Peep Show: Not What It Sounds Like

By Marten Dollinger, Movies Section Editor

Anyone with a passing familiarity with contemporary British comedy probably has a fifty percent chance of knowing That Mitchell and Webb Look, most likely due to the individual sketches popping up on YouTube in the past few years. Slightly less known is their award-winning but not exactly breakaway hit Peep Show, starring the same comedians and written by Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain. The series has aired on the British public broadcast station Channel 4 since 2003. Winning several comedy awards, Peep Show has been renewed for an 8th and 9th season, making it something like Britain’s best kept secret in television. This is largely due to the fact that it’s kind of weird. It’s shot using POV angles, and nothing else. Other than that, it’s pretty much your standard sitcom. The style may alienate a wider audience, but those it charms, in combination with Mitchell and Webb’s success on their own series, brings Peep Show a kind of support-base not dissimilar to that described by the Thousand True Fans model, albeit on a much larger scale. 

Peep Show is shot exclusively through POV angles, putting the viewer in the place of whichever character we’re meant to be following at the time. This is done using cameras mounted on hats, held over the shoulder, or placed directly in front of the actor. The effect is not original, and the creators cite Being John Malkovich as the inspiration for this particular use of the shooting style. The series also makes heavy use of voice-over, further strengthening the feeling of being inside the mind of whichever character through which we’re currently seeing the world.

We generally see this world through the eyes of Mark Corrigan (David Mitchell) or Jeremy Usborne (Robert Webb), in a traditional sitcom setting of two not-quite-middle-aged roommates just trying to get by and overcome whatever insecurities they may or may not realize they have. The first season is chock-full of awkward situations, generally associated with one or both characters’ romantic failures. In fact, if it weren’t for the POV gimmick, Peep Show wouldn’t have all that much to differentiate it from other sitcoms. The overall effect is kind of Spaced meets The Office.

What we have, then, is a not really original shooting style with a not exactly groundbreaking set of stories. So whence the sustainable popularity and awards? While the style isn’t original, it has never been used entirely on its own, and when you think about it, there are only so many ways to write a sitcom. It’s the combination of the obscure visual mechanic and the tried-and-true sitcom tropes that make the show work like something new and original without being terribly new and original. Co-star David Mitchell has this to say about Peep Show, and sitcoms in general: “They’re about people feeling like they’ve failed and being trapped and fearful of things getting worse and aspirational about things getting better. We were about to use those classic constants without being accused of being unoriginal because the look and feel of it was so original.” Take a second to think about your favorite sitcom, and then every other sitcom you watch. They all pretty much follow this pattern, right? Each one just has its own gimmick. Cheers was at a bar, Friends had that theme song, How I Met Your Mother has the story-telling thing, The Big Bang Theory has geek references,The Office has the documentary crew, and Peep Show has that same sort of voyeurism, but without the crew.

What makes Peep Show special and successful in a very specific way is its comedic prowess combined with a shooting style reserved for either very short takes or the avant-garde. Basically, you have an audience that probably loved both versions of The Office, enjoys That Mitchell and Webb Look and probably anything Simon Pegg does, and, most importantly, buys the DVDs. Just over a million viewers isn’t generally enough to keep a show on the air, but when all of those viewers are pretty likely to buy the DVD of the series, there’s a bit more leeway. The aforementioned Thousand True Fans theory comes in here. In a nutshell, the theory states that you don’t have to be super-famous to make it as an artist, you just have to be famous enough. Specifically, you need to pick up at least a thousand “true” fans, who will each pay at least a days wages over the course of a year buying your stuff or coming to your shows. This is just a larger, televised version of that model; Peep Show has basically attained cult status while still on the air. On this scale, the show’s success depends on the few viewers supporting the series enough to bring it back each season. It also has a boost from Mitchell and Webb’s growing profile as a comedic duo.

