Stop Pillaging My Childhood

By

This weekend I saw two movies that I’ve been looking forward to all year.  The first was Star Trek and I’m sure everyone has read the reviews and more importantly heard from all their friends that it’s a great movie.  No need for me to expound on that.  Despite a few warts, it’s great.  Go see it.  The other movie is the one that needs pounding–X-men Origins: Wolverine.

sniktWolverine has been my favorite superhero since I was about fourteen years old.  I first fell in love with the character when I read an old X-Men comic and Wolverine stuck his knuckles in the face of a Broodling and said, “Two things certain in life, bub—and this ain’t taxes. ” SNIKT!

We were studying Benjamin Franklin in school at the time and I figured that if Wolverine could quote him and sound cool then maybe I should sit up and listen a little closer to see if history class had any other snarky one-liners to offer (it did).

So in Wolverine I found a superhero that didn’t pull the final punch and give the old line of: “I should destroy you for your evilness but if I destroy you then I will become as evil as you are.  Therefore I will let you live to continue your evilness when you break out of prison in issue #395.”

Wolverine had chutzpah.  He destroyed.  I liked that.

But twenty years later, my favorite hero, who was so fantastic in the first two X-Men films, has at last gone the way of Obi-Wan and Yoda.  The Star Wars gang were the first to go, of course, killed by their own father, George Lucas, who it turns out also managed to put Indiana Jones to death (doesn’t that make Lucas the most diabolical bad guy in all of cinema?)

The third X-Men film effectively insulted another piece of my adolescent mythology:  The Dark Phoenix Saga.  The story was about a being of uncontrollable power and beauty that consumed worlds and wiped out entire civilizations before Jean Grey could make her ultimate sacrifice to save our world from destruction.

What did director Brett Ratner do with that epic character?  I imagine there was a meeting that went something like this:

Art and Visual Effects Teams: “Mr. Ratner, this is a story of epic scope and we’ve come up with some stunning visual ideas that will reflect and reinforce the dramatic moral and personal struggles of Jean Grey and the X-Men team and we also need to coordinate with the scriptwriters to make sure they understand the cosmological, theological, and philosophical facets of this legendary storyline.”

Brett Ratner: “Hey guys, I know the Phoenix is like made of fire and energy and all giant and stuff and carries the ultimate power of both creation and destruction and all that.  So that’s cool I guess but I think we should just make Jean Grey wear a leather coat and look all dirty and slutty like some kind of floating goth-mother.”

Art and Visual Effects Teams: “Say what?”

Brett Ratner: “So let’s make that happen, it might be as good as Rush Hour 2!”

I didn’t like that movie.

But at least Wolverine kept his cool factor and I suspect that’s why someone decided to make another movie—to finish off my childhood memories of him.

The following list is dedicated to the writers of X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Here are a few screenwriting tips that will hopefully allow you to stop killing off my childhood heroes.

1.    It worked in Conan the Barbarian and Highlander and Moulin Rouge but that’s where it’s got to stop.  There’s just no excuse for a death scene where the girl lays in the hero’s arms and whispers, “I’m so cold.”  (Please don’t take this to mean that it would be acceptable for her to whisper “I’m so hot,” even if it’s true.)

2.    Don’t make the credit sequence cooler, more fun to watch, and more dramatic than the rest of your movie.

3.    Don’t make naked men jump off waterfalls.

4.    Don’t use the old, “I only gave her a potion that made her look dead” device.  That only worked for Shakespeare.

5.    Don’t introduce characters only to kill them five minutes later and expect us to care.   And no, doing this three or four different times in the same movie still doesn’t make it work.

6.    Do try to have the plot make sense.

7.    Don’t introduce forty-seven characters and imply that they might be important when they are, in fact, not.

8.    Don’t show important scenes and dialogue in the trailer that aren’t even in the movie.

9.    Please refrain from writing dialogue until you actually know how to do it.

10.  Never, never, ever make someone say, “I should kill you, but if I kill you then I will become as evil as you are,” because writing that line and making an actor say it actually makes you more evil than either of them.

Should you then choose to delve deeper into my childhood memories in order to mine such rich desposits as Thor, Voltron, The Dragonlance, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, The Avengers, The Justice League of America, The Green Arrow, The Showbiz Pizza Bears, Ultraman, the A-Team, or Manimal, I am available for consultation and will be happy to guide you to away from the sins of your past.

Should you choose otherwise?

SNIKT!

