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.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

STbtM 044: Kirk’s Sound Logic

Previous: STbtM 043: Borgtapus of Death

There's a bit of a scuffle on the Bridge as Kirk tries to press his case: "Sir, that same anomaly…" to be interrupted by Pike with the meaningless "Kirk!" Spock then chimes in with "Sir, Cadet Kirk is not cleared to be aboard this vessel," sounding actually distraught while at the same time Kirk begins to talk over him with a childish: "Look, I get it and I'd love to do it again with you." When Spock offers to Pike that "I can remove him from the Bridge," Kirk yells "Try it! This cadet is trying to save the Bridge" Huh? "Save the Bridge"? What about the whole ship? Why would anyone trying to make a case for their recommended course of action EVER say something like "...save the Bridge?" This is a small part of the vessel which cannot survive on its own and is like a strawman fallacy against Kirk's own argument, advocating a different and weaker position than that which he actually advocates. Certainly it could be claimed Kirk is merely using Spock's most recent noun, but I'm not buying that because it makes no sense for someone in his situation to do so. Safety of the ship is the skipper's primary objective – after stuff like the prime directive, direct orders to sacrifice the ship and crew, etc. Kirk, if he has any real concern for being taken seriously, should argue for saving the ship, since this is more natural, a stronger value proposition in itself, and on which anyone trained to sit in the captain's chair (simulator or actual) is focused. I can only conclude that it was considered a kind of artistry and a more lyrical way for the dialogue to flow – but as far as I'm concerned that artistic license should have been suspended after Minute 1 and certainly revoked strongly at least after Minute 26 by any assessor with an even partially functioning moral compass. On the other hand Kirk could just be putting style ahead of content, which is the way he has been portrayed, and for increasing the risk to the ship so that he could mouth off in what he considers more cool, someone should have slapped him.

Spock's "refutation" borders on the insanely illogical as he rhetorically asks the complete non-sequitur: "...by recommending a full-stop mid-warp during a rescue mission?" Apparently Spock's encyclopedic knowledge that starships can go to warp speed, is not matched by the ability to conclude that they could be designed to stop safely as well. This seems a pretty big memory lapse for the "genius" of Vulcan! Kirk turns to Pike to say "It's not a rescue mission, listen to me, it's an attack." Spock suddenly becomes a bit reasonable and asks "Based on what facts?" There's a full quarter-second of a pause, (you know, to add "drama"), before Kirk replies "That same anomaly, a 'lightning storm in space' that we saw today also occurred on the day of my birth before a Romulan ship attacked the USS Kelvin. You know that sir, I read your dissertation." Pike looks like he's just heard some crazy theory about the Earth rotating and the sun not orbiting it. You know, if anyone I knew spent years working on a dissertation involving an "lightning storm in space" where close friends were murdered and an entire ship was destroyed by aliens, I'd expect them to remember something about it when they received an emergency distress call following a "lightning storm in space". Pike must really have been a mental midget before sniffing the ether that's gotten into Starfleet's environmental systems today. Nevertheless, Kirk (our hero?) is on a roll: "…that ship, which had formidable and advanced weaponry, was never seen or heard from again. The Kelvin attacked a place on the edge of Klingon space and at 2300 hours last night there was an attack." Wait a second, the official story is that the Kelvin didn't attack anything, it was all self defense! (BTW – Don't aggressors always blame their victims and claim noble intentions?)

