10 Ways to Un-Screw Up ‘Green Lantern’

Instead of a franchise starter, Warner Bros. ended up with a $200 million lesson in what not to do — will they heed that lesson?

Last Updated: July 7, 2011 @ 2:02 PM

 

Green Lantern,” we saw, we left the theater.

The movie managed to turn off casual viewers and hardcore comics fans. Despite that the producers have announced that there will be a sequel.

So what to do now? This summer proves a movie doesn’t have to be great or even good to be a hit. But in a genre that includes “The Dark Knight,” “Thor” and “Spider-Man 2,” it might be a good idea to aim a little higher. So what do they need to do differently?

1. Make it a reboot. Take a cue from the “Incredible Hulk.” The Ang Lee version didn’t do that badly at the box office. Still, Marvel didn’t throw good money after bad. They re-shot, re-thought and did it right the second time. The same thing is happening with Superman. A new reboot is in the works after the failure of “Superman Returns.” You’re only tied to successes, not failures. Start all over again. Re-cast if necessary.

2. Understand that Green Lantern can be kinda ridiculous. I still have (somewhere) a vintage Neal Adams-era Green Lantern comic. In it, Hal Jordan saves a planet from a comet by creating a giant hand and trampoline to bounce the planet’s moon into the comet’s path. Green Lantern is a lot like Superman at the time of the Christopher Reeves movie. He can be so ridiculously powerful (or just ridiculous) that you have to edit him. Could Green Lantern prevent a helicopter crash by creating a giant Hot Wheels track? Sure. Should he do that in a multi-million dollar tent pole movie? Probably not.

3. Understand that Green Lantern can be awesome. Recently Geoff Johns took the complicated mechanics of the character and made it work. He took the green, yellow and violet power rings that were floating around the DC Universe and made it all make sense in its own terms. The Green Lantern universe today is a lot like the "Star Wars" universe of in the original trilogy. That multi-colored energy, that’s the Force. They touched upon it briefly in the “Green Lantern” and that’s one of the biggest flaws. The filmmakers brushed aside one of the biggest assets they had. At no point in the movie do they say, “This is the Force only color coded.” That would have at least given the mass audience an entry point into this world.

4. Make it mysterious. Why was the Force amazing? Because at first they kept it mysterious. They didn’t try too hard to explain it. The second they introduced the midochlorians, the series went completely off the track. In “Green Lantern” there was an utter lack of mystery. They wasted screen time with layers of techno babble and sapped the story of any sense of wonder. They basically depowered the power ring. There was hardly any mystery in the way things were shot or edited. Your main character finds an alien, gets transported to a distant planet, and is given a ring that turns his imagination into reality, yet these beats are shot and preformed like they were an inconvenience for both the actors and the director. In the "Harry Potter" films, we know Daniel Radcliffe is in front of a green screen. But both the actor and the directors did there best to convince us something incredible just occurred on screen.

5. Make it tougher. Part of keeping Green Lantern from getting too silly is figuring out how to use the power ring. It’s okay to create a sword with the ring as long as it’s a sword of pure energy and can slice through metal like a light saber. Go back to the training scene in the movie. If Hal creates a green sword and then uses it to cut a metal beam or stone pillar in half, then we understand. Using the ring to create a sword then makes sense.

6. More energy blasts. And Hal and the other Lanterns should use their rings to just zap people. That’s what they do in the comic books now. And you can add cool things like having the beams turn at right angles. What’s the point of creating a villain like Parallax if you’re only going to attack him indirectly? Instead of flipping a fuel tanker into his face and creating a fifty cal, just blast him with the ring.

7. You’re playing with more than one or two emotions. The movie really suffered because Hal’s big character failing is supposed to be fear. As more than one reviewer pointed out, Hal is an ace test pilot. If fear were really his problem he probably would have been out of a job by now. There’s a huge problem when you try to form connections between two unrelated emotional states. You can still be fearful yet still be determined. The beauty of Johns’ reworking is there is larger emotional spectrum to play around with including love, anger, greed, and peace. In the recent Green Lantern comic event, Hal went through several emotional phases and switched Lantern colors a couple of times. That would make the character richer and help straighten out the story.

8. Use Sinsetro better. Sinestro is a tough villain to translate to film. He was created back in the Silver Age where a lot of villains had O’s at the end of their names; Star-O, Despair-O, and Sinister-O. In recent years he’s become a very powerful and compelling character in the DC Universe. In the movie, Sinsetro was well played by Mark Strong, but the character wasn’t used correctly. He wasn’t as big a part of Hal’s story as he needed to be. If there’s not a strong connection between these two characters then his subsequent turn to evil isn’t as strong.

9. Plan to have something awesome! Every now and again you get filmmakers who seem to buy into their own marketing campaign and just assume that their movie is going to be an amazing roller coaster ride. That doesn’t just happen, you actually have to put something awesome in your movie, then it will be awesome. With “Green Lantern” I’m not sure what we were supposed to be blown away by. The action scenes were humdrum. The effects were run of the mill. This goes back to not knowing how to best use the character. They didn’t figure out how to make "Green Lantern" cinematic, they just threw some very expensive effects on the screen and hoped it worked.

10. Clean up the stupid stuff. If nothing else, “Green Lantern” should teach DC and Warner's that you have to pay attention to the small things. Especially in a big budget fantasy. The audience already has its suspension of disbelief strained to the limit. Little mistakes take a movie like this completely over the edge. The scene where Hal knocks a guy through a brick wall? That would kill the bozo. All that was missing was Ron Burgundy telling Hal, “You should lay low for a while. You’re probably wanted for murder.”

Instead of a franchise starter, Warner Bros. ended up with a $200 million lesson in what not to do. Will they heed that lesson? 

Michael Lee is a novel writer, blogger and freelance journalist living in L.A. He's been a judge for the prestigious PAGE Awards and blogs about his two biggest passions, screenwriting and food, at Screenwriting Foxhole and To Cook and Eat in L.A., respectively. Lee is also a co-author of "The Insider's Guide to Screenwriting" and has just published his first novel, "My Frankenstein."