Saying Goodbye With a Crappy Movie

You can’t go home again. It’s a tired expression, but damn it if Netflix doesn’t bring it into relevance with alarming regularity. Case in point:

Something sad but hopeful happened a few weeks back. The world lost the great Leonard Nimoy. He was many things, a poet, director, artist, singer (well, okay) but his most enduring legacy will be the character he developed and perfected, the incredible Mr. Spock. (Spock lives, forever and ever.)

Although perhaps he COULD make up his Vulcan mind...

Although perhaps he COULD make up his Vulcan mind…

So there I was, sad that he was gone, but overjoyed for the human race that the man existed at all, and boy had he lived a great life. Nimoy exemplified The American Dream: the son of Jewish immigrants rises to Hollywood immortality. But I was still selfishly sad. I needed closure. To say my goodbye, it would have been easy to just pull up Wrath of Khan, for obvious reasons. Instead, I decided to go back and feel, as Carol Marcus would say “Young, as when the world was new.” I ran to Netflix and watched a flick I hadn’t seen in its entirety for well over twenty years. The original 1979 Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I remembered it being one of my least favorite episodes of the series, and I also remembered having a bit of buyer’s remorse after seeing the film in the cinema with my mom and brother. We’d had the option of seeing Disney’s The Black Hole and opted for Trek instead. Keep in mind that we kids had already been blown away by Star Wars two summers previous, so it was going to take an awful lot to impress us. I think my brother might have dozed off during STTMP. Maybe it was me. I’m sure someone was snoring. Fast-forward to many years later and Star Trek the Motion Picture’s appearance on one of the cable movie channels. I watched it with a more discerning eye, a little more seasoned. I remember thinking that it wasn’t terrible, but still not great. Plus, I really appreciated the late Persis Khambatta. Mmmm-hmmmm!

"Stand back, Jim. I'm not sure how big this thing gets."

“Stand back, Jim. I’m not sure how big this thing gets.”

So that brings us to now. I hadn’t seen the film all the way through since that cable experience in my early-20’s. I sat through the entire thing on my couch, and…wow, is it bad. I mean, really bad. I’ve heard (but not yet researched) that the original plan was to make a revamped Star Trek television series, but after Star Wars made such mad dough, suddenly every studio wanted a big space epic. As a result, what should’ve been maybe a one-hour TV pilot became over two-hours of…well…mainly the bridge of the Enterprise.

You could literally re-enact 97% of the movie with this one playset.

You could literally re-enact 97% of the movie with this one playset.

Seriously, there’s a long (TOO long) exterior shot as Scotty and Kirk fly out to the newly-overhauled and refitted NCC-1701 and it’s nice, for about forty-five seconds.  Then it’s “Oooo, there’s the old gal! She looks so silvery! And look! They’ve added 1957 Bel Air wings to ‘er!” Afterwards, it’s mainly the bridge and a few corridor shots. And for some reason (perhaps to distance it from the primer-colored uniforms of the original series) they opted for a de-saturated color palette. Everything is grey or shades of flesh-colored fabric. It’s really quite bad. The only saving grace is the incredibly sharp grey-and-white dress uniform that Admiral Kirk wears in his early scenes.

All the poon.  James T. Kirk got ALL the poon.  In the galaxy.  All of it.  There ain't none left.

All the poon. James T. Kirk got ALL the poon. In the galaxy. All of it. There ain’t none left.

Those uni’s were sharp enough to get re-cast in the J.J. Abrams reboots. Classy duds. Especially compared to Kirk’s weird, too-snug, short-sleeved white tunic that looks like it belongs on Mr. Clean or a tropical cabana boy. Bizarre.

"My God, Jim!  He just used the same photo twice in the same blog!"

“My God, Jim! He just used the same photo twice in the same blog!”

But the stuff that really looks cheap are the matte paintings. Gods be good, but I’d swear most of them looked like they’d been borrowed from Forbidden Planet. Don’t get me wrong: Forbidden Planet is one of the all-time great science-fiction films and one of my personal favorites…but Jesus, man. We’d just seen Tatooine and the Death Star. You can’t come at us with eight-color acrylic industrial landscapes and expect us to take you seriously.

Seriously, is this like a Colorforms playset?

Seriously, is this like a Colorforms playset?

But for all the lackluster elements to the damned flick, it did boast a huge check mark in the plus column: that wonderful score, repurposed years later for Star Trek: The Next Generation. A word about that Jerry Goldsmith composition. It really is at its best when they use the largo version, slowed a bit, a more rolling pace. It’s actually a movement entitled “The Enterprise.” It sounds nautical. Grand. Somewhat melancholy. Lovely. (It gets really familiar around 1:37)

Even though TRUE Star Trek fans know that THIS is what we think of when we think of Star Trek movies…James Horner’s brilliant and enduring Wrath of Khan stuff.

