Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Star Trek by the Minute 071: Marooned

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Spock reminds Kirk: "These are the orders issued by Captain Pike when he left the ship."

"He also ordered us to go back and get him" Kirk insists, but this is exactly what Spock is recommending, only Spock's plan is more practical and has much better chances overall. Kirk still has nothing to say about how successfully "getting" Pike will occur when everything they've seen indicates that his recommendation would have no possibility of succeeding. Without specific, achievable goals and the means to accomplish them, they are like a ship without a rudder: it may be possible to survive the storm and arrive somewhere intact, but the fact remains that for every tiny inlet to a safe harbor, there are thousands of kilometers of rocky shores, littered with the bones and wreckage left by the unfortunate and foolhardy.

"Spock, you are Captain now," Kirk rants, "You have to make..." As is typical for Kirk's dialogue, this seems to be throwaway noisemaking with nothing of value to say. It has been suggested that this is another instance where the rush to produce a script quickly resulted in nonsensical dialogue.

"I am aware of my responsibilities Mr. Kirk, which is..."
Kirk shouts down his skipper, interrupting with irrelevant and unhelpful: "Every second we waste, Nero's getting closer to his next target."

"That is correct, and why I am instructing you to accept the fact that I alone am in command..." continues Spock, showing a great deal of patience, given the irrational content in Kirk's stream of opposition. The "be unpredictable" suggestion was Kirk's last line that had some semblance of contribution to the ship's situation, and that was thoroughly refuted by Spock.

Displaying what seems like adoration for the "shrieking fallacy", Kirk starts yelling at his skipper again, interrupting with "I will not allow us to go backwards, and run from the problem, instead of hunting Nero down!" In the middle of Kirk's now hysterical ranting, McCoy gestures for Kirk to listen to Spock, but thoroughly enraged, Kirk doesn't even notice.

Spock stands, looks directly at Kirk, and orders: "Security, escort him out." From the background, McCoy looks on with concern, but mostly at Spock rather than the out of control, violent young criminal who appears to be having a breakdown on the bridge of their starship during a crisis, which would normally be the focus of anyone in such a situation.

As Spock sits down, two red shirts appear from nowhere and grab Kirk ineffectually, jostling him around with unnecessary physicality, violating standard rules governing use of force tactics as he has not indicated any refusal to comply with Spock's lawful order for him to clear the bridge. Manual escort is an inappropriate escalation of physicality in any such confrontation. However, even if this were the case, and physical contact was necessary to remove Kirk from the bridge, neither of the security personnel appear to have any idea of how to conduct either a manual escort or any "pain compliance" techniques to overcome resistance and maintain their own safety.

With unrealistic incompetence by security compounding unwarranted provocation, Kirk unsurprisingly starts another silly fistfight that has no obvious purpose, and he fights the two of them to a standstill as a third red shirt looks on, doing nothing. Spock approaches from behind, brings out the famous Vulcan neck pinch, and Kirk crumples to the deck. Spock turns to the security guard still standing and orders "Get him off this ship." Spock really falls off the logic wagon with this overreaction…and he was making so much sense during the past 70 seconds. Ever since the death of his mother from a series of miraculous mishaps, and destruction of his planet, he's been intelligent, rational and decisive – until now. Disorderly crewmen are not that uncommon aboard ship, as anyone who has spent time on one knows, for example: Gene Roddenberry. Until this point in the scene, Spock almost seemed a believable character, but again, at this point I was jarred out of the movie and thought that perhaps Abrams and company were unable to find any naval personnel in the Los Angeles area to explain "the cooler" concept, or perhaps a believable story with some depth of realism was not a priority. Perhaps they needed a fast plot device to get Kirk alone with future Spock, and couldn't waste the time to develop a reasonable option.

Regardless of how it came about, we are to believe that the only federation starship to survive the destruction of Vulcan has diverted from its emergency rendezvous with Starfleet in order to make sure that Kirk is marooned on a class M Federation planet, rather than sitting in an onboard brig. Risking the survival of untold billions because a disgraced cadet lost his temper seems pretty outlandish to this reviewer. Add to this the idea that this unbelievable diversion goes to the same sector, exactly the same star system, exactly the same planet, and exactly the same glacier as where Nero marooned future Spock, and you have more disbelief than I believe any normal viewer ought to be asked to suspend.

We cut to a typically beautiful external shot of the Enterprise zooming by, and see a pod launched from the dorsal section which then descends into the atmosphere of a conveniently located planet with a nice, if brief and unexceptional, fireball effect on the atmospheric entry that is almost identical to the escape pod from the original Star Wars film. An undisclosed period of time passes and we see Kirk gain consciousness with some disorientation.

