Saturday, June 06, 2009

In Which I May be at Odds with 95% of the World

I've been thinking about this carefully, and perhaps I'm not at odds with the rest of the world quite as much as I think. My contention is about the 2009 Star Trek movie. I don't think I like it as much as everyone else. That's not to say it isn't worth watching, and I would recommend it, but that whole 95% approval on RottenTomatoes makes me feel like I should rate it about 95% as good as a movie can possibly be, whereas I'm more of the opinion it was about 65-70% on my movie meter. But in RottenTomato parlance, that makes me part of the 95%. So it's difficult to say where that puts me.

I've held off for a while so that I'm not spoiling it for anyone (HUGE spoilers warning), and hopefully it's been out long enough that geeks won't harass me for my opinions, because I'm just not the sort to argue science fiction obsessively. I have watched more than my share of it - way more. But my interest is always in the macro, the themes and how they're being handled, and how their treatment compares to other similar treatments and the era in which the story was told and the story itself, whether it's good and compelling and consistent thought is given to the whole weave and weft. Not the micro. I could care less if someone f's up a minor consistency issue as long as they tell a compelling story and don't engage in enough inconsistency to yank me out of the story. And I don't particularly care about those little "aha" momments that are supposed to make me feel good because I obsessively watched the previous episodes/series. I want an incredibly good and cohesive story with strong, unique characters.

So...I can clarify. I felt the care given to the main characters ranks about a 95%. That's pretty much par for the course with Abrams. However, I felt the plot and science ranked more around a 20%.

I'll iterate my issues:

  1. I hated the villain. HATED HIM. Why even have him? They'd have been better off forgoing a villain altogether. If Kiki's Delivery Service can get by without one, so can Star Trek 2009. I get it that his part is to come back in time and rewrite the present in order to rewrite the future, allowing the characters to have different personalities among other things. But he was so damn lame. I was listening to MPR or some other radio station (see, I'm not attuned to specifics) and one of the directors or writers noted that they wanted the villain from this Star Trek to be a villain on par with Khan. That appealed to me. But that's certainly not what was delivered. He was a miner. The sort that crushes rocks. And any depth he was supposed to have was poorly delivered, poorly conceived, and unbelievable. I'm pretty sure I could do a better job feigning angst about the death of my wife and child. You know what other movie has a bitter, villainous miner? My Bloody Valentine. I didn't believe his motivation for pursuing Spock, for blowing up one planet, for trying to blow up another planet, for destroying a star ship...nada. Give me Ricardo Montalban any day of the week.
  2. Simon Pegg as Scotty. Actually, very good. But several times I found myself thinking, "Hey, it's Simon Pegg as Scotty!" That's incredibly distracting and yanked me out of the story. I was thinking zombies and sillly cop buddy movies. Maybe that's a deficiency on the part of my imagination. At least I wasn't picturing him as he was in Run, Fatboy, Run, because I've been fortunate enough not to see it.
  3. Let's go back to the villain. How is that a mining ship...IT'S A MINING SHIP...and I don't care that it's a mining ship from the future, they haven't added jamming weapons and cannons to anything we've developed in the way of mining tools so far, and given the premium the Federation puts on tricking out their warships, no one goes willy nilly militarizing their ships, they just wait for them to get attacked before sending help, or dispatch an escort...can drop it's drilling wang through the atmosphere of two home worlds without so much as a "how do you do?" Are there ground based lasers attacking this miner? Particle weapons? Sattelites? Numerous layers of defense? Defense systems acrete outward and you'd expect them to be strongest at your home planet. Why the hell was anyone ever at war with the Klingons if the only thing the Klingons or the Federation needed to do was drive up next to the other's home planet and calmly get down to business? Maybe I'm out of line? Maybe they did? We win! No, WE win! No, we do! What? We're here, we win! We win back! As near as I can tell, defense of earth involves a bunch of cadets running out of Earth Federation Central, pointing at the sky and going OOOOOO.... There wasn't even an intraatmospheric attack on the drilling dong.
  4. Why did Spock need a gigantic ball of red matter when only an eyedropper was necessary to create a black hole and eat up a planet? How many black holes was he going to create? And it's a black hole, so telling me he needed enough to create a "bigger" black hole is idiotic and you know it. And why did it have to be injected into the center of the planet by the mining ship's gleaming love sword? Stability issues so it doesn't hop off and go somewhere else? You need a nice even eating from the center for aesthetics? It didn't consume Vulcan evenly if that was the intent. Consuming the atmosphere and everything around and working centerward isn't enough of a planet shattering event?
  5. Why do you need to dig a hole to the center of the planet when the center of a planet is just a big ocean of molten rock? WTF? Even if the intent isn't that it has to be injected at the core, but rather just below the mantle, we're back on #4.
  6. And why did Spock allow them to capture the red matter in the first place instead of just imploding his ship? I'm pretty sure they weren't sporting red matter trapping equipment on their mining ship, or they'd have had their own red matter in the first place and could have just stopped the super nova. And they didn't seem to be near a planet in the opening that would have been in danger of a big ball of red matter. And screw you if you think a logical Vulcan (the old Spock, not the kissy new one) wouldn't sacrifice a star ship to prevent a lunatic from getting his mitts on enough red matter to eat up a few thousand planets. The needs of the many outweigh the few, or the one - that was him, remember?
  7. Why did they drop Spock off close enough to Vulcan to watch it get sucked up (I'm sorry, that just didn't seem as villainous to me as I think it was supposed to)? And as he was on such a close moon/planet (Vulcan was huge in the sky, much larger than our own moon), why wasn't the planet he (and Kirk) were on affected by the total destruction of a nearby world. I don't believe that the shredding of a planet, despite its mass being subsumed by a black hole and theoretically still there, would fail to have an affect on another planet/moon close enough to watch the event.
  8. Back to the red matter. Spock was going to stop a supernova with it by introducing a singularlity. This I believed was possible. Until they decided to use the red matter to stop the wave front, not the actual star pre-supernova. No. You cannot throw a rock at Lake Superior and expect the waves to stop, or at a tidal wave and have it turn back. Doesn't work.
  9. Spock and Uhuru. What? Kirk's father's death had nothing to do with Spock or his timeline. Butterflies are limited to the world in which they reside, their wing fluttering does not carry over into other atmospheres. Kirk's father's death would not make Spock randier. I admit that the new Uhuru is hot and any humanity in Spock should respond, but presumably she's the same Uhuru as in the old Trek universe, so he should have been all over her in the old series. Maybe he was but they were concerned about the interracial issues?
  10. Kirk was in Iowa...I think there should have been a gay wedding. I joke. But I saw blatantly hetero characters throughout the movie. I'm sad that future Iowa/Federation doesn't include any blatantly homo characters. If you're going to mix it up, go for broke.
  11. Mean Mr. Mustard convinced me my issue with Kirk was off a little. I was bit disappointed that he (Kirk, not MMM) spent most of the movie getting choked, getting saved, or getting fortunate in some life-saving way. MMM noted that this is the "new" Kirk and he can have a different personality, and holding on by his fingertips is an integral part of that personality. Fair enough. I buy that. But luck is finite. And he seemed to have a lot of it, and that can only be interesting for so long if the character isn't actively resolving his/her own problems. So maybe there will be a change by the next movie. But if there's no growth there, I'll be disappointed. I think back to some of my favorite sci fi, and there are incredibly deep characters who do layer upon layer of planning, only to find out that fortune is a harsh mistress and with all those lasers and diseases and aliens and all that red matter sitting around, even having a full proof plan plus luck can't save you. If you've got luck and no plan/issue resolution skills, you're SOL.
  12. I don't know what Kirk's rank was prior to his promotion, but it all seemed incredibly dubious to me. Field promotion to first officer of a star ship? Before anyone is dead? Despite what must be officers with seniority on the ship - considering his father was on a star ship before he was born so it's not like it's the first star ship ever? Despite all the trouble he was in prior to his field promotion? I believe this was probably a jumpstep promotion and I imagine they don't happen much now when there isn't a multi-trillion+ star ship involved.
  13. There's other bad science, which I leave up to Phil Plait.
Hard to believe I enjoyed it, eh? I'm just hoping that they tighten it up by the time they get to the next one.


