The Culture Beat

January 16, 2011

A Tour Through Decades of Disney History

Filed under: Movies — Alex @ 11:42 pm

The Walt Disney Company is uniquely tied to family entertainment and is thus as closely protected by armies of public relations troops, this despite having for decades produced R-rated films and other adult entertainment by subsidiaries such as Miramax and Touchstone studios. Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse are icons of wholesomeness and the company’s protectiveness of its family friendly image makes the release of three recent surprisingly honest documentaries that are about periods of the company’s history and the gifted people who worked in it. They cover decades from the 1940s, into the 1990s and shed bright light on the sometimes tortured creative process that has resulted in so much brilliant entertainment.

Walt and El Grupo (2008) As the US inched toward involvement in World War II, the government asked Walt Disney to undertake a goodwill tour to South America which was being wooed by both the Allies and Axis countries. With his wife Doris and a small group of his most talented artists, Disney embarked on a months-long tour starting in Brazil and continuing on to other countries including Argentina and Chile. Made with the cooperation of the Disney family and including an artfully woven together collection of color film footage, stills and other artifacts, the film evokes the “grupo’s” immersion in the Latin culture and natural beauty of the continent. Letters sent to and from the group’s family members describe experience of cross cultural discovery and the missing of separated husbands, wives and children. At the center of course is the charismatic Disney, whose arrival at various countries was a cause for excitement and celebration. The man who created Mickey Mouse and other internationally beloved characters brought his down-to-earth American personality and his curiosity about their countries to a tour that really was beneficial in strengthening relations with Latin American neighbors. Two animated films eventually came out of the tour, Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros, the uneven nature of which reflected the difficulty of the group’s translating their own immersion in the colorful cultures in a way the Disney animators at home could understand. Though it lags in pace at times, this is an important story about communication across borders and cultures and how American entertainment could serve an ambassadorial purpose at a crucial historical moment. Available on Netflix streaming.

The Boys: The Sherman Brothers Story (2009) Disney animated features had, from Snow White on, featured musical numbers that became classics. Two men, Robert and Richard Sherman, or Bob and Dick, became the studio’s in-house composers during the 1960s and beyond. Their greatest achievement, the songs of Mary Poppins, were the soundtrack of a generation of pre-teen Baby Boomers. Son of a songwriter who told his sons to make their music “simple, singable and sincere,” they fit perfectly in the Disney vision of all ages appeal. Younger brother Dick, the instinctive composer of merry music was balanced by Bob’s more adult and downbeat personality and his lyrics were often characterized by a romantic longing and just a streak of melancholy that kept the music from becoming too saccharine and sentimental. Though their composing was often quickly produced, it was also characterized by conflict that eventually resulted in Bob’s separating himself from his brother-partner, not unlike the breakups of rock band members who are too close for comfort. Watching the film was both a revelation about the creative process in this era of Disney’s final decade and a bit of trip through my childhood’s best movie memories. Available on Netflix streaming.

Waking Sleeping Beauty (2009) After Disney’s passing in 1966, the company soldiered on without its namesake visionary and creative sparkplug, producing live and animated features that raised the question of whether the legacy of its founding genius could be perpetuated beyond his death. The dwindling animation department’s output needed a charge and the documentary tells the tale of how the right people were hired to turn the company around and revive the brilliant animation by, ironically, giving up on trying to guess “what would Walt think of this?” that kept the studio backward looking instead of creating for a new day. The main players in the film are Roy Disney, Walt’s nephew and keeper of the family heritage who knew that a change was necessary to return the company to greatness. The hiring of Michael Eisner from Paramount as CEO and Jeffrey Katzenberg to oversee filmmaking signaled the slow turnaround of the ship that would result in Disney’s becoming one of the world’s largest media companies and a series of acclaimed animated films. Starting with The Little Mermaid, and continuing onto Beauty and the Beast, Alladin and The Lion King, the Disney brand was restored as the premier animation studio. But as with the Sherman brothers, brilliant art arose out of conflict and the film doesn’t stint from tracing the acrimony, jealousy and human pettiness that eventually brought an end to the creative era. Beyond the film’s scope lies the next chapter, of how Pixar inherited the mantle of Disney’s creative vision (told mostly in The Pixar Story and available as part of the special features on the Wall-E DVD ). Available as disc rental from Netflix.

