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In the olden days (those are the days when most of you weren’t even a gleam in your father’s eyes yet), when the movies went to television for subject matter, we got Marty, Judgment at Nuremberg, Charlie and The Days of Wine and Roses. Today we have The Beverly Hillbillies, Charlie’s Angels, Dark Shadows and The Addams Family (okay, The Addams Family was pretty neat, especially Addams Family Values, but you get my drift).
And now, opening the same week, we have two more: Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie (or Ab Fab, as those in my tribe refer to it) and Star Trek Beyond (or STB as I will refer to it).
Shoot me before they reach Gilligan’s Island.
Both movies, in spite of being in entirely different genres, do have two things in common. One: both are from television series that succeeded because they found the humanity at the core of their concepts. Second, and perhaps ironically: the human connection is almost totally cut off from both of the films (with Ab Fab: The Movie being so disconnected from reality, it might as well also have sci-fi in common with Star Trek).
One thing you could always say about Star Trek in its original incarnation in the 1960’s is that it was always about something, usually Cold War politics or contemporary issues like racism and the hippie movement. Granted, it was often silly in its approach, while at other times it could be pretty profound, but no matter what, it was about something.
STB, meanwhile, as written by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung (plus, according to IMDB, three other uncredited writers-that’s five, count ‘em five, and this is still the best they can come up with), and directed by Justin Lin, seems to be about little but blowing up, well…things, lots and lots of things. Oh, and lots of CGI, lots and lots. If it’s about anything else, except something like is Idris Elba becoming a variation of Lupita Nyong’o in which they play characters in movies where their faces aren’t seen, I have no idea what it is.
And STB is filled with a Teutonic ton of action. It’s all over the freaking place. But it’s the kind of action where the destruction is massive and should result in the death of thousands…well, what it should realistically result in is the demise of everyone in the movie. But when there is death, it pretty much happens sanitized and off screen. And based on the number of people who escaped shuffling off their mortal coil, the body count seems unaccountably minimal.
All this money and technology and no one involved can bring one iota of emotional depth (or even emotional surface) to the situation. Remember when Spock died in an earlier Star Trek entry? Don’t expect anything with even a thousandth of that emotional impact. Disney used to be the go to guys for having someone die and letting the emotions course through the audience. Has Hollywood just lost the art of it, or do they think they’ll make more money doing it this way, by killing people who don’t die?
And as usual, the people most likely to survive are those with the highest billing and biggest paychecks. No matter how much suspense one and all try to create, we know that Kirk, Spock, McCoy, et al, aren’t going to die, not due to plot and character, but because the only thing more powerful than a supervillain is a franchise.
The basic plot revolves around the Federation receiving a request for help from an unidentified species. A spaceship has been lost inside an unexplored nebula, crash landed on a planet. But when The Enterprise investigates, they find someone waiting for them.
And then the explosions begin.
There’s also some sort of story used to link the various SFX set pieces and action scenes together, but it’s not all that entertaining, so I wouldn’t worry much about it.
The main enjoyment that can be gleaned from the movie are the same as in the first film, having fun seeing a young cast interpret not just their roles, but also the older actors who originally created the characters (and the usual suspects are here, so I won’t enumerate them).
In addition, the movie gets some mileage out of some romantic relationships, like Jaylah, the last of her people who ended up on the planet the same way The Enterprise did; Scotty has finally found his equal and seems quite smitten. Spock and Uhura’s relationship keeps getting its laughs. And there’s a lovely moment when Sulu meets with his same-sex partner and their daughter.
Meanwhile, Ab Fab has similar issues. The TV show was a vitriolic and hysterical skewering of trends, pop culture and celebrity. The show never met a person famous for being famous that it wasn’t merciless to.
At the same time, it also was able to make its central characters, the monsoonic Edina Monsoon and the poster child for the Greek philosopher Epicurus, Patsy Stone, both repulsive and fascinating, both life affirming while they left a swathe of destruction in their path, both hypocritical and spot on in their attacks on modern culture.
At the end of the day, there was only Edina’s daughter Saffy, as mild as the spice she is named for, to represent sanity, but also dull and far too safe to use as an alternative to the anarchy of the adults.
And in the end, we often felt for these characters in all their foibles and idiocy.
In Absolutely Fabulous, the movie, the characters are older, but the jokes are just plain old. It’s been how many years since Ab Fab was on the air and they can’t be bothered to update the humor or bring a new perspective to their targets, or even pick new ones? The whole thing revolves around something that happens to Kate Moss, but all I could think was, “Now, I know the name, but who is she again?”
It’s a movie where Gwendoline Christie of Game of Thrones appears as herself and I think that that was supposed to be the joke.
In many ways the structure is the same as STB. There’s a lot of action and sight gags and people running around, but very little character development or depth (actually, none, if truth be told). What’s amazing is that in the series, Jennifer Saunders, who wrote the movie as well as contributed to the TV version, could get more plot, more character depth, more biting wit in thirty minutes than she can in the 91 minutes it takes for the film to play itself out.
As is STB, all the usual suspects are here, so I won’t enumerate. But Dawn French, who helped develop the original characters, can be seen as a talk show host. And Joan Collins has a cameo that made me laugh out loud.