Weird as the show is, Peep Show is just another sitcom. It’s a handful of people living out their lives and having silly things happen to them for our amusement. Ordinary as it is, people love the gimmick and the comedians enough to keep it on the air. It keeps the voyeuristic feel of The Office, only arguably in a more pure form, since we’re voyeurs to the mind of the characters, and we see directly how other characters act with them. Or maybe not, and it’s just novelty. Either way, exactly enough people love it to keep it around. Perhaps further research will unveil why this works in the UK, but Firefly still hasn’t come back for another season.

Art Finds A Way: A reflection on film re-circulation

By Marten Dollinger, Movies Section Editor

Steven Spielberg’s classic blockbuster Jurassic Park came out when I was only six years old. Spielberg said that he wouldn’t let his own children watch it, so naturally my parents weren’t about to let me enjoy it in theaters at such an impressionable age – I had to wait until I was seven and my grandmother bought it on VHS. Have I made anyone feel old yet? Despite not having that big theater experience, JP was a staple of my childhood, and as bad as the third one is, I still love it simply because it has dinosaurs. So naturally, when Jurassic Park is on the bill for a local theater showing old classics, I jump on what was once a missed opportunity.

Barring a huge budget for a home entertainment system, a movie at a theater is nearly impossible to recreate. The big screen and complex sound system is, after all, the medium for which it is designed and when filmmakers ply their craft, it’s with these considerations. No where else are you completely in the dark, next to immobile in your chair, free from distractions and completely immersed in what the director wants you to be. Cheap and convenient as it is, watching it at home could be considered akin to looking at pictures of famous paintings on the internet. I may know what the Mona Lisa looks like, but I don’t know what it feels like to be in the same room as something created by Leonardo Da Vinci. Until now, I knew the fear that came with that water rippling in that cup, but I had not experienced the roar of the T-Rex shaking my entire body. Luckily, old prints of films are easier to circulate than other priceless works of art.

There are also social aspects to consider. Watching a film is a shared experience, but that experience is shared in different ways in the theater. At home, it’s perfectly acceptable to comment or speak the lines as they come, depending on who you’re watching with and how likely they are to throw things at you. In the theater, at best you’ll earn dirty looks and at worst you’ll be thrown out. There’s a ritual associated with watching films that is far more universally defined in the theater than at home. The silence isn’t simple politeness, it guarantees that everyone sees the same movie. I not only had the opportunity to see Jurassic Park on a big screen myself, but with someone who hadn’t seen it at all. Hard to believe, right? In the theater, I knew she was seeing everything that Spielberg wants her to see. In a way, so was I, since I had only seen it small up until then.

The circulation of old films is an important aspect of recognizing the medium as a form of art, rather than a piece of entertainment to simply consume. It allows more people who appreciate film to enjoy it in its designed medium, and preserves it for future generations. There remains a question of what makes a movie worth preserving, but I think the social aspect of film answers it for us. A film should be recirculated if it still resonates with an audience. This isn’t simply a matter of what can make money, mind you, it’s a matter of what people will still watch and experience and understand. Shakespeare’s works remain popular because they still resonate with the human experience. And just as I can still watch a classic play as it was originally performed, I can enjoy my animatronic dinosaurs terrorize people in the way Spielberg intended.

Jason West, Vincent Zampella, and The New Age of Videogames

Looking righteously smug while they’re at it

In March of 2010, Activision went shady corporation and lopped off the head of the Infinity Ward when they fired Jason West and Vincent Zampella, the creators of the well-known Call of Duty franchise. On Thursday, May 31st, after two years of litigation and counter-litigation, West and Zampella settled with Activision, ultimately making history in the video game industry. The full effect of this lawsuit remains to be seen, but it is not unike the cases made against movie studios as a result of the Sherman Antitrust Act in the early 40s. More video game developers and creators may end up with more artistic control over their games rather than remaining nameless and beholden to the whims of big-name publishers. West and Zampella’s case is the beginning of a change of attitudes towards the people who actually create videogames, and has uncanny parallels with the history of film.