"Forty-seven Klingon warbirds destroyed by a Romulan sir, and it was reported that the Romulans were in one ship – one massive ship." This is some timeline information we didn't have, constraining the story's events within a tight timeframe. Apparently in one day, the Narada annihilated a Klingon battle group nearly seven times the size of the puny Starfleet rescue group, the subspace transmissions from the battle went all the way to Earth, were translated by the one undergraduate communications cadet (who would just happen to later be assigned to the Enterprise) filed her report and returned to her room which she just happened to share with the one person Kirk needed for his Kobayashi Maru hack (retcon, IMO). She also just happened to arrive in time to interrupt Kirk's last tryst with Gaila and just happened reveal the crucial information to the one person who just happened to be able to recognize it for what it was, since the Captain whose thesis was focused on the previous attack just happened not to notice any of the similarities between the Vulcan disaster and the disaster in his dissertation topic. Kirk, this "one-of-a-kind, special person" then just happened to be smuggled (for no good reason) onto the only starship which just happened to be late for the "ambush". In all this, there was still time for Kirk go to his room, sleep, change clothes, go to the Maru simulation in the morning, change clothes again, find and learn details in Uhura's report on the battle, report to the inquest with the Admirals and all those cadets, debate Spock, get suspended, go to the hanger, convince McCoy to break regs and the code of medical ethics for no good reason, get infected with the Mud Flea parasite, have a severe reaction, take a shuttle ride, change clothes again, get knocked out, revive, debate Spock on the bridge, etc. Also, apparently in less than a regular duty shift, after Spock and colleagues completed Kirk's simulation, analyzed his reprogramming, scheduled the admirals and cadets to confront Kirk later that same day on what they found, briefed the admirals, (who after all, have nothing better to do than investigate a poorly-supported allegation of cheating by a potential member of Starfleet), who then receive the distress call from Vulcan, formulate a response plan in less than 1 sec and with no apparent discussion, they planned staffing for 7 starships by selecting student cadets, got them all onboard and launched. Is no set of sequential coincidence and alternating super-human performance with autistic stoner levels of inattention too far-fetched?

Pike asks Jim: "and you know of this Klingon attack how?" Kirk looks to Uhura who says "Sir, I intercepted and translated the message myself - Kirk's report is accurate." "We are warping into a trap sir, the Romulans are waiting for us, I promise you that."

Spock, who has been staring intently with great, if belated concentration, declares "The cadet's logic is sound." Not really, but one must move ahead what we will herein refer to generously as "the plot".

Of 6 onscreen roles, one female speaks one line.

Next on STbtM 045: Shields Up!

Friday, September 11, 2009

STbtM 043: Borgtapus of Death

Previous: STbtM 042: Uhura Loses Skills

As this segment opens, we see from the surface of Vulcan a monstrously gigantic Narada floating in the blue sky high above, with what looks like an enormous black metallic flail snaking down toward us – all spikes and sharp blades. We pull back to see a flaming energy beam boring into Vulcan's atmosphere. Down on the surface, Spock's mom has just moved into her swanky new Vasquez Rocks condo. (Rumors on subspace that this relocation was to facilitate trysts with a Capellan, Kazon-Ogla, and a nearby Gorn couple remain unfounded.) Nero seems to have decided to initate his revenge on Spock by obliterating mom's backyard recreation of a California park. She views the massive pillar of fire drilling into the planet with horror from her patio, without any apparent interest in... you know, looking up at the source of what would seem a bit out of the ordinary to most people. Could this cylindrical conflagration serve as the dance pole for a satanic strip-tease of their world's end? Is it the final, [cue ominous music] harbinger of certain doom? Amanda hypnotically transfixed in shock, unable to muster the curiosity a cocker spaniel has for a running water faucet and just look up...or get the hell out of there; either would do.

We next cut to a low orbit view toward the planet where far below, an enormous "Borgtapus of Death" hangs above the red planet. Inside the ship, Ayel alerts Nero that "Seven Federation ships are on their way." Nero looks troubled at this news… that's a pretty strange reaction if later we are told that this is REALLY a trap for Federation ships "coming to the rescue".

Back on the Enterprise, Kirk dashes madly around a corner followed by McCoy yelling "Jim" followed by Uhura yelling "What's going on?" and the dash onto the Bridge. Hm, that's pretty convenient having the medical bay, guts of the communications team, and the Bridge all on the same deck! Kirk yells "Captain Pike, sir we have to stop the ship." "Kirk, how the hell did you get on board the Enterprise?" McCoy speaks up with "Captain this man is under the influence of a severe reaction to a vaccine, he's completely delusional – I'll take full responsibility." Kirk continues: "Vulcan is not experiencing a natural disaster, it's being attacked by Romulans." Pike: "'Romulans.' Cadet Kirk, I think you've had enough attention for one day. McCoy take him back to medical, we'll have words later."

Kirk is awfully certain that Romulans are attacking Vulcan, given the available information, but this raises the issue of why Vulcan did not seem to detect this planetoid-sized apoclyship of destruction with any their advanced technology? I mean, aside from all the astronomical capabilities, sensors and whatnot, what about using one of the many advanced "windows" that appear standard on every Vulcan building? The operations of this technology proven to be fairly reliable, and simple enough to use the basic "look outside" function. It certainly is a mystery!

