Friday, 23 October 2009

"Just a story" is no excuse

When you have characters in a story taking action that’s out of proportion to the emotion you’ve built up, that’s melodrama. When you have something happen that doesn’t make any logical sense, that’s hokum.

Now, I loved loved loved the new Star Trek movie. Ordered the special edition on DVD, can’t wait. But there is that one little bit that I just have to put mental blinkers on for, and that’s where Spock decides to stick Kirk in an escape pod and blast him off the ship on account of he’s been a very bad boy and the brig just won’t do.

Maybe you’re saying, “Don’t you see? That shows how upset Spock was!” Nah, that’s a lame excuse. People show more restraint than that every day, and they don’t even have the advantage of being half Vulcan. The writers needed Kirk in that pod to keep the plot moving, so they just hoped we’d accept the idea of Spock being so worked up into a lather that he’d behave like a little kid whose toy got broke.

And why did they need Kirk in that pod? So he could land on a deserted planet and meet up with Spock’s future self and get told some important plot stuff. So that’s piling hokum onto melodrama.

Now, remember this is a movie I adore. You know that Yeats quote, “Tread softly because you tread upon my dreams”? This movie decidedly did not tread on them. It took them and it made them into something brilliant. It made Star Trek as great as it always should have been – as great, I mean, as it was in my 11-year-old imagination. I’m going to keep saying that so you know this is criticism of a loved one.

But that bit with the escape pod is still melodrama and hokum. And what’s more, the writers knew it.

In a recent interview, J J Abrams mentions a deleted scene:
"In the scene, Spock explains that [the encounter of Kirk and Spock Prime] is a result of the universe trying to restore balance after the time line is changed. They acknowledged the coincidence as a function of the universe to heal itself."
Abrams was right to drop that scene in favour of keeping the mystery, because a mystery is always going to be preferable to a really dumb bit of blather like that. That’s the writer’s equivalent of covering the bad brickwork with a coat of plaster. But if they had wanted an honest logical explanation, older Spock could simply have said he planted the idea in young Spock’s mind. That reincorporates the Vulcan mind-meld, so we know it wasn’t cooked up just for the sake of this one plot point. Doesn’t normally work over hundreds of thousands of miles, sure – but who knows the range of contact between two near-identical minds? And it explains both young Spock’s crazy overreaction and the apparent fluke of Kirk and old Spock’s meeting.

If I get a meal cooked by Raymond Blanc and he burns the steak then I’m going to send it back. Literature and cuisine – they’re both crafts. I want to believe good stories, but I don’t see why I should make allowances. The better the story, the more it’s important to get every detail right. Seduce my disbelief, don’t just count on it to tie itself up. And if you see me cutting corners and sticking on plot patches in Mirabilis or Sweet or anything else, shout it out loud and clear.

Oh, and go and buy the Star Trek DVD right now because it was the best movie of 2009 by several parsecs.


  1. PS: On re-reading, I've got to own up to marginal disrespect there as I didn't mention Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman by name. ("The writers..."? Tut, what was I thinking?) Harry Knowles just spilled that they are producing the DOC SAVAGE movie from a script written by Shane Black! So I'm in geek heaven today. Full story here:

  2. Funny, I didn't have a problem with Spock's behaviour. I took it as an indication of the magnitude of his internal struggle as a passionate youth trapped between two cultures, two minds - so intense that it drove him to temporary insanity. For me that made it even more satisfying to watch him rise above it all and create a unique definition of himself in the face of all that pressure.

    The part that stuck in my craw (the only part, because I loved the film as well) was the goofy Scotty/waterpipe scene. It was just a little too slapstick for the universe they had created; I found it jarring.

    But all in all an amzing film - hats off to those involved for taking a rabidly worshiped license and not only doing it justice, but enriching the mythology. I actually laughed aloud at certain points out of sheer delight! :)

  3. Yep, I did sort of try and look the other way for the Scotty stuff. It didn't really fit with the tone, as you say, and also it was a shame that only Scotty was completely unrecognizable as the familiar TV character. My friend Oliver, who I saw the movie with, thought it was fabulous too, but when we came out he said "That guy wasn't really Scottish, was he? It's always so fake when they do that."

    Still, we keep focussing on the negative and that'll give people the wrong impression. We're talking about the tiny flaws in a masterwork here, people - go to Amazon and order that DVD!

  4. I am sure that role was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream for Simon Pegg, so I gave him a a lot of leeway. ;)

  5. Hang on tho! That means we'd have to let Ewan MacGregor off the hook for his impersonation of Obi-Wan :-)

  6. Hmmm...good point. Sack 'im!