From Short Films to the Big Screen: The Parallel Journey of Batman and Christopher Nolan

The following was written by WWBD columnist Intern-iana Jones. Enjoy!

The inexplicable fascination behind the Batman film franchise reflects the mystery of its main character, as well as the brilliance of one Christopher Nolan. The Dark Knight, as you all know, is the alter ego of Bruce Wayne, while Nolan is a talented filmmaker who brought this famous comic book superhero to lifelike proportions. This partnership has somewhat bridged generations of fans – from casuals to diehards – and has evolved throughout the years.

batman-853110_960_720

Batman’s Pop Culture Influence

The Dark Knight’s versatility mirrors some facets in real life that influence a lot of people. Just like in online games, DC has created a protagonist that fans can easily relate to and see development as each story progresses. From what started as a simple 60s TV character, Batman transformed into this intriguing vigilante that’s the subject of even the most trivial of things in video games and in real life. For one, Macau is building a Gotham City-inspired casino worth $3.2 billion. Even console and online gaming companies have got in on the act. The Batman Arkham Knight game on the Playstation 4 and Xbox One incorporated a casino storyline involving one of his many arch-nemesis, The Riddler. On the other hand, UK-based online gaming platform, Spin Genie, dedicated a slot machine variant for the film The Dark Knight Rises. In a way, the Batman character wouldn’t have been this huge worldwide if it weren’t for the man behind his resurgence on-screen, Christopher Nolan.

Christopher-Nolan_picture_and_screenshot_in_the_dark_knight_inc.jpg

Christopher Nolan’s Eye for Excellence

Way before he hit the multi-million dollar box office with masterpieces such as The Dark Knight and Interstellar, Christopher Nolan has been altering the norms of convention with his psychological thriller project called Doodlebug. The 1997 short film featured Following (Nolan’s feature debut) main star, Jeremy Theobald. Here, Theobald’s character tries to kill a bug inside a dingy apartment while holding his shoe by its toe. Doodlebug captures Christopher Nolan’s inborn talent in storytelling and how he sets the overall mood of a film. Aside from this, he’s also the man behind short films such as Larceny and Tarantella. Like Doodlebug, the former starred Jeremy Theobald in his very first acting role, while the latter is Nolan’s 1989 collaboration with friend, Roko Belic, while he was attending UCL’s film society. These short films paved the way for Christopher Nolan to hone his craft and come up with future blockbusters that touch into the human psyche – similar to Batman’s journey from a naïve orphan kid to a crime-fighting superhero.

Advertisements

No More Gritty Reboots: Why Lego Batman and Legion Are the Future of Superheroes

Yes, this blog is dedicated to “an ongoing exploration of the dark and gritty reboot.” But, as written about in the previous post on this blog, The World Needs Bad Men, it’s time to admit that the dark-n-gritty reboot has run its course. The anti-heroes have ascended to the White House. It’s time for a new superhero narrative.

The last week has given us two new incarnations of the superhero show: Legion, a television show on FX, and The Lego Batman Movie, a family-friendly animated feature.

lego-batman
Perhaps the first Batman promotional image to show a smiling Caped Crusadser.
The Lego Batman Movie is as meta as any superhero film has been, and that includes 2016’s Deadpool and 2015’s Ant-Man. The jokes are more family-friendly than those of Deadpool, but TLBM is arguably the more mature of the two films. TLBM, coming on the heels of The Lego Movie and followed soon by The Ninjago Movie, is the sign of much more to come.

Legion, meanwhile, is a serious and frightening television series about a man in a mental hospital who is either mentally ill, a mutant with superpowers, or both. It’s from Noah Hawley, the creator of the Fargo television series, and unravels in a non-linear manner.

But I’ve come here not to review these two works. Enough people are already reviewing these two works. The reviews are both positive and, in my opinion, accurate. What I’m here to say is that these works are two complementing examples of what we should start demanding from our screen adaptations of superhero tales.

The superhero is tired; these narratives give him hope. Let’s look at why they work, and how other narratives can learn from them.  Continue reading “No More Gritty Reboots: Why Lego Batman and Legion Are the Future of Superheroes”

The World Needs Bad Men: How the Bush Era Caused the Anti-Hero Wave that Gave Rise to Trump

Toward the finale of the 2016 election, Mike Huckabee took to Fox News to give a defense of Donald Trump that I’ve been mulling over in my head ever since.

