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.

Identify With The Villain!

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on September 19, 2010

What makes for a good villain? I think the main answer is a villain that you can identify with. I know that most would say, “make sure the villain is SCARY”, or, “Make sure the audience loves to hate him”. Personally, I do not find those things work as well as finding a way to have a villain, while being truly evil, be relatable towards the audience, even to the point of having the audience feel a little sympathetic towards the character.

Alfred Hitchcock seemed to be a master at making the audience feel for the villains, to the point that we are even rooting for them. In the first three Alfred Hitchcock movies I saw, I found the antagonist to be just as interesting as the protagonist. In Rear Window the villain is the neighbor across the street who is suspected and eventually proven to have killed his wife. However, with the suspected murderer, Lars Thorwald, we are not prone to hating him, in fact at the beginning of the movie we feel a sort of pity for the character. He is helping feed and take care of a bed bound wife who seems to take his charity for granted. When the main character Jeff (played by James Stewart) eventually finds out that Lars had killed his wife, we don’t immediately feel hateful toward the Lars, in fact we could understand why the character did what he did.

We the audience need to be able to relate with the villain. the villains intentions need to be understandable in order for us to understand him as a character and more importantly in order to understand the protagonist. In order to understand what the hero is fighting towards, we need to know what he is fighting against. A good villain brings out the best in a hero. We create the villain in order to push the hero forward, to push the hero to do things he would never have done without that evil force.

I have always liked the type of villains that are almost mirror images of the hero. In Star Wars we have one of the greatest villains of all time in Darth Vader. Darth Vader was in fact at one point a good guy. Vader is the father of the antagonist Luke Skywalker. This idea that Vader was good at one point just like Luke, makes Vader’s lust for destruction and power all the more interesting. We immediately have more empathy and concern for Luke because we see a character in Vader, who was just like him. The empathy and concern builds up until the very end of the sixth movie, where the Emperor is trying to draw Luke to the “Dark Side” of the force.

With Hitchcock’ films there is an almost eerie feeling to most of his villains, as if Hitchcock believed more in the evil of human nature then the good. I personally think that the villain needs to be used to help us understand the main character in the film and used to further the good in human nature. However, to do that we need to be able to relate to the evil which often comes in the form of a living and breathing villain. We need to understand to some point why the character is doing the evil he or she is doing. Not all good villains need to have our pity, for instance almost every Disney villain ever made seems to be on the outside of us feeling sorry for them. They are usually portrayed as extremely cold and dark. But, even with the wicked Queen in Snow White, there was the natural understand of lust for beauty and power. That natural understanding made the villain identifiable. They portrayed that lust to a high extreme which in return created a very scary villain. The Queen also represented a fear that caused the main characters, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, to act, which allowed us to understand them to a much greater extent.

If you have a character that is doing evil for no reason you have a character that doesn’t really strike fear in the audiences hearts. It does not matter how evil a villain is if there is no way of identifying with him or her. The scary part of a character like Lars Thorwald, is he can literally be your next door neighbor, the character was understandable and you could see that temptation of evil in your own life and in those around you. The power of a villain like Darth Vader came from the heightened example he represented, of who we can truly become if we gave into fear and lust for power. The Queen in Disney’ Snow White was maybe not a character any of us could see ourselves becoming, but she did have root reasons for why she was doing what she was doing, things that we as the audience could identify with.

The Reason Why?

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on April 21, 2010

So I was watching a movie just for fun tonight. I chose one of my favorite superhero movies, Iron Man. My only intention was to veg out and be thoroughly entertained by Robert Downey Jr.’s fantastic portrayal of Iron Man. Watching the film I could not help but think about a film philosophy I am developing.

Even though I am a huge fan of the first Iron Man movie, the most interesting part, what I would call the heart of the film, comes right in the middle of the movie. The heart to me was when Tony Stark decides to fly to the Middle East and destroy his Jericho missile and stop some of the terrorism that his company was supporting behind his back.

When the movie was about helping a greater cause, I thought it was at its strongest point. When the movie turned to Tony’s long time executive co-worker Obadiah Stane as the secret villain, the movie began to lose some momentum.

Do not get me wrong, by fighting the villain Stane, Tony was helping the greater good. It just did not seem to be as relevant as fighting terrorism. The reasons to why Iron Man was fighting was not flashed before our eyes.

