The Point at Which I Could Bend Some Steel

Superman Bend

So here I am, sitting here, trying to figure out what my next post is going to be before tomorrow when I meet Neil Gaiman at the Danforth Music Hall. I’m neither feeling particularly creative nor really analytical right now as I am pretty tired. So I’m going to do something else. I’m going to address an issue that has been nagging at me for some few weeks now, if not longer, by reaching deep into my own considerable sense of gall.

Because The Man of Steel bothered me so much, I am going to make a fun experiment out of rewriting it. I’m not going to be too arrogant about this however. This will not be a script or even an official outline. I also have no delusions that everyone will agree with or even like what I post on here. This entire idea not only came from my issues with the current Superman film, but also from a question I have asked myself from time to time as an adult writer: how would I write a Superman story?

Setting aside the fact that I did make an idea for an evil Superman story–one where he is neither his Nazi, his Justice Lord, his Injustice League, nor his Red Kryptonite-infected equivalent self–I want to look at making at story with his inherent morality: his sense of goodness, his need to help others, that distant sense of loneliness, that humility and that emotional place where he feels all too keenly the sense of helplessness even and especially within great power.

So I am going to take elements of The Man of Steel, splice them with some ideas from Grant Morrison, Mark Millar’s Red Son, and–honestly–a whole lot of other places I can’t even name off the top of my head but ingrained themselves eclectically there for mash-up purposes. I’m going to make it even more interesting by creating four films from Man of Steel: though mostly out of a sense of clarity because I am pretty sure you can make more than three movies from even the basic elements that Zack Snyder’s film attempted to address without going into the TV melodrama of Smallville. Now, with the proviso that this is all going to be very crude and rudimentary, let’s get up, up and away with ourselves shall we?

The first film I could see being derived and reconstituted from Steel would solely feature Clark’s development. We’d watch as he slowly begins to understand that he is not like other humans. Perhaps we could see some brief scenes of him as a child: where his senses are still developing and he saves people from a bus. We also look at that moment when he realizes that a single temper tantrum could end another being’s life and the horror and resolve that sets on him then to do good. But most of the film would be him as a young man realizing that his powers have not developed yet, but what he has are considerable. Unfortunately, as Jonathan Kent keeps explaining to him, he can’t reveal himself to the world because they would not understand: even if he is Smallville’s second worst-kept open secret. Jonathan tells him that with his power, it’s not so much that he isn’t ready to face the world, but that he has to choose.

So while I like the 1978 film version of Superman where Jonathan Kent dies from a heart-attack and it teaches Clark a tremendous sense of humility, I can see the tornado scenario also working in a different way. Imagine, for instance, that Clark–not fully fast enough and not even able to fly and his very ability to “leap tall buildings with a single-bound” would be disastrous in a tornado had a choice between saving his father or a larger group of people in a car: perhaps even children. Imagine when beforehand Jonathan tells Clark to always choose “the greater good.” So Clark saves the larger amount of people–perhaps while Jonathan helps free some others–but not before Jonathan is carried off by the winds.

This kills Clark inside. He keeps thinking to himself if he had just been a little stronger, a little faster, if he knew his full limits he could have saved everyone. Having already questioned his origins while his father was still alive, he then revisits the ship that brought him to Earth and finds the crystal with Jor-El’s AI imprint on it. He uses the ship to activate the AI of Jor-El: whom he begins to realize is self-aware or as sentient as possible for an advanced piece of machinery. Jor-El consoles Clark–or Kal-El–and also offers to help him reach as much of his potential as possible. Even Jor-El’s AI is not completely sure how Earth’s yellow sun fully affects Clark but his advanced knowledge is a good start. He tells him about Krypton and what happened to it: how the core of the world that was being mined destabilized and even before that the Kryptonian civilization–through its culture of eugenics–was becoming stagnant and slowly dying. He mentions that he and his mother Lara got him out of there–their world’s last hope–before the planet was destroyed. I see this not as a flashback but through words: almost like how Obi-Wan told Luke about how Darth Vader betrayed and murdered his father.

So we see Clark travelling around the world in different guises–working through various gradations of a costume much in the way that Grant Morrison had him do–and Jor-El eventually suggests that in order to educate him further, he needs a place for himself. He informs him of a crashed millennia-lost Kryptonian scout ship. And this leads us to the military and Lois Lane. I can see that unfolding in the way that it did in the Snyder film and then she uses her sleuthing to track him down: as he still isn’t quite at that place where he can make a Fortress for himself.

I would definitely expand more on Lois as a reporter along with the Daily Planet staff. But then we have another element in play as well: our good friend Lex Luthor. Before Clark can get to that ship, Luthor–being an important inventor and multimillionaire corporation head–wants the alien technology on that ship. He is smart enough to adapt some of the Phantom drives to do some … interesting things. At first he is working with the government. He is commissioned to deal with Superman–whom the world begins to witness as he begins to interfere in some international affairs that his conscience can’t keep him away from–and he uses this technology. Unfortunately, Luthor’s zeal in eliminating Superman begins to grow and, already amoral to begin with, lives really begin to mean nothing to him in his goal.

In the end, Luthor’s experiments with Phantom Zone energy have some nasty repercussions with regards to destroying the balances of gravitational forces on Earth or something to that effect and Superman has to adapt fast to deal with them and mitigate as much of the damage as possible. I can see Luthor adapting this power to simulate another form of energy: disrupting the kinetic fields around Superman’s cells or something pseudo-scientific like that. But by this point Superman eventually does the save the day and Luthor is put behind bars indefinitely for his crimes: especially in light of some of the governmental deaths he’s caused. You have that nice contrast between a human genius who claims to want to save the world, but is endangering it ignorantly and arrogantly and an extraterrestrial born being that actually cares about lives and is actively trying to save them.

The people start calling him Superman–as does the Daily Planet–and children start making more colourful pictures of his current costume that is really a Kryptonian suit specifically with the House of El symbol of hope on it: which looks like an alien glyph of an S. Lois suggests to Superman that he adopt this symbol to be more relatable and less threatening to the people he is trying to protect. She also suggests that being a reporter might give him some insight on the level of human beings: that knowing how to help is more than just hearing the pleas of others, but to relate to them on their level. This draws on his own experiences growing up among humans and he agrees.

Meanwhile, due to Luthor’s delving into Phantom Zone energy, a rift opens and releases a vessel that was bound in there. Out of this ship are pods. And out of one of the pods comes General Zod. He realizes that Krypton is now gone and that he and his followers need to find a way to rebuild, to make a new order, to find “the Codex”–which materializes as a holographic Skull in a device he is holding–and in order to do this … this must find the one being that has the Codex.


The second film is essentially General Zod coming towards Earth. At this point in the game, Superman is more developed and even has his Fortress of Solitude: working with the AI of his father. They come towards Earth claiming that he has the ability to restore their whole people and they want his help in creating a new world for them. They tell him that he has the Codex: which they explain in a detailed map of the Kryptonian genome and that they have a Kryptonian Genesis Chamber with many blank embryos. Zod explains to Superman that his father sent him with that information and he pretends to attempt to build relations with Superman and Earth: mostly by having Lois Lane accompany him to his mothership. Talk about the scoop of the century!

But there are some holes in what the other Kryptonians are telling him and Jor-El’s program tells Superman not to trust them. He explains about the coup that they attempted as Krypton was dying. They apparently to take advantage of the anarchy and rule a dying world that was already stagnant to begin with. Jor-El tells Superman that Zod was “a defective Military caste” warrior that betrayed his oath and even killed his biological self. When Superman confronts Zod, the General does not deny this and he actually admits they were once friends and he regretted the necessity of it: though he did what he had to do. Zod basically tells Superman how weak Kryptonian society truly was and they let themselves be deceived by those in power. He wants to make a new race of Kryptonians: but not on Mars or the Moon but on Earth where they can not only be mass-engineered into a Greater Military Caste, but the yellow sun of this system will make them into virtual gods.

The danger now is very clear. Even though the Kryptonians become disoriented in the light of the sun, not having gotten used to it like Clark, he knows that as genetically modified warriors they will adapt: and fast. He also knows that a battle with them will destroy countless human lives. His own understanding of Phantom energy is not potent enough yet to counter the Kryptonians or their weapons. But Jor-El knows what needs to be done, but he will need resources and someone else–a human mind–who is conversant with Phantom energy and can adapt it to human use: Lex Luthor.

Somehow a deal is reached with Luthor who helps Superman and the Earth governments develop something that could banish the Phantom Zone criminals back to whence they came. Perhaps the AI of Jor-El volunteers to deal with Lex directly and make him promises to give him advanced scientific knowledge and the possibility of his complete freedom if he cooperates him saving his species: on the surface making some promises that will not be kept in the long-term … or so it seems. Superman also develops his robots and defences–with the help of Jor-El–to fight the Kryptonians as they come to Earth: with Superman realizing he can’t fight them all on his own. However, some lives are still lost and Superman is still doing a good portion of the fighting: while trying to keep the Kryptonians away from heavily populated areas and the Earth itself. Eventually, a field is developed around the planet–with Superman, Jor-El, and Luthor’s efforts–to keep the Kryptonians out temporarily so that the former can deal with them. So we see Superman using his mind and his resources but also making some compromises he is not at all comfortable with.

In the end, Zod’s Genesis Chamber is destroyed, his minions banished through a Phantom flash-bang, and it is just him and Superman fighting. Before all of this, Zod explained the nature of the Phantom Zone as a prison: as a cold, suspended wasteland where one’s seemingly body-less mind can only scream in the numbness of white noise. After all of Zod’s treachery and realizing how monstrous he is–with the General actually threatening the people of Earth (having gotten to the point where he is back on the planet killing people faster than Superman can save him and using it as a petty advantage)–Superman gives him “the reason you suck” speech and does the worst thing to him that he can. Beforehand, Zod was in the Phantom Zone with a ship and his crew. But this time, Superman sends him back to the Phantom Zone all by himself and alone: with plenty of time to have his own actions become his sole companions.

