Mondays Are For Moaning – Episode 1: The Fan-tom Menace

Dr Who, George Lucas, JJ Abrams, rant, Star Wars, Steven Moffat

So before Christmas I finally got around to watching The Force Awakens and, after months of trying not to get myself too worked up about it, I was super fucking excited. My heart nearly burst out of my chest the second the opening titles started. It was all so familiar and fun. I mean I had some problems with it but, as a whole, it was Star Wars done as we all wanted it to be done. However, I decided not to review the film in my traditional way. The problem with picking something like this apart is that you run the risk of ruining it. So what does it matter that there are narrative issues and underdeveloped characters? It didn’t ruin my overall enjoyment. The film didn’t need to be best ever film: it just needed to be a better Star Wars film than Attack of the Clones. It was. It isn’t perfect but, we have to be honest, neither are the originals… even before Lucas edited them again. The deeper you look at something the more problems you find and that’s okay. Some films don’t need to be flawless to be great. If you came out of the cinema feeling like a kid again then Abrams did his job brilliantly.

The problem with something like Star Wars is the pressure that the fanbase put upon everything. It is a series that has, quite rightly, meant a great deal to a fuckload of people. So much so that they start to mistakenly believe they are the rightful owners of the franchise. That they have final say over decisions made to the series. We, the fans, don’t own shit. George Lucas recently gave an interview on Charlie Rose. A lot has been made of his “white slavers” comment which has meant most of the sentiment has been ignored. Yes, Lucas was a fucking idiot to compare selling his company to Disney with selling his “children… to the white slavers” but the underlying emotions got me thinking. In fact, it left me feeling a little bit sorry for the director I’ve bemoaned so many times of the years.

We all know that Lucas has faced a lot of criticism because of the underwhelming prequels but what has been forgotten in all of this is that Lucas has as much riding on those films as the rest of us. The franchise is like his child and he has spent such a large portion of his life developing it and watching it grow. Just like any other excited parent, Lucas loved his child in a way that only a parent could and had specific ideas about what he wanted it to be when it grew up. Whilst fans wanted the new films to taken them back to their childhood, George wanted them to move people forwards. Deep down, he’s an artist (of sorts). He wanted to push the boundaries and experiment with technology.

Now imagine, for a second, that you’ve spent such a large amount of time creating a piece of art that you love with only to be turned into a demon. As hard as it might be to imagine, Lucas wasn’t making Star Wars for the fans or at least he wasn’t just making it for the fans. He wanted to tell a story and he wanted to do it in his way. The fact that other people liked it too was just an added extra. That’s why he hasn’t seemed to give a shit about fan opinion in the last few years and why he won’t release a Blu Ray version of the theatrical release of the original trilogies. Whether we like it or not, the way Star Wars was before Episode VII was exactly the way George Lucas wanted it to be and he’s in charge. If other people don’t like your parenting style are you really going to turn around and say “oh yes you’re right. I am a shit father. Let me do things your way”? Fuck no,

So imagine again, that you’ve spent time and money nurturing your child, give it up for adoption and find that the new parent is much better at it than you are. Now maybe it’s just me but I feel bad for George Lucas. He was trying to perfect Star Wars and keep it fresh and new. Whenever a new technology came around he got overexcited and wanted to play with it. We can all understand that. Parents are forever showering their little bundles of joy with fucking new toys and clothes and shit. He thought he was doing the right thing. He was following his instincts as an artist, which you have to give him some respect for.

So, JJ Abrams and Disney comes along and take the franchise back to the beginning. Good news for the fans but stab in the heart to the man who was trying to keep it modern. There has been fan backing for this as soon as Abrams was announced to direct and Lucas has had to keep jovial and happy throughout it all. I mean, essentially, all it took for the fans to love the film was a few references to the original, a few new (real) faces and a retro filter. To keep flogging this dead horse of an analogy, it’s like a father telling their child to study programming instead of art because that’s where there’s more security. Then, years later, the father has to look on as his artist child is beloved by everyone and he looks like a fucking fool.

