Wednesday, December 17, 2008

An apology—I can’t do it

One of my favorite movies of all time is The Day the Earth Stood Still. I saw it as a child on a cable channel and I wandered around muttering "klaatu barada nikto" for days, annoying classmates and teachers alike. However, I really didn't get the movie and its message; I was just enamoured of the idea of a flying saucer landing in Washington, guarded by an eight-foot tall robot with the power over life and death. Later, as my reading and experiences broadened my vision, I grew to better understand the message that underlies the movie—humanity is all in this together, and political differences mean nothing in the face of the universe, which is a cold and uncaring adversary. That's a powerful message, and a foundational part of my love for this movie.

And so it was with extreme fear that I learned about the remake of this movie, starring Keanu Reaves and Jennifer Connelly. On the one hand, the original movie is nearly perfect the way it is. It doesn't require huge explosions or extended action sequences to deliver its message—in fact, it has a message. But modern movie-making relies on special effects to titillate the audience and the movies that enlighten are few and far between. I dreaded where mayhem would be introduced into the story, since the power of the original movie relies on the imagined threat a single hour without power holds for the world. And frankly, Michael Rennie would act overlapping circles around Keanu.

As more and more information accrued about the movie, I came to realize that in some ways, the premise behind the new version could make for an interesting science-fiction story: first contact with aliens with a twist. And I became optimistic that I could see this movie, if only I could forget its title and the connections it claims with the original movie. Trailers came out, further supporting this view of the movie. And then the reviews started coming out, and my dread returned. Most reviews describe it as a failure of a movie, not even good science fiction. And I grew angry—attaching the name of a great movie to this failure demeans the original to the vast audience who know nothing about it. And my decision was made: I'm not going to see this movie in theatrical release. I may get it from our DVD service, or I may see it on demand or on a cable channel. But I'm not going to give the moviemakers $10 to desecrate something I hold so dear. When that happens, I'll post a review. Maybe I'll regret not having seen it on a big screen, and perhaps this makes me something less than a real speculative fiction fan in the eyes of other fans. But in order to get more good, important movies made—like Children of Men and The Prestige—I'm speaking up with my money. It would appear after its first weekend that I am in the minority in my stance, but the real test will be in the second weekend.

Which leads me to the second half of this apology. Mrs. Speculator and I went to see a movie last evening (which I'll review in another post) and the trailer for The Spirit was included. I'd like to say I was smart enough to be a Spirit fan as soon as I had heard of him, but I wasn't. I barely knew of him or his creator, Will Eisner, even though I was working in comics stores in New Jersey and North Carolina. But when I was in graduate school, I couldn't afford to find back issues and my focus remained on the big two when I could afford it. But my friend Mark spoke brilliantly of The Spirit and Eisner, and I read a few things, which led to reading a few more things, which led to my purchasing all the Spirit archives from DC. And now I am a big fan.

The Spirit works on so many different levels. I'm sure googling "the spirit" and reading reviews of the comics would provide more and better information, but I'll try to summarize the main strengths of the stories. First, Eisner is such a wonderful storyteller, bringing together words and graphics in ways that were never done before, breaking ground and doing things which are hard to repeat even now. Action and color in the panels are important. And the plots are tight and funny, providing growth of the characters while advancing each weekly plot. And while there is action, there is also humor because at heart Denny Colt laughs at the foibles of his foes, using their all-too-human faults to trip them up. And yet, utterly human, he is sometimes unaware of his own failings, introducing even more humor to the reader.

And from this, Frank Miller has created a motion picture that is in black and white. A motion picture that takes the humor out of the equation. And before last evening, I was worried, but I was going to see this movie. But after I saw the trailer, where the formerly human Spirit does back-flips up a wall, I'm not sure I can do it. After seeing Samuel L. Jackson announce that he is the Octopus because he likes to do things in eights, I put my head in my hands. I don't know if I can do it. Not only does this not look like The Spirit, it doesn't look like a good movie. And this from a man who claims to revere Eisner and the Spirit. Again, I feel like if I could forget that this is supposed to be about The Spirit, I might at least appreciate the movie, but it's even more difficult to sever that tie than it is for the titles of The Day the Earth Stood Still. And unlike The Day the Earth Stood Still, I really want this movie to succeed, to give The Spirit the broader audience it deserves.

We'll have to see. Maybe I can work up the courage to see it as a matinee.

(and for a glimpse of what might have been…

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