I see Trump as Capt Quint (Robert Shaw) on the boat, Orca, in the movie “Jaws.” He’s salty, drunk and says incorrect things. He spits in your face. BUT… He’s gonna save your rear. You may not like what he says but, in the end, you and your family survive.

“Vote for the fishing boat captain,” Huckabee said. “Not the shark.”

While ineloquent and muddled, Huckabee’s defense gave a great insight into why people were lining up behind Donald Trump. They saw him as a vulgar presence, but he was their vulgar presence against the greater dangers.

If Huckabee were more versed in film, literature, or television, he would have realized that there are a thousand better metaphors for who Donald Trump is: he is, in the eyes of his followers, the anti-hero of the True America.  

A different defense of Trump comes to mind, one that his followers would surely cite, had they seen the first season of True Detective:

Marty: Do you wonder ever if you’re a bad man?

Rust: No, I don’t wonder, Marty. The world needs bad men. We keep the other bad men from the door.

true-detective-anti-hero
“The world needs bad men,” from True Detective‘s third episode.

The world needs bad men. It seems like a missed opportunity that Trump’s campaign didn’t snap that up as their slogan. One can imagine Rust and Marty’s conversation rolling over footage of Donald Trump mocking Serge Kovaleski, or Rust’s defense of bad men and musings on man’s inability to love intercut with I moved on her like a bitch and you can do anything.

This is not a specific argument I’ve seen much of, unsurprisingly. It’s easy to assume that True Detective didn’t have a major following among Trump voters, particularly when one  compares one recent study on regional television viewership demographics with the breakdown of voter demographics in the 2016 election.

However, Huckabee isn’t the only pundit to notice that Trump’s appeal is not being a traditional hero, but being the scoundrel on your side.

quint
If you don’t recall, this is the character to whom Huckabee compares Trump.

You can take a look at some of the headlines to see that this has been thoroughly explored, including a) Trump and the rise of the anti-hero from CNN b) President Trump: America chooses an anti-hero from Yahoo c) The Anti-Hero Candidacy of Donald Trump from Huffington Post d) The Donald Rises: Why Republicans Want an Anti-Hero in 2016 from The Week ad e) Trump’s success as an antihero relies on the power of reality TV and drama over reality from The LA Times

At this point, I have to point out that there is nothing unique in saying that Trump is an anti-hero and our obsession with anti-heroes in our media and film is what got Trump elected. As evidenced by the articles I just listed, this has been exhaustively explored. 

What I do have is another layer to add to this: the rise of the anti-hero in our media came from the America that emerged during the presidency of George W. Bush. 

During the Bush era, America found itself in the role of the anti-hero. This is what propelled the flawed and gritty protagonist into our film and television. This is what prompted the wave of dark and gritty reboots that are still grinding today.

Art imitates life imitates art. Politics causes pop culture causes politics. Bush was our cowboy hero who became tainted, tattered, and gritty as our wars became unwinnable and our morals murky. Obama was our shining hero, our knight in shining armor, our warrior who could not be everything he wanted to be.

And now there is Trump: the gritty anti-hero, the protagonist who rapes, the populist king. He is the danger.

But, before I move forward with this argument, it’s important to pause and discuss what we talk about when we talk about anti-heroes. Continue reading “The World Needs Bad Men: How the Bush Era Caused the Anti-Hero Wave that Gave Rise to Trump”

Stop Misquoting Leonard Cohen and Ernest Hemingway. Start Listening and Reading.

Consider the misquote. It lies in that same realm as citing fake news or reading only the headline. Misquoting is certainly nothing new, but the internet allows a fake quote to be retweeted a thousand times before the truth has even clicked send.

I’ve written about this before, of course. In the summer of 2015, I wrote a blog post called Six Things Hemingway Never Said, in which I listed a series of fake, inaccurate, misappropriated, or apocryphal Hemingway quotes and their origins.

leopard
“Live. Laugh. Love”

Since then, of course, it has only gotten worse. Consider the following list of quotes, provided by Google when one searches for ernest hemingway quotes:

screen-shot-2017-01-08-at-12-21-40-pmI won’t catalogue all of these, but let’s say that they range from context-free to paraphrased to nonsense. The seventh is a misquote of a line he said during a famous article by Dorothy Parker in The New Yorker, while the last one on the list sounds like the social media status update of a moody teen.

