Category: Movies


On Saturday evening, Star Trek: Prelude to Axanar premiered outside the San Diego Comic-Con.  This fan film was founded via Kickstarter and is a prequel (of sorts) to the primary project, Star Trek: Axanar.

Prelude to Axanar

The story involves a History Channel-like show that is giving the set-up to the famed Battle of Axanar.  During the first major war the United Federation of Planets fought, they were losing.  The Klingon Empire, both threatened and unimpressed with the Federation, had decided to launch an invasion.  After more than a year of success, the Federation, reeling from continued losses, changed tact.  Aside from shake-ups in the command structure, more daring strategies were combined with an arms races with between the galactic powers.  Due to Admiral Samuel TravisKlingon’s arrogance, their gains were reversed- though they were not beaten nor dissuaded.  The film ends with the premise of forcing a battle that would end the war, one way or the other.

 

The cast for Prelude is small- only a handful of characters were relaying their stories to the historical production. However, the pedigree of these actors, especially for what is essentially a fan-film, is quite stellar. The cast includes: Tony Todd (Star Trek: The Next Generation, Candyman) as Marcus Ramirez, Kate Vernon (Battlestar Galactica, Falcon Crest) as Sonya Alexander, Richard Hatch (Battlestar Galactica, The Streets of San Francisco) as General Kharn, J.G. Hertzler (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Zorro) as Samuel Travis, Gary Graham (Star Trek: Enterprise, Alien Nation) Kharnreprising his role from Enterprise as Ambassador Soval & Alec Peters as Garth of Izar.  The experience of the casting shows through as well- this feels much closer to an independent film, or even a smaller studio production, than a fan film- though to be fair, the crew made a lot of this happen as well.

 

Of special notes are the special effects- vignettes of starships, both traveling and fighting, shown during the interviews to punctuate what the characters are relating.  The quality of the CGI and the overall feel of the space shots reminds Trek fans of the motion pictures, (not the new JJ Abrams one, but the Prime Timeline movies).  However, the fights felt a bit sedated- though this review believes that is due to only showing the exteriors of the fights, without inside the ship shots to show how Cygnus IIIthe crew was reacting.  It is presumed this missing element will be shown in the movie proper- but for a history show, (fictional or otherwise), it worked.

 

Other elements of the background worked as well.  The script, while fairly bare bones, portrayed each character as a distinct personality; Captain Alexander is not interchangeable with Captain Travis, nor were Kharn and Rameriz mirror images.  Further, the framing device of the history show felt mostly right- if I were to nitpick, the footage was a little too clean for material captured during a battle, even in the 22nd Century.  The music was also understated, lending to an educational feel.  Lastly, the lighting for the two interview rooms gave them a distinctly different feel, suiting the different affiliations and their settings quite well.

 

This reviewer does hope that the Axanar movie proper will address how the Federation could be beaten back so easily by the Klingons after a founding member, Earth, succeeded alone against another galactic power in the Earth-Romulan Wars.  There seem to be four possibilities: 1) the ERW exhausted Earth and the Federation spent significant resources rebuilding the Terran infrastructure, Ares Constructionleaving the Federation weakened; 2) the ERW was fought in a vastly significant way tactically, with Starfleet busy fighting the last war while the Klingons were not; 3) the Klingon Empire is simply vastly superior militarily to the Federation and the Romulan Star Empire, or 4) the ERW was a border war, and this was the first all-out interstellar war Earth and the Federation fought, whereas the Klingons fought them frequently.  Without addressing this, (especially in the context of a historical look back), it will seem odd that the Four-Year War went so badly for the Federation, after a founding member held off another Star Empire independently.

 

(One minor detail that breaks from the Prime Timeline canon is the importance of Axanar: the movie concludes with Garth’s plan, using Axanar as bait.  Part of the reason for this is the temptation of destroying the Federation’s newest ships, the Consitution-class starships, in construction over Axanar.  Most notably, the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701) was shown among them- however, canonically, the Enterprise was constructed over Earth in the San Francisco Yards.  But, if tiny details like this are your main problem, that’s pretty good.  (And quite frankly, show a level of care and concern far above the recent Star Trek reboot movies.))

 

Lastly, there are some Easter Eggs included.  I will leave them for you to find, save for this one: eagle-eyed Battlestar Galactica fans, was the first Federation ship shown and destroyed- the USS Triton, NCC-1439; (the Battlestar Triton, destroyed in the Colonial Holocaust, was designated BSG-39).

 

Overall, Star Trek: Prelude to Axanar is an impressive short film.  Despite being an entirely independent project, it feels like it would easily have come out of the Paramount lot.  And even though the entire film is essentially a framing device for the Axanar movie proper, it does its jobs and whets the appetite for more.

