Thursday, May 30, 2013

Critique of the Star Trek Movie

1) This is a negative critique of Star Trek: Into Darkness

2) This critique is based on respect for the Star Trek franchise.  I don’t want to drag down Star Trek, but the flaws in this movie were major and obvious, with no nitpicking necessary to notice them. 

3) My bona fides is that I have had a short story published by Star Trek.  Not fan fiction, but part of the actual Star Trek universe.  So in a sense, I’m a part of the Trek universe. 

4)  Leave comments.  Comment only if you can show the same respect to the franchise, and also yours truly. 

5) Possibly, if enough people comment on this and other social media, the director J.J. Abrams will notice and not make the same kind of mistakes next time.  (Okay, that last sentence pretty much sounds like science fiction.) 

*     *     *

In the volcano sequence, Spock is suspended by a cable from a shuttlecraft while the Enterprise hides underwater, to prevent the natives from seeing it.  Sulu complains the shuttlecraft can’t take the heat from hovering over the volcano.  Why is he hovering there in the first place?  He could wait until Kirk and McCoy distract the natives from the volcano, then hover. 

Spock’s cable snaps.  No worse for wear, he then sets up his explosive device on the floor of the volcano’s crater.  Why not just set up the device on the Enterprise, then beam it down, instead of doing the cable act?  Oh, that’s right, the Enterprise is under water.  In Star Trek II, which this movie rips off, transporters can beam people through several meters of solid rock, so beaming Spock through water should not be a problem. 

Spock sets off a cold fusion device which freezes the lava.  Are they kidding?  Cold fusion does not make things cold.  It is a theoretical means of unleashing nuclear fusion at room temperature.  Cold fusion would have made the eruption worse! 

So the Enterprise emerges from the water and beams Spock out before he fries.  They obviously could have avoided all these difficulties by staying in orbitout of sight of the nativesthen beaming down something to snuff out the volcano. 

Going to the main story, Kirk is shown in bed with two women who show no concern when he has to immediately leave.  Obviously, they are prostitutes, not girlfriends or one-night stands.  The TV series certainly showed Kirk wooing attractive women (or being wooed by them), but he wasn’t some disgusting perv who spent his night with hookers.  And the two women have exotic skin and long tales, which makes it look like bestiality. 

The character who at this point is called Harrison has some kind of fanny-pack transwarp transporter that can take him to the Klingon homeworld, light years away.  Fine.  But Scotty traces him.  Since Scotty can alter a normal transporter to do the same trick in a matter of minutes, why don’t they just beam him back?  Or beam a large explosive device into that area?  That would be a lot less traceable than firing photon torpedoes at him. 

Going on to the Enterprise, Scotty objects to the new torpedoes being brought aboard, saying Starfleet has never been military.  Some may howl at this, but I’ll give them this one.  Gene Roddenberry insisted that Starfleet was not military.  Fans argued otherwise, not just pointing at the phasers and photon torpedoes, but at the court martials and other things unique to the military.  I favor the idea that Starfleet is military, but it’s a legitimate argument. 

When the Enterprise gets close to the Klingon homeworld, they detect an individual life form in the area Harrison went to.  Again, they could just beam him up, using their transwarp transporting technology.  Or, if they really want a fight scene between Kirk and Harrison, Kirk and company could beam down. 

And if the Enterprise can detect an individual on the Klingon homeworld, why can’t the Klingon defenses detect a whole starship?  Why isn’t the Enterprise immediately swarmed by Klingon ships? 

The trio of characters having a dark, high-speed chase from and then a fight against grotesque, irrational aliens has more of the feel of a Star Wars movie.  J.J. Abrams will also be in charge of that franchise, and it will be a great shame if he makes the two franchises look alike. 

As a big non-surprise, Harrison turns out to be Khan.  (Without doing any investigation, I found out his identity back in December and e-mailed my friends about it.)  But he is a very white Khan.  True, people in the Indian subcontinent have all the skin shades from the lightest light to the darkest dark, but I found it kind of insulting that they could not find a swarthier actor.  This is especially so with the great turn Ricardo Montalban gave to the character—twice. 

