Monday, January 28, 2013

Nerd Popularity

Hollywood is evil. Hollywood will destroy your hopes and dreams. It wants to remove any creativity and enjoyment from your life, crushing your childhood memories in it's path. It can't be bargained with. It can't be reasoned with. It doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead inside.

But it wasn't always like this. There was good in Hollywood once. It used to care about young nerds in the 60's and 70's. Back then, Hollywood presented nerds everywhere with Gene Roddenberry, and George Lucas. We eagerly embraced them as our adoptive mother and father of modern science fiction, (I'll let you decide which was which). Both men had a respectable vision, and built an amazing franchise that would one day destroy the world.

Oh sorry, I'm getting ahead of myself.

These insightful men gave us Star Trek and Star Wars, and brought joy to wide-eyed nerds all over the world. And keep in mind, in those days, being a young nerdling wasn't so popular. My views, imagination, and interests were considered a bit taboo. If I dared stand up in class, and mutter something Spock-like, or preached from the book of Yoda, I would have to live with the shame everyone would tell me I should feel, for the rest of my life. I tried to ignore the taunts, and convince myself, I didn't really need to be cool, but sadly, the damage was already done. At least I could enjoy my own personal Fortress of Solitude, filled with comic books, and action figures.

And so, early nerds lived on a steady diet of Star Trek, and Star Wars. Equally important, but different universes entirely.

But of course, the 70's, 80's and 90's brought us more joy, through things like, Loagan's Run, The Six Million Dollar Man, Battlestar Galactica (the original series), The Incredible Hulk, Superman, Buck Rogers, Alien, Tron, Empire Strikes Back, Blade Runner, Wrath of Khan, Knight Rider, Back to the Future, V, Terminator, Batman (Michael Keaton), Alien Nation, Jurassic Park, X Files, Men in Black, The Matrix, X-Men, and Spider-man (sorry if I forgot to mention your favorite). Each one becoming more and more publicly acceptable. Each one earning more and more money for Hollywood as it slowly rose to power.

And then in 2004, Hollywood presented us with a new television series... Lost.

Lost was a respectable show, although not great. It had very good episodes, and some not so good episodes, (most of the not so good were in season 3). It was dramatic, and unique, and at times confusing. It had great characters, as well as mystery, and somehow kept you watching from week to week. It was a unique form of science fiction. And more importantly for Hollywood... it became popular. And with this popularity, came it's creator and director: J.J. Abrams and his production company, Bad Robot.

If Hollywood is Emperor Palpatine, Abrams would be Anakin. He doesn't mean to be bad, he's just misguided. If Hollywood is Khan, maybe Abrams is Gary Mitchell. Someone with too much power, that doesn't really know what to do with it all.

As the series Lost was creating a rift in time (or whatever the show was about), it also quite literally, created a rift in our universe, (or whatever has happened to our society).

The popularity of Lost got Hollywood's attention. So, Hollywood gave Abrams another series... Fringe. This was also good, but not great. I always felt like it was a clone of X-Files, only with annoying characters (with the exception of Walter Bishop, played expertly by John Noble). But again, more importantly... it became popular. And from that, Hollywood said, “Here is a lot of money. Go make a monster movie called Cloverfield, and your path towards the dark side will be complete!”

Cloverfield was not that good. It was filled with plot holes, shaking nauseating first person cameras and overly moronic characters. But somehow, the public suddenly embraced Cloverfield with love and a disturbing amount of affection. And I will never understand why. Maybe it was because Hollywood convinced the public that J.J. Abrams is good. Perhaps the success of Lost and Fringe lulled the public into a false sense of security. Or maybe they added subliminal messages in his shaking camera.

Whatever the reason, in 2009, Abrams wins Olympic Nerd Gold, by getting the job of directing the new 'reboot' of Star Trek.

If you know me, you know I hate the word 'reboot'. But this is one of the rare situations where I can understand why it was done. Star Trek needed a good kick in the warp core. The last few theatrical releases of Star Trek had been bland at best, and even the more recent TV series, was at times painful to watch.

So Abrams vision of the Star Trek universe was good. Not great but, like Lost, enjoyable. And yet frustrating in other ways, (read my full review here). Abrams didn't add anything to the franchise, with the exception of lens flare and shaky cameras. He told a simple story with a lame bad guy. Abrams basically 'did the job'... but not too much of it. I never saw anything artistic, or creative in what he did (see Blade Runner, Prometheus, Sin City, 300, Breaking Bad, Zero Theorem, or even Raiders of the Lost Ark, and most recently Guardians of the Galaxy for examples of visually stunning directors). There was never a 'stand up and cheer' moment in the busy theater where I watched it. Maybe with a better script, and less lens flare, and establishing shots with fight choreography and scenes I could watch, it might help. 

