By Brian D. Johnson - Tuesday, May 14, 2013 - 0 Comments
Director J.J. Abrams goes where no fan has gone before
The voice on the phone from London, a few days after the world premiere of Star Trek Into Darkness, speaks in a stream of staccato phrases, a brisk torrent of ideas that have no time for commas. When you talk to director J.J. Abrams, you can almost hear the universe expanding. Officially, he’s promoting the sequel to his triumphant 2009 reboot of Star Trek. Now George Lucas and Disney have placed Abrams at the helm of Star Wars: Episode VII, so this prince of geeks—who had his first encounter with Hollywood at 16, when he was hired to edit Steven Spielberg’s teenage Super 8 archive—is poised to inherit Spielberg’s mantle as Hollywood’s master of the extraterrestrial universe.
According to the laws of fanboy physics, it should not be possible that one man could command both Star Wars and Star Trek—two heritage franchises from rival sci-fi galaxies as distinct as church and state. You’d almost expect it to cause a rupture in the space-time continuum. “There’s no meta strategy to this, no Machiavellian plan,” says the 46-year-old Abrams. “It was simply two opportunities to get involved in two disparate film series that are bigger than all of us. I don’t feel any kind of Coke vs. Pepsi thing about it. It seems there’s enough bandwidth for both of these very different stories to coexist. I feel incredibly lucky to be involved in either of them.”
Spoken like a Starfleet ambassador. The moral and aesthetic hemispheres of Star Trek and Star Wars are, of course, polar opposites. Spun from the DNA of the late Gene Roddenberry’s cult TV series, Star Trek is a secular, open-ended franchise fuelled by the comic friction of an interspecies ensemble, the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Star Wars is a closed universe, a generational saga on a Wagnerian scale, rooted in myth and mystical forces.
By Jessica Allen - Friday, February 1, 2013 at 10:25 AM - 0 Comments
We’re talking videos, geofencing, plus ‘exclusive opportunities and special offers’
Tiding over eager fans of director J.J. Abrams’ next Star Trek installment–which doesn’t premiere until May–is a new app that will allow users to “have unprecedented access to all Star Trek content, as well as the opportunity to participate in missions and win valuable prizes,” according to a Paramount press release.
The free app includes:
- A geofencing function for location-based experiences such as encouraging viewers to go to the movies
- An audio scan function that can be turned on to automatically recognize and reward users for watching Star Trek Into Darkness content on TV and other media
- An image scan function that enables users to interact with images printed or viewable in the real world
- New Star Trek Into Darkness content, such as videos, images and wallpapers delivered directly to users’ mobile devices
- Exclusive opportunities and special offers only available to app users
IMdB says that Abrams’ second Star Trek film will have Captain Kirk, played by Chris Pine, leading the crew of the Enterprise on “a manhunt to a war-zone world to capture a one man weapon of mass destruction.”
Who’s the man? Even though Abrams has said the villain’s name is “John Harrison”, it’s rumoured that the “unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization” might be a young Khan. Yes. THAT KHAN. The Khan–played memorably by Ricardo Montalbán–who was Captain Kirk’s nemesis in the 1983 film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
I can’t even. It’s too much. Can you even imagine? It gets better. This John Harrison, who may actually be Khan, is being played by Benedict Cumberbatch. Yes, the guy who plays Sherlock Holmes in the television series. I know. Believe me. I am counting down the days, too. (It’s 105 days.)
In the meantime, fans can download the free app here.
Or just rewatch Star Trek II.
By Chris Sorensen - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 at 11:05 AM - 0 Comments
The software could one day break down language barriers
In the television show Star Trek, one of the key dramatic tools—other than an intergalactic spaceship—was the universal translator, which allowed Captain Kirk and his crew to converse with (and viewers to understand) Klingons and Romulans. Now, about 250 years ahead of schedule, Microsoft Corp. is developing similar technology for use here on Earth. Rick Rashid, the software giant’s chief research officer, recently demonstrated the software at a conference in Tianjin. He said a phrase in English and then, a few seconds later, a computer translated it into Chinese—using his voice. The crowd went nuts. While Rashid admitted it is a work in progress, explaining that all speech recognition and translation systems are prone to errors, the potential is obviously huge when it comes to breaking down language barriers. Not exactly a technology that will “explore strange new worlds,” but still boldly going where no one has gone before.
