Thursday, December 31, 2009

Star Trek by the Minute 066: Sewer Interrogation Begins

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Uhura continues to look at Spock, and nearly breaking into tears says "OK." She then plants a kiss right on Spock's mouth to which he responds, and they separate as the lift comes to halt. The door opens and Uhura watches Spock exit and walk down the corridor. Speaking of which: where is he going? It must be someplace important for the acting captain to leave his post in the middle of an emergency, failing to hand off command to anyone or give anyone on the bridge a clue as to what was going on, where he was going, what he was doing, when he'd be back, etc. It seems reasonable that simply a normal viewer might want to know who was in charge of Starfleet's most advanced vessel and best weaponry, to say nothing of the crew aboard the ship. Apparently we will never find out, because the film cuts immediately to a scene of the Narada zooming through some sort of energy conduit or hyperspace with a blue-white light reminiscent of the signature "lightning storm" which betrays the ship's imminent arrival (and attack).

On board the Narada, in a long shot that pans out from behind a dark corner we see Nero standing over Captain Pike, who is strapped down to a table. Nero guesses aloud: "You must have a lot of questions for me…" as an entree to: "I only have one for you. I need the sub-space frequencies of Starfleet's border protection grids, specifically those surrounding Earth." Once again, we have dialogue that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever relative to the story(?) being told.

Actually, that statement does not seem quite correct because this film seems more a jumbled collection of video shots that don't really follow the normally conceived rules for narratives, making descriptions that this film is "telling" of "a story" somewhat misleading. So having said that, and based on what we've seen and heard in earlier shots, Nero definitely does not have any need for information regarding his helpless victims' useless attempts to protect themselves. All of Starfleet's defenses, all of defenses of a huge fleet of Klingon battlecruisers, and all of the planetary defenses of Vulcan have been repeatedly shown to have ZERO effectiveness in hindering the Narada for even one second, with the exception of the Kelvin miracle collision. Like Spock leaving the bridge, and 100 other scenes, actions, and lines of dialog in this film, this interrogation makes no sense based on what we must suppose is the film's substitutes for plot.

Another nonsensical element is the entire set where this interrogation takes place: a high tech vampire cave, complete with evil, pointy-eared Romulan Nosferatus, skulking around their dripping lair. Nero is actually wading through 30 centimeters of what looks like black water and sewage when he demands: "Christopher, answer my question." Pike growls back at him: "No, you answer for the genocide you just committed against a peaceful planet." As this segment closes, Nero continues his unbelievable, random ramblings with: "No, I prevented genocide. In my time, where I come from, this is a simple mining vessel. I chose a life of honest labor."

No women speak in this segment.

The clich├ęs seem never to end in our next segment of Star Trek by the Minute 067: Nero's Plan

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Star Trek by the Minute 065: Uhura's Kiss

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As the segment opens, Uhura puts down her earpiece and arises from her chair to follow Spock who is walking to the aft bridge turbolift. The precognitive door sensors demonstrate they are still functioning, as they patiently wait for just the right moment to do anything: first Spock enters, then stops, presses a button, waits for a moment, and then Uhura to clicks her go-go boots across the bridge, joining Spock in the lift. As soon as she enters, the doors begin to close the instant her first foot hits the lift deck – while she's still moving.

The pair gazes meaningfully into each other's eyes, before Uhura reaches over and presses a button to stop the lift. Spock, having read the Starfleet Seduction Manual section on "quick privacy", is well aware her actions have elevated the sexual situation status to yellow alert at the very least. Perhaps having spent too much time listening to Chekhov, she declares (no kidding): "I'm sorry", (pause), "I'm sorry.", (pause), " I'm so sorry.", (pause). As she's repeating herself, she reaches up to cradle the back of his head, and moves in to kiss him on the lips, (pause), on the side of the lips, (pause), on the cheek, (pause), and then hugs him. Spock responds and lowers his head onto her shoulder, (pause). He hugs her in return briefly, and then begins to straighten, pulling away.

Uhura looks into his eyes again and asks "What do you need?" (pause), "Tell me." (pause), "Tell me." (long pause). Spock turns, presses the resume button on the lift, and replies "I need everyone to continue performing admirably." Uhura responds with a look of resigned acceptance and caring regret as they both , you know: take another pause.

In all, this scene is about character development, and starting a relationship between Spock & Uhura. We do see a good representation of Spock's emotional and logical struggle - although it only lasts a moment and features almost no context providing depth, other than the ham-handed, unbelievable murder of Amanda and destruction of Vulcan to make Spock "a good guy".

Up next, we learn the Narada has plumbing issues in Star Trek by the Minute 066: Sewer Interrogation Begins

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Star Trek by the Minute 064: Endangered Species

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As the planet Vulcan collapses, we have an opportunity to see more examples of bad science, lazy writing, and an inconsistent plot that doesn't maintain even a semblance of coherency with itself. First, the bad science relating to the setup of the plot: the story is that a drop of red matter has been injected into the planet or so that it can create a singularity, or black hole. As discussed previously, there's absolutely no reason to drill to the core of the planet to position a singularity in some kind of central location, except as a poorly thought out plot device to enable lots of special effects scenes like those we just witnessed in this case featuring the giant tentacle drill, skydiving, sword fights, and professional wrestling moves worthy of the Insane Clown Posse.

If we suspend disbelief regarding the need for red matter delivery to the core of the planet and simply assume that this has occurred, then the planetary collapse shown in the external shot is again completely wrong and shameful in that an accurate reproduction of what would happen would be more interesting visually and no harder to animate - although it would require some minimal interest in getting some facts regarding real world physics. I will give the animators credit for what appears to be an attempt to show slight offsets in the collapsing planetary debris reminiscent of a vortex pattern, which we would expect to form as angular momentum from the rotation of the planet is conserved like that of water flowing down a drain.

The next most prominent flaw in this animation is that it portrays a very small object collapsing. Planets are so round because of a homogenous gravitational field in all directions, with only slight variations in altitude allowed from the mean radius to the center. So when we see Vulcan collapse along its equator of rotation with significantly uneven crumbling of the planet surface, and practically no indication of the massive heat that would be created, it seems like they just didn't care for science, logic, research, and the kind of ethics that the Vulcan culture stood for in the previous Star Trek.

As the planet finally disappears from sight, we see the Enterprise zooming away safely without any problems. Yet again, we are presented another clear violation of previous plot exposition from 4 minutes ago, when we were told the Enterprise had to leave "immediately" or be destroyed. Just try to sit for 4 minutes doing nothing when every second could be the difference between life and death. After 240 potential coin flips, you're pretty certain to get tails at least once - unless you have the magical protections we see routinely in this film.

We hear Spock making a log entry as follows: "Acting captain's log, stardate 2258.42: we have had no word from from Captain Pike, I have therefore classified him as a hostage of the war criminal known as Nero. Nero who has destroyed my home planet and most of its six billion inhabitants. While the essence of our culture has been saved in the Elders who now reside on the ship, I estimate no more than 10,000 have survived. I am now a member of an endangered species."

During this recitation we see Dr. McCoy examining some few surviving Vulcans in sick bay. As Spock completes his entry, we again see him staring off into space from the command chair, from which he rises as Uhura looks on in the background.

No women speak in this segment, although two or three appear as scenery – much like the furniture.

Next: Star Trek by the Minute 065: Uhura's Kiss

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Star Trek by the Minute 063: Amanda Dies

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As the segment opens, it has been 8 seconds since Spock alerted the Enterprise to begin the beam-out. Let's think about that: our team is in the middle of a catastrophic disaster with the Enterprise on split-second standby for the refugee call for rescue and the instant they are in a safe zone for transport, they request emergency evacuation. Tick, tick, tick goes the timer on their survival, while our 23rd century technology on the Enterprise takes longer to start than a hand-cranked 1912 Henderson, and whorls of glowing plasma surround the survivors. The survivors patiently wait for evacuation while some more cliffs collapse around them, more whirling plasma and nothing happens. More time goes by. More cliffs collapse as the survivors watch with increasing worry through more transporter special effects.

The characterization that during this time no one does anything is not quite fair, because Amanda does actually teleport from the safety of Spock's aid where she was during his call for rescue, holding onto his arm, warping over to a new location: on the precipitous edge of an obviously-doomed cliff.

After 12 more seconds of apparently doing absolutely nothing, and despite the transporters energy halos appearing around the survivors, Chekov begins actually counting down to energizing the beam: "Transporting in five, four, [Amanda now turns and looks to Spock], three, two…" and then? He stops counting! He must know that something's going to happen.

