Sunday, March 22, 2020

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Man of Steel Scene 4

This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses Scene 4 (Jor-El retrieving the codex) of Man of Steel, directed by Zack Snyder.

  • An active Genesis Chamber
  • Color and Music
  • Kryptonian Codex
  • Jor-El Climbing, Falling, and Flying
  • Chase Scene and Damaged Moon

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<Transcript Below>

Welcome, fans of Man of Steel. My name is Alessandro. In this podcast, myself, along with Sam Otten, Rebecca Johnson, Sydney, and Nick Begovich, work together to analyze the DC Films produced by Warner Brothers studios.  You can find us on twitter @raveryn, @ottensam, @derbykid, @wondersyd, and @JLUpodN. And you can follow the show @JLUPodcast.

In this episode of our Man of Steel Scene-by-Scene analysis we are figuratively diving into the Genesis Chamber on Krypton, just as Jor-El is doing literally. This is an active Genesis Chamber in contrast to the one that will be found on the scout ship and is later used to create Doomsday in Batman v Superman and revive Superman in the Justice League movie.  That one we will see be destroyed when Kal-El attacks Zod who is flying the ship.

The Genesis Chambers can be equated to the Birthing Matrix originally introduced in John Byrnes’ Man of Steel comic book series. And as we see in Justice League, it also acts as a stand-in for the Regeneration Matrix used to revive Superman in the Reign of the Supermen run of comics.

So here in Scene 4, Jor-El swims through a dark tunnel to reach the full chamber.  In a way it is representative of a fallopian tube leading to the large chamber housing the “eggs” like an ovary.  There appear to be machines monitoring and processing each orb. Incidentally this large array of pods and the doting machines is actually reminiscent of the film The Matrix.  One such machine takes away an orb as Jor-El swims upward. This quick glimpse of the artificial process for procreation on Krypton will become more meaningful later when the AI Jor-El provides additional information about the Kryptonian societal structure.

This scene involves a great use of color starting with the wide shot showing the full Genesis Chamber. The orange hue in the fetal pods contrasts really well with the blues and greens in the background. We all agree that for a film criticized for not having color, we’ve already seen quite a lot of it so far, especially in this sequence.  We also hear a new musical cue which uses the Krypton notes and does a great job at painting the scene with what sounds like a combination of 80’s deep-sea and space sci-fi undertones. This E, C, A, F musical cue is also used later when Clark is in the water following the oil-rig explosion, but it's far more subtle then. It’s still a great set up and connection between these scenes with Jor-El swimming toward the island enclosure holding the Codex and Kal-El remembering his mother telling him to swim toward the island representing her voice.  The Codex and Martha are both maternal symbols lending their voices, guiding father and son to salvation.

Jor-El makes his way to the central hub of the Genesis Chamber which holds a pocket of air in which the Codex is transmitting DNA data to the developing, unborn babies.  Scene 2 gave us the first mention of the Codex, but we see it here for the first time. In a Yahoo Movies Q&A with Amy Adams and Kevin Smith, Zack Snyder shared some background information about their choice with the Codex.

  • First, the skull was from the earliest Kryptonian specimen that they could identify in their evolution, the Kryptonian version of homo sapien. They traced their lineage back and found that skull. It’s the first physical incarnation of what an ideal Kryptonian would be. The skull serves as raw material for their DNA.  
  • Second, the streams that are coming out of that skull could represent the warriors or the scientists. There are subtle differences in how they come out of the skull.
  • Third, the skull had been fought over by different religious or scientific factions and Snyder envisioned a “culty monk group” to have engraved Kryptonian sayings into the skull.
  • And fourth, when the Genesis Chamber was constructed, the skull was placed there. In other Genesis Chambers across Krypton, there might be a femur or other parts of the first Kryptonian, like saints and relics within early Christianity.
These ideas are not necessarily explicit canon in the Man of Steel film universe, but hearing them from the director himself gives them quite a bit of credence.

Going forward in the scene, Jor-El grabs the skull and as he looks at it in his hand, the glowing light emanating from it goes out and we hear a sound like a machine powering down which immediately turns into an alarm.

Rebecca poses the question of why the glowing light on the Codex goes out after Jor-El plucks it from its resting place.  We know that the information is still there once it’s removed because Zod and his crew want to take it out of Kal-El later.  It is likely that the device the Codex was connected to is what caused it to glow. Perhaps it was converting the genetic information into some kind of photon data.  We see glowing particles emanating from the Codex to the tentacle like stems around it which look plant-like in nature. It would make sense if they are converting the light energy into data through some kind of photosynthesis.

