Fast & Furious at 19

One of my favourite movie franchises began almost 20 years ago. This is sometimes hard to believe, given the number of movies that I've truly enjoyed that have stood the test of time, but there's something uniquely special about this particular series. Some movie franchises, such as the Bourne series, keep us interested because of the adrenaline rush that comes from seeing the main character consistently stay one or more steps ahead of his adversaries. This series, Fast and Furious, remains one of my favourites primarily because it's one of the few sets of movies where I feel it's okay to "turn the brain off" before settling in to enjoy the action. I love racing cars. When I wasn't doing it for real while young and invincible, I was busy with EA's Need for Speed franchise of racing games. There is no point in denying that — deep down — I enjoy competing directly and vicariously in this arena.

Fast & Furious — Final Race

Today, while waiting for the boy to fall asleep, I decided to watch a little bit of the first Fast and Furious movie. This was a time when everyone was still quite young. Brian was a cop. Dom drove an import. The romances we saw at the end of F8 were just in their infancy. It was a simpler time. Nobody had expectations for a sequel.

The brain was squarely "off" before the end of the Universal Studios logo. Despite not seeing this particular movie for quite some time, we know what we're in for ahead of time. In the words of the immortal Rick Sanchez: Don't think about it. As long as you don't, the movie is thoroughly enjoyable. Races feel fast and real. The obvious product placements for Panasonic, Corona, Mazda, Corona, Subaru, Corona, and NOS are just part of the story. The bad acting, one-dimensional antagonists, incontestable plot holes, asinine catch-phrases, and throwaway supporting characters barely draw any attention. Heck, even the obviously forced attempts at swearing and rage can be taken in stride. All because we know ahead of time that this is going to be a stereotypical "guy movie".

Even after nineteen years, none of this bothers me. The movie is just as enjoyable now as it was in 2001 when I saw it in theatres. Except …

One thing that has changed over the almost two decades since this movie first came out is my reaction to the gratuitous use of scantily-clad young women. When I was in my mid-20s the shots of long legs, dark skin, midriffs, and fiery eyes captured my attention just as much as the Nissans, Mazdas, Subarus, and Hondas they stood beside. Now, though … I'm not at all interested in the "kids" standing next to the pimped out vehicles. If anything, they're in the way. I want to see and hear the cars, not a bunch of bimbos who — as per the script — are looking to get next to those who compete and win.

Perhaps this means I'm "old". Maybe it means I would rather just spend time with a car than a fickle sleeping partner. I'm content with either assessment. There's far more to life than sex, after all. A fast car and an open road can keep me content and mostly out of trouble for years.

This is perhaps what I like most about the Fast and Furious movies. They do the things that I would not dare do anymore, and I can live vicariously through this fiction. Running from the cops. Hijacking shipments. Screaming through a 30km school zone at 220kph. These are the actions best left to the world of make believe, and there isn't a better description of Fast and Furious than "a fantasy world where having the fastest car equates to freedom from responsibility".

May I never tire of these movies ….

Am I Still A Trek Fan?

This week marks the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, an occasion that one would think would fill a trek fan with happiness, but I find myself completely ambivalent about the fact and it has me wondering why. For the 25th anniversary I practically begged my parents for the box set of movies and another model of the Enterprise1, but this time … nothing. Have I fallen out of love with the very story that shaped much of my early life?

The Cast of the Original Star Trek

This year I've managed to read a total of 18 Star Trek books and was on track to finish 36 before 2017 rolls around, but have stopped. The stories that have been told after the last of the Next Generation feature films have been quite good for the most part, with a great deal of character building and non-episodic timelines. The events that occur in one book will directly affect future stories, just as they should. The great thing about this sort of consistency is that reading Star Trek no longer becomes just a throwaway pastime, but something deeper and ultimately more enjoyable2. However, enthusiasm for the new books has fizzled. I haven't seen the latest Trek movie, nor am I willing to pay theatre prices to do so, and I have no intentions of signing up for CBS's on-demand streaming package to watch the next series that is due to come out in early 2017. Why is this? The Axanar lawsuit? The commercialism?

These reasons sound as good as any other.

Fact of the matter is, I've lost interest because everything is just so damned repetitive and so far away from the original concept of Star Trek that it's not really worth watching anymore. The one bit of "real Trek" I was looking forward to, Axanar, was hit with an ill-considered lawsuit over stupid reasons, the recent J.J. Trek movies have been infuriatingly stupid, and the recent books — although well written — have stupid plot devices that result in so much death and destruction3 that … well … it makes you wonder.

Star Trek today is very different from what Star Trek was when I was young. It used to be a story of optimism. A story of cooperation. A story where people were not judged by their genetic predispositions, but by the contributions they brought to the challenge. Sure, there's a lot of cheesiness in Trek, and that was part of its charm. But ultimately, it's a story of hope for the human race. That we will overcome the struggles of today and be better to each other. That we will explore the universe and overcome incredible challenges. That we will help each other without fail. I don't see this in any of the recent Trek. Instead we see the same old trope of death and destruction … as though these are the only stories we can tell.