By Kate Lunau - Wednesday, March 21, 2012 at 10:14 AM - 0 Comments
The X Prize Foundation will award a $10-million prize to whomever creates the heath care device
It is the stuff of sci-ﬁ legend. Star Trek’s Bones McCoy wielding his hand-held “Tricorder” to check a patient’s condition before uttering impatiently, “Dammit Jim, I’m a doctor, not a miracle worker.” Soon enough, doctors, nurses, and patients might have access to a Tricorder of their own. The X Prize Foundation, a non-proﬁt aimed at spurring innovation through competition, recently announced a $10-million prize to the team that manages to create a real medical Tricorder device. It might sound far-fetched, but the X Prize has already proven it can turn science ﬁction into reality: the Ansari X Prize, in 2004, inspired the ﬁrst-ever launch of a private spacecraft, SpaceShipOne.
The Qualcomm Tricorder X Prize (sponsored by the Qualcomm Foundation, part of Qualcomm Inc., the mobile technology ﬁrm) doesn’t specify what the device should look like or how it should work, but it must weigh ﬁve pounds or lighter, and it should be able to capture certain “key health metrics” like blood pressure and respiratory rate, and diagnose 15 diseases (as yet unnamed). The winner will be announced sometime in 2015, and over 100 teams are already participating.
Using prizes as an incentive can boost spending and investment far beyond the actual value of the prizes. In 1927, Charles Lindbergh became the ﬁrst person to ﬂy non-stop between New York and Paris, winning a $25,000 purse put up by hotelier Raymond Orteig. A total of nine teams competed to cross the Atlantic, cumulatively spending $400,000, and laying the foundation for today’s modern aviation industry. And the Ansari X Prize saw ﬂedgling space companies take off, too: the technology created for SpaceShipOne is now being developed for Virgin Galactic and its commercial suborbital spaceplane SpaceShipTwo.
By Jaime J. Weinman - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 at 11:00 AM - 13 Comments
A show-stopping visit to Banff last week confirms no one’s mocking William Shatner anymore
On June 16, the last day of the Banff World Television Festival, William Shatner was the subject of the feature interview. You could tell Shatner was in the building because of the line, stretching back and forth across the hotel, to see the Canadian actor and Priceline.com pitchman. And for the people who got in, he provided the equivalent of a one-man comedy show: getting laughs and applause every few seconds, telling anecdotes about his economics degree at McGill and his work in live theatre, and making fun of the long questions asked by the moderator, Big Bang Theory creator Bill Prady. He asked the video cameras, recording the event, to do a close-up of him so he could re-enact his famous terrified expression from an episode of The Twilight Zone. He delighted the audience with his awareness of a write-in campaign to make him governor general of Canada, saying that a governor general “needs to be old, distinguished and wealthy, and I’m none of those things.”
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, June 11, 2010 at 10:06 AM - 3 Comments
Remakes and sequels don’t always suck
If you’ve seen a Hollywood movie this spring, chances are it was made from recycled material—a sequel, a prequel or a remake. The tally so far: Alice in Wonderland, Clash of the Titans, Robin Hood, A Nightmare on Elm St., Iron Man 2, Sex and the City 2, Shrek Forever After. Next up are The A-Team, The Karate Kid, Toy Story 3 and The Twilight Saga: Eclipse. It’s hard not to get cynical about this glut of born-again blockbusters.
But what’s most irritating is not the slavish cloning of brands; it’s the contortions filmmakers go through to give them a novel twist. Do we really need to see a pre-Sherwood Forest Robin Hood defend Britain from an armada of medieval landing craft in a war movie that plays like Saving Private Ryan unplugged? And do Sex and the City fans really want to see their post-feminist icons recast as Barbie-doll drag queens, mocking Islamic dress codes while being pampered by Arabic slaves on a sheik’s junket?
By Rachel Mendleson - Monday, May 10, 2010 at 11:57 AM - 1 Comment
Santa Clara County banned toys with high-calorie meals
For more than three decades, Hollywood studios have benefited from their happy marriage with fast-food restaurants: movie-themed trinkets have become a staple of kids’ meals. But last month, in a bid to fight childhood obesity, Santa Clara County, Calif., passed a law to keep toys out of meals that don’t meet basic nutritional standards, becoming the first U.S. jurisdiction to restrict the relationship. “This ordinance breaks the link between unhealthy foods and prizes,” county supervisor Ken Yeager told CNN. So what could this mean for Hollywood?
By macleans.ca - Friday, April 30, 2010 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
Madonna ﬁddles while Joni burns, Close encounters you might not want, and In his brother’s footsteps
Madonna ﬁddles while Joni burns
Canadian singer Joni Mitchell rarely gives interviews—a good thing for Bob Dylan and Madonna. Mitchell unloaded on her fellow folkie, the former Bobby Zimmerman, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “Bob is not authentic at all,” she said. “He’s a plagiarist and his name and voice are fake. Everything about Bob is a deception.” As for Madonna, Mitchell linked her to America’s decline into the “stupid and shallow.” Madonna, she said, “is like Nero, she marks the turning point.” Madonna also inspired the wrath of supermodel Paulina Porizkova, in an online essay on the abuse of cosmetic procedures. She’s a Botoxed blond “who cannot frown,” Porizkova writes, while the much enhanced reality star Heidi Montag is “a cheap, plastic pool float.”