No women speak in this segment.

In our next segment, Kirk goes ice climbing with no equipment in Star Trek by the Minute 072: Glacier Trek

Friday, January 8, 2010

Star Trek by the Minute 070: Alternate Reality

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Chekov adds: "Nero's ship would have to drop out of warp just for us to overtake him."

Kirk continues: "Then what about assigning engineering crews to try and boost our warp yield?" That is a foolish suggestion. The ship has holes blasted in its hull, casualties in sick bay, and is dealing with the surviving Vulcans the Enterprise was able to rescue in addition to the Elder Council, there are probably refugees in shuttles and stations nearby which escaped the singularity's gravity well in time and are in immediate peril, and the Enterprise undoubtedly has a variety of damage to its operational systems. The idea that the Enterprise could set a speed record and then engage the Narada successfully shows a substantial disconnect from what is supposed to be "reality" for the characters.

Spock answers, "Remaining power and crew are being used to repair radiation leaks in the lower decks..."

Here, we revisit a topic which came up earlier regarding the importance of good cockpit communications and their criticality during an emergency. This is something on which airline captains receive training today, and almost every emergency, first aid, rescue, or medical training class includes the importance of staying calm, because panic is a killer. Now, Kirk begins repeated interruptions of his captain without any believable pretext and honestly: without any content to what he is saying.

Kirk interrupts: "OK!"

Spock: "...and damage to subspace..."

Kirk: "Allright!"

Spock: "....communications without which..."

Kirk interrupts yet again and begins talking over Spock in a panicked voice to insist: "There's got to be some way!" without even listening to his skipper's explanation that "...we cannot contact..." and finally Kirk shuts up for Spock to finish his sentence: "...Starfleet." Again, Kirk has shown himself unfit for bridge duty on a tug, much less command of a starship. At last, Spock is able to finish explaining his orders: "We must gather with the rest of Starfleet to balance the terms of the next engagement."

 Kirk, raising his voice even more now insists: "There won't be a next engagement! By the time we've 'gathered', it'll be too late!" That is quite an assertion, given his level of ignorance when ten seconds ago, he was indicating he had no clue what Nero wanted with Pike or the Earth. Kirk continues: "But you say he is from the future - that he knows what's going to happen? Then the logical thing to do is to be unpredictable."

Spock, maintaining a very reasonable viewpoint, replies patiently and intelligently: "You are assuming Nero knows how events are predicted to unfold. On the contrary, Nero's very presence here has altered the flow of history, beginning with the attack on the USS Kelvin, culminating in the events of today thereby creating an entire new chain of incidents that cannot be anticipated by either party."

"An alternate reality," Uhura summarizes well.

"Precisely," observes Spock, "whatever our lives might have been, if the time continuum was disrupted our destinies have changed. Mr. Sulu plot a course for the Laurentian system, warp factor 3."

Kirk now starts actually yelling at his commanding officer: "Spock, don't do that. Running back to the fleet for a 'confab' is a massive waste of time!" Kirk, shows no reasoning, no evidence, no justification, and no believable suggestion of any better plan of action. These profound defects stand on their own, aside from the fact that Spock's recommendation (or orders) to take the time to develop a plan that can succeed while gathering the resources they are likely to need is the BEST use of their time possible, once emergency repairs and the safety of crew and passengers aboard are reasonably secure.

In all this dialogue, Uhura, as the only female who speaks (once) has a total of eight syllables.

After almost 60 uninterrupted seconds of behaving halfway reasonably, Spock finally falls off the logic wagon in our next segment, Star Trek by the Minute 071: Marooned

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Star Trek by the Minute 069: Angry Future Romulan

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This segment opens on the bridge of the Enterprise with Spock asking Uhura "Have you confirmed that Nero is headed for Earth?"

She responds: "Their trajectory suggests no other destination, Captain."

"Thank you, lieutenant." he deadpans, pacing the bridge. Kirk, sitting in the captain's chair announces: "Earth may be his next stop, but we have to assume every Federation planet's a target." Completely wrong, there is no reason to make such an assumption other than as a precautionary measure for defense, but the uncertainty involved in the assumption should not be ignored as Kirk's statement indicates - making it unwise if not unreasonably dangerous, although this would be in character. Why "unreasonably dangerous"? There is almost no information available on Nero's motivations or goals, so guesses about his planned actions to achieve these unknown goals is silly, and in the real world this kind of guesswork leads to disaster.

