Saturday, February 02, 2013

Sci-Fi Cityscape #8: New York City, After the Fall (The World, The Flesh and The Devil [1959])

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Land of the Lost: "Timestop" (November 13, 1976)

Perhaps no other episode of Land of the Lost, Season Three better epitomizes the good and the bad of this span in series history than does “Timestop.”

On one hand, the episode is boosted by a fantastic premise: the exploration of the “closed” portions of the mysterious old temple where the Marshalls have taken up residence since High Bluff was buried in "Aftershock."  

On the other hand, this episode badly mangles its story of a “time regulator,” so much so that one wants to scream at the television in frustration.

In “Timestop” another tremor in the land of the lost cracks open a previously-closed dark passageway in the old temple, and into the nearby mountain itself.  Holly (Kathy Coleman) and Will (Wesley Eure) go to investigate the new opening, and find a strange cavern.  In that cavern is a crystal that looks and acts like a compass, one adorned with ancient Altrusian writing. 

The Marshalls ask Enik (Walker Edmiston) about the relic, and he confirms that it is the key to the “Time Regulator.”  The key can run time forward or backward for the user, and Enik very much wants to return to his time in the distant past to prevent the Sleestak evolutionary slide into primitive barbarism.  Instead of allowing Enik to use the Altrusian relic, however, the Marshalls decide that they can use it to get home.

To fully deploy the key, however, the Marshalls must use a pylon located near some geyser beds, one that regulates time.  When Chaka is trapped by Torchy near the geyser, however, the Marshalls must use the relic to save their Pakuni friend from trouble.  After doing so, they discover that Torchy has fused shut the Time Regulator Pylon and therefore the key can never be utilized again.

In defense of “Timestop,” I must acknowledge that I am very gratified that the series finally takes time to focus on the Old Temple, and explore one of the dark, unexcavated doorways that have been visible on camera, but never mentioned, nor charted.  I always love Land of the Lost when the series involves the discovery of new elements of Sleestak society, or of Altrusia’s strange, ancient landmarks and mechanisms.  So the premise here is indeed a great one, and the first act of the installment is dominated by mystery and excitement.  It's a really, really good start.

But then the key to the time regulator is introduced and the episode goes downhill swiftly because, frankly, the Marshalls act selfishly, and without sufficient thought about how Enik’s actions might impact them. 

Bear with me as I explain.  The Marshalls want to use the time regulator to prevent themselves from falling into the land of the lost in the first place.  However, if they agreed to Enik’s plan, this would also be the outcome, and the strategy would have the added bonus of saving an entire species from degradation.

If Enik went back in time and prevented the downfall of Altrusia, it is very likely that the portal opening to Earth would be monitored by his people, and that the Marshalls would not fall through in the first place.  Hence, the Marshalls would get what they want. 

Contrarily, if the Marshalls did happen to fall through the portal, they would find an advanced, peaceful race dwelling in Altrusia, not a wild jungle and the devolved, dangerous Sleestak.  The advanced Altrusians -- with no reason to fear or hate the Marshalls -- could readily manipulate their own technology to send the Marshalls back home.

So it makes absolutely no sense for the Marshalls not to go with Enik’s plan, as it would essentially free them from captivity in the land of the lost, or at least make their lives there much easier.  A clever writer might have allowed the Marshalls to trust their friend, and for Enik to take the Time Regulator back in time to make his attempt to save the Sleestak.  He could have failed, and nothing might have changed.  And indeed, that outcome would have kept the Marshalls in the land of the lost for future episodes.

Instead, the Marshalls show an inability to trust, and are forced to waste the time regulator on saving Chaka from Torchy and an Old Faithful-like geyser.  But, of course, they still are not thinking logically, even in this instance. They could very well let Chaka die in their timeline, and give the regulator to Enik, so that he would change the past.  By changing that past, Chaka’s “present” (including his untimely demise) would also be altered.  In other words, the Marshalls could escape, the Sleestak could thrive, and Chaka could live.  Why the heck doesn't a smart guy like Uncle Jack (Ron Harper) realize this?

