Sunday, December 7, 2014

This Week in (My) Fandom

It was only after the dust settled on a very hectic final week of classes that I realized it had been a really singular week in the annals of my own personal movie fandom. This past Thursday, I co-hosted an advanced screening of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice (2014) at the Century 12 in Evanston, IL. For now, I’ll limit my thoughts on that movie to say only that, thematically, it is perfectly in keeping with the director’s body of work in so many ways, but narratively, emotionally, the movie does not seem to quite gel (I plan to see it again, of course, when it goes wide here in January). The good thing about being a scholar is that one has time to let ideas breathe . . . and then reflect back on them again. 

As for more “traditional” forms of geekiness related to the sad addiction that is Hollywood franchises, three big items appeared this week—all connected to arguably my three favorite properties (which doesn't even count the Star Wars business that dropped on Black Friday):

  •  The trailer for the new Terminator dropped last week. I’m not even going to talk myself in circles trying to rationalize my fondness to see Schwarzenegger in this role again, no matter how many narrative knots and twists might be needed to make it happen. I definitely sympathize with people who point out how cliché-ridden the dialogue is (seriously, the first I saw the trailer was while riding on a train with the sound off—and it was way better). But, in its defense, I will say I liked the premise of the film when I first heard it, and still do. Why? The whole premise of the Terminator franchise is based on, in a sense, redoing the past to change the present (and future). Always has been. In other words, it’s actually that rare canonical franchise that actually logically lends itself to Hollywood’s obsession with the reboot. So, to me, it’s not a lost cause . . . yet. The question becomes: will this latest round of time travel back to 1984 (such a fitting metaphor for Hollywood today) become a way for the franchise to playfully negotiate its own legacy, creatively intertwining two co-existent timelines (aka Back to the Future II) or will it simply be a lazy way (aka 2009’s Star Trek) to wipe out everything that’s happened and just start over with whatever clichés comes to mind?
  • More encouraging is the announcement, meanwhile, that James Bond is continuing its full-blown “Hey, Remember the 1960s?” reboot only hinted at by M’s (Ralph Fiennes) “new” office at the end of Skyfall (2012). The next film’s title is Spectre (2015), which presumably refers to the legendary evil organization that Sean Connery’s version battled across the decade of the Counterculture (I say presumably because I’m not sure how much the filmmakers confirmed of this premise). That said, I am excited about it, in part because it returns us to the promise at the end of Casino Royale (2006)—Bond was being set up to face a larger, more elusive and faceless villain syndicate (which I speculated then was Spectre), a promise which was half-explored in Quantum of Solace (2008) and then dropped altogether in Skyfall. The fact
    does the new film's poster contain a 'specter' of the past?
    that the Bond producers used “Quantum” as the name of the organization hiding in the shadows then, and not “Spectre,” was, I only recently realized, because the producers were still fighting a copyright battle over Thunderball (1965)—which explains so much. Bond’s capturing of Mr. White (who is making an extremely welcome return in Spectre) set up such exciting narrative possibilities going forward. It was a shame that it was largely abandoned until now (I’m not a big fan of Quantum of Solace by any means, though I do value the way in which it makes some modest attempts to call back to the events and characters of its far superior predecessor, while one of my nagging problems with the generally solid Skyfall was the premature desire to reboot something that had just been rebooted, and didn’t need to be rebooted just again). Finally, I will say that the poster for Spectre remains me of the final, tragic, shot of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)—Bond’s second confrontation with the iconic Blofeld (rumored now to being played by Christoph Waltz). Coincidence?
  •  Finally, I was heartened by the news that Bob Orci was taken off as director of the next Star Trek movie. I admit I didn’t, as so many others claimed to, completely hate the last one, as I wrote here. But, that’s because, as I noted then, my expectations were rock bottom—2009’s reboot is so over-rated. A dumb, flashy pastiche of Trek which had only the weakest grasp on what made the franchise so successful for over four decades in a way that far transcended just the shallow, instant gratification of the summer marketplace (seriously, entertaining a few extra people who can take or leave Trek as soon as it's over is not “making Trek accessible to a new generation,” it's ensuring its eventual demise—it’s stripping the classic car down to its last bit of sellable junk yard parts, and throwing the rest in the compactor, instead of rebuilding what made the old beauty work in the first place—and do not get me started on inflation, historical revisionism, and themyth of its newfound box office appeal). That said, I just didn’t feel confident about Orci personally—aside from having no directorial experience (and having penned two of the worst movie scripts in the franchise’s history), I was always skeptical of his attempts to paint himself as a "true" Trekkie, someone taking over for the more openly indifferent JJ Abrams. Once you step outside the world of Trek, you realize that Orci is pretty smart about positioning himself as a generally geeky “fan” of a lot of established properties (Trek, Transformers, Universal’s Monsters Series, Hawaii Five-O, Mission Impossible, Spider Man, Sleepy Hollow), which he then maximizes for its potential market value, with little in the way of creative reimagining in the process. He’s become a synecdoche of Hollywood itself—selling fans on the idea that they’re “one of us,” with only a passing investment, at best, in the history of the properties themselves. He’s also a big part of the so-called “Hack Pack” which will one day symbolize the creative bankruptcy of this present moment in Hollywood history.
  •  So, who will replace him? The rumor is Edgar Wright’s a possibility—which really does excite me as a fan of his work. But at the same time, I recognize that his films are often most interesting as amusingly reflexive meditations on genre, to some degree dependent upon the distance that parody (for lack of a better word) requires. Not sure that’s the best fit for Trek—though I also recognize that part of what made some of his films so effective at times has been the sincere moments in the narrative that buy into the genre unironically (see Shaun of the Dead’s intense finale). We’ll see.

Of course, a sad subtext to all of this is increasingly how much I'm reminded that my own personal childhood nostalgia is little more than another market demographic to exploit.

Finally on a definitely related, and perhaps more optimistic, front, expect very big news here in the near future.


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