The Metamovie: A Primer

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  1. Avatar Jaybird
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    One of the things that bugs me about modern movies is this tendency for movies to play with tropes as shorthand for actually telling a story. Instead of showing us that Something Has Gone Horribly Wrong, they give us the shorthand version of “this is the SHGHW scene”.

    It’s like they say “you know it, I know it, let’s get to the next scene without having to dwell on this longer than we have to.”

    Instead of telling us a story, they’re telling us that they’re telling us a story.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Jaybird
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      says:

      @jaybird consider it getting the movie process down pat.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to LeeEsq
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        A guy gets sent to prison. During his first meal, someone stands up and yells, “7”, and everyone laughs. At dinner, another guy stands up, yells, “14”, and people are rolling in the isles.

        When he gets back to his cell, he says to his cellmate, “I don’t understand, what was everyone laughing at?”

        His cellmate says, “Well, we don’t have time to tell jokes and eat, so we have a book with jokes that are numbered. We all memorize the jokes, then when someone says a number, we think of the joke and laugh.”

        So the next day the new guy stands up at lunch and yells, “22”. But no one laughs.

        He gets back to the cell and says, “What happened, why didn’t anyone laugh?”

        And his cell mate says, “Well, some people can tell them and some can’t.”Report

      • Avatar trizzlor in reply to LeeEsq
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        says:

        A guy gets sent to prison. On his first night, someone from another cell yells out “7”, and everyone laughs. A few minutes later, someone from another cell yells “14”, and the whole block is cracking up.

        The new guy asks his cellmate, “I don’t understand, what’s everyone laughing at?”

        His cellmate says, “Well, we’ve all been here long enough to memorize each other’s jokes, so we just shout out the number to save time”

        So that evening, after lights-out, the new cellmate waits for a pause and yells “22”. But there’s dead silence in the whole block.

        So he asks his cellmate, “What happened, why didn’t anyone laugh?”

        And his cellmate says, “Well, it’s all in the delivery”.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to LeeEsq
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        says:

        And then someone yells out “35” and everyone groans. The cellmate says “It’s just embarrassing when Wilson tries to do a Swedish accent.”Report

      • Avatar kenB in reply to LeeEsq
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        says:

        And then someone else yells 74 and the whole place just breaks up. The new guy asks why such a big reaction on that one, and his cell mate says “Because none of us had heard that one before”.Report

      • Avatar Jim Heffman in reply to LeeEsq
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        says:

        And the next day, the new guy yells “88”, and that night a bunch of black guys break into his cell and beat him up.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird
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      says:

      Worse still they’re telling us that they’re telling us a Star Trek story. Think how much meta goes away if they’re telling us a brand-new story.Report

    • Avatar KatherineMW in reply to Jaybird
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      says:

      So how did you like The Lego Movie? Everyone seemed to think it was brilliant; I like it somewhat, but was fairly annoyed for the first half that it was basically a description of all the tropes they were using.Report

      • Avatar dhex in reply to KatherineMW
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        part of its excellence is the audience realization that the story of the lego movie is about the worlds that children create in their minds to deal with the worlds they live in.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to KatherineMW
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        Autism Spectrum bait. Haven’t seen, but a wonderful bit of fanservice, I’m told.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to KatherineMW
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        The Lego Movie worked because, at the same time that it was playing around, it was also telling a story.

        “Honey, Where Are My Pants?”, for example, is a dumb (sophomoric joke) that grownups will laugh at because they’re familiar with the type of humor being lampooned. And little kids (and sophomoric grownups) will laugh at because, hey, dumb sophomoric joke.