Of the 7 major characters on screen in this segment, only one female has a speaking role.

Next: STbtM 044: Kirk's Sound Logic

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

STbtM 042: Uhura Loses Skills

Previous: STbtM 041: Kirk's ESP

Following McCoy's lead, Kirk looks down at his hands and says "What the hell's this?" as he lifts his hands which are grotesquely swollen. Hilarious or sad attempt at humor? You decide. McCoy decides to diagnose the problem and announces: "A reaction to the vaccine, dammit!" as he runs off-screen calling for Nurse Chapel. I guess vulgar expressions, religion, and obscene lyrics are some people's substitute when intelligent communication by thoughtful characters is beyond their ability. Struggling to breathe, Kirk leaps off the examination table, runs to a display panel featuring an American Splendor graphical theme ;) and with one screen touch, he is able to call up Chekov's mission briefing and start replaying it, and a quick, chubby finger slide takes him to the words "appeared to be a lightning storm in space". The screen must have some of that precognitive turbo-lift technology! Kirk grabs McCoy with his swollen mitts and slurs: "We gotta stop the ship!"

We cut to a passageway shot with James T. dashing madly around the corner with Bones racing after him yelling "Jim, I'm not kidding: we need to get your heart rate down!" Oh, NOW he takes an interest in Kirk's heartrate? This is his response to Kirk's indication that everyone's life and the ship itself might be in immediate mortal peril?

Kirk runs up to another display, apparently the medical bay miracle interfaces on starships just can't seem to do much else beside play medically irrelevant videos and their reruns. It seems in this universe, a computer search for someone by last name is more difficult than going two MILLION times faster than light. Kirk says "Computer, locate crewmember Uhura." McCoy, still without apparent concern for his situation, decides to reminisce about his past, sharing "I haven't seen a reaction this bad since medical school." Hm, am I supposed to think this line is funny, helpful, anything? Perhaps it was for attendees to the film who are blind, but I have to believe that even they would be well aware that Kirk's condition was bad, and would have better situational awareness than McCoy shows. Kirk bolts about 5 meters around another corner saying "We're flying into a trap!" and in hot pursuit, McCoy calls "Dammit Jim, stand still!" as he stabs Kirk in the neck again with the hypo. "Argh!" Kirk turns and yells "Stop it!" 10 meters further, he comes to Uhura sitting at a row of workstations panting "Uhura!" "Kirk, what are you doing here?" "That transmission from the Klingon prison planet, who exactly did it say?" "Oh my God! What happened to your hands?" (Not tired of deity references yet, apparently.) I hate to keep bringing up the obvious, but if the ship is flying "maximum warp" into "a trap", (and possibly certain doom), within the next few seconds, is this really the time to question Uhura about her late night communications lab message from the past while back at the academy? Is that really how we want to invest our time now Cadet Kirk (on suspension), Dr. (could have fooled me…) McCoy, or anyone writing this?

"Who is responsible for the Klingon attack and was the ship Romumun?" Uhura again seems to have lost her magic auditory skills as she is unable to understand Kirk, directly in front of her and half an arm-length away, when his pronunciation is arguably better than Chekov's and the audience . "What?" Kirk turns to McCoy and asks "What's happening to my mouth?" "You got numb-tongue? I can fix that…" Kirk starts blathering in what again I can only guess is another attempt at "humor". "Was the ship what?" repeats Uhura as Kirk mispronounces "Romulan" over and over. Uhura, arguably the best communications specialist at the academy in years is unable to guess the word for a type of ship that's 3 syllables, first syllable is "rah", second syllable is "myool", and the word ends with an "n"? Puh-leeze! Finally she does repeat Kirk's "Romulan" and "Yes", but it's unclear whether she is repeating what Kirk says or whether she is confirming a Romulan attack ship while McCoy stabs Kirk in the neck again. This game of speech impediment "humor" and ritual puncturing is going on as they all race to their doom – or so we are supposed to believe. Clearly however in this film, unlike in the real world, no amount of shipboard stupidity incurs costs when you are one of God's (or Orci & Kurtzman's) chosen.

I can't help but notice how conveniently located Uhura's station was relative to Kirk's bed in medical bay, approximately 20 meters, and on the same deck! In fact, it seems that from her station to the Bridge is even less, and is also on this same deck as we see in our next thrilling episode of Star Trek by the Minute 043: Borgtapus of Death

Despite more women appearing onscreen than men in this segment, only one female has a speaking role.

