STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS: CFQ Spotlight Podcast 4:20

Chris Pine (right) and Zachary Quinto (left) have nemesis Benedict Cumberbatch at their mercy (don't kid yourself) in STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS.
Chris Pine (right) and Zachary Quinto (left) have nemesis Benedict Cumberbatch at their mercy (don't kid yourself) in STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS.

STAR TREK is back, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) is still flouting the rules, director J.J. Abrams is still dividing the fan base, but amazingly, inconceivably, there’s no dissent within the Cinefantastique Online ranks this time: Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons all agree that STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS is supreme, quintessential TREK adventure. Telling the tale of the Enterprise’s encounter with a diabolical mastermind (Benedict Cumberbatch), the film at once delivers the big-scale action (even better in IMAX 3D) that audiences have come to expect from a major studio tent pole release while honoring the ideals that made creator Gene Roddenberry’s optimistic vision of the future so compelling.
Come join Steve, Larry, and Dan as they delve deep into this top-notch entry to the TREK franchise, exploring what makes it both a superior entertainment and a worthy elaboration of Roddenberry’s humanistic vision. Plus: What’s coming to theaters next week.


'Trek 2' Getting Re-writes

Spock_CharacterPoster_72DPIIn response to Zachary Quinto’s( Mr. Spock) recent comment that the script to the currently filming STAR TREK sequel is still undergoing rewrites, co-writer Roberto Orci told

“…you should know the story hasn’t change(d), the structure hasn’t changed, and the action sequences haven’t changed. Most changes are minor.
The changes I suspect Quinto is referring to are the character interactions as we fine tune the level of their various friendships. How well they all know each other and what they’ve all been through off screen is a nuanced yet essential part of the actors understanding where they are coming from with each other. While discussing the exact same plot elements, what they’ve been through colors their attitude toward each other.
And given that the time past (sic) in real life is different than the amount of time passed in the movie world, it takes a polish to get it just right. That’s what polishes (a legal contractual word in our contract) are for.
Does any of this mean the movie will be any good? No. But if it’s no good, it will be because we were wrong to execute exactly what we wanted. Not because we changed our minds or someone changed our minds for us. “

See the much longer comments at the link above, where Orci adds that some slight revisions are also necessary to accomodate changes in setting as director JJ Abrambs explores new equipment allowing greater camera movement, presumably within and between sets.  All this must of course be documented and reflected in the script on any complex production.
Nearly all films require some on-going rewrites during production  to allow for directors’ decisions, ideas generated by actor improvisations,  location opportunities, etc.

Ender's Game in Play

Enders_GAME_HCAccording to The Hollywood Reporter, the script for a film adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s SF novel Ender’s Game is making a lot of buzz in filmland.

The script is “packaged” with screenwriter Gavin Hood (X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE) attached as director, with STAR TREK’s   Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci set to  produce,  along with OddLot Entertainment’s  Gigi Pritzker.
Apparently, almost every studio and a number of film finance companies have received the package, and several follow-up meetings have already been scheduled.
 Orson Scott Card’s 1985 novel is set on a future Earth, which has barely survived two attacks by the Formics (or Buggers), an insectoid race. To train soliders the  Battle and Command schools have been formed where children are immersed in virtual reality “games”, which have greater signifgance than suspected.
The protagonist is Ender Wiggins, a bullied and  abused boy,  who becomes an unorthodox master of these vital skills, and put on a path towards leading the International Fleet.
A deal was in place at Warner Brothers in the 1990’s to make a movie version of the Hugo and Nebula Award winner, under director Wolfgang Peterson (ENEMY MINE), but production never came to pass.
The article speculates that Warner Bros. might be interested in reacquiring the project, as might Paramount/DreamWorks where Kurtzman and Orci already have strong ties.