It's a little bit like those doors on the original series that were following the dialog in a room. A couple of people would just be sitting somewhere or standing somewhere having a nice conversation and at an appropriate moment the doors would precognitively open so that one or both of the speakers could get our of their seat, or turn and leave the room without waiting, and go on about their business. Back in this film, after another 5 seconds of no one doing anything like getting Amanda to a safer location, getting a solid transporter lock, beaming her away, or even Amanda herself jumping to safety so that she could take the next transporter beam up to the ship - instead of any of these, we see her gaze helplessly as the edge of the cliff dissolves under her feet, and she plunges to her death doing absolutely nothing but screaming and making faces. Apparently there are "transporter locks" like the ones that require someone be completely stationary relative to something under their feet, and then there are "transporter locks" that can snatch 2 people out of a tumbling freefall, and then there are "transporter locks" that are stymied if you breathe hard. In addition, why would Spock push his mother away, when he was formerly protecting her physically, and under less dangerous conditions? Why would she teleport out of his arms to the edge of the cliff? It's a mystery lost in sloppy writing and careless, rushed story development, but certainly mysogyny and hatred of logic appear likely influences for the consistently shameless violation of the film's own premises.

Now, Spock decides to reengage the caring neurons for his mother that led him down to the surface of the planet by ineffectually reaching out for her, and yelling "Mother!" Well, "reached out for her", is actually an exaggeration since she's already fallen - so he's technically reaching to where she was and not even looking down to see if she's survived the fall, successfully beamed out, grabbed a ledge, or whatever. Back on the Enterprise, Chekov seems to have a great deal of knowledge about the reproductive organs of each person on whom the transporter is mockingly indicating "locked" when he says of one: "I'm losing her, I'm losing her, (argh) I'm losing her… I'm losing her...I'm losing…losing." Perhaps the delay in recovering the refugees was spent with Chekov performing detailed scans of what was under Amanda's robes? In Abrams' Trek, the transporter probably only locked onto females as an afterthought, and Spock's mother wasn't really young and sexy enough to survive in this re-envisioning of the Star Trek universe.

Spock and the other Vulcans do materialize in the transporter room, but amazingly Spock still has his arm, even though he flung it out of position with arguably as much velocity as Amanda's fall, and he stares off into space dramatically.

A slow zoom in on the faces of those who matter (the men) in the transporter room show us, unsurprisingly, they are speechless. We see Spock, then Kirk & Sulu, then Chekov, then Sarek, then all of the evacuees, and then Spock walks over to the empty transporter pad in front of him and stares at it some more. A close-up of Spock shows him looking around the room, before we cut to an exterior shot of Vulcan's planetary collapse.

Unless we count an off camera scream, no women speak in this segment.

Next on Star Trek by the Minute 064: Endangered Species

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Star Trek by the Minute 062: Katric Ark Escape

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As the segment opens we see Spock running up the large sloping mountainside that leads up to Katric Ark entrance. It seems to be quite a ways and we wonder why he would want to beam down so far away from the entrance. The planet is collapsing, everyone has mere seconds to survive, while Spock is doing some kind of weird crouching beam-in position, and has decided to try some mountain jogging across dangerous & unstable terrain for what, sightseeing? We know that everyone on the planet, everyone on the ship, and the Enterprise itself have only a few seconds. Since we later see the evacuees transported from just outside the Katric Ark entrance, we have to wonder why, in the Vulcan hell, (Thx Muser) would anyone would ever consider beaming to the bottom of the mountain they need to get inside?
Eventually making it into the entrance tunnel, he shields eyes from falling debris and sprints into the temple chamber door and up some stairs to a gigantic statue of some Vulcan icon, around which the senior council is assembled.
"Spock" Amanda says rising from her seated position as she notices her son. Spock declares, "The planet has only seconds left; We must evacuate!" The convened Vulcan dignitaries glance nervously at each other, and Spock says "Mother, now!" before they begin to exit the chamber and large chunks of statuary and boulders from the cave roof come crashing down in dusty clouds behind them. It may be that some of the Vulcans have very slow reflexes, as one of the extremely large statues slowly collapses like a giant sequoia, yet this does not stop one of the council members from sprinting toward its landing zone. The massive body parts of this statue and it's accompanying cloud of dust obscure what must be an impressive splatter of green blood but probably an unimpressive splatter up cranial contents - judging by his actions.
Spock and Amanda lead the survivors in and the dash through the tunnel with Spock protectively covering his mother ensuring she is safe, and first of the cave as stragglers are crushed by the rapidly collapsing passageway and the increasing severity of the shaking from all the seismic activity.
As the refugees emerge from the ark entrance, we see being in the destruction of the landscape around them with mountainous collapsing in huge boulders and Spock and Amanda view the destruction as Spock flips open his communicator and orders, "Spock to Enterprise, get us out now!" Chekov, still in the transporter tech seat replies: "Locking on you, please don't move. Stay right where you are!" Hm. I'd like to know how Chekov intends for people on the shaking crust of a doomed planet being sucked into a black hole as it's rotating on its axis and orbiting the system's star, which is in turn flying for the galaxy to "stand still". Perhaps he thinks saying "please" will make a difference? Although completely ridiculous and even at odds with the film's own exposition, this is what passes for "action" deserving glowing praise from enthusiastic fans and it is believed: escaping the "stale", "dead" Star Trek of the past. Hm.
Although they don't show it in the initial shot of the group exiting the Katric Ark, at some point while Chekov is locking onto them Spock incredibly places Amanda up to the brink of a cliff during this furious earthquake. After everything he has done to keep her safe, risking the ship, its crew, is life, and their escape, we are to believe that he would put his mother so close to certain death? This makes even less sense than kung-fu master Sulu standing with his back to the edge of the drilling platform with no chute as it dangles near the jet stream. Not only that, but he actually places her on the cliffs age out of reach where, if anything goes wrong, (such as her starting to plunge to her death), it will be impossible for him to do anything at all.
This is the situation in which we see the Vulcans as the transporter starts up and the energizing effect begins, and this segment ends.
The only female to speak in this segment is Spock's Mother Amanda who utters one single syllable "Spock!"
Next: another long, drawn-out transporter death sequence occurs in our next episode. Star Trek by the Minute 063: Amanda Dies.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Star Trek by the Minute 061: Spock Beams Down

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With Kirk and Sulu tumbling in an uncontrolled free-fall, Kirk yells: "Enterprise, where are you?" Again, what Kirk chooses to shout is not only pointless, but in the real world this shouting would be impossible as well. Any experienced jumper can tell you, just breathing is difficult enough when you have winds over 100 MPH hitting your unprotected face head on, try enunciating anything intelligible with this kind of turbulence blasting your mouth and lips. The effect can be simulated by having a competent friend drive over 100 MPH, while one sticks their head out the passenger-side window, and you'll see what I mean. Next, try holding a microphone 1 meter out to the side (like a cellphone) and get an understandable message to it. Good luck.

Naturally, you would not hear anything from the device because of wind interference, yet Chekov repeats "Hold on, hold on, hold on." Forget about the unbelievable story, the fact that this writing came from people who get paid for this dreck is the real excitement. Perhaps they were going for a "more dramatic" effect by more repetition? At this point I swear: Kirk responds "Now, now, now, do it now! Now, now, now, now." Dear reader, can you GUESS what Chekov says AGAIN to his free-falling comrades? That's right: "Hold on." Unbelievable. Another potentially suicidal mistake these geniuses have been making is for them to stay together in freefall. By separating, they can increase their surface area and gain valuable time by slowing their descent. Another potentially suicidal mistake was Sulu not bothering to try his communicator at all. In a worst case, it would give a signal to which the ship could lock-on.

Finally, his stuttering comes to an end, and he says: "Compensating gravitational pull and…gotcha!" They materialize just above the transporter pad – yet still falling. Apparently the transporter can filter out really big relative velocities that would puree any mammal, but when it comes to an object falling it's completely flummoxed.

In homage to the love between George Takei and the Shat, Sulu and Kirk fall to the deck in each other's arms – quite "touching". "Thanks" says Sulu, "No problem," pants Kirk. Spock strides in strapping on a black holster style belt and orders "Clear the pad, I'm beaming to the surface." Apparently, the 7 spaces on the transporter have fewer controls than a Tivo. Kirk, stepping down with Sulu asks another set of nonsensical queries: "The surface of what? What're you going down there? Are you nuts?" I would only guess this was thought to be humorous. Spock checks a phaser and crouches, for some reason. Kirk yells: "Spock, you can't do that!" which is obviously untrue, unhelpful, and meaningless. The former skipper orders "Energize!" To which Kirk yells his next incomprehensible line: "Spock!"

Spock materializes in a landscape that reminds me of Oblivion from Elder Scrolls IV, but is really a computer enhanced Vasquez Rocks. He looks around at the collapsing cliffs, stands up (why was he crouched again?), and bolts off running down into the Mentakan valley.

No women utter a word or appear in this segment.

