Friday, June 1, 2007

Ripping Yawns

There's a lesson that I learned from watching an episode of Ripping Yarns, Palin & Jones' follow-up to Python: if you make a show where the joke is that the central character is so boring that all the other characters get away from him as fast as possible, the show will, by extension, also be terminally boring.

Still, I'm about to violate that lesson. I've been shit-bored all day, and I'm even more bored now, if that's possible. And yet, I'm still going to write this Rambler. Take the above Ripping Yarns warning to heart: although I'm not going to go on and on about the comparative qualities of different shovels I've used (like the Palin character), you may wish I had by the end of this.

The highlight of my day was a late-afternoon nap that left me feeling almost paralytically enervated. I'd borrowed my dad's truck and made a couple of runs to the town dump - at least I got rid of the old refrigerator, finally - but since I only got the truck here at 2:30, and the dump closes at 4:00, well, that was only enough time for the two trips. Still plenty to do around the house, but I'll confess I wasn't in the mood for any of that.

So I got into bed and watched some of the extras on the 2002 Wrath of Khan "Director's Edition." And the extras were pretty feh. There's a toothless talking heads-based 'making of' retrospective - presumably filmed in early 2002, as Harve Bennett made an al Qaeda reference - that was kind of diverting but really bottom of the barrel as far as such things go. The only thing that was really fascinating about it was how old Shatner (filmed in front of a bookcase curiously filled solely with multiple copies of the same book) and Nimoy looked, and how extremely young director Nick Meyers looked. Seriously - if he was the 35 years he looked in 2002, does that mean he directed Khan when he was a high school sophomore?

The other promising 'featurette' (oh, how I hate that word) was the obligatory F/X making of. And it was pretty much a wash. Some of the stuff was interesting, but, hey: what's the one Khan effect that made everyone shit their pants in 1982? If you said "The Genesis Simulation," get the fuck out, you geek, you. Right. So, shouldn't a proper in-depth featurette on the F/X of Khan really get almost fetishistic in detail about the making of, as one talking head puts it, "the first CGI sequence in a major Hollywood film?" Well, this wasn't a proper making of. Nothing about it, save to note that ILM walked across the street to ask the CG house to give it a whirl when practical F/X couldn't cut it.

Really? That's it? Surely, these people knew there was something revolutionary going on at the time. No-one saved any storyboards, animatics, wire-frame tests? What was the process at the point when this team was pioneering - from whole cloth - the technology that would come to completely dominate all film work within the next decade and a half? Note, too, that Tron also came out in 1982, and even though Tron is one of my favorite films, I'll be the first to admit that the Genesis sequence blows all of the animation in Tron out of the water handily, in terms of sophistication, verisimilitude, detail and dramatic effect. How did they do it? Fucked if I know, because the 'featurette' refuses to give any detail.

Now there could be two reasons for this:
1) I could be right that no-one saved any of the prep materials, in which case, maybe they should have had someone bemoan this fact in the featurette, or
2) They thought we wouldn't be interested.

Reason one is bothersome enough (Idiots!), but reason two would be amazingly frustrating to me if I'd been the one to buy this DVD. For starters, the featurette is full of shots of the original practical models, model photography, matte plates, etc., complete with a semi-detailed explanation of the thinking behind the designs and implementation of quite a bit of the work. And as far as 'being interested': can you imagine a crowd more stoked for a technical retrospective of the dawning days of CGI than the people who bought a special edition of a Star Trek DVD?

Heck, maybe they held it off to put on either The Search for Spock or Voyage Home special editions, because the sequence was reused in full in both films. Way to get your money's worth, Paramount. While you were at it, why didn't you shoehorn it into The Final Frontier, too? At least that would mean there'd be something worth watching in that film, then.

Anyway, once I exhausted that, I moved onto a very odd featurette that consisted of two very nerdy Trek novel writers talk about their books at excruciating length. After about 20 minutes with no end in site, I started getting that sensation where the sound of the TV would suddenly boom, and I realized I was falling asleep.

When I woke up from my intermission, I couldn't move. No shit. My hands were laid across my chest and it took a couple of minutes of willed concentration to lift them off. It wasn't even so much like I was still beat (though I was), but like my brain had shut down and couldn't find my arms or legs, like a PC failing to locate the printer or wireless network after you first wake it up.

Took a very brief stroll, came back and realized there was nothing for it but to watch the movie itself.

And, yes: it's a damn great movie, and the years have been very, very kind. Great plot, dialogue, effects, action, etc. Only one thing bugs me on a dramatic level: At a few points in the film, we are shown how the young (and surprisingly hot Kirstie Alley) Vulcan Lieutenant Saavik is very bound by regulations, often quoting specific policies by number. Later, there's an extended sequence where the Enterprise has ben disabled in a firefight. Kirk and his team beam away to investigate the interior of a moon that's been 'Genesised,' only to get trapped there by Khan. Via a communication that they (and the audience) know is being monitored by Khan, Spock makes mulitple references to doing things 'by the book, like our Mr. Saavik - hours would seem like days' before (hint-hint) saying that it will take two days to reconfigure the doohickey and get the Eneterprise swinging again. "By the book, Captain," Spock says, one last time, just in case the nursing infant in the back row didn't get the implication.

Okay. Now, not only am I bugged by just how underlined, bold-faced, italicized and highlighted that whole thing is just as an audience member (let's have a little suspense, okay?), and the fact that if Khan is supposed to be a genetically engineered supersmart superdude who has already shown multiple times that he's the king of subterfuge (and fine Corinthian Leather), did it not occur to the scriptwriters that since Khan has no idea who the fuck Saavik is and therefore no idea about her predilection for quoting regulations, wouldn't that be, like an extra tip-off to Khan that something was up? I mean, if Spock's code-speak was meant to be understood by Kirk and Kirk alone, maybe the filmmakers shouldn't have pitched it at the level of a construction worker paying for a weekday matinee showing with his earnings from faking disability.

All right. That might seem like minor quibbles, but it seemed like a pretty sore thumb when I watched it this time around, and I recall it bugging me even at the age of 11.

Anyway, here's a minor quibble for you: when Carol Marcus - Kirk's ex and the mother of his son - is shown introducing the Genesis pitchreel for Starfleet, she refers to securing Starfleet 'funds.' Uh, okay. Which means that the Federation Farthing must have been phased out in the 75 years between Khan and Picard's first season lecture to some thawed out 20th Century stockbroker that mankind in the 24th Century has moved beyond the need for money and is motivated now by the quest for self-improvement, which sort of makes Starfleet sound like EST in space. And I guess the writers thought that lecture was so great that they had him repeat it to Alfre Woodard in First Contact. Right, we get it. Money is bad. And how much of the evil green did these two movies gross between their original releases and the many, many video, laser, DVD, PSP and by now Blu-Ray/HD bare-bones, special editions and directors editions?

Cut to Kirk angrily shouting into a communicator. I wonder how much profit participation Shatner gets in all of this?


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