We’re not alive, we’re not alive… Story-telling and science fiction

I’ve been getting into the structure of stories lately, trying to work out why some movies are really gripping and interesting and why others are confused and dull.

It came to a head yesterday when I had a Superman marathon which went from the films to the television series, Smallville.

I think I got up to season five when I used to watch Smallville.

While I’m probably going to be derided for poor taste, I think I prefer Smallville to the films.  I think it’s because the television series is better constructed than the films.

The first film, for example, doesn’t get going until about 45 minutes into the film.  It opens with Jor-El conducting a trial of Zod.  It’s tense and interesting, then Zod is sealed in the Phantom Zone and shot off into space until Superman II.

Oh.

Then Jor-El has a massive fight with the Krypton Council and decided to send his only begotten son to Earth.  As you do.  There’s ten minutes of Clark Kent being a teenager and suffering identity crisis before he goes to spend 12 years off camera in the Arctic in his Fortress of Solitude.

By that point, we’re about 40 minutes into the film.  We then discover Lois Lane can’t spell.  Ho hum… nothing much.  Then a nuclear plot which, of course, Superman diverts.  He then travels back in time to save somebody but it would be too spoileriffic to tell you that it’s Lois.

You can’t have your main character appear in a film 40 minutes late.  Tardiness in protagonists is not an admirable trait.

The television series, on the other hand, deals with things much better.  While the plots are hilariously silly, they rely on more than ‘Chibi-Superman punches things until the credits.’  It succeeds in having Clark Kent fail at winning the larger ‘battles’ in his life (getting the girl, pleasing his two fathers, &c.).  No matter how much he punches things or jumps over buildings, those are achievements which require more.  Thus, it’s more interesting to watch.

This, bee tee dub, was also my major beef with the Harry Potter series.  The protagonist wins everything by birthright or by knowing more magic than the baddies.  Lame.

If I were going to reboot the Superman films (oh wait, they’re totally already doing that), then they should make a cinematic version of Red Son.  Does anybody really want to watch a film about a magic American?  No, no they don’t.  So make Superman a Communist and give us a fun film.

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