The three film’s candid stories, rather than taint the Disney image, provide a more rounded and realistic perspective on the hard work and difficult human struggles that were part of achieving the Disney “magic.”


January 11, 2011

Movie Round-up: Tron Legacy & The King’s Speech

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alex @ 10:48 pm

It’s the third week of my Christmas break–classes start on Monday so I’m belatedly getting back to posting. Tron Legacy has been out for several weeks now and at around $245 million worldwide, is a respectable hit. If you haven’t seen it by now, you probably aren’t the target audience of mostly young-skewing gamers and techno-geeks, action film fans or middle-aged folks who fondly recall the strange 1982 film that makes the new film one of the longest to arrive sequels in history.

Being so generational in arrival, the film’s theme of father-son interaction gives the film it’s heart. Jeff Bridges returns as Kevin Flynn, the programmer of the “grid,” a cyber-world he was scanned into in the first film, and whom in the second film, returns for far longer than he intended as his created double, “Clu,” designed to assist him, rebells, and turns evil, as many doppelgangers tend to do. The digitized Flynn grows older in the grid, leaving his son Sam, to grow up fatherless and become a bit too independent, standing outside his father’s company rather than taking control and continuing his father’s, er, legacy. When Alan Bradley, (Bruce Boxleitner, reprising his role from the first film) encourages Sam to respond to a mysterious page from his father, Sam goes to Kevin’s old video arcade and discovers the secret lab where his father kept the portal to the grid–before you can say “Digitize me, Fred!” Sam has been zapped into the grid world, and the next two action set pieces mirror Kevin’s first entry into the cyberworld–first a deadly competition with the Frizbee like discs that will shatter one’s digital self if you don’t first shatter your opponent, and then the cybercycle deathrace. The point of course is to compare how it was done the first time with then new computer graphics and how state-of-the-art effect accomplish it today.

But the biggest effect in the movie and the one most worthy of buzz is the way Jeff Bridges has been de-aged to look around 30 years old to play both himself right before he leaves Sam for his long exile, and as Clu. One can know the concept of how digital effects can give a 61-year old an extreme makeover and still be astonished and a little creeped out seeing the fresh-faced Clu with features a little less detailed than when when Bridges appeared in the King Kong remake of 1976 or Starman of 1986.

While watching Tron Legacy, I was engaged in the story and enjoyed it, but there are inherent limitations in movies, both the first and this one, that are science fantasies set in a computer’s electronic innards. I think, given the vast growth in the complexity of video game technology, there should have been a corresponding growth in the inventiveness of the sequel. The world of the grid is still basically black with neon whites and oranges that inevitably affects the mood of the story and with the apparent underpopulation of Flynn’s creation, there seems to be some missed opportunities here.

For something completely different, try The King’s Speech, the story of Britain’s King George VI and his battle against a crippling stammer. No one plays uneasy men as well as Colin Firth and the role of a royal but private man on whom greatness is unwillingly thrust makes for a very appealing story. Born Albert and called “Bertie,” by his family, the second in line to the throne behind his more dashing brother Edward, the prince had suffered all his life from a speech impediment that made performance of his public duties a dreadful experience for both him and his audience–long awkward pauses in the wrong parts of sentences tortured all. Seeking help from an unconventional speech therapist, Australian Lionel Logue, the training sessions are the core of the film. Played by Geoffry Rush, Logue is self-taught and insists on a first-name basis from His Royal Highness, Prince Albert. An amateur student of Freud, Logue believes that if he delves into his patient’s psyche, he will uncover the true impediment to the royal’s tongue. This make for a sort of upstairs/downstairs buddy film which follows a familiar pattern of growing respect and mutual trust in the therapist–patient relationship and also of course supplies most of the dramatic conflict, which I suspected at times to be contrived for effect. The dramatized conflict went on about two scenes longer than necessary but the ultimate result is still a warm and rewarding biopic.