Star Trek Scribes 'Break Story' for Sequel

star-trek_poster_BlueThe L.A. Times reports that the STAR TREK reboot writers, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, have ‘broken’ the story for the sequel, meaning that they do have the essential plot set for the next film
While not revealing any details, the duo did provide some insight into their process. Alex Kurtzman said (in part):

 “I think one of the weird challenges that we’re facing on this one is that in many ways, with the first movie, I don’t think people knew what to expect, so when we were in the writing process, Bob and I really spent our time going to things that we loved about TREK and it was a very unfiltered process. It felt intimate and small….  Now, that first movie has come up and did well and everyone wants to know what happens next…. We need to find our way back to the same kind of vibe that we had when we wrote the first one: What do we want to see here? What moved us about TREK? Where can we go from where we left off?”

Roberto Orci noted that this film is not an origin story, and added the following:

 “We’re looking at a lot of the old episodes for inspiration, still. Whereas the last movie was all about breaking free from STAR TREK and its canon, now that we can do whatever we want, we still want it to feel like good ol’ STAR TREK, even though it’s a new story.”

For more details, including possible comparisons to THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, follow the link above.

"Locke & Key" TV Series?

There has been much recent speculation that STAR TREK writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci have been working on developing the popular graphic novel series Locke & Key for film. As it turns out, Kurtzman and Orci have actually decided to pursue the project as a TV series.
The graphic novels, penned by Joe Hill, son of acclaimed fiction author Stephen King, tell the story of a New England family and their mysterious mansion whose doors and magical keys play havoc with those who come across them. The series would be the product of a deal between Kurtzman, Orci, and 20th Century Fox TV and would presumably also involve Dreamworks TV.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen – Science Fiction Film Review

Transformers Revenge of the Fallen (2009)

Michael Bay’s TRANSFORMERS sequel is less science fiction spectacle than an excursion into abstract cinema

No other critic is going to admit it, so it falls to me to declare  that director Michael Bay is an abstract artist whose work is continuously misinterpreted. The conventional wisdom is that Bay is a no-talent uber-Hollywood hack, who churns out formulaic action blockbusters in which story, characterization, and dialogue are flimsy pretexts for blowing shit up real good. What critics fail to understand is that Bay takes this approach and extends it one step further: the action and explosions are as much pretext as anything else in his films. Bay is not only eager to break with the traditions of narrative cinema; he wants to overthrow the conventions of mindless roller-coaster movies, in which a series of set-pieces deliver enough visceral entertainment to compensate for the weak storyline. Bay couldn’t care less about using camera angles and editing to orchestrate a decent suspense scene that would put you on the edge of your seat, nor is he interested in calibrating special effects, music, and sound design to deliver legitimate thrills. Viewed through his lens, all of that hardware flying around the screen, punctuated with pyrotechnics and saturated with geysers of flame and pillars of smoke, is merely raw material from which he can extract form and color. Yes, there are “actors” in his movies, along with “sets” and “props” – some of them physical, some of them crafted with computer-generated imagery – but in the end, all of them are simply blobs of light and shadow to be shot across the screen like paint spattered on a canvas by Jackson Pollack. The objects being photographed blur until they lose distinction, their form and function subservient to the aesthetics of kinetic motion, color, and composition.
What is most amazing about this achievement is that Michael Bay has presented his peculiar, idiosyncratic vision while working within the Hollywood studio system, under the guise of making movies that are perceived to be crowd-pleasing, mainstream entertainment with wide audience appeal – even while he resolutely refuses to deliver entertainment on the most basic level. In TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN, Bay has at his hands numerous resources that could have been easily marshalled by a more conventional director. Given a rising young star like Shia LaBeouf, Bay deliberately uses camera angles, movement, and editing to split the actor’s performance up into a series of jigsaw puzzle pieces that barely fit, giving only the vaguest hint of a character portrait, our attention instead directed to the size and shape of the pieces.

