Monday, January 31, 2011

5 Simple Rules for Filming My Superman

They did it. They finally did it. Damn them all to hell, they did it.
They cast the role of Superman in the Zack Snyder take on the Man of Steel that will be filming in Vancouver this summer. I dunno, some British guy. But I guess that means that they're actually going to go ahead and make a Superman movie for the 2010s.
Okay, look, I thought Snyder's Watchmen was a joylessly pedantic adaptation that mostly missed the point of the Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons series. Patrick Wilson was pretty good as sadsack superhero Dan Dreiberg, but then I'm a sucker for sadsack superheroes. I do respect Snyder's high regard for art direction, but come on, dude, even Tim Burton always ties his eye-candy to his movies' themes.
Snyder will be at a disadvantage here, compared to his previous comic book adaptations. Both The 300 and Watchmen were based on graphic novels (in Watchmen's case, it was a 12-issue series that was subsequently collected in the graphic novel format) that Snyder clearly used as storyboards for his film. But there is no Superman graphic novel. Oh sure, there are graphic novels that tell stories about Superman, but what's the greatest Superman story? What's Superman's Dark Knight Returns or Year One (both of which have been pilfered by Chris Nolan for his Batman movies). Where's Superman's "Death of Gwen Stacy"? Which story, in Superman's nearly 75-year history stands out as the perfect distillation of Superman's essence? There are certainly some popular favourites, "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" and the unimaginatively-titled "All Star Superman" come to mind. But it's unlikely either will be directly adapted for Snyder's talkie.
For one, so soon after Superman Returns, I don't think anyone is eager to have the word whatever in close proximity to the character. Second, "Whatever/Tomorrow" is a Supermanic Götterdämmerung, a Last Days of Chez Supes, that imagines an ending to Superman's story. That's no good for a big budget sequel machine. Third, who wants another round of Alan Moore whinging about what's been done with stories he wrote a generation ago?
All Star Superman, in its full glory, could be adapted as a trilogy of films. There's certainly enough story there. But that's not going to happen, since an animated adaptation will be coming straight-to-DVD (or whatever format things go straight to these days) sometime this year.
Interestingly, All Star Superman also concerns the final adventure of the Man of Steel. Most superhero mythos find their most iconic stories in characters' Secret Origins. But a great part of Superman's appeal is his endurance, his reliability, the longevity of his exploits. Superman was not only around for my childhood, and my parents' childhood, but also my grandparents' childhood--or at least their early adolescence. Of course, my daughter is already a Superman nut. And so it goes. We take Superman for granted, and it's generally good that we do. That's the kind of character he is. When writers seek to affect poignancy within a Superman story, it's more often than not his demise that drives home his significance. Ever since 1961--in a story written by Superman's creator, Jerry Siegel, no less--DC Comics has been wringing pathos and bathos out of sending off to arm-wrestle Great Caesar's Ghost. Like Lex Luthor says, "cry your hearts out, folks!"
But Zack Snyder probably won't kill Superman. Not in the first movie, at least. I get it, and mostly, I support it. Here are five things I would like Snyder to keep in mind as he constructs a new Superman film:
  1. Do Not Stare Directly Into the Superman - One of the best developments in the Superman mythos is that his incredible powers are derived from our yellow sun. This isn't just pseudo-science mumbo-jumbo, this is poetry. Like the sun, Superman, as a concept is huge and nearly all-powerful. It's from his light that all other superheroes get their resonance. It's too much! You hear things like, "Superman's too powerful, it makes him unrelatable," a lot. That's a load, but, hey, no one says your audience has to relate to or identify with Superman. That's what his supporting cast is for. Filtering Superman's light through the lenses of Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen allows for all kinds of depth and resonance and all that stuff that changes readers (or viewers) into fans.
  2. Lois Lane, Spell It Right - When was the last time there was a great Superman movie? Well, that would be the last time there was a great Lois Lane. Margot Kidder gave us a Lois Lane that was as potent a character as Superman. Why would a man with powers and abilities beyond those of mortal men fall so hard for a mere Earth woman? Because she's everything he hopes he would be without those powers: fearless, devoted to ideals like justice and truth and driven to make a change. This is your most important casting decision. Off the top of my head? Rashida Jones? Who else? Parker Posey? Why not?
  3. Superman is an Archetype - You know what kind of story you should try to tell with Superman? A big one. Lay on the metaphors, bring on the allegories. Get operatic! Superman doesn't just have ideals, he is an ideal. Let Batman, Spider-Man, Wolverine, or even Kick-Ass play to our insecurities, they're great at it. Let them explore the darkness within, let them be complicated heroes on a journey to discover and define their own morality. But Superman will not work as an antihero. Yes, he may brood over the loss of his entire planet, a culture and family he'll never know. He may, in private, question whether he's up to the task of saving the world. But Superman must be super. He must use his powers and abilities for good, for that is his greatest power, goodness.
  4. The Best Superman Story is All of Them - Remember what I said in the last rule about telling a big story? Forget it. Don't tell a big story. Tell a million little stories. One of many reasons there are few great superhero movies is that comic books are a serial medium. Comic books have traditionally translated better to episodic media like radio and television where characters aren't expected to develop at the same rate (if any) as they would in film or a novel. Of course, movies have become more episodic over the last dozen or so years. Nonetheless, Superman is impervious to character development like his skin is impervious to bursting shells. Again, this is why he has such a great supporting cast (especially Steve Lombard!); they grow and change and suffer because Superman can't. They are the workhorses of the serial melodramas that Superlore is built on.
  5. That's Why They Call Him Superman - You can't put Superman into a grim, cynical world and force him to navigate the shifting ethics of uncertain times--outside of an origin story, that is. Whatever world Superman inhabits has got to be a greater, more optimistic place than this one right here that we live in for one simple reason: Superman lives there. He's the best at what he does, and what he does is very nice. A genuinely super Superman must change the course of humanity's destiny merely through his power of super-influence.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Red (Tape) Scare

