Posts by Ken Gagne
Filed under Films, Star Trek; leave a comment.
Four years after J. J. Abrams rebooted Gene Roddenberry's original television show, the youthful crew of the original NCC–1701 have again taken to space in Star Trek Into Darkness. As is now our tradition, my father and I attended the film's opening night. Two hours later, I left the theater feeling a way no other movie had ever left me: overwhelmed. The layers, implications, and consequences of the Enterprise's latest mission are too complex to be boiled down into a simple recommendation. Although I do wholeheartedly recommend this film, it's not enough to say that it's a good film, as it's much more than that.
I'd walked into the movie having successfully avoided all trailers, teasers, rumors, and revelations. I cannot promise I will do the same in this review, so proceed with caution. For example, the latest trailer has a single word that would've ruined for me the identity of the antagonist, which some might consider an already poorly kept secret — but even as I watched the film, I was never sure of myself right up until the big reveal. It would be impossible to comment on the film without including that moment.More broadly than those specifics, it's important to first acknowledge that this is no longer Roddenberry's Star Trek. Some have criticized Abrams for dumbing down Star Trek from its ideological origins into a generic action-packed blockbuster. But with these two films, Star Trek has undergone a natural evolution from philosophy defined to philosophy realized. Star Trek is no longer about debates around tables and in turbolifts, as it so often was in The Next Generation, a series I adored. Now it is about making difficult decisions in the heat of the moment — and dealing with the consequences. The most talkative we see this crew of the Enterprise is Kirk's confrontation with Scotty, which does not go the way either Scotty or the audience expected; the look on his face says, "Did we really just pull the pin on this grenade?" Other conflicts, such as Uhura and Spock's spat, seem almost comically timed and forced. But even these moments move the story and the characters forward through challenging times. Just because the set has moved from a conference room to the heat of battle does not make the decisions being made any less difficult.
That gravity is carried by the excellent acting of the cast. Although the credits list the actors in alphabetical order, implying an ensemble cast, it is very much Kirk and Spock's show. Most everyone else gets their chances to shine: Scotty is integral to the plot; Bones and Uhura have some fantastic scenes, and Sulu's moment in the spotlight is the first time I've seen a hint of the man who will eventually captain the U.S.S. Excelsior. Chekov, unfortunately, is mostly wasted in this episode, serving as a poor substitute for Scotty. But the movie is ultimately about Kirk and Spock's friendship and their diametrical approaches to situations, as indicated by McCoy's answer to Kirk's early question, "If you were here, Spock, what would you do?" The returning cast is joined by Alice Eve (Men In Black 3) as Carol, Peter Weller (RoboCop) as Admiral Marcus, and Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) as John Harrison.John Harrison? Yes, that is the name of our villain, at least at first. His early act of terrorism was brutally unwelcome here in Boston, where we had just suffered a similar tragedy. From there, his actions are pettier than I'd expect. His escape to the Klingon homeworld gave us a first glimpse at this re-imagined alien race, but they are otherwise a red herring. Harrison was neither conspiring with them nor enticing the Enterprise into a war with them. Given those missed opportunities, what was he going to do on Qo'noS — hide? It seems an unfitting and unambitious fate for the tyrant he eventually reveals himself to be. Had he succeeded, we might once again have had a movie where Kirk and Khan never come face-to-face — a missed opportunity from the 1982 film, finally realized in 2013. Cumberbatch's character is one of the film's many ties to the known Star Trek timeline. Another is Section 31, the brief mention of which elicited a gasp from this long-time fan. It indicates a familiarity with Star Trek lore, both the unaltered timeline that precedes Nero's incursion — Section 31, although introduced in Deep Space Nine, was alive and well in the age of Captain Archer — and the implications of what it could become in the future. The same occurs with the introduction of Carol Marcus: her introduction to Kirk produced little unique chemistry, but we know what it could become.
But no character, alien, or organization carried as much weight as a scene revisited from The Wrath of Khan. Kirk's rescue of the Enterprise came so suddenly that, when I realized what was happening, it hit me like a ton of bricks. "Not again!" I despaired. Leonard Nimoy's Spock had just said that Khan was defeated "at great cost" — a heavy statement: how many people can reflect on their own deaths, then be chilled by the knowledge that their murderer has risen from the grave? Now here we are, seeing it happen again, this time with Kirk as the human sacrifice. The captain who'd started the film with the proud proclamation of having never lost a member of his crew had more than a perfect record in mind; the agony with which he had, moments ago, apologized to the bridge for what he thought was their ultimate defeat was palpable. Kirk cares for every member of his ship as much as he cares for Spock — the latter being a friendship that is no less weighty for having been witnessed across only two films instead of two decades, as it was the last time Khan threatened the Enterprise. Kirk bookends the film by saving Spock's life, and the evolution we see is in Spock's reaction: from a detached betrayal of his captain to Starfleet, to a vengeance-fueled hunt his friend's killer. Through Kirk's selflessness, Spock has gotten in touch with the best and worst of his own humanity.This scene, combined with using Khan as the film's protagonist, may suggest an unoriginality among the scriptwriters. Four years ago, Khan seemed the least likely candidate for the sequel, lest Abrams walk the same cinematic path laid out in decades past. But critics clamoring for this new generation of Star Trek to go on an original adventure need look only four years to the past, when the Romulan Nero arrived on the scene.
