Wednesday, May 29, 2013

"Star Trek Into Darkness?" Unfortunately, Yes. [by Herbie J Pilato]

I didn’t hate Star Trek Into Darkness.

I just didn’t love it.

I always want to love anything that has to do with Star Trek - and or classic television in general.

That’s just my thing.
But I’m a tough customer and I’m very protective of my genre.

And that’s just the way it is.

That said, from the second I first heard the title, Star Trek Into Darkness, I sensed their might be some issues, beginning with the last word “darkness.”
I’m so very exhausted by the recent obsessions in film and television with the apparently required “dark” and “edgy” tone, cinematography and content of everything.   Yes, it was clever for those in power (director J.J. Abrams and company) to be the first in the Trek film franchise to actually make the title the closest thing to a sentence (without a colon, as in Star Trek: Into Darkness).  But still – enough already with the dark stuff.

Remember when Star Trek used to be filtered with bright colors, imagination, stunning visuals, amazing stories, eye-opening elegance of exploring “strange new worlds”…going boldly “where no man…no one…has gone before?”  Remember all that?  It was all part of the unique genius of Gene Roddenberry’s original Trek TV series, and to a lesser extent, that first show’s small screen sequels and the earlier Trek feature films.
Unfortunately, it’s not part of Star Trek Into Darkness, or for that matter, Abrams’ initial 2009 feature film journey into the Trek universe.

Ok, fine…they got the costumes right in the new Trek movies…the somewhat correct shades of mustard, red and blue are all there.  And it’s very cool that these new Trek films take place in an alternate time period from the original shows and movies, which allow for parallel changes (i.e. like Kirk now being taller than Spock - as opposed to the other way around).  And I guess we could assimilate that to Trek’s original episode Mirror, Mirror on steroids.
But where are the NEW stories?  Where are the NEW aliens?   Where are the NEW concepts?  The NEW civilizations?   The NEW mysteries?   The NEW sophisticated inventions and gadgets?


Not in Star Trek Into Darkness, that’s for sure.

Ultimately, this new Trek film is a pseudo remake of 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn (thus far and most likely forever the best in the movie series), but without the heart and soul.  The grit is there.  The action/adventure is there (maybe too much so).  The attempt to please original Trek fans is there but not much else.

The Trek cast is top notch in Into Darkness.  Chris Pine is fine as Kirk.  Zachary Quinto is precise as Spock.  Benedict Cumberbatch is great as yes, Kahn.  And so on.  And there are cool cameos by key classic Trek figures.  And that’s all fine and dandy, but still, there’s much to be desired. 
Although there may be certain “behind-the-scenes” reasons why things happened the way they did.

Shortly before Into’s world premiere, it was announced that Abrams would be jumping (space) ship and now also be responsible for rebooting, of all things, the Star Wars franchise…Trek’s main competition.  At first Abrams declined, but then, apparently, his wife convinced him otherwise.  It soon was made known in the press that certain ownership issues with Trek merchandising was one of the reasons why Abrams would leave Trek for Wars.

Upon seeing the half-hearted attempt of Star Trek Into Darkness, Abrams must have made the decision to leave Kirk and crew behind half-way through his work on the film.
All of that said, Star Trek Into Darkness is a very nice action-adventure science fiction movie – but overall - it’s not Star Trek.

And I'm not sure any potential new Trek producer will ever be able to please my portended vision of Trek.  I’d love them to.  But I just don’t know if that will ever come to be.

In looking back over the near fifty years of the franchise, all any true original Trek fan ever wanted was the original actors (William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Deforest Kelly, etc.) back on TV in a new Star Trek TV series.  No one asked for a feature film (the first being 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture), or any other TV Trek like a Next Generation, a Deep Space Nine, a Voyager, or (yikes!) an Enterprise.  Those were all very nice sci-fi shows. 

