I saw Star Trek Into Darkness yesterday. There is a plot twist of sorts in the movie, which a friend of mine spoiled for me, although I don’t think it detracted from my enjoyment. But be warned, I will spoil it in this review.
Let me begin by stating that I–alone of everyone who saw it, as near as I can tell–didn’t much care for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. I thought the first Star Trek movie was better, even though it was 50% exterior shots of the Enterprise doing nothing. Wrath of Khan was lame because the titular character was a completely over-the-top cartoon villain, constantly quoting literature for no reason.
I mention Wrath of Khan because this movie is practically a remake of it. Benedict Cumberbatch plays a criminal who turns out to be none other than the alternate-universe Khan. In the beginning, his Khan isn’t that different from his Sherlock Holmes–he’s a brooding man in black who hangs around London. But he does a good job as the film goes on–in my opinion, better than Ricardo Montalban did in the role.
Anyhow, in the first part of the film, Kirk is relieved of his command of the Enterprise for violating the Prime Directive like he always does. This lasts for about ten minutes until the criminal-not-yet-known-as-Khan kills the new Enterprise commander and Kirk is reinstated and sent on a mission to bring him to justice, by firing a mysterious new kind of photon torpedoes at him.
Alas, it develops that Khan has gone to a Klingon planet, and a Federation ship cannot go there without risking war. Even so, one Admiral Marcus tells him to do it anyway; war with the Klingons is inevitable. So, Kirk and the Enterprise and a mysterious new crew member named Carol head off. Except for Scotty, who resigns because he doesn’t like the look of the new torpedoes.
They arrive at the Klingon planet, send a message to the fugitive that they will blast him with torpedoes if he does not surrender, and are then attacked immediately by (what else?) Klingons, who are in turn attacked by a mysterious hooded figure who is obviously Khan.
This is my favorite scene in the movie: Khan is not shone close-up or center frame, but appears silhouetted against a large glowing orange background firing his weapons at the Klingons and taking them down with ease. When they are all disposed of, he turns his attention to Kirk and asks “how many of those torpedoes are there?” When the reply comes: “72″, Khan immediately says “I surrender.”
It’s a great scene, and very unnerving. Here you have this obviously highly-capable villain who could easily take on the three people sent to capture him, and yet he is surrendering to them. Normally in these action-adventure flicks, it’s the heroes who get captured by the villains at this stage of the game.
Unfortunately, the film goes downhill after that. There are revelations that Admiral Marcus has been lying, trying to start a war with the Klingons, that Khan’s people are in cryogenic pods sealed in the torpedoes, that Marcus revived them for his war… bottom line, Marcus is a jerk, but Khan is ruthless and willing to harm innocents in his mad quest for vengeance. After many explosions and lots of running, falling and punching, it all gets sorted out, with the heroes none the worse for wear.
Spock gets overly-emotional at the end. It’s out of character, as is the romance between him and Uhura. Dr. McCoy also does something unbelievably stupid when he neglects to save a sample of Khan’s miraculously regenerating cells. They are an incredibly useful for medical purposes, and yet he barely pays them any mind? Too often, the script uses clever one-liners at the expense of characterization. There is also a pointless cameo by Leonard Nimoy, reprising his role as original Spock.
Star Trek used to have a lot of talking, punctuated by the occasional fight. These new movies are mostly fighting punctuated by banter. It may be a bit higher-quality banter than you’d get in most sci-fi action movies, but still that’s what it is.
It’s a mildly entertaining film. Kirk is a good hero, and Khan is a good villain. It’s a shame they don’t get to interact more, because what scenes they have are very well done. I felt like there was more verbal sparring between Shatner and Montalban in the original than there was between Pine and Cumberbatch in this one. If they had just remade the original more faithfully, shot-for-shot even, with this cast, I think it would have been better.
As the original Khan, literature student that he was, might have been moved to remark: “it is full of sound and fury and signifying nothing.”
Here’s an interesting article describing an event in which two great filmmakers, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, forecast radical changes in the movie industry. The bit that stood out for me:
Lucas and Spielberg also spoke of vast differences between filmmaking and video games because the latter hasn’t been able to tell stories and make consumers care about the characters.
There are two possibilities here:
- This is an attempt to paraphrase that oversimplifies, and consequently loses the sense of what they said.
- Lucas and Spielberg don’t know what they’re talking about.
