Tuesday, April 01, 2014

How "How I Met Your Mother" Managed to Piss Me Right Off

Spoilers if you haven’t seen the last episode of How I Met Your Mother.  Let me say this spoiler free: If you indeed have not seen the finale, don’t.  You’ll be happier.  If you’ve never seen any of it, I do recommend ALL of it…except the last 42 minutes.  Just.  Look.  Away.  Read on if you want to see why, but SPOILERS.

I have a tendency to support endings that other people don’t like.  I have written extensively how much I enjoyed the endings of both “Lost” and “Battlestar Galactica” though they are much maligned.  I like the second and third “Matrix” films.  I like the Star Wars prequels.  In the cases of Matrix and Star Wars, those aren’t the stories I would have told, but they are where the writers chose to go, and though I would have gone a different direction, they are viable.

So why do I hate the final episode of “How I Met Your Mother” with all my heart and soul?

I don’t like to judge other writers.  I like to think I am a good writer, but I know I am not a great writer, and I certainly would not have the wherewithal to write nine seasons of anything.  I respect that very much.  I have learned something about writing: it’s hard.  Not everyone can do it.  Something else I have learned though in my short and mostly unnoticed writing career is that the characters are not "your" characters; when you are really rolling they take on lives of their own.  They take your story places you may not have intended for it to go.  When that happens, you have to be ready to adapt to those changes.  You have to look at the characters and say, “you’re right.  That’s our destination.”  Then you drive them there and all is well.

It seems to me the writers on HIMYM didn’t do that.  They had the foresight to shoot the ending of their grand narrative eight years ago, while Ted’s kids still looked like Ted’s kids.  Their intention from the beginning is it would be the bittersweet tale of the mother of these children dying and Robin and Ted finally getting together.  And that was exactly how the show should have ended:  Eight years ago.

Eight years ago (which would be season 2 mind you) Barney was still just a jackass.  Ted was never going to get over Robin.  Robin never was going to be satisfied with most men.  The finale to HIMYM may as well have been plucked—out of context—from the second season.  Had the show ended in season three or four even, this ending might have been fine.   Like children however, when Craig Thomas and Carter Bays weren’t looking, their characters grew up.  

The Ted who learned this season to let go of Robin and move on would not have pursued her later. We watched him pine and choose poorly for NINE YEARS to finally find his one perfect soul mate--Tracy-- whom in a short time I came to adore.  It made all nine years perfect.  It just needed Ted to move on, and here, in season nine, he did.  And it was great, loved it.  But then in the finale, season two Ted is back.

And it shouldn’t matter, because scumbag Barney we all loved to wag our fingers at in season two grew up as well.  The Barney who burned the playbook, came up with “The Robin,” did rehearsal dinner on ice, made peace with his mother and fiancĂ©, dealt with his absentee father, simply was not the Barney who would end up splitting with Robin.  He certainly wouldn’t go back to being so callous as to not even remember Thirty-One’s name while she’s sitting in a hospital having his baby.  (I could go on about how shameful it was for the writers to treat a character like that as well- not even a name? But that’s another essay.)  The character of Barney—in one of the aspects of the show I found most endearing—developed from That Guy to a Good Guy who may be quirky and a little dirty still, would always be there for Robin.

And Robin needed that quirky guy.  She had grown from too self absorbed to really see Ted for what he could be in early seasons to someone who dealt with so many issues, to realizing that her quirks and Barney’s quirks would make them the perfect quirky couple.  I LOVED how that developed over three seasons of courtship and loss and then this whole, I think well executed, final season just focusing on all those pieces falling into place.  And then, boom, suddenly season 2 Robin is back, too self absorbed to be part of Barney’s (or the gang's) life.  It doesn’t work anymore, because those characters developed.  Really HIMYM's nine seasons gave us some of the best examples of character development I think TV has ever given us, much less a gimmicky sitcom.  

And then in 42 minutes, for me at least, they destroyed nine years of extremely good will.  

As a writer, William Faulkner is credited with giving this piece of editing advice: “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.”  Thomas and Bays had a darling in Ted holding up the blue French Horn to mirror that first episode.  And there would have been a good place to do that a few years back.  But the characters outgrew that little darling, and Thomas and Bays did not see how much it needed to be drowned before it made its appearance.  That’s a shame, because it reduces so much great writing over the last few years to an anecdote best forgotten by the long suffering children hearing Ted’s story, and by proxy by the actual audience.  It’s sad really, because those last nine years proved these were better writers than to make such an obvious mistake.  At least no one broke up Marshall and Lily.

