Friday, March 27, 2015

This Week in Neat-O (and a Bonus Very Long Rant on Fans)

[image via]

I think this is the leanest period of blogging I've had in all 10 years of being here. The medicine situation really knocked me for a bigger loop than I gave it credit for. Between an antidepressant which left me numb, weak, and without motivation--and probably the worst feeling ever in my life is that antidepressant fog of wanting to do things and feeling completely unable to, to the point where you will sit for an hour wondering how you're going to get up off the floor--and a stimulant ADHD medication that raised my blood pressure dangerously and has contributed to my weakness, this has been a really rough six months or so.

So here's some neat stuff that I've actually been enjoying and that helped take me outside of myself this week:

:: So, apparently they're going to start doing Muppet interstitial segments on Disney Junior starting next Friday. Here's a clip of one of them which gives you an idea what they'll be like. They're basically like the "Muppet and Kid" segments on Sesame Street. I don't watch Disney Junior, so I'll probably only see these when and if Disney puts the clips on YouTube or on Disney Movies Anywhere, but I think it's a neat idea.

Okay, I need to rant a little bit here about being a Muppet fan. If you've somehow actually been reading me for the last decade, you know that I think one of the lousiest things about Muppet fans my age is that they seem to be really, really negative towards the idea that anything should be made with Muppets that are just for kids. It's been going on for a long time now, and it's actually a larger problem with fans of anything in the Internet Age, which is that fans only want to lengthen out and repeat the part of the thing they like, and are full of scorn and hate for anything else.

So it bugs me when Tough Pigs posts a news announcement about something like this Disney Junior business and then bag on it because it's for little kids so therefore it's pointless and stupid. It really annoys me, because the attitude of "I just want the Muppets to be good like they were when I was a kid" is really just code now for "I just want the Muppets to appeal to me and only my conception of what the Muppets are supposed to be." It's unrealistic and it's arrogant and it makes me really, really annoyed. Look, everything the Muppet people do is not going to be aimed at guys who have liked the Muppets for 30 and 40 and 50 years. Some of it is going to be for kids. And some of it you're just not going to find that fun. Does that mean it's bad, or does that just mean it's not aimed at you?

I really hate the internet Muppet fans for being so united in their hatred and dismissal of Muppets Tonight and Muppets from Space and It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie and The Muppets' Wizard of Oz and Letters to Santa and Studio DC: Almost Live and almost every single Muppet project that wasn't their viral videos or the two most recent Disney movies. Yes, those things are flawed, but the people in charge of the Muppets are doing what they should be doing and trying things to keep the Muppets alive and out there and grow them a new audience because Hollywood profit margins have shown over and over again that the audience is really not gigantic.

I'll say it for the thousandth time: this reception is how I know that you people wouldn't watch The Muppet Show is they did it for television again now, because what you really want it just more of what they were doing nearly 40 years ago, which, as I've said so many times I hate myself for having to say it again, is impossible. Jim Henson, Don Sahlin, Jerry Juhl, Jerry Nelson, Richard Hunt, and so many other great Muppet contributors who made those things you love so much have all passed away. Frank Oz doesn't work with the Muppets anymore. Nearly all of those creators are gone, and you're just going to have to finally live with that. It's going to be different, and you don't want that, so stop acting like you want something new when you just want more of the same and are going to be the same whiny babies when you don't get that.

And frankly, even if Jim Henson were alive, how interested do you think he'd be in doing The Muppet Show again? Half of those fans who whine about the Muppets didn't know for the longest time that by the time the first episode of that show aired, Henson had been doing the Muppets for over 20 years. He felt he'd done the Muppets and wanted to do other things, and people didn't respond well to that. The Dark Crystal wasn't a highly regarded film. Labyrinth was a box office failure that took decades to gain a cult status, and that movie, most people who knew him felt, was the purest distillation of Henson on screen, and he felt personally rejected when it failed. So he want back and did some more Muppets, and almost no one watched The Jim Henson Hour, because most of you don't care about who Jim Henson was or what he wanted to do or express, you just want more Muppets and exactly the same as they were in 1982.

