Tag Archives: Star Trek Into Darkness

Movies Are Not Television

JossWhedonI was reading some angry debates on Facebook regarding a comment by Joss Whedon about THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and according to Whedon its lack of a proper ending.  Joss had this to say:

“Empire committed the cardinal sin of not actually ending,” Whedon noted during his 10-page deep-dive interview with Entertainment Weekly in this week’s issue. “Which at the time I was appalled by and I still think it was a terrible idea.”

To which your EW interviewer blurted: “You think Empire had a bad ending?”

“Well, it’s not an ending,” Whedon explained about the 1980 film, which had a cliffhanger leading into the next entry of the series, Return of the Jedi. “It’s a Come Back Next Week, or in three years. And that upsets me. I go to movies expecting to have a whole experience. If I want a movie that doesn’t end I’ll go to a French movie. That’s a betrayal of trust to me. A movie has to be complete within itself, it can’t just build off the first one or play variations.”

I think what Joss is onto is the problems with storytelling in movies and sequels today. It’s the fact that so many movies do not end when it comes to their stories. The thing about movies and franchises now is that they aren’t about good storytelling, they’re about driving the films forward and keep people coming back for more.  This isn’t television, and there’s a lack of respect for the medium of motion pictures as a result.  Television is more conducive to long term storytelling, because like the serials of the 1940’s, you can come back in only a week to get more of the story until it reaches its conclusion.  With movies, there is something wrong with having to wait 3 years or more for a story to continue or even end.  When you have a story and something to say, it’s about getting the message out to your audience, and it seems ponderous and almost silly to have to make them wait a year before the new chapter is released.  A movie needs to stand on its own and it needs to end.

That’s not to say that a movie like THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK is a bad film, it isn’t at all.  I wasn’t alive in 1980, but when that film came out, I imagine there were plenty of people who were probably pissed off they had to wait 3 years for the conclusion, RETURN OF THE JEDI, which for all the anticipation wasn’t anywhere near as good as EMPIRE. Star Wars in itself was based on the 1940’s movie serials where people would come back each week to find out what happened to the characters. But again, people only had to wait a week. It’s not simply a matter of nostalgia or entertainment value that counts. What matters most is the story and knowing when an artist has a vision or a message that is important to them. If it’s a movie they’re making, there comes a point where the artist needs to say what needs to be said and move on. Whedon talks about the need for movies having closure primarily because he and his family come from a television background. Television opens up the opportunity for better long term storytelling. We need more movies that can stand on their own and get their message across to audiences, even if it happens to be a sequel, it’s better sometimes if people who are unfamiler with the original aren’t completely abandoned because of the sake of continuity.

Joss makes another point regarding the famous gun scene in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and how it was redone in TEMPLE OF DOOM for no reason other than for the sake of fans service:

Joss Whedon: Fan service can be a nice thing in movies that feature characters who people genuinely love. But fan service like the gun scene in Temple of Doom — and those like it — just make everyone involved feel stupid. I enjoyed Star Trek Into Darkness, but the worst part of the movie was the almost complete recreation of the Kirk-Spock death scene from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. It’s not so much that J.J. Abrams, Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof did recreate that scene, it’s that they did so in an effort to make people watching say, “Oh, I get it.” Great! I mean, of course you “get it.” How could you not get it? Everyone gets it. That’s the problem. The best kind of fan service is when very few people get it. Being beat over the head with a reference to a prior movie isn’t fun for anyone.

Fan Service as well means giving power over to something else, winding up taking away the energy of the film your trying to make. The idea of playing onto the audiences nostalgia, through self referential material or, say, parody, makes it difficult to create a unique and original experience for the audience. It’s as Joss says. We “get it”, but it serves no greater purpose except as an easy way to play on audience satisfaction.  We lose something as a result.  I have to say when it comes to fan service and parody, I found those things to be tempting to put into my own work.  But it makes it hard because many times parody can be an easy out  for poor writing.

Continuity is a tricky thing when it comes to movies and in essence it’s much harder to pull off.  The problem with trying to establish a movie franchise or a series of continuing sequels is that story lines tend to wander, and often times the character may lose sight of the thing they were after in the first place.  It’s why its important for a story to hold its own and conclude.  People shouldn’t have to wait so long to get the message, and at the very least if you’re going to make them wait and invest so much time in it, there had definitely better be a reason or a good payoff by the end.

Advertisements

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) Dir. J.J. Abrams

STID3

I’m not sure how I would categorize myself when it comes to being a Star Trek fan.  I watched all of the Original Series, and admittedly I’m not as huge a fan of it as I am with Next Generation and DS9.  I can’t recite plots for you, I don’t own any of the books with the schematics for how the Enterprise works.  But I know the basic rules of the series.  I know enough of the important things that hold it together.  Simple rules like the Prime Directive.  Or you can’t beam to the surface when shields are up.  When it comes to the Original Series, most of my knowledge about it comes from the first 6 Star Trek features, but I know the characters well enough to understand who they are and what their history is.  When I first saw the Wrath of Khan in 2004, I hadn’t watched all of the original series at that point, but I understood the meaning behind Spock’s death.  I understood that Kirk, Spock, and McCoy had a history that they shared together, over three seasons of televisions and two feature films.  There was also no guarantee at that point that Spock would ever come back.  Even though I knew there was a movie after The Wrath of Khan called The Search For Spock, I was still emotionally caught up in Spock’s death, and the movie was so well written as to make Kirk finally stare death in the face for the first time.  Even if you had no connection to Star Trek at all, you could understand the story well enough to let Spocks death have some sort of impact on you.  It’s that well written.  Everything about that story had built up to that moment, and it was just as beautiful, wonderful and as sad as any other pinnacle moment in motion picture history.

It seems almost idiotic and unbelievably stupid that anyone would try to redo that famous moment in film, but that’s what Star Into Darkness tries to do.  From the moment John Harrison is revealed to be Khan, I had a feeling the movie was getting itself into serious trouble.  This is like retelling the story of the Wrath of Khan from the perspective of Back To The Future 2, seeing the events unfold from another side.  But instead of being worked into the structure of good storytelling, it’s about nothing more than serving the fans of the original movie.  It takes advantage of the audiences naivety when it comes to storytelling by letting their emotions from another film influence them instead of the story we’re watching being able to hold its own.  The film also couldn’t let go of holding hands with the original series and walk on its own once Leonard Nimoy made a useless cameo appearance.  Elder Spock should have been smarter and not told anything about what happened in his timeline, because all he did was allow young Spocks emotions to get caught up about Kirk in a timeline that has nothing to do with him.  Elder Spock should have known this and not said anything.  But the moment has nothing to do with plot.  It’s all about giving fans another reappearance from Spock.  It just goes to show how unwilling J.J. Abrams is willing to detach himself from the Original series, and from that point on the movie falls into disaster.  The moment I saw that Kirk was going in to save the warp drive of the failing ship, I knew what they were doing and what was coming.  I let out an audible “Jesus Christ” starring in disbelief that the film had completely lost its own sense of meaning and purpose to itself.  It couldn’t allow itself to be it’s own thing.  It had to take the easy path, keeping fans of the show unaware that there was no real story here to begin with..  For one thing, the fact that John Harrison is Khan, to Kirk and crew that doesn’t mean squat.  They don’t know who he is.  There is no relationship between them yet.  As of this moment, there even still isn’t enough of a relationship between Kirk and Spock for Spock to shed any tears over Kirk’s “death”.  On an emotional level, the scene makes absolutely no sense.  The people who are getting caught up in the scene emotionally are getting caught up in their emotions from the Original Series.  J.J. Abrams is letting somebody else’s movie drive his film.  In the two Star Trek films Abrams has directed so far, I don’t see how Kirk and Spock could have established any sort of real relationship to make Spock shed tears over his death.  Spocks emotions are based on what Elder Spock told him about the other timeline.  To follow such emotions from somebody elses timeline is…er…illogical.

In fact, I think the new series has failed to establish the primary relationship that does matter: the trio of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy.  It’s these three men who are at the heart of Star Trek.  The new films so far have failed to build up their relationship together.  McCoy is rarely there when the three of them are a group.  As far as the two main characters go, Kirk spends more time cutting off Spock any time he has something important to say.  It made more sense from the first film when the two men were at odds with one another.  I still haven’t seen them go through enough for their relationship to mean anything.

STID1

First, the opening sequence makes no logical sense.  It’s pure action drivel with very little development put on the characters.  It’s not just the fact that Kirk revealed the starship to a race of primitive aliens, the entire mission is a violation of the prime directive.  If the volcano is going to wipe out their civilization, then the Federation can’t interfere with the evolution of the planet or the destruction of a species.  Kirk from the series was known for violating the Prime Directive, but at least his reasons made sense, and he wasn’t about to start impacting an entire ecosystem.  Second…why was the ship underwater again?  I couldn’t understand why they couldn’t keep the ship in space, except for the reason to have a “hey wouldn’t it be cool to see the Enterprise burst out of the ocean” moment.  Third…why could they not beam Spock through water?  In The Wrath of Khan, they could beam through the center of planet.  In Star Trek TNG, there were cities on Earth built underwater where people could be beamed in and out.  If they can beam through rock, why should beaming through water be any different?

The next thing that happened bugged me even more.  The story presents a plot issue that Kirk has his command taken away from him, which we think is going to be a driving story point.  After making a big mistake, Kirk has to prove himself to regain command of the Enterprise.  But all it takes is the death of Captain Pike in the next scene before Kirk is given his ship back.  So any sense of drama that might have related to Kirk losing the captains chair and fighting his way back to it are completely extinguished.  I also can’t relate to Kirk feeling emotionally lost about losing the Captains chair because quite frankly he deserves it.  And he just turns into a whimpering baby over it.  Also, as far as Khan killing Captain Pike goes, I just don’t think there’s enough of relationship between Kirk and Pike to justify Kirk’s need for revenge.  We have to be reminded of Pike giving command to Kirk in the first place from the first film, taking him under his wing and acting like a surrogate father to him.  But it’s not enough to drive an entire emotional arc of a film.  I sometimes think Kirk has the emotional stability of a high school kid, and one would think they would put a person with some ounce of maturity in the Captain’s chair.  It made a little more sense in the first film, which established Kirk as being somewhat of a prodigy, even if he was unruly.  But with his maturity level here, he seems undeserving of command, and I wish the film had spent more time forcing him to see this side of himself instead of instantly giving him back the Enterprise.

And then there’s the completely messed up logic in the build up to Kirk’s death, which is the Wrath of Khan moment in the story.  The Enterprise is falling out of orbit and Kirk has to realign the warp core to power the main thrusters.  Umm…I don’t read Enterprise technical manuals, but I know that’s not how the Enterprise works.  The warp core powers the warp drive.  NOT the Thrusters.  That’s why in any Star Trek series, when the warp core gets knocked offline, the ship can still run on impulse (i.e. THRUSTERS).  It’s one of these imbecilic design flaws where all the ships power is connected to one circuit breaker.   It worked in Wrath of Khan because Spock had to fix the Warp Drive and send the ship into warp to get away from the Genesis explosion.  As far as Spock screaming Khan and turning into the Vulcan terminator, they try to turn Spock into a badass, but without any of the buildup to it.  It made me think like they were trying to do an Iron Giant moment, like when the Giant loses himself and turns into a killing machine.  We don’t see Spock struggling to control his emotions except for getting into whiny high school banter with his girlfriend Uhura.  The fight presumably being that Spock showed no feeling towards Uhura about how she would feel if the Enterprise would have left him to die in the volcano.  Umm…Uhura…that’s part of service in a military operation when it comes to giving your life for service.  If she’s that emotionally impaired, what is she doing in a military operation like Starfleet?  It just tells me even more that this crew is not ready to be piloting starships around the galaxy.

STID2And about Carol Marcus, another layover from Wrath of Khan…she serves absolutely no purpose to the film.  She could be taken out of the film and have almost no effect on the outcome of the story.  She’s that forgettable.  Also, why is her father piloting a starship bigger than the Enterprise?  The Enterprise is supposed to be the most advanced ship in Starfleet.  Why is there a ship out there that looks like a Star Destroyer?

Once again we have another summer film that builds on everything that was familiar and had come before.  This film gives more power to The Wrath of Khan than it does to itself.  I think this is by far the worst Star Trek film ever made, because it never allows itself to be it’s own thing.  It goes against the promise of the first Star Trek that we would see the crew go on new adventures, and I thought the very idea of separating itself by having the characters in a separate timeline was done so it would NOT INSULT the fans of the original series or Star Trek in general.  For people who say they still prefer this film over Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, I say this…as bad as that film was, at least it was an original story and at least it had the guts to be its own thing.  This film never follows through on any of it’s consequences.  Unlike Wrath of Khan, we know Kirk isn’t going to die, and that by the end of the film he’ll be back.  And also, what the hell was that moment where we hear Khan crushing Scotty’s head…and then a few minutes later when they transport back Scotty is fine?  I thought they were implying Khan had killed Scotty.  The rest of the crew as well just doesn’t have any solid, memorable moments like they did in the first film.  There are absolutely no serious stakes or consequences that are followed through.  Khan is nowhere near the murderer he was in Wrath of Khan.  In that film, he killed and slaughtered everyone in the orbiting science station.  Also, the fact that Kirk has a brief alliance with Khan doesn’t do anything to build up the hero/villain relationship.  They are not mortal enemies yet.  They don’t know what either person is capable of.  Everything about this film gives more power to The Wrath of Khan than it does to itself, and it denies us any chance of getting invested in this new crew and their mission.  I don’t think I have any reason to continue watching the next Star Trek.  J.J. Abrams and his team of writers have no understanding or willingness to make their own mark on the Star Trek universe, or allow themselves to take chances and mark their own course in the series.  If he can’t let himself go there with Star Trek, what makes anyone think he’s going to make a difference with Star Wars?

