Star Trek Beyond: Mini-Review (No Spoilers) & Implications

star-trek-beyond-international-movie-poster

Star Trek Beyond International Movie Poster from Shockya.com

Fun

So I saw the 3D Imax showing of Star Trek Beyond yesterday and I was really impressed by it.  Not to mince words: I loved it!  It was a fun movie and harkened back to the things that made Star Trek such a global phenomenon in the first place.  There are no spoilers in this mini-review as this is really more of “impressions” than a true review.  Currently, this is sitting at an 84% (critics) and 86% (audience) score on Rotten Tomatoes  and it is deserved.  On a quick side note: see how closely critics & audiences scores are when one side or the other doesn’t have an ax to grind (i.e., Batman v. Superman or Ghostbusters).

Good Plot, Action, & Characterization

Why are both critics and audiences liking this movie?  In short, it has a good plot, lots of action, and strong characterization.  Again, with no spoilers, the plot is strong.  It has a very well defined beginning, middle, and end.  The beginning reacquaints us with the characters and starts the problem.  The middle is tense and the end ratchets up the stakes in a totally believable way.  It follows “Fryetag’s Pyramid” perfectly–in a way I haven’t seen in a while.  The action is very well done, in fact, it is second only to Captain America: Civil War this year (so far).  I was very impressed with several of the set pieces in the movie.  If you can see this in IMAX 3D, do so!  It is well worth the extra cost for the action set pieces.  Finally, the characterization in the movie is also very well done.  One of the most fun things about both Star Wars and Star Trek is the interaction between the characters.  The script separates characters in a unique interesting way–it doesn’t stick with the “expected” pairings of characters and this allows us “fresh” perspectives on the various characters through their dialogue and actions.  I really like the way the dialogue especially was written and this is the first Star Trek where I feel all of the characterizations “match” completely with those of the original cast.

Rating

I give this one a solid A (a 95-98 if I was grading it academically).  Why so much higher than Rotten Tomatoes?  Remember, I’m a Sci-Fi/Fantasy reader and writer.  This movie was made for me–I’m its target audience.  Does it have problems–a few small ones, yes.  Some characters don’t get enough screen-time in my opinion, for one, but on the whole, this is a very enjoyable movie that has great action and great heart.  It is everything that I aspire to when I write (or what I’m looking for when I’m reading/watching genre works).

Implication for my Writing

So this is a new section that I thought I’d add to (most) every review/mini-review of works as I learn things that I can try to add into my (creative/writing) life.  One of the things that I noticed that I liked about this movie was the idea of inner conflict for the main characters. I’m currently stuck on “Project Storm.”  I’ve written the first scene and have an idea where to go for scene 3, but scene 2 just won’t come out right–and now I know why.  It’s the same reason that many of my characters are “ciphers.”  The protagonist for Project Storm has no inner conflict.  He has an outer conflict–to save his ship–but there is nothing inside him that he is struggling with.  Several of the characters in Star Trek Beyond have a clearly inner struggle that they are struggling with and must find their answers through course of the plot.

I think that I start drafting too soon.  I often know the plot (or most of it for short works).  I usually have a good grasp of the setting.  I don’t think that I often know what my main characters are struggling with when I begin the story.  I know what they want or what their problem is (sometimes), but I often can’t say why it matters to them.  I’m missing their internal motivations–why is escaping so important to my protagonist of Project Storm?  “To stay alive,” would be my answer to that question, but that’s not really an answer.  To be alive or to be free AND alive?  Those are two entirely different motivations and they change the entire story.  Scene 2 will play out much differently if the protagonist just wants to be ALIVE, or if he’s willing to die to stay FREE.  And I don’t know yet which one my protagonist would choose.  So, to my mind, I’ve started drafting without giving enough consideration to my character (& that to my mind is why I’m stuck!)

So, I’ve gone back and I’m trying to figure out what is the inner conflict that my characters are struggling with before I begin drafting to make the drafting process easier.

