Nominate, And Choose, J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” for Best Picture

November 30, 2009 § Leave a comment

By Lars Trodson

The Academy Awards situation is rapidly and predictably reaching what we will call the “Dark Knight Dilemma.” The dilemma can be described this way: how does the Academy recognize the most popular films of the year even if the top movie critics in the country disagree mightily with the public.

“The Dark Knight”, of course, is the Batman sequel that broke box office records two years ago but was generally shut out at awards time (Heath Ledger notwithstanding). The low-grossing and utterly laughable “No Country For Old Men” won the big awards that year, a decision that history will no doubt regard in the same vein as rewarding “Forrest Gump”, “Chariots of Fire” and “Shakespeare In Love.” The Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences knows that it has to start finding a way to recognize those films that make $300 million at the box office but are generally realized to be lacking in the artistic department.
The attempt to bridge the gap between box office and critical acclaim was apparently behind the decision to expand the Best Picture category from five nominees to 10. (This was the way it was done decades ago.) That way the big grossing pictures could sit alongside the smaller, critically acclaimed movies that few people got to see.

But I doubt, for a second, that a nomination for, say, “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince” is going to change anyone’s mind about the acuity of the Academy voters’ minds if the movie doesn’t actually win a big award.

The Academy also chose to expand its list in a year when the gap between the popular and the critical is wider than ever.

There is, delightfully, a terrific bridge between both critical acclaim and popular acceptance in J.J. Abrams’ adaptation of “Star Trek.” This is a beautifully made film – classically structured, wittily (and knowingly written) and lovingly performed. There is much warranted skepticism about modern Hollywood – does anyone know what they are doing? Well, the answer, in the case of “Star Trek” at least, is yes, there are some people who know what they are doing.

I have been utterly non-committal when it comes to the “Star Trek” TV series – any of them. They’ve never mattered to me. I did, however, get hooked on the big screen versions when director Robert Wise visited the campus of Muhlenberg College, where I went to school, and showed some early footage of the original “Star Trek” adaptation back in 1980. Then I was hooked on the big screen adventures.

And the 2009 version I watched twice in a row. Abrams and his crew did a fascinating job bridging a recognizable 21st century world with its 24th century counterpart. The massive, smog-blurred edifices seen in the background of the flat Iowa landscape where a young James T. Kirk grew up was a brilliant touch. The Romulan spaceship, which defies conventional design technique, invites mystery.

The script, by Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, may or not be faithful to the origins of the “Star Trek” myth, I suspect that it is, but it isn’t bogged down with convention. The script feels light on its feet, even while echoing the time-traveling conundrum of the Robert Wise “Star Trek” of 1980 and referencing a famous “Saturday Night Live” one-liner about Spock’s frame of mind.

It is a particularly happy coincidence that actors Zachary Quinto (Spock) and Chris Pine (Kirk) have managed to make both their characters more human than their antecedents. And while I could have used less of the let’s-laugh-at-the-Russian’s-funny-accent characterization of Chekhov (Anton Yelchin), Karl Urban’s portrayal of Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy was recognizable without being reverential. It was good that Abrams and the actors felt a little free to breathe life into the icons without leaving them behind completely.

This movie captivated me. If it was nominated, and won, the Oscar for Best Picture, it would also be a chance for the industry to recognize that franchise films, which comprise so much of Hollywood’s income, are not necessarily a ugly thing art-wise.

According to, the top grossing films of 2009, as of Nov. 29, were: “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”, “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince”, “Up”, “The Hangover”, “Star Trek”, “The Twilight Saga: New Moon”, “Monsters Vs. Aliens”, “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs”, “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”, “Night at the Smithsonian: Battle of the Museum”, “The Proposal”, and “Fast and Furious.”

Eight of those 12 films are remakes or sequels, so Hollywood has no choice but to get better at them. The world may not tolerate awful third versions of “Pirates of the Carribean” or “Spider-Man” or “Beverly Hills Cop” or “Back to the Future” (never mind the second installment of those franchises), much longer. You can only fool the public so often.

It will also do the Academy no good if it nominates and rewards a film like “The Road” (I haven’t seen it) for Best Picture if it grosses a total of $38 million at the end of its run. That kind of move will further diminish the Academy’s place in popular culture.