So, in the end, I’m very disappointed, frustrated, and even angry over how How I Met Your Mother ended.  You took characters whom we as an audience grew with and as observers befriended over nine years, and returned them to the same dumbasses they were when we came in.  At least “The X-Files” took two years to screw me over and I could watch the decline.  The hell of it all is those first eight and 23/25ths seasons are indeed so very good.  The second to the last episode would have been JUST FINE as the ending.  Hence my advice up front.  If you haven’t watched the finale, don’t.  You’ll be happier than me. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Official Black Owl Review of the “Harry Potter” films: All of them.

Let me freely admit, I am a little late to the party on this one.  I read the first book when it became available in the States and was decidedly…ambivalent.  Sure, it was cute, but there was nothing particularly new here, and Harry came off a little too coddled for my tastes.  The book was a child’s book meant for children and that was fine, but it didn’t draw me in the way something like a John Christopher story, or early Heinlein—also meant for children—would.  I saw the movie when it came out, and left it feeling about the same way.

So I didn’t go back.  It’s not like there was any shortage of entertainment; hell, I think Entertainment is going to be the Western 20/21st Century world’s cultural legacy.  That’s for another blog though.  Suffice it to say I didn’t think I was missing much.

Then, about a year ago I got a bug that if soooo many people were into this, that maybe it got better.  Some friends told me this was so, so all the movies went in my Netflix queue.  And then the Lovely Jennifer and I kept bumping them down, until finally about a month ago, we let the first one hit, since I’d not seen it since it came out.  As of last night, we watched part II of “The Deathly Hallows” and I am struck enough by the series to make some comments.  Please keep in mind, I have not read any but the first book.  I likely will now, so please save your “the movies suck next to the books” comments.  I have experience with what it takes to convert a narrative prose into a visual medium, and it’s far more difficult than you think.  I’m judging the movies here, and the movies only.  And if YOU have not watched the films, spoiler alert.

I don’t think I am going to become a PotterHead, or whatever it is they call HP Fandom.  However, I was quite entertained by the series, and really appreciate the fact the stories grow up with the lead characters.  By the third (Prisoner of Azkaban) the universe that started out pretty derivative of any magic based story has become a fuller tapestry of specific adaptations of those old standards to a new world.  The threats are far more than just which house wins the Quidditch cup this year.  Larger themes of death, betrayal by authorities in which we place our trust, loyalty, and legacy are now entwined with the stories of characters who are not cute little kids with magic wands, but troubled adolescents making life or death decisions, living in a world dictated to them by the generation gone before.  That’s a great allegory for life in general, and I came to understand that that first couple of books use familiar artifacts—magic wands, broomsticks, witches and wizards—as a shorthand.  It’s a similar trick that Lucas uses in the Holy Trilogy: we know the Jedi are a chivalric order because they are “knights” who wield sabers.  We know Darth Vader is bad because he’s dressed like a dark Knight.  We know Leia is good because she’s a Princess locked away in an evil castle, and she’s all dressed in white.  Those old, old concepts are in place so Lucas doesn’t have to describe the world step by step; he can bring the audience in with some base knowledge and then build on it with “Sith” and “Wookies” and for whatever reason “Ewoks.”

The HP story does the same thing.  We know unicorns are special, so when someone feeds on one, we get it.  We know if someone is so bad they cannot even be named they are likely going to be the heavy.  That’s fine.  We’re pulled in with the shorthand so the story can hit the main theme: Death. 

These movies start with the death of Harry’s parents and Harry’s journey only ends when he has rejected the Deathly Hallows, trying not to overpower death with the Elder Wand, avoid death with the Resurrection Stone, or hide from Death with the Invisibility Cloak.  He walks right into it, and in doing so finds victory.  Throughout, Harry loses people he loves, sometimes senselessly, while people who deserve death live on to cause trouble in subsequent films.  Even people like Gandal…uh, Dumbledore whom Harry trusts, are leading him to his own death, or themselves succumb to the Reaper.  This may sound like that makes the whole narrative pretty much a downer, but not really.  We see death is part of life, it is capricious, but you keep going.  One may die, but life continues.  Harry, the very Messianic figure in these films dies, is resurrected, returns to defeat Vade...uh, Sauro...uh, Voldemort and then…

…gets married, has kids, and sends them off to school too.  Life goes on.  And those kids will have adventures and love and have their own kids and life goes on.  It’s not about the futility of life that death hangs over us and will eventually claim us all, but rather the joy that comes from the chance to have faced life and death on your own terms, and how well you treated the ride when you were on it. That’s a neat theme, and it ties the films together nicely.

That tapestry I mentioned is neat.  It’s an intriguing world in which details matter.  Hints in “Sorcerer’s Stone” (ha ha, Harry can talk to snakes in the zoo!) come to play in “Deathly Hallows” (because he is one of Voldemort’s horcruxes, yikes).  “Order of the Phoenix” finally tells us why Quidditch exists when Mad-Eye leading the Order to help evacuate Harry from his Aunt and Uncle’s house mentions to everyone on a broom, “stay in formation.”  If you grew up playing Quidditch, you know exactly what he means.  The slowly revealed backstory of Harry’s Parents and Tom Riddle and Severus Snape, all lend a credibility and depth to the overall narrative.

