Tag: Star Wars

The Lost Art of Suspending Disbelief

By Craig Axford | Canada

Imagine you’ve just watched Star Wars or a Harry Potter movie with a friend. As you throw your empty popcorn bucket into the trash and head for the exit, your friend asks you if you believe the movie is true.

Perhaps book clubs are more your cup of tea. After reading the Da Vinci Code, which everyone in your group agrees was a real page-turner, your club discovers in its midst someone who thought they were reading a scholarly historical work and insists the code really exists.

To be fair, someone having the opposite reaction would be just as far off base, even if perhaps not as obviously so at first glance. If, instead of insisting the movie was a documentary of some sort your companion had concluded the movie was false, citing as proof the fact that faster than light travel is impossible or that the artificial gravity enabling everyone to walk about the decks of the starship at 1G seems implausible, we might find ourselves conceding that they are technically correct yet still reasonably conclude that they had missed the story’s point.

We find such literal true or false dichotomies ridiculous when it comes to the arts. Even the sciences, properly understood, deal in probabilities rather than absolute certainty. Yet we have no difficulty making such absolute claims about our religious myths. These stories, we insist, must either be true or false.

. . .

This situation is largely the fault of those insisting their religion is factually true. In taking this position they often push even those with nuanced views on the subject into the opposite corner. When we insist it’s all or nothing, we can’t blame the opposition when we find the door to communication and compromise closed.

Having consistently had that door shut in their face, doubters and disbelievers are increasingly resorting to mockery and derision. It’s an understandable stance to take when you’re talking about people who insist dinosaurs walked the earth with humans and two of every living thing can actually fit on a boat. In addition, after the centuries worth of both physical and emotional abuse that has been heaped upon doubters (as well as believers) constitutionally protected freedom of expression is a hard opportunity to pass up when it becomes available.

All that said, fundamentally what we’re dealing with here are stories, and the purpose of a good story isn’t to convince us of its historical or scientific accuracy. Its function is to draw us in and cause us to lose ourselves for a while as we experience its telling. A good story ideally leads us to suspend disbelief, which is a very different thing from either belief or disbelief.

Suspending disbelief is the act of setting the choice between truth and falsehood aside. In this state of mind, we are not evaluating what we are reading, hearing, or seeing to determine its compatibility with reality as such. We are not engaged in analytical thinking or looking to poke holes in the tale any more than we are unconditionally accepting it as factual. In a state of suspended disbelief, all such considerations disappear from consciousness while we “become lost” in the pages of a good book or “take a journey ” with Frodo and Sam across Middle Earth from our seats in the theater.

It’s usually understood going into these experiences that we are leaving reality behind for a while. Sometimes storytellers will even explicitly invite us to suspend disbelief before the story has even begun. Such signals to drop our guard, if done right, are readily followed. However, had George Lucus opened his first Star Wars movie with the words “Recently, in a solar system near us” instead of “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” the implicit invitation to believe in even just the possibility of what was to follow would likely have ruined the whole story.

. . .

A society’s most powerful myths — the ones that ultimately shape and come to define its culture — are only superficially about the characters and events depicted in them. These are merely the vehicles for conveying deeper lessons. But anyone who has attended a religious service recently knows very well that the question ‘what did you get out of the story?’ rarely if ever comes up. Even in our very secular age doubt, or even a willing suspension of disbelief, is still largely unwelcome at Friday, Saturday, or Sunday services.

Consider for a moment the historian Jennifer Michael Hecht’s description of the story of Job, a story with which even those raised in non-religious Western households are at least vaguely familiar. Was there really a man named Job? Does God really exist and did He really make a bet with Satan that facilitated Job’s suffering? From Hecht’s perspective, those kinds of questions are at best secondary:

There is something grand about a story that tries to reconcile human beings to loss, to letting go of the things that the universe has allowed us to amass and keep for a while — including the idea that after we lose everything, there is a good chance we’ll get it all back someday. Could the Job author have been satisfied with this as a parable of divine justice? It is not a parable of divine justice. It is a parable of resignation to a world-making force that has no justice as we understand justice. God comes off sounding like a metaphor for the universe: violent and chaotic yet bountiful and marvelous. The Job story is a story of doubt. God’s list brings Job back into the fold, but the fight has transformed the fold. With Job, that paradigm of a just God was carried to an extreme that immediately identified the problem with the idea: the world is not just. If justice exists, the Book of Job concludes, it does so in a way inconceivable to humanity. Job asked deep questions and they have lingered for millennia. ~ Jennifer Michael Hecht, Doubt: A History

Job is a proxy for everyone who has experienced a deep and powerful loss. Whether you’re an atheist, agnostic, unaffiliated but “spiritual”, or a regular churchgoer, the problem of suffering remains central to the human experience. Whether an individual that went by the name of Job and lived in a particular time and place ever actually existed is so far beyond the point that one must conclude that anybody who insists upon it is, like a person fixated on the reality of Lucas’ far away galaxy, seriously out of touch with reality.

