Friday, 7 October 2011

Vindication is hollow indeed

So it turns out that not only is Real Steel getting more than a few great reviews, but Richard Matheson himself liked it.

IGN Movies: What have you seen of Real Steel so far? Have they shown you the entire picture?

Richard Matheson: Yeah, they brought over a copy of the film here. It's a wonderful piece of work. [Director] Shawn Levy did a really outstanding job.

GN: Would you say that you're satisfied with it as an overall adaptation of your story?

Matheson: Yeah. As is the case of I Am Legend, they never followed my stories precisely, but they do a decent job of adaptation. I don't mind that. In this case, they did such a wonderful job. Shawn Levy did such an amazing job. I was very pleased.

IGN: How did you feel about some of the changes made, such as the introduction of the relationship between the father and son? That's not in the other versions.

Matheson: No, that's not in my story at all. My son and I, we've just adapted a novel of mine that came out some years ago called Journal of the Gun Years, and because it was too long, it would make a six-hour film. We had to truncate it, which we did, and it doesn't bother us to do it as long as we hold onto the flavor of the original.

IGN: And you feel that Real Steel captures that essence?

Matheson: Oh, yeah. Yeah.

IGN: I ask because I was curious if you felt concerned that by introducing a father/son relationship it might detract from Hugh Jackman's character's relationship with the robot.

Matheson: No, I believe it was well done. I can't really cavil with it.

Matheson also talks about past adaptations of his work, particularly his long-documented dislike of What Dreams May Come and The Omega Man, as well as discussing the genesis of "Steel."

This is the point where I think "there, now can we PLEASE stop calling this Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots: The Movie, people," but then the horrible truth dawns on me: they will never stop calling this Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots: The Movie.  They won't.

You can talk about Richard Matheson and "Steel" and The Twilight Zone and Science Fiction Grandmaster and The Man Practically Invented The Entire Zombie Apocalypse Genre until you're blue in the face, but you can't.  Because people like to feel intelligent, and the easiest way to fool yourself into feeling intelligent is to ridicule that which you consider stupid.

So we have the situation with Real Steel, where a combination of endemic cynicism and presumption has led to the soul-destroying situation where a genuinely interesting, inventive science fiction story has been actively rejected and dismissed, because people are so used to the lowest common denominator that they automatically assume it to be another entry in the long pantheon of soulless, derivative tripe.  How did it come to this? Everywhere I go, I see constant caterwauling about how Hollywood has finally run out of ideas, how there are more remakes and reboots than original stories, how everything is terrible and everything in the past was wonderful.  Yet when we're finally blessed with a science fiction film that aims to be about exploring humanity, even if it's in a simplistic Rocky-style bonding drama, it's dismissed as Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots: The Movie.

And you know what?  These people don't deserve Real Steel.  If they're just going to brush everything off as a cash-in even when it's actually a pretty cool idea that hasn't been done very often simply because they, in their limited mental capacities, simply cannot imagine that there might be other properties involving robot boxers beyond a 40-year-old toy, then I say, fine.  It's clear that they're actually happier in this state of depression about the current state of Hollywood, since they treat even the fairly original (by Hollywood standards) ideas as being derivative.

Idiot: OMG have you seen that trailer for Real Steel?  LOL, do they think we're stupid?  Hey, if they're going to make movies based on Battleship and Cluedo, why not Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots?
Non-Idiot: Actually, Real Steel is based on a story by Richard Matheson, one of the greatest science fiction authors of the 20th Century, and it came out 10 years beyond
Idiot: Pfft, whatever man, it doesn't matter: the only reason the film got made was because of Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots?
Non-Idiot: Then why isn't it called Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots? Surely Mattel would want to jump on the bandwagon?
Idiot: Well obviously they used up their budget on Hugh Jackman, and couldn't afford the rights to the toy.*
Non-Idiot: If they couldn't afford the rights, then how did they get the money to make the film in the first place?
Idiot: Dude, whatever. Everyone at the bar was laughing at it, Hollywood must be idiots thinking we'd lap up this garbage.  I'mma go watch The Matrix: now THAT'S original!
It's a thin tightrope: "Al, how can you criticize those ridiculing perceived stupidity?  Isn't that what you do when you're on one of your Robert E. Howard Superfan Crusades?"  See, I'd like to think there's a difference between addressing genuine stupidity and ignorance, and automatically assuming stupidity and ignorance without doing even a modicum of research.  Sure, there are plenty of people who thought "Geez, they can't be making a movie this stupid," and go to IMDB, see Richard Matheson's name, and think "Oh, wow, I was totally wrong, this actually looks good."  But let's be frank: what percentage of people are going to do that?  Not nearly enough.  Too many people are going to be content to think it's just Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots: The Movie, and worse, many people would still be in denial, as in my above hyperbolic example.

