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I saw the new Star Trek film last night, and was not too impressed. It was certainly a fun and entertaining scifi action movie, but I expected more.
(This rant contains spoilers, but it’s not exactly a murder mystery, so read on.)
My first criteria for the movie was that if I took someone unfamiliar with Trek to see it, would they ”get” Trek. Would they understand why I spent my youth with a Data poster on my wall, practising the Vulcan salute and some Klingon phrases. Or, had I seen this as a ten-year-old, would it have made as much of an impact on me, as the early TNG episodes?
I don’t think this movie has that appeal at all. It caters to us fans well enough, not breaking continuity, delivering enough old catchphrases, reintroducing the retro costumes and so on. It gives your mainstream audience lots of space explosions and planetside fist fights. But it doesn’t have ”it.”
It doesn’t have that special something that made us love Star Trek despite the crappy effects, occasional sloppy writing or lackluster directing. Besides all the technobabble Trek also had human questions, philosophical dilemmas and a bright, utopian view of the future. It gave us hope. This gives us… explosions and fist fights.
I’m not against explosions and fist fights, not at all. I think they’re cool. Especially when they happen while orbiting strange alien planets. But I wanted more.
I realize cinema is not the medium of choice for philosophy and ethical questions, it’s more about visual storytelling. But one thing movies do well is showing close-ups of characters you’ve grown to care about making hard choices with emotional music in the background, and making me laugh and cry. With these characters I already love, I was almost certain I’d get that. But no. I’ve cried to Pirates of the Carribbean and even to the Sex and the City movie. But here? Nothing. Couple of good jokes, and some popcorn action, but my eyes remained dry. Everything that happened just seemed irrelevant.
Many reviews praised this film because it gave us personal storylines we care about: The youth dilemmas of Captain Kirk and Mr Spock. You’ve read it everywhere, so it’s no spoiler at this point: Kirk is a rebel under-achiever who takes up the challenge to measure up to his martyred space hero father. Spock is torn between his emotional human heritage and his logical Vulcan side.
Or so I can imagine the synopsis saying.
Kirk’s story is pretty well told, with acting, directing and writing combining to a pretty good, if uninspired yarn. This is how Jim Kirk becomes Captain Kirk, taking his smug, self-righteous, driven attitude to become a great leader. American screenwriters seem to have some sort of constant Oidipus complex where every white twenty-something male hero has to measure up to his dad, but it works here just fine.
The story of Spock on the other hand, seems to pretend to be something it’s not. I honestly can’t understand how this combination of confused writing and sloppy directing made it on screen. The premise is that Spock hides all his emotions and claims to base all his decisions on logic – just like in the tv series. But that doesn’t get through at all. All the decisions he makes are based on pure, non-hidden emotion. Turn down Vulcan Science Academy because they made fun of your mom? Get annoyed and spiteful at Jim Kirk beating your test? Make out with your girlfriend in the elevator? Constantly lose your temper talking about the smalles things? Leave your command post to go play Indy on Vulcan? Weep over the loss of your mom? What the hell is that? If they wanted to portray Spock as hiding his emotions, shouldn’t they give him some scenes where you’d expect him to show emotion (and there were plenty), and then NOT show those emotions? Until the climax where he finally let’s them pour through, and the audience is in tears, watching the face of stone grimace in pain.
What we got was a story of some really emotional guy with petty grievances towards his rivals, who has lots of bad luck, and then finally befriends his rival. I guess I can live with that story, too, but why pretend it’s something else?
Actually, that pretty much sums up my feelings for this whole film. It’s a nice space adventure, but why pretend it’s Star Trek?
I sat next to Ecyrd in the theatre, and pretty much agree with his review, too.
Jaakko had convinced me to play Jiituomas Harviainen’s Prayers on a Porcelain Altar in the morning just after breakfast. It was the perfect thing to do in the morning with everybody tired and hungover.
The game was about a bunch of arrogant young actors the day after the entrance exams to the Finnish Theatre Academy. They’d partied heavily, and everybody had hazy recollections of what happened last night. A sort of murder mystery structure there (”Who slept with whom? Why am I bruised in the stomach?”), but just enough to give us something to play on.
The real core of the game was in the interplay between the characters. Nobody was feeling too great physically, everyone was nervous about how they did in the exams, trying to make others feel bad or just pick a fight for the hell of it. A great thing to play in this tired state of mind when everybody could just sit on the couches in nearly horizontal positions and slander others.
Harviainen had plugged this as ”a game where everybody is really hungover and nobody remembers anything about last night”, which had put me off for a long time, but it turned out to be quite meaningful and interesting. I’d heard someone had performed Faust in the previous day’s run, and gave myself permission to recite Hamlet. (Having done a piece of the same monologue in Klingon the previous night and now redoing it in more length in English gave it a slightly surreal context for me.)