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Current Events and Writing

Langston_and_Zora

Sometimes you have to take a step back and actually think about what you are publishing and writing.  The past week’s senseless violence made me stop and reconsider a story that I’d been obsessing over looking for markets for it for the past 2 weeks.  The story was Citizen X and it is an alternate history story.  I talked a little about on the blog previously, but it takes an idea about what might the world look like if McCarthy (of the “Red Scare” & “McCarthy Trials” fame) had won the presidential election.  I also added in a bit of science fiction to the world and advanced some of the technology by about 150 years just to make it a more interesting place (servebots whizzing around the place similar to our rising drone culture, for instance).  My protagonists are Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston and they don’t fare so well in this world, but they are the most equipped to speak out about it in this alternate history.  Yet, just as McCarthy used the legal system and the “trial” as hammer in the real world, so too does he use the police force as a hammer in the world of the story.

Hence, the tie to Current Events involving police and deaths.  I’m no longer comfortable with the ending that I wrote for Citizen X.  (Even the title of the story is meant to evoke the slain militant civil rights leader Malcolm X–a conscious decision on my part).

Now, even though this story was written a while ago, the events that have happened this week are simply too tragic and horrific to be trivialized.  Do I want my story to be relevant?  Yes, but not at the expense of minimizing the tragedies of people losing their lives.  I decided, for the time-being, that I did not want to submit Citizen X out to markets until I either was comfortable with submitting it again or found an ending that is different from its current ending.  I actually have a new ending in mind (it is the original ending for the story from a dream I had that helped me conceive the story in the first place), but I wrote away from that ending and tried to make the story “edgy” and “relevant.” But now I’m considering a return back to the old (dream-inspired) ending.  As I am discovering, being “edgy” and “relevant” doesn’t make my story better, rather it is a distraction that keeps my art from doing what (I think) good art should: giving a commentary on what it is to be human without me (the author) telling you (the audience) what to think, but rather letting you come to the conclusion on your own.  In other words, being “edgy” & “relevant” puts too much of me in the story and serves as a distraction.

Lesson Learned = don’t try to be edgy (or relevant).  Just get out the way and tell the best story I can.

“I rebel.”

Star Wars Rogue One

Source: Screenrant (via Google Image Search)

MINI-RANT: Summer Movies 2016 and Low Review Scores

“This is a rebellion, isn’t it?  I rebel.”  This line comes from the upcoming Star Wars Story: Rogue One movie and it is perfect for the way I feel right now about review scores and many (not all) reviewers this summer.  Let me be clear: I am in FULL rebellion mode.  I no longer trust reviewers to give a good unbiased opinion as to whether a (summer) movie is good or not for 2016.

As an example, here are some numbers from Rotten Tomatoes (at the time of this writing): The Legend of Tarzan (Critics 36%, Audience 71%), WarCraft (Critics 29%, Audience 79%), X-Men: Apocalypse (Critics 48%, Audience 71%).  Metacritic isn’t much better: I checked a Metacritic score for a movie (I believe it was Independence Day 2: Resurgence) and found that a “reviewer” gave it a 0 rating!  Zero, really?  As an educator who has graded a ridiculous amount of student work, I know that zeroes SHOULD be reserved those who don’t turn in the assignment.  If you turn something in, you get some credit for it, if just for attempting it.  I’m not giving the reviewer’s name nor linking to his review as I don’t want to give him “hits” for the review.

These are gaps of 30-40 points with a 50 point gap on the extreme end.  Are critics so out of touch with their audiences’ expectations, or is something else to blame.  To me, this goes far beyond giving a negative review to a product you don’t like and delves into the realm of propaganda.  You don’t like something and you don’t feel anyone should like it, so you bash it and badmouth it to the point where it can’t make enough money to survive in the marketplace.  How else would you explain the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice numbers?  BvS (Critics 27%, Audience 66%).  Compare that to Captain America: Civil War (Critics 90%, Audience 90%). Again, all numbers are at the time of writing.

<Sarcasm tag on>Wow, would you look at that?  A movie that the critics liked and want to see more movies made in that style happens to match almost identically, some might say magically, the audience rating.  What a strange coincidence!<sarcasm tag off>.

