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It’s All About Meme Meme: The Perfect Timing of “The Wicker Man”…

The podcast that I co-host, The 250, marked Halloween with a look at Neil La Bute’s adaptation of The Wicker Man. It’s a fun, broad discussion. However, watching the film and talking about the film got me thinking about Nicolas Cage, meme culture and the perfect storm of timing involved.

It’s possible to break down Nicolas Cage’s career into two phases: before and after The Wicker Man.

Before The Wicker Man, Nicolas Cage was a respected actor. He had won the Best Actor Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas. He had become an blockbuster movie star thanks to films like The Rock and Con Air. He had worked with auteurs like David Lynch on Wild at Heart and the Coens in Raising Arizona. Indeed, at the turn of the millennium, Cage had settled into a respectable cinematic middle age. In the years leading up to The Wicker Man, he worked on fare like Andrew Niccol’s earnest Lord of War and Gore Verbinski’s decidedly middle brow The Weather Man.

And then The Wicker Man happened. Almost immediately, Cage’s career shifted gears. There were where still franchise films like Ghost Rider or National Treasure: Book of Secrets. There were still auteur collaborations like with Werner Herzog on Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. However, there were also movies like Bangkok Dangerous, Next and Knowing, which would lead on to films like Drive Angry, Seeking Justice and Trespass. Not all of these films were bad, but they were instrumental in establishing the Nicolas Cage audiences know today: “full Cage.”

To give Cage some credit here, his later work is often more interesting than his popular reputation would suggest. In particular, Cage works remarkably well in ensemble genre pieces like Kick-Ass or Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. More than that, Cage works remarkably well in the context of films that are pitched to match his fevered intensity as a performer like Mandy or The Colour Out of Space. Nevertheless, The Wicker Man was very much a watershed moment for Cage, like the flicking of a light switch.

Part of this is simply timing. The Wicker Man arrived at the perfect moment in popular culture, as a seismic shift was taking place. Discussions about the history of cinema often focus on the mechanics and the politics of the industry itself – the way in which movies are produced, funded and distributed. This makes a great deal of sense. However, it’s also important to consider how movies are discussed and how audiences engage with those films.

The Wicker Man arrived at a moment where the internet was primed to change the way that movies were watched, and the impact on Nicolas Cage’s career is perhaps a graphic illustration of that seismic shift.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Macrocosm (Review)

If Star Trek: Voyager is going to commit itself to emulating Star Trek: The Next Generation, there are probably worse ways to do it.

Macrocosm is not a bad riff on Genesis, another sci-fi monster story from Brannon Braga. Braga has an interest in the overlap between horror and retro science-fiction, as demonstrated by scripts from Schisms to Sub Rosa to Threshold. While none of these episodes count among Braga’s best work, and many are considered among his worst, they very clearly represent a subject of interest to him. Given the third season misfires with Warlord and The Q and the Grey, a light run-around action story is not the worst episode that Voyager could produce at this point.

Going viral.

Going viral.

Macrocosm has more than its fair share of problems. It is structured oddly, it is laboured with exposition, it is not technically as tight as it needs to be. However, there is a lot to be said for an episode that casts Kathryn Janeway as John Rambo, stalking killer monsters through the dimly-lit corridors of her own starship. It is at the very least a refreshing change of pace. Besides, if Jean-Luc Picard gets to be an action hero in scripts like Starship Mine or Star Trek: First Contact, it seems only fair that Janeway should get her chance.

The biggest problem with Macrocosm is the episode that it might have been. The original pitch for the episode was much more ambitious than the version that made it to screen. Unfortunately, this is very much the narrative of the third season of Voyager, and perhaps the show as a whole. Macrocosm was a bold idea that was gradually watered down to form a passable imitation of The Next Generation.

"It's going to get very First Contact in here, very quickly."

“It’s going to get very First Contact in here, very quickly.”

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Extinction (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This August, we’re doing the third season. Check back daily for the latest review.

In many respects, The Xindi and Anomaly opened the third season as if it were the first season of a new show. In particular, Anomaly built consciously and cleverly off of Fight or Flight and Strange New World in providing a solid foundation for the year ahead. The comparison works quite well. By that logic, Extinction and Rajiin serve as Unexpected and Terra Nova. They are two of the weakest episodes of the season, harmed by their close proximity to the start of the year. Anybody wanting to reach Twilight or Damage has to get through Extinction and Rajiin.

In many respects, this early lag in the third season demonstrates just how inexperienced the creative team were at long-form serialised storytelling. The only arc comparable to the Xindi arc in the entire Star Trek franchise is the Dominion War arc on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. There, the writers were clever enough to launch the new status quo with an unheralded six-episode interconnected story. The Dominion War had its share of duds, but the opening salvo was magnificently confident.

Archer's not feeling himself lately...

Archer’s not feeling himself lately…

In contrast, the third season of Star Trek: Enterprise suffers out of the gate. The Xindi and Anomaly do good work setting up plot points and character beats that will be of use later in the season, but there is no real sense that the writing staff has any idea what that use might be at this point of the season. Two episodes into the third season, the show is already back to fairly formulaic adventures that stand quite cleanly alone. It is not too difficult to imagine Extinction or Rajiin as episodes in any other season – albeit with some slight tinkering.

However, this is only part of the problem. Long-form storytelling need not become a burden. There is a great deal of value to be had in drifting away from a serialised story arc to tell a quality standalone tale. Unfortunately, Extinction is not a quality standalone tale. In fact, it is one of the worst episodes of Enterprise ever produced. Airing it as the third episode of a bold new season feels like a poor choice.

"C'mon, wouldn't you like to go back to being a torturing and almost genocidal human?"

“C’mon, wouldn’t you like to go back to being a torturing and almost genocidal human?”

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