An Ode To Leonard Nimoy, and To His Undying Character

Spock with a cat is basically the epitome of awesome.

Spock with a cat is basically the epitome of awesome.

Spock is still with us. He was brought back to life by the Genesis Device, after all. He’s out there somewhere, with pointy ears and one eyebrow raised, telling us the most logical course of action.

It is Leonard Nimoy, beloved to millions of people across the globe, that is no longer with us. But somehow, that doesn’t feel quite right to say.

I generally have a slight aversion to cheesy celebrity death posts, mainly because I have never had personal experiences with these celebrities, or did not feel like I was enough of a fan to warrant writing a eulogy for someone I’d technically never met. I was a fan of Robin Williams, for instance, and was very saddened to hear about his tragic death, but I did not feel I was the right person to write about what he meant to people.

This is different.

Leonard Nimoy did much more than play Mr. Spock on Star Trek (here is the proof). But for me, and for most people, I imagine, Spock is what he will be remembered for the most. It’s obvious why, and I don’t need to explain what made Spock such a good character. What I want to talk about is what Spock meant to me.

My parents are huge Star Trek fans, and one day the decided to order the first show from Netflix, CD by CD (back when people actually still ordered physical DVDs from Netflix), and watch it episode by episode with us. Since we had to wait for the DVDs to come in the mail, it was the closest we could get to watching it as a real TV show. In a way, it was even better because we were seeing every episode in order.

The show gets off to a semi-slow start, but by the time I saw “The Menagerie,” I was hooked, and much of it had to do with that intriguing pointy-eared science officer that was so different from everyone else in the show. And yet, he fit in perfectly. There would have been no Star Trek without Mr. Spock, and I don’t think I would have been drawn to the show as I was if not for him.

I’ve said numerous times, in discussion of TV shows like The X-Files and movies like Gravity, that what I personally look for in storytelling are complex characters. A good story is carried by great characters, and the emotional arc of any tale rides on a character’s conflict and development. But a great deal of it also rides on personality, which is something I haven’t discussed much.

Spock was – is – a logical, practical, calm person with two halves, a person split right down the middle between two kinds of being: the logical, and the emotional. The emotional is his human side, the logical is his Vulcan side. Or so the show claims. What was so, so special about Spock – and what really drew me to him, as a shy, lonely, awkward twelve-year-old – was the way he showed his humanity through his inhumanity. Some of Spock’s most emotional, noble, loving material is channeled through a being of logic – his Vulcan side cooperating with his human side, allowing it to drive his actions. And damn, there’s just something so relatable about that. We all feel like that. We all have problems that lead us in different directions. We all must find ways to make two conflicting sides of ourselves help each other.

I think Leonard Nimoy took this character that Gene Roddenberry created and gave him a depth, a layer, that Roddenberry had not anticipated. One raised eyebrow is funnier than any joke, one sincere sentence says more than a monologue ever could have. The contrast between Spock and Kirk is striking: Kirk, whose emotional material is delivered through passionate monologues and rousing speeches; Spock, who can do the same with a softly spoken sentence. Neither is better than the other; they go together, complement each other. Two halves of a whole.

I had to go out and do stuff today. I had to do normal things, like eat breakfast and go to class and buy food and talk to people. And all the while, I kept turning my head away, blinking back tears. I kept thinking back to when I was younger, sitting on my living room floor with a bowl of popcorn, watching a spaceship full of people wearing primary colors flying through space, boldly going where no one had gone before. To my young mind, Star Trek was the greatest thing I had ever seen, the most exciting, the most intriguing, the most creative. In many ways, it still is. In great part thanks to Leonard Nimoy and his character.

Spock, you have been and always shall be my friend. Live long and prosper. Thanks to you, I know I will.

spock

Movie Review – X-Men (2000)

Roar. Spoilers.

X-Men-2000

Okay, so I just saw the first X-Men movie. And since I’m apparently the only person in the world who hadn’t seen that movie until literally just now, I suppose I’m going to run the risk of sounding like a big idiot since everyone else will have some idea of what I’m talking about and I have no freaking clue. But since I laid this upon myself, I must continue. As Nostalgia Critic says, the review must go on.

I wanted to watch these movies mostly because I wanted to know what the hell everybody was talking about, and also to see if I could actually get into a superhero franchise for once. I’ve never really been into superheroes or superhero movies, but they’re all the rage now, and I suppose part of me wants to force myself to be interested in them. But, sadly, I haven’t been able to do that, and unfortunately X-Men didn’t really help much.