In Star Trek The Motion Picture, the Enterprise never once fired its phasers. It did fire a single photon torpedo, but that was used to destroy an asteroid that had (somehow) appeared in a wormhole. The story was much more cerebral. Even in my favourite Star Trek movie, The Undiscovered Country, there was a great deal of story to be told. The battles between General Chang and two Federation starships were well told and well portrayed, but they were not at all central to the film. That's what I miss; stories that had an underlying message for those watching.

Under CBS and Paramount's direction — and lack thereof — this fictional universe has evolved to appease people who wish to enjoy watching demolition derbies in space. If this is what the general population wants, that's fine. It's not what I want, though. So I guess this means I'm not a Trek fan anymore.

  1. The model was the exact same plastic kit that was sold during the ten previous years, but it was in a new box!

  2. Enjoyable for me, anyway.

  3. I'll probably write more about this in a later post where I review a recent trilogy involving the Borg and one early Trek book I read when I was 12, and re-read just recently.

If You're Going to Destroy a Story ...

City's DestructionWith only two weeks to go before the start of September, the majority of this year's big-budget movies have already made their way to, and from, the theatres.  Quite a few movies gave us incredibly high expectations and, unfortunately, only one or two of these shows managed to keep people interested past the first hour.  It seems that for the better part of a decade movie-goers have had fewer reasons to dig deep into their pockets to pay the hefty prices for the luxury of sitting in uncomfortable, non-reclining chairs and traversing the oddly sticky floors found in movie theatres around the world.

Because many of these films have left much to be desired, we've had fewer reasons to justify spending over $30 on a semi-enjoyable DVD ($50 if you're in Japan), and it's becoming painfully obvious that the era of originality is long gone as every movie seems to be a remake of a remake, and an exceptionally poor one at that.  Movie-goers need something new to keep us interested, and movie companies need something new to bring in the huge revenues they enjoyed in the latter part of the 20th century.  But how can they do this?

Remakes, Re-Tellings, and R-Kelly's

Over the last few years we've seen a number of big-budget remakes.  Batman, Superman, Charlie's Angels, Indiana Jones, Hulk, Daredevil, Spiderman, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Star Trek, Transformers, the Bourne trilogy … the list goes on.  Of the movies in this list, none were watchable with the exception of the excellent Bourne movies.  In every case, the movies made after 2001 were almost a complete re-write of the original stories where only the character names were left intact.  These radical story changes were unwelcome by almost everyone who had enjoyed the orginal stories.  In some cases, movie fans were R. Kelly'd with explanations involving alternate timelines, in other cases there was no justifyable excuse for the complete story re-write.

But this wasn't going to stop anyone from paying the ridiculous ticket prices to see these computer-enhanced films with bastardized story lines. No-sir-ee.  Instead many of us went to the theatres knowing that the movie was going to require that we leave our cognitive functions at the door and sit back to ooh and ahh the increasingly realistic computerized explosions and impossibly massive scales of enemy machinations.  The hideously incomplete plot lines, redundant one-liners, and completely pointless sex scenes were just "bonus" features.

Enter the Competition

The chances of movie studios movie away from the highly lucrative existing franchise story re-writings is slim and none, so we'll probably see an increasing number of underwhelming stories released in the next few years until the video game industry perfects their interactive movie technologies.  So, to pass the time until such a day actually arrives, I have a suggestion to the big movie studios to help them boost (apparently) sluggish movie attendance and low DVD/Blu-Ray sales: a profits competition.

Jerry Yang and his Big Pile of CashThe premise would be incredibly simple.  A single story is selected to be made into a mega-blockbuster, and several production crews work in separate teams to out-do the other.  The finished movies will all be released the same month, and customers who attend the movie will have a website address on the ticket as well as a unique id number that will give them the opportunity to say whether the movie was good, okay, or complete blah.  Of course, people who have seen one movie can watch the other movies at a discounted rate, giving them the opportunity to see the different versions which will undoubtedly all have different plot twists and enough differences to not bore the audience.  Once all the votes are tallied, the movie with the highest number of positive votes will win all the profits to the three movies.  The other movies will only have their production costs covered.

Of course there would need to be certain monetary caps put in place. Actors, directors, and everyone else with big contracts would only be paid a base, with bonuses dependant on the results of the audience surveys.  There are undoubtedly a few other areas that I don't know about which would need to be complicated by contracts and whatnot, but this could usher in a new kind of movie-going experience.  No longer would we feel powerless to voice our complaints against a bunch of multi-millionaire entertainment-types who delivered a shoddy product!

But would this work?

That's the question, isn't it? Would people be willing to watch two, three, or four movies with the same characters and (heavily modified) base script and give their opinions online afterwards?  It would be a nice revenue stream for the big movie companies if it did work, though.  Not only could they sell the "winning" DVD later, but they could make bundles with the losers raking in a passive income as well.

Alas, this will probably never come to pass. Why do something that could excite the consumer when it's more profitable to sue them for stealing the current not-so-creative works online?  I'm not being unreasonable with my expectation to receive a quality and mostly creative product for my hard-earned money, am I?

