A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 487 – Immortal (2004)

Immortal (2004) – June 30th, 2011

Last night when looking through our list I asked Andy about this movie and he gave me a brief description and I thought to myself “Well, that sounds really bizarre.” And then I said we should watch it tonight because it was under two hours and tonight was going to be one of my later nights at work and we’re running low on those. We really need to make an effort to watch our longer movies on nights when I don’t work late so we don’t end up with a list full of things over two hours long. But hey, that meant we had tonight’s movie all picked out. Easy, right? If only it had actually been enjoyable for me.

I didn’t hate this movie. But I also didn’t really like it. I like the concept and I like a lot of the worldbuilding and I like the main character and I like the visuals but I didn’t really like the movie as a whole. It has one very significant flaw to it that bothered me immensely, and I’ll elaborate on that in a moment. But it also just never quite delivered on a lot of the potential it had. Part of the problem there is that I think this movie bit of way more than it could chew. The end credits mention that it is “loosely based on” a series of comics. And I’ve got to wonder if the comics it’s based on are any more lucid than the movie is, because the movie has a hell of a lot going on and not a whole lot of explanation for it all.

Granted, I’m glad that there isn’t a boatload of voiceover, which there could have been. There’s some, and it introduces some concepts, but then it’s done. But at the same time, when you decide to make a movie set in a world as outlandish as this one is? With Egyptian gods running around and non-humans and mutants and sewer hammerheads who can come up through drains like the slime in Ghostbusters II? You need to make sure that the important pieces of your world and plot can be understood through dialogue and action. I could blame some of this issue on the fact that it’s a French film in English and it’s entirely possible that some terminology just doesn’t translate well enough to get the meanings across. But at least some of the blame lies in the writing itself, because whole important bits and pieces seem to have been mentioned maybe once or twice and then tossed aside.

I’m running on a long day at work and a bad night’s sleep so I’m going to try and piece together some semblance of a plot here and hope it makes sense. I can’t guarantee it. It wasn’t entirely coherent in the movie and that’s not helpful. It’s the year 2095 and clearly it is The Future because there are flying cars all over New York City and people are walking around with some seriously modded looks. There are a lot of CGI Igors here, is what I’m saying, with skin patched together from what are clearly a number of sources and people have all sorts of funky stuff going on with their faces and hair and heads. Half the cast of the movie doesn’t actually exist. At least four fairly important characters are pretty much completely CG. So, you know, there’s that.

Enter two of our leads: Jill and Horus. Jill is a young woman who’s been picked up for some reason or another. Suspected genetic meddling, which is apparently an issue in The Future, but that’s one of the things that’s touched on and then tossed aside. We get a hint that genetic engineering is frowned upon and that there are mutants and non-human beings that aren’t accepted, but then the movie gets bored with that idea and moves on to something else. And that something else is a giant hovering pyramid that’s been floating over the city for a while. We get snippets of newscasters theorizing about it but we know for certain that it contains three Egyptian gods: Anubis, Bast and Horus. And Horus has been sentenced to death by the other two. They give him a week to go poke around on Earth before they execute him. And he’s intent on finding two things: A host body and Jill.

The host body is taken care of when he finds Nikopol, a convict whose cryogenic prison pod fell off of its storage blimp. Since he’s got little to no genetic modification, Horus can possess him just fine. So he does! Fab. And here’s one of my major issues with the movie. We never really get to know Nikopol. We know he comes to hate Horus and the things Horus has him do, but when Horus makes his offer, Nikopol says sure. We’re told, through signs and some talk, that Nikopol was imprisoned for starting some sort of revolution against the government and it has to do with the treatment of genetically modified people, I think? But since the genetic modification plot is given so little time and importance, so too is Nikopol’s part in it. And thus his character gets very little in the way of development. Is he a bad guy? A good guy willing to go to bad lengths for his goals? Who knows! Certainly not the movie.

We spend a lot more time finding out about Jill, a mysterious young woman who seems to not be entirely human but who knows little to nothing about herself. She has pale white skin and blue hair and lips. Her blue tears stain skin and her organs aren’t in the right places. The trouble with Jill as a character is that since she knows so little about herself, we know little about her too. Even when we get some information about her background the character who tells her who and what she is says that he doesn’t really know where she came from. And who is he? A traveler or something. He gets a monologue but it’s rambly and not terribly easy to follow. Suffice it to say that he brought her here and is giving her medication to turn her human and make her forget her past. You know, because she can’t possibly have any say over what she experiences or remembers.

Which brings me to my major criticism of the movie. Jill could have been a fascinating character but instead she is an object. Many of the other characters have things happen that are out of their control, and Nikopol certainly doesn’t get to exercise a lot of agency, but Jill is little more than a doll to most of the rest of the characters. To Dr. Turner, who becomes fascinated by her, she’s a curiosity to be tested and studied. She’s given tasks to perform and record the results of and she’s told what to do. To John, the mysterious man who brought her to New York, she’s a package to be delivered and set up. He gives her pills and tells her to take them and she does, never once questioning him even though the pills are changing her and making her forget everything. And to Nikopol and Horus? Yeah. Ick. Because Horus wants to have a child and Jill’s capable of carrying a divine baby, but Horus can’t knock her up himself. So he takes over Nikopol’s body and makes him rape her. And that on its own? Distinctly unpleasant, but as a plot point I can see where it’s going. Horus here is meant to be a nasty piece of work who sees humans as disposable. But again I have to wonder about Nikopol’s character. At times he berates Horus for making him do this but then he’ll lean in close to Jill and suggest that they have sex again because she owes him for defending mutant rights or whatever (to her credit, she points out she’s not what he thinks she is). And the worst part of it all is that the movie depends upon Jill becoming enamoured of Nikopol and wanting to care for him knowing that he’s raped her but not knowing the nature of the force that made him do it. I mean, if a man says “Sorry I raped you. I couldn’t help it. There’s another part of me that made me do it,” I don’t see that as mysterious and romantic and alluring. But the Nikopol and Jill romance is clearly supposed to be a thing here. Dark and unsettling, yes, but a thing nonetheless. And I find that to be so thoroughly off-putting that I just can’t run with the rest of the movie.

There’s a whole subplot with a CG senator and his secretary and he’s using this shark thing to track down Nikopol since Nikopol knows things and started a revolution. You know, the revolution the movie spends almost no time on. But I find it hard to get invested in that bit. There are no actual human actors involved and the plot it’s dependant on is all but non-existent, so it’s just plain easier to focus on the Jill and Nikopol and Horus bit. And I haven’t even gotten around to talking about “The Intrusion”, which is some sort of dimensional rift in Central Park that no one’s allowed near but which John can use to leave Earth and by the time we got to it I just couldn’t care. I was too irritated with the senator plot that went precisely nowhere and the rape-as-romantic-interlude/female-lead-as-walking-incubator plot that made me retch. This movie gave me so little to actually latch onto, which was such a disappointment. It looks so interesting and has such an odd mesh of ideas and concepts, but I just can’t seem to care.

