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Review: Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

October 17, 2017

Viewed 10 October 2017, Cinemas of Whitewater (WI)

Trailers: Geostorm, Murder on the Orient Express, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

Perhaps the fact that this movie only carried with it three trailers rather than the usual six or seven should have been a clue that it might run a tad longer than expected. My eldest and I arrived so early for the screening that we played a little game of guessing what the trailers might be. My predictions were the new Star Wars movie, wrong; some awful sci-fi movie nobody even heard was being made, bingo! “Geostorm,” a CGI-intense cross between “2012” and this year’s climate-change news feed; an animated movie, wrong; a superhero movie, wrong. James predicted a pretentious indie film that will get all the awards but nobody will watch, wrong. Actually, of the three movies-to-come I thought that the “Tomb Raider” reboot was the most interesting. James went with “Orient Express.”

Cue the feature film. Ryan Gosling stars as a blade runner who has a job to do, then a puzzle to solve, then a cover-up to impose. After that, the real mystery begins. As with the original “Blade Runner,” we are left to wonder: What is real? What is replica(nt)? What is hologram? And what is human? And what difference does it make?


Honey, I’m home….

Well, if replicants can do what we think they can do, we humans are pretty much doomed. So they must be eradicated once and for all.


Officer K (Gosling) is fine with this until he realizes that he might be the one that needs to be eradicated. Then he starts thinking out of the box, and pronto.

Up until about two-thirds of the way through the movie, I was formulating the opinion that “2049” worked just fine as a standalone movie without the benefit of the 1982 installment. Then came the final third, and it was a tour de force of moviemaking. Everything came into play. Everything was important — nay, critical.

James and I share a theory that no work that waits decades for a sequel — “Blade Runner,” “Portal 2,” “Half-Life,” or almost anything else — will ever have a satisfying sequel. Time allows expectations to build up until no work could possibly satisfy them. “Blade Runner” might be the exception. It’s straightforward yet mysterious, cryptic yet satisfying, technical yet emotional. Fortunately, the number of viewers who watch the sequel without knowing the original is probably close to nil, which means that its entire audience is primed to appreciate the connections and revelations that develop.


A place where nobody lives. Gotta be Vegas.

It’s a long movie, to be sure, and in many places a quiet, desolate, slow movie. It has frustrated and bored many members of its audience. Yet I stayed in my seat and didn’t look at my watch until I left the theater marvelling at how Ridley Scott had managed to create a locked-room mystery I couldn’t solve, a four-piece puzzle I couldn’t see until he assembled the pieces.

I don’t want to spoil anything. Ryan Gosling, Robin Wright, Jared Leto, and of course Harrison Ford, were excellent. The film was visually stunning and a masterful complement to its predecessor. There were some scenes that may not have been strictly necessary, and a sexual scene in particular that seemed rather tacked on and discomfiting. But when I think about what the filmmakers were trying to do with the film as a whole, well, they probably did it.


I just want to ask you a few questions; please don’t kill me.

Let me be clear: this movie does not have an immediate payoff. It doesn’t look like a video game (except, perhaps, when the landscape looks like something from Fallout 4: New Vegas) and it isn’t paced like one. As James put it, “it’s extraordinarily quiet when it’s not suddenly and disturbingly loud.” This is not a typical movie, but if you’re looking forward to seeing it you’re probably not typical, either. Enjoy, think about it, and talk about it.

And behold one of the companies of the future.



Review: Blade Runner (1982)*

October 3, 2017

Blade Runner: The Final Cut viewed October 1, 2017

With the imminent release of “Blade Runner: 2049” next weekend, it was time for me to finally watch the original “Blade Runner” — or, to be specific, the director’s cut (and thus the asterisk in my title) of “Blade Runner.”

As with “Ender’s Game,” this is a film that was the subject of some scholarship of my late former husband, Peter C. Hall. As with “Ender’s Game,” I watched this film with regret that I did not watch it with him when I might have had the chance. A friend has pointed out that who I’m not watching the film with is a large part of my viewing experience, and I have to agree. Because I had not watched the film back in the day, I also did not read any of Peter’s writing on the subject (feeling that the film should have come first). Watching the film now reveals the gaping hole in what I could have known about him, the things we could have discussed, and the connections I could have made.