Wrestling with the issues raised by the story of Job, and others like it from a variety of traditions, requires a willingness to avoid making the literal truth or falsehood of the story the place where we take our stand. That leaves suspending disbelief as the only way we can get to the heart of the matter. Suspending disbelief allows us to maintain a healthy skepticism without allowing it to interfere with our experience of the story. We aren’t accepting the story on blind faith, but we aren’t dwelling on its lack of historic or scientific veracity either. We can acknowledge factual problems if circumstances demand it, then quickly find our way back to the message without lingering for too long with the irrelevancies.

There is a morality play going on here, not a history lesson. Whether intentionally or not, when a believer insists that we have a debate about whether dinosaurs actually walked the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve or Jesus really did walk on water, they are making the story the end instead of the means. That is something our myths were never intended to be.

. . .

In all fairness, the development of writing shares much of the blame for our literalism. For most of human history, we lacked any means of confirming whether or not the stories being told around the campfire were the same from one telling to the next, let alone from one generation to another. There were no audio or video recordings available to make sure a storyteller was adhering to the original version, let alone anyone around to take notes.

Since memory was all people had to go on — an unreliable record-keeper under the best of circumstances — the best anyone concerned with fidelity could hope for was that any major changes made to the sacred tribal myths would be noticed by those who had heard them before. However, even assuming people wanted to catch them, minor additions and subtractions were impossible to consistently detect. This combination of small but intentional creative changes and unintentional memory lapses built up like mutations over time. Some went over like lead balloons with their audience and were quickly dropped while others were powerful and popular enough to become long-term features.

Storytelling, like evolution, is a process. In oral cultures, this was intuitively understood. The meaning and knowledge embedded within the story rather than the words themselves tended to take precedence. Comparing a modern society that has the ability to not only write, but also create a real-time audio and visual record of its existence down to the minutest detail, to an oral culture for whom stories are not merely a source of identity but a matter of survival is more like comparing apples to coconuts than it is apples to oranges.

Writing provided a mechanism for ensuring consistency unlike anything humanity had encountered before and it transformed how we approach both our myths and our physical environment in ways we never could have anticipated in advance. Of course, stories were still alterable, but as long as the original text or something very close to it survived new versions could be compared to the old and even subtle differences could be readily detected.

At that point, our sacred stories began to both literally and figuratively be seen as chiseled in stone and many of our traditions ceased to be living. Increasingly, the goal was to preserve them through a kind of textual mummification. It was in this context that the written word was sanctified and the story it recorded came to be seen as historical.

. . .

“Symbols are only the vehicle of communication; they must not be mistaken for the final term, the tenor, of their reference,” Joseph Campbell wrote in his classic work The Hero With A Thousand Faces. “No matter how attractive or impressive they may seem, they remain but convenient means, accommodated to the understanding.” Campbell concludes by reminding us that “Mistaking a vehicle for its tenor may lead to the spilling not only of valueless ink, but of valuable blood.”

We should take mythology seriously, but not too seriously. A decent level of respect rather than a reverential posture is what’s called for. Modern technology enables us to compare notes and police each other for consistency, but in the context of storytelling, there’s no opportunity for either fun or learning in that. The same technology also gives us an opportunity to play with our myths: to find humor and fresh interpretations that reveal themselves best through the use of contemporary language and references.

Consider Jonathan Goldstein’s reinterpretation of the story of Adam, Eve, and our loss of innocence in the Garden of Eden. Such a retelling is only possible when the storyteller sees the text as living rather than dead. It’s both humorous and evocative without demanding either belief or disbelief. It would be difficult for a listener to come away from Goldstein’s reimagining of the opening chapters of Genesis with a desire to storm the next local school board meeting demanding Intelligent Design be given equal time with evolution. Likewise, anyone insisting the story isn’t true after hearing Goldstein’s version would also be missing the mark by quite a wide margin.