June 30, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Grindhouse: Death Proof

March 7, 2011

Grindhouse: Deathproof

Tonight is a hard one. Part of the premise of our project here is that we’re going to watch every single movie we own, and this is probably the movie I’ve been looking forward to least. Before putting this movie in tonight I warned Amanda that it was unremittingly and irredeemably awful. I liked the concept of Grindhouse. That it was a strange kind of homage to the cheap movies of the seventies. I liked the scored up looking film, missing reels, the bad editing and out of sync sound. The idea that these movies were made to look like they were from the seventies but feature cell phones, SUVs and other modern day anachronisms tickles me. So why did Tarantino have to make such an awful movie?

This film is two movies, really. The first half is a horror slasher movie. Not a genre I’m interested in at all. We spend the first excruciating hour of the movie following an unappealing group of people as they slowly get shitfaced drunk. There’s a trio of girls (a local DJ and her friends.) There’s the ill-defined short haired girl who shows up eventually to sell weed to the trio. There’s the lonely girl who has been left at a bar in the rain and has no ride home. There are a couple of horrible slimy bastards who want to get the girls drunk so they can sleaze their way to a weekend getaway at a lake house. There’s an annoying bartender who forces them to do shots. (Our director ladies and gentlemen.) After all this time getting to know these characters as they carouse together – with plenty of trademark Tarantino pop culture inspired dialog – every one of the girls is brutally murdered by our villain. He’s a stuntman, see, with a car which he claims is “deathproof” because it is designed to be crashed. So he crashes it.

It’s a scene of horrifying brutality which defines the entire movie for me. The first time I watched the film I turned it off at that point – about two thirds of the way through – because I couldn’t stand to watch it any more. It’s supposed to establish how completely and unbelievably evil Stunt Man Mike is so that for the second portion of the movie – the girl power revenge portion – we can get a sense of justice. But what it does for me is establish how evil the whole movie is.

The sad part is that the latter half of the movie with its kick-ass girls and the fantastic performance by stunt woman Zoe Bell as a stunt woman named Zoe is actually pretty fun to watch. Once it becomes a movie about women hunting down a crazed maniac who tried to kill them I actually enjoy the film. Too bad that by then I’ve had to sit through so much nastiness and unpleasantness that it isn’t quite enough to redeem the film.

There are little glimmers of genus in this movie which make it so much more disappointing than if it had simply been consistently bad throughout. Kurt Russell as Mike delivers a powerful and disturbing performance. His character is probably one of the most frighteningly and apologetically evil beasts ever committed to film. Zoe Bell is charming and funny and impossible not to love. The whole strange grindhouse idea is quirky and fun.

In the end though I actively hate this movie. Amanda is right – it’s a movie that is intended to appeal to people who want awful things to happen to women. I much prefer Tarantino’s next movie – which is a movie intended to appeal to people who want awful things to happen to Nazis.

March 7, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 344 – Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time – February 7th, 2011

I was not looking forward to this movie. Granted, it’s a cheesy action movie based on a video game series I quite like, but I was not looking forward to it. In fact, I didn’t want to own it. I’m fairly sure I was vocal about not wanting to see it or own it before it even came out in theaters. It rubbed me the wrong way right from the beginning and yes, I blame the casting. It suffers from the same issues that plague The Last Airbender (and no, I won’t be watching that) and I know I said I had problems with it. And then one day I came home from work and Andy told me he’d bought it. We might have had words about that. And now we have a standing policy not to buy things without consulting each other first. When I grabbed a pile of movies for cheap at work I put them aside first, checked with Andy, and then paid for them. I think that’s a good policy, both for the collection and for our marital bliss.

All that being said, it was not as horrible as I expected. Of course, I went in with expectations about as high as a worm’s eye view, so that wasn’t hard. I can think of worse movies. I can think of worse movies in our collection. But that does not make this a good movie. Even the presence of two actors I quite enjoy isn’t enough to make this a good movie. Witty banter isn’t enough and pretty props and effects aren’t enough. It’s just plain not a good movie. And there were no spinning saw blades in the floors and the princess didn’t crawl through any cracks, so right there it fails as a movie of the video game for me. Were spinning blades in the floors too much to ask? I think not.

Part of the movie’s problem is that I just don’t buy Jake Gyllenhaal as the prince. He seems a nice enough actor, but I’ve always seen the prince in the games as a Han Solo sort of character. And to pull off that sort of character you have to ooze charm. You have to be so charismatic you could be loved and adored by the people you’re shooting. Or stabbing, as the case may be. And Gyllenhaal, well, he just seems to be a bit too serious. A bit too quiet. He just doesn’t do it for me. I haven’t seen too much with him yet, so I don’t want to speak to his abilities in other types of roles, but I don’t think he’s really the charming scoundrel type. He can’t pull off moments like selling a princess into slavery without making me want to slap him. That moment was really close to Beastmaster levels of disgust for me and there wasn’t enough survival-of-the-me snark to mitigate the grossness.

Gemma Arterton does a slightly better job with the banter and snark, which is nice. I mean, it’s kind of cool having a female lead who tricks the scoundrel male lead into feeling sorry for her before kicking his ass. That’s what I want from my Prince of Persia princess. Really, she outshines the prince whenever they’re on screen together. Can’t complain about that. And then there’s Ben Kingsley, who arrives on screen looking like he should have “Grand Vizzier” written on his hat in rhinestones. Oh, Ben Kingsley. You need to find some movies where you’re the good guy, or even a neutral guy. Or at least a better bad guy than this, bitter over being a king’s brother. Richard Coyle was the surprise here for me. I know him best as Jeff in the original Coupling series. Bizarre to see him so coherent, and I did enjoy seeing him do something so very different from what I know him from. Still, I wish it had been in something better than this.

The plot isn’t anything special. It’s your typical treason plot, with someone close to the king (they didn’t call him a grand vizier but come on – look at the beard!) plotting to take over the throne and setting up our hero to take the fall for it. We get some backstory, with the king adopting homeless orphan Dastan and making him the youngest of his three sons for some bizarre reason. The king’s brother tricks the three young princes to attack a fortified holy city so he can steal a magical dagger that contains the sands of time and which can be used to reverse up to a minute of time if needed. The king is killed, Dastan is blamed, he goes on the run with Princess Tamina, the ruler of the holy city, and together they have to try and keep the dagger out of the wrong hands while also stopping… the dagger from getting in the wrong hands. I mean, okay, Dastan knows he can’t let the bad guys get the dagger, right? So he takes the dagger with him when he heads back to the city where the bad guys are. Smart move, jackass.