Sadly, Into Darkness was worse visually.  Again, he made the bridge look like a claustrophbic Apple Store with lens flare.  He made the Dreadnaught interiors so dark you could barely see any of it.  He took every oppurtunity to use browns, greys, or blacks as his washed out color pallete.  Even the engine room of the Enterprise was just a water park ride.  I won't even mention his ill-conceived concept of adding popular songs to a movie set 300 years in the future!

For comparison, watch the original series of Star Trek on Netflix.  It's been remastered, spicing up the colors a lot, also adding new modern effects.  It does help that the stories were fantastic, but they had clear vision of how that universe should look.

In all fairness, I will say that he made the exteriors of the ships look great, and there were some beautiful moments watching how majestic they looked.  Many of those shots would look wonderful as desktop pictures for my computer.  But everything else was a wash of mud.

But apparently, society says, everything Abrams does is fantastic! Again, I ask, why???

Meanwhile, in another universe...

George Lucas gets old. After completely losing his mind with special editions, and re-edits, George sells Star Wars to Disney. I have very mixed feelings about this, but the desperate child inside me clings to a new hope. Then suddenly, my hope turns to joy, hearing the plan to make a new Star Wars theatrical release.

But who will direct it??? The list of potential new directors is miles long. So many possibilities! Who will it be???

And now, a moment of silence as two universes slam together with catastrophic results...

J.J. Abrams. Why did it have to be J.J. Abrams? (Please read the previous in your best Indiana Jones voice for the full effect).

I feel as if the giant Terminator foot has just crushed my skull. Is that what Bad Robot really means? The two universes were equally important... But different! How can you justify giving the same man control of both universes... when he's not that good!

I respect that he's a fan.  And maybe if me and JJ hung out, I MIGHT get along with him.  But that won't make me think he's a fantastic director.  You can love music, but it doesn't mean you're a great producer or engineer, (like that ever happens...).

IF he can stop the lens flare.
IF he can stop shaking the camera.
IF he can create establishing shots with decent fight choreography without the closeup quick edits...  
I think he can tell a good story with his directing, IF he has a decent script, and uses some semblance of a color palette.  But of course, I worry about his old habits.

So, this is the world we live in now. Is this the price of Nerd Popularity? Maybe if we revert to the days of being outcasts, we could get our creativity back. Maybe if we stop spending money on every piece of crap that calls itself science fiction or fantasy, we can save our money for the school bully the way God intended. Maybe if everyone wasn't so eager to jump on the nerd bandwagon, we could go back to the days when conventions weren't so packed with hot sexy cosplay girls... 

No, that would be a terrible idea. 
Nerd popularity does have its perks.


Sunday, January 27, 2013

Star Trek 2009 Review

I am not sure which had more hype, the 2009 *cough* “re-boot” of Star Trek, or the anticipation for my review of it.


Having recently seen it in an overly packed theater (which goes against everything I stand for), here is the moment you were waiting for:
It was pretty good.

Before you read too much into this, let me clarify, it was not great! I have read many of the reviews and opinions of others, and I still feel the masses are being swayed by the pretty lights and big explosions. We, as a nation of Trekkies, (Trekkers? Trekkons? Trekastitions? Trekatholons?), have been starved for quality Star Trek for some time now, and this movie is better than the constant vomit the team of Berman/Braga spewed at us for the past twenty years or so.

Okay, maybe I am being a bit overly dramatic, but I think their constant re-writes of the Trek mythos really damaged the franchise and became very skewed from what Gene Roddenberry originally envisioned. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed a lot of episodes of Next Generation, and some of Voyager (particularly the Seven of Nine episodes… weird huh?). I really wanted to like Enterprise, but it became so painful to watch, and by the time they figured it all out, the show was cancelled. I’ve only seen one season of Deep Space Nine… that was quite enough thank you.

So like many of you, I was eager for a new Trek, but given all the factors, I was quite terrified at the concept, (see the pre-review blog here). I am however, very happy to report that it was not as bad as I had feared… but it was still flawed in a few ways.