In the sequence where Iron Man (Tony Stark) chooses to go and fight the terrorists that had been using his weapons, we see the dilemma right in front of our eyes. Men with guns are holding Innocent civilians hostage. We, the audience, see these Innocent people and immediately feel for them. When Iron Man comes in and takes the terrorists out, we see reason to why he is doing what he is doing and the audience can relate.

Now flash forward to the sequence where Iron Man is fighting Iron Monger (Obadiah Stane), a mechanical monster that is as big as a semi and has a seemingly unlimited amount of ammo to use against Iron Man. We do not have as deep of a reason to why each character is doing what they are doing. To be honest it feels very unrealistic and thus takes away from the audience being able to relate.

It is okay to have unrealistic things in movies. The challenge however, is to make sure they still feel realistic. Everything must be grounded in reality. The strongest reality in Iron Man was terrorism. We as an audience could relate to terrorism and thus it served as a good villain.  However, the main villain was harder, for at least me, to relate to.

In each film you make, you should think of the reasons to why you are doing what you are doing. In the case of Iron Man, I saw that Tony Stark was fighting terrorism because of a conviction that he had something to do with supporting it and thus needed to set things strait. When it came to fighting the Iron Monger, the reason why became much more cliche and shallow. We saw a big monster that was fighting Iron Man, in order to get more power. We saw Iron Man fighting the monster in order to save his girl and “become a hero”. Tony Stark did not seem to have as much of a conviction while fighting Iron Monger, which made him as a character a little less interesting.

“Why” is a big question. The reason is everything. With a good film, you go into depth with your characters and story. The reason why the story goes a curtain way, needs to be thought of to its deepest point. When you find a conviction or a reason why you are making your story, you must find a way to stay with it.

Contrast

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on April 19, 2010

One of the keys to making good stories and good characters is contrast. You will not watch a good movie that does not have both goods and evils.

I am a big fan of movies that have good in them. I actually want the core of each of my films to be built out of something good. But my films would be very poor if all I had was good things happen.

Let me use this self-portrait I did to help make my point. If I only used dark shades and did not go any lighter then gray, my picture would not be as interesting. We would have hardly anything to contrast the black with and the dark would not stand out as being anything special. The same principle applies if I only had white through gray with no dark. The drawing would be hard to read, the shapes would lose their strength and nothing would pop.

The point of the drawing is made through contrast. The drawing is trying to say something with one half of the face being light and the other dark. We see some powerful dark lines in the eyes and shadows that contrast the highlights of the hat and face, well.

The same thing applies to any character you make or story you create. Yes, I am a big believer in good winning out in the end, but I need to contrast the good with something evil. We do not know how special the good is until we are able to see what it overcame or what it is fighting.

If you want to make a good villain, do not just have him be completely evil. Give him some good qualities and let us see the light in him. Look at a villain like Darth Vader from Star Wars. Vader is a very evil man (some would call him a monster) who killed many people (Including children). The reason to why he was so interesting however, was the fact that there was some good in him. The idea that Vader was once a good man makes his crimes all the more horrible and interesting. The idea that Vader is not completely evil, gives us as an audience a reason to keep watching him and hoping that he might choose good one day.

Sometimes you might need to sacrifice an interesting villain for an interesting story. Take the Joker in Batman Dark Knight for example. I think that the Joker was played very well, and he was actually a perfect villain for the Batman movie. The only interesting thing about the Joker however was the ways he could test Batman and Gotham. The Joker by himself would not be interesting, he had shown that he was completely evil. The only reason to why the Joker was doing what he was doing, was to test people and blow things up.

The Dark Knight was interesting because of the contrast between the Joker and Batman. In the first Batman movie, we saw that Batman had shown that he was mostly good (light). So what if we tested that goodness with the evil (darkness) of the Joker? The extreme light that Batman was, and the extreme darkness that the Joker was, created a very powerful contrast. For me that contrast was what made the movie interesting.

So in any story contrast is key. The darker the story gets, the more clearly we see the light.

(The picture is a self Portrait I did of myself about 4 years ago. I touched it up a little on Photoshop, so that I could get a bit more contrast. I am very happy with how it turned out, it was one of those drawings that made me first begin to think I could be good at art)