I like writing, but what I really want to do is fly. Or rather, I want to believe that someone could.
I am one of those who grew up marveling at Christopher Reeve in Superman: The Movie, enjoying Superman II, wondering why Richard Pryor was in Superman III (oh, my young naiveté) and liking Superman IV (which I still dig… in spite of being an awful movie). It was that tagline from Superman: The Movie that led me beyond a love of the film into a nostalgic appreciation for it… “you’ll believe a man can fly.” With Christopher Reeve in the cape, you did. For my generation, he was Superman. It was that little bit extra he brought to the flight, a feeling of stoic acceptance of his power yet recognizing the awesomeness of what he was doing. The fourth-wall breaking smile at the end of the film or the first flight after Marlon Brando’s crystals put him in red and blue tights… it was chill-inducing. I believed a man could fly.
But now, I see films like Green Lantern or Iron Man, and that joy is lost, replaced with a computer-generated cartoon (ironically harkening back to the days of the 1948 Kirk Alyn-starring Superman movie serial, when the flight sequences were done by a crafty switch to animation) that goes through the paces. Sure, Hal Jordan was excited by getting to fly fly, but he was a head on an animated body doing flips that I couldn’t care less about. Iron Man, the same deal. Yeah, yeah. There was a woo-hoo and a spin and stuff. Woo frickin hoo.
Flight is a human dream — the computerization of it makes it an easier reality, yes, but the true appeal of it lies in a human being taking flight. It’s that very ease of filmic flight and movie magic that has rendered its appeal and wonder inert. Christopher Reeve and the special effects crew had to work to fly. Wires, harnesses, blue screens. It all had to come together to create the realistic vision of the human dream of flight. Now, flight is reduced to a bunch of (admittedly complicated) keystrokes that remove the human element and make anything possible.
It’s like the old adage of great cars. They were made of steel, and were built to withstand anything. There was a love and attention paid to them, the work of hands on metal. Now, it’s Priuses (Priui?) and fuckall bad “pee-ushi” commercials.. seriously, Toyota. Your ad company should be tarred, feathered, and flambéed for that dreck. You want to make people buy hybrids? Don’t make commercials that cater to the asinine claptrap of doggie acupuncture urban hipsters with nothing interesting to say.
What I’m getting at is that the human element has been removed and mass production of wonder has become the norm.
When was the last time you were in awe-struck wonder of something? When did you last feel that chill of “wow?” Let’s really show where the makers of current wonder-less flight films go wrong: the last time I felt that chill was when Dash ran across water in The Incredibles. It was COMPLETELY animated, but Brad Bird and his team brought the same amount of human wonder to a pixelated image that Christopher Reeve brought to Superman. The Incredibles was like a vintage car, built to last and built with pride. It was built with heart and characters that marveled at their own super heroism. We experienced their wonder and they experienced it.
Now, we’re left with vapid, half-hearted visions of flight and of wonder. Where is the pride in that work? Where is the chill-inducing hope that we could someday do that? For a film about a man with a power ring that could do anything, limited only by his imagination, the imagination in Green Lantern was sorely lacking. For a film about a genius billionaire eccentric philanthropist and weapons manufacturer, Iron Man’s first flights were anything but genius.
Maybe I’m getting older and more cynical. Or maybe I want to believe a man can fly and actually give a damn.