Into… darkness?

I’m puzzled by trailers for Star Trek: Into Darkness. Star Trek isn’t about darkness. It’s about a better future. Gene Roddenberry’s original series was definitely a creature of the late 1960s, but the franchise’s persistent popularity proves its optimism isn’t outdated. From what I’ve seen, this year’s film is about James T. Kirk struggling with his ethics and summoning up the inner strength to face down a nihilistic villain of the Dark Knight trilogy variety. (Is it Khan? Played by a Brit instead of a Mexican this time? Isn’t Khan ever going to be played by a Punjabi, like his character is supposed to be?)

Now that he’s going to direct the Star Wars movies, J.J. Abrams has admitted to not liking Star Trek very much. That makes me feel bad about liking his 2009 movie. Which is unfortunate because I thought he had rediscovered something that made the original series so cool: for all the space adventuring and Klingons, the main characters were interesting. Abrams’ alternate timeline seemed refreshing, a creative way to break free from the tyranny of the “canon”. Now, all the heresies I was willing to overlook just grate on me. Was he too lazy to understand or did he just not care?

I wonder if Gene Roddenberry would have let someone who thinks Star Trek is so lame direct his movies. But there’s the problem: Gene Roddenberry is long dead, and without somebody who really loves the franchise and what it stands for it’s become just another derivative cultural commodity. Another assignment for some Hollywood brat director to pad his resume.

I get that sometimes trailers are misleading, and that the Star Trek: Into Darkness trailers might be trying to invoke the Dark Knight movies to attract audiences. I’ll not hesitate to watch when it’s released. I might even like it.

Here are some of my repressed gripes from the 2009 movie (which I still like), sparing you the more geeky stuff:

  • Dr. McCoy’s nickname “Bones” seems to come from a throwaway comment he makes, as if none of the writers knew or cared that it came from “sawbones,” 19th century term for a physician.
  • I haven’t seen any Klingons yet. What gives?
  • Zoe Saldana doesn’t look like someone who grew up speaking Swahili and John Cho doesn’t look like anyone in any samurai movie I’ve ever seen. There, I said it.
  • I like Simon Pegg, but his Scotty lacks some of James Doohan’s deadpan martial gravitas.

Oblivion

Avoid spoilers by not reading on.

Oblivion is a good example of a fun sci-fi adventure movie that falls a little short. It looks very cool (especially the guard drones) and there’s some fun action but it draws a little too heavily on other, better movies like The Matrix, 2001, Independence Day, and Star Wars. There’s even a crew of post-apocalyptic rebels in standard-issue Mad Max dress. I’m trying to decide if the same story could have been told without the movie slipping into so many familiar territories. I’ll venture a “yes” but leave it someone better qualified to figure out how.

A few observations about the science of the fiction:

  • The moon wasn’t really gone, it was just smashed up. There wouldn’t be a net loss of tidal force.
  • With all the vegetation dead and the oceans sucked up, I’m pretty sure the atmosphere wouldn’t be breathable.
  • Why were humans needed to fix the machines? Wouldn’t there be machine-fixing machines? And machine-fixing machine fixing-machines? Seems like a ready excuse to cast Tom Cruise, though the characters were so shallow anybody could have played his part.

Explosion Week

It’s Explosion Week here in America. If you’re keeping score, that’s one terrorist attack in Massachusetts and one industrial accident in Texas.

And as usual, we’re freaking out about the wrong things. Boston was deserted today because the cops lost track of one 19 year old kid who they think can make kitchen appliances explode. We don’t know hardly anything about the sickos who did it but whoever they’re working for just got handed a quick little victory and an important lesson in the efficacy of blowing stuff up in the United States. That dumb Hitler, he wasted all his effort on his mighty war machine when he could have shut us down with a few well-placed pressure cookers.

Yet I doubt cops in tanks will descend on West, Texas looking for the probably negligent operators of the fertilizer plant that exploded (if they weren’t incinerated in the blast). Not only was that explosion more deadly and more destructive, but tragedies like it (Texas City Refinery, Upper Big Branch Mine, Deepwater Horizon) occur far more often than disgruntled Chechens register their disgust with long-distance running. But don’t let that distract you from the fugitive drama unfolding in Beantown.

Reference calls

In the last couple of years I’ve been getting more reference calls about people with whom I’ve worked. I always thought providing references would be a straightforward task but often it isn’t. A lot of it has to do with the questions I’m asked. A common one is “Would you hire this person again?” I think that’s a very strange question, because it’s conditional on so many factors: like what the job is and who else is applying for it. Even somebody who was a very good worker could be in competition with someone more qualified.

I’m also asked questions I couldn’t possibly answer. Today I got a call about an applicant for a position in a remote area. If, I was asked, a hiker came to this remote area and had a heart attack and died (which could happen), how do I think the applicant would be able to deal with it? I am not a psychologist, certainly I am not the applicant’s psychologist, and if I was the answer might not be knowable. To be fair, even seasoned rescue workers need counseling when things like that happen.

Asking reference questions is as much of an art as answering them.

 

Arrested development

Checking in on today’s game: I am officially sick of Phil Hughes. He’s in his seventh season and still can barely pitch five innings. He’s never going to develop into the starting pitcher the Yankees hope he can be if they don’t leave him in the game, even when he’s not doing well, and let him learn how to pitch. That’s big gripe I have about the way the Yankees handle their young pitching.