Megan Fox
Megan Fox

Even more obviously, given Megan Fox, who is probably the hottest woman on the planet (Jessica Alba notwithstanding), Bay can barely be bothered to exploit her latent sex appeal. Like Goddard, who de-sexualized Bridget Bardot in CONTEMPT by filming her bed scene in alternating primary colors that rendered her nudity in abstract terms, Bay uses his over-powering cinematic technique to reduce the leading lady to little more than a glorified extra – her denim shorts, tight clothes, and low-cut blouses registering only as small fragments of the kaleidoscopic kinetic color scheme that is the true raison d’etre of TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN.
Even the potential of the titular toys is undermined whenever possible. The fun of Hasbro’s Transformers is that they look impossible: there can’t possibly – or so it seems – be a way to unfold that car into a robot with arms, legs, and claws. And yet, it turns out to be completely possible – a challenging puzzle that engages the minds of children even as they are enjoying play-time with their toys. TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN, like TRANSFORMERS before it, is unhindered by physical reality; therefore, Bay sees no need to present transformations that have been as rigorously designed as the toy manufacturers, by necessity, had to design theirs. CGI can do anything, so anything goes. There is no need to marvel at clever construction; you need only allow your eye to be dazzled by the shifting slabs of metallic hues as the robots bend and twist like origami viewed in a fun-house mirror.

Despite his meticulous attention to craftsmanship, Michael Bay has not yet fully achieved his artistic apotheosis with his sequel to TRANSFORMERS. He does lapse into conventional cinematic forms at time, much to his detriment (it’s no accident that his biggest box office bomb, THE ISLAND, was the one that tried to tell a straight-forward story without explosions, at least for its first act). LaBeouf gets in a line or two of dialogue. John Turturro is allowed to give something resembling a performance (not a subtle one, to be sure, but it still resembles traditional acting). Here and there a close-up lingers just long enough for the viewer to realize that Megan Fox is, indeed, a fox.* An occasional joke elicits a laugh. A stunt looks like a part of the story instead of an Olympic event. A piece of shrapnel seems to threaten a character in a manner that almost makes you fear the impact rather than cheer on the beauty of motion-color artistry.
Bay’s most unforgivable lapse  in TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN comes when he lets the screenplay present exposition intended to justify the action. Bay seems to realize that no one cares what the Decepticons are up to or why super-powerful Autobots need LaBeouf’s puny character for help; nevertheless, he includes these moments, perhaps out of a sense of obligation to the studios unwittingly funding his excursions into experimental cinema.
Fortunately, these lapses into conventional narrative form take up only a tiny fraction of REVENGE OF THE FALLEN’s two-hour-plus running time. Even more fortunately, when Bay gets back to the action, he shows no desire to pay his audience back for having forced them to sit through the tedium. Staying true to his unique vision, Bay insists on botching the promised throw-down between Optimus Prime and the Fallen. The thrill of victory after a hard-fought battle is almost as alien to Bay as the dramatic necessity of exposition. His is a purer form of cinema, at its best when unfettered by such quaint considerations.
We can only hope that he continues to explore this avenue, taking if further and further, until one day, perhaps, he ceases to photograph identifiable objects at all. With advances in computer-generated imagery, we look forward to the day when Bay indulges in a purely abstract phantasmagoria of sound and color, whose shapes and sizes are dictated only by the director’s imagination, not by the face and bodies of actors; their movements coordinated not according to some unnecessary “plot”  but choreographed like a dance; the soundtrack score serving not to convey an illusionary sense of emotional investment in plot or character, but freed to work purely in rhythmic and melodic terms.
‘Tis a consumation devoutly to be missed, but until that glorious day arrives when Bay delivers his perfect masterpiece, we must be content with the psychadelic stylings of TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN.

  • In one inexplicable close-up, Megan Fox is supposed to be expressing fear at the approach of a Decepticon, but her wide eyes and softly parted lips suggest a woman anticipating the arrival of her paramour in a romantic mood. Subsequent shots show Fox with her hand covering her mouth, as if Bay and/or his editor suddenly realized this was the only way to prevent her come-hither look from overwhelming the rest of the scene. Why the first shot was allowed to remain is a mystery – a sop to teen-age boys, perhaps? You can view the scene here.

