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Amok Time: Facelifting Star Trek

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Amok Time: Facelifting Star Trek

Though I have fond memories of the original Star Trek—which I discovered via Jimmy Carter-era reruns, and through which I gained an understanding of the hourlong drama format, the pop gestalt of the late ‘60s, and the endless uses to which styrofoam could be put—I see no reason to oversell its virtues. It was dramatically crude and allegorically simplistic, and its then-daring social attitudes (which included endorsements of racial equality, interracial sex and global unity) often paled beside its Rat Pack-style vision of gender relations (Kirk bagged a different curvy space doll each week), and its earnest, unironic enactment of John F. Kennedy/Lyndon Johnson style interventionism (the Federation’s Prime Directive forbade trying to change the culture of other worlds, yet Kirk regularly violated it—and in a couple of instances, he did it mainly to teach hippies what it meant to work for a living). The most interesting thing about the original Trek is the character of Spock, one of TV history’s most complex and melancholy outsiders; the second most interesting thing about it is its time capsule quality—the fact that it is, in every sense, a product of its era: the Johnson/Nixon years, when reel-to-reel tape players, punchcard computers and color TVs seemed state-of-the-art.

Unfortunately, I suspect the second quality will be obliterated, or at least undermined, by CBS and Paramount’s decision to “update” the show’s special effects and sets for High Definition TVs when the series re-enters syndication September 16. According to High-Def DVD Digest, the tinkering will include “…redone spaceship exteriors, a rejiggered opening and even a digitally remastered version of William Shatner’s classic 38-word ’Space, the final frontier…’ credit monologue.” E! Online says, “Battle sequences, ship exteriors, galaxy shots and landscapes (which previously came courtesy of matte paintings) will be given more shading, depth and computer-generated believability.”

I don’t see the point of that, because let’s face it, most science fiction—even sci fi that’s much subtler or deeper than the original Trek—is of lasting interest not because it predicted how we’d someday live, but because it preserved the essence of the time in which it was produced. That essence includes the texture of the work itself—the color scheme, the costume design and wardrobe material, the haircuts, the actors’ tics, the optical effects. And as time goes on, the visual/aural/rhythmic aspects of the work exert their own fascination—sometimes the only remaining fascination. Rewatching old episodes recently, I found myself snickering at Kirk’s hard-on swagger, the female crewmembers’ babelicious miniskirts and the show’s insistence on ending nearly every episode (“City on the Edge of Forever” notwithstanding) with not just a tie-it-all-up climax, but a jokey denouement on the bridge wherein Kirk, Spock and McCoy busted each other’s chops (cut to Spock raising an eyebrow). But I’ve retained respect for what creator Gene Roddenberry and his collaborators were able to accomplish despite tight budgets and continual interference from network suits—their ability to transform limitation into abstraction, so that the near-primary colored costumes, the warty styrofoam rocks and the brightly-hued two-dimensional skies became components of a poetic/theatrical dreamscape, a place where you wouldn’t be surprised to see Gogot and Didi stroll into the frame, followed by Woody Woodpecker.

Just look at the hanging doors and windowpanes in “Spectre of the Gun,” or the modified fallout shelter logo plastered all over the gladiatorial episode “The Gamesters of Triskelion,” or the huge radar dish in the Enterprise’s nose cone, or the red/yellow/blue uniform scheme (which made early color TVs seem well worth the expense); they’re beautiful not in spite of their simplicity but because of it. Like dioramas or theatrical props, they represent the gist of something tangible, and leave viewers to imagine the rest. The ragged matte lines around the starships, planetary bodies and transported crewmembers aren’t just evidence of a small budget. They’re brush strokes—proof that you’re watching something created by human hands during the golden age of analog sci-fi, roughly 1952-1982. So you can see the nails and seams and paint daubs when you watch the show in High-Def; that’s not a drawback, it’s a bonus.

This CGI facelift idea does not sound as intriguing, or as theoretically defensible, as latter-day Orson Welles fans going back and creating an alternate version of Touch of Evil based on massively detailed notes by Orson Welles that his studio ended up ignoring, or George Lucas’ decision to revisit the original three Star Wars films and make them look like what he’d envisioned back in the early 70s but couldn’t execute, due to lack of money or available technology. This Star Trek business sounds colder—the TV equivalent of a landlord gutting a beautiful old building and redesigning its facade and interiors to mimic current architectural fads. Next week, CBS and Paramount are hosting a teleconference with TV columnists to let the project’s supervisors explain their motives and defend their choices, so I’ll withhold final judgment until then. But for now I’ll just say the very idea depresses me. There is no pop culture equivalent of a historic landmarks commission, but at times like this, I wish there were.

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Awards

Oscars 2019: Who Will Win? Who Should Win? Our Final Predictions

No one is okay with the Academy Awards the way they are, and everyone seems sure that they know how to fix them.

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Roma
Photo: Netflix

No one is okay with the Academy Awards the way they are, and everyone seems sure that they know how to fix them. Cut out the montages, bring back honorary award presentations, give stunt performers their own category, let ranked-choice voting determine every category and not just best picture, overhaul the membership ranks, hold the event before the guilds spoil the surprise, find a host with the magic demographic-spanning mojo necessary to double the show’s recent audience pools, nominate bigger hits, nominate only hits. Across the last 24 days, Ed Gonzalez and I have mulled over the academy’s existential crisis and how it’s polluted this year’s Oscar race so thoroughly that it feels eerily similar to the 2016 election cycle all over again. We’re spent, and while we don’t know if we have it in us to do this next year, we just might give it another go if Oscar proves us wrong on Sunday in more than just one category.

