MovieRant: Exploring Star Trek into Darkness.

Star-Trek-Into-DarknessI’m sorry. I just have to go back and give Star Trek into Darkness another punch in the head.

The reason? Because people like it, they actually like it, and whilst I understand entertainment is subjective, whilst usually I will respect others’ opinions, as far as this movie goes (with Man of Steel close behind), I can’t.

To this end, I’m going to provide a breakdown of Star Trek into Darkness’s teaser to illustrate how moronic it is.

The Set-Up
Here’s a brief synopsis of the opening: the crew of the Enterprise are trying to stop a volcano from blowing up and wiping out a primitive race on an alien planet. Spock has entered the volcano to plant a Cold Fusion bomb (don’t ask), which’ll literally freeze the eruption (yes, Cold Fusion doesn’t actually mean it fuses stuff coldly, but what the hell), whilst Kirk and Bones are trying to get the aliens out of the kill-zone.

  • Just me but I’m always curious as to what occurs before we see a scene unfold, e.g. how did the characters get in the positions and circumstances they are in? What happened here? The Enterprise was just flying by, somehow detected an erupting volcano, and decided to save the planet? How unabashedly convenient.
  • In the universe of Star Trek, it’s not the job of Starfleet (Kirk’s employer) to save primitive worlds from natural (or any other) disaster. If that occurs, that’s simply bad luck. So, already, the movie’s managed one strike in not actually understanding its source material. But for the sake of reimagining Star Trek let’s accept that Starfleet crews zip around the cosmos playing good Samaritan.

1.10 ~ Kirk, dressed in blue robes and carrying some sort of parchment in his hands, runs from a temple. Angry alien natives stream after him.

  • Nothing wrong yet – that will be the last time I say that.

1.28 ~ Kirk runs into an alien bear
Kirk uses his phaser to stun the bear. The bear collapses revealing another blue-robed figure standing behind it – McCoy. McCoy exclaims that Kirk just stunned their ride.

  • Okay, how does this work? Kirk and McCoy go to the planet, they split up, Kirk goes to steal the parchment and McCoy tames a wild alien bear? The alien bear roars at Kirk, proving it’s not malleable. Also, whilst it’s big, it’s not elephant-big or elephant-shaped, which suggests they could ride it. This is here as a cheap scare and attempt at humour.
  • I’m unsure what McCoy’s purpose was coming on this mission. Going on available evidence, he does nothing but flee when it’s time to run. Maybe he should’ve just stayed behind.

1.50 ~ Plot reveal
The aliens are revealed to be humanoid but all white (perhaps body paint?) with black eyes. Kirk says he took something the aliens were bowing to. He gets on his communicator and says he’s got the aliens out of the ‘kill-zone’ and that Spock is all clear.

  • Spock’s action isn’t reliant on the aliens being clear of their temple. Theoretically, Spock could’ve taken his action at any point and the aliens would’ve never been the wiser.

2.10 ~ Sulu flies Spock down to the volcano through a thick black ash cloud. Uhura is also in the shuttle.
Spock asks Kirk whether the aliens saw him. Kirk claims they did not, Spock iterates that, ‘The Prime Directive clearly states that there can be no interference with the internal development of alien civilisations.’

  • Here’s the stupid thing: the aliens are either white or covered in white body-paint. The bulk of them wear yellow cowls and yellow loin-clothes. They have decorative markings on their bodies. Kirk went in masked in a blue robe. Even if they can’t see his face, he’s clearly not one of them. They clearly saw him, but let’s accept Kirk’s being glib.
  • Why are the others flying down in a shuttle? Why not just beam down to the planet? If they can’t beam into the volcano, why not beam to the top of the volcano? If for whatever reason they can’t beam at all, why do they have to fly the shuttle directly down into the volcano? Kirk says he’s luring the aliens out of the kill-zone, which means these are the only aliens who live around the mountain. Couldn’t the shuttle come from the other side?
  • Why is Uhura in the shuttle? Why would you bring the Communications’ Officer on this mission?
  • Spock states the Prime Directive, and yet this action they’re taking (to save the planet) clearly violates the internal development of the planet. Can you say, ‘Huh?’

3.10 ~ Spock plummets from the shuttle into the volcano

  • This is such a big part of the premise, that Spock had to go into the volcano. I can accept they might’ve said they couldn’t beam him in for whatever reason. But couldn’t they have beamed the bomb above the volcano and just dropped it in? When they bomb is set off, it didn’t need any specific placement or preparation so it could’ve just been lobbed into the volcano mouth.

3.30 ~ The conditions are too treacherous and Sulu wants to pull Spock out. Spock’s response: ‘Negative. This is our only chance to save this species. If this volcano erupts the planet dies.’

  • Really? One erupting volcano will destroy the entire planet?
  • Okay, working on the premise that one erupting volcano will destroy the ENTIRE PLANET, what was the point of Kirk’s mission to lure the aliens from the kill-zone? Apparently, the entire planet is a kill-zone.

4.05 ~ Sulu pulls the shuttle out.
The black cloud is too thick, the heat too severe, so Sulu makes a decision to ditch the shuttle. They suit up to jump into the water.

  • They’re worried about cultural interference and are ditching shuttles on the planet? At no point is any mention given to cleaning up whatever debris the shuttle has left behind.

5.15 ~ It’s revealed that USS Enterprise is parked under water..

  • Okay, just in case JJ Abrams didn’t get this: it’s called the ‘starship Enterprise.’ Without even going into the science of why it should be impossible to take a ship underwater, the entire premise of this movie so far has been to take discreet action to save the planet. Remember, Spock asked Kirk if Kirk was seen. Now tell me, how the hell did they park an entire starship underwater without anybody seeing it happen? Even if we can rationalise that they did it at night (accepting that everybody on the planet must be deaf and didn’t hear it occurring), surely something that big going underwater is going to cause massive water displacement – you know, floods, that sort of thing. And what about the damage to marine life? Starfleet is meant to be altruistic. In fact, they had a movie (Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home) with a strong environmental message (saving whales, preservation). But, don’t worry, let’s just park the ship underwater, kill all the marine life, and cause floods.
  • How long did it take to park the Enterprise under water? Why waste time with this pointless action when they’re concentrated on saving the planet and time seems to be of the essence?
  • Star Trek invented transporters, so they could beam crew to planets, instead of worrying about ship landings. At worst, they can take a shuttle down. So why take the whole ship down?
  • There are just too many stupidities involved in trying to rationalise why they would take the entire ship down instead of using any of the other facilities available to them, particularly when their actions are meant to be covert.

5.26 ~ Scotty: ‘Do you have any idea how ridiculous it is to hide a starship on the bottom of the ocean? We’ve been down here since last night. The saltwater’s going to ruin …’

  • You know what’s annoying here? This is the writers’ little tip to the audience that it’s all a bit of a joke, that they know they’re taking a bizarre course of action, and by having one of the characters acknowledging it, they’re aware of the audiences’ reservations and let’s all have a bit of a laugh about it. It’s an attempted distraction, subterfuge as if to fool the audience into believing we’re all in on the joke, when the truth is they should be questioning its idiocy.

6.06 ~ The volcano starts erupting and destroys the aliens’ temple.

  • Well, there’s the kill-zone – the filmmakers pointing out how by luring the aliens away, Kirk saved them … even though Spock has told us the whole planet will be destroyed.

6.11 ~ Shot of aliens reacting.
The aliens stare in horror at the destruction of their temple. Amongst the aliens are alien children and an adult cradling a tiny baby (perhaps only months old).

  • Let’s not forget that the aliens are out here because they pursued Kirk. So, seriously, did the kids come out on the chase, too? And did that one adult decide to take his baby on the chase?

6.15 ~ Kirk and co arrive back on the bridge of the Enterprise.
They establish Spock’s stuck in the volcano and they won’t be able to beam him out without a direct line of sight. Spock says the ash cloud could conceal the shuttle, but the Enterprise is too large, and would be revealed to the aliens.

  • Understandably, this isn’t going to matter to Kirk, because the aliens have already seen him. However, if the writers weren’t idiots, they would’ve realised it’d be a much more dramatic moment if we hadn’t already seen Kirk break the rules, and thus know he’d have no problem about breaking them again.

7.06 ~ Spock: ‘The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.’

  • This parallels what Spock says in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. It’s the writers’ attempt to engage an audience with their supposed intimacy of the source material. Of course, in the original timeline, this quote wouldn’t happen for at least another ten years, so this Spock is remarkably prescient.

8.00 ~ The Enterprise rises up out of the water in front of all the aliens.
The aliens are agape as the Enterprise flies out of the water and heads for the volcano. Spock is beamed from the volcano. The Enterprise heads for space. Spock’s Cold Fusion bomb detonates and freezes the volcano’s eruption. Kirk and Spock run to the transporter room to greet Spock. Spock laments Kirk let the aliens see their ship and that they violated the Prime Directive. Kirk isn’t perturbed. He says, ‘Oh come on, Spock, they saw us. Big deal.’

  • Throughout, this teaser, they push Spock’s concern about violating the Prime Directive, but every action they’ve taken to this point has flagrantly risked exposure.

9.36: The aliens dance and sway with religious fervour around one alien as he sketches an image of the Enterprise into the ground.

  • This is meant to illustrate the influence seeing the Enterprise has had on the aliens but, really, Kirk’s right: ‘Big deal.’ These aliens are virtually prehistoric. It’d be like flying a 747-Boeing over a group of cavemen. How would that impact on them? Sure, they’d marvel, but it’s not like that have either the intelligence to understand what they’ve seen, or the technology to attempt to emulate it. They’d draw it on a few cave walls, tell a story about it, and that’d be it.

That’s the teaser of the movie. And it’s dumb. Mindlessly, amazingly, overwhelmingly dumb.

I might go to a movie to switch off for a couple of hours and be entertained (well, hopefully) but when lobotomised plotting confronts you, what do you do? There really is no rationale for the writing (which just gets worse), other than to hope that dazzling the audience with effects will also switch off their brains.

Not me.

It’s just not good storytelling.

MovieRant: The Contemporary Blockbuster.

I had a couple of hours to kill the other week so I saw Monster’s University and was entertained from beginning to end. Here’s a film that tells a story, where the characters have arcs and the climax is justified for containing action – although here it is understated and clever, rather than over-the-top and in-your-face.

You have to commend Pixar, who regularly knock out great movies – movies you can enjoy whether you’re a kid or an adult.

Amazingly, using CGI, Pixar have the facility to be as outrageous and explosive as they want – there’s no limits with CGI, after all – and yet instead, the CGI is just a means to an end, rather than their entire existence.

Several months ago, I mowed through the Die Hard franchise. The original still stands up as an awesome action flick. Sure, it’s bubblegum fare, but it’s entertaining. There’s a story, the characters develop and evolve, you become invested in them and their world, and you root for them to emerge triumphant. Really, that’s all you can ask for, isn’t it?

As the Die Hards go on, the action grows progressively more extraordinary. In fact, you’d consider it breathtaking, if you actually still cared about anybody involved. Sadly, the protagonist (John McLane) is unrecognisable from the original. He’s just a stock action figure now, an homage to who he was in name only.

This has become the template for contemporary Hollywood. Forget the fact that you can stack up five Die Hard movies and point to the original still as – by far and away – being the best, even though it has less action, and those scenes it does contain seem tame by today’s standards. We know which is the superior movie, and yet instead of trying to reproduce it, go in completely the opposite direction.

There was a time that blockbusters were about story. You trusted the audience to become immersed and sit through the developing plot, usually to be wowed by occasional action sequences and to be overwhelmed by some extravaganza at the end. Like Monsters University, the conclusion wasn’t about the protagonist blowing up as many things (and people) as possible. It was another story in itself, the tale of what the protagonist has to achieve for the completion of his goal.

Take Raiders of the Lost Ark, for instance. Great story, great action, fantastic conclusion – a conclusion in which the hero, Indiana Jones, surrenders and is tied up whilst the Germans attempt to raise the power of the Ark, only with dire consequences. Given Indy’s wreaked a trail of destruction throughout the movie, you’d expect him to take on a Big Bad here – the ultimate antagonist – and then rescue the girl. Nope. Indy’s powerless throughout the finale.

Superman II has a similarly outstanding ending. Superman fights the villains in Metropolis. They’re evenly matched. In fact, Superman’s outmatched, since it’s three-to-one. Continuing to fight them will lead to his defeat, as well as the deaths of countless innocents. So Superman retreats, lures the villains to the Fortress of Solitude, and outsmarts them into giving up their powers. The filmmakers take a course here that avoids combat and explosiveness and the result is magnificent. It’s another finale that’s about more than a proverbial fistfight.

Of course, the story can deliver that, if it’s delivered well – the (logical) culmination of events which lead to an unavoidable confrontation. Take the granddaddy of blockbusters: Jaws. We spend the whole movie living in fear of what the shark might do. When it does kill or attack, it’s sudden, leaving us to deal with the repercussions of the assault – until the end. Then it’s Chief Brody versus the shark. The whole movie, Brody’s lived in growing terror of the shark threat. Now, his shark expert, Quint, has been eaten; his ally Matt Hooper is also thought dead; and Brody – who has a phobia of the water – must combat the shark while perched upon a sinking ship.

Compare that to now. I’ve seen all three Transformer movies, and I could not recall what their stories were about – something about good Transformers and bad Transformers, and (following a series of little fights) there’s a big fight at the end. The reboot of Spider-Man toyed with the origin of Spider-Man, stuck in a villain because that’s what you need in a superhero movie, and then unleashed with action, finishing with Spidey taking on the Big Bad. Star Trek into Darkness and Man of Steel followed an identical template: set up a loose plot, and then nothing but action – much of it contravening whatever rules these respective universes have established.

Worst of all, these movies make money because they do look amazing, they do sound amazing, and contemporary movie-going audiences just don’t seem to care that they’re shallow, don’t make much sense, and are ultimately forgettable. You have people defending them as great flicks. Take a look at the forums on IMDb.com and read the rationale behind why something like Man of Steel is such a great reimagining of the Superman character, or why Star Trek into Darkness is brilliant.

People just don’t get it. They’ve forgotten how to get it. Why should they even try when the filmmakers have stopped trying themselves?

I like to switch off when watching a movie, but not to the point where I have to switch off my intelligence, ignore the (numerous) plot-holes and the contrived plotting, accept the poor characterisations, and swallow it all as genius because the explosions are pretty and the soundtrack overwhelming and the franchise is deemed cool.

We’ve been reprogrammed into what we’re meant to accept as cinematic entertainment. TV’s getting the great drama with tight plotting, complex characterisations and layered arcs. Movies are now about franchises, about merchandising, about branding. It’s about lots of style, but little substance. And the masses keep lapping it up, enjoying it because superficiality is the standard, and filmmakers have become scared to attempt anything more meaningful for fear of losing their audiences, or just lazy because the formula seemingly guarantees box offices.

I just wish they realised they could have it all in a blockbuster – franchises, merchandises, branding, cutting edge special effects.

And stories, too.