Saturday, May 27, 2006

Science Fiction and the X-Men

The fascinating thing about the X-Men story is that it's a perfect example of what good science-fiction can be. Science fiction is more than just stories about aliens, space ships, ray guns, and time travel. Science fiction takes us outside the world (or time) we live in so that we can look back at our own world with a new and changed perspective. How quickly we can rise to anger when topics like racism, religion, politics, and ethics come up! Science fiction has the unique ability to address those topics directly, veiled in a context that is "not really real," thus making an end-run around the minefields we have set up in our minds. Sure, X-Men is about human beings born with genetic mutations that give them extraordinary characteristics and abilities living in a world where most normal humans hate and fear them. Not "really real," right? But what is it really about? It's about two groups of people who are different, and the people on both sides (with varying degrees of ability to hurt each other) who have to decide how they are going to live with and treat the people around them. Now that sounds familiar. People on both sides who hate and fear (and are willing to wipe out) everyone on the other side because some people on the other side hate and fear them in return, and people on both sides who are willing to give up everything to defend everyone, even those who are different. Sounds relevant to me.

Now that you are starting to suspect that I am a geek, allow me to definitively confirm your suspicion: I saw the new X-Men movie twice this weekend, in the same 24-hour period. (Here's where you should skip to the next post if you don't care about the X-Men movies.) That fact is probably as bad as it sounds, but allow me to defend myself with some mitigating circumstances. My impression of a movie changes based on who I see it with. Unless I am completely alone, I have a tendency to see the movie I think the people around me are seeing, rather than the movie I would see. It's a pretty much unstoppable phenomenon and, being the Story enthusiast that I am, I enjoy that it gives me the opportunity to see multiple aspects of a story. So I saw X-Men 3 the first time at a midnight showing the day before it opened with a theater full of X-Men geeks (as opposed to my more generalized condition of geekness) and all of their yelling and cheering, and the second time the next day with two friends in a theater full of parents who shouldn't have brought their 5-year-olds but did.

I am a fan of the first two X-Men movies. Actually, I have enjoyed many of Bryan Singer's filmic creations, and X-Men 2 is among the best action movies of the past 7 years (this coming from a guy who normally uses "action-movie" as a derogatory adjective). I started looking forward to Singer's X-Men 3 about .5 seconds after the credits began rolling on X-Men 2. Imagine my dismay when he took his writers and moved on to Superman, relegating the third X-Men to the direction of Brett Ratner, a man who has never created anything I truly enjoyed.

I wanted to like this movie, so the usual thing that happens in that case happened: the story and the craftsmanship got separated in my mind. The story in this movie is epic and meaningful. Someone has developed a "cure" that manipulates the genes of mutants, making them normal humans. Suddenly the whole world, including millions of mutants, are forced to ask hard ethical questions like should people change the essence of who they are just to be more accepted by society? Should society be allowed to require them to change out of fear? Should they be allowed to change if they want to? How should they react if society decides to force them to change? Should the "cure" ever be used as a punishment for a mutant gone bad? With villains on both sides of the line, these questions lead to epic and tragic events, and to some incredibly powerful and effective (my highest compliment) scenes. The story and events (and the highly reactive audience) made my first viewing a very enjoyable experience.

The second time I saw the movie, as usually happens, I noticed the flaws in the craftsmanship a lot more. The problem in the movie comes from the run time and the production time, both being too short. The lack of production time led to some unfortunate choices regarding special effects, and a limitation on how much time could actually be spent filming. The shortness of the running time (40 minutes shorter than the second movie) led to the excision of all of the plot- and character-development that made the second movie so strong. This movie became to a certain extent "Brett Ratner's A Series of Epic Events," to its own detriment. The change in writers also, for whatever reason, resulted in some very unfortunate dialogue (and language) in several places.

This movie gets a 9 for story (and what Bryan Singer could have done with it) and a 5 for craftsmanship (and what Brett Ratner did with it).

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Anonymous Michelle said...

very interesting insights. I definitely agree on the story and its potential being so much greater than the end product turned out to be. You didn't tell me that you had already seen the movie!

Thursday, June 01, 2006 3:10:00 PM  
Blogger treeinforest said...

I just did. Anyway, I wanted to see it again.

Thursday, June 01, 2006 3:24:00 PM  

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