Not exactly timely, but I finally got a chance to see Star Trek Into Darkness. I both loved it and was repelled by it. Maybe I can explain that better but I expect it will take awhile. I feel 1000 words coming on. At least.
I am not a Star Trek guy, I am a Star Wars guy. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the original series, and The Next Generation. I liked (not loved) Deep Space Nine and Voyager. I even tried to love the movies, but only two of them were love-worthy, and only one of those great enough to stand the test of time. But that one, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is a true classic, one of the better rivalry and conflict stories ever brought to the big screen. Maybe the best.
But still, even with all that, even with a Top 100 All-Time movie, even still, I am a Star Wars guy.
Apparently, so is J. J. Abrams, the guy who directed both of the Star Trek reboot movies but has now swapped over to Star Wars and been given apparent free reign over everything Star Warsian.
There’s a problem with this: J. J. Abrams drives me crazy.
Warning: This is full of spoilers. Not little ones either, big ones, nasty spoilers with long, pointy teeth. If you have not yet seen Star Trek into Darkness, do not continue past this warning!
Watching this movie is an exercise in frustration, I don’t know how else to put it. Everything about the plot is wrong, all the time. One detail after another is flawed, horribly flawed, sacrificing any attempt to make sense in return for a dramatic payoff.
But the drama does payoff; the net result of equation is in the positive.
And then they dive off into something else that would never happen and we start all over again.
Take the very first scene: Kirk and McCoy are fleeing spear-throwing aborigines, because apparently they have stolen one of their religious artifacts. It is a very dramatic scene: spears fly by the two as they dip and swerve their way to safety, and there is a dramatic payoff too: the Enterprise awaits them in a very unexpected yet cool-looking location.
But meanwhile, why did they steal the native’s religious scroll? What kind of research requires theft? Shouldn’t an anthropologist (xeno-anthropologist?) be involved in this somehow? And why are they “disguised” in outfits that do not look at all like anything the natives are wearing?
These are minor quibbles. Maybe the natives have blue dresses too and we just didn’t see them. Maybe McCoy is an amateur anthropologist. I can’t come up with any explanation for stealing the scroll, but I don’t really need to. It was an exciting scene, and visually very vivid and colorful. Dramatic, fun, entertaining. Completely illogical.
I admit these are minor quibbles, but they are harbingers of much more to come, violent rips in the fabric of anything that might ever really happen. We enter the theater willing to suspend disbelief, a benevolent credulity that is necessary to enjoy a fantasy movie. We are going to be spending 90-120 minutes watching space ships and aliens, I get that. But both Star Trek movies are jam-packed with logic gaps so big and glaring that they yank one out of the sphere of benevolent disbelief and constantly remind one that, oh yeah, we are watching a movie.
I don’t want to be reminded that I am watching a movie until the credits come up. That is supposed to be part of the deal; I pay money or attention or whatever it is that I need to pay to see this piece of entertainment. In return, I am entertained, hopefully thoroughly, it is why they have the word “escapist”. I want to escape.
Consider this scene:
Dr. McCoy and the lovely Dr. Marcus are attempting to open up a bomb. McCoy is selected to do the work because he has surgical hands, the stillest and smoothest on the ship. Carefully they open a panel in the side of the bomb, while McCoy reaches in to find the 23rd wire down. Dialog reminds us of the need for utter precision, there is no room for error, not even a millimeter.
Suddenly the panel snaps shut, trapping McCoy’s arm inside, and a countdown begins: in 30 seconds the bomb will go off! Surely McCoy is doomed.
But no! Dramatically, Dr. Marcus will have to deactivate the bomb, using an entirely different panel on the other side of the bomb, via big ripping motions and then pressing a button as the countdown reaches zero.
Why didn’t they just do that in the first place? Why was surgical precision needed to disarm the bomb one way while random button mashing works the other way? Why are there two ways to disarm the bomb in the first place? Why … well, really, the obvious and only answer is that it doesn’t have to make sense, it has to be dramatic.
Except it does have to make sense; it bothers me when it doesn’t. It is almost insulting, and feels lazy on the part of the scriptwriters. There have to be a million ways to write a tense bomb-disarming scene, why not write one that makes actual sense? Ah… screw it, we’ll get his arm stuck in there and then have everyone do a lot of shouting as the timer winds down. Okay!
There are more. Many more.
- Dr. Marcus is able to get into the ship sneakily, by using an alias. This is a military vessel! I can’t even get into my office with an alias, I need physical credentials and passwords, and I am supposed to be there. But she can sneak onto a top-secret military vessel simply by saying she is someone else.
- Spock knows Dr. Marcus is an imposter, and also the daughter of an admiral, and doesn’t say anything about it. Even when the three of them are isolated in a shuttle. Not a word. Until the plot requires it, only then does he point it out. He even says that he didn’t bring it up because it didn’t matter until now. As if.