Optimus Prime
Optimus Prime

TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN(2009). Directed by Michael Bay.  Written by Ehren Kruger & Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman. Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Isabel Lucas, John Turturro, Tyrese Gibson, Rainn Wilson, Ramon Rodriguez, Hugo Weaving (voice of Megatron), Peter Cullen (voice of Optimus Prime). 

Star Trek: One Trekkie's Contrarian Thoughts – Film Review

Okay, boys & girls, this little look at the 2009 STAR TREK movie is gonna get a tiny bit nit-picky and point out a few details that some other folks are letting slide. It also assumes that you’ve seen the film. So if you’re one of those viewers who thinks the new picture is ‘totally awesome,’ then you’d better not read on. Because although I enjoyed it quite a bit, I’ve got a few thoughts & questions I’d like to get off my chest. Sure, you’ll no doubt think they’re petty, but I happen to think some of those little details can hinder the film’s chances at being taken seriously as big screen cinema and something that works on a global level.
Now, remember, I did enjoy the new STAR TREK film; I just didn’t love it to death. There were certain aspects that seemed to pull it back into the realm of that television feel I’ve never liked from the films. The impetus behind the baddie’s desire for revenge and the new timeline that develops because of his embittered actions smack of been-there-done-that, and it feels like the type of plot structure we’d see on the itty-bitty screen. Besides, it’s pretty hard to beat Khan in that realm.
There’s the obligatory mind-meld scene in which young Kirk (Chris Pine) is told why angry Nero (Eric Bana) is mad at well-meaning Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy/Zachary Quinto) and wants to destroy Vulcan. It’s supposed to be important for Kirk to go through the mind meld to better understand what has transpired, but then we’re subjected to a flat and redundant voiceover from future Spock (come on, doesn’t that stick in your craw even a little?) explaining everything to Kirk — and us. Crikey, if that’s all there was to it, they could have sat down by the fire while Spock simply wove his tale verbally. The meld came off as superfluous, and again, the whole explanation felt like TV.
And what about that mining drill in Nero’s ship? What was that all about? They lower this thing down from on high via what looks like some sort of mangled bicycle chain just so they can shoot a ‘drilling’ beam into the body of the planet. Uh, in the STAR TREK universe, why can’t they just shoot a beam from the ship itself to achieve their end? Heck, they’ve done it plenty of times before for other purposes. Oh wait, but then we wouldn’t have that cool skydive & fight scene.
Here’s another question about the whole drilling thing. Why do they have to drill into the center of the planet to set off the red matter and generate a black hole? It seems to me that if they just shot it into the surface of the planet and let it explode the hole would generate just the same and consume any surrounding matter, so Spock’s planet would be toast anyway. Oh wait, but again we wouldn’t have that cool skydive-and-fight scene. Jeez though, didn’t that come off a little gimmicky?
What about the monster chase? Seriously, if you were really hungry and somebody set a nice plump chicken to the left of you and a scrawny rat to your right, and then said, “Take your pick.” Would you really throw the chicken aside and go for the rat? Then later, of course, all it takes to scare the giant beast off is a measly puny torch being waved in front of it. Yeah, the chase was kind of fun, but the motivation and resolution? Homey, don’t buy that.
Something that really grated on my nerves was watching certain bit actors come off as though they were just playing dress-up for a Star Trek convention. That screamed geekboy TV show. Frankly, so did the red academy uniforms; scenes with cadets dressed up in those things felt un-cinematic and yanked me completely out of my suspension of disbelief.
Now I know STAR TREK’s visual effects have been getting solid word of mouth; though some of them did look quite nice—especially on good ol’ planet Earth—I gotta say some others simply looked like pumped up versions of what we’ve been seeing on TV for the last few years (did Titan honestly look real?). It was easy to feel the CGI. Some of the sound effects lacked a true big-screen punch too, especially gun battles — I’m sick and tired of pew-pew futuristic weaponry visuals & sounds. When is somebody going to sincerely get innovative in that area again?
