January 04, 2014

Review of Star Trek into Darkness

Star Trek into Darkness doesn't have any indigenous issues, unless you count its opening depiction of an indigenous alien culture. But it's worth discussing because 1) the movie recast Khan as a white man and 2) it says a lot about today's movie-making. And 3) because I like Star Trek and dislike the franchise's direction.

Here's a Facebook discussion of the movie with "Brad." The first third of the movie, anyway:

**spoiler alert**

You say the first two-thirds of Star Trek into Darkness is the good part, Brad? Does that mean I'm not gonna like the last third?

Forget about the Star Trek part. This isn't even good science fiction. It's all fiction, no science.No. You're not. It's really about the last 45 minutes where it all goes horribly wrong.I think it's going wrong from the beginning. There's very little I wouldn't change.I think out of the (what is it 14 now?) movies, I ranked this one about 10th.Offhand, that sounds about right.I didn't think it was ALL bad, but yes there are ways that most of it could have been improved at least in the writing and editing.Let's see. In the initial sequence we have:

  • Kirk steals an alien artifact a la Indiana Jones. No explanation is given (or if it is, I missed it).

  • McCoy screams "They're trying to kill us!" like a scared teenager. Totally out of character.

  • Spock falls something like 50 ft. onto the rocks and is unscratched.

  • Kirk and McCoy jump something like 300 ft. into the ocean--a fall which is usually fatal--and are unhurt.

  • In possibly a first for "serious" science fiction, a space-going vessel is underwater. And it goes from a dead stop underwater to flying through the air almost instantaneously. I'd love to see how the next edition of the technical manual explains that.

  • Kirk is faced with an "impossible" choice: show the Enterprise or let Spock die. Does he come up with a clever third alternative a la, you know, Jim Kirk? No, he does not. He shows the Enterprise and brushes off the consequences. "Oops, I goofed, but no biggie."

  • I'm trying to think of a comparison that's valid here. It's sort of like, maybe, a Roger Ramjet level of science fiction. Basically no rules apply. For instance, if they need more slugging power, no problem. The new underwater starship also converts into a giant robot.

    Back on earth

    Back at Starfleet, women are still wearing skirts. And now the cadets have military-style caps. That alone shows how ridiculously far Abrams is from the spirit of Trek.

    Starfleet falls for the old "gather all the important people in one room" trick. I haven't seen that one more than a few dozen times. And amazingly, the headquarters of the Federation's military appears to be protected by nothing but a pane of glass. Duck and cover, VIPs!

    The response is to order an act of aggression against the Klingon Empire. A torpedo fired from Federation space and exploding on the Klingon homeworld...what could go wrong there? I'm sure the Klingons will understand that the humans really, really needed to kill Harrison aka Khan. Who is totally evil although he hasn't cracked the list of the million greatest mass murderers yet.

    And more science magic! Kirk and company will be able to find and hit Khan from beyond the Neutral Zone. Which is, what, a hundred or a thousand light years from Kronos?

    Wow. With sensors this good, I think the Federation's problems are over. Is a Romulan plotting against the humans? No problem! Just tune in with your super-sensitive sensors! Maybe you can incinerate the data chip in his hand with a super-special phaser from 1,000 light years away, too!

    Sending the Enterprise on a mission to assassinate someone...wow. Just wow. How is this even conceivable? It's literally the exact opposite of everything Trek has stood for the last 45 years. The real Jim Kirk would sacrifice his life to stop a wrongheaded Federation commander from executing someone in the name of "peace." (For one example, see The Undiscovered Country.)

    Incidentally, others agree:

    Which remake completely misses the point of the original?Star Trek: Khan the Remix. Bigger, longer, oppositer. Shut the thread down now. We're done.So far I'd give this about a 5.0 or 6.0 of 10. C'mon, the tech (the S/FX) isn't even as good as that of Almost Human--which is set only 30 years in the future. "I've got to throw a wrench into the intake valve of Harrison's attack vehicle. Which he's piloting because we haven't invented drones yet! There isn't a more sophisticated way to disable it!"

    Among the less critical problems are:

  • The horrible (but commonplace) blue tint to everything.

  • Another bedroom scene and another barroom scene for Kirk.

  • The lack of visible women or aliens, especially in leadership roles.

  • The still-horrible transporter effect.

  • About the only part I liked was Pike's philosophical debate with Kirk. That at least is a reflection of the real Trek.

    Any questions? On to the next 30 minutes later.

    Debating Jim KirkI think you do see Kirk having a moral debate with himself over the whole mission and one that's eventually resolved positively.Not in the first 30 minutes. Maybe later.

    The fact that it needs a debate is part of the problem. Kirk's whole thing is saving people--even bad guys. This should be axiomatic, not up for debate.Keep in mind that in Abrams universe this is still the "young" Kirk. Presumably his self-image isn't fully formed yet as it would have been in the original show or films.Kirk was well-formed from the beginning in Roddenberry's version. And this Kirk is roughly the same age.