In contrast to this Star Trek film, in the movie Apollo 13, Gene Krantz' character gave one of the most intelligent and important directives to the mission support staff in the middle of a crisis which had a high degree of uncertainty. As flight director, he stressed the need for careful certainty about actions to be taken because mistakes could kill. He said: "Let's not make the situation worse by guessing." In decision making situations where scarce resources like time, equipment, or in this case: defense capabilities, this rule is one of the most important to follow. Kirk's approach is a virtual guarantee of failure, but as the hero in Abrams' universe, colossal stupidity is no handicap.

"Out of the chair" orders Spock. Chekov picks up the ball from Kirk's speculation to carry it even further introducing even greater likelihood of going in the wrong direction by adding "Well if the federation is a target, why didn't they destroy us?"

"Why would they? Why waste the weapons, we're obviously not a threat," Sulu adds.

"That is not it" says Spock, continuing his pacing, "He said that he wanted me to see something, the destruction of my home planet."

McCoy, who has been standing behind Kirk looking pensive asks "How in the hell did they do that by the way, and where do the Romulans get that kind of weaponry?"

"The engineering comprehension necessary to artificially create a black hole may suggest an answer. Such technology could theoretically be manipulated to create a tunnel through space time."

"Dammit man, I'm a doctor, not a physicist. Are you actually suggesting they're from the future?"

"If you eliminate the impossible whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."

"How poetic!"

Kirk's asks "Then what would an angry future Romulan want with Captain Pike?"

Sulu: "As Captain, he does know details of Starfleet's defenses."

Apropos of nothing, Kirk blurts out "What we need to do is catch up to that ship, disable it, take it over, and get Pike back."

Spock: "We are technically outmatched in every way, a rescue attempt would be illogical."

Of the six speaking roles in this segment the only female to speak, Uhura, utters one line of seven words.

Their existence in an alternate timeline is realized in our next episode: Star Trek by the Minute 070: Alternate Reality

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Star Trek by the Minute 068: Sushi

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Nero explains "My purpose Christopher, is to not simply avoid the destruction of the home that I love, but to create a Romulus that exists free of the Federation." How is it that the destruction of Earth, Vulcan, the Federation, etc. prevents a supernova on a distant star? Of course, to even ask this question we have to forget that supernovas do not "threaten the galaxy", and forget that stars going nova is the process by which the elements for planets and life are made available.

Nero continues: "You see, only then will she be truly saved. That is why I will destroy all the remaining Federation planets, starting with yours." It hardly makes any sense to worry about Federation planets in this time when the Narada is perfectly capable of time warping back to a time prior to the defense grid and destroying Earth and any other planet on the list. Is there something special about this time? Is there something special about Captain Pike? Is there something special about the Enterprise? After all, the Narada was happily blowing apart the Federation fleet with no problem, but as soon as Nero suspected an antique starship might have a particular name, he treated it as an emergency, which was never explained.

Pike answers: "Then we have nothing left to discuss." Apparently, Pike has no clue regarding astrophysics, supernova, temporal continuity, or basic sanity as he seems to accept Nero's inaccurate & contradictory explanations, as well as his obviously ineffective plan. His reactions make as much sense as Captain Robau's, or George Kirk's, or Bones, or James Kirk, Spock, his mother, and the others.

Nero insists "You will give me the frequencies to disable Earth's defenses," as he walks over and picks up a wriggling alien leech with a pair of tongs while it makes sounds suspiciously like Khan's Ceti eels. In an interview after the film's release, the writers claimed that this was another homage to Wrath of Khan, and that they wanted to avoid directly lifting the plot device from that previous film. I suppose the difference between creative homage and getting caught in a direct ripoff can be a matter of opinion.

Nero holds up the black creature allowing us to examine it and his disgustingly dirty fingernails. "Centaurian slugs," he says, "they latch onto your brain stem, and release the toxin that will force you to answer." He dangles the quivering invertebrate above Captain Pike's face. "Frequency please, sir?"

"Christopher Pike, Captain of the USS Enterprise."

"As you wish..." Out of nowhere, a henchman grabs Pike behind the jaw, which normally would not force one's mouth open, however in this case it works instantly. Nero grabs a hook and latches it on to Pike's lower jaw, and in a very shaky camera shot, he drops the chattering escargot into Pike's mouth.

As this segment closes, in a long shot of the torture sewer we see Pike struggling against his restraints.

One thing that is never contested for some reason, is that Pike would have a series of frequencies memorized, meaning that something so secret and vital to the survival of the Federation would be simple enough to memorize, the captain would be doing the memorizing, and that they would not change randomly. We are to believe that a futuristic space armada has less security than it takes to buy the action figures from this film off Amazon. Silly, lazy writing.

