Hello again! Sorry for last week’s absence, but you sure gave me a bunch of excellent letters, so it technically worked out for all of us. This week: Is Rey in danger from Episode IX director Colin Trevorrow? When is a time travel movie not a time travel movie? And most importantly, is Batfleck a Batcoholic?
Is a film more successful, critically or financially, if it is faithful or respectful to the source material? As a nerd, I want the answer to be yes. The difference between Marvel Studios’ films and BvS or Fant4stic 4 seems to be good evidence, but are there other factors involved?
The answer is a qualified yes. If studios made movies solely, specifically according to the source material, it would be a nightmare for everyone, including the fans. Think how much stuff has been retconned or swept under the rug or even just been deemed terrible for every single comic book character, and imagine trying to somehow make any of it make sense for mass audiences—or nerds, for that matter! We all have different ideas of what constitutes “canon” based on the specific comics and cartoon and shows we’ve enjoyed, often tied to when we enjoyed them. Not even all nerds could stand for their comic movies to be too accurate.
That said, there is a generally accepted sense of canon about each and every fictional character—it could be big and elaborate, it could be small and vague, but there’s still a kind of base level that the majority of nerds want accurate. Marvel Studios has been very good at this, and Nolan’s Dark Knight movies got a lot more right than they did wrong, and these movies have both been critically and financially well-received.
The thing is, it’s not being comics-accurate that is directly causing this success. Yes, keeping the nerds happy is good, because nerds bitch online constantly about anything that displeases them—myself totally included, more than most people, as I’m actually paid for it—and we’re generally loud enough now that we can affect how the general public anticipates a movie (The Fantastic Four reboot being a brutal example).
But the key here is that if a bunch of people love a character, or a series, or a property, and have loved it for up to 80 or so years, chances are there’s a specific reason for that: That they’re pretty good already. All these things are beloved for who and what they are, not because people have been waiting around thinking, “Oh, these Deadpool comics are okay, but I’m really reading them in hopes that one day Hollywood will make a live-action version where the character is completely different.” People like Deadpool because he’s funny, violent, crass, and extremely comic book-y, and guess what? Someone made a movie where Deadpool is funny, violent, crass, and extremely comic book-y, and it turns out mass audiences liked the character that way, too. Deadpool didn’t need to be “fixed” or “improved.” Most of these things don’t.
Now, you can still make a perfectly comics-accurate film that is still a very bad movie, and plenty of people have! But that’s an answer for another question.
Trevorrow Never Knows
Dear Postman, I never saw Jurassic World, mainly because I didn’t like what I heard about how the female characters were handled in it. As a dude who happens to be a feminist, as well as one who is raising a daughter, this seemed troubling. I am also a huge fan of how The Force Awakens handled women, especially Rey. I have no concerns about her character arc for episode 8, based on what I’ve heard. BUT: With Colin Trevorrow directing 9, should I be worried beyond that? Please reassure me!
I wouldn’t necessarily worry. I have my doubts that Trevorrow came into Jurassic World, saw a rich female character and ordered that she be turned into a cold business woman who needed to awaken to the magic of her ovaries to find fulfillment. Admittedly, Trevorrow did have a hand in Jurassic World’s screenplay, so maybe he’s partially culpable for sticking to a clichéd stereotype for Bryce Dallas Howard, but to be fair none of the characters in Jurassic World were particularly rich.
That said, Trevorrow is coming into Episode IX, which means he’s actually pretty limited in how much he can alter. Lucasfilm will have sussed out the major plot points, like Rey’s parents and general importance to the galaxy, and maybe even some specific scenes and setpieces. But unless something pretty crazy happens in Episode VIII, Trevorrow is not going to be able to stop Rey from being the trilogy’s main character and the key figure in this part of the Star Wars saga.
Also, I think Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy and J.J. Abrams, who almost certainly helped shape the trajectory of the sequel trilogy, had a vested interested in giving the lead to a female character (much as they did with Rogue One!) If somehow Colin Trevorrow really wanted to wreck Rey’s character—which again seems very unlikely—I feel pretty confident that Kennedy would shut him down very quickly.
Dear Mr. Postman,
Hello from the far past, Mr. Postman! I have a question for you regarding time-travel movies, and what counts (and doesn’t count) as one. Every February I watch a time-travel movie a day with friends. I’m always happy to field requests, but every year I get some suggestions that don’t quite feel right; specifically, movies where the protagonist travels into the future via suspended-animation/magic/cryogenic freezing/etc., and wakes up in a futuristic society.
I can mostly get behind the idea that Austin Powers and Idiocracy are time-travel movies, but if the main character can’t get back to his or her earlier time, is it REALLY a time-travel movie? Because if so, then I’ve got to add titles like Encino Man and Timothy Hutton’s Iceman and then where does it stop?
You can see my conundrum, and after having this conversation half-a-dozen times every February 1st, I figured only a postman from the future would be able to settle this once and for all.
If the device that transports characters into a different time cannot go backward, it is not a time machine. It is a suspended animation device. Yes, people who get in one technically “travel” to the future, but only like you or I are also currently traveling into the future by existing and perceiving the fourth dimension linearly.
