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Saturday, June 13, 2009
Star Trek review


For those of you keeping track, this is Star Trek 11.

The Plot

The fundamental core of the plot makes no sense whatsoever.

What is the problem exactly

So first off, it's not clear what the underlying problem is. A sun is... going supernova? The Romulan sun? Err, you might want to all leave then, not much you can do about that. But a sun going supernova doesn't expand, it just goes boom. You're going to what, "absorb the energy" with red matter?

So why don't all the Romulans use their fleet and get everyone the hell out of there?
Why is Ambassador Spock flying the "fastest ship in the Federation"?

In this universe, are there still Romulus and Remus?

Not Enough Time?

Ok so this guy is sitting around in his giant mining ship near his home planet, for some reason, not helping anyone, and bam! Spock appears and bam! the planet is destroyed and bam! they travel through time and...

and then he IMMEDIATELY attacks a Federation ship?
So your planet is destroyed and you're somewhere else and your first thought is - hey, let's attack the nearest thing.

And your mining ship has tons of missiles that can lock on ships, ready to fire?

And he knows Spock was on the ship? And he expected Spock to do what exactly? Fly faster? Shoot the red matter better? What?

So your planet has JUST been destroyed, you destroy a Federation ship for no clear reason, and then, having travelled back in time (which means your entire beloved planet IS STILL INTACT AND YOU HAVE THE MOST ADVANCED TECHNOLOGY IN THE QUADRANT) you... sit in space and wait for 25 years for Spock's ship? Err, what?

So everyone on the entire mining ship is like, hey, our planet was destroyed but now we have it back, but we're so ?angry? that we are going to SIT FOR 25 YEARS IN SPACE and wait for a ship to appear.

So at no point did it occur to anyone... err hey, why don't we all go tell our families that their sun is going to explode, so they might want to relocate to a less killy planet. And oh by the way if we're feeling all vengeful (for some reason) we could use our future technology to make the Romulan Empire far more powerful than any other in the quadrant.

Ok so, they capture Spock and then drop him on... a moon I guess? Called Delta Vega 4 or something? Which has a very good view of Vulcan becoming a black hole? Like a VERY good view... so close you'd think it might be affected by the planet you know, imploding.

So the Vulcans who have lots of spaceships and technology, they just sit there while an alien ship drills a hole into their planet? Considering the amazing drilling platform was overwhelmed by TWO GUYS from Starfleet, the Vulcans couldn't have sent what, a flying scooter to crash into it? They have ZERO planetary defence? They have ZERO ships in orbit? They have ZERO ships on the surface? What?

Ok, so the Enterprise arrives into a sea of destroyed ships and no one is like, hmm, it's kind of a shame that ALL OF OUR FRIENDS FROM THE ACADEMY ARE DEAD. No one is like, hey maybe we should see if there are any escape pods?

And when Kirk finds out this is the guy who killed his father, he has no emotional response?

And when THE ENTIRE PLANET VULCAN implodes, everyone is like, oh my, what a great pity?

And then EARTH has no defences? STARFLEET ACADEMY doesn't have a single thing it can send against a mining platform in the sky RIGHT NEXT TO IT?

All is Darkness

So their awesome solution to destroying the Romulan ship is to turn it into a black hole? But wait a second, wasn't it JUST RIGHT NEXT TO EARTH? So now you've got a black hole, at a minimum, in the Sol system, and most likely, very near to Earth. Awesome. Brilliant plan.

No Sense of Wonder

One of the great things about the classic opening is the sense that, OMG, we're in space, isn't this cool and amazing. In this movie, these people could be anywhere. They're not excited to be in space. They're not excited to see the ship. Mostly the run or walk in corridors a lot, they could be in some building somewhere for all the difference it makes.

Very Bad Science Fiction

The whole thing is very very bad science fiction. Time travel, black holes, red matter, imploding planets - garbage.

Very Bad Drama

It is also very bad human drama and plotting. It makes no sense. Almost none of the human emotions map to any normal reactions.

Yes, they blew up Alderan in Star Wars, but that was decades ago. If you want to see what a modern reaction would be, even the crummy Enterprise series had a reasonable sense of what a reaction to an attack of this magnitude would be, and of course BSG had an actually thoughtful take on what this would mean for the survivors.

I know it's all part of the dramatic reboot: kaboom, look at me, I changed the timeline, kaboom, look at me, I blew up Vulcan. But it's going a bit far.

In particular, since the Vulcans were the core founding members of the federation, this will alter dramatically its evolution.

The Transfer of Command

So Spock has to relinquish command because he is emotionally compromised by the death of his mother (oh and incidentally the destruction of his entire planet), but Kirk is fine despite the exact same guy killed his father?

Plus which this "emotionally compromised" language is ridiculous. ALL Captains are emotionally compromised. There is perfectly good canon language and ship's practice to remove command: insanity or severe illness are the main ones. "No longer mentally fit" etc.

Plus which at a minimum Kirk and Spock should be under courtmartial for assaulting each other and other members of the crew.

