Friday, June 17, 2011

Sketchbook/X-Men: First Class (Collaboraction) Compare/Contrast

A sketchbook picture of the X-Men

Last Saturday, I saw X-Men: First Class and Collaboraction’s SKETCHBOOK: Evolution -- both during opening weekend! Since I had caught the fifth installment in the X-Men series earlier in the day, it was weighing on my mind as I sat in the audience later that night in Chopin Theatre. The movie and festival seem ripe for comparison. After all, both focused loosely on the theme of evolution! Below you’ll find my running comparison of the elements in the sci-fi action blockbuster, X-Men: First Class, and the festival of avant garde short works, Sketchbook: Evolution.

Franchise History

If you are unfamiliar with these two franchises, and the Genus: Species format of the titles didn’t tip you off, allow me to clue you in: both X-Men: First Class and SKETCHBOOK: Evolution are part of successful, long-running series. I won’t bother getting into the whole Marvel-ous history behind the X-Men franchise. What’s important to know for the purposes of this comparison is that the first X-Men movie came out just one year before the first Sketchbook festival. Coincidence? Unlikely. But check this out: there have been 11 Sketchbook festivals, and only five X-Men movies! SKETCHBOOK clearly has the upper-hand in terms of output. (And let’s just be honest: X-Men 3 was barely serviceable, and X-Men: Origins? Absolute garbage.)

I haven’t seen any of the earlier SKETCHBOOK festivals, so that’s about all I can say on this subject.



X-Men: First Class stars the guy from Inglourious Basterds (the one with the unconvincing German accent) as Magneto, and according the IMDB, the voice of Gnomeo plays Charles Xavier. It also features that hot girl from that movie about growing up with an extended family of meth dealers in the Ozarks, except they dolled her up in this one so she actually looks attractive, and so then she forgot how to act? On the other hand, SKETCHBOOK: Evolution stars your freshman roommate from DePaul Theater School, a barista from Intelligentsia who handed you a flyer while you were ordering a coffee and scone, and Steve Wilson’s high school acting class.

I’d say the performance quality in these two ventures was about equal: there were some great performances and there were some amateur performances. Pint-sized theater prodigy Ada Grey was in one of the sketches, and she absolutely stole the show. Ada is six years old, and I’m pretty sure that her theater blog has more followers than Iews You Can Use (but that’s okay, we’re not sweating it, RIGHT GUYS?). And it turns out she’s also a natural performer, too. Of course. WTF. She is six years old! I couldn’t even tie my own shoes when I was six. Honestly, Ada Grey was probably the most evolved thing in the whole festival.



It’s a little unfair to try to compare plots, because SKETCHBOOK: Evolution had like 16 plots, more or less (some of the pieces didn’t technically have “plots”), whereas X-Men: First Class, being borne of a single script, had one plot. But this is as good a place as any to mention “The Franchise,” a sketch that spoofed blockbuster franchises and had me wondering about the eight dollars I’d spent on X-Men: First Class. (For the record, I don’t regret it.) “The Franchise” poked fun at Hollywood’s tendency to recycle successful blockbusters into stale carbon copies, to the point where they fall into the absurd.

Generally, I’d have to say that the storylines present here were mostly uninspired (and I’m talking now about both X-Men: First Class and the majority of the pieces in SKETCHBOOK: Evolution). The stories were entertaining, yes, but the theme is supposed to be evolution here, right? Genetic mutation! Rapidly advancing technology changing the way humans function! Shit like that! There has to be something more original that this incredibly talented theater community can dredge up than a sketch about an iPhone intervention, or a story about a pair of two-dimensional scientists who discover the third dimension. The fifth X-Men installment also suffers from tired ideas that tend to weigh down the action, but that’s Hollywood, so what do you expect really?

Since I’ve been told that I have difficulty managing my expectations, I’m adjusting the grades for “plot” based on the fact that I had extremely low expectations for X-Men: First Class, and perhaps unreasonably high expectations for SKETCHBOOK: Evolution.


Special Effects

This is a no-brainer, right? X-Men: First Class obviously takes this one. X-Men’s budget was like a million times SKETCHBOOK’s. I don’t actually know the budget for either of these ventures, but it’s not even a fair fight. So I’ll give SKETCHBOOK: Evolution an A for effort. They had a freaking awesome puppet. And there were some interesting things they tried to do with overhead projectors.

(Could air-conditioning be considered a special effect? SKETCHBOOK gets an F for air-conditioning.)


Final results

So which should YOU go see, X-Men: First Class, or SKETCHBOOK: Evolution? What do you think I’m going to say? This is a theater site, right? Look, SKETCHBOOK: Evolution closes in just a couple weeks. X-Men: First Class, however, will likely be available in one form or another for eternity. Based on the grade point average I’ve calculated for each of these two events, SKETCHBOOK: Evolution get the upper hand, ever so slightly. But that doesn’t even account for live theater’s limited shelf-life. Once SKETCHBOOK closes, you won’t be able to find it On Demand or on Blu-ray. Go see this show!


-Joe Tansino


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