Dissecting What Went Wrong With GREEN LANTERN

Superheroes are taking a beating this summer, and not just at the hands of their arch nemesis’s. In terms of tickets sales, Thor, X-Men: First Class and Green Lantern have all not quite measured up to the bar set by the likes of the Iron Man, Batman and Spider-Man films. But the one that has proved to be the greatest and perhaps most unexpected disappointment at the box office has been Warner Brothers’ Green Lantern, starring Ryan Reynolds. In the ten days of its release it has barely cleared $120.5 million domestically and internationally as of June 27 (as per Box Office Mojo), not a good number when compared to its estimated production budget of $200 million.

FilmBuffOnline publisher Rich Drees and comic book film editor William Gatevackes got into a discussion as to what went wrong with the film. The conversation started with Gatevackes admitting that he had gone back to the theater to see the film for a second time.

Rich Drees – What brought you back for a second viewing?

William Gatevackes – My wife. She hadn’t seen it. I wanted to get her opinion on it. She liked it a bit better that I did, but admitted it could have been better.

RD – So did you see it in 2D or 3D? I saw it in 2D and was glad I did. The opening scene where the alien astronauts accidentally free Parallax was so dark and murky I’m afraid it would have looked terrible in 3D.

WG – I saw it in 2D as well. The shame of it is that the scene was pretty much designed for 3D. Filmmakers just haven’t got it that keeping scenes dark for CGI purposes and shooting scenes in 3D don’t go together.

RD – Well, Michael Bay has been making a big push to get Transformers: Dark Of The Moon shown properly in 3D, but that’s another topic. Putting aside the 3D, it seems that a lot of the reviews have bagged on the film for the amount of CGI used, but isn’t that the point of CG? To show things you couldn’t do any other way? And for the scope of a Green Lantern story, you are really going to need CG.

WG – For me, if anything there was too LITTLE CGI. The green light constructs were born for CGI. They don’t need that fine of definition, which CGI lacks, so they would look awesome in computer generated art. They should have included more. And when it comes to aliens in the Green Lantern mythos, it wouldn’t be cost-effective to create make-up effects for an alien that is only onscreen for ten minutes. Just the amount of time it would take wouldn’t make it worthwhile.

RD – So would say that the scope of the story was a problem? That it was just too big a story?

WG – My main problem, storywise, was with the lack of definition on several plot points. I would have liked the relationships between the characters developed more, especially between Hector Hammond and the other characters.

RD – I agree with you there. The film could have used about ten more minutes or so of character work. Also, I think I would have started the story on Earth and then gone to the scene where Parallax was freed. I think the way it is structured now it is too much of an infodump on non-comic fans. It’s a big, sprawling story and I think it needed to start small to allow the audience to connect.

WG – Another bad thing about the infodump at the beginning is the fact that much of the info is repeated later on in the movie. One of the best ways to lose an audience is to show them something after you told them something. And they have a perfect way to introduce that info – a new person from a new race joining the Corps. Hal could have been the audience’s representative, we would learn as he did.

RD – But at least all that info is out of the way if Warners definitely goes ahead with a sequel.

WG – Yeah, but in a way that killed the film critically and via word of mouth, which puts any sequel in jeopardy.

RD – Well, Warners is still considering it. If they do move forward, what advice would you give them?

WG – Wow. Where do I start? Show, don’t tell. Create an emotional bond between your characters and your audience. Hammond was a good villain, but would he have been better if we saw a reason why he’d give up on the human race? Why did Hal become a test pilot after watching his father die in an accident as a test pilot? That was something that would have strengthened the character. That’s the thing they need to fix for the sequel.

RD – Part of me wants them to pull back and do an Earth-bound story, but that would mean possibly ignoring the cliffhanger involving Sinestro.

WG – One of the things that bothered me about the comic was that most of the stories took place on Earth. That’s like being a beat cop who only patrols the street he lives on. If his beat is the Milky Way, logic dictated that most of his time should be spent off-planet. But that could be addressed in a number of ways. However, I still want to know why Sinestro put on the ring in the first place.

RD – I thought they covered that a bit when he argued with the Guardians for the need to forge a yellow ring? Still, I would have liked to see more of his “fall from grace” as it were.

WG – The argument was that they need to fight to fear with fear (which I didn’t think would work – Parallax “ate” fear to make himself stronger). Parallax ended up being cooked in the sun, so there was no need for Sinestro to put on the ring. Who was he going to fight with it?

RD – Good question. I’ll grant that it did seem like a fan service moment. Surprising, as there wasn’t too much of what I would call fan service in the film. I’m thinking of the scene in the early draft of the screenplay that had the ring bypass Clark Kent and Guy Gardner when Abin Sur sent it out to find a replacement.

WG – Yeah, and I was waiting for that too! But think of it, if Parallax was attacking an Earth that Superman was on, he’d be the one to take care of it. No cameos either, but that kind of made sense. John Broome and Gil Kane, the creators of this version of the character, are dead. Geoff Johns would be self-serving.