These are the people who annoy me.  Everyone makes mistakes.  I make mistakes, you make mistakes, it's a part of life.  But when you make mistakes, steel your spine and admit it.  Suck it up.  Whether it's a statement that turns out to be erroneous, or an assertion proven to be fallacious, you don't try and sugar-coat it or dismiss it.  You admit it, and move on.  Nobody likes to admit they're wrong, especially if they like to think of themselves as intelligent: surely only dumb people make mistakes, right?  No: everyone does, regardless of IQ, upbringing or theta levels.

But it doesn't matter how intelligent you are if you steadfastly refuse to acknowledge your own ignorance.  Be you a baby intellectual whose entire sense of self-esteem hinges on a perception of superior intellect and feel compelled to constantly support it by undermining others, or a salt-of-the-earth we-don't-need-no-degrees working hero who assumes anything he doesn't understand must be either irrelevant or pretentious, admitting mistakes is a mark of character, humility and resolve. And unfortunately, a lot of the keyboard warriors seem to be lacking that essential trait.

So even when Richard Matheson is doing interviews talking about how he likes this adaptation of his 55-year-old short story, even if Hugh Jackman and Shawn Levy hype Matheson's name from here to Timbuktu, even if Matheson fans spread the word on the internet, we're going to come to that same backbreaking result.  Just as people still complain about how anyone could possibly remake Conan the Barbarian, or spiel about how Solomon Kane totally ripped off Van Helsing/Vampire Hunter D/Captain Kronos, and yet still claim equally derivative stuff like The Matrix, Black Swan, Indiana Jones and Star Wars as being bastions of originality, we're going to get people condemning Real Steel in one breath while exalting The Dark Knight Rises in another, without seeing either.

Of course, it remains to be seen just how good or bad Real Steel is, but in the eyes of too many, its fate is sealed.  And it infuriates me that the general audience's hypocritical hatred for the sort of mass-market garbage which they nonetheless eat up every summer is going to end up snuffing the life out of the very sort of film they normally love.

Sorry if this post was a bit more peppery than usual, but it's just one of those things.

*This is an actual argument I've come across.


  1. Al, I saw the trailer for this before Tron Legacy, and promptly forgot about it by the time the credits started rolling. I saw part of the trailer again on TV a little while ago, which is the only reason I had a glimmering of what you were on about here.

    My only impression of the thing from the trailers was the graphic novel Super Boxers, with bots instead of dudes in armor, and a little Rollerball thrown in for good measure.

    I dismissed the thing as a movie I wouldn't bother seeing because it wasn't my bag. There's LOADS of SF and Sci-Fi movies like that out there (Avatard and Jar-Jar Trek being the most recent) that I don't waste time on because, again, they ain't my bag.

    Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots never crossed my mind (probably because I never had, and didn't want, them as a kid--I wanted spaceships and cool ray guns!)

    And now, thanks to this, ALL I'm going to think of when I see stuff about Real Steel is those bloody Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots!

    Thanks a bunch, Al.


  2. Thanks for posting this, Al. I know exactly how you feel. As you're already aware, I'm one of the few people genuinely looking forward to this movie, but all its promise has been drowned in the critical beatdown going on because someone DARED make a movie featuring boxing robots.

  3. I read this post and got really exited about the movie, went out and saw the trailer. And quite honestly, it looks awful. The robots look unreal, and I can only think of those movies so impressed with cgi they forget story and cram a bunch of busy (way to busy) scenes where stuff get thrown across the room and buildings come down.
    The over all feel and aesthetics reminds me of fast and the furious movies my kid brother made me watch once, mixed with transformer cgi, looking to clean to be real or interresting.

    Sure I realise a trailer might want to draw a wide crowd and focus on the more easily accesible sides of the movie, so I wont dismiss it right away. Mathesons word ought to be reassuring enough, and I will most likely go and see it anyway.

  4. I don't recall the trailer stating: "From the creator of I AM LEGEND". That would have helped a bit.

    Similarly, the John Carter trailer should have stated "From the creator of TARZAN" to help stem the Avatar comparisons. (Burroughs is a character himself, but that just makes it cooler. Also, why aren't they using "Of Mars" when the logo is "JCM"?)

    Yet Solomon Kane did have "From ROBERT E. HOWARD, the creator of CONAN" and people still said the predictable things. (And some just took the old movies on face value as REH's work, as you know.)

  5. I understand you, Al. I have this kind of conversations aaaaall the time...

    By the way: I will NEVER understand why Matheson liked "I am legend".

  6. hate to say it though, there is a real steel rockem sockem toy line out there. just saw a commercial yesterday, made me think of this post. -mario