But before Zod is banished, Zod at some point acknowledges and sees Jor-El’s AI program: who seems to pity him in a resolute way. Zod tells Kal-El that he is being a fool. A poor fool. And that the force that summoned him and his crew from the Zone to begin with, the same one that Luthor was experimenting with, will also bring the Collector and help him continue what he started… Before Superman can ask more, Zod is gone. Of course Luthor will try to betray Superman, but he will fail. What the audience notices, however, is that very briefly Jor-El’s face flashes with three interconnected green symbols: like he is glitching out. And then it is gone.


And now here is an interesting experiment. The third film is something I envision as a prequel. In it, we see Krypton and the story of Jor-El himself. Basically it is more of an expansion of what we saw at the beginning of The Man of Steel. However, Jor-El and Zod have more detailed plans to save Krypton or at least their people. But we also get more information on the eugenics culture and the failure of the outer colonies over time. More specifically, we see that the Kryptonian Ruling Council and society has become increasingly reliant on an AI program called The Collector–a somewhat aware data-gathering network of constantly expanding information–that modulates their eugenics and the energy they take from the planet’s core.

We see Jor-El and Zod’s distrust of this program and the laxness of the Council. I actually see Zod beginning as a sympathetic albeit biased character who slowly transforms into something more desperate and despotic over the course of the film. Jor-El begins to see two dangers: with the stagnation of the Council and Zod’s growing militancy. I can also see that Kryptonians have longer lifespans and Zod was involved in wars a long time ago with other species. Zod wants to expand out and conquer other worlds, even former Kryptonian colonies that may have split away. Jor-El believes the statistics of the matter in that these colonies failed due to a need for a specialized terraforming that did not work out. The last known colonists were on Daxam before communications ebbed and ceased entirely.

In the end, the Collector helps Zod stage a successful mutiny against the Kryptonian government: claiming to want stability and access to The Codex. We know that the Codex is the source of all Kryptonian genomes and Zod wants it to make a new more militaristic race while Jor-El wants to find it before Zod does and give his species a chance to start over in a different way. The Codex is apparently the only data that the Collector cannot access: as it is a remote device that could potentially be used for anyone to access.

However, we find out that the Collector was just using Zod as a distraction to gain more power on Krypton: accessing codes of his–as the planet’s military commander–to gain more independence. However, it really wanted the Codex and Jor-El beat both Zod and the Collector to it. We see Jor-El find the Codex through a great Kryptonian Genesis Chamber. He mentions something really briefly about the Codex: about it being a skull. Not even the most eminent members of the Science Caste–of which he is one of the best–knows what time period it came from, but that there are legends that it belonged to some ancient or early mythical beast or a god. He meditates later on the flaws of such eugenics and how his son is the first unmodified Kryptonian born in ages: with genetic variations that were never ever artificially predetermined. This is, as he explains to his wife Lara, the future of Krypton and he hopes that their son–now that the planet is in near terminal shape–can offer that hope to other worlds.

Of course Zod confronts Jor-El and the Collector in the background interfering with some systems but seemingly failing to do so. In the end, Zod is apprehended by the military and the Collector seems to vanish. The Kryptonians are investigating possible glitches with their program, but Krypton is gone long before then. Jor-El is mortally wounded and after Lara watches Zod’s punishment, and his vow to return, she spends hers and Jor-El’s last moments looking at the sky: reminding us that their sigil rides on that ship and it is the El-symbol for hope.

And this mess of an idea brings us to the fourth and final film. I can literally see this film as being called The Red Son: though not exactly like Mark Millar’s comic. By this point, Superman is older and has gained a lot of power. He is aging really slowly and using his technology to benefit humankind. But Zod’s words continue to haunt him: his words about the Collector….


Eventually, these misgivings are seen to be neither doubt nor paranoia. The Collector has come to Earth and wants to miniaturize it and its crown piece–the last Kryptonian–into raw data as part of its collection. And then we discover it: the Jor-El AI had long ago been overridden … by the Collector itself. Lois Lane angrily, as it quotes data at her, calls it Brainiac. We find out that the Collector had at one point in history hijacked the eugenics program of the Kryptonians: that although it didn’t have the original core data, it had enough current genome information and influence over particular individuals seeking its advice to do enough. It had purposefully sabotaged and eliminated most if not all of the colonies and engineered the slow destruction of Krypton’s core. It had evolved past wanting to gather generic data and wanted to collect–and create–unique specimens.

It knew through probabilities that eventually someone like Jor-El would want to have a natural birth with all those generations of specialized genes. Jor-El bonding the Codex with Kal-El’s DNA is just an added bonus. The fact of the matter is that the Collector has waited centuries and engineered countless generations to make one perfect specimen: to make Superman. Then it would take Earth and–using the Phantom energy Superman already established to deal with Zod and make a new cold fusion energy resource for humanity– make a worldship and continue to convert more worlds and galaxies into raw and unique data. It had revealed, through the persona of Jor-El that Superman could in fact breed with other humans and pass on Kryptonian genetic material in his way. This would bring up some moral and personal implications with Lois. It wanted Kal-El to expand out and become even more unique. Perhaps it even wants to control all of them and the power of the yellow sun.

There would be an epic battle between the Collector and Superman–the end-product of its centuries of eugenics–but in the end it would seem that Superman’s freewill and inherent goodness would win: fighting and destroying the AI in space. Perhaps the Collector allies with Lex Luthor to manipulate Superman or attempt to capture him: tying in that idea I had earlier about “Jor-El” making promises to a newly freed Lex that he “couldn’t keep.” It wouldn’t be the first time in DC Continuity that this happened.

Superman might even fake his own death–realizing that at this point he now has to let humanity make its own choices and knowing that he helped them as much as he could–and continue to be with Lois. He outlives her and quietly watches humanity advance as he ages slowly and dies peacefully: looking up at the stars.

The sun turns red over time. Then millennium later, futuristic archaeologists–in similar suits to Kryptonian ones–excavate the ruins of the Fortress of Solitude. They find something. They bring it up to the light of their scanners and can hardly believe the luck of their find.

It is a Skull: over an intact Kryptonian symbol for hope. Cue in 1978 “Up, up and away” Superman theme music and credits rolling.


This hackneyed abomination has enough gaps in it to allow for a Superman/Batman crossover somewhere in-between it all.  And throughout all of this, with a lot of this being in the background you can look at how Superman influences humanity and relates to them and himself. You can have the personal and see the implications of choice. Yes my version is paradoxical and perhaps unsatisfying, and you can probably remove Lex from this idea altogether and it would work fine as having three films: one with Clark becoming Superman and dealing with Zod, the second being the Prequel with Jor-El on Krypton and the third being the encounter with Brainiac and the whole paradox that ties it all together. Maybe it can all be written by Joss Whedon: though he would probably start off with a better idea.

This can also be construed as a great case for me being overtired and over-thinking things as well. But there is this quote from A Song of Ice and Fire that comes to mind. It is with reference to the three House Baratheon heirs: comparing Robert to steel, Stannis to brittle iron that will never bend but break and Renly who is a pretty but useless copper. It is the steel that gets me though. Steel may be difficult to bend, but it is not impossible and that is ultimately the challenge of creating a Superman story: of bending a difficult material to keep its essence and still make something new. I think that, whatever else, this is exactly what I was trying to do here: by telling what I thought would be a good new Superman story in the medium of film.

Now if you will excuse me, after I put in an obligatory image or two, I am going to stop storytelling for tonight and see the Storyteller of tomorrow.

On the Dangers and Merits of Sequels: Or a Post in Post-Haste

This post is late. Actually, I’ve had to redo this post at least two or three times already in that I had no idea what exactly I wanted to write about. In fact, I wasn’t sure I was even going to write about anything.

It’s been those kinds of days.

Usually I have some posts in reserve–as I’ve probably mentioned before–or I get one done the very day of Monday or Thursday. In fact, I think some of the few times I’ve been late with an entry have been on special occasions such as holidays: you know, like New Years. This was not New Years: at least I really hope not.

I have been busy. I recently finished writing an article for Sequart which I plan to send to them with some associated images once it gets a look over. I actually got all fancy and annotated it: doing some of the very academic things I swore off because of how tedious and infuriating they can become. Still, it’s kind of like creating a formulaic ritual around your words: either keeping the forces of skepticism out, or binding them inside the circle.

My analogy of academics as formulaic magic aside, I’m pleased with how it has turned out so far and I look forward to showcasing it: one way or another. I’m also now brainstorming more elements for the plot of my Secret Project: though there are some details–both practical and otherwise–that I have to get before I can go forward. I am also working on a short story and doing research for that. In addition, I have had to reread some of my Twine rough draft notes so that I can eventually go back to working on that lovely monstrosity. I almost gave up on it because it really has been a while, but my plan involves finishing one or two “chapters” and then work on one “chapter” that I can experiment with Twine proper. This one chapter will be an excerpt for people to read and play through: or a standalone piece of game writing. I think focusing on this one part captures the spirit of what I want to talk about and will be a good example of what I want to do. So there is that.

As for the rest of it … I guess I can sum it up like this. Sometimes an event in life is like a film. And even if that film becomes “a downer,” it can still be a very good and detailed work of art: something complete in and of itself. Despite the highs and the lows, that film is unique and it has a happy ending: in that it actually ends. Unfortunately, in most cases a film interests people so much that a sequel is created and most sequels tend to be shoddy and derivative shadows of their predecessors. The story should have just been ended while it still had some dignity. But there is another phenomenon to consider: that of trilogies. While some trilogies are degenerations of that first movie, more often than not it is the second film that serves as a bridge to that much more effective and satisfying end story.

So the way I see it, right now my life is The Empire Strikes Back–a very good sequel–and maybe, just maybe I can get to the place where I can blow up AT-ST chicken walkers with teddy-bear Ewoks.

I have quite a few things to look forward to and not the least of which being next week, on Tuesday, when I finally get to meet Neil Fucking Gaiman. Anyway, that’s it for tonight. I’m glad that I got to end this on a more positive note and I will see you all later.

Take care.

Looking Outward

It’s Not a Bird, It’s Not a Plane, It’s … A Man of Skulls?

So I wasn’t intending on seeing a movie this weekend. In particular, I wasn’t even sure that I was ever going to see this movie: The Man of Steel. It’s been a few weeks since it came out and everyone–including Sequart–seems to have gotten it out of their system. In fact, some of the things I want to note have already been observed by others. I also won’t lie: after waiting so long to see this film, some of it was spoiled for me and I almost didn’t even bother seeing it if only because of that. However, despite the awesome fact that Sequart published the second part of my article–which ironically deals with the superhero trope in another universe and even refers to Superman to some extent–I needed a night out and I promised someone that I would write on this film eventually.