This is the same problem that plagued (and in some sense ruined) Star Trek: Generations (1994).  In that film, as you’ll recall, Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) used the Nexus to go back only to the moment before Soran (Malcolm McDowell) launched a missile at a nearby star.  Instead, Picard could have gone back to the moment Soran first boarded the Enterprise, to apprehend him there.  He could have gone back to any other point in time, essentially, and had a much better chance of successfully altering the present.  Instead, Picard went back only to the point of highest danger, and the most recent point in the time line.  This faulty thinking made no sense there, and it makes no sense here in Land of the Lost.  

Next week: “Ancient Guardian.”

Friday, February 01, 2013

Women in Horror Month # 1: On The Sexual Politics of Rosemary's Baby (1968)

Based on Ira Levin’s best-selling novel, Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968) presents viewers with a dark, mirror-image of the Christian nativity scene during its final, horrifying moments. 

Here, a human mother -- Rosemary rather than Mary -- gives birth not to the savior Jesus Christ, but to the Anti-Christ.  At the same time, craven worshipers and sycophantic attendants gather to witness the historic occasion. 

This is the beginning of “Year One…”

Meanwhile, surrounding Rosemary (Mia Farrow) are several signs and symbols of encroaching darkness and societal collapse, from the Time Magazine headline that asks the question “Is God Dead?” to the deliberate betrayal of marriage vows which stem from her husband’s (John Cassavetes) insatiable narcissism.

Even the architecturally-imposing but dilapidated and decaying Dakota Building -- infested by creepy old denizens like the Castevets -- expresses something deeply unsavory and perverse about “modern life” in the American 1960s.  Man’s world has been twisted and left to ruin…

For decades now, critics and scholars have written about Rosemary’s Baby in terms of the fears the film reflects and expresses. They have pinpointed those dreads as either “fear of pregnancy” or “fear of children/parenthood.”

Yet both examples clearly miss the film’s point. 

Rosemary’s Baby is explicitly about women, and the sexual politics that stem from that identity. 

Accordingly, the film concerns the fear of a life that is out of one’s control.

It is the fear that arises when a woman can’t exert control over her own body, and therefore her own destiny.  The out-of-control and devilish pregnancy explored in the film is but another embodiment of Rosemary’s inability to shape her own life, as well as the connected fear that others are determined to shape it to perfidious ends.

If God is indeed dead, suggests Rosemary’s Baby, it is because the 20th century American patriarchy killed Him, substituting its own narcissistic, preferential rules for the human values of liberty and freedom for all (even women).

This 1968 horror film, which critic Tim Grierson at The Village Voice termed “defiantly feminist,” thus explores vividly and memorably “the anxieties of women trapped in a male-driven society.”

“Awful things happen in every apartment house.”

In Rosemary’s Baby, Rosemary Woodhouse and her husband Guy move into the old Dakota apartment building after a tenant on the seventh floor has died.  There, Rosemary and Guy soon meet the neighbors, the Castevets (Sidney Blackmer and Ruth Gordon).  One night, Roman Castavet makes a clandestine, dark proposal to Guy, a struggling actor.

Soon after that secret deal is arranged, Rosemary is drugged by the Castavets and, while under the influence, ushered into a religious ritual wherein she is forced to copulate with Satan.  Rosemary awakens the next day to finds scratches on her back, but Guy lies and tells her he just took some liberties with her while she slept.  

Rosemary soon learns she is pregnant.  This news coincides with the fact that Guy’s acting career finally seems to be taking off.

As the pregnancy progresses, Rosemary grows more and suspicious about it.  Her doctor, Sapirstein (Ralph Bellamy) refuses to tend to her excessive daily pain, and Guy won’t let her schedule an appointment with the doctor she prefers, Dr. Hill (Charles Grodin). 

Meanwhile, Rosemary’s friend Hutch (Maurice Evans) falls into an inexplicable coma after warning her that he has some grave news regarding the situation…

Soon, Rosemary comes to the realization that no one in her life is looking out for her, and that if she is to save her baby, and her future, she must act.  But is it already too late? 

