Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Superman Loop

Man of Steel is showing this morning on HBO. I've explained before about getting free satellite TV and the basic premium channels - along with free internet - at my apartment complex. Despite the pretty pictures and the tiny riffs on the old story of Superman's's still the same fucking story.

It hasn't been "reimagined," it has no changes from the dull repetitive death march that started in the 1930s, it is the SAME FUCKING STORY.

The real story inside the SAME FUCKING STORY TOLD EVERY FUCKING YEAR SINCE THE 1930s is the profound cowardice of DC Comics and the movie industry. Has not one of these outright cowards ever heard of "in media res"?

Start in the middle of things, never start at the beginning. Make him an epic hero. Has not one of the dummies involved since the beginning ever thought of that? We know how Superman came to be. Every person on the planet knows how it starts. Has not one person anywhere in DC or in the movie industry read Homer...or Gilgamesh...or Tolkien..or played Skyrim...or Knights of the Old Republic? Do they not think at all?

Start in the middle, then fill in the blanks on how we got here through conversation and remembrance. Start, say, with humanity trying to kill Superman, slowly reveal just why we want him dead, and then show Superman realize his sins and redeem himself through self-sacrifice. You want a first class example of how to handle Superman, read The Dark Knight Returns. Yes, I know, it's a graphic novel about Batman, but Superman plays a big role in the story, especially the last chapters. 

Say you want a reboot. How about a real reboot? Superman was never a child. In fact, not only is he not human, he isn't even a biological entity. Superman's race didn't die, because Superman has no race. He was created as the protector of an advanced race that did die off, despite his best efforts to prevent it. He has wandered the galaxy for five million years searching for a mission.

He finds it in humanity, in our broadcasts. He follows the radio waves home, sees us near the brink of World War III in the 1950s...he stops it...and we hate him for it.

But he doesn't care. He has a new mission, to protect and preserve humanity, to lead us to enlightenment.

Now that might be fun. Of course it isn't really Superman, it has elements of Buddhism's bodhisattva concept, the ideas behind the Singularity, and freaky mecha from Japanese manga and anime, but at least it is DIFFERENT. At least it would not be a display of cowardice on my TV screen.

On a personal level, this is one of the reasons why I gave up script writing. Nothing cool ever comes from Hollywood now. You want cool, read a book, play a video game, listen to music, watch TV. Movies, they're done.

R. P. Bird: Professional writer since 1989. Author of the IN THE REALM OF THE GODS series and the SUZIE crime novels. Crazy, but highly reliable. Can fix about anything.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Having missed Brothers Grimm the first time...

...I finally saw it this morning on cable TV. I say "cable TV," but I don't mean "cable TV." The apartment complex has free internet and free Direct TV - satellite TV. We get the basic "premium channels": HBO, Cinemax, and Showtime. One of them had Brothers Grimm on this morning. It is largely the creation of Terry Gilliam of Python fame...and it's a fucked up mess.

It is essentially three stories put into a blender: a dark horror/thriller about two brothers trying to save a village from an undead queen, a period comedy about a roving band of con men, and a period drama about a German village's resistance to French rule during the Napoleonic era. It's a's a's an action's a horror movie.  Yeah...that's not a promising start.

I can barely discern Gilliam's probable intent. He wanted to explore rationality in confrontation with the inexplicable. The brothers Grimm and the French start at the same place, the rejection of myth and superstition. First the brothers are forced to accept the reality of the inexplicable, then the more recalcitrant French commander is forced to acknowledge its existence...but that doesn't happen. The first part happens, but Gilliam, being an American turned Brit, engages in frankly hateful stereotypes about the French and the Enlightenment. He then eliminates the French general in an action sequence, when instead, he should have transformed him into an ally of the Grimms. I personally despise him for his anti-French stereotypes. Maybe in becoming a Brit, Gilliam, like many immigrants, has become more stereotypically British than the British. Not making excuses for the man, it's repugnant. This is especially true because Gilliam is supposedly far left in his thinking. Is he so out of touch that he has not noticed the core values of the Enlightenment under attack both in Britain and America? For the last fifteen years at least, since the 1990s, right-wing Christians and others have bombarded our culture with what can only be called medieval lunacy. Vast numbers of satanist child molesters that don't really exist, or natural disasters caused by an angry god, or ordinary astronomical events seen as portents of dire events.

Anyway, back to the movie. It's a disaster. The movie hops from one story to another until everything is thrown into chaos. Who the fuck cares how it ends?

So, how to fix it. It's simple. Instead of making the French general into a tyrannical stereotype, you make him into a follower of the Enlightenment, hard from the long years on campaign, first in the Revolutionary armies, then under Napoleon. He has no torture chamber. He threatens the brothers Grimm with prison, not death.

Both the Grimms and the general come at the horror of the undead queen from the same place, a firm belief in rationality. But rationalists, as the Grimms reveal and as the general states when he becomes their ally, accept reality, no matter how weird reality might be. They use their rationality to defeat the undead queen through the classic tools of rationality: gather evidence, derive conclusions based on their evidence, and act on their conclusions.

All of this in an action/horror movie, with little sprinkles of humor at the beginning and at the end. The humor slowly fades away to reveal the horror they are to confront, only returning at the end.

In other words, pick one story and tell it. Here's a shock, Gilliam could have told this same story without the French general or the Italian gunsel. He only needed the brothers Grimm to get his story told.

Simplification sometimes means cutting out extraneous characters and plot lines. Sometimes it means adding characters and plots. I know, confusing. Start with the central characters. Let them tell the story to you. Simple. This was the story of the brothers Grimm...and only the brothers Grimm.

I ought to note that the real brothers Grimm were dedicated academics and folklorists, very respectable, talented scholars. They managed to preserve a great deal of the myth and folklore of the Middle Ages. We should honor them for that.

R. P. Bird: Professional writer since 1989. Author of the IN THE REALM OF THE GODS series and the SUZIE crime novels. Crazy, but highly reliable. Can fix about anything.


Monday, April 14, 2014

My advice to those who want to be writers

I'm not a very successful writer. As Kambei says in Seven Samurai, "I've been in a lot of battles, lost most of them."

So I was somewhat surprised when one of the young men I know as a gamer asked for advice on how to become a writer. I guess I am officially old, I used the geezer phrase "young men." Here is my advice.

I have a bunch of practical advice, here goes. It takes a while to both develop your talent - your "voice" - and to find a market. Most writers have to have a day job in the early part of their careers. Asimov was a chemistry professor, I do believe. Stephen King was a high school English teacher. So develop a day job to fall back on. Next, write every damn day, no exceptions. Carry a small notebook with you at all times to note down ideas. Learn how to touch-type. Either submit to magazines, agents, and publishers or self-publish what your write. Preferably do both. Get it out there, but only put it out after you're satisfied with it. Proofread everything. If you aren't a prolific reader, you're not going to be a writer. You have to love to read, you have to read a lot to be a writer. You need to read widely in history, science, contemporary fiction, and genre fiction. Be prepared to switch genres. Elmore Leonard started out writing westerns, then switched to contemporary crime fiction. Lastly, develop a thick skin. People WILL talk shit about your work, especially agents and editors. Learn to take what you need from the criticism while letting it slide off your back. Don't take the positive comments too seriously, either, especially those made by friends and family. I think that's it. Remember, day job, write every day, submit or self-publish what you write when it's ready, read constantly, and don't take criticism or praise too seriously. Hope that helps. Good luck!

R. P. Bird: Professional writer since 1989. Author of the IN THE REALM OF THE GODS series and the SUZIE crime novels. Crazy, but highly reliable. Can fix about anything.