Sunday, May 17, 2009

Trek-Dump, Addenda

A few more interesting links and then I'm done with this movie, I swear.
  • Adam Roberts hits it out of the park with his review.  The whole thing is quotable and also very funny, but this is the point that floored me, which hits on something that niggled at me throughout my viewing but which I wasn't able to put into words:
    Trek09 is a text so absolutely incapable of representing a collective—a functioning group, a society—that it strays into rank idiocy. It is teenage wish-fulfilment bang-zap-frot fantasy all the way through. But (and this, I’d say, is what people celebrating the Star Warsification of the Trek franchise in this film, are missing) precisely what made Trek so notable in the first place was its creation a communitarian world. Not an ensemble cast all vying for screen time; a knit-together group of people. The Star Wars universe is an open-ended, malleable space for individual adventure. The Trek universe is about having a place. It is, really, about belonging.

    So Trek09 grandly misses the point. My problem was not that Kirk, in this film, is a tool at the start and a tool at the end. He is, but that’s not the problem. The problem is that Star Fleet is so toolish: so completely, dysfunctionally unbelievable as an organisation. ... The Enterprise, as a group of individuals functioning together to crew a space ship, is—in this film, and for the first time in the Trek franchise—Not Fit For Purpose. It's a wholly unprofessional bunch of people squabbling and vying. It's dysfunctional.
    As I said in my review, Star Trek as a story is wholly oriented towards placing Jim Kirk in the place God intended for him, the captain's seat on the bridge of the Enterprise, but because of the dysfunction Adam notes the film's notion of what a captain is boils down to 'the guy who gets to tell everyone what to do.'  Kirk is never a leader.  His Enterprise functions not because of any action on his part but because he happens to have been lucky enough to end up with a band of under-qualified cadets who figure out, all on their own, how to work together.  I never got the sense that Kirk cared whether his crew got along or respected him so long as they enabled him to be captain, or that the film cared about any relationship that had more than two people in it.

  • Nick Mamatas is an utter wronghead about the Star Trek franchise, but probably right on the money when it comes to this observation:
    And the J.J. Abrahms movie? Well, it's...not bad. Not great, but not bad. Actually, it isn't even a Star Trek movie. I swear to God, it's Galaxy Quest: The Motion Picture. There are inexplicably Willy Wonkaesque architectures for the characters to get stuck in, the captain and his alien buddies aren't really friends though they are somehow supposed to be, a monster is replaced by a bigger monster during a planetside interlude, the transporters don't seem to work right, the first captain is tortured by the villains (ooh, waterboarding!), and the end of the movie involves Spaceship A turning around and rushing Spaceship B. Plus the baddy snarls his lines five inches from the camera lens, a la a heel pro wrestler threatening to destroy Hulk Hogan on a Saturday morning. Just like Galaxy Quest. But not played for laughs.
  • As with the presence of women, lots of people have talked about the lack of diversity in Star Fleet and on the Enterprise (I note that the film took the standard Trek approach of having a mainly white cast and a black admiral), but Rachel M. Brown really gets to the heart of the difference between emulation Star Trek's form and emulating its spirit:
    The point of Chekhov in the original was not that he had a funny accent. It was that he was a proud citizen of a country that, at time of airing, was America's # 1 enemy. The modern USA equivalent of Chekhov would not be Chekhov, but a crew member from Iraq or Afghanistan.
  • A Fox News commentator takes Abrams's overturning of Roddenberry's message to its logical conclusion:
    The new "Star Trek" film shows Captain Kirk's Starship Enterprise making good use of photon torpedoes and force fields. So the question comes to mind: Would Israel be safer if it could shoot down enemy missiles and rockets with such photon torpedoes, or block them altogether with a force field? Of course it would.
  • A report from a Q&A session with screenwriters Orci and Kurtzman, in which they try to justify the film's numerous plot holes.  The whole thing is quite delicious, but this is undoubtedly the money shot:
    In the minds of the creators, the focus of the plot is that Nero’s destruction of the timeline has altered history to the point that the all important friendship of Kirk and Spock is now threatened. If these two don’t come together, the fabric of space and time itself is endangered (as we have witnessed by the universe itself being saved countless times over the last 40 years). Kirk “coincidentally” running into Spock Prime is an example of fate itself trying to bring these two together. That’s how important it is.
    Also, apparently Kirk was only sleeping with Uhura's Orion roommate in order to gain access to the computers running the Kobayashi Maru scenario.  What a prince.

7 comments:

Disoriented said...

I am so glad I came across your blog. I love your insights about Star Trek, and science fiction in general. Something was bothering me about the new Star Trek, but your blog put things into perspective. Thank you!

iainjclark said...

