Leave it to Anthony Lane, the 47-year-old movie critic at The New Yorker who tries so hard to sound like an 87-year-old movie critic at The New Yorker, to give an analysis so grumpy, so backwards, and so out-of-touch that it comes all the way back around and makes a whole lot of sense.
We’re talking about Lane’s review of the new Star Trek movie, which had us nodding along at first.
What happened to “Star Trek”? There it was, a nice little TV series, quick and wry, injecting the fronteir spirit into the galactic void, and managing to touch on weighty themes without getting sucked into them and sqashed.
So far, so good. We’re thinking, “Yeah, The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine were great, but Enterprise didn’t really excite us, and the last good Star Trek movie was Insurrection.” But that’s not where Lane is headed. He continues:
It ran for three seasons, and then, in 1969, it did the decent, graceful thing and expired. End of story. Except that the story was slapped back to life and forced to undergo one warping after another…
Wha-wha-what? Is Lane really so “old school” that he can write off the (estimated) 95% of Star Trek that took place after 1969, via TV shows, movies, comic books, paperbacks, and shiny tin lunch boxes? Is this how deep his nostalgia runs?
As a matter of fact, no. Lane was born in 1962. He couldn’t have been much of a TV buff when Star Trek first aired, in 1966, and by the time the original series ended, his heady deconstructions of modern cinema would have been 5th grade level, at best.
But we aren’t bringing this up to remind you that Anthony Lane is a putz. In any case, a professional film critic is ill-suited to debate a cultural product as wide-ranging as Star Trek, anyway. Anthony Lane reviewing Star Trek is like Michiko Kakutani reviewing Eminem’s autobiography. Just because it falls within his medium doesn’t mean he understands what the fuss is about.
What we really want to talk about is the brilliant part of Lane’s review. In his crotchety and narrow-minded takedown of everything J.J. Abrams has ever done (including such trenchant critiques as the unlikelihood of a young James Kirk finding enough fossil fuels in the 23rd century to power the vintage red Corvette that he drives in an early scene) Lane tries to chastise Abrams by saying this.
He is the perfect purveyor of fictions to a generation so easily and instinctively jaded that what it craves, above all, is a storyteller who—with or without artistic personality, and regardless of any urge to provoke our thoughts or trouble our easy dreams—will never jade.
Is that even an insult? It sounds to us like a compliment embedded in a surprisingly accurate statement about the primacy of storytelling. Yes, we’re a jaded generation that craves fresh stories. Yes, telling a good story is more important than displaying an “artistic personality.” Yes, that ecompasses and precedes the need to “provoke our thoughts.”
Just as medical students are taught to “first do no harm,” a storyteller should first tell a good story. Then worry about things like making an artistic statement, or provoking a serious discussion. By this measure J.J. Abrams is one of the most effective and popular storytellers alive.
Anthony Lane, you’re such an idiot you don’t even realize when you’re being smart. Now we can’t decide if you sould tell us more about what our generation craves, or if, like the 87-year-old you’re trying so hard to be, you should do “the decent, graceful” thing and expire.