There’s actually a whole plot in the movie where Dastan and Tamina head to a sanctuary in the middle of nowhere to try and dispose of the dagger by plunging it into the earth. Great idea, except one of Dastan’s brothers shows up (Garsiv, played by Toby Kebbell – and I must say I liked him, even if Andy is totally right and dude was pulling some major Karl Urban facial expressions) and then a bunch of hired hit men show up and it really feels like a climax. Sure, it’s not as showy as the real climax ended up being, but watching it, I realized there was another 36 minutes to go and kind of boggled. The movie lurches from action scene to action scene. There’s even a sandstorm. Saaaaaaandstoooooooorm. And no, that’s not the only MST3K reference that found its way into this movie for me. It is a movie perfect for riffing on (and yet RiffTrax hasn’t done it).

By the time the actual climax happens and there’s sand everywhere and time’s being reversed and then set going again and reversed again and so on and so forth I was so bored all I could do was snark about the lack of spinning blades. It was pretty obvious how it was going to go in the end, though I was amused to see that our hero had to subcontract a key part of the plan to another hero (the knife throwing Seso, played by Steve Toussaint about as well as one could play a role with so little to work with outside of action). It just left me feeling like with a budget like that, and material like the game(s), they could have done a better job. Frustrating, but there you have it. It didn’t grate on me as much as it could have, but it certainly wasn’t surprisingly good or anything. And seriously, if I’m ever a world leader, remind me not to have a grand vizier. Especially not one who looks like Ben Kingsley.

February 7, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence

February 4, 2011

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence

How do you make a Ghost in the Shell movie without Motoko? If the Major is the primary character in the series how do you make a sequel to the movie where she takes that evolutionary step into the unfettered world of the ‘net? If you’re Mamoru Oshii you do it by casting Bato in the lead role, inserting your own dog into the film, and using a hell of a lot of computer effects.

For me this movie is the Matrix sequel of the anime world. There must have been considerable pressure to come up with a movie to follow up the first Ghost in the Shell, but Oshii had a real challenge because Kazunori Ito had written him into a corner at the end of the first movie when he had the lead character enigmatically leave her humanity behind. In many ways Motoko IS the Ghost in the Shell franchise, so it was a bold step to do a movie in which she is largely absent. But even given that restriction there is much about this movie that smacks of trying a little too hard.

At times this film seems almost like a spoof of the first one. Replacing the cool opening credits of the first movie, which show the birth of a cyborg that looks very much like Mokoto this movie has a detailed CGI rendering of a robot being assembled. A creepy posable ball-jointed robot. Then there’s the lengthy and non-sensical parade scene, which somewhat echoes the scene of rain in a canal in the first movie, but also seems to lampoon it. It’s bigger, more expensive looking, more detailed, but also less coherent and feels less like an actual part of the movie.

This film tries to be contemplative and philosophical too. The characters have lengthy conversations about the nature of reality and such, but they don’t feel like they make any sense. It could be something lost in the translation, but these thoughtful asides feel circular and self absorbed. One thing that struck me is that the characters in this movie are constantly, CONSTANTLY, using literary quotations. It feels as though the movie requires not just subtitles but footnotes and a bibliography. It’s trying so damned hard to be deep that it doesn’t pause to think how ridiculous it is to have the sentimental but somewhat phlegmatic Bato breaking off of a climactic chase scene to stare into space and talk about the deceptive nature of mirrors.

I’m accustomed to a certain level of confusion when watching anything rooted in the Ghost in the Shell universe. Even the comic relief can have lengthy discussions on the nature and inherent contradictions of human language as a means of communication. (As the tagikomas do in one of the omake bits after the credits of the Stand Alone Complex show.) The plots are involved, wandering and don’t always make sense, at least to me. But this movie is worse than usual. It feels disjointed and doesn’t flow. Bato is on an investigation that has to do with malfunctioning pleasure robots (something that did happen in the manga) but then there’s a shoot-out with a triad gang, a completely unnecessary and very long sequence where he and Togusa get caught in a recursive false reality, and then an assault on the robot manufacturing plant (located on a giant ship in international waters) that has no apparent motive or reason. It’s like Oshii had in mind these set-pieces but didn’t write a plot to explain how they fit together. They just kind of happen, and we’re meant to imply that there’s a thread that connects them.

Then there’s the aesthetic of the movie. It’s not just that all the backgrounds and props are now CGI models over which the hand-animated characters are inserted. It’s that there’s a sort of retro vibe that doesn’t seem to have its root in the works of Masamune Shirow. Shirow has always concentrated on the super futuristic, and his designs show his background as a technical illustrator. This movie doesn’t have a single slick, cool, futuristic car – apparently in the years since the first movie everybody has gotten souped up retro cars that look like they came from the 1940s.

Oh, and Bato also has an adorable basset hound apparently modeled after Oshii’s own dog. I love how cute the dog is, and I suppose I can understand how it fits Bato’s character for him to have a dedicated mutt that he secretly cares for (somewhat like the tagikoma he forms a relationship with in the manga and show with his organic oil.) But it feels like an obvious self-insert.

This movie proclaims at the start that it is “based on the manga by Shirow Masamune,” but it’s not really. It’s a movie made by and for Mamoru Oshii. A kind of vanity project that borrows a few of the characters from the Ghost in the Shell universe but doesn’t feel to me as though it really belongs there.

February 4, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 335 – Galaxy Quest

Galaxy Quest – January 29th, 2011

Tonight we end our two weeks of Star Trek with a movie that isn’t technically part of the universe but is so obviously an homage not only to the fictional universe in the shows and movies and books, but to the fandom as well. After all, what fan wouldn’t want, one day, to find out that it was all really real? And how better to tell that story than as a parody of the entire thing, so it can’t possibly take itself too seriously? It is a brilliant bit of meta geek love with a fun plot and a clever script and a fantastic cast and scads of references for fans of Star Trek and all science fiction to enjoy.

The similarities to Star Trek are immediately apparent when the movie opens. The subject of it all is a show called Galaxy Quest. It had a short run in the 1980s and has inspired a huge following in the world of the film. We see the ending of a cliffhanger episode as shown at a Galaxy Quest convention and it is so very cheesy and so very perfect. Backstage at the convention the cast are gathered, dressed in costume but older and a little over it all (or in one case, very over it all). There’s the respected British actor, Alexander Dane, who played an alien crewmember on the show and feels he’s been ruined by his association with it, destined to always be the weird alien who played second fiddle to the commander. There’s the token woman, played by Gwen DeMarco, frustrated by her character’s lack of purpose and the media’s obsession with her breasts. There’s Tommy Webber, who was the child prodigy character and is now grown up. There’s Fred Kwan, who seems constantly stoned and well past his glory days. And then there’s Jason Nesmith, the commander of the ship. Still super into the show even years later, with a huge ego and enthusiasm that irritate the hell out of the rest of the cast. Come on, like you can’t see the connections there.