Speaking of weapons fire, if Nero’s ship was getting consumed by a black hole, why did Kirk have to order for all weapons to fire at it? I’m just askin’, but it seemed to me that it was for little purpose other than to show us some more visuals. In the time they sat around doing that and watching things, they could have skedaddled and Scotty (Simon Pegg) wouldn’t have had to save their butts. Oh, and Eric Bana? He struck me as a very forgettable member of STAR TREK’s  ‘pained’ villain roster – less a character than a device for the plot to hang its hat on.
Here’s another pet peeve most of you will wanna slap me for: I hate the words “space dock!” Every time I hear ‘em it’s like Quint from JAWS scraping his fingernails across that chalkboard. It sounds so 1950’s or Saturday morning TV (anybody remember SPACE ACADEMY or JASON OF STAR COMMAND?). The only classy and time-honored way to refer to a docking status is “dry dock!” Grrrrr!
Yes, I know how I sound grousing about stuff like this. Yet, it’s little weaknesses like these — to my way of thinking — that make me wonder if the film can play world-wide. I was really hoping this movie would kill off that American-TV-centric feel that only STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE (think of it what you may) was able to avoid. In many ways this TREK did that, but in other, important ways it didn’t and me thinks that can hurt its overall world market potential.
I know after that big list of peeves it’s gotta sound like I have it out for poor STAR TREK. However, after having said all that, I can still tell you it was a very fun, zippy ride that is much livelier and more colorful than all of the past films and most of the TV incarnations. They went in a direction I’ve long felt they should go – the early days of the original crew. I dug Scott Chambliss’ production design, and the young cast is extremely likeable in their roles. Everyone got their moment to shine too. Chris Pine made for a witty, rousing young Kirk (though I did think he seemed just a little too eager to blow everyone off and become boss) and I very much enjoyed everyone else as well, save for the bloke who played Bones (Karl Urban). He looked great, but came off as playing (and over playing) his character instead of being his character.
One of my favorite performances came from Bruce Greenwood as Captain Pike. That man’s got style and presence. I’ve always really liked him and look forward to him one day receiving an Oscar nomination (he’s already been nominated for several other awards). Heck, he practically deserves it in this film. He delivers his lines with an expertise and commanding control that should elicit more attention and mention. Many of those lines might come off like geekboy talk were it not for his smooth, reasoned delivery. He also managed to pull off a big-screen feel in an outfit or two that wouldn’t have looked thus on someone else.
Lastly, I hold Michael Giacchino higher than most in terms of the newer film composers, so I was hoping to be wowed a bit more by his music for the new STAR TREK film. Though it’s a pleasant and workable enough offering, it lacks that certain zing. Still, he’s got two other big summer movies coming out this year (UP, LAND OF THE LOST), so I know he’s been a busy boy and probably had to work quickly on this one. And we’ll see, sometimes it takes a little while for a work to grow on ya.
Look, folks, all I’m trying to tell you is that STAR TREK, though a mighty good ride, ain’t perfect and wasn’t quite able to shed some of the small screen feel and sensibilities that have virtually always plagued the other big screen efforts. Nonetheless, it was brisk, clever, funny, sexy, nostalgic, contemporary, forward-thinking, optimistic, and even moving at times. It was certainly made with love and respect. So before you diehard fans come looking for my head, remember, I give it all that. That’s quite a lot.
STAR TREK (Bad Robot/Paramount Pictures, 2009; 126 min.) Directed by J.J. Abrams. Screenplay by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman. Based on the television series by Gene Roddenberry. Produced by J.J. Abrams, Damon Lindelof, and David Witz. Executive produced by Bryan Burk, Jeffery Chernov, Alex Kurtzman, and Roberto Orci. Cinematography by Daniel Mindel. Production Design by Scott Chambliss. Costumes by Michael Kaplan. Special Effects Supervision by Roger Guyett, Matt McDonald, Thomas Nittmann, Kelly Port, Daniel P. Rosen, Stefano Trivelli, and Edson Williams. Music by Michael Giacchino. Edited By Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey. Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Leonard Nimoy, Eric Bana, Bruce Greenwood, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Ben Cross, Winona Ryder, Chris Hemsworth, and Jennifer Morrison. MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence, and brief sexual content.

