Sunday, January 03, 2010

Why the Recent Star Trek Movie Was Awful

kirk-and-spock-from-star-trek

In the comments of the Star Trek waffles post, Rich asked me why I described the recent movie as "nightmarishly-bad". I responded in the comments, but I think that the issue is post-worthy. Although I've briefly noted the problems in the movie in a review at the time of its release, I can't find that post in my archives, so I shall address the subject again.

Re-inventing the series was fine. The old paradigms were stale and had been played out, and a franchise needs to take a fresh approach now and then. Stargate: Universe, for example, is written and shot very differently from Stargate: SG-1 and Stargate: Atlantis. Not only are the characters new, but the structure and tone of the story are radically different.

The recent Star Trek movie went beyond this, changing who people were, how they related to each other, and even how technology worked. This, too, was just fine. In fact, such complete re-imaginings were necessary to give new life to the franchise.

But they made critical mistakes. It was clear that the producers decided to make an action film, and came up with some fine action scenes to dazzle audiences who are prone to be attracted to random, shiny objects that come into view.

I approve of good action scenes and special effects. But I disapprove of coming up the action scenes first and then designing a plot around them. The story must always come first.

And the story was pretty confusing. It was unclear to me who this Nero was. I was able to discern his plan, but not how he was going to carry it out. It would be a stretch to describe Nero as a one-dimensional character. He might as well have been wearing a sign around his neck that said "NPC".

More importantly, it was not explained how Starfleet was able to figure out what the plan was. Somehow, they simply knew. And they had a solution, although this solution was never explained, and it was really never explained how Kirk was the only person capable of carrying it out.

Now, yes, I did actually understand what was happening. But I would prefer that Trek movies have a plot at least as sophisticated as an episode of Voltron, and this one didn't make it. And just as the dialog in that cartoon was just a vehicle to get to the point of Voltron slicing a robot in two with his Blazing Sword in every episode, the script to the Star Trek movie was just a means to get eyeballs on explosions.

I want a plot; I want a story in my Trek. Special effects are good, but they are secondary to the story.

The second issue bothered me for two reasons. And this is the issue: they promoted a 19-year old boy to Captain and gave him command of a starship.

This was wildly, impossibly unrealistic.

There's a trend in modern entertainment to worship youth. It's like Hollywood is living in the domed cities of Logan's Run -- once you're thirty, it's time to die.

A generation ago, it was possible to be a leading man and be 40. A generation before that, it was even possible to be a leading man at 50. But the recent Trek movie decided that a man is ready for retirement at 25. It declared, implicitly, that what is good in a man is that he is a sultry, moody teenager.

I disapprove of this youth-worship, which reduced Star Trek to Muppet Babies in Space.

That's the first reason that it bothered me. Here's the second: there is a central principle to speculative fiction. It is that although situations and technologies may change, people are the same. They have to behave like human beings; they have to follow an internal logic.

And it is simply not reasonable for a 19-year old punk to be plucked off the Iowa plains, given a prized appointment to Starfleet Academy, immediately promoted above all of his upper classmates, and then immediately commissioned as not only a junior officer, but a captain -- and then given command of a major vessel. This is stupid and asinine, and was only written because it makes 14-year old girls swoon.

Star Trek might attract 14-year old girls, but it should not be written with that as its primary goal.

The very first episode of Star Trek, called "The Cage", was rejected by NBC as "too cerebral." If the people behind this movie were desperately trying to avoid a similar critique on the re-launch of the franchise, they succeeded brilliantly. If they wanted to tell a good story, they failed spectacularly.

20 comments:

Jeff the Baptist said...

Characters were good. Action was good. Plot sucked and so did all the science and tech.

Oh and Kirk was pretty obviously in his early 20s.

jockeystreet said...

"Nightmarishly-bad" is pretty much right on the mark.

I was blown away that there were some Star Trek fans who liked this. I just can't understand how.

truevyne said...

Muppet babies in space. What a hoot!
I liked it, but I think it was because I saw it with my children. It was like sharing the nerdy part of myself...

anywho, review Avatar and soon.

Anonymous said...