By contrast, this sequel is not a rehashing of an old plot but rather a brilliant exploration of destiny. How much of these characters' fates are their own to decide? Are Kirk and crew destined to always clash with Khan, no matter how much the circumstances may change? Just how far-reaching are the effects of Nero's destruction of Vulcan? The exhumation of the SS Botany Bay is a small change with dramatic consequences. Will the next film continue referring to the pivotal moment in time when a villain from the future set a new course for the galaxy?
With the full weight of Star Trek's history behind this movie, it is hard for me to say if this sequel is as much meant for a general audience as the 2009 reboot was. You can get away without knowing what Section 31 is, or who Carol Marcus becomes — but is Khan a good villain on his own merits? There is no reference to the Eugenics Wars, which may be too much backstory for one film to deliver, lest it become the preachy Trek it is trying to move away from. Not only his origin, but also his ambition, may be lost on an audience that is not as likely to respond to Khan's identity with "Holy crap!" than they are with "Who?"For those filmgoers who take this film as just another summer blockbuster, there's still plenty to enjoy on just that level, and plenty to gripe about, too. As with any Trek (or even sci-fi in general), there are plenty of plot holes and technological inconsistencies. Some were elegantly addressed: when I wondered how Khan could beam himself to Qo'noS, they tied back into the 2009 film with a reference to Scotty's transwarp beaming technique, a direct result of Nero's temporal incursion. But then the question becomes: why send the Enterprise to Qo'noS when they could just beam there? Of course, the choice to plot a course into enemy territory furthered Admiral Marcus' agenda, but it still seems an oversight. Also, I think the film may've addressed this, but is within an explosive device the smartest place for Khan to have hidden his family? And, even if the Eugenics Wars was two hundred years ago, shouldn't at least one member of Starfleet have studied enough history to recognize the leader of the Augments? Or was plastic surgery part of Khan's transformation into John Harrison, that he might work alongside Section 31 without revealing the depths to which Admiral Marcus had plumbed for inspiration?
Still, most other scenes can be neatly explained. Marcus sharing the secret of Section 31 with Kirk seemed a faux pas, but I suspect Marcus never expected Kirk to come back from his next mission, taking the truth of the clandestine group's existence to his grave. The explosion of the 72 torpedoes first seemed heartless and cruel, especially given McCoy's involvement — what happened to "First do no harm"? When Kirk learned that the Augments had been extracted, his response took the words right out of my mouth: "I'll be damned." And the use of Khan's blood to save Kirk (which has its own implications for the future of Star Trek — is there anything Augment blood can't cure?) was foreshadowed not only by the tribble's resurrection, but also by the cure for the diseased girl, which was likely a dose of the same elixir.
Whatever level you view this film on, it has special significance for its core audience. For someone who has seen all 726 episodes, all 12 movies, and read dozens of novels of Star Trek, I cannot take what J.J. Abrams has done here lightly. It is a powerful combination of fan service and creative license — a message of "I will use what you like, but you may not like how I use it." I almost cannot render judgment without seeing what comes next. Will Abrams continue to rely on the familiar, remixing it in unexpected ways? Or will he contribute something wholly original to the Trek universe, boldly going? In a sense, he already has, with his direction and pacing of this action-packed sequel. What more lies far beyond the stars for the Enterprise and her fans to discover?
Filed under Television; 1 comment.
It's not enough that Marvel will, by the end of this year, have produced three Iron Man movies, two Incredible Hulks, two Thors, a Captain America, and The Avengers. Having dominated the silver screen, they're now moving to master the smaller screen with this fall's debut of the television series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. The show, which has been in production since 2012, officially passed the pilot stage on May 10 and is scheduled to air Tuesdays at 8 PM this fall on ABC, made official by the trailer:
(There's also a 30-second teaser trailer that's rather uninspiring.)
