June 17, 2005

Interested in the new Christopher Nolan film?

I haven't gone to the movies in a long time, but I'm slightly tempted to go see "Batman Begins." It's not that I love Batman, though I did like the first Tim Burton Batman movie well enough. It's that I like Christopher Nolan, who directs the new film. That is, I loved his film "Memento." "Memento" -- unlike virtually every other movie of the last twenty years -- did not underestimate your intelligence.

But one thing is bugging the hell out of me about the new Batman. As usual, they've redesigned his outfit. Superhero outfits are always ridiculous if you think about them rationally. You'll spoil the fun if you're distracted into thinking, why would that help? But the new Batman cape is so expansive and volumnious that it would be a hazard to wear if Batman were just tinkering around the stately mansion. But in a fight? Wouldn't he get all twisted up in it? Wouldn't his opponent use it as a weapon against him? And now I'm distracted into thinking that all superhero capes are counterproductive. The new Batman helmet extends rigidly around his neck and hits his shoulders. How can he even turn his head? Just sneak up alongside him. He'll never see you. And now I'm distracted into thinking that no one should ever want to wear a mask in a fight.

(One time, at a big children's party at a famous ad agency where I used to work, "Spiderman" got the kids riled up, and one of them grabbed his headgear. I was just looking on, laughing at the hijinks, when Spiderman came lumbering over to me, begging for help. I backed away. Horse around with the kids. Don't come at me. But eventually I got the message that the poor man really needed help. He couldn't see and the kids were scaring him. I straightened out the eyeholes and saved Spiderman.)

Anyway, maybe I'll overcome my distractability and give Nolan's movie a chance.

Here's a piece by Caryn James in today's NYT about the film that tries to make some political points and to compare it to the current "Star Wars" effort:
The [two] films' conflicts are not simply about good guys and bad guys, or even good versus evil, always the elements of broadly framed fantasies. With spiritual overtones, and an emphasis on an eternal struggle between equally matched forces of darkness and light, the films suggest a kind of pop-culture Manichaeism. And as crowd-pleasing movies so often do, they reflect what's in the air, a climate in which the president speaks in terms of good and evil, and religion is increasingly part of the country's social and political conversation.

Well, maybe I'll have something to say about all of that. Re Batman, at least. But I'm not going to suffer through "Star Wars" just to get into a position to make a comparison and pontificate about politics. Not that I wouldn't. I just can't put up with the experience of sitting through it.

Did you see the NYT op-ed about “Star Wars” by Neal Stephenson? I just wrote about that for GlennReynolds.com, ending my week of guest-blogging over there. If you have any comments about that, feel free to use the comments section of this post.


Anonymous said...

There is a hilarious part in "The Incredibles" where the E., costume designer for all supers (and modeled after Edith Head), refuses to design a costume with a cape for Mr. Incredible because they are too dangerous. The villain's cape also plays a major role at the end of the film.

Anonymous said...

There is a hilarious part in "The Incredibles" where the E., costume designer for all supers (and modeled after Edith Head), refuses to design a costume with a cape for Mr. Incredible because they are too dangerous. The villain's cape also plays a major role at the end of the film.

If you haven't seen it, I higly recommend the film for the set design alone.

chuck_b said...

Have you seen Christopher Nolan's first movie, Following? I haven't, but I heard it's good. I put it in my Greencine queue. Like a Netflix queue, but different.

Super-hero costumes are certainly problematic, but not everyone's in a position to go public. Peter Parker, as just one example, really does have to worry about Aunt May's safety. Villains will go after him through her, and if they did harm her, wouldn't she have a cause of action against Peter for negligence? How would share holders react if they knew the president and CEO of Wayne Industries put himself in mortal danger night after night fighting criminals as Batman? You have to consider the legal issues, Ann! :)

Ann Althouse said...

Thom: Thanks. I haven't seen "The Incredibles." I'll bet many comedians have made this cape point before, actually.

Leland: "Following" is one of the many DVDs that I've bought but not watched. Maybe I should just stay home and watch it.

Contributors said...

America's not in decline. Hollywood is. At $10 a pop it doesn't take 5% of the country to make "Sith" a so-called "hit."

Sequels, remakes, movies from TV shows, and in the case of Batman -- a hybrid of all 3.

Let me guess about the new Batman movie: Uhm, his parents die and he becomes a rich brooding playboy superhero vigilante with cool gadgets and an English butler. *yawn*

Nolan's a genius. Memento and Insomnia were superb. And we know he's a genius because he actually restrained two of the biggest hams in film: Robin Williams and Pacino -- but 5 Batman movies in 15 years is too much, too unoriginal, and to see a completely played story for new action scenes? Uh, no.