By Colby Cosh - Monday, December 21, 2009 at 1:50 PM - 20 Comments
A strong late entry in the “significant word of 2009″ sweepstakes would be the noun and verb “conlang”. A conlang is any consciously constructed language; familiar examples include “auxlangs” developed in earnest for international use, like Esperanto, but the hot new conlang is the tongue developed for the giant soft-porn Smurfs in James Cameron’s Avatar by business professor and linguist Paul Frommer.
The best-known precursors of the Na’vi language are Marc Okrand’s Klingon language for Star Trek and the various fictional-poetic tongues developed by J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien was a philologist whose fictive universe seems to have been a consuming spiritual vocation that accidentally generated the Lord of the Rings books as side effects. Assigning features of real human languages to the tongues of different imaginary races came naturally to him, and he probably never anticipated that these languages would become objects of passionate study and popular extension. Okrand was hired to add realism to the Trek universe, building on a small vocabulary base devised for thespian purposes by James Doohan, but he probably knew from a start that there might be a nice little sideline in it.
What’s different now is that a conlang like Na’vi is an anticipated feature of big science-fiction projects. People would have been discouraged and hostile if James Cameron hadn’t hired a linguist. Avatar was released three days ago and fans are already pleading with Frommer for the information that will let them learn Na’vi and speak it with fellow fans. For nerds, the complexity built into Na’vi is a feature, not a bug. Like Elvish and Klingon, Frommer’s language has some un-English features, like grammatical infixes, that make it particularly “alien” to English-speaking viewers but that are found often enough in the “wild”, the world of non-constructed human languages, to be convincing.
Indeed, if there is a problem with Na’vi as an pure exercise in exobiology, it is probably the inherent human-ness necessitated by the use of human actors. If we ever do run across sentient creatures ten feet tall, their design is likely to be unrecognizable and surprising. Just for starters—well, there’s an old engineering joke about God’s curious choice to put a sewage system in a recreational area, but surely having our talk-hole be our eat-hole is an even clumsier kludge?
By Colby Cosh - Monday, December 14, 2009 at 3:16 PM - 54 Comments
Tasteless, Ignorant Dismissals of the National Board of Review’s Top Ten Movies of 2009, None of Which I Have Seen
500 Days of Summer: This is the one with that anime-eyed chick who has the indie-pop duo, right? And the whole movie is pretty much just her being super mean to some guy for a year and a half? And the title comes from the character being named “Summer”, which should have been a dead giveaway to her boyfriend that she was a narcissist raised by obnoxious people?
An Education: I’m guessing the working title was A Pedo-cation. The “-cation” is short for “hour-and-a-half vacation in a movie theatre that’s probably not gonna be crowded at all”.
The Hurt Locker: Whoa, wait, I actually saw this one! Protip: it’s the same old buddy-cop movie, only in Iraq. [NOTE: REVIEW IS NOT IRONIC]
Inglourious Basterds: I was going to make the standard cheap joke about how Quentin found a way to make Hogan’s Heroes look relatively tasteful, but then I remembered that nobody under 80 really has any business questioning the tastefulness of Hogan’s Heroes (several of those cast members ran from the Nazis or risked death fighting them or both; the guy who played LeBeau was in Buchenwald). I find myself wondering if maybe QT did us a favour by bringing WW2 back within range of a purely artistic treatment. I’m actually going to watch this later today, so pretty soon I’ll be entitled to an opinion!
Invictus: Am I the only one who literally couldn’t believe this is the first time Morgan Freeman has played Mandela in a movie?
The Messenger: Outstanding year for Woody Harrelson, with Zombieland, Defendor, and now this. It’s not even a comeback—he’s always popping up in cool stuff, even though he’s got that Skoal-stuffed Kallikak face and gives every indication away from the set that he started life with an IQ of 80 and gave away about a sawbuck of that smoking the chronic. This is a guy who spoke the following words about making this very movie: “It made me care about the soldiers. Prior to that it wasn’t that I didn’t care about them, I just thought of them and the war as all the same thing.” And yet here we are, legitimately wondering: great American actor, or greatEST American actor?