        Doing several things at once works when one of the several things is telling a story. The problem is when you forget that fundamental part and only do the handful of *OTHER* things.Report

      • Avatar dhex in reply to KatherineMW
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        “Autism Spectrum bait.”

        yeah, that is nonsensical. *all* small children do this. most adults do it too, without realizing it.

        the overmedicalization of america is, i guess, one way to deal with more “spiritual” issues, but every slightly weird kid is “on the spectrum” or “suffering from sensory processing issues” and other nonsense; every adult jerk is “sociopathic” or “bpd” or some other great medicalization of being a selfish jerk.

        it’s an ethos, i guess. american exceptionalism carries over even to our jerks.Report

      • Avatar Jim Heffman in reply to KatherineMW
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        says:

        dhex, remember that Kim believes mind control actually exists.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to KatherineMW
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        says:

        dhex,
        I work with people who study autism.
        It’s amazing, if you bother looking at it, exactly how easy it is to make a profit if you tune your product to folks on “the spectrum.”

        While it may be convenient to say “oh, this is XYZ”… it is also interesting to look at psychological markups of film audiences and customer bases. What’s more, it’s useful.

        Please don’t take an educated evaluation of “This is designed to get Autistic people to buy more toys” and pooh-pooh it simply because you haven’t done your research.Report

      • Avatar dhex in reply to KatherineMW
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        “Please don’t take an educated evaluation of “This is designed to get Autistic people to buy more toys” and pooh-pooh it simply because you haven’t done your research.”

        let’s presume that the most popular toy brand in the western world with a decades-long win streak wanted to increase it’s market share.

        why start with a subgroup that’s
        a) not measurable in any easily-obtainable segmentation

        b) that at best, and not discounting incredible variances in diagnosis criteria and reliability, we’re talking at most 1% of the total populations of europe & north america

        c) already overlaps with your key group because demographic segmentation would include them in other groupings you care about:
        — pre-k education/specialized early education
        — hhi
        — older child interest in engineering and science toys
        — popular joint branding/licensing with franchises ranging from minecraft to
        — high end, high cost specialized range that appeals to model builders and collectors.

        why would anyone do this? natural overlap, sure, but that already exists.

        segmenting to a subset of a subset of the target population – that may or may not actually exist in the scope it’s claimed to, and cannot be measured in any actionable way – is absurd.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to KatherineMW
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        says:

        Jim,
        Biofeedback is not mind control.
        dhex,
        You’re making a movie — more importantly, you’re making a Lego movie. You want to show a “profit”. One of the ways to do so is by creating a popular movie, but writing a popular movie is hard. So, you also want to go for the “sure thing” — and a simple prompt to particular individuals who buy a LOT of toys is a pretty good way to ensure that you can show “and toy sales went UP!” at the end of your pitch for your next movie –regardless of how good your movie actually was.

        See my point? you’re looking at the wrong party.Report

  2. Avatar Burt Likko
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    says:

    A lot of people were put off by the opening sequence. Did you find it jarring, too James Bond-like, too implausible, too garish? I thought it was deeply silly and didn’t add much to the movie, even in terms of tone-setting the way an opening action sequence does for a 70’s or 80’s Bond flick.Report

    • Avatar Glyph in reply to Burt Likko
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      I didn’t make it past the opening sequence.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Burt Likko
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      It was totally silly, but in an Indiana Jones sort of way. I didn’t mind it, other than they spent too much time on Kirk. The spotlight should have been on Spock preparing to die — jump cut to Kirk if you must, but have the focus, the dramatic music, the tenor of the scene be about Spock, because he’s actually having a Character Moment there. Kirk isn’t. Kirk is just being fun — which is fine, it’s okay to let Kirk be Kirk.Report

  3. Avatar Alan Scott
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    says:

    On tightening up:

    More than anything else, this movie just needed to end fifteen minutes earlier. Cut out that final descent into San Francisco and the absurd tendency to turn 9/11 into a movie climax. Just have the menacing black ship blow up completely, killing Khan, and end the movie with Kirk dead of radiation poisoning.

