Star Trek Beyond and Ghostbusters: Entertaining, Forward-looking Sci-Fi Movies

Continuing our summer tradition, B and I saw a double feature at our local drive-in this weekend: Star Trek Beyond followed by Ghostbusters.  I am not a hardcore fan of either of these franchises; I’ve never seen the original Star Trek series (and I actually enjoyed Into Darkness!), and though I’ve seen the original Ghostbusters, it was a long time ago and I couldn’t tell you much about it.

So that’s to say I didn’t have high expectations for either of these two reboot movies, but they both turned out to be entertaining in a good summer movie kind of way.

jaylah2

Star Trek Beyond had nothing that was super original in terms of plot; there was a little bit of suspense, but the villain was not particularly compelling.  But the characters were good, and by breaking them into pairs and small groups for most of the movie they were able to play them off each other well.  In particular, I appreciated that Uhura and Spock’s relationship was present but understated, with no unnecessary drama.

The music and visuals were also nice, though the attack on the Yorktown outpost reminded me strongly of Xandar from Guardians of the Galaxy.

ghostbustersThe Ghostbusters movie was even more predictable in terms of plot, but the pacing was lively and the effects sharp.  The vast majority of humor in the movie derives from the characters being awkward, and lot of it I didn’t find particularly funny, but I appreciated that it didn’t take itself too seriously.  Many reviews have praised McKinnon’s all-in craziness, but I preferred Jones’s everyman routine as Patty and Chris Hemsworth’s dumber-than-a-box-of-rocks Kevin.

The cameos from the original cast were nice and definitely got a laugh, but they also pulled you out of the movie.  The Fallout Boy/Missy Elliot cover of the theme song, which inspired much derision on the Internet, was actually well-used in the film.  The end credits are also really great!

But what I was really struck by at the end of the night was that I had seen two tech-positive, entertaining movies with coherent plots that featured a variety of competent female characters with no gratuitous sexuality.  Chew on that for a minute.  The movies were not perfect, but they continued the trend for female leads in sci-fi movies that was so well exemplified last year by Furiosa and Rey.  And that’s something I (and my money) can get behind.

Sci-Fi Spectacular

Despite predictions of rain, Sunday evening was a beautiful time to catch the Cleveland Orchestra from the lawn at Blossom Music Center.

Blossom
The lawn at Blossom (2013)

I was even more excited because the program was called “Sci-Fi Spectacular!”  There’s nothing like hearing a world-class orchestra play the themes to my favorites movies (mostly, I mean Star Wars).  I first attended this set back in 2009, and it was just as great this year as it was then.

WP_001066The evening featured Jack Everly as conductor–he was wonderfully enthusiastic, even he if couldn’t remember if Superman is a DC or Marvel character–and George Takei as narrator.  Being on the lawn, I was quite far away and couldn’t see him all that well.  But he was really wonderful; he spoke about how Star Trek: TOS used scifi elements to describe contemporary human issues, and even push the boundaries of TV as a medium.  The Starship Enterprise is a metaphor for the world, and so different characters represent different parts of the world, all working together in their mission.  Mr. Sulu was to represent all of Asia, so rather than go with a name that would be tied to a specific Asian country, like “Kim” or “Tanaka,” Gene Roddenberry chose the name of a sea near the Phillipines–Sulu–because a sea touches all shores.  You can tell he’s told that story many times, but it was really well done.

Takei spoke the intro to Star Trek (to boldly go, etc.), and also later recited the speech that Klaatu gives to the people of Earth at the end of The Day the Earth Stood Still.  Which basically boils down to: Earthlings, get your shit together, but phrased much better, and it resonates even today.

The program featured no less than SIX pieces by John Williams: Star Wars’ Main Title, End Title, and Duel of the Fates (with chorus!), Superman‘s Theme, and suites from E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Stormtroopers came out onto the stage at intermission; when the orchestra returned, Everly dismissed them, saying, “These aren’t the musicians you’re looking for!”  He also managed to sneak in a quick performance of “Mad About Me,” which you may know better as the Cantina Band song.  FYI, you can play this song on the jukebox in the cantina on Tatooine in SWTOR.

WP_001067

 

Star Trek did not get overlooked, either.  They played a medley of all the TV show themes (except Enterprise–I guess everyone wants to forget that theme), and some of Michael Giacchino’s wonderful scores to the two recent Star Trek movies.

Another fun treat was the conductor’s arrangement of various sci-fi TV themes, including Lost in Space, X-Files, The Jetsons, The Twilight Zone, and Stargate, plus some others I think I am too young to recognize.  They gave away a lightsaber to an audience member who could name at least 4 of the titles.

