The failure of the modern Star Treks

So I’d like a rant, of sorts, about Star Trek. Ever since J.J. rebooted this franchise, dragging it into the modern era, he set a new standard. Trouble is – and this is a problem many blockbusters have suffered in the last decade – his baddies have been under par. Yes, I get that he was rebooting and yes, I get that the focus is always going to be on the new Kirk and the new Spock and the rest of them, but I consider it dropping the ball a little to skimp on your bad guy. Especially in this day and age.

Maybe it’s excusable if corrected after the first film. Which, on paper, seemed to be the case with the casting of one of Britain’s finest for the sequel, Benedict Cumberbatch. Yet he hammed it up to the hammiest degree you ever did see (under J.J.’s direction) and his character didn’t really have enough depth to be a worthy villian (particularly as he was meant to be Khan) and his actions as a character made little sense, if you examined them in any close detail.

Then for the third film, Star Trek: Beyond we got a new director in Justin Lin (of Fast & Furious fame) and the geeky credentials of Simon Pegg on scripting duties.

So I had hope. Sadly, it was misplaced.

For the first film we had Eric Bana as the bad guy, then Cumberbatch, and for Beyond we got Idris Elba. So three guys, all with a specific vengeance they needed to settle. All utterly unknown to the new Kirk and his crew. So you sort of end up having to build the bad guy backstory each time.

And I get that films are standalone and aren’t TV, yet the lines are blurred these days.

Take James Bond as an example; where storylines and characters have continued under Sam Mendes’ watch. A juggernaut of a studio franchise, yet had kept some throughline in terms of evil organisations (although kind of squandered it all for SPECTRE, so maybe my point doesn’t hold up that well).

Anyway, I’m rambling, back to Star Trek.

Now I’m not saying that the ‘big bad’ has to Klingons or Romulans, but it’s getting pretty samey pretty quickly introducing a single bad guy with a weak motivation. There’s got to be other ways to do it?

And also, Pegg and Co… stop nicking stuff from Star Wars. I get that it’s kind of the benchmark when it comes to space adventures, but Star Trek is meant to be geekier, and it feels like it’s gone way too towards gung-ho action. And I say this not as a die-hard Trek fan, but a casual one. I can’t imagine how riled the hardline fans must be.

So my rant isn’t really a rant, it’s more an observation. I find these films fun popcorn movies, good for all the family on a Sunday afternoon and all that, but that’s it. I don’t know why I felt the need to voice this, but I feel Trek fans deserve more, and the characters deserve more.

Otherwise, not only will this franchise not live long, it won’t even prosper. Not even short term.

Hail Hydra. (Ah crap, wrong franchise.)

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: the difficult second album

Is the second film in a franchise the hardest or is the one that starts the whole thing off harder? And, for that matter, is a film a franchise after two outings? These days I’d say yes. At least the studios like to think so. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is no different. Indeed, it’s very much following the formula (not that that’s a bad thing).Dawn-of-the-planet-Of-the-Apes-2014-Wallpapers-8

  • Film 1: Set up the world, introduce the characters, keep things focused on the lead character and (largely) their individual journey
  • Film 2: Expand the world, make the stakes bigger, give the lead character much more responsibility, let the antagonists gain the upper hand (usually)
  • Film 3: Bring the story full circle, perhaps scaling things back to make them more personal and about the lead character’s individual journey again

Anyway, that’s my rough, it’s-early-morning-don’t-judge-me take on the tried and tested trilogy formula. If we’re talking large franchise (i.e. beyond three films), then the formula is anyone’s guess. But I’m getting off topic.

As far as reinvigorating a franchise goes Rise of the Planet of the Apes surprised everyone. After Tim Burton’s commercially successful but otherwise rather unmemorable attempt back in 2001, some said this story was pretty much dead and had run its course. Actors in full prosthetic makeup (decent makeup I’ll grant you) attempting to emote for all they were worth. Not bad, just not that good. Hats off to Burton for trying though.

But now… Hurrah and rejoice. With the rise of motion capture technology – led by the Godfather of mo-cap Andy Serkis – this tale could now be told in the most realistic way yet.dawn-planet-apes
Following events in Rise of Apes where the apes – led by Ceasar (Serkis) – bust out of San Francisco by way of the Golden Gate bridge, the story in Dawn of Apes picks up around ten years on. We’re told that much of humanity has been wiped out by ape flu, leaving a small percentage of the population intact and immune to the virus.

We start with Ceasar and his band of merry apes, now settled in a colony in the forest outside San Fran. Straight away it’s clear that – as a group – they’re well organised, intelligent, have a clear community structure and are, well, highly similar to humans.

