Commentary: Apocalyptic plots ruin moviegoing

"Man of Steel," the reboot of the Superman film franchise, had the biggest opening of a film in June, earning more than $125 million.

It's a real shame that a film that depicts catastrophic destruction of huge swaths of city blocks is entertaining to the masses.

I don't care how many people go see this movie or how much money it makes, the critics are right on this one. To borrow from Shakespeare, the film is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

After 30 minutes, I was bored.

The original 1978 "Superman" had the right tone, balancing scenes of Superman flying with lighthearted moments. Hey, comic books were originally written for children, and that tone was carried over to the Batman TV series of the 1960s and the Superman films. Somewhere along the way, though, the superheroes became complicated, angst-filled figures, with comic books giving way to graphic novels.

Director Christopher Nolan's Batman reboot, "The Dark Knight," clearly was geared toward a more adult audience. The problem with going in that direction is that movie studios need a PG-13 rating in order for a film to have a chance at earning blockbuster box-office dollars.

So what's been happening with too many recent movies is that the filmmakers push the action/violence envelope right up to the lip of an R rating. That way parents bring their children and boost earnings.

My 9-year-old son loves the Ironman character, but even I was tempted to cover his eyes during a scene that depicted an airplane disintegrating in midair with passengers free falling. (Do you recall those horrible images from the World Trade Center of people jumping to their deaths?)

It's wrong for parents of young children to take them to movies like "Man of Steel," which, while rated PG-13, is too intense with its realistic depiction of collapsing city buildings and screaming people. Why do so many films nowadays use the real Sept. 11 attacks as a template for film entertainment?

Even before the film started, my family was bombarded with back-to-back trailers of movies that contained scenes of a city's apocalypse: "World War Z," " Elysium," and "Pacific Rim."

I increasingly feel that when I go to the movies, I'm watching an exhibit at some kind of computer trade show showcasing the latest special-effects gadgetry. Where are the stories? Where are the characters? Where are the themes?

Once upon a time, Americans escaped to the movies to watch Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers elegantly dance through the Great Depression.

Today, civilization collapsing and people dying have become escapist entertainment. I certainly hope President Obama will not screen "White House Down" anytime soon.

BRIAN CROSBY is a teacher and the author of Smart Kids, Bad Schools and The $100,000 Teacher. He can be reached at

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