Well, it was not as bad as GI Joe.

John Meunier said...

Well, it was not as bad as GI Joe.

Damning with faint praise.

James R. Rummel said...

I had two problems with the latest Star Trek film, and they are pretty BIG problems. But be warned, for Here There Be Spoilers!

The first is that the villain, a Romulan named Nero, is upset that his planet has been destroyed. Yet he and his mining ship travels back in time more than 100 years, long before anything happens. Not only that, but he manages to capture the technology needed to save his planet from destruction.

Okay, problem solved. Right? Except not. He's still hell-bent on revenge, even though he could easily prevent the tragedy that pissed him off by simply going home. And, of he went home, his people would enjoy a tech upgrade by back-engineering the stuff on the mining rig.

Why did he do this? Crazy man, I suppose. But his whole crew was also suffering from this delusion? Not one of them said "If we just go home, we'd save the day as well as be rich and feted and high schools would be named after us!"

Second problem, even bigger than the first.

Kirk was a cadet when he was suddenly made 2nd Officer of the Enterprise. A cadet! Not even in the chain of command! Even the enlisted kitchen staff had a better claim to command than he! Yet they were passed over.

And, of course, a cadet that was also under

I think that would be a pretty strong basis for relieving Pike from command, and putting him in restraints down in Sick Bay as a crazy man himself. It could be that this would be put on the back burner until the big, scary demon ship that just blew up the entire fleet was dealt with, but there would be a mutiny if there wasn't some pretty drastic action taken once the crisis was past.

Folds into your "Must worship youth!" theme of the film.

Over the holidays, I talked to some friends of mine who are US Navy veterans. When they said they had yet to see the film, I said that the tops of their heads would probably explode.

Jeff the Baptist said...

"Why did he do this? Crazy man, I suppose. But his whole crew was also suffering from this delusion?"

Exactly. Moreover Nero and his crew sat around deep space for over 20 years while Kirk was growing up waiting for Spock to show up. The crew had plenty of time to come to their senses even if Nero never would.

"Kirk was a cadet when he was suddenly made 2nd Officer of the Enterprise. A cadet! Not even in the chain of command! Even the enlisted kitchen staff had a better claim to command than he! Yet they were passed over."

Agreed although the entire ship was supposedly crewed by cadets with only a skeleton staff of more senior officers like Spock. Many of the senior officers (like the chief medical officer) were killed in the first engagement with the Narada. More plausible is that Pike understood that Kirk, though a cadet, had a better command of the situation than anyone else on the ship because he had studied the demise of the Kelvin.

And that isn't even touching on the implausibility of the Narada itself. Most of the combat situations are equivalent to a modern German supertanker showing up at Jutland and kicking the ass of the entire British Grand Fleet. And the ship's design is ridiculous, something Scotty hangs a hat on when he beams Kirk and Spock over towards the end of the film.

Oh and would it be too much to ask for the franchise to realize that "flagship" in a naval context means "has an admiral on board" not "is the fanciest in the fleet."

jockeystreet said...

Yeah... that "20 years" part.

I get the lust for revenge, but in 20 years... nobody moved on? The crew didn't say "hey, we're tired of waiting?" Nobody figured it was a lost cause and decided to settle down somewhere else. They just kind of hung out in that little part of space... for 20 years? It seems a bit of a stretch. Even angry, crazy, bad guys get bored, distracted, etc.

I went to the theater really wanting that to be a good movie... alas.

Darrell said...

The (green) Orion slave girl acted human. I wouldn't think having an Orion slave girl would be good at the academy, their pheromones would raise havoc.

Rich said...

My Piece of the Action:

@John:
They promoted a 19-year old boy to Captain and gave him command of a starship. This was wildly, impossibly unrealistic.

I refer you to the movie U-571 and many, many battle movies. It was a crisis beyond imagining, with the bulk of Starfleet destroyed, and a crew mostly of cadets. It was a unique situation: the weren't more seasoned officers available because of the unpreparedness of Starfleet (and I find this hard to swallow myself, of all things: there were so few seasoned officers at Starfleet Command? and yet they had plenty of vacant ships? that's a stretch, but I accept it grudgingly) The ships manned by cadets reinforces this. If that situation DID exist, which it did (albeit with a bit of a stretch), then I can easily understand the most able person around gaining an "acting captain" position. And once the crisis is resolved, it becomes a symbolic gesture to turn acting into actual. Completely believable to me. But that's me.

