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Fri, May. 8th, 2009, 01:48 pm
My STAR TREK Thoughts *SPOILERS*

Before I review J.J. Abrams' Star Trek, I have to of course mention the fact that I am a lifelong Trek fan. In fact, I'm such a fan that I've somehow managed to actually write Star Trek stories on a professional basis. So, I want to be very careful as I comment on the new movie, because I don't want to come across as one of those "fans" in The Onion video complaining the movie was fun and exciting.

The thing is, the Trekkie in me really did enjoy seeing these iconic characters being brought to life again, in new, young-again incarnations. I loved hearing Karl Urban ask Zachary Quinto "Are you out of your Vulcan mind?" and Simon Pegg complain, "I'm givin' her all she's got!" and, of course, seeing Kirk getting it on with a smokin' hot green chick. Even the colorless bridge and the misshapen Enterprise didn't bother me (and the fact that the engineering section looked more like a steam ship than a space ship didn't bug me as much as it should.)

But, putting my fannish tendencies aside, and looking at this as I would any other movie, I'm disappointed. As a lifelong reader and a writer, what I want first and foremost in any movie is a good story, well told.

And, I'm sorry, but Star Trek is not a well-told story.

The first and biggest problem with this movie is its hero, James Tiberius Kirk. It's established within the film that this Kirk's history is different from the Kirk we know from the original series, having lost his father shortly after his birth. But, whereas the Kirk of the original series was self-confident, even cocky (to the point, in some minds, of arrogance), this Kirk is simply an obnoxious douchebag. We first see young Kirk speeding in his stepfather's "antique" sports convertible through the deserts of Iowa (?), being chased by a robocop on a hoverbike, before sending the car plunging into one of the many canyons criss-crossing Iowa (??). This is apparently supposed to establish our young hero as a rebellious risk taker, but this comes off more as pointless, wanton destruction -- nearly self-destruction. And the kid doesn't give a shit; when he tells the robocop, "My name is James Tiberius Kirk!" you can hear the "fuck you and the hoverbike you rode in on" in his tone.

Skip ahead about ten more years, and we see that Kirk hasn't changed much, except now he risks his life by picking fights with entire troops of Starfleet officers. After getting his ass handed to him in a bar fight, Captain Christopher Pike sits him down and gives him a talking to, talking to him about his dad, and challenging him to do more with his life than being an insufferable douchebag. Kirk accepts this challenge and decides to join Starfleet Academy... though in a real arrogant-prickish way.

All of which can perhaps be forgiven; the kid has had a rough childhood, and hey, a few years of the strict discipline of the Academy, whipping him into officer material, could be just what he needs to turn his life around. Except... we next see him in his third year in the Academy, and he's still an insufferable douche, as seen when he decides to reprogram the Kobayashi Maru simulation. Now, this of course is something that was established in Star Trek II, so the fact that he does this is not the issue. But, rather than making a slight change to the program just to even up the odds, he sets it up so that he beats the simulation with no effort whatsoever. He then proceeds to treat the very premise of this character test -- a ship in distress, threatened by armed enemies, with hundreds of lives at stake -- in a completely blasé manner, chomping on a fucking apple the whole time. In essence, he's still the same ten-year-old who remorselessly drove an antique car off a cliff, shouting "My name is James Tiberius Kirk; fuck you!" at his Academy instructors.

Of course, before he can be drummed out of the Academy for cheating, crisis strikes, and by the end of the movie, he's not only saved the Earth and hailed as a hero, but he's bumped all the way up the chain of command to Captain. But, despite all his heroics and risk-taking, there's never the sense that he gains any maturity or experiences any emotional growth. He just manages, due mostly to a chance meeting with Old Spock, to keep his more asshole-ish characteristics suppressed.

And speaking of that chance meeting... where the movie completely lost me is when young Commander Spock, commanding the Enterprise in Pike's absence, orders Kirk thrown off the ship. Literally. Our cool, logical Vulcan has Kirk's unconscious body shoved into an escape pod and blasted away while the ship is at warp, with no apparent concern where it will end up.

Luckily for both Kirk and Spock, Jim lands on an M-class planet. Even luckier, he lands on the same planet where Nero has stranded Old Spock. Luckier still, he's landed in the same hemisphere of the planet where Old Spock is. Even luckier still, within half a mile of Spock's cave! Which Kirk only finds because a CGI monster just happens to chase him in that direction. Gee, it's almost as if they were meant to meet!

But, why is Old Spock in this cave on this planet? Well, because Nero finally captured Spock, and after twenty-five years of letting his consuming hatred for this man fester... let him go loose. Granted, he let him loose on a planet where he could watch Vulcan being destroyed, but you would think he'd have a better view from a viewscreen in the brig of Nero's giant space burr while in orbit. (That was the shot J.J. had chosen for the rest of the audience, after all.) You would also think, if he were leaving Spock on the ice planet to die, he wouldn't have left him within a day's walking distance of a Starfleet observation post, for fuck's sake.