I had a very similar experience watching X-Men that I had watching The Matrix for the first time. I went in expecting to see this really awesome film that everyone’s all hyped up about, and all I got was a dumb action movie. Granted, X-Men wasn’t quite as dumb as The Matrix, but it was still mainly focused on the action and not much else. I’m pretty sure the scenes with dialogue are fewer than the scenes without, and with so many characters in one film, this is detrimental to character development because you never really get to know anybody. The only characters I felt had any true growth or charisma were Rogue and Professor X. Everyone else was just really good at, you know, fighting and stuff.

From what I understand about the franchise, X-Men’s main moral issue is that of prejudice, how the Mutants become outcasts in their society because of their dangerous superpowers. This causes many Mutants to live their lives in fear of either hurting other people or never being accepted into any sort of community. There are some Mutants, like Magneto, who want to use Mutant power to reverse the situation and put the normal kind down. It’s like the main issue in the first season of Legend of Korra, except in reverse – this time it’s the people with the power who are the outcasts, and the normal ones in control.

This actually is quite an interesting conflict, but the only trouble is it really doesn’t go anywhere. Just as the so-called “philosophy” in The Matrix never did anything beyond establish itself within the movie, the so-called central-conflict in X-Men is pushed aside for the action and is not very well executed. Oh, there are some good scenes – Wolverine’s talk with Rogue on the train is probably the closest the film came to really exploring the issues at hand. But like I said before, it’s hard to get invested in the conflict because you can’t get invested in the characters, at least not much.

I couldn’t possibly come up with one personality trait that any of these characters possess beyond their abilities. Even in an action movie, and especially one with this many characters, a unique and identifiable personality for each is necessary in order to have a smoothly flowing and relatable story. Unfortunately, X-Men commits the Star Trek: Into Darkness crime of trading any potential for great character development for the action. And for me, that’s a no-go.

Still, a part of me wonders, should I be judging this film so harshly? Because when you think about it, most people don’t go to see an X-Men film for story and character development; they go to see a bunch of superheroes kick some ass. And you can’t really deny that X-Men does deliver on that front. There are a bunch of superheroes, and they do kick some ass.

One thing I found myself really enjoying about these particular superheroes was how, in the case with most, their power involved interaction with the physical world around them. Oh, sure, there were some like Cyclops and Magneto who shot colored light or whatever, but many of the superheroes’ powers included manipulating things like weather, metal, human minds, objects, or even someone’s life force. I really liked seeing that, and it produced some very clever action sequences. My favorite was probably the one where Magneto makes all the policemen’s guns turn and point at them. That’s much more interesting and original than if he just shot them with silver light or whatever.

So, what was my overall opinion? Eh. But I understand that this is first and foremost an action franchise, and I’m willing to give it another chance. I will watch the second movie. Maybe I’ll get into it eventually.

Movie Review – Star Trek: Into Darkness

***WARNING: This review will contain spoilers. If you haven’t seen the film yet, don’t read any further and go watch it. Or, better yet, just spare yourself the trouble and go watch Star Trek II. And on that note, if you haven’t seen Star Trek II, not only are you missing out big time but you probably shouldn’t read this review because I’m spoiling that one too. (Seriously, though, watch that movie.)


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A little bit of context: I am about as big a Star Trek fan as it gets.

I have seen every episode of the original show and all of the movies featuring the original cast. I have seen most of The Next Generation and all but one of the Next Gen movies. The only reason I didn’t finish TNG and start with Deep Space Nine was because of The X-Files.

When it comes to the original series, though – which is by far the best – I am as devoted a Trekkie as it is possible to be. So you can imagine that when the first film of the new series came out in 2009, I was judging. Hard.

And, after seeing the second film in the new series, I have come to the following conclusion: the writers of this new film franchise are not real Star Trek fans, and they don’t know how a Star Trek film is supposed to work. They seem to have a fairly good grasp of the characters, the visuals, and the aesthetics, but they have no idea how to weave those elements into a true Trek story.

Which is why Star Trek: Into Darkness is a complete failure as a Star Trek movie.

Let me briefly explain what my experience of watching this movie in the theater was like. Actually, it’s probably just easier if I do it like this.

1st oh, 30 minutes or so:

Eager

Next 30-ish minutes:

Shifty

Last part:

khan

And it wasn’t just because of Khan, either.

But before I explain what I didn’t like about the film, I need to be very clear about what I did like.

First of all, and this is definitely the most surprising for me, I really like the new cast, particularly Kirk, Spock, and Bones. The actors they picked do a good job of playing these characters as well as bringing new life to them – that is, when they’re not restrained by the poor writing, but we’ll get to that later.

Second, the visual effects are awesome. That can’t be denied.