If I fell asleep for 20 years, outside of some sort of a machine, would I have time traveled? If I fell asleep for eight hours, would I also have time-traveled? No, of course not. Time machines and “things that merely stop you from aging while time passes” are two different things.
Unfortunately, this means that the first Austin Powers movie isn’t a time=travel movie, but the two sequels are. Sorry about your luck.
The Drunk Knight Returns
There’s been much commentary about Batman and Superman’s mis-characterisation in Zack Snyder’s latest film, especially all the murder. One aspect that has stuck with me, and that hasn’t (to my knowledge) received much attention is when Bruce Wayne’s alcohol consumption/dependence. He wakes up in his bed and instinctively reaches for a glass of wine, which is empty, along with the bottle, the implication being that he drank until he passed out the night before. Alfred, quite soon after that, makes some comment about Bruce Wayne drinking the cellar dry. I’m surprised that this hasn’t received much attention, Zack Snyder turning Batman into a borderline alcoholic and, to my mind, another significant departure from the character.
Is my geek knowledge failing me here? I’ve known Batman to drink a lot of coffee, but not have alcohol dependence issues. That’s normally reserved for another rich-dude hero.
You’re totally right, actually. It’s a super-weird thing for Batman to be, but it’s presented more tangentially than… let’s say other deviations from more established Bat-canon. The movie pretty much sticks to referring to this newfound enthusiasm for booze as an aside, which is why it’s not gotten the same attention as the guns and branding and stuff.
Actually, there’s one other thing that mitigates this a bit, even though regular drinking would impair Batman’s ability to fight crime (especially at his advanced age). In The Dark Knight Returns, we see Bruce actually have a few glasses of wine, although it’s after he’s hung up his cowl. It’s clear he’s coping with not being Batman in the comic, and once he puts it back on, I’m pretty confident we never see him touch the stuff again.
Ben Affleck’s Batman is Dark Knight Returns-like in a lot of ways, and he’s clearly coping with his lengthy, not-entirely-successful career in several ways. Drinking is obviously one of them, and it’s very un-Batman-like than he does it. But given he’s so disenchanted with his fight on crime that he’s killing and branding the people he fights, a few bottles of wine each night seems pretty reasonable in comparison.
Sense and Spider-Sensibility
Spidey Sense: Can Marvel get it right?
Totally. If they could make Steve Ditko’s giant, black-lined, all-white-pupilled Spider-Man eyes work on-screen and simultaneously look like they’re part of some kind of plausible, perhaps even useful Tony Stark technology, then I would not bet against them to give us a spider-sense that looks both accurate and awesome. I have absolutely no idea what that will look like, but after those eyes I’m giving Marvel Studios the benefit of the doubt to all things Spidey.
Stage Fright, Go Away
Dear Postman, I hope this letter finds you well. I’m 33 years old and have recently finished watching the first season of Robotech. It is a really great show with an amazing amount of depth, especially for the time from which it comes. My one major critique would be the “To Be a Star” song. I know it’s essential to the plot, but this song is terrible.
Did the makers of the show think they had something going here? Sometimes the song plays three or four times an episode, even during scenes of brooding and thoughtfulness creating a sort of bizarre surrealist aspect. I understand why the Zentradi liked it as they had no point of comparison but how could the people who made the show think it was so good they needed to play it ALL...the...time.
Let me break it down for you. In 1982 Japan, kids cartoons are extremely popular and the brand-new anime series Macross is able to hire a newly signed singer named Mari Iijima to voice the role of one Lynn Minmei, whose songs will play an integral role in the show’s story. There’s serious corporate synergy going here between the anime studio, the TV network that airs the show, and the music label that owns Iijima’s contract and releases the show’s soundtrack. Plus, Iijima is a really good singer! Of course her music is used a lot in the anime.
In 1985, Macross is one of three anime TV series imported to America, combined and rebranded as a single show titled Robotech. This is done by a pretty small company named Harmony Gold located in Los Angeles, America, where kids’ cartoons do not attract top-tier music talent. Harmony Gold has to redub the series into English, and, for whatever reason, also redoes all the music to the show—maybe it’s easier for them to dub the English language, maybe they couldn’t afford the rights to the anime’s original music, maybe there was another issue. But certainly there’s no way in hell Harmony Gold could license what are effectively hit pop songs in Japan, and there’s no way American kids would care even if they did.
So Harmony Gold has a show that needs music, including some pop songs that are integral to the plot, and it needs a singer, and the company has very little time or money or time. In fact, they may have already hired a little-known actress to voice the character of Minmei. She is not a professional singer, but Harmony Gold doesn’t have the time or money to afford one, and besides, the American kids who are watching Robotech won’t care. So they give the voice actress a few drinks, push her in the recording studio and tell her good luck.
But Harmony Gold still has to pay someone to compose these pop songs for the show, and their music budget is limited—for every Minmei song, that takes away from all the other musical composition. So maybe Harmony Gold gets a little creative with the soundtrack to each episode. Maybe they repeat a couple of pieces here and there, by which I mean they use a small selection of music almost constantly, because it’s all they’ve got. And at the end of the day Robotech is still awesome.
Seeing as how Minmei’s music saved the SDF-1 and arguably the entire human race, I’d say we can cut her some slack.
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