But they weren’t Star Trek.
And certainly now with the original cast in their very senior years, and two key members now gone (Kelley and James Doohan), Star Trek with the initial cast back on the small screen, every week, is never going to happen.

And in waiting for some producer/director somewhere to finally at least make a solid attempt to recapture Roddenberry’s original brilliance and grace, I’ll close with a few pen-ultimate Star Trek Into Darkness thoughts.
The closing credits were extremely well done.  But why were these clearly-opening credits placed at the end?  This same format was also utilized with Iron Man 3.  And both times the style was retro in nature, with regard to pacing and music, etc. 

But again...why at the end?
How astonishing would it have been if Abrams had in fact opened Into Darkness with for one, the iconic and original TV Star Trek musical theme that was employed at the film’s close?

Maybe he was afraid that the rest of the movie wouldn't have lived up to such opening credits?  Or maybe he wanted to save it for the end, in order to create a sense of "Now...we can begin the actual five-year-mission?"
Sadly, it so far has taken Abrams two new films in his Trek re-do to even re-start that legendary five-year-mission – which is where they should have been from the get-go.

Abrams’ first Trek flick should have been the first new exploration of that historic five-year-mission, instead of over-doing the origin story as was presented.

That said, the original Trek episode, Amok Time (NBC, 9-15-67), Spock is forced to fight Kirk for what he thinks is a duel to the death back on Vulcan in order for Spock to win over his true Vulcan lady love (T’Pring, played by Arlene Martel).  To save Kirk’s life, and yet retain Spock’s honor  - and unknowing to Spock - Dr. McCoy (Kelley) is able to simulate Kirk’s demise during the fight.
In doing so, Spock wins his true love, but, he decides his victory to be a hallow one.  The presiding Vulcan queen T’Pau (Celia Lovsky) wishes him to “Live long and prosper," but he replies, “I shall do neither.  I have killed my captain and my friend.”

Spock then walks over to T’Pring and concludes, “I have found that having is not so pleasing a thing as wanting.  It is not logical…but often true.”
That’s kinda’ how I feel about Star Trek Into Darkness.




Wednesday, May 22, 2013

"The Brady Bunch" is Still the Best & Here’s (the Story) Why…by Herbie J Pilato

There’s a surreal quality circumventing The Brady Bunch that has transcended television time and space.

What first aired from the fall of 1969 to the spring of 1973 as ABC’s original half-hour family sitcom (created by executive producer Sherwood Schwartz – of Gilligan’s Island) has transmuted over the decades into syndicated reruns; with sequels, retrospectives and remakes on additional networks (CBS and NBC); for the big-screen and small; with DVD releases; on the live stage or the printed page; and certainly online.  First there was animated sequel, The Brady Kids (ABC, 1973)…followed by The Brady Bunch Variety Hour (ABC, 1976)…which gave birth to The Brady Girls Get Married (NBC, 1981)….which led to The Brady Brides (NBC, 1981)…and then onto A Very Brady Christmas (1988)…which morphed into the serious-minded The Bradys (1990)…followed a few years later by the first feature film, The Brady Bunch Movie (1995)….and the sub-sequent big-screener A Very Brady Sequel (1996); then straight-to-video with The Brady Bunch in the White House…along with additional incarnations.

Ok, but why?  What is the near-miraculous appeal of this increasingly popular and ever-expanding media-family franchise that made superstar names of Florence Henderson (who played matriarch Carol Brady) and Robert Reed (father Mike Brady); the former child-actors-turned-icons Barry Williams (Greg), Maureen McCormick (Marcia), Christopher Knight (Peter), Eve Plumb (Jan), Mike Lookinland (Bobby), Susan Olson (Cindy), and ever-affable Ann B. Davis (as the lovable, wise-cracking housekeeper Alice)?

In a recent view of reruns of the original series (which is now broadcast, among other places, six times in succession on like The Hallmark Channel), I began to comprehend the core of its appeal – through adult, yet-child-like eyes.

