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