Star Trek thoughts, round two

Since I was going to a Yoshida Brothers concert up in the city this evening, and kniedzw was going to the city for an IMAX showing of Star Trek with his co-workers in the late afternoon, I decided I might as well tag along and see what the space dive looks like when projected on a ginormous screen.

(Pretty good. Makes me wanna take up skydiving.)

Anyway, this is the post where I spoil like a spoilery thing, so I’ll cut-tag again.

Bad things first, as is often my habit.

First of all, the science was phenomenally bad. Yeah, nobody watches Star Trek for the science (thanks to sovay for the link), and no doubt there’s worse out there in the cumulative hours and pages of shows, movies, and books, but geez. I can forgive the space drill, but “red matter”? Those black holes? And there were definitely some logical holes in the plot.

Second, I could have done with just a hair less of shiny! colorful! action! The three scenes I’m thinking of particularly are 1) Kirk’s youthful joyride (I found Spock’s childhood scenes far more compelling), 2) the random snow-monsters that unfortunately recalled The Phantom Menace, and 3) Scotty in the water tube (though it did give him a couple of fun lines later).

And third — this being the only one that really bothered me — the destruction of planets with all their inhabitants en suite was just used too casually for my taste. Sure, it’s a nice flashing neon sign informing viewers that the reboot reserves the right to change ANYTHING WHATSOEVER, but it didn’t come across as nearly enough of a mind-shattering disaster.

The first two, I’m happy to skate over if the rest of the film entertains me enough (which it did). The third is more of a problem. Still, much to be happy about.

I think what impressed me the most is the decision to write the reboot into the narrative. There is an in-story, in-world reason why things will look familiar but not necessarily be the same. That’s quite clever, and different from the approach taken by (say) the remakers of Batman and Bond.

And it had some interesting consequence, the most notable of which — to me, anyway — was the marginalizing of Kirk within the narrative. I think I particularly realized it when Uhura kissed Spock before they beamed onto the Romulan ship, but I’d accumulated niggling thoughts about it along the way: Spock being acting captain in Pike’s absence, the way Nero’s revenge was focused on him . . . if I’d come to this with zero knowledge of Star Trek, I almost would have thought Spock was the main character. Kirk isn’t the center of this particular universe, which (as per my previous post) gives him lots of room to grow.

It also gives the people around him more chance to shine. Spock obviously gets a lot of attention, but I very much appreciated the way all the big secondaries from the original continuity got their moments of awesomeness. Chekhov probably wins the award for most adorable badassery (I giggle when he goes zooming down the corridor shouting “I can do this! I can do this!”), but Bones chasing Kirk around with injections, Scotty with the warping, Sulu on top of the space drill — Uhura was, sadly, the only one who didn’t get a really great moment along those lines, her contributions never quite rising to the level of “stand aside, folks; this is what I do.” But she was interesting enough in other ways that I’m mostly okay with it.

Being not a big fan of the original series and movies, I can’t judge the performances against their models the way a lot of people have been doing, but I liked them all a great deal. On a second viewing, I think I was the most impressed with Chris Pine, perhaps because my expectations for him started so low: I’ve never thought a whole lot of Kirk, and Pine seemed likely to be a pretty face cast in a moderately stereotypical role, such that my interest would mostly be on the people around him. But he’s got a way of inflecting his lines such that his delivery isn’t what my brain supplies from its database of How Heroes Talk, and that’s always good. This is a Kirk I’m actually interested in. I can read a certain amount of what he’s doing as posing, and that means I can read layers into him, which I never did with Shatner.

And, of course, lots of fun nods to the history of the franchise. My favorite was probably Engineer Olson; the instant Pike named him off as the third member of the sabotage party, my brain glossed him as Ensign Ricky — and then he showed up in a red dive suit! Everybody got their famous line (“Dammit, I’m a doctor, not a physicist,” “I’m giving her all she’s got!,” and my favorite, “Live long and prosper,” because Spock manages to sound perfectly pleasant while also somehow making it translate to “Go to hell”). Maximum warp, phasers set on stun, all the characteristic motifs of Star Trek.