All in all, a very interesting experience. Harviainen is definitely one of the foremost con larp artists I know of.
After the game it was time to pack our bags and get on the busses that took most people to Oslo Central Station and the rest of us to Gardaemon Airport. Our plane didn’t leave until seven so we had many an hour to spare at Peppes Pizza talking about larp and business and roleplaying and art and science and research and life and whatnot.
Tobias Wrigstad made two rapid-pace interview videos asking people at Knutepunkt what they thought was the cool. The One Cool Thing videos are on Youtube here and here. Apparently there’s lots of other similar videos from other cons, so I guess it’s some sort of indie rpg con trend.
Apart from the amazing Knutebook Larp, Universe and Everything, I got three other great books to bring home with me. One from Tronsmo was Lipstick Traces – Secret History of the 20th Century recommended by Martin to me some months ago. Claus Raasted had published a photo book about the larps he’d ran in 2008. It’s almost two hundred pages long with awesome pictures. And finally, I got a signed copy of Itras by, the Norwegian tabletop rpg set in the surrealist 20s. It’s being translated into Finnish even as we speek. More or that later.
I was a bit worried about being allowed back on the plane without my passport or any sort of ID, but fortunately I managed to talk the airport personnel into contacting Finnish immigration who gave them permission to let me through security.
All in all, this was a great Knutepunkt. Relaxed, inspiring, with just the right combination of heavy partying, sotto conversations, larping, rituals and theory.
I may have forgotten several key details about last night, including a strange improvised midnight quest with one master Daniel Krauklis. Also, I met a man with long fingernails and long blonde hair, whom the Norwegians had dubbed ”The young Mike Pohjola.” Nice fellow, so not exactly like me.
I had signed up for lots of programme Saturday morning, but slept through most of it, only waking up in time to attend the end discussion of Jiituomas Harviainen’s lecture where they talked about the differences and similarities between ritual and larp. A shame I missed it, but fortunately there will be articles coming up on the topic.
I woke Martin up, dragged him to lunch, and we started rigging up for our presentation. I’m not often hungover, but for some unknown reason that curse afflicted me this day. Head aching, nausea, confusion, all that good stuff.
The Knutepunkt practical arrangements were well taken care of, but I often noticed problems with the tech department. Sound cables missing, extension cords nowhere to be found, video projectors not set up in time, and so on. The guys working the tech were doing the best they could, but I think they simply didn’t have enough gear. Later in the evening I ended up borrowing my laptop to Erlend and Katri Lassila so they could show their films, that were apparently unplayable on the equipment at hand.
After everything was set up, we did our hour-and-a-half presentation, starting with Sanningen om Marika, and moving on from there. We created a sort of narrative around the fact that after last year’s Solmukohta we were just getting ready to fly to Cannes for the International Emmy Gala.
When we told the little tale of us sitting there in the gala, applying nail polish and flipping the passive media off, and winning the damn statue… people started applauding. That was a real nice, warm moment. We, both of us, had spent so many years being the annoying guys in black, making outrageous claims and being accused for destroying the hobby by taking it in all the wrong directions, this was a great sense of community. No bitterness, no envy, just joy. (And rightly so, since we strongly feel this is the Nordic larpdom combining with traditional tv.)
Then we talked in length about Dollplay, and very, very, very briefly about two projects in the pipeline: The Artists and TEVA. To summarize: ”We can’t really say anything about these.” ”But maybe we can say which country it will begin in?” ”Well, it may begin in some individual country, or perhaps not.”
The last programme for me, apart from Erlend’s film, was a jeepform game in the style of talk show. The idea was to do a sort of ”This Is Your Life” kind of show with the audience improvising/roleplaying key points in the person’s life. It’s nice to make these kinds of experiments, but I didn’t really think it worked. It was just over-long impro theatre with no unifying plot, and no point.
After the programme there was plenty of hanging out, and visiting strange parties. The Czechs held a party in their cabin, serving foul tasting alcohol which I countered by bringing them some salmiakki. People sang songs from their native countries, which was surprisingly nationalistic for Knutepunkt, so I introduced myself as coming from the klingon homeworld. I was asked to sing klingon opera, but opted out playing a scene from the tragedy of Khamlet. (Jaakko approved, saying it’s much better in the original Klingon.)
Jukka and Hakkis ran two drinking workshops this year, instead of just the one. One was a secret drinking workshop, so I can’t really talk about that. The other one was a fifteen-minute port wine workshop (porttivartti) where we were joined by a really drunk and young Faroese first-timer, whom I dubbed Junior. He didn’t know who anybody was, which we found hilarious. Had we been less arrogant and drunk, we might’ve told him, but such was not the way of the Knutepunkt Saturday night.