    Just as the first movie was a love letter to all of Star Trek without actually being Star Trek, this movie was a love letter to Wrath of Khan without anything that made that movie appealing. What really gives the game away is that they needed to bring Leonard Nimoy back to tell people that Khan was an important villain from the other reality. When your movie can’t sell your badguy on it’s own merits, you have problems.Report

    • Avatar KatherineMW in reply to Alan Scott
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      says:

      With regards to turning 9/11 into a movie climax: I’ve heard that as a criticism both of this movie and of Man of Steel.

      And yet, The Winter Soldier manages to have a finale where the symbolic representation of America directs an aircraft into a skyscraper (which is located on the exact location of the real-world Pentagon, and serves a similar purpose to the Pentagon) that is the bad-guy headquarters. And so far as I can tell, nobody who saw the movie has so much as batted an eye at this.

      I can’t help loving that movie.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to KatherineMW
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        says:

        @katherinemw – OT, but did you finish Agent Carter, and what did you think?

        I loved it, I really hope they make more. I probably should see Winter Soldier.Report

      • Avatar Jim Heffman in reply to KatherineMW
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        says:

        I don’t think it was a 9/11 thing.

        Like Freud said, sometimes a flying aircraft carrier filled with robot death lasers crashing into the Triskelion is just a flying aircraft carrier filled with robot death lasers crashing into the Triskelion.Report

      • Avatar KatherineMW in reply to KatherineMW
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        I greatly enjoyed Agent Carter, and would love to see another season of it.

        Jim – I don’t think it’s intentional, just ironic given that Man of Steel is the movie getting criticism for supposed 9/11 references.

        (Winter Soldier also parallels with Man of Steel in that it’s, in my opinion, a much better Superman film than MoS.)Report

      • Avatar Jim Heffman in reply to KatherineMW
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        The issue is that these days, anything with urban destruction is seen as a 9/11 reference.

        Nobody seems to understand that things like 9/11 because now we actually know what it looks like when a giant building collapses after severe structural damage.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Alan Scott
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      Oh, the 9-11 bit wasn’t too bad. I don’t mind movie shorthand when it’s done well, and that was.
      The bit after? When Spock was wrestling with Khan? That went Waaaay too long. That was something that should have been a minute-long piece, with half or more of it just people running (spock jumping up was cool, because most people have forgotten that Vulcans are way stronger than humans. But one ship, a few punches. Not multiple ships, multiple ineffectual punches, and then Uhura showing up — which is fine, I like the “bring a gun to a fistfight” approach, but it should have been earlier. Don’t be afraid to give the dramatic moments to not-kirk and not-spock).Report

      • Avatar Pinky in reply to Kim
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        says:

        The Uhura arrival really bugged me. I can’t say that I was particularly into the movie before that, but it really took me out of it. If you want to have a female action hero in Star Trek, ok, I guess. But retelling the second movie with the insertion of a female action hero just broadcasted “hey, look at us, we’ve introduced a female action hero!”Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Kim
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        says:

        Pinky,
        I would have had her arrive on a building nearby and be a sniper. Why bring a gun to a fistfight if you’re going to drop right into danger?Report

      • Avatar Jim Heffman in reply to Kim
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        says:

        Oh right, have the girl be an archer, because THAT’S not a cliche.Report

      • Avatar Pinky in reply to Kim
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        You’ve got an iconic good guy fighting an iconic bad guy. The Abrams-era relationshippy Star Trek writers saw it as an opportunity for emotional significance. It wasn’t. It was a blockbuster action moment. The writers should have just gotten out of the way and let space heroes be space heroes.Report

  4. Avatar KatherineMW
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    says:

    I disliked this one because it was far too self-referential. Nodding to previous entries in the franchise can improve a movie, but bulk-quoting the entirety of the strongest moment in “The Wrath of Khan” just had me groaning and rolling my eyes, because it felt so very hamhanded, and so very unearned. (As well – they really should have cast an Indian or Pakistani person as Khan, if they were going to do Khan. Casting the whitest white guy you can think of in the role just made that casting mistake even more glaring.)

