Fanboys


Fanboys

Fanboys on the outside looking in.

(2008) Comedy (Weinstein) Sam Huntington, Chris Marquette, Dan Fogler, Jay Baruchel, Kristen Bell, Carrie Fisher, Danny Trejo, Billy Dee Williams, Seth Rogen, Allie Grant, William Shatner. Directed by Kyle Newman

Fans have a kind of sweet madness. I’m not talking about the people who follow something on a casual basis; I mean the full-out, balls-to-the-wall, obsessive, dangerously knowledgeable super-fans; the kind that show up at conventions and name their kids after characters in the movies.

This specific fandom that Fanboys is examining is the Star Wars fans. The movie is set in 1998, just prior to the release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace and arguably the best time to be a fan of the series – when anticipation had fans jumping out of their skins waiting for the new movie, the first in more than 15 years.

Four school friends who hadn’t been together since graduation meet up at a party; Eric (Huntington), the lone respectable one who was working for his dad’s car dealership which he was expected to take over some day; Hutch (Fogler) who lives in his mom’s “carriage house” (read: garage), Windows (Baruchel) a computer nerd who has a thing for a chat room geek he’s never met and Linus (Marquette), who is somewhat angry about the way things turned out.

It turns out he has plenty of reason to be angry; he has cancer and won’t live to see the next movie in the franchise released. Eric, who was once his best friend, resumes that role and decides that his friend WILL see the movie before anyone else does. The four of them – and Zoe (Bell), a very cool friend that frequents the comic book store Hutch and Windows work at and quite possibly the only girl that could hang with these guys – will drive from Ohio to Marin County, California where Skywalker Ranch is located, break in and watch the movie. Windows’ online crush even claims she can get them the plans to the Ranch which is legendary for its security.

They take off in Hutch’s tricked out van, a kind of rolling convention on wheels, and head vaguely West. On the way they will encounter evil Star Trek fans, the all-knowing Harry Knowles (of Ain’t It Cool News fame) and William Shatner himself as they race the clock to get their dying friend to the ranch. Will it be worth the trip?

Of course, we all know at this point in time that The Phantom Menace was a disappointment but back then the possibilities were endless. The world of fans was anticipating what they thought would be an epic movie and nearly every fan website was in a dither. It was a kinder world.

However, the story of this movie might have made a good movie of its own. The movie was completed back in 2007 but was shelved by studio head Harvey Weinstein who felt the cancer subplot was too grim for the comedy he wanted; he also felt it appealed to a niche audience and not a general one. Both are legitimate points.

Director Newman fought the changes and Weinstein eventually assigned director Steven Brill to reshoot some scenes and re-edit it. Fans went ballistic, launching a campaign to stop the changes, opening MySpace pages (“Stop Darth Weinstein”) and threatening to boycott Superhero Movie en masse. I’m not so sure that was a threat so much as a relief.

Eventually Weinstein relented and allowed Newman to re-cut the movie a third time…only he gave him only 36 hours to do the work. The movie bounced from release date to release date over the course of three years until it finally got an extremely limited release in February 2009 and, as you can see from the box office performance below, died like the Emperor at the end of Return of the Jedi.

It’s kind of a shame because the movie isn’t too bad. It got a critical shellacking which, frankly, illustrates why critics are out of touch with the audience that comes to the movies. People do get involved with their favorite franchises. Laugh and make fun if you want to, but it fulfills something in people, be it Trekkers, Star Wars fan or Twilighters. Those who judge the lifestyles of these people are the ones who really need to get a life.

For the most part, the performances here are okay although there’s nothing here that’s going to supercharge any careers. Baruchel is sweet as Windows and Marquette has some nice scenes as Linus. Mostly, the star power is in the cameos and there are plenty of those, from Star Wars vets Fisher and Williams to Shatner and Rogen (who is amusing as an overbearing Trek fan).

