Saturday, May 2, 2009

Miscellaneous Musings: When Going Back to the Beginning Just Feels Wrong

May 3, 2009

I’m trying to get excited about J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek, but I just can’t. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve read all about the glowing reviews and the standing ovations from adoring fans who thought they were watching a special screening of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of those who speak of the film with great excitement and anticipation. Yet for me something is missing. I’ve seen all of the previews thanks to the kind folks at; the previews seem to be intended to give the film the feel of an important event, as if we are somehow going to see something mind-blowing and original. Just listen to the theme music; with its blaring horns and high-pitched chorus, it’s been especially designed to tug at the heart strings and make us think that viewers will witness the beginning of a revolutionary franchise. The problem I have with this notion is first that Star Trek is already a franchise and a decent one at that. My second problem is that new Star Trek seems to be essentially an origin film, and even though I have seen each of the previous films in the series, I can honestly say that I have not once wondered, “Gee, just how did Kirk, Spock, and McCoy meet?”

It seems to me that there are two kinds of origin films. The first kind begins a franchise, and because of that, the film functions similarly to the character’s first comic book. Therefore, like the first Spider-Man comic strip, the first Spider-Man film introduced its audience to Peter Parker, the social misfit, and then took us step-by-step through his transformation from someone who used his power for personal gain to someone who sacrifices his own personal happiness so that others are protected. It’s a nice story; the problem is that it’s a story I was already familiar with, and therefore, for the first half of the film I was bored out of my mind. I felt the same numbing sensation as I watched the first X-Men film. Having read my fair share of X-Men comic books years earlier, I already knew Wolverine’s origin, so watching him struggle because he didn’t know it was a tedious experience.

The second kind of origin film could essentially be called a money grab. It’s as if the studio is saying that they’re completely out of new ideas for the franchise and yet want to milk it for all its worth. I would argue that if this is indeed true, then studios should let successful series’ die gracefully. Instead, we get rehashes of stories we either already knew or simply didn’t care to know in the first place. For example, did moviegoers really need or want a film that explained in often graphic detail just why Hannibal Lector went crazy? Judging from Hannibal Risings’ dismal box office receipts, the answer to that was an emphatic no. And was there really anyone imploring studio executives in e-mails to show them just how Wolverine became Wolverine? Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that information readily available on Wikipedia? Confirming my suspicions relating to the real purpose of X-Men Origins: Wolverine was the recent suggestion that the fate of X-Men Origins: Magneto depended solely upon the box office success of Wolverine, not on Magneto's individual creative merits.

To me, origin films are only interesting if we either have never seen the characters before or are seeing a new version of a beloved character. M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable was a completely original story, and therefore none of its twists and turns was common knowledge beforehand. For all the gripes that people have had about Lee Ang’s The Hulk, no one can say that it didn’t deliver a rather fresh take on the character and his beginnings. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Batman Begins, which took audiences into the mind of a young man still traumatized by the murder of his parents and unsure what to do with the rage inside him. Batman Begins, as well as Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, made its audience understand the kinds of events that what would make someone don a cape and seek out those individuals that others spend their lives trying to avoid. In short, this is what an origin film should do but what far too few of them actually deliver.

And so, as moviegoers are no doubt flocking to theaters to see for themselves just how it all began for the mutant known as Wolverine, I am remaining at home, uninterested in seeing a story that I feel I already knew. I wonder if I’ll be in the same spot when Star Trek is released.

As always, I welcome your thoughts on the matter.

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