J. & C.'s Movie Reviews

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Archive for the ‘Big-Budget Eye Candy’ Category

Star Trek: The Motion Picture

Posted by J on February 16, 2011

A professor of ours once declared that there was only one good science fiction work.  Everything else in the genre, he claimed, was simplistic and soon would be outdated, if it wasn’t already.  For science fiction is about ideas and tech, not humans, which is what great literature has to be about.  In science fiction, all characters are one-dimensional. They act in the plot according to their two or three major character traits, and they tend not to exhibit complexity.

We preface this short essay about the first Star Trek movie with this caution about science fiction because Star Trek, as everyone knows, makes little effort to portray human complexities.  Kirk, Spock, and Dr. McCoy are who they are, always. Yes, Spock is half-human, half-Vulcan, but he is merely a simplistic symbol of the clash between logic and emotion.  These characters have amazing adventures, encounter new places, and maintain their friendship.  Their beloved status is accorded to them by viewers and fans, who feel a sense of comfort in any story they inhabit.

But, like we were trying to say, they’re not rich, complex characters. Star Trek is about the adventure and the ideas behind the Enterprise’s encounters with new aliens and planets. The franchise, like this first movie, tends to rip off of Western “classics.”  Here, 2001: A Space Odyssey is a major influence. In the second Star Trek movie, Moby-Dick is employed.

The first Star Trek movie, this one, might be the best, which isn’t saying much. Its flaws are numerous. It is badly dated, for one.  The tech might’ve looked fascinating in 1979, but it shows limited imagination today.  Like those really small viewer screens, for example. Wouldn’t they be larger, crisper, and three-dimensional today? But again, in science fiction, the wonders of tech soon become outdated jokes.

The idea behind this first movie is that human technology can develop its own consciousness, which is not all that interesting an idea anymore.  The big secret here is that the NASA probe Voyager has become a living organism.  It emits a massive cloud that destroys everything, and the big problem is that this cloud is heading for Earth. The Enterprise is the only ship that has a chance of stopping it.  So Kirk, Spock, and friends, try to stop the cloud.

That’s about it for the plot. It should be said that Voyager did not develop consciousness on its own, but that some bizarre race of machines way beyond the galaxy, or somewhere, took in Voyager and gave it consciousness.  We are supposed to be overawed with what Voyager has become. It is massive and powerful, according to the crew. It tries to communicate with the crew via a human-like probe, after taking one of the ship’s crew and using her body as the probe.  This idea, that we can communicate fairly easily with the unknown, is silly. The hope of easy communication fuels SETI’s futile search for the alien life, but the novels of Stanislaw Lem offer cautionary wisdom about the impossibility of communicating with something so completely different than us.  (Lem, of course, uses science fiction to discuss complex human issues.)

Despite Voyager’s superior intelligence and technology, it is a moron. It couldn’t, for example, figure out who the “Creator” is.  The Creator is NASA, but Voyager thinks that “carbon-based units” are too simplistic to create anything. Voyager has traveled through the galaxy, it has unimaginable quantities of data, it has incredible reasoning capability, and yet it can’t figure out that humans are capable of building machines?

But the worst howler is that Voyager thinks its name is “V-ger.”  That because it didn’t blow the dust off the letters “O – Y – A.”  When Kirk and company finally see “V-ger,” they realize that its name is actually Voyager, only that those three crucial letters can’t be seen.

It has to be said that Star Trek is always filled with unintentional comedy like this, so it makes for decent, light, nonsensical entertainment for those like us who have a soft spot for science fiction. There’s a sense in which this movie is one of the most boring of all Star Trek stories, but we kind of like its attempt at grandiosity and the involvement of the Voyager probe. Other Trek fare features human-like aliens, and thus dives into sociology and politics. But Trek is at its limited best when its about grand ideas about tech, so, in a sense, this is possibly the best movie of the series.

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Posted in Big-Budget Eye Candy, Okay, But We Won't Watch It Again, Sci-Fi and Fantasy | 2 Comments »

Inception

Posted by J on January 25, 2011

It seems odd to think of Inception as a science-fiction heist flick.  While it is just that, it never feels like that.  Perhaps that’s because, as viewers, we’re too absorbed and distracted to think about this.  Instead, we are constantly trying to listen for and learn this movie’s rules.  It has a lot of rules.  It makes them up as it goes along, but that never bothered us.  The movie is its own self-defined fantasy world.