Pete Peterson is the author of the Revolutionary War adventure The Fiddler’s Gun and its sequel Fiddler’s Green. Among the many strange things he’s been in life are the following: U.S Marine air traffic controller, television editor, art teacher and boatwright at the Florida Sheriffs Boys Ranch, and progenitor of the mysterious Budge-Nuzzard. He lives in Nashville with his wife, Jennifer, where he’s the Executive Director of the Rabbit Room and Managing Editor of Rabbit Room Press.


27 Comments

  1. Chris Whitler

    I don’t read everything here…I’m a regular “checker-inner”. I haven’t seen the new Wolverine and I don’t think I will now….thanks for the heads up. However, I do take exception to one of your assertions because Indy lives! I see what you mean by Star Wars…they should have never been messed with (Lucas can’t leave well enough alone and even Spielberg is not beyond temptation. I mean really, 20th anniversary ET with no guns?! Come on!).

    Indy was my childhood hero and I loved the new story. I loved that they didn’t try to pretend he wasn’t older. I loved that they brought back Marion. I loved the idea of reflecting the fears and imagination of the 50’s in regards to the cold war, atomic weapons and space travel through archaeology. I even loved the preposterous swinging monkey scene when they all had hair like Mutt’s. I loved the last moment when Indy takes his hat from Mutt to retain his title. I just loved being in a room with Spielberg, Lucas, Ford and John Williams again…that was fun. I think critics forget that the other Indy movies were preposterous too. And I know Christians generally don’t like when Indy isn’t looking for something Biblical…but I like ’em all. I’ve heard it said that they new movie is just so cheesy but cheese is the main ingredient in a serial story about an adventuring, bull-whipping, archaeology professor.

    And a final thought on Star Wars…fans crack me up…they love Star Wars and hate Lucas. But I propose that Star Wars fans don’t really like Star Wars. They like the memory of it. We all saw Star Wars when we were 12…that’s Lucas’ demographic here. To a 12 year old in 1977, Star Wars was AWESOME. If you watch it objectively now, it’s not that good. Then came Empire (with a new director) and it got waaaaaaaay better…then there came Ewoks and everyone got mad at them and Lucas.

    Then the new ones came and nobody liked them (but 12 year olds). I have been saying all along that Star Wars fans really don’t like Star Wars…they like Episode 5. But guess who’ll all be lined up to see the 3D IMAX experience original trilogy…us…every last dang one of us and we’ll hate Lucas for it and buy the DVD’s when they come out.

  2. Marcus hong

    I have to say that I am against the grain on this one. I enjoyed Wolverine quite a bit and, though I cringed at some of the lines and circumstances, in general thought that it was well written, from a “structural” point of view, which I’ll illuminate further. On the other hand, I thought that Star Trek was very poor and left me emotionally vacant and unsatisfied. Here’s why:

    Completing what you started! This is what I think Wolverine did well and Star Trek did poorly.

    Wolverine started with two brothers, and it showed the ups and downs of their relationship, the difference between their tactics and how those could be played through in their lives. It ended where it started, with the two brothers interacting with each other, then a short denouement. For me there was some emotional satisfaction here. Story-wise, something that was important in the beginning of the story remained important through out and was dealt with as an important aspect of the conclusion.

    Star Trek, however, began with a woman giving birth and a man dying to save his family, and it didn’t matter to the rest of the film. If Kirk had simply been an upstart kid who liked a dare and to cheat the system, the movie would have been coherent. But by introducing these two characters who struggled and suffered so much in a mere five minutes of film, then mentioning them each one or two more times within the first twenty minutes, then never mentioning them again, the film felt bare to me. I would have felt complete if they had even included Kirk’s mother in the scene at the end (spoilers) when Kirk is made captain. But no. She wasn’t there to see her son’s triumph. We don’t know what happened to her. That bothered me. It bothered me a lot. And though we could connect the dots between Spock losing a mother and Kirk losing a father and how this could influence there relationship, it didn’t seem to matter at all. Kirk didn’t even seem to care when Spock lost his mother. He simply used it to his advantage, to gain control of the ship. No empathy. No compassion. Just jockeying for position. I found nothing laudable in Kirk’s character at all. I didn’t know why I was rooting for him. He certainly didn’t seem to care about others, only about how he could use people and situations to get what he wanted. This disturbed me.