Below are our final Oscar predictions. Want more? Click on the individual articles for our justifications and more, including who we think should win in all 24 categories.

Picture: Green Book
Director: Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Actor: Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody
Actress: Glenn Close, The Wife
Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, Green Book
Supporting Actress: Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk
Original Screenplay: Green Book
Adapted Screenplay: BlacKkKlansman
Foreign Language: Roma
Documentary Feature: RBG
Animated Feature Film: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Documentary Short: Period. End of Sentence
Animated Short: Weekends
Live Action Short: Skin
Film Editing: Bohemian Rhapsody
Production Design: The Favourite
Cinematography: Cold War
Costume Design: The Favourite
Makeup and Hairstyling: Vice
Score: If Beale Street Could Talk
Song: “Shallow,” A Star Is Born
Sound Editing: First Man
Sound Mixing: Bohemian Rhapsody
Visual Effects: First Man

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Awards

Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Picture

The industry’s existential crisis has polluted this race so thoroughly that it feels eerily similar to the 2016 election cycle all over again.

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Green Book
Photo: Universal Pictures

“I’m hyperventilating a little. If I fall over pick me up because I’ve got something to say,” deadpanned Frances McDormand upon winning her best actress Oscar last year. From her lips to Hollywood’s ears. No one is okay with the Academy Awards the way they are, and everyone seems sure that they know how to fix them. Cut out the montages, bring back honorary award presentations, give stunt performers their own category, let ranked-choice voting determine every category and not just best picture, overhaul the membership ranks, hold the event before the guilds spoil the surprise, find a host with the magic demographic-spanning mojo necessary to double the show’s recent audience pools, nominate bigger hits, nominate only hits.

But first, as McDormand herself called for during her speech, “a moment of perspective.” A crop of articles have popped up over the last two weeks looking back at the brutal showdown between Saving Private Ryan and Shakespeare In Love at the 1999 Academy Awards, when Harvey Weinstein was at the height of his nefarious powers. Every retrospective piece accepts as common wisdom that it was probably the most obnoxious awards season in history, one that indeed set the stage for every grinding assault we’ve paid witness to ever since. But did anyone two decades ago have to endure dozens of weekly Oscar podcasters and hundreds of underpaid web writers musing, “What do the Academy Awards want to be moving forward, exactly? Who should voters represent in this fractured media environment, exactly?” How much whiskey we can safely use to wash down our Lexapro, exactly?

Amid the fox-in-a-henhouse milieu of ceaseless moral outrage serving as this awards season’s backdrop, and amid the self-obsessed entertainers now wrestling with the idea that they now have to be “content providers,” all anyone seems concerned about is what an Oscar means in the future, and whether next year’s versions of Black Panther and Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody have a seat at the table. What everyone’s forgetting is what the Oscars have always been. In other words, the industry’s existential crisis has polluted this race so thoroughly that it feels eerily similar to the 2016 election cycle all over again, and Oscar’s clearly splintered voting blocs may become ground zero for a Make the Academy Great Again watershed.

In 1956, the Oscars took a turn toward small, quotidian, neo-realish movies, awarding Marty the top prize. The correction was swift and sure the following year, with a full slate of elephantine epics underlining the movie industry’s intimidation at the new threat of television. Moonlight’s shocking triumph two years ago was similarly answered by the safe, whimsical The Shape of Water, a choice that reaffirmed the academy’s commitment to politically innocuous liberalism in artistically conservative digs. Call us cynical, but we know which of the last couple go-arounds feels like the real academy. Which is why so many are banking on the formally dazzling humanism of Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma and so few on the vital, merciless fury of Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman.

And even if we give the benefit of the doubt to the academy’s new members, there’s that righteous, reactionary fervor in the air against those attempting to “cancel” Green Book. Those attacking the film from every conceivable angle have also ignored the one that matters to most people: the pleasure principle. Can anyone blame Hollywood for getting its back up on behalf of a laughably old-fashioned but seamlessly mounted road movie-cum-buddy pic that reassures people that the world they’re leaving is better than the one they found? That’s, as they say, the future that liberals and Oscar want.

Will Win: Green Book

Could Win: Roma or BlacKkKlansman

Should Win: BlacKkKlansman

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Awards

Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Adapted Screenplay

After walking back almost all of its bad decisions ahead of this year’s Oscars, there’s no way AMPAS isn’t going to do the right thing here.

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BlacKkKlansman
Photo: Focus Features

Eric and I have done a good job this year of only selectively stealing each other’s behind-the-scenes jokes. We have, though, not been polite about stepping on each other’s toes in other ways. Okay, maybe just Eric, who in his impeccable take on the original screenplay free-for-all detailed how the guilds this year have almost willfully gone out of their way to “not tip the Oscar race too clearly toward any one film.” Case in point: Can You Ever Forgive Me? winning the WGA’s adapted screenplay trophy over presumed Oscar frontrunner BlacKkKlansman. A glitch in the matrix? We think so. Eric and I are still in agreement that the race for best picture this year is pretty wide open, though maybe a little less so in the wake of what seemed like an easy win for the Spike Lee joint. Nevertheless, we all know that there’s no Oscar narrative more powerful than “it’s about goddamn time,” and it was so powerful this year that even the diversity-challenged BAFTAs got the memo, giving their adapted screenplay prize to Lee, Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, and Kevin Willmott. To bamboozle Lee at this point would, admittedly, be so very 2019, but given that it’s walked back almost all of its bad decisions ahead of this year’s Oscars, there’s no way AMPAS isn’t going to do the right thing.

Will Win: BlacKkKlansman

Could Win: Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Should Win: BlacKkKlansman

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