November 28, 2010

The “New” Hollywood Reporter

Filed under: General Pop Culture,Movies — Alex @ 9:16 pm

For years I’ve subscribed to Entertainment Weekly in order to keep up with popular culture’s offerings. If you’ve ever read the magazine, a product of the Time-Warner media giant, you know it’s a mix of up-to-date news, gossip, some show biz analysis and plentiful reviews–usually mixed with heaping portions of snark–an attitude that says, “We don’t take show business that seriously, and we’re a little smarter than most of this, that is, when we aren’t swooning over Lady Gaga or Ryan Reynolds.” But after the fall of Premiere magazine several years ago (now only a website), it was about the only general interest entertainment magazine on the market. But that was before the “relaunch” of The Hollywood Reporter, several weeks ago. The 80-year old publication, a close competitor with Variety, changed from a daily publication, covering the entertainment industry, to a newly designed large weekly the size of the old Life magazine and stuffed with articles about every aspect of show business.

I recall leafing through issues of the magazine as it was a few years ago and found it of interest only if one needed to know who had just signed what deal to make which new movie/television show or other entertainment form–very insider, as you would expect of a business publication. The new version is much bigger, and designed to broaden the publication’s appeal to a mainstream audience interested in entertainment as a business. So there have been roundtable discussions with critically acclaimed actresses, noteworthy film producers or profiles of individuals such as Chuck Lorre, producer of The Big Bang Theory. One article offered a fascinating analysis of the success of Marvel Productions in adapting their comic book characters to the big screen. The second issue, pictured above, had an insightful feature, found here on their website, showing that most big television hits require Republican viewers to succeed.

I teach on film and television at Palm Beach Atlantic University and am finding the magazine very useful in helping to understand the way things work in Hollywood. Today I was at my local Barnes & Noble and was pleased to see that it is available on newsstands. If going a little deeper in entertainment news, beyond the latest Lindsey Logan antics, appeals to you, check out the new Hollywood Reporter.

November 21, 2010

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 1

Filed under: Books,Movies — Alex @ 11:43 pm

When it was announced that volume 7 of the mega-selling magical epic by J. K. Rowling would be produced in two parts, there were accusations that Warner Bros. was merely milking the top film franchise for yet more millions. I was relieved that the studio that had adapted the previous, often very large books, leaving piles of characters and subplots on the screenwriting floor had finally given the writing its due by allowing the last book, with 759 pages, to unfold more faithfully with plenty of time to tell a rather complex story. Indeed, this is the first film since Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, to pretty much move at the pace of the book.

And as the last volume, the filmmakers no longer feel the need to do much exposition for latecomers. You’ve got to come to the film having seen or read the story up to now to understand what the significance of the horcruxes are that Harry and his friends Ron and Hermione are seeking. As he did in the previous film, Half-Blood Prince, director David Yates has employed a very muted color pallet to create a sober and fearful tone as the evil Lord Voldemort’s army triumphs over the Ministry of Magic, making Harry and friend fugitives while they search for the horcruxes containing parts of Voldemort’s soul. The near monochromatic design began to wear on me after a while; what is described in a book is easier to tolerate than over two hours of dim lighting that may actually be bleaker than The Dark Knight. Part 1 ends with Harry more isolated than ever and Voldemort gaining one of the powerful objects that give the story its title. There’s no good place to leave off in the middle of the story, but fans will be satisfied by the end, knowing what powerful conclusion lies in Part 2.

More than in the past films, most of the story is carried by the three young actors Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint. Besides carrying the normal weight of their characters, they must also undergo the stresses of suspicion and self-doubt brought on by their arduous exile from friends and family, trying their years of companionship. All three actors show how far they’ve grown in their art, especially Radcliffe.