Monday, September 7, 2009

STbtM 041: Kirk's ESP


The mentioning of Chekov's "whiz kid" qualifications is apparently supposed to explain why Captain Pike chose his navigator to provide the informational briefing to the ship's crew, in spite of the fact that his accent is so thick, he is moderately difficult for native English speakers to understand. One might think that the navigator would be better used performing his or her duties, actually navigating the ship while it is hurtling through space at "Maximum Warp" on an emergency rescue mission. One might especially think this when there's an entire communications staff whose linguistic ability better qualifies them, not to mention their training and duty assignments which are dedicated to, well, "communicating". Ridiculous – if one watches the film or read the script with any awareness of operations management.

Chekov's voiceless velar fricative for "H" in "Happy to" is, with the rest of his pronunciation, an attempt at a certain kind of humor I suppose. In case the audience members are too unaware to catch the problems with Pike's selection of Chekov, we are presented with the computer initially unable to register the ensign's verbal authorization code to begin the transmission. We are again asked to believe that the navigator of THE flagship of an interstellar fleet could not, under routine conditions, log onto the computer as well as my 8 year old? What if there were an actual emergency? Ridiculous! Chekov not only doesn't belong on the Bridge, he should be booted out of the emergency exit row on a Cleveland to Detroit commuter flight. Just like the helmsman.

When the code is accepted, Chekov broadcasts: "May I have your attention please. At 2200 hours telemetry detected an anomaly in the Neutral Zone, what appeared to be a lightning storm in space." (Not that again!) "Soon after, Starfleet received a distress signal from the Vulcan High Command that their planet was experiencing seismic activity. Our mission is to assess the condition of Vulcan, and assist in evacuations if necessary. We should be arriving at Vulcan in within 3 minutes. Thank you for your time."

Apparently Vulcan is considered near enough to the Neutral Zone that these 2 incidents are regarded as related somehow. According to Memory Alpha, Vulcan orbits 40 Eridani A, 16.45ly from Earth, and the Enterprise is able to cross this distance in about 3 minutes and 50 sec. This makes their average speed equal to the distance (1.51372*10^14 km) divided by the time (approx. 220 sec), or about 6.88*10^11 km / sec. In other words, fresh out of space dock, this Enterprise can go about 2,295,098 times faster than light, or 359 times faster than Roddenberry had indicated the maximum speed of a starship ought to be, at Warp 9.98 in the Next Generation. Ridiculous – if one watches the film or read the script with any awareness of Roddenberry's vision of the Trek universe, to say nothing of scientific realities.

Back in the medical bay, Kirk bolts upright and repeats "Lightning storm!" I guess we aren't supposed to remember that this was mentioned 30-40 seconds after he had been given a sedative that immediately knocked him unconscious, and completely so, as far as we can tell. Perhaps God sent Kirk's "soul" with ESP or auditory powers to float around the Bridge during the mission briefing, then zip back, magically metabolize the drugs in his system, and manipulate the neurons in his brain so he could recall material that his CNS's acquisition and memory consolidation processes missed. In other words: it's magic! Kirk's awake up segment is ridiculous – if one watches the film or read the script with any awareness of medicine.

Standing by and chatting casually to a female medical staff member, sounding completely unconcerned, and not bothering to look at the patient, McCoy says: "Ah Jim, you're awake." Didn't he just bolt off 60 seconds ago to attend to something critical and now he's acting like he's waiting for a round of mint juleps? Folding his arms and scowling at Kirk (who is writhing in pain), McCoy sneers "How do you feel?" Kirk, dripping with sweat and spasming in pain, groans loudly. "Good God man!" is McCoy's helpful outburst – again referring to deities, ugh. Perhaps the ESP hypothesis isn't that far off from whatever Orci & Kurtzman had in mind when slapping this out on their Macs. I wouldn't let this McCoy guy treat my dog at the local clinic, but Abrams and company expect me to believe this character is CMO on the Federation flagship? Should I not feel insulted by writing with such a low opinion of me and the rest of the audience? I feel that calling it superficial would be an insult to the superficial films out there!

