Monday, May 20, 2013

I saw "Star Trek: Into Darkness" and it Made Me Have Feelings


Image by Paige Carpenter


Here be Spoilers for Star Trek Into Darkness.

I love Star Trek. I love it so much that I do a podcast/live improv show about it. (Check it out at theimprovisedstartrek.com!) I love Captain Picard, and Spock, and Data, and Bones and the Borg, and Q, and Klingons, and Wormhole Aliens. Star Trek matters to me.

At the beginning of each episode of Star Trek the Original Series, and Star Trek: The Next Generation, the show sums up it's own mission statement:

"Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before."

And as much as I love all of those cool characters, and aliens? THAT is what I really love about Star Trek- a small handful of brave, charismatic individuals venture into space on a mission of discovery, and hope. In the process, they, and we (the audience) learn something about what makes this venture called humanity worthwhile.

When JJ Abrams'f first Star Trek film came out, I went and saw it, and I really liked it. I thought it was fun. I liked the new actors, I liked the look of the movie, I liked that the film had some real stakes (they blew up Vulcan!) I thought it was neat that they showed how the band got together. While what I really wanted was a new TV series with new characters (Star Trek the Generation After Next), I was just happy to get some more Star Trek. There were some plot holes that annoyed me a little (Kirk lands on a frozen planet and just happens to be in walking distance of where old Spock is on the same planet), but only a little. I did think this at the end of the movie "Man that was fun! And I can't wait till the next one when they make a REAL Star Trek movie."

What did I mean by that? Well, I wanted a movie where they did the things they say they're going to do at the top of the theme song. Explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations, etc. etc. I wanted to see a movie that explored space, and explored philosophy at the same time. I mean, explosions and spaceship fights, and big dumb, fun action sequences are great, and a Star Trek movie can have those things, but the whole point of Star Trek is that humanity is better than big dumb action sequences. We aspire to be more than that. Star Trek needs the brainy stuff, and the explore-y stuff, or it isn't Star Trek- it's Star Wars.

Unfortunately, Star Trek Into Darkness is just a big mindless blockbuster. It's really pretty. The special effects are awesome, the action sequences are great, the actors are mostly great, the movie is funny at points, Captain Kirk and Spock and Smauglock are all great at acting. Shaun of the Dead is very funny in the film (if there's one actor in the new cast who is a HUGE upgrade over his counterpart from the original cast, it's Shaun of the Dead as Scotty). If you're not a Star Trek fan, I'm sure you will love this film, and I recommend it to you wholeheartedly. But it's really only superficially a Star Trek movie, and if you really love Star Trek it might break your heart a little. It broke mine.

Now that I have that all out of the way, here are the things that bothered me about this film:

1. First and foremost, for the second straight movie, the crew of the USS Enterprise boldly goes to....Earth. Like, 90 percent of the movie is set on Earth. There's a cool sequence at the beginning of the film where Kirk and friends violate the Prime Directive on an alien planet, but it's just one short scene.

2. It fails the Bechdel test. There are two female characters in the film- Uhura and Carol Marcus. Uhura's main role in the movie is that she is angry at her boyfriend Spock. Carol Marcus's main role in the film consists of stripping down to her underwear in one scene for....reasons. So one female character is there to be a girlfriend, and the other is there to be naked. Neither character is fleshed out, or particularly important to what happens in the movie. Oh, it's 2013 and we've still never had a gay recurring character on Star Trek. The movie is a Kirk/Spock bromance, and only the bros, and Smauglock are really all that important. This leads me to my next point....

3. You know who's fun? Sulu. Also Chekov. And Uhura! And Scotty. And Bones. They are all just barely in the movie. Each character is alotted one cool moment and all of the other cool moments are given to Spock, Kirk, and Smauglock.

4. They just re-made Wrath of Khan. You know how after the last movie, JJ Abrams, and Damon Lindelof and co. were like "Now that we've introduced these characters, we have free reign to do cool new things with them!" and you remember how you were like "Well they blew up Vulcan and that was pretty crazy and different. What crazy different things will they do next!" Apparently, no crazy different things. They just re-made Wrath of Khan but with sexier, younger actors.

