It’s your basic “boy-meets-girl, boy-becomes-cryptid” story, really. A woman walks into a laboratory, and the chemistry experiment begins.
As we’ve discussed, the three steps to getting the audience to like a character is to make a friend, make a joke and make a plot point, and Dr. Alec Holland is about to do all three in record time. The appeal of Swamp Thing is half superhero-action and half romantic drama, so it’s only going to be effective if it can get us to believe in Cable and Alec as a couple, during the limited amount of time before he explodes.
So this meet-cute needs to be practically automatic, establishing that both parties are smart, funny and attractive, and getting them to challenge each other in sparky mini-clashes that are interesting to watch. The time-honored method is to get the characters to stick their hands in a murky water trough, looking for an imaginary animal.
Continue reading Swamp Thing 3.7: The Mysteries of Alessandro
As Alice Cable’s snub-nosed motorboat glides through the swamp towards her next assignment, two nearby water birds squeal and take flight, giving her a mild startle.
“Weird, isn’t it?” says her colleague. “Local fishermen say this place is haunted.” By birds?
Handing her new hostile work environment a desultory glower, Cable misquotes a movie. “I don’t know where we are, Toto,” she mutters, “but it sure isn’t Kansas.”
Her colleague leans forward. “What?”
“Nothing,” she says, and bats at a passing gnat. And that, strangely enough, is another step in Alice Cable’s full-on charm offensive, which takes up the first twelve minutes of the movie.
Continue reading Swamp Thing 3.5: Premium Cable
“Hmm, a primitive sort of lifeform,” Ursa muses, as she assesses the rattlesnake. Ursa’s just arrived on the planet, and she doesn’t know that you’re not supposed to pick up unfamiliar lifeforms. That snake probably had other things on its schedule for today.
Annoyed by the interruption, the snake strikes, burying its fangs in Ursa’s supposedly impenetrable skin. Wincing, she throws the reptile to the ground, and then sets it aflame with her magical heat vision.
“Did you see that?” she calls to her friends. “Did you see what I did? I have powers beyond reason here!”
Yeah, it’s called white privilege. A lot of us have it, unfortunately.
Continue reading Superman II 2.21: First Contact
So I think I’ve cracked blockbusters, is the headline for today.
This project is a history of superhero movies, and one of my goals is to figure out how superhero movies work and what they’re for, so that we can tell the difference between a good one and a bad one. And because the concept of “superhero movie” is actually a subset of the larger concept “blockbuster movie”, I’ve been looking outside the genre to see if I could pick up some helpful clues.
So far, I’ve talked about Quo Vadis, which was the first big silent spectacle film, and The Birth of a Nation, the first American blockbuster, which invented most of what we know as the language of cinema. Recently, I looked at Gone With the Wind, which is still the highest-grossing film of all time, adjusted for inflation, as well as Spider-Man: No Way Home, our latest and greatest, which is basically a two and a half hour whiteboard exercise on how to fix seven previous movies.
And today, to pull it all together: the 1975 sneak-attack spectacular Jaws, the first modern blockbuster that set the standard for how a summertime adventure story is supposed to make us feel.
Continue reading Superman 1.93: The Fish Movie
And we take you now to scenic Hoover Dam, where perpetual cub reporter Jimmy Olsen is taking photographs of Hoover Dam, which you’d figure has already been pretty comprehensively photographed. It’s not much of a scoop, for a young man trying to make his way in the photojournalism racket, but he got a free airplane ride, and it’s just nice to get out in the fresh air.
Storywise, there isn’t a lot of justification for depositing Jimmy on top of this particular explodable landmark, but this is the part of the movie where they want to get as many peril monkeys on the board as they can. We’ve also got Lois having a scenic conversation with a scenic Native American gentleman, en route to the explodable gas station.
The real question is why we even have a Jimmy Olsen in this movie in the first place, if he’s not going to be involved in the plot in any way. This question also applies to Superman II, Superman III, Supergirl and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. In fact, Jimmy Olsen is the only character to appear in all five of the Salkind Superman films, and he doesn’t have a single discernible plot point in any of them.