Give me a break.

And I always get someone who says "Well, you can hardly blame people for wanting more of what they already like," but I'm sick of hearing that, because it's a kind of thoughtlessness. God forbid you should be grateful for what you already have and enjoy that and let people do new things. How unfair for you that people are incapable of doing one thing for the rest of their lives, right?

:: In a similar vein, I read this great piece on Observation Deck about what happens to properties when the fans take over. I don't think their example of Peter Jackson really holds up, because he was never the Tolkien fanatic that people assume he must have been as a kid, it's just that his Lord of the Rings movies are the only thing most people seem to care about in regards to his career. It's funny, because he's faced this before, back when The Frighteners came out, and America didn't get it because they only knew Heavenly Creatures and assumed this art house director had just sold out, not understanding that The Frighteners was a big-budget version of the kind of wild horror movie Jackson always made, and that Heavenly Creatures was the atypical one. I remember his reaction to the way the movie bombed in America and the way critics who only knew Creatures eviscerated him for selling out to Hollywood: "Never underestimate the stupidity of the American film audience."

The Frighteners, by the way, is probably my favorite Jackson film. See the Director's Cut. It is the most Peter Jackson movie ever.

The real point to be made about Peter Jackson is that LOTR became the only thing the audience wanted to see him do. And yes, those are films of exceeding wonder and glory, some of the best movies ever made by anyone, but the massive success and prestige of those films seems to have left him with less of a direction. So many people hated King Kong, the movie he most wanted to make. (I loved it.) He tried to do another Heavenly Creatures, and turned out The Lovely Bones, a movie I consider as vile and loathsome as anything I've ever seen. And then he went back to Middle-earth and made the Hobbit trilogy. I didn't want him to make those. He didn't want to direct them. I remember way back saying that I wanted to see someone else make those movies and see Peter Jackson do something else he wanted to do, because I'd seen Jackson's Middle-earth and was curious to see what someone like Sam Raimi or Guillermo del Toro could do with it. But he made The Hobbit and I really enjoyed what he did and now all I read are articles on geek sites about how bad and unsatisfying and "like bad fan fiction" those movies are. All you want is more of the same and even when you get it, you hate it.

What I do think is really interesting and on point in that essay, though, are the sections about Star Trek, Star Wars, and Aliens.

First, Trek. All of the criticisms of the JJ Abrams movies are valid, but I do like those movies. I still can't deal with conversations about those movies, because most criticisms seem to fall in this weird echo chamber of "It's too much the same but not the same enough in the right ways!"

The article points out that when audiences got the purest distillation of Gene Roddenberry's ideas of what Star Trek was supposed to be--Star Trek: The Motion Picture--fans rejected it. They preferred the Harve Bennett Trek movies, and it's obviously because those movies are much more about the characters and the relationships and less about the concepts and the ideas and the evolution of the mind. They want the same thing, forever, and that's why my relationship to the Star Trek movies has always been troubled and compromised.

I'm cheating a bit here, because I'm going by the 2001 Director's Cut version, but Star Trek: The Motion Picture is, to me, the best of the Trek movies. It's challenging, it's not pandering to audience expectations, and Spock goes on an emotional journey that I find, well, fascinating. It's about evolution and intellect, and I like the slower pacing. I just do. That's the kind of movie I like.

I love Star Trek II an awful lot, but when we get to Star Trek III, I start to become less interested, because from then on they're just playing to the fans. Star Trek III I especially have trouble with, because you can't even talk about not liking this movie online without someone commenting "Gee, I must be the only person in the world who loves Star Trek III," and then a dozen other people chiming in about what a great movie it is and then there's no discussion of it as much as there's people just papering over all of the movie's flaws because it "gets the characters right."