Despite the greater room for narrative, I still noticed that the script left out a crucial moment from the book where Harry and Hermione see an important scripture engraved on a tombstone, a glimpse at author Rowling’s Christian underpinnings in her storytelling–alas no surprise these days. Another reminder that the best place to enjoy this epic story is in the many pages of the original books.

November 14, 2010

Comics I Am/Not Reading

Filed under: Comics — Alex @ 10:45 pm

My last posting on comics, discussed the end of a series of grim-sounding crossovers for both DC (Blackest Night) and Marvel (Dark Reign) that promised a new “Heroic Age” for Marvel and the “Brightest Day” for DC. And earlier than that, in the summer of 2009, I wrote about “Death and Rebirth in the Comics World,”specifically those of Captain America and Batman. The latter post discussed the latest “killing off” of two of comics’ greatest characters, acts that are assumed to be opportunities to let the characters lie fallow for a season to recharge their creative potential.

Last year Captain America returned, sorta, when he was retrieved from the careering about the space-time continuum and emerged as Steve Rogers after his resurrected sidekick, a now-grown Bucky Barnes, had taken up the shield in his stead. To my surprise, Rogers wore the star-spangled suit very little, ceding the mantle of the Sentinel of Liberty to Barnes while he took on the leadership of the Secret Avengers (a title I’m enjoying), a superpowered black ops team as “Steve Rogers–Supersoldier”(illustrated above). I have always like Rogers as Cap and am expecting Barnes’ tenure to end by summer’s arrival of Marvel Studios’ Captain America: The First Avenger feature. It’s impossible to imagine Marvel not returning Rogers to Cap status while he’s on the big screen. But when I realized that Bucky would still be Captain A for a while, I lost interest in the title book–some characters must be played by the person who originated the role–and Steve Rogers is Captain America.

Just as Bruce Wayne is Batman. When the evil Darkseid blasted Batman back to prehistoric times at the end of Final Crisis, we knew it was only a matter of time until Wayne returned. Until then, the original Robin, the now the grown Dick Grayson (Nightwing) again took up the mantle of the Bat and with a new, brattier and more lethal Robin, Damian, Wayne’s progeny as the current Boy Wonder. Part of a several years epic by Grant Morrison, the Batman and Robin title started out well, but I soon got lost in Morrison’s dense and perplexing narrative, never very accessible to start with.

Now that Wayne has re-entered the scene, readers learned that Dick will stay Batman, even while Bruce wears the cowl too. In fact, Wayne has decided to extend the brand–he’s revealed to the public that he has been financing Batman’s technology for years and that he will back anyone worthy of being a Batman in his, er, local market. This “Batman Inc.” concept, which removes any singularity about the Dark Knight, is about the worst idea I’ve ever seen regarding Batman in comics. Apparently I’m not alone. Although the good folks at IGN Comics seem to love everything about Morrison’s run, the most of the comments(below the review) reflect a high degree of disgust and/or confusion at the stories. I had hoped this would be my jumping-back-on point for the Caped Crusader, but, unless one of the Wayne as Batman titles attracts me, I’ll have to settle for back issues and the next Christopher Nolan Bat-film, The Dark Knight Rises in 2012.

October 31, 2010

Sherlock Holmes in the 21st Century

Filed under: Television — Alex @ 8:45 pm

No, the above title isn’t the same cartoon series about a master detective unfrozen from suspended animation and solving crimes in the future. The new Masterpiece Mystery! British import, titled Sherlock, that started last week posits that the legendary logician begins his adventures in our time and uses smart phones the same way Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle’s creation employed couriers and the Baker Street Irregulars to solves crimes. The concept works marvelously well because the series’ new creators, Steve Moffat and Mark Gatiss (who’ve written for the BBC’s Dr. Who) steeped since childhood in the original stories, have stayed true to the spirit of the Victorian era adventures and best of all to the characters of Holmes and his companion Dr. Watson. Holmes is played by Benedict Cumberbatch ( a name as striking as the character he plays) with such brilliance that I haven’t seen in the character since the classic Jeremy Brett portrayal from twenty years ago. (I was not at all attracted to the Robert Downey Jr. Holmes-as-action-hero feature film this summer) Arrogant but with a hint of loneliness caused by his singular genius and obsession with solving crimes, the modern-day detective finds a friend for life when Dr. John Watson (played perfectly by Martin Freeman, recently cast as Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson’s upcoming The Hobbit), wounded while serving as a military physician in Afganistan (just like the original version) agrees to share quarters at 221B Baker Street in London. While Holmes benefits from Watson’s grounding normalcy, the doctor’s inner hero finds fulfillment in fighting crime with the great detective.