Continue reading Superman 1.83: Superman’s Pal
“It is forbidden for you to interfere in human history,” Jor-El says, and to the limited extent that means anything, he’s sincere about it. In Superman: The Movie, we’re supposed to admire the crystal palaces of Krypton, but the point of the film is the development of Superman’s connection to everyday life on Earth. Sure, there’s a galaxy-spanning backstory in there, but ultimately, the thing that’s really important is Earth, and real people. And then there’s Eternals, the new Marvel Studios movie that has kind of a different take on that question.
In this blog, I’m telling the story of how blockbuster superhero movies developed into a dominant cultural force, starting in 1978 with Superman and moving on chronologically from there. So far, I’m about an hour into the first movie, and there’s a long way to go. But out in the real world, that history is still going on, so when a new movie is released, I take a look at what’s happening in popcorn world, and what it has to do with the movie I’m currently writing about. Last month, I wrote about the Spider-Man spinoff Venom: Let There Be Carnage, and this weekend, the latest movie is Marvel Studios’ Eternals.
Honestly, I can’t think of a movie more appropriate for this treatment, because Eternals asserts that all of history was influenced by a set of gorgeous extraterrestrial cover models, who are responsible for every good idea in human civilization, specifically including Superman. Apparently, I’ve been writing about these people all along.
Continue reading Eternals 92.1: The Adventures of Fancy People
The year was 1978. With a blockbuster Superman movie on the horizon, DC Comics editor Julie Schwarz said that he didn’t plan on changing anything in the Superman comics to tie in with the movie, because a) the books were already selling well, and b) the movie would bring in new readers.
Neither of those statements turned out to be true.
In reality, the sales of both Action Comics and Superman had been falling precipitously for over a decade. Between 1965 and 1975, Action Comics lost 56% of its sales — 525,000 copies a month to 231,000 — and Superman lost 64%, going from a healthy 824,000 copies a month to an anemic 296,000 in ten years.
In 1979, when Superman: The Movie was by far the #1 box office draw in the country, Action Comics sales actually dropped, from 184,000 in 1978 to 161,000 in 1979, and they kept on going down. Superman sales went up a little bit, from 223,000 to 246,000, but then they dropped all the way to 179,000 in 1980.
It’s now an accepted fact that successful superhero movies encourage people to watch more superhero movies, but they don’t do much for comics sales. Today, we’re going to take a look at a 1978 issue of Action Comics, and see if we can figure out why.
Continue reading Superman 1.34: Meanwhile, in the Comics
It’s a textbook case of Hollywood ugly. Christopher Reeve is tall, handsome and built like a truck, with piercing blue eyes and a terrific smile. About thirty minutes from where we’re currently standing, he’s going to be the smoldering hunk in one of the all-time heart-melting romantic comedy scenes, and everyone in the theater will be thoroughly in love with him.
So how much work do you have to do, in order to make him look like a forgettable schlemiel? Well, you grease his hair down and give him big unfashionable eyeglasses, and then he hunches his shoulders, swallows his dialogue, and projects an uncomfortable glassy stare, with his mouth pulled tight in what you might call a resting frogface. At that point, he makes a convincing nerd that you wouldn’t look at twice.
I’m kidding, of course; he’s still insanely gorgeous, and if you don’t feel like hitting that, then I would be happy to take your turn. But the show must go on.
Continue reading Superman 1.33: The Coming of Clark Kent
Tracking across the limitless void, we zero in on a mighty red sun, which soon fills our view. An ancient blue planet orbits this commanding star, home to a noble civilization of powerful beings who live in a domed city carved into the mountains of pure white crystalline rock. As the music builds to a fanfare so emphatic you’d think the orchestra would explode, the camera lingers on this frozen, glittering landscape.
So here’s my question: If Krypton is so great, why is it all indoors?
I mean, I’m not an expert on civilizations that are a million years more advanced than our own, but I’m pretty sure that good planets have furniture; from what I can see, everybody on Krypton just stands around and glows.
You can tell that Krypton is a terrible planet because it blows up fifteen minutes after we get there, which is the exact thing that planets aren’t supposed to do. You had one job.
Continue reading Superman 1.6: We Built This City
It’s a delicious fakeout. Nobody had seen a big budget movie based on a comic book before, and didn’t know what to expect. So when the movie opens with a little boy reading aloud from a comic book, it looks like all of your worst fears have come true.
Continue reading Superman 1.1: Jesus Saves But Mostly He Saves Lois Lane