Next time, we wonder why Spock beamed down so far from his destination, in Star Trek by the Minute 062: Katric Ark Escape.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Star Trek by the Minute 060: Minimum Safe Distance

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Sulu, who has been standing on the edge of the platform like he is preparing to back flip off of it, does a back flip off of it. The transporter technician's voice comes across Kirk's com as "I can't lock onto you, don't move…don't move!" This hardly seems possible: a speed of light (or faster) transportation system that cannot lock onto a target with a tiny amount of relative motion? For example, if the Enterprise were near Earth and stationary relative to the sun, a cadet at Starfleet Academy would be moving about 30 km/sec relative to the ship. Because we don't sense the Earth's motion, 140 m/s in a straight vertical diving freefall seems fast – but is really more of an indication of how poorly our senses give us an accurate impression of "the bigger picture". In reality, locking onto a person in freefall at maximum velocity would involve less than one half of one percent difference in their relative speed compared to what anyone might expect as "normal operations".

Kirk, preparing to dive after our helmsman, yells "Sulu!" in a useless gesture. Kirk then dives after our helmsman and yells "Sulu!" in another useless gesture. Hikaru could not possibly hear him in either instance, since wind is really loud, obstruction by the platform and the distance between them, but there's no real point to yelling Sulu's family name at him anyway, is there? With impossible precision, Kirk speed-dives into the free-falling Sulu, and despite Sulu's lack of preparation, they successfully gain a secure linkup on the first try. Kirk calls out for him to "Hold on. I gotcha – now pull my chute!" When this occurs, the chute deploys and once we are shown future technology and techniques inferior to those of the past when the canopy breaks away like Corvette convertible soft top, and the free-fall continues. Like most other dubious failures, this one is bounded by a matched pair of miracles.

"Kirk to Enterprise: we are falling without a chute. Beam us up!" The transporter tech uselessly reports "I'm trying - I can't lock on to your signal, you're moving too fast." We cut to the bridge as Chekov announces: "I can do that!" twice, maybe for "dramatic" effect, then he bolts from his seat and yells to a female crew member "Take the con!" "Aye, sir."

Let's see...Capt. Pike was responsible for the ship, and he abandoned his post during an emergency. Next, Spock had command responsibility, then he abandoned his post, then Chekov did the same. Let it never be said that Starfleet does have consistency in their cadet training (in dereliction).

One of the Bridge crew reports: "The black hole is expanding; we won't reach minimum safe distance if we don't leave immediately." Hm, they seem to know a lot about what the singularity is going to do based on unknown readings that are "Off the scale" and caused by unknown "red matter" modified and delivered by some unknown technology from the future, by aliens about whom they know almost nothing! As if by miracle, the Bridge crew has also calculated a schedule for what will happen, and a timetable for the response actions they need to take and their safety magins. It's too bad they weren't using any of these miraculous mental powers earlier, when it might help in some way.

Chekov sprints down the passageways announcing again: "I can do that!" twice, maybe for "dramatic" effect. As he reaches the transporter room, we hear Kirk's voice repeat: "Beam us up!" and in an external shot, we see the pair still holding on to each other, tumbling to their next near doom.

In this segment, one woman delivers a single uninterrupted line onscreen.

Next, Star Trek by the Minute 061: Spock Beams Down

Friday, October 30, 2009

Star Trek by the Minute 059: Retract the Drill

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Back on the Enterprise Bridge, Chekov seems to have disregarded Spock's precognitive order to run "gravitational sensors" and instead chose something like "geological sensors" since we see his panel warning "SEISMIC ACTIVITY" in bright red letters. Overlooking that seismic activity is only one of many possible results from gravitational field stress, why would we care, and why would the computer warn us about quakes, even really severe ones? Most space bodies, including stars, M-class planets and small, dustball moons are somewhat dynamic, along with everything else that isn't sitting at an undisturbed equilibrium. On the Bridge, many people begin excitedly chattering indistinctly, pushing buttons and urgently talking about strange gravity waves or whatever, but it is not about the computer's warnings nor picking up the away team. I wish there were an incoming message from the an alternate universe, a reasonable one whose message would read: "Hello Enterprise Bridge crew - remember the away team out there shedding blood, killing and dying for you and the mission? If it's not to much trouble, could you take 2 seconds for their recovery?"

Chekov reports "Captain, gravitational sensors are off the scale. If my calculations are correct, they're creating a singularity that will consume the planet." My first comment is a minor quibble, but would it really have hurt to say gravitational readings are off the scale? "Sensors" being off the scale suggests that they are not functioning and second: "off the scale" usually prevents one from performing many too many calculations. In reality, when readings are anything like "off the scale" regarding something critical, standard operating procedures require an instrumentation check. Note to aspiring writers: "Write what you know." A third problem is that if "gravity" was being affected, previous orbits would no longer be viable and greater distance and/or speed would be required to prevent spiraling into the gravity well. A forth problem is that using such a singularity generating weapon would mean there is no need for drilling a hole into the planet – one only need to warp into a system, launch a drop of red matter, and warp away – no mess, no fuss. Gravity will do the rest on its own. Remember: gravity is not just a good idea, it's the law. We might stipulate that red matter requires normal matter to fuel its effects, but that would only require placement of the ordnance near the planet, its star, or other matter source. Fifth: what about the away team while you are doing all these calculations?

Spock paraphrases Chekov to confirm "They're creating a black hole at the center of Vulcan?" "Yes sir." Unfortunately, that's impossible also. Without lateral support, a hole that deep would collapse in on itself like a pit on the beach at high tide, even if it did not have a molten lava, which we have seen erupting. "How long does the planet have?" asks Spock. "Minutes, sir...minutes." Our vulcan skipper jumps from his seat and orders Uhura to "Notify Starfleet Command and signal a planet-wide evacuation, all channels, all frequencies." Normally, "channels" in transmitted communications refer to specific frequencies, not that I expect these writers to know that, but could they not have simply stayed within language they understood? Note to writers: write what you know. Spock continues with "Please maintain standard orbit." Uhura interrupts: "Spock wait, where are you going?" "To evacuate the Vulcan high council, they are tasked with protecting our cultural history my parents will be among them." "Can't you beam them out?" That's a really stupid question coming from someone who has not a care in the world for leaving the ship's surviving members of the ill fated away team dangling on the outside of an alien ship's giant tentacle of death. The question was clearly stated in such a way that we know the answer will be negative for example, we can guess Spock might say something like "No, they are in an old cave that happens to render all modern communications, transporters, and other technology useless because of the concentrated deposits of Ludditium in the surrounding rock." In reality, Spock's response here is to say: "It is impossible, they will be in the Katric ark, I must get them myself. Chekov, you have the con." Chekov says: "Aye…ayiyiyye..." and this line was at least a bit amusing, but suggests kind of a "What next?" perception. No one seems to be interested in rescuing the helm and first officer.

Unfortunately yet again, Spock's reasoning here is outlandish. They are declaring an emergency evacuation of the planet, so the one thing that Vulcan is prepared for in such an event is getting the Council and the heritage to safety. Imagine if a catastrophic emergency was about to demolish Washington D.C. Would the only hope of survival via evacuation for the President come from the president's son or daughter who was commanding a nearby ship? Pretty ridiculous...

Cutting back to the platform about which everyone aboard the Enterprise has attention deficit amnesia, Kirk finally decides he and Sulu have wasted enough time just standing around and waiting for the platform to explode. Perhaps the idea made it through the clouds that with the ship falling apart, the captain held hostage, the planet under attack, an unknown number of crew dead and dying, the bad guys still holding everyone by the throats and poised to kill them, perhaps he and Sulu might want to consider, well, DOING something. "Kirk to Enterprise, beam us outta here." A transporter tech says, "Standby, locking on your signal." Usually, when someone makes a statement like this, we know they're going to have a problem doing whatever it is...

Back on the Bridge of the Narada, Nero seems to have gotten confirmation that the red matter deployment went off without a hitch, as the Enterprise delays beaming the away team to safety, perhaps double-checking their transporter lock. Nero issues his order to Ayel: "Retract the drill, let's move out" as the Enterprise delays beaming the away team to safety, perhaps triple checking something. "Yes, sir." "Pull it up" Ayel relays to an off-screen minion, as the Enterprise delays beaming the away team to safety - you know how finicky those darn Heisenberg Compensators can be! The reaction to the issuance of Ayel's order is executed well, as the Enterprise does NOTHING. Kirk and Sulu are still waiting on the platform for beam-out when the retraction starts; the transporter technicians seem as incompetent as the Bridge crew has been.

Of 7 speaking parts in this segment, only 2 are women – which actually seems like a lot, based on the general discrimination of the film.

Potential disasters come from all sides in our next Star Trek by the Minute, Episode 060: Minimum Safe Distance.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Star Trek by the Minute 058: What’s the Matter?

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Sulu pulls Kirk back onto the platform and cries "Olsen had the charges." Kirk, still panting from hanging out on the platform with previously breathing Romulans replies "I know." "What do we do?" Kirk picks up one of the disruptors lying around and yells "This!", and Sulu follows his lead as the two of them demonstrate, yet again, suicidal ignorance by firing automatic weapons at a nearby vertical section, even though it appears to be made of heavy metal and perfect for ricochets that, if one were extremely lucky, would only blind the shooter and anyone else who happened to be standing around – especially if they did not bother to put on any eye protection. Whether an energy-based sidearm is a believable weapon to attack an armored building is another matter, but a much better response for the remaining members of the assault team would be to enter the access hatch, disable the beam, and gain some intel on the enemy. This is another example of character actions in the film that make no sense for the situation they are supposed to be in. They are armed and standing next to unguarded doors into the stronghold of their enemy – and they suddenly decide to start a lot of firing out in the open? I don't think so.

Eventually, the pair's firing succeeds in shutting off the beam with much fire extinguisher effects, and aboard the Enterprise, Uhura reports "The jamming signal's gone; Transporter abilities are re-established." We see over Chekov's shoulder a cool "TRNS-ONLINE" icon up on the main viewscreen, just where we would NOT put status indicators for secondary ship functions…come to think of it, primary functions would be a poor choice as well. Chekov announces that "Transporter control is re-engaged, sir." This is a very strange line. Were all the controls for the transporters disengaged because of some interference? Isn't exercising "control" something we would normally consider an "ability", and therefore already part of Uhura's status report? Regardless, this is great news - the moment has arrived to recover the survivors from the assault mission. The obvious thing to do is beam them up, beam them up immediately!

However Spock, if he were extraordinarily cautious, might still order Uhura to confirm disabling of the beam with the away team – or he might suspect his team did the rational thing and infiltrated the Narada. Assuming this, he might want to maintain subspace silence and instead finally order scans of the drill platform which should have been ongoing and scans of the Narada, also are being criminally neglected. As J.J. Abrams boasted, he's not a fan of the old Trek where actions somewhat followed a "plot", his new and improved Spock orders: "Chekov, run gravitational sensors, I wanna know what they are doing to the planet." This order is wrong in a couple of ways. If he doesn't know what they are doing to "the planet", why only run "gravitational sensors"? Wouldn't a full sensor sweep be what anyone would do? To be fair, not ANYONE would run a full sweep. For example, if we were characters written by extraordinarily sloppy writers who knew that "red matter", (a gravitational weapon) was going to be launched in the next scene, we might issue such an order as a quick foreshadowing to those moviegoers who are too stupid or stoned to follow a real plot. On the other hand, the line might just be incompetent writing by hacks with no respect for the characters. Whatever the root cause, Spock's order is nonsensical. Chekov replies: "Aye, commander…I mean Captain…sorry Captain." We may want to note that they are also completely ignoring the away team, who could be near death, dying, whatever. Bringing them back is urgent.

The other thing strange about this line is, would anyone call their home "the planet"? I mean, this was the completely unnatural usage which gave away the bluegill creatures in the TNG episode "Conspiracy". Would any of us call Earth "the planet" in this way?

Back on the Narada, someone seems to have a great deal of information as a crewman comes to Nero to report "The drill's been sabotaged, sir…" Somehow, the Narada Bridge crew is aware that this is no simple malfunction, they are under attack and sustaining damage more severe than they have ever suffered, even when being rammed by enemy ships. If we grant the magic ability of the Romulans to detect this attack, the thing to do is understand what is going on to cause it, and get information for defense. While the Enterprise Bridge ignores their away team's safety, the Narada Bridge crew ignores their own safety and their plan for revenge. The Romulan crewmember continues "…but we have reached the planet's core." Nero replies: "Launch the red matter" (a gravitational weapon).

In another homage/rip-off of Star Wars, an escape-pod like sequence follows with a pod proceeding past Kirk and Sulu who have apparently been just kind of standing around, kind of enjoying the view, we might guess. Apparently they have been waiting for the red matter launch and the platform retraction which would put their lives in jeopardy. They also seem to be the pitiful victims of lazy, atrocious writing as they run to the edge of the platform to report that something which looks very much like a bomb just went by them. They both actually endanger themselves, getting right to the edge of the platform in order to look at the thing. If this were a simple nuke, they both will be blinded instantly, depending on distance and intensity: incinerated, and a bit later hit with a shockwave. At long last, Kirk keys his communications to the ship in what surely now, after all this time, MUST be a request for extraction! Nope. He actually stares down at the gigantic ordinance that just dropped past and says: "Kirk to Enterprise, they've just launched something into the planet...into the hole they just drilled. Do you copy Enterprise?"

I don't know about you, but I'd have been backing away in order to put some of that Romulan armor plating between me and the ordnance, covering my eyes, and screaming "Enterprise, two to beam up…NOW!" long ago.

Of the 7 speaking roles in this segment, one female has a single line of 8 words.

Kirk finally requests beam-out in Star Trek by the Minute 059: Retract the Drill

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Star Trek by the Minute 057: Have Guts Enough to Get the Point

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In a sweeping shot over the drilling platform, we see Kirk and Sulu fighting Romulan miners. There are some silly stage-fighting exchanges of blows until Kirk ends up hanging by his fingers off the edge of the platform. In an overhead view, we again see the problems that the effects crew had in visualizing large objects and distances. The drilling beam is about 15-20 meters in diameter, so while the platform is shown very high from the surface, many times the altitude of the cloud layers, the drilling beam terminator point is fairly large when it should be hair thin, if visible at all. The Romulan tries a few Frankenstein-like stomps on Kirk's fingers for some reason, when all he needs to do is keep Kirk from climbing back up.

Sulu's embarrassing fight scene continues with neither participant actually trying to hit the other in a vital organ, but making lots of wild arcing sweeps with their weapons. Finally, Sulu blocks a straight down chop by the Romulan's battle axe, completely stopping a crushing, full force blow with his sword held aloft in one hand and the axe is half a meter from Sulu's hand. There has never been a more unbelievable cinema combat defense. Sulu pushes the Romulan onto one of the flame vents, and he looks at Sulu like a cartoon coyote, then down at the vent, then back at Sulu, and is engulfed in flames. Is this a hilarious tribute to Saturday morning Looney Tunes villains, or insulting cinematic drivel? You decide.

Meanwhile, the Romulan is still ignoring what's going on behind him in order to stomp on Kirk's fingers, at which point his commitment finally pays off in a pyrrhic victory: he steps on Kirk's fingers…immediately followed by Sulu's sword bursting through his chest like the queen's tail ripped through Bishop in Aliens or the chest burster did in all of the films. Like them, the emerging object is covered in appropriately colored gore, white, red or in this case, green.

The Romulan decides to use his final moments of consciousness to stage a dramatic, leaping somersault off the platform without even trying to take one of his killers with him.

No women appear or speak in this sequence.

After the battle is over, Kirk and Sulu pick a very dangerous way to use some of the firearms lying around in our next segment of Star Trek by the Minute, Episode 058: "What's the Matter?"

Monday, October 26, 2009

Star Trek by the Minute 056: Sulu’s Switchblade!

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As the two struggle over the Romulan weapon, it repeatedly discharges, puncturing Sulu's canopy 3 times, giving him control problems. Sulu struggles to make the landing as the lumbering Romulan seems to get the upper hand with Kirk, but our hero is somehow able to disarm the bad guy and throw away his weapon. Then he decides to pull a phaser he apparently had the whole time, and the Romulan is somehow able to disarm Kirk by slapping it from his hand...Kirk lets this weapon fly away without a care also. His phaser dances down the platform's rusty metal like a thing possessed – then careens off the edge.

Meanwhile, Sulu is trying to overcome the problems of having a skydiving helmet that obstructs most of any lower half of the user's field of view. This helmet seems great for looking up at the drop vehicle, bad for seeing where you're going. Perhaps this is why Olsen got incinerated?

When we cut back onto the platform, where Kirk stupidly ditched his helmet twice, then stupidly lost two weapons, now his helmet magically appears in his hand and he is beating the Romulan over the head with it. At this point, a second Romulan lumbers out of the drill platform, with his weapon an excellent "not ready" position, giving Kirk an excellent opportunity to reprise his screaming charge. The magic helmet starts beating up on this bad guy too. In another continuity error, the second Romulan's disrupter simply disappears between shots, and the two bad guys then stand up in synchronized choreography that allows Kirk to simply Hannah Montana swing back and forth: hit, hit, hit…down they go. I tend to prefer this kind of action in a straight kung-fu feature, like an Enter the Dragon, something with Inspector Chang, or the Blu-Ray Flying Daggers I watched recently. Apparently, Kirk's opponents' fighting style derives from an occult Romulan tradition known only to the inner circle composed of students from elite martial arts schools on the former planet and abbots from each of the many monasteries hidden in the mines of abandoned asteroids. What we do know of the tradition involves making your own weapons disappear or tossing them away, followed by exhausting one's opponent, making him repeatedly bludgeon your skull as he defends against the dreaded Romulan face-plant. The Black Knight is said to have demonstrated a western version of the techniques against King Arthur, but was no match for the coconut-shell advantage of the legendary sovereign.