But that's precisely my problem with the damn movie. Because the whole movie seems to exist merely to return things back to the status quo, which is the opposite of interesting to me. Spock once said on the TV series that change is the essential process of life. But not for Trek fans, I guess, because after Trek II--a movie that contemplated what it was like to age and change, for old sins to come back and destroy you, for the consequences of old behaviors to catch up with you, for the necessity of real sacrifice--we dive right into The Search for Spock, a movie that refutes all of those things. No, no, we don't have to change! We can bring Spock back! We'll just kill David and never mention Carol Marcus again and even if we destroy the Enterprise, we'll just build a new one that's exactly the same because we won't ever let anything go and change will never happen again and nothing will really mean anything because these people aren't characters, they're invincible space gods and things will be exactly the same forever!

What's funny is that those movies, from II on, turned Trek into space opera, but one of the biggest criticisms I hear about the Abrams movies is that there's too much space opera. What they really mean, I sometimes feel, is that they just want the same characters. (Somewhat related: David Gerrold recently wrote an interesting rant about the role of Trek fans on Facebook.)

I have a similar problem with Star Wars that I've described at length, but it basically boils down to the fact that I feel like most people don't like the Prequels because they wanted three more versions of The Empire Strikes Back and rejected what George Lucas felt Star Wars was about. They didn't want Star Wars by the creator of Star Wars, they wanted the Expanded Universe. Lucas' vision of, as the article says, "a political allegory about the corrupting influences of greed and power," is much more interesting to me than going on and on about Boba Fett. (That's a big part of why I loved Clone Wars so much: they really expanded a lot of Lucas' ideas, which are the ideas in SW that I find the most interesting.) I think just the largeness of the Star Wars spin-off properties shows that the Star Wars universe is capable of holding a great many things many genres, many characters, many different approaches. But a great number of fans don't seem interested in letting things be that way. I didn't like to talk about Star Wars for years because I was sick of someone starting arguments with me because what I like about SW apparently isn't the "right" thing to love about SW, because it's "really" this and "really" that and apparently the whole thing hinges on whether or not Han shot first.

When people start considering a change to a fictional world an affront, that's when I check out of the conversation.

The linked essay actually gives voice, too, to my fears about the new Star Wars movies. As exciting as I found the trailer, I feel like Abrams, Kennedy, Kasdan and company are less interested in George Lucas' ideas and the Jedi and the politics and much more interested in the Expanded Universe and Han Solo, and that's just not interesting to me. I don't need to see the fans' version of Star Wars, because the entire internet is full of that. And hey, those movies don't need to be for me. I have six that I love already. I consider that kind of thought to be, I dunno, the grown-up attitude.

And finally, there's Alien.

When I was a kid, I used to love Aliens (which was the first one I saw; I was three when Alien came out, so I didn't see that until I was a bit older). I used to think Aliens was this amazing movie, and Alien was an okay haunted castle movie with a science fiction twist. As I got older, those opinions were reversed. Now I think Alien is a masterpiece, and Aliens is a better-than-average science fiction action movie.

I've been hearing a lot about how Neil Blomkamp is going to make an Alien movie that sounds like a bit of a retcon for the people who are still angry and offended about how Newt and Hicks died offscreen before Alien 3 started, and I know a number of people who really like Alien 3 and were disappointed to hear that this was happening. I saw Alien 3 when it first came out on video when I was about 16 and didn't care for it, and hadn't seen it since.

So, about two weeks ago, I got hold of the "Assembly Cut" version of Alien 3 on Blu-ray (thank you, as always, public library system) and gave the whole thing another chance. My memory of the theatrical version is fuzzy, so I can't tell you how much was different, but the film really had an effect on me. I wanted to write a post, but I'm still not sure what to say about it. I found it really thoughtful and interesting, and I'm not sure how much is that the theatrical version wasn't good, and how much of it was really that I just wanted Aliens II back then and was angry that I didn't get it, and how much of it is just being a more thoughtful person now than I was at 16.

