Thursday, June 13, 2013

Consistency - Star Trek: Into Darkness

A while back, I wrote a post about how stories need to remain consistent.  Consistency within a story is important, so today I wanted to demonstrate how it can hurt a tale if it isn't adhered to.

I finally managed to see the new Star Trek movie.  I'm a huge sci-fi geek, and I look forward to sci fi movies like most people look forward to Thanksgiving.  Unfortunately, the problem with sci fi is that it rarely falls in the middle - it's either great or it's terrible.  I really enjoyed the Star Trek reboot a couple of years ago, so I had high hopes for this one.  Sure, a few of the reviews were hit or miss, but I'd avoided them until I could watch the film, because I didn't want anything to bias my enjoyment.


Personally, I hated this movie.  When I first got out of it, I was simply disappointed.  However, the more I thought about it, the more I began to despise the film, and the main reason was that it lacked consistency within the Star Trek universe.

I know that right now some people are rolling their eyes and saying, "C'mon Russ, it's just a movie - lighten up!"  Others will just call me a Star Trek geek and be done...and they may be right.  Had this story been a stand alone film that wasn't connected to Star Trek in any way - change a few details and a few character names - it might've been awesome.  Unfortunately, it strayed so far from what we've come to know in Star Trek that it became nearly unwatchable.

I realize that with the destruction of Vulcan in the first movie, the entire timeline had changed.  However, what that should've translated to was the same characters in different situations, not a wholesale re-write of who they were.  For starters, Kirk has gone from the great leader he was to some immature and bumbling jackass that I'd follow into combat only out of sheer curiosity.  In the old TV shows, Kirk had his aggressive and playful side, but he was also shrewd and cunning - he knew how to play the situation to his advantage, and he took calculated risks.  In this new form, Kirk launches into reckless gambles that pay off out of sheer luck rather than planning and foresight.  He has more of a "let's throw shit against the wall and see what sticks" mentality rather than intellectual cunning and daring.

And the relationship between him and Spock is much more adversarial than it ever was during the original run.  They argue over everything, to the point where you expect them to start fighting at any moment.  Spock giving counter-advice is natural, but Zachary Quinto does it in a way that brings out his psychotic side and makes us think he's on the verge of stabbing Kirk.  Kirk's non-concealed exasperation with Spock infers that far from friends, Kirk hates this guy and only tolerates him because he's proven useful.  It is much more akin to the relationship Spock and McCoy had in the old TV series and movies than Kirk and Spock.

Speaking of McCoy, he became a caricature in this film.  He had utility in the old films, both due to his medical expertise and his ability to act as Kirk's conscience.  He also kept Spock on the straight and narrow by balancing the Vulcan's logic with human compassion.  In this film, he was reduced to yelling out various McCoy catchphrases and generally being useless.

The biggest problem with consistency came down to the villain - Khan, and this happened in several ways.  First of all, in the original series, the Enterprise stumbled across the Botany Bay in deep space.  In the new timeline, Starfleet somehow figured out not only where the Botany Bay was, but who was on board and how to bring them out to help in their preparations against the Klingons.  Where would they have even known where to look?  I get the desperation in trying to find out where one of the greatest genetically altered minds in history was so the Federation could use them, but it would be like looking for a needle in a stack of needles.

Second, in both the TV show and the movie, Khan was exceptionally menacing.  In the show, he was cold and calculating, understanding how to manipulate people and using his superior intellect to take control.  In the movie, he was affected by the insanity of isolation, but he was still smart enough to commandeer a ship and threaten the Enterprise.  In this new version, he used mainly his strength and fighting skill, and one got the sense that if you could just beat him up or shoot him, the threat would be gone.  There was never that sense of "what's he gong to do next" that made Khan so scary.

Thirdly, in this film, he was focused on killing as many people as possible.  Khan fought as a means to an end in the original, not as an end unto itself.  He wanted to rule, not destroy.  He may have been brutal, but he genuinely believed his way was best for mankind.  In this new version Khan was simply a beast and could've easily been replicated by inserting any number of tough monsters.  I get that he wanted to free his people, but the original Khan would've used deception and guile, not just tried to bust his way through obstacles head first.

Finally, the best part of the Khan menace was the personal animosity between he and Kirk.  In the show, Kirk bested him, and in the movie, Khan was insane from the loss of his wife and his exile.  He and Kirk hated each other, but you got the impression here that maybe they'd heard of each other, but, meh, no big deal.  The lack of that relationship led to a total lack of tension and sapped the magic the original created.  In short, it reduced Khan to just another bad guy, and not a particularly horrible one at that.

Like I said, this all boils down to consistency within the world we'd come to know.  If this wasn't in the Star Trek universe, it could've been a good movie, but jamming it into a world we were already familiar with destroyed the story.  As a sci fi geek and Star Trek fan, I've come to expect certain elements from the story, and this failed to deliver...miserably.  The lesson for we writers to learn is that consistency in the worlds we create is very important, and we break with that consistency at our peril.  Some might embrace such things, but our most hardcore fans will throw us away in disgust.  If we're lucky, they'll give us another chance in our next foray.  If we're unlucky...well...we might just lose those fans that brought us to the dance.

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