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Friday, January 25, 2013

Friday Fights: The Dark Side

This topic comes from Manny who asks: "When did we start asking for dark grittiness in our remakes and reboots of beloved stories that were loved in their time for not having dark grittiness? If movies are about escapism, what in the hell are we escaping from when we go to these dark places? The new Bond movies, the upcoming Superman, Hansel and Gretel, Snow White and the Huntsman, and yes, Star Trek as well ... what's up?

Pete: I call it the Christopher Nolan effect.
Manny: So does Nolanification equal legitimacy?
Pete: For him, yes.  Not for the copycats.
Mike: I think a lot of this has to do with the struggle for legitimacy. I'm being pretty reductive here and in no way comprehensive, but you have works like Watchmen and Sandman making the case that comic books can be high art. Then you have Nolan's Batman movies, which were completely belied genre-film subjugation--they were great films, period. I'm interested to see if the trend holds out, fizzles, or finds a balancing point.
Dan: I would eat pizza every day.  But I don’t want to eat pepperoni pizza every day. Switch it up a little bit. You can tell me the same stories as long as you do it differently than I saw it the first time. I like thin crust pizza right now so give it to me in different ways until I have had them all then switch and give me those same toppings on deep dish pizza.  In other words, once you have told me the stories happy and bright, I'm ok seeing them a different way.  A few years from now once I have seen them all dark and gritty you can go back and tell me the same stories in a different way and I will still eat my pizza.
Pete: I’m only hungry now.
Mike:  I'd argue that the positive reception for The Avengers (though I, personally, thought it was pretty overrated) supports the idea that a feel-good super hero film can co-exist with a more complex plot and cast of characters, and in turn appeal to the masses.
Dan: The Avengers was like eating delicious pizza rolls.   It was nice to switch it up to get me back to my thin crust for a little while longer.
Stephanie:  I'm with Mike - take the Batman franchise, for example. I haven't read all of the comics, but from what I've heard from a lot of folks who have, it was the darker story lines (Dark Knight, Arkham Asylum) that were the most popular. Maybe, when approaching the franchise to make a new set of films, Nolan was looking for something different, and went with the storyline that fans would most want to see.  As for non-fans, I agree with Dan here - it's a side of Batman we haven’t seen. We all grew up with the ridiculous, campy Batman of Adam West and the franchise Tim Burton started - they were very cartoony. So by showing audiences a very real, tortured Batman, it gets them to look at a character they know really well from a different perspective. I mean, if Nolan just remade the Keaton/Clooney/Kilmer Batm(e)n, why would anyone want to pay to go see that?
I'll tell you why, Steph.  Bat-nipples! 
Dan: Yes Steph, I grew up so I don’t want to see that anymore but as a young teenager I loved it. (I hated onions on pizza but now I love them)  I grew up and changed so I want my movies to do the same. I bet as I get older and my taste continue to change brick oven pizza will be the new love of my life and I will need to see a more intellectual and deeper Batman.
Stephanie: And Manny (and Pete) - I think this predates Nolan. Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't this all start with the Spider-Man reboot (Tobey Macguire versions)? Those were definitely very dark, less campy films, and directed by Sam Raimi. As far as I can remember, those were the films that started the whole "let's tap into comics for blockbuster movies" binge Hollywood has been on the past 10 years or so. I don't think it was Nolan who was responsible for making superhero stories darker - I think Raimi started it, and Nolan, who is already a very dark director, thought “Hey, I could do something pretty amazing with a comic book story now...”