    You don't give command of your flagship to a hothead who's still learning. You give him about a decade of training first--as the original Kirk got.

    I understand what Abrams is going for. I just don't buy it. I think his attempted "world-building" is failing badly.

    To me it's a kiddie version of Trek. Like, "Let's make the teenager a captain! And give him smokin' hot women! And a super-duper torpedo! How badass is that?"

    Even on its own merits, it's fatally flawed, because rookies don't get the top position. More to the point, it isn't Trek.You're correct, except I think in the series Kirk was "older" and he definitely was by Star Trek II. I also thought the Enterprise was not his first command in Roddenberry's universe. I agree with your criticisms of Abrams though. For Kirk to be commanding the Enterprise based on his success on one previous mission and being trusted with a mission of the magnitude of the one in Into Darkness with his previous track record are wholly unrealistic.Kirk was 34 in the first Trek. I don't know what age this Kirk is supposed to be, but Chris Pine is 33. If he's supposed to be 21, it's not believable.

    The Enterprise was Kirk's first official command. Before that, I think he took command of the Farragut when his captain was killed, but that was a temporary or "field" command.

    The novels may have put him in command of temporary training missions, or things like that. But nothing like, "This is your first command with no restrictions. Go forth on an official long-term mission."Well it seems Kirk is 25 at the end of the first movie and I'm reading that Into Darkness takes place one year later making him 26.Okay, there's an in-movie explanation for Kirk's behavior. He's eight years younger than he looks.

    But I'm not buying the premise underlying the explanation. Immature Kirk = emotional Spock = uncaring Bones = wrong.

    Kirk's maturity wasn't something that needed an upgrade in the 21st century. In fact, as I've said before, this approach is more juvenile, not more adult.

    In short, significant changes to Trek = not the real Trek.I think that was part of their effort to bring in more young viewers which I recall Abrams saying was part of their goal when the first one came out.

    It does seem like they didn't improve any of the things that they could have improved and changed a lot of stuff that didn't need changing instead.
    Abramsizing Star Wars

    I hope you'll accept this approach when Disney applies it to Star Wars. Luke Skywalker in bed with hot young women! Cursing his Jedi teachers and breaking their rules! Using the Force to play practical jokes!

    The kiddies will love this updated Star Wars--all dolled up with gratuitous sex and violence for a new generation of fans! And old fans--well, they'll die soon enough, so who cares?Oh that ship has already sailed, Rob! Remember young, brooding Hayden Christiansen?Yes, but at least Lucas could claim he was revealing a heretofore unseen aspect of Anakin. Now we're talking about changing the characters, not elaborating on them. I think Episodes 2 & 3 did quite enough damage. You call it "elaborating" but I think they pretty much REMADE the Darth Vader character from how he was perceived in the original trilogy.

    And for the record, I never said that I accepted Abrams approach to Star Trek.
    Everyone on the planet thinks the Star Wars prequels were worse than the originals. Hayden Christiansen's bad-boy routine proves my point about sticking to the originals.

    Obviously Abrams wasn't just trying to update classic Trek with a contemporary feel. He was trying to radically reinvent it as a sexed-up, badass SF franchise that's Trek in name only.

    That was a bad decision, since no one wants or needs the umpteenth grim 'n' gritty sci-fi universe. It's not impressive and it's not Trek.

    One can contemporize a series successfully without ruining its basic elements. Good examples are the Hawaii Five-0 show, the Mission: Impossible movies, and Daniel Craig's James Bond. These are different from the originals, but no one think they grossly violate the originals' spirit.

    Abrams's approach is like turning Gilligan's Island into Lost. They both involve castaways on an island, but that's about all they have in common. Same with old Trek and new Trek.Good examples. I wonder if we'll ever know how many of the changes to Trek were Abrams' goals and how many were laid out by the studio? Of course in the case of Star Wars, we have no one to blame but Lucas. I'm not altogether convinced that we should be worried about Disney's take, even though Abrams is involved there too. I'm taking a wait and see attitude there.If you want to show us a young, struggling Kirk, J.J. Abrams, great. Give us 3-4 Starfleet Academy movies and then graduate him to the Enterprise.

    Because I'm not buying the "He's untested and out of control but in charge of the most powerful weapon in the Federation" concept.

    I know! Why doesn't someone invent the Doomsday Machine or the Genesis Device and give that to Kirk? What could go wrong? Pike believes in him, so Kirk won't destroy more than 2-3 worlds accidentally before he learns.

    Next up, Abrams revitalizes the James Bond franchise by portraying him as a tongue-tied youth who trips over his own feet and can't hold his liquor. Don't worry...he'll grow up to be Sean Connery in a decade or three. Meanwhile, enjoy his awkwardly funny antics, because...Bond!

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