The Role of Women

In a remarkably retro move, which I hope doesn't indicate the current state of our society, women have basically no active role to play in this version of Star Trek. Their permitted roles are to be a helpless mother giving birth, to be a basically non-present mother with at most a couple lines, and to be sex objects, green or black or otherwise.

Head of Vulcan council is man, head of Star Fleet review board is man, security guards are men, all men all the time.

Uhura's entire role consists of being an object of Kirk's attention, being Spock's lover, and one time saying "I know Romulan but they're not saying anything so that doesn't help". I don't think she so much as pushes a single button in the entire movie.

This is completely anti the Roddenberry ethos. He was operating within huge constraints in the 60s, but he still managed to have women as scientists, ship captains, ambassadors... women in many different roles.

If he was doing Trek today, not only would he have women in all different roles (which is so normal today as to not even merit mention normally), including many command and action roles, but he would have a lot more diversity (instead of the usual "mostly white men plus some token colour / aliens") and at least one gay character.

The characters themselves

For some reason, they're all genuises except Sulu and McCoy.
Uhura - language genius (a la Enterprise Hoshi)
Kirk - unspecified genius
Spock - always a genius
Chekov - some kinda gravitational something genius
Scotty - general engineering / science genius

The general scope of McCoy's character is done well - one of the points you never really see in the series is he is much older than Kirk. But he doesn't actually do anything in the entire movie other than make Kirk sick. And say "I'm a doctor, not a X" a lot.

The only characters that get much development or actually do much of anything are Kirk and Spock.

That being said, as characters (physically and "presence" wise), they're all pretty good. Kirk and Spock are strong, McCoy and Chekov are the right ages, Sulu is fine. Uhura appears fine, kind of hard to tell since she had nothing to do. Scotty is much younger than he should be, but whatever.

The Academy

I thought the entire thing was going to be set at the Academy. Other than a few shots, what I thought would be the entire movie is skipped with "3 years later".

Captain Kirk

So the promotion path is: show up on a ship you're not allowed on, get arbitrarily immediately made First Officer, and then have your Captain in a wheelchair and become Captain. What is this, Klingon promotion? He's on ONE MISSION and he's Captain? Are you kidding me?

Galaxy Quest

Both the red matter and the ridiculous design of the mining ship were dangeously close to Galaxy Quest territory.

Star Wars and Banzai

Both the planet blowing up and the pointless alien companion for Scotty (Jar Jar Binkstar?) are rather close similarities to Star Wars.

The interrogation scene is oddly reminiscent of the interrogation in Buckaroo Banzai, right down to the unexplained water flooding the floor. (As a side note, their mining ship stocks mind-control bugs? How convenient.)

The Con

Basically the entire movie is just to set up Kirk in the Captain's chair, Spock as his first officer, Sulu and Chekov at the console, Uhura as the Space Secretary, Scotty as the engineer and McCoy as the gruff doctor. In an alternative trekverse.

They could have just started with that and done, you know, an actual movie.

The Alternative Universe

This is a rather convenient canon dodge. Why is X different? Oh yeah, Alternate Universe. In case you're keeping track, some highlights:

* Vulcan gone
* two Spocks
* Spock's mother dead
* Kirk's father dead (we never heard of in original series)
* Uhura Spock's lover
* Romulans look different
* They know way more about Romulans and Klingons than they did in original series

Faster Spacecat! Faster!

In keeping with our fast-paced modern times, it's much faster and more dynamic - the ships move faster, the people move faster. Which is entertaining for a blockbuster, but I don't know how sustainable it would be in a series.

Overall Ratings

3/10 as science fiction
6/10 as drama
8/10 as summer fluff

So basically what you would expect if you take a series that had some threads of science fiction, ideas, and character interaction, and make it a Summer Blockbuster.

In Conclusion

Abrams set out to make a dynamic movie about Kirk and Spock, and in that he succeeded. He also set out to re-cast the characters and put them all on the bridge, and he got there in the end. In any other aspect, the movie fails.

Reviews I Liked

* Roger Ebert
* Huffington Post

The List

I think I have this in my blog already, but I couldn't find it quickly, so:

Star Trek 1: terrible. slowest. movie. ever. opening scene shows empty space for like 5 minutes. seriously.
Star Trek 2 (Khan): everyone likes this a lot. I think it's ok.
Star Trek 3 (Spock): also ok although I didn't like that they changed Saavik
Star Trek 4 (Earth): good
Star Trek 5 (god): terrible
Star Trek 6 (Klingons): not good. too many US references ("Nixon goes to China")
Star Trek 7 (Generations): I liked this a lot. almost perfect if they had just fixed up the themes a bit and given Kirk a better death
Star Trek 8 (Borg): also good except Data should have said "Resistance is NOT futile" and also Zephram Cochrane sucked

Star Trek 9 (umm, the one with the facepeeling guys): terrible
Star Trek 10 (Romulans and Picard clone who looks nothing like Picard): terrible
Star Trek 11 (reboot): acceptable as fluff but bad drama and terrible science fiction

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