This is the second in my series of posts on the flaws I found in watching the new 2009 flavor of Star Trek. The first post, where I dissected the ill-advised decision to use a time-travel device and create an “alternate universe” for the franchise reboot, can be found here. I will add links to forthcoming articles here as well, as the series progresses.
By the way, a study on “Star Trek Fandom: Why It Sucks” is probably long overdue judging by the reaction not only to my post but to the general discussion and disagreement that has taken place over this film. I’ve lived through this fight three times before when Trek fandom seemed irreparably smashed to pieces (the debate over TNG vs. DS9, DS9 vs. Voyager, and “Enterprise” vs. everything), but have seen nothing like the metaphorical bloodshed this movie is engendering. This movie has now caused the Trek equivalent of the Protestant Reformation, and the fandom is now in for some long and bloody Holy Wars. Sadly, all of this would not have been needed if the producers and writers hadn’t made some key mistakes.
Again, another disclaimer: I didn’t hate the movie. It was not as bad as I had expected it to be. It’s just that the few things that were bad about the movie were unbelievably bad. And must be addressed.
WARNING/GUARANTEE: The really bad thing about this movie that I’m going to discuss now deals with at least one major plot point. If you haven’t seen the movie and want to see it, I’m going to reveal a major, tremendously stupid decision by the production staff, and you might not want to read it before you see the movie.
With that out of the way:
The Mallory Dog Testicle Copout…why it sucks.
When George Mallory was asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, he answered “because it is there.”
When asked why dogs lick their testicles, the anonymous philosopher answered “because they can.”
Mallory sucked; the mountain killed him and his body lay in the snow for 75 years before someone stumbled over it.
Dogs suck; their tendency to lick their testicles in public means that they never get invited to the really good dinner parties.
Lesson number one: “because you can” does not mean “you should” nor “you must.” “Because I can” is never a good reason for doing something. But, obviously, no one ever bothered to tell the production team of the new Star Trek about that, and that’s why they made some boneheaded decisions with this movie.
I discussed the stupidity of the need for an “alternate universe” for this film, and the need to use a ridiculous plot device to create this alternate universe and still shoehorn it into the alleged “continuity” they were so eager to get away from in my last article, so I’ll keep my screaming about that to a minimum. Yet, once they created their alternate universe, they seemed to feel that they had to put as much distance between the original series and their new incarnation as they possibly could; they went out of their way to do things differently, to draw a line under their version and shout “oooh, look at us, we’re alternate!”
One of these, just a little disturbing, is the romantic relationship between Uhura and Spock. Spock has always felt compelled to control his emotions, including his romantic feelings. Besides, at the time he’s fooling around with Uhura (it started before we saw them both aboard the Enterprise, for the clueless) he’s still engaged to T’Pring. That bonding took place before the divergence point between the universes, so at the time he started fooling around Spock was still telepathically bonded to his mate and would have been unlikely to stray. That’s a minor nitpick. (Of course, since the same trauma to the timeline managed to turn Kirk’s brother into Chuck Cunningham and allow Porthos Archer to live to be 658 in human years, it could have just turned around and bitch-slapped T’Pring back to Nazi Germany for all we know.
The characterization of Kirk as a reckless young man with an apparent death wish is another unneeded change. True, this difference can easily be explained by the early death of his father and being raised instead by Matt Parkman (or by the possibility that he’s really his brother Sam — see the first post if you’re confused), but it wasn’t really needed.
Blowing up Vulcan, however, is another story.
That’s right. Afraid that people wouldn’t appreciate the whole alternateness of the alternate universe they created (why? because they could), the producers decided to blow up Vulcan. Or, actually, suck it up. True, they needed to demonstrate the power of the weapon yielded by the insane bad guy, not to mention provide some cool special effects, but, really, Vulcan? Dramatically, Star Trek has always been about the characters. From the very first series bible Roddenberry insisted that stories impact the regular characters in some way. What purpose for our regular characters does destroying Vulcan do? Nothing, really. Of course, it impacts Spock, meaning he’s homeless but Spock has never really had a home. He’s not fully Vulcan nor fully human, and has never felt comfortable around either.
Some might say it makes him more special since he’s now one of only 10,000 or so beings in the universe instead of one of 6 billion, but the problem with that argument is that Spock is already unique. He’s the first and at the time of planetary suckage only Human/Vulcan hybrid (well, the first successful one anyhow). It doesn’t make Spock more interesting as a character; if anything, it diminishes him because it makes him less likely to interact with other Vulcans and thus less likely to feel like an outcast and less likely to continue to feel the need to suppress his emotions to fit in with them.
It also really fucks up the entire dynamic of the Federation. As envisioned by Roddenberry, Earth and Vulcan have always been id and ego to each other. (In Enterprise this was expanded to be id/ego/superego with the establishment of the Andorians as id, pushing the humans up to ego and the Vulcans to superego). It really fucks up the chi of the Star Trek universe.
And it was completely unnecessary and gratuitous. They didn’t really need to make Spock unstable to allow Kirk to leapfrog him — it was always known in Star Trek that Spock was not ambitious, and was not even Pike’s first officer as was implied in the new movie — so they didn’t have to blow up his home planet to make him attack Kirk and be relieved, which is the only real impact the destruction of Vulcan and death of Spock’s mother (but the less said about that the better, please) had on the plot. A better, less contrived, method of doing that could and should have been worked up.
In drama, everything needs to have a reason. And in good drama, every reason should be the best reason possible. There was no real reason to destroy Vulcan. There were lots of other alternatives. It was sloppy writing, done solely for shock value.
And that sucks.