Monday, May 09, 2005

Geekage Ahoy!

Time for a bit of geekage...surprisingly, not about Star Wars. At least, not all of it.

First, the Star Wars stuff: there's a reviewer on AICN who goes by the name "Alexandra DuPont", who hated The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. I mean, she detested them. So today she gives Revenge of the Sith a highly positive (and spoiler-dense) review:

It actually ties into why I'm in such a good mood about this film overall: It's actually worth discussing -- and not just in those exhausting "did it rock or did it suck?" back-and-forths where everyone's a loser.

Man, if that's the case, then am I in for a treat, because I've always thought that the first two films were very much worth discussing -- if I could find people who were willing to look past surface flaws that I never found all that damning.

In the same review, Ms. DuPont goes on to discuss the Firefly movie, Serenity, which I expect I'll be seeing at some point. I didn't read the whole thing, but I did like the opening paragraph of that bit, in which she discusses the fact that so many geek franchises have either ended or are about to end, and I found this sentence particularly clever:

The Wachowskis reduced the "Matrix" audience to the Venn-diagram intersection of philosophy undergrads, S&M aficionados, wuxia geeks and wankers in denial?

She also mentions Star Trek, whose current TV incarnation is about to disappear and whose further cinematic exploits are currently on hiatus. Personally, I'm fairly ambivalent about the end of Trek, which I find surprising even though I pretty much abandoned it halfway through Voyager's run and never caught an entire episode of Enterprise. The last Trek movie that I thought was any good was First Contact (btw, see the posts linked in "Notable Dispatches" in the sidebar for my opinions of all the Trek movies), and I thought that Nemesis was not just bad, but an embarrassing disaster of a movie. So basically I think that Star Trek's creative well has run completely dry, and if that's the case, it's better for it to be gone.

And I don't expect it to stay gone forever. Sooner or later, everything comes back -- witness the current success of the Battlestar Galactica series. What form will Star Trek take when it returns? Who knows?

I just read this Orson Scott Card article about Trek (link via Lynn Sislo), and as seems to be the case just about any time I ever read anything from Card's pen, I almost disagree completely, and I had to pretty much set the article aside when he referred to the franchise as "badly acted". Say what you will about the show's SF-nal quality (and it was never all that great, and at times it was downright awful in that regard), acting is about the last area in which you can accuse Star Trek of being lackluster.

It's interesting, from a standpoint of being within the SF ghetto, that the films and TV shows that Card cites as proving that filmed SF has finally caught up with written SF -- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Lost -- aren't marketed as SF at all. But anyway, I don't think that Card's thesis that Trek's popularity was due to its "SF 101" qualities really works. What made Trek popular was never anything to do with SF at all. It was about the drama.

Of course, Card has already ruled that possibility right out of existence, positing that since the show was badly acted and badly written, it must have been popular for some other reason. (When in doubt, just call the audience dumb and call it a day, I suppose.) I fully grant that many of the fans of Trek aren't familiar with the best SF of the day, but they are probably familiar with other fine writing, and it's telling that the very best episodes of Trek -- episodes like "The Menagerie", "The Visitor", "Tapestry", "Yesterday's Enterprise", "The Trouble with Tribbles" -- hinge upon compelling drama between the characters, and not great SF. I note that Card lists a bunch of SF writers who were the genre's leading lights when Trek first debuted, leading off his list with Harlan Ellison -- who just happens to have written what many (including myself) think is the very best episode of Star Trek ever, "The City on the Edge of Forever".

I think that Star Trek was popular only partly because it was SF. It was also popular, partly, because it depicted a very optimistic future in a time when such optimism wasn't always thought to be warranted. It was also popular because it often showcased very finely written drama, often based on thoughtful, literate themes.

I don't think that the demise of Star Trek tells us nearly as much about the current state of filmed SF as Card thinks it does. In the end, the demise of Star Trek really only tells us about the current state of Star Trek.

Hailing frequencies closed, Orson.

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