• As someone who has been resistant to the omni-tentacled powers of social media, I am pleased with myself for noticing something that social media does with more audience consideration than mainstream media.

    As with all topics, this one can be best understood by travelling far, far away and backwards in time to the Star Wars galaxy. I recently watched a documentary, Rogue 1: A Star Wars Story, which examines the events just before the historical time period of Star Wars, Episode IV, A New Hope.

    20161126_205558

    Worry not, I am aware that these characters are living in a fictional galaxy, but I jest because I am obsessed. I adore my Star Wars, so when new episodes arrive to fill in gaps in my favourite patch of fictional history, I am as excited as a Sith lord finding a new apprentice.

    But there is one tiny chink in my Darth Vader armour: the movie reviewers that I observe in mainstream media are often disrespectful of movies, such as these, that are meant to entertain.

    First, as I’ve discussed before, many reviewers are only capable of appreciating films that match their deep and dark genre sensibilities. If you’re not depressed or confused by the end of a screening, they’re not loving it. Consequently, they fail their movie reviewing duties because not all of us go to the cinema solely to cry and deconstruct opaque symbolism. There are other genres we like to imbibe, and many reviewers are unwilling to examine those movies’ abilities to live up to their genre requirements. For instance, if I’m looking to see an action film, and my reviewer treats Die Hard (an obviously brilliant offering in its category) and The Matrix (not so much) as equally “brainless collections of violence, stunts, and special effects,” then they will not have aided me in selecting between the two.

    Second, and more importantly in this case (since I do not need a critic’s help to inspire me to see Star Wars), many of the mainstream reviewers, with whom I have a begrudging one-sided relationship, have an annoying a penchant for spoiling the movies they discuss by giving away too much plot in their critiques. As in my first criticism, I think the leading causes of this aggravating habit are that the reviewers are arrogant and inconsiderate. Notice that, as they babble freely about the plots they’re exposing, they enunciate their unwelcome delivery with a patronizing tone of voice that implies, “Come on, in a movie like this, obviously that character was going to turn out to be that character’s dad. And, then obviously…”

    This condescending inconsideration is amplified by the reviewers’ distance from their audience. When my Friday afternoon movie reviewer, Katherine Monk, gives away too much of a movie in her Friday afternoon reviews on CBC Radio, she is not aware of me yanking my head phones out of my ears to protect myself.

    In contrast, then, after a trilogy of viewings of Rogue 1—which is a fantastic companion to A New Hope, and a superior installment, in my opinion, to its most recent rival, the pleasing, but troubled Episode VII: The Force Awakens—I craved more contemplations than my own about the new addition to the family. And, while I no longer had to fear the spoiling tendencies of the mainstream media, I was also aware that they were not going to consider my hobby with the nuance I was seeking. Therefore, I cranked up my internet, and dove into the wild space of Youtube, where I was greeted by individual and group conversations, featuring humour, intelligence, and appreciation for the subject. These youtubers were reviewing this Rogue 1 movie because they loved the Star Wars franchise, and even if they didn’t positively perceive this Star Wars story and collection of characters as much as I did, they had gone into the film—quite in contrast with our mainstream movie rebukers—hoping to like it. As a result, where it failed to delight them, I was open to their critiques because they hadn’t treated the movie as intrinsically irredeemable before they’d starting watching it.

    Now, I had visited in Youtube before, so I should acknowledge that I reviewed these reviews anticipating this level of respect. However, what I wasn’t expecting was that every Youtube reviewer that I surfed upon expressed concern about spoiling the movie for their audience, and so offered both a “non-spoiler” and a “spoiler” analysis of the film. In the latter service, every youtuber that I encountered reminded their audience at least twice that they were about to unleash vital plot details, so, if the viewer hadn’t yet seen the movie, they were invited to leave then or forever hold their complaints.

    I assume that this sort of consideration was motivated initially by the democratic nature of Youtube, wherein one starts with a tiny audience, which one can diminish or increase rapidly with every right or wrong turn of phrase. Regardless, the result is that such respect-for-audience has for now become a feature of Youtube culture: even the large, popular Youtube channels that I took in offer this same spoiler protection service.

