Prometheus, Batman Begins and X-Men Origins: A Writing Exercise in Prequel Character Development

This lesson will use recently released prequel films to inspire students in their own creative writing and character development. Over the past several years “origin” films have been wildly popular. Prometheus, Batman Begins, and X-Men First Class are all examples of such films. These films take well known characters and provide a back story that depicts the life events that shaped their personalities. They explain and justify the characters’ actions, for better or for worse. It is an non-traditional, non-chronological method of story telling. In this lesson your students will use these films as inspiration to do the same with their own writing.

The Physics of Star Wars

Although the Star Wars movies are believed to be some of the most amazing films ever created, they break the laws of physics on a regular basis. In this lesson, students watch a Star Wars movie and identify scenes that break the laws of physics.

The Science of the Mockingjay

Students learn about genetically modified organisms and the danger this type of research poses by looking at the Mockingjay in The Hunger Games and drawing connections to the real world.

MLK and Malcolm X: The civil rights movement and the X-Men origins

The American Civil Rights movement inspired many people, including Marvel Comic’s mastermind writers Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. They have created some of the most powerful superheroes in the comic universe but did you know some of these characters were influenced by actual real life heroes in history? Lee and Kirby used the iconic civil rights leaders Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X as the inspiration behind the characters Charles Xavier aka Professor X and Erik Lehnsherr aka Magneto, the creators of the X-Men. Rather than fighting aliens and criminals, they fought against the oppression mutants faced on a daily basis in society, albeit by different methods. Much like MLK Jr. and Malcolm X, Professor X chose a non-violent approach and Magneto took more of a defensive stance against violent oppression and prejudice.

It’s presumed in comic book lore that Magneto is a villain but Stan Lee had a different perspective when he created the character. Stan Lee says about the metal warping mutant, “I did not think of Magneto as a bad guy. He was just trying to strike back at the people who were so bigoted and racist. He was trying to defend mutants, and because society was not treating them fairly, he decided to teach society a lesson. He was a danger of course, but I never thought of him as a villain.”

Even in the film adaptations of the X-Men series, Michael Fassbender who plays the role of Magento, admits the iconic figures were inspiration for their on-screen portrayals.
It came up early on in the rehearsal period and that was the path we took, says Michael Fassbender, These two brilliant minds coming together and their views arent that different on some key things. As you watch them you know that if their understanding, ability and intelligence could somehow come together it would be really special. But the split is what makes them even more interesting and tragic. The Hero Complex, LA Times

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The Reboot Era : Comparing and Contrasting Remakes to Originals

Testing new characters and ideas is a risky proposition…Established characters come with background knowledge from a tried and tested universe

You may have noticed that there are a lot of reboots these days – remakes or updates of an older media property for a new audience. Lately, 80’s toy and cartoon properties like My Little Pony, Transformers, G.I. Joe, and most recently Jem, have all been updated decades later. Some are hip cartoons for kids and parents to watch together, like My Little Pony. Some are major blockbuster action movies like Transformers, G.I. Joe and TMNT. Some updates have a modern twist, like how the new movie Jem and the Holograms makes its protagonist an online viral media star.

What you may not know is why there are so many reboots. There are a lot of reasons for it. In another cool NuSkool lesson, we explore some of the social reasons for reboots. Sometimes as society changes and we share new values, old morals from stories like fairy tales no longer seem to fit the stories we tell. (It’s a big leap from Hansel and Gretel as naughty, meddling children to the wisecracking superheroes of Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters!)

There are economical reasons for reboots. Testing new characters and ideas is a risky proposition for media producers who spend upwards of hundred of millions of dollars on popular media like Hollywood films, television programs, and video games. Established characters come with background knowledge from a tried and tested universe that producers can plug into and even change afterward, like when comic books that are adapted into movies or shows change based on its popularity.

