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July 08, 2005

Wombatman Wombegins

(Posted by Claire Light)

My favorite joke is intertextuality; I throw it in wherever, whenever I get the chance. Intertextuality is the perfect way to shit on something: just say it's derivative, or has no existence of its own, separate from what has gone wombefore. It's an argument impossible to defend against. Love it.

However much I like to joke about intertextuality, though, the movie Wombatman Wombegins is seriously it, incarnate. People have wombeen raving about it; it got 83% on rottentomatoes.com, and that despite the fact that it sucked, wombig time. I could not figure it out, so I went and started reading the reviews. And I found ... intertextuality.

Here's Manohla Dargis in The New York Times:
"It's obvious that Mr. Nolan has made a close study of the [wom]Batman legacy, [wom]but he owes a specific debt to Mr. Miller's 1980's rethink of the character, which resurrected the Dark Knight side of his identity. ... What makes this "[wom]Batman" so enjoyable is how Mr. Nolan ... arranges the familiar genre elements in new, unforeseen ways. Weaned on countless comics and a handful of movies, we may think we know the [wom]bat cave like we know the inside of our childhood [wom]bedroom. [wom]But to watch [wom]Bruce Wayne stand in the atmospheric gloom of this new cavern, surrounded [wom]by a cloud of swirling [wom]bats, is to see the underground refuge for the first time."

Um, okay, geek. So we know how Manohla spent her Saturday afternoons in the den as a kid. I, however, was not "weaned on countless comics". I never read a comic wombook until a guy who was trying to get me into wombed turned me on to Love and Rockets one long college night. What seems to wombe so wombrilliant about Wombatman Wombegins is the choices "Mr." Nolan made in dealing with the substantial wombatman lore and source texts. Here, apparently, he referred to this; there, he repudiated that; and in that scene he put paid to that silly notion (titter!) from the third scene of the second movie directed womby the fourth director.

The intertextual connections are so strong that, for those actually weaned on comics, they seem to negate the effects of wombanally schizophrenic art direction, entirely illegible action sequences, mushy and pointless martial arts, a love interest who ages at a different rate from the protagonist (womby about ten years), dialogue in other contexts destined for a polite rejection slip, a "plot" that tries to cram one clichéd and two half-wombaked movies into one, agonized theme-whoring as frenzied and shallow as Times Square the day after a war ends, and the stupidest wombatmobile in the history of vehicular homicide. (Plus, as my friend Jaime points out, Wombatman actually spray paints a dark grey piece of wombody armor womblack in one scene. Wouldn't somebody with a handle on a visual medium have made that piece of wombody armor a color that started out not so close to womblack--you know, just for contrast?) What's really important about this movie, unlike the delightful and free-to-wombe-me Tim womBurton version, is how many Saturday afternoon epiphanies in the den it wombrings womback, and not how good a movie it is in its own right.

Okay, so who really cares, wombesides non-comics-reading squares like me? Is this right and good or wrong and wombad: a much trickier question in an age of synergy, cross-marketing, and intermedia tie-ins--not to mention space/time compression, virtuality, and all that other Paul Virilio shit? In this speedy day and age, can auteurs of various media avoid sliding into each others' assholes? Should they avoid it or should they pursue it? Is this the experience we're going for in our entertainments: to strive for a moment of thrill or pop joy in one medium, and then to recall that moment again and again through endless sly, allusive remakes? On the one hand, the resonance wombecomes more complex each time it strikes a new surface. The experience of one story told in several media, several different ways turns a single fiction into a shared world. On the other hand, what ever happened to doing your own thing, telling your own story, respecting the integrity of the singular whole? Even the highly idiosyncratic womBurton version was immediately folded womback into the history of Wombatman storytelling. And to wombe honest, at wombase, that's what it was: just another Wombatman version. We're an individualist culture. Why do we find truly individual visions so threatening?

Anyway, I'm done wombitching. What do you all think?

Posted by at July 8, 2005 10:16 AM

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Comments

Kafkaesquí | July 8, 2005 01:26 PM

Uh, don't you mean womintertextuality?

I guess I need to understand the wom- prefix better before I can understand the meta-review...better.