“We're your friends, Rosemary. There's nothing to be scared about. Honest and truly there isn't!

Rosemary’s Baby serves as a blistering social critique of what one might term the Mad Men Era in the 20th century, which by the mid-1960s was beginning to show cracks, if not outright crumble.

But this was an era in which a wife could be treated as a child, and boasted very little control over her own destiny.  Rosemary fits that description perfectly.  She speaks in a sing-songy voice and is infantalized by all the men around her.  She is not the competent, capable heroine of today's horror genre, the final girl.  Instead, Rosemary is a woman who is only just beginning to realize how little control she asserts over her own life.

Andrew Sarris in his review of the Polanski film writes that: “What is frightening about Rosemary's condition is her suspicion that she is being used by other people for ulterior purposes. She has no family of her own to turn to, but must rely on a husband who seems insensitive to her pain, neighbors who seem suspiciously solicitous, a doctor whose manner seems more reassuring than his medicine, and a world that seems curiously indifferent to her plight. When she tells her story to a disinterested doctor, he dismisses it as pure paranoia…”

But here’s the thing: Rosemary’s situation -- pregnancy by Satan -- is odd enough, but her treatment by the patriarchal society is completely routine for the epoch.

Consider that Rosemary is not permitted to decide where she wants to live. Instead, she must petition her husband for the right to make that choice.  She does not get to choose her own obstetrician either. That duty is also assigned to her husband. 

Guy (John Cassavetes) even gets to dictate (with a handy calendar no less), when “they” should begin attempting to get pregnant.   She has desired to have children for some time, but her feelings have not been taken into account, until now, when that desire can be co-opted by others.

Later, when Rosemary’s pregnancy begins to go awry, the doctor, her husband, and the neighbors all poo-poo her very legitimate concerns about pain and weight-loss.  

And when Rosemary runs, helpless, to another doctor, Hill, he betrays her because he’s part of the dominant culture’s “boy’s club,” though not a devil-worshiper.

Lest this aspect of life in the 1960s be dismissed as part and parcel of the film’s considerable (and effective) atmosphere of paranoia, one should remember the facts of women’s health in the 1960s:

In the 1960s, a woman had to get permission from her husband to have a tubal ligation,” for instance, “a procedure that made pregnancy impossible.  Single women were generally refused such procedures.” (Laban Carrick Hill, American Dreaming: How Youth Changed America in the 1960s; 2009, Hochette Book Group, NY.) 

Similarly, author Sue Vilhauer Rosser reminds readers in Women, Science and Myth: Gender Beliefs from Antiquity to the Present (ABL-CIO, 2005, page 407) that “women sought to control their own bodies” in the 1960s “through access to safe birth control, abortion and information about their physiology and anatomy; to define their experience as a valid aspect of their health needs; and to question the androcentric bias found in the hierarchy of the male-dominated health care system and its approach to research and practice.

The relevant line there, perhaps, involves a woman’s ability to define as valid her own health needs

That’s precisely the war that Rosemary repeatedly wages in the Polanski film.  Her pain is routinely dismissed by others, and her dislike of the “vitamin” drink prepared by Mrs. Castavet is similarly ignored. 

The reason why? 

Men such as Guy, Sapirstein and Roman boast an alternate agenda for Rosemary.  Her pain is irrelevant to that agenda.  Finally, Rosemary acts out or rebels against her male masters in the only way the culture permits, in terms of fashion; in terms of her appearance.  She gets a very severe hair-cut. 

Perhaps one of the scariest qualities of Rosemary’s Baby today is the fact that there are still folks out there who want to go back to the 1960s in terms of women’s health care. Many have run for the U.S. Senate or for President recently. 

Oddly, these are usually the self-same men arguing that government shouldn’t intrude into people’s private lives.  That libertarian principle, however, is ritually sacrificed when it comes to control over the uterus.

On a connected note, the most unpleasant interaction I’ve likely ever had with a horror movie fan arose over a discussion Rosemary’s Baby that came down to sexual politics. 

