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J.J. Abrams' Star Trek, the first 30 minutes [Jul. 28th, 2009|01:40 pm]
Young Geoffrey
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Star Trek: The first thirty minutes or,

Why I (almost) never go out to the movies anymore

More years ago than I care to count, the science fiction writer and editor Judith Merril taught me one of the only vital rules of writing.

"When you're editing your work, think about every word in every sentence of every paragraph. If anything doesn't have to be there, take it out!"

Never a dogmatist, Judy didn't mean that that rule (or any rule) had to be slavishly followed. She did mean that, if you broke a rule, you should know damned well why you were breaking it.

Which, yes, brings me — typically late to a Hollywood party — to J.J. Abrams' "re-boot" of the venerable Star Trek franchise.

Star Trek has received pretty good reviews. The Globe and Mail gave it three-stars, saying, "Star Trek gets its mojo back in J. J. Abrams's swinging reboot of the franchise. Smart and youthful, with a well-balanced package of humour, crisp action and character-based drama ...", and it's getting about 95% positive ranking on RottenTomatoes.com (whatever exactly that means).

All of which strikes me as at once bizarre and all-too typical of the (lack of) film criticism, at least when it comes to the latest "blockbuster" offering.

Now, the movies has its moments and I can assure nervous Trekkies (if there are any who haven't yet seen it) that Star Trek's casting and characterizations of the iconic characters are both pretty good. The new-comers successfully walk the fine line between imitation and interpretation of such stalwarts as Kirk, Spock and McCoy. On the other hand, there would be no movie were it not for its idiot plot — if you can tell me why Leonard Nimoy's "Spock prime" (as I think I've seen the character referred to) didn't just walk the 14 kilometres to the Star Fleet outpost on his own, I'll give you a gold star.

But never mind the plot details or the casting specifics; I want to talk about the film's first 30 minutes, a bloated and ponderous admixture of emotionally pointless action scenes and a pseudo-psychological, "realistic" background for the (re-booted) James Tiberius Kirk.

Star Trek clocks in at just under two hours, though the actual story doesn't really get underway until we're past that first 30 minutes, during which half-hour minutes, we learn the following:

  • Kirk's father was (for 12 minutes) a starship Captain who died heroically, saving his wife and his in-the-process-of-being-born son (I don't know about you, but I am sick to death of The Birth Scene);
  • as a child, Kirk was already a hell-raiser and had a poor relationship with his step-father;
  • as a young man, Kirk was still a hell-raiser as well as being a drinker who enjoyed (but wasn't particularly good at) bar-room brawling;
  • Kirk is nevertheless very intelligent, stubborn and an original thinker; and
  • er, that's about it (to be fair, four or five minutes of that 30 minutes is also devoted to Spock's childhood and early adult years).

That's an awful lot of time to spend learning so little and, frankly, were I not an old (if lapsed) fan, I'd have have walked at around the 15-minute mark.

Compare the above with what Russell T Davies managed in only two minutes, with his "re-boot" of the even more venerable Doctor Who franchise. (Here's a Youtube link, well-worth taking two minutes to look at. I'll wait until you're done.)

* * *

As (I hope) you'll have seen, in that 110 seconds, we learn the following about Rose, who would be the viewer-identification character over the subsequent two seasons of Doctor Who, and who was an entirely new character to boot.

  • The opening (not-quite) 20 seconds, panning from empty space, to the moon, to the Earth, to England, to Rose's alarm-clock, give us the sense this isn't going to be a domestic drama but rather one with a very broad scope;
  • Rose is young enough that she still lives with her mother;
  • Rose's mother doesn't seem to have a job;
  • Rose does have a job, as a clerk in a department store, and uses public transportation; in other words, she is working class; and,
  • Rose has a boyfriend, who appears to be a bit of a clown and who is, apparently incidentally, black, while Rose is white.

And at the one-minute, fifty-second mark, the story begins, while at the same point in Star Trek we've just witnessed a generic battle scene, the significance of which we know absolutely nothing about. If this kind of long-winded story-telling is typical of what Hollywood is producing nowadays, I'm going to keep staying away from the movie theatre, no matter how many stars are awarded by the critics.

With some judicious editing, and some repairs to the idiot plot and Star Trek would have made a decent one-hour television episode. At twice that length, I am simply baffled by its apparent popularity.

(Cross-posted from Edifice Rex Online.)

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Comments:
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2009-07-28 11:17 pm (UTC)

Re: :[

Ah! sweet contradictions! I'm pretty sure this is the first thing I've seen by Abrams, but based on it I'll have to withold the "genius" label (no surprise there, I'm sure).
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[User Picture]From: strider7901
2009-07-31 01:27 am (UTC)
I think the movie was intentionally made to hit a large age group--not just people who remember what happened over 30 years ago. So with that observation, I think the plot was dumbdown a bit. I'm not much of a fan but I liked everything before Enterprise, so I found it delightful. Probably more hilarious than the general audience because there were some pretty messed up scenes.
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2009-08-01 07:40 pm (UTC)

Yes, but ...

There were some delightful moments, at least for fans. But I still stand by my critique of the first half-hour. And that sound and fury, signifying what could have been put into a brief bit of dialogue.

"That Jim Kirk's a brilliant kid, but he never got along with his step-father and he's got a lot of anger-management issues. I think Starfleet would be just what he needs to straighten himself up."
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[User Picture]From: strider7901
2009-08-03 01:07 am (UTC)

Re: Yes, but ...

Good point. After some thought, I was thinking the same thing...I think it was in the first five minutes, he was in the car and driving off the edge with the cops? HMMMM...
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From: kimchalister
2009-08-01 05:57 am (UTC)
As the last remaining person on Earth who is not ADD or ADHD, the one you linked to goes too fast for me. Something in between the two would be good.
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2009-08-01 07:42 pm (UTC)

It's not a question of ADD *or* ADHD

The Doctor Who intro works quite a bit better in larger size and the music works better to set the mood — Sure this is a quick over-view of someone you don't you, but keep watching, because things are going to get exciting!.

But your mileage may vary, of course.
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[User Picture]From: paul_carlson
2009-08-02 07:23 am (UTC)
I've never been much into Dr. Who, but that clip does make me wonder what's going to happen next. Geoff, I like Star Trek enough that those 30 minutes weren't nearly long enough, but you do make a valid point.

Could be you have a future in movies! :-)
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2009-08-04 05:54 am (UTC)

Never the movies ...

... not unless I had full control. Bad enough dealing with art-by-teamwork, but art by blessing of crass money-bags? I prefer the single responsibility of fiction.

As for Doctor Who, I don't suppose I'm telling you anything knew by admitting I'm a fan and that I think you'd get a kick out of it.

Meanwhile, I take your point about enjoying those 30 minutes. There were bits and pieces that I did, too (the guy who's playing McCoy nailed his character, without really immitating Deforest Kelly — actually, I thought the cast did an excellent job generally). But I would have preferred a much higher dialogue to fist-fight/starship-fight/car-over-cliff ratio.
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[User Picture]From: paul_carlson
2009-08-04 11:09 pm (UTC)

Re: Never the movies ...

Geoff, I'm told that Tom Clancy has a tight rein on his movies, as he buys in as Executive Producer. Beyond that, we need to wait until technology can place many intricate terabytes at our disposal.

Great new Trek cast, and half the fan-ladies I know have got a crush on Young Spock.
Yeah, there are a lot of fist fights. Still, that is true to the original series.
When they do a Young Pickard someday, there will be tons more dialog. ;-D
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2009-08-05 04:24 pm (UTC)

Re: Never the movies ...

If I ever finish the novel and if it makes me as rich as Tom Clancy, then I'll by damn executive produce the movie version of my book, too! But (as you know) most writers don't have that kind of clout.

And you're right that there were a lot of fist-fights in the original series — which some folks ("ladies" in particular, I suspect; you might get a kick out of this series of Star Trek re-watch blogs at tor.com. The female half of the duo keeps careful track of ripped shirt scenes. Though that's not why you might enjoy reading it). Mind you, my personal favourite episodes tended to favour dialogue over action.

Which kind of goes to one of my main objections about it. If I know Kirk, Sulu, et al, are going to not only survive but win — and I do, because it's a franchise — I need something more than action to hold my attention.

On the upside, Scotty so quickly picking up on old-Spock — "Oh! Are you a time traveller, then?" — was both delightful and made sense. If you and I might think of time travel as a possible explanation for something uncanny, surely people who travel faster than light have thought of the possibily!
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