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Spider-Man, Star Wars and the Power of Myth 529

Spider-Man shocked analysts and critics last week, racking up a record-breaking $114 million opening weekend for Sam Raimi's warm-hearted adaptation about the web-slinging arachnoid-nerd from Queens who gets the bad guy but really wants the girl. Spider-Man embodies the simplest, most elemental tenets of myth, especially when compared to the increasingly elephantine Skywalker saga, which seems more like a graduate program than a story each time there's a new movie. I'll bet Peter Parker's adventure surpasses the upcoming opening weekend of Attack of the Clones and teaches George Lucas something about the power and nature of myth.

Like Star Wars, Spider-Man has the classic elements of a successful myth. A typically American story, it's less pretentious and hyped than Star Wars and more accessible to kids and die-hard comic book buffs, who remember the great, golden age of Marvel Comics. I'm one of them, I was there.

The old form still has legs. One film analysts told the Wall Street Journal last week that with the success of Spider-Man, the blockbuster bar has been raised. In fact, he said, this movie has changed Hollywood's perception of what a blockbuster is. That makes it interesting for George Lucas, next up at your local megaplex.

It's tough to explain, in the age of cable, gaming, the Net and the Web, just how central comics were for years to a culture of brainy, nerdy, alienated pre-Net teenage boys. Now, hostile jerks can flame people on the Net. Before, they could only read sci-fi books, build model planes and erector sets, but mostly, feast on comics and dream of becoming more powerful.

In the 21st century, they can download, program and game, but in the 50s and 60s, comic books and rock-and-roll were prominent among the few accessible forms of popular culture for individualists with brain cells, a cheap, simple pleasure that cost a dime, then a quarter. How shockingly primitive when compared to the world of the computer nerd or hacker.

Mainstream culture was dull, religiously appropriate and homogenized. Comic books and rock music were rebellious, subversive and naturally came under murderous fire from parents, teachers and politicians.

Before, they could only read comics and fantasize about becoming more powerful. Elaborate ratings systems and restrictive codes eventually suffocated the comics' angry, biting spirit and made them as bland as network TV -- a cultural loss and free-speech outrage heading soon to a computer near you -- but not before Marvel and other comic creators cranked out some classic yarns, from Spider-Man and Batman to the X-Men and other superheroic tales.

What makes these stories so popular and enduring? Perhaps because they all embody certain themes. There's the split-personality hero, usually a nerd who acquires great powers but at enormous cost, who always gets something and loses something. He gets to zip along past New York City skyscrapers, for instance, but we know he isn't likely to end up with the girl. Or, he lives in a mansion and drives a Batmobile, but he's depressed and lonely. Or he's a mutant wolverine with fingers of steel who can't ever have a casual beer with his pals.

He cherishes his powers, but we know he can't ever be comfortable with his life. Robert Kane's early Batman: The Dark Knight was disturbingly dark and angry before the moralists turned comic books to bland mush. Few people remember that Kane ended his first Batman series with our hero giving up on life and essentially committing suicide by turning himself into the famed Arkham Asylum, where villains from the Joker to the Riddler were being held.

Stories like Spider-Man and Batman also have a uniquely American and, until September 11, old-fashioned sense of civics. Spider-man's motto is "With great power comes great responsibility, " a bizarre notion even to hackers. Wouldn't that have seemed clunky before the terrorist attacks? Now it has a certain resonance.

Batman's Bruce Wayne, along with the Superhero stars and any number of X-Men, never shirk their duty to the public, even though the fickle populace is sure, at some point, to turn on them. No matter how tempted, they are, they do what they're supposed to do.

The late teacher and mythologist Joseph Campbell wrote that myth was still one of the powerful forces in the world. The origins and power of myth are still central, from the comic book lover to the hacker. The success of revived yarns like Stan Lee's Spider-Man, while they rarely seem to take themselves as seriously as their fans take them, is amazing, and proves his point. We seem to constantly be turning backwards to myths for inspiration and entertainment, while we are busy making the myths of tomorrow but don't really know which ones will take.

The Spider-Man story is pretty basic, especially when compared to the lumbering twists and turns of Star Wars: wimpy outer-borough kid contracts enormous powers, learns to use them wisely and well, faces terrible danger, sacrifices much.

Peter Parker isn't as deep as the Skywalker brothers and Uncle Ben is no Obi-Wan. But as the box office receipts demonstrate, the writers at Marvel comics have held their own when it comes to myth-making. Sometimes, simpler is better.

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Spider-Man, Star Wars and the Power of Myth

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  • Huh? (Score:3, Informative)

    by kob43 ( 513124 ) on Friday May 10, 2002 @12:04PM (#3497236) Homepage
    "more accessible to kids"

    Isn't it rated PG-13 vs. Star Wars' PG ratings?
    • Re:Huh? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Darth ( 29071 )
      more accessible meaning that it will resonate more with them. The kids will identify more with Spider-Man and feel closer to the story. The comment has nothing to do with ratings or the ability to get into the theatre.

    • A different use of the word 'accessible' here. I think what he's driving at is that kids can *understand* where Spidey is coming from and can empathise with his situation better than they can the characters of Star Wars.
    • The PG-13 rating was first used for the movie Red Dawn in 1984.

      Star Wars likely would have recieved a pg-13 rating if it were made later, due to the violence.
  • by Xpilot ( 117961 ) on Friday May 10, 2002 @12:05PM (#3497243) Homepage
    Skywalker had a brother? Which Skywalker? Not Luke (maybe Jon Katz has the Really Special Edition, who knows). I know Anakin doesn't have a brother... hmmm... another Katz mix up?

  • What about Steve Ditko?
  • What makes (Score:2, Insightful)

    by line-bundle ( 235965 )
    JonKatz asks: What makes these stories so popular and enduring?

    The answer is simple: advertising.

    JonKatz, if you looked around you would have seen how much advertising and tie-ins there were to these movies.

