Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Bob Orci on Fate in Star Trek '09

In the interest of fairness, I wanted to post Bob Orci's response to the criticism of blind fate in Star Trek '09. This is actually a fascinating answer and something that had crossed my mind the other day.

Bob Orci: For all those decrying fate, there is actually a quantum mechanical basis for the “fate function” in this film that we have discussed previously. In a multiverse where, as Data once said “anything that can happen, does happen, in a parallel universe…” there is a probability (a number) associated with each possible configuration. Those events that are most probable are theorized to occur more often in more similar universes. Thus, the idea that Kirk and Spock and Bones come together is merely an indication that the probability assigned to such an event is very high in the multiverse. Some may mistake this for blind fate.

I can live with this explanation. If current ideas of quantum mechanics are on the right track, then events in the multiverse would also follow notions of probability.

Here is another exchange with Bob Orci about the timeline.

GaryS: Was the timeline that Nero visited the original past up to the point that George Kirk is killed? Or was it always an alternate timeline because Nero was destined to travel there?

Bob Orci: We think of it is as identical to the original until Nero arrives.

This leads me to wonder a few other things. In the episode "Relativity", Seven of Nine says that the involvement of Picard and the Enterprise E in the events of First Contact was a Predestination Paradox. That is to say, Cochrane's warp flight and First Contact would have not happened without Picard and his crew. So if everything is the same before and different after Nero arrives, how does First Contact ever happen? Clearly the past cannot be the same. Unless, the incursion of the Borg into the Alpha Quadrant and the time travel of the Enterprise E were also highly probable events. Personally, I would prefer to think in the new universe Zefram Cochrane would be able to handle things on his own. The Mirror Universe Cochrane clearly did since the Alpha Quadrant was ruled by the Klingon/Cardassian Alliance by the 24th century. There was ne Terran Empire Enterprise E for Picard to take back in time. Hell, in the Mirror Universe the Borg are probably nice guys who wouldn't want to stop First Contact!

The other time issue I wonder about is, since the past remains the same, Humpback Whales still go extinct in the 21st century. That means the probe is still going to come to Earth looking for them. At some point in the future someone is going to have to find a way to stop it.

Random thoughts about the new timeline . . .

Will the original Gabriel Bell live to become a hero since Sisko may not go back in time?

What do Gary Seven and Q think about all these changes?

Does the Guardian of Forever only have the ability to send people through time in the primary universe?

Won't V'Ger still come to Earth looking for its creator?

Since Enterprise heavily references the events of Star Trek: First Contact, does that mean the events of Archer's life are also different in the new timeline?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Precisely what J.J. Abrams missed

This one scene best illustrates what makes Star Trek great. It isn't big action sequences or non-stop eye candy. It's people. Compare the acting, the writing, the subtext, and the overall meaning of this one scene with J.J. Abram's movie. If you can't see how superior this once scene is then, I hate to say it, you don't understand Star Trek.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Star Trek (2009) - movie review

This is the most difficult movie review I have ever written. Seriously, where do I even begin? Everyone that knows me is well aware that I love Star Trek better than life itself. I have loved its characters, trappings, stories, and internal philosophy since I was six years old. Hell, when I was in the second grade my mom took me to Disney World. When we got to the hotel, I turned on the TV and insisted on finishing "City on the Edge of Forever" before we went to the park. So where do I begin a discussion of a movie that recasts the iconic roles of TOS and attempts to restart the franchise in the same way TNG did in 1987?

It's a daunting task because the producers and Internet reviewers have set up a scenario in which the movie is beyond criticism. If you don't simply accept everything the film presents then you are branded a "nit-picker" who can't see past his strict adherence to canon. In this review, however, I will attempt to argue that this film fails as Star Trek in several significant ways that are not "nit-picks."

First let's get a basic overview of the plot. The film starts out with an attack on the U.S.S. Kelvin by a ship that we have never seen before. The ship is commanded by a Romulan named Nero who demands to know the location of Ambassador Spock. It becomes clear that he is from the post-Nemesis 24th century when he demands the stardate after the captain of the Kelvin has no knowledge of Spock. In his rage, Nero then destroys the Kelvin. The first officer of the Kelvin is George Kirk. His pregnant wife is also on-board carrying James T. Kirk. George's wife survives on a shuttle but he dies attempting to destroy Nero's ship. In that instant a new Star Trek universe is created in which the events of the universe and lives of the characters take a different path than what we have seen in the previous five series and ten movies. Basically, Nero blames Spock and the Vulcans for the destruction of Romulus so he wants to destroy Vulcan and make Spock witness it. The rest of the movie relies on a series of unlikely coincidences and cheats to assemble the TOS crew onto the Enterprise. The timeline is never repaired and this new universe is now free to develop its own stories.