Reacting to the alarm, Jor-El dives down and then emerges from the pool. When he comes out of the water, we first see a rocky ground and then his hand comes into frame. This type of camera shot will be echoed later when Kal-El is learning to fly and he has to lift himself back up after falling on the mountain. So this is yet another one of the parallels between father and son, reinforced visually.

As Jor-El emerges from the water, he is quickly met with one of Zod’s soldiers in an aircraft, guns at the ready, demanding he surrender the codex. The lighting is amazing in this shot, with sun rays coming through the lacerations above forming an orange hue and reflecting off the water.  And the blue lights from the aircraft glimmer as if to convey an authoritative police presence. Jor-El finds himself between a rock and a hard place as he looks over the edge of the cliff with seemingly no escape. This glance shows us more fighting below as another aircraft is shot at by Zod’s men.

A warning shot is fired off near Jor-El’s feet prompting him to use the moment to escape.  He jumps off the cliff to the depths below. This reminds me of a metaphor presented in the book Ishamael by Daniel Quinn of humans driving themselves off a cliff with their advancements in technology. In a way that is exactly what the Kryptonians have done. And here, Jor-El falls off that cliff.  But just as Jor-El is swept up and saved by H’raka, the Kryptonian race in a way is also saved when Kal-El is swept away from Krypton in his pod. Speaking of H’raka showing up to save Jor-El, it seems that Kelex once again saves Jor-El by calling on H’raka.  We see him on H’raka’s back throughout the next part of this scene, and he also may be serving as a shield for Jor-El at various points.

By the way, the visual emphasis on Jor-El’s fall is a brilliant moment for at least two reasons. First, because we, the audience, are watching this knowing full well that he is Superman’s father, and we know that Superman’s primary feature is the ability of flight, this is a great setup to see his father falling under the full weight of gravity, with the payoff later being Superman’s flight scene. The fact that Jor-El and the Kryptonians can’t fly on Krypton also communicates to the general audience member that Superman’s powers are only exhibited on Earth, not on Krypton. Second, Jor-El’s desperation to escape Zod’s soldiers causes him to jump and it’s sort of his version of “Sometimes, you have to take a leap of faith first. The trust part comes later.” Jor-El’s leap of faith is rewarded when H’Raka comes to the rescue. One could think of this as the relationships, like the one between Jor-El and H’Raka, that will come back around and be there when you need them. Sadly, H’Raka doesn’t seems to make it out of this sequence alive, but this loyal creature needs to be partially credited for saving Kal and the Kryptonian race, along with Kelex, of course.

Next, Zod’s soldiers pursue Jor-El, and we get some really nice zoom shots during this aerial chase creating depth and perspective while adding to the feel of being there atop of flying creature.  This Jor-El chase scene reminded Sam of the opening episode of Superman: The Animated Series, where the creators of that show were the first to decide that Superman’s Dad should actually get his own action sequence to kick things off, though in their version the chase scene involved vehicles more akin to hover bikes. Here in Man of Steel, the organic aspect of H’Raka and Jor-El’s relationship with the animal is a fitting touch for this story, and the music -- a sped up version of Superman’s theme -- is also a unique touch here.

Two large ships crash into each other ahead of Jor-El.  He uses that to escape the two ships chasing him. Unfortunately an explosion hits H’raka as they pass by.  We get another nice snap zoom shot, this time on H’raka injury as he grunts. Jor-El recognizes and emphasizes with his friend’s pain and attempts to ease him.  They approach the Citadel where Jor-El plans to launch Kal-El into space.

In the background is a destroyed moon which is a nice Easter Egg for comic book fans.  In the World of Krypton comics, Jax-Ur launched a missile into space which deflects off a ship and hits the moon, Wegthor, shattering it. This prompts a ban on space travel, which is also banned or at least abandoned on this version of Krypton.

With one less wing to flap with, H’raka has a rough landing in front of the rising sun suggesting he barely makes it.  And as the sun rises into the sky, so will Jor-El’s son.

End of Episode

That’s our analysis of Scene 4 of Man of Steel. It was quite informative and action-packed.  Always a great way to start a film. Thank you so much for listening and for your support of the podcast.  We’d love to hear what you thought of this scene, and of Krypton’s civilization in general. Feel free to reach out to us on twitter @JLUPodcast or in the comments section below this episode.

Thanks again for listening.  In the next episode we’ll learn more about what baby Kal-El’s future holds.

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