The program was rounded out with the iconic “Also sprach Zarathustra” featured in 2001: A Space Odyssey and the theme from Somewhere in Time, which is a movie I had never even heard of before.  The soprano Kristen Plumley also contributed her operatic voice to several of the pieces, even coming out in a Star Fleet officer’s uniform for the Star Trek theme.

And as the lights came down on Star Wars‘ End Title, the conductor’s baton lit up, and suddenly he seemed to be conducting with a lightsaber –a great ending to a great show!

 

5th Annual BOGA Retreat

This is the 3rd weekend in a row I’m away from home.  It’s kinda exhausting!  Right now I’m at a scrapbooking retreat…more on that later.

For TableTop Day I’d like to talk about what I did last weekend: the 5th annual retreat of the Board Gamers of Greater Akron, which takes place at Camp Carl in Ravenna.  We got to start on Thursday evening this year, and went until 3pm on Sunday.

Here are some of the games I played:

  • 7 Wonders (Cities and Leaders expansion)–My first time playing with expansions!  I got to play the Catan board, too.  7 Wonders is a great game for 7 players that doesn’t take forever.  And it’s sometimes hard to tell who’s winning until the end, which I think is fun.
  • Star Trek Deck Building Game (Explorations scenario)–My first time playing the non-coop version, and I crashed and burned.  I played my husband to 400 points: he had 400, I had 0.  I hope there’s a learning curve!
  • One Night Ultimate Werewolf–I hate social deduction games, but this is definitely an improvement on the classic Werewolf game.  It’s only one round, has lots of different character roles, and you can run it with an app that takes the place of the moderator (it also has a timer-we did 10 min).  I was a Mason 3 out of the 4 times we played, so luckily I didn’t have to lie at all!
  • The Builders: Middle Ages–A quick, simple game for a few players.  It’s quite new, just released in English in late February.  I enjoyed it, but I was also pretty tired when I played it.

One of the great things about BOGA is that it has its own subgroup of game developers, called the Design and Prototype Committee, so BOGA players are frequently trying out new games.  A big group of us enjoyed World Series of Russian Roulette, a kind of press-your-luck game whose pieces consisted of a standard card deck, 6-sided dice, and some slips of paper with special abilities written on them.

There were nearly 100 people at the retreat this year…after a while I retreated to a corner with a book and let B play Battlestar Galactica, etc.  Sometimes introverts just gotta recharge. 🙂  Gamers are such nice people in general, though, that it really is always a fun time.  We had a potluck dinner on Thursday, and everyone brought the most delicious, healthy food!

That other “Star __” franchise

No, I don’t mean Stargate.  Poor, overlooked Stargate.

I went to see Star Trek Into Darkness this weekend, and I thought it was great!  A great balance of action and character development, with some wit and humor thrown in.  Michael Giacchino’s score was killer.  It was just fun to watch; I haven’t had that much fun watching a movie since The Avengers.  As I was leaving the theater, I thought: “If J.J. Abrams can do this again…if Episode VII is anything like this…I will be in heaven.”  His Star Trek reboots are what the prequels could have been.

Kind of funny that after watching a Star Trek movie, my first thoughts were about Star Wars.  I guess that just shows my priorities!  I am not a Trekkie.  It is simply by chance that I happened to see Star Wars in the 2nd grade and fell in love, while I have never happened to watch any Star Trek (except a little Next Gen).  My husband is trying to fix this, with the help of Netflix, which has all the TV series and many of the movies.  I tried to watch some Deep Space 9 with him, but I found it supremely boring; it’s all people sitting around talking on a space station.  Too much politics, not enough space exploration.  And I really don’t like the Ferengi.  But I hear the later seasons are better.

My husband has now moved on to watching Stargate Universe; I’d like to watch that also, because I hear it is like Battlestar Galactica, and it features Robert Carlyle, lately Rumpelstiltskin on OUaT.

And here I said I wasn’t writing about Stargate.

Anyways, back to Star Trek.  I have a different perspective on the new movie than many other nerds simply due to my lack of familiarity with the Original Series.  I would never notice if someone did something “out of character,” and I would miss out on most of the little in-jokes.  I can only comment on how the reboots “work” without reference to the source material, and quite frankly they work really well.  I think Into Darkness was even better than the first movie, actually.  Star Trek relied on a slightly confusing time travel premise, which to me was unnecessary since I have no conception of how the “real” timeline progresses.  And I would never say a word against Eric Bana, but his villain Nero was a weak point; this time around we get a lot more “gray” from our bad guys.

True, there were a few things that bordered on cheesy, and some gratuitous female skin.  But I liked that the movie did not take itself too seriously.  Plus, Benedict Cumberbatch has a really. beautiful. voice.