Friday, May 8, 2009

Dammit, Jim, I'm a Hollywood Movie Director, Not a Miracle Worker!

Okay, this is satire, right? Maybe not. I'm not a big Star Trek fan. When it first appeared on TV in 1966, I was fifteen. At that age I'd already read a lot of science fiction, and I soon recognized that while Star Trek was good for television SF, it wasn't very good SF. When it went off the air, I didn't celebrate but I didn't mourn either. I still haven't seen the first Star Trek movie, but I did see the rest, more or less as they came out, and I thought they were better than the series. I have not watched the succeeding series, but then I've hardly watched anything on TV in the past thirty years; the few episodes I stumbled on didn't make me want to call my local cable company to be hooked up.

Some fans are excited about the new film. Others are not. I've browsed through some entertainment industry magazines at the local Borders, and while the casting looks good, why would I want to see the origin story of Captain James T. Kirk? Maybe if Kirk had a post-adolescent affair with Spock, or better, Spock with Sulu, that would draw me in to a theater. Brokeback Starship. (But then, this review could almost persuade me.)

I've often noticed fans going berserk over remakes of their favorite franchises, and even reasonably intelligent ones fall back on readymade talking points like Hollywood's lack of ideas, or Why Do They Have To Ruin Everything I Love?

Item: you don't have to go see these movies, and thanks to home video the versions you love will continue to be available, so you can sit at home stroking yourself over them if that's what you want.

Item: Hollywood has never had ideas -- most of your favorite movies and TV shows are probably remakes to start with, or spinoffs from plays or toys or foreign movies or books or short stories.

Item: a bit of historical/cultural perspective please -- Star Trek, like Transformers or The Hulk or The Thing or Speed Racer, is not a monument in the great artistic heritage of the West. John Caruso says sarcastically (I think), "Transformers, Star Trek, whatever—it's all just product, people!" Transformers, of course, was never anything but product -- a children's TV show that was essentially product placement, to market toys to little boys. Yet when the Transformers movie was announced a couple of years ago, the now grown-up (more or less) little boys fretted that They were going to ruin another precious, meaningful experience of their youth. Star Trek always had commercial tie-ins, from the novelizations to the plastic models of the Starship Enterprise to the fan cons to the publication of the starship blueprints and so on. Like the English language, Star Trek never had any purity to be ruined.

I know what you're thinking: They came for the Transformers but I was not a Transformers fan so I did nothing; They came for Star Trek but I was not a Trekkie so I did nothing; and then They came for ... ? To be honest, I'm drawing a blank. I can't think of any past Hollywood product that I'd throw a hissyfit over when the crummy remake was announced. Or a favorite book from childhood that could be ruined in the filming. E. B. White's Stuart Little was the first book that showed me the complex emotional power of literature, in third grade. I've never seen the 1999 movie version (scripted by M. Night Shyamalan), which by all accounts is utterly faithless to the original, nor worried about it. Throwing tantrums over the corruption of one's favorite commercial product seems to be part of the core fan experience, which may be why I've never joined fan culture.