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I have two cheap theaters within walking distance so this weekend I caught up on my blockbusters and saw Star Trek: Into Darkness and Elysium.

Regarding Into Darkness, I don’t have too much to add to the comments I’ve already seen online except that Trek has become a Trek Nationalism (of a non-goosestepping kind) and that we are now being sold a repackaged, retold, re-convoluted version of a history we already know. We’ve had this before in movies about World War II (Kelly’s Heroes and Inglorious Basterds for two examples). Into Darkness is a ceremony of Trek Nation Nostalgia. While the film was excellent entertainment (in a scene-chewing-parody sort of way), I wonder if the folks who own the Trek Universe will actually start coming up with new stories the way The New Generation and Deep Space Nine did and Voyager didn’t. For the next film they’ll need a great new story, I think, or the franchise will fail for good.

Elysium is 85% of a great film. Production design was complete, the script was about done, blocking and continuity were worked out pretty well (apart from the shoulder-launched magic-missiles and the lack of gauntlets on the exoskeleton), but it still had a fair amount of story to tell or not tell, depending on the ultimate message of the film.

The message of Elysium, I think, was meant to be more generally an indictment of the self-righteous yet casual way our plutocratic overlords seek to make the entire world smaller and more manageable for themselves. Being a film instead of a series of episodes (which is the proper format for a deep narrative) Blomkamp focused on health care and tried to let setting take care of the rest of the message. This may have been a mistake. The negative comments about the arbitrary unfairness of the Elysium health care model (which ignore the arbitrary unfairness of the setting in general, and our own world) show that the message didn’t connect squarely.

Science fiction is about metaphorical messages about ourselves and creating fantasy settings that might be real. Blomkamp has done the latter very well in his two major pictures—better than any other current sci-fi film auteur, period.—but for the former he may need to move to a more long-form video medium. I wish him luck.