J.J, Abrams’ “Star Trek” sets the sequel/reboot/franchise bar very high. It boasts new-age effects and old-school craftsmanship, and is, in its own way, a perfect bridge between the past and the future; a link between the business as it was and as an art form of the future.

And if any of you think that nominating — and awarding — such a film as “Star Trek” as Best Picture is unworthy, then I recommend the following Best Picture winners for your viewing pleasure: “The Great Zeigfeld”, “American Beauty”, “Amadeus”, “Around the World In 80 Days”, “Braveheart”, “Chicago”, “Driving Miss Daisy”, “Cavalcade”, “Going My Way”, “Gandhi”, “The Greatest Show On Earth”, “The Last Emperor”, “Out of Africa”, “The Sound of Music” and the aforementioned Worst Best Picture Winner Ever, “Forrest Gump.”

Good luck making the argument that this new “Star Trek” doesn’t hold up.


The Best Movie You Will Never See

July 10, 2007 § 7 Comments

By Mike Gillis

What is “Cloverfield” and will it be a great film? No one cares. Slim chance it will be remembered beyond opening weekend. That won’t matter.

“Cloverfield” is the working title of a secret film project by “Lost” creator J.J. Abrams. Based on the paucity of information available, it’s a monster movie about a giant parasite. Or robot. Or ancient deity. Websites and blogs are popping up all over the web, components of a very savvy marketing campaign generating early interest in the yet-to-be-named picture, set for release in January 2008.

So why are we talking about it now?

“Cloverfield” is sure to become one of the most notable examples of how movies are marketed in the modern age. The film’s publicity arm is already tapping into a hyperactive and voracious network of bloggers and web socialites, feeding them intrigue in small but steady doses. A short teaser trailer surfaced in theaters during the opening weekend of “Transformers,” triggering a landslide of giddy interest and debate online, where the trailer now lives. A whole contingent of moviegoers hopes the monster is Godzilla.

Selling a movie these days, specifically those of the tent-pole variety, isn’t about the movie or even whether it’s any good. It’s about product. And product placement — not whether brand-name potato chips are devoured on screen, but to transform the movie itself into a consumable product. The majority of movies released today are crafted as nothing more than disposable entertainment. You watch, you’re entertained, you forget.

Now before you start flaming me as a “film snob,” understand I like being entertained as much as anyone at the movies. Whatever other purpose film may serve — social, philosophical, investigative — it is foremost a medium intended to entertain. That’s fine.

But what happens when people are herded to the theater for the next big picture — and it’s no good? Nothing. The movie lives on, on DVD, online and in infinite syndication. I mean, how many times have you seen “Tremors” on TV?

That picture has probably earned back its budget ten times over on television alone. (“Tremors” isn’t a bad little B-picture, actually.) What about the atrocious “Independence Day,” which ratcheted up the Hollywood hype machine months in advance? Who doesn’t want to see a movie in which the White House blows up? Or what about the years-long buildup to the god-awful “Star Wars, Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace,one of the worst but highest-grossing movies of all time? The end-of-the-world picture is always populat, but who really remembers “The Day After Tomorrow” just a few years after its successful run in theaters?

Spreading the good word before a movie is released is not a new strategy. Oh sure, there were reports of inexplicable catastrophes on the set of William Friedkin’sThe Exorcist,” which no doubt steered a few people to the theater. And what about the long-running press coverage of “Apocalypse Now’s” seemingly doomed production?

Everyone loves a train wreck. But those two pictures survived. They are watched, discussed and enjoyed today, They would have likely survived without incessant coverage.

And they made it without “viral marketing.” Viral marketing aims to perpetuate a product primarily via the internet and its social networks. Once the seed is planted, and if it catches on, word spreads on its own. It’s a perfect vehicle for movies. Click here for a look at how a viral marketing campaign works.

The Blair Witch Project” was one of the first films to latch onto viral marketing. Via mysterious websites and curious clues planted online — much like “Cloverfield” — the filmmakers sparked interest in a little movie, shot on video, that would have otherwise disappeared without a trace. Instead, that curiosity translated into big box office and made “The Blair Witch Project” one of the highest-grossing independent films of all time. Not bad for a film, despite my admiration for its limited resources, isn’t a very good movie.

Which brings us back to “Cloverfield.”

Is it a movie about Godzilla? One of the entities from the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft? Voltron?

Keep watching the web. The mystery is bound to be better than the movie.

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing the J.J. Abrams category at roundtablepictures.