Of the speaking parts in this segment, not a single line is uttered by a female.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

STbtM 040: Engines at Maximum Warp

Previous: STbtM 039: Stalled Flagship

In a more straight-sounding voice, the helmsman turns to face the skipper and reports: "I'm Hikaru Sulu." Pike posits: "…and you are a pilot, right?" Sulu flashes a sheepish grin and replies: "Very much so sir," as he swivels his seat back to forward, and stammers "I'm…uh, not sure what's wrong…" Pike looks around at the Bridge crew and jokingly asks: "Is the parking brake on?" Sulu chuckles "Um no – I'll figure it out, it's just…" Spock at this point cuts in with "Did you disengage the external inertial dampeners?" and we get another closeup of Zachary Quinto with those fabulous Spock ears, they really do look great. Mortified, Sulu stares incredulously ahead as his hands operate the controls by automatic reflex. Summoning what courage he can, he announces with unconvincing bravado: "Ready for warp, Sir." Pike smiles back "Let's punch it," and the silly boat throttles are pushed forward again. I suppose that having a new kid at the helm of an unfamiliar ship might be a fig leaf of an excuse for an obvious blunder, but the simple fact is that a mistake like that would fail a pilot today for a simple passenger certification on merely a private jet. Are we to believe that standards are so low, that skills less competent than the minimum for a small aircraft today are going to be considered acceptable for the Flagship of a Federation / Starfleet armada? Hundreds, and perhaps billions of lives could depend on this ship's actions, and the person at the helm is unable to follow basic standard procedures without error?

This time, the heavily-chromed controls work, and from behind the captain's Chair, we see a nice stretching effect of going to warp, although having the image red-shift into the distance would be slightly more scientifically correct for what they appear to be trying to show. Externally, the Enterprise whips past us, and we quickly cut to Bones dragging in Kirk from one of another lift with lighting capable of producing crunchy brownies in 10 minutes. Kirk apparently can not only get drinks in bars faster than a Maxim cover model, he can also change clothes much faster than they do, even when that's their job, and in spite of being so clumsy he is unable to stand, but this seems merely a normal continuity error nearly all films have. Kirk asks: "Where are we?" "Medical bay." This exchange seems like the sort of thing that a real estate agent would love to have with a potential buyer touring a home. Normally when showing a home, agents will tell perfectly normal, intelligent people: "This is a kitchen…and here is the bathroom" as if people do not recognize such rooms when they enter them. You would think that all the staff in medical uniforms, medical equipment, examination tables and lights, etc. would be sufficient for a halfway conscious person, even without years of Starfleet Academy training (which increasingly seems unable to actually teach anything), but perhaps it was felt that fans of the film would need this location information spelled out, and evidence supports that impression of fans was, in some measure, accurate.

Kirk asks "This is worth it?" McCoy tells him "A little suffering is good for the soul," as Kirk tries to flirt with a nurse, offering "Hi, how ya doing?" I'm pretty sure I would not want to serve in this timeline's Starfleet: officers and crew routinely refer to supernatural, invisible friends as "God" and doctors who talk about "souls" is troubling. For example, if one believes in an eternal soul, treating and protecting that would be much more important than the physical shell they inhabit for the wink of an eye. That shell is going to die anyway, so medicine is largely futile in the grand scheme. There was a time when this model of reality was popular, and one result was that burning people's living bodies in order to save their eternal souls was deemed by the best minds to be virtuous, or sometimes even heroic. I would really prefer a scientifically minded doctor who looks at the world more conservatively, preferring empiricism to religion based magic. Mother Theresa may have preached enduring the hardships of infirmities as the path to God for others, but even she always chose the best science-based medicine for her own ailments, but of course with an unlimited expense account, such care is easy to afford.

"My mouth is itchy, is that normal?" Clearly, the whole Levaran Mud Flea vaccine sequence is intended to be humorous, but like the characters, effects, soundtrack and drama, I was unable to overlook the profound problems in the story and appreciate the humor, which came off as poorly done buffoonery but then again, I admittedly hated what I saw of "Married with Children", despite its status as THE top show last time I checked sitcoms, and to this day I'm unable to enjoy practical joke shows where unsuspecting people are actually terrorized and frightened for profits and amusement. One can't help but suspect fans of this film appreciate and enjoy prank shows as medical shenanigans, pain, and loss of motor control are apparently considered appropriate material for jokes. McCoy advises Kirk that "Those symptoms aren't going to last long. Let me give you a mild sedative." Kirk, in obvious pain, groans: "I wish I didn't know you." "Don't be such a such an infant," Bones admonishes, before slamming a hypo into Kirk's neck. Our future skipper yowls and convulses before slurring "How long's it supposed to taaayyy…." At which point he flops over backwards on the table, unconscious." (39:50) "Unbelievable!" scoffs McCoy. This is a pretty arrogant doctor; without good reason, he has just violated medical ethics in an effort to smuggle a personal friend aboard a starship in the middle of an emergency rescue operation, and he chose to do this by using an exotic vaccine with potentially dangerous side effects in order to defy the rules of the Academy for cadets. This doesn't seem much in character, if character actions are assumed to have some rationality or consistency associated with them. If McCoy's love of Kirk is so great that he just couldn't handle Kirk feeling forlorn about not being pulled from the Academy for the rescue, he certainly has changed his tune with Kirk showing and reporting major discomfort, and possible warning signs. Showing great concern for a friend's minor disappointment but ignoring their medical complaints that could indicate a threat to their life seems more than a tad inconsistent. Aside from this, the actual level of joke makes the old slipping on a banana peel gag seem like Kovacian genius!

We cut to the bridge, where Sulu reports: "engines at maximum warp, Captain" a ridiculous and useless statement. Pike says: "Russian whiz kid, what's your name? Chenko? Chirpov?" The navigator turns around and in a fabulous Russian accent he proclaims "Ensign Chekov, Pavel Andreievich, sir." "Fine Chekov, Pavel Andreievich, begin shipwide mission broadcasts." Apparently, "whiz kid" is exposition clumsily inserted to foreshadow HIS inexplicable abilities, unlikely posting to navigation of the Federation flagship, and because this film doesn't bother to actually develop characters, the whole film just weaves one miraculous coincidence after another, regardless of how unlikely. It's kind of like believing oneself to be one of God's chosen race: irrational, arrogant, and self serving - but a habit that you'll probably be able to use without getting called on it if you talk fast enough. One interesting note is that this Chekov and Walter Koenig are both come from Jewish Russian ancestors.

A few women are in miniskirts as scenery, but only men speak in this segment.

Next: STbtM 041: Kirk's ESP


Friday, September 4, 2009

STbtM 039: Stalled Flagship



Pike turns and walks the Bridge perimeter addressing the crew with "Ladies and gentlemen, the maiden voyage of our newest flagship deserves more pomp and circumstance than we can afford today. Her christening will just have to be our reward for a safe return." Here the dialog continues to reinforce another problem with the plot: that not just a bunch of starships, but the actual brand spanking new flagship has been completed over the course of many years with no seasoned experienced crew standing by, ready to deploy with her? Aside from Pike, the only crew members we know are either teachers from the academy, recent graduates, or students. 

Starfleet would have to be pretty incompetent for such a situation to arise, especially given the constraints imposed by the Lorenzian Cluster operations described by the Admiral. No competent project manager would neglect personnel like this for a Carnival Lines fun cruise, yet here, the most serious organization for space exploration around seems to be under the command of Isaac Washington and Julie McCoy. If we were really desperate to make apologies for this script, we could retcon some of the more ridiculous coincidences, but I think that account has been overdrawn sufficiently. 

"Carry on," Pike orders, before flopping into the big chair punching a key to squawk ship-wide, "All decks: this is the Captain. Prepare for immediate departure." He looks forward and orders "Helm: thrusters." The helmsman reports "Moorings retracted, Captain; Dock control reports ready; Thrusters fired; Separating from spacedock." These ship command sequences are a blast, it would be nice if some real operational and decision management work were done for optimizing starship procedures.

In the external shot that follows, we see the Enterprise banking away from the starbase with some unknown class of starship in the background, I couldn't identify it. Does anyone know what that was? The helm continues: "The fleet's cleared spacedock, Captain. All ships ready for warp." Pike orders: "Set course for Vulcan." "Aye-aye Captain; Course laid in." "Maximum warp – punch it." OK, that's a problem. What is maximum, and how much risk should the crew take in order to maintain ship speed at "maximum"? Fortunately, this question is moot as the chrome boat throttles that Sulu presses forward seem to warp all the other ships in "the fleet" but the Enterprise. 

Back on the Bridge, we hear the whine of acceleration sputter out, and Capt. Pike asks "Lieutenant, where is helmsman McKenna?" The response is in what honestly sounds to me an exaggerated gay accent that I cannot help but think is a poke at George Takai: "He has lungworm, sir. He couldn't report to his post." The voiceover while he is turned away does not seem to match the dialogue when he turns back to face the captain, which we will see in our next episode, STbtM 040: Engines at Maximum Warp

Only men speak in this segment.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

STbtM 038: NCC-1701 Ready to Launch

Previous: Orbital Station Flyby

The first 30 seconds of this segment continue the CGI approach of the shuttles and their landing in the Enterprise's shuttle bay. We zoom onto a huge bay area with zillions of criss-crossing columns, and filled with crew scurrying in every direction. I can't help but wonder if this is another location shot, or whether the set builders actually put this up. Kirk and McCoy hurriedly march through the area and the doctor announces "We need to get you changed," which seems an odd comment, since they are both wearing exactly the same Academy uniforms. Kirk slurs out "I don't feel right – I feel like I'm leaking…" and McCoy cuts him off with "Hell, it's that pointy-eared bastard!" as they veer off and out of sight.

Spock, turns from a conversation and walks purposefully into a lift. With a slight turn of his head, perhaps a subconscious curiosity about detecting Kirk aboard in the crowd, the lift stops and Spock walks out onto the newly envisioned Enterprise Bridge. The only things that seem out of place here are that there did not seem to be any selection of deck and destination when the lift started moving, and the walls of the lift seem almost entirely made of backlights.

Nevertheless, Spock did arrive safely to his duty area and takes a seat at an aft station among the bright blue lighting and shiny surfaces of the bridge as the skipper greets him from off-screen with "Mr. Spock!" Touching a few controls, Spock reports: "Captain, Engineering reports ready for launch." Pike acknowledges with "Thank you."

In all, this segment was a fairly nice looking, fast-paced view of the new ship with music that effectively sets a mood of increasing tension as the rescue is about to get underway.

Only men speak in this segment.

Next: Stalled Flagship

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

STbtM 037: Orbital Station Flyby


Previous: Mud Flea Sauce

McCoy, still holding the floundering Kirk upright, finishes his conversation with the shuttle deck commander, who says "As you were." McCoy retorts "As YOU were" in a huff.

They scramble aboard the shuttle which we see in flight with others in another beautiful CGI exterior, this time of San Francisco. My only quibble is that the shuttles look like composite overlays on a background shot, and the two were not coordinated, making the shuttle turns and acceleration look a bit off. We next see a LEO approach as the shuttles ascend from the atmosphere, while inside the shuttle, Kirk announces to McCoy, who is gazing out the window "I may throw up on you." McCoy, riveted to the porthole, replies in awe "Jim, you gotta look at this!" We next see a space station that must be really breathtaking in IMAX. At last, the shuttle zooms toward the Enterprise as the music swells.

As this segment is mostly scenery, I'd like to share my response to a proposal that Nero's insane hanging around for 25 years was "easily" understandable, since people can hold such feelings for their entire lives. I understand this focus is on the plausibility of holding a grudge for 25 years, but to me this deliberately misses more obvious concerns.

For example: if we were making a film (or any fiction) and place a bikini-clad female in a blizzard on Mt. Everest, it is fine to have her unhappy with an earlier weather forecast she received indicating tropical weather, especially if we want to portray her personality as over-reacting to other's errors. However, if she continues to ignore much more important and obvious things such as the lethal cold about to kill her, it seems inadequate, (to me), to put forward "she's emotional and illogical" as a justification for her gigantic, suicidal blindspot. The fact that she can hold this grudge against the weather service for the rest of her days similarly has no bearing on whether her actions meet minimum standards for average nursery rhymes. Anyone capable of surviving a street crossing to see our film will realize our girl needs to stay warm, or we must explain why she doesn't - like telling them she's Supergirl, for example. We would never compound this problem by making her claim that finding warmth was her primary motivation, nor that she miraculously located a warm Nepalese sauna a few feet away that could save her, nor would we add an entourage of blind followers - each of which makes her situation more like Nero's. I think real effort must be put forward NOT to see such things, regardless of how good the film looks and sounds. I'm even willing to put forward such effort in suspension of disbelief, as explained here, but the emotional, or intellectual payoff must have some minimal compensation, and random miracles happening to generally ignorant, often loathsome characters to put them at the start of the ST original series is insufficient. This low bar does not require an olympic leap to clear, yet over and over this very minimal standard was unattainable, apparently for the need to crank out a fast, cheap script, similar to what was seen multiple times in both Alias and Lost. Along with ST, I thought these really promised to be some of my all-time favorites based on how great they looked and the story they promised, but ultimately they had almost nothing but eye-candy with disturbing philosophies & world views underlying them, and could not fulfill their promise. That "almost" is in respect and acknowledgement for the occasional great segment, such as Spock's "gratitude" riposte to the Vulcan Academic Council - which was an awesome moment!

As for the dialog in Minute 037, only men speak.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

STbtM 036: Mud Flea Sauce


Uhura continues her questioning of Commander Spock as they rapidly file through the shuttle hanger between scattered equipment, lens flares, smoke from dry ice, smoke from steamers, and the ubiquitous fire extinguisher blasts: "…and did I not, on multiple occasions demonstrate exceptional aural sensitivity and I quote: 'an unparalleled ability to identify sonic anomalies in subspace transmission tests'?" Leading the march, Spock replies "Consistently, yes." He then stops and turns as Uhura demands with increasing outrage: "And while you are well aware that I'm as qualified as I am to serve on the USS Enterprise, I'm assigned to the Farragut?" Spock nervously looks around, and in a somewhat hushed voice explains: "It was an attempt to avoid the appearance of favoritism." This admission by Spock constitutes a double contradiction of logic. Logic, (the tool for avoiding invalid reasoning) suggests and Spock implicitly admits it was proper to post Uhura to the Enterprise based on her effort and accomplishments, but he is choosing to do the improper thing. OK, sometimes there are reasons to do what seems improper – for example, as Dr. Martin Luther King explained in his April 16, 1963 letter – there are occasions where an overriding priority invalidates adherence to rules of lower priority.
Spock's concern in this instance, however, is for a possible mis-perception by others that he showed favoritism by posting his best student to her preferred ship. Such convoluted thinking and subsequent errors are usually a sign of conflicted feelings and fear of appearances over more objective consequences, which is anathema to logic and rationality. Presenting a logical justification for Spock's decision, with Uhura responding with a stronger and better case would have been more difficult to write, but as with the bulk of the irrational script, this would have made the film infinitely more enjoyable for viewers with minimal standards for the characters.
Instead, Uhura follows what this film has repeatedly established as the way to get things done in the future: fallacies. In this case, "No, I'm assigned to the enterprise" with a steady stare serves as a Proof by Assertion fallacy, which naturally causes Spock to become intimidated enough to concede, update his portable computer, and respond with "Yes, I believe you are." Uhura smiles and thanks him.
We cut to Kirk and McCoy rapidly entering a room while Kirk asks: "What are you doing?" "I'm doing you a favor, I couldn't just leave you there looking all pathetic; Take a seat. Lemme give you a vaccine against viral infection from the Levaran Mud Fleas" as he stabs Kirk in the neck with a hypo. "What for?" Kirk asks. "To give you the symptoms." "What are you talking about?" As Kirk starts to exhibit symptoms, McCoy explains "You're going to start to lose vision in your left eye." "Yeah, I already have…" "Oh, and you're going to get a really bad headache and a flop sweat." Kirk tries unsuccessfully to stand, asking "You call this a favor?" and McCoy grabs his arm and begins to hustle him out of the room, answering "Yeah, you owe me one."
I suppose we can somewhat overlook the good Dr.'s violation of medical standards since this is supposed to be due to his loyalty for his friend, but it would have been better for the film to have shown some believable motivation for dragging Kirk onto the Federation flagship and some kind of effort on McCoy's part to work out a solution to the problem, instead "looking pathetic" is why McCoy is going to break ethics to smuggle aboard his friend during an emergency rescue? Hardly believable.
McCoy is still supporting Kirk when they stumble up to the shuttle, and the commander looks at them and says: "Kirk, James T., He is not cleared for duty aboard the Enterprise." McCoy responds that "Medical code states that treatment and transport of a patient is to be determined at the discretion of his attending physician. Which is me, so I am taking Mr. Kirk aboard or, would you like to explain to Captain Pike why the Enterprise warped into a crisis without one of its senior medical officers?"
One speaking part in this segment is a woman.