Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Tuesday Talkback - Real events in popcorn movies

I saw X-Men: First Class this weekend. Spoiler alert - it's set against the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis, with the main characters of the film playing key roles in manipulating and resolving that conflict.

I was born well after the CMC, so to me, it's about as "real" as the fall of the Roman Empire. However, I couldn't help but ponder what someone of an older generation, someone who lived through those two weeks of tension where it looked like Russia and the United States were on a collision course that nearly lead to all-out war. Is it crass to depict a version of history where a comic-book super villain is responsible for fostering that crisis? Is it equally disrespectful to show superheroes being responsible for saving the day?

I know that if a superhero movie depicted 9/11 as part of a scheme masterminded by Dr. Doom that most audiences would be appalled by the lack of respect. (Then again, the Cuban Missile Crisis ended without incident, counter to the lives lost on 9/11.) Should our popcorn movies reduce major history to plot points for characters in tights and capes?


  1. this is something i pretty much think about, too. for example the movie Watchmen also includes super hero figures in primal historic events such as the Kennedy assasination and the Vietnam war. While it is true that everybody can (hopefully) distinguish what is fiction and what is real, i am not very sure if super heroes should be involved in real events which changed the lives of real peoole.

  2. Watchman's a good example too, though at least it's presented as a total alternate history (as it has Nixon still President in 1984.) First Class seemed to try to slot the mutant involvement into "real" history.

    I remember reading that at one point, Bryan Singer considered a scene in Superman Returns that would have had Superman visiting Ground Zero at sunrise, with the unspoken implication being that had he not gone away, 9/11 never would have happened. It's an intriguing idea, but I think a mention that overt would have been jarring. (though I don't deny that such an image would have been very visually striking.)

  3. Haven't comic books themselves always done that though? Take Captain America. People have grown up now with fictional heroes inserted into real events. While some might be offended - most probably won't care. And like with most things people get all up in arms about, the people who are offended will be the ones who never even saw the movie. (Like the teacher I had in college who bashed the book Hannibal repeatedly in class, saying that it "Proves Thomas Harris hates women" and yet she never even read the book in question. Boy was she embarrassed when I got onto her.)

    I suppose if you took someone from the time of the Spanish Inquisition and then showed them a movie where some group of heroes go back in time and stop it from happening that person would be shocked. But not someone who grew up with heroes like the Captain.

  4. I don't think Hannibal is evidence that Thomas Harris hates women, so much as it's evidence that he hates his readers. If he hated women, Mason Verger would have been a woman. Having said that, the last fifth of that book was a big F-you to anyone who was a fan of Clarice Starling and the rest of the book was fairly lurid trash as well.

    That's got to be up there as one of the worst-executed sequels of all time. People complain about Indy 4, but at least that just had Indy surviving a nuclear bomb in a fridge, a monkey army and man-eating ants. I found Hannibal to be vile and was actually surprised the makers of the film adaptation didn't take even further liberties with the material to make it palpable.

    As for Captain America - the difference is that while he fought in WWII, it's not like he was shown storming the beaches of Normandy and single-handedly turning the tide on V-Day.

  5. Personally, I have no problem with it at all. Halfway intelligent people can generally tell the difference between reality and fiction.

    Now, would I have a problem with the Superman Returns 9/11 thing? Yes, certainly -- but because it's cheap and exploitative and hokey, not because it merges history and fiction. Same deal as the ending of Remember Me (though I didn't actually see that, in fairness).

  6. Oh I agree the movie sucked big time - another reason I hate it when people change what happens in the books or changes the characters when turning it into a movie. But you get my point - she never even read the book and yet was bashing it as "proof" of Harris' feelings towards women. And I've noticed that's true of 95% of people who bash something - be it a book, movie, religion, tv show, etc - they know nothing about what they're talking about.

  7. I think that's a very accurate observation, JamiSings.

  8. My point wasn't that the movie sucked, it was that the book did. Even though the movie adaptation isn't that great, I think it's miles ahead of the book in a few respects, thanks to some of the changes the filmmakers made.

    I don't have a knee-jerk problem with an adaptation altering some things from the source material. If you're taking a 400-500 page book and turning it into a two-hour movie, some things are going to have to be sacrificed. Look at Jurassic Park - I enjoy the movie, but it had to make substantial changes from the book. Jaws is VERY different from the novel that spawned it, but that doesn't automatically make it a bad movie.

    A Time to Kill is probably Grisham's best book, and despite some changes to the text, the movie still turned out great. The Firm took HUGE liberties with the story, and yet, I think the film's entertaining enough to work, even if a great deal is new. And has anyone ever read the novel Psycho? Not up to par with Hitchcock's classic. Heck, even one of the most beloved films of all time - The Wizard of Oz - took MASSIVE liberties with the text.

    I think there are more than enough good movies that weren't faithful to their source material to prove that deviation from the source material itself isn't necessarily a bad thing.

  9. This is probably something for another blog, truthfully. But to me, unless something is physically impossible, movie versions of books shouldn't deviate. Especially when they do things like change a character's gender - removing a lot of the motivation there. WOZ of course like I said would be difficult to do a correct adaptation of since little five year old Dorthy is such a racist little thing.

    Anyway - my point with the Captain America thing from earlier is that by now we're used to seeing fictional characters inserted in real events. I just saw an episode of Doctor Who in which the Daleks were working with England against Nazi Germany. (I didn't get to see the whole episode, sadly, so I don't know how it ended. But for those unfamiliar with DW - the Daleks are bad guys. They seek to kill all non-Dalek life. So you know they were up to Some Evil Plan that England was unaware of.)

    So you probably could take - say Blade - and have him fighting vampires who used magic to cause Hurricane Katrina and the majority of people wouldn't blink an eye. Only a few would cry out about it. Say Iron Man or Wolverine had a hand in killing Osama - most people would say, "Well, it's just fiction after all."

    But take someone from the Victorian era, especially someone who was around for the horrors of Jack The Ripper, and have them read any of the Sherlock Holmes VS Jack The Ripper books out there, and they'd probably freak out - because they're not used to seeing a fictional hero inserted into real events.

  10. To offer my own drive-by commentary, my dad was alive during the cuban missile crisis, and he grew up reading Captain America (his favorite super hero.) I'll ask him what he thinks of X-Men First Class, but in general, he's never seemed to have a problem with this sort of thing, even when it takes some liberties with situations he lived through.