    I do not think they in any way qualify as modern myth. Something more likely to have that honour is `Lord of the Rings' (the book, not the movie! I hated the movie).

    • JonKatz, if you looked around you would have seen how much advertising and tie-ins there were to these movies.

      Superman goes back to pre-WW II. Batman and Spider-Man go back decades. (I'm not a comic buff -- if I've got these wrong, someone just say so.) Their original and enduring popularity has nothing to do with fast food tie-ins.

      You may be right about the movies (although the great adavantage about comic/TV/video game based movies is that there's less need for advertising because of the existing fan base and recognition) but the original stories' poularity had little to do with marketing.

      Same with Star Wars, by the way.

    • Nonsense (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mikosullivan ( 320993 ) <.miko. .at. .idocs.com.> on Friday May 10, 2002 @12:26PM (#3497414)
      Yet again somebody assumes that things can only be popular because of advertising, and that if it is advertised it must be bad.

      I went to see Spider-Man because I've loved the character since I was a kid. I've since recommended the movie to anybody who wants to know because I liked it. Yes, Spider-Man was heavily advertised. None of that made any difference to me.

      Obviously advertising can make a big difference in the popularity of a product, but if you would bother to read any Advertising 101 textbook you'll find out that advertising is most effective for differentiating products that have litle difference. That's why there's so much advertising for laundary detergent: they're all the same. Movies may appear to be very different to movie fans, but in terms of consumer perception movies are almost a commodity: they are one of several options for a weekend's entertainment. Lucas could have done no advertising whatsoever for AOTC and all the Star Wars fans would have still showed up with their plastic light sabers, but the general public who simply want to know what to do for a date or some time with the kids would have ignored it.

      (There are also other intentions for advertising besides product differentiation. Insert standard AIDA lecture here.)

      So now I put the question back to you: you've spent your money on products before. Do *you* only buy products because of advertising? If not, whty do you assume everyone else is an advertising drone?

    • That and the deriviative nature that some movie series are starting to aquire. Am I the only one who noticed how much of Ep1 seems like a remake/rip-off of the other prior films?
    • "JonKatz asks: What makes these stories so popular and enduring?
      The answer is simple: advertising."

      I think it is even simpler than that: globalism.
    • Re:What makes (Score:2, Insightful)

      by ywwg ( 20925 )
      right. remember godzilla 98? remember how heavily that was advertised? remember when it BOMBED COMPLETELY?
  • Wrong (Score:5, Informative)

    by stoolpigeon ( 454276 ) <bittercode@gmail> on Friday May 10, 2002 @12:07PM (#3497270) Homepage Journal
    Should have read this [slashdot.org] first. This article should be moderated -1 Flamebait.
    .
  • by Sodium Attack ( 194559 ) on Friday May 10, 2002 @12:08PM (#3497277)
    I'll bet Peter Parker's adventure surpasses the upcoming opening weekend of Attack of the Clones

    That's a bet I'd take.

    • That's a bet I'd take.

      You'd probably lose.

      Spiderman set records for biggest weekend take ever. Also, Ep2 is opening on fewer screens. Also, I think it's safe to say there's much less buzz for Ep2 than Ep1.

      • Yes, but Ep2 is opening on a Thursday, giving its "opening weekend" one more day than Spiderman's.

        I wasn't aware that Spiderman opened on more screens than AOTC will. I have to admit that surprised me.
      • Star Wars also opens a day early though... I seem to remember opening on labor day weekend counting towards a movie's opening gross or something like that. Beats me how this affects things ... it's not like both movies aren't going to make all hell in terms of profit anyway. This is really only a point for fanboy bickering than anything else.
  • by st0rmshad0w ( 412661 ) on Friday May 10, 2002 @12:08PM (#3497279)
    Why is it so essential to try to analyze something that should just be left alone. Let it be what it is, don't try to explain it, compare it, what ever. Those of us who read/saw/etc Spiderman etc and those who didn't really don't need the effort. Its part of your life and it relates to you, or it doesn't, you learn what you can from it, the experience is solely yours. Sheesh.

    Perhaps you can learn a bit from Ben Parker: "With great power comes great responsibility".

    Now how about adapting that to more meaningful journalism, instead of trying to over analyze everything.
    • Actually, I totally disagree with that.

      I've been pondering over the recent success of Spider-Man myself after my review of the movie, and realized that one of the reasons that Spider-Man was so popular was because of the "geek hero" ethos that he personifies.

      There's a certain pull to it. Everyone has felt like an outsider at some point (to greater or lesser degrees), everyone has felt powerful in some area that no one else it - and everyone has felt the tug of conflicting interests.

      Movies like Spider-Man taps into that, and gives it a voice. It shows that sometimes, no matter how cool you are, you'll still be the outsider - and that's OK.

      So I actually enjoyed reading Mr. Katz comments on the movie and the mythos behind it. Good to know I'm not the only person who "gets" the underlying theme of the movie (even if it is pretty campy at times.)
    • Analyzing stories is an old and important tradition. Joseph Campbell didn't survey the mythologies of the world just to make sense of his own personal life. Campbell's publications have had a major effect on many academic fields, as well as having broader implications for religion in society.

      Although you don't wish to put the pieces of this puzzle together, I do. Although I don't necessarily agree with all of Katz's assertions (Skywalker isn't really that complicated, he's just the focus of an ornate version of the death-and-transfiguration hero myth -- compare to Theseus and the Minotaur, esp. w/r/t the Minotaur's conception), I appreciate that Katz is making an effort to figure out the world around us and sharing his work.

      I enjoy the study of humanities, and don't appreciate your comments which suggest we should all just shut-up and avoid discussion of where we are and what we are doing. Since most of life occurs within a social context (even when you're home alone), public discussion of myth, religion, and science has merit as we try to divine truth.