If they actually said anything remotely like that, they simply have not been paying attention. Video games have been telling stories since the beginning. “Super Mario Bros.” is the story of a man trying to rescue a princess from a giant turtle. It’s not a great story, you may say, but it’s a story all the same. And there have been films that were just as bad (if not worse) in the story department...
As for this “hasn’t been able to make consumers care about characters” business, that’s even more of a laugh. I like Lucas’s Star Wars films quite a bit, but Kreia from Knights of the Old Republic II can put any character Lucas ever wrote to shame. BioWare had to actually go back and try to “fix” the ending to one of their games because fans were so anxious to know what happened to their favorite characters.
Perhaps their confusion can be explained by the remainder of the paragraph from the same story:
Which isn’t to say [games and movies] aren’t connected. Spielberg, in fact, has teamed with Microsoft to make a “TV” show for Xbox 360 based on the game Halo and he is making a movie based on the Electronic Arts game Need for Speed.
Well, there’s the problem. If those two titles are what they think video games are like, I can see they would have the wrong idea.
Here’s what’s ironic about this: these two cinema legends are saying there are huge problems with the movie industry, and then going on to exemplify one of the problems themselves: arrogance.
It’s even worse, though, because it’s not just the movie industry that thinks games can’t compete in terms of story and characters–it’s the game industry, as well! The powerful entities in it, at least. And to complete the irony, the most vapid, characterless, hackneyed, special effects-driven games are churned out in the name of being “cinematic”!
I hope gaming doesn’t get ruined trying to emulate the methods of an “imploding” industry.
I’ve written on here before about how film adaptations of books are usually (though not always) unsuccessful, because the stories told in books are usually optimized for book form, and so don’t work as well on screen. But what about books adapted from movies? Do they have the same problem?
Again; yes, usually. But sometimes they can complement the movie well. I think it’s actually easier for a novelization to enhance a movie than for a movie to enhance a book. You can probe the motivations and details of the characters more thoroughly on the page. But with movie adaptations, it’s more likely you’ll lose content rather than gain it.
An example of a bad novelization is the Star Wars: Attack of the Clones book by R.A. Salvatore. The whole thing feels off. It lacks much of the quick pacing of the movie, and when we get to “hear their thoughts”, as it were, the characters don’t really match up with how they seem to be acting in the film.
You don’t have to look far for a much better novelization, though: Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith by Matthew Stover is a great adaptation that does a very good job illuminating other aspects of the story and fleshing out the characters in a way not possible in the movie. One thing that’s not communicated in the movie, but which Stover includes, is the point that Anakin is very sleep-deprived during the events of the story. This helps make his decisions much more understandable.
I read a novelization of the movie The Mummy Returns, and it was about what you’d expect for a novelization of a popcorn action-adventure flick. It’s entertaining on the screen, but dire on the page. I think many novelizations really are nothing more than cash-ins.
One question that occurred to me as I was thinking about this issue: between books and movies, which medium do you think is more conducive to nuance and subtlety in storytelling? My first inclination was to say “books”, but then it is true that you have to spend a lot more time describing something in a book than in a film. “A picture is worth a thousand words”, as they say. What do you think?
(To be sung to the tune of the English sea song “Brave Benbow“)
Come all you football fans, and draw near, and draw near,
Come all you football fans and draw near.
It’s of a QB’s fame,
O brave Tebow was his name,
Why he will not start again,
you shall hear, you shall hear.
Brave Tebow he dropped back
For to pass, for to pass
Brave Tebow he dropped back for to pass.
Brave Tebow he dropped back
For to throw a speedy slant
But, as you well know, he can’t
Miss the grass, miss the grass.
Said John Fox to his men:
We will run, we will run
Said John Fox to his men, we will run.
For I value no disgrace,
nor the losing of my place,
But if we can get McGahee out in space,
We’ll have won, we’ll have won.
The marvelous Tebow took the snap, took the snap
The marvelous Tebow took the snap.
And when he did, he’d try to throw
To somebody on a “go”,
To somebody on a “go”,
Brave Tebow to the Jets
By a trade, by a trade
Brave Tebow to the Jets by a trade.
Brave Tebow to the Jets,
And all his fans give Sermonettes:
“Tebow by Elway’s camp
Was betrayed, was betrayed!”
