Thursday, December 6, 2012

Star Trek Into Darkness Teaser Reaction

I love the Internet on days like this. You see, I knew that there was going to be nine minutes of footage from the new Star Trek film shown before the IMAX release of The Hobbit, and I hoped that we’d also see some kind of trailer released to the web around the same time. I certainly didn’t expect to see anything before then. But when I woke up this morning, the Internet was waiting for me with not only a Star Trek Into Darkness teaser, but also HD screencaps and a shot-by-shot breakdown of said teaser!

In case you haven’t seen the teaser, here it is (I’ve linked to the slightly longer, Japanese-subtitled version). Don’t worry about spoilers; it does a pretty good job showing you stuff without really giving away anything, not even the name of the villain:

If there’s one thing the trailer makes clear, it’s that the film’s villain, whoever he is, is mad about something, he believes the heroes are responsible in some way, and he’s out to get revenge by attacking Earth. Sound familiar? It should, because it’s the same plot device we’ve seen in the last two Star Trek films, and here’s where I worry a little bit.

Although 2002’s Star Trek: Nemesis and 2009’s Star Trek were very different movies (i.e. one was a tired, derivative attempt to cash in on the Next Generation franchise one last time, and the other was a fresh, exciting, and genuinely entertaining romp) they each featured a revenge-driven villain who was determined to destroy Earth for reasons that didn’t really make sense. In each film, as the villain announced his Earth-destroying intentions you could almost hear the screenwriters saying to themselves “we’ve got to threaten Earth or the audience won’t be invested”. Now, this is not necessarily a problem if the movie is genuinely entertaining, but it can hurt the film in repeat viewings.

A key reason why The Wrath of Khan is still so highly-regarded three decades after its release is because it makes sense. Khan’s actions are what drive the plot, and because those actions make sense the movie has a high rewatchability value. I’m not saying that’s the only reason why Star Trek II is so good, because it’s not, but if Khan was just your regular poorly-written action movie bad guy whose motivations weren’t believable, that fact would become more and more obvious with each viewing of the film, and eventually it would be defined by its flaws. This happens all the time; when Independence Day came out all anyone could talk about was the action and the special effects; now it’s chiefly remembered for the nonsensical plot device of its heroes hacking into an alien spaceship with an old Macintosh PowerBook.

As of this writing, we really don’t know a lot about Star Trek Into Darkness. Hopefully there’s a well-thought-out plot behind all that action.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Semi-Informed Test Track 2.0 Assessment

As I write this the new Test Track at EPCOT is in soft openings, and lots of fans and professional blogger types have seen it. I would love to give you a firsthand account of the newly-refurbished pavilion, but unfortunately that’s going to have to wait until the next time I make it to Disney World (which at this point looks like it’ll be no earlier than the first half of 2014)

Fortunately for people like me, there’s always the Internet, and there are quite a few videos out there that give a nice overview of the entire Test Track 2.0 experience. Here’s one of them:

Obviously a video is no substitute for being there, so what I have to offer here is really just a semi-informed opinion. I’m sure it’ll evolve after I’ve actually visited the pavilion a few times.

If you’ve ever read this blog before then you know that I’m a hardcore original EPCOT Center man. If people ask me when the best time to visit EPCOT is, I tell them 1989. I absolutely deplore how the park has been cheapened and dumbed-down over the past 18 years. In fact, a big reason why I haven’t written a lot about EPCOT lately is because I haven’t really felt like going there. It had honestly gotten to the point where the park’s offerings weren’t worth the price of admission to me.

Does the new and improved Test Track erase all my misgivings about the horrible way Orlando’s executive leadership runs the place? Not at all. But for the first time since the Spaceship Earth rehab in 2007, there’s actually something new at EPCOT that I want to see.

Now, I’ve heard folks online claim that Test Track’s redo, while certainly a step in the right direction, is not quite worthy of EPCOT Center. Some of them even complain about the use of the old World of Motion logo here and there, saying that it’s just there to mollify the fanboys and make them overlook any problems the pavilion may have. Now, those folks are certainly entitled to their opinions, but I believe that the new Test Track is pretty much exactly what a 21st century EPCOT Center pavilion would look like if the Florida property had enjoyed the benefit of competent executive leadership these past twenty years.

Believe me, no one loved the old EPCOT Center more than me. But the fact is that all the stuff I loved, the Omnimover rides, the futurism, and the hopeful and thought-provoking shows and attractions, simply does not play well with the average parkgoer. The sad truth is that we do not live in a world where most people are eager to have their thoughts provoked and their horizons expanded. We live in a world with Kardashians in it. People who go to Disney World want to go on rides that feature licensed Disney characters, thrills, or dumb humor. And then they want to stand in line to meet Mickey Mouse.

What the people responsible for Test Track 2.0 look to have done is give us something that will simultaneously appeal to the small number of EPCOT Center-loving futurists like me and the dumbed-down, Kardashian-watching thrill-seekers that comprise the majority of your average theme park audience. It’s a compromise they would have had to make even in a perfect world where the purpose of EPCOT Center was never forgotten.

Yes, there are little issues here and there. The exterior loop stands out even more as a horrible design choice now. But the cost of enclosing it would likely have pushed the refurbishment’s price tag above what GM was willing to pay, and we all know that the Disney’s executives were far too busy dumping truckloads of money down the NextGen Black Hole to pay for it themselves. And while I hope that GM’s sponsorship money will guarantee a higher standard of maintenance than we see just about everywhere else on property, most of the people I know do not seem to be optimistic about that. They envision that the pavilion will be a wasteland of dead touchscreens and broken effects in a few months. But there’s no use complaining about that unless it happens, right?

Final sum-up, at least for now: the new Test Track looks good. It’s a real EPCOT Center attraction. Or the closest thing to it that modern audiences will tolerate. And it even managed to give us that TRON aesthetic I’ve been yearning to see in Future World since I first saw TRON:Legacy.

All is not well in EPCOT yet. But it’s better than it once was.