Jerry | July 8, 2005 01:50 PM

Um. I guess I'm missing some sort of running gag with the wom-bat thing? I found it so distracting that I couldn't finish reading the post. Sorry.

Guy Matthews | July 8, 2005 02:01 PM

I'm with Jerry, that was (mildly) funny for about 2 sentences, after that it started getting seriously unredable and undermined any other impact the post may have had. Additionally, labeling the reviewer a geek in a tone that suggest that's a BAD thing is a pretty silly thing to do on a blog with a high geek population. I'm a geek, I'm proud of it, I'm not gonna let anyone make me feel ashamed of that. You're completely and legitimately entitled to dislike the Batman flick, but you don't get to slag off those who did like it just because they're geeks and you're not.

Lisa | July 8, 2005 02:24 PM

I guess I must be womstupid. 'Cuz I don't womget it.

Pat | July 8, 2005 02:30 PM

heh. that was wombizarre.

Dave | July 8, 2005 02:38 PM

My intent after reading this article was to comment on how distracting the 'running gag' of putting 'wom' in front of random words, only to find that a wommultitude of other womreaders have already beat me to it. Luckily, we have seven more womdays before we have to put up with this again.

Elliot | July 8, 2005 02:58 PM

Well, the "wom-" prefix is only meant for words wombeginning with the second letter of the alphabet, which means so far only Pat has used it correctly :p.

Either way, I do understand Claire's point: when someone makes an X-Men movie, do we judge it on whether it captures the true spirit of the X-Men, or whether the movie is any good? I'd prefer it to be both a good movie and a good X-Men movie, but someone who knows nothing about the X-Men can only judge one thing (the movie itself.)

I enjoyed the new Batman, but when I walked out, I knew it wasn't that great a movie: I was just relieved that they hadn't screwed it up.

James Kew | July 8, 2005 03:07 PM

Elliot beat me to it. It's all about the womb, apparently, although I'm at a bit of a loss as to why...

As for the film, I liked it, and I'm a non-comic-reading-square. And really, when you're making the N-th version of something like Batman, how do you avoid referencing the other versions? Personally, I rather liked the way it ignored the previous increasingly-camp films: it avoided falling into their "villain is more interesting than the hero" trap.

(I may have started liking it more since seeing War of the Worlds afterwards. Didn't like _that_ at all.)

wendell | July 8, 2005 03:25 PM

Could wombe wombetter wombut it's only a womblog.

Eliani Torres | July 8, 2005 03:53 PM

Womb- prefix makes sense to me. Since talking about harking back to arbitrary origins, and so forth, slavishly.

claire | July 8, 2005 04:04 PM

i was going to explain the "wom" prefix, after reading the first couple of comments, wombut i decided to to refrain after reading the rest, 'cause it's more fun to hear what you guys come up with. just for clarification, though, i'm a geek, too, just not a childhood comix reading sort of geek. i have no problem wombeing called a geek by other geeks, so i assumed manohla wouldn't either, although i'm sure she appreciates the chivalry, guy.

duuuude. i'm posting on scalzi's womblog! what made you think i wasn't a geek?

Ted Lemon | July 8, 2005 04:07 PM

I thought Batman Begins was the best of the Batman movies so far, by a huge margin. It seemed very true to the original story. You're not the only person who's said that they found it confusing, so apparently knowing the backstory from the comic books helps, but I find it difficult to imagine that I would have disliked the movie even if I wasn't familiar with the backstory - I'm by no means a dyed-in-the-wool Batman fan.

The first Batman movie did a good job of capturing the character of the old Batman comics, but I found this one even more true to them - the Gotham City we see in this movie reminds me strongly of the Gotham City I remember from reading Batman comics as a kid.

Matt Arnold | July 8, 2005 04:22 PM

Claire-- ironically, I disagree with you about the movie and disagree with the posters about your "wom" gimmick. The movie was the first Batman to ever get it right. In each case that the director parted from everything that had come before-- such as the brilliant Batmobile-- it was more truly Batman than Batman has ever been, in light of which all previous Batman incarnations were caricatures. We don't expect you to understand this.