A Serious Man: Do you figure the Coen Brothers realize we’ve all figured out which ones to skip and which ones to go see? Given the pattern of their career, you can actually catch yourself thinking “God, it’s almost like they’re two different people.” Just fire the Hudsucker Proxy one and keep the Fargo one already!
Star Trek: My hypothesis about the Disney-Marvel deal was that comic books don’t need to be profitable because they’ve become storytelling R&D labs for the movies. This is confirmed here by the use of the time-honoured “retcon” strategy as a means of breathing life into an effed-out bunch of characters we could otherwise hardly stand the sight of.
Up: Let you in on a secret: I’ve never really liked, as in really really really liked, a Pixar movie. I find even the good ones a little bit sterile and contrived. Which, obviously, they are, but that doesn’t stop other people from flipping out about how deep the philosophy of The Incredibles was or how Ratatouille was pretty well the equal of anything Kubrick ever did. The emperor has no clothes, guys! Most celebrities are terrible at voice acting, most of these movies have Kricfalusi’s Cal Arts disease in the worst way, and we should be way past having “Ooh, cool” reactions to nerdy little touches in CGI animation! Plus, shame on anybody who fell for the 3-D thing. You’re, what, the fifth or sixth generation of audiences to fall for this crap?
Where the Wild Things Are: I didn’t think it was possible for any literary work to attain a higher exegesis-to-original-text ratio than either the New Testament or Shakespeare, but Sendak proved us all wrong.
By Brian Bethune - Wednesday, October 28, 2009 at 10:47 AM - 19 Comments
An academic looks at how Adam and Eve appear in pop culture
You don’t have to be Christian or Jewish to know the story of Adam and Eve; in fact, you can hardly have escaped it if you lived within reach of Western media over the past 2,000 years. Everyone has a store of expressions alluding to the first humans (whether actual or mythic), from fig leaves to forbidden fruit. We know what that fruit was—an apple—and what it signified: choice, knowledge, sexual temptation. And we all know that Adam and Eve lived in immortal innocence in a paradise called the Garden of Eden. Until, that is, they were tempted by a snake (Satan’s mouthpiece) and “fell,” out of grace and into human life as it’s been ever since—nasty, brutish and short.
We are far less aware that most of the above is unsupported by the brief Biblical narrative (Genesis 2:4 to 4:1), and some of it isn’t there at all. But it hardly matters, as Theresa Sanders notes in Approaching Eden: Adam and Eve in Popular Culture. The story of Adam and Eve—including its centuries of embellishments—is embedded in our deepest cultural DNA. For Sanders, a theologian at Washington’s Georgetown University, “It’s as if the story holds the same allure that the forbidden fruit held for the first couple.” Continue…
By Lianne George - Thursday, August 6, 2009 at 1:30 PM - 3 Comments
From the Summer ’09 Newsmakers family edition
With his long-awaited Star Trek prequel, released in May, director J.J. Abrams managed to do what no man has done before: lend a hint of bona fide sex appeal to the notoriously nerdy franchise. Thanks to a cast of attractive young stars—including Chris Pine as a James Dean-tinged Captain Kirk and Zachary Quinto as a suitably afflicted Spock—the ﬁlm has already grossed US$375 million worldwide. A sequel to the prequel is already underway.
Mad Men, the ’60s-themed TV series created by Matthew Weiner, is an immaculately curated visual and sartorial delight, but Weiner’s greatest contribution to design may turn out to be his ascot-wearing son Arlo, branded by GQ this year as America’s most stylish eight-year-old. Arlo, whose wardrobe includes bow ties, a pink waistcoat, a cane and a red velvet “Valentine’s Day suit,” says he draws his inspiration from old Hollywood legends like Frank Sinatra, Gene Wilder and Boris Karloff. He is possibly the only boy in the history of the world to have requested a top hat and monocle for his third birthday.
Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi
After the May elections in India, Indian National Congress leader Sonia Gandhi joined other observers in crediting her son, Rahul, 38, and daughter Priyanka, 37, with the party’s revival. Rahul, heir to India’s most powerful political dynasty—and one of the country’s most eligible bachelors—hand-picked candidates from the party’s youth wing, of which he is leader. His mother—the Italian-born wife of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, assassinated in 1991—is said to be grooming him to be PM.
Kim Jong Un
Only bits and pieces are known about the youngest son of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il, tapped to be the country’s next leader, according to South Korean media reports: that he was born in either 1983 or early 1984, that he is the spitting image of his father, and that he was doted on by his Japanese mother, the late Ko Young Hee, who reportedly called him her “Morning Star King.” Educated in Switzerland, Kim Jong Un is said to enjoy Western popular culture like his old man, particularly NBA basketball. He also likes to ski.
