The Sunday Magazine: It Is Not a Documentary

Back during the holidays in 1978 I went to the movies with a group of friends to see Superman : The Movie. This was Christopher Reeve in the movie which advertised “You’ll believe a man can fly”. At the end of the movie Superman flies quickly around the Earth in the opposite direction of the natural spin to reverse time. When we were at a local diner one of the group said about this, “You know that wouldn’t work. It would just throw everyone in to space.” There was a bit of silence and I internally thought,” So you bought a flying invulnerable Superman with no problem but reversing the spin of the Earth to reverse time; that’s a bridge too far?”

Superman reversing the spin of the Earth

I’m not sure what it is about popular entertainment which brings out a group of people who must criticize the reality of the fantastical. It has existed from that moment after Superman: The Movie to today. What I really find irritating is when scientists have an insatiable need to point out that fantasy is not real.

Shh! Dr. Tyson says this is impossible.

One of my favorite scientists from whom I derive a great deal of pleasure listening to on subjects of actual science is extremely guilty of this. Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson just couldn’t help himself after Star Wars: The Force Awakens came out. The well-known astrophysicist just had to be a buzzkill pointing out the fighters shouldn’t be making noise in space. A weapon which absorbs the power of a sun should vaporize itself.  Finally, the small ball shaped robot which rolls everywhere would skid on sand uncontrollably. I am sure he felt better after correcting all the errors in the documentary that was presented on a galaxy far, far, away. Except Star Wars: The Force Awakens is not a documentary it is a science-fiction, notice the word after the hyphen Dr. Tyson, fantasy. You probably should look up the definition of that word too Dr. Tyson. There are so many important scientific questions which could use your expertise to spend time acting like the Star Wars universe is real science is beneath you.

How Fast Do You Fly Little Raven?

This past week has seen my internet filled up with many people who have also mistaken the sixth episode of the current season of Game of Thrones as a documentary, too. In a series where a woman has stood in a fire while everything around her burns not once, but twice, without her hair burning up got no comment. In a series where dragons exist right next to ice zombies, that’s okay. People are resurrected by a Red God, no problem. And assassins can change the shape of their bodies and voices just by putting on a mask; sure. All of a sudden, this week has been spent debating the relative running speed of one character, the flying speed of a raven, and the airspeed of dragons because of an improbable sequence in which our heroes are rescued from certain death. As this debate became more ridiculous I thought back to the scene between The Bridgekeeper and King Arthur in “Monty Python and The Holy Grail”

What is the air-speed of a Northbound dragon with a girl on its back?

The Bridgekeeper asks, “What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?. Arthur replies, “What do you mean? An African or European swallow?” The Bridgekeeper says, “Huh? I don’t know that.” Just before being flung into the abyss. For every person who can’t sit back and watch a piece of fiction and just be entertained I wish you the fate of The Bridgekeeper except I want every channel on your television and every screen at your movie theatre to be full of documentaries then those pesky inconsistencies in fiction will cease to be bothersome.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: How to Turn the Past into the Future

When it comes to anything artistic I tend to approach anything which is a remake with skepticism. I think it comes from my high school days when we did a production of MASH in 1975 for the Drama Club. It was one of those magical personal moments for me as the group of people doing this play bonded in ways that have lasted in some cases to the present day. After we all graduated I heard not even five years after we did it they were doing MASH again. Those people were trying to recapture the camaraderie we all felt. I am pretty sure they didn’t. Magic moments are just that; because they can’t be manufactured on one’s whim.

This is also true with remakes or sequels of movies. The reason these projects get approved is because of the magic that happened on screen. I think movie studios know how rare it is but they just can’t keep from trying to put all the same ingredients up there and hope for something special. Most of the time it fails. Except 2015 has three amazing examples of when lightning does strike twice and three of my favorite movie going experiences of 2015 are sequels nearly forty years on after their inspirations. Those movies are Mad Max: Fury Road, Creed, and Star Wars The Force Awakens. Each has a lesson on how not to remake but to reimagine the stories being told.


Mad Max: Fury Road brought back the director of the original Mad Max, as well as both sequels, George Miller. Mr. Miller had become a maker of family movies in two different series, “Babe” and “Happy Feet”. The original Mad Max movies were his first movies and those had the hallmarks of a director with nothing to lose in doing something different. Those movies carried with them what I called a “casual anarchy” that I thought only a hungry young man could effectively elicit on screen. Fury Road carried that same “casual anarchy” throughout and it is what ties all of the movies together. What sets it apart is the character of Imperator Furiosa played by Charlize Theron. This is a character that only comes with that nearly forty years of time. Furiosa is a seeker of the Paradise she was removed from as a child still out there in the wasted rest of the world. The journey along the road beset by those trying to keep that from happening is pure “casual anarchy”. The cathartic moment which leads to the final act of the movie is heart-wrenching and unique in the series.

