Why I Didn't Like Star Trek
By Andrew Looney
With a few notable exceptions, everyone from trusted friends to famous film critics are saying great things about the new Star Trek movie. I however found it disappointing, increasingly so the more I think about it. Since people keep asking me why I didn't like it, I've decided to write down my objections.
Before going any further, let me acknowledge the good things, of which there were many. I thought the new cast did a great job of reviving the classic characters, and I enjoyed many scenes. It was well acted, and well made. I even liked the look -- I would have preferred a closer adherence to the original set designs, but while many have complained about all the lens-flares, I kind of liked the bright shiny look of the future.
My problems are all to do the script. Geez what a lame, trite, rushed, illogical, and ultimately disappointing mess that story was. I sum it all up with one new word: OverTheTopism.
I remember reading a quote awhile ago from director JJ Abrams (whose work on Lost I'm a huge fan of) who said he wanted the film to be a nonstop roller-coaster ride of action, or something like that. He confessed to not really being a Trek-fan, and wanting to bring more excitement to the franchise. And this is what I'm complaining about.
For starters, why did this have to be yet another OMG-Someone's-Trying-To-Destroy-The-World story? This was our big chance to see the history of Kirk and company in their days at Starfleet Academy, and while we did get some of that, I felt cheated by how little we actually saw. All we really got was the infamous Kobiyashi-Maru test. We were short-shrifted on the "Academy Days" movie fans like me have been looking forward to for almost 20 years, primarily because so much storytime had to be devoted to the big boring Save The World plotline. They could have taken a tip from the Harry Potter franchise and gone deep on life at Starfleet Academy... instead, it was all a big rush to get Kirk into that Captain's chair on with saving the galaxy again.
Another form of OverTheTopism that bugged me was the repeated amazing success they had with the Transporters. Transporter technology is one of the more absurd notions to begin with, but they really push the limits of Belief Suspension with this one. For example, it's bad enough that Chekov is able to lock onto and beam to safety two characters who are falling from the sky without a parachute, but to ramp up the action, Chekov has to run down to the Transporter Room from the Bridge during the fall. And then of course, he succeeds perfectly, snatching these moving targets up to the Enterprise when they were so close to impacting the ground that bits of dirt come along with them. Puh-leeze. And that's just one of three amazing Transporter tricks in this movie!
One sequence in the film stands out in my mind as typifying the many problems I'm talking about. Captain Pike leaves the Enterprise, appointing Spock as the new Captain and Kirk as First Officer. Kirk and Spock have an argument and Spock says "Get him off my ship." Kirk has many ridiculous adventures and then, thanks to amazing Transporter trick #2, he succeeds in reboarding the Enterprise.
OK, firstly, I can't buy for a nanosecond that a new Captain would actually have his First Officer ejected from his ship, no matter how bad the insubordination. He'd just throw him in the brig, if not simply confining him to quarters. (Never mind that Kirk had gotten on the ship illegitimately -- by now, he'd been field promoted by Captain Pike, and Kirk had every right to be on the Bridge at that point.) Frankly, it seems to me like Kirk's ejection from the ship would be a court-martial-worthy offense. What if Kirk had been killed on that ice-covered moon? As he should have been, given what happened there. Speaking of which, what do the giant monsters on that icy moon eat when they can't get Starship Captain? And wouldn't the huge monster have just stopped and eaten the medium sized monster instead of tossing it aside to chase after a bug like Kirk? And most of all, what are the odds against Kirk landing in the same neighborhood as Old Spock? I mean, come on! There's coincidences and there are absurdities, and this kind of thing is just ridiculously Over The Top. And then what happens? Oh, hey - here's Scotty! Sure, why not? We've already had one ludicrously unlikely encounter on this moon, so why not two?