The first episode, “A Study in Pink,” was by turns thrilling, suspenseful and laugh-out-loud funny as the two new partners seek the cause of a series of murders that seem like suicides. When Watson discovers Sherlock on his couch deep in thought and wearing nicotine patches because of London’s proscriptive smoking ordinances, Holmes aficionados will laugh in recognition when Holmes states that “It’s a three patch problem.”

The PBS site is a great introduction and you can watch the first of three 90-minute episodes there if you missed it last week. Check your local listings for broadcast times.

October 30, 2010

The Culture Beat-Back in Action

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alex @ 9:32 pm

For anyone who’s been wondering what happened here–nothing since, –ach!– August 29th. has been posted. A simple explanation would be, that on August 30th, the fall semester at Palm Beach Atlantic University began and I was snowed under while at the same time I was having difficulty coming up with ideas for posts–and I know the two were related. For weeks I pondered whether I should give up blogging–it was hard to imagine having the time with my schedule. But a number of media and time events conspired to reinvigorate my blogging mojo and look for new entries soon. Sorry to keep you waiting.

Photo credit: We just got back from Universal’s theme parks and it’s an occasionally observed tradition to get those silly portraits taken. That’s me with my gorgeous wife inserted into a picture of Star Wars’ Han and Leia–and my hair did used to look just that full and brown–still full but silvery gray.

August 29, 2010

Instant Documentaries

Filed under: General Pop Culture,Movies,Uncategorized — Alex @ 10:16 pm

Following up from my last post on how Netflix’s streaming video on demand (VOD) had transformed my home video experience, I can now report on several titles available from their instantly viewable library. All three are documentaries that I would have trouble finding at a local multiplex and might not even want via Netflix’s mail order service, since they would compete for attention with other titles I’d watch downstairs with the family. I’ve watched most of these films upstairs while on the treadmill, delivered via my son’s PS3 game console using the Netflix disc, similar to what they provide for the Wii console, except the picture is larger and not cropped. In order of viewing:

Welcome to Macintosh, a history of Apple’s innovative personal computer, told by those who were in some way involved in its invention and development. It informs a lot about the maverick nature of Steve Jobs and his compatriots as they sought to create a computer with a semblance of a soul, which would encourage creativity and how this resulted in a “cult of Apple” that has only grown over the last 14 years with the development of the iMac, iPod, iPhone and now the iPad.

Tales from the Script Hollywood’s Boulevard of Broken Dreams is littered with careers of would-be screenwriters who were crushed between the cruel wheels of feckless studio executives, and their own shortcomings at mastering the art of cinematic storytelling. This film is filled with interviews of those who have had some degree of success including Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption), Shane Black (Lethal Weapon) and master scribe William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Princess Bride, among others) whose famous maxim, about what succeeds in Hollywood, “Nobody Knows Anything,” captures the unpredictable nature of the business. It includes course language but is essential for anyone hoping to write and pitch their way into selling a script.

Art and Copy Contemporary advertising began a “creative revolution” in the 1960s as the formerly separate divisions of copyrighting, the dominant element upon which the artwork was based, gave way to a creative marriage of the two (which is what the AMC series Mad Men is currently depicting ). This documentary describes some of the brightest lights in the ad world who find ways to touch the deepest parts of our sometimes unspoken desires in order to sell cars, candidates and computers. Recommended if you want to begin to understand how commercial art is, like it or not, the highest creative achievement of the modern age.

