As we wait for the big blockbusters of SF film to debut in March (JOHN CARTER and THE HUNGER GAMES), we have to find something to entertain us at the theater. This week’s offering was CHRONICLE, written by Max Landis and directed by Josh Trank.
Really, I was just going for the popcorn, but I was won over by this surprisingly thoughtful tale of three teenagers who stumble upon a mysterious cave and come out “gifted” with superpowers. Do they use these powers for good—to right wrongs, save the innocent, punish bad guys? No, they’re teenagers. First they hide what they can do, like a secret club. Then they play goofy pranks in stores and parking lots. Then things turn dark—very dark.
We see the story through the eyes of Andrew (Dane DeHaan), an isolated, abused, self-described loser whose mother is dying of some chronic illness and whose only interest is his new (used) video camera. (Andrew at least has some skill with the camera so the shakiness of the “hand-held” technique so in vogue these days is minimized. Later on, his telekinetic skill allows him to manipulate the camera from a variety of angles. Even better.) His cousin Matt (Alex Russell), a kind, but clueless soul, is his only friend. The third member in the trio, Steve, is a popular kid running for school president (Michael B. Jordan). How he ends up with them is a mystery, but it turns out he is also much more generous than such folks in high school tend to be—a genuinely nice guy. (Also black. Guess who dies first?)
When the changes come, Steve sees the potential for bringing the painfully shy Andrew out of his shell. It seems to work at first, but the inevitable rejection by a girl at a party sets up the eventual downfall. Andrew becomes stronger and angrier as his home situation grows worse. His friends can control him less and less. And in the last half-hour of the film, Andrew loses all control of his powers and himself.
The amateur reviewers I read saw this film as a movie in the comic book tradition, that is, as something focused on the superpowers, a la Spiderman or the Hulk. In those comics, a teenager or a scientist is accidentally given powers overnight and must come to terms with what to do with those powers. (Such a conferring of powers is a Marvel Comics thing, by the way. In DC comics, the superheroes either have no powers, like Batman, or were born with them, like Superman.)
At any rate, in the comics, you may have an uncomplicated hero, like Spidey, or a raging anti-hero, like the Hulk, but they usually do the right thing. In CHRONICLE, Andrew disintegrates under the pressure of his new-found powers (and the crumbling of his family). Only Matt survives to become the hero.
My first thought was not of comic heroes but of an older story—The Invisible Man. A scientific experiment succeeds in rendering its author invisible, but it also destroys his mind. The power of remaining invisible—and thus outside society’s constraints—is too much for him and megalomania ensues. He descends into madness and murder and is eventually destroyed. H.G.Wells, the author of the story, was himself well known for flaunting society’s conventions, but his cautionary tale is not usually read as a story of personal hubris. He meant his scientist as a representative of science in general, in need of some form of ethical restraint.
I don’t think writer Landis and director Trank set out to make that kind of film with CHRONICLE. It’s a much simpler story of the effect of too much power on an all-too-human personality. But it wouldn’t hurt for a lot of the teenagers who might see the film to think about the larger implications of that question—for themselves and their society.
The 2012 Virginia Romance Writers Fool For Love Contest is open for entries.
Contest entries must be no longer than 50 pages with an optional synopsis of up to five pages. Categories include: Short Contemporary, Long Contemporary, Historical, Inspirational, Romantic Suspense, Published Author, and Paranormal, Futuristic, Fantasy, Time Travel. Final judge for PFFTT category entries will be Amanda Barnett, Senior Editor, The Wild Rose Press. Contest deadline is March 14, 2012.
For contest details and entry forms: www.virginiaromancewriters.com
I will be judging again this year (and not entering), so you may be lucky enough to have an SFR-friendly judge in the early round. Polish those manuscripts and send ‘em in!