Thursday, September 10, 2015

A Few Geek Complaints I’d Love to See Go Away

Look guys, we’re geeks. Theoretically, that means we’re supposed to be the smart ones. But I keep seeing certain arguments brought up in discussions about our ever growing conquest of pop culture that just have a certain ‘WTF’ nature to the position behind them. It’s not even a matter of disagreeing with certain opinions here. I can disagree with some opinions while still seeing their validity to someone with a different point of view or differing tastes. No, I’m talking about the arguments/complaints/debate points that are put forward (a lot) in discussions that are just completely nonsensical in their nature.

This first one is a complaint that I’m seeing a lot with the rise of comic book movies and TV shows being both popular and successful as well as with some other adaptations as well. It’s usually offered as a reason why something (still sight unseen) will fail miserably, but the only thing that fails miserably is the thought process behind it.

#1- It’s too obscure. No one knows about it.

I’ve seen this one a lot lately; especially when people are talking about superhero adaptations. I even remember not so recently when some people were claiming that Iron Man was based on a character that was too obscure for mainstream audiences to care about. It’s a talking point that’s been kicking around for a while now with other adaptations even prior to the big Marvel movie boom.

We saw it a lot with the naysayers who were both lining up looking for something to complain about with Guardians of the Galaxy and also seemingly rooting for its failure, rooting for Marvel to have its first big bomb, months before its release. The Guardians were too obscure. The Guardians were barely even known to most comic fans. They weren’t a big ticket brand for Marvel and no one outside of the hardcore Marvel geeks would care enough about this film to go spend money on it at the box office. It certainly wasn’t a name brand that would draw in the casual movie going audiences needed to keep it from being Marvel’s first giant misstep and box office bomb.

The thing is, it’s a critique that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Sure, barely anyone had heard of Guardians of the Galaxy before Marvel decided to make a space opera as a part of their movie lineup, but since when did that mean anything? I don’t know if the people making this argument have noticed this, but there are quite a few successful films each year using characters that no one has ever heard of as they’re original to the film they’re in and the film they’re in is not based on an existing property. Up until almost four decades ago, no one at all in the movie going public had ever heard of this thing call Star Wars. It seemed to do well enough with all the people that had never heard of it before the first film’s release to still be a big, hot ticket attraction this year.

This idea that people will ignore a film property because it’s “too obscure” even if the concepts and characters are made to look interesting in the prerelease advertising is absurd. People turn on television shows, buy books, and go see movies about characters that they have never heard of before, could never have heard of before, because the properties are original to those television shows, books, or movies. I tend to think “Never Existed Before” trumps “Not Many People are Familiar with this Property” on the obscurity meter by some fair amount, yet we see people making successful films out of original properties all of the time.

It’s also a silly argument because the idea behind it is that if the property is well known it will be successful. That’s certainly not the case. You’d be hard-pressed to come up with anything close to a legitimate argument against the idea of the Hulk being a well-known property. The Hulk had two films in the span of five years that were both bombs, and the bigger of the two bombs was the one that’s more widely regarded in geek circles as the better of the two films. Superman is one of the single most well-known characters in the world. Superman Returns bombed badly, and would even still have been a commercial failure at the domestic box office if they’d spent $100 million less on the budget.

King Kong and Peter Jackson were both well-known names in 2005. Neither was able to make 2005’s King Kong the smash box office success, domestically or worldwide, that Hollywood executives surely expected after Kong’s prior outings and Jackson’s string of golden performances at the box office. You have with the horror genre a very loyal fandom, yet there has been a string of well-known horror properties tanking at the box office in recent years.

Beyond that, realistically, even properties that might be well-known in genre circles tend to be obscure outside of their fanbase. Things like the first Harry Potter film were huge at the box office, but many of the people who saw that first film had never read a Harry Potter novel, and a large number of them had never heard of Harry Potter before the promotional machine for the movie kicked into gear. I still know quite a few people who to this day have never read any of the books while still having every Potter film on DVD and/or Blu-Ray. The Hunger Games was the same way. I still come across people who don’t know that all those books they see on their local bulk-buy store’s tables were written before the movies came along.

In most cases, being a well-known property means about as much at the box office with the general public as being an obscure existing property or a completely unknown property. The hook for most people is going to be the prerelease advertising and the buzz combined with initial word of mouth. The only reason to seek out and promote in discussions reasons for failure as silly as the “too obscure” argument is if you’re just trying to be negative or rooting for failure, and neither of those things really covers you in much geek glory.

#2 – This person could never play that character. The film/television show is ruined!

Haven’t we done this one enough times already? Again, as I mentioned up top, we’re geeks and that should mean we’re supposed to be the smart ones. Shouldn’t we be learning from the past mistakes of others, let alone the past mistakes we made while acting as pop culture prognosticators?