Before I began to re-watch the show, I transported myself back in time, and thought, “What if I was more a child?  What would I think if I saw The Brady Bunch through yesterday’s eyes?”

My reflection gave birth to this perception:

If I was a kid again and turned on the TV and was suddenly startled by a thin white line that streamed across the monitor, have it subsequently transform into a visual of an extremely welcoming woman with a pretty smile, only to have three similarly-facial clad young lasses appear to the left of the screen; followed on the other side of the screen by a pleasantly-handsome man and his three charming young sons…all of it happening as a bouncingly happy music with story-telling lyrics played in the background…I’d be hooked from the get-go.  I would have been mesmerized

The colors…in the Brady kitchen alone, all orange and blue, would have transfixed me.  Into this mix was the perfect home setting…the amiable-but-at-times conflicted personalities…the problems…the struggles…the challenges…all wrapped up within a thirty-minute time-frame.

It would be like watching a living cartoon…in the most beautiful, surreal way.

What more could any child want?  What more could any adult want then to view life through a kaleidoscope of loving-kindness that resolved all conflict?

We’d want to experience that feeling again and again, in as many ways as possible…in as many formats as feasible...including The Brady Bunch Variety Hour, which many have unduly criticized - and secretly loved - over the years. 

But me?  I always outright loved it, for all the world to see.

The Variety show debuted two years after the original Bunch sitcom was cancelled – and I was in television heaven.  The original cast, sans Eve Plumb (who was replaced by Fake-But-Eager-Jan Geri Reischl), were all there, singing and dancing their Brady hearts out.
But they weren’t billed as Florence, Robert, Barry, and Maureen, and so forth who were hosting a TV variety show.  Instead, it was Carol, Mike, Greg and Marcia, etc. who were given the reigns.

Years later, A Very Brady Christmas (with a new Cindy, portrayed by Jennifer Runyon) became the highest-rated TV-movie of 1988, which inspired the thirtysomething-esque, more dramatic-oriented The Bradys weekly series (with Susan Olsen back as Cindy; but with Marcia now played by Leah Ayres) from early 1990…and so forth and so on into Brady-infinity. 

Again, there was something surreal about it all…and there always will be.

Thank the Brady gods.


Monday, May 06, 2013

From "Star Trek" to "Spider-Man": There's A Certain Way To (Re-) Do It!

There’s been resurgence in remakes of recent.  Classic television programs for the big-screen or small; classic films for the big-screen; classic concepts remade in general, whether they were remade from an original comic book or novel source.

            In the past few years there’s been small screen television re-treads of Battlestar: Galactica, The Defenders, and The Munsters.  More are on the way, as actors Vince Vaughn and Peter Billingsley (Ralphie from A Christmas Story) are partnering with Paramount to develop a new Brady Bunch, while Warner Bros. is still dabbling with the possibility of re-doing Wonder Woman (for which a recent David E. Kelly edition did not fly).

            On the big-screen, classic TV shows have shown up in retrograde fashion with, for example, director Tim Burton and star Johnny Depp’s Dark Shadows (based on the 1960s gothic soap), and the on-going adventures of Mission: Impossible featuring Tom Cruise, who is now also working on a re-do of TV’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E.  Into this mix, producer/director J.J. Abrams, who helmed Cruise in Mission: Impossible 3, is now promoting his second Star Trek film based on Gene Roddenberry’s original genius Trek TV series.  Moreover, Abrams is further involved with a re-boot of the Star Wars franchise, which has long been in direct competition with the Trek universe; and that development alone poses an interesting triadic dichotomy:

            1] That any Trek associate, veteran or novice, would be aligned with a direct “rival” is nothing less than intriguing

            2] That Wars never began as a television series; but in the theatre and

            3] That Abrams would not only be re-doing a stabilized television franchise, but is also now re-booting an established film franchise.

