Gods from outer space: the good, the bad and the silly

“He’ll be a god to them.” So says Jor-El, the father of Superman, as he sends his son to Earth in the latest trailer for Man of Steel.

In the immediate context, Jor-El seems to be referring primarily to the fact that his son will have powers that the other residents of Earth will not. But his voice-over, later in the trailer, goes on to speak in even more elevated terms of Superman as someone who will give humanity “an ideal to strive towards,” thereby allowing humans to “join [him] in the sun.” Lois Lane adds to the mythology, as it were, by noting that some people think of Superman as a “guardian angel”.

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Indiana Jones and the Deadly Blather / Notes on the devolution of a franchise.

“Didn’t any of you guys ever go to Sunday school?” So said Indiana Jones to a couple of bemused military intelligence agents in Raiders of the Lost Ark, easily the top-grossing film of 1981 and one of the greatest action movies ever made. And thus producer George Lucas and director Steven Spielberg seemed to make explicit what had only been implicit in the handful of films that they had made over the previous few years — films that had captured an entire generation’s spiritual imagination.

Lucas, of course, had helped to revive interest in the power of myth with his space-opera throwback, Star Wars (1977), and its sequel, The Empire Strikes Back (1980); the latter was particularly heavy on the spiritual development of its hero, Luke Skywalker. Some Christians, keen to capitalize on the franchise’s popularity, even went so far as to draw extensive analogies between the first movie and the biblical narrative; the fact that Obi-Wan Kenobi was betrayed by his disciple, and died, and continued beyond death as a counsellor to Luke was, of course, key to their interpretations.1 Spielberg, for his part, had directed Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977, re-edited and re-released in 1980), a film about aliens that spoke very strongly to the longing for enlightenment from above; in both images and dialogue, the film even made indirect references to the story of Moses and his encounter with God on Mount Sinai.2

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