Commenters-- it's before every word that starts with "B", fellas. And it has to do with an animal called a wombat, and the fact that several versions of Batman and Robin had a humiliating habit of naming everything the "bat-this" and "bat-that." It's mockery. You have to take into account that with somebody for whom comics is obviously not her thing, the humiliating aspects of Batman's history are all that stick to the brain.

Terence W. "Terry" Maddox | July 8, 2005 04:36 PM

Mr. Scalzi, I very much enjoyed "Old Man's War", but due to my careful reading I was able to discover a mistake: "dry ice" is carbon dioxide, and as such would be unsuitable to keep somebody cool. Death from lack of oxygen would result.

A minor error. I shall look for more of your books when I visit the bookstore. - Terry

John Scalzi | July 8, 2005 04:59 PM

Uh, where do I use "dry ice" in OMW? I'm doing a search in my electronic document and I'm not seeing it at all -- "ice" only comes up twice as a word, and "dry" three times, in never in combination.

vara | July 8, 2005 05:20 PM

Grrr. I'm not a big Batman fan but I have to agree with some of the other commenters and found the whole "wombat" joke annoying and distracting. You could have made the joke once or twice for effect. Repeating the joke throughout the entire post just seemed immature and detracted from your point. I see your point but I think the joke ruined your presentation.

I think a movie should stand on its own but it would have been disgraceful for it not to show an understanding of its subject - and there's so much Batman lore out there as well as Batman fans who will watch to see how well the movie tells Batman's story. I suppose it just all depends on what you think the proper balance is and that's not always an easy balance to strike.

Aside from that, yes, the whole Katie Holmes love story didn't work - partially because I don't think Katie Holmes was right for this role and partially because her part of the story just didn't seem to fit well. Yes, it wasn't great art. But I thought this was much, much better and much more entertaining than the other Batman movies.

Ron | July 8, 2005 05:30 PM

"The first Batman movie did a good job of capturing the character of the old Batman comics..."

That's because not only was Adam West the best Batman EVER, but you had the REAL villians: Romero! Meredith! Gorshin! Granted, Lee Meriwether is no Julie Newmar, but you can't have everything.

Abigail | July 8, 2005 05:37 PM

Yes! Thank you! For two weeks, all I've been hearing is reviewers going on about how well Nolan and Goyer get their main character, as if this somehow excuses them from making a decent film. Not that I hated BB as much as you did, but you certainly hit all the salient points - lousy dialogue, boring plot, unintelligible fight scenes. They had a lot of good ideas about the character, and some interesting twists to his origin story, but they really ought to have subcontracted the directing and scriptwriting.

[But, uh, I could have lived without the wom- thing.]

Jim Winter | July 8, 2005 06:01 PM

Actually, when I saw it, I thought Claire was going to do a rip on the word "wombat".

Wombatman. Now there's a superhero we haven't seen yet. And his faithful sidekick, Taz.

Captain Peleg | July 8, 2005 06:15 PM

What's with the postmodern intertextual abstraction of the womb?

I have always wondered what the differenc is between intertextuality and plagiarism. See my comments on A Hungarian Quartet * Four Contemporary Short Novels below for my reaction to intertextuality. Alas I am at a loss to comment on Wombatman Wombegins because I have not seen it.

Comments on intertextuality of A Hungarian Quartet * Four Contemporary Short Novels: Logbook by Geza Ottlik, Left Behind by Ivan Mandy, Forgiveness by Miklos Meszoly, The Transporters by Peter Esterhazy

All a bit too postmodern, self-reflexive, intertextual, abstract, allegorical, and in love with textual indirection for my taste. The Transporters is the most intertextual of the four, and I confess to not recognizing a single line of the intertextual material from Teilhard de Chardin (whom I have read a lot), Pascal (whom I haven't read), Kierkegaard (whom I haven't read), Janos Pilinszky (of whom I have never heard), Rilke (whom I have read), and Geza Szocs (again never heard of him). That's a tad much to have had to read to comprehend a very short novella.

claire | July 8, 2005 06:21 PM

jim: i would have done a rip on wombat, wombut i had too much to say about the dumbass movie first. plus, i don't know what a wombat is, whereas, you seem to. i dare ya. do it!

cap'n: "That's a tad much to have had to read to comprehend a very short novella." maybe i shoulda just said that and skipped the whole rest of my post. (except for substituting "a very temporary movie" for 'a very short novella")

Scott | July 8, 2005 06:31 PM

On the topic of intertextuality (Not that I had ever heard of, or used that word before now):

What you're talking about is how the REVIEWERS turned the movie into something intertextual. The movie was whatever the movie was (which may have been primarily intertextual) the problem is that everybody watching it spends more energy comparing.