@Darrell:
The green girl was NOT necessarily an Orion slave girl. In fact, her being in Starfleet belies that. However, more importantly, I know it's hard, but fans need to distance themselves from the original established franchise for it to make any sense. There have never been any Orion slave girls in this particular incarnation, and may never be.

Personally, I really really wish the creators of this new movie had added a line where is established transporters (or some other tech) as a practical impossibility (which it is, from what I've heard) and had not had them. It would have helped distance this "universe" from the "other" one.

Jeff the Baptist said...

Oh oh, got another one!

You know how they come out of warp inside the debris field of the destroyed fleet? You know like how the Millenium Falcon came out of hyperspace in the debris field caused by the destruction of Alderan in the original Star Wars? Suspiciously and exactly like it?

Well unless they completely rewrote the rules of Star Trek's faster than light travel, that doesn't work. In Star Wars, ships travel through an altered dimension called hyperspace. In Star Trek, the ship travels FTL in real space. The navigational deflector and their sensors keep random tiny bits of space debris from destroying the ship.

J.J. Abrams people didn't know the difference between Star Wars and Star Trek. I think Sulu gets a light saber in the next movie.

Bro. Dave said...

Oh, thank goodness! I thought I was the only one who thought the movie was stupid! I know the original Star Trek series had it's weaknesses -- like why the entire command team went on every away mission, and how they managed to break the Prime Directive at every encounter -- but this new movie was just plain dumb! It may be time for this whole Enterprise to retire... pun intended (in fact, I worked hard at it!).

John said...

Darrel wrote:

The (green) Orion slave girl acted human. I wouldn't think having an Orion slave girl would be good at the academy, their pheromones would raise havoc.

Yeah, but they can't afford a sexual discrimination lawsuit.

John said...

Bro. Dave wrote:

Oh, thank goodness! I thought I was the only one who thought the movie was stupid!

Glenn Reynolds refers to these incidents as "preference cascades" -- social environments in which people hide their true preferences until it becomes clear that they are not at all in a minority.

John said...

Jeff the Baptist wrote:

J.J. Abrams people didn't know the difference between Star Wars and Star Trek.

My fifth-grade social studies teacher, upon learning of my Trekkie-hood, often greeted me with the Vulcan salute and the words "May the Force be with you."

John said...

Rich wrote:

Personally, I really really wish the creators of this new movie had added a line where is established transporters (or some other tech) as a practical impossibility (which it is, from what I've heard) and had not had them. It would have helped distance this "universe" from the "other" one.

I'd be completely comfortable with a change like that. It's when they start having people not acting like people that I set my phasers on kill.

John said...

The True Vyne wrote:

anywho, review Avatar and soon.

I might, but I've read enough discouraging reviews to not rush to the theater.

JD said...

John said:
"I might, but I've read enough discouraging reviews to not rush to the theater."

Not to hijack this post, but I saw it opening day. The concept and world created by Cameron was imaginative, but not original. I have seen movies, older movies, recently that made me go,"Hummmm, that concept was in Avatar." (can't remember off-hand which ones they were)

Though subtle, there was a huge underlying political themes: military is evil, all things are understandable through science alone, money is bad, and trees and animals are more important than people.

Visually, good stuff. 3D stuff, so so. My 6 year old loved it, but we had to de-program her when we got home.

PAX
JD

Anonymous said...

I can't stand the new movie. After seeing it I had to go home and pop in a couple dvds of the original star trek to cleanse the impression it left on me. Ugh! Just awful! I miss the dialogue in the original, the actual plot line, the real acting. A Spock love scene?!?! No no no! Might I mention that I'm a 16 year old girl? Yeah, "Kirk" didn't impress at all.

meimi132 said...

Kirk was meant to be 19?!? o_O so didn't look like it XD