Let us take a moment to dissect this movie with a fine toothed phaser:

J.J. Abrams – Director: This is a billion times better than Cloverfield, but someone seriously needs to buy this man a freakin’ steadicam! Much of the shaky camera and tight shots on the action were frustrating to watch. Overall, there was nothing that overly impressed me visually; with the exception of some of the starships… those were cool. The interiors all felt a bit cramped to me. The Enterprise is a ship that stretches out for half the length of a football field, so you would think they could space things out a bit better. Even in The Original Series, they had plenty of room to throw each other around in.

Story: Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman created a simple safe straightforward storyline. I mentioned in my pre-review blog that they wrote for Xena and Hercules and this movie was at least as good as any of those episodes were. They created some nice homage’s for Trek fans, and I appreciated that. They were able to sort of re-create the universe and keep the essence of the characters intact. But, seeing it in a packed theater, I would expect the occasional cheers or applause during big moments. There were none. Was my audience all asleep, or maybe it just didn’t have any of those ass kicking moments like we would have enjoyed.

James T. Kirk (Chris Pine): For me, this is one of the huge flaws in this movie. I was not looking for a cheesy William Shatner impersonator, but the concept of Captain Kirk is someone who kicked ass, took names, and then had sex with a green skinned alien woman. Maybe he did all those things in this movie, but it felt somehow forced, or like he was just going through the motions. The key word here is charisma, (or maybe even star power). I did not feel any of that from him. There was nothing about him that made me excited to see him on screen (let alone in the Captain’s chair). If the casting here is flawed, I would also point a finger to the writing as well, because any sane military commander would have thrown him in the brig in the first five minutes. Oh, but I guess the ship didn’t have one? Weird…

Nero (Eric Bana) aka bad guy: Two important aspects of a movie of this type are how good the hero is, and how good the villain is. This would be flaw number two in my book. The bad guy was very bland and painfully forgettable. I am amazed I remembered his name long enough to do this review. He was a disgruntled Romulan Miner. He’s no Khan, he’s no Palpatine, and he’s no Sylar. Now who was I talking about…?

Spock (Zachary Quinto): Very nice! He looked and felt like Spock. Was he doing a Leonard Nimoy impression? I don’t think so, but I still enjoyed it. Zach is one of my friends on myspace by the way, (call me buddy!). Warning: High Geek Content Alert! Everyone knows him as Mr. Spock, but there was an episode (This Side of Paradise) where someone asked his first name. His response: “…you couldn’t pronounce it”. I have been eagerly awaiting his first name since that time. It seems they overlooked this extra nerdy fact for the movie as everyone simply calls him Spock. Oh well…

Leonard McCoy (Karl Urban): Very cool again! He stepped nicely into the scrubs of Deforest Kelly. It was nice to see the friendship between him and Kirk during the academy days.

Nyota Uhura (Zoe Saldana): I felt a bit disappointed by this. Maybe I am being too nitpicky here, but Nichelle Nichols had a certain aura about her. She was a classy intelligent beautiful lady. She almost felt like royalty somehow. Zoe is a beautiful sexy lady, but maybe does not have the air about her that the original Uhura had. Maybe I should just shut the hell up and enjoy the memory of her in her bra and panties.

Hikaru Sulu (John Cho): I have two words for you… White Castle.

Really?? Are there no other young Asian men with a good physique and deep voice like George Takei available in the world? As he drove the Enterprise, I was eagerly awaiting him to ask the captain to make a quick stop at the White Castle first.

Pavel Chekov (Anton Yelchin): Okay, maybe the actor is Russian, but why did his accent sound like a parody of Russians? Warning! More High Geek Content Alert! The original concept for Chekov was to attract younger people to the show, so they brought in Walter Koenig who they felt had a Beatles/Monkees look to him. Somehow, I think younger people seeing this guy will think… what a dork.

Scotty (Simon Pegg): Sure. Works for me. Oh, you want more? Um… James Doohan was the original Scotty, and I met him once. We both liked the same episode of the original series (Doomsday Machine). I have always liked Simon Pegg, so maybe he would enjoy it as well, cause I know in the real world, he is quite nerdy himself, (See Shaun of the Dead, or the BBC series Spaced).

Yes, I’ll buy the Trek 2009 DVD when it’s released, and yes I would watch the series if they made one, and yes I’ll be interested to see a sequel. But I still don’t think it’s as awesome as others are saying for the reasons mentioned. Maybe I would give it eight green skinned Orion women out of ten.

For now, I think its way past time to change my profile picture.