Lest this come off looking like a plug for Netflix, it’s really just my way of expressing what I’ve found in this new VOD world that more and more of us will soon be enjoying–greater freedom to program the media of our lives.

August 9, 2010

The Next Video Revolution

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alex @ 1:37 am

There’s been much buzz about the way Apple’s iPad will change personal computing, with its lightweight, mouse-free elegant design that allows greater mobility with longer battery life for web surfing, movie-watching and reading books and other print media. But there’s another big factor shaping the way we use electronic media and it’s related to devices like the iPad because all of this is involved with digital media, the technology that allows all kinds of information to be compressed into binary code and used to access multimedia on multiple platforms, as anyone who’s watched a Hollywood movie on their iPod knows.

The revolution is in the realm of home video, the segment of the media that impacted the way we use television starting in the 1980s when the VCR boom exploded across the world. Prior to the arrival of Beta and then VHS videotape player/recorders, there was no way to control one’s television or film viewing. When a network broadcast a program or movie, you either caught it the night and time it aired, or caught the episode rerun months later. The Big Three television network, NBC, CBS, ABC, controlled the television content flow on their scheduling grids so that viewers planned their lives around watching their favorite programs.
In the 1970s, the three networks accounted for over 90 % of the audience.

Two huge technological developments allowed Americans to have greater choices over what they did with their television sets. The first was the growth of cable channels and their penetration to more and more homes, giving greater choices of what to watch. The other was the rise of the VCR (the first VHS model shown here) to allow the recording of television programs for later viewing (“timeshifting”) which delivered the audience from its captivity to a program schedule; the VCR could also play prerecorded Hollywood films. The result was that the American home was now more autonomous in its viewing choices. Today, television broadcast networks are down to just over 50% of the audience, having lost out to cable and home video.

The rise of the VCR meant that we began to expect to be able to do our own programming, to view what we wanted, when we wanted. And we could fast forward past commercials, undermining the whole business model of commercial television. Later, when the Digital Video Disc brought us an even better version of Hollywood products, we began to enjoy how good movies could look on our television sets. The arrival of high-definition, widescreen monitors enhanced the aesthetic experience.

When the Digital Video Recorder, such as those made by TiVo, arrived, it used a hard drive to digitally record and store program content for pausing, or replaying anything on TV, a real improvement on the now ancient-seeming VCR. Just like the World Wide Web taught us to expect to get print content easily and for free, home video made us our own exhibitors in our home theater.

But as “digital convergence” made all kinds of content available on all kinds of devices, the term Video on Demand became one of the buzzwords in circulation: the expectation that someday soon, we would be able to order up any content we had once had to rent from our closest Blockbuster store or through the mail from Netflix. But digital convergence means that all kinds of devices can be conduits for the same streaming content. Thus it is that I have begun to experience some of the latest advances in home video.

We have a TiVo HD DVR that records many hours of programming and saves it, creating a library of movies and other programs that can be watched at anytime. We also have added a Tivo wireless adapter which receives wireless signals from our computer’s router. In essence, our router sends out signals from our cable broadband connection to our TiVo so that we can access You Tube, Amazon and other content providers over the Internet. But the biggest source of offerings is that we can watch hundreds of movies and television shows on our Netflix account this way in standard and high definition. For weeks we’ve been watching successive season of Lost in beautiful detail whenever we want to.

But wait, there’s more–Months ago, Netflix sent out an e-mail asking if we’d like to watch content from our Instant Queue on my son’s Wii game console. They sent us a disc that enabled the Wii, already able to receive wireless signals, to play back Netflix programs picked up from our router. Ever since, I’ve been able to watch movies, documentaries and television programs while using our treadmill. And last week I did the same thing on my son’s Playstation 3, which brings Netflix content in even better resolution. If I’m in the middle of a program, on any of these three devices, or one of our computers, I can stop it, and resume the program on another device in the house.

I can tell already that this will continue to change our media habits. As DVD and Blu-Ray sales stay flat, and as more titles become available instantly, we will watch more streaming content instead of having to wait for it by mail, as we have done with Lost episodes. I will still prefer to watch Blu-Ray discs of classic and major films but HD streaming at what looks like 1080i quality will certainly suffice for lots of other content, when more arrives.