In February, the 19-year-old daughter of pro-life Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin told Fox News it is “not realistic” for adults to expect abstinence of teens. In May, she was appointed “abstinence ambassador” for the Candies Foundation, an organization devoted to educating girls about “the devastating consequences of teenage pregnancy.” Bristol—who delivered her son, Tripp, last December and announced her breakup with the baby’s father, Levi Johnson, in March—said she was proud to offer herself up as a “living example” of what not to do. Some would say she’s a chip off the old block.
Even after Harold Nicholson, a former CIA operations officer, was imprisoned in 1997 for spying for a Russian intelligence agency, he opted not to retire. Instead, operating from his prison cell, he recruited his son Nathaniel, 24, to pass secrets to Russia and collect US$41,000 in payments owed to him for past activities from Russian agents in Peru, Mexico and Cyprus. In January, both father and son were indicted. According to court documents, Nicholson hinted to Russian contacts that his other son, Jeremiah, an air force sergeant with “a security clearance” and a Russian wife, may also “hold some future value” as a spy.
Princess Di’s niece, 18-year-old Kitty Spencer, catapulted herself to fame in April when she appeared on the cover of the British society magazine Tatler. In doing so she followed in the footsteps of her mother, former model Victoria Lockwood. (Named Tatler’s “girl of the year” 25 years ago, she graced the cover in 1990.) The daughter of Diana’s brother, Charles Earl Spencer, Kitty grew up in Cape Town, South Africa, shielded from the media glare. She dates a surfer named Jasper and spends her free time on the beach or on safari. She says she wouldn’t have enjoyed growing up in England. “Our way of life is so much more relaxed,” she said.
In May, judges of NASA’s National Space Settlement Competition, in which students from around the world compete to design a space colony, chose Canada’s Eric Yam, 17, as the winner. Yam, a student at Northern Secondary School in Toronto, designed a structure called Asten—so named for the Egyptian god of divine and physical law—that would hold 10,000 citizens, all of whom would be subject to a Canadian-style point-based immigration system. Preferential consideration, Yam decreed, would go to well-educated applicants who speak one of Asten’s three official languages: English, Mandarin and Hindi.
Scientists in Japan unveiled a new “cybernetic human” in March, a five-foot-two woman who can walk, talk, blink and move like a real person. HRP-4C, who has 30 motors in her body and eight in her face, can use her eyes and mouth to express surprise and anger. Dressed in a black-and-silver space suit, she recently hit the runway in a Tokyo fashion show, but her walk was deemed clunky and inelegant. “People in the industry told us she was short and had a rather ordinary figure,” said Hirohisa Hirukawa, one of the developers. She is nonetheless priced at $287,000.
In June, Aurora, a 20-year-old beluga whale who lives at the Vancouver Aquarium, gave birth to a healthy 1.5-m calf. Staff said Aurora—whose daughter Qila, 13, and granddaughter Tiqa, 1, also live at the aquarium—remained calm throughout the 13-hour birthing process. Visitors and volunteers observed in awe as the baby emerged. “It’s simultaneously one of the most beautiful and grossest things I’ve been able to see,” said one observer.
By Paul Wells - Sunday, May 10, 2009 at 11:31 PM - 32 Comments
I wonder whether the people who put the original Star Trek series together had any inkling that, nearly 43 years after the first episode aired, humanity would have travelled such a great distance in depicting wide-scale human space travel — and such a paltry distance in achieving it. JJ Abrams’ new movie uses digital imaging technology that didn’t exist last summer. The U.S. space-shuttle fleet has been substantially spiffed up in its cockpits, but the thrust technology has not seriously improved since the prototype — and remember what that was called? — flew its first test landings in 1977. Before many readers of this blog were born. When I think of that, it’s hard to enjoy a science fiction movie properly, because the underlying message is that we’ve become far better at kidding ourselves.
By Paul Wells - Saturday, May 9, 2009 at 11:23 PM - 11 Comments
JJ Abrams’ Star Trek, as you have no doubt already heard, is spectacular, touching, funny, gorgeous. It is not flawless, and it’s only a superbly executed piece of pop culture after all, but I can’t imagine anyone else doing a better reboot for the series. Abrams is much more than just another skilled technician. He’s good for the movies.