      -Paul Komarek
    • As Freud said: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by glrotate ( 300695 )
      Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
  • I'll bet Peter Parker's adventure surpasses the upcoming opening weekend of Attack of the Clones

    When considering the fact that unless my sources are mistaken Spiderman made MORE money on opening weekend than Episode One (in fact I heard that Spidy set some records) and there is MUCH LESS hype about Episode 2 than Episode One I think that might just be a somewhat safe bet.
  • by mpweasel ( 539631 ) <mprzyjazny@@@gmail...com> on Friday May 10, 2002 @12:09PM (#3497288) Homepage

    Salon [salon.com] had an interesting editorial presenting
    a different perspective, suggesting that Star Wars had
    its roots in sci fi fiction rather than grand myths.
    Check it out, it's a worthwhile read.

    -- Martini
    • That article was a LONG overdue slap in the face of people like Katz who think that for every concept, there exists a horribly confounded background story.

      It is SO GOD DAMN OBVIOUS that the Star Wars films were based on pulp sci-fi writings that it hurts my head every time someone (Katz) tries to aggrandize the entire meaning of the film. IT'S FUCKING ENTERTAINMENT, KATZ - NOT A DISCOURSE ON THE MEANING OF LIFE. Why must their be a "deeper meaning" to the films? What drives idiots like Katz to search for it? What's the FUCKING POINT?

      So what if some idiot (probably katz) put the idea into Lucas' head, only to watch him run with it? That doesn't make it true. I mean, seriously...the type of movies that are rehashes of classical mythology usually end up like O Brother Where Art Thou [imdb.com] - grossly misunderstood by the masses, but generally liked by those with enough scruples to find out what the film is actually about. Star Wars had far too much mass appeal, and a plot that was far more generalized.

      Overall, the only argument i've seen in favor of the Star Wars/Campbell relationship is that they both deal with "the eternal struggle between good and evil". Name two movies that DON'T deal with that struggle, and maybe I'll believe you, Katz.
      • Actually, Lucas has implied that Star Wars was based on Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress as well as eastern mysticism. Don't forget that he was a film student, and as such was exposed to a lot of film theory, literature, etc.

        It seems to me that every great story has "deeper meaning", whether you like it or not, because it reaches for the "universal", that which is shared by all of us. In the best SW film to date, Empire Strikes Back, that deeper meaning was that each holds the seed to evil within itself, and that greed, ambition, wrath and general egotistical behavior lead the way to the dark side. That's actually very close to a buddhist viewpoint, and I wouldn't be surprised if Lucas consciously put that in - not to mention the fact that "the Force" as described by Yoda (the archetype of the old eastern sage) is strikingly similar to the Tao as described by Chuang Tzu.

        I don't understand your hostility. The fact that there is some deeper meaning, one which has already been covered in ancient myths (they nearly all have!) to a work of art does not take away from it's entertainment value. I personally thing it adds to it, even when the filmmaker isn't consciously aware of its presence.
        • Lucas "implied" those things, as well as the Joseph Campbell references, after overzealous reporters and critics brought up the similarities for him. Lucas just ran with the ideas to make himself look - i don't know - smarter or cooler or deeper or something. He didn't intentionally add any of those ideas to his work. Want proof? Watch ANY of his other films. American Graffiti - where's the eastern philosophy in that one? THX-1182 (or whatever it was called) - a hack-job ripoff of 1984, with very few original ideas.
          br
          Let's face it...Lucas is not the creative genius that some people want to think he is...he's a good director, and he can tell a story. Unfortunately, it's not really a very original or deep story - but it's entertaining nonetheless.
          • Well, I certainly don't think he is...see this comment [slashdot.org] for proof. However, one does not need to consciously put deeper meaning into a movie - including references to classical work. I think these can work their way in by themselves; it's part of the creative process. IIRC, American Graffiti is a "coming of age" story...I'm sure you could find parallel with other such stories. As far as THX 1138 is concerned, it is more about the dehumanization of our society - a modern myth, but a myth nonetheless - than the way propaganda shapes our world (however dehumanizing that can be), which was the essential message of 1984.

            To me, Empire was an appropriately "deep" story...it just so happens that it's also the best of the original 3 SW films.
      • "...for every concept, there exists a horribly confounded background story..." That attitude is all over pseudo-intellectual discussion of almost everything. I decided it was crap once and for all in my fiction and poetry classes in college. Most of them were done workshop style with the group discussing your work. You weren't allowed to comment on it as they discussed: just take notes. It was unbelievable the amount of sheer BS that those groups read into my work (and everyone else's as well). Those subtexts may have been there, but I sure didn't intentionally put them in.
  • by RampagingSimian ( 449870 ) on Friday May 10, 2002 @12:11PM (#3497298) Homepage
    ... but in him, Slashdot has a Grade A troll :).

    A quick glance over his last 20 stories [slashdot.org] show an avergae of 370 comments per story, his top three garnering 1021, 713 and 633. This man walks right behind the fury of the anti-MS brigade.

    Strange thing is, Katz is universally (face it, Slashdot is our universe) abhorred, belittled and flamed week after week, yet remains gainfully(?) employed by Slashdot, and continues to pull in the page views.

    In summation, the perfect troll. ;)

  • Batman is DC (Score:2, Informative)

    by Sajma ( 78337 )
    Batman is a DC Comic, not Marvel.

    Marvel: X-Men, Spiderman, Hulk
    DC: Batman, Superman, Justice League
  • Almost a given (Score:5, Insightful)

    by artemis67 ( 93453 ) on Friday May 10, 2002 @12:11PM (#3497307)
    ...that Spider-Man will have a significantly larger opening weekend than AOTC, because AOTC is opening on far fewer screens. The only valid comparison will be what their total gross is once they've had their runs.

    Incidentally, there is concern in the press that Spider-Man may peak too early because it opened on so many screens; however, I'm sure it was intentional, as they knew they had to make as much money as possible in the two weeks before AOTC opened.
    • True enough, but even then that still isn't an accurate measure of things.

