Pass the Popcorn: It’s All Greek to Me

April 27, 2012

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

The earliest reviews of Joss Whedon’s Avengers are not debating whether or not it’s a good movie. They’re debating whether or not it’s the best superhero movie ever made.

This debate is the opposite of Aliens Versus Predator. Whoever wins, we win!

The real debate, in my mind, is whether or not Joss Whedon is the greatest storyteller of our time. There are other contenders to the throne, of course. We’ve written about a few folks who could vie for that title here on Jay P. Greene’s Blog from time to time.

Why pick only one winner? Here’s a much more interesting way to look at things:

Who Is Our Homer?

Candidate: Chris Nolan

Job Qualifications: High-stakes conflicts between titanic characters who evoke or represent transcendent forces; the essential passivity of man under the power of cosmic forces greater than himself. (Wars between champions loom large.)

Who Is Our Aeschylus?

Candidate: Joss Whedon

Job Qualifications: Illuminates the nobility of the human struggle against the essentially tragic nature of the human situation; the hunger for justice that we can never ignore without sacrificing part of our humanity, but can also never satisfy without sacrificing part of our humanity. (Vengeance and justice loom large.)

Who Is Our Sophocles?

Candidate: J.J. Abrams

Job Qualifications: The dynamic interdependence between our choices and our character; we can only act based on who we already are, but can only be who we are through how we act. (Daddy issues loom large.)

Who Is Our Euripides?

Candidate: (I hate to say it since I’m a Watchmen hater, but…) Alan Moore

Job Qualifications: Ecstatic confrontation with chaos and meaninglessness; deconstruction of cherished myths. (Mass atrocities loom large.)

Discuss among yourselves! 🙂

Pass the Popcorn: They Went Boldly, And They Found New Life

May 9, 2009

Star Trek

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Note: This post is 100% spoiler free!

If you’re a Trekkie, you don’t need me to tell you to go see the new Star Trek movie.

But if you’re not a Trekkie: You should go see the new Star Trek movie. If it’s not the best movie you see all year, I’ll give you your money back on this blog. I’m that confident you’ll love it.

Star Trek 2

To keep this post spoiler-free (in hopes that I can convince the maximum number of people to go see the movie) I can’t tell you everything about what makes this such a good movie. But I’ll do my best to indicate as much as I can.

I think the biggest key to success here is the way J.J. Abrams and writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman drilled down to the essence of what makes Star Trek such a wonderful platform for storytelling and built their whole story around that, ruthlessly cutting out anything and everything from the original franchise that got in their way.

Lots of things have been changed, sometimes dramatically. Some things that Trekkies hold dear have been destroyed; new things have been introduced that mossbacked fans will find jarring.

Star Trek 4

But all that destruction only makes way for Abrams & Co. to use the Star Trek setup the way it was originally used – before it got cluttered with the overgrowth that inevitably accumulates in any long-term franchise.

I felt like the more they dramatically changed everything, the more it became more like the Star Trek it always was. It was like they reached into the middle of a large, complex structure and pulled the center outward, turning the whole thing inside-out in the process, but at the end it was the same as it had been, even though it was completely different.

Star Trek 5

I’ve been trying to think of how to express this point more clearly. I keep coming back to the opening lines of G.K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man, where he says that there are two ways of getting home. The first is to stay there. The second is to go all the way around the world and come back to where you started.

I think the Star Trek movies had just stayed home too long. Abrams & Co. have taken them all the way around the world, and the result is, the franchise is home again.

I think the most important thing they’ve built on is the simple but brilliant storytelling mechanic of taking eight or nine colorful, highly strung personalities and locking them all together for an extended period in a tin can where they can’t get out of each other’s way and are periodically threatened with death. Firefly recently proved again how well this can work when it’s properly used. Who knows? Maybe Abrams was watching.

But another important aspect – and this is something you should know going in – is that it brilliantly maintains the unique narrative style of Star Trek. Again, I’m not sure exactly how to make clear what I’m getting at.

Let’s put it this way. Star Trek has never been the kind of franchise where they stop to ask questions like, “how could Starfleet Academy possibly have a final exam that consists of role-playing a simulated scenario where everybody knows ahead of time that there’s no winning outcome to the scenario?” Merely the fact that you know you’re in a no-win situation will change your behavior. But as a poetic narrative device it works brilliantly, as the famous discussion of Kirk’s unique approach to the exam in Star Trek II demonstrated.

Oh, and it helps that they put in a lot of very clever references to the original series. Don’t worry, if you’re not a Trekkie you won’t even notice them. They aren’t obtrusive. But if you are a Trekkie, you will laugh your head off time and again at the sly way the movie nods its head to some of your favorite (and most cringe-worthy) memories.

Sulu Fencing

No, this is not a spoiler. Trust me.

Also, you get a lot of movie out of this movie. It’s fast-paced, but not because they’re always fighting. It’s because they’ve trimmed out absolutely all the fat. There is not a minute of screen time wasted in this movie. Yet nothing is rushed or sloppy – it’s just very efficient storytelling. You get twice as much out of it just from that alone. (That, by the way, is the secret to the success of a lot of great movies and TV shows – an efficient storyteller can give you more bang for the buck even with an otherwise ordinary narrative. But then, the highly efficient storytellers also tend to be excellent in other ways.)

Oh, just go see it already. The sooner you do, the sooner I can talk about it.

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