Sunday, February 17, 2008

This New Knight Rider Movie

Last night on NBC. The verdict: Not too bad, better than expected.

Let's do this by the numbers (SPOILER ALERT if you care, and in this case you shouldn't):

1. The dialogue and story felt a lot like the old 80s series. That's not really a good thing. When I was 12, that was fine, but as a thirtysomething, I prefer a slightly more mature sensibility and snappier (or less on-the nose) dialogue. Of course, it ignores all the other Knight Rider sequels like "Knight Rider 2000" and "Team Knight Rider" - and that's a good thing. So it's not a total loss.

2. Let's check off the standard PC plot points:
- Lesbian character? Check.
- Disaffected Iraq war vet who apparently no longer supports the War on Terror (or is at least very cynical about it)? Check.
- Evil corporation with on-the-nose name of Black River (read: Blackwater) that does security work in Iraq and wants to steal the good guys tech in order to do evil, evil things? Check.
- The real bad guys are capitalists with possible ties to the White House or other government agencies and start wars in order to make loads of cash? Check.

3. Plot twists were rather predictable and paint by the numbers. The only unexpected plot twist dealt with a body double and that felt more like a cheat rather than a legitimate plot twist. I guess it should have added tension to the narrative, but instead it seemed to come out of nowhere and made the plot even sillier.

4. At least the old 80s KITT had an attitude. Val Kilmer played this KITT like a Vulcan overdosing on Valium.

5. And that's about it. The story structure and basic plot felt like they were written by someone who had just finished their third viewing of "Knight Rider: The Complete Series" on DVD.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

A Gilded Read

The Incorporation of America (25th anniversary edition)
by Alan Trachtenberg

This is one of those books that are really only read by academics such as myself. Since my dissertation covers the overlapping time periods variously known as "the Gilded Age", "Victorian America", and "The Progressive Era", I more or less have to read various works of cultural studies and history dealing with those same eras. This one is a classic work that covers the Gilded Age. Written when "American Studies" was in its most nascent form, this book helped define that academic discipline and served as a model for many, many later studies.

That said, it really is only for academics who must read it in order to deal with what has already been said about this era. A large part of academic writing is acknowledging that you've read whatever tome other academics consider important.

For example, an academic journal recently told me that they would publish an article by me if I did some significant revision. One of their revisions was that I include information from around half a dozen landmark academic studies. Well, I had read all of those studies, but the information in them didn't really apply at all to what I was discussing. My dissertation director said that all I needed was to be able to include the book in the bibliography, so I just needed to pull out a quote from each book, stick them in footnotes somewhere, and I would be fine. Apparently, many reviewers go straight to the bibliography before reading the actual article, and if certain books aren't listed, the article is already damned from the beginning.

This is one of those books. It's interesting enough in an academic way, and I'm actually using quite a bit of it in my dissertation, but the general reader likely won't find anything interesting here. I enjoyed the book for what it was (though the gratuitous Bush hate that permeated the "25th anniversary" introduction made the book harder to enjoy. People really need to learn to let go).