At what point do we get to the part where we see a talented actor or actress and simply take it as a given that they’re talented and thus may be able to pull off a performance that’s not in line with the one that made them pop culture famous? I mean, yeah, you can, as some have in online and real life discussions about this, come up with some wild hypotheticals of horrible casting picks that I might agree with you about how insane they would be. Sure, it would be kind of crazy to cast, say, Peter Dinklage in the lead role of a Larry Bird biopic, but most real life casting choices that have gotten geek ire raised have not been that extreme.

Whether it was Keaton as Batman, Ledger as the Joker, Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, Chris Pratt as Star-Lord, or a host of other casting choices, the fan gnashing of teeth because there’s no way that ‘X’ can possibly play ‘Y’ almost always fails to hold true. Most of the time these are talented actors who have played more roles than just the one role that made them pop culture famous. Yes, they can in fact play more than just the one style of character. They also had to audition for the role. The ones who made it to the screen in those roles were also then not removed less than a month into filming when everyone saw how bad they’re doing. Yes, that last bit has been known to happen in Hollywood once every blue moon.

I get having reservations. I get wondering how or even if actor ‘A’ will be able to pull off character ‘B’ successfully. Look, I was right there with the “I have reservations…” crew when Nic Cage was announced as Superman. I mean, here’s a concept film that could work, and Nic Cage always swung for the fences when he did a role during that phase of his career. It was either going to be a revelation of a performance or a train wreck of epic proportions, but I was willing to have a wait and see attitude on it.

But there is a difference between having reservations and declaring that an entire movie is ruined based on a casting choice that you have yet to see the first second of performance from. That’s doubly true when it’s a fairly regular thing to see this particular bit of fandom negativity get thrown around only to be proven unwarranted over and over and over again. Again, we’re supposed to be the smart ones. Does it really take that many times of claiming that the sky is falling to realize that, no, the sky is in fact not falling?

#3 – That character looks wrong! The whole thing is ruined!

Okay, I understand that we in geekdom feel that certain looks for the various creations in our fandoms are iconic. We look at the outfits that the various creations we love wear in the same way that an Art History Professor looks at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Hey, I’m not immune to that itch to want to see an alteration become “right” again. I loved the original comic book run of The New Warriors, but I couldn’t stand the outfits they had Nova wearing at the beginning of that series. I think I may even have danced a jig when they finally put him in an outfit that resembled his classic uniform.

But here’s the thing- I still enjoyed the character, the writing and art on the series, and the series itself. I saw the early ads for the series and wondered what in the hell they were thinking with Nova’s outfit, but I was still looking forward to trying the series out and it never occurred to me to declare that the entire series was going to be a wretched travesty of a comic book based on those early ads. But we see that attitude a lot with movie adaptations of comic books, but we see it in a weirdly selective way.

There were a lot of people in fandom that were sure that the first X-Men film was going to be a miserable bomb because early pictures of Wolverine had him played by a way too tall for the part Australian guy that no one had heard of and because their outfits were all wrong. The bright blues were gone, the spandex bodysuit designs were gone, and Wolverine’s trademark yellow outfit was nowhere to be seen. It was an obvious sign, we were told, that the film would be horrible and the people doing it didn’t know how to make a comic book movie. Then the film came out, and fandom praised the film to the high heavens.

You’d hear that thrown around a lot before then as well. You hear that thrown around a lot right now. You can’t say “Joker” or “Harley Quinn” when talking movies right now without getting an earful or a couple of hundred terabytes devoted to how the look of a character means the entire movie will suck.
Here’s the thing about the look of a character. It matters to a degree when the costume is both iconic and (arguably) timeless. Some character costumes are as important to their look as a military or police uniform. It would look kind of odd if you did a WWII period piece and dressed your US soldier extras up in uniforms that more closely resembled the uniforms of the Australian military forces of WWII. Likewise, it would look just as odd dressing your New York police extras in Canadian Mountie uniforms. Yes, there are looks that are specific and you need to stay with them as best you can.

But you also need to change. Your film would look just a foolish if you dressed your 2015 US military forces in Revolutionary War outfits because that was the costume they wore when the US military was created. You have to understand that the same things that drive the real world changes in things like military and police uniforms is going to have to drive the change to how some superheroes and villains will look on film, and, to a degree, even the people screaming the loudest about the Joker right now already do that.

Ledger’s Joker had fans fretting over the smeared face paint, the frazzled hair, the disheveled clothing, and the overall, as some I knew put it, “street bum Joker” appearance created by early release photos. A lot of fans flipped out. The Joker’s look was all wrong, the actor could never play such a character, and the people behind the film just didn’t understand the character and had ruined him in the film. Months and months later we got one of the biggest superhero films ever, and fans were raving about the way the Joker was portrayed.

Here we are in 2015 and we’re doing it again with the exact same character. He looks wrong, so the film is messed up. The character looks nothing like the “classic” Joker, so the people doing the film have no clue about the character or comic books, they’ve ruined the character, and the film itself is ruined. Of course, as with Ledger’s Joker, we’ve not actually seen any real footage of the performance. All we’ve seen so far is an out of context snippet, so we have no idea how well they’ve actually nailed the core of the character. We just know that he “looks” wrong.

