Sunday, May 19, 2013

Rish Outfield: Into Darkness

My cousin was going to take his wife to see STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS last Thursday night, but then she got sick, and he went without her.  I had been hesitant about going (it was their date night, and I didn't have to see it opening night), but made up my mind to go along (it was opening night), and I'm glad I did because since then, there have been spoilers aplenty about the ending and the big twist that Paramount had (pretty much) successfully kept secret. 

Also, I'm glad I went because I really enjoyed the movie.

Big Anklevich is not a “Star Trek” guy. A lot of our likes and fandoms intersect, but I might have to say that our two big divergent paths are Football (Big’s favorite sport, which I despise) and “Star Trek” (which I love, and Big disdains if not outright despises). Oh wait, I forgot about “South Park.” That may be a better comparison.  For years, "Trek" was considered the nerdiest of fandoms, and those that were into it were preyed upon by Big's kind, whether in the halls of public school, or simply by words (I wonder if the males who watch "My Little Pony" are now in that boat).  Because of that, we won't be doing an episode about INTO DARKNESS on our show, as much as I would enjoy that.  So here I am.

“Star Trek” is not—and never has been—the end-all be-all of my existence. But my father was a “Trek” fan, taking me to see the first four theatrical movies, and I have watched every episode of every series since “Encounter at Farpoint” first aired. I’ve read “Trek” books (am reading one now), I’ve poured over every special feature of the DVDs, and even went to a Trek convention in 2002.

I resented the hell out of the 2009 reboot’s ad campaign of “This is not your father’s Star Trek,” because it had at its core a distaste for the Trekkers, an embrace for anybody else who might shove their way to the front of the line, and an unsubtle rejection of the die-hard fans that had made the franchise such a viable one for forty years.

Director J.J. Abrams is not a fan of “Star Trek.” He represented a trio of collaborators, one who was a dedicated fan of the franchise, one that knew nothing about it, and him, who apparently actually disliked the series. The goal in their collaboration was to find things they all could agree on, and it totally, unequivocally worked . . . in that the 2009 STAR TREK is the biggest hit at the box office of the series, and not just in cash, but in overall ticket sales.

Director Michael Bay has mentioned that he’s no fan of the Transformers.  It's remarkable, though, how the big-budget adaptation of a toy commercial could make those toy-hawking cartoons look like the best of Miyazaki.

I have a lot more love for the "Trek" franchise than the "Transformers" one.  And yet, I don’t know why I can tolerate J.J. but fudgin’ loathe Michael Bay. Except, I guess, when you look at their filmic styles.  The thing with Abrams is, in the 2009 film, and its followup, INTO DARKNESS (as well as SUPER 8 and MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE 3), he tends to hit on themes that speak to me. Bay does not. And Abrams, even without all the fuckin’ lense flares, worked for years on television, focusing on story and character and emotion, whereas Bay cut his teeth on music videos, and seems to have only gotten worse since the days of directing Meat Loaf's “I Would Do Anything For Love” video.

The characters in Abrams’s Trek films feel things, and I respond to that, not to frenetic action or flashy cars or camerawork that causes confusion and nausea, or even big, flawless, expertly-lit juggs. There is genuine human feeling in the first seven minutes of 2009’s STAR TREK, and I’d say there’s more of it there than anything Bay’s made in the last decade. Except that one Bay flick, and maybe what I’m talking about here is why I like that movie—which absolutely nobody else does—so much.

STAR TREK: THE WRATH OF KHAN is a perfect movie. I’m trying to think of a flaw, and coming up short. Perfect score, perfect special effects, great acting, incredible script. I adore that film. I can understand J.J. and Company being tempted to copy it and its formula (though in inverted and subtle ways).

A lot of “Trek” fans are upset about what J.J. has done.  My pal Jeff said, four years ago, “So, all the adventures Captain Picard and his crew, and every series after that never happened??”  Roddenberry's vision was that of a hopeful future, where the best of human ideals had outlived the worst ones which we see all the time.  There was lots of fighting, and scantily-clad ladies, and space battles, but that was probably to help the show sell, and that's what the Abrams movies tend to focus on.  And yeah, I too dismissed the 2009 movie as a cool space action flick, but not “Star Trek.”

Even so, the things Abrams does in this movie, and in the last one (though I still have trouble with the Vulcan bullies and silly coincidences and Lil Drag-racing Jimmy Kirk listening to the fuckin’ Beastie Boys), have drama and an emotional core, and seem to at least try to develop a little character, which some franchises don’t give two squats about.

Or one squat, in the worst of ‘em.