I watched “Blade Runner” for the first time last night, but found myself perplexed and lost by the time I reached the final third of the film. I decided that it was my fault and that I needed to watch it again. It was probably like an expensive wine that tasted good but had nuances that my palate wasn’t sophisticated enough to appreciate. (I’m looking at you, Opus One.) I was certainly willing to give the film, the director, and the story that inspired the screenplay the benefit of the doubt at my own expense.

However, when I sat down tonight to watch it again, I grew restless after twenty minutes at the thought of spending another two hours trying to extract a deeper meaning from the film. I restarted it and activated the Ridley Scott commentary — which was fascinating on the topic of movie-making, the predictive nature of science fiction, the role of the director, Hollywood budgets, and many other topics, but wasn’t discussing the film all that much. I halted it after twenty-four minutes. This release also includes a commentary track by the production designer and art director, which is probably the one I want. But rather than watch it two more times and report back possibly never, after life inevitably interferes with my writing plans, I’d rather use the time that I have tonight to write about the impression I received last night and the things the movie made me think about.



Some of the first things that struck me about the film were the street-level grittiness, the not-worth-commenting-upon multiculturalism, and the persistence of brand names in a future where few could afford them. Koss, TDK, and Coca-Cola are still here in 2017/2019, too, a survival that was either prescience or a bit of a blind guess in 1981/1982. But I have to admit that, every time I saw a shot of a flying car against the backdrop of Tokyo-quality advertising, I was waiting for the car to take a Futurama-style plunge into the screen — something that didn’t happen until 1999, but for which “Blade Runner” could certainly have been an inspiration. (Don’t even try to tell me that Matt Groenig never saw “Blade Runner.”)

Grittiness: It’s evident right away, even without the voiceover employed in other versions of the film, that life at the top of the capitalist truncated pyramid is very different from life on the streets. The setting is dark, the lighting is dark (punctuated in the opening sequence only by firebursts emanating from smokestacks), the theme is dark, the action is dark. Perhaps I shouldn’t have turned out the lights before watching it. Deckard is yanked almost immediately from his grimy seat at the grungy noodle bar to do one last bit of detective work for his former employer (he does, however, get to keep his bowl of noodles). Deckard and the viewer never get a chance to relax; they’re always being pushed, stressed, questioned, tested. What is real and what is replicant?

Multiculturalism: This aspect reminded me a lot of Firefly, in which examples of all races are everywhere but Chinese is everyone’s de facto second language. It’s the way of the ‘verse, buddy, and you’d better know some of the vocabulary if you want to get along.


Number Four. Not Number Two, two Number Two. Oh, forget it.

Because no notice is taken of any racial differences, the real racial divide is underscored: human versus non-human. Can you tell the difference between a human and a replicant? If you can, you’d better do it quickly. As the opening sequence demonstrates, your life depends upon it. And since Deckard’s colleague lost his life in the effort, Deckard must go back to work and save the planet from these rogue replicants.

“Blade Runner” is set in November 2019, and watching it in October 2017 reminds me that what science fiction so often gets wrong about the future is in projecting too much of a change too soon. Really, in just two more years we will have been working off-world? We will have constructed a race of replicants who have already rebelled against us? We’re down to three, maybe two, companies running the world? Viewing “2001” and “2010” at this point might just make me cry, and we’ve already passed the timeline of “Back to the Future II” with nothing but misplaced Reagan nostalgia to show for it. Oh, yeah, and hoverboards that burst into flames. Let’s move along now, shall we? Nothing to see here.

Nothing except enormous collars, that is. We should probably just be grateful that they weren’t parachute pants.



Rutger Hauer

It really was a striking, stylish movie, even if all I noticed at the end was the hunt-you-down-like-a-dog sequence during which Deckard struggled to kill all 3, no, 4, wait a minute, 3 of the remaining replicants. Or maybe it was 4. If I missed anything at that point, mea maxima culpa. I did appreciate the film’s use of iconic public spaces like the train station and the tunnel to reinforce the 1950s-era feel to the fashion (post-war and post-apocalyptic), the cars (which did fly but hinted at having fins), and the technology (which was mechanical rather than magical — shades of “Brazil”).

My son James tells me that the director’s cut contains a scene that makes the existence of “Blade Runner: 2049” make perfect sense. I don’t know which scene that is, but I’ve been assured that I’ve made adequate preparations for viewing the new movie.

