Thursday, January 24, 2013

Star Trek - A Revue

Originally posted May 2009...Re-upped for the occasion of J.J. Abrams ACTUALLY becoming the director of Star Wars Episode VII...

Shaka, when the walls fell.
- Dathon

Think about that for a second. A Star Trek. An adventure through the stars. Not an action movie or a character exposition. A journey through the cosmos to reveal how what's out there affects what's inside humanity. Notice how I didn't mention War. Sure war is going to happen but do space battles define Star Trek? No, that would be Star Wars. This movie has a 96% RT aggregate, and I'm not going to say its a bad movie. I'm not going to say that for a second. That is not the point of this.  I'm not going to argue over whether that the movie is exciting, or a visual marvel or action packed or dynamic.  It is all of those things, clearly.  The larger point is why call a horse a duck, why try and make a plane into a boat?  As The Question put it best:  Everything that exists has a specific nature, each entity exists as something in particular and has characteristics that are part of what it is. "A" is "A". Star Trek is a very specific thing that Gene Roddenberry made and this movie isn't it at all. If you want to make something new, why not just make something new?

Is this movie good because the story and the characters are new and original or is it good because you know the characters already? If the Captain's name was Buck instead of Kirk, would the story of an Iowan/Tatooine farmboy trying to walk in the footsteps of his dead father Anakin Skywalker/George Kirk and fulfill his greater destiny really be that compelling? Would Pike/Obi-Wan telling him to learn the ways of the Force/join Starfleet and become a Starship Captain/Jedi like his old man really be worthy of a 96% overall rating?

Abrams made his life-long preference for Star Wars quite clear in an interview with Charlie Rose. He said that he could never relate to Star Trek because the characters were already established. Kirk is the Captain, Spock the commander, Bones the doctor-not-the-physicist. He contrasts that with Luke in the desert, who you get to see from the very beginning to the very end, Luke whom you go on a journey with. The way he was talking, he'd have you believe that this is the only type of story worth telling, that character development trumps any other plot considerations. So J.J.'s solution? Try and see what appealed to 5 decades of Star Trek fans and emphasize that magic -- making that exploration of the possibilities of the Universe appealing to a larger audience? No, we'll just take the Trek characters and make a personal journey for them. We'll blow some stuff up and see how they respond. We'll just stuff them into a Star Wars story.

I heard Nimoy justifying the movie by saying that Star Trek is largely about opening minds and fans should open up their minds and embrace these new stories. He said don't get caught up in the minutiae of the details of stories -- stardates, planet names, ship registries -- instead see this new beginning as an opportunity for Star Trek to explore places its never gone before. To that I respond, there are certain things that Trek is and certain things that it is not. It is not Greek opera. It is not pornography. It is not Star Wars, and this movie doesn't suggest that the rejuvenated series will be taking us anywhere new (I should, of course, qualify that by saying, it won't be new if you've ever read or seen a story before). Star Trek unlike most popular media actually has a thesis, a mission statement. I almost laughed out loud when I heard Nimoy at the end of the movie recite the credo:

Space the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its ongoing mission -- to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no one has gone before.

I can't help noticing that all the Star Trek that largely sucked (Wartime-DS9, Borg-Voyager, Xindi-Enterprise) dispensed with saying these words during the opening credits. This movie should have done the same. Who would like to tell me what part of that pivotal quote is to be found in this movie? Did we see any strange new worlds? Did they meet some new life, discover some new civilization? Did this movie go boldly where Star Wars, or the Fifth Element or {insert science fiction movie here} hadn't gone before?

And after 2 hours of JJ's vision for character, what are we left with? Kirk is Luke's journey mixed with Han's roguishness. I'll give credit where credit is due: Spock's journey was definitely worth the price of admission and Greenwood's Chris Pike was marvelous. But Bones, Chekov, Scotty, Uhuru, and Sulu remain as unidimensional as ever before. Oh, how cool Chekov still couldn't pronounce the letter 'V' when he was young. Sulu's the helmsmen because the real pilot had stomach flu. IN THE WHOLE UNIVERSE OF POSSIBILITIES, these are the issues that JJ wanted to explore?
Gene Roddenberry had some zany ideas. Star Trek was one of the better ones. Why would anyone allow Abrams to change it completely? I like how he makes pains to say he's honoring Star Trek's past by throwing every piece of Trek lore in the dustbin. I'm curious what JJ's reaction would be if ABC asked Joss Whedon to take over 'Lost' and the first scene of his first episode had Jack wake up on-board Flight 815 and mention to the dude sitting next to him that the last 6 seasons of the show were just a dream. Then the flight lands and the rest of the show followed the zany adventures of a monkey that had stowed away on board.

If Abrams wants to make something new and edgy and different, why doesn't he just make something new and edgy and different? And call it something other than Star Trek.

But it's colorful, and loud, and everyone likes it. much for exploring the cosmos, I guess.

- Kamil

P.S. What are all my years of watching Star Trek worth if I can't nitpick the film to death:-)

1. Only moment where my jaw dropped during the movie, remarkably, had nothing to do with the colorful effects: Kirk "illogically" suggests that the Enterprise go confront the bad guy before they destroy Earth. The bridge is littered with human officers, a Vulcan Captain says screw Earth and our captured Captain Pike, we're retreating. Kirk objects, Spock nerve pinches him. I don't know how many humans would be willing to follow that retreat order from Spock given they just watched Vulcan go the way of Alderaan, but to top it all off, Spock doesn't put Kirk in the Brig - he doesn't confine him to quarters. He orders security to put the dude in a escape pod and launches him off the ship. WTF?!?! I'm sitting there thinking, "Man, its a lucky thing that they're was a habitable, inhospitable, remarkably Hoth-like ice planet nearby with a Starfleet base within walking distance of where his pod landed." What if they'd been flying next to a gas giant? What if there was no planet nearby? Absolutely no debate or protest from anyone on the ship to marooning this guy. They just put him off the ship like garbage on the curb, have a nice life?!?

