Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Star Trek Into Darkness Complaint Absurdity

Star Trek Into Darkness co-writer Bob Orci made headlines when he blew up at some fans in the comments section of an article at Trekcore.com a while back. Now, his temper tantrum was mighty immature, and he later apologized so I think he realized that. But I can kind of understand where he was coming from. Even though Star Trek Into Darkness got generally good reviews and made some good money at the box office, it’s been unrelentingly criticized by the fans. The criticism about the film’s story, its plot points, and the motivations of the characters is entirely valid.

But a lot of the criticism I’ve seen has nothing to do with those things, and comes across as overly nitpicky and mean-spirited. And in a lot of cases, these are things that have happened in previous Star Trek productions and the fans have been totally okay with them. We saw this three years ago when the first film came out, and I wrote an article in which I applied a similar standard of nitpicking to a classic Star Trek episode that a lot of old-school Trekkers enjoy. But this time, the complaints seem even louder and less rational. Let’s take a look at some of the silliest ones:

1. The Uniforms

A common criticism is that the gray “Class A” uniforms we see the characters wearing in scenes at Starfleet Headquarters look like Nazi uniforms. Why, exactly? Because they’re gray? That doesn’t make any sense. Maybe it’s the hat. “It makes Starfleet look too militaristic!” people complain. “We’ve never seen anything like that on Star Trek before!” Ahem:


Yeah, what’s that thing on top of the TV in Captain Pike’s quarters from Star Trek’s first pilot episode? Why, it’s a military hat a lot like the ones we see members of Starfleet wearing in the J.J. Abrams films! I’ll admit, the first time I saw members of Starfleet wearing contemporary-looking military headgear it was a little jarring. But I respect the choice he and his team made.

I really like how Star Trek Into Darkness shows the characters wearing different types of uniforms in different settings, just like people in the real military. With the exception of Star Trek: The Motion Picture-the only Trek production to receive a proper theatrical budget before the Abrams films-we haven’t seen that from Star Trek because the money was never there for it. Heck, for the first Next Generation film the costume department was forced to clothe some of the principal actors in uniforms borrowed from Deep Space Nine! (Fact: Only Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner got new uniforms made for them. The other five members of the TNG cast wore leftover uniforms from the TV show or DS9 hand-me-downs)

As for the “they’re too militaristic” argument-that’s exactly the same thing that fans who didn’t like The Wrath of Khan said about the "Monster Maroon" uniforms that debuted in that film. The reason not many people remember that is because there was no Internet in 1982 to amplify the complaints of disaffected fans. But as silly as that complaint is, it pales in comparison with the second one I’ve been hearing:

2. The Warp Speed Is Too Fast

Another criticism I’ve heard is that it takes the Enterprise way too short a time to warp from Earth to the edge of the Klingon Neutral Zone and back. On the surface, this may seem to be a valid point. Space is, after all, vast-with astronomical distances between solar systems. Even if you had a magic technology that allows you to break the laws of physics and exceed the speed of light, there’s still no way you could travel several hundred light years so quickly, right? Sure, except for the fact that Star Trek has done this dozens, if not hundreds of times. Even though the franchise’s various writers have wrapped warp drive in a thick layer of technobabble to make it seem more real, it’s not. It’s pretend. Regardless of whatever warp speed charts the authors of various Star Trek technical manuals have made, the fact is that warp speed is as fast or as slow as the writers need it to be to service the plot. Always has been. Arguments about the “actual” capabilities of pretend technology are stupid. The way I see it, you’re only allowed to complain about the unrealistic warp speeds in this movie if you also complain about all the other times Star Trek has done this. The next common complaint is somewhat similar:

3. Magical Long-Range Transporters Supposedly Make Spaceships Unnecessary


In J.J. Abrams’ first Star Trek film, Old Spock gives Scotty a magic formula that gives the transporter practically unlimited range, and in the new film Khan uses it to beam from Earth all the way to the Klingon homeworld. This is a serious departure from the way the technology has been depicted in previous incarnations of the franchise. And I’ve heard the argument that it completely ruins Star Trek by making spaceships totally unnecessary. But that argument’s really a spurious one. After all, a starship isn’t just a mode of transportation. It’s also a mobile sensor platform that allows you to investigate a new planet before sending a landing party to it. And nothing we see in either movie indicates that it’s feasible to beam more than two or three people via this long-range method. In the end, the transporter is just like warp drive: an imaginary technology that can do whatever Star Trek’s writers want it to. And in the same vein:

4. Khan’s Magical Super Blood Is A Cure For Death

This is the one I understand the most. You see, Khan is supposed to be genetically engineered superman from the 1990s. In the Original Series, that just meant that he was stronger and smarter than the average guy. But in Star Trek Into Darkness, he’s apparently from the planet Krypton. And his blood can magically cure the sick and bring dead tribbles (or Captain Kirks) back to life. It’s a ridiculous plot device. But it’s not the first time that Star Trek has introduced some insanely powerful new technology and then promptly forgotten about it or ignored its implications.

For example, in the fifth Star Trek episode ever, “The Naked Time”, Spock and Scotty accidently discover some kind of magical new matter/antimatter mixture that allows the Enterprise to travel back in time. This is never mentioned again. Later on, they discover (again by accident) that they can also travel both backward and forward through time by doing a slingshot maneuver around a star. And in the movie Star Trek: First Contact, they discover a third way to easily travel in time by doing some technobabble with something called “chronometric particles”. Really, this should have taken all the drama out of Star Trek forever, because when anything bad happens they can just go back and time and stop it. But of course they never do that. Instead, they seem to forget about this capability unless the writers want to do a time travel story. And yes, I know that Voyager introduced something called the “Temporal Prime Directive” that was like a rule saying they weren’t allowed to go back in time and mess stuff up without a good reason, but Star Trek had been around for 30 years by then so it was really too late to plug that particular plot hole.

And what about this: in the second season Next Generation episode entitled “Elementary, Dear Data”, it was established that they could easily use the computer to create a sentient life form on the holodeck. That’s right-they gave the 24th century equivalent of the iMac the ability to create life. And on the Voyager episode “Author, Author”, they even showed that the enlightened, democratic Federation was using a bunch of these sentient holograms as slave laborers. And yet the implications of that were never explored or even really acknowledged. We were supposed to continue to think of the Federation as the good guys, even though they used their magical life-creating technology to make slaves.

Now, I’m sure that the implications of some of these things I’ve mentioned were touched upon in the novels, but I don’t really care, since the novels have never been considered part of the “official” Star Trek universe and they contradict each other all the time.

Anyway, that completes my list of some of the unwarranted criticisms that I’ve seen people make about Star Trek Into Darkness just so they could make themselves look smarter by complaining about something on the Internet. Again, I totally agree with all the criticisms about the film’s plot and the actions and motivations of the characters. But criticizing the film for indulging in the kind of illogic that Star Trek has always engaged in to some degree is a more than a little disingenuous.