Ode to Sundance/Nimoy & Shatner - Together Again

January 16, 2004
A thought by James Berardinelli

For four years, from 1998 through 2001, I was a regular attendee at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. My sojourns began in 1998 (less than six months after I first went to the Toronto Film Festival), when I was starting to explore the film festival circuit - a sort-of "coming out" as a critic. At the time, I believed it was my responsibility to check out this festival, even though its reputation vastly outstrips its actual importance. I went for a few days, mainly to sample what Sundance had to offer. Intrigued, I returned the following year for a longer stay. But I quickly soured on the experience. My trips in 2000 and 2001 were obligatory, and I almost didn't go in 2001. Park City in January can be an inhospitable place, and, with long lines and many of the festival venues all-but-falling-down, it quickly became obvious that at least 50% of the movies being viewed there were going to be physically unpleasant experiences. After my 2001 trip, I stopped going. And I have never once regretted that decision.

Looking back, some of my Sundance commentaries (all avilable through the archives) seem like angry rants - which is what many of them were. I didn't enjoy being in Salt Lake City or Park City a few weeks after Christmas. The plane ride is long and the weather is unappealing. But the real problem is the movies - rarely do they live up to the hype. For those who dig, there are good films to be unearthed, but moments of greatness are few and far between. Why travel 2500 miles and spend $1000 (or more) just to see stuff I might skip if it came to a theater near me?

Sundance 2004 opened yesterday, and, if anything, the buzz is quieter than in recent years. Attendance at Sundance declined when the economy went south, and hasn't recovered. (It's expensive to rent anything there.) Park City in January isn't about the movies anymore. It's about publicity and glitz, trying to turn a frigid winter resort town into a snowy Disneyland. Given a choice between a 9:00 pm screening at the Eccles and a party, most people would choose the latter. (Not that there are many 9:00 parties; 11:00 is a more likely starting time.)

This year, the weather is a wash - temperatures here in the icy Northeast are about the same (maybe a little colder) as in Park City. Yet I still prefer slipping and sliding around on my driveway, shoveling 4 inches of white powder, than traipsing from the Eccles to the Library and back again. Will I ever return to Sundance? The saying goes, "Never say never," and I'll abide by that. But, at this moment, I can't envision what cataclysmic event would result in my once again making the long drive up the canyon to the little hamlet in the mountains where Harvey Weinstein holds court and Roger Ebert meets persistent filmmaking kids in hotel lobbies.

Nimoy and Shatner - Together Again

Those who have followed my site for years know that I once was a big Star Trek fan. This isn't something I have tried to hide, although my enthusiasm for the venerable science fiction series has dimmed considerably over the years. I have always favored the original series over its incarnations from the '80s and '90s (and beyond). I enjoyed Star Trek: The Next Generation, but it lacked the mystique of the 1966-69 version. For me, it has always been Kirk & Spock, Spock & Kirk. When their characters were phased out of the movies in the early 1990s, my interest waned.

I readily admit that few actors are hammier than William Shatner. He can be as pompous and over-the-top as they come. But he's not beyond poking fun at his own image, and, despite the assertions of his critics, he is capable of giving a good performance. Leonard Nimoy is a better all-around performer than Shatner, but he's no Olivier, either. Yet, for an old Star Trek fan like me, there's nothing better than seeing these two together. And, after more than ten years, it has happened... in a television commercial, of all places.

Priceline.com (the direct link for a webcast is at this location) already had Shatner on board as a pitch man (he has been the spokesman for Priceline since 1998), so it probably didn't take a lot of convincing (other than that of the dollar) to bring Nimoy into the fold. (Other than doing nude photo shoots of women, what has he been up to lately?) The first commercial, which ends with a silly cliffhanger and features Shatner at his hammiest (complete with several of his trademark "dramatic pauses"), can be seen on TV and on-line. We are promised that more such ads are on their way. (I am surprised Priceline didn't debut this during the Super Bowl, but maybe they can't afford the $2.5 million needed for a 30-second spot.)

For those whose interest in Star Trek is dead or non-existent, the commercial won't mean anything. But, for those who, like me, spent the 1970s scouring the UHF frequencies for a station that aired re-runs of the series, it will provoke at least a smile. And, for a commercial to do that, it must be hitting the mark.