Along with that, you get some deep and intriguing characters, which develop nicely.  I am still wondering if Severus Snape is my favorite in the series.  He’s at first glance a heavy, not really nice the whole time, apparently betrays the heroes, but in the end is acting out of love and for the greater good.  I like that.   I also want to give a shout out to the Wedge Antilles of the HP movies, Neville Longbottom.  From goofy looking kid, to knight wielding the Sword of Gryffindor against Voldemort’s giant freaking snake, Neville isn’t a child of destiny like Luk…uh, Harry; he’s someone who steps up because he can, and makes all the difference.  I have heard in the books he goes on to become a professor at Hogwarts.  Good on him.

So in the end, I don’t know if I will ever watch all of them again, though I do have Grandkids on the way and the series is certainly something I would think should be part of a kid’s life.  Should they decide to emulate Hermione’s studious nature, Ron’s loyalty, or Neville’s sense of duty and responsibility, there are role models to be found, and the series deserves to be considered among child and young adult classics.  I am pleased if not blown away, and now understand a lot more of the jokes on Tumblr.  I do think though on any subsequent viewings, I will watch “Deathly Hallows” in one sitting; the second half suffers as a film on its own when separated from the first half.  Nonetheless, I am glad I watched, and would recommend them to those who have not.  They get pretty dark from about “Order of the Phoenix” on but spin a good tale that grows with the characters.

Now where’s my Neville spinoff?

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Time travel may change me, but I can't change time travel.

This has been a year where a lot of my online presence (which I typically really enjoy) has been oriented toward Star Trek.  (How's that different…shush.)  I have an ongoing fan fic on Tumblr for those days when I get five extra minutes to write.  I vociferously defended various aspects of the film "Star Trek Into Darkness."  I've chatted with friends about various series, films, and books set in the Trek universe(s).  

While doing this, I've realized that my view point on a few things has changed since I did my last generalized overview of my Trek fandom.  Age and perspective change things.  Primarily, I looked at the way a lot of Trek fans generally reacted to STID, or ST: Enterprise, or fill in the blank and realized I was contributing to the crowd saying negative things as if they were facts and not opinions.  I was criticizing fans of some Treks for even having the audacity to like those Treks like it was important that everyone saw the franchise the same way I did.  

Honestly, I realize now, that's bullshit.

I do think Trek, like a great literary work, goes beyond its original purpose of entertainment to provide food for thought and societal commentary.  That's a good thing.  Somewhere along the line I got more concerned with whether or not the Voyager could carry all those shuttlecraft, or how big the Defiant really was, or when the Romulans first developed cloaking devices than whether or not I was being entertained with good characters and stories.  Sure, I appreciate consistency in collected large scale narratives, but in the end the fact the Delta Flyer would not fit in the shuttle bay on Voyager wasn't really the problem I had with Voyager, it was the characters.  

But I also had friends, people whom I enjoyed talking Trek with that really liked Voyager, and those characters spoke to them.  Why the hell was I begrudging that? Why was I, of all people, telling people they shouldn't like Star Trek?

Maybe I only had this epiphany because I ended up on the other side of the argument a couple of times.  I, in the end, really enjoyed Enterprise, in spite of its continuity errors.  I liked those characters, I loved the look of the show, and though there are bummer episodes, I really liked the overall plotlines and when it was good it was very good.  It reminded me of another show that to be honest was occasionally really, really bad but in the end was more than the sum of its parts.

Star Trek.  Not the genre, the show, normally now referred to as "TOS" or "The Original Series."  This is going to sound harsh to some fellow Trekkies: It isn't perfect.  Also, a lot of what you remember about it wasn't actually in the show.  It is however fucking wonderful.  It deserves to be celebrated and receiving sequels fifty years later.  But it never let the need to have a moral get in the way of a kick ass SF yarn.  In fact, it usually erred toward the kick-ass.  As much as it showed societal progress in the next 300 years (or 200, or 700, or 500 depending on the episode) it didn't shy away from humanity's weaknesses either, and in the end its main goal, the reason d'ĂȘtre for the show was to entertain.  Even when that meant deciding a matriarchal society should figure out how equal rights for men work through "cuddling."

Here's what TOS did and did right, and perhaps some of the follow on series (and certainly fans) have forgotten.  Story diversity.  Some TOS episodes were just plain comedy.  Some were action adventure.  Some were tragedies.  Some where honestly trippy fantasy ignoring science altogether.  And that was OK, because the characters held it all together.  The tech was as capable, or incapable, or as magic-like as the writer wanted.  There's no scientific explanation for a transporter splitting Kirk into good Kirk and bad Kirk.  There's no attempt to reconcile the fact there's a time portal on Forever World.  Completely human-like robots?  Yep.  Living rocks.  No issues.