Review: Interstellar (2014)

December 21, 2014

Viewed 13 December 2014, Johnson Creek (WI) AMC

Trailers: Big Eyes, Selma, The Hobbit: Battle of Five Armies, The Gambler, Chappie, Furious7

I didn’t know much about Interstellar before going to see it, but I did have the notion that it was going to explore some of the issues related to interstellar travel. When I found myself with a brief movie-viewing opportunity and realized that Interstellar was beginning to disappear from the smaller theaters, I decided I’d better make plans to see it on a big screen as soon as I could.

The big screen wasn’t as critical to the “feel” of the movie as you might think, but there were certainly some extremely cinematographic shots that got an extra boost from being seen in XXL.

Can I get a rain check? Oh... never mind.

Can I get a rain check? Oh… never mind.

This movie is indeed about the complexities of interstellar travel, but it takes a while to get there because it has to lay down the strong relationships that are necessary to pull the film forward to its technical conclusion. And the relationships that count the most in this film are the ones between fathers and daughters.

That’s a relief, because you could get the idea from some of the promo stills that this is going to be an out-of-this-world romance between Matthew McConaughey (Cooper: not a handsome playboy, but an unrepentant former pilot who seems to be carved out of rocks and stubble) and Anne Hathaway (Brand: not your “Princess Diaries” Anne Hathaway, but a tough, smart, practical, broken woman who is pretty darned interesting). Thank goodness it’s more complex than that.

"Let's get to work."

“Let’s get to work.”

Cooper is the heart of this movie, and it’s his grit and uniqueness that make everything possible. Without him, Brand’s father admits, plans would have proceeded but to a expected failure. Yet his character never does what the others assume he will do.

The earthly word of Interstellar is a post-Space Age Dust Bowl. The earth is dying, systems are collapsing, and crops are dying monoculture by monoculture. You don’t get all the facts right away in the slow-paced beginning, but if you pay attention in the first thirty minutes you will learn everything that you’ll need to know. And paying close attention is a good skill to use in the rest of the movie as well, since the characters’ educational asides bring you up to speed on things like, oh, relativity and the physical effects of the warping of space-time.

It’s time for an aside of my own. While I was at the Internet Movie Database checking my facts for this review, I read through the details of how the moviemakers tried to be as faithful as possible to real physics in order to depict interstellar travel.

To create the wormhole and black hole, Dr. Kip Thorne collaborated with VFX supervisor Paul J. Franklin and his team at Double Negative. Thorne provided pages of deeply sourced theoretical equations to the team, who then created new CGI software programs based on these equations to create accurate computer simulations of these phenomena. Some individual frames took up to 100 hours to render, and ultimately the whole CGI program reached to 800 terabytes of data. The resulting VFX provided Thorne with new insight into the effects of gravitational lensing and accretion disks surrounding black holes, and led to him writing two scientific papers: one for the astrophysics community and one for the computer graphics community.

Early in pre-production, Dr. Kip Thorne laid down two guidelines to strictly follow: nothing would violate established physical laws, and that all the wild speculations would spring from science and not from the creative mind of a screenwriter. Christopher Nolan accepted these terms as long as they did not get in the way of the making of the movie. That did not prevent clashes though: at one point Thorne spent two weeks talking Nolan out of an idea about travelling faster than light.

According to Dr. Kip Thorne, the largest degree of creative license in the film are the clouds of the ice planet, which are structures that probably go beyond the material strength which ice would be able to support.

The Back to the Future series made a similar attempt to adhere as carefully as possible to the known rules about time travel, and I believe that such rigorous attention to detail ends up making a much more credible film. These are difficult concepts, and depicting them carelessly because you don’t think your audience will care one way or another shows a lack of respect for the audience. I’m a fan of these topics but by no means do I understand the equations behind them. I felt that Interstellar was very careful about explaining the concepts and setting the parameters; by the time they were talking about fifth-dimensional space I was ready to accept it.

I'd like a book about scrambled eggs during the Renaissance, please.

I’d like a book about scrambled eggs during the Renaissance, please.

If I had been put off by the depictions of space travel, black holes, and warped space-time, I would not have been able to concentrate on the relationships that drive the film. Cooper’s daughter Murph(y), who we depicted at different ages in the film by Mackenzie Foy, Jessica Chastain, and Ellen Burstyn, has the shoulders on which you can afford to rest the weight of the world. Topher Grace, who I hadn’t seen in anything since That 70’s Show, was a nice surprise as Murph’s adult-age colleague. But it is the relationship — no, the bond, the connection, between Cooper and Murph that makes everything possible.

