The Vacation Read: David Hayter, Harry Knowles, Simon Pegg and JJ Abrams

06.08.09 8 years ago 7 Comments

Gregory Bull/AP

I’m not working.

Seriously.  If my wife asks, you didn’t see me.  I wasn’t here.

Instead, I wanted to use the mornings this week to ask a couple of friends a deceptively simple question.  “What is your favorite summer movie?”

Some people wrote back for clarification.  Some people shot back an answer immediately.

I like the answers so far and the various reads on the question.

Simon Pegg broke the landspeed record in responding.  POW:

Star Trek … Duh! ;-)

I see.  Well, I know a four year old in my house who would agree.  Who spends all day playing “Star Trek,” with mostly unwitting playmates like my mother-in-law and my one-year-old, who have no idea what’s going on.  It’s pretty much the greatest live theater I’ve ever witnessed, riveting, and HOURS LONG AT A TIME.  Longer than the Robert Wise director’s cut.

But I digress.

[more after the jump]

David Hayter got back to me fast and at length.

And it’s interesting.  I think the most common interpretation of the question I asked is “What is your favorite movie this summer?”

Here’s Hayter’s full response:

“What is your favorite summer movie, and why?”

By David Hayter


I am not sure there is another answer to this question, but my favorite summer movie is STAR TREK.

And here’s why — Before being dragged to the movie by some friends in Toronto, (I say “dragged” because, a truism of this business is, once you have achieved any sort of success, you get to be too busy to actually go to the movies. In short, if you love the movies, try not to work in the movies,) these ST uber-fans told me a few of the things I would experience, not the least of which would be getting “choked up” at the opening sequence.

Now, first off, I am not someone who gets “choked up” at many films, unless someone is, in fact, choking me. (This happens a lot more than you might think.)

So, there I was, late for the movie, coming off of a long day of location scouting, my mind whirling with production issues.

And the lights went down….

There was a black hole. There was a ridiculously large space-craft. Klingon? No… Looks Romulan in nature (I’m starting to get into this, a little). We enter a Federation starship, following the noble, bald head of the ship’s captain. Picard?

No… It’s someone we don’t know. His ship is attacked disabled, and the Captain is called to surrender himself to the Romulan Captain. On the way, he’s giving orders to a kid; Blond, handsome — Is this Chris Pine? I don’t really have any experience with that actor, but this doesn’t look like him.

Blondie is named acting Captain. Baldy is killed.

The Starship is attacked, doomed to destruction. They’re not going to make it.

Acting Captain George Kirk calls the evacuation order, and as his young, pregnant wife is wheeled onto a life-boat, he realizes that he cannot leave the ship’s helm. If he does, his wife, his newborn son and the rest of the evacuees will be killed. George Kirk is going to have to sacrifice his own life.

He is going down with the ship.

And, as the worries of my day are falling away, as the pregnant wife is flying down the launch chute in the life-boat, leaving her husband to Captain his ship to a fiery, heroic death… A horrible, incredible realization begins to dawn on me…

“This is the birth of Jim Kirk.”

George Kirk is scared. He’s got seconds to live, and then…

He hears the first cries of his newborn son. He asks about him. What does he look like?

My throat starts to close up. There’s something in my eye.

I tell myself it’s popcorn dust.

These two actors — I’ve never seen them before, and they do not appear again in the film — are naming their son. James.

I don’t cry. It’s just not me. But choked up? Well, I’ll just say that if you asked for any comment at that moment, my response would have been — “Hrk.”

The moment ends. The opening fades to the start of the film proper, and in my infinitely cynical screenwriter’s way, I think to myself, “Yeah, fine Abrams. But anyone can write a great beginning to a film.” (Well, maybe not everyone. But I can.)

So now, I’m determined not to be got again. Let’s be professional here, shall we? Let’s look for the holes and identify the script problems that got past the creative team and studio. (Again, this is what sucks a lot of the fun out of being a former movie fan/current movie professional.)

But I find I don’t have time for that.