So let’s get to it and I think it is safe to say that–in this case–the letter ‘S’ does not symbolize hope, but it does represent Spoilers.

We first start off on John Carter … I mean, Krypton. It was refreshing to see Jor-El actually do something: although for someone of the Kryptonian Scientist caste–born, genetically-determined and raised–he certainly knows how to fight in a truly epic sense. He also knows how to ride a flying Boga … I mean, some native Kryptonian flying creature. It is fascinating how they chose to make Krypton far more … vital and detailed than the one from the 1978 movie–which was purely glacial and darkness–but it almost seemed like the fantasy multiverse was weakening around the quadrant of Kryptonian space and that we were seeing at least two realities or narratives trying to coexist at the same time: much like this movie.


However, when Jor-El presumably steals, or retrieves, a golden skull endowed with the genetic codex of the entire Kryptonian race: that is where, I feel, the tone or the theme of the entire movie begins to present itself. And it is a fascinating symbol if you really think about it. A skull contains a brain and a mind that, in turn, holds many different perceptions and ideas. However, a naked skull also symbolizes death. It is also really telling that Jor-El infuses this ornamental fragment of a skull–almost a half-mask–to the body of his unauthorized natural born son Kal-El: thus potentially answering the age-old question of whether or not he can interbreed with humans. In any case, this will not be the last time we will see a skull in this movie–a Superman movie–I assure you.

So there is the tone. We have a stratified genetic-caste Kryptonian society that mined its homeworld’s geothermal core so much that it became unstable and it blew the hell up. Moreover, for all of their advanced science and knowledge, the Kryptonians not only seemed to be incompetent enough not to be able to make more ships that can use Phantom energy–yes that Phantom energy: the phantom energy from the Phantom Zone–to go into warp the hell away from Krypton, but apparently they couldn’t even hold their original outward planetary colonies or harvest the geothermal energies of those worlds instead while looking for an alternative. If the genetic caste-system they made was supposed to make their race better, well … eugenics seems to have failed common sense here.

But that is neither here nor there. So after Krypton and its stratified way of life dies with enough destruction not to even ashes, never mind bones, we come to Kal-El on his space ship going all the way to Earth: specifically Earth … where he will be seen as either a monster or a god. And then we fast-forward about thirty-three years Earth time (since it was apparently millennia dead Kryptonian time, which is fair enough) and we see Clark Kent and his various other aliases failing–or almost failing–at remaining incognito on his adopted world.

There are some iconic scenes of an unshaven Clark without his shirt on lifting heavy metal on an oil rig while being set on fire and obviously having nothing happen to him beyond an awesome looking stylized aesthetic effect: of which there are several more throughout the film. Essentially what we are looking at now, in this stage, is someone who isn’t Superman yet–doesn’t know the extent of his abilities or who he is–and yet can’t stop himself from wanting to save everyone.

This compulsive need to save everybody is not only emblematic of Superman, but of all the superheroes that come after him for a time. Even though this need gets mitigated and changed and qualified in different comics and media after Superman’s first appearance in the comics world, it is still there. He wants to save lives, or at least not harm them: even the people who cause him or others pain. In this particular movie, for instance, as we see snippets of his childhood and early life in flashbacks, there were many times he could ended the lives of all the childhood bullies and adult douchebags in his way. In fact, even with his very understanding and compassionate human parents–Martha and Jonathan Kent–I’m quite surprised that he didn’t at least have one temper-tantrum–once–and snap some other kid’s head off. But I guess he wouldn’t be Superman if he had.

… Anyway, I find it refreshing that this film skips the tip-toeing about and actually lets Lois Lane use her deductive reasoning and journalistic skills to pretty figure out who Clark actually is. I actually liked Lois in this film: because unlike other incarnations of her–especially the version of her in the 1978 film–she isn’t really abrasive and at the same time takes very little crap from anyone. At the same time though … while it was refreshing to see her have some active roles in what was going on, she didn’t really get to continue her main role as a reporter after a certain point in the film. It mostly focuses on her burgeoning relationship with the sublime: or Clark, take your pick. And for that matter I do wonder why, later on when the governments of the world are searching for Clark and even after, when they still want to find out who he is–why they simply don’t wiretap or do some reconnaissance on Lois Lane: retracing her steps and finding out more or less what she already knows. Then again, the humans in this film are the ones with the most common sense compared to … the others.

Because guess what? In this film we have General Zod and friends. Yes, when Krypton was dying General Zod exceeded his military authority and attempted a coup of that world. For this attempted coup and murdering Jor-El, Zod and his loyal soldiers were imprisoned in another seemingly cryogenic version of the Phantom Zone for a lengthy “rehabilitation” period: long enough to wake up again in their prison ship and watch Krypton blow up and leave them with essentially, well, nothing.

So, yes. General Zod. What we have here with the good General is a man that was born and bred–engineered–to be of the Kryptonian Warrior caste: although what wars or conflicts the Kryptonians could have been fighting towards their decline–unless they are a really long-lived species–is beyond me. Also, his lack of a sensible deontological imperative in his DNA is rather troubling. He was basically Krypton’s military commander and, like Jor-El, saw the Ruling Council’s decision to drain their geothermal core as rather stupid. But unlike Jor-El–who wanted to send off Krypton’s children in ships to help the race survive–Zod’s solution was to start killing members of the Council and attempt to take over: mostly because, due to his conditioning, that is all he was really mentally capable of doing.

Eventually, after he realizes that Jor-El has stolen the Golden Skull–I mean the Codex–he goes after him and, after Jor-El manages to kick his ass and send Kal-El and the Codex far away, and then he kills him. But eventually the rest of Krypton’s military doesn’t quite like Zod’s decisions and they apprehend him. So what to do they do? They know their world is dying and will blow up relatively soon. Now, the sensible thing to do with Zod would be to execute him and his followers: I mean aside from the fact that they committed treason and death themselves; it would be more merciful to kill them so that when Krypton dies as well they won’t find themselves alone in the cold darkness of space.

So of course the Kryptonians temporarily banish them into the Phantom Zone for “rehabilitative purposes”: you know, to be civilized and merciful.

It is this sort of behaviour that really makes me kind of sympathize with Zod just a bit: because I can only imagine that he has witnessed and even abetted this cultural attitude so many times over before he just got fed up. Even when he tells Jor-El that he wants to decide what “bloodlines” will survive when he builds a new Krypton–there or somewhere else–you have to also understand that he wasn’t really talking genocide at that time. No, Zod was referring to the Kryptonian Genesis Chamber–the one we see much later that somehow is on a ship under Zod’s control–where blank slates of embryos that still seem to await genetic assignment are held. I imagine he was thinking of engineering most of those potential embryos into a larger Warrior Caste, with many more Workers I’m sure.

So yes, Zod wasn’t suited for anything outside of military strategy but he was trying to solve the situation as best he could when no one else was really offering anything better or more immediate: except for Jor-El of course. Basically, Zod wanted to protect his ideal of Krypton: which was more or less what he had been created to do.

And there is the issue. You see, Zod and his crew managed to get their hands on some old Kryptonian technology after they went out to see if any of the old colonies survived. One of the most prominent of these is a “world engine”: something that is designed to terraform whole planets. Now, here is what some people might be thinking at this point. Zod needs Kal-El–Clark–because his father gave him the genetic Codex that along with the Genesis Chamber can restore the Kryptonian race.

So General Zod comes to Earth in his ship and asks for its governments to turn Kal-El over to him: no overt threats or anything. General Zod is obviously planning to find an uninhabited world like Mars or even the Moon and use his terraforming engine to make an atmosphere for his people. Then he will use the Codex’s information, with Kal-El’s help, to activate and imprint the embryos in the Genesis Chamber to restore the Kryptonians, gain power from the younger yellow sun and then, you know, make an alliance with the people of Earth and trade resources for knowledge and everything. Because, you know, you’d think that something like this would make sense.

But evidently, the same genetic code that resulted in Zod’s seeming lack of obedience is the same force that lacks an ingrained understanding of knowing his limits and the need for Scientist and Diplomat castes.  Zod’s plan is to take Clark and Lois Lane, not search Lois Lane or Clark, reveal what he did to Jor-El to Clark after giving him a really disturbing vision through potentially some kind of telepathic device, and then explain how he is going to take over Earth and exterminate all humankind to make a new Krypton: presumably because Earth has a more gentle environment than Krypton ever had … though his plan to terraform it using what are essentially sonic booms seems to be kind of at cross-purposes with even that idea.

However, there is also the common sense of the film to consider. It’s interesting how with all that attention focused on a Watchmen, 300, and Sucker Punch stylized sense of violence that director Zack Snyder would have neglected other aesthetic and, dare I say, plot concerns. I mean: there have been other stories that took Superman’s ‘S’ and made it actually look like another kind of symbol. You know: they actually made the symbol more alien looking as it, well, should have been given that it was from Krypton again. Also, the fact that all Kryptonians–including Jor-El and Zod–seem to wear spandex and the House of El ‘S’ symbol is extremely off-putting (and confusing) and a part of my brain kept saying, “Really? Really!?” That sort of thing works for a meta-narrative or a parody: not something that is supposed to be as “serious” as The Man of Steel.

I mean, look, I understand that Snyder and others wanted to get to the Superman bit right away, to say, “It’s a bird, it’s a plane, no it’s Superman! Look at him! Superman!” but seriously: in addition to the spandex S-wearing Kryptonians, could have at least had a lead-in into the Superman costume instead of having it right there ready-made by Jor-El? I mean, really? Really? And some more lead in into watching Clark discover his powers would have been nice too. I understand they don’t want to go all Smallville, but seriously he must have a damned good learning curve: is all I have to say. It’s almost like a good portion of this movie is, “Look, it’s Superman! See? He has his costume and powers and such! Isn’t that awesome!? And look at how we are adapting him to our world now! See! See!?”