Others have had problems with the movie’s logical expositions.  There are lots and lots of didactic moments, where the characters tell each other — and thus the audience — exactly what the rules of the dream world are.  These didactic moments are necessary because the movie is complicated.  The main character, Cobb, must implant an idea in Robert Fischer’s mind.  The way to do this is through dreams.  To get Fischer to believe that his recently-deceased father, head of a major energy corporation, wants Fischer to be his own man and split up the company, Cobb must create a dream within a dream within a dream.  Then he must guide Fischer through these dreams. Usually Cobb is involved in missions called “extractions,” in which he finds an idea in someone’s mind, but his mission here is the much harder process of idea-implantation known as “inception.”

To perform inception, Cobb must assemble a team.  He picks a chemist, a forger, a right-hand man, and an architect.  The architect creates the dream worlds, which must be enclosed, complex mazes so that the dreamer doesn’t realize that he/she is dreaming.   Cobb’s architect, a college student named Ariadne, finds that dream worlds are planes of “pure creation.”  There is a sense of wonder about this, but also dread.  A dreamer’s subconscious can turn upon other dreamers, attacking them with its manifestations.  And then there’s the problem of Cobb.  In dreams, Cobb’s dead wife keeps showing up and ruining his plans.  Ariadne worries that Cobb’s involvement will ruin the inception of Fischer.

It is nearly impossible to criticize this movie’s logic because it is its own self-contained entity.  We could ask, why is it safe to have three dream levels, but four dream levels is dangerous, the fourth level being the dreaded “Limbo,” which is the realm of “unreconstructed dream space”?  Why does the dream world experience zero-gravity if the dreamer experiences zero gravity?  We could go on questioning, but that’s pointless.  Questions like these do arise because, somehow, someway, the movie seems far more realistic than it really is.  The technology that makes shared dreaming possible is barely noticeable — it’s just a small, shiny gray box.  What does the box do?  How does it work?  Again, these aren’t relevant questions for this movie.

Inception‘s dream worlds resemble reality, but they allow architects to create entirely new, enticing places. This can be dangerous.  Cobb and his wife, Mal, once spent decades in a dream world, though technically it was only minutes of reality.  Mal loved the dream world too much.  As the movie shows, she loved an abstraction of real life — a fantasy world of statis — more than our everyday reality that necessarily involves time and change.  The threat to Cobb and his accomplices is that they, too, will get stuck in “Limbo” forever.

There are some obvious themes, then, that relate to modern addictions to fantasy worlds.  In a certain sense, we get sucked in to virtual worlds, whether in a video game, or a TV show, or online.  These virtual worlds must be fairly potent; for examples, head to your local library and witness dozens of people playing mindless games, fantasizing in Second Life, or creating new personalities on social networking sites. As with Inception’s dream box, these newer, digital mediums create dreams for us to inhabit and lose ourselves in.

Also, the movie touches on whether the mind is constructed by culture and influenced by visual communication.  Cobb’s mission is to implant an unwanted idea into another’s head.  This is a reasonable working definition for “propaganda.”  The idea that words and images can create reality — can bend or distort reality — is a powerful one for 20th century philosophy.  It is also the idea behind advertising.  While we think some arguments for the power of images to shape minds go too far, images certainly have some motivating effect on us all.  Watch this Darren Brown video on subliminal advertising for an example.  What Brown does is not far from what Cobb does in Inception.

It’s worth pointing out that Inception is an amalgam of other movies.  It’s already well known that the movie uses Fred Astaire’s dancing sequence from Royal Wedding, as well as various James Bond ski-resort scenes.  It also has major elements of every heist movie yet made, though the way Inception uses them to invent its own, unique world is probably the movie’s greatest success.  Implantation of ideas into another’s mind has long been a plot device for sci-fi.  We recently watched an episode of the 1960s series The Prisoner in which this was attempted (see “A.B. and C.“).  As a compilation of other movies, Inception is its own dream world.  It is about the effect of movies on viewer behavior, and it is about itself.

