinocchio we are given twenty plus minutes of just being introduced to the main characters, where hardly any story plot happens. We are able to watch Jiminy Cricket and Gepetto in normal every day life. By the time the story does start to develop, we have a growing interest in the characters. We actually care about what happens to them and at the end we are so involved with characters like Pinocchio and Gepetto, that the big moments really pay off. At the end of the movie Monstro the whale is much more evil and what he does is much more interesting because of our connection to the main characters.

The story of Pinocchio does not get too complex on us. We see that there is only one main story point in Pinocchio, and that is Pinocchio’s goal to become a real boy. Everything is concentrated on the obstacles Pinocchio needs to go through to become a real boy. Walt did not cloud his movies with too many big goals, he knew the art of simplicity and it made it so that the “big moments” we see in his films really pay off.

A good movie does not consist of epic shot after epic shot. A good film is a film that people care about. If you can get your audience emotionally involved with the story you are telling and the characters you are portraying, you have earned your moment.

Giving Your All

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on May 4, 2010

I have been researching Christopher Nolan and his philosophy on the making of the Batman movies. For movies like Batman Begins and Batman Dark Knight, Christopher gave everything he had. He did not hold back. Christopher used what ever he could think of to make the story be the best it could be.

Because Christopher and his team gave it their all in the first two Batman films, should we be scared that the third movie movie will not be as good? I mean many people have asked, how can they possibly top themselves? Christopher has even admitted that he has a hard time doing sequels because he gives it his all the first time around. Should we as filmmakers be afraid then, that if we give a movie our all early on, we will always be disappointed afterword because we might never be able to “top ourselves”?

I think one of the greatest mistakes that filmmakers make when making a sequel or even just going on to their next project, is that they always want to “top themselves”. The movie they are working on needs to be bigger and better then the last movie.

Nobody should make a movie in order to top their last one. I as a filmmaker want to make another movie for one main reason, because I have another story to tell. If I have another story to tell with the same characters I used in the last film then by all means I will make a sequel.

We should make movie’s based on wanting to tell another story. In the first Batman movie, Batman Begins, Christopher and his team wanted to tell a story about Bruce’s (Batman) fears and how he could use that fear against evil, for good. In Batman Dark Knight,  the story was about Bruce’s rage and how far can he (along with Gotham) be pushed before he looses control.

In the Batman movies so far, the filmmakers pursued the main themes of the story. If a action sequence or scene in general did not pursue those main themes/purposes of the story, they were cut from or not even put into the script. The filmmakers did not hold back, but they based what they did on the themes of the movie.

As long as you have a fresh new point to make in a movie you should give it your all and not think of holding back for the next film. Give it your all in each film you make, just make sure you stay true to the story you are telling and have something new to say.