Maybe McG Gets It After All

Speak­ing of sum­mer movie thrills, I’m cau­tious­ly opti­mistic about Ter­mi­na­tor: Sal­va­tion, which opens next week. Direc­tor “McG” — of Char­lies Angel’s mon­ey grab remake fame ” makes a good case for going with a PG-13 rat­ing:

“It just became clear that the things that would take it to an R or an NC-17 would be: There goes the arm, and now the blood is squirt­ing on my face,” McG said in a group inter­view last Fri­day in Bev­er­ly Hills, Calif. “That was­n’t in ser­vice of the char­ac­ter or the sto­ry. The ele­ments that would have tak­en it to R just end­ed up feel­ing gra­tu­itous in the edit­ing room. There’s a top­less scene with Moon Blood­good. I was try­ing to echo that scene in Wit­ness where Kel­ly McGillis turns and says, ‘I’m not ashamed’ to Har­ri­son Ford. But it just felt like, ‘Oh, there’s the genre stunt of the good-look­ing girl tak­ing her top off.’ And it felt coun­ter­pro­duc­tive in the spir­it of what we were look­ing to achieve on a sto­ry­telling lev­el, so way to go.”

I am in full favor of cut­ting gra­tu­itous vio­lence and nudi­ty if it can open the film to a wider audi­ence, make the movie a greater suc­cess, and ensure that good sci­ence fic­tion gets atten­tion it deserves. 

The New Star Trek

With two kids now, find­ing time to go out to watch a movie is only a great chal­lenge. Giv­en that Angela is a long-time Trekker and that this was Moth­er’s day week­end, we real­ly want­ed to get out to see the new movie. We’re also big Lost fans and had real­ly high hopes for this film. 

I should point out that Angela is a big fan of Next Gen­er­a­tion in par­tic­u­lar. That was what she grew up on 1 where­as my first expe­ri­ence with Star Trek was the ani­mat­ed series on Nick­elodeon2. I was prob­a­bly always more of a Star Wars fan, myself, but we’ve come to embrace one anoth­er’s dif­fer­ent nerd her­itages in our years togeth­er. I’ve been to a Star Trek con­ven­tion before with Angela and her cousin, Jonathan; and we’ve gone to see the recent films with TNG cast togeth­er. So of some of the big hit films this sum­mer, we real­ly were glad that we could orches­trate an after­noon of Star Trek together.

You Don’t Have to be a Fan

I hon­est­ly have no idea if JJ Abrams, et al are huge fans of Star Trek or not. It would cer­tain­ly seem so but, more to the point, they are excel­lent sto­ry tellers. What this lat­est movie is is a high-action, emo­tion­al, bril­liant­ly told sto­ry. While it most essen­tial­ly boils down to a bud­dy-film, it real­ly draws on loads of sto­ry ele­ments. A favorite ele­ment of mine was that the crew of the Enter­prise as we have known them are real­ly a bunch of sec­ond-string mis­fits; either with author­i­ty issues or per­son­al con­flicts that would pre­vent them from ris­ing to the top on their own. How­ev­er, when put togeth­er their odd­i­ties feed off one anoth­er. Each char­ac­ter is intro­duced to us one at a time as the film pro­gress­es. There­fore, what start­ed as a bud­dy flick about two guys now con­sists of a ensem­ble, each the audi­ence has a spe­cial con­nec­tion with. The writ­ers knew bet­ter than to bring in more than a half-dozen char­ac­ters all at once and assume the audi­ence would just rec­og­nize them.

I had read enough on Zachory Quin­to’s desire to play Spock that I had real­ly focused my excite­ment on that char­ac­ter. I had­n’t real­ly giv­en more than a pass­ing thought to Karl Urban as Bones (“Oh, he was in LotR, right?”). As it turns out, he was excel­lent at Dr. McCoy3. The rest of the cast did not dis­ap­point, either. No one hammed up their roles. Instead, the actors all seemed to get the essence of the char­ac­ters with­out resort­ing to just doing impres­sions of the actors from decades ago.

Being a Fan Doesn’t Hurt

There were plen­ty of ref­er­ences to the fin­er points of the Star Trek uni­verse, though. From all the lit­tle bits like props that matched much of the style of the orig­i­nal series, to sound effects and music laden with heavy brass, to those won­der­ful pre­quel moments of ‘oh that’s how that came about!’ It’s those lat­ter ele­ments that are always the funnest for the fans, I think. They feed our sense of nos­tal­gia for our youth and our (not always) guilty love of pop cul­ture. With a his­to­ry as long as Star Trek, a film like this could have eas­i­ly begun to drown in them. How­ev­er, the writ­ers and direc­tor reached what felt like a per­fect bal­ance here. Enough of these lit­tle mem­o­ry jog­gers to bring smiles to a fan’s face but not so many as to keep the gen­er­al audi­ence feel­ing their miss­ing the joke.