    Also, it really bothered me that Kirk – who got his position as captain in the previous movie despite not completing his training, and despite cheating on the test, and despite having no experience – screwed up entirely in this movie in ways that showed just how unqualified he was to be in charge of what was partially a diplomatic mission, got demoted, and then got restored to his position due to, once again, saving the day. I’d much prefer the show to incorporate the idea that saving the world doesn’t make you an instant expert in anything you want to do, and automatically qualified for any job you’d like.

    I really enjoyed the ending of Monsters University because it had the protagonists completely screwing up; coming back from their screw-up and doing something pretty awesome; and then still facing the consequences of screwing up. The latter is all too rare in recent movies.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to KatherineMW
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      says:

      Yeah, the “lets reverse the wrath of khan” was a mistake.

      A lot of people liked Cumberbund as Khan, but I thought he was really way too flat (and yes, use someone with at least a little color, jesus, you were practically asking “why isn’t he named Kaiser?” This isn’t the 1960’s, where you can have an Arab leader with a Mexican accent.)

      Everyone cheats on the Kobayashi Maru — including Scotty (Ecklar’s story was a masterpiece that got basically canonized). At some point (at least according to Shatner, who was writing not acting), the cheating became the explicit point.

      Demoting Kirk could have had some dramatic sting. If they had let it go for more than 20 seconds of the movie. If they were just going to do that, they shouldn’t have bothered at all.Report

  5. Avatar Kim
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    says:

    Still, for a movie that actually employed people from the Simpsons show, it looked surprisingly good. (I suppose they got better, which is grand as they probably couldn’t have got worse).Report

  6. Avatar Snarky McSnarksnark
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    says:

    In addition to being “meta,” it was entirely too packed with climaxes–there were at least a dozen scenes that would have served perfectly well as the climax of another movie. So, by the time the movie was over, I was exhausted.

    I really, really hated the movie after I saw it in a theater. Now that it’s on Netflix, I have found that I can watch 10 minutes at a time, and it’s perfectly fine (if still overblown).

    It wasn’t really a Star Trek movie: the heart of the franchise has always been its goofy idealism about the moral evolution of humankind–none of which was brought to bear in Into Darkness. Insttead, the movie was this massive compendium of tropes, winks, and explosions.Report

  7. Avatar Michael Cain
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    says:

    And there was way too much reliance on loss of gravity.

    One of the weaknesses of the entire franchise, from a future-tech perspective, is that they never do the things that controlled gravity would make possible. Granted, the production costs for showing those things were/are prohibitive, but to never even mention the possibilities?Report

    • Avatar Glyph in reply to Michael Cain
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      What sort of things would those be, that can’t also be accomplished with transporter tech (which presumably replaced gravity control in most applications)?

      I always supposed that “Impulse Power” and tractor beams were some sort of gravity manipulation.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to Glyph
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        says:

        FYI to all – something weird is going on with Comment editing – edits made (or comments deleted, which I tried to do with my subsequent comment once my initial edit showed up) do not immediately take effect on the front-end, even with a “refresh”.Report

      • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Glyph
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        @glyph

        Hey, Glyph – was experimenting with cache settings this AM. I can revert to the prior set up, but, before I do, I would be interested to know if lesser users – that is, ones who use the site without being logged in – have noted improvements in the famous “need to refresh to see new content” or “comments show on Gift of Gab but not on thread” problems that affected them in the course of more “normal” operations.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to Glyph
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        Ah, gotcha CK.

        That seems worthwhile, but it’s worth noting that it seems to also affect editors’ ability to quickly change or delete comments; which, in the case of me making minor edits to my own meaningless entertainment comment doesn’t matter; but in the case of trying to get rid of any spam that makes it through the filter before people reply or click on it, or editing out truly offensive material (if that were required) could be seen as a downside.Report

      • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Glyph
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        I’m not satisifed that the problem is solved at all, Glyph – just a first investigation. Clearly, it would be better if, as at most sites, edits took immediate effect AND users didn’t have to refresh pages to see content changes. However, I’m not sure that the latter problem even has been fixed, or fixed for everyone. (Right now they seem to be fixed for me in non-logged-in state). If so, I’ll at least know I’m on the right track.