Then again, Michael Giacchino’s “Enterprising Young Men” has been also been a smashing success…

(Not to self:  do an entire blog about sci-fi musical scores.)

I guess in closing I’d say that it’s sort of a miracle, to me, that the studio even decided to go ahead with a sequel. It really was a make-or break proposition. When you think about it, STTMP was one of the earliest examples of a Hollywood reboot. New ship, new uniforms, new Klingons, new score. Consider that the production budget was (according to Box Office Mojo) around $35 million dollars. Joss Whedon’s Serenity had a budget of $39 million, and Star Trek Into Darkness cost $185 million…but adjusted for inflation, that first Trek would’ve had a budget of over $112 million dollars. Sort of right in the middle of the big sci-fi epic production costs. So when it earned just shy of twelve million dollars (less than half the cost to produce) on opening weekend, well…I imagine that some folks at Paramount likely shit their collective pants. The good news is that the film went on to earn $85 million, so the studio ended up doubling their money and then some. Thus was a franchise born. And now, here we are 36 years later, in the midst of another cinematic reboot. New cast, new ship, new Klingons.

A new Spock.

You really can’t go home again…but that’s fine. Because its so much fun to wonder what’s out there…thattaway…

Listen, Watch, Read.

Listen.

I wanted to wait until we had the kinks worked out before I told you about my new podcast.  Since that will likely never come to pass, I figure what the hell.  Besides, it’s all in the reflexes.  Long story short, my buddy Joe Schultz has been hankering to do a podcast for a while now.  So he went and bought a bunch of podcasting stuff.  I mean, who knew there were such things?  Not I.  He asked if I’d help.  I agreed.  Now we have one.  It’s called “The Velociraptor Incident” which is an inside joke of sorts related to my termination from my previous radio job.  Don’t worry about it.  Just listen.

Here’s the page link: http://directory.libsyn.com/shows/view/id/thevelociraptorincident wherein you can check out all the episodes.  (And by “all” I mean “both.”  Work in progress, people.)

Or just click on this direct link to the latest episode: http://directory.libsyn.com/episode/index/id/3065768

But wait!  There’s more!  Say you’re a fancy-schmancy iTunes person.  We’ve got you covered, as the podcast is available for free on iTunes here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-velociraptor-incident/id918855698?mt=2

 

So there you go.  I’ll warn you, the language (especially in our rambling, juvenile, self-indulgent first episode) is NSFW at times.  Again, work in progress.  But give ’em a listen when you get a chance.  Thanks.

 

Watch.

I’m always behind on things.  Like, I never watch television when it’s on.  I rarely watch “live” shows.  I always catch them on Hulu or Netflix or, in the past, on DVR.  I have two rambunctious boys who demand a lot of time, there are always sports and school things to take care of, and of course, getting down with the old lady and drinking too much.  It all takes up so much of my precious time.  Plus, I don’t have cable.  So there’s that.

Anyway, the wife and I have been binge watching and catching up on some shows.  We started “Orange is the New Black” and found it to be really good.  Sure, it’s a chick show, but I dig it.  Well done, all around.  If you haven’t seen it, I would describe it as “Private Benjamin Goes to OZ.”  (That’s the Oswald Correctional Facility, not the place with the yellow brick road.)  And of course, we follow The Blacklist on Hulu the night after it airs on NBC.  Basically, it’s like watching DVR’d shows, and that’s nice.

But in the spaces between, we’ve been catching up on shows we missed the first time around. Shows like Fringe.  Yes, everyone tells me that the seasons go downhill sharply after the first couple, much like Dexter, but so far we’re still in honeymoon mode well into season two.  Still freaks me out to see Charlie Conway in X-Files mode instead of triple-deking, but he’s good.  Plus, the J.J. Abrams/Roberto Orci chemistry is strong.  Good stuff.  Speaking of sci-fi geekdom, I also finally started (and have since become obsessed with) Battlestar Galactica.  Holy shit, why didn’t I listen to everyone when this show was first on Sci-Fi?!  And an even better question:  why the hell did Sci-Fi (now SyFy) stop making quality programs and instead opt to shovel shit like Sharknado out of the ol’ television poop-chute?  I’m not even halfway through BSG, yet I have laughed and almost wept so many times…it’s like I don’t want it to end.  I know it will, but I want it to keep going.  I want it to be one of those series that wraps up after eleven years on the air when people are saying “yeah, they ran out of story after season eight.”  Then again, kudos for teling the story and getting out.  I like that, too.  Better than that Hobbit movie bullshit, dragging it out, adding fluff, and basically ruining one of my favorite stories, but hey.  That’s another conversation.  Maybe we’ll cover that on the podcast.

