Lessons I Learned From Star Trek

Ok, this isn’t going to be one of those “Star Trek taught me to be a better person by believing in the principles of the Federation” type of posts.

Your Monkey does not know enough about Star Trek the series or the original movies to say whether or not he agrees with any Trekkie philosophy.

This post is about what your Monkey learned from watching “Star Trek” the movie, the 2009 summer blockbuster directed by JJ Abrams (of Lost and Felicity fame).

Being a non-Trek fan who knows nothing of the Trek canon, Your Monkey may be in a better position to judge the film as a pure story, rather than worrying about how it reimagines Star Trek as a series.

OK, enough jibber jabber. On to the lessons.

1. Don’t be afraid to kill someone off: Without revealing anything, there is an important and dramatically surprising death in this movie that sets an emotional tone for the film and raises the dramatic stakes. Because of this death, it becomes more important for us as a viewer that the crew of the Enterprise succeed in their mission. We have set the bar high for noble and heroic sacrifice.

2. Small stakes can equal high drama: Perhaps the most thrilling and adrenaline-charged sequence in the film involves an attempt by Enterprise crew members to sabotage a drill that is boring deep into the core of a planet. This scene only involves six actors, relies primarily on hand to hand combat, and yet is as thrilling as any large scene involving spaceships and photons and phasers and the like. You don’t have to go big to get big results.

3. Respect your characters: Introducing and establishing the personalities of all the Star Trek crew members is no easy task in a movie that runs only about two hours. It is difficult to make each character stand out given that we have to move the plot forward at a pretty rapid clip.

The characters that the film does take time to give a back story to (Spock and Lt. Uhura, for example) to become much more interesting and engaging than those who seem to just get tossed into the mix with only a few throwaway lines (Bones and Sulu). Even the character of  seems to get a short shrift in the back story department.

4. Don’t feel the need to over-explain. After listening to a podcast interview with the screenwriters of the new Star Trek, it became clear to this Monkey that there was a lot going on in the plot of the film that escaped his notice because he was unfamiliar with the long history of Star Trek. But the fact that the film didn’t slow down at every moment to explain how this tied into 40 years of storytelling was a big plus. Those who knew the back story likely enjoyed the film on a different level than the casual fan. But that’ s OK.

5. There is no expiration (star)date for product placement.

Permission to insert jarring product placements into your futuristic sci fi movie Captain?

Permisson granted.

OK Budweiser, OK Nokia. We get it. There is room in the future for the popular cell phone networks and Amercian beer companies of today. We watch the film and we see the oh-so-subtle way that your products are incorporated into the movie. Like sheep, we immediately associate Nokia and Budweiser with the movie that we liked, and immediately start to buy more Bud and Nokia products.

Mission accomplished.

Here is the trailer for the film.

Despite your Monkey’s objections to commercialization, Star Trek is a good, fun movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously. If you haven’t seen it yet, you should.


The Lost Interviews Volume 3

A continuing series of faux self-interviews conducted in the style made famous by Dave Eggers in his book “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.”

Q. So Monkey, what is the story with this blog? We’ve noticed that there haven’t been too many posts recently…

A. Yes, it’s true. Your Monkey has been trying to devote his time to more “productive” avenues such as freelance writing projects and finding a new job. This blog has been a casualty of the time crunch.

Q.  But what about the public outrage? Have people not been emailing and calling and sending telexes to Monkey Headquarters demanding new blog posts?

A. Ergh. Um. Well….not exactly.

Q. Surely your fellow bloggers have reached out to see if there was something wrong? Surely your voice has been missed in the blogosphere?

A. OK, well, no. No one has mentioned anything as of yet.

Q. No calls?

A. No.

Q. No emails?

A. No.

Q. So no one has noticed?

A. No.

Q. Hmmm. This is disappointing news.

A. Well, you have to consider that there are thousands and thousands of blogs out there. People who have lots of time to devote to their craft. People who have lots more to say.

Q. Well, yeah. There are a lot of blogs. And a lot of bloggers. I’m just wondering why I’m not interviewing someone who has a fan base. Someone with a following. Someone who just can’t disappear off the face of the earth without causing at least a tiny ripple.

A. Maybe I’m not the most prominent blogger in the world, but there’s no need to make it personal. There’s no need for hurtful words.

Q. Oh, it’s personal. You waste my day and my time on a fake interview for a blog that nobody reads and you expect me not to take it personally?

A. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I just thought that maybe if we did this interview than maybe it might generate a little interest in the blog. I can’t help it if nobody is reading.

Q. No dice. I don’t waste my time on nobodies. Maybe you should change the name of this blog to the Most Anoymous Monkey.

A. Why don’t you change your name to “Drop Dead”?


La Jetee: The Grumpiest Monkey Watches the Inspiration for 12 Monkeys

La Jetee
Directed by Chris Marker
Starring Davos Hanich and Hélène Chatelain

“La Jeteé” is a 1962 black and white short film that is best known for being the inspiration for the 1995 Terry Gilliam film “12 Monkeys.”

“12 Monkeys,” for those of you not familiar with the film, is the story of a man from a bleak post-apocalyptic future (Bruce Willis) who is sent back in time to stop the release of a devastating virus that wiped out most of mankind in the 1990s and sent the rest scurrying underground.

