Derek Johnson Muses

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Suicide Squad Review: No Spoilers

Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve posted on here. Anyway, my sister always asks me for my thoughts on popular movies, so I thought I’d actually write some of them here. In general, I would say that, the movie is a lot of fun, and, if you always want to see the 2 or 3 biggest summer blockbusters in theaters, I would say you should definitely make a point to see this if you’ve already seen Batman V Superman. Because, since DC is rushing a lot of movies, there are direct BVS spoilers in Suicide Squad. 

But first, critics have me exasperated. Yes, there are part of the movie that don’t work or are shoehorned in. But Will Smith and Margot Robbie are terrific in this, along with a solid supporting cast. Every big franchise is going to jam in 40 characters and subplots, and be a little convoluted. Get over it.

So, Suicide Squad is overstuffed, but not to the degree Captain America: Civil War was, or its DCEU predecessor, Batman V Superman. Like a lot of early 2000’s superhero films, the origins and flashbacks do bog down the first thirty minutes of the film. The lesser members of the team, like Captain Boomerang and Killer Croc, don’t get the character development that they would have in a smaller, more focused film. 

But the film nails the two characters it has to nail, Deadshot and Harley Quinn. Harley Quinn alone was worth the price of admission. Her flashbacks explaining why she fell for the Joker reminded me of Walter White and the reasons why that character turned evil. She’s set up to carry her own movie now, and, in spite of the fact that she’s violently crazy, there is a depth to Harley’s character that can be explored. 

The action storytelling is not perfect. There are a few action scenes that aren’t played for their maximum impact, and seem to only be in the movie because some executive told David Ayer too much screentime would pass without a boom. All told, some of the twists in the movie aren’t played for their maximum value, and that is were some of the potential character moments are lost. The reason for the main crisis in itself is somewhat questionable. But those shortcomings don’t distract from the main characters.

A lot of these problems are caused by DC/Warners sudden jump into universe building. Marvel had multiple movies to build up to its big fantastical villains. DC had to go big right away, so they’re starting with huge, metahuman stories that are hard to grasp without wading through some deep mythology. The DCEU can be given the benefit of the doubt for a few movies until they build to a couple of big team-ups. Now that Geoff Johns is going to be overseeing DC film adaptions, the universe should have a coherent voice, but it remains to be seen if such a voice can deliver more coherent plots. 

But all the behind the scenes stuff at Warner and DC isn’t an excuse for critics to hate on Suicide Squad. It’s a good movie, with some powerful moments for all its characters. A lot of movies today are made with a safe, pre-2000’s TV-like stories that play out predictably, like the most recent Bourne movie or even the last Star Wars to a point. Suicide Squad gives each of its characters, even some that don’t a lot of screen time, a good character moment where you feel for them. And that’s powerful. 

Why I Like Terminator Genisys (Sort of) 

I have to admit something embarrassing: I saw Terminator Genisys in the theater twice and really liked it. Even though the movie isn’t objectively good, The Terminator universe is richer and more interesting than the Mad Max universe. (Kiss super fans in the desert? Ok…)
I like the idea of the movie: focus on Kyle Reese’s journey and motivation. He’s only been in two Terminator movies (a supporting player in Salvation), so there’s some new turf. Sadly, they cast Jai Courtney. He doesn’t totally screw up Genisys but he doesn’t elevate the movie either.

The writing and set pieces aren’t that much better. The writing, especially the second time travel sequence, was too similar to the Sarah Connor Chronicles. A lot of the action sequences look like rip-offs from previous Terminator films and other action films. Golden Gate Bridge bus scene? What a mash-up of Rise of the Planet Apes and Jurassic Park. All of these random shoot-ups were resolved too quickly, and there wasn’t a single chase scene that played to a satisfying climax. Could you at least shoot to equal the multi-car and crane chase scene from Terminator 3?

Like every Terminator movie, this one changed the continuity, even while recreating the some of the first film shot-for-shot. If they had waited another five years to do this movie and called it a remake, that’s one thing. After Terminator Salvation and Sarah Connor Chronicles came out so close together and followed different continuity, this can’t be defended. 