I could go into the specifics of the show and the cast and their relationships, but really, it’s not all that complicated. It’s a fond yet mocking reference to everything Trek. Sure, we’re not talking point by point direct similarities, but they’re close enough to see. The movie starts out a little brutal, to be honest, with Nesmith going into the bathroom at the convention after spending the afternoon being beloved by the fans around him and hearing two teenagers totally rip him apart. It’s demoralizing and it’s painful and he goes back to the autograph table and takes it out on a group of young fans, exhorting them all to realize that it’s all made up. It’s all fake. If you’ve seen the SNL skit where Shatner tells a room full of faux convention-goers to “get a life”? It’s that scene. And according to the movie trivia, it’s based on something that happened to Shatner. Man, how depressing.

But it’s necessary, because the real plot of the movie is what happens when, after that, Nesmith and the rest of the cast (and the fans he snapped at) all find out that no. It’s not fake. It’s real. Dangerously and amazingly real. The cast ends up in space, helping a crew of naive aliens battle a formidable foe. The naive aliens – Thermians – have been receiving the Galaxy Quest broadcasts for years and believe they’re all real. Their entire culture is now based on the ideals of the show. And they need the help of the true crew to defeat their enemy. Of course, the cast are all just actors! But also of course they all rise to meet the challenge.

It’s full of fantastic bits of meta, like when it’s pointed out that everyone can hear what the computer says so why does Gwen keep repeating it? Well, it was built to echo the show, so since Lt. Tawny Madison repeated everything to and from the computer, Gwen has to do it too, just like her character. Stupid! But still necessary. Down on an alien planet to find a necessary item for the ship’s engines, the crew thinks they can waltz right in and grab it until Guy – an extra who’d been working at the convention and tagged along – screams at them “Didn’t you ever watch the show?!” He knows how it works, and he knows he is Galaxy Quest’s version of a Red Shirt. Nesmith ends up losing his shirt (and is mocked for it by Dane). The ship’s self-destruct stops at one second regardless of when the cancellation button is pushed. And then there are the “chompers”, which Gwen demands to know the purpose of before declaring that the episode they’re from was badly written. The movie winks constantly, knowing that every moment is that much funnier for it.

The big space battle and the cast finding themselves and growing to become a true team after years of bickering and boredom is all fantastic stuff. But the true heart of the movie for me is when they call upon the fans back on Earth for help. This is why this movie is perfect to watch not just after the Star Trek feature films but after the documentaries as well. It is a celebration of fandom and fannish pursuits. It’s that impossible wish that some day the bizarrely encyclopedic knowledge that you have of the workings of a fictional starship or the like might actually come in handy. Because after those poor young fans got snapped at and had their big plans ruined by Nesmith, he calls them up from space, knowing they can help him. Because while it was never really real for him, no matter how much he loved it, it is real to them. Justin Long plays the leader of the little crew, Brandon, and he is pitch perfect in the role.

The whole cast is excellent, really. Tim Allen as Nesmith/Commander Taggart, Alan Rickman as Dane/Dr. Lazarus, Sigourney Weaver as Gwen/Lt. Madison, Tony Shalhoub as Fred/Tech Sgt. Chen (who has some of our favorite and most quoted lines), Daryl Mitchell as Tommy/Laredo and Sam Rockwell as Guy, the extra. They all manage to inhabit these wonderfully dual/meta roles. The aliens are fantastic as well and I highly recommend checking the alternate language tracks on the DVD – but not for long. Everyone involved in this movie deserves a huge amount of credit for making it work. Because it could have fallen flat if it hadn’t been handled just right, but everything, from the big rock monster to the alien girlfriend to the final entrance at the convention? It all hits the perfect notes.

A final note: I don’t usually link to fanfiction in my reviews as it usually doesn’t seem quite appropriate. After all, there’s a ton of fanfic out there and if people want to go looking it’s not like it’s hard to find. That being said, I think there’s something about this particular movie that makes it appropriate here. After all, it’s a Star Trek parody (itself a form of fan work) where fans of a show find out that the show is real and use fan knowledge to help out. That’s so deliciously meta. And it begs for more fannish content. And so I present links to two of my personal favorite works, one of which deals with the “real world” in the movie and one of which deals with the “fiction”.
Secret Lives of the Cast of Galaxy Quest – Five scenes detailing the lives of five of the cast members and how they ended up on the show and what it did to/for them. For humor, my favorite is Fred’s.
Artificial Devotion – A fantastic piece that is more fanfic for the show within the movie, explaining just why it is that Tawny Madison has to be the one to talk to the computer. Creepy and a little sad, but excellent.

January 29, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Movie 334 – Trekkies 2

Trekkies 2 – January 28th, 2011

I think that by this point it should be rather obvious that Andy and I are most definitely Trekkies (that’s the term I was raised with and it’s the term Roddenberry used and that’s the entirety of my reasoning). We bought Star Trek V specifically for this project. We watched it! We have spent the past two weeks watching a Star Trek film every night. After Wrath of Khan we put in the reboot even though it was late and we’d be watching it for this project in the next week. After some of the TNG movies we put in episodes from the series. We even watched one (Masks) before we put in tonight’s movie. We don’t do cons or collect stuff (though I do have a few action figures from early in TNG’s run – I played with them and they are not mint in box) but let’s face it, these fandom documentaries speak to us because we fit right in.

Seven years after the original documentary Denise Crosby returns to guide us through even more Trek fandom. This time we get to leave the US and meet fans in other countries, see how they show their love of the show and visit their conventions. We also see more of the US and get to revisit some familiar faces and meet plenty of new people. More aspects of the fannish universe are explored and there’s some meta commentary where the fans in this documentary talk about the portrayal of fans in the first one. And once again, while Crosby is the one going around from country to country – in theory – the focus is mostly on the fans themselves, which is just perfect in my opinion.