Spock's Brain.

Story diversity.  What that means is when DS9 wants to show a war, OK, let's see how that plays in the Trek universe.  When Voyager wants to come home instead of go further, well fine.  When JJ Abrams wants to do quick cuts and fast action to tell his story, OK.  Do it.  If I don't like it, I won't watch that one, but neither should I begrudge those who do, or differentiate between the titles "Trekker " or "Trekkie" to determine who are REAL fans.  Who the hell am I to tell you what you should or should not be a fan of?  I will be happy to tell you why I didn't like certain interpretations, or why I do like others; I have no reason to tell you are right or wrong in your opinions because in the end we both like Star Trek, and that's cool.  

Voyager's your favorite?  Let's discuss why.  Maybe you can't point out something I missed.

You only like the Abrams films?  Let's discuss why, and maybe I can find you some old stuff to enhance how much you like them.

You don't like Enterprise?  Let's discuss why the things you dislike work for me, and maybe you can look in a new light.

We're fans.  We should be helping that thing we love grow, and by the great bird, there's 800 hours of Trek out there, surely there's a little something for everyone.  There's some problems out there with any particular show.  Everyone should measure for themselves how those problems and the positive balance, and as I have seen online, promote what you love instead of bashing what you hate.

In the end anything that keeps Trek alive is a good thing, even if I don't like the size of their shuttle bay.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

In which I reveal the deep Trekkie Truths behind Star Trek Into Darkness

I have come to realize that the JJ Abrams led Star Trek universe is actually quite a bit like "Lost."  Though there may be things that don't get their proper due, there are many things that are SO steeped in mythology that they seem non-sensical, and really just require the audience to connect the dots.  There are those who will argue that it shouldn't be necessary to have to think so hard about your entertainment, and that's a matter of taste.  I find I love "Lost" because of my philosophical, religious, and science fiction background.  It all makes sense to me, though I still want to know where they were going with Walt.  I find I love JJ Trek because of my deep knowledge of the existing Star Trek universe, though I still want to know why Nero's wife had tattoos. Inspired by this brilliant defense of Lost which made me say "YES, OBVIOUSLY" 108 times, I decided to do just one more essay on The Abrams-verse and its peculiarities.  

There are stylistic differences in new Trek regarding ships and transporters that I hear a lot of complaints about: How does the Kelvin, pre-Narada, have 800 people on board? Why does it only take the Enterprise a few moments to get to Vulcan or Kronos? (And Yes, I am going to spell it "Kronos" because I am not writing to a Klingon audience in Klingon.  I would also not reference "Munchen" in the place of "Munich" or "Moskva" in the place of Moscow unless I was writing to a German or Russian audience.)  Why do you need Starships if there is Transwarp Beaming?  Why does Marcus have a hate-on for the Klingons when the Romulans are the ones who attacked the previous year?  Why does so much of "Into Darkness" echo "The Wrath of Khan"?  There are in-universe answers to all of these inextricably linking New Trek to Original Recipe if you deeply, deeply know your Trek.  "Lost" requires a bit of understanding of non-temporal afterlife to put it all together.  Abrams Trek requires you know Prime Trek. Intimately.  It happens I do.

First, let me set the primary stage one has to understand to put all of it into perspective: A behemoth Romulan ship, enhanced beyond its simple mining mission, brought technology from the late 24th Century to the early 23rd.  With no regard for protecting any temporal Prime Directive, it allowed full scans on the part of the Kelvin (the telemetry of which went with the survivors back to Earth).  The Klingons also held it for 25 years.  We know there's full records from the Kelvin, because Pike did a dissertation about it (and was likely on the Kelvin since he seems to have known Kirk's dad).  Starfleet was so wrapped around the axle on this that they built a shipyard in George Kirk's hometown to honor him (the construction site of which was the canyon little Jimmy sends his ‘Vette plummeting into) as evidenced by the Kelvin saltshakers in the little Fleet bar.  Indeed, Section 31 even names their secret London facility after the Kelvin.  We know the Klingons have the Narada for a quarter century due to both the Kelvin's radio traffic regarding their location, and Uhura intercepting the breakout warning from the Klingon prison planet just before the Kelvin returns.  We even see that Nero had a hell of a time in prison because someone between his first appearance and second has chewed off his right ear.