At a horror convention, a fan approached Joe Maddrey and me at our vendor’s table and began asking our cinematic likes and dislikes.  He almost immediately went into chapter and verse regarding his dislike of Rosemary’s Baby.  He went so far as to say that Mia Farrow’s character “deserved to be raped.” 

I questioned him about that.  I asked two questions, actually. 

First, what did Rosemary do, precisely, to deserve being raped? 

And secondly, why did she deserve to be raped by the Devil

His response was -- verbatim -- that she was “too whiny,” and that because she was so whiny, she had it coming. 

To "whine" means “to complain” and this fellow clearly disliked Rosemary because she had the audacity to complain about her plight, her terrible misuse by husband, doctor, and neighbor.

So there you have it.  Even today, some folks feel threatened by the fact that a woman may not do exactly what men want her to do.  She steps out of that narrow box, and deserves rape…and rape by the Devil, no less.  

Why would anyone who loves his mother, sister, daughter, or wife hold such a draconian belief?

Fortunately, such beliefs have, in my experience, been the rare exception in terms of horror fandom.  Horror film fans -- often judged harshly by others, themselves -- are not usually the type to repeat the mistake.

But Rosemary’s Baby and this fan’s hostile viewpoint towards it lead characters always reminds me of a famous quote from the great Rod Serling:  

If you want to prove that God is not dead, first prove that man is alive."

Movie Trailer: Rosemary's Baby (1968)

Thursday, January 31, 2013

The X-Files 20th Anniversary Blogging: "Ice" (November 5, 1993)

The X-Files episode “Ice,” which first aired on November 5, 1993, is a sterling tribute to one of the science fiction genre’s greatest short stories: Who Goes There? (1938) by John W. Campbell.  

That novella is set in Antarctica and involves a group of scientists who discover an alien ship and pilot that have been trapped frozen in the ice for twenty million years.  When thawed out, the extra-terrestrial pilot is revealed as a dangerous shape-shifter, one who can “hide” in human and other biological forms. 

In the end, the alien invader is barely stopped (with just a half-hour to spare…) before it can escape isolation and reach (and contaminate...) the rest of Earth’s population.

“Who Goes There?” has been re-imagined several times throughout film and television history.  The Thing from Another World (1951) starring James Arness was one such effort, though it eliminated the shape-shifting nature of the alien menace and replaced it with a humanoid plant, a so-called “carrot.” 

John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) proved a more faithful adaptation of the original story, and is perhaps the most well-known version today.  It recently inspired the 2011 prequel. 

On television, Doctor Who (1963 – 1989) featured a 1976 serial called “The Seeds of Doom” which involved the discovery of an alien plant pod in Antarctica's ice from 20,000 years ago.  That seed was the heart of a planet-devouring vegetable monster called a “Krynoid.” 

And on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993 – 1999), a race of shape-shifters or "Changelings" called the Founders proved detectable -- like the Thing -- only by blood test in episodes such as the third season finale, “The Adversary.”  The blood test was featured in the original novella and proved the most popular (and perhaps most effective…) sequence in the Carpenter film.

The Thing (1951)

The Thing (1982)

Doctor Who: The Seeds of Doom (1976)
“Ice,” written by James Wong and Glen Morgan and directed by David Nutter, remains a notable variation on the Campbell theme, one bolstered by some unique, even trademark X-Files twists.  In fact, this episode might be Exhibit A in terms of my theory about the series as a whole; that it deliberately re-purposes commonly told tales in the genre and then imbues them with new meaning and relevance for the 1990s.

From Campbell’s source material all the way to "Ice" we see a similar location (an ice-bound installation), a similar threat (an alien) and even the presence of a dog as an infection vector.  But “Ice,” uniquely, develops in an original fashion because in The Thing, for example, there aren't many close relationships on the line.

Instead, the story has been interpreted frequently as a comment on man’s alienation from his fellow man.   

Nobody trusted anybody in The Thing because nobody really liked or even knew anybody else.  Hidden inside a man's skin, the Thing was indistinguishable from man.  What does that say about man?