2. Which leads to my first serious walk-out-of-the-theatre moment: Kirk is launched off the ship, lands on Hoth, and meets up with the obligatory ice planet monster, that is obviously gigantic because there's so much stuff to eat on a planet that has no vegetation whatsoever. He stumbles and fumbles and runs into a cave where he is saved by....Leonard Nimoy? So Kirk's launched off a ship traveling at Warp, lands on a planet (he didn't pilot the pod because he was unconscious), and happens to come down within 500 yards of the one other marooned person on the whole planet? Really, guys? If I was in an unpiloted spacecraft above the Earth and it crashed on this planet what are the chances that I'd land within 500 yards of my house? If they needed me to hit myself over the head with a pipe to enjoy the movie, they really should have had some sort of disclaimer in the opening credits.

3. So they changed time, eh. I wonder how Scotty ended up on the ship in the real timeline. Because future Spock being marooned on the same planet where he happened to be stationed - that worked out well. But the real meat of the Scotty angle is obviously "Transwarp transport" -- the bullshit that explains how Scotty and Kirk get back on the Enterprise, which is speeding away at Warp 3. Granted, Spock got the theory from the future, most likely from Montgomery Scott in the TNG era. But a fairly obvious question follows: Why do you have starships at all if you can transport the distances that ships travel? The Enterprise covered that distance between Vulcan and Earth in 3 hours -- Spock transported Kirk and Scott the same distance in 3 seconds. The limitation on transport range has been a part of Star Trek for a reason.

4. Skydiving from orbit. Seems like fun. Seems pretty cool, like it should have been in a Star Trek movie before. Oh, but they have transporters -- what would be the point? Oh how convenient, the transporters are being jammed by the massive drill of the mining ship. So we do have to include the cool skydiving scene! Question: If you had to put a component as important as a ship's communications and jamming system somewhere, wouldn't you attach it to your ship's vulnerable drill? Or would it be part of the ship's well-protected hull? Why exactly couldn't the Enterprise just shoot the damn thing?

5. Red Matter. Unobtainium, probably.  Weapons-Grade Baloneyium?  Likely. Unimaginble superweapon, definitely. But if one drop can suck all of Vulcan into nothingness, why exactly is the drill necessary? Couldn't they drop it anywhere and destroy the entire planet? The same way that it did to the Romulan ship at the movie's climax. Oh sorry, I forgot, they wanted the skydiving thing.

6. Nero's reasoning boils down to Romulus' star went supernova therefore this is Spock's fault! Yeah!  That's the best JJ could come up with.

7. Did they really have to make going to Warp require the pushing of a dial forward a la Star Wars hyperspace? How important is it to include something so obviously pilfered?

8. A Star Trek with a Mos Eisley like Cantina scene, replete with cool beats and alien characters. In of all places, that bustling hub of activity, Iowa/Tatooine. Iowa doesn't particularly strike me as a "wretched hive of scum and villany". WTF are any of them doing in Iowa? They have a shipyard in Iowa so if you want to go to Starfleet Academy in San Francisco, take a flight to Iowa and then we'll take you there. If Kirk's in Iowa and you want some Starfleet presence in Iowa at least mention that Iowa is somehow important to Starfleet.

9. Captain Pike: "You know what the Federation is, right? It's a humanitarian, peacekeeping armada." The Federation is an Armada:-) This movie is made by people who think the Federation is an Armada...

10. So did Uhuru get on the Enterprise because she's good with language or good with her tongue? On Spock's wang! Seriously, the suggestion that she got on board because she's boinking the Enterprise's first officer, I wouldn't say that's a step forward.

11. The score was so melodramatic...I really don't know what to say. I remember someone referring to Superman Returns as "the Passion of the Clark". Star Trek's score evokes images in me of the "Passion of the Kirk".

12. Did I understand any aspect of the space battles? The coloring and CG looked like they were taken straight from the opening space battle of Revenge of the Sith, minus the clarity that came with focusing on the two Jedi Starfighters.

13. Lucky number 13. And really the biggest problem of all, while at the same time the smallest. In what Star Trek universe would this timeline be allowed to exist? If someone went back in time and destroyed Earth, Jim Kirk would be the first person to Warp 10 around the sun and change time back. Isn't that the entire basis of First Contact -- the Borg change history so we go back and un-change it? But Vulcan is wiped out and Spock goes "Such is life." The reason why this isn't a problem is because this isn't Star Trek. If this was Star Trek, if any part of it was Star Trek, job one would be to undo the damage to the time line done by this Nero jerk. But 6 billion Vulcans are dead and the future of the Federation, of the entire galaxy is up in the air and Spock's reaction is let's start making babies.

Thing is, despite the length of these comments, none of this actually really bothers me. It isn't like Abrams is occupying the chair that someone else was trying to get. Star Trek's been dead for years, Abrams is basically a grave-robber. Abrams' effort is akin to cutting off Star Trek's head, attaching a Star Wars head to the corpse and reanimating his new creation a la Dr. Frankenstein. And making $75 million in 3 days on the novelty of it all.


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