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The Great Regression: “Little”, “Shazam!”, “Unicorn Store” and the New Cinema of Arrested Development…

It’s always fun to pick at trends in contemporary cinema, especially when so many movies with similar ideas arrive in such rapid succession.

Film production is a long and arduous process. This is part of what distinguishes it from television. Films spend years in development and then production, their releases carefully managed and synchronised. As a medium, mainstream cinema often lacks the urgency suggested by the churn of television. It is harder to immediately react to trends. This is why, for example, the feature film Slender Man arrived more than half-a-decade after the character had taken the internet by storm and arguably after culture’s attention had wandered in other directions. Similarly, the success of movies like Iron Man and The Avengers led other studios to pursue that model of film-making, but it’s telling that the DCEU lagged roughly half a decade behind with Man of Steel and Justice League.

This is why it is particularly interesting when movies tackling the same big ideas happen to be released around the same time; Deep Impact and Armageddon, The Prestige and The Illusionist, Capote and Infamous. These films arrive so quickly that they are unlikely to exist in response to one another. Instead, they suggest similar ideas developed in parallel, perhaps hinting at some deeper motivating factor that spurred these similar ideas into development. Recent weeks have seen the release of three relatively distinct films operating in three very different genres; Shazam! is a superhero story, Little is a broad nostalgic comedy, Unicorn Store is a quirky independent film. However, each of those three films gets at the same idea.

Shazam!, Little and Unicorn Store are all stories about the intersection of childhood and adulthood. Shazam!, Little and Unicorn Store all feature adults who become children, in a manner of speaking. Of course, Unicorn Store is rather less literal than the other two examples, with Kit content to simply recapture her childhood dreams rather than to physically transform herself into a child. While Shazam! might more accurately be described as the story of a child who becomes an adult, the story’s central thrust is that Billy Batson needs to lean to be comfortable being a child and that he cannot remain an adult superhero forever. (Indeed, the primary plot of Shazam! features an adult trying to reclaim “the power of Shazam”, with the film insisting that it belong to a child.)

Still, taken together, these films suggest an interesting trend within contemporary pop culture. They hint at the awkward relationship that exists between childhood and adulthood in modern society, and the difficult that many individuals face in navigating the boundaries between the two. In Little, a forty-year-old tech entrepreneur finds herself transformed into her teenage self so that she might live the childhood that she previously denied herself. In Shazam!, a superhero is able to transform into a child with the mere mention of the title word, able to retreat from the responsibilities of heroism into the comforts of a warm and loving family environment. In Unicorn Store, Kit still lives in her parents’ house and sleeps in her childhood bedroom, dreaming of owning a unicorn.

These films are rather strange, in large part because they run counter to so many of the beloved stories with which they might otherwise be compared. During the eighties and even into the new millennium, children dreamed of the freedom that being an adult might afford them. In recent years, many of those children grew into adults who longed for the relative safety and security of childhood.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Innocence (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a look at the 1995 to 1996 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

One of the remarkable things about the first two seasons of Star Trek: Voyager is the way that they seem to hark back to the aesthetic of classic Star Trek.

There is a palpable goofiness to some of the ideas in the second season that feels very much in keeping with the mood and tone of the classic sixties series. There’s a surprising amount of high-concept science-fiction allegory running through the first two seasons of the show, with the writer playing with concepts not too far removed from the space!Romans of Bread and Circuses or the half-black half-white allegories of Let That Be Your Last Battlefield. There are points where Voyager seems to drift away from literalism and wander into sci-fi wackiness.

Kids these days...

Kids these days…

There were elements of this to be found in the first season, with Caretaker awkwardly literalising the franchise’s wild west metaphor by having Janeway’s first planetfall occur on a desert world with a primitive aggressive population. The Kazon and the Vidiians seemed like they escaped from pulpy science-fiction serials, with the show even going so far as to present the Vidiians as body horror space nazis in episodes like Phage and Faces. This is to say nothing of the Cold War paranoia of Cathexis or the primary colour atomic anxiety of Time and Again.

However, this tendency really kicked into high gear during the second season, with the crews’ dreams conspiring to kill them in Persistence of Vision, Chakotay meeting his people’s space!gods (er… “sky spirits”) in Tattoo, Voyager embroiling itself in a “robotic war” in Prototype and Paris “evolving” into a salamander in Threshold. There was a sense that the show was embracing the sort of high-concept sci-fi weirdness that Star Trek: The Next Generation had spent so much of its run trying to avoid, and had only really embraced in its final years.

Bennet, we hardly knew ye.

Bennet, we hardly knew ye.

That is particularly apparent in this stretch of episodes towards the end of the second season. Innocence has a species that ages backwards, enjoying a simple allegory without getting too caught up in the internal logic of the situation. The Thaw is arguably a much greater visual tribute to the style and tone of the original Star Trek than Flashback could ever claim to be. Tuvix is a classic transporter accident story, reversing The Enemy Within. These pulpy elements of Voyager would never quite go away, but they would never be as pronounced as they were in the first two years.

Innocence is a weird and goofy little story that works best as a modern fairy tale. It is arguably proof that the Star Trek franchise probably works better as metaphorical allegory than straight-up science-fiction.

Eye see...

Eye see…

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