Friday, May 15, 2009

Trek-Dump

One of the ways in which this summer's testosterone-heavy action-adventure flicks are falling short of last summer's crop is that they're not generating nearly as much, or as diverse a range of, discussion.  I mean, The Dark Knight alone kept the internet going for weeks.  This year, the consensus establishes itself pretty quickly--by the end of its opening weekend, everyone knew that Watchmen was a faithful adaptation, but perhaps a little too faithful for its own good, and that was that.  When it comes to Star Trek, you've got a whole lot of people who liked it, and a few like me who didn't, but everyone seems to have pretty much the same reasons for their opinions.  Here, however, are a few posts that make interesting points or make them particularly well.
  • Niall Harrison and I are pretty much opinion-twins when it comes to this film, which happens so rarely that it's noteworthy in and of itself.  He makes a surprisingly rare comparison between the film and New Who, which is something I wanted to touch on in my review but had neither the space nor, just yet, the coherent thoughts for.  After all, when it comes to Doctor Who, I'm exactly in the position of all the newly-minted Star Trek fans who have been brought to the franchise by the movie, and I think it's worth pondering just what, if any, are the differences between J.J. Abrams's reboot and Russell T. Davies's.  (See also in that same post: thoughts on Dollhouse, with which I'm less congruent--I'm not as certain as Niall that an interesting concept makes up for the show's serious failures in plotting--while still agreeing that it has potential and deserves time to find its footing.)

  • There have been a lot of essays about the limited number of female characters in the film and their even more limited roles, but my favorite comes from Sady Doyle at the Guardian's Comment is Free (though as usual for a feminist article in the Guardian, you should probably avoid the actual comments).  This is also a good opportunity to mention Doyle's blog, Tiger Beatdown, a recent discovery which I've been greatly enjoying trawling through.  Her focus is mainly real world feminist issues, on which topic she is trenchant, intelligent, and extremely funny, but she also writes about pop culture from a feminist perspective, and I'm particularly fond of these posts about Dollhouse, Sense and Sensibility, and the similarities between Mean Girls and Mad Men.  The whole blog, though, is worth a look.

  • Still on the topic of women in the film, Meghan McCarron asks "couldn't they have Starbucked somebody?"  To which my answer is, depends on who you mean by 'they.'  I can't really imagine the creative types in charge of this film taking a move as gutsy as this, nor their studio bosses allowing it.  More importantly, I'm not sure that Starbucking (and as annoying as I ultimately found the character I do like the idea of using her name to describe this action, even if the need for such a verb does reinforce my conviction that we've become a remake culture) would have suited this film.  With the exception of Kirk and Spock--who clearly never would have been considered for such a transformation--the rest of the Enterprise crew have rather limited roles in the film, and their characterization consists mainly of recalling established facts about them (Sulu fences, Scotty and Chekov have accents).  I don't think making Sulu female, for example, would have made a significant statement given how little we got to know the character.  On the other hand, I find myself wishing that some of the secondary, non-canonical roles had been played by women, and in particular I'm wondering why the parent Kirk lost on the Kelvin had to be his father instead of his mother.

  • John Rogers, creator of the silly but utterly charming Leverage, writes about Kirk's character arc, or lack of same:
    He starts as an arrogant sonovabitch, and becomes a slightly more motivated arrogant sonovabitch. He does not learn to sacrifice, he does not learn to work well with others -- he takes over the goddam ship. He's right all the time, he never doubts he's right, and the only obstacle he occasionally faces is when other people aren't sharp enough to see how frikkin' awesome -- and right -- he is as quickly as they should.
    This is, obviously, a great deal more positive than I was about Kirk, but I do think that Rogers has hit on the essence of what the character was trying to be--the smug bastard who is all the more infuriating because he actually is the best guy for the job.  Unapologetic arrogance can be an extraordinarily appealing character trait, but only if it's warranted, and Kirk's assholish actions throughout the film are, to my mind, insurmountable obstacles to his claim for leadership.

  • Two lists of introductory facts about Trek, ostensibly for new fans who have started writing fanfic, but at least some of these details seem to have escaped the attention of the filmmakers themselves.

  • God bless Anthony Lane, whose New Yorker review of the film is typically sharp, funny, and merciless.  Despite the delicious snark, Lane ends up a great deal more positive about the film than I was, but before reaching that conclusion he gets a good dig in at the present craze for reboots and prequels
    In all narratives, there is a beauty to the merely given, as the narrator does us the honor of trusting that we will take it for granted. Conversely, there is something offensive in the implication that we might resent that pact, and, like plaintive children, demand to have everything explained. Shakespeare could have kicked off with a flashback in which the infant Hamlet is seen wailing with indecision as to which of Gertrude’s breasts he should latch onto, but would it really have helped us to grasp the dithering prince? Or, to update the question: I know it’s not great when your dad dies a total hero and leaves you orphaned at the same time, but did James T. Kirk have to grow up such a cocky son of a gun?
  • This last one is for Hebrew readers: Raz Greenberg reviews the film for Fisheye, expertly capturing the site's distinctive style, and concludes that Abrams's Star Trek is an excellent Star Wars film which just happens to be set in the Star Trek universe.  There's certainly no denying that Kirk's journey, at least, follows Luke Skywalker's quite closely (though like most Star Wars imitations, Star Trek has taken the admittedly wise step of jettisoning Luke's personality and replacing it with Han's), though I think this is probably more an expression of the fact that the Star Wars story--fatherless boy with great destiny is urged by mentor figure to take his place in the universe, triumphs over adversity, defeats villain and wins glory--is still the template for the overwhelming majority of our blockbuster entertainment than a deliberate or even unconscious imitation.

1 comment:

Tara said...

Thanks for the link to my newbie guide. But you might be more interested in this:

http://firefox.org/news/articles/2794/1/Opinion-Women-in-the-New-Star-Trek-Movie/Page1.html

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