Meanwhile, Sulu misses the platform and snags his lines and chute in the platform rigging. In a spectacular pendulum, our future helmsman swings down to the energy beam and hits his chute retraction lifting him up on the platform. As a huge vent on the top of the platform vents a blast of flame, Sulu is being pulled directly toward it. Apparently, the chute lines are much more heat resistant than the space suit he is wearing.

This is a good time to bring in the topic of thermal radiation. The amount of heat absorbed by an object like a person's body is proportional to the difference in temperature and surface area divided by the square of the distance. If this drill is anything like a flames of which it seems to be composed, Sulu should have been cooked at such a close range. This gaffe relates to Revenge of the Sith's silly river of lava battle. Breathing water seems more plausible than ROTS' sabre surfing volcanic flows on McFly® hover-droids, so Abram's near-tempura scene is an improvement of sorts.

Sulu whips out what looks like a utility knife, presses a switch, and a straight-sword flips out in sections in a great CGI effect. After freeing himself, Sulu takes off his helmet also! Although Kirk was previously fighting the two Romulans, apparently one of them decided to turn his back on his comrade who was fighting for his life. He also turned his back to Kirk, the alien attacker trying to kill him. Why might he do this? Apparently, he wants to pose ominously so that when Sulu gets into his own "Gunfight at OK Corral" pose, the evil, cattle-rustling Rommy looks ready… Next, although he had a disruptor rifle, and still appears to have a large sidearm, he reaches onto his back and pulls out a switchblade style battle ax. At some point, you have to wonder if anyone had doubts about some of these scenes, or whether they were ever even reviewed. I'd speculate this "creative" team is hard to work for, because a significant number of subordinates will know that their really good efforts are going into a horrible product. Weapons designers and engineers will undoubtedly share some of the emotional survival techniques of this film's production team and others like distributors, promoters, etc.

Kirk is hammered by a right and falls to the metal deck, stunned. For some reason, the Romulan decides not to kill or even restrain his now-helpless attacker, and the fight scene continues with a chest-burster homage to Aliens as we see in our next Star Trek by the Minute, Episode 057: Have Guts Enough to Get the Point.

Not a single female appears in this segment.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Star Trek by the Minute 055: Olsen is Gone

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Olsen Redshirt continues his dive to the last possible moment and throws out his chute, but botches the landing, and gets dragged by his chute into the beam from the Romulan drill. His body melts away in the beam like butter, although there is no hint of the explosives he was supposed to be carrying. You would think that if he had enough high-explosives to "destroy" a mining drill, (which we would expect to be tough), there should be something that happens when vaporized in an energy beam…

Kirk lands on the platform with difficulty, showing off a very cool chute retraction button that sucks the rig back into a nice, neat hexagon. On the Enterprise Bridge, Chekov reports the successful landing to Spock, watching the viewscreen…not assigning and managing damage-control teams…not getting any casualty reports, not scanning the enemy ship for potentially planet saving information, not working on strategies for disabling or destroying the Narada, if necessary…not contacting Vulcan. After all, they could be using running lights, emitters, deflector vibrations, even a cardboard and marker would be visible to ship and surface sensors on Vulcan. Nope! Spock just stares at the screen doing nothing...

Spock's incompetent and reckless neglect for everyone's safety probably constitutes "dereliction of duty". In U.S. military law, this is defined as willful failure to perform one's expected duties. Since ineptitude is a defense against the charge Spock could beat the rap in court, if he got much better than his last "debate" at the Academy, or was represented by a merely semi-incompetent hack. At least Spock's neglect is better than what Kirk does next: taking off his helmet! Yes, he pulls the helmet and its supply hose from his harness and sets it down on the platform. As the most vital body armor you can have, only the untrained or foolish would to abandon it in a combat situation. We've already been told by Pike this is going to be a hand-to-hand fight. Apparently, Pike knows in advance that the weapons everyone would ordinarily use in combat to avoid the risks of H2H fighting, like ranged weapons, phasers, grenades, etc. will be "accidentally" dropped or otherwise unavailable - and another barfight scene, (which Roddenberry hated), will be coming up soon.

Kirk is helping any opponents injure or kill him, recognized in combat for ages, and even in sports today. This is why hockey players are not allowed to remove their helmets in fights: they can easily die by falling onto the ice and hitting their heads. After taking off his skull protection, Kirk sees a Romulan slowly start climbing from a hatch across the platform. It's a good thing Kirk didn't bring a phaser, otherwise he might just whip it out and stun or kill his enemy. We couldn't have a fistfight that way. Similarly, the Romulan doesn't use his big gun to simply snipe Kirk from cover and get back to drinking ale and reading Miner's Monthly. Instead he slowly creeps out so Kirk has time to run over and start grappling with him over the Romulan disruptor in a scene from a bad western. Ugh! In a minor continuity error, Kirk is shown getting rid of his helmet again, this time, by flinging it away by its hose as he starts his Han Solo stormtrooper sprint/yell combination toward the bad guy - except he takes out no weapon.

No women appear or speak in this segment.

Next on Star Trek by the Minute, episode 056: Sulu's Switchblade!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Star Trek by the Minute 054: Atmospheric Resistance

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This segment continues the 30 second vacuum freefall of Kirk, Sulu, and Redshirt along the Romulan drill, which gives us some time to review some first year physics regarding acceleration, and speculate on planetary dynamics. In films and TV, Vulcan gravity is shown as about the same as earth, although canon states it is "considerably" stronger with an atmosphere that is less dense.

We would normally expect planets with strong gravitational fields to collect proportionally more atmosphere, probably mitigated by the stellar wind which could strip gas away from the upper atmosphere unless the wind was deflected by a magnetic field, such as what the earth possesses. I thought this would explain why the Martian atmosphere is so thin, but then we look at Venus and see a super dense atmosphere. Since stellar wind paradoxically increases speed as it moves away from the sun, perhaps the higher density and slower speed at Venus' orbital radius is the determining factor. Are the presence of gas giants indicative of a zone favoring large mass for atmospheric accretion? If only there were enough time to get all the interesting degrees…

Back on Vulcan however, the jump seems to go as quickly as the rescue armada's trip from Earth to Vulcan. Let's assume the Enterprise, Shuttle, and Narada are at about 100km from the drill, at what we call "the edge of space" just outside the bulk of the atmosphere and where earth's aurora occurs. If we accelerate at 10m/s2 and ignore inverse-square reduction of g, orbital speed components and air density, how long would it be until we reach a plausibly breathable drill altitude with no drag? If 100,000m = .5 x 10m/s x time2, then our time to reach the drill will be about 140 seconds, pretty long – not to mention that we will be travelling at about 1400 meters per second at that point…more than 3100 miles per hour. Clearly, if a person could survive such a speed, they would not want to pull a parachute. Even these outlandish numbers are not enough for the film, as we see in a cut to the Bridge, onscreen readouts that the team is still more than 102km, and Chekov's reports "aVEH teme ees enterEENG zee atmusFEER, Soor. TVENTay TOUzand MAYtoors."

This sensor scan brings up another couple of points: Why has the Enterprise not been getting any detailed sensor data on the enemy, it's ship, technology, crew? The only reading they'd made of any note in this encounter was that the drill was the source of their transporters and communications being disabled. This is an unusual kind of jamming: it blocks every emergency transmission from an entire planet, but ship to ship, and personal transmissions for moving the plot along work fine? That's really sloppy writing. The second point is why is the Narada's entire crew, at least on alert if not battle stations, this crew completely misses something going on in full view. A person sitting at a window on the Narada could watch this raid taking place. The Romulans also completely miss the transmissions ordering destruction of the drill, restoring enemy transporters, recovering assault personnel? Then they miss the calls between the attacking Starfleet squad-members when they previously scanned the rescue armada from many lightyears away? This does not seem like the same crew.

Following the drop team, there is a slight buildup of wind noise, and then a sudden blast as the team hits "the real atmosphere". This is a common misconception since this layer does not really exist. Air gets progressively thinner the higher you go, but even in space we find traces of gas. In the "edge of space" article linked above, the word "edge" is generally acknowledged as something of a meaningless misnomer, subjective and artificial. It's very much like drawing a line between "different species" in biology. A difference could be unique to an individual, a group trait, a defining feature of a variety, or a constraint establishing a different species – depending on the definition of our terms. Defining a precise atmosphere's edge or an exact species boundary is generally acknowledged to be impossible, as different definitions work better for different types of science.

In another external CGI shot, we see the shuttle approaching the Narada with Pike looking with concern at the size of his enemy's vessel, before cutting back to the drop team, then Chekov. (I'll translate…) "Approaching the platform at fifty-eight-hundred meters." "Kirk to Enterprise, distance to target 5000 meters." Chekov: "Forty-six-hundred meters from the platform." A series of countdowns continues until Sulu says "Pull the chute!" We see Kirk and Sulu safely deploy, but Olsen continues his dive. Kirk looks down and broadcasts "C'mon… Pull your chute, Olsen!"