Third, I really like the soundtrack. As someone who loves film scores, this is a pretty big deal for me, even if it may not be for most people.

Star Trek: Into Darkness got off to a GREAT start. As I was sitting in the theater watching it, I actually thought I might be getting what I’d come for: a Star Trek movie. The last film had some good things in there, but unfortunately it traded the potential Star Trek magic for overused plot devices and annoying action movie clichés. I felt like I was watching a movie that was called Star Trek and had some elements of Star Trek in there that worked, but those elements were threaded into an action movie formula that has been used again and again and again. Which is precisely the opposite of what Star Trek is.

But what I couldn’t deny was the feeling that the cast and most of the crew that made the first film had potential. Maybe they hadn’t made that Trek film their first try, but perhaps they were just finding their footing. Now that they had an established cast and lots and lots of money, they could spend time and energy making something every Trek fan and newcomer alike would love to see.

I can’t speak for the newcomers, but I, as a Trekkie, was disappointed beyond repair.

It would be one thing if the film destroyed my hopes right from the beginning, but it does exactly the opposite. Sitting in that theater, I found myself enjoying the film so much that I was sure it was going to be great. We had Spock and Kirk dealing with actual issues, like rule breaking, the prime directive, and other moral questions which make Star Trek what it is. We had a well-established conflict, a mysterious villain, and high stakes. We had interesting, and at times familiar, interactions between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. Everything seemed set up perfectly to succeed. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, in short: everything.

By the time the middle third of the movie comes around, it’s basically just one explosion after another with almost none of the moral issues raised in the beginning ever having significance in the story again. Actually, there were so many explosions and battle scenes that I found myself growing more and more confused about what the conflict even was. What happened? Where are they? Where the fuck did the movie go?

But things took a serious turn for the worse when “Khan” showed up.

I call him “Khan” because he’s not actually Khan. I don’t care what the movie says, I don’t care what the writers say, I don’t even care what the fans say, he is not Khan. Not because he doesn’t look like Khan. I couldn’t give two craps about what he looks like; it’s an alternate timeline, I get that. No. This guy doesn’t act like Khan at all. He doesn’t talk like Khan, he doesn’t think like Khan, he doesn’t even fight or move like Khan. Therefore I must conclude that he is not Khan.

You see, all ye that know not of what I speak, the real Khan was a thrilling, powerful adversary who absolutely exuded fire, drama, rage, and power. Every word he says is dipped in some sort of verbal poison. He chews words, rolls them around, quotes famous authors, and treats every action he does with care and importance.

This “Khan” has a blank expression on his face and screams “NOOO!” sometimes. That’s about all the rage we get from him. There is nothing about this guy that is different from any other bland, generic villain in any other bland, generic action movie. This is not Khan. He is Insert Bad Guy Here.

But the part that really pissed me off, the part that literally made me cover my face in the movie theater, not in fear as my poor friend sitting next to me mistakenly thought, but in disgust – was the end. I have never felt so unbelievably violated by a movie before.

It’s not just that it’s a ripoff of Star Trek II, because it really isn’t. It’s someone ripping off Star Trek II who has never seen Star Trek II before, or if they did, only saw the last scene and therefore had no context with which to experience the full emotional impact of the movie or the thought-provoking questions the film raised.

I suppose I should take this opportunity to mention that Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is one of my favorite movies of all time. Not one of my favorite Star Trek movies or science fiction movies of all time. One of my favorite movies of all time, period. It is everything a Star Trek movie needs to be and more. It deals with complex issues of life and death, the effects of growing old, the no-win scenario, revenge, friendship, it’s got it all. And those themes come together beautifully, which is why the end is effective. Spock sacrificing his life and saying those words to Kirk aren’t meaningful because he sacrifices his life and says those words to Kirk, they’re meaningful because of everything that’s happened in the film up until this point, and everything that’s happened in the show up until this point.

In Star Trek: Into Darkness, the scene where Kirk sacrifices his life is preceded by…a lot of explosions.

That. Does. Not. Work.

And when Spock goes crazy, screams Khaaaan, and then runs off to beat “Khan” up, I literally thought I was watching a joke. Honestly, did they even think about how that would come across? It’s absolutely ridiculous. If I was in a good mood, I might laugh my ass off. It looks comedic.

And it really pisses me off.

What makes me mad about this is that newcomers won’t get why Star Trek: Into Darkness isn’t a good film because they don’t know two things: what a Star Trek film really should be and what a glorious masterpiece Star Trek: Into Darkness was so heinously referencing. And if this is what people are going to think of when they hear Star Trek, if younger audiences are going to be introduced to a Star Trek like this, I envision some dark days ahead for humankind.