    Now, I avow that I only saw each film once. And I could have missed some subtle pieces that each film put in that could change my mind. But still, if I left with an overall sense that Wolverine cared and Kirk didn’t give a crap, then something is wrong here. I honestly didn’t care about Kirk. I wanted to, because of the first scene. But the first scene was not validated by anything in the rest of the film. His parents sacrifice was simply one more thing that he could use to get what he wanted.

    This is just my own opinion. And I admit that I could be (and probably am) sorely wrong about the whole thing. But this is the flaw that I saw in story-telling, and I couldn’t get over it. I just couldn’t.

    So, I have to respectfully disagree on this one and say that I thought Star Trek failed in the story department. It had good special effects. The actors were fairly good at what they did. But it didn’t mean anything to me. Wolverine meant something to me. What does family mean? How do we feel about being betrayed? What would it be like to lose your memory of someone for whom you’d fought? How much do revenge and anger plague us and can we overcome these sensibilities? Wolverine brought all these issues up for me. Star Trek did nothing. It could have. But it didn’t want to wrestle with these issues of family and revenge. Revenge was validated. Both Kirk and Spock practically smirked, knowing that Nero would reject their offer for help. Revenge meted out. Done and done. And Kirk gets a ship, by cheating, a lot. Revenge and cheating = good.

    I apologize if I offend anyone with this post. Please give me a reason to love Star Trek, because I really want to.

  3. Jason

    If they take down Voltron in that fashion then I will really be sad.
    Sincerely,
    The Red Lion

  4. Matt Conner

    hahaha, Manimal. That’s hilarious. I loved that show as a kid! Voltron movie could really rock if they do it well. I’ve been secretly hoping for Thundercats as well.

  5. Rob Dunbar

    My 16-year-old daughter Alexandra read this over my shoulder (at my invitation) and totally agreed. She’s the comic authority in our house.

    As for me, I’m just waiting for somebody to do the Clutch Cargo movie. With his pals, Spinner and Paddlefoot. Maybe they can tell me how the kid and the dog got out there in the jungle.

  6. Pete Peterson

    @pete

    Chris: I’m glad you enjoyed the new Indy movie. I’ll admit that I enjoyed it more oft than not while watching it on opening night, but after leaving the theater, the more I thought about it the more put off I was. After giving it some time and another viewing, there’s simply not a lot of praise that I can give it.

    With Indy, though, I didn’t think it was bad enough to get too worked up over.

    I think you’re way off base with Star Wars though. The original three movies hold up every bit as well today as when they were first released. Even Mark Hamil’s acting and the cheesy Ewoks can’t drag them down. They are first rate movies and Star Wars wasn’t a Best Picture nominee for nothing.

    The prequels were poorly written, poorly directed, poorly paced, and beautifully imagined. They’ve certainly got their high points but they never touch the quality of writing, editing, or storytelling of the originals.

    Marcus: You aren’t offending me or anyone else I hope. I’m glad you enjoyed Wolverine but I just couldn’t get past the constant barrage of cliches, half-written scenes, unimportant characters, or complete lack of dramatic sense.

    I felt like the most interesting part of the entire movie was glossed over in the credits. They made the wrong movie. They should have made the movie that showed how Logan and his brother grew apart and became arch enemies. That would have been a compelling story. But they told us all that in the credits and the rest of the movie was about nothing more than a faux-revenge story that we’ve all seen a hundred times before. The film was flawed from the first five minutes when we are told Logan’s brother is the bad guy and yet we know he won’t be killed or ‘turned good’. The story certainly tried to bring up the questions you mention but I never saw it answer any of them. In short, the story had no arc.

    Star Trek on the other hand had a tremendous story arc. We learn how one catastrophic event affected the course of dozens of lives and in particular how it propelled two characters into a life-long friendship and the roles we love them in. The opening sequence of the film was a wonderful plot device that set up both the main character’s motivation and the conflict for the entire movie not to mention explaining why anything at all can happen in a franchise so well established that much could have been a foregone conclusion.

    Now, scientifically, using the mechanic of the singularity is hollywood science at its worst. But the film was so witty, likable, well-paced, well-acted and dramatically satisfying that I found it easy to overlook a multitude of sins in the minutiae.

    Whether you agree or not, though, I always appreciate a different point of view.

  7. kevin

    Pete, I just appreciate how you can rage against something and be funny at the same time. In fact, I think I enjoyed your post more than the Wolverine movie.