I guess what I’m saying is, George Lucas is King Lear. He’s made all the wrong decision but he was doing it for the right reasons. He was blind to what really mattered. Although, so were the fans. With fandoms becoming so much stronger and crazier these days, it’s hard to remember that we’re not in charge. Yes, films need fans to make money so our opinion matters. However, just because we pay for a cinema ticket or watch a series doesn’t mean we should have ultimate creative control. Now if you’ve read enough of my rants you’ll be ready to accuse me of being hypocritical. You’d be right. I’ve spent enough time ranting about how Steven Moffat has ruined Doctor Who with his awful plot lines and characters. I stick by my opinion on a personal level. It’s not the way I’d have it. However, I have to try and be understanding from a creative level.

I’m not such a terrible person that I can’t see the good in something I don’t like. Just look at my justification for the prequels if you don’t believe me. I still respect Doctor Who and Sherlock as being well-made television series with great moments. Yes, I’m a melodramatic twat sometimes but, deep down, I understand that Moffat hasn’t ruined Doctor Who at all. He’s ruined my vision for what Doctor Who should be but the show remains in tact. Similarly, I really love less than half of the episodes in Sherlock’s history but I still see that it is a beautifully crafted show. I still respect it; I just don’t like it all the time. Ultimately, I’m just one fan and nobody gives a shit about my views.

Fans have been demanding too much of their creators for fucking ages. I mean Arthur Conan Doyle was sick of his great detective so killed the fucker off. He was forced to bring him back from the dead thanks to the endless petitions from his fans. Forcing a man to continue writing a character he resented? Am I the only one who sees that as fucking selfish? Then we have the modern example of George RR Martin. The poor man was writing a series of books for a dedicated group of fans before HBO came along. Then the fandom exploded. Instead of his loyal fans who were willing to wait 5 years between books, Martin was now faced with impatient TV fans who wanted the writer to hurry the fuck up. Give the guy a fucking break. He wants everything to be perfect but that’s not good enough for his so-called fans.

We all just need to calm the fuck down. You’re a fan. We are being given something wonderful by hard-working and creative people. They have their vision and it doesn’t alway fit in with ours. That’s okay. It doesn’t mean your childhood is ruined. It just means life sometimes sucks. Get over it. The next time you’re about to tell someone how much better The Force Awakens is compared to the prequels, think about George Lucas. Think about him staggering around on a misty moor going slowly mad. Think about what he once gave you and give him some fucking credit for a change. If Star Wars really means that much to you then you owe George Lucas a lot more than you’re giving him now.

Star Wars: The Trailer Awakens

can't wait, fucking beautiful, Harrison Ford, JJ Abrams, review, space, Star Wars, trailer
The last week has been fucking exhausting. Not only am I still trying to get to grips with my new job, keep up with my new schedule here and getting obsessed with Minecraft all over again, but we have a fucking huge onslaught of great trailers to get through. I’ve already mentioned that 2015 has been a quiet reading year so far but I also can’t remember the last time I went to the cinema. I’m starting to regret all those years that I’ve defended video games: having a console once again is royally fucking up my life. Thankfully, there is a shitload of great films coming this year: Age of Ultronis only days away and then we have a constant stream of potentially great films to look forward to. Something the trailers released in the last 7 days have only proved.