      The stats in question only account for theatre box office monies, nothing about rentals, purchases, or how many individual people have actually SEEN the film. Which is the only true measure of success I'd imagine.

      And fewer screens for EP2 means a higher density of idiots. Blah. (Disclaimer: I DID camp out for the re-issues of 4-6 and for Ep1 so I have first hand knowledge of the crowds =P)
      • (Disclaimer: I DID camp out for the re-issues of 4-6 and for Ep1 so I have first hand knowledge of the crowds =P)

        What's that smell? ....Oh, ok, just karma burning.

        Huh, I would've figured it as a mass of geeks camping out for Star Wars tickets.
    • Re:Almost a given (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Chonguey ( 567386 )
      I really have to laugh at people who interpret a three day record breaking box office total as proof that Spider-Man is one the best movies ever made. Just look at the previos record holder: Harry Potter. While I personally enjoyed it a lot, I held no delisions that it was a classic / great / timeless movie. While $114 million dollars (or any box office record) is impressive by any means, arguing that such success is based soley on the underlying mythology / values / "our desperate-attempt-to-regain-pre-9/11-innocence" or whatever is just stupid. Take a look at the top grossing movies of all time. Most of them are mindless popcorn flicks. That's why when "serious" movie reviewers' (and editorial writters like JonKatz') opinions don't sway people one way or another in convincing or detering them from watching movies, they feel the need to write these boring expositions and psycologically analyze the American public as to why we all went and saw a movie that they may or may not have given a good review to. No one seems to be able to live with the fact that Spider-man's success was probably due to the $50 and it just being a cool movie. Determining a movie's quality based soley on it's money making power is just sick. That means we would have to admit that Home Alone is one of the greatest movies ever made... And I don't think any of us would want t o do that.
  • As I begun to read it:

    "Oh great, another JonKatz rant..."

    After the first paragraph or two though, I began to think:

    "Hm, maybe Jon gets a bad rap too much, this actually makes a bit of sense."

    Then he started tying in the net and how script kiddies are today's version of comic book readers:

    "Well, he started off well, this is kind of a little out-there, but I'll cut him some slack."

    Then he starts talking about the post-9/11 meaning of sci-fi:

    "Forget it, this guys a twit. I shouldn't have even started reading it."

    Moral of the story: Jon can write pretty well if he wants to. Not everything has to deal with 9/11 though or about the alienation of nerds and geeks.
    • Not everything has to deal with 9/11 though or about the alienation of nerds and geeks.

      He writes about Columbine too! Well, ok that is covered by the alienation thing but it IS a different event ;-)
    • Katz can't write well or, if he can, he chooses not to in all of his writings that I've read. I'll grant you that he has a certain knack for artistically wrapping words up in today's style and making his writing and the events that he writes about sound more profound than they are really. However, the mark of a good writer is to communicate well and to shed some light on a subject. Katz fails miserably on both counts. His thoughts are clouded. His premises are often, undeniably, incorrect. His conclusions are often wrong, misguided, or completely unclear. Katz can't communicate anything clearly, never mind persuade. Jon's writing lacks any significant insight on anything. What's more, besides just being a hack, he's insincere. He is constantly jumping from bandwagon to bandwagon and cloaking his words in that certain vagueness to cater to his audiences' fickle cause du jour. I, for one, can't respect Katz.
  • It only took 1 week for the Katz analysis. I should have known that Cmdr Taco's review would not be the final word.

    We all hoped too soon.

  • How about the (soon to be movie) Hulk? He always seemed to be the prototypical super hero for stereotypical pimplyfaced teens. The Hulk was someone that kids could easily relate to as he centered around the base emotion of anger. Everyone knows anger.
  • " I'll bet Peter Parker's adventure surpasses the upcoming opening weekend of Attack of the Clones and teaches George Lucas something about the power and nature of myth. "

    Can you moderate a post as Flamebait?

    Tell me that throwing this into a nerd discussion isn't like throwing raw steak into a den of hungry lions

  • I was reading the summary and noted that the use of "elephantine" sounded both odd for a Katz article and strangely familiar.

    From the New York Times review:

    ---
    Like weary Brezhnev-era Muscovites, the American moviegoing public will line up out of habit and compulsion, ruefully hoping that this episode will at least be a little better than the last one, and perhaps inwardly suspecting that the whole elephantine system is rotten.
    ---

    Very interesting..
  • I wouldn't, If anything I think Spider-Man gave a taste of what we the-line-standing-masses will experience when AOTC comes out. Star Wars has a built in audience, cultivated over decades, though slightly burned by Jar Jar, most likely very forgiving. Word that this Episode will set all things right has got around and I'll probably see 3 screens of it at the local 9-plex and still all shows sold out for the first few days (particularly because they've been selling advance tickets!)

    Spider-man's springboard was an comic which has it's glory days in the past (comic sales are lower than decades past, probably due to computers, video games, etc.) and an incredibly inane and plodding newspaper strip. That it's done so well most likely speaks volumes (largely ignored in Hollywood) at the value of producing family entertainment. I'm old enough to remember when 'R' rated films only came through town once in a while, now they're usually 50% of what's showing, if not more. Even PG-13 stuff can be pretty awful, so when the old web slinger hit the screens it was a safe bet that kids would be there, most of the viewers in the lines I saw were of the ankle-biter variety. Lasting power, of course remains to be seen.

    • though slightly burned by Jar Jar, most likely very forgiving.

      I felt major burn from Jar Jar, and the rest of the movie. That movie was crap. I was a huge Star Wars fan until EP1. I'm less of a fan now. I just turned down midnight tickets, but I will see it in the theaters, just not for a few weeks.
  • by miracle69 ( 34841 ) on Friday May 10, 2002 @12:19PM (#3497362)
    Or he's a mutant wolverine with fingers of steel who can't ever have a casual beer with his pals.

    Obviously, you're talking out of your ass again. Wolvie has adamantium claws and frequents bars quite often, usually enjoying a brewsky or two. Hell, he's Canadian and if you don't drink at least two beers a day, they'll deport your ass faster than you can say "Hockey Night in Canada".

