Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Heath Holland On...The Endless Franchise Revisited
It’s a rare occasion when I see a movie that actually upsets me and makes me angry. I’ve tried to remain fairly optimistic and look at the bright side. I don’t always succeed, and sometimes movies get the better of me, but it’s been hard for a movie to actually get under my skin. This past weekend, however, as I exited the theater after seeing Star Trek: Into Darkness, I was pissed.
Usually when a movie fails or doesn’t hit me the way I expected, I’m able to shrug it off and move on. The few times that movies have actually angered me have been because they had my goodwill and threw it away. The last time I can remember this happening was after seeing Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises. Granted, the previous installment, The Dark Knight, was a fantastic success and ANY movie would have had a hard time even coming close to the level of that film. No, the things that bothered me about The Dark Knight Rises were mostly character choices that were made, things they chose to do that felt completely out of character (dare I say disrespectful?) to what had come before. If you’ve made a Batman movie in which Batman doesn’t act like Batman, there’s a problem.
The other time in recent memory that I left a movie angry was after seeing X-Men Origins: Wolverine. It felt like the people involved in the making of that film not only had never read a Wolverine comic book or a single issue of X-Men, but that they actively hated the character. Looking at those two examples, it’s clear that what really pisses me off is not when a movie fails, but when it does something so against expectation and logic that it seems as if its creators are either deliberately sabotaging that project OR they just don’t care. Sometimes I think it’s both.
The Hobbit and really enjoyed it. It felt like an adventure, which is one of the things that Star Trek is (and so much more). Not only that, but I loved the last movie, as well. And I’ve had a long love for all things Trek. I’ve owned all the movies on VHS, then on DVD, and now on Blu-ray, in addition to the television shows, scores of novels, action figures, trading cards, underoos, and the list goes on. I’ve defended J.J. Abrams as being a great choice for this and for his upcoming directorial work on the other big space franchise, Star Wars. What I’m saying is, I AM the target audience for this movie. I was a fan before I even saw it. It didn’t have to work very hard to impress me. It just needed to do what it was supposed to do: be Star Trek.
I’m writing this column before the podcast episode for Star Trek: Into Darkness has been released, but I know Patrick will cover every angle of this film, the pros and cons, the expectations and the realities. Therefore, I will not go into details about the movie itself. For the conversation on that, click HERE. This is not a column on what I thought about Star Trek: Into Darkness. It’s a column on how Star Trek: Into Darkness has changed the way I feel about things. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking since I walked out of the theater about why I am so upset (I still am) and the effect this has taken on my overall attitude regarding summer blockbusters.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the endless franchise and how studios are cranking out sequel after sequel, comic book movie after comic book movie. I wrote about how I’m both trepidatious and optimistic about the future of these franchises. I went on to explain how we have lost something because original ideas seem to be a rarity at the moment, but we’re seeing things in some of these gigantic blockbusters that we’ve always dreamed of. The tradeoff is almost worth it.
I was wrong. The tradeoff is not worth it.
Regardless of your thoughts on Star Trek: Into Darkness (many people are loving it and I’ve had a hard time finding others who share my thoughts), it has had a significant effect on my optimism for the future of the mega-franchise. This movie feels very insulting. It takes something that I have loved for a lot of my life and cheapens it by doing something it has not yet earned the right to do.
I’ve been a vocal fan of Star Wars for all these years and have defended the prequels as having merit. Yet Star Trek, once further down my list of passions, has become much dearer to me the older I get. The ideas in Star Trek of reaching for a more refined, enlightened way of life, of spreading humanity and prosperity and of accepting all as equals resonates with me far more than it did when I was younger. It took feeling what I did in the last half of Star Trek: Into Darkness to make me see and understand what so many others have felt when they complain about George Lucas. This is something I never felt during or after the Star Wars prequels. Telling, isn’t it?
