With all this recent talk of movies, and special effects, it is serendipitous that my friend Derek sent me a link to this cool online movie, entitled "Star Asciimation Wars." It will be especially soothing to those of you who, like me, found the latest "Star Wars" offering to be further proof that each movie in this series appears to be getting simultaneously more elaborate and less interesting.
I'm disturbed by the defense of "Spiderman," in response to my last post, by otherwiseintelligentpeople. A common theme, expressed kindly by most, goes something like: "hey, it's Spiderman for crying out loud; it's supposed to be mindless entertainment."
Unfortunately, it is neither. It's actually not so easy to create mindless entertainment. Something has to serve the function of engaging the viewer, and fostering in him a willingness to forego logic, or explanation, or belief in physical limits. Usually, this something is either the characters (and their interaction), the plot, or the special effects. Since some of you have raised the fair point that "Spiderman" doesn't aspire to be, say, "The Godfather," let's compare it to some other comic-inspired movies.
Characters: "Superman" and "Batman" were both driven by interesting supporting characters. The most memorable are Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor, and Jack Nicholson as the Joker, but there were many others -- "Superman" relied on Lex Luthor's bumbling assistant and pampered girlfriend for comic relief, "Batman" featured the seedy, double-crossing police detective, and the wisecracking photographer. "Spiderman's" only interesting character was the newspaper publisher, who inexplicably disappeared too quickly from the film. The others were either constrained by an apparent lack of talent (Tobey Maguire), poor writing (Willem Dafoe), or both (Kirsten Dunst, James Franco).
In fact, to fall back on the excuse that "it's only a comic book" is to insult comic book writers. The villains in the Spiderman comic series were more entertaining than Willem Dafoe's character, while Peter Parker was always more complex than what we get in the movie adaptation. In Tobey Maguire's hands he becomes a librarian on sedatives.
Plot: A good story is like a good dancer; it moves with a purpose. "Spiderman" moved like I dance -- the tasteful viewer is horrified, but strangely unable to look away. Once it begins you hope that it's farce, and once you realize it's not, you just pray that it's over soon. It tried, like all superhero stories, to build a hero-villain conflict, but failed, if not from bad acting, then simply due to the fact that the conflict between Spiderman and the Goblin is incidental: Peter Parker just happens to be at yet another crime scene, and even though he fails to stop the Goblin from achieving his objective, he somehow becomes the latter's mortal enemy. They have one short subsequent conversation, and the remainder is the usual trash talk common to most movie fight scenes these days.
"Superman" and "Batman" do a far better job of building the intensity of hatred between hero and villain. Lex Luthor and Superman have extended conversations to foster the existence of a conflict in the mind of the viewer, while Batman first causes the Joker's crippling injuries, then realizes that the Joker is the murderer of his parents. And because the villains in both movies have interesting personalities, their conflict with the one-dimensional main characters is made all the more engaging.
Special Effects: Different movies use special effects with different ends in mind. Some make a full frontal assault, pulling out every visual and auditory stop in an effort to convince you that something cool just happened, even though you don't quite know what the hell it was, or what it has to do with the story. The most recent "Star Wars" debacle is a prime example. Other movies focus on realism, usually to make you feel as if you are in the middle of the action. Commendable examples include "Saving Private Ryan," the HBO "Band of Brothers" series, and "The Patriot." Still other movies use special effects as an ace in the hole, to push you deep into a frightening or exotic place to which they've brought you largely with dialogue and plot. Two good examples are "The Sixth Sense" and "Stir of Echoes." Finally, there are movies like "The Lord of the Rings," "Willow," "The Matrix," "Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory", "The Wizard of Oz", and "Legend," which use special effects to create a magical world for their characters, and therefore for the viewer.
"Spiderman" attempts to fit into the first category, and in doing so it subjects itself to a merciless technological arms race. Once you've seen the last two "Star Wars" movies, or even the mediocre "X-Men," "Spiderman" is nothing special. Granted, the effects are necessary to tell the story, but they are at a level where they can only serve as enhancement for a character-driven plot, much as the effects in "Superman" and "Batman" served to do. In the absence of that, they are paint for walls that simply don't exist.
These criticisms aside, "Spiderman" is just plain sloppy. "Superman" could get away with Clark Kent's stilted dialogue because he was surrounded by characters with interesting lines, and because it fostered his nerd/All-American hero image. The "Spiderman" script reads as if it were a collaborative high school drama project; nobody talks like a real human, except the newspaper publisher. Like "Attack of the Clones," it throws out all pretense of tailoring action scenes to the constraints of physics, with the result that many of these scenes end up being distracting and cartoonish. It whipsaws its characters about so that their actions are unpredictable, thereby ruining any character development it manages to scrape together in preceding scenes. In short, rather than serving as mindless entertainment, its gaping flaws distract the viewer from just sitting back and enjoying the flick.