So, though the destruction of the Kelvin certainly has a personal effect on Kirk, there are also larger ramifications for Starfleet and the Federation.  Not only do they suddenly have a big bunch of data to work with from the future, but they are also convinced the Romulans are out there with five mile long starships ready to Balance some Terror all over Earth and her allies.  In response we get a more military fleet less focused on exploration for exploration's sake.  This stays true until the last scene in STID where Kirk, as undisputed Captain of the Federation flagship, rededicates Starfleet to boldly going where no man has gone before.  Now, let's get into some specific questions.

Why does the Kelvin in 2233 have twice the crew of the TOS Enterprise?  First of all, we don't know from TOS exactly how big the fleet is.  We don't know what kind of ships besides the Constitution Class are out there.  Would I love to point to the Franz Joseph “Star Trek Technical Manual” to see more TOS ships.  Sure.  Or FASA’s ship guides?  I would, but I can’t.  We only have what’s on the show.  There could be some very specialized vessels with missions like, oh, say colonization.  What evidence do I have Kelvin was carrying a colony?  James Kirk's past.  Remember, ST:IV only says Kirk is "from Iowa."  I am "from" Arizona, grew up there, have no childhood memories of anything different, but I was born in California.  We know though that Kirk doesn't spend his whole childhood in Iowa; he is living in a colony when he is twelve, specifically Tarsus IV.  A colony that obviously isn't thriving, or else the governor would not be executing citizens to conserve food.  Maybe the supply lines are tough for that colony.  Maybe because they are near Klingon space.  Is it a stretch to think the Kelvin was on its way to drop the Tarsus colony when it meets the Narada?  Imagine a Starfleet vessel dropping a colony, and then exploring that region of space while being the protector for the colony as well.  This mission would go back and forth and some Starfleet crew might choose to have their families in the Colony to keep them from having to wait until the space between tours to see them.  The evidence is circumstantial, but there.  A fat, slow, overloaded colony ship might have hundreds more on board, but it wouldn't be more advanced than the Constitution in the Prime Universe.

Why does it only take the Enterprise a few moments to get to Vulcan or Kronos? This is a good one; remember we never see the Kelvin at warp.  We don't see Starfleet vessels at warp until the incident on Vulcan.  Then, damn are they quick.  Why?  They are using the tech they have developed from the Narada, and get ready:  It's transwarp drive.  That's right, what the Federation couldn't pull off in the 2280s in the Prime Universe, Nero has delivered.  Look at it visually; they are flying in a transwarp conduit.  Why don't THEY call it Transwarp?  Because, like the Europeans in "Pulp Fiction" they don't know what the f***a quarter pounder is.  All they know is they have adapted an advanced warp drive.  "Transwarp" only comes into the vernacular from Prime Spock when referring to Scotty's transwarp beaming equation.  That's a huge clue by the way as to how the Narada has transwarp.  Now, I could cite the "Countdown" comic which states the Narada has Borg tech from a secret Romulan/Borg retro-engineering project, but I want to stick with screen evidence regardless of "canon" claims.  The Narada is a Romulan ship from 2387.  Regardless of the excellent, but non-Canon Typhon Pact novels, it is reasonable to assume that if Spock is still living on Romulus and traveling freely to Vulcan there is some form of detente between the Romulans and the Federation.  This makes sense: not only where they allies in the Dominion War, Starfleet will likely help them pick up the pieces with Donatra after the events of "Nemesis" in 2379.  Sometime before 2387, Starfleet gets Transwarp drive, because it's SCOTTY who uses that drive to create transwarp beaming.  We don't see it in the Prime Universe before Nemesis, so it must be in the 2380s Scotty develops the equation.  So where does the Federation get Transwarp?  In 2378 the Voyager brings it back from the Delta Quadrant.  Admiral Janeway outfits the Voyager with Borg transwarp.  It would take a couple of years to get it ready for fleet deployment (hence we don't see it in Nemesis) but then its there and something to share with allies.  Including the Romulans, who include it on the Narada.  The Narada carries it back to 2233, and the improved 1701 can get to Kronos to Earth in minutes.  Again, it all lines up.

Why do you need Starships if there is Transwarp Beaming?   Aside from the fact that it looks like transwarp beaming can be imprecise and difficult (Scotty in the waterworks) there are two very important things for which it would be useless: exploration of new worlds and defense.  Those happen to be Starfleet's primary mission sets.  Beaming a guy from Earth to Vul…uh, Andoria (what, too soon?) is great and will revolutionize travel and logistics in the new 23rd Century.  It won’t allow you to make detailed scans of a planet’s ecosystem, or a culture’s advancement from orbit before putting someone on the surface.  Perhaps one day you could beam probes there, but there will still need to be starships out charting the systems.  Additionally, when a whole fleet of really pissed off Klingons drop out of warp in your solar system, you ability to beam a couple of dudes to another planet is again not particularly helpful.  STID showed there are certainly ramifications and consequences to transwarp beaming in the wrong hands; it has not negated the need for starships.