I’m too busy gaping in sheer wonder at the incredible casting — Kirk, Spock, Uhura, Sulu. Even young Kirk, young Spock, are not only dead-on, but their storylines, dialogue, actions and decisions are not only pitch-perfect in relation to the old TV series, but they are also conveying something new — A generational update, that not only gives theses people a fresh, young perspective for today’s Red-Bull-amped kids, but it also illustrates, with great joy and enthusiasm, how the infusion of youth has affected these old characters that we all grew up with.

James Kirk is not confident, not yet — Just balls-out arrogant. He’s brave, always ready for a fight. The problem is, he hasn’t had enough fights yet to avoid getting his ass flat handed to him, time and again. He is hilarious in the face of pain (an essential ingredient in creating a truly great action hero.) I have always said, it is not how a man throws a punch that shows how tough he is, it is how he takes one.

Spock is just… Spock. The pure essence of the character. He is, in every frame of film, delivering lines of cool, removed logic, while a blazing inferno of wild emotion burns just millimeters beneath the surface. Incredible.

Uhura is incredible. Don’t be fooled. This is a tough, unforgiving part, where a young woman has to not only match up to decades of Nichelle Nichols subtle, smoldering characterization, but she also has to match the boys, action for action, energy for energy, and her only means of doing so is through listening to an earpiece. This is the performance for any aspiring action heroine to watch.

And look, Bones, I mean Karl Urban, is astounding as well, that’s obvious from frame one. But it is much easier to portray Dr. Leonard McCoy when your mind and body have been possessed by the spirit of DeForest Kelley. My condolences to the Urban family for the loss of their son’s personal consciousness, but it’s for the good of film history.

I could go on and on. Even the time-travel device — which could have been used to cheesily restore the planet Vulcan, and set everything back to zero, as pretty much any studio head would demand — is used to reset the entire Star trek universe. Not in a horrible, weak, “It was always just a dream”, kind of way, but in a chilling, “Holy shit. Now everything is different,” sort-of way.

In a, “What the Hell is going to happen now?” way.

I don’t know how he did it, this J.J. Abrams…

I am, as stated, commonly locked into an analytical battle while watching movies in my preferred genres.

But Mr. Abrams neatly knocked all that right the hell out of my head in the first ten minutes, using actors and characters I have never seen before, barring one, small exception…

It was, in summation, absolutely, flat-out brilliant.

And I don’t know what the Hell is going to happen next.

But I feel like a kid again. I feel like a movie fan again.

So thank you, Mr. Abrams. You just totally rock.

Question answered, indeed!

Speaking of Mr. Abrams, he read the question the way I intended, and he responded:

I think my favorite summer movie has to be Jaws. Granted, I was nine years old when I saw it for the first time, but it was so insanely terrifying, but also so full of great characters, so funny, so oddly emotional. It wasn’t just a blockbuster — it was brilliant filmmaking. I’d never seen anything like it — no one had. Anything that entertaining AND that paradigm-shifting deserves, I think, the top spot.

Nice.  I did not see “Jaws” theatrically.  My exposure to it was when it made its HBO debut.  I wish I’d seen “Jaws” first run in a packed house.  I love the way people reacted to movies in the ’70s.  It was like cavemen just discovered fire.  I vividly remember the audiences for the first few months of “Star Wars” in the theater, just screaming for it.  Huge reactions.  It was communal.  I would imagine that’s what “Jaws” must have felt like, too.

Finally, my old boss, Grande Rojo hisself, Harry Knowles wrote back, and he asked me to clarify exactly what I wanted from him.  And he delivered.  This is why Harry’s the man:

My Favorite Summer Movie



After my parents divorce, whenever I visited my father, we didn’t have a ton of money. He had a job, but like most people in this country – a job didn’t clear much more than the necessities plus a few bright spots in a month. But Dad went above and beyond. He would sell blood, sell things he loved, anything to get the capital to take us to the movies every afternoon of a summer visit.

He couldn’t afford the hot summer air conditioning bills, so we would spend a couple of euphoric hours in a movie theater watching whatever was on.