There are a lot of asides that will have knowing fans nodding in satisfaction; I can see how audiences not super-familiar with the Star Wars saga might feel left out a little. However, the movie really isn’t for them anyway. The DVD extras on several occasions call this a love letter to Star Wars but I don’t think it actually ends up that way. It’s more a love letter to the fans, and not just of Star Wars but of all things that excite the imagination and promote obsession. It’s sweet-natured and while not everything works, I am positive that the love is sincere. I’d much rather see a movie like this one than a thousand big budget big star comedies whose sole reason for being is to fatten the bank accounts of those involved. Sincerity trumps budget every time.

WHY RENT THIS: A very sweet homage to fandom, particularly that of Star Wars. Some of the cameos are actually well thought-out.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A bit gratuitous in places and the humor – well heck the whole dang movie – is going to appeal to a very limited audience; some of the references will go right over the heads of ordinary folk.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a lot of crude humor, much of it sexual (as you might expect from a bunch of guys who don’t get laid much). There’s also some drug use in the movie, as well as a heaping helping of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The guards at Skywalker Ranch wear uniforms from THX-1138, one of Lucas’ early films (and one he references regularly in subsequent films). The head guard is played in a cameo appearance by Ray Park, who played Darth Maul in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is some webisodes that were available before the movie’s release, as well as a character study but really, most of the extras are relatively mundane as these things go.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $960,828 on an unreported production budget; the film was undoubtedly a flop.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: The Answer Man

Advertisements

Star Trek


Star Trek

Eric Bana gives Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto some hair care tips.

(Paramount) Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Eric Bana, Simon Pegg, Karl Urban, Bruce Greenwood, Leonard Nimoy, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Ben Cross, Winona Ryder, Chris Hemsworth, Jennifer Morrison, Rachel Nichols, Faran Tahir. Directed by J.J. Abrams

Even icons from time to time must reinvent themselves, if for no other reason to remain relevant in changing times. That is even more true for those having to do with the future.

The Federation starship U.S.S. Kelvin is investigating strange readings at a black hole. To the surprise of the ship’s captain (Tahir), a gigantic spacecraft of unknown design emerges from the singularity and without any provocation at all, opens fire on the starship, crippling it. The captain is forced to come aboard the unknown ship and is escorted to its captain, a Romulan named Nero (Bana),  who proceeds to ask the Federation representative some rather odd questions, the strangest being what stardate is it. The answer drives Nero berserk and he murders the captain and once again opens fire on the Kelvin.

The second-in-command (Hemsworth) orders an evacuation of the doomed Kelvin, paying special attention to his wife (Morrison) who is in labor. He intends to join her, but the ship’s automated functions are out of commission, and they are needed to gain critical time for the crew of the Kelvin to make their escapes. He realizes with sickening horror that he must remain aboard to run the ship manually. The young lieutenant saves his crew by ramming the dying starship into the unknown spaceship, crippling its weapon systems and propulsion. The name of the young hero? George Kirk.

Years later, his son James (Pine), born the day of his death, is adrift in Iowa, drinking in dive bars, picking up every woman he can and generally just lashing out at the world. While attempting to pick up a pretty Starfleet cadet named Uhura (Saldana), he gets jumped by a number of cadets, holding his own for awhile before getting his tush handed to him until Captain Christopher Pike (Greenwood) stops the fracas and clears the bar. He talks to the young Kirk about his father, and the difference he made to the 800 lives that were saved by his sacrifice and invites Kirk to join the Academy.

At first Kirk is reluctant to join Starfleet but eventually relents. On the shuttle ride to San Francisco, he meets an irascible divorced physician who is joining Starfleet to rebuild a career that had been essentially stymied in his divorce. The medico’s name is Leonard McCoy (Urban).

Already at the academy is a young half-Vulcan named Spock (Quinto). Tormented by young Vulcans for his half-human ancestry, Spock elects to follow the Vulcan disciplines of logic and dispassion of his father Sarek (Cross) with the blessing of his compassionate mother Amanda (Ryder). Despite this, Spock elects to decline admission to the Vulcan Science Academy (the first Vulcan ever to do so) and join Starfleet. After graduating from the Academy, he devises the notorious Kobiyashi Maru test, the infamous “no-win” scenario.