While traveling through the past, Willis’ character meets a sympathetic psychiatric (Madeline Stowe) and an eccentric animal rights activist (Brad Pitt), both of whom may play a pivotal role in creating the future world that Willis inhabits.

“La Jeteé” is also the story of a man from a post-apocalyptic future who travels through time, meets a woman in the past, and tries to find answers. This 28 minute black and white film tells the story almost entirely through still images, with a voice-over narration providing the plot points.

Your Monkey has always been a big fan of “12 Monkeys.” It manages to be both a rousing sci-fi thriller and an interesting thought piece on time travel, fate, and inevitability.

So the big questions your Monkey Movie Fan had in sitting down with “La Jeteé” were:

  1. How and why did this 1962 film inspire Terry Gilliam to make 12 Monkeys more than 30 years later?
  2. What elements from the original made it into the remake? What was changed?
  3. Which is the better film?

So how does “La Jeteé” compare to “12 Monkeys”?

Well, the framework for Gilliam’s film is all there in Marker’s earlier work. In fact, “La Jeteé” almost seems like a storyboard draft for “12 Monkeys.”

We have all the same major plot points. And instead of seeing them play out in live action, we see them as a series of photographs.

Marker’s work is more spare from a storytelling standpoint as well He doesn’t tell us much about the man, or the woman, or the worlds in which they live. He doesn’t delve into the emotions of his characters, but lets us fill in the blanks.

The use of black and white still photography for the vast majority of the film creates an interesting effect. Much like a time traveler, we feel like we are just getting brief glimpses of another world, rather than actually living in it.

But in this Monkey’s humble opinion, Gilliam’s movie is much more well rounded. We have more characters, a more detailed plot, and overall a more satisfying viewing experience. He took the shell that Marker created with “La Jeteé” and filled it in with a much more emotionally resonant film.

So is “La Jeteé” worth seeing?

It is if you are a fan of “12 Monkeys.” It’s interesting to see what another artist does with the same basic story framework. At a paltry 28 minutes, it’s not too big of a time investment.

And it is available on DVD from Netflix in a Criterion Collection edition that includes a second film. So you get two shows for the price of one!*

Here is the trailer from “La Jeteé”:

* Unfortunately, that second film is an interminably long travelogue about a photographer’s journeys in Africa and Japan. You may want to avoid it like the apocalyptic plague in “12 Monkeys.”

Shameless self indulgence, Uncategorized, Work, Writing

The Existential Angst of the Monkey Copywriter

You sit at your desk day after day and you type and you type but you never really write anything.

It’s just meaningless words for a meaningless catalog that people only look at for the pictures anyway.

You type and you type and your head hurts from the sheer volume of products that you have to write about.

You lose track of individual sentences and paragraphs and you find yourself drowning in a sea of meaningless phrases.

“A must have”
“A must see”
“An incredible deal”
“An amazing bargain”
Great for doing xx”
“Ideal for xx”
“So tremendously f–king satisfying at accomplishing xx”

The words and the products and the information all jumble together so your head can no longer sort them all out.

Can you look for typos, read for content, verify the product information, and check to see if the pricing makes sense all at the same time?

You sit at your desk and you type and you type and you don’t dare get up because there is work to be done and you must do it.

There is always something else to write, always another deadline to meet, always another mess of words and information that you must somehow stitch into a Frankenstein monster of a catalog.

You dig and you beg and you borrow and you steal and you do the best you can to put the words together. Then you hope for a lightning bolt of creative inspiration that will somehow bring this creature to life.

And just when you think you’ve got things under control, just when it seems like your creature will live and breathe and speak to your customers, then pages get cut and products get dropped, and rules get changed.

It turns out that what they really want to do is send out a catalog that is half the size but has twice the products.

And thus the carefully stitched monster of spare parts that you have somehow managed to breathe life into is hunted down and torn apart by the mob.

And thus you must return to the graveyard of your thoughts.

You must once again dig up the same rotten words and moldy sales phrases, drag them back to your cubicle laboratory, clean them off and stitch them together. You must once again hope for the bolt of inspiration that will bring them life.

And you must once again wait and watch in helpless agony as the mob hunts down your wretched creation and tears it apart.


Things I Don’t Care About

I don’t care about Facebook and Youtube videos and writing blogs and Twitter accounts.

I don’t care about Linked In and and networking for jobs.

I don’t care for job recruiters.

I don’t care about new social media trends and online networking and “going viral.”

I don’t care about fantasy football and keeper leagues and knockout drafts and online gambling.

I don’t care about and college basketball rankings.

I don’t care about diversifying my 401K plan and investing in real estate and cutting costs by eliminating unnecessary expenses.

I don’t care that the price of a cup of coffee adds up to $15 a week which is $60 a month and $1,800 a year.

I don’t care that my math is wrong in the above example.

I don’t care to do the right multiplication.

I don’t care about reconnecting with old friends and text messaging and RSS feeds and getting email on my phone.

I don’t care about high definition sports and on-demand programming and live streaming video.

I don’t care about the NFL Red Zone channel because it jumps around too fast.

I just don’t care about all this crap no more.