    While Youtube has its vices (never read the comments: the many anti-social creatures who ply their crassness there will leave your belief in humanity scarred), this fantastic, spoil-resistant result has me pleased with the You-niverse. They have achieved a compassion for their audience that many mainstream reviewers have not even sought. In short, they have gone Rogue, and I like it.

  • I have been enjoying the Star Trek “reboot”* movies.

    *I think the films in this new series are more aptly described as “requels,” since the previous stories still “happened” in a prior timeline, but—after an incident with a wormhole and its resulting butterfly effect—those iconic tales are now being recorded over with new adventures of the same people.

    As I previously argued (against an eloquent but confused New Yorkerian attack), the first effort, Star Trek, was a brilliant combination of humour, adventure, and homage to the voyages that brought it. And the sequel, Star Trek: Into Darkness, continued that charming work well.

    I have now taken in the third, Star Trek: Beyond, and while I once again had a nice time hanging out with it, I think it was a small step for mankind less brilliant than its prequel requels, and I have a thought about why. As with most current big movie writers, the authors of Beyond (Simon Pegg and Doug Jung) fell into the unnecessary compulsion to always go bigger than anyone has gone before. For Star Trek writers, that means, if you’re not saving the world, your story’s not worth telling. In both Star Trek and Into Darkness, that was fine since the world-saving fit reasonably well into the larger plots.

    However, in many movies these days, the convention to go big is a narrative-distorting forced add-on to a smaller story that is (or could have been) thrilling on its own. Consider, in contrast, Die Hard, one of the greatest action movies humanity has ever conceived. The plot took place almost entirely in and around one skyscraper, where our hero, and the innocent building dwellers he was trying to protect, battled bank robber invaders. Had the Die Hard makers insisted on adding an attempt by the villains to blow up the earth, I think that would have undermined the smaller story that grabbed us.

    In Beyond, the crew is in year 3 of its 5-year mission to explore strange new worlds (i.e. they’re at lest few light days away from home), so it seemed Captain Kirk and crew were destined for an adventure that would not involve earth-saving tasks. Early on in the movie, though, we discover that they are making a scheduled stop at a Federation base (“Starbase Yorktown”).

    Yorktown is an atmosphere-containing orb city, which is both awesome (literally) and confusing. As someone who likes to imagine human-made civilizations in space, this one is as impressive and imaginative a rendering as I’ve seen. Nevertheless, upon first meeting it, my Spock-wannabe eyebrows rose up in confusion because Yorktown (circa 2263) seemed—to my uneducated, 3D-glasses-wearing eyes—to be more technologically advanced than the Federation would be producing more than a hundred years later in its base-based spinoff, Star Trek: Deep Space 9 (circa 2369). Despite my confusion, I was enjoying myself too much to realize that this amazing civilization was to be playing the role of the world-in-distress that would need saving during the end-of-movie chase scene.

    I’m not intrinsically opposed to movies about saving space stations, but, in this story, this extra task is of the variety of forced add-on, which cuts into the compelling smaller project of Kirk and friends. Nearby the station, there is a bermuda-triangle-like nebula that has recently captured a ship, so Kirk and crew warp in to investigate. Once inside the nebula, our enterprising team is ambushed by a voracious hive of mini-ships, and so are forced to crash land on a nearby planet where the hive’s leader has imprisoned crews from various ships over many seasons.

    It’s a wonderful idea for a Star Trek story, with lots of opportunities for creative uses of technology and moxie as our stars try to escape the bad guy’s evil plans. Sadly, though, in order to shove in the requirement of saving the nearby space-city into the overall plot, the writers had to shorten and simplify that brilliant adventure. And the subsequently squeezed in world-saving finale is so rushed that it was difficult for some of us in the audience to follow. Indeed, the complicated climax could have been stretched out to an entire movie on its own, but because it had to be packed into the final 10 minutes of the film, it is instead a jumble of frantic energy.

    Beyond is, I think, a fine movie overall, but its insistence upon limiting itself to the current “Go Bigger or Go Home,” trend is disappointing. For all their futuristic imagination, the creators of this film were unable to go beyond contemporary convention. Hopefully, in twenty years, when they three-boot this franchise, they’ll resist that temptation.