The Abrahamic traditions, in particular, have consistently doubled down on belief, generally insisting that any who would darken the doorway of their institutions be willing to profess their faith in the word as it is written. Failure to do so often means ostracism, excommunication, or far worse.

But these religions don’t have many chips left to play. Nor has the modern world dealt the literalists in their midst a particularly strong hand. The best play at this point is to fold and acknowledge humanity’s myths are now, as they have always been, a means of fostering meaning and spreading wisdom rather than a mechanism for describing the physical universe or communicating historical events to future generations.

In the closing pages of Myths To Live By, Joseph Campbell said it best. As is so often the case when it comes to mythology, he deserves the final word:

The difficulty faced today by Christian thinkers in this regard follows from their doctrine of the Nazarene as the unique historical incarnation of God; and in Judaism, likewise, there is the no less troublesome doctrine of a universal God whose eye is on but one Chosen People of all in his created world. The fruit of such ethnocentric historicism is poor spiritual fare today; and the increasing difficulties of our clergies in attracting gourmets to their banquets should be evidence enough to make them realize that there must be something no longer palatable about the dishes they are serving. These were good enough for our fathers, in the tight little worlds of knowledge of their days, when each little civilization was a thing more or less to itself. But consider that picture of the planet Earth that was taken from the surface of the moon!


Follow Craig on Twitter or read him on Medium.com

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The Bottom Five: Each of These Movies was a Box Office Bust

By Brennan Dubé | @Brennan_Dube71R

2018 has been a year that has provided us with several hits at the box office so far, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been some absolute duds as well. Here is a rundown of the top 5 box office busts of 2018… so far. For this list, I have compiled how bad films did in comparison to what they were expected to earn as well as how poor of an intake it had at the box office in comparison to its budget. Here we go!

5. Sherlock Gnomes

The animated feature, ‘Sherlock Gnomes’ was not as much of a high stakes release as some of the others on this list budget wise, but is still costed $59 million dollars to make. That’s a lot of money to be messing around with. This movie came out on March 23rdand was expected to bring in a less than stellar $13-18 million for its opening weekend, it did not even reach that standard. ‘Sherlock Gnomes’ opened to $10.6 million in its opening weekend and went on to gross $42.3 million domestically. The movie grossed a worldwide total of $78 million dollars, when considering that its budget was nearly $60 million pre-marketing, it’s hard to mathematically find ways that ‘Gnomes’ and Paramount Pictures made much of a profit from this movie.

4. Pacific Rim: Uprising

When Warner Bros. released the first ‘Pacific Rim’ in 2013 and it turned out to be a hidden gem, it grossed over $400 million globally and was no box office bust in China. This success sparked a sequel, ‘Pacific Rim: Uprising’ came out in March and it did not nearly garner as much success as its predecessor. ‘Uprising’ had a production budget of $150-175 million dollars, on top of that marketing expenditures reached up to $140 million. This hefty spending meant that the sequel to the surprise 2013 success film, would need to smash $300 million dollars to break even and reach upwards of $350 million to turn a noticeable profit. It is safe to say, ‘Pacific Rim: Uprising’ was a box office bust as it managed to only make $290 million dollars globally when all was said and done. This result leaves studios with almost no hope at a third ‘Pacific Rim’ installment.

3. Hurricane Heist

‘Hurricane Heist’ hit the big screen on March 9th. This movie carried a budget of $35 million dollars but was expected to be a box office bust. Initially experts and the movie execs themselves eyed a $7 million dollar opening weekend at the domestic box office, but with an opening day total of just $950,000 it ended up just grossing $3 million for its opening weekend. ‘Hurricane Heist’ ended up grossing just $6.1 million domestically and less than $7 million internationally for a global gross of just $12.5 million. After factoring in marketing and the fact that it barley grossed a third of its budget, there were over $30 million dollars in losses for the studio.

