Wonder Woman: Four Differences Between a Short Film and a Feature

Wonder Woman Amazon TV Series

Last night, we talked about the misconception that because a pair of widely-discussed short films had successfully made Wonder Woman look awesome, there must be something fundamentally broken with the way Warner Bros. is approaching the character.

It's a frustrating line of conversation because the glib "Well, it should be easy" isn't only inaccurate but it creates a distraction from actually getting the character done right--especially when the media is complicit with dozens of "How hard can it be?" headlines, as happened this week when the second of the two shorts debuted online.

And that's not making excuses; you really do want them focused on making the movie right. Imagine the outrage, not to mention the cost financially and to the popularity of superhero films in general and female-led superhero films in particular, if Wonder Woman came to theaters and became the next Elektra or Catwoman.

Wonder Woman Amazon Princess Logo in the Style of Man of Steel - ImgurIn the course of our conversation, though, one of the things that we didn't really do was communicate exactly why a two-minute fan film is not comparable to a feature film. Frankly, we kind of glossed over it, thinking that it was maybe self-evident, but between comments made on social media around the stories and a recommendation from our buddy Ben Grimm, here's basically one sentence broken up into four parts that tells you why you're making a false equivalency when you say "This was awesome! Why can't Warners just do that?"

Those Wonder Woman shorts didn't have to sustain interest over a feature length...

Let me say this again: unless I'm misremembering, both of those proof of concept films were under five minutes. They were awesome, but it's very easy to make something look awesome. The first Green Lantern trailer drew some jeers but later trailers made the movie look amazing. Then you got to the theater and realized that the first one was, in most ways, much more representative of the film as a whole.

That's because you're working from some amazing source material and, generally, you've got great talent. It's possible to make almost any movie look cool in a highlight reel or trailer. I could cut something together for the Dolph Lundgren Punisher movie that would make it your must-see comic book movie of 1989.

...actually string a narrative...

That's right, folks; these things are terrific at showing us what a great concept Wonder Woman is. But that's premise, not plot. And it's plot that can get you into trouble. Ever notice that the best Batman comic you've ever read and the worst Batman comic you've ever read both starred Batman? That's because the premise of the comic doesn't change just because DC hired a crappy writer.

What's harder to do is to craft a coherent narrative that entertains a reader over the course of a story arc or a viewer along the course of a feature film or a TV season.

Batman Vs. Superman & Wonder Woman...or allow for integration into the wider DC Film Universe.

The days of Marvel fans jeering that "DC Cinematic Universe" is a misnomer are officially over--at least unless and until Batman vs. Superman doesn't happen, or flops. From now on, any major motion picture that Warner Bros. make with a DC character will likely have to play nicely with the vision of the world we saw in Man of Steel, which means that everything from the look of the movie to the way humanity interacts with the super-powered protagonist are decisions that have already been made by somebody else. These short films are great for setting a tone, but the tone isn't entirely yours to set if you take on a movie like this, any more than somebody could come into the Marvel Cinematic Universe and make something that looked and felt like The Dark Knight.

Also, they were free to watch.

We'll take the most recent one, for instance. Granted, it didn't have a massive promotion budget or big stars working on it--but it did get linked by seemingly every entertainment blog in the English-speaking world. A couple of weeks in, what have we got? Around 3.5 million views.

That's 3.5 million people who saw that link, clicked on it and decided to give it a couple minutes of their time. The response has generally been overwhelmingly positive, so we can probably assume that number will eventually double, even as the amount of coverage it gets dwindles to nothing. And for a 2-minute web video, that's damn impressive.

For a major theatrical feature, though? Let's say for the sake of argument the average movie ticket is $12 (it isn't). That's less than $50 million in its "opening weekend." For context, that's less than Gravity, this week's George Clooney/Sandra Bullock movie that was done for around $100 million (that's half of a Batman of Superman movie) and got comparably little promotion from the studio. It's also less than at least 11 movies that opened in 2013. Not exactly the kind of resounding success you want for a character on the scale of Wonder Woman, a movie that would cost a bare minimum of $150 million to make and something that fans and industry insiders have been braying for, for years.

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Now, that's not real math. That's drawing a lot of strained parallels between two superficially similar works that were created in very different ways for very different reasons.

And that's just silly.