Monday, May 9, 2011

Sometimes, You Really Can't Go Back

Scott D. Parker

What do you do when your memory of something is shattered by the reality that you've "grown up"?

For the past month or so, I've been in a serious Superman mood. (BTW, I'm using Supes to talk about this experience, but you can substitute just about anything.) Up until I read Grant Morrison's excellent All-Star Superman about six weeks ago, I hadn't read a Superman tale in years. Now, I've read a half dozen, including the 2006 novel, It's Superman, by Tom De Haven. As I am wont to do when I have the opportunity, I followed up print with film and broke out 1978's "Superman: The Movie" over the weekend.

I was looking forward to seeing again one of my favorite films of my childhood. Other than Star Wars and Close Encounters, Superman occupied a huge imprint on my younger self, not the least because John Williams did the music. I had seen Superman: The Movie (STM) in the years since, but I hadn't seen it in its entirety for over ten years, perhaps even fifteen. That is to say, I haven't seen it since I became a writer and become aware of story structure and narratives through lines. (Know where this is going?)

Much of STM is still good, very good, in fact. The Kryptonian sequence that opens the film still has the otherworldly power it always had. The Smallville sequence is downright Rockwellian in its look and tone. I was struck, as an adult and a father, of Jonathan Kent's last words as his heart gave way: "Oh no." And then his fight to survive. Poignant and heartbreaking.

And, of course, the Metropolis scenes are great. Christopher Reeve owned the dual role of Clark Kent and Superman. He had the whimsy that the Silver Age Superman of the comic books and the TV show had: the sly winking at the audience that he and us are in on the Big Secret while the rest of the cast are in the dark. For all of the revamping to make the Man of Steel more nuanced--a trend I like, by the way--some of the humor isn't as fun anymore.

Nonetheless everything was going along splendidly until the final act. Superman has made his big appearance--the helicopter sequence is still quite riveting--and has flown through the clouds with Lois whilst Lex Luthor sought out Kryptonite and, then, suddenly, we're at the big missile scenes. With nary a segue or any other tethering thread, the confrontation is thrust upon up us. With no regard to pacing, Lex tricks Supes into "finding" the kryptonite, Supes escapes with the help of Miss Teschmacher, Supes gets both missiles, does all the other things he has to do, all the while Lois dies in a landslide, Superman reverses time and Lois is alive. Hello? Taken individually or as a group, this is cool stuff, especially when Superman acts as the missing rail so the train doesn't jump the tracks.

But the pacing, the metered cadence of the last part of the movie is, frankly, at super-speed. Disjointed super-speed at that. Where was the build-up? How did we go from Point A to Point K so fast? Knowing that this is the director's cut, I started thinking that perhaps some crucial segment of film got left on the floor back in 1978 and was never recovered.

The worst part about it is the taint. Knowing what I know now, having experienced what I've experienced now as a writer and a teller of tales, I was a little disappointed. As an adult reader, I can easily set aside my writing brain when I read grocery store thrillers. Dan Brown's books always come to mind when people ask me to weigh in *as a writer* on his books. Hey, they're entertaining, and, if you're entertained, roll with that and leave the rest of the detritus alone. I do that all the time now.

But, after watching STM, I think I might've realized something: maybe I can't do that with something treasured. There are some movies--Raiders of the Lost Ark, Empire Strikes Back, Back to the Future, A Few Good Men--that get better when one "grows up" and learns about craft and can see how well certain creators did at a particular time. But there might be other films or books that, frankly, you might need to keep in the past.

Have you ever experienced a letdown from an old favorite now that you've reached a certain age or a certain level of craftsmanship in the writing process? Moreover, is there a way *ahead of time* to see the potential pitfall and leave well enough alone?

TV Show of the Week: CSI: Miami. Did y'all see the finale last night? Oh boy! As I've said elsewhere, I think the creative team of CSI: Miami secretly decided that the best way to express their anger over being bumped to Sundays is to produce a high-quality season. This they did, with many great points throughout the season, not the least of which was last night's cliffhanger. Hope CBS takes notices and moves them back to Mondays.

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