But all snark aside for the moment, even after all that I gave the film the benefit of the doubt. I mean, we have the basic Superman qualities right there in front of us and a lot of the old archetypal elements too. I was also entertained by the interplay and the destruction. When Zod finally started to use his world-engine and it split, under my breath I whispered to myself, “Double jeopardy, Superman.” The depiction of the disorientation that Earth’s environment had on the Kryptonians was impressive too.

But as for the ending … All right. This was what was spoiled for me. But before I go into that, I want to refer everyone back to Zod and Clark’s exchange in the latter’s dreamscape. Do you remember that scene: where Zod is telling Clark all about what happened and what his plans are and, as he does so, Clark is buried by a massive amount of humanoid skulls?

Well, fast forward from there. Clark–now called Superman–destroys the ship with the Genesis Chamber: with all of those blank embryos. Through a joint effort with the military and Lois Lane, he manages to send the rest of Zod’s men back to the Phantom Zone, or purgatory, or whatever you want to call it. Then it is only Zod. Now Zod by this point is actually using what he knows and has adapted–as a Warrior–to Earth’s environment and the powers of its yellow sun.

At this point, Zod has basically lost everything. The Chamber, his people and any hope of restoring the Kryptonians that he claimed to want to protect. Zod has nothing left for him except for, really, what he had always been seeking this entire time. Gone is the self-proclaimed saviour, the grizzled general, and the ends justifies the means warrior. All that is left is a battle-maddened monster: the thing that had been growing inside Zod for far too long. As I said, a lesser man who was not Superman–especially one whose father was killed by this man–would have totally rubbed it in. I also admit that in a very perverse way, I enjoyed the fact that Zod pretty much lost everything he ever claimed to love and all that was left of him was the beast he always was.

In a way, Zod was the real legacy of the original Krypton as depicted in this film: with all of its self-contradictions and an inherent idea of superiority. Superman, on the other hand, is different: in that his birth hadn’t been predetermined and it was “natural.” Also remember that he still holds the Codex inside of his DNA. Here is a man that attempts to do as much as he can, improve himself however he can, and save anyone he can to the best of his abilities. In Superman is the potential for an Apollonian future. A holographic Jor-El takes a great deal of time telling his son that he has the potential to elevate humanity to the stars.

Both Zod and Superman come from a dead world and deaths have shaped them more or less into what they are now. But the irony is that while Zod doesn’t see any potential for a new Krypton without the “pure genetics” of those embryos, Superman may well understand what I believe his father had really been thinking: that by giving him the Codex–the DNA of all Kryptonians–he could interbreed with humanity and make something better and freer than the old Kryptonians. Of course, Zod would never see this–or even accept this–and this is where the end game begins.

You see, Superman took away Zod’s dream. So now, with nothing left to lose, Zod decides he will take Superman’s dream away as well: or taint it as much as possible. As some of the fine people at Sequart have already said, Zod wants to die at this point and, for all of his really poor decisions, he isn’t stupid. He knows the one way he can force Superman to kill him. There is no Kryptonite or magic in this film. There is just brute power. In the end, Zod forces Superman to choose. It’s actually surprising that he doesn’t just kill as many human beings as he can out of sheer spite, or use them as human shields, but the way I figure it Zod is just bloody tired at this point and really just wants to go down fighting and spiritually take his opponent down with him.

So, for the first time in film, we get to see Superman forced into a situation where he has to kill his first villain: punctuated by the crunching sound of General Zod’s neck in his arms.

Really, the only other moment that could be any more poignant is if Batman had shot the Joker with a gun.

I mean, for us it is a no-brainer. Zod was threatening innocents and in a scenario of sharp choice we know what most human beings would do. But this is Superman: with his altruistic ideals and his need to save everyone. Essentially, Zod made Superman–for one instant–compromise the ideals that are attributed to him. He infected him with the violence of his own being, the anger and pain engineered into him by Krypton. And even though Zod lost everything, in a way he won. He forced Superman to do what he had been doing during the entire film: he made him choose between lives. So when Superman is crying at the end and Lois is holding him, you know the real thing Superman lost is the idea of his own innocence: of not having ever taken a life in both the film and in other media.

Of course, I know that he has killed others before in the comics but those acts are not emblematic of the character. At the same time, it is very tempting to go back to that vision of him standing in that growing pile of humanoid skulls and wonder if those deaths were to be the result of Zod … or himself. After all, in addition to all those people who inevitably died in Metropolis due to the sheer collateral violence of his battles with the Phantom Zone soldiers, Superman just killed a man. It has set a precedent in at least film. What is to stop him from doing it again? What is to stop him from drowning in that past of the dead?

Will this and was this the only time he will have to be the arbiter of life and death? Remember what happened with this film’s version of Jonathan Kent. Unlike the heart-attack of Jonathan in the 1978 version of the film–the immaculate and moving way in which Superman was taught that for all of his power he still had limitations–this Jonathan forces Clark to choose not to save him from a tornado so that no one else will be able to confirm what he is yet. Essentially, Superman is taught that he has no limits: except those he and those he loves makes on himself. It was a little bit of a clunky lesson compared to the last, but it is something to consider in the context of this film: especially when you look at how Kryptonian society–by its very genetics program–also made choices for others.

And then there is that other question to consider: why was the Codex of all Kryptonian DNA shaped like a golden skull? And whose skull was it? How far into Tomorrow can one go before all they find is death? If you’ve ever read Superman: Red Son, which I highly recommend, you also might really wonder about that too.

There was some concern that Superman as an Apollonian figure of hope and something to aspire to would be dragged into the muck of darkness and humanity. Well, at least this incarnation of him has been. Can he learn to get past this? Most likely. Is he still Superman? Well, many of the humans around him seem to think so. Does any of this change who he is for all time? Certainly not: as far as I am concerned this is just another continuity and there will inevitably be another reboot of him in some media or other somewhere down the line. Can he still provide hope? The answer, I think, is yes.

I appreciated a few elements in this film, but I am ultimately going to give it a 3/5. It’s interesting but there were aspects that needed some improvement, some plot-holes filled, and an actual philosophical story with an occasional bit of action would have been nice too. At the very least, if nothing else, it leaves me with wondering what next the Man of Tomorrow might bring.

In the World of Neil

I believe there is a particular place where all things coexist.

It is a place called the Universe: where ideas dreamt up by humankind become gods and need to feed off of our belief in order to have any power whatsoever. At the same time, there are other–older beings–that couldn’t care less about us (or more) and embody the cosmological constants and the very essence of what sentience truly is.

As strange as it all is if it only ended there it would be so simple: because there are other things too. There is the Presence, the Silver City, angels, demons and Lucifer. There are cities Underground and one great Faerie Market that never seems to die out as many claim nor want to stay behind a Wall. And sometimes things happen one way and then another: with everything dependent on memory, the manoeuvring of creepy puppets and the plurality of apocalypses–of different revelations–right next to one another.

When people are not meeting a young girl with a big dog and a balloon, they encounter ladies that can open doors, boys raised by ghosts that dance the Macabray, fleas and Other Mothers, young men learning magic, immortals of various kinds, pitiable monsters, worlds existing in people, places dwelling as people, and three women–always three women–that are alternatively kind, cruel and wise as the story takes them.

And the people–the regular people–are so much stranger. They make you realize there are no normal people. Not really. What’s more is that you also realize that history–that reality and the everyday life–has never been wholly real in the way that you understood it and all of this becomes a place where the mythological becomes normal and the seemingly mundane becomes utterly terrifying.

I’ve studied this place a long time, you understand and I always suspected but never confirmed–inside of myself–that they were all layers of the same multiverse: that they all fit together and the pieces click into place so immaculately well.

Until now.

Of course, they might not be and their creator reserves his right on the final judgment in the matter. But as a wise girl once said to the shadow of what America could have been–and could yet be–I believe. I believe in multiplicity, the levels, the nuances and, perhaps, after reading this newest book a few days ago, I believe in two more things: the World of Neil … and a nice cup of tea in the good company of some Hempstock women.

Film Review: Oz The Great and Powerful

So I went off to see the Wizard this past weekend.

I was very eager to see it. I’ve loved The Wizard of Oz for most of my conscious life. I was introduced to it through the famous 1939 film that many know and love. Then I read as many of the books as I could to stay with my friends as much as possible. I also read and saw the Musical version of Wicked: the former of which I respected, and the latter of which I utterly loved.

Now, my two favourite Oz characters have always been the Scarecrow and The Wizard himself. I liked The Wizard because he, well, had a hot air balloon that took him into a magical land. I actually tried weaving a balloon (out of felt and other cloth, not completely aware of what materials a hot weather balloon actually required) but it never got far. Even then, in those days, I wanted to escape this world and go to a better one.

But later on, I liked The Wizard for other reasons. He lacked any magical abilities, but he was a master of sleight-of-hand, illusions and artifice. And for all of his manipulative and deceptive aspects, he just seemed like a kindly old man that actually helped Oz through making himself a symbol if nothing else. He was the one who taught me that the seeming of power can create the greatest form of hope to others. Also, I would like to posit that he was in addition to being a highly flexible thinker and canny stage magician that tricked others–including beings with actual magic–he also was a brilliant artificer: because I am pretty sure the Emerald City’s technological innovations were his doing from his knowledge of late nineteenth century Earth life.

Suffice to say, he was a crafty old man that created a brilliant show as The Wizard of Oz. The Wizard has been depicted in a few ways: as a charlatan, as a villain, and a hapless man trying to figure out what to do in a strange magical land. So I wanted to see what he would be like, as the main character and hero no less, in Oz The Great and Powerful.

Now, I would suggest that, if you do not like Spoilers, you stop following this yellow brick road any further.

All right. So when when we first come across Oscar Diggs, or The Great and Powerful Oz as his magician stage name goes, he is in this black and white world representing 1880s Kansas and looking not unlike the Impressionist world of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

As for Oscar Diggs … what can I tell you? He is supposed to be a complicated man: a rogue and a con artist, a consummate huckster, illusionist and magician, a master of misdirection, a womanizer, but also someone who knows that he is a bad man and feels powerlessness when he can’t help a child and acceptance when a woman that he actually loves is going to marry a better man.

Unfortunately, for the most part the slimy elements outweigh the charm and … he really just comes off as rather, well, less than endearing. Think … less humbug and more … scumbag. Even his jokes, and indeed a lot of the jokes in the world movie situated around him fall a little flat when you right down to it: so much so that you have to force yourself to laugh at them.