 

 

If you’re looking for the TL:DR version, if you are a Star Trek fan or enjoy good science fiction, definitely give Prelude to Axanar a watch once it become available to the general public at the end of July- you won’t regret it.

 

The Kickstarter for the main project, Star Trek: Axanar, went online this weekend and is, at this moment, over 90% funded.  Given what they did for Prelude, I see the funding being reached- and the final product should be glorious…  You can check it out Kickstarter- Star Trek: Axanar.  In the meantime, while waiting for Prelude to Axanar to release, here is the preview.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Star Trek- Prelude to Axanar on IMDb

 

“Snow White and the Huntsman” stars Kristen Stewart (“Twilight”) and Chris Hemsworth (“Thor”, “The Avengers”) as the titular characters, with Charlize Theron (“Monster”, “Hancock”) portraying the evil queen Ravenna.   The film is a refreshing take on the fairytale, far more in line with the original Grimm version than the Disney-fied versions that are the current norm.  The dwarves, for example, are not slapstick props nor one-dimensional; they were distinct from each other with some depth and not to be trifled with.  On top of that, the women are more than mere set decoration- both Ravenna and Snow are helped by men, but helped only- they are the main characters and they are in control.

Snow White and the HuntsmanPrior the release of “Snow White”, one of the more vocal concerns that had been raised is about casting Kristen Stewart in the lead role due to her work in the “Twilight” saga.  The worry was misplaced as Ms. Stewart plays both Snow wonderfully.  She has a more reserved nature for most of the movie- which make sense in character given her imprisonment during adolescence and the effect that would have.  Then, after her character’s transformative moment, she acts as a renewed person on a crusade.  Setting aside her accent, which was a little weak, this was a solid casting decision.

Visually, “Snow White” delivers in spades.  The stunning imagery works to show the stark contrast of the good lands of Snow White and her father and the (super)natural realms, as opposed to the dark and decaying kingdom of the evil Ravenna.  Much of the magic of the film is shown as wet- from the milk baths to the transformation residue to the liquid metal Magic Mirror.  This gives the film a raw, grittier feel than the clean magic styles depicted in “Harry Potter” or “Lord of the Rings”.  The faerie forest comes across as otherworldly, as it should.  And finally, the attack on the castle has a superb feel, bringing to mind the Arthurian legends.  All of these play magnificently onscreen.

Unfortunately, the film does rely on the visuals too much.  This reviewer really wanted to learn more of the back story of Ravenna, especially the relationship between her and her brother Finn (Sam Spruell).  Not only does the relationship have the whiff of incest, but how they are linked magically was left frustratingly unsaid.  Likewise, the story does seem to gloss over some details, such as the queen’s other kingdoms, the ease of Snow White’s escape, the nature of Snow’s innate magic and how or why she has this power.  Moreover, does this take place on Earth?  Before her escape near the beginning of the film, Snow White recites the Lord’s Prayer- which says that she’s a Christian- in this world of faeries and trolls and magical queens.  (Admittedly, other instances of out of place Christian utterances- Tigh’s “Jesus” in the Battlestar Galactica pilot comes to mind- happen, but recitation of a prayer as opposed to an utterance takes a different level of involvement.)  This indicates that the film took place in Europe somewhere in the Dark or Middle Ages, or that Christianity is known and practiced by some people in this world.

“Snow White” is a relatively marvelous summer movie.  The story moves a little fast to fill in some narrative points, but it is a compelling one.  Having two strong female leads, with men in the secondary roles, is refreshing for an action movie of this type.  Superb visuals tie the film well- enhancing the film and drawing the viewers into the story.  I would strongly suggest going to see “Snow White and the Huntsman”- and guys, it’s a good date movie you’ll enjoy too.

 

 

*** SPOILER ***

 

Lastly, this reviewer cannot say how great it is the movie didn’t end with a wedding- I am not a fan of that trope.  Snow being the Queen without a king or even a consort rocked.  After all, she can get one later if she wants.

Okay, if you’re reading this, you know who Joss Whedon is…  So, without further ado, his top ten tips for Hollywood writers (and, frankly, authors in general).

1. FINISH IT

Actually finishing it is what I’m gonna put in as step one. You may laugh at this, but it’s true. I have so many friends who have written two-thirds of a screenplay, and then re-written it for about three years. Finishing a screenplay is first of all truly difficult, and secondly really liberating. Even if it’s not perfect, even if you know you’re gonna have to go back into it, type to the end. You have to have a little closure.

