Emily S. Whitten: Small Stories Writ Large
This week, Marvel released both the “ant-sized” and then “human-sized” trailers for Ant-Man. A clever marketing trick, and one that made me smile.
It also got me thinking – not particularly about the Ant-Man movie, although I am curious to see how it turns out, but about a couple of movies released in 2014 and why I liked them so much. Those movies were Guardians of the Galaxy and Mockingjay (Part I).
In Guardians, as I’m sure everyone knows by now, Marvel took one of their lesser-known properties and made a big, big splash with it. It really is a wild, fun ride – and I think one of the reasons for that is that the property was a bit more obscure. That perhaps (or at least this is what I extrapolate from the end result) allowed the studio not to take it all too seriously even in the realm of their Epic Marvel Movie Plan, and not to forget that comics are supposed to be fun; symbolic; intense; hopeful; and sometimes ridiculous.
From a talking raccoon and a pretty goofy prison break to the amazingly heartwarming moments with Groot, the movie definitely did things a little differently than what we may have come to expect from our superhero films (while, to be fair, still hitting the big-budget notes of explosions and fight scenes and daring space escapes). Even the end credits scene was a little wink and a nod to the fans. And that sense of individuality and fun made Guardians stand out in my mind.
Mockingjay (Part I) stands out for a different reason. This is the third of four movies in a fairly serious and intense storyline based on The Hunger Games book series, and sure, it has fight scenes, and planes crashing from the sky, and all of that – but mostly, what it has is a series of small moments, just like in the first half of the third book it is based on. Moments of character development that make the whole sense of the movie quiet but intense. Scenes between Plutarch and Coin, or Katniss and Snow. Scenes like Katniss at the river, or Peeta being “interviewed” on TV. Scenes that look at one small space in time and how the characters in the story are being shaped by it. And that’s something that, while we get it all the time in books, is often not translated well to or given time on the big screen.
Even in book-to-movie transitions, the translators of great stories often fail to understand the draw of quiet moments of character development, and that they can be done well to build the story on the screen. (One sad example of this is The Seeker, which was a not-so-successful translation of Susan Cooper’s excellent young adult fantasy series The Dark is Rising.)
What’s interesting about both of these movies is that although very different, they share the thread of small stories writ large – either in the sense of more obscure properties being brought bombastically into the limelight, or of little bits of people’s characters being slowly threaded together into a greater story. And that through this, they also brought me either a sense of joy and fun or a sense of emotional involvement. What’s also interesting is the lack of that sense in some of the action, superhero, or fantasy movies out there in the last few years (Man of Steel being a glaring example, despite the enjoyment of seeing Henry Cavill on the big screen).
It continues to puzzle me why some movies forget that they are supposed to be fun, or interesting and unique, or at the very least true to their written origins when they have them. While I don’t necessarily think studios are losing that insight altogether, I do think it’s nice to remind them sometimes of why I, at least, like to see movies – not for the mindless big-budget fight scenes and explosions, or the clichéd and predictable good-versus-bad standoff, but for the fun, the excitement of something new and different, the sense of hope or meaning, or the insights that can leak out of fiction to inform our views of reality.
So movie studios, this is just me saying, at the start of 2015: in the midst of all the business of moviemaking, please don’t forget to make your movies fun, or meaningful, or (hopefully) both. Thanks.
And until next time, Servo Lectio!