EDIT/UPDATE, AUGUST 2012: BFK is actually a cool guy, with whom I disagree on a few big things but see eye-to-eye with on many big and small things. So stop calling him names in the comment section, okay?

I don't usually get into it with people on the Internet.
On Twitter, yesterday, I said:

So the gov't of Sask would rather take its cues from anti-tax lobbyists than the SK Supreme Court?

in reference to the Saskatchewan Party proclaiming "Red Tape Awareness Week" on the same day its Justice Minister said he would try to find a way around the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal's ruling that provincial marriage commissioners may not refuse service to gay and lesbian couples. Okay, Mr. Wall, we get it, you don't like unions of any kind.
This morning, I saw a little blue dot under the "mentions" heading on my Twitter homepage. A fellow named Brian F. Kelcey, who self-identifies on the the Internet as a "professional troublemaker" (I'm still listed as a Hobo-Detective on the Internet--I investigate the disappearances of pies from windowsills, my fee is one pie, no refunds if I discover that I myself am the perpetrator, I'm the best there is at what I do), has seen my Tweet and says he doesn't understand why I would connect the two events. After some back and forth in which Mr. Kelcey continues to claim to not understand why, in an election year no less, it's worth taking note of whose counsel the ruling party heeds, he tells me that he knows better than I do and I back the fuck off.
But I'm wondering, who is this guy and why did he respond to my Tweet in the first place? Does he have a Google-Alert set for "anti-tax lobbyists"? He might, considering that Manitoba's Hansard service records him as representing the Manitoba Taxpayers Federation in 1996. Further digging around shows that he also did PR work for the disastrous Harris Government in Ontario around the turn of the century. He also runs a blog called "State of the City" where his bio states he's a fan of "20th Century noir fiction", so he can't be all bad.
A closer look at my own Twitter algorithms show that the original Tweet was reTweeted by none other than the CFIB, who where the ones I was suggesting were too cozy with the Saskatchewan Party in the first place.
Is it Kelcey's job to hang around on Twitter all day waiting for someone to badmouth the CFIB and its initiatives like "Red Tape Awareness Week" (which, um, sounds like exactly the kind of bumfluff a real taxpayers' watchdog group would be watchdogging against)? Probably not, and I don't want to begrudge a guy or gal for earning a living, or defending his or her beliefs on the Internet.
But I have to wonder why someone with such strong ties to anti-tax, anti-union, anti-regulation lobby groups like the CFIB and Canadian Taxpayers Federation would devote so much effort to distance such entities from the weirdo, religious right that they helped put into power in Saskatchewan.

mp3: "Dance to the Beat of Moody" by ESG