But I liked the movie because it dealt with the themes of fate and destiny, and if you can really change the past. Even poorly executed, those themes are so much more interesting than half of the straight up action movies we see every summer. 

  

World War Z, Conservatism, and Christianity

“Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the LORD smelled the pleasing aroma, the LORD said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.’” (Genesis 8:20-22 ESV)

I read World War Z last winter, after the film adaptation’s trailer came out, and enjoyed the book immensely. The idea of a zombie did get me thinking about how I should think about post-apocalyptic literature like WWZThe Walking Dead, or even the late TV show Jericho, from a Christian perspective. WWZ preached the token secularist point: surviving nations ruthlessly adapt the Redeker Plan that leaves people to die, and Theocratic Russia is plainly hiding something. But as I read the book, I couldn’t help but wonder why it seemed that liberal, isolationist culture would be the ultimate victim of a WWZ, if there was such a war.

Liberal social policies tend to rise in societies that can afford them. Should the resources disappear, society would have to adapt. Ask yourself this: who is better built to survive a zombie apocalypse, wealthy, urban social liberals who can pay for two or three divorces, or thrifty conservative families who have always bought their clothes at Goodwill? Birth rates always go up with the advent of war and fears of the end, and prospering in our modern society is bound in many ways to being socially liberally. Should the zombies rise, humanity would have to reproduce at much more rapid rate to replace those who died, and conservatives, in general, have more children than liberals

And consider how the notion of family would change. Without birth control abundantly available as it is now, people would have more children, and the sheer act of providing, even without emotional content, would be considered love. The ambitious people who today leave government for the private sector would have a stronger moral obligation to lead in government. And religion would become more of a cultural force, and not the religion of self. If you don’t know where your next meal is coming from, “give us this day our daily bread” is your favorite prayer, and you would want a God who is greater than this world.

I’m not saying that every liberal/leftist principal would get swept away in a sea of zombies, but what I am saying is that a lot of liberal principals require the vast prosperity that America (certain parts of the world) currently provides. Liberalism wouldn’t die (although modern capitalism as we know it might), but some of it we would see in a different light.

It makes me wonder why Hollywood, the liberal center of western culture, is greenlighting so many destroy-the-world epics when destroying the world would likely cause them to loose a place for the liberal values they enjoy. Of course, the Hollywood version usually features the “death of God” in some capacity, and the end of the world is caused by a greedy businessman or general (think Terminator 3, where the ambitious military is responsible for Skynet, or , as I’m given to understand, The Day After.) But it would be curious to see one where the liberals get the shorter end of the stick. 

So, conservatives, let’s write a novel that will show a world crisis that eradicates radical secularism and liberalism from America after a cataclysmic event. Hey, maybe I should get on that.

Batman to Tomb Raider: a New Lara Croft

I recently have been reading Tales from Development Hell by David Hughes, who recounts the struggles of some recent high profile films that got made and some that didn’t, even after ten years of  false starts and rewriting. One that particularly interests me is the miserable Lara Croft series. There seemed to be two opinions from the people who worked on making the two films in the early 2000’s: one, there was something more to the adventuress than most video game characters, and two, no one has any idea on how to make it a good film. But here’s my shot.

Most video games don’t translate we’ll as films. Sometimes, you do get a Resident Evil franchise, which has its cult fans but makes no impact beyond the younger, tone-deaf crowd. But Croft is a character that is familiar, even if she’s an Indiana Jones rip-off. The modern cinema is riff with familiar but remodeled characters. You just have to follow the right model.

If it were me, I’d look at Lara the way Christopher Nolan looked at Batman, or the way the 1960’s were re-imagined through Don Draper. The ideal woman to play Croft would be someone with a mix of skills, toughness, intelligence, and woundedness. Instead of Megan Fox, I would write with Maggie Gyllenhaal in mind. And I wouldn’t make her someone who had to be a mean girl, but who just happened to be so.

For the story, I would start with a small flashback with Lara as a 12 year-old girl with her father and/or mother, right upon recovery of an artifact. Then a villain comes in and steals the artifact and kills Lara’s parent(s), leaving her with a fragment of the artifact, like a “penny”. Then, after flashing forward to an introductory action sequence, I’d show her in England, teaching children.