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) Dir. Robert Wise

STTMP   STTMP4 STTMP5

On the heels of a new J.J. Abrams Star Trek film, I’ve decided that I’m going to watch and review all the Star Trek films in order, leading up to the release of the new film.  To be perfectly honest, I don’t have terribly high hopes for the new Star Trek just based on the advertising campaign, and I’m not really thrilled of the notion of showing a post apocalyptic version of Star Trek.  But it is Star Trek, and I am a fan, so will be seeing it.  Somehow watching all of the other films beforehand might help me build my immunity in case the new film is a travesty.  At any rate, I hope you enjoy this series leading up to the new films release!

Star Trek: The Motion Picture is a film I haven’t seen in a while and probably for good reason.  It’s easily the slowest and most difficult Star Trek film to sit through.  That doesn’t mean it’s a bad film though.  It’s got some interesting elements of science fiction, particularly the return of the Voyager spacecraft as an emerged consciousness.  This Trek film also sports the best model work out of all the Trek films (yes, even the new ones).  But the visual effects are part of the films difficulty as for many sequences we have to sit through what feels like several minutes just showing off the Enterprise, or even longer scenes of of the Enterprise moving through the alien spacecraft.  It’s all pretty to watch, but it feels like it drags the story to a snails pace, when our biggest concerns should be with the characters and their personal issues.

STTMP2

Thankfully the film picks up after the arrival of Dr. McCoy, and Deforrest Kelly adds a lot of much needed lightness and humor.  This Star Trek film I found to be the most difficult to connect with the characters, in that so much time is spent in between the spectacle and trying to move the story forward that I felt it difficult to engage with any one characters issue.  It feels like we’re scattered equally among separate character motivations, and there isn’t anyone in particular that’s a driving force for the film.  Kirk is rusty behind the wheel of his ship, having not served as Captain for over two years.  His problems “competing” with Commander Dekker seem somewhat petty.  It’s not like Star Trek 2, where more attention is focused on Kirk’s aging and dealing with his mortality, as well as his usefulness to Starfleet.  This film taps into that a little bit, but I never get enough of the sense of Kirk leading the way here.

As for Spock, he’s got problems of his own, being turned down in a ritual to purge himself of all emotion.  Spock joins the mission to seek out this alien threat, which is based in logic, for his own search for meaning.  There is even some wonder among the crew if Spock’s personal ulterior motives might end up sabotaging the mission.    But again, there is a lack of drive in the story to give us more investment in the kind of mythological heroes journey he undergoes here.  It’s that lack of who and what to focus on that doesn’t do much to bring everything together by the end of the film.  There was something about Spock’s story that didn’t make a lot of sense to me.  Why is this journey to find himself happening for him at practically middle age (ignoring for a moment the Vulcan’s prolonged lifespan)?  If this ritual of his to find his life purpose were happening at a younger age, maybe it would be understandable about what he’s going through to want to have all emotion purged.  But for a character like Spock to be struggling and moping that he doesn’t know who he is seems out of touch for the character we know who is wise beyond his years.  The message seems almost too obvious by the end of the film, about logic embracing with emotion and humanity.  This seems like something he would already know about himself, and if anything, he would have been put to more use serving as a guide for the Voyager entity to understand its purpose than trying to figure out his personal problems.

STTMP3

One of the more interesting characters for me was Captain Decker (Stephen Collins), who holds his own as a commander, and thankfully the writers never stoop to giving him a cocky attitude by comparison to Kirk.  Decker actually makes all the right decisions when he knows more about the ships newer operations than Kirk.  However, we aren’t given enough time in the film to really feel much for his relationship with Ilia, especially to make their sacrifices at the end more powerful.  We get the two have a relationship and a history, but the film doesn’t do enough to explore it as there’s just too much else going on.  There just doesn’t feel like much behind the sacrifice to mean more than just the message of technology and humanity embracing.

I find it interesting that during this period with the rise of computer technology, there were many films that talked about the debate of whether technology would overrun us or if humanity would prevail.  We saw this previously with Star Wars with Luke having to shut off the machine and trust his instincts.  I’m also reminded of Tron and the image of Flynn at the end diving into the MCP, and the two merging to become one.  Although I think Tron makes a bigger connection thematically than Star Trek: The Motion Picture does.  This film also seems more bogged down in seriousness than other Star Trek films, which is why Bones is so desperately needed by the time he shows up.  The aging Trek crew doesn’t hit their stride until the next film came along, which makes this film, for me, the most difficult to sit through.  I know for most people they say Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is the worst Trek, but I actually love that film.  I admit it’s a terrible film, but I actually love it for its stupidity and outrageousness, and most of all, to me, it’s still more fun than this film.  There’s plenty of dazzling visuals in this movie, and it achieves some of the greatest model work in motion picture history.  But the plodding, serious story, and too much time spent glamoring on visual effects shots over moving things forward gets in the way of what could have been a more fun and engaging science fiction story.

STTMP6

#StarTrekTheMotionPicture #StarTrekReviews #FilmCriticism #FilmReviews #moviecappastartrek