Sunday, May 24, 2009

Star Trek Reboot

So by now everybody has seen the new Star Trek movie by J.J. Abrams. I blogged earlier about my giant skepticism. I saw it on opening Saturday at the Archlight in Sherman Oaks. I saw it again on the IMAX at the AMC16 in Woodland Hills. On Friday, I saw it a 3rd time with my brother Ben at the Pacific 21 in Winetka.

So what did I think about it? Well, I pretty well love it. You may have surmise that from the fact that I saw this movie 3 times in the theater. I staggered out of the Archlight in an overjoyed state of shock. I was amazed that J.J. brought it off. He did the impossible. Pretty astounding.

Lema {
I should note in passing that I recently discovered that J.J. Abrams is a Modo brother of mine. Brad Peebler of Luxology recently boasted on the Modo Modcast that J.J. Abrams is in the sales database. By all evidence, it appeared to be a personal purchase of Modo. strictly for his use.

Some key points to consider about this movie:
  1. For the first time in it's 42 year history, Trek is competitive with the other major science fiction movies in terms of visual effects. Trek has always had effects, yet Trek has never attempted to compete with Star Wars or Bladerunner or any other major work of Science Fiction/Fantasy. ILM boasted that they placed 60 minutes of visual effects shots in the final cut of Star Trek. Fully 1/2 of the movie consists of visual effects shots. They are dandy.
  2. A lot of the visual effects shots are highly reminiscent of cover art found on the 10,000 Star Trek novels that have been published since pros and fans started cranking these books out. The shots especially resemble covers done during the 1970s. Somebody did a study of Star Trek fan-art before planning these shots. That is pretty damn good politics and wise artwork. Some of that stuff was amazing. They were pretty thrilling shots for my imagination when I was a kid. They are amazing now.
  3. The new crew is good, but not entirely convincing. They got it done this time. However, they need to get better at it and more comfortable in their roles. I think they will be more confident after this glorious reception the critics and fans have given them. There are some problems here, but it is mostly good news.
There are some problems with the new Trek. As good and entertaining as this movie is it is not a perfect movie. The greatest single problem is a substantial loss of scientific realism, something that Trek eventually became famous for. Trek had its wild moments where some art-school screenwriter let a dastardly physical impossibility fly, or dropped piece of scientific nonsense in the middle of an important scene somewhere. However, especially in the latter times, Trek had a crew of Caltec, UCLA and MIT Chemists, Physicists, engineers and biologists consulting on the screenplays. These Ph.D. holding experts caught and eliminated the most ghastly errors art folks were inclined to make. They also beefed up the script in ways screenwriters could not have.

Spoiler Alert!

So what are these problems?
  1. How did Scotty wind up in charge of the Engineering section? Star Fleet in the habit of promoting invading Star Fleet offers from Delta Vega to Chief of Engineering? Who died? Did they tell us who died? When did Kirk or Spock say 'You are in charge of engineering'. I don't recall this moment.
  2. Delta Vega was not in the Vulcan star system. In the episode (#1) "Where No Man has Gone Before" we learn that Delta Vega is the most distant Federation outpost, near the galactic barrier at the "End of the Milky Way". Yet in this Trek Delta Vega must be a part of the Vulcan star system. Spock could not observe the destruction of Vulcan with his naked eye to the sky unless Delta Vega were a very close neighbor of Vulcan.
  3. If Delta Vega were that close to Vulcan, don't you think Montgomery Scott would have noticed a small quantum singularity appearing in his solar system? Do you think he might have noted that a near by planet... a famous planet... an important Federation planet... had been destroyed? Do you think he would have been so oblivious to everything but foot when Kirk and Spock show up?
  4. When the final plan to destroy Nero's ship is being hatched on the bridge of the Enterprise, a lot of dialog and logical steps are missing. The plan is not stated well at all. The scene is to brief and too fast. We needed a mission impossible style meeting to form up the game plan. We did not get it. The final attack feels half-assed, and seat-of-the-pants.
  5. Spock Kamikaze's the Jellyfish into the Romulan mining ship. This dumps the full load of Red Matter on Nero's ship. Why should we believe that the ship would survive this for couple of minutes of dialog? Why does the Enterpise need to shoot at the Romulan ship? They would all be dead as fucking in hell in no time flat as a consequence of the crushing gravity all around them.
  6. A Super Nova is too small to threaten an entire galaxy. According to, one Supernova occurs approximately ever 50 years in our Milky Way. We have not been destroyed in the past couple billion years, so these little bangs just don't do that much to disturb the 'hood. A Supernova destroys the local star system. If our sun were to go Supernova, God forbid, nothing in our system would survive. Everything out to the Kuiper Belt would be destroyed. A massive explosion would hurl all the active plasma off our sun's dead core at something pretty close to the speed of light. The Earth would be gone very quickly. Perhapse 10 or 15 minutes after the Nova began. 2 hours later, nothing would be left of our system. However, our closest neighbor Alpha Centauri would be largely unaffected by the event. Something like 4.37 years later, the Supernova would be visible from this vantage point. When a Super Nova strikes you don't have time to make plans, hash out agreements, launch a plan to thwart the Nova by dropping a quantum singularity in there. When a Super Nova strikes, any planet in its way is gone... very quickly. If Romulus is in the path of a Super Nova, Romulus is dead... very quickly
  7. I question the whole scene where Kirk exposes the fact that Spock is "emotionally compromised". No military ship allows a mutinous officer to confront the Captain in that manner. This is very questionable. The crew doesn't usually allow the Captain to strangle a mutinous officer on the bridge. Order would have been restored.
So my best advice to J.J. is the following:
  1. Make sure the new crew is working on their ensemble chemistry. The Classic Trek was all about the ensemble chemistry between the big 3 (particularly Kirk and Spock) and the supporting 4.
  2. Get a crew of scientific consultants to work with you on the next script. I could have fixed all of those screenplay problems myself in a day or so of work. A great crew of consultants would have added some really special sauce to the movie.