When Activision first fired West and Zampella, they sued, accusing their former employers of wrongful dismissal. They claimed that Activision fired them in order to withhold their fair share of the loot picked up from Call of Duty’s monumental success. After leaving, West and Zampella started a new game studio, Respawn, and signed on with Electronic Arts to publish their games. This is when Activision countersued, and things really started to heat up. Thirty eight of the forty-plus employees who left Activision in response to West and Zampella’s dismissal joined the fray, saying they were denied their rightful compensation as well.

Ultimately, this case boils down to artists wanting their fair compensation from the publishers that distribute the games they create. West and Zampella have won a battle for the recognition of artists. This victory could lead to a paradigm shift similar to what film making went through after WWII. To understand the full meaning of this, we first need to understand the Golden Age of Hollywood as it compares to filmmaking now, as well as how the video game industry works and how it could work in the future.

From the early 1900s to the late 1930s, Hollywood was dominated by the major studios, namely the “big five,” MGM, Paramount, RKO, Warner Brothers, and 20th Century Fox. These studios owned the theaters and had artists, directors, producers, and everyone involved in the massive work of collaboration that makes up a movie on salary, as well as complete control over the movies they released. Movies made by any of these studios during this era were clearly identifiable, most obviously by the actors the studios effectively owned. This began to change in the late 30s with the Anti-trust Act in ’38, but it wasn’t until after World War II that Hollywood really had to change the way it operated. To make a long story short, studios were fragmented and could no longer have control over every level of filmmaking and distribution. As a result, studios, while they still rake in the dough, have to share much more of their profits with each stage of film development. Additionally, this is why the aesthetic choices of a movie are more connected to a writer and/or director rather than a studio; if it’s got Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter in it, you know it’s a Tim Burton movie, whether it’s through Warner Brothers, Disney, Touchstone or what have you. The point is that the creative control is, for better or for worse, in the hands of the creator rather than the studio that has him or her on contract.

Independent games aside, the video game industry, possibly up until now, works in an arguably similar way. Large corporations like EA, Activision, Blizzard, Nintendo, and Sony own creative control over the games they release. If the West and Zampella vs. Activision case turns out anything like the case against movie studios, we may end up seeing more games attached to people’s names rather than to the publishers who release them. This could ultimately change the way gaming culture works, not only for artists, but for the gamers that consume their art.

The obvious advantage here is that everyone who actually creates games will be getting the compensation they deserve for their creation, rather than the bulk of the money going to publishers that just make it accessible. It goes much further than that, however, as this could be the step to bring consumers closer to the creators. Video game franchises will have an artistic direction guided by individuals that fans can follow more closely than they could a faceless studio. Game creators and their production companies could be more free to branch out and try new things, or have a stronger connection to a fanbase to meet their demands.

Imagine being able to be a fan of an individual director, rather than, say, Blizzard. When the next Starcraft expansion is released, there’s a face to go along with it, rather than a logo. These are already trends we see with independent game developers like Notch with Minecraft; just imagining how the community would grow if more of the industry were like that opens up some exciting avenues. Granted, it also allows the unfortunate possibility of an M. Night Shamalamadingdong of video games, and individuals are just as capable of taking credit from others as corporations, but I’d prefer to be disappointed by an ego rather than by games being dumbed down for mass consumption.

Prequel Lovers, Haters, and the Force of a Fandom

Editor’s note: This week, in celebration that tomorrow is May the 4th, we’re having an all Star-Wars themed update. May the 4th be with you!

As a lover of good movies, a lover of stories, and a lover of Star Wars, I often find myself at odds with opinions on the infamous prequels from nearly every perspective. On the one hand, they are badly written and badly constructed and overly marketed and overly focused on special effects. On the other hand, Star Wars. My love of the series does not cause me to dismiss criticism as “not getting it,” nor does my acknowledgment and acceptance of, and even hearty agreement with those criticisms diminish that love. It’s a curious sort of feeling; I consider it my immersion into the world of the story, but it could just as easily be considered a kind of brand loyalty. We might as well call it the Force: a binding metaphysical power that draws Star Wars fans together. In spite of the low quality of the originals, the Star Wars culture has prospered. In fact, it could be argued, in some cases, that the low quality actually strengthened the fandom’s resolve.