If this scene doesn't work, the rest of the movie falls apart. This scene works.

If this scene doesn’t work, the rest of the movie falls apart.
This scene works.

This movie gave me a lot to think about and talk about with my 15-year-old son for days after we saw it. Not a lot of movies can do that — or even try.

The end of the movie leaves the door open for a sequel, but it’s not necessary. A movie that expects you to bring intelligence and attention to the theater can also trust you to have your own theories about what may have happened next.

Review: Ender’s Game (2013)

November 5, 2013

Viewed 2 November 2013, Johnson Creek (WI) AMC

(For this review, italicized titles refer to books, and unitalicized titles refer to movies.)


Before the Book

Before I ever read Ender’s Game, I knew someone who knew it very well — my dear friend and former husband Peter C. Hall, who was an English professor who specialized in teaching Freshman English, researching the New Woman in Victorian and Edwardian literature, and analyzing science fiction. I knew he had written and presented papers on elements of Ender’s Game in the late 1980s, but I didn’t read them because I had not yet read the source material. Over the years we were able to share and discuss several science fiction works, but the key works that received his critical attention — including Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, Blade Runner, and Ender’s Game — were ones I had not yet gotten around to reading or viewing, though I was looking forward to discussing them with Peter in great depth and detail.

Life is unpredictable, however, and just over two years ago he died accidentally and unexpectedly. Until recently, dealing with those un-experienced works would have been unthinkable for me. But a few movies ago, one of the trailers was for Ender’s Game and from my reaction I knew I was going to have to buck up, read the book, and prepare myself to see the movie without him.

In addition to performing acts of literary criticism on published works of science fiction, Peter also wrote book reviews while he was in graduate school. His sci-fi collection includes several pre-publication review manuscripts as well as trade paperbacks from the 80s dating back to the 60s, and features several series by Orson Scott Card. In June of this year I selected a very new paperback copy of Ender’s Game from Peter’s collection, and started reading it. Soon I was sharing the book with our son James, and we both enjoyed it immensely.

Before the Movie

Ender’s Game, the story, took less than a week for me to read in real life, but every time I opened the book I felt transported into another, immersive, world that I did not want to leave until I discovered how everything turned out. The last time I read a book this suspenseful and addictive was Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park. It’s the book you lay down reluctantly, then pick up again immediately and read as much as you can before your other responsibilities come to tear you away.

It was hard to read the book without having Peter around to discuss it with, but even harder was the fact that, since the 80s, I was no longer an innocent, unbiased reader. Now I was a mother of four children. My youngest son is the same age as Ender is when we first meet him at the Academy — brilliant, slight, and bullied. When Ender is promoted to Battle School, he’s the same age as my middle son, with his strategic mind coupled with lean muscle and less tolerance for being pushed around. By the end of the book, he’s just a bit younger than my oldest son. At every stage of Ender’s emotional, intellectual, and military development, I had in my own house an analogue to him. If you don’t have children of these ages in your life, you can read the book in an abstract way and talk about themes, and ethics, and all sorts of fine things. But if you’re a parent, or godparent, or aunt or uncle, your very soul cries out in italics, My God! He’s just six! or But he’s only nine! or It’s not right, he’s just twelve years old! At least, mine did from the moment I saw the movie trailer, my eyes welled with tears, and a voice inside me screamed, They’re just children!

Meanwhile, during production, author Orson Scott Card chose that time to make clear his various personal pro-Mormon and viciously anti-homosexual views, strongly enough that several groups proposed a boycott of the movie — even though those views had nothing to do with the movie’s theme or content. Card chose to use this temporary spotlight for his personal political purposes to the possible detriment of his box office figures, and some of the actors in Ender’s Game (notably Harrison Ford) went to great lengths to distinguish the movie and its viewpoint from its author and his.

On our way to the movie, James and I discussed the book. We wondered how they would depict the battle scenes, and how much of the story would be given to the philosophical half of the book, in which Ender’s battle-school “failure” brother Peter and sister Valentine adopt secret identities to publish their opposing political manifestos in what are essentially underground Internet newsgroups.

After the Movie

I found the movie vivid and riveting and very well done, but noticed that I seemed to be frowning at it. That was because so very much of the book simply never made it to the movie script at all. And ultimately, that was probably a good thing for both the book and the movie.