Ann, your post hits the nail on the head. My wife gets free FREE movie passes from her job. We must have 10 of them. It's not even tempting to use them.

P.S. "Following" is all potential but sloooowwww... and not a good slow -- a slow slow. Worth a look only to see how far he came with the brilliant Memento -- the most impressively complex and entertaining screenplay since Groundhog Day.

Dave said...

Memento is great.

Insomnia put me to sleep. Talk about irony.

katiebakes said...

Ann, you should see the Incredibles. The costume designer noted by Thom is a delightful character. I was happy to see her presenting an award at the Oscars!

I always thought super heroes wore capes to help them fly. Is that not it?

Crank said...

It's nonsense on wheels to suggest that the Star Wars films' popularity derives from a Manichean War on Terror zeitgeist. The first one came out in 1977 in the trough of the country's post-Vietnam depression. The second was released in 1980, as the tail end of that period gave way to the Reagan era. The third, in 1983, around the time of the Grenada invasion. The fourth, in 1999, at the height of the somnolent prosperity of the Clinton age, a time when America barely even paid attention to a war it was fighting in Kosovo. The fifth hit ths screens in 2002, the sixth this year after Iraq.

I would argue, of course, that the presence of clear good and evil was a big attraction in 1977, when such notions were out of favor. But you just can't possibly believe that the same national mood existed at each point in the Star Wars film cycle.

Ron said...

Ugh, I can't stand memento...more gimmicky than M. Night, and twice as dull.

relying on movies to stimulate your intelligence is like relying on academic lectures to stimulate you sexually...maybe it'll happen, but I ain't bettin' on it...

Slac said...

But maybe movies are in decline because they’ve underestimated us.


If I may add, Ann, schools might also be in decline because they're underestimating us. There's very little opportunity for independent and intelligent thinking until we're post-graduates. We're not allowed to "geek out" on things that strike our fancy, especially if they are not in the curriculum. Instead, the only way to survive school is to veg out, regurgitating the forms and concepts we're spoon-fed.

Bad movies and bad schooling may be complimentary symptoms of a much larger problem.

katiebakes said...

Slac: I'd be interested to know more about the schooling experience you're describing. At the schools I've attended, I've felt exactly the opposite way and it is very disturbing to me to know that I might be in the minority in general.

bill said...

I think Ann's reaction to the Neal Stephenson article missed the tone of his argument. In many ways I found Neal echoing many of thoughts from his 1999 "In the Beginning was the Command Line."

Neal still seems to be talking about the metaphor of the experience.

download the whole thing here: http://www.cryptonomicon.com/beginning.html


Contemporary culture is a two-tiered system, like the Morlocks and the Eloi in H.G. Wells's The Time Machine, except that it's been turned upside down. In The Time Machine the Eloi were an effete upper class, supported by lots of subterranean Morlocks who kept the technological wheels turning. But in our world it's the other way round. The Morlocks are in the minority, and they are running the show, because they understand how everything works. The much more numerous Eloi learn everything they know from being steeped from birth in electronic media directed and controlled by book-reading Morlocks. So many ignorant people could be dangerous if they got pointed in the wrong direction, and so we've evolved a popular culture that is (a) almost unbelievably infectious and (b) neuters every person who gets infected by it, by rendering them unwilling to make judgments and incapable of taking stands.

Morlocks, who have the energy and intelligence to comprehend details, go out and master complex subjects and produce Disney-like Sensorial Interfaces so that Eloi can get the gist without having to strain their minds or endure boredom. Those Morlocks will go to India and tediously explore a hundred ruins, then come home and built sanitary bug-free versions: highlight films, as it were. This costs a lot, because Morlocks insist on good coffee and first-class airline tickets, but that's no problem because Eloi like to be dazzled and will gladly pay for it all.

Now I realize that most of this probably sounds snide and bitter to the point of absurdity: your basic snotty intellectual throwing a tantrum about those unlettered philistines. As if I were a self-styled Moses, coming down from the mountain all alone, carrying the stone tablets bearing the Ten Commandments carved in immutable stone--the original command-line interface--and blowing his stack at the weak, unenlightened Hebrews worshipping images. Not only that, but it sounds like I'm pumping some sort of conspiracy theory.