RD – I think that the only bit of fan service was Carol’s callsign of “Sapphire,” a nod to the character becoming the villain Star Sapphire later in the comics. Getting back to the script problems, I was surprised that we didn’t see Hal’s family again after that one scene.

WG – They served their purpose. They told the audience that Hal was trying too hard to be his dad (and set up the Hot Wheels track for use as a construct). After that, they weren’t needed. However, that bit of info would have been better if they had a longer scene with Hal and his dad that showed us that.

RD – But I think that showing the family in the third act would have given Hal a greater personal stake in his final conflict with Parallax. Besides, I think it’s bad scripting to introduce something like his family in the first act and not have them be part of a payoff in the third.

WG – Definitely. On a quasi-related minor note, that shot of the school bus full of kids at the climax in the line of Parallax’s attack is a sign of an ugly trend in films like this. Maybe this is just my being a parent talking but it seems whenever they want to sell the villain as a threat, they put kids in the line of fire. It’s cheap, manipulative and bad story telling.

RD – I’ll agree, but that can be traced back to Superman saving the bus load of kids on the Golden Gate Bridge in Superman: The Movie. (Side note – DC Entertainment’s Geoff Johns, who oversaw this film started off as a personal assistant to Superman: The Movie’s director Richard Donner.)

WG – But it’s been done more often in more blatant ways. There was no need for the bus to be there other than to put the kids in peril. Because, unlike Superman, Green Lantern wasn’t able to save everybody.

RD – I actually thought that how they showed Parallax “eat fear”/kill his victims was a bit on the strong side for a PG rated movie.

WG – That’s more on the MPAA than anyone else. You know how arbitrary they can be. Maybe they thought that because most of the victims were aliens it wouldn’t be that bad.

RD – Are you saying that the ratings board is racist towards non-human intelligence life forms?

WG – Hah! Yes. That’s exactly what I’m saying. Now a question for you – Do you think the filmmakers went into this trying to make a great film or just not to screw things up?

RD – I don’t think anyone spending close to $200 million on a movie starts out with any other intention than to make a great movie. However, I think that in everybody’s mind was the specter of the Catwoman movie and more recently the fan reaction to the briefly mooted Green Lantern film that would have starred Jack Black and have been written y Robert Smiegel. Combine that with the studio’s need to launch a franchise to replace the Harry Potter income streams and it very quickly can become a case of “Don’t screw this up.”

But I’m wondering two things – 1) Did they pick too ambitious a hero to start a DC Comics film franchise with and 2) Are they trying to follow the Marvel Studio model too closely and will that prove a detriment? OK, that was three things.

WG – Don’t forget that Jonah Hex, a film with studio involvement that ruined it, was even fresher. This goes to answer #2, since the heavy hand of the studio changing the film to what they think audiences wasn’t didn’t work, following Marvel’s lead was a smart way to go. And answering #1, I belive that Green Lantern was an ideal choice to make a movie – if they made it correctly. A big part of the concept that was missing was the awe and grandeur aspect. This might be where following Marvel’s lead was bad. Marvel’s films lend themselves to be more grounded. DC’s comics are more about being mythic and bigger than life in nature. When you lead character is so blasé about meeting different alien races and travelling to alien planets, it ruins the awe aspect.

RD – true, there was no real feeling of awe. Hal seemed pretty nonchalant with the whole going to a different planet thing. But I was thinking of Marvel’s Kevin Feige and his philosophy of only asking the audience to accept one fantastic concept per film, i.e., a man can build a flying suit of armor. As much as I like the character of Green Lantern and its mythos, I’m wondering if perhaps they should have started with someone not quite so complicated, perhaps the Flash or Green Arrow, both of whom are currently being developed for their own films.

WG – Well, if not being complicated was the idea, Thor would not have been made. Asgardian gods, frost giants, evil half-brothers, hammers that control the weather is not all the much less complicated than space cops, evil forces, corrupted humans and wish granting rings. So I don’t think that Green Lantern being too complicated played a role.

RD – But with Thor, audiences had three movies to acclimate themselves to Marvel’s cinematic world. Green Lantern is a bit of a plunge into the deep end.

WG – Not really. Outside of SHIELD, there was nothing to really set up anything in Thor. It’s a big leap to go from altered humans and technological geniuses to a thunder god. Thor was different enough from what came before that it was still a struggle to overcome.

RD – Well, I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on this point.

WG – Yes, you ignorant slut.

RD – Hah! So any final thoughts?

WG – I know that I probably came out sounding like I absolutely HATED Green Lantern. I thought there was a lot of good there too. But the film should have been a slam dunk. And it wasn’t because of some bad choices. That’s frustrating.

RD – Well, all I’m hoping is that if Warners goes ahead with a sequel (and since I have trouble seeing them hit $150 million, let alone $200 million I doubt that they eventually will), I hope that they concentrate more on the story and remember the human element in the grand scheme of things.

WG – Ditto!

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