The book is detailed, nuanced, and philosophical. Its characters are complex almost beyond belief; elder brother Peter is the bully shown in the movie, but he is also highly intelligent, politically ambitious, and a gifted writer. Ender fears him, opposes him, and hates himself for loving him. The book takes hundreds of pages to hold a character so complex; the movie shows Peter’s brutality towards Ender and leaves it at that. There simply isn’t time in two hours to do any justice to Peter’s character when it has to stick with Ender and move the plot along.


To steal and turn a phrase from S. Morgenstern, Ender’s Game the movie is the “battle scenes” version of Ender’s Game the book. The film editor did a great job of figuring out the true key elements and moving us from A to B to C to D without undue distractions, but if you enjoyed the complexity of the book you may be shocked and disappointed by the simplicity of the movie. What the movie does, it does do well, but there simply isn’t time or the demand for a five-hour movie that includes everything the book has.

The movie is particularly good at showing us the technology and the battle strategies. The iPad-like tablets used for education and entertainment were just right. (The depiction of the “mind game” was excellent.) Being able to watch a null-gravity battle was much easier than trying to imagine one based on a written description. And the climax of the film, Ender’s “graduation simulation,” was elegant and powerful via its use of virtual, kinesthetic commands. It certainly was clearer what Ender was trying to do with the battle formations in the final battle.


If you haven’t read the book, go ahead and watch the movie on the biggest screen you can find. It’s a treat, and there’s hardly any “bad” language, and no nudity. They didn’t even turn Petra into a love interest, thank the heavens (though they did eliminate the “salaam” kiss that Alai gives to Ender in the book). But know this — the book has twice as much to offer, if you’re interested in the thought behind the battles.

And if you have read the book? Well, if you’ve always wanted to know what the battle scenes looked like, do go and see the movie. But if you had no problem with visualizing multi-dimensional combat by teams of aggressive, smart children in null gravity… you’ve already seen the movie in your mind, and experienced a story that you’ll never forget. It would be perfectly understandable if you stayed home next Friday and enjoyed that book again.

Review: Elysium (2013)

August 20, 2013

Viewed 8/19/2013 at the Marcus Hillside Cinema, Delafield (WI)

Trailers: Insidious Part 2, Rush, Thor: The Dark World, The Monument’s Men, The Grandmaster, The World’s End

When I saw the first trailer for Elysium, I knew right away I wanted to watch see this movie. It seemed very sci-fi: the establishment of the carefree luxury-world by the haves, and its invasion by the have-nots. After I saw the trailer, I saw nothing else to convince me this wasn’t the case. (Actually, I didn’t see much in the way of promotion at all.)

Having seen it, however, I have to say that I was surprised at what I got. It’s not sci-fi but it does have high tech; it has the feel of post-apocalypse but without the steampunk style. It’s not a Mad Max world; I will have to go do a bit of research and see how it compares to Blade Runner.

What Elysium does have is an Earth that is poisoned, gritty, and poor. The rich have abandoned it and created a paradise in the sky that, as we see in the slightly heavy-handed captioned opening, is a fantasy escape for the downtrodden of the Earth (basically, everyone who isn’t already on Elysium). Whether they desire Elysium because of the life of ease it represents or because of its medical technology that cures all illnesses and keeps its citizens in perfect health, it’s the star in their sky. People are willing to risk their lives for a chance to touch it.


Matt Damon’s character Max, shown first as a dreaming little boy born into an unjust world and then as a hard-working ex-con who soon has nothing left to lose, finally gets his ticket to Elysium under the poorest of circumstances. After we’ve seen him stripped of his health, his safety, and his reasons to continue to uphold his moral principles, he’s on this journey for his pure survival. He repeats throughout the movie, “This ain’t gonna kill me.” “I don’t want to die.” Soon his very presence threatens the life of his childhood friend Frey and her daughter, and they’re soon caught up in a mad scramble for power between the Secretary of Defense, big business, a disenfranchised madman-for-hire, and the rebel underground (a combination of a group of L.A. tuners/chop-shop surgeons, and chipheads with bodyguards).