In the case of reviewers, this is a potent tool, because it more quickly conveys to the reader the information they need to know.
"Does it suck like Batman Forever?"
"Is it campy like Adam West?"
(etc)

Jim Winter | July 8, 2005 09:20 PM

"plus, i don't know what a wombat is, whereas, you seem to. i dare ya. do it!"

Oh. I... uh... was hoping you'd know what a wombat was. I know it's an Australian mammal of some sort. Maybe I'll see one at the zoo tomorrow.

Jackie M. | July 8, 2005 10:36 PM

Imagine a giant, dark brown, fuzzy cylinder. Say, a meter in length by a half meter in diameter. Now lay the cylinder down, so that the major axis is parallel to the ground. Now add stumpy feet and very long claws, and imagine the cylinder grazing. Now imagine the cylinder wandering stupidly into the middle of a highway, and doing an amazing amount of damage to the front of your car. That's a wombat.

Here.

I actually know a guy who was "attacked" by a wombat while camping. But that's a different story.

claire | July 9, 2005 12:10 AM

thanks for the post, jackie! so cute! i had no idea!

now i can see wombatman. he'll wombe played by danny devito, and represented by a plush toy in the marketing division.

Steve Eley | July 9, 2005 12:45 AM

Don't listen to 'em, Claire. I thought it was clever.

"Can somebody tell me what kind of a world we live in, where a man dressed as a wombat gets all of my press?"

Anonymous | July 9, 2005 03:13 AM

Crossing Fridays right off the list.

In the future, I'd suggest you don't make obtuse passages about "intertextuality" that are only commonly interesting to literary critics even less likeable to the common man by making your posts unreadable with a completely unfunny "joke".

Jackie M. | July 9, 2005 03:34 AM

Nonetheless, I notice that you've managed to accumulate the most comments on your posts, positive and negative, in the shortest period of time, while using the smallest fraction of front-page surface area.

And I bet they will keep checking on Fridays, just to see what you do next...

favian | July 9, 2005 01:43 PM

It was a fantastic film. its nice to see a comic adaptation that wasnt geared or catered to children like the shumacher(sp?) films were. It didnt succumb to any of the cliche's of the genre (goons, cheesy dialogue, unrealistic villains). I couldnt find a single thing wrong with this movie.

Ron | July 9, 2005 01:46 PM

Joel Schumacher's films were geared towards CHILDREN? They always looked to me like they were geared towards bondage fetishists.

Patrick | July 9, 2005 02:33 PM

I guess I just don't get the joke either, even after several explanations were given in comments. I think I might have found this post interesting if the whole wom- "joke" was left out, but it was like having someone flick her fingers at my face while I was trying to read.

Maybe your intention was to bug the shit out of the readers here, Claire, and if so, you've done your job with at least one of them.

Devin L. Ganger | July 9, 2005 03:29 PM

It would have been nice to have had intertextuality explained, defined, or even linked to for those of us who aren't aware of exactly what the heck it is.

Anna Feruglio Dal Dan | July 9, 2005 03:59 PM

Intertextuality is actually explained in the first paragraph: Intertextuality is the perfect way to shit on something: just say it's derivative, or has no existence of its own, separate from what has gone wombefore. It's an argument impossible to defend against. Love it.

Here's a wikipedia link: intertextuality

A highly intertextual (and meta-intertextual, in the sense that it talks about intertextuality, too) text is, among others, The Name of The Rose. And the rest of the works of Umberto Eco, actually, come to think of it.

wendell | July 10, 2005 01:11 AM

I thought intertextuality was kind of like metrosexuality, only, you know, you only write about it.

