It’s Dead, Jim

Star Trek RedshirtsHaving 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.)

Frankenstein PapersYou’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.)

no memoryIf 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.

This was back then…

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.

then-2

…and we aged together!

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.)

Movie’s only starting and already they blew it. Everyone knows they build big spaceships… in space!

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.”

jon stewart

Yeah, Jon, I know what you mean! My head exploded, too!

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.

This pathetic miserable excuse for a human being is supposed to be Kirk? No! But Captain “Jerk” has a nice ring to it.

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).

Lens flare: here it works!

Lens flare: here it works!

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.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
-William Butler Yeats, 1919

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

6 responses to “It’s Dead, Jim

  • pickledwings

    I’m not a big fan of J.J. Abrams’ directing style; but to be fair to him, Star Trek was falling to pieces well before he was handed the reigns.

    The quality of the Trek films has always been rather hit or miss and the overall quality of the franchise slipped markedly after Gene Roddenberry passed on.

    A big part of the problem is that when Star Wars came along, the idea of the “Space Opera” was born and the line between that and true Science Fiction was utterly blurred. Star Wars wasn’t really marketed as SciFi, but people simply took it as such because it happened out in space and that was enough.

    Star Trek was SciFi so long as Roddenberry had his hands on it, he knew what the genre was and had connections to some of the best SciFi writers of the day, you can see their names in the credits of the original series episodes.

    I think a very telling thing is that when you ask a longer term Trek fan what the best of the Trek films was, the answer is most typically “Wrath of Khan”. I watched it again not so long ago and it has stood the test of time quite well.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      You’re quite right, Trek was definitely moribund. The TNG films are passable, although none are really great (I do have a bit of a soft spot for First Contact). And V and VI were major stinkers in my book. (Hence my comment about loyalty and history being important for a few of the films.) Quite right about Wrath of Khan, too. In my experience, it’s the hands-down favorite among fans. (For a while it looked like an even/odd thing, with the even-numbered films being the good ones. Until VI (Undiscovered Country) came out.)

      So I’d have to agree that Abrams gave the franchise new life,… but as what? More of the same old, same old? To me that’s not life, that’s just a zombie! I say we blow its head off before it eats our brains! 😀

      I have a future post planned for one of these days. It’ll be called “Berman’s Vulcans,” and it will be about how Rick Berman (who took over from Roddenberry) revised the Vulcans into something a lot more human. I have friends who liked that, but to me it symbolized something possibly ugly: our inability to have bright shining goals of high character anymore. The noble Vulcans, scions of logic and rationality, just had to be brought down to a more human level, and my theory is that part of the reason is we don’t believe in character at that level anymore. I think on some level, Vulcans were perceived as an indictment of humans, so they just had to be brought down a peg.

      That’s an interesting point about Star Wars blurring the lines. Space Opera, of course, goes back to the days of E.E. “Doc” Smith (Lensmen series!) if not before, so there’s an honorable tradition there, but on some levels I don’t really even think of Star Wars as “really” science fiction. To me it’s more in the fairytale genre. Wizards, emperors, swordplay, a princess, a lost prince who appears first as a commoner,… “Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away” is exactly the same as “Once upon a time,…” Plus, of course, “…and they all lived happily ever after.” A telling point is that little kids get really into Star Wars, but generally only adults get really into Star Trek.

      So to the point people equate “science fiction” with Star Wars rather than, say, Dark City, Moon or District 9 (all excellent entries in the SF movie canon), they’re really missing the point. I keep trying to spread the message: that good SF is about the human condition.

      The flip side is that Star Wars opened the door to mainstream SF films, so I’m thankful for that. Lucas made SF films popular and mainstream, and while that means a whole lot of crap comes down the pike, it also means the occasional gems get made! It’s Sturgeon’s Law all over again! 🙂

  • Lady from Manila

    I remember another astute blogger who said she wanted to slash her wrist with the kind of movies being shown today. 🙂

    Maybe part of the reason for the current demand for these films is people have developed a need to temporarily escape their mundane reality – made worse with what’s going on around us these days – by getting into worlds only CGI movies can provide. And with the present cost of theatre tickets, they feel they are getting their money’s worth if the movie is beating its predecessors in terms of its flashy action scenes, hysterical storylines and out of this world special effects (regardless of their mind-deadening impact).

    I understand how you feel about Star Trek. Your history with the original one could be getting in the way. I felt the same way about Charlie’s Angels. I was hooked with the original trio who became a TV sensation here in my childhood years. Although their fragile and feminine looks made it hard for me to believe they could hold a gun – much less fire it – imagine my frustration when it was made into a movie starring Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu. No chemistry, whatsoever.

    William Shatner is a hard act to follow, I agree. But I’m all for Zachary Quinto as the new Spock.

    In this site, there were only three Star Wars movies. In my book, there’s only one: the very first film directed by George Lucas featuring Mark Hamill’s original handsome face before it got deformed by a terrible (real-life) accident.

    I’m glad you came up with this post before this weekend closes. Have a wonderful week ahead, Wyrd.

    • Lady from Manila

      My broadband seems to be not working well. No access to the Like button. Will click it when I get back.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I suspect there is an element of getting their money’s worth, and CGI is still pretty new, so it will take time for everyone to get used to it and calm down. The idea of using movies for escape goes way back (the musicals of the 40s were escapism from the war), and you do find films just as silly and shallow in all eras as you do today. My complaint is that the ratio seems different to me. These days it seems like most of the films are silly and shallow.

      A canonical example might be Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night. It was a hugely popular film at the time, sheer escapism, and yet it’s not insulting to your intelligence. It’s extremely funny while still being smart. (Cartoon character Bugs Bunny’s whole carrot thing is based on Clark Gable’s performance in that film. That’s how popular it was.) Where have movies like that gone?

      I seem to live in a world where people routinely apologize for writing a thoughtful comment a whole paragraph [gasp] long. Intellect is dying in our world.

      Charlie’s Angels was a pretty silly TV show, but yes a cultural phenomenon! I had a hell of a crush on Kate Jackson (of course I go for the smart one!). The movies were indeed shallow pop silliness. Might be due to the director, “McG”, being a music video director! I didn’t think much of the movies, either, although I do like all three actresses (especially Lucy Lui).

      Shatner is definitely “the first captain” but Patrick Stewart was, in some regards, an even better captain. And I liked Avery Brooks as Capt. Sisko, and Scott Bakula make a fine Captain Archer. (Never did really buy “Mrs. Columbo” as Captain Janeway, though.) But I think Chris Pine just makes a godawful captain.

      Only one Star Wars movie! You’re even more restrictive than I am (didn’t think it was possible)! 😀

%d bloggers like this: