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 four.
May 14, 2009
Whew. Now you guys know why you're getting this on Thursday - it takes some energy to complain this much. But hey - we Trek fans are masters.
On to the people stuff! You know, the heart and soul of science fiction.
• Spock's family matters. Presumably the destruction of an Earth ship and death of a human officer had no appreciable impact on family life on Vulcan. Why, then, is Spock's family dynamic markedly different than it was in the original timeline?
Don't get me wrong - Spock's intonation of "live long and prosper" to the Vulcan Science Academy was pretty much awesome, and exactly what I would have imagined for the moment in which he chose Starfleet - where he will always be alien - over his home planet, where he will never be accepted.
However, Spock Prime was shunned from his family for this choice. His father refuses to speak with him because of it until "Journey to Babel." Sarek Prime was as proud and stubborn as his son, refusing to acknowledge Spock's existence. Where did Sarek Beta come from, this kind and supportive Sarek who says Spock must choose his own path, who supports his decisions without question?
It doesn't even make sense from a dramatic point of view. Spock could have been faced with his angry, disappointed, grieving father at the same time he's fighting with Kirk and McCoy and dealing with the Romulans and his mother's death and his first command ... now that's drama. Instead, we get a pale shadow of Sarek who essentially exists to give Spock someone to talk to when he's mulling his thoughts.
• The entire Delta Vega sequence. This one deserves a nitpick all its own, and some of it belonged in the "science" portion. Now, I will put up with a lot of things changing due to the altered timeline, such as why the Enterprise is still under construction when Kirk is 22 instead of 13 years in service at the time of his enlistment at age 17 in the original timeline. And yes, it galls me that we lost Finnegan, Gary Mitchell, Carol Marcus, Professor Gill... though some of the above were in earlier script drafts and they were cut WHY??
But explain to me how a remote planetoid moves from the literal edge of the galaxy to "within eyesight of Vulcan"?
I think Abrams picked a Trek Prime planet name because it was cool, and whenever he does that it glares through. "Hey, let's name the planetoid after that mining colony in 'Where No Man Has Gone Before' where Gary Mitchell died!" Cool, yes. But nonsensical. Delta Vega was the closest planetoid after the Enterprise attempted to cross the barrier at the edge of the universe. Now it's next door to Vulcan, and apparently moon-like orbiting it, because wow, was Vulcan huge in the sky - closer than our moon, it seems. So it didn't get drawn into the singularity because... ?
Then we have Spock Beta literally ejecting a crewman onto the lifeless planet. A cadet who had done nothing except annoy him, who had not tried to take over the Enterprise like everyone else does, and was no threat to the people on board. Sure, we've all wanted to eject some of the guest stars (Joe Piscopo, I'm lookin' at you). But it makes no sense. Toss him in the brig. Don't strand him on a hostile planet.
P.S. George Lucas called. He wants Hoth back.
So Kirk crash-lands a short walk away from the very cave where Nero stranded Spock Prime, letting the elder watch his planet get destroyed.. and I know I already hit this, but really? Mars is in the same solar system with Earth and we can barely see it as a speck in the sky without a telescope.
In the meantime, Kirk gets chased by the Ravening Bugblatter Beast of Traal and a half-size escapee from Cloverfield. Why? Because nothing has blown up for ten minutes and we needed some excitement.
Oh, it's so that Spock Prime can give us a five-minute visit from the Exposition Fairy, using a mind-meld because that's easier than talking, which he also does anyway. With a weekend bonus of, "What Temporal Prime Directive?"
Cheating. Not just for a Trek movie. For any movie. It would have killed them to have Spock Prime drifting in space, in a Nero-designed pod carefully oriented so he could watch his planet blow up and slowly die? The Enterprise picks him up and he meets Kirk in sickbay or the brig. QED.
• Women. This is supposed to be a 24th century for the 21st century. At least Abrams tried with Uhura - instead of relegating her to the glorified phone operator, she's a skilled linguist with the knowledge of many languages. That includes all three dialects of Romulan, thereby putting her on the bridge even though she's still a cadet. Good thing that comes in handy! What? Nero speaks English? Drat.
Still, Zoe Saldana quietly underscored Uhura's status as a professional, the equal of her male colleagues, a worthy successor to the groundbreaking Uhura Prime as the first black woman officer on television.
I can even forgive Uhura Beta for not throwing a single punch in the bar fight until Kirk stumbles into her, even though as a cadet she should be equally capable of physical deterrence, because the fight was really dumb and she said so.
I also - after long consideration - approve of her clandestine relationship with Spock, because he's really the only one on the ship matching her in intelligence and emotional maturity. They sold it to us.
And I do tire of the stereotype that women with intelligence and leadership must sacrifice any romantic entanglements because once she gives in to that weak womanly stuff she's less like a man and therefore can't do her job. Uhura managed to serve capably and well, even with her lover on board and in harm's way. Brava.
Then she sucks face with Spock on the transporter pad.
So much for professionalism. This pretty much reduces Uhura from "officer" to "officer's girlfriend," even if it does end with Quinto's brilliant line, "I have no comment on the matter." Also, please note that practically everybody gets to sit in the captain's chair at some point in the Prime and Beta universes... except Uhura. I want to see that in the next movie.
So let's deal with the rest of the women.
We have two virtually absent mothers. Kirk's mom gives birth to him and vanishes for the rest of the movie, clearly having abdicated any Jimmy-discipline to a disembodied Greg Grunberg and obnoxious Noxia product placement. Spock's mom has about six lines before she dies, refrigerated only to provide Spock with "emotional compromise" to get him out of the captain's chair - apparently for good.
We have Uhura's Orion roommate, which I liked as compensation for the Orion slave girls. But does the movie pass the Bechsdel test? You know: a movie needs a) more than one woman, b) who talk to each other, c) about something besides a man. It passes... barely. Because Uhura and her roommate talk about the strange transmission for ten seconds.
You know what would have been fun? Let us meet Winona Kirk for real, because maybe it's her job that takes the family to Tarsus IV. Let us see young Jim and Kevin Riley watch Kodos the Executioner kill all those people. It would have been scary, exciting and ties to continuity, and we can cut the whole Delta Vega nonsesne to make room for it.
Seriously, wouldn't it have been fun if Winona Kirk turned out to be rather tough in her own way, having survived the death of her husband and raised two boys on her own? Winona Prime essentially raised them alone anyway, with George in space almost all the time. Winona Beta was out in space with George in the first place (bizarrely without elder son George Samuel, whom we saw for a nanosecond along the dusty Iowa road).
Or does that violate the sci-fi rule that dads are powerful, disapproving and absent, and all moms are weak, sweet and brainless, and either (or both) must die solely to motivate their children to reeeeevenge!
Even more, there was an easy way to a) make the movie loads better and b) solve this women issue to shut up annoying feminists like me.
Her name is Number One. We never got her given name.
She was Captain Pike's first officer, serving under him in the original timeline and portrayed by the wonderful Majel Barrett. And unless she was the random crew member on the Kelvin sucked into space, I have yet to hear any plausible reason why she is completely absent from the Enterprise.
Yes, it's a different timeline. But how much better would it have been to see her working with Pike and Spock, adding another person to the mix that would have been absolutely awesome and, as a weekend bonus, give Abrams someone he could kill? I personally have no problem imagining Number One giving her life to save Captain Pike and in performance of her duty, because she was that kind of officer.
In 1962, the studio heads informed Gene Roddenberry that he had two problems on his starship's bridge: a woman officer in command of men, and a Satanic-looking science officer. He couldn't keep both. In a decision that probably saved the show and set us all back another fifteen years, he kept Spock and demoted Barrett to head nurse.
Even when TNG came back around in the 1990s, women originally were in caretaker roles for the most part - ship's counselor, doctor - and the sole female warrior was killed off halfway through Season One. Even then, Tasha Yar was a "damaged" woman, having survived a hellish planet with rape gangs, because "normal" women don't fight or lead. It really wasn't until a few years into TNG that we started to see women in leadership roles, slowly shaking off the stereotypes until we finally see that the commander of Enterprise C was a woman. Brava.
I expect better, not just from the groundbreaking Trek, but from all science fiction. Women are half the species; get over it and put them in real uniforms while you're at it. (CultureGeek Jr. wants it known that he doesn't mind the miniskirts. I do.) Women are warriors, officers, soldiers and diplomats. And the best part is, it's not too late. Maybe Number One transferred out right before the movie happens and she can still show up in the next movie. Abrams, do you hear me? (Probably not.)
If you've read this far, you probably figure I hated the movie. I didn't, not by a long shot. Trek is like chocolate - even when it's bad, it's pretty good. And this wasn't too bad. It did what it was supposed to do and made us all look at Trek again, which isn't a bad thing for those of us who love science fiction.
Maybe next time, it'll be better. Because if he didn't know before, Abrams definitely knows now: The Nitpickers Are Watching. Live long and prosper.