creed movie

Creed should also be titled Rocky VII. It was the original Rocky in 1976 which was made by Sylvester Stallone on a $1 million budget which spawned the new template for sports movies where winning the match isn’t everything. Creed takes everything which made Rocky work and spin it around. The illegitimate son of Rocky’s opponent in that first movie turns to Rocky to train him. Once they start to work towards the climactic fight there are similarities but again it comes down to a single performance which makes Creed so good. It is Michael B. Jordan as Donnie Johnson. He has become a successful business man when he walks away to try and become a professional boxer. This is not the story of a man who needs the fight to make his life. This is the story of a man who needs the fight to complete his life. Sylvester Stallone playing Rocky for the seventh time is the best he has been since the original. There is a moment in the movie when Donnie and Rocky find themselves at the top of the steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It is a moment of joy that left me sobbing.


I’ve already written a lot on Star Wars The Force Awakens but for the purposes of my thesis here the choice of cast is what makes this so successful. Yes the plot is a remix of many of the beats from the original trilogy. The characters of Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), and Poe (Oscar Isaac) are not. The first female starring heroine, the first black hero, and the first latino hero in the galaxy far, far away. What struck me about Star Wars now is it has the power to allow any child to dream and see themselves up on the screen. I goth the biggest kick after walking out of a recent screening watching a young girl holding her 3-D glasses like a lightsaber saying, “I’m a Jedi.”

The point I want to make here was each filmmaker created a singular character or characters for each of these remakes which made them feel different enough to not feel like we were watching the same thing all over again. Ms. Theron, Mr. Jordan, Ms. Ridley, Mr. Boyega, and Mr. Isaac have brought these characters so much to life that each of these movies feels like the beginning instead of the end. When looking to the past makes something relevant for the future.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Star Wars The Force Awakens

This past Thursday December 16 was like Christmas came a week early for me. That night I sat down in a theatre to see the first showing of the new movie, Star Wars The Force Awakens. Ever since the day I saw the original Star Wars in 1977 it has been something I have cared passionately about. I am not alone in this feeling as on Thursday night the theatre I was at was showing it simultaneously on ten screens. Contrast that to the opening number of theatres on Wednesday May 25, 1977 for the original, 32. What made me so very happy with The Force Awakens was for the first time this felt like Star Wars again. The kind of Star Wars which fired my imagination back in 1977.

There are many that do not like the prequels that George Lucas produced from 1999-2005. Those movies suffered from a narrative problem that we knew where we were going to end with the creation of Darth Vader. That was the biggest problem with those movies for me. I knew there was no way to save Anakin Skywalker. He was going to become Darth Vader no matter what. The movies explained how but it was the earlier movies which provided the eventual redemption. I think that is what stunted my sense of wonder it was like watching a three movie version of a slow motion inevitable train wreck.


The Force Awakens does not suffer from that as now that the story is moving forward again it can engage the imagination with both the old and the new. I’ll start with the old as our original heroes Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo return. The Force Awakens lets us know where they are thirty years after we left them in Return of the Jedi. The writers have put all three of them in interesting places full of possibilities, not all of which immediately pay off in The Force Awakens. As much as I enjoyed their return it is the new trio of heroes which really took me back to the wonder of 1977.

Daisy Ridley plays Rey and she is the definitive breakout star of The Force Awakens. She is the analog to Luke Skywalker in the original movies. Eking out an existence on a desert world before being thrust into the middle of galactic events. She is one of the few movie heroines who is completely independent. I wonder at the impact she will have on young girls going to see The Force Awakens. Will they see themselves as the Rey of their own lives. I hope so.

John Boyega plays Finn. His is the story of the reluctant hero as he tries to keep removing himself from the fray only to be drawn back. Mr. Boyega displays the heroism of the heart as he just wants to protect himself and his friends. He is the right mix of humor and emotion.

The final new addition is Oscar Isaac as hotshot Resistance pilot Poe Dameron. He is the alpha warrior of our new trio of heroes and when he is flying is when he is at his best. He is the least developed of the new characters but I know his time will come in the future.

The final actor to mention is Adam Driver as the new villain Kylo Ren. He is a different kind of scary from Darth Vader. The Force Awakens displays his journey to the Dark Side is fueled by his emotional reaction to his life. There is one thing I want to mention there are two pivotal scenes in the movie which there is no dialogue but for the emotion you see on Mr. Driver’s face. It makes all the difference to have an actor in this role that can accomplish that.

Finally I have to thank director and co-writer JJ Abrams. In 2009 he saved my beloved Star Trek and now he has done it again with my equally beloved Star Wars. He truly has become the Geek Savior by saving both of these properties in a way that future geeks can discover them.

The final litmus test for me was when I walked out of the theatre on Thursday night I wanted to go right back in. I hadn’t felt that way since “The Empire Strikes Back”. The very final shot of The Force Awakens holds out the promise that “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” still has some amazing stories to tell.

Mark Behnke