Having penned a perplexing pair of Python posts, and planning a putative pair of POV-Ray posts for the pending week, I feel the pressure to pause and ponder some other puzzle for a period. Like words that start with “P”, for instance. Or something more profound, like peas in our time. (And pass the potatoes.) Perhaps something personal would please?
I can’t write of cabbages or kings. I don’t care much for the former (except in egg rolls), and I wrote about chess yesterday, which is almost about kings. Nor can I write of sealing ships or sailing wax. (Wait… how did that go?)
But it is Science Fiction Saturday again!
In fact (I would write, “In point of fact,” but I’ve dangerously depleted my supply of ”p’s, and this sentence isn’t helping (arg! there went another one)). Where was I? Oh, right; in fact, this morning I just started reading Fred Saberhagen‘s The Frankenstein Papers. (A book so out of print that finding a decent image was a challenge, and the best one I found required some touching up.)
You’ll remember Saberhagen from last SF Saturday’s post about better vampires. (If not, pretend I said the usual thing about waiting while you go read it now.) One thing I didn’t mention then was that his vampire series was so successful at the time, he was hired to write the novelization of Francis Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (the one with Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves — there’s also a 1973 film of the same name starring Jack Palance and written by the inestimable Richard Matheson).
Just as his vampire series re-images Count Dracula as the good guy of the piece, so too does his Frankenstein story. I just started it (and will curl up again with it later), but so far the unnamed “monster” has walked (been chased) out to the Arctic, sheltered in an abandoned ice-locked ship, killed a polar bear bare handed (no pun intended) and had sex with an “inoot” woman while traveling with their band. Now he’s in eastern Canada, along Hudson Bay headed south.
The story is told as a series of diary entries written by this gentle, intelligent, sensitive created being. It’s fun reading Saberhagen again; it’s been awhile since I picked up any of his books. With 21 of them on my shelf, I can occupy myself in his worlds for a while! (Not as long as you might think. A few weeks ago, I burned through over three of his novels on one (long) day.)
If you’re wondering about my lack of memory for my own books, it’s a weird thing about me. I just don’t retain most of books and movies. TV shows, for some reason, stick a little better, but not much. I seem to retain what I learn from them, but not any of the details. Not by a long shot.
Sometimes I can recall as I read (or watch). Oh, yeah, I remember now; that happened. But in some cases, it’s basically new material. Such is the case with The Frankenstein Papers. Obviously I’ve read it at least once and likely several times. Couldn’t tell you what happens next if my life depended on it.
It does have the nice benefit of justifying the obnoxiously large library of books and videos. I clearly have some sort of “collector” gene. More than once I’ve bought new issues just to complete or continue a series. (But, being single and debt-free meant my income was mine to spend and mine alone!)
But none of this is what I sat down to write about.
The long lead-in is okay, because I’ve decided not to go on at length about what a shit I think J.J.Abrams is for having killed Star Trek. I am going to go on a bit, because it makes me both sad and angry, but not a lot (I mean I won’t go on a lot; I’m a lot sad).
As offenses against humanity go, it’s not all that high on the list (but it is on there, and it is high… just not all that high… world hunger, for instance, definitely higher).
Let me start with two points that, at least for me, signify it all.
Firstly, just the fact that the same man is hired to direct both Star Trek and the upcoming Star Wars films. The problem here is that a film takes its essence from one of three places: the written text, the director, or in some cases, the producer.
For an example of the last one, George Lucas only directed the first Star Wars movie; two other guys directed the second and third ones. (Here at Logos Con Carne, there are only three Star Wars movies.)
This is not, however, the usual case. The usual case is that the director is the soul of the film. Sometimes a director sets aside some part of their personal vision to honor the source text, which is why the script (or in some cases, book) also is key to the final product.
Now, given that Star Trek and Star Wars are completely, utterly different visions, it would seem having one mind direct both is a mistake. Since there really is no notable source text for either, the essence of both must come from the director’s vision.
The problem is that most modern SF films have one mindless, shallow vision. Action, action, action. Each new film must raise the bar of mind-boggling (to the point of being mind-numbing) action scenes. They are the perfect match to the modern film goer who (as one wag put it) “just want noise and movement on screen.” (Anything thoughtful detracts from the texting that apparently is necessary for watching movies these days.)
And I have to admit that J.J.Abrams is excellent at producing that shallow, mindless crap that’s long on movement and visuals and short on… well, story, plot, depth, texture, authenticity… (Remember, this is the guy behind Armageddon and Cloverfield. He won a well-deserved Razzie for the former!)
So, just on this point alone, I see the death of Trek. It’s become the same plastic, shallow shit consumed by the megaton day after mind-numbing day. Don’t you ever get tired of it? (I finally reached the point of agreeing wholeheartedly with Roger Ebert’s disdain for modern thriller/action films. Sooooo fucking mindless, although that’s not quite how Ebert put it.)
The second point is that I saw Abrams on Jon Stewart, and his comment about Star Trek was that his big regret watching it was that the special effects were lame. He said (and I quote him exactly) that he wanted to add “energy and spectacle.”
And there it is. The man has no clue what Star Trek really is. To him, it’s basically just another car chase or space battle. If the quote above wasn’t enough, how about this one: “I never liked Star Trek when I was a kid. Growing up, honestly, I couldn’t get into it.” And this fucker is directing my Star Trek? Oh, hell no!
You may feel I’m just some oldster clinging to the past, and perhaps there is an element of that. But I think there is an objective crime here. Why does everything have to be the same shallow, thoughtless, thriller crap? Can we not just a handful of movies that are exciting (but not “spectacles”), but also thoughtful, intelligent and interesting?
Why does Sherlock Holmes have to be just another summer action film? Do I really live in a world where a decent Sherlock Holmes movie would fail without all the thrilling spectacle? Perhaps I do, and more’s the pity.
I did finally break down and buy the thing. The first “new” Star Trek movie, I mean. It was only 9.99 USD, and to be honest I mostly bought it thinking I’d watch it for purposes of writing a scathing review.
I took notes when I re-watched it (trying to have an open mind as much as possible, but geeze). Unfortunately, it’s been a while, so my notes aren’t as evocative as they should be (again: my memory for entertainment only has, like, 16K-bytes or something).
I’ll just say that I hate (hate, hate, hate) the “young punk” Kirk. I found him utterly lacking in charisma, charm or likeability. His backstory is a very tired cliche, and the guy is a total jerk. And as much as I like Simon Pegg, he’s no Scotty. (Zach Quinto as Spock is pretty good, but I keep seeing Sylar!)
Why did the inside of the Enterprise, a modern spaceship, look so much like the inside of a brewery or dairy? That was really puzzling; damndest production design I can recall. Sure had a lot of concrete for a spaceship!
And there’s the whole lens flare thing. Used judiciously it does add realism and life, especially in shots of the ship exterior. But its pronounced overuse in the interior scenes was really annoying to those of use who actually watch movies (rather than just being present for them).
The bottom line, for me anyway, is that there was really nothing to like in the film and plenty to dislike and regret. I have no history with any of these people (which, frankly, was important for a few of the earlier films). And there is how it represents a trend in entertainment that I simply can’t stand.
Given how much Trek has meant to me for almost 50 years, perhaps you can appreciate how much I despise what it has become. I suppose it’s just another example of the saying: The center cannot hold.