At the center of the story, however, are the robots. They are the security guards, doctors, waiters, soldiers, and even probation officers. Defeat the robots, or figure out a way to control them, and you’re safe. Otherwise you’re at their mercy, as is Max. On his way to work at the robot factory, a security robot breaks his arm and creates orders for him to visit his robot probation officer. Who, in turn, extends his probation for eight months. The robots are only following their programming: on Earth, control the non-citizens of Elysium. On Elysium, serve the citizens. Human-to-human contact is recreational. If you want to get something done, you have to work with the robots.


“I’d like a cheeseburger, a large fry, and an orange drink.”

The key to change in this system is the code that runs the systems that run Elysium. It can be manipulated to gain access to immense power, fantastic wealth, corporate monopoly, or social justice — depending on how it’s altered. Each faction works as hard as it possibly can to serve its own self-interest.

(Oddly enough, in this world, everyone seems capable of scanning hundreds of lines of fast-scrolling code they’ve never seen before and determining exactly what the program does. Maybe there was a line reading ’10 REM ELYSIUM REBOOT PROGRAM’ at the top that I missed, but I started finding this humorous after the third character recognized the program’s worth at a glance. Can your CEO write code this quickly that is so powerful yet so obvious? I shouldn’t complain too much. At least the whole program wasn’t stored in a flash drive that had to be located and stolen from each successive group.)


To achieve his goal, Max allows himself to become part robot through the installation of an exoskeleton. This reminded me of the first Iron Man movie. In subsequent battles, the bad guy (of course) obtains a bigger and better exoskeleton so they can fight. This reminded me of the second Iron Man movie. We’ve seen a lot of battlebot movies recently, but blood and dirt are always present here to remind us that this is a movie about human beings. What will prove to be their strongest motivation for survival?



I don’t know of a world exactly like this, but after a while I could think of a similar story. This movie plays like a Doctor Who episode without the Doctor (similar to “Garfield Without Garfield,” but with fangirls). The bad guys act with the purpose of henchmen whose überboss never shows up to check on them; the downtrodden Earthlings act as companions to a Doctor who’s otherwise occupied. There is loss, sacrifice, brotherhood, and a struggle for social justice. But there is neither God, nor savior, nor conquering hero at movie’s end.

The movie comes to a predictably satisfying conclusion, celebrated not with a victory party but with a release of tension. Not a great movie, nor one worthy of a sequel, but good enough.

Review: Star Trek (2009)

May 28, 2013

This weekend I finally watched my DVD copy of the Star Trek reboot. I had been wanting to see it for some time now, but the timing never seemed quite right. Then, Star Trek: Into Darkness was announced. Perfect, I thought, I will watch this one as a run-in to the sequel. And that is indeed what I did. I watched this movie on DVD on Friday night, then watched Into Darkness in the theater on Saturday night.


Even though I wasn’t trying to get inside information or spoilers on this movie, they kind of leaked out into the atmosphere as the film was being made. There was a lot of drama concerning the casting; strangely enough, it didn’t concern the young actors filling the main roles. It was a sort of legacy drama that went back to decades-old tension between the main players in the original television series. To cut to the chase, Leonard Nimoy was in the film. William Shatner wasn’t invited to participate, even though he did wait by the phone for some time. And frankly, with all due respect to Mr. Shatner, I don’t see how they could have worked him in. Writing Nimoy’s character in the way that they did was tricky enough. Shatner’s couldn’t have been done in a similar fashion — it just wouldn’t have made much sense. Having him play anyone other than Captain James Tiberius Kirk wouldn’t have worked at all. It all seemed to work out in the end. When Christopher Pine was cast as young James T. Kirk, he wrote a letter to Shatner; Shatner wrote back with his approval.

Pine Kirk Shatner Kirk

While reading a bit about the production and editing work on this film, I ran across the statement that it was titled simply “Star Trek” to send the message that you didn’t have to have an exhaustive Star Trek background to watch this film. I’d have to say that’s correct. I would call myself more of a Star Trek fan than a Star Wars fan, but I haven’t seen every Star Trek movie myself, and the last one I was was probably 1998’s Star Trek: Insurrection. In fact, there are Star Trek TV series I never watched at all (sorry, “Enterprise”). It’s an excellent entry point to the entire franchise, and this could truly be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. However, if you do have a solid geeky-Trekkie background, there will be plenty of verbal and visual in-jokes for you to appreciate. Just don’t make the newbies feel bad, okay?