So what’s my take-away? I’m glad this did well enough that they’ll be making a second movie and might be able to launch a new TV series, and I’m curious to see where they go with it. Like Casino Royale, Batman Begins, and the first X-Men movie, this has done the work of setting everything up; hopefully, like those franchises, it will be followed by a second installment that can move onto newer, more substantial things. Now that all the characters have said their famous lines, and gotten fans excited by doing so, we can flesh them out more. Take Uhura farther (even — gasp — introduce a second important female character), complicate Starfleet and the Federation, play with the dynamic and growing friendship between Kirk and Spock. Any first installment of a reboot seems inevitably weighed down a bit by the past, but its job is to be fresh enough that there’s momentum to move on. They have that now, and I hope they don’t waste it.

0 Responses to “Star Trek thoughts, round two”

  1. wadam

    I saw it again yesterday, and all I can think now was: those poor miners.

    That said, I agree with you about just about everything here, but feel that I liked it a lot less than you did. I had a hard time getting past the science. And I really really don’t like Chris Pine. But overall, I think that there was more good than bad, and as you say: I’m excited to see how this develops in slightly more substantive directions in future movies.

    • Marie Brennan

      Pine was not nearly so fratboy-like as I expected, and to the extent that he was, I was able to deal with it as a) part of the James T. Kirk character and b) partly something he does on purpose, so that people will underestimate him. But, as with a lot of things, it’s partially dependent upon where they go with it; I think there’s a lot of room for exploring his character, and I hope they do it.

  2. beccastareyes

    I’m an astronomer, and went to the movie with about thirty of my closest friends from the department. Most of us had a great time, while rolling our eyes at the science. I’m used to Trek disguising its corny science with a little more trek-nobabble and subspace whatsits.

    (Okay, I did have to say something to the Martian geologist sitting next to me at the Saturn shots, because the movie’s science adviser is the lead of the Imaging Team on Cassini, and she had her advice partially ignored there. It was still a gorgeous shot, though.)

    • Marie Brennan

      On reflection, I think what gets me about the science is that it wasn’t technobabbly enough. “Red matter” sounds like they weren’t even trying, and supernovas and black holes, being real things we know about, were distracting because they don’t behave that way. If the black holes had been, I dunno, subspace gravitational anomalies or something, then I could write them off more easily.

      If that makes any sense at all.

      • beccastareyes

        No, that’s basically how I felt. I can tolerate ‘there’s this thing that we thought was something normal, except it is far too strong and blew up a planet, so now we got to stop it with this dangerous and expensive McGuffin that can blow stuff up good, and now the Bad Guy has the McGuffin, and is using it to blow up planets for revenge for saving the galaxy after his planet was destroyed’, just couched in technical-sounding language, but not involving supernovae and black holes, since I know how those work.

        (On the other hand, I can see a scientist nicknaming something ‘red matter’, and it accidentally sticking as an official name. Though maybe a nickname would have more personality, unless it’s some kind of inside joke.)

  3. Anonymous

    I’d agree with most of the things you said.

    Of the problems you mentioned the things I’d agree with the most are, yes the science was pretty iffy. However, this is also from the universe where just about any problem can be solved by realigning the main deflector dish to emit and inverse tachyon pulse so. . .

    It was kind of a bummer that Uhura didn’t get to do anything super cool, especially because they established that she was a super linguistics ninja, but they didn’t actually let her do anything super cool with her linguistics ninjatude.

    I didn’t really think about it until you mentioned it but, yeah the destruction of and entire planet and therefore almost an entire race wasn’t really handled with the gravity that it should have been.

    I think my favorite thing about the movie though was that they rewrote the continuity from within the universe, it was an extremely smart move that I did not expect at all. It’s also kinda’ hard to go wrong with space sky diving.

    If they make another one I’ll definitely go see it.


    • ckd

      Uhura did get the off-camera “heard this Klingon transmission” bit that gave Kirk the info he needed right when he needed it. It’s not nearly as super cool as other characters got, but her talents were still an important part of this nutritious breakfast the main plotline.

    • Marie Brennan

      See above about the science — I think I’d have gone along with it better had it been more technobabbly.

      For Uhura — admittedly, it’s harder to make a badass moment out of linguistics or a really good hearing ability. She did get the Klingon thing, as mentions, and she also got field-promoted when Pike asked if her she spoke Romulan, but it isn’t like beaming three people from two places onto one platform.