Pete: That’s not really my point.  Yes, I think Nolan was definitely the right director for the right movie. (Because as good as Tim Burton was with that, I always had the feeling that his Batman movies existed in the same world as Beetlejuice or Edward Scissorhands ...like two towns over.)  But it was about taking the subject matter seriously.  It started with X-Men.  They got the guy who’d directed The Usual Suspects, Bryan Singer.  Then Sam Raimi – a perfect fit for a comic book movie – with Spider Man.  But Raimi’s movies weren't necessarily dark in my opinion.  They just took Spiderman in the direction the comic books take him. It was a legitimate look at the subject matter.   It's a case of being not-campy.  Not silly.  Which is different that being deliberately edgy.
 Manny: Some characters benefit from the grit and darkness, sticking with Batman on this. His very origin is dark, as a result of having his parents killed in front of him. As cool as he may be, Bruce Wayne is a functioning sociopath. He is just on this side of good because he serves for his own twisted sense of justice. This is why he NEEDS to be given the Nolan treatment and it is why it succeeded. But where this started is that not EVERY character has that need.  Superman is the complete opposite of Batman, both in ideology and purpose. He is supposed to be what we strive to be, the bright zenith of Humanity. Bringing him down to our level defeats this trait. One of the things that I hated about Singer's take in SUPERMAN RETURNS is the fact that he made Superman not only into a deadbeat dad, he also turned him into a creeper.
"Every move you maaaaaake ..."
 Pete: Window-peeping Superman; and this new one looks no less angsty.  Sad, bearded Superman.  Of course, I bitched about “Emo Spider Man” trailers last summer and then I saw it, and I had to eat my words.
Manny: I loved both Raimi and Webb's take on Spiderman. Raimi pretty much stuck to the comic book origin while Webb took it and gave it an updated twist. I thought that the way that Andrew Garfield played Peter Parker/Spiderman was on point. It's going to really suck when Emma Stone gets written out.
Rosa: I think gritty reboots are more frequent now because of our current fascination with dystopian and post-apocalyptic societies. As media and technology bring us more and more opportunity to see horrific crimes, or even the capability of committing those crimes, it's much more satisfying to see a hero overcome struggle in a world that's darker than our own.
Sure it's awesome that Atreyu got through a bunch of obstacles in the land of Fantasia, but the threat of The Nothing made it look like he was on a quest for better medication to battle depression--which is basically what we see in commercials every day. That struggle becomes more common, and the fantasy isn't as moving if it isn't taking our emotions to a new level (like being freaked out about an insane supervillain with crazy futuristic technology, and then sighing in relief that that's not what our reality is like...yet).
Pete: It's still weird to see the "darker tone for its own sake" facelift put on characters like James Bond (Though it's hard not to absolutely love the new movies or Daniel Craig) or The Enterprise crew (as good as Star Trek was, it had nothing to do with Star Trek.) To say nothing of Hansel and Gretel, Snow White, Jack and the Beanstalk, etc.   Should I expect this trend to continue with like .. My Little Ponies or the Care Bears when they inevitably return to the big screen?
Manny: MY LITTLE PONY vs. CARE BEARS...directed by Michael Bay. In IMAX 3D where available. BRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAM!
 Pete:  “In a world where people just don't care... These bears are pushed too far …”
Christopher Uminga.  http://uminga.deviantart.com/
Shaida: I think Rosa is spot on about why gritty "realism" is so culturally appealing right now (we're in peak society times, with deep and messy underlying anxieties, so dystopic/dark stories are both comforting and plausibly relatable at the same time). But that's why we LIKE them, not why they get made.  The whimsical, slightly campy stuff doesn't seem marketable to the guys with the money. It's FOR KIDS, but the gritty ones are FOR GROWN-UPS. Although we nerds have managed to erode a lot of the snobbery that was once associated with genre fiction, there's still a strong insistence that adults and children can't like the same things.