(Addendum: What’s interesting about this movie, psychologically, is the way that it conveys the directional space of dreams so effortlessly. In the final sequence, there are four dream levels.  As confusing as this could be, we know intuitively that these levels are layered, that one is on top of another.  We still can’t figure out why we get this certain feeling of the dream layers being organized vertically, but the movie pulls it off.  Well done.

Also novel is the ticking clock used in this movie.  Instead of a timer that counts down to zero, a van that falls off a bridge into the ocean is the clock.  This is an example of the way that the movie reinvents many cliches of the action genre.)

Posted in Big-Budget Eye Candy, Pretty Good, Reality-Fantasy, Sci-Fi and Fantasy | 1 Comment »

Dr. No

Posted by J on December 8, 2009

For all the lore that James Bond has surrounding him, he’s never been in a good movie.  That’s not just if you define good as “world classic” or “temporary classic,” but “well above average.”  This  starts with the first Bond movie, Dr. No.

In Dr. No you will see James Bond and friends, chased by a tank with teeth painted on it, moving at a crawl.  This tank’s weapon is a blowtorch, so it doesn’t take an Olympic sprinter to get out of harm’s way.  Of course Bond and his sidekick park themselves in the brush and shoot at the tank, hoping to blow it up.  When that doesn’t happen, and as the tank inches forward, Bond’s sidekick stays where he is.   Cut to the tank, blowing fire out it’s front.  Cut to Bond’s sidekick, who throws his gun down and screams for a few seconds.  Cut to tank, which approaches the camera and lets out a tremendous fireball.  Cut to James Bond, who looks away in pain and grief.

Those are the kinds of scenes you will be subjected to with Dr. No.  You will have a good time if you get your buddies together and ridicule the movie, MST3K style.

As for Bond, he’s a womanizing, booze-drinking, debonnair secret agent who looks cool and acts cool at all times.    If you’ve ever seen a government agent like this guy, you’ve seen the only one that ever exists.  Surely this guy has the world’s greatest collection of STDs, but you’d never know it — doesn’t even bother to scratch an itch once.   As Austin Powers says, women want him and men want to be him, which is probably why they’ve made twenty-five or so of these movies.  But every one of them is about style, not substance, so you can decide if  you want to spend two hours living vicariously through a fictional government agent and his fantasy of spycraft.

Entertainment: 6

Intelligence: 0

Morality: 0

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Star Trek (2009)

Posted by J on November 24, 2009

Here’s a Star Trek for the whippersnappers.  As expected, given its intended audience, this Star Trek is all glitz and cool. You don’t need five seconds of an attention span to enjoy this movie, nor do you need a brain.  In fact, what is the difference between this movie and the Fast and Furious series, except that this one takes place in outer space?  James T. Kirk gets to mouth off to tough guys, Spock gets to brood about his interracial family, and Uhuru gets to take her shirt off to reveal her brazier, while lots of things blow up.

Occasionally the Star Trek franchise attempts to be thoughtful, but we shouldn’t expect that from this new movie series.  Consider an episode from the original 1960s series.  Captain Kirk and his merry band land on a pastoral paradise of a planet where some of the crew get sprayed by a chemical from trees.  This chemical gives a person never-ending feelings of pleasure, such that the person cares to do nothing but sit around and laugh and think the world’s a utopia.  Eventually the entire crew, even Mr. Spock, gets sprayed by this chemical, and so you think that they’re all going to be stuck on this planet yucking it up on a kind of marijuana high for eternity.  But no, Captain Kirk somehow realizes internally that he has drive and ambition — a will, if you will — to explore the universe and to not sit around taking drugs all day as a hippie would.  He then proceeds to rescue the crew from its drug-enduced state, and the moral of the story is, don’t be an irresponsible hippie. Surprisingly, in this case, Star Trek could be fairly conservative.

But here, in this new Star Trek movie, we have explosions and lots of deux ex machinas and that’s about all. The moviemakers even expect us to accept the idea that a single star’s supernova explosion can “destroy an entire galaxy.”  If that’s really the case, we suggest that you pack your bags and take that dream vacation you’ve always been wanting to take, right now.

