Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Star Trek Into Hackery

So the movie starts, and we see a car chase on a freeway. One brightly-colored sports car is being chased by three menacing-looking dark sedans. Gunshots get fired back and forth. Cars weave in and out through traffic. Cars not in the chase wipe out and get left by the side of the road. It's pretty clear that our heroes are in the sports car.

Then, a stray bullet takes out one of the tires on our heroes' car! It careens to the side of the road, coming to a stop. The heroes get out, open the trunk, and hop on pogo-sticks, taking off down the freeway at 75 miles per hour…

No, they're not rocket-powered pogo-sticks. They're just pogo sticks. C'mon, man, it's a movie!

So they race down the road, still exchanging fire. One of our heroes has his gun run out of ammo! He beats on it a few times with the flat of his hand and then the gun starts firing again!

No, he doesn't reload -- it's a Hollywood gun that never runs out of ammo. No, it didn't jam, he just smacks it to remind it that it's a Hollywood gun. Lighten up, it's a moooovieeee!

Then there's a barrage of gunfire from the pursuing sedans, and suddenly our heroes are in Bullet Time! Yeah, like the Matrix, only cooler. I'm just as good a filmmaker as the Wachowskis if not better, so I can pull this off, I'm sure.

So the chase continues, and the heroes reach the end of the freeway, in a construction zone that dumps out over the bay. They come to a stop, pull the peels off their banana seats…

Yes, these pogo-sticks have banana seats. Why would they be called banana seats if they don't have peels? If they look like bananas then they'd have to have peels like bananas, right?

So they drop the banana seat peels, the sedans slip on them and fly out into the bay, ending the chase. Then our heroes pull off their helmets…

Yes, they've been wearing helmets all this time. Yes, even inside the car earlier. What's the big deal?

They pull off their helmets, and it's Thelma and Louise - the long-awaited sequel!

Dude, calm down, it's a MOOOOOOOOOVIEEEEEEEEE!!

On one hand, if the above was a scene from a movie that parodied Hollywood action films, it might actually be pretty hilariously awesome -- a great way of tweaking the numerous small inconsistencies and short-cuts that go into creating any 'awesome' action sequence.

On the other hand, if the above were being played straight, and were really meant to be part of a beloved series of films, then might you not feel a bit irritated, or worse?

That's pretty much how I felt when watching the opening sequence of 'Star Trek: Into Darkness'; I knew that I was supposed to be enjoying the ride as a summer blockbuster action set-piece, but I couldn't shake the irritation that the movie that I expected to be watching wasn't 'just a movie', but one that tied into some of the greatest stories of my adolescence and early adulthood, and one that had at least made an effort toward scientific reasonableness, even if it sometimes played fast and loose with the actual laws of physics.

But this? Let me count the number of ways that this movie's opening scene alone punished me for having actual knowledge of science:

There's a volcano that's going to erupt and doom an entire planet containing a primitive culture, and the Enterprise is here to save that culture.

Cool! So the volcano is going to spew greenhouse gasses and dust into the atmosphere, causing an ice age that will make the planet uninhabitable by the pre-technological society that lives there, and the Enterprise has to clean up the mess in such a way that the natives don't notice? Shades of 'Insurrection', where the Federation is secretly observing a culture that they believe don't possess warp drive -- this makes perfect sense!

Oh, wait, no. Apparently the actual danger is that lava from the eruption will cover the entire planet (?!), and the solution is to freeze the lava with a 'cold fusion bomb'?!?

OK, for starters, having a 'cold fusion bomb' that freezes things is like having a 'particle accelerator' that you attach to your car engine to make it go faster -- it's a complete misunderstanding of what the science is behind that phrase.

Second, freezing the lava won't stop the volcanic eruption. The caldera of a volcano is not the only place that a volcano can erupt -- see the Mount Saint Helens eruption of the 1980s (I'm pretty sure the director was alive then) as a perfect example. All freezing the lava will do is cause the eruption to happen somewhere else where the local crust is weak.

Third, the eruption of a single volcano simply isn't powerful enough to destroy an entire culture with lava. Sure, primitive cities have been destroyed by lava -- Pompeii is just one example -- but those cities are just cities. If an entire culture was destroyed, it's because the culture was living in a geographically isolated area (like an island, which can be destroyed in an eruption). Look at Mars, which has a volcano (Olympus Mons) far larger than any volcano on Earth. If a single volcano could cause the destruction of a planet, you'd think Olympus Mons would have done it to Mars. Yet the volcano in this movie isn't much larger than a 'typical' volcano on Earth, which is to say, dangerous to an island, but not to an entire planet.

Then, having the Enterprise be underwater nearby the primitive village, so that it can be seen when it emerges from the water? Not only is this pointless -- there isn't anything done during this scene that couldn't have been done from geosynchronous orbit, as far as I can tell, where the primitive culture would have zero chance of detecting the Enterprise -- but it ruins the point made in the previous movie about having to take a shuttle to the Enterprise from Earth because it's being built in space because starships aren't designed to operate inside planetary gravity which is the whole reason they have shuttlecraft and transporters!

Based on other things I've read, particularly this amusing review of the film, the opening sequence isn't even the most egregious violation of either scientific realism or Trek philosophy that takes place. But watching the Enterprise rise out of the water, and seeing nothing in that but JJ Abrams whipping out his dick and slapping it on the table next to Joss Whedon's (who pulled the same SFX shot in last summer's 'The Avengers'), I decided I didn't want to watch anymore. It's one thing to say that you're flushing the old continuity so that you can tell new, up-to-date stories featuring these beloved characters. It's something else to throw out everything that makes these characters and their world beloved in order to make banal, set-piece action movies that could have been done with any backdrop, but are only going to sell tickets because they're parasitically leeching on the audience's positive identification with the property.

Seriously -- think back to the first 'new Trek' movie. Other than the destruction of Vulcan, which was the big red flag waved to show 'this isn't your daddy's Star Trek', can you remember anything of any significance that happened in that film? Did any of the other major events of that film (Scotty inventing hyperspace transportation, the near-destruction of Earth due to a lack of planetary defenses, premature contact between the Romulans and Federation) have any effect on or were even referenced during this film? No? Can't say I'm surprised.

(As an aside, think for a moment how much more interesting the movie might have been had Benedict Cumberbatch fled to Romulus instead of the Klingon home world -- Romulus still exists in this universe, and the Federation would have to deal with the political fallout of having destroyed a ship full of Romulans (albeit one led by a Romulan who was insanely bent on the destruction of Earth and had already destroyed Vulcan). The events of the first movie might actually have had some impact on the development of the story in the second, rather than just being an excuse to blow a bunch of shit up, summer blockbuster style.)

Before yesterday, I couldn't remember how long it had been since I'd walked out of a movie theater before the film was over. Thanks to 'Star Trek: Into Darkness', I now know. When it comes to Star Trek, 'just a movie' simply isn't good enough.

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