This documentary really does make an attempt to show a wide variety of geographical areas. They travel to several different countries and talk to fans in each, both at conventions and not at conventions. They visit stores selling merchandise and they visit homes full of posters and tapes and figures. It’s fantastic, because it quickly becomes apparent that there are some wonderful differences in terms of cultural influences and some amazing similarities in terms of the overall tone and sentiments. Every group of fans seems to have imbued their activities with parts of their culture, making it distinct while keeping it immediately recognizable as Star Trek

They start in Germany and it’s largely like what’s in the first movie, but in German and with German accents. Then it’s off to London where we meet a dude who’s constructed an elaborate set in his flat. The flat would be difficult to live in, but it’s amazingly intricate. Then to Italy, with more conventions and fans and cosplay and oh, the food. We visit Brazil, where a publisher of Portuguese language Trek items says “This is a wonderful way to be crazy.” They go to France, where it still seems like it’s not terribly accepted as of the time of the movie’s filming but people love it anyhow. Still, I would love to have a Star Trek quiche party. Australia gets a visit too, and Serbia.

The bits in Serbia are really the most inspiring to me. The fans there talk a lot about the show being a symbol of hope for them. They visit the first Star Trek convention in the area and I am not ashamed to say that it brings tears to my eyes. The fans there are just so amazed and thrilled to find each other and have the opportunity to get together. What’s really wonderful about all the countries they go to and all the people they talk to from all the cultures represented is that they’re all saying the same thing. They use different worlds and different languages, but they’re talking about loving the ideals and finding a space where they can be comfortable and enjoy being who they are. And in every country there is a feeling that having Star Trek is a hugely positive thing.

And there’s still plenty to explore in the US too. We visit with Daryl Frazetti and his cats, we see Barbara Adams again, and oh, oh there’s more Gabriel Koerner! He’s so much more aware of himself here, looking back on his teen years with fondness but also knowing that yes, he was, in his own words, socially oblivious. But he’s done well for himself, working on CG stuff professionally and married and all, so who cares, really? There’s Star Trekkian Shakespeare, filking, more conventions. There’s a whole section on the charity work done by fans and fan organizations as well as the cast and crew.

One major difference I noticed between the two documentaries is that while this one does have quite a few little bits and pieces from various cast members, they’re mostly newer cast from the newer shows and the clips are short. They’re little reactions to questions, not longer musings on the general topics. And I don’t mind that. After all, we did get thoughts on the show and the universe from quite a few of the bigger names in the first documentary and in this one we get some people who weren’t a part of it all yet. But we also get a whole lot of fans, and the title of the documentary is a reference to the fans, so that’s fitting.

There’s also a lot of focus on fan creativity. It’s not just about wearing uniforms and going to conventions and having parties and watching the show. It’s about making fan movies – and there are several, in different countries. It’s about filking, which gets a good little clip. Fanfiction is mentioned again and shown to be more than just the Kirk/Spock stuff (I mean, come on, there’s got to be some Chekhov/Sulu too, right?). They talk about the roots of dressing up for conventions (check out Forrest J. Ackerman dressed up for the 1939 WorldCon) and really get into the world of fan art and all the myriad ways people express their creativity and funnel it through the Star Trek universe. There’s a whole section on Trek-themed rock bands in Sacramento. My personal favorites are Warp 11, who seem pretty rockin’ to me, and Stovokor (a Klingon metal band – perfect, right?).

Overall I think a second documentary had to be made. There’s just so very much out there. It says something to the phenomenon that is Star Trek that there is such a vast amount of fandom around the world. It’s inspiring and comforting and thrilling to so many people and they love it so much – we love it so much – that it’s impossible to hold back. There’s a whole extra hour of footage on the disc! We watched it after we finished the documentary and loved every additional minute. It’s just wonderful to see so many people enjoying it. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there’s still enough unexplored fandom out there to warrant a third installment, though who knows if it would ever get made. Still, if it does I’m sure we’ll watch it. We’re just like that. We’re Trekkies.

January 28, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 333 – Trekkies

Trekkies – January 27th, 2011

As of last night we watched all of our Star Trek feature films. All of them. Every single one. But our two Trek weeks aren’t over, since we’ve also got documentaries! We discovered this when I was in college and I’ve got to say, it struck a chord with me right away. It’s a documentary not just about the fans of the show(s) but also about the whole phenomenon of Trek fandom. It touches on lots of different aspects of fannish activity, from conventions to clubs to cosplay to collecting. It’s a big world out there and this documentary tries to at least give a wide sampling of what the fandom has to offer.

I am of mixed opinion on Denise Crosby, who was one of the producers and who acts as a sort of guide through the movie. I remember loving her character, Tasha Yar, when the Next Generation series started and I was crushed when she left the show. Later on when I learned she’d asked to be written out? I admit, I felt put off by her. And then she got written back in when she approached the producers later on. It just feels like she regrets leaving in the first place because of how big it’s gotten and desperately wants to be a part of it all. Then again, in her place, looking in on something like this? I’d want to make myself a part of it again too. Still, she spends much of the show looking shocked and bemused like she’s not quite sure she really wants to know how far some of this stuff goes.

Through the course of the movie we meet quite a few fans and many of the cast members of the various shows. There are interviews and conversations and the interviewees are often the ones narrating what’s being shown on the screen. There’s Barbara Adams, who’s known as Commander at her workplace in a printing shop and who wore her Starfleet uniform when she had jury duty during the Whitewater trial. There’s a dentist and his family who’ve turned their office into Starbase Dental, full of props and sci-fi decorations. They all wear costumes too, including a full Troi wig for the dentist’s wife and assistant. There’s the kid who dresses his cat up (the cat seemed to be totally cool with this so I’m not criticizing) and enters him in costume contests at cons. There’s the guy who builds Trek-based electronics gizmos. There are a huge variety of cosplayers who do everything from Klingons to Andorians to Orions. There are Borg and Vulcans and Bajorans and a number of Starfleet officers of various positions of canonical basis (or not). And then there is the fan we consider the star of the movie. Gabriel Koerner.

Let’s get this straight: We love Gabriel Koerner. I wasn’t just like him when I was a kid, but I was a fan and I was a socially awkward teen and I had friends like him. In this movie he is a 14 year old Trek fan who is invested and fascinated and thoroughly versed in his hobby of choice and man, I loved him from the moment I saw him. I was also fascinated to realize that in the photos they show of him as a kid, he looks a great deal like the kid they got to play young Spock in Star Trek. But yes, Koerner steals the show. He plays ambassador to the Trek fandom and he does a wonderful job. He’s a nice fan. He’s young and enthusiastic and bright and he seems well aware of what the fandom entails, unlike Crosby, who seems somewhat shocked at a couple of things she hears about.