            With regard to the latter, certainly other creative sorts have found themselves in similar shoes with, for example, the likes (and dislikes) of the Spider-Man and Superman feature film worlds.  Both S-Men initially commenced in comic book form (Spidey from Marvel origins; Clark Kent and company from DC origins), and went on to become small screen animated and live actions series.  But some have questioned the wisdom of re-booting feature film editions of these two superheroes so soon after their fairly recent early retreads (if only in the last decade).  Included in this unique re-club would The Incredible Hulk, with which Universal went back to the big-screen remake drawing board (to less than stellar results) with not one but two total Hulk re-dos within a five year span.

            However, The Amazing Spider-Man, introducing the new Peter Parker, now played by Andrew Garfield proved profitable, followed in the web-steps of the ultimately success of Tobey Maguire films.  And many are hoping the soon-to-be-seen Man of Steel will do the same with the Superman feature film series (although the late, great Christopher Reeve has continually proven to be a tough super act to follow).

            Any way the retread is sliced, it is no easy task to remake a small screen classic, whether or not it began in comic book or novel form, for either television or the movie-house.  And although those involved certainly always have the best of intentions, they do not always produce the best results.

            However, there are certain precepts and “rules” that could and should be adhered to help things along the way (all of which, once more, comes in threes):

            1] The given property’s core mythology must be respected

            2] If at all, possible, any living member of the original cast or production team of the original series or conceived project should somehow be involved

            3] The correct casting is pertinent, and that does not always mean that an A-list actor or actress should be cast as a solid draw.  Ideally, remakes should not be star-vehicles; the script and the story and the characters should be the star attractions; and everything should fall into place after that.

            But what might be the most important component to consider in remaking, per se, a classic television program, in particular, is to know when and when not to take the concept seriously.

            A few years back, The Brady Bunch was made into a glorious feature film, and the camp aspect played into the scenario very well.  The original television series (which still rules, by the way!), though not intended as camp, became camp in the process, although no less loved.  Consequently, camping-it-up nicely served the feature film transition – and the Brady franchise, in general.  The Brady Bunch Movie, released in 1995, pristinely incorporated camp into its very core and, in the process, became a satire.  So that worked.

            Conversely, such was not the case in 2004 with Ben Stiller’s Starsky & Hutch movie remake of the Aaron Spelling TV series.  Granted, the original series could never be considered Masterpiece Theatre; but it wasn’t campy either.  But for some reason, Stiller decided to go the satire Brady Bunch route.  (Maybe because he married Christine Taylor, who played Marcia, Marcia, Marcia in the Brady motion picture?) 

            What also didn’t work on a big-screen level was the aforementioned Burton/Depp Dark Shadows re-do from 2012.  There was a mistaken assessment that the original Shadows TV series was a campy series.  But such was not the case.  The low budget may have invited some to perceive the series as camp, but the writing and storylines and the always-solid acting (given the allotted time-frame and live-performing aspect of daily daytime production) on that so-named gothic soap raised the bar.

            Unfortunately, Burton and Depp most disappointedly decided to turn Shadows into a joke.  The first few minutes of the film were pure genius; but as the movie continued they decided to camp it up (as they, again, had assumed the original series camped it), but things went down-hill from there.  Adding insult to injury, the four main original Shadows actors (Jonathan Frid, Kathryn Lee Scott, Lara Parker and David Selby) were poorly and disrespectfully employed on-screen (you’d have to blink to see their cameos in an entry-party scene).

            In all, Shadows was a dark disappointment on so many levels.

            But such does not have to be the case with future remakes.

            Those who in control should trust their affection for the original concept they seek to re-do; respect the original material, and proceed with remake style, classic, elegance, and sophistication.

            If such is the case, then everything should turn out just fine. 

            Make that, re-fined.

            Er, re-make that re-fined.

            Oh, you get the (big) picture.

Herbie J Pilato is the Creative Director of Pop-Culture Consultants, an entertainment consulting firm that specializes in remakes of classic television programming for the big-screen and small.  For more information, log on to or email