Tuesday, May 19, 2009

School's In Session

The gates have officially opened and the summer movie season has begun once again, in all its CGI glory. Reams of print and gigs of storage will be devoted to the joint reverence and griping these films will inspire from professional and amateur critics, as well as bloggers with no real business writing about films.

What's going to rule the box office? What will be the designated indie darling that all the "adults" will go see? What will be the biggest disappointment?

You'll have to wait until September for the answers to those questions, and I'm not going to even attempt making a guess. What I am going to do is take all the would-be writers out there back to school for session of "What can you learn from Hollywood?" It's quite fashionable (especially in film schools) to thrust your nose in the air and piss on everything that Hollywood does, claiming it's the end of cinema. If you have that attitude, good luck to you, but stop reading right now. All I'll say in this column is: ignore Hollywood at your peril.

So, if you're a writer, your lesson this week is based on Star Trek, the reboot of the entertainment franchise that's been running since the late 60s. The film has been doing well at the BO, which you can read about if you want, and we all know that box office alone is not a judge of quality; well, at least all of us who saw Wolverine. The interesting thing is that this film seems to transcend the fanbase, and is crossing over to the movie-going public at large, something Watchmen failed to do.

How does Star Trek do it? Certainly, the special effects are up to Hollywood standards for sci-fi movies, the score is rousing and energetic, the performances are competent; in other words, all the elements are there, but frankly, that's not enough. Yes, writers, the reason for the success of the film is, in fact, the writing. There are plenty who will disagree with me, but oddly enough, they've all been bitter writers, and there's nothing more bitter than a writer who sees something better than his or her own work.

In a nutshell, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman found a solution to the curse of any franchise film, which is how do you actually tell a new and engaging story, while not violating any of the previously established canon in the franchise? They concocted a way to both acknowledge the 40+ years of Trek entertainment, and free themselves from it at the same time. Their time-travel solution was doubly-elegant because time-travel plots are a staple of the Trek universe. What is truly admirable, from a writing standpoint, is that they use one of the most basic concepts of film - the reverse - and apply it to our story expectations. Time Travel, as a concept in most sci-film films, and especially Trek, is usually about going back to correct something that sets their current timeline back to "normal". In the film, they reverse that concept, and abandon the future "normal" which contains the 40+ years of things we know (and that the fanboys would continuously hold the filmmakers to) in favor of the new past. That the writers executed this with a grace and elan rarely seen in a Hollywood blockbuster gives them enormous amounts of credit to expend on the next inevitable film.

Take the lesson for the day and apply it to your own writing. Make it smart and clever, no matter what the subject, and you'll have a better film.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Welcome to the Party

So, fellow dems, do you weep with joy at the conversion of Brother Specter? Or, like me, do you think it smells too much like a deathbed confession? I always thought the Catholics were way off on that; rape and pillage your entire life, then repent at the last minute and you get the keys to paradise? Bite me.

So, Brother Specter, seeing his imminent political demise on the horizon, jumps ship and says his heart's been in the right place all the time. Even if I were willing to give him a pass on the "magic bullet", and I'm not, his heart was only in the right place about 30% of the time, since he voted with his -- former -- party 70% of the time. Still, I suppose it's nice to have him, now that all the hard work was done without him. Glad you finally saw the light, Brother.

There's a lot of people experiencing radical conversions in their lives: CEOs suddenly forced to live on a working-man's salary, for instance. Owners of fuel-sucking McMansions and SUVs. Everyone's talking about a new American ethic: living smaller, basing your life on a different set of priorities. Well, I'm happy for their awakening. I just wish they hadn't flushed the country down the hopper to see the light.

Because, you see, there are some of us that have been at this particular party for a long time: those of us who have struggled to live within our means and still be responsible community and world citizens, forced the whole time to watch you spend yourselves silly chasing something so empty and hollow it took a national crisis for you to realize it.

So, yeah, welcome to the party, but don't act like you invented it.

And Brother Specter: you're not a democratic solution, no matter what anyone tells you. You're old Washington and you're part of the problem. You haven't had a real job for forty years, I suggest you go try and get one in this economy and learn what it really means to be moderate.