Do you think current movies are still worth today's admission price? Would a competition for profits improve the quality of "blockbuster" films?  I'd love to know your thoughts.

Fast & Furious - Perhaps the Greatest Movie of 2009

Fast & FuriousWith each passing year, movies get bigger and bigger.  Very rarely can we walk into a cinema and see something lacking the touch of computer animation, and rarer still can we watch something that isn't a remake of some other story.  So you can probably imagine my surprise when, after watching the latest Fast & Furious movie on DVD, I proclaimed it as the greatest movie of 2009.

Like all movies of this genre, the story is incredibly simple.  The guys are all testosterone fuelled muscle nuts who are also pretty handy behind the wheel of a super-tuned machine.  They go through women at roughly the same rate as they do NOS and, when they're not behind the wheel, they're using mostly regurgitated sentences from various magazines and movies in such a way that you're left wondering whether a script was ever written in the first place.  Throw in a lot of money, partially clothed women, a drug dealer, and some anal-retentive FBI agents, and you've got yourself a highly anticipated guy flick.

"But these movies are so stupid!" you say?  You're right.  They are.  But they have one thing that so many other supposed blockbusters don't have: an incredibly small list of expectations from movie-goers.  Fast & Furious might not be up for any Oscars, but the movie will undoubtedly entertain people far better than any Hollywood film that's won one of those ridiculous awards in the last decade.

To prove the point, let's take a quick look at some of the other highly anticipated movies and see how they stack up against Justin Lin's car chase movie.

Star Trek

Star Trek (2009)Highly anticipated, and acclaimed by literally hundreds of people, Star Trek turned out to be little more than a middle-finger to every true Trek fan in the known universe.  An alternate universe?  Another one?  Are you kidding me?  A brand new Constitution Class vessel that is also the flagship of Star Fleet is crewed by a bunch of children?  How many people over the age of 25 were on that ship?  Two?  What happened to all the seasoned veterans?  Romulus is destroyed in the (original) timeline, now?  C'mon … isn't that a little much for the Sundered?  They were already forced to leave Vulcan centuries before, and now this?

Or how about the illogical state of affairs in terms of planetary defense forces.  Are you telling me that a planet as old and powerful as Vulcan had ZERO war ships to defend itself with?  Sure, these people may not be as violent as Humans or Romulans, but they were essentially the intergalactic police when Archer was around just a few decades prior.  The same thing is seen around Earth near the end of the movie.  Were was the local military?  Star Fleet had zero ships inside the solar system?  The Earth, despite having changed to a mostly-altruistic society, didn't have anything to attack that huge laser with?

Oh, but that's right.  This is an alternate timeline.  None of this actually happened.  Pfft.  It's almost as insulting as those TV shows where you find out at the end of a show that everything that just happened was "just a dream".

I have enjoyed Star Trek for most of my life, seen every episode of every series, read almost every novel written and, although there is a tendency for a planet's population to tremble in fear while waiting for the valiant crew of the Enterprise to arrive from some distant corner of the local galaxy to save the day, I cannot believe that the home worlds of such historically militaristic peoples would be so helpless.

Terminator 4

Terminator 4 - A Car on Fire, a City in RuinsFor a group of quick-thinking killing machines that want to 'terminate' all humans, they sure are stupid.  First off, why would you want to turn the planet into a freakin' wasteland at the same time as exterminating a species?  Sure, you hate people.  But what will be done with the planet after they're eventually wiped out?  Or does layers and layers of debris not interfere with the ability to mine the world's resources?  Also, why not just release some highly infectious disease?  Why waste so much time hunting down every last being when disease would be far more effective and carry zero consequence for the race of machines?  To that matter, why destroy humans at all?  Why not just leave the planet to convert the moon into some private world all your own?  No muss, no fuss.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

I shouldn't even have to say anything about this one.  There's plenty all over the internet about how this farce should never have even made it out of the transcript stage.  Neither Speilburg nor Lucas should be permitted to work on a film ever again.  This was proven after that last joke of an Indiana Jones movie.

More of the Old …

The one thing that really upsets me about almost every recent Hollywood movie is the fact that nobody can create anything new, anymore.  Every big movie that comes out is little more than a remake of something that was incredibly popular before.  How many "alternate story lines" can we really have for Batman, Spiderman, X-Men, Star Trek, Transformers, Indiana Jones, and everything else?  How hard is it for a group of authors whose job it is to think of new things to actually think of a new story and present it?  It's gotten to the point where it's no longer worth paying the $3 to rent a movie because I work harder to earn that $3 than the writers and director did to make the movie.

Alas, I digress.  So long as this trend does not begin to leak into Japanese anime and manga, then I'll survive.  I don't think I could accept an alternate storyline to stories like Hikaru no Go, Midori no Hibi, Detective Conan, or Chibi Maruko.

What do you think of the current spate of Hollywood movies?  Is it even worth the money to see these visually spectacular farces in the theatre, anymore?