Saturday, June 20, 2009

To Boldly Go (Up) Where No Man Has Gone (Up) Before...

Thus far, Nicky's and my Summer movie-going has been limited to Up and Star Trek. I wanted to like each of them more than I did -- honest -- but IMHO, they fell just a bit short of true greatness, especially the latter.

The rave reviews for Up had me primed for a true classic, something on the order of the Toy Story movies or The Incredibles. After the opening table-setting sequence, the hosannas seemed justified. Karl Frederickson's backstory was handled brilliantly and with exquisite taste (name me another animated product that deals with infertility!) and I felt myself welling up at the end. Then Karl's house headed for the skies and... I didn't need the tissues anymore. The villain and his "problem" were predictable, the supporting characters were uninteresting -- though the eventual bonding between Karl and Russell was nice to see, Russell became seriously annoying at times -- and, worst of all, the writers copped out and allowed Karl to act as something close to a conventional action-adventure hero in the end. True, they got a few gags out of the fact that he and Muntz could barely move during their "duel to the death," but Karl received so many other bumps, bruises, contusions, and so forth that his broken-bone count at picture's end should have been several dozen, at least. I think that it would have been better (though more challenging to write) had Karl been forced to rely entirely on his wits and leave whatever derring-do was required to Russell, who, while clumsy, was certainly in better shape to handle it. It was still an enjoyable movie, but the superb character dynamics of the aforementioned Pixar classics simply weren't present.
Up had at least one big advantage over Star Trek -- its plot was easily discernible. (Too easily, in fact, with a few draggy spots included.) The "reboot" of Kirk, Spock, and company lost me with the confusing time-travel business. They should simply have told the "fanboys" to take a long walk off a short pier (or the starship's equivalent thereof) and not bothered with trying to tie the new origin back to the original series. The most fanatical of the purists were bound and determined to hate the whole idea of a "redo" anyway, so why try to finesse the issue? If J.J. Abrams' goal was to keep the original characters and their version of the Trek franchise alive, then he certainly accomplished that goal. He did so, however, at the price of turning Star Trek into just another noisy, SFX-clogged sci-fi epic of the Iron Man, Transformers, or X-Men variety. To me, the simplicity of the original series -- a straightforwardness that was, for the most part, honored in the lengthy procession of movies trailing in the wake of Star Trek: The Motion Picture -- is the true essence of Star Trek. It's unfortunate that the inevitable sequels of this movie will almost certainly be moving further and further away from that ideal.

Next up on the cinematic firing line: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in mid-July.

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