Paramount planning Trek sequel

Star Trek (2009)Variety reports that Paramount is already preparing a sequel to STAR TREK, their franchise reboot that does not open until May 8. Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof have been hired to script the follow-up, which will be produced by J. J. Abrams, who may or may not return to the directing chair. A draft is supposed to be ready by Christmas in hope of having the film ready for release in 2011.

There’s obviously a lot of hubris involved in signing on to write a sequel of a movie that hasn’t even come out yet,” said Lindelof, co-creator with Abrams of ABC’s “Lost” who produced the upcoming “Trek” but did not contribute to Orci and Kurtzman’s screenplay. “But we’re so excited about the first one that we wanted to proceed.”
As for potential storylines, Kurtzman stressed that the writing team will wait to take a cue from fan reaction about which direction to go.
“Obviously we discussed ideas, but we are waiting to see how audiences respond next month,” he said. “With a franchise rebirth, the first movie has to be about origin. But with a second, you have the opportunity to explore incredibly exciting things. We’ll be ambitious about what we’ll do.”

Orci, Kurtzman, and Lindelof are currently writing COWBOYS AND ALIENS for DreamWorks.

Orci and Kurtzman on writing Trek

The Los Angeles Times has posted a profile of the screenwriting team of Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci. Much of the article focuses on how the pair met and forged a partnership that has lasted through such projects as TRANSFORMERS, THE ISLAND, FRINGE, etc, but they do get around to saying a little bit about their upcoming STAR TREK film, directed by J. J. Abrams, which opens on May 8.

In crafting the new cinematic adventure about the Academy days of a young James T. Kirk and Mr. Spock — before they hopped on the U.S.S. Enterprise to boldly go where no man has gone before — the writers saw something familiar in the characters who represent fiery emotion and cold logic. […]
“Kirk and Spock are opposites from two worlds. That’s us in a nutshell. We’re drawn to each by what each of us lacks. The story of this film is about two guys who are such opposites that they might end up strangling each other but instead they bond and thrive together. That’s us. We can go warp speed together.”

The article recounts the effort to get Leonard Nimoy signed back on board – a strategic move to earn good will among the Trek fanbase:

With “Trek,” the pair and Abrams are trying to win over the famously passionate fans of the venerable franchise with a whole new cast playing the crew. No matter what they do, some die-hards will walk out of the theater grumbling, but the team has one ace in the hole: Leonard Nimoy is back as Spock (Zachary Quinto of “Heroes” plays the younger version of the Vulcan in the film). In fact, Nimoy is the only familiar face from the franchise returning for the Paramount reboot, and winning over the 79-year-old actor was a huge hurdle for the writers, who with Abrams went to visit him at his home.
When they arrived, Nimoy was giving off a ” ‘Who are you guys and what are you up to?’ ” vibe, Kurtzman said. “It was incredibly intimidating. By the end it was very emotional too. We told him that we couldn’t do it without him. We told everything and how he was the key to the movie, that the story doesn’t work without him. There was a very long silence and he got misty.
“He had retired and turned down many offers to return to this character, so this was asking the greatest gunslinger to strap on the pistol one more time. . . . His wife told us later that he didn’t get out of the chair for several hours [and] that he was overwhelmed by all of it and the decision.”

And Kurtzman and Orci talk about the tone of the new TREK movie, which will be anything but reverent:

 There’s a lot of humor in the film and a certain sexiness that is already stirring debate on fan websites, which Orci and Kurtzman read religiously. Orci is a zealous fan of the franchise with a deep knowledge of its history, and the pair put plenty of traditional touches in the new film, such as the furry and troublesome Tribble that makes an appearance.
“It was scary to try to be funny, but we felt confidant that we had to go for it,” Orci said. “In the original series, humor and sexiness was a key part of the show. It was in the middle of the 1960s and this liberation of the young. And it was funny too.”