MeanMrMustard said...

To clarify:

My comment to Scooter was that, by having Kirk literally hanging on to an edge by his fingertips at least three times in the film, Abrams was underscoring a point: this Kirk is much closer to the edge (whatever that edge is) than was Shatner's Kirk. He's not as "in control" of situations as was my generation's Kirk (call him "Kirk Prime" for consistency with "Spock Prime", I suppose).

I don't disagree with any of Scooter's science takedowns, but I'll reiterate what I said to him on this point as well: you don't watch "Star Trek" for the science, any more than you watch "Star Wars" for it. It's not "hard" sci fi; the science is there to serve the story. All I ask is that it not be blatantly inconsistent.

I enjoyed the film much, much more than I expected to.

Kyle said...

I liked the film, but I'd have to say it was more or less from a fun, action film standpoint. I also liked the sort of backstory, develop-the-characters element. As for the science element, it was definitely spotty at best, and that's where the film fell short. I could also say this about other Star Trek movies as well, but maybe it's better to stick to the question at hand?

The cool thing about the original Star Trek (and even some of the follow-on series/episodes) was that they conjured up ideas in science and technology, also ethical/moral questions for that matter, that actually got people thinking and acting based on what they had seen. The science and ethics weren't just there as a vehicle for making things go boom - they actually inspired people to think and maybe do some pretty cool stuff in the process. I suppose the science ultimately was still there to tell the story, but maybe it also got people thinking on a deeper level about the questions/technologies posed?

Admittedly, the bar has been set quite a bit higher regarding technology than it might have been in the 1960's - devices w/o wires that I can use to communicate anywhere I may be? Wha?!?! Maybe people are too jaded by technological progress, and the stuff that really makes people re-imagine what the future holds is just too abstract and not cinema-friendly anymore? I don't know...blah, blah, blah...

I actually liked the film a lot more than I was expecting to, but I guess I just put my mind into a different genre slot and watched/enjoyed it from that standpoint. It didn't provoke me to think about anything terribly profound, it more often than not provoked the reaction of "that blowed up real good"