    Chris Whitler’s comments on Star Wars remind me of something Lewis-esque… and at the heart of all this stuff, I think. We remember these shows as something magical, and now as adults we are watching them be marketed and morphed into today’s culture, and it stinks. But maybe C.S. Lewis would say that even if we could go back to those wonder years, even they would fail us. It’s really the memory of the thing that we love. Nothing is going to bring us back no matter how hard we want it.

    Maybe CG has something to do with it too…

  8. whipple

    I can’t believe there are actually any people out there who know about Voltron. The Power Rangers can just turn it in. Where’s the meta-narrative? Where’s the impetus? Yes, Voltron.

  9. DrewSmusic

    Great post, Pete. I looked up Manimal on youtube and Wikipedia the other day to prove to my wife how cool it was (along with Misfits of Science). I was shocked that it only ran for 8 EPISODES(!?) I still find myself making a fist and rippling the back of my hand, hoping to turn into a panther and run out of the deacons meeting.

    Thanks for the cautionary words on wolverine. I’ll stay home and reread my prized Incredible Hulk #340 signed by McFarlane.

  10. david

    the Wolverine movie is another instance of failure to translate Story from one medium to the next… Watchmen being the most recent (arguable) failure, but other marvel movies like Fantastic 4, Elektra, and Ghost Rider have strayed from their source material, tweaked key elements of the titular characters, and thus much is lost in the translation.
    the medium of comics and graphic novels and the medium of motion pictures should be recognized as distinct and separate Story-telling tools, and someone should invent the perfect equation for the translation process so that Hollywood stops screwing around.

  11. Drewsmusic

    Giles – this is the Drew you know in Chattanooga. Glad to see you browsing around here. Been trying to find you on the web. I’d love to know how you are doing. (yeah, I know this ain’t the place.)

  12. Jeff Cope

    Pete – you mentioned Thor as another key childhood hero at the end there. Have you heard he is headed to the silver screen soon as well. Kenneth Branaugh is directing and apparently the actor who played Kirk’s father at the beginning of Star Trek has been cast as the mjolnir-wielding thunder god himself. As Thor has always been a favorite of mine, I’ve got my fingers crossed.

    As far as Wolverine…I’m right there with you. I left the theater scratching my head, thinking, “really?”

    For me the movie commits two major crimes. First, it was resoundingly “OK”. Not bad enough to really dislike, yet not good enough to truly enjoy. I think Hugh Jackman did a tremendous job with what he was given, but he wasn’t given much. Guess it doesn’t pay to be a producer, too.

    Secondly, the way they handled the character of Deadpool, which besides being mouthy in a couple early scenes was nothing like the character from the comics. If you’re going to change pretty much everything about the character, why use that source material (see the Halle Berry Catwoman. On the other hand, please don’t).

    And, yes, Star Trek rocked.

  13. Charlotte

    I didn’t really buy the alien skulls in the new Indy…. did anyone else find that a little… far fetched?

  14. becky

    Charlotte, I found it a LOT far fetched. I know that other Indy plots have not exactly been near fetched, but I was rolling my eyes at the whole alien thing.

  15. Tony Heringer

    Completely random thought (because I’m listening to it while posting this entry), you all ever listen to Jason Gray’s Live Volume 1: Hoping? It is way cool, in particular the cuts where Jason improvises with the band. Now to the matter at hand…

    My son wanted to see this one. I’ve not cared much for the X-Men films so I had zero expectations on this one and until they hit the last third of the film I thought they did a decent job with it. It seemed to do a decent job of tie together the back story from the other films. Not a great base from which to draw, but I thought this one was better than all the others put together.

    The Avengers were more my taste over X-Men comics. I’m not sure how they’ll be able to pull off a movie version. It always seems like anytime they do these types of films once the number of heroes and/or villains exceeds 2 the film falls apart because there is too much to deal with or they fall in love with special effects or goofy one-liners and lose the story in the process.

    I too loved Star Trek even though J.J. can’t seem to leave the LOST themes alone. I half-way expected John Locke to show up when they were talking about destiny. Some of the dialogue was vintage LOST pontification. McCoy was spot on and probably my favorite character in the film and the series.

    And what is Tyler Perry’s connection? He was an interesting casting choice and one that made me wonder if Madea would show up. Maybe that’s an alternate ending on the DVD version?

    Now listening to Derek Webb “The Ringing Bell” another fine work.

  16. Charlotte

    Woah- they’re doing a remake of the Avengers? As in a movie version of the tv series with Diana Rigg?

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