The bad guys are laughably bad.  Supposedly they have waited around twenty-five years to enact revenge on Spock, and their revenge seemingly never subsides, not even when they tell jokes or go to the bathroom.  Here is an example of where the creators of this movie took a piece of Star Trek lore — the bad guy Khan, combined with other bad guys — dumbed it down (if such a thing is possible) and regurgitated it in this movie.  If you’ve watched much Star Trek you’ve already seen the torture bug, an insect they insert into the body of a captured victim, and you’re going to see it again in this movie.

The multicultural angle doesn’t work in this movie.  There’s no point to having a Scot and a Japanese male, let alone a Russian (we’re not in the Cold War anymore so who cares about that?).  Obviously if all of these ethnicities persist into the 23rd century, then nationalism and a relatively strong taboo on interracial marriage are still in vogue on Earth, which is the opposite of what Star Trek says we should aspire too. More bizarrely, after the planet Vulcan is destroyed and only 10,000 Vulcans are left, we are supposed to genuinely care for Spock’s “people.”  It’s at this point that the movie practically screams, “Hey, Spock needs a Vulcan wife and he needs to get busy making Vulcan babies so that the Vulcan race can survive.”  But no.  Spock and Uhuru have the hots for each other.  This movie has a number of similar unresolved contradictions, which you are not supposed to think about (because you are not supposed to think, duh!).

The Federation remains a multicultural empire which dominates its territory by peace through strength, desires to expand its dominion, and competes with other single-ethnicity empires (Klingons, Romulans, etc.).    The militarism of Star Fleet goes hand in hand with the diversity of its male and female warriors.  In the middle of it all is the hero, Captain Kirk. He gets in bar fights, cheats on his school exams, drives fast cars off cliffs (in Iowa, where there are no cliffs at all), and gets promoted to the highest levels of the multicultural empire at a young age. You’d think that Starfleet would be in serious trouble with leaders like this.  In real life, it would be.

Entertainment: 7 (if you get your buddies together and make fun of the movie’s absurdities, it’s definitely a 10)

Intelligence: 1

Morality: 1

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The DaVinci Code

Posted by J on September 7, 2009

Giving credit where it’s due, Dan Brown did resurrect the Holy Grail story.  davinci-code-posterSure, we all know he ripped off Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum to do it, but who among you doesn’t get his blood stirred over a story of some valiant soul searching for the Holy Grail?

So here we have Tom Hanks searching for the cup of Christ.  Hanks is a professor of symbology at Harvard, who tells us that triangles and towers and church steeples are phallic objects that represent men, but that inverted triangles and upside-down steeples represent females.  Necessarily then, the cup of Christ is female, which means that Leonardo da Vinci painted his The Last Supper with an obscured Mary Magdalene next to Christ, who fathered lots of kids.  The Knights Templars guarded the Christ-Magdalene line of kiddies, while the Catholic Church, beginning at the Council of Nicaea, tried to destroy this secret bloodline of Jesus Christ.

It’s all supposed to be total nonsense turned into suspenseful fun, but the protestors do have a point.  The movie moves from one scene to the next very briskly, barely giving its viewers enough time to understand which character knows what piece of information.  But when it gets to the point where it explains the stuff about Mary Magdalene, the movie dwells and dwells on the long history of it, as if to say we really should consider its wacko theory.  There are even plenty of flashbacks to 300 AD to visually support the explanation that Jesus did in fact father children and the “fact” that Christians killed lots of women in order to preserve their cult of personality.

Really, Brown has absorbed multicultural nonsense and spit it back at his eager readers.  We hear an awful lot about how the Christian church has persecuted women and children and blacks and gays and cattle and Star Trek fans and all other oppressed minorities throughout history.  To The DaVinci Code, the Church is pretty much the big bully who is stomping the faces of everyone forever.    Presumably, if only Hanks could find Mary Magdalene’s grave, this persecution will end.