It's alive!
The X-Files deliberately explodes that artistic conceit by landing two sets of dedicated partners or allies into the paranoia blender and then diagramming the manner in which close-relationships contend with the possibility of individual infection.  The responses are either burgeoning independence (Scully) or total abandonment of personal will in favor of the stronger personality’s will and desire (Da Silva). 

In a way, The X-Files amplifies the horror of The Thing.  It’s one thing to face a shape-shifter in a battle to the death when there is no one you really care for to worry about on the battlefield.  But in “Ice,” Mulder and Scully have one another to fight for, and must face the very real possibility that one of them could die or be permanently infected.  They are more "connected" individuals than many we meet in various versions of the Campbell story.

Are you who you are?

I am who I am.

In “Ice,” Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) join a team of scientists including Dr. Hodge (Xander Berkeley), Dr. Da Silva (Felicity Huffman), and Dr. Murphy (Steve Hytner) to investigate the deaths of a government research team at a base in Alaska.  

The team had been digging deep down into an icy shelf believed to be a prehistoric meteor impact.  Without warning, however, the members of the expedition began murdering one another, reciting the mantra “we are not who we are.”

After a helicopter pilot named Bear (Jeff Kober) flies the team to Alaska, Mulder and Scully discover that the previous team had found core samples containing strange alien worms frozen in the ice…from 250,000 years earlier. 

At least some of these worms have thawed out in the base, and discovered that human beings make for perfect hosts. 

While living on the excretions of the hypothalamus, these parasites also cause extreme paranoia and aggression in their prey….

Who do you trust?

An almost unbearably claustrophobic and tense hour, “Ice” is a deliberate nod to Who Goes There? and The Thing, but also a tale, ultimately, about territoriality. 

The episode’s climax reveals that two worms cannot exist in the same host…or they will kill each other.  Similarly, the episode-long tension between Mulder and Hodge -- each looking to assert leadership -- nearly imperils everyone.   Both men believe they are right in their belief-system and engage in a kind of paranoid “pissing” contest, trying to swing the allegiances of the other team-members to their viewpoint. 

There’s even an amusing scene here where the men must strip down naked to check each other for signs of parasitic infection.  Mulder jokingly reminds everyone that they are in the Arctic, a not so-subtle joke about penis size.

But joke or no joke, the matter of which man possesses the “biggest dick” -- to state it inelegantly -- is  a sub-text in this particular tale.  Once you make the thematic connection, it’s intriguing to see how the “territoriality” theme mirrors the infection theme.  A terrified Bear asserts control of the situation early on, since he is the only person capable of flying the plane, and he stakes out a command position early.  Simultaneously, he is the first infected by the alien organism.   Power and infection are definitively linked.

Then, after Bear dies, the battle of wills moves over to Hodge and Mulder.  Soon, nobody is certain which of them, if either, is infected. In the end, we learn that neither man was infected, only that each was driven (by adrenaline? by testosterone? by ego? by all three?) to attempt to take charge of the situation. 

Why were they so aggressive, if neither was actually infected?  Is it simply the human condition?

Why can't these two get along?

Why can't Mulder and Hodge?

Just remember, we're in the Arctic...
The underlying social commentary, then, seems to concern man's capacity for self-destruction, particularly if he doesn't get his way.  This quality impacts even the usually sensible (and sensitive) Mulder.  What complicates this issue of territoriality, and what is explored rather fully in “Ice” is the notion of allies, friends and subordinates in such a dynamic.

Dr. Da Silva is Hodge’s ally, but treated like a subordinate, and Scully is Mulder’s ally and equal.  Neither woman is truly impartial or on the side-lines,  but Hodge bullies Da Silva to see things his way, and acts in a borderline abusive fashion in his treatment of her; thus keeping her in line.

Scully -- recognizing the weight of evidence against Mulder at one point -- backs Hodge over her partner.  She never gives up on Mulder, and finds way to protect him, but she is able to weigh the facts…and the facts seem to go against Mulder's perspective.

Unlike Da Silva, however, Scully is not cowed into making a decision by either Mulder or Hodge.  Instead, she studies the available facts and makes a logical decision, to Mulder’s dismay, since her choice doesn’t favor him in the short term.  Scully thus becomes the de facto leader because she is able to bridge the gap between parties.

