I'm going to revisit the new Star Trek film one more time, because I'm catching a lot of flak for criticizing it. I don't mind that, except that the flak consists primarily of the following platitudes:
"It's only a movie!"
"It's only Star Trek, what do you expect?"
And various similar comments aimed at getting me to "lighten up." Those kind of comments really push my buttons, for so many reasons, but primarily: 1) the speaker is making excuses for the filmmakers' bad storytelling (and encouraging more of it), 2) they're implying I shouldn't expect a good story in a movie, and 3) they're trying to make me excuse/accept bad storytelling.
No, I will do nothing of the sort. "It's only a movie." "It's only a book." "It's only fiction." "It's just science fiction" or "It's just fantasy." What, fiction in any media form isn't expected to be good? Why not? Entertainment isn't supposed to be good? Why not? If it's to be consumed by the masses, the standards automatically lower? WHY??? That's ridiculous! Of course it can be good. Blockbuster movies can be smart, entertaining, funny, and still rake in the big bucks for the studio. And smart, entertaining, funny blockbusters shouldn't be the exception, they should be the rule every summer. Because there's really no excuse for bad storytelling. There really isn't. Telling a good exciting story is not that hard. Except, for some reason beyond my comprehension, it seems to be too much to ask of Hollywood.
The new Star Trek film fails badly for two reasons: poor plot and poor world building. I skimmed the surface of the myriad plot problems in the last post. There's a lot more (all of it fixable too, which is what bugs me the most). But there's world building problems too. There's the big stuff (ie: the emasculation of Star Fleet, a mining ship boasting better offensive armament than warships) on which the plot hinges but that blows suspension of disbelief (again, all fixable). And there's little stuff that's almost more annoying. Take that scene where Chekov is telling the computer to do something and it can't understand his Russian accent. My, isn't that cute and funny? Let's all laugh now and watch him try to get it right! What I see during that scene: the Enterprise (or other Star Fleet vessel) being blown out of existence in some future battle when Chekov (or one of any number of other alien Federation races who might be serving onboard) gets flustered and can't pronounce their Vees or whatever letters/numbers/commands in proper English fashion and the computer fails to understand the order in time. No culture with that many aliens/languages would rely on something that arcane. That's poor world building and lazy writing.
But it's a ten-second throwaway scene, so what? So what is that they could have accomplished the same "look at Chekov's cute widdle accent" in any number of other scenarios that wouldn't compromise the believability of their world. The audience still laughs (so they've achieved their apparent goal), but without some of us thinking, gee, what happens when that command is a little more urgent? That's what writer's do. They use their skills to weave plot and character and world together as seamlessly as possible, in ways that do not dump their viewers out of the story every five minutes. And that's what these writers failed to do.
The thing is, you produce an intelligent script? The average viewer who doesn't give a damn about anything other than the cool action factor? They're still wildly entertained. They're still going to love the movie, probably love it even more because an intelligent script usually increases the cool factor. And the rest of us with brains, who aren't sheep, who refuse to love something simply because we're supposed to, or because, awww, it's Star Trek and isn't it fun to revisit that universe? We love it too. Win, win.
So, to clarify. What I hate about this film is that when handed one of the coolest universes to play in, when given great characters, a big budget, and time to do it right... those involved squandered the opportunity. That is what I truly deplore, not the film itself. That they could have given the world two hours of fabulous entertainment, and we're stuck with two hours of crap instead. It may be fun, it may still be entertaining if you check your brain at the door. But it's still bad storytelling exemplified.
And the alternate history thing? It disappoints me because they could have "rebooted" the series, still stayed within the original history, and still grabbed new viewers. Would it be harder to write? Sure. Could it be done? Of course. Look at Back to the Future II. They fit a completely different storyline nearly flawlessly inside an extremely tight existing history, and it's brilliant and glorious and it makes watching the first movie even more exciting. But the other thing is, if you're going to go with an alternate history, goddamn it all, use it! Holy smokes, do you know how exciting I find exploring an alternate history? It's why Mirror Mirror is such a good episode in the original series. The things you can do, the places you could go, the expected events/outcomes you could rewrite in eye-popping new ways. I aim this more towards the next movie, less towards this one. Because there will be a next one, and it could be the best movie of all. They got the setup out of the way in this movie. Now, go to town in the next one. But hire an intelligent writer first, please.
[ETA: I should mention that I have also now seen this movie twice. I went a second time because just about everybody I know loves this film, and I wanted to see if the problems I have with it wouldn't jump out at me on the second viewing. I wanted to see if I could join the mindless masses, stop thinking, and just enjoy it for what it is. I succeeded to a certain extent. However, I also noticed more problems I'd overlooked the first time. So, I liked it better and worse than I had the first time. Will I go see it again in the theater? No. Will I buy it on DVD? Hell no. But will I object to watching it down the line with family or friends who want to see it on DVD? No. ]