It contains one sequence designed to appeal, not to Star Trek geeks, but to fans of real-life space exploration. In the third act it becomes necessary for the Enterprise to hide somewhere briefly. Scottie and Sulu pick Titan, the cloudy moon of Saturn. The sequence lasts about a minute and a half — this movie moves fast — but as a guy who used to spend hours poring over Voyager pictures from Saturn and Jupiter in Discover and National Geographic, I was happy for a chance to see Titan again. Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Friday, May 8, 2009 at 4:24 PM - 0 Comments
This is the weekend of you-know-what, so it’s time to watch some TV parodies of this indestructible franchise. (The above cartoon is from 1972, when, according to Leonard Nimoy, the popularity of Star Trek reruns turned into a full-blown phenomenon, making it one of the few shows to be better-known in reruns than it was in prime-time.)
Starting with a short clip, on The Wonder Years, Fred Savage imagines that he’s in the terrible episode “Spock’s Brain.” Scrubs really does owe a lot to this show.
The complete Duckman episode “Where No Duckman Has Gone Before,” complete with the “Mr. Tambourine Man” joke that was cut on the DVD version. Without giving anything away, there’s a moment in this episode that seems oddly similar to a plot device that the new movie uses to distinguish itself from the original Trek.
And for CanCon, an excerpt from Wayne and Shuster’s over-long (everything they did from the ’70s on was over-long) “Star Schtick.” This clip contains the only parts of this sketch that I Continue…
By Andrew Potter - Friday, May 8, 2009 at 8:31 AM - 25 Comments
In which Jim Pinkerton laments the loss of the sixties-era optimism that gave rise…
In which Jim Pinkerton laments the loss of the sixties-era optimism that gave rise to the original James T Kirk, decries the cynicism of most science fiction since then, and finds new hope in the rebirth of the franchise and perhaps even America:
So the new “Trek” is a tonic. If it’s a hit, box-office success could signal that the Kennedy/Roddenberry vision has a political future, as well as a past. For in the movie we once again hear the clarion call, “These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise…” And so those neo-Sorensonian cadences all come flooding back, filling some of us with hope that a new generation will pick up the torch, carrying it to the far reaches of the future.
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, May 7, 2009 at 10:41 PM - 10 Comments
Opening this week are two films from opposite ends of the cinematic universe. One is massive, the other miniature. Both are baroquely plotted, time-warped dramas set in alien worlds, with meta narratives that hover between comic irony and high drama. One is Star Trek, the blockbuster reboot that seems destined to go where no Star Trek movie has gone before—far beyond its fan base. The other is Adoration, a return to form by Canadian auteur Atom Egoyan, who resumes the intimate, and intricate, scale of his earlier work with an arthouse gem destined to consolidate rather than expand his audience. Star Trek is a popcorn movie that I’d happily recommend to anyone; Adoration is a foie gras film, an acquired taste that will delight Egoyan gourmets and may leave others a little bewildered.
I come to this not as a fan, but as someone who has always viewed Star Trek from a distance as an amusing cult phenomenon. Like anyone else, I’ve cruised in and out of the various TV incarnations, and I’ve seen some (but not all) of the previous ten Star Trek movies, which ranged from laughable to forgettable. If you want a fan’s reaction to the new movie, you should read this report from Patricia Treble, Maclean’s chief of research: Star Trek from a fan’s point of view. But even this non-believer was delighted to ride the refurbished Starship Enterprise. With more than double the budget of any previous Trek movie, director J.J. Abrams (Lost) has rebooted the franchise into a new stratosphere, but he’s brought more than posh production values to the table. Without abandoning the Star Trek of sci-fi kitsch, he’s enriched the saga with unprecedented depth and maturity. And if my enthusiasm is any measure, he has pulled off that tricky balancing act—thrilling loyal fans while appealing to a broader audience of the uninitiated. To read my recent background piece in the magazine about the reboot, go to Star Trek’s perilous enterprise. Meanwhile, some thoughts on the movie, after seeing it last night:
Star Trek, a title that seems naked without Roman numerals attached, relaunches the saga with a new crew of actors playing the characters from the original TV series. Abrams kick-starts the prequel’s creation story, with a prolonged space battle that culminates in a Big Bang Genesis: simultaneously Captain James T. Kirk’s father is sacrificed in a clash with a Romulan ship while his mother gives birth to baby James in an escaping shuttle craft. Right from the get-go, Abrams brings an arresting sense of style to the visuals: the enemy craft, piloted by the Romulan villain Nero (a tattooed Eric Bana), looks like an ominovourous, dark-feathered sea creature. And there’s some flesh-and-blood punch to the violence. This doesn’t feel like a cartoon.
