A December 1986 skit on Saturday Night Live had guest host William Shatner gleefully spoofing his waytoo-dedicated Star Trek fan base, culminating in the punch line in which the former Capt. James Tiberius Kirk suggests to a troupe of costumed Trekkies that they should “Get a life!” Phasers on stun, indeed. Yet such devout dweebs have kept the sciencefiction industry going strong for several decades; just take a look at the upcoming summer blockbuster movie slate, crammed with comic-book adaptations and alien encounters, and it’s obvious that the nerds have overtaken the pop culture world. Or to quote a fellow comic stripper named Pogo, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”
Perhaps in deference to dorkdom, the folks at EmpireCon (which is planning a Syracusebased confab for Oct. 8 and 9 at downtown’s Crowne Plaza) are hosting a Geek Pride Celebration on Saturday, May 21, at Eastwood’s Palace Theatre, 2384 James St. The occasion pays an advance tribute to Geek Pride Day, honored every May 25 since that was the date when the first Star Wars movie was released in 1977, but it’s doubtful that George Lucas will cry foul over this ahead-of-the-game blowout. EmpireCon previously paid homage to Lucas’ flick during a Star Wars Day Celebration on May 4 at the Palace, honing in on the phrase “May the Fourth be With You.” Hey, any excuse is a good one to party hearty with costumed contingents of wookies and Jedis.
The celebration’s big lures are the evening screenings of two recent 35mm cult movies. Paul (Universal; 104 minutes; R; widescreen; 2011) comes from the British cinema send-up auteurs Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, who created and starred in the zombie parody Shaun of the Dead and the buddy-movie cop comedy Hot Fuzz. In Los Angeles for the annual Comic-Con, fanboys Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Frost) drink in the nerdish nirvana, then embark on a road trip aboard a rented RV to Area 51 to luxuriate in the possible stomping grounds of various extraterrestrials. A real-life alien nicknamed Paul (voiced with wiseacre insouciance by Seth Rogen) instantly enters their lives, on the lam from federal authorities who have kept the kindly critter under wraps for several decades.
Directed by Superbad’s Greg Mottola, Paul mines every cliché about comic collectors for all its worth, especially when Jeffrey Tambor brackets the movie as an unctuous auteur of four-color fantasies. And Rogen’s brash, badboy banter as the foulmouthed alien cheerfully goes against the grain of most otherworldly movie exercises, wherein the outer-space types are usually voiced with clipped British diction by refugees from a Masterpiece Theater rerun.
Yet beyond the expected sci-fi tributes (yes, there’s even a Steven Spielberg voice cameo), Pegg and Frost have created a road movie with some occasionally dark (but always played light) corners reminiscent of Easy Rider, especially in sequences as the gang dodges some xenophobic rednecks, which culminates in a good-ole-boy barroom brawl, plus a nighttime pot-smoking interlude. The supporting cast is also crammed with fun characterizations, notably Jason Bateman as a sunglasses-wearing man in black, a hilarious Kristen Wiig as a oneeyed holy roller and unlikely romantic interest, and Wiig’s fellow SNL player Bill Hader as a manic FBI agent. With its mixture of sweet satire and goofy genre grabs, Paul offers the best of all possible worlds.
Edgar Wright guided the previous Pegg- Frost movies but was probably too busy directing last summer’s Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (Universal; 112 minutes; PG-13; 2010), the second 35mm Palace attraction, to be able to handle the Paul assignment. Pilgrim is even more cultishly appealing to its apparently limited audience (the movie failed at the box office), but there’s energy and style to spare in this comedy.
Michael Cera, perhaps learning his best deadpan moves from his former Arrested Development co-star Jason Bateman, plays a Toronto slacker who falls for an enigmatic lady (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, adorned with several different hair colors throughout the movie) and then must engage in extended Tron-like video-game battles with her former boyfriends. There’s snarky humor aplenty, much of it coming from Kieran Culkin as Scott’s sleepy-eyed gay roomie and Jason Schwartzman as the last villain standing, plus dazzling visuals that approximate the panels created by Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic comic novels. The Scott Pilgrim movie clearly isn’t for mainstream tastes, but it surely plays like gangbusters for its nerdish niche demographic.
The Geek Pride Celebration starts at 11 a.m. on Saturday, with documentaries such as Ringers: Lord of the Fans, dedicated to the Tolkien tribe, and Second Skin, a
2008 look at computer gamers, plus anime and British TV episodes with a
geek-centric focus. There will also be table games for Dungeons and
Dragons buffs as well as the invitation to come dressed in costumes, an
offer that few will likely refuse. An all-day pass is $10; for more
information, call 491-0430.
Spaced invaders: Seth Rogen lends his voice to Paul (above), and
Michael Cera rocks on in Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World (top photo),
two of the movie attractions at Saturday’s Geek Pride Celebration.