Movies


I am once again watching Star Trek in my “DVDs to have on while I’m doing other things” rotation. I’m currently in season 4 of Star Trek: The Next Generation and I’ve come across two of my favorite episodes back to back: “Drumhead” and “Half a Life”.

“Drumhead” is similar in these to perhaps my favorite ST:TNG episode, “Measure of a Man” in that both involve courtroom proceedings and address some aspect of fundamental human rights. OK, I guess that would have to be “sentient being rights” because this is Star Trek, afterall, and although the themes are “human” rights, they’re not being applied to humans. In “Drumhead”, a conspiracy theory/ spy hunt gets a little out of control and it is up to Captain Picard to pull the proceedings back from the brink of disaster. “Measure of a Man” also sees Captain Picard playing the role of defense attorney, in this case in the trial to determine whether or not Data is “alive”. “Measure of a Man” gets me a little choked up every single time I see it.

“Half a Life” is a favorite because of the intensely powerful performances of the guest stars. Majel Barrett is back as the effusive caricature that is Lwaxana Troi, which always brings a special feeling to the episode, but David Ogden Stiers give an absolutely heart-rending performance as the alien Timicin. The plot is reminescent of “Logan’s Run”, with the inhabitants of planet Kaelon II performing “the resolution” when they reach age 60. “The Resolution” is a celebratory suicide. David Ogden Stiers brings such palpable emotion to the screen in his performance, with an immense gravity that plays off the Lwaxana Troi character masterfully. Mr. Ogden Stiers’ portrayal of Charles Emerson Winchester in MASH was always an interesting balance of serious and comic, as was that whole series, but many of his more recent roles have exploited his quiet, serious demeanor. He gives a similarly excellent performance as Reverend Purdy in “The Dead Zone” TV series (another Michael Piller production…). “Half a Life” also features a small role for Michelle Forbes who returns later as Ensign Ro Laren.

I haven’t gone into detail on these episodes because I want you to enjoy them yourself. If you’re not a “Star Trek type”, these 3 episodes would be worth watching. Personally, I find every episode of Star Trek worth watching, but if you’re not as committed to the ST Universe as I am, “Measure of a Man” and “Drumhead” are excellent episodes to explore the moral undercurrent that runs through all of Star Trek (as well as seeing some top notch performances by Patrick Stewart). “Half a Life” showcases some spectacular performances by some guest stars in a very well written and structured episode.

Science fiction is my genre. Watching a TV show? Probably sci-fi. Catching a movie? Yep, sci-fi. Read any good books lately? Sci-fi, sci-fi, sci-fi. That makes it even harder to admit that I really don’t like 2001: A Space Odyssey, the classic Stanley Kubrick science fiction film. Every 5-10 years, I convince myself that I’ll probably appreciate it more now that I’m “more mature”, and I watch it again. I even own the DVD. So last night, I popped it in and within ~45minutes I was sound asleep. To be fair, I had a long week and I was probably a little drowsy to begin with, but this the exact reason that I’m not a huge fan of the film. It’s boring. The dialog is sparse and the action is not active. I picked up the movie at around the 45 minute mark tonight and made it through to the end, and in the process I began to calculate how much actual content there is in the 2.5 hour film. I would bet that the film could be cut down to 30 minutes, maybe 45 minutes, and it would not suffer at all.

I certainly understand and appreciate that there were/are a number of technological advances on vibrant display in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The model work and photographic effects really are stunning for their time, but there are a few cases where I think Kubrick wanted to take advantage of those effects by stretching the scenes out much longer than they needed to be.

These complaints do worry me a little bit. There are many criticisms of modern cinema that decry the short attention spans and thirst for bigger and more elaborate special effects that many viewers bring to the theater. Am I one of those short attention span modern movie-goers? Can I not appreciate a movie without car chases and explosions? I don’t think I have too much to worry about, I’m not a hopelessly shallow modern movie-goer… I do, however, feel that the movie-maker bears some responsibility to keep me engaged in the film. Witty dialog, crisp cuts and scene composition, I can recognize a quality film when I see it, whether from a scriptwriting or technical perspective. 2001: A Space Odyssey is well-written but poorly paced. The technical aspects of the film are solid, but again the pacing detracts from the perceived quality in my opinion.

I’m sure that in 5 years I’ll once again give 2001: A Space Odyssey a try. Maybe I’ll finally be in a place that allows me to fully appreciate the brilliance of the film. It’s possible, but I’m not holding my breath.