Thursday, 7 May 2015
Thoughts on Star Wars, Star Trek and Thunderbirds.
(Note: I wrote this article a few weeks ago, before the Avengers 2 and the new Star Wars VII trailer were released, but I thought I'd put it up to get this blog started.)
A recent perusal of the shelves of a Forbidden Planet in London made me come to the conclusion that if Disney isn't careful, they're going to kill the Star Wars franchise deader than anything George Lucas could have done (and he had a pretty good go at it), simply by over-exposing it. How many more comic books are Marvel intending on launching? Is there going to be a Han Solo #1? C3PO #1? How about Salacious Crumb#1, or even The Adventures of Jar Jar Binks #1? And then there's the novels, the computer games, merchandising and whatnot, not to mention the actual films, of course, of which they're planning on squeezing out one a year. Yes, I'm as interested as everyone else to see what Part VII is going to be like (I wouldn't say excited yet), but all fans have a breaking point, and if they feel they're being treated like idiots they'll turn their backs on Star Wars and go elsewhere. Maybe I'm wrong and it will turn out that the fans have an insatiable demand for all things Star Wars, but all it takes is a few stinkers and the Star Destroyer will go straight down into Endor, just like it did in Part VI.
I hope this doesn't happen because I love myself a bit of Star Wars, with some notable exceptions (I'm looking at you Return of the Jedi), and I hope I get to see a few more good Star Wars movies before my midichlorion count reaches zero and I do an "Obi-Wan" style fade-out.
Another worry for me regarding the new Star Wars film is that this time George Lucas is completely missing from the creative process. Whatever people say about the Prequel Trilogy (and they said some real nasty things), without George there would have been no Star Wars, and for me the world belongs to him. For all its many flaws the Prequel Trilogy actually contains a very powerful message and does things that no other Hollywood studio would dare do, either then or now. This was only possible because Lucas financed all the films (bar the first one) himself. Now that George Lucas has been put out to pasture, can Star Wars retain that story telling daring, its identity, or will it become just more homogenised Hollywood pap? We won't know the answer to that one until December.
Unlike Star Wars, but like Thunderbirds, Star Trek has been with me since year dot. I thought the recent reboot movie was entertaining but nothing more than that, while 2013's "Into Darkness" was a rather dull affair. The main problem with these films is that Captain Kirk is portrayed as a cartoon version of himself (watch the TV series, he doesn't act like that at all) and that Spock has been repositioned as the central character. The whole point of Kirk (and the main strength of the TV show) is that his personality has been split into two individuals, who stand to either side of him like those angels and devils you see in old cartoons, sitting on Daffy Duck's shoulder, giving him guidance. On one side you have "Bones" McCoy: human, caring, flawed, impulsive and rebellious. On the other is Spock: cold, calculating, brilliant, loyal and as straight as an arrow -- also a bit of a sex maniac when the mood takes him. They are Captain Kirk's character externalised, allowing us to witness his thought process, the battle between his humanity and the expediency that command sometimes requires. Move Spock into the middle and suddenly the equation doesn't balance. Recently it has been revealed that Simon Pegg is involved in writing the new Star Trek movie, and I can only hope they return Kirk to his rightful place, as captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise.
Like Marmite, I think you have had to have grown up with Thunderbirds to really appreciate it. I used to sit with my sister in the living room, eating our Sunday lunches while watching the adventures of the Tracy brothers, and it's as part of my childhood as Star Trek and Doctor Who. A few days ago (Saturday 4th March) the first episode of a new series was broadcast on TV. For me nothing can beat the old marionettes, they're part of the show's charm, and not even Team America (itself brilliant) has dented my enthusiasm for visible wires -- but what was always more important was the amazing vehicles International Rescue used. There was nothing like them at the time, either on TV or in the cinema, and I really think Gerry Anderson could have become the UK's version of Walt Disney. The vehicles were really the stars of the shows and the makers knew it. Anime owes a lot to Gerry Anderson, as do I, although I would say Captain Scarlet was a bigger influence on me than Thunderbirds. Watch the first episode of Captain Scarlet on YouTube, and be amazed at how much incident and invention they manage to pack into twenty minutes of TV. My dream is to see James Cameron make a 300 million dollar movie of Captain Scarlet.
My impression of the new TV series was mixed, but I have to concede that while the original show was aimed at a family audience (and the one thing you could always say about a Gerry Anderson production was that it never talked down to you), this one was aimed squarely at kids, which is a pity (for me, not the kids). I didn't like the character designs much, although they may grow on me, and some of the voice acting was weak -- there's also an annoying "Iron Man" style robot around to provide the comedy. The story was rushed and I have no idea why the Hood (the show's main villain) was wheeled out so soon, to stand there and go "I'll get you, International Rescue! BWA-HA-HA!" Of course what really matters is the action, and this is where the show came to life. I shall stick with the new Thunderbirds for the time being.