Jason: I think part of it is also the fact that the filmmakers are trying to leave their mark on something they most likely loved as a child (maybe not that one story, but the genre definitely, be it Star Trek or a comic book, or whatever) and part of that is making the characters more "real" like we've discussed. Part of that it is also creating a reality of laws in that "real world". By making the ramifications for actions darker and more realistic we get the feeling it's "darker". This is why I HATED Dark Knight Returns, and why I was disappointed by the new Bourne. There were rule that were created that the characters broke later. Alternatively, it's also why the new James Bond works (they re-set the rules) and why the Avengers worked.  In the Marvel world as we know it the characters are allowed to get away with things (in Nolan’s world, the government would have gone to Iron Man's house and tried to take the suits by force). This is also why I feel Superman Returns was so bad. They didn't re-set any rules, just let the main character become a little whiner ... it also sucked cause it was really bad.

Stephanie: ^ Manny, did you just make that?!
Manny: Yes!
Jason: HAHA!!!
Pete: dark movies for dark subjects is fine, but really? Fairy tales?
Manny:  Grimm's Fairytales are kinda dark and messed up, at least in their original form.
Shaida: Take your two examples: Hansel & Gretel: children abandoned to die of exposure by their parents fall into the clutches of a forest-dwelling child predator. Snow White: Stepmother resents prettier, younger stepdaughter so hires a professional to murder her with the intention of eating her heart.  But I also remember some pretty dark fairy-tale type movies from the 80s (Legend and Labyrinth come to mind, they had campy elements but also scary villains and scary scenes--just tempered by the inclusion of Muppets)!
Pete: You have a point. I do forget that fairy tales are pretty much all about burning witches and wolves alive. (Oooh!  Maybe they'll do that to the annoying girlfriend in Grimm...)  I guess everything is dark... except maybe 90s Amy Grant videos.

Shaida: Speaking of which, maybe some of these modern tellings only SEEM darker because we have CGI now instead of Muppets...

Manny: Muppets can't make all freaky stories OK for kids. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you THE DARK CRYSTAL!
"I'm cute, just like Kermit!"

Pete: Oh, Dear God, the Skeksis were freaky, especially the weird moany chamberlain.
Manny: i couldn't tell you the last time i saw that movie. it freaked me the fuck out when I was a kid.  other freaky and jacked up "kids" movies: WATERSHIP DOWN and THE SECRET OF N.I.H.M.

Pete: Shaida, I like your point earlier about grown fare vs. kids fare. One of the reasons I hated the Star Wars prequels was the weird stance that George Lucas took that the movies, especially Episode 1, were for kids. Yet, the original movies appeal to everyone and didn't lose me as a kid because of any "too grownup for me to understand" status.
Rosa: Or how about how Lucas and Spielberg have "remastered" their classic films to lighten them up--like changing the FBI's guns to walkie-talkies in E.T., or adding silly background antics and unnecessary musical numbers to Star Wars. Oh yeah, and remember that little thing where HAN SHOT FIRST?!

Shaida: I have a hard time determining whether the current stuff is so much darker, or if it's just nostalgia and hazy memory that makes stuff I liked when I was young seem fluffier and fuzzier. DEFINITELY I think that the Lucas/Spielberg issue Rosa mentioned is evidence that they are old dudes romanticizing childhood and making retroactive edits to conform to what they think they were like as kids.
Rosa: I think some of those settings are meant to explore human nature (the ones that are done well, anyways). It's satisfying when you have that group of people that, despite horrible circumstances, can maintain their humanity.

Pete: I can see how "darker" might just mean "more true to the source material" But in some cases, it just comes across to me as dreary.  Since redemption and sacrifice and goodness exist in reality, and I feel they would exist in a real situation - Zombie, alien invasion or mysterious Island, It makes me think of shows like Walking Dead, Lost and Battlestar Galactica even the short lived V as being dark and gritty for the sake of being ... Dark and gritty.
Rosa: Maybe I'm a little too self-involved, but some of the appeal for those settings for me is imagining what I would do in those environments. I would be the reasonable one...I would utilize my skills with Excel to save us from zombies somehow...my sarcasm would win over the cylons (most likely scenario). The darker the scenario, the bigger the challenge for me. I know not to take an apple from a crone in the woods...but if the witch utilizes dark magic to read my thoughts and turn into my grandma offering me a freshly made tortilla? New and more difficult challenge!

Shaida: Pete, you know what the perfect antidote is? If you want heart and redemption and humanity, glimmers of hope and characters you care about? DOCTOR WHO.
Pete: NOOOOoooooOOOOooooOOOoooo

Shaida: There's a reboot that retains the campy charms of it's predecessor, adds some adult themes and universal insights, all while retaining its suitability for young viewers! Screw you, bleak and dreary dystopias!

Pete: Victory to Shaida.

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