This fascinating cnet article reports on Netflix’s strategy of getting more and more rights to programming from Hollywood studios. Even Netflix’s much reported agreement to delay receiving Warner Bros. DVDs for three weeks (allowing the studio to sell DVDs rather than allowing Netfix to rent them) is a long-term tactic to obtain the video streaming rights that will one day save them millions in postage fees as their growing customer based opts to stream movies rather than order them through the mail. They see that as the soon-arriving future of home video–on demand.

July 29, 2010

Are Superhero Films Past Their Prime?

Filed under: General Pop Culture,Movies — Alex @ 8:56 pm

That was the question being asked last week as this year’s San Diego Comic-Con launched another festival of all things pop culture including of course, comic books, wannabe blockbuster movies, video games, television and other attractions. Entertainment Weekly‘s Jeff Jensen traced the last ten years of ever more lucrative superhero movies and wondered if the viability of the genre was on the wane. Hollywood studios with mammoth budgets for next year’s Green Lantern, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger and X-Men: First Class are betting that there’s still plenty of power in those spandex tights. Comic-Con displayed the casts of several movies due next year and in 2012’s The Avengers which combines the Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America and others in a Marvel extravaganza to dwarf earlier films.

Jensen is right to ask the question about how upcoming films can resonate with audiences now quite familiar with such characters–we relate to these characters on some level because we can relate to Batman’s quest for rough justice, Spider-Man’s struggle for a normal life, the X-Men’s societal rejection or the giddy fun of imagining ourselves in a cool metal suit. But what does Green Lantern speak to in the mass audience, or for that matter, the Green Hornet? Is the appeal of Thor or Cap limited to hardcore comic book geeks, the essential audience the Comic-Con panels were reaching out to but not the average moviegoer?

I think it will probably all come down to the story and the attitude of the production toward the character. If it takes an ironic stance toward the “star spangled sentinel of liberty,” Captain America, a character whose red, white and blue costume is hard to imagine in live action (see the picture I took at Universal Studios Marvel attraction) then the audience will mostly stay away. The new movie’s version of the costume, shown above, successfully adapts it to a live action practicality. As a character, Cap’s alter ego, Steve Rogers, a man of the 1940s patriotic spirit, was always at odds with his latter day resurrection into a more cynical and knowing culture–it was his quiet insistence on his American values that made him Marvel’s moral compass, what Superman is to DC Comics. I think it’s quite possible to pull it off if the director an script believes in the classic rendering of the character.

Thor, an actual Norse god, banished to Earth from his mythical home of Asgard by his stern father Odin, would, in big screen translation, have to avoid the attraction to wink at the material and pull a campy Wagnerian spectacle needing only Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny from the class cartoon “What’s Opera, Doc?”

This still from next summer’s release already reminds me of a scene from Das Rheingold or another of the Ring Cycle operas, missing only Brunhilda in a breastplate, helmet and spear. And Green Lantern’s tactic of using his power ring to create a giant boxing glove or fly swatter in combat has always seemed pretty cartoonish even for comics.

So success will all be in the tone and identification of the human drama of each character. Comic book characters only work because there’s something about the hero, other than their fantasy appeal, that attracts readers and makes them care about them. So, Cap is a man burdened with living up to the best ideals of his country–perhaps a metaphor for anyone serving in the armed forces, or with any duty to a higher national cause. Thor is a a golden boy who has never mastered himself or risen to the responsibilities of a royal household and must now learn to serve protect mere mortals, sort of a mythic rich kid who must do community service. And Hal jordan’s Green Lantern preceded and perhaps inspired George Lucas’ Jedi Knights, as an Emerald Warrior, a space cop keeping order on his assigned space sector. These are all types that, if adapted intelligently, will appeal to that desired blockbuster audience the same way Marvel second stringer Tony Stark’s Iron Man hit paydirt by showing that superheroes are always, after all, human.

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