So much of this film was a bal­anc­ing act that is real­ly remark­able that it plays as well as it does to such a wide audi­ence. You would­n’t need to have any more knowl­edge of Star Trek than sim­ply hav­ing grown up in the West­ern hemi­sphere to appre­ci­ate some of the lines and visu­als. Even if you weren’t a fan at all, you could appre­ci­ate some of those enough to enjoy them. And there is plen­ty of plain old damn-good-sto­ry to enjoy the movie even if you would­n’t get those bits. You don’t have to appre­ci­ate any of it to under­stand sac­ri­fic­ing your life to save crew and fam­i­ly or to seek approval and accep­tance. These plot fun­da­men­tals are what too many of the Star Trek films lacked in an effort to make them solid­ly Star Trek. Like all great sci­ence fic­tion, the best parts of the sto­ry have noth­ing to do with sci­ence fiction.

More to Come? I Hope So.

I am con­vinced this will be one of the top movies of the sum­mer (and there­fore, the entire year). Though this film suc­ceeds at what Enter­prise4 tried but ulti­mate­ly could­n’t do: pro­vide both those pre­quel moments while also giv­ing a sexy, sleek new edge to what it means to be Star Trek. Many films that attempt to re-envi­sion, re-boot, or regur­gi­tate sto­ries just to so with no rea­son for exist­ing oth­er than the obvi­ous mon­ey grab. This film — much to our delight — stands on its own. Fur­ther, in so far as the sto­ry line goes it is a lit­er­al re-boot. It ends with an alter­nate, par­al­lel uni­verse as a result of the events of the film For once, time trav­el in Star Trek actu­al­ly results in things unpre­dictably chang­ing. It’s hard to argue when the most impos­si­ble part of the sto­ry actu­al­ly results in a log­i­cal out­come. This cer­tain­ly leaves us with some like­ly sequels to this pre­quel that aren’t the pre­vi­ous films. Okay, when I put it like that it still sounds like a mon­ey grab. But at least this one was enjoyable!

I can watch a lot of films more than once, but this one I could have bought anoth­er tick­et for as soon as I walked out. Angela — who nev­er likes to watch films twice; at least not in the the­ater — said she would love to go back again. I hon­est­ly can’t say much more than that. It real­ly is just that much fun.

  1. I did­n’t get Fox until after the show had begun and only watched occa­sion­al­ly until lat­er in col­lege. []
  2. I’m still very dis­ap­point­ed that an Edosian has nev­er made a re-appear­ance in Star Trek since. []
  3. You might even say he was the real McCoy … but you real­ly should­n’t. []
  4. I want to go on the record and say that Enter­prise was prob­a­bly my favorite of all the Star Trek tele­vi­sion series. And, yes, I liked that theme song. It was one of the few I nev­er fast-for­ward through on TiVo record­ings. []

DVD Ripping Should be Legal for Personal Use

Wired’s Thread Lev­el has a blog on the like­ly out­come of the Real Net­works DVD rip­ping case. The pro­vide a lit­tle back­ground on the odd­i­ty of DVDs (& Blu-Ray discs, too):

It’s OK to copy music from CDs, for exam­ple, and place it in an iPod. Yet, it’s ille­gal to do the same with a DVD. When it comes to the DVD, there’s not even a ques­tion of fair use.

How can the DVD and CD be treat­ed so dif­fer­ent­ly? Answer: The Dig­i­tal Mil­len­ni­um Copy­right Act, which pro­tects the DVD but not the CD.

I’ve yet to hear from any­one who dis­agrees with this. Frankly, when it comes to being able to rip DVDs to save from our tod­dler’s destruc­tive hands (she’s bro­ken more than one) or to save bat­tery life for watch­ing a movie on a flight, I find that valid fair use. How this part of the DMCA is remote­ly legal is total­ly beyond me.

Anoth­er rea­son this has come to light for fair use, is that the MPAA recent­ly rec­om­mend­ed a con­vo­lut­ed method for teach­ers wish­ing to show por­tions of a DVD in class: record­ed the screen with a cam­corder in a dark room. This Rube Gold­berg con­trap­tion of a solu­tion is only slight­ly worse than hold­ing my mini tape deck up to the radio when I was a kid. That is, pret­ty much worthless.