Posted by: bkivey | 20 April 2015

One Day Vacation

This is a busy time of year for me, and days off are subject to job scheduling. I try to schedule one day off a week, but during busy weeks, that’s not always possible. There’s been a lot of work lately, so a week and a half ago I decided to take Sunday 19 April off. Work was becoming a grind, and I needed some time.

While reading one of the area’s independent papers, I discovered that there was a sci-fi film festival during the week at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry’s (OMSI) IMAX theater. A dozen different films were showing at various times during the week, and I noticed that three of my favorite sci-fi films were showing Sunday. Score! A quick call to the box office secured tickets for the bargain price of $7 each. Although I own copies of the films I wanted to see, and have seen each of them at least half a dozen times, the opportunity to see one classic and two near-classic sci-fi movies on an IMAX screen with big sound was far too good to pass up. The movies are listed in the order of viewing.

Forbidden Planet (1956)

This genre-defining film included many notable firsts, including the first completely electronic score. The story has been compared to Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and make no mistake, the story is the star here. The pacing is pedestrian early on, but picks up almost imperceptibly as plot elements are introduced. Dialogue and acting are above average, especially compared to the sci-fi films of the time. Part mystery, part drama, with some humor thrown in, events build logically and with increasing speed to the denouement.

The Academy Award-nominated special effects hold up very well some 60 years on. Along with their technical proficiency,a large part of the appeal of the effects is that they serve the story, rather than serve as a distraction from weaker elements of a movie. The print shown was excellent: clear and sharp. I’d never seen this movie on the big screen, and it was a real pleasure to revisit this classic the way it was meant to be seen.

Fun fact: for several years one of my vehicles sported a ALTAIR4 license plate.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

The first Star Trek feature film opened to much fanfare in 1979, and disappointed nearly everyone. Instead of the beloved TV show adapted to the big screen, fans were assaulted with an overblown, turgid, glacially-paced abomination. The second film addressed those issues, and it’s been said that the second film is what the first film should have been. My opinion is that the first film could be flushed, and the franchise would be better for it.

Ricardo Montelban reprises his role as Khan Nonian Singh, probably the most interesting villain in the original Star Trek milieu. Strong, intelligent, and ruthless, Khan is given enough of a background in Space Seed to make him more than one-dimensional. While Montelban totally chews the scenery, making Shatner look almost restrained, he does bring the character to life. All of the primary cast members are present, although Uhura, Scotty, and Sulu are pretty much pushed to the side. The pacing is much closer to the TV show, bringing energy to the production.

The story is almost a remake of Moby Dick. The primary conflict is between Khan and Kirk, but there are subplots of friendship, purpose, and the subtleties of decisions, experience and knowledge to flesh out the story. During the movie, there was a cringe-inducing moment when early on, Kirk asks Spock “Aren’t you dead?” Ouch. You could hear the gasps in the audience. In 1982, that was foreshadowing. In 2015, it’s poking a fresh wound. I saw this as a first-run movie, so the print on display was disappointing: muddy and jittery. Still, it was fun to watch old friends again.

Fun fact: In the movie, Khan recognizes Chekov. In Space Seed, he never sees Chekov.

Serenity (2005)

In late summer 2005, I chanced upon a show on the Sci-Fi (Syfy) Channel that was unlike anything I’d seen. A large ensemble cast on a rickety space freighter wearing Wild West clothing and talking in a weird mix of frontier American West and Mandarin committed a heist. I was hooked in five minutes. A week later, Serenity was released, and I saw it twice. Since then, I’ve obtained the 14 TV episodes and one movie that comprise the Firefly/Serenity franchise. It’s one of my favorite sci-fi shows.

Firefly premiered in 2002, ran for 14 episodes (13 aired), and was never seen again on network TV. Serenity was produced in response to the massive sales generated when the series was released on DVD. The original cast returns for the movie, with the addition of Chiwetel Ejiofor as The Operative, a person you do not want to cross. The story (and franchise) are what you might get if Louis L’Amour collaborated with Akira Kurosawa and Steven Spielberg. While there are plot holes you could fly an Alliance cruiser through, the dialogue and characters are what make this movie go. The Firefly/Serenity productions are insanely quotable, a tribute to Joss Whedon’s ear for dialogue and eye for character.

As might be expected for a modern movie, the print was clear and sharp. The major criticism from the press at the time was that the movie didn’t rise above its TV origins. That’s not necessarily a bad thing (see Wrath of Khan) if that’s what the fans want. The movie stays true to its roots and characters, satisfying the fan without alienating those unfamiliar with the franchise. I hadn’t seen this film in a couple of years, and I was taken by the texture of the production, in that production values are high, and most scenes have a kinetic component. It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years since the movie was released, but a lot of fun to see one of my favorite sci-fi films in the IMAX environment.

Fun anecdote: The couple behind me in line had never seen Firefly or Serenity.  Because Serenity is something of a cult movie, I asked them why they chose to see it. They’d wanted to see Wrath of Khan, but couldn’t get to the theater in time, so Serenity was their ‘settle’ movie.  I explained a bit about the movie and the franchise, without giving away plot points. I hope they enjoyed it, and maybe the movie recruited a couple more browncoats.

Wait, there’s more!

The title of the post is ‘One Day Vacation’, not ‘Three Movies I Saw in One Day’. I had to do something between movies, and the Mariners and Blazers were in action. I searched for the nearest bar, and hit upon The Firkin. A pleasantly seedy neighborhood dive, I went there for lunch after the first movie. They have a decent beer selection, and big slices for reasonable prices. Watched the Mariners for a while. They were losing 10 – 5 when I left (and eventually won 11 – 10). During the second intermission, I returned to watch the Blazers get embarrassed by the Grizzlies in first round playoff action. Had an interesting conversation with a couple of musicians who’d showed up for open mic. I was tempted to return after the last movie, but it was a fair drive home, and work the next day. The Firkin appears to be something of a nexus for the local dope scene, as every time I passed by the outdoor patio, people were pulling out bags of weed. Not my drug of choice, but weed is virtually legal in Portland (the cops aren’t enforcing the law) and will be actually legal 1 July.

I got to spend a warm, sunny day doing things I like to do. It was a nice break between two hectic weeks.



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