After watching the above, I'm curious what previous shows S.H.I.E.L.D. will draw upon. The trailer makes the agency sound like hunters of the superpowered, which is too reminiscent of Heroes, a show that started with great promise but quickly crashed and burned. Or will Marvel's show eschew a serial nature in favor of a phenomenon of the week, in the style of The X-Files?
Filed under Humor, Star Trek; leave a comment.
Star Trek celebrities have been long sought after to endorse a variety of products, from William Shatner pitching Priceline and DirectTV to Jonathan Frakes hawking enterprise software. The connection between Star Trek and the product being sold can be tenuous or non-existent, but a savvy director and clever script can nonetheless make the most of their actors' heritage.
With the release of Star Trek Into Darkness just a week away, we're seeing a new spate of advertisers timing their tangential promotions to coincide. Car insurance company esurance collaborated directly with the team at CBS and Paramount to get their hands on the 2009 film's set and shoot a short encounter on the bridge of the U.S.S. Not Enterprise:
Opting away from a Star Trek setting and instead relying on known actors, Audi has created a car commercial that pits the two Spocks in a race to the golf club:
Leonard Nimoy's the real star here, working in references not only to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan but to his singing career. He also proves that he's a far more experienced Vulcan than young upstart Zachary Quinto, who still has much to learn!
For those of us who have been avoiding spoiler-laden summer movie trailers, these commercials are fun little doses of original content bases on our favorite spacefaring franchise. Still, they're no substitute for the real thing. See you next week!
Filed under Films, Trailers; 1 comment.
The summer movie season kicks off this week, with dozens of big-budget blockbusters maintaining the momentum through Labor Day. Although our attention may be piqued by many films, from Pacific Rim to The Wolverine to Now You See Me, only three film have bubbled to the top of my must-see list. For each one, I am cautiously optimistic, as each has the potential to be awesome — or to soar too close to the sun and plummet spectacularly.
I have purposely avoided trailers for each of these three films. If the purpose of a trailer is to sell its audience on seeing the movie, then mission accomplished: I'm sold. Many trailers do so by featuring the film's best moments, and I'd prefer to avoid such spoilers and see them in context. If you're of a similar mindset, you're welcome to skip over the trailers embedded below.
Despite ignoring these media, I've still absorbed critical details about each of the films. So here is my breakdown, which I'd like you to use to answer the question: If you could see only one movie this summer, what would it be: Iron Man 3, Star Trek Into Darkness, or Man of Steel?
Iron Man 3 (May 3)
- Jon Favreau, director of the excellent Iron Man, is not at the helm of this sequel. How good can it be?
- Jon Favreau, director of the mediocre Iron Man 2, is not at the helm of this sequel. How bad can it be?
- Written by Shane Black, who also wrote the excellent Robert Downey Jr. noir comedy, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
- It's been only a year since we last saw Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark; his Avengers teammate, Thor, is also returning to the silver screen later this year. Is Marvel running the risk of saturating the superhero genre?
Star Trek Into Darkness (May 17)
- Likely J.J. Abrams' swan song in Gene Roddenberry's universe before he departs to play in George Lucas's sandbox.
- Benedict Cumberbatch is the villain — but do we know yet what character that is? Could Paramount be playing this too close to the chest?
- Star Trek XI was the highest-grossing Star Trek movie of all time; it earned almost as much as Star Trek Generations, First Contact, Insurrection, and Nemesis combined. Can lightning strike twice?
Man of Steel (June 14)
- The first Superman film reboot since Christopher Reeve's 1978 movie.
- Smallville was on the air for a decade before signing off in 2011. Is it too soon for more Superman? Or is this just the right time to capitalize on the character before he fades from public consciousness?
- Directed by Zack Snyder, who's had mixed critical success with past films 300, Watchmen, and Sucker Punch.
- Produced by Christopher Nolan, who directed the recent Dark Knight trilogy. He knows how to make a superhero relevant and cool — but Batman and Superman are the dark and the light. Will Superman become a brooding badass?
- The film's title does not actually say "Superman", in much the way the first seasons of Enterprise did not include "Star Trek". That didn't work out so well, either. Are the producers trying to cast this as something it's not?
- This film holds the potential to set up a Justice League team-up movie. If well-executed, could DC finally begin to rival Marvel in silver screen popularity?
Fortunately, we can have our cake and eat it, too: I'll be seeing all three of these films in due time. What about you?
Filed under Star Trek, Trailers; leave a comment.
Next month sees the return of several important sci-fi franchises to the silver screen: Star Trek, Superman, and Iron Man. Possibly the most important, the most relevant, of the three is Star Trek, as Gene Roddenberry's vision has long prognosticated the future, inspiring generations of scientists and explorers.
