Saturday, October 2, 2010

Serial: The Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941)

Considered the pinnacle of all serials, this is certainly a grand, epic adventure. The serial tells the story of how Billy Batson becomes Captain Marvel in order to save the members of his archaeological party. It then continues on with him having to use his newfound powers to prevent the villainous Scorpion from using the scorpion statue that the party found for evil.

When I got into serials this was always held out to be the greatest of them all. I was repeatedly told by collectors that I was going to love it. When I finally did see it I wasn't all that impressed. However several years later I sat down and watched the film on its own terms and I really liked it. Honestly, seeing it again (divorced of the hype with which I watched it initially), I found it's a much better serial than I first took it for. It's action packed with lots of neat cliffhangers and all the things you think of when you hear "serial". It is one of the best cinematic translations of a comic book to the big screen ever.

And as you watch this keep in mind that if the adventures seem a tad familiar it's because movie makers and comic artists have been raiding this film for the sixty plus years since it was made. You've seen this before because everyone has subsequently stolen from it. How many cliffhangers in the Indiana Jones films are lifted from this and other serials? Almost all of them.

Unfortunately, it also shows the perils of having a superhero as a serial lead; how do you make it exciting when the hero can't be hurt? It was a problem Columbia wrestled with when they did Superman several years later.

A must see not only for the history but also for the adventure. This is, when taken as one film, one of the truly great adventure films of all just happens to run four hours.

Currently out on DVD.

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