        (was just kidding about the “lesser users” thing…)Report

      • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Glyph
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        You should have your admin bar back, Glyph, and comments replying in place again.Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Glyph
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        For one thing, in a world with real controlled gravity, Jefferies tubes would all in free fall all the time. No more crawling on your elbows, or climbing multi-deck ladders to reach the critical damaged component.

        While there were story-telling advantages to basing the original Enterprise design on “steamships in space” principles, no one who could choose which way was up or down at will would lay a ship out like that — bridge way up there (and exposed), engineering way down there at the bottom (and exposed), none of the major power consuming things anywhere close to the power generating systems. Oh, the impulse drive (described as some sort of odd magnethydrodynamic plasma rocket) sits right next to its own fusion reactor in all the drawings, there at the back of the saucer, where the thrust vector can’t possibly be anywhere close to the center of mass and must spray terrifically high-energy plasma all over the warp nacelles.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Michael Cain
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      There was a dinky little scene in 2010: The Year We Make Contact that was really awesome that did this. They were using pens to demonstrate how they could use the fuel of both ships to get them home (when neither one had sufficient fuel to make it alone).

      The weightless environment was essential to making the scene work.

      Sci-Fi doesn’t do this sort of thing often enough.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Michael Cain
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      says:

      Michael,
      Nah, I’m fine with that.
      I’m not fine with “gold pressed latinum” and replicators.
      That’s blatant messing with your entire concept, and in
      a totally implausible way.Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Kim
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        If you have transporter technology, replication of simple objects is an automatic follow-on. No matter how you try to explain it, if you can hold an image of me in some sort of buffer in sufficient detail to reconstitute it hundreds of kilometers away and preserve my memories, you can hold an image of a glass of lemonade in sufficient detail forever. Or for that matter, probably just generate it on the fly.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Kim
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        says:

        Michael,
        replicators by themselves are good. replicators and Gold Pressed Latinum of Finite Quantities… that’s inconsistent economics.

        And while we can’t expect science to be grokkable, economics damn well ought to be.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Kim
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        says:

        Kim, this isn’t Dune. Trek’s economics have always been ad hoc, inconsistent, and made up on the fly.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Kim
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        Kolohe,
        there’s MadeUp.
        There’s Plausible, but really?
        There’s fridge logic…
        and then there’s Gold Pressed Latinum.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Kim
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        says:

        I mean, a protein source with close to a one to one biomass conversion ratio would be vastly superior to quadrotriticale. The episode should have been called “The Truffles with Tribbles” and also included the right synthahol pairing.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Kim
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        says:

        Kolohe,
        I pay good money if someone makes a Star Trek movie on the Klingon fight against the Tribbles!
        That would be a space opera to remember!

        (Yes, of course, this was all in the notes.)Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Kim
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        says:

        Which brings us back to the fact if you want to see how to do meta self referential Trek (or anything else) right, there’s no better example than DS9’s Trails and Tribble-ations.

        (and even with that said, Star Trek Lens Flare was decent enough on its own and in its meta. It was Darkness that, to agree with your original post, decided to double down on that with nothing new to say)Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Kim
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        says:

        Kolohe,
        not only was Trials and Tribbleations a triumph in meta, it was a triumph of video hackery. There’s very few instances and very few people who can pull that off.

        Speaking of more meta, listen to Torchwood’s theme song — and then compare it to Dr. Who’s. It’s actually playing Dr. Who’s theme backwards (and ornamenting it a bit).Report

      • Avatar Road Scholar in reply to Kim
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        I mean, a protein source with close to a one to one biomass conversion ratio would be vastly superior to quadrotriticale.