      The problem with the destruction of Vulcan, and making it moving enough, is that the people who whom it’s the most devastating are also the ones conditioned not to show any emotion. There are ways to get around that — for example, making more human characters than just Uhura reflect the horror — but to really make it work with Spock, they would have had to slow down and get a subtlety of performance not many guys are capable of. (Which is not to rag on Quinto — he did quite well. But he’s no Roy Marsden.)

      • mizkit

        The destruction of Vulcan worked for me mostly because they killed Spock’s mother. I very nearly did the exact same physical reaction Spock himself did, sort of surging forward to try to catch her. I was *shocked* (she didn’t die for a long time in the original universe), and wasn’t any *less* shocked the second time I saw it.

        The other problem with destroying Vulcan is that if you’re a Trek fan, as I am, you know they muck with timelines all the time and that at the end it all gets fixed, so it didn’t have the right impact until holy crap the movie is over and VULCAN IS STILL EXPLODED.

        In fact, that might be why Amanda’s death hit me as hard or harder the second time. I *knew*, that time, that it wasn’t going to get fixed…

        • Marie Brennan

          As someone who doesn’t know TOS really at all, that sadly didn’t have much impact for me. I saw her death coming once they ran out onto the ledge, and didn’t know it was any kind of variation from canon. And I generally expect characters to stay dead (again, since I don’t watch much Star Trek).

        • kitsunealyc

          I’m in the same boat about Vulcan as MizKit. I didn’t expect big emotional impact, nor did it have a huge impact on me, because I’m used to Star Trek’s reasserting the status quo at the end of a story. I didn’t read the film as a reset until the end, and that was when I had my delayed ‘holy shit’ response. Ultimately, I’m glad they went this way, because the fixing things method feels like cheating; it negates the impact and value of everything you’ve just been through, because ultimately it doesn’t matter.

          Although, interestingly enough, I deal with just that sort of thing at the end of Dragons of Heaven, and Jian has a very sharp argument against my take on the subject. Writers = functional MPD’s.

  4. akashiver

    Thanks for pointing out that Kirk was no longer the center of the ST universe. I’d noticed the focus on Spock, of course, but I hadn’t thought about how that was a deviation from previous ST ventures. Kirk does becoem a little more interesting when it’s not all about him, and I do think Pine did a great job. Going into this film, I was fully prepared to love Spock and secretly dislike Kirk; leaving it, I love Spock and like Kirk. That’s a small triumph of acting and writing.

    • Marie Brennan

      I say “almost” because, while Spock’s very central (hell — he’s the one who saves Earth, while Kirk just saves Captain Pine!), Kirk’s the one who goes from “delinquent” to “captain,” and also the one who really propels them to victory. (It made me think of Blood Diamond, which in structural terms makes Djimon Hounsou’s character the center, but all of the active protagging in the plot belongs to DiCaprio’s character. Though not as unbalanced as that one.) But I think that’s why I want to see more: I think the writers really could do good things with the dynamic between the two of them.

  5. mindstalk

    The science was egregious (I noted that Roger Ebert gives more signs of knowing science than the entire Star Trek franchise) but… Trek is fantasy; I have less forgiveness for the plot holes. People should make sense even if the universe doesn’t.

    I realized last night the movie only barely passes Bechdel’s Test (brief conversation between Uhura and her Orion roommate about her work, which clues Kirk in); akashiver and I disagree about whether that matters.

    • querldox

      They were rather constrained with regards to Bechdel’s test by having to work with only one existing main cast female member. Adding Chapel would’ve been a stretch with regards to her and Uhura having a reason to talk to each other that didn’t scream “Look, Bechdel’s Test moment!”. Maybe adding Rand would’ve enabled a pass, but with all the lead characters so young and inexperienced, a Yeoman wouldn’t have worked unless they played it opposite and had Rand be the equivalent of the grizzled Sergeant who’s the experienced one relative to the wet behind the ears main crew. And that would’ve made her have too big a role relative to the plot of seeing Kirk and Co. earn their (ridiculously over-promoted) stripes.