In the mid-point of the film, I’d insert a male lead who has been betrayed by the villain, and who Lara is forced to trust, but doesn’t trust. The plot would be about finding artifact which the “penny” would fit into, opening the door to another world, and thus, Lara finding out what her parent(s) died for. And strongly consider an ending akin to Casino Royale, with (spoiler alert) Lara’s love interest dying to save her towards the end of the film.

Driving the main points in the script would be character, choices, and the question of who Lara would be in real life.  I don’t know if this approach would yield a great movie, but it would minimize the risk of an embarrassing failure. If a serious movie fails, no one cares. When an action comedy fail, it can look horrid. Just look at The Killers; Ashton Kutcher had to go back to TV after that. Or consider the first Batman franchise. Probably wont happen but I can dream.

Lady Croft, I presume?

Is Spider-Man Batman’s Handmaiden?

Who’s your Spidey

Terry Hayes’ script for a Planet of the Apes reboot from the mid-90’s exemplifies how timing can be everything for a major film. Thought by some at Fox to be one of the greatest scripts they ever read, the film would have starred Arnold Schwarzenegger and focused on a pair of scientists sent back in time to combat a plague that would leave humanity extinct, having a dark, edgier tone like The Dark Knight trilogy. But the top dogs at Fox wanted a film that had more humor, like the Batman films of the 1990’s and The Flinstones film. Thus, the script was never produced, and we got Tim Burton’s Wooden Ape World.

When I saw The Amazing Spider-Man earlier this week, I wondered to myself, if this was the script that had been produced ten years ago as the first Spider-Man movie, would it have been more favorably received that it is being received now, or more so than the Sam Raimi-Tobey Maguire version was then.

To be fair, 2002’s Spider-Man was a good film, and he original Spider-Man had a budget $90 million less than the franchise reboot, which relies move heavily on CGI. But there are a lot of things that this film does get better, starting with the cast. There’s an edgier Peter Parker, Andrew Garfield compared to the straightless, 1930-is Maguire. Even though Garfield’s 28, he seemed very at home as a high school student. The cast has more name value than the original, with veteran actors Martin Sheen, Sally Field, and Dennis Leary supporting Garfield and Emma Stone, who stands out more than Maguire and Kirsten Dunst ever did. I can’t even remember the actress who played aunt May in the original trilogy, and J.K. Simmons was costumed to the hilt.

The real triumph in The Amazing Spider-Man is that the script moves seamlessly through the key scenes of the Spider-Man origin, introduces the villain later in the film, and toward the end of the film, finds a believable crisis for Spider-Man to solve. To just throw in a bio-attack on New York that isn’t hinted at earlier in the film could have easily changed the tone of the film, but the tone remains consistent throughout.

Even though the reboot shows a different part of Peter Parker’s background (being left by his parents with his aunt and uncle at a young age), it doesn’t need to redo the spider-biting-Peter and uncle Ben’s death. Not that Sheen isn’t great in the film, but The Amazing Spider-Man takes about an hour to do the same thing we’ve already seen on film, costing the audience (and studio) a lot. If a Hulk movie gets something right that your movie doesn’t, that’s not good.

But underlying the first Spider-Man and this one are the respective Batman franchises of their times. While the first Spider-Man trilogy modeled Tim Burton’s blend of comic book humor and jarring action, this one is modeling Christopher Nolan’s method of gritty realism. The problem is, Spider-Man 2 was the definitive best comic book movie ever made before The Dark Knight. Not that a reboot wasn’t a good idea (Tobey Maguire was starting to look a bit too old), but Spider-Man needs to be its own franchise.

I do hope that The Amazing Spider-Man is successful and yields a sequel, mainly because have the material to make an even better movie. Consider how Spider-Man 2 and The Dark Knight, both second films of their respective series, improved upon their predecessors. I just hope that The Amazing Spider-Man continues to be its own franchise, even though it and a lot of other comic adaptions can learn a lot from The Dark Knight trilogy.

Should the Caped Crusader be carrying Peter Parker?

Alien, Prometheus, and the Married Life of Abortion and Darwinism

(Warning: The following post contains spoilers from the movie Prometheus. Proceed at your own risk.)