But that is not where I'm going with this. The situation I describe, here, could be bad, but doesn't have to be bad and isn't necessarily bad now:

It simply is the case that we are way too busy, nowadays, to comprehend everything in detail. And it's better to comprehend it dimly, through an interface, than not at all. Better for ten million Eloi to go on the Kilimanjaro Safari at Disney World than for a thousand cardiovascular surgeons and mutual fund managers to go on "real" ones in Kenya.

The boundary between these two classes is more porous than I've made it sound. I'm always running into regular dudes--construction workers, auto mechanics, taxi drivers, galoots in general--who were largely aliterate until something made it necessary for them to become readers and start actually thinking about things. Perhaps they had to come to grips with alcoholism, perhaps they got sent to jail, or came down with a disease, or suffered a crisis in religious faith, or simply got bored. Such people can get up to speed on particular subjects quite rapidly. Sometimes their lack of a broad education makes them over-apt to go off on intellectual wild goose chases, but, hey, at least a wild goose chase gives you some exercise.

The spectre of a polity controlled by the fads and whims of voters who actually believe that there are significant differences between Bud Lite and Miller Lite, and who think that professional wrestling is for real, is naturally alarming to people who don't. But then countries controlled via the command-line interface, as it were, by double-domed intellectuals, be they religious or secular, are generally miserable places to live.

Sophisticated people deride Disneyesque entertainments as pat and saccharine, but, hey, if the result of that is to instill basically warm and sympathetic reflexes, at a preverbal level, into hundreds of millions of unlettered media-steepers, then how bad can it be? We killed a lobster in our kitchen last night and my daughter cried for an hour. The Japanese, who used to be just about the fiercest people on earth, have become infatuated with cuddly adorable cartoon characters.

My own family--the people I know best--is divided about evenly between people who will probably read this essay and people who almost certainly won't, and I can't say for sure that one group is necessarily warmer, happier, or better-adjusted than the other.

hat said...

I don't know about anyone else, but I got bored after a paragraph or two of bill's post. Sorry.

As far as the mask goes, I think this is actually the first movie mask where he CAN turn his head, as opposed to the earlier ones. Not only does it protect his identity, and his face, it also contains communication and monitoring equipment.

As far as the cape goes, the major reason he gets it (which is actually covered in the movie) is because of a scene in which he leaps of a building only to smack into the next one over and fall down several layers of fire escape. He uses to cape for gliding.

Dreth, knows more than he should about this.

bill said...

sorry about that, Dreth. Let me offer this alternative post:

capes bad, mask good.

Ann good, Neal good.

Technology good, not caring about technology bad.

Week long, Bill tired.

headzero said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
headzero said...

For an explanation of the outfit, check out this.

Previous embedded link was messed up so I deleted the post.

TWM said...

The family and I just got back from seeing Batman and it is easily the best of the series -- admittedly not a high bar to exceed, but still I recommend it.

Kathleen B. said...

Prof. Althouse: as someone who has seen both Memento and Batman Begins, and having read your previous comments on movies, my opinion is that you will not enjoy Batman Begins. It didn't, in my opinion, have any trace of Memento. As a Batman/super hero movie it was pretty decent, but I don't get the sense that you like that genre particularly. Nor does it have any of the fun that I enjoyed in Tim Burton's Batman.

The cape isn't always stiff like that, it only goes that way when he glides. Still seems like it would get in the way, being big and droopy.

Ann Althouse said...

Kathleen: Too late! I've seen it. My comments are in a new post.

CraigC said...

I don't know what Ron is talking about. Memento was a great, great film. Innovative, great acting, and a Sixth Sense-like twist at the end.

Ann Althouse said...

CraigC: "Sixth Sense" is a great movie, but nowhere near as intellectually challenging as "Memento." "Sixth Sense" had one key twist, and I guessed what it was in the first scene where Bruce Willis appears to the boy. I spent the movie confirming my theory but also looking for the real twist I'd heard about, since the one I'd already guessed was too easy to be the one everybody was so thrilled by.

Ron said...

CraigC: Sorry, I don't even find Momento a mediocre film. To me it's like calling "Timecode" a great film because it has a gimmicky approach to filmmaking. The acting? It was putting me to sleep! If he had told his story conventionally, would I have cared about it? Nope. To each his own.

I,like Ann, caught the "Sixth Sense" twist right off, and was thus not as impressed, and it even seems kind of heavy-handed in how he does it! The fact that he keeps repeating himself in each subsequent film hasn't increased my like for him.

Ron said...

Mea culpa on the typo title: "Momento"

Maybe I was thinking of its tearjerker prequel, "Momento by Momento." ;-)

Ron said...

would a prequel to Memento (or even Momento!) really be... a sequel?

ah, the Meta-ness of it all...