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Old May 17 2009, 11:02 PM   #1
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Could we Trekkers have saved the Trek XI script? [SPOILERS]

I'll start with the requisite warning that I'm opening this thread for folks who have already seen the Star Trek XI movie, so my lead-in and others' follow-ups will be full of SPOILERS.

A lot of the feedback I'm hearing from folks who have apparently seen the film and liked it thoroughly, directed toward long-time Trek fans who have raised some complaints, is that they should all take Shatner's advice and get a life. Stardates aren't always going to mean the same thing, planet Vulcan doesn't have to exist in order for the show to be interesting, and Scotty doesn't have to be as tall as James Doohan -- essentially, I'm hearing, "Get over it."

As someone who has been a Trek fan since the Original Series first entered syndication in the early '70s, I can say that I'm very pleased that this film is fulfilling its primary mission of introducing a new audience to this long-running work of global folklore. On the whole, it's the requisite summer blockbuster, this year's "Iron Man" (oooh!). Yet I've had to restrain myself a thousand times from trying to take a paper towel to the camera lens; and while folks were looking for the rumored R2-D2 "Easter egg" (or the roll of duct tape that appeared on Chekov's panel during a few frames of the trailer), my wife and I were looking all over the new Enterprise for the little rotating siren that signals the Blue Light Special. And while there's no way I could ever match the musical feat of Jerry Goldsmith, who during the first film built a classical-quality score to accompany a bunch of guys in pajamas staring at an outdoor laser show for an hour and a half, I could hum a better musical score to Trek XI while pedaling up a Category 1 hill in the Tour de France.

So yes, I nitpick, and this is despite Trek XI's fabulous casting, with mostly superb choices (Karl Urban especially). And it's despite the fact that the movie did address one of my perennial pet peeves, which has been that characters during the Rick Berman era tended to morph into "Next Generation People," who even when they're threatening to kill each other or making love to one another, converse like an automated bank-by-phone menu. ("It would be appropriate to become better acquainted with you." "That is also my sentiment." "Then we are in agreement. Press 2 to continue.")

But I have a big problem with this film, and it's not that it "violates canon" and therefore "ruins Star Trek for me for all time" -- it doesn't. Nothing can. It's much simpler, actually: I don't think this movie tells its story well.

The movie follows a sort of "tunnel logic," where it doesn't always matter how we get to the next scene as long as we get there. If it can shortcut from point A to point T without passing through B or C or S, then let's do it. Hopefully the pace of the film is brisk enough, and the score sounds enough like riding over grocery store speed bumps in the trailer bed of a U-Haul, that the viewers won't have time to notice. And that's a shame because Star Trek, of all things, should be about telling a good story, and if it's not doing that, then it may as well not be Star Trek.

Last week, I was reading Phil "Bad Astronomy" Plait's excellent review of the science of the film, including what was both right and wrong with it and how in some cases, what was wrong could have been corrected with something that was right...without jeopardizing the fun and excitement of the film. That got me to thinking in this direction: If the film truly is good enough, then it should have been able to tell a better story and still hold on to the audience who enjoyed it because it was fun and exciting. Put another way, why couldn't the same good film have told a good story?

So let me see if I have this straight (again, folks, SPOILERS): We learn that Uhura has been listening to some transmissions and, golly gee, Sgt. Carter, that Vulcan discussion channel sure sounds like Romulan to her. Never mind that this cadet is listening in on private conversations anyway (I guess Federation intelligence is pretty bad off these days, it's outsourcing its operations to cadets). And like the guy stationed in Hawaii who thought he heard Japanese voice traffic that December day, Uhura rushes to tell...her Orion roommate during a gratuitous clothes-changing scene.

Where young cadet Kirk just happens to be hiding under the bed. For history's sake, in later years, Admiral Kirk will be able to tell the kiddies that Earth was saved because he happened to be under the right girl's bed at the right time -- a lesson we should all take to heart. And armed with that knowledge, Kirk takes a cue from Uhura and does...nothing important with it, at least not now. Until after being sneaked into sickbay, Kirk happens to hear the message from Chekov (who, incidentally, outranks Kirk at this moment in time), puts two and two together, and rushes to the bridge where he remembers to tell Capt. Pike the bad news, albeit looking partly like the Pillsbury Dough Boy. Finally, someone in authority has been given the information, and Uhura validates Kirk's story. For their negligence, they both get promoted, which sets a pattern that the film will repeat in later moments.

