In our beat-you-over-the-head technotronic age, CGI is going to be a big feature in any superhero flick. But as much I should complain about the complete over-soak of CGI that makes it look like reject footage from that disastrous film 2012, I have to admit that there are parts I like. In particular, I love how we get to see Peter Parker’s spidey senses in play. There are a few scenes where this plays out–most of them in the 3 minute trailers that give the best of the movie away. But here is one of my favourites, the Times Square scene:
Using cutting-edge technology borrowed from The Matrix, we can imagine how Spider-Man sees the what is coming at him. And what the Webslinger can process in his peripheral vision is coming at a completely different frame rate than you or I can handle. I first saw it in the teaser for the 2004 Spiderman 2, which was 10 or 20 Spider-Man films ago.
Writers too have a kind of spidey sense–at least some writers do. When we write a story it is more like a discovery than a creation. In the midst of our primary world of heartbeats and coffee grinders and telemarketers, we see a secondary world much like Spider-Man sees supervillainy on the warpath. It isn’t seeing, exactly, but a kind of sideways glance or peripheral vision. In our fictional universes we are able to respond with Spider-Man reflexes, moving with the narrative whether it is at the breakneck speed of heroes in action or the slow, ambling gait of lovers in an enchanted forest.
I wish I could say that this literary second sight worked in our primary world the same way. While writers might be undercover super heroes in a world that needs to learn how to defeat its many villains, as far as I know most of us would be crushed by the flying car in the cafe. Really, as writers, most of us would be leaning in to kiss a fictional girl-next-door Mary Jane (or aw-shucks Peter Parker), and all the world around us would disappear in that moment. No, most of us pretty much fail at dodging bullets beyond an agent’s rejection letter or tight spot in the plot.
But still, we need to be aware of our spidey senses as writers: That tingling feeling when an idea appears in our imagination. Our fear that if we look at it too directly it will either disappear or threaten to overwhelm us. The quiet discipline of controlling the moment as we set our bodies into the motions of world creation. The impossible mental feat of seeing the individual paths of a dozen characters in simultaneously in a universe that is still being made. And, not infrequently, the disturbing pain and regret we feel when one of our characters is lost in that unmade world.
As artists we have a lot to regret about our cultural fade into technology shortcuts in film–even if there is so much gained. But these moments remind us of our view as writers, and the tremendous power we have at our disposal. And with great power, comes…. Well, you get the idea.