Try to guess what happens to Olsen, the guy in the red shirt before reading our next episode of Star Trek by the Minute 055: Olsen is Gone, Sir.

No women speak in this segment, or are seen on screen.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Star Trek by the Minute 053: Drop Zone

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At this point, Sulu turns to face Kirk and deadpans: "Fencing". Like so much else, one might claim the absurdity of Sulu's reply was a joke, and that he wanted to inject a bit of self-deprecating humor into the situation. Forgetting that this reply is likely to further undermine Kirk's already-shaken confidence in his squad's members, this dialogue directly violates the spirit with which Gene Roddenberry imbued his characters: cultural pride. This is why his original first officer was female, why Spock was Vulcan, Chekov was Russion, Uhura was African, and they interacted with the central character from the center of the North American United States. Anyone with an appreciation for the grand history of Japanese martial arts and in particular the near sacred solemnity accruing to swordsmanship would be loathe to mislead a gaijin, insult the ancestors, and demean a ryu by equating bushido to a European sport activity.

Back in the shuttle cockpit, Pike announces "Free jump" and the 3 man team puts on their helmets. "Gentlemen" he continues, as we see an external shot of the shuttle moving away from the Enterprise "we're approaching the drop zone. We have one shot to land on that platform." There is no evidence of that – unless there is no one left aboard the Enterprise who can obey the law of gravity. If the drill is really that important to saving Vulcan, everyone should get aboard escape pods and they should ram the drill, saving the planet and foiling the evil Romulans. Another option would be simply for the Enterprise to fire on the drill. After all, it seems the Narada is unable to detect 3 torpedo-sized projectiles heading to their drill anyway.

We may also note that because the drill is ostensibly jamming all transmissions, any communications between Pike and the suited assault team should be impossible. Not so, apparently. The transmissions seem to work fine. This film never seems able to stick to much of its background information, but here we have Vulcan and Starfleet communications down "because they're being attacked", according to Kirk, indicating this is deliberate jamming – as the advisor informed surrogate Princess Amidala just before the Trade Federation attack. In direct opposition to this, Spock indicated the disruption is a result of the (presumably normal) operation of the Narada's mining drill.

Pike continues on an open transmission: "They may have defenses, so pull your chute as late as possible." Now comes what has to be one of the most ridiculous countdowns in history, as Pike says "Three, two, one" then he decides to switch from acting as captain, team pilot, and future torture victim to impersonating a talking Microsoft Outlook Calendar reminder with "Remember, the Enterprise won't be able to beam you back until you turn off that drill….(pause)… Good luck!" …and he instantly pulls the outer hatch release! What if someone had decided that aborting the countdown gave them time to adjust the seal on a helmet or glove? They would have been spaced! This could have killed them if they were unable to restore the seal in time. It seems the characters could hear the background music which lets the audience know that the drop was coming. The three-man team flies away in a very well executed external CGI shot.

Unfortunately, the physics on this are all wrong because the away team dropped out of a shuttle that was moving toward the Narada, and regardless of how undeserved the generous assumption, we will allow the benefit of the doubt to treat the Narada and Enterprise to be holding station below geosynchronous orbit, but above the atmosphere. Any projectile from the shuttle would follow a trajectory that is roughly parabolic – however the drop team maintains steady distance from the punk snake drill. The only way for this to happen is if the shuttle stopped right next to the Narada unnoticed, hovered over the drill, dropped a commando squad with the entire crew of the Narada oblivious to this, despite their ability to sense precise trajectories across many light years of ships at high warp. Oh, I almost forgot: the Narada would also have to miss the transmissions that the shuttle is successfully broadcasting like a beacon.

In its favor, this segment does have beautiful external CGI, despite the onerous factors shared with the overwhelming majority of segments: not a single woman speaks, and the dialog that does appear is nonsensical, contradictory, and puerile.

We learn a bit more about physics in Star Trek by the Minute 054: Atmospheric Resistance, our next episode.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Star Trek by the Minute 052: Dr. Puri is Dead

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In response to Pike's quip, Quinto lifts one eyebrow, nods, and heads to the Bridge, walking through a beautiful set of automatic double doors that announce "AIR LOCK" four times. The set dressers /designers really could have gotten away with saying "inferiority-complex" once – we don't need all caps yelling at us, nor lens flares every one and a half seconds, nor the seriously misguided interior design "brilliance" of equipping nearly every available space with quick-shatter glass.

Spock takes the big chair, touch taps a com and sensibly orders "Dr. Puri, report." With the guts of the ship destroyed, melted, in flames, or whatever, it seems sensible to assess the situation, get a casualty report, and some sense for how rescue efforts are proceeding.

"It's McCoy," is the answer that comes across Spock's audio, "Dr. Puri was on deck 6, he's dead." Spock replies: "Then you have just inherited his responsibility as Chief Medical Officer." McCoy looks over his shoulder at a darkened area with fires, explosions, sparks, apparent casualties, and people running around like they are in an actual emergency. He sarcastically yells at Spock "Yeah, tell me something I don't know!" At this point, Spock should have taken McCoy at his word and informed him of something which McCoy did not seem to know, for example: Dr. Puri's duty at that moment would have been to follow his captain's direct order to provide a situation report. McCoy doesn't seem able to understand this (which happens a lot to alcoholics) and Spock suddenly loses any interest in how much of his crew is dead or dying. Obviously, this 10-seconds of nonsensical dialogue was shoved in without any thought in order to provide a reason for yet another cadet to assume a top post on the new Federation Flag Ship.

Let's see, everyone but Spock & Sulu seems to have reached their position at the top of this ship's chain of command through some sort of miracle, but even these two were written with impossible-to-believe incompetence in things like Spock's misunderstanding a "conclusion" or Sulu's inability to take a ship to warp. I can't help the feeling that this is a quick way to write a script because it saves one from having to create a deep, complex universe for the action. The alternate timeline was reportedly used so that no one would need to worry about violating Star Trek canon.

Similarly, no one worries about all those people dying due to the criminal negligence of Pike and the entire crew's suicide plunge into the Narada's crosshairs, as evidenced by the immediate cut to several figures loading aboard a shuttlecraft. We see Kirk, changed and aboard the shuttle in less than 20 seconds, ask his neighbor: "You got the charges, right?" His friend in red says: "Oh yeah, I can't wait to kick some Romulan ass!" "Yeah…" Kirk drawls with a bit of uncertainty. "Oh yeah!" the red shirt repeats. In an over the shoulder shot, we see Pike take "Shuttle 89" out of the hanger while large, senseless graphics scintillate on his control panel. Kirk's quick changes really are starting to remind me of the Adam West's Batman, who jumped on a fire pole up in the mansion wearing a tweed suit, and arrived at the Bat Cave in full superhero regalia. At least those episodes were consistent...

In an external shot, the shuttle goes zooming by with a sound like Luke's 1977 speeder, and Kirk turns to Sulu and asks: "So what kind of combat training do you have?"

There are 5 speaking parts in this segment, none of them are uttered by women.

Miracles abound with Narada's selective blindness and communications suddenly restored in our next installment of Star Trek by the Minute 053: Drop Zone.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Star Trek by the Minute 051: Be Careful, Spock

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This section opens with the Romulans finishing their red matter loading, when we cut to Pike leading Spock, Kirk, and Sulu through another of the poorly designed sets for the Enterprise seen earlier, this one was used when McCoy smuggled Kirk aboard. Pike explains: "Without transporters we can't beam off the ship, we can't assist Vulcan, we can't do our job." The transporter comment is technically true, but it's a bit like saying that without a McDonald's we can't order a Big Mac. How are these similar? Although factually true, they are hardly anything you would ever hear anyone say because "beaming" is the only thing transporters do, just like McDonalds is the only place you can get a Big Mac. The crew can still get off the ship with all the shuttles and presumably any other lifeboats aboard, they simply can't use the transporters. The statement that loss of transporter function prevents the ship from rendering aid is completely false. Shuttles could carry hundreds or thousands of personnel and/or tons of supplies and equipment for relief efforts. If the Enterprise was in an area where stellar radiation created similar disruptions, would ANY competent skipper simply declare the situation hopeless? Perhaps this monologue is a ham-fisted exposition introducing the concept of "transporters" to people like director J.J. Abrams who don't like Star Trek, never watched it and perhaps even like him, bragged about not being a fan.

Pike continues: "Mr. Kirk, Mr. Sulu, and Engineer Olsen will space jump from the shuttle." Engineer who? Is this one of TOS's disposable red shirt characters parodied in Galaxy Quest? OK, that's a decent inside joke and old trekkies will laugh. "You will land on that machine they've lowered into the atmosphere that's scrambling our gear, you'll get inside, you'll disable it, and then you'll beam back to the ship. Mr. Spock, I'm leaving you in command of the Enterprise. Once we have transport capability and communications back up you'll contact Starfleet and report what the hell is going on here. And if all else fails: fall back, rendezvous with the fleet in the Laurentian system. Kirk, I'm promoting you to first officer." Kirk blurts "What?" incredulously, and Spock asks "Captain? Please I apologize, the complexities of human pranks escape me." "It's not a prank, Spock…and I'm not the captain, you are." Pike looks to Kirk and Sulu and says: "Let's go."