Either way, I thought the Assembly Cut was excellent, and it was the kind of special edition that--much like the special editions of Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Blade Runner--turned a film I held in low regard into something I found truly special.

Devin Faraci has some really great thoughts about Alien 3, by the way, in an essay called Why Newt And Hicks Had To Die In ALIEN 3 that really cemented a lot of my thoughts about the movie. Good call on Aliens being a Vietnam allegory, too.

And like the writer of the Observation Deck piece, I too am cautiously interested in Blomkamp's Alien movie, and fully expect it to be the "long-awaited" Aliens II.

Okay, so that I apparently had a lot to say about. Here are some other things:

:: I really want to get back to my Ranking Al series soon. Until then, the AV Club has done a wonderful thing and given us the Oral History of the Making of UHF.

:: Tough Pigs has a report on a recent event that featured a live-viewing of Muppets Most Wanted with commentary by Muppet performers Matt Vogel and Eric Jacobson.

:: I'm cautiously optimistic about the trailer for Mission: Impossible--Rogue Nation, because I really liked the previous two movies. I see once again the women are interchangeable, and yet again, the plot revolves around the IMF being either infiltrated by the enemy or dismantled or disavowed or whatever. Still, I want it to be as much fun as Ghost Protocol, so fingers crossed.

:: The trailer for Arnold Schwarzenegger's zombie drama Maggie is something I also found interesting.

:: Here's a very short video of the chest-bursting scene from Alien, but as a sitcom.

:: Why Christopher Eccleston Was The Greatest Doctor Who Star After All. I do agree. I don't like the show as it is now, but Eccleston's lone season remains my favorite season of the show. (All of it, past and present.) I've explained why I don't like Moffat's tenure on the show, and I won't rehash it now. It's enough to say it's not MY Doctor Who, but it doesn't have to be.

:: Every Tom Hanks Movie in 7 Minutes

I'm going to end with this great animated short, TIE Fighter, which a very talented man named Paul Johnson made over four years of weekends. He animated it in that 80s anime style that I always found so fascinating as a kid (Transformers: The Movie was made in that style).

I feel like it seems weird to end a post where I was ranting about fans demanding control over properties with a fan work, but I'm not against fan works. I'm against the often fan-fostered concept that there is only One Correct Interpretation of a work, and that interpretation must be adhered to forever, and god help you if you liked Man of Steel.


Natholeon said...

I couldn't agree more with you about the Star Wars prequels. Episode II is my favourite of the six films. The Clone Wars is my favourite Star Wars franchise, for precisely the reasons that you give. I still have faith that the mouse will do a good job, but essentially I have seen George Lucas' vision in full so I'm not perturbed if the difficulties of establishing the New Republic are not explored particularly well.

Kelly Sedinger said...

I actually like TREK III! No wait! Don't throw that tomato!

Seriously, though, I'm not sure it's entirely fair to blame TREK III for the way the gravity of TREK II is undone. Firstly, TREK II plants those seeds itself, what with the entire Genesis thing (we've spent an entire movie hearing about life from death), Kirk saying "There are always possibilities", Spock's mind-meld with McCoy, etc. But also, TREK III doesn't hit the reset button quite so easily; heavy prices are paid, and Kirk is shown in TREK VI as still working through issues regarding David's death. (Besides, after TREK IV, we only saw the original crew twice more, so I'm not sure how fair it is to level the objection that Carol and David disappear completely.) TREK III does have flaws, but I don't think you can really sell character dynamic short. TREK at its best has always managed to have good ideas AND that great character dynamic, which is the main problem I've had with AbramsTrek: the character stuff is partially there, but the ideas are just downright bad.

But then, getting ideas AND character right isn't something unique to TREK. I think it's a necessity of all good stories, no?

Continued best wishes for feeling better and finding your way! If it helps, Book III is turning out to be rather...interesting....