I saw Alien and Aliens ten years ago, and when I began reading about Prometheus, the prologue to Alien, last year, I was curious Damon Lindelof’s bold statements that Prometheus would be a bold film about idea and philosophy, and after reconsidering Alien, I wanted to see the film. Lindelof himself is among a group of sci-fi writers who seek to provide man with an explanation for the universe that can exclude God (which I wrote about last winter after seeing Super 8) and is generally a preachy writer who insists on inserting his big, meaty ideas into what would ordinally be an interesting narrative on its own.

Remembering the original film and it’s signature images, I saw Alien as an analogy for how the breakdown of the family can lead to abortion. Think of a young woman, who has a rocky relationship with her parents, then runs off with a boyfriend who turns out to be abusive. Then she hears that she’s pregnant, and in that instant, she envisions the baby growing inside her as a monstrous combination of her parents and boyfriend, just waiting to burst out of her chest. Her abusive boyfriend blames her for getting pregnant, she is an object of scorn to her family, and the weight of caring for a baby weighs on her. She has to kill it, even if it means killing part of herself.

Unwanted pregnancy?

Prometheus has a much more direct abortion scene, where central character Elizabeth Shaw (a Ripley without Ripley-isms) has a Cesarian section of an alien baby in automated medical chamber. It is grizzly and terrifying as anything in the original Alien, as Shaw programs the machine to remove the rapidly developing offspring from her deceased lover. But what the scene gets really right is the loneliness of abortion: Shaw runs down the corridors of a ship full of people alone, has the alien removed by machine (apparently without numbing medicine), and afterward, stumbles out down the hallway. Abortion, in one sense, really is a desire to remain alone, out of the sense of sin. If you can’t deal with your own sin, how could you deal with the sin of the next generation.

The sadness of being

The tragedy of abortion is just the tip of Prometheus‘ ice berg of man’s desire to make a god that works for him. The film throws  around view points: Shaw herself is the child of Christian missionaries, but Lindelof’s choice of her religion seems blase. The film doesn’t even seem that interested in proving Christianity wrong (which it does anyway), but showing the danger of what happens when man ventures to seek that which is above him. To Prometheus, the “maker of humanity” (humanoid aliens who left their DNA on earth to give Darwin the boost he needed) is a cruel, arbitrary judge who destroys the humans and would go to destroy their homeland and start over. In short, the ancestor in Prometheus is how non-Christians view God, all justice and no mercy.

After watching the film, I was curious as to why Deism was replaced by Darwinism. Deism allows man to believe in a creator without dealing sin. Darwinism lead man on a path that  puts man into such a more depressing situation.That is the world where literally you would want to kill the offspring that comes from your flesh. The original Alien had much better philosophy.

The Hunger Games Upon Further Reflection

Upon further reflection of The Hunger Games (part 1 and part 2), I have realized what could have taken the books’ great potential to great heights. Getting the great premise was the easy part, but pushing that premise to its limits would have required some bolder choices.

Suzanne Collins claims that the tributes from the lower districts don’t have as much success as the “career” tributes, better off-districts. One would think this analogy is pretty straight forward, but I would say: look at high school and college football. For thirty years, the lion’s share of the top college football stars come from poor backgrounds, where football becomes their ticket to education and hopefully, to support their famialy. While the career’s training may help to set them apart, the lesser districts would fight harder to support their own families (again, Collins seems to be writing in a culture that has disowned the value of the family as a natural unit of provision). Once every eight or ten years, you’d get physically imposing tributes from Districts 9, 10, 11, and 12 who’d win. Katniss, in her pessimistic narrative, rarely looks at the winners of the games and hopes against hope she’ll provide for her mother and Prim, like she always does.

That leads me to one of my specific criticism of the book, mainly, the lack of payoff for two of the big accomplishments in the book. One, Katniss’ sabotage of the careers food supply isn’t directly paid off, and two, Katniss doesn’t seem to suffer from not killing Foxface, who dies in unceremonious fashion from eating the poisoned berries. My solution: have Cato die from eating the berries instead, and set up a finale between Thresh, Foxface, and Peeta and Katniss.