As a result of my feelings after Into Darkness, I don’t stand behind much of what I said in my previous column. I’m now afraid to be optimistic about the movies I’ve been looking forward to. I’ve been extremely excited about Man of Steel, not because it looked like a dark, gritty take on the character, but because it looked like they were going to ground Superman in our world and give him the emotional conflict that makes the character so interesting. He’s Jesus. He's the hero of a thousand faces. He’s greater than us, better than us, and could go anywhere and do anything. But he chooses to sacrifice himself and his happiness so that we can be safe. He’s our savior. I expect all of that from Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, but now I’m very, very nervous about it. Perhaps the marketing surrounding it has just been set up to make it look that way. Maybe it’s going to have a one-hour fight scene between Superman and a polar bear. There may be two robots named Marlon and Brando. The point is, I just don’t know. I used to be willing to give a movie the benefit of the doubt and go into it without cynicism, but my perspective has now changed.
I’m not sure where to go from here. By all accounts, Star Trek: Into Darkness has been a big success and made both fans and general audiences very happy. I feel like a man without a country. During the most recent Weekend Weigh-In, I expressed my fear of looking forward to future movies such as Man of Steel. JP, a friend of the podcast, responded with a quote from Spock to Captain Kirk in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country: "Is it possible that we two, you and I, have grown so old and inflexible that we have outlived our usefulness?" He’s right. That’s exactly how I feel.
I’ve wrestled with this for a while now -- feeling like I'm no longer able to connect with many of the movies that being released. I’ve fought it because I don’t want to become someone who turns sour on something that they once loved. My conclusion was that, even though it’s hard, I can’t give up. I can’t stop going to see movies just because I’ve gotten older and am not the target audience for most films now. But in the aftermath of Into Darkness, I feel very discouraged. I feel like something I love was taken and used against me. I took a step back and looked at the system as a whole, and I have found that system lacking. It looks broken to me.
It’s discouraging. The way I feel at the moment, I want to stop going to movies. I want to stay at home and delve into the thousands of interesting movies from the past: things that I’ve seen and loved, and things I’ve been wanting to see. I want to sink into the safety and comfort of the movies of Humphrey Bogart, Howard Hawks, Sergio Corbucci, Pam Grier. The movies of the past are safe for me. They don’t have the shadow of expectation hanging over them. Those won’t turn my love of movies against me. Those movies were made with low budgets and because the people involved in them WANTED to make movies, because they HAD to. They had stories they just had to tell. It wasn’t about exploiting a previous affection for something that they could market. It wasn’t about taking an old comic book hero and throwing 150 million dollars at it so that they could put it on lunch boxes and bed sheets. It was for the art of the movie.
So this is not a new feeling, and I’ve been disappointed with movies before. Yes, that’s all part of it, and few movies are perfect. But this time feels different for me. This feels personal. No, I don’t think J.J. Abrams, Damon Lindelof, Kurtzman or Orci had it out for me when they wrote their screenplay. But I am getting older and more stubborn, and like Spock (and JP) said, inflexible. My faith is lessened each year, and I grow less and less willing to subject myself to the risk. I fear I am losing the fight against my own hardened heart.
It’s the quandary of the aging geek: you spend your lifetime accumulating the knowledge of a thousand esoteric corners of pop culture: comic books and old B movies, cheap paperback novels and television shows you never knew anyone else watched. Those things give you identity and help you find others like you. Then these things that you love and are passionate about are eventually used to exploit you.
I want to hide out and stay inside my house and eat popcorn and watch old '70s television shows. And I do not mean the 60 million dollar big screen versions of those shows that cashed in on people’s affection for what they grew up with. I want to cash in my chips and say goodnight, but I can’t and won’t do that. I am a film fan. I love movies, and there will always be movies that resonate with me and that tell me a story and take me to a place I never thought I’d go. I will continue to seek out the hidden gems and the blockbusters that actually do get it right.
But now when I sit in that darkened theater, waiting for the new iteration of something I’ve loved for years to fill the screen, my willingness to go for the ride will be notably diminished. I love movies, but I don’t want my love of movies to be used against me. Something that once was there is now gone.
Into Darkness indeed.