Later, Kirk gets kicked off the ship, in a tribute to Wile E. Coyote falling off a cliff. Though unconscious, he lands his escape pod just 500 yards or so from Old Spock. Luckily, an octopusasaurus is on hand to direct Kirk to Spock, and it's nice that there's such a handy welcoming committee on hand. Once in the cave, Old Spock "tells" Kirk the story of how he screwed up by allowing Nero and his crew to spend the last quarter century waiting patiently to fall through a wormhole, then to capture him without a fight, and to deposit him on a planet with a natural Imax theater for an atmosphere, where he can watch Vulcan be blown to smithereens. Conceivably he could also have watched Vulcan be decimated from the comfort of a prison cell on the Romulan ship, but that wouldn't have been convenient for the story, would it? And apparently Spock's quite comfortable on Delta Vega too, because there's a Starfleet outpost within a few kilometers of the drop zone. Yet it wasn't worth Spock heading in that general direction in the first place to see if there's someone there who could beam him up (which there was), or whether it had a guy on hand who in the future is capable of transporting folks between distant objects moving at warp speed (which it did). No, this was far more convenient for the sake of the film, because you can't have a plot complication if you pay too much attention to how you can resolve it.

And this pattern keeps going on and on, where we keep finding new and even more convenient ways to escape to the next scene. Young Spock discovers that he can make a dent in the Romulan ship using this newfangled technique called firing at it, which not even Old Spock figured out. Young Kirk follows along behind and does some more of this firing at it, which is a brilliant discovery that's pretty effective, but you have to admit Kirk was just doing a me-too act at this point. But when it comes time to promote someone, do they promote Young Spock? No, they promote Young Kirk, because well, how else is he going to be Captain for the next film?

People who left the theater after having been on the roller-coaster ride they expected may have had a lot of fun, but after it's all done, did they actually see a Star Trek story? I would argue, perhaps not. Because one of the principal elements of Star Trek is the value of friendship and loyalty and honor. And while this film presented itself as showing us how the friendship of Kirk and Spock came about, it didn't. Toward the very end, it had Old Spock come up to New Spock and say, "You really should be friends with this guy," and that was it. Three decades of tried-by-fire comradery proven worthless in the face of a suggestion by a guy from the future who couldn't even shoot straight. Why? Because there appeared to be only three minutes of film in which to wrap this up, and it had to be done quickly and conveniently.

Never mind that this movie may not have been true to the established Trek storyline; as far as telling a good story goes, it wasn't true to itself.

Now, you have to commend Paramount for successfully keeping much of the script under wraps for as long as it did. Perhaps the studio accomplished this feat by leaking enough of the story details through explicit trailers and sneak previews that the street value of the script was lowered to a buck ninety-five. But given that, how much would it have hurt the studio to have gotten a hold of a dozen or so regular Trek fans, taken them out for pizza, and listened to them for an hour -- folks like us who know a good story and who understand the value of continuity (for some reason the name "Okuda" pops to mind)? We could have shown these guys how to get from point A to point T by zipping through all the spots along the way, keeping an airtight story, and the director could still have maintained the same frenetic pace, the same dime-store decor, and the same junior high school marching band.

At least that's what I think. The question is, to paraphrase Ben Cross, which path do we choose? If ordinary Trekkers could tell a better story, shouldn't we demonstrate how it's done? Because let's face it, there are going to be sequels. And although we're being promised that now Trek is capable of going where it's never gone before, the scriptwriters are already talking about Khan, and perhaps making him the owner of an Iowa delicatessen that Kirk frequented as a 10-year-old stock-car racer.

So I'd like to open the floor and see if, by putting what's left of our heads together, we could demonstrate a synopsis of essentially the same story as Star Trek XI, told with at least the level of attention to detail as the campiest third-season 1968 TV episode.

DF "Let's See, I've Got a Killer Spaceship, I Know the Time Travel Formula, I Can Go Back And Tell Myself What Not to Do to Save Romulus...I Wonder If Nero Will Let Me Borrow His Bathroom" Scott
a.k.a. Scott M. Fulton, III
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