- There is a very exciting scene where two people in spacesuits fly between two ships, dodging debris on the way. Except, if the flyers can fly around and dodge stuff, why did they need to precisely line the ships up in the first place?
- The target ship has a tiny airlock that is round and four-feet across. Why? What could be going in and out of the ship while in space that requires a fully functional airlock yet can comfortably fit in a four-foot tall opening? Why is that even there?
- And why is that when Scotty closes the airlock, suddenly the flyers fall to the floor? The airlock is just a door, not an anti-gravity thingie. But the very instant that Scotty closes the door, the humongous deck where this takes place is instantly filled with breathable air, and gravity starts working again at the same time.
But none of these are the big ones. You might even be able to explain some of them, I don’t know, I could have listed dozens like them if I wanted to inflict another 1000 words on you. Just like the first movie*, there are two errors so glaring that I they made me sputter in disbelief. If everything about the ending hadn’t have been so awesome, they would have ruined the movie for me.
I can’t decide which of these is worse. You’ll have to do that for me, I’ll just list them in the order that they appear.
First, there is a huge battle between the Enterprise and some unnamed yet massive dreadnaught that is at least twice the size of the Enterprise. This battle is taking place 200,000 kilometers from Earth. For reference, that is about 1/2 the distance between here and the moon. In other words, we would all be seeing this battle in our skies; massive ships, explosions, phasers, light flashes, you wouldn’t even need a telescope. Yet, the entire battle happens with NO ONE ON EARTH KNOWING. Not even Starfleet who, one would assume, would have futuristic radars sweeping our skies constantly. No one notices, no attempt at radio contact, nothing.
Then, in the midst of this battle, the Enterprise finally decides to attempt contact with someone. Is it Starfleet who might wonder why there is an unnamed dreadnaught attacking a Starfleet vessel in Earth orbit? Someone on Earth? A news station? Anyone that might be in any way helpful? No, it is Old Spock, on New Vulcan, in another solar system entirely.
Why? Why? It is so maddening.
Although I know the real answer, it is so that Old Spock can be in the movie and besides, someone has to tell New Spock how dangerous Khan is.
Which reminds me, Khan.
And now I finally get to leave behind the maddening lack of logic in this movie and get to the part that works, the part that redeemed the whole thing for me, the part that was so good it actually brought up some tears. Quickly-overridden tears, I am not the guy who cries at movies, but tears nonetheless and real ones at that.
Because the end was awesome. I can’t believe how incredibly well it worked. No, this Khan is not as menacing as the original Khan. Sorry Benedict Cumberbatch, you did a fine job in spite of your odd name, and were a more physical Khan. But you simply couldn’t fill the screen with Khan-ish menace the way that Ricardo Montalban did.
But I digress. Cumberbatch was good enough. And now I know that Christoper Pine and Zachary Quinto are good enough too, more than good enough, they are suitable heirs to the Shattner/Nimoy legacy. Because they took the best scene that Shattner and Nimoy ever did, reversed the roles, and did it up proud.
Yes, J. J. Abrams went there. He replicated the part of Star Trek II where Spock dies, and brilliantly reversed the roles completely: this time Spock was the action hero while Kirk was the one who gave up himself for the crew. This time, it was Kirk who died. Kirk!
It was so right. All of my annoyance fled as the scene unfolded. I could see what was happening from the moment that Kirk went into the warp core, but still, it was so well done, so perfect, Kirk kicking the warp core to fix it because he is Kirk and that’s how he rolls, perfect right down to the KHAAAAAAAAAAN! screamed in fury from the wrong pair of lips.
That was what started the waterworks. It was masterfully done.
If only Abrams had applied that same masterful touch to script logic. But maybe that is just what he is, someone able to put Lost on TV but not to finish it, someone who can use beloved characters like Kirk and Spock and take them to new heights but not in a way that makes any sense.
I am both terrified and thrilled that he will be doing the same with Luke and Leia and Han and Yoda.
Phew. What a ride.
🙂 😀 🙂
* For those keeping track, the two glaring issues in the first movie are:
#2 The idea that a mining ship from 100 years in the future would be able to casually destroy the combined Starfleet navy just because it is from 100 years in the future. It’s a mining ship! Imagine taking today’s most modern oil-drilling platform and facing it against the combined navies at the Battle of Jutland. It would get utterly decimated.
#1 The fact that when Kirk is marooned, he makes his way into the first shelter he could find, could be anywhere in the universe, but no it happens to be the exact same cave on the exact same planet where Old Spock had been marooned months earlier. Out of all the universe, this planet. Out of all surface area on this planet, this cave. Oy vay.