The most squeal-tastic trailer moment obviously came from the secondteaser for JJ Abrams The Force Awakens. This gave fans an even greater look at the new take on this much loved franchise and, for the most part, put paid to any people out there still doubting Abrams’ suitability for the task. It’s a bloody awesome trailer packed full of great imagery to get your juices flowing. Nothing I have watched in film recently comes anywhere near the sheer wonderment of seeing the wrecks of an X-wing and a Star Destroyer in the middle of a desert planet. Then, just when you think nothing could give you chills quite like the first look at the Millennium Falcon in the first teaser, along comes Harrison fucking Ford in the flesh.
There is a lot to discuss in the 1.49 minute long trailer and greater people than myself have taken the time to do so. For my part, I’m just fucking thrilled. This is the Star Warswe know and love; the Star Warsthat existed well before George Lucas fell in love with CGI and nearly fucked everything up. I’m also thrilled to see a complete lack of the classic Abrams lens flare… at least for now. Abrams himself has stated that the film has been made in such a way that it still makes sense without the effects. Now I enjoyed some fucking great books last year but that is hands up the most beautiful thing I’ve ever read.
For me, the trailer just proves what I’ve been saying ever since the director of Episode 7 was announced: JJ Abrams is going to fucking kill it. There is excitement, action and all the familiar faces you need. It’s less of a deep studying into galactic politics and back into the safer waters of a Western/space adventure. Everything looks awesome and new. The updated Stormtroopers and the Tie fighter pilots look so fucking cool and then we have the supremely badass looking Chrome Trooper. The symbol of the Empire itself is slightly different and everything is all that little bit more red. It’s all so familiar but also new and exciting.
With the release of some character names we now know that the shadowy figure with the three pronged lightsabre is Kylo Ren. Even though I’m still heartbroken that it wasn’t a hooded Gwendoline Christie that we saw in the first teaser (it seriously looked like such a Brienne walk), we have a new Sith Lord that’s even cooler than Darth Maul. (Whatever you guys think of the prequels, you have to admit Maul was outstanding.) I love his mask and am even happier with the weird lightsabre.
Speaking of lightsabres, isn’t that Anakin Skywalker’s lightsabre that we see being handed to that woman we assume is Leia? But didn’t Luke lose that on Bespin? Dun dun duh. This raises so many wonderfully exciting questions. We still don’t know who anyone is, with the exception of a couple of names, or where anyone is. Although we have a bit more information now: Oscar Isaac is the expert flyer, Poe Dameron; John Boyega as the Stormtrooper Finn; and Daisy Ridley as Rey (who I can imagine turning out to the be the offspring of someone super important what with her single name status). We have a longer look at the new, not Tatooine, planet Jaku as well as glimpses of a snowy planet, a jungley planet and a potentially flamey planet. It’s still all so mysterious.
There have been a lot of crazy theories released by fans since this trailer was released. One of the strongest comes from the use of Luke’s speech from Return of the Jediand the image of Darth Vader’s melted helmet. The voiceover can be heard saying “my father has it” and the fans have been going wild imagining that Vader is not dead or that whoever saved his burning helmet has decided to clone him or bring him back to life. Not only am I extremely doubtful but I’m also fucking hopeful this hasn’t happened. I’m OK with an older and wrinklier Harrison Ford but I couldn’t cope with an aging Vader.
However, the image of his helmet is surely one of the strongest images you could hope for in this trailer. It seems like a symbol used solely for the trailer but we still have to ask ‘who the fuck would keep it for so long?’ When you really think about it, this teaser is fucking perfect. We see little bits to get us hooked without ever being told a damn thing. The helmet, the wreckage, Luke’s robot hand reaching out to R2-D2, a TIE fighter chasing Finn and Rey, and the fucking Millennium Falcon flying into the exhaust of an Imperial Cruiser. These are the scenes we’ve been waiting for since George Lucas announced the release of the prequels. To quote Han Solo for a moment, “Chewie, we’re home.”

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Pine, JJ Abrams, review, sci-fi, sequel, Simon Pegg, space, Star Trek

I set out a promise to you, dear readers, before I continue: I promise I will try as hard as I can to make sure this doesn’t just descend into my ramblings concerning the attractiveness of Benedict Cumberbatch. It’ll be hard. He is one of the most beautiful men I’ve ever seen and his voice should come with some sort of parental guidance. Seriously this film should have been rated a 15 just because of how erotic all of his lines sound. Not since the days of Jack Bauer has someone sounded quite so sexy whilst threatening to kill a bunch of people. But here I am falling into the same old trap.