Well he does find Mary Magdalene’s grave and the Holy Grail — those being two seperate things — only you’ll have to wait until the sequel to find out if he ultimately takes down the Vatican.  But perhaps in that one Hanks will instead discover that the Prophet Muhammed sired a secret bloodline that all Muslims everywhere have oppressed for centuries.  This bloodline crossed with Christ’s bloodline to form a Super Prophet, only Hanks has to discover the City of Atlantis and find the Abominable Snowman first, before he learns that he himself is the Super Prophet.  This could be a great movie, except that all Muslims everywhere would have to promise not to order a fatwah on the heads of Ron Howard and Tom Hanks.  Fat chance, since mocking Islam is not P.C. at present.

Entertainment:5

Intelligence: 0

Morality: 0

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Prince Caspian (The Chronicles of Narnia)

Posted by J on January 16, 2009

Sometime after the release of Braveheart, movies took a horrible visual turn.  Since then, during any action or fantasy 200px-princecaspianpostermovie that features large armies, you get the standard stuff.  The good guy army faces the army of darkness at around the 110-minute mark, and for the next 30 minutes there’s an incredible amount of grunting and sword clashes.  All of the main characters are featured in the battle, one of which will probably die bravely, saving someone else’s life.  Usually there’s a group of archers who fire arrows high into the sky, which the camera tracks for us.  There may be slow motion at a key point.  These battle scenes are, when you think hard about the depth of them, extraordinarily boring.  There is rarely nothing meaningful at stake for the individual characters, and since neither the good guy army or the army of darkness is nuanced, it is a fairly bland ending once the obvious outcome is decided.

Prince Caspian celebrates this blandness.   It has nothing great to offer except an attempted 150-minute emotional high, driven by the musical score featuring blaring french horns.  It’s as if John Williams went berserk and decided to write a rousing theme for every second of this movie.  After awhile, you get worn out listening to and watching this.  Life isn’t this tensely pitched.  Usually when it is, it’s really annoying, like when you’re driving through rush hour traffic.

There are stretches of this movie that are reasonable, especially those that are quieter and that feature lines that were obviously C.S. Lewis’s.  This could’ve easily been a more contemplative, dialogue-driven movie, which would’ve allowed the movie to  attempt to approach the profundity of the book it was based on.  But that wasn’t to be.  Because the movie features cardboard cutouts for characters, the final battle (and the battle before that) offers us little reason to care about who wins.  Sure, Peter might learn a lesson in humility.  Except for hair color and accent, he is indistinguishable — personality-wise — from Edmund or Prince Caspian.

And where is Aslan?  The Disney DVD intro claimed that Disney movies were “magical.”  Certainly Aslan provides the magic here.  He makes one brief appearance early on, and then arrives right on time during the final battle.  He’s a deux ex machina, coming from nowhere to make a big “ta da!” and save the good guys.  In this movie he is entirely superfluous to the plot, which is more worried about how to get to the next battle scene than anything else.

After we were watching, a comment was made that this movie was less intense, and thus more watchable, than the Lord of the Rings series.  That’s like saying that the roller coaster with five vertical loops is much more pleasant than the one with twenty.  Mostly, we’d prefer to not ride the roller coaster at all.  But if were going to compare these two series, Lord of the Rings is far more preferable insofar as it is a much better spectacle.   Prince Caspian is for those who need a Harry Potter/Lord of the Rings fix, but can’t get it because they aren’t making any more of those stories.  Lewis’ works deserve better treatment.  We are waiting on the Christian Orson Welles to give the Narnia series another try.   Heck, we will settle for the Christian Michael Curtiz.

Entertainment: 7

Intelligence: 2

Morality: 7

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Captain Blood

Posted by J on January 13, 2009

They don’t make ’em like they used to.  Even though it doesn’t have the trillion dollar special effects or celebrity 200px-captain_bloodpower, we liked Captain Blood a lot more than the recent Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy. In Pirates, you get the macabre mixed with Johnny Depp’s rockstar bravado.  Captain Blood is manned by Errol Flynn, who always has a playboy aristocrat aura to him.  For people who like Depp for whatever reason, it is worth giving Flynn a try.

But we don’t care much about that celebrity gaga stuff, so on to the brief analysis.  Captain Blood is basically the Joseph story cloaked in a 17th century English colonial setting.  And boy, does King James II really get thwacked.  Captain Blood is actually Peter Blood, an English doctor who aids rebels who subvert James II.  Blood is caught in the act of giving medical attention to a rebel, and eventually sentenced to banishment from England and slavery in the Caribbean.  Blood is rightfully indignant about this, as we the audience are supposed to be.