And at that observation post, they find Montgomery Scott, who we learn from Spock has been even more negatively impacted by the death of George Kirk than Jim was, because this Scotty never invented the method to beam from a planet onto a ship at warp light-years away.

Now, when did Scotty develop infinite transporter ability? Never! And this is not a "canon" complaint, either; this is a standard Star Trek trope, along with the use of phasers and warp factors. Transporters have a range, and a ship must be within transporter range in order to work. This is either a tiny clue that Old Spock's history is in actuality different from the "canon" Star Trek history we know... or it's a huge cheat by the writers to get out of a hole they'd written themselves into, and get Kirk back onto the ship. If you said "huge cheat," you made the right call.

Eventually, Kirk and Spock come to realize they need to cooperate in order to stop Nero... which, really, ends up being only slightly more challenging than Kirk's Kobayashi Maru. The pair is able to simply beam over to the space burr, find the futuremobile (which the computer cheerfully releases to "Ambassador" Spock), find and rescue Pike from a cargo hold with backed-up drains, then get off the ship, and destroy both it and all the dreaded red matter, saving Earth. Sitting here, writing this about eighteen hours after the movie, I have to think there were more obstacles than the handful of security guards with bad aim, but for the life of me, I can't think of what they were.

But, results are what matter, and the team of Kirk and Spock have saved the day, and now, with Kirk as Captain and the whole crew in place, ready to explore strange new worlds and seek out new life forms... or, more likely, to find another, hopefully more charismatic bad guy with whom to exchange kewl 'splosions with.

Oh well. As long as the tentpole stays up, I guess it's all good...

Sat, May. 9th, 2009 01:09 am (UTC)
od0_ital

Ya know, readin' this, ya & I had some of the same problems with the movie, especially Young Kirk meetin' Old Spock.

But, I thought it was still a pretty good movie. I've seen it twice already, and will be goin' back this weekend to see it again, and I'll even pay for a ticket this time.

Sun, May. 10th, 2009 07:03 am (UTC)
chris_walsh

Hi. I'm here via kradical, and I hope I don't make you want to start yelling at him for my coming over. (I'm here of my own volition! He didn't send me!)

I had a blast at Star Trek -- I've seen it twice so far -- but still have some issues with its sloppy storytelling moments. Coincidence on top of coincidence is one of the reasons I found Sam Raimi's third Spider-Man so maddening; Star Trek doesn't hit those annoying depths, and it works better as an emotional experience making us like these characters. Buuuuuuuut it makes me figure that Orci and Kurtzman are never going to be Robert Bolt or William Goldman in the writing department. (And I *hated* their Transformers.)

Nero bumming around the 23rd century for a full quarter-century (maybe shooting Khan's ship out of existence and out of pique, who knows, but it amuses me to speculate) is a weak point. NO ONE ran into him in all that time, not even whoever presumably gathered up the survivors of the Kelvin? And Nero being basically petulant when he's supposed to be insane makes him not compelling enough as a villain. (In fact, I've decided he's Agrajag from Life, the Universe, and Everything. Time travel didn't work for him! He's pissed!) I am somewhat amused, though, at how dismissive Nero is of everybody Not Him. (Khan or Chang wouldn't have said "Hi, Chris.")

I'm also not convinced we really needed to know about Jim Kirk's daddy issues, but that can be out of the way come the next film. ;-)

I'm forgiving of the Kobayashi Maru stuff, I admit; it does seem very appropriate that Spock programmed it, to show how important controlling your emotions is when in command. And Uhura, at least, wasn't taking the test seriously, either. (So now my easy-to-reach inner Star Trek dork figures "By the time Saavik's taking the test decades later, the trainees finally take it seriously! It must have taken on the weight of dreaded tradition by then.") It was a rough draft, flawed*, and maybe the people running that early version were taking it too seriously and not seeing its problems: see how flummoxed they were by apple-chewing Kirk. Starfleet's long had a self-important streak, come to think of it, and Kirk in any timeline fights that.

Some nitpicks with some of your other points: the Enterprise wasn't yet at warp when Kirk was jettisoned (though Spock ordering that in the first place is indeed really suspect), and while the film didn't use Iowa (it shot near Bakersfield), the land looked flat and farm-y enough for the film's purposes. And I assumed that the giant dusty trench is just a rock mine, and more to the point an unremarked-upon engineering thing done with 23rd-century technology. We've plenty re-engineered the world just with our last few hundred years' of tech; imagine George Washington's reaction to a stack freeway interchange. That might get the same kind of OH MY GOD HOW CAN THAT EXIST reaction from someone not used to seeing anything like it.