Rex Ryan welcom’d him,
Cries Tebow, cries Tebow
Rex Ryan welcom’d him, cries Tebow.
But they got him out of haste,
And the Quarterback was placed
(While Mark Sanchez was disgraced)
On the bench, on the bench.
As you probably know, the film is a prequel of sorts to Scott’s Alien, which I have never seen. Nor have I seen any of the sequels. So, I can’t comment on what the events depicted in this film mean for the rest of the series.
The film begins with some archaeologists finding cave paintings of giants pointing at a constellation of stars. These paintings match up with similar ancient artworks from other, distant civilizations. Based on this, a wealthy old man finances an expedition on the spaceship Prometheus to this constellation to meet the alien creatures presumed to be there. The man explains in a video to the crew—after they have woken up from years in suspended animation—that he will be dead by now, but his dream is that they meet the aliens. This is also where the film’s best line occurs–”By the time you see this, I will be dead. May I rest in peace.”
The main characters are the two archaeologists, Drs. Elizabeth Shaw and Charles Holloway, a robot named David, and the cold, corporate-type heading the mission. The supporting crew of the good ship Prometheus are all a bunch of outrageously clichéd and stereotyped characters, most of whom are so undisciplined and incompetent that it’s easy to see why they need David to run the entire ship.
Naturally, they go exploring caverns within the alien planet and soon enough some of the obnoxious secondary characters get attacked by aliens. Gradually, as crew members become infected, they ultimately conclude that the humanoid aliens–the giants in the paintings–were wiped out by a sort of bio-weapon they were creating—to wit, snake-like aliens found roaming around the tunnels. Despite this, the wealthy old man, who is not dead after all but had been secretly in suspended animation, has gone to talk to the last surviving alien.
Unfortunately, said alien reacts about like you would expect, killing the old man and ripping apart the android. Then he blasts off in his spaceship and Dr. Shaw somehow intuits that he’s going to destroy the Earth. Luckily, the crew of the Prometheus makes a suicide attack on his vessel, and bring it to the ground. He survives, and pursues Dr. Shaw into a wrecked escape pod, but she is saved at the last minute when one of the snake-like aliens attacks the humanoid alien. The film ends with Dr. Shaw stealing an alien ship and flying off to find the real alien home world.
If that summary seemed rushed, I apologize—but so did the movie. It always seemed to be building to some big payoff, only to have the big payoff happen in a rush and then hurry on to the next thing. There was a rather disturbing scene which I shall not describe, but which is moved on from so quickly it feels unbelievable, given the circumstances.
The acting in the film is very good. It’s too good actually, because the acting outpaces the quality of the characters. The biggest exception to this is Charlize Theron, who plays the corporate commander of the mission—her acting is mediocre, but then so is her character, so it’s hard to blame her.
Michael Fassbender plays David, whose most notable character trait is that he is obsessed with the movie Lawrence of Arabia. Fassbender does a good job channeling Peter O’Toole-as-Lawrence, but it’s not clear why David does this, except maybe that they thought by inserting references to a better movie, they could raise the quality of their own. The robot’s motivations are generally very hard to follow, and it was never completely clear to me who he was working for. He seems to make decisions based solely on what needs to be done to advance the plot.
Noomi Rapace does a very good job imbuing Dr. Shaw with some charisma and likeability, which is vital because otherwise the movie would be unwatchable. You can’t help but root for her character, despite the fact that a lot of what she and everyone else on the mission does is stupid. Or if not stupid, utterly inexplicable. (Actually, the assignments break down like this: utterly inexplicable plot-driving actions: David. Obviously stupid actions: everyone else.)
It’s never clear why or how things occur: how does Shaw know the humanoid alien is going to destroy the Earth? How does the pilot suddenly figure out that it’s an alien weapon-making plant? How did they even manage to make the giant leap that there must be intelligent life on this one planet in this constellation based on some cave paintings? It’s a weak basis for launching a trillion-dollar space mission.
I read on IMDb that Guillermo del Toro delayed his film adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s novella At The Mountains of Madness because Prometheus was so similar to his plans for the film. I’m surprised I didn’t realize it until I read Del Toro’s quote, but yes, this is not surprising, since the plot of Prometheus is similar to Lovecraft’s book. Both stories include explorers finding remnants of an alien civilization driven to the point of extinction by monsters of their own creation. In both stories the aliens are suggested to have created humanity. Prometheus even includes the same kind of chases through dark mountain tunnels described in Mountains of Madness.
