Cinematic Sandboxes

So, after sitting through the last three superhero movies of 2016 (BvS: Dawn of Justice, Captain America: Civil War and X-Men: Apocalypse) and reading screed after screed and post after post from fans and friends and frenemies and strangers, outlining what’s right with them and whats wrong with them, why they aren’t good or what should’ve been done differently, I’ve come to the conclusion that – in general – audiences simply don’t want that much story or character in these types of films.

They want story and character, don’t get me wrong. They just don’t want much of it.

These films – and the material they are based on – are simply extensions of power fantasies about our fear of death. They are also gladiatorial games of a sort, fulfilling a need that pro wrestling or MMA or actual warfare doesn’t.

Superheroes are strong enough or fast enough to meet death head on… they can fight cancer in a way we cannot, and more often than not they are victorious over death. Because bigger than life heroes win.

The way these films are marketed and sold – not the way they are made or told, just to be clear… but the way they are sold, plays up the ‘exciting’  and ‘action-packed’ elements to the point where we get fan trailers or ‘supercuts’  or phrases in articles or reviews that state that the preferred elements audiences want, i.e. ‘…As much as we’d all love to see Hulk kick ass for two hours…’ is simply the punching, the fighting, the explosions and destruction.

Think about it… how many times have you sat in front of a fighting match or a film and muttered “Just get on with it!”? If you say you haven’t… you’re fibbing.

I get that mindset, especially when it comes to entertainment. I grew up with toys and games and stories that glorified combat and fighting. Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots. Risk. Stratego. Chess. As I got older, AD&D and computer games – Doom, Mortal Kombat, Warcraft, Age of Empires.

Working in the video game industry, the best part was being able to work with game engines and toolsets, setting up scenarios and situations and then watching how things played out.

And maybe that’s the next evolutionary step for films of this type.


In the early 80’s (1981 to be exact) Michael Crichton directed a film starring Albert Finney, James Coburn and Susan Dey … it’s called ‘Looker‘ and watching it now you may think it lame. The gist of the film is that models are committing suicide after they submit to plastic surgery in order to be ‘digitally perfect’. Of course the suicides turn out to be murders because the company that hires the models, alters them and then scans their images into a databank (which they can then use to fit them into whatever commercial or ad or film they want) reneges on it’s “paycheck for life” incentive it uses to get the models to submit to the procedures in the first place.

As our technology advances and CGI and digital body and face scanning becomes more and more lifelike and easier to produce, the idea that an actor could submit themselves to this type of promise and then sit back and collect the rewards seems like a sweet deal. As long as they didn’t kill you off afterwards.

And that could also lead to a type of cinematic sandbox film making.

No need to recast Harrison Ford as Han Solo or Indiana Jones. He’s gonna look the same and so… bring on Star Wars Episodes 10-100, starring all the original cast.


Imagine if you were able to take Henry Cavill as Superman and Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk and then bend and mold them into whatever shape and position you wanted in order to make your ideal ultimate DC vs. Marvel showdown. You’d have access to the sets and world locations too. So your creations would look just like the films you see in the theater.

And given the vociferous amount of digital ink given to the problems and issues of the three films I mention at the top of the post, would fans and audiences member be happier to have a toybox version of these properties rather than sitting in the dark and passively watching something they have no control over – only to come out the other side disappointed or pissed or grumbling ‘why didn’t they do it this way?”

I prefer the quieter moments in these types of film, moments like the bunker scene from Winter Soldier, where Steve and Natasha confront Zola and learn that Hydra is alive and well and behind EVERYTHING. It has the same thrill as the elevator fight scene, at least for me. It’s tense, revealing and has you on the edge of your seat -the same way the shootout on the Guggenheim from The International does, but without the blood and violence.

I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point in the next twenty years or so, the technology becomes available to allow for this type of product to become cheap enough to find its way into the public’s hand.

But, of course, because of Rule 34, we won’t get two hour fights between The Hulk and Superman.

What you will get — you won’t be able to unsee. So yeah, maybe we shouldn’t get that kind of tech anytime soon.  🙂

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