Saturday, May 18, 2013

What Progressive Vision? Fun With Script Doctoring and How Star Trek Into Darkness Fails the Bechdel Test

I went to see Star Trek Into Darkness again last night.

My review still stands: Abrams' newest movie is a well-calibrated thrill ride; it is nothing more or less. The cinematography and sound design are excellent. Abrams' aesthetic eye gives me hope for his role as Director of Star Wars: Episode VII. Now, with my expectations sufficiently lowered, I was able to enjoy the empty calories of Star Trek Into Darkness with relative peace.

There are some questions and problems that becomes even more obvious on a second viewing.

1. Abrams' Trek universe is very empty. The Enterprise is engaged in a huge space battle with a much larger dreadnought class ship near Earth. One would think that there would be shipping traffic, other patrol craft, or space vessels in the area.

2. The Enterprise is never contacted by The Federation. There are no ships sent to aid her. As the Enterprise falls into Earth orbit there is no radio chatter. In a glaring error, there are apparently no satellites or planetary defense systems in orbit over Earth.

3. Khan's attack on Starfleet headquarters is misplaced in the plot. What should have been a horrific act of terrorism, which then animates the narrative going forward, is left for the end of the movie. We then leap forward one whole year and everything is fine. What of the loss of thousands, if not tens of thousands of people, in that attack?

4. The tension between Khan and Kirk in the original film was personal, intimate, and obsessive. And as cultural critics have suggested, their relationship is very erotic and laden with same sex desire.

Star Trek 2 is the Moby Dick of Roddenberry's film and TV universe.

Chris Pine's Kirk wants to kill Khan because he is an Osama Bin Laden stand-in. Kirk's pursuit of Khan in Abrams' Trek never felt that personal or intimate. The actors tried, but there is not enough history between them to convince the audience of the sincerity that these friendships--and losses--matter.

5. I like to play script doctor. Abrams could have made a few fixes that would have elevated Star Trek Into Darkness from mediocre to very good. What if Benedict Cumberpatch was actually Gary Mitchell? In this new continuity Mitchell would then be a senior lieutenant to Lord Khan. Weller has Khan, along with the other super soldiers locked away in suspended animation. Mitchell goes rogue when it becomes apparent that Weller has no intention of freeing his compatriots.

This leaves Khan and his super soldiers for use in a future war with the Klingons--Star Trek Into Darkness does foreshadow a return of Khan and his men for a sequel--and gives Cumberpatch some real motivation for the reign of terror he unleashes on Starfleet.

Alternatively, I would have loved to see Abrams bring back Harry Mudd, and have the latter's robots be used to infiltrate Starfleet and/or be used as foot soldiers in a war of terror against the Federation. Who is controlling them? The Romulans, the Klingons? A new alien race?

Given the destruction of the Vulcan homeworld, there could have been a faction of that race who have retreated from the principles of rationality and IDIC. They are traumatized and want to recapture all that their people have lost. This would also play nicely with Star Trek's lore. We have long heard about the "times before Surak" and the Vulcan's past of war fighting and wanton violence. Abrams could have shown the audience something new. Such a plot would also create some great growth for Quinto's Spock and force his relationship with Pine to deepen.

Star Trek is supposed to represent a hopeful and inclusive vision of the future. Yes, Abrams' Trek has a multiracial crew, as well as aliens and synthetic lifeforms, on the ship. He has checked those boxes. But, Roddenberry's vision was more substantive and less superficial. Remember, Roddenberry's Trek had the first interracial kiss on TV. The show was understood to be such a cultural landmark that Dr. King himself called Nichelle Nichols and asked her to remain on the show as Lieutenant Uhura when she was considering leaving it.

On a second viewing Abrams' failure to advance that vision is even more apparent. We are in space, but men are still in charge. The two female leads have their roles in the movie centered on the relationships of them as women with the men in their lives. Here Star Trek Into Darkness fails two of the three criteria from the Bechdel test.

In the 24th century I would hope that humankind and Abrams' Trek would be doing better than to simply reproduce the male gaze in outer space. Star Trek Into Darkness is a cheap thrill. Do not expect anything more from it and you will be satisfied.


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Paul Ervin said...

At some point look at yourself. You are just as bad as Rush & Sean H. Stop making everything so deep and political, and just enjoy random moments of escape! all movies do not have to make some deep damn point! IT WAS MEANT TO BE A SUMMER BLOCKBUSTER!

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CNu said...

We are in space, but men are still in charge. The two female leads have
their roles in the movie centered on the relationships of them as women with the men in their lives.

Proper. As it must be and shall ever be..., out in the final frontier. oh, and still fetchingly attired too!

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chauncey devega said...

At least you are consistent. I did the uniforms I must admit.

Heavy Armor said...


Actually, it was the "Times before Surak."


But, back to Abrams.

The lesson that Abrams and company never learn is that the themes should be simple - and interconnected. TWOK combined the themes of Moby Dick with the idea of a Pandora's Box (the Genesis Device). It only works because Kirk spends the movie having to face the fact that time is marching on - and is beginning to leave him behind. He sees that in Saavik, Peter Preston, and the other trainees. He sees that with Khan. He sees that with Carol Marcus. And he has to confront this fact with David Marcus...his son.

Mostly, TWOK works because it takes Kirk's status as a "man of action" that even the most casual Trek fan recognized and proceeds to strip that away from him (Like STTMP did). ST-ID doesn't have that lead-in. Instead, like Abrams' first Trek movie, it expects the audience to imagine Montalban and Shatner (and Bibi Besch) in place of Cumberbatch, Pine, and Eve.

chauncey devega said...

Should have checked that. Did you ever read the Trek novels from the 1970s and 1980s that explored that time period? Very good stuff.

I watched Khan again. Your read is spot on w. what works with that narrative and why it is so compelling today. The other issue Abrams' Kirk because of casting and lack of history cannot channel is the idea of an epic hero facing mortality. What would you have done with Abrams' Trek this time around?

CNu said...

Of course you did, and, you consumed this visual buffet in the manner in which it was delivered and intended - with far greater gusto (whether conscious or unconscious) than you did as a piece of pathetic nerd literature.....,

Friday Foster-ABWW said...

It was Star Trek lite. Abrams said he was not a fan of Star Trek and he made a film that everyone could watch. Kirk was a rebel who was whiny when he did not get his way and Spock was an overemotional flake doing an Arnold Swarzenegger imitation.

chauncey devega said...

He succeeded. What do you think he will do to Star Wars?

chauncey devega said...

The Dark Side of the Force is with him.

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