Tonight, I went to the movies with the wife and friends to see the new Star Trek movie. I haven’t been a movie fan for a long time. And it’s not the rising ticket prices, the unhealthy concessions, the cell phone/PDA interruptions, or general lack of creativity in most Hollywood efforts over the last decade. No, I can actually tell you the exact moment when I stopped going to movies.
For some background, I had been a fan of films for a long time. I got back into them when I attended the release of the first Batman movie back in 1989. I was blown away by Tim Burton’s presentation of the Dark Knight from the cast to the effects to the overall feel of the movie. Throughout high school and parts of college, I loved going to the movies. And I would try to see them all: the latest blockbusters, the action flicks, melodramas, everything. (Everything except horror, since I’m a bit of a wimp.) I would make the effort to try to see the movies that were nominated for the Best Picture by the Academy Awards. From there, I would make my picks for the categories based on what I had or heard about the nominees. The award event itself was always a bit dull, but I would find something to do while they wound their way through the categories to the ones I had some interest in.
This all changed during the 1998 Academy Awards. I can see myself sitting in my college buddy’s dorm room watching it with his girlfriend and a couple of other friends. The night had gone on and we were chatting about the winners and whatnot when it came time to give out the highest award of the night, Best Picture. We watched the usual pomp and circumstance as they flash to the producers in the audience as their movies and names were called. The envelope came out, opened, and the presenter excitedly announced the title, “Shakespeare in Love!” The room went into a stunned silence. We stared as the television audience clapped and cheered as people in tuxedos made their way onto the stage. At this point, I leapt up and informed the unsympathetic television what my opinion of this choice was using many words and terms that made it R rated within seconds.
How could this be? Elizabeth? Saving Private Ryan? Life is Beautiful? The Thin Red Line? Ok, the last one was more pedantic than I really cared for and I had a hard time concentrating to get through, but are you fucking kidding me? I was disgusted, an instant cinema atheist, and swore off movies for awhile. Now, I go to a handful a year and am very picky. Especially since I have read how Academy Award voting works (and you think our elections are screwy) and seen the revealing documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated (which explores the MPAA and their rating shenanigans), my tolerance for Hollywood tripe is next to zero. All of which have made only the most compelling of trailers and reviews as an reason to see a movie.
So, as the wife wants me to go see movies with her, I will usually oblige. I was interested in seeing this after reading and hearing some excellent press on it and as a person who was a fan of the The Next Generation. I embraced Star Trek initially for the gadgetry and sci-fi science, but now for the ideal that we as a species can work together to explore the vast universe that exists beyond our clouds. We had lined up early for the sold out showing at a theater a few towns over. When the line moved to start seating, I was first into the theater out of our group. A quick on-the-move consultation with the group created a swift agreement for optimal seating. The five of us sat down with me in the middle of the row. As a tall person, I generally try to get an aisle seat so as to give myself room to cross or stretch my legs. However, this theater actually had comfy seats and marginally ample legroom, so I was not going to press the point. Shortly thereafter, I was asked if the three seat to my right (this was a middle row) were taken. I replied that they were not and the row was soon filled with a mother in her sixties and two adults who I presume were her children, a mid to late term pregnant woman and a man who looked to be either the pregnant woman’s brother or boyfriend.
Immediately upon sitting down, the mother informed me that they had gone to an artisan convention the previous weekend that was full of amazing bits of, uh, artisan-ship. She gestured to the advertisement in the tiny movie guide book that they give out in the lobby for this past event and proclaimed that it had the most amazing glass she had ever seen. The first sign should have been how quickly the pregnant woman dove into the games of her cell phone, ignoring her mother next to her. Being the fool that I am and seeing that I still had time to kill before the film, I actually continued the conversation. It went something like this:
Me: Are you a fan of Star Trek?
Her: Yes, I’ve seen them all.
Me: My dad saw the original series. I was a fan of The Next Generation and watched parts of Deep Space Nine, but I couldn’t get into all of the other series.
Her: (more impassioned) I’ve seen them all.
Me: (slightly ignoring her) I didn’t really care for Voyager or Enterprise. I didn’t really see all of the movies. I think I saw the eight and ninth one…
Her: (most impassioned) I’ve seen all the movies. I loved them all. You know the director of this movies does Lost. Do you watch Lost?
Me: Nah, I couldn’t get into it. I watched some of the first season.
Her: You should watch it. You would like it. You have to pay attention. It’s very detail oriented. My husband blah blah blah blah my daugher blah blah blah blah I’m going to be a grandmother blah blah blah blah.
I can actually hear the whistling of the thought shells as she was launching them towards my position. It was after this exchange that I realized she was compelled by some unseen force to inform me of all of the amazing facts and details of her life which included (it most certainly included) her love of Star Trek. And rather than simply letting this slide, I decided to engage her in this battle of passive one-upmanship. She would say something (“My son is the manager of Borders in Cherry Hill”), I would counter (“I’m a librarian in Burlington County. It’s a county job so the benefits are completely awesome”), and the duel that she was not aware of would go on. It was very pleasant, a very good way for a jerk like myself to pass the time till the trailers (mercifully) came on. After which, we ceased our conversation.
Or so I thought. The movie had started when I realized that my secret verbal dueling partner has no inner monologue. None whatsoever. She identified the appearance of every significant character with their name much in the way that a three year old would identify animals, colors, numbers, and food. When the word “Iowa” came up on the screen, she would say “Iowa”. If it was simply too much to identify in one word, they became Twitter length sentences. When they took off from the recruit center, she commented on how much it looks like a brewery (“It looks like a brewery!”). This went on for the length of the movie, these under-the-breath words escaping her lips just loud enough for me to hear but faint enough to tune them out. In the back of my mind, the Lewis Black part of me is cackling at her saying “Iowa” over and over again (the movie went there a couple of times) while the rest of me is just trying to keep it together till the end. Of course, at the end, she announced that she needed to see the movie again because she missed “the singularity” (which she had not since they actually explained it in a brief exchange composed of three sentences of two words, three words, and one word: “A singularity!” “A black hole?” “Yes!”).
I managed to get to the end since the movie was ultimately more entertaining than she was. I really enjoyed the plot, the pacing, subtle yet powerful effects, and the how they wove the original series into the movie. A good movie, all and all, with a fresh feel of Hollywood to it. You have my word on that. My seatmate told me so before she left.