Once in Jamaica, Blood conspires with his fellow slaves to escape.  The plot is all over the place from here.  You will run into Spanish marauders and French pirates, with escapes and swordfights and a titanic fight at sea to end the movie, complete with pirates swinging from ropes from one sinking ship to another. The movie implicitly praises Blood as a pirate for awhile — i.e., as a thief — but this is complicated by Blood’s final choice in the movie.  The moral stance is clear here: anti-slavery and pro-individualism, with a historical stance firmly in favor of the Glorious Revolution that put William of Orange on England’s throne.  But it is really swashbuckling with a smile.  If you have time to kill, this one is pretty fun.

Entertainment: 9

Intelligence: 3

Morality: 7

Posted in Big-Budget Eye Candy, Pretty Good | 1 Comment »

Iron Man

Posted by J on November 13, 2008

The myth of the self-made man is alive and well.  Iron Man is an extreme male fantasy, particularly an ironmanposterAmerican male fantasy, in which the hero beds hot women, drives cool cars, plays with high-tech gadgets, owns a house in Malibu, and can invent the most amazing technological devices ever made all by himself.  Sheesh.  Is there no humility these days?

We found a likeness to the recent, duddy blockbuster Transformers throughout.  Our hero is a transformer himself.  He becomes Iron Man using a trillion-dollar robot suit, which lets him fly to the moon and fly to Afghanistan in order to save a remote village from a terrorist attack.  There are also plenty of one-liners, lots of destruction, and abundant rock music.

Our hero, Tony Stark, is an incredibly rich genius who owns a weapons manufacturing company.  He supplies deadly weapons to the U.S. military.  For some reason Stark goes to Afghanistan and rides in a convoy, which of course gets sabotaged by terrorists.  Does he not know that rich guys do not go anywhere near the front lines?  But questions of logic do not work for movies like this, so we will stop asking them.

Stark is captured by a terrorist group, which demands that he build them a billion-dollar rocket system out of a basketful of screws and car parts.  Instead of totally complying with these demands, Stark builds an invincible suit that lets him attack the terrorists and fly away.  While flying away, his suit fails and he crashes at free-fall speed, yet suffers no fatal injuries.  He is rescued and returns to the United States, where he renounces his weapons business.

You’d think a movie like this would have an obvious “liberal” (so-called) agenda.  Stark after all decides that it is morally wrong to manufacture weapons, converting from his hardcore, peace-through-strength position.  The film plays up the faux-conservative vs. faux-liberal arguments that we hear over and over again on Talking Head TV.  But it’s not exactly a liberal movie.  Consider that Stark, as capitalist and entrepreneur, re-enacts the myth of the lone inventor who comes up with something brilliant in his basement.  The government didn’t do that; American pluck and know-how did.  In that sense the movie appeals to free-marketeers too.

But wait, there’s more.  A government agent keeps showing up to debrief Stark on his capture in Afghanistan.  This agent is from a bureau called S.H.I.E.L.D., which is some kind of homeland security boondoogle.  Though the agent looks like he’s fresh from the set of The Matrix, the movie develops him into a good and useful guy, thus implicitly praising Homeland Security.

In short, there’s something in Iron Man to please everybody, unless you’re an Afghani terrorist or a bald, bearded white guy who heads a weapons manufacturing corporation.  We’re down to maybe three or four groups now who can be effective villains in movies, thanks to P.C.  Germans, Russians, rednecks, corporate CEOs, and tan-skinned terrorists.

Oh, but what about Iron Man?  We weren’t that amazed by it, even though it tries it’s darnedest to amaze with special effects.  Zathura is director Jon Favreau’s better movie.  If you need an entertainment fix, go rent that instead.

Entertainment: 6

Intelligence: 2

Morality: 2 (a brief, unnecessary sex scene)

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Spiderman 3

Posted by J on October 25, 2008

Cheetos.  That’s what this movie reminds us of.  Cheese-flavored Styrofoam.