Why does Marcus have a hate-on for the Klingons when the Romulans are the ones who attacked the previous year?  This goes back to the discussion regarding the Narada’s changes.  The Federation and Klingons have both benefitted from future tech; ironically and perhaps tragically Nero’s interference has again doomed his planet.  The Romulans get no exposure to the Narada.  Perhaps their spies can glean some info from their enemies (unless Starfleet starts building ships on the surface instead of in orbit making it tough for cloaked starships to see) but the Narada revelation also makes the appearance of Romulans known at large to the Federation.  Remember, in TOS regardless of the war a century prior, no one knew what Romulans looked like.  Their ability to infiltrate as Vulcan spies was probably fantastic.  Now though, the Kelvin reads Romulan language and equates to these pointy-eared guys in the big ship.  We know the Federation knows more now than their Prime counterparts because Spock in 2258 knows the Romulans and Vulcans share a common heritage.  These guys have been outed, and though for a while Starfleet believes they might have a killer doomsday machine ship, there’s no further evidence of that. In fact all the observable Romulan ships are pretty quaint compared to the Federation Starfleet.  MEANWHILE, the Klingons are getting bolder and keeping pace.  They manage to clean up that whole augment blood virus that made TOS Klingons look like Genghis Khan well ahead of schedule. (First use of magic Augment blood serum, by the way, thank you very much.)  And, their accelerated tech development has already exhausted a key energy production facility: Praxis is already in ruins.  As I recall from ST:VI that alone was going to lead to war unless something could be negotiated. The Klingons are the immanent and imminent threat to the Federation.  Marcus would know this, and apply LOTS of Narada tech to the baby he’s apparently been working on for a while (which is why he has a model on his desk), but needs Khan to perfect: The Vengeance.  We are reminded of this by the simple fact that the Vengeance actually looks like the Narada: a black behemoth ready to kick everyone’s ass. (Yet, like with the Narada, the Enterprise survives the unbeatable foe!)  On a side note, would I sure love to see the new Romulans reach out in desperation to the Vulcans, who need a home and more genetic diversity THROUGH SPOCK PRIME who has always wanted to unify the two.  There’s a backstory for a third film.

Why does so much of "Into Darkness" echo/ripoff/mimic/steal from "The Wrath of Khan"?  Simple answer here: the JJ Verse wants to be like the Prime-verse.  Sounds silly? It's not, it's Trek Canon established over and over.   Look at every alternate universe we see across Star Trek.  They all share great similarities.  When Kirk and the crew in “Mirror, Mirror” go through to another dimension, they don’t end up on Babylon 5 or Lost in Space, then end up in a universe SO similar to theirs the ship and crew are virtually identical.  They are even on the same mission in the same relative part of space and using the transporter at the same moment.  When Worf goes universe hopping in “Parallels” he finds 144,000 universes so similar they all produced the NCC-1701-D.  Events in “nearby” universes seem to follow similar patterns.  Why would the JJ Verse be any different?  In the OS episode “City on the Edge of Forever” Spock mentions that time follows certain “currents and eddies” like a river.  Even when the universe had changed due to McCoy saving Edith Keeler, Kirk and Spock’s trip through the Guardian brought them to that location.  The situation is very similar to New Kirk just happening to run into Prime Spock in a cave on Delta Vega. (One more sidebar: as much as I defend the new movies, calling that planet Delta Vega was bullshit.  It should have been PSI 2000, and then when they beamed on the Enterprise, Scotty could mention showering with his clothes on.)  Now, I am going to go outside of my mission statement for just a moment on this one, because I think there are two very dramatic statements made by the writers here: 1) By putting the characters through the same set of similar circumstances we get to see how they are like and different from their Prime counterparts.  It’s important in defining where the series will go.  2) The deliberate insertion of Spock Prime drives home the fact that this is not a remake of either Space Seed or Wrath of Khan, but rather a sequel to both of them.  This is Superman facing Zod like this father did, or Luke having to make the same choice as Anakin while Palpatine looks on from in front of a big window, or Forrest Jr. getting on the bus like Forrest senior.  The juxtaposition of these scenes shows you how the follow on characters will act in their predecessors’ worlds, and it’s a big dramatic cue for this series.