 

Read.

Speaking of The Hobbit, here’s my final observation/recommendation.  You must read the First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie.  My gods, but this is another time when I was late to the party, but now that I’m here I don’t want to leave.  In a nutshell, I’ll say this:  if you enjoy the writing style of George R. R. Martin, you’ll dig Abercrombie.  He uses profanity, in a realistic way.  There are skulls split open and some sickening, bone-crunching moments of gore.  However, in many ways, Abercrombie is a better storyteller than Martin.  The world he creates is less treacherous and back-stabbing than that of Westeros, but the danger and scope are still there.  Like Song of Ice and Fire (or simply Game of Thrones, if you just watch the wonderful HBO series) there’s magic here, and wizardry…but like Westeros, it’s a faded, dull sort of thing.  It’s a sun-bleached poster, or thin, lukewarm coffee.   As one character puts it, magic has “leaked out of the world.”  The rest is swords, spears, armor, and brutality.  The author is obviously part of the new style championed by GRRM, less poetry than Tolkien or Salvatore, but beautiful nonetheless.  (Think “Deadwood” if it were set in the middle ages.)  Abercrombie’s characters use profanity, in a very realistic and often amusing  “shit, shit, SHIT!” sort of way. ” But what really sets this fast-paced, taut little trilogy head and shoulders above the rest are the wonderfully developed characters.  They are so very real, and so very flawed.  And often hilarious.  I literally laughed out loud many times, especially at the dry wit of Sand dan Glokta and the Mal Reynold-ian take on things delivered by Logen Ninefingers.  It’s so wonderful to see these characters grow and change and become something larger, stronger, better.  Most all of them are trying to improve themselves, trying to overcome their mistakes and weaknesses.  Most of them don’t even realize they’re doing so, consciously.  That makes the change even more wonderful.  Several of these living, breathing people think themselves condemned, victims of their own mistakes or selfishness…and some of them are.  But they all keep trying anyway.  That’s heroism.  There are many tragic moments when you say “oh, no…no, please, don’t do it…” as you realize someone is about to backslide. But you read on, hoping they make it.  You keep reading because Joe Abercrombie makes you give a shit about these people and what happens to them in the next paragraph. Chapter.  The next book.  And then it’s all over and you sit back and applaud and wish there were more.  If you love great fantasy/adventure stories, this one is a must-read.

 

That One Guy: Black Hawk Down Edition

I got into a discussion with my boss the other day about the events depicted in the movie “Black Hawk Down.”  We’d been discussing how October 3rd through the 4th marked the twenty-year anniversary of the so-called “Battle of Mogadishu.”  Twenty years.  Mark Bowden’s book, upon which the movie was based, was published in 1999.   Ridley Scott’s incredible movie adaptation hit theaters in December of 2001.

I re-watched the movie on Netflix, and was reminded of what a damn fine piece of filmmaking the thing really is.   It reminds me of the classic 1977 film “A Bridge Too Far.”  That movie (itself an adaptation of a nonfiction book which chronicled the events of the failed Operation: Market-Garden during the Second World War) managed to weave several different storylines together into one wonderfully exciting and heartbreaking narrative.  And it did so with one of the largest casts of movie superstars at the time, including Gene Hackman, Robert Redford, Sean Connery, Anthony Hopkins, etc. without any one of them overshadowing the story.

Speaking of large casts…as I watched Black Hawk Down again, I was struck by the sheer number of people that I had forgotten about; yet there they were, happily running alongside Humvees and such.  I began Tweeting about it and quickly had to Tweet a second time,  a third time, then a fourth.  So I decided to blog it up and put all of the guys that I could recognize in one easy-to-browse location. We’ll begin with the obvious, big-name actors, then the so-called “character” guys who you’ve seen in a million different shows and movies…and then we’ll end up with the “WOW!!  HOLY SHIT!!” guys. (WARNING:  you may wear out your scroll wheel.)

Josh Hartnett, Eversmann

josh hartnettThis dude was supposed to blow up, wasn’t he?  Then he did Pearl Harbor, and…and…

Ewan McGregor, Grimes

wean mcgregorHe mainly made coffee then got knocked down.  I know he’s Obi-Wan now, but to me he’ll always be Mark Renton.

