Monday, February 4, 2013

MY TAKE ON Darkness in Escapist Cinema -Post 9/11

  Star Trek Into Darkness will be coming to theaters this spring. As a Trek fan, I am looking forward to any new entry J.J. Abrams and company will deliver after saving a nearly dead franchise four years ago. As amazing a production that this film looks to be, there is something about its title and trailer that worries me.

Ever since the immense success of Christopher Nolan’s Batman movie, The Dark Knight, there has been a trend in fantasy genre (that includes Science Fiction and Comic Book) movies to get more dark and gritty by feeding off of our insecurity during the "War on Terror.” This trend usually creates plots involving 9/11-inspired mass-destruction and/or threats of further destruction along with a compromised protagonist who is tormented by a terrorist villain filled with vengeance. Is anyone else getting tired of this?

Star Trek Into Darkness has a trailer with many exiting images like a starship emerging from water and a Starfleet officer falling between futuristic mega-structures but it dons a bleak color scheme (as opposed to the bright colors of the last film) and suggests a morbid atmosphere. The villain, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, is sinister and menacing with a threat to everyone’s security.

A character like this existed in one of the greatest of Star Trek films, named Khan, a classic terrorist villain, whose success as a movie antagonist has been ripped-off in more recent Trek adventures with little success. Even Eric Bana’s angry Romulan villain in the last movie was poorly developed but I was too entertained by the refreshed versions of classic characters -and the sight of a new Enterprise to care.

Now that we’ve been acquainted with a new Captain Kirk, Spock and McCoy, do we really need them to deal with another destructive man, hell-bent on irrational vengeance? Does Star Trek need this? There was a time when this franchise was about people in the future encountering danger and finding a resolution through understanding. Finding ways to outsmart and destroy an inflexible source of evil was only occasional.

This spring will also bring us Iron Man 3. Watch the trailer and you will see Tony Stark’s mansion being destroyed followed by the villain, known as The Mandarin, played by Ben Kingsley saying “Some people call me a terrorist, I consider myself a teacher.” This reminded me of when someone once told me, “War is business and terrorism is education.”

Terrorism is committed by people who have nothing personal to gain but want others to know that they are -or were, very angry. Our minds on this subject have recently shifted from enemies abroad to domestic terror. Last summer, people in Colorado gathered one night to view a movie, which is about this very subject. They were then horrifically massacred by a troubled man, who I can only assume, wanted people to know his frustration.

Last week I saw a very good movie about Osama Bin Laden being killed and it left me thinking over what kind of a world we live in now. I know that it is a world that contains terror -and always has, but I believe the commentary in popular culture needs to shift. Deny it or not, I strongly believe that fantasy film making is a haven for troubling subjects which we feel too uncomfortable to be direct about.

The Cold War had an unquestionable influence on escapist cinema from 1956’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers to (getting back to Star Trek) 1991’s Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. In 2004 the series Battlestar Galactica brought post-9/11 moral conflicts to science fiction television. The irony is, that escapism can lead us very close to real-world problems.

So where are we now? Whether the “War on Terror” needs to end or not, fantasy movies are obsessed with finding success through dark themes of destruction and retaliation. For over a decade now, your average trailer to a movie in a big-name franchise, be it Batman, a crappy Star Wars prequel or even Harry Potter seems so obsessed with conveying how apocalyptic the experience will be, rather than portraying it as a fun time at the movies.

Despite the moral issue in taking advantage of mass anxiety, these tactics have produced interesting and effective entertainment. I think The Dark Knight worked when it came out, leaving it a product of our time in film history.

Now I just want fantasy movies to find something new to say. I don’t know what that something is. I’m just tired of the message: We’re all so afraid and need a hero to save us. My concern is that these movies around the corner look to be saying exactly that. They may find themselves less popular for trying to keep a nightmare alive that we’re trying to get over.

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