Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

All in my head

It probably comes as no surprise when I tell you that I usually write reviews of movies in my head before I actually type them out on a keyboard. Certainly, lots of people do this. It is normal to work mentally through what you are going to say about something before writing it. It is only natural to keep reactions to a movie fresh by thinking through them as a mental dry run—between seeing a movie and writing about it—in advance of putting words to paper or computer screen.

What may be surprising to some is that I also have the habit of writing reviews in my head for movies I have not yet seen. In fact, I sometimes write reviews in my head for movies that I may never see—ever. Okay, now that I’ve confessed this, it does seem a bit weird. But I suspect that other people who regularly write about every movie they see, whether by vocation or avocation, do the same. Sometimes you anticipate a movie so much that you start second-guessing your own reaction to it, ahead of time. Sometimes you have heard and/or read so much about a high-profile film that you feel that you have nearly seen it already, so you might as well save some time and do the mental writing work ahead of time. What is interesting, however, is that I don’t think that I have ever actually used any of the bits—no matter how well written—that I have formed in my head before seeing a movie when it came to actually writing the real review. Either the movie was not exactly what I expected or, more typically, there was just too much other interesting stuff to comment on, other than the things that I was expecting to see beforehand.

So, it should be no shock that I have been busy over the past week or so, mentally writing my own reviews of all the movies I did not see at Cannes. I have already formed put-downs of Quentin Tarantino’s smug movie geekiness on display in Inglourious Basterds, ready for use if and when I actually see the movie. I have already come up with a nice turn of phrase describing the warm nostalgic glow that I will get from seeing Ang Lee’s Taking Woodstock. I have already worded my disgust at the prospect of having to sit through Lars von Trier’s assault of movie, Antichrist. I have summoned praise for the visceral action sequences in Johnnie To’s Vengeance. I haven’t quite formed my opinion of Michael Haneke’s Palme d’Or-winning The White Ribbon, but give me time. And I have even come up with an insight for Lou Ye’s melodrama Spring Fever that all the other critics seem to have missed: it is clearly an intentionally provocative reworking of Hitchcock’s Vertigo.

One movie for which I recently wrote a rather detailed review in my head—and which I then completely discarded—was one that did not play at Cannes. I am speaking of Star Trek. This is a movie that is interesting for lots of reasons, not the least of which is the rich television and movie lore it draws on and continues. Perhaps the most audacious thing about it is its title. After decades of spinoffs and movies with titles crammed full of colons and/or roman numerals, who was expecting this movie to appropriate the simple title of the very original series? We had even come to think of the original 1960s series not as simply Star Trek but as ST:TOS (Star Trek: The Original Series). Surely, we were all expecting the movie to be called something like Star Trek: The Early Years or Star Trek: Starfleet Academy or Star Trek Origins: Kirk and Spock or even Star Trek Begins. No, they simply called it Star Trek, declaring once and for all that this was a new beginning for the series, going all the way back to Day Zero. The question then becomes: what will they call the next one? Star Trek II? or Star Trek: Part 2 or Star Trek: The Adventure Continues?

Or will they throw us all a left curve and call it Star Trek XII? They could, you know. After all, they went to all the trouble of bringing out Leonard Nimoy and documenting that alternate universe thing to establish continuity with the earlier movies. But they probably won’t. Clearly, the emphasis is on new-ness and fresh-ness and not drawing attention to how long all this Star Trek stuff has been around. This gets to a question that I broached in my review of Star Trek, i.e. the one that I actually posted to this web site and not any of the ones I wrote in my head. Is this movie properly a “re-imagining”/“re-telling” or a prequel or a sequel? As I said, the argument can be made for all three.

An aside: I have to wonder what J. Michael Straczynski thinks of the new Star Trek movie. A while back, the guru who created Babylon 5, put out a 2004 proposal he and Bryce Zabel had made to Paramount that involved re-booting the Star Trek universe. Re-reading it now, it seems eerily similar to what ultimately happened. He suggested going back to the beginning of the story and using a new, younger cast. The main difference is that Straczynski was talking about a new TV series, with a five-year story arc, as opposed to a movie. But he did invoke the alternate reality angle by suggesting that all Star Trek series and movies to date would be considered Universe A and that his new series would exist in Universe B—a concept he attributes to the world of comic books. But there is no mention of explicitly documenting Universe B as an alternate reality within the narrative and even explaining the cause of its existence, as the J.J. Abrams movie does. JMS’s idea of the new series was clearly a pure re-boot, as evidenced by one example given of a change that might have been made in the new series: make the character of Scotty a woman(!). At this point, the Straczynski/Zabel starts to sound more like what was done with the recent Battlestar Galactica, which was clearly a re-boot and neither a sequel nor a prequel.

If JMS feels ripped off by a Star Trek movie that seems similar to his proposal (so far I have not seen anything posted by the generally public and openly expressive Straczynski), then he must certainly be experiencing a strong sense of déjà vu. Years ago, he pitched the idea for Babylon 5, about an interstellar community aboard a space station, to Paramount only to be rebuffed. Before B5 made it to the air, however, Paramount was already telecasting Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, coincidentally about an interstellar community aboard a space station.

But back to the sequel-vs.-prequel question as regards the new Star Trek movie. Actually, I will deal with that next time. Right now I am busy writing up a review in my head for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

-S.L., 28 May 2009

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