We’d seen a lot of great films that summer. We all know about that summer. But I had never see a trailer for BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA – and there was something about looking at the one sheet for BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA’s poster that made it look stupid as fuck. Kurt Russell had such a silly look on his face. We saw several movies multiple times that summer and we were literally avoiding seeing BIG TROUBLE, ignorant Austin critics at the time bombed the fuck out of the film and it just seemed to not be a priority. We finally say, what the fuck, let’s go see BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA.

There was no line, this was at the Capital Plaza in Austin, Texas. On the way to the box office I looked at the poster – looking again at Kurt’s silly face – and shook my head. I remember telling Dad, “can’t believe we’re sacrificing 2 hours on this!” Dad said, “At least it is cool in there.”

At least it is cool in there.

That’s the summer movie mantra with film. At least it is cool in there. It is cool in a movie theater. Reality is so twisted and controlled and sometimes fucking amazingly cool in there. And today, I was going to get my mind blown by an awesomely silly fucking awesome movie, that I had ZERO expectations for.

This was when I was very young. Just starting to thumb through STARLOG’s with the wicked abandon that I later sponged the info from. I didn’t know this was John Carpenter. I’d seen his films, but I didn’t KNOW John Carpenter till this film.

About the time Egg Shen’s hand bolt leapt and popped and crackled on the screen. I got goose bumps. The Powers. The Beyonder thing. Weird feral man beast thing. Why to covet women with Green Eyes? Just everything. It really delighted me.

I was blindsided. Sure, I was there on opening weekend for STAR WARS, SUPERMAN, EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, STAR TREK 2, JAWS – pretty much all of the 1975 – 2009 summer movies. But there was something magic about that screening. There were no big actors, no director Q&As. Hell, there was no line – and there were less than 35 people in the theater.

What we saw felt intimate and special and a little shady. It kind of felt odd that we were so ill prepared for just how much we loved that film. We literally watched it expecting crap – and instead we learned about the legendary Jack Burton and the mythical PorkChop Express. We went in wanting only 2 hours of air conditioning and instead got a great movie and lines to quote for a life time.

That’s what I love about the SUMMER. It isn’t usually the films that we all agree on, but the movies a few of us love intimately, dearly and with all our hearts. That’s what I love about the possibility of Summer Films. Sometimes there’s something so particularly crafted to just your own personal taste that you walk away seeing the film 15 times that summer. And that’s what happened with BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA.

Its an indelible memory. The feeling of watching that movie with my Father. Like when we saw David Lynch’s DUNE – and my mind was blown as a child, and I got back to the car, and from under his seat he pulled out the rayguns for DUNE and the Sandworm. Or the time I saw TRON and lost my fool mind for the film. Then there was LAST STARFIGHTER. For others it was BUCKEROO BANZAI.

For me, I loved BIG TROUBLE deeply. It was literally unlike anything I’d seen before. I was raised on SHAW Brothers flicks, but the merging of redneck John Wayne truck driving culture and that Eastern mysticism and demon mythology – well it was just amazing.

We see so many films in a Summer. Some with $75 million dollar propaganda campaigns to sweep people into theaters. Some films that despite being awesome, the film going audience just summarily dismiss. For me, my jewels of summer’s past and future. They’re films like this year’s MOON, THE BROTHERS BLOOM and even in some ways like LAND OF THE LOST. They’re the films I take away from a summer as being more specifically for me. Not for all, but at the very least, for me to enjoy. Me and the people I know.

But this was the first film that I really claimed as my own. My own special experience. I loved watching BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA with Dad. I loved the Fanta Orange soda I had and the “Holy Shit faces” that Dad & I exchanged. They were great!

Harry Knowles

I was working at a theater when we got “Big Trouble In Little China.”  I went to the employee screening.  Alone.  And loved it.  I saw it about eleven times that week while I was working, and then it was gone.

Thanks to Harry, JJ, Simon, and David for their answers.  Each day this week, I’ll have a few more.  I’ve got separate answers from the team behind “The Invention Of Lying,” Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson, and I’ve got the producer of what may well be summer’s biggest movie.

But remember… I wasn’t here.  I’m just watching TV.  Shhhhhh.

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