In reality, if reviewers are really doing their jobs and objectively looking for things in the movie that were well done and things that were off-putting, then the audience and critics should be nearly in lockstep (within, say about 10% of each other to account for various tastes in the marketplace.)  Let’s see if this holds true: Secret Life of Pets (Critics 75%, Audience 69%), Independence Day: Resurgence (Critics 31%, Audience 36%), Central Intelligence (Critics 68%, Audience 70%), Conjuring 2 (Critics 79%, Audience 85%).  If critics were as out of touch with their audiences as the BvS and WarCraft scores indicate (among others) shouldn’t The Secret Life of Pets be off by 20 or 30 points?

This is why I’m rebelling.  I’m going to see the movies that I’ve already determined that I want to see irregardless of the critical reception.  I may be swayed by the audience reaction should an audience score be much, MUCH lower than I anticipated, but right now, as a group I feel that many mainstream “reviewers” are not trying to even be objective about some of the movies that are releasing this year.

In closing, I think I’ll mention the review that I saw of Batman v Superman the night after I saw it in the theaters (yes, its gotten SO bad that I don’t even watch the reviews until AFTER I’ve seen the movie for myself).  One reviewer called it “a mess” and couldn’t wait to talk about how bad it was.  Yet, I enjoyed it and my mother and stepfather who grew up on the golden age Batman and Superman comics enjoyed it.  So, I’m left to wonder, was the movie really that bad, or are you (as a critic) tired of Zack Snyder’s “style” because its the same “schtick” that you saw in 300 all those years ago (which was a “revelation” back then because it was NEW) and now you want to punish him and DC/Warner Brothers (which is all this particular reviewer really seemed to want to do).

So, until review scores get back in line with (what I feel) are audience expectations, I’ll trust my own judgment on what is good and bad at the movie theaters.  Does that mean that I’ll probably see a “clunker?”  Probably, but at least I won’t miss a truly spectacular movie because a reviewer has an axe to grind (aka Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) or even a fun summer popcorn movie (aka WarCraft).

It’s that Time of Year Again . . .

tourdefrance2016

Source: Letour.fr

Yup, it’s that time of year again–The Tour De France 2016 (aka “my annual 3 week production drop”).  It’s that time of year when my brain goes into “shutdown” mode and I gorge on four hours plus of race coverage for 3 weeks straight (including the “Rest Days” as I end up watching reruns of the previous days race even when there’s not a race on because I can’t bear to be without the race.  Sad isn’t it?  :0 )

I love watching the Tour and I have since the mid-80’s when Greg Lemond was participating in the Tour.  This (after E3) is my unofficial “Me” time where I put most everything aside and just watch.  I’m not a huge TV watcher, meaning that I’ll turn it on , but unless I’m invested in a (sci-fi and/or BBC) show, it is just “background” for me.  The Tour is one of those few exceptions.

“Project Storm”

openboat

Source: learningenglish.voanews.com

Surprisingly enough, this year I’m actually still producing work.  I just started a new short-story tentatively titled, “Project Storm.”  For those who are interested, it was inspired by “The Open Boat,” by Stephen Crane.  I’m less interested in the actual plot of the story and more interested in some of the comments/thoughts of the men.  More on the genesis of the story in an Author’s Note when I finish it.  This one may be one of my shorter works–I’ve finished Section 1 and I’m thinking there’s only going to be 3 sections, but that may change.

Outlining Longer Works — “Project Skye”

 

A few posts ago, I was bemoaning the fact that I’ve not outlined anything any of the longer works that I would like to work on and summer break is quickly coming to an end.  So, with that in mind, I grabbed my notebooks and began going through them looking for ideas that I could use for Chapter Headings/Titles.  I put down around 60 or so possible chapter titles (whew!).  I’ll start whittling them down and then I’ll see if I can put a sentence or two description about what happens in each chapter while watching the Tour.  Who knows, if I’m really lucky, I might have a novel outlined by the time race concludes in 3 weeks.  How cool is that?  Wish me luck!  🙂

Goal: to have an outline finished by Summer 2016 so that I can start writing chapters in my (rare) downtime, so that by the end of the 2016-2017 school year, I have the “rough draft” of my first novel completed!