      • Marie Brennan

        Uhura passes; the Orion cadet fails.

        But yes, this is why I said I hope for another major female character in future installments. You can only do so much to right the gender issues when you’ve got seven or eight important characters to re-introduce. Now that’s done, they can move around more.

        They couldn’t have made Rand an old grizzled Sergeant, though, and not just for structural reasons; the in-story explanation for the reboot means she’s going to be the same age relative to the others as she was before. (They could have made it her mother, though. <g>)

        • querldox

          Well, they mucked around with Chekov’s age (but then, given his swiping of Spock’s human calculator schtick, I’d argue NuChekov is, along with NuScotty, much closer to a different character than the rest). Figure that NuKirk et al are at best early 20s, where previously Kirk would’ve been more like 30 when he became Enterprise captain. NuChekov is several years closer in age to NuKirk than the originals were.

          • Marie Brennan

            Kirk’s 25 for the bulk of the narrative, which makes Chekhov, at 17, eight years younger than him. I have no idea how that maps to the original.

            At least Kirk’s life isn’t the only one that’s gone differently. The destruction of the Kelvin would have affected more people than just him, so I approve of changes that imply other people have followed different paths, too. (Maybe Chekhov’s parents got together several years earlier than they would have?)

          • aitchellsee

            Hi, got here by clicking on a black hole at a friend of a friend’s place 🙂

            The age thing is interesting — I’d read someone’s analysis out there in cyberspace somewhere that the Nu-Characters’ age spreads aren’t wide enough compared to data in Old-Canon, so that Chekov isn’t enough younger than Kirk or Scotty, etc.

            Actually though, as regarding the actors themselves, I found after googling that it’s much
            the same birth-year spread for both casts. TOS birth years ran (oldest to youngest) 1920-1937; Nu-Trek runs 1970-1989. Oldest/youngest is virtually identical, but where the others fall on the intervening stairsteps differ in intriguing ways:

            1920 (Kelley, Doohan)
            1931 (Shatner, Nimoy)
            1932 (Nichols)
            1936 (Koenig)
            1937 (Takei) (who knew he was “really” the youngest?)

            1970 (Pegg)
            1972 (Urban, Cho)
            1977 (Quinto)
            1978 (Saldana)
            1980 (Pine)
            1989 (Yelchin)

            Ultimately meaningless, I’ll grant you, but good for a few minutes of amusement.

        • mindstalk

          Yeah, someone on my LJ wondered about Rand and Chapel, and I quipped they were probably still in middle school. Maybe more like high school. Not that I know their real ages, and being a nurse does take training.

      • mindstalk

        Chekov wasn’t even in TOS until the second season. When you’re blowing up planets and working earlier in what’s a different timeline anyway, there’s no obligation to stick slavishly to the original cast, especially for minor characters in it. They even lampshade Chekov not being supposed to be there in the movie: he’s 17!

        • Marie Brennan

          Would you call Chekhov minor? I got the impression he was one of the characters people would expect to see. And while a different timeline doesn’t mean you have to “stick slavishly to the original cast,” a reboot (from the perspective of the audience) kinda does.

          • mindstalk

            Well, I never watched that much TOS, but AFAIK yes minor. Certainly a regular, but rarely important. Could be wrong, but my impression is that Kirk Spock and McCoy are the main personalities, and the others are more part of the set, and not irreplaceable. Especially considering timeline.

            I note my icon is of a version of Rogue whose history was vastly different from that of the comic book version. Versions.

          • Marie Brennan

            I generally figure that, if I’ve heard of the character, they don’t count as minor. <g> Secondary, yes; I’d put Kirk and Spock at the top as the main characters, and then a distinct second tier that has Uhura, Scotty, Sulu, Chekhov, and McCoy. Below them are people like Nurse Chapel and Yeoman Rand that I’ve never heard of until now, and those are the people I’d call minor.

          • mindstalk

            I think McCoy is essential, as the human-emotional foil to Spock; the classical dynamic is of the three of them interacting. The others are more like “people on the bridge (or intercom) all the time but who don’t do as much.” Scotty feels like he should be more important but I can’t think of what he does.

            Mind you, most of my Trek comes from novels, which can actually give ‘minor’ characters more time, but can also focus even more on the big three.