That, in a nutshell, is why I conclude that "Spiderman" fails miserably even within the tight confines of the comic-book movie genre. None of this is to say, of course, that you should feel guilty if you enjoyed it. I'll not be one to hold my friends' handicaps against them.
A little note for those of you who recommended "Spiderman." You know who you are. Please stand up. Place both hands behind your head. Now, slam it as hard as you can onto your desk.
That's what you've got coming from me, unless I get $107 deposited in my PayPal account, which will reimburse me for my time and the cost of my ticket. You are also forbidden from recommending any more movies to your fellow Americans. Ever. You ever sit in church, or in your school choir, and hear that one person who is so out of tune, but who doesn't know it, and who keeps singing at the top of his lungs, oblivious to the painful cries of infants and small children? I don't know what in movie appreciation corresponds to tone deafness, but my Spidey-loving friends, you've got it. The rest of us are hitting a C, and you're way down on A-minor. Close your yap. When the subject of movies comes up, just nod your heads, smile, and learn from your betters.
Case in point -- "Spiderman." Not since "Electric Boogaloo" has a movie extruded such insipid dialogue, combined it with mindless, seemingly random events posing as plot development, swaddled it in choreography reminiscent of epileptic fits, and vomited it onto a screen at such toxic levels that the intelligent viewer is left emotionally drained from grief over the decline of American storytelling.
I sat webbed to my seat, thinking that either the movie would get better, or Kirsten Dunst would get naked. If you haven't gone, save your money, because NEITHER HAPPENS.
If any of your friends recommend this movie, remove them from your lives. They are hopelessly estranged from their senses, and very likely a danger to themselves and others, if only because the odds are high that the next time it's their turn to rent a movie for the gang, they'll show up on your doorstep with "Sister Act II," which is almost as likely as "Electric Boogaloo" to inspire a cry of Oh-My-God-My-Eyes! from its viewers. I'm not an advocate of divorce, but if your spouse liked this movie, serve him with papers, take the kids, and move to Canada. Sure, they're hopelessly paranoid about the encroachment of American culture, but, really, maybe they're on to something. Oh, and if your kids liked this movie, then you are a miserable failure as a parent, and deserve the third-rate cattle-pen retirement home they're liable to stick you in the first time you get dizzy on the shuffleboard court.
And finally, Willem Dafoe. Dude, what were you thinking? Do you realize how razor-thin close you are to taking Christopher Walken's place as the most underachieving (and freakiest cheek-boned) actor in modern American cinema? Is that really what you aspire to? For God's sake man, pull yourself together. Fire your agent. Get on the wagon, or off it, or something to shake the old career up.
I'd say more, but I have to go drink several shots of bourbon, pour bleach into my eyes, and pray that memory loss comes quickly.
At first this story struck me as just another example of wacky commies: Chinese officials ordered the crops of some local farmers destroyed in order to give higher ranking officials a better view of state infrastructure projects. It's easy to view such things with the detachment afforded by distance and security. But I started to think about what the farmers must have been thinking, as these bullies in cheap suits ordered their year's work negated. What shame they must have felt under the eyes of their children, who no doubt had worked the fields with them. Or perhaps they felt no shame at all, perhaps this terrible system of feudalism disguised as a worker's paradise has robbed them even of this vestige of humanity.
Then I think about the fact that indignities like this, and far worse, are visited upon millions trapped under oppressive regimes every day. I wonder why the same opprobrium reserved for neo-Nazis is not ladled out over the self-anointed heads of Western elites who advocate socialism. Both systems, fascism and socialism, have produced suffering and violations of human rights so numerous as to defy counting (though The Black Book of Communism makes a noble effort). Yet somehow while we rightly decry the advocates of the former, we extend every courtesy to people who advocate the latter, though they would, if given the opportunity, give themselves and their allies the same powers exercised by these Chinese thugs on some distant Henan field.
Of course they would do so under the illusion that they were making us all better off. I am reminded of a delightful observation by John Derbyshire: "Wherever there is a jackboot stomping on a human face there will be a well-heeled Western liberal to explain that the face does, after all, enjoy free health care and 100 percent literacy."
Regardless of their intentions, however, socialists and their close allies seek to advance a system that, once fully unleashed, inevitably kills, enslaves, or at the very least demeans human beings. The proper response to someone who looks to take your property and place you in handcuffs, I think, is a firm punch in the nose.