Back in 2009 JJ Abrams rebooted the Star Trek franchise by rewriting history to allow a wider range of people to embrace a dwindling franchise. Abrams famously admitted to not being a fan of Star Trek and set out to make a film that would appeal to people like him whilst hopefully not alienating the loyal fans. It was a Star Trek film made as a Star Wars film and the whole thing was considered to be a major success. The decision to start a clean slate by rewriting such familiar character histories allowed Abrams to do what he wanted with the franchise whilst still leaving the classic television show in tact. It was a brilliant decision and for the past four years cinema goers have been eagerly awaiting the follow-up.

Into Darkness picks up shortly after Star Trek left off with Kirk (Chris Pine) and friends exploring the depths of space in his very own ship. We catch up with them mid-adventure with Kirk and Dr Bones McCoy (Karl Urban) sprinting through an alien wilderness to escape an angry extraterrestrial mob. We quickly learn that this is all just a huge distraction whilst Spock (Zachary Quinto) works to calm down an active volcano. To be honest, I could have done without this opening piece as, really, it adds little to the overall story and seems to drag everything out a bit. (Also, the idea that the Enterprise could survive hidden underwater for a few days seems a bit far-fetched to me but there we are.) Although, it allows Quinto the opportunity to shine once again as Spock. The actor continues to get better in the role and his inner-wrangling between his two halves is a great thing to watch as he finds himself getting deeper into two personal relationships. The most important and loving of the two is between Spock and his Captain and as we pick up the story we find ourselves in full bromance mode. The pair continue to play off each other very well and it’s a double act I’m looking forward to seeing more of in the future.

It is the conflict between the two men that creates the supposed need for the opening gambit as it’s major purpose is to remind the audience that Spock is all about the prime directive and favours the needs of the many over the few. Of course, Kirk being Kirk the crew manage to go against the all important Prime Directive and makes their presence known to the simplistic lifeforms inhabiting the planet. Inevitably this doesn’t sit well with the important people back at Star Fleet and Kirk has his ship taken away from him before being made First Officer to a returning Admiral Pike. That is until a disgruntled ex-employee John Harrison vows vengeance against The Federation by blowing up one of their secret bunkers in London, with the help of Dr Who’s lovable Mickey Smith (also known as talented actor and film-maker Noel Clarke). Kirk is called back into play after promising Admiral Marcus that he will hunt down and capture the deadly Harrison.

Benedict Cumberbatch gives another stand-out performance as Harrison. He plays the character with a chilling intensity but doesn’t make the mistake of taking him into ridiculous super villain territory. He humanises Kirk’s deadly foe to the extent that it often becomes difficult to separate him from the the supposed good guys who are out to stop him. I won’t go into massive spoiler territory (as my personal cinema experience was slightly marred after IMDB revealed the true name of his character before I’d seen the film) but he brings about a great new insight into one of the most infamous Star Trek foes (OK maybe that was a bit too obvious but the film has been out a while and I doubt any of my two (at best) readers are coming to me for advice on whether or not they should see a film). Cumberbatch really is one of the greatest actors around and will no doubt go down in history as one of the most devilish villains in the history of the franchise. The decision to cast him in the role may now be creating some controversy with some critics but based solely on performance, Harrison is a complete success and I can’t imagine any other actor playing him with the same balance of drama, humanity and light-heartedness. And he’s pretty easy on the eye… don’t know if I’ve mentioned it yet.

The scenes between Harrison and Chris Pine’s Kirk are wonderful as the pair face-off in an increasingly dramatic fashion. Pine has nowhere near the level of acting talent that Cumberbatch possesses but it is this fact that makes these scene all the more effective. Harrison is a deadly enemy, a super-soldier, and Pine manages to make his own shortcomings highlight his foe’s clear head-start. Kirk is left floundering in front of his superior enemy just as Pine is left to try and catch-up to Cumberbatches superior performance. It leaves Kirk seeming vulnerable but determined to come out on top.