There are also legal reasons for reboots. Popular media properties like superheroes, cartoons, toys, and other well-known characters are protected under copyright laws, which grant rights to the owners of these properties to control, to some degree, how the properties are used. If you wanted to make a Hollywood movie with a Marvel superhero like Iron Man, you would need to get permission from the person who owns the copyright. When you follow the chain of ownership, you end up at Disney, a major media institution that owns the rights to the Marvel universe, the Star Wars universe, and (of course) the Disney and Pixar animated franchises. (Remember, USERS like you also have certain rights to use copyrighted characters in a wide variety of ways, such as the critical analysis of this lesson or fan-made art projects, under US copyright law’s definition of fair use, which you can learn more about here.)

Comparing and contrasting original media properties to their rebooted versions tell us a lot about how different authors and producers tailor their media for different audiences. In this lesson, you will figure out how reboots are similar to or different from their originals and make some observations about what those differences tell us about the media property itself (including who owns it and how much it cost to make), different target audiences, and different techniques that rebooters use to tell the same story in a new way.

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Dystopia in Pop Culture: Fiction or the Future?

The most frightening fictional dystopias are recognizable extensions of our current world. 

Dystopias have become a staple of popular entertainment, and despite predictions to the contrary, they show no sign of tapering off. Yet most of us have only the vaguest sense of what a dystopia is.

For starters, a dystopia is the opposite of a utopia. A utopia is a pretty old concept; Thomas More created the term in 1516 to describe a perfect society. “Dystopia” is a more recent term, dating to the 19th century: it comes from the Greek ”dys” meaning “bad” and “topia” meaning “place”. While a utopia is an ideal civilization, where everyone has their needs met, a dystopia is a society that is essentially harmful. The central arc of dystopic fiction almost always puts the hero in conflict with the government or the group of people in charge.

The most frightening fictional dystopias are recognizable extensions of our current world. These worlds answer “What If” questions about the future with the most pessimistic of responses.
What if the earth runs out of oil?

What if we stop having as many children?

What if the government used reality TV as a form of propoganda?

What if there was no law and order?

What if we lived in a military run state?

Dystopian fiction imagines the worst-case scenarios for our future. However paranoid these imaginings may seem, they also expose important truths about our current reality.

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The Future is Here Part 3 of 3: Artificial Intelligence – When Will Siri Rise Up Against Us?

In 1950, Alan Turing, came up with a theory about Artificial Intelligence (A.I.). He was one of the most important early computer scientists and a legendary codebreaker during World War II (as shown in the film The Imitation Game). The Turing Test essentially states that if a person has two conversations, one with a computer and one with a human and can not distinguish which conversation is with the computer, then it qualifies as Artificial Intelligence.

Since the release of Turing’s paper introducing the Turing Test, philosophers have been debating if imitating human behavior counts as “intelligence,” or if it is possible to create a computer that can “think” on its own. It’s a simple topic that has raised moral issues, questions about the “human soul” and the dangers of the digital age since Turing’s paper was published in 1950.

Stephen Hawking has stated, “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” Elon Musk, the developer of Space X, has stated that A.I. is “our biggest existential threat,” and in January of 2015 he donated $10 million to DeepMind, an Artificial Intelligence developing agency “to keep an eye on what’s going on.” Bill Gates the co-founder of Microsoft has also stated he is “in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence.”

With all of these fears about Artificial Intelligence from leading scientists, technologists, and philosophers, should there be a larger concern for the rapid development of computer intelligence? How much can you really trust the latest version of Siri or Google Now? Find out more about Artificial Intelligence in this lesson and reevaluate where you stand on this issue.

Using Superhero Alter-Egos to Understand Basic Freudian Psychology

This lesson helps students understand basic Freudian psychology by having them apply his theories to popular superheroes. In every superhero story, we see two sides to the hero’s character, her/his human side and her/his superhuman side. The human side is often comprised of traits to which an audience can easily relate: loneliness, an inability to conform, unrequited love, etc. For example, Peter Parker of Spider-Man is a socially isolated nerd who can barely get the girl of his dreams to notice him. His superhuman side, on the other hand, is fearless, powerful, and exceedingly popular. Have your students use Freud’s theory of the id, ego, and superego to analyze how and why these humans transform into their respective superhero alter-egos.