The difference, as I might have predicted, is in certain subtle touches that make Mountains more interesting. In Lovecraft’s novel, the “creator” aliens are treated as tragic figures, destroyed by their own scientific ingenuity. (Like Frankenstein or, “the Modern Prometheus”) In Prometheus, it’s just one set of bad aliens vs. another set of bad aliens. Even more significantly, at the end of Mountains, there is ambiguity as to what the final horror was. The reader never learns what Danforth saw behind the mountains. There is some ambiguity in Prometheus‘s ending as to what the creator aliens were doing, but it feels more like ambiguity resulting from sloppy writing than a deliberate effect.
I realize after reading this, you must think I hated this movie. I certainly didn’t think it was great, but I didn’t hate it either. Apart from the one disturbing scene, I found it a decent suspense flick while watching it, and most of the problems didn’t become apparent until I started to think about it afterwards. It’s just that the film ultimately lacks anything really frightening or intellectually stimulating. It would have been better if it had ended with the alien setting off for Earth, his motivations open to interpretation, and Shaw and the rest were left to fend for themselves on the alien world.
Mass Effect (series)
The Reapers are bad
Because they will kill us all–
So let’s kill ourselves.
Fallout: New Vegas
Why would you gamble
In a wrecked economy
Based on bottle caps?
With gravity guns, crowbars–
And more depressing.
Metal Gear Solid
Two days to prevent
A nuclear disaster.
But let’s chat some first.
Fighting generic monsters.
The Fans will love it!
Call of Duty (series)
Fighting with one another.
A Halo killer!
A million choices;
Branching paths and decisions;
All destroy the world.
U.A.C. has guns,
Teleporters and ships, but
“No duct tape on Mars.”
A female James Bond
To be the next Goldeneye?
More like Moonraker.
Knights of the Old Republic II
Take away the Force
And Jedi are incomplete.
Much like the ending.
Feel free to add your own in the comments.
Chuck Norris has written an article about how great Tim Tebow is. I hate to say it, but beneath all the hyperbole and cliches about “clutchness”, he has something of a point, even if he has a much higher opinion of Tebow than I do. I don’t think he’ll ever be a really great player, but he deserves more of a chance than he’s getting. I wish Buffalo had signed him and spent their first round pick on a defensive player instead.
I really can’t figure out the weird reluctance by teams to take Tebow. It’s not that Tebow doesn’t have his flaws, but rather that teams are willing to gamble so much more to get potentially so much less. E.J. Manuel may end up being the next J.P. Losman, whereas Tebow at least has won a playoff game, which is more than can be said for Rob Johnson, whom Buffalo once anointed their starter for no apparent reason, or Ryan Fitzpatrick, or any of the other placeholders they’ve had these past thirteen years.
It’s not just Buffalo, though; nobody wants Tebow. If teams were generally very conservative, this might make sense, but they aren’t. They gamble on worse odds all the time. Heck, Geno Smith, who signaled the end for Tebow time in New York, has “bust” written all over him in giant, neon green letters. (B! U! S! T! Bust! Bust! Bust!)
People keep passing this off by saying “well, teams don’t want the attention he brings.” Of course they do! They’re pro football teams! The reason they exist is to get attention, and thus money. “Well, Tebow has this zealous fan base, led by people like Chuck Norris,” you say. Yeah, he does. So what? All pro football teams aim to fill their stadia with zealous fanbases each week, and it doesn’t seem to bother them then.
Tebow’s fans say he’s being discriminated against due to his religion. Seems unlikely. Most football players are Christians. Kurt Warner was an outspoken Christian, like Tebow, and teams were quite willing to give him a chance, even when his play was very inconsistent.
So, we come inevitably back to his bad mechanics. Well, no one can deny his throwing motion is terrible. But, even so, the Pittsburgh defense could not stop him in a playoff game. It may be bad, but it was good enough to win that day.
Can Tebow be a championship-winning quarterback? No; it’s very unlikely, unless he travels back in time and signs with the ’85 Bears. But can he get a team into the playoffs? Yes–he already has done it once. Can he make a team relevant again? Yes, even if he plays poorly, he will still attract attention. That’s why perennially bad teams, like Buffalo, Cleveland and, as Norris mentioned, Jacksonville would be wise to get him.