But now we get to the thing that really really bugs me. Spock has taken the Enterprise off to chase after the bad guys who, yawningly predictably, are on their way to Destroy The Earth. They are flying away at warp speed the whole time Kirk is battling Ice Monsters, getting caught up with old Spock from the Future, hiking over more ice fields to find the secret Siberian base where Scotty has been hanging out with an Ewok, getting aquainted, and watching as Old Spock gives Young Scotty an impromptu class on Engineering formulas he'll supposedly create in the Future. Meanwhile, during however many hours all that must have taken, the Enterprise has been zooming away from them at many times the speed of light. And then, Kirk and Scotty get into a Transporter and somehow beam all the way back onto the Enterprise as it travels yet further away from them at faster than light speeds. This is somehow accomplishable because of a secret formula Spock says Scotty will invent in the future. There are several problems here: first the obvious time travel paradox that no one ever actually creates the formula, second, that Scotty (in my knowledge anyway) never devised such a formula, because thirdly, IT'S JUST TOTALLY IMPOSSIBLE! A beam moving at the speed of light cannot catch up with a ship travelling faster than light! Not even when aimed by Scotty! It's well established that you cannot beam such a long distance as from one star system to another.. after all, why would you even need starships if you could travel that far on a beam of light? People would just beam from one planet to the next if that were the case. But not only do they succeed at an outrageously long distance beam, they land on a ship traveling faster than light. I appreciate the desire to make this a fun Silver-Streak sort of story, where the main character gets thrown off the moving vehicle then gets back on, but this just can't work. It's just too far OverTheTop.
Which brings me to the time travel paradoxes. Much I love time travel stories, I wish they hadn't gone there in this movie. Was it all just an excuse to trot out an original actor One More Time? Was it worth all that to include a Nimoy cameo? I thought this was supposed to be about a fresh new start. If they were feeling so beholden to the originals, why didn't they make the ships and sets look more authentic? And if Spock really came back to this point in time, wouldn't he want to warn himself about things to come, at the very least the mistakes he makes 100+ years from now that set everything in motion? Similarly, doesn't it ever occur to anyone on that ridiculously oversized Romulan spaceship, as they sit doing nothing for the full length of Kirk's childhood, that maybe Fate sent them back in time to prevent the destruction of their homeworld, rather than plotting an over-the-top revenge on some guy whose crime was promising but failing to save said homeworld? They've got 100+ years to develop a plan to succeed at what Spock couldn't do because he didn't start working on it until the last minute. (Plus, they could invest in the Romulan stock market, etc...)
This is the kind of stuff that was bugging me all through the movie, and I could go on and on. Big issues, like why was everyone on the Enterprise bridge, other than the Captain, a freshout from Starfleet Academy? Shouldn't those new cadets have been assigned to less important positions on the ship, while experienced crewmen did the driving? Little things, like the idea that Spock was one of the programmers on the Kobiyashi-Maru test and had been doing so for 4 years, yet couldn't figure out how Kirk accomplished a cheat. And what was with that fleet of shuttlecraft all flying up to the orbiting space dock? Why didn't they just use Transporters? Surface-to-ship transit is what transporters are all about! And why didn't Earth (or Vulcan for that matter) have a Planetary Defense System that would have responded immediately to the attack by the giant drill thingy? At the very least, I'd think Star Fleet Academy would have been protected by a simple phaser turret that could have knocked that giant drill thingy out of the sky with one shot. Lastly, why would anyone carry around a huge ball of that red matter stuff if a tiny dot of it is so volatile as to be capable of destroying an entire planet? What is that stuff, anyway?
But the thing that bugs me the most right now is the destruction of planet Vulcan, and the reasons for it. The events we glimpse of the far-distant future, in which Old Spock tries but fails to save Planet Romulas, which result in Spock having to watch as his own planet is destroyed in retaliation, is like, a major bummer, dude. What a sad story to besmirch Spock's history with. Why was it necessary to burden Spock with a Negligent Genocide story to use as the backbone for a revenge story that spawned the entire stupid Save The World story? If anyone, it should have been Kirk -- he made plenty of enemies who might want to go back in time to kill him or blow up his planet. What a sad future we have to look forward to in this new alternate reality, in which Planet Vulcan has been destroyed. To me, that's not the kind of ending I want in a Star Trek story.
Like I said, there are plenty of things I liked abut this film. The scenes they did give us at Starfleet Academy were great stuff. Edit out all the time travel crap, replace it with more material from their days at the Academy, and end with a modest adventure featuring our heroes as ensigns and junior officers under Pike's continuing command, and you'd have the movie I was hoping for. That Star Trek would have been a great movie. This one was not.