2. STRUCTURE

Structure means knowing where you’re going ; making sure you don’t meander about. Some great films have been made by meandering people, like Terrence Malick and Robert Altman, but it’s not as well done today and I don’t recommend it. I’m a structure nut. I actually make charts. Where are the jokes ? The thrills ? The romance ? Who knows what, and when ? You need these things to happen at the right times, and that’s what you build your structure around : the way you want your audience to feel. Charts, graphs, coloured pens, anything that means you don’t go in blind is useful.

3. HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY

This really should be number one. Even if you’re writing a Die Hard rip-off, have something to say about Die Hard rip-offs. The number of movies that are not about what they purport to be about is staggering. It’s rare, especially in genres, to find a movie with an idea and not just, ‘This’ll lead to many fine set-pieces’. The Island evolves into a car-chase movie, and the moments of joy are when they have clone moments and you say, ‘What does it feel like to be those guys ?’

4. EVERYBODY HAS A REASON TO LIVE

Everybody has a perspective. Everybody in your scene, including the thug flanking your bad guy, has a reason. They have their own voice, their own identity, their own history. If anyone speaks in such a way that they’re just setting up the next person’s lines, then you don’t get dialogue : you get soundbites. Not everybody has to be funny ; not everybody has to be cute ; not everybody has to be delightful, and not everybody has to speak, but if you don’t know who everybody is and why they’re there, why they’re feeling what they’re feeling and why they’re doing what they’re doing, then you’re in trouble.

5. CUT WHAT YOU LOVE

Here’s one trick that I learned early on. If something isn’t working, if you have a story that you’ve built and it’s blocked and you can’t figure it out, take your favourite scene, or your very best idea or set-piece, and cut it. It’s brutal, but sometimes inevitable. That thing may find its way back in, but cutting it is usually an enormously freeing exercise.

6. LISTEN

When I’ve been hired as a script doctor, it’s usually because someone else can’t get it through to the next level. It’s true that writers are replaced when executives don’t know what else to do, and that’s terrible, but the fact of the matter is that for most of the screenplays I’ve worked on, I’ve been needed, whether or not I’ve been allowed to do anything good. Often someone’s just got locked, they’ve ossified, they’re so stuck in their heads that they can’t see the people around them. It’s very important to know when to stick to your guns, but it’s also very important to listen to absolutely everybody. The stupidest person in the room might have the best idea.

7. TRACK THE AUDIENCE MOOD

You have one goal : to connect with your audience. Therefore, you must track what your audience is feeling at all times. One of the biggest problems I face when watching other people’s movies is I’ll say, ‘This part confuses me’, or whatever, and they’ll say, ‘What I’m intending to say is this’, and they’ll go on about their intentions. None of this has anything to do with my experience as an audience member. Think in terms of what audiences think. They go to the theatre, and they either notice that their butts are numb, or they don’t. If you’re doing your job right, they don’t. People think of studio test screenings as terrible, and that’s because a lot of studios are pretty stupid about it. They panic and re-shoot, or they go, ‘Gee, Brazil can’t have an unhappy ending,’ and that’s the horror story. But it can make a lot of sense.

8. WRITE LIKE A MOVIE

Write the movie as much as you can. If something is lush and extensive, you can describe it glowingly ; if something isn’t that important, just get past it tersely. Let the read feel like the movie ; it does a lot of the work for you, for the director, and for the executives who go, ‘What will this be like when we put it on its feet ?’

9. DON’T LISTEN

Having given the advice about listening, I have to give the opposite advice, because ultimately the best work comes when somebody’s fucked the system ; done the unexpected and let their own personal voice into the machine that is moviemaking. Choose your battles. You wouldn’t get Paul Thomas Anderson, or Wes Anderson, or any of these guys if all moviemaking was completely cookie-cutter. But the process drives you in that direction ; it’s a homogenising process, and you have to fight that a bit. There was a point while we were making Firefly when I asked the network not to pick it up : they’d started talking about a different show.

10. DON’T SELL OUT

The first penny I ever earned, I saved. Then I made sure that I never had to take a job just because I needed to. I still needed jobs of course, but I was able to take ones that I loved. When I say that includes Waterworld, people scratch their heads, but it’s a wonderful idea for a movie. Anything can be good. Even Last Action Hero could’ve been good. There’s an idea somewhere in almost any movie : if you can find something that you love, then you can do it. If you can’t, it doesn’t matter how skilful you are : that’s called whoring.”

One of the things I am doing now is professionally reviewing various television shows/episodes and movies.  Currently, most of the reviews are hosted at PopDecay, “a leading online news, politics and entertainment information delivery service.”  The reviews that go up there are the Streamlined reviews, whereas the ones I post here will be the Robust reviews.

Enjoy, and let me know what you think- civilly, of course.