5. The people who make these movies think the superficial Star Trek things are more important than the bigger things like theme and philosophy. So if you asked someone to make a Star Trek checklist, a list of things that are in Star Trek, it might include: Klingons, the Enterprise, photon torpedoes, Khan, Spock, Kirk, bad guy Admirals (never trust Star Fleet Admirals. They are always secretly bad guys) and tribbles. And you know what? ALL of those things are in Star Trek Into Darkness! Yay! But as I said earlier, they get the superficial stuff right while getting the deeper things totally wrong.

6. Old Spock shows up for absolutely no reason. There's a scene where Quinto Spock calls Spock Prime to ask for advice about fighting Smauglock. Spock Prime basically tells Quinto Spock that Smauglock is a bad motherhugger and he should be wary of him. That's it.

7. There is an evil Starfleet ship called the Vengeance. It is giant, and all black. The Starfleet officers who man it have their own EVIL starfleet uniforms. I was legitimately surprised that the Vengeance didn't have a goatee.

8. They skirt around the edges of a really interesting idea. Basically, after the first movie, Starfleet freaks out and starts building crazy weapons because they don't want anymore planets being blown up. But Starfleet, while it has military functions, is primarily a benevolent peacekeeping and exploring force. So, theoretically, this movie is a conflict between the idealistic explorers who man the Enterprise, and the evil shoot first ask questions later fellows like Smauglock and Evil Admiral Marcus. Except the movie is really a conflict between the violent warmongers, the superviolent Khan, and the slightly less violent Captain Kirk. Khan gets the shit kicked out of him. Admiral Marcus gets his skull crushed. A whole bunch of Klingons get shot to death. You know how in Doctor Who, the Doctor always finds non-violent solutions to dealing with uberviolent villains? Yeah, they don't do that here. And I mean, Star Trek has lots of punch fights and space ship fights, but how interesting would it have been to see the crew of the Enterprise reject those methods to prove their point.

9. And here's my biggest gripe. Every time I read an interview with Damon Lindelof or JJ Abrams they say something like "I was never a Trekkie, and we made a Star Trek movie for people like me! People who don't like Star Trek will LOVE Star Trek Into Darkness. We took all of the Trekkie stuff out." And I get it. Treknobabble is tough to market. Sentient crystalline intelligences are tough to sell. Not everyone wants to watch a movie or a TV show where the humanity of an android is argued for 43 minutes. Explosions sell. Exposition? Not so much. So they made a Star Trek for everyone. But you know what? Screw everyone. You guys get ALL OF THE OTHER MOVIES. You get Transformers, and Twilight, and Lincoln, and Forrest Gump and Fast and the Furious 42 and all of those movies. We get Star Trek. I don't want all of the Trekkie stuff taken out. I want it left in and enhanced. The thing is, I actually think they could make a commercially viable Star Trek movie that still has "all of that Trekkie Stuff" in it. I mean, if they can make the Avengers, or Lord of the Rings, and keep those properties true to their source material, and still make billions of dollars, they can make a Star Trek movie that does the same frakking thing. But they didn't do that. They made another dumb action movie.

So in conclusion? I saw Star Trek into Darkness, guys, and it kind of made me sad.

But you know what makes me feel better? Star Trek:



Friday, May 3, 2013

Dear New Adults

Ah, May.

Birds are chirping in the trees, flowers are blooming on the ground, and everything is having sex with everything else.

May is also the start of college graduation season when 22ish year olds cast off the final trappings of youth and make their full entry into the world of adulthood....theoretically. Kind of. Sort of. Okay, not really. I mean, nobody hands you a guidebook that says "How to be a Grown Up", so most of us just kind of figured out how to do it as we went (or as we go).

I want to help. I may not be the wisest person in the world, but I have accrued SOME knowledge in 31 years of life, and to you, oh new grown ups, I have some words of sage advice. Here they are.

1. When you get like a full time, real world, adult type job, and you get a cup of coffee, and it is the end of the coffee in the communal office coffee pot, ALWAYS make a new pot of coffee. Don't leave an empty, or nearly empty pot for the next schmo who comes along. If you empty the joe, always make some mo'.

2. Learn to cook real food. You can't live on ramen and bagel bites anymore, and you aren't living with your parents. Learn to make 5-12 dishes really well. Buy some pots and pans, buy some cookbooks (or get a cookbook app for your smartphone), watch some "How-to-cook" youtube videos. This will come in particularly useful when you have a date with another human who enjoys food. "Oh, you know how to make salmon that doesn't taste like cat food? I am very attracted to you now."