One of many Star Wars fans’ favorite thing to do is complain, but many of the harshest critics betray their feelings. Since the release of the prequels, and subsequent further alteration of the originals, the fandom has responded with a slew of observations, reviews, and edits. Their disappointment often springs from a love of the series and a desire for it to be better. The most amusing response I’ve seen is Red Letter Media’s Plinkett Reviews, which are 70-minute mash-ups of clips from the movies with voice over commentary.

While incredibly scathing and occasionally sophomoric, the RLM’s Plinkett series is clearly a labor of love and provides great insight into not only what makes the movies bad, but also into the reasoning behind the decisions that ultimately made them bad movies. He ridicules the controlled environment in which Lucas worked as the heart of the problem. The original trilogy’s production was fraught with limitations of all kinds which forced Lucas to improvise and gave the movie an organic quality. The prequels, with the liberal use of green screen and digital effects, were created in as controlled an environment in which a movie can be made. Movies are also an incredibly collaborative art form; in the originals, Lucas was working with far more people who were willing to question his judgement. Due to their success, however, many were afraid to question Lucas’ judgement regarding the prequels.

The well-thought-out criticisms of the prequels are a joy to watch even for all but the most zealous fans of the prequels. Something even more common than complaint for this fandom, however, is the will to take what was supposedly done wrong and attempt to make it right. Few independent edits of mainstream work have gotten as much attention as The Phantom Edit and Topher Grace’s recent re-edit of the prequel trilogy in its entirety into a single film. The Phantom edit, which cut almost 20 minutes off the original film, is available for free; sadly Grace’s edit is purely for personal study and will likely not be released to the public.

Re-editing or rearranging the footage isn’t the only way the fandom has voiced their opinion through film. Alexandre O. Phillipe’s 2010 documentary, The People vs. George Lucas, directly addresses the problem many fans have with the creator. Phillipe addresses not only the prequels, but the constant changes Lucas is making to the originals, like adding footage and changing certain images. We have discussed before what rights a fandom tends to invent for itself, but given the cultural impact of this particular series, it’s at least a little bit understandable here.

This goes beyond just a simple matter of the prequels being bad and the original trilogy being good. A good friend of mine was introduced to Star Wars by The Phantom Menace, and I have to this day not met a bigger fan of the series than her. The arguments over the quality of the prequels, or utter lack thereof, have opened up new discussion over what made the originals great in the first place. Clearly, for all their problems, the prequels still capture something that makes people love Star Wars. The Force may not be as strong, but it lingers. In the meantime, though, perhaps Lucas should quit while he’s still somehow ahead. Alternately, with all the tinkering Lucas has done himself, it be only fair that everyone else be able to play with the story, and put the universe in the public domain. Or perhaps, with all the fan-vids, parodies, and edits, it effectively already is.

Narrative in Trading Card Games: Magic: The Gathering

In most of our articles about gaming, the golden rule of a good game has been a perfect combination of gameplay and storyline. The same rings true for trading card games, particularly for the first of many, Magic: The Gathering. The appeal of collectible cards goes back to the early 1900’s with baseball, but Magic was the first to apply a true narrative to the concept, and the only one to continually add to that narrative in a successful way. Since Magic’s release in 1993, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Pokémon, Star Wars, Star Trek, and many others have incorporated trading card games into their franchises with varying degrees of success, but Magic relies on its own narrative. This narrative makes the gameplay more compelling. Additionally, each new set carries a different narrative as well as new mechanics, which can gives the game a constantly changing nature while still staying true to the core rules and concepts that define it.

Magic: The Gathering has a relatively simple basic mechanic. Two players, representing powerful wizards, do battle by casting spells at each other. A spell can summon a creature to fight, which is the most common way to defeat the other player, or do a number of other things, such as making creatures stronger or weaker or dealing damage directly to the opponent. Most decks are composed of a combination of creature spells and other spells, but naturally there are exceptions. The number of options has been growing for nearly two decades, so the ability to customize a Magic deck to fit each player’s individual style is considerable. The design capability is easily comparable to designing a character in any roleplaying game or army in a strategy game.