Why do we misquote?

What is it about the internet and misquoting? What drives one to repeat something that someone else said without bothering to make sure that person said it?  Why would you put something on your Facebook wall, why tweet it, why make it into a cute photo for Instagram without confirming that, yes, it’s a real quote? Continue reading “Stop Misquoting Leonard Cohen and Ernest Hemingway. Start Listening and Reading.”

Why This Website Displays No Ads

You may wonder—or perhaps you may not—why this blog displays no ads. Nothing encouraging you to go to other sites, nothing in this margins, nothing at the bottom of the page. You will not be nudged toward fantasy sports, discount shopping, weight loss remedies, or ways to make extra money by working at home. I do not have an “Around the Web” section. The only pop-up is something encouraging you to subscribe to my email list.

Now, I’m not saying this to congratulate myself, or to tell you how lucky you are. I’m telling you this because I want you, dear reader, to buy my books. Continue reading “Why This Website Displays No Ads”

The True Theme of 2016: Never Meet Your Heroes

Hating 2016 and wishing for it to end has perhaps been the meme of 2016. It has been called a dumpster fire and was declared to “even sucked for Kim Kardashian.” Beginning in July and continuing non-stop, this year was deemed to “suck” and we saw a flood of hot takes either labeling it the worst year in living memory or at least asking the question of how bad it really was.

How bad was 2016?

I’ve only lived for thirty years, but am confident this wasn’t even the worst year I’ve seen of my lifetime. 2001 was awful. 2004 wasn’t great either. 2008 had the financial crisis, the rise of Sarah Palin, the death of Heath Ledger, and apparently Elon Musk’s personal rock bottom. Armed with the right confirmation bias and armory of evidence, one could make an argument that really any year is the worst.

It’s also worth noting that not every take on the outgoing year is as reductive and hyperbolic as “the worst!” Jia Tolentino called it “The Year We Played Ourselves” in The New Yorker. Stephen Pinker pointed out that, if you ignored headlines and value facts, 2016 is better than its previous years in almost every way. It was arguably the best year ever for black filmmakers and apparently the year that solar panels finally became commercially viable. The Economist, meanwhile, awarded “The Economist‘s country of the year award” to “plucky Estonia.” Congrats Estonia!

But there is one theme I see everywhere I look, from the Nobel Prize to the election of Donald Trump to the author of Harry Potter. One piece of wisdom, one particular theme, one pervasive lesson: the classic advice that you should “never meet your hero.”

heroes
Yes, this article is about heroes and 2016, and Bowie sang about “Heroes” and died in 2016, but it has little to do with Bowie.

To recap exactly how this theme presented itself throughout the last year, I’ve catalogued a list of disappointing heroes and their disappointed fans from the last twelve months.

Why shouldn’t we meet our heroes?

Before we jump in, it’s worth reminding ourselves of why exactly we should never meet our heroes. Ultimately, it always comes down to disappointment. They aren’t who you thought they would be. They’re not doing what you wanted them to do. The things they said that made you admire them? Either your hero never meant those things or they don’t mean them anymore or they never meant what you thought they did.

And now, let’s take a look at all the disappointment heroes unleashed on their admirers. Continue reading “The True Theme of 2016: Never Meet Your Heroes”

Let Them Eat Freedom Fries, and Ten Other Headlines to Anticipate in 2017

It’s early December, which means two things: time to start recapping 2016 and predicting 2017.

While not as exhaustive as The Economist’s The World in 2017 or as doomsday-esque as some other lists that I won’t link to, this is my list of the headlines and stories I expect in the coming year.

Netflix Starts Original News Programming

I don’t watch Netflix original programming much. I think it is the most lowbrow of available television services, churning out binge-friendly quantity over quality that peddles in nostalgia as Buzzfeed peddles in cuteness. There are exceptions, of course, but the majority of their content is just good enough to keep you watching and just bad enough to end every episode with a cliffhanger.

stranger-things
Obviously, there are exceptions. I loved this show.