2. Solo: A Star Wars Story

‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ is the moment Disney and ‘Star Wars’ finally looked vulnerable. After the billion dollar releases of ‘The Force Awakens’ (2015), ‘Rogue One’ (2016) and ‘The Last Jedi’ (2017), we get ‘Solo.’ Now there are tons of theories as to why this movie flopped, but let me just give you the numbers first. With a budget of around $250 million plus $200 million in marketing costs, the studios stated that ‘Solo’ would need to make $500 million to turn a respectable profit. $500 million, no big deal! Back-to-back-to-back billion dollar movies… ‘Solo’ will be just fine right? Not a chance. In the weeks leading up the projections had this movie set to open with $135-150 million in its first weekend. As we got closer and closer that number dropped to around $115 million. Finally, the weekend of May 25thcame and ‘Solo’ opened… to a shocking $84 million dollars. The poor domestic showings along with bad numbers globally have put this film on pace to gross less than $400 million when all is said and done. Studio officials have stated that the losses will be around $50-80 million dollars, making it a considerable box office bust.

1. A Wrinkle in Time

Disney’s ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ was perceived by many to be a potential hit in 2018, then it finally hit the big screens. Dampened by poor marketing schemes and absolutely awful reviews by critics, ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ lost all hype heading into its release and was not able to generate the motivation and hype of usual Disney films. The budget for this movie was listed at a whopping $100 million dollars, and on top of that another $100 million plus was spent on advertising and marketing. ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ opened to a dismal $33.3 million at the domestic box office. It went on to gross a global total of $130 million during its time in theaters. Many reports list that this movie has lost its studio anywhere from $85-185 million dollars. Definitely a well-deserved number one on this list. ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ will go down not only as a major box office bust of 2018, but also one of the biggest of all time.


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Solo Review: Solo is Definitely More Than So-So, but Still Feels Forgettable

By Brennan Dubé | @Brennan_Dube71R

‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ is out this weekend and is the second ‘Star Wars Story’ we’ve had in the last two years (‘Rogue One’, 2016). It is also the fourth ‘Star Wars’ installment given to us in the last three years. One can wonder, when will the fatigue set in. Here is my review of ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story.’

Production of this film was deemed a mess by many: directors were fired, re-shoots were rampant and Alden Ehrenreich’s hiring of an acting coach led this film to be a big question mark and concern for many fans of the beloved franchise. Nonetheless, ‘Solo’ was brought to us in this busy box office summer and it was an enjoyable film.

Firstly, it took some time to get used to Ehrenreich as the ever so famous ‘Han Solo,’ but Ehrenreich for the most part did this job well. I can safely say he played the part justice and offered fans a safe and charming portrayal of ‘Han Solo.’ I say safe because this movie did not feel the need to take risks: it was quite a basic plot driven film that did not add much to the overall ‘Star Wars’ universe… we will get into that a bit later.

Alden Ehrenreich was not the only individual who took the leap and portrayed a famous character from the past, Donald Glover plays ‘Lando Calrissian’ and he also did an adequate job at playing this role. When Glover and Ehrenreich have scenes of interaction this movie is at its best. They have a few moments in this film that are simple yet special and quite entertaining to watch.

Woody Harrelson is also in this film and he plays a mentor-ish individual who is the leader of the group. Harrelson offers a good performance as always, quite the actor who never fails to impress. I quite enjoyed the story arc between Harrelson’s character and ‘Han’ as in the past we have never seen Mr. Solo have to be in a position where he is under someone’s wing.

Paul Bettany is in this film as well, he plays the role of our villain and his performance as ‘Dryden Vos’ is great. One gripe I have about his character though is I feel he is underused. His performance on screen was quite well done and he provided that feel of a menacing vibe whenever he was in the room. This is a feeling that overall I felt was missing from ‘Solo’ and would have enhanced the film quite a bit.

Special effects in this movie are stunning and it is quite clear that this franchise will not settle for second best when coming to visuals and CGI. Certain chase scenes early on in this film look very clean and crisp and offer good sequences of action. That train scene that is shown in every commercial is as awesome on screen as it is in the trailers. Other than that, ‘Solo’ fell flat. I can recount zero other action sequences that stood out to me.

The opening third of this movie holds its intrigue and stands strong, then we hit the middle third. The middle third of this movie was slow, choppy, silly and boring. It dragged on far too long and felt rather filler. I felt optimistic after what the first third of this film had to offer, just to be disappointed by a rather annoying middle chunk.

Deep into the second act of ‘Solo’ things happen that are just plain stupid. Without giving up too much I felt this movie would have been much more enjoyable without a certain droid…you’ll know. The final third of this movie got back on track for the most part. Also, expect references… a lot of references.

