Friday, March 22, 2013

Wait, How Does It End?

I’ve been reflecting on alternate endings lately. You know, where directors include one or more different endings to a movie in the Blu-Ray or DVD pack. Now, to be fair, I have never actually seen an alternate ending for a movie. Nonetheless, the concept doesn’t make intuitive sense to me. The point is to provide extra material for the viewer. I understand that, and as a lover of movies, I even appreciate it to some degree. Special features can be a lot of fun.

However, as a writer, the whole idea of alternate endings is really wrong. The alternate ending should be entertaining, make sense, and feel like a real ending. But it can’t be better than the real ending. After all, we would then feel cheated, right? A story’s ending should be the best that it can possibly be. Therefore, alternate endings shouldn’t be able to measure up to the real thing, and they would therefore be rather pointless. If they are good, they breed discontent with the actual movie; if they’re not good, they’re each a waste of time that leaves you feeling unsatisfied.

So, in my opinion, alternate endings are yet another marketing gimmick that serve absolutely no truly helpful purpose. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Story of Heroes

I’m not going to lie. I’m a pretty big fan of Marvel movies. I’ve never read the comics, because I’m not really a comic book person (except for Calvin and Hobbes, but that’s another story). But I love most of the movies. I got The Avengers for Christmas, and I was watching it a few days ago for the second time. To be perfectly honest, I was a little disappointed the first time around; it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. Nonetheless, once I got over that initial disappointment, I did like the movie.  Now I enjoy it fully when I view it. 

Anyway, while watching The Avengers, I started thinking about heroes. Captain America is by far my favorite Avenger, but everyone else more or less ties for second, mostly because I can’t decide whether I like Thor, Dr. Banner, or Hawkeye better. I like Black Widow and Iron Man too; like I said, they all come in around second. But they are all very different kinds of heroes. Iron Man is cocky, brilliant, and relatively self-serving. Of course, in The Avengers, he does learn a lesson in self-sacrifice, so that helps. Nonetheless, he’s not particularly noble. Hawkeye and Black Widow are very gritty, somewhat tormented people who are trying to make up for bad things they’ve done by being heroic. Bruce Banner is a very quiet, unassuming guy, always a little angry, who is desperate to keep his life from falling apart again. He’s only heroic because he has to be; it’s not a life he would willingly choose.

Thor and Captain America are much closer to the idea of classic heroes. They have an inner nobility that is missing in the other Avengers. They have distinct moral compasses. Thor, of course, is from a different world. Asgard has different standards than those on Earth; he lives by a different code. Nonetheless, it is a high code of honor similar to that of Steve Rogers, Captain America. Steve’s is just more American. Thus, there’s a very clear reason I like Captain America best. He’s far and away the best role model. And he’s both sympathetic and likeable.

We have so many different definitions of heroes in this country, and our stories reflect that. The Avengers portrays it quite well, with its ensemble cast of very different people. But there was a time when a hero had a very distinct role to play. He wasn’t a person always torn between heroism and falling into an abyss. He didn’t see things in shades of gray. There was a right and a wrong answer, and, once upon a time, our heroes always chose the right path. It wasn’t a question of what he should do; he had a very distinct moral compass, much like Captain America and Thor do.

I read an article a few weeks ago that looked ahead to the expected blockbusters of 2013. Man of Steel, coming out on June 14, was on the list, and the reviewer was saying he thinks America is ready for a traditional hero again. Man of Steel is, of course, a retelling of the story of Superman. Now, to be clear, I have never seen any of the Superman movies or read the comics, so I’m not an expert. But as far as I can tell, Superman was one of those heroes that I was talking about: strong, with an undeniable belief in right and wrong and the ability to choose the higher path. This reviewer’s statement about heroes got me thinking.

Why are superhero movies such a success in this country? Why do we fall in love with them? Why do they make us feel bigger than we do on our own? It has to be because of more than just the special effects and cool powers. Sure, there are those who come just for the huge scale of the movies. But for the majority of us, I have to think that it’s the heart of superheroes that captivates us. We are fascinated by a man or woman’s choice to give up pieces of their own lives to protect those who do not have the powers they possess. We’re impressed by this concept of heroism.

I believe that there are two reasons for this and thus two directions our fascination with heroes can go. On the one hand, we are beings made to worship God. There is a part of us that looks for something higher and more majestic than ourselves. And when we don’t want to acknowledge that God is the rightful receiver of that awe, we will, consciously or not, lavish it upon something or someone else. We have an undeniable desire to worship. You can try to spin it all you want, but that fact remains. Without pouring your worship upon God, you will inevitably devote it elsewhere. The superhero genre highlights characters who are bigger, and on occasion better, than we can ever hope to be. Thus, in some cases, that awe we are meant to feel is transferred to those heroes.

I want to be very clear here. I am not insinuating that superhero movies are bad or that being impressed by superheroes is wrong. Please do no misunderstand me. All I’m saying is that we have to keep things in perspective. Without giving God the worship we are designed to give, we run the risk of worshipping something else. For some people, this “worship” may very well be directed towards heroes. The Greeks had that problem. They fawned over and worshipped Hercules and a myriad of other heroes. Don’t let that be you.

There is another side to our love of heroes, however. The best heroes represent the highest abilities of Mankind. Human beings want to know that they can be better. We want to know that we can somehow rise above our pettiness and our dirtiness. We want to believe that there is something more out there than the evil we see played out in the news every night. Heroes give us an outlet for this belief. They show us that we can be better. They tell us that we can be brave, that we can help others, and that we can make a difference. They inspire us to push farther, work harder, and daily be the best we can be. Heroes give us hope.

This is why I love Captain America. He represents everything good about us. He holds the hopes and dreams of a nation that has passed away, and he knows the pain of losing everyone he ever knew and loved. He has gone through more than many of us could ever bear, and yet, he continues to fight. He keeps getting up, no matter how many times he is knocked down. And this has nothing to do with the super-soldier serum. That is who Steve Rogers was before he ever got into the Army. What makes Captain America great isn’t his physical prowess. It’s not his amazing shield or his ability to essentially regenerate. Instead, the reason Captain America is amazing is because in  his heart, he is the best of us. He is a role model of the highest order; in my mind, he is the best hero in The Avengers.

Now, I won’t go on about how much I love Captain America any longer. And I promise I won’t bash you if you like another Avenger better. Cap is just my best and most current example for my topic. Heroes can be both a very bad and a very good thing for us. If we are not careful, they can steal away the devotion in us that is meant for God. But they can also inspire us, lift us out of the mire, get our focus off the bad and onto the good, and teach us to be better. It is for this reason that we should remember our heroes, even those on the silver screen.