There are other questions I could get into here that are more plot oriented: why is the Enterprise in Nabiru’s ocean?  Why does Khan hide his people in torpedoes?  Why does the Enterprise get caught in Earth’s gravity?  Why does Carol choose to change clothes in a shuttlecraft? The answers are in there, some better than others.  Those might be questions for another post, but my goal here is only to point out that JJs Trek universe is entirely embedded within the Prime Trek universe.  It is not a reboot, but an extension and utterly dependent on what went before, like all the Trek sequels.  Now, I may be connecting dots the writers never considered.  (I’d ask Bob Orci, but we chased him off Twitter.)  Fans have ALWAYS brought more to the viewing of Star Trek than what was intended.  That’s the whole reason our fandom was born in the first place.  Being a fan is not a “set to receive” relationship.  It’s interactive, and we all work within our favorite fictions.  It’s where half our expectations for TOS come from in the first place.  Spock the first Vulcan in Starfleet?  Fandom. In fact it contradicts “The Immunity Syndrome” where the Intrepid is entirely manned by Vulcans, at least one of which must outrank Spock (unless we think he’s not as exemplary as others).  But we see it as so, because fandom connected dots.  That’s what you do when you love something, you explore it, like any great fiction.  New Trek is flashier, faster, and at times freakier than any previous Trek.  Connect those dots though and you will see New Trek is still Trek.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The official Black Owl review of “Man of Steel.”

As with all reviews on my little blog, spoilers, spoilers, and more spoilers.

This one is going to be tough; do I review this as a movie?  Do I review it as a Superman movie?  It’s no secret that I hold an almost religious reverence for Superman, and that certainly affected how I perceived this film.  OK, here’s the quick “just plain movie review.”  An overall very cool science fiction story with a great cast gets bogged down in the last 30 minutes with so much destruction the audio in IMAX actually left my ears ringing for a couple of hours afterward, as if I had just spent a couple of hours on a C-130.  A satisfying overall experience though.  B-

Now let’s talk Superman.


Here’s what’s good about this movie—and there is quite a bit—as a fan:

The cast.  I didn’t find anyone out of place here  (but for one exception I will get to in a minute) and in some cases got the best versions of these characters we have ever seen.  Henry Cavill is very good in this role and a welcome addition to the rolls of Supermen.  His Clark is great and though I expected him to be all emo, it really does work and play out pretty well. 

The real high point here though is Amy Adams as Lois Lane.  She is simply wonderful.  Smart, quick thinking, not a damsel, resourceful, and I say again, SMART.  There’s a marvelous bypass of the whole “glasses disguise him” thing with her, and though it accelerates their relationship quite a bit, it works here and I didn’t mind a bit.  I also want to say how good Michael Shannon is as Zod.  He brings great, great gravitas and motivation to the role.  
Antje Traue as the Kryptonian villainess Faora steals nearly every scene she is in with utter ruthlessness.  Kevin Costner’s Jonathan Kent is wonderful (and part of what is in my opinion the best scene in the film).   Diane Lane give Ma Kent a real heart. Russell Crowe brings some Maximus to Jor-El, but that’s not a bad thing. 
I definitely want to mention Christopher Meloni though; his Colonel Hardy has a wonderful arc and gives us one of the great examples of human heroism we see in this film as well.  Some players are a little underused (Perry White), but they are great where you see them.

Krypton is more fleshed out here and gives Zod a wonderful motivation and backstory.  There’s enough borrowed from various comic incarnations here to be instantly recognizable, yet unique to this version, and I loved every minute of the tech and style. 

Jonathan Kent’s death.  Not unlike All-Star Superman, I cried here when Jonathan died, and the circumstances are so emotionally involving, you will too.  Jonathan, in full view of Clark and Martha is going to be swept away by a tornado.  Clark could easily save him, but Jonathan waves him off to protect Clark’s secret.  How marvelous that whole scene is, and how much does that bring to the origin?  Lots and lots.   Terrific.

The First Two Hours.  Honestly, though I have already pointed some things out, let me wrap it up like this: The first two hours of this movie are as perfect a film as Richard Donner’s “Superman: The Movie.”  Perhaps more so, as we get a Superman at once relatable and realistic without losing the ethics or grandeur of the character.  The oil rig rescue, the diner scene, Clark’s relationship with Pete Ross, all wonderful.  Lois is AMAZING as she does what no prior version of the character has done and TRACKS DOWN SUPERMAN.  Her decision to keep his secret is not only integral to the plot, it speaks volumes her character.  As I said, this is the best Lois has ever been, and I normally don’t even really like Amy Adams.  She’s just about perfect here.  The Science Fiction heavy plot plays out, and you start to get a hint of the capabilities of these beings and it’s just great.  For two hours. 

