*Discreet cough* Oh Mr. Nolan, A Word in Your Ear

June 21, 2010

There’s an ad out right now for Netflix or some similar outfit that talks about the different levels a good children’s movie should have: accessible to kids but with more going that speaks to adults. The Toy Story universe is a perfect example, it has its own analogy for
Death, for God’s sake. While the toys can cease to exist by being utterly destroyed, that’s not it. They might fear winding up on Sid’s worktable and having fireworks strapped to their ass, but that’s not a fate that is going to befall every toy. There is a different reality, a painful one that every one of them will have to face sooner or later: the children who play with them will grow up. They all know it, and like us living folks and the Grim Reaper, they try not to think about it. There is a REASON the staples of our popular storytelling revolve around heroes who can die but don’t, who come through dangerous situation after dangerous situation and always come out triumphant and unscathed—and that reason isn’t because car chases are cool or explosions look awesome on the big screen. It’s because we are all food for worms and we know it. As always, those who understand the moving parts that make a story work will keep on pulling off these amazing hits, while those grasping desperately at stunt after stunt will keep on failing.

Pixar is one of those who understand. They succeed more often than is statistically possible, and a huge part of that is drop-dead perfect storytelling. When they made Toy Story 2, there were exactly two sequels to spectacularly popular movies which were recognized as better than the originals: The Godfather Part II and The Empire Strikes Back. John Lassiter, et al STUDIED those movies, not in a dumb superficial way but by delving into their structures and content: how much of the first films were referenced, how much was built on, how much was new. Not just churning out more of the same. Not trashing everything that made the originals what they were. Theme and variation, theme and recapitulation. It was a magnificent effort, and the results were amazing. Toy Story 2 is a damn good movie. So is 3, btw, but I’m talking about first sequels for a reason.

There is now a third movie sequel that is significantly better than the original. It’s The Dark Knight. The difference is that the original was no Godfather. Batman Begins was not a great movie. It was good, but it was seriously flawed—and while certain fanboys may start to howl at those words, Christopher Nolan and his band are certainly not among them. They know their first film was flawed because they set about fixing every single one of its shortcomings in the second. They even TOLD US that’s what they were doing. What was it Bruce said stitching himself up? “I learn from my mistakes.”

NOW, not in 2005 but now, today, Christopher Nolan is in that same position as Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas and John Lassiter. He’s made the perfect Batman movie. How in the name of Robert Abraham Kane do you top it? I say take a page from Toy Story and analyze those two great sequels: Godfather II and ESB, and also–this is important–forget Batman Begins ever happened. Calm down, I’m not saying scrap its continuity. I know that kind of talk makes the fanboys heads explode. I’m saying for sequel-writing purposes, Batman Begins is no foundation. Approach B3 as a second movie with the goal of surpassing TDK as if it was the only Batman movie ever made. All Begins had to do was be better than Schumacher. The aforementioned Netflix ad can do that much. The video for the Batman rollercoaster at six flags that instructs you how to use a seatbelt—better than Schumacher. So making Begins posed none of those expectations challenges. Then, making TDK, begins left you with a nice checklist of errors to fix. That isn’t the case here.  TDK was perfect. It was PERFECT. So this is terra incognita, Mr. Nolan, and it’s time to turn our attention to Pixar’s approach, looking to the great sequels and cracking the code of what made them work. That done, that formula achieved, apply it to the “original” –but that original to be drawn upon and built upon is TDK.

One woman’s opinion, of course. Your mileage may vary, except in Wisconsin. Batteries not included.

In other news, not a lot of writing happened last week. The triple release of the visitor center, the cocktails, and the new website burned up a lot of purple kitty energy. But not to worry, ground is broken on Chapter 7, and now that The TBA that Ate Tokyo is TBA no more, everything will be going a lot faster.

Chris Dee

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