Magic’s storyline isn’t laid out by a game system, or designed by another player, so whither the narrative? Aside from whatever dynamic the players create for each other, each Magic set is part of a multi-part block released over the year, with the changes in monsters, spells, and mechanics reflecting the look and feel of that narrative. The current block is Innistrad, which is a monster-movie-themed world. The mechanics introduced are things like transforming cards – mostly for werewolves, mechanics that focus on bringing creatures back from death and stronger, and mechanics that bring humans back as ghosts after they die, or make humans stronger when they are near death, to represent those classic “this is not that day” speeches you get in a lot of movies.

also the first anti-hero vampire
I’ve actually liked since Spike

What strengthens the stories, however, is the way they are released. Every card carries with it some sort of backstory or explanation of how it fits into the realm of the set. The current block, Innistrad, is introduced when an Lilliana Vess, an evil necromancer and recurring character, enters the realm searching for one of the demons to whom she owes her soul, followed by another regular character, Garruk Wildspeaker, whom she cursed. This gives us exposition for a realm overrun by vampires and werewolves, and human settlements are constantly fighting for their survival. In the second set for the block, Dark Ascension, the plot thickens as it is revealed that the realm was not always as bleak, and there was once a guardian angel, Avacyn, who gave strength to the mankind and created a sort of balance between good and evil. What’s more, we learn that she was created by another character we know from previous sets: Sorin Markov, a powerful vampire who has returned to his plane to find out what happened to his home’s guardian. The third set, Avacyn Restored, obviously marks the return of the guardian angel, but with a price: Avacyn was trapped in an artifact called the helvault with a demon she had been fighting. This demon happens to be the demon Lilliana was hunting in the first place, so we get a nice tie in with our opening b-plot when she engineers the destruction of the artifact. With this, we get a sort of conclusion to the story, but not to the conflict, because with the release of Avacyn, we also get the release of various evils that had been trapped in the vault before.

Each card has flavor text, and various cards have different mechanics that allude to the look and feel of this storyline, as well as that particular card’s place in it. Books and graphic novels have been published to tie in with the game’s narrative. The past couple sets have actually released video trailers for each set. While the story behind Magic: The Gathering can be followed independently of playing or collecting the card game, is meant to supplement and strengthen it,while, in other TCGs, the card game enhances the storyline. It allows the players to feel greater agency within the narrative, rather than to simply be fans wanting to be part of a story over which they have less control. With a video game, you might control a single character, or even a general with an army, but with Magic, you’re controlling more than just your creatures, you’re helping to shape the environment in which they interact. Even though there are powerful characters guiding the story of each set, the narrative is one that concerns the world and the communities and factions that make it interesting. The player’s deck, terms of the narrative, can represent that player’s association with those factions. The deck completes the world presented in the narrative, makes it more real, and more of a place to play in.

Chronicle: the Definition of Mockumentary

Note: you only see this camera in a
mirror in the film. Because Mockumentary.

I walked into Chronicle expecting another “found footage” thriller — basically Cloverfield or Paranormal Activity meets Heroes — but was surprised at the depth of the characters and the fresh take on the “teens get superpowers” story. More than that, though, I was excited to see that their take on the found footage approach to mockumentary transcended the usual continuity issues present and eschewed the traditional but ultimately overdone shaky camera. The title of the movie, which, after watching the previews, just seems like cheap use of an archaic word, carries actual meaning. Chronicle properly uses the mockumentary genre to both examine an aspect of the documentary genre and to tell a character-driven story.

Josh Trank and Max Landis’ story follows the unpopular and reclusive Andrew Detmer, his cousin Matt, and football star Steve Montgomery through their acquisition of telekinetic powers. The plot unfolds in a simple way; they gain powers after Matt convinces Andrew to come to a party, and Steve tells him they need to get footage of a strange cave. They grow closer because of their shared abilities, playing pranks with *them and flying, and learning how their telekinesis grows stronger with use. Eventually, they grow apart for their personal choices of how to use their abilities; specifically, Andrew’s willingness to use his against others.