3. When you go to look at an apartment, no matter how nice it may look, remember to ask if the apartment has any sort of history of leaking or flooding. I have rented two different apartments with leaking problems and it was just a total nightmare. Do not rent a place if you don't know that place is water-tight.

4. Read books for fun. You know what sucks about high school and college? You have to read books. Many of those books were probably boring, or good but not to your taste. But you know what's awesome about being a grown up? No one is going to make you read any books. Okay, you may end up with some crazy uber-competitive boss who makes you read "Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand, but mostly, you don't have to read any more books. But you know what's awesome about being a grown up? YOU GET TO READ BOOKS!!! When you're an adult, you can ready ANY BOOKS YOU WANT! And when you're in your twenties, you are going to have all kinds of time to read whatever book you want! It's awesome!

5. Don't get cable. Cable television is a giant waste of money. My Dad always told me this when I was a kid, and I didn't believe him,  but you know what? He was totally right. Do yourself a favor, get a fast internet connection, and buy an AppleTV, or a Roku, get a Netflix subscription, and a HuluPlus subscription. If there are any shows or movies you want to watch that aren't available on those services, buy them through iTunes, AmazonPrime, or RedBox. You will save $50-100 a month.

6. If you DO get cable, negotiate your subscription price. Most of the big cable companies have client retention departments. These are people whose job it is to keep you from switching to one of their competitors. So, when your Comcast Xfinity contract is up, call them, tell them you are switching to Dish, or RCN, and just watch them cut $20 off of your monthly bill, and offer you free HBO. Also, complaining on twitter works great on cable companies. If you get bad customer service, make sure to complain about it on twitter. In my experience, you will get better customer service by making a public nuisance of yourself. Normally, I would not recommend being a public nuisance, but cable companies are the devil, and they deserve every bad thing that happens to them.

7. Don't hang out with just one group of people. Are all of your friends liberals? Or actors? Or gun-owners? Or wealthy people? Do you never get into arguments with them? Then go make some new friends. Make friends who make more money than you, or less money, who have wildly different political opinions, who have totally different backgrounds. Make friends with as many kinds of people as you can. I mean, keep the old friends. Those folks are great! But part of being a good adult is realizing that there are a ton of different ways to see the world, and as an adult it is your responsibility to expose yourself to as many of them as possible.

8. Travel. Everyone is going to tell you to do this, but I will too. Travel. Go to different places. When you do travel, don't just go to Las Vegas and Disney World. There are so many cool places in the world- go to as many of them as you can.

9. Exercise. Run. Join a gym. Join a kickball league. Take a ballet class. It can be hard to stay physically active when you're an adult, but if you don't, your body is going to fall apart.

10. Try different things. Expose yourself to as many different things as you can. When you go to a restaurant, order the thing you've never tried before instead of the thing that you always have every time you go there. Also, don't always go to the same restaurant. Not a museum person? Go to a museum. Afraid of the water? Do a Polar Plunge. Do things that seem weird to you, or even better- things that scare the shit out of you. You will gain so much perspective and learn so much about yourself as a person if you try new things as often as possible.

11. Get a pet. Pets are fun. Plus, it's good to be responsible for the welfare of another living thing.

12. Don't get drunk all of the time. I know you liked getting shithammered in college, and I'm not saying you should never get shithammered again, but really you probably need to cut back on all of the shithammering. Drink enough to get a good buzz, but not so much that you vomit, black out, or say something to another human that you might regret.

13. Pay attention to your budget. It kind of kills me that most schools don't have a class where they teach you to balance a check book, or figure out how much money you need to save to buy a nice couch, or a house or whatever. Make sure you take in more money than you spend. Pay off the whole balance on your credit card at the end of each month. If you can't do that, it might be time to stop using your credit card.

14. Finally: Be nice to everyone. Everyone? Yup, everyone.  I mean, don't be a pushover. Stand up for yourself if you have to, but be nice to people. Say hello, and please, and thank you. This is basic stuff that goes a LOOOOOOONG way in grown up town.

Thanks for listening, new grown ups. Good luck with adulthood.