It is with that dream in mind that the Aerospace Industries Association has created a trailer promoting the past and future work of NASA, to be aired before next month's Star Trek Into Darkness. Said Dan Hendrickson, Director of Space Systems for the AIA:
When the Space Shuttle landed for the last time, we noticed that a public misconception seemed to be taking hold that the U.S. human spaceflight program was closed for good. Nothing could be further from the truth; in fact, more vehicles are being developed right now for human spaceflight than at any other point in history. Placing a trailer for Star Trek Into Darkness was the perfect opportunity to show that U.S. human spaceflight is alive and well, and that we’re making real, tangible progress toward an exciting future in space. We can leave audiences with a very simple message: NASA today, Starfleet tomorrow.
The trailer to be aired in theaters will be a 30-second version of "We Are the Explorers":
I find this spot inspirational (if a bit melodramatic) and reminiscent of both the opening sequence of Enterprise and the previous fans campaigns to save that series, which argued that Star Trek isn't just about entertainment; it's about motivating humanity to reach for the stars. Like NASA's previous PSAs, the above video has its own star power, being narrated by Peter Cullen, better known as the voice of Optimus Prime (and, less relevantly, Eeyore and Venger).
To produce a condensed trailer and buy airtime in theaters across the country, AIA went the crowdfunding route, giving fans the opportunity to participate in the evangelization of space exploration. The original goal of $33,000, which would put the commercial in fifty theaters, was reached in under a week. Their new goal is $94,000, "which would ensure that the space program trailer will play on 750 total screens and in at least one theater in every state across the U.S." according to StarTrek.com. You can contribute to the Indiegogo campaign until May 1.
Filed under Films, Television; leave a comment.
I read George R. R. Martin's maiden voyage into his Song of Ice and Fire franchise, and though I enjoyed the detailed and political world he crafted, I was not swept away. As a result, I've not found myself riveted to the television show or reading the rest of the series' novels.
A fantasy world that was also adapted to live action but which has entranced me is The Princess Bride. William Goldman's 1973 adaptation of S. Morgernstern's classic tale (the original of which I've still not found… huh) is as wonderful, whimsical, and dashing in literature as it is starring Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Wallace Shawn, and André the Giant.
So timeless, so enduring is that fairy tale that I can't help but wonder how much more successful the already flourishing Game of Thrones series would be if it adapted some of Goldman's more creative literary devices. Namely: What if the book Peter Falk read to Fred Savage was Martin's?
Having read the first book (the equivalent of seeing the show's first season), I encountered no spoilers in this video, only delight — and inspiration. My nephew recently turned five; how long before I can start reading my version of Martin's epic battle scenes to him? But, ah, kids these days — maybe the video game would be more his speed.
(Hat tip to Lauren Davis)
Filed under Star Trek; leave a comment.
This year, Star Trek: The Next Generation turned 25. The occasion was popularly celebrated with theatrical screenings and Blu-ray releases, but I wanted to commemorate the milestone personally as well, for this year marked the 25th anniversary of my introduction to the franchise. And I wanted to thank the person responsible for that turning point in my life: my father.
There exists a company called Fan Mosaics which operates on a tried-and-true theory: include your fans in your product, and their ego will guarantee a sale. I've previously and happily supplied my contact info to Paramount and CBS, and Fan Mosaics must've collaborated with them, as they reached out to me with an invitation: provide them with a photo, and they'd include it in a mosaic of the starship Enterprise NCC-1701D, absolutely free. Thousands of other fans had previously provided the photographic material for Fan Mosaic to assemble images of Kirk, Spock, and the original Enterprise, so I'm sure they felt confident letting me know that, if I wanted the final print, it'd be only $19.95 plus shipping.
Although the software to create photo mosaics is nothing extraordinary, I was charmed by the prospect of a visual representation of the community that has formed around Star Trek. My father made me a member of that group, and though he may not participate as enthusiastically as I do, he too belongs in that pantheon. It seemed appropriate for us to be included in the mosaic. I submitted a photo taken of us and my oldest brother at the opening of J.J. Abrams' Star Trek movie. Although it does not show any one of us close up, it is the most thematically appropriate photo I could think of to submit.
Filed under Potpourri; leave a comment.
Happy holidays from Showbits! It's been a full year since the most recent Muppets movie, but our favorite characters from Jim Henson are alive, well, and here to wish you a Merry Christmas in this holiday music video:
"All I Need Is Love" features not only CeeLo Green and Craig Robinson, but also Walter, the newest Muppet introduced in last year's film — a nice touch of continuity! Might we see these characters reunited in another feature film? We can only hope!
Until then, happy holidays — and mahna mahna!
(Hat tip to Annie Lynsen)