Before I get to the bad, let's mention the good. Karl Urban is spooky as McCoy. He is the closest thing you will ever see to DeForrest Kelley coming back to life. He nails the role in a way that no other member of the cast does. He IS Leonard McCoy in this movie. I cannot praise him enough for giving fans an almost transcendent experience with his performance.

Now, what was my major problem with the movie? It did not adhere to the most basic philosophical concept that Gene Roddenberry infused into Star Trek. Not only did it not adhere to it, it went in the opposite direction. The idea that man is capable of improving himself through his own effort free of both gods and fate is intrinsic to what Star Trek is all about. The fact that Star Trek has a secular humanist philosophy is not something hidden nor is it something I am reading into it. In fact, it is so obviously there that many times modern Trek came across as too preachy. Simply take a look at TOS episodes like The Apple, Who Mourns for Adonis?, and Return of the Archons as classic examples of Gene's worldview. The most cursory study of the creation of Star Trek will show you that it was created as an outlet for this particular philosophy. And until this movie, that philosophy has been maintained through every incarnation of Trek.

So what is so different about this movie? It's whole premise is based on the idea of fatalism. Even though Nero alters the past and creates a new timeline, the TOS bridge crew still manages to wind up together in their respective positions. Kirk gets banished to an ice planet and monsters just so happen to chase him into a cave where older Spock is waiting. Then, the two of them walk to the nearest outpost where Scotty just so happens to be working. Kirk doesn't become the captain of the Enterprise because he went to school, worked hard, cheated when he had to, and exemplified himself as a crewmember on other ships. No, he becomes captain because "it's his destiny" to do so. This view of the universe plays into the nauseating phrase "everything happens for a reason." I'm sorry, that is NOT what Star Trek is all about. The only reason anything happens is because people take actions.

The characters on Star Trek are not mythological archetypes. They have always been portrayed as real people who think, feel, love, hate, grow, and learn as their lives progress. In The Wrath of Khan, Spock tells Admiral Kirk that commanding a starship is his first, best destiny. He reminds him of this because Kirk had chosen to accept promotion to admiral. It was a mistake for him to accept the promotion because the best destiny for Kirk to follow, through his life choices, is to captain a starship. There is no force outside of human action that decides his destiny. J.J. Abrams and his writers deny the metaphysical free will that real humans posses. In the process, they cheapen the characters by making them something they are not, archetypes. An accurate way to describe this movie would be to call it George Lucas' Star Trek. It certainly isn't Gene Roddenberry's.

Aside from this fundamental shift in philosophy, my other issue is the total lack of meaning in the story. Roddenberry created his "Wagon Train to the Stars" in order to explore the human condition. The use of the conventions of science fiction allowed him to comment on both the issues of the day as well as the issues that man has dealt with for his entire existence. This film deals with nothing. It is about nothing. You could argue that it is essentially a glorified TV pilot that is only trying to put its pieces onto the board but that mentality sells good writers short. Re-watch the TOS pilot The Cage, the TNG pilot Encounter at Farpoint, and the DS9 pilot Emissary and you will see excellent examples of how to establish new characters, new settings, and a stage for new adventures BUT still be about something. The best analogy I can make about this new Trek movie is to say Star Trek (2009) is to Star Trek TOS as Planet of the Apes (2001) is to Planet of the Apes (1968). It essentially takes the names and characters, removes the meaning and subtext, and makes a mindless adventure movie. We've come a long way from when NBC told Gene that The Cage was "too cerebral."

Compared to the previously mentioned issues, my other complaints are mainly ones of aesthetics. I don't really care to see Kirk as a boy drive a corvette while blasting the Beastie Boys. I don't see the point of creating a romantic relationship between Spock and Uhura. I didn't care for the silly, over-the-top Orci/Kurtzman humor. Those are issues that I could have more easily forgiven if the story had been true to the nature of Star Trek. But, lacking the fundamentals, it made the superficial problems all that more obvious.

I realize that this film was not made for me. It was made for a younger audience that didn't grow up with Star Trek. Believe me, I am all in favor of making a Star Trek that appeals to younger people but not necessarily me. But without the philosophy and the moral core, why do I want to pass Trek on to them? It was always the philosophy of Star Trek that gave me hope. At school each day I was told fundamentalist Christian doomsday scenarios about the "rapture", the "anti-Christ" and about how God was going to destroy the world soon. This is not what you want to hear as a child! You don't want or need adults telling you that you may never get to grow up because of their religious fantasies. What saved me mentally was what I was shown on Star Trek. It showed me a world where the future was better than the present, where man had improved himself through his own hard work, and a way of thinking that liberated my mind from militant, fundamentalist religion. It inspired me to learn, study, and most of all to dream or a better tomorrow. That is the gift that Star Trek has to give young people. If it can't give them that and is just yet another piece of mindless entertainment, then Gene's mission has failed.

The best thing that can come out of this movie is that young people are inspired to go watch the older Trek shows, especially TOS. But what a wasted opportunity to not give it to them in the one, and perhaps only, piece of Trek they may ever see.