So, the two big movies I was anticipating for the blockbuster summer season were, not surprisingly, two scifi flicks - sequels to legendary franchises - "Star Trek" and "Terminator". I was stoked, just stoked about seeing them, and had the highest of expectations based on trailers and early reviews of the former. Unfortunately, after actually seeing these films, I'm completely disappointed with both of them, and have decided to throw my hands up at any later installments of either one. The reason for this disappointment? It appears that Hollywood - writers, directors, etc. are continuing their slide down the cultural ladder by pandering more and more to the lowest common denominator in entertainment - sex and violence! No big surprise there, right? But what is so disappointing is that it is just getting worse and worse. Yes, these are films, they are "entertainment": but when did entertaining and thought provoking becomes mutually exclusive. Scifi, specifically has always been a intellectually stimulating area - a means for considering what the future of our race and our planet holds; asking ourselves where the dangers of current or past political ideologies may lead ("1984"). It's not just about aliens and spaceships for the sake of aliens and spaceships. These characters from other galaxies, or the humans that are seeing earth from lightyears away ¬ask us to view the problems of life on this planet from a broader perspective.
Star Trek in its best years (in my opinion, "The Original Series"), was ultimately, a message show. The episodes ended with some statement or question about our condition or role as members of the human race. SPOILERS AHEAD In "City on the Edge of Forever", for example, the audience is asked to consider the limitations of nonviolent resistance. In "Errand of Mercy", the Organians present an ideal or pinnacle of human evolution - incorporeal beings, "pure energy"; as Spock says, beings who are "as far above us, as we are above the amoeba." They are the dream of what we could be if we survive long enough to evolve into that - tolerating the machinations of less enlightened species with detachment and interfering only when necessary to prevent bloodshed. Some critics have decried Star Trek (The Original Series and The Next Generation) as oversimplified or too black and white, lacking consideration of the complexities of the moral dilemmas dealt with on the show. I admit the show fails to delve into the difficulties and subtleties of the characters' situations and decision making. The outcomes are a little predictable, but an oversimplified message is better than none at all, and the show always gave us message. Gene Rodenberry and Rod Serling (Twilight Zone) were men of vision and heart. They were conscious of and sensitive to politics and the human experience. They thought about what was right, about what was important and they and the other scifi writers who worked on the shows, shared these sentiments with the world, in a format that enlightened while entertaining.
The hope for humanity that Rodenberry put forth in his series spilled into his interviews. One exchange in particular expresses Rodenberry's vision for the loss of the superficial (a hope I assume many of us would also share). When an interviewer brought up Captain Picard's baldness, asking "Surely they would have cured baldness by the 24th century", Rodenberry responded, "In the 24th century, they wouldn't care." This theme is one which that other great television scifi pioneer (Serling) also dealt with in "The Eye of the Beholder" and "Number 12 Looks Just Like You".
In the new Star Trek film, the pandering to the lowest common denominator resulted most prominently in the distortion of the character of Mr. Spock. Spock making out with Uhura?! Spock actually being receptive/responsive to her display of interest?! I haven't seen him this worked up since Panfar! And even then, the only reason he went to Vulcan for the mating ritual is because he was going to DIE if he didn't! Spock was not written to be an impulsive, emotional character, and I'm stating the obvious when I say that. He's a VULCAN! They're logical and emotionally restrained! He was meant in part to operate as a foil to the impulsive Captain Kirk. This dichotomy and consequent clash of ideas offers the viewer two extremes between which he/she can determine the appropriate meaning of the characters' situations and responses. This technique was also used to great effect in the X-Files, where Skully's scientific interpretations of the cases allowed the viewer a means by which to critique and temper Mulder's paranormal theories. Similarly, Mulder's passion to find truths and realities beyond the reach of modern science made the viewer, and sometimes even Skully, "want to believe".
Back to Star Trek, however, Kirk is the one who is supposed to be throwing fistacuffs and banging alien "women", NOT Spock! But I guess the film makers thought Spock couldn't be marketed to the latest generation of moviegoers unless he was kicking ass and taking names. Leonard Nimoy, in helping shape Mr. Spock, stayed committed to the character's logical nature, thus giving us the Vulcan nerve pinch. According to various documentaries on the series, the script in which the nerve pinch first appeared, originally had Spock punching another character. Nimoy, to his great credit, thought this move was contrary to his character and came up with the far less violent nerve pinch to disable a character who needed to be K.O.'ed. We've lost the dichotomy that Rodenberry originally intended, and instead are left with two Kirks, and no Vulcan to give us the "logical" perspective on the crew's dilemmas and Kirk's more human responses.
