Star Trek: Into Narrative

For reference, if I were a TOS character, I'd be this one.

For reference, if I were a TOS character, I’d be this one.

I just got back from seeing Star Trek and, hey, Internet, I want to talk about it!

Spoilers, okay?

So I think the JJ Abrams reboot is a mixed bag, not in the least because we won’t get a TV show while he’s at the helm and the kind of Trek I like–the exact kind most people hate, with scenes of people at board meetings talking about diplomacy and shiz–isn’t going to happen while we have Trek on the big screen. That’s okay. I’m okay with Trek being an actiony popcorn flick, and I thought this movie was very fun, just as the first film was fun, just as the better Star Wars movies are fun, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t get my nerdrage panties (which are science blue) in a bundle, just a little.

Most of my big complaints are covered by this io9 FAQ. The coy, insulting dance around Cumberbatch’s identity, the unearned ending lifted from a better film with a better-scripted and developed relationship between two characters who had fifteen years to grow to love one another, the fact that Bones finds the secret to eternal life and then . . . forgets it? I don’t even know.

The film has its strengths: Simon Pegg as Scotty is awesome, I love love love the aesthetic of future Earth, this Enterprise is perhaps as pretty as the Enterprise E, a feat I never thought possible. Cumberbatch wasn’t quite playing Khan, but he was cool, and I liked the new Klingons and Uhura had several chances to be bad-ass and Sulu in the captain’s chair is always a pleasure (oh my!).

But narratively, I’m not so sure about the film’s structure. It’s breathlessly paced–but that’s not quite the same as well-paced. Again and again, the writing team inserts meaningless and unnecessary countdowns just to artificially up the ante, but the problem is that they do this so many times that it loses its meaning. And it also destroys their ability to have other plot elements develop organically.

There were several plot points which were awkwardly shoe-horned in. Take, for example, the Jesus tribble. Never mind that the whole tribble thing was sort of oddly forced, the moment that Bones turns around and declares that he’s injecting a tribble with Khan’s apparently immortal blood was just inappropriate given what was going on around them and it doesn’t really make sense–why is Bones doing this, and more importantly, why now? Had it not occurred at a point in the narrative when the stakes and the action were rapidly rising it would have made a ton more sense but because the plotting was pretty much chase scene chase scene explosions fighting bombs with timers and more explosions I suspect that there was nowhere else for this plot point to go. But still: awkward. That’s why gradually rising tension where you put in place all your narrative threads to be used later is better, I think. It lets you get down to business when you need to.

Similarly, the character relationships were woefully underdeveloped (except, perhaps, surprisingly, the one between Scotty and Kirk). The “debate” between Spock and Kirk at the beginning felt flimsy, and the relationship between Spock and Uhura mostly brushed to the side and then brought up at the worst time. Look, I’m pretty old school about Vulcan relationships. My favorite Trek novel is Sarek by AC Crispin (it’s one of my favorite love stories, too), and so I’ve always found Spock and Uhura’s relationship a little implausible, particularly given the fact that in this universe, Uhura is shown as hyper-competent and awesome at her job and then, because there’s really no other time for it, you have her and Spock hashing out their romantic problems while on an important military mission until–oh poop–they’re surprised by an attack and this is exactly the problem with having military officers be in a relationship with each other. I actually liked the content of the debate, but the timing made them both look pretty crappy at their jobs, and this is Starfleet, and they are supposed to be the best of the best.

(Except for Worf, but we’ll make an exception for him.)

This is where we get stuff like the Carol Marcus gratuitous fanservice, too. At least Enterprise used skivvy scenes for exposition; they fit in, otherwise, but why was Marcus suiting up then and there and why with Kirk and why not McCoy, who actually goes on the mission with her? I’m guessing it was because 1. The actress is pretty and they wanted to show her in her underwear 2. We need to suggest that Kirk and Marcus are going to make a baby someday. But there was no place else to put the sexual tension in the movie, so they put it there, logic be damned.

I mean, part of the reason that snappy pacing is good is because it can be used to distract. Before you can wonder what happened to that girl injected with Khan’s blood (really, did something get cut?) we’re watching all the captains get shot at. But a lot of this stuff is just gobbledygook if you think about it. It’s entertaining, but it’s not good writing. Relationships don’t grow organically but rather for the sake of hitting certain plot points (some of which are from the original franchise, and not this one) and scenes are shoe-horned in because they’re needed for twists but none of it really forms a cohesive whole. This film isn’t the first Star Trek film to say, “Don’t think too hard about it and you’ll have fun” but I’m pretty bad at the not-thinking, even when I’m all for fun.

And it is fun, I guess. Stupid fun. Just so long as you don’t worry your pretty little head about it.

Just don’t get me started on the aliens.