Consider it: Cato isn’t prone to hunting, and without a food supply, he’d probably be more apt to take someone else’s food rather than hunt for himself. And Foxface likely would have known which berries where poisonous and which ones weren’t

So much wasted potential….

The point of putting a bunch of teenagers in an arena in a fight to the death doesn’t just have to be about muscle. It can also be about choice, and what young people would do if they were pushed to the breaking point. When Katniss and Peeta face Cato, it’s not hard for them to kill him because he’s an obviously villian. But what if Katniss had to face Thresh, who spared her life? If Foxface was the one holding Peeta up at the top of the horn, threatening to drop, wouldn’t all the moments where Katniss had spared her flashed before her eyes?  When push comes to shove, would Katniss have even killed Rue if it meant providing for her family? The Hunger Games doesn’t give us that answer.

Part 2 on The Hunger Games: A Social Analogy

Since I first heard the premise of The Hunger Games, I debated whether or not I would want to see it, or if I had kids, whether I would let them see it. Teenagers killing each other? That itself sounds squeamish enough to make you wonder if it’s appropriate at all, let alone young people. Unfortunately, neither the book nor film is tell us how sadistic does a society have to be to put children in an area and tell them to fight to the death. All we know about the motivation of the Capitol for staging the games is that it demonstrates their control, but for what purpose?

In many ways, Collins seems intent on satirizing the manufactured love the entertainment industry gives America, and pro sports leagues for the way they manipulate violence and game play (NBA reffing, NFL rules that benefit passing). But as screwed-up as those industries may be at times, killing young Billy from down the street seems to be taking it too far? We don’t need to be told how schmaltzy the game-makers must be, just make them as cruel as possible.

This is where Katniss’ perspective as the narrator is limited: on the one hand, she, with the ninety-nine percent, observes hopelessness up the obliviously rich people with lavish hair, but she doesn’t give any insight how the Capitol has maintained day-to-day control on the districts for the last seventy-four years, other than their cruel tournament. Granted, many young people in poverty may, though no fault of their own, lack perspective, but that doesn’t help me as a reader trying to understand the world of The Hunger Games. This is why Jonathan Frazen says that if a character narrates a work, then that character has to add something insightful to it.

Violence on screen is a means of catharsis, whether it be the mid-aged man trapped in a separation from his wife (Die Hard), the terror of a senseless world we don’t understand (The Dark Knight, The Walking Dead) the unspeakable atrocities of war (Saving Private Ryan, Black Hawk Down). For the violence of The Hunger Games to be cathartic enough to work, the world has to seem so cruel and arbitrary that the games seem strangely fair. Suzanne Collins only goes half-way there. If the Capitol was sadistic enough to enjoy the death of young people as entertainment, they wouldn’t have a problem of putting people to death arbitrarily on the street, which Katniss likely would have seen as a child.

But then I got to thinking: are the hunger games just an analogy for abortion? Are the teenagers being sacrificed in the arena just represented by the children the poor women sacrifice because our society has told them that they would just grow up to be criminals? Meanwhile, the rest of society just moves on and calls it a tough decision.

I digress. Would I let my kids see this movie? Frankly, I would have a hard time, at least until they were older and I could talk to them about it. I’m somewhat more disturbed by the fact that the film doesn’t know how to handle the violence then the violence itself.

Say One Thing, Do Another: Why The Hunger Games Narrative is Sorely Lacking

(Warning: the following post contains spoilers from both The Hunger Games book and film. Proceed at your own risk.)

Two years ago, I walked out of a theater having just seen Inception for the first time and was depressed because it was the best movie I had seen in about ten years, and I’d probably only see about eight or nine movies as good as it for the rest of my life. Few do what Christopher Nolan did with Inception:take a radically original premise and pushes it to its limits, all the while ignoring what any other film has done before it, all on a grand scale. But after reading The Hunger Games and seeing the movie, I was severely disappointed because I’d just watched a film that had an equal premise but took no such risks and offered a poor character.

