Taking the Science out of Science Fiction

The-Art-Critic-small

It was all about Kirk, and Kirk was a crock

new-start-treck-image

Star Trek Into Darkness wasn’t bad for your typical Hollywood action blockbuster, or as a daytime Soap, but any hint of the maverick, forward-looking vision of the original series was merely a remnant. Starships could now be submerged underwater, and could go faster than Warp speed (kind of like turning the volume louder than 10 in Spın̈al Tap), but there was no attempt at explaining how that was possible, in which case the science was completely unhinged. Anyone could have thought up those kinds of advancements.

Probably it’s harder to make science fiction in the new millennium because technology has already outstripped the future predictions of decades ago. Science fiction may not be able to keep up with science itself. It’s amusing, for instance, that the computer on the original Enterprise didn’t even have anything approaching the sophistication of Windows. It was all knobs and meters and blipping lights, like something out of a submarine. And yet, period sci-fi like Star Trek or The Outer Limits had an eerie, mind-stretching awe that’s been replaced with mindless spectacle and exaggerated computer effects (does 3D = dumb, dumber, and dumbest?). The old sci-fi was envisioned at a time when technology was at a cusp and we didn’t know what was around the next corner. “Man” had not yet set foot on the moon when the original Enterprise was traversing the galaxies. There could be life on Mars, and it could be something like people, not just microbes. In 2013 we are more scientifically jaded, and novel sci-fi is as rare as fins on cars. On the other hand, if you’re going to pick up the gauntlet of making a new Star Trek, you’ve gotta’ at least try to envision untrammeled futuristic terrain, and not just switch it out for sappy drama.

star-trek-computer

Original series Start Trek computer consoles didn’t even have monitors, but they had mystery.

The complete lack of technological innovation isn’t the only shortcoming of the film. I found the characters to be shallow parodies of the originals. I especially didn’t care for the NEW James Tiberius Kirk. I couldn’t take him seriously as a captain of the Enterprise. This might be because when I watched the original series growing up in the 70’s, Kirk was older than me, whereas now I’m older than the new Kirk. William Shatner, over-dramatic as he was, still seemed to have an innate intelligence and something of an education under his belt. [Someone succinctly commented on this post that Kirk had a “concerned intelligence” and “introspection” Pine lacks.] Chis Pine just comes off as a frat boy in space, who got the job because of nepotism (not unlike a certain befuddled ex-commander in chief). The actor is a Hollywood insider whose parents are actors and whose grandfather was President of the Hollywood Bar Association. Kirk, in “Into Darkness” didn’t seem to deserve the role as Captain of the Enterprise, and Pine, in reality, didn’t seem to deserve the role as Kirk.

new-kirk

Chris Pine as James Tiberius Kirk. Captain of a college Polo team, maybe, but the Enterprise? (and what’s with the lips?)

For what it’s worth, I was totally cool with Edward James Olmos replacing Lorne Greene as Commander Adama in the remake of Battlestar Galactica (so it’s not because I can’t handle change or don’t like covers) because he seemed intelligent and had integrity. [Note that a Mexican American actor replaced a white one in Galactica, but a white guy supplanted a Mexican actor – Ricardo Montalbán – as Kahn, in the new Star Trek.]

kahn-and-kahn

Ricardo Montalbán as Kahn, and a newer, whiter Kahn played by Benedict Cumberbatch. Let’s face it, mainstream audiences aren’t ready for Mexican actors anymore.

While I was watching the new Star Trek (as it happens in Thailand) I found myself thinking about the dumbing down of America, and Kirk as a role model for an uneducated, permanent, subordinate class. Gut instinct triumphed over intellect, and even Spock’s logical Vulcan half was finally subordinated to his all-too-human emotional howl “Kiiiiiiiiiiiiirk!!!!!” (after Kirk sacrificed himself for humankind, and before his resurrection). Instinct and emotion may triumph in fantasy science fiction, but back in reality an under-educated populace, swayed by emotion, is easy to control and manipulate because it lacks the knowledge or ability to see through a ruse. An educated middle-class poses the greatest threat to an entrenched, oligarchical, ruling class. The misleading absence of a need for intelligence/education to succeed in the new version of Star Trek [when in reality it’s essential] makes me a tad suspicious of an ulterior motive on the part of the movie makers (Paramount Pictures) in cahoots with the ruling class – to help dumb down the greater American populace in order to make it more pliant, quiescent, and defenseless. Or am I reading too much into the social implications of a dumb Captain Kirk?

spock-cries

It’s all about the emotion. Even the Vulcans have tossed out the intellect.

I wanted to croak during the scene in which Kirk dies, not only because it was completely derivative of the scene in The Wrath of Kahn in which Spock got irradiated, but because of Kirk’s thoroughly unconvincing portrayal of dying. When Spock got toasted, he bubbled up and turned even more green. But when the new Kirk got fried with radiation, he just looked like he’d had too much pizza and beer at the frat house, and might barf on the floor.

death-vs-death

Dude’s immune to skin cancer is all I gotta say.

