Every truly great idea has a birth narrative. This particular idea was conceived while I was departing the theater at the conclusion of the movie Pearl harbor… you remember, the one with Ben Affleck and that other guy… as I was walking to my car, I realized I had seen this movie before… twice… or more precisely, I had seen pieces of this movie in two previous places. Pearl Harbor should have been subtitled: Saving Private Titanic. And that’s when it hit me: Every movie is the Hegelian synthesis of two previous movies.
The writer of Ecclesiastes once said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” Such a statement has never been truer than in the case of movies. As we endure the endless onslaught of prequels, sequels, remakes, etc, we strongly suspect that our age is derivative and has nothing new to say. It appears as if our time has lost the ability to create stories and has the talent only for taking the stories of and adding CGI, explosions, and tedious dialogue by performers who are easy on the eyes. Though there is truth to such an excoriating critique, it deserves noting that these movies also function as our culture’s mythology. What stories we keep retelling and how we choose to retell them provide glimpses into what we as a culture find most meaningful and valuable.
My colleague, Randy Wilson, is disenchanted with the superhero movie. He’s concerned that the overblown CGI robs us of our imagination. He’s worried that the genre lacks moral depth. And he’s afraid that we, as a society, aren’t using our gifts to say anything meaningful, to say anything true.
I would encourage him to look for the baby in the bathwater.
“Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.”
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden
Did you see the latest Superman update, Man of Steel? An imaginative story filled with heart-wrenching emotion, from a comic book no less. This one, like its cousins Iron Man, The Avengers and X-Men has all the thrilling over the top realism that CGI technology can provide. We hardly need our imaginations any more. Won’t that be a brave new accomplishment, entertainment that we can absorb without even having to think about it?
Lately I keep coming away from these marvelous heroic good vs. evil cartoon reboots scratching my head. I can’t seem to figure out why these modern day superheroes with all of their mythic powers and advanced technology always end up in a kung fu fist fight with the bad guys. Probably because these aren’t really stories told around the campfire to pass on cultural explanations and reinforce essential moral values. What we’re paying millions of dollars to create and watch today in our “cinemultiplexicons” are glorified and amped up video games. These are the kind of games that keep you coming back and dumping in quarters by enticing you to rack up more punches and gunshots. Continue reading