Kirk and Spock look at each other before Kirk joins Pike and Sulu in the turbolift asking "Sir, after we knock out that drill, what happens to you?" "I guess you'll have to come and get me." Pike then turns to the new skipper delivers his best line of the film: "Careful with the ship Spock, she's brand new."

This segment features 6 characters onscreen – all males.

McCoy gets promoted to CMO via the Klingon system in our next segment of Star Trek by the Minute 052: Dr. Puri is Dead

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Star Trek by the Minute 050: Liquid Manifesto

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We hear Chekov stutter "Ye-Yessir," confirming his acceptance of ship's conduct as this segment opens, with a zoom out from the Bridge into space with a great, dizzying roll while the Enterprise seemingly drifts toward the Narada. I can only imagine that on the big screen, this would really be spectacular. On the Romulan ship, Nero looks over the shoulder of a female (to be seen but not heard, of course) and the commander stalks up to Ayel, ordering: "Prepare the red matter." His first officer's hesitant "Yes, sir..." combined with the ominous background music let us know that whatever this is, it's serious.

For no obvious reason, Ayel runs toward Spock's ship while looking over his shoulder, above and opposite the direction he is running…weird. Although the Narada's design makes very poor use of space with all those spiky tentacles, it is supposed to be a mining ship, and presumably there would be some big cargo bays and equipment hangers, so the Vulcan ship being inside the Narada does not seem out of place.

Ayel enters the ship and stands before a large, hexagonal aquarium containing a gigantic ball of red liquid, about 1.4 meters in diameter. Ayel and a crewman take a huge syringe, puncture the ball of death goo, and extract a red globule about the size of a small marble. They then very carefully insert this syringe vertically into a machine.

There is not much material in this section, it is mostly computer generated space scenery and Romulans looking at bits of red goo.

No women speak in this segment.

Next, Pike delivers his best line of the film in Star Trek by the Minute 051: Be Careful, Spock

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Star Trek by the Minute 049: Chekov Has the Con

Spock turns from his aft-facing station on the Bridge to face the viewscreen, stands and walks forward, and monotones: "Pardon me, I do not believe you and I are acquainted." Nero responds: "No we're not…not yet." So, the dialogue here indicates Nero knows he's time-travelled backward and that what he has experienced in the future has not happened yet. Why even put this exposition in the film if Nero is going to scream the exact opposite worldview later? The only answer that seems plausible to me is that the development team had no respect for the story – they wanted profits and they wanted them fast – so they slapped out a script of drivel and funneled it into a massively funded, corporate production pipeline, after which it was excreted to theatres and now on video, all at incredible profits.

Nero continues "Spock, there's something I would like you to see." OK, what might that be? He doesn't say, but this could be the reference to the "make him watch" insanity from the Ship of Fools segment. "Captain Pike, your transporter has been disabled. As you can see by the rest of your armada, you have no choice. You will man a shuttle, come aboard the Narada, for negotiations. That's all." Nero's writers provided him with bad syntax, but it is his complete lack of credibility, motivation, and accessibility that leaves us scratching our heads. What possible reason would Nero have for wanting to talk to Pike? This villain is like the rest of the characters, without any consistency, or awareness that would literally give them "character". Nero is like a shaved, tattooed, bad imitation of Wile E. Coyote.

As Nero swipes away the com interface and the Enterprise main viewscreen goes blank, everyone on the bridge turns to Pike who stands and…

Kirk says: "He'll kill you, you know that." Spock chimes in "Your survival is unlikely." Kirk continues with "Captain, we gain nothing by diplomacy. Going over to that ship is a mistake." Spock chimes in "I too agree, you should rethink your strategy." To what strategy is Spock referring? Pike looks like he's TRYING to think carefully toward his next move while his "crew" is unproductively blathering at him. As if to shut them up, he says "I understand that. I need officers who have been trained in advanced hand-to-hand combat." Sulu raises his hand and announces: "I have training sir." "Come with me," Pike answers with "Kirk, you too…you're not supposed to be here anyway.  Chekov, you have the con."

Later, we find out Pike is planning a covert infiltration of the Romulan drill to disable it. Would hand-to-hand combat specialists help? No. Would any competent commander assign bridge officers for a risky demolition missions? No. Again, Pike blatantly demonstrates he is unfit for captaincy. In TNG, this was something that Roddenberry was able to fix from the original series: the Captain's duty is to the ship – and although Picard took many away missions, his exec was quite appropriately the primary off-ship commander. In this instance, Pike should know his department, units, and personnel who have the appropriate kinds of training, like um, commandos? Nope. Basic military knowledge does not exist for this skipper.

Of the 6 speaking roles in this segment, not a single female utters a syllable.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Star Trek by the Minute 047: Psychic Psycho

In the flow of battle, Nero's order to destroy the Enterprise was followed instantly by his bridge crew, with missiles hot in 5 seconds, impacting the target in 10. Sulu's useless "status report" and Pike's nonsensical order to "get Starfleet Command" takes another crucial 10 seconds, during which the next salvo from the Narada should have been on its way. Spock's report on the Romulans' "high energy pulse device" and Pike's ordering of "All power to forward shields, prepare to fire all weapons" yet again consumes what should the last available seconds for the crew to avoid certain death, yet they choose to use this time to chat about information that has nothing to do with keeping themselves alive, like getting the hell away from a ship against which it is obvious - glaringly obvious - they have no possible chance of success.

Entering a battlefield under red alert, shouldn't our weapons be ready to fire already? I can't understand why the writers chose to have the skipper micromanage when they don't have Pike's detailed instructions consistent with reasonable actions. Even if flying into the trap made sense, (it didn't) even if firing at the Narada might adversely affect the enemy (it can't), even if not trying to escape was reasonable, (it isn't), why would we delay a fire order by instead ordering "Prepare"? Someone should slap Pike and demand to know what in the hell is he waiting for? For Nero to miraculously and unreasonably save the Enterprise? Fortunately, Gods (the writers) are on the side of the Enterprise, and the Narada and her crew just sit idly by while the Starfleet crew waffle around and have their nonsensical discussions. On the upside, the setup of the scene does provide a reason to show artillery casings being shoved into launchers and the hatches being locked shut. Tick…tick…tick…away go our heroes' final seconds in a universe with any sort of believability. So one wonders: what's going on aboard the Narada?

We see the Enterprise on Nero's viewscreen, and hear a Romulan officer announce "weapons ready", and then there's a long pause with Nero just staring at the screen with apparently everyone aboard waiting – as if they expect Nero to stop the attack, which he eventually does by yelling "Wait!" Ridiculous. The Narada was already firing, we know weapons are not merely ready, they have already been firing and every second the Narada waits is a chance for their enemy to fire, reinforcements to arrive, or an infinite number of other possibilities - all bad.

As the Enterprise is turning its bow in what looks like an attack vector or prep for another ramming maneuver that previously tore the guts out of the Narada when the Kelvin tried it, Nero says: "The hull, magnify." Navigation & sensors must really have a great telepathic link, since they don't zoom in on the enemy's weapons systems or damage to assess anything relevent to the battle, rather they home in on the proud "U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701" on the saucer section. Why would we care about the name of some other Federation ship that has nothing (apparently) to do with Nero's plans? Is Nero psychic, and his precognition and clairvoyance tell him that Kirk and young Spock must survive for Abrams' next travesty, and that they are aboard this ship? It's a mystery as once again, our heroes are saved from their own suicidal stupidity by another nonsensical miracle, perfectly timed. In my opinion, this insults viewers' credulity.

Nero shows that he has some superhero "helpless gaping" powers of his own, before we cut to Uhura on the Enterprise bridge announcing : "Captain, we're being hailed." On the viewscreen, we again see that enemy commanders can just pop-up on the main viewscreen of starships like a bad browser ad, as a badly distorted version of Nero says "Hello." In reaction to the shock of the situation, Pike has a momentary lapse to reason and replies sensibly, "I'm Captain Christopher Pike, to whom am I speaking?" "Hi, Christopher. I'm Nero." Pike gains his irrational footing to assert: "You have declared war on the Federation." For some unknown reason Pike thinks that this ship, about which he knows almost nothing other than it has attacked every populated ship, base, and planet with which it has had contact, is equivalent to a sovereign or head of state for the Romulan Empire. Even if Nero was considered a non-state terrorist, declaring war is an actual declaration. For all Pike knows, the Narada could be acting under any of an infinite number of mistaken ideas that led them to a conclusion that they are fighting for their survival. Pike has no clue – and yet he blurts out a provocative judgment that is not merely completely devoid of any supporting evidence as far as he knows, but factually wrong in several ways. Again I will ask: does no one proofread these scripts?

