Blockbuster geeky movies

So about two weeks ago I saw the new Star Trek movie (at McMenamins Old St. Francis School, in their second-run theater), and this weekend I saw Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (also at McMenamins). I really liked both of them—Star Trek in particular was fully redeemed for me after I had some serious doubts about it—and it occurred to me, as I started to write this up, that both of these movies are in the top five highest-grossing 2009 movies in the U.S. (Transformers, #1, and Star Trek, #5) and both are intrinsically geek movies.

Is that a great thing or what?

Naturally I have some thoughts about each movie, but in case of spoilers you’ll have to click through to read them. You’ve been warned.

Keep reading

Star Trek

My initial worries of J.J. Abrams and company crapping all over the Star Trek universe were happily unfounded. I’m definitely geeky enough to have a thing about canon and continuity issues with (science) fiction—and with Star Trek in particular—so when I’d heard early on that they were "rebooting Star Trek" I was rather indignant.

Not with the concept of a prequel, though—I was fine with that. It was the idea that they were reinventing Star Trek to somehow make it "better" that was a sore point (for many fans as well), from what I’d seen online.

Forget all that. The movie was great, and they were completely respectful of the original concept and series and even tied it in with overall Trek continuity. At the same time, by creating an alternate timeline, they have for all intents and purposes rebooted the Star Trek universe—creating a completely open playground for them to explore. (Read: sequels!)

Here’s a thought, though: in every other Star Trek time travel story, much of the plot revolves around restoring the timeline and fixing any damage done. There’s none of that going on here, which is a bit puzzling—especially with the future Spock on hand. Wouldn’t he be seeking a way to repair the damage, rather than just accepting the alternate reality and moving on?

(On a more philosophical level, it’s always interesting to note that the heroes are always interested in fixing the past when something goes wrong, but they never seem to care in the least about the future—even though a bunch of the stories involve time travelers from the future. Are the people/timelines of the future that are affected by their present actions less important than those of the past?)

I was very surprised that they actually followed through with the destruction of Vulcan. That’s some kind of crazy stuff, right there. But then, they also rolled the destruction of Romulus into the "proper", canonical timeline, which is a big change also—although I think the way they did that was overly contrived. A supernova destroying a planet before they could stop it? Unless it was the Romulan homeworld’s own sun that exploded (it was not), they would have had years to prevent that from happening—well, you know, if it wasn’t science [space] fiction [opera]…

The characters were right on (especially Kirk, Spock, and McCoy) and I’m even converted on the redesign of the Enterprise.

I have to say, though, that the "red matter" of which a single drop can create a star-and-planet-killing black hole is possibly the worst Treknobabble deus ex machina from any Star Trek series or movie. (Okay, except for maybe the crap from "Spock’s Brain".)

And it’s stretching coincidence a bit too thin to have Kirk marooned not only on the same planet as Future Spock, but within a few miles of him. That’s an amateur mistake, right there. No, I haven’t come up with a better solution (yet), why do you ask?

Okay, enough nitpicking. It was really good. I’m sold.

Transformers

Two and a half hours of giant robots kicking the shit out of each other; what’s not to like? I know Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen got critically panned in a big way, but really, it’s like the first movie: you have Michael Bay directing a movie based on a toy line. One that involves giant warring robots that transform into fast cars and shiny toys. What were you possibly expecting on a film critic level?

So yeah, I loved the movie, just as I loved the first one. But let’s make it clear: it’s a ridiculous movie, for all the reasons I just outlined in the paragraph above. You have to know that going in. But I grew up on Transformers, both the cartoon and the toys, so I’m already geared for a certain amount of ridiculousness; and I think there’s a large segment of people that feel the same way about Transformers, which is why, despite the critics, it’s the number one grossing movie this year.

Moving on…

Optimus Prime was just way more badass in this movie, which was a little surprising—I mean, hunting down and killing Decepticons? That’s pretty hardcore. And his fighting skills have noticeably improved since the last movie, where he was being put through the pacing just fighting Megatron—this time around, he takes on Megatron, Starscream, and Grindor at once, smack-talks all of them, and (nearly) cleans house.

I’m bugged by how easy it was to revive Megatron. The whole point of dropping his body into the Laurentian Abyss (which the writers screwed up) was that the intense pressure and cold temperature would keep him incapacitated. The whole "cold temperature" thing was a major point of the first movie—freezing cold incapacitates Transformers. (Never mind how they survive the near absolute-zero cold of space…)

So not only should they not have been able to revive Megatron, but the Decepticons that went to the bottom of the Abyss to do so should have been frozen up too!

Yeah, yeah, "Gotta have Megatron for a Transformers movie!" Couldn’t they instead have had a salvage ship Decepticon trawl the trench for Megatron’s body and pull it up?

I got a big kick out of the idea that Transformers have been on Earth for a long time… particularly when Simmons was showing various old photographs of them—one of which was a Model T. That’s getting all steampunk, right there—what would even earlier-era Transformers change into as their alternate modes? Locomotive… Ironclad (which would be a good name, too)… Bi-plane… Chariot… Printing press…

It was a nice segue into the Jetfire bit of the movie, which was a nice bit of nostalgia for the cartoon, if a bit slapsticky. Do you really need a big robot acting geriatric? That makes about as much sense as having gender-specific robots. Oh well.

Bottom line—it’s a lot of fun, and I’d see it again. (I’d like to own both movies on Blu-Ray, actually.)

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