Andrew uses his telekinesis to move the camera
The first shot of the film is a camera set on a tripod facing a mirror mounted on a door. Our protagonist, Andrew Detmer, tells his drunken father through the door that he is filming everything from now on, and so we have our found footage storytelling method. Andrew, for reasons we will investigate later, has decided to document his life. The majority of the film is told from Andrew’s perspective; it’s his camera, after all. We’re not limited, however, because others use his camera, and footage from other cameras is used. For example, tertiary character Casey Letter uses a camera for her blog, and the perspective shifts to her camera a few times; also, security footage is used on occasion, and footage from when Andrew uses his power to surround himself with cell phones and small cameras is used near the end. The introduction of the camera and Andrew’s use of his power allows the filmmakers incredible leeway into cinematographic style, allowing them to participate in the genre without having to make it look amateurish. Given the fact that Andrew has the foresight to use a tripod, we can assume he knows how to compose a decent shot and his ability to move the camera telekinetically justifies all manner of shooting styles. Fantastic and difficult shots don’t take us out of the mockumentary style because of the unique circumstances of the story.

It’s important to remember who is telling most of the story

Initially, the title seems like something slapped on as a cool-sounding word with little bearing on the actual story. However, the name appropriately ties into the mockumentary style; Andrew is chronicling his own life, and it is arguable that if he wasn’t carrying a camera everywhere, Steve wouldn’t have bothered to invite him to film the cave and he wouldn’t have gained powers in the first place. This partially answers the question of why they picked the mockumentary genre. Why make characters aware of the camera? Why is the primary filmmaker also the protagonist? The answer lies in the intimacy the genre allows us to have with the characters, even though a barrier is still present. It also lies with the introverted and rationalizing characterization of Andrew; his need to be seen and recognized is the reason he begins filming his life and informs his actions within the film. The genre gets the most out of Andrew’s personal breakdown, and every shot that he controls gives us insight into his *character, rather than the artistic directions of the actual cinematographer. As he documents his more distressing uses of his abilities, it’s his reasoning we see, the rationalization and subsequent abuse of his power over others. When others hold the camera, they’re most often speaking of or to Andrew, and they’re most often talking directly to us about the current situation. Each is a contribution to Andrew’s chronicle; in any other genre, the title would have less meaning.

Despite stylistic license, it’s easy to forget
this guy because of the mockumentary style

The term “found footage” is to be applied to this movie lightly; in past found-footage films, it is generally implied that the footage is actually found. With Chronicle, one often gets the feeling that the audience switches from lens to lens at will and in real time, rather than viewing footage that was compiled after being found. In the last shot, it’s implied that the camera is left in Tibet, and that Andrew’s first camera was buried in the cave. We’re not watching a compiled chronicle after the fact; we’re watching events unfold as we would in a traditional film. This only strengthens the mockumentary elements, however. While watching, the mockumentary style gives us a greater connection to the characters. Without that style, it would just be another teens-get-superpowers movie; without a camera to interact with directly, the characters would have to be completely rewritten and given different directions and motivations. Mockumentary has moved on from comedy and horror. The shooting style works seamlessly into the story, and that’s the way it should be.

Religious Philosophy in Legion

We can only expect so much from a movie
where the angel has an uzi

In 2010, Scott Stewart subjected us to the movie Legion, a religiously inspired apocalypse movie with a dash of zombie horde thrown into the action. It’s religiously inspired in the same way that Constantine was, with warring angels and regular apocryphal references to the Book of Revelation. Movies like this, such as the aforementioned Constantine, Gregory Widen’sThe Prophecy, and Dogma, kind of parody the genre while actively participating in it — a very decorative lampshade, if you will, but I digress.

The stories of these movies generally revolve around a conflict againstor between angels or both, sparked by God’s favor of man over them, or, in the case of Legion, the reverse. While the “biblical” reference attempted by these films would give most clergy an aneurysm, they tend to play with the infallibility of God. Their apparent popularity, and indeed existence as a genre, says something about our society’s feelings toward Divine Command Theory, and a seeming preference for what is being called Divine Independence Theory. Alternately, they say nothing about philosophical theology and only pretend to for the purpose of CGI angels fighting each other, which might say something about the decline of organized religion or the disappearance of philosophy courses.