Scully’s behavior in “Ice” is another key development in the fledgling series.  Last week, in my review of “Squeeze,” I noted that Scully had to choose between Mulder and his quest, or Colton and his ambitions of avarice.  She chose Mulder. 

This week, Scully must face the difficult possibility that Mulder, because of infection, has become a murderer and a psychopath.  One thing I love about The X-Files is that this possibility doesn’t impact Scully’s affection, feelings, or loyalty for Mulder.  She wants to protect him and wants to heal him, but to do that, she must first make certain he doesn't represent a danger to everyone.  She uses science and wisdom to do so, again showcasing her finest human qualities.

Given all this dramatic material, it’s probably fair to state that what “Ice” truly involves is relationship dynamics in a difficult situation, where no clear chain of command can be respected or even determined.  

Going further, "Ice" involves the way that men sometimes behave in a crisis. Who do you choose to follow?  Why does someone, like Mulder, choose to lead?  

The elegant quality of this thematic dynamic is, as noted above, that it mirrors so beautifully the nature of the aliens of the week.  There can’t be two big worms (another phallic symbol…) vying for the same “command” post, or else hostility, anger, and violence will result.

Location plays a crucial role in “Ice’s” success as drama and as horror.  The episode feels like a pressure-cooker because after the first act, it never leaves the claustrophobic outpost interiors.  All versions of “Who Goes There?” are set in icy environments, and that sets up an imposing, endless sense of isolation.  Not only is there terror inside the various “Thing” outposts, but terror outside as well.  

The frozen environment will kill you too, just not as quickly as an alien invader.  

In other words, a person can’t just run outside and catch a bus to escape.  The Arctic or Antarctic installation in all these production is thus a trap within a trap.  Escape is simply not possible.  The "monster" must be reckoned with, no delay, no negotiating.

As a title (and phsyical substance...) “Ice” is also a contrast or counter-point to the hot, passionate, aggressive behavior we witness among the dramatis personae here.  It may be well below zero outside the outpost, but inside temperatures and tempers continue to rise.

In terms of X-Files series continuity, “Ice” raises the concept of Panspermia: life from elsewhere in the cosmos taking root here.  That’s a concept which would come to play a crucial role in the series’ sixth season.

Furthermore, “Ice” seems to set the narrative template for later tales such as “Darkness Falls” and the second season entry, “Firewalker.”  The former is set in an isolated forest; the latter in a live volcano.  But both stories, like “Ice,” involve ancient life-forms awakened in the present, with the promise of deleterious impact on the human race.

In the final analysis, "Ice" succeeds because, like "Squeeze," it develops the relationship between Mulder and Scully in a clever way  The episode also intelligently re-configures a horror standard, and even offers a healthy dose of social critique.  For the seventh episode of a first season, such depth is simply astounding.

Next week: “Eve.”

X-Files Promo: "Ice"

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Pop Art: Space Clipper Orion Edition

Collectible of the Week: Godtron/God Mars Deluxe Set (1981 - 1982)

This “space combination“deluxe set” Godtron or Godmars comes from the anime TV series Six God Combination God Mars that aired on Nippon TV from October 1981 through the end of December of 1982.  The series aired sixty-four episodes, and later followed up with two films.

The original Godmars series was set in the future year of 1999, and concerned Earth’s conflict with the distant planet Gishin.  The warlord of that world sent a child, Mars and a robot, Gaia, to Earth to destroy it. 

Instead, however, the child was adopted by a Japanese family and renamed Takeru.  He grew to become, with his robot, a defender of the Earth, not its betrayer.   Takeru’s  robot could also combine with five other giant robots (Ra, Titan, Shin, Sphinx and Uranus) to form the goliath known as “Godmars.”

This gigantic toy from Taiwan -- a present for Joel -- was produced in the early 1980s and the components are made of diecast model.  The box advertises a “wonderful six in one robot,” and inside, as you can see, are all the parts, as well as accessories such as swords and the like.

