Monday, May 10, 2010

Star Trek

I recently saw the new Star Trek movie.  I did not like it.  This is not because they 'messed up the world'.  I know that it is an alternate reality where the continuity changed.  I think that it is simply a bad movie.  I could rant on at length about its many stupidities, but I do not feel like giving it that much time so I will only focus on one.

There was one scene in the middle that was particularly dumb.  Kirk had been marooned on a frozen snowball of a planet, and was trying to get to a Starfleet base, when he was randomly attacked by one alien monster, and then another one.  There are maybe five pointless minutes of him running from these monsters.  This did nothing for the plot, and had no drama or suspense at all.*  We know that Kirk is not going to get killed by a random alien monster in the middle of the movie.  Even if you had never heard of Star Trek, it would be obvious by this point in the movie that this was a Main Character that was not going to get randomly killed.  The scene was completely boring; I was just waiting to see what plot device would rescue him and how long it would take.

And then there was the fact that the actions of the monsters was senseless.  The second monster started chasing Kirk after it killed the first monster.  Why would it abandon a large, free food source to waste energy chasing a smaller one?  Predators do not act like that.  If it was just defending its territory, it would have been content to warn Kirk off with a threat display.  Even their existence was questionable.  There was simply not enough food on that section of the planet to support such a density of large, energetic monsters.  Even aliens on another world should follow the basic rules of ecology and animal behavior.

This is not a minor or incidental complaint.  Star Trek is supposed to be a science-based show.  In the past, things did make sense.  Whenever there was an alien monster in the original TV series, it would have good reasons for its existence and actions.  It would be a lone survivor of a dying world craving salt, or a silicon-based lifeform trying to protect its eggs from miners.  These kinds of things were what made the original series good.  Many of the episodes were decent science fiction, thought-provoking and original, set in a world that actually tried to follow the laws of science rather than the laws of Hollywood. 

Some of the episodes of later series were as good, and many of them were high-quality entertainment.  But in general, the new stuff has been a shallow, cargo-cult copy of the original, degenerating into a space soap opera with almost zero trace of the qualities of good science fiction.  This new movie is particularly bad.  It is a zombie, trying to cling to life by stealing the life-energy of the original characters.  I found it quite ironic that the last words of the movie were 'to boldly go where no one has gone before' when it is nothing but a low-quality rip-off of a genre, a world, even characters that have been done so many times before.

*The only way to consistently deliver real suspense is to cultivate a diverse collection of good, well-rounded, sympathetic secondary characters that both the audience and the main characters like, and then to kill off one or two of them each season.  This has to be done carefully.  If you kill them too often, the audience sees them as disposable and refuses to connect with them.  A good percentage is perhaps one real death for every five or six times a secondary character is put in a dangerous situation.

Stargate:SG1 managed this trick.  I was watching our DVD collection recently, and was reminded how good that show was, at least in the middle few seasons.  It is still one of my favorites.  There are a few bad and mediocre episodes and scenes, and the whole thing started to fall apart near the end, but the ratio of good stuff to bad is consistently high.  I especially like the way that they do a good job of exploring moral questions, and how characters make mistakes and must deal with the consequences.

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