Let me make a concession: The Hunger Games is commercially successful. There’s something in this movie that speaks to young people, and it is at some points pure spectacle, such as Rue’s death and the subsequent rioting in District 11, along with Katniss’ tears. Katniss’ voice, as she provides for her family, echoes the despair of the lower classes, and her character isn’t the spoiled brat Bella Swan is.  The whole idea of teenagers forced into a killing competitions breads the possibility to explore so many idea, and when you see the film half-explore them, it is maddening.

The Hunger Games frustrate as they seems to know what to do at times, and other times, they seem clueless, in virtually the same narrative situation. For example, director Gary Ross wisely keeps the violence off-screen in places where it’s needed: the bloodbath at the opening of the games, Cato’s mauling by the dogs, and death of the boy who rigged the mines after Katniss destroy the career’s food supply. But in other situations, the gratuitous material lingers, like when Glimmer’s mangled remains are overshown. Also, there’s the boneheaded move of showing the dogs in the control room before they’re unleashed on Katniss, Peeta, and Cato. The games control room itself is a nice addition to the film along with President Snow and the head gamesmaker, Seneca Crane. The all the capitol supporting players and Haymitch are well cast, although it’s not overtly to find an actor to play an over-the-top TV host.

Then there’s the film’s twist: a good plot twist is not just about the twist itself, it’s about the setup and fallout. Take Katniss’ decision to destroy the careers’ food supply. She mentions it right before she does it, in both the book and film. If I had been editing the manuscript, I would have told the author to have Haymitch suggest to Katniss to destroy the food supply before the games. Make his character look smarter; an action that important needs to be hinted at earlier in the work. And in spite of this action Katniss still seems to survive by dodging the action. Other plot misses: Katniss’ failure to kill Foxface not coming back to bite her (reading the book, I thought Foxface would find and kill Peeta when Katniss went to the feast) and Peeta never disclosing to Katniss why he joined the careers at the beginning of the games. If you’re smart enough to come up with the double attempt suicide to end the games, I expect you to figure the rest of it out.

Half-an-hour into the film, I wished the screenwriter would watch some episodes of 24 to understand how to pull off a good twist, only to see at the end of the film Billy Ray, who wrote a rejected screenplay for the 24 movie, was one of the writers. A yes-man writer if there ever was one.

But the real problem with The Hunger Games has to do with the central character and her arc, or more specifically, her lack of one. At the beginning of the story, Katniss doesn’t want to marry her friend Gale, and at the end of the story, she doesn’t want to be with Peeta. That isn’t a story arc. I don’t care if Katniss were to go being in love with Gale to denying love, or from not believing in love with Gale to believing in love with Peeta. Granted, I would prefer a view of marriage that respects the institution, but either way makes for a more interesting story that what I was subjugated to.

Academy Awards Rant: Can You Name a Relevant Film Best Picture?

Last night, the snobbishness of the Hollywood critics reached an all-time high when a film that I hadn’t even heard of before the academy awards was named best pictured. Never mind that last years clear top pic The Social Network was passed for an art house  movie and went straight to a list that includes Saving Private Ryan and Brokeback Mountain. The academy’s insistence on choosing the movies that are made for critics over popular movies.

I’m not talking about The Dark Knight or Inception winning best picture, although Christopher Nolan has done enough work to show his films should be taken seriously. I’m talking about the Academy Awards becoming the Marry Rieppa Ross Theater Awards: virtually all the winners are artsy-Meryl Streep-Alexander Payne films, tailor-made to the .01% of Americans who actually vote in the academy award, lazy film critics who’ve grown fat on cruddy popcorn. If the film academy was like this twenty years ago, The Silence of the Lambs never would have won best picture.

Last years’ snub of The Social Network defines how self-absorbed the critics are. Never mind that the film came out in October: the critics snubbed it in favor of the proper Colin Firth-Helena Bonaham Carter film that was made for them. Yes, it was a film about a man during the most important period in history the last hundred year, but The Social Network was a just as Shakespearean with its themes of betrayal and pain. It just happened that the film was about young people, starring a Zombieland co-star, a 90’s boy band figure, and the next Spiderman, which made it the kind of film the Academy doesn’t wish to flatter.