Tom Sizemore, McKnight

tom sizemoreThis was a couple of years before Tom went batshit crazy and did a bunch of drugs and lived with Heidi Fleiss.  Ah, the good ol’ days.

Eric Bana, Hoot

eric banaBefore he was the lamest Bruce Banner ever, he was a Delta hard-ass.  (Also?  My late uncle Myron was nicknamed ‘Hoot’ and he trained soldiers to jump out of airplanes.  Coincidence?)

Orlando Bloom, Blackburn

orlando bloomHe’s become a pretty big star thanks to the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’ franchises, but in this film he basically falls out of a helicopter.

Jeremy Piven, Wolcott

jeremy pivenYes, Ari Gold.  Hug it out, bitches.

Ron Eldard, Durant

ron eldardI’ve always enjoyed Ron’s work, from sitcoms with David Spade to the enjoyable role of Skank Martin in ‘Mystery Alaska’ to the alcoholic dad in ‘Super 8.’  The odd thing is that of all the big names in this movie, one of the most important roles (in my opinion) ends up in his capable hands.  Good stuff

Kim Coates, Wex

kim coatesNowadays we know him as Tig from ‘Sons of Anarchy’ but the dude has 120 credits to his name, according to IMDB.  Yes, you actually HAVE seen him in everything.

Ewen Bremner, Nelson

ewen bremnerSpud.  He will always be Spud.  I wonder whether it was Ewan McGregor, his ‘Trainspotting’ co-star or Josh Hartnett, his ‘Pearl Harbor’ co-star that got him this gig…

Sam Shepard, Garrison

sam shepardA veteran character actor who seems to specialize in authority figures, he’s also an accomplished playwright and stage performer.  But he’ll always be Chuck Yeager to me.  “Hey, Ridley…got any Beeman’s on ya?”

Ioan Gruffudd, Beales

ioan gruffuddYes, Mr. Fantastic.  Also, the “Is anyone out there?” lifeboat guy from Titanic.  In this movie, he has a seizure.  That’s about it, really.

Jason Isaacs, Steele

jason isaacsAlways plays an asshole.  Always.  Hooah?

William Fichtner, Sanderson

william fichtner

Yes, THAT guy.  The blind guy in ‘Contact.’  The shuttle pilot that wanted to shake the hand of the daughter something-something-Bruce Willis-something in ‘Armageddon.’  The guy in the bank at the beginning of ‘The Dark Knight.’  Yeah.  THAT guy.

Glenn Morshower, Matthews

glenn morshowerAlways plays a colonel or something.  Always.  CoD fans will remember him as the voice of the SatCom guy in Modern Warfare II.  He may actually be Jim Gaffigan from the future.

Richard Tyson, Busch

richard tysonThis guy has been a a ton of crap and ‘Kindergarten Cop’ where he played the bad dad.  Also, he’s been in lighter fare like ‘There’s Something About Mary.’  His hair in this particular movie was modeled on a 1977 Luke Skywalker poster or a He-Man action figure.

Gregory Sporleder, Galentine

gregory sporlederA very recognizable dude, he’s been in everything from a Sheryl Crow video to ‘The Rock’ where he appeared as one of the bad guys.

George Harris, Atto

george harrisOne of the few non-soldiers that has a speaking part.  You may remember him as Captain Katanga, the dude that basically SAVES INDY AND MARION RAVENWOOD WHEN NAZIS BOARD HIS SHIP!!!!   Yes, that’s him.  The swarthy tramp steamer captain from ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark.’

Ty Burrell, Wilkinson

ty burrellOkay, now we’re getting weird.  Yes, that’s the guy from ‘Modern Family.’  Think that’s odd?  Keep scrolling…

Brian Van Holt, Struecker

brian van holt

He’s on ‘Cougar town’ now, but he was also in SWAT (the movie) and some other things that mainly chicks would know.

Tom Guiry, Yurek

tom guiryYOU’RE KILLING ME, SMALLS!! Yes, that’s him.  Scotty Smalls from ‘The Sandlot.’  Wait, it gets weirder…

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Gordon

nikolaj coster-waldauJaime. Fucking. Lannister.  And yes, he had great hair even then.

Tom Hardy, Twombly

tom hardyTom Hardy.  ‘Nuff said.

So, who did I miss?  Yeah, I know there are some support people and such.  Maybe I missed one of the villagers or medics.  If so, leave a comment below!  We’ll have to add a whole second page, maybe!  And for shits and giggles, go back and watch this movie again. It’s a great flick, and it’s a lot more fun when you can play ‘spot that one guy!’