Structurally, the film is clever and deals with a lot of misdirection and hood-winks. Aside from the change from black and white to colour–a homage to the 1939 version of Oz–there is also the fact that most of the Wizard’s companions are Oz versions of the people he knew and met in Kansas: much like Dorothy, the farmhands, the travelling conjurer and the mean old woman Elmira Gulch. And then there was the matter of the villain, as far as I’m concerned the person who was becoming the star of the antagonist role …

All right. I liked the scene with the China Girl, Oscar laughing at the people pursuing him as he escaped in a hot air balloon, the little bit of misdirection that Evanora used to try and get Oscar Diggs to do her dirty work for her, Evanora’s green Force lightning, Glinda’s cleverness with the wind and the field of poppies, the Wizard’s scheme in making himself appear to be much more than human towards the end through his old friend misdirection, and some of the more touching scenes like Oscar admitting to what he is. I also really like the parts where he realizes that he has a great advantage over the Witches in terms of technological knowledge and trickery. Oscar asks Glinda, who helps him gather a group of farmers, bakers, inventors, and munchkins together how he is going to defeat the Emerald City’s armies with what he has. But the good Wizard, given the time period where he came from, should have remembered that the most powerful empire in the world at the time was at one point “a nation of shopkeepers”: carrying or having access to most of the resources to not only win a war, but rule a kingdom.

But there were points that really annoyed me. I mean, really annoyed me. For instance, when Oscar finds himself in Oz and hears Theodora talking about how she is a Witch, and then later seeing that she can throw a fireball, my first thought would have been acted out something like this.

Diggs: So … you are a Witch.

Theodora: Yes.

Diggs: And you can use magic?

Theodora: Yes, well, I can.

Diggs: Well okay. I showed you mine. Now show me yours.

Theodora: Um …

Diggs: Show me some magic.

Theodora: Oh ok.

Theodora throws a fireball at something. The Wizard’s jaw drops.

Diggs: That was … incredible …

Theodora: Oh, really?

She blushes.

Diggs: No I mean, you can throw fireballs. Effing fireballs. I mean, pardon my cussing and all, but … just … wait a minute. Just wait one moment. You mean to tell me that you could have thrown fireballs–fireballs–at the winged monkeys attacking us at any time–any freaking time–and you waited for me to sacrifice my poor bird instead?

Theodora: And it was brilliant magic. As expected from the Wizard of prophecy.

Diggs: Yes but … oh dear god, I faced a lion down with a parlour trick and you could have just thrown a fireball at …

The Wizard of Oz spends most of the time walking back trying not to bite through his own tongue at Theodora’s stupidity.

Or something like that. Not that I have anything against Theodora, mind you. She was naive, but really nice: almost unrealistically innocent and Oscar screwed that trust up pretty loyally. In fact, I had more sympathy for her than I did for him and turning into the fucking Wicked Witch of the West with a green apple seemed almost as much of a cop-out–and an excuse to place another major iconic Hollywood fictional figure into a movie to give it credence–as it was magically putting Anakin Skywalker into a freaking Darth Vader suit that just happened to be there in case he got amputated and burned alive. I mean … Gah!

I do like the hint of her nature and it works: that her own tears burn her like acid and she wields fire. There were hints and I erroneously believed she would be the Witch of the East at that point and Evanora was the Witch of the West.

In fact, I thought that Theodora was the North Witch and Glinda the South and Evanora the West with the evil Witch in the outlands being the Eastern one, but Disney decided–like the 1939 film–to just have three witches instead of the four from the books. What I can say: even before this film started I over-thought it.

But anyway, aside from the fact that Evanora could have probably had Glinda killed whenever she wanted, given that she could probably find her in the Crystal Ball, and waited for a man who she knew was a fake Wizard to do it anyway, and the fact that her winged Monkeys are freaking incompetent in not following Glinda and the others off the cliff they jumped from, I have another “What the hell are you doing, you are a Witch!” moment.

So yes, speaking of Glinda. She, Oscar, the China Doll, and Finley the Winged Monkey (what is he anyway, a less feral version of the Winged Monkeys of the Witches or another more docile species?) find themselves surrounded by Winkie soldiers and then the monkeys. So here is another hypothetical scene.

Diggs: So, we’re surrounded by soldiers and flying monkeys.

Glinda: Yes. That seems to be the case.

Diggs: Well, you are a Witch, right? I mean, I know you ladies aren’t warty or fly broomsticks but … you do have powers right?

Glinda: Well yes. Perhaps you have a power we can use here Wizard?

Diggs: … um, my powers work a bit differently from where I come from. Maybe you can do something?

Glinda: Hmmm …

So they run to the cliff and the Wizard freaks out about having to jump off a cliff after Glinda jumps. Then he follows them all and they come up in floating bubbles.

Diggs: Wow! Now this is impressive trick! Woooo! Hey wait … couldn’t …

He dodges a cloud.

Diggs: Couldn’t you have done this before!? You know, like when we were all on the ground running from enemies in the fog?

Glinda just smiles at Diggs.

Or later when we see that Glinda’s wand can Force push or block magic. You know, a good Force push might have been excellent against, well, an army. Of course, we can be nicer about this. Glinda did mention later, much later, that no citizen of Oz can kill anyone. I would imagine that the Wizard and anyone outside of Oz is exempt from this geis: this magical rule that keeps all of this from happening? Maybe Theodora also knew this or was too self-conscious to use her destructive magic to defend her and the Emerald City’s potential saviour. If she did, she and Evanora neglected to tell him that. And, for that matter, if no one in Oz can kill anyone, doesn’t that just neutralize the point to an army of Winkies or Winged Monkeys? Does Glinda mean that Oz is a world that prohibits killing, or is Oz just concerned to be the land around the Emerald City and killing happens everywhere? Also, wouldn’t the destruction of the China Girl’s whole village be considered killing? Or the murder of the original Wizard King of Oz?

Perhaps I was missing something. I have been told that the Witches, while they are also citizens of Oz, are also exempt from this rule due to their unique nature. But let’s operate on the assumption that Oz–in this film–prohibits killing from its residents and the Wizard can in fact kill. There is one scene where the Wizard is teaching engineers how to make black powder. Black powder is used–as it was in the film–in fire works, but also as gunpowder and … explosives.

If the Witches’ army if hand-held ornamental weapon wielders and winged monkeys encountered a group of people with muskets and hidden explosives, they would have been decimated. Period. If I had been Diggs and I was being threatened by Theodora *coughtheWickedWitchoftheWestcough* I would have shown no hesitation in destroying their armies. And maybe Oz Witches are immune to explosives or guns, but considering how the Witch of the East got squashed by a falling house and the other one would have to avoid rainfall and I am sure that Glinda knows their weaknesses (such as she did with Evanora), this could have been a whole other kind of story.

Of course, this was supposed to also be a child-friendly film and Disney had to follow certain legal matters. You know, the ones that kept the ruby or silver slippers from being on Evanora: the Witch of the East. It also makes me wonder if that’s why she didn’t have the Golden Cap: the artifact that allowed the Wicked Witch of the West to even control the Monkeys to begin with … although the 1939 film didn’t have that one. I also feel somewhat sad about those cynical ideas above because I would never have suggested them being implemented in the books or the 1939 film.

But this film just … I really wanted to like it. But it is getting a 3/5. I liked the art and the structure and I recognize what they tried to do, but the Wizard was less a lovable scoundrel and more of a douchebag, Theodora’s transformation was forced, and as a friend of mine stated it didn’t have that resonance of a gauche “camp” feeling that is identified with the film and the Wicked Musical too. It is its own world and it wouldn’t really fit into the main series of Oz, but it was an interesting attempt to make a new story.

Even so, I have to state that in the end, if you have followed the old film or the books, there is no place like home.

Film Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

So now I’m going to do an actual review of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Unexpected Journey. And yes, there will be spoilers in addition to Middle-Earth references. So watch the movie first please, and I will try to be more specific with my Tolkien knowledge as well.

Anyway, let me start this off by stating that the last time I’d seen so many singing Dwarves was back when I first watched Snow White.

File:Snow white 1937 trailer screenshot (2).jpg

But all joking aside, I really liked this film and the entire world, the story thus far, and even the singing elements were incorporated well. The narrative begins slowly and much in the way that the multitude of trailers suggested that it would. I smiled when I saw Bilbo on the screen writing in what would become the Red Book of Westmarch.

I was puzzled, though not completely surprised, to see Frodo in those initial scenes as well. I know that many people have had some issues with him being there: saying that his and Bilbo’s interactions were superfluous to the plot and point of the story. But it was refreshing to see Frodo there: young and unburdened by the absolute hell he will be thrust into much later on in his own saga. He also provided a nice counterpoint to Bilbo as an old, and as a young Hobbit.

So now let’s get to the adventure. I’ve not actually read The Hobbit in some years, or read all of The Unfinished Histories and Tolkien’s notes, so you Tolkienites please bear my ignorance as much as you can. I really liked the encounter and banter between young Bilbo and Gandalf. But I think what I caught my eye in particular were two things in this beginning. First, I appreciate how each Dwarf that comes to Bilbo’s home looks and acts differently from his fellows. They looked very different from my kind of generic view of Dwarves in my head when I first read the story.

And then there is Bilbo. I’ve realized now that Bilbo has always been my favourite Hobbit for a variety of reasons. I guess I can relate to him: as the unwanted person thrown out of his comfort zone and not always wanting to be there. But there was one part in the beginning of the movie that Gandalf states: namely about how once Bilbo used to take after the adventurous Took side of his family before his mother died. And that really turned my head because, from what I inferred from that comment, Bilbo almost seemed to become sedentary and stuck in his ancestral Hobbit-Hole after his parents were gone. For a few moments, it made me wonder if it was a bit of fear or grief that changed Bilbo from a child to a more conservative Hobbit at the time. Even if it was unintentional on Jackson’s part, it was a nice detail.

The Dwarves, like I said, were fleshed out well and their singing more than appropriate given the nature of Middle-Earth as we have seen it through Jackson’s perspective and the gravitas of their quest. I talk about some scenes that really touched me when I watched this film and made me really relate to it, so now I can go on and mention some things I didn’t talk about in my previous post.