    Nothing to see here, move along.
  • Here are some of the themes:

    Sexual jealousy
    Murder
    Envy
    Revenge
    Paranoia
    Dominat ion
    Repressed Homoeroticism
    Oedipus complex

    Rock On !!
  • Now, hostile jerks can flame people on the Net.

    Oh please! Like you have any experience with that!

    And I am not sure what people are talking about on the marketing stuff. I tried to get Voice Stream first because I think Jamie Lee Curtis is HOT! She turned me down, so I have Cingular on the VisorPhone now. Just check my journal [slashdot.org].
  • Campbell is a dead-white-guy (even while living) who saw everything in terms of other dead-white-guy stories. He attempted to shoe-horn other cultures and their stories into Western style myths, and then pointed out how clever he was.

    Anybody why even glibpses a page of Mr. Campbell's PBS-style writings starts seening everything in tems of myth. "The milk being poured into my fruit-loops is like the story of the Hero's of Yore who travel on an Adventure, only to come back to a decimated homeland"

    The guy had a cerain nack of getting grants to do his "craft", I'll give him that, but his readers rank up there with readers of and Ayn Rand and Chompsky, they start to see everything in terms of their favorite new book.

  • Why not just say "arachnerd"?
  • To me it doesn't make much sense to compare these two movies nor do I think there's anything to be gained from insinuating George Lucas needs to learn something from Spider-Man.

    First, they are two separate genres. Sam Raimi needed to live up to the expectations set by the comic book. George Lucas needs to live up to his previous films. Lucas has to create the material where Raimi needs more to interpret. Lucas doesn't always succeed at not ripping off others but still, he has to create his material. This doesn't lessen Raimi's work--in many ways it is more difficult to interpret.

    Second, film is art. Art shouldn't be derivative of what is "hot" at the box office. If Star Wars was derivative of what was being shown at the time we'd have a much different film. If anything, Lucas should *ignore* other films and get back to making a story that interests him. Star Wars interested him--Episode I sought to provide something for everyone else.

    I have to disagree, as always, with Katz. Lucas needs to look inward and not to Campbell, Raimi, or even Stan Lee for help with his picture.

  • HE DID IT (Score:5, Funny)

    by newt_sd ( 443682 ) on Friday May 10, 2002 @12:27PM (#3497423) Homepage
    He managed to squeeze a reference to 9-11 in a freakin cartoon review. I love it. I had no idea the world was as deep and mysterious until Mr. Katz started writing. I think I will go buy his book on dogs to see if I am missing something there too.
    • He managed to squeeze a reference to 9-11 in a freakin cartoon review. I love it. I had no idea the world was as deep and mysterious until Mr. Katz started writing. I think I will go buy his book on dogs to see if I am missing something there too.

      The book is A Dog Year [amazon.com], about his experiences with 4 dogs. My wife is currently reading it, and I haven't asked her much about it, but every once in a while she laughs a lot, and every once in a while she gets very angry.

      My wife volunteers for the SPCA, and we're both really pro-adoption and pro-mutt. Katz isn't - he likes breeds (and believes that a dog's personality is mostly determined by breed), and he likes puppies, and he thinks rescuing dogs is a fad (and possibly a bad idea, because of the dog's emotional baggage). He also believes in putting a dog down when it has a major health complication (he puts down one lab for heart problems, the other for cancer). These differences in opinion are the source of much of the anger.

      His style seems to be the "personal journalism" that we all love - relating all the experiences without much censorship. For instance, he says that he bought a puppy from the mall, then admits that it is a lousy idea to do so (the dog dies young). He admits how frustrating dogs can be, and how tempting it is to hit them when they are being frustrating. He also admits throwing a ball into a flooding river, causing his dog to go in after it and get washed down the river. He jumps in to save the dog, then gets trapped himself, and his other dog has to save the two of them.

      Again, I can't recommend it, because I haven't read it. My wife thinks she may be able to recommend it, but not to SPCA types. If you want a book for SPCA types, an excellent one is Lost and Found [amazon.com]. The author, Elizabeth Hess, is also a journalist, and spends some time in an animal shelter. It hits all the interesting points, from euthenasia to puppy mills to the truth behind those AKC papers. I strongly recommend it to anyone who enjoys pets, especially if you are thinking of getting a new one.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 10, 2002 @12:30PM (#3497451)
    In 1939, Gone With the Wind grossed a total of about $192 million ..adjusted for inflaction, it made about $2.3 BILLION DOLLARS.

    In 1997, Titanic grossed about $600 million...adjusted for inflation...$0.6 BILLION.

    So..Gone With the Wind made 3.83 TIMES AS MUCH as Titanic...

    You wonder why they don't do things in terms of tickets sold don't you? They just keep increasing the price of movies so they can say last year's movie beat the year before's.

    And yes, I do realize that these aren't opening week ticket sales; they are the total income for the movies.

    I used this: Site [acusd.edu] (http://history.acusd.edu/gen/filmnotes/costs-movi es.html) for my info.

    ...sigh...you'd expect the Slashdot crowd to realize this...but since we're talking about Katz...I guess it slides.
    • by clontzman ( 325677 ) on Friday May 10, 2002 @04:54PM (#3499273) Homepage
      Great god, man... GWTW's been out for more than 60 years! Titanic has been out for less than six! Plus, GWTW's grosses were propped up by the fact that subsequent viewings were always theatrical, while Titanic was on home video within 18 months or so.

      I'm not saying GWTW wasn't a colossal blockbuster or that it's not, ultimately, the movie that's sold the most tickets over time, but the comparison is kinda ridiculous when you look at it the way you did.
  • by EllisDees ( 268037 ) on Friday May 10, 2002 @12:30PM (#3497455)
    ...committing suicide by turning himself into the famed Arkham Asylum

    I knew Batman was powerful, but I had no idea that he could transmute into works of architecture!
  • What? Shocked who?! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TheGeneration ( 228855 ) on Friday May 10, 2002 @12:31PM (#3497463) Journal
    This film didn't shock anybody. The critics pretty much universly loved the film. JonKatz should do just a tad more research before he bases an entire article off of a preposterous claim.

