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Watching Movies: Steven Spielberg’s 1941

1941 is a six year old’s idea of a movie, all punchlines and no setups, a gargantuan Three Stooges skit that goes on for two hours of houses collapsing, things falling on people, people punching someone and accidentally punching someone else, vehicles ramming into each other and comic actors mugging for the camera for three seconds before the camera cuts to the next bang and swoosh.

Characters and story are left behind. Even the jokes rarely have setups. Most things just begin exploding, falling, collapsing or 1941_movieburning. The few setups for the gags involve girls and they’re just there to get the ball rolling on the Three Stooges routines. It’s too many gags and not enough story even for a cartoon. It’s way too much for a live action movie, especially one set around WWII.

1941 was a bad idea and in bad taste, beautifully photographed, framed and timed, but with no script to go with all that effort. There is the occasional funny moment during the extended dance sequence, but that, like the entire movie, goes on much too long and there is nothing to follow it up with.

Too adult for kids and too immature even for teenagers, 1941 is stuck just being dumb. It’s a manic sequence of gags, where every second another one is being thrown at the screen tiring you out in the first ten minutes. And there’s another 108 minutes to go. By the time an exhausted General Stillwell says “It’s going to be a long war”; it feels like it’s already been the longest movie ever.

1941 is repetitive. Its small repertoire of gags rolls on, getting bigger, but not any better. Things just happen because they’re supposed to. Bullets always hit gas tanks or live wires. A trip always leads to a dozen people falling over each other. A fight always leads to punches being thrown at the wrong people. Cars and planes always begin crashing into each or through buildings. Fires always start when you aren’t looking at them. A movie can get away with one or two of these but not the same few gags rolled out so many times that they’re stale 10 minutes in.

The story about a Japanese sub looking to redeem its honor by blowing up Hollywood colliding with domestic panic over a Japanese invasion has as much substance as the latest adventure of the Alfalfa Gang or the Three Stooges. It’s just there so that the insane machine can begin bopping people over the head or splattering them with paint or setting them on fire. Everyone is an idiot. Wally’s quest to dance with his girlfriend at the USO is the closest thing to a main story, but by the end he’s rattling on in a tank to the end of a pier to shoot at a sub, while leaving her behind for no other reason than that the next gag demands it. Just as his crew are throwing things at each other for no other reason.

Imagine a pie thrown in the face for 118 minutes and that’s 1941. Sometimes the pie is a little bigger. Sometimes it’s got motor oil inside. Sometimes it’s on fire. Sometimes there’s a naked girl in it. But it’s still the same pie for 118 minutes.

Star Trek Enterprise Season 1 Review – Unexpected

“Unexpected”

Summary: An alien impregnates the always fascinating Tucker leading to wacky hijinks.

xyrillians star trek enterprise unexpectedUnexpected’s first problem is that it isn’t prepared to be either a straight-forward comedy episode or an in-depth exploration of inter-species contact; instead it tries to be both and fails. Star Trek has made such errors in creating episodes before, but what is distinctly odd about Unexpected is that it seems to split the episode in half, with the first half coming off as an earnest look at inter-species contact in the style that Enterprise has adopted over the past few episodes; the second half is a series of fumbled gags in the broad style of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Junior… without the subtlety.

The result is neither consistently funny, nor consistently enlightening. It’s like a public speaker who spends 30 minutes talking about the global situation and then begins delivering 30 minutes of jokes about the global situation. Where “Strange New World” managed to weave comic situations seamlessly together with the drama of exploration, Unexpected plays like two different approaches to the same story merged clumsily together with Frankensteinian precision. This style of switched gears is unsatisfying and confusing at best and fails to resolve the earlier material. Up until now, Enterprise has set itself the goal of exploring the mechanisms of exploration itself. But with Unexpected, Enterprise takes a look at that mechanism and can’t deal with it and resorts to gags that make the Three Stooges routines seem underplayed.

Part of the problem is that the treatment of the aliens and their ship is so serious and the treatment of the events on the Enterprise and the resulting consequences of that visit is material for broad gags that even the writers of Junior would have been ashamed of. Neither Archer nor Tucker or the rest of the crew seem particularly disturbed by the idea of an alien parasite implanted inside Tucker and its potential chest-busting consequences. After all, this is a new lifeform with unknown potential health impacts. One would expect such a casual attitude from Dr. Phlox, but considering that such a delivery brings up images from ‘Alien’, you would expect the crew to treat it as something other than a joke and that Tucker would take the threat a little more seriously.

No one seriously seems to consider the idea of just removing this thing from Tucker’s body, presumably because that would touch off controversial political arguments the show’s producers are not ready to deal with; but wasn’t the whole point of Enterprise to get back to the legacy of TOS and among other things its political commentary? Instead of resorting to gags about Tucker’s extra nipples and child-proofing engineering, Unexpected could have actually had the courage to take a stand or look at the issues. Instead it moves from Phlox’s admonition to T’Pol’s about trying new things, Tucker’s earnest exploration of the alien holodeck and the wonder of meeting new and different lifeforms, to the kind of material that has made episodes like Spock’s Brain a byword for the bottom barrel of Star Trek.

Even the plot of Unexpected has striking resemblances to Spock’s Brain. Namely a crewmember whose body has been tampered with by aliens whom they must find to help that crew member, a broken piece of technology the aliens cannot fix and a resolution that involves an accommodation between two divergent parties. You can almost expect T’Pol to ask at some point, “Brain, brain, what is brain?”

Unexpected’s second problem is, oddly enough, technical. Even at its lowest points, Star Trek series generally had no shortage of resources for makeup and set design. Unfortunately something seems to have gone wrong, resulting in makeup and set design that dates back to the TOS era or an episode of Andromeda. Broken Bow’s Suliban makeup was rather weak, but Unexpected’s alien makeup is Halloween $9.95 dollar mask awful. The sets continue the retro impression with flat color cardboard walls, a sparky console raided from a local children’s science museum or an old episode of the Outer Limits and the holodeck’s iridescent wall was borrowed from ‘Lost in Space’. They’re not just tacky or bad, but mind-bogglingly so. I’ve seen fan-made Star Trek episodes with better production values.

Even at its worst, Voyager generally had high quality production values, and while production values can’t save a bad episode, they can make it more watchable and by contrast bad production values can make a bad episode even more unwatchable and highlight its bad points. Unexpected’s awful production values manage to achieve just that, making the Spock’s Brain resemblance all the more acute.

Finally Unexpected’s third problem are the Klingons. While the Klingons generally come off pretty well and they’re closing on a clearly hostile note suggests that they won’t be a pushover, nevertheless their in the first place indicates desperation on the part of the producers in resolving the storyline. Having begun with a straight-forward look at exploration, continued into male pregnancy gags, their resolution of having Tucker meet the alien and having him politely ask her to remove the parasite just doesn’t pack the necessary punch. Hence we have gratuitous Klingon footage: a common solution to problems of plot and story in the later Star Trek series. But simply bringing in an unrelated Klingon vessel and Klingon plot in the hopes of covering up the essential weakness of the resolution, only emphasizes it the essential weakness of Unexpected itself.

The result is an episode that is a muddle of different sections, none of which fit properly. A Frankenstein’s monster of an episode combined with a set that looks as if it could have been used for the original Frankenstein movie.

Next week: A mysterious planet hides a mysterious secret. Find out what the mysterious solution to the mystery is… next week.

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