Flash forward to James Kirk in Iowa as a juvenile delinquent joy-riding a vintage red Corvette, then as a brash young man, a rebel without cause, taking on all comers in a barroom brawl. The actor cast as Kirk, Chris Pine, first struck me as a walking cliché of a blond All-American pretty boy, a callow combo of Tab Hunter and James Dean. But as he finds his rhythm, the performance acquires some edges, some wit, and we can see a glimmer of William Shatner’s jaunty signature in his reckless intimations of authority. Continue…
By Patricia Treble - Thursday, May 7, 2009 at 3:51 PM - 6 Comments
The prequel has a sci-fi plot that even neophytes can follow and just enough action
When director J.J. Abrams was selected to restart the Star Trek series with a new Kirk and crew, this fan wasn’t cheering. I might not be a full-on acolyte who knows the name of every Romulan character in each of the five TV series, but over the years I’ve enjoyed watching the trials and tribulations of the Federation and its flagship, the Enterprise. But the show I liked the least—even loathed—was the original. I’m not sure whether it was my older siblings and their friends mocking the series or the blatant misogyny, crappy special effects and arrogance of Capt. James T. Kirk that turned me off.
So the thought of another Kirk film held no appeal. And while Abrams is a small-screen genius (Lost, Felicity, Alias), his feature film track record (the dreadful, at least in this writer’s opinion, Mission: Impossible III) didn’t inspire confidence. But he redeemed himself with Star Trek, which is sure to be this summer’s must-watch.
Star Trek is just plain fun. The dialogue is fast and sharp. There’s a sci-fi plot that even neophytes can follow. There’s enough action to thrill the guys. And, while not giving away any plot secrets, there is one spectacularly satisfying “expendable crew man” death (a plot devise heavily used in the original series). Devotees will be happy that “canon law” has not been violated. Fans like me will be thrilled that the same-old same-old of Star Trek—the Federation is one big happy family and everything is neatly wrapped up at the end—has been turned on its ear. And newcomers will enjoy it for what it is: a perfect escapist film.
Most importantly, it’s packed with young, hot actors who present new facets to characters familiar to anyone who’s paid the slightest bit of attention to popular culture in the last 40 years, especially Chris Pine who takes the edge off Capt. Kirk’s arrogance. But the real standout is Zachary Quinto’s (and Leonard Nimoy’s) portrayal of Spock. Kirk might be the “face” but Spock is the heart and soul of the Star Trek universe.
I don’t usually see movies twice, but this will be an exception. Among a few other things, that flashed by during the first screening, I’ll want to see if that “expendable crew man” is wearing the correct “red shirt” of death. Something tells me Abrams didn’t tweak that tradition.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, May 6, 2009 at 4:11 PM - 16 Comments
Though surely too good to be true, the photographer assures that this is indeed a real photo of Jack Layton dressed up in a Star Trek uniform.
A request for confirmation has been filed with the NDP.
Update. Susan Delacourt with the scoop. Olivia Chow confirms legitimacy of photo. Says uniform was custom-made and “very form fitting.” Developing.
By Jaime Weinman - Wednesday, May 6, 2009 at 10:09 AM - 5 Comments
To prepare us for the new movie, Matt Zoller Seitz has a “fascinating” video essay on the character of Mr. Spock. It’s really two essays in one, because the full text of the essay is printed below the video. You can’t ask for a better introduction to the social issues that are built into the character, as well as his ancestors in popular culture.
Like Othello, Spock is a driven individual who donned a uniform in order to define himself — not to reconcile his human and Vulcan ancestry, but to contain or neutralize it — to make it quite beside the point. He is dependable to a fault: the officer to whom the captain, the crew and the series all turn to in order to make sense of the inexplicable; the man with the answers and the plan.
(Link via Todd.)
However, I think the popularity of Spock, along with some of Shatner’s weirder career choices, have caused Kirk to be a little underrated compared to Spock, but in some ways, I think Kirk was Star Trek‘s best achievement and the hardest role to play. He’s a less unusual character than Spock, but that’s what makes him hard to bring off: he’s the brash, self-assured, ladies’-man hero that many adventure stories have in some form or another. Spock is a high-concept character; Kirk is a very traditional character. Spock is a person struggling to achieve the right balance; Kirk, as the hero, is the guy who’s already in balance, who knows how to balance reason and emotion. It’s very impressive that Shatner and the writers managed to figure out that character without making him a perfect, sanctimonious bore or a disgusting pig. None of the other Treks ever managed to pull off an old-fashioned hero character like that (most didn’t even try), and similar characters, like the young heroes on the first Battlestar Galactica, just don’t compare to him. Kirk is actually a heroic character; most TV “heroes” are not.
But here’s a reason why William Shatner’s fine work on the original and best Star Trek is often forgotten — because he spent the ensuing years doing a lot of stuff like this. It’s not quite as much of a WTF masterpiece as “Rocket Man” and “Taxi,” because the song itself — a show tune originally sung by Richard Burton — actually lends itself to talk-singing.