    If you just go to RottenTomatoes.com which compiles move reviews into one big list and takes the ratio of good to bad you'd know that SpiderMan got an unusually high 84% positive reviews. Check out the reviews [rottentomatoes.com]

    Offtopic: also check out the review [rottentomatoes.com] for one of the worst movies of all time: Battlefield Earth. Some of the reviews are so funny it nearly makes me want to cry.
  • "Elephantine" (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Hampo ( 576776 )

    John Katz, couldn't you have looked past the first goddamn paragraph of the NYTimes review [nytimes.com] of AOC to find some catchy word to snip? I mean, my God, the NYT review was announced on slashdot [slashdot.org] today?

    ...the American moviegoing public will line up out of habit and compulsion, ruefully hoping that this episode will at least be a little better than the last one, and perhaps inwardly suspecting that the whole elephantine system is rotten.

    So, /. readers, from which articles did JK cut and paste to get his Spidey-man ideas?

  • Comic books by design are meant to have simple plots loaded with action. Star Wars on the other hand is a whole entire Universe filled with the complexities of real life in a distant fabled future. I'm nost so sure you can compare the two in any aspect. Just my $.02 :)
  • I couldn't help but notice that Mr. Katz is not using his original thoughts, but plagirizing from an article posted here on /. earlier today.

    Mr. Katz's quote:
    most elemental tenets of myth, especially when compared to the increasingly elephantine Skywalker saga,

    Quote from NY Times article, posted here [nytimes.com]:
    and perhaps inwardly suspecting that the whole elephantine system is rotten.

    Geez, stop stealing others' stuff and get an original thought, will ya?

  • Bullshit (Score:3, Flamebait)

    by NineNine ( 235196 ) on Friday May 10, 2002 @12:41PM (#3497537)
    Good try Katz, but you're full of hot air.
    Spiderman will do better because it'll be a better movie. Episode I was so bad, people don't want to be tortured again. It's that fucking simple.

    And this is coming from a guy with an Empire poster hanging on his wall signed by George Lucas, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford.
    • Let me know if you ever become disillusioned with the whole franchise. I'll be happy to take that poster off your hands.
      • I'm just ready to completely disavow the newest three. The first three were still some of the best movies ever (with Empire being the best, of course). As far as the poster... it's a family heirloom, now. :)
  • Elements of Myth (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Everach ( 559166 )

    John Katz:Like Star Wars, Spider-Man has the classic elements of a successful myth.

    Did I miss the part where he listed these classic elements?

    John Katz:The old form still has legs.

    Again. What form.

    John Katz:Before, they could only read comics and fantasize about becoming more powerful.

    Who is they? If your talking about the huddled masses of geekness, then I'd like to know under what pretensive storm of insight that we have become more powerful.

    John Katz:Or he's a mutant wolverine with fingers of steel who can't ever have a casual beer with his pals.

    Do you even read Marvel comics? I'm going to assume you mean wolverine. Who, BTW, is not a mutant wolverine, but a mutant human named wolverine. And his claws are retractable. Of course he can drink beer with his friends. Of course a long time reader such as yourself should be able to count the number of times on one hand that we've seen Wolverine drink beer. He smokes cigars and drinks the occassional hard liquor. My guess is Canadian whiskey. You do know he's from Canada, right?

    John Katz:Stories like Spider-Man and Batman also have a uniquely American and, until September 11, old-fashioned sense of civics.

    Huh?

    John Katz:We seem to constantly be turning backwards to myths for inspiration and entertainment, while we are busy making the myths of tomorrow but don't really know which ones will take.

    Again, could you please explain what Myths you are talking about. You mean mythology like Greek, Norse and biblical tales? Please show me where in the bible I can find a masked superhero with arachnid powers.

  • Check out some of the works of CS Lewis for some amazing insight on myth. He understood how myth fits into reality better than anyone else I've ever heard. I can't find any direct references right now, but he has a number of essays on the topic.
  • the web-slinging arachnoid-nerd from Queens

    I thought Spiderman lived in Chelsea. Please correct me if I am wrong. My whole world is warped.
  • The below post was Necromancer's, but it is extremely important to point out this illegal act of Katz's:


    I couldn't help but notice that Mr. Katz is not using his original thoughts, but plagirizing from an article posted here on /. earlier today.

    Mr. Katz's quote:
    most elemental tenets of myth, especially when compared to the increasingly elephantine Skywalker saga,

    Quote from NY Times article, posted here [nytimes.com] [nytimes.com]:
    and perhaps inwardly suspecting that the whole elephantine system is rotten.

    Geez, stop stealing others' stuff and get an original thought, will ya?

    Attention all planets of the Solar Federation! We have assumed control! - Neil Peart
  • It's tough to explain, in the age of cable, gaming, the Net and the Web, just how central comics were for years to a culture of brainy, nerdy, alienated pre-Net teenage boys.

    Considering your built your quasi-career out of being a nerdy, alienated teenage boy, its startling how little you know about the comics you're writing about. 40 years of spiderman comics are quite a bit deeper than ~8 hours of pulp sci-fi.

    I can give many examples, but hey, you haven't known what the hell you're talking about before, why try to correct you now? Just compare screenplays and start babbling.

    Oh, and Jon, you're not going to get bit by a radioactive spider, and you're not going to test positive for midocholrians. The high school bullies will always be able to kick your ass, and you'll always be powerless to stop them. Sleep tight.