So, without any understanding of his enemy, Pike continues "Withdraw, and I'll agree to arrange a conference with Romulan leadership at a neutral location." Nero decides to clarify a couple of Pike's unjustified assumptions with "I do not speak for the Empire. We stand apart, as does your Vulcan crewmember. Isn't that right Spock?" Our first question might be: how would the captain of a frigging Romulan mining ship even know about Spock's assignment to the Enterprise – is he psychic? Second: why would he possibly care about saving this particular ship? Third: How would he know about alternate such things in an alternate timeline? Fourth: Why would he care about this alternate timeline? Fifth: What could this possibly have to do with Nero's planned revenge on the prime timeline Spock? Sixth: Has no one on board the Narada yet realized that Nero's plan includes letting everyone on Romulus die a second time? Incredible...that the studio actually makes hundreds of millions by PRODUCING such toxic waste.

Of 5 speaking roles in this segment, the only female is Uhura, who utters a total of 4 words.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Star Trek by the Minute 046: With Shields Like These…

Previous: STbtM 045: Shields Up!

This segment opens with the Enterprise zooming through the wreckage of the destroyed fleet, which the Narada has pulverized. The Enterprise crew continues their frantic activity to avoid the structural carnage and detritus as if all this debris was some sort of surprise! It's not like everyone in the theatre didn't know what happened, and what the Enterprise was getting into, yet Pike and all the other flag officers and even Kirk who had been shouting warnings about a trap until a few moments ago, they all act as if this is the biggest surprise of their lives, less expecting what they find than my 8 year old. Might any experienced space combat veteran do better than this?

As the Enterprise rolls to starboard 90 degrees and drifts forward toward a huge disc section of wreckage in front of them that looks large enough to be part of an orbital station, Pike orders "Full reverse, starboard roll 90 degrees, take us underneath…" Editors probably deserve the blame for cutting the roll maneuver footage ahead of the order but the writers get credit for Pike's micromanagement of the worst kind, starting with his issuance of conflicting orders. "Full reverse" would back the ship up pretty fast, whereas taking the ship under the large disc wreckage would mean continuing forward. Again, Pike needs a refresher explaining that his order to the helm should be "Get us clear of the debris field, and avoid the giant Romulan death ship." Then let the helmsman do his job, he presumable does have a specialized station to be able to perform this duty better than can be managed from the Captain's chair.

With no discernable reduction in speed, the Enterprise continues toward the disc, and scapes the port nacelle on the rim. While the CGI is great, it makes no sense if "shields are holding" as was reported. Apparently we are to believe that this starship's shields are unable to handle something no more advanced than a rock floating in space. Perhaps they only "deflect" insults and "shield" the crew from having hurt feelings? The technology seems mysterious.

Once again our superheroes on the Bridge combine their amazing "helpless gaping" powers as the Enterprise exits the debris field to give the Narada a completely unobstructed line of fire, and nice viewscreen image. On that ship, Ayel calls out: "Sir, there's another Federation ship!" "Destroy it too!" is Nero's reply and one of his Aussie officers instantly replies with "Fiya tohpehdoes!"

Spock reports: "Captain, they're locking torpedoes." Pike: "Divert auxiliary power from port nacelles to forward shields!" He seems to have forgotten that the Enterprise only has two nacelles, one port and the other starboard. We may assume this order was carried out, but it works about as well as a jello doorstop and two torpedoes rip through the Enterprise with more explosions. Over the strobes and background French horns, Pike orders "Sulu, status report." Sulu responds with "Shields at 32%. Their weapons are powerful sir, we can't take another hit like that." Years at the academy weren't wasted on Sulu. Like a Sherlock Holmes in space, he notices the little details: a single ship wipes out a Klingon fleet while outnumbered 47 to 1. He insightfully connects the dots that this ship, without stopping, successfully attacked an entire technologically advanced civilization prompting a planetary distress call. In a flash of brilliance, Sulu concludes the ship has powerful weapons. At least he could teach Spock a few lessons on what drawing conclusions is about.

Pike orders: "Get me Starfleet." Ridiculous. Communications are jammed, Einstein – that's why no transmissions were being detected when Uhura checked just a few seconds ago, remember? Spock turns from his station to explain, "The Romulan ship has lowered some sort of high-energy pulse device into the Vulcan atmosphere. Its signal appears to be blocking our communications and transporter abilities."

Of the six speaking roles in this segment, not one female has a single line.

Next on STbtM 047: Psychic Psycho

Thursday, September 24, 2009

STbtM 045: Shields Up!

Spock continues: "…and Lt. Uhura is unmatched in xenolinguistics; We would be wise to accept her conclusion." Bzzzt! Oh, I'm sorry, that knocks the pointy-eared Vulcanian out of our bonus round, but thanks for playing "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grade Pakled?" We have a nice parting gift basket for you backstage including WFF 'n Proof's party pack and tofu kebabs. Why is Spock sulking out behind the back curtain? Uhura's report only makes two statements: (1) She translated the message (confirming its existence) and (2) that its content was accurately reflected in Kirk's summary. Neither of these is any kind of conclusion because conclusions are logical consequences arising from the truth of some set of propositions. All bachelors are unmarried, and Bill is a bachelor. These propositions, if true, lead to the conclusion Bill is a bachelor. Spock the super-genius from a logic culture is unable to understand what constitutes a logical conclusion? Ridiculous!

Pike orders: "Scan Vulcan space, check for any transmissions in Romulan." The male com officer replies, "Sir, I'm not sure I can distinguish the Romulan language from Vulcan." Pike approaches Uhura and asks, "What about you, can you speak Romulan, er, cadet?" Hold on, is she a lieutenant or not, did she just get demoted from officer rank in 2 seconds? Pike and Spock need to get on the same page here, and figure out who the hell is actually on the bridge and their rank.

"Uhura. All three dialects sir." "Uhura, relieve the Lieutenant." "Yes sir." Perhaps Uhura's demotion was based on not wanting to use the Lt. rank too many times, but that's a pretty lame excuse. Pike raises his voice and orders, "Hannity, raise the USS Truman." A gorgeous female crewmember responds with "All the other ships have dropped out of warp sir and have arrived at Vulcan, but we seem to have lost all contact." Pike looks thoughtfully at nothing as Uhura reports: "Sir, I pick up no Romulan transmission, or transmission of any kind in the area."

Kirk pipes in with "It's because they're being attacked." Pike decisively walks to the Captain's Chair and orders "Shields up – Red alert!" Again I am probably not up to speed on the technology and mission rules, but wouldn't we be running with shields automatically in an emergency? I would certainly already have the ship on yellow alert to put them at their duty stations and in TNG, yellow alert included raising shields, while in WoK energizing "defense fields" was performed.

We see a flurry of Bridge activity and Sulu announces "Arrival at Vulcan in 5 seconds…4…3…2…" and in classic camera prompt style, omits the directorial "1…Go!" verbal command, which keeps it the director instructions off the audio track. It really is getting boring but once again, if I try to identify with these characters and put myself in Pike's position – I am convinced that a large enemy vessel has laid a trap and is launching a surprise attack against my fleet with powerful and advanced weaponry against which I have no known countermeasures, would I choose to drop my ship and crew out of warp into the exact location where the enemy has his cross hairs? How about altering course to a couple of AU's (or ly's) out and scanning? Not our witless heroes, they seem to have forgotten (again) about protecting themselves from ...what is it that's on the tip of my tongue - uh, it's what they call that thing that we don't like… wait a sec.. Oh, now I remember: "Hideous slaughter"! I suppose it is true that intelligent behavior by characters reduces the action, if "action" is a proper word for massive violence and killing. Pike seems to have a big ADD problem taking his ship that was ostensibly prepared for a rescue mission right into the trap laid by an enemy that recently tore apart a massive Klingon battle fleet without breaking a sweat. Why does Pike even bother ordering shields?

The main viewer on the Bridge explodes with a maelstrom of light zooming into a vast, exploding debris field, and Captain Pike orders "Emergency evasive!" with huge chunks of burning starship careening toward the Enterprise from every direction. Well DUH! What do you expect? Everyone on the Bridge starts talking at once except for Kirk, and as the film cuts to the external shot, we see more of the fantastic visual effects. Unfortunately, we see some relatively small pieces simply float unimpeded into the hull of the Enterprise – which has to make us wonder: what good are shields if they can't even stop a small piece of debris from hitting the ship? To make matters worse, right after this collision, somebody on the Bridge reports that "Deflector shields are holding!" which is yet again completely ridiculous.

In an exceptional segment, out of 6 speaking parts, 2 females have lines.

Aspen Music Festival: Music with a View Concert

Distinguished theory and performance teacher provides expert knowledge during " Music with a View "at the Aspen Art Museum