Then there are 30 more minutes, and here we get not-so-great.  Most of that time is spent killing several million people in the most exhausting ways possible.  Really, I walked out feeling shell-shocked there was so much destruction.  I am not even sure the next movie can be set in Metropolis as I don’t think there can be much left.  No really, where does the coda at the Daily Planet even happen; have they rebuilt EVERYTHING already?  The destruction was where the Nolan realism should have reigned in Zack Snyder some more.  And this is where we start to lose Superman as a character as well.  He is so involved in fighting the bad guys that he stops saving the good guys.  We lost characters who should by all rights have made it, and Superman should have saved them.  When we have the big Superman/Zod fight that we know is coming, they slam through and around buildings, and thousands must be at least endangered if not outright killed.  That’s not even my real complaint though: it’s just too much.  The scope gets so big as to become irrelevant.  In my theater’s viewing, people actually started laughing.  We got tired of it.  I would gladly trade ten of those minutes for ten more minutes of Krypton, or Jonathan, or Lois, Clark doing some more heroic stuff in the suit.  Indeed, Man of Steel could have used a bit more Man of Steel.

There’s another issue for me in the post action coda as well.  This movie paints a pretty honest picture of the military.  They detain Superman because they have to, but COL Hardy recognizes “this man is not our enemy.”  Soldiers walk into or fly into certain death to save their world.  We don’t see stupid soldiers, or cowardly soldiers, or evil soldiers; we see soldiers, doing their best with what they have…until.  We get this female Air Force Captain—and you probably saw her in the commercials—who when faced with Superman gets all giggly and states, “he’s kinda hot.”  It is completely out of the tone of the rest of the film and really paints her—the only speaking female Earth military service member—as a bimbo.  That was a shame considering how well they portrayed the Military up until then. 

So what’s possibly the worst this in this film, or maybe even in the modern history of Superman?  Superman kills Zod.  Snaps his neck.  Yes, in the scene Superman is forced to do it, or allow more civilians to die (how about the previous ten minutes, Clark?), and yes IN THE COMICS in 1988 Superman executed a version of Zod with Kryptonite.  I know.  But you can’t tell me a smart writer who got the first two hours SO right with SO much from various incarnations of the character couldn’t have found a better way to end this without Superman having to brutally snap Zod’s neck.  Yes, it works in the context of the movie, but this is a “new generation’s” Superman.  Reinvented for people now in the 21st Century.  This movie will be for eight to ten year olds now what Donner’s Superman was for my generation.  Henry Cavill will be THEIR Superman.

And he snaps bad guys’ necks.  He’s Superman, there has to be a better way.  Yes Goyer and Nolan, you did manage to maneuver your story to a “he had to do it” point.  Just because you could doesn’t mean you should.  What affect are you going to have on the mythological Superman?  You’ve made Superman a killer, not in some obscure 30 year old comic, but in what will be the cornerstone of the DC movie universe for the next decade.  And for decades hence.  My grandkids will see that as their Superman, unless I work really hard to get to them first.  This was a conscious choice on the part of the writers, and I really think it could have gone a better direction.* Does it ruin the movie for me?  No, overall I did enjoy the film; only time will tell though if they have ruined Superman.

I suppose Tim Burton making Batman a killer didn’t alter The Dark Knight forever; oddly the same writer as Man of Steel made Batman’s reluctance to kill a major plot point in Batman Begins.  But I feel sorry they did this.  They should have done better because Superman deserves it, and there is so much here as a Superman fan to love.

It took Nolan three films to show me Christian Bale was not THE Batman.  Instead he was a broken person who put on a suit for about 18 months and divorced himself entirely from his responsibility by faking his death.  Nolan may have saved me time here and only waited two hours to show me he wasn’t making a movie about THE Superman but rather a superman.  Perhaps, sequels to this film will do the opposite of the Batman series and get better with successive additions.  I need to see this dealt with, I need to see it become a lesson learned for Superman on why he needs to find the better path.  I need to see that because those eight year olds watching need to see it too.  This series can be salvaged; this Superman can be redeemed.  I hope sequels will do that. 

After all, Superman is about Hope.

*So, I hear you: “All right, smart guy; if they could have done it better, what would be better?”  Reprinted here, verbatim, is a message I sent to a good friend within about 30 minutes of seeing the film.  Pardon personal message typos:

1) "You've ripped out my soul El; you're no Kryptonian. With me, Krypton dies." Kills self.
2) *Zod, flying into Metropolis sees the Phantom Zone generator destroy his ship.* "No, El- with us dies Krypton!" *Crashes scout ship into Superman, he tries to stop the crash, Zod is killed by the Kryptonian tech/engine/metal and Supes barely escapes.*
3) Faora escapes being pulled into the zone, realizes that if Kal-El is dead there is no chance to raise Krypton, takes Zod away herself allowing that specter of return to hang over them.
4) Kal clamps his hand over Zod's face, and beats him into unconsciousness. Then:

a) Uses the hyperdrive that MUST still be on the leftover Kryptonian scoutship to reopen the Zone and cast him in (possibly saving the Colonel and Doctor Hamilton in the process).
b) Imprisons Zod using the material from the scout and asks the Gov to help him build a ship to take Zod to a planet with a red sun: they recruit Lexcorp to help. Sequel prepped.