I'll see if I'm still forgiving some years from now; I really liked Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country when it came out, but when I saw it again 10 years later I noticed the contrivances much more than before. It doesn't hold up as well. But I still like plenty of it.
_____
* An aside: almost every early video game had no end goal, no way to "win." You couldn't win any game you played on your Atari or Coleco. Programmers realized that, sometimes quickly like the writers who then wrote text adventures like Adventure and Zork, sometimes after a longer time like the makers of Nintendo's games. The video game market crashed in the early 80s, and when rebuilding it, the programmers came up with games with goals like Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda. It took a few years to see that fundamental flaw, and it took the near-destruction of that industry to motivate said industry to correct it. Oy, this comment's been all over the place, hasn't it?

Sun, May. 10th, 2009 03:33 pm (UTC)
bill_leisner

I'm here via kradical, and I hope I don't make you want to start yelling at him for my coming over. (I'm here of my own volition! He didn't send me!)

Did KRAD give me a link recently? Or did you mean Mack Daddy? Either way, welcome!

Nero bumming around the 23rd century for a full quarter-century (maybe shooting Khan's ship out of existence and out of pique, who knows, but it amuses me to speculate) is a weak point. NO ONE ran into him in all that time, not even whoever presumably gathered up the survivors of the Kelvin?

I read where that was actually covered in a deleted scene, but even so, it doesn't bother me much. Space is a big place, and there are surely corners Nero knows about that haven't yet been explored in the 23rd century.

And Nero being basically petulant when he's supposed to be insane makes him not compelling enough as a villain.

The Whalesong Probe was a more interesting antagonist than Nero...

I'm forgiving of the Kobayashi Maru stuff, I admit

The thing is, the KM was established in TWOK as test of the cadet's character. What does Kirk's "solution" to the test in this film say about his character? To my mind, nothing good.

while the film didn't use Iowa (it shot near Bakersfield), the land looked flat and farm-y enough for the film's purposes.

I know Iowa. I've driven through Iowa. Iowa is a neighboring state to mine. That, sir, was no Iowa. Of course, we can hand-wave the discrepancies away, but why not just send the second unit to shoot some cornfield or hog farm footage?

Oy, this comment's been all over the place, hasn't it?

I was going to say... ;)

Sun, May. 10th, 2009 05:37 pm (UTC)
chris_walsh

Did KRAD give me a link recently? Or did you mean Mack Daddy? Either way, welcome!

I made a high-speed pass of Keith's Flist. And I do remember someone there linking to you (was it David Mack?).

I read where that was actually covered in a deleted scene, but even so, it doesn't bother me much. Space is a big place, and there are surely corners Nero knows about that haven't yet been explored in the 23rd century.

Fair point.

The Whalesong Probe was a more interesting antagonist than Nero...

Heh. True. That was one of the few successfully alien moments in Star Trek. (I'm also fond of the TNG episode "Darmok" for being more alien than Trek usually has been. I get a little emotional at that episode, in fact.)

I know Iowa. I've driven through Iowa. Iowa is a neighboring state to mine. That, sir, was no Iowa. Of course, we can hand-wave the discrepancies away, but why not just send the second unit to shoot some cornfield or hog farm footage?

Knowledge not known; knowledge now known. I'll defer to you, as I've never been through Iowa. (I have been through Nebraska, which didn't look the way I expected it to.)

I've thought more about the film (I try to say "more about" instead on "more on," because that sounds like "Moron") and feel the writers and Abrams managed for the most part not to squander fans' fondness for the characters and the Enterprise, which has long been a character in its own right. (Kirk is in love with the ship, after all.) The characters get to do good work and get moments to shine (I love Chekov's "I can do this! I can do this!"); the Enterprise gets hero moments like emerging from Titan's atmosphere and its cavalry-to-the-rescue moment to save Young Spock. And that's done well enough that it makes me more forgiving of the film's story flaws. But in the next film, Kirk really does need to grow emotionally. You're right, he didn't grow enough here. Spock does, though, thank goodness.

I could go on. Can you tell Star Trek's important to me? It has been since I was 9, and I'm 35 now.

Peace. Oh, and long life. :-)

Mon, May. 11th, 2009 01:51 am (UTC)
ext_182161

it would seem that Chris Pine's Capt. Kirk encapsulates all that Capt. Kirk was meant to be more than William Shatner's version

Thu, May. 14th, 2009 08:59 pm (UTC)
amysisson

I have to agree with you on the Kobayashi Maru. I call it cheating, whether he tweaks a little or a lot. As you said, it's established. But yeah, he was an arrogant little prick during, and I cringed a bit.

Lots and lots of plot holes. For me, fortunately the character portraryals (esp. McCoy and Spock) made up for it. I understand that won't be the case for everyone!