Personally, I am a fan of nostalgia, but in ‘Solo’ you feel like you are being force fed things just for fanfare. Sure, we get to learn how ‘Han’ becomes ‘Han Solo’, and sure we learn how him and ‘Chewbacca’ meet and yes, we also learn how the ‘Millennium Falcon’ becomes Han’s, but it was not interesting and those moments didn’t feel magical like they should have.

The Big Plus: ‘Solo’ is a fun time. Forgettable but fun. Expect some entertainment in the action sequences and good portrayals of old characters by Ehrenreich and Glover.

Where it lacks: This movie lacks a villain that makes the story compelling thus leaving us with a forgettable addition to the ‘Star Wars’ franchise.

Score: 66/100

In the end ‘Solo’ feels plain. It did not offer much to the ‘Star Wars’ universe and it stayed its course, not taking too many risks or jumps. Alden Ehrenreich and Donald Glover both do solid jobs portraying the famous ‘Han Solo’ and ‘Lando Calrissian’ and the rest of the cast give good performances as well. ‘Solo’ was driven by a tasteless plot that had predictable outcomes. If you are a casual movie goer you might find enjoyable fun in this space western. Big props to John Powell and John Williams for creating a great soundtrack. Williams is often taken for granted now due to being so damn good at what he does, but him and Powell did a great job at bringing this movie to life with the music.

Box Office Forecast:

‘Solo’ is expected to open up somewhere between $125-145 million dollars meaning it will be the lowest opening for a ‘Star Wars’ movie in the Disney era. The high-end estimate of $150 million would give ‘Solo’ the all-time best memorial day opening weekend at the box office.

Upcoming Releases:

June 1: Adrift

June 8: Ocean’s Eleven, Hereditary

June 15: The Incredibles 2, Tag, SuperFly

 

 

 

The Death of Cinema

By Mason Mohon | USA

I would absolutely love to write a movie review of the latest installment of the Star Wars franchise: The Last Jedi, but that is out of the question. I saw the movie last night, or at least I tried, but all the lightsabers, stormtroopers, and edgy young Sith lords with emotional issues are beginning to blur together in my head, so I checked out of reality and used the experience as a bizarre naptime. So I can’t tell anyone whether the movie was good or bad because I was very tired. So is the rest of America. Society is getting tired of shoveling out an entire month’s worth of Netflix subscription to watch an ok movie in a dirty theater.

The movie theater industry is in trouble, but its ok, because we can chalk this all up to creative destruction.

The film industry has been punching and screaming for years. It tries its hardest to stay afloat, releasing bigger and better movie screens as they go along. Every year, we see a bigger and better IMAX 3D screen come out at another theater. They build themselves up more and more, but the problem is this may be to no avail. The market is evolving, as it does.

The weeks leading up to Star Wars chilled me when I compared them to the leading weeks in previous years. The long anticipated trilogy reboot that came with exciting trailers and lots of hype. Episode 7 was the long lost child of the space legend everybody had been looking for. The movie unsurprisingly broke box office records, and the following year wasn’t too different. Rogue One was an exciting new take on the Star Wars series. It told a story with mostly new characters and showed a different side of the universe, topping it off with an “everyone dies” storyline I thought I would only get from Cloverfield movies.

This year, I heard nearly no mention of them. I saw the trailer when it came out and bought tickets with my friends in advance, but then I forgot about it, and it seemed that everyone else did too. It would rarely come up in  conversation, and I never heard “I can’t wait for the new Star Wars.” The movie did well, though, but not quite well enough to save a fading away industry.

The Motion Picture Association of America reported that the average American will have bought 3.6 movie tickets this year, which is down 30% from 2002’s rate of 5.1 tickets. People are not seeing as many movies anymore, and why would they. Stranger Things 2, a plethora of new Marvel superhero series’, and the constant flow of originals make Netflix a satisfying alternative. Streaming services are in, and you can get a month’s access to them for the price of a single movie at a theater. This is the free market serving consumer preferences at work.

Cinema showings aren’t dying this year, but the numbers are dwindling and I do not expect them to be a major part of American society for much longer. This teaches us the valuable lesson of creative destruction, as mentioned earlier. The market must serve consumer demand, and what the consumers demand is changing. With the rise of the internet and the opportunity it gave to entrepreneurs and innovators, we should have seen this coming. The free market is a glorious thing, though, so we can rest easy knowing that if you and others enjoy something, it is likely the market will keep it around.

The way things seem to always turn around is less bad movies and more good markets.