  • WARNING: This post contains plot spoilers. If you haven’t yet seen Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, please do so now, and then report back here to discuss.

    WARNING II: This review contains lots of details of The Force Awakens without full explanation because I’m assuming you have heeded the WARNING above, and have now seen the movie once or thrice such that you’ll be able to follow the details.

    And now, without further a Dooku:

    To bookend my nostalgia-aided anticipation of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, it’s time to decide what I thought of it.

    20160123_222145

    I think The Force Awakens is both brilliant and disappointing. It respects the humorous yet earnest tone of the originals. It divides its time well between storytelling and action. And there are many delightful new characters ready to fill our action figure collections. Most significantly, I’ve had a great time in my trilogy of viewings, and in each instance I’ve noticed something I didn’t in the first attempt.

    So, if The Force Awakens were the first-ever Star Wars, I would mark it down as a ten and buy my ticket to a fourth big screening with a giddy smile on my face.

    However, Episode VII cannot be measured only by its own excellence; it must also be checked for its ability to contribute to the saga that brought it. And that is where I am a smidge frustrated.

    (Before I list my complaints, I offer two caveats. (1) I still loved the movie, and will support its sequel efforts with all my force. (2) I would be delighted if any of my quibbles were proven wrong in future episodes.)

    (I) THE DARK SIDE NEVER SLEEPS:

    Some have said that, by copying the plot structure of Episode IV: A New Hope, Episode VII was pandering to nostalgi-addicts like myself. I think the opposite. To my obsessive fancy, the best way to honour Star Wars fanaticism would have been to continue the story that came before. That is, Episodes I-VI gave us an account of how the dark side rose and then fell from power. But, by reinstalling the same scenario of the dark side dominating with an oppressive regime at the start of this film, I felt as if those first six movies did not have a significant effect on the structure of our current galaxy.

    I don’t object to the dark side rising again (if not, “it’s gonna be a real short trip”), but I would have preferred this movie to be more about how it re-rose. Instead of starting with a Darth Vader II (Kylo Ren) and an Emperor II (Supreme Leader Snoke) already back in the same dominating dark places that they were in Episodes IV-VI, I would have loved to see the new dark leaders slowly undermining our victory in Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.

    As it was, it seems to me that director/co-writer JJ Abrams, along with co-writers Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt, are essentially saying, “We’re gonna start all over, fanboys!”

    That worked for Abrams’s other epic directorial commission, Star Trek, since that starry adventure has long been a multi-version universe. However, I don’t think such rebooting fits for Star Wars which has always been a continuing saga). Maz Kanata’s (Yoda II’s) explanation that evil regimes always dominate in some form (from the Sith to the Empire to now, The First Order) didn’t satisfy me. If the dark side taking over is inevitable, does any of this matter?

    (Nevertheless, I repeat my willingness to apologize for these complaints if the future movies and stories illuminate what I’m missing.)

    (II) THE HAN SOLO GOES DARK (LAST CHANCE TO AVOID SPOILERS!)

    The choice to send Han Solo to another universe was understandable (and I think the decision matched the original vision of George Lucas who, in his director’s commentary for the classic trilogy, talked about his preference for killing experienced heroes—such as Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda—so that new ones could get their own John Williams theme). And I thought that Solo’s death by his son’s (Kylo Ren’s) dark sword was a brilliant inversal of Luke saving his father from darkness. So I think the decision made good dramatic sense (and certainly the scene in which our Solo hearts were broken was wonderfully rendered), but I wish they could have picked someone other than the best character in the saga to sacrifice to such a noble dramatic cause. With all due respect to Princess Leia (and Carrie Fisher), I don’t think she has the charisma of her man, so she could have supplied all the dramatic significance of Kylo Ren killing a parent without us losing the guy who once brilliantly told Chewie to “Fly casual.”

    But again, from my couch, it seems that J.J. Abrams wants to remind us that the old guard is to be moved out of the way.

    (III) THE STORMTROOPER GOES LIGHT:

    Reformed stormtrooper, Finn, was a great character on his own, but to my psychological eye, his behaviours didn’t match what I would expect from someone who had spent his life being brainwashed at Stormtrooper Productions. I think Abrams et al lost a humour opportunity there wherein Finn might have felt a need to ask for orders at inconvenient times.

    Instead, Finn transformed from (I) being part of a brainwashed class who always had to follow orders to (II) being constantly delightful and ready to go his own way. There was little reference to any psychological consequences of what he’d been through (except his general fear of the First Order from whom he had escaped).

    Nevertheless, for his charismatic and humourous talents, I like Finn as Han Solo II.

    (IV) THE LIGHT OVERPOWERS:

    I’m confused by why Finn, a force-free fellow, did so well in a light-saber fight with force-wielding Kylo Ren. I recognize that Ren was injured, and that he still defeated Finn reasonably quickly. Nevertheless, Ren seems to have powers with the force that are pretty close to his grandDarth, Vader. In the original six episodes, I don’t recall any forceless foes troubling Jedi or Sith-level force artisans.

    Similarly, I thought Luke Skywalker II (future Jedi, Rey) seemed too powerful too quickly in her uptake of the ways of the force such that she was able to defeat Kylo Ren. Again, I realize Ren was injured, but he’s also been trained in the force by Luke Skywalker and Supreme Leader Snoke. Rey, meanwhile, seems to have had no training, and is relying only on her intuitive sense of how the force works. Indeed, without a single lesson on letting the force flow through her, she may already be most the skilled Jedi since Yoda.

    It’s been pointed out to me that Rey has likely got some impressive Jedi genetics roaming around her. I agree, but so did Luke Skywalker, and he wasn’t instantly infallible when he first realized he could deliver his own pizza without leaving the house.

    (UPDATE: Reading some of the blogs about this movie—which I’ve now seen four times—they point out that, in her flashback to being orphaned on Jakku as a tiny girl, Rey was wearing traditional padawan garments, meaning she would have had some Jedi training, after all. I’m still confused about how that would explain her ability to go lightsaber to lightsaber with Ren, who’s training was not interrupted in childhood, but I think the point does undermine my quibble there.)

    Nevertheless, I enjoyed the banter of Finn and Rey, and I’m happy to have them be my new heroes. And, once again, I would be delighted to be proven wrong on all of these points via the details that will entertain us in future episodes.

    (To that end, there’s a funny, albeit crusty criticism of killjoy criticisms of The Force Awakens by Matty Granger. Perhaps his arguments are sufficient to undermine my concerns, but I’m not satisfied yet.)

    May the next Episodes prove me wrong. 🙂

  • This week, the world gets to witness for the first time, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.

    I was in grade 1 when the prior entry in this galactic log, Episode VI, Return of the Jedi first visited our movie screens. At the time, I was afraid of watching movies in theatres. I don’t remember why I was scared, but I know that I must have been quite anxious because I recall my dad having a serious chat with me, trying to persuade me that this movie would be worth overcoming my fears for.

    When he mentioned the movie, though, I was already aware of it. That very morning in “show and tell,” one of my classmates had told us about having seen Jedi the night before. He described a compelling story of a heroic Lifesaver guy dueling various evil forces (I can still remember the image I produced in my mind of a cylindrical lifesaver candy man wearing a rainbow of colours battling bad guys).

    So, halfway through my dad’s description of Return of the Jedi, I told him that I had heard of that movie, and that, actually, I was interested to see what would happen to the colourful hero. No further persuasion was required: I would deign to take in a film that evening.

    I don’t recall whether I realized, during that first viewing that the “Lifesaver man” I’d been daydreaming of was, in fact, the lightsaber-wielding Luke Skywalker, Jedi Knight. There probably wasn’t room in my brain for such contemplations: it was already occupied by a thousand thoughts and emotions, as my new heroes and friends, Luke, Han, and Leia battled the evil yet mesmerizing villains, Darth Vader and The Emperor.

    There was now a force permeating my imagination that would never go away.

    I tell this candy-flavoured story of my first meeting with the greatest saga of my movie-going life not because I think it is especially unique, but because I suspect all those who love George Lucas’s galaxy far far away have their own story of complacent expectation turned to wide eyed, ‘What have we here?’ discovery.

    The fact that I was lucky enough to meet Star Wars for the first time in childhood probably intensified its effect on me. As did their unprecedented offering of action figures. All huge movie franchises have toys, but the Star Wars empire sold figures of every minor character who stumbled into frame long enough to wave “Hi” to their moms. And my brother, one of my sisters, and I wanted them all. Not just for the sake of completing a collection, but because each character seemed to be a true resident of that wonderful galaxy. They weren’t just cogs in in the wheels of Jabba the Hutt’s tomb, they were the keeper of the Rancor (i.e. the guy who trained the monster who was paid, in food, to eat unwelcome visitors). That shirt-less Rancor-keeper, who cried when his drooling, building-sized creature was killed by Luke Skywalker, was an important person to us. Rancors needed someone to take care of them just like our own pets did.

    Each character and location in the Star Wars galaxy existed independently of what would eventually happen to them: in our minds, they were significant people and places that housed communities and hierarchies and bureaucracies. To posses an action figure who worked on the Death Star was to have, in our Star Wars carrying case, access to that terrifying place.

    My parents and relatives supported my siblings’ and my Star Wars figure obsessions with birthday and Christmas gifts. My bother and sister’s unwrapping moments were consequently just as important to me as my own. (And my other sisters joined in, too: collecting Star Wars figures, which they could then use in trade to extort their Star Wars-addicted siblings to help them with their particular household tasks.)

    I am sure that every generation has their childhood-earned kinship with particular adventures and characters. (The Harry Potter generation, I imagine, feels Ron and Hermione are better companions than Han and Leia, while generation Oz probably thinks The Tinman, Lion, and Scarecrow are the best friends a person could ever have.) And so my hope here is not  to persuade anyone that Star Wars is the best adventure ever put to screen.

    But let’s face it: it probably is:

    You see, Star Wars isn’t just about space ships, it’s about the most textured space ships you’ve ever seen. Not just because they’re big, but because they have fascinating shapes and sounds (for instance, the iconic screech of the tie-fighter was created from an elephant roar). And George Lucas realized that not all space ships are new, and so he outfitted them with wear and tear in both their look and sound.

    Nor is Star Wars just about grand CGI-generated settings; in fact, the best of the Star Wars universe was built using models. (Unfortunately, Lucas tried to outdo himself with CGI in the prequels: but, to quote Yoda, while he tried, he “did not do.”) As Lucas said of his original achievement, he created those worlds by zooming in on the parts that made up the story, and so letting the backgrounds speak for themselves without the filmmaker announcing, “Look what I have created!” The results provoke the feeling that we are guests in a galaxy of stories that are happening simultaneous to our particular viewing.

    And Star Wars doesn’t just have great characters, it has more iconic characters per minute of story time than a Charles Dickens novel.

    Star Wars villains aren’t just dark and deep voiced. They have a whole dark spiritual side of the force to themselves, and they’re the most deep voiced of bad guys you’ll ever wanna hear (CNN even hired Darth Vader to introduce their network). Plus they’ve got personality. The Emperor doesn’t just mock his enemies, he mimics them. And he doesn’t just have a maniacal laugh, he has a maniacal chuckle when he sees Luke starting to succumb to his taunting.

    And the humour! Well, let’s just acknowledge that Jar Jar Binks is the worst character in the history of cinema (partly, I suppose, by relativity, because he is living in a saga that produced many of the best-ever characters); regardless, you can feel free to fast forward through his parts. (George Lucas, himself, acknowledged in the making of Episode I: The Phantom Menace that Jar Jar was either going to make or break the film. He was half right: although Jar Jar ruined every scene he was in, the story is still worth watching if you make sure to get pop corn during Mr. Binks’s scenes.)

    And the romance in Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back isn’t just sweet, it’s entertaining and genuinely-earned. (Plus the love triangle has an accidental moment of innocent incest. Beat that, Hunger Games!)

    Star Wars doesn’t just have pure-veined heroes, it has champions who could turn to the dark side (like their dads did before them); it has reluctant heroes who only rescue princesses because they can imagine a hearty reward; and other heroes who betray their friends, only to try to rescue them from the chilling results.

    Star Wars doesn’t just have a good side and a dark side, it has a corpus callosum in every brain that puts its owners at risk of being pulled to the other side.

    And Star Wars doesn’t just possess catch phrases (“May the force be with you,” “Search your feelings,” “I’ve got a bad feeling about this”), it has echoes of language across all six films that is operatic in its placement and repetition. (This is something Lucas acknowledges was his intention.)

    And Star Wars doesn’t just have the most exciting music, it has the heart-starting scores of John Williams. Try humming the theme to Star Wars without smiling. But, equally as important, consider Williams’s melancholy yet hopeful music in Episode IV: A New Hope, as he serenades Luke Skywalker’s longing to escape his Uncle’s claustrophobia-provoking farm. Whenever I hear that somber tune, the force awakens in me.

    But again, my appeal here is not to argue that my Star Wars figures are more worthy than your Buck Rogers figures or your Catniss Everdeen posters, but instead just to say that there is room for one more on the Millennium Falcon if you’d like to join us.

    As the sequel to the Star Wars film that first triggered my imagination comes to screen this week, I would like to invite anyone who could use a boost to join us on this quest to see what happens next.

    And, if you’re afraid to get caught up in an imperial world of modern cinematic warfare, don’t worry, it’s not as overbearing as all that. It’s just a little movie about a little Livesaver-candy Man standing up to some bullies.

    (P.S. It’s now January 31st, and I’m on the other side of having seen this movie three times now. My thoughts on it are here.)

    20151212_14063720151212_140815

  • This is another retrospective blog entry. In 2009, the owners of Star Trek resurrected its franchise with a recalibrated young Captain Kirk and friends. It was an audacious and, I thought, brilliant effort. But New Yorker critic Anthony Lane, who had perhaps been passed over for a prestigious William Shatner biographer post, railed against the new Star Trek with scathing wit and predetermined unwillingness to consider what he had witnessed. Enter pre-SethBlogs to the rescue (SethBlogs was not yet born).

    I wrote a review of Lane’s review, attempting to retaliate against the expert moviegoer by utilizing the same red herrings of empty cleverness that he had levied against his prey. I was pleased with the results: Star Trek was clearly vindicated by my Lane-style review of Lane. So I sent the double-edged piece onto The New Yorker, thinking they would surely be amused to print my whimsical retort against their top reviewer. Surprisingly, they did not reply to my cheerful submission.

    Therefore, since SethBlogs was then just a glint in its founders’ (my sisters’) eyes, I was forced to dock the essay until a time when it could find a place to be free.

    Well, in honour of the just-released sequel to the revamped Star Trek (now they’re going Into Darkeness), I believe it is time to finally unleash my review of Anthony Lane’s review of Star Trek. For best results, I recommend first reading his prequel to mine. (Note, it’s a two-page review, so hit the “Next” button when you finish the first page.)

    Read long and prosper.

    HIGHLY (BRILLIANT, BUT) ILLOGICAL

    There is a tendency in the blockbuster-movie universe to let the special effects do the talking: Star Trek: The Motion Picture did it in 1979 as it proudly forced us to look through far too many pictures of its baby, the shiny new Enterprise, as though too adorable for plot. Thirty years later, New Yorker reviewer Anthony Lane relies on a similar technique in his review of Star Trek the 11th.

    With his quill set to stun, Mr. Lane reacts to the previously well-reviewed and well-attended new “prequel” Star Trek film by accusing its director, JJ Abrams, of exactly what I will charge him:

    “He gorges on cinema as if it were one of those all-you-can-eat buffets, piling his plate with succulent effects, whether they go together or not.”

    Replace “cinema” with “review” and you have Lane’s tragic flaw.

    Mr. Lane brings to our table a special demonstration of his ample authorial talents as he describes Star Trek with tasty metaphors (sketching the enemy Romulan ship as “a dozen Philippe Starck lemon squeezers”), along with humorous allusions to both ancient history (noting that the rivalry between Federation Captain James Tiberius Kirk and Romulan Captain Nero “suggests a delightful rerun of first-century imperial Rome… in zero gravity”), and, of course, nineteenth-century English literature (pointing out that Commander Chekov’s confusion between his “v”s and “w”s is “a tongue-slip that Dickens pretty much exhausted for comic value in The Pickwick Papers, but,” he says, “I guess the old jokes are the best”). Lane also teases our literary palettes by deftly accusing the film of anachronisms-to-be (“nice work, Jim,” he says, smirking at Kirk’s earthbound-Corvette, “getting hold of fossil fuel in the twenty-third century”), before filling us up with his main course, the rage-against-the-back-story (flogging it as a “a device that, in the Hollywood of recent times, has grown from an option to a fetish”).

    What a smorgasbord for the literary taste buds! Nevertheless, once one begins to chew through it, an inevitable question comes forward, “Where’s the beef?”

    Mr. Lane’s ability to turn a Star Trek phrase against its purveyors is impeccable (“shields up,” he says in anticipation of a sequel prequel), and yet, after a full scan, I have not detected any substance (or, for the Trekkies among us, grey matter) in his argument.

    Lane begins his essay by questioning the movie’s need to exist: “What happened,” he laments, “to Star Trek? There it was, a nice little TV series, quick and wry, injecting the frontier spirit into the galactic void… It ran for three seasons, and then, in 1969, it did the decent, graceful thing and expired… Except that the story was slapped back to life and forced to undergo one warping after another… based on the debatable assumption that you can take a format designed to last fifty minutes and stretch it out to twice that length, then pray that the thinness doesn’t show. Believe me, it showed. One of the movies was about humpback whales.”

    Whamo! That’s quite the impressive shot: eleven movies and four television series dismissed by one out-of-context reference. Lane refers, of course, to the 1989 Star Trek (The Voyage Home, my childhood favourite in the series because of its comedic placement of the characters in present-day San Francisco where, upon leaving his cloaked spaceship in the park, Kirk remarked—for the trailers—“Everybody remember where we parked”). The whales were required because an earth-destroying whale collector was looking for them—and was unwilling to leave until they surfaced—but, unfortunately, unlike muscle cars, humpbacks had become extinct by the twenty-third century and so Kirk and crew had to travel backwards in time to retrieve a pair of sample creatures as antidotes to the earth’s demise; I suppose this premise could be considered a smidge awkward, but in contrast with the Lane-approved original where go-go-boot-she-aliens and mini-dress-wearing female officers reside, it seems rather tasteful (not to mention environmentally compassionate before its time).

    Lane’s assault, though, is bigger than a squabble over points of plot: he seems to wonder, with a shake of his pen, at Star Trek’s imposition on cinema as though it’s a weed that nobody wants. But surely the critic is aware that people love this star-soaked universe: they watch it; they wear it; they marry to it.

    I’m ready to stipulate that most literature would be best left to its original conclusion because a sequel will undermine its artistry, but the voyages of the starship Enterprise, while perhaps “quick and wry,” are no literary masterpiece whose profound conclusion would be forever tainted by a continuation. Gene Roddenberry’s first vision, as Lane aptly notes, “[manages] to touch on weighty themes without getting sucked into them and squashed”—Aye, aye, Captain! It was an optimistic playground of the mind wherein one was free to bounce around some thought-worthy scenarios. So shouldn’t the question of whether it continues be answered by an analysis of its ability to continue entertaining us?

    Of course, the questions of whether a movie entertains versus whether it is intelligently rendered can have two significantly different answers (as The Matrix series helpfully demonstrates) so I could forgive Mr. Lane if he had merely pronounced the film to be a bad Trek, but, by scoffing at the very notion of the “continuing voyages,” Lane de-cloaks his pre-viewing agenda: his thumbs were down before the curtains were up.

    Consider his contempt for prequels in general as he growls at Batman Begins, asking, “What’s wrong with ‘Batman Is‘?” “In all narratives,” he says, “there is a beauty to the merely given, as the narrator does us the honor of trusting that we will take it for granted. Conversely, there is something offensive in the implication that we might resent that pact, and, like plaintive children, demand to have everything explained. Shakespeare could have kicked off with a flashback in which the infant Hamlet is seen wailing with indecision as to which of Gertrude’s breasts he should latch onto, but would it really have helped us to grasp the dithering prince?”