That said, there is something I do like about Netflix: it’s a great equalizer. Republicans watch Fox News and Democrats watch MSNBC; young people watch Vice and old people watch 60 Minutes; everyone watches Netflix. You don’t need cable, money, or a confirmation bias. You just need a couple dollars a month and a desire for something to watch.

Which is why it’s time for them to start serving as a news source, and I think 2017 is the year we will see it. It’s not like it would be considered an untrustworthy news source: people are currently getting their news from spam websites shared by strangers on social media. If anything, Netflix becoming a news network could actually bring some reality back to the post-truth America.

Glenn Beck and Jon Stewart to Collaborate

This one was once unthinkable, but now I think it’s months away from happening. Both Stewart and Beck seem to be on introspective vision quests, two of the only American public figures seeking truths beyond the party line.  Continue reading “Let Them Eat Freedom Fries, and Ten Other Headlines to Anticipate in 2017”

What We Talk About When We Talk About Fan Theories

I’ve been trying to write this article for a while. Years. While I try to avoid listicles, I’ve found that, at times, they have their uses. These are my opinions and observations on what we talk about when we talk about fan theories, and what they are, and how we should talk about them.

No one has an agreed-upon definition for “fan theory.”

Fan theory is not listed on Urban Dictionary. It is not explained on Know Your Meme. Even the /r/FanTheories subreddit does not have any official stance on what makes a fan theory a fan theory.

This is largely because the phrase “fan theory” means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Part of why I’m writing this is to reach some kind of definition and meaning, and to refute what I see as being inaccurate uses of the phrase.

A fan theory is a form of contemporary critical theory, in which the audience analyzes the text and creates a new interpretation that explains “what really happened,” creating a separate narrative aside from or within the narrative.

This is what I’ve come up with. I don’t know if it’s perfect, but I think it says a lot.

Now, more importantly, I’d like to explore both what makes a fan theory good and what makes a fan theory bad and what makes a fan theory not a fan theory. Part of this will include citing particularly good and bad fan theories.

westworld-theory.jpg
And yes, I’ll address so-called Westworld fan theories.

A weak fan theory is anything that suggests “it was all a dream” or “the main character was dead the whole time” or any variation of this.

Continue reading “What We Talk About When We Talk About Fan Theories”

Twelve Questions and Answers About The Moonborn (with No Spoilers)

I’ve received a number of questions about The Moonborn: or, Moby-Dick on the Moon, my novel that came out on Monday, November 14th. While I love getting questions about it, I decided to put together this list for people who might have questions and would like an easy answer.

Note that there are no spoilers, other than in a very general sense.

Is it really about Moby-Dick on the Moon?

Yes. With robots instead of whales. However, you may find that it’s slightly more metafictional than your standard dark and gritty reboot. Or you may not.

Do I need to read Moby-Dick first?

In my opinion, no. The narrator of The Moonborn hasn’t even read Moby-Dick. But I would like to think that you’ll find yourself wanting to read Moby-Dick after The Moonborn.

How do you think Herman Melville would feel about all this?

Flattered, I hope. By the effort, at the very least. Continue reading “Twelve Questions and Answers About The Moonborn (with No Spoilers)”

In Honor of Moby-Dick’s 165th Birthday, the 10 Best Moby-Dick Homages, Adaptations, and Celebrations

Happy Birthday, Moby-Dick!

Not the whale, but the book. 165 years ago today, Herman Melville’s epic novel was published in America for the first time. (A different version of it had come out in England one month earlier, but today is accepted as the anniversary of the version the world knows).

In honor of this anniversary, I think it’s worth taking a moment to look at the books, movies, music, and more that we have as a result of Moby-Dick‘s legacy.

Leviathan ’99 by Ray Bradbury

“The doomed crew of a starship follows their blind, mad captain on a quest into deepest space to joust with destiny, eternity, and God Himself . . .”

leviathan-99

Sound familiar? This novella—collected alongside “Somewhere a Band is Playing” in Bradbury’s Now and Forever—is an unapologetic retelling of Moby-Dick. It’s also sci-fi, set in space, like one or two other works on this list.

Note that this isn’t only a book, but has also been a radio production and a playContinue reading “In Honor of Moby-Dick’s 165th Birthday, the 10 Best Moby-Dick Homages, Adaptations, and Celebrations”