I enjoyed this film immensely. The casting was superb, and it was a real treat to see the crew of the Enterprise come together for the first time. You get to meet them one by one, absorbing their character, their reactions, and their attitude towards Kirk. If you ever watched the original series and wondered why the crew didn’t smother Kirk in his sleep for being a womanizing, egotistical ass, this movie might go a long way towards showing you how all the crew members (eventually, not immediately) fit together like pieces of a puzzle. Everyone’s motivation and back story is squarely in place, if they’re the kind of person who has such a thing. If they’re inscrutable now, you’ll get more information in the next movie or the one after that, so don’t worry about it. If they don’t wear it on their sleeve, it’s the sort of thing that will emerge under pressure.

The new Sulu, Uhura, Spock, J.J. Abrams, Kirk, Chekov, and Bones.

The new Sulu, Uhura, Spock, J.J. Abrams, Kirk, Chekov, and Bones.

There is a small helping of time travel in this film — just enough to solve the crisis. The characters involved are well aware of the risks they take by talking to their past and future selves, but the stakes are high enough that you can tell they’re trying to keep the space-time continuum contamination to a bare minimum.

Director J. J. Abrams has done a wonderful job of creating an exciting and fresh movie from characters that date back to 1966. They are so much a part of American culture that you know who they are without ever having watched an episode — yet in this movie there is material for the new fan as well as for the breathtakingly annoying franchise fanboy. It has characters and character development, plot, and plenty of action and suspense.

When I was in college I had a dear friend named Curt Tatman. He was the biggest fan of Star Trek (and its creator Gene Roddenberry) I will ever know. Curt died from liver cancer in 1999 at the age of 32, having survived colon cancer that attacked him in about 1990. He knew every line of every episode of the original series, and probably knew every line of at least the first six movies. He was a computer programming genius, and would have loved living in this world of smartphones and Facebook; I think he would have been squarely behind this movie and would have had it memorized within a week of its release. I can’t give it more praise than that.

Review: Skyfall

December 31, 2012

Review: Skyfall (Columbia Pictures, 2012)
Viewed 30 December 2012, Johnson Creek (WI) AMC

Trailers: Zero Dark Thirty, Jack Reacher, The Last Stand, Django Unchained, A Good Day to Die Hard, Iron Man 3

Any thought of a James Bond canonical timeline is completely ruined with this entry in the Bond series. In 2008’s Quantum of Solace, Bond was a fresh agent trying to earn the trust and respect of his superiors at MI6. (He was also played by the youngest actor ever to play James Bond.) In this film, he’s denigrated as “old” and “broken” every time the camera is on him, and every effort is made to show Daniel Craig as white-haired and grizzled. He’s even referred to as an “old dog.” And for some reason, we’re rehashing the “spies are old-fashioned and unnecessary” theme that we saw in 1995’s GoldenEye, in which the new M, Judi Dench, attacked the new Bond, Pierce Brosnan, for being an anachronism every chance she got. Did everyone get mindwiped? Should I have been? Is this important anyway?

M: Unimpressed with Bond’s reputation since 1995.

Good versus evil becomes a matter for internal affairs in Skyfall. It’s not Bond who has a problem with revenge — it’s a rogue agent from years ago taking out his frustrations on the Boss Lady. It’s not even this baddie who takes a shot at Bond that pushes him to his near death — it’s another field agent acting on M’s orders. And it’s not a secret evil organization like QUANTUM trying to take down MI6 — it’s the British government. Within the agency itself, there is a conflict about leadership, respect, and who has earned the right to it: field agents or desk jockeys.

Careers begin and end in this movie. We finally have a new Q and a Moneypenny, and fresh blood means young blood. However, this Q is no longer just a liaison between the invention staff and the field agent, but an active (though mostly deskbound) participant in the mission. And Ms. Moneypenny is no longer just the desk decoration we’ve always believed her to be, but a former field agent who still has what it takes to be out there.

“Old man.” “Whippersnapper.”

All this makes for a long and complicated game of cat and mouse across the rooftops, on trains and the Underground, through several sets of mostly-forgotten tunnels, and in a frigid Scottish loch. In the end, old age and experience combine to take control of the situation just long enough to win. But there are losses along the way that will impact the Bond movies as a franchise. This is a movie about change, generational change. Torches are passed.

And, oh yes, this sequence was pretty cool, though I did wince every time a Beetle got crushed.

“It’s rather hard to describe, Mum.”