Monday, June 17, 2013

On Man of Steel and video games

Speaking of Superman, let's briefly talk Man of Steel. Initial impression: I'm pretty mixed-to-negative on it. There are some interesting elements, especially visually (always true for Zack Snyder), but I could've used way more Smallville and non-destroyed-Metropolis, and way less explosions (also always true for Zack Snyder) and Krypton.

If Bryan Singer's Superman Returns skewed too heavily emotional at the expense of memorable action, Man of Steel has the opposite problem, favoring mindless destruction over character investment. The happy medium between those extremes remains Richard Donner's Superman, still the definitive live-action representation of the world and tone of these characters.

Ironically, Singer encountered the same problem on Superman Returns that Snyder had later when adapting Watchmen: By being overzealous in his devotion to the source material of Donner's Superman, Singer was unable to give his own version any potency. With Man of Steel, Snyder feels no such obligations; make no mistake, this is Zack Snyder's Superman, for better or (mostly) worse.

In contrast, Supes's Justice League compatriot Batman is faring better recently on the adaptation front: Last week, Warner Bros. released the gameplay trailer for Arkham Origins, due out in October.

Admittedly, I haven't been much of a gamer since the Super Nintendo was still around, but what I have played and seen of the Batman: Arkham series has been enough to nearly suck me back in. Playing from the Dark Knight's POV to solve puzzles, select utility belt options, and swing on the grappling gun is the kind of video game I dreamed of as a kid (it's the closest thing to being Batman!).

But what's really made the series stand out is that its creators truly understand the character and the city he inhabits. The Arkham games collect generations of source material and choose from among different story lines and visuals, allowing players to move among a Gotham that's familiar but wholly the series' own. They've been able to do what I suggested future Nolanverse Dark Knight films could by keeping the story grounded in the "reality" of a hard-boiled modern metropolis while still incorporating the "Dark Deco" elements of the animated series and comics.

Would that Snyder could do the same with Superman's long history for his inevitable sequel.

Monday, June 10, 2013

5 things I learned at the Superman Celebration

Over the weekend, I attended the 35th Annual Superman Celebration in Metropolis, Ill. The Celebration, a kind of county fair-meets-Comic-Con, features talks by Superman experts, signings by actors and comic artists and writers, screenings, and a carnival, all in a sleepy southern Illinois town that, despite its name, is more Smallville than Metropolis. Here are five things I learned while reveling in the Kryptonian glory:

1.) They really milk the Metropolis thing for all it's worth
Billed as the "Home of Superman," Metropolis features a Super Museum, a statue of Adventures of Superman star Noel Neill as Lois Lane, and a newspaper called the Planet.
But its most well-known attraction is a 15-foot statue of the Man of Steel in the middle of the town square. Here's Obama posing with it:
And here's me:

2.) The Super Museum: A whole lotta crazy crap on the walls
The museum has amassed an impressive collection of Superman memorabilia—much of it kitschy junk, but a fair amount of genuinely neat original art and props and costumes from movies and TV shows (I suppose it shouldn't be surprising that the plastic Kryptonian crystals used in Superman's opening scene look as chintzy up close as they do). 

3.) The animated Max Flesicher shorts are still the best
One of the weekend's events I was most looking forward to was a screening of the 1940s Superman serials, which I've never seen. Unfortunately, Warner Bros. apparently denied permission at the last minute. (When the pre-screening announcement was being made, I briefly got my hopes up that there was a surprise showing of Man of Steel in store instead. No such luck. Don't Superman Celebration attendees seem like just the kind of fans Warners should be catering to with something like that, though?) But it all worked out, because the Max Fleischer Superman cartoons from earlier that decade are public domain, and were shown without issue.
As a little kid, I had a VHS tape with a few of these shorts, and I watched them endlessly. When Batman: The Animated Series (and later, although less so, Superman: The Animated Series) premiered, I was immediately able to recognize the Fleischer films' art deco influence on creator Bruce Timm, even if I couldn't articulate that then. Revisiting them on the big screen, the films were every bit as magical now, their smooth animation, striking lighting, vibrant color, and intricate production design on full display. (It was also a good reminder that Fleischer's Lois Lane was a brazen risk-taker, a far cry from the helpless damsel that the character that the character has sometimes been boxed in as in other incarnations.) 

4.) Its fan film festival is pretty legit
Another fun screening event was the 6th annual Superman Celebration Fan Film Festival, featuring amateur submissions of Superman-related films of 20 minutes or less from around the world. This year, winners included Bizarro Classic (pictured above), which took Best Animated Feature, Trailer, or Music Video, and One on One, which took Best Drama.

5.) World records are elusive
Sadly, the Celebration's noble attempt to reclaim the Guiness World Record for "Largest Gathering of People Dressed as Superman," originally set there in 2008, seem to have fallen short. Last week, 566 Sears employees set the new record at their suburban Chicago headquarters (pictured above). Hopeful attendees who gathered in front of Metropolis's statue this weekend appeared to be much less in number. Ah, well—there's always next year.

So long, Metropolis. I hope to see you and your many large statues again sometime.