Flashback: Nitpicker's Guide to the New Star Trek, Pt. 3
In preparation for discussions of the new Star Trek movie, CultureGeek offers you the four-part review of the 2009 reboot, which I dubbed Star Trek 2.0. This is part three.
May 14, 2009
I say these things with love, folks. I say them not only as a Trek fan and therefore by nature a nitpicker, but as a writer. Yes, I belong to the Heisenberg Compensator School of Science Fiction: Hand-wave at the physics and get back to the story, which is about people, ideas and emotions, not gadgetry.
For those who are nerd-impaired: Heisenberg's theories pretty much made the transporter impossible. So at some point, throwaway lines referred to the Heisenberg Compensator, installed in all transporter devices. Famed Trek-gadget guru Mike Okuda was once asked how the Heisenberg Compensator works. "It works very well," he replied. My admiration for such inventiveness knows no bounds.
But a writer knows whether s/he's cheating or not. We all know, and there's no excuse. There's a great moment in Stephen King's Misery, when the author first attempts to resurrect the character Annie Wilkes adores by simply pretending she never died. Annie may have been crazy, but she wasn't dumb. She makes him do it over, because he was cheating. And what's more, he knew it.
You always know when you're cheating. And what's more, you're always gonna get caught. That's why I have a small group of First Readers for my books, people who take a look at the roughest of rough drafts and point out where I'm going astray. Half the time they point out something that I knew was a cheat, I knew it, but I hoped no one would notice.
Mr. Abrams: You are dealing with Star Trek now. We notice everything. Here is a Nitpicker's complaints about your new movie.
• The incompetence of Starfleet. I think this is the one that chaps my rubber ears the hardest. I could almost forgive the return of, "We're a shipful of trainees, and we're the only ship in the quadrant!" I mean, it's kind of tradition by now. The Enterprise is always the only ship in the quadrant, by which we mean the Alpha Quadrant. The entire fleet is partying in the Laurentian Abyssal or something, even though that's in Earth's oceans and not in space, but hey, Abrams is God!
But... no one can shoot. No pilot understands the concept of "evasive maneuvers," which we've heard ordered on so many bridges that there's really no explanation for the Kelvin to sit there and take all those hits. It takes about 30 seconds for what little Fleet shows up at the Battle of Vulcan to be utterly decimated.
And yet Spock manages to destroy the SuperDrill in about six shots. Someone explain to me why the entire blasted Fleet couldn't do that in the Battle of Vulcan, or why we had to send two regulars and a literal red-shirt (hee) skydiving onto the drill to do it by hand. "It was cool!" It was. It also made no sense.
Better than that, we can beam things all over the place now, so how about beaming an explosive onto the Romulan ship and beaming Captain Pike back while we're at it - he's the only human on board a shipful of Romulans, after all.
Speaking of which, what exactly was Nero and his crew doing for 25 years? They never bumped into anybody? Nobody noticed them just drifting about for a quarter century? How did they know exactly where to be to catch Spock Prime? Sorry, I'm using my brain again.
Finally... there is no reason whatsoever why Cadet James Kirk should be given command of the brand-new flagship he commandeered and nearly destroyed. Yes, he had a battlefield promotion to first officer, and Pike is apparently out of commission. But Spock is a line officer with actual experience, not a cadet who lucked and cheated his way out of a few scrapes and barely avoided disaster because he happened to be surrounded by brilliant people.
• Kirk can't throw a punch and grew up a brat. Oh, he'll fight. He gets bloodied up so many times the makeup artist must have had a cheatsheet pages long as to which injuries would appear on Chris Pine's face next. But he loses just about every fight, from the barfight to wrangling some Romulan muscleheads, and spends half the movie danging from precipices by his fingertips.
Granted, Kirk Prime also rushed in where angels feared to tread on a weekly basis. But Kirk's attitude was so awful, I wanted him drummed out of the Fleet. Cheat, yes - we know that from Wrath of Khan. Do it to make a point about the no-win scenario. Don't thumb your nose at the Fleet you believe in and respect.
And the thing that drives me so crazy about both these points is that it could easily have been fixed, with just one person who knew and loved Trek reading over the script and making suggestions. Even the ending: have this adventure end with Kirk's field promotion becoming permanent, to Lt. Kirk of the U.S.S. Farragut under Captain Garrovick. I understand an original draft of the script actually went that way, and they changed it.
Come on, Abrams - you could still flash forward to the commissioning ceremony. You know Spock Prime would still sneak onto the balcony to watch. He's that sentimental.
Kirk Prime achieved his captaincy at a relatively young age - 31. He earned it. He grew up on a farm, but he also witnessed the deaths on Tarsus IV. He fought his way through the academy, studied under famous historians as well as military trainers, and served under Captain Garrovick with distinction before receiving his command. This Kirk has barely tried on his uniform and averted one near-apocalypse. That does not a commander make.
• The science, again. I went over some of that in the unspoiled review, but let's recap: the plan to save Romulus was to turn its star into a black hole? And that's not worse for the Romulans than a supernova? Also, a supernova that would destroy the universe? Really? That's one big star. Methinks the Roms already had problems.
Then let's add a black hole where Vulcan used to be. Great effect, by the way, really top-notch. Good thing Vulcan doesn't have a giant moon/double planet... oh, it does? Not anymore. This all gets accomplished by a drop of the Red Whatchamacallit.
So now we're going to dump gallons of the Magic Singularity Barbecue Sauce on the giant jellyfish ship. And we're going to create yet another black hole here. Is it the sauce that makes it big? Because i so, that's a singularity the size of a solar system. Or is the size of the hole based on the stuff it swallows? In which case, star=giant, planet=big, jellyfish ship=eh, who cares.
Why are we talking about this? It's impossibilium, less than a hand-wave at the "science" part of science fiction, hoping we've all shut off our brains because of the shiny hardware and half-naked Zoe Saldana.
Note to those complaining about a black hole in Earth's orbit: I caught on the second viewing that the actually warped away from Earth after Spock destroyed the SuperDrill. Of course, half the audience missed that little detail.
Coming next: Nitpicker's Boos, People Edition.