Aw, crap. I was not a fan of the 2009 Star Trek reboot. (No, seriously, it was not good.) It was bad enough that J.J. Abrams wanted to turn Star Trek into Star Wars. (Not even good Star Wars. More like Attack of the Clones, except with incessant lens flare and a less interesting storyline.) Now he apparently wants Star Trek to be Star Wars‘ answer to The Dark Knight and Inception. Don’t get me wrong: I loves me some Christopher Nolan. But one of the reasons I love the old Star Trek franchise is because it was distinctly Star Trek. Even when the The Motion Picture turned out to be Star Trek‘s answer to 2001: A Space Odyssey, it was still Star Trek. It could very well be that Abrams is trying to be all socially relevant, thoughtful, and darn-tootin’ optimistic while wrestling with tough questions (that is to say, Star Trek) while still delivering a smashing sci-fi epic, but this trailer doesn’t look like it. It looks like a potentially fun sci-fi epic, but it doesn’t look like Star Trek. At least, not to me. Even if Trek lost its way in the later years, as many fans would argue, there were still undeniable flashes of its core mission. I didn’t see any of that in Abrams’s vision. To him, Star Trek was a means to an end — the end being making a big, blockbuster outer space saga, rather than the end being making a great Star Trek movie. Now it appears that Star Trek is the means to the end of making a Christopher Nolan space opera. I think that’s something to mourn, if for no other reason than a Christopher Nolan space opera would probably be a lot more like Star Trek than J.J. Abrams’s Star Wars knockoff, which happens to bear the name Star Trek. Hopefully it’ll be good (unlikely), even if it is disappointing (inevitably). ☕
Tag Archives: Christopher Nolan
David Bordwell has mounted a strong defense of Christopher Nolan’s status as a preeminent director against naysayers like Jim Emerson. (Check out the rest of Observation on Film Art’s Nolan entries.) The long and short of it is that, while Nolan might not be particularly daring or sophisticated in his raw technique, he does flex the boundaries of mainstream cinema in order to create enjoyable films that reward critical appreciation.
Can you be a good writer without writing particularly well? I think so. James Fenimore Cooper, Theodore Dreiser, Sherwood Anderson, Sinclair Lewis, and other significant novelists had many virtues, but elegant prose was not among them. In popular fiction we treasure flawless wordsmiths like P. G. Wodehouse and Rex Stout and Patricia Highsmith, but we tolerate bland or clumsy style if a gripping plot and vivid characters keep us turning the pages. From Burroughs and Doyle to Stieg Larsson and Michael Crichton, we forgive a lot.
Similarly, Nolan’s work deserves attention even though some of it lacks elegance and cohesion at the shot-to-shot level. The stylistic faults I pointed to above and that echo other writers’ critiques are offset by his innovative approach to overarching form. And sometimes he does exercise a stylistic control that suits his broader ambitions. When he mobilizes visual technique to sharpen and nuance his architectural ambitions, we find a solid integration of texture and structure, fine grain and large pattern.
Note that Bordwell doesn’t argue that Nolan’s filmmaking is flawless or terribly polished in the way of many of the more critically lauded auteurs. He spends a great deal of time showing that most of Nolan’s technique has deep, conventional roots while ruminating on how well (or poorly) Nolan utilizes these forms. The gist of his argument is that Nolan’s detail work isn’t quite as meticulous or graceful because he is so focused on the big picture — but the big picture is usually captivating and meticulously constructed in its own way. (In my discussion of Emerson’s critique of The Dark Knight’s chase sequence in relation to film editing, I referred to Nolan’s technique as “gestalt,” which isn’t the same thing as Bordwell is arguing, but the intersection between Bordwell’s appreciation of structure and the way Nolan accumulates moments within that structure is worth further investigation.) At the risk of putting words in Bordwell’s digital pen, Nolan may not be one of “the greats,” but his shortcomings are not necessarily fatal flaws. And those shortcomings are compensated for by the ambition of his narratives and the serendipitous places where Nolan’s craftsmanship operates at the level of his vision. Please read the entire article, especially if you’re invested in the critical discussion of mainstream cinema and Nolan’s place within it.☕
Jim Emerson has done a nifty video essay on the car chase sequence from The Dark Knight, articulating with the film’s own images why he feels that Nolan’s action choreography — more specifically, his framing and editing — adds up to a jumbled, incoherent mess. This is a common criticism of Nolan’s films in general, though not a popular one among his fans. It’s the first of a three-part series being hosted by Press Play about the editing of modern action sequences, and while this is the example of a “bad” action sequence, the next two will be examples of “good” action sequences. What struck me in particular about this essay was the comments that it engendered. Steven Santos brought up The Tree of Life, which I’ve argued previously has stylistic similarities in its editing to Michael Bay’s action technique. Continue reading
I really loved MSN’s “Most Taxing People in Film” feature. Besides the fact that they picked on several of my own pet scapegoats — Michael Bay, Ron Howard, Jennifer Aniston — there were some very thoughtful pieces on people I genuinely like… or at least have no particular problem with. To wit, Jim Emerson’s summation of Christopher Nolan is accurate. Damnably so. I’m not inclined to disparage Nolan, now that Emerson has succinctly destroyed him, because I think Emerson’s reaction to Nolan is proportional to the amount of praise he generally receives. I do happen to think he’s one of the best mainstream directors working, and it’s largely because his “See Spot Run” method of construction is so precise. His mise-en-scene is not complex, but he tells stories based on solid construction, with a clear idea of character and theme that — unlike most stories passively absorbed by the bovine masses — actually resonates with people as they walk out of the theater. I threw together some thoughts on a few of my own picks for the most taxing people in film, and I have to lead off with one that directly relates to Nolan, and it’s not even an individual; it’s a group. A type. Continue reading