Put simply, Divine Command Theory, or D.C.T., ultimately states that things are good because God says they are good. Under Divine Independence Theory, or D.I.T., God says things are good because they are inherently good. The difference is important, as under D.C.T., God can’t say something that is bad is good, because as soon as he says it, it’s good now. Under D.I.T., God presumably wouldn’t say something that is bad is good, because God says it’s good because he knows it inherently. Following? A little bit? Let’s apply both of these theories toLegion, as terrible as it is.

In Legion, a group of people in a diner in the middle of nowhere are beset upon by plagues and hordes of possessed humans, and are marginally protected by the angel Michael. He explains that God is tired of putting up with mankind’s crap and is bringing about the apocalypse, and the beings they are being attacked by are possessed by angels, not demons as they might assume. Michael, who has hope in mankind, defected from Team Heaven to give the humans a fighting chance against the coming apocalypse. The pregnant girl (there’s always a pregnant girl) will give birth to a baby who is mankind’s last hope, etc. God sends Gabriel to kill the baby, Michael dies defending it,and God who has changed his mind, I guess, resurrects him, and he then kills Gabriel. Anyway, the operative line that we’ll be working with is, “I gave God what he needed, not what he wanted,” which is what Michael said to Gabriel to justify his disobedience.

Onto the source of morality. Under D.C.T., it doesn’t matter. God is a divine entity determining what is right and wrong, what he wants and needs are the same thing, and no one gets to say otherwise. No matter what, if God decides it, it’s right. So if God wills it, Gabriel’s going to wail on Michael and can survive a gas explosion that takes out the diner and a crowd of possessed minions. If God changes his will, there isn’t anything Gabriel can do about it, and Michael gets to cut him up. So when the good guys ultimately win because an angel appealed to God’s soft side, we see that D.C.T. is frighteningly whimsical. Under D.I.T., however, Michael’s in the right and the angels are the bad guys the whole way through. Michael has to remind God what good is, because it’s independent of God’s Will. The fact that God needs anything other than simple obedience suggests that what is good could be independent of God.

Both viewings present some clear problems. Under D.C.T., morality is ambiguous and we’re screwed according to God’s whim, which is clearly malleable since Michael seemed to change God’s mind. Under D.I.T., we see God as someone who can be wrong, which kind of takes away from divinity. Under both viewings, we’re at the mercy of screen writers and producers that clearly don’t have the faintest grasp of any theological theory, so it’s not the greatest example through which to present an advantage to either way of thinking. God is either proven to be a whimsical tyrant or a fallible being. Not all iterations of this genre are as clumsy, though, and despite a complete disregard for the source material, recent stories tend to favor a morality independent of a divine entity, an inherent good that can be appealed to in times of chaos. I highly doubt that Stewart intended his biblically inspired action movie to ultimately disprove God’s infallibility for the sake of our heroes. With some simple philosophical research and some decent writers, “God’s Will,” in this film could have been left a lot more ambiguous and the feel of the film could have been maintained. Instead, the film leaves us with a God that can’t be reconciled with either divine theory, and still be considered good or all-powerful.

While this is merely a big-budget story, the fact that being philosophically sound wasn’t part of the budget is as dismissive of a need for divinity as the characters in the film. No one in Legion needs God, except possibly the bad-guy angels; in The Prophecy and Constantine, and Dogma all deal with whether God can truly said to be good or even present, and have a message touting human strength in the face of divine threats, but Legion takes the next step and outright says God made a mistake. Of course, it took an angel’s love of mankind, not mankind itself, to point this out, so we may be completely losing on the man’s inherent worth thing. Either way, as a society that can make a movie that says God is wrong, we may be a step closer to being able to make films of the other two books in the Golden Compass series.

For more reading on D.C.T. and D.I.T. go here: