Sunday, June 23, 2013

Of Superheroes and Synopses

Posting below Kasturi Moitra's unusual take on Man of Steel.  I have not seen the movie myself but this is a good reason to see it.

Of Superheroes and Synopses

After watching the latest Superman movie — Man of Steel — I couldn’t help wondering how alarmingly akin the making of a superhero flick is to the writing of a PhD synopsis. Few reasons as to why I didn’t think Man of Steel was a good superhero film were: 1) The Superman wasn’t handsome enough 2) The villain in Superman was not formidable enough 3) The set-up was too fantastical (aliens!) 4) There was nothing new in the film. I realized to my horror that often our PhD synopses get rejected for the very same reasons! Behold.

For starters, a good superhero film needs a good and noble hero; a terrible crisis that plagues the world; and most importantly, a very, very evil supervillain.  Now how about you juxtapose these with the three elements of your research — the hypothesis (hero), the research questions (crisis) and the empirical evidence that you would use to falsify your hypothesis (super villain).
First, it is imperative that you have an appealing set of hypotheses; robust, eloquent, sophisticated, with no extra flab (else nobody will watch your superhero flick)! Second, a superhero, however gallant, cannot win the minds and hearts of people if he doesn’t rescue the world from some big problem. The more unprecedented and intractable the problem, the more laudable is your superhero. An old problem that has cropped up in a new avatar could also do the trick, as long as it has an angle which neither the world nor the superhero has had to deal with before. In such a case, past experience or knowledge of the old problem (literature review) is necessary, but not sufficient to be able to address the new dimension of the problem for which the superhero’s prowess is irrefutably required. However, the world should not bother superheroes with every small problem or try to create ones where there are none (else it shall incur the wrath of the Gods!). It is only crises that they cannot solve by themselves, which should be handed over to the superhero.
Finally, we have the most crucial element of the superhero flick—the super villain. The super villain’s singular quest is to try and take down the superhero. He (or she) could employ either brain or brawn to achieve this but the point remains that he has to be formidable, tough and seemingly invincible. A superhero is but nothing without his super villain. When the two clash, the audience should have the impression that either could win (even though everyone expects that the hero would finally prevail over the villain). However, even if the superhero dies in the end, no matter. Your film would probably get more applause for ‘keeping it real’.
Other things to look out for are as follows. Choice of weapon and combat technique – how will the superhero bring the super villain down on his knees? Good research methodology and research techniques are indispensible for executing a cleanly shot action sequence. The superhero’s familiarity and dexterity with the weapons would certainly hold him in good stead. An unwieldy weapon could give the opponent an advantage. In every case, it is the context and situation of the problem as well as the nature of the villain that determines the combat technique. Sometimes, however, plans may go awry and the superhero may have to improvise along the way.
Again every superhero has his limits. Since he cannot solve all the problems of the world, he has to chart out and define his mission carefully. For example, Batman is only concerned with keeping Gotham City safe. Others may have a slightly more global or even inter-galactic scope. So it is important to define the scope right at the beginning, lest your audience is disappointed by your superhero’s achievements. It would also be a good question to ask—what’s in it for the superhero? Why is he doing it? Is it for fame and glory, or to get the girl, or to settle some old scores?
A person decides in the first half hour of a movie whether to dive out of the hall or stay glued to the seats even during interval. This goes on to show the importance of the introduction of your synopsis, to the entire enterprise. Similarly, there has to be some connection between the beginning and end of your superhero flick. You have to come full circle, tie all the loose ends. Again, a good film (superhero or otherwise) needs very, very good editing. You have to know what bits to leave out and what bits to keep. If your audience cannot effortlessly make the transition from one sequence to the next, then it will lose interest. You can use innovative narratives like flashbacks or dream sequences or other webs of intricacies, perhaps even an Inception-type plot, if you please, but be sure to keep the audience in the loop. Also watch out for faux pas like spelling errors, grammatical errors and logical errors as nothing can be more frustrating that watching a good movie on a bad quality sound system.
It is a good idea to make somebody go through your creation before sending it to the theatres or exposing it to the movie critics. They might see something that you may have overlooked, simply because they are not looking through the director’s lenses.

Lastly, being a superhero does not mean that he has to go it all alone. This by no means is a mark of being a superhero. A good superhero needs help and guidance because even superheroes can often lose their way. And indeed he will find both – people to show him the way forward and egg him on, as well as people to scoff at him and make him doubtful of his own capabilities. However, he must not give up. He may falter, be down and bruised, get tired, even disillusioned, but at no cost does a superhero hang up his cape.     

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