Friday, February 24, 2012

The Phantom Writer

You may or may not have heard there was a Star Wars movie in theaters. 

What continues to amaze me is the level of discourse Star Wars in general and Episode I - The Phantom Menace in particular gets, among fans.  Honestly, we never stopped talking about it.  The conversation now centers on the merits of the film, out of the glare of the blinding hype that accompanied its release.  Most people tend to agree now it was not as bad as we first thought.  It's not even the worst Star Wars film.

A lot of the conversation that takes place around TPM and the prequels centers on the 'what if;' what if Jar Jar hadn't existed, what if this or that.  If I had a nickel for every conversation I have had with Ben, Sugu or any of my friends on this subject, I'd be able to finance my own version of the movie.  And I admit - I have, off and on, been writing a screenplay of a revised Episode I for a long time.  It serves primarly as a mental exercise.  Whenever I need to limber up, or get the pistons firing, I tinker at this script.  What's most fascinating to me about this subject besides its persistence is the fervor.  You don't hear anyone carrying torches for how 'The Godfather 3' should have been.  The need for TPM and the prequels to somehow be reimagined speaks both to the quality of the films in the first place, and a unique creative trend that actually has been alive and well for a long time - fan fiction.

This video below stakes out pretty common ground - with a few major exceptions - of where TPM revisionists line up, myself included.  Some of the language is NSFW, FYI.

This is pretty funny, and if I knew all you had to do was sit in front of a green screen and pontificate on what should have been, I'd simply have done that.  The guy in the video offers a version of TPM which is at once both better, and less, than the original.

Where I agree:

  • This is really Obi-Wan Kenobi's story.  Obi-Wan himself sets this up in his conversation with Luke in 'Star Wars,' about the Clone Wars, and convincing Anakin to join him on an 'idealistic crusade.'  As it stands, we never see this because Obi-Wan is neutered as a character by Qui-Gon Jinn.  Liam Neeson is simply the best thing about TPM, but his character serves only to echo a thematic element of the original movie.  Obi-Wan is relegated to a bystander and as such his relationship and stake in the story is undercut from the beginning.
  • Darth Maul lives.  It seems the cartoon is waking up to correcting this major mistake.  Darth Maul should have survived the film, and remained the prequels' Big Bad.
  • Anakin is older.  Him being a kid - doesn't work.  Will never work.
Beyond that, what I've found is that actually the film and the prequels are largely constructed as they should be.  TPM introduces us to the Republic in twilight.  We need to see the Jedi for who they were, and what they weren't.  These elements are in the film but never realized.  The seemingly trivial conflict on Naboo is just that.  Trivial.  It distracts from the real conflict, which is Palpatine's scheme to become Chancellor.  The real meat of the film occurs while everyone is going to the bathroom; the phantom menace concerns a plot few pay attention to. 

Most everyone wants the Clone Wars to begin with Episode I, and I did for a very long time, but actually it's necessary they don't; we must see the Jedi to be incapable of defeating this new enemy on their own.  As such, the Gungans - maybe even Jar Jar - become necessary to pulling out a victory, hollow as it is.  The clones come second, in response to the percieved inability of the Jedi.  The Separatist cause, and Count Dooku, they should come right away, though, and the way the clones arrive in Episode II simply doesn't work.

Ok, ok - DORK OVERLOAD.  The real point of this is - fans are writing, in their heads, on computers, or on video.  We're writing a version of a story that already exists.  This is a new kind of writing, and it's not; people have been re-writing stories to fit their needs and circumstances from the beginning (Gilgamesh) but what you have in Star Wars, or Harry Potter fan fiction, is a particular investment that unfortunately runs up against a couple barriers - art and commerce.

It's very rare those two things work together, but traditionally they have against fan fiction.  Fan fiction typically isn't though of as art, and its commercial prospects are nil due to copyright concerns.  So, until recently, it has languished in notebooks and the occasional fan magazine.  With the internet, fan fiction is taking on a life of its own, to the point some writers are creating universes for their fans to play in.  The subject is bigger than this blog post, but so many ideas intersect here - ownership, art, commerce, joy - that it's endlessly debatable.

I love Star Wars.  I love TPM.  I suppose I'll always argue the film, and write its wrongs (wow) in my head or in my punching bag of a script. 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Into Every Generation

I had commented a while back about my concerns in general with the direction the Buffy comics have taken since about the last third of Season 8.  The characters seemed a bit aimless, and the overall story left a lot of people dazed and confused.  Out of that confusion has come a very sober wake up call in the form of Buffy's unexpected pregnancy.  It could be the aimlessness was intentional, though I maintain it didn't really work (the writing is good but not great this season) and it revisited episodes Buffy has already gone through.   The character simply needs to grow and now, certainly, she must.

Typically Buffy has always presented common teenage/young adult fears via mystical/magical guises.  The pregnancy does not seem right now to be anything than what it's presented to be, which is the result of a drunken one night stand.  There's a lot to be said for this.  This is a comic book after all.  But this is also Buffy, and I'm not sure if it's just the writing, again, or a case of the subtext becoming the text.  Buffy really has no subtext anymore (except for fan titliation in the form of shipper chain yanking scenes) and that is made crystal clear in Buffy's decision utlimately to get an abortion.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Who Watches The Watchmen?

Ben wrote about the announcement that DC is going forward with an ambitious slate of prequels to Watchmen.  Alan Moore and fandom at large collectively dug graves just so they could spin in them.  Like Ben, I've thought about it quite a bit and here's my thoughts.

First things first: it's a money grab.  The scale of the project speaks to that.  The reason it's happening now, and not a few years ago when the movie hit and something like this would have made sense (from a purely marketing point of view) is that the comic book industry has reached its financial and creative end.  A great deal was made of DC's decision just a few months ago to completely scrap its line and relaunch with a digital slate; the underlying thinking there was that the print aspect of the comics industry is in free fall.  Print in general is, and comic books are not the only victims.

I see Before Watchmen as a last ditch attempt to both breathe life into and draw life from the creative apex of an essential American art form.

That's entirely separate from whether it's a good idea or not.  We'll have to wait and see, but I don't believe there is anything to be achieved via this world or those characters that hasn't been already.  Watchmen speaks to such a specific moment - the kill shot death of the form's innocence about itself - that to go back on it now says all you need to know about the form's artistic vitality.

I don't believe though that DC, or the creators involved, have no right to do this.  Contract issues aside (Alan Moore's suffrage here has had generational benefits for those who came later), DC owns the characters and is free to do as they wish.  Alan Moore has made a living in recent years off his co-opting of existing characters in The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen (the Watchmen began life as characters from Charlton Comics).  Though the characters of LoEG exist in the public domain, it's important to consider that most of the reaction I have seen from fans in general centers on Alan Moore's relationship to the characters more in spirit than in anything proprietary.  It could be said Moore is violating his own argument in what he does with other people's characters.

Someday, regardless of whether he wants them to or not, people will freely make use of the Watchmen as they see fit.  That they will doesn't diminish the characters or one of the great works of art of the 20th century; it only elevates it.