There are certainly some TMI moments in this documentary. A couple of things people unfamiliar with fandom (any fandom) might be taken aback by. Slash fanfic, for one, though by now folks on the internet should be aware of it, if not familiar with it (at one point a dealer at a convention asks Koerner how he knows so much about the action figures they’re trading and Koerner explains ‘I’m on the internet.’ Bigger deal in 1997 than now). Cosplayers explain how it helps their personal lives, there’s some rather tasteful but certainly sexual fan art shown. To me, having spent a goodly portion of time online following various fandoms, it’s nothing terribly unusual or surprising. But it’s new to everyone at some point and for anyone who hasn’t dabbled in a fandom of some sort, it’s probably somewhat revelatory.

What this documentary does very well is show the fans in it in a very sympathetic and fond light. After all, one of the big themes of the documentary as a whole is how everyone is welcome in a world like the one in Star Trek and how for people who feel marginalised elsewhere, something like the Trek fandom is an enormously welcoming thing. There’s a group of women interviewed at one point who explain how strange it is to come to a convention and feel normal and go home after and realize they have to not act like themselves. The whole thing is saying that this is a safe place for people. A comfort zone, if you will. And I like that. I’m not a big con-goer, but I’ve been to a couple that felt like home. In particular, PLA (the Public Library Association), WorldCon (World Science Fiction Society) and PAX East (Penny Arcade Expo on the East Coast). Walking into those conventions felt like walking into the midst of the best party ever. One where the people all speak my language and get me. I can only imagine that’s what Trek cons are like. I can’t say for myself since I’ve only ever been to one and oh, it was the saddest convention in all the land. One room, with a ring of tables at one end and a tiny stage at the other end. We didn’t stay long but I wish I’d been old enough at the time to stick around, because even though it was tiny and all, I think I still would have enjoyed myself.

I remember quite clearly training my fingers into the Vulcan greeting when I was a kid, but while my parents are fans and called themselves Trekkies, it was always with a bit of a laugh to it. After all, we weren’t like those people who dressed up and went to conventions! But then, what’s the big difference when you know episodes by heart? A friend of mine, who will remain nameless, is a big Star Trek fan. A mutual friend introduced us by telling him “Hey, she’s a Star Trek fan too!” and he all but dove over a table (and if you’re reading this, my friend, don’t deny it). So we showed him this documentary and he protested a bit, claiming he wasn’t a Trekkie and no, no, he wasn’t like “those people” on the screen. And then we reached a bit with a guy who built himself a working version of Christopher Pike’s chair from the original series. And immediately he commented “That light’s in the wrong place!” Not a Trekkie indeed. Who cares, really? Gabriel Koerner says it best when he states that he calls himself a Star Trek fan and leaves the debate about Trekkie and Trekker to others.

Aside from Koerner, I think my favorite parts of the movie are some of the stories told by the cast members. They all seem so awed to be a part of something this big, and thrilled with some of the things that have come of it. James Doohan tells a story about a suicidal fan who came to see him at several conventions after writing him a letter telling him how she was feeling. Coming to see him helped her through a hard time and she eventually went and got an engineering degree. There are stories of fans seeing themselves represented by the diverse cast and being inspired. There are stories of fans seeing the possibilities for the future and doing things to make that future happen. There are so many stories. It’s fantastic. And yes, some of them are funny, like the fan who sent a ridged Klingon condom to the producers. And there are funny moments, like the Klingons going to get some fast food for lunch. But it’s all done with love, because the fans so clearly love the show. How could you really make fun of that? Especially when they state so clearly why it is that they love it. It’s because the show has such wonderful ideals and such a hopeful view of the future. It’s because it’s inspiring and, as Majel Barrett says, Star Trek is a 20th century mythology. That’s certainly worth some respect.

January 27, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | 2 Comments

Movie 332 – Star Trek (2009)

Star Trek (2009) – January 26th, 2011

I have been thinking about this movie all day long. After we watched Wrath of Khan we put this in just because we wanted to see it. We’ve watched it several times. We saw it twice in the theaters. We took my mother to see it. We gave it as a gift. It was so much fun to watch tonight that if it wasn’t so late I’d start it again. And while we have three more movies in our two weeks of Trek, I feel like this is a particularly good way to end the true Star Trek feature films. It’s a great place to be sitting and I am eagerly awaiting the sequel. I like that. I like having something to look forward to.

On my review of Nemesis a friend of ours commented about not being ready to say goodbye to the TNG crew at that point and wanting them to live on in his imagination instead of getting such a “lackluster” send-off. And it got me thinking about how TNG ended with an episode planned to be a finale, and that episode leaves us with a possible future trajectory for the crew. And then the TNG movies just veered in another direction altogether after we’d really already been given our goodbye. So really, a reboot of the entire franchise is a fascinating direction to take here. It’s a transition, really, like what I was looking for in Nemesis and obviously wouldn’t have found. Using Leonard Nimoy’s Spock and an alternate timeline creation plot, there is a clear transition here from the old timeline to the new. It’s a transition on a grander scale than just changing over the crew. It’s changing the history. Letting us begin again. And while I do hope do eventually see a nod or two to TNG, I think the reboot of the original crew has plenty of mileage left before we get there.

I will admit, when I heard about the reboot I was nervous. After all, this is my childhood here. This was my introduction to science fiction – something I love dearly. This wasn’t casual for me. This was risky. And every casting decision made me arch a brow, Spock style, somewhat hesitant and more than a little skeptical. Much as I like Karl Urban and Simon Pegg, I had a hard time picturing them pulling off McCoy and Scotty. I enjoyed Zachary Quinto in the early episodes of Heroes but Spock? A superficial likeness wasn’t enough. Okay, I was totally on board for Zoe Saldana because she rocks and I knew she’d make Uhura just as kick-ass as she needed to be. But I was uncertain. And then in the bar near the beginning Chris Pine as Kirk patted a wall-o-muscle cadet on the cheek and called him cupcake and I was sold. Urban’s speech on the shuttle had me staring at him in awe and well, I should have known Simon Pegg would make Scotty his own. All John Cho had to do to convince me he was Sulu was pull out that sword and oh, Anton Yelchin as Chekhov is so earnest, I can’t help but like him. And then there’s Quinto. I was so worried I wouldn’t be able to not see Sylar. And instead I think were I to go back and watch Heroes I wouldn’t be able to not see Spock (and yes, that is a bizarre concept in my head). The cast is brilliant. They are everything I could want and nothing that I expected (except Saldana, of course).