Sure, Spiderman 3 provides some commentary on pride, corruption, heroism, grace, yadda yadda yadda.  And it’s true, you bite into it and it crunches.  It’ll keep you from starving.   But it still tastes terrible, just like cheese-flavored Styrofoam.  We all know what a steady diet of Cheetos does.

Entertainment: 2

Intelligence: -5

Morality: who cares?

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Star Trek: First Contact

Posted by J on October 18, 2008

This might be our one and only Star Trek review, so listen up.  Star Trek: First Contact is the second movie with the cast from the second Star Trek TV series, Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Got that?  It’s nearly impossible to keep track of these things, so let’s just call this the series with Captain Shakespeare and the android, the only two characters worth paying any attention to. (The marketers thought the same thing: see the movie poster.)

Essentially, in this movie, the Earth is being attacked by an alien race called the Borg.  To get a feel for who the Borg are, walk in to the nearest public school sometime.  It’s a race that forcibly “assimilates” all alien species into its collective.  It thereby evolves because it assimilates the knowledge of each species, and each person who gets captured and made into a borg becomes essentially half-organic, half-robot — a being indistinguishable from his fellow borg.  The key for Star Trek is that the Borg is a terrible kind of boogeyman for both the heroes and us the audience.  Captain Shakespeare and his merry band get freaked out by the thought of somebody, anybody, becoming a borg.  That person, they think, loses all individuality and freedom of thought.  It is so horrible to them that there’s no doubt about the ethical consequences: if your best friend becomes a borg, kill him.

Bizarrely, Captain Shakespeare and his merry band have never reflected on the structure of the United Federation of Planets, their own “peaceful” galactic organization.  Seriously, there’s little difference between the Borg and the Federation of Planets.  Both are highly militaristic, both seek to assimilate other species, and both are trying to dominate the galaxy.

The only difference between the Borg and the Federation is that the Federation appears diverse, whereas the Borg all look the same.  So yes, the only difference is appearance.  They are both multicultural collectives; they have “assimilated” many races into their cultural and political structures, but they have almost no diversity of opinion.   Can we just call the United Federation of Planets a communist enterprise and call it a day?

“Communist” doesn’t quite get it, but it’s close.   The crew of Star Trek band together, neither as a family nor as a religious body, but as a collective of individuals who operate a space warship.  You rarely see these people enjoying family.  There is no religion on the Enterprise, except for when they utter goofy mumbo-jumbo that would move only devotees of Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey.  All of the crew of this warship wear military uniforms, 24 hours a day.  They brag about how they’ve eliminated money from society and now all pursue the common good.  It’s a real utopia, this Star Trek.  The kind of utopia in space fantasies that, in reality, is hell on Earth.

In Star Trek: First Contact, the Borg travel back in time to the point where humans build a spaceship with warp-drive.  This is the key moment in human progress, when humans do something good enough to join the United Federation of Planets.  It’s the invention of warp drive that ushers in utopia, an era of everlasting peace and prosperity.  Yes, that’s right, NASA could save us all.

So the Borg want to stop this event from happening and assimilate humanity.  Somehow, Captain Shakespeare and his crew travel in time back with the Borg.  Yes, they have to stop the Borg and look heroic doing so.  Great.  The bizarre thing is they admit that human history turned on a dime.  You see, right after the Third World War, in which nukes were prominently involved, an alcoholic scientist built the ship with warp-drive.  So sixty years after nearly destroying itself in its third world war, humanity becomes entirely peaceable.  Of course, the crew of the Entreprise have no problem with killing the Borg, but never mind. Human nature has changed , and they are all near-pacifists now.  Their mantra: “Give peace a chance, or else.”

This is the kind of movie that Star Trek outsiders can grasp without having to know the character dynamics or the intricacies of the many Star Trek series.  (We say this because we don’t know them.)  In fact, the movie contains all you need to know about the politics and ethics of Star Trek, which are hilarious when not taken seriously.  They are entirely humanistic, which means that they are falsely optimistic and quite stupid. The god of Star Trek is scientific progress, backed by weapons of war.

Entertainment:6

Intelligence: 3

Morality: see above

Posted in Big-Budget Eye Candy, Okay, But We Won't Watch It Again, Sci-Fi and Fantasy | 2 Comments »