Waiting for Batman

May 19, 2008

When Thorton Wilder’s play Our Town debuted in 1938, it was of the first Broadway plays to use hardly any stage scenery, forcing the audience to imagine the world in which the characters lived.

Wilder said, “Our claim, our hope, our despair are in the mind — not in things, not in ‘scenery’ … [a play] needs only five square feet of boarding and a passion to know what life means to us.” (Quote taken from the online version of Writer’s Almanac.”)

Yesterday several of us went to see Iron Man, the latest in a spate of films based on comic book heroes. Most of what I was looking on the screen was generated by a computer. The actors playing the characters stood on marks on the floor in front of a blue screen and (having, presumably, read the script) went through the motions of, oh, fighting giant robots and whatnot.

In effect, we’ve come full circle, transferring the task of imagining from the audience to the actors.

Don’t get me wrong: I enjoyed the film (Maybe “movie” is a better term. ‘Film’ is probably best used for serious intellectual cinema, pictures with complex story lines, deep emotions, and in-depth dialogues. You know….chick flicks.)

Just kidding. I like serious art films as much as the next guy. OK, maybe not THAT much, but most the time if I’m going to spend the bucks to go to a real theater and put up with all the hassle and expense that entails, it’s because I’m looking for some entertainment and escape. And I like to see the bad guys get stomped instead of elected. And I don’t want to see a lot of hand-wringing. I’m a guy. Blow something up.

On the other hand….

Now that we’ve got this whole computer graphics thing down, can we please stop relying on it so much? We get it: studios can make dinosaurs gallop down a city street and guys in leotards fly through the air. Yay. Now, how about paying attention once again to stories? To writing? To whether your actors can actually act? Stop, please, making the movie about the stunts and the whiz-bang already. Within about a minute of the beginning of Iron Man, it was pretty obvious who the main bad guy was, that he was the trusted advisor who was really a traitor, and at the end of the film there was going to be a battle royal. We knew the hero would triumph against impossible odds. And get the girl. And that the bad guy would lose because his armor was butt-ugly and Iron Man’s armor was just too cool.

Give us more depth, please. Just because we like to see stuff blow up doesn’t mean we’re idiots who can’t follow a plot or empathize with a complex character.

Thank you. Now, I’ll prepare myself for the next Batman movie.

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