No women appear or speak in this segment.

Spock boots Kirk out of the big chair in our next episode, Star Trek by the Minute 069: Angry Future Romulan

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Star Trek by the Minute 067: Nero’s Plan

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Nero declaring that he prevented genocide by obliterating Vulcan makes about as much sense as the claim that "the death penalty is our way of affirming the sanctity of life" or that wars are justified by the expectation of future peace. It reminds me a bit of Alberto Gonzalez, (former Atty. general of the United States), declaring on television that the tree huggers who were camped out in a forest to prevent logging old growth, were "terrorists" (before a single one had been proven guilty of anything).

In this segment, Nero continues his monologue but before we go on with that, let's take a look at his claim that the Narada is a simple mining vessel. It seems hard to believe that one vessel designed for simply extracting and transporting minerals would have combat capabilities more than a match for fleets of Klingon battle cruisers and waves of Federation starships. A simple vessel that is able to attack and destroy entire planets without getting a scratch or taking a single casualty? A simple vessel that just happens to have miners aboard who are able to calculate time warp trajectories through red matter singularities better than the galaxy's top expert, a Vulcan super genius? We are also supposed to believe that this simple mining vessel can outmaneuver and capture the fastest ship the Federation has to offer without any apparent fuss, and is armed with a bazillion photon torpedoes? Well, to me it doesn't seem the adjective "simple" applies too well, but neither does "mining vessel", so there it is…

Nero turns on a blinding interrogation light pointed down at Captain Pike, and steps back. Rather than turn away from the spotlight as would be normal, Pike turns toward it for some reason. Perhaps he knows he needs to move quickly if he wants to see the projection of a pointy eared blond which then appears right where he is looking; Lucky timing, I guess.

Nero says: I chose a life of honest labor to provide for myself and the wife who was expecting my child. I was off planet doing my job while your Federation did nothing and allowed my people to burn while their planet broke in half - and Spock? He didn't help us. He betrayed us!" In a way, it is probably good that the elements of the story are presented in disjointed bits and pieces because otherwise suspending any disbelief would be all but impossible, and the film would be unwatchable for a large percentage of the audience. For example, the claim that the Federation did nothing does not appear accurate since we later learn that a sophisticated operation was undertaken to prevent the catastrophe, although this "plot" element contains profound defects as well that we have come to expect, like really bad science, inappropriate actions by participants, and nonsensical contradictions as we will see.

Pike replies "No, no, you're confused... You're misinformed: Romulus hasn't been destroyed; it's out there right now. You're blaming the Federation for something that hasn't happened."

Nero starts screaming "It has happened, I watched it happen, I saw it happen. Don't tell me it didn't happen!" Here again, we have Nero contradicting what he's done before as previously, he has described events from the future as being in the future, whereas now he insists on describing the destruction of Romulus as in the past based on his personal observation rather than the reality that everyone now inhabits including him, and which he has previously acknowledged.

Nero continues "...and when I lost her, I promised myself retribution and for 25 years I've planned my revenge against the Federation, and forgot what it was like to live a normal life. Again we have to ask: Is that believable? What kind of revenge could possibly take 1/4 century to plan, especially when there are no apparent defenses to anything the Narada has attempted against the Federation and their most powerful enemy, the Klingon Empire. Speaking of the Klingons, what was the purpose of the attack on the Empire? OK, it is conceivable that such a raid could have been for the purpose of obtaining supplies, but still...

Nero adds: "I may not forget the pain. It's a pain that every surviving Vulcan now shares." As mentioned before, here we have a motivation which is clearly insane. There can be no doubt that Nero is a homicidal madman, dangerously destructive, and should be restrained for his own safety and that of everyone else yet, this obvious common sense fact has eluded everyone aboard this gigantic ship. Not a single officer or member of the crew has acted sensibly to take appropriate action, and this oversight and inaction has continued every day for 25 years, as thousands of helpless individuals both inside and outside the Federation have been slaughtered, and now billions have been murdered by this lunatic. The idea that people would go along with this without a credible belief that their survival was at stake is ridiculous. At least when Khan was chasing Kirk, his Brekkian first officer ;) raised sensible alternatives and objections to which Khan had to finally respond with threats and violence to suppress.

No women speak in the segment or appear on screen.

In our next episode we have another homage to (rip-off of?) Wrath of Khan in Star Trek by the Minute 068: Sushi

Aspen Music Festival: Music with a View Concert

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