All the criticisms have merit -- the plot and science are particularly idiotic -- but I still found the film a very enjoyable experience. I think it's easy to lose sight of that in nitpicking it. There's a danger of criticisms straying from the films myriad weaknesses into a sense of frustration that a two hour movie doesn't encapsulate everything about Trek that made it admirable.

I also think it's fair to say that the movie versions of Trek have always been about the characters first, the universe and philosophy second (a very distant second). For example, Starfleet in the movies is populated solely by jerks who are designed to make Kirk and his crew look good. Depth takes the form of moments of character bonding or growth, rarely moments of philosophical import. This movie picks up that trend and projects it back onto the character byplay that many people remember fondly from TOS. Indeed, on the level of individual episodes the sixties series, too, is often more reliant on character and action than ideas or a sense of 'community'. TOS aspires to greatness, but a lot of the time it was just pulp entertainment; it's easy to get on a high horse and point to its moments of intelligence, but a large proportion of it was about those characters involved in action/adventure plots with a vague handwave in the direction of a Big Idea.

That's not to say that these things aren't important in what Trek represents, or that I don't wish the movie had more of them. I'm not arguing that dumbing down doesn't matter, or that the times when Trek was ahead of its time aren't fundamental to why it has endured. But what the film does brilliantly is capture in a bottle one key element that made Trek work. In doing so it marginalises all the others, but I can live with that on this one occasion because a) it's just one story, b) it's an origin tale, c) it operates almost entirely on the level of character-plus-nostalgia, a tribute as much as a recreation, and d) any sequels have ample opportunity to explore other facets of Trek.

The real problem is that they probably won't, IMHO. I doubt that NuTrek will ever be as intelligent, as philosophical or even as logical as the old. I wish we could have another movie that's even as layered as The Wrath of Khan (itself one big pulp adventure). I don't want Trek to become nothing more than hi-jinx in space.

But when all is said and done we've had 40 years of Trek by the old rulebook, and those series aren't going anywhere. I think there's room for a different style of movie, however pared down to basics. If it turns onto a trilogy of big, bold and illogical action films that doesn't taint Trek's long legacy. It just means we get three affectionate tribute films that wouldn't otherwise have been made.

This movie pushed all my nostalgia buttons in such a big way that I really am prepared to let it off the hook. I know that's morally reprehensible, but it's true. I liked it. What can I say? ;-)

Matt said...

The latest Star Trek is just another in a long line of "science fiction" films made for popular audiences and not for actual SF fans. I find the angst about it going pulp a little overdone, since frankly ST was never more than the palest shadow of written SF. The "commutarian world" of Next Generation that Roberts is mourning was nobly intended but laughable in execution. Of all the ST series the only one that can be viewed today without embarassment is Deep Space 9, and it's no accident that it spent a lot of its time (certainly its best episodes) actively subverting Next Generation's ideas.

The fact is Trek has been trying to sell out for ages, so good for them for actually succeeding this time. Hopefully the inevitable sequel in which Kirk's hubris catches up to him (either the next one or the one after that) will be well done.

Anonymous said...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A Star Trek quiz...Boldly going where no quiz has gone before
By David Buckna
Special to ASSIST News Service
http://www.assistnews.net/Stories/2009/s09050064.htm

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Iain:

what the film does brilliantly is capture in a bottle one key element that made Trek workYes, but as Adam says the effect of prioritizing this element above all others is a film in which the deaths of six billion people are less important than one friendship. You're right, of course, to say that it's not fair to ask the film to be everything that Star Trek was, but not being this kind of story is, I think, a less unreasonable expectation.

I'd like to think that future Trek films will build on the Spock/Kirk friendship and develop the cohesiveness of the entire crew, but as you say this seems unlikely. I think Niall has it right when he speculates that what we can look forward to is a Pirates of the Caribbean-esque love triangle.

Gareth Wilson said...

I liked the film myself, but Roberts is right about the major flaw in it. Now I'm trying to think of the last popular movie that had an effective, functional organisation of any kind. On TV, there are plenty of police departments and hospitals that qualify. But in the movies they all come across as badly as Starfleet.

Anonymous said...

I bet if this "reimaged/alternate universe" Kirk and Spock ever come across the Horta from Janus VI, they will kill it simply for being a big ulgy monster and let the miners eat her eggs for breakfast in revenge.

The new Star Trek film is not only a sign that Hollywood's standards of intelligence and quality have sunk even further into the cesspool than I imagined, but the fact that so many in the public are eating it up shows that society as a whole is also degrading.

The sheep will be perfect for dominating in the future by a real villian and his or her henchmen.

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