I can guess why they use a really white guy:  They do not want to offend people by showing this most evil nemesis with a darker skin.  And so they do the old fallback of having a light-skinned Brit be the bad guy, which will play well when the movie shows in countries that have a lingering resentment of the British Empire.  But they don’t execute this well.  The start of the movie shows a dark-skinned family whose daughter is sick, and the father decides to set off a bomb in return for Khan curing his daughter.  Why didn’t he transport his family to safety, then turn Khan in?  In other words, to show some diversity (to make up for Khan being light-skinned) they showed a dark-skinned man having no sense of morality. 

(Sorry for this long comment about race, but racial identity is a tricky part of writing, requiring some thought.  Star Trek: Into Darkness fails in this.) 

Scotty travels near Jupiter and discovers something mysterious being built.  His casual ability to rent or requisition a craft and travel out there shows it would be hard to keep this project a secret.  People would be traveling around the solar system on a regular basis, given how casual space travel is shown to be. 

Dr. Carol Marcus reveals she slipped onto the ship with an assumed name, so Kirk wouldn’t know who she was.  Why?  Did she think he would show her favoritism?  It’s not explained.  This seems like another surprise revelation for the audience, but it’s contrived and underwhelming. 

The arrival of Admiral Marcus’ much larger starship should really alert the Klingons.  But again, they stay ignorant of these two starships. 

The airlock that Scotty operates on the larger starship is no such thing.  It is simply a door in the side of the ship, with no chamber to allow people to go in or out without catastrophically emptying all the air in that large area.  And there is a long, clear floor space leading away from it, clear of any consoles or equipment.  This is obviously just designed so Kirk and Khan can zip in and slide to a halt.  No realistic purpose to it. 

Both the Enterprise and the larger starship fall towards Earth because of Earth’s gravity well.  But they were much closer to the moon.  They should fall towards the moon because of the moon’s gravity well.  But that wouldn’t allow them to make their analogy to current-day terrorism when the larger starship crashes into San Francisco. 

Khan’s fight scenes on the Klingon world and on the starship were impressive.  The fight between Spock and Khan is less so.  Instead of the incredible martial arts style of fighting that Khan had used before, they mostly try to pound each other, with Spock especially throwing haymakers. 

Uhura shoots Khan several times with a phaser, and they seem to affect him as much as throwing whiteboard erasers at him.  I know Khan was genetically engineered to be strong, but the movie shows strong fighters, including Klingons, going down after a single shot.  How can Khan be so tough without weighing ten times as much as a normal man, or having skin as hard as diamond? 

McCoy realizes that Khan’s blood can revive the dead Kirk.  But can’t he use the blood from any of Khan’s seventy-two genetically engineered followers?  And once McCoy uses the blood to derive a cure, why doesn’t he synthesize it to help anyone who dies? 

At the end, Kirk’s speech is a watered-down version of Obama’s real life speech renouncing previous ways of dealing with terrorism.  Whether you liked or hated Obama’s speech, Kirk’s speech should be puzzling to his audience.  Since they knew nothing of Admiral Marcus’ plan, why should Kirk talk down to them? 

The most serious flaw in Star Trek: Into Darkness is the shallowness of the characters.  Kirk is the most well-developed, as the former townie who leaps before he looks and often succeeds by sheer luck.  But Spock is simply a guy who follows regulations and does not express emotions well.  Absent is his ability to do massive calculations inside his head, his being a repository of scientific knowledge, and his devotion to discipline.  McCoy is emotional and yells a lot, but he never shows deep insights into Kirk and Spock, and so never gives any wise, personal advice. 

And there is no theme to this movie.  The 2009 Star Trek had the theme of fathers.  Kirk didn’t know his father, so he grew up a townie.  Captain Pike became his surrogate father and talked him into joining Starfleet.  When Kirk meets Spock from the other universe, the first non-practical question he asks is whether he knew his father in the other universe, and he becomes uncharacteristically quiet at the answer.  Spock’s father Sarek gives him a heart-to-heart after Spock gets angry at being teased over his mother.  And when Spock goes berserk after Kirk taunts him over the loss of his mother, Sarek gives him another heart-to-heart.  When Sarek reveals that he loved Spock’s mother, that frees Spock to become an even more capable person.  (While Spock was devoted to his mother, it’s his father who is shown to give him guidance.) 