        Except the damn things are mostly hair. Yuck.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Kim
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        says:

        I thought they were mostly baby tribbles, so they’re like a self contained turducken. Or maybe balut.Report

  8. Avatar bookdragon
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    says:

    I really, really loved ST:2009 and really hated Into Darkness. It had it’s moments – I enjoyed the opening sequence and some of the character interaction, but so much of it either fell horribly flat or struck my ‘You have got to be kidding…’ button.

    First, one of the great things about TOS, which the original reboot did a good job of referencing and using, was the relationship between the characters. Kirk and McCoy had real chemistry. Spock was growing into his future self and the friendship with Kirk was emerging. Other than a lovers’ spat – in the middle of a covert mission!! – you didn’t’ get that in ST:ID. Kirk is lying dead in frobnt of him and McCoy shows all the emotion of a Vulcan. Spock otoh, who faced his mother’s death and the destruction of his whole world with quietly contained pain, does a primal scream when Kirk – whom he doesn’t care about all that much according to the opening of the film – dies. WTF?

    Second, there were plot holes you could drive a Borg Cube through.

    -We can beam someone to this Klingon moon, but need a starship to deliver torpedoes/bombs?

    -Spock (Ambassador’s son!) is more concerned about killing a terrorist w/o a trial than violating Klingon sovereignty and causing a war. (And yes, even if you fire missiles into a sovereign nation from outside their borders is it still an Act of War! That goes double when you use your flagship, rather than say an unmarked non-Starfleet ship, to do it).

    -Right after a terrorist attack the protocol is to assemble all the top commanders of all available military vessels in ONE PLACE. Worse yet, one place with NO SECURITY MEASURES WHATSOEVER – No shields, no security guards, no air cover (quite a contrast to the elaborate Sec31 security, no?). Even better: hold the meeting in the outside room of a high rise with WINDOWS along the whole freaking wall so even if a terrorist doesn’t hit you, anyone with a long-range scope can see exactly what is on your computer screens! (I’ve worked on projects requiring clearance. Meetings even for lower level stuff are NEVER held in a room with even one small window).

    I hit that scene and my only thought was that if we are ever that clueless about basic security measures we’ll DESERVE to be over run by Klingons.

    And then there were all the violations of basic physics, but those are par for the course in most scifi action films, so I can willingly suspend disbelief.

    After waiting 5 years for this sequel, I just couldn’t suspend disbelief in how bad it was.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to bookdragon
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      says:

      book,
      I thought you had decent, if unearned, chemistry throughout Most of the IntoDarkness movie. Chekov’s bit with the “head down to engineering” was awesome — you got the “oh my god, we’re in deep”.

      You’re right, of course, that having Spock scream there was weird, out of place, and just wrong.

      Beaming to a moon but needing to use a starship is standard trek. Beaming is mostly a small-distance trick (though it still comes with a lot of issues that Niven was quite happy to point out).

      You are of course totally right on the security of that building. Completely, utterly implausible. Anything would have been better. That really was a “oh god why” for anyone who’s done anything with security.Report

      • Avatar Fraz in reply to Kim
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        says:

        Checkhov going down to engineering pulled me out of the movie just as much as the points bookdragon made above. You have one of the most technologically advanced machines built up to that point. Everyone seems to be a specialist in their own field. Yet, you can pull the navigator off the bridge to go run engineering, because he had spent a few days following Scotty around down there. And going down there to supervise a crew of engineers who 1) had much greater experience and education in engineering and 2) most of whom outranked Checkhov, who as an ensign is the lowest ranking officer.

        All for the sake of a joke about Checkhov having to put on a red-shirt, and to have a character viewers recognized in engineering.

        Hey, maybe you could have kept Scotty in engineering and have Checkhov been the pilot (he has experience at the helm of a starship) who stays behind on Earth and ends up investigating the new starship…Report

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