Big and I recently sat down and did an episode where I talk about having absolutely no love for the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” franchise, and how it is doomed and I am relieved not to have to care. But in re-reading Abrams’s quote about the old “Star Trek” series (I had always understood he was more of a fan of STAR WARS, not that he was actively a hater of “Trek”), it got me thinking: what if I got put in charge of the TMNT franchise? Or a Gojira one? Or Space: 1999? Or Voltron? Or Hawkman or the Flash? Or Thundercats? Or any other cult show or series I don’t care about? Does not liking something automatically make it impossible to do something good with it?

Thing is, I know me, and if I had the Turtles franchise handed to me, I would do the best I could with it. I’d sit down with someone who loved the cartoon or comics or action figures and say, “What made you love it? And what do you love all these years later?” Or would that only muddle my thinking?

There is an alternate reality out there, not too far from our own, where I became a successful screenwriter . . . and after the huge hit that was DIE ANOTHER DAY, was given the assignment of writing the spinoff for that loathsome Jinx character.* Alterna-Rish tried really, really hard to write the best movie he could, with depth, and tension, and a heroine who was human and vulnerable and earned her happy ending. He just tried to pretend that this was a new character, regardless of what went before, and crafted the best movie he could. He was fired after the first draft and rewritten by the guys who did those Steven Seagal-teams-up-with-a-rapper films, and JINX opened in 2004, ultimately making seventy-one million dollars and a sequel greenlight from Sony.

Now I think I’m rambling. Truth is, I have about an hour of work left editing the audiobook I recorded, and I just didn’t want to do it anymore. In this, I meant to question whether someone had to love the subject matter, and I don’t know what the answer is, but I know that they do have to try. TRY. Some filmmakers don’t even do that.

Maybe Alterna-Rish got to that point in his Earth’s 2013, and he’s just a hack taking jobs for money and inserting random pop references in them because it keeps him from realizing how alone he is. Maybe he got out of the Biz and writes short stories again, and shares them with nobody because his pride was so wounded after the CONAN THE KING rewrite fiasco.

I don’t think STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS was a perfect movie, but I didn’t dislike it nearly as much as I did IRON MAN 3. And I’m a much bigger “Trek” fan than I ever have been an Iron Man fan. So why didn’t I freak out that they changed Khan’s nationality (and Carol Marcus’s as well, now that I think about it?) like I did with the silly joke they made the Mandarin into? After all, I adore Khan (I stood in line for two hours once to speak Spanish to Ricardo Montalban), and have never once read a comic book with the Mandarin in it?

Again, I guess it just comes down to what I like. They took Khan in a new direction, and even though the TOS crew didn’t meet up with him for seven more years in the original timeline, they took the time to write a line—A SINGLE LINE—to explain it away.** That’s all it takes sometimes, just a throwaway line to let someone else know that you’ve seen “Space Seed” (or THOR, or RAIDERS, or whatever it might be) and it’s like when you see one of the Davies or Moffat “Doctor Who” episodes, and they show a picture of William Hartnell or footage for a second of John Pertwee. The new “Doctor Who” is for people like me, who don’t give a crap about the 20th Century version of the series, but they’re saying they still recognize—and appreciate?—the folks like Jeff who loved the old BBC show.

They didn't kill Khan either, but left him as a possibility for a future confrontation, whereas the "Iron Man" flicks are the only ones from Marvel Studios where they actually kill the bad guys at the end of each movie.  And Carol Marcus, while I'd loved for there have been some kind of romantic tension between her and Kirk, stuck around--presumably--for the next movie, when maybe we'll get some emotional connection and/or smooching between the two.  When you've got as many characters to service as these films do, it's rare that all of them get something to do, let alone have any real development, but this one did try, better than the "Next Gen" movies managed to (as much as I enjoyed three of those).

It's difficult to put into words why one likes what they like.  It's far easier to point at things you hate, because usually there are big things that are obvious to point out, easy to exaggerate, and anyway, as a great man once said, your hate has made you powerful. 

When the new "Star Trek" movie ended, I wanted more, and was looking forward to the next adventure (and bummed that they take so much time in between movies, and we won't see much of that five-year mission).  When the new Iron Man movie ended, they had so definitively tied up loose ends, said their goodbyes, and practically burned their bridges, that I felt they'd blown the potential for a sequel almost as much as the Daredevil movie did.

No, just as badly as DAREDEVIL.  Yeah, I said it.

I think I'm going to go finish that work now.

Rish Tiberius Outfield

*This actually happened, in a parallel earth called Earth-571, where Bob Dole was elected President, Gary Coleman is still alive, reality shows never grew in popularity, “Firefly” got three seasons, but sadly, World War III happened, Pixar stopped making movies, koalas have gone extinct, and a gallon of gasoline costs nine dollars.

**Among the deleted scenes from the 2009 film is a single line spoken by Spock Prime that explains away all the convenient coincidences as being the fractured timeline trying to correct itself.  I loved that line, and wish it had been included, for exactly the same reason I appreciated the line about finding Khan and his crew.

No comments: