Wherein I Succumb to My True Nature and Review The Latest Trek Film

Regular readers will not be surprised that I consider the release of the new Star Trek directed by JJ Abrams as infinitely more important than the usual subject matter of this blog. Unable to resist my true Trek nature, I will indulge myself in venting an unfavorable, spoiler-laden review below. For those who get the reference (and therefore have the level of “nerd cred” necessary to enjoy this), I can’t help but thinking of this as “Crisis of Infinite Enterprises.”

I promise to get back to hardcore policy next time.

Spoilers below . . .

Let me start by saying that my complaints about this are as a movie. I confess I would actually like some character development, or even just a visual rest, between the wild action scenes with weird jump cuts and death defying escapes and parents dying everywhere to the point of clichedom. I mean, it starts fun, but after awhile I’m like “OK, I no longer care about these people. And why is there a friggin’ steam turbine in the middle of a star ship engineering room other than to provide a stupid comic moment of ”lets flush Scotty through the habitrail which is conveniently transparent and has a convenient trap door.“ I’m come willing — nay, eager! — to suspend my disbelief. But at some point I need to actually see enough of these characters to give a damn what happens next.

The breaking point for me came when Amanda — Spock’s mother — Dies Tragically On Cue and without any suspense or pathos whatsoever. We arrive at the planet Vulcan, which is supposed to be one of the most advanced planets in the Federation, to discover that it has no defense fleet and no evacuation plan worth mentioning. Who the heck is in charge of FEMA Vulcan, T’Brown? He did a heck of a job. Then Spock gets all ”I must go rescue my parents personally because the most important people on all of Vulcan are going to be STUCK IN CAVE WITH NO ESCAPE in a major emergency. Spock then leads them through the Collapsing Cliche Cave, dodging boulders and mandatory falling pieces of giant statuary to Symbolize the Destruction of Vulcan while other Real Important Vulcans get squished like bugs to emphasize the narrowness of the escape. Then Hey! Amanda’s standing near the edge of the Collapsing Cliff of Doom when the transporter has the utter inexplicable one-time only five second delay. I wonder if something bad will happen. But I think it was the pathetic outreached hand that just tripped my “you have got to be kidding” reflex.

If you want me to suspend disbelief, I gotta give a crap. But every single scene was so over the top that I just couldn’t maintain any emotional connection. We start with the heroic and dramatic death of George Kirk who — for some reason — has his pregnant wife along on a military cruise. Because it wouldn’t be dramatic enough to have him die heroically for his plain ordinary crew and have the grieving widow at home — like too many actual soldiers today. We gotta save the pregnant wife who is — of course — going through labor during the attack. Because the only thing that induces birth in over the top movies more than life threatening disaster is being stuck in an elevator with total strangers. But, as we will discover, Starfleet, despite being a military organization, is not very big on “discipline” or “chain of command” — as evidenced by the fact that every captain leaving the ship appears to actually need to appoint some random crew person as the new captain and the new first mate.

We then get to see troubled Kirk Orphan as bad boy rebel. How exactly did the Grand Canyon get in Iowa? Because it wouldn’t be dramatic enough if the ten year old driving the Thelma & Louis style antique didn’t drive it into the Grand Canyon?

Next, we flash to dreamy rebel without a clue Kirk trying to pick up Uhura. So of course a bunch of fellow federation cadets decide to beat the snot out of offending townie and are interrupted by their commanding officer. Did I mention how Starfleet is not terribly interested in the idea of “discipline.” Because God knows that if a commanding officer walked in on four cadets beating the snot out of a helpless local kid in front of a bar full of witnesses they would not be taking the shuttle up to Starbase Academy the next morning, except maybe in irons before a court martial.

Mind you, as we discover later when Spock casually ejects Kirk onto a passing planet with deadly weather conditions and predatory animals, Starfleet apparently doesn’t design their ships with a brig. Probably they got replaced in the schematics by the steam turbine.

Speaking of the steam turbine, by the third “look, we materialized in the comically wrong spot,” it is not funny — just sad.

Oh, and there is a difference between people who make physics breakthroughs — like how to transport people from one planet to another — and people who are amazingly good at building and maintaining things. we call the first set of people “physicists” and we call the second group of people “engineers.” These are different skills. Really. No matter how much math engineers know, that doesn’t make them physicists. And no matter how good physicists are with theoretical breakthroughs, it does not mean they can build stuff.

I did mention the steam turbine in the engineering room, right? The one with the convenient trap door?

And don’t forget our tatooed friend Nero and the Giant Mining Ship of Doom. That is one hell of a well armed mining ship!! I mean, Jesus Christ! I know Romulans are warlike, but they put photon torpedoes on in-system mining ships? I guess they better, because not a single planet in the Federation apparently has a planetary defense grid. Although apparently Christopher Pike knew every single security code to let the Giant Super Mining Ship of Doom coast into our solar system. I guess Earthdome has a prefix code. Happily, of course, Romulan mining ships also come stocked with truth-cockroaches. Or perhaps they picked one up at the grocery store while hanging around in space 25 years while waiting for the magic plot contrivance to deliver the Red Matter McGuffin.

Mind you, the one thing I really liked about this was the plot contrivance to relaunch Trek 2.0, because we’ve now created an alternate universe where Voyager never needs to have happened. And Leonard Nimoy played Spock Prime perfectly. The other characters are also played well, given the “butterfly effect” explanation to change anything out of character.

But no “butterfly effect” can explain why a cadet gets to walk up to her commanding officer and get reassigned on her insistence during an emergency lift, or trying to comfort her commanding officer for the destruction of his planet and the death of his mom by jumping his bones in a turbolift. Nor can it explain the juvenile insults and fist fights on the bridge. Good thing Starfleet isn’t big on “discipline.”

Ah the fan boy voice again, lamenting a missed opportunity. Instead of boinking the green Orion chick, couldn’t Kirk have been boinking Carol Marcus? Not that boinking green Orion chicks isn’t cool too.

But I could forgive everything — except possibly the steam turbine — if the movie had just had enough substance to make me care. But I found myself feeling the same way I did about 2/3 of the way through the Skull Island sequences of King Kong. “Is it over yet? Oh look, we just transitioned to a scene and there is a brief pause, so I know something horrific will attack in 3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . .”

And did I mention the steam turbine? It really bugged me. Especially because I keep thinking of the Enterprise with a big paddle wheel behind it.

Stay tuned . . . .


  1. Interesting commentary, but you let emotion get in the way of analysis. I’ll agree with you on the pacing and on the “Starfleet Discipline” points, as I was a bit curious as to why a Starfleet happy to consider ejecting Kirk for a computerized practical joke was also willing to overlook the cadets’ behavior in beating him up prior to the oddest recruitment speech ever.

    1) It’s not the Grand Canyon. Nobody refers to it as the Grand Canyon. It’s not as deep as the Grand Canyon. It looks a lot like the quarry where lots of “Planet Hell” scenes were shot for both “Star Trek” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” albeit with a different skyline matted in.

    2) If I had the resources to manufacture transparent water conduits, I would do it. It’s a great convenience to be able to visually track water flow, to say nothing of being able to see if someone is working on the inside of the pipes. (The “transparent aluminum” no doubt used for the pipes was a wonderful callback to “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.”) The trap door would also be terribly convenient if someone were doing routine maintenance and fell victim to some chucklehead ignoring a “do not start” tag and powering the system up. (This happens in real life with electrical systems all too often.) The thing that looks to us like a steam turbine probably has something to do with separating deuterium into hydrogen and oxygen, or mixing hydrogen with antihydrogen.

    3) The death of Amanda Grayson was meant to be a sudden emotional gut-punch. Suddenness tends to rule out suspense. Also, that cave was probably quite geologically safe in any event except for a singularity being set off inside the planet’s core. It would only have been logical.

    4) You completely missed a major plot point about Nero and his mining ship: Nero modified the mining ship heavily after the destruction of Romulus in the future of the original timeline. This was noted by both Spock and Nero himself. Additionally, Earth does not have shields, as the energy requirements to shield an entire planet against an energy drill, contrary to what you might have seen in NBC’s “Buck Rogers,” would be prohibitive. Shielding an entire solar system would be right out. The reason Earth is so poorly defended was the same reason Enterprise was launched with a crew of cadets: most of the ships not sent out against Nero’s mining vessel, the Narada, were in The Laurentian system doing something extremely vital, and would not have made it back in time. All the rest of the ships did in fact warp out to confront Nero directly, since the Narada had just destroyed Vulcan and was now heading for Earth.

  2. I can forgive the starfleet discipline and engineering non-sense, which seems to me to be part of the Trek-fan bargain–though I’ll also acknowledge that complaining about them is probably the mark of even greater fandom.

    What I found inexcusable was the sloppy, incoherent time travel plot, which the average Trek TV episode usually handled better — not to mention JJAbram’s Lost.

    So Nero ends up stuck back in time, with the magic red stuff. So why doesn’t he scoot over to the (future) Romulus-destroying exploding star and zap it himself? Spock could have suggested this too, presumably.

    So the revenge narrative makes no sense. All the tragedy/sacrifice is undermotivated as a result. And all the explosions, comedy, and lens flares can’t make up the difference.

  3. Hi Harold! It’s Wayne. Love your review. I suggest you check out http://www.youtube.com/user…, who cruelly and comically reviews the awful Voyager series episodes “like a sailor with Tourette’s syndrome”. I just couldn’t stop laughing…

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