Below, you’ll find the introduction to Godmars.

Model Kit of the Week #14: Eagle 1 Transporter (Fundimensions)

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Ask JKM a Question # 64: Abrams Star Trek/Wars!

I’ve received a lot of e-mail in the past few days asking me my feelings about the news that J.J. Abrams is directing the next installment of Star Wars.

I have two thoughts about it. 

The first is that J.J. Abrams is probably a better, more natural fit for Star Wars than he is for Star Trek

Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek film was exciting, and the characters were well-drawn, and appealing.  I did miss, however, the franchise’s trademark social commentary.   I feel the film still gets a pass on that count because Abrams accomplished what several previous Star Trek directors had not.  He re-introduced the franchise to a younger audience.   So I applaud him for making a colorful, exciting, and fun (if relatively superficial…) action movie that rejuvenated the Star Trek experience.  I want Star Trek to be there for my son, and for his children, and I think Abrams' Trek went some distance in making that a possibility in the way that Nemesis and Enterprise simply did not.

Now, there is rampant speculation about Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013) at this point, but I’m not at all encouraged by the film’s premise of another mad-man bent on revenge, using a weapon of mass destruction as his tool of choice, as I’ve written here.   

And yes, I’ve read that the film features a kind of post-9/11 vibe to it, but having the “feel” of a certain earthbound context is different than boasting a social critique.  I’m open to the idea that the film will thread that needle successfully, but we’ve had so many post-9/11 movies and TV programs already (Battlestar Galactica, for one,) that I find it difficult to get too enthusiastic with it as a context for a Star Trek film in the year 2013.  It’s not as if 9/11 is the only important event that’s occurred in our culture and is worthy of comment.

So Star Trek: Into Darkness may be as much fun as the first film, but it isn’t going to be met, at least by me, with the same level of appreciation as the first film if the social commentary angle isn’t present to some significant degree. 

But Star Wars is a different animal, and a different kind of epic. It is not as didactic as Star Trek, and more mythological in nature.

Star Wars films need not contain deep social commentary about our existence here on Earth to live up to the best aspects of the franchise’s history.  And J.J. Abrams is more than competent in terms of staging action sequences, presenting colorful, humorous characters, and integrating state-of-the-art special effects.  As long as he makes his Star Wars look different than his Star Trek, I believe the Star Wars universe is likely a good place for him to tell us a great story.

My second thought, however, is that it’s an absolute shame that one man gets to shape the appearance and content of the two most popular “space” franchises of the last three decades. 

That’s not a direct knock against Abrams, by the way.  I’d feel exactly the same way if anyone were taking on both assignments virtually simultaneously.   

There are plenty of talented directors who could take on Star Wars at this juncture, and so to choose Abrams -- who is now associated with Trek --  just seems, well, kind of underwhelming on principle. 

I’ve been incredibly impressed, for instance, with the way that Kathryn Bigelow handles action sequences over the years.  We’ve never seen her take on a pop culture phenomenon like Star Wars, and she would have been a far more interesting, daring, unique, and out-of-the-box choice at this juncture.   We don't have any pre-conceived notions of her as a director in the genre, so she would have more freedom, in some sense.  With Abrams, there's a feeling that we are familiar with what he can do regarding space adventuring.

In geek circles, we all pre-judge, even if we claim we don’t pre-judge, or don't intend to pre-judge.  I’m trying very hard not to pre-judge Star Trek: Into Darkness, though all my instincts tell me to maintain low expectations so as not to be crushed at the prospect of yet another generic “explosive action thriller.”

Contrarily, an explosive action thriller falls more in line with my expectations for Star Wars, I readily acknowledge.   Does this mean that I prefer Star Trek to Star Wars?  Well, in general, I like Star Trek on television, where it boasts the freedom to experiment (and sometimes fail) with big ideas, and I like Star Wars on the big screen, where it can be epic and beyond that, mythic.

I suppose I want Star Trek to inspire me and make me think, and I want Star Wars to thrill me.  

J.J. Abrams has proved he can do the latter, but the jury is still out on the former.