Time Magazine film critic, Richard Corliss, wrote a review for Guardians of the Galaxy entitled "A Bratty Star Wars." In it, he proclaims Guardians to pretty much be a film patched together with Marvel Comic's leftover characters acting out scenes stolen from much older and "better" films. So to Mr. Corliss, in the name of brats everywhere, I say that's exactly what made the film so damn awesome.
As best I can, I try to avoid being jealous of youth, but, in watching Guardians, I totally wished that I was eight years old, not because I didn't like the film as a 30-year-old adult but because I'm terribly upset that it would be considered inappropriate for me to act out the film's scenes in the public sphere of the neighborhood playground. Guardians, from its opening scene to its closing scene, was as the kids still like to say: pretty epic.
And yet, Mr. Corliss complains that the "the central strategy of director--co-writer James Gunn" is "to filch from a trove of movies and music, mostly '70s and '80s vintage, while acknowledging the theft." Mr. Corliss is upset that the film reminds him of Star Wars, The Maltese Falcon, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. I, however, would like to complain that Mr. Corliss just doesn't get it. Furthermore, I would like to complain that Mr. Corliss neglected to mention how the film also borrows from E.T., Captain EO, Flight of the Navigator, and a ton of other totally awesome sci-fi crap that has entertained kids for decades.
But, more importantly, and this matters, why does it matter to Richard Corliss if Guardians of the Galaxy filches from the great and not-so-great stories of the past? Does this filching somehow darken the merits of his own childhood so long ago and in a galaxy so far away? Did Star Wars not filch from the John Carter adventure A Princess of Mars as well as a plethora of Western narratives? Did Raiders of the Lost Ark not steal from, well, just watch the footage:
My intention here isn't to suggest that Mr. Corliss must like Guardians of the Galaxy--although I have no idea why he wouldn't--but to prove how his implicit claim about the merits of originality, indeed, holds no merit.
Pillaging the past is the great hidden secret of the storyteller, only it's not actually a well kept secret. In her book Adaptation and Appropriation, Julie Sanders argues and observes over the course of 160 pages how films, plays, novels, and other narrative forms are essentially crafted out of the material of past narrative genres, as if that material, the very words of it, were as tactile as clay bricks and lego blocks, to be taken apart and then reassembled. The idea that stories are great because of their uniqueness holds little to no value, especially in a world assembled from hyperlinks and memes, where everything written, created, and conceived is a solar system of spare parts swirling in a web of inter-and-hypertextuality. Roland Barthes was right now more than ever: these texts are in play.
But this isn't just true of today, Shakespeare's works were indeed texts. And they were honed out of the bedrock of the literary past that was handed to him. In this sense, every story is a zombie; a plot that climbs out of a dead author's grave.
Therefore, Mr. Corliss needs to let go of this notion that originality breeds worth. After all, I'm pretty sure he borrowed that shit from someone else. And, when he observes Peter Quill's final questions, "What'll we do now? Something bad? Something good? Bit of both?", the answers aren't as obscure as Mr. Corliss makes them out to be.
We're going to keep telling stories that resemble the shape of other stories. We're going to keep playing on the textual slides and swing sets. We're going to keep pretending to fly rocket ships, blast lasers, and to be as badass as Indy; as Han Solo; as Humphrey-fucking-Bogart. And when we're done, Peter Quill's name is going to be on that list. And, when we die, some future story will come crawling out his grave, and ours.
That is, Mr. Corliss, sir, if it's alright with you?
Bryan Harvey can be followed on Twitter@LawnChairBoys
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