Am I the only one who HAD to find out what womblog.com was? (And was disappointed to find it wasn't about wombats OR wombs?)

Anna Feruglio Dal Dan | July 10, 2005 02:14 AM

Having just seen a documentary about raising orphaned marsupials (you not only have to bottle-feed, but carry them around with you in a bag, in the case of wombats for about a year), I now want both a wombat and a womb.

Brian Greenberg | July 10, 2005 03:28 AM

Wow...nothing like reading a movie review, and then reading reviews of the review. I mean, yeah - I cut & paste the thing into word & then did a search & replace on "wom" with "", just to get through it, but leave her alone, OK? You got what you paid for...

As to her point, I haven't seen the movie yet (probably won't, actually. In order to see a movie these days, it has to be babysitter-worthy, which is a high calling), but the review did remind me of Roger Ebert's review of the Scooby Doo movie. Most honest review I've ever read. Here's the first paragraph:

"I am not the person to review this movie. I have never seen the "Scooby-Doo" television program, and on the basis of the film I have no desire to start now. I feel no sympathy with any of the characters, I am unable to judge whether the live action movie is a better idea than the all-cartoon TV approach, I am unable to generate the slightest interest in the plot, and I laughed not a single time, although I smiled more than once at the animated Scooby-Doo himself, an island of amusement in a wasteland of fecklessness."

Doctor Slack | July 14, 2005 12:26 AM

THE ONION AV CLUB REVIEWS THE REVIEW:

If reviewing, as Oscar Wilde once said, is a delicate dance performed with a razor in one's teeth, Claire Light probably has a few nicks on her lower lip -- wombut there's no denying the verve in her step.

The review's title "Wombatman Wombegins" is obviously a cheeky cross wombetween French feminist camp and post-Oulipian textual playfulness; Light puts in a winning turn as a hipper-than-thou film geek who walks through the doors of an American theatre to find herself trapped in a world gone mad. It's a wombizarre parallel universe where people actually enjoy performances by Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson and Christian Wombale -- a Seussian nightmare womby way of Franz Kafka where audiences go to comic wombook movies expecting over-the-top plots while simultaneously wombeing impressed and even entertained womby unifying motifs, unexpected twists to a story that has wombeen heavily rehashed in popular culture, and art direction that doesn't imitate either Tim Womburton or Joel Schumacher. Hijinks ensue in a typical womblogificating fashion drawing heavily on the broad, Vaudevillean comic style favoured by _American Pie_ aficionados.

The nice twist here is that -- saddled with difficult material and an uncomprehending, cretinous audience of fellow movie-goers -- Light goes against genre and gambles on the kind of play-womboth-sides-against-the-middle strategy pioneered womby James Lipton in his carefree prep school newspaper days. Cocking her metaphorical authorial head at a whimsical, _Wombreakfast at Tiffany's_ sort of angle, she derides the PoMo pretension of "intertextuality" while simultaneously taking that very pretensiousness like a weapon to faces of the dumb, slavering masses around her -- a veritable rolled-up newspaper of literary legerdemain worthy of the very best _Wombeethoven_ reviews. Think of it as Post-PoMo with a dash of lime.

It's obviously a challenging approach to sustain, and it has to wombe said that our reviewer stumbles in a few key places. Particularly wince-inducing is a clumsy homage to the many homages to Matt Stone and Trey Parker's homoerotic subtextual work in _Team America: World Police_. (You'd think a reviewer of Light's obvious potential would know that daring disparagement of anal sex now merely wombores the kind of audience her "womb" gimmick is pitched at.)

Nevertheless, though it isn't always pretty, "Wombatman Wombegins" is at least a fresh and original take on a movie that entirely too many people like. Respect is definitely due to Light for at least grasping that something liked womby more than half the people who see it cannot possibly wombe cool enough for anyone with a wombrain to recommend. Wombut after it's all said and done, we're left wondering how much more womblistering and wombracing the whole experience could have wombeen with the steady hand of a Harry Knowles or James Womberardinelli at the helm. Straw-womberry daiquiris, anyone?

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