Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Repost: An Invention of Limitation

I'm in the middle of writing a new feature, and in the midst of the struggle to create a great action /adventure film on a micro budget I thought it appropriate to repost something from a few years back. Enjoy.

Picked up The Adventures of Superman on DVD. That's the old 50's Superman show starring George Reeves (no relation to Christopher Reeve). George Reeves eventually commited suicide and his life is being made into a movie right now starring Ben Affleck which of course makes me want to fill my mouth with molasses and killer bees. But that's not the point of the post.

The point is that while I was watching I kept trying to put myself into the shoes of a little kid back then. They LOVED this show. This is what really rocketed Superman into uber-popularity. And the whole time I'm seeing this middle aged guy leap out of windows in this awful costume and I'm wondering, "They loved THIS?" The effects are horrendously funny. The acting is just what you'd expect from a 50's show. Superman looks like about as heroic as your Uncle Ray.

But the more I thought about it, every medium that super-heroes have ever thrived on has been a very limited one. Superman, the very first super-hero, was created in the funny books. Cheap little black and white mini-mag's with awful little illustrations. He later entered homes through this little TV show. Spider-Man was made famous, not by the comic book, but by his cartoon in the 60's. I've seen flip books and buddy icons with better animation.

So why did people fall in love with these characters if they're only represented by such limited mediums and low budgets? Because the super-hero is essentially a character of imagination. The very core of a super-hero is just that, the ability to defy human limitations. Superman himself is an invention of limitation. A super-hero needs limitation or else there is nothing to defy. Any guy can walk through a door. But not everyone can punch a hole through it.

This theory lends itself to the consistent failure of box office super-heroes. (Failure in my regard is not measured by box office money, but rather quality of story.) With hundreds of millions of dollars poured into movies like Fantastic Four, Batman Begins, and the upcoming Superman Returns, there is NO limitation. Limitation breeds creativity. Unlimited resources breeds laziness. George Lucas should have learned this by now. If you use computers to create great fictional characters and landscapes you've removed the option of the audience using their imagination to fill in the edges. They don't need to, it's right there. And if you remove the audiences ability to use their imagination, they're not going to be engaged. Understand why kids are then so easily sucked into cheesy cartoons?

Should we withold budgets then? Should we ask Bryan Singer to make a film on 10 million as opposed to 200? Should we make special effects so bad that you have to use your imagination? No. But with every resource at their disposal, he'll never be half as super as he is trapped inside that comic book or those old Fleischer cartoons.

Superman needs to be wrapped in chains, just to show everyone he can break out of them. Maintain limitations, because then you'll be forced to be more creative than you ever could have been.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

this is why the best scenes in recent comic book film adaptations are the scenes when the hero is pitted against the more petty crimes and criminals. its a chance for them to shine as they did in the comic pages. they are the flashes of "gee whiz" that give us goose bumps and allow us to lose ourselves in the fantasy even as adults. now if the whole film could be like that.

curt

Leah said...

This is a great post. Really made me think and see a lot of application into lots of areas. Thanks for the repost!

Anonymous said...

" If you use computers to create great fictional characters and landscapes you've removed the option of the audience using their imagination to fill in the edges."


Another attempt to bash George Lucas? God, I'm getting sick of them.

CP said...

I'd hardly classify that statement as "bashing" Lucas. It's directed more at the technology itself.