And really, that’s the heart of the movie. The plot is a little ridiculous but the cast carries it all off effortlessly, so I’m willing to buy every single thing they’re selling. So what if the red matter is ridiculously overpowered? Who cares if Romulan mining ships could apparently totally annihilate the entire Federation if the Romulans ever sent them out instead of war ships? I find myself thoroughly ignoring all of that. It’s a combination of the cast being perfect and the writing working them in together as a team so that they’re all able to play off each other perfectly. If they’d been more split up, had less time on screen together, not been working as a crew, I don’t know if it would have felt right and without the right tone the whole thing might well have fallen apart. After all, this movie had to capture the spirit of the original show and movies with a great deal changed between them and it. There had to be a unifying tone to it all that kept it together. And with the fantastic interactions between Kirk, McCoy and Spock, plus Uhura and Kirk, Uhura and Spock (I’ll get to that too), Scotty showing up and immediately working with Kirk, Sulu and Chekhov slotting themselves right into the team, with all of that? It is a thing of beauty to watch.

But okay, I’ve waxed rhapsodic about the cast enough now. Let’s talk plot, because there are some key elements here that play into the reboot-as-transition thing I mentioned. Some time in the regular timeline, a sun near Romulus goes supernova and threatens the planet. Spock vows to try to save it using something called red matter which can apparently create black holes. But he fails, arriving too late to save the planet. Angered by the loss of his planet (and wife), Romulan miner Nero attacks Spock and both his ship and Spock’s ship end up going through a black hole and ending up in a new timeline. By arriving in the past and destroying the ship James Kirk’s father is on, Nero alters history. He vows revenge on Spock and on the Federation and plots to steal Spock’s ship when it appears and use the red matter to destroy every Federation planet, one by one, starting with Vulcan. Now, the changes here end up meaning that Kirk grows up without his father, which alters his course significantly. But things still come back. Pike captains the Enterprise. Kirk cheats the Kobayashi Maru test. Spock is first mate on the Enterprise. Uhura is there along with Sulu and Chekhov (who is only 17 at the time). Things all line back up. The timeline is trying to re-assert itself. There are tons of little callbacks and references (spot the tribble on Scotty’s desk when Kirk and Spock meet him) and Spock says ‘fascinating’ and Bones talks about being a doctor and Sulu’s got a sword and it’s all just so well choreographed without being a copy.

After all, there was no Uhura and Spock romance in the original series, but I love how it was done here and I think it adds some necessary character development for Spock and a little more material for Uhura to work with (plus it means Kirk so isn’t getting the girl in the end). Chekhov wasn’t on the ship at the beginning, but he’s right there in this movie and I think he belongs there. It’s good to see him right from the start. Kirk doesn’t start out as captain, Scotty needs to be retrieved from snowy exile after a wee transporter accident and by the end of the movie there are two Spocks and no Vulcan. And it’s that original Spock who makes this the transition. Ushering in a new era while simultaneously returning us to everything that was fantastic about the old one. It is a wonderful way to end the movies. For now.

January 26, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Move 331 – Star Trek: Nemesis

Star Trek: Nemesis – January 25th, 2011

I had not seen this movie before tonight. I feel bad. I feel like a failed Trek fan. I should have seen this earlier. I mean, it’s been a little over eight years since it was released and this is the first time I’m putting it in to watch it. Andy’s seen it before, but I just never got around to it. I missed it in the theaters and then I heard things and I was never quite in the mood for the things I’d heard. But there’s no putting it off any longer. It’s time to face the last of the TNG movies.

I was spoiled for this movie. I was spoiled well before I started following Brent Spiner on twitter (he’s not for the faint of heart or the faint of humor, so beware), but if I hadn’t been before that, it wouldn’t have taken long. And if you haven’t been spoiled for this movie, I apologize for hinting at it there without a warning, but it’s been, as I mentioned, eight years. If you’re still holding out and want to avoid spoilers, best to hit that back button now.

This movie is, much like last night’s Insurrection, an episode trying to be a film. There’s something off about the scale of it and the tone of it. Something feels reduced and I don’t just mean the budget. But the budget does come into it. It rather feels like the crew’s been moved onto a runabout from the Enterprise and then been told to go have the same sort of adventures they always had. It’s just not big enough or grand enough. There are even moments during the big space battle where I thought it felt far smaller than some of the episodes did. Which is a pity, because the concept is an interesting one that makes me wish that there’d been more done with the Romulans in the movies to lead up to here.

The plot revolves around a mysterious figure, Shinzon, and his takeover of the Romulan senate and eventual plans for the destruction of Earth. Shinzon’s one of those baddies who has some meat to him. He’s not bad just for the sake of being bad. He’s got backstory and motivation, so that’s something, at least. Unfortunately, it’s not as though there’s any groundwork laid for this particular baddie. I mean, yes, we know the Romulans and they’ve been a constant since the original series, but while they showed up in episodes like Gambit and The Chase, they weren’t really a focal point after mid-season 6. Which is a shame, as I quite like the Romulans and always found them to be interesting adversaries for the Federation. But with so many other baddies to deal with and stories to tell, they seem to have rather fallen by the wayside for TNG. So encountering them here seems a bit out of the blue.

If there’d been some more groundwork laid for the Romulans, and for Shinzon, perhaps this movie wouldn’t fall as flat as it does. I mean, there’s some good potential here, with a Romulan plot to replace Picard with a clone, and the uprising of the oppressed Remans in the Romulan Empire. That’s solid stuff there and I love the scenes in the Romulan Senate and I love the politics and insight. But it’s coming out of nowhere. It doesn’t even have a recent plot near the end of the series to point back to. And it could have! There was a lot done earlier in the series, with Spock and reunification and so on and so forth. But then the Romulans sort of seem to have been ignored to make room for the Cardassians. And then here comes a movie – the final TNG movie – with a plot about Romulan plots and schemes and if this had been an episode towards the end of season 7 I would have been thrilled. As a movie it just misses the mark a bit.

Going in, I think I was biased against this movie. I love the show so much, and knowing that this was regarded as one of the rather lackluster additions to the Trek films made me worry that it would feel like a disservice to the series. And in a way it is. If it hadn’t been the last TNG film, or there’d been another film to transition from TNG to something else, maybe it would be so disappointing. But then, what would TNG be transitioning to? By the time this movie was released Deep Space Nine and Voyager had finished their runs and Enterprise was the only show in town, not that it would be something to transition to, given the time periods involved. No, this movie couldn’t be a transition. It had to be a send-off. And in that, it fails, largely because in order to focus on the Romulan plot, with the space battle and Picard clone and politics and all, it loses a lot of character moments. Granted, what’s left grossly slow down the movie, making it move at a snail’s pace at times. But they would have been something more than the clipped and awkward moments that remain. Really, the best of what’s left is between Data and Picard and Data and his never-before-mentioned ‘brother’.