    I find this critic-angst to be brilliant and funny—I’ll admit to being amused by the thought of Hamlet pondering, “To left, or not to left?”—and yes!, far too many screenwriters coddle and condescend their viewers with justifications for behaviours we would have gone along with anyway. The only (tiny) trouble I can see with the argument is that it’s fired at the wrong film. Star Trek is not a flashback built within a movie to help us understand; we already took Kirk’s status as Captain for granted—we were okay with Spock’s pointy ears, and nobody wondered how McCoy got through med-school; in fact, we were so comfortable with taking the universe as it was that we kept on flying with it through all those other series. Star Trek does not seek to answer a chorus of confused Trekkies who have always wondered about Scottie’s curious accent; instead, the film is a treat for Star Trekkers who are so enamoured by Roddenberry’s universe that a little hint into their heroes’ pasts makes their wee hearts grin.

    More importantly, although it has all the titillations of a prequel, this Trek is not actually telling us what happened before the other episodes: instead it is the consequent of a post-Kirk Vulcan blunder that found its way back in time and killed a butterfly (Captain Kirk the 1st) just as Kirk Junior—our Kirk—was born. The result is a universe similar enough to allow our favourite Star Trek characters to still exist, but altered sufficiently to tweak their histories and personalities. The back-story here, then, is more than just Trekker-gratification: it also allows us to grasp the new rules in the adjusted-for-butterfly universe before we start re-Trekking our steps. Thus, the film is not a prequel, but a requel.

    Lane regrets this “dose of parallel universe.” “Come on, guys,” he rolls his eyes, “you’re already part of a make-believe world in which mankind can out fly the speed of light. Isn’t that parallel enough for you?”

    This sounds like an impressive accusation; however, is it not the case that every science fiction movie (in fact, every movie, and, for that matter, every fiction ever invented) presents a parallel universe where the characters and sometimes the rules of the world are, to varying extents, different from our own? Lane seems to be suggesting that if we already have one fantastical element within a single film, we cannot have another. I’m not exactly sure why; a world that includes speed faster than light seems to me to be the most likely one to also include time travel.

    Sure, time travel is irritating on film (How come someone from the future can still exist after he’s changed the past? and all that); nevertheless, can we not acknowledge that the Star Trek industry has boldly gone where no one has gone before? The authors of the film have, in essence, erased their universe and are set to begin a new stream of the same water. As a moderate fan, I am saddened to think of the many previously-witnessed voyages that will no longer happen in Kirk’s life, but, as a connoisseur of consistency, I am awestruck: Star Trek can persist, beginning again with the icons that brought it, without having to worry about matching up story lines. If they want Spock to be captain instead of Kirk, he can be; if they want the half-orphaned Kirk to be cockier than ever, the sky’s the limit!

    I will leave the question of whether this do-over offering is the right course for Star Trek to more addicted fans than myself (and it seems that they have reported in with their support), but, to ignore its creative moxie is another symptom of Lane’s unwillingness to consider this movie long enough to pay attention to what it is doing.

    Recall his complaint that Chekov’s funny accent was merely a regurgitation of an old Dickensian joke. Maybe, but I think the Star Trek writers and fans were also laughing at the original Star Trek for having such a silly-voiced character. (Which, in fact, was likely a necessity of the cold warring time in which Chekov was created: he signified Roddenberry’s utopian view of future earth relations in which he predicted the Russians and Americans would have long patched up their frigid dispute. He even paralleled the anticipated truce with a pledge from the Star Trek future itself that his own rivals, the Federation and those over-gruff Klingons, would eventually become allies—a promise he fulfilled in Star Trek: The Next Generation. But, in order to ensure that Roddenberry’s “preferring to be dead than red” audience would go along with his super-truce, he designed his Russian symbol to be silly.)

    Indeed, this requel teased several of our beloved: McCoy gave us one fantastic “Damn it, man! I’m a doctor not a physicist!” and Scotty, in his own unwieldy accent, complained that the ship didn’t have enough power to comply with Kirk’s demands. I am confident that the audience with whom I attended were laughing not because the lines themselves were so funny; instead we appreciated the unapologetic wink towards our corny original. I doubt Dickens’s Pickwick jokes were meant to satire himself.

    But, if that doesn’t convince you that Lane’s review is a triumph of skill over substance, consider one final point: Lane’s review of Star Trek contains “humpback whales.” Enough said.

Subscribe to Sethblogs

Enter your favourite email address here and sethblogs will alert you whenever Seth blogs.