spoilers are all safely below the fold line
We went to see the new Star Trek movie yesterday.
I hate going to The Movies.
Don’t get me wrong, I love movies.
But I hate movie theaters.
I’d much rather sit in the comfort of my own living room, in my Lazyboy, with my laptop connected to IMDB, in front of my huge HD Plasma screen and watch movies on DVD in surround sound.
Movie theaters suck, so do movie goers.
Movie theaters are a study in how many seats you can pack into a given space, plus ten percent. Movie seats are specially designed - by a descendent of Torquemada himself I suspect – to cut off blood flow to your ass. I mean seriously here, what kind of chair makes your ass fall asleep? How is that even possible? Legs I can understand, but nowhere other than in a movie theater seat does my ass fall asleep. I’ve ridden for hundreds of hours in the back of C-130 cargo planes, strapped into a parachute seat, basically nothing but a metal frame and some nylon – and even that didn’t make my ass fall asleep. It’s done on purpose, so you can’t escape no matter how shitty the movie. Fifteen minutes into Mallrats II, they don’t want to see you at the ticket booth demanding a refund.. And just to make sure, theater operators coat the floor in same glue they put on those strips of fly paper. You’ve got to keep moving your feet or your shoes become permanently affixed to the floor. That’s why at the end of Battlefield Earth you saw shoeless people belly crawling up the aisles on their forearms dragging their numbed hindquarters and shrieking Travolta’s name like a curse.
What they ought to do is redesign the seats so that your arms fall asleep instead of your ass. Seriously, that way it would be completely impossible to operate a cell phone during the movie. Who the hell are these dolts? They pay $12.50 a ticket and the minute they sit down they’re on the phone. Who are they talking to anyway? The 911 operator? Help! I’m trapped in the dark, my ass is asleep and my shoes are stuck to the floor!
The theater announces before the movie “the rearmost row is reserved for handicapped people and people in wheelchairs.” Screw the handicapped, let ‘em suffer with the rest of us. Reserve the rear row for tall people, that’s what I’m saying. What the hell is it with tall people anyway? They know they’re tall, don’t they? I mean, you look down and all you see are the tops of other people’s heads, you gotta know, right? And where do the gangly bastards sit? Yeah, exactly. Tall people are assholes. That’s why I bring a peashooter with me to the movies, if I can’t enjoy the flick tall people aren’t going to either. One way or the other, I’m getting $12.50’s worth of entertainment.
Two bottles of water and a small popcorn? $13.00 dollars. I’ve got to tell you, I was looking forward to that water, for the price I figured it had to be magic water. Maybe it would make me tall enough to see over the NBA Defense in front of me, or pump extra oxygen to my butt cheeks, or generate a cell phone blocking electromagnetic field. Or, what would be really useful, maybe it would gift me with clairvoyance and give me the power to guess which upcoming scenes would be slow and boring so that I could choose the best time to go take a piss. No such luck, it wouldn’t even dissolve the glue holding my shoes to the floor. Looks like I spent $4.50 each on just plain old water. Next time I’ll get the $6.00 spring water. Don’t get me started on the popcorn.
But, I digress.
Let’s talk about Star Trek.
As I mentioned yesterday, a reboot of the series is the only way you’d get me into the theater to see a Star Trek movie.
I’ve said elsewhere, it is my considered opinion that once you start calling something a “franchise,” the quality declines rapidly. Nowhere is this more true than Star Trek and all of its finite variations. The episodes of the original series, way back in the sixties, were concepts new to the general public, hell most of it was new to scifi fans. Everything about the show, from its multiethnic cast, to story lines, science fiction on TV itself, was new. It was weird, and ahead of its time, and original.
By the eighties though, the blush was mostly off the rose. A lot of scifi had come and gone since the original series. Cardboard sets and salt shaker props weren’t going to cut it. The Next Generation started out with the same basic characters, just in different bodies and positions. The writers recycled and repackaged nearly every episode of the original series – but mostly, at least at first, they did it the same way you lovingly retell the same old joke that everybody has heard a dozen times and, yet, you still get the laughs. Next Generation was going to be a hit, no matter what they did. We’d been waiting for it for twenty years, we loved it even if it did have Wesley Crusher at the helm (sorry, Wil, you know we love you). Maybe too much. We wanted more. Deep Space 9 did its best to be original, and so did Voyager, but the truth of the matter is that both shows - and the horribly boring Enterprise – were mostly just more of the same. Same characters, same stories, same plots, same conflict, same same same. There was the time travel episode, you know, the one where they all end up on Earth in the present day. There was the holodeck malfunction episode and the evil alternate universe episode. There was the robot malfunction episode. There was the rift in the space time continuum episode. There was the trial episode and that one where the captain is on a diplomatic mission and the one were the Bad Guys show up and the one were Worf gets a Klingon pimple or the Vulcan goes into heat.
And there were the movies. The first one (hell I don’t even recall its name at this point) was watchable, but Wrath of Khan is, of course, the holy grail of Trek movies. The Voyage Home had its moments – but it was the time travel episode all over again. And after that things went down hill fast. Things started to get ridiculous and had hit truly ludicrous speed by the time Undiscovered Country came along. First Contact was pretty good though, and I thought maybe the series would revive (Hey, even the Bond franchise had Moonraker). But by the time they got around to Generations, I was long past caring.
The same people had been writing the same characters for so damned long that any spark of originality was long, long cold.
Now, I realize that at this point, diehard Trekkies (those that bought the boxed HD director’s cuts of the Enterprise series for example) are spitting and foaming, but the simple truth of the matter is that Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future was just too damned limited. He had this nice tidy little 1960’s “Wagon Train to the Stars” thing going on, every once in a while they rearrange the furniture in Trekverse, but the basic concept never changed – and whether they want to admit it or not, even those 40 year-old guys who wear collector's edition Star Trek Underoos (and you know who you are) were getting bored.
The problem is that Trekkies are a huge, huge market. There is no way the owners of the Trek franchise are going to let those dollars (and Euros and Yen) slip away. They needed another movie. Do it right, and you’ve got a guaranteed blockbuster, do it wrong and you’ve got Insurrection. Do it right and you’ve got a whole new series, do it wrong and you’ve got Enterprise. Do it right and you create a whole new generation of fans, do it wrong and you’ve got New Coke.
There’s only one way to do it right, and that’s to reboot.
Now, there are two types of reboot, soft and hard.
A hard reboot is what happened with Battlestar Galactica – i.e. a complete reset.
A soft reboot is where you keep the basic characters and storyline and change just enough that you can break out of the corner you’ve been painted into.
J. J. Abrams softbooted Star Trek.
And he did a hell of a job.
Sure, as a number of folks have noted, there are some plot holes big enough to drive a Romulan mining ship through. And Trek tech is still Trek tech, white and pristine and beautiful like the extruded plastic dinner trays in 2001 A Space Odyssey – and the science is utterly ridiculous. And, as always, one shouldn’t look too closely at the back story least you see it for the cardboard cutout that it is.
But overall, Star Trek, is a blast and well worth the price of admission.
I enjoyed every minute of it. The cast is uniformly excellent. The little sight gags and hidden tributes to the Trek-that-was are fun without being gratuitous. The plot is tightly wound and the story, if predictable, moves right along. The special effects are some of the best I’ve ever seen – this is how CGI should be done. And the break with traditional trek canon is explained logically (Trek logic, but still) and the explanation is within canon, then Abrams moves past it and doesn’t bother with it again neither dwelling on it, or apologizing for it.
A word of advice, if you haven’t seen it yet. Stay for the end credits. The background images are stunning.
I loved this version of Star Trek much better than the original, and I hope we see more of it.
Spoilers below this line
I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t mention a couple of things that just chapped my ass about this movie.
- Star Fleet. Seriously folks, even for a fictional outfit, this is one fucked up service. Kirk is what? Twenty maybe. A cadet? And he gets promoted to Captain and given his own major command and sent off to explore the universe? Riiiiiight. All those Ensigns and Lieutenants and Commanders who’ve been working their way up the promotion ladder for the last fifteen years aren’t going to be the least resentful? They follow him willingly. Yeah, how hosed up would they have to be? Only in Trekverse. (Of course, this may explain why Star Fleet keeps making really, really, really lousy strategic and tactical decisions – you know, like jumping your whole damned fleet straight into the danger zone without maybe sending a scout first).
- Starship Captain. Really, how tough could this job be? If any inexperienced twenty year old kid can do it? Well, any twenty year old kid with an arrest record that is.
- Red Matter. Others have noted it. But it is so damned stupid even for Trek Science that I’ve just got to throw my two cents in. How’s this shit work? A drop of red matter makes black holes. Just a drop. A single drop. A drop injected into a planet’s core creates a black hole that grows so rapidly in size that it consumes the entire planet in minutes? But a mass the size of a VW bus has no gravitational effects on the ship holding it, or the vulcan standing two feet from it? Or the plexiglass of its containment. (Seriously, given the demonstrated results, even a drop of this stuff should be enough to produce enormous tidal strain and gravitational effects at short range, a drop of it is a black hole – it would have to be by definition). And given that, why would you have to inject it into a planet’s core? Just drop it anywhere in the gravity well. (mmmm, one wonders if it requires the intense heat and pressure of a planetary core to … oh, nevermind. Now, I’m starting to sound like Geordie).
- The Drill. I loved the orbital drill scenes. I did. But two things bugged me. 1) What happened to the drill-head’s orbital velocity? I.e. its angular momentum? 2) What keeps the hole open long enough for the Red Matter to reach the planet’s core? If I have to explain either of those questions to you, you wouldn’t understand the problem – but here think about this, what altitude is this thing at? Because the atmosphere is dense enough for Kirk and Sulu to breath and fight normally. It’s stationary over one point on the planet’s surface, which means the supporting ship is either in geostationary orbit (roughly 22000 mile out for an Earth mass body) or it’s in a powered orbit. But if it’s in a powered orbit what holds the drill head stable and tensions the cable? Arrgh. Sorry, but the physics are making me itch. See if the drill is under thrust, how do Kirk, Sulu, and their enemies remain standing on the platform? See? See?
- The Supernova. Make a black hole to contain the blast of a supernova. Make a black hole. To contain a supernova. A super nova. Super nova. And making a black hole to contain a supernova is so easy that one old feeble vulcan in a ship by himself can do it. Yay. But, um, he can’t beat the Romulans?
Look, I write Scifi. I’m all about the suspension of disbelief – but, man, seriously, I felt my brain wobble close to a credibility implosion a couple of times.
Still, I enjoyed it.