SamuraiFrog said...

These are the same arguments I always hear about Trek III, and I just don't agree with them. Just because some things were built into Trek II as insurance should there be a sequel doesn't really make Trek III an interesting movie, and as good as some of the performances are, it still plays for me as mostly continuity porn to fix the status quo. And in a way, if heavy prices are paid to get Spock back (David, the model of the Enterprise from the previous two movies, Kirk's admiralty), the movie somewhat reinforces the point that all of those things--including a human life--pale in importance next to having Spock back.

The character dynamic is good, but that's all it has going for it, which is too bad coming after two movies that also served as reflections on what Star Trek is and has been.

I think it's entirely fair to level some of those criticisms against it. Kirk losing David seems like a character-defining tragedy, but it only rates a mention in Trek VI so it can be a plot complication in Klingon peace talks. Weird that, at the end of Trek III, Kirk can say "The needs of the one outweighed the needs of the many" and smile after his son was brutally murdered a few hours earlier.

And it's not like I think Trek III is a BAD movie, it's just a pretty good one that plays up aspects I'm less interested in. There are scenes I love, Shatner is very good in it, it has a lot of Sarek, and the ending is genuinely touching, but it's not a movie that endures for me or that I feel has much to say beyond "Aren't these characters great? Don't worry, we'll never threaten them with death in a meaningful or interesting way again. We have Star Trek Generations to prove it."

Kelly Sedinger said...

You're wrong and you're a terrible STAR TREK fan! :)

Joking aside, it's worth noting that the prices paid (the biggest being David) aren't sacrifices made IN THE NAME of getting Spock back. Kirk didn't go into that whole escapade knowing that he was going to have to deal with renegade Klingons.

For me, the biggest flaw in TREK III is that the nature of the "quest" from the outset is a bit problematic. Kirk and company do not know from the outset that Spock is alive. As far as they know, they're going to fetch his still-dead body, and that the "re-fusion" is possible at all comes as a surprise. It's never really established WHY Kirk is supposed to bring McCoy AND Spock's body to Vulcan.

That said, I do think the film has some interesting things to say about heroism, summed up by Kirk's line, "If I hadn't tried, the cost would have been my soul." I love that. (As for smiling when Spock comes back, well...laughter IS possible even in the deepest depths of grief. I never had much problem with that.

Death in SF, and especially ongoing series like TREK, is always troublesome, to the point that I just don't tend to find it all that thematically interesting. I don't really fault the producers for getting things eventually back to the "standard quo", to coin a phrase, because this was an era when TREK consisted of nothing but a new movie every few years. I suppose we could have had "existentially challenged Kirk", a Kirk who said "Fuck everything" after David died and had to be dragged kicking and screaming back to Starfleet later on for whatever reason, but...I don't know how interesting that would have been, really. Oddly, had TREK been a teevee series at that point -- maybe telling the TWOK storyline as an arc in Season Two or something -- then maybe they could have gone the direction. I just don't think the movies really had the room to delve into the directions you seem to find wanting, especially since at that time there really wasn't margin for error in making further TREK flicks. TREK V's failure very nearly resulted in TREK VI never happening, after all. Those movies had a tightrope to walk that didn't encourage the type of storytelling you seem to have wanted. (If memory serves -- and it may well not -- the DC Comics series at the time may have dealt with some of this stuff, as it folded the movies right into its ongoing continuity at the time.)

I don't think TREK III is great, but I think it's underrated. I think it does have some interesting things to say about heroism and pushing on even in the face of awesome tragedy and pain. Plot-wise it's pretty muddled and you can really tell that it was a pretty low-budget affair, but to me, it really did have more of an "episode of the series" vibe to it, and that's no small thing.

(For the record, I have never ever ever disliked ST:TMP, and for that matter, I don't even hate STV:TFF, which I consider an interesting failure that tried to do stuff, even if it wasn't successful.)