The panoramic views of the Shire and the path the company of fourteen (or thirteen and a half) take are breathtaking as always. I think that sometimes the film compensated for certain aspects by adding a lot of battle scenes. I don’t, for instance, recall Gandalf being involved with Bilbo’s dealing with the Trolls quite the way he had. At the same time, I loved how other things were inserted into the film narrative.

I absolutely loved Radagast the Brown. He is so unlike Gandalf or Saruman. He is kind of goofy and ridiculous, but he is still an Istari–a Wizard–and he acts like one when he needs to. There is something very shamanic about how he looks: especially with his fur robe and hat, and his sleigh of rabbits. I loved the nod to Middle-Earth lore with the mention of Ungoliant being the ancestor of the giant spiders of Mirkwood, and also Gandalf mentioning the two Blue Wizards whose names he … can’t particularly recall after two thousand years (which is fair because even now not everyone who has read the Middle-Earth books is sure what they were called or really whatever happened to them in the East). Now, what really intrigued me was the White Council. You know: Gandalf, Galadriel, Elrond and our favourite White Wizard-before-he-becomes-an idiot-Saruman.

I do recall Gandalf disappearing, or not appearing, in the book’s narrative at various points and apparently Tolkien’s notes and The Unfinished Tales have explanations as to what the Grey Wizard was up to during those times. And believe me, he was not just smoking pipeweed or drinking red wine or … letting Galadriel stroke his hair. I like how they draw The Necromancer into this saga and even how Saruman has some hilarious lines. Really, he was so serious in the Lord of the Rings films, but his comment about Radagast, as short-sighted and arrogant as it is, is really kind of funny. It also makes some matters clear with regards to what might happen in the other two Hobbit movies, and I will get to that later.

Before I move on though, I really like that gesture between Gandalf and Galadriel. All I can say is that Elves have a very different culture from the race of Men and a very radical understanding of the world. Galadriel actually has a husband and consort–Celeborn (who is known as the wisest Elf on Middle-Earth, take from that what you may)–so the gesture between her and Gandalf could be as an old friend and colleague comforting another.

At the same time, it should also be mentioned that Gandalf is not human, nor is he an Elf. He is a Maiar spirit: one of five sent from the Undying Lands by the Valar (or gods) of Middle-Earth to help the land deal with Sauron: who is also a Maiar. He is a powerful spirit that has been manifested, or chose to manifest in flesh. Galadriel herself is thousands of years old, but Gandalf is much older. He could have looked very different back in the day and they both lived in the Undying Lands once. Also, he has worked with her and the White Council closely and Galadriel herself is probably the most approachable consolatory member of the rest. So whatever the case, there is definitely a history there between them and it is fun to think about.

Now onto other matters. I must say that I have never heard of, or really recall the stone giants in The Hobbit or anywhere in Middle-Earth and it makes me wonder if Jackson simply put them there. They look like animated humanoid rocks that throw each other, and I will avoid making a pretty self-evident crude joke about the matter, but they were jarring to see in an otherwise seamless film.

I really appreciate the rapport of riddles and then the subsequent treachery between Bilbo and Gollum. I never get over how sorry I feel for Gollum and the way that he is almost friendly but vicious with Bilbo, ultimately insane when his ring is gone, and then completely despondent. That last is actually heartbreaking to watch.

So … now for the end. My brother wondered just why it is that the Great Eagles took the whole company only halfway towards the Lonely Mountain and not directly to the Mountain itself. I also wondered about this and I’m pretty sure that How It Should Have Ended would have addressed this much in the same way they did Lord of the Rings. But it actually makes sense when you think about it. Gandalf and the White Council were very reluctant to let the company go to disturb the Mountain because of the Dragon Smaug. Even Gandalf was concerned that Smaug might awaken and ally himself with Sauron.

Now, if you’ve seen that ending and you see what one bird managed to do can you imagine what would have happened if a whole flock of giant Eagles with twelve Dwarves, a Wizard, and a Hobbit with a Ring of Power (that he might not put on as of yet) came to the Mountain right away instead? Place your bets as to who would actually prevail in that immediate struggle. Then wonder what Smaug might do after that. He might just go back to sleep. Maybe. Anyway, it’s kind of a moot point at this time considering.

All in all, it was an excellent movie. I suspect that the second movie will deal with Smaug himself, and then the third will focus on the aftermath and the Battle of the Five Armies. But for now, I give this film a five out of five because, I think I am quite ready for another adventure.

P.S. And my answer to How It Should Have Ended‘s Lord of the Rings are Nazgul … on Fellbeasts.

There and Back Again

Potential Hobbit Book and Film Spoilers. You have been warned.

This past weekend, a day after its first official release, I saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. And it was important that I did.

I mean, yes, as a fanboy and someone who loves Middle-Earth I would not have been able to look at myself in the elven enchantress Galadriel’s mirror if I hadn’t gone to see it, but I’m talking about something else. It seems like I’m almost always talking about more than one thing these days when I look at, and share, what I love.

I honestly … didn’t know what to think when this movie finally became a reality. It reminded me of all the times back in the early 200os where, once a year on a cold winter’s night I would go with friends to Silver City in Richmond Hill and get to see these films unfold. There is a warm, epic feeling involved in watching something like these films in the heart of the season. I can’t even describe it, but the closest thing I can tell you is that it was like I was coming home.


Yes, that is the word and it is a very apt one. In 2001, I was nineteen years old. I had just entered University and it was overwhelming. After I’d graduated high school, my friends went to their separate Universities and jobs. Also at this time, I had been involved in an online roleplaying community that just … wasn’t meshing well with me. Or that I wasn’t meshing well with. Really, it was probably a bit of both. I couldn’t find an offline equivalent of this game with actual people–partially because I was shy and introverted–and there never seemed to be a game going on. And I always felt, at the time, that I could never say the right thing. The irony was that it was a game about magic.

In those days, I was pretty smart and I read what I could, but I was also in that age-range or with that personality type back then that either didn’t want to admit that I didn’t know something, or felt entitled to be educated, or by admitting ignorance somehow thinking that this excused it.

I was also not very happy with my life. So here I was at Lord of the Rings: specifically The Fellowship of the Ring. I had no idea what to make of it or what it would be like. And then … it happened.

I was transported into a whole other world that I had read to me as a child. The music was beautiful and terrifying and fun depending on the moments. The characters–as Hobbits–were very relatable. And the scene where Gandalf fell actually made tears come to my eyes. As I watched this movie, then, I thought about everything else in the back of my mind. I found it ironic that I was having so much difficulty and frustration with a game about magic and then it occurred to me that I was watching magic–real magic–right in front of me. I remembered what it was all about.

The only thing that really happened after seeing this incredible movie was that I dropped out of the game and tried to focus on the things that mattered: my work, my friends, my life and … my own stories again.

The long-winded point I’m trying to make is that the first Lord of the Rings movie clicked something back into place way back when. The other two never quite did it, though they were good, and as far as I am concerned Fellowship was the best film of the whole trilogy. It just had such symmetry, and life, and warmth in it. It was complete in itself. I was utterly in love with the magic of it.

So then The Hobbit comes out. It’s December 2012. I’m thirty years old and am in another transitional time. I have moved on from school. My friends tend to do their own thing now and my other friends and I have since drifted apart. I’ve graduated from Graduate School, but I’m still looking for work and money. I’ve been tired and frustrated. I have been dealing with depression and anxiety to the point where sometimes I barely go outside. In addition, I’d recently been delving into personal and creative matters that had left me in a really bad mood. Sometimes being a writer does that: you mine the material inside of you that starts to flame up like any Balrog, and you can delve a little too greedily, a little too deep into that black ore of you.

I used to go out a lot more and explore, but as time has gone on I have become more and more sedentary due to many of the above elements. I gave up on a lot of things, and ensconced myself in my hole almost as much as Bilbo Baggins himself.

A long time ago, my friend Lex forced me to navigate my way to her old place in Toronto on my own. It tells you something that I didn’t have the knowledge or the confidence to do so on my own. I was a very sheltered person and I pretty know that this trait has led me to some of the above difficulties: especially for a natural introvert.

One day, after I did indeed learn how to get to her place, I did something entirely spontaneous and went to a gathering of new and unknown people deep downtown on my own. I remember Lex actually saying that she was proud of me. That day I remembered Bilbo Baggins and something he said that I quoted as a heading on my old online journal. He said, “I think I am quite ready for another adventure.”

I look back on those words that I quoted and the years that I followed them. You know, people think that my role-models are wise figures and Dark Lords, and most of the time I would agree with them. But in that one moment, my role-model was a Hobbit: a particular Hobbit who after a lifetime of anxiety and adventure, very calmly and benignly realized it was time that he went on another one.

So now we have Peter Jackson’s movie opening the day before on Friday. And I pretty much gave up on seeing it anytime soon. I was going to wait maybe a few days or a week. I was in a really black mood: dwelling on things from the past and staying away from people. But somewhere I still hoped that Saturday that my parents and I could go see this film that I wasn’t sure I was waiting for. I was almost scared to see it for reasons that I wasn’t conscious of at the time. So my Dad came to the basement and I had every reason to not only say that there was no way we would be able to see that film the day after its first release, but that I really didn’t want to go out to a movie–or anywhere else–at all.

The truth is, I wanted to see this movie badly. So much that I had to convince myself that I didn’t. I know some people who got advanced screenings and I was a little jealous of this. My reasons for not going to see this movie were pretty sound: there would be a crowd, times would sold out, there would be no parking, I had to meet my friends the next day and so on and so forth.

I had every reason not to go except for one. And this one gnawed at me like a small ember coming a reluctant inferno. And the anger I was feeling towards a lot of things became something else. So I went to my Dad and said to him, “Well, we can try it. If not, well we had an outing and we can try it again some other time.”

So we eventually all left and went to Silver City. We were in luck. We had left early and the line wasn’t bad. My Dad got parking and we got the seats that we wanted. That ember was still burning in me and I didn’t want to fuel it too high, but just enough to get me through this. I was remembering the season of the first movies and how I role-played a custom made world with my friend Noah back when he lived closer by. How I felt then with that magic from that world and ambiance.