Star Trek: Into Darkness has Khan refer to his followers as his family, but he doesn’t interact with them that way—even though they’re in cryostasis, he could have been shown talking to their inert bodies or to images of them.  No, Khan is just a maniac, and the movie has no theme.  It’s just a lot of nonsensical action, then they rip off scenes from the old Star Trek episode “Space Seed” and the movie Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.  It is so much less than it could have been.  But to be a good movie, it would need good ideas and good writing, which the best of Trek was known for. 

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Monday, May 27, 2013

Explosive Scene

Miss Snark’s First Victim is holding a critique of explosive scenes, to be posted by this Thursday at her site.  My scene is below, and you can critique it here or at MSFV’s site

Ashley is a fairy who has grown to human size.  She and her friend Violet are being escorted by an artilleryman named Cutter as they flee to the Thames.  They passed an artillery battery on the way.  

The ground heaved under my feet. 
My wings stirred beneath my blouse, an instinctive reaction to keep my balance.  I grabbed someone I thought was Cutter, and that’s how I’m sure of my memory—the vibration through solid ground arrived before the huge explosion that boomed through the air a heartbeat later. 
Violet had latched onto Cutter with both hands, fingernails digging in.  I looked at the man I had mistakenly grabbed and hoped he hadn’t noticed any stirring beneath my clothes.  “I beg your pardon.” 
There they are!”  The man pointed.  He wore a nice knitted vest, otherwise I could have thought of him as a whaler in Moby Dick spotting a pod of whales, his voice carried so.  “Yonder!  D’you see?  Yonder, yonder!” 
Ascending above the treetops, a great cloud of black smoke stained the blue sky—not from normal cannon fire, more like what happened to Cutter when all the powder went off at once and destroyed his gun.  Now Cutter himself looked back, his face frozen in anxiety—except for a nervous tic that passed over his left eye. 
“Oh heavens!”  My hands clawed the air.  “All those men—their guns!” 
Below the black cloud, through flat meadows and trees that now looked small, a cowled figure strode in a rolling motion.  Glittering in the sun, it was a Martian war machine approaching the river.  Approaching us. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Tereshkova's Performance

Since I didn’t get a good picture of Tereshkova2001 at this year’s Norwescon, here’s a clip of her performance at last year’s.  Definitely stay tuned long enough to see her start in with the light saber. 

Do you think she spent some time practicing?  

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Spock – Boots

I haven’t seen the new Star Trek movie yet.  But in anticipation of it, here’s Spock as you’ve never seen him before.  (You need to have your speakers on to appreciate.)  

Friday, May 10, 2013

Book Purge III

This is my third large purge of books I won’t bother to read or that I’m unlikely to read again.  (I posted about my first purge, but skipped my second one.)  This time, I sold 17 books to a used bookstore. 

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend:  the prices are going down noticeably for paperback books.  I think the used bookstores are realizing the hard truth that there is less of a demand for mass-market paperbacks. 

In the past, I’ve had interesting conversations with professionals on whether mass-market paperbacks will be replaced by e-books in the next few years.  (The larger paperbacks, known as trade paperbacks, are considered safe for now.  And none of the professionals were predicting the demise of hardcover books.)  But let’s not ignore signals from the marketplace about what’s going on.  Is the death of the mass-market paperback coming?  What’s happening in used bookstores in other parts of the country?  

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Production of The Odyssey

I attended a production of The Odyssey, put on by the students of Covenant Christian Middle School, which is run by Sara Loudon

First, we have Athena come out and summarize the life of Odysseus so far: 

Then we have Odysseus and his crew in their ship.  The original concept was to have a cardboard prop, but one of the fathers is an engineer, and he built a wooden boat for them.  Look at the players in a wooden boat! 

And of course, what recounting of The Odyssey would be complete without a Cyclops? 

The Cyclops was operated by students in black masks, similar to the way that onstage stagehands in Kabuki theater wear black. 

The students put on an excellent production.  I marvel at their ability to memorize complex lines and to deliver them confidently to the audience.  And a good time was had by all.  


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