In the meantime, a brash young Ensign Kirk is blowing through the academy in a mere three years, still picking up women wherever he goes including a beautiful young Orion ensign (Nichols) who has come up with a rather ingenious solution to Spock’s test, landing him in hot water with the Academy dons. Unfortunately, an emergency comes up that relates directly to Kirk’s past, one that will bring all the disparate elements and characters together and forge together a crew that is destined to become a legend, while a man from the future (Nimoy) holds the key to the lives of Spock and Kirk.

The Star Trek franchise has been in decline for several years now, with an over-saturation of product that eventually seemed somewhat formulaic in many ways. Star Trek reboots the franchise with the original characters as seen through fresh new eyes. Director J.J. Abrams balances a delicate line of maintaining the spirit of the original series while adding additional elements of action and epic scope. Thus his new re-imagining of Star Trek will please not only hardcore Trek fans but also more general audiences.

Electing to go with a cast of young actors while steering clear of big name actors (Bana as Nero is the most recognizable face in the show other than Nimoy, and Bana is nearly unrecognizable in any case), and they come through in spades. All of the major crew members (Cho as Sulu, Pegg as Scotty and Yelchin as Chekov, as well as Urban and Saldana) have extremely pivotal scenes and establish their characters nicely.

Much of the success of Star Trek rests on the shoulders of the two leads, and they pull through splendidly. Pine captures the essence of James Tiberius Kirk without the quirks and mannerisms of William Shatner. He nails the bravado, the charisma, the independence and the compassion of Kirk but at the same time manages to render him human and fallible. Like Shatner’s Kirk, he is rash and sometimes prone to egotism, but at the heart of him is his brilliant intuition and willingness to risk. Pine takes an epic character and makes him accessible.

Quinto, best known as Sylar on the hit TV show “Heroes” makes a marvelous Spock. He radiates icy calm that masks the boiling inferno below the surface. Spock is heavily conflicted but chooses not to come to terms with his conflicting natures; instead he subverts his more human aspects in favor of the Vulcan stoicism. Quinto also has an uncanny resemblance to Nimoy as a young Spock, and fills the boots more than adequately.

There are plenty of breathtaking special effects, not to mention some intense action sequences, the best of which is a parachute jump onto a drilling platform high in the atmosphere of Vulcan. Visually, this is a movie that will rock your world.

But is it Star Trek? That’s the question most Trek fans were hoping to have answered. I have to say, yes and no. The original television series in many ways was less action-oriented than this is. Yes, there were plenty of fistfights, phasers set on stun and epic space battles in the original, but the themes had to do with things that were important to series creator Gene Roddenberry; man’s inhumanity to man, racial tension, drug abuse, gender inequality and the supreme waste and ultimate uselessness that is war. Here, we are being re-introduced to the characters that the producers hope to rebuild the franchise with and the movie is more about that than taking on issues.

However, the foundation has been laid and hopefully in the future we’ll see stories more in tune with the high bar that Roddenberry set. Given the outstanding box office returns the movie had, it is inevitable that there will be at least one or two more installments in the movie series if not more. The action and special effects will get the bodies in the door; the characters will bring those bodies back for more. Abrams has hit a home run with the new Star Trek. Now, the question becomes can he do it again?

WHY RENT THIS: Breathtaking special effects and heart-pounding action sequences drive the movie. Young actors bring established characters back to life with fresh perspectives. Pine makes a fabulous Captain Kirk and could be a future star.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The overall tone that Trek-haters despised is still present here.

FAMILY VALUES: Some scenes of brief sexuality and some violence; also there is a nightmare-inducing creature during the Delta Vega sequence. Otherwise, fit for most young audiences (but not for the very teeny tiny).

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The seven years gap between this movie and Star Trek: Nemesis is the longest in the franchise history.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: There are three different home viewing versions of this so far: a single-disc DVD which is essentially just the film, a 2-disc Special Edition DVD which contains some deleted scenes including Abrams’ take on the Klingons, and a 3-Disc Blu-Ray which contains a humongous number of featurettes, as well as a 360 degree view of various Enterprise and Romulan sets. There is also a feature on Gene Roddenberry’s legacy.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: Disney’s A Christmas Carol