It is a welcome consequence that also adds greater depth to the moments shared between Pine and Bruce Greenwood’s Captain Pike. The difference between the pair as actors only makes the father-son style relationship all the greater on screen. What Pine does bring to the role is an unending energy and ability to make all of the outlandish situations and slapdash narrative stick together. He appears to have absolute faith in what he is doing which makes it easier to accept some of the looser aspects of the plot.

That would have to be my major criticism of the new Star Trek. It just isn’t as slick as Abrams’ first outing and it doesn’t fit together as easily. There is a tension between Abrams slick production and the film’s thin and, at times, haphazard script. Into Darkness offers amazing visual episodes, moments of documentary style camera work and references to modern day terrorism. It is a triumph of modern film-making but this story just seems quite childish and sloppy. Rules don’t seem to matter in this world and there are no real consequences. Like a childhood game where you’re all just making it up as you go along, Into Darkness changes the importance of certain ideas as and when it feels like it. For all of Spock’s banging on about the Prime Directive there appear to be no consequences when the crew of the Enterprise consistently fail to abide by it. Kirk loses captaincy of his ship for all of 2 hours before he’s back in the hot-seat.

The main writing technique seems to be if it doesn’t make sense just add another fanboy reference in there to keep the audience happy. ‘Wait why the hell has that been allowed to happen… ooh look a Tribble!’ On the one hand I appreciated these little references to the Original Series and delighted in hearing talk of the neutral zone and Harry Mudd. On the other, it’s the Steven Moffat thing all over again. If you don’t have the substance to keep an audience happy why not just treat them like dribbling morons and wave shiny/familiar objects in front of their face? If Star Trek was about introducing a new generation of Roddenberry’s franchise then Into Darkness is about celebrating it. We have more great performances from the lead characters: something like a mix between an impression and a re imagining of old friends. All of the key players are there doing what they need to do to make this a successful Star Trek film. We delight at seeing Chekov (Anton Yelchin) panicking in his ‘can’t believe it’s real’ Russian accent and shiver when Sulu (John Cho) shows off his dark side whilst taking temporary command of the ship. Karl Urban continues to provide great laughs (and a great impression) as Bones and is not only one of my favourite characters but provides some of the most memorably one-liners. Who would be happy to call it a Star Trek film if Dr McCoy never said “Damn it man, I’m a Doctor, not a *insert occupation here*.” I can’t say I’m a massive fan of Simon Pegg’s Scotty and I do find his pretty dire Scottish accent grating but there can be no denying that he provides humour and, in this film at least, drama and emotion. All of the necessary ingredients are there but I still can’t help but feel the final meal is lacking some seasoning. It’s just not quite as good as it could be.

That’s not to say that there isn’t enough to keep you entertained and Abrams’ set action pieces continue to be amazing. There is nothing quite as intense as the arrival of Nero’s ship in the the previous outing but there are some great space-based sequences that will surely keep fans of the show and the new films entertained. The film’s world of the future is, as far as this can be true in 2013, a realistic one. Gone are the clichéd visions of the future from pre-1980s sci-fi. Instead we have a world that you could genuinely see existing; a world where the Federation live and try to keep Earth safe. It’s a joy to watch and it makes the connection between Harrison’s acts of violence and the modern world all the more obvious. This is a genuine look at terrorism and the hidden dangers that could be facing us every day. Our greatest fear nowadays isn’t the big, well-known foe but those hidden amongst us. The potential violence and hatred that lives within humanity. In any other setting this idea would have been lost in a haze of space kitsch. It speaks to a modern audience is a way that the Original Series spoke to the audience of the 60s. Abrams may not be a fan of the show but he is certainly keeping alive its ideals.