They largely communicate in sign language, a method which gives them a graceful and dignified nature. Along with the community, individual ape characters have evolved since the first film. With Ceasar; long gone is the young revolutionary that broke his brothers and sisters out of captivity. Here we have Ceasar the leader, an ape in command, and an ape with bigger responsibilities. He’s now a family ape (with a wife and teenage son).
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Returning to my franchise bullet points for a moment, director Matt Reeves had a tricky task in more ways than one: expanding the apes’ world yet keeping the story personal, shifting the focus to the apes but keeping the humans very much in the story, giving more depth to the ape characters. Hell, even just getting the damn technology to a place where it would seem not only plausible, but very much believable was a big ask. (Remember, this is no Avatar where you can create the world from scratch. The director filmed most of this on location, making the motion capture aspect monumentally difficult.)

So if you stop and think about it for a second, this film could have gone south very quickly. Even with advances in technology you still needed to buy into Ceasar’s plight. But buy into it you will, or at least most of you will. It might seem like a broken record to say this but, yet again, Andy Serkis has shown the depth of his ability as an actor – and continued to showcase motion capture as a viable method of filmmaking (way more than 3D at any rate).

He also gets help from some hairy chums along the way, particularly the real antagonist of the film. Not human this time but ape, in the form of his volatile lieutenant Koba (played with real verve and conviction by Toby Kebbell). If there was ever an ape that had truly gone to the dark side, it’s Koba. The hate in his eyes is chilling yet you sympathise with him, to a degree. Praise should rightly go to Kebbell for his portrayal of an ape that’s become consumed by hate.XXX DAWN-PLANET-APES-MOV-JY-3806-.JPG A ENT
On the other side you have the humans, trying their darndest to get an old dam working to get power to their little colony. The story largely unfolds from the leader of their group, Malcolm’s (Jason Clarke) point of view. His quest to fix the dam is really just the starting point to kick things off and allow the apes to turn on each other, demonstrating they’ve got just as many flaws as the humans they’ve come to fear.

So in terms of difficult second album syndrome, Matt Reeves has done an exemplary job. He’s juggled numerous difficult elements: general plot, continuation of story, development of characters, mastering of technology and so on. It helps to have a decent script and the Godfather of mo-cap in your corner of course, but he’s still successfully steered the ship into a great position for the next instalment of this franchise.

Can Disney save Star Wars?

Upon hearing the news that Disney have recently acquired Lucasfilm I asked myself this question. Good old George, the 68-year-old filmmaker sold Lucasfilm for $4.05bn (£2.5bn), my initial reaction was not exactly excitement, more tentative hope.

Lucas is more or less a pensioner and his heart went out of making these films a long time ago. In some ways I’m amazed he managed to get the latest trilogy off the ground at all. Selling to Disney at this point was perfect timing and great business sense. How many other pensioners do you know that increase their fortunes by $4bn a couple of years before they turn 70? No wonder he looks smug.

He has said he wants to pass the franchise on to a new generation of filmmakers, with episode 7 being set for release in 2015. Episodes 8 and 9 will naturally follow, completing a 9-film trilogy spanning decades. Quite a legacy.

The force is strong in this one
Some die-hard fans have been moaning that Disney without Lucas means the corporation will be butchering the beloved world Lucas has created. I think that’s unfair.

Disney has moved on in the last 10 years. It’s worth pointing out they have a savvy – albeit slightly bullish – track record of acquisitions, with Pixar in 2006 ($7.4bn), Marvel in 2009 ($4.2bn) and now Lucasfilm in 2012 ($4bn).

With Marvel and Pixar, Disney have – to their credit – allowed these studios to approach their films, characters and stories in a way that stays true to their philosophy.

For Marvel, they’ve also chosen wisely in terms of Directors: Kenneth Branagh (Thor), Jon Favreau (Iron Man), Joss Whedon (Avengers). When Disney and Pixar merged in 2006, it was explicitly laid out that Pixar would maintain its identity and creative control, allowing this has meant their philosophy of filmmaking has continued and given us films such as: Up (2009), Toy Story 3 (2010) and Brave (2012).

I see no reason why Disney won’t continue in a similar fashion with new Star Wars films. This cinematic franchise has been around a hell of a lot longer than Marvel or Pixar films, with an incredibly devoted fan base to match.

I don’t believe it. That is why you fail
Make no mistake episode 7 is going to be a massive challenge for whichever Director Disney put in charge. It will be a continuation of Luke, Leia and Han’s story, so it’s completely new territory. There has been brief – probably comical – mention of the original actors returning, but they’re all pensioners now and it’s not worth entertaining the thought.

I’m not going to start dictating the best way Disney should approach these films, I genuinely have faith they’ll treat the brand with respect – and hopefully take it back towards the look and feel of the original films.  Either way, Lucas remains a ‘consultant’ for the next trilogy, so his reign of terror is largely over. Onwards and upwards!