If I’d been captaining this movie, I know I’d have ditched the telepathic Reman and the disgusting and thoroughly unnecessary psychic assault on Troi (the only purpose of which seems to have been to allow her to be a Betazoid Ouija board later on) and kept in more of the character moments. Yes, it would have slowed things down, but it would have given it more of the feel it was clearly going for. Better yet, I’d have tried to find a way to better marry the Romulan plot, with Shinzon’s insistence that Picard is old news, and his fascination with the past and family, with the side plot of the crew we knew breaking up and going their separate ways. I’d have tried to tie Shinzon’s taunts about Picard doing what he wants to do back to Picard’s battle with the Borg and First Contact. But no. Too bad. Because there could have been so much more here. And it does have some moments that genuinely made me tear up.

In the trivia for this movie it mentions that filming for one scene near the end had to be halted due to Patrick Stewart involuntarily beginning to cry. I remember reading an article in TV Guide that mentioned the emotional toll the end of Voyager took on its cast and crying myself just at the description. I remember watching All Good Things… and feeling like a friend had just told me they were moving to Mars and we’d never see each other again. I didn’t get the same feeling from the original series since it was a closed canon by the time I started watching and well, there’s Generations to pass the torch, however sloppily it was done. But this? This is like saying goodbye again, only it’s just a wave and a nod and no matter how much potential was there, it just isn’t the farewell I want it to be.

January 25, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | 2 Comments

Movie 330 – Star Trek: Insurrection

Star Trek: Insurrection – January 24th, 2011

Last night as I was going to bed I kept trying to remember what this movie involved. I knew I’d seen it and I knew that I’d been able to remember it earlier in the day, but I’d totally blanked on it by evening. It just didn’t make much of an impression on me, I suppose. Rewatching it tonight, I can sort of see why. I mean, it’s not bad, honestly. Take a dash of Thine Own Self, a touch of Who Watches the Watchers, a bit of First Contact (the episode) and a plot tool from Homeward and then toss in some unnecessary fiddling with time and baste it with sinister overtones vaguely reminiscent of Coming of Age and Conspiracy (though without the parasites) and you’ve got this movie. And really, when the best way to describe a movie is to list the middling-ish episodes of the show the movie is based on that are similar in feel? That should tell you something.

I’ll come right out and say it: I don’t dislike this movie. Take out the time fiddling and the super wise 12 year old kid and honestly? I’m totally fine with it. It’s just that, like the episodes I mentioned above, it’s not really super outstanding. Sure, those episodes have some good moments (and the Data-centric Thine Own Self stands out for me as above the rest), but do they really stack up against the best of the series? It would be impossible. I can even see some hints of The Inner Light being attempted, with a romantic storyline for Picard and the idyllic setting that he can’t stay in. But it just doesn’t succeed like that episode did. For one, there’s too much action. For two, it tries too hard. And it doesn’t fail completely. It just doesn’t hit the mark it’s aiming for.

I blame the time fiddling. See, the plot revolves around a botched attempt by the Federation and new allies the Son’a to relocate the Ba’ku, a group of 600 or so people living on a remote planet in a cluster of nebulae known as the Briar Patch. The planet has a concentration of a particular type of radiation that has regenerative and restorative powers on organic life. The Son’a have found a way to harvest it but it means making the planet uninhabitable. Since the planet is in Federation space they’ve managed to enlist the Federation’s help. But the mission goes awry when Data learns of what’s really going on – not the simple observation mission he was led to believe it was – and tries to interfere. The Enterprise comes running and soon the crew figures it all out too and decide to help out the Ba’ku, who are also not what they appeared. Turns out the Ba’ku have warp capability. They just don’t care to use it or any other form of technology, preferring to live simple agrarian lives on their amazing planet that slows down their aging process. When you barely age, why not take decades to perfect a skill such as weaving or carving or whatnot? Oh, and they can make time stand still.

What’s that, you say? They can do what? Yeah, they can make time stand still. There’s some babble about it from one of the Ba’ku, Anij, whom Picard has rather fallen for, and she goes on about how it took the Ba’ku centuries to figure out that they don’t need centuries to appreciate a single moment and single moments can last as long as a century or something like that. It’s nonsense. It’s ridiculous. And it has no purpose in the plot other than to save Anij herself later in the movie when there’s a thoroughly unnecessary cave-in and Picard has to stop time where they are so the rest of the crew can save them. Yeah. I know. I wish I could explain it. I kept thinking I’d forgotten it being used during the climax or something but it never came up. It’s just sitting there mid-film, padding out the romantic plot and taking up space. It’s like making a point to set one’s phaser to kill and then never firing it (that would be Pavel Chekhov’s Phaser, ha ha).

I’m of somewhat mixed opinion when it comes to the larger plot and mood of the movie. For one, I think it’s uneven. After all, on the planet’s surface you have the paradise, as proclaimed by the movie’s poster, with Georgi’s eyes suddenly working and Worf going through Klingon puberty again, Riker and Troi acting like teenagers in love and so on and so forth. And there’s the romantic plot, with Picard and Anij and the time stopping. And then up in space there are battles and ships fighting and tricky maneuvers through the nebulae and the two plots just don’t fit together terribly well. They aren’t balanced like the surface/space plots were in First Contact (movie this time). Maybe without the romantic plot it wouldn’t feel like the two parts are so opposed, but it got shoehorned in anyhow, like trying to wedge Lessons into Journey’s End and then tacking the mess that made onto any episode involving a space battle.

I’m also conflicted about the mood because of the sinister overtones I mentioned earlier. The Federation and Starfleet in this movie are far darker and less noble than the organizations we know from earlier material. These are not organizations still upholding the ideals they were founded on. Or rather, they are, but only in public. Behind the scenes they’re shown to be as ruthless as their enemies, willing to ally with rogues using banned weapons and destroy civilizations if they’re in inconvenient places. I admit, I never got into Enterprise and I lost track of Deep Space Nine before Section 31 was brought in, but everything I’ve heard and read about it makes me think that this movie was pointing in that direction. And in just about any other universe I’d be all over the morally gray stuff that entails. But in the Trek universe I want my ideals. I want the gray moral areas to be more about specific situations, not about entire organizations going gray from the inside.

Like I said, I don’t dislike this movie. But I am conflicted about it. I like a lot of the components to it. I like the blocks it’s built from just fine. They’re not my very favorite blocks, but they’re solid and all. It’s just that they don’t quite come together to form a good movie. I know I’ve named a lot of episodes in this review and that’s really quite intentional. I think this movie is an episode. It’s a perfectly fine middle-of-the-road episode. It’s not one I’d come back to over and over and over, but it’s also not one I’d go out of my way to avoid. If I passed it on television I’d stop on it, but at the next commercial break I might flip away from it, just like quite a few episodes. If it wasn’t for that ridiculous time stopping thing I might stick around, but hey, if they can stop time then maybe they’ll still be there when I flip back.

January 24, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment