Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Star Trek by the Minute 001

The first 15 seconds of beautiful effects of the USS Kelvin in space, include some nice communication chatter that includes “gravitational” readings going crazy and “it” looks like a lightning storm. First, lightning storms do not cause gravitational anything so crazy readings are not what “looks” like a lightning storm, at all. Later we do have some gravitational anomalies, so that plot element could mediate this criticism, but that leads to our next issue: why Kelvin is reporting on “the looks” of some “it” which is “out of visual range”? At least they got 15 seconds into the film before this screw-up, but in JJ Abram’s defense: the effects are spectacular and “gritty”, which was the goal. 
We next zoom onto the Kelvin bridge, which is so bright the Captain turns aft while ordering the viewscreens polarized. Apparently, Starfleet standards aren’t very demanding. It seems Academy graduates can reach bridge officer rank on no less than a starship, while never having learned not to blind themselves and their crewmates without orders from the skipper. It’s probably a good thing that cadets don’t have access to staplers. The blinding lights apparently come from the unknown “it”, which is still out of visual range, (un-blindingly visual range?) yet one second later, the “it” is so huge that its image exceeds the available frame of the viewscreen. In the next Trek movie, please advise the effects team of the following detail: “far stuff looks small”. A suggested possibility, such as the storm being within an obscuring cloud for example, violate what we see in exterior shots. Absent a good explanation, I’m going to have to say this is another error.
In the com chatter, we hear a question as to whether “this” could be Klingon, with an answer that “Negative, you’re 75,000 kilometers from…” something garbled. 75k frequent flyer km could get you upgraded to 1st class flying to Cleveland, but on the scale of interstellar space it’s insignificant. Even if we generously assume something like the Kelvin were this far from the Zone of McGuffin, a 1960’s Apollo capsule could coast that distance in less time than the running time for this film.  At Warp 1 (light speed), it would take the most pitiful interstellar vessel a whopping one quarter second. The human eye takes at least 10% longer than this to quickly blink, so the answer makes no apparent sense, except to illustrate the scriptwriters don't even understand that "space is really big. Another strange thing is: why would anyone ask if a weird lightning storm phenomenon were Klingon? No one looks out a window and asks whether the clouds are Social Democrat or Monarchist.
On the bridge, alarms instantly start going off as a nest of spines, spikes, and other sharp pointy stuff emerges from the lightning cloud, and an officer inexplicably asks the Captain whether he is “seeing” the viewscreen. For some reason, the Captain ignores his officer’s inquiry, preferring to gaze in terror at an opportunity to fulfill the Federation’s primary mandate of exploration with its arguably most important mission: first contact. Instead, his “Oh, my God!” response, the Red Alert, and everyone going to battle stations is completely inappropriate, if one has any understanding of how diplomacy, establishing communications, or intelligent leadership works...or the Star Trek universe. 

So let it never be said that J.J. Abrams refused to back up his claims of never having been a fan of ST. I think this must include the claim he has never been a fan of science and logic either since including these appears not to have been a goal for the film, and any background research or checking with consultants needed does not seem to have been pursued. Emotional “gut” appeal is used instead of investigation as a shortcut: clear thinking is not asked of characters or viewers as threatening music (very well done) and threatening ship design (also great) makes clear that this ship is big, black, evil, and against which one is likely to get hurt, with or without ablative armour.
Trivia question for science fiction fans: What SF movie contains more inexplicable and contradictory activity in the first 60 seconds than Trek 2009?
Next: STbtM 002


crone51 said...

This is just wonderful fun. Are you really planning on doing the entire movie? I will be here for the ride.....

BurntSynapse said...

Yes, that's the plan...

Anonymous said...

Dude, get a life and enjoy the movie. Speaking as a Trek fan, I'd say it was pretty darn great. It seems your head is too far up your ass to overlook minor inaccuracies that no one in their right mind should care about. It's called suspension of disbelief. Try it sometime; believe me, you'll have a lot more fun at the movies.

BurntSynapse said...

Perhaps you are right and the inaccuracies were minor and I did not suspend a fair amount of disbelief. In the blog posts, I try to detail the steady contradictions that eventually made me unable to enjoy the film, and made finishing it a chore. I actually walked out for a while from feeling bored and dirty - a first in about 40 years for me.

Perhaps the story, characters, message, and/or ethics were too important for me. I think the effects, sound, sets, costume, music, etc. were not merely good, but spectacular.

However, if you can explain in detail why the movie overall is "great", I would really like to understand how the film deserves such praise.

Maggie said...

Hi, I found your post from following a link from your comment on a center for inquiry story.

I think "suspension of disbelief" is different for all of us, to address the commenter's remarks that you also answered. If all of these scientific absurdities struck you, they struck you. I suspect that the commenter enjoyed the film because s/he was unaware of the scientific absurdities. I honestly didn't hear them, but probably wouldn't have noticed them if I had. But certainly the "computer, hello computer" scene in Star Trek IV was difficult for me, since I was a Mac programmer at the time. My sister, who trains horses, can't watch horses being ridden in movies. We all have things that jolt us out of the movie reality.

I did love this movie, but not as "Star Trek," and I'm concerned that they are creating a new voice for Star Trek that isn't at all true to the original series or Roddenberry's original intent. I am willing to let it slide in this movie, I feel they got people's attention and they created something really fun and exciting, but if Kirk is going to continue to be undisciplined and without an appropriate internal ethical compass, then I don't know if I'll be able to continue to watch. I think, as a Trekkie, I enjoyed this movie because so many of the secondary characters were further developed, and I'm a big Spock fan and they really didn't mess Spock up. This Spock is more accepted and less internally tortured than our old Spock.

Sorry to ramble. :-) I like your post, please write more.

Andrew Ryan said...

I once saw a book that did exactly this with the original Star Trek TV series. Nothing changes! If you're going to see a film where people can travel faster than the speed of light and teleport to other planets, you're already saying you don't really care about the science aspect of the story. Surely that was never what the show was about anyway?

However, I still enjoy reading this kind of pedantry, although often it comes down to the pedant in question having misheard or misunderstood the dialogue.

BurntSynapse said...

Hello Maggie,
You raise what turns out to be a surprisingly critical point regarding suspension of disbelief. I refrain from critical judgment of the book, film, or other narrative as a sort of toll in exchange for fun, education, enlightenment, or otherwise engaging my mind and emotions. Science fiction has been a tremendous springboard for imagination, creativity, and development of technology.
On first watching, I felt the deal had been largely broken with the shuttle birthing sequence and the senseless suicide of George Kirk, and ludicrously sudden helplessness of the dread Romulan octostar of death. I kept waiting for a redeeming, inspiring, intelligent resolution to problems that seemed contrived, but each time there was some miraculous, nonsensical freak event. Other than an occasional cute line of dialog, I found nothing that was worth the spectacular FX, great looking actors, sets, costumes, sound, music, and all the rest.
I think what finally made me walk out of the room was when Spock started preaching against careful study and hard work in favor of “faith”. What some would call “a shandeh un a charpeh“, a shame and a disgrace. They betrayed Roddenberry’s deep-felt humanism, and in their ignorance and arrogance, they dedicated the movie to him and his wife? I don’t think the story deserves and suspension of disbelief based on their contempt for the intelligence of the audience, betrayal of ST values, (or any that are worthwhile), and their inability to provide 60 seconds of problem-free fluff with millions of dollars to spend and hundreds of good people on the team.

BurntSynapse said...

Hi Andrew, I’m grateful you are enjoying the blog.

Actually, project management for revolutionary science is my primary area of research, and I have no doubt that teleportation and something that is effectively like warp travel will be developed. Thus, I would tend to dispute the claim viewers like me “don’t really care” about the science in films. We might want to refine some distinctions there.

In fact, if our descendents are going to survive, we will be forced to have a refuge when the next periodic planetary catastrophe hits. We will need to eliminate war and transform to zero-growth economic models and sustainable lifestyles as well. This will involve scientific study and careful planning, management and experimentation.

I do agree that “what Trek was REALLY about” was not science per se, but it was set in a high-technology, science-based future – and I would expect story tellers to keep true to their chosen setting. Yes, this may take discipline, but it is a discipline that repays us with a better story, whatever one chooses to do with it. In this case though, the film makers not only didn’t keep to their own choices of setting, character, and plot, as far as I can detect they had no story or message worth telling. Instead, they pandered and IMO advertised for violence, militarism, sexism, and emotional whimsy. Of course, it is merely one interpretation, and perhaps as more people read the blog, I will get the chance to learn other viewpoints that are equally or even better supported than my current opinion. I love to have my mind changed – and I wish I loved this film, but honestly think it’s reprehensible and does viewers a disservice overall.

Maggie said...

How did I miss Spock preaching for faith? Where was that? That is very upsetting. OTOH, I was willing to accept Spock having some kind of "essence" that could be transferred to McCoy and run on his hardware, then transferred back to a body that looks like Spock, in order not to lose Spock. Golly, when it comes to movies, it looks like I'll believe anything.

Andrew Ryan said...

BurntSynapse, thanks for your reply. My problem with teleporting is the old philosophical problem that a machine that breaks down every part of me and recreates me somewhere else is effectively killing me, and making a new me elsewhere. This seems a high price to pay!

In the original series, is the mechanism by which this is achieved explained at all? Are the actual atoms of the teleportee moved through space somehow through a wormhole? Or is it just destroying the original person and recreating them from scratch?

Moving at warp speed, aside of the amount of energy it would require, how do you stop yourself slamming into a planet or an asteroid on the way? Do the ship's computers plot a completely clear path hundreds of millions of miles in front of it? How do you know that what's clear one second won't be clear a few seconds later - eg another warping ship moving from a different direction coming to a standstill in your path?

BTW, did you see that video on the Onion website about Trekkie fans being furious with the new movie from being too entertaining?

Once again, I enjoyed reading your blog on the movie, and look forward to the next installment!

Maggie said...

I think you're killed when you're transported in the ST universe, and would it really matter if you were re-created from the same exact atoms? Either way you're disassembled and re-assembled from a "pattern." Note the various transporter accidents that have split people in two, merged two people into one, or just plain reassembled them when the "signal" wasn't strong enough to reassemble them properly. Ick. I'm with Dr. McCoy, keep me in one piece, don't disassemble me. The rest of you may believe my doppelganger is me (along with my doppelganger), but I was destroyed when I was beamed. IMO.

BurntSynapse said...

Hi Maggie,

I believe the scene is in a cave and performed by old Spock. It reminded me of incredibly offensive "faith of the heart" song in ENT. I'm sure we will reach it before long, but I'm in Brazil at the moment and will not be posting every day - as I would like... :(

BurntSynapse said...

Hi Andrew,

You could say that time does the same thing as a transporter, since those configurations of molecules change all the time, or on a longer timeline, every molecules is replaced as cells die and are excreted. Depending on one's view, time and life processes are doing what may meet your definition of "killing" us. I see no need to object, nor any need to draw a fine distinction unless we are considering things like execution of someone decades after the crime and their body and brain lack any physical material which participated in the crime, and the mind may be very different than the one which murdered.

As for warp travel, it will be necessary to "go" from point A to B circumventing the intervening distance. Rather than speculating (unproductively, IMO) on how to warp space-time, it appears we should be focusing our research on what kinds of dynamics would give rise to the observation of space-time, and do away with the assumption that is has fundamental reality. This is like giving up the obvious, but incorrect idea that the sun "moves" across the sky each day.

I did see the Onion video and LOVED it.

Thanks for the love, it pays the emotional bills and makes the work worthwhile!

Anonymous said...

Pathetic review so far and I imagine it will only get worse. But what do I know, I've only followed Star Trek for 40 years!

BurntSynapse said...

Hello Anonymous, If you could provide reasoning for judging the review "pathetic" it could help your readers understand your disagreement and how your 40 years of experience come into play. There are much better ST experts than me, and you could certainly be one of them!

dholyer said...
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dholyer said...

I first became a Trekkie back in 1968 when I first viewed Omega Glory (another Earth were the Commies bet America). I love tech and the future. A;though JJ Abrams Trek was not the original pattern. Maybe it was the old pattern of story that was fading away. JJ at least polished the story with a new shine so new viewers would understand the basic ideas in new vacant lost minds. If we do not venture into Space, the only other course is to become animals again and say bye-bye to Technology. If we keep tech toys we will become an over populated rabid mammals that resemble Rabid Zombies and join the Dinosaurs.

dholyer said...

If you wish to see humanity starting to aim for the concept of Star Trek, find and view Nat. Geo's hour show 'Living on the Moon'. It educates about our desires for the next 150 years on the Moon as we leave this blue rock to explore Space.

Anonymous said...

Burntsynapse, one can pick apart most any movie (especially science-fiction and previous installments of Star Trek) in this fashion. In the end, you either enjoy yourself or you allow yourself to be bogged down in details. Most of these would be considered extreme nitpicks, even by a hardcore fan.

Your complaint about the anomaly 'looking' like a lightning storm, for example. It's clear they're referring to whatever sensor readings they're receiving. It's commonplace for someone to say 'this looks like' without looking directly at something, but rather describing the readings they're receiving. A submarine officer might say that a sonar reading 'looks Russian', for example, but he's clearly not looking directly at the other submarine. I'd say this could easily fit that scenario.

Or take your complaint about the ship going to Red Alert. This happens frequently in Star Trek when dealing with an unknown vessel. In TWOK, Kirk goes to Yellow Alert and that's when a fellow Starfleet ship fails to communicate (and it is clearly implied he should have done so earlier by Lt Saavik). Worf constantly recommends Picard raise shields and go to Red Alert at the sight of unidentified ships. And as I recall (I could be mistaken) Red Alert is not initiated in Star Trek 2009 until the Narada opens fire. Even if that wasn't the case, it would seem prudent to exercise caution, even you are seeking out new life and new civilizations. As we can see from 40+ years of Star Trek's explorations, not all those civilizations are interested in friendship.

I'm not saying that some of the complaints about the science of the movie aren't valid, only that you can't turn a microscope on this film and fail to turn it on 43 years of Star Trek.

BurntSynapse said...

Thanks for the recommendation Dholyer!

I love NatGeo, but am not a big fan of a base on the moon or mars because such projects would likely come at the expense of developing FTL technology to get from A to B, but circumventing the intervening distance, which is what, IMO, we really need. Same for solar sails, et al. I'll be posting about some of these topics, but probably after I return from revolutionary science project management lectures I'm giving in the States and Europe starting next week.

BurntSynapse said...


First, I would like to thank you for taking the time to provide your reasoning, some details, and comparisons. I realize you did not need to do this and I think it shows character and an interest in respectful dialogue that I appreciate.

Let me first answer your criticism that the 001 review sucked. I must admit, I tend to agree – especially that I’ve now done almost 40 of them. I wish I had all day to rewrite them all. Please take a look at episode 026 here and 033 here which I thought were not too bad. Although I don’t have the time I’d like for a real, professional job on any of them.

I’m going to take issue with the claim that the dialogue “clearly” refers to sensor readings since when that line is spoken we are looking that the ship exterior with swirling clouds that are flashing. This suggests the line refers to what is being shown, and the only sensor data mentioned is “gravitational”. In the sonar analogy, I would point out the sub officer refers to “a sonar reading 'looks Russian'”. If the film had “this EM burst reading 'looks like a lightning storm” then I’d have no objection. If we put two subs with lots of windows on screen, giving viewers a long shot where they can see the more distant sub and its hammer & sickle and Russian lettering at the same time we overlay dialogue that is merely “it looks Russian,” I’m going to consider it most likely the dialogue confirms what we showed.
On the other hand, you are totally correct in my Red Alert complaint. The reason many of the other film and episode errors do not trigger such hostility for me is that they were trying to do something worthwhile. Just the other day I watched TNG: Coming of Age and the ridiculous claims made in support of the shuttle rescue bit. Although they are silly, they were in support of a good ethical point, the benefits of a good commander, and respecting experience – so I reluctantly cut them slack and appreciate what was a noble message, badly delivered. In ST2009, we have a series of depraved messages told with almost non-stop contradictions and errors that go beyond merely insulting, although visuals, acting and much more is spectacular… That’s why I tend to treat this film especially harshly. It’s somewhat like how I treat students: if they care and are at least trying to learn, I cut them a lot of slack – if they disdain learning the material and are just after a grade, they probably won’t get many breaks.

BurntSynapse said...

Hyperlinks were stripped out of that last comment :(

Anonymous said...

First off, i would like to state that many of your points were accurate, and brought a chuckle or guffaw to my face. Along with showing me that civilized criticism is not dead. But your first couple of criticisms could be untrue, but insufficient data was given in the movie. The "lightning storm" in space might not have been creating the gravitational distortion, but seeing as the other side of the storm was a black hole, it could cross over. And "lightning storm" is just a way of describing what it looks like, such as the kelvin looks like an upside down enterprise. Also the Narada did not cause the blinding light, it was the star the ship was near.

Jack said...
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MOCK! said...

Did the trivia question ever get an answer?!?!?

BurntSynapse said...

Hi Mock,

No, I'm afraid not; Although I do recognized the the severity of given mistakes often depends on one's point of view.

Having said that, I still maintain that this film is extremely poor by generally accepted standards, to say nothing of standards applicable to one of the most influential media franchises in history.

Anonymous said...

This review series was interesting, and I admired your devotion to Trek. But you weaken your argument by seizing alike upon real plot issues and non-issues with equal ferocity. To the point of being really puzzling. Like when you leap down the throat of the screenwriters for Spock's pronouns in "I would cite regulations but I know you would ignore it."

Orci & Kurtzman were pretty sloppy with the science--and as the people responsible for "Transformers," nowhere near as literate as Nick Meyer. But they knew how to build exciting sequences and funny moments in a series that for years had become dramatically inert.

Intellectual heft in assembling Trek movie plots is mostly a matter of smoke and mirrors anyhow. How the TNG flicks -- or "The Motion Picture" escaped similar allegations of stupidity is mostly a matter of dullness and cultiness.

I mean, the V'ger plot falls apart just as fast under this kind of sustained scrutiny. The difference between a Black Hole Device and V-O-Y-A-G-E-R is mostly a matter of Robert Wise's self-conscious stateliness, rather than scientific or thematic care.

Keep Trekking,

The Dunsel Report

BurntSynapse said...

Hi Anonymous,

Do you really think my total criticism of your chosen example ("This is a somewhat silly line and phrased awkwardly") comprises "jumping down screenwriters' throats"?

AFAICT, it seems clear that other issues were both more important and treated with much greater critical "ferocity" - the Nazi comparisons come to mind as something being perceived this way.

While I agree that all things being equal, revitalizing Trek is a good thing. In this case however, all things are not equal and Trek has been pimped for militarism, violence, and religion, probably unconsciously.

I also agree with your smoke and mirrors analogy regarding scientific plausibility. In AbramsTrek however, I claim that minimal standards were not even given a nod, based on the consistency, frequency, and severity of plot, dialog, and visual holes, contradictions, and non-sequiturs.

I've seen no evidence to support the claim that V'ger falls apart as quickly, but if you have support for the position that the first 60 seconds of TMP contains a similar number of defects as profound as those in Trek09, I don't think anyone would be happier to learn about it than me.

Nemo said...

This is so funny, I've been googling for something like this for a long time. Cheers and keep it up for the entire length!

John C. 'Buck' Field said...

Many thanks! I'm glad you finally found it.

I'd love to know what terms you Googled so I can put in some meta tags or something.

Nemo said...

It was a combination of words "star trek errors mistakes" etc. In the end I didn't find it anyway. Perhaps I just didn't do it right, I found many sites with errors but those were mostly lists of graphical camera glitches or plot discontinuities.
One of the best I've found was this

whereas I wanted something like this, minute by minute awesome nerdy critical analysis :D (and boy isn't there a lot of room for that)

I stumbled upon this site via a link in some computer developer's blog comments section (I'm dev myself). He was praising the new Win8 and was stating that every odd-numbered star trek movie sucked but the Abram's "reboot" was "utterly fantastic", I lol'd at him ;)

John C. 'Buck' Field said...

The errors at are great except for one thing: nearly all appear explainable by Abrams boasts (which I take as reliable) that he was never a fan of Star Trek thus, it makes sense for his film to violate canon.