Taking the reins of the Star Trek saga, producer/director J.J. Abrams’ most impressive gambit is a self-consciously clever ploy. Faced with the task of acclimating new audiences to this venerably corny space opera, he simultaneously executes a franchise reboot and nostalgia play. Thanks to the miracle of time travel — in the context of the Star Trek cosmos, such gimmick doesn’t even qualify as a stretch — Star Trek functions simultaneously as sequel and prequel. That is to say, while it brings with it the return of a notably wizened Leonard Nimoy as an elderly Mr. Spock, the eyebrow-humping logician who was arguably the signature character of the original TV series, it’s also full of origin stories. If you ever longed to see the Trek-ian likes of Kirk, Spock, Sulu, “Bones” McCoy, and Uhuru as fine young things studying together at Starfleet Academy, this is your chance.
Update 3/23/09: Via The House Next Door comes word that The Virgin Spring is available for free, legal online viewing.
In case you’re unfamiliar with the film or its reputation, let me give you an idea of just how disreputable the 1972 Wes Craven version of The Last House on the Left really is. I saw it in film school, in a horror-film class that was being taught by a professor who had stepped in at the last minute, after the one who had actually programmed the syllabus fell ill, so he was unfamiliar with some of the films that had been scheduled. The semester went pretty well went pretty well until the day we screened The Last House on the Left. The prof — a fine teacher and an expert in film in his own right — stood in front of the class afterward and declared that he had always considered himself a First Amendment absolutist. Until that day. Screening Last House for the first time, he said, had convinced him that there was a good case to be made for censorship. His argument was essentially that the film was sadistic and utterly worthless, the product of very small minds, a debasement of not just its cast and crew but of the audience members as well. I complicated matters somewhat by raising my hand and noting that The Last House on the Left was based on an Ingmar Bergman film, The Virgin Spring. As a defense of the film goes, I admit now that’s pretty weak sauce, but it’s what I had. And it worked, to a degree. I don’t think it necessarily changed his mind about the film, but it altered the tenor of discussion. Slightly.
“You must know by now: there’s a black floor, it takes three hours, nothing happens, the outcome is terrible. Nobody should say that they were not warned.”
— Lars Von Trier
For a filmmaker who thrives on confrontation, Dogville is some kind of crowning achievement. In just under three hours’ time, Lars Von Trier’s latest provocation expertly draws audiences into, drags them through and spits them out the other side of a sad yarn from Hell’s own storybook. The unctuous narration by John Hurt offers a comforting introduction to the sleepy Rocky Mountain mining town named in the title. But as the story is told, his sing-song vocal stylings are revealed as utterly cynical and more than a little sarcastic. For his voice is also the voice of the auteur behind the film, and Von Trier takes a pretty dim view of Dogville.
[SPOILERS ENSUE. IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN DOGVILLE, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND THAT YOU CHECK OUT MY CAPSULE REVIEW INCLUDED HERE INSTEAD.]