I was supposed to be on the verge of tears myself, but instead was analyzing why Chris Pine’s face wasn’t melting, and why he couldn’t be allowed to be made to look ugly, even while being microwaved. If Hiroshima can be used as any measure, radiation does serious damage to the flesh of even those who survive. Miraculously, nouveau Kirk didn’t even suffer a sun burn.

In terms of multiculturalism, the new Star Trek has dimmed. Lieutenant Uhura, for example, was reduced to being completely smitten with Spock (who she had soapy/cheesy domestic quarrels with), and looked more conventionally pretty and less sophisticated or self-possessed than the original Uhura. The initial Uhura was played by Nichelle Nichols, who was one of the first black women to be featured in a television series as anything other than a servant. She wanted to leave the show to pursue a career on Broadway, but was persuaded by none other than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to remain on the series because she was playing a vital role model for black children and young women across the country, as well as for other children who would see Blacks appearing as equals – Wikipedia. The new Uhura is played by Zoe Saldana, quite possibly selected for her less-black (her father is Dominican and her mother is Puerto Rican), and more conventional features. The new Uhura, with her long pony tail and tall stature looks more like Laura Croft than the original Uhura.

uhura-uhura-croft

Nichelle Nicholds as the orignal Uhura /  Zoe Saldana as the new Uhura / and Angelina Jolie as Laura Croft

In other words, assimilation has supplanted real diversity, and even if everyone had implausibly over-exaggerated regional accents for the 23rd century, the culture was homogeneously white, and that as compared to the original series debuting in 1966.

spock-and-uhura

The love affair between Spock and Uhura trivialized both of them, by rendering them fully vulnerable to conventional relationships – including lovers’ spats – if only the opportunity presented itself. Everyone is white on the inside and intrinsically a part of 21st century dominant American culture.

This Star Trek didn’t boldly go where no “human” had gone before, but, instead, retreated into the comfort zone of regurgitating the tried and tested story-lines of the prior films, and then white-washed the result for – or in order to produce – a less thinking audience.

girl-in-underwear

…and what the hell was this all about? Scuze me a moment…

If an alien species came to Earth and if I were randomly assigned to acquainting them with Star Trek, I’d offer them The Menagerie, from the first season (and incorporating the previously unseen pilot) of the TV series, which aired in 1966. It was more sophisticated, interesting, and forward-looking.

the-menagerie

The hero of the original maverick Star Trek could be roasted and crippled. Not so the new, cosmeticized version, which shields us both from unpleasant truths, and the disquieting unfamiliarity of uncharted imaginary terrain.

47 years later and instead standing on the shoulders of giants, we are hiding in the their shadows. If the original Star Trek opened a hatch in the imagination, the latest remake slammed it shut, then papered it over with a fan poster of a Chris Pine.

3-heads

Three Disapproving Talosian observers, probably displeased with the mind-numbing spectacle that is Star Trek Into Darkness.

~ EK

Now, if inclined, you can vote in a poll about which Kirk you prefer.

shatner-vs-pine

Not to bias you, but in terms of virility, Shatner might have a certain advantage, as evidenced in this still:

virile

it’s supposed to be a stalactite, but, didn’t anyone notice the problem at the time of filming?? Hard core fans, can you name the episode in question?

later

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6 thoughts on “Taking the Science out of Science Fiction

  1. Pine’s Kirk is very charismatic, but lacks Shatner’s sense of considered intelligence and introspection.
    Strangely, ID continues the theme of sorts from the previous film – that Kirk is a peeping tom – by having him linger on Carol in her smalls after she’s made it clear she wants him to turn away.

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    1. Very well put. “Considered intelligence” and “introspection”. I was digging deep for those characterizations but didn’t quite reach them. I’ll take your word that Pine is charismatic, but I guess I just don’t see it.

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  2. Well-written. I am entertained by the new Star Trek movie series though. It was fun to see the original characters come to life and I didn’t expect it to compare but I thought the first movie was great.

    Now, that being said, if JJ or whoever decided to do a remake of say – ST: The Next Generation – I might be a heck of a lot more PICKY because I really enjoyed the show in college. The original was something I watched after uni, and I wasn’t nearly in love with it. Unlike you, I was watching the show out of time, so it was dated, but the show is legendary and so it holds entertainment and novelty/historic value.

    Movies these days are about REMAKING classics and REMAKING old TV shows, so for a hardcore fan like you, what do you expect? 😛 I think this is why so many remakes have gone deliberately kitchy and over the top campy. Or just plain bad. Hello, Total Recall. JJ Abrams is going to work on Star Wars next!!!!

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  3. Yes, they can travel through space even faster than warp speed, but have they stopped to explore inner space. Wherever you go, you are always here. And however fast you go, you are always still. Travel is an illusion only in the mind, and yet so is a walk, and I like to take them.

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