(Oh, yeah, and anyone who doesn’t agree why it ruins a character and a film is an idiot/has no taste/doesn’t understand the character or the comic/isn’t a true fan of the character. I’m not even getting into that in depth here, but, short version, if you have to resort to stupid stuff like that along with similar insults, you’ve pretty much told everyone that your position has nothing behind it other than a desire to be negative and insulting and is therefore pretty much worthless.)

Of course, “looks wrong” is not always used as a strike against something, even by the noisiest complainers about something looking wrong. The Joker isn’t wearing clothing that looks 40 or more years out of fashion? The Joker isn’t wearing what a street criminal of the 40s or 50s might wear but rather comes off looking like a modern street criminal? Tragedy! On the other hand, Batman looks fairly radically changed from his original outfit and most of the same fans decrying an updated Joker talk about how awesome the Batman outfits have looked in recent movies. Many of the same fans who complain about the Joker’s changed look seem to love the modern takes on Thor, Daredevil, The Falcon, Captain America, Nick Fury, various members of the Guardians of the Galaxy, and/or a host of other modern big and small screen characters.

Look, I get discussing a character in an upcoming film and having a nice, even spirited, debate on the ‘why’ of needing or not needing to change a look for a big budget film or TV show. Additionally, yeah, there are times when I want the makers of a film to just swing for the fences, decide that the audience is ready, and give us our bright, dynamic, four-color outfits. But I also know that the outfit really doesn’t make the character in many cases. Putting a character in a different outfit but nailing the performance and the core of the character’s being beats the hell out of getting the look right while totally blowing the character itself. It’s certainly a discussion worth having, what was right vs what was wrong, after seeing a film, but it’s totally nonsensical to trash the film, to declare it or a character in it ruined, based on nothing but a few still pictures or a few seconds of an out of context snippet from a scene.

Because, you know, all of that fan screeching about how bad Thor was going to be because of how horrible Asgard and the Destroyer looked based on early set pictures and stills just proved so accurate, right?

Guys, I love you. You’re my people. Fandom is where I live and breathe many of my best days and make most of my best friends. But, really, please, get a hold of yourselves when some of you feel that urge to see the potential worst in everything and then act as the prophet of doom and gloom over it. Beyond the sheer number of times those that have wanted to be the prophets of all gloom have ended up stepping on rakes over and over again as “ruined” characters and films have actually been amazingly good and breathed new life into old properties, there’s just no need for it.

Guys, we’re living in a Golden Age of Fandom here. Some of you are getting to (wrongly) complain about how utterly ruined something will be again and again because we as fandom are being given more great films and television shows at one time than we have ever been given before. We, fandom, the geeks of the world, have gone mainstream. The stuff that we used to catch crap for loving while being “too old” to still love it is now the stuff that the mainstream is flocking to. We’re seeing an acceptance, and in some months of the year a dominance, of geek properties done right like never before. We have so much to be positive over and enjoy that there’s no need to waste the time and energy on being the guy or gal who sits there decrying the ruination of something that we’ve yet to see and won’t have enough information on to have an informed discussion about for many months yet to come.

I get fan discussion, I get fan debate, I get cautious discussion about a property coming down the road, and I even get just flat saying that based on prior works that an upcoming film just isn’t likely going to be your cuppa. Hell, I’m on record as saying that I’m not in the camp of looking forward to Batman v Superman with huge anticipation because of my dislike of the darker Superman of Man of Steel and the fact that I was never a big fan of the two heroes beating the snot out of each other concept outside of alternate world stories and fan discussions for fun. But my reaction to the trailers, as was documented here, has been to say that they’re not hooking me enough to get over those two things, and that the film does look like anyone who loved Man of Steel will likely love this film.

What I don’t get is the burning desire that many have to be as negative as possible as often as possible in a day and age when we as fans have so much to be positive about. Nor do I get why some of us, the geeks of the world, the supposed smart ones, need to make the same mistake over and over again with seemingly no ability to learn that, hey, maybe, since the last twenty or so predictions of doom and gloom were wrong, just dropping the gnashing of teeth and ranting about the horribleness of it all might be a less productive way to spend one’s time; especially when that time goes from hours to days to weeks on social media threads. It’s also somewhat perplexing as to why anyone would want to do that while basing their entire position on any of the above three arguments when those three arguments fall flat on their collective faces a huge amount of the time.

Life is short guys, and we’re in a Geek Golden Age. Start enjoying it more. The good stuff is all over the place, the bad stuff will fall to the wayside, and there’s no point in making yourself hate something you know nothing about in the short term when you may end up (as keeps happening) enjoying the hell out of later.

Next week, the Dragon Con 2015 look back that I was too slammed to write after Dragon Con 2015.

Jerry Chandler is a lifelong geek, dabbling in just about every genre but finding science fiction and horror to be his primary comfort zones. He has also had a lifelong devotion to that form of entertainment known as professional wrestling. When not worrying that his coworkers are going to inflict bodily harm onto him over his sense of humor, he enjoys hitting the convention scene or making indie films with his friends. He also finds talking about himself in third person to be very strange.

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