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, April 16, 2009 at 12:20 PM - 2 Comments
With a record budget, the franchise’s much-ballyhooed reboot invades ‘Star Wars’ territory
Believe it or not, there are inhabitants of earth, including at least one editor at this magazine, who still get Star Trek and Star Wars mixed up. But who can blame them? Both franchises are space operas with fanatical cult followings, and, for the uninitiated, it may be hard to keep it all straight—to tell your Romulans from your Rodians and your Klingons from your Kowakians, never mind whether you should slice your aliens with a hand phaser or a lightsaber. So patiently you explain that these worlds are polar opposites. Star Trek is techno science fiction set in a foreseeable future; Star Wars is mythic fantasy set in a past. Star Trek is an expanding universe, a promiscuous TV franchise that’s been cloning itself for over four decades, while spawning a string of ho-hum spinoffs for the big screen; Star Wars is a finite saga that George Lucas has forged into a monumental series of blockbuster epics, all bigger and more lucrative than any of the Trek films.
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, April 2, 2009 at 3:37 PM - 1 Comment
If you’re not craving a fix of fuel-injected testosterone this weekend—and can resist the lure of Vin Diesel, Paul Walker and Michelle Rodriguez re-igniting the Fast and Furious franchise—you can choose between two decidedly less macho alternatives that tap an altogether different vein of nostalgia. Adventureland and Fanboys are both are geek coming-of-age stories set in a pre-9/11 world. And the one I’m recommending, heartily, is Adventureland, a delightful romantic comedy about a shy college grad who puts his virginity on the line while working as a carnie in the summer of 1987. Fanboys is more sophmoric fare—a cute but underwhelming road movie, featuring a whole posse of geeks on a quixotic mission to invade George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch in 1998.
This sweet midway ride through the ageless carnival of post-teen angst comes from filmmaker Greg Motolla, who directed the priceless high school hijinks of Superbad. While still blessed with a healthy measure of adolescent naïveté, Adventureland is Motolla’s own script and it’s more mature piece of work, a romantic comedy that’s tilted toward romance. It’s a smart, believable and genuinely touching movie—the tale of a young man staring into the chasm that lies between him and adulthood. And it’s one of those rare films that lives up to the gold standard set by The Graduate over four decades ago. Motolla’s script is semi-autobiographical, and it shows. He conjures a world, both physical and emotional, with the kind of telling details that cannot be made up. Balancing rough-edged realism with tender sentiment, it rides the rom com formula without succumbing to it. Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Monday, November 17, 2008 at 4:41 PM - 6 Comments
So what do you think of the new trailer for the Star Trek movie from J.J. Abrams and his posse (writers Orci and Kurzman, producer Lindelof, composer Giacchino — you can’t say the guy doesn’t provide job security)?
It really does look like Star Trek as produced by the cast and crew of Felicity (and I’m being generous here; I could have said Smallville), but, after all, it’s only a trailer. And anything that re-establishes Kirk as a cool character is OK with me. It’s been diluted by the movies and the reruns, but Kirk was much cooler than most TV heroes, and still is. He managed to combine several types that are usually kept separate on TV: the socially-conscious sensitive guy, the ladies’ man, and the action hero. (I guess you could say that The Fonz was the same combination, but did you ever believe him as a socially-conscious voice of morality? I didn’t.) Today’s heroes tend to be either sensitive nice guys or macho sexist pigs, but never both at the same time, and action heroes like Jack Bauer don’t have much time for romance. Kirk is what you’d get if you took James Bond, the most popular fictional hero at the time, and added a dose of political correctness. (’60s political correctness, I mean. What was PC then isn’t always PC now.) And while it’s easy to make fun of Shatner, you have to be a good actor to pull that off.
If the new movie can come close to that combination, it’ll be fun. If it just gives us another broody smirky whiny hero, then we can worry.
By Jaime Weinman - Tuesday, July 29, 2008 at 4:58 PM - 0 Comments
John Rogers is excited that It Takes a Thief is available on Hulu. I would be excited except Hulu isn’t available in Canada. You can get it by installing something like Hotspot Shield, which disguises your IP address to fool the Hulu server, but I can’t officially advise you to do something like that. Anyway…
This post at Cinema Retro gives a good run-down of what It Takes a Thief was and why it was fun, but I’ll add that It Takes a Thief was one of the last of a type of show that was quite common in the ’60s and hasn’t existed much since then, which I might call the “Babe Of the Week Show.” (That may sound a bit chauvinistic and Rat Pack-y, but so was that entire decade of popular culture.) That is, a show where part of the formula Continue…