  • This guy... JK must be a pseudonym for someone else, somebody must be writing and then throwing the JK by-line on the article... I say this because there is no way that a rational human can be this far out-of-touch with his subject. A quick scan of the postings here will show the general wrath JK incites (thank God there are no public appearances scheduled for this guy); I would have to agree with the majority of them - JK doesn't have a clue as to what he is writing about.... I don't think JK is a real person, just an Anonymous Coward's screen name.
  • The Spider-Man story is pretty basic, especially when compared to the lumbering twists and turns of Star Wars: wimpy outer-borough kid contracts enormous powers, learns to use them wisely and well, faces terrible danger, sacrifices much.

    Actually this is the Star Wars story as well. First trilogy: Anakin contract enormous powers (the Force), learns to use them, succumbs to evil. Second trilogy: Luke contracts enormous powers (the Force), learns to use them wisely and well, faces terrible danger, and redeems his father.

    Of course there's some other themes, like man vs. technology, but I'd say the main theme of Star Wars is similar to the main theme of Spider-Man. Spider-Man and Star Wars were inspired by similar source materials as well: a comic book for the former, matinee serials for the latter.
  • The Comics' Code (Score:5, Informative)

    by freeweed ( 309734 ) on Friday May 10, 2002 @01:12PM (#3497746)
    For once, a semi-decent read from Mr. Katz.. right up to this point:

    Elaborate ratings systems and restrictive codes eventually suffocated the comics' angry, biting spirit and made them as bland as network TV -- a cultural loss and free-speech outrage heading soon to a computer near you -- but not before Marvel and other comic creators cranked out some classic yarns, from Spider-Man and Batman to the X-Men and other superheroic tales

    For the record, the only real 'restrictive' code that comics have ever had was implemented in the 1950's, known as the Comics' Code Authority. This was a voluntary system, similar to modern movie ratings in the US today. It was brought in for the same reasons - the government was ready, willing, and able to deal with the issue itself, and the industry stepped up to the plate first.

    Spider-Man and the X-Men weren't even a glimmer in Lee/Ditko/Kirby's collective eyes when the Code was introduced; what Katz is talking about here is beyond me. The bulk of early Marvel comics, well into the 1980's if not further, were highly sanatized due to the Code. Yes, they had some revolutionary stories, but they were 100% in compliance with the Code (or they wouldn't have gotten any decent distribution).

    The only mainsteam comic to not abide by the Code until rather recently was, oddly enough, Spider-Man. Marvel did a 2 issue storyline involving drug use in the 70's - considered quite controversial at the time, and would never have passed the Code's strict standards. Marvel took a risk and released the issues without the Code approval on them. After that, it wasn't until the 80's at least, and moreso the 90's, before we really saw any comics without the Code prominent on their covers.

    Now, the Code itself has changed radically over the years, and a lot of things in your average 'tame' comic these days would have been strictly forbidden in the 60's... but regardless, saying that Spider-Man and the X-Men did ANYTHING before the Code is not only false, it does a disservice to the original creators. Marvel in the early 60's managed to put out some amazing ideas, all while toeing the line nicely with the Comics' Code.
  • ... is NOT part of a weekend! Thus, all the fanboys that are going out to see Star Wars in the first one or two days are actually hurting the 'opening weekend' total... So no shit that the opening weekend will be less.

  • hmmm, the real spiderman story seems anything but simple. Having the love of your life kidnapped by a crazy billionaire, and then by his son (a former good friend).
    Getting a super alien bio-suit, only to find out that it's eating you alive (well kinda) and then to have it show up on your ol' pal eddy brock turning him into your worst nightmare.
    Having all sorts of crazy mutations and trying to work as a photographer for a guy who hates your guts.
    Sure maybe if you just read one issue, it doesn't have all the crazy plot twists. But if you look over the whole spiderman story (as you should with the Star Wars story) it is filled with many suprises and lots of other funky stuff.
    They're just two different genre's. Star Wars wouldn't do well as a comic book (which is why it sells as novel's) and spidey is great as a comic, but wouldn't be as a novel.

  • who remember the great, golden age of Marvel Comics. I'm one of them, I was there

    I don't think you were, the Golden age was way the hell back with World War II. Spiderman, and the rest of the popular Marvel comics of today are from the Silver age, which actually ended with the story that the move was about.

    but not before Marvel and other comic creators cranked out some classic yarns, from Spider-Man and Batman to the X-Men and other superheroic tales.

    The rating system was more to do with the horror comics and crime comics that were coming out at the time, rather than the superhero comics, and the system was put in pretty much in the fifties, during the McCarthy years. I'm not sure, but I think all of the superhero comics from Marvel were CCA approved, with the exception of the "Goblin's Last Stand Issues" around Amazing Spider Man 96-99. But that was because of drug use in the issues.

    Or he's a mutant wolverine with fingers of steel who can't ever have a casual beer with his pals.

    Ahem... claws. Greatest Canadian Superhero of all time, please don't goof him up.

    Enough Comic Book guy stuff...

    Peter Parker isn't as deep as the Skywalker brothers and Uncle Ben is no Obi-Wan. But as the box office receipts demonstrate, the writers at Marvel comics have held their own when it comes to myth-making. Sometimes, simpler is better.

    Huh? A) who are the Skywalker brothers? B) What? Not as deep? Both are as shallow as kiddie pools.. movies made to sell merchandise.. don't get me wrong they're both fun and entertaining movies, but Starwars is based of crappy "Flash" serials from the 40's. It's not very deep. Good is good, evil is evil. And you can tell because the bad guy wears black and the good guy wears white. I understand your point about myth being more easily understood and entertaining, but isn't that obvious? People in general don't like to sit there going, "Huh?" after a movie. In terms of Sci-fi/fantasy movies as an artform there are a number that aren't as commerically successful as Spider-man, or the Starwars franchise, but they are equally as entertaining and slightly more artistic. Just of the top of my head, "Bladerunner" the directors cut is a much better movie than both.. is it as fun, no... but it's a better movie
  • For a couple of decades a loooong time ago, some American comics were subtly subversive. The truly inspiration Krazy Kat springs to mind. Then we had WWII followed by McCarthyism. The genuinely thoughtful comics dissappeared and the vast majority of comics, became revoltingly wholesome and patriotic, even jingoistic.