I’m not one to say that the Academy owes us better best pictures, just a few that the public can embrace more. Sure, there are some years were Gandhi might be a better movie than E.T., which will have longer staying power, but that doesn’t have to be every year. While I don’t expect every single best pic to be accessible to the masses, it would be nice if some were. What’s wrong with giving it to War Horse? It’s not an epic, is it?

After writing this, I watched the trailer for the aforementioned Best Picture for 2012. I don’t need to see it. Yes, I’m sure it’s a very good film in its own right. But it’s not a Best Picture-it’s a pic that exemplifies film critics’ love affair with the past. Enough said.

Star Trek, Star Wars, and Scriptures: a Subtle, Subvervise Conflict

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. -1 Timothy 4:3-5
Christmas night, I watched the movie Super 8 with my sister, J.J. Abrams’ homage to E.T., Close Encounter of the Third Kind, and bunch of other space movies Abrams grew up on. Don’t get me wrong; I loved E.T. as a kid, and I have no doubts as to the quality of Close Encounters. I do find the scif-fi/space genre a limiting in some respects. It worked better in the 70’s and 80’s, and somewhat in the 90’s, when technology kept improving and seemed like it would open up so many new doors. But as a Christian person, I do find it somewhat subtle and concerning when I keep seeing science fiction, and particularly, the space genre, used as a substitute for belief in any type of God and traditional religion.
Now, there are aspects of it that can be entertaining and tell good stories. They can serve as political allegories (Battlestar Galactica for modern America) or as reflections of a merging society (Star Trek and the tearing down of racial barriers in the 1960’s and 1970’s). Space comedies Spaced Invaders and Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs poke good fun.
But I find increasingly, whether it be the force in Star Wars, or the long cannon of Star Trek, that space movies seem to be offering themselves up as religions in and of themselves, providing a skeptical cultural with a more “relevant” and “practical” view of God. The upcoming Alien prequel Prometheus (co-written by Abrams cohort Damon Lindelof) features a lead character whose faith will be challenged when she finds herself battling other-worldly monsters, and that film itself will offer up some alternate explanations for humanities origins. Such men would probably call the Bible’s account the “mere myth that survived the longest.”
Science fiction as religion is the natural progression of both Darwinian evolution and enlightenment thinking. As the enlightenment championed the reason of man, it stood to reason that he could conquer worlds far outside his own realm. Alexander would not have cried when he saw there were no more realms to conquer; he’d simply chart a new course to a new solar system, and find new cultures and realities. It caters to the most important principal of enlightenment: all these worlds outside of ours center around man, and we can find them if we just look inward.
In terms of evolution, when one looks at the new worlds, the possibility of shared technology, coupled with the world we live in that is filling up better technology faster than we can imagine, it enforces the belief that man truly is evolving and getting better. Of course, Captain Kirk is no better at offering an answer as what is wrong with the world than did Buddha. On a more subtle level, it plays out the what-ifs of evolution, in films like Planet of the Apes, to blur the line between people and the monkeys evolutionists believe we descended from.

But what’s most scary about sci-fi religion is that it is the type of faith our deistic fathers in this country would have loved: a religion of civil unity and peace, which emphasized everyone getting along while keeping their traditions. Say things that are socially honorable, and you can lead whatever kind of life you want to.
But what the sci-fi/space genre inevitably points to is man’s need for God. In a world that has been divorced from transcendent God for many years, have been discredited, the generations of low self-esteem computer nerds would rather put their faith in the progressive-technology world that looks more like their own. The churches who spends time on financial programs and how to live a better life fail to show these people that there is a real God who is known to us, as Paul proclaimed to the Athenians in Acts 17. And as Paul said, he isn’t contained in any of the works or the things known to man.
So, how then should Christians respond to sci-fi/space movies? I don’t think we need to be throwing them into burn piles, and indeed, there are times when they do provide quality entertainment. Even Super 8 has a very good story about broken families coming back together, and the simplicity of the way kids see the world. But whenever you watch one of them, know the themes that are lying underneath them. And when there is a popular space movie out there, take the time to discuss it with your friends. Know that, for the people who make these movies, they have to find a greater meaning in them, and the characters in them. Be grateful for how Jesus has come to you: you didn’t have to go find him in the sky, but he came to you instead, and still does. Rejoice and be glad, and as Peter says, “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15)

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