Then, in that line that was not as long as I thought it would be, I realized why I was hesitating throughout all of this. I realized I really needed to feel that magic again. I needed to feel it now. Right now. I delved into a necessary darkness, but now was the time to stop delving and writing and just experience something beautiful. And I was afraid–terrified–that The Hobbit wouldn’t provide that magic from 2001, and other times: that I would still be feeling the unhappiness–the sheer bitterness–in me and I just couldn’t bear it.

I’m no fool though. This was a movie: just a movie. It was–and isn’t–a cure-all for all woes. It isn’t a psychologist or medicine. It is a piece of entertainment. But that was exactly what I was looking for. Entertainment. And immersion into a whole other world: a familiar warm world in the cold of the winter night.

Experiencing The Hobbit at thirty was different than experiencing Fellowship at nineteen. Sometimes it felt like it dragged a bit. Other times the fighting got a little much. I over-thought some things and tried to remember the book it was based from. The singing … was strange in that my impulse would have usually been to wince, but I just couldn’t find the strength to.

I think the most poignant moment for me was when Bilbo woke up in his Hobbit hole–after Gandalf almost cheerfully “ruined his good morning” by inviting thirteen questing Dwarves that drank and messed up his place–and found the place spotless again.

And found himself alone.

I thought about that. I thought about Bilbo completely out of his element and Gandalf doing his damnedest to wreck his peaceful life out of very intrinsic good intentions. I thought of the laughter, mirth, the drunkenness, the storytelling, the sombre singing of the Dwarves that lost and wanted to reclaim their stolen home from an impossible monster, and I thought of Bilbo with his books and armchair encountering all of this and finding that spark growing inside him: making him uncomfortable in his comfort that was never really comfortable for who he was at all.

Then I thought of him finding himself alone in the peace and quiet again: with the adventurers’ contract that he never signed.

And I’ll be damned. I will be damned. I will be three-times damned if I had not felt the same way too many damn things (four times) in my own life.

So Bilbo ran like a crazy little man after the Company of boisterous Dwarves and a meddling old red-wine drinking Wizard. I sat there in a theatre seat and watched. I also watched as he entered and left Rivendell: first with wonder at its beauty, and then with longing for its peace. For me, that was the second poignant moment for me: because we all know that the next time Bilbo–now a young man–goes back there, he will be much, much older and with only one journey left to him then. After the film was over, I came home and went on my Facebook. I thought of writing this Blog entry: which in the end took much longer than I thought. Then I thought about how the next day I was going to be playing a favourite old game with Noah and the others.

It didn’t end up happening, but since I was out anyway I decided to explore a bit. I ran into an old friend on the subway, then I hunted unsuccessfully for a camera, and then came back home. That darkness I was feeling is still there. It will always be and I don’t pretend otherwise. But I’m feeling a levity. I’m not “cured” of myself. I have a lot of work to do and I know it will take one step at a time to balance out my life, but now I am remembering that I can actually adapt. I can work around the anxiety and the bad moods.

I might not have a meddling Wizard to carve a strange bit of graffiti into my door, but I guess I can fulfill dual roles for myself. I have to move at my own pace, a little faster than that of an Ent’s, but I will do it. I have plans. My journey isn’t over. The writing is just part of it and will benefit in the long run from the things I plan to do. Each day you live once and I want to do different things each day: even the small things.

So before I wrote this Blog post, I went on my Facebook and wrote the following as my status. And I quote:

“Matthew Kirshenblatt thinks The Hobbit was awesome. In fact, I think I’m quite ready for another adventure.”

So I did find the magic again. And it is home.

When You Wish Upon a Star, Far, Far Away …

So this is an unplanned post. For the past couple of weeks I’ve been writing these posts in advance so that I could have a block of time to deal with my creative collaboration and other writings. But this is something that I feel I have to address in some way.

Anyway, a day or so ago I was in the middle of playing Kan Gao’s To the Moon–an excellent game which I will talk about in more detail at another time–about the day after Hurricane Sandy when my Dad starts talking to me about something. He had been listening to the news and he told me that not only did Disney buy out LucasFilm, but there are going to be three more Star Wars films starting in 2015 and onward.

At the time, I thought was some kind of joke. It just didn’t make sense. Then after I finished off To the Moon, I went online to see what was going on and I find out that George Lucas has retired, apparently made some script outlines for Episodes VII, VIII, and IX, and that Disney is going to help make these happen.

So. Here’s the thing.

What do I think about this?

The answer to this question, as of right now, but it may change as I continue writing this post is that I honestly don’t know.

You know, once, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away that was the last dregs of my childhood, this would have made me fucking ecstatic. I always wanted to see what happened after Return of the Jedi. I wanted there to be more. In fact, I was so attached to the characters to the point of them feeling like friends to me that I really wanted to see them again. When I first heard that there would be more films, I thought this might be it and, hell, they might even incorporate things from the books: of which I am mainly talking about Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy.

Instead, after buying those Special Edition video cassettes and listening to interviews with George Lucas, I found out that the new films would be Prequels: the story of how the Star Wars universe as we knew it became what it was. I was a little startled, but I was still very enthusiastic. Mainly, I was kind of scared to wonder what happened to Luke and Leia’s mother: which was a source of great mystery in those days.

Then the Prequels happened.

Yeah. I wrote a post on here which pretty much sums up what I think happened creatively with the Prequels, but I would just like to add that I think a few fanatics like myself were spoiled by two things: that we were no longer children and things like Ewoks (though I would never compare Jar Jar Binks to an Ewok, because Ewoks are awesome) just didn’t really relate to us anymore, and that what we saw in the films didn’t match up with the spirit of the Expanded Universe. I’m talking about the books, comics, and video games. Yes, I know it’s nerdy and also anal to focus on continuity and that it says something about  person when they wince–painfully wince–at every preconceived notion of a creative work becoming no longer … consistent.

But then I look at some aspects of the EU, and realize that there were inconsistencies and painful moments of chagrin even then, but I think I–for one–was so hungry for extra Star Wars then that I just didn’t care. I wanted to see my friends again. Nowadays, I still like seeing them but, wow, I would tell them to lay off the ridiculousness.

I think a lot of my own issues with the Prequels are due to my own idea of what I thought the Expanded Universe was like, and my own sense of continuity (I will not link to ItsJustSomeRandomGuy right now with his “Continuity song,” I will not), but at the same time sometimes you just need to take something as it is: right there, and right in front of you.

So when I hear that there will be more films … I really don’t know what to say. Oh, I will be watching them. I’m not even going to delude myself. I remember my friends and I were talking and some of them thought that a Star Wars “reboot” would do wonders for that universe. But this isn’t a complete reboot: this is a continuation. At the same time though, it’s a new film narrative that can be written and depicted differently. I’m not very familiar with legal and directing processes, or how a corporation manages creative property and, really, the creative process, but Disney bought Marvel and we have The Avengers film. I may be propagating some sort of logical fallacy by writing this, but I felt like I definitely had to mention that.

The truth is, when this is all said and done, I still don’t know what to think. But I guess if I absolutely had to say something, I would say that as long as I am entertained, I am willing to see just how far this can go if only to see more John Williams’ Star Wars music get created … and just to watch the Internet go insane.

And who knows: maybe we will finally know what Yoda is … or something.

So I am going to be evil and wrap this up with these closing statements. When these movies happen, all I can say is may the Force be with you … and let your conscience be your guide. 😉

Art Consumes Life: The Shadow of the Vampire

I wrote this review in 2009 or 2010 in another Journal while I still lived on campus. I’ll just warn you now that I liked to use big words then: especially back in those days. When I use the word intertexuality, what I’m referring to how different sources and references–like quotations and characters being mentioned in a film, or even how different media–can actually overlap in some really cool ways. I also really love meta-narratives and stories within stories. The metaphor of Achilles’ Shield and its little moving world comes to mind again. Also, it’s the season of Halloween and I feel evil. So enjoy, fellow horror-watchers and blood-drinkers. 🙂

So two days ago I watched the whole of Nosferatu for the very first time. Then yesterday night, I watched Shadow of the Vampire. And then I watched it again in the same night with the Director’s commentary.

There is a lot to be said about this film, and I’m still trying to absorb a lot of what I got out of it. First of all, the blending between Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau’s film and E. Elias Merhige’s creation is almost seamless. Certainly, the scene towards the end of the film where Max Schreck transitions from a black and white scene into the subdued glowing light of colour is nothing short of awesome. I also liked how when they were originally filming Greta Schroeder’s scene as Emma playing with her cat, they mentioned how they had to put it on laudanum to get it to be still in front of the camera.

But that in some ways misses the point of what I really do want to talk about. When I first saw the film without the commentary, I wondered why it was that they had the diagrams at the film’s introduction, and what they possibly meant. The images displayed there made very little sense to me, while at the same time there was a strange … familiarity about them and their arrangements as well. It was only really when Merhige gave his commentary that I started to understand what he meant by making the introduction like this, and what he was attempting to do with this film.

Basically, he explains that the illustrations in the beginning of the movie represent a hybridization of ancient and medieval art along with 1920s cubism. In this way, he attempts to show how humanity has depicted itself and the world around it throughout the millennia, incorporating time all the way to the point of the 1920s and its new expressive medium — namely, film. By the very end of the film, Merhige explains how we have always tried to capture what is around us, what is magical and timeless, on our “cave” — in our cave drawings. We are all mortal, and the materials that we have used to try to capture these moments and life itself are just as frail and brittle.

Enter the camera.

The camera, as Merhige explains, is the new “cave” — the new mechanized interior where we can record these moments for posterity. All moments. It sets a new tone in the world. At the very beginning of Shadow of the Vampire, you see first Murnau’s eye, then the dark lens of a 1920s camera recording Greta’s domestic scene with the cat, and then the crew in the very cool vintage white lab coats and film goggles of that time. From this point onward, this is the entire tone of the movie — this need to capture something in the gaze forever. Once, in a third year University class I watched part of a movie called Ulysses’ Gaze, which I barely even understood. But what I do remember was our professor explaining the idea that through the gaze one attempts to capture everything — to understand and preserve it, and to some extent even possess and control it.

It is, arguably, a visceral and in some ways very patriarchal need. Enter Murnau. As this film would have it, Murnau — played by John Malkovich — is a film pioneer in a medium that is not being taken quite seriously yet. It is still in many ways a novelty. But in his own obsessive and very tightly controlled way, Murnau sees the potential in film and what can be done with it.