    Far from being subversive, comics formed one of the most powerful and blatant mechanisms for establishing concensus. Had the government produced a deliberate plan to mould the minds of children so that they would grow into unquestionly patriotic and gung ho cannon fodder in preparation for the next war, I doubt they could have done any better. Try reading mainstream 50s 60s or 70s comics after "sed s/America/Russia/g" and imagine that you were looking at soviet propoganda. You would be horrified by the crudity and bias.

    This changed later on of course, but how you can call the "golden period" of American comics subversive is beyond me.

  • by J23SE ( 107309 )
    ***Stories like Spider-Man and Batman also have a uniquely American and, until September 11, old-fashioned sense of civics. Spider-man's motto is "With great power comes great responsibility, " a bizarre notion even to hackers. Wouldn't that have seemed clunky before the terrorist attacks? Now it has a certain resonance.***

    Please get off of your drama-queenesque high horse. I normally don't have too large a beef against you, but even though relating everything to September 11th may seem like a higher level of thought, it's just unrealistic. Contrary to your beliefs, most people aren't strongly/directly affected by September 11th, and as such don't change their perception of diction in American language in response to the attack. Just because it happened does not mean that it must pervade every aspect of our lives, especially movie-going, and although it may have connections to our perceptions of evil/good, it does not define them. Although this sense of detachment may seem tragic in the wake of so many senseless deaths, it's the realistic state of American society... Weaving allusions to nonexistant connotations that seem complex and relevant is just a cheap way to impress less knowledgable readers... you should be ashamed.
  • wrote off the $114 million of Spider-Man as the American public reaching out for something to do. It had been a while since a good movie had been out and the time was prime. What does this say to the hollywood types who are shaking in their boots and shaking down "online video traders" for cutting into their profits? Basically it says that if you have a good MOVIE or good MUSIC(in the case of the RIAA -- these pieces are interchangable) that people will still spend real green money on your products in record numbers. And then you look like horses asses saying that the Internet "piracy" of media is killing you -- you say that with more money overflowing out of your pockets than ever before. Like Lars did when he came out against Napster -- it's ironic how people don't start "stealing your money" until you have more than you will ever need......When you were eating macaroni and touring in a van for Kill Em All' I bet you did not mind people trading your tapes to get word of mouth......(Much the same way that those suckers trying to get their $2000 film noticed for inclusion into Sundance -- would cream their jeans if they thought 1 million people where sharing their film on the net....But once that same film makes 1 million dollars -- then you better not share it..)

    Greedy Pigs
  • by MrResistor ( 120588 ) <peterahoff.gmail@com> on Friday May 10, 2002 @01:37PM (#3497933) Homepage
    Spider-man plot summary (from Jon Katz):

    wimpy outer-borough kid contracts enormous powers, learns to use them wisely and well, faces terrible danger, sacrifices much.

    Star Wars plot summary (from me):

    wimpy outer-rim kid contracts enormous powers, learns to use them wisely and well, faces terrible danger, sacrifices much. Repeat.

    So, what exactly is so different about the basic plot structures here? Split personality/dark and brooding hero whos powers seperate him from those he wants to be with? Hero doesn't get the girl? Yeah, remember Return of the Jedi? Never shirks on duty to the common good, even though it may cost him everything he holds dear? Yup, got that too. Maybe you mean the Orphan Hero thing... Oh wait, Star Wars has that, too.

    All the myth elements you attribute to Spider-man have already been explored, repeatedly and in greater detail, in the Star Wars series, and Episodes 1-3 are following the same basic lines you've outlined as well, with a few minor twists. If spreading it out over multiple films makes it to hard for you to follow, than you have no business publishing a critical analysis of the subject matter.

    I've never been a Katz basher, but come on! This so called 'comparison' is absurd.

  • Stories like Spider-Man and Batman also have a uniquely American and, until September 11, old-fashioned sense of civics. Spider-man's motto is "With great power comes great responsibility..."

    That's a uniquely American ideal? Hmmm. 'Cause America always [bbc.co.uk] strives [yahoo.com] to be responsible [cnn.com], right?
  • Spider-Man shocked analysts and critics last week, racking up a record-breaking $114 million opening weekend for Sam Raimi's warm-hearted adaptation about the web-slinging arachnoid-nerd from Queens who gets the bad guy but really wants the girl.

    My God, Mr. Katz, you make Spider-Man sound like some indie flick from the early Kevin Smith days instead of a summer blockbuster that Sony Pictures, Inc. spent over $50 million marketing the flick to the masses. How does it surprise anyone other than you that it made $114 million? Here's a surprise prediction for you: Spider-Man, AotC, the Two Towers, and Goldmember are all going to make $200+ million dollars for their studios! Wow. I surprise myself! Maybe I should go into internet journalism and write witty and insightful columns about how everything relates to the Columbine shootings and the alienation of nonconformist high-schoolers... oh, wait. That position's filled.
  • Facile comparison (Score:3, Interesting)

    by anser ( 224618 ) on Friday May 10, 2002 @08:21PM (#3500162) Homepage
    Speaking of bets, I'll bet that when and if the Spider-Man franchise has spun its fifth movie, the franchise will be way more "elephantine" and clueless than STAR WARS is now.

    Although I am disappointed in some of what Lucas has done with his franchise, let credit be given where due: the rarest achievement in cinema is the preplotted multi-part blockbuster film saga. Arguably THE GODFATHER was first, although Coppola could have quit at any time with honors. Most other series make it up as they go along. STAR WARS was the only prewritten SF saga until Peter Jackson came along with his Tolkien trilogy, and even then Jackson had the advantage of shooting everything at once and releasing at leisure.

Never buy what you do not want because it is cheap; it will be dear to you. -- Thomas Jefferson

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