            Of course, there was that Kirk/Uhura kiss (allegedly meant to be Spock originally but Shatner demanded the role).

          • querldox

            Chekov, while introduced second season, is considered a core TOS character because once introduced he 1) gets screen credit as a regular and shows up in every episode, even if only with a line or two and 2) shows up beyond cameo (see Rand, Chapel) in all six of the pure TOS movies.

            Rand disappeared after the first 13 episodes (apparently due to problems the actress was having) and Chapel was a recurring character. While both show up in the films, its in cameo style roles and they’re not portrayed as part of the core “We’re getting the band back together” group.

            Although personally I could’ve lived with him not showing up until later NuTrek films. But then, I have problems with the entire command crew save Spock of Starfleet’s flagship being made up of barely graduated if that cadets with maybe 100 hours of actual mission experience between the lot of them (no, not the emergency situation, the end of the film where they all jump direct from academy to captain and command crew).

          • Marie Brennan

            The jump is abrupt, yes. I see why it happened, from a franchise perspective (the whole point is to set everybody in position), and I’m consequently willing to let it go, but it does happen awfully fast.

            If this were a launch for a “new TOS” series, and I were a writer on the show, I’d totally want to spend the first season tossing in plots about the characters not actually having sufficient experience for their rank. “In this episode, Kirk has to battle aliens while also dealing with the fact that he forgot to check in with the quartermaster about having sufficient food stores . . . .”)

  6. c0untmystars

    My friends and I laughed really hard over the “red matter” partly because it’s ridiculous but mostly because the Giant Red Ball of Doom is something JJ Abrams used on Alias. The almost-excessive amounts of action and some of the visuals they used were also really Alias-influenced… I could have done with more quieter moments.

    And as soon as the monster appeared in the snow I wondered, “WTF, are they on Hoth?” From what I’ve read JJ Abrams was a Star Wars fan in his youth rather than a Trekkie so it struck me that he used several really strong Star Wars-style visuals, when the cadets were all queuing to get into the ships and then when the one guy dangles Kirk over the precipice Darth Vader-style.

    • Marie Brennan

      There are also nods to Lost and Cloverfield. I think I would have been happier with a little less acknowledgment of Abrams’ previous work.

      I agree about the Star Wars vibe, though. In fact, the moment when Scotty’s alien companion sniffles after he’s transported away struck me as being like the rancor keeper crying over his dead critter.

  7. jc_alford

    Ditto on most of the comments in this thread, especially the action sequences. I couldn’t help but think “insert obligatory action moment” when Kirk’s on the snow/ice planet (is there an action quota for summer blockbusters?), and I too had an Empire Strikes Back Moment; even Kirk’s outfit echoed Luke’s.

    Secondary characters need more development, though it’s understandable why they couldn’t do it in this film. I don’t need Uhura do be “badass” per se, but I want a well rounded, interesting character with emotional complexity and an identity that’s her own. Another female would be great, but not if it’s to add more window dressing; do something with the one you have first. I wonder if they will go the love triangle route.

    I was upset with the destruction of Vulcan and it’s casual treatment. Since the science is bad anyway, part of me hopes they’ll somehow “fix” it, though I doubt it.

    While it’s true the plot focuses on Spock, I still thought of Kirk as the main character. Or rather, I thought of the two as equals. Spock was more compelling with his family, planet, Uhura, etc., but I too was surprised at how much I liked Kirk since usually Kirk is…Kirk.

    Overall, the movie was genuinely entertaining and I look forward to where this universe will take us.

    • Marie Brennan

      I’ve thought about the love triangle thing, too. It seems to me the kind of thing Abrams might do. I could potentially be okay with it — but only if Uhura is treated as something other than an object caught between Kirk and Spock. If she’s the prize, rather than an agent, I’ll be ticked. She hasn’t started out that way, though, so I have hope.

      • jc_alford

        Yeah, there would definitely need to be conflict from within her, not just Kirk and Spock fighting externally over her. They’d also have to make it believable that she would be interested in Kirk, and for that I would need to see more of how she ticks, what her background is and how it has shaped her. Could be interesting if played right and she becomes a fully realized character.

Comments are closed.