Although, the new Star Trek didn't contain any gratuitous sex scenes, Spock and Uhura's lack of control is indicative of a general absence of restraint in this area in "art" or popular culture. There has been over the years, a departure from subtlety and a move towards the gratuitous, from the thoughtful to the sensational. One recent film contained both approaches, and the former I thought was far more effective in giving perspective on the characters' relationship than the latter. In Atonement, the greatest expression of Robbie's and Cecilia's feeling for eachother, I felt, wasn't conveyed in the graphic intercourse scene in the library, but rather over their ackward and silent coffee together, later in the film. Knightley is a good actress and Mcavoy is great. Their characters are reuniting after Robbie has been in prison for four years, and is about to be deployed to war. They are unsure of what the other feels, and consequently uncertain of what to say or do. Their nervous glances and gestures are filled with longing and painful hesitancy. These subtle movements speak volumes about their internal turmoil, and touch the viewer in a far deeper way than a blatant display of fornication.
When social norms disallowed overt references to sex, we had Wuthering Heights, instead of Here on Earth, 'Heights' modern day purported homage - a trashy romance novel parading as literature via Oprah's Book Club stamp of approval. Wuthering Heights is of course, a literary classic, that leaves the reader filled with questions: about the narrative perspective - how is Nelly's narration distorted, and how does Mr. Lockwood's narration operate between Nelly and the reader; the relationships between all the characters - what does it indicate about the Hindley and Heathcliff relationship that Mr. Earnshaw said "Hindley was nought, and would never thrive as where he wandered"; and of course the source of the principal characters' immeasurable feelings. Here on Earth, on the other hand, left people talking about the sex scene in the kitchen.
The romantic storyline in Star Trek not only diminished Mr. Spock's character, but also debases the character of Uhura. Uhura is an accomplished woman who, in TOS, commands respect. In the new movie, however, she is immediately portrayed as a sexual object by a leering Kirk, hitting on her in a bar. This role is further perpetuated by her advances on Mr. Spock. In TOS, Uhura doesn't go around hitting on other crew members. We see her working. She has a job. An important one. She's the Enterprise's communications officer. Her skills are pivotal in helping the crew communicate with the intelligent life forms they encounter. Besides the distortion of the characters, principally Spock and Uhura, the story line is anathema to any fan of TOS. Director J.J. Abrams admitted knowing nothing about Star Trek before helming the film, and it shows. Canon be damned, we've got an alternate reality!
As for "Terminator Salvation" AKA "A Complete Insult to the Audience's
Intelligence!" if you have even a remote degree of common sense, you'll recognize the gaping plot holes. This is not James Cameron's Terminator. As of the original masterpiece, The Terminator, I'm willing to accept that a soldier is sent back in time to protect the mother of the future, and also happens to father that child during this time travel, thereby necessitating that this child send the soldier back in time to even ensure his own existence (take a breath)...but I am not willing to accept a lack of explanation for some of the most critical plot elements in Salvation. For example, if Kyle Reese is now Skynet's enemy #1, why doesn't Marcus just shoot him in the head the first time he sees him. Yes, he has been programmed to be unaware that he is a terminator, but he's still programmed! He can still just be made to shoot Reese! Sadly, this is NOT the most gaping plot hole in Salvation. What Salvation gives us in place of plot is tens of millions of dollars in CGI. I'm all about special effects, but not when I'm too distracted by a horrible storyline to even enjoy them.
Ultimately it appears that, like other genres, scifi is taking an unfortunate departure from its thematic origins - to broaden our imagination in interpreting the position and purpose of the human race, by showing us interacting with life and other matter outside our immediate reality. As these two films indicate, scifi is pandering more and more to what Hollywood players see as mainstream market demands - Uhura making out in a miniskirt, Vulcans getting in fights, and smoke filled explosions masking huge gaps in logic.