Finally, there has been a lot said already about the female representation in the latest Star Trek film but that’s not going to stop me throwing my own thoughts into the ring. In the first film we were introduced to Uhura (Zoe Saldana) as the romantic interest that comes between Kirk and Spock. Yes she can speak a few alien languages but she didn’t exactly make much of an impact. To be fair to Abram and writers Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof, the Enterprise’s major female presence does have a bit more to do in the latest instalment but there is still an apparent lack of kick-ass women in Star Fleet. The main argument I can see in favour of Uhura is that she has two moments of bravery and action (yes that’s right two whole short pieces in a film that lasts over 2 hours.) I can’t deny that she does has her moments of kick-assery as we see her face up to the Klingons with steely determination and she plays an important role in bringing down a deadly enemy during the final showdown. However, that still doesn’t seem enough to me. For the most part, she is present in the film as Spock’s girlfriend (and even then she is secondary to the all important bromance) and primarily to remind us of the separation between his Vulcan and human heritage. It’s just not good enough.

Especially when her only other female member of staff is Alice Eve’s Dr Carol Marcus who spends half of the time getting herself into sticky situations so a big brave man can save her and the other half being the sexy (and preferably half-naked) romantic interest for Kirk. There was a great deal of potential for Dr Marcus to be an intelligent and influential character in the plot but it just falls down to another example of an objectified damsel in distress. Alice Eve does a great job with the material she’s been given but there is only so much anyone can do with a character who spends her screen time being helpless and alluring. I’m not trying to preach about the sexualisation of women (and indeed men) in cinema and Star Trek in particular (especially when you consider that I started this review by salivating over the gorgeous Benedict Cumberbatch) but it would be a lot easier to take the unnecessary underwear scene if Marcus was shown to be something more than a hot bod. The argument that Kirk was shown in his underwear and that Harrison was supposed to be shown in a state of undress does nothing to diminish the argument either. It’s not so much about the nakedness but about the lack of depth. Both Kirk and Harrison prove themselves to be more than just a piece of eye-candy by the subsequent actions within the plot so these more sexual scenes are less prominent. Ask anyone what Alice Eve did in the new Star Trek film and I guarantee most people would tell you she got undressed.

This character would be easier to handle if there were a few more important female characters. Look at all of the scenes that take place at Star Fleet headquarters. Were there any senior female officers present during any of the key meetings? I certainly didn’t see any. Are we really meant to believe that a society that has started exploring space is so backwards in their ideas of gender equality that there are only about three females employed in the entire Federation? Although, we have gone from having one key female in the first film to two in the second. Maybe by the time Abrams’ 6th film comes out we’ll either have a plethora of women parading around in their underwear or, hopefully, just one strong and useful one?

(While I’m at it, I’d like to point out that arguing in defense of the undressing scene because the ladies from the 1960s show were sexy is the biggest load of bullshit imaginable. Times have changed so to say that something that was allowed in the 60s should be OK now is unbelievable. Star Trek can and perhaps should be sexy but we have to make sure that the female characters represent the sense of equality that society is now supposed to be supporting. Women can and are as useful and important as men and our biggest cinema franchises should share that view. What kind of message are the film-makers giving its primarily young audience with one-dimensional characters like Dr Marcus? Just think of the children. Won’t somebody please think of the children?!)

So, in closing, it’s not quite the Star Trek film we were all expecting but it’s good enough. Cumberbatch’s Harrison is a more than great follow-up to Eric Bana’s Nero and manages to take us into new territory by often forgoing the brute force tactics favoured by the angry Romulan and instead playing mind-games with his victims. He’s a deadly mix of strength and cunning like a terrifying amalgamation of Batman’s two greatest enemies Bane and The Joker… but with a much nicer face. There is enough to keep us all happy but it does seem slower and less slick than the original. Abrams’ first film was a game-changer and it is no wonder people left the cinema in wonder. This just feels a little flat next to its older brother. Nothing terrible of course. It’ll still beat most of the original films for sheer enjoyment and quality but we’ve come to expect something now. It’s better to not think of this as a sequel but merely a CV for Abrams next big science-fiction challenge. If Into Darkness tells us anything, it’s that Star Wars Episode 7 is going to be epic.