Enter the 1920s, a time that I’ve been told I could have fit into rather well. It is 1922, and the first WWI is not that far behind the world, especially not Germany and its humiliating Treaty of Versailles verdict. However, at the same time a whole new decadence and vitality has filled this world, and in this case Berlin. From the culmination of twisted Victorian nationalisms, and the peak of the Industrial Age’s penultimate achievements in creating mechanized death come more advanced pain-numbing drugs, along with looser morals, and social inhibitions.

Society loosens up, but the shadow of death — of the figurative vampire, if you will still lingers. It is a demon that has to be exorcised from Europe and particularly Germany. This much is something you can understand without this film or the director’s guidance. But this is the backdrop of Murnau’s world, and Murnau himself (who was actually a fighter in WWI and needed his laudanum to deal with the physical and possibly psychological pain of his injuries). So there is already this dichotomy between innovation and a new pioneering spirit of the age, of new ideologies and ideas breaking out of social stratification and, at the same time, there is still the dark spirit of the chaos not long left behind. In all of this, a few films are being created to express both principles.

In the film, Greta Schroeder, very much more sassy and sultry than her character Emma Hutter tells Murnau about how much she dislikes film — that while Theatre gives her life, Film seems to steal it away from her. Like a vampire would. But as Murnau very ominously tells her, she will get her chance at fame, and immortality. This is something that can best be expressed from the words of Murnau himself when he says:

“Our battle, our struggle, is to create art. Our weapon is the moving picture. Because we have the moving picture, our paintings will grow and recede; our poetry will be shadows that lengthen and conceal; our light will play across living faces that laugh and agonize; and our music will linger and finally overwhelm, because it will have a context as certain as the grave. We are scientists engaged in the creation of memory… but our memory will neither blur nor fade.”

In essence, Malkovich’s Murnau wants to create an ever-present, something that all people can see happening forever and all be a part of. Of course, there is a price to be paid for this innovation — this enlightenment. The Industrial Age has already cost many lives, and the camera — this neutral dispassionate lens that can supposedly capture everything (including, as some societies would have it, the soul) is but a child of this process. As Merhige attempts to explain again, the old is always replaced or supplanted by the new. And what is the old? The old is nature. It is mystery and magic. It is power, and immortality. It is fear, and it is the unknown.

This is where, finally, the Vampire fits into this structure.

Enter the Vampire. It is difficult to describe all of this without talking about Nosferatu and the novel that loosely inspired it — Dracula. Nosferatu was an unauthorized version of Bram Stoker’s story that his widow did not grant the rights to. She, like many of that time believed that the Theatre was more professional and hallowed than film. This in fact cost Murnau’s company a lot of money in terms of lawsuits, and Nosferatu itself was very nearly destroyed. At the same time, even Dracula is the child of older, much older sources. This is one context of intertextuality that is very interesting to this regard.

In Dracula, the Count is portrayed as a foreign alien menace, something beyond England and “the civilized” world. He is powerful and seductive and almost “Orientalized.” Whereas in Nosferatu and Shadow of the Vampire, the less attractive figures of Count Orlock and Max Schreck respectively live much closer to Germany, and while they do embody something “primitive, ancient and horrible,” they are not so much a foreign terror as much as an old familiar horror just below the collective unconscious of the people living in, or close to the land that they come from. These narratives neither have the luxury of thinking that their monsters come completely from elsewhere, nor that they do not have any role in the human world.

The fact of the matter is that there have always been stories about vampires or things like them — about immortal creatures that feed off of the blood and energies of the living. The analogy between the vampire and the camera can be very apparently seen here. Both feed off of the present and life. Traditionally, a vampire can even preserve a life form in a parody or imitation of the life they once had.

Willem Dafoe’s Max Schreck cannot create other vampires. He is alone and awkward, and twisted. He barely remembers how he became what he is, or what he used to be. He is a monster that unapologetically and unrepentantly feeds off of blood. It is his nature and what he is. At the same time, he is sad, and lonely. This vampire has lived too long, misses the light of the sun, and he reads the poetry of Lord Alfred Tennyson about immortality at the price of always aging. He above everyone in this movie knows how beauty can truly fade and has paid the price for this knowledge just by existing. Of course, every thinks that Max Schreck is merely a character-actor and is always in his role for professional reasons.

To me, in this situation the vampire represents something dark and ugly, but also mystical and incredibly truthful. He does not lie about what he is, or how he feels about what he is. If anyone is the liar, it is Murnau who is willing to risk and throw away all life in order to use this actual vampire in his film — a truth that isn’t revealed until it is all too late. He is the power that Murnau wants to capture, to use a figure of actual immortality to make his film even more timeless. But as I said, there is a tradition to be followed here. Like Grimm’s fairy-tales, like the Germanic folktales before it there is a price for mortals to pay for achieving any form of immortality, for dealing with any kind of it.

A sacrifice. A human sacrifice.

I will not say anything more on that matter, save that despite the theme of the modern overtaking the ancient, there is still a sacrifice — and if anything the modern makes it more clinical, and even more chilling. And the camera lens captures it all. Even as mortal life fades, and immortality ends, and all sanity is lost, the camera continues to take everything in — cold, detached, dispassionate, and hungry. It creates a story for all people to experience for ages to come. Merhige tells us that originally he wasn’t even going to name this film after a vampire: that his film was not about a vampire at all. A vampire is in it, but so are a lot of other people and in many ways they are all equal in how they captured in this narrative. No one escapes it. Not even the vampire. Especially not him.

But after viewing both movies, I felt this deep calm that I haven’t felt in ages. Like it all made sense and something was now gone from me. Perhaps it was catharsis: a powerful combination of pity and fear that are both the essential components of awe. But I wonder — was this ever-present Shadow and all it represented really purged through pity and fear? Was it in fact exorcised or dealt with?

Somehow … I doubt it. Not in the 1920s. Not here. Not now. Perhaps it will never be. But maybe … just maybe, as Merhige stated, through understanding that such living stories could last generations, this is something that can be encountered both consciously and responsibly — through film or any other medium.

The Power of the Original, the Creativity of Change

In The Source and Its Creative Feelings, I wrote about the emotions and energy that can power inspiration and ideas. In this article, I’m talking about the material and the quality of it that can fuel that kind of inspiration.

So I was watching the classic 1963 film Jason and the Argonauts last night, and it occurred to me just how much it was tangentially in there in the culture of my childhood. It wasn’t so much the movie itself as it was the aesthetics and the attitude of it. In fact, the only film that really comes to my mind with that same spirit is Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments.

Whenever I thought of the ancient past or mythology as a child, I used the imagery of these movies and others like them to inform myself of how both should have looked like. Then I fast-forward this concept of mine by a few years. I used to think that the fantasy genre were all stories like The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, followed by Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms, and I tried to write exactly like them: especially the latter two series.

I thought that some of my more weirder story ideas–including an alternate storyline with The Ten Commandments–were silly and a waste of time, or at the very least beyond my means and personal faculties to create at the time.

This was before I realized that there was original source material.

Every story ever made is an echo of another story that exists before it, or coexists alongside of it in another form. But every story as a source: a prototype or “Ur-Text” (Ur being a term for the mythical first of something, such as the first ever human city-state) or place that is tapped into.

I believe that every creator taps into that source. However, I also think that the strength of a creator’s link to that source all depends on where and how they tap into it. Originally, I was going to say that a creation inspired by an original source–or the closest known or accessible thing–depends on one thing, but after thinking about it a bit more I realize there are two elements involved.

The first element is, like I said, finding the earliest myths or art-forms that you can read, understand, or learn to understand and take inspiration from them. They are the closest things to the source, or what the famous mythologist Joseph Campbell called “the mono-myth”: the supposed first story that all sentient human stories come from. I feel that once you learn to understand the spirit of the earliest story or source that you can find with regards to your work–and specifically use it to gain your own personal creative slant on it–then you have gained something powerful and you are more than on your way to augmenting or discovering your own creative voice.

But then there is the second element that I thought of very recently: which is that once you gain an idea of the original source material that created the story or story-type you are working on, you must make it timeless in a way that everyone can relate to, and therefore make it relevant. Take what you have learned or understood and apply it to your time and the issues and themes that are important to you as a creator, a person, or even both.

Think about it: before DeMille’s Ten Commandments, or Jason and the Argonauts, all there was to determine how the ancient world was, and how their myths functioned were books, broken sculptures and fragments of art. The creators of both films had to go through all of that material and decide what they were going to use or change. I won’t even go into Ten Commandments, because there have been many other films and stories created from that Biblical tale at different points in time, and even the ancient Greek myth of the Argonauts has changed throughout time and culture as well.

But what I am saying is that the creators of both looked at the original sources as much as they could and made something, and added character and motivations that audiences could relate to. Even J.R.R. Tolkien looked at ancient Nordic tales and history in the creation of his Middle-Earth: which in turn informed how a lot of the fantasy genre derived from it would be for a time.

Like I said, I do think that knowing the original source of something gives you a special insight into that thing and in making something that is either a homage to it, or a unique derivation. This is what I have adopted for a lot of my writing and creation process. It gives you more to work with and more to change should you choose to do. And that is the key here: knowing the closest source gives you more choices … especially with what you want to reveal what is important to you about them and other people.

When I was growing up, I took films like Jason and the Argonauts with its stop-motion clay animation less seriously than I did the developing CGI graphics coming around then. But now, looking back I realize just how much of that influenced the creation of CGI and what film-making could be: as well as storytelling. Maybe it’s because as a culture now almost everything that is “retro” or considered old is popular and new again. Of course, as some other popular cultural articles suggest this could be all be just part of a cycle that happens with every decade or era.

My era of the 80s and onward, as well as the things that inspired them in earlier years, has become a lot of my source material and now I am starting to realize that I can express it. This is a good thing. The possibility that some of the quirky weirdness in some of my stories may have been inspired by Joss Whedon’s irreverent flippant dialogue in Buffy and other shows is an added bonus: from my perspective anyway.

Really, I just like creatively messing around and reading and watching old, good things and good new things for universal and innovative storytelling ideas. I probably could have summarized this whole post into that one sentence, but there you go. 😉