Friday, June 28, 2013

To Gain and to Lose Dimensions: Arguments for a Corny Superman

I wonder if we can stop "re-booting" things now.

I haven't seen the new Superman movie, yet. I love Superman, even though I was never a comic book kid. I had them, but everything but Superman seemed a waste of time.

I also got the treat of seeing Richard Donner's wonderful Superman: the Movie at the age of ten, in the theaters. I remember the advertisements on TV: "you'll believe a man can fly."

Christopher Reeve
What I saw onscreen was Superman as I had seen him defined in the comics and in the old reruns of the George Reeves series and in whatever cartoons had floated through my little head. He was honest; he represented "truth, justice and the American way."  He was a man, in that he could thump the bad guys (or, you know, pick up a train) but he would still stop to get a little girl's cat out of a tree. That's good stuff.

Strangely, I find myself getting emotional from time to time when I show my kids movies from my own past. When I put on Superman for my boys, I found myself getting choked up. I'm not sure what to make of this, really. It has a lot to do with just sharing something that was dear to me; it has a lot to do with the example of Superman in that film; it has a lot to do with John Williams's music (which, to me, is like water to the growing plants of my boys' young minds and hearts) but, I also think it has to do with the beautiful simplicity of the character.

I'm not sure what they did with the new Superman, so I'm not attacking the film. But a friend said that it is "not our Superman." If they have "re-booted" Superman to make him "conflicted" or to make him some sort of anti-hero (I doubt they went that far) or if they (and this is most likely) reduced his character to a machine that flies faster than a speeding bullet with a jet pack on it, is stronger than a locomotive on steroids and who is able to leap two-thousand, nine-hundred and seventy-four buildings at a single bound, I'm not interested.

Maybe, now that we might be in a position to stop being so pleased with our technological capabilities and now that we have experienced year after year of laughably paradoxical protagonists (drug dealers who are loving fathers and loving daughters who turn tricks to buy groceries for their ailing mothers), we can go back to just writing cool stories.

I say, let's keep Superman corny. Always tells the truth. Stands up for the little guy.  Never does anything evil. Let's keep that and let's accept the challenge of writing an interesting story for a guy who is that good. No, it is not easy. What is easy it "re-booting" and making Superman a guy who saves kitties by day and who is a porn addict by night.

Again, I'm not passing judgement on the new movie. I will certainly check it out. But it sure seems, from the previews, like CGI gets more attention than does the heart of a hero.

The problem is, the more dimensions we add the the screen, the more dimensions we are losing in the story. That was to be expected for awhile, but I'd like to see things start to turn around, now.


  1. At least part of what's going on here, I think, is that as we've become a richer and cushier country, we've demanded entertainment that's darker, edgier, and more violent while forgetting that there are many among us who genuinely need to be entertained.

    My grandparents knew that 1950s sitcoms were silly and that it was sheer fantasy to show dozens of bad guys in a Western die without so much as a tiny speck of blood, but they were too busy getting by; they were exhausted from physically demanding jobs and didn't expect verisimilitude from movies and television shows. They just wanted a bit of fluff before they got up the next day and wore themselves out all over again.

    It doesn't surprise me that wealthier, more comfortable people want entertainment to be complex art as well. I've certainly been guilty of that. But I wonder sometimes how we're harming the poor and the struggling by not even showing them that they can, if they want, opt to be unfashionably hopeful, and dream up a corny Superman.

    1. Well put, Jeff. It's just a shame that, if we need to watch stuff that is "complex" we're getting, in a lot of cases, a pseudo-complexity. I do miss writers who though of themselves more as craftsmen than as artists. My family and I watched the Donner Superman movie after I posted this, and, I have to say, it is a well-crafted story, even in its use of Superman as a "corny" type who never tells a lie -- he had to promise Miss Teschmacher that, if she helped